Monday, November 23, 2015

Sermon on Isaiah 51:4-6, for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, "God's Justice"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Do you see or experience a deep, human longing for peace, and for justice? Whether it’s from the common prayers of 5th graders for world peace, to the hopes and aspirations of adults and even our national leaders, there certainly seems to be a longing for things to be better, to be different. We praise peace and justice, with our words at least. Whether we live that out or not, is another story.
But even if you agree that most Americans, long for certain ideals of peace or justice—we cannot escape the brutal reality that not everyone shares this longing. We’re daily confronted with the ugly and horrendous violence of mankind. Acts of terror on innocent people, bombings, shootings, and all kinds of violence. Not just internationally, either, but in our own nation and in our communities as well. Even though we find it incredibly hard to believe, we face the painful reality that many human beings have their hearts set on bloodshed and violence. And it’s easy enough to blame wicked men as the only obstacle to obtaining true peace and justice.
 But even when left to our own devices, even without the outside influence of terrorists or criminals, we cannot create a man-made peace or utopia. When John Lennon wrote his famous song Imagine, he thought that getting rid of religion would be part of the solution for a man-made peace. But in reality, the communist, political regimes of the 20th century that explicitly rejected religion, and were atheistic, or denied God, have been by far the bloodiest regimes in history. Getting rid of religion proved to be a false hope for solving the world’s problems. Peace and justice seem elusive, out of reach, despite all man’s efforts.
The reading from Isaiah points us in a different direction, and calls us to listen to God’s plan. It begins: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” If the justice of worldly men has disappointed and failed us, then what about God’s justice? How does it enlighten the peoples—change our darkness into light? First He says He will send out a law, and in parallel, His justice. These are two crucial words, that we must understand from the Old Testament. The word “law” here is torah. Torah means much more than just a commandment, or the civil laws of a nation. Torah in the Bible, means God’s command, His instruction, His teaching. In other words, it’s a broad word, that includes God’s Word of Law, and Gospel. It means the whole of God’s teaching. So God is going to send His Word, His teaching out to the world.
The second big word is justice, and this is a justice that is unknown to man. God’s justice stands apart from worldly definitions of justice, even if they sometimes agree in punishing evildoers, and rewarding good. God’s justice is perfect and holy, and not bound by any earthly standard—but quite the opposite, our justice, if it is to mean anything, must mirror His justice. God’s justice is far reaching, in that it surveys not only our outward actions, but also our inward thoughts, desires, as well as our words and deeds. Human justice can be escaped or avoided. Human justice is far too often corrupted or not even delivered. But God’s justice is unavoidable and it is perfect.
But far more important than these similarities and differences, is another way in which God’s justice is unknown to man. While the judgment of God’s law is unerring and leaves us all condemned, God’s justice is further realized through His mercy. Let me explain. In Isaiah chapter 42, God introduces His plan to bring justice to the nations—and says that He is going to send His own chosen servant to bring it. He describes the justice that His Servant will bring, in this way: Isaiah 42:1–4,  
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Here, God is prophetically describing Jesus. Jesus would be God’s agent, or God’s chosen servant to bring justice to the nations. But it wasn’t a strong-arm justice or a cold and unforgiving sentencing to the punishments we deserved under the law. Rather it is a justice that is tempered by mercy.
            The justice of Jesus who didn’t cry foul or demand His rights, when He was mocked, insulted, and mistreated through the streets of Jerusalem. The justice of Jesus didn’t forsake the cross that He unjustly bore. And the justice of Jesus didn’t “break the bruised reed” or “quench the dimly burning wick.” In other words, He did not extinguish the life or hope of those who were crushed or weighed down in soul or spirit, under the judgments of God’s law. But rather, Jesus shows tenderness and mercy to the weak, the burdened, those bearing the spiritual chains of sin, or dwelling in darkness. By receiving all the ugliness and injustice of mankind into Himself, He delivers back to us mercy instead. By receiving the judgment of the law, or the justice of God, that we rightly deserved, He delivers us God’s justice—the acquittal that Jesus deserved. He extends to us the innocence that belongs to Jesus.
