March 18, 2018

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Mar 182018

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John 12:20-23, 31-33


After Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the Jewish leaders were worried. They were plotting to kill Jesus, but huge crowds welcomed him and praised him as the son of David. How could the carry out their plot? Jesus was so popular with the people that it seemed to them that the whole world had gone after him.

Unfortunately, many in the crowd that welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday were just caught up in the emotion of the moment. We saw an example of this with the student walk outs last week. When some of the students were interviewed they showed that they didn’t know what laws were already on the books, or what issues were at stake. They were caught up in the emotion of the moment. The same kind of thing happened on Good Friday. Another crowd was caught up in the emotion of the moment. Stirred up by the Jewish leaders they called for Jesus to be crucified.

But the Jewish leaders spoke more than they knew when they said, Look how the whole world has gone after him! It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the Holy Spirit has John follow their statement by telling us that some Greeks came to Philip with a request. They, non-Jews who had come to know the true God and the promise of a Savior, who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, wanted to see Jesus.

John shows us that the way someone usually gets to see Jesus is not by being caught up in the emotion of the moment in a large crowd, but through individuals, through people like Philip, like you and me, who can help them see Jesus, see him for who he really is.

When Jesus heard that these Greeks wanted to see him, he said: The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. But the path to his glorification was not what most expected. He had not come to gain glory by being served, like an earthly king who is decked out in fancy robes, and gold and jewels, and has is subjects bow before him and kiss his ring. He came to serve. He took on the form of a servant and became obedient to death; and not just any death, death on a cross. He came not to bring glory to himself, but to glorify the Father. By his humble service, because of his reverence and his obedience even in the midst of suffering, he brought glory to the Father. He showed the Father to be faithful to his promises, completely trustworthy. He showed the Father to be holy and Just, yet at the same time gracious and forgiving, just as he had proclaimed his name to Moses, The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished, but he punished Jesus in our place so that he can be just and at the same time justify those who have faith in Jesus.

When Philip and Andrew helped these Greeks see Jesus they learned that Jesus had come for the judgment of this world. As aged Simeon foretold as he held the baby Jesus in his arms, Jesus would be the cause of the falling and rising of many. He would be a cause of division, and he still is today. Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. He said that he would be the cause of division even within families, fathers against mothers, children against parents.

We talk about Jesus freely within the four walls of our churches, but if we mention Jesus outside of the church, at work, or at school, or on social media, or among general society, we quickly learn that there are many who hate the name of Jesus. Most of you have probably experienced what Jesus foretold, division in a family, because some in the family, like you, love to talk about Jesus and all that he has done for you, but others in the family get angry at the mention of his name, and maybe go into a rant about all the bad things that have been done in Jesus’ name.

This fact often temps us to be silent and to try to hide who we are. But Jesus warns us not to love peace and comfort more than him. Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. He encourages us to be willing to take up the cross of contempt and verbal attacks, and even persecution, and follow him.

Maybe these Greeks needed this reminder, for when they returned to wherever they had come from they would likely be a small minority, if not the only ones among their friends and neighbors who believed in Jesus. The disciples needed this encouragement because their faith and commitment to Jesus was about to be severely tested as they would see him arrested, beaten and crucified. We need to hear this encouragement as we live in a world that is increasingly anti-Christian. When we sin by hiding our faith, when we fail to take up our cross and follow Jesus, when we confess that we have denied Jesus as Peter did, we need to be assured that Jesus was judged in our place. And as we rejoice in our forgiveness we are strengthened and encouraged by Jesus promise that if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. And that those who are faithful to death will receive the crown of life.

How did these Greeks get to see Jesus and learn the truth about him? Somehow they noticed that Philip was a disciple of Jesus, and they asked him to help them see Jesus. That’s why Jesus tells us to let our light shine, to let it be evident by our words and actions that we are his disciples. Often, doing that will bring us trouble in this world. But, what a joy and privilege it is when even just one person notices that we are followers of Jesus, when they notice that we have something they need and want, and they ask us to help them see Jesus!

