September 20, 2020 Sermon

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Sep 202020

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Ezekiel 33:7-11

Usually we are thankful for watchmen. We are thankful for those who make it their life’s work to study the weather and watch so that they can warn us that storms are coming our way. We are thankful for inspectors who watch the food chain and warn us that a certain food may be contaminated. We are thankful for those who warn us about diseases and infections. In fact, if these people don’t give a warning; if the sirens don’t go off before a tornado hits; if someone knows about a disease or a contaminated product and doesn’t give the warning; we get angry. People file lawsuits to punish those who had the job of warning others and didn’t do their job.

Do you realize that you are a watchman? If you are blessed to know God’s word; if you have memorized God’s commands; if you know that Jesus is coming again in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead; you are a watchman. If you are a parent, you are a watchman for your children. If you are a grandparent, or a great-grandparent, you are a watchman for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If you are a leader in the church, you are a watchman for the congregation. If you are a member of the church, you are a watchman for your fellow members. You are a watchman, not to give warning about the weather, or disease, or contaminated food. You are a watchman for each other’s souls just as Ezekiel was a watchman over the congregation of Israel.

Since we are watchmen for each other’s souls, what does God expect of us?

One of the most important things to remember about being a watchman is that we are not to give a warning based on our opinion. God told Ezekiel, whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you are to warn them from me. FROM ME, God says. If we are going to warn someone that they are in spiritual danger we must be able to say, “thus says the Lord.” If we can’t point them to a clear word of God in Scripture, then we are simply giving our opinion.

Here’s an example that’s out there. Someone will give the warning, “unless we keep our liturgy, and our pastors wear robes, and we only use the organ to accompany worship, God will not bless us.” That’s not a warning from God. That’s a warning based on opinion and personal preference. A warning from God would be, “if we don’t spend more time in the word and practice personal daily contrition and repentance, and if we don’t work to find ways to carry out the great commission and reach out to those around us who don’t know Jesus and are caught in sin, God will hold us responsible.” The souls of those around us are much more important that our opinions, our customs and our comfort.

God told Ezekiel, and he tells us, When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood.

It’s so easy for us to look at the world around us and point the finger at all the wickedness we see. It’s overwhelming. Who would have thought we would get to the point where homosexuality was celebrated with parades, and movies like “Cuties” would be on TV, and burning and looting would be called peaceful protesting? It’s so easy for us to see the wickedness around us and to withdraw into our own cocoon and try to insulate ourselves from the wickedness of the world, to do what the world wants us to do, “just shut up about God and his word and leave us alone.” But God says to Ezekiel and to us, if you don’t give the warning from God’s word and point out what God says is wickedness, God will hold you responsible, just as we would hold someone responsible for not warning us about a storm, or a disease, or contaminated food.

Jesus asks us to do some very difficult things. He asks us to give his warning to those who are doing what is contrary to his word and will. He asks us to tell them that if they continue to live in a way that is contrary to God’s word and will, they will face something worse than death. They will be condemned on the last day, sent away from the presence of God and everything good for all eternity. If a fellow Christian is living contrary to God’s word and will, Jesus tells us to point it out to them one-on-one and warn them of the eternal consequences of their sin.

This is very difficult, as Ezekiel found out, and especially Jeremiah found out. It is difficult because the first reaction of those you warn is usually negative. When people don’t like the message, they attack the messenger. They call the one who warns them hypocritical, unloving, judgmental. They plot ways to get even, or to destroy their reputation or their business. That’s why it is absolutely important that those who warn are speaking God’s warning not their own opinion.

It’s difficult because when we warn, and the warning is not received; or the one we are trying to warn becomes hostile and turns on us; we want to give up. We feel that we have failed. We are tempted to get angry and, at least think if not say, “Ok then, I hope you get what you have coming.” That’s not the attitude God wants us to have.

