Good Friday (Isaiah 53:4–6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Good Friday + March 30, 2018

Text: Isaiah 53:4-6

 

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

       yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

    But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

       upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

    All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

       and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

 

Death.  It’s a cold, hard reality that we don’t like to look at.  It’s painful to face and uncomfortable to talk about.  In modern America, we spend most of our lives ignoring that it can and will happen to us.

 

Perhaps the most difficult form death takes is when it’s untimely.  That’s when we are faced with the reality that we cannot keep ourselves alive, and neither can any other human being.  It may be in one’s own power to end a life by force, but all human ingenuity, preventive measures, and medical breakthroughs fall flat against an untimely death.

 

The truth is that all of us are dying.  Yes, it’s really just a matter of time.  This may be the last sermon you hear.  You may live for many more years.  But death comes to us all according to God’s timing.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matt. 10:29)

 

This cold reality, which is easier for us to ignore, God approaches directly and personally.  Death, for as many roses as we like to put on it, is a curse.  It is evil.  It’s not supposed to be this way!  Yet, no matter how we fight against it, none of us is able to break its hold.  God, on the contrary, sees death for what it really is—the due wages for our sin.[1]

 

Sin is real, even if there are times we would rather put God back into the dusty book we think He came out of.  We are naked before His all-knowing Law.  God doesn’t see a spectrum of some good people and some bad people.  His Law shows all of us that we have rejected Him who created us and sustains our life.  He created us to worship and be in conversation with Him, but we prefer to worship, trust, and devote ourselves the passing stuff of this life (just think about the lengths we go to hold onto it!).  God created us love and serve those around us.  But despite all the government crackdowns, public service announcements, and extended prison sentences, we only seem to be getting worse.  The real problem is not that we’ve failed to “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”  John Lennon sang that, but he also died.  The real problem is our sin.

 

What’s more comfortable to do is wallow in our problems.  We complain about our taxes, lament our illnesses, plot how we can get back at those who have offended us.

 

 

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let God be true though everyone were a liar.”[2]  God works in the realm of reality—what is true despite us.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” God says.  This is true, regardless if you agree or not.  “and all are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”[3]  This also is true, regardless if you believe it or not.   That’s why Jesus says right after John 3:16, 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  God works in reality, not in imagination.

 

But it’s a very good thing that God works in this way, because it means that the good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and risen, is more than a feeling in our hearts.  It’s more than a desire in the pious thoughts of generations of Christians.  It’s more than the desperate hopes of people who face plague and infant mortality.

 

God’s salvation in Christ is a reality which exists in history.  The Christian Church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  That means God came into time, came into our history, in order to free us from sin and save us from death.   The Christian faith is more than myth or memory; it is as real as the blood that pumps in your veins.

 

Because the Gospel of Jesus is real, all who believe this Gospel have a real hope.  When you look at yourself, you will see the effects of your sin and how your body decays.  That’s something real.  When you hear God’s Law, you will learn why it is that you die.  That’s also real.

 

But the death of Jesus is just as much a reality.  By His death on the cross, He unravels the power of sin and breaks the curse of death.  That’s real, too.  Even better, that reality lasts beyond the grave.  Years pass, memories fade, and thoughts are lost, but the Word of God endures forever.[4]  It is by that Word that you have peace in heaven and Jesus has prepared eternal life for you.  Go in the real peace which God freely gives you from Jesus’ cross and His empty tomb.  Amen.

 

 

 

The Evangelist Matthew writes in chapter 8:

 

14And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”” (Matthew 8:14–17)

 

When we feel our own pain, we cry out to God that we don’t deserve this.  It’s unfair, too much to bear.  When relief doesn’t come, we feel alone, singled out.

 

[1] Rom. 6:23

[2] Romans 3:4

[3] Romans 3:23-25

[4] cf. Isaiah 40:8

Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-15, 34-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Maundy Thursday + March 29, 2018

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35

 

The question of the Passover is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The Jewish answer is, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” (cf. Exodus 12:26-27; 13:14-15)

 

But this is not the answer our Jewish Savior, the Messiah, Jesus gives.  That’s because on this night, He does not point to something in the past, but to something which is happening in the present.

 

The Evangelist John makes a point repeatedly to distinguish between “Passover” and “Passover of the Jews” (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55).  The Passover of the Jews is the meal that has been commemorated since the day God led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.  Such was the Passover…until the Lamb of God came.

 

You see, God had promised salvation by a Lamb even before the Red Sea.  It was the promise made to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).  It was there in the near-sacrifice of Isaac, where God provided a lamb.  What this shows us is that there was something greater than the Passover of Exodus.

 

God was bringing about that which was greater than the Passover, fulfilling the blessing and promise that He had made to Abraham so many generations before.  He would provide the Lamb, not in the flesh of an animal, but Jesus was the true Lamb of God—God’s Son and our brother.

 

So, the Evangelist John makes this distinction, because the true Passover was about to take place.  With a strong hand—pierced by the nails—and an outstretched arm—upon the beams of the cross–the Lord God would deliver a people for Himself.  Not just from physical bondage, but from spiritual.  For, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)  And after this Lamb of God has died upon the cross, the whole burnt offering consumed by the wrath of God, John remarks that they did not break Jesus’ lets, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water…these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” (John 19:34, 36; Exodus 12:46)

 

The question for us Christians is, what makes this night different from the Passover?  And our answer is,

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

 

So then, why is this night called Maundy Thursday?  Because of the Gospel reading appointed for this holy night from John 13.  Where the other three Gospels focus on the atoning work of Christ for us, John leads us to reflect on what it means that Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, does this for us:

 

1Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you…

34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:1-5, 12-15, 34–35)

 

The name “Maundy” comes from verse 34, “a new commandment I give to you, from the Latin mandatum.  So that means Maundy Thursday is about more than the night on which Jesus was betrayed.  It’s also the night where He exemplifies loving service by humbling Himself, even to the point of death, and giving freely to those who could never dream of paying Him back.

