Sunday, December 30, 2012

Abandoned (A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52)

Ever feel like you're all alone? Like everyone has abandoned you? Well, thank God that you're not ever alone. Because Jesus was abandoned by his Father in your place, you are forgiven for every time you've tried to leave Jesus at church ("where he belongs"). With your sins forgiven, you are acceptable to God and he promises that he will never abandon you, leave you, or forsake you. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Luke 2:41-52 and rejoice that you're never alone...

A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52
Sunday, December 30, 2012 – Christmas 1C 

I don't know how many of you know this about me… I know some of you do, but, well… I was abandoned by my parents at an early age. Both of my parents left me when I was 6 or 7 years old.

Okay, it's not as bad as it sounds.  They both left me at home alone—just like the movie, but without the burglars and the booby traps, and not for nearly as long as Kevin McAllister was. It was an oddity that I was ready for church before everyone that particular morning. That never happened. I was usually scrambling to find my other shoe while everyone else was in the car waiting. But this particular Sunday I was ready to go with time to spare.

Now that particular Sunday dad had a council meeting after worship and mom opted to head home instead of sit around at church, so they both drove separately. Well, when each was ready to go, little Rob wasn't around (since I was quietly watching cartoons in the basement, patiently waiting for the others). Leaving at separate times, each parent assumed I was with the other. And the mistake wasn't discovered until they both reached church, 40 minutes away, and asked the other, "Where's Rob? Didn't he come with you?"

I was abandoned at an early age. I think the emotional scars have healed.

But I know I'm not alone. I've heard the stories of kids being left alone at the rest stop when the road trip caravan moved on. And parents didn't realize anyone was missing until they made it dozens of miles down the road.

And it's not just parents today, but even in Jesus' day, even Jesus himself was abandoned at an early age and left behind. And thank God that he was. Thank God that he was abandoned by his parents and kept the law perfectly for us, that later he might be abandoned by God to win our salvation. Luke 2:41-52… 

41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."

49 "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. 

It was Jesus' bar mitzvah; his coming of age. He was finally a "Son of the Law" (that's what "bar mitzvah" literally means – "Son of the Law") where he was old enough to study a trade, but more importantly old enough to study the Torah. He'd always been obedient to his parents and to God's law as his parents instructed him in it, but now he would study God's Law for himself. So he accompanied Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.

But when Mary and Joseph were ready to go, each parent assumed Jesus was with the other, or maybe with extended family and Jesus was abandoned, and left behind at the temple courts. And when Mary grilled him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." With the first words of Jesus that we have recorded for us, Jesus showed Mary how much he understood the Word he'd been studying.

"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

You see, Jesus knew who he was: the God-man. He knew that God, not Joseph, was his real Father. Jesus knew the prophecies that were written… about him. (Later, when he was fully grown he said, "These are the Scriptures that testify about me.") He knew the Word of God better than the priests, better than the teachers of the Law. (And he would continue to demonstrate that when he was fully grown.) And you can be sure that he knew what his mission was: To save mankind, who could not save themselves, no matter how well they tried to keep the Law.

You see even though we often make the boast of Peter, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." (Matthew 26:33) "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33) "Even if friends and family forsake you," we cry, "I will never abandon you. I will never leave you behind."

But then we go and play the part of Mary and Joseph and leave Jesus at church ("where he belongs" right?). Oh we love Jesus here. We sing our praises to him and worship him. "But please, Jesus, just stay at church. Don't follow me to the bar. You wouldn't like what you saw. Don't come into my living room to see what's on my TV. Those shows aren't for you. Don't come into my vehicle, Jesus, and see how I drive (or hear what I say to the other drivers). Don't come into my kitchen and hear how I talk to my parents. And please don't come into my head and see my thoughts. Just stay at church, where you belong."

But you know that there is no place where can really leave Jesus behind. As David sang in Psalm 139(:7-12), "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea… If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."

Jesus is with us in the bar, in our living rooms, and in our vehicles. He's there in our kitchens and in our bedrooms. And his is there inside our heads and inside our souls, seeing the filth of sin that resides. We cannot leave him behind.

And for all the times that we've tried to abandon Jesus and leave him at church, we deserve to be abandoned by him and left behind when he comes in glory. Jesus said in Matthew 8(:38), "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

Oh dear Jesus, forgive us! Forgive us for the times we've abandoned you! Forgive us for the times we've been ashamed of you! Forgive us for the times we've left you at church!

And you know, dear friends, that he does forgive us. For Jesus was abandoned again. He was abandoned by his real Father. On Good Friday, "Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'—which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"

And you know why. It wasn't for his sin that God abandoned him. For Jesus always kept the law perfectly—even in childhood, perfectly obeying his parents in all things, even as an adolescence when his hormones were raging, even through the rebellious teen years, he kept the fourth commandment and honored his earthly father and mother.

And he always honored, loved, and obeyed his heavenly Father. As he continued in his obedience, he continued to grow in favor with God. With every new temptation resisted, with every truth he boldly proclaimed, with every new act of obedience added to the last he made his Father in heaven favor him more and more, so he could proclaim, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)

No. Jesus wasn't abandoned by God for any sin of his. He had no sin. But for the many times that we've abandoned God, for the many times we've tried to leave Jesus behind at church ("where he belongs"), for the many times we thought that we escaped his noticed and served ourselves instead of him, Jesus was abandoned by the Father and cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

And now, by his sacrifice, we will never be abandoned or left at home alone—not truly alone. Can't be you with your family this year because a relationship has been destroyed by sin? Feel all alone? You're not. Feel abandoned when the cancer threatens… or the bottle disrupts …or the bills pile up? You're not. Even if your friends throw up their hands in disgust, even if all your family abandons you as a lost cause, even if all others leave you, still you're never alone.