When that happens we want to be prepared to help them see the real Jesus. We want to be ready to help them see that Jesus didn’t come to win you earthly glory and that following him won’t make you healthy and wealthy. We want to be ready to help them see that Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross. What seems foolish to our sinful nature, what is a stumbling block to many, is in fact a wonderful truth! Jesus was lifted up because of your sins. He suffered the punishment you deserved. He was the sacrifice God demanded to pay for the sin of the world. He came to take on the Prince of this World in mortal combat. And, although for three days it might have looked like Satan had won, Jesus rose on the third day. Satan has been driven out. Jesus descended into hell and proclaimed his victory. He has destroyed the devil’s work. When Satan points to our many sins and demands that God send us to Hell with him, Jesus points to the cross as the reason we can enter heaven instead. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Despite Satan’s attempt to obscure this fact, it is known all around the world. Through the cross, Jesus is drawing people all over the world to himself. But, like the Greeks who came to Philip, many need help seeing Jesus. They need help seeing who he really is, and what his crucifixion means. They need people like Philip, like you and like me; people who are followers of Jesus; people who let their light of faith shine. They need people who make it obvious that they are followers of Jesus, people they can pick out of a crowd so that they can come and ask, “we want to see Jesus, can you help us?” When that happens, be ready to show them the true Jesus. Show them from the Scripture that Jesus came to bring Judgment on this world, he came not to bring peace, but a sword, that following him means being willing to take up a cross. Show them from Scripture that Jesus came to do battle with Satan, and that he was victorious. Satan is defeated. He has been cast out. His poisonous bite has been neutralized by the anti-venom of the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross. The sting of death has been removed by the glorious resurrection of Jesus. The Father has glorified his name in Jesus who fulfilled every promise and has won eternal salvation for all, not just Jews, by his life, death and resurrection. Because Jesus was lifted up in our place, the Father remembers our sins no more.

The Jewish leaders didn’t realize how true it was when they said that the whole world was going after Jesus. Because he was lifted up on the cross he is drawing all people to himself. He works in their hearts that desire to see him, to know who he really is and what the cross means for them. May these people see by our words and actions that we know Jesus. When they ask us, as they did Philip, to help them see Jesus, may we be eager and willing to help them, no matter who they are, see that Jesus was lifted up to pay for their sins and give them eternal life.

March 11, 2018

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Mar 112018

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Numbers 21:4-9


Most of us learned the story of the Bronze Snake in the wilderness when we were in Sunday school. At the time you might have been creeped out thinking about all the poisonous snakes slithering around and biting people. You were probably amazed that God cured people by having Moses put a metal snake up on a poll. But, you probably didn’t think about how this story so clearly pictures how we so often forget about God and whine and complain when things don’t go our way, and how God always has and always will provide salvation by grace through faith.

In order to understand this section of Scripture it helps to know where it fits in the history of Israel. The people involved are the second generation, the children of those who left Egypt and walked through the Red Sea. That first generation, their parents, had come to the border of the promised land, but when they heard the report of the spies that the Canaanites had large armies and walled cities and even giants, they refused to enter. Because they didn’t trust him, God said they would have to wander in the wilderness until everyone 20 and older had died, except for Joshua and Caleb. That means that the vast majority of these people had never lived anywhere else but in tents in the wilderness and their main diet had been manna every day for almost 40 years, and a little quail once in a while.

When God told them to pull up stakes because it was time for them to enter the Promised Land, they must have been extremely excited. Finally, they wouldn’t have to live in tents anymore. Finally, they could eat those beautiful grapes they had heard about, like the ones the spies had carried back on a poll because the cluster was too big and heavy to carry any other way. Finally, they could settle down in one place and stop moving around so often. But a problem arose. When they asked Edom, their relatives, descendants of Isaac’s son Esau, for permission to pass through their country, Edom said “No”, even though they promised to stay on the road and pay for anything that they or their animals might damage. That meant more walking, a longer journey, eating manna longer.

