Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Free Lunch (A sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-5)

God has a great offer for everyone in our text for today. Though we've grown cynical to hearing about "free" offers and have learned that there's no such thing as a free lunch, when we look at the "fine print" of God's gracious offer, we see that it really is free. It really is for everyone. And it really does satisfy our greatest need. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon (or NEW! this week, click here to: watch the entire service) and rejoice in the "free lunch" that God offers to all...

A Free Lunch

A sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-5

Sunday, August 28, 2011 – Pentecost 11A


Nothing in life is free. There's got to be a catch. Read the fine print. There is no such thing as a free lunch, right? And I'm sure the Jews of 2000 years ago had similar expressions.

What a surprise it must have been, then, when Jesus presented the crowd with a free lunch! Free fish and bread – all you can eat! It doesn't cost a thing! Eat until you're satisfied! And 5,000 men (and that's not counting women and children!) ate to their fill with 12 baskets of leftovers! What a magnificent miracle!

Wouldn't it be cool if Jesus did that for us today? If we could have a free lunch? Eat without paying for it? Maybe you're not into fish and bread. But how about free burgers and bottomless fries? Or all you can eat fried chicken, pasta, and prime rib? But that's not gonna' happen, right? Because everyone knows there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Or is there?

In our message for this morning, God tells us that he does feed us. But what he has to offer is much better than physical food. He gives us spiritual food that really satisfies our souls. "But something that good, surely must cost quite a bit, right?" Nope. He says it's free. It doesn't cost (us) a thing! "Well, then it can only be a few and the limit is already met?" Nope. It's for everyone. God's "free lunch" is for you and me.

What a great offer! But then again we've seen great offers before. This week I actually saw an ad that read, "Buy one ear piercing at twice the cost and get the second ear pierced free." Apparently that ad was targeting those who were bad at math. But not all great offers are so obvious. You get the free phone, but then realize you're locked in to overpaying for the service for the next two years. You get the free dinner, but realize that it's only good for a meal that's of equal or lesser value than the one you need to purchase. Too many offers have let us down in the past and so we've grown cynical. What's the catch? Where's the fine print? 

So, come, let's each lunch and dine on the Words of our God as they're recorded for us in Isaiah 55:1-5…


"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. 5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor." 

I.  It Really is for Everyone! 

A great offer, right? But let's read the fine print to see who the offer's for. Are you excluded from the offer if you work for the company? When does the offer expire? Isaiah records the Lord's offer, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Like a lively street vendor selling his goods in the market, the Lord calls out "Get your water! Get your wine! Ice cold milk here! Ice cold milk! Grab a bite to eat! The best food around, right here folks!"

But look who the offer's for: God didn't say, "Come, all you who have enough money to afford this steal of the century." He didn't say, "Come, all you who have a great credit history. After I run your credit check, we'll talk about the details." He didn't say, "Come all those who think they might be morally good enough to get what I have." He didn't even say, "Come, my specially chosen people of Israel." He didn't exclude anyone from this offer.

It's not limited to just the Jews, God's chosen people. In verse four he says that the offer is for "the peoples," the word used for nations besides Israel, or for Israel plus other nations. In verse five he says it for the "nations," a word often translated "Gentiles," those who aren't Jews. There is no disclaimer of "At participating locations only." This offer is for everyone. No one is excluded based on nationality, race or residency.

But what about time? When does the offer expire? It doesn't. The Lord says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you." Everlasting means just that; it will last forever. There's no "while supplies last" disclaimer thrown onto the end of this offer either. The offer wasn't just for Isaiah's audience, there's no "limited time only," and there's no expiration date to the offer of God's grace. The offer is for all people of all time. No one is excluded.

The Lord says exactly who the offer is for. He said, "Come, all you who are thirsty…" He's not speaking of mere physical thirst, obviously, since the offer given is for spiritual food. He says, "your soul will delight in the richest of fare…" The offer is for all who thirst for righteousness, for all who strive to enter God's heaven, all who long to meet God's standard of perfection, but fail every time. Who's that? It's you. It's me. The offer isn't limited to those who are of a certain moral quality. It's offered to all who recognize their sinful failings and long for forgiveness. It's an open invitation and it's a universal invitation. The offer isn't limited at all. You can be sure that it hasn't expired and that it's for you.


II.  It Really is Free!


But what does this spiritual feast of the richest of fares cost? Can we really afford it? The truth is that you can't afford the Lord's offer. No amount of gold or silver could ever buy what God has to offer. No one can purchase heaven with their credit card, no matter how good their rating, or how high their credit limit. No matter how hard some try, no amount of works or efforts could ever obtain heaven because the price is more than an arm and a leg. It requires absolute perfection—no sin at all, ever!—and perfect righteousness—always doing what's right! And these are things none of us have!

And yet, while no rich person in the world has enough money to buy even a single drop of God's love, at the same time, no poverty-stricken beggar has so little that he can't get all he needs. This vendor's goods are different. Look at what the Lord says, "you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Even we who are spiritually bankrupt ("for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"… Romans 3:23… and "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins"… Ecclesiastes 7:20), still, we can feast on God's grace. Because even though it cost Jesus his life on a cross, it doesn't cost us a thing. It doesn't cost a certain amount of good works to prove you're sincere. It doesn't cost a certain level of repentance you work yourself up to. It doesn't require a thing, but is a free gift of God's grace to all who are thirsty.

All we do to receive it is listen. The Lord says, "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." He doesn't say, "Listen, let me tell you the details of the bargain. He doesn't say, "Listen to what you have to do to obtain my products. If you only do this, then you can have my richest of fares." Simply, "Listen… Give ear… Hear me…" That is the feast that satisfies the soul. Do nothing for it. It's absolutely free.

So don't try to pay. You'll only ruin the gift. Can you imagine if the crowd that Jesus fed on that Galilean hillside all tried to pay Jesus. "Here. Here are a few mites to cover the cost of the fish. They were really good. Thanks." What an insult it would be to Jesus who wanted to give them a free meal to demonstrate his power. 

