Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Servant Shares the Victorious Life

 Isaiah 53:10-12

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Sermon for Easter 3/30/24

The Servant Shares the Victorious Life

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

This morning we bring to a close our Lenten series on the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Rather than use our Gospel as our text today, we will go back to Isaiah once more. But don't worry, I will not ignore the Easter accounts. Today is all about the glorious truth of Easter. Jesus Christ has risen from the grave. Our theme this morning is, "The Servant Shares the Victorious Life".

Easter begins at the tomb. The LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief. Without Good Friday, there really is no Easter. The will of God was, from the very beginning, that His Servant would die for our sins. The Lord was not pleased simply to crush Him and put Him to grief. His will was that Jesus would be the guilt offering, the One who died because of human guilt. That is why God came in human form. Easter is the reason behind Christmas. He had to be human, bound to the law just as all of us are: Sin, and you die. The other side the side none of us has accomplished is that if you live utterly without sin, you will live forever.

But Jesus changed that. He lived the sinless life of perfect obedience to the Father from a heart of love, and not merely from a sense of duty. He earned eternal life. Then He died anyway. Death had no power over Him, but Jesus died nonetheless. He said that no one would take His life from Him, but that He Himself would lay it down. He died deliberately, and by His choice when the time was right. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.

He knew anguish. He was so sorrowful on that night in the garden that it nearly killed Him. His sweat came as great drops of blood which doctors say can happen when you are under enough stress emotionally. Then came the arrest, the trial before the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, the trials before Pilate and Herod, and the scourging, illustrated so graphically in Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. Finally came the cross. All of that is summed up here in our text by the words "the anguish of His soul".

And then Isaiah says, "He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities." That is where Isaiah comes to Easter! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave is the evidence that God saw all that His Servant, His Son, bore and He was satisfied. The debt of sin is paid. The wrath of God is not just appeased but used up and worn out and met completely by the "guilt offering" of Christ for us. It is now as though we had never sinned. We are covered by Jesus and His atonement. God is satisfied. Just as He looked on His newly created world and saw that it was very good, He looks on us in the light of Jesus and His death on our behalf, and we look very good once again without stain or spot or any such thing. Jesus bore our iniquities to the cross and nailed them there forever.

By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. That was Isaiah's elegant way of saying what Mark said in chapter 16, verse 16, "he that believes and is baptized
shall be saved
." "His knowledge" means "the knowledge of Him". By it we are justified, declared holy and righteous by God Himself. That is the glory of God, that He rescued and redeemed us,  His creatures, at such a tremendous price, from our sins. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

You see Easter is not just about resurrection. That peculiar show on TV called "Resurrection" shows us that resurrection all by itself is not necessarily a good thing. When the dead rise on  the last day, many will rise to discover that their resurrection is nothing good. They will rise to eternal condemnation, and regret, and pain, and sorrow. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned. It is by knowing the truth, accepting it as true, and living in the light of it that one finds salvation. Isaiah said, By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. We call that faith. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." You see, even there, in the words of Jesus, you gotta know the truth. The knowledge of Him sets you free.

He poured Himself out to death. No one killed Jesus. He gave up His own life. He was numbered with the transgressors. He died between two criminals as one of them. But His crimes were our sins. He bore the sins of the many, Isaiah said. That is what we celebrate today. Sure, we say, He is risen! And you reply, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! But we do it because the resurrection is the divine declaration of forgiveness. God said, "It worked!" He was satisfied! Sin as a cause of divine displeasure toward all men is done with. God is not angry with us over our sins because of Jesus. No one goes to hell due to their sins. When they get there, there will be an accounting, and they will suffer over them, but they don't go to hell because they sinned. You and I have sinned too! Yet we will go to heaven. The reason anyone goes to hell is unbelief.  They choose hell by rejecting heaven and salvation and glory in Jesus Christ.

Many will go to hell because they refuse to believe in the Jesus that existed and suffered for them. They have another "Jesus" in their minds. Or they reject the concept of God altogether.  Or they believe in some way that they have to make it on their own, earn their way, and be fit and deserving. They actually believe that they can be deserving of eternal glory. Some believe in other deities, fictional though they are. Good examples are the Mormons and the Moslems. We can point to when these deities were invented when their holy books were written, and even trace many of the sources from which the authors borrowed or stole their writings and ideas. Joseph Smith wrote his book just a century and a half, or so, ago. He stole a novel by a retired Methodist minister, inserted some Old Testament chapters directly into the book, and started his own religion.

Some would say that such things do not matter. That all religions are alike, or that all the gods are just the same god under different covers. But He is risen! He died to atone for our sins, and God raised Jesus from the dead to declare us forgiven, and said there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. No one else has died for us or risen again. Period. Of course, some say that I am wrong, and way too focused on this doctrine, this form of the faith. But that points out that this is what it is faith. He is risen. That is the proclamation of Scripture. Many disagree, even some within the church, so-called. But that is our Easter joy!

Because Jesus has risen, we shall also rise. We shall rise to eternal life in glory with Him. We call that heaven', but we don't really understand it. It is good, and it is beyond all sorrow, sickness, pain, or death. It has no end to put a stop to our joy, or the enjoyment of the many blessings of God, and we will not have to deal with those little consequences of sin, like bad eyes, deafening ears, aching joints and muscles, or the frustration of not knowing what is going on or why or what it will mean for us in the future, or the larger consequence of sin: eternity in hell. We will live in God's presence and glory conscious of His presence, unlike now. He is among us, be we have no consciousness by our senses of his presence, just the confidence in it because He said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age.

So, for now, we confess with Isaiah that "The Servant Shares the Victorious Life". In our circles as among all of God's people, however, we say it like this: 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)

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Servant Saves By Suffering in Our Place

 Isaiah 53:4-10

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. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own
way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He
was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a
sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and
judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off
out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He
had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To
crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His
offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

Sermon for Good Friday 04/18/14

The Servant of Isaiah
The Servant Saves By Suffering in Our Place

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today we come to the heart of it. Today we celebrate the suffering and death of our Savior, the
Suffering Servant of Isaiah. And yes, we celebrate it! We don't celebrate pain or death, as such,
nor the need for such a sacrifice. Sin is our shame. We celebrate that God's Servant, His Son
Jesus Christ, did it on our behalf. We celebrate the love it took love for His Father and love for
us. We celebrate His obedience. We celebrate the result, that we have been redeemed! Our
theme tonight is "The Servant Saves by Suffering in Our Place."