            God’s justice is truly unknown to the world, because it is so astonishing and unlike our own. This is why His light shines brightly for the nations. This is why the coastlands hope for Him, and wait for His arm. The true longing for peace and justice that cannot be filled by our earthly attempts at justice, is only truly filled by the justice of God, revealed by Jesus, God’s chosen servant. His verdicts alone are just, right and true. God alone can rightly and justly condemn the evildoer. God alone can rightly and justly justify the sinner. Declare the sinner righteous. If the world even wants to glimpse what God’s peace and justice will be like, they can only find it in Jesus. In the Torah, or teaching that God sends out to the people. This is a light, a beacon, and our only true hope.
And to confirm that, to show that real hope is found only in the One True God, and His salvation, verse 6 ends our reading: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” God invites us to survey creation. Look all around—at the universe above, and the earth beneath—and even at all living things on earth. These things may appear permanent and lasting. But they are not. Even the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, an accepted scientific law, affirms this Biblical truth—that everything in the universe is proceeding to disorder and decay. The universe as it exists, can’t last. Everything is wearing down and wearing out to its final end. The earth is wearing out like old clothes, and won’t sustain life forever. And if the earth and the universe seem too long lasting for us to gain that perspective, than we only need look at the shortness of our own lives.
What does all of this tell us? It tells us not to put our hope in things that are temporary, that are mortal, that are not permanent, but must come to an end. Where then must we place our hope? God says, “My salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” By nature we are linked to the old, dying creation. By nature we will go the way of all flesh, to the grave. But by God’s Spirit and by His chosen servant Jesus, we are linked to an eternal salvation. Jesus rescues us from our frailty and sin, and gives us an eternal salvation. He wraps us in His everlasting righteousness that will never be dismayed.
Hopes in this world, and in the promises of manmade peace or justice will surely be dismayed. Hopes in any religion or righteousness that we try to manufacture on our own, will surely be dismayed. Nothing can last, nothing is eternal, but God’s salvation and His Word. This is lasting hope and glory that will not disappoint us. This is lasting hope and glory that lifts us up to God. So do not be dismayed by the darkness of this world—lift up your eyes to the One who brings justice. Lift up your eyes to the servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      God says in Isaiah 51:4 that He will “set [His] justice for a light to the peoples.” Who is God saying will be a “light for the nations” in Isaiah 42:1, 6? (clue: John 8:12). What is this “light for the nations” going to bring? Isaiah 49:6
2.      Describe the way in which the Lord’s chosen servant will bring justice for the peoples: Isaiah 42:1-4; cf. 1:16-17. What is the difference between God’s justice and evil and oppression? Isaiah 59:8-21. How does God bring justice to the evildoer and forgiveness to the repentant?
3.      Reread Isaiah 51:4-6. List all the phrases that begin with “my”, starting with “my people.” To whom do they all belong? Who is going to show and exercise true justice and righteousness by His coming?
4.      How does the justice of God contrast to the justice of the world? Why are our nations in such tumult and war, and even in times of peace, there is so much domestic violence and bloodshed? How does this contrast between God’s justice and the justice of the nations, present a reason for the nations to hope in Him?
5.      Isaiah 51:6 invites us to survey the universe and all creation. What are we to see and realize is happening to them? Psalm 102:25-27; Romans 8:20-25. Why is earth subject to this decay? Which scientific law affirms this Biblical truth about the decay of the universe?
6.      Since both we and the universe itself, face our own “mortality”, where should we turn our hope, and why? Isaiah 51:6b; 45:17; 40:6-8. Hebrews 13:8.
