IT TAKES A FATHER’S LOVE

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… being judgmental

SERMON: Luke 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable…

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

 

Have you met my good friend, Bob?  He’s so judgmental.  This is probably not the kind of characterization you want in life, and yet it’s a label that Christians get all the time.  And from what I can tell, there are many situations where that accusation is unwarranted and false, but at the same time there are also many situations where that accusation against us is right on the money. So, it’s probably a good topic for us to discuss.

God’s Word for today gives us a great opportunity to do just that from “The Lost Chapter.”  No, this isn’t some section of the Bible that was found later on or under odd circumstances.  We can be confident that won’t ever happen, because God has given us everything we need in his Word and his promise is that it will never pass away.  It’s “The Lost Chapter” because Jesus tells three parables right in a row about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  Today, we’re looking at the last parable of this prodigal, lost son.

First, a little background as to why Jesus told these parables.  It’s in those first couple verses of Luke 15. Jesus’ ministry was always watched by a critical eye.  For three years the religious leaders watched and selfishly muttered as Jesus was kind and compassionate to fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes and sometimes even foreigners.  They thought if Jesus really was sent by God then he would be partial to the learned men and the strict religious elite, you know, the good ones.

But in Romans 2, God says he does not show favoritism, that he’s not judgmental. Jesus’ work is for all equally, and so he paid attention to the everyone, even those who society considers ‘sinners’.  That doesn’t mean he neglected those who are full of themselves, confident that they are better than others, thinking they are closer to God, because that is also a very clear indicator that a person is a ‘sinner’ in their own self-righteous arrogance.  Jesus’ parable beautifully addresses everyone equally, because I hope you notice that it’s not just the son who went away who was lost.  The son who stayed home was also lost. So, let’s take a look at these two sons.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

This son thinks life with the father is dull and boring.  He sees all the excitement and fun that could be his, if he just got out from the father’s restrictions.  His sinful heart listens to the cry of a society that says, “This life can give you so much more.  Go ahead!  Don’t just look through the windows of your father’s house.  Get out here and join the fun!  Because only out here can your really live life to the full.”

Do you see how that is being judgmental?  You are saying that you get to be the one who decides what is best for you.  You are setting yourself over what your Father in heaven says.  It’s judgmental to look at life with God as if it is missing something, as if God is holding out on you.  It’s judgement to think that the desires of your heart or the call of this world would be better for you than the love and the protection of our heavenly Father.

There’s another bad example of being judgmental in the other son. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”

This son thinks he has been a good boy. He hasn’t looked at life in the father’s house as dull or restrictive. He hasn’t been enticed into all the fun and excitement the world offers.  In fact, he’s been working hard, or slaving away as he says, for his father.  How could it be even close to see who is better and more deserving of the father’s love?

It’s pretty obvious to see the self-righteous, judgmental heart, isn’t it?  You are saying that you have decided what is good and what is not.  You are setting yourself over others.  You are putting confidence in works and looks. It’s judgmental to think for Father in heaven plays favorites like that.  It’s judgmental to look at your life, your obedience, your opinions as the standard rather than the perfect standard God sets for us.  It’s judgmental to be angry when others, who you think are worse, get treatment or privileges that you want or expect.

So both sons have the same problem.  One might seem worse than the other, but both are looking in the wrong spot for what is right.  One is looking out there (society/world) and one is looking in here (heart/head).  Neither is looking to the father.  One is serving his desire for fun and pleasure and one is serving his desire for recognition and reward.  Neither is serving his father.  One is lost far away from the father and one is lost in what looks like a closer position to the father.  Neither is found to be with the father.

That’s what being judgmental does to us.  It either makes you wander into a far-off place or it builds up a wall to God’s grace.  Do you see it in your life?  I sure hope you do, because it’s there.  In this sinful heart it’s there looking for pleasures and excitement that seem to be missing from God’s house.  In this sinful heart it’s there blinding me to the perfect standard God has set and instead setting a new standard that I have set where I should get more blessings and accolades from God than those ‘sinners,’ who should be punished because they are not reaching the standards I have set.  In this sinful heart it’s lurking the same way it was for those two sons.

If you are trying to get rid of this judgmental heart, one thing that will not work is work.  The son who wandered from his father and squandered everything from his father with pleasurable evils thought he could go back and work his way into his father’s grace.  “I am not longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  The son who stayed and worked tirelessly thought his work had earned him more from his father. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

My work does not get rid of sin.  Your work does not get rid of sin.  Our work does not remove the heart that seeks worldly pleasures or selfish recognition. Our work turns us from the younger son into the older son and back again.

But there’s someone else’s work going here, isn’t there?  Do you notice what the younger son says when the worldly pleasures do not satisfy him, he spends everything, and the deep need sets in? How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”  See, that’s not being judgmental.  Calling sin what the Father calls it is called truth.  Humility and honesty before God and others is called repentance.  Trusting your heavenly Father to do what is best for you, trusting him to deliver you, and trusting him to provide for you is called faith.

Do you notice what happens before this son can even knock on the door and beg for a job? “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” See, this isn’t being judgmental.  God’s love that looks and searches when everyone else says it’s not worth it is called unconditional.  God’s love that does not seek to punish but restore is called mercy.  God’s love that seeks to rebuild what he did not break is called grace.

Do you notice what happens to the pouting older son when he sees the younger brother getting what he thinks should be his? “So his father went out and pleaded with him… ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’”  See, also here there is no judgment.  God still goes to the proud and self-righteous and begs.  God still goes to the arrogant and shows the bounty of his grace and blessings.  God still goes to the judgmental and shows how his standard is different and better.

Both of these sons wander in different ways, and the father doesn’t play favorites.  He doesn’t view one as worse and the other as better.  He sees how both have their problems, both don’t measure up to the right standard.  Still, his love remains for both.  He desires both to be restored.

That’s the kind of God you have, brothers and sisters.

While sinners like you and me wander off to the desires of the world again and again, God’s kindness does not waver.  He watches and waits patiently, lovingly, graciously.  While sinners like you and me stick our self-righteous noses in the air again and again, God’s kindness does not run out.  He comes to us in Word and sacrament, begging for us to see what he has provided.

And what is that exactly?  God’s kindness and love provided a promise to save us from his judgment.  God’s kindness and love provided a Savior to fulfill all God’s promises.  God’s kindness and love provided forgiveness for our wandering and peace to replace our pride.  God’s kindness and love provided a home for us before we ever asked for it or realized we needed it. God’s kindness and love did all the work to get rid of our judgmental hearts.  Jesus was punished like the lost and wayward should be.  He was punished like the self-righteous and arrogant should be.  Jesus gave us the place in God’s home, not because we were all out of options, not because we are so good at repenting, not because we meet his perfect standards, but because God’s kindness and love finishes what he started.

To stop being judgmental, to give all that up, Jesus doesn’t point us to either of these sons in the parable, does he?  He shows us it takes a father’s love.  He shows us what the father is willing to do for his children.  That is the Father you have, brothers and sisters, one who showed you what love and kindness is and wants nothing more than you to enjoy it forever in his heavenly home.

