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Thanksgiving for Others. Thanksgiving Day 2019

November 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4

November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving For Others

 

Jesu Juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

The English Puritans were in the habit of holding public services of thanksgiving whenever they received a special benefit from God, whether a victory in battle or a bountiful harvest.  According to my brief research the Pilgrims did not hold a thanksgiving service like this until 1623, when a ship came from England with supplies and more settlers.  But what we think of as the first thanksgiving, which happened in the fall of 1621, was more of a harvest festival.  A couple of the men went out “fowling,” bird-hunting—and got enough ducks, geese, turkeys, grouse, and quail to feed the whole colony for more than a week.  But when they returned to Plymouth town, which was just a few houses, they had a visit from around ninety Wampanoag Indians.

 

Yet instead of this turning into a battle, which the Pilgrims probably would have lost—since there were only around fifty men, women, and children left, about half having died during the winter of 1620—instead of bloodshed there was a feast.  They drank beer, ate game birds, seafood, and venison, and a peace was forged that lasted about seventy years.

 

That first feast is the illustration of the theme I want to present to you, taken from the Epistle reading.  The theme is that Christian thanksgiving is the kind St. Paul describes: First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim. 2:1).  Christian thanksgiving is a priest’s thanksgiving.  We don’t merely give thanks for ourselves but for “all people”, for those even who do not know God, even who are enemies of God, and cannot and do not give thanks to Him for the blessings they have received.  In Christian thanksgiving, we serve others who cannot enter the presence of God by entering His presence on their behalf.

 

Thanksgiving entered American lore and became a holiday because people saw in it God’s providence.  They recognized that it would have been very easy for the Pilgrims not to have survived in the new world.  But they survived because God showed them mercy and had a plan for them and their descendants.  And so it became a holiday because for a long time many Americans believed God had chosen this country, and it was necessary to recognize His hand in creating and preserving it by giving Him thanks.

 

But in my lifetime the place of Christians in this country has been very complicated.  We are in a similar situation to the one the Puritans and Pilgrims experienced in England; we feel ourselves to be a minority with limited political and cultural power, facing a rising intolerance from the broader culture.

 

St. Paul also experienced something similar; but the weakness of the Church politically and the hostility of the surrounding culture in his day were far greater.  And Paul’s words in the Epistle reading remind us of the most powerful way we can respond to our nation and our neighbors when they appear to us to be hostile to Christ, the Church, or to simple morality.

 

He urges that our first work after having received the grace of God is to act as priests on behalf of “all people,” to serve our neighbors by bringing them before God in supplication, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving.

 

Let us examine

  1. These four types of prayer mentioned by Paul and
  2. Why this prayer pleases God.

 

1.

Having heard this reading many times, I always assumed that supplication, prayer, and intercession were all basically the same thing, and that in this passage Paul was simply urging us to pray.

 

In reality, each of these four words used by Paul indicate a specific type of prayer that he urges that the church in Ephesus offer on behalf of “all people” and particularly “kings and all in high positions.”

 

Supplications are prayers asking God to help in a certain need, a certain trouble.  St. Paul urges as of first importance that the Christian churches carry the needs of their neighbors (and rulers) to God.  It’s important to realize that rulers in Paul’s day were quite likely to be more hostile and dismissive toward Christians than judges and authorities in our time—even though it is evident that some are very unfriendly today.  Also many of the neighbors of the Christians in Paul’s time would have been unfriendly.  Many Gentiles hated Jews because they denounced all their idols and separated themselves from Gentile society, and most Gentiles in Paul’s day would have seen the Christians as a sect of the Jews.  On the other hand, Jews saw Christians as heretics and apostates.

 

But Paul says that it is of first importance that supplications be offered by the church on behalf of their neighbors, particularly rulers.  So whatever trouble or calamity the churches saw their neighbors in, even when those neighbors were hostile, they were to carry that trouble or need to God as if it were their own.

 

Why was this so important?  Because Christians, then and now, have access to God through their faith in Jesus.  And just as Jesus used His access to God the Father on our behalf, by praying for us, by teaching us, and by dying for us, so the Church carries out His work with Him in this world by interceding on behalf of all people.

 

The second word Paul uses is prayers.  The word can mean many things, but in this setting it probably refers to prayers for the general welfare and prosperity of our neighbors and rulers.  Even when you don’t know what need your neighbor might have, you can still pray for God’s blessing on his work, his family, his children and grandchildren.  You can pray that God would prosper him financially and in every other way.  We often pray this way for ourselves.  But here Paul is teaching that we identify with our neighbors and pray for their blessing in this world, that we use our access to God to seek their blessing.

 

Third Paul urges that intercessions be made.  This refers specifically to prayers for forgiveness of sin.  Oftentimes in the church and in society we become aware of someone’s sin.  Our inclination is to get angry, to indulge in self-righteous anger.  This is particularly the case when we are dealing with politics.  This or that ruler is doing something wrong, proposing legislation that would take away our rights or harm us.  We get indignant.  It happens in the Church just as often.  Leaders in the church push false teaching, or they abuse their authority.  Members of the congregation engage in behavior that harms others.  What do we do?  Often we vent our spleen to those who will listen.  We divide into parties.  But when God makes us aware of someone else’s sin He doesn’t do so so that we can defeat them or so that we can exalt ourselves over them.  He makes us aware of it so that we can do as Jesus has done with our sin.  He took it upon Himself and made it His own.  We cannot carry our neighbor’s sin and make atonement for it, because Christ has done that already.  But we can take it upon our heart, mind, and conscience, and intercede with God for their forgiveness.  And God will hear us, because He has given us access to His throne by clothing us with the righteousness of His Son.

