Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Name of Our Salvation

 Isaiah 9:6

For a Child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Sermon for Christmas            12/25/22

The Name of Our Salvation

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

What s in a name?  Shakespeare asked that question once.  Many times today, an individual's name is just an accident of circumstance.  That is not th
e case in Scriptures most of the time.  Names were given to say something, to express a hope or confess something.  This is true particularly in the names of God or of His Messiah.  Those names reveal something about God, about the Messiah.  Whenever God gives a name, it is intended to communicate some aspect of the truth about the one named.  Think of "Adam".  It means "man" and it means "dirt" - from which he was formed.  Or Israel - He who wrestles with God.  Or Abraham, the Father of a Multitude.  Or Peter, the Rock.  That is why the names God has given to His Son are so important, because they tell us about Him.  Our text is a list of names which form one name for the One who was coming.  In these name are the entire story of the gospel.  Let us consider, then, The Name of Our Salvation.

We know the details of the Christmas story.  We have heard them read time and time again over the years - including this year.  I don t need to repeat them in detail this morning in the sermon.  We all know what day this is.  It isn't just your run-of-the-mill Sunday morning - although it really is, since every Sunday is the celebration of Christmas and Easter and of all of truths of the Gospel.   Our focus today is to celebrate one of the most sublime mysteries of our faith, that God became one of us.  The Creator and Ruler of all that is, was born a helpless infant that night in Bethlehem, so long ago.  He endured it all for our salvation.  Unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, the angel said to those shepherds who stood in our place to hear that glorious news for the first time, a Savior which is Christ the Lord.

There are a number of ways to tell the story of our salvation.  One of the ways God told it was in the names He used, and the names He said His Messiah would be called, as He spoke through His Prophets of old.  The names of Our Lord tell us about the gift of God and about our salvation.  Even the name Jesus means "Savior" or, literally "Jahweh Saves" — for He shall save His people from their sins.  The name "Christ", really a title and not a proper name, means "the Anointed One."  The title means that this one was chosen to be the One, the King, the One selected for the special mission – the Messiah of the Old Testament prophecies who would come to rescue and save.

But these ancient names of Jesus, announced here by the prophet Isaiah, tell us what Jesus would be all about.  They speak of His nature and His will and His work.  For example, His name will be called Wonderful Counselor.  The King James Version divided these two words into separate names.  It makes no difference.  He is wonderful.  What He came to do is wonderful.  As the Psalmist says, This is the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes!  Jesus quotes this verse of Psalm 118 Himself, declaring that it describes Him and His ministry.

But it is not really important for our purposes this morning whether we connect or disconnect these two words.  Jesus is Wonderful, and He is Counselor, and He is a Wonderful Counselor.  The Old Testament office of Counselor was the office of a wise and insightful man.  It wasn't his job to listen and allow you to work through your problems on your own, as so many non-directive counselors do today.  He was to direct and give guidance with great wisdom.  He might have special gifts of knowledge, but He was always able to give wise and Godly advice.  He always knew what we should do.

Jesus is our Counselor.  He shows us the way to go and leads us in that everlasting way, spoke of in Psalm 139.  Everything He has done, and all that He has commanded is both good and godly, and it works to accomplish our salvation.  Who would have ever conceived of God becoming one of us to purchase us back from our own sin, and to pay on our behalf the penalty of our own evil?  Most pious, religious thinkers have declared what God has done impossible, but there it was, in a manger – in Bethlehem – those long years ago.  What sublime wisdom.

His name shall be called  .  .  .  Mighty God.  That baby in the manger is no average child.  He is the God of all creation – who rules the world and all it contains by His almighty power.  What a marvelous thought!  The One who caused the tremendous reactions in the stars, causing them to shine so brightly through such long ages is the One whose birth as a helpless infant we celebrate this morning.  He who makes the chemical reactions happen which give life and health to your bodies every moment was Himself helpless, and needed to be fed and changed and loved, just as each of us needed when we were babies.  "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High."

His name shall be called  .  .  .  Eternal Father.  God added this name to the list to keep anyone from being confused.  The God which the Old Testament peoples knew as God – Jehovah, Yahweh Sabaoth, that is, the Lord of Mighty Armies – is the God who has become flesh among us.  It was that specific assertion which got Jesus into so much trouble in His ministry.  He would use the divine name, "I Am," and the people would come unhinged.  Jesus would say, "Before Abraham was, I Am," and the crowd would cry "Blasphemy!" and try to stone Him.  He would call Himself the Son of God or the promised One and they would rush at Him to push Him off a cliff.

They should have known.  This prophecy told them that when the Messiah came, He would be very God of very God.  The prophecy told them that when their Savior came, He would be the One whom they had known as the Lord throughout their history.  But they did not remember, they did not pay attention, and they did not believe.

The Apostle Paul did.  He reminds us in 1 Corinthians; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea: and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.  The God who followed them – and led them through the Exodus was the One found in the manger that night, because there was no room in the inn.

His name shall be called  .  .  .  the Prince of Peace.  And Scripture says that He is our peace.  He established peace with God by answering the guilt of our sins.  

He answered our guilt on the cross.  That tortured death is what we deserve by our sinning.   He bore the wrath of God in our place because we could not do so and live, and because of His great love for us.  We can never approach the manger of Bethlehem without remembering that it was but a step on the road to the cross on Golgotha.

Jesus Christ placed Himself in our harm's way so that He could rescue us from all that our sins have deserved.  Because of Him the will of God toward us is good and blessing and salvation.  Through His work we have peace with God instead of anger and terror and judgment.  Now we can call on God and He will hear us and bless us.  Now we can contemplate our God with joy and contentment and peace, and all because of the One who was worshiped by shepherds and serenaded by angels.

We have peace with God, and with one another.  What can we do but forgive one another, now that so great a debt of sin has been forgiven us?  Of course, some choose another path, but by doing so, they choose to turn their back of the Prince of Peace. Jesus erased the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, between one race and another.  He died for all.  All are welcome to His Father.  He intercedes for us all.  God is no respecter of persons.  There is no partiality with God.  If we are His children, we cannot afford to permit ourselves to cling to that partiality which God Himself has done away with.

Whatever the name we may use to speak of Jesus, it is the name of salvation.  "Jesus" speaks of salvation.  The wonders we sing about this morning are but the beginning of the miracles and wonders which God worked for us and for our salvation.  

