Thursday, January 27, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Follow Jesus and Work for Him
A sermon based on Matthew 4:12-23
Sunday, January 23, 2010 – Pentecost 3A
Whenever my dad was asked, "Who do you work for?" he'd always answer, "I work for the mechanic down the street." "Oh, so you're a mechanic then?" was the typical response to which dad replied, "No. I sell shoes at Macy's, but with my truck, all my money goes to the mechanic down the street, so I really work for him."
If I were to ask you, "Who do you work for?" this morning, how would you respond? Would you answer, "BP," or "Conoco-Phillips." Maybe you'd say "Grace Lutheran School" or "I work (hard) for my family as a stay at home mom." Maybe you'd say you work for the mechanic or for the bank to which you owe so much. But hopefully, your answer would be bigger than that. Perhaps you're employed by those businesses and you pay bills to those companies, but I hope you'd all say that you really do your work for Jesus.
This morning as we're again reminded of his work for us, we're encouraged to follow Jesus and work for him. We're called by Jesus to work for him. And we're committed to Jesus to work for him full-time in thanks for what he's done for us. Our gospel lesson is recorded for us in Matthew 4 beginning at the 12th verse…
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been imprisoned, it was time for him to pick up where John had left off. He set up his headquarters in Capernaum and set to work in sharing the message that John proclaimed: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." And, knowing that his preaching ministry would last only three short years, he looked for others to help him carry out that work. We focus this morning on the last 6 verses of our gospel lesson…
I. We're Called by Him
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Peter, Andrew and John (at least) already knew who Jesus was. Andrew and John spent the day with him when they were down south by the Jordan. Andrew brought Peter to Jesus and Jesus renamed him already then. In the loose sense of the word, these men were already disciples of Jesus—that is, they were believers. But listening to Jesus by the Jordan didn't pay the bills, so they soon decided to head back to work fishing in the Sea of Galilee, back to life as usual.
But in one day life as they knew it changed. Jesus called them to leave their old jobs behind and do something different. Jesus called them to work for him. How shocked these men must have been. They weren't looking for a new job. They didn't apply for the position of apprentice to the Savior. And they had none of the qualifications one might expect for such a position.
They weren't rabbis or priests or Pharisees. They weren't well-educated and well-versed in the Torah. We're not told they had any special qualities or skill that set them apart from anyone else. They were just fishermen—sinful humans who weren't qualified for the job and who certainly weren't worthy of the position that was given them.
When they didn't seek Jesus out, he sought them out. When they weren't qualified, Jesus called them anyway. He would give them the training and the tools they'd need to get the job done. He would make them fishers of men. And what a training it would be! Now, don't get me wrong, I think the pastor you have right now is just fine, but can you imagine having Jesus as your pastor?! To have the opportunity to follow him around each day for three years?! To see the miracles?! To hear the teaching?! How blessed they were to get such a job!
Imagine for a minute that tomorrow morning you get a phone call with an offer for a new job with a six-figure salary. You weren't looking for a new job, but the employer sought you out. You aren't qualified to do the job at all, but you're hired anyway with the promise that the company would give you whatever help and training you would need.
Well, friends, we've been given a job that's much better than any other offer we could receive! We've been given a purpose in this life that's far more important and far more exciting than a six-figure salary. We've been called to be a part of God's family and a part of his business!
And we received the call with the job offer when we were anything but worthy of such a call: When we refused to follow Jesus in his Word, refused to serve him and were totally corrupt, choosing to serve only ourselves. When we were lost in darkness, doomed to hell, and unable to find him, he found us, not with a miraculous catch of fish, but by his Word. Martin Luther put it this way: "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel…" (Explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed)
By the gospel—the good news of what Jesus has done for our sins—we have repented. That is, we have had a change of mind—about ourselves, realizing how sinful we are, about our greatest need, to find forgiveness and be brought out of the dark, and about our Savior, the light that's dawned for us and driven out the darkness.
When the light switch is turned on in a dark room, or when the sun (eventually) rises in the morning, what happens to the darkness? Where does it go? It doesn't "go" anywhere, does it? It just ceases to exist, right? The same is true of our sins, dear friends. Through faith in Jesus, the light has dawned in you and me and our sin, our rebellion, our unworthiness disappears. We're perfect and holy in God's sight. We're made worthy of God. We're made qualified to work for him.
Now in thanks for the full and free forgiveness and for the perfection that's yours in him, repent of your sin. Trust in him. And follow him. Follow him in his Word as you grow to appreciate how he has called you to be his own. Follow him in the way you live your life as you offer your thanks and praise to him. Follow him like those first four disciples did…
II. We're Committed to Him
Just think of the tough choice the disciples were given: To leave everything behind, family, friends, wealth and even health to follow Jesus. Think of the tough job they'd be going to do: to share the news that Jesus was the only Savior from and the only hope of eternal life. Think of how they'd be compensated for their work: Not with a six-figure salary, but with ridicule and mockery, and later with persecution, torture, and death. Jesus later warned them, "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." (Matthew 24:9)
Yikes! Right? Doesn't sound like such a great career after all! We might expect the disciples to say, "Thanks for the job offer, Jesus, but sounds too tough for me. Thanks, but no thanks." Or at least, "Hmmm… Can I think about it for a while? Weigh my choices and get back to you before the week's out?" But no! They couldn't refuse! Look again at how they did respond…
20 At once [Peter and Andrew] left their nets and followed him…. 22 immediately [James and John] left the boat and their father and followed him.