 

Our Lord Jesus doesn’t just give His Body and Blood for our forgiveness, but also to transform us to be like Him.  “14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  The Body and Blood of Christ works in believers to humble our pride, soften our bitter hearts, loose us from our sins, and also to grow in love for others—just as Jesus does.  The strength He gives in His Body and Blood is a strength for bearing the cross and serving, just as He did.  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  This is where Christians receive the power for Christ-like service, because we are joined in flesh and blood, spiritual union with our Lord and Teacher.

 

In the prayer after Communion, we often ask the Father, that “of Your mercy, You would strengthen us through [this salutary gift], in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.”  This is what Jesus is talking about with this new commandment.  May He fulfill in us what we are unable to do on our own: to give us humble, loving hearts that do not shy away from lowly service, but count it all joy for the sake of the world’s salvation.  Amen.

Palm Sunday (Philippians 2:5-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Palm Sunday + March 25, 2018

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Everyone admires a humble, loving person.  Nobody would argue these qualities are a bad thing.  Jesus is one of those people who exemplify humility and love.  Many people admire Him as one of history’s greats.  Jesus is up there with people we aspire to be more like, like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.

 

Jesus truly walked the walk.  He preached, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]  This He did without fault, at all times—even when He was betrayed, falsely accused, condemned, mocked, and crucified.  He prayed even for the very people who drove the nails and mocked Him as He died.

 

If only we could be more like Jesus!  But, how often we fall short of His example!  But is imitating Him all there is to it?  Is the answer for humanity really just master imitating Jesus?

 

The Greatest Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” are actually very serious.  Being like Jesus is not just a noble goal for a person to choose.  God actually demands that every one of us be like Jesus.  God demands that we worship and serve Him only.  He demands that we be humble and love our fellow man.  Loving your neighbor the way Jesus did is the standard by which every person is to be judged—“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt. 25:35-36)

 

The punishment if we don’t is death and hell.

 

The way to view the Passion of our Lord is not just a tragic story about a good man being condemned.  It’s the Law of God in action—both in the example of Jesus’s humility and love, and in the punishment for everyone who breaks the holy commands and sins against God and neighbor.  Your heart and mine have turned aside from God, yet Jesus was forsaken.  Our love has grown cold toward our family and friends, and we have closed our heart to those who are poor and needy around us, yet it was Christ who was flogged, bled, and died.

 

Without Jesus’ Passion, there is no peace with God for those who break the Law of God.  No amount of imitation can suffice.

 

But what does it mean that Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form a servant”?  This shows us that Jesus is much more than an example for us to emulate; He is the pattern for your life as a child of God.  Though Christ’s Passion, God took away the sting and curse of the Law,[2] but now that we are children of God, He has begun His renewing work in us by His Holy Spirit.  That’s where the Law becomes for us a guide for how God wants us to live.  We are to daily grow in love toward God—hearing His Word, receiving His spiritual gifts, and forsaking trust in all other things.  We are also to grow daily in love toward our neighbor–showing Christ-like love to our families, friends, coworkers, strangers, and even those who hate us.

 

Jesus wasn’t talking to other people when He gave instruction in the Sermon on the Mount; He was talking to you and me: 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38–39)

 

People notice that Christians are different.  This is more than an accident or a conscious decision to emulate the teacher Jesus.  This is God’s work within each believer, to change them into a different person with a different mind and a changed heart.  As we follow Jesus, we are far from perfect and we stumble often, but with God at work, we strive to do better.  God has promised His continual help and the strength of His Holy Spirit to everyone baptized into Christ.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 22:36-40

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:13

Lent 6 Midweek (Amos 4:6–13)

Return to the Lord, WhoDoes Not Tire of Calling You

Amos 4:6–13

 

Sermon Outline

  1. Judgment looms!
  2. Judgment did not have to come if we had heeded the Lord’s repeated calls.
  3. Because we did not heed, judgment is meted out on Christ.

Because He Does Not Tire of Calling You, the Lord Will Not Rest Until He Has Delivered You.

Sermon

3.

“Prepare to meet your God.” Those words hit you like a sledgehammer. They come with the distinct message that judgment is coming. It’s what you hear a movie villain say before he ends his victim’s life. But it’s no villain that speaks those words to you. Amos delivers the Word of the Lord who says, “Prepare to meet your God” (v 12). The Lord is no villain, but this word comes with a clear message. Judgment looms on the horizon. The tragedy is that it didn’t have to be this way. If only God’s people would listen and take to heart his Word, things would turn out so much differently. The Lord will not sit back and allow us to go the path of destruction simply because we will not listen. He is incessant in his seeking after us. The Lord longs to forgive you, so he is tireless in calling you to repentance.

2.

Amos chronicles five means by which the Lord calls his people to repentance. And five times his people do not listen. Each time the Lord ends with the same phrase, “yet you did not return to me.” You can hear the exasperation in his voice. A jilted lover either gives in to heartbreak, makes a grand plan to make his life so enviable that the one who rejected him regrets having done so, or he sinks in to depression. But not the Lord. He will not give up on you. He has been wronged, but instead of pouting, instead of plotting his just vengeance, he instead works to win back his people. He so longs for his people to be forgiven and reunited with him that he will not stop.

