January 19, 2020 Sermon

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Jan 192020
 

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2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

Please turn your attention to our second lesson for today. As we think about Christian education, Paul reminds Timothy and us of the importance of, and the means for pointing children in the right direction

 

What’s one of the most common statements you hear when you talk to parents about the spiritual training of their children? Doesn’t it go something like this? “I’m not going to do anything now so that they can decide on their own when they get older.” That might sound logical, even loving to many. We are told it’s not right to force our beliefs on others. But would you do that with food? Would you say, “I’m not going to tell my children what to eat now so that they can decide what food is good for them when they get older?” If you wouldn’t say that about their physical diet, then why would you say it about their spiritual diet?

Paul describes for us what the world is like when children don’t receive any spiritual guidance. He describes what happens when children are left to choose for themselves and are not guided by God’s word. The sinful nature rules. When the sinful nature rules, people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemous, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful

The sinful nature with which everyone is born is 100% self-centered. A person that does not have the Holy Spirit living in them through faith and is not guided by God’s word can only think everything is about them. They can only think that they are better than others, deserve everything they have and more, and don’t have to listen to what anyone is telling them. You might notice that the “give everyone a trophy so that everyone is a winner” idea plays right into the desires of the sinful nature.

The first part of this list is bad enough, but it gets worse. Those who are only guided by their sinful nature and only think of themselves will be unholy, unloving, not able to reconcile with others, slanderous, without self-control, savage. Unloving means that they don’t even show what might be considered by society to be normal compassion. They have no problem lying, or slandering others just to get what they want. They don’t show any control over their desires. They don’t care what happens to others as long as they get their way. Some are even willing to traffic their children. They won’t listen to reason, they hold their opinion even when shown proof that they are wrong. They act like untrained animals.

Could it get any worse? Paul continues, they are haters of what is good, treacherous, reckless, puffed up with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to an outward form of godliness but denying its power.  Paul says in another place that nothing good lives in the sinful nature. It is 100% opposed to God and hates anything that God says. If God says something is good, the sinful nature calls it evil. If God says something is evil, the sinful nature calls it good. As Jesus pointed out, they are willing to betray even close family to death. Convinced that they are right they run headlong toward eternal destruction. Their actions show that their real god is pleasure, whatever feels good. And worst of all, many claim to be godly or spiritual. They might go through the motions of worship in a church, but all the while they are denying the only thing that has the power to save them and guide them in true godliness – the word of God.

Paul’s description of what it will be like in the last days sounds all too familiar. His words are a clear reminder that we are living in the last days. We see and hear the things he describes every day. These things have always been there, because the sinful nature is always present, but they are not only becoming more obvious, but more accepted, and even promoted. What Paul encouraged Timothy to do is just as important for us today. Turn away from such people. Know what your kids are being taught in school. Know who your kid’s friends are. Help them see if their friends fit the description Paul gives of those who live to gratify their sinful natures. Help them see the danger of not turning away from such people unless or until they are brought to repentance and faith. Yes, we have to live in the world, but we are not to become of, or like the world.

What does Paul offer as a solution? He reminds Timothy of what he had learned from the time he was, in the Greek language, a brefos. That means a child who is either unborn, or an infant that still has to be carried by its mother. It’s likely that Timothy’s mother went to worship at the Synagogue, and so he heard the word of God even before he was born. It’s a scientific fact that unborn babies can hear. As soon as he was born, his mother and grandmother prayed in his presence and shared God’s word in his presence. As he grew, they made sure that he was instructed in God’s word and they showed that these were not just customs or traditions for them. These were things that they themselves firmly believed. They told him that the most important thing in the Old Testament Scripture was God’s promise to send a Savior, because, like them, he too was a sinner who needed to be saved. So, when Paul showed up in his town and proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised savior, when he showed them from the Scriptures all that the Messiah was to do, and then explained how Jesus fulfilled every prophecy, Timothy rejoiced. He was convinced that what Paul said was true. He believed. He trusted that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, his savior from sin.