Because he abandoned his Son, and thus, paid for your every sin, God has now promised you, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) So, "Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6)

We will never be abandoned in this life no matter how dark the hour. And we will never be abandoned to hell no matter how great our sin. For Jesus' obedience is greater. His sacrifice is greater. His forgiveness is greater. And we are forgiven. And we are never alone.

So we say, "Thank you, God! Thank you, Jesus, for being abandoned in my place… for being left behind! Thank you with all of my heart! Now let me serve you in thanks. Keep me in my faith that I might never abandon you again, but might live for you each day in thanks." In his name, dear friends, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Did You Get for Christmas? (A sermon based on John 1:1-14)

What did you get for Christmas this year? Was it everything you hoped for? Even if you didn't find what you were hoping for under the tree, you got great gifts from God in your Savior, Jesus. You have the Light of the World that shines in the darkness. You have the Word made flesh, tenting among us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 1:1-14 and rejoice in the gifts you got for Christmas...

What Did You Get for Christmas?
A sermon based on John 1:1-14
Tuesday, December 25, 2012 – Christmas Day 

        Merry Christmas! I'm guessing that by now most of you have opened all or at least some of your Christmas presents. So, what did you get? Did you get the WiiU ? Did you get the new snow machine? Did you get that game you were hoping for? Did you get just what you wanted? If you haven't opened the presents yet, I hope you'll be able to pay attention instead of counting the minutes until the sermon and the service are over. Hang in there. I won't be too long.

        But the truth is that even if you were to receive no presents from your friends and family this year, you did still get some pretty great gifts. Two weeks ago the kids shared with us many of the gifts of the manger that God gives in Christ. But this morning we take a look at two of those gifts that God gives you through his Son. The first we already heard that night: He gives you a light, and not just a nice lamp to put on the end table, not a lava lamp, which I heard were making a comeback, but better: a light that will never go out. And the second gift, we haven't talked about yet: he gives you a tent, and not just a tent for you to go camping with, but a tent for him to camp among us. John writes of these gifts in John 1:1-14...  

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I.              A Light

The days are starting to get longer again! Have you noticed? With winter solstice behind us by a few days already we're gaining minutes of daylight each day. In one sense it's still a season of darkness. But in another sense it's a season of light. We put up Christmas lights, light candles, and rejoice that the Light of the World has come in the person of Jesus. But John explains why he had to come -- to shine in the darkness.  

Can you imagine what the world would be like if there were no sun? You wouldn't need to wonder for long because, of course, without the sun there could be no life. All living organisms depend on the sun for survival. It allows us to see, it keeps us warm, it provides our food. Without the sun -- if it were to burn out -- it would only be a very short amount of time until we'd all be dead.

Likewise, without Jesus, life is pretty dark. "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." Without him we'd be lost in the dark. We'd be blind to what really matters in this life. And the saddest part is, that if left on our own, we'd be like all the rest and refuse him. Still, even though we know him, how often don't we reject the light of God's word? Even though we know what's expected of us, we still choose to follow our own desires and go running back to the darkness.

We deserve no gifts from God. We deserve to be stuck in our sin and doomed to spend an eternity of miserable darkness in hell. As plants without the sun soon wither, as the world without the sun soon dies, so we deserve eternal death without the Son of God. But we don't get what we deserve. Instead the Light of the World has shined on us.

After my first winter in Alaska I went out bought a new flashlight. I bought that kind that doesn't need batteries. You know, with the hand crank on the side which operates a small generator? After you turn it a few dozen times it generates enough power to operate the flashlight. How handy that flashlight's been when lose power at the parsonage. Even if the boys have been playing with my flashlight, I don't have to worry about the batteries being dead. I still have light.

Well, that's what we have in Jesus. He's given us that light for Christmas -- or rather at Christmas. He's given us the Light of the World that is Jesus, the Light that shines in the darkness, the light that gives life! God has shined in our hearts and created faith by the power of the Word! And we know what God has done to rescue us from our sin and the hell we deserve for it. And we couldn't know that on our own. For we are "born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. " In a sense, he's turned the light on for us.

And so, now, no matter what darkness we're plunged into in this life, we have light! No matter what you do, good or bad, the sun will come up tomorrow. Likewise, the Son of God will be there with forgiveness and comfort and help in time of need, all because of his second gift to you at Christmas, the tent God gives... 

II. A Tent

I don't know about you, but I love camping. I love to get off the grid (well, mostly off the grid) for a few days to enjoy God's gift of creation. And a few years ago (it wasn't for Christmas, but) Becky and I got a new tent. The old (supposedly) four-man tent wasn't big enough for our growing family. So we got a new, three-room, three door tent with dividers -- a tent that I can stand up in and still have head room. I love it. But the tent that God gives is waaaaaay better than this one...

John begins his Gospel account with a familiar line, doesn't he: "In the beginning..." Of course, you know where we've seen that before. It's how the whole Bible starts in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." John begins at the same point. At creation. The Word -- that is, Jesus -- "was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." John is reminding his readers right off the bat who Jesus is. He is true God in every way. Jesus is omnipotent with the power to create the universe. Jesus is eternal, there from the beginning of the world. Jesus is true God. And yet, Jesus, true God that he is, went on a camping trip.  

Jump from verse 1 to verse 14. There John writes, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Literally "made his dwelling" is "tented," or "tabernacled." You see, to the Jews, a tent wasn't just a short term shelter. It was where they went to worship God. The tabernacle was that special place where God literally made his dwelling among his people. In the form of a cloud God would settle in the Most Holy Place, that inner sanctum of the tabernacle, to be among his people. That's the picture that John paints of Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means, "God with us."  

Jesus didn't stop being God, but took on that which makes us human -- flesh and blood. John clearly portrayed Jesus as human throughout his Gospel. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, frustrated, and depressed. Jesus was born... and Jesus died. That's the tent that God gave you for Christmas! The tent of Jesus who is God tabernacled in flesh. 

