Monday, April 30, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: He Shepherds His Flock

Don't you want someone responsible to take care of your kids when you need a daycare or a babysitter? Don't you want someone responsible to take care of your soul? Thank God that our risen Savior hasn't left us alone to fend for ourselves against the spiritual predators that seek to kill our faith in him. But the Good Shepherd has bought us with his blood and sends faithful shepherds to continue to guard us and feed us with his Word. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 20:28-32 and rejoice that our risen Savior still acts by shepherding his flock...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts:

He Shepherds His Flock

A sermon based on Acts 20:28-32

Sunday, April 29, 2012 – Easter 4B


Rhonda had a few errands to run. They wouldn't take long. Maybe an hour or two. So she grabbed her keys, her purse, and her coat and she went out the door. Meanwhile, an acquaintance of Rhonda's got out of work early. So she went over to Rhonda's house. And you can imagine her surprise when Rhonda wasn't there, especially since Rhonda was supposed to be watching her son and six other kids all under the age of four. But while she went to run her errands, she left all 7 kids home alone with no adult supervision.

Rhonda Piehl of Wausau, Wisconsin is no longer in the childcare business. After doing jail time for her negligence she's no longer able to get her childcare license, a license, by the way she never got in the first place. And good thing, right? She's not fit to take care of children. Can you imagine if there were a fire or an accident? Can you imagine if one of the kids found the shotgun left on the floor of her 14 year-old son's room? Her neglect could have caused some very serious harm.

But Rhonda's not the only one who does a poor job of caring for those under their care. In a certain sense, God uses childcare too. He hires, not nannies, but shepherds to watch his children. To care for them spiritually. To keep them safe from harm. But some shepherds don't take care of God's flock. They fleece the flock as they take care of themselves like hired hands. Or worse, they feed off the flock like vicious wolves.

But Jesus doesn't sit idly by. Our risen Savior still acts. He still shepherds his flock. He made them his children when he bought them with his blood. And he cares for them with good shepherds who feed and protect them. Listen to Paul's charge to those called to oversee God's flock, recorded for us in Acts 20:28-32, and hear how the Good Shepherd still shepherds his flock…


28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

32 "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."


I. He Bought You with His Blood


Do you like being called a sheep? It's not usually very complimentary is it? It usually means you're a mindless follower, one who can't think for himself. In fact, in Greek, the word for sheep is literally translated, "forward moving thing." That's about how bright they thought sheep were. To be called a sheep makes one think of mindless wandering, as Isaiah put it (in 53:6), "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…" To be called a flock of sheep makes us seem vulnerable and weak.

Not always a compliment, but pretty accurate isn't it? We do wander into the same sins again and again without giving much thought to what led us there. We do mindlessly follow the devil's suggestions, the influence of the world around us, and our own sinful nature's every whim. And we are weak and vulnerable against them. Those unholy three circle around us in a pack, hunting us down, eager for a kill. And on our own, we're about as helpless as an infant without a provider.

And too often we're apathetic about the whole thing. Oh, we pay lip service to how important spiritual things are to us, but the way we spend our time shouts otherwise. We say we're serious about the spiritual battle that rages around us and for our souls. But we rarely pick up the one weapon—God's Word—that has the power to drive the enemy away.

In fact, where the NIV says, "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth," the Greek literally says, "Even from yourselves men will arise speaking twisted things." In ourselves, we sometimes say, "Okay, so I'm not perfect. But I'm not that bad. What's the big deal? So what if I step out just to run a few errands? So what if I let down my guard for just a little while? So what if I don't take care of my soul? It'll all be okay, I'm sure."

And for our apathy we deserve to be devoured. We deserve to be duped by the false teachers, the ravenous wolves, that long only to feed on us. For not testing what he hear against the Word of God we deserve to fall for distorted truths and twisted teachings. For caring for our own souls about as much as Rhonda Piehl cared for the children under her care, we deserve to be satan's prey for all of eternity in hell.

That's what we deserve. And that's what we'd all get for our apathy and negligence and carelessness if we were left to ourselves. "If…" But we're not. We have a Shepherd who cares for us perfectly. We have the Perfect Shepherd who takes care of his flock.

Rhonda Piehl didn't want to suffer inconvenience in her day to take care of the kids entrusted to her care. But in contrast, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, was willing to suffer hell to take care of the souls that God entrusted to him. Listen again to what he said in John 10(:10-18): "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd… and I lay down my life for the sheep… I lay down my life—only to take it up again… I lay it down of my own accord. I… lay it down and… take it up again." Our Good (Excellent! Perfect!) Shepherd willingly gave his life for us! He endured hell, separated from the Father, for us. That he might buy us out of hell. 