After being in the wilderness their whole lives, you might think that waiting a few more days, or a week, or however long it took to go around Edom, wouldn’t seem so bad. But they became impatient. Things didn’t go as they hoped or planned. Reality didn’t meet their expectations. And, instead of trusting God or asking him for help, they complained. They spoke against God, and against the leader God had appointed, Moses. They foolishly accused them of bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness (if that was God’s purpose, they would have all died long ago). They complained about the manna, calling it worthless food, starvation rations, even though it seems that it must have been the perfect food, able to keep them healthy all through their wandering in the wilderness.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever turned up your nose at what was set before you to eat? Have you ever stood in front of the cupboard or refrigerator and complained that there was nothing to eat, even though there was plenty of food inside? Have you ever grown impatient on the road because someone was going too slow? Have you ever complained or spoken against God because your life wasn’t going the way you thought it should, reality wasn’t meeting your expectations? Have you ever spoken against a leader God appointed because you didn’t think they were doing a good enough job, or because something wasn’t going right in your life, or simply because he told you what God said but it wasn’t what you wanted to hear?

Just like Israel, God has showered us with blessings. We have much more than manna every day for lunch. We have never had to experience living in a tent in a wilderness for years on end. We have better living conditions and more food choices than any people who have lived on earth before us, with the exception of Adam and Eve before they sinned. And yet, when something goes wrong in our lives, when we encounter a temporary road block, when we look in the frig and don’t see exactly what we are hungry for, we too become impatient. And sometimes, in our impatience, we sin. We blame our situation on others. We get short tempered. We get so focused on whatever is going wrong, or slowing us down, that we become blind to all the positive things God is doing for us. He’s leading us to the promised land of Heaven. As Paul reminds us, our present sufferings, whatever they are, aren’t worth comparing what he has in store for us. Life is short, eternity is forever. Wait patiently.

When Israel became impatient and sinned by speaking against God and his appointed leader, Moses, God acted. He sent poisonous snakes among them. It was almost like saying, “you think you have it bad now, it could be a lot worse.” God’s reaction may seem harsh but remember that this generation had seen and heard about a lot of miracles from God, they had seen and heard what God had done to the previous generation when they spoke against God. They should have known better. And, remember, God’s purpose was to call them to repentance. He could have justly destroyed them all on the spot and sent them all to Hell.

How do we recognize God’s discipline today? Sometimes it’s easy to see because God lets us suffer a consequence for our sin- we pay a fine, we lose a job, we feel shame and guilt. But it’s not always easy because bad things aren’t always a direct result of our personal sin. Often bad things happen just because we live in a sinful world. When natural disasters happen, people are often quick to say that God is punishing those who are affected for sin, as one Christian TV personality tried to say about Haiti. But Jesus warns us about doing that. He tells us that when such things happen, don’t point the finger at others, you don’t know the mind of God. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on your own sins. It could have been you. You deserve God’s punishment just as much as anyone else because you too are a sinner.

This second generation of Israelites showed that they had learned something from what they had seen and heard in the wilderness. They realized that the snakes were sent by God to call them to repentance. They came to Moses and confessed. We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and against you. And they asked Moses to intercede for them. Rarely, if ever, did their forefathers come to repentance that quickly.

You have to admire Moses. For forty years he had put up with grumbling and complaining; with people accusing him of being power hungry and misleading them. They had just buried his brother Aaron and he knew that he himself was not going to be allowed to enter the Promised Land. If I were in Moses’ sandals I would have been tempted to say, “I’m done with you people. Talk to God yourself and see if he answers you.” But Moses showed his great humility and faith. He interceded for the people. If past prayers were any indication, Moses humbly reminded God of his promises and asked him, for the sake of those promises, to spare the people.

God heard Moses’ prayer and answered him. And what he told him must have seemed foolish to him and everyone who heard it. God didn’t miraculously get rid of the snakes. He told Moses to make a snake out of metal and put it up on a pole where it could be seen from all over the camp. Then God attached a promise to the metal snake. He promised that anyone who was bitten could look up at the metal snake and the poison of the snake would have no effect on them. They wouldn’t die, but live.