How amazing, isn't it?! That the God who made the universe would dress in skin and bones and walk among us that we might see God face to face. You can hear the marvel of it all in John's words, "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father..." What a tent God gives us on Christmas! It's not one of canvass or fabric or nylon, but one of flesh.  

But more impressive than the fact that the God of the universe could become a man and walk among us, is the reason why he did it. It wasn't to strike us down with his own hand because he was so disgusted with our sin. No! He came "full of grace" John says. He came to save us!

A modern drama portrays Joseph, the carpenter, building a crib for baby Jesus the day after he's born. As he does, he replays in his minds eye the celebration of the night before with the giddy shepherds singing their praise, telling about the angels they had seen, and treating Jesus like a celebrity. Joseph then asks, "If this is how they treat him when he's just a baby, how will they treat him when they find out he's the Son of God?!" Then the lights quickly dim and all you hear is the pounding of the hammer and the nails as Joseph continues working on the crib. But with no visual all you can think of is the sound of the nails being driven through Jesus hands' and feet and into the cross.

In an artistic way that drama illustrates the real miracle of Christmas -- not just that God became man, but why God became man -- to set us free from our sins so that we might have "the right to become children of God." What a great tent! What a great gift from God! John later wrote in 1 John 3(:1), "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" That is what God has given to us at Christmas!

And what's more, he still tents among us on an extended camping trip. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promised his disciples of all time, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He is still Immanuel,  God with us!

What great presents we've received from God! He's given us the Light of his Word that can never go out, the light of faith that he turned on in our hearts! He tented among us in the flesh to live and die in our place! And he tents among us still taking care of us every step of the way! Maybe you didn't get what you were hoping for. Maybe you didn't get the WiiU or the snow machine, but you still got some pretty amazing gifts. And for those gifts you can rejoice! For the Light has shined in your darkness and you "have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Let’s Go with the Shepherds! (A sermon based on Luke 2:8-18, 20)

Every been afraid? Probably not like the shepherds. They were full of terror and dread as sinners in the presence of holy angels. But they were comforted with Good News. The angels were not there to punish them for their sin, but to share the message of their Savior. They went to see him for themselves and told others what they had heard and seen. May we too go with the shepherds! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Luke 2:8-20 and rejoice in your Savior, born for you! 

Let's Go with the Shepherds!
A sermon based on Luke 2:8-18, 20
Sunday, December 24, 2012 – Christmas Eve 

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."


I.              To See the Savior Born for You 

Imagine it. There you are sitting out in the quiet, peaceful field. Not a sound to be heard for miles except for the bleating of a few sheep and the quiet conversation of you and your companions. Except for the small fire you huddle around to keep warm, there are no lights for miles, no city glow to hinder your view of thousands of stars in the sky. But suddenly, in an instant, your whole world is shaken! Imagine out of the dark sky thousands of halogen lamps suddenly appear out of nowhere shining right in your face, blinding you with a light so bright it physically hurts your eyes! (And remember there is no electricity, you've never seen or imagined a light bulb. The brightest light you've ever seen at night before this night is a campfire.)

No wonder the shepherds were terrified. Like a deer caught in the headlights they must have froze in shock and awe and sheer terror at the sight of this unidentified flying object shining in all its brilliant splendor! And far greater than the fear of the unknown light, must have been the realization of what that light was. This was no alien abduction. This was far more terrifying than that! It could be nothing less than a holy angel of God. And here they were lowly sinful shepherds.

How can sinners dare to stand in the presence of the holy? They can't! I imagine the shepherds must have fallen to the ground and covered their heads in their terror. Surely God must have sent this holy angel to destroy them for their wickedness just as he'd done to Sodom and Gomorrah, just as he'd done to the Assyrian King Senacherib. Sure this was the angel of death come for them! Shaking uncontrollably they must have sensed the certain doom of their impending judgment. They knew terror like few have ever known.

But wait… the angel spoke. "Do not be afraid," he said, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." What relief must have washed over those shepherds! He wasn't here to punish or destroy them for their sin! He wasn't the angel of death, but a messenger angel, perhaps Gabriel himself, come to deliver a message from God. That message? "11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

Wow! What huge news! News worthy of such a delivery that put the most elaborate and prestigious press conference to shame! A Savior has been born to you! The messenger angel told Joseph, "you are to give him the name Jesus" (which means "Jehovah saves"), "because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) He was not a political savior, come to deliver them from the Romans. He was not a medical savior, come to save them from sickness, disease and pain. He would not end their suffering in this life or make everything in their life run smoothly. But he would do something far greater! He was the Savior who would deliver them from their sins. He would rescue them out of death, snatch them out of the hell they deserved!

The angel told the shepherds, "He is Christ the Lord." This little baby was the Lord, true God himself! He was the Christ! The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both mean "the Anointed One." This little baby was the one God promised to Adam and Eve; the one who would crush the devil's head and undo his work (cf. Genesis 3:15). This baby was the one God promised would be pierced and crushed for their sins; the one who would bring them peace by his punishment, the one who would heal them by his wounds. (cf. Isaiah 53:5)

And that's exactly what he did! Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared and the army of God proclaimed a message of peace! "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." This baby would do the impossible—not just create peace between men and men, but create peace between men and God! How? In his humility. Born in a barn, laid in a feed trough, he began his human life in low humility. And his birth characterized the rest of his life. And it characterized his death. Ridiculed and tortured, beaten and scourged, stripped of clothes and his dignity he was nailed to a cross, to bleed, spasm, and suffocate to death.