We can also sing of the precious gift of the Sacrament, which we will receive again this morning.  What a Christmas present!  It is the very body which Christ offered up for us on the cross and the very precious blood which He shed for our sins.  He presents it to us as we partake of the Sacrament of the Altar, in and with and under the form of the bread and wine.  He gives us each and every time what most men continue to say is impossible, His true body and blood.  By eating and drinking the holy meal He provides, we are forgiven, and we are strengthened, and we are filled once again with His presence and His blessings of forgiveness and peace, life and salvation — for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation!

Let us therefore celebrate Christmas.  Open the gift and discover the Christ Child, His mission complete and your salvation accomplished.  Our theme on this Christmas Sunday Morning is "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."  His name is the Name of Our Salvation –  for as Peter preached so long ago, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."

A merry and 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)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

He Will Arise and Shepherd His Flock

 Micah 5:2-5a

    "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.  His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." Therefore, He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child.  Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel.  And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.  And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.  And this One will be our peace."

Advent 4                    December 21, 2022

He Will Arise and Shepherd His Flock

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The run-up to Christmas is so often about gifts and parties, family and fun, the gleam in a child s eye as they anticipate the stocking filled with candies and try to guess what is in those presents under the tree -- and the excitement of the season.  Television shouts the excitement, and we all remember the excitement of our Christmases past.  But today I don t want to focus on the excitement, but on something better.  I want to focus on the promised peace of Christmas.  That focus was suggested to me by the last words of our text, And this One will be our peace.

Throughout Advent this year we talked about the Shepherds of Israel.  Israel really only has one true Shepherd, as you know.  The rest of us, faithful or unfaithful, are merely underlings, sub-shepherds.  In the church today, we know Him by name.  The name of our Shepherd is Jesus Christ.  He announced who He was in John 10, the Good Shepherd chapter.  When He did that, He was not reaching for a warm and fuzzy image, He was making clear to those who would listen that He was the One who fulfilled the prophecy of our text, particularly the words of verse four, which form the title of this sermon, And He will arise and shepherd His flock.

We know of this prophecy almost as if by accident.  Most people don't know where to find it.  The Scribes and the Priests did not name the prophet in Matthew's account, where they dug the information up for Herod so he could share it with the Magi, the Wise Men from the East.  It was almost an incidental piece of travel information in the story.  But this is the prophecy which was chosen long ago as the Christmas Old Testament Lesson.  It was probably chosen because it named Bethlehem as the place where the Child was to be found, but there is so much more here.

Micah was roughly contemporaneous with Isaiah.  He, too, prophesied against the idolatry and wickedness of Israel.  He also foretold the coming destruction of Judah and Israel.  He named the Assyrians as the peoples who would come and lay waste to the holy city.  And like Isaiah, he spoke of the salvation of God which would preserve His people, and of the Messiah who would come.

In the second verse of our text, Micah says that God will give up His people for a time.  That time is what we call the Babylonian Captivity.  Micah sees that time as lasting right up until she who is in labor has borne a child.  That woman was to be Mary, and the child was the One to born in Bethlehem, by Micah s account, a no-account little town, but still the place where One would be born to go forth for God and be a ruler over His people and the Shepherd of His flock.

We know that Micah meant Jesus, because he speaks of the one to be born as one whose goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity – and because of Matthew's account, of course.  In the prophetic vision, the captivity of Israel would last until the coming of the Messiah, and immediately He would bring peace and unity to God's people.  Historically, the captivity in Babylon ended five hundred years before the birth of this One, and that eternal unity was begun with His birth – but is not complete in any outward sense even now.  But note, too, that the work of God, begun in the Babylonian Captivity, did not really come to it's goal and purpose until the birth of Christ.

That work of eternal unity and peace is begun, however, as Jesus has knit all believers into that mystical body of which He is the ever-living Head.   We are all one people, one family in Christ, adopted, as Ephesians two says, into the household of God.  He has begun and still performs what Micah prophesied of Him -- He has arisen, even from the dead, and Shepherds His flock in the strength of the Lord.  He guides and guards and keeps us.  He does it through the Word of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual nourishment of the Holy Sacrament.

The part of the prophesy that caught my eye is the part about how they shall remain.  Christ's work and Christ's people are a lasting work and an eternal people.  We shall remain.  This little Babe whose birth we will soon celebrate is the One who gives us eternal life and salvation.

Think about it.  We do not celebrate Christmas for the sake of the Baby, really.  We might get lost now and then in the tinsel and the hoopla, but we don t celebrate for the toys, or the football games, or the big dinner.  We don t really even celebrate for the joy of having our families together again, in fact, families are quickly becoming the reason why so many do not gather with us to celebrate.  We celebrate because Jesus is the reason we shall remain.

Death cannot take us.  Illness can only discomfort us for a short while.  The sweeping tide of human opinion cannot brush Him or us aside, although they will never acknowledge us as the center and the reason God has for continuing His blessing on this benighted globe.  We shall live forever with Him because of this One born in Bethlehem.

This is our peace.  We shall not die, but when the sleep we call death comes to our bodies we shall be with the Lord, and ultimately even these bodies shall rise to new life, repaired and outfitted for eternity.  The aches and the pains shall be gone.  At their very worst, they are temporary, in Jesus Christ.  Then comes glory where fear and sickness and death cannot enter and cannot spoil.

All the precious promises and blessings that we spoke of in the Twenty-third Psalm are wrapped up in Jesus.  The green pastures, the still waters, the restoration and refreshment which we sense only dimly in this life through the Word and Sacraments will be ours in fullest measure in Jesus Christ.

And we shall be reunited with those whom we love who have also loved Jesus.  We shall see them and know their presence and delight in their company as we live together in the full glory of the Lord.  The harsh sorrow of the bitter passing and parting will be forgotten in the bright joy of reunion.  And that reunion will be all the more sweet as we taste the fullness of the promises which we now can only see by faith.  There will be no taint of sin.  There will be no blurring of tears and sorrow.  There will be no pain of any sort, and no more threat of death.  It will be warm and wonderful and filled with peace.

Because of the Babe of Bethlehem.  It will not be the manger – or the Wise Men – or the friendly beasts which capture our attention, but Jesus Christ who suffered that we might inherit peace, and died that we might have everlasting life.  This One shall be our peace!

We shall be wrapped in the love of God as in an old, familiar, favorite quilt, kept warm and secure and knowing all the while that nothing can harm us, that there is no enemy, no lurking danger to rob the moment of its peace and joy.  Our text says, Because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.

He will finally be the fully known and fully experienced reality of our existence.  We will not face Him trembling and ashamed, for our sins will have been wiped away.  We will do and desire no evil thing.  We shall know God as Adam and Eve knew God, with joy and pleasure in the knowing, and nothing to interrupt or spoil our fellowship with Him.  He will be all things to all people and all who are in His presence will rejoice, in that day.