But the devil constantly tempts us, "There's got to be a catch. Nothing in life is free. Surely you have to do something to earn God's favor." Our sinful human nature, that thinks much more highly of ourselves than we ought, thinks that we can offer something to God. And we continue to harbor this natural inclination to purchase the gifts of God and try to transform his free gift into a bargain we strike with him. No sooner do we speak of free forgiveness than we think we can somehow earn God's blessings.

But as Paul points out in Romans 11, if you acquire something you either buy it, or it's given to you as a gift. It can't be both. He writes, "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." (v.6) God's offer really is free. Though it sounds too good to be true, it is true. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) There's nothing we need to do. There's nothing we can do. So don't try.

And don't think that just because the gift is free, it's not worth much… 

III.  It Really is Satisfying! 

If it doesn't cost anything, it can't be worth anything, right? After all, "You get what you pay for." Well, not in this case. With God's free lunch, you get something of real value; something that's truly satisfying.

What is the offer worth? The Lord says, "Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." The offer is for eternal life. And the offer is the only one that satisfies. Here's how: The Lord says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you." He makes the covenant with us. We do nothing. And he tells us what the covenant is: "my faithful love promised to David."

Do you remember what God promised to David? Listen to what he said to him in 2 Samuel 7(:11-16): "The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever."

God promised David that the Messiah would come from his family. How do we know he isn't talking about David's son, Solomon? Well, for starters, Solomon's throne didn't last forever. But the angel, Gabriel, made it clear when he said to Mary, "31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33)

This everlasting covenant the Lord offers to all who thirst, is none other than Jesus. He is God's faithful love promised to David. He loved God perfectly in our behalf. He gave perfect witness to God's plan of salvation through him. "See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples." And finally, he who was rich, the only one who could earn God's love, gave it away to us. He became poor for our sake. He suffered God's full wrath in hell for us so we could come and eat the richest of fare without money or cost. And through him, we have the food and drink of God's grace.

Feast on that grace of God. As water refreshes the body, drink the refreshing waters of his forgiveness and quench your thirst. As wine makes you relaxed and glad at heart, drink the wine of the sure hope that heaven is ours through Christ and be glad. As milk nourishes the body, with its vitamins and proteins, drink from the milk of God's Word and nourish your faith with its Law and Gospel. Run to the Savior and enjoy the richest of fare that God offers in the feast of his grace!

For that feast alone brings peace and satisfaction. Nothing else can. Nothing else works. That's why the Lord asks, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" As one author put it, "The entire life of natural mankind… all of their anxious striving is given over to the one purpose of satisfying the thirst for happiness, the one laborious, uninterrupted, self-tormenting striving for that which is not bread and can never satisfy."

In other words, no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we spend, we find that everything produced by our own mortal hands or minds fails to deliver lasting happiness as it lacks the nourishment to sustain immortal life. The self-righteous are never at peace, left to constantly wonder if they've done enough—for they can't do enough. Only one thing satisfies: the Gospel.

That's why, right after he fed the 5,000, Jesus warned, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you... The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:27,29) Do you have a thousand more important things to do than to sit and listen to the word of God? To sit quietly and read it? To study it day and night? Not according to God! "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" Enjoy his free feast of grace and abandon everything else, for nothing else satisfies.

1502 people went to their watery graves in April of 1912 when the famous Titanic sunk to the ocean floor. The combined wealth of those killed in the wreck totaled nearly $200,000,000. But as the boat sank, not one of them cared about their money. One survivor, Major A.H. Peuchen, later told how he left more than $300,000 in money, jewelry, and securities in his cabin. He started back for the box, stopped to reconsider, and then turned away without it. Later he said, "The money seemed a mockery at that time. I picked up three oranges instead." When the Titanic began to sink, the relative value of its objects changed quickly. In a few moments, such things as expensive china or fine clothing became insignificant, while such things as life jackets and life boats became invaluable.

When we consider how great our sin and the hell we deserve, the relative value of our possessions quickly changes as well. The number of cars or electronics or cash that we have is not so important. The feast of God's grace in Christ is. That forgiveness, peace and hope he gives to us; that forgiveness, peace and hope he won for others.

Make the feast of God's grace your top priority and others will hasten to you when they see your splendor. When they see the peace you have in spite of your struggles, they'll wonder what makes you tick. And when they do come running to you, take them out to lunch—literally!—so that you can share with them the feast of God's grace and the free lunch that really is for everyone, that really is free of charge, that really is satisfying.

And one day soon we will all join the eternal feast in heaven where "Never again will [we] hunger; never again will [we] thirst… For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd; he will lead [us] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes." (Revelation 7:16-17) In his name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Things Work for Your Good (A sermon based on Romans 8:28-30)

"It hurts!" "I'm so frustrated!" "I'm depressed." How can a loving God allow such pain to enter into the lives of his children? How can these things possibly be considered good?! Yet, when we look to the cross, we clearly see God's love for us. He chose us to be his own before the world began and has done everything to win our salvation from first to last. So, we patiently endure whatever comes our way, confident that God does love us and is working all things--even our suffering and pain--for our eternal good. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon, based on Romans 8:28-30, and be encouraged to patiently endure...

All Things Work for Your Good

A sermon based on Romans 8:28-30

Sunday, August 21, 2011 – Pentecost 10A


            You get seriously injured in a car accident. You lose the job you depended on. A friend you loved is now dead. The doctor tells you that you have cancer. Why would God allow this to happen? What does he have in mind? If God really loved me, why would he let me suffer so much misfortune, so much hurt, so much pain?

That was the question the Roman Christians were asking. Ridiculed, arrested, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus, they wondered, "If God really loved us, why does he allow us to suffer so much?"

Through the apostle Paul, God gave them the answer to their question. God let them suffer for their benefit. You see, God tells us that he uses all things, even suffering and pain for the good of his people. Though we may not know how, he promises that he will harmonize everything in a way that serves our ultimate good. What comfort that gives when we're going through some suffering or pain, that all of it, every event in history, every circumstance in our lives, is used by God for our best interests.

