October 21, 2018 Sermon

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Oct 212018
 

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Hebrews 4:12-16

I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to our second lesson for today as the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to approach God’s throne with confidence.

You can probably remember a time in school when you were goofing around, or talking, doing something you weren’t supposed to do, and the teacher called you up to her desk.  You knew you were in trouble.  You walked as slowly as you could so as not to get there any sooner than you had to.  Your head was down.  Your eyes were looking anywhere but at the teacher.  You approached her desk with fear and trembling.  You were afraid to speak, afraid to ask for any favors.  You knew you deserved only her anger and punishment.

That’s the way it should be with God.  Because of our sin we know we deserve God’s wrath and punishment.  Our conscience tells us that we ought to keep our distance from God because if we get too close he will mete out the punishment we know we deserve.  And if our conscience mistakenly excuses us, God’s word makes it clear 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, even being able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from him, but everything is uncovered and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we will give an account. God’s word exposes sin in us. It reminds us that God knows everything about us. No sin is hidden from his sight.

Coming before God in prayer, or standing before him on the last day, should be a terrifying prospect. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  The writer to the Hebrews assures us that we don’t have to be afraid, he encourages us to approach the throne of God with confidence.

The reason that we don’t have to be afraid to come before God, now in prayer, or face-to-face on the last day, is that we have a great High Priest.  We have someone at the throne of God who has us covered.  The writer tells us who it is.  He says it is Jesus the Son of God.  Jesus, the one who left heaven and set aside his power and glory as God to come to this earth.  A high priest like no other high priest, he is true God and true man at the same time.  Having completed his work on earth, he has gone through the heavens.  He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and taken back the full use of his power as God.  As our High Priest at the right hand of the Father he has us covered.  He serves as our intercessor, our advocate.

The writer tells us that while he was on this earth Jesus was tempted just as we are, but with one difference, he never gave in to sin.  He lived a perfectly righteous and holy life. When his life was dissected by the living and active word of God he was found to be completely innocent, without a single spot of sin.

When we approach God’s throne on our own, we look like someone who has been living on the street for years—badly in need of a bath, clothes all torn and stained, hair sticking out in every direction- you know your reaction when such a person approaches you.  You want to run away, or at least ignore them and hope they go away or bother someone else.  When we approach the throne of God, before the Father can be offended by the smell and filth of our sins, Jesus covers us.  He gives us the sweet-smelling robe of his perfect righteousness to wear so that the Father does not see our sins and ignore us because of them.  If Satan comes around and tries to lift up the robe of Jesus’ righteousness and call attention to our sins, Jesus points to his blood shed for us on the cross.  He says, “Those sins have already been paid for in full.”  Jesus, our great High Priest, has us covered.  He covers us with the robe of his perfect righteousness.

Because of his righteousness in our place, and because of his blood offered to God as full payment for our sins, we can approach the throne of God without fear.  Yes, he knows how sinful we are, but every one of those sins has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. We can approach the throne of God in prayer anytime, anywhere, with absolute confidence that he will not turn his back on us or ignore us but will patiently and graciously listen to everything we have to say.

One of the most difficult things for most children to learn to do is to go up to a stranger and ask them something.  They have been taught not to talk to strangers, but, the man behind the counter at the toy store, who has the key to the cabinet holding the toy they want is a stranger.  If you want a toy that’s in the cabinet, you have to ask this stranger to get it for you.  Many such clerks have learned to notice a nervous child and help them by breaking the ice and speaking first, asking if they can help.  Once the clerk speaks he doesn’t seem as scary.

Jesus, our great High Priest, has removed the “stranger” designation from God.  He has put a smiling face on God.  God has the key to the cabinet that holds every blessing we need or want.  As we come to ask him for one of those blessings we sometimes feel like that child in the toy store, God seems to be a stranger and we are not sure we should talk to a stranger.  We don’t know if he will understand us, or listen to what we have to say.  But Jesus has put a smiling face on God.  Instead of some impersonal being who can’t possibly know what we are feeling, Jesus is our flesh-and-blood brother.  He knows what it’s like to be hungry.  He knows what it’s like to be tired.  He knows what it’s like to have Satan use these things as temptations.  After he fasted for 40 days, Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread.  As he suffered excruciating pain on the cross, Satan tempted him to come down and prove that he was who he claimed to be.  When we come to the throne of God we are not coming to a stranger.  We are coming to a brother, someone who understands us and who knows just exactly what we need.