Meanwhile, He shepherds us today.  He bids us remember His birth -- one of the greatest moments in history, when God stooped down and took on human nature and flesh and blood to save us.  As thrilling as that is, it is the peace of the Good Shepherd which should mark our celebration.  Are we sorrowing?  He shall wipe every tear away from our eyes.  Are we sick?  He shall heal all our weaknesses and illnesses and banish them away from us forever.  Do fear what the future may hold?  He shall end all fears and give us to live in the power of His glory.  St. John wrote by God s inspiration that perfect love casts out fear.  We shall know perfect love, His love.

He shall arise and Shepherd His flock.  Here He tends us with His Word, feeds us with His own body and blood, and gives us one another to hold onto and to encourage one another and love one another.  In the power of His Spirit, let Him lead you into His peace, as we ponder the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation.  It is not something unknown and mysterious, but something so wonderful that we could not have imagined it ourselves, but God did, and He has revealed it to us!

We prepare our hearts to truly celebrate Christmas this year, wrapped in the love and peace of our heavenly Father -- who gives us His peace in and through Jesus Christ, the little Baby in the manger in Bethlehem, and who Shepherds us tenderly and faithfully.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Prophet Like Moses

 Deuteronomy 18:15-19

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.  This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'  And the LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well.  I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.'"

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent                                             12/18/22

The Prophet Like Moses

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent.  The Gospel for the day is the Questioning of John the Baptist by the Pharisees.  Jesus tells the crowd that John was the promised forerunner of the Messiah.  The Old Testament lesson is the promise of God through Moses to send another prophet just like Moses – the promise of the Messiah. This morning our text is the Old Testament lesson – and our theme is that which God promised to send, the Prophet like Moses.

Our text is part of the farewell sermon of Moses.  He is reminding the children of Israel of the covenant which Israel made with God.  This farewell address includes the Law which came with the covenant, and the history of the people on the Exodus.  The context of the promise of that Prophet like Moses was the first time the children of Israel faced Mount Sinai.  They heard the rumblings on the mountain and the sound of a trumpet that no man was playing – a loud trumpet, playing the call and salute to the King of Kings!  They saw the fire burning at the peak – Exodus tells us that smoke went up from the entire top of the mountain like a furnace.  The people faced the clouds and the flashes of lightning and they felt the shaking of the mountain and they heard the violent thunder.  It must have been awesome because the people were terrified.  

They cried out in fear, pleading that they would not have to hear the voice of God; "‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'" When they had the opportunity to experience what most people think they would love to experience – to see God and hear God directly – they recoiled in terror and pleaded that God would speak through His chosen messenger instead.  And God agreed.  In fact, it appears that it was the plan of God to teach His people that they could not bear to face God directly, and teach them to listen to those He sent to proclaim His Word.  It is a lesson He is still trying to teach His people.

Then God made a promise to them.  The promise He made was one of the greatest promises of all times – He promised to send to them a prophet like Moses.  What is so special about that?

Moses is the prophet unlike any other.  He is the only prophet to whom God spoke, in the words of Scripture, as a man speaks to His friend, face to face.  When God spoke to Moses, Moses could see God – or what God wanted Him to see.  Moses spoke and God answered – and God spoke and Moses answered.  He had everything straight.  He could ask questions, and hear the answers.  The revelation of God through Moses was different by degree, quality, and clarity from all other prophets before or since.
So, the promise to send another prophet who would talk with God like Moses did, and reveal God and His will with that clarity and power was a promise of something totally unique – and it became clear just how unique it was as the centuries rolled and prophet after prophet failed to be "just like Moses."  If it wasn't clear at the outset, it became clear over time that the promised prophet was going to be the Messiah.

Jesus is the One who is the prophet like Moses.  Part of the message of Advent season is to celebrate that truth!  Jesus spoke the Word of God, unlike anyone else, even Moses.  Of His own teachings Jesus said, "the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me."  His teachings were not His own, but from God.  "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.  

Everything Jesus said, and everything He did, was from God and part of the plan and purpose of God.  Just as in the days of the Exodus, God has taken charge of His people and is leading them.  He doesn't leave us to twist in the wind, or simply follow the indistinct musings of a prophet.  He has taken charge, to lead us and guide us.  Every word of this Prophet is direct and clearly from God.  He can answer our questions.  He can meet our every need.

You might say to yourself, well, Jesus is gone and in heaven – He is not here, leading, today.  That is the answer of the flesh, but not the answer of faith.  Faith sees Christ leading His Church through the Word, and preaching today through the lips of His faithful preachers.  It is still happening even today.

But, you might say, preachers disagree with one another.  How can we tell which one is telling us the truth and which is deceiving us?  Again, faith answers, Jesus is leading His Church through His Word.  You are to listen to the teachers, and compare what they teach to the Word of God.  It isn't that difficult to tell, if you compare the words of the preachers – their teachings – to the Word of God.

In my experience, you have those who teach contrary to the Word of God doing a lot of interpreting – changing the sense of the text.  "Jesus didn't mean it when He said that! "  "Sure, that's what the words seem to say, but it doesn't make any sense!"  The appeals used to escape the Word of God range from "think about it" to "that was back then, and today is different."  It is possible to be confused by a text here or a phrase there – but the sense of the whole is clear and unambiguous.  You may not understand every single passage, but if a doctrine is taught in the Bible, it is taught with sufficient clarity that to deny it requires one to explain away the Scriptures.

I knew a man who did that once.  He was a pastor who taught that since man, in sin, could not change – God did.  I think he meant to speak movingly about what God did for our salvation, and how it was all God's work – but he made the mistake of teaching that God changes, and that man is immutable.  That is simply contrary to the Word of God.  I, and another pastor, tried to show him where Scripture clearly teaches that God does not change.  We wanted to help Him get it straight, but He wasn't interested.  It turned out that he wasn't merely wrong by accident.  He had an explanation – an excuse – for every single clear passage we could cite.  He had a different excuse for each passage, but he had a way to explain the clear words of Scripture away for each passage, even passages as clear as Malachi 3:6, "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." or James 1:17, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow." or even Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever."

Now, perhaps you think that this is a small matter, not all that significant as doctrines go.  But it is clearly taught in Scripture, and to teach contrary to Scriptures is to reject what God's Word says.  I have found that when someone does that, however small the error may seem, it is usually not alone.  Other errors come with it, because all Christian doctrine is like a piece of fabric – one thread is connected to the next.  It proved true with that erring pastor, too.  He also rejected other clear teachings of Scriptures.  Over time, he proved to not hold Biblical truth as precious at all, and taught whatever seemed right to him at the moment, rather than what the Bible says.  Sadly, he is still an active pastor in our Synod.

