Sunday, December 26, 2021

God Has Spoken to Us


Hebrews 1:1-6

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.  For to which of the angels did He ever say, "THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE"?  And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"?  And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM."

Sermon for Christmas                                                              12/25/21

God Has Spoken to Us

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Talk to me.  You've heard people say that before.  Talk to me.  And if you do, how would you do it?  Silly question, right?  You would use words.  That is how we talk.  Well, Jesus is the Word of God.  That is from the Gospel of John.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."  And then verse 14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

This Christmas morning our epistle lesson tells us that God has spoken to us – and He has spoken to us in the person of His Word – His Son Jesus Christ.  Our Christmas message – the one that give us such joy on this morning is that God has spoken to us!

Hebrews is the most intellectual of the epistles.  There are parts of Hebrews that, frankly, baffle us.  Even the simplest parts require careful reading and careful thought.  But the opening verses of the entire epistle to the Hebrews is pretty simple.  It tells us that Jesus is God's communication, His Word to us.
God has always been talking to man.  He walked personally and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  After they had sinned, they could not bear His presence.  They were too frightened.  So God began dealing through intermediaries with us.  He sent prophets.  He spoke to them in visions, usually, or dreams.  He communicated with them without actually talking out loud.  Moses seems to be the last one that God talked out loud to.  After that, it was in visions and dreams and such – or he sent an angel.  He always stayed in touch, giving guidance and revealing more about Himself through His prophets.

In Jesus, we have God returning to direct communication.  That is what we celebrate in our Christmas celebration.  God was in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is God, the Second Person of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of the Incarnation.  Isaiah 7:14, which prophesies the Virgin Birth, also prophesies that the name of the child will be Immanuel.  The meaning of the prophecy is not that He will have that name, but that He will be God, with us – among us.  Jesus fulfilled that Word of God by putting on human nature and human flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and being born at just the right time – Scripture calls it "the fulness of time," and Luke says "the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."

The manger in Bethlehem is precious to us because God was born there.  He was not born according to His divinity, but according to His human nature – but God was born as a man there.  And having taken on human flesh and blood, God spoke directly to us.  There was no "middle man".  There is no mediator, except the man God chose to be, Jesus Christ.  So, at Christmas, we celebrate the truth that God has spoken to us!

Jesus often said that the words He spoke were not His, but that they had been given to Him by His heavenly Father.  Jesus wanted us to know that God was speaking to us in Him.  He always pointed back to God as He taught.  God was speaking to us and teaching us in Jesus, and He took great care to let us know precisely what it was that He was doing.  He knew that men would disbelieve and deny Him and His Word in time, but He wanted to be as clear as possible so that those who would believe would have utter certainty and clear evidence that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.  That is why every sermon has a text, and often quotes Scripture.  When the Word is spoken faithfully, God is still speaking to us through Jesus.

But that isn't all that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews meant to say.  He meant that Jesus was God's communication.  Who Jesus was, and what Jesus did, and the fact that He was here to do it, is as significant as the Words He spoke – and it says as much or more than Jesus did with His mouth.  God spoke to us by sending His Son.

Jesus spoke of the love of God for us.  Of course He also preached about it, but just the fact of the Incarnation spoke to us about how far God would go – how deep His love is for us.  Think of the manger scene.  Could you imagine having your child in a barn, and using a hayrack for a crib?  Would you send your daughter or daughter-in-Law to give birth in filthy conditions on a cold night in an open-air stable like that?  Yet God chose to be born there for us.  He chose a teen-aged girl and a humble and poor carpenter as parents.  He chose to be born on a trip, in a stable where the young parents were housed for the night because the town was so crowded.  We celebrate Christmas every year without pausing very often to consider the absurdity of it, or what fantastic love it was that required God to humble Himself to become human, and then a poor human in a poor nation at a time and place in history so crude and violent and backwards.  The simple fact that Jesus is who He is reveals God speaking of His great love for us.  God has spoken to us!

And why did God do this?  It was our sins.  Because of our sin, we deserve to die.  We come from polluted stock and we behave as though we never knew God.  We hate, we covet, we lust, we gossip.  Many times we act as though God will not take care of us.  We behave as though God were less important than our next outing, our next purchase.  Even we, who know God and His goodness many times will behave as though we did not, or that we simply do not believe or care.

God did the Bethlehem thing for us.  He did it to save us from our own sins.  He was born in a stable so that He could die on a cross in our place, and redeem us from His own justice.  He had to keep His own bargains – He had to punish sin with death.  He had to be just and fair and righteous.  And yet He desired to save us.  Jesus coming, and His attention to fulfilling every prophecy – right down to the virgin mother and the place of His birth – speaks to us of the desire of God to save us.  There was no way to rescue us from the just consequences of sin, except to take them on Himself.  So Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that were under the law.  He, who had no sin of His own, became sin for us – took our sin upon Himself – that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him and through Him and on account of Him.  That is how much God wanted to save us – God has spoken to us!