Why? To pay for sin. To cause God's favor, once turned away from mankind because of his sinful rebellion, to rests on mankind once more. Now, through the sacrifice that this little baby would make, God had "goodwill toward men" once more. He was no longer hostile to them, ready to pour out his wrath against their wickedness! Their wickedness was removed and placed on Christ. God's wrath was poured out on him.

And lest the shepherds doubt that this good news of great joy was for them, the angel made it clear, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." For all people—even for those on the lowest rung of the social ladder! Even for the country hick shepherds that most classy Israelites despised.


And even, dear friends, for you. Have you ever been terrified? On your own, you should be. You should be terrified, but not by a UFO like the shepherds were, not by the fear of losing a job or losing health. You should be terrified, not of some imaginary thing that lurks in the dark or the monster under the bed. But you should be terrified by your sin, by those skeletons in your closet.

We should shake and tremble uncontrollably by the thought of our sin, which must be answered by the wrath of a just and holy God. We should grow weak in the knees when we recognize that no amount of good deeds or kind acts will ever undo the evil we've done. We should be terrified by the knowledge that one day soon we will all have to stand before the throne of God and give an account for what we've done and even said and thought; by the knowledge that we sinners cannot dare to stand in the presence of the holy. We should feel the terror of the shepherds.

And when you do realize how serious of a problem your sins present, then go with the shepherds and hear the good news. "Do not be afraid!" For us that baby in the manger was born! For us God became man! For us he lived in humility! For us he died on that cross! For us he endured hell there! For us he was wounded, punished, crushed so we could be healed of our sin, restored again, at peace with God. Our Savior was born—Christ the Lord!

Now we are holy and sinless in God's sight. We can stand before the Holy God with perfect confidence. We have peace with him—a peace that he established. We really do have nothing to fear! For even if I lose my job, my health, all those I love and starve to death on the streets, I'm never alone. My Savior is with me! If I starve to death, I die and go to heaven! My sins are forgiven! Glory is mine! What peace I have because in that little baby, and not in anything I can or ever could do, God's favor rests on me!


II.            To Spread the Word Concerning Him 

What joy those shepherds must have experienced! What peace was theirs in knowing that the long awaited Messiah was finally here to remove their sin! Listen to how they responded…


15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them… 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Out of sheer excitement, they hurried off to check it out for themselves; to verify the message and to see the Baby—their very Savior! Wasting no time at all they sped away as quickly as their legs would carry them, leaving their sheep behind. But wait a second! What if a wolf came while they were gone! Who would protect the sheep?! It didn't mater. This was more important than sheep, more important than their jobs, more important than their livelihoods, more important than anything! This was literally a matter of eternity and in their excitement they simply had to see him for themselves!

And what joy they must have had, having "found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger." How awesome it must have been to see that little child—the God-man, the Christ, their Savior from sin! And again they simply couldn't contain their excitement and joy! The news really was good news of great joy! You can almost picture them leaving that stable, leaping for joy, kicking up their heels, shouting and laughing! Telling everyone they saw, "We've seen the Messiah! He's born! He's here in Bethlehem! He's finally arrived! The prophecies are fulfilled! Our Savior! The Christ! The Lord is here! To save us! To take away our sins! To give us peace with God!"

And those simple, uneducated shepherds, rather than the priests and rabbis or the teachers of the law, became the first missionaries. They didn't need years of study. They didn't need to know every prophecy and fulfillment of Scripture. They didn't need to have so many passages of Scripture memorized. They simply shared what they knew—"they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." And what an effective witness it was! "All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

And the shepherds returned to their sheep glorifying and praising God. And while outwardly their lives may have appeared he same, back in the same old fields, watching the same old sheep, their lives were forever changed. Every day as they continued their work, they could glorify God in their daily labors, praising him for his overwhelming grace to them in revealing their Savior and for forgiving their sins in that little baby, Jesus! 

            Friends, may we respond to the message of the angels in the same way the shepherds did! Don't just take me at my word when I share with you the good news of the Savior born for you. Go check it out for yourself! Dig into the Word of God. Search the Scriptures. Grow in your faith. Nothing in life is more important. One hundred years from now your career won't matter. When you die, how much you have saved in your bank account won't matter. How much you enjoyed life, won't matter. The only thing that will matter is spiritual matters.

So don't worry about the sheep. Leave them in the fields by themselves for a bit while you go see your Savior. And don't delay! Don't wait until you have more time to grow in your faith. That time might never come. Make it a priority now to grow in your faith and learn more of your Savior. Hurry off to your Bibles to find the baby in the manger, to follow the Savior through the crowds, to kneel at the foot of the cross, to run to the empty tomb! Follow him in his Word and in your excitement check it out for yourself!

And don't stop there. Don't just go with the shepherds to see the Savior, but go with them to spread the Word concerning him. When you do discover the truth of God's Word, just as you've been told—when you find him in the manger, on the cross, outside the empty tomb—then you simply can't contain yourself any more than the shepherds could! You simply must share this good news of great joy for all people with all people and tell anyone who will listen!

And you don't need any special training. You don't need years of study. You don't need to know every prophecy and fulfillment of Scripture. You don't need to have so many passages of Scripture memorized. Simply share what you know and spread the Word concerning what has been told you about this child.

No, you don't have to run through the streets of the Peninsula, shouting and laughing. But spread the Word at home with family devotions. Spread the Word with friends and co-workers who don't yet know of the peace with God that Jesus won for them. Spread the Word in the way you live your lives. And tell others that the Messiah has come! A Savior has been born! Our Savior! Our Savior from sin! We have peace with God. And give glory to God in the Highest for the peace on earth for us on whom God's favor now rests! And glorify and praise God for all the things you've heard and seen, which are just as you have been told. Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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“From Where?!” (A sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a)

"From where?! Help for chastised Jerusalem would come from Bethlehem? Are you sure? It's such a tiny town of such little significance! Are you sure?" But God was sure when he predicted the Savior's birth would take place in Bethlehem of Ephrathah. Every prophecy that God has given with such detail God has fulfilled proving that his Scriptures are inspired and inerrant. But the Redeemer wasn't just from Bethlehem; he was also from ancient times, even from eternity. As true God and true man, he is the perfect Savior for us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a and rejoice that you know where Jesus is from...