In an instant they had made their decision. They would leave it all. "Take the boat. I don't need it anymore. Forget the prosperous fishing company and the wealth it would bring. Dad, sorry, but we gotta' go! Catch you later!" Nothing else seemed more important than following Jesus and working for him.
But how? How could they just leave it all behind to take up the difficult, thankless task that lay ahead? Only one thing can motivate such an action: The gospel. They already knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away their sins. This gave them the desire, the strength, and the courage to follow Jesus. Pardon the pun, but they were hooked! And after they witnessed the resurrection and were enlightened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they were eager to finish the job that they were given, and even to die for the work that had been entrusted to them.
And friends, the same is true of us. In response to the forgiveness we have from the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, we long to serve him. Recall his work for you, and how committed he was to his job of saving you from hell, dedicating everything—his time, his energy, his life and his soul to save you. And when we do, we can't help but commit our lives to him, to follow him, to get to work for him.
Not that doesn't mean you have to quit your jobs and enter the full time ministry as the disciples did. You might continue to work for the oil company or the school or the shop. But that's only what you do to help you pay the bills while you do your real work: while you work for Jesus. By catching you with the gospel, he has equipped you to catch others for him. He's made you a fisher of people. Use the positions you're in to catch others for Jesus.
And while you may not need to sacrifice your job, your wealth or your family to follow him, in thanks for what he's done, be willing to if it ever comes to that! Follow him, not just part time, once a week on Sunday morning or a couple of times a month for a few meetings, but every hour of every day in all you do. Follow him now—at once, immediately—not at some future date when the kids are grown, when you have more time, when things are less hectic. Who knows? That time may never come. Follow him with total commitment, loving Jesus more than wealth or family or comfort. Follow him, no matter what the cost, even if you're asked to give your freedom and your life, as John the Baptist already had, and as the rest of the disciples soon would.
Remember how committed he was to saving you. Remember how he gladly sacrificed his very life for you. Then be committed to live for him in thanks. Sacrifice anything that keeps you from following him. And get to work for Jesus.
A friend of mine went to China for a semester to study the Chinese language. When he returned, he showed me pictures of his trip. One picture showed an elaborate piece of artwork depicting a red dragon in spectacular detail. But what struck me was that the medium used to create the piece was caramelized sugar. The elaborate work of art I saw in the picture was a piece of candy that would be sold for less than a US dollar. How long would it last? Minutes? Maybe an hour or more? "What a sad job," I thought, "to painstakingly create a beautiful work of art that lasts for so short a time when some kid would soon eat and digest it!"
What do you work for? To pay the bills and get out of debt? To get a bigger house or a new snow machine? To save for a life of luxury in retirement? How long will it all last? Instead, work for something that will last… forever. Recall how Jesus worked for you and in turn work for Jesus. Serve him in all you do. And share the good news of the kingdom as you serve others in love. And rejoice that though working for Jesus may not pay all that well, the retirement benefits are "out of this world!" In Jesus name, dear friends, it's time to get to work! Amen.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Look, the Lamb of God!
A sermon based on John 1:29-41
Sunday, January 16, 2011 – Epiphany 2A
Imagine if someone described you as lamb. Would you take that as a compliment? Sure they may look cute and cuddly, but think about it… Lambs aren't that bright. Not even as smart as a fully grown sheep (and that's saying something). They usually don't smell all that pretty. And let's face it guys, it wouldn't be very macho to be called a lamb, would it?
And yet, that's what John the Baptist called Jesus. He didn't call him the Lion that would come out of Judah. He didn't call him the bright Morning Star. He didn't call him the Alpha and the Omega. He didn't say Jesus was the man. Instead he called him the Lamb.
John's goal of course, was not to boost Jesus' ego, but to reveal Jesus for who he was—the Savior of the world; the one who would take away their sins. This morning I invite you to now look at the Lamb of God. Come gain an audience with the Lamb to see what he's all about. And go, to gain an audience for the Lamb and bring others to their Savior. Listen now to John 1v29-41…
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ).
I. Gain an Audience with the Lamb
Last week we heard how John the Baptist prevented Jesus from being Baptized. He knew he needed Jesus, not vice versa. But doesn't it seem strange then in this morning's text that John says "I myself did not know him…" that he wouldn't have known Jesus unless the Holy Spirit descended and remained on him. After all, that anointing of the Spirit happened at Jesus Baptism, after John suggested Jesus didn't need baptism. John must have known his cousin Jesus by then. So what's John saying?
He's saying that Jesus had to be revealed to him. That his cousin was the Messiah and what the Messiah would do were concepts John couldn't have figured out on his own. Maybe John didn't really understand what Jesus had come to do until his Baptism. God the Father had to reveal to John who Jesus was and what he would do. And though we don't know exactly how, in his grace, God did.