When you are trying to be kind and compassionate, when you are trying to be humble and honest, when you are trying not to focus on your own standards and opinions, remember that your heavenly Father did all the work for you.  Remember that changing our lives does not cause God to love us, but rather his love causes us to change.  God grant it.  Amen.

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JESUS CHANGES THE HEADLINES

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… a false sense of safety

SERMON: Luke 13

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

 

Blood was a very normal sight for the Jewish worshipers.  Bulls, calves, goats, sheep, even some birds were regularly and daily slaughtered for offerings at the altar.  It would not make the headlines at all that blood was being shed at the Temple.  And it would not be the most shocking headline to see that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had found some more lawbreakers who needed to be executed.  The government kept a firm hand on the people and would not tolerate disorder.

But this time it was different.  This was the type of thing that would make your mouth drop open in shock and your head shake in disgust if you were a Jew. The headline was “Blood mixed at the altar.”  Some people from Galilee were executed while they were at the Temple courtyard making sacrifices, so their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.  It’s the kind of headline that got everyone talking.

And that’s not the only one that Jesus brings to our attention today.  Another tragedy that rocked the area was to hear that 18 lives were lost because of a terrible accident south of the Temple at the pool of Siloam.  That headline read: “18 innocent bystanders crushed in tower collapse.”

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine those kinds of headlines.  We see these types of tragedies and killings every day.  We probably have a similar reaction, too.  Why do bad things happen?  Why all the crime?  Why the accidents?  Why the diseases and hospital stays? Why the chaos as if this world has no idea what is good and what is bad, what is up and what is down?

Do you want the answer to these types of questions?  I know you do.  It’s actually a really simple one: Sin. Now, I’ve said that before, and I’d like to have a more concrete answer that you can use when you are seeing the headlines.  I’d like to clear up all the uncertainties, but God gives us only this one simple answer: sin has ruined this world.  Its grip squeezes everyone and everything: people, politics, weather, crime.  Sin is like radiation that permeates all things and brings destruction and devastation.  I can’t get rid of it.  You can’t get rid of it.  Sin will linger like a dark cloud over the earth until the voice of God says, “ENOUGH!  This is the end.  It’s time bring our people home forever.”

So, if sin is the only answer for the terrible headlines, both way back then and now, then we have to give up a false sense of safety, because not everything is ok for us.  Sin is part of my life and yours and that makes us guilty.  You and I cannot deny that, and it won’t work anyways. When I see the headlines, however, I don’t want to be lumped into the same category as the killers, rapists, and thieves. I’m guessing you don’t either.  I don’t even want to be in the category with people who are too selfish or have any other kind of undesirable trait.

And so I try to rationalize.  We all do it.  We say things like, “I would never do anything that bad. I’m glad I’m not like that.”  When we think that way, we are making levels of sin.  We put really bad people – like those who get a death sentence as Jesus brought up– way down here.  We put the pretty bad screw-ups next.  We put the foolish and selfish next up.  Then, maybe we make a category for ourselves.  We know we’ve made some mistakes, we know that we don’t always have the right attitude, and there are some pet sins that are hard to give up, but we like to think we’re not that bad.  Finally, we might even be honest enough to make a category of really good people above us.

We are the ones who naturally rationalize like this because we are human.  We rationalize because we have to find some way to cope with the guilt of sin.  We have to find a way to be safe before God.  And so we try to rationalize sin and minimize it.  When we look in the mirror we want to see someone good staring back at us. We think if we can do that well enough then we can find our way into God’s good graces.  If we can be better than others and work hard enough, then we can be right in God’s sight.

Jesus knows that we do this.  He sensed it when he was talking to these people.  So, he asked a couple questions that get to the heart of the issue. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  …Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  We would naturally and logically answer, “Well, yeah!  Bad people get what they deserve.”  Jesus answers these two questions much differently than we would. “Do you think some are worse sinners or more guilty than you? I tell you, no! These levels of sin that we make to look good in front of God don’t work at all.  Turns out God doesn’t have any levels for sin.  You either have it or you don’t.  Period.

Brothers and sisters, in us Jesus sees sin. You and I can try to come up with a way to cope with our guilt, you and I can try to get rid of it, hide it, or explain it away.  We can try to make ourselves safe, but you and I cannot change the truth.  We don’t carry out God’s demands. We don’t have ability to be right in God’s sight. So then, we are not the kind of people that God accepts into heaven.  Sinful people are the ones who go to hell.

However, Jesus says the headlines don’t have to be doom and gloom for us.  He says, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  So there’s our solution!  If we repent, we can avoid the whole mess. But what if I have forgotten to repent since this morning?  There are a lot of sins that I do every day, not to mention my sinful nature makes my whole life unacceptable to God.  I would almost have to walk around every second of the day saying sorry to God. And what if my repentance is not sincere enough?  Would it still count?  And what about unbelievers, how can they repent if they don’t know God?  Why would they say sorry to Jesus if they don’t believe in him as their only Savior?  Do you see how what kind of trouble we are in? If repentance is something we have to do to avoid hell or if heaven is based on how well I repent, then I’m still going to perish.

This is the point of the sermon that is like looking at headlines.  Our mouths hang open a little bit in shock. We want to stop listening, shaking our heads in utter disbelief.  We don’t know how our situation could be this bad.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to tell this little parable of a vineyard owner, who wanted his fig tree to be fruitful.  That makes total sense.  If you plant a fruit tree in your yard, I’m guessing you want to pick some fruit in the future.  Well, the owner didn’t find any fruit for THREE WHOLE YEARS!  He calls that tree a waste.  The owner wants it cut down.

Ok, so that doesn’t change anything, does it?  That news is still bad for us.  God is the owner and if he doesn’t see fruits of faith in your life, then he wants to cut you down.  But here’s where Jesus starts to change the headlines for us.  The gardener steps in at this bleak moment and says, “Leave it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.”

Jesus sees the situation very clearly.  He sees the sins in our life.  He sees how we try to rationalize them with different levels. He sees how we think maybe there’s some way I can help God fix it.  But he knows there’s nothing we can do. He knows that we can’t fix our situation by trying harder, praying more, or being sincerer in repentance. He knows we are lacking the righteousness God is looking for.  Jesus knows we deserve to be cut down and burned up forever.

And that makes him go to work to change our life.  He doesn’t want your story to end this way.  So, Jesus himself starts to work on you. He’s the only who can do this because he is the only won who is right in God’s sight.  He’s the only one who can do the job perfectly. So he picks up the shovel with his nail-pierced hands and starts digging. He digs out the excuses.  He digs out the sin.  He digs out the guilt. He digs out the rationalizing.  Making different levels for sin is not going to change anything for you.  Looking in yourself for righteousness because you aren’t that bad is not going to make you fruitful. Jesus digs all that bad soil away. That’s when he hits the roots, the stark reality is that you are not bearing fruit for God and you are dying in sin.  That leaves us feeling kind of exposed and raw, weak and helpless. That makes us realize we need some serious, life-changing help. That leads us to confess that we are not safe and we need serious, saving help.  That’s when Jesus starts shoveling on the nutrients and the fertilizer. He fills up the gaping holes around the roots where sin used to be with his forgiveness.  He loads on his love in place of the guilt.  He packs on his promises in exchange for the excuses. He replaces our rationalizing with his perfect righteousness. Then, he keeps watering with his Word and waits.

