Monday, September 17, 2018

Sermon on Luke 7:11-17, for the 16th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "God in the Picture"


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Earlier this week I was watching two famous professors debate—one an atheist, the other a Christian. They talked about suffering and the problem of evil. The widow in our reading was a real example of suffering. The Christian in the debate, John Lennox, said that everyone senses that there is too much suffering in this world. You can imagine the widow saying: “There’s too much suffering in my life—how can I bear it all?” When suffering strikes close to home—a husband, a son, or another loved one—we ask “why does God allow this to happen?” “How can God be good, when my loved one is dying?” Many turn away from God or simply say that He doesn’t exist, because of tragedies. But getting rid of God gets rid of the greatest hope and answer to suffering—while still leaving us with the suffering. If there is no God in the world, suffering is just a brute fact of existence, and the universe doesn’t care. If there is no God, life has no higher purpose than what you give it, and without God, who’s to say there’s such a thing as good and evil? The problem of evil and suffering only gets worse for you if you try to “get rid of God.”
But contrast that with Jesus. He comes upon this funeral procession—weeping mother and sympathetic neighbors. But sympathy won’t bring back her child. She carries a double wound, because not only is her only son dead, but she was also a widow, meaning she had lost her husband some time before. In any age of history, that would be a great burden to bear. But in our age of social security, life insurance policies, and other safety nets to care for the poor and the grieved, we don’t grasp how devastating this was for a woman 2,000 years ago. Without the men of the family to provide her income, she faced certain poverty. All traditional supports were gone, and she was left with only her grief and her friends. But when Jesus meets this crowd, and sees her, “He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
Christians cling dearly to this truth—that God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Right into our suffering existence. Not watching from the outside; not safe from suffering; not clean from contact with the messiness and pain of our lives. But He entered right up into our broken world, right into our suffering, and joined with us in it. Jesus experienced death, blood, pain, and grief. He knew human suffering intimately, personally. He grieves in our losses, with a heart that truly knows. Compassion stirred up deep inside Him—the compassion of God, but now also the human compassion of God in the flesh. Seeing, knowing, and understanding our suffering from the inside out. We see that God cares.
But if sympathy couldn’t bring back her child—Jesus can. How electric it must have been, when Jesus interrupted the pallbearers and grabbed hold of the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Can you imagine that at a funeral? Chicken skin! People must have thought He was crazy, when He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” Wouldn’t you be afraid when the boy actually sat up and began talking?! Skepticism turned to amazement. How did He do it? Not with medical equipment; not a resuscitation for someone who had just died—but He spoke the word. “Young man, I say to you, arise!”
The Bible tells us the spoken Word of God has tremendous power. God’s Word can actually perform the action that He commands. God said, “Let there be light” and light sprang into existence. God commanded through the mouth of Moses, “Let my people go!”, and all the armies of Pharaoh and Egypt couldn’t stop Him. In the gospel of Luke, just before this story, a Roman soldier asks for Jesus’ help, but is too modest to bring Jesus to his home, so he tells Jesus, “But say the word, and let my servant be healed”. He knew the power of Jesus’ Word. Jesus praised the man’s faith, and healed the man that very hour by the power of His Word. Everyone saw how powerful Jesus’ Word was—clearly He was God, not an ordinary man. Our words don’t have that kind of power. Sure we can do great good, or great damage with our words, but we can’t simply call things into existence, or perform miracles by our word. Imagine how power hungry we’d become! But we are given the privilege to speak and to spread God’s Word. And His Word has His power to do the thing it promises.
With His Word, Jesus brought this young man back to life and gave him back to His mother. She was among the lucky few, even in Jesus’ ministry. At least 3 people were raised from the dead by Jesus. But they all went on to again die eventually, like all other people through human history. Even in Jesus’ ministry, this was rare. So what does that teach us, or how does it comfort us? Well, first of all, we aren’t promised a miraculous intervention in the lives of all our loved ones. That didn’t even happen to most people in Jesus’ own ministry. But it does teach us that Jesus is the One who holds power over life and death. Jesus raised the dead, not by magic or any special medical technology, but by His Word, which shows that God is able to reverse the otherwise irreversible laws of nature and death. Jesus commands unique power over death, and He is a genuine force for good.
