Monday, October 26, 2015

Sermon on Hebrews 7:23-28, for Reformation Day, "Our Forever Great High Priest"




In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we observe Reformation Day, which commemorates how Martin Luther began the Reformation of the Christian Church nearly 500 years ago, by nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. One of the most significant outcomes of the Reformation was to make plain again, the glory of the saving work of Jesus Christ. The Reformation began to proclaim once again, the glorious comfort of what Jesus Christ has done.
Today we’re continuing our walk through the book of Hebrews. To briefly review, we’ve already heard in Hebrews this month how Christ is all-sufficient for our salvation. He has accomplished everything for us, and suffered on our behalf, in a divine mystery, that God should become human and accept such a lowly death. We also heard how Hebrews speaks of the deadly seriousness of sin, and how deep it runs in us, and the contrast to our original confidence and hope in Christ Jesus. Finally, last week we heard about the power and authority of God’s Word, as Law and Gospel, and the necessity of faith to receive Christ’s benefits. All of these are deeply important topics to our Biblical and Lutheran understanding of the faith. Today’s reading, no less, helps us to see the total certainty we can have in Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest.
The Book of Hebrews develops several lines of argument, to make a very important case—the case for the Supremacy of Jesus Christ. That He is superior to every other name, rule and authority, system, etc. The author of Hebrews shows how Jesus is greater than the angels, than Moses, than the regular priests, the high priests, and even the priestly king of the Old Testament, Melchizedek. Jesus is superior to all these, and to the earthly place of worship, than the laws and sacrifices enacted there. Our reading today comes in the midst of a long section building this case that Jesus is greater than all the types of priests in the Old Testament, and that they were officeholders to portray a limited, earthly example of the design that He would perfect and fulfill. They were types and shadows of Him, the reality that was to come. And now that He has arrived, the old is gone, the new has come. These old forms had fulfilled their purpose and were giving way to Jesus’ new and better reign.
Our reading today shows two key limitations of the Old Testament priests, that don’t apply to Jesus. First, they all died, and therefore had to be replaced. They couldn’t continue in the office of priest forever—but had to be replaced continually. Secondly, the priests were all sinful themselves, and so had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, before they could do the same for the people. Jesus had no sin, and no need to have His own sins forgiven first.
Two great truths rest on these facts: one is that Jesus’ priesthood lasts forever, and two, is that Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect and complete, once for all. What does that mean for you? It means that Jesus’ sacrifice never needs to be repeated, and that there is no replacing Jesus. While that first era of faith, in the Old Testament, was succeeded by the New Testament in Jesus’ blood, for the forgiveness of our sins, there is no third or future covenant to come, to replace Jesus. There is no superior or greater mediator, or reworking of God’s Covenant, to come in the future. He holds His priesthood permanently—forever.
We live in an era where everything is constantly changing. From trivial things like our phone or cable contracts, and privacy statements and customer policies with companies that we do business with, to weighty matters like the constitution or laws of our nation—we are not assured that any contracts or agreements will remain permanently in place, without modification. Nearly everything in life is subject to change, and often it seems that our modern world depends on a relentless level of change. But Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He is unchanging, and His High Priesthood is permanent.
Verse 25 says, “Consequently He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus saves us to the uttermost. Just like our first week this month, where we heard Christ is all-sufficient—today we are again reminded that Jesus’ salvation is no half-way or incomplete bargain. It’s the whole deal. Jesus saves us to the uttermost, meaning that He really finished the work of salvation, as He said from the cross, “It is finished.” Complete. Perfect. Count on it. Because our own works, our own efforts, are incomplete and far from perfect. They give us no firm ground to stand on, but rather shifting sand. But saved to the uttermost in Jesus, we draw near to God with full confidence and grounded faith. We can know our rescue is complete in Him.
Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. Intercession is to plead on someone’s behalf, to speak for them, to seek mercy on their behalf. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” To have Jesus as our mediator or intercessor, means that some mediation and intercession is needed, of course. Why? What do we need intercession for? Our sins. Our sins and disobedience leave us alienated and separated from God—until Christ Jesus. This sets up for the next contrast between Jesus and the Old Testament priests.
