Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bask in the Sunshine (A sermon based on Malachi 4:1-6)

Do you like being out in the sun? I suppose it depends for how long. Some time in the sun has proved to be good for you. But too much time in the sun is bad. It can burn and even cause cancer. The same sun that helps can also kill. That's true too of the Son. The same Son that helps and heals those who put their trust in him will be like a burning furnace to others, turning them to ash. As we prepare for the Advent of our Savior, we prepare our hearts for his Judgment Day by putting our trust in him. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Malachi 4:1-6 and get ready!

Bask in the Sunshine
A sermon based on Malachi 4:1-6
Sunday, December 10, 2017 – Advent 3B 

I was dating this cute blond girl back in college. Things were getting pretty serious and she invited me to her parent's place one summer break. I agreed and enjoyed getting to know them see where she grew up. So one day she took me to a nearby lake where we spent the day canoeing and picnicking. And I remember it being sunny and hot. Now, I was in a little better shape back then and didn't mind taking my shirt off the way I do now. But that was a mistake. You see, I didn't think twice about sunscreen. And if you know anything about me and my family, you know that we're pretty pasty. The sunburn I had that afternoon was terrible. I was as red as a lobster. And I was in pain. (What a great impression "lobster boy" must have left on her parents.)

And I didn't learn from that incident either. I can't tell you how many times in North Carolina I went golfing or just to the park with the boys and came back bright red and in great pain. When the sun shines with any amount of intensity, when there's no cloud cover, I burn like a vampire. So Alaska is a pretty good fit for me.

In our sermon text for this 3rd Sunday in Advent, the prophet Malachi compares the coming of the Savior to the rising of the sun. For many it will be too intense. They will burn. And they will more than just blister in the sun, they will be set on fire, they will turn to ash. But for those who are ready, for those who put their trust in the Savior, they will bask in the warm glow of the sun. And they will leap for joy on that day. Our text for consideration this morning is found in Malachi 4:1-6…

 

"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord Almighty.

4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." 

I still remember my 6th grade art teacher coming to school one day and beginning our lesson by saying, "Don't stare. I know I look gross. I got burned. Deal with it. Any questions?" We had none. Mrs. Schacht did actually go on to explain that she had been hiking on Mount Rainier on a sunny day that weekend. Not only was the sun shining down on her, but the sun was also reflecting up off the snow. It was double the amount of sun. She forgot the sunscreen and her sunburn was bad. Her face was blistered and peeling everywhere except the rings around both eyes where her sunglasses protected her.

Well, my burn on the canoe with Becky and Mrs. Schacht's much worse burn on Mt. Rainer… those were nothing in comparison to the burn that's going to hit "all the arrogant and every evildoer" on the Last Day. When Jesus comes in judgment… that day "will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them… they will be ashes…"

Hmmm… the arrogant… the evildoer….? Ever been arrogant? Ever thought you knew better than everyone else? Ever thought you knew better… than God? Sure you have. Every time you've sinned, you've told God that his ways were not as wise as your ways. And is there anything more arrogant than that? Ever done evil? Well… not if you just call murder, rape, and terrorism evil. But if you call evil what God calls evil… lust… hatred… pride… greed… speaking an unkind or impatient word… Well, there's just no denying that you and I are evil.

And so there's also no denying that we deserve to blister and peel and to burn in the furnace of hell and be set on fire forever. We deserve to be eternally turned into stubble and ashes. We deserve to be struck with a curse on the day that God judges all mankind; that day that is surely coming.

But, God in his grace, loves us too much to see us burn. So he did something about it. He sent his messengers "before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes…"

Do you know what the name Malachi means? It means "my messenger." And the whole book of Malachi is kind of a pun then. God prophesied through Malachi ("my messenger") that he would send a messenger (God's "Malachi") to prepare the way for the Messenger (the Malachi) of his grace. So God sent the prophet Malachi and a new Elijah (which the New Testament makes clear is John the Baptist) to prepare the way for the coming Savior. And that's exactly what they did. They proclaimed a message of law and gospel, of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. And they proclaimed a message about Jesus.

Here after Malachi prophesies the terrible fate of "all the arrogant and every evildoer" he goes on to say, "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings [or rays]. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall."

Now, I don't want to squabble with the translators of the New International Version, but I think a better translation of this verse would read, "But for you who revere my name, the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings," (and I would capitalize the "S" in Sun,) because I think it's obvious who this Sun of Righteousness is—it's Jesus.

Just as a sunrise dispels the darkness, so Jesus, the Light of the World, drove out the darkness before him. He drove out the darkness of sin by taking it all on himself. And as the sin hit him on the cross, it was burned up! We are sinless! He drove out the darkness of hell by enduring hell on the cross. The eternal flames of hell were extinguished for all who revere God's name. We will never endure its flames! And de drove out the darkness of despair on Easter morning. As death hit him, it was consumed! We will live forever!

