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What Is To Happen To Your People? St. Michael and All Angels 2019

September 30, 2019 Leave a comment

daniel visitor.PNGSt. Michael and All Angels

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, OR

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 (Rev. 12:7-12)

September 29, 2019

What is To Happen To Your People?

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Dear Ones in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.  (Dan. 10:14)

 

Daniel began to fast and pray and mourn because his people—the people called by God’s name—were suffering.  They had been taken away from the land God promised their forefathers because they had been unfaithful for centuries.  Now they were captives in another nation, surrounded by worshippers of other gods.  The future of God’s people looked bleak.  Their continued existence as a people was in grave doubt.

 

This grieved Daniel.  And the chances are, you know something of his grief and anxiety.  You have experienced it here, just as many others of your brothers are experiencing it throughout the country.  They and you wonder “what will happen to my people, the people of God?”  What will happen specifically to my people, my congregation?

 

And there is good news for you if you have been troubled with the troubles of Christ’s Church, with our own sin that, in one way or another, has brought this trouble.  We see that God is greatly concerned with this question by the way He deals with Daniel.  God is even more concerned about the future of His people than we are.

 

See how He sends Daniel a messenger to tell him God’s answer to his grief.  And not just any messenger, but a glorious, mighty angel, with a torso like the brightness of the sky and a face like lightning and a voice that sounds like a multitude.  He sounds almost like Jesus is described in the first chapter of Revelation.  If God were not greatly concerned about the future of His people, and greatly concerned that they know the future He has planned for them, He could have sent someone less impressive.

 

And so with you who are worried about the future of God’s people in this place, Redmond, Oregon.  Who have grieved and agonized, perhaps, who have prayed for a long time.  God is concerned for you, so much so that He does not just send you the account of Daniel’s visitor.  He sends a messenger to you, specifically, your own messenger, who will stay with you and continue to proclaim to you God’s message about the future of His people.

 

That glorious messenger tells Daniel briefly that Michael the angel will arise in the last times, and there will be a time of even greater trouble for God’s people than they were experiencing.  But, he goes on, at that time your people shall be delivered (Dan. 12:1).  The future of Daniel’s people is deliverance, deliverance for everyone whose name is written in the book.  Then those who are sleeping in the dust will arise, and the wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament.  They will be glorious as Daniel’s visitor is glorious.  That is the future for God’s people.

 

This message from God may not impress you.  You have heard it before.  But notice how hard it is for Daniel to get this message.  It takes three weeks to get to him, even though God sent out the messenger the very first day Daniel began to pray.  Why?  Because the messenger is held up by the prince of the kingdom of Persia.  That means the fallen angel in charge of the part of the world in which Daniel is living holds up this powerful messenger with a face like lightning.  Another angel, Michael, has to come help him so he can get to Daniel.  See how powerfully the unclean spirits oppose this message of the final deliverance of God’s people?  We may take it for granted, but the demons do not.

 

That is because God’s Word is infallibly true.  It cannot be broken.  What God says will happen must, unfailingly, come to pass.  When He says that His people will be delivered from the ungodly and from the unclean spirits that dominate the world, they will.  It is doom to Satan when that message is spoken.  And God’s Word not only comes true down the road.  It brings what it proclaims to pass now.  If you or I say, “It will rain tomorrow”—it might.  But we don’t make it rain by saying it—we are expressing our belief that it will rain because it looks like it will or because some meteorologist told us it will.  But if God declares “It will rain tomorrow”—not only will it rain tomorrow, but now, as His Word goes out, the wind on the Pacific Ocean will begin to blow and form clouds, and those clouds will begin to roll over the coast.  When God says His people will be delivered, He begins to deliver people immediately as it is spoken from the devil’s power.

 

When God sends us a messenger proclaiming the future of His people, it is never something we ought to discount because we have heard it before.  Whether it entertains us or not, this message comes with God’s power.  Because it is His message it cannot fail; it must bring about what it announces.  And yet the sin of discounting God’s Word is as common as it is grievous.  We act as if it is not from God, that it does not have the power to kill and condemn, to make alive and declare us righteous.  We behave as if we are its masters who know it rather than those who need it to come from God to us, like the desert needs the water to become green.

 

God knows what we are, that we are flesh.  So in His great mercy He sends us our own messengers to announce to us the future of His people, to console us.