The same was true of first John's, then Jesus' disciples. Andrew and who most believe to be the apostle John were disciples of John the Baptist. They went out to the desert to hear what this strange locust-eating man in camel's hair had to say. And they believed him and wanted to learn more. And what a discovery they found in the desert! Jesus, their Savior! And this wasn't something they could have figured out by themselves either. It was revealed to them by John the Baptist. "Look, the Lamb of God!" When there was no way for them to figure out God's plan on their own, Jesus revealed it to them. "Come… and… see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. What an awesome day that must have been! And they never could have had such an experience on their own. That audience with Jesus was given them by Jesus through John the Baptist.
And friends, the same is true of us. When we could never know Jesus or what he's done for us on our own, God revealed him to us. For most of us, through the waters of Baptism where he created faith in our hearts, and through the loving instruction of parents and school teachers we came to know Jesus. For others through the loving witness of a friend or co-worker, or even more directly, through the words read in a dusty Bible sitting on the shelf, you've come to know Jesus. No matter what the way, for all of us here, Jesus was revealed to us through the Word, either heard or read when we couldn't have known him by ourselves. We gained an audience with Jesus by his grace, not our own genius or will-power. And by his grace God's revealed to us what Jesus is all about.
"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" When you think lamb, you may think cute and cuddly, but more likely you think "Baaaah!" A stupid animal that's totally dependant on a shepherd as it bleats away in ignorance. But is that any description for Jesus?! After all, Jesus called us sinners sheep and lambs. So why does John call Jesus the Lamb?
Well, think like a first century Jew grounded in the Old Testament Scriptures for a second. What would they think when they heard the word "lamb"? Maybe they'd recall the Passover lamb that was killed the night the angel of death passed through Egypt, whose blood was spilled and painted on the door frames of the Israelite homes to save them from death. Perhaps they thought of the daily sacrifices where lambs were slain as sin offerings to atone for sin and as burnt offerings after they'd been purified. Perhaps they thought of Isaiah 53:7 which spoke of the coming Messiah: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."
This is the one John revealed, not just any lamb, but THE Lamb. This is the Lamb that's been revealed to you: "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Now note what John didn't say: He didn't say "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the problems of the world" or "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away your pain and suffering." No, but much better! "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
Jesus came not to bring you peace on earth, but peace with God. He came not to give you a millennial kingdom here, but an eternal kingdom in heaven. And he did it by paying for your sins and for mine—for every time we've failed to follow him and spend time with him when he's invited us to have an audience with him in worship, in Bible class, in time spent in his Word. We are forgiven for failing to share him with others the way John the Baptizer did and the way Andrew did. We are forgiven for every sin we've ever committed because the Lamb of God took those sins away by his sacrifice, by his death on the cross in our place.
And because the Lamb of God is the Son of God, as John testified, we know it's sufficient payment for the sins of the world. Because he paid for the sins of the world, we, who live in the world, can be certain that we're included in that payment. He lifted our sins on himself, carried them to the cross, and took away our sins for ever! You and I have gained an audience with the Lamb and have seen what he's done for us!
A tourist visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church's tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he had not only survived, but was barely injured. How did he survive? It just so happened that a flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time he fell, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved. To commemorate that miraculous escape, they carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the man fell.
The Lamb of God has done more than just save us from falling to our deaths. He's saved us from our sins and thus, from falling into hell. And notice the tense: It doesn't say, "The Lamb of God, who [took] away the sin of the world!" but "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" He not only forgave us, but continues to forgive us day after day. We live in his grace. And as we continue to gain an audience with the Lamb in his Word and grow to appreciate what he has done for us and what he still does for us more and more, we can't help but share it with others and gain an audience for the Lamb...
II. Gain an Audience for the Lamb
Just as Jesus was revealed to John the Baptist by God the Father as the Lamb of God who would take away his sins, John couldn't help but reveal Jesus to others in turn. In fact, John said that was his goal in life—"I live to point people to the Lamb." He said, "The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed…" He said of Jesus, "He must become greater; I must become less."
It's been said that while Leonardo da Vinci was working on his famous painting, The Lord's Supper, his single goal was to attract and hold people's attention to the Savior. In fact, when the painting was first displayed he watched as the people crowded close to see a tiny ship he'd painted in the background and hear them say, "Just look at the detail! Truly he's a master artist!" And when they'd all left that day, he quickly took out a brush and blotted out the little ship that took him weeks to paint and is quoted as saying, "No one shall find reason for admiring anything except Christ alone."
That's how John the Baptist felt. And we see Andrew have a similar reaction to having gained an audience with the Lamb. He couldn't help but share the Lamb with others either. He started with his brother. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah." Notice Andrew didn't have any special training. He didn't have weighty theological arguments, but simply shared what he knew.
It takes no more qualifications to share the Lamb, than it takes for a witness to speak in court—you see something for yourself and tell others what you've seen. Andrew is mentioned only two other times in the Gospel of John (6:8 and 12:22) and every time we read of Andrew he's bringing someone to Jesus. And what a service he did to the church! What a chain reaction he started. Though Andrew wrote no epistles that we know of, he brought the gospel to Peter, a pillar in the church.