They were sinners, who had their own weaknesses and failings, and so had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, on top of the sacrifices for the sins of the people. They had to be purified and cleansed themselves, before they could approach God to represent the people—to “intercede” for them.
How is Jesus similar, but different? He’s similar in these ways—that He did not seek this office of priest for Himself, but was appointed to it by God, just like the priests. Jesus can sympathize with our temptation and weaknesses, just as the priests also could—but with the key difference that Jesus remained without sin. So His intercession is not clouded by His own sin, but is pure and perfect. We have such a “high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” No charge or accusation can stand against Jesus. His intercession for us cannot be discredited or challenged because of any sin on His part. He served and taught and healed and cared for sinners, but remained without sin Himself. He was not defiled or stained by sin, but His sacrifice was pure and blameless to God. This is essential, because even in the Old Testament, a person could not offer up diseased, wounded, or otherwise undesirable animals for sacrifice, but only their best, healthiest animals, without blemish. A sacrifice was just that—something costly and valuable, not unwanted leftovers. Jesus was nothing less than the spotless Lamb of God, the Holy Son of God—most precious to God.
Finally, our reading ends with this statement: “The word of oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” God made an oath that Jesus would be our High Priest forever. An oath is a solemn promise that one vows never to break. Hebrews 6:17-18 talks about how God swears an oath to make His promises completely certain. He shows the “unchangeable character of His purpose” and that it is impossible for Him to lie. How amazing is it that our God binds Himself irreversibly to His oath and promise? God does not have to answer to anyone, is not compelled by anyone to bind Himself this way. He is the ruler and Creator of all things. And yet He takes an oath—under no requirement, but entirely for our sake, for our certainty—and by oath He makes Jesus a priest forever. He takes an oath so that we can have total confidence that He will do as He has promised.
Can you imagine if we didn’t know whether God would forgive or not forgive? Not knowing how you stood before God? Many people face exactly that kind of uncertainty, because they either worship a so-called ‘god’ that is really no god at all, or because they know nothing of the words and promises of the One True God. For all they know, God could be completely arbitrary and unloving, and they could never know anything about Him with certainty. Indeed, this is the picture of many of the false gods and their religions. The purpose and will of such “gods” is completely unknown. But the One True God, and His High Priest forever, Jesus Christ, has freely bound Himself by oath, so that we can have absolute confidence in Him. The intercession of Jesus for our sins, is perfect and unhindered. Jesus has complete access to God as He has ascended to sit at God’s right hand. From there, He calls us to confidently approach God’s throne of grace, and to know we will receive it, because we call upon the name of the Lord, and are saved.
As we near 500 years of the Reformation, we can still with the same boldness and joy, proclaim the incomparable glory and grace of Jesus Christ, and the complete certainty of salvation in Him. We place no trust in our works or our traditions, but only in our Great High Priest who has mercifully gone before us, and Who saves us to the uttermost. This is the faith that has sustained and united Christians from the first apostles until today, and we boldly confess that Jesus is our Forever Great High Priest. Amen.

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

1.      On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther set off the Reformation of the Christian church by nailing 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The primary criticism that they raised against the church, was the selling of “indulgences”, which were certificates published by the church to grant release from years spent in purgatory, a supposed place of purification by fire, before one could enter into heaven. How did such teachings steal away the glory and diminish the saving work of Christ?
2.      The book of Hebrews spends a lot of time comparing the Old Covenant of Israel, with the New Covenant brought by Jesus Christ. In chapters 1-9, review the headings and topics. What things is Jesus “greater than” in each chapter? What then was the purpose of these roles and things? Hebrews 9:24; 10:1.
3.      Why was the role of priest, in the Old Testament, inferior to the priesthood of Jesus? What were they unable to do? Hebrews 7:23-24. What additional problem did they face, that Jesus did not? Hebrews 7:27-28; 4:15
4.      We live in a constantly changing world. What comfort is there in the fact that Jesus is unchanging, and His priesthood is forever? Hebrews 13:8; 1 Timothy 2:4. To whom can we always turn?