But the point is that the truth is plain in Scripture, even if not in every individual passage.  To deny the truth, you need to deny or explain away a great deal of Scripture.  Once you have denied or rejected one Scripture, there is no logically consistent reason to trust any other Scripture, so unbelief in one thing often leads to unbelief in many things.  If you reject the Word of Christ here, you will probably find yourself rejecting the Word of Christ is a number of matters.  If you reject Christ in His Word, you ultimately end up rejecting Christ in Himself.

God said to Moses, "I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him."  Jesus still leads His Church through His Word.  It is a mystery of faith – a thing that is revealed, but not necessarily compatible with our human reason.  The one who rejects the Word of Jesus rejects Jesus.  Jesus said the same thing Himself, "He that hears you, hears Me.  He that rejects you, Rejects me.  And He that rejects Me rejects Him who sent me."  The one who rejects Jesus rejects His gifts – forgiveness, life and salvation, earned on a cross and certified in the empty tomb of Easter.  God will require it of them in the sense that He will hold them in contempt of Him and will deliver those who hold Him in contempt to eternal judgment and misery.

Everyone else is saved!  Jesus died for all, so that all those who do not hold God in contempt will be saved.  Only those who will not listen to God's Word, which Jesus shall speak in Scripture and through the mouths of His faithful preachers, shall fail to see the glory of God in eternal life.  He that believes and is Baptized shall be saved.

That is the promise of the prophet like Moses.  That was the promise that Israel looked forward to.  It is the promise fulfilled in Christ!  It is the promise that God will be present among His people in a way not seen since the Exodus until Jesus.  Not since the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night has God been with His people so clearly, until Jesus came, showing His glory speaking to His church ever since through His Word.

He is with us through His Word, to guide us and teach us.  He is with us as we worship – Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.  He dwells in us through his Holy Spirit, who is given to each and every one of us that believes.  And He is present among us here in the Holy Supper.  His body, given for our sins on the cross, His blood, shed for our redemption, they are here in and with and under the form of the bread and wine for our blessing and forgiveness and strengthening.  Here we receive all that God promised, and all that He has delivered to us in keeping this precious promise.

It isn't just spiritual stuff, either.  We actually receive Christ within ourselves, as we partake of the Sacrament.  It is true that we cannot sense Him or His presence.  That is by His design and will.  He wants us to walk with Him in faith.  He desires that we know Him through His Word and by trust in Him in His Word rather than merely by what we can see and sense.  Seeing didn't help Adam and Eve.  They ignored the Word of God even when they could walk and talk with Him in the garden.  Seeing was of no particular blessing to those who saw Jesus and then crucified Him.  They even witnessed the resurrection – they knew the grave was empty and they knew why, but that did not stop them from inventing lies and trying to hide the glorious thing that God had done in their presence.

So, we receive Christ – true body and blood – and yet we do not see it or taste it.  We know it is there because He tells us that it is in His Word.  His body and blood do not go to our nourish our flesh – only the bread and wine do that.  The body and the blood of Jesus nourish instead our souls, and bring with them the forgiveness we need, and the life and health and strength which is so urgent and precious.  With Jesus we have all that He has accomplished and all that He has won for us.  But we perceive it only by faith – by hearing the words of the prophet like Moses, and taking God at His Word.   That Word is spoken today by the lips of one He has called to be His preacher, but it is His Word and His truth, not mine.  Today we have it fulfilled, the promise He made to Israel through Moses – the sending of the prophet like Moses.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2022

 Isaiah 40:1-8

“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.”  

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Call out.”  Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”  All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever”

Sermon for 3rd SIA                                                            12/11/22

The Message Is Still the Same

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Isaiah was an active prophet from about 750 B.C.  He was announcing, among other things, the release from captivity of the people of Jerusalem and Judah – from a captivity that wasn’t going to begin for nearly two hundred years after the prophet spoke.  The captivity was then to last seventy years, and then they would be released, and the words of comfort proclaimed in our Old Testament lesson today would finally apply.  Imagine that, God proclaiming forgiveness - redemption and comfort over two hundred years before the situation would arise for which they would actually apply.  And those words still mean the same thing for us two thousand and nine hundred years later.  Our theme, this morning, is The Message Is Still the Same.”

The message of the prophet is comfort.  Judah in the eighth century B.C. was a formerly great nation, now fallen on more difficult times.  Assyria was dominating the area militarily, and during the time of ministry of Isaiah, the northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  These were difficult and frightening times for the people of Judah.  The words of comfort in our text were not primarily for them, however.  They were aimed at the people who survived the destruction of Jerusalem two centuries later, and even more so for those who returned to Jerusalem seventy years after that.  God is calling to them that their sins have been punished and that He is now at peace with them.

How were the people to know that this message was not aimed at them during the time of Isaiah?  Frankly, because they may not have heard it.  There is no setting for the proclamation noted in the text.  Isaiah may have simply written these prophecies.  But even if he proclaimed them to the people at the time he wrote them, the nation of Judah was a corrupt and unbelieving nation.  Many of the people who heard Isaiah would not have believed anything he said.  Their long national decline was still going on, and there were nations around them making war on them from time to time throughout the life of Isaiah.  They would not have heard the word that their warfare has ended.  It hadn’t yet.

No, the message was written down and stored up for the time when the people of Judah returned to Jerusalem and read it, and understood that their captivity had been part of the punishment for their sins as a nation, as a people, and now it had been accomplished, and God was with them for blessing again.  We know that it was written, and taken with them even on the captivity, because the Bible tells us that later prophecies of the prophet Isaiah, naming Cyrus as the liberator of Israel, were shown to Cyrus during their captivity.  The fullness of the message of comfort was for those who returned after their exile.

When we read those words today, the message is still the same.  God calls to us through these words of Isaiah to comfort us and tell us that our sins have been punished, and we are now at peace with Him through Jesus Christ.  The message of God to His faithful people is always, Comfort!

The next few words of the passage speak to us today in particular because John the Baptist used them when he was asked who he was, by the Priests and the Levites in our Gospel this morning.  A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.   This is an Advent prophecy.  Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The voice crying in the wilderness was John.  He came to prepare the way for the Lord, but not in the sense of landscaping, as the prophecy sounds.  He came to proclaim the Law of God and call men – all men – to humility and repentance.  He was doing what the Apostle Paul described in Romans 3, Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Only when we have been humbled by the Law, and repent, can we see the glory of the Lord, which is the grace of God in Jesus Christ, bringing us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Just as the people alive at the time of Isaiah could not hear the message or find the comfort Isaiah was proclaiming in his prophecy, the heart today that is comfortable and secure in sin cannot really understand the message of forgiveness, and can see or sense no glory in it whatsoever.