So, in a sense, Jesus is our Son-screen. (That's S-O-N-screen.) He screens us from the burning of his wrath on Judgment Day by taking that wrath on himself. We are screened and safe.

You know, I'm not the only pasty white person in my family. When we first brought Josiah home from the hospital, and then Jacob, both of them were sun-deprived too. They were both a sickly yellow with jaundice. The doctors told us that they needed "phototherapy," which is a fancy way of saying, get their skin exposed to the sun. After a week or two of laying on the floor in sunny spot in the room wearing nothing but a diaper, they were both just fine. You see, the same sun that burns, can also be the sun that heals.

So too with Jesus. The One that will burn like a furnace to "all the arrogant and every evildoer" setting them on fire and turning them to stubble and ash… that same One will rise with healing in his rays to make us just as righteous as he is. Thank God for that Son-screen! Now we bask in the Son like we bask in the sunshine on a warm vacation day. We rejoice! As well-fed calves released from the barn leap for joy, our hearts leap within us in joy for what our God has done for us and guaranteed for our future.

And we thank God now by telling others about that Son-screen! You are a "Malachi"; God's messenger. And you can start with your own family! "Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…" Proclaim that message of law and gospel, of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. Proclaim the message about Jesus. Tell them what a terrible burn is coming without protection; a burn that will totally consume for all of eternity. Then tell them how Jesus is our Son-screen who keeps us safe for eternity. And bask in the Son-shine, dear friends, as you rejoice in his grace. In Jesus' name, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Prepare the Highway (A sermon based on Isaiah 40:1-4)

Do you like traveling on icy roads? Of course not! But can you imagine if there were NO roads? How much harder would travel be?! In this week's sermon, the prophet Isaiah encourages us to prepare the highway for the coming of the King, for Jesus. But he's not really talking about roads. He's talking about our hearts. The law levels the mountains of our pride and stubborn, willful sin. The gospel fills the valleys of our deficiencies and our despair. Using law and gospel. Isaiah and John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Using law and gospel we do the same. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 40:1-11 and prepare the highway for Jesus!

Prepare the Highway
A sermon based on Isaiah 40:1-4
Sunday, December 3, 2017 – Advent 2B 

So I've been debating it for a while now. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. And I've gone back and forth a bit. There's a circuit meeting up in Anchorage tomorrow and I've been debating whether I drive up or just meet online.

One the one hand, it's always easier to connect with people face to face. Bad internet connections, other distractions, and no real interaction make communication more difficult online. And I am the Circuit Pastor. But on the other hand, staying home would save me a lot of gas money and a lot of time. Plus, travel can be difficult between here and there in the winter.

And yesterday, the Alaska 511 showed driving conditions as yellow ("fair") in some places and orange ("difficult") in others. But no roads were colored green for "good." So, I'm pretty sure I'm going to stay home tomorrow.

But can you imagine how difficult the travel conditions would be tomorrow if there were no highways or roads? Likely the 511 would show all roads purple ("very difficult") or red ("hazardous"). Who knows how early I'd have to leave to make it to Anchorage in time for our meeting? Yesterday? Friday? How many river crossings would I have to make? I'd likely be much better off getting on a boat or chartering a plane.

Well, they didn't have boats or planes in Isaiah's day. And travel was difficult, often taking days or weeks to get from point A to point B. But as in our day, a highway made travel much easier. Paved stones would prevent wheels from getting stuck in the mud. Guard stations would prevent highway bandits from robbing or killing travelers. A highway took a lot of work to build, but it definitely made travel easier.

Today, we hear Isaiah give us the encouragement to prepare the highway. He's obviously not calling us to leave our jobs and start working for the DOT. But he's calling us to level the mountains and fill the valleys as we prepare the highway of our hearts for the coming of our King… for Jesus. Isaiah encourages us in chapter 40:1-11 of his letter… 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

6 A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?"

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. 

There were two basic ways that Isaiah said to build the highway for the coming Savior: 1) raise up every valley, and 2) make low every mountain and hill. The idea was to level the road. Steep inclines and declines made travel difficult. So make it all level and travel would be smooth sailing.

So what's Isaiah getting at? To put it bluntly: Law and Gospel. The law levels the heights of pride, of arrogance, of sin. The gospel fills in the deficiencies we have and lifts up. And that, he says, is what the forerunner of the Christ would do. And that's exactly what John the Baptist did.