Did you see how God inspired Paul to put it? "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." God bought the church with his blood. Your sin costs a lot—nothing less than the blood of God himself. But God, in his great love for you, eagerly paid the price. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Does your Shepherd love you! You bet! And he does even more. He didn't just pay to make you his own, but he provides the very best care for you too. He provides Shepherds that take care of his flock, guarding you and feeding you still…

II. He Guards You with His Shepherds


Listen again to Paul as he holds himself up as an example to the elders at Ephesus: "Be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." What a great pastor they had! He did the tough work of warning and admonishing his brothers in Christ. He did so with great patience—over the course of 3 years! He did so with great persistence—never stopping day or night! And he did so with great love—with tears in his eyes he cared for his people so much! What love God showed the Ephesians in providing them such pastoral care! And when Paul had to leave for Jerusalem, God provided other shepherds, elders and overseers.

Now your shepherds that you've had at Grace and the shepherd God's given you now, may not be as good of a pastor as the Apostle Paul. But that doesn't mean that God hasn't blessed you by them. All of your pastors here have fed you. They've given you the Word. They've served you with the sacraments. All of the pastors here have led you. They led to you the Good Shepherd. They have watched over your souls. And one of still does actively care for you, maybe not for three years yet, and maybe not always night and day, but he does care about you. He longs to feed your faith and nourish your soul and to guard you from the wolves. And yes, sometimes even with tears in his eyes.

I don't tell you this to boast or to hold myself up, and I'm certainly no Paul, but I want to show you God's love for you in caring for you, in shepherding you though his under-shepherds. And it really is he who has brought me here. I didn't choose Kenai. You didn't choose me. But "the Holy Spirit has made [me] overseer…" here. The Good Shepherd loves you so much that he doesn't leave you alone after purchasing you with his blood. But he gives you shepherds still to guard you, to watch over you, to shepherd you.

And I do for you as Paul did for the Ephesians: "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

I can't fight off satan for you. I can't keep the world's influence at bay. I can't keep you safe from your sinful nature. But God can. Your Good Shepherd has. And he will. So I commit you to God. And your Good Shepherd feeds your soul by his Word. So I commit you to the word of his grace.

You are forgiven. You are perfect and sinless in God's sight because your Good Shepherd laid down his life for you. Now, you are Jesus little lamb whom he knows perfectly, whom he guides and feeds.

So be glad at heart! Trust in God to keep you safe from the wolves and commend your soul to him. Listen to your shepherd. Don't run away when he comes with loving admonition. Hear him and believe him when he comforts you with Jesus' absolution. And make every effort to stay in the Word of grace, both here in worship and on your own. For only God through that word of grace can keep you safe from the wolves.

Yes, rejoice, friends! Jesus is not like Rhonda Piehl. He has not left us alone! He promises he'll never abandon us to the wolves. He promises to defend our souls. He promises to meet us in the Word. He promises to give us shepherds to fight for us, to come to our aid when satan seems to have the upper hand. To counsel us and comfort us, speaking the Word of Jesus. Rejoice, friends, that our risen Savior still acts! He still shepherds his flock. In the name of our Good shepherd, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: Jesus Puts You to Sleep

Ever have trouble sleeping at night? What is it that keeps you lying awake? Peter was expecting to be executed the next day. Yet, in spite of his situation, he slept peacefully between two prison guards. How?! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 12:1-19 (or watch the entire service here) and learn Peter's secret. Then let our risen Savior, Jesus, put you to sleep to get the peaceful rest you need to serve him... 

Our Risen Savior Still Acts

Jesus Puts You to Sleep

A sermon based on Acts 12:1-19

Sunday, April 22, 2012 – Easter 3B

"Hey, Preacher," one man said as he approached his pastor after the worship service one Sunday, "I want to let you know that every week your sermons always put me to sleep."

The pastor was taken aback a bit by this man's brutal honesty. "Oh, well, I suppose I could be a little more energetic in my delivery. And I could work harder to find better illustrations, I guess. But you know, you could try a little harder to pay attention too. And maybe if you got to bed earlier on Saturday nights. It wouldn't be so hard."

"No, no, Pastor," the member replied, "You misunderstand. You see, I used to lay awake at night, losing sleep over all my problems and troubles that worried me, losing sleep over my sin and the guilt that gnawed away at me. But since I've been coming here, I've heard the Gospel. I know my sins are forgiven. I know that Jesus loves me and promises to take care of me, in spite of the problems I see. And you know, it's really helped. I pray at night, leave all my problems with Jesus, and sleep better than I ever have before. You see? Your sermons really put me to sleep."

