Monday, April 25, 2022

The Victory that Overcomes the World

 1 John 5:4-10

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.  And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.  If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son.  The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son.

Sermon for Quasimodogeniti Sunday                                                4/24/22

The Victory that Overcomes the World

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is a lot of confusion in the world concerning religion.  There is a great deal of unbelief, of course, but that is not what we want to focus on this morning.  Those who worship false gods, like the Hindu's and the Moslems, and such, are confused, to say the least.  Actually they are what we once would have called pagans.  Then there are those who claim to worship the same God we do - Jews, and the Baha'ai and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and the like.  They also worship false gods, by denying who God is and what He is like and what He wants from us and for us.  Theirs is confusion of a sort too.  We call that paganism as well.  There are also those who do not acknowledge the existence of a god - atheists and Buddhists and so forth.

Our direction this morning really has nothing to do with that sort of confusion and unbelief.  We want to look at the confusion that exists among those who call themselves "Christians."  There is still a great deal of confusion among this group about what the Gospel is and how we access all that it promises and conveys.  What it promises, of course, is the victory of Christ over sin and death and hell.  Our text calls it "the victory that has overcome the world".  That is our focus, this morning, and our theme is "The Victory that Overcomes the World".

"The victory that has overcome the world" is our faith.  Our faith receives all that Christ has won for us.  Our faith receives the forgiveness of sins.  Our faith receives blessings and strengthening.  Our faith receives eternal life.  In this life and in this world we see none of what we receive.  Our flesh experiences none of it.  The world would have us sin and die like the rest of humanity.  Our victory over this desire to destroy is our faith, which shares in the victory of Christ over sin and death and hell.

It is not our will, as so many like to think, that brings us the victory.  Our will is corrupt and sinful even as Christians.  We don't make the choice to believe.  It is not our decision.  Scripture tells us we do not have the ability to make that choice.

Our salvation does not depend on our good behavior, or our good works, or the depth and sincerity of our repentance, or on our doing some sort of penance, or anything like that.  Most religions teach that it does, but this is simply not what the Bible tells us.  The simple truth is that Jesus Christ has won us the victory, and it is ours by grace through faith.  There is nothing else required of us and there is nothing else expected of us, and there is nothing else possible.

Faith is the victory.  By faith we see the things of God and we live in the light of His promises.  By faith people turn from pursuing works and riches and fame and all sorts of things to follow Jesus.  By faith we expect things we have never seen and we struggle to be better people than we really feel that we are.

Not everyone who calls themselves "Christian" agrees – or believes, for that matter.  Some people who want to claim a place in the Christian Church deny the Word of God altogether.  They would tell us that it is a fiction, or a re-telling of history with a decidedly "Jesus-Movement" spin on it.  Some call the Bible Man's Word about God, or Man's encounter with God.  C.S. Lewis once wrote that if Christianity was a myth, then it was a true myth, by which he meant that it was so true to spiritual realities and truth that we could overlook the lack of historical truth in it.  C.S. Lewis was a great writer, but not a great, or orthodox, Christian theologian.

Most who call themselves Christians do not consider the Bible to be false or misleading.  They profess that they believe it is God's Word and honest and true in every word it says.  Their most common problem is that they do not know what it says, or understand what it means, and what they do believe is often in direct contradiction of the Bible.  Most common among the mistakes and confusions of a great many people is the idea of having to earn, deserve, work, merit, live up to, and be somehow worthy of salvation.

For such people, the victory of the Christian faith is often conceived of as managing to stop doing something they really like to do – or something really awful that they can't seem to control their desire to do.  The less ambitious set their sights on making a decision, and praying a prayer.  Still another group considers the victory to be remembering the day that they had a particularly powerful or religious feeling within them, so that they may be certain that they have what it takes - or had it once upon a time.

Our victory, that is to say the victory that overcomes the world, however, is faith – and by that I mean faith in what God has revealed.  Those who try to find the victory elsewhere are calling God a liar, because His Word speaks clearly and teaches the Gospel clearly.  John writes that those who do not believe what God has taught about Christ are guilty of "making God a liar" because they do not believe "the witness that God has borne concerning His Son."  Remember those words the next time someone tries to tell you that sound doctrine is not important, or that feeling good about one another is more important than agreeing on what the Word of God teaches.

John also mentions the three witnesses - the water, and the blood and the Spirit.  This is where John refutes the Gnostic heretics of his day. The Gnostics said that Jesus was fully human, and that at His baptism, the "Eon Christ" descended and took possession of the ordinary man, Jesus, making Jesus a great and wise teacher.  Gnostics also taught that the "Eon Christ" departed from the man Jesus just before the passion, so that all Jesus suffered was merely one ordinary man suffering, and that His death was merely the death of man, not the death of the Son of God for us - and that His death had no particular redemptive power.  This idea would destroy the Gospel, of course.  The Gnostics didn't mind, because they believed that it was knowing and understanding the true nature of the universe, and of God - who they understood as different from the creator of the world - that saved one.  They also denied the resurrection of Jesus Christ because material things – the physical things in and of this world – were evil and undesirable to the Gnostic theology, so who cares about a body?

