Monday, November 29, 2010

Sermon on Romans 13:11-14, for the First Sunday in Advent, "God's Time is Son-Rise!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. For church-goers, today marks the beginning of a new year, as we begin the season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. As we enter this new year, we consider what Paul says in Romans 13: “You know the time…” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you know the time? What time is it? In the reading, St. Paul tells us that “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” Hopefully now that you’re at church, and you’re listening to me, you’re not still asleep, right? So can you tell me what the time is and what hour Paul is talking about? It’s helpful to know that there are two different ways that the New Testament writers speak of time. There’s the ordinary kind of time, called chronos in Greek. As in “chronological.” Chronos is the kind of time you’d be talking about if you asked someone on the street what time it was, and they looked at their watch and told you what hour of day it was. Ordinary time with minutes and hours.

But the second kind of time that is mentioned in the NT is kairos. Kairos is the kind of time Paul talks about here in Romans 13. Kairos is not time measured in minutes or hours—it means the time of fulfillment, harvest time, the appointed time for something to happen, or “due time.” Kairos could be described as “God’s timing.” When prophecy comes to fulfillment, that’s kairos time. It’s the due time for something to happen. Jesus talked about it when He said “My hour has not yet come.” He wasn’t talking about sixty-minutes set out in the future, but He was talking about the kairos time of His betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. About the time when all these things would take place and prophecy would be fulfilled. Paul, writing in Romans, is talking about this same kairos time when he says, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” So now that we know what kind of time he’s talking about—what time is it? What’s happening? What’s the big event?

It’s the same time Jesus spoke of in Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus’ 2nd coming, the time that has long been awaited. So we’re called to readiness—straighten up, raise your heads. Wake up from sleep. Salvation is almost here. Everything that we’ve been waiting for by faith, will be fulfilled in God’s due time, and that time has come and is coming. Paul uses the picture of a sunrise. The night is far gone, the day is drawing near. It’s like we’re at dawn, waiting for the sunrise.

Have you ever been to a sunrise on Haleakala? Seen how the pitch darkness of night gradually lightens to gray, and dawn slowly breaks as beams of golden light first pierce the clouds above, growing ever brighter until the fiery red sun breaks the horizon and casts color across the mountains and crater? We’re waiting the dawning of the Son—S-O-N—of Righteousness, with healing in His wings. We’re awaiting Jesus’ Son-Rise, His glorious reappearing, that’ll surpass a million sunrises for beauty and awesome light. Jesus’ reappearing will bring the end of the darkness, so we can live in the daylight of His unending kingdom. When you are watching a sunrise, what happens to the darkness and shadows? They’re pierced through by beams of light till the holes widen and merge into a blanket of pure light, and the darkness is gone. We don’t want to be darkness on that day (Eph. 5:8), because darkness will be pierced through and light will reign. This is why we must put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Today we’re living in that kairos time, that time just before the dawn of Jesus’ Son-Rise. God’s promises are waiting to be fulfilled; God’s timing is unfolding. Wake up from sleep! Don’t be caught unaware when Jesus returns. There are many who’ve a sleepy indifference to eternal matters. Life can lull us into a calm slumber where we just don’t care about what happens after life. We see today and tomorrow—we live only in ordinary time, and don’t realize that in God’s timing, the world won’t go on forever. There will be a sudden and complete end, and those who trust in Jesus and are waiting for His return will be ready, but those who don’t trust in Jesus will be unpleasantly surprised.

So now is the time to cast off the works of darkness, so we’re ready. There are three pairs of sins that he names, which we’re to avoid. The first is orgies and drunkenness. Wild partying and drunkenness often go hand in hand. Losing control, getting intoxicated or high on alcohol or other substances, fighting and violence—the Christian shouldn’t be involved in any of these. Rather we’re called to have self-control and temperance. We should never lose control of ourselves, and if we drink, only in moderation. Of course wild partying and lowered inhibitions are not at all like the positive and healthy expression of festivities and celebrations. Family and community celebrations filled with joy, are a positive thing. Celebration is also a part of the kingdom of God—but the festivities are kept with modesty and self-control.

The second pair of sins that Paul warns us to avoid is sexual immorality and sensuality. Again, we don’t want to be caught in works of darkness when Jesus returns. Any form of a sinful lifestyle that doesn’t honor the God-given bounds of sexuality, namely marriage. God has set that boundary around sexuality for our own protection and the protection of others, and Christians are to use that God-given gift only with their husband or wife. Today that boundary is rarely honored, but it’s for a good reason that God has given it. Within marriage it produces stability and the depth of love that God desires, rather than instability and shallow relationships. Instead of brokenness or jealousy, it leads to unity. The other sin, sensuality, includes other forms of self-indulgence or worldliness. Being caught up in our own sinful desires and taking things to excess. Against this we as Christians are to walk properly in sexual purity and self-control. Giving honor to God with our bodies.

It might seem unusual for the last pair of sins to be grouped with the others. Quarreling and jealousy. But these are just as serious as the others, and equally unacceptable to our Christian conduct. Being argumentative or abusive, using language or even physical violence to fight against other people—these are works of darkness. In Galatians Paul says, “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you’re not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15). Are we nipping and biting at each other? Are we always at each other’s heels? Are we being divisive and argumentative? Jealousy can cause quarreling, or it can happen apart from it. But that sense of rivalry or envy of what someone else has can destroy your own peace of mind, robs you of contentment, and stir up quarrels. Again, quarreling and jealousy are works of darkness that we must cast off. Instead we should live with brotherly harmony and contentment. If there are disagreements, we should settle them with brotherly admonition and concern. Find ways to build each other up and encourage.

Now you’ve heard the works of darkness that we are to cast off. Do any of you see yourself in the mirror? Is there something, even a shadow of those works of darkness hiding in you? What if you’re involved in wild partying and drunkenness, or sexual immorality and sensuality? What if you’re quarreling with people or filled with jealousy? If you see those works of darkness in you, the light of God’s law is exposing it to you. So now you must cast them off—put away those works of darkness. Quit them, say goodbye to them, put an end to them. Don’t rationalize, don’t excuse or defend them. Don’t try to hide them or perform them in the darkness of night, thinking that the Son won’t rise or that your works won’t be seen. Remember, the night is nearly over and the Son is rising so you cannot hide sinful works.

Instead, if you have those works of darkness in yourself, cast them off and put on the armor of light that is the pure innocence of Jesus. If any of these are in your past, arm yourself against that darkness coming over you again, and reentering your life. Put on Christ Jesus, and let His light drive out the darkness in you. Lay your sins at the cross. Confess them and feel the joy of release, knowing that they’re forgiven. Know that the impurity and the sin is driven out by the pure light of Christ, and you’re clean and whole again. Imagine how the sunrise transforms a cold, dark and shadowy mountain into a warm, colorful, and bright landscape. Now realize that the light of Christ has shined into your heart and life, melting away the heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh. Filling the darkness with light and color, illuminating your life and giving it joy and beauty. God is works in you by faith, and you’re clothed with Christ in your baptism. God’s work in you is begun, but the “Son-rise” of Jesus’ return is just at the edges of dawning.

