June 14, 2020 Sermon

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Jun 142020
 

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Genesis 1:26-28

 

Last week Moses gave us an overview of how God created everything that exists. Today we want to focus in on the most important part of all that God created—Humans, and the relationship God wants to have with us.

Some today might object to the statement that humans are the most important part of all God created. They might ask, “how do you know there aren’t other life forms that are more important, or that might at some point become more evolved than humans?” From an evolutionary, unbiblical world view the answer would have to be, “we don’t know.” But for those who accept the Bible as God’s word without error there are many reasons to say that humans are the most important, the crown of God’s creation. Along with that position comes great responsibility as well. Let’s review some of the Biblical reasons that humans are the crown of God’s creation.

As you track the things that God created each day, it is clear that things are building to a climax. Each day the things God creates are more and more complex. It’s clear he is creating things that whatever he creates on the following day will need. Sky, water, vegetation, then birds, fish, animals, and last of all, humans.

When it came time for God to create humans, he broke his usual pattern. By doing so, he indicated that what he was about to create was something different than all he had created before.

The persons of the Trinity counsel together. God said, let us make man. He didn’t do that before he created anything else that exists. He changed his pattern from saying, let there be, or let the earth produce, to saying let us make. And from chapter two we are told that, instead of just commanding the earth to produce Adam, The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and  the man became a living being. Chapter 2 also tells us how it happened that God created male and female. After Adam realized that all the animals had mates and that he was different than the animals, God took a piece of his side and built a woman from what he had taken out of the man. There is to be no doubt that she too was human because she was taken out of man, the only other human. In fact, Eve is the only woman who came from a man. Every other human being, including Jesus, male or female, was born of a woman.

God describes the high position humans would have in his creation. They would be created to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crawls on the earth. After he created them, he blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

  God didn’t need anything that he created. He had existed through all eternity without any of it. Everything he created he made for the use and the enjoyment of the crown of his creation, Adam and Eve. Creation, even in it’s fallen state, still offers many things for us to enjoy. In our world today, people really enjoy their pets. Who doesn’t enjoy a beautiful sunset, a field of growing crops stretching out as far as the eye can see, or a day at the beach? God still provides all these things for our enjoyment.

When you see someone throw trash out of their car, or when you see pictures of miles of plastic floating in the ocean, or birds covered with oil from an oil spill, you realize that humans have not done a very good job of exercising their rule and dominion over the earth. The earth is the Lords and everything in it. It’s his. We just get to use it and enjoy it for as long as we live here. Like anything that you get to use that belongs to someone else the owner expects you to take good care of what they allow you to use. They expect to receive it back in the same condition it was when they let you use it. God has given us rule and dominion over his earth and he expects us to be good stewards, to take good care of it.

So, if we don’t always take very good care of all that God created, why did he give Adam and Eve rule and dominion over it?

Part of the answer is that he was showing his love for them. Another part of the answer is that he created them in his image, and as long as they were in his image, they would care for what he had made perfectly.

We heard the phrase “image of God” a number of times in our verses for today. He said let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.  And that’s just what he did. God created the man in his own image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them. (He makes it clear that both Adam and Eve were created in his image.)

What does it mean that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image?

It can’t mean that they looked like God. Why? Because the Bible clearly states that God is Spirit. He is a personal being, but he does not have a physical body. Besides, both Adam and Eve were in his image and they didn’t exactly look alike.

Image doesn’t mean “look like”, but it obviously means that they were like God in some way. We see that they had intelligence. Adam had no problem naming the animals when God asked him to do so. He was in some respects smarter than many people today because he realized that he had not come from an animal and no animal was suitable to be his partner. He was able to communicate with God and to be in his presence without fear. Chapter 3 reports that God walked in the Garden of Eden and spoke with Adam and Eve. But none of these things are the essence of the Image of God. Paul explains in our other readings for today what the real essence of the image of God was.  Speaking of believers, he says that the New Self is continually being renewed in knowledge, according to the image of its Creator. He says that this New Self wants nothing to do with sexual immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire and greed, wrath, anger malice, slander, filthy language and lies. He says the new self is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. There it is. The essence of the image of God is having true righteous and holiness like God.