This morning as we continue to examine how the risen Jesus took care of the early church in the book of Acts and how our risen Savior still acts in our lives, we see that Jesus puts us to sleep. He certainly doesn't bore us, but by setting us free from our chains of sin, guilt, and worry, he gives us peace that trusts in his care and lets us sleep even in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances.

Listen now to how he did that for Peter as it's recorded for us in Acts 12:1-19…

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.

8 Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!"

15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Did you get a good sleep last night? Imagine if you didn't get a bed… or a cot… or a blanket. Imagine you only had the dirt floor of a prison prison cell. Imagine you couldn't roll over from side to side or stretch out as you'd like because you were chained between two guards. Imagine the air wasn't so pleasant smelling as the dungeon was full of filth. Now, imagine you were awaiting your execution in the morning. How would you sleep? Would you sleep at all?

One year after Jesus resurrection, the church had grown. And the enemies of God's people were turning up the heat. Herod put James to death and when he saw his approval ratings rise for doing so, he set his sights on Peter. But impatient of a man as Herod was, he had to wait. It was the Passover. But as soon as the holiday was over… well, that would be the end of Peter.

And Peter had to wait. He had to wait for his execution.

Do you think you'd get a good night's sleep? Besides the guards and the chains and the cold hard ground, there were other things that might have kept Peter from getting much sleep that night. What about worry? What about fear? What about guilt? What about regret?

After all it wasn't that long ago that Peter swore, "May I be damned if I know who this Jesus is that you keep talking about! I swear to you I do NOT know the man!" Now, as he was preparing to meet the Judge of the living and the dead the very next morning, those sins may have come back to haunt him. Nagging doubt of where he'd spend eternity might have been surfacing. And if that was the case, could we blame him?

After all, don't we often lose sleep, even when our life is not on the line? Did you get a good night's sleep last night? What are the things that keep you awake? Maybe it was your poor choices in staying out too late. Maybe you were acting and behaving like Jesus wasn't with you the entire time watching your every action, hearing your every word.

Or maybe you lie awake at night because of worry. You wonder if your relationships will be okay in the morning and what you'll do if you're all alone. You wonder if your finances will be there next week, let alone in retirement? Will you be forced to beg or starve? You wonder if the kids will be okay or repeat the sins of your youth and fall away. But our worry shows our lack of faith.

Or maybe your guilt robs you of sleep as you replay your sins in your mind and wonder how God could forgive you, let alone that other person that you hurt. You wonder how you could have denied your Savior just like Peter did, when the stakes were so much lower.

And really for our sins, for our sinful worry, for our unbelief toward God's promises, we deserve to lie awake at night in sheer terror and utter dread of dying to face the Judge of the living and the dead to be condemned. And we deserve no peace forever in the restless torment of eternal hell.

Yes, these things might very well have kept Peter from getting a good night's sleep the night before his expected execution. They might have. But they didn't. Peter was ready to die. In fact, he was so comfortable with that very real possibility that while the rest of the church was up praying earnestly for his safety, Peter went to sleep.

How?! How could he possibly sleep at a time like that?! Didn't he understand the situation? Of course he did! But he remembered what Jesus had said to him after his resurrection. He remembered Jesus promising, "Peace be with you…" (Luke 24:36). He remembered Jesus telling him that "forgiveness of sins [would] be preached in his name to all nations, beginning [right there, where he was] at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:47) He remembered Jesus forgiving him and reinstating him with the command : "Feed my sheep." (John 21:17) He remembered Jesus telling them all, "When they arrest you, do not worry…" (Matthew 10:19) And remembered the promise he gave at his ascension, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

And Peter was ready to go. Just like Paul said in Philippians 1:21, Peter could say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me… to depart and be with Christ… is better by far…"  

He might die the next day. Or he might go on living a long time. This time God would rescue him. He still had work to do. But a day would come when Peter wouldn't be rescued, but would be crucified for his faith. Jesus told him as much. He said to Peter, "When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18) But in the meantime, Peter wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

How about you? How can you sleep in peace at night knowing that in the morning the problems will still be there? The relationships will still be strained. The finances will still be tight. The fears and doubts will still try to push their way back into your lives. How can you sleep in peace?

You know the answer. You know that what God did for Peter, he's done for you. In the same way that he freed Peter from the shackles around his wrists and led him out of the maximum security prison like he was on a stroll through the park, so too God has miraculously freed you from the chains of sin and guilt, of worry and fear, that once held you bound. He led you out of the prison of hell and rescued you for his heaven! He's proven your victory in him by his resurrection and he still preaches forgiveness of sins in his name! He says to you, "Peace be with you…" (Luke 24:36) and, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

Will he always set you free from your problems and pains of this life? No. Not always. Let's be clear about that. But had he let Peter be executed by Herod and not set free he would not have been any less faithful to his promises. Will Jesus take away your financial worries? He might. Or he might not. Will he help you fix your marriage? He might. Or he might not. Will he make this life comfortable and easy for you all the time? I hope not. That would be bad for your faith.