We know that Jesus can return at any time, and the hour has come for us to be awake and ready. Put on the armor of light; put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). In your baptism, you put on Christ as God made you His child and gave you Jesus’ innocence to wear, to cover your sin. We are called to put that armor of light or put Christ on again and again, because it is a daily struggle we as Christians are called to. Daily return to your baptism, casting off, putting away those old sinful works of darkness, and clothing yourself with Christ. Arm yourself with His light against the attacks of our sin.

Luther talked about the persistence of our old sinful nature being like the stubble that grows on a man’s face when he doesn’t shave, and how we daily need the “clean shave” of repentance and forgiveness. That is to say that confessing our sins once in awhile just doesn’t cut it! It should be a daily practice. One way to remember your baptism is to splash your face with water three times in the morning, and pray, “I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—dear Lord, help me to live today in my baptism.” It’s one way to remember your baptism and to put on those clean clothes and start the new day in Christ, fighting against your old sinful nature, and wearing the armor of light.

We know the hour and we know the time. We know that God’s time, the time when His promises are going to be fulfilled, is getting closer and closer. Just as God sent Jesus in the fullness of time 2,000 years ago, to be born that first Christmas and redeem us—so also the fullness of God’s time is again drawing near, when God will send Jesus to bring our salvation to completion, and take us to Him. We’re living in kairos time—God’s time—and He calls us to be ready, for His Son-Rise is nearly here. This Advent season, may your waiting and expectation be filled with joy, as we watch for the Greatest Son-Rise ever seen or imagined. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. What kind of time is chronos? See for ex. Matt. 2:16; Luke 1:57. What kind of time is kairos? See for ex. Mark 1:15; Luke 4:13

2. So what is the time that Paul speaks of in Rom. 13:11? Cf. Luke 21:28. What significant thing is going to happen? How does Paul picture this?

3. How were we “once darkness”? Ephesians 5:8. What does it mean to be in darkness? What are the works of darkness? Eph. 5:1-18; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9. What will happen to the darkness?

4. What is sinful and harmful about wild partying and drunkeness? What is a healthy, Christian alternative? In what way is the kingdom of God marked by celebration?

5. What is sinful about sexual immorality and sensuality? What are common forms of this today? How does it impact you? What is the healthy Christian alternative to the use of God’s good gifts?

6. What is sinful about quarrelling and jealousy? Why does this belong with the others? Gal. 5:15. What is a healthy Christian alternative? Psalm 133

7. How does a Christian “dress” for the Son-Rise? How should we be ready for His return? Gal. 3:27. How does Jesus clothe us?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Colossians 3:12-17, Wedding Sermon

(A wedding sermon I preached a few years ago)


Colossians 3:12-17
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

P: This is the Word of the Lord
C: Thanks be to God

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The basis for the message this joyous wedding day is the passage from Colossians, where St. Paul describes the new life with which we are clothed as Christians. In this text, _____ and ______ see the shape of the Christian life, as the shape that they desire for their marriage as well. The imagery is of us clothing ourselves with the virtues of Christ. At a wedding, more than at most other occasions, clothing is carefully chosen and considered, to reflect the importance of the occasion. Not chosen at the last minute, just a few hours before the ceremony…or so they tell me! But even as important as these clothes and dresses become for one special day, they are not the clothes of everyday life.
But as Christians, these virtues of Christ—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love—these virtues we wear aren’t just for special occasions, or even as our “Sunday formal wear.” No, the Christian is to clothe themselves daily in the virtues of the chosen people of God. Because this clothing reflects our character as Christians. By that I don’t mean what we have made ourselves to be, “the man he made himself” or the “woman she grew to be,” but rather that our character and identity comes from what God made us to be. The crowning virtue, love, which is the bond of perfection, clothes us because God first showed His love to us in sending His Son. His call for us to bear with one another and forgive each other is founded on the fact that the Lord first forgave us. Our response of love to one another is just that: a response. We love because He first loved us.
Christ shows us the shape of God’s love by displaying all of these virtues in His life, and most perfectly in His sacrificial death. He showed compassion by talking with the down-and-out, giving importance to even the concerns of outcasts, and by healing those who were afflicted with illnesses; even raising the dead. He showed kindness by interceding for those condemned by society, stopping a woman from being stoned; reaching out to a despised tax collector. He showed gentleness, extending His love to little children, that His disciples thought were a nuisance. He showed patience, bearing with the disciples when they did not understand; teaching them correctly and opening their eyes.
These were not just random acts of kindness, disconnected from each other. But they were acts that lived out the kind of love that God gives to us. And all these virtues were crystallized in Jesus’ death on the cross, where His compassion, humility, forgiveness and love were seen so clearly, in His willingness to forgive even those who crucified Him. He took up every insult, complaint, sin, and grievance upon Himself, and spoke the dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is the source of that limitless love, and He clothes us with it. He gives you these new clothes through His Word that dwells in you richly. Christ’s Word and Love clothe us like wedding garments—but these virtues, held together by Love, the bond of perfection—these clothes have a transformative power on your lives.
Going into your marriage dressed with these clothes, Jesus causes His peace to rule in your hearts. We begin to realize that the way we forgive each other is predicated on the truth of His forgiveness for us. Not holding on to grudges or grievances that can be so devastating to any relationship, let alone a marriage. It seems so obvious to talk about the importance of forgiveness, but when the rubber meets the road, we often find it easier to avoid forgiveness.
The author Richard Eyer, who has been married over 40 years to his wife, observed that after their first argument in marriage, he had apologized for being insensitive and unwilling to hear what she was saying. Her gracious response, “I forgive you,” took him back a moment as he realized he probably wasn’t as sincere in his apology as it seemed. He became aware that the words “I’m sorry” had been just a reflex to end an unpleasant argument, rather than “actually admit [he] had done wrong or had sinned against her.” He was not prepared for her forgiveness, because “It’s one thing to admit your fault, even your sin, and quite another for someone to confirm your confession as necessary and to then repay it with forgiveness.” Forgiveness, not brushing sin off, is what God did for us, and what God prescribes for life. Forgiveness acknowledges the wrong done, but does not hold it against that person. Forgiveness says: “this will not stand between us.” When we forgive in our relationships, we forgive the small debt of wrong that someone owes us, because Jesus forgave a much greater debt of wrong for our sins. Here we show that we are clothed with the virtues of Christ, tying all together with love, the bond of perfection.
Love is the bond of perfection, because love draws us out of ourselves, and gives of ourselves to another person. Theologians often speak about how the love that flows between the 3 persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gives shape to the love of a family, between husband, wife, and child. Love is so great because it turns our focus from where sin will always turn it—namely on ourselves—out towards our husband, or wife, or child. Love isn’t self-centered or absorbed with oneself, but finds its object outside itself, and expresses itself in the variety of ways named above.
You may show a heart of compassion towards your spouse by valuing and respecting their concerns—even when we don’t readily identify with them. You may show kindness to your spouse by regularly finding simple ways to express your ongoing care and love. You may show humility to your spouse by putting away anger from each other and not insisting on your own way. You may show gentleness by not using harsh words with each other or “pushing each other’s buttons.” And you may show patience—the willingness to bear with each other through the struggles and difficulties of life together.
Knowing that in the long run forgiving each other and working through the inevitable conflicts that arise will build a stronger marriage and a closer love. One that has weathered the good times and the bad times, one that is bound together with love, which is the bond of perfection. Christ’s love, embracing your own love, gives that endless source from which you draw on in your love for each other. We draw upon that source of Christ’s love by letting His Word dwell richly in us, which happens in the worshipping community of the church, that teaches and admonishes us in Word and in song in thanksgiving to God. May Christ richly draw you together in marriage, in His love, the bond of perfection. Amen.