The whole story of Good Friday is told by Isaiah eight hundred years before it happened. By
oppression and judgment, He was taken away.
Jesus was arrested although innocent. Today we
would cry out about our rights, but He had none. A kangaroo court convicted Him and
sentenced Him to die. They could not come up with one legitimate charge against Him, so they
asked Him who is the Truth itself if He were the Son of God, and when He told them, they called
Him a liar and a blasphemer and sentenced Him to die.

They had no legitimate charge, but God did. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has
turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
He was
utterly innocent, personally, but He took our place and bore our sin. Isaiah even notes that He
was innocent, He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD
was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering.

The guilt He suffered for was ours. Note, too, that we are not the only ones celebrating. The
Lord was pleased to crush Him.
He was not pleased to cause Him pain, but pleased to crush Him
on our behalf, in our place, and for our salvation. That was the will of God for us!

Because of our sin, the Servant had to suffer or we did, and our Heavenly Father chose to pour
out His wrath upon His Son instead. 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.

Listen to those words: He bore our grief and carried our sorrows. The pains of Hell were His, but
He felt them even before the cross. In the garden, in the midst of His prayers, Jesus told the
disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death." Many translations use the word
"sorrowful" whereas ours uses the word "grieved". The horror of what He faced for us, all by
itself, was nearly enough to kill Him.

But then they mocked Jesus, just as the devil had during the temptations following His Baptism.
The devil said, "if you are the Son of God . . .", and the crowd around His cross would cry out,
am the Son of God.'
" People today, oftentimes from within the church as we see it in our world
today, reject the notion that Jesus was truly God or His Son. They deny His resurrection. They
accuse Jesus of being a failed teacher or a ruined revolutionary put to death for His politically
incorrect ideas. They say He was a good man, perhaps, but they do not see Him as their God.
Isaiah's words fit, we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

In the midst of this, the Servant never cried out or called for justice, or His rights, as so many do
nowadays. He was convicted by an illegal court, for the Sanhedrin could not legally meet, as
they did that night, by their own rules! They could not legitimately convict without three
witnesses who agreed, or at least two who agreed clearly. But they did! When they dragged
Him before Pilate, the Governor sent from Rome had to confess that he found no guilt in Jesus,
nothing that deserved this uproar, much less death. The Bible tells us in Matthew 27:18 and
Mark 15:10 that Pilate knew that the Priests had sent Jesus before him because of envy, and
yet Pilate condemned Him, an innocent man, to death on the cross. Yet, in all of this, Jesus
remained remarkably silent. Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. Although
innocent, Pilate had Jesus scourged to try to appease the priests. Pilate said he would teach
Him a lesson. What lesson was Jesus supposed to learn from being scourged as an innocent
man? That was our scourging! Those were our stripes He bore. He did it for us because we had
it all coming. We are healed from the disease of sin and the just wrath of God due to sin
because there is no more wrath to pour out. Jesus bore it all, for us.

He was pierced through. The prophecy speaks those words without telling us if they are to refer
to the nails that pierced His hands and feet, or to the spear which pierced His side. I suspect
that they refer to both. The nails, which Jesus felt, and the spear which He did not feel, because
He was already dead. The blood and water that John speaks of coming out of the spear wound
are evidence that He was already dead. The plasma and the red blood cells had already
separated, as they do when the heart stops, a fact even the ancients knew about.

And it happened, as Isaiah prophesied, among the wicked. His grave was assigned with wicked
He was crucified with true criminals, one on either side of Him. They were convicted, too,
but guilty as the one malefactor said. I like that word, malefactor. It means "evil doer". He
confessed the truth of the situation, "We are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this
man has done nothing wrong
." They were truly criminals robbers, according to Matthew.

All of this is on account of sin, our sin. The next time you are tempted to ignore what you know
is the will of God and do or say something just because it suits you or gives you an advantage,
or profits you in some small way, think about this. Jesus endured all of this because sin is the
deadly serious thing it is. The crucifixion, and the hours of torment leading up to it, illustrate
the true nature of sin. It is not simply the deeds that we do against our better knowledge, but
the state of being in rebellion against God. The acts, the words, and even the thoughts done,
spoken, or conceived in sin merit death by themselves, but it is us and our very nature that
Jesus died to atone for. He died this grisly death because we are corrupt, twisted, weak, and
enemies of God by nature. The Servant saves by Suffering.

Even His burial was part of the prophecy, Yet He was with a rich man in His death. And Joseph
of Arimathea, a wealthy man, whose wealth was evident in the carving of a new tomb in the
nearby garden, came and took the dead body and placed it in his new tomb. Every part of the
passion and death of our Lord is clearly prophesied by Isaiah. The Suffering Servant who was to
come and save us by His suffering was Jesus.

If that were the whole story, it would be a sad story. It would be the noble tale of a good man
who died on behalf of others. Stirring and exemplary, but hardly worth all of this fuss two
thousand years later. But, as you know, this is not the whole story. Isaiah even knew that truth.
He ended this section of his prophecy like this, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His
days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand

Of course, Jesus had no children in the ordinary way. We are His offspring. In Baptism we have
each been adopted into the household of God! His days are prolonged, as Isaiah described it,
because He rose from the dead and lives eternally! And the good pleasure of the Lord? That
phrase means, "the will of God". And what is the will of God? Our Salvation! That is the will of
God, that the one who knows and believes and trusts in God to do all that He has promised in
connection with Jesus Christ and the crucifixion and the resurrection, shall be saved! There
have been thousands of thousands throughout the centuries, and there exists that Church of
those that believe today. The good pleasure of the Lord has prospered and shall continue to
prosper in the hands of this Servant of the Lord until it shall please the Lord to bring it to an end
and bring us all to live in His glory. Isaiah's Prophecies of the Servant have shown it to us, and to
all that believe since before the time of Jesus Himself. "The Servant Saves by Suffering in Our

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

Sunday, March 24, 2024

After the Parade

 Matthew 21:1-9

And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'"

And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.  And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!"

Sermon for Palm Sunday                                                   03/24/24

After the Parade

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We have all heard of Palm Sunday.  Most of us have heard it preached about time and time again.  Generally, we know the story.  What we often miss is why the story is significant.  Many churches do pageantry and wave palm leaves and, when there is a large Sunday School, we think it is cute to have the children's parade during the service, usually during the first hymn.  What we want to consider this morning is what makes this day significant - and what makes Palm Sunday significant, and the Palm Sunday ride important is really what happens after the parade.  So our theme this morning is, After the Parade.