And should we doubt that God really works for our good, Paul reminds us of all that God's already done for our salvation. He reminds us that God worked all things for our good in the past, from eternity even, when he chose us to be his own. He shows us that God works all things for our good now in time—just as he sent his own Son to die on the cross for us. And he promises that God will continue to work all things for our good in the future until he takes us to the glories of heaven.

Listen again to God's comforting Words to the Romans and to us through the apostle Paul as they're recorded for us in Romans 8:28-30…


28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.


It's easy to trust that God works all things for your good when things are going well, isn't it? When you're healthy and wealthy and have lots of friends. But how about when God's love seems to be far away… when you're hurt, sick, or feeling all alone. How can you be sure that he still loves you then? How can you know that he's working out your suffering, pain and misery for your good? How do you know that this verse applies to you: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."?

Now if you're like me, when you first hear that passage you wonder who's meant. God works all things for the good of who? Only for those who love him?! At first glance that verse might bring more terror than comfort. Have I always loved God? Well, maybe on occasion I've tried to love him, but perfectly? All the time? Not me. And not you either.

I'm sure that, like me, you too can think of countless times you've been unloving toward God. Have you ever chosen to love yourself more than God and decided to sleep in instead of come to hear his Word at church or in Bible class? Or have you ever chosen to watch TV instead of read his Word? Well, tuning God out and ignoring him—that's not very loving. Have you ever sold God out and pretended you didn't know him, have you ever acted like you weren't a Christian with your friends or co-workers? Denying him—that's not very loving. Have you ever known what God wanted you to do or how you should act and done the opposite instead because you loved your comfort, your pleasure, or your sin more than God? I know I have. That's not very loving. I've been anything but loving to God. Surely this passage can't apply to me…

But Paul doesn't stop there. He points out that this verse does apply to me and to you because those who love God are not sinless people who love God perfectly all the time. But rather, those who love God are those "who have been called according to his purpose." But what is that purpose? How do we know we've been called? Paul explains…


I.              In Eternity Past


In verse 28 Paul tells us what we already know—that somehow God is using these events, even the pain and suffering we endure, for our good. But in verses 29 and 30 he gives us the proof. He tells us how we know this promise applies to us. He shows us that we have been called according to God's purpose and what that purpose is.

He says to us, "Look at what God's already done for you. Look at what he does for you still. And look at what he promises he will do for you." Paul's first proof that the promise of God's providential care is yours is God's love for you from eternity past… "29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

Can you even begin to grasp that amazing truth? God chose you to be his very own before the world began. God knew you before he created the world. (cf. Ephesians 1:4) And this "knowledge" isn't just that he knew who you were. It's not just that he knew all about you. He knew you as his friend. In Amos 3:2 God said of the Israelites, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." In Matthew 7:23 Jesus said of those who rejected him, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Surely God knows all people. He knows all things. But he chose to know the Israelites as his friends, in a way he would never know those who rejected his grace.

And he knows you. God has known you from eternity past as his dearly loved friend. He's known you with an intimate care, with love and concern. Before you existed God chose to love you, not because of anything you did or would do, but simply because that's how God is. What amazing love! And that loving foreknowledge led him to predestine you… "For those God foreknew he also predestined…"

Literally, "those he foreknew he set the boundaries for ahead of time." God chose your boundaries, he laid out your destiny—where you'd be born, where you'd live, who your parents would be, who you would come into contact with who would share the gospel with you. Some of those things you had no control over. Some of them he allowed you to be a part of. But he did it all motivated by his love for you with a specific goal in mind… "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers," or as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1, "He chose us…to be holy and blameless in  his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ."

            You didn't choose God. God chose you to be his own. He chose to make you sinless and holy just like his Son. He chose to adopt you as his own children, as Christ's own siblings. And that decision certainly wasn't based on anything you've done or will do. For if that were the case, you can be sure that none of us would be God's own. For none of us can meet his holy standard of perfection. But in his grace, he planned your salvation before you were around, before the fall into sin, before the world began! And in predestining you, he took care of all the steps of your salvation, from start to finish. He left nothing undone…


II.             In Present Time


You see, in time, God has done everything needed for your salvation from A to Z. He made it possible for you to be adopted as his son or daughter, to be his own child and Christ's brother or sister. How? In two ways. Paul writes, "…those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified."

Does Romans 8:28 apply to us? Do we love God? Have we been called according to his purpose? Absolutely!

You have been called according to God's purpose. He's called you to faith through the means of grace. He predestined all the opportunities you would have to hear the wonderful message of his saving grace in Christ. He arranged your destiny so you could live in a land where the gospel is preached. He gives you the ability and freedom to come to worship here. He makes the gospel readily available to you that he might call you to faith in Christ through it.

Many of us were baptized against our will when we were only a few days old. There, by no choice of ours, God called us to be his very own. Others came to know of God's grace later in life through a friend or acquaintance. Through that message of the Gospel he called you to be his own. And those he called he also justified.

Literally, those he called God "declared to be righteous." God declared unrighteous sinners like you, like me, to be righteous and holy. How? By overlooking sin and ignoring it? No. He declared us righteous by removing our sin from us. Christ took all of our sins on himself. And God punished him in our place. Christ paid the penalty for each unloving act we've committed before God. He suffered the hell we deserve for each harsh word we've spoken, for every impure thought we've had, for every act of rebellion that's demonstrated how little we love God. And by Christ's sacrifice, God declared us to be righteous. He called us by the gospel to trust in Christ's death in our place and justified us in his grace. I am justified. Now it's just as if I'd never sinned at all.

And it becomes clear that we are called by God according to his purpose. We do love God. We love him because he first loved us. We love God because by his grace he called us according to his purpose. We love him because he has justified us in his grace. And we love him because of the way he loves us still, even when we act unloving toward him.

And so we can be certain that he will continue to keep his promise and work all things for our eternal good. He will continue to use the events and affairs of this life to strengthen our faith and bring us safely to the next. He won't let the investment of his Son's blood on the cross be for nothing, but will see our salvation through to the end. That's why Paul says, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" not "we hope…" God's working all events of our life for our good is a sure thing. 