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall…"

John the Baptist used the law to level those who thought they were good enough without a Savior from sin: When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:7-10)

And he preached the law with all its severity to crush his hearers. And it led many of them to ask, "What should we do then?" (Luke 3:10)

And then, when they were ready, John didn't hesitate to fill in the valleys with the gospel. He comforted the people. He spoke… "tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim[ed] to her that her hard service ha[d] been completed, that her sin ha[d] been paid for, that she ha[d] received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins." He…  "lift[ed] up [his] voice with a shout…" and said, "to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) "And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of [1] repentance [2] for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:3)

That's the message that leveled the mountains of pride: "repentance." And that's the message that filled the valleys of despair: "the forgiveness of sins." That's the message that you and I are called to take to heart as we prepare the highway for the second coming of the King… 

Dear brothers and sisters, take that message to heart.

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

Dear brothers and sisters, you are but grass and flowers of the field. Here today, and tomorrow… well… the breath of the Lord will blow on Judgment Day when he comes again. So get ready!

Get ready by leveling the pride of your heart. Knock down those idols that stand in the way. Jesus is coming! And he's coming soon. So here's your homework… And I'm serious about this. Go home and do it! Find some quiet time this afternoon or evening to take an account of your life: the way you spend your time and your money, the food and drink and the entertainment you consume, the way you treat those around you and the way you treat your Savior and his Word. Be open. Be honest. This is just between you and God. Ask, "What is standing in the way of me having a closer relationship with you, Jesus?" Then, in prayer, confess it to God and seriously commit to getting rid of it. Knock down those hills. Level those mountains. Don't confess your sin to Jesus just so he'll give you a pass to keep on sinning. You know that's not how it works! But sincerely confess your sin to him and plead for his help to be done with it.

That will be hard work. It won't be fun. So don't stop there. After you've leveled the mountains, it's time to fill in the valleys…

Now a Roman Catholic friend once described his theology in this way: "Imagine your life is like a board. Every time you sin, you pound a nail into that board and ruin it. Thankfully, Jesus came along, and by his work on the cross took your sin away. The nails are gone! But… the holes are still there. That's what we do with our good works: we fill in the holes. When we've finished doing that and the holes are gone, then we will be perfect and acceptable to God."

Thank God, dear friends, that he's wrong. He's dead wrong. You don't have to do anything to fill in the holes. Jesus has filled the holes in for you! Jesus has filled in every valley for you! The way "you" fill in the valleys to prepare the highway for Jesus, is to simply trust in him and in what he's already done for you.

You will always have deficiencies, friends. You will never achieve perfection in this life. You will never arrive at 100% where you don't need Jesus. But thank God that you don't have to because Jesus has already filled the valleys for you. He lived a perfect life in your place. He died an innocent death for you.

"Here is your God!" See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

And that "reward" isn't for those who have earned it. That recompense, or compensation, isn't for those who deserve it. It's a reward of grace. We deserve punishment—damnation in hell!—for our sins. But instead we receive comfort and a proclamation that our hard service has been completed that our sin has been paid for. "It is finished!" (John 19:30) And we receive from the Lord's hand a double blessing in exchange for all of our sins!

Take that message to heart: law and gospel. Repent of your sin. Trust in his forgiveness. And when you do, the mountains will be leveled. The valleys will be completely filled in. The highway for the Lord will become a level plain. And when the King comes on Judgment Day, it will be smooth sailing for you. The 511 will be "green" all the way! 

And while we wait for that day? What now in the meantime? Well, keep leveling the mountains. That work of repentance is a daily task. Keep filling the valleys. Trust in your Savior every day. Stay in the word that helps you build the highway of your heart for the Sovereign Lord to come to you.

And keep building the road for others. Help them to level their mountains of pride and arrogance as you lovingly share the law with them and lead them to see their very real need for repentance and a Savior. Remind them that, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall…" Remind them of what they deserve for their sin and that there's nothing they can do to make it better.

Then, when they're ready to hear it, fill in the valleys for them too, as you too, "go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to [Alaska], lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of [the Kenai Peninsula], "Here is your God!" See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him." Tell them, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

Do all you can to build a bridge from your heart to theirs that Christ might cross that bridge and come to them too. Keep preparing the highway, dear friends, that it might be smooth sailing for us all and that the 511 will be green for us and for them too on the day our Lord comes. In Jesus' name, dear friends, prepare the highway! Amen! 


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Time to Get Ready! (A sermon based on Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14, 17-22)

How long does it take you to get ready? Well, it depends, doesn't it? It depends on what you're getting ready for. It takes a little longer to get ready for retirement than it does to get ready for dinner and a movie. It may have taken Noah up to 100 years to get ready for the flood that cleansed the earth! Good thing he got started right away! How long do we have to get ready for Judgment Day? I don't know. No one but God does. But I do know this: Now is the time to get ready before it's too late. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Genesis 6 and get ready! 