God also makes it clear that we are not responsible if someone doesn’t heed a warning that we give them from God. He says, if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die because of his guilt, but you will have saved your life. But that doesn’t mean we warn once and think we have done our duty. We are not to think of giving a warning as a duty. We are to think of it as a labor of love. That’s why Jesus didn’t stop at step one in Matthew 18, warning someone just between the two of you. He says that if they don’t listen, continue doing all you can to try to help your brother or sister in Christ see their sin and come to repentance. Recognize that their eternal welfare is at stake and you wouldn’t want to wish the eternal fires of Hell on anyone, especially not someone who has been your brother or sister in Christ.

Consider the attitude with which God gives his warnings. He is a jealous God. He is dead serious about his threat of eternal damnation for all who reject him and live contrary to his word and will. But, he says, As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from their way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why should you die, O house of Israel?

God warns in love. He warns because he doesn’t want anyone to be condemned. He wants everyone to come to repentance and live, to have eternal life with him.

We can share that attitude only when we have applied God’s warning to ourselves first. We can share that attitude only when we have seen and admitted our own wickedness; when we have seen that we deserve God’s eternal condemnation just as much as anyone else. Only then will we be able to warn someone else with an attitude of humble love. Only then will we be able to avoid judging ourselves as better than those we warn. Only then will we come across as showing loving concern instead of judgmental pride. Only then will we be able to say, “I’m no better than you are. I’m a sinner too. I know from experience that you are on a path that leads to eternal destruction. I’m warning you because I don’t want to see to anyone eternally condemned. Turn, turn from your sin. Why should you die?”

  We can share an attitude of loving concern only when we have experienced repentance ourselves. When we have felt our sins weigh us down, that we are rotting away because of them.  When we have wondered, how then can we live? How can I ever be saved? How could God ever forgive me for what I have done! When we have heard God say to us, in his word, or from the mouth of a fellow Christian who loved us enough to warn us, to point out our wickedness and our sin, God takes no pleasure in punishing you. He proved it by punishing his perfect Son, Jesus, in your place. In Jesus he has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. You have confessed your sins and despaired of your own righteousness. God is faithful and just to do what he promised, he has forgiven all your sins in Jesus. He has given you the righteousness you need to have eternal life. He has given you the righteousness of Jesus. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

As a Christian living in this wicked world, as a parent, a grandparent, a great-grandparent who knows God’s will and word, you are a watchman. God expects you to give HIS warning to those who are living contrary to his will and word. If you don’t, he will hold you responsible for their eternal destruction. But, don’t warn others as a duty, or as if you were without sin. Warn in Christian love. Warn as those who have been warned. Warn as those who daily confess your own sins. Warn as those who have experienced God’s love and gracious forgiveness in Jesus. Plead with those who are living contrary to God’s word and will – turn, turn from your ways. God doesn’t want you to be condemned and neither do I. That’s the kind of warning that Christian love gives.

September 6, 2020 Sermon

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Sep 062020

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Revelation 7:1-3

Some of you are old enough to remember the Tylenol scare. In September of 1982 there were a number of mysterious deaths. Investigators soon solved the mystery. The people who had died had all taken Tylenol. They discovered that someone had laced random bottles of Tylenol with cyanide.

As you can imagine, if you had any Tylenol you quickly threw it away. The company recalled all of their product. Whoever tampered with the bottles of Tylenol was never found. But this incident is the reason we have tamper proof packaging, sometimes double or triple sealed. Sealed for safety.

Sealed for safety, that’s what John sees happening in his vision recorded for us in Revelation chapter 7.

To understand why God wanted John to see this we only need to look at the end of chapter 6. There John saw the sun turn dark and the mood turn blood red. He saw the stars fall to the earth and the sky roll up like a scroll. He saw every mountain and island removed from its place. He saw what Jesus had foretold, recorded for us in Matthew’s Gospel: the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  Peter describes it in this way, the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

John not only saw what was happening to the sun, moon, stars, and the earth, he saw the reaction of the people who were living on the earth. Even the richest and most powerful people tried to hide themselves. They realized that all the money in the world couldn’t save them. They knew they had no power to stop what was happening. They knew that they could not stand before the throne of the just and holy God. They had long denied the existence of God and mocked the idea of a day of judgment. Now they realized with dread that they were wrong and that they were without excuse.