Sermon on Malachi 3:13-18, for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, "God of Reversals"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is the last Sunday in the Church Year, and as our readings again focus on Judgment Day, we listen to the Old Testament reading from Malachi. The situation was that the Jews were complaining against God how unfair it was that the wicked prospered. As we study this reading, we’ll consider how we’ve complained against God, what God’s response is to the injustice of this world, and how that sets a pattern for us as Christians to respond to it as well. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“But it’s not fair!” a child exclaims. “Life isn’t fair, kid; deal with it” the adult replies. It’s a pretty familiar exchange, and we’ve all been there. “When life deals you a bad hand, you do the best to play the hand you’re dealt,” goes a common proverb. Everyone has had times in their life when they grumbled or complained that things just seemed unfair. In the reading, the Israelites were complaining to God, accusing Him that it was vain or useless to serve Him. They claimed that there was no profit in keeping God’s commands or in showing signs of repentance before God. After all, the arrogant and proud were being blessed—and they weren’t. Evildoers were becoming rich and full, and even testing God and getting away with no consequences. It wasn’t fair! Shouldn’t God have been rewarding those who followed and obeyed Him with prosperity and success? They seemed to be saying, “What’s the point in serving God anyway?”

Ever felt the same? Ever thought that being a Christian “just isn’t paying off?” You wind up with more grief in the end? Sometimes you get mocked and ridiculed for doing what’s right or standing out from the crowd? Seems like the people who are dishonest and cheat in their work and in their private life become rich and prosperous—while the honest can’t get ahead. If these are some of your thoughts, you have something in common with the Jews in the book of Malachi—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Do you expect an earthly payoff or an easy road for following God? Do you expect that since you follow God things should always go your way? Another one who thought like this was Asaph, who wrote Psalm 73. Read the Psalm several times and notice how similar the thoughts are to Malachi. Asaph experienced that same sense of unfairness, to the point that it nearly caused him to stumble from the straight path, because he’d become so envious of the wicked.

Asaph saw how the wicked grew rich and prosperous, how they had plenty to eat and didn’t seem to suffer the same misery or illness as others. They spoke arrogantly and maliciously, they weren’t even afraid to scoff at God, imagining that God didn’t see or know their sin. Asaph, marvels at their wealth, and how they were getting away with everything; while he earnestly strove to be clean in heart and actions, and suffered for it. He too began to feel the futility of following God and doing what was right, because it only seemed to get him misery. Being evil began to look more rewarding.

It’s important here to note that there is a big difference between suffering a real injustice and a perceived injustice. We first must know whether we’re suffering innocently, or because we actually did something wrong. St. Peter reminds us that it is a gracious thing to suffer for doing what is right—but there is no credit for suffering for what is wrong (1 Peter 2:19-20). For example, there’s no injustice in suffering for our disobedience or sin. As sinful humans, we’re experts at magnifying our sense of injustice, even when we’re the ones to blame. If we’ve sinned and brought hardship on ourselves, then we must repent of our wrong. But if we’ve suffered unjustly for doing what’s right, we take the advice of Peter: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).

So how did Asaph resolve his feelings about injustice? He became tired and weary from trying to sort it all out, how the wicked seemed to escape God’s judgment, until he came to the Temple. There in God’s presence he realized the truth about the wicked, and he came around to the same conclusion that God spoke in Malachi. In the end, in the Final Judgment, the wicked will meet their downfall and be punished, but the righteous will belong to the Lord. The evildoers who prospered in this life will finally meet their downfall in the next—and some would even fall to ruin in the present life. However it might seem to us in the present, God isn’t blind or ignorant to injustice and evil, nor will evildoers endlessly escape.

Malachi wrote that God heard the prayer of the righteous—He wasn’t deaf to their outcries. God pledges to remember those who feared and honored Him. While in the present life, the righteous may endure injury, insult, and injustice, God says: “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” The great reward of the righteous is not prosperity or ease in this life. How sincere would our love and obedience be to God if we only did it because we expected a payoff from Him? But rather, on the day of judgment, God will finally set apart the righteous from the wicked, and those who serve Him from those who don’t. In Malachi chapter 4 it goes on to describe how the righteous and wicked will be separated on the Day of the Lord, and how the wicked will face God’s final judgment, while the righteous will rejoice at His coming.

So the realization we come to about the unfairness of life and how the wicked seem to go unpunished is that it will all be resolved on the last day. In Psalm 73, Asaph said that before he came to the Temple and realized this truth, his sense of injustice had filled him with bitterness, anger, and ignorance before God. We can probably sympathize somewhat with that sense of injustice sometimes, and how we demand an answer from God about why things have gone so miserably, or why one terrible thing or another has happened. And God has heard it all. The amazing thing that brought Asaph back to his senses and kept him from stumbling and losing faith over this issue, was the realization that everything he had—everything we have, is God. He is our great and eternal possession. He will receive us into heaven in His glory, and it is all the gain in the world to be near to God and have Him as our refuge.

God gives the same gracious conclusion in Malachi. God had heard the thankless complaining and grumbling about His unfairness from the people—but God bore those outcries with remarkable patience. He spoke of the same truth Asaph discovered, namely that those who fear the Lord, “They shall be mine.” To be God’s possession, to be His treasured possession, is a truth that outweighs all the injustice and unfairness of life. But there still remains the matter of how we deal with injustice and unfairness. How do we respond to the apparent success and prosperity of the wicked, while believers often seem to suffer difficulty?

Our response has much to do with how it is that we became God’s treasured possession. How we’re spared on God’s day of judgment. God says that He will spare us as a man spares his son who serves him. We’re spared because God forgives us. Forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. See if you recognize these words: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to death on the cross, so that through Jesus He could graciously give us all things. Jesus’ precious blood and death on the cross and His rising from the dead makes us God’s treasured possession.