Time to Get Ready!
A sermon based on Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14, 17-22
Sunday, November 26, 2017 – Advent 1B

Let's start today with puzzle, a pop quiz of sorts. Here's the scenario: A husband and wife are going on a date. They have reservations at the restaurant for 7pm. The restaurant is 10 minutes from their home.

Question: What time does the husband need to start getting ready to be there on time? The answer: 6:30pm. From 6:30 to 6:40 he showers and shaves. From 6:40 to 6:45 he gets dressed and puts on his finest cologne. From 6:45 to 6:47 he grabs his wallet and keys and heads to the car to drive to the restaurant. Since it takes 10 minutes to get there that still leaves 3 minutes to park and walk to the front door to arrive right on time at 7pm. Good, right?

Okay, so, reservations are still at 7pm. The restaurant is still 10 minutes away from home. Next question: What time does the wife need to start getting ready in order to make it to the restaurant on time? … Trick question! She could start at 4pm, 3pm, or even 2pm and she will still not be ready on time.

Okay… I'm just kidding ladies. And I know some of you are saying that I got it backwards; he's the one always running late. But the point is this: How long does it take you to get ready?

I guess the answer depends on "ready for what?" It might take longer to get ready for a date at a nice restaurant than it might to go pick up a pizza because you don't feel like cooking. How long does it take you to get ready… for Christmas? We're less than a month away! How long does it take you to get ready… for company to come over? Do you need to vacuum or could you get by without? How long does it take you to get ready… to pay your taxes? Do you need long forms or will the short forms suffice? Do you take them in or do you do them yourself?

But those things all have a known deadline. It gets harder when the target date is unknown. How long does it take you to get ready… for retirement? 40 years? How long does it take you to get ready… for the next big earthquake? When will it hit? And what does that all entail? How long does it take you to get ready… for Judgment Day?

I don't know how much time we have to get ready for that day. But I do know this. Now is the time to get ready. In our sermon text for this morning, we hear about Noah getting ready for that first Judgment Day: that day that God judged the world to wicked and vile to continue. So he decided to scrub it clean. But he first told Noah to get ready. Our text for consideration this morning is from Genesis 6 (select verses)… 

When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." … 

5 The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 This is the account of Noah.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out…  

17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them."

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him. 

How long did it take him to get ready? Well, it could have been almost 100 years! In Genesis 5 we're told that he was 500 years old before he had his three sons. And in Genesis 6 we're told that they helped him to build the ark before the floodwaters came when Noah was 600 years old. So it could have been 100 years of prep and we have no indication that God ever gave him a timeline for when the flood would come. He just told him, "Get ready. Because a flood is coming."

Can you imagine the task he had? Build a boat big enough to hold two of every living creature. And.. no power tools! And can you imagine the ridicule he received from his neighbors?! He's building a cruise ship in a place where there was likely no water in sight! What for? What a crackpot! He was wasting all his time, all his money, all his energy, on a wooden boat that would barely get wet!

And nevertheless, verse 22 says,  "Noah did everything just as God commanded him."  He got to work and he got ready while he still had time to get ready. Later, when "all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened," (Genesis 7:11) would be too late. 

How about us though? We too are facing our own Judgment Day, aren't we? Yes, God promised that he would never again destroy the world by a flood. (Genesis 9:11) But he's also promised that he will destroy the world by fire. And he's given us no timeline for when the fire will come. "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare." (1 Peter 3:10) And he tells us that right now is the time to get ready: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [So…] Be on guard! Be alert! …keep watch… do not let him find you sleeping… Watch!"

How much time does it take to get ready for Judgement Day? I don't know. That's why we'd all best start today and not put it off any more. Can you imagine if Noah, put off building the ark for 30 or 40 years until the plans were just right or he could rally enough support to help him? What would happen if the flood waters came and he didn't have the ark done? The results would have been disastrous.

Likewise we should learn from the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. While the ant worked hard in the summer to store up food for the winter, the grasshopper played all summer long. But when winter came, it was too late. There was no food to be found and the grasshopper starved to death. Now is the time to get ready for Judgment Day, dear friends. Now is the time to prepare… before it's too late.

Ah… but we get so easily distracted, don't we? We have our parties to plan and gifts to buy, then gifts to open and play with or return. We have family feuds and futile fights over things that just won't matter in less than 100 years from now. And distracted by all the shiny trinkets that draw our attention away from where it should be, we fail to prepare. And we deserve to be caught off guard.

Don't get ready for the date in time and you might lose your reservation. Don't prepare your taxes on time and pay the fines and penalties. Don't prep for the earthquake and you might struggle to survive off grid. Don't prepare for Judgment Day… and lose your reservation in heaven, pay the eternal penalty of hell, die forever separated from God and his love. … And for failing to prepare for that day when the world is destroyed by fire, we deserve all of that. We deserve to be eternally destroyed by fire ourselves.

