Message for Trinity Sunday

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Jun 162019
 

Romans 11:33-36

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I invite you to open your Bibles or Service folder to our second lesson, Romans 11, where Paul’s great doxology reminds us that there is no one like our God.

 

Ask anyone who has been through Catechism class to define the word Trinity and they should be able to tell you that it means that God is One divine being and yet three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know the definition of the word. But if we made a list of things that we could never fully understand no matter how hard we tried; the doctrine of the Trinity should be on the top of the list. Any time you try to illustrate what the Trinity is like– different forms of water, three leaf clovers, whatever it might be– you end up being a false teacher. That’s because, by definition, God is completely other. There is no one and nothing like him. He says through the prophet Isaiah, there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

There is only one true God. The only way we can know who he is, what he wants, and what he is like, is by studying what he has revealed to us about himself in the Bible. It is there that he clearly states that he is one divine being, and yet, as we see at Jesus Baptism, he is Father speaking from heaven, Son stepping out of the water, and Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, all at one time. The claim made by God that he is Triune can only be accepted by faith. There is no experiment that can prove or disprove his claim. It’s a matter of trusting what he says about himself in his word. But as we study his word and learn about the being who is one God in three persons, we can’t help but react in awe and wonder and praise as Paul does.

When we learn about the riches of God, we realize that we can’t possibly fathom the depth of his riches. He owns everything. The Psalmist says that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and he owns the hills too. Everything that exists belongs to him. The sun, the moon and the stars belong to him. Every person and every nation on earth belongs to him. Every penny in every bank and piggy bank belongs to him. As the Psalmist says, the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

What does this mean? It means that if you think what you have is yours, you are sinning. You are not giving God all the glory he deserves. You won’t appreciate what he has given you. You won’t want to help others keep what God has given them. You will be greedy and jealous. It means that when you realize that God is the owner of everything, and he graciously lets you be his steward; you will have peace and contentment and do all you can to help your neighbor keep what God has given them.

I’m sure most of you have laid on the grass on a clear, cool summer night and gazed at all the stars. God challenged Abraham to count them if he could. He couldn’t. Neither can we. Don’t you just stand in awe of the wisdom of God? We are still, after thousands of years of investigation, just discovering some of the things that God thought up at creation. And we haven’t even made it outside of our own solar system yet! The beauty and complexity of God’s creation, even now after it has been corrupted by sin, boggles our minds.

What does this mean? It means that if you think that all these things came about by accident, you sin. You are not giving God the glory he deserves. You will begin to think that humans can change the climate and bring about the end of the world if we don’t change our ways. Yes, we are to be good stewards of all that God created, but the world will end when God decides to end it. Acknowledge that everything belongs to him. Use everything you have wisely and to his glory. Look forward to the time when he will bring this corrupt universe to an end and make a new heaven and a new earth were everything is perfect.

Don’t forget the knowledge of God. He knows all things. He knows in advance everything that will happen. In fact, every one of his predictions, prophecies, has come to pass. He knows the number of hairs on your head, and everyone else’s too. He knows what every world leader is thinking, and he knows how to make whatever they are planning serve his eternal purposes.

Don’t forget, he foretold that his Son would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. He made use of a decree from Caesar to make sure Mary and Joseph were in the right place at the right time for Jesus to be born. He used the sinful hatred of the Jewish leaders to accomplish the redemption of the world through Jesus death and resurrection. He knows your every sin, even your most secret sinful thought, and yet, in Jesus, he provides forgiveness for you, and for every sinner. Oh the depth of the riches, and wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments! The way that he decided to save the world is something no human could ever figure out. The only thing that makes sense to us is salvation by merit. If you want something you have to earn it, so you should have to earn your salvation by making up for your sins, by doing more good than evil. But that doesn’t work with God. No sinful person can make up for even one of their own sins. They can only make themselves even more sinful. So, in mercy and grace, God decided to send a substitute, someone who could live without sin so that he could take everyone else’s sins on himself and pay for them on the cross. He decided to judge us not guilty because of what Jesus has done in our place. No human could have come up with that plan much less carry it out. But God did.