 

Finally Paul urges that thanksgivings be made for all men.  Sometimes we become envious when God blesses other people—especially when those people seem as though they do not deserve it to us.  But Paul urges that we not only pray for the needs of our neighbors, but also give thanks for their blessings as though they were our own.

 

If you practice praying in this way as a Christian, you will find how powerful it is.  This is our most powerful work—prayer.  Because God has given us access to Him through faith in Christ, we have access to His power to work not only on our behalf but on behalf of those around us.  We often wonder and worry about why the Church and its preaching no longer seems to touch our neighbors.  The proper response to this is not to wring our hands, nor first brainstorm ways we can make Christianity more appealing to the world, but to carry out the calling God has given us as priests, and carry our nation and its leaders, our neighbors in the community, our families and loved ones, to Christ and to His Father in prayer, just as when Jesus walked on earth people brought their sick relatives to Him so He would heal them.

 

2.

Why should we do this?  Paul says, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:2-4)

 

The first reason is that we may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  We should not be troublemakers.  The Word of God does not bring peace, Jesus tells us, but a sword.  There will be uproar when His Word comes.  But there should not be uproar because we live in a way that causes people offense—because we are rude and contentious, or because we are insubordinate and unwilling to submit to authority God has instituted.  But if we are carrying our neighbors and our rulers to God, asking Him to bless them, to help them out of trouble, to prosper them, to forgive their sins, and giving thanks when they receive benefits, how can we be seeking to harm them?

 

And the second reason is because prayer for our neighbors and the result—a godly, dignified life—pleases God.  It pleases Him specifically because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

It is not hard for you, if you are honest, to recognize that it is God’s pure mercy that you can say, “I am saved.”  It is not because you have done well and earned it.  It is because God did not look on your sin, your trouble and need, and say, “They are getting what they deserve.  I wash My hands of them.”  Instead God got dirty; He became a man born of the dust.  He went beneath the dirty waters of the Jordan River and identified Himself with all the sin of all men.  And then He shed His red blood for your sin.

 

It was because Jesus did not turn away from us and our debt of sin that the Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Paul says it was because Jesus humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, that the Father exalted Himself to the highest place.

 

But now He has saved you and given you a holy calling, to be a priest in His priesthood.  He has called you to join in His ongoing work as a priest, praying for the salvation of the world and the blessing of the world.  That is what we are here in this world to do, even as we carry out our holy callings as father, mother, pastor, hearer, citizen, ruler.  We have works to do with our hands, but before we do those, He calls us to come to Him in prayer—and to do so not only for help for ourselves but for our nation and its rulers and its people, our church, our families—especially those most in need, the fallen, the enemies of God.

 

Paul probably had a special reason for wanting this done.  He was a persecutor of the church, and no doubt it was through the prayers of the church that Paul was saved.

 

God wants all people to be saved.  What wonderful news that is!  No matter how far our country has fallen, no matter how far our synod has fallen, or someone in our family, God desires their salvation.

 

So let us carry out our callings as priests and carry our nation, church, neighbors, and families to God through Christ.  Let us pray for their salvation and their blessings in earthly things and give thanks when they receive them.  Let that be our first work.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Best Thing You Never Did. Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 24, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus crucifixion criminalsLast Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 23:27-43

November 24, 2019

The Best Thing You Never Did

Jesu Juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Zion hears the watchmen singing, And all her heart with joy is springing,

She wakes, she rises from her gloom.

For her Lord comes down all glorious, The strong in grace, in truth victorious,

Her star is ris’n, her light is come.  (LSB 516 stanza 2)

 

Imagine watchmen singing?  You would expect a soldier to cry out with a hoarse and ragged voice; but Zion’s watchmen sing, according to the old Lutheran hymnwriter.  The watchmen of Zion, God’s city, sing out when her king approaches, because Zion is a city of song and of joy, and especially so when her king appears.  Then the city of God’s heart leaps for joy.

 

The season of the church year that is coming next Sunday—you could say it is the “dress-rehearsal” season for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is like a “preparedness drill”, like the military or first responders might do.  We prepare to enter into the joy of our Lord’s first appearing in the world as a baby in the manger; we also prepare for His coming in glory as King and judge.

 

And today, the last Sunday of the church year, is also a day for remembering the Lord’s coming in glory to “judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

 

Yet the Gospel reading for this Sunday does not show our King appearing in royal splendor or dressed in the authority of a judge.  Instead He appears in shame, weakness, and humiliation.

 

In our country judges wear black robes that signify the gravity of their office and the authority to apply the power God has given the state to punish the guilty.  In Europe the judges even wear white wigs and ruff collars, the clothing of centuries past, to show that they are representing traditions of law in that country that go back beyond our great-grandfathers.