Thank God then that we're not ready for Judgment Day because of how much effort and forethought we put into our doomsday prepping. But rather, we are prepared—totally ready!—for that day to come because God has made us ready.

Do you know the proper term for what the school kids here call the "Big Room"? You can call it the sanctuary, that is the room set apart for a holy and special purpose. But church architects have called this room the nave.  It comes from the Latin word for ship: Navis. (We get our word Navy from it.) Church designers have called it this because the main room in the church resembles a ship, where all the rowers sit on benches facing the same direction, working together.

But there's another similarity between our church and a big boat: It saves us, just as the ark saved Noah and his family. Now that's not to say that you must be a member of our church or any church if you want to be saved. But in the church where the Word of God is faithfully taught, where the sacraments are faithfully administered, souls are prepared for the Day of God's wrath. And all who are in the Church (with a capital "C," that is, all who believe in Jesus as their Savior) will be lifted out of the chaos before the world is destroyed by fire.

And here in church and in the Word, we hear how it can be said of us as it was of Noah: "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord... Noah was a righteous man… and he walked with God." For here in the Word we hear of Jesus our Savior who found favor with God. (cf. Luke 2:52) And we hear how he gave up that favor to be abandoned by his Father on the cross to pay for our sin. (cf. Matthew 27:46) We hear how we have been made righteous, not by our works or efforts, but by God's grace, declaring us to be righteous for Jesus' sake. (cf. Romans 3:21-28)

And here, at the font, we have been saved by water just as Noah was. We typically think of the flood as being just destructive, that is, it wiped out all the evil and scrubbed the world clean (which it, of course, did). But the flood is also salvific. That's a fancy word to say it saved. The water lifted Noah and his family out of the corruption, out of the evil, out of the judgment. And that's what the water of baptism does for us too: Connecting us to Jesus' work by giving us faith to trust his promises, it lifts us up above the destruction that will come by fire on Judgment Day.

So Peter wrote, "[The water of Noah's flood] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…"

So you and I, dear friends, have found favor with God, just as Noah did. We are righteous in his sight, just like Noah was. We walk with God now and will walk with him face to face in heaven! Because God has made us ready for that day when he returns or calls us home. So we are prepared for Judgement Day. We're ready to go!

So what do we do with our time while we wait? Well, we keep building. We do everything just as God commands us. We continue to grow in our faith by the Word. We keep a constant vigil. And we do all we can to rescue others. We're like the Coast Guard, going out to rescue those lost in a sea of guilt and despair. We do what we can to bring them into the boat with us, so they too will be ready for that Last Day. For them, like for us, now is the time to get ready!

Even if you're habitually late for dinner, never have the house cleaned before company arrives, have to pay a few penalties for getting your taxes in late, and have to eat Alpo in your retirement… well, thanks to Jesus, you are ready for Judgment Day. Now let's help others get ready too. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give


Monday, November 20, 2017

Come Sing to the King! (A sermon based on Revelation 1:4b-8)

Jesus is coming soon! And when he does, we will all sing! Those who have rejected him will sing a song of lament and mourning. But we, who by his grace believe in what he's done for us in freeing us from our sins by his blood, will sing a song of praise when he comes to rescue us! Now, while wait for him, we can be priests and faithful witnesses, inviting others to hear of Christ our King! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Revelation 1:4b-8 and rejoice in Christ the King! 

Come Sing to the King!
A sermon based on Revelation 1:4b-8
Sunday, November 19, 2017 

"Come join the choir!" Angie pleads. "The more the merrier!" she declares, "It doesn't matter how well you sing!"

"Yeah, right," I've heard some of you respond, "Angie only says that because he hasn't heard me sing. You know that guy that Simon Cowell made cry on American Idol? Well, compared to me, he's goooood!"

Now whether you love to sing in public, or only in the shower or in the car where no one else can hear you, or if you don't like to sing at all, the truth is that everyone will sing a song about Jesus at some point in their existence. That's a bold claim, I know. But it's true. When Jesus is revealed as King of the Universe every person who has ever lived or ever will live will sing one of two songs. They will either sing a song of praise and thanks to Jesus (and whether they're on key or not won't matter) or they'll sing a song of mourning and woe as they lament his coming.

That's what the apostle John tells us in our portion of God's Word for consideration this morning. We will sing to the King! But let's be sure to sing to him a song of praise and thanks. And we have every reason to, because he was pierced for us, and because he will come for us. Listen now to John's encouragement in Revelation 1...