When God created humans and gave them rule and dominion over all he had made they were in his image. They were perfectly righteous and holy. They were perfectly in tune with God. They understood what everything God made was and how best to use and care for it. They were willing and able to be perfect caretakers of all that God had made for them. The enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and with each other.

It’s important to note that when you hear many other Christians talk about man being created in the image of God, they mean something different. Their misunderstanding of this term causes them to have trouble with other doctrines of the Bible. When they talk about humans being in the image of God, they simply mean that humans are distinct from the animals and a special creation of God with a body and a soul. That’s true as far as it goes, but that’s not what the Bible means when it talks about the image of God.

What’s the problem with this misunderstanding of the image of God? The Bible says that when Adam and Eve sinned the image of God was lost. We heard Paul say that it is only being restored in those who are brought to faith in Jesus. So, if the image of God only means that humans are a special creation of God separate from the animals, did they cease to be that when the image of God was lost in sin? They didn’t. All of their descendants, all humans, are born only with Adam’s sinful image. But, even in our sinful state, we are still a special creation of God separate from the animals. What humans lost is not their humanness, what they lost is their holiness and righteousness, their ability to keep from sinning.

You can see that this misunderstanding of the image of God affects the doctrine of original sin. It opens the door to the idea that people are born with some remnant of spiritual power, some ability to rule and have dominion in a godly way. It negates the need for baptism. But the Bible says that all of Adam’s descendants, all humans, are born dead in sin, in Adam’s sinful image, not God’s holy image. It means that humans cannot save themselves. In fact, if left to themselves, they would only destroy themselves and all that God has made. As Paul said, nothing good lives in us, that is in our sinful nature. Failure to understand this leads to false doctrine regarding baptism and conversion. Failure to understand that the image of God has been lost leads to the dangerous idea that people are basically good and they don’t need God or any authority to guide them. What they think will lead to utopia, or as some say a “summer of love”, will only lead to anarchy and misery.

Imagine as best you can what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to have the image of God for the short time they had it. Imagine what it would be like to be perfectly in tune with the mind of God. Imagine what it would be like to be able to do everything perfectly. Imagine what it would be like to be in God’s presence, to walk and talk with him in a beautiful garden. Imagine what it would be like never to worry, never to be afraid of anything, never to feel sadness or shame. Imagine what it would be like to have a perfect relationship with God and perfect love for others.

That’s what Adam and Eve enjoyed before they sinned and lost God’s image. That’s what Paul says is being restored in us through faith in Jesus. He is the second Adam. He is the perfect image of God. He never lost it in sin. In grace, he credits his righteousness and perfection to us. Spirit worked faith in Jesus drives out fear, overcomes worry, erases shame. Spirit worked faith delights in God and his word, in doing his will and talking to him in prayer.

As long as we live on earth, the image of God is only being restored, it’s not completely restored. That will only happen when Jesus returns, raises our bodies from the dead and fully restores in us his perfect image. That’s a day we long to see.

 

June 7, 2020 Sermon

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Jun 072020
 

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Genesis 1:1-2:3

The most important part of a building is its foundation. No matter how big or beautiful a building is, if its foundation is bad, it won’t last. Jesus used this fact in one of his parables where he talked about being careful not to build on sand, but on rock. Of course, Jesus was not talking about a physical building. He was talking about our faith. We need to be sure that our faith is not resting on the sand of human philosophy, or scientific theories that change from year to year. We need to be sure that our faith is resting on the rock of God’s true and unchanging word.

In the first three chapters of Genesis God answers all the basic questions of life for us. He tells us where everything came from. He tells us who we are and why we are here. He tells us why there is evil. And he tells us who he is and what he is like. He tells us the truth. He is the only one who can give us truthful answers to these basic questions of life because he is the only one who was there even before the beginning and is still around today. Answers that come from anywhere beside God and his word are based on human assumptions, fallible models, and guesses. Those are certainly not things on which you want to base your eternal life, or even our everyday life on earth for that matter.

The account of the creation of all that exists in Genesis one not only tells us how everything got here. It tells us a lot about who God is and what he is like.

Think about the first four words of the Bible. In the beginning, God. What does that tell us about God? It tells us that he existed before everything that we know began. He was there before the beginning. The fancy word we use for that fact is “eternal”. God is eternal. Yes, in a sense, we are also eternal because we will be raised from the dead on the last day join God in eternity. But, unlike God, our eternity has a starting point. It’s a timeline that starts at zero with an arrow that points off to infinity. God’s timeline has arrows that point to infinity in opposite directions. He alone is without beginning or end.

