August 9, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 102020
 

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Matthew 13:44-52

Our first two lessons this morning present examples of people who had proper priorities. The first example was Solomon. Think about it. If someone came to you and offered to give you whatever you asked for, what would you ask?

In our world today you might be tempted to ask for a cure for COVID, or at least that you and your loved ones would be immune. Considering how many people play the lottery, you might ask to win, or at least to be given millions of dollars. Maybe there’s a place you always wanted to go, or a house or a vehicle you always wanted to have. But, although he was surely tempted to think about asking for money, or fame, or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon asked for something else, something that that was not primarily for himself, but for others. He asked for wisdom, not because he wanted to be considered wise by others, but because he wanted to be able to do the best job he could for God and for the people he governed.

Is that something you would think of asking? Would you ask to be enabled to be excellent at your job, not for what you might get out of it, but so that you could take good care of your family and others and bring glory to God?

The second example is Moses. You will remember that his parents hid him for as long as they could at home because Pharaoh had ordered that all Jewish male babies be killed at birth. When they were no longer able to hide him from the authorities, they put him in a basket and floated him in the Nile River near where they knew Pharaoh’s daughter liked to come. The plan worked. Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses. She adopted him as her own and hired his mother to be his nursemaid. He was raised in the palace of Pharaoh where he enjoyed the life of one of the richest people on earth at the time. He had access to some of the greatest learning ever, people who built pyramids and even performed brain surgery. He literally had it all. He had access to anything and everything a person of his day could desire. But, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that he gave it all up. Why would he do that? He considered disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. He believed that there was something worth more than all the treasures of Egypt. He understood that enjoying a life of sin in this world might be fun, but it’s not worth missing out on enjoying the treasures of heaven for all eternity.

Jesus’ first two parables before us today describe a person like Solomon and Moses. They describe a person who has right priorities, who understands what is most important.

It’s interesting that these two people find the treasure, what’s most important, in different ways. The first man seems to discover the treasure by accident. He is out in a field either working, or just traveling through, and he finds what he realizes is a treasure that is worth sacrificing all he has. There is no indication that he was looking for it, or even knew that such a treasure existed.

He would be like a person who knew nothing about the Bible, who maybe had heard the name Jesus but didn’t really know anything about him. But this person maybe ended up attending a Christian school, or started dating a Christian, or happened to work with a Christian. Some how or other, without looking for it, they came into contact with the greatest treasure there is, the good news that Jesus lived and died for them and for all people. The Holy Spirit works faith and joy in their hearts so that, like Moses, they are willing to break all ties with their former beliefs, and even with family if necessary, because nothing is more important than having eternal life in Jesus.

The joy demonstrated by such a person often puts us to shame. One such person told me that when he realized the truth about his salvation, he was like a person who had been barely surviving in the desert. When he found an oasis with unlimited food and water he began jumping for joy, but all the people there- those who had always known the truth- looked at him as if he were crazy and wondered what he was so excited about. It’s so easy for those of us who have always had the greatest treasure there is, who have always known Jesus as our Savior, to take our treasure for granted.

The second person is looking for treasure, fine pearls. This person knows that there is something out there that they are missing. They investigate all kinds of different teachings and philosophies of life, but none completely satisfies. They keep looking for fine pearls. Then, one day, they hear about what God has done for them in Jesus. They come across the Bible and learn that Jesus is the perfect pearl. He alone lived on earth without sin. He offered himself as the unblemished sacrifice, the only thing valuable enough to pay the debt of the sin of the world. He alone rose from the dead and is living in the perfect glory of heaven preparing riches beyond our imagination for all who love him. This person realizes that he has found what he is looking for. As valuable as all his other fine pearls are, as intriguing and wise as all the other philosophies of the world seem, he realizes that they are rubbish compared to Jesus and eternal life in him. He sells them all. He gives up every other idea and philosophy so that he can have Jesus, the pearl of great price.

These parables illustrate what Jesus said a number of different ways in plain words. He makes it clear that He is to be our greatest treasure. He and his word are to be our number one priority. He says, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. He says, anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Keeping Jesus as our priceless treasure; seeing him as our pearl of great price; making sure that Jesus and his word are always our top priority; is easier said than done. Even Solomon, who started off making God and his word his top priority, didn’t always keep it as his top priority. At least for a while, he made building projects and women a higher priority than God and his word.