Of course, we want to refresh ourselves on the details of the Palm Sunday ride.  It happened during the holy season.  Palm Sunday occurred just before the Passover.  The Jews didn't call it Palm Sunday back then, of course, that is the Christian designation for the day.  It simply happened the beginning of the week which would, that year, conclude with the Passover.  Like Easter, Passover was a moveable feast.  It depended on which day the New moon occurred in a specific month.

Crowds were descending on Jerusalem for this holiest of all holidays in the Jewish church.  Passover was the day of salvation.  They celebrated God's rescue from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.   They commemorated by word and deed – which included the holy Passover Seder – the miraculous deeds of God.  In the Passover, God sent the Angel of Death to strike down the first born of Egypt – and He caused the Angel of Death to pass over the Children of Israel who trusted in the promise of God and marked their doors with the blood of the lamb.  In the Seder they shared the bread of haste that the children of Israel had known on the first Passover because of how swiftly they had to leave Egypt after God's mighty acts, and the bitter herbs which symbolized for them the bitterness of slavery in Egypt, and the meat of the lamb which the children of Israel ate for the first time in this fashion at the first Passover.  They ate lamb because the lamb had been killed to provide the blood which marked their doors to protect them from the angel of death – and because God commanded them to do so.

For the Jews in those days, the Passover was like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter all rolled up into one – except that, by the time of Jesus, they had lost the sense of wonder at it all, and had lost any awareness of the spiritual dimension of it, and they and let it become a day of obligation rather than the day of utter joy that it was intended to be.  But observing it filled Jerusalem, and so the crowds who had come to the holy city to join in the ancient celebration were gathered.

And they were primed by the modern sense – modern for those days – of the nearness of the Messiah, and the longing for freedom from foreign domination, and a religious fervor which cried out not so much in hope as in desperation.  They were looking for the Messiah, even though they did not often understand what the Messiah was really about.  They pictured another political rescue by another purely political leader.  They imagined Israel would rise as a political power and crush her enemies and then every lust of the flesh would be granted to Israel to demonstrate their favored relationship with the Almighty.

And strange things were happening in their day.  There seemed to be an awful lot of demonic signs and possessions.  Then there were new preachers and prophets – first John, now Jesus – and there were other prophets and Messianic pretenders about whom history tells us, even if they are only hinted at in the Bible.  The time was right, the crowds were gathered, the religious atmosphere was primed, and Jesus got up on that donkey and rode into Jerusalem like a king of ancient Israel on a coronation ride – and suddenly everything came together, just as God planned, to form the coronation ride of Jesus.

The leaders of the Temple complained.  Jesus told them that it couldn't be helped.  If the crowds were silenced, the very stones along the path would have to cry out.  This was not a natural event, but God's work.  He arranged the coronation ride of the King, the Messiah whom no one would recognize and no one would claim, but who was true King and Savior none the less.  The cry was the coronation cry of Israel, Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Although the crowd cried it out in glee and in religious fervor, it seemed as though they did so without understanding the true meaning of the words, but the words really said a great deal.  "Hosanna" – "Hoshia - ah - na" means "Grant salvation now!" or simply "save us now!"  And that is what Jesus had come to do, more fully than they could have anticipated, more completely than they had desired.  They called Him "the son of David."  They understood that the title was a royal title.  They were calling Him the rightful King of Israel, a title for which He would be crucified in less than a week.  But they probably overlooked the Messianic meaning of the words.  They were probably not thinking about the Old Testament promises of the one who would be called "Immanuel", who would take on their sins and die in their place.  But those things are the things which happened after the parade.

They didn't seem to think about the Suffering Servant, come to be Messiah, Savior, and King, but that is who Jesus was – and is.  And this parade was His coronation ride.  It was not of any earthly, political value.  It was not valid in the eyes of the governments of the time.  But it was of eternal and heavenly significance.  For a moment in time, God's people heralded God's Anointed Messiah and proclaimed Him King of Israel and Savior of the World.  They threw their cloaks in His path and formed a spontaneous parade to welcome Him into the holy city.  After the parade, He would ascend His throne.

But it would not be a throne of gold and cushions and comfort and political or military power, it would be a throne of pain and suffering and sorrow and death.  It would be the throne of the cross.  And His crown would be a crown of thorns pressed brutally into His scalp.  His royal robes would be torn from Him and offered as the prize in a game of chance, and His scepter would be a sprig of hyssop with a sponge soaked in soured wine mixed with a common pain-killer from which He would not even permit Himself to drink.  His royal court would be mockers and mourners and two convicted felons, and He would be firmly fastened hand and foot to His throne of agony with large nails.  Just a week later, those who heralded Jesus as King would reject God as their King and claim only Caesar.

This series of events actually began in Bethlehem, and would not be finished until the King ascended His throne and conquered all His enemies, as all the prophets and so many of the Psalms predicted.  And the last enemy to be utterly defeated, the Bible tells us, is death.  His resurrection showed us His victory over sin and death and Satan.  And the good news for us is that He wants to share His victory with us.  He has conquered death.  He has redeemed us from sin.  He has paid the penalty and borne the wrath of God in our place.  His resurrection is the evidence that it is complete and sufficient.

That is why it is so horrible when those who would call themselves Christian teachers try to suggest – or say boldly – that Jesus did not actually rise physically from the grave.  Without the resurrection, there is no Gospel.  That is why the unbelieving world always attacks this foundation truth.  Without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins.  Without the resurrection there is no hope of heaven.  Without Jesus rising from the grave, we have no reason to expect that we will either – and no demonstration of His power to make it happen for us.

But now Jesus has risen from the dead.  It happened after the parade.  Now it is our turn to pick up the palm branches and cry aloud the coronation praise of our King.  He approaches His throne in our lessons once again.  We will celebrate again the events of that holy week so long ago that worked our salvation.  Your sins and mine, paid for and forgiven.  The promises are for us as well – forgiveness and resurrection from our graves and life everlasting in glory with Jesus.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!  

And to think, the best part of all of this happened after the parade!

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

Sunday, March 17, 2024

What Are You Hearing?

 John 8:46-47

"Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."