Did you notice how long the work takes? It’s not one time.  It’s not a couple days a week for a while.  It’s every day for a whole year.  If you want fruitful results tomorrow, don’t be disappointed if there isn’t any fruit yet.   Jesus is doing the work underground at your roots first.  Jesus is feeding you and strengthening you.  He’s getting you strong and healthy. And that might take some time.  But don’t give up.  Jesus isn’t. He’s not ever going to give up on you.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is working on you.  He is working on you with his law and gospel.  He is working on you with repentance and faith. This means he changes our bad headlines.  He changes the focus from our own miserable mistakes and failing fixes.  He changes our attention, so that we see him and everything he has done and still does for us.

Do you think that it will work when Jesus does all these things to you?  Jesus doesn’t finish the story.  He doesn’t tell us what happens.  But if God planted the tree and if Jesus works on that tree to get rid of the bad and nurture and feed it with his goodness, then what do you think the headline will be?  “Sinner is saved.”  “Guilty is innocent.” “Fruit instead of fire.”  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s our headline through the work of Jesus Christ.  To him be thanks and praise forever. Amen.

MERCY IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE

makings of ministry

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

I remember very vividly 4 or 5 years ago an older man coming up to me in the church basement, saying, “Pastor, that devotion you wrote for the newsletter is crazy.  That has to be impossible!”

If you thought last week’s message was shocking, what are you thinking now as we take a look at how Jesus continued this sermon in Luke 6?

If you remember, last week Jesus said that everything in your life is at peace and going well, that you are blessed when you are poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted.  His purpose for saying that was to show us that the proper priorities for life are not earthly possessions and worldly desires but a spiritual relationship with Jesus, a heart of faith, and the eternal home of heaven.  I don’t need to rehash the whole thing, you can go online and check out the video on our website/ Facebook.

This week, however, Jesus takes it up a notch, don’t you think?  Maybe you are thinking that the older gentleman I spoke to before church that day was right, what Jesus says here is impossible.  I mean, there are plenty of places in the Bible where God says something that causes people to scratch their heads.  If God has put faith into your hearts that doesn’t mean all the questions just disappear, does it?  If you trust and rely on Jesus then there is still room to grow in his Word.  And today, that’s what we need to do, because what Jesus says seems to be impossible.

Let’s just summarize it:  Love your enemies.  Love the way Jesus uses it is not even close to love the way our world uses it.  Our world says ‘love’ when it talks about pets, food, sports teams, and famous people.  That’s not love to Jesus.  Because love is not selfish.  Love is not a fuzzy feeling.  Love is not lust. Love is not following someone on Instagram or Facebook.  Love is not wanting more of something for yourself.  Love is making a sacrifice.  Love is caring enough to forgo something that would benefit you so that someone else can benefit.  Love is serving selflessly the needs of others.  Love is compassion.  And the only way we could ever know love is because God is love.

And when Jesus says ‘enemies,’ he’s not talking about the people who aren’t friends, like relatives you don’t know very well, neighbors you haven’t met, coworkers that you don’t really talk to except the casual “hello.”  Jesus is talking about the relatives who bad mouth you to the whole family and try to turn them against you.  Jesus is talking about the neighbors who are actively and maliciously trying to make your time in the neighborhood worse.  Jesus is talking about the bullies at school.  He’s talking about the coworkers who want you gone for good.  Jesus is talking about the people you know who are out to get you.  He says, “You need to love them, sacrifice what’s good for you for their sake, do good things for them, pray for them, and let it go if they hurt you or steal from you.”

As Jesus says later, it is really easy to love people who love you.  Even sinners, the real lowlifes, the castoffs of society, the ones who are looked down on, even they know how to love and care about the ones who are loving and caring towards them.  Jesus says, “What credit is that to you” three times.  You aren’t impressing him or unbelievers when you only care about the people who show they care for you first.  Jesus wants all who are listening to him to understand that the goal is to show love, do good, and be generous to people who do not deserve it.

Let’s just be clear here.  Jesus doesn’t say that evil is good.  He doesn’t say that we just have to suck it up when terrible things happen.  Jesus is not saying that if you are being abused, raped, or your life is in danger that you should do nothing. But he is saying that it is not your job to get even, ever.  It is not your responsibility to retaliate or avenge any wrongs that you have to endure.  If that seems weak and humble and lowly, good.  Those are defining characteristics that Jesus wants you to have.  Just last week, if you remember the Apostle Paul reminded us that when we are weak, then we are strong because we are relying on God’s grace and Christ’s power to work in us and through us.

Jesus goes on later in verse 37 to warn against being judgmental.  This is not at all talking about sin.  So, you better know the difference.  Sin is what God says is wrong.  Look at his commandments; disobeying them is sin. Period.  But living with the hypocritical attitude that puts all your personal preferences, opinions, and ideas on par with God’s moral code cannot be condoned.   That’s what Pharisees did, and Jesus bluntly says here, you cannot judge people that way.  Your default setting must be compassion, forgiveness, and love.  If you aren’t willing to live that way every day, then why should God treat you any different.  He should judge you, condemn you, and destroy you.

And finally, in verse 38 Jesus says to be generous.  Think of measuring out wheat here.  Jesus is saying use a good honest scale, press it down a couple times and shake it together so that you aren’t skimping at all, and even let it run over a little bit.  Having a generous heart will not only be good for others, because as Jesus says, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  In essence, if you are generous, then others and God will be generous to you.

This all sounds fine and good, until you realize that Jesus is not saying this is what you should expect from others.  He is not saying that you should wait for other people to treat you this way.  Then, and only then, you can go ahead and treat them well.  No, that’s not the golden rule.  Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  “Treat others the way I want them to treat me?  I think that is putting the wrong person first.  I just don’t think others are going to treat me the way I want them to, so I’ll just change that a little bit so that I make sure I am not being neglected.”  But that’s not the way Jesus wants it.  God never puts himself first, so do you really think it’s excusable to put yourself first?

What that man said to me years ago in a church basement kind of sounds right on the money.  Jesus is describing and teaching a way of life that seems impossible for us.  And if it seems downright wrong to you, then how could you ever be a child of God?  Because God’s children want to be like their perfect Father.  They want to listen to their Lord and Savior.  They serve willingly because the Spirit lives in their hearts.

Brothers and sisters, it is impossible for us to find our way into God’s family by following what Jesus says here.  But what is impossible for us is not only possible for God, but it is exactly what he does for you.  Right there in the middle of verse 35 Jesus says it so well, “the Most High…is kind to the ungrateful and wicked… your heavenly Father is merciful.” Mercy is another one of those beautiful Bible words that explores a concept so foreign to us that only God can show us what it is.

Think of a gunman who shoots up a school full of kids, think of the sexual predator, think of the worst bully, think of your fiercest enemies.  You kind of want to see them suffer.  They have ruined so many lives, they need to know what it is like.

That’s not the way God sees it.  He sees someone who is ungrateful and wicked but who needs kindness and love.  He sees someone who deserves punishment for all the wrongs they have done, but he doesn’t do it.  He sees a sinner who needs a Savior.  God sees everything that happens, and he has the love to forgo any punishment.  He does not thirst for blood.  The psalmist tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” [1] That’s mercy.  It sounds utterly impossible for us, but not for God.   Instead of giving us the very well-deserved punishment for sin, which is called hell, his grace sent Jesus.