How untraceable his ways! Thomas understood that God’s ways are untraceable. When Jesus talked about the way to heaven, he asked Jesus, how can we know the way? How can we get to where you are going, to where the Father is? Even the best tracker couldn’t follow your tracks. We can’t see heaven. There aren’t any golden roads or street signs to follow. On our own, we would be lost forever trying to find the way to heaven. But you know how Jesus answered Thomas. I am the Way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. Like the teaching of the Trinity, we would not be able to track the way to heaven without God revealing it to us in his Word.

As we consider the unfathomable depths of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God, we have to agree with Paul. Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his adviser? Obviously, he doesn’t need our advice. But how often don’t we try to give him advice? How often don’t we think that we know better than he does? Instead of praying for his wisdom and guidance we suggest to him what we think he should do. When something happens, we are quick to question why? Why did God do this or that, or allow this or that to happen? All the while we are thinking, “If God would just listen to me, my life and everyone else’s would be better.” NO! you can never be God’s advisor. All you can ever be is his dutiful servant. And the more you let him advise you through his word the wiser you will become.

Who has first given to God that he will be repaid? Since God already owns everything you can’t give anything to God that he doesn’t already have. You can’t do anything for him that earns you a reward. As Jesus says, so you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ The only thing God owes you is a just punishment for your sins. Thankfully, he gave your punishment to Jesus instead. The one and only true God, the creator of heaven and earth, who sent his Son to be the savior, doesn’t owe you a single thing. Anything he gives you, especially your forgiveness and eternal salvation, is all a gift of grace, the opposite of what we deserve.

From him are all things. Without him nothing we know would exist. He called everything we see into existence by the power of his word. Everything we have belongs to and comes from him.

Through him are all things. The only way for anyone to be saved is through the plan he devised and declared in his word. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. No one gets to the Father except through Jesus.

To him are all things. His goal, his desire is that all would come to him, that all would come to the knowledge of the truth that he has revealed in Scripture. He is the one and only true God. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the creator of all that exists. He is the one who took on flesh and blood to redeem us so that we could be declared not guilty of our sins. He is the one who revealed himself to prophets and Apostles, guided what they recorded so that it was without error, and continues to preserve it for us today so that we might become wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

To this one and only, true, eternal God, be glory forever and ever. Amen!

June 9, 2019 – Pentecost

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Jun 092019
 

Acts 2:5-8

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I invite you to open you Bibles or service folders to our second lesson for today, Luke’s account of the first Christian Pentecost. We will focus especially on verses 5-8 as we see another wonderful example of the fact that the Lord provides his people with all they need to carry out their mission.

 

Do you remember when God asked Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him? Do you remember the question Isaac asked as they went up the mountain to offer the sacrifice? They had offered sacrifices before because Isaac understood that something was missing. They had wood, and fire, and a knife, but where was the sacrifice itself? Where was the lamb? Do you remember how Abraham responded? He said, “The Lord will provide.” And the Lord did provide. He allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram caught in a nearby thicket in place of his son.

That emotionally charged account from Abraham’s life pictures for us how the Lord has provided for us. He provided his only son Jesus to be sacrificed in our place. He provided the Lamb, not just for Abraham, but for the whole world. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The disciples knew this. They heard John the Baptist say it as he pointed to Jesus. They had seen how the sacrifice was carried out. They saw Jesus suffering on the cross. They heard Jesus cry out my God, my God, why have you forsaken me. They saw him buried and then they saw him alive again. They knew that God had provided Jesus as the sacrifice that paid for their sins and the sins of the whole world. They were filled with joy and thankfulness for all that God had done for them, and the privilege of being with Jesus during his ministry on earth. But with that privilege came a great responsibility. Jesus had told them that since they had been with him from the beginning, and witnessed everything he said and did, they were the ones who were going to have to tell everyone else, every creature, to the ends of the earth!