But also, what’s the difference between Jesus raising these people from the dead during His ministry, and Jesus’ own rising from the dead? These little miracles were a trailer, a preview, for the main event—Jesus’ own resurrection. What was the difference? They were raised to a body that was still mortal, a body that could still die again. But Jesus was raised with an immortal body, a body that can never die again. The book of Romans makes this clear when it says, (6:9) “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” He will never die again, death has no dominion over Him. Dominion means rule, power or authority. Death was unable to hold Jesus in the grave. Why? #1, because He is God, and #2, because He was innocent of any sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, He had His disciples check and see that His body was still real flesh and bones, same as before. But it was also different—He was able to pass through locked doors and walls, He transported Himself instantly from place to place when He wanted. This was His glorified body. A body no longer weakened and subject to suffering, but an imperishable body.
Jesus’ body when He rose from the dead was imperishable. He rose, to never die again. The young man in our story, son of the widow at Nain, and others who Jesus raised, still had their perishable bodies—Jesus raised them back to their natural life. The comfort to us from this miracle is not that we hope for a temporary return to natural life for us or our loved ones—that death would be delayed or stalled for a little longer—but that the One who defeats sin and death for us has promised eternal, imperishable life, in a risen body like His. A body no longer weakened and subject to suffering, but an imperishable body. This is the Christian hope of the resurrection. Our flesh and bones, our body—not someone else’s—but a body free from sin, disease, aging, suffering and death. When we confess in the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen, that’s what we mean. We believe that Jesus has promised our bodies to be raised pure and perfect, made as God intended them, to life everlasting with Him.
All the grief and death and loss that we will experience in this life will come before that. Life can grind us down and most of us do feel like there’s too much suffering in this life. But you know what the Bible says about that? It says that we don’t lose heart “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2 Corinthians 4:16–17). In other words, however heavy the suffering we experience now, it’s going to seem light and temporary in comparison to the eternal weight of glory. The heaviness of that glory outweighs anything we’ve experienced thus far. That goodness and joy of God is beyond all comparison.
That day when the widow’s son was raised by Jesus, she got a little foretaste, a little advance preview of the glory that was in store in the kingdom of Jesus. The crowds celebrated with her: “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people”, and the news spread like wildfire. She saw Jesus was not helpless in the face of death, but commanded power by His very Word, and spoke life back into existence. She saw the One who would one day carry all our sins and griefs to His cross, where God would become one with our suffering in a way previously unimaginable. That He would be pierced for our sins, mocked, abandoned, beaten and dead. But Jesus was not helpless in the face of death. He laid down His life willingly, and then three days later, He took it up again.
The widow’s foretaste became the main event, when Jesus walked out of His grave with a renewed, glorified, living body that death could no longer hold. Our Christian faith hangs on His promise that whoever believes in Him, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in [Jesus] shall never die (John 11:25-26). Jesus will raise us too, even after our death, to eternal life with Him, if we believe in Him. Jesus’ miracles show us He has the power over life and death. They show God’s deep human compassion and unity with our suffering. Jesus teaches us depend completely on Him—that is, to believe in Him—as the Way to eternal life. Evil exists. Suffering exists. God exists. That’s a lot to wrestle with, and it has been for millennia of human history—but it doesn’t make the problem any better by taking God out of the picture. With God in the picture, we see His human compassion in Christ Jesus, and we see Him enter our suffering. With God in the picture we see that evil and death is His sworn enemy to be defeated, and that suffering is to end forever when He returns one day to judge the living and the dead. With God in the picture we face an eternal weight of glory that is without comparison. Believe and rejoice! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Luke 7:12 reveals that this dead young man was his mother’s only son, and that she was also a widow. How does this increase our human interest/sympathy in her story? Why are we often left with the feeling that there is too much suffering in this world? How does that affect our attitude or belief toward God?
  2. All people through human history experience the human loss and grief of death. Only a handful, of those described in the Bible, experienced the miraculous raising of their dead. What are these few recorded miracles meant to teach us about Jesus? Acts 2:24; John 10:18.
  3. A similar miracle by the prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 17:17-24, has the prophet questioning why God has “brought calamity” upon a different widow, by killing her son. What are other common conclusions people draw when they experience suffering or loss?
  4. Jesus commands the young man to rise, simply by the power of His Word. How does the Bible repeatedly teach the power of God’s Word? See Genesis 1:3, 6; or Psalm 33:6 or Luke 7:7. What reassurance does Jesus’ power over death bring to us, against the constant occurrence of suffering in human life?