John was saying here that Jesus came as the Son of God, the Christ, not just by means of a baptism, and not just to teach, but also to suffer and die.  The water is not the only witness, nor the cause of salvation, but the blood shed on the cross is the very blood of the only-begotten of the Father - the Son of God.  Jesus was Christ already at His baptism and He was Christ still at His death - and the witness of the Spirit is added - the Holy Spirit of God.  It is the Spirit who bears witness to Christ, and His witness is truth because the Spirit is truth Himself.

John also makes a Trinitarian statement here - calling the Spirit "the Truth" .  Jesus proclaims God is true and His word is the truth.  Jesus also proclaims that He Himself is the Truth. Now John connects the Holy Spirit here, saying that "the Spirit is the Truth."

He takes this talk of the Spirit one step farther, saying that "The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself."  When you believe in the Son of God - which includes believing all that God reveals to us about Him - then you have the Witness, which is the Truth, which is The Holy Spirit, which is God Himself, within you!  This is something we teach, but I don't think people consider what it means very often.  It means that God is always aware of your situation, and wrapped up in your life.  God reveals this truth to us for our comfort.

John also uses this wonderful truth to contrast those who believe and those who do not.  He says, "The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son."  What a contrast!  The one who believes has God dwelling within him and blessing Him, and the one who does not believe is guilty of calling God a liar, publicly.  He doesn't need to say anything - his unbelief itself asserts that God is dishonest and lying simply by not believing what God has taken the time to reveal.  He is guilty because he has not believed the witness that God has borne concerning His Son.  The witness of God is what He has revealed in Scripture - so false doctrine is more than just a silly error, in the face of God's clear revelation of the truth in Holy Writ, false doctrine is blasphemy - it is calling God a liar.

It is what the world does.  The world proclaims that God is not truthful, and that we cannot trust what He says.  And so, our faith is the victory, just as John teaches us.  We believe, and we have God in us, and we have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting and salvation, by grace, and received through faith.  This faith, your faith, this is the victory that overcomes the world.

Your victory is not "out there".   "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"  "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith."

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

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The New Celebration

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Sermon for Easter Sunday                                                       4/17/22

The New Celebration

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!

Although the celebration of Easter as a special holiday is ancient to us, if the Apostle Paul were to have encountered it, it would have been a new celebration.  The earliest Christians did not have a special Easter holiday.  They did celebrate Easter, but it was not a holiday.  It was every day.  They worshiped on Sundays, instead of the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturday, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.  Every Sunday worship service was, to them, an Easter celebration.

Easter was much more than a holiday to the earliest believers.  It was their entire faith.  They lived in the afterglow of Easter.  They had no battles between Lutherans and Catholics to consider.  They had no family traditions, at least not at first.  They worshiped in the heart of the excitement of the resurrection.  Death was close and intimate in their world.  Life was hard and often dull.  The gods of their society were capricious and silly, and all authority tended to be dictatorial -- at home, in their temples, and from their government.  The sudden reality of love and freedom from God and of the resurrection and glory to come was worth dying for, and so it was worth living for.  So Easter was their entire faith.

We celebrate Easter as a holiday because it is not our entire faith.  It should be, but we have grown content and complacent.  We keep death at arm's reach with hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral parlors.  We only occasionally stare into its face, and usually it is wearing make-up.

Our faith too often is about feeling good.  Our faith is about nervous tension and relative (not real) economic changes.  Only occasionally do we think much about dying, and only now and then do we ponder the resurrection.  Forgiveness is a self-esteem thing, not a spiritual power.  So naturally, Easter is a holiday -- a ‘set aside' for once a year.

But our comfort with this life and our satisfaction with ourselves and how we live is what St. Paul refers to in our text as boasting.  Just prior to our text, Paul was writing about immorality that existed among the Corinthians.  A man had taken his father's wife.  We don't know if his father had died, but it seems unlikely, or she would be called his father's widow.  She was not the man's mother, but probably a second wife - perhaps one of many, or perhaps the second wife after his father had been widowed.

What that man did is called "incest".  If his father and his wife were divorced, such a thing was still totally out of bounds, even among the pagans.  The Corinthian Christians, however, had tolerated this immorality without excommunicating the evildoer.  Paul accused them of arrogance, in their patience with sin, and commanded them to reject such a man.

Then He said, "Your boasting is not good."  Our comfort with our lives, and our contentment with our own immorality is such boasting.  Patience with divorce and adultery and fornication and homosexuality and such is pagan and worldly, not godly or Christian.  Open-mindedness with the rampant immorality of our television shows and movies is ‘boasting'.  Approval of false teaching in the church, and in our society -- like praising the show Touched by an Angel, even though it contradicts Scripture at almost every single turn -- is such boasting.  The boast is that we are so strong, that we can endure such evil among us and not be turned.  We are so righteous that what God vehemently condemns, we can patiently approve.