But he will… he does… set you free from sin, from guilt, from shame, from hell, from worry. He sets you free to sleep at peace at night as you too echo Peter and Paul and say with them, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me… to depart and be with Christ… is better by far…" (Philippians 1:21)

If my sermons put you to sleep, that's okay. I'll take it as a compliment. I hope that in my sermons you hear the comforting promises of our Savior. And I know that's not really my sermons, but our risen Savior, Jesus, who puts you to sleep. He says you're forgiven. You're protected. You're his. Now, be at peace. Get a good night's sleep tonight, so tomorrow you'll be well rested and ready to serve him in whatever he's called you to do. In Jesus' name, dear friends, sleep in peace. Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: He Gives the Courage to Speak Your Peace (A sermon based on Acts 26:19–29)

Is it sometimes intimidating to stand up and speak your mind? After all, you never know how people will react. Will they listen? Will they believe you? Will they side with you? Or will they grow hostile? Will they make fun of you? Will they ostracize you? It can be a daunting task to stand up and speak your piece. But because of our risen Savior, we have peace with God knowing that our sins are forgiven, that Jesus does indeed live, that he is with us always, just like he promised, that what he have in him is really the only thing that matters. And this peace in Jesus gives us the courage to speak up. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 26:19-29 and see how our risen Savior still acts in our lives, just as he did in the early Christian church. See how he still gives us the courage to speak our peace...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts

He Gives the Courage to Speak Your Peace

A sermon based on Acts 26:19–29

Sunday, April 15, 2012 – Easter 2B


"Now hold on just a minute! Let me speak my piece!" "I'll give him a piece of my mind." This morning we hear the account of how the Apostle Paul speaks not just his p-i-e-c-e, a piece, or part of his thoughts, but his p-e-a-c-e. He shared the peace of his mind and of his heart—his risen Savior. And he spoke of this peace in circumstances that might have seemed anything but peaceful.

You see, after his third mission trip, Paul returned to Jerusalem to present an offering of thanks to God, but before long, he was arrested on false charges and sent to rot in prison for two years. But when a new Governor (Festus) took office, Paul would have an opportunity to speak his peace… the peace that God had given him, even while he was in chains—the peace of knowing that Jesus was alive, that his sins were forgiven, that he had peace with God.

We too are called to speak our peace. In spite of some intimidating circumstances and powerful people, we too are invited to tell others the peace of our minds and of our hearts. We are given the task of sharing with them the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

Listen now to Acts 26:19-29 and hear how our Risen Savior still acts in giving his followers the courage to speak of their peace in him…


19 "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." 24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." 25 "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" 29 Paul replied, "Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."


I. Gain Peace from Your Risen Savior


Paul told King Agrippa, his wife, Bernice, and Governor Festus all about his conversion on the road to Damascus and of Jesus' command to become an apostle to the Gentiles. At the beginning of our text he tells of his response to that call: "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven… I preached…"

And you know what that preaching brought about. God moved some to believe the message Paul shared, but others rejected it. In 2 Corinthians 11(:23-27), Paul gives us some of his resume…

"I have… been in prison… been flogged… been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea… I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.."

And yet, in spite of all he'd been through, in spite of all he endured, Paul kept at it. He kept giving people a piece of his mind and speaking the peace of Jesus that God given him—knowing full well what treatment he would receive for it.

How about you? If you were tossed in prison for sharing your faith would you still do it? If you were beaten with a rod or whipped thirty-nine times for talking about Jesus would you keep it up? If you could lose your job for talking about religion or for taking a stand for the truth would it be worth it? If you were just teased for telling others about the peace your Savior gives, would you? …Do you?

The truth is we've all received the same commission that Paul did. No, Jesus may not have appeared to you with a blinding light while you were on your way to Soldotna, but he has revealed himself to you. He has revealed to you what he's done to rescue to you. And he's revealed to you what his will and desire for your life is. In Mark 16:15, he couldn't have been more clear: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."

So, are you always obedient to that calling? The truth is we would face far less suffering and pain for sharing our faith, speaking our piece, and telling others of the peace we have in our risen Savior than Paul ever would. And yet, we still don't do it. Not that often.