"From Where?!"
A sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a
Sunday, December 23, 2012 – Advent 4C 

What would you think if told you I found a document written in 1300 (that's 700 years ago) that predicted that the winner of the 2016 election for president of the US will be someone born in Houston – But not Houston, TX, Houston, Alaska. It's " (~15 miles W of Wasilla. Population 1,200) You'd think I was nuts, right? After all, the United States isn't 300 years old. You might even say with incredulity, "From where?! Yeah, right!" But what if it really happened? You'd know that I had some incredible insight. You might even say it was a miracle—given to me by divine revelation.

Today as we take one last look at our Redeemer's resume we do one more background check to see where he came from. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah said that the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, would come from Bethlehem in Ephrathah, a little town of little significance; a very surprising place on the resume of the world's Redeemer. But that's not all. He would also come from of old, from ancient times, from God. True God, from ancient times, true man, from Bethlehem in Ephrathah, our Savior was born. The last reference we look at in Advent is found in Micah 5… 

2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4   He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace. 

I.    From Bethlehem 

"Marshal your troops," Micah urged Jerusalem (5:1). "Steel yourselves against the coming Babylonian siege. The future is grim. And the future is gruesome. God will exact full punishment for Judah's self-serving godlessness." But just when we expect Micah to describe vividly the savage destruction that awaits the capital, he abruptly changes cities and theme. "Bethlehem … out of you will come … [a] ruler … [whose] greatness will reach to the ends of the earth."  In other words, don't give up hope, Jerusalem; Bethlehem is coming to the rescue.

"Wait… Where?! Bethlehem? You mean that tiny little ranch a few miles away? Bethlehem will come to the rescue?!" What a surprising place. Kings were born in Jerusalem. That's the way it had been since King David. That's the way God promised it would be—one of David's descendants would never fail to sit on the throne. But their hero wouldn't be a prince, born in the palace of Jerusalem. The descendant of David would be born, not in the city that David conquered and then called his own, but in the small town where David was born: in Bethlehem. And not in Bethlehem of Zebulon (there was such a city), but the prophecy was very specific: in Bethlehem of Ephrathah.

But isn't that how God often works? 1 Corinthians 1(:28) says, "[God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not…" He chose humble men to prepare the way, lowly and despised prophets to tell of the details, a lowly stable outside of a lowly town for the location of the Redeemer's birth, and lowly print on page to show his prophecies and fulfillment.

This week I saw a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin asked, "If Santa's real, why all the secrecy? I mean, why doesn't he just show himself so everyone knows he's real and will believe?" His stuffed tiger, Hobbes, replies, "Who cares? Christmas isn't about Santa. It's a religious celebration." "I know," says Calvin, "but I have the same questions about God."

Ever wish God would just reveal himself and remove all doubts? I think that if he were to reveal himself to you visibly, your doubts would remain. You'd think you were cracking up and losing touch with reality. After all, why you? Why not the president? Or the pope? And was it really God? Or did you hallucinate or have a stroke? So instead he chose to reveal himself in a way that everyone could see and verify—through prophecy and fulfillment.

Make no mistake; it wasn't mere chance that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It wasn't even the census to count all taxable citizens. It was God. Seven hundred years earlier God called his shot. Bethlehem. Not in Zebulon. But that tiny, ranching village outside of Bethlehem. That's where he'll be born: the Messiah, the Redeemer who will rescue not just Jerusalem, but the rest of Israel's brothers, all believers, and his greatness will reach the ends of the earth.

And this seems to be an area where God really likes to show off. He will be betrayed by a friend and sold for 30 pieces of silver. He will be mocked and taunted and stripped with his clothes gambled over. He'll be hung on a tree, with his hands and feet pierced. You'll see his ribs as dies, yet not a bone will be broken through it all. He'll be assigned a grave with the wicked, but given a grave with the rich. And three days later, he'll live again. Prophecy and fulfillment and prophecy and fulfillment, over and over, over and over, God shows how reliable his Word is.

Is there any doubt who the Redeemer is? With just the one prophecy of Bethlehem in Ephrathah, King Herod got it. When the magi came looking for a king, the priests told him, "Look in Bethlehem." (cf. Matthew 2:3-6) And we get it too. We know who Jesus is because of prophecies fulfilled. And we know we can trust the Word of God because of prophecies fulfilled. God spoke. God fulfilled. We believe and put doubt to rest. Even without God showing himself to us visibly, we know, through "the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not…" we know that God's Word is true, inspired and inerrant. And we know who our Redeemer is. For he is from Bethlehem.

But that's not all! Micah didn't just say the Redeemer would be from Bethlehem. He also said he'd be from ancient times, from of old, in other words, from God… 

II.    From God 

Micah said, 2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." How could one who would be born (in the future) have origins from of old? How could he be from ancient times? Well, yes, he could trace his ancestry back to David, to Abraham, and even to Adam. Yes, he was the fulfillment of God's ancient plan prophesied in the Garden of Eden. But it was more. He was the eternal God. Micah pointed to the divine nature of the Redeemer.

And Micah's contemporary Isaiah made it clear too: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). He called him "Immanuel," "God with us" (cf. Isaiah 7:14), "Mighty God," and "Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6). Even Jesus himself said, "Before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58) pointing out his eternal, divine nature.