So be it Lord! Thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away; Thy kingdom stands and grows forever, till all Thy creatures own Thy sway. LSB 886:5, “The Day Thou Gavest”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sermon talking points on Daniel 12:1-3, 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Aloha, there is no written manuscript for the sermon this week. You can still find the audio on 

Sermon Talking Points
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1.       Reread Daniel 12:1-3. If you have time, read the entire 12 chapter book, and notice how it begins with historical narratives, the well-known stories, and gradually shifts into more and more prophetic visions. Look at chapter 9 in particular, how Daniel lead his people in prayer and confession to God. How does chapter 12 expand the vision and prophecy of the book for all peoples, not only Israel?
2.       From an earthly perspective, the people of Israel were caught in the middle of massive empires competing for dominance of the Middle East. The Babylonians, Persians and Medes, Greeks, etc all had their turn ruling over Israel. But who was in control of all of this? Who gave Daniel the clear vision of what lay ahead? Who is in control today when our world is in turmoil, and we are not in control of events around us?
3.       There was much in the prophecies Daniel was given, that he didn’t understand himself. How did he respond? Daniel 8:27; 12:8-13.
4.       Who is the angel Michael? Jude 9, Revelation 12, Daniel 10:13, 21. What is his role in God’s service, and in spiritual battle? Who sets himself against Michael and the angels? How do they have victory? Revelation 12:10-11.
5.       In Daniel 12:1, what is the “book” in which people’s names are written? Philippians 4:3, Revelation 20:12; 21:27
6.       How does Daniel 12:2-3 speak to the resurrection of the body? How does it explain the resurrection of the “just” and the “unjust”? What will be their destiny? John 5:29
7.       What is the glory of believers, and how will they share in God’s joy? To whom do we owe all this great salvation? Revelation 7:10

Monday, November 09, 2015

Sermon on Mark 12:38-44, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, "Abundance and poverty, emptiness and fullness"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Serving as a religious leader comes with its own particular bag of temptations, as Jesus makes clear in today’s gospel reading. Temptations to pride and ego, towards seeking and often receiving honor and the praise of others, temptations to the abuse of power, and temptations to prop up an artificially perfect image of oneself—and therefore fall subject to the charge of hypocrisy. They are spiritually deadly temptations, as the teacher of God’s Word may be tempted to use the appearance of religion or holiness, to disguise their own sin. In a parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus confronts the scribes for not practicing as they preach.
Jesus ends His warning to the scribes, by saying “They will receive the greater condemnation.” Why the greater condemnation? Why are these temptations particular to religious leaders, myself of course, included? First of all, the greater condemnation owes to the greater responsibility entrusted to them. As Jesus says in another parable: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48). The greater trust and responsibility given to the scribes, was that they handled, taught, and decided matters on the basis of God’s Word. As teachers of God’s Word, they were expected to know it most thoroughly, and therefore to live by it. Also, they were to be completely faithful in handling God’s Word. So errors on their part were held to a higher degree of responsibility.
In Jesus’ day, the scribes held exceptionally high authority and respect—they taught the people to respect them with a respect greater even than that owed to parents. They apparently received greetings and honor with flourish in their impressive long robes, and sought out the best positions in the synagogue (or house of worship), and at banquets. They took advantage of widows—which would be expressly opposite of the godly duty to care for the widows, orphans, and the poor. Finally Jesus says that their prayers are pretentiously long. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus describes when people use prayer to draw attention to themselves, or impress people with their holiness, rather than as sincere communication to God.
Why these were temptations then, and how they are temptations today—not only for pastors, as teachers of God’s Word, but also for all of us—is worth more thought. Attention-seeking is not limited to scribes or pastors; and neither is puffing up our image under the mask of religion. Do we love flattery—and if we don’t get it, do we flatter ourselves? This is a particularly relevant concern in our day and age. Certainly, like the scribes, you don’t need technology to engage in image-building and self-flattery. But we have the additional tool of social media to excel in this very thing.