Isaiah ends that particular word of prophecy with the words, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  Those words mean something more than “This is a prophecy!”  They are the guarantee of the validity and permanence of the promise of the glory of God which we know “is in the face of Christ Jesus.”  I know that because Isaiah continues in our text with yet another word of prophecy:  A voice says, "Call out."  Then he answered, "What shall I call out?"  All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever."

This final word from Isaiah in our text this morning tells us in a very picturesque way that God’s Word and His promises are utterly reliable.  The prophecy begins with comparing flesh to grass.  We all experience the thing about grass that the prophet speaks of, it comes and it goes.  It grows, blooms, withers and dies.  We see it every year.  The prophet is comparing us to the grass.  The grass grows, it blooms, and the blooms fade.  Our loveliness is like the bloom of the grass, he says.  We grow up, and we are young and beautiful for a time, but time marches on and we grow old, if we manage to live that long.  And eventually we wither and die, just like the grass, only at our own pace – much more slowly than the grass.  But like the grass, it happens inevitably to us.  But the Word of God endures forever.

It never fails.  It never withers.  We come and go, but God’s Word stands forever – utterly reliable.  We may not see it all happen in one of our lifetimes, but we are like grass, short-lived and temporary.  But the promise of the prophecy is that God’s Word is true and permanent.  So, when the promise is made of the grace of God, and that we shall see the glory of God, the prophet says it is a permanent promise, and it shall happen.

The comfort of the prophecy is real and true and everlasting.  Our sins have been paid for.  We have received double from the hand of God – only it wasn’t us, personally.  It was Christ.  He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.  He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.  His stripes are the stripes that heal us of the sickness of sin and death.  All of those familiar phrases are also from the mouth and pen of Isaiah.  We, like Judah of old, have forgiveness.  The lesson is an Advent lesson because it is the prophecy quoted by John in the Gospel for the third Sunday in Advent.

But the message is still the same.  God’s Word simply does not change.  His mercy is everlasting.  His love is everlasting.  His grace is everlasting.  We are temporary, but He is not and he intends to keep His Word.  He spoke of it in the Old Testament, and He fulfilled it in Jesus Christ.  And it is still true today.  Just as much today as back then, God wants you to take comfort in Christ, and take comfort in His promise of salvation.  It may seem like it is taking a long time, but we are oh-so-short-lived in this world.  But God is not, and His Word stands forever.

So, take comfort.  Your iniquity, like that of Jerusalem, has been removed - paid for and then some.  You have the promise that you will see the glory of the Lord, for God promises that all flesh will see it together.  That refers to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.  You will be there, and it is truly coming.  And no matter how long it seems to you, the promise is sure.  God will not forget.  The word of Our God stands forever.  Twenty-nine hundred years later, The message is still the same!

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

God Himself Is the Shepherd

 Psalm 23. . .

Sermon for Advent 2                                        12/07/22

God Himself Is the Shepherd

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Ezekiel 34:11-16 says: For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for my sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.   And I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountain of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land.   I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel.   I will feed my flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.  "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick."

With those words, God commits Himself to the task of being the Shepherd of His sheep.  He had appointed others to do the job, but they were unfaithful and they abused the sheep.  Now God Himself will be their shepherd.  The Great Shepherd of Israel is none other than God.  But rather than look at this passage of Ezekiel, I want to look at the Good Shepherd from the pleasant perspective of the Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever

The Lord is my Shepherd. 
That is the honest confession of each and every one of God's people.  Everything else flows from that fact.  God is caring for us.  God is providing for us.  God desires us and our well-being with the solicitous care of the shepherd.  The Lord is my shepherd.

I shall not want.  Because the Almighty God has taken personal charge over me and my existence, I know that I will never lack anything that I need.  The term "want" means "need" here.  There can, and undoubtedly will be times when I will wish for something I do not have, or desire something I cannot possess.  In that sense of want, I may want many things.  But whatever I need I will have.

God has provided it already.  He has purchased and won me from sin and death, and the power of the devil -- and has poured out His gracious choice upon me in baptism.  Life may not always be what I desire, but I will not come short of salvation because God has provided it for me.  I shall not want, but have all that I need to be His own and live under Him in His kingdom forever.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.  Both of these phrases speak to the provision of life and peace and security.  Green pastures are good places for sheep.  Food is plentiful.  That I lie down in them means that this provision is standard fare.  I live in the peaceful abundance of God.  I walk besides still waters, not turbulent and dangerous waters, as we saw in the floods in various places this past summer – or in the violence of the hurricanes that dominated our news.  God gives me peace and security.

Does this mean that I shall experience life as one long dream of delight and quiet times?  No.  Not necessarily.  We will face the troubles and turmoil of this world, just like anyone else.  We simply will face it with our Shepherd at the lead.  He will see us through.  He will not give us more than we are able to bear.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.

What good does that do when illness sets in, or troubles lurk about?  A great deal of good, if you trust in God.  Life is never meaningless or hopeless when you follow the Good Shepherd.  Just as the path to a physical meadow in the mountains may lead through rocks and crags and difficult pathways before opening into the green pasture, so our lives will, at times, lead through pains and sorrows, through temptations and frustrations and perhaps even severe illness.  With faith in God and confidence in His presence and His good will toward us, we will not lose hope.  We will not be crushed.

He restoreth my soul.  Our Good Shepherd will refresh us and strengthen us and equip us for all that He will lay before us to do.  Often we may feel that we cannot go another step, cannot bear another frustration, cannot endure another hardship or sorrow -- and then God will step in and refresh us.  He does that each week through Word and Sacrament.  He encourages us through the faithful fellowship of those who gather with us and pray with us and confess together with us this same hope and confidence in God.  Just when I think I cannot hold on any longer, God restores my soul.

He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for His name s sake.  This is the Gospel.  He lifts me up and places me on that narrow path of righteousness.  He does it for the sake of His grace -- God s goodness and God s decision for God s own reasons.  I don t deserve it.  I have not earned it.  I receive it because He won it for me on the cross and He pours out His goodness upon me.  That is what David meant by for His name s sake.  He is His own reason.  Grace.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.  Even death cannot alarm me or cause me to drop my confidence in Him.  The threat of death is not more powerful than the comfort of His grace.  The near approach of death is not more terrifying than His love is comforting.  The swift approach of the angel of death carries no real terror for the true child of God for perfect love casts out fear, and His love is perfect.  That messenger of God is my God's agent to greet me and bring me to my heavenly home.

