April 5, 2020 Sermon

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Apr 042020
 

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Matthew 21:9-11

What a day it was! Jesus had arrived almost a week early for the celebration of the Passover. He had been staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany which was just a few miles from Jerusalem. Many faithful Jews from all over the country, including people from Galilee, were traveling to Jerusalem. Some were already in the city. Some began to wonder, knowing that the Jewish leaders were plotting against him, if Jesus would even show up in the city. But, on the first day of the week, Jesus left the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and set out for Jerusalem. Word spread among those traveling through Bethany that Jesus was on the move. When he arrived at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, with the Holy City in view, he sent his disciples to procure a donkey colt for him. It was to be a colt no one had ridden, undefiled, set apart for the holy purpose of serving as Jesus’ vehicle for his grand entrance into Jerusalem.

When the people who were traveling the same path with Jesus saw him mount the donkey, they knew something big was about to happen. Some must have run ahead of the procession to tell friends and neighbors in the city: “Jesus is coming, and he’s not walking. He’s riding a donkey like one of Israel’s deliverers. Could he be the Messiah?”

As Jesus came down the Mt. of Olives to the east of Jerusalem, the crowds who went in front of him and those who followed kept shouting, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

They didn’t make up these words. There were words that were part of the Great Hallel, parts of Psalms that were sung or recited as people came into the city for the great Jewish festivals like Passover, words that helped the people remember God’s promise to send the Messiah, a Savior from the line of David.

For the disciples who went to get the donkey colt and its mother and found everything just as Jesus said it would be; for the crowds who came to the city along with Jesus and those who came out to meet him, it was a glorious day. It was a day full of hope, full of excitement and joy. But not everyone looked at it that way.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. You might remember that had happened once before. The whole city was stirred up about 30 years earlier when the Wise Men showed up asking, where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?

Yes, there were those in Jerusalem, faithful pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover, who were like Simeon and Anna. They were waiting for the consolation of Israel, the coming of the Messiah. When they heard what was happening, they might have joined the crowds in praising God. Or they might have fallen on their knees in prayer, asking, hoping that God really had fulfilled his promise.

There were likely those in the crowds who really had no idea why there were there. They were shouting Hosanna, but they really didn’t know why or what the words even meant. They were just caught up in the emotion of the moment. Someone compared this group to many who sing Christmas carols. They are caught up in the tradition and emotion of the season. They think it’s important to sing “Stille Nacht” even thought they don’t know any German themselves. They sing “Christ the Savior is born,” but they don’t really know who that savior is, or why they need him. Or, on Easter they love to hear, or sing, the Hallelujah Chorus, but they don’t really believe that “the Lord Omnipotent Reigneth.” To them it’s just a tradition or a beautiful song. We pray that, by God’s grace, the words of Scripture they mindlessly sing would plant a seed in their hearts that the Holy Spirit can use in times like these when a lot of traditions are stripped away and they can focus more on the meaning of the words.

There were likely those in the crowds who mocked. They may have said things like we hear still today. “Look at those fools. They still believe in those old fashioned myths recorded in the Bible. No one is coming to save us. We have to save ourselves.” You know, like the reaction people have when someone talks about “thoughts and prayers.” Some mock, “what good are thoughts and prayers. We need to do something.”

We know the reaction of the Jewish leaders. They said, Jesus, rebuke your disciples.  Tell them to be quiet. We know that after Jesus raised Lazarus, they decided Jesus had to be killed. They were looking for an opportunity to get rid of him quietly, and large crowds singing his praises wasn’t helping their cause. They felt justified in their indignation over what was happening because they were convinced that if things like this kept happening the Romans would certainly respond with force, and, as the leaders, they felt that they would bear the brunt of that response. They might be deposed from their position of leadership, maybe imprisoned, or even executed. That’s why Caiaphas had said that it was better that just one person die, namely Jesus, rather than the whole nation perish.

Without realizing it, Caiaphas spoke a wonderful truth. Not just the Jewish nation, but every nation, every person, is in danger of perishing. The danger is not from the Romans, or from nuclear war, or global warming, or even from the current pandemic, or one that may come in the future. Peter tells us, do not fear what they fear (1 Peter 3:14). Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28 NIBO)

The greatest problem that faced the Jewish leaders was not what the Romans might do to them if people kept praising Jesus as a king. Our greatest problem is not COVID 19. The greatest problem that faces every person who has ever lived is that we all deserve to have God destroy both our soul and body in hell!

