Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Praise the Father Who Made Us His Children (A sermon based on Galatians 4v4-7)

When we were alienated from God by our failure to keep his law, he sent his own Son, to set us free from our sin and from the law. And he adopted us to be his own children. Now as his children, we're also heirs who stand to inherit all our Father has to give. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Galatians 4:4-7 and rejoice! Praise the Father who made us his children!

Praise the Father Who Made Us His Children

A sermon based on Galatians 4v4-7

December 26, 2010 – Christmas 1A


Imagine a little orphan boy who lives on the streets. He barely has any clothes. He searches the dumpsters for food at nights. His only shelter is a large cardboard box in an alley. He lives a miserable existence.

One day, Bill Gates comes along. He sees the boy in the alley and feels sorry for him. He takes him home, gives him a hearty meal, cleans him up, and gets the process rolling to adopt the boy as his own son. Think how his status has changed! He had nothing. He will soon have more than he could ever have dreamed!

            That little orphan boy is you. You too have had your status changed before God. He has changed you from the slave you once were to his dearly loved child. Today as we hear Paul's words to the Galatians, we are encouraged to praise the Father who made us his children because he sent his Son to make us free and his Spirit to make us heirs. Listen again to Paul's words of encouragement as they're recorded for us in Galatians 4v4-7…


4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.


I.                    He Sent His Son to Make Us Free


In the verses right before our text for this morning Paul talks about a child waiting to turn 18 and to get his inheritance from his rich father. But until he turns the legal age, the son is no better than the maids or servants in the house. Once he is 18 the father's riches are his.

Paul explained to the Galatians that they were once like that boy. They were held under the law obligated to keep it all. At the same time then, they were slaves to sin, since they were far from perfect. Some unfortunately had the self-righteous attitude that they could earn their forgiveness. Others had the apathetic attitude that gave up in despair. Left to themselves, these attitudes could only lead to death and destruction.


But, that's not the end of the story for the Galatians. Like the boy who became rich when he turned 18, so also the Galatians. When the time was just right, God sent out his Son with a mission; a very specific mission: to redeem those who were under the law. He came in God's own time; just when God had planned. He came when and how God wanted him to just as he foretold through the prophets. He accepted his mission and came to carry it out.

But Paul leads us to look at the Christ child more closely. In order to redeem those under the law, Christ had to become a human being like those under the law. He had to keep the law perfectly on behalf of those under the law. Philippians 2:6 and following tells us that Christ, "6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…" Christ made himself a slave to the law.

But for Christ, this did not make him a slave to sin, like it did the Galatians. Christ, as true God, had the power to resist sin. Throughout his entire life he never sinned, not even once. He lived a perfect, sinless life. Then he did even more; he then credited his perfect life to those under the law—all people. His perfect obedience is placed on them. Their sins are placed on him. He sets them free from sin, from death, from the devil. Mission accomplished!

In verse 5 Paul applies this truth directly to the Galatians. He includes himself with the Galatians when he says, "that we might receive the full rights of sons." Those who were under the law might now receive the full rights of sons! Those Galatians, who were by nature enemies of God, able to do nothing but resist and hate him, had a whole new and wonderful status: dearly loved children of God.


But those words weren't written just for the Galatians. What about us? Where do we fit in? We are reminded that we too, by nature, are enemies of God. We too, by nature, are stuck in slavery to the law—look at the many sins each of us commits daily. Satan tempts us to think we deserve God's forgiveness because we regularly go to church. Or our sinful pride can lead us to think that we can earn God's favor by living an outwardly godly life. But when we remember that even these attitudes themselves are sin, we realize that there is no possible way that we can keep God's perfect law under which we are all born. Left to our own, we are on a certain path to death and destruction forever in Hell.

But praise God! He didn't leave us in that condition. This Christmas season we've seen how Christ came to this world. In his own time and his own way God sent his Son to be under the law to keep it perfectly for us too. Christ died for all people and paid for the sins of everyone. That includes us. We now have been set free from the slavery of the law and we are now God's dear children.

Imagine if I were to be kidnapped by terrorists who refused to let me go unless you would pay $1 million. You could try to get the money, hold a special offering, sell your homes, apply for a few loans and empty out your bank accounts. Maybe with a lot of work, you could even buy me back from those terrorists. (Though I wouldn't hold my breath.) But in our lives of sin, we can't even begin to pay the price to buy ourselves out of Hell. It's just way too much! But there's good news! We don't have to! God sent his Son to make us free! Christ bought us back. He paid the price in full! We are God's dear children.

Now in the second part of our text for this morning, Paul tells us that because we are God's children, He did even more for us...


II.         He Sent His Spirit to Make Us Heirs


The apostle Paul wanted to assure the Galatians that because Christ did fulfill his mission they would receive the benefits of Christ's redemption. He tells them that because they are now sons of God, God sends them his Holy Spirit into their hearts. The Holy Spirit worked in the Galatian Christians and created faith in their hearts. They could now trust in God and cry out to him in confidence, "Abba! Father!"

This crying out is a cry of faith. "Abba" is an Aramaic term translated for us in the very next word. It means "father." But this cry was one of trust. It was a daily, but polite address to one's father. We might translate it, "Dear Dad." Enabled by the Spirit, the Galatians could call upon God in confidence, through faith, like a kid talks to his dad.