Because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, because he has gone through the heavens and is sitting at the right hand of God, the throne of God is a throne of grace, not a throne of Judgment. Yes, God is just.  Yes, God hates sin. Yes,  God will punish those who reject him in the eternal fires of Hell.  But, in Jesus, we see that God is loving and merciful.  He has seen our predicament and he wants to help.  The ultimate proof of his mercy is the fact that he saw your sin and sent Jesus to pay for your sin. He is gracious because he offers his help, forgiveness and all his blessings, for free, no strings attached.  As Paul says, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 

  What a wonderful privilege it is for us to be able to approach God’s throne, to stand before him on the last day, and to be able to come to him anytime, anywhere, knowing that he hears our prayers and that he will answer.  The word that the writer uses to describe the help that God wants to give us is “timely.”  Not only does God answer our every prayer by giving us just exactly what we need for free.  He answers our prayers according to his timetable.  He gives us exactly what we need just when we need it, not a moment before, not a moment after.  Again, look at the example of his gift of Jesus.  He sent Jesus into the world at just the right time, when he knew everything was just right, when crucifixion was the mode of execution, when the Jewish leaders were hardened against him, when the Romans had established an elaborate road system and there was a climate of peace.  When much of the world understood the Greek language so that the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection could be spread rapidly to the majority of the inhabitants of the world. When everything was just right, God sent Jesus.

When we approach the throne of God’s grace in prayer we can do so with the confidence that God will answer that prayer in the best way, at just the right time.  It’s hard for us to be patient.  Our time and God’s time don’t always match.  He doesn’t always give us what we want when we want it.  He is not a doting grandfather who spoils us.  He’s an all-knowing God who blesses us.

Sometimes his answer to our prayers is “no.”  He told the great Apostle Paul no when he asked that his thorn in the flesh be taken away. He told James and John no when they asked for positions of honor on his right and left. But, as God, he knows and sees all things, including the future, including what might happen if he were to give us whatever we want.  If he gave us that fancy car we wanted when we were 16, we might not be here today.  He may have seen that we would drive recklessly and cause a terrible accident.  If he gave us the girl or the boy we wanted so badly to like us, we might really have messed up our lives, they might have been the worst match for us.  If he would let us become rich and famous, he might foresee how those riches would lead us away from him so that we would lose the eternal life in heaven he wants us to have.  As we approach the throne of grace we can have the confidence that God is going to give us only what is best for us, exactly when we need it, not a minute too soon, or a minute too late.

When we come to God in prayer, when the last day comes and we have to stand before the throne of God, we don’t have to be afraid.  We can approach God’s throne with confidence because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God.  Hold on to your confession that Jesus is your great high priest.  He has you covered with his robe of righteousness.  He understands everything you go through in this life and he will always give you exactly what you need just when your need it. Because of what he has done, we are assured that God is merciful and gracious. 16So let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

October 14, 2018 Sermon

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Oct 142018
 

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Amos 5:6,7,10-15

I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to our first lesson from Amos 5 as we hear Amos plead with us to Seek the Lord and Live.

The man who ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and seemed to compliment Jesus by calling him “good teacher,” received a seemingly harsh response from Jesus. Why? Because Jesus knew what was in his heart. He not only called Jesus good, but he thought he was good too, that he and Jesus were on the same level. After all he had kept the second table of the law from his youth and had probably never missed a Synagogue service or a temple festival in his life unless he had been deathly ill. But Jesus helped him see that he lacked one thing. He had an idol. He loved his stuff, his wealth, more than he loved God. He wasn’t good. Only God is good.

The people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the days of Amos were also wealthy. They had stone houses, a summer house and a winter house, and beautiful vineyards. They thought they were good, and they pointed to their stuff, their wealth, as evidence that God was with them, blessing them. But Amos was sent by God to let them know that they weren’t good. Their sins were many. Their prosperity wouldn’t last. Judgment from God was coming. His call to repentance is:  “Seek the Lord and Live!”

Despite its prosperity, Israel was a nation that was in deep trouble with the Lord.  It was a difficult place for a believer in the true God to live.  In addition to the fact that they tried to worship God at golden calf idols, there were two great sins that God points out as examples of how they had forsaken him, and for which he intended to rush upon the house of Joseph like fire.