We think it's a bold move to say, "God bless you!" when a co-worker sneezes. After all, you'd be crazy to risk losing your job in this economy by talking about religion at work! We think we're already considered weird for going to church on Sundays, let alone for staying home Saturday nights. We think, I can witness at a church program. I don't want to risk losing friends at school by talking to them about my faith.

But Jesus said in Mark 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."

And so we might not feel too peaceful when we think about our sin.

Timmy suggested to his brother that he wear the sweater grandma gave him for his birthday. "Are you kidding?" Billy replied, "That thing is hideous! It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen! There's no way I'd ever wear that nasty thing!" And only then did he realize that grandma was standing behind him. And the guilt set in. Grandma had shown him love by pouring her time and energy, her heart and her love into that sweater. But Billy hurt her. Would she even wish him a happy birthday anymore? Peace was lost.

And that's how it can be for us too. Jesus died for you and for me. He willingly endured hell to rescue you and me. So how can we dare be ashamed of him? As the hymn writer put it, "Ashamed of Jesus? Yes, I may… When I've no guilt to wash away, no tear to wipe, no good to crave, no fear to quell, no soul to save." We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being so ashamed of Jesus. We ought to be disowned by him.

But, the message that Paul proclaimed before Festus and Agrippa hasn't changed…

He said, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God… the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."

Christ has won forgiveness for our cowardice. He rose to prove it. We Gentiles have the light of the Gospel. Our sinful silence in refusing to speak our piece and share the peace of our Savior is forgiven. Easter makes that certain.

And we rejoice that it wasn't done in a corner! We rejoice that the prophets foretold it! We rejoice that the resurrection of our Savior is true and reasonable! We even rejoice that the disciples didn't believe it themselves at first, but came to believe in spite of themselves, because we know that they didn't make the story up as if to say, "See, we told you so?" No! They were shocked and surprised when they saw the living Savior because they didn't expect it—even when they should. We rejoice that they were willing to give their lives for their faith because we know that no one would die for a hoax. And so we know that Jesus does indeed live! And we know that our sins are forgiven! And we know that he is with us always! And we know that he will keep his every promise!

And so the peace that we lost by our sin… is restored. Jesus lives. We're at peace with him. Through him, we're at peace with God. And encouraged by his promises, literally filled with courage, we are bold to speak our peace and tell others about this peace that we have…


II. Speak Peace of Your Risen Savior


Imagine if you will, that you're doing business in Anchorage on a dark winter day. And one of your errands takes you to the shady side of town. As you walk down a dark alley, suddenly you notice that half a dozen masked men enter the alley behind you, cutting you off. You try to get inside, but every door you try is locked…and the masked men are getting close. How would you feel? Anxious? Worried? Maybe even scared?

Now imagine the same scenario. You're down the same downtown alley with the same masked men apparently intent on hurting you. But this time you have an armed guard of ten heavily armed navy seals who have been given the task of protecting you at all costs—even giving their lives to preserve yours. Now how do you feel?

The truth is that we have a far greater force than ten navy seals protecting us. We have not just men willing to give their lives for us, but the very Son of God who did give his life for us and who came back to life again. Not even Death can stop him. Now listen to what he promises you… 

·         "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

·         "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

·         "If God is for us, who can be against us?... [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31,39)

·         "On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:18-20)

·         "So do not be afraid of them… don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:26, 31-32)

·         "Do not be afraid. Go and tell…" (Matthew 28:10)

·         And in today's Gospel lesson that we just read, he says it three times: "Peace be with you! …Peace be with you! …Peace be with you!" (John 20:19,21,26)

Is speaking of the peace Jesus brings still intimidating? Perhaps. But we know who's with us. Jesus has our back. He promises he will. He is not dead and gone. But he lives! So go! And tell others, "that they should repent and turn to God… the Christ [did] suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." For our risen Savior still acts, giving you the courage to speak your peace. In his name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Christ’s Resurrection Assures Us of Ours (A sermon based on John 20:10-18)

Does it sometimes seem like you've been defeated? Like there is no winning? It surely must have seemed that way to Mary and to the disciples the day after Jesus' death. What gloom and sorrow and despair they must have felt when they thought that Jesus was defeated. But then on Easter morning Jesus revealed the rest of the story. The truth was not, "Jesus defeated..." but "Jesus defeated death for you!" Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 20:10-18 and be encouraged that Christ's resurrection assures us of our own... 

Christ's Resurrection Assures Us of Ours

A sermon based on John 20:10-18

Sunday, April 8, 2012 — Easter Day 

When Napoleon had escaped from Elba and entered Paris in 1815 he quickly met a European coalition led by the Duke of Wellington. Just south of Waterloo village, Napoleon and Wellington fought for the future of Europe. While the Battle of Waterloo was being fought, all of England waited breathlessly for the news.