An author of a devotion book I once read describes it well. He puts it this way: If his five-year-old daughter simply says, "Daddy, I'm thirsty," her father knows what she wants. He gets her a glass of milk. She doesn't need to say, "My dear father, who hath wonderfully provided for all my needs these past six years… wouldst thou consider traversing to the rectangular appliance filled with Freon and retrieving the plastic canister filled with the fruit of the cow so that I might enjoy it as a libation." If she did, he would still get it for her, but even if she only said, "Moo," he would still pour her some milk.

The Galatians didn't need to pray in perfect Greek. As adopted sons and daughters of God they had the Holy Spirit praying for them and through them. Paul reminded the Romans, "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Jesus himself said in his Sermon on the Mount, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" The Galatians could now call out to God with the same confidence of a little kid asking a loving dad for something to eat.

Paul concludes this portion of his letter to the Galatians by reminding them of another blessed benefit of the work of Christ and the Spirit. He reminded them that now they were not just children of God who could talk to him about anything, but because they were children of God, they were also heirs of his inheritance.

To be an heir one can expect to inherit something. To be heirs of God meant that the Galatians could expect to receive the inheritance of God's perfect heaven when they died. They no longer had to live in fear of punishment in hell, but could be certain that they would spend eternity forever blessed with God.

Remember the homeless boy who Bill Gates adopted? Think how much his status changed. He went from having nothing at all to having more than he ever dreamed of! And though he wouldn't be a multi-millionaire right away, he could be certain that some day he would inherit more than he could ever have imagined as a child. This is what the Galatians had. They would certainly enjoy the benefits of being God's children in this life, but they would inherit even bigger and greater gifts in heaven.

And God has done exactly the same for us! God has sent his Spirit into our hearts! The Holy Spirit prays for us and through us with inexpressible words, with sighs and intercessions. We need not worry what words we will use when we pray to God. We can be confident that because Christ died for us and made us his sons and daughters we can call him "Our Father who art in heaven" and pray boldly and with certainty that he will hear us and answer us for our good. 

And while we can trust confidently that God will provide for our every need in this life, we can rejoice even more that we have become heirs of greater and better things to come—things that the thief cannot steal and the moth cannot destroy! We can be confident that God has made us heirs of eternal life! We no longer need to fear even death itself, but can look forward to that blessed day when we receive our lasting inheritance.

So, show your gratitude to God your dear father who made you his dear child and an heir of heaven. Praise him with your actions and your words. Express your thanksgiving to him in your prayers and in your songs. Don't gripe and grumble, but remember who you are: God's dearly loved children, free from sin and heirs of heaven. Don't just pray "gimme" prayers, but pray for people other than yourself. Pray for those who don't yet know what God has done for them. Pray confident that your dear Father in heaven hears you as his own dear child. And don't keep what Jesus made you to yourself, but tell others why God sent Jesus to the cross, namely, to make us his dear children, and why God sent his Spirit into our hearts, namely, to make us heirs of heaven. Yes, as the hymn-writer put it… 

Tell how the Father sent his Son to save us.

Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us.

Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation, His new creation. Amen.

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Saturday, December 25, 2010

God’s Christmas Card (A sermon based on Hebrews 1:1-9)

Do you send out Christmas cards to let people know what you've been up to and to express your love for them? So does God. He sent out Jesus to be his Christmas card -- to tell us what he's been up to and to share with us his love. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Hebrews 1:1-9 to "read" God's Christmas card to you...

God's Christmas Card

A sermon based on Hebrews 1:1-9

Christmas Day A – December 25, 2007


Quick quiz: What's the busiest day of the year for the US Post Office? Did you guess April 15th? Close, but not quite. December 21st is the busiest mailing day of the year. On that day millions of people send packages in the hopes that they'll arrive before Christmas. And even more send their Christmas cards—their annual attempts to stay in touch with distant relatives and old friends.

Do you send out Christmas cards and letters? If so, why? Don't you write the letters to share with your family and friends what you've been up to the past year? Don't you send those cards to express the love you have for them, the wishes and the hopes you have for their year ahead?

The author to the Hebrews wrote a letter to group of struggling Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. And he wrote to give them encouragement. But really the Christmas card we read today isn't from the author to the Hebrews. It's from God. And really the Christmas card isn't the letter, but Jesus, whom we find described there.

God sends us a Christmas card. He sends his son, Jesus, born on Christmas Day. And through Jesus, God tells us what he's been up to. He expresses his love for us. In God's Christmas Card—Jesus—he reveals his glory to us and he reveals his grace to us. Listen now to Hebrews 1:1-9…


In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." 7 In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire." 8 But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."


I.                    Reveals the Glory of God


"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…" What did God say through those prophets? Well, isn't that really what we've been looking at the past couple of weeks as we've been studying some of the prophecies of Isaiah? He said, "I'm sending my Son." But now, in these last days, God has spoken to us in a different way. He's spoken by his Son—by Jesus. What does he say through Jesus? First, he speaks of his glory.