5.      What comfort do we find in God taking an “oath” that Jesus, His Son, is priest forever? Hebrews 7:28; 6:16-20

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sermon on Hebrews 4:1-16, for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, "The Living Word of God"



In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s reading from Hebrews speaks of the power and authority of God’s Word, and also how it is received in faith, or not received, in unbelief and rebellion. The power of God’s Word and the centrality of faith were two of the driving forces behind the Reformation of the Christian church, begun by Martin Luther. 500 years ago, the Word of God had largely fallen into obscurity. Despite the fact that almost everyone considered themselves Christians, knowledge of what the Bible taught was abysmally poor. For the average person, obstacles to hearing and understanding God’s Word included illiteracy, because few could read; a poorly educated clergy, who were to teach God’s Word; and a language barrier, because the few available copies of the Bible were not written in their native language. For all these reasons, the Word of God and it’s living power was hindered from working on people’s hearts. Faith was a dimly burning wick.
Today, we have unprecedented access to God’s Word and resources to study it—some better than others. Consider some facts reported by Wycliff Bible translators. Over 500 languages have the complete Bible translated into them. More than 1,300 languages have the NT plus other portions of Scripture. 2,300 languages have active translation work happening. Still 1,800 languages need translation work to begin, and those languages represent about 180 million people who need to hear God’s Word in their native language. The vast majority of the world has access to God’s Word and it’s living and active power, but many still need to hear. But given the incredible access we have to God’s Word, there is every reason for God’s Word to be actively working in our hearts, if we will hear God’s voice and listen.
But we face obstacles today to hear God’s Word, just as in Luther’s day. They are not the same illiteracy, language barrier, and accessibility obstacles faced 500 years ago—but they are obstacles of our own. While many people can read, they choose not to—even though we can now also listen through audio Bibles. We face the obstacle of the incredible, unlimited number of distractions that pull us away from hearing God’s voice, or reading His Word. Everything from the hectic lives we lead, to the world of technology and entertainment, leaves God’s Word squeezed out—even though Jesus clearly taught this is the “one thing needful.” Not in America, but in many countries around the world, an additional obstacle to hearing God’s Word is the lack of religious freedom—the opportunity to freely hear, believe, and practice one’s faith.
But the greatest obstacle to hearing God’s Word, and the oldest, is the obstacle that links together the ancient Israelites, following Moses and Joshua to the promised land, described in our reading—and links them with the people of Luther’s day, and our day as well—the obstacle of sin-hardened hearts. King David spoke his warning in the Psalms, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” The warning stands true through all time, and shows the biggest obstacle to God’s Word reaching us is when sin and disobedience harden our own hearts. Our reading from Hebrews shows that God had prepared a rest for His people, but that they would not receive it, because they did not have faith. “Good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”
This verse shows us that the Good News, the Gospel and promises of God, are given for all people. Jesus openly preached His message of salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike, and His death on the cross and resurrection accomplish the salvation of all people. But it also shows that there are two categories of people—those who were not benefitted or helped by the message they heard, because they didn’t believe it—and those who are benefitted, because they had faith when they listened. God’s Word and promises are universal—for everyone. For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. Jesus didn’t die for a few, He died for all. But not everyone wants to or is willing to believe this. So often God’s gift is rejected, returned, denied or ignored. It doesn’t benefit those who aren’t united by faith. Faith is essential to benefitting from God’s gift.
But our reading also shows that God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” A living and active Word is the opposite of dead and useless. It is the very living power of God, able to transform and change hearts and souls. Human words can be empty, they can be powerless and lifeless—but God’s Word cannot. It is a living message that does not fail to accomplish what God intends it to do. God’s Word itself creates faith in the hearts of those who hear it. But the action of God’s Word can certainly be distressing and unsettling to its intended recipients—us! God’s Word can be distressing and unsettling to us in our sinful human condition. With sin, doubt, disobedience and unbelief present in our heart and flesh, the Word of God comes like a piercing sword, cutting right through us. With surgical precision, God’s Word cuts to the heart, it lays open our thoughts and intentions. When our intentions and motives for doing something are evil and shaped by sin, God’s Word exposes it. If we are trying to sort out our own actions and thoughts, to know what is right or wrong, God’s Word gives that Light.