First, you hear him say, “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (v 6). Teeth are clean when they have no food to get stuck between them. While the Lord taking food from his people should get their attention so that they will repent, it is also a reminder of the Lord’s provision. He graciously provides for all his people’s needs. When the people abandon him, it is just and right for them to lose the benefits that come from the Lord. Even more, his people should remember what a privilege and joy it is to have such a Lord. With the Lord, there is a bounty of his goodness; apart from him there is an absence of that goodness—and that should naturally drive his people back to him. But even hunger does not drive God’s people either to remember him or to repent.

Because his people will not listen, the Lord calls again. “I also withheld the rain from you . . . yet you did not return to me” (vv 7, 8). Drought endangers crops and puts life itself in the balance. So again, the Lord is calling his people to remember how he supplies life. He does not do it begrudgingly. It flows naturally from his love as he provides rain that his creation might drink from his goodness. Yet throughout Israel’s history, there was a constant temptation to trust in Baal. Baal was the false god of Israel’s neighbors; he was supposedly the god of the sky, of lightning, and of rain. If you were on Baal’s good side, then you were supposed to receive rain aplenty. The Lord is not shy to tell his people that if they want to trust in Baal, they should see just how much rain he provides. None. It’s insanity to trust in Baal, who is nothing more than a figment of the imagination. But . . . we do it all the time too. Our idols don’t go by the name of Baal. We bank our security not upon Baal’s rain, but on a bull market. And when our financial prospects go from bullish to bearish, we should be able to see the foolishness of these idols of ours. But sinners are myopic, nearsighted. We double-down on our idol even as the Lord is calling us to return to him, for in him alone is there life.

Two calls did not work, so perhaps his people will listen if the Lord calls them a third time. “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (v 9). When God brought his people to the Promised Land, he told them that they would eat from vineyards that they did not plant. Such is the abundance that the Lord delivers. It is opulent and nothing need be done to gain it. The Lord delights to provide for his people. Since they have forsaken him, the Lord tries to get his people with yet one more physical loss. Leaving him means leaving his good gifts. His people of old needed to learn this lesson; so do we. It is not blight and mildew that worries you; nor is it the locust. It’s other natural disasters that prompt concern. When a hurricane brings devastation, it’s not our place to figure out if God is mad with those who are displaced. It is a call for us to repent. God is calling you to repentance knowing that apart from his providential care, something far worse would befall you.

Still the Lord’s people will not listen. The Lord so loves his people that he will not give up, so he tries a different tactic. He’ll remind them of his history of salvation, how he’s worked mightily with an outstretched arm to deliver them. Surely, then they’ll listen and recall how blessed it is to live under the Lord’s care. So he says, “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me” (v 10). Remember everything the Lord did to Egypt that his people might be saved? Not only did he send the ten plagues, including pestilence, but Pharaoh’s army—the young men with sword along with the horses—were swept away in the sea. All this that the people of the Lord might be delivered. There’s no doubting his love, his dedication, his salvation for his people. So when their abandonment of the Lord causes those very acts of judgment to be visited upon them, certainly they’ll listen. They’ll remember that it’s good to live in the shadow of his grace. You remember, don’t you? So why do you return to slavery? Slavery to sin.

Still there’s no repentance, so the Lord utilizes a second historical reminder of how he’s acted for his people’s salvation. Maybe, just maybe, this will finally be enough to get through the thick skulls of the Lord’s people. He says, “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (v 11). Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown because of the depth of their evil. Their evil was so pervasive that when Abraham bartered with God to spare them, he could not even find ten righteous persons in Sodom to justify sparing it. He’s saying that’s now the same case with Amos’s contemporaries. And he calls us to repent as well, because it’s true among us also. What justification can we give for God to spare us? Are we righteous and pure? Or will you find bickering and quarreling among us? Are there evil thoughts that pit one believer against another? The Lord is justified not in sparing us but in condemning us. Yet he speaks of his people being a brand plucked out of the burning. The Lord works to pluck us out of disaster. Though we don’t deserve to be spared, the Lord does spare us, because that’s the kind of God he is. He delights to withhold just punishment. His fervent yearning is that you not receive the just reward of your sin, but grace upon grace. In spite of such grace being extended, the Lord says, “yet you did not return to me.”

1.

How could they be so obtuse? Five times that struck directly at their physical needs and that recalled God’s actions in history for their salvation, each reminding them of God’s goodness and grace for which it’s well worth returning, and still they won’t return. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with us? How can we be so obtuse? We pass off our sin as inconsequential, but all sin is an abandonment of God. All sin leads him to his tireless call that we return to him and his goodness. Yet we continue to sin. We deserve to be judged. He gave us every chance. He did not tire to call us to repentance, but we have not given an ounce of energy to leave our sinful ways.

As obtuse as we are, the Lord is all the more acute in his actions to save us. Even when you tire of returning to the Lord, he does not tire of calling you. So judgment looms on the horizon, but it comes differently than you have a right to expect. The same tireless zeal of the Lord to call you will drive him to spare you the coming judgment. There is no undoing judgment for your sin. The only thing that can be done is to take the judgment away from you and place it upon another.