III.            In Future Glory


Looking at what God's already done for your salvation, you can be confident that God will continue to work all things for your good—every event, every pain, every sorrow, and every affliction. But be careful not to misunderstand. God doesn't promise that everything will be good for you, but that everything will be for your good, that is, according to his purpose. Everything that God allows to happen to you will help you to conform to the image of Christ and be more like him. But be careful that you don't try to define what "good" is, but leave that up to God. It may not seem good to me that I have to suffer poverty, sorrow, illness or pain. But God knows what's best and will work it all for a good end.

Think of it this way. When my kids used to go in to get their shots, Becky sometimes had to pin them down so the nurse could give the shots they needed. They knew that needle would hurt and struggled to get away—to avoid that pain. From their perspective, they certainly didn't consider the pain they were forced to endure very good. At shot time they thought their mother to be the most cruel parent in the world—to hold down her own son, her own flesh and blood, to let someone hurt him. From their perspective, she wasn't looking out for their good by being an accomplice to the large needle about to stab their legs. But from an adult perspective and what we know about disease, it's far better to endure that little pain in the leg for a day, than to suffer some disease that takes a life.

And it's the same way with God. He works all things for your good. He would rather you suffer a little here, to draw you closer to him, to keep you spiritually healthy and strong, than to lose you to hell. From our perspective, the evil we endure, the pain, the hurt, the problems we face don't seem very good. But God is working them for our eternal good.

Take a look at Joseph. Joseph probably didn't think it was very good that his brothers all hated him and that he only avoided being murdered by being sold into a life of slavery. He probably had a hard time seeing how it could possibly be for his good that he was wrongfully accused and throw in prison when he refused to sleep with Potiphar's wife. But God did work these events for his good. Through the events of Joseph's life, God saved not only the Egyptians, but the Israelites and preserved the line of the Savior. Joseph's misfortunes worked for his good and ours.

God is working all things for our eternal good, to strengthen our faith in him. And just as the kite rises highest with a strong opposing wind, so often our faith grows stronger with pain and suffering. When life is good, we grow complacent and God in his love sends us some discomfort or pain to get our attention, to draw us to him, to conform us to the image of Christ for our eternal good.

Will God continue to work all things for your good? You can be certain of it. Paul tells us, "those he justified, he also glorified." God has already given you glory as his own child. You can be at peace with him in spite of the pain and suffering you face because the glories of heaven are yours. Though we wait for that future glory, Paul speaks of it in the past tense—"he glorified"—because it's as good as done.

And our response? It can be nothing but continual praise and thanks to God with an endless desire to love and serve him. Though we may at times shrug our shoulders and wonder, "How can this needle in my leg be good for me?" we remain confident that it is. For if he chose to loved us before the world began, in spite of what he knew, if he predestined us to hear the message of his grace to us in Christ, if he called us to trust in that truth through the gospel, if he justified us, taking away our every loveless sin by sending his own Son to hell, if he's glorified us already and promised to give us the full glories of heaven, how much more can't we be certain that God will work all things for our good. Go in confidence and in peace, dear brothers and sisters. Amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Do We Do With the Weeds? (A sermon based on Matthew 13:24-30 (and 36-43))

We've been getting more and more rain here in Kenai. That means that the weeds are growing thick. My wife keeps encouraging me to mow down the clover and the mushrooms. But I reminder that Jesus told us to leave the weeds alone. Of course, she's quick to point out that it was a parable. :) In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus reminds us that we shouldn't be too quick to pull up the weeds, because we were once weeds ourselves. Instead, we should grow along with them until we rejoice in the harvest of Judgment Day. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon and find out what to do with the weeds...

What Do We Do With the Weeds?

A sermon based on Matthew 13:24-30 (36-43)

Sunday, August 14, 2011 – Pentecost 9A 

What's your favorite thing to do on the weekend? Hunting? Fishing? Reading? Watching TV? Sleeping? If asked your favorite way to spend your free time, would any of you answer "pulling weeds"? I didn't think so. Not many people like to weed. So why do it? I mean, why bother? When you pull the weeds they only pop right back up, usually in greater numbers. The weeds are often uncontrollable. So why not just get some Round-Up ® and soak the flower beds, the garden, and the yard so no weeds can ever grow back?

The answer is obvious isn't it? You'd not only take out the undesirable weeds, but you'd kill the desirable plants as well. The garden foods would be poisoned, the grass would be killed, the delicate flowers would be killed more quickly than the durable weeds. While you could get rid of the weeds with a blanket of herbicide, at what cost? It isn't worth it.

This morning as we take a look at one of Jesus' parables, we ask the question, "What do we do with the weeds?" And Jesus tells us. "Don't pull them up, but patiently grow with them until you rejoice at the harvest." Listen again to the parable of the wheat and the weeds as they're recorded for us in Matthew 13:24-30…


24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"


As Jesus stood out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee he told the people this parable. It wasn't until later that day when he was alone with his disciples that he explained what it meant. He told them that the one sowing the seed was himself. Jesus is the one who plants Christians in the field of this world. The weeds, he pointed out, were the unbelievers whom the devil keeps from the truth. The harvest is Judgment Day, when all things will end and God's angels will separate the believers from the unbelievers for all of eternity.

But, who knows when that day is? Only God knows. It may be tomorrow or not for another five millennia. In the meantime, what do we do with the weeds? Jesus' parable explains…

I.              Don't Pull Them Up


When the farmer's servants saw the heads of wheat begin to pop up out of surface of the soil, they were shocked and appalled to find that that wasn't all that was growing in the field. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' Their master told them and, eager to be rid of weeds their enemy had planted, they were ready to go pull them up. But they were wise enough to check with their master before they acted in their zeal. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' And the master responded emphatically, "No! Stop!" That was the last thing he wanted. For if they pulled the weeds at that point, they would destroy the wheat as well.