I can fear no evil.  How could I truly be frightened for long when the very worst this world can do to me is also the very best thing that can come to the child of God?
It cannot harm me.  It makes no difference what you replace the word "it" with.  It cannot harm me.  God, my gracious and gentle Shepherd, is at hand to keep me and deliver me.  His rod and His staff are the tools and weapons of the Shepherd.  With His rod He gently disciplines me and teaches me the way in which I should walk.  At times God's handling seems rough, but then all discipline seems painful and unpleasant at the time.  Our flesh does not want to hear it.  We want to follow our passions and desires -- but that way is the broad and easy way which leads to death, and Jesus tells us that many are they who walk on it and perish by it.  His rod corrects me when I stray and leads me back to the path of life.

And His staff is the weapon with which the Shepherd protects His sheep and drives away the lions and wolves and the other predators who seek my life.  Although the power of our Shepherd is great and awesome, I am comforted by it.  It is like when I was a child.  I loved the thunderstorms.  I would dance in the rain and laugh out loud at the lightning.  Was I a weird child?  Yes, but that is besides the point.  I enjoyed the storm because in it I saw the power of my heavenly Father.  God, who loves me and has promised to watch over me and bring me to everlasting life for Jesus  sake, is the one who causes the rain to fall, the thunder to roll and the lightening to flash.  Seeing His power did not terrify me, but comforted me.  If He has that much power to throw away in a little storm, how much does He have to rescue and defend me?

Jesus told us that we should not fear those who have the power to merely put us to death, but fear Him, rather, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  But I do not fear my Good Shepherd whose love is poured out on me -- not with the fear of danger, but with the filial fear of a son.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.  Far from having anything to fear, I look forward to that feast in the Kingdom of God.  God has laid the banquet of eternity and of the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride before me.  I am His and He has claimed me before the whole world.  They rant and rave and mock and scorn me, but His choice stands, and the table He has spread before me is the feast of everlasting life.

He has chosen me -- that is what the anointing speaks of.  He has poured out on me the waters of life from the hand of my pastor in my baptism and called me by name, just as He anointed the shepherd boy David with oil from the flask of the prophet and called him by name to be the king over His people Israel.  In that precious moment -- on November 12, 1950, as I lay in the arms of my grandmother -- God spoke my name through the lips of His servant, and poured out on me such a blessing of forgiveness and life that I cannot contain it and it flows over -- my cup runneth over – from all the grace and love and goodness which is mine both then and now, and forever.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life -- my good shepherd will never leave me nor forsake me.  The parable of the lost sheep was about me.  It is also about you!  He sought me when I was not seeking Him, and He rescued me before I knew enough to know Him.  He brought me to the sheepfold of the church, and He has kept me ever since --and will always.  I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Along with all of you.

Eternal life is my destiny in Christ, and the gentle guidance and abundant provision of my God is the story of my life -- and yours -- day by day.  God could not leave the shepherding of His chosen ones to those other shepherds.  They had been unfaithful.  They served themselves and took advantage of the sheep.  They abused and abandoned the flock, so God Himself is the Shepherd.  It is the best of all circumstances, for He is the best of all Shepherds.  Let us give thanks to Him in prayer and in song.

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

Sunday, December 04, 2022

God's New Order

 Micah 4:1-7

And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains.  It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it.  And many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths."  For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations.  Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.  And each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.  Though all the peoples walk each in the name of his god, as for us, we will walk In the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.  "In that day," declares the LORD, "I will assemble the lame, and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted.  I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcasts a strong nation, and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever."

Sermon for 2nd  SIA                                                            12/04/22

God's New Order

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Whenever I preach on the Old Testament, I am always impressed with how often the texts talk about ‘that day' which is coming.  The lessons for the beginning of the Church Year always seem to focus on the end of time.  That is because of the focus of Advent on the Lord Coming again, and the entire Old Testament is looking forward to something that is still in the future as the prophets write.

Our text today in Micah is the text that inspired the old, familiar song, "Down by the Riverside" about how "we ain't gonna study war no more", although the riverside is not mentioned in the passage.  I suspect that the riverside is a reference to Baptism, or possibly the division between life and death.  Either way, the spiritual recognizes that this prophecy is about God's new order, whether it is the order in the life of the child of God or the order in the new world which God is preparing for all those that believe.  Our theme this morning is God's New Order.

As is true of many prophetic passages, the prophecy of Micah in these verses does not progress in a straight line chronologically.  The prophecy speaks of a time in the future.  Micah calls that time, "in the last days".  He is looking forward to our time.  We live in the last days, and have been living in the last days since the ascension of Jesus.  The "last days" are the age of the Gospel.  Hebrews 1:2 calls these days the "last days".  In this prophecy, we are taken through the entire New Testament age, and the age of the Church, into heaven itself.  It is in this age of the Gospel that the Mountain of the house of the Lord is raised up and is established as the chief of the mountains.

The Church, which is the place of the presence of God Himself among men, is Mount Zion.  Here God is present in His Word and by means of the Sacrament, and He dwells within each one that believes.  That is why the prophecy speaks of the Law going forth from Zion:  For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  This, the Church, is from where the Word of God is to flow.  You can see the Hebrew parallelism in the reference to the Law in one phrase and the Word of the Lord in the other.  They are the same thing.

When Micah writes about the nations streaming to the mountain of the Lord, he is describing the power and effectiveness of the Gospel throughout these last days.  Men and women from every nation on earth have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the Word of the Gospel.  Viewed from the prophet's distance in time, it would surely seem like the nations are streaming to the mountain of the Lord.  These are all the initial elements of God's New Order.

Then we have the Judgment.  The prophet says that God will judge between peoples and render decisions.  Following that comes the time of peace when men will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.  The implements of war will be done away with in God's new order, and there will be a time of universal peace.  This is the time and place where men will study war no more, in the words of the spiritual.  Since this era begins following the judgment of God, this "era" is what we call heaven, or eternal life.

Not only is war gone, and all that went into the making of war is now converted into useful productivity, but people will know a time of security and peace, And each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.  Since in all of recorded human history, there has been only twenty-eight years without war somewhere, this is clearly an image of something other-worldly.  It is describing our peace and security in eternal life with the Lord.