 

The times Daniel’s visitor proclaimed are our times, the time of trouble such as never has been since there was a nation until now (Dan. 12: 1).  That time has begun because our deliverance has begun.  It began when our Lord Jesus was nailed to the wood and lifted up and became sin for us.  He tasted death for us all, and then was the first to awaken from the dust of the earth.  He is the first of God’s people to do this, and the pledge that all who are baptized into Him and remain in Him will also rise from the dust.  And then He ascended to His father to begin His reign.  That’s why in Revelation Michael the archangel drives the devil out of heaven.  At one time he could enter God’s presence to bring charges against us, and he did, St. John tells us.  Day and night without intermission he prosecuted us. That is what Satan means—accuser, prosecutor.  But he is no longer allowed to do that.  He can no longer enter a charge against those who have been cleared from sin.  And now on God’s throne there is a man who is flesh and blood like us, who suffered for our sins.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us (Rom. 8).  And God will no longer hear Satan’s charges against you.  If He listened to Satan’s accusations, it would mean that Jesus’ death for you meant nothing, accomplished nothing.

 

God will not hear Satan talk about our sins.  But the devil and the demons know that we will listen to him.  We listen to him when he condemns other people, especially in the church.  And sometimes we listen to him as he accuses us in our own conscience.  Sometimes he makes us doubt our salvation.  He cripples us and weighs us down with the feeling of God’s displeasure, with shame over our failures as Christians.  He makes us doubt God’s verdict on ourselves and on our congregation, that our sins have been blotted out, that we are saints.

 

Satan has been cast out of God’s presence.  The walls are closing in on him, and he knows his time is short.  But a cornered animal is dangerous, especially a dragon.

 

You’ve seen how dangerous he can be.  He destroys pastor’s ministries.  He wounds people in the church, embitters them so that they are not able to hear God declaring the glorious future that has been accomplished for us by Christ.

 

And it is for this reason that God sends congregations another kind of angel, another kind of messenger.  I am standing in front of you.  I realize that my face does not shine like lightning and my voice does not sound like a multitude.  I am, like Luther called himself, a “poor sack of maggots,” a man who is going to die and decay because I was born in sin.

 

And yet through me the one who sits at the right hand of God wants to work and be effective.  You will see and hear me, with all my weaknesses and imperfections.  But the Lord Jesus Christ will be the one teaching you, admonishing you, forgiving your sins, giving you His body to eat and His blood to drink.  He will be the one consoling you when you are sick, when you are grieving—so long as my preaching and pastoral care is faithful to His pure Word.

 

And what He wants to do among us is make us certain in the midst of this time of great trouble—certain that our names are written in the book of life, certain that we are among God’s people, certain in your conscience that you are pleasing to God.

 

My prayer from the heart as I begin this ministry among you is that my Lord Jesus Christ would help me to do this faithfully.  That He would work through me with power to turn many to righteousness, and to give you great confidence that your future is that of the people of God who will shine like the brightness of the firmament.

 

I ask that at the very beginning you would join your prayers with mine, and that you would receive me from the very beginning as the messenger God has sent you.  Allow me to bring you His message not only when it pleases you but also when it does not.  Allow me to teach you and admonish you and absolve you with God’s Word, so that you may be strengthened in confidence that God’s people have a certain future that cannot fail, and that your name is written in the book with God’s people.  This is why God sent me to you.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification. Trinity 11, 2019

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus pharisee tax collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

September 1, 2019

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This is the last Sunday I will preach here as your pastor.  That makes it a sad day, because God has bound us together over these years.  He has taught us together.

 

But in our Lord Jesus’ kingdom, sadness never has the final word.  Joy has the final word.  I will not be the called servant of God’s Word at St. Peter anymore, but I will always be your pastor.  It was through you God called me into the office of preaching the Gospel.  And because we are members of one holy communion, I am yours forever.  That is what “the communion of saints” means.  A communion, a fellowship is a sharing.  We share in the one body and blood of Jesus at this altar.  All He has he shares with us.  And we who have a share in Jesus through faith in Him also belong to one another.  One bread, one body.

 

So that is joy in the midst of sadness.  And our Lord has given us other joys, great joys.  You have two new sisters in Christ, newly risen from what St. Paul calls the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), the washing of Baptism.  They stand among us today with the cross of Jesus marked on their brow, made holy, clothed with robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  We have waited and prayed for this.  About a year ago, Amber, you asked to be baptized at VBS.  I told the church council about it because I was excited.  And here you are, together with Breanna—you went through catechetical instruction many years ago.  Now both of you are going home from St. Peter justified, as Jesus said about the tax collector in the Gospel reading from Luke.  And that is joy for every Christian here.