Without realizing it, Caiaphas spoke about God’s solution to our problem. It’s the reason Jesus, who had been staying out of the public view for a while, now entered Jerusalem allowing himself to be hailed as a king, the Son of David. One man was going to die so that the whole world of people would not be destroyed soul and body in hell. Jesus humbled himself. He rode into Jerusalem so that he could go to the cross; so that he could take our place and suffer the hell we deserve. Because he was forsaken, we are not forsaken. He declared that his work of redemption was finished. Because he rose, we are assured that it was.

As the crowds entered Jerusalem singing their Hosannas, the people kept asking, Who is this? People might ask you the same thing. Who is this Jesus you are so excited about? Why do you celebrate Palm Sunday every year? What’s the deal with the palm branches? How do you answer them?

The crowds answered with these words, This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. Is that how you would answer? I pray your answer would be much better.

The answer of the crowds was Okay as far as it went. Yes, this man’s name was Jesus. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. Yes, he was a prophet. But even the devil knows that much about Jesus. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth, but he was born in Bethlehem. That’s important to know because that’s where the scriptures said the Messiah would be born. Yes, he was a prophet, but much more than a prophet. He didn’t just know things that no one else could know. He didn’t just receive messages from God like Moses or Elijah. He is God; God and man in one person, in him the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form. He is just who he needed to be in order to save the world. As the God/man, he was under law just as we are. As the God/man he kept every law perfectly for us. As the God/man, he was able to be tempted, to feel pain, to be nailed to the cross, and to die. As the God/man, his innocent suffering and death was able to pay the price demanded for your sins, and the sins of the whole world. Yes, Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, but he is so much more. He is the Son of God. He is your substitute. He is the one who did what you couldn’t do. He kept God’s law perfectly in your place. He suffered the punishment you deserve for your sins.

Things sure changed in a hurry. The joy and celebration of Palm Sunday soon changed to the horrors of his betrayal, crucifixion and burial on Good Friday. We can all identify with such a sudden change. Not that long ago we were all gathered together in our churches singing God’s praises together. Now we aren’t able to do that. Not long ago we probably didn’t know anyone who had the COVID virus. Now we probably know several people who do. Things change quickly. But Palm Sunday and Holy Week remind us that, even in the midst of change, God is in control. The Jewish leaders were determined that they were going to get rid of Jesus, “but,” they said, “not during the feast.” God had other plans, and his plans prevailed. He overruled their plans. He used their hatred to accomplish his good purpose. He worked out everything that happened so that his plan to be able to offer eternal salvation to all for free would be accomplished. As Paul reminds us, if God did all that, if he offered his only perfect son so that we could saved, how could we ever doubt that he is working in everything, even in a pandemic, to accomplish something for our eternal good!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem 2000 years ago there were two crowds, those who joined him on the way down the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem and those who came out of the city to meet him. When Jesus comes again in glory there will be two crowds. The one consists of those who have died believing in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus will bring them with him as he comes in glory in the clouds of heaven. Then, at the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, all the dead will be raised and those who believe in Jesus will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. No one will have to ask, “who is this.” When he comes again in glory, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But unlike Palm Sunday, the joy of the redeemed will not be dampened by betrayal, pain, suffering and death. The joy of the redeemed will continue forever and ever.

 

 

 

 

March 29, 2020 Sermon

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Mar 302020
 

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Romans 8:15-19

 

There’s a lot of fear in our world today. If you asked people what they are afraid of their first answer would almost surely be Covid 19. But why? They might say, “Well, I’m afraid I might get it.” And that’s a concern, but is that really what you are afraid of? You have had different kinds of viruses before. What makes this one different? What are you afraid of, really? Isn’t it that the media keeps referring to this flu as deadly? Isn’t it because it reminds you of your mortality?