Their joy and excitement must have been mixed with fear and uncertainty. They knew what Jesus was asking of them. They wanted to do it, but how? They weren’t rich. They weren’t practiced public speakers. They weren’t well-known celebrities. How could they reach all of Jerusalem, much less Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth?

Maybe you can identify with them. Maybe you attended a mission festival, or a LWMS convention, or you read an especially good devotion about sharing the Gospel. You were filled with joy and excitement over what God has done for you and that he has provided eternal salvation for free to the whole world. You want to do everything you can to share that good news! But then the excitement wears off and reality sets in and you begin to feel fear and uncertainty. You want to get the good news of the gospel out to everyone, but how? You aren’t rich. You aren’t a public speaker. Even if you could rent a stadium like Billy Graham, who would come to hear you, you aren’t a celebrity? You’ve been thinking about talking to your neighbor about Jesus, but you haven’t even done that, much less done much to share Jesus with the whole world.

It’s so easy for us to get down and discouraged and just throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do it Lord.” But usually the reason we get discouraged is that we are too focused on ourselves and all the things we think might happen, like Peter walking on the water. As long as he focused on Jesus he walked. As soon as his focus turned to the wind and the waves he sank. We need to stay focused on Jesus and his promise that he will provide what we need to proclaim his gospel both near and far.

The disciples were doing what Jesus had told them to do. After his ascension they were to wait in Jerusalem until he gave them the gift he had promised. His timing for giving that gift was perfect. There were godly Jewish men from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. People from all around the Mediterranean Sea, from Rome to Egypt, and from as far east as Persia had come to celebrate the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost, which was a festival of thanksgiving to God for the harvest. When the disciples were together in one place Jesus sent them the gift he had promised. He sent them the Holy Spirit. But that’s not all. He didn’t do it quietly. He sent the Spirit in connection with the sound of a violent wind. It’s interesting that the Hebrew word for Spirit can also mean breath or wind. When people heard the sound, they gathered around the place where the disciples were. And the Spirit made it easy to identify the disciples so that they could ask them what was going on. Something that looked like fire was resting on the head of each of the disciples. “There’s something different about those guys with the tongues of fire on their head, maybe they can tells us what’s going on?” When they asked the disciples what was happening, the disciples answered each person in their own birth language as they told them that the promises of Scripture were being fulfilled; that Jesus is the Messiah who died and rose again to be their savior from sin. They proclaimed to them the wonders of God, the wonder that instead of punishing us for our sins he punished Jesus in our place.

What seemed to amaze the crowd as much as the sound of the violent wind and the tongues of fire was that all these men who were speaking were Galileans. Then how is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language? Galileans were not known for being learned people. None of these men had ever gone to high school, much less college. They were not international businessmen. How could they be conversant in so many different languages?

The sound of the violent wind, the tongues of fire and the ability to speak in many different languages, were all signs from God given to assure those who heard the disciples that everything they were saying to them was true and trustworthy. When they told them that they were responsible for killing the Messiah, but that God raised him from the dead, that  Jesus was delivered over to death for their sins and raised to life for their justification, the miracles they were seeing confirmed for them that this message was from God.

Think also about what these things meant for the disciples and what they mean for us. It’s another example of God keeping his promise to provide his people with what they need. He provides for our physical needs richly and daily. He provides for our spiritual needs richly and daily through opportunities to hear and read his word and to receive the sacrament to assure us that our sins are forgiven. He wanted his disciples to share the good news of salvation with every nation. Pentecost offered a perfect opportunity to begin to do just that. And the Lord provided the disciples with exactly what they needed to do it. He presented them with a large crowd of people and then enabled them to communicate the law and the gospel to them clearly. In the future, when they were faced with opportunities to witness about Jesus, they could look back to Pentecost and say, “Look how the Lord provided what we needed to witness to others on that day. Surely he will provide us what we need to witness for this opportunity also.”