Although we can’t fully comprehend anything that is without a beginning, it’s comforting to know that the God in whom we trust has always been there and will always be there for us.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The rest of the chapter tells us how he did that, and how long it took.

As we read the words of this chapter, we can’t help but see the power of God. Who do you know that has the power to call something that doesn’t exist into being? God said, let there be light, and there was light. And remember, the things that we think of as giving light, the sun, and the stars, weren’t created until three days later. We have the world’s smartest and most powerful people working non-stop to create a vaccine for the COVID 19 virus and we will pat ourselves on the back if we discover one in a year or less. God created light in the time it took to say the words. We have the smartest and most powerful people working to come up with replacements parts for people, a heart, a pancreas, a prosthetic arm, or leg. God created bodies for Adam and Eve and gave them life, and their organs which we can’t duplicate, in less than a day.

God shows himself to be almighty, but we all know that brawn without brains is not a good combination. God shows himself not just to be all-powerful. He shows his wisdom to be beyond our comprehension as well. Consider the complexity of the universe, or just look in the mirror. We have studied God’s creation for thousands of years and we still don’t completely understand how everything works. God thought up everything that exists and then he planned how everything would be made and how stars, planets, plants, animals, and humans would all interact. We divide the study of the things God made into the different disciplines of science. An expert in one discipline might not know much about what an expert in another discipline has discovered, but God understood it all even before he called it into being.

God also shows himself to be a God of order. He demonstrates that he had a plan and that he followed the plan. When we build something, if it’s going to be worth anything, we need a plan. We have a blueprint that has been checked by engineers. When everything is approved, the raw materials are delivered, and things are put together in an orderly way according to the plan– foundation, framing, roofing, windows, doors plumbing, electric, HVAC, drywall and then the finishes. In the same way, God followed an order. He created water before fish, dry ground, and plants before animals, and then he made humans as the finishing touch after he had provided all the other things for their use and enjoyment.

That brings us to what is the most important attribute of God; the thing that John tells us is part and parcel of his essence. God shows himself to be a God of love.  In love he created the only beings who would carry his image last. In love he made sure that everything they could possibly need was provided for them. They didn’t have to plant anything or build anything. God made them and put them in Paradise, in a garden that was beautiful beyond our imagination. He told them, “here, it’s all yours, it’s my gift to you because I love you. Enjoy it.”

God showed himself to be a God of love in the way he created humans. He didn’t do what he had done with everything else he created. He didn’t just say, “let there be two humans.” He personally and carefully formed a body for Adam from the ground. He personally breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Before he created Eve, he helped Adam realize that he was alone. Once he recognized his need, then God provided. He formed Eve, not out of the ground, but from a piece of Adam’s side. He personally breathed life into her. And then he brought her to Adam like a father walking his daughter down the aisle. He provided Adam with a suitable partner. They were a perfect match. She complimented him physically and emotionally, and he complimented her physically and emotionally.

So far, although we cannot grasp the extent of God’s power, wisdom, and love, we do understand something about power, wisdom, and love. But God reveals something about himself that is completely beyond our grasp because there is nothing to which we can compare it. He reveals to us, already in this first chapter of the Bible, that he is Triune. That’s the fancy word the church came up with to describe the indescribable. God reveals himself to us as one divine being – “une” (like saying Uno when you only have one card left). And yet, he is three persons, “tri” (like a tricycle has three wheels). He says that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons, yet one divine being. As I said, that’s beyond our comprehension. There is nothing in all creation that can give us even an idea of how this works. All we can do is represent what the Bible says with a triangle with a circle in the middle- The father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit; but Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all one being.

Where does Genesis One teach this about God? Remember verse 2? The earth was undeveloped and empty. Darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.  God created, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And since the Holy Spirit is often called the life-giver, it may be that was his role already here at creation.

What does it say in verse 26? God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crawls on the earth. 

The Hebrew word for God is plural. God says, “Let Us.” He says, “in our image.” Now, it would be hard to understand just from these words that God is three person in one divine being, but as we read the rest of the Bible and hear what we did in our other readings this morning, the plural makes perfect sense. Jesus commands us to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks the blessing of the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit upon us.