"Your boasting is not good".  The reality is that "just a little leaven leavens the whole lump".  Proverbs said it too, "bad company corrupts good morals."  If we wink at sin and tolerate sin and patiently endure sin, we will become twisted by sin again and lost.  "Clean out the old leaven", Paul says.  Don't give sin a foothold among you.

But then Paul says something strange -- he says that we are unleavened already!  We are unleavened because Christ is our Passover -- the feast of the unleavened bread -- and He is not just the feast, He is the lamb, sacrificed to remove our guilt and shame.  We have been unleavened by the forgiveness of sins, purchased and won for us by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross.  That is what we celebrated on Good Friday.

Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  Paul is inviting us to a new celebration.  He is inviting us to celebrate not just a holiday, but life set free from sin.  And we don't just celebrate it by having a special service once a year, or with the traditional ham dinner at home.  We celebrate this feast with a life of purity and truth!

The feast he is talking about is not a meal, it is life itself in the presence of God for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Jesus referred to eternal salvation and heaven as the wedding feast, but life here in this world, lived by faith in Jesus Christ, is also part of that feast.

Paul says, "Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."  The old leaven is the old evils of life without Christ.  They have been set aside by God on the cross.  The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is God's unmistakable method of telling us that our sins have truly been forgiven.  The leaven of malice and wickedness and deceit has been purged from us.  Now we are invited to the new celebration without malice or any evil intentions.  We are invited to the new celebration without wickedness of any sort.  We are invited to celebrate with sincerity and truth.

We are invited to celebrate the new celebration of living a new life in Christ.  That life is a life of honest worship.  Not just singing hymns in a church, but living our lives in the knowledge of the resurrection and the sincere expectation that we shall rise too.  Such worship is lived in the light of forgiveness.  That means that we set aside sin, for we have been unleavened.  Just as the Jews cleaned out all the leaven in their homes for the Passover, we must clean out all of the dishonesty and evil from our lives so that we may remain unleavened, unpolluted as best we are able by the pollution of sin.

It means humbling yourself.  Boasting is living in sin as though you can handle it, as though you are master over sin.  But if we do what is not right, if we lie and gossip and entertain ourselves with the lives and sins of others, that little bit of leaven gets in us and works in us to produce sinful desires and sinful thoughts, which lead inevitably to sinful actions.

Every day is to be a celebration that we have been set free from our guilt.  We celebrate with thanksgiving.  We celebrate by choosing to see the hand of God in all our blessings and opportunities, and trusting in and expecting the hand of God even in those things which trouble us and tempt us.  Like those actors on Television who shout and leap for joy that they have kicked the habit of smoking, or lost all that weight, we should celebrate our forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus' resurrection means that we, too, shall rise from the grave.  Our resurrection will be just like His, because it is tied to His and, in a sense, is His resurrection.  We will rise because He paid for our sins, and death has no claim on us.  We will rise suddenly and with the same sort of glory and excitement as we witness in the Biblical accounts of the first Easter.

We celebrate that resurrection now with faith and with a life which does not participate in the fear and frantic pursuit of hollow, sinful pleasures of this world.  There are enough good and sincere and wholesome pleasures.  We have no need for the private sins, the secret lusts, the sleazy, sinful passions.  We don't need to do them, and we do not need to wink at them in our entertainments, or among our families and friends.  Rather we need to hold up the love of God toward us.  We need to remind one another of God's grace and forgiveness.  We need to encourage one another in prayer and faith.

Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life."  He is the unleavened bread with which we shall satisfy ourselves in the new celebration of the feast.  His resurrection means that the promises made to us are true.  There is life, even beyond death.  There is so much that is so good, so much that it is well worth waiting for, and for which it is well worth disciplining ourselves.

Our boasting is not good, so let us set aside the boast, and humbly repent, knowing our forgiveness is as certain as the resurrection of Christ.  And let us not presume that we have wisdom to righteously live our life as it seems good to us, but let us resolve to humbly seek His guidance and wisdom.  Then we will celebrate the new celebration, where Easter is every day, because we look back at Jesus on the first Easter, and because we see what He has done and we hear what He has promised us if we live in Him, we can confidently look forward to our personal Easters.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!