 

And after the sermon, Billy and Breanna will confess that they believe Christ’s teaching that they learned from me, found in the Scripture, witnessed by the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  How can we not be overjoyed to hear that you have been made disciples of Jesus as He commanded—Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you?  Every Christian has to rejoice that you have been taught all of Christ’s Word and now confess that you believe it and intend to live and die by it.

 

Understand though, that there is pain in the Christian life.  You have been marked with the cross.  There is pain at the beginning of the Christian life, at the end of it, and all the way through.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  (Romans 6)  Paul asks that at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  When you are baptized you are joined with Jesus in His death; that is not a one-time thing.  It continues throughout our life on earth.  But pain and sorrow do not have the final word in Christ’s Kingdom.  Joy has the final word, and Christians come to know God’s joy in the very midst of the cross that God sends them.

It was joy that drew me into the ministry.  That was the bait on the hook with which Christ hooked me.  And joy in a specific teaching of the Bible—what we call the doctrine of justification.  It is the part of Christian teaching that Paul said in the reading from Corinthians is of first importance.  Justification is what Jesus came into the world for.  It is what pastors are here for.  It is what Baptism is about.  And when it is taught rightly and believed it brings joy.

 

So it is my joy to preach my last sermon on the doctrine of justification, which our Lord Jesus teaches about in the Gospel reading.  If you have that teaching and believe it and stay with it—you newly baptized and confirmed, and you who were baptized and confirmed a long time ago—and you who have not been baptized or confirmed—if you believe this teaching you will be saved, and you will have joy.

 

Jesus pictures this doctrine in the parable we heard of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 

He tells us about two men who go into the temple to pray.  He tells us what their prayers are like and what kind of people they are.  Then we hear him say: I tell you, this many went down to his house justified, rather than the other (18:14), that is, the tax collector.  But what does Jesus mean by that word “justified”?  He is saying when the tax collector goes home, he goes home with God having declared him righteous.  God judges him to be right and good in his sight.  The other man, the Pharisee, goes home not righteous in God’s sight.  That means, he goes home guilty, not a friend of God but an enemy.

 

Even though “justification” is not a word we use a lot except in church—and in many churches, not even there—you can see why it is important.  We need to be righteous before God, He needs to regard us as righteous, if we are not to be His enemies, if we are to be saved after we die.  But we also need to be righteous in His sight if we are going to live in this world with the confidence that God is with us.

 

But what Jesus teaches about justification before God goes against the way everyone thinks.

 

People of course have all kinds of different religious beliefs—in this country and across the world.  But there is a common idea that unites everyone, and that is that the way to being right with God is being right and doing right.  People have different ideas about what that means.  The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable had his ideas about “being right and doing right” shaped by God’s commandments that were given through Moses to the people of Israel, including the ten commandments.  So when he prays, he comes into the temple and thanks God that he is righteous, at least compared to other people, because he does not cheat people out of their money, commit adultery, and do other unjust things.  In addition he gives ten percent of everything he gets in income to God.  These were things he knew he was supposed to do or not do because God commanded “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”  He also told the people of Israel they were supposed to tithe ten percent of their income to God.

 

In other places and times people haven’t always had the ten commandments.  In our country today people don’t know the ten commandments like they once did.  But people still know that there is a right and wrong, even if they are misguided about what it is.  And people today generally think along the same lines as the Pharisee—God loves me because I basically am good.  I’m certainly better than all the hypocrites over there anyway.

 

Some people say they don’t believe in God, or He doesn’t factor much into their thinking.  But you will never find a person who doesn’t care if they are justified.  Everyone wants to be recognized as worth something, as having meant something.  Everyone looks for this.  Even people who don’t care much what other people think want to be able to say that their life on earth was valuable, not a waste.

 

Everybody cares about justification, and everybody goes about different ways of trying to justify themselves.  But we can’t justify ourselves, because we are not the judge.  God is the judge.

 

And see what happens with the Pharisee.  He was a man who seemed to be very concerned with God. But he went home “not justified.”  God did not justify him because, though he kept away from adultery, though he engaged in spiritual practices like fasting and gave his money to God, it wasn’t enough.  He believed that doing more than other people made him righteous and good in God’s sight.  But it doesn’t.

 

To have God regard you as righteous is not a matter of doing better than other people but a matter of doing what God requires of you.

 

To be good in God’s eyes means to love God and trust Him above everything else—money, your health, your family.  But anyone who says he loves God like that without wavering is in denial.  The Bible says that he who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).  And who loves the people around him perfectly?  Our selfishness, our self-love keeps us from seeing the people around us and caring about them as we should.