Have any of you ever seen the sun? "Of course we have," you're thinking, "every day—at least for a little while, anyway" right? But the truth is you haven't really seen the sun. You've seen the light of the sun, but not the actual sun—the very mass of burning gas—itself. Why not? Well for starters it's over 93 million miles away. But even looking at the light of the sun for too long causes problems right? We can't handle the intense light of it. To stare at the sun can burn your eyes.

In the same way we can't really see God, can we? Even Moses who's face shone with the glory of God was told, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:20) Why not? Because we're sinful. We would be consumed by his glory if we saw the face of God. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark? They opened the Ark of the Covenant to see God himself and they melted. That's not that far off. Because of our sin we are impure and cannot see God.

So God sent his Son. "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being…" Ever looked at a solar eclipse? What do you need to do if you want to view it? You need to wear those special glasses, or at least look at it through a piece of cardboard with a pin hole in it. Even though it seems dark, the power of the sun can permanently burn the retinas, so we need to only take in a part of it's light.

In a similar way God veiled his glory in flesh, so we could see it. Want to see the glory of God? Look at Jesus and veiled in the flesh of Jesus we do see God's glory. I know he didn't look like glory in that stable—with no clothes, no crib, no clean place to sleep. But God would reveal his glory through his Son. When the Father spoke and the Spirit descended on him at his Baptism, on the mountain where Jesus transfigured himself, as he ascended into heaven, we see a glimpse of that glory. In the world around us that he created, in the world that he continues to sustain by his powerful word, we see God's glory.

And in Jesus we see his holiness… Want to see God? Look at Jesus and learn how holy he is. We cannot stand the sight of God because he cannot stand the sight of sin. We get a glimpse of that holiness in Jesus. The author to the Hebrews says of him, "You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness…" Jesus never sinned. Not even once. He hated sin with a passion. And yet, he was crucified. He was damned to hell because he took our sin on himself. God could not stand the sight of sin even when it was on his holy Son, so he abandoned him, he fried him with his holy wrath poured out against sin.

Yes God's Christmas card of Jesus reveals his glory and his holiness. But in that person, Jesus, God also reveals his awesome grace…


II.                  Reveals the Grace of God


While Jesus is true God—an exact representation of his being, he was incarnate, that is, he became flesh—true man in every way. And he did it for one reason and one reason alone. Even though it's buried in our text as a subordinate clause, it's the most important part of our text, and the content of the rest of this letter to the Hebrews—Christ's work: "After he had provided purification for sins…"

God became man to purify us from our sins. The prophets said what God would do, but Jesus actually did it. Jesus is superior to the angels not only because of who he is—eternal God, begotten of the Father, not made, while the angels are created beings—but also because his work is far superior. The angels serve in two ways: 1) they carried special messages from God—like announcing Jesus' birth to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, and 2) they protect God's people as guardian angels. But Jesus job is much more important. He provided purification for our sins.

A few years ago Becky took the boys to Wisconsin to visit her family. And I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to clean the carpet in our living room without having to keep the boys off it while it dried. Much to my dismay once I cleaned it, the stains stood out even more against the now cleaner carpet around them. After using three different stain removers, now you could still see (though just barely) where the coffee spilled, where the food fell, and where someone started to draw a smiley face with magic marker before mom walked in.

But with Jesus it's different. It didn't take multiple tries. And there aren't any remnants of our sin, no residue left to vacuum up, no hint of any blemish. He provided purification for our sins with his blood. And he did a perfect job. Our sins are gone, no spot remains. It's in the past tense because it's done and complete. And as true God, "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being," his death on the cross counted for the sins of the whole world!

What grace God reveals in his Christmas card! He doesn't just express his love for us, he shows it to us. He doesn't just tell of the wishes and the hopes he has for our future, but actually takes our sins away so our future is changed! We have heaven instead of the hell we deserve! What an awesome Christmas card!

And now, with his work on the cross complete, Jesus has received the glory due him. "He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven…. he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs… [his throne] will last for ever and ever…"

And in that glory of heaven, he rules all things for us, his Church, until he finally takes us to be with him in that glory! Rejoice, dear friends, in that God has spoken to you, not through a paper card or printed letter, not through a telephone call or an email, not through a prophet like he did in the past, but through his Son. He's revealed to you his glory and his holiness. And he's revealed to you his astounding grace in providing purification for your sins.

Merry Christmas to you from God through Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord, our Savior. In his name, dear friends, amen.

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

The Perfect Name for the Perfect Child (A sermon based on Isaiah 9:2-7)

Seven hundred years before he was born, Jesus' name had already been picked out for him. Through the prophet Isaiah God had picked out the perfect names to describe what Jesus, the perfect Child, would accomplish for us and for our salvation. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon to hear what our Savior has done for us...

The Perfect Name for the Perfect Child

A sermon based on Isaiah 9:2-7

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Aaron, Abner, Abraham, Adam, Adan, Ahmad… Every day, expectant parents around the world ask, "What should we name the baby?" And so they read books like "The Very Best Baby Name Book Ever" and "Biggest Book of Baby Names."

Mary and Joseph didn't have to go through all that. Gabriel told them what to name the baby: Jesus, which means, "He saves." But even before the angel announced his name, this little baby had already been given a name. 700 years before he was born the prophet Isaiah gave him several names. And every one of them fit perfectly.