Do you sometimes feel like those servants? Are you shocked by what you read in the paper? Are you appalled by what you see on the evening news? Are you hurt by what you see in your own home? Do you sometimes wonder how a loving God could allow so many weeds, why he would tolerate such evil? Do you want to find a way to put an end to all the evils in the world, to pull up those weeds? Before you get too zealous, put down your garden tools and let's see what the master wants us to do with those weeds, for zeal without knowledge is a very dangerous thing…

What does Jesus want us to do with the unbelievers we encounter every day? He doesn't want us to pull up those weeds. When we ask, "What should we do with the weeds? Pull them up?" he yells, "No! Stop! Don't pull them up!" Jesus doesn't want a physical ridding of evil on our part. He's not looking for a political battle from us to clean up the world. If God wanted to put an end to evil with physical force, believe me, the God who created the universe by the power of his Word could easily end it all at this very moment. But that's not what he wants. He doesn't want to pull up the weeds. Not yet.

But why? Why does God allow evil people with their evil schemes and their evil deeds to continue? Look at verse 29: "No," he answered, "because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them." If we were to try to rid the world of the weeds, we'd inadvertently rid the world of some weak believers. We'd accidentally throw out the baby with the bath water.

The word that's translated as weeds in the NIV and tares in the KJV is zizanium. It's thought to be darnel, a particularly tricky weed to deal with. You see, wheat and zizanium look almost identical in the early stages. Not until the heads of grain appear on the wheat can a positive identification be made. But what made zizanium even more dangerous, was that it was thought be poisonous.

The sons of the kingdom of God, that is, believers, and the sons of the evil one, the devil, that is, unbelievers, live side by side in this world. And often they look almost identical. They work at the same jobs, read the same paper, have the same customs, the same hobbies, enjoy the same recreation, they seek the same political goals, go to the same restaurants, even go to the same church… but they're entirely different. Christians are wheat and produce fruits of faith that last into eternity. Unbelievers are weeds and produce poison. But if we can't always tell the difference, we'd better not be too quick to condemn. We might pull up the wheat with the weeds.

None of us would like it if we were cut off from God's grace in a moment of weakness. Remember that you were once a weed. At one point you could do nothing but sin, rebelling against God with your poisonous actions. God would have remained perfectly just if he'd pulled you up and thrown you into the fires of hell. But that's not what he did. He loved you when you were a worthless, obnoxious, weed. He loved you so much, he sent his own Son to endure the hell you deserved to make you his wheat. So don't pull up the weeds, but be patient with them. For as St. Augustine said, "Those who today are weeds may tomorrow be grain." And we might add, just as we who were once weeds are, by God's grace alone, grain today.

And as you wait patiently, grow in your faith. For God's waiting for the wheat to mature…


II.            Patiently Grow With Them


But it's not always easy to be patient is it? When God could easily end all wickedness, it sometimes seems like he's sitting on his hands. It sometimes seems that God is either too weak to help, or too cruel to stop it. Do you sometimes get tired of living in this weed-filled world? Do you sometimes wonder why God doesn't just end it all? Why is there evil? Why is their sin committed against God and against us? Why are there unbelievers in the world if God is all-powerful and wants all people to be saved?!

Well, Jesus points out that the evil that exists isn't God's fault. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away… 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, …Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied.'"

And you know who that enemy is. Ever since Adam and Eve Satan has succeeded in causing sin. He has been planting weeds ever since. Martin Luther once wrote, "Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel." And what a stealthy enemy he is, sneaking around at night when everyone sleeps so you never see it coming.

If Satan can't get you to live a life of reckless abandon with the "big" sins, he'll plant the seeds of self-righteousness in your heart so you become smug and think of yourself more highly than you ought, as if you've earned God's favor by your supposed obedience. If he can't get you to despair, thinking your sins too great to be forgiven by Christ's death in your place, he'll get you to view Christ's cross as a license to sin, thinking "I'm forgiven for whatever I do, so I'll live in a self-gratifying way." And Satan succeeds in planting weeds while you never see it coming. The wheat and the weeds often look identical even to themselves. So examine yourself and ask, "Am I really good seed? Or am I a hypocrite? Am I a weed that just looks like wheat?"

And watch out. Recognize Satan's stealthy ways and see who you really are. And trust in Christ who makes you good seed. Trust that you are good seed, not because of anything you do, not because you are good by yourself, but because God has made you good by cleansing you and taking away your sins by the blood of his Son.

And be patient. Jesus never painted a picture of some utopia on earth. He never promised life would be easy or problem free. He never said your life would be weed-free. But he is still in control. Be patient and trust his promise that he'll give you the strength you need in the Word. And grow in that faith. Jesus said in verse 30: "Let both grow together until the harvest."

            As the weeds grow in their wickedness, you grow in your godliness. As they grow harder in their unbelief, you grow stronger in your faith. How? Stay connected to the showers of God's grace he pours out to us in that powerful Word we talked about last week. Like Psalm 1 says… "[The one who delights] in the law of the Lord, and on his law… meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Patiently grow with the weeds while God waits for the wheat to mature and the weeds to become wheat.


III.           Rejoice at the Harvest


            And finally, your patience in putting up with the weeds as you grow in your faith and wait for those weeds to become wheat, will pay off. God will prove that he's been in control all along once and for all on Judgment Day. And on that day, we will rejoice at the harvest.

            Jesus explained, "40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

God is just. He will—he must!—punish sin. He will avenge those who rejected him and hurt you. He will weed out everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And he will destroy them forever in the fiery furnace of hell, with eternal torment—weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But thank God that we won't be among those burned in the fire. Through Christ, we're no longer evil. We've been cleansed and made pure. We've become good seed. We're God's righteous wheat. Jesus said, "Gather the wheat and bring it into my barn… 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." So, brothers and sisters, rejoice! God will bring you into his barn. He'll take you into his heaven, into the joys of eternal life. There you will rejoice for all of eternity for what God has done for you: that he didn't pull up the weeds, but made you wheat, that he caused you to grow in your faith and brought you to your harvest home. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Use God’s Powerful Word! (A sermon based on Isaiah 55:10-11)

Water is life. Just ask the farmer in time of drought. We need water to live. In the same way that we need water for our physical lives, we need God's Word for our spiritual lives. We can't artificially produce it and without it we cannot live. But God, in love, showers us with his grace. And he keeps our faith watered by the Word so it keeps growing and producing fruits of faith. Now we're eager to use that powerful Word, not only in our own lives, but sharing it with others that they too might be refreshed with the Gospel and grow in their faith as well. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Isaiah 55:10-11 and be encouraged to use God's powerful Word!