And friends, this morning I want to encourage you to follow John the Baptists' and Andrews' examples. When you gain an audience with the Lamb and grow to appreciate the forgiveness of sins that's your in him, go and gain an audience for the Lamb. It requires no special training, no more qualifications than knowing what your Savior has done for you. And who knows what chain reactions you might set in motion! Who knows what future pastor or missionary or witness you'll share the gospel with!
Have you seen the McDonald's commercial where two guys are talking while they wait for the bus? The conversation goes something like this: "How about that game last night?" "Yeah. It was good." "Hey did you hear about Bob?" "Yeah. Too bad." "So… uh… what did you have for breakfast?" "Oh, man! I had this awesome sandwich! Hot bacon and eggs on a fresh biscuit made from scratch with a delicious hashed brown patty chased by a cup of fresh hot, gourmet coffee. Mmmmm..! I love McDonalds!"
The point is you can't help but talk about what excites you. Your football team's victory is exciting, but not as exciting as the victory that the Lamb of God won for you. Your kid's big achievement that makes you so proud is fun to share, but not as fun as the achievement made by the Lamb. Your new car or boat is thrilling, but not as thrilling as the new life and the heaven that's yours through Jesus. So share what you know!
Inside your bulletin this morning is an insert describing what's been called The Andrew Plan. (Click here to read more.) It asks you to invite a friend to a Bible class. Invite someone to come with you to see the Christ, just as Andrew did. It's simple and easy to do. We'll be starting a new Bible Information Class in March, but in the meantime you can invite a friend to worship or Wednesday night Bible class, invite a friend to a fellowship event or to your house. Take the insert home, read it through, and prayerfully consider it. Consider the plan and consider who you can invite.
Continue to gain an audience with the Lamb in his Word, dear friends. And as you look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and are reminded how your every sin is forgiven, taken away, and gone forever, then go excited to win an audience for the Lamb in thanks to him. Pray that others might also share in the joy that we have and the eternal life that's yet to come through Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. In his name, dear friends, amen.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Jesus Says, "Let It Go!"
A sermon based on Matthew 3:13-17
January 9, 2010 – Epiphany 2A (Baptism of Our Lord)
Ever been in a disagreement with a kid or employee where they just kept arguing and arguing even though you already made it clear exactly what you expected and that you weren't going to budge on this one? "It's bed time NOW. I mean it." "You need to do the project. I don't care if you have to stay late." And finally, after you've had enough you tell 'em, "Just let it go! Do it!"
This morning we take a look at a puzzling text where Jesus comes to be baptized. Have you ever wondered why Jesus needed baptism? After all, baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus didn't have any sins! If it seems strange to you you're in good company. John the Baptizer struggled with this very question himself. In fact he refused to do it. He argued with Jesus and stopped him from being baptized. Finally Jesus told John, "Let it be so now…" or literally, "Let it go!" "Just do what I tell you, John, and baptize me."
And in this account of Jesus' baptism there's much for us to learn as Jesus tells us to "Let it go." Because we too often we argue with God refusing to do what he tells us, he encourages us to let go of thinking you know better than God. And when we see our sinful folly, he comforts us reminding us that he came to be baptized so we could let go of our sins in his righteousness. Listen now to the account of Jesus' baptism recorded for us in Matthew 3:13-17…
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
I. Let Go of Thinking You Know Better Than God
If you think about it, John really shows a lot of nerve here, doesn't he? He just told the people, "…after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry." (v.11) But now the forerunner who's not worthy to carry the Messiah's shoes, tells that Messiah that his plan is backwards; that he's dead wrong. Wow! What nerve! The Son of God comes to John and tells him what to do and he flat out disobeys. In fact, in the Greek the words, "tried to" aren't there. John deterred, prevented, stopped Jesus from doing what he came to do.
Why? Because Jesus' plan didn't make any sense to him! John figured that Jesus didn't need baptism. Baptism was for repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus had no sin. He had nothing to repent of! He was perfect in every way. God the Father would admit as much in moment: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." God certainly couldn't have said he was perfectly pleased with John. As great as he was, John was still a sinner… but not Jesus.
So you can almost see John's jaw drop at this request: "Me baptize you, Jesus?! What?!" "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Imagine if Bill Gates asked you to help him figure out how to work his computer, or if Tiger Woods asked you to help him with his swing, or if Brett Farve asked you to give him a few pointers on how to throw a football. You'd think they were crazy, right? You'd likely answer them like John answered Jesus, "You don't need my help! I need your help!"
But just because John didn't understand gave him no right to disobey Jesus. He didn't need to know why to obey. Maybe because Jesus was human like us in every way John forgot who was talking to him. This was the eternal God standing before him giving him a command. If Jesus had said, "Bark like a dog." John shouldn't question why, but should shout, "Woof!" right?
