January 20, 2019

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Jan 202019
 

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Isaiah 61:1-3

I invite you to turn to our first lesson for today, Isaiah chapter 61 where we see the work of the Messiah in us and through us.

Isaiah records someone saying, The Spirit of the Lord the LORD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. I think you know who that someone is. We heard about him last week. When he was baptized by John in the Jordan the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven declaring that this was his beloved Son with whom he was well pleased. Jesus is speaking. He is the one God has anointed. He is the Messiah. But for what purpose has the Lord, Jehovah, anointed him? To preach the good news to the afflicted.

The absolute confirmation that it is Jesus, the Messiah, speaking through the prophet Isaiah is the fact that, after reading these words in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus rolled up the scroll and proclaimed, today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. That statement should have brought shouts of Amen and Halleluiah from those who heard it. But if you remember, that good news brought grumbling instead, which led to a group from that Synagogue dragging Jesus out to a cliff intending to throw him off.

Why did they have such a reaction? Why don’t people today rejoice that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has come to proclaim good news? Because they don’t realize or think that they need him.

Jesus came to preach good news to the afflicted. If you don’t feel that you are afflicted, you ignore the good news he has to bring. You don’t think it’s for you. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted, but if your heart isn’t broken, you don’t think you need what he offers. He came to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release for those who are bound, but if you are convinced that you are free already why would you look for someone to set you free? He came to provide comfort for those who mourn, but if your aren’t in mourning, why would you be interested in the comfort he gives?

It took a lot to bring the Israelites of Isaiah’s day to the realization that they were afflicted and imprisoned. God tried to convince them through the words of his prophets, but the ignored and persecuted his prophets. It took defeat at the hands of their enemies, and destruction of their cities to get them to realize the truth. The fact that they were God’s chosen people didn’t mean that they could ignore God and sin without consequences. God used physical troubles, defeat in battle, the loss of property, the death of loved ones, to help them see the truth. They had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They were bound, held captive by sin, death and Satan. They were in great danger of losing not only their earthly homes, but their heavenly home.

Hopefully God doesn’t have to get our attention by sending trouble into our lives. Hopefully, as we compare our lives to the commandments of God, the law afflicts our consciences and moves us to realize that we are no better than the worst sinner. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We deserve to be held captive by Satan in the prison of Hell forever. Like those who heard Peter preach on Pentecost and point out to them that God sent them the Messiah they said they were waiting for, but they killed him, we need to be cut to the heart by God’s law. Our hearts are broken as we realize that we didn’t do the good we intended to do, but rather the evil we tried to avoid. We disappointed our loving God who has given us everything. God’s law moves us to sorrow over our sinfulness and mourn our inability to please God. It terrifies us as we think about the eternal consequences that should be coming our way. Only when our consciences are afflicted, our hearts are broken, and we mourn over our sins are we ready and able to shout Amen and Halleluiah when Jesus proclaims the good news that these words of Isaiah are fulfilled in him.

Jesus binds up our broken hearts with the promise that, because of his life and death in our place, our sins have been forgiven, no strings attached, no questions asked. He unlocks the prison that is the guilt of sin and frees us from the bonds of Satan’s accusations. He lets us see that doing your own thing isn’t really freedom at all, but bondage to sin and Satan. Though we mourn in dust and ashes because of our sin, he says, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven. Wash away the dust and ashes in the waters of Baptism. Put on the crown of victory I have won for you. Rub on the oil of joy the Spirit provides in the Gospel so that you respond as Isaiah did later in this chapter, I rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in God my savior, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.

Jesus proclaims to us the year of the Lord’s favor, a time of jubilee when debts are forgiven, and slaves are set free. Because of what he has done for us we have received the Lord’s favor. We have escaped the day of vengeance that is coming on all those who reject what Jesus has done for them, the comfort, freedom and healing that he wants to give them. He reminds us that God is loving and patient. He holds his arms out all day long to those who are disobedient. He wants to gather people under his wings to protect them from the coming wrath. But there is a day coming when, suddenly, in a flash, before you can blink an eye, the end will come, the year of God’s favor will end, everyone will stand before the judgment seat, and the enemies of God and his people will be sent off to eternal punishment.

Jesus came to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and peace; to proclaim the patient love of God. He came to proclaim that in Him we are free from the power of sin, the accusations of Satan and the fear of death. That was God’s purpose for him. God also has a purpose for us. He gives us a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit. He makes us oaks of righteousness. He plants us where he wants us to be for the purpose of displaying his beauty, his splendor.