“No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Because no one can hide from God, and we are all exposed and accountable to Him, God’s Word strikes fear in our hearts. That sword pierces deep. It makes us fear death, and causes us to dread our judgment. I am accountable to God—it reminds us. I have sinned before the Holy and Almighty God—it intones. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life. At the other end of that sword, is the One who wields it—Jesus Christ. And He wields that sword of God’s Word, to put our old sinful nature to death on His cross, but then, with surgical precision, to transplant in us a new heart. Those who are “pricked in their hearts” by the Word of God, and who sorrow over their sins, and cry out for God’s mercy—have the very salvation that God’s Word promises. Jesus, who wields the sword of God’s Word, wields it to kill and to make alive. To kill the sin, and to make alive the new person in Christ Jesus. It’s unfortunate that our reading in Hebrews 4, stops at verse 13.
After describing in verse 13 how we are naked and exposed before God, to whom we must give our account, it goes on in the last verses of the chapter to say this: “14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus wields God’s Word, not as our enemy, but as our great high priest. One who came to stand in our place, and knows our every weakness—yet remained without sin. As our High Priest, He stands in our place, interceding for us, dying for us, taking our place under the condemnation of God’s Word. And what He has accomplished for us shows that we need not fear this living and active Word of God—we need not fear that sharpest two-edged sword—but we can listen and have it pierce through to our hearts, with the knowledge that God is working great good. We can surrender to Jesus who is our great High Priest.
What has Jesus done, and what great good does His Word bring? He gives us confident access to God’s grace and mercy. Confident is without fear or doubt. It’s a certain faith that knows we will receive what God in His unbreakable promises has said. As sinners we die to ourselves in Christ Jesus, and we find in Him our help in time of need. We have confidence that Jesus has forgiven our sins, so that we can stand before the throne of grace forgiven. The sword of God’s living Word kills and it makes alive. It leads us to grace, and it leads to rest. God’s eternal and greater rest—the rest that was greater than what the Israelites experienced when they settled into the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. The rest that is promised to those who hear God’s Word and are united by faith, is the rest of eternal life. The rest where we are at eternal peace with God, because our sins are forgiven, and evil is no more.
God’s Word declares to us what God has done. It works on our hearts to prepare them and to create faith. And that faith trusts confidently in what Jesus has done as our great High Priest. With faith, and faith in Jesus Christ alone, we can enter into His eternal rest. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sermon on Hebrews 3:12-19, for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, "Serious Sin and Original Confidence"



In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In many churches today, the word “sin” is either missing from their vocabulary, or largely ignored. And this is from the pastors themselves. Sin is too negative—we’d rather focus only on the positive. Or talking about sin might offend us or make us feel bad about ourselves. Imagine if a doctor felt the same about diagnosing and treating diseases, or cancer! Would such a doctor be allowed to practice medicine, if he only sought to make the patient think better of themselves, while ignoring the disease and its treatment? Now who really does the diagnosing though? It’s God’s own Word that makes the diagnosis of our hearts and our lives. It’s God’s own Word that identifies sin and prescribes a cure—both to the heart of the pastor and to the hearers of God’s Word—you! But why should we take sin so seriously anyway? Isn’t it enough to focus only on the positive? Well, gloom about the problem with no word about the cure, would certainly help no one. Diagnosing the sin without pointing to Christ fails at God’s purpose.
Our Lutheran faith compels us to take the Bible’s warnings about sin as deadly serious. We must teach sin with full seriousness, so that we know the full redemption of Jesus Christ. Just like underestimating your enemy leaves you prone to defeat, so also ignoring the power of sin leaves us exposed to its seductions and charms.
Our reading in Hebrews 3 opens with this warning about sin: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the Living God.” He is addressing believers, Christians who believe in the Living God, the Risen Lord Jesus. Why are Christians at risk of having an “evil, unbelieving heart?” Can we actually fall away from God, if we have once believed? We are at risk because Jesus warns that it’s from the heart of man, from within us, that our evil thoughts and evil actions come out. Later in Hebrews 12:1, the writer calls us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. Sin “clings so closely”—or in other translations, “the sin that so easily entangles.” Sin is tenacious and unwilling to let go.  