And though Jesus could have thundered, "John, don't forget who you're talking to! Do as I command now, or else!" he didn't. He gently said, "John, let it go." "Let it be so now…"
Now, I don't mean to pick on John, but I have to point out how foolish he is here, because I find myself acting like John too often. And don't you sometimes do the same? Don't we all sometimes argue with God thinking that we know better?
(1) God tells us to be kind and compassionate, to let go of the grudge and forgive from the heart just as he's forgiven us. (cf. Ephesians 4:32) But we foolishly argue, "God, did you see what that person did to me? How am I supposed to forgive that?!" (2) God promises to work all things for our good. (cf. Romans 8:28) But we argue, "No, God, this pain, this problem, this struggle is not for my good! You're wrong. I'd be much better off if you made me healthy and wealthy with problem-free relationships all the time." (3) God promises that his Word will work. (cf. Isaiah 55:11) But we argue, "Don't be so naïve, God. The simple preaching of the Word is not enough. We need other gimmicks and tricks if we really want to change hearts and lives."
And I'm sure you can think of countless other examples in your own life where you tell God his way is dumb, his law is out-dated, or his methods are ineffective. And if not by our words, certainly by our actions we tell God that we know better than he does. We do things our way instead of his way. And we disobey what he tells us to do and not to do.
And for ignoring God's commands, for disobeying him, for thinking we know better and backseat driving, for complaining to God that he's not as smart as us and if only he'd do things our way, we deserve hell. So thank God that Jesus didn't let John deter him any more, but did what he did…
II. Let Go of Your Sins in His Righteousness
Jesus lovingly told John to let it go. "Just trust that I'm God and know a little bit more about my baptism than you do." And though he didn't owe it to John he even gave an explanation as to why he needed to be baptized. 15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. Clears up all the confusion, right? J What exactly does Jesus mean when he says he needs to be baptized "to fulfill all righteousness"? That's the key to understanding this text. So let's explore a few options:
Is Jesus saying he had to do this in order to be righteous, as if he weren't righteous yet? No. Jesus had been sinless for the past 30 years, obeying God in every way. Is he saying he had to obey God's command to be baptized to follow the law and maintain that righteousness? Well, at this point there had been no command to be baptized. Jesus himself would later give the command. And besides the command to be baptized isn't a law, like "You shall not kill," "You shall not commit adultery," "You must be baptized." It's a gospel imperative, "Receive the blessings I offer. Be baptized and have your sins washed away." So if baptism is receiving forgiveness, the question remains why did Jesus need to be baptized?
The answer lies in the work that Jesus came to do. He had been righteous with perfect obedience to the Father up to this point in his life already, but now the focus of his ministry was changing. Now he would enter his public ministry and begin the rest of his work of taking mankind's place. Now he would fulfill that part of God's plan to give his righteousness to mankind as their substitute, their pinch hitter, their Messiah who would take the fall for their sin.
John was right: Jesus didn't need to be baptized—not for himself. But John did need Jesus to be baptized. That's what Jesus was doing: stepping in to take John's place, acting as if he were a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, getting right down in the muck and mire of sin, right there in the river in line with real sinners to take their place. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness not for himself, but for us…
Ecclesiastes 7:20 tells us, "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." We were doomed to hell for arguing with God, for disobeying him, so Jesus stepped in to take our place: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified" that is, made righteous, "freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (That's Romans 3:21-24) By being our substitute Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for us. And it all began with his Baptism.
You see, righteousness is not something we do, but something we receive. For a long time Martin Luther struggled with this confusion. He heard that phrase, "the righteousness of God," and hated the God that demanded he be righteous when he knew perfectly well that Luther could never be righteous. But when he read these verses from Romans he understood: The righteousness that God demands, he gives—in Jesus.
And now, the righteousness that Jesus fulfilled is yours. Your baptism connects you to that righteousness Jesus won. "All… who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… [and] anyone who has died has been freed from sin." When you were baptized, you didn't do something for God. God did something for you. He gave you the very faith that clings to the righteousness of Jesus.
And now, when God looks at you, he can say the same thing of you that he said of Jesus. "This is my [s]on [or daughter], whom I love; with [whom] I am well pleased." You are perfect and holy. So let go of your sins. They've all been placed on Jesus. They've been paid for. They've been removed. No punishment is left. No guilt remains!
And in thanks for that forgiveness, that righteousness that's yours, live to thank him for what he's done—taking your place, in the Jordan river, on the cross, and in hell. Let go of your plans to sin and live the new, righteous, life he's given you. Let go of questioning God's plan for you. Let go of the backseat driving. Let go of thinking you know more than God. And trust that if he loves you enough to leave heaven to come to earth, to the cross, to hell and to the grave in your place to fulfill your righteousness, he will certainly take care of you in the smaller things you struggle with. Let go, and let God be in charge as you be what he's made you—righteous in Jesus. Let go, dear friends. Amen.
Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him!
A sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany A – January 2, 2011
"We Three Kings of Orient Are…" Already in the first line of this popular Christmas carol there are some pretty big assumptions made. How many wise men were there? Three, right? We don't know the Bible doesn't say. There were at least two since it's plural. But there could have been 10 or 30 or more! They were kings though, weren't they? Not likely. Magi were scholars and astrologers. Well, at least we know where they're from—the Orient. Well, no. We don't know that. All the text says is "from the east." It never tells us how far east. Most believe the Magi were Persians, not Orientals.