There is a great temptation, to pastors and Christians alike, to use the world of the internet and social media to project a highly edited version of ourselves—we can create profiles and present pictures and experiences, that are often selected to only represent ourselves in the best possible light. A very one-sided view of us, wouldn’t you say? We can add, modify, and edit the “virtual me”, and not post or delete whatever reflects badly on us. We can accumulate hundreds of “friends” and instantly make people aware of whatever is going on in our lives. I say this, not to say that it’s all bad or can’t have beneficial uses, or that everything is false—but rather to show that we are often willingly blind to how much we shape our own image to please or impress others, or just ourselves. The danger is that we fail to form real relationships, and if we are using it to pose ourselves to be something we are not, eventually the reality of our sinfulness, the illusion we’ve created, crumbles under its own weight. None of us can “live up to our own hype.” Jesus sees it all as so much whitewash on a tomb. The alarming reality of Jesus’ words, is that He is not fooled by any appearances, but sees the heart and the hidden actions.
But why would any of us risk it? Why do we attempt to project images of ourselves—either of our great holiness or humility, in a religious guise, or of success and popularity, in a worldly guise, or of great prowess, power, wisdom, generosity, or whatever other values we wish to be identified with? Why do we seek the praise and approval of other people at all? A clue for us shows up in the second half of Jesus’ lesson today. In the example of the widow’s mites.
Jesus watches a scene unfold in the temple, with His disciples, watching how various worshippers give their offering. In the temple courtyards, there were big offering boxes, where people could drop in their money. With metal coins, it must have made an impressive clatter when the rich poured in their large sums of money. But Jesus is not impressed. What grabs His attention is the poor widow, who throws in two miniscule copper coins—worth a penny. How small? One sixty-fourth of a day’s wage. To any other observer, this must have seemed a pitifully small sum.
But to Jesus, her gift was far more significant than all the others who contributed that day. Why? Because they all gave out of their abundance. As a percentage of all they had, their gifts were, in any case, far smaller than anything she had given. As small as her coins were, it was all she had. It was her total livelihood. Jesus said, “They all contributed out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Would it have even supplied her food for one day? And yet she gave it to God, and Jesus praises her. Was she looking for any praise or approval? One can hardly think so. Certainly no one but Jesus saw the importance of her gift. What did her gift show? It showed complete and sincere trust in God. Not for attention, not for reward, but a confidence that cast her whole life upon God’s provision.
How does this relate to the scribes, and their temptations for ego and honor? Jesus presents a contrast. From abundance or poverty. The rich gave from abundance, the poor widow gave from poverty. But her gift is commended. Though poor and empty, she was spiritually rich and full. Though wealthy and full, the rich and the scribes were spiritually poor and empty. If we are spiritually poor or empty, we are tempted to fill it with the approval and admiration of men. Because that spiritual emptiness, or spiritual poverty, comes from not truly knowing God. If we don’t know Jesus, and find our satisfaction, provision, and worth in Him—we grasp for what we can reach: the approval and honor of men. And so we build up our egos, present ourselves as best we can, perform works of false humility, or for pretense, or show. But it can’t fill the emptiness or void, without God. No amount of human praise or admiration can substitute for the peace and approval of God. In all the mix, only the widow had God’s approval and peace, because her trust was fully in God, without pretense or show.
What then, is the solution and hope? In Jesus’ teaching, here and everywhere, there is a great reversal. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves, will be exalted. All who exalt themselves will be brought low. God will inevitably humble us. But humble ourselves, and God will lift us up. The sneaky thing about pride is that we can even make a good show of humbling ourselves!, which is false humility. Sin lurks in every corner. Pride is willing to step in wherever we’ll allow it. Even in our humility! A pastor is even tempted to pride in the preparation and delivery of his sermon! How often we seek recognition and praise of men, instead of the commendation of God. We all must turn ourselves over completely to God and pray, “God have mercy on me, a sinner!” Let God alone do the exalting, and forgive the sinner and raise our eyes to see His love, and the worth that He has placed on us. Not what these hands have done can cleanse our guilty soul.