Moreover, it’s in the death of Jesus that we see how God responded to the gravest injustice the world has ever seen. In the reading from Luke, you heard how Jesus suffered a capital punishment reserved for the worst of criminals—though innocent of any wrongdoing. If anyone on earth had a right to grumble or complain about the injustice or unfairness of His life, it was Jesus Christ. He’d lived in perfect obedience to God’s law and had confirmed with miracle after miracle that He was truly God; and He spoke the truth. Yet here He was nailed to a cross, suffering the worst indignities and being mocked and laughed at and spit on. Here was a true injustice, no mistake. But Jesus’ response wasn’t to complain or cry out to God that evildoers were putting God to the test and escaping. He didn’t charge God with unfairness because it seemed unprofitable to serve Him. He didn’t envy the wealth or success of the wicked.

This is nothing short of incredible. When we suffer injustice or abuse, whether real or perceived, there is an incredible amount of energy and even anger that this can generate. It can make people capable of revenge or consuming hatred. But with pure divine love, Jesus mastered all the normal impulses to anger, hatred, or revenge, and reprocessed them into grace. Jesus took the energy created by injustice and turned it into humility and forgiveness. He looked upon His tormentors and those who laughed and mocked at His weak and dying body, and He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He turned what could’ve been anger into grace and love. Wounded by insults, He responded with forgiveness and understanding.

Several of Jesus’ parables show the same amazing grace, how longsuffering and patient God is with us. Unlike us, God has the authority and the power to instantly eliminate and consume all His enemies, all who are responsible for sin and injustice. Even our sinful grumbling and complaining against God, or our rebellion against Him. But the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, shows the Father’s incredible and undeserved love to the lost son, even after the disgrace and insults he’d brought on the family. Or the Parable of the Great Banquet where God overcomes the anger of being snubbed by His invited guests, and instead opens the banqueting hall to a multitude of undeserving guests from everywhere in the town and the countryside. In these parables God turns His anger over sin into grace and undeserved mercy. He turns ungratefulness to Him into kindness and mercy for others. He gives the repentant and humble forgiveness. When met with scorn and contempt, He gives the undeserving a place of honor.

While many times in this life everything seems to be going in the favor of the wicked and unbelieving—while the arrogant and the proud seem to prosper and get away with despising God—this will only be until the day of the Lord. On the Day that Jesus returns, all those who raised themselves up in pride, will be brought low, and those who were humble will be exalted. Just as the Great Injustice of Jesus’ death on the cross became the Great Reversal that meant life and forgiveness for all who trust in Him, so at the Last Day, God will bring justice where there has been injustice. Those who have served Him will be spared, but those who did not serve Him will perish. God will set right what has been wrong.

So Christ equips Christians with His love, so that we have a Christ-like response to the unfairness or injustice of life. We can and should cry out to God against true injustice, and seek for Him to bring justice to His people, because He does hear our prayers and understand our grief, for He experienced it in far greater measure than us. But be patient for God’s timing, because He is longsuffering, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, for He desires that all would repent, even those who have caused injustice. But when we suffer for doing good, don’t accuse God of wrongdoing or think that it’s better for us to live as evildoers. But instead bear injustice with faith that God will finally right all wrongs and that the injustice of life is far outweighed by the fact that we’re His treasured possession in Christ. God will bring about justice in the end. And Finally we take comfort as Asaph did in the end of Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” In Jesus’ name we tell of God’s great works. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Read what some of the “complaints against God” were from the Jews, in Malachi 1:2; 2:17; 3:8; 3:14-15. Read Psalm 73. How did Asaph envy the wicked, and what brought him back to the truth?
2. What injustice or unfairness do you feel you face in life? If you suffer for doing wrong, this is no credit to you (see the whole book of 1 Peter, especially chs. 2-4; verse 2:19-20). But suffering for doing what is good is a “gracious thing.”
3. How did Asaph find peace and understanding about the plight of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked? Psalm 73:16-28. How does this parallel what God says in Malachi 3?
4. In what way does the Day of Judgment show the “distinction between the righteous and the wicked?” How will God sort things out?
5. Does God hear our cries to Him about injustice? How do we, and how does God respond to injustice and the feelings it produces? How did we become God’s treasured possession? Cf. Malachi 3:16-18, Ps. 73, 1 Peter 1:18-19; Matt. 13:44-46; Rom. 8:31-32
6. How did Jesus respond to the injustice of His crucifixion? Luke 23:34, 43. See how God reacts to injustice in the following parables: Luke 14:12-24; 15:11-32; 19:9-18.
7. How does this set a pattern for us as Christians to follow? How do we respond to injustice in a Christ-like way? If we suffer injustice in this life, what far outweighs anything we experience?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sermon on Luke 21:5-28, for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, "In the Word"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we’re drawing near to the end of the Church Year, and next Sunday will be the Last Sunday of the Church Year. At the end of November, the readings always focus on the end of times and Jesus’ return for judgment and the redemption of the world, just before the Church’s calendar rolls into the season of Advent and Christmas. This continual cycle of the Church Year keeps us watching and waiting with faith and hope, and returns us to the life and times of Jesus and the Church as another year passes and our waiting is renewed. Today we also remember the work of the LWML or Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, and their commitment to continue the work of spreading the Good News until Jesus returns. Their theme for this year, “People of God—in the Word”, is a good reminder of how we are to be ready for the end of times that Jesus describes in our Gospel reading from Luke 21. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

As people of God, we’re to be in His Word by making regular use of His Word—listening to it in worship, reading it in our homes, studying it together with fellow Christians. His Word calls attention to our sins that we can turn away from them, and shows us His forgiveness that we might turn and be saved. His Word is a Lamp to our feet and a Light to our path. So how much more will we need the Lamp of the Word when times of darkness come on the world? How much more necessary will it be for Christians to hear the Word of Christ and pay attention to His warnings? So listen: in the Gospel reading today, someone points out to Jesus how beautiful and impressive the Temple in Jerusalem was. Isn’t it a magnificent place to worship? The beautiful stones and the offerings presented there adorn the Temple with beauty, don’t they, Jesus? Jesus’ reply was not what the person expected. He said all of these stones would be thrown down, and that magnificent Temple laid to rubble. Jesus then gives a lengthy prophecy about what will soon take place, and the events that will follow until His second coming.

As people of God in the Word, we should know and understand what these things mean. First of all, in the section that we read today, Jesus’ prophecy unfolds in three basic stages. First, the destruction of the Temple, second, the destruction of Jerusalem, and finally, the destruction of the world. So that we don’t get lost, it’s important to note that the first two of those things have already happened in the few decades after Jesus spoke these words. So you might ask, “Well, what does that mean for us then, if most of this prophecy is already fulfilled?” It means a great deal for us in knowing that Jesus’ Word is reliable and accurate, and one would do well to pay attention to the warnings He was giving. Several times He repeated the warning for people to flee Jerusalem and not go to the city during those times, because of God’s judgment facing that city. According to the historian Josephus, nearly a million died in Jerusalem when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Some 35-40 years after Jesus gave these warnings, people saw them dramatically come to pass. Such a dramatic fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions is but one important reason why we should take His Word with the greatest seriousness.