 

But Jesus has no garb, no splendor to mark Him as a judge or King, as one who bears an office.  He has no clothing at all.  He is naked.  And after they strip Him and nail Him to the cross and lift Him up naked, they cast lots for His clothes.

 

It’s hard to picture our Jesus in such indignity.  Most of us have called Him Lord and God since we were children.  And rightly so; in the Epistle reading St. Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created….And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  (Col. 1:15-19)

 

But the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell is now emptied of glory, stripped of dignity; naked, pierced through hands and feet, hung up to die on a tree between two wicked men.

 

Yet you can see that, despite His humiliation, Jesus continues to speak like a man with authority, like a man in a position of power.  As He is being led away to the place called Skull he tells the women who follow Him, wailing over Him, to wail over themselves and their children instead.  When they crucify Him, He prays to His Father to forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).  Even though He is nailed to the accursed cross, He prays as the One who has God’s ear.  And then He promises paradise to one of the men hanging on the cross next to Him.  Though Jesus is stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lacking every visible sign of authority and God’s favor, He behaves as the judge of the world—even on the cross.

 

He behaves that way because that is who He is, even hanging on the cross.  On the cross itself He judges the world, condemning it as He is crucified, and also pardoning it.

 

And because Jesus has already condemned and pardoned the world on the cross, repentant sinners who believe in Jesus can and should greet the day of His return and rejoice as the watchmen sing out His nearness.

 

Jesus condemns the world from the cross.  It isn’t that Jesus pronounces condemnation on the world from the cross.  Pay careful attention to the fact that even while He hangs bleeding and accursed, He gives a guilty man paradise.  Even as they are driving nails into His hands Jesus prays for the forgiveness of His tormenters to His Father.  Note this.  Jesus does not want to condemn the world.  Jesus does not want to doom the sinners of the world to hell.  He wants to save us all.  Even the ones who hammer nails into His hands.  Even the leaders who falsely accuse Him and hand Him over to be put to death.

 

But Jesus’ presence draws out of the world its own condemnation.

 

The world hates God.  Human beings hate God by nature.  We hate God because He interferes with us doing as we wish.  He not only makes us feel guilty for cursing, for getting drunk, for lusting, for seeking revenge, for coveting—He condemns us to die.

 

So we run from God.  We run so far we forgot we ran from Him.  Then we complain that He seems so far away.

 

But what if God came near to us?  What if He came near to us and made Himself like us so that He wouldn’t overwhelm us, terrify or destroy us?  What if He made Himself weak enough that we could harm Him?  What would we do then?  Would we come back to Him?

 

Jesus told a parable about this right before He was arrested to the priests; in His parable there was a vineyard hired out to renters, and the renters saw the son of the owner coming to collect some of the wine of the vineyard.  What do they do?  They say, “Look, this is the heir.  Let’s kill him and the vineyard will be ours.”

 

And that’s what the human race did when God came near to us, in peace, to reconcile us, to bring us back.  We killed Him.  Yes, it was the Roman soldiers who beat Him and drove in the nails and the spear; yes it was Pontius Pilate who gave the order.  And it was the leaders of the Jews who handed Him over to Pilate with false accusations.  But they were only doing what you have done every time you knew God’s will and did what was contrary to it.  And every time too that you sinned in ignorance.  You wished there was no God who commanded you to obey your parents, to pray and learn His Word, or not to hate, or to be chaste, or to not speak evil of your neighbor.

 

People have been doing that ever since Adam and Eve first hid from God.  But at the cross of Jesus, human beings did the worst thing they ever did.

 

People have done lots of horrible things in the thousands of years we have been on earth.  There have been genocides.  There have been oppressions, powerful and rich holding down the weak and the poor.  And there have been the countless personal sins that haunt our lives—the lazy man who doesn’t support his family, the husband who abuses wife and children, those who cheat at business, those who lie their whole lives.

 

But the worst thing human beings ever did was humiliate and put to death God’s Son when He came to save them.  God gave His dearest treasure and mankind killed Him.  This is why Jesus prayed for us as He was being nailed to the wood.  This is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well-pleased.  As the crucified criminal said, He has done nothing wrong.  Neither toward His Father, nor toward His brothers in flesh and blood.  He came for one purpose only—to help us and reconcile us to God.

 

Of course you will say, correctly—It was God’s will that He die for our sin.  It was written before it happened.  And that is true.  But that doesn’t make it a good work on our part.  It is the greatest act of wickedness on the part of the human race, to treat shamefully and kill God’s Son.  Our guilt is exposed in Jesus’ naked, crucified body.  His shame is really our shame.  If there was anything good in the human race, would we have nailed the firstborn of all creation to a cross?

 

But we could not avoid it.  His presence exposes our sin.  Either He must die, or we must.

 

Son on the cross we see the condemnation of mankind and each of us exposed already—that we killed the Son of God.  And you have your share in this too, because by your thoughts words, and deeds, you have rebelled against this King.

 

That is the worst thing human beings ever did.  It is the worst thing you ever did.

 

 

2.