Judgment looms on the horizon. It is now only nine days away. It is judgment for your sin. Yet the judgment will not be meted out upon you. It will be visited upon the Lord himself. In one last effort to call you to return, the Lord takes your punishment and puts it on full display as he pours it out upon his Son. This one will be effective to bring you back home. Now, you will return. All because you see God for who he truly is as he hangs on a cross for you. How could it come to this?

Because He Does Not Tire of Calling You,
the Lord Will Not Rest Until He Has Delivered You.

Nine more days until the judgment. Prepare to meet your God! Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica) (Genesis 22:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica) + March 18, 2018

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

This past Sunday, we heard how God provides for all our needs.  In the collect we prayed, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.”

 

Yes, it is true that God gives daily bread.  But that’s not all.  This is how the teaching goes in John 6. Last Sunday’s Gospel left off with the people wanting to make Jesus their king by force because He filled their bellies (John 6:1-15).  The conversation goes on to reveal the Incarnate God, not just as a miracle-working food bank, but the True Bread which comes down from heaven:

 

49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:49–51)

 

God gives daily bread even to all evil people, but God will not Living Bread to them.  They have no share of the Living Bread and its benefits because they do not belive in the cost of it.   How much does the Living Bread cost?  The flesh of God’s own Son; His very life.

 

In Genesis 22, God commanded to offer up his son, Isaac.  It begins, “After these things.”  After the strife between Sarah and Hagar after the birth of Isaac, the son of promise.  God tested Abraham.  The truth stands that there is a price for peace with God, for the kind of intimacy that Abraham was able to barter for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33).  Nevertheless, sin is no light matter, and it demands that a just price be paid.

 

2[The Lord] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”” (Genesis 22:2)

 

Surely anything else!  Not the most precious, the beloved, the son of promise!  Abraham’s own flesh and blood!  But Abraham believed God and took Him at His Word.

 

3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” (Genesis 22:3)

 

Then Abraham’s beloved son, the appointed sacrifice, speaks up:

 

7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:7–8)

 

God will provide for himself the Lamb.  At this point, for all Abraham knew, this lamb was still the son God had provided not too many years ago.  Somehow God would keep both His promise and command: that through Isaac, Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that this son should be sacrificed.

 

9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”” (Genesis 22:9–14)

 

God does not deny the necessity of sacrifice, the bloodguilt of what we have done and failed to do.  Our trouble with grace is that we think just because sins are paid for, it’s no big deal.  Just because our sins are covered by no means makes them free.

 

Ye who think of sin but lightly

Nor suppose the evil great

Here may view its nature rightly,

Here its guilt may estimate.

 

So our consciences are smitten by sins which we have committed.  It was our hand which reached out to embrace someone who was not our spouse.  It was our careless driving which maimed another person.  It was our lips which spoke hastily and in anger.

 

But where is the price to be paid for those sins?

 

If it is left to us, the load is too great to bear.  Soldiers return from combat with shellshock and guilt over what they have done in the name of freedom.  Their conscience screams that it’s all wrong and someone must pay.  Without meaning to, they take it out on their kids and wife, their coworkers, and sometimes even those who are trying to help—as happened just a couple weeks ago at the Veterans Home in California.

 

Our consciences are well aware of this cost even if we try to suppress it.  If the guilt and the cost is left for us to shoulder, then we are sure to despair.  Not even the death of one’s own beloved child could purchase release from guilt.  But where who can bear that awful load?

 

Abraham’s son, Isaac was spared.  God provided a ram caught in a thicket and male lamb from God saved Isaac and Abraham.  But not even the blood of bulls, goats, or lambs could take away guilt.  Another Lamb was foreshadowed.

 

Mark the sacrifice appointed,

See who bears the awful load;

‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,

Son of Man and Son of God.[1]

 

If we look at the great cost of sin, it cannot be ignored, especially not by God Himself.  But it cost the Father dearly.  While Abraham was spared from giving up his son, God was not.  It had to be Jesus, the Son of God because no one else was worthy.  No other blood could cancel man’s guilt and purchase release—only Jesus, “Son of Man and Son of God.”

 

On the mountain of the Lord (on the mountain of Calvary), it was be provided. God did provide the Lamb.  He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.  With Jesus’ sacrifice complete, the guilt before God is removed, the conscience is cleansed, as Peter writes:

 

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:18–21)

 

When you are laden with the cost of your sins, go to where God has appointed release from guilt.  But you do not need to go to Mount Moriah, or literally travel to a hill outside Jerusalem.  God has appointed the sacrifice and delivered it to you in the water of your Baptism.  In your Baptism, all your guilt was borne by Christ, the Lamb of God, and you are saved.  The knife of God’s wrath was stayed and put back in its sheath.  As that news reaches your ears, you are also raised with Christ to live a new life!

 

A life free from guilt before God is a life that is unlike anything found from earthly remedies—filled with joy in the midst of sorrows, peace in the face of death, and strength to make amends with those we’ve hurt.  When God gave up His own Son and spared you, this is what He gave to you.

 

Rejoice and give thanks for God’s Lamb, because having eaten His flesh and drunk His blood both in faith and in fact (in the Lord’s Supper), you shall live forever. Amen.

[1] “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (LSB 451, st. 3)

Lent 5 Midweek (Malachi 3:6–12)

Return to the Lord,Who Does Not Change

Malachi 3:6–12

 

Sermon Outline

  1. Children are dependent.
  2. Children are ungrateful.
  3. Children are blessed.

You Are Blessed to Be a Child of One Who Does Not Change.

