December 8, 2019 Sermon

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Dec 092019
 

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Romans 15:4, 13

Paul begins our second reading for today by reminding us that everything written in the past, he is talking about what is recorded in the Bible, was written for our instruction. God inspired his prophets and apostles to write exactly these things down and saw to it that they were preserved for us today so that we could learn from what they wrote. As we think about that in the context of what is recorded in Isaiah, the coming of John the Baptist and the season of Advent, we learn that God, through his word, provides hope for the hopeless.

Consider what it was like in Isaiah’s day. The once mighty kingdom of David and Solomon had been divided by civil war. Ten of the twelve tribes separated and formed their own kingdom. Assyria had just come and destroyed that kingdom of ten tribes and their sights were set on Judah, the two tribes that were left, ruled by descendants of David. Although God rescued them from the Assyrians, it wouldn’t be long before the Babylonians came. When they did, God allowed them to take wave after wave of people as captives to Babylon, and finally to completely destroy Jerusalem and the temple of God. As long as the temple was still standing, people had hope. But when the news came to the captives living in Babylon that the temple had been destroyed, it seemed as if all hope was gone.

The captives in Babylon expressed their hopelessness in these words from Ezekiel. Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. The Psalmist writes, our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? They felt hopeless, not only because it didn’t look like they would ever get back to their own country again. They felt especially hopeless because the kingly line of David looked like a dead stump. If Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and there were no descendants of David sitting on his throne how was God ever going to keep his promises and send the Messiah who was to rule on David’s throne forever! It seemed hopeless.

After seventy years of captivity, something happened that gave anyone who had not lost all hope a reason to hope again. Cyrus conquered Babylon and decreed that any Jews who wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple could do so. A small number of Jews did return. In the face of a lot of opposition and with a lot of hard work the temple of the Lord and the walls of the city were rebuilt. But, Jerusalem never again had a descendant of David ruling them. They were ruled by the Persians, by the Greeks and then by the Romans. It had been about 400 years since the temple had been rebuilt, but no descendant of David was ruling on the throne. It seemed to many that hope was gone, that God had cut them off.

Then, suddenly, about 25 AD, something happened again that gave hope. There was this guy named John who reminded a lot of people of the prophet Elijah. He was preaching in the wilderness and baptizing. He claimed that he was preparing the way for the Messiah to come. For those paying attention, there was hope.

There are different levels of hopelessness. You may feel hopeless because you didn’t get a job you were really hoping for. You may feel hopeless because you lost your job; maybe the company downsized, and you are over 60 and can’t imagine who is going to hire you. You may feel hopeless because your spouse just told you they found someone else, or God called them home to heaven, and you don’t know how you can survive on your own. You may feel hopeless because your advancing age means you can’t do the things you used to do, you have to give up driving and you have to move out of your home. Those are all things that can make you feel hopeless. But none of those things can compare to the hopelessness the captives in Babylon felt. The lowest level of hopelessness is thinking that you are cut off from God, that there is no hope of salvation or eternal life for you.

Satan wants to use all the bad things that happen in our lives, especially the things that we bring on ourselves because of our sins, to convince us that we are hopeless. He wants to convince us that God has given up on us and cut us off for good. But, through the encouragement of Scripture we see that is never true. There is always hope.

When the captives thought that they were hopeless God gave Ezekiel the vision of the valley of dry bones. He had Ezekiel preach to the dry bones and through his preaching of God’s word the Spirit brought those dry bones back to life.

Scripture presents example after example of people who were in seemingly hopeless situations, who either were tempted, or could have been tempted to think that God had cut them off, but they were shown that they really didn’t need to feel hopeless. God is the God of hope. In him, in his promises, there is always reason to hope, because his promises never fail. He always does what he says he will do. But, waiting for him to keep his promises often calls for patient endurance.

Consider Abraham. God told him it would be 400 years until his descendants would inherit the Promised Land. Consider David. He had already been anointed the next king of Israel, but he had to endure years of persecution by Saul before he finally was able to rule as king. Consider Noah. He had to endure 120 years of hard work building the Ark, and of mockery from his neighbors before the flood finally came, and then he spent a whole year cooped up in the ark caring for all those animals. I could list many more examples, but each example recorded in Scripture for our learning reminds us that God always did exactly what he promised when he knew the time was just right. When your eyes are focused on God and his promises there is always hope.