So much for "We Three Kings of Orient Are"! But "We Unidentified Number of Some Sort of Scholar from Somewhere East of Israel" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. (And it's much harder to sing.) In spite of the erroneous legends that surround them, and in spite of how little we know about them, these Magi from the east give us an excellent example to follow.
As we examine the only account we have of them in Matthew this morning, we're encouraged to (figuratively) follow in their footsteps. So, come! We too will adore the Christ! Not with Herod's madness, but with the Magi's gladness. Listen now to the account of the Magi from the east and their visit to the Christ child. We read Matthew 2:1-12…
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
I. Not With Herod's Madness
As the Magi from the east followed the star they arrived at Jerusalem. And why not? Where else would you expect the King of the Jews to be? Right there in the capital city, right? Perhaps in a royal palace laying in a crib of pure gold. They might expect thousands to be gathered there to worship this baby King! But what they found in Jerusalem was quite different…
When King Herod heard [the report of a King of the Jews besides him] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Doesn't that verse make you wonder? I mean, why do they act so surprised? Didn't the shepherds already tell everyone around what they had heard and seen? Wasn't this report of the Christ child already widely circulated by now? After all, the Magi weren't visiting Jesus in the stable like the movie and the Christmas cards show it, but in a house. On coming to the house, they saw the child… This visit must have been days if not months or even up to two years after Jesus was born. Surely that was enough time to hear news about the Child and his angelic baby shower! But maybe they missed the memo.
But when he looked into it, Herod found what he needed to know. Where was this Child? He …called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law [and] asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written…"
And Herod's reaction? Herod called the Magi… and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
Sounds good, right? He wants to worship the Messiah! His Savior from sin! …If only that were true. Herod's true intent is revealed later in Matthew 2. Herod was really searching for the child to kill him. "He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (2:16) He couldn't stand any opposition to his throne. And so he tried to kill the Christ just as he had already killed one of his wives and three of his sons, who he was convinced were plotting against him.
And it wasn't just Herod, was it? [King Herod] was disturbed, Matthew writes, and all Jerusalem with him. Why were they disturbed? Perhaps out of fear of Herod's reaction to hearing of another King of the Jews. But maybe it was more. After all, they didn't travel the 7 miles to Bethlehem to see the Christ themselves. Why not? Maybe they had a different idea of what the Messiah was about. Maybe they were looking for a different kind of Savior—one not born in a barn, but in a palace.
But why? Why did Herod and Jerusalem act the way they did? Well, simply put, because they ignored the Word. Herod called for the teachers of the law to search the Scriptures, relying in their divine inspiration even! But he did it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have asked "What king of a King is he?" Instead of "Where is he?" Maybe then he would have found Isaiah 53 to see the Suffering Servant—a King whose kingdom is not of this world, a King who would conquer not Herod or the Romans, but sin, death and hell. Maybe then Herod would have worshiped the Christ child not with madness, but with joy from the heart as the Magi did.
Now, it's easy to pick on Herod and say, "What's wrong with you? How can you miss the biggest thing that's happened in the history of the world? How can you react the way you do?" But before we do, don't we have to admit that we sometimes act like Herod?
Now, I don't think any of you are plotting infanticide of a small town to protect your power and your claim to some throne. But don't we often pretend to adore Jesus with hidden motives? We pretend to adore him on Sunday mornings, but once we get back into the car, the truce is over and the fight we had on the drive in can resume! Game on! We pretend to adore him with a devotion, but forget what we read just as quickly as we set it down. We pretend to adore him often with other motives… Do we ever worship him not for what he's done on the cross, but in the hopes that he'll bless our work, get us that promotion or raise, or take away our illnesses? Do we sometimes worship him when things are going well, but complain and gripe against him when things aren't going so well?
And why do we react the way we do to the most important event in history? Isn't it because we too ignore the Word? Sure we'll search it from time to time to find out how he can secure our comfort and fix our problems in this life and give us our best life now, but then we ignore where he says we'll have to suffer, bear crosses, and endure pain.
And so, for our false worship and our hidden motives we deserve the pain and agony of the cross. We deserve the hell that Christ was born to endure. And yet, we don't get it. Instead we get forgiveness through the Christ child. We get a clean slate and peace with God. We get not just a new year full of hope, but a new life—one that will last into eternity! And the more we hear his Word, the more we'll appreciate what he's done and will respond in thanks to God adoring him with the gladness of the Magi…
II. But With the Magi's Gladness
And just look at how these Magi adored him! Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house [in Bethlehem], they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Though we know so little about them, what wonderful examples they set for us! They adored him in truth from the bottom of their hearts! And this faith of theirs is evidenced first by their journey. Now I don't know for sure where they were from, but if they were from Babylon they traveled 720 miles. If they were from Persia, that's 1,050 miles away! We don't know they rode camels, but even if they were in chariots, can you imagine traveling from Kenai to Deadhorse without an airplane or car? Just leave everything behind for as long it would take to make the trip and back! This was no easy task! (Made no easier by the heavy bars of gold they carried!)