Sermon

Did you hear how the Lord referred to you? It was right there in Mal 3:6. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” He called all of us children. That’s rather humbling. We are accustomed to putting someone in his place by referring to him as a child. “It’s time to grow up and be a man!” “Stop being such a baby.” Or when was the last time you heard, “You’re such a child.” We even have a sordid history of racism that was punctuated by calling African Americans “boy” as a term of derision.

3.

Being called a child was even more humiliating in the biblical world. A child was completely dependent. They couldn’t tend to themselves, much less make a meaningful contribution for the well-being of others. This is why the disciples are indignant when little children are being brought to Jesus. In their minds, Jesus shouldn’t be wasting his time on lowly children. Jesus says otherwise. He puts his hands on the children and blesses them. Jesus takes the world’s upside-down way of viewing children and turns it right-side up. Jesus goes even further and says that we are to receive his kingdom as a child.

Jesus is teaching the same truth found throughout Scripture. We ever remain children. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are regularly called the children of Israel or the children of Jacob. In the New Testament, we are named as the children of God. We ever remain children because we ever remain dependent upon God. There is much that children—and that includes us—need. We need provision of food and clothing, house and home, all that we need to support this body and life. Remember the explanation of the First Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism. There you see the fatherly care of God as he gives you all his created gifts. Jesus teaches you to pray to God as “our Father” so that with all boldness and confidence you might call upon him as dear children call upon their own dear fathers. You ask much of him, including that he would supply your daily bread.

The Father delights for you to be his child so that he might provide for all your needs. Among the needs that every child has are safety and stability, which are provided through rules. Children may complain about rules, but in the end every child desires rules. It provides safety as they know that there are boundaries. They can go this far and all will be fine and safe. The need for law to regulate our behavior is inherent in us being children.

2.

Yet children have a way of running from the very rules they crave. It happens in the home, at school, in society, and it happens among us, the children of God. Go back to v 7 of our text: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” You are just like your fathers who rebelled against God. His statutes are not a burden but a blessing. The Lord sets forth right and wrong for your benefit. His rules are not capricious. They are all grounded upon what is good for you. His rules resonate with his created order, an order that is all about life for you. But you respond as a child. “Rules are made to be broken.” “All those rules are such a killjoy.” So you ignore the Lord’s statutes and do your own thing.

Malachi delivers a specific word about how you rebel against God. Malachi proclaims the Word of the Lord: “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions” (v 8). It seems ridiculous. Man robbing God? You must outwit or overpower someone in order to rob them. You cannot overpower God, and you certainly will not outwit him. So how in the world could you ever rob him?

The Lord puts an exclamation mark on the impossibility of robbing God. He says, “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts” (v 11). That means the Lord controls both the field that produces all your goods and the devourer who would destroy them. The only reason you have what is yours and the only reason it is not ravaged by disaster is because the Lord himself provides it and then shelters it. Yet we ignore that. In pride, we celebrate what we’ve earned, unwilling to acknowledge reality—namely, that the Lord provides and protects all we have.

That is precisely how we rob God. When our lives and words do not acknowledge his provision and protection, we rob him of the glory due his name. We pretend as if he had nothing to do with the goodness that overflows in our lives. But when grateful hearts acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God, then we respond accordingly. An appropriate response to God’s goodness is our financial contributions. Withholding your finances from the Lord communicates ingratitude. So the Lord brings us back to Mal 3:8. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.”

What prompts us to withhold our tithes? What convinces us that we should minimize our financial contributions? Lack of gratitude. We withhold tithes because we are convinced that we cannot afford to give. We look at what we have and we see a little that must be hoarded rather than seeing the truth. We have an abundance supplied by our Father for which we cannot help but give thanks, knowing that we have more than enough so that we can give. We minimize our contributions when we tell ourselves that the church has gotten more than its fair share from us already. It’s not what the church has or has not received; it’s what you have received from the Lord that drives the contribution. In gratitude for the wealth given you by God, contributions flow.

1.

Ponder anew what the Almighty has provided you. His provision is more than sufficient for this life. Jesus teaches you in the Sermon on the Mount that the Father causes the rain to fall upon both the righteous and the sinner. That is the provision that comes from the hand of a gracious God. Whether you are righteous and give thanks or you are sinful and ignore the giver of all good gifts, he still gives because that is the kind of God he is. He is your Father. So he not only provides you with all that you need and more, but he also protects what you have.

His provision is more than enough for the life to come as well. Both the righteous and the sinful enjoy the Lord’s good gifts in this life. But that is not enough for our Father. He would have you enjoy his goodness into eternity. So the Father sent his only-begotten Son into the flesh. The Son enjoyed his Father’s goodness in this life and then it was ripped from him. He was stripped of family and friends, house and home, food and drink; he was even stripped of his clothes. And then life itself was taken from him. All so that you might enjoy the goodness of God into eternity. That you might live in confidence that Christ has won the goodness of his Father in its fullness for eternity. He rose from the dead. In his resurrection, you see the goodness of the Father that awaits you. You have reason for gratitude. Being a child of the Father is a good thing.

Everybody else sees how great you have it as a child. “Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts” (v 12). When a child lives in the bounty of his or her Father’s home, the child can become blind to just how good they have it because they take it for granted. When overflowing blessing is the norm, we can lose sight of just how good we have it. Take a look at just how good you have it. Others can see it. They see the Lord’s provision, and they see that it doesn’t change. This is the immutability of God; he is who he is, and he does not change. Back to Mal 3:6, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

You are the child of the Father whose goodness does not fade. His goodness is yours now. You will overflow with his goodness in eternity because of his Son, Jesus Christ. That will never change.