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,  and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,  6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.  7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.  So shall it be! Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

 

I. Because He Was Pierced for You

 

When Jesus returns to this earth, there is no doubt, we will know it. Every person will know that Jesus is here. "Every eye will see him," John writes, "even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth" that is, everyone who's chosen to live for themselves, all those who have been apathetic to Jesus, all who by their sins have nailed Jesus to the cross, well, they "will mourn because of him."

Literally, the word translated "mourn" here means to sing the songs of public grief and pain, like a dirge or a lament sung at a funeral. Why? Because at that time it will be clearly revealed that they have chosen to separate themselves from the one true King.They will have chosen to reject his kingdom and will therefore be left out of that kingdom for all of eternity. Those who chose to live without Jesus here on earth, whether by hostility or by apathy, will live without him in hell. What a sad, desperate, and pitiful song that will be!

 And who will sing this sad, sad song? Those who have pierced him. Those who choose to live without him. Well, thank God that's not me, right? Wrong! I have chosen to live without Jesus every time I've put my desires above his and told him, "Jesus, please leave the room right now. I don't think you'd appreciate what I'm about to do... or say... or think." Jesus was the "faithful witness" who spoke the truth no matter what. What a contrast to my witnessor, too often, lack thereof, because I'm afraid of what people will do, or sometimes just what they'll think. Jesus is the King. But all too often I've rebelled and said, "No, Jesus, I think I'll be king of my life, thank you." And by my actions, by my words, by my thoughts I have pierced Jesus. I put him on that cross. I nailed him there. After all it was for my sins that he went thereand for yours. You put him there too.

How I deserve to sing the most pathetic wailing song of terror when he comes! Maybe it would be called, "O What Great Woe is Me! The King I Pierced I See!!" How you deserve to sing a song of mourning. Maybe it would be entitled, "The King is Near; My Doom is Here." I don't know if it's true, but I once heard that the inventor of the bagpipe was inspired by a man carrying a squealing pig under his arm. What a beautiful sound that must be compared to the sound of the hell that we deserve, as Jesus described it in Matthew 13(:42). He said of hell, "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

That's what we deserve. But instead, we'll sing a very, very different song! Most scholars believe that the second half of verse 5 was an ancient doxology, that is, a song of praise, which early Christians sang in their liturgy. "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen."

How is it that we – horrendous sinners that we are – will be able to sing a song of praise at Jesus' return instead of a song of mourning? Well, the first line of the song itself tells us. He loves us. How much? So much that "has freed us from our sins by his blood."

Back in 2009, an ecstatic Fernando Bermudez left Sing Sing prison amid a flock of reporters. It turned out that new evidence that had just surfaced proved his innocence of the crime for which he was imprisoned. He clearly did not kill the man he was sentenced for killing. So he was finally released to be reunited with his wife and three children after spending seventeen years in prison for a crime that everyone now agreed he didn't commit. Can you imagine the joy he felt? I wouldn't be surprised if he even burst into song!

But you and I, dear friends, have been freed from a far worse prison that held us for the crimes we did commit. We were prisoners of hell, once chained to our torment by every sin that earned the punishment we deserve. But Jesus took every one of those sins on himself. And though we are the very ones who pierced him, he was pierced for us. As Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53(:5) "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." He paid the penalty we owed when he endured hell itself and shed his blood on the cross. And by his blood, he cut the chains that held us captive. He has freed us from our sins.

That's why John doesn't just wish "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come," but states it as a fact, "Grace and peace [are yours] from him who is, and who was, and who is to come." You have peace. You have peace with God because of the grace that he's given in Jesus who died for you. Man, do we ever have reason to sing! "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood... to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen."

And, what's more, Jesus didn't stay dead. He rose again. That's why John called him, "the firstborn from the dead." Jesus lives! And he's coming back! He's coming back not to punish you, but to rescue youfrom the financial stresses, from the physical aches and pains, from the emotional wounds you suffer and the scars you still feel, from all the burdens of this life. And if there was ever any reason to sing, besides the fact that he was pierced for us to free us from our sins by his blood, it's this: He's coming back to rescue us from all suffering and pain, to take us to be with him in heaven forever!

 

II. Because He Will Come for You

 

John wrote, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him." And yet, he ended that otherwise frightening line with an excited, "So shall it be! Amen." How come? Because John knew that when the Lord said he was, "the Alpha and the Omegawho is, and who was, and who is to come," that he was coming to rescue John. Because Jesus had freed John from his sins by his blood, John knew which side he was on.

Do you remember how God appeared to his people time and time again in the days of Moses? It was in the pillar of cloud. Exodus 33:9-10 say, "As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent." Perhaps John was making an allusion to this spectacular event when he recorded this preview of Jesus' glorious return: "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him..."