Sermon for Judica Sunday                                                                  03/17/24

What Are You Hearing?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Let me present you with a conundrum, this morning.  One truth that we have observed is that how you look at something will determine what you see, what is reality for you.  A second truth is that reality shapes your perceptions, that is, what is around you and happens to you determines, to a large extent, what you observe or how you observe it.  The conundrum, or puzzle, is this:  which truth is most persuasive in your life?

First, we observe that who you are and what your prejudices and values are can shape what you perceive.  A situation may be seen as a failure, or an opportunity.  A helping hand may be perceived as a kind thing, or as condescension, as a ‘leg-up' or as an attempt to weaken and disable someone.  How often does it happen that something you think of as good is described by someone else as a bad thing?  It happens frequently in political debate.  This power of perception to change reality for you is at least partially responsible for the animosity of the radical Muslims for America.  They perceive our freedom as an evil thing, a fundamentally immoral condition that must be eradicated.  Clearly, how you look at things changes the reality of what they are for you, and how they function in your life.

The same example of Islam also demonstrates how reality shapes your perceptions.  It is his poverty and his commitment to a certain kind of Islamic thought that causes a Muslim to think of liberty as dangerous.  Other examples might include the seemingly bizarre attitudes of the "woke" crowd, or how a woman might perceive certain things differently than a man simply because she is a woman, or how the reality that something has never been accomplished before causes people to perceive it to be impossible , or beyond their reach.  I often use the example of Roger Bannister, the first man ever to run a recorded mile in less than four minutes.  It was May 6th, 1954.  He ran the mile in just six tenths of a second less than four minutes, but he was the first man to accomplish it in well over a century of people trying.  His record nevertheless was broken in less than three months, and the current record is three minutes forty-three point thirteen seconds, set in 1999.  Until Roger Bannister did it, everyone thought it was impossible, and once he did it, they all knew they could, and they did.

Our text is another example of the conundrum.  It is also a deeper mystery which amazes us, and gives us cause to praise God, totally disallows decision theology, and finally asks us to ask ourselves the question that is our theme this morning, "What do you hear?"

"He who is of God hears the words of God."  Here is the conundrum presented.  Who you are, the reality, shapes what you can perceive - the Word of God.  Everyone who was listening to Jesus was hearing the same words, weren't they?  Yet they were not all believing what Jesus said - in other words, they were not perceiving what they heard to be the Word of God, nor "hearing" it in the sense that they believed it and understood the truth of His words.  Jesus said that the reason they could not perceive that it was the Word of God was the reality of who they were - or, more precisely, who they were not.  They were not "of God."

Before our text, in John, chapter 8, Jesus preached that unless they came to know Him and trust in Him they would die in their sins.  He explained that He was the Savior, the Messiah who was prophesied.  Then He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."  It was that passage which caused them to rebel.  They said [they] were Abraham's children and that they had never been enslaved!  How dare He say such a thing!

Jesus explained that He was talking about sin, and being a slave to sin.  He told them that He knew the evil in their hearts, their desire to kill Him, and that they were doing the will of their father - meaning Satan.  They challenged Jesus and He responded with the truth of who He was and who they were, and finally came to the words which form our text.  And Jesus explained that because they did not believe in God, or know Him, they could not believe what Jesus said, either.  Their reality, as unbelievers, and therefore servants of the devil, made it impossible for them to understand correctly or believe the Word of God.  Their reality informed their perception, and their perception changed the nature of the reality of what they were hearing from the precious and life-giving Word of God, to something confusing and obnoxious, and unbelievable.

First, let me show you how this answers the false doctrine of decision theology so decisively.  No one who is not "of God" can hear, that is properly understand or believe, the Word of God - as Jesus demonstrates in our Gospel this morning and teaches in clear words.  So, obviously, no unbeliever can hear, properly understand, or believe the Word of God, either the law or the Gospel.  So how would anyone find the wisdom to choose to be a Christian, and "decide for Christ," when they cannot understand the Gospel or believe it because they cannot "hear" the Word of God until they are "of God"?  Decision theology calls God a liar, which is what Jesus was talking about when He asked them which of them convicts Him of sin, and why don't they believe His words - which obviously the Arminian (the ones who believe that being and becoming a Christian is accomplished by an exercise of their free wills) is also doing.  They deny Christ's honesty and truth by claiming to be able to decide for Christ.

Anyhow, the question the text raises for you is "what are you hearing?"  

When God's Word is preached, what do you hear?  "He that is of God hears the words of God."  As it was back then, so today, it is often difficult to listen to, and sometimes is not inviting to believe.

We are happy to hear good things, which is why every television evangelist rips the promises of God out of their context and waves them about to impress the crowd.  They tell the people what they want to hear, instead of telling them the truth.  When they hear the truth, they violently reject it.  Oddly, people generally don't mind the law so much as the Gospel.  The promises of God are disconnected from the context in which they are spoken, and severed from the context of faith and salvation, and made to sound like God wants everyone to be rich, or God is going to make everyone eternally blessed, without regard to their life, or their relationship to Him.

The people who preach these things do not hear the Word of God, and so they preach the doctrines of demons, designed to lead the flock before them astray.  The crowd that listens, and raises their hands in a fit of "spiritual ecstasy" at these distortions of God's Word are denied the truth, and find their satisfaction in the false teachings of their preachers, to their destruction.

You, however, know better.  You have heard the truth.  Sometimes the Law is hard to listen to – but it is the Word of God.  The Jews that Jesus spoke to could not listen to the law either.  They wanted a law they could keep.  They wanted the honor and respect of being the chosen people and the children of Abraham, and they would reject anything, including the Gospel, that denied them the respect and glory they felt that they deserved.  We sometimes find the law too demanding, and discover that it does not fit into our lives here in Minnesota.  It asks - no, . . . it demands too much from us.  It seems to want our time and our money and then, we are supposed to feel all guilty and ashamed - and that is simply not comfortable with us.

But the truth is that you spend your money on yourselves far more freely than you spend it on the Word of God.  You take your time, and your trips and your family get-togethers and your entertainments far more seriously - and sometimes more frequently, than you take worship, or fellowship with the saints around Word and Sacrament.  Your time and your energy are focused on yourselves much more religiously than on your faith, or on the work which God has set before you as an individual member of His body, or before the body of Christ to which you belong, right here.  And when I say those sorts of things, it makes you mad - or at least really uncomfortable.  So, when that happens, what are you hearing?  Are you hearing the Word of God?  How is your reality shaping your perceptions?  How are your perceptions shaping your reality around you?