Sin will not surrender easily, but hangs on to us at every turn. In one moment I think I have mastered my anger, and in the next, it boils over. In one moment I think I’ve kept my pride at bay, and in the next I slip with an arrogant boast. In one moment I’m committed to telling the truth, and in the next I fall into a little lie. Sin crops up in all areas of our life and through our desires tries to gain mastery over us. It’s like a miserable game of “whack a mole”. The arcade game might be fun, but the real life version of fighting against our own sins, is no fun at all.
Not long after Adam and Eve had first brought sin into the world, Cain became angry and jealous over his brother Abel. As anger festered in Cain’s heart, God warned him: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Sin is ever crouching at our door. We let sin in, and it deceives us. It’s ready to spring on us and have us. And by our deceitful desires, we nurture and protect our pet sins, not seeing how they corrupt and weaken us.
Our reading continues the warning in Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The warning is against being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin, at the bottom line, is disobedience to God. It might be intentional or unintentional, we might know we are doing it or not, but sin is still disobedience.  As sin progresses, it can quickly turn into full scale rebellion. So sin both hardens, and is deceitful. Hardening reminds us that sin grows progressively worse. The more we concede to sin, the more it begins to rule over our lives. It’s crouching at our door, desiring to have us. The deceitfulness of sin reminds us that all sin leads back to a lie.
The original lie that lead to the original sin, was when Satan tempted Eve, “Did God really say?” By trying to cast doubt on God’s Word and His instruction, the devil was deceiving Eve. “You will not surely die..” the devil purred, but “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The devil couldn’t lure Eve by telling her the truth about evil—that sin brings death, alienation from God, and judgment—so instead he had to cast doubt on God’s Word. Doubt of God’s Word is simply the beginnings of unbelief. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the Living God.” The devil strikes again and again with the same lie, the same temptation to doubt God’s Word. And since sin clings so closely to us, is so deceptive and so close to what we want or think is best for us, we have to be doubly on guard against the devil and against ourselves.
But how can we do this? How do you fight an evil that is bound up within your own heart? In a lighthearted way, Dr. Seuss rhymes about life in his book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” In one line he says, “I'm afraid that some times you'll play lonely games too. Games you can't win 'cause you'll play against you.” In all seriousness, the fight against sin is a game we can’t win because we play it against ourselves. Only Christ can defeat sin for us and in us. To win the game against you, you must have Christ to put the old corrupt nature to death, and to raise up the new self. We share in Christ. His victory is our victory.
Did you catch the other part of the warning in our reading? “But exhort one another every day…” Something huge is implied in those words, “exhort one another.” It’s that we don’t try to “go it alone”—but rather are part of a community. To “exhort one another” there has to be someone else besides just you. Simply, we need our Christian community, our brothers and sisters in Christ. The size of that community is not what matters, as Jesus states it begins with as few as two or three.
But what does “exhort” mean anyway? It’s not a part of our usual daily vocabulary. But it is a common New Testament word. It means to make a passionate appeal to someone or for something. To entreat, to plead, even to comfort. We appeal to one another, we earnestly implore each other, to turn away from sin. We need to constantly call each other back to Jesus Christ. Only in Him can we find victory. We exhort or plead with each other not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. As part of this family of faith, we have a responsibility to look out for each other. We can’t shake off that duty with Cain’s old contention, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we have a duty, an obligation to care for each other and to gently but firmly call each other away from sin, when someone is overcome by weakness. We are in the battle together, against the common enemies of sin, death, and the devil—and we are wise to his schemes, and how they take advantage of our own sinful nature.
We hold each other accountable, and encourage one another side by side as we enter the battle. We exhort or rebuke when necessary, and count on other loyal brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us, if we should fall away or enter into sin. Belonging to a congregation is not about having a “membership card”, but it’s about joining yourself to a community of believers who confess the same faith, and among whom you can be held accountable, be encouraged and strengthened, and use your gifts and talents to serve, encourage, and strengthen others. Have each of you reflected on your own willingness to either exhort a fellow believer, or for someone to exhort you? Who would that person be for you? This deals with both our own humility, being willing to listen to someone else speak God’s Word to us, and also with our own boldness to speak the truth in love to someone. The alternative is to let them fend for themselves, continue to fall away, or become snared in the deceitfulness of sin. We have a mutual responsibility to each other in Christ Jesus.