You can notice that the prophecy draws no distinction between the age of the Gospel and the time when all this peace settles upon mankind.  That is because there is no real difference, except as we perceive things.  But this is a prophecy through Micah from God.  With sins forgiven, and all those who trust in the Lord possessing eternal life, even our time in this world, under the Gospel, is part of God's new order.  After all, those that believe never die.  Their bodies do, but they will be raised again in the resurrection at the end, and their souls, which never did die, will be re-united with their bodies for that everlasting life which will know no sorrow, no sickness, no fears and no death.

  In the plan of God, your Baptism was the only death that you will ever face, and you were born again in Baptism to a new and everlasting life.  Even now, in a world filled with outward dangers, you have nothing to fear, for God is with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you, and He has promised to work all things – even the bad stuff – for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose.  You are already in heaven, for heaven is where God rules.  This is all part of God's new order.

But then the prophet moves on, in our text.  Though all the peoples walk each in the name of his god, as for us, we will walk In the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.    These words do not describe God's new order, but our response to the promise of God's new order.  The vision of heaven in the prophecy ends with the words, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.  This vision is all the promise of God, therefore, we will confess Him.  Even though everyone else will go their own way, the prophet says, and will serve their own gods, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.  Our confession of both our lips and our life will be the name of our God.

This is describing the reality of our world, now. Even though we live in God's new order, the rest of the world does not.  They will challenge us, and persecute us, and expect us to walk with them in the values of our society.  But we have heard the Word of God and we believe His Word, and therefore we will faithfully confess Him and His Word and live our lives – walk – in the confession of Him and His truth and His name.  And what is His name?  Jesus.  Christ.  That is why we are called "Christians".  We are walking literally in His name!  In His name we have forgiveness of sins.  In His name we have salvation.  In His name we shall rise from our graves to everlasting life in glory – in God's new order – so we treasure that name.

So, you can see that the prophet takes us to heaven in his prophecy, and then brings us back to now and to our present reality.  He doesn't draw a neat line straight from his time to heaven and quit, but brings us back and sets us in our world and in our lives, which are lived in the Gospel.  And then God speaks through the prophet and reminds us of His grace.  "In that day," declares the LORD, "I will assemble the lame, and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted.  I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcasts a strong nation, and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever."  

You ask, "How is that grace?"  The answer is in the description of those saved.  God assembles the lame, gathers the outcasts, and even those whom He has afflicted.  These are the ones named in the parable of the feast that Jesus tells in Luke 14, where all those invited were too busy to come to the feast, and so the man giving the dinner told his servants to go out into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in.  Those who account themselves to be something are not here, but the undeserving, the unable, and the needy.  Those people are us.  We are the receivers of the grace of God.

God promises through the prophet to take those lame and those outcasts and turn them into a mighty nation.  It is not our doing, but His that saves us, and we become the mighty nation of God's redeemed by His gracious choice.   God speaks through Micah and says that He will turn the Lame into a remnant.  That does not mean, in this place, that they will be limited in number.  It means that they are the ones God preserves and chooses – the remnant of Israel.  They, We are the elect, the chosen ones.  And God has chosen us to be the ones over whom He will reign for eternity – forever and ever.  He will reign over them in Mt. Zion – in the Church.

Here we have the prophecy of God's New Order.  He is going to rescue those who do not deserve it and have no power and no right to ask for it – pure grace.  He will be their strength and their success.  They will be drawn from all the nations of the earth by the power of the Word, and they will know only love and joy and peace.  God's New Order is the Gospel at work in time and throughout eternity – and we are part of it and living in it today!

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

The Promised Time of Peace

 Jeremiah 23:5-8

‘Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.  In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.'
"For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.'"

Sermon for 1st Sunday in Advent                                                  11/27/22

The Promised Time of Peace

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I remember as a child how everything was always in the future somewhere.  "It's coming,"  was always the answer.  Christmas always seemed to take forever to get here.  Oh, how I wish I could recapture that feeling today!  But the point is that things were always coming.  Just like the days mentioned in our text.  The prophets were always saying, "the days are coming".  They were telling the Children of Israel that the promise of God of salvation, of the Messiah, and of peace and justice were coming.  The wait got to be long, and the promises were easy to doubt.  God wanted them to be reassured.  He was still planning to do all that He promised.  He was not going to forget them.

Well, the days that were promised to the Children of Israel have arrived.  The promises made to the Children of Israel have been fulfilled.  We no longer look forward to that toward which they looked forward.  Don't get me wrong, we still look forward.  It is just that what we look forward to is not what they were looking for.  At least not entirely.  They looked forward to a promised time of peace.  We, too, look forward to a promised time of peace – we just view that time from a different perspective and expect something different than they did when they used those words.  Our theme this morning is, The Promised Time of Peace.

Those days are here!  The Righteous Branch has been raised up.  He has accomplished all the saving and the peace and justice that He promised to do.  Some of the days spoken of by Jeremiah are actually past.  I am thinking particularly of the days in which the king was raised up.

Of course, the people of ancient Israel did not hear these words the way we do.  God meant them to be heard by us the way we hear them, but the Old Testament people did not hear them that way.  Jeremiah was the prophet at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of those who went into exile.  

First, the people stubbornly refused to believe Jeremiah.  They got angry with him because he said things that they did not want to hear, and they would not accept that what he said was true, or that it was God's Word even when the things he spoke began to happen.  I kind of know what that is like, a little bit.  I have had it happen that people would get angry with me for preaching the Word of God just because they didn't like what it said -- or they refused to believe what I said and did not bother to test my words against the Scriptures.  They rejected it because they just did not want to hear it.

The second thing that caused Jeremiah's words not to be heard, effectively, was that not many of those that heard Jeremiah survived.  Jeremiah was the prophet during the destruction of Jerusalem.  The people of Israel ended up being slaughtered wholesale.  Probably fewer than one in ten went into exile -- and only the poorest and the least capable were left alive to manage the land.  There were two deportations of Israel by Babylon.  The first deportation wasn't so bad.  That was the group that Ezekiel ended up living among.  The second deportation came when Nebuchadnezzar finally destroyed Jerusalem.  The puppet king he had set up to rule locally – Zedekiah – had rebelled and refused to pay tribute and had turned to Egypt for an alliance -- which really irritated Nebuchadnezzar.  When He came back with his army, he decimated the people, largely because they fought against him.

So, the people at the time of Jeremiah did not hear the words of Jeremiah with any sort of faith, and most of them did not survive to remember them.  They were written down, however, and read later, during the captivity.  At that point in time, the children of Israel would have interpreted the words of Jeremiah as dealing with their exile -- and thought that God was promising a new kingdom of Judah, and a new king and a return to their ancestral home.  At the very least, the faithful would have read these words as promising the coming of the Messiah, whom they would have (and did) invest with all sorts of military and nationalistic meaning.