You should feel guilty, and ashamed at times.  You should be prodded by the Law into self-examination.  And you will find sin.  I know that you will because when I hear the same words that I preach to you, I am accused, and I must wrestle with my own sins and selfishness, and the coldness of my devotions and prayers.

But I also hear the Gospel.  I hear it because I preach it.  Jesus knew what a ‘rotter' I am, and how I could not turn away from my sins because I am a slave of sin in my flesh.  So He redeemed me - and He redeemed you.  He traded His holiness and righteousness for your sins and mine and took the judgment of God against us on His shoulders, bore the sentence of the wrath of God against us on the cross.  "He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  The whipping that wins peace for us was laid upon His back, and with His stripes, we are healed."  "He was made sin for us, He who knew no sin of His own, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!"  His death on the cross was ours, taken for us.  And we have been given His righteousness and holiness and the love of God which He has merited, and the everlasting life which He has earned is now ours by His gift!

Are you a sinner?  Not in Him!  Should you feel guilty and ashamed?  NO!  Not if you believe that in Jesus Christ you are cleansed, redeemed, forgiven, and beloved of God.  He has declared you "Not guilty!"  "‘Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.'" Those words are the Gospel - God's Word.  What are you hearing?

The Gospel is forgiveness and life - but only for sinners.  People who cannot hear the Law, that Word of God, cannot hear the Gospel rightly either.  They hear the words, they just don't receive them as God's Words.  And why is that?  "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them," – if it may be said about you that you cannot find your comfort in Christ – "because you are not of God."

You should never feel really pleased about who you are apart from Christ, or how you handle things on your own wisdom and power.  You should find that peace only in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled you with the Father, and redeemed you from your sins, and counts you as perfectly holy, with His own righteousness.  The things of daily life, they will always be something short of right and good.  Our sinful flesh will see to that.  It doesn't mean we don't try to be good, it means we know the truth.  We try, and we fall short of perfection.  But our hope is built on Jesus Christ, and His perfect righteousness, and His atoning, propitiatory, redemptive death on our behalf.  And His resurrection, of course, where the Heavenly Father proclaims that this sacrifice for sin was sufficient and paid the price of our corruption completely by raising Jesus from the dead.

What are you hearing?  It is life, and peace, and forgiveness, and joy.  It is the Word of God, and it meant for your ears, and your hearts, and your consciences.  To doubt either the law or the gospel is to call Jesus a liar, and I know that none of you would want to do that.  Jesus said, in our Gospel this morning, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."

So, what are you hearing?

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

Sunday, March 10, 2024

More Than You will Ever Need

 John 6:1-15

After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias).  And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?"  And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little."

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?"  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down."  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.  And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost."  And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.  When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Sermon for Laetare Sunday                                    03/10/24

More Than You Will Ever Need

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the challenges for Christians at this time in history is understanding what we can trust in God for, and how much we dare to trust in Him.  That has always been a challenge, I suppose, but, in our day and age, we are farther removed from the magical and mystical and miraculous.  We have centuries of "modern" men telling us that the miraculous is not possible and cannot touch our lives.  Even when people talk earnestly about trusting God they usually are speaking about something seemingly ephemeral and distant, like salvation.  Many times, we tend to make that shift in meaning in our own minds too.  If it isn't immediately tangible, we tend to place it in the category of "not quite real".

Our Gospel lesson stands as a testimony against such thinking.  The Apostle John means to tell us what we can trust God for, and how much we can trust God.  He shows us that even the disciples originally had trouble imagining just how far we can trust God.  The lesson here is that we can trust God for everything He has promised – which is everything we need.  Add to that thought that we can trust Him absolutely – as long as we are trusting in Him and not merely treating Him as our concierge.   When you trust in God, our text illustrates for us that you will have more than you will ever need.  And that is our theme this morning.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was healing the sick - and we might presume teaching, as well.  A great crowd was following Him, thousands of people.  Some probably wanted to be healed, or have a family member healed.  Some probably came to see Jesus do miracles.  Others followed Him to hear Him teach, and believed that He was someone worth listening to.  

John mentions that it was the season of the Passover, not so much to tell us what time of year it was, but to connect the events of this account to the Passover theologically.  Passover was, as you know, the great rescue by God from slavery in Egypt.  He rescued His people with signs and miracles and great power.  God brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness and provided for them - for forty years.  God fed His people with Manna - and He demonstrated Himself to the nation, Israel, as their God, the One in whom they could trust.  He made a covenant with them in the wilderness, and it all began with the Passover.  And it is this connection with caring for the people, and feeding them miraculously, and showing Himself to be their God and giving evidence that they could trust Him and depend on Him, that probably warranted mentioning that "the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand."

So, Jesus feeds the entire crowd, much to everyone's amazement, starting out with just five loaves and two fish.  The loaves were probably about the size of an eight inch tortilla, and about an inch or so thick.  John gives us no information on the size of the fish, but I am guessing that the young boy was not carrying a pair of twenty-pound carp or eighty-pound catfish with him.  Even if he had been, they would have been woefully insufficient to feed the roughly five thousand people who were fed that day.

Jesus began with less food than it probably would have taken to satisfy the Twelve disciples.  And when they were all done and everyone in the crowd was satisfied, the disciple gathered up the leftover pieces - the ones big enough to bother saving, and they ended up with twelve full baskets of bread pieces.  The baskets were likely somewhere between the size of a five quart ice-cream pail and a five gallon bucket, according to the Greek word used to name them, but the point is that when everyone had eaten all that they wanted, and were satisfied, they had several times more in left-overs than what they had when they started in the first place.

The people there were so impressed by what Jesus did, which makes sense, that they decided to seize Jesus and force Him to be their king.   They knew a good thing when they saw it, and they reacted to free food the same way we do - get it while the getting's good.  Jesus perceived that they were planning this action, and He slipped away without them noticing, and went up on the mountain alone to pray.

Now that we have rehearsed the details, we have to ask ourselves, what does this tell us?  I imagine the answer depends on how much you want to see.  Jesus was facing an insurmountable task.  He was going to feed five thousand people with little or no food.  The situation was huge and the resources for it were extremely limited, and yet Jesus accomplished it.  He fed those five thousand people and He had more left over - many times more - than He had when He started.

In the light of this lesson, What needs or troubles can we imagine that Jesus cannot handle for us?  

What tasks are we facing that we feel we lack the resources to accomplish?  

How much of our doing what Jesus gives us to do actually depends on us?