This evening let's take a quick look at those names, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and see how they're the perfect names for the perfect child… Isaiah 9:2-7 reads…


2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.


I.          A Child to Bring Us Perfect Victory


What wonderful names God gave the promised Messiah through the prophet! They described not who the Messiah would be, but what he would be and what he would do.

When the Messiah would come, he would lead the people out of darkness, shatter the yoke that burdened them, destroy their enemies and rule in peace forever. Isaiah saw in this little baby, the Savior that we need.

"He will be called… Mighty God," Isaiah writes. And how we need a God who is mighty! Let's face it. As tough as we want to appear to everyone, we're weak—at least when it comes to spiritual matters. On our own, we're walking in darkness. We can't see where we are or where we're going. Deceived by Satan, influenced by the world, led into sin by our own sinful natures, we can do nothing but sin. We rebel against God not only in what we do, but in what we say, in what we think, and in what we don't do.

We sin with our bad priorities in forgetting God in regular worship or in our budgets. We sin when we think we're good enough to make him love us. We sin when think we only need a little help from God, as if to say, "Nice work on the cross, Jesus, but I'll take it from here."

And even when we do something "good," we ruin it with our selfish motives. I give to a charity, but not out of love for God. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself—like I'm not really that bad. How full of sin we are!

But even if we fool others—even if we fool ourselves—we can't fool God. Because even one sin, like any one pin prick, pops the balloon of perfection that God demands of us. We are stuck in sin, "living in the land of the shadow of death," with eternal death in hell our deserved fate after our physical death.

And there's nothing we can do about it. We can't undo what we've done. We can't unsay what we've said or un-think what we've thought. We can't achieve perfection any more than we can tape a popped balloon back together. How weak we are! In fact, we're worse than weak. By nature we're spiritually dead. We need a miracle—an act of God.

And that's exactly what we have in our Mighty God. Though he hardly seemed mighty as an infant, laying in a trough in a barn smelling of manure… though he hardly seemed mighty as he walked this earth as a poor, homeless man… though he hardly seemed mighty as he hung on the cross being tortured to death for a crime he didn't commit… what a Mighty God he is!

He had the strength and power to defeat our enemies. In fact, that's why the Mighty God humbled himself to be born as a lowly human—to win a victory for us.

As Mighty God, he had the strength to live a perfect life, never sinning—even once! And he gave that perfection to us. As Mighty God that death on the cross could pay for not just one person's sin, but for the sins of the world! And by his mighty power he shattered the yoke of guilt that once burdened us. He shattered the bar of sin across our shoulders. He shattered the rod of our oppressor when he undid Satan's work, figuratively crushing his head on the cross. Our Mighty God won the perfect victory for us!

"And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…" What does a counselor do? He or she gives counsel or advice, helps you with your problems, and gives you the encouragement you need to keep going. Our Wonderful Counselor didn't just win a perfect victory for us, but he brings it to us in his Word. There he advises us how to be rid of our sin: "Trust in me and in my work on the cross," he says, "Do nothing. It's already done." He advises us how to live our lives in thanks for what he's done. And he encourages us, reminding us that though he may not shatter every burden of suffering we face right now, he will when he takes us to glory. And that truth brings us lasting peace…


II.                  A Child to Bring Us Lasting Peace


"And he will be called… Prince of Peace," Isaiah says. "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." The soldiers' boots and bloodstained clothing could be burned in the fire because they would no longer be needed. When the Messiah would come there would be perfect peace.

But wait a second! Jesus did come! He was born more than 2000 years ago! So where's this perfect peace? There are still wars in Afganistan and West Africa. There are still conflicts on the streets, gang activities, murders, rapes filling the headlines. And even in our own homes there seems to be little peace: There are bitter fights among family members, sickness and surgeries, and financial troubles that leave us feeling anything but peaceful. And we may feel like shouting at Isaiah, "You have no idea what you're talking about!"

But he knew what he was talking about. He wasn't talking about a physical or political peace or a world without problems. He was talking about peace with God. Though Christ and the forgiveness of every one of our sins, we appear holy and perfect to him.

And so we're no longer at war with a holy God who must pour out his wrath against sinners. He already poured out his wrath on Jesus. Because of Christmas (which allowed for Good Friday) you and I are free from sin, death and hell. We have peace with God. And no matter what turmoil we go through, this peace can never be taken away.

"And he will be called… Everlasting Father," Isaiah says. "Of the increase of his… peace there will be no end. He will reign… over his kingdom… upholding it… from that time on and forever."

We may fight to win a war and establish peace in some country, but as soon as we leave, some new enemy could quickly rise up and destroy that peace. In fact, someone once said that peace is that rare moment when everyone stands around… reloading.

But that's not the case with God's peace. Just as God has no beginning, so he has no end. Jesus always was, always is, and always will be. And so, because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," (Hebrews 13:8) his work will always last. The peace with God he won for us will never be lost.

In fact, the peace he's established can only increase. His peace will increase as we grow in our faith and learn more and more to put our trust in him and in his promise "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" (Romans 8:28) His peace will increase as we let go of the petty arguments and the worthless stuff we cling to and realize that soon enough heaven itself will be ours. And finally, it will increase and become perfect peace with no more war, or suffering, or struggles or pain, when he takes to heaven forever.