And what exactly did Jesus do. Well, it’s not like we were on his side.  Sin makes us hostile enemies of God.  By nature we are born on the wrong side of that relationship.  Jesus did come here to find all the people who were on God’s side so that he could save the ones who earned it.  No, Jesus came to a world full of enemies.  And he came here to love us, not wanting his own personal gain but caring and sacrificing himself for us.  He came here not to judge us and condemn us, but to forgive us.  He didn’t come to see how much he could get out of us, but he came here to give us everything he had.  He didn’t love the loveable, because the loveable do not exist.  Instead, he loved us so much, that he died to make us loveable to God and heirs of his kingdom.  God’s mercy didn’t punish us.  His grace sent Jesus to take the punishment for us.  God’s mercy doesn’t send us to hell.  His grace gives us the gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation through Jesus, and the faith to hold on to him. God’s mercy and grace is the only way we have eternal life with God in heaven.

God’s mercy and grace is also the only way we can have his kind of life here on earth.  What Jesus says today sounds impossible.  “Love your enemies…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s not impossible for him.  That is exactly what he did for us.  And when he put the Spirit in your heart, when he took up residence in your life, don’t you think he gave you the abilities to carry out this God-pleasing life?  Don’t you think that faith in Jesus makes you different now?  Don’t you think that God’s love has worn off on you a little bit so that you can look at others in a new way?

Of course it has.  Love, good, prayer, humility, forgiveness, generosity… where else do you think this world should find those attributes than the children of the God who shows us exactly what those things are?  And that is exactly what makes our ministry here so powerful.  We have the God of unmatched mercy.  We have the God of generous grace.  We have the Savior of selfless service.  So, that is what our lives and our ministry will look like.

That man said I was crazy and it must be impossible.  It’s not at all a surprising statement.  Do you know what I told him?  I said, “It sure is impossible for us, but not for Jesus. And guess where he is right now?”  Do you know that answer to that?  Through faith, Jesus is right here (heart) and here (in the Word) and here (among us).  So, that means with God’s unmatched mercy in us, we can love our enemies. God grant it.  Amen.

 

[1] Psalm 103:10

WHAT’S YOUR FILTER? for fishing?

makings of ministry

Luke 5

1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

A filter is an important item for your home.  It’s supposed to catch all the pollen, spores, bacteria, and garbage that is invisible to your eyes but bad for your body.  The filter catches all that stuff so you breathe in only what is good for you.  If you forget about the filter, then the good and the bad can both find their way into your body.

The same is true for your soul.  There’s a lot of invisible stuff floating around out there – ideas, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, world views.  Some are good for you heart and soul and some are toxic, but these things are everywhere.  They are in homes, at school, at work, in churches, at the mall, the coffee shop, the Y, the park, on TV, online, and even originating in your own head.  And these things that are floating cover every single topic imaginable from politics to sports to relationships to race to religion to family to friends to work to money to sex to crime to society and on and on.

We all have these things floating around us.  Some of it makes it into our hearts and some doesn’t.  So, my question is what’s your filter?  What stops certain things and lets others through?  The reason you and your neighbor and your cousin and your coworkers and the politician and the guy on the news and the famous athlete don’t say or like the same things is because you all have different filters. So, what’s yours?

Maybe you’ve never thought of that before, but this thought came to mind as I studied the Gospel from Luke 5.  What do you listen to?  What are you devoted to?  What’s that one voice that will make you, like Peter, go fishing?

A couple years ago I heard a pastor talk about a few of these filters that people use.  Some people have a “father filter.”  What they heard growing up seems right because mom and dad said so.  Your dad was a big baseball fan, particularly a Brewers fan, so you are a Brewers fan, too, not because you have spent time research the teams and see who you like, but because that’s all the baseball you watched as a kid.  Maybe you grew up going to a Lutheran church, so that’s why you are here, not because you’ve tried out a bunch of churches but because that’s just what mom and dad did.  You have a “father filter.”

Some have a “famous filter.”  Famous people are so talented, and they have a voice and thousands of followers on twitter.  They got famous because of what they do and say so there must be something to it.  If they say it, it must be right.  If someone at the Grammys or Academy Awards says something, if Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, or Stephen Colbert, if Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi, if LeBron James or Aaron Rodgers says something, they’re popular and it must be important or valuable.  You have a “famous filter.”

Then, other people have “a religious filter.”  They have their church and their pastor and that’s that.  A pastor studies a lot and reads a lot and he must be right about religion.  And the church would never veer off and lose sight of its overall mission to build on the solid foundation of Jesus and his Word.  The church would never become more interested in being a social club or a political power.  You have a “religious filter.”

And maybe the most famous is a “feelings filter.”  “I just feel it.  I know it in my heart. I sense it.  I’ve experienced things.  It doesn’t matter what they say on the news, what mom and dad say, what the church says, I know what’s right for me.  My feelings have never misled me.”  You have a “feelings filter.”

But there’s a problem with all these filters.  They’re flawed.  You know they are.  Look back in history.  Study what famous people have said.  Recall what mom and dad said.  Think about things that pastors and churches have said.  It’s not all stuff that’s good for you.  How did slavery exist?  How was segregation ok?  Why does racism and sexism still live on?  Famous people, church people, moms and dads let it through the filter.  Think about your own feelings.  Anyone remember some of the feelings they had when they were a kid, a teenager, a fresh college graduate?  A lot of those things we don’t even remember or care about anymore.  So, why would we think our feelings are flawless now?

Peter had filters, too.  He grew up in Galilee.  He learned from mom and dad, likely.  He spent time on the water, figuring out the fishing techniques, maybe from dad, like his dad before him. Who knows?  He heard from Jewish religious teachers in the synagogue.  He experienced the influence of the Roman government from the soldiers and tax collectors.  He developed some of his own boisterous and outspoken ideas.  It doesn’t really matter what time or place you grow up or live, the filters are there.

And then this day arrived.  Peter is cleaning his nets with his brother and some buddies. Maybe he’s muttering to himself, like a fisherman does who has just been shut out.  He might be thinking that dad’s advice didn’t really pay off too well.  He might be thinking there were using the wrong casting technique.  He might be thinking about what his wife will say when there’s nothing to eat or their finances get tight. (This is what he did for a living.)  These are all the different things that might be floating around.

And there’s another thing floating around.  It’s Peter’s boat, just off the shore, because Jesus is in town preaching.  He’s powerful and poignant and penetrating.  Peter had heard and seen him before.  He was introduced a while back by his brother with help from another man who spent time around the water, John the Baptizer.

And Jesus isn’t like anyone else.  No, Jesus is different.  His teachings, his voice, his viewpoints have authority.  He heals the sick, the diseased, and the demon-possessed.  He changes water to wine.  With Jesus none of those filters are needed.  You don’t need what mom and dad said.  You don’t need what the famous people were saying.  You don’t need what the religious leaders are teaching from their own ideas or interpretations.  You don’t need what your heart and feelings are coming up with.