Genuine faith and trust is only a product of God’s Holy Spirit working in us. It can’t be faked or manufactured. It’s God’s work in us alone. Pride must be brought low, and pretense busted, for God to clear space to fill our empty hearts with true humility and trust in Him. God accomplishes this in us, by giving us and growing in us the very heart and mind of Christ Jesus. He humbled Himself, emptied Himself of worldly honor and recognition, and became obedient to death, even death upon a cross. He gave sacrificially, not a percentage, but the whole of His very life to God. As a hymn says, “At last He brought His offering and laid it on a tree; there gave Himself, His life, His love for all humanity” (LSB 787:4).
Jesus assumed no privilege honor, or priority of place when He suffered Himself to be arrested, abused, and treated as a common criminal, when He was crucified on the tree of the cross. But He was absolute in His genuine trust in God, and without needing the applause or approval of men, He placed Himself completely into God’s hands. And God vindicated Jesus. He raised Him from the dead and crowned Him with glory and honor. What to earthly eyes seemed as empty and weak as the widow’s copper mites, in death and dishonor, God revealed to be the fullness of God’s power of salvation. What seemed to be nothing to earthly eyes, proved to be God’s plan of salvation, and the overturning of sin and death. In weakness, God proved His strength. This life of Jesus, this heart and mind of Jesus, God creates in us by faith. He works simplicity and sincerity of trust in Him, that does not need to trumpet ourselves or seek the honor of men, but rests contentedly and securely in the approval of God, that’s ours only by faith in Jesus Christ. In His Name we pray, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Mark 12:38-44 opens with Jesus denouncing the scribes. The scribes appear all throughout the gospels, and together with the Pharisees and high priests, were a highly respected class of leaders. Why does Jesus fault them? What were the scribes obsessed with?
2.      In what parallel ways do we today face the temptation to “polish”, “edit”, or “project” our own reputation, persona, or image. How are we tempted to make use of “religion” to engage in this kind of self-flattery or boasting? Matthew 6:1-18; Luke 18:9-14. What is the “reward” of this behavior? How does social media especially tempt us to this kind of self-flattery and boasting?
3.      What is the attitude and conduct that pastors and leaders in the church should embody? 1 Peter 5:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:2-26; 4:1-5; Mark 10:42-45.
4.      In the courts of the Temple, there were offering boxes where worshippers could deposit their gift. It must have seemed impressive to see the rich pouring in large sums of money. Jesus was not impressed. What instead, impressed Jesus and what did He notice that others ignored? Why did Jesus consider it so great?
5.      Mark 10:43-44. What was behind the woman’s total generosity and willingness to give? How are we and the world inclined not to see the significance of such outwardly small things? 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Luke 1:46-56; cf. Zechariah 4:9-10, about how people viewed the progress of rebuilding the Temple in the OT.
6.      How does God work through the humble, lowly, and despised by the world? Reread Luke 1:46-56; 2 Corinthians 12:9-11.
7.      How did Jesus make a final and total self-sacrifice? Why was He able to give everything, even His very life, up to God? How did it appear insignificant, lowly, or despised to the world? But how did God honor Him?

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, for All Saints' Day, "Purifying God's Children as He is Pure"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. God calls you children of God, and so you are! God also calls His children saints, or holy ones. God speaks these realities into existence by His all-powerful word, and through the salvation He has won for us in Christ Jesus. Today, let those realities sink into your heart and mind and life, so that you live in what God has given and done for you. God has made us His children, and made us pure saints, in Him—because He is pure. We live out that reality.