 

But Jesus the King also accomplishes another judgment on the cross.  He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4).  Or as St. Paul wrote in Colossians, He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into His Kingdom.  (Col. 1:13-14).  He gave us His Kingdom.

 

This, again, is difficult.  A man naked on a cross, stripped of everything, bestows on us a Kingdom.  A man condemned to a cursed death between two criminals lifts us up to Paradise.

 

But what is more difficult still is that we killed this King sent to save us.  This is the worst thing we have ever done, the crowning evil atop the heap of human evil.  How can He now call us righteous and give us a Kingdom?

 

3 successive people or groups of people mock Jesus’ claim to be the anointed one, the King.  The first are the rulers, who say, “If He is the Christ, let Him save Himself like He saved others.”  The second group is the soldiers, who offer Jesus sour wine to drink and say, “If you are really the King of the Jews we have heard about, if you are the One who will rule all nations, even Rome, save yourself from this cross.”  Both of these groups don’t ask Jesus to save them: they ask Him to save Himself, and prove that He is Christ.  Because obviously a King who is going to defend and deliver others first has to be able to save Himself, right?

 

Finally one of the other hanged men rails at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  He seems to think Jesus has the ability to come down from the cross, and he is angry at Jesus for not saving himself (and the criminals as well).

 

But the last criminal doesn’t talk like this.  He says, “We are getting what we have deserved for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he turns to Jesus and asks for a gift: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

The last criminal rightly recognizes that his deeds brought him to the cross.  His own works brought him to die shamefully, painfully, and under a curse.

 

Our works brought the Christ, the chosen one of God, to be crucified.  Our works crucified God’s beloved, the One who came to rescue us.  There is no refuge for us in our works.

 

Bu this man asks Jesus to remember Him when He comes to His Kingdom, and Jesus says: Yes, today.

 

Because He didn’t come to save Himself; He came to give Himself.  He freely bestows His Kingdom on those who believe in Him.  Not on those who have treated Him well, because none have.  But on those who believe in Him.  Though Jesus is dying in humiliation, naked, He has a Kingdom He is about to enter.

 

He enters it as He emerges from the tomb, not only the firstborn of creation, but firstborn from the dead.  He is the firstborn of those who die because of sin and are raised by God with sin and death underfoot.  He is the firstborn of those made new, entering paradise.

 

That is Jesus Kingdom.  He came to give it to us.  And even though our wickedness was so total it drove us to put Him to death, it was not great enough to prevent His Kingdom from coming.

 

Now He freely promises it to you as He did the criminal hanged with Him.  Look at that man hanging next to Jesus, you who are troubled by sin, and realize—there was never an unlikelier candidate for paradise.  But Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

He made you the same promise—when He baptized you, and when He absolved you this morning and in that absolution put you back in your baptism.  “I forgive you all your sins…”  That was the sound of the stone rolling away.

 

That is why when the watchmen sing to you that He is near, you should know that the joy is meant for you, the burdened one, the dying one getting what your deeds deserve.  Yes, but now you are going to receive the reward of the best thing you never did, the thing Jesus made of your worst.  He is not coming to destroy you on the last day.  He is coming to give you a kingdom.  Not even your worst could stop Him.  When He comes He will simply announce in glory what has already been accomplished in His weakness on the cross.  “The Kingdom is yours.  I am for you.”

 

That is what He now says hidden under the bread and wine, giving you His body to eat, His blood to drink.  “I am for you.  Take and eat.”  And at the altar, today we are with Him in paradise.

 

Now come, Thou Blessed One,

Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail, Hosanna!

We enter all

The wedding hall

To eat the supper at Thy call.  (LSB 516 st. 2)

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

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Fire of the Day of the Lord. Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Malachi 4:1-6

November 17, 2019

The Fire of the Day of the Lord

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed

In all His power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

As Scripture long has warned us.  LSB 508 stanza 1

 

Our God is a consuming fire, says the Scripture.  And the day of His return in judgment is a day of fire.  The prophet Malachi says it is a day burning like an oven, and all the arrogant will be stubble.  But for those who fear the name of the Lord the same fire heals.  For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). 

 

The same day and the fire will set some people ablaze and bring healing to others.

 

It is difficult to imagine “flames on flames” ravaging earth and the world as we see it coming to an end.  But two years ago there was a total solar eclipse.  I don’t remember it being that impressive where we were living at the time, but I gather from the internet that the eclipse was pretty intense here.  That was nature proclaiming the coming end of this creation, giving a preview of when the sun will be blotted out, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  Nature proclaims this every year.  The days get shorter and shorter, darkness comes sooner and sooner.  The trees give up their leaves.  Every year ends, just as every human life composed of many years has its end, and so nature bears witness that this creation also has its allotted number of days.

 

And the world understands this on a gut level.  That is why the world is full of fear about various calamities that may end life on earth.  Climate change is one.  Not that many years ago we feared nuclear annihilation.  What the world doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that when the world ends, it will end at the hand of the Crucified.  The One who was rejected by His creation will return and bring an end to His Creation by judgment.  God the Father has appointed a day on which this will happen.

 

And the prophet Malachi described this day four centuries before Jesus was born.  For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming will set them ablaze, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch (Mal. 4:1). 