The writer to the Hebrews says that we were all held in slavery by the fear of death. Paul reminds us why. It’s not just fearing the how – fear that it might be painful, or that it might involve a protracted illness that robs us of all dignity. How often don’t people say, “I hope I just die in my sleep?” It’s more than how it might happen, or a fear of the unknown. Paul says that the sting of death is sin. And the power of sin is the law. The reason for our fear is that deep down we know that we have to appear before God, and we know what our sentence should be. God’s law condemns us. John says, fear has to do with punishment. That’s the real basis of fear. We know we have to answer to God, and we know that we deserve his punishment.

Paul says, you did not receive a spirit of slavery so that you are afraid again, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we call out, “Abba, Father!” If you are able to see God as your Father, as the Father who welcomed his prodigal son back home with rejoicing; if you realize that you are not a slave who is dragged before God because you have done something that deserves punishment, but that you have been brought before God because, despite what you have done and what you deserve, he has chosen to adopt you as his child; His perfect, overwhelming love for you drives out your fear. It moves us to cry out to him Abba, Father.  Instead of running from God in fear, we are moved to run to him the way a child runs to their parent calling on him for help and protection.

When you feel yourself being overwhelmed with fear, being enslaved by fear again, remember that you are not a slave. You have been set free. Jesus paid the price. He purchased you with his own blood. The Father has adopted you as his own dear child. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has enabled you to see this; to see that God is not sitting in heaven just waiting for you to do something wrong so that he can punish you. No! He is treating you as his beloved child, disciplining you when necessary, but always in love, always with the goal of making sure that you remain his dear child for all eternity.

When we face difficult times Satan will always try to instill doubt in our hearts and minds. He wants us to think that we are so bad, so sinful, that God is just going to rip up our adoption papers and send us away from his presence forever. He tries to get us to question whether we really are God’s children. We might wonder, “How do I really know that I am God’s child and that he really does love me and want me to be his forever child?”

Paul says, The Spirit himself joins our spirit in testifying that we are God’s children.

How does that happen? Some people will tell you that it has to do with feelings. They say, “You know you are God’s child and that he loves you when you feel the Spirit.” Or they might say that you know for sure you are God’s child if the Spirit gives you the ability to pray or speak in tongues, or if he gives you the gift of healing. But those are very dangerous teachings. What if you can’t speak in tongues. What if you just don’t feel the Spirit or the love of God? You would conclude that God doesn’t love you and that you must not be his child.

Through Isaiah in the Old Testament God said, to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isa. 8:20 NV) And the rich man who thinks that someone coming back from the dead to warn his brothers will save them is told, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. Luk 16:29

The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children through the means of grace, through the Word (the law and the testimony, Moses and the Prophets) and through the word of God connected with the Sacraments. No matter how you feel, or what gifts you have or don’t have, when you remember your baptism you hear God saying, “I have written your name on the adoption certificate. You are my own dear child. Your sins have all been washed away.” When you come to the Supper you receive the very price Jesus paid to set you free from the slavery of sin and the fear of  death, his body and blood given and shed for you. Every time you hear the Gospel, the good news that Jesus was punished in your place, the Spirit is testifying that you are God’s child. What a gracious God we have that he reminds us that what gives us the confidence that we are his children are the things he has given us, things that touch all our senses, and not to our subjective feelings or our own abilities.

What’s so great about being adopted as a child of God? Pauls tells us, if we are children, we are also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. We are in God’s will! He’s not just some rich uncle somewhere. We aren’t in line to inherit perishable things that can be lost, or stolen, or that wear out and decay. We are heirs of God. We are in line to inherit everything he has. Peter says, It’s an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for us. (1 Pet. 1:4 NIV) At our baptism we were united with Jesus. We are heirs together with him of the full glory of heaven that he already enjoys.

But what’s that part about suffering? Since we suffer with him. What does that mean? Jesus made it clear that those who believe in him will be taking up a cross. He said, You will be hated by all people because of my name. We certainly experience that in our world today as so many try to say that Christianity is the cause of all the world’s problems, or that Christians are the problem because they are the most intolerant and unloving people, because we point out sin and say that Jesus is the only way of salvation. I’m sure you have experienced some form of hatred or persecution because you confess Jesus as your savior. But Jesus remind us, whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Paul certainly experienced hatred and suffering because of his faith in Jesus and his proclamation of the Gospel. He was thrown out of almost every Synagogue in which he ever preached. He was beaten with rods, stoned, and jailed. He says that he weighed these things on a scale. Earthly suffering, including death, on one side of the scale, and on the other side of the scale, eternal glory. His conclusion was that the weight of eternal glory far outweighed everything else. Eternal glory was obviously worth more than any bad thing, or even any good earthly thing, that could be put on the other side of the scale.