Talking about “saints” usually leads to some confusion and misunderstandings. One misunderstanding is that saints become so by virtue of their achievements and great example of godliness. This is to say, that they become saints because of their good works. The Bible, however, teaches the contrary view, that we become saints because God has called us to be saints, and because He has loved us (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). A saint means “holy one”. This is not a reality we create by who we are, but a reality that God creates for us by His love and calling us so. A second major misunderstanding, is that saints are a special category of believers, that exceed all the other believers in holiness and excellence of life. Again, to the contrary, the Bible uses the word “saints” to describe all believers in Christ Jesus—not a select group. “Saints” is interchangeable with “believers.” Finally, another major misunderstanding is that saints are perfect or sinless. To the contrary, believers and saints everywhere in Scripture are ordinary human beings, with their own sins, faults, and failings, but ordinary people that God has declared holy and blameless and forgiven, because of the holy sufferings and death of Jesus. Saints are forgiven sinners. So if Christ has called you, and you believe, then you are a saint, just as surely as you are a child of God.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!” The love of God did not come to us because we were first of all lovable or worthy of His love, or because we were already clean, pure, or worthy. But the love of God first retrieved us from our lost and broken condition, from the fear, guilt, and shame of our sins, and in His love, He sent His Son Jesus, to die for our sins, to bear our guilt and shame upon Himself, to the cross. To search as a shepherd for His lost sheep, and return them home. We are who we are, and have what we have, because of the incredible, redeeming love of God. His love makes us precious, worthy, and valuable, as He redeems and restores us.
The unbelieving world, that still remains as enemy to God, cannot yet understand or know this. They cannot yet know God or know us as children of God. Our reading continues, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Jesus said in His great prayer in John 17, that the world would hate His followers. They hate us because they also hated Him, because we are not of the world, just as He is not of the world. Jesus calls His disciples to forsake the world and its ways, and to follow Him. Christians are “in the world but not of the world”. The world perceives the way that Christians walk—choosing not to follow the world’s ways—as judgmental. To the world “saints” might register as: “holier than thou.” But children of God, saints or disciples of Jesus, by His own teaching, cannot rest on “airs” or sit with arrogance toward others—but rather Christians claim the lowest and meekest place before God—just as we heard in the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Bless are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Humility, not self-righteousness, is the true way of Christ’s disciples and saints. We acknowledge we’re sinners in need of Christ’s rescue. We bear a righteousness that is not our own, not earned, but ours by faith in Jesus.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” While we already now are God’s children, the fullness of that truth is not yet realized. So we live in faith, in the promises of God that have not yet come to be fulfilled. In glory, as children of God, we will no longer have sin or struggles or temptations, but we will be perfect, as He is. But in the present, our sinfulness is still with us. The world can see that we are still sinners. We know it all too painfully, when we strive and wrestle against our own sinfulness. At times that struggle is so weighty, that we come to even doubt whether we are God’s children. The gap between that future, “not yet” reality, and the present “now” of our struggles, seems so great, that our faith is challenged. We can fall into the misunderstanding that “saints” are perfect Christians who never wrestle with sin and temptation, but who are “victorious” at every turn. The devil turns our attention to our sinfulness and causes us to despair of God’s rescue, and tries to keep us from fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The devil does not want us to see that there is a way back to God from our sin.
Our reading ends with a verse that carries a lot of weight, that needs unpacking. “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” First of all, notice that Jesus is the source and object of both our hope and our purity. Hope and purity come from Him. Cleansing and forgiveness is in God’s hands, not ours. This verse shows us that God receives everyone who hopes in Him. Put another way, God says that “whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).  So hope placed in God is never misplaced, it is never put to shame (Romans 5:5). Though we may doubt our worth, God give us worth and calls us to Him.
But what does it mean that the one who “hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure?” Before we give definition to what purity, and purify means, we should make two observations. One is that as children of God, this purifying, is an ongoing, present tense reality. It’s a continual thing, not something already complete. Secondly, this idea of purity is strongly connected to the idea of “saints” or holy ones. Christians live with the daily reality of being purified in Jesus, and that this is part of what it means to be God’s saints.