 

If we lived a hundred years ago and wanted to bake a loaf of bread, we wouldn’t turn on a gas oven.  We would build a fire.  And besides sticks we might well throw in “stubble”—leftover bits of hay, grain, cornstalks.

 

When I was young, my dad would build a fire in the fireplace, but I didn’t know how to do it.  What I liked to do was throw pieces of paper, dry leaves, and Kleenexes into the fire.  And this “stubble” would quickly ignite and go up in a big flame.  All that would be left would be little black ashes floating up the chimney.

 

The day of the Lord will be like that.  The stubble, the paper thrown in the flame, will be the arrogant and all evildoers.  They will go up in the flame of God’s judgment and be utterly consumed—except that their burning will never be finished.  The prophet says—they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.  They will be like hay stubble tossed in a fire.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  They will have nothing left.  The name, the wealth, the beauty, the glory they had here—their branches—will be consumed and gone.  So will their root—that which they grow from—their body and soul, to which everything else in life is added.  When this fire burns them nothing will be left to grow back again.  They will endure an everlasting destruction.

 

John the Baptist echoed Malachi’s prophecy when he preached to those he baptized about the One who would come after him: He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.  (Matt. 3:11-12)  And before either Malachi or John, God had foretold this judgment of the unrighteous through David in the first Psalm: The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 1:4-6) 

 

How many times have you been jealous of people who seemed to be great and important, beautiful and wealthy in this world?  Yet the Lord says that those who are merely rich, merely powerful, merely beautiful and popular, but do not fear Him, will be like stubble in the fire.  They will not stand in His judgment.  Every good thing they have and boast in will be consumed in a moment.

 

But what about you?  Malachi says that those who fear the Lord’s name will experience something different.  But he says, the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.  David says the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the church of the righteous. 

 

We would like to believe that we have done well enough to escape the fire with which the Lord will cleanse the earth, which will burn the chaff without quenching.  We would like to believe that there is at least something good in me that will cause God to spare me, the way He spared Noah in the flood of His wrath.  After all, at least we listen to God’s Word.  At least we confess our sins and are not proud and arrogant.

 

But no, that is not enough to save us.  If we actually listen to God’s Word and believe it, that didn’t come from us.  There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom. 7)  We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2).

 

But the same fire, the Lord, comes with healing on the day of judgment.  For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.  (Mal. 4:2)  The Lord arises like the sun on those who fear His name and heals them.  Does the sun heal?  David reminds us in the 19th Psalm that the sun comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.  The sun makes its joyful, brilliant circuit across the heavens and kisses the green plants and they bear fruit and flower; it smiles on the grapes and they ripen into wine.  The sun leaves fruitfulness and life in its wake as it visits the earth.

 

So it will be on the day of the Lord.  His coming which sets the wicked ablaze will be like the sun rising on those who fear God.  Their eyes will shine.  Their faces will be radiant.  And the righteousness of Jesus will enfold them like wings of warm light and heal them.  For when Jesus comes in radiance and power, and the earth is shaken, and the sky rolls up like a scroll, He will judge the world in righteousness.  He will condemn sin and sinners and purge the creation corrupted by sin with holy fire.  But He will judge those who fear God’s name—righteous—and pronounce them worthy to enter the new heavens and the new earth.

 

How will the fire of the Lord meet you on that day?  As an oven, or as the sun?  If you scoff at the idea that the crucified Lord will return in power to judge, or if you comfort yourself with the vain hope that God cannot possibly have such unrealistic standards as you hear about in church, the day of the Lord will set you ablaze and leave you neither root nor branch.

 

The Lord is as John the Baptist preached—one who holds a winnowing fork in his hand to separate wheat from chaff.  It is arrogant to disregard God’s Word.  Every time you have set aside the commandments of God you have been arrogant and set yourself above His Word.

 

Then how can we imagine the Lord will rise upon us with healing?  Because we rely solely on His grace.  Only by pure mercy.  And that mercy has already dawned upon us when our Lord appeared on earth.

 

First He sent Elijah the prophet to prepare His way.  John came clothed like Elijah, living in the desert like Elijah, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  And those who came confessing their sins to John heard John preach the mighty one who was coming next, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Who would not merely pour water on us, but who would make us new as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters that covered the earth at creation.  He would bring a new creation out of the dark chaos of our nature.

 

The one John proclaimed is the one who comes to you in the Gospel.  He is mighty but came as a helpless infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a man who did not lift a hand against His enemies, but went like a lamb meek before its shearers to the slaughter.  He was crucified for our offenses.  His blood stained the doorposts of the cross to cover us and cause wrath and judgment to pass over us.

 

He is the sun of righteousness.  Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces are never ashamed.  He has washed us in water with the Holy Spirit and made us new, so that the fire of the Lord does not burn us.  In that water He placed God’s name upon us, and we fear His name because we believe what He has done for us and what He says about us.

 

He has burned up our sin by His appearing in the flesh and His death on the tree.  He has also burnt up our attempts to cover our sins like the sun burns away the morning mist.  He is our covering on the day of judgment, our tabernacle.  He is our righteousness.  He is our shade from the wrath of God.  He enfolds us with His arms that were extended on the cross to fulfill all righteousness.  When He comes He comes like the sun for us.  He fills the earth with life and fruitfulness.  He will bring us forth from the earth healed from death and corruption.