The chapter ends with a very important question. When the great day of God’s wrath comes, who is able to stand?

John must have felt the answer. He must have felt fear and dread in his own heart as he saw what was happening and realized that he was not able to stand before God either. In order to be able to stand before God you would have to be perfect, completely without sin, never have let an unkind word slip out of your mouth, never even entertained a sinful thought in your mind. No one should be able to stand before God. Everyone should feel his wrath against sin and join Satan in Hell.

John needed the vision God gave him in chapter 7 and so do we. We need something that gives us hope.

God gives John a flashback. He shows him what was going to happen before the events of the last day described in chapter 6. He shows him that there are four angels holding back the four winds of the earth so that the wind could not blow on the earth, the sea, or any tree. They were the ones God had given the power to bring about the destruction described in chapter 6, but they were holding back. They were waiting for God to tell them that the day and hour had come, and they could release the destruction they were holding back. As Jesus pointed out, no one knows when that day will be, not even the angels.

John also hears the reason that these angels are told to wait, to hold back the destruction that will come on the last day. He hears another angel tell them, do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees until we have placed a seal on the foreheads of God’s servants.  As Peter said, the reason Judgment Day has not come yet is that God is patient. He doesn’t want people to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance.

What is this seal and what does it mean?

In Revelation 14 and 22 we are told that those who are sealed have the name of the Lamb and his Father written on their foreheads.

The picture is not hard to understand. Almost every culture knows that if you put your mark, your brand, your name on something you are claiming that it belongs to you. God is showing John that he knows those who are his and he is going to make sure that before the events of the last day, those who are his are sealed for safety so that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against them.  It is similar to what God did for his people in Egypt. He had them mark their doors with the blood of a lamb so that when the destroyer passed through Egypt, he would not harm anyone whose house was marked with the blood of a lamb.

Are you sealed for safety? Remember your baptism. At your baptism the pastor said, receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ. And in obedience to the command of Christ you were baptized with water in the name of the one true God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God marked you. He put his name on you. He said, I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.

Remember the Supper. You receive Christ’s body given for you, and Christ’s blood shed for you. The blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has been painted on the doorposts of your heart. God is telling you that you have been sealed for safety.

Ezekiel had a vision very similar to the one John had. Ezekiel saw six men with swords ready to destroy all who lived in Jerusalem, but there was a seventh who was armed with a writing kit. This man with the writing kit was told, go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. The others were to follow and slay without mercy or compassion all who were not marked.

But notice who was marked, sealed for safety. It was all those who grieve and lament over the detestable things that were being done.

The most trustworthy assurance that you are marked by God and sealed for safety on the last day is your baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are objective promises from God that do not change. If you are tempted to doubt, they are what you need to look to because the promises of God trump any doubts or worries we might have. His promises are sure and unfailing.

But a secondary indication that you are sealed for safety is the fact that you grieve and lament over the detestable things that are being done in our world. You lament the fact that God’s clear word is being ignored and things God says are sinful are being accepted as normal, like living together outside of marriage and homosexuality, or constant misuse of God’s name and hateful speech.  You grieve over the constant reports of human trafficking and the 73 million babies that are aborted each year, or the fact that so many seem to hate their fellow humans just because they have a different skin color. You have experienced disdain because you have tried to stand up for God and his word and to share the truth of salvation in Jesus alone with others. Such things certainly don’t earn you the right to be sealed for safety. We are saved by grace alone. But in as much as they are fruits of faith, lamenting and grieving over the detestable things that are happening around us, are evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, and that you are a child of God.

For now, the angels are still holding back the destruction God has decreed for the last day. He graciously holds back the day of judgment until all those who are his have been sealed for safety. What a blessing that he gives us the outward signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to assure us that we are his, that we are sealed for safety. When the destruction of the last day comes, we won’t have to hide in fear. We will be able to look up and rejoice because we see that our redemption is drawing neigh.