What about you? By God’s grace you know that God and his word, your eternal life in Jesus, is your most important possession and should always be at the top of your priority list. You know that in every decision you make in life your number one question should be, “how will this affect my relationship with Jesus? How will this bring God glory and help others come to share in this treasure I enjoy?” But we all have to admit that we often make decisions based on other priorities – what will make me the most money, what will give me the most happiness today, what will make me feel good?

Maybe that’s why Jesus told the parable of the dragnet next. It is similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, but this parable seems to be talking about the visible church. The net seems to be the preaching of the Gospel which attracts all different kinds of people into a visible church. But as Jesus says, not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter into the kingdom of heaven. The net is pulled ashore on the last day and the angels separate the good fish from the worthless fish, those who are righteous by faith in Jesus and those who were members of the church in name only. Those without faith, those for whom Jesus was not the number one priority, will be cast into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This parable, by placement and meaning, illustrates the familiar words of Paul, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! Make sure that your trust is not in a church, a denomination, a person, a style of worship; make sure that your trust is not in anything but Jesus. Make sure he is your priceless treasure for whom you are willing to give up anything and everything because nothing is worth more than eternal life in him.

Jesus asked if the disciples understood the meaning of these parables. They said that they did. And Jesus grants that they did because he compares them to scribes, teachers of God’s word, who are trained as disciples of the kingdom of heaven. But his final parable reminds them and us that we are not to become complacent. As those who have the priceless treasure of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, we are not to think- I know all I need to know. I’m saved. Now I can concentrate on other priorities. No. Jesus is to remain our top priority. We are to be like a person who has all kinds of treasure in the house. We are ever increasing our treasure as we continue to dig into God’s word, realizing that there are always more riches for us to find there.

This is important for selfish reasons. Continued study of God’s word will enrich our lives. It is the means through which God guides us on the narrow path to heaven. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit helps us keep Jesus and our salvation our number one priority.

It is also important for the sake of others. As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, we are better able to share the priceless treasure with others. We are better able to understand it ourselves, and then explain it to others, and help others rejoice like the person who found treasure in the field and the man who found the pearl of great price. Then we can rejoice together with them over the treasure of heaven that Jesus won for us.

August 2, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 032020
 

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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Evil is very obvious in our world today. We hear daily reports about the effects of the virus. People get in heated arguments about what they think we should do about it. We hear daily reports of rioting; people starting fires, destroying property, throwing fireworks at police who are protecting buildings they want to burn down. We hear people purposely using loaded words to advance their agenda and demonize their opponents. Even if we turn off the news and focus only on our little part of the world, we see evil. We hear people constantly putting the worst construction on what others say or do. We say hurtful things to each other. Siblings get into fights. Neighbors feud. We give in to temptation. It’s no surprise that Jesus taught us to pray, deliver us from evil. But how and when will God answer that prayer?

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds gives us the answer to those questions.

Before we get to how and when evil will come to an end there’s another question that Jesus answers. It’s a question that a lot of people struggle with. Why is there evil in the first place? Where did evil come from?

This question has caused a lot of people to turn away from God because they blame God for evil. They think that, since God is supposed to be the creator of all that exists, and since he is supposed to be all knowing and all powerful, then he must be at least somewhat responsible for evil. Shouldn’t he have foreseen what was going to happen? Shouldn’t he have done something to stop it?

It might seem that way to our limited human minds, but as Paul says, who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? And as God says through Isaiah, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. When our thoughts differ from what God says in his word, we must defer to the word and realize that there are many things about God and his rule of the universe that we don’t know or can’t understand.

Jesus says that the field in his parable represents the world. He, the Son of Man, equally God with the Father from eternity, sowed good seed in the field of the world. Now, unlike the previous parable of the sower, the seed in this parable does not represent the word. It represents the sons of the kingdom. It represents believers.