When the Israelites saw the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire, they weren't terrified, but excited, moved to worship even in their homes, "each at the entrance to his tent." For even though the presence of the holy God of the universe was right there in their midst, they knew of his grace in promising to care for them, protect them, preserve them, and deliver them from their slavery, from their suffering, and from their sorrow.

When Jesus returns, again "with the clouds," we need not fear. For the "the ruler of the kings of the earth" is coming to take us to his Kingdom –the Kingdom of Heaven! This is our comfort, this is our joy, and this makes us sing for joy! "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his bloodto him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen."

And in the meantime, while we wait for him, what now? Well, he gives us work to do. In the middle of that doxology, that song of praise to the King, John reminds us that the one to whom sing, "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father." We don't just sit idly by waiting for Jesus to come back to rescue us. Instead we get busy as his priests.

What does that mean, that Jesus has made us priests? Are we to sacrifice goats and bulls and sheep? No. Of course not. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." We don't take a life as our sacrifice to God, but give our lives in service to him. We don't kill for God, but we live for him every day.

But where our job is much like that of the Old Testament priests is our task of sharing the message with others. We may not sing about Jesus as we walk down the streets, but we let our lives of selfless service to him and to others sing for us. And as we show others the impact of Jesus' love in our lives we will be "faithful witnesses" just like Jesus. And as we show how we're different, we'll have the opportunity to share the reason why; that it's because of our King! We can tell them that "he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him." But we can also tell them that they need not fear because he "has freed us from our sins by his blood" and he's freed them too.

Serve as faithful witnesses, dear friends. Serve as faithful priests. And keep on singing! Whether it's in the choir or not, whether it's on key or off, whether it's with your voice or with your life, sing to the King! And share the good news with others, that they too might come and sing to the King! Now, "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen."



In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Doomsday Story: Four Words (A sermon based on John 5:25-29)

Doomsday is near! Really it is! The last day of the world is coming soon. What will bring that day about? What will happen on that day? Are you ready for that day? How do you get ready and stay ready? All of those questions can be answered with just four words. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on John 5:25-29 and get ready for that day! 

Doomsday Story: Four Words

A sermon based on John 5:25-29

Sunday, November 12, 2017 – Last Judgment Sunday

 

So, most of the time I view Facebook as a vortex of wasting time that sucks me in and robs me of any productive work for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. But… every now and then, it offers me a good sermon illustration. I think that may be the case today. A Facebook post gave me my theme. But I'll let you be the judge of whether it's a good one.

As I was surfing Facebook this week I ran across a random post that offered this simple challenge: Describe a doomsday scenario, an end of the world scene, in just four words. And the comments that followed were what made the post entertaining to me.

Most comments were political. They were things like, "Global Warming Is Real," or "Hillary Clinton Elected President," or, in reply to that, "Donald Trump is Re-Elected." But some of them were kind of funny. "No! Don't touch that!" "What's this button do?" "Oops. That's my bad." In the words of Steve Urkel, "Did I do that?" or my favorite, "See, I told you!" (I'm not sure who told what to whom, but I picture a husband and wife conversation on that scenario that ended the world.) :)

But then one Christian took political and comedic comments to a new level when he shared his Doomsday Story in four words: "Jesus Christ Has Returned!" And I thought, "I'm not sure if this post coincides with Last Judgment Sunday on purpose or if it's just coincidental, but either way… I like this game." So for Last Judgment Sunday, I'm going to try my hand at "Doomsday Story: Four Words."

Our text for consideration this morning is Jesus' words recorded for us in John 5:25-29…

 

25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

So, what four words would you use to describe Judgment Day? Don't answer out loud right now, but if you have a good "Doomsday Story: Four Words," tell me later, text me, or email me. Or, if you want, wait until I post this sermon on Facebook and then leave your reply there for everyone to see.

I thought about it and have a few "Domesday Story: Four Words" descriptions that I think work well. For starters, I'm just steal that Facebook poster's: "Jesus Christ Has Returned!" That post really does describe the event that will bring about "Doomsday." The end of the world won't come about as the result of some election—no matter how terrible you think that leader might be. It won't be caused by someone accidently hitting the wrong button and starting a nuclear war. It won't happen by a zombie apocalypse or some horrific disease. The end of the world will happen on the day that Jesus comes back to earth.

And that day will be obvious to everyone. No one will be left behind. No one will be left wondering if today is the day. Every person will immediately know, "Jesus Christ Has Returned!" In fact, even those who have already died will know it. Because what's going to happen when he does?

"Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "The Dead Will Live." Judgment Day will literally be the night of the living dead (or maybe the day of the living dead – I guess it depends on when Jesus returns and what time zone you're in at the time). But either way, Jesus makes it clear that, "a time is coming… when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live… a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out…"

It won't matter if they're buried 6 feet under or 60 feet under. It won't matter if they've been cremated and their ashes are scattered across 4 continents. The God who spoke the universe into existence will speak again and at the sound of his powerful voice all people who have ever lived will come back to life.  "The Dead Will Live." What then?