He hasn’t made us some little scrub tree that blends in with the undergrowth of the forest.  He has made us like that large, majestic tree that just commands your attention as you drive by.  It’s that tree that, when you see it, you say, “Wow! Isn’t that beautiful!” You can’t help but marvel at its beauty and strength.  That’s the purpose for which God has planted us where we are.  He wants people to notice us.  He wants people to look at us and be able to say, “Look at how strong God has made them!”  When the storms of life beat against us and we stand firm and unmoving in the Lord, he wants people to notice and to ask, “How can you stand so strong?” He gives us a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit so that we can answer, “Because the Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.”  He wants people to look at us as group of Christians and be able to say, “Isn’t that beautiful, just look at their love for one another!” for all people will know that we are his disciples if we love one another.  He has planted us where we are for this purpose, so that we might display his splendor; so that people might see our good deeds and glorify our father in heaven.

All too often we are probably more like sagebrush than a mighty oak.  All too often we have a faint spirit because we rely on ourselves instead of the Lord and his promise to be with us. We sin. We fail to be the oaks he planted us to be. But praise be to God he still comes to us with the good news of the gospel.  He reminds us that Jesus always clothed himself in a cloak of praise. He always did everything to the glory of God, to display his splendor, even at twelve when he was in the temple courts. He showed himself to be the oak of righteousness, The Lord Our Righteousness, who paid for all our unrighteousness on the cross. He rose and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he keeps his promise to be with us always. In his mercy, if we are uprooted by the storms of life, he replants us.  He lovingly provides us with the water of his word and the fertilizer of his sacraments so that we can grow into the kind of tree he wants us to be, a mighty oak that displays his glory.

Jesus came to proclaim the good news of healing, comfort and true freedom that only the gospel can give, to all who are broken hearted and who mourn over their sins. He came to make us oaks, people who offer themselves to God as living sacrifices each day; people who see that their greatest purpose in life is to display the beauty and splendor of their savior.

 

  

 

January 13, 2019

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Jan 142019
 

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Acts 10:37-38

I invite you to turn to our second lesson for today, Acts chapter 10, as Peter encourages us to think about the Baptism of our Lord and what it means.

 

The gentile Wise Men had come to worship Jesus. It was always God’s intention that salvation in Jesus be proclaimed to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. But Peter needed some convincing. To do that, God gave him a vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals and told him to kill and eat. When Peter objected, God warned him not to call anything unclean that he had made clean. After the vision was given a third time, while Peter was mulling it over, there was a knock at his door. Men sent by the gentile centurion Cornelius were there to ask him to come to his house and tell him the good news about Jesus. Peter saw the connection. The vision from God was preparing him for the invitation. Without the vision he might not have agreed to go, or at least would not have entered a gentile’s house. But he went and God blessed the word as he shared it.

He started his message to Cornelius and those who were gathered at his house with Jesus’ baptism by John. The Bible tells us that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Because of that we aren’t surprised that when Jesus came to be baptized, John questioned him. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? He had no sin. He didn’t need to repent or to be forgiven? But Jesus insisted. Although he didn’t need baptism for his forgiveness, submitting to baptism showed that he was willing to take our place in every way. He was ready to enter his public ministry and accept the mission the Father had given him to live and die as our substitute.

At his baptism, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. The choice of the word anointed is significant. The Hebrew word Messiah, and the Greek word Christ, both mean anointed one. The promised Savior was to be the anointed one. In the Old Testament, anointing was God’s way of letting people know who he had chosen to serve as his Prophet, or Priest, or King. And, often after someone was anointed to one of these positions, we are told that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. God gave them the strength they would need to carry out the office to which they were installed.

John testifies that seeking the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove was a sign God had given him so that he would know for sure who the Messiah was. It was a sign for all who saw it that said, “Here he is. This is the Messiah. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Take note. He is about to begin his official service as your prophet, priest and king.”

After his baptism Jesus was immediately tested, being tempted by the devil himself as he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus passed the test. He returned from the wilderness and went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, because God was with him.

As our great prophet Jesus traveled from village to village proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near. When people heard him speak, they marveled at his words because he spoke with authority, not like the scribes and pharisees. He didn’t offer opinions. He proclaimed, “thus says the Lord.” After reading from the prophet Isaiah in the Synagogue in Nazareth he declared, today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

He didn’t limit his proclamation of the good news to Galilee. He came to Jerusalem, and traveled in Judea; he even went to Tyre and Sidon, Perea and Samaria. Still today he serves as our prophet as, after his ascension, he gave some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastor/teachers. He gifted people with the ability to proclaim and apply his words that the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded and preserved for us in the Bible.

He traveled throughout Israel doing good, proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. He showed that he is king. Although he usually kept his power as God hidden, he showed it when he healed the sick, the lame and the leper. He showed it when he calmed the storm, walked on water, turned water into wine, and fed 5000 with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He showed it when he raised the dead and cast out demons. Peter proclaims Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He has the power to cast off the oppression Satan brought on us when Adam and Eve to fell into sin.