Adam and Eve were created as believers, in the image of God. And throughout the history of the world God has seen to it that there always are and will be believers, sons of the kingdom, in the world. Even in Israel at the time of Elijah, where Baal was worshiped through ritual prostitution, and Jezebel was executing the prophets of God, and people were offering their children to Molech, God reserved 7,000 sons of the kingdom. The Son of Man plants good seeds in the field of the world. No matter how evil the world gets, he will always have his remnant of believers.

The servants in the parable are confused. If their master only plants good seed, and they know that he does, that he is not the author of evil, then where do the weeds come from? If God only plants good seed, if he is not responsible for evil, why is there evil?

Jesus’ answer is an enemy did this. And he tells us clearly who this enemy is. The enemy who sowed them (the weeds) is the Devil.  And the weeds that he sows are the sons of the Evil One. They are all those who continue to listen to Satan instead of listening to God and his word. As Paul says do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

When we hear these things, we are tempted to respond as the servants did. Should we gather up the weeds? Shouldn’t we destroy the weeds? After all, isn’t that what you do with weeds? You do your best to get rid of them. You pull them. You spray them with chemicals. And that would be fine if we were just talking about weeds. But remember, the weeds represent people. When James and John thought that because some Samaritans refused to allow Jesus to come to their village, they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them, Jesus did not let them. He rebuked them.

Jesus makes it clear that it is not our job to destroy people because we believe they are sons of the Evil One. No matter how evil they seem to be, no matter what they might do to us, God never says that it’s our job to destroy them. In some cases, God gives those to whom he gives earthly power the right to destroy, to execute those who do evil, but he does not give his disciples, the church, the right to destroy people who seem to be evil. He explains to his servants why. He tells them that if they try to destroy the weeds, if we try to destroy those that seem to be sons of the evil one, they may end up destroying some of the wheat. We might end up the destroying some believers along with the unbelievers.

Here is where, even though Jesus uses the example of wheat and weeds, the comparison limps. Unlike wheat and weeds than can never change, people can. Some of those Samaritans who didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, when they later learned about his death and resurrection through the preaching of Philip, may have been changed from weeds to wheat, from unbelievers to believers. If Jesus had allowed James and John to call down fire from heaven to destroy them some who later became believers might have been lost for all eternity. As long as people have physical life and the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus the power of God’s word can turn them from unbelief to faith, from weeds to wheat, from being sons of the Evil one to sons of the kingdom.

Another reason that we are not to make it our responsibility to physically destroy those who seem to be sons of the Evil one is that by doing so we become stumbling blocks to others. They use our unloving actions as reasons, excuses, to reject God and his word.

So, evil does not end by those who claim to be believers physically putting an end to those who seem to be the sons of the Evil One. In fact, we would ultimately have to destroy ourselves because we all are guilty of doing evil. None of us is perfect. Good and evil will continue in this world until God brings the world to an end. Only he can bring an end to evil.

Jesus says, let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First, gather up the weeds, bind them in bundles, and burn them. Then, gather the wheat into my barn. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are – not people – but angels. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will pull out of his kingdom everything that causes sins and those who continue to break the law. The angels – not people – will throw them into fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

John sees in Revelation that the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Nothing impure will ever enter the new Jerusalem, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. There will be nothing evil allowed in God’s kingdom. When Jesus returns in glory on the last day all who remain children of the Evil One, unbelievers, will be destroyed.

Those words should strike you as scary at first, for it is clear that we have all sinned. It is clear that there have been times when we have been guilty of idolatry because we made someone or something more important than God, even if it was only for a short time. It is clear that there have been times when we have lied, either by keeping quiet about what God says in his word, or about something we have done wrong or failed to do. It is clear that every single one of us should be bundled with the rest of the weeds and thrown into the unquenchable fire of hell.

But Jesus says that the righteous will shine like the sun. The sons of the kingdom will be separated from the weeds. The angels will separate the sheep from the goats and the sheep, the believers will be invited to spend eternity with Jesus in the new Jerusalem where no one and nothing evil will be allowed to enter ever.

Who are the righteous? Who are the sons of the kingdom? You are. The righteous are those who have been declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus. The righteous are those who have been clothed in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. The sons of the kingdom are those who have been adopted by the Father, who are heirs with Christ of the perfection of heaven. They are those who admit that they have no righteousness of their own, that they deserve nothing but punishment, that they are deserving the fiery furnace as much as anyone else, but have been cleansed, justified and sanctified in the name of Jesus by the Spirit of God at work in the word and sacraments.