Peter had all those filters.  His own feelings, the common knowledge of fisherman, the things he likely learned from dad and his dad before him were saying, “No more fishing today.” But there is another filter here.  It’s a filter that Peter cannot come up with and cannot find from a sinful world.  It’s right there in verse 5. (pg. 9)  “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so…”  “Jesus, all these other reasons, all these other ideas seem like they should work all the time, but they are flawed compared you.  If you say it, Lord, I don’t need any of them.”

And look what happens. Moments later, Peter, his brother, and his buddies are out in deep water fishing.  And they catch such a large number of fish that their nets begin to break.  So, Peter and his brother, Andrew, signal their business partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they fill both boats so full that they begin to sink.  It’s astonishing.  It shouldn’t have worked out this way.  You don’t go out in the middle of the daytime.  Other fishermen, the lessons from dad, his own experiences and feelings knew that.  But none of that mattered now, because of what Jesus says.  His Word is the best filter.

When Peter sees all this going on, there is one thing on his mind. He falls in front of Jesus with this request, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  Peter knows that all of his filters are letting in some of that toxic stuff.  His family, his own feelings, even being really religious can’t save him.  In fact, sometimes those things can hurt, because they leave you all alone.  They leave you with nothing but your sin.

And that’s a tough realization.  It’s hard when you recognize that all your best efforts and ideas, all the popular trends and cultural norms, all the traditions and lessons learned from mom and dad, even devotion to some churches and religious teachings won’t be able to get rid of my sin.  All these things that we make so important to our existence, in the end, cannot keep out what is toxic for life. And that’s not a good place to be.  Peter says, “I am a sinful man.  My filters are all off base.  My ways aren’t working.”

Jesus’ response to Peter doesn’t make a lot of sense.  He says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  He says, “Simon Peter, don’t let your sins deter you.  I want you.  I have you.  And I have work for you to do.”  Amazing, isn’t it?  A man who realizes that there is so much wrong with him, that acknowledges he doesn’t have anything good to offer, that admits he hasn’t always used the right filter, the Lord Jesus loves him and wants him.

So guess what Peter, his brother and their buddies do?  They started fishing again.  No, they didn’t get back in the boat.  In fact, “they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”  Why?  Because they had this other filter, the best filter.  They had Jesus and his Word.  They had a life and a purpose with Jesus.  The boats and fish couldn’t give them that.  Their own ideas, the popular trends, and the family traditions couldn’t give them that.  Peter went out fishing because Jesus said so, and he caught an astonishing amount of fish. And when Peter was getting dragged down by his feelings filter, Jesus gave him his Word again to filter out all the fears and the faults so that Peter would follow him for more fishing.

The question that comes to mind is: what’s your filter?  If it’s the father filer, the famous filter, the religious filter, or the feelings filter, then I’m not surprised if you sound like Simon Peter saying, “Go away from me, Jesus.”  Those filters are flawed.  They want nothing to do with Jesus.  They want you to stumble and fall in sin.

But in steps Jesus with a different filter. One that actually works to get rid of guilt.  One that actually works to remove the sin that is so toxic to us.  He says, “Don’t be afraid.  I love you.  I forgive you.  I want you.”  See, Jesus gives us his Word so that our feelings won’t drown us.  He gives us his Word so that popular ideas and famous people tweeting won’t deter us.  Jesus gives us his Word so that religious ideas and teachings that are floating around won’t clog up our hearts.  He gives us his Word so that family experiences and tradition won’t determine what is most important to us.  He gives us his Word so that we can go fishing.

Ask any fisherman.  They don’t have just one bait for one fish in one spot.  And they don’t just go out one time.  Not a chance. They have a whole arsenal.  They have different poles, lines, setups, baits, techniques, and all that stuff.  They go out in the morning, the evening.  They go to this lake, that river.

That really is what ministry is all about, and that’s what devoted disciples do.  We use what Jesus says.  We go fishing for people who are snagged by their feelings filter, their father filter, their famous filter, or their religious filter.  We use the gospel in lots of different ways like worship services, Bible basics classes, outreach events, camps, community service.  You use it here, in your home, at work, at school, on the world wide web.  And you use the gospel with all kinds of people – friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors.

And why do we do all of this fishing?  It’s certainly not because of my feelings, my family experiences, my religion, or all sorts of famous people.  It’s because of a filter that has no flaws.  Remember Peter fishing in the boat and then going fishing for people?  It’s because Jesus says so. And that’s the only filter needed for fishing.  Amen.

Capture
Luke 3

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

 

When you hear the word “repentance” what comes to mind, sorrow or happiness?  When you repent to the Lord or to someone you have wronged, are you sad or joyful?  A Christian hears the word repentance and knows that it is a good and godly thing, yet overall it probably conjures up a sad feeling.  After all, Scripture says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.”  But today in the Gospel, John the Baptizer teaches that repentance leads to a deep and pervasive joy.  The kind of joy that is so powerful and overwhelming that it will literally change the way a person thinks and acts, because that is what the word means, “a change of mind.”

You might think that it seems like an odd topic to cover less than ten days before Christmas, but brothers and sisters, this is exactly what we need in preparation for Christ’s coming.  Repentance was also needed while John the Baptizer is preparing people for Jesus to begin his public ministry.  That is the summary that we are given from Luke.  He is “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Maybe some were just intrigued by the weirdo out in the desert, but the main idea God’s trying to get across with the prophet, John, is forgiveness of sins.

It’s a little harsh to hear John call the crowds a “brood of vipers,” but sometimes people need to be jolted out of their spiritual laziness and snoozing.  On the one hand, these crowds were lulled to sleep by their religious leaders’ false teachings, and on the other hand their own sinful thoughts and attitudes were putting them on a dangerous path away from God.  Either way, the idea that people could escape, or be saved, from God’s wrath while continuing to cling to some of their culturally acceptable sins was counterproductive and destructive to their faith.

Another thing that was not going to help these people was their genetics.  You can just hear some of them retorting John, “We have Abraham as our father,” as if Abraham was the Savior.  John’s message was that a connection to a past believer will not do any good for their eternity.  But that was the thinking of so many back then.  John was preaching and teaching that the only thing that matters is faith.  Where people believe in God’s promised salvation and live in that faith, there is true joy – the kind of joy that produces fruit.

It’s not like people in John’s day are the only ones that need this message.  We need it, too, because so often we are looking for joy in all the wrong ways.  Sure sometimes we are clinging to the joy of salvation that comes through Christ, but there are plenty of times where we find “joy” that comes from gratifying our sinful flesh.  But you can’t have both.  Life doesn’t work that way.  You can’t enjoy eating all the calories you want and also enjoy good health.  Pizza, candy, burgers, donuts, and chips don’t help you get or stay healthy.  You can’t be a lazy pile and expect to be excellent at something.  If you want to be a great athlete, musician, dancer, or chef, you have to get off your butt, sacrificing that lazy leisure time, and work hard over and over again at developing and improving those skills.

Certain joys just cannot coexist within a person.  The joy of salvation does not coexist with the things the delight our sinful nature.  If a person pursues whatever joy their sinful flesh desires, thinking that an outward show of religiousness like attending worship or praying every day would also allow them to enjoy heaven, then they are just like those people going out to see John.  They are listening to and a part of the vipers.