This Christmas, dear friends, remember this little baby's name: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Remember that your sins are forgiven. Satan's been crushed. Hell conquered. So no matter what burdens weigh you down, rejoice "as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder," because one hundred years from now, whatever troubles you today won't matter. You'll enjoy the perfect, eternal peace accomplished by Jesus, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." In his name, dear friends, amen.


Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Monday, December 20, 2010

There is Hope! God Is With Us! (A sermon based on Isaiah 7:10-14)

Ever feel like your situation is hopeless? It's not. Take heart. Christ came to earth, true God born of a virgin, to suffer and die for our sins. He has removed our sin. He has removed our guilt. Now he promises to continue to be Immanuel -- God with us. Rejoice, friend! There is hope! God is with us! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon and find hope in a manger...

There is Hope! God Is With Us!

A sermon based on Isaiah 7:10-14

December 19, 2010 – Advent 4A


Our team is down—by a lot!—and there are only two minutes left in the game. And our stay player is out with an injury. The bills are piling up and there's no end to this debt in sight—not unless I win the lottery and since I don't buy tickets, it's not looking good. The addiction has been a problem for years, and just when I think we're done, here comes another slip up again. The doctors say there is no cure. The pain will continue until this kills me. Sometimes it seems that our situation is pretty hopeless.

That's how it seemed to King Ahaz, one of the kings of Judah. He was in a bad situation. His enemies, Israel and Aram, were at his doorstep. The destruction of Judah seemed inevitable. The situation seemed hopeless. And even though Ahaz had ignored the Lord for years, God spoke to him anyway. And God gave him a reason to hope.

Today, we reach our destination in our Advent journey with Isaiah. We finally arrive at the manger. And we see God give a beautiful promise of hope to Azah and to Judah… and to us. He tells us there is hope because God is with us. God is with us whether we want him or not. And God is with us whether we deserve him or not. In Isaiah 7:10-14 he writes…


10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." 13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Whether We Want Him or Not 

King Ahaz wasn't exactly one of the good kings. He was a disaster both politically and spiritually. He worshiped false gods, setting up altars to them not just in the streets, but even in the Lord's temple. He even sacrificed his own children on an altar to one of these false gods. What a wicked man!

And now he was in trouble. King Pekah, who assassinated the king of Israel to take his throne, now allied himself with Rezin, the pagan king of the Arameans. They formed an alliance to fight off the Assyrians and wanted Ahaz to join them. When Ahaz refused they turned their sights on Judah. They would attack Ahaz to teach him a lesson—and it seemed obvious that they could easily win.

With things as hopeless as they seemed to Ahaz, he should have turned to God. But he didn't know God, he didn't want God's help, and he turned to the King of Assyria for help. But even when God's people try hard to forget God, God will not forget his people. He sent Isaiah to Ahaz to comfort him anyway: "Be careful," he said, "keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood… 5 Aram…" (that's Rezin's country), "and Remaliah's son," (that's Pekah, king of Israel), "have plotted your ruin… 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: "'It will not take place, it will not happen… (Isaiah 7:4-5,7)

And yet Ahaz refused to believe God! He still didn't want God's help. He'd rather trust in Assyria. So God wiped him out, right? No! Listen to what God does next!
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." In other words, God signs a blank check. "Let me help you believe. Ask for anything, a shooting star, an eclipse, or an earthquake, let me make a piece of wool wet but keep the ground dry, or make the ground wet and keep some fleece dry. Ask to walk across the sea on dry land or ask me to rain fire or hail on your enemies. Ask for a sign—any sign. I'll show you how you can trust in me."

But Ahaz, pretending to be God-fearing, refuses to take the blank check. "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." Come on, Ahaz! If you don't want to put the Lord to the test, why do you kill your own kids on an altar to a false God? Why do you desecrate the Lord's temple with your disgusting worship? Why do you encourage your people to rebel against the Lord?

To demand a sign from God to prove his love is presumptuous at best, but when God insists you ask him for one, what sinful folly to refuse! Think of it this way: If I demand you give me $100, you'd think I was rude. But if you insisted I take a $100 gift from you and I said, "No. I won't take it. I don't believe you," and then complained how little you cared about me you'd think I was just as rude—likely worse!

Isaiah called him out on his mock piety. Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? "You weary me by rejecting the messages I bring you time and time again, Ahaz. But even worse, you weary God by your unbelief." And yet, in spite of the fact that Ahaz doesn't want God to be with him, Isaiah continues, "the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (which means, God-with-us).

Now before you join the I-think-Ahaz-is-a-loser Fan Club, let's examine our own lives. Do we ever act like Ahaz and refuse to believe God's gracious promises? Do we ever refuse to accept what he offers? Do we ever try the patience of God?

How well do we  trust God when he promises "call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me" (Psalm 50:15)? Or when he promises, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28)? Don't we sometimes say, "No, God. You can't really help me with this one. This one's too big for even you. I don't trust your Word. And don't ask to strengthen my faith through that Word. I'm much too busy for that. I wouldn't presume to test you…"

How well do we take advantage of the rich blessings God promises in his Word? God promises to bless us if we study it, learn it, and memorize it. But don't we say, "No, God. I wouldn't presume to ask too much of you. I don't want to try God's patience demanding answers to life's questions. I'll just go watch TV or read a magazine, or take a nap." And we reject the million dollar check God offers us! And then don't we sometimes even complain that he doesn't care for us?! How we too try the patience of God! How we must weary him with our unbelief!