The greatest reason for hope is what we are preparing to celebrate. Thousands of years after his promise to Adam and Eve, 2000 years after his promise to Abraham, 1000 years after his promise to David, God fulfilled his promise. He sent one like Elijah, John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord, just as he said he would. He sent Gabriel to tell Mary and Joseph that Mary would give birth to a child even though she was a virgin, just as God had said through Isaiah 700 years earlier. On Good Friday, they pierced Jesus’ hands and feet and cast lots for his clothing, just as the Psalm had foretold. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, just as he, and Scripture foretold. Paul reminds us that, because of these things there is always reason for hope. After all, He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

God has removed the greatest reason we could have for hopelessness. In Jesus he has already paid for every sin. When Satan tries to convince you that you are hopeless, that God has cut you off and your hope of eternal life is gone, hold up the cross in his face. Tell him that because Jesus died and rose again you always have hope. God promises that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus says that whoever believes in him has eternal life. Whenever we feel hopeless it is because we have given up on God and failed to trust his promises. Jesus never gave in to hopelessness. He never gave up on God. He trusted the Father’s promises perfectly in your place. He paid for all the time when you showed a lack of trust in God and his promises. No matter how difficult life gets you always have reason to hope because Jesus lived and died for you and rose again.

Revelation reminds us that, as we live in the last days, there will be many situations that call for patient endurance. We will be tempted to cry out, how long, Lord? How long will you allow such wickedness and ungodliness to continue? But his answer is that he is patient. Think about how long the heroes of faith waited for God to bring about what he promised. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that many of them never got to see the fulfillment of God’s promises with their own eyes, but they saw them through the eyes of faith, and they are enjoying the fulfillment of those promises in the glory of heaven.

Paul says that God is the source of patient endurance and encouragement. He prays that we would overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Remember that when you feel hopeless. Remember that God has given you many examples in the Bible of people who felt hopeless, but later saw that they always had reason to hope because God always does what he promises. Remember that the way God gives patient endurance and encouragement is through his word where the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and assures us that in him we have the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

Now may the God of hope fill you with complete joy and peace as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

December 5, 2019 Advent Sermon

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Dec 052019
 

Luke 11:27-36

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Our theme hymn for Advent calls Jesus the “Lord of Light.” It leads us to pray, “Come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.” As we wait in stillness, we ask that the Lord would enlighten us, or today people might say, make us “Woke”.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day thought that they were woke, that they were the enlightened ones. They claimed to be able to see through what Jesus was doing and declared that he was doing his miracles by the power of Satan himself. They said that Satan was giving Jesus the ability to do these miracles so that people would be led away from the truth of God which they believed they were teaching.

As Jesus pointed out that their logic was flawed and unenlightened, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” That was certainly a more enlightened statement than anything the Jewish leaders had to say about Jesus, but Jesus points out that even this statement wasn’t completely enlightened. Mary was indeed blessed to be chosen to give birth to the promised Savior, but she is not the source of enlightenment. Jesus makes it very clear what is. He said, “Even more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” If you want to be truly enlightened, if you really want to understand what is just and what is oppression, if you want to be considered “woke” by the only one whose opinion really counts, hear the word of God and keep it.

As proof that the majority of the people of his day were not enlightened, Jesus cites the fact that, in spite of seeing all the miraculous signs he had already performed, they were looking for more. They were still in the dark because they were not seeing what his miraculous signs clearly showed, that he is the Lord of Light, the promised Messiah. So, Jesus says the last and greatest sign they will be given is the sign of Jonah. Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear what Jesus meant. Just as Jonah was in the fish for three days and then came out alive, so the son of man will be in the tomb for three days and then come out.

But there is something else about Jonah and the Ninevites and the Queen of the South that Jesus wanted to make clear. When Jonah preached the word, the Ninevites listened, they heard the word of God, they repented and believed. When the Queen of the South heard about the wisdom God gave to Solomon, she made a long and difficult journey to come to hear that wisdom. Both the gentile Ninevites and the gentile Queen showed that they were enlightened. They valued God’s word more than most who were in the presence of Jesus who didn’t seem to care about the word, or what Jesus was saying. They just wanted a sign.

This is a strong warning for us. Of all the groups Jesus mentions, we are most like the Jewish leaders and the sign seekers. Like them, we have been blessed with easy access to God’s word. We don’t have to go very far to get to church. We don’t have to worry about someone seeing us go to church and plotting ways to persecute or arrest us. We have God’s word readily available, even on our phones and tablets. Most of us were raised in Christian homes and can’t remember a time when we didn’t know that Jesus is the Savior. Many have gone to Christian Schools where God’s word is heard many times a day. But, like many in Jesus’ day, we get complacent. We take what we have for granted. We get bored hearing the same old thing. We are tempted to look for a sign, for something miraculous, or something new and exciting. If we aren’t careful, the Queen of the South and the Ninevites will stand in judgment over us because, even with the little opportunity they had to hear God’s word, they listened. They valued God’s word highly.