What does it mean to be pure? The opposite of pure is impurity, or uncleanness. To be defiled. This is the negative side, or contrast to purity.  It’s a deeply personal and emotional thought, that strikes down to the very core of our being and who we feel we are. Some people, either by sins that they have committed, or by sins that have been committed against them, have a deep and troubling sense of being dirty or soiled. They may carry a deep sense of shame, and feel that they have lost their innocence, by which they could stand unashamed. They feel they’re not worth anything. They are unlovable. They propel themselves further into self-destructive lifestyles and choices. If I can’t be clean, if I have no innocence, then I might as well indulge in whatever temporarily makes the pain go away, or makes me feel good. This is a picture of what sin and despair can look like. Despair, in particular, would keep sinners from seeing and knowing how God desires in Christ Jesus, to restore us to purity, holiness, and innocence before Him. Despair can keep us from hearing the Good News of what Jesus has done for us.
So positively, what is purity? To be pure is innocence or holiness. As we’ve already said, purity comes from God. The Psalmist prays to God to “create in me a clean heart”, and our verse says, “everyone who hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” We have to look to Jesus for that purity or the cleansing of forgiveness. In baptism we are washed clean by Jesus’ forgiveness. A cleansing wash, not of our bodies, like a bath, but a spiritual cleansing of our conscience before God. Since we are not pure in ourselves, we must seek Him who is pure Himself, to purify us. As we experience the ongoing purification of God, we recognize that there is a daily struggle. Just like our bodies need constant washing and showers, so also spiritually we need purification regularly, by returning to our baptism by repentance and forgiveness.
The verses in the New Testament that talk about keeping ourselves pure, talk especially about keeping our hearts and minds pure. Our thoughts and desires are a key weakness for sinful impurity to enter in. While purity comes from God, we introduce impurity and uncleanness into our hearts and lives, when we open ourselves to temptation and pursue sin. We live in a time where there are so many open windows and doors into the things that defile our heart, that opportunities for impurity are highly available.
The internet is accessible from virtually all of our homes, workplaces, and throughout our community. It provides unprecedented access to knowledge of both good and evil. There are many beneficial and useful purposes. But there are equally many if not more harmful and useless purposes. The temptation to sexual impurity and ruin, the temptation to financial loss and ruin, the confusion of truth and error, and the massive temptation towards wasting our time in idleness. How often do we think about guarding this avenue for impurity and harm in our lives or those in our families? We take often precautions to guard our health, our safety, and when driving—but do we take precautions to guard our purity? Do we leave temptation close within reach, or do we avoid those things we know will tempt us? What keeps us accountable? Our brothers and sisters in Christ, to begin with.
Jesus Christ is pure and holy, and when we hope in Him, He purifies us, as He is pure. Being a saint, or holy one, flows from living in Him. He leads us in a pure life. But we need to guard against impurity, and the things that would defile us. Impurity strikes at our heart and conscience, and the only way to restore a clear, good conscience before God, is to come to Jesus Christ for His forgiveness and cleansing. He creates in us that clean heart, and renews a right spirit within us. His forgiveness and cleansing makes us able to stand before God righteous in Jesus, and unashamed. Hope in Him, you saints of God! Amen.

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1.      1 John 3:1-3. What is incredible about the love that God has given to us? John 15:12-13; 10:15; Romans 5:6-11.
2.      How do we become children of God? John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1.  How is God’s Word “performative” and calls things that are not, into existence? Give an example from Scripture. Genesis 1; Mark 10:52. How is this the same for the reality of being children of God?
3.      Why doesn’t the world know God or love us? 1 John 2:15-17; 4:4-8; John 17:13-18. How does true knowledge of God come to humanity? John 1:18; 8:19, 55; 14:6-7
4.      What challenges does it present to our faith, that we know we are children of God now, but we do not yet fully see what we will be, or how Jesus is? In other words, how is it hard for our faith, when those promises of God are not yet fully realized and visible to us?
5.      What is the beauty of the promise in 1 John 3:2? Who gets to see God? Matthew 5:8.
6.      Who is the source of our hope? 1 John 3:3. Who is the source of our purity?
7.      How does one purify themselves in Jesus? 1 Peter 1:22; James 4:8. Is repentance our work, or the work of the Holy Spirit in us?