Their faith is also evidenced by the way they act: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed… they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. The sight of the star alone filled them with joy, so they were bubbling up with excitement! And when they found him, it didn't bother these full grown men that they were lying with their faces on the ground before a toddler who could barely walk or talk. Without shame they bowed down and worshiped him offering their praise to the child who would be their Savior!
And finally, their faith is evidenced by the gifts they brought. I think we assume there were three men because of the three gifts. Maybe they all gave all three. We don't know. But we do know that these gifts weren't cheap. They didn't just pick these gifts up along the way, but planned to give him gifts fit for a king! They didn't just open their wallets at the last minute saying, "Oh, yeah! Maybe we should give an offering," as an afterthought. This was why they came—driven by faith they came to bring their gifts to him in thanks!
But why did they respond the way they did? Why did they respond so differently than Herod did? Because they did listen to the Word. If they were from Babylon or Persia, maybe they were instructed by Daniel and the other exiles who took the Old Testament prophecies with them.
Maybe they read the prophecy in Numbers 24(:17 & 19) which read, 17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel… 19 A ruler will come out of Jacob…" Maybe they read Isaiah 60 (which we just read earlier in the service) that said nations would come to the light of the Savior with camels bringing their gifts of gold and incense to him. We don't know for sure how, but somehow they knew this was "his star" and they couldn't help but respond in thanks.
And is it any different for us? When we realize that we do deserve hell for our false worship of Christ, for complaining about driving 30 miles in to church, for reluctantly offering a few dollars to our Savior instead of giving with hearts full of joy… and when we realize that we don't get the hell we deserve, but instead, by the work of that toddler in Bethlehem who would grow up to die on the cross, we get full and free forgiveness, peace with God, and the certainty that heaven itself is ours… when we realize what wonderful things he's done for us, we can't help but respond in thanks either!
We too thank him by our journey, gladly traveling in to church, no matter how long of a drive you have to make, to hear his Word of forgiveness! We gladly sacrifice our time spent on a hobby to make a trip for him to take care of his church or a hurting brother or sister! We gladly drop what we're doing to spend time with him in his Word recognizing that there's no journey in life more important than this one.
We too thank him by our actions, eagerly worshiping and praising Christ here together. We're glad to worship him in our own homes and to bow down to him in prayer. We long to worship him in lives of service, serving others as if they were Christ himself. After all, Jesus tells us that on Judgment Day he'll say, "…you gave me something to eat …you gave me something to drink …you invited me in …you clothed me …you looked after me …you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
We too thank him by our gifts—given to church, given to one another, given to those in need. When we ponder what cost Christ paid to free us from our sins, from death, and from hell, we long to give our costly, precious, and planned gifts to him. We give joyfully from the heart, compelled by gratitude to our Savior. As it's been said, "You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving."
Continue to listen to his Word, dear friends. For listening to his Word and to the good news of his grace found there makes all the difference. It makes the difference between pretending to adore him with Herod's madness and truly adoring him from the heart with the Magi's Gladness. As with gladness men of old… oh, come, let us adore him! Amen.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Trust in God's Grundloss Grace
A sermon based on Lamentations 3:22-33
Friday, December 31, 2010 – New Year's Eve
Well, 2010 is quickly drawing to a close and 2011 is only a few hours away. So, looking back, how would you characterize 2010? For some, it will be remembered for the economic crisis and the government problems. For others the economic crisis hit closer to home with the loss of a job. For others the lost finances haven't mattered as much as the loss of health or the loss of a loved one to a broken relationship or to death. Overall, 2010, was a rough year, wasn't it?
The prophet Jeremiah had a "rough year." The city that he loved lay in ruins, devastated by war. His family and friends were prisoners of war in a distant country. The economy was destroyed and the people impoverished. Drought and famine drove people mad with hunger as they ate their own shoes and even their own children. And when Jeremiah spoke the word of God to them, the people wrote songs that mocked and ridiculed the prophet and even threatened his life. What a rough year!
And yet, in spite of all of his problems, Jeremiah was not without hope. He found comfort in God's grace—a grace that is grundloss. Grundloss is a German word that literally means "groundless." But it has a double meaning. First it means there are no rational grounds for this to happen. There's no reason for God to love us. But it also means there is no ground to it. It's bottomless and will never run out.
It's because of God's groundless grace for us that 2010 was as good as it was. And with the confidence that God's groundless grace will continue, we can face 2011 with confidence and hope. Listen now to the comfort that Jeremiah found in the midst of his lament as we read Lamentations 3:22-33…
22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. 31 For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. 32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. 33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.
I. There is No Reason For It
Has this been a rough year for you? Did everything go as planned? No matter how easy or rough 2010 was for you, you can rejoice because it could have been a lot worse. In fact, it should have been a lot worse because you and I deserve none of the blessings we did receive.