In fact, Paul says, creation is waiting with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed. It wasn’t just human beings who were affected by sin. The curse of sin affects everything. Animals die, plants and trees die, there are earthquakes, and floods, and destructive storms. Everything in all creation, animate and inanimate, everything Paul says, is looking forward to the time when Jesus comes again in glory. Then it will be clear who the sons of God really are. Everyone who has ever lived will be raised from the dead. The angels will separate everyone into two groups, sheep and goats, believers and unbelievers. Everyone will hear Jesus say to those who were adopted by the Father through baptism and kept in faith through the means of grace, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you. (Matt. 25:34 NIV)

The fear we see throughout the world is real. The amount of fear is not surprising because there are so many in our world who are still in bondage, slaves of the fear of death. What a blessing that, through the Gospel in word and sacrament the Spirit testifies in your spirit that you have nothing to fear. God has adopted you as his own dear child and made you an heir with Jesus of eternal life in glory. When you feel fear rising in your heart, when you are tempted to doubt, do what a child does. Run to your Father for comfort and safety. Listen to his calming voice as he speaks to you through the word and Sacrament.

But don’t stop there. Once you are comforted and your fear is removed, tell others that God sent Jesus into the world to free them from fear, even the fear of death. Tell others that God wants to adopt them too. Tell them that God’s perfect love drives out all fear.

 

 

March 25, 2020 Sermon – Skirmishes

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Mar 252020
 

Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.

The Son of God Goes Forth to War. While Jesus lived on earth he was at war with Satan. Every war is made up of many individual battles or skirmishes. In a war against a powerful enemy, an army may win some of those individual skirmishes, it may lose some, or it may retreat to fight another day. But that was not the case with Jesus.

God’s standard for winning the war against Satan wasn’t “just win more skirmishes than you lose.” His standard for winning the war was “be perfect.” Never lose a single skirmish. For, as James says, whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. To brag that you have won more skirmishes with Satan than others is like bragging that, in a contest to try to jump across the Grand Canyon, you made it farther than everyone else. Maybe so, but you still ended up in the same place. Like Wylie Coyote, you went splat on the canyon floor. In order to be our Savior Jesus had to resist every temptation. He had to win every skirmish.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus experienced the same things we do. While he lived on earth, he had daily skirmishes in his war with Satan. How did he fare? Let’s look at the result of some of the skirmishes Scripture records for us.

After Jesus had fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, Satan initiated a skirmish. He came to Jesus and suggested that he could use his power as the Son of God to turn stones into bread and satisfy his hunger.

Isn’t it interesting that the first temptation of Jesus that is recorded for us has to do with food? Remember that the first temptation ever, the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, had to do with food, the eating of the forbidden fruit.

Food can be a powerful temptation. It’s a basic human need. We have to eat in order to live. But, how often aren’t we tempted not just to eat to live, but to live to eat. We are tempted by Satan to make food more important than God and his word. We are tempted to over-eat. Did you know that the Bible says gluttony is a sin? We are tempted to eat things we know are harmful to the bodies God gave us. We fail to be faithful stewards of our bodies.

But Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden and of Jesus in the wilderness was not just about satisfying hunger. Did the forbidden fruit look delicious? Yes! Was Jesus starving after fasting for forty days? You Bet! But when Satan suggested that he satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread, Jesus knew that more was at stake. His response to Satan shows it. Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus is quoting these words from Deuteronomy. Moses told Israel that the reason God let them experience hunger in the wilderness before he gave them Manna was so that they would learn to trust him to provide. Satan was trying to get Jesus to listen to him and to create food for himself rather than to listen to God and trust God to provide.