This was pure grace. The people didn’t deserve to be given a means for healing the bite of the snake. Because of their sin they deserved to die and go to Hell. But instead of allowing that to happen God provided a way out. All those who were bitten and realized that they faced certain death, and who then looked up at the snake on the poll thinking, “Ok Lord, you promised I would be healed,” they were. They lived.

What a wonderful picture of the way that God deals with us! When Adam and Eve sinned, instead of giving them what they deserved, he gave them a promise. Through faith in his promise they were saved. When we sin. When we realize that we have been bitten by the serpent Satan and that poisonous venom of sin should bring us a fiery eternity in Hell, God gives us a promise. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He attaches a promise to the water of Baptism and tells us that, by the power of the word connected to the water, our sins are washed away. He attaches a promise to the bread and wine, telling us that his body was given and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

Just as the idea of looking at a bronze snake to be cured of a snake bite seems completely foolish, looking at a man crucified on a cross 2000 years ago to be cured of sin also seems completely foolish to our sinful nature. But those who did look at the bronze snake were healed. And those who do look at Jesus hanging on the cross and hear God’s promise that in him their sins are forgiven, have what God promises. The forgiveness of sins.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

March 4, 2018

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Mar 052018

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Exodus 20:4-6

Dear Friends in Christ,

God told Moses to warn the people not to come near the mountain. They were not even to get close enough to touch it. The next day they saw why. God descended on the mountain with cloud and fire and smoke. There was thunder, a loud trumpet blast, and the earth shook. Then God himself spoke in a way that the people could hear and understand with their ears. Never before, and never again, would God speak directly to a group of people in this way. It’s not hard to understand the point God was making. “Pay attention. This is important. I’m serious about what I’m about to say.”

The first thing out of God’s mouth at Mt. Sinai was, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” I am the true and only living God. I am the one who promised a Savior to Adam and Eve and their descendants. I am the one who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am the one who heard your prayers and sent Moses to deliver you. Moses didn’t produce the plagues that convinced Pharaoh to let you go, I did. Moses didn’t divide the Red Sea and then have it come crashing down on Pharaoh’s army, I did. I sweetened the waters of Marah for you. I gave you manna and quail. I gave you water from the rock. Though none of you were soldiers, I was with you so that you could defeat the Amalekites. I am the one speaking to you from the clouds and smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai. It ought to be very clear to you that I am the one and only, the true and holy, the eternal, almighty God. It ought to be very clear to you that I love you- I, the holy God, am speaking to you, sinners deserving punishment, and you are still alive. I have chosen you to be my people. Just know that I am a jealous God. Because I am the only God who really exists, and because of all I have done for you, I have a right to expect that you will not worship any other god but me. I am jealous for you to give me the honor due me, not because I need it, but because it is what is best for you.

By the way he appeared and spoke to Israel, and by reminding them that he is a jealous God, he is making clear to us that he has not just given suggestions that we may choose to follow, or to ignore. He has given us commandments. He is serious about wanting his commandments kept. Jesus showed how serious he is about his command regarding worship when he made a whip and drove those who were distracting people as they worshiped from the temple courts.

God is serious about bringing punishment on those who ignore him and disobey his commands, and he is equally serious about showing grace and mercy, and blessing those who love him and keep his commandments.

God says, I the LORD your God am a jealous God. To many people, this sounds bad. We think of jealousy as a sinful thing. But take a closer look at what God is saying. Throughout Scripture God uses the analogy of marriage to picture his relationship with his people. He is like the husband, his people are like the wife. If a wife is flirting with another man, or becomes unfaithful, would we not all agree that the husband has a right to be jealous and angry? When Israel, in later times, makes idols and worships other gods while still going through the motions of worship at the Temple, God calls them unfaithful and adulterous, they have become like an unfaithful wife to him. God has every right to be a jealous God

Like Israel we have seen what God has done for us. We have come to believe that he is the only true God and that he has rescued us from the slavery of sin and Satan. At our Baptism he said to us, “I love you, I want you to be mine forever.” And we have said to him, “I love you, I want to be yours forever.” God is justified in being jealous and angry when we are unfaithful to him and let anyone or anything take his place in our lives. In fact, we ought to be jealous for him, being quick to defend him and speak of his loving care for us especially when others put him down.