This vipers bite us, too.  Do you ever use the one or two hours you spend here to excuse the other 166 or 167 hours of the week?  Do you ever think the 3% or 10% or even 20% of your income given back to the Lord can somehow negate the materialism and greed that is evident in the way we think about and use the other 80%, 90%, or 97% or our money?  Do you ever think that because you have your name on the rolls of a WELS church that you can escape the coming day of the Lord, forgetting that God could raise WELSers up out of the stones?  How much of our life is about desperately wanting and then enjoying God’s forgiveness so that we can rejoice in his gift of eternal life?  And then how much or our life is about wanting to know about God’s forgiveness of sins so that we can continue in those comfortable and familiar sins?

If there is any viper’s poison in us, we need what the Baptizer is saying.  We need to hear the truth that, “The ax is already at the root of the trees.”  There are, right now – that’s the word John uses – individuals who are religious and attend church that a just and holy God is ready to burn.

So, how’s that for joyful?  If you want the kind of joy that God has accomplished for you – eternal joy, joy this life could never bring – it is impossible without God leading you to see the seriousness and ugliness of sin.  A person is not seeing the seriousness of sin if they come to church and takes the Lord’s Supper to salve their conscience over the fact that they intend to go straight back to their familiar sins.

There is a time when sorrow is healthy for us.  The Bible calls it godly sorrow.  This is not the kind of sorry that is bummed and frustrated after being caught in sin or a sorry that comes from negative consequences for sin.  That’s a selfish and worldly kind of sorry that is only looking at myself.  Godly sorrow is acknowledging that I have offended my Creator, my Father.   Godly sorrow is acknowledging that I have made myself detestable to God and worthy of damnation.  That’s healthy sorrow.

If you do not acknowledge guilt and sin, you cannot possibly have joy.  When you try to hide guilt and coverup sin, when you pursue the “joys” of sinful desire, what you have is a futile attempt to distract yourself from the Judge who is coming.  You have some excitement and maybe an adrenaline rush, but you do not have joy.

To have real joy – the kind of joy that God give, the kind of joy that comes from repentance – it must be connected to God’s good news.  And that is also what John gave to the people.  John didn’t tell them to repent more frequently and more sincerely.  He told them of the one who was infinitely great and more powerful.  He pointed to the Messiah, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John didn’t want any credit or glory.  He was just a servant.  Jesus was the master, the Lord, God himself.  Luke writes, “With many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.”

And what exactly is that good news about Jesus?  Well, it certainly is not a message of how you need to clean up your life.  It is not a message of how you need to be more genuine and honorable.  It is not a message of how you need to bring joy back into your life.  It’s the message of how Jesus does that for you.

We’re reading kid’s Christmas books at our house for bedtime lately.  And one book kind of caught Mandy’s and my attention, “The Little Crooked Christmas Tree.”  It’s a cute story about one tree that was supposed to be a nice Christmas tree, but got crooked and misshapen.  I think of my life, and it looks pretty crooked and messed up.  It’s not the picture of health and vitality.  How about yours?  How healthy is it?  How tall?  How appealing?  Now, what if Jesus was a tree, too.  How majestic is that tree?  How straight and healthy and tall?  How green and full and fruitful?  Considering John describes fruitfulness in terms of generosity, kindness, and compassion, the Jesus-tree would be unlike any other in how amazing it is.  Yet, when God looked at our crooked and sickly tree, when he picked up his ax and walked determinedly toward us, Jesus begged, “No, Father! Not them!  Cut me down.”  On the tree of the cross that is exactly what God did to his own Son.  The amazing, thick, full, fruitful tree was cut down.  The sickly, crooked ones were spared.  That would be a sad story, except for the fact that Jesus’ tree came back to life even stronger and more beautiful than before.  When that fact is given and proclaimed to you – that God loves you, God wanted you, God chose you, God was willing to pay any price to have you for eternity with him – how does it affect you?  How can it not comfort and lift you up?  It boosts us up from the dingy depths.  It straightens us up.  It fixes what it broken. It gives us unequaled brilliance and joy.

And a tree that is healthy like that will be unbelievably fruitful.  John’s encouragement does not call for any activity of heroic proportions.  He does not say that the necessary fruit is to be a missionary in a foreign country or sell everything you have to support the poor and the work of the Church.  We simply have a new goal, a new purpose, to reflect Christ in our lives and in our dealings with other people.  We now live for him who died and rose for us.  We struggle through pain and hardship with the strength of Christ that he gave to us when we were baptized into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We use the good news that causes great joy not on a once a year or once a week basis, but on an every day basis and for everyone basis.  This is the fruitful life of a believer.  This is the joyful life that we have now, and God will make perfect forever in heaven.

I started the sermon with a question about repentance.  Did you say it was sad and sorrowful?  If you did, that’s not entirely wrong, but it also is not entirely right.  The kind of repentance that God works in his people will always conclude with joy, because godly sorrow turns you and changes your mind away from sin, away from how bad your tree looks and points you to the only place where forgiveness is given.  It points you to a different tree, one that is unmistakably and infinitely greater.  It points you to the tree where Christ died.  It points you to the tree that made the first bed our Savior ever had.  It points you to the Son of God and his restoring, refreshing, renewing, revitalizing love.  You have that joy right now and forever in him.  To God be the Glory!  Amen.

 

 

SPEAKING GOOD NEWS

Walls torn down

Luke 24:13-33

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

 

 

Did you get good news on Tuesday night (midterm Elections)?  That depends, doesn’t it?  Now, we don’t need to get into politics to prove this point.  It could be anything.  It could be sports.  It could be work.  It could be family. It could be this past Friday, opening day for deer gun season.  Did you get good news?  It all depends on what you want, doesn’t it?  That’s the way good news works.  If the outcome or information is what you want or like, then it’s good.  If not, then it’s not good.

But what if that’s not the way it has to be?  What if some news was good no matter who was receiving it?  What if some information was always good because of the one who has provided it?  My brothers and sisters, that is what we have from God in the gospel.  We have the news that is always good no matter who is listening or how they react.  The gospel of Jesus is always good news.

This good news is so good that it is specifically designed by God to be not just something that makes me good, but also something that makes me want to give good news to others.  This is called evangelism, and in our worship series, Walls Torn Down, we are reviewing this beautiful doctrine of the Bible to grow in how we Use the Power of Good News, which tears down the walls of sin, death, and hell.

That all began a few weeks ago in October.  If you remember a few weeks back, we started by hearing from God that to be involved in evangelism you don’t need to have all sorts of skills or a certain personality.  You don’t need to be on the church payroll.  We heard the story Jesus told of a Good Samaritan, and there Jesus teaches us that love is all you need, the selfless, Good Samaritan love that cares for people no matter who they are.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts through faith.  The second week we heard God’s Word from the God’s missionary to the Gentiles, Paul.  He told us that when you are a Christian you are going to find ways to be all things to all people.  In other words, we will get comfortable being uncomfortable.  The third week we heard from Paul again about how to turn conversations from common everyday things that everybody knows to the uncommon and unique grace and power of our God and Savior.  Remember how we saw him do that in Athens in the Areopagus?  He used their city and their objects of worship, one of which said “to an unknown god.”  He used their philosophers and poets.  He used those things that the people of Athens knew well to point them to the God of heaven and earth and his salvation through Jesus, who died and rose for us.