The fire will consume, and no one will extinguish it for Bethel.  One was the overturning of justice.

God tells them through Amos:  7There are some who turn justice into wormwood, who throw righteousness to the ground. 10There are those who hate an arbitrator in the city gate. They despise anyone who speaks honestly… They take bribes.  There was no such thing as a fair trial in Israel.  The nation as a whole had lost its sense of justice.  There was no right and wrong.  Since money, material things, had become their god, money ruled.  The question was not guilt or innocence, but how much money do you have?  Anyone who tried to point this out, or who stood up for the truth and morality was despised and laughed at.

Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar.  Our nation as a whole seems to have lost its sense of morals and justice.  People confidently state that there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong, everything is relative. My truth can be different than your truth. TV, movies, advertising, all fuel our sinful nature’s desire to love money and things and make them our god.  When we look at our courts today it seems that if you are guilty and have money, you can drag your trial on for years and years, and even if you are convicted, if you can afford to keep paying the attorney’s fees, you can file appeal after appeal.  But if you are poor you don’t have that luxury, and sometimes, it seems people are convicted even though they are innocent, while those who are obviously guilty go free.  We live in a society in which it is getting more and more dangerous to point out God’s truth.  It’s been said that the only “sinner” left in our world today is the person who dares to stand up and call something, anything a sin.

 

The second sin that served as an example of how they had fallen away from God was abuse of the poor, over-working employees in order to enrich yourself at their expense.  God says:  you trample on the poor, and you collect taxes on their grain.   Again, there seem to be fewer and fewer companies that are truly concerned for their workers, and there are fewer and fewer workers who are concerned for the welfare of the companies they work for.  Everyone is looking out only for their own welfare, chasing the almighty dollar.  They don’t care what happens to the other guy as long as they get what they want and think they deserve.

There are a lot of parallels between what Amos says about the conditions in Israel in his day, and what’s happening in our world today; enjoying prosperity, thinking it’s a sign of God’s blessing, while perverting justice and taking advantage of others.  But the point of seeing those parallels is not to just to serve as a warning that God may be about to rush upon America like a fire; that we might expect God to allow catastrophe to come upon our country; but more importantly, the point is that we see these things in ourselves.  As Jesus did for the rich young man who came to him thinking he was good, God wants us to see how much we are affected by the world around us.  He wants us to see how much we are affected by materialism.  He doesn’t want us to get all high and mighty and think that we’re GOOD and it’s the rest of the world that is going merrily on its way to Hell.  He doesn’t just say to everyone else, “Seek the Lord and Live,” he says to you and to me, “Seek me and live.”

The times were prosperous, but morally, the times were evil.  Therefore, Amos says, (not that is was the right thing to do) 13That is why a prudent man will be silent in that time, because it is an evil time.  If you saw evil and corruption, you would just look the other way and keep quiet to keep yourself out of trouble.  Certainly that’s a temptation for us today.  We know if we say something about abortion being murder, or homosexual behavior being sinful, or groundless accusations being sins against the 8th commandment, or that Jesus is the only Savior, we might be persecuted, called names, ignored, ostracized, maybe even prosecuted for hate speech.  We are tempted to think, “What’s the use, speaking God’s truth won’t do any good anyway.”  Seeking the Lord in our world today sometimes makes life difficult; but, it does show where our heart is, that, unlike the rich young man, we love God more than stuff, more than we love the world.

In Amos’ day, most of the people were very religious.  They attended worship and brought sacrifices and offerings.  But, their actions described above showed what was really in their hearts. They were merely going through the motions.  They were worshiping in word and deed but not in spirit and in truth.  They thought that if they just went through the motions God would be with them and bless them, but that was not the case.  Later in the chapter God says:  I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. . .  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  And then he says:  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!  And in our text he says:  14Seek good and not evil, so that you may live, and then it will be like this for you: The Lord, the God of Armies, will be with you, as you claim. 15Hate evil and love good. Establish justice in the city gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

This is not a call to do good works and to earn God’s favor.  This is a call to repentance, a change of heart. It’s what Jesus was doing when he told the young man who was outwardly doing all the right things to sell all he had and follow him. It was a call to acknowledge his sin of making his stuff more important than God, and to seek forgiveness in Jesus. It’s a call to us to acknowledge that, although we might go through the right motions, we might be making comfort, or stuff, or pleasure our real god.