 

Malachi says that when He comes we will be like calves released from the stall.  I have never seen a calf do this but I guess that at least a few of you have.  What I have seen is Joseph’s rabbit, who sometimes when he leaves his cage runs out and for no reason jumps in the air and kicks his legs sideways.  Joseph says he does this for pure joy.

 

This is how it will be for us who rely solely on the Lord’s mercy when He appears.  We will have joy because we are free—from death, from sin, from guilt, from persecution.

 

Come to the Lord who visits you at this altar like the sun to heal you.  Then go forth from this place, not idly waiting for His coming, but living with the certainty that the sun will rise upon you.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019. Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

November 12, 2019 1 comment

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond

St. Luke 20:27-40

November 10, 2019

Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

 

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

He sits in the temple courts, which are flooded with people who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover.  He does not hide in a corner.  He teaches the people and proclaims the good news.

 

And there are many, then as now, who do not want Jesus’ teaching replacing theirs.

 

Some Sadducees also begin to ask Him questions designed to make the resurrection of the dead look foolish.  You heard the story about the seven brothers.  Since they all married the same woman, and none of them raised up children, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?  The story is designed to make the idea of the resurrection seem ridiculous, and also to give Jesus a question He can’t answer.

 

But the resurrection of the dead is not simply a matter of theological speculation for Jesus.  He is the Son of God and the Son of the Resurrection.  On the other hand the Sadducees are sons of destruction.  In the epistle reading St. Paul wrote that the day of the Lord and the day of the resurrection would not come until the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god and object of worship (2 Thess. 2:3-4).  Paul is talking about the antichrist, the great opponent of Christ and persecutor of Christians who arises in the last days.  He calls the antichrist “the son of destruction”, but there are many other sons of destruction, even if they are not as prominent.  Every teacher whose teaching denies Christ is a son of destruction, but Jesus is the Son of the Resurrection and comes to make many sons of the resurrection.  So today let us look at who are the sons of destruction and who are the sons of the resurrection.

 

Look again at the Sadducees.  They come to debate with Jesus the Son of God.  They are so blind that they trust their own intellect to guide them in the ways of God, and so arrogant that they imagine they will defeat Jesus by the exercise of their intellects and their smooth talk.

 

But even though Jesus is the Son of God, for Him the question of the resurrection is not one that he can approach self-confidently, the way the Sadducees do, without fear and trembling.  For Him the resurrection is His only hope.  Narrow eyes in the crowd watch Him, looking for an opportunity to seize Him and put Him to death.  Only days from now, in the darkness, when the crowds are gone, they will send armed men with lanterns and torches to bring Him to them.  And He will go out to them not with arrogant words but with a robe damp with the cold sweat of death.

 

Resurrection is not a mere topic for debate for Jesus.  It is His hope as the pit of destruction swallows Him up.  As His lifeless body is taken down from the cross, wrapped up in spices, sealed behind a stone.

 

Today our bodies are tended to in funeral homes with chemicals or crematory ovens.  They are rolled down into concrete vaults in the ground dug out by backhoes.  When we lay dying, we are attached to machines that beep and blink and are usually sedated so that we feel no pain.  But the resurrection of the dead is no mere topic for debate for us, as far as we have progressed in reducing some of the physical pain of death and the unsightliness of the dead.  An old hymn says:

 

In the midst of life we are in death.

From whom can we seek help?

From You alone, O LORD,

Who by our sins are justly angered.

 

Death is the reminder that we are sinners against God.  It is, as Scripture says, the wages of sin.  For the most part people today do not experience the fire of God’s wrath tormenting the soul—not in this life.  But we experience the pain of getting old, losing strength.  We experience regret at the loss of youth, of wasted years.  We get disillusioned as we get older and realize that the bill of goods we have been sold about the pleasures life in this world seldom turn out as good as they were advertised.  All of this is part of what you have earned as a sinner.  And then death takes our bodies, and our souls, unclothed of their earthly habitation, depart from this world.  And as this is happening comes the fear and anguish of the soul realizing that it must return to God its judge.

 

The Sadducees were all blind to this, and they didn’t care.  They dismissed the resurrection of the dead as childish.  This life is all that matters, they said.

 

This is the way of the sons of destruction.  They take away life from human beings, the possibility of real life.  They put themselves in the place of God, who is the God of the living, the living God.  And by their teaching they take away the possibility of life.

 

In the Old Testament reading Pharaoh is oppressing the people of Israel.  When Moses comes and tells him that the Lord said to let His people go so that they might go worship Him in the desert, Pharaoh says, No!  Let them focus on working for me.  Let them focus on this life and obey me.  The Pharaohs actually believed they were gods, but they were gods of death.  They oppressed people in this world and took away the possibility of everlasting life by teaching lies.