Did you ever notice that, through his miracles, Jesus shows us that he has the power over everything that troubles us, and gives us a glimpse of what it will be like when we live with him in heaven? Are you troubled by the weather? Jesus has power over even the strongest storms, and there won’t be any storms in heaven. Are you facing illness or incurable disease? Jesus has power over it, and there won’t be any sickness or disease in heaven. Are you tempted and troubled by Satan and his lies? Jesus has defeated Satan. Call on Jesus’ name and Satan has to flee. He has no access to heaven so there won’t be any temptations there. Of all the things we face because sin is in the world, and because of our own sins, death is the most frightening. Jesus has power over death. He defeated death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. In Jesus, death has become a sleep. He will wake us up and take us to the place he has prepared for us where there is no such thing as death- only life in perfection forever.

At his baptism, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power to serve as our prophet and our king, but the office that John called attention to most clearly was the office of priest. He did that when he pointed to Jesus and spoke those familiar words, look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus became the God/Man so that he could be God’s perfect lamb. He became the God/Man so that he could live under God’s law and keep it. Did we ever need that! People blithely say, “I know I’m not perfect, no one is.” But they don’t realize, what I hope you do, that the failure to be perfect means that you should be condemned. You should spend all eternity with Satan in the fires of hell for your sins. We haven’t kept a single one of the commandments perfectly. If not in deed, as least in thought, we have broken every single one of them multiple times. But Jesus offered to be our substitute. He offered to satisfy God’s demand for perfection by taking our place under the commandments and keeping them perfectly for us, and the Father accepted his offer. At his baptism, and again at his transfiguration, the Father spoke from heaven declaring that he was well pleased with him. Jesus is the spotless lamb of God who lived without sin in our place.

What happened to spotless lambs in Old Testament Israel? They were sacrificed as constant reminders that the payment for sin, the satisfaction of God’s justice, requires the shedding of blood. Usually the priest offered a lamb on God’s altar, but Jesus is both the priest and the lamb. He offered himself. He went to the cross and allowed the father to vent his fierce and righteous anger against the sinners of the world, his righteous anger with you and me—he allowed the father to vent that anger and condemnation on him so that it would not have to come on us.

As the perfect lamb, and the perfect priest, Jesus sacrificed himself once for all people of all time. His priestly job of sacrificing is complete. But he continues to serve as our priest at the right hand of the Father where he is constantly interceding for us.

At his baptism Jesus was anointed as our prophet, priest and king. He didn’t need the forgiveness offered in baptism, but we do, so he submitted himself to baptism in our place. He attached his righteousness to it so that we might be cleansed of our unrighteousness through it. He officially began his work and ultimately accomplished everything he needed to do to be the Lamb of God who has taken your sins away. Trust that he is still serving as your prophet, making sure you hear his word; as your king ruling everything for your good; and as your priest, pleading with the Father to grant you forgiveness and eternal life for his sake.

January 6, 2019

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Jan 082019
 

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Matthew 2:1-12

I invite you to open your Bibles or your Service Folders to our Gospel lesson today as we see God at work in the account of the visit of the Wise Men, and in our lives as well.

 

God is working in everything for your good. That’s his promise. We cling to that promise by faith. But it’s often hard to see God at work. The reason that it’s hard for us to see is that we are often short sighted, focused on the here and now, and looking for instant results. If we take the time to sit back and consider history as HIS-story we will see very clearly that God is at work for the good of all those who are his. We can see God at work in the account of the visit of the Wise Men.

Matthew tells us that after Jesus was born, (so not on Christmas, but probably after Mary and Joseph had taken him to the temple where he was seen by Simeon and Anna), Wise Men came from the East. They had seen a star. They were convinced that it was a sign from God that the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews, had been born.

Now the big question is, how did they know to look for a star? And where did such faith come from that moved them to drop everything, take a long, expensive journey on dusty and sometimes dangerous roads, just to meet and worship this one born King of the Jews?

Scripture makes it clear that God chooses to work through his word to inform and to create faith. Where would they have heard the words and promises of God? We don’t know for sure but human logic would suggest Daniel. He had been the head of the Wise Men in Babylon about 600 years earlier. God gave Daniel a number of visions regarding the future. He also had access to the Old Testament Scriptures. Surely a man of his stature and faith would have shared what he knew and believed about God with others, especially the promise that God would send a Savior for the world.