Lois and Eunice and Paul served as a John the Baptist for Timothy. They pointed him to Jesus and said, look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has taken away your sins too. His sinless sacrifice in your place has satisfied God’s justice. His blood shed on the cross has cleansed you so that you are able to live before God now, and live in his presence forever.

The world governed by the sinful nature wants to be spiritual, but when they deny that the Bible is inspired by God and therefore completely true and without error, they deny the only thing that has the power to save. When the rich man in hell thought that a resurrection from the dead would have the power to get his brothers to see the truth, he was told that the only thing that could do that was the Scripture, Moses and the prophets. Someone risen from the dead, knocking on their door to warn them wasn’t going to save them. Remember, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the Jewish leaders decided they had to kill him because of it. Jesus rose from the dead and they decided that they had to pay off the guards and circulate the lie that his disciples stole his body. Only the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Only the Scriptures have the power to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

That’s the power of Christian Education. It’s the power you have as parents when, even before they are born your children hear God’s word as you worship and pray; when, as soon as they are born you bring them to baptism which is the visible Gospel, the gospel promise of God attached to water; when, as long as they live under your roof you show them how important the Word of God is by reading it yourself and by teaching it to them. That’s the power that is present in a Christian school that uses the Bible, teaches that it is the truth from God, and makes it the basis of everything that is taught and done. It is only through the Scriptures, that the Holy Spirit works to take children, who like all of us are born only with a sinful nature, and give them new birth, a spiritual birth, a new man of faith. The new man of faith is the exact opposite of the sinful nature. The new man of faith is 100% in tune with God. When God says a thing is good, our new man of faith says Amen! When God says something is evil, our new man of faith eagerly and happily turns away from it and hates it as God does.

What this means is that everyone who has been brought to faith by the power of God through his word has a constant battle raging inside.  Paul says, for the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. That’s why being in the word yourself, and then serving as a John Baptist for your children, constantly pointing to the word and to Jesus, is important. God’s word is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, well equipped for every good work. Only Scripture tells us the truth. It points out our sins, it tells us what we deserve because of them, and then it points us to Jesus for forgiveness. It guides us when we want to know how we can show our thanks to God for all he does for us. It trains us and equips us so that, when things happen, both good and bad, and opportunities to serve God and our neighbor arise, we and our children can take advantage of those good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The world says, let children decide for themselves when they get older what they want to believe. We are reaping the results of that philosophy as we experience what Paul said would happen in the last days. Many people look at the mess the world is in and are concerned about their grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren. What can parents and grandparents do?  Be like Lois and Eunice, be like John the Baptist. Point them to Jesus as the Lamb of God, their Savior. Keep pointing them in the right direction, to Scripture. Keep encouraging them to remember what they have learned from Scripture. Keep reminding them that only through Scripture can they be wise for salvation.

January 12, 2020 Sermon

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Jan 122020
 

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Matthew 3:13-17

Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today where we see Jesus anointed with the Spirit and power, and declared to be our perfect substitute.

 

Last Sunday we learned about the visit of the Wise Men who came to worship Jesus. Since then, Herod has died; Mary, Joseph and Jesus returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth; Jesus has grown in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men; and his relative John has been baptizing people in the wilderness along the Jordan River. Jesus is now about thirty years old and, we are told, he traveled from Galilee to where John was baptizing so that he could also be baptized by John.

This was a momentous occasion. John had been telling everyone that the coming Messiah was near. Although John was a prophet sent by God who attracted large crowds of people, he pointed out that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandal. So, we can understand why, when Jesus showed up and asked John to baptize him, John would say, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?

John knew he was a sinner. He knew he was not worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals. Jesus didn’t deny that was true. Yet he had John baptize him. Remember that when God calls on you to serve him in some way. You may be tempted to react as John did. “Lord, how can I serve you? I’m just a lowly, sinful person.” But so was John, and so was Isaiah, and so was Paul. Everyone that God used to do his work on earth was a lowly, sinful person. What grace God shows us that he would choose to work in and through lowly sinners like us! May this thought humble us, and move us to say with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me. Use me to do your work.”