 

In the Epistle reading Paul tells how the antichrist will take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  Many people wrongly think that the antichrist can’t come until the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.  But Christians should understand that even if the Jews manage to build a temple there, it would not be the temple of God.  God’s temple is the Church, the community of believers in Christ.  The antichrist sits in the Church and says that his false teaching is actually God’s teaching.  That is why Luther and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church say “the Pope is the true Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ” (Smalcald Articles Part II, Art. IV:10-11).  He would not be the antichrist if he sat merely in a Jewish temple; the antichrist sits on a throne and claims to be over God’s Church and demands obedience to himself even when that means disobedience to God.

 

Paul calls the antichrist the son of destruction.  Jesus called Judas the same thing.  They are bound for destruction, and they belong to the destroyer, the devil.  But there are many sons of destruction who are less important, but nevertheless doomed to eternal damnation.

 

We have those in our synod whose practice and teaching is opposed to Christ’s.  And when they are confronted about it, there are those who protect and excuse it.

 

We do not have those, God be praised, who openly deny the resurrection of the dead.  But we do have many preachers who, by their words and practice, fail to preach repentance.  They do their best to make worship so appealing to unbelieving people that they are never confronted with their sin and the destruction that is awaiting them.  As a result the Gospel they preach is something other than resurrection from the dead.  It is a good news that allows them to remain as they are.  Those who preach and practice this way without repentance are sons of destruction.

 

But why are there so many who practice open communion, of whose worship it could be said, “Keep your sandals on your feet, because the ground on which you are standing is not holy?”

 

Isn’t it because many in our churches like it this way?  We like to hear preaching that does not call us to repentance.  We like worship that does not confront us with the living God, the God who kills and makes alive?

 

Isn’t it true that, in us, there is an antichrist waiting to get out, who wants to be the authority, who wants his word to rule?  Yes, because we too were born to destruction and death.

 

II.

 

However, in the Gospel reading, we hear the good news from Jesus.  Despite the mockery of the Sadducees, there is a resurrection of the dead.  First Jesus contradicts their false ideas of what the resurrection will be like.  Then He proves the resurrection from Scripture.

 

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but not those  who are counted worthy of attaining to that age and of the resurrection from the dead….For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36).

 

Jesus says that sons of God are sons of the resurrection. It is a strange saying.  All sons of God are sons of the resurrection?  But what about Jesus Himself?  Wasn’t He God’s Son before He rose from the dead, before He even became man?

 

Assuredly so.  Yet God’s Son became the Son of Man, subject to death, subject to the wages of sin.  He became the first son of the resurrection so that there would be many sons of God after Him.

 

He made Himself subject to death for our sins in order to release us from them when He rose from the dead.

 

We hope for our loved ones who die in Christ that they will rise from the dead and become equal to the angels and sons and heirs of God.  That was Jesus’ hope also, because He took on Himself our helplessness before death, the sin that makes us subject to destruction.  He allowed it to swallow Him up.  And then He burst it open.  He is the first Son of the Resurrection.  And all who are united to Him are joined to His resurrection.

 

The proof of this is just a little word: God says that His name is I AM, the living God, and that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  God is not the God of those who have ceased to exist, Jesus points out to the Sadduccees who think people cease to exist when they die.  He is the God of the living, not the dead.  Death has nothing to do with Him.  If He is Jacob’s God, then Jacob lives.  If He is your God, you live, even though you are dead.

 

And with a little word like this Jesus has already killed the antichrist and the sons of destruction.  He has already pronounced judgment on them.  His Word, wherever it comes, robs them of all their power.  Five hundred years ago all who were called by Christ’s name bowed the knee before the Pope and considered him the lord of Christ’s kingdom on earth.  Now millions in Christendom have no fear of the antichrist at all.  This is the work of Christ’s breath, His Word, that, let loose in the world, taught people that salvation comes solely through faith in Him, apart from works.

 

But when the day of the Lord comes, the antichrist and all the sons of destruction will be brought to an end forever.  They will be cast into destruction with their master the devil.  But for those who are joined to Christ by faith the day of the Lord will be the day of resurrection, the day of life and adoption as God’s Sons.

 

That is why you come to this table.  You come and eat and drink and share in the death of God’s Son.  And then as death comes upon you—as it comes on all men—it is not destruction for you.  It is the beginning of being raised up, of becoming a Son of Resurrection and a Son of God.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not. All Saints’ Sunday 2019

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Sunday

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 John 3:1-3

November 3, 2019

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Behold, the life- giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.

 

As the pastor says these words on Good Friday, he lifts the black cloth and reveals one arm of the cross.  He says the words a second time: Behold, the life-giving cross! and bares the second arm.

 

Then a third time he says the words and takes away the black cloth entirely, and the cross is revealed to the congregation, perhaps with the image of Jesus’ body.  Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.  And the congregation answers: O come, let us worship Him.

 

There are things God has uncovered and things that He has left hidden.

 

He has uncovered the salvation of the world just as the Good Friday service does.  And in uncovering the salvation of the world, His only Son, He also reveals His children, the holy ones, the saints.  But He has not yet revealed the glory of His saints.  This is what John the apostle says in the Epistle.