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

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Mind of Christ


Philippians 2:5-11

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Sermon for Palm Sunday 04/10/22

The Mind of Christ

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Palm Sunday Gospel is about a triumphal ride among cheering throngs, and children with palm branches singing "Hosanna!". Well, not actually. It is actually about the coronation ride of Jesus into the jaws of death. We often talk about it as the wonderful event that captured all of Jerusalem and make a big deal out of it. But that is not what happened. Not exactly.
In the modern Church Year in the newer hymnals, the church calls Palm Sunday, "The Sunday of the Passion."  It is all about pain and suffering.   The Church often does Good Friday sorts of things in the modern Palm Sunday because so few laymen seem to be willing to come to church on Good Friday any more.  But that isn't what Palm Sunday is really about either.  It is partly one thing, and partly another.  There was a Palm Sunday ride – and it was the coronation of Jesus as King of Israel.  The people acknowledged Him for a day or for an hour.  He heard the praises.  The multitude probably did not encompass the whole city, but a crowd around one gate as Jesus rode in on a borrowed donkey.  But Jesus knew that no matter what anyone said today, He was going to die on Friday.
What must it have taken, what sort of attitude or thought process must Jesus have had to ride into town, and walk the path we call holy week, knowing He was going to face betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death? It would require self-possession. It would require a real sense of mission. It would require an enormously strong will, and it would require humility of a remarkable quality. And this frame of mind is what we are exhorted to imitate in our text, when Paul writes, "have this mind among you." We consider that message to the Philippian Christians this morning, with the theme, "The Mind of Christ."he whole city, but a crowd around one gate as Jesus rode in on a borrowed donkey. But Jesus knew that no matter what anyone said today, He was going to die on Friday.

The chief characteristic of this attitude or frame of mind is humility. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself. That is humility. Jesus Christ was God – is God, but that is another discussion. 
Whatever it is to be God, with all the power and glory and whatever, Jesus had it. He could do anything, anywhere, anytime. Without exercising sinful imaginings, there is no way to appreciate what Jesus had or what He gave up. But He did not count that possession too great or too precious or too important to be set aside. He did not hold His own glory and power and prerogatives as more significant or desirable than our salvation. He counted redeeming us as more important than the enjoyment of His own participation is the glories of the Trinity for a time.

Jesus didn't give up being God, or all of the powers and glory of God forever. He set them aside for a time. He laid aside His power and took on human frailty. He laid aside His knowledge and became an infant in the womb. He laid aside His glory and became not merely human, but a helpless child, in an insignificant family, in a backward region of a poor nation under military occupation, at a time we would consider primitive. That is what Paul means when he says that Jesus "emptied Himself." That is humility, humbling Himself beyond all reason and setting aside His own comfort, glory and prerogatives for the well-being and salvation of His enemies – us – sinful man. He set aside what He deserved for us and counted nothing as "too much" to give in order to accomplish His purpose which is our redemption from sin and death and hell.

That is the attitude that we are challenged to imitate and emulate and make our own. If you want to think like Jesus – and believe me, if you are a Christian YOU DO – then this is what you should imitate, humility. Nothing should be too much to lose for the sake of Christ, or for the sake of His Gospel, or for the sake of His people. No indignity should be more than you can bear. No insult should be too much to take. No embarrassment should be enough to stop you, and no loss, even to the point of your life, should be beyond what you are willing to give.

That was the "mind of Christ" – humility which permitted Him to become one of us, and to die so violently and shamefully for us. We are to partake of that humility too. We are to humble ourselves in our own minds so that our interests and our comfort can take second place to the welfare and spiritual health of others! This is not about allowing someone to make you do something, it is about doing it yourself, because it is right, setting others and their needs first before our comforts, our preferences, our personal pride, and even our own needs simply because it is the will of God that we do so.

Of course, that means that we have to avoid the silly talk that often happens in American churches about "rights". Jesus set aside not only what He had a right to, but what He flat out deserved, and what was already His. He didn't simply forego a potential something, He set aside what He already possessed, and He counted equality with God as something He could and would relinquish to accomplish His purpose of salvation for you, and for you, and for me. So, with the mind of Christ, you don't have the right to decide. You must seek out and learn and follow His decision. You don't have the right to do what you want to – politically, as an American, of course you do – but not as a Christian and as a member of the Church and as a slave of God in Jesus Christ. At the door of the house of God, talk about rights, what we deserve, and how we can do what we want to do, must stop, and humility must rule. The Church is not a democracy – it is a monarchy, and Jesus Christ is the King.

Is this Law? Yes, but not in the sense that you must do it or you cannot be saved. This is properly the response of the heart of the one captivated by the truth of the Gospel. This is what happens when you have been saved, and you believe the goodness of God, and you understand for yourself what Jesus did to redeem and save you. This is the fruit of faith. This is how we are encouraged to respond to the knowledge of Christ and His humility on our behalf.

Tacitus, a Roman writer and philosopher, who hated Christians and strongly encouraged their persecution, wrote in abject wonder in the second century of the Christian Church, "See how those Christians love one another." How long has it been since anyone, friend or foe, said something like that about us? But that kind of care for one another is what the humility of Christ is all about. When you look at the task, it seems too big. Who could care for others like that? How could you take care of yourself and do this? Doing this would consume all of our time and energy and our resources! We would be left with nothing!