You probably have not been given the gift of speaking in a language you never learned so that you could share the gospel with someone. I know I haven’t been given that gift, even when I have had the opportunity to talk about Jesus with Hispanics, or Koreans, or Chinese. But, in the case of those who spoke Spanish, God provided materials that were in both English and Spanish. In the case of Koreans, or Chinese, God granted that they knew enough English to understand what I was telling them about Jesus. As he did on Pentecost, God is brining people from many nations, who need to hear about Jesus, right to our own cities and neighborhoods. International students are coming to our schools and colleges. But the opportunities we have to share the law and the gospel with others usually doesn’t require the ability to speak another language. They simply require a heart that is filled with joy and thankfulness for our own salvation, a heart that is filled with enough love for our neighbor that we want them to be saved too, and confident trust that the Lord will send us the Holy Spirit to give us whatever we need to make use of the many opportunities he brings to us to witness.

All of us can remember times when we have failed to trust that the Lord would provide us with what we needed to witness in a certain situation. As we confess those sins and see our forgiveness in Jesus, we will be moved to trust him to provide what we need in the future.

Search the Scriptures so that you continue to grow in the joy of your salvation. Pray daily that the Lord would provide you with opportunities to share the joy of salvation with those who don’t know him. Trust that he will provide whatever gifts you need to make use of those opportunities when they come.

The Lord will provide. He provided a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. He provided his son to be sacrificed in our place to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He provided the disciples the gifts that they needed to proclaim the law and the gospel on the day of Pentecost. Trust that he will provide you with whatever gifts you need to proclaim the law and the gospel to others when he gives you the opportunity to do so.

June 2, 2019 Message on John 15:26-16:4

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Jun 032019
 

John 15:26-16:4

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Dear Friends in Christ,

It’s good to be prepared for things. During this time of the year we are reminded through the media to be prepared for bad weather. We are instructed what to do, and what not to do if a storm warning or tornado warning is issued and we hear the sirens. Before you have surgery, doctors and nurses will explain what they are going to do and what to expect when you wake up, and what recovery might look like. They might even ask you to watch a video that explains the surgery and what others have experienced as they recover. If you know in advance what usually happens, it’s easier to handle it when it does. That’s what Jesus was doing for his disciples. He told them in advance about what was going to happen when he left them to return to heaven so that they would be prepared to handle those things when they did happen. He wanted them to be prepared, to witness about him, and to suffer for him.

Jesus has a lot to say about the coming of the Holy Spirit in chapters 14-16 of John’s gospel. Jesus calls him the Paraclete, a word that is often translated “Counselor” or “Comforter”. The idea of the word Paraclete is maybe best understood by picturing a good coach. It literally means to call alongside. It’s the picture of a coach calling a player over, putting his arm around their shoulder, and telling them something they need to know. That something might be correcting what they were doing wrong, instructing them how to do something better, or just providing encouragement if he sees they are frustrated. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. Through the word he corrects us when we are doing something sinful. He instructs us regarding what the will of God is. He encourages us by pointing us to the promises of God that never fail.

The instruction, correction and encouragement that the Holy Spirit gives is always spot on. He is the Spirit of Truth. He cannot lie. His primary work is to testify about Jesus; about who Jesus is and what he accomplished by his life, death and resurrection. His work is not to draw attention to himself, but to make sure Jesus gets all the attention. In carrying out his work he would remind the disciples of everything Jesus said and did, making sure that what they taught and wrote about Jesus was the truth, without error. He would guide them into all truth. And since they had been with Jesus from the beginning, he would enable them to testify, to give witness about everything they heard Jesus say and saw Jesus do.