 

Why does the tax collector go home justified?  Jesus says, because Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).  Jesus doesn’t mean humiliating yourself wins God’s favor.  He is saying that when you come to God admitting the truth about yourself—that you have broken His commandments, that you are not righteous but a sinner, that you do not deserve His praise but His punishment—that is the beginning of the way to God.  The kind of humbling yourself Jesus is talking about is admitting what the ten commandments reveal about you—that in yourself you keep falling short of what God requires.  This is painful.  And it isn’t just at the beginning of being a Christian that we experience this pain, but all the way through.  We grow as Christians not by becoming more able to stand on our own; we grow as Christians by becoming more dependent on God’s mercy.

 

But there is something else in this tax collector’s prayer.  When he says, “God be merciful to me,” the word “be merciful” actually contains the word for “a sacrifice that atones for sin.”  He’s not just asking for God to be merciful in a general way, but to forgive his sins on account of the sacrificial blood that covers his sin.

 

In the temple in Jerusalem there was an altar.  Every day many animals were sacrificed at that altar.  The one who sinned would lay his hand on the animal’s head and confess his sins that needed to be covered.  Then the animal’s throat would be cut and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, because according to the book of Leviticus, the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood.  And God told the Israelites, I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (or the soul) (Lev. 17:11).  The blood of the animal contained its life, and when the priest sprinkled the blood on God’s holy altar or poured it on the base of the altar or put sprinkled it before God’s presence in the most holy place, the animal’s life or soul was for atonement, or covering.  The penalty of sin is death, but God accepted the animal’s life in place of the sinner.

But this was only temporary, because it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  Just like ordinary water can’t make a person clean from sin, an animal’s life is not sufficient to make us right before God.  But God accepted them temporarily until the sacrifice came that was enough to cleanse us from our sins.

 

That sacrificial victim was the one who taught this parable.  Jesus is human, like us, but He is also God.  When He suffered on the cross, God suffered.  His blood is not merely human; it is the blood of God.  When this blood was shed, this life was offered up, it truly took sins away, not just from one or two men, but all people.

 

The person who comes to God acknowledging that he is the sinner, and clinging to the sacrifice God provided for us, the blood that purifies and atones for our sin—Jesus’ blood—that person goes home justified before God.  Just like that.

 

We call it “justification by faith alone.”  The Pharisee tries to approach God with his own works and is not justified.  The tax collector clings only to the atoning blood to cover his sin and goes home righteous before God.

 

Jesus does not talk in His parable about the joy of justification.  But joy is what flows from this teaching, and without it being taught clearly we cannot know real joy.  Certainly not in the church.

 

When you see your sins before God like the tax collector did that hurts, but to hear God announce your sins forgiven is a joy greater than the pain.

 

And there is another joy—the joy of someone else being set free from their sins.  The joy of seeing tears run down someone’s face as they are released from the burden of their sins that they carried alone.

 

Pastors experience this joy, but it is not just for them.  It is meant for all the Christians in the church.

 

My friends, you are uniquely situated to experience this joy.  You have been given this pure teaching of justification, where our works are strictly separated from God’s work in shedding His blood for our justification.

 

You have preserved in your midst the means of grace that God uses to confer the forgiveness of sins won by Christ’s blood.  You have baptism, not just as water that symbolizes something we have chosen, but God’s baptism, where the water is joined with His Word and we are washed and presented before God spotless in Christ’s blood.

 

You have the absolution Jesus gave to his church, the authority to forgive sins: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  (John 20)

 

You have the sacrament of the altar where we receive not just bread and wine and say “This symbolizes Christ’s body and his atoning blood.”  No, you receive His body and the blood that atones for your sins.

 

You have these gifts of God preserved among you.  Jesus wants to bring tax collectors in here and send them home justified.  He is doing it today.

 

You will know His joy in justifying tax collectors as you grow in Him, as you grow in the painful realization that you are tax collectors.  As you come to see your sins as great, not small, many, not few, you will experience the joy tax collectors and sinners experienced when they met Jesus and God justified them through Him.  It is not a joy for the beginning of our lives as Christians but for the middle and the end as well.

 

And how will this happen, that you will grow and learn to see your sins as great?  Luther told you that in the catechism a long time ago when you were being prepared to be confirmed, in the questions he wrote for you to use to examine yourself before you go to the Lord’s table.

 

What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?  We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

Why should we remember and proclaim His death?  So that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins…that we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and regard them as very serious…Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

 

So come then with your great sins and receive the blood that cleanses them, and keep coming, and let His justifying word be your all.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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