So, God created, the Spirit hovered, but where is the Son? John helps us answer the question. He tells us that Jesus is the Word who was with God in the beginning. He tells us that through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

He is the one who, in the fullness of time, came into the world to redeem it. He is the one who makes God known to us, not just by taking on flesh and blood and becoming one of us, but by making it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him. After all, he willingly sacrificed his son in our place.

The first chapters of Genesis set the foundation for the Christian faith. They let us know that God created all things that exist. He created humans to rule over and enjoy all that he created. He is a God whose being is beyond our comprehension, whose power and wisdom are unlimited, and whose love is not earned but given freely.

Because of our sinful nature we reject this God. We want a god we can understand. We want a god we can control. We want to make God in our own image. And Satan has been working hard for thousands of years to destroy the foundation of the Christian faith, promoting evolution, calling anyone who would believe that what it says in Genesis is true uneducated and foolish. He continues to ask us the question he asked Eve, “Did God really say? Can these things that are beyond your comprehension really be true, or are they just fairy tales?

If you have fallen for his schemes; if you have been tempted to doubt; if you have preferred to make a god in your own image; confess your sin. Realize that you are giving up a solid foundation of truth and replacing it with the sinking sand of human philosophy. Rejoice in the truth that God the Father created you and still preserves you; that the Son came into this world to reveal the truth about God to you and to redeem you from your sins; that the Holy Spirit has given you life, the new life of faith. He helps you overcome your doubt and the temptation of what claims to be wisdom but is not. He helps you to keep building on the firm foundation of God’s Word.

 

 

May 31, 2020 Sermon

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May 312020
 

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John 16:8-11

Jesus had been talking to his disciples about the sending of the Holy Spirit for quite a while. He mentions the coming of the Holy Spirit numerous times in John chapters 14, 15 and 16, which record things that Jesus told his disciples in the upper room as they were celebrating the Passover with him for the last time. Forty days later, at his ascension, he instructed the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received the promised Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate another wonderful instance of Jesus keeping his promises. Sometimes it seems that we have to wait a long time for God’s promises to be fulfilled, but in this case, the disciples only had to wait ten days. On the Old Testament festival of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, ten days after his ascension, the people of Jerusalem heard what sounded like a mighty wind. That sound drew a large crowd to the place where the disciples had gathered. Inside the place where the disciples had gathered, a ball of fire appeared and what looked like tongues of fire split off and hovered above the heads of those gathered there. When they came out to address the crowd they were enabled to speak in the native language of whoever was standing before them so that the wonders of God, the good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, would be communicated clearly to them.

It’s exciting to think about what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit enabled them to remember clearly and accurately everything that Jesus had taught them. He enabled them to understand how everything Jesus said and did fulfilled the Scriptures. He enabled lowly fishermen, a tax collector, people who were considered uneducated, to speak in multiple languages. He enabled them to defend what they said about Jesus with clear words of Scripture. He enabled previously frightened men who were hiding behind locked doors to speak boldly and confidently to thousands of people and to witness before kings and governors at the risk of their lives. We are amazed when we see how powerfully the Holy Spirit worked in their lives. We are reminded of what God still can do in us and through us as we strive to be his witnesses.

It’s also exciting to look another direction, not just at how Jesus’ promise was fulfilled in the disciples, but how his promise was and is being fulfilled in the world. In John 16 we hear Jesus tell us what would happen in the world when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples as he promised. Jesus said, when he comes, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. Not only does Jesus explain to us what he means, but we see his promise fulfilled in the crowds who heard what the disciples were proclaiming on Pentecost, and we see it fulfilled still today whenever the good news about Jesus is proclaimed.

Peter told the crowds who had come to Jerusalem to worship at God’s temple, people who claimed that they believed God’s word and were looking for the coming of the Messiah – He told them that God had sent the Messiah. He told them who the Messiah was – Jesus of Nazareth, the one they had rejected and handed over to Pilate to be crucified. He told them, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. The Holy Spirit used what Peter said to convict many in the crowd of sin. They were cut to the heart. How could they have missed seeing that Jesus was the one they were looking for? How could they have killed the one God sent to save them! How could God ever forgive them! The Holy Spirit led them to see that because they did not believe in Jesus their sin remained on them and there was nothing they could do to remove it.