Our exhortation, our brotherly and sisterly appeals to one another, must always point back to Jesus Christ. As our reading says, “For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Our community, our fellowship as believers, is nothing, if it is not connected to and sharing in Christ Jesus. We are companions, partakers, partners with Christ. His perfect life lived for us, His all-sufficient life, death, and resurrection for us, is for the mutual benefit of all who are in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness of sins and all of His benefits are freely shared with us.
If indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” What is our “original confidence?” It is the certainty, the sure expectation of what we will receive if we trust in Christ. It’s “an immovable confidence of the mind which surrenders to no one.”[1] “Since He is ours—we fear no powers, not of earth nor sin nor death” (LSB 818:2). This original confidence is our faith—and the only ground on which our faith can stand unshaken is on the firm ground of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews uses this same word again in the familiar verse, Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is assurance or confidence, even though the thing hoped for is not yet seen.
In this life we toil and wrestle with sin. We battle against our heart and the lies that sin would have us believe. But we hear a clear promise from God, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but have eternal life. We hear the promise that if we forgive others, our heavenly Father will forgive us. Faith points us to confidence in God’s promise, that is realized for us in Christ Jesus, and which we will fully enjoy if we hold firm to the end. Faith always awaits the day when it will become sight. When the confidence that we have placed in Jesus, when the firm trust in His saving work for us, will be rewarded by eternal joy and life with Him.
Perhaps if we are honest with ourselves, even holding firm in our confidence to the end seems like a challenge to our abilities. Is my faith strong enough? Can I last? Can God really love me? These are all the wrong questions. Honesty about ourselves shouldn’t find some comfort in how strong I am, or whether or not I’ve earned God’s love—but honesty about ourselves finds comfort in Christ. Honesty about ourselves shows us that we are completely dependent on Christ. Not only to give us the beginnings of salvation—that “original confidence”—but also the completion of salvation that Jesus will “sustain us to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). So whenever doubt threatens your faith, turn your eyes back to Jesus, and don’t look to yourselves. Take comfort in knowing that He has promised to be faithful to us, and He is always true to His Word.
So share in Christ Jesus. Don’t forget what He has done for you, so that you do not give space for sin or the devil to occupy your heart. (Psalm 103:2–3)  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” Share in what Christ Jesus has done for you. Receive His body and blood, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Receive His Holy Spirit, to strengthen and encourage your faith. For in these, His benefits and promises, you will stand firm to the end. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

1.      Why is it not safe to ignore sin? Why is it not safe to ignore cancer or other deadly diseases? How does God’s Word lead us to a cure?
2.      Why are Christians also susceptible to having an “evil, unbelieving heart?” Hebrews 3:12; 12:1. How do you personally wrestle against sin each day? Pray for God’s strength as you wrestle against your own specific sins.
3.      What was God’s warning to Cain about sin’s presence in his life? Genesis 4:7. What happened when Cain ignored it?
4.      How are Christians called to respond to the temptations of sin in our own lives and the lives of fellow Christians? Hebrews 3:13. What does it mean to “exhort?” In order to exhort or be exhorted, who do we need in our lives? How are we to be our “brother’s keeper?” Contrast to Genesis 4:9-10. See also Galatians 6:1-2
5.      Who gives us the victory over sin? Romans 7:24-8:2. What is our “original confidence?” Hebrews 3:14; 11:1. How can that confidence be sure and steady?
6.      Why does faith require honesty about ourselves, and our dependence on God? 1 Corinthians 1:8. Why must faith always turn our eyes and our trust away from ourselves and toward Jesus?
7.      What do we participate or share in, with Christ Jesus? What do we receive by His grace? Psalm 103:2-3


[1] Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999). Loci theologici (electronic ed., p. 496). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.