These are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself.  It would probably be helpful if you were honest with yourselves when you answered, too.  The trouble we often have is that we don't really expect Jesus to really help.  Not in things like real food or immediate, physical needs.  We don't want to start things until we have a sense that we can succeed.  We don't really expect divine intervention at any point.  And so, when we finish, and have succeeded, we feel like we accomplished it.  We church-types often piously say that this is the thing that the Lord has made, all the while still thinking that we actually did it.

One truth is that we tend not to start anything - even as a congregation - we don't think we can finish.  It isn't that we don't think we should do it, it is just that we want to be confident we have the resources to do it before we begin.  Well, according to this Gospel from John, with Jesus, we have the resources.  We have more than you will ever need.  If Jesus give us the task, He will see it through to completion.

Does that mean that we don't count the cost, or plan, or try to be wise about what we do and how we do it?  No.  We have to think, and Jesus calls on us to act - you know, do the things that need to be done.  We are to do what we believe we have been given to do, and approach it with confidence that Jesus will bring us through to success, if what we are doing is what He wants done.  In our Gospel, the disciples were asked to prepare the people for food.  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down."   They did not have food, nor did they know how they would feed all those people - but they did what Jesus gave them to do, and Jesus accomplished what appeared impossible just before He did it.

This miracle is not the only time Jesus did the impossible.  It is not even the most impressive time.  The most impressive example of doing the impossible is when He rescued us from our own sins.  The verdict of God from the very beginning was that when one sinned, that individual would die.  "The soul that sins, it shall die."  That was the judgment of God.  Sin, to put it simply, earned death - and that death was more than just physical.  It included eternal torment and suffering.  That was what God wanted to rescue us from.  His nature, however, would not allow Him to just ignore our sins and pretend that they had not happened, however.  That would have made God unjust and an accessory to our sins.  He had to punish them, and punish them with death, as He stipulated originally.  But His goal was to preserve us alive and rescue us from our condemnation.

He did that by sending Jesus.  He sent the Second Person of the Trinity, true God and yet, not the Father.  He was made incarnate - that is He took on flesh and blood, and became a true man as Mary heard the Word of God with faith and bowed her head and said, "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord, Let it happen to me just as you have said it would."  With that, Mary became pregnant, conceiving in her womb the child who would be born nine months later and be named "Savior", or literally "God is Salvation" - Jesus.

Jesus kept the Law which man refused to keep.  He lived without sin, just as He required of Adam and Eve and all of their children.  They did not obey, but Jesus did.  He obeyed God, as Scripture puts it, even to the point of death on a cross.  Having fulfilled all righteousness, He deliberately gave up what He had earned and now deserved - life without end in the favor of God the Father - and took in exchange our guilt, our shame, and our condemnation, and our death.  

Every step of the way He endured the taunting and tempting of the devil, and resisted.  During the hours just before His execution, when a word would have set Him free He kept silent.  When silence would have served Him, He spoke.  Everything He said was true, but it was also spoken with the full consciousness that it would ignite their anger and cause them to continue to march Him to the cross.

He died deliberately for us.  Because He is God He is of greater value than all of us combined, so His one death redeemed us all.  Because He has taken our death, He now has the right to give to us the life eternal which He has earned.  And He pours that treasure out upon all people everywhere, without consideration of their worthiness or holiness.  He has appointed faith as the means by which we receive and hang onto this treasure of grace.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Further, He knows that we are, by nature, not able to trust Him or love Him by virtue of our own corruption in sin, so He sends His Holy Spirit out through the preaching of His Word to work faith in the hearts of those that hear the good news of this Gospel.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  Now, all who hear have the Holy Spirit at work in them.  Many reject that work, and deny God's goodness, grace, and mercy.  They are those represented in the parable of the sower by soil of the hard-trodden path upon which the seed falls, and the birds of the air eat the seed up.  They had the treasure delivered to them, but they rejected it for something or someone else.  But anyone that believes, which is accomplished only by the very work of the Holy Spirit within them, has life everlasting, and resurrection from their graves to come, and God is with them even now, day by day.

The feeding of the five thousand reminds us that we can trust God in Jesus Christ in all things, and that He will provide abundantly.  That provision isn't just for in the sky, bye and bye.  He provides for us now, each according to His good plan for our service for Him.  He provides food and clothing and the needs of this life, and lots of our wants as well.  He feeds us with His holy body and precious blood in this Sacrament, to strengthen us, and to cleanse us, and to teach us to trust in Him and in His love for us individually, personally.

He also cares for us in our day to day pressures, desires, passions, and temptations.  He does not always give us what we desire, and surely not always what we expect, any more than those five thousand who were fed followed Jesus expecting a meal out there in the wilderness.  He provides what we need, and then some, so that we may accomplish what He has planned for us.

So, let us look to the future and work while it is still day, as we say in that old prayer, before that night comes when no man can work.  Let us do what we believe the Lord would have us do with faith and confidence, trusting that we will have more than you will ever need.

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

Thursday, March 07, 2024

The Servant – From Forgotten to Remembered

 Isaiah 49:8-18

Thus says the LORD, "In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; Saying to those who are bound, 'Go forth,' To those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.' Along the roads they will feed, And their pasture will be on all bare heights.  "They will not hunger or thirst, Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them, And will guide them to springs of water.  "And I will make all My mountains a road, And My highways will be raised up.  "Behold, these shall come from afar; And lo, these will come from the north and from the west, And these from the land of Sinim."  Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have compassion on His afflicted.

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me."  "Can a woman forget her nursing child, And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.  Your builders hurry; Your destroyers and devastators Will depart from you.  Lift up your eyes and look around; All of them gather together, they come to you. As I live," declares the LORD, "You shall surely put on all of them as jewels, and bind them on as a bride.

Sermon for Lenten Wednesday #4                                               03/06/24

The Servant of Isaiah
The Servant – From Forgotten to Remembered

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Servant text for tonight depicts the whole Gospel for us once again in the person of the Servant.  The servant is called "Zion" at one point in our text, and several Gospel allusions dot the prophecy before us tonight.  Tonight we will look at the Gospel, and our Servant of the Lord, under the theme, "The Servant – From Forgotten to Remembered".

The prophecy is filled with images we have come to associate with the Gospel, for example, "the day of salvation", the covenant given to us in the person of Jesus, the springs of water, Jesus called it "living water . . . a well of water springing up to eternal life", mountains being brought down to become a road and valleys being lifted up, being inscribed on the palm of His hands, and the bride.