That leads us to these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  It’s later on the day Jesus rose, Easter.  They are both followers of Jesus, so for them to be talking with each other about everything that had happened is not all the remarkable.  That would be like you discussing a sermon, a bible class, an outreach event with another member here or maybe encouraging and comforting someone close to you with an illness or a problem they are facing.  Those are the kinds of things that you would be comfortable talking about with a brother or sister in faith.

But what if the audience is different?  Would you be as comfortable talking about everything Jesus has done for us, about the power of God, or about the teachings of the Bible?  Maybe we have to admit that when it comes to God’s good news, we don’t speak up because we think it depends on the audience.  It’s similar to the way we look at elections or sports.  We treat the gospel like it is only good news for those who we see here at church, those who are on our side.

When we do that, we are setting limits on the gospel that God has not set.  We see the two men on the road to Emmaus do the same thing. When this stranger, who is really Jesus, asks them what they are discussing, they give a somber recap of what happened.  Here’s the summary: “He [Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;1 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

This should be a joyous, exciting explanation of how Jesus conquered sin and death for all people, but instead it’s downcast and doleful, because they had set limits on God’s promises.  Did you catch that in their response?  See, here is what they thought God’s promised good news was: “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  These two thought the good news was the revival of the Jewish nation, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants.  They thought God’s promise was the Israelites being delivered from the oppression of the Roman government and restored to ruling the world’s political scene.

Sure, that would be good news for Israelites, what about everyone else?  What about the Romans?  What about Samaritans?  What about Gentiles who would grow up in Europe, Africa, or America.  What about us?  We wouldn’t have any good news from God.

Sadly, sometimes we put up those limits on God’s good news just like these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  The wonderful promises of God, his gospel of salvation for all, the Savior of the entire world is only good news for some.  In essence, that is saying God’s gospel message, his good news is not as good as God thinks it is.  Somehow we convince ourselves that the power of the gospel is not that powerful.  How foolish you and I are to think that the good news of God would ever be so small and insignificant.

But we do, we do talk and act like it is unimpressive, and maybe that’s because we don’t think the bad news is all that bad, either.  I think that happens to us like it was happening to the two men on the road.  They thought the good news was that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and get rid of the Roman rule.  So that means the bad news that was causing their sorrow was that Israel would still be stuck under the hated, oppressive government.

Brothers and sisters, that is not the bad news.  How foolish you and I are to think the bad news could ever be political, economic, financial, educational.  How foolish!  The bad news is not that your team didn’t win.  The bad news is not that you missed a big buck.  The bad news is not that your loved one has cancer, that your family is in shambles, that you lost your job.  That’s not even close too bad enough.

The bad news is sin.  Sin is something God cannot wink at or ignore.   Sin is something we cannot change the definition of.  Sin is so bad that it separates people from God.  Anyone who has ever done any one little thing wrong, even if it was just a thought to do wrong, has completely smashed God’s law to pieces.  Anyone who has smashed God’s law to pieces cannot have a life with God.  Sin is real, and it puts your name on the list of those who are going to the burning lake of sulfur where the worms that eat you do not die, and the fire is not quenched.  We’re talking eternal torture and punishment.  We’re talking the worst imaginable pain and suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically and it lasts forever.  The bad news is that anyone, who is not perfect as God requires you to be, is going to hell.  And this bad news cannot be changed by anyone.  You cannot undo what you have done wrong.  You cannot make up for these sins.  There is simply no other option but to suffer the pain of hell. Period.

That’s bad, isn’t it?  That’s so bad that it’s hard to put into words how bad sin and hell are.  It’s so bad, in fact, that the only fix that would ever work is an act of God.  He’s the only one powerful enough.  He’s the only one loving enough.  He’s the only one who could do anything about it. The only possible way to get rid of the devastating and eternal destruction sin causes to each person is that God would take that suffering and pain away from us and put it on someone else.  Someone else who is powerful enough and loving enough to see sinners in this absolutely perilous condition and step in for us, that’s what it would take to get rid of our bad news.

What would you call it if someone actually did that?  What would you call it if someone saw the entire world full of sinners and decided to step in for us?  What would you call it if someone would suffer the pain and torture our sins have earned?  What would you call it if someone would endure the physical, emotional, psychological hell that is coming for every sinner?  What would you call it if someone would die so innocently so that the guilty ones could benefit?  What would you call it if someone would take our pain and punishment and then give us the perfection God requires of us?  What would you call it if someone who died under the crushing weight of our sins actually came back from the dead?  What would you call it if someone conquered all, we’re talking every single one of our eternal enemies for us?  What would you call it if you didn’t have to be afraid of death, the devil, or hell anymore?  What would you call it if someone would provide all of this free of charge for all sinners, without conditions and without basing it on anything you did or didn’t do?  What would you call it if someone didn’t put limits on the people who can have and enjoy this gift?  What would you call that?  How about THE GOOD NEWS!!!

Yes, good news is exactly what that is.  Good news is exactly what Jesus has produced, accomplished, and provided for us.  It’s so good, in fact, that God gave it a special name called the gospel.  And God gave the gospel special power to work on hearts whenever and wherever it pleases him to change lives on earth and for eternity.

And do you notice what the gospel, what God’s good news, does to those who believe it?  Those two on the road to Emmaus heard the good news from Jesus, they saw their Savior alive, and with hearts burning from the power of the gospel, they immediately wanted to share it.  Luke writes in verse 33: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem…

If you want to know how in the world you could ever tell someone the gospel of Jesus, I think you are looking at it all wrong.  This good news is so good, how could you not?  Amen.

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

Walls torn down

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

A wrecking ball can do some pretty impressive work.  Where a building once stood, it can make a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes.  It’s destructive.  It’s violent.  It’s powerful.  When a wrecking ball wreaks its havoc on a condemned building or a fire-ravaged property that you remember, it can definitely be sad.  Just imagine if we would see a wrecking ball take down this house.  Imagine what those remaining in the land of Israel felt when they saw the wrecking ball of the Babylonian Army take down God’s holy Temple…devastation, loss, anger.

But if something else is built in its place, well that could be something good.  The condemned building or fire-ravaged property gives way to a new home, a new business, a new store – that is beneficial.  If it would ever happen that this church building would be demolished, that could give way to a new house of God for us to use faithfully for our growing congregation and community for the next 50, 60, 100 years.  The Temple was rebuilt – although not as grand as Solomon’s masterpiece – and the group of people that returned from captivity were once again able to worship God in their homeland, in God’s city, Jerusalem, in God’s holy house.  In that way, a wrecking ball is necessary because it removes something that isn’t helpful and builds something that is.

I think we can look at the gospel of Jesus Christ like that.  The gospel will break and destroy.  It will be a violent shattering of what was once there, a powerful display of what God can do.  That’s the idea you get when you read what God inspired Paul to write in Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”  The gospel is good news that is powerful to tear down a life of selfishness, sin, and unbelief.  The gospel is good news that is powerful to build up a new life of faith in Jesus, hope for eternity, and service to God and our neighbors.  The gospel is good news that is the only power that can get a rotten sinner like you and a rotten sinner like me to heaven.  That is the most powerful thing that there is.