But Micah was also clear about the Redeemer's human roots: "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites."  He predicted that Israel wouldn't regain any national prominence until "she who is in labor gives birth" to this ruler. The one whose "origins are from of old" will not simply dress himself in human form as he had done a number of times in the Old Testament, but the Redeemer would be human, as the author to the Hebrews pointed out: "A body you prepared for me." (Hebrews 10:5)

Our Redeemer is true man, from Bethlehem, born of a woman. Our Redeemer is true God, from ancient times, from eternity. And those are the qualifications we need for a Redeemer: As true man, the Redeemer could be born under the law in order to keep it in our place as our substitute. And as true man, the Redeemer could die to pay for our sins. As true God, the Redeemer would keep the law perfectly in our place as our substitute. As true God, his death on the cross could pay for the sins of all mankind.

As true God and true man he could be the Shepherd who would, "stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God." He could be the Good Shepherd who "[laid] down his life for the sheep," who had the power not only to lay down his life but to take it up again. (cf. John 10:11–18) He could be the shepherd who gives his sheep eternal life and guarantees that "they shall never perish" since "no one can snatch them out of [his] hand." (John 10:25–30). He could be the eternal Shepherd who watches over us and protects us still.

And the result? Micah said, "And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace." And we do live securely—secure in the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, satan is defeated, we've escaped from hell. He is our peace. For "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10) His victory is complete. His victory is eternal. His victory is ours.

And now, we share the exciting news that "his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth," all the way to Alaska! We tell others that the Redeemer is from Bethlehem! Prophecy is fulfilled! God's Word is true! We tell them that our Redeemer is eternal. He is true God! He won the victory for us! And still today salvation comes from unlikely places. As we share the Good News of the Gospel, it still comes from Bethlehem and from Calvary. But it also comes from Kenai, from Soldotna, Kasiloff, Sterling, and Nikiski.  And as we tell others, then "they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Gifts of the Manger (A sermon based on Zephaniah 3:14-17)

This Christmas season, go ahead, focus just on the gifts that you get. Focus on the gifts that you get from God through Jesus and through the manger. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Zephaniah 3:14-17 (or watch the entire Children's Christmas Program at our webcast here) and rejoice in what you get from Jesus..

The Gifts of the Manger
A sermon based on Zephaniah 3:14-17
Sunday, December 16, 2012 – Advent 3C/Children's Program 

Grace, mercy, and peace are just some of the many gifts that are yours from God our Father, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by his manger. Amen.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our sermon text for this morning is from one of God's last Old Testament prophets, found in Zephaniah 3:14-17…

 14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." 

What do you want for Christmas? Do you want the new Furbie toy? I hear he's making a comeback. Do you want some Lego sets? Do you want the new Wii U? Or maybe your wish list is a little more grown up and you want the new iPad, or a new snow machine, or a 3D TV. Or maybe you don't want toys at all. Maybe your wish list contains simpler items this year. You want to keep your job. You want to spend time with your family. You want your children to be safe from harm.

But if that's all that's on your Christmas wish list this year, then, well, I hate to break it to you, but you deserve worse than a lump of coal. What about a stronger faith that puts your trust in God no matter what? What about strength to resist the temptations that bombard us and to serve God in honesty and purity? What about forgiveness for all of the times we've failed God and failed each other putting our selfish wants at the top of the list while leaving others real needs out of sight and out of mind.

Too often we focus on the pleasures and treasures of this life and neglect the far more important spiritual matters with our priorities way out of whack!

That was the case with God's people in the days of Jeremiah and Zephaniah (about 620 BC). God's people had abandoned him to serve false gods. The clergy, who should have been correcting the people, were just as bad, if not worse. And God sent Zephaniah to warn them.

He said in Zephaniah 1:14-18: 14 "The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly… 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness… 17 I will bring distress on the people… because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath."  Harsh? Yes. But also well-deserved. The people deserved far worse than a lump of coal… just like we do.

Now you and I may not sacrifice our children to Molech or bow down to Baal or Ashera, but don't we have our false gods too? We sometimes put our trust in our savings, or our intelligence, or our strength by the protection we offer our children. But this economy might teach us that our savings isn't trustworthy. Our intelligence could all disappear with one car crash. And we saw this weekend that we can't always keep our children safe. Those are all false Gods.

And for trusting in wealth to save us from calamity, for our haughty arrogance and pride, for our rebellion against the King, we too deserve to have God pour out his wrath on us, as he says in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul who sins is the one who will die." That's what we deserve for Chirstmas—eternal death in hell. But that's not what we get!

You know, yesterday at Christmas for Kids, Mr. Holper asked some of the kids, "Who thinks the presents that we get are the most important part of Christmas?" And every one of the kids kept their hands down. But I raised my hand to see what they would say. And one of the kids said, "Pastor! You're wrong! The presents we get aren't the most important thing!" And I know what she meant, but I replied, "No. Really they are. The presents that we get from God through Jesus and through his manger are really what Christmas is all about."

In the middle of his warning of God's impending wrath, Zephaniah cried out, "Sing… Shout aloud… Be glad and rejoice." Seems a bit out of place doesn't it? "You all deserve God's wrath and it's coming. Sing and rejoice." They ought to shudder, not rejoice, right? What reason could they possibly have to rejoice? Zephaniah says in verse 15, "The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy."

The word translated "taken away" means "to get rid of completely, to remove, to take out the trash." The word translated "turned back" literally means "to get rid of stuff that's in the way, to sweep it away" Both would be good words to describe what you do to get the house ready for your Christmas company this season—to clean house.

And this is God's Christmas gift to you in Jesus by his manger. The gift of salvation! "The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy." How?