They were partly right, this prophecy was about the coming of the Messiah.  And that has happened.  That is what Advent is all about.  We also look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  We are looking forward to that Savior coming again at the end of time.  They were looking for Him to come in the first place, and part of our Advent observance is to review the promises made to them and their expectations.  They were looking forward to Jesus.

And He came, at Bethlehem.  He was proclaimed King of Israel on Palm Sunday.  He was holy and righteous.  He never sinned. His throne was the cross.  He ascended that throne to  do justice and righteousness, just as the prophecy said.  The justice that He did was the justice of God.

Jesus satisfied the justice of God by first earning life everlasting, and then suffering death and all that He endured for us, innocently.  His death was the death that you and I have earned.  He suffered the torments that we deserve for our rebellion against God and for our sins.  He paid the price and served out our sentence under the justice of God.  That is how He did justice.  His death on the cross.  He is our justice.

Then He did righteousness.  Of course, in the course of living a perfect life, all that Jesus did was righteousness.  But that isn't what the prophet was speaking about.  He was speaking about the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus was not merely righteous, He did righteousness.  He gave us the forgiveness of sins.  That is why we Lutherans do not say "if" when we preach Christ.  We do not need to focus on the "if"s of the faith when we preach because there is no "if" about what Jesus has accomplished.  There is no "if" about the payment.  There is no "if" about the forgiveness of sins.  I can proclaim the work accomplished, the forgiveness won and poured out.  I can say, "Your sins are forgiven" with no if, and's, or but's about it.  The only "if" is ‘if you believe', and therefore receive all that Christ has accomplished on your behalf.

That is what has created The Promised Time of Peace.  We don't need to wait for the days when forgiveness will be won or poured out.  Those days are here!  The forgiveness of your sins is accomplished.  Whether you believe it or not, it is done.  That forgiveness, however, is received through faith, but it could not be received unless it had already been won.  We possess the forgiveness -- we have the righteousness which Jesus has done -- when we know what He has won for us, and know the promise of God in connection with Jesus, and trust God to do what He has promised to do.

In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  These days are The Promised Time of Peace.  What the Old Testament people could only look forward to is what we in live today!  We don't actually call Him "The Lord our Righteousness" as a name, as the prophecy seems to say.  But we say it.  The Lord is our righteousness.  He is all that is holy about us, and He alone is our hope.  So the prophecy is fulfilled -- this, the Gospel, is what Israel hoped for.  They were waiting for God to save them.

Of course, we still look forward.  We still await the day when our outward experience matches the truth of our salvation.  We walk by faith, just as ancient Israel had to.  They had the temple and the ceremonies, the Law which was their opportunity of faith to be faithful.  We have our opportunities, too, but they look different.

We no longer have the law of the Sabbath, or the laws of the sacrifices, or the laws of the festivals.  Israel was to show their trust in God by doing the things God had given them to do, the way that He told them to do it.  The tithe, for example, was an exercise of faith -- they had to trust God that they would be cared for and adequately provided for if they gave God ten percent off the top -- and the best of what they had, to boot!  Lots of them did not trust God.  Many of them failed to pay the tithe.  God called that "robbing" Him, in Malachi 3.  Their tithe was one of the measures of faith and of faithfulness.

We Christians have no such rules -- although the tithe is still not a bad starting point.  We have no laws from God about which day we must worship or whether we can work on a Sunday, or such.  We also have no sacrifices to make, except the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Jesus is the Sacrifice for sins.  He replaces all of the animal sacrifices and the grain sacrifices.  We have been given no mandatory festivals, like the Feast of the Tabernacles, or of the First Fruits.  Sundays for worship, and Christmas and Easter are inventions of the Church, not divine commands.  We celebrate them for devotional purposes and, as Luther said, for good order, not because we must.

What, then, are our opportunities for faith and faithfulness?

Life.  Life presents us with a continuous stream of choices.  Each one challenges us to faith or fear, faithfulness or pragmatism, to trusting God and doing things His way, or trusting our own judgment and doing things in ways contrary to God's ways.  We can choose to worship on Sundays, when the Church has agreed to gather for Word and Sacrament, or we can choose to travel, fish, hunt, attend sporting events, visit families, prepare meals for our company, or sleep in.  We can make our offering a decision based on faith or see what we can afford after we have taken care of our needs and our desires, and reserved that extra pocket money first.  We can give to God or give to perceived needs and budget requirements of the congregation.  We can take the time for Bible Class or set our social agendas ahead of God's Word and spiritual growth.  We can exercise patience with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or we can be demanding and judging.  We can forgive one another and love one another in word and deed, or we can carry hurts, gossip and politic in the congregation, and demand that everyone accept us just . the way . we . are.

Every moment of life is our opportunity to be faithful, and to live out what we believe, or to hold faith as a mental exercise, and live as though God were not really there, not really aware of what we do and what we could do, or as though God were not really to be trusted, and as though the first rule of life is to take care of number one first!  Do you praise God, or speak in vague generalities about luck and fortune?  Do you speak of Jesus, invite your neighbors and your friends to come to Church, or not?  Do you make sure that your loved ones know the truth, or do you surrender to the social pressure to avoid such topics?  If you believe that faith in Christ means salvation, and unbelief means eternal torment, your momentary discomfort just doesn't weigh in the scales.  But if you cannot bring yourself to speak of Jesus, forgiveness, life and salvation, then you probably don't really believe in heaven or hell – or you don't really love your family and friends.

These are our opportunities for faith and faithfulness.  And, strangely enough, people generally do live out what they believe.  Whether you believe in Jesus or yourself, whether you trust God's Word or your own wisdom, whether this life, or eternal life is more precious to you will be reflected in what you do, in the decisions you make, and in the way you respond to life.  Just as not everyone in ancient Israel actually looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and many at the time of Jeremiah did not bother to listen to him, or believe what he said, just so there are those today in the visible church who do not listen, and those who do not believe.

But for those who do, Christ is our Righteousness.  He is the foundation for The Promised Time of Peace.  We are the Israel that dwells securely, just as Jeremiah prophesied.  We don't necessarily dwell secure as to our bodies, or as to our life in this world.  We dwell securely in Christ.  None of us is perfect in faithfulness or in what we do, but our sins are forgiven.  When we trust in God and His promises, our failures are forgiven, and our resurrection and eternal life is assured because  the Lord is our Righteousness  --  not us, . . . Jesus!  He is the fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah in our text, and He is the substance of The Promised Time of Peace.

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