And so it can be a frightening thought that Immanuel—God is with us. That means God is with us when we're sinning against him. It means he's right there in the room when we choose to ignore him and his Word reaching instead for the remote. It means there's no place we can go, no place we can hide, no place we can escape his noticing our sin. We are just as bad as Ahaz, friends. Often, we don't want God's help. We don't want him with us. But thank God that even when it seems we're trying to forget God, he won't ever forget us. Thank God that just as he was with Ahaz, he's with us too, carrying out his plan to save us, whether we want him here or not. And thank God he's with us whether we deserve him or not…

Whether We Deserve Him or Not 

Can you think of anyone less worthy of God's promise of salvation than Ahaz? Not only did he rebel against God in every way, setting up false prophets in every street, slaughtering his own children, rejecting God's promise when he sends it to his doorstep? When God did promise deliverance he rejected the promise. When he offered a sign, he belligerently refused!

And yet, God delivered him anyway. God didn't let Rezin or Pekah win that fight. 2 Kings 16:5 tells us: "Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him."

And what's more, is that when Ahaz had only one thing on his Christmas list: Deliverance from Rezin and Pekah, God promised him even more. He promised deliverance from sin in the Savior: "Hear now, you house of David! …the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."

I don't know if Ahaz understood what this promise meant. But it doesn't matter. It was intended for a much broader audience than that one king anyway. The "you" of "I will give you a sign" is plural. This sign was given to the entire house of David—that is, to the line of kings, the ones through whom the promised Messiah would come. (Remember, God told David one of his offspring would sit on the throne forever? – cf. 2 Samuel 7:13ff.)

And Matthew makes the meaning of this prophecy crystal clear. He writes of Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary in Matthew 1(:22-23), " All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

What comfort we find in this promise—a promise given to such a wicked, undeserving king. It's so comforting because we know that we don't deserve God to be with us any more than Ahaz did. A minute ago I asked, "Can you think of anyone less worthy of God's promise of salvation than Ahaz?" If we're honest, every one of us will say, "Yes. I can think of someone less worthy—me."

By nature we are spiritually dead (cf. Ephesians 2). We are hostile to God. (cf. Romans 8:7) And even after he brings us to faith, even after we have a clear understanding of this prophecy proclaimed to Ahaz, even though we see clearly God's plan of salvation, we still act like Ahaz. We're just as bad as he; worse even because we've seen the fulfillment of God's prophecies. We are totally undeserving to have God be with us.

Imagine if the President of the United States were going to visit Kenai. Would you be a little surprised if he called you up and asked if he could stay at your place? You'd probably be shocked, right? "Why me? What makes me so special?" Especially if you haven't always had the kindest things to say about him or the way he's running the country.

Well, this is Jesus—true God—coming to be with us! A little surprised? We might be taken aback because we're not worthy. We haven't always said the nicest things about Jesus, or done the nicest things to him. After all he said whatever we do to someone else on earth we do to him. The only thing we're worthy of is having him be against us, not with us.

And yet, God delivers us anyway. At that first Christmas, God became flesh to be with us. He was born of a virgin and became human; became a weak and helpless little baby born in a smelly stable. And as he grew up God was with us on the earth, living the perfect life that we couldn't so he could give that perfection to us. God was with us so he could die for us and save us not just from an enemy nation, but from our sins, from death, from the eternity of hell that we deserve. That's what Isaiah promised in this little child in the manger, Immanuel, God with us.

And now, God is still with us today. He promised, ""I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) Whether we deserve to have God with us or not is beside the point. He is with us. He sent his Son to be with us on the cross. He promised to be with us now. And God will be with us for all eternity when he takes us to glory one day soon.

So, no matter how hopeless things may seem, we have hope. It doesn't matter if the bills are piling up and the money's used up. It doesn't matter if the family's broken up because you've goofed up. It doesn't matter if you've slipped up and feel like giving up.

God didn't give up. He carried out his plan of salvation for you, whether you wanted him to or not. He sent his Son to become a baby—Immanuel; God with us. See God with us in the manger. See God with us on the cross. See God with us in every struggle of life. And one day soon see God with us—face to face in the glory of heaven, whether you deserve it or not. Rejoice, dear friends. There is hope! God is with us. Amen. 

See the Desert Oasis (A sermon based on Isaiah 35:1-10)

Sorry I'm a week behind on this one. I'm catching up now, so yesterday's should be not too far behind. Blessings on your week as you prepare for the celebration of our Savior's birth this weekend!

In Him,
Pastor Guenther

As we continue our journey with Isaiah to the manger, we travel through the harsh desert. But there we see a pleasant surprise: an oasis spring up out of nowhere right before our eyes. This is the picture Isaiah gives of our Savior, the Living Water, springing up out of nowhere to rescue and save us and give us the life-giving water of his Gospel. Read or listen to (Download or Stream) this sermon based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and be refreshed... 