All of these images are familiar in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Because the Gospel is the victory of Christ, which He has already won, it is easy to pass right by the pain and trouble of our Lord in getting there.  Our prophecy tonight reminds us of what it must have been like for the Servant of the Lord.  Isaiah gives voice to the Servant, But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me."  We know that this speaks about Jesus because we remember His cry from the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?"

This is the sorrow that filled the heart of our Lord as He bore the wrath of God against our sins.  He was alone, and although He is God, the Son was utterly alone, abandoned by the Father and the Holy Spirit in His agonies on our behalf.  Surely He felt forgotten.  He must have known, somewhere deep inside of Him, that God would not abandon Him, and yet He had to bear our human nature, too.  He had to bear that sense of being alone, forsaken and forgotten, which, for one Person of the Trinity, forever One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, must have been exquisite torment.  And He was alone, for He was facing the wrath of God over sin, and enduring our penalty in our place.

But He was not forgotten, and He had not forgotten His Father.  When His task was complete, and He had finished all that He had come to do, He commended His soul into the Father's hands, and died a truly human death.  He died the same sort of death every man, woman, and child must one day face - the separation of body and soul.  And the resurrection proves that He was not forgotten, but remembered.  Isaiah describes it in this prophecy in these words, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you."

The questions are rhetorical.  Of course a woman who is nursing her child ordinarily cannot forget the child, and mothers are notorious for their patience and compassion when it comes to their children.  Sometimes they are too patient and compassionate.  Yet God says that even a mother is more likely to forget her child, sitting in her lap and nursing, than God the Father is to forget His Son, and He will be more compassionate than a tender-hearted mother.

Here, next, is where the prophecy becomes difficult.  The prophet swings from talking about the Servant to talking about the people of God, and he makes that change quickly and without any segue.   Sometimes the same words seem to be spoken about both the servant and the people of God.  That is because the Servant is the one-man representative of the entire people of God.  He is Israel, and He is Zion!  And yet, so are we.  When Isaiah writes, Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me, I cannot help but think of the marks of the nails in the palms of Christ.  We have truly been inscribed on the palms of His hands.  The walls which the prophet describes as standing continually before Him are the walls of Zion, the city of God, and the temple of God, which is to say, us.  Peter says it explicitly in His first epistle, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  We are that temple, and we are that Zion, and just as the Servant cannot be forgotten by the Father, so we too are indelibly etched on His hands and never to be forgotten.

The Servant, once forgotten and forsaken, is remembered, and we are remembered with Him.  It is that which makes this the day of salvation in which our Lord has helped us, as Isaiah spoke.  The Servant has made us the people who will neither hunger or thirst, as Jesus illustrated by His feeding of the five thousand on one occasion and the four thousand on another.  He makes all His mountains a road, as Isaiah describes it, because He does not bring things down to our level, but raises us up to His level by the gifts of grace and by bringing us at last into His glory in eternity.  Out of the bitterness of being forsaken and forgotten, He has brought us into the glorious light of His glory.

Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, o mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted.  The compassion of the Lord rescues us from the death we have earned by our sin.  He comforts us with the promise of resurrection from our graves and life everlasting.  We are the ones spoken of by Isaiah, Say to those who are bound, 'Go forth,' To those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.' Along the roads they will feed, And their pasture will be on all bare heights..  "They will not hunger or thirst, Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them, And will guide them to springs of water."  The bondage is the bondage of the funeral attire.  It was familiar to the ancient Israelites because they would bind their dead with cloths before burial.  We read about those bindings in the account of the raising of Lazarus, and in the burial of Jesus.  The darkness from which the prophets says we are to be released is the darkness of the tomb.  The blessedness he then describes is the blessedness of paradise, beyond death and sorrow and all of the difficulties of this life, beyond hunger or thirst, beyond scorching heat so familiar to those who lived in the arid middle east..

The final note from this prophecy of Isaiah is where Isaiah writes,  As I live," declares the LORD, "You shall surely put on all of them as jewels, and bind them on as a bride." Here he is speaking of those who gather to worship Him.  The image is not identical to the one we are accustomed to, but it strongly suggests the New Testament image, patterned after much in the Old Testament, of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

Our theme is, "The Servant – From Forgotten to Remembered".  We have made the transition with the Servant.  He was forgotten so that we might be remembered.  Now He has remembered us, and the promise set before us tonight is that we will go forth in joy with Him for eternity.  All of our hope and confidence rests upon the Servant, spoken of in Isaiah, and made flesh in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Christus Victor

 Luke 11:14-28

And He was casting out a demon, and it was dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled.  But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons."  And others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven.  But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder.  He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.

"When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.'  And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."

And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed."  But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it."

Sermon for Oculi Sunday                                                                  03/03/24

Christus Victor

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Sometimes following Jesus – even just believing in Jesus – is a difficult thing.  He says things that don't mesh with our world-view.  He does things that are unexpected.  Oh, we expect the things He does in the Bible, because the Bible has been there all of our lives and so it may seem to make sense to us.  What God was doing back then didn't make sense to everyone back then, any more than the things that God is doing today - or putting us through - make sense to us today, at times.  Even when it did make sense, it wasn't what they wanted to hear or wanted to see and so they chafed against it and rebelled against it.  Jesus called them on it, and explained the truth to them so that we would see it today.  

Our theme this morning is "Christus Victor", which means "Christ the Victor" or "Christ is the Victor".   I chose those words because of Jesus' words in our text, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters."  Let us consider the words of Jesus today and see what it means in our lives day-to-day that Christ is the Victor.

Our Gospel opens with Jesus casting out a demon.  You would think that would be a good thing, wouldn't you?  His adversaries found fault with Him anyhow.  They said that He was in league with the devil, and that was how He was casting out demons.  They were cooperating with Him.  The truth of the matter was that everyone who saw it was impressed. They were flabbergasted! The text says that "the crowds marveled."  They all knew that such a thing came from God - but to the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes of the Temple, it was an awful blow.  This Jesus was just getting out of hand.  How do you compete with a man who can do the things Jesus could do?  And it was so clearly from God that they felt compelled to try to diminish Jesus' authority and stature with the people before they lost all influence with the people themselves.