You Are Blessed to Be a Child
of One Who Does Not Change.

Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) (John 6:1-15)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) + March 11, 2018

Text: John 6:1-15

 

The Lord provided for the Israelites in the wilderness with manna and quail. Moses reminded them of this in Deuteronomy 8: 2Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers knotw, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2–3)

 

Not long after manna and quail appeared from the Lord, Moses said to Aaron: Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” (Exodus 16:33) The Lord was seeing to it that the Israelites never forgot Who provided for them not only in Egypt, but also during their journey through the wilderness as well as in the Promised Land, even in the wilderness.

 

It is a fact that God provides.  Scripture tells us it’s true: 15The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. 16You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15–16 NKJV)  Our experience tells us it’s true, too.  Jesus holds up the example of the birds of the air.  Our own experience also includes what we see happen for other people.

 

But there are two places the truth that God provides fails.  One is circumstance, and the other is the state of our faith.

 

In John 6. Jesus has been teaching His disciples in the wilderness for a while. The wilderness is the best place to be taught about God’s providence because it’s free of earthly clutter, and you can see what you do have more clearly.  You couldn’t be farther from a place to purchase food and other supplies.

 

Being in the wilderness is one thing. Providing in the wilderness is another thing. Jesus knows what is on the hearts and minds of the Twelve. That’s why He asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus is testing Philip when He asks this question. He knows how Philip will answer. He knows that Philip’s answer is also our answer. Philip replies, “Two hundred denarii (almost seven months wages) would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew has a solution, but immediately discounts it: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

 

Circumstance.  Philip thinks this is a hopeless case. He is partially right. Left to his own ways, there is no way Philip can provide food for 5,000 men. This is the wilderness. There are no places to buy food. Philip can’t do it. Andrew sees a little possibility, but ultimately concludes the same thing as Phillip.  However, standing in front of Philip is the Man Who can provide food for 5,000 men. The question is whether Philip and Andrew actually believe Jesus can do it.

 

That brings us to the other place God’s providence fails to be true: in our faith.   God has shown that He provides—the manna in the wilderness, the Promised Land, a planet that is able to support billions of people at once, families with 10 kids or 2 kids or no kids.  God provides, regardless.  “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)  He provides whether or not the recipients thank Him, whether they use it responsibly or squander it, whether they are generous or hoard it.  The Twelve disciples forget that Jesus is able to provide for temporal needs. They, like you and me, forget that Jesus not only takes care of sin and death, but also takes care of food, clothing, shelter, and other earthly things.

 

So, do you and I believe that God can provide?  That’s a good question. We call it being realistic because we’re facing the facts of circumstance.  But the wilderness teaches us that the facts are not the thing to have faith in; God is.  Man certainly does not live by bread alone. Yes, it may be that God doesn’t provide everything our greedy hearts desire.  You have to go without some things because the Social Security COLA doesn’t keep up with your property taxes or the prices at the grocery store. What do we actually need for daily living?  What can wait until next year? How much should I set aside for an emergency? These are questions asked also among younger generations. That cell phone upgrade your carrier is pushing is not necessary.  Having the best of everything on credit is certainly not necessary. What is necessary is a redefinition of what it means to be content.

 

You are content in Jesus Christ alone. That’s the secret to life that unbelievers cannot see. God provides for them as He provides for you, but they refuse to recognize or even believe that God opens His hand and He provides for every living thing. Saint Paul tells Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:8) Contentedness does not depend on how much or what quality of stuff you have. Contentedness is trusting in Jesus Christ to provide for temporal and spiritual needs even in the most improbable circumstances.

 

If our Lord is able to feed 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, if He is able to provide manna and quail, enough only for that particular day, then certainly He can and will support you in this body and life.  Circumstance does not overwhelm He who created heaven and earth.

 

It’s not the circumstances which need to change.  It’s our heart.  Our heart is filled with a bottomless hunger that daily bread can never satisfy.  What can be done?  Repent.  Let your sinful flesh be put to death; there’s no other way to fix our hunger.  The problem is not God; it’s us.  Only the One who provided in the wilderness can give us satisfaction—in the forgiveness of our sins.

 

We believe that Jesus provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His holy Word. For some reason, that seems to be the easy part of the Christian faith. But don’t take this as a small thing! Count the cost of the Savior’s death and resurrection! He bled and died a horrible, cruel death for you—in your place—that you might live with Him forever.

 

Jesus quickly disappears from the scene after the feeding of the 5,000 because He perceived “that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.” Believing He is your Savior from sin and death does not mean that He will also give you a constant flow of earthly riches and earthly happiness. There will be hard times yet to come. You will die (unless our Lord returns first). Your things, no matter where you bought it or spent on it, will break. You will suffer illness, and the day will come when the doctors don’t have a solution. You will have to bear much bad news.

 

Yet, God is there through it all. He is there in His Word to bring to your remembrance that He is the One who cares for you in all circumstances. He is there with His Holy Spirit, to strengthen your weak faith.  He is there in your Baptism, where He daily drowns your sinful nature and raises you anew as His beloved child. He is there in Holy Communion, where Christ’s true Body and true Blood is your Living Bread that comes down from heaven. Where Christ is, there is your contentment, even in all the wilderness of this life. This is most certainly true. Amen.