The fact that Jesus came to John and was baptized by him puts God’s seal of approval on John’s work as a prophet of God. We know that there was discussion among the Jewish leaders about whether John really was a prophet, or just some crazy guy living in the wilderness, because Jesus asked the Jewish leaders about it. They kept asking him where his authority to preach and do miracles came from, so Jesus said, “I won’t answer any more of your questions unless you answer this question for me first. Was John’s baptism from God or from men?” They refused to answer the question, but the answer is obvious to us. If Jesus came to be baptized by John, then his baptism was from God.

In order to persuade John to baptize him Jesus said, it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was saying, “This is part of God’s plan. I was born. I took on flesh and blood so that I could be under the law, so that I could live under the same requirements every other human being does. It’s true, I have no sins of my own to wash away so, in that sense I don’t need to be baptized. But I am the second Adam. Like Adam I represent the whole human race. I have come to do what the first Adam failed to do, to resist temptation, to live righteously, to live without sin. In addition, the Father is placing on me the weight of the sins of every person who ever has or ever will live. In that sense, I need baptism more than anyone.”

At his baptism Jesus united himself with us. He identified himself with sinners. And Paul says that our baptism unites us with Jesus and gives us the benefit of his death and resurrection. As our substitute Jesus fulfilled all righteousness so that in him, we become righteous in God’s sight.

After he was baptized Jesus stepped on to the bank of the Jordan and, suddenly, the heavens were opened for him! He saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and landing on him.

We know that this was a sign that God had given to John so that he would be able to know for sure who the promised Messiah was. John said, I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,`The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.

It’s also important to note that the Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek word “Christ” both mean anointed one. It’s not so much a name as it is the title of an office. We call him Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Messiah. In the Old Testament God used anointing the way that we use ordination or installation. It was a ceremony, usually public, that said to everyone present, “This is the one God has chosen.” And, often, in connection with this anointing we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon the one who was anointed to give them the ability to do what they had been chosen to do. The offices to which people were anointed were Prophet, Priest and King. At his baptism the Father designated Jesus as the one he had chosen to be the Messiah, our perfect prophet, priest and king in one person.

We heard Peter say in our second lesson, You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.

  Just like anyone else, Jesus didn’t take these offices on himself. They were bestowed on him by the Father. The fact that the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism shows us that the Father was installing him into his office as Messiah and commissioning him to serve as prophet, priest and king. Only after his baptism did Jesus begin to publicly preach and teach and perform miracles. After his baptism he began to offer himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. After his baptism he began to take on Satan and defeat him on our behalf. He was given the right and authority to do these things by the Father.

As the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, the Father spoke. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him.”

Jesus told John that they needed to fulfill all righteousness. Did they? Was the righteousness that God demands, that we can’t fulfill, fulfilled for us by Jesus? The Father says, “I am well pleased.” Jesus is doing everything well, he is fulfilling all righteousness as the substitute for all human beings. Then, immediately after his baptism Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. Was the father still well pleased with him? We are told that after the devil’s temptations failed, he left him for a while and the angels came and ministered to him. At his transfiguration, just before his suffering and death, the father spoke from heaven again saying that he was still well pleased with Jesus. And the greatest confirmation that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness is that God raised him from the dead.