Jesus Christ –  the fact of His birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension – spoke of God's plans for us beyond the grave.  Now I know that all of what we are looking at is not Christmas.  But we cannot celebrate Christmas two thousand years after Christ's life and pretend that the manger and the shepherds are all that there is about the holiday.  Jesus demonstrated what God has in store for us.  He told us plainly that He would come again for us.  He told us that because He lives, we too shall live, and because He rose from the grave, we too shall rise from our graves.

And we celebrate that truth as much as any, in Christmas celebrations.  The birth and life and death of Jesus speak to us about God's plans for us which go far beyond the short time we spend here in this world. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.  And when the time comes, and God raises us from the grave, then death will be defeated, and we will cry out with all the children of God, Death is swallowed up in victory!  O death where is your sting?  O Grave where is your victory!  And we will share in and delight in that reunion with all those who have gone before us, whom we miss so today – parents, grandparents, children, and spouses.  We will be there and we will do that and we will delight in God with all of our being – and Jesus, His existence and His life is God telling us all of these things.   God has spoken to us!

  And that is what we celebrate today.    God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Jesus tells us many things – but He reveals even more.  He is God, and He reveals God to us – His love, His nature, His compassion, His power, and His will.  And what is the will of God for us?

And you know that because God has spoken to us through the person of His Son.  And that is what we celebrate in Christmas – and it is truly merry!  So let us sing and laugh and feast and celebrate with all our might.  God has spoken to us and the first word He said was a little baby, born in Bethlehem, sung about by angels, and worshiped by shepherds.  

A merry and a blessed Christmas to you all!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Life of Faith


Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent 12/19/21

A Life of Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Do you believe in God?

That sounds like an odd question for a sermon, eh? The thing is, believing about God and believing in God are two different things. Most everyone who comes to church anywhere believes about God. Christians all believe about God. The problem is that many who believe about God take that for "faith" in the sense of "being a Christian" – and it is not. Christians, who are truly Christians and not simply deceiving themselves, also believe in God. They trust God.

So, the question I began with is really, "Do you trust God". I want you to note the difference between "trusting in God" and "trusting God". Trusting "in" God is a generic sort of thing. It is sometimes half-hearted, and other times, at arm's length. We trust in God to do His part, or we trust in God to be a certain way or do specific duties, and the like. It has the sense of a list of responsibilities that God is to assume, and we trust in Him to do them and to do them passably well.

Trusting God is actually and deliberately – or at least consciously – depending on Him. Trusting God is facing life with the certainty within yourself that God is watching, and blessing and caring for you. My month of Covid and the near brush with death impressed this on me. You are safe because God loves you. You will have what you need because God loves you. You will make it through whatever challenge faces you, because God loves you if it is in accord with His holy will. And that is what our text is addressing this morning. Our theme is a Life of Faith.

The focus of the season of Advent is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His return that will mark the end of all of our pains and sorrows and the beginning of eternal life in glory. That life in glory is the cause for our rejoicing, mentioned in our text. We know the love of God for us, which we celebrate in the Christmas season, as we celebrate the first Advent of Jesus long ago in Bethlehem. The Spirit-wrought certainty of the love of God for us finds its first evidence in the gift of His Son. It is that confidence in God that produces the rejoicing Paul addresses in the first verse of our text, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, rejoice!"

Our cause for rejoicing is not found in our circumstances. The first Christians and every generation since have faced the hostility of the world and the normal troubles of life. Being a Christian does not change the external conditions of our lives, except that under the hatred of the world, our troubles may be multiplied. Our rejoicing is due to the gift of God in salvation, and our confidence in Him and His love for us, and His ever-present concern for our welfare. We do not judge the love of God or His ‘favor' by checking out our external well-being. Our certainty of the love of God for us and His will to bless us flows out of the knowledge of what He already has given for us, and our trust in the promises of blessing, protection, and salvation which He has made to us which are rooted in Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification.

Because we believe that, we can rejoice – even in circumstances that seem less than joyful. What is happening in our daily lives is not the final word of God to us or about us. Jesus Christ, resurrection from our graves, and everlasting life beyond pain and sorrow, sickness, and death are the final word of God. In many ways, this life is a prelude to the one to come. That life is where and when the full blessedness of the believer will be seen. Now, just as you can face the difficulties of life because you look forward to the cessation of pain and the comfort and well-being to follow, God's people can look forward to the joy to be received and continue to rejoice in that promised joy even in the midst of present trouble and pain. It is the final and enduring state that gives us the courage to live in and live through the intermediate stuff.

We can be so moved by our confidence that the hope of the life to come affects our conduct in the present time. That hope, and the knowledge of who we are in the eyes of God, builds in us patience - forbearance in the face of the sorrows and difficulties of life. That is reflected in the words of our text, "Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men."