And the answer of God would be - "Precisely!" The mind of Christ is the attitude of humility marked by love. He loved us so much that He endured the loss of all things. He was willing to even set aside the glory of being God to take on our human flesh and blood and human nature. He loved us so much that He was willing to endure the assault of human sinfulness while He lived a perfect and sinless life. His love was so deep that He was willing to take our sin on Himself and endure the wrath of God against us, so that we will never need to. The passion and the cross were truly terrible, and the wrath of God which caused Him to abandon His only-begotten Son to bleed and die on the cross alone is beyond our comprehension, and the humility of Jesus Christ led Him to do all of that so that we might be forgiven, justified, and brought into the love of God by grace, and adopted into His family as not merely slaves, but as brothers! His resurrection and eternal life are also ours. It is won for all men, and poured out on all and possessed by those that trust God and believe His Word and love. "He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved!

Jesus did not just give up glory and power. He gave up His life. [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He became one of us. He took on the form and nature of those He had created to be His servants - His slaves. He became everything you are, except for sin. He carried the aches and pains. He carried the troubles of life. He carried emotions and joys and griefs. He endured not being able to have it His way at every moment, of having others decide for Him. He was a normal guy, except that He was also God, enduring this normalcy and humbling Himself to submerge His power and glory in this human nature.

And then, our text tells us, He humbled Himself even to death. He did not deserve to die. He had not sinned and earned death. He deserved life. He nevertheless allowed men to take Him captive – when He could have disabled them with a thought or wiped their existence away with a word. He allowed them to mock Him where He deserved praise and glory, and to beat and torture Him where He deserved worship and adoration. He even prayed for those who tortured and abused Him, that God would not hold this sin against them.

Then He died. They did not kill Him. He set His life aside by His own power and died at just the right moment by an act of His will. Still, He humbled Himself to permit them to drive nails through His hands and feet and hang Him on a cross – an instrument of monstrous torture and death – and thereby took upon Himself a curse He had spoken Himself in Deuteronomy 21:23 – "he who is hanged is accursed of God" or, as the curse is paraphrased by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3:13, "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree."

He humbled Himself for you to the point of becoming the curse for us, and taking the curse of God against the one who would die on a tree on Himself and died deliberately in our place. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. That is how far He humbled Himself - and because of it your sins have been forgiven, you have been given eternal life, and you will rise from your grave on that great day to sing in His true triumphal parade on that grand and glorious Palm Sunday of eternity!

And seeing that, Paul encourages us to have the same attitude – to have the Mind of Christ. Paul is inspired to add an inducement to the picture by reminding us of the reward for Jesus, for His humility and obedience to the will and plan of the Father; Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

His glory was increased, and His joy, by enduring the things God set before Him on the path of the will of God. And what is the will of God?  Our Salvation.

Just as it was for Jesus, it will be for us as well. We will not lose by imitating His humility. It is true, you may well be left with nothing, but that would be nothing of this world, not nothing at all – and you will be leaving behind everything of this world one day soon, anyhow. Imitating the attitude of Jesus receives the same good pleasure of God. The blessings are not the same, of course, just as the tasks we will perform are not the same. But God will also reward our true humility with a true glory of our own and bless us each with life eternal — and that in glory beyond our comprehension. Whatever we may have is what God has given us to use in His service. The truth is that He may not require every blessing and every treasure be given up and poured out for Him upon our neighbor. But even if He did, it would be well worth it. Jesus said so, in Matthew 19, and in Mark 10, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life."

We will not lose treasures, we will not lose joys, we will not lose our lives, but gain them, and far more. Any loss we may suffer now is but for a time, and the reward and the joys will be forever. God has promised to return and repay all of our losses. We will not lose a thing, only, perhaps, delay the enjoyment for a time. And it is all so that God may work through us just as He did through Jesus – that His will might be fully accomplished for us and those to whom God would have us bring the good news.

But this attitude is not something you or I can simply do on our own. I am not telling you to grit your teeth and work it up in yourself and do the unpleasant. I am encouraging you to live in the light of the truth of the Gospel. God loves you, and He will provide. He knows everything you need, and everything you do. And to strengthen us and encourage us and enable us to possess the mind of Christ, He has left us this meal. Here we receive the very body and the true blood of our Lord Jesus. We eat and drink here, and we are cleansed and forgiven and strengthened and renewed so that we might walk before Him as faithful children and diligent servants. Here, in this Holy Supper, is the will and the ability to think like Jesus. The power and the humility are here too. Here God would feed us with this precious and life-giving food and strengthen our faith, and increase our love, and enable us to do His will from the heart.