There should be no doubt in our mind that Jesus did fulfill all righteousness, that he is our perfect substitute who kept every law in our place and paid for every sin.  Whenever Satan comes and tempts you to doubt. Whenever he tries to get you to think that maybe Jesus wasn’t your perfect substitute before God; that maybe he wasn’t perfect, or maybe he didn’t do quite enough and there is something left for you to do; remember what the father said at his baptism and again at his transfiguration. Remember that he rose from the dead. Tell Satan, “like John, I know I’m not perfect. I’m a sinner deserving God’s punishment. But Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. He came to be righteous in my place. The Father declared that he was well pleased with Jesus and put his stamp of approval on him as my perfect substitute by raising him from the dead. In baptism the Bible says that I have been united with Jesus. His perfect righteousness has become my perfect righteousness. In him it’s as if I have been punished for my sins. His resurrection and new life has become my resurrection and new life. I’ve been adopted by the Father as one of his dear children so that I want to live for him now, and I have been named as an heir with Jesus of eternal life.” That’s how you make the devil, and the doubt he tries to foster in your heart, flee. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. He is our perfect substitute.

 

January 5, 2020 Sermon

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Jan 052020
 

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Matthew 2:9-12

Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today as the example of the Wise Men is held up as something we will follow if we are truly wise.

 

How wise are you? Let’s see how you do on a little quiz. Who were the Wise Men? If you go by the song, they were kings. But the Bible never calls them kings. How many were there? Again, if you go by the song, there were three. But the Bible never tells us how many there were. Where did they worship Jesus and present him their gifts? They are almost always pictured with the Shepherds at the manger. But the Bible makes it clear that they were definitely not there on Christmas Eve. The Bible says that they worshiped Jesus at a house in Bethlehem. It tells us that, from what Herod learned from the Wise Men, Jesus could have been almost two years old when they came to visit him. So, how did you do? If some of your ideas about the Wise Men were wrong, it’s a good reminder to make sure what we think we know about Jesus and the things that happened in his life are actually true. And the way to make sure they are true is to read what the Bible says for ourselves.

From studies that have been done, and from experience, it is clear that many people in our world today are Biblically illiterate. And it’s not just unbelievers. Many faithful church members just take what they are told for granted and have not actually opened their Bible themselves to make sure what they are told is what the Bible really says. If you really want to be wise, you have to read the Bible for yourself.

How did the Wise Men know to look for some kind of sign in the heavens that would indicate the birth of the King of the Jews? Again, the Bible doesn’t tell us. It says they were from the East, but it doesn’t say which country. Maybe through Daniel who was the head of the Wise Men in Babylon 400 years earlier, or maybe from some Jews who had traveled in the East and shared some prophecies of Scripture? We don’t know for sure, but somehow God saw to it that people other than the people of Israel knew about the promised coming of a savior. That’s one of the comforts of the season of Epiphany. God doesn’t restrict the message of salvation to just one group of people. He sees to it that the good news about Jesus spreads throughout the world.

When they saw an unusual sign in the sky the Wise Men trusted that God had kept his promise. The special child who would be the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah who would sit on David’s throne and rule forever, had been born. They could have just said a prayer of thanksgiving to God from the comfort of their homes in the East, but they weren’t satisfied with that. This was such an important event, not only for them, but for the world, that they wanted to see it with their own eyes. They packed their bags and left for what must have been a long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem.

I find it interesting that the sign, called a star but certainly no ordinary star, seems to have disappeared before they arrived in Israel. It didn’t lead them directly to Bethlehem. So, they went where they would expect to find a king, to the capital city, to Jerusalem. There are probably a lot of reasons God would want them to go to Jerusalem- to be a witness to Herod, to be a witness to the religious leaders of the Jews- Just think of the irony. Wise Men from the East, non-Jews, had to alert them to the fact that the Savior had been born! But what strikes me most is that God didn’t want them to be guided completely by some miraculous sign. It was through the Jewish scholars that they received guidance from God’s word. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were directed to Bethlehem, not by the star, but by the word. Only then did they see the star again which led them right to the house where the Holy Family was staying.

Still today, that’s the way that God wants to lead us. He doesn’t want us to rely on signs. He has not promised to guide us by means of signs. In fact, Satan can manufacture things that look like signs from God just to lead us away from God. In our outreach calls we have come across people who believe they have received a sign from God and have concluded that they no longer need to listen to God’s word. Many others think that their feelings are a sign from God and that they should do what “feels right” even if what feels right contradicts what God has clearly said in his word. God may have gotten the attention of the Wise Men by means of a sign, but he made sure that they found Jesus based on a prophecy from God’s word.