To many God sounds unfair when he says I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. How can God punish a child for what their parents have done? He can’t, and he doesn’t. God makes this very clear through the prophet Ezekiel where he says, the soul who sins is the one who will die. He said this because Israel was complaining. They were saying, “We haven’t done anything wrong, yet God is punishing us. He is punishing us for what our fathers have done.” But they were trying to make excuses for their own sins. God makes it very clear to them, “NO, you are not innocent. You have continued in the way of your fathers. You are being punished for your own sins.” We need to be careful that we read the whole sentence. God doesn’t say, I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren “period!” He says that he will follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren IF THEY ALSO HATE ME. God makes it clear in Ezekiel that if a child turns away from the wickedness of his father to trust and worship God alone, the cycle is broken. He will not be punished for his father’s sin. Unfortunately, we do know that it is very difficult for anyone to break a cycle, and that wickedness passed on usually grows worse from generation to generation. That’s what happened in the Northern Kingdom when Jeroboam set up his golden calves. Things in that kingdom kept getting worse and worse until God sent the Assyrians to destroy them. It’s what we see happening on our society. Instead of passing on Biblical Christianity to their children many parents let children choose for themselves. The only natural choice any descendant of Adam and Eve can make is to reject God and his word. When there is no foundation in God and his word, then things that God calls evil begin to be called good, and things that God calls good begin to be called evil, and it seems to get worse and worse with each generation that doesn’t know God.

God is a jealous God. He is serious about receiving the glory that is due him as our creator and redeemer because that’s what’s best for us. Giving the glory due him to someone or something else is not only a waste of time, but there will be temporal and eternal punishment for those who continue to do so, who continue to ignore him and his commands. But the good news is that God is also serious about showing mercy. He says, I am the Lord your God . . I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

Consider his mercy and love to Israel. They had just seen the miracles God had performed on their behalf in Egypt, but what did they do when it looked like they were hemmed with Pharaoh’s army behind them and the Red sea in front of them? They lost heart. They complained. After they saw how God brought them through the Red sea and they were out in the wilderness for a few days and food and water were becoming scarce, what did they do? They complained, they questioned God instead of turning to him and trusting that he would provide. Yet God, in love and mercy, still brought them to Mt. Sinai. He still wanted them to be his people. He was going to keep his promise to Abraham and bring them to the promised land, even though we would say they didn’t deserve it. As we look at God’s dealings with Israel we can’t help but be amazed at the patience and mercy of God.

Consider God’s great mercy and love to you. Consider all the times that you have not given him the glory he deserves, when you have not put him first. As we read through the commandments remember how those words convicted you, how you saw that, maybe not in your actions, but certainly in your thoughts and your words, you have broken them many times. Think of how many times, when something has gone wrong, you complained and doubted instead of trusting and waiting on God. Yet God, in love and mercy, comes to you today and says, “I want you to be my child. I kept my promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. I showed you what great love I have for you by giving up my only son to live and die in your place even though you don’t deserve it. I want to bring you to the promised land of heaven.” Through the Scripture readings and through the Sacrament, God is saying to you today, “I love you. Your many sins are forgiven.” As we look at God’s dealings with us we can’t help but be amazed at the patience and mercy that God has with us in our daily lives. We deserve his wrath and punishment, but in love and grace he continues bless us in many ways and most importantly to offer us his forgiveness through the word and sacrament.

When we see God’s great love and mercy toward us how do we respond? Luther says, “Therefore we should love and trust in him and gladly obey what he commands.” As we rejoice in God’s love and mercy, as we are filled with love and thankfulness for all that God has done and is doing for us, we ask, “Lord what can I do? How can I thank you for all you have done?” Then when he says, “Here, keep these commandments.” We are glad to do our best to keep them. The Apostle John writes, This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

God is serious. He is serious about wanting his commandments kept. Praise God that he is also serious about showing us his love and mercy in Jesus.


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