At last the message came slowly across the channel. "Wellington defeated" had just been spelled out when a sudden blanket of fog obscured the signals. News of the disaster spread quickly, and the deepest gloom settled on the land.

Later, the fog lifted, and like Paul Harvey with the rest of the story, the message was completed. "Wellington defeated… the enemy!" Sorrow was turned into great rejoicing!

In the gloom of Good Friday, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus out of whom he had driven seven demons, could only read, "Jesus defeated!" But in the new light of Easter morning the glorious truth broke in on her sorrow: "Jesus defeated the enemy!" Listen now as Jesus lifts the fog for Mary and for us in John 20:10-18…


10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.


I. He Would Return to the Father


Mary was overwhelmed with grief. And who wouldn't be? She saw her beloved Lord crucified—tortured to death on the cross. The men who took Christ down from the cross did a hurried job to bury him before the Sabbath came Friday at dusk. So early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary went to finish the embalming. When she saw the empty tomb, while the other Mary and the ladies with her ran to tell most of the disciples, she ran back to tell Peter and John, "Someone took the body!"

Peter and John immediately ran ahead to the tomb to see for themselves. But Mary on the other hand was in no hurry. She thought that Christ was still dead. The disciples saw the strips of cloth neatly folded in the tomb. Though still confused, they believed, and they went home to share the news. But they missed Mary on the way and she was left without any hope, without any joy. The crucifixion was still locked in her mind. Her grief consumed her so much that she hardly took notice of two angels dressed in white!

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

In her grief she hardly realized who she was talking to. She simply answered their question. "I'm crying because Jesus is dead. I'm crying because I can't find him. Someone thought that torturing him and killing him wasn't enough. They had to steal the body too."

Perhaps the angels stood up and focused their attention beyond Mary. At this she turned to see what they were looking at…

14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Perhaps because it was early morning and still somewhat dark out, or perhaps because she had just been crying and her eyes were still blurred with tears, perhaps because in his resurrected, glorified body he looked different, or perhaps just because the Lord kept her from it, Mary didn't recognize Jesus at all. She thought he was the gardener. Maybe he knew where they took the body!

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

His answer was short—only one word—but it was enough to answer Mary's question of where Christ's body was. To hear his familiar voice call her by name freed Mary's mind and cleared the fog so she could see the rest of the story. It was not the gardener. It was Jesus himself, risen from the dead! His greeting called her out of her prison of despair. She blurted out, "Rabboni!" What a surprise! Jesus! Alive! Here! Her grief was now overcome with joy!


You know, that's exactly what Jesus does for us too. So often we are overcome with the everyday events of this life. We are bound in our thoughts of family troubles, professional ups and downs, and financial setbacks. We are caught up in our own sins and fears. The thought of our own death can be a disturbing one—and rightly so! We deserve death and more—we deserve punishment in hell for disobeying our just and holy God. At times it's easy to become overcome with grief and despair.

But, our resurrected Lord calls us by name. He assures us that he is alive. That the crucifixion on Good Friday does not mean "Jesus defeated," but "Jesus defeated sin, the devil, and even death itself for us." Our resurrected Lord comes to us to assure us that every promise he's ever made is true. He promised he would suffer and die to take away our sins. And he did! He promised that he would rise again from the dead. And he did! He promises that he will make every event in our lives work out for our eternal good! And he does! He promises that he will come again to take us to be with him forever in heaven because he has removed our sin and guilt forever. And he will! What peace fills our lives as we turn from grief and despair to such joy!


That joy filled Mary's heart. She wanted to hug Jesus and never let go! But it wasn't to be. Her relationship with Jesus had to change. She couldn't cling to him as she had before so Jesus gently rebuked her.

17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father…"

In 40 days he would return to the Father. He would ascend into heaven to rule all things as Savior, Lord and Victor over death. But now their relationship had to change—it would be a better relationship…


II. We Will Return to the Father


Before Mary got discouraged at his rebuke that she should no longer hold on to him, Jesus told her she had work to do. He said, "Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Jesus' work of paying for the sins of the world was done. The work of spreading that news was all that remained to be done. Jesus gave Mary the assignment to tell the disciples that he would be returning to heaven soon. But did you notice what Jesus called them? On Thursday night, as they celebrated the Passover meal, Jesus told them, "You are my friends… I no longer call you servants… Instead, I have called you friends." Their status had changed.