Jeremiah understood that God had brought the problems and the pain that he and Jerusalem now faced because of their own sin. He knew the Lord had laid these burdens on them, that he had brought this affliction and grief, because they deserved it. Though they had known the true God and his gracious promises, they chose instead to worship scraps of wood and bits of metal. They chose to ignore his will and to live for themselves. So finally, God sent them well-deserved war and captivity and poverty and famine as a result of their rebellion.
Now I can't say that the problems you faced in 2010 and will likely continue to face in the new year are a direct result of some specific sin. But I can say that you deserve much worse. You deserve hell. …And so do I. Our rebellion against God is no better than that of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day.
In 2010 you and I have failed to place our trust in God, just as they did. We have failed to appreciate the generous gifts and the amazing promises that he gave us. We have worshiped worthless idols, not of wood or stone, but of plastic, metal, fiberglass and poly-cotton fiber. We have chosen to ignore his will and to live for ourselves. And we have grumbled and complained—against God!—for our own personal disasters. And for our rebellion we deserve hell. We deserve to be consumed by God's wrath.
But we're not. Why not? "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed… great is [his] faithfulness." How do we know God is so loving when it doesn't always seem that way? We know he loves us because of what he's done for us in Christ. He has been faithful in keeping his promises of salvation. So, when Jeremiah speaks of God's love we can't help but think of Jesus…
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.
When Jesus was young—only 33 years old—he bore the yoke that the Lord laid on him. He bore all of our sins and took them to the cross. He sat alone with no one to help him endure what he went through. He endured in silence and when put on trial he didn't shout out in anger or rage. He offered his cheek to be struck as he was mocked and ridiculed. He offered his back to be scourged, his hands and feet to be nailed, his soul to the agony of hell. He was filled with the disgrace of our sin and of rejection by God the Father. He was buried in the dust.
Why did Jesus do all this? So that you and I wouldn't have to. So we don't have to endure what we deserve. But why is God so loving to us? I don't know. There is no reason that we should be the object of such love. His love for us is groundless, reasonless, there's no explanation for it but that God says he is this loving… to you! And no matter what else happened in 2010, God never withheld that love. He never took Christ away. He never consumed you with his wrath… because his compassions—which were without reason—never failed.
And they never will fail, because not only is there no reason for God's groundless grace, but there's also no bottom to that grace…
II. There is No Bottom To It
Most of you know that I love my coffee. And while there are all these drive-throughs around here, I still prefer to go inside the brick-and-mortar coffee shops. I especially love when the restaurants have that "bottomless" cup. You can drink all the coffee you want and the wait staff will just keep filling it up as long as you sit there with your laptop or your book. That's how it is with God's grace. It never ends! "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning…"
When we think of the something as being new, we usually think of it in a chronological sense: "I've had that one for a year. It's old. But I've had this one for a week. It's new." But in the Hebrew that word has more of an idea of freshness, like the manna that appeared in the desert every day. It was fresh every morning.
Think of the presents you just received for Christmas. How long will they be "new" to you? Eventually, (maybe even sooner than later?) they will wear out, fade, or break. The gift cards will be spent, the chocolates will be eaten, and maybe even before you take down the Christmas tree.
But God's groundless grace isn't like that. It's always new! His forgiveness will never grow old or out of fashion! It will never fade, never spoil, never run out, and never wear out! And it can never be depleted! His compassions are new every morning! That means that each day is a "new" day, a fresh start with a clean slate, with every sin or mistake of yesterday forgiven!
Why do we celebrate a new year every year? I mean, not much will really change between tonight and tomorrow morning besides a zero becoming a one. Well, I think New Year's Eve is such a big deal to so many people because we look forward to starting over. We look forward to another chance. We can place the mistakes of last year behind us and get another shot at those resolutions we failed to keep.
But as Christians, trusting in God's groundless grace that never runs out, rejoicing in his compassions that are new—not every year, but every morning!—each day offers new opportunities to start over. We can wake up each morning rejoicing that yesterday's sins are forgiven! Today is a fresh start with fresh opportunities to live lives of thanks to Jesus!
And that perspective, as we live in God's groundless grace, changes the way we view everything! It changes the way we view our struggles in 2011. We view them not as problems, but as opportunities—opportunities to grow in our faith, to share our faith, and to share God's groundless grace with others.
Imagine what you could accomplish if you had an endless supply of money that would never run out no matter how much you spent or gave away. Friends, you have something even better: an endless supply of forgiveness that will never run out no matter how much you use or give away! You have an endless supply of power that comes from the gospel! No matter how much you use you can never exhaust it and have a black out! You have an endless supply of love shown to you from God that you can extend to everyone around you!
So what if 2011 brings an even worse economy?! So what if it brings pain? So what if it brings shame and disgrace and misery and suffering of every kind?! You have God's groundless grace! And so you know that 2011 will be another great year no matter what happens!And if trouble and hardship and pain should hit, you can put your trust in God and his grace to you. You can bear the yoke the Lord lays on you. You can wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. You can even offer your cheek to one who would strike you and be filled with disgrace. For "though [the Lord] brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love"—his groundless grace, that has no reason for it, that has no end to it. So you can say to yourself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." In Jesus, may God grant you all another year of his groundless grace. Amen!