See the Desert Oasis

A sermon based on Isaiah 35:1-10

December 12, 2010 – Advent 3A


I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the poem, Footprints in the Sand. In it a man dreams that he's walking along the beach with Jesus at his side. This walk represents his walk through life. As he dreams he sees two sets of footprints along most the way, but when things got rough in life, he only saw one set. In his dream he turns to Jesus and says, "Why'd you leave me when I needed you most?" And Jesus responds with the punch line: "I didn't leave you during those rough times, I carried you."

Now the setting of the poem is at the beach, where everything is calm and quiet and peaceful. But I've always thought a better setting would be in the desert—somewhere like the Sahara. The environment seems much more fitting, more like this life—tough and hostile. What problems could you face, walking along a serene beach with a beautiful sunset? But the desert, now there's an environment that you'd experience some pretty serious lows, when things would get tough, when, so dehydrated you can barely walk, you'd need someone to carry you.

It's through such a hostile desert environment that we travel with Isaiah this morning. As we continue on our journey to the manger, we go through the desert, but there in that hostile land, we see a spectacular sight! This morning we see the desert oasis! It's a spectacular place and there's a spectacular way to it! Listen now to Isaiah 35 beginning at the first verse…


The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 4 say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." 5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.  

I.          A Spectacular Place 

Two weeks ago we talked about the hostile conditions atop Mt. Everest, with little oxygen and sub-zero temperatures. Today, we travel through another hostile environment with Isaiah: The desert. The Kenai Peninsula averages about 19 inches of rain per year. In contrast, the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa averages less than 1 inch a year. For that reason it consists of mostly rock and sand; very little will grow there. Because of the lack of moisture in the air, nothing blocks or traps the sun's heat, so temperatures easily rise well above 100 degrees during the day and below freezing and night. It is a barren, dreary land. And God uses the desert as a picture of his judgment against sin… 

In the previous chapter of Isaiah (34:8-11, select phrases) God says that the good fertile land would become a sulfurous burning wasteland: "For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution… [the] streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land… will not be quenched night and day… From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. 11 The desert owl and screech owl will possess it…

This was a prophecy about Israel's neighbor, but soon Israel herself would resemble a desert. Their lives would become dry and dreary. Their capital city would be destroyed and the temple would lie in ruins. Their king would be captured and blinded, their sons killed in battle, and those who survived would be carried off into captivity.

Why did all this happen? Because they had become like deserts themselves—spiritually dried up and dreary, morally unfruitful and hostile, rejecting God's promises and his prophets! God had to discipline his children before they were lost to hell—which is exactly what they deserved. And yet, in God's grace, even as they were about to be turned into a desert, he promised them a wonderful oasis.

And what a spectacular event Isaiah describes in chapter 35! The dead and barren desert would suddenly spring to life, blossom and bloom! Now that in and of itself isn't all that spectacular. Many cacti do bloom each spring. But notice how the desert blooms: "Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom… The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon…"

Crocuses aren't desert flowers. They grow in woodlands and meadows. Lebanon was known for its cedar trees, Carmel for its oak trees, and Sharon for its beautiful meadow flowers. None of these plants or trees grow in the desert. 

Picture it. Without the hard work of irrigation, without long miles of plumbing, water suddenly appears in an instant. Springs bubble up, rivers and pools suddenly appear and flow through the desert. The rocks break apart as tree roots plunge into the ground. The sand is quickly covered with grasses and reeds that grow in marshes, then flowers cover the fields. And in an instant, where the land was dead and barren and dry, it's now moist and fertile and lush. What a beautiful oasis would appear!

When would all of this happen? Verses 5 and 6 coupled with our Gospel lesson make it clear. Isaiah writes, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." In our Gospel lesson, John the Baptist wondered "Is Jesus really the promised Messiah?" And Jesus responds by referring to this passage: "Look at the evidence," he suggests. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Matthew 11:5)

When Jesus came, he rescued the people from their dry, barren, empty wasteland of a life and brought springs of living water. He rescued them, not from the Romans, not from their poverty, and not just from their physical pain or disease, but from their sins. Jesus, the Living Water (cf. John 4:13), provided a refreshing oasis in the middle of the desert. And he does the same for us…

 Let's face it, life can become like a desert for us too, can't it? After the death of someone you love, life can feel empty and barren. When love dries up and relationships are broken, when health rises and falls like the temperatures in the desert, when you lose a job and money is as hard to find as water in the desert, or even when nothing in particular is wrong, but your energy is all dried up, boredom and depression set in, we're left feeling like a desert—burnt and brown and broken down.

And to make matters even worse, not only is this world a hostile desert-like place to live, but we ourselves, by nature, are like deserts. We are barren of fruit or flowers with nothing good being produced. We're spiritually dead with no life in us and no ability to come to life. Like a forsaken land, we deserve to lie desolate from generation to generation. We deserve hell for all of eternity.

And on our own, there's nothing we can do to improve our situation. The phrase "burning sand" in verse 7 is literally "glowing sand" in the Hebrew. The NIV translators understood this to mean glowing hot. But others have suggested it's glowing in appearance, but when you get close, it's nothing but sand—a mere mirage.