 

Lent 4 Midweek (Hosea 6:1–6)

Return to the Lord,Who Will Raise You Up

Hosea 6:1–6

 

Sermon Outline

Though He Has Disciplined You, Return to the Lord Because You Know Him.

  1. Return to the Lord, for he is reliable.
  2. Return to the Lord, even though you are not reliable.

III. Return to the Lord, for he is steadfast through cross 
and grave.

Sermon

The past three Wednesdays have greeted you with the same message: “Return to the Lord!” On one hand, it’s a no-brainer. Ash Wednesday called you to turn from your sin and return to the Lord—that’s the repeated call of Scripture telling you to repent. The past two Wednesdays have underscored that call to return to the Lord by reminding you of what he’s done for you. He has redeemed you, and he has promised to restore you. It’s all because of what the Lord has done for you that you have faith so that you trust the very one to whom you are returning. But what he has done also creates a significant challenge. Returning is quite difficult when you know that the Lord is the one who’s brought discipline upon you. Hosea calls out to the faithful, to you, saying, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (v 1). Did you get that? The Lord has torn you and struck you down. And yet you’re supposed to return to him!?

Though He Has Disciplined You,
Return to the Lord Because You Know Him.

I.

In v 1, you hear Hosea’s call, “Let us return.” In good Hebrew poetic fashion, the prophet clarifies what that means. Hebrew poetry loves repetition. Say something once and then say it again to add emphasis or to bring clarity. To see that repetition here in Hosea 6, we need a quick grammatical reminder. I know that grammar isn’t the most exciting topic in the world for many, but when grammar is utilized and then recognized by the reader, it’s exciting to see what you can do with words. The grammatical device for your consideration here is the cohortative. You find it any time you hear “Let us.” You find it here in v 1. “Let us return.” And the cohortative pops up again in v 3, not just once but twice. “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.”

Hosea is calling the faithful—he is calling you—to return to the Lord because you know him. Listen to the rest of v 3 as Hosea reminds you of what you know about the Lord: “His going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” In other words, you know how reliable he is. He is as reliable as the dawn. You will go to bed tonight confident that the dawn will come. The sun will rise tomorrow. It’s arisen every morning of your life. And you know basic astronomy to understand that the rotation of the earth ensures the sun will appear in the morning. The dawn is ingrained in the laws of nature. So also the reliability of the Lord is a given. It’s ingrained in his very nature.

Hosea offers another occasion of repetition. The reliability of the dawn is repeated by pointing out the reliability of the spring rains. This repetition brings another level of meaning. You can count on the spring rains not just because they come around every year, but also because you depend on them for the sake of the growing season. That’s how it is with the Lord as well. You can count on him not only because he comes to you faithfully, but also because you’re dependent on him doing so as he delivers all his goodness to you without fail.

II.

Hosea calls you to remember what you already know about the reliability and dependability of the Lord so that he might set it in stark contrast to what you also already know about us. Specifically, just what kind of love do we humans have? Hosea captures the Word of the Lord in v 4: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” You can bank on the spring rains because they come and nourish the earth. But the dew is there at the dawn, and then it quickly evaporates. For the parched ground, the dew is just a tease that fails to satisfy. You can’t depend on it.

That is our love. Your love for others has failed them just like the dew that evaporates too quickly. There are those who have benefited mightily from your love. Your loving actions and dedication to family and friends have been a blessing delivered by Christ through you. But then there are those who are difficult to love. At first, your love for them is firm. In the course of time, it becomes forced because the demand is heavy and it’s a one-way street; no love is being returned to you. Eventually, you ignore them. You don’t answer their calls. You go out of your way to avoid them. You’ve become the morning dew for them.

That’s also how it goes with our love for the Lord. There’s plenty that you receive from the Lord. All that you need for this body and life. Forgiveness of sin, everlasting life, and salvation. But when the righteous demands of God’s Law weigh upon you, when you’re called to repent, to turn away from sin and return to him, suddenly your love becomes dew. It evaporates and disappears.

That’s why the Lord disciplines us. In v 4, our love is described as the dew; then we hear v 5: “Therefore [because of what you just heard about our love being dew] I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.” The Lord is justified when he judges us. His judgment is not capricious but in direct response to our sin, including our love that quickly evaporates. The Lord’s judgment comes by him speaking the Word. His Word of judgment is powerful. Just as his Word could bring all things into being at creation, so his Word of judgment cuts us down. “I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” The Word of the Lord cuts deep; it hews us that our sin might be revealed. In the process, we are slain.

III.

But the Lord will not stop there. Remember v 1: “Let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” And we can say, “He has slain us that he may make us alive again.” He does it by his Word. Just as the Lord brings judgment by speaking the Word, so he justifies by speaking the Word. You’ve heard that Word time and again, “I forgive you all your sin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Word of the Lord does what it says. With that Word, your sin is gone.

Here you have two words from the Lord. The one judges you and kills you. The other forgives you and makes you alive. Then why does God’s forgiving word get the greater say? How can we bank on that word of forgiveness over and above God’s word of judgment?

Because you know who the Lord is!

Listen to the Lord speaking through his prophet Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (v 6). He does not delight in judgment. He delights in steadfast love because that is what he has for you. Even when your love evaporates like the dew, his love for you remains steadfast. It is so steadfast that it’s put an end to sacrifice. The Lord does not desire sacrifice from you, because his love is sacrificial. We sing of that love during Lent. “My song is love unknown, My Savior’s love to me, Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be” (LSB 430:1).