He gave us his Son, born in a manger to take the blame for world's sins! He gave us Jesus who would go to the cross to pay for every one of your sins and mine! He took away our punishment, by taking it on himself. As Isaiah wrote, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

God gave us Jesus to pay the price for us to come into God's home—and not just as visitors or guest, not just for a couple of weeks, but as members of his family for all of eternity! No blessing compares to that baby—that great warrior King—who turned back and soundly defeated our enemies of Satan, death, and hell so we can look forward to an eternity in God's perfect home in heaven!

And with that gift comes others too. We are full of joy! "Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy."

And we are full of confidence and peace. "The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm... Do not fear, O Zion… The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

Like a frightened child, suddenly wrapped in mom's loving arms, God promises to quiet us with his love and comfort us when we're afraid. And there's a lot to be afraid of, isn't there? So much is beyond our control! There are wars being fought all around us. There are people who want to harm us. There are predators who might snatch our children. These are real fears! We fear failing health and the loss of a job. We fear watching a loved one get hurt and suffer. We at times fear what will come of our sins? What new challenge or threat will tomorrow bring?

But when we're afraid, God wraps his loving arms around us in a big embrace and says to us, "Don't be scared. I'm right here. I'm with you. God with you—Immanuel." What awesome gifts we get!

So go ahead! Shallow as it may seem, focus only on the gifts that you receive this Christmas season. You can be glad to spend time with your family this Christmas. You can rejoice that your kids are safe. And you can take delight in the gifts you find under the tree. They are blessings from God. But remember that they're nothing compared to the gifts that God gave to you at Christmas. Rejoice in what God so graciously and freely and continually gives you in Jesus! Give thanks for the gifts of the manger.

In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God’s Advent Messengers (A sermon based on Malachi 3:1-4)

God's messengers come in humility to prepare the way. Malachi and John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ. Christ came to be the way to heaven. We come to share the way with others. Read (sorry, no audio was recorded this week) this sermon based on Malachi 3:1-4 and be encouraged to listen to God's messengers even when they bring the Law, trust in God's Messenger of Grace, and become God's messengers to share the Good News...

God's Advent Messengers
A sermon based on Malachi 3:1-4
Sunday, December 9, 2012 – Advent 2C 
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" "A scientist." "A baseball player." "A Legoland worker!" But I don't think I've heard a kid say, "When I grow up, I want to be a bike messenger." Or, "When I grow up, I want to be a hotel maid." "When I grow up, I want to clean other people's clothes." It's certainly not that there's anything wrong with those jobs. They're all fine ways for a Christian to live out his or faith. It's just that they're not usually considered the most glamorous jobs.
Not usually...
Today as we continue to look at our Redeemer's resume, we see that the job description might not seem all that glamorous. He would be a messenger. He would be a refiner. He would be a launderer. And so another qualification we look for on our Redeemer's resume is humility. He would humble himself to do some pretty dirty work.
And in thanks to him, so do we. We're eager to get down and dirty to become his messengers. We are bold to proclaim his Law just like Malachi and just like John the Baptist, even though it's not very fun work and isn't always appreciated. We're bold to share the Gospel and tell others of our Redeemer and his job description of making us clean.
The next reference we find on our Redeemer's resume is the prophet Malachi, God's messenger, sent to prepare the people for the coming Messiah, our Redeemer. He reminds us that all of God's messengers come in humility. He, like John, came in humility to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus came in humility to be the way to heaven. And now we come in humility to share the way with others. We read Malachi 3:1-4... 
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. 
I.          Some Came to Prepare the Way 
God's people were waiting for the Christ to come, but while they waited they grew impatient. And they complained to God that he wasn't being fair. They saw the wicked gain wealth and prosperity, while they were suffering. And they cried out against God, "Where's your sense of justice?" And God, who was always so patient with his people, finally grew sick and tired of their whining and complaining. Malachi told God's people in 2:17, "You have wearied the Lord with your words… by saying, 'All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them' or 'Where is the God of justice?'"
And God sent his messenger, Malachi (whose name means "My messenger" by the way) to warn them, "Be careful what you wish for… it just might come true." In fact, God was coming. But it wouldn't be like the Israelites expected. They would be on the receiving end of the judgment the God of justice would bring.
You see it was in their self-righteousness that they demanded justice from God. If they recognized how sinful they were, there's no way they would ask for justice! So God sent Malachi to point out their sinful self-centeredness. He pointed out their sin of quitting and getting a divorce as soon as their marriages were tough. He pointed out their sins of hoarding up their wealth and refusing to give it to God, or of giving God their left-over crippled and diseased animals as a sacrifice. In their sin, the last thing they wanted was for God to come as a God of justice. If he did, Malachi warns, "Who could endure the day of his coming?"
And after Malachi, the last of God's prophets found in the Old Testament, there were 400 years of silence—no more prophets came until the New Testament messenger that Malachi pointed to: "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me." This messenger is the messenger we read about in our Gospel lesson. All four evangelists and even Jesus himself identified John the Baptist as this messenger. (cf. Matthew 3:1-3; Mark 1:1-4; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:19-23; Matthew 11:10-11.) And John's message wasn't much different than Malachi's: "Repent! Turn away from your self-centered sins! For the kingdom of heaven is near! And in your sins you cannot withstand the axe of God's justice!" (cf. previous references)
And dear friends, these two messengers, Malachi and John the Baptist still speak to us today! You and I aren't really all that different from the Old Testament Israelites. We too are waiting for Christ to come. And we too grow impatient. We want to know why do we have to suffer when the wicked prosper. We too often foolishly call for a God of justice. But we are sinners too, who cannot withstand the judgment on our own. And just is indded one of the qualities we find on the Redeemer's resume. We too commit sins against our spouses and fail to be as loving as we should, even if we don't get a divorce. We too withhold our offerings from God and use the blessings he's given for selfish, ungodly purposes, and we too gripe and complain against God when things don't go our way.
And so we too need to hear the warning of the law God's messengers bring to us. We need to hear Malachi warn us, "You want God to be fair?! You want justice?! Then look out!" Then, when we hear the law, when we listen to what it says, we're led to despair of our efforts to be fit for heaven, we're led to sincere sorrow and repentance over what we've done, and we are prepared for the next Messenger to come… 
II.         One Came to Be the Way 
You know, there are really a lot of Malachi's in the Book of Malachi. First, the author, Malachi, or "My messenger," says, "See, I will send my messenger, [the second Malachi], who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; my messenger [the third Malachi], of the covenant, whom you desire, will come…"
This third Malachi would come suddenly, right after the second Malachi. Now even without the New Testament fulfillment of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, we know this messenger isn't just any ordinary messenger. First Malachi says this messenger would come, not to the temple, but to his temple. This messenger he equates with the Lord of Hosts, "the Lord [the Israelites were] seeking…." This messenger was the messenger of the covenant. But this Messenger of the covenant didn't just come to deliver a message, but to carry it out. Jesus would be a Messenger who wouldn't just prepare the way, he would be the way. He would make God's covenant of grace happen. And he would purify his people.
Do you have any guests visiting you this Christmas season? If you do, I'm guessing you'll spend at least a day cleaning up around the house. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if your guests came over to find dust covering the mantle, dirty dishes filling the kitchen, and mud all over the floors? We don't want them to see things dirty, so we scrub the floors, vacuum the carpets, sanitize the bathrooms, and maybe even wash the windows!
Well, we do have a guest coming for Christmas and all year round actually. God not only comes for a visit, but makes his home, his temple, in human hearts. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians, "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God." (1 Corinthians 6:19) But there's one problem. God can't stand dirt. He says in Psalm 24, "Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false." (Psalm 24:3-4)
And that's a problem for us isn't it? Clean hands? Pure hearts? Not me. Not Malachi, not John the Baptist, not Mother Teresa and not you either. All of us have sinned and on our own our hands and hearts, our vey lives, are stained with sin. And like a stubborn carpet stain, no matter how hard we scrub, no matter what soap or detergent we use, we can't get rid of that sin.
But friends, when we confess that sin and repent of it, what joy is ours because God is the best house guest there is! He comes to a dirty soul ready to do his own cleaning. With a few similes Malachi describes how the Messenger of the Covenant would come.
"For he will be like a sledgehammer smashing sinners to pieces or like a deadly pestilence that spares none from death." No! That's not what he says! Though you may expect something like that because of the stain of our sin, that's not what that Messenger's like. Malachi writes, "For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver."
Christ, the Messenger of the Covenant, is not just the blacksmith, but the refining fire. Christ is not just the launderer, but the soap. But what's the point of comparison? Well, why does a refiner put metal in the fire? To burn off the impurities which make it less than perfect, to make it totally pure silver or gold. But, maybe we're not as familiar with art of smelting. Yet, all of us… okay most of us are familiar with doing laundry. So perhaps Malachi's second simile is easier to understand…
Like launderer's soap that removes every stain Christ takes away every spot or blemish of sin found in us. How? Not with bleach, or detergent, or soap, but with blood. And not just any blood—his blood. John writes, "the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) Now you and I are perfect, pure, spotless, without wrinkle or blemish or stain, fresh from the Cleaner's! Now you and I can be certain that we "can endure the day of his coming" We "can stand when he appears" because this Messenger of God—the Messenger of the Covenant, has made us pure. He has become the way to heaven.
II.         We Come to Share the Way