We can run to find relief from our burning thirst, but every oasis we run to turns out to be nothing more than a mirage. We may seek comfort in our finances, our nice stuff, our human relationships, a drug or a drink, but we wake up the next day to find ourselves still in the desert, only thirstier than we were the day before. There is no lasting relief in these mirages. They offer no hope.

There's only one place to find relief: In Jesus. "Everyone who drinks this water," he said, "will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)

Imagine being lost in the desert, dying of dehydration, wandering from mirage to mirage, getting your hopes up time and time again just to have them dashed to the ground every time. When you finally give up with no strength to move on, you lay down in the sand to die. But then someone comes to carry you to a lush oasis with cool sweet water! What relief you would have! Your life would be saved.

Imagine the relief of the blind, the lame, the deaf, the mute, the sick that Jesus healed! Imagine the relief that came when they learned that their sins that made their live so barren and dry had all been forgiven. You don't have to imagine it, friends. You have that relief. Your sins—even those sins of running from one mirage to the next—are all forgiven! And you have the oasis of the gospel right in front of you! You don't need to search for it. God comes to you and shows you the way to this spectacular place! Isaiah describes this spectacular way to the oasis in the desert, picking up at verse 8…

8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. 9 No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, 10 and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away

II.                  A Spectacular Way 

Typically if you want to cross the desert, you have to plan ahead well in advance. You need a camel who can go for days without a drink, you need shade and protection from the harsh sun, blankets for warmth at night, and plenty of fresh water to drink. Let's face it, crossing the Sahara would be a tough journey—about as tough as climbing Mt. Everest. The way wouldn't be easy.

That's the way most travel was in Isaiah's day. Even the paved roads were hard to travel on. They were bumpy and narrow and with only one route from point A to point B, the thieves and robbers knew where to attack. The wild animals knew where to find their prey. Travel was tough and it was dangerous.

And that's how many people view the journey to the oasis of peace with God in this desert of life. "You want peace with God? Great!" they say, "But it's going to be a tough journey. Here's what you have to do: You need to clean up your act. You need to stop sinning. You need to improve every aspect of your life. In short you need to become a saint and then you can have peace with God."

The truth is we do need to be perfect to enjoy peace with God. That's why Isaiah says "The unclean will not journey on it… wicked fools will not go about on it." So if perfection is a requirement to go on this road? Who has any hope?

Driving back to Raleigh from a vacation in Wisconsin I once missed a toll booth in Chicago and drove through the "Speed Pass" lane. So, at the next toll booth I asked what to do. The guy in the booth didn't say, "Don't worry about it. It's just 50¢." And he didn't offer to pay the toll for me out of the goodness of his heart. He told me how to send my 50¢ (plus a $5 processing fee) in by mail when I got home.

The toll to travel on God's highway is perfection. And that's a price that's too steep for any of us to pay. No matter how determined we are to cross the desert of life and make it into heaven, we can't make it on our own. We will die trying. No amount of sacrifice, hard work, or cleaning up your act will ever do it. But that's exactly why God built a highway for you and Jesus paid the toll.

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) And what a way he is! He did all the work for us! He sacrificed his very self, living a perfectly selfless life, never sinning, not even once, for us. He endured hell on the cross—an environment far more hostile than any desert—the very torment of being cut off from God—for us. And by his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death he paid the toll for us.

Now we live on this superhighway, where travel is easy. It's ten lanes wide and in spite of all the traffic on it, there's no slowing or stopping us. The highway travels right over all the rough, barren difficult terrain. There's nothing we need to do to get to heaven! It's all been done for us! And this highway is safe. "No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there."

Even though "the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," (1 Peter 5:8) that's all he can do. When we're on the Way, trusting in the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, he can harm us none. He's judged the deed is done. Nothing and no one can rob us of the peace we have with God through Jesus. It's smooth sailing on this highway!

And so, we rejoice, even though we're still traveling through the desert. Because we know that in spite of the problems with our jobs, with our health, with our relationships, with the routines, one day soon we will arrive at our eternal oasis.  We will "enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown [our] heads. Gladness and joy will overtake [us], and sorrow and sighing will flee away."

Though we may feel parched and dried out and burnt up now, we know that soon we'll leave this desert, just as God promises in Revelation 7(:15-17) "God…  will spread his tent over [us]. …Never again will [we] thirst. The sun will not beat upon [us], nor any scorching heat. For … [Jesus] will lead [us] to springs of living water."

And so, right now we rejoice greatly and shout for joy! We are strong and do not fear because our God will come to save us from the pain and hurt and struggles we face. He cares about you; not just for your soul, but also for you body—that's another reason he did those miracles. So trust that he is working all things for your good. Trust that he is taking care of you, carrying you, even if it seems like he's abandoned you in the desert and you only see one set of footprints.

You've been ransomed and redeemed and the way to heaven is now an easy road—Jesus did it all for you! And having been filled with the Living Water, share that water with others in this desert. Strengthen the feeble hands that shake in fear at what tomorrow brings. Steady the knees that give way, wobbling like Jello at the thought of death and the judgment to come. Share the Living Water that they too might find relief in this desert of life by the cool, refreshing oasis that God has prepared. In Jesus name, dear friends. Amen.