Use God's Powerful Word!

A sermon based on Isaiah 55:10-11

Sunday, August 7, 2011 – Pentecost 8A


A little over a year ago as the Guenther family settled on the Kenai Peninsula we were met with many smiling faces and… a lot of rain. I remember my wife asking, "If this is summer, what's winter going to be like?" Thankfully, this summer's been a lot sunnier… until recently. This past week someone said to me, "Well, summer was nice. But now it's time for the rain until it turns to snow."

Do you like the rain? It seems that if you live on the West Coast, you'd better get used to it. But it's not always fun, is it? When you're out on a hike or ready to fish, when you're ready to go for a bike ride or a jog, rain can alter your plans or ruin your fun.

But thank God that it does rain. For if it never rained, we'd all be in a lot of trouble. Drought kills crops. It kills animals and if it's severe enough it will kill us. We need rain to live. And God in his grace sends it often—especially to us on the coast.

But this morning, we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of something we need even more than rain. He compares the Word of God with the rains that fall to water the crops. He points out that just like rain provides for our physical needs, God's Word provides for our spiritual needs.  He reminds us to use God's powerful Word. Use it to strengthen your faith. And use it to proclaim to the world. Listen again to Isaiah's encouragement to us in Isaiah 55:10-11…


10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


I.              To Strengthen Your Faith (v.10)


A young child once asked, "Where does rain come from?" His dad, not really wanting to go into a lengthy explanation of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and saturation, simply said, "Rain comes from God." To which the child responded, "Why? Is God crying?"

Really, what the dad pointed out is true. Rain comes from God. With all of our technology, rain is something we can't artificially produce. Just ask the farmer during a dry spell. God sends the rain or snow to feed the streams and rivers and lakes from which we draw our water. He gives water for us and all creatures to drink. He gives us water to make our crops grow so we and the animals we eat all have food. We need God's life-giving rain. Without it we would all die.

You can see why the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to use rain as a picture for God's Word, can't you? Just like the rain, it comes from God. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven… so is my word that goes out from my mouth. We can't artificially produce it. When humans try to manufacture God's Word, the best they can come up with is work righteousness—what we must to do win God's favor. But the Scriptures are not man-made. They come from God. They come from his mouth, with divine authority, even when spoken through a sinful man like Isaiah.

Just like rain and snow water the ground so it can produce life and vegetation, so God's Word also gives life. Like the rains that loosen the hard dry soil, so God's law softens our hearts. He uses his Word to point out our sins to bring us to repentance. He points out how we take the life giving Word for granted. How we don't use the Word as often as we should to stay spiritually hydrated like we ought. We assume we'll always have God's Word readily available whenever we get around to it. We don't treat God's grace to us like Martin Luther once described it as a passing rain cloud, ready to move on where it's not received. We forget that just like the land without water is dead, so our souls without God's Word are just as dead.

We sometimes think, "I don't need God's Word today. I'm just fine without." Or "I'm too busy to read God's Word today." But when was the last time you said, "I'm too busy to drink anything today."? We water our bodies while we leave our souls dehydrated. For this neglect and for countless other sins, we deserve hell. And on our own, we re neither aware of our situation nor did we care. But God sends his powerful Word to soften the soil of our heart and point out our desperate need for a Word of help—that Word of our Savior.

And God in his grace gives us his life-bringing Word of the Gospel. And he doesn't just give us a misting or a little sprinkle of his grace. No. He gives us a full shower, drenching us with his grace so we're completely saturated. At our baptisms he connects that powerful Word with physical water and washes away our every sin. In worship every week, he reminds us of our sins and of his grace in Christ, who's death on the cross takes away our every sin and makes us clean. He gives us countless opportunities and the freedoms to study his Word together in Bible classes to learn of his grace that keeps us spiritually hydrated and rejoicing. He gives us the intellect to read and the unappreciated freedom to carry a Bible wherever we go making the waters of his grace available at any time and in any place.

And this grace, that's poured down on us like a gentle but constant stream gives us life. It not only gives us the seed of faith in our hearts, but it waters it so it might bud and flourish into a beautiful tree that gives its fruits of faith. Moved by God's grace to us in his powerful Word, we desire to do his will. We want to stop taking the gift of his powerful Word for granted but use it. Drink from it often. Have fun getting drenched in Bible class. Enjoy a nice cool glass on your break at work. Relax in the showers of his grace before you go to bed. Use God's Word often to grow in your faith, to bud and flourish. If you need some suggestions on how you can get the Word regularly, visit the website and click the devotional tools link. Find lots of ways to get watered by the Word.


But then, don't just use it for yourself. Once you've been watered and once you've grown, use it in thanksgiving to God and proclaim his Word to the World. After all, God gives us the assurance that it always works. Isaiah wrote…


II.            To Proclaim to the World (v.11)


10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


Can you think of a time that it's rained at your house and your lawn hasn't been watered by it? Of course not. When it rains, the plants get wet. No matter where it rains, it doesn't evaporate without having some effect on the land first. It always waters the earth. It always feeds the rivers and streams. It always has an effect.

And the same holds true for God's Word. Whenever it is preached in its truth it will have an effect. And while it might not always be the effect we desire, it will always have the effect God desires. The Holy Spirit will always work through the preaching of the Word in one of two ways. The first: He might harden the heart of the one who rejects the Word of God, leaving that person with no excuse on judgment day, with no way of saying, "But God, I didn't know!" Or the Holy Spirit will soften the already hard heart and work to create faith. Though we often won't know which he's doing at any given time, we know that the Word will work. It will always have an effect on both the hearer and on the one speaking.