When we are brought to see our sin and the unquenchable fire of God’s judgment about to engulf us; when we see how many are our offenses and how great are our sins, and we confess them to our Lord and acknowledge that we deserve only his punishment, may we not do what the young man did, and what most of Israel did, and continue in our sin. Instead, may we be enabled by the Holy Spirit to throw ourselves on his mercy and grace trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. He always did what was just and right in our place. He always spoke up for those who were being wronged and against those who took advantage of others. He was good in our place He willingly suffered and died for all the times when we have loved evil and hated good, or have tried to pervert justice for our advantage. When we are assured that God’s love and grace covers our countless sins, even that one sin that is tormenting our conscience, there will be fruits of repentance.  Such fruit begins with a desire, worked in our hearts by faith, to avoid sin and to live moral lives, to speak against injustice when we see it, and do all we can to uphold justice, to worship the one true God not just in outward observance, but in spirit and in truth.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live. Hate evil and love good. Establish justice in the city gate, maintain justice in the courts.  These are words of encouragement from God.  These are not things we do to earn his favor, but these are things that we do because we have his favor, because Jesus has paid for all our sins and now we want to serve the Lord and do his will.  These are things that show where our heart is, for it is either set on the things of this life, or on the things above.

Seek the Lord and Live!  That may make life in evil times very difficult, but it will show what’s really in our hearts.

October 7, 2018 Sermon

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Oct 082018
 

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Mark 10:2-16

I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to Mark chapter 10 as Jesus teaches us that family is created by God.

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes states that there is nothing new under the sun. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin the same problems have existed in some form or another. Adam and Eve fought over whose fault it was that they were in trouble with God. Neither wanted to admit their part in committing the first sin. There was jealousy among their children to the point that Cain ended up killing his brother Abel. There were marriage and family problems for Moses to deal with while Israel was traveling in the wilderness, and King David had plenty of family problems in the palace. The Rabbi’s of Jesus’ day were arguing about under what circumstances a member of the Synagogue might be granted a divorce. There is nothing new under the sun.

We are told that some Pharisees brought this age-old argument about divorce to Jesus. Unfortunately, they weren’t so much concerned about Jesus providing an answer as they were about trying to get Jesus to say something unpopular, or contrary to Scripture; something they could use to discredit him. Again, as we have seen over the past weeks in the news, there is nothing new under the sun.

The test question they put to Jesus was this: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Matthew’s report hints at the slant they were putting on the question as he reports the phrase, for any and every reason.  Those who study what the Rabbi’s of the day had written point out that those who followed Rabbi Shammai said the only reason would be adultery. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel gave a broad meaning to the phrase “a matter of shame”, and stated that an acceptable reason could be spoiling your husband’s dinner. Rabbi Akiba went so far as to say that finding another woman more attractive than your wife was a reason for divorce. Apparently they thought that no matter how Jesus answered the question someone would be angry at him. And that’s still the case today.

How did Jesus answer this difficult and potentially divisive question that we are still asked today?

3He replied, “What did Moses command you?”  4They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” So, it sounds like divorce is permitted then, as long as you file the proper paperwork.

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Jesus told them, “He wrote this command for you because of your hard hearts. What Moses permitted was in his role as earthly ruler who had to keep order in society. He was not permitting what God had forbidden; he was regulating what was being done in defiance of God, by people who refused to listen to God. He was protecting women from men who wanted to change partners as often as the seasons change.

Jesus answered the question about marriage the same way we need to answer it today. He answered it on the basis of God’s word, not on the basis of the opinions of Rabbis or what was happening in society. He answered by pointing people back to the beginning.

Ken Ham is very good at pointing out that Satan knew what he was doing when he began attacking the first three chapters of Genesis. If you throw out those chapters, then anything goes. Then marriage is a human institution and humans can make it whatever they want – not just by making up reasons for divorce, but who can be married to whom. If we want to know what marriage is to be, Jesus says, “go back to Genesis, to the beginning, to what GOD created.”

6 From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.

It’s pretty simple, really. God made Adam. He let Adam discover for himself that it wasn’t good to be the only human on the face of the earth by having him name the animals. Then God built another human from a piece of Adam’s side, one that was a perfect match for him and he for her. He made one MALE and one FEMALE. He brought Eve to Adam who recognized God was giving him a wonderful gift, and marriage was created. Scripture is careful to let us know that this thing we call marriage would continue for all time. One male and one female would leave their family of origin and form their own family. They would become one, not just in a physical union, but in their goals and in faith. This union is to be considered consecrated by God and is not to be broken. What has become one is not to become two again.