Paul isn't suggesting here that we go about telling people about how patient and forbearing we are. He intends that we let people know by being forbearing, by exercising patience. The patience of which he speaks is the patience we evidence in times of trouble, pain, or sorrow. Let's face it, life will present us with situations and conditions over which we will chafe. We just don't give up on God. We continue to rejoice. We behave as God's people even when those with whom we must deal do not. Our God has forgiven us great sins, both in quality and quantity. As our relationship to Him is marked by forgiveness, our relationship with others is to be marked by forgiveness – by patience and forbearance – as well. We are the people of forgiveness.

We are a people formed by forgiveness, and we are a people whose conduct toward the world is shaped by our forgiveness and forbearance with their thoughtless and evil ways. We don't forbear by taking part in the evil, but by being Christ-like, by forgiving those who haven't asked and dealing honorably and decently with everyone, even the rotters!

That doesn't mean that they will reciprocate. They will likely continue to hate us and try to abuse us or take advantage of us. But, in Christ Jesus, what do we have to lose? We already have eternal life. Resurrection is not merely guaranteed, it is a foregone conclusion. Jesus rose, and we are tied to Him, so, just as we share in His righteousness, and in His life, we must share in His resurrection! In fact, He has promised that everyone will rise from their graves. The difference between us and the others is that we will rise the everlasting life in glory, and those who reject Christ will rise to eternal death, shame, and torment - what we have learned to refer to as "hell".

It is the reality of life, the pains and irritations of normal life, and the hostility of the world, that Paul has in mind when he says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." The world will not reciprocate our patience and forgiveness. They will be looking for, and sometimes just making up, a cause to attack us and hurt us. Plus, our lives are not set aside from all of the troubles that normally afflict people. We will get sick. We will get injured. Sorrow and troubles will find us. We bear witness to our confidence in God, and His utter reality and love, by how we bear all these things faithfully and patiently and in a manner that reflects clearly that we are the people of God in Jesus Christ.

So we are not anxious about anything. That means we set aside worry. Some of you may be worried about how you are going to manage in your senior years. Some of you are worried about things I cannot imagine. Paul says, "Don't worry about anything", "Be anxious for nothing." Trust God.

Now, this isn't a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky kind of thing. It is a life of faith. It is confidence in God. We believe the love which He has for us and we trust His promises. He said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." Okay, we do. Just been there and done that. We pray. He has promised to hear our every prayer and answer each one. He has promised to "cause all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purposes." That's us!
Do you trust God?

Then pray. But as you pray, pray in faith. Speak to God about your confidence in Him and remind yourself that your hope is about something far better than this life and that you know with the full confidence of faith that God has already won it for you, and promised it to you, and has begun giving it to you even in this life. That is how and why your prayers are filled with thanksgiving. Do you need things, blessings, help? Of course! Yes! But you also know that God loves you. You know the gift of life which is already yours. You have a firm expectation of future bliss and glory. So you don't just say, "Thank God!" You actually thank Him. Your prayers are not the childish and demanding prayers of the unbelieving and immature. They are prayers of faith, of people who have seen God in action, who have heard of His love and know His promises, and believe. They are prayers for faith, for strength of faith, for greater patience and perseverance, for a heart a thanksgiving in the midst of whatever struggle you may be in.

And the result, which God alone works, is the peace of God. It is the peace of knowing that, no matter what, God is with you. It is the peace that works in times of danger, times of sorrow, and times of trouble of any sort. It is understandable, to some extent. It is founded on faith and does not worry. It is built with thanksgiving, and so it cannot be mixed with feeling sorry for one's self, but has to be aware of the goodness and grace of God. It has the confidence that God is listening when we pray and blessing us according to what we know to be a good and gracious will, so it is peaceful, unafraid, confident - not of one's self, or of life, but of God and His love.

The text describes the love as surpassing all comprehension. That doesn't mean it makes NO sense to us. It is just so much more and so much more powerful than it seems like it should be. It is incomprehensibly durable, powerful, lasting. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are not those that determine this peace - and so it "surpasses all comprehension". It is not worked by our thoughts, or by our faith, although it is grounded in it. It is worked by God. The peace which God gives through faith is so much better, more durable, and broader than anything we can work up in ourselves, that it catches even those who possess it by surprise - although pleasantly so.

I don't mean to suggest that you will not or should not feel those fears, worries, angers and such. Your flesh will challenge you daily with such things. I know mine does. I mean that you fall back on God, on prayer, on your faith, on His Word and His promises, and on His love for you. You fight the good fight of faith, even within yourself. Especially within yourself.

And that is a life of faith. God creates this peace and strengthens us to live as His children. When we do it, the world sees it, and we witness just by being God's people. It was the biggest evangelistic tool of the first century of the Christian Church. People saw the peace and joy of Christians who were facing life as hard or harder than themselves. They wanted some of that peace. They wanted whatever it was that gave the Christians the power to face death singing. They wanted to know something so worth living for that it was easily worth dying for. Nothing in their world of unbelief and despair matched it. Nothing even came close. And so they sought out the Christians and asked them what it was. And Christians told them. And they believed the Word of God, and the Church grew. That is still God's great evangelism program today. It will work just the way God has planned for it to work, because it doesn't depend on us. And, it is a life of faith!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)