So, come, eat and drink and be strengthened and cleansed and prepared. Let God feed your souls as He does your bodies, and make you able to change your mind, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that you will be able to think like Jesus. You cannot outrun God's goodness or out-give His generosity or overestimate the care and concern which God has for you. What God is saying through Paul, and through me, this morning, is to walk in the light of the love of God, and live true Humility. Trust God to be your supply, and take care of one another. Live as though God has given you everything you need, and He has placed you here to love and take care of one another, and to share His love with those who have not yet believed. Then you will also find true Glory, for the glory of God is that He did all that He accomplished in Jesus Christ - for sinners - for you and for me. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

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

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Passions of the Passion: Betrayal

 Mark 14:43-49

And immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him, and lead Him away under guard." And after coming, he immediately went to Him, saying, "Rabbi!" and kissed Him. And they laid hands on Him, and seized Him. But a certain one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as against a robber? "Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled."

Sermon for Lenten Wednesday 6                                                     4/06/22

The Passions of the Passion
Betrayal: Judas in the Garden

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have to tell you the truth.  We have already looked at the beauty of the Passion.  It was the topic on Ash Wednesday, the love of Jesus Christ for us.  In the words of the old saying, "that's all there is, there ain't no more."  Everything else about the passion is ugly.  The fear was huge and ugly.  The anger and hatred, which was so undeserved, was ugly.  The humiliation before Herod was so unjust and ugly.  The abandonment by all those who were so close to Him was painful and ugly.  And tonight is uglier yet.

Tonight, our passion of the Passion is the betrayal which Jesus experienced at the hands of one of the twelve He chose.  The act was not a passion but a deed.  But the sense of betrayal and the horror of it had to be painful and hideous.  It was doubly painful for Jesus, for He was betrayed by one of the closest and most trusted of His disciples, and He knew what it meant and would mean for all eternity for Judas.  Let us pause briefly on our passage to Good Friday this last Wednesday mid-week service, and examine the betrayal of our Lord as a passion of the Passion.

The betrayal did not come to Jesus as a complete surprise.  There was no prophecy about a betrayal, explicitly, but Jesus knew it was coming.  He had announced it at the last supper.  Modern musicals and plays and such try to paint Judas in a sympathetic way.  Judas is pictured as trying to protect Jesus, or as misguided but good.  Those are fiction.  Judas had been stealing from the group treasury for his own gain for some time, and when he betrayed Jesus, he was selling out his friend and teacher for the money.

Jesus undoubtedly knew these facts.  Knowing probably did not make it any easier to deal with.  When Jesus sent Judas off with the cryptic instructions to do what he must do quickly, He did not want it done, but He knew that it would be, and that it must be done if He was to complete the passion for our salvation.  All the Scriptures could have taught Jesus about this was the price that would be paid, Zechariah tells us that, and that the money would profit Judas nothing.  But Judas had been an early follower, and at one time so trusted that they made him treasurer for the group.

Jesus had invested those three years in Judas too.  He had loved Him and taught Him, and chosen him too. To be clear,  Judas was not fated to be the traitor.  He chose that for himself.  Jesus pointed out that the offense had to come, someone was going to betray Him.  But Jesus did not elect Judas.  Judas elected Judas to the awful task.  Jesus was sorrowful about it.  Jesus said that it would have been better for that man if he had not been born.  The fact that one of His twelve was to turn against Him tore at Him.

Judas was not concerned about Jesus.  That concern did not arise until it was far too late - something typical for us all in our sins.  We often sin without a concern for the consequences to anyone else - sometimes without concern even for consequences to ourselves.  Then, when the deed is done, and it is time, as they say, "to pay the fiddler," then we discover concern for the damage we have caused.  Even after he witnessed the awful effects of his sin, Judas was more concerned with himself, crying out not that He had betrayed a beloved teacher, nor pleading for Jesus, but simply horrified for himself that he had betrayed innocent blood.

Judas proved that he had never really learned much from Jesus either.  Judas did not repent.  Instead, he despaired.  He had not learned that God is loving and forgiving.  He had not understood what Jesus was all about or what Jesus had come to do.  He is the perfect illustration of the truth that just because someone attends church regularly, and seems to be one of us, does not mean that they know, or believe, what this is all about.  Not every "church member" is a true member of the True Church - that is, a believer.   Judas certainly had no concept of who Jesus really was, or Judas would not have had the temerity to betray the Son of God into the hands of those who hated Him.  Poor Judas had been with Jesus the whole time and had not yet figured out what was going on.  Nor would he.  He committed suicide rather than confess, repent, and be forgiven.

And there can be no doubt that Judas would have been forgiven.  It is not a simple coincidence that the greatest hero among the disciples and the traitor were both guilty of turning away from the Lord.  One of them repented and saw the risen Lord and was forgiven.  The other despaired and took matters into his own hands and died.  The contrast cannot be more striking.