God is not responsible for evil. He is the only reason there is anything good in this world. We cannot rid the world of evil. As long as the world exists there will be good and evil in the world. But evil will not last forever. When Jesus comes again in glory, the angels will separate the weeds from the wheat, the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Until then, stay close to the word and sacrament through which the holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith, and do all you can to share the good news about Jesus with others. It is only by the power of the word that the Holy Spirit can make more wheat, more children of the kingdom.

July 19, 2020 Sermon

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Jul 202020
 

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Matthew 11:28-30

 

Today we are starting our new series “Summer School”. As we attend this school each Sunday, we are privileged to have the best teacher who has ever lived serve as our instructor. The people who heard him teach in person were amazed at his teaching. They asked, where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? No one ever spoke the way this man does. He teaches with authority, not like other teachers. Our teacher is Jesus. He invites us to learn from him, the best teacher ever. The one who shares all things with God the Father. The one who teaches with authority and yet is gentle and humble in heart.

In Matthew 11 Jesus was addressing a common problem with which we can identify. You can’t please everyone, and if you try, you will get very weary. The example Jesus used was the way the people reacted to John the Baptist and then to him. John lived a very austere life. He lived in the wilderness and ate locust and wild honey and people said, “He must be crazy, he has a devil.” Jesus lived among the people. He ate and drank with them, even with tax collectors and sinners, and people accused him of being a drunk and a glutton, and with hanging out with the wrong crowd.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. And, if you are like John and Jesus, trying to proclaim God’s word, it’s even worse. When you tell people something they don’t want to hear, they will look for any little thing they can find to use as an excuse not to listen to the message. If you try to please people you will get very weary and frustrated.

There was another common problem that Jesus was addressing with which we can identify. Trying to follow all the rules is very burdensome.

The other teachers of Jesus’ day were all about rules. They had the idea that the more rules you had and the stricter the rules were, the better it was for society and for your relationship with God. God said don’t work on Saturday. So they decided to define what it meant to work. How far could you walk before it was considered work? They came up with a Sabbath day’s journey. You weren’t supposed to prepare food on the Sabbath, so were the disciples sinning when the picked grain as they walked by a field and ate it on the Sabbath? The Pharisees thought they were. All these rules upon rules led to constant arguing among the Rabbis and the people about which rules were best and who was better at following them. It was burdensome.

Maybe more than ever in our lifetime we can identify with the people who were worn out by trying to figure out and follow all the rules of the day. Do masks help or don’t they? The advice of the doctors keeps changing, just like the advice of the Rabbis of Jesus day. Should schools open in the fall or not? You can find a doctor, or scientist, “a Rabbi” of today, to support whatever opinion you might have. People pick sides. The politicians get involved. If you disagree you might get canceled or put in Facebook jail. Do you get what Jesus was talking about when appealed to those he knew were weary and burdened?

Trying to live by rules; trying to do what makes people happy; is burdensome. It wears you out because the rules seem to always be changing and no matter what you do, someone isn’t going to be happy.

To those who are weary and burdened Jesus says, come to me, learn from me, and I will give you rest.

Jesus says to those who heard him, “Are you worn out by trying to figure out what it means to rest on the Sabbath? Can you go out of the house? How far can you walk before it’s considered work? Can you pick some grain and eat it on the Sabbath if you are hungry, or would that be work?” Jesus says, come to me and rest. I am Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. “Find your rest in me. I am the fulfillment of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was my shadow. It was a way of letting you know that true rest was coming, but instead of looking forward to that coming rest, you made all kinds of rules that distracted people from that true coming rest. I’m here. I have come to give you the true rest you want and need.”

Okay, Jesus, how do I get this rest? Take my yoke upon you.

“What? How is that restful? I already have a yoke that’s too heavy to bear. I have the yoke of all these rules I can’t keep. I have the yoke of wanting to make people happy, and I never can. I have the yoke, the crushing burden of the guilt that comes from knowing that if I can’t keep the rules and I can’t make people happy, then surely God is not happy with me. And if God is not happy with me, I’m doomed. All I have to look forward to is death and eternal punishment. And now you tell me to take another yoke on my shoulders? How is that going to give me rest?”