The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem that Jesus warned about, was something that seemed so terrible to the people, that they would actually think the end of the world had come. The wars and rumors of wars would cause them to be terrified. But Jesus warned them, “Do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” There were many frightening things, but the end of the world had not yet come. Today we sometimes face a similar kind of fear and anxiety about the end of the world. It certainly seems to many that the number of wars and catastrophes seems to be growing greater and more frequent. These certainly are signs of the end times, as Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes. In the last 10 years alone, we’ve seen earthquakes and tsunamis that have killed hundreds of thousands in a single blow, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have overshadowed numerous smaller conflicts in unstable 3rd world countries. Many people choose to simply turn off the news, because there is so much “doom and gloom” in the media.

But if we hear the Word of Jesus, we shouldn’t be terrified or afraid at these events. Neither do we need to have a morbid fascination with them, to know every terrible thing that is happening. But as times grow dark, it’s all the more comforting to have the Light of God’s Word to bring us comfort and peace. Apart from knowing God’s Word, it could be easy for a believer to think that things are falling apart or that evil is prevailing over God’s Church. But the message of Jesus, and the message of the book of Revelation that we’re studying in Sunday adult Bible class, is to tell us that God is still in control of all these things, and that God will finally have the victory in the end. Jesus will return in power and great glory at the end, and He’ll come bringing our redemption. So don’t be afraid, but read and watch the signs as confirmations of what Jesus said would take place. Trust His Word as you walk on His path.

Jesus’ warnings about what would precede the destruction of the Temple included strong persecution against the disciples of Jesus, and facing trials and even death. These prophecies shortly came to fulfillment in the book of Acts, when many of the disciples faced intense trials and persecution for proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus. They saw firsthand what Jesus meant about the betrayals of family members, sometimes even leading to their death. It became clear why Jesus had taught that our faith in God needed to be much stronger even than family ties of blood, and why Christians would find a greater tie or bond of fellowship with those who hear the word of God and keep it (Luke 8:19-21; 11:28). . If for some reason our faith in Jesus means rejection by our family, or difficulty or enmity, then there is a closer fellowship and a truer family that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. So being “People of God—In the Word” gives us what is lost through family ties broken by betrayal or alienation. And what a joy and privilege when our very own family members also share in that fellowship of God. That is something we should fervently pray for.

Jesus promised that if we face trials and persecutions because of our faith, God will give us words of wisdom to respond. This is actually an opportunity to bear witness, Jesus says. God will turn even these difficulties we face into a chance for us to give witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus, and stand up for His Word. When you face challenges that seem insurmountable and unexplainable, when you face hopelessness or despair, it may be precisely in those hardships that God will best use you to show His grace. Where you are emptied of all your power and ability, God’s power is most clearly seen. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). It may be precisely in those moments that others are able to see how much we lean and depend on Jesus. For those who faced persecution, Jesus encouraged them that by your endurance you will gain your lives. It reminds us that Jesus said that if a person were to gain the whole world, but lost their soul, they would lose everything. But if we lose our lives, we will save them. Simply put, if we trust in Jesus and have His eternal kingdom, our soul is secure, even if our life should be taken away from us.

After Jesus warned about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, which were vital warnings for the people of His time, He talked about Jerusalem being trampled underfoot until the “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Today we’re living in those times, and indeed many or all of us are Gentiles. We’ve been brought into His grace. But notice that He doesn’t here or elsewhere predict the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, which is a popular End Times teaching today. Why not? Because His prediction that the Temple would be destroyed was in part because the Temple had become obsolete. Sacrifices would never need to be offered again after Jesus’ perfect death on the cross became the perfect completion and end of the sacrifices. No more sacrifices need to be made for sin. The only sacrifices that we continue to offer are the living sacrifices of committing our bodies and lives to God’s service, and sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving and good works.

Finally Jesus comes to His predictions about the end of the world. He describes the same physical signs in the earth and the sky, the nations being in distress, and the people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. As we said before, we can recognize these things happening today. Because no one can know the day or the hour, we can’t say for sure when these things will reach their full height. But there definitely is a sense of foreboding or dread among many people, while others are unconcerned. Some people are doomsday prophets who see gloom in every wrong turn of society, while others feel as though all is well and things can always return to normal. Jesus’ closing words show us a way between the two extremes. We’re neither to be scared and fainting with fear, nor are we to be oblivious and carefree to the fact that anything is wrong. Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

When things seem chaotic, and we’re anxious or distressed, let your hearts be calmed as you put yourself in the Word. Let God’s Word speak to you and assure you that in the midst of all this, God remains in control, and that Jesus will come again in a cloud with power and great glory. The Son of Man, risen from the dead, the ruler of heaven and earth, will shatter all the earthly powers and evil that have held creation and humanity in their grip for so long. The oppression, warfare, injustice and cruelty of this world will meet its end. It will be fearful for the wicked and ungodly, but Christ calls believers to straighten up and raise your heads. Don’t hang your heads and cower in fear, but be assured and confident that the redemption of our bodies is drawing near. Jesus is coming to bring us home to eternal peace and rest. He’s coming to usher in the full realization of His kingdom, where evil and injustice and death are destroyed and gone. The redemption that is now ours by faith will become ours by sight.

This is the hope and confidence that we as People of God—in the Word carry, because in this dark times we have a shining light of God’s Word. We’ve seen and known that Jesus’ Word is trustworthy and reliable, and that it calls us away from fear. This helps us understand the remarkable contrast, for example, in the Old Testament reading from Malachi, between how evildoers will react to the coming of the Lord, and how those who fear God’s name will react. For the wicked, the judgment will have come. But for the believers, they will rejoice at seeing Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in His wings. We’ll greet that day like calves leaping from a stall. Like a young calf leaps and bounds with untamed energy and enthusiasm, so will our hearts and bodies be lifted to amazing outbursts of joy. On that day we will greet the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with laughter and singing, and tears of joy, that the warfare is over and our redemption has come. We pray: “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.”

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. The Christian Church Year does not follow the calendar year, but begins in early December/late November with the season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. As we draw to the end of the Church Year, we hear Bible passages that talk about the anticipation of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead. Reflect on how the yearly cycle of the Church Year draws us into continual remembrance and expectation.

2. In the “end times” that may seem dark and chaotic, how important is it for People of God to be In the Word? Psalm 119:105. How does it give us light in a dark time? Why are Jesus’ words about the end deserving our full attention?

3. One of the most significant dates in Jewish and Christian history is 69/70 AD, when the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans. Jesus had dramatically predicted this in Luke 21 & Matt. 24. What might some of the people feared this meant? (Luke 21:9)

4. What signs of the end that Jesus described, do we see today? Why do we not need to be terrified or afraid? What is the over-arching message of the book of Revelation, that speaks about the end times? (hint: who is ultimately in control?)