Jesus' comment about how it would have been better for the one who would betray Him to never have been born tells us of the other pain of betrayal.  Jesus had come to rescue mankind from sin.  He was about to suffer the unimaginable.  He did it all so that none might perish, but all who would not reject His grace, but who would believe, might have forgiveness and life everlasting.  But here was one of His own, one of the twelve.  This one, near and dear to the Lord, was about to betray Christ, and despair of his sin, and die without forgiveness and go to hell.  And there was nothing that Jesus could do about it.

What pain and sorrow must have filled Jesus at the thought that Judas was going to die.  We might be tempted to think that Judas deserved it, but then, don't we also deserve what Judas got?  Haven't we all sinned?  It is true, we haven't sinned the sin of Judas – but knowing the price paid and believing the Gospel, we have gone on to deliberate sins at times, acting as though Christ had not suffered for us to buy us out of sin.  Yes, Judas had it coming, but so do we.

But Jesus had spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament saying, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that all should repent and live!  He came to redeem us - and even Judas - but He also had to know that Judas would not taste the goodness of God but would die, none the less.  What a betrayal!  Judas did what had to be done.  He chose to do it, selling Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver, and then he threw the money away, and denied the goodness of his Lord and threw the greater thing, his own life, away as well.  How awful, how painful, how frustrating and horrible to bear this must have been for Jesus!  Even before He suffered all He would have to suffer, He lost this one, one of the twelve.

But Judas could have repented and been forgiven.  That truth stands before us as a comfort and a challenge.  We cannot view this passion of the passion without hearing the call to repent and to believe.  We do not need to follow Judas into despair and death.  We know that Jesus lives and that He forgives us when we repent of our sins and trust in His promise to forgive us.  Lent is a penitential season.  We take this time to consider our sins and our Savior, and repent.  The sorry tale of Judas should urge us toward that faithful Lenten observance, that we might celebrate the joy of Easter all the more fully and sweetly.

This passion of the Passion was a dirty and ugly thing.  It was not necessarily a major player in the agonies of Christ, but like the sense of abandonment last week, served to make every aspect of the pains of our Savior truly painful and awful agony - the cup of suffering filled right to the brim for us.  It was suffering we earned, but Jesus bore in His body, and His mind, and His soul on the cross.  Let us take this moment – take all the time you need – to full appreciate the passions of the passion.  Then, let us repent of our sins, and believe the Gospel which Jesus purchased with His great Passion!  Your sins are forgiven!

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

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Cleansed from Dead Works

 Hebrews 9:11-15

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Sermon for Judica Sunday                                                              04/03/22

Cleansed from Dead Works

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We have all heard the slogan in laundry commercials – a deeper clean.  I am not sure what it means, in terms of laundry.  Either something is clean or it is not.  I learned that from my mom.  I would clean it, and it would look good to me, but my mother would say it was still dirty, and I would need to clean it again.  Just about the time I figured out my mother's standards, I married a wife, and she made my mom look positively unhygienic.   One more time, I learned that either it was clean – or it wasn't.

Our text actually speaks the same way.  It talks about cleansed, and then it talks about more cleansed – but the reality is still that clean is clean – the comparative language is used for effect and instruction.  So, who am I to argue with God's own words?  Our theme this morning is "Cleansed from Dead Works."

The lesson is aimed at those who were raised and schooled in ancient Judaism.  It speaks to those who witnessed and understood the sacrificial system of Israel, and who had been to the temple.  They are the ones who would understand the High Priest talk and the sacrificial system and its meaning.  If we want to appreciate what Hebrews is saying here, we have to be able to make the same sorts of connections in our minds that they would have made.

The comparison here is between the heavenly and the earthly.  Hebrews says that Christ entered as High Priest into the greater and more perfect tabernacle, one not of this creation.  He entered into the heavenly tabernacle.  Every Jew knew that the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon were merely earthly representations, copies if you will, of the heavenly tabernacle.  Each element and the size were representative of the reality of the temple in heaven.  Is that temple a physical place, like the one on earth?  Don't know.  But the earthly reality reflects and represents the heavenly reality – and the heavenly is more real and substantial that the earthly whether it is a building or the reality of the glory and worship of God.

Jesus entered into this heavenly tabernacle, the heavenly holy of holies – the very presence of the Father – having made atonement for our sins.  The entire life of Jesus from His conception in the Virgin Mary on and His suffering and death and burial are all part of that atoning sacrifice.  The cross was the altar of sacrifice.  It was the blood of the Son of God, shed for us, that gave meaning to the animal sacrifices throughout the ages.  It was the Lamb of God that made the Passover Lamb significant – that caused God to choose the lamb for that sacrifice, and for the sacrifice of Yom Kippur – the day of atonement each year in the Jewish calendar.

It didn't work the other way around.  The Jewish sacrificial system did not give meaning and substance to what Jesus was doing – He was the meaning and substance of the Jewish sacrificial system.  He was the meaning of every holiday and every offering and every Sabbath.  Those customs and those celebrations and those sacrifices were all teaching tools to prepare the minds of the Jews – and our minds – to understand the reality of Jesus and the cross and what it all means.