My Yoke is easy, and my burden is light. “I’m not just another taskmaster. I’m not just another rule maker, just another person you can try to please but never be able to.” I am gentle and humble in heart. “In me you will find the kind of rest that no one else can give”, rest for your souls.

  “When you take my yoke upon you”, Jesus says, “it’s so easy and light you won’t even know it’s there. That’s because I’m doing all the work for you.”

If you think of the picture of the yoke on the screen, Jesus is on one side, and you are on the other, but you are not equal partners. It’s as if you were a baby, just strapped in. Just along for the ride because your legs aren’t even long enough to touch the ground. As the writer to the Hebrews said, when Jesus is your Sabbath rest, you rest from your own labor and let Jesus do all the work for you.

When you are weary and burdened and you come to Jesus for rest, he takes every other yoke off your shoulders. He takes the yoke of thinking you have to keep all of the rules and make everyone happy off your shoulders. He reminds you that not even he could make everyone happy even though he did keep all of God’s rules. He reminds you that when he did keep all of God’s rules, he didn’t just keep them for himself, he kept them for you. When you come to Jesus for rest; when you take his yoke upon you and confess, “Jesus, I can’t do it. I’ve tried my best to please God and people and I have failed. Help me!” When you humble yourself and admit that you have sinned, Jesus is gentle and humble. He says, “I have taken your burden on my shoulders. I have taken the yoke of the law on myself. I have done what you could not do. I didn’t please sinful man, but I did please the Father. He declared it to be so both at my baptism and at my transfiguration. The job is done. The field is plowed. God’s desire that his law be kept has been fulfilled perfectly. Since you are yoked with me, the Father considers that you have kept his law perfectly as well, even though I did all the work.”

When you are weary and burdened and you come to Jesus for rest from the guilt that robs you of both physical and spiritual rest; when you come to Jesus because you realize that you are lost and condemned, that there is no way that you can pay for your sins against God and others; Jesus says: “I put that yoke on my shoulders too. When I went to the cross as the spotless lamb of God, I was able to accept the punishment you and all people deserved. I paid your sin-debt to God in full. Whatever sin from your past is robbing you of rest, bring it to me. Look at the cross and realize that I have suffered the punishment you deserve for that sin. It’s been removed as far as the east is from the west. God chooses not to remember it. You have rest for your soul.”

Does that mean there are no more rules to follow? Does that mean the commandments are abolished and no longer apply? No. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish God’s law, but to fulfill it. God’s commandments still apply, and he expects us to keep them perfectly. But when we come to Jesus for rest, we learn from him that he has kept them all in our place and suffered the punishment we deserve when we sin. That gives us a new attitude as we look at the commandments. We don’t see them as a burden that’s impossible for us to bear. In Jesus we see how much God loves us. We learn from Jesus that God only wants what is good for us, and what is good for us is expressed in his commands. The rest that Jesus gives us moves us to love God. And John says, This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

When a culture rejects God and his word, when people think the Bible is just an instruction book, a rule book for life on earth, things get very tiring. Everyone makes up their own rules and then argues about whose rules are the right rules. People use whatever power they have to try to force you to follow their rules. That’s what made the Jews of Jesus day weary and burdened. It’s what is making us weary and burdened today. The answer is the same today as it was then. Jesus says, come to me. I will give you rest. He teaches us that rest doesn’t come from having the right rules. Rest comes from the fact that he kept all of God’s rules for us. Rest comes from the fact that he paid for all the times we break God’s rules. He took our yoke of keeping God’s law and the heavy burden of our punishment on himself so that we could take up his yoke of forgiveness and have rest for our souls.

In the midst of all the arguing and controversy in our world today, learn from Jesus that you can’t please everyone. Even he didn’t. But he did please his heavenly Father, and that’s what really counts. Through faith in Jesus, the Father is also well-pleased with you. Let that fact give you rest and enable you to remember what’s most important- taking up Jesus’ yoke, being his disciple, holding firm to the certain hope of eternal rest that he has won for you. Always go to Jesus for rest!

 

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