As those who have been sealed by grace, who grieve and lament over the detestable things we see happening in our world, may we also serve as those who carry the writing kit. May we serve as those who stan firm on God’s word and proclaim with the Psalmist, if the Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with the Lord there is forgiveness. Proclaim the law and the gospel so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit others may be marked with the blood of the lamb, sealed for safety in the last day.

The day of God’s wrath will come. When it does, who will be able to stand before him? No one will on the basis of who they are, where they came from, how rich or how powerful they were. Only those who are covered with Jesus’ blood; only those who have his name on their foreheads; only those who rejoice in the fact that Jesus lived and died to pay for their sins and rose again on the third day; who confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, their Savior; only they are sealed for safety so that when they stand before God he will declare them his for all eternity.

August 30, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 312020

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Matthew 15:21-28

There is a lot of tension in our country today. People seem to want to argue about anything and everything. Politics seem more divisive than ever. People are divided over race, despite the fact that there is only one race. We are all humans no matter what our color. People are divided over what to do or say about the virus. Despite the fact that even the experts don’t know a lot about the virus, people seem to think their opinion is right and are willing to call you names or cancel you if you don’t agree with them. Satan is surely smiling as we experience what happens when more and more people put themselves, their feelings, anything and everything above God and his word.

We tend to think that it must have been better in Jesus’ day. But was it? We are told that Jesus left that place. That place was Galilee where he had been teaching and performing miracles. The reason he left was that Pharisees and teachers from Jerusalem had come all the way to Galilee to stir up the people against him. The specific incident recorded for us was that they accused him of not making sure his disciples followed the tradition of ceremonial hand washing. After all, if you are out in the marketplace you will surely come in contact with some unbelieving gentiles, especially in Galilee which borders on gentile countries. You would want to be sure that none of their unbelieving filth stuck to you. How could God bless you and your food if it did? The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were among the most prejudiced, judgmental people who ever lived.

Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. He tried to help them see what we all need to see. If we think we see a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, it might just be that we have a whole board in our own. Jesus tried to help them see the importance of judging yourself by God’s law before you even think about judging others. God doesn’t ask us to be better than others. He asks us to be perfect, to keep his law perfectly. When you understand that fact, you realize what Paul said. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In God’s eyes everyone is equal. Everyone is a sinner who deserves the same eternal punishment.

Unfortunately, these Pharisees and teachers didn’t get it. And since his time for suffering had not yet come, he withdrew. In fact, he left the country. He went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a gentile area. It was an area known for disgusting forms of idol worship. You might remember that 700 years earlier, Jezebel was Queen in Israel. She was the daughter of the king of Sidon. She is the one who tried to make the worship of Baal the state religion of the northern kingdom of Israel, an area that included what in Jesus’ day was called Galilee. She was the one who murdered the prophets of the one true God and put a price on Elijah’s head.

Think of it. After being accused of not being Jewish enough, Jesus leaves the country and goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon, gentile country. Not just by his words, but by his actions, he was showing that he would not be ruled by hypocritical traditions or opinions of others. He would show God’s love equally to all, Jew or Gentile.

When he arrived in Gentile territory, A Canaanite woman from that territory came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me.”

What would Jesus do? When the Israelites came from Egypt and conquered the land, God had instructed them to wipe out all the Canaanites, every last person. He had warned them that if they didn’t, the Canaanites would lead them away from him and into idolatry, and be thorns in their sides forever. Israel failed to fully carry out God’s command and the Canaanites did lead many away from the true God and were a source of constant trouble for Israel. Would Jesus hold this past history against her?

At first, it seems like Jesus was holding it against her. He ignores her. When the disciples ask him to send her away, he tells her that, as the Messiah, he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When she persists, he tells her, it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to their little dogs. Wow! If that’s all you read in Scripture, you would have to come to the conclusion that Jesus was judging this woman for the sins of her ancestors, that he was a very racist, prejudiced person. But that’s not the whole story, is it?

Why was Jesus silent? We often answer that Jesus was testing this woman’s faith. That may be the case. He knew she had faith, not just because he is God and knows her heart, but because of the way she addressed him. She called him, Lord, Son of David! Those words came from the mouth of a gentile! Somehow, she had come to know the promises of Scripture. She believed that the Messiah was coming and that he would be the Son of David. She publicly confessed that Jesus was that Messiah.