Your Savior’s love to you is steadfast. It will not stop, and it will not fail. It keeps going all the way to the cross, that he might there forever put an end to sacrifice. Such love is like the dawn and the spring rains. It will not fail you. It is always present for you. It is so reliable, so steadfast, that even the cross could not slow that love. Quite the opposite: his love overflows from the cross.

Listen again to the prophet of the Lord as he calls you to return. He gives you perfect reason to return: “After two days, he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (v 2). The Lord has a way with the third day. It’s the day of life that cannot be ended. It is Christ’s day. And he makes it to be your day as well. As Christ lives, so you will live. Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Ephesians 5:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) + March 4, 2018

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

 

St. Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

 

“What makes you think that you’re special?” The implication is that being special or privileged is a bad thing.  Sure people will tolerate that you can be unique in your appearance, tastes, or life story, but woe to the person who has special status.  We’re bombarded by messages that tell us to shun privileged status and never to discriminate between people.

 

The resentment over privilege may come from times when someone thinks they’re better than others (like the Pharisee over the tax collector in Luke 18:11).  But the problem isn’t with the privileged status itself. It’s a problem in the heart called entitlement.  It’s much easier to throw out the baby with the bath water and say that all privilege is a bad thing, and that we should strive for equality in every form.

 

Christians are one of those people who get labelled as special and privileged.  “Boy I can’t stand church-going people.  They just think they’re better than everyone else, like they’re God’s chosen people”

 

Actually, we are—the chosen part, not the better than others.  It didn’t come from an arrogant desire to look down on other people.  God said we are His chosen people…multiple times: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” and “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”[1]

 

For the believer, it is right to say that God has chosen us.  He called us by the Gospel to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.  That calling sets believers apart from the rest of the world, makes them distinct, and gives them privileged status.  But it’s best to use the word God uses: holy.  Christians are holy people.

 

In contrast to holy people are people who are profane.  As holy people, Christians believe differently, think differently, and live differently from the profane.  Holy people belong to the Lord who rescued and redeemed them.  Profane people do not have a god, and so their life is built on a different foundation.  For the profane, it is enough to fit in and be like those who are around you.

 

Take gender and sexuality for example.  If we were profane people, it would be enough to imitate the people around us.  Questions of propriety are answered by prevailing trends.  60 years ago, homosexuality, fornication, and abortion were all looked down upon.  But times have changed, and those things are socially acceptable.

 

So, for the profane, it’s perfectly acceptable for sexuality to be a means to gratify personal pleasure.  Whatever makes you feel best must be right.

 

But it’s different for a holy people.  We have a God who has redeemed us from the manmade gods of this world.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (v. 1) Christians are imitators of God and beloved children.  Our God made us—body and soul—in His image, male and female as two necessary, and not interchangeable parts of a whole. Husbands for wives, and wives for husbands.  Men and women uniquely made with gifts that differ according to God’s ordering.

 

We know the God who created men and women as sexual and emotional beings, for life-long intimacy between husband and wife.  Those desires are not to be gratified selfishly but as part of a whole life of love toward your spouse and children.

 

Christians have a different ethic than the world, because God has made Himself known to us.  And that is a good thing in God’s eyes, to be a peculiar people for Him.

 

But we still live in the world, and we still live with our hardened, sinful hearts.  So it is a struggle between the holy and the profane right inside each of us.

 

This is evident even in our own synod. The profane rears its head, even among God’s holy people.  At the 2016 National Youth Gathering, a survey found the following:

  • 6 percent of youth said that homosexual acts are always wrong, 20.3 percent responded it is OK if both people love each other and 11.2 responded that it is OK if both people consent.
  • 3 percent favored gay marriage…26.5 percent were unsure.
  • 48.3 percent responded that pre-marital sex is always wrong, 16.1 percent that it is OK if both people love each other and 14.3 percent that it is ok if both persons consent.[2]

 

The battle is wages in each of our hearts, for the holy calling of God to triumph over the profane sinful flesh.  And the stakes are incredibly high.  To His holy, beloved children, God also warns: 5You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6)   Those who forsake God and the privileged position He has bestowed on them by grace, will also lose their place in His kingdom. If you want to be like the world, you will go the way of the world and pass away.

 

With such danger all around and inside us, what can we do?  God gives us His Holy Spirit.  Remember that the Holy Spirit is the one who “sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.”  He alone is the One who makes and keeps us holy against such pressure.  But where does He do this?

 

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:28)  This, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit—to guard and keep the Word of God in our heart.  It is the Holy Spirit in you who guards the precious, life-giving Word within you!  Whenever you see the Spirit fighting against the desire to “be like the rest” and do what’s contrary to God’s Word, there you can assure your heart that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)  The Holy Spirit is more powerful than your sinful flesh, the devil, and the world.

 

Rest assured that it is continually God’s will to make you, as a believer in Christ, holy.  His desire is constantly to keep you in your faith—hearing the Law which exposes all unholiness in heart, mouth, and hand, and believing the Gospel which forgives all your sins.

 

Therefore, let us as children of God rejoice in our being made holy by God, set apart, being different from the world.  This isn’t because it’s a privilege to gloat of before others.  (Indeed it is a gift which God desires for every profane person.)  We rejoice in God our Savior because in Him we have true freedom and the pure knowledge of who we as human beings were created to be, and who He is as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9, 10; also often translated as “elect” (Matt. 24:31, Rom. 8:33)

[2] https://blogs.lcms.org/2017/lyf-youth-poll-results