Well, we don't call it Judgment Day or Last Judgment Sunday for nothing! "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "All Are Judged Eternally." Whether alive or dead all people who have ever lived from Adam on will face a day of reckoning. Jesus said, "The Father… has given him…" (that is, "the Son of God," that is, Jesus) "authority to judge because he is the Son of Man." Every person will have their day in court, a day where they will be judged on the basis of their behavior: "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."

So, how have you behaved? Have you always done good? Note, Jesus doesn't say, "those who have kept from doing terrible, vicious, cruel acts against humanity will rise to live." He doesn't say, "Those who have avoided really bad sins will rise to live." He says, "those who have done good will rise to live…" Have you done good? All the time? Every day?

Likewise, Jesus doesn't say, "Those who have murdered, raped, and done time in prison will rise to be condemned." He doesn't say, "Those who have made a complete mess of their lives, those who have tried to lead others into sin, or those who have been a leach to society will rise to be condemned." No. He says, "those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." Have you done evil? Ever? Even once? And remember "evil" is anything contrary to God's will.

And you know what those who do evil (even if just once) and who have failed to do good (even just once) rightly deserve: We just confessed it in our liturgy: "[We] deserve only his wrath and punishment." As we stand before the judgment seat of God we deserve to hear that gavel pound down with the declaration, "I find the defendant… guilty." And, "those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."

So here's another "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "Sinners Are Doomed Forever." That's why they call it Doomsday. But the doom really is terrible. It could just as well be, "Sinners Are Damned Forever." For that's the eternal doom of all who do evil and all who fail to do good: "those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." "What a terrible fate!" "That's what we deserve!"

But… you know we won't get what we deserve, thanks be to God! In fact, that should be our next  "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "Thanks Be to God." Jesus said, "a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." What did he mean by "and has now come"? Well, surely he was alluding to the resurrection of the widow's son at Nain, to the daughter of Jairus, and to Lazarus (which we heard about last week). But I think he meant more. I don't think Jesus was referring to just physical resurrection, but to a spiritual one. In John 5:24, the verse immediately preceding our text, he said this: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

Jesus came to earth to become a man with the sole intent of defeating death, along with satan and hell. And that's exactly what he did. He lived a sinless life in our place. And by his life he defeated sin. He died an innocent death to pay the penalty of our sins. And by his death he defeated satan. On the third day, he rose from the dead. And by his resurrection he defeated death.

Now, you and I, who hear his word and believe in him, are forgiven of every sin. We have eternal life right now. So even though, "Sinners Are Doomed Forever," through faith in Jesus our sins are removed. God doesn't see us as sinners anymore, but as perfect, sinless saints, who have never done evil and have always done what is right and good. So Jesus, declaration that, "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned," is no longer a terrifying thought, but a wonderful one. We are forgiven! No evil remains! God sees only the good that we do! So we will rise to live!

So here's another "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "Believers Will Live Forever." And again, "Thanks Be to God." Instead of dreading that day as a day of doom, we eagerly anticipate it as the day of our rescue, the day of our victory, the day that our eternal celebration begins!

So what now? What do we do while we wait? "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "Make Sure You're Ready" The difference between being ready or not is the difference between rising to live and rising to be condemned. So, to be honest, it's way more important than your retirement investment, your building project, your hunting trip or your shopping trip. Being ready for Judgment Day is way more important that your job, your hobbies, your relationship with your parents, your spouse, or your kids. It is—no exaggeration—the most important thing in your life because nothing else will matter at all 100 years from now. I promise.

So how do we stay ready? Jesus tells us: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life… and those who hear will live." So "Doomsday Story: Four Words:" "Listen to His Voice!" Stay in the Word. Read your Bible daily. Come to worship. Come to Bible Class. Watch a Bible class online instead of one Netflix show. Grow in your faith by hearing his Word. And stay ready for "doomsday" by growing in your faith.

For make no mistake: That day is coming: that day when the cry goes out, "Jesus Christ Has Returned!" And when that day comes, all who have ever died will come back to life: "The Dead Will Live." And having been resurrected, every person who ever lived will give answer to God at the trial that will determine their eternity: "All Are Judged Eternally." Though we know we deserve to be among those of whom it's said, "Sinners Are Damned Forever," "Thanks Be to God," that won't be us! Through faith in Jesus, "Believers Will Live Forever." Now, "Make Sure You're Ready" and "Listen to His Voice!" In Jesus' name, dear friends, and by his work for us, that's our "Doomsday Story: Four Words." Amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give