Now to Mary he no longer called them friends. Their status had changed again. Now he calls them "my brothers." He said that his Father was also their Father. His God was their God. They had forsaken Jesus in his greatest need and so they might expect to have him call them "those cowards," "those sissies," or "those ingrates," But, because he died for them and took their sin away, God now viewed them no longer as his enemies, but just as he viewed Christ, as his dearly loved sons with whom he was well-pleased.


By his death and resurrection Jesus brings all who believe into God's family, so that when God sees us he sees perfect and sinless saints. We are Jesus' brothers and sisters. God is our God. He is our loving Father. Now we can be assured that we too will rise again to be with Christ (either when we die, or when he comes again in glory)!

Are you tired of all the problems in your life? Tired of the aches and pain you feel in your body? Tired of being sick? Tired of being lonely? Tired of paying bills? Tired of work? Just sick and tired of being sick and tired? When you look around do just see signs that read, "You—defeated"? If you do, then relax. Let me tell you the rest of the story. Soon all your problems will be gone. You'll soon be dead… and problem free.

You see, no matter how big your problems may seem, they don't compare to your biggest problem of sin and the damnation that those sins deserve. But God has already taken care of that problem! He died on the cross to pay for your sins. He came back to life Easter morning to assure you that you too will rise to be with him in heaven. And there you will have no more problems at all; no more suffering, no sorrow, no pain. You will have an eternal life of happiness with your Savior. That's what matters most! And in light of that assurance, the problems we face in this life really don't matter. What joy is ours!


When Mary heard these things, she left right away to share this exciting message with the disciples…

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

With her grief and despair removed, Mary became an obedient ambassador of life in Christ.

Sometimes it's easy for us to think, "Sure, easy for Mary. I would be just as excited about the resurrection if I got to see the resurrected Lord with my own eyes, face to face." But, look at Mary. She saw Jesus in the flesh and blood and she didn't believe at first. And when she did, Jesus told her that their relationship would change; it would be a better relationship; it would be like the one we have with him today.

We no longer have Jesus walking the earth in flesh and blood among us. But we do still cling to him. We hold on to him in his Word where he comes to us with that comfort and assurance that everything will be alright. We receive him in the Sacrament where he gives us that very body and blood that Mary saw for the forgiveness of our sins as he gives us peace. For he's already taken care of our biggest problem: he's rescued us from an eternity in hell and he promises to be with us always, loving us, caring for us, working all things for our good until he takes us to be with him in a perfect relationship for the rest of eternity. Nothing else matters.

Dear friends, continue to cling to Jesus in the Word and in the Sacrament. Remember your resurrected Lord and listen to his voice. Then by that Word, let him clear the fog so you can see the rest of God's story for your lives. Jesus is alive! He's risen from the dead! Let that bring you a real and lasting peace, that the message is not, "Jesus defeated," but "Jesus defeated sin and death and hell for you!" Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

“It Is Finished” (A sermon based on John 19:28-30)

"It is finished." With that one phrase -- one word in the Greek -- Jesus spoke volumes. He spoke of the peace that we now have because his mission to rescue lost sinners is finished. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 19:28-30 and find comfort in Good Friday...

"It Is Finished!"

A sermon based on John 19:28-30

Friday, April 6, 2012 – Good Friday


            Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. It was torture. As you slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists excruciating pain shots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. As you pushed yourself upward to avoid this stretching torment, you would place your full weight on the nail through your feet. Again, the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves in your feet.

As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push yourself upward. Hanging by your arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. You would have to fight in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Occasionally, you might be able to push yourself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

It was undoubtedly during these periods that with some difficulty Jesus uttered the seven short sentences spoken from the cross that are recorded in the Bible. And we'll review all seven "Words of the Cross" in a moment. But for now, we focus on just two of them, recorded for us in John 19:28-30…


28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


John says, "Later," after he spoke to Mary and John, after the three hours of darkness, after three hours of torment hanging on the cross, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." John is the only one to record these words of Jesus from the cross, perhaps because he was the only one close enough to hear that quiet voice that must have been little more than a tortured whisper. "I am thirsty." 

Jesus had a real thirst because Jesus had true humanity. His suffering was real. Like anyone dying, his lips grew parched and his tongue dried up. With the blood he'd lost being scourged, with the wrenching pain he felt as his limbs were almost pulled out of their sockets, with the pressure on his lungs and heart, the agony was very real.