5. How does the persecution of Christians and their betrayal even by their own family members help to make sense of Jesus’ teachings that faith in Him must come even before family? Lk. 8:19-21; 11:28; Matt. 10:34-39

6. How can hardship or persecution be something that God turns into an opportunity to witness? Luke 21:12-15; 2 Cor. 12:9

7. How should we as Christians react to increasing fear and distress about the end of the world? Luke 21:28. How is our redemption drawing near, and what will come when Jesus returns?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, for All Saints' Day, "Saints are..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Saints of God in Christ Jesus! Today we observe All Saints’ Day, remembering those Christians who have died and gone before us to their eternal reward with Christ. Using our epistle reading from 1 John, we’ll look at who the saints are, and what it means to be a saint. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saints are children of God. Does that strikes you as too ordinary and familiar a truth? Heard it too many times before? Then we need to have our minds refreshed to appreciate again this wonderful reality. John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” See what kind of love. John calls us to marvel at this love of God. Marvelous because we were not always children of God. Before God looked for us and found us, we were orphans, we were in darkness. Sons of disobedience and enemies of God. (Eph. 5:6-8; Rom. 5:6-10). Walking in the ways of the world, turning the good things of God into sinful pleasures, stuffing our ears to God’s Word. We were disobedient and unfaithful children of the world. How early does that start? From our very conception, as Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Far from the picture of Precious Moments dolls, the Bible tells us that our sinful inclinations start all the way back in our mother’s womb (Ps. 58:3). And as we grow into adulthood, those sinful inclinations increase, and the older we get the more resistant we are to believing in God.

If that’s what we once were, as unfaithful children who were separated from God, how marvelous, how amazing is God’s love, that He sought us out and brought us home to be His children? That Jesus came to bring the orphans, the runaways, the troublemakers and lost causes home? That all of us, who had no earthly right to call Him Father, have been washed and cleansed in our baptism, and presented as children fit to enter the kingdom of God. No earthly right, nothing in ourselves that made us commendable to Him, but a Fatherly outpouring of undeserved love for us lost children. The Father running out of his house down the dusty road to throw His arms around the Prodigal, the Lost Son—this is the Father’s undeserved love for His children. And it’s His love that presents us as fit to enter the kingdom of God. He clothes us with the clean robe of Jesus’ innocence. He cleanses our mouth from the disobedient and unclean talk of a child, and fills our voices with songs and praises and thanksgiving. He cleans the wounds of our life in the world, and heals us with words of forgiveness. Saints are children of God, who are fit to enter God’s kingdom, and so we are.

The world cannot know or believe this truth. We may be laughed at for believing that we are God’s children. As Luther wrote, “The world cannot understand that a man accustomed to sins and born in them has nevertheless been received by God into grace, so that he both is and is called a child of God.” Does it seem presumptuous? That we who were born in sin, are now received into God’s grace and called saints? But saints do not gloat or brag of their place as God’s children, but invite other lost children to join them. We cannot boast or brag, as we said last week, because our works or merits are excluded from the equation. Any good that we’ve done isn’t counted to why we’re saved—we’re fit to enter the kingdom only because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Saints and children of God do, however, cherish this gift of God as their greatest treasure, and they do boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, which is the whole reason we can be adopted as God’s children. We boast not in ourselves, but in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, which washes our robes and makes them white. We lift up God and Christ with our praises, not ourselves. As Psalm 115 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness!” Oh what kind of love God has!

Saints will be made like 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.” There is a now, but not yet aspect to this. We are now God’s children, but in this life it is still partly hidden what we will be. The future state of heaven is something that we can’t fully know yet, but we await it by faith. Luther said that this isn’t because God isn’t near to us—for He is—but it’s because our sight is covered or veiled. He pictured the world, our flesh, and the devil as three layers or coverings that hide this full realization from us. Luther said, “I must force my way through all these coverings with faith, which is acquired from the Word. Therefore we are children of God not by seeing God but through faith.” By faith we press through those coverings that dim our vision, and we are given eyes to see God by faith.

So by faith we await the full understanding that will come when Jesus appears, or we die and go to heaven. But what we do know is that we will be like Jesus. Saints will become like Jesus, which is a transformation that begins even now in this life, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus, to be transformed to be more like Him. But the full realization of becoming like Jesus is something that “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a). The idea of being made like Jesus, was so incredible, that when one missionary was translating this for the native peoples, the native convert who was writing put down his pen and exclaimed: “No! It is too much; let us write, ‘We shall kiss His feet.’” To think that we will be made like the son of God was too amazing, and he balked at writing it. Instead his only thought was to worship our Savior by kissing His feet.

The amazing thing is that it is not too much! Worship and humble thanks are a true response, but God is preparing us for this transformation, so that in our resurrection, when our bodies are raised from the grave, we will be glorified and made anew after the pattern of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the third day after His death. Notice that it says we will be like Him. Not as the Mormon religion falsely teaches that we will become a god, but we will be like Him. There is and always will be only One True God, the Trinity. We will be like Jesus in that we will have the renewed image of God—holy, free from sin and death, free from the decay of an earthly body, alive and immortal in a glorified body. We haven’t been to heaven yet, to see how this truth will unfold, but as one pastor I know put it, the vision of heaven we heard in the reading from Revelation is like a postcard from heaven that God has sent us, with a glorious picture of the hope to be fully revealed. That heavenly postcard is to bring us hope and courage in this life, as we continue on our journey to that perfect heavenly destination.

As the saints will be like Jesus, they will also see Him as He is. We will come finally to see God face to face. How do we get to see God? In the beatitudes, Matthew 5:8 which you heard also today, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This leads us to the last main point about the saints. Saints are pure. If anything that we have said about being saints today is incredible to us, surely this is it. Jesus says the pure in heart will see God. The postcard of Revelation shows saints gathered in worship around God’s throne in heaven, dressed in white. Our reading from 1 John ends with the verse, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as he is pure.” The question that demands to be answered then is this—how do saints become pure? If we want to see God one day in heaven, how do we become pure in heart?

Like we said earlier about being children of God, presented as worthy to enter His kingdom—purity is not something we arrive at on our own. It’s by hoping in Jesus that we’re purified—He’s the source of our purification, as He’s pure. But at the same time we’re called to purify ourselves in several ways. The language of purification is the language of a person purifying or cleansing themselves when they went to the Temple for worship. But we no longer go through the Jewish rituals of temple purification. So how are we purified? All of our purity flows from the blood of Jesus, which Hebrews says purifies our conscience, and His blood purifies us from our sins (Heb. 9:14, 22). Jesus’ death is once and for all time complete in paying for our sins. His blood is what washes the robes of the saints in heaven, to make them pure.

Saints and children of God are called to live differently from the world. We’re told not to live in darkness and impurity any longer, but in the light and purity of Christ. We falsely call ourselves Christians if we believe that once we believe in Christ, we’re free to remain in the pollution of our sins. That’s to be unconcerned to continually drag the clean garments of innocence that we have been given, back through our sins. As saints, we are not dressed in Jesus’ innocence in order for us to intentionally soil it again. This is to live in impurity, it is to walk back into darkness and become disobedient again. This is very serious for saints, because the Bible teaches that without holiness, without purity, we will not see God (Heb. 12:14). A Christian does not willfully continue in sin and disobedience.