Whether it was through Daniel, or through contact with others who shared God’s promises with them, God was at work across the miles and through the ages. Although he chose the Jews to be the custodians of his promises, he made it clear that his promises were intended for all people. It has always been his will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

We have experienced what the Wise Men did. Across the miles and through the ages God has worked to make sure that we came into contact with his life-giving word and promises. We have heard the good news that Jesus was born King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem just as God foretold he would be. Against all odds, and in spite of our inborn opposition, God has worked through his word and Sacraments to move us to come and worship the one born King of the Jews. The fact that we are here today is evidence of God’s miraculous work in our lives.

When King Herod heard that some travelers from the East were looking for the one born King of the Jews, he was alarmed, agitated, and the whole city was buzzing about it. They knew how evil Herod was. They knew that he had no problem having anyone he thought was a threat to his power killed. He had killed a priest, a wife, his mother-in-law and three of his own sons because he thought they were a threat to his power.  We get a hint of his evil when we hear that he called the Wise Men to a secret meeting and lied, apparently very convincingly, by asking them to report back to him when they found this child so that he too might go and worship him. We know that all along he was just trying to find him so that he could have him killed.

But, see God at work even in the midst of evil! In Herod’s attempt to find the child he reminds the leading religious leaders of, and hears for himself, the great prophecy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem! God gave him an opportunity to hear and believe. Unfortunately, he ignored it to his own condemnation. But God was also at work frustrating evil by warning the Wise Men not to return to Herod, and warning Joseph to leave Bethlehem before Herod’s soldiers showed up and executed all the baby boys two years old and under. Despite the evil plans of Herod, God was at work, making sure Jesus lived so that he could carry out the plan of Salvation he had put into motion. He was at work frustrating evil and turning evil into good for all the world; even for those mothers of Bethlehem who were mourning the loss of their children, for only in Jesus’ successful completion of God’s plan of salvation is there hope for a resurrection to eternal life.

Still today we can expect evil like that of Herod. Revelation speaks about two great beasts, the beast from the earth and the beast from the sea. They seem to represent powerful people in Government and in the church, who are in league with Satan and persecuting believers. But God is at work in the midst of evil. The Psalmist says that the one who sits in the heavens laughs at them. He is in control. When necessary he steps in to thwart their evil schemes. At all times he is at work making sure their evil turns into good for believers, strengthening their faith in the midst of trouble, and, at times, even making evil accomplish his good purpose. The greatest example of this is that God used the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus as a way to pay for the sins of the world. Another example would be how the stoning of Stephen did the opposite of what evil men intended. Instead of helping to silence Christians and wipe out Christianity it helped to spread it, as Christians fled Jerusalem and shared the good news of the Gospel wherever they went.

When times are evil, trust that God is at work in spite of them and even through them, for your eternal good.

When the wise men left Herod and headed to Bethlehem, they saw the star again. Matthew tells us that they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. God was graciously confirming for them that they were headed in the right direction and would soon see the one they were seeking, the one born King of the Jews. God was at work even arranging the stars and planets, or creating a special star, whichever way he did it, for the good of these Wise Men. Just think of it! God can move the stars and planets, or create a special star just for you, if that’s what is for your good. But he has already done something for you that’s even more amazing that that. He sent his son into the world to save you.

When the Wise Men entered the house where the family was staying, they worshiped the infant Jesus and gave him gifts. What faith they demonstrated! They dropped everything, traveled perhaps thousands of miles and then bowed down and worshipped an infant, a foreign child, as their king and savior, as the fulfillment of God’s promise. They trusted what they saw with the eyes of faith, not what they saw with their physical eyes.

It’s difficult to know if the gifts they gave Jesus had any more significance than showing their desire to give Jesus the best that they had. Some suggest that they gave gold because Jesus is a king, incense because he is God and incense was used in temple worship, and myrrh in view of his suffering and death, but it’s hard to imagine that they would think of all those things. The bottom line is that God was at work through their gifts. Mary and Joseph would have to leave Bethlehem quickly, probably with not much more than the clothes on their backs and these gifts given by the Wise Men. God made sure that he provided for them as they had to escape to Egypt in a hurry.

When we hear that God works in all things for our good, especially when things in our lives aren’t good, we are tempted to say, “I don’t see it.”

Don’t be blinded by sinful desires, false expectations, or short-sided impatience. God is at work through time and eternity, despite the evil opposition of Satan and men like Herod. He accomplished his purpose. Jesus lived and died and rose again to pay for all your sins, your doubts, your sinful desires, your short-sided impatience. He continues to work in all things with the goal that you will spend eternity with him.

Sit back and see God at work in history, in the lives of Mary and Joseph, and these Wise Men. Even if you can’t see it with your physical eyes, look with the eyes of faith and trust that he is at work in your life too, making everything that happens serve your eternal good.

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