            What comfort God's people have! Though we deserve to be destroyed for our sin, instead we're cleansed of it! God makes us perfect and clean, meeting his holy standards, so that he can come and make our hearts his temple! How do God's people respond to such grace? Malachi tells us…
He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
God would purify the Levites—that is, the priests—and they would bring acceptable offerings once more. Now the Hebrew word used for "offerings" here isn't the word used for animal sacrifices. Those were the offered to make atonement for sin. But this word is for the grain offering that accompanied the bloody sacrifices. It didn't pay for sins, but expressed trust in God's promises and thanksgiving for the forgiveness given.
And this is the only real response for one who's been washed clean of their sins by the blood of Jesus! We can't help but give our thank offerings to him. Faith in the purification won by the Messenger of the Covenant—this alone saves. But this faith is never alone. For where a heart is filled with trust in God's grace, where the Holy Spirit makes his temple, there is a heart filled with an overwhelming desire to thank Jesus and offer our best him—even our very lives.
But is our best, is our life, ever good enough? Can we ever adequately thank him? Here we again trust in the purification our Savior brings. The complaints given when offering our time and talents to our Savior, thinking, "I have better things to do than this," the selfish attitudes that frown as our clenched fists slowly release our offerings to the plate, the stain of these sins are removed in Christ. Like the Levites, we're purified and refined so that when God looks at us he sees only perfect offerings—acceptable, sweet and pleasing to him.
We give our treasures to God with thankful hearts, giving him all of our money and possession—not all to church, but all to the glory of God. And we offer our time gladly, using our gifts and talents to serve him.
And as a part of that service we all serve, in a certain sense, as pastors and priests. Peter writes, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) What's one of the best ways you can express your thanks to God? Declare his praises to others!
Then you will become a Malachi–one of God's messengers. You like Malachi, like John the Baptist can share the law to point out the stain of our sin that dare not ask for God's justice. Then they will be prepared for you to tell them about the Messenger of the Covenant, Jesus, who has purified their hearts to make his dwelling with them. Then, they too will bring acceptable offerings to God in thanks to him.
Dear friends, may we all continue to make such offerings in righteousness, thanking Jesus for purifying us and making us ready for Christ's coming even if it happens today; ready because he's cleaned our hearts and made them his home. Let's keep thanking him in all we do until he makes his heaven our home. God, grant it for Jesus' sake. Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
(907) 690-1660

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