Our other Scriptures for tonight emphasize the importance of valuing God’s word as the only source of true enlightenment. God, through Isaiah, chided those who sought enlightenment from mediums and spiritists, and dabbling in the Occult. To the law and to the testimony! If people do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them. And in response to the rich man who wanted Lazarus to be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers, Jesus says, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Mediums and spiritists can’t provide enlightenment. Even miraculous signs like someone coming back from the dead can’t provide enlightenment. God’s word alone has the power to enlighten. It alone has the power to bring people to see the truth that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the one and only Savior.

Jesus is the light of the world. Paul says that the same being who said let there be light at the creation of the world, and there was light, even before the sun, moon and stars were created, is the same being who made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Our enlightenment, our ability to see our sin, the darkness in us, and to see that Jesus is the light that casts out our darkness, to see that he is the one who suffered the outer darkness of hell in our place so that our sin is forgiven; such enlightenment is a miracle that has been worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the word and sacrament.

Are you enlightened? Are you Woke? No one lights a lamp and puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a stand so that those who come in may see the light. If you are enlightened, if the light of Jesus is shining in you, don’t put that light under a basket. Let everyone you meet know that Jesus is the Light of the World. Let them know that if they think they are Woke, but don’t know Jesus as their Savior from sin, they are still in the dark. If you are enlightened, if you know that Jesus is the light of the world who lived and died and rose again so that you can live in the glorious light of heaven forever, then let your light shine. Don’t just hear the word of God, but value it highly, and strive to put what God says into practice every day. Remember that the light within you is like an oil lamp. If the oil is not replenished regularly it will run out. Then your light will flicker, and if it goes out, you will be back in the darkness again. Replenish the oil of your lamp by hearing the word and receiving the sacrament regularly. To the law and to the testimony, without it there is no light of dawn.

Remember, Jesus says that you eye is the lamp of the body. Through your eyes light or darkness enters you. As you read Scripture and see Jesus as your Savior, light enters and fills you. As you read, watch or look at things that reflect the darkness of Satan, violent games, books on worldly philosophy, pornography, darkness enters and fills you. What enters you through your eyes affects your soul. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If you let darkness in it will affect the way you view other people, leading to jealousy and hatred, and even the way you view God. But as light streams in through the reading of Scripture, the way you view other people changes. You are enabled to see them as God sees them, as sinners saved by Jesus, as people who need to have the light of Jesus shine on them as it has on you. It enables you to see your sins, and your daily forgiveness in Jesus.

“For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits.” As we wait and meditate on God’s word, by God’s grace we see you as the “Lord of Light, as our only hope of glory.” As we wait, we pray that “your radiance, Lord, would shine in all who look to you, and that you would come to light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.”

December 1, 2019 Sermon

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Dec 012019
 

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Genesis 6:11-14

Please turn your attention to our first lesson for today, especially verses 11-14. Like Noah, we too need to prepare an ark to save our families.

 

One of the major themes of Advent is “Prepare!” The lights, the advertising, the music, almost everything happening around us reminds us that we are preparing for Christmas. Advent helps us remember that true preparation for Christmas involves remembering that Christmas is to be a celebration of the birth of our Savior. But, our Scripture readings for today remind us that there is something else for which we always need to be prepared, not just for a day or for a season of the year, but every day. We need to be prepared for the last day, the day on which Jesus will come a second time, not as a little baby to save the world, but as a glorious King to judge the world. Our first reading today is about Noah and the flood because Jesus says in our Gospel lesson that we can learn something about preparing for his second coming from what happened in the days of Noah.

Moses tells us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that in the days of Noah, in the sight of God the earth was morally corrupt, and the earth was filled with violence. That phrase, “in the sight of God,” is interesting. It makes me think that most people probably thought that things were fine. In fact, they might have thought that things were morally better than in the past. They might have thought that they had reached an age of enlightenment where they had been able to throw off the old morality of their forefathers and were able to accept things like homosexuality, or to reject the idea of marriage. This moral corruption showed itself in the fact that the earth was filled with violence. And, as was the case later, with Sodom and Gomorrah, God made it clear that he was not forming his opinion of what was happening on earth based on secondhand reports. God looked at the earth and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh was corrupt in all their ways on the earth.

  As we look around the world today, we have to wonder if God’s assessment of our day is the same as it was in the days of Noah. Even to us who can’t view things with the perfect vision of God, the earth seems morally corrupt. Many in our day think that they have reached an age of enlightenment when almost everything that used to be considered immoral is now considered acceptable, and even celebrated. And those like us who still hold to Biblical morality are said to be holding society back. But, what society calls enlightened morality has led to the destruction of the family which has led to a more violent world. Consider all the violence in places where there is a very low percentage of intact families, where many children have no idea who their father is. Consider the rise of hateful language, human trafficking, not to mention mass shootings.