  5. This miracle was a temporary reversal of death. How is that different from Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead? Luke 24. What is different about the body of Jesus after His resurrection, than this boy from Nain? Romans 6:9 What is the same? Hebrews 2:14-17.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Sermon on Proverbs 4:10-23, 14th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Two Paths"



In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In several different places in the Bible, God contrasts two different paths. One is the way of the righteous, the other is the way of the wicked. One leads to freedom and life, the other, to slavery and ultimately death. Proverbs 4 is a father to son life lesson talk, from Solomon to his son. There are two different paths, and he urges him to stay on the right path, and avoid the path of the wicked. Over and over in the Bible, this theme of two paths reappears. God grant that we stay on the path to life and righteousness.
First, let’s consider the path to AVOID. “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” It can be sad, humorous or even tragic, when certain “Do Not Enter!” signs in life go ignored. Ignore a “Do Not Enter” sign in a hospital, and you might end up where you’re not supposed to be—but ignore a “Do Not Enter” sign on a busy expressway, and it might be a fatal wrong turn. God has, for our safety, put up many warning signs: “DO NOT ENTER”. God warns us to turn away and pass on from the path of the wicked, or the way of evil.. However tempting, however curious, or however much we think we can flirt with danger and get away with it—God says “PASS ON.” “TURN AWAY.”
The consequences for going down the wrong path, the path of the wicked, or the way of evil, can be sudden and dramatic, like a head-on collision—or they can be slow and tortuous to unfold. They can be easy to recognize, or not. Sometimes, it even seems like the wicked get off scot-free with no consequences. So we can’t necessarily depend on bad consequences to always prove to us that we should avoid turning down the wrong path. Instead, we should take God’s Word at its face value—listening to the “Thou shalt nots” and observing the “Do not enter” signs, without tempting God to prove it to us by consequences.
He goes on to describe the “way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” Walking that dark path of turning away from God, walking in wickedness, evil, and disobedience is a place of blindness and injury, stumbling. We can’t see where we are going and don’t understand why we are tripping and falling. Adam and Eve found that way and that darkness awfully quick when they ignored God’s warnings and ate the fruit in the garden. Their knowledge of God was immediately darkened and their sense of shame deep. Because it is a path of darkness and no understanding, when we fall on that path, we don’t know why. Sin just pulls us down further—it doesn’t give us any reason to understand why we are falling, why we or others are hurting. Sin is lonely and disorienting.
Sin is impulsive and compulsive. We keep hurtling toward self-destruction and injury to ourselves and others, blindly, and without knowledge. That is the other way the Proverb describes the way of the wicked: “they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” If we make evildoers our friends, we’ll always be restless, hungry, and thirsty for wrongdoing. That’s what I mean about sin being impulsive and compulsive. Maybe it began as a foolish impulse, but it becomes a negative, repetitive, compulsive habit. We keep doing the wrong that we hate and don’t want to do. It sucks the joy and the peacefulness out of life and fills us with jealousy and cruelty. Do we need more proof why God has put up the “DO NOT ENTER” signs?
Sadly, we’ve all stumbled down the way of evil. No one, by their own efforts, has walked a pure life according to the way of wisdom, and the paths of uprightness—that superior path that leads to life. Instead, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve ignored God’s good warnings and headed, against His command, down the path to harm and destruction. Some have travelled further, some have been stopped short by the intervention of God and others—some have hit rock bottom. But wherever we are at, the only sane message is God’s ever urgent call: “turn away!” This marvelous word of “repentance” means that God has a U-turn plan for every one of us who has headed down the way of evil. Turn back to God! It’s not under our strength, but the strength of the Holy Spirit, that we break that impulsivity and compulsion to sin, and turn around to God.
If you look through the Psalms, and search for the phrase “my feet”, you’ll find a wonderful collection of verses that say things like this: Psalm 17:5 “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” Psalm 18:33 “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.” Psalm 18:36 “You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”  Psalm 40:2 (ESV) “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Psalm 56:13 “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 119:105 “ Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” These verses help us to understand the wonderful Gospel truth that gets our feet back on that solid ground. God is the One who keeps our feet steady and secure, who rescues us from death and the pit, and sets our feet on the rock, to keep us from slipping or falling, and shines His Word as Light on our path. Let’s go to that higher road, our feet set there by God.