That’s why our new worship series is going to talk about how to use the gospel.  If it is good news, if it is powerful enough to tear down a life of sin and unbelief and build up a new life of faith and service, if it is for us and everyone else, then we should probably use it.

But, you know, not everyone agrees that the gospel is powerful or that this good news of Jesus is the only way to heaven.  From the smartest sociologists and psychologists to the simple bloggers and social media users, from the most religious to those who can’t stand religion, people have a lot of different ideas about what is necessary to get to heaven.

This expert in the law had it figured out.  He wasn’t asking this question like the rich, young ruler from last week.  He was asking to test Jesus and really to discredit him.  See, he had his own answer and considering Luke calls him an expert in the law, you can probably guess what his answer is.  He said the arrow points up.  I have to follow laws to get into heaven.  I have to make my way up.

So when Jesus was patient and gracious with this man, pointing him back into the Bible for the answer, the expert in the law was ready to give him the best summary of the law that there is. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  He gave Jesus the same summary that the Bible gives: Love God, that’s the first table of the law, and love your neighbor, that’s the second table.

It’s easy to give that answer, but when Jesus says, “Do this and you will live,” that’s a little difficult.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love God with everything I am all the time.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love my neighbor, not like, not tolerate, not accept, not avoid, but love my neighbor in the same way that I take care of myself.

If the arrow points up and I have to love perfectly to get into heaven, then I have a problem. Because it doesn’t take me long to look my whole life, even just the last week, to see that I have loved things and people more than my God and I have cared for myself a lot more than the people around me.  I have fallen short of having the love I need to get into heaven, and so have you.

All the laws that this guy was an expert in, all those places where you open you Bible and say, “Oh no! I am not doing that.  I don’t like that.  I can’t do that,” – all these laws God gave us for one reason: to know that we are sinful and that there is no way I can get myself into heaven. Period.  There would have to be someone else, because if I have to follow the laws perfectly and love perfectly then it’s never going to be the eternal outcome I’m looking for.

Brothers and sisters, that’s why God sent us the Redeemer, the one who makes the payment and buys back that condemned property to make something new with it.  God didn’t just forget about the law.  He didn’t just say, “You don’t need to worry about all those commandments I was so serious about before.”  No, Jesus came to fulfill every law for me.  He came to live the way I cannot.  He came to love the way I won’t.  He came to complete everything for me in my place so that I can live with Jesus forever.  This is the good news.

The expert in the law doesn’t want to let Jesus off so easy, and at the same time he doesn’t want to look silly in front of everyone there – I mean, an expert in the law should be able to come up with a harder question than one that has such an easy answer.  So, he says, “Well, the real questions is:  And who is my neighbor?”

To answer Jesus tells a very clear and striking story.  This 17-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho had rocky crevices and ravines out in the desert that provided a great place for robbers to sneak up on defenseless travelers.  And even though the threat of danger was high, it was very familiar and well-traveled because that is the way Jews traveled to avoid going through Samaria.   Samaria and Samaritans were off limits.  They were scum.  Jews didn’t want to associate with them.  That was the worst thing you could call someone in Israel back then.  Jesus picks the perfect setting for this expert and for all of us to consider who my neighbor is and what loving them means.

As the story goes a Jewish man traveling on that road is attacked.  The bandits beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead.  It’s an ugly situation that gets even uglier.  A priest, thank God, a priest, a servant and preacher in the house of the Lord happens to be traveling down that road soon afterward, but he passes by on the other side of the road.  Who cares what the reason is!  You can see his self-centeredness and lack of love.  Another Jew, a Levite – that would be another guy who was coming from work in the Temple, serving the Lord – comes down the road with the exact same kind of self-centeredness and lack of love.

Then, Jesus uses the s-word, Samaritan.  He says a Samaritan comes down the road, and every Jew listening to this story gets a bad taste in their mouths.  The Samaritan, who has no reason to love this Jew and care for him, sees him and has pity on him.  He bandages his wounds.  He puts him on his own donkey.  He takes him to a hotel and cares for him over night.  The next morning, he leaves enough money for this man to stay for almost two months.

The answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”  is so obvious.  But there is another thing that is so obvious about this story.  This is what it is like for us.  This is what it is like to have the gospel, the good news of the Redeemer who saw us broken and left for dead and came to save us.  He took us out of harm’s way.  He healed us and made us new.  He paid for us fully and completely so that there would be nothing left for us to do.   This is what it is like for us who have the good news of Jesus and live with the grace and mercy of God.

In this life that we have from God, as people who have been purchased and cleansed and made new by Christ, as people who have his love not because of what we do but because of what he has done, and as people who know what the amazing power of the gospel does, we are not motivated by guilt or obligation.

Guilt an obligation can only do so much.  Think about the Samaritan.  If he felt obligated to do something, what would it be?  Report the crime.  We think the priest and Levite are monsters for not helping, but obligation would not motivate you to help.  You’d call in the crime.  Maybe you would stop the car and wait for some other help to arrive.  But obligation and guilt would not make you pick this guy up, let him bleed all over your car, take him to the hospital, stay with him over night, and then pay his hospital bill.  Obligation doesn’t have that kind of power.

God’s grace that is poured out into our hearts through the gospel, the powerful good news of Jesus, does.  The good news frees us from obligation and guilt.  The good news fills us with the same kind of love that God has for us.

We don’t follow God’s laws, come to church, give offerings, take care of our family, show kindness to others, speak the good news of Jesus to our friends and neighbors because if we don’t God won’t love us.  That is the arrow pointing up.  That is the sense of obligation to earn God’s love.  Instead, because Jesus fulfilled the law for me, because Jesus forgives all my sins, because he promises heaven for me and all believers, because he has put this good news into my heart, because he has changed my life forever, I want to do what God says.  This changed life I have now oozes with thankfulness where I love God and love my neighbors.

When you see someone who is wrecked and broken by the desires of this world, when you see someone who is beat up and left helpless by the lies of people that teach that the arrow has to go up to get into heaven, when you see someone who is unconscious to the danger they are in and you do nothing you’ve got a problem with self-centeredness and lack of love.  That is not the way God built you with his grace and mercy. His gospel message, the good news of Jesus, is the power that not only puts faith in your heart but also removes self-centeredness and the lack of love from your life.

There are people around you – family member, friends, acquaintances, neighbors – who need this good news.  They don’t need an arrow pointing up.  They don’t need more obligations. They don’t need more rules.  They don’t need to figure out how to make it in this world.  They need to know how to make it out of this world to the heaven God has paid for.  They need to know about the one who came to set them free from the pressing load of guilt.  They need to hear that the arrow points down from God who loved the whole world that he was willing to offer up his Son.  They need to hear about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, his forgiveness and salvation.

My friends, to help them you don’t need all sorts of skills.  You don’t need confidence from all sorts of personal successes.  You don’t need to have all sorts verses memorized.  You don’t need a job at a church.  Look what that did for the priest and Levite.  What you need is love.  You need selfless, Good Samaritan kind of love that cares for people no matter what.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts and lives with his gospel message.  When you have love like that, good news is easy to share.  God grant it.  Amen.