The Word of God is powerful and effective, like a double-edged sword. It the power of God—his dynamite! It's more powerful than the most vicious tsunami. For God's Word brought everything into existence. God spoke… and it was. God's Word cured incurable diseases. God's Word brought dead people back to life. God's Word still brings dead hell-bound sinners to life. Don't let its weak messengers like me fool you. Don't let its humble appearance in a simple book deceive. It is the most powerful thing on the face of the earth! So let's stop treating it like it's weak!

If God suddenly appeared and stood before us in the front of church, would any of us dare to call him a wimp? Of course not! Then why do we call his Word wimpy? "Well, I've never called the Word of God wimpy!" you say. But we do all the time! We call his Word weak when we refuse to share the message of the gospel with a friend at work thinking, "It'll never work on him. He'll never stop making fun of Christians and Christianity. He'll never believe." We treat God's Word as weak when we think that it's lost its power. "The gospel will never motivate my spouse or kids to change, I need to preach more law!" We treat his Word like it's weak when we think it doesn't have the power to change lives, "Sure, the Bible's got some good stuff in there, but it can't address my problems. The message of Jesus can't comfort here. So why read it? Why share it?!"

But listen again to what God says through Isaiah, "It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." That's God's promise. It's as certain as your salvation. For that same Word that is powerful enough to wake you from your spiritual apathy, that same Word that makes you feel guilty for your sins and seek God's forgiveness, that same Word that's brought you comfort and peace, removing your guilt with the assurance that every one of your sin is forgiven in Christ, that same Word that moves you to no longer live for yourselves, but for him who died and rose again on your behalf, that same Word will work in the hearts of others. So be bold to preach God's Word. Be ready to speak his law. Be eager to share his gospel.

Read a devotion at home – out loud with your family. Talk about what you learned in Bible Class or in worship when you go to work or to play. Or do something even more simple. You never know what effect you might have on your co-worker when you wish him God's blessings instead of a good weekend. You never know what your neighbor may be thinking when he sees you leave for church every Sunday and when he sees you rejoicing every day in the hope that you have. You never know what an impact you might have if you just leave a copy of Forward in Christ or Meditations in the lobby of the doctor's office or the mechanic's shop.

You never know what seeds you might be planting. You never know what faith you might be watering. Maybe 20 years from now, after you've completely lost contact with the one you shared your faith with, maybe then she'll come around. Maybe then he'll believe. And through you God will bring that person to faith and others through him or her as each one buds and flourishes and produces seeds again.

God's Word is powerful. Whenever it is preached it is never in vain. It is never a waste of time. It's powerful to create and strengthen faith. So use it for yourself! It's powerful to bring others to faith, in spite of all appearances. So trust his promises and use it. Preach it to the world.


Preach you the Word and plant it home To those who like or like it not,

The word that shall endure and stand When flow'rs and mortals are forgot.

Though some be snatched and some be scorched

And some be choked and matted flat,

The sower sows; his heart cries out, "Oh, what of that, and what of that?"

Preach you the Word and plant it home And never faint; the Harvest-Lord

Who gave the sower seed to sow Will watch and tend his planted Word.


Trust in the power of the Word! Use it in your life and share it with others. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,

Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Give Your Burdens to Jesus (A sermon based on Matthew 11:25-30)

Does the weight of your problems sometimes feel overwhelming? Don't try to carry it all by yourself. Let Jesus help. He gives the comforting promise that he will carry our heavy burdens for us. He especially means the burdens of sin and hell that we could never carry on our own -- that we can't even help him carry. But if he loves us enough to go to hell on the cross in our place, how much more won't he help us carry the smaller, lighter burdens that we have to carry in this short life? Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Matthew 11:25-30 and find comfort in Jesus' gracious promise to carry our burdens...

Give Your Burdens to Jesus

A sermon based on Matthew 11:25-30

Sunday, July 31, 2011 – Pentecost 7A


            I'm sure you've all seen the guy. In fact, maybe you are that guy. You know the one—that guy in the grocery store who refuses to grab a cart or even the little basket. He's got the back of dog food over one shoulder, the toilet paper tucked under one arm, the produce and groceries are carefully balanced in his arms, with the eggs held on top by his chin and a few gallons of milk painfully dangling off the ends of his pinkies. You wonder how he's going to pick anything more up while he carefully works his way through the store for a few more items.

And sometimes we all do this, try to carry everything on our own without any help. But we don't do it just in the grocery store, but in life. We think we can juggle the problems that we have on our own. We can carry the weight of our burdens. We even think we can deal with our sins. And while it can be humorous to watch that guy in the grocery store, but it's not so funny when it's your life. Because the consequences of trying to carry it all on our own are far worse than a few broken eggs on isle one—the consequences are burn out, despair, and ultimately hell.

But this morning, as we conclude our sermon series on the jobs that Jesus has to care for us in grace, we hear Jesus, the weightlifter give us a beautiful promise. He says he will give you rest by carrying your burdens for you. So don't try to carry them yourself! Give your burdens to Jesus! He's strong enough to carry your sin and he's willing to carry it all. Listen now to the comforting words of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 11:25-30…


25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I.              He's Strong Enough to Carry Your Sin

           What burdens do you face in life? What loads are you trying to carry? Are you facing financial problems as you continue to look for a job or try to keep the one you have or get out from under a mountain of debt? Are you dealing with family problems, trying to get the kids to shape up, trying to be on the same team as your spouse, trying to live with your parents and get along? Are you facing physical burdens with failing health, lingering pain, or just the aches of growing older?

As serious as these burdens are, they're nothing compared to your real burden. Sin is the heaviest burden that you have to bear. It's a self-imposed burden. It's one that you can't shake off on your own. It's one that must be answered with, not just poverty or pain, but with an eternity of torment, agony, regret and despair in hell. And it's a burden that's too heavy for us to lift. We can't bear the load. It's like carrying two elephants, one on each shoulder. I don't care how much you've been working out. You just can't do it. It's too heavy for you.