Even Jesus’ disciples were struggling a little with what Jesus was saying about marriage. It’s likely that they had friends or relatives who were divorced. But Jesus makes it very clear to them, and to us, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 12If she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  Of course, Matthew records Jesus as adding the one exception, marital unfaithfulness, which he seems to be implying here as it seems the divorce he is talking about is for the purpose of marrying another.

Like the disciples, we all know people who have gone through a divorce. We can’t let our feelings for them get in the way of what God says. Divorce always involves sin. God hates divorce, the Bible says. It’s not his best. Even when he allows it, when one or the other spouse has been unfaithful, sin has separated what God has joined together.

But, it must be said that it is not an unforgivable sin. In fact, if you look down on someone who has gone through a divorce and pat yourself on the back and think, “I’m doing well because I have not been involved in a divorce,” watch out. Jesus equates lust with adultery. A heterosexual couple living together outside of marriage is breaking the same commandment as those who practice homosexuality. With the preponderance of nudity and the use of sex to sell things, with what is on TV and in the movies and on the internet, and at the store check out, all of us have to confess that we are guilty of sins against God’s commandment “do not commit adultery.” As Jesus told those who had gathered to stone the woman caught in adultery, “if you are without sin, cast the first stone,” and no one did.

How we need to daily confess our sins of lust, the times that we forget that we are one with our spouse, joined together by God, the times we might wish it weren’t so. How we need to daily look to Jesus as the one who perfectly kept God’s will in regard to the sixth commandment. How we need to be reminded every day that Jesus took the punishment we deserve for these sins on himself on the cross. Being assured of our forgiveness we are inspired to avert our eyes, to turn away from sin, to avoid tempting situations, and to do whatever we can to see our spouses as a gift from God to whom we are faithfully devoted for life.

After God created marriage by bringing Eve to Adam he told them to be fruitful and multiply, to have children. It’s God’s will that we see children as precious gifts from God.

The disciples struggled with that concept, at least on this occasion. When mothers were bringing their little children, Luke says even babies, to Jesus, the disciples tried to stop them. They rebuked them. They told them that they were doing something wrong – probably wasting Jesus’ time, after all, he had more important things to do than to bless children.

Jesus has a strong reaction. The only stronger reaction I can think of is when he cleared the temple: 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said, “Let the little children come to me! Do not hinder them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15Amen I tell you: Whoever will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took the little children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

We are to see children as gifts of God, never as a bother or a burden. We are to bring them to Jesus. They are people too. They have eternal souls from the moment of conception. They need to hear the word, to be brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord. In fact, they often outshine us when it comes to demonstrating faith. They simply take God at his word. They don’t argue about whether something seems logical, or possible. They simply say, “God said so, therefore it is true.” They trust God’s promises no matter what. Jesus let these children know how precious they were to God by physically touching them and blessing them.

How thankful we are that so many bring their children to church, to Sunday school, to Children’s programs like VBS, or Power Hour. We should never hinder them, thinking that they are too little to believe, or that they are too noisy, or might mess up the building. Jesus says that they believe in him and that through faith they are a part of his kingdom. He wants them to be blessed through the hearing of his word.

Marriage and family are still a topic of discussion in our day. When the discussion turns to divorce, or gay marriage, or how to view children, Jesus shows us what to do. Go back to the beginning. Remember God created marriage to be between one male and one female. In marriage he joins them together for life. If it is his will to grant them children, they are to be treated as special gifts from God and brought to him to be blessed through baptism and through frequent contact with his word.

What a gracious savior we have. He didn’t let anything keep him from upholding the truth of God’s word, even when what God says was unpopular or controversial. He didn’t let anything keep him from showing love to little children. He didn’t give up on his disciples, even though he was angry with them, nor does he ever give up on us. When we sin, he calls us to repentance. He assures us that he lived and died to pay for our sin, whatever it may be. He reminds us that he lives and rules over all things so that he is always there to help us bring forth fruits of repentance, to help us stand firm against Satan’s attacks on marriage and family, for our good and his glory.

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