Was Jesus testing her faith as he tested Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac? It could be. But there is another reason Jesus was silent. He was testing his disciples. What had they learned from the recent incident where they were accused of not being Jewish enough because they didn’t follow the Jewish tradition of hand washing? Had they learned that God does not look at the outward appearance, but looks on the heart? How would they react to the pleas of this gentile? Did they look at her as a gentile sinner, an unclean dog? Did they hear her amazing confession of faith? It’s hard to tell. Send her away, could mean “just get rid of her she’s not worth your time,” or many believe it means, “just do what she asks so that she can stop begging.”

Why didn’t Jesus do that? Why did he keep testing her, seeming to say “I would but I can’t because you aren’t Jewish.” It wasn’t just for her benefit. He wanted his disciples and people of all time to witness the strength of her faith. In fact, it’s very interesting that the only two times in Jesus’ ministry that he says someone has great faith, he says in regard to gentiles – this Canaanite woman, and a Roman Centurion.

What was so great about her faith? Unlike the Jewish leader Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night, this gentile woman was willing to publicly confess that Jesus was the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Son of God who had the power to heal her daughter from afar.

When God seems to be silent what do many do? King Saul turned to a Medium. Many just give up and assume that either God doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care. This woman persisted in prayer even when Jesus seemed to be ignoring her and her request.

When people seem to put you down because of who you are or where you came from what’s your reaction? Isn’t it to become angry, to call them names, to accuse them of being racist? This woman fell down at Jesus’ feet. She worshiped. She asked for mercy. She begged, Lord, help me. She showed the humility that comes from knowing that you are a sinner who is no better than anyone else, who deserves nothing from God except his punishment. All any of us can say is, “Have mercy Lord, help me.”

If someone implied that you were not worthy of anything from them because you were from the wrong group of people, wouldn’t you get angry and leave in a huff? But this woman said, Yes Lord, I know I’m not worthy of what I ask. But, little house dogs like me get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. I’m willing to rejoice in any crumb you can give me.

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at that very hour.

What did the disciples learn? What do we learn from this incident that the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded for us?

The very pious, outwardly religious leaders of the church failed to see that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of David. They judged him because he wasn’t Jewish enough, he didn’t follow all their customs and traditions. They let cultural pride move them to reject Jesus and keep the good news of the gospel from others. That’s always a danger for us who have been in the church for our whole lives.

The disciples heard Jesus remind these leaders that it is what is in the heart that matters to God, not outward piety, and definitely not cultural tradition or color of skin. Then they witnessed great faith, certainly realizing that, if they had been this woman, they would not have demonstrated such faith. And she was a foreigner, a Canaanite.

Who did Jesus come to save? Isn’t it obvious? He came to save everyone. No one, no matter who they are, no matter where they came from, no matter what their ancestors have done, no matter what their culture or color, Jesus came for all. All have sinned. All need a savior. Jesus came to pay for the sins of the world. God so loved the WORLD. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. God our Savior wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. The Bible says it, and Jesus showed it.

Do you know what that means? It means he came to save you. There is no reason to doubt it. You are a human, a sinner, living in the world, and the Bible makes it absolutely clear that’s who Jesus came to save. You are not an exception.

As the disciples learned this lesson, we see that they brought Greeks to Jesus. Philip went to Samaria. Barnabas helped people in Antioch, north of Tyre and Sidon, carryout ministry specifically to Gentiles. And Paul served as the Apostle to the Gentiles proclaiming the good news to people in Asia minor (modern Turkey), Greece, Italy and probably even Spain.

Like this gentile woman, God has graciously brought us to realize that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God. He has graciously brought us to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, our Savior. He fills us with joy and gratitude as we see how he gives us much more than crumbs from his table every day.

What a blessing it is to know that Jesus came to save every person. He came to save you and everyone you meet. Let that good news govern how you treat everyone with whom you come in contact every day.

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