But Jesus suffered much more than physical pain as excruciating as it must have been. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Jesus suffered the torments of hell itself. In Luke's account of the rich man and poor Lazarus, the torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst in the complaint of the rich man that begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Jesus suffered that thirst of hell. He was separated from God the Father. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

            But why did Jesus have to suffer all this? We want to object, "It's so unfair! After all, he was innocent!" But when we stop to think about it, we realize that Jesus was guilty. He was guilty of our sins. Not all people deserve to be executed for crimes against the state, but all deserve death from the hand of God. It was not just the sin of the Jews, of Pilate. Pf the soldiers, but of us. Our sins caused his thirst… Our sins caused his pain… Our sins caused his hell and his death…

As John watched Jesus suffer such agony with his own eyes, his heart must have been crushed realizing that his sin put Jesus there. But in the same moment John also heard with his own ears a reminder of God's great love…


I.              All Scripture is Fulfilled


29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished."

Before when it was offered, Jesus refused any pain killers because he wanted to take the full brunt of the punishment we deserve. But now that his sufferings were over, he accepted the drink. Perhaps one of the centurions nearby felt pity on this dying man and hoisted a sponge on the end of a spear. And as soon as Jesus sucked the spoiled wine now turning to vinegar, with his lips moistened he no longer spoke in a whisper, but loudly, and clearly called out,  "It is finished."

But what was finished? 

The attacks of his enemies were finished? His sufferings were finished? His life was finished? But is that all Jesus meant? Listen again to what John said, "Later, knowing that all was now completed…  so that the Scripture would be fulfilled…"

Jesus had fulfilled all of Scripture—all of the details of all of the prophecies. Like placing the keystone in an arch everything now fit together perfectly. It was now complete. It was now finished.

When Jesus said, "I am thirsty," we can't help but think of Psalm 22 which said, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth," (Psalm 22:15) and Psalm 69: "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." (Psalm 69:21) Jesus fulfilled these prophecies and every prophecy and type.

Over the past six weeks we've studied many of those prophecies: The ram sacrificed in Isaac's place, the ladder to heaven Jacob saw in his dream, the one who fulfilled the law's demands, the bronze snake lifted up on a tree to save those who believe in the promise, the one who brought the new covenant—all fulfilled in Christ on Good Friday.

Last night we recalled the Passover lamb whose blood painted on the doorposts saved the Israelites lives and see Jesus fulfill that type as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and by whose blood God's wrath does pass over us.

And even the finer details of prophecy were fulfilled—now finished and made complete: He rode into the city on a donkey, he was betrayed by a close friend, sold for thirty pieces of silver, deserted by his followers, mocked and ridiculed, stripped of his inner garment that was gambled over, pierced in his hands and his feet, with no bones broken.

And we could go on and on with examples like these. Jesus completed every prophecy and every type. Jesus fulfilled all of Scripture. Jesus knowing that all was now completed and that all of Scripture had been fulfilled was right in saying, "It is finished."           


II.            Our Salvation is Procured


The prophecies of his suffering and his work were now finished. His mission on earth was finished and soon his life would be finished (at least for a time). But that's not all. You see, because these things were finished much more was finished too. Let's look at some more Scriptures that Jesus finished. 

Genesis 3:15 promised, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." That first gospel promise made to Adam and Eve had now come true. Satan struck Jesus' heel by having him nailed to the cross, but in that same act, Satan's power was finished. It was finished because Jesus did away with sin.

Daniel prophesied (in 9:24) "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness." Roughly 500 years after the temple was rebuilt ("seventy 'sevens'"), sin was finished—it was killed on the cross with Jesus. God will no longer pass judgment upon human beings on the basis of sin. All sin has been removed. Your sin has been removed.

You know, in Greek, the phrase "it is finished" is just one word: tetelestai. In ancient archaeology they have found some papyrus tax receipts tetelestai written across them, meaning "paid in full." Christ made the payment for our sin in full. His redemptive work is complete; an accomplished fact. There's nothing left for us to do.

Thus, the most important moment in history came to completion. "30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." Jesus gave up his spirit. He chose to die; an act of the will. No one took Jesus life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord, willingly offering himself to complete the mission once and for all.

With what strength he had left, he called out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46) and cried out with a loud voice, with the triumphant cry of the dying Victor!

A rather unconventional pastor named Alexander Wooten, was once approached by a young man who asked him, "What must I do to be saved?" "It's too late!" Wooten replied, and went back to his work. The young man became alarmed. "Do you mean that it's too late for me to be saved?" he asked. "Is there nothing I can do?" "It's too late!" said Wooten. "It's already been done! The only thing you can do is believe." Jesus did it all. No human needs to complete or finish what he has done. "It is finished."

Jesus completed his life of perfect obedience to God the Father. He completed the task which was set before him—the task of redeeming the world. All that remained now was God's stamp of approval on what he did. That would come Easter morning… But for Jesus' part he was done. All of Scripture was fulfilled. Mission accomplished! The victory is won! Our Salvation is complete! "It is finished." Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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