So they made up the "in league with the devil" thing.  They didn't think it through, they just said what they thought would hurt Jesus in the eyes of the people.  Others of their number were demanding that Jesus do something really impressive, something clearly ‘a sign from heaven' to prove Himself to them.  It was just like politics today: say anything, however absurd, and keep saying stuff until something sticks!  Think about it – He was doing things only God can do, and He was so clearly God's man that the religious leaders felt the only way to diminish Him in the eyes of the people was to pretend that either He was in league with Satan or that He had done nothing special, and so they needed proof before they could believe what was painfully obvious to them in the first place.  Makes sense, eh?

Jesus responded by pointing out their flawed thinking - if the devil is working against himself, how could he possibly succeed?  Then He confronted them with the question of why they accused only Him of being in league with the devil.  When others did these sorts of things – or tried to, the critics never challenged them.  But, as we say today, ‘what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.'  If Jesus was in league with Satan [they even used the spooky sounding name Beelzebul (or Beelzebub) for the devil - the Lord of the Flies, or the God of the Demons.  They were working on the creep-em-out factor.  Jesus responded by asking, who are the others in league with, you know the ones of which you approve - and the ones everyone else believes are good, godly men?  Consequently, Jesus said, they shall be your judges.

Then He made the point out loud that His adversaries wanted to avoid the people making in their own heads - if Jesus was doing this by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has come among them - that is, the Savior is here.  Their plot to discredit Jesus backfired, and opened the door for Jesus to make explicit what had been only implicit before.  Jesus was the Victor there.

We are often tempted to do something very much like those adversaries of Jesus did.  If we don't like the direction the Lord is leading us, we try to cast it into terms that favor our preferences and deny the leading of the Lord.  I am talking about times when, where God seems to be taking us is going to take too much of our time, or too much of our attention, or too much of our energy, or too much of our money.  You know, when being the kind of Christian that Jesus talks about, and the Apostles taught us about, is not compatible with our modern individualism.  It is the sort of situation in which our rights and our liberties stand at odds to the sort of commitment that faithfulness to Christ seems to demand.  We want to believe that lukewarm Christianity is better than no Christianity at all - in open denial of what Jesus said in Revelation 3:16, in the letter to the church at Laodicea, "'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."

Our vacations and our family visits and our other ditherings seem to be challenged by the concept of faithfulness to Christ and His people.  Our hobbies and our toys and our entertainments seem to be threatened by the demands of genuine Christian faith and commitment.  When we feel that tug of conscience, we want to make the preacher back up a little and lighten up - sort of like the Pharisees wanted Jesus to back off and shrink in the estimation of the people.

Jesus answered them with a couple of parables: the Parable of the Strong Man Guarding His Home, and the Parable of the Unclean Spirit.  These are different answers than you might expect in the heat of conflict.  Jesus tells a parable on the devil - Satan is the strong man who guards his house until a stronger man than he comes and takes everything away.  Jesus is the stronger man.  Consequently, those who try to prop up the devil, even inadvertently, are working against Jesus.  The only way to work with Jesus is to be deliberately and clearly on His side.  Neutrality, lukewarm-ness, and just not being involved, all serve the devil - He who is not with me is against me - and He who does not gather with me scatters.

Then Jesus describes First Century Israel as the house of the unclean spirit that has been driven out.  He was driven out by the coming of Jesus Himself.  But when Jesus has gone, the devil will return, and since Israel rejects Jesus, the last state is worse than the first, and the evil of the last state is far deeper than the first.  That worsened condition is described as the first spirit bringing seven more spirits, more foul than himself, to live with him.  And look at Israel, the people.  They no longer hope for the Messiah.  They actively oppose Him.  They were once at least the people of the covenant before Jesus came, even if they failed to keep it, and they once had the Word and the prophets.  

Today they are empty, and the religion of the covenant is now pagan and idolatrous, because their Savior - their God - has come, and they rejected Him.  They chose the familiar, and the personally preferable to the true and the saving.

He who is not with me is against me' is Jesus' way of saying Solo Christo - in Christ alone - to the Jews of His day.  If we are not pulling on the oars with Him, we are dragging the anchor.  If we are not working together with one another faithfully in the church, we stand guilty of working against Jesus Himself.

One of the women there that day was so impressed with the wisdom and truth of what Jesus said that she cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed."  She meant to praise Him for His wisdom and holiness - good things, but Jesus answered her, and answered those who had been made to feel foolish by His response.  He indicated that the really significant thing was not how impressed they might be with Him, but how they dealt with God's Word.  He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it."  The true blessedness is in believing the Word of God both with your mind and with your life - not just thinking it is true, but living as though it is true.

That Word says that your sins are forgiven.  Jesus took the wrath of God against you and your sins and suffered on the cross what you have earned including death itself.  He died that you might live.  He bore your sins that you might be forgiven and live in holiness before Him.  Believe that Word!  What a wonderful gift - and what a wonderful Gospel.  Believe it with your mind and believe it with your actions.

Do we dare to behave like the Pharisees were behaving, as though this wondrous good news is not so special as it seems?  Can it be that faithfulness and holiness can take a back seat in the life of a true believer to the pleasures and priorities of modern American life, with all its wealth and possibilities?  Jesus and His obvious God-connections were getting in the way of the plans and priorities of the leaders of the Temple religion, and, although they saw the truth, they thought that they could cool it down and re-prioritize things safely.

Faith in Christ and true faithfulness will call us to changing our behaviors, re-aligning our priorities, doing things first which we would rather leave for later.  You probably feel the tug-of-war in yourself between what you kind-sorta think you ought to be doing as a faithful child of God, and member of this body here (or at your home church), on the one hand, and the tug to enjoy what is yours, take the time for yourself, do what is every American's right to do, and call Christ unreasonable for suggesting (even though it is your own mind doing all the talking) that you live sacrificially as a deliberate Christian rather than self-indulgently as one who has every right to own, to do, or to go as you please.

Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.  The strong man in your life has been destroyed, and Jesus has taken his place - by taking your place on the cross.  He has set you free - from sin, and from the slavery to yourself and your flesh - to serve Him.  "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are no longer under law, but under grace."
So, what should you do?

I'm not going to tell you.  I cannot.  

Believe the Word of God, of course.  Walk in faith.  Live every moment in the presence of God, and in the light of His love for you and the marvelous gift of your forgiveness and salvation. 

 And remember the principle, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver."  That applies to your time.  It applies to your morals.  It applies to your energy.  It applies to your talents.  It applies to your entertainments, and it applies, finally, also to your money.  

You have the Word of God, now how you respond, by the power of God within you, is up to you.  Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.  And here, too Christ is victor!

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