When they realized that they had found the right house in Bethlehem and saw Jesus with their own eyes, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. The Greek has to pile up three different words to describe how filled with joy they were. One word just wouldn’t do. They were filled with Joy because they found Jesus- but is that really a correct way to say it? Did they find Jesus? Certainly not on their own. Think about all the ways that God guided them to Jesus! They didn’t really find him, they were guided by God to him.

The old bumper sticker said, “I found Jesus.” The former criminal or the popular sports figure might declare, “I found Jesus.” But that’s really never the case. No one is able to find Jesus on their own. All people are born blinded by sin and enemies of God. Left on our own we would never look for Jesus, and even if we did, he could be standing right in front of our nose and we wouldn’t recognize him. If we have come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, as our Savior, it’s only because the Holy Spirit has somehow gotten our attention, and then brought us into contact with the word and Sacrament so that, by his power, we have been led to Jesus and had our eyes opened so that we could recognize him. If that doesn’t make you rejoice with overwhelming joy it may be that you are taking Jesus for granted, or you are thinking that you found him because you were smarter or looked harder than everyone else. If that’s the case, remember the message Jesus brought. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Confess your sinful pride and look to Jesus for forgiveness.

When they were able to contain their joy, we are told that they bowed down and worshipped this child who wasn’t likely even walking yet. He didn’t look like a king. He wasn’t living in a palace. His mother was a simple maiden, not a lady of the court. Yet they worshipped him as a king. That was an act of faith. And as part of their worship they gave him gifts – Gold, frankincense and myrrh- expensive gifts. That was a fruit of faith.

Like the Wise Men, our worship of Jesus is an act of faith. We worship someone we can’t see. In faith, we take God at his word when he tells us that Jesus is his one and only Son, and that he lived a perfect life in our place, suffered our punishment on the cross, and then rose from the dead on the third day. We have no way of proving these things are true. In faith, we take God at his word when we worship Jesus as our King and Savior.

Now the Wise Men could have thought to themselves that making a long and dangerous journey and bowing down in worship would have been more than enough to show their faith and appreciation for all that God had done for them and all that Jesus would do for them. But, in addition to all these things they were moved to give Jesus gifts.

Like them, our giving is to be a fruit of faith. We don’t think, “well, I showed up at church. I made the trip. I took the time to actually come to worship Jesus. That should be enough.” No, when we realize what Jesus came to do for us, what he has saved us from – the eternal fires of Hell – we too are moved to give of our best, gifts that reflect that we appreciate how much Jesus has done for us.

We don’t know how long the Wise Men stayed at the house, or in Bethlehem. The Bible doesn’t say. But it doesn’t seem that it was very long. Herod had asked them to return to Jerusalem and let him know where Jesus was. They didn’t know it, but the reason was so that Herod could have Jesus killed. In a dream, God let them know that they were not to return to Herod, and, again they demonstrate their faith. They took the risk that Herod might send soldiers after them when he realized that they had not returned to him. They obeyed the word of the Lord and returned to their country by a route that avoided Jerusalem.

These men from the East were truly wise. Think about what we can learn from their example. Like them, God has given us signs of his second coming. We are wise when we are always looking for the fulfillment of those signs so that we recognize them when they appear. When they recognized the sign, they acted. They dropped everything so that they could see Jesus in person, and God made sure that they were guided to Jesus by the word. If we are wise, we will make being guided by the word one of the most important things in our lives. When they saw Jesus, even though he didn’t look like a king, they worshipped him and gave him expensive gifts. When we see Jesus through his word and realize all that he has done for us, we too are moved to worship and give him gifts. These men obeyed when God gave them instructions to return home in a way that avoided Herod. We are wise when, even if we don’t understand why, we obey, we do what God tells us in his word.

 

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