That’s still what the Holy Spirit works to accomplish through the proclamation of God’s word. His work, his job, is to point to Jesus and say “here is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, your Savior. He was crucified because of your sins.” Those who say, “what sins? Why do I need a Messiah?” Those who don’t believe in Jesus as their savior have their sins remain on them. Those who are cut to the heart, who are convicted, who realize that they deserve only God’s punishment for their sins, who are terrified of the eternal punishment they deserve and ask, brothers, what shall we do? They hear the comfort of the gospel. They hear Peter say, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.” They hear him say, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

  Three thousand people in the crowd were convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit and, as they heard Peter tell them what Jesus had done for them, and as they were baptized, the Holy Spirit convicted them about righteousness.

As Peter proclaimed the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that he had ascended back to heaven to his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit brought these people to realize that Jesus was not the blasphemer they had been told he was. The Spirit brought them to realize that if God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, he must have been The Righteous One. He was not a blasphemer, just the opposite. He was the one who spoke the truth. His resurrection and ascension prove that he was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

As Peter proclaimed Jesus, crucified for the sin of the world and raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit convinced them that the righteousness they needed to go where Jesus had gone, to be raised from the dead and join him at the right hand of the Father was theirs in Jesus. Even though they had done the unthinkable and crucified their Messiah, Jesus paid for their sins. Through faith in Jesus their sins were removed as far as the east is from the west. Their sin-stained clothing was covered with the perfectly clean garment of Christ’s righteousness in their place.

What a blessing that, through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit has done the same for you and for me. He has convicted us. He has convinced us that we don’t have and can never obtain the righteousness we need to join Jesus at the right hand of the Father and live in his glory for all eternity. He has convinced us that, because Jesus not only died, but rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he is The Righteous One. He is the one who freely grants the righteousness we need to all who trust in him. As we witness about Jesus to others, the Holy Spirit is striving to convict the world, to convince everyone that the only way to be right with God is through faith in the one who was crucified for the sins of the whole world, and then rose from the dead.

Satan is called the Prince of this World, the Ruler of this World, the one who is trying to lead the whole world astray. He is the strong man who guards his house, trying to keep all the descendants of Adam as his captives.  In order to set Satan’s captives free, to rescue us from the Strong Man Satan, Jesus had to defeat him.

Scripture reports a few of the skirmishes Jesus had with Satan and records how Jesus was victorious. When Jesus died it looked as if he might have lost the battle and we would be slaves of Satan for all eternity. But, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Peter tells us that Jesus went and proclaimed his victory to Satan and the spirits in the prison of Hell. The Evil One, the ruler of this world, has been condemned. Like a criminal out on bond, he has some freedom. He is still dangerous. But his sentence has been decided and will be applied when Jesus comes again on the last day.

Through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit works to convict the world, to make it clear to all that if they continue to follow the ruler of this world, they will share his fate. They will be condemned along with him.

Through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit works to convict us, to convince us that the ruler of this world, our enemy Satan, has already been defeated and judged. “One little word can fell him.” Peter says, ‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith. James says, submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Satan is a powerful enemy. He is going to do all he can to re-capture us and make us his slaves again. Be prepared to do battle with him daily. Make use of the armor that God has given you, especially the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. When he tries to terrify you, holding your sins before you and reminding you of the condemnation you deserve, remind him that all your sins are paid for by Jesus. Remind him that he is already judged and condemned. Call on the name of Jesus and Satan will flee from you.

It’s exciting to remember what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples on the day of Pentecost. But it is even more exciting to think about what the Holy Spirit continues to do through God’s word. He convicts us. He convinces us that we are sinners in need of righteousness. He convinces us that Jesus is our righteousness. And he assures us that Satan has been defeated. Because Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and has ascended back to heaven we can be convicted. We can be absolutely sure that we have eternal life in him and power over Satan. And we get to do what the disciples did. We get to proclaim to the world that Jesus lived, and died, and rose again. He is the one and only Savior that everyone needs. We get to witness what the disciples did. Maybe not 3000 on one day, but we get to watch as the Holy Spirit convicts others in the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment so that they call on the name of the Lord and are saved.

Praise God every day for the work that the Holy Spirit does in the world and that he has convicted you about sin, about righteousness in Jesus, and about the judgment of Satan.

 

 

 

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