The book of Acts records for us what happened. Jesus did send the Holy Spirit to his disciples on the day of Pentecost. They were moved and enabled to witness, to testify about Jesus. They no longer hid behind locked doors but stood before large crowds, before the Jewish leaders, and anyone who would listen. They told them the truth. God sent his son Jesus into the world to save the world. But the world did not receive him. Although he performed many signs and wonders proving that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, he was rejected and accused of doing what he did by the power of Satan. They were very pointed in their witness. They told the Jewish leaders and those living in Jerusalem, “God sent you the Messiah you were looking for, and you killed him!” But when people were terrified that they had done such a terrible thing, they assured them that he accomplished his mission in spite of them. “God raised Jesus, whom you crucified. He is Prince and Savior. God has exalted him to his right hand and placed all his enemies under his feet. Salvation has been purchased by him for all so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Even though you and I did not personally witness everything Jesus said and did, by God’s grace we know who he is, what he said, and what he did. The Holy Spirit had these things recorded and preserved for us. He has brought us to see that we too crucified Jesus because we too have sinned and our sins were included in the cause of his suffering on the cross. He has brought us to see that, in spite of us, Jesus accomplished his mission and rose from the dead so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be preached among the nations until it even reached us. He has moved us to call on Jesus to grant us forgiveness so that we are saved. That makes us witnesses too.

Peter reminds us that we are always to be prepared to give anyone who asks a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus. How prepared are you? The early church grew by leaps and bounds as Christians gave witness to Jesus by their words and actions wherever they went. Could it be that one of the reasons so many Christians churches are shrinking is that too many Christians are not prepared to give witness to Jesus? Could it be that too many Christians hide their faith in Jesus? Could it be that too many of us would rather talk about the weather, or sports, or even politics, rather than about Jesus?

As you see your failures to witness about Jesus may the Holy Spirit remind you again of what Jesus has done for you. He was always a faithful witness in your place. On the cross he paid for all your failures to witness. Now, in the joy of our forgiveness, devote yourselves to being witnesses about Jesus. Make use of the training that is available so that you can be a channel for the Holy Spirit to testify to others about how Jesus is their savior.

We, like the disciples, are always to be prepared to witness to others about Jesus. But, Jesus wanted to prepare the disciples, and us, for what will happen when we do witness to the truth about Jesus. It won’t always go well. Not everyone will immediately come to faith. There will always be some who have a strong negative reaction and who will try to silence those who give witness to the truth by persecuting and even executing those who give witness about Jesus.

Jesus told the disciples, they will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who murders you will think he is offering a service to God.

These words remind us of Saul, who persecuted Christians in Jerusalem, having them excommunicated and even imprisoned if they refused to deny Jesus. He even got letters of introduction from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to do the same thing there. On the way, Jesus appeared to him and he became a Christian. He writes that, while he was persecuting Christians he thought that he was offering a service to God. He thought he was doing what God told his people to do with false teachers.

There are still people who think that way today. Radicalized Muslims believe that by executing Christians they are doing the will of God. Others think that by silencing Christians they are saving the planet, or ridding the earth of troublemakers, or preserving gay rights or abortion rights. Still today, if you witness to others about the reason for the hope that you have, that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, you had better be prepared to suffer.

Most of you probably witnessed a confirmation or two this past month. At those confirmation services you were reminded of what you promised at your own confirmation. You promised that you would remain faithful to Jesus no matter what, even in the face of persecution and death. Have you always remained faithful? Have there been times when your remained silent to keep from being laughed at or persecuted in some other way? Have there been times when you denied Jesus because things that you said and did were contrary to what you know is his will?

As you think about those times in your life that you have been unfaithful, when you have hidden your faith to avoid suffering, remember that the Holy Spirit is pointing you to Jesus. He is reminding you that Jesus never was unfaithful. He never tried to hide who he was, or the truth of God’s word, to avoid suffering. The fact that he was truthful at his trials before the High Priests and before Pilate is what led, humanly speaking, to his crucifixion. On the cross he took the punishment we deserve for all the times we have chosen to hide our faith to avoid suffering.

In love, Jesus didn’t sugar coat what would happen when we witness about him and proclaim that he is the one and only savior. He warned the disciples and he warns us still today, that when we do witness about him we need to be ready to suffer. But because he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven he has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Paraclete, our coach. Through the word of truth that he inspired and preserved for us he continues to correct us when we sin. He continues to point us to Jesus for forgiveness. He continues to prepare us, to witness and to suffer.

Jesus says to us what he said to the disciples. I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you may remember that I told them to you. I have told you these things so that you will not fall away. I have told you these things so that you would be prepared to witness about me and to suffer for me.

 

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