Jesus entered the presence of God with the blood of the sacrifice, just as every high priest had done since Aaron.  But he did not enter with the covering of the blood of sacrificial goats and calves.  He entered with the covering of His own blood – the very life-blood of the Son of God.

Hebrews makes the logical, theological case.  If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled worked for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the very Son of God be effective for cleansing?  Of course, to follow this argument, you have to be aware of the sacrificial system and how the blood of these various animals was used.  You have to go back in Exodus to the establishment of the covenant and how it was sealed.  The people were sanctified and the original covenant was ratified through the blood of goats and bulls – and the blood of a heifer was sprinkled on the tabernacle and the ashes were kept for purification from sin in the divinely ordained processes of the original tabernacle.

If a mere animal could make such a difference, then how much more of a difference does the blood of the very Son of God make?  That's the marvel of it!  If the blood of a goat or the ashes of a heifer could cleanse anyone, and sanctify one to approach the altar of God or the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, what kind of power must the blood of Jesus Christ have?  How deeply must that blood cleanse?  How blessed and full of glory it would be to be sprinkled with the precious blood!

And you have been sprinkled!  Of course, the blood of the animals got their power to cleanse from this life giving flood of the blood of Jesus.   It was looking forward to Jesus and the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God that gave the power to cleanse to the Old Testament sacrifices.  It was trusting in the promise of God to work out this salvation through Jesus that imparted such cleansing power.

How much more now?  How much deeper a cleansing.  This is not simply the cleansing of the flesh, as was the Old Testament cleansing.  This cleansing goes right through to the spirit!  This cleansing is a deeper clean.  It cleanses us right to the spirit to cleanse your conscience from dead works so that you may and you will serve the living God!  Ancient Israel constantly failed and waffled and turned away from the Law of God.  It did not matter if we were speaking of the Law for the individual in the living of their daily life, or the Law of the Temple.  Israel kept wandering.  The people turned to idols stupidly and unfaithfully.  The Temple priest abandoned the ancient practices time and time again – and finally even installed altars to other deities and the worship of false gods in the very temple of the Lord.  They were not cleansed from works and enabled to serve God.

Their apostasy was a lesson to us.  We have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ for a deeper clean.  Your sins have been forgiven.  The Law of God has been taken out of the way, between you and God, and no longer figures into the calculation of your salvation.  Only Jesus and His life and His death are a factor.  You have been set free from dead works – doing things just to look religious, or doing things to earn you way to heaven.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.  Heaven is a gift which is poured out for all and received through faith.  And you, who believe, have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, strengthening you and guiding you and giving you the power and desire and ability to serve God.

This doesn't mean that what you do doesn't matter – it means that what you do doesn't earn salvation.  But if you are God's and you have been sprinkled with the blood of the very Son of God, and you have been cleansed clear through to the conscience – then what you do matters a great deal, and your works serve God.  What you do, then, is vitally important.

Our text calls this new reality of forgiveness and life, set free from the Law, a new covenant – or, as it is better translated, a new testament.  The death of Jesus Christ has changed the rules, so to speak.  Once, faithfulness to God and trust in Him was indicated and revealed and measured by faithfulness and obedience to the Law.  He who trusted God did what the Law said, trusting that it was best, and that God would bless their faithfulness.  They brought their best to the sacrifice, trusting God to make the rest enough and more.  They brought the tithe, trusting that God would make the other 90% sufficient and even abundant, just as God had promised.  Faithfulness meant obedience and was measured by obedience.

In this new testament, because of Jesus, faithfulness means faith and trust, and is measured by faith.  That means that we cannot see the faithfulness of others – only what they do.  Hopefully, what they do is good and decent, but it not the measure of faithfulness or salvation.  We don't earn salvation by what we do. It has been earned for us, and given to us, and we have received it through the faith we have, as through a pipe.  Jesus did all of the work, and He mediates this salvation to us by grace through faith.  That means He chooses us for His own good reasons, and makes us His own by the power of His Word preached – we call that whole thing "grace" – and having made us His own, He pours into us forgiveness, life, and salvation though the faith He has created in us.

So where do we come in?  Where does our "stuff" – our works – come in?  It comes in at the point of serving God.  We live a witness.  We support His work, His church, His pastors.  We do missions, not as though God cannot do it without us, because He can and does.  We do it to serve Him and please Him as loving children often do things to please their parents, just because they love Him.  We give and serve and love with abandon, because Jesus had already done what we needed done, and given us all that we need so that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

So we serve Christ, having received the deeper clean of the Gospel.  So, step up and serve.  Give freely, do what you do from a willing and free spirit.  There is no law, but the law of love.  Only love and the Holy Spirit should compel you to come, to go, to give of your time or talents or treasures.  Freely you received, Jesus said in Matthew 10, freely give.  You have been cleansed cleansed from dead works, that you may serve the living God.

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