Think I'm painting too grim of a picture? Making sin sound larger than it really is? Don't think your sin is that big of a deal—at least not compared to the other problems you're facing? That's precisely why it is such a big deal! In fact, here's the irony: When we try to get rid of sin on our own or downplay our sin, we only add to our sin making matters worse. For thinking we can carry the weight of the problems of life on our own, let alone our sins! For (in essence) saying to Jesus, "Thanks for the offer, but I don't need your help here. I'm just fine on my own. I'll carry it myself," for such arrogant pride, we deserve hell all the more!

You see how serious this weight is? Like the Chinese finger trap, the harder we try to pull free, the tighter we're stuck! We can't escape our problems on our own. And we certainly can't escape our sins on our own. We can't even come to faith on our own or figure it out. That's why Jesus says it's hidden from the "wise and learned." The stronger you think you are, the greater the burden you carry, and the weaker you really are. No one is strong enough to deal with these burdens. No one, that is, but one…

"Come to me," Jesus says, "all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." "Come to me," he says, "…and you will find rest for your souls." Jesus, the Weightlifter, is strong enough to lift your burdens. He can lift the weight of all your sins. He did lift the weight of all your sins and all the sins of every person who ever lived or ever will live! What a strongman!

And what's more, when you could never discover that truth on your own, he's revealed it you. You're not superior in your intelligence because you've figured out how to get rid of the weight. He's superior in his grace for revealing to you the solution to your biggest burden of sin! Because of his grace to you, you know Jesus and God the Father whom he's revealed. You know what they've done to lift your sin from you.

Lifting weights by yourself can be a dangerous task. A young man was once lifting weights in the garage by himself when, near the end of his workout as his muscles were growing weary, the barbell he was bench pressing slipped from his grasp and crashed hard onto his chest before rolling onto his neck. He struggled to roll the bar off, but he couldn't. It could have been a fatal accident had his father not heard his cry and come running to pull the weight off his son.

In a much greater way, Jesus pulled the weight of sin off of you. He took the guilt and the shame, the unkind words you've said and the impure thoughts you've though, he took the irresponsible and inconsiderate things that you've done, and he picked them up. He took the crushing weight that would send you to hell and put them on his back. Then he carried them to the cross in your place. And enduring hell, being crushed for your iniquities (cf. Isaiah 53:5), he brought you peace. He brought you rest—rest for your soul.

Are you wearied by your sin? Are you burdened by your guilt? Go to Jesus. He promises to give you rest. He lifted your sin on his back to win that rest for you. And he promises to help in all your needs….

II.            He's Willing to Carry It All

          Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Of course he especially meant rest from your sin and guilt, from despair and hell. But he also offers you rest from all the other burdens that you face. Here's the confidence that we have: 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? … 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

He may not take every problem or burden of this life from you, but since he took away the burden of your sin, you can be confident that he is there to help you with every other burden that you carry and give you rest. So go to him! Don't carry your burdens around by yourself anymore!

When I was in high school every summer I'd go hiking in the Cascade Mountains for a few days. We'd load the tent, the sleeping bags, and all the food you'd eat for four days on our backs. We'd each carry a full canteen of water since we weren't always sure when we'd find the next river. And with some pretty steep inclines and difficult climbs the packs felt a lot heavier than I'm sure they really were. I vividly remember the relief I felt as we took the packs off for the last time that day and started to make camp.

Can you imagine how foolish it would be if I kept my pack on while we pitched the tent, made dinner, went to the river to filter more water, ate our meal, and went fishing after dinner? You'd think I was crazy! But isn't that what we do when we carry around our burdens? Jesus says, take that pack off your shoulders and give it to me. So let go! Give it to him! Place your worries and concerns in his hands with a childlike faith.

Isn't it interesting to note that God hides his will "from the wise and learned, and [reveals] them to little children"? The Greek word translated "children" is the word used for infants and babies who drink milk, not solid food. Jesus calls for us to trust him to carry our burdens with the faith of a little kid.

When we lived in Raleigh, there's was a trail behind our house that I often took the boys hiking on. But typically we'd get ¼ mile from home and one of them would say, "Daddy, carry me." I don't think either of my boys ever said, "Father, would you please be so kind as to exercise your superior strength to overcome the forces of gravity bearing down my body because I know that though it's a difficult burden for me to go on, it's an easy task for you." Just, "Daddy, carry me." They did not understand the physics of lifting. They only knew they were tired and didn't want to carry their own weight. They trusted me to carry them.

Do the same with Jesus. He wants to carry your burdens and give you an easy yoke. Wait a second! Easy yoke? Isn't that an oxymoron!  A yoke is that bar across the shoulders of the oxen that was attached to the plow that they would pull with much labor. But Jesus says, "Be yoked to me. Let me do the work as you walk by my side." What an easy yoke! What a light burden!

So let him lift the frustration that you feel with the apostle Paul as you wrestle with your sinful nature. Yes, we're wretched people who keep on sinning in spite of his grace, but we're rescued from these bodies of death by Jesus (cf. Romans 7:15-25a) Jesus has shown you his glory in a much better way than Moses ever saw. You've seen clearly exactly how he's lifted your burden of sin. And you know that he promises to you, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (cf. Exodus 33:12-23)

He will go with you as you remember the rich blessings he gives you in the cross and find peace and contentment in the blessings that you have while you continue to struggle financially. And you can find rest for your soul. He will go with you as you remember his selfless sacrifice for you and strive to be selfless in your relationships with others in thanks to him. And you can find rest for your soul. He will go with you as you struggle with your physical health assuring you of the perfect spiritual health that he gives. And you can find rest for your soul. And finally, one day soon, he'll deliver you once and for all from every burden and every care! He'll rescue you from your body of death and take you to eternal life, where you will forever have rest for your soul.

Be at peace, dear friends. Rest in Jesus and give your burdens to him. He's strong enough to carry your sin and he's willing to carry it all. In his name, dear friends. Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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