How do you fare in your skirmish with Satan regarding food? Unlike Jesus, we don’t have the power to turn stones into bread. But, like Israel, we easily give in to complaining about the food we do have, or we complain that we don’t have enough. We often fail to trust God to provide us with the food we need in normal ways. When Jesus skirmished with Satan over food and trusting God to provide, Jesus won. He came out victorious.

Another skirmish we often have with Satan has to do with determining where the line is between trusting God and testing God.

God has given us wonderful promises. He promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. He promises that he is with us always to the very end of the age. He promises that he sends his angels, we often call them guardian angels, to watch over us and protect us. On one occasion he even allowed Elisha’s servant to see angels, the horses and chariots of fire that were protecting them. He tells us that with every temptation he provides a way out. He wants us to trust him no matter what.

So, what does Satan do? He says to Jesus, “Let’s see if God is worthy of trust.” He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and quoted one of God’s promises. He will give his angels charge concerning you… to lift you up so that you will not strike your food against a stone. So, if you jump off shouldn’t the angels catch you?

We are probably not tempted to jump off the top of a tall building to see if God’s angels will catch us, but we have all done things that put God to the test. Maybe driving too fast, or in dangerous conditions, or when we know we are too tired, or buzzed. I’m sure you can all think of times when you were young and thought you were indestructible. Later, you look back and think, “wow, I must have kept those angels busy!” There are many times in our lives when we either failed to trust God as we should, or when we did some foolish, dangerous things that put God to the test.

When Satan challenged Jesus to jump because God promised to send angels to protect him, Jesus saw that would be crossing the line between trusting God and testing God. He won the skirmish. He trusted God’s ability to do anything, but he refused to put God to the test.

Perhaps the biggest skirmish we have with Satan is in regard to mammon, stuff. Whether we are rich or poor, or somewhere in between, Satan knows how to fan the flames of jealousy and greed in our hearts and minds. He tempts us to think that more stuff is the answer to every problem. “If only I had _____, then I would be satisfied.” He tells us, “You work hard, you deserve to have some nice things, even if you have neglect your family responsibilities, or to lie or cheat a little to get them.” All too often our words and actions show that we love mammon, created things more than the creator.

When Satan, the Prince of this World, offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world – Power; and all the splendor of those kingdoms – Riches; and all he had to do to get those things was bow down and worship him, just once; Jesus refused. He won the skirmish.

When Satan tempts us to lie, or to run to avoid suffering, or to cover things up to get out of a punishment we deserve, we often listen to him. When Satan tempted Jesus to avoid suffering he didn’t deserve, Jesus answered, “Not my will Lord, but thy will be done.” He got up from prayer and went to meet his betrayer. Skirmish won.

When Satan used those mocking Jesus as he hung on the cross to tempt him to prove that he was the Son of God by coming down from the cross, Jesus thought of us and refused to come down. Skirmish won.

Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. He had body and soul, flesh and blood just like us. Every skirmish, every temptation was just as real for him as it is for us. The only difference is, he never lost a single skirmish with Satan. He never committed a single sin. He did what the Father demanded. He lived a perfect life. And the best thing about that is, God credits his perfect life to us.

The writer to the Hebrews also reminds us that because Jesus was tempted just as we are, he is able to sympathize with us. He has faced pain, betrayal, injustice, hunger, and thirst. Whatever Satan might use to try to get us to forsake God, to put him to the test, to love our stuff more than the one who created and gave it to us to use while we are here on earth, Jesus has experienced it. He’s eager to have us talk to him about the temptations we face and to ask for his help and guidance so that, through the word he can show us the way out that he has provided.

But even more comforting than knowing that Jesus sympathizes with us is knowing that Jesus never sinned. His perfect life doesn’t just count for himself. The Bible says that it counts for us. Whenever we give in to temptation, when we lose a skirmish with Satan, God credits Jesus’ victory to us. He reminds us that Jesus took on himself the punishment we deserve for every sin, for every failure to resist temptation. Jesus paid for the sins of the world, and since we are part of the world, he paid for our sins.

Whenever you are facing temptation, look to Jesus. Call on him for help knowing that he understands your struggle. When you lose a skirmish with Satan, look to Jesus, knowing he didn’t fail, and his victory is credited to you by God’s grace.

 

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