Hear some of the Bible passages that call us to purity, and away from impurity: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). We purify our souls by obeying the truth, and showing pure love to each other. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:5-10). Impurity is often mentioned in connection with sexual immorality and covetousness. In our bodies we become impure by sinning, and the call to purify ourselves is to set ourselves apart from sexual sin, and to keep ourselves from greed and idolizing the possessions of others. Purity is a matter of putting on our new self and living in that new identity. Purity is a matter of our speech as well, as we keep our mouths from malicious and hurtful words, or obscene joking.

Purity is a matter of how we as saints use our bodies, and that it’s God’s will that we use them in self-control and holiness, not in disobedience and sin. The Bible says that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7). Or as Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Our purity should be outward in our bodies, but also inward in our heart. Whenever we see or recognize impurity in ourselves, whenever we have stained our garments with sin, we are to purify ourselves by repenting of our sins, and hoping in Him. Hope in Jesus purifies us not because of something in ourselves, but because like a purifying light and fire, Jesus cleanses those who look to Him. His purity is actually transferred to us, spreading through us to our words and actions like the heat of a fire warms cold fingers and hands. The warmth of His love spreads through our lives so that we live and act with His obedience, and the love of a pure heart.

So we’re saints—saints who are children of God, waiting to be made like Christ in heaven, so that we can see God one day face to face in purity. We’re saints who strive to purify ourselves daily by putting away our sin and hoping in Him who is pure. Saints and children of God—a title that we don’t earn or deserve, but is given us by the remarkable love of God. Oh what kind of love is this! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Read in Scripture for yourself that living Christians are indeed called saints: Acts 9:41; 26:10; Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph 1:1 How does it make you feel to be called a saint?

2. What is the significance of being called children of God? What were we before? Eph. 5:6-8; Rom. 5:6-10. How early did this sinfulness develop? Psalm 51:5; 58:3. How does that make the love of God all the more amazing?

3. Why can’t the world believe this truth? 1 John 3:1-2; John 17:14-16. Why must Christians not boast or brag of their status as children of God? Eph. 2:8-10; Rom. 3:27-28. What are we permitted to boast about instead? 1 Cor. 1:31; Gal. 6:14; Psalm 115:1

4. What does it mean that we will be made like Jesus? 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 Cor. 2:9-10. While we will be like Jesus, what do we not become?

5. How is purity and holiness necessary for one to see God? Read Matt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14; Psalm 24:3-4. How are we called away from impurity? 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Thess. 4:7. What things cause impurity? Col. 3:5-10; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3-5.

6. Where does purity come from? Hebrews 9:14, 22. How do we purify ourselves of sins we commit, and cleanse our robes? Revelation 7:14 How should we live as saints?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Sermon on Romans 3:19-28, Reformation Day, "Grace as a Gift"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we remember Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther nailed 95 statements or Theses to the Cathedral door in Wittenberg Germany. In 7 more years, in 2017, it will be the 500th year anniversary of the start of the Reformation. Although there are countless ways that the Reformation has affected the church and the world in the 493 years since, the most important for us is the recovery of the teaching that a person is set right before God completely by the work of Jesus our Savior. The Reformation made it clear that the Bible taught Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were completely sufficient, adequate, and satisfactory to turn away God’s anger against human sin, and to purchase eternal salvation. It was not incomplete in any way. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

What made the Reformation of the Christian church so necessary? It was because the benefits of Jesus’ saving work had become hidden in the church. Sinners who were troubled in their conscience, searching for the comfort of the good news of Jesus, were being turned instead do pilgrimages, fasting, the purchase of indulgences to pay for their sins or those of dead relatives, to certain prescribed “good works” and prayer to the saints. People who needed the saving comfort of Jesus’ total and sufficient death on the cross for their sins, were instead pointed to their efforts to keep the laws and commands of Scripture to make themselves right before God. Jesus’ saving work was being clouded over by man-made acts of religious piety or worship. Like a cherished diamond ring can slowly get covered in dirt until it loses its brilliance and needs a cleaning and polishing, so the Reformers desired to clear away the dust and the film to let Christ’s saving works be seen in their full brilliance.

Instead of seeing grace as God’s underserved gift, it was being taught that grace was Jesus’ boost to your own sinful willpower, to enable you to do the good that you should have been able to do. Grace became a “supplement” to our own powers, rather than God’s full and free gift. All were agreed that you couldn’t be saved without grace, but the Roman Catholic church had turned grace into just a boost for you to finish the job that Jesus got started. You couldn’t get straight to heaven by Jesus’ work alone. The Lutheran Reformers urged them back to the Scriptures to see that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). They urged them to see that Christ’s death on the cross for us was not an incomplete act that could only get us to heaven after we filled up the remaining gap of good works and then suffered the pains of purgatory. But rather Jesus’ death for us was the full and complete act that gets us there, not by our own doing, not by our works, but completely by His undeserved love.

Many said this was too unconditional—there had to be something that we have to do to earn salvation or participate in it. It couldn’t just be free, could it? Have you ever gotten credit for something that you didn’t do? Some woman admitted recently that she won a community art contest as a child—but it was actually her mom who drew the picture. Or maybe getting credit on the job for something your coworkers actually did? How did it feel getting the credit for what someone else did? Maybe we became very apologetic at the unfairness of it, and tried to give credit where credit was due, or even tried to pay the person back for the unfairness of it. Maybe we kept it secret that we really didn’t deserve the credit, but tried to work extra hard or do something that made us feel like we at least partly earned it. Maybe we even took the credit.

These might be normal reactions if credit was mistakenly given to you. And our reaction to the undeserved credit of free salvation in Jesus can be the same. We want to somehow work to add our own credit to make it seem more legitimate. We try to repay somehow so that we can feel that we at least partly earned it. At least in our American culture, it’s usually an uncomfortable feeling to owe someone a debt you can’t repay. But what about if the undeserved gift was intentional? What if a person gave you an incredible gift, and there was no way you could repay it, but they gave it out of their pure and simple love for you? Then what if you tried to set up a payment plan to repay them—even though the amount was impossible? How do you think they’d feel? It would come as an insult to their generosity. Even worse—if people asked you how you got that incredible gift, and you said you paid for it (or were paying for it). This would steal the honor of the person who gave that gift.

It’s the same way when we try to take credit for what God has given us by grace as a gift. Any credit we try to take, however small, diminishes the glory of Jesus Christ who made the full and complete gift of salvation freely ours. To suggest that the death of Jesus Christ was in any way insufficient or incomplete to freely gain us heaven, likewise steals from the glory of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just start us on the way to salvation and the rest is left up to us. It’s not a 50/50 proposition, not even 90/10, or 99/1. We didn’t even pay or earn 1% of our salvation. It was God’s grace, 100% gift. We cannot in anyway take credit, even partial credit for what Jesus has done. Instead, we can glorify God by giving full and complete credit to Jesus.

Both the verse I quoted from Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved,” and our reading from Romans end with the same conclusion for why all credit is due to Christ, and not due to our good works. It’s so that we cannot boast. We have salvation as a gift, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In Romans, Paul asks, what then becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This gift of salvation gives us no grounds for boasting, and any time that we do boast or try to add in our works for shared credit, it’s stolen ground we’re standing on. God desires that all the credit go to Him alone, and rightly so!