 

But how has God revealed His saints?  Who are these who have a right to be called “holy ones” and where do you find them?  And who dares to number themselves among “the saints”?  Do you?  Did you hear how Jesus described them?  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:6, 8, 10).  In the same chapter He says, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).  And it is written: You shall be holy, for I [the Lord Your God] am holy (1 Peter 1:16).  And as we approach the table of the Lord we join in the song of the seraphim who covered their eyes as they sang Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.  I have known some wonderful Christians, but I have not known any who were so holy even the angels dared not look at them.

 

But when God uncovered the salvation of the world on the cross, He also uncovered His holy ones.  They are found where the salvation of the world is lifted up.  They receive their holiness from Him.

 

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us!  (1 John 3:1)  Just as it is strange on Good Friday when the cross is uncovered, and the pastor says, “Behold, the life-giving cross,” so these words of the apostle are strange.  As though you and I don’t know what’s under the cloth!  As though we have never heard before how the Father loved us!

 

He so loved us that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  But where and how did He give His Son?

 

He gave Him into the hand of the high priests, the soldiers, Pontius Pilate.  And into your hands, for it was your sins for which He was handed over to die.  He gave His Son to us hung on the cross by the nails, so that the cross of death would be the life-giving cross upon which we find the salvation of the world.

Behold, the man, Pontius Pilate says, moved to pity by the bloody, bruised face and back of Jesus.  Behold with John the spear entering the side of Jesus, the water and blood streaming from His heart.  Behold the manner of love the Father has given us, giving His Son into death for our sins.

 

Behold, what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  Not called God’s enemies for causing the death of His Son.  Called children because sanctified by the death of God’s child.

 

God called Jesus His child, His beloved Son, when John plunged him into the water of the Jordan.  Jesus came to that baptism offering Himself to fulfill all righteousness for us, to make an end of our unrighteousness on the cross and bestow on us a seamless, spotless righteousness before God.  Then the Father’s voice said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, and the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him.  The Triune God uncovered Himself.  And such love the Father has given us—to uncover Himself to us, and to enfold us into Himself as at the Baptism of Jesus.  We are called His children in our Baptism, sealed with the name of the Triune God.

 

What love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 

 

Behold the love the Father has given you.  You are not only called God’s child.  You really are His child.  The Scripture knits us to Jesus.  John says, “The reason the world doesn’t know we are saints and children of God is that it did not know Him.”  Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14).  John says, Whoever knows God’s Son knows us.

 

Jesus has fastened Himself to us.  He was knit together in His mother’s womb, like us.  He became sin and a curse, because that was ours.  He gave us the divine name, which was His.   And what He calls us we truly are.  We are sons of God.  We eat His body, we drink His blood.  We live in Him and He in us.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:56). 

 

With Thee, Lord, I am now united;

I live in Thee and Thou in me,

No sorrow fills my soul, delighted,

It finds its only joy in Thee.

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood

Be for my soul the highest good.  (LSB 619 st. 2)

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  He has revealed His love to us in the preaching of the cross; He has declared us His children in Baptism, and affirmed that we are united to His Son in the holy supper.

 

But there remains something that God has not uncovered.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. 

 

We did not become Christians for the benefits that it brings in this world.  St. Paul says, IF in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 19). 

 

Our hope is for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Sometimes it takes pain to remember this; it takes standing at the graveside of parents and friends.  Or it takes having people revile and speak evil of us because we believe in Jesus.

 

Then, we are reminded that our hope is not in this life, where we are called and truly are God’s children, but are still suffering the poison dart of our sinful nature, and the hostility and deceit of the devil and the world, where we are still dying and living in the midst of death.

 

Our hope is for what we will be when the dead are raised and our Lord appears in the clouds.

 

But what will we be then?

 

That is not yet revealed.

 

Just as the cross lies hidden under the black cloth on Good Friday at the start of the service, so what we will be is not revealed.

 

All we know is that we will be like Jesus when He returns.  That will happen because we will see His glory.

 

When Jesus prayed the night before He gave Himself for us in great love, He had this in mind: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see the glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world.  John 17:24

 

The weakness of our fallen minds can’t comprehend this great reward of seeing Christ’s glory and being transformed into it.  But you may remember, how in Exodus, Moses asked God to show him His glory.  The Lord said, “No one may see My face and live.”

 

So He put Moses in a rock and covered it with His hand and walked by, proclaiming His name; then Moses came out and saw God’s back as He walked by.  Moses did not ever see God’s face.  But only seeing His veiled glory made Moses’ face shine for days.

 

We will see the unveiled glory of Jesus.

 

No angel in the sky

Can fully bear that sight

But downward cast their wondering eye

At mysteries so bright.  (LSB 525 st. 3)

 

But we will be able to gaze into the brilliant sun of the eternal glory of God the Son.  And we will be like Him, just as Moses’ face bore the fading radiance of the glory he saw.

 

This glory is not yet revealed, but because it is our hope, and is promised to us, we run to make it our own now.  Everyone who has this hope in himself purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  We don’t wait for it to come lazily; we press on to make it our own.  We come and confess our sins and are absolved; we come and eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus that put our sins to an end.

 

Each day we purify ourselves and put to death our old self that Jesus crucified and buried on the cross.  We do this because we have a hope—we belong to the one who is pure, and one day He will be revealed, and we will be uncovered too.  And we will be like Him.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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