As God looks at the earth today, he certainly sees that it is again morally corrupt and filled with violence. Although it may not be as bad as it was in the days of Noah, since there are more than eight believers left, it certainly grieves the Lord and moves him to say my spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal. In fact, Jesus lets us know that the Father has set a day when he will bring another judgment on the earth. It will not be a worldwide flood as is was in the days of Noah, it will be destruction by fire. As it was in the days of Noah, people will be going about their business, mostly ignorant that such judgment would come, because they have chosen to be ignorant of the Scriptures and to ignore those who are preachers of righteousness as Noah was.

By God’s grace, we are not ignorant. As he did with Noah, God has revealed his plan to us. We know the end of the world is coming. We know the signs that have been given to us by Jesus and the Apostles. We know that it is nearer now than when we first believed. So, what do we do?

God told Noah to prepare an ark, to build a large floating box. But that won’t do us any good against the consuming fire of the last day. How do we prepare an ark for ourselves and our families?

First of all, we are told that Noah was a righteous man, a man of integrity. God could see into his heart as he can see into ours. He saw Noah’s faith and knew that he would do what he asked him to do even if  it was counter-cultural, even when it would seem to most to be foolish.

We need men who are like Noah; men who are righteous through faith in Jesus as their savior; men who have integrity. We need them, or whoever is the head of a family, to be people of integrity, people who will set a good example for their children and others because they are motivated by God’s love for them in Jesus, to do what God says is moral and right even when it is counter-cultural, even when it seems to most to be foolish. For example, they don’t entrust the religious instruction of their children only to others. Although they may make use of what a church has to offer, they practice their faith at home every day, leading prayers with their family, having devotions together, talking about what God says in Scripture as a part of their everyday conversations, making sure they are leading their children to Christ, not leaving them on their own to decide for themselves later. As God says in earlier in Genesis 6, every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart is only evil all the time. So, a child left on their own to decide for themselves if they will be a Christian or not can only decide one thing – Not to be a Christian. And don’t forget that Peter connects baptism to the flood and says that, just as Noah and his family were saved in the ark, so baptism now saves you also.

We need parents who not only bring their children to be baptized, and who then teach God’s word to their children, but who also practice what they teach. Parents who strive with God’s help to do what Paul advises. Let us put away the deeds of darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let us walk decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual sin and wild living, not in strife and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not give any thought to satisfying the desires of your sinful flesh. Christian schools and Sunday schools can be a great blessing, but they will be generally ineffective if what children are taught from Scripture in programs is not reinforced by word and deed at home.

As you see the signs that Jesus and the Apostles gave that mark the second coming of Jesus being fulfilled; as you see The Day approaching; prepare an ark! Don’t go out and build a big wooden boat in your back yard, that won’t work on the day when Jesus returns and everything will be destroyed by fire. Prepare an ark by making sure you have a home where Jesus is Lord. Do everything you can to make sure everyone you love knows that they are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God, but who have also been justified by faith that Jesus lived and died to pay for their sins and rose again.  Do everything you can to make your home an ark that is insulated from the moral corruption and violence of the world around you. That means not only making clear by teaching what God considers to be moral and immoral, but practicing it. It means not just restricting access to certain games, TV shows, music and movies, but taking the time to explain why, and whenever possible to show in the Bible where God says that these things should not be a part of our lives.

I can’t imagine that doing what God asked was easy for Noah. Just the physical labor of making the ark must have been exhausting. I imagine that there were times that his sons questioned his mental stability. Certainly he received a lot of funny looks and probably outright mockery from all who passed by. But the Bible says Noah did everything that God commanded him, just as he had been told. He did it all by faith, not by sight, for no one had ever seen the need for such an ark in the history of the earth.

Like Noah, making our homes an ark isn’t going to be easy. It’s hard work to fight against our sinful nature and make time for prayer and Scripture reading. It’s not easy to fight against the sinful nature of our children who don’t always want to listen. It’s not popular to ban objectionable games, or music, or TV, or movies from our homes. Doing so will get lots of complaining from family members, not to mention strange looks and even mockery from friends and neighbors. But consider what’s at stake. The last day is coming. The earth and everything in it will be consumed by fire, and only those who are righteous through faith in Jesus will be saved.

Imagine what would have happened if Noah would have given in to pressure from his family or his neighbors and not built the ark, or if he would have permitted shoddy work, or rotten boards to be used. Prepare an ark for your family. Strive to do everything that God has commanded no matter how foolish or unpopular it seems. Make sure that everyone in your house knows that Jesus is their ark. It is only through faith in him that anyone can be saved.

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