But at the Reformation and still today, it was claimed that this will just give people the idea that they can scoff at God’s law and ignore it—they won’t be held responsible anyway. Or Christians will become lazy about doing good works. They might take salvation for granted. What of these claims? Well, if we as Christians proclaim this free Gospel of Jesus Christ, and hear this type of response, we stand in good stead together with the Apostle Paul. When he preached the pure gospel of Jesus Christ he got the same reaction. Some would say, if God’s grace increased all the more where there was sin, should we then “continue in sin so that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). Paul emphatically responds, as did Luther and the Reformers, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).

God’s grace doesn’t motivate us to return to our sins or continue doing them—that would be to abuse His grace and take it for granted. But rather God’s grace motivates us to turn away from sin as we die to it in our baptism and by repenting. His grace motivates us to do good works, not for credit or for repayment to God, but for the good of our neighbor. As the passage I quote from Ephesians said, we are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast, it goes on to say that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). God’s grace is a totally free gift, and our works don’t earn us anything, but that doesn’t mean that our works are unimportant or don’t have a place. The place for our works however, is not to be used between us and God to prove our worthiness or earn our way into heaven or even His favor. But the place for our good works is between us and our neighbor, who benefits from our love turned into action for their good. As the sermon hymn puts it, “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone, and rests in Him unceasing; And by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply, the proof that faith is living.” Only faith makes us right before God—but works serve our neighbor and prove that faith is alive.

So ever since the Reformation 500 years ago, the Lutheran church and other churches of the Reformation have had to respond to this charge that seeing grace as a free gift would make lazy Christians who won’t do good works or take salvation for granted. And certainly that is possible. People do become lazy in their works, they become lazy to struggle against sin. But this does not give us the right to confuse or change the pure teaching of the good news of salvation. Yet before the Reformation, the Gospel had been slowly changed, with the intention of preventing laziness or neglect of good works. How had the Gospel been changed or hidden to do this? Jesus was taught to be the New Lawgiver, that He had come into the world to give a new and better law than the Law of Moses, rather than the one who came to redeem us from the Law. Moses was the Lawgiver and Judge of Israel, who gave the Law on Mount Sinai in the 10 Commandments and other laws that made Israel as a nation. So the Roman Catholic church taught that Jesus, when He came to give the Sermon on the Mount, was a New Lawgiver, and that while Moses’ laws couldn’t gain us salvation, obedience to Jesus’ new laws could. So Jesus was seen as a fearful and stern judge, rather than as the Savior who redeemed us from the demands of the Law.

And to a certain extent, placing Jesus in this role does have the effect of frightening people into obedience, and to at least outwardly do good. It might light the fire under a lazy person to shape up their act. But it doesn’t motivate them to do good out of a love for God and a thankfulness for what Jesus has done. And it doesn’t teach us to seek out Jesus’ mercy alone when we are frightened and terrified of God’s judgment because of the guilt of our sins. Rather it leads us to put our trust on the faulty grounds of our own moral progress or success. It leads us to build our confidence on our own righteousness, or at the very least, the combined righteousness of Jesus and ourselves. It can lead to hypocrisy and to taking credit for what Jesus has accomplished for us. It can even lead us to soften God’s law or weaken His demands so that it seems more like we are actually doing them, because we’re convinced it depends on us.

But Christ did not come as a New Lawgiver, nor did He come to get rid of the law or to make a law that we’re more able to keep. Rather, He taught the full depth of the 10 Commandments and showed how they were not concerned merely with our outward actions, but also concerned with the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Jesus didn’t lower the bar, He raised it to its full height, so that we could see that it was impossible for us to jump. Why did He do this? In the words of our reading, it’s because the purpose of the law is to stop our mouths and hold the whole world accountable to God. It’s to make every last one of us see that we’re fully responsible for our sins, and that we’re not righteous by the law’s standards. It’s to remove any ground of boasting. Because only when this has happened, when we’ve been silenced by the law, and held accountable for our sin, are we prepared for the glorious good news of the Gospel.

And that glorious good news is that though we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, He has justified us by His grace, as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Justified before God, as we said last week—to have God’s approval, His verdict of innocence. That we are undeservedly called righteous and saints. With mouths stopped from boasting, we look in amazement at the free and complete gift of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. We look in amazement at the sparkle and the brilliance of that diamond of good news, polished to its original brilliance in the Reformation, by pointing people back to the total undeserved goodness of God that is full and complete. That we can add nothing to God’s free gift of innocence by Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus raised the bar of the Law to its fullest height, but by His perfect life He leapt over it as only He could. He took all the fall and the blame for the sin that we had accumulated, took all the punishment that we deserved upon Himself at His cross. But He gives us the credit of His innocence by putting our trust in Him.

So it is the full, sufficient, total, and 100% complete work of Jesus—God’s work of salvation—that opens our mouths for praise and thanksgiving this Reformation Day. Not to praise our own works, but to praise the great work of our saving God who did everything we could not do, and who even took all the blame for the sin that we’d done, so that we could enjoy His forgiveness as a free gift. So let our voices and our songs continually be lifted in praise to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, whose grace comes to us as a pure and generous gift. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

P.S. After having preached this sermon, I wish I would have thought to say that Jesus is not the New Lawgiver, but rather He is the Gospel-giver. Jesus came to bring us the good news.

Sermon Talking Points:
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The Reformation of the Christian Church was triggered Oct. 31, 1517 by Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, nailing 95 Theses (statements) onto the cathedral church door in Wittenberg Germany. They drew attention to numerous corruptions that had arisen in the church, particularly the sale of indulgences. The Lutheran Church is the heir of that Reformation. The “slogans” of the reformation included faith alone—that one is saved only by faith in Jesus, not any combination including our works; grace alone—that salvation is a free and undeserved gift of God; Scripture alone—that the Bible is the only infallible (without error) authority for our faith and life; and Christ alone—that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6).

1. What made the Reformation necessary? How was Christ’s saving work being clouded over within the church? And today? What consequence does this have for faith, when Christ is not put forward as the full ground of salvation? Was the Reformation the introduction of new ideas to the church, or recovery of old ones? Explain.
2. What is the difference between seeing grace as a free gift (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:24) and as a “supplement” or boost to our own willpower?
3. How do we usually react if we get credit for something we didn’t do? How does that parallel how we react to the free gift of salvation from God? How does this steal away God’s glory and diminish the work and the honor of Christ? Romans 4:4-5
4. How does the Apostle Paul respond to the fear that the free Gospel of grace will produce laziness and ingratitude or continued sinning? Rom. 6:1-4. How does Scripture encourage the Christian to works? Eph. 2:9-10
5. How is the idea of Christ as a “New Lawgiver” wrongly pressed into the service of keeping Christians from sinning? Jn 1:17. How did Christ show the fullness of the Law? How did He become the only one to keep it? How is Jesus work totally complete and sufficient for our salvation?