Proverbs 4 says: “Hear my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.” Long life is the likely blessing for those who hear and receive God’s Word. Is it always that way? No, but life tends toward greater blessing and success, when we follow God’s path, the ways of uprightness. But what is it like to walk on this path? If the path of sin was dark and filled with hidden obstacles and stumbling, the path of uprightness: “When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” Like those Psalm verses echo, God keeps our feet on the steady path, and keeps us from stumbling. Jesus used the same language in John 11:9-10, “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
When Jesus talks about the “light is not in him”, He’s not referring to a candle, lamp, or flashlight—He’s talking about God’s light. And how do we have God’s Light in us, to keep us from stumbling? How do we get the Light of the World to shine down and light up our path? Jesus said it in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Again, the picture of the path, walking after Jesus—He is the Light! And, by the way, He is the WAY too! John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” Jesus said, and “no one comes to the Father except through me.” When we believe in Jesus, He is our Light. He is also our wisdom and our instruction, to again borrow the language of our reading. All this walking on the right path is simply walking in Jesus.
Proverbs 4:18 says: “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” In prophecy, Jesus is described as the Sun of righteousness, that will rise with healing on its wings (Malachi 4:2). In the New Testament, Jesus is called the “bright Morning Star.” And as we just heard from John, Jesus is the Light of the World. Brighter and brighter Jesus shines on our path. The more we walk on His Way, the more clearly we see, the further back the shades of darkness fade away. Instead of “DO NOT ENTER” signs on His path—now, all signs invite us forward, keep going, stay on the path! Run the race, finish the course, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus! And saints and angels cheer us on, and fellow Christians running alongside, help to pick us up when we fall, just as well help one another. Brighter and brighter is the path in Jesus.
            Proverbs ends with this repeated advice, father to son: Proverbs 4:20–23 “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. 22 For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Note again that the person who stays on this path, benefits by a listening ear, ready to hear God’s Word, God’s instruction. The person who stays on this path benefits from eyes trained to pay attention to this instruction, and they benefit from a heart that stores this knowledge up inside, and doesn’t let it slip away. That’s the posture of faith. That’s how a believer faces God—listening, watching, trusting in our heart—and what does God do? He gives life and healing. From our heart will flow springs of life. I seem to remember another passage like this, in the Gospel of John—yes, two of them. Jesus says in John 4, to a woman who is just beginning to know Him, He says, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Springs of water in the heart—Jesus gives this fountain, and it wells up to eternal life. And what is the source of this water? John 7, Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
            Jesus is the Living Water. He is Wisdom, He is the Path, He is the Light that shines on the path, and He is the Life that God gives to us. Two paths were set before us, one of stumbling, darkness and injury, the path of evil and sin. We were rescued from that path. Now our feet are set back on solid ground, walking on Him, the Rock, where our feet do not stumble or slip, but follow Jesus on the Way to blessedness and life. Lord, day by day, I pray that you put my feet back on your higher path, that you walk before me, behind me, beside me, and within me, to keep your Word in my heart, in my ears, and before my eyes. Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, and let my footsteps never waver from you. Lord, let me always follow where you lead, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      Read Proverbs 4:10-23. What is the difference between the two paths described here? Look at John 11:9-10; 8:12. How does Jesus use the same language to describe following Him?
2.      Jesus is not only “light for our path” (John 8:12), but also according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, the “wisdom from God.” In what ways does Wisdom direct us toward the good, and away from evil? (give examples of wise or foolish choices).
3.      Without wisdom we stumble in the dark (Prov. 4:19; John 11:9-10). Stumbling in the dark is a metaphor for how sin hurts us. In real examples, how does sin hurt us or others?
4.      What are the positive blessings of walking in the way of righteousness? Proverbs 4:10, 12, 22-23. How does the Way of righteousness contain “the springs of life?” Prov. 4:23; John 4:13-14; 7:37-38.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sermon on Galatians 3:15-22, for the 13th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "The Covenant of Promise"



Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The epistle of Galatians is a short, 6 chapter letter written to one of the Apostle Paul’s mission churches he’d helped to establish 2,000 years ago. He wars against the ever-popular opinion that we can be justified before God by our works. We saw it a few weeks ago in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee thought he had God’s law down just fine, and had nothing to be sorry for before God. Besides, everyone else he knew was worse than him! He was righteous in his own eyes—trusted in his good effort to get him in good with God. We don’t have to be quite as pompous as the Pharisee to fall into the same trap. But the tax collector knew better. He cried out: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Jesus said that tax collector went home justified, with God’s verdict of innocence.
Paul is determined in Galatians 3 to drive away the spirit of the Pharisee, trusting our effort, our law keeping, our own goodness, “good heart”, or “good intentions” to put ourselves in good graces with God. Why is this so important? Because trusting in ourselves gives room for boasting and pride, and it pushes God out as our singular Savior, and reduces Him to just a helper or enabler, or even some lower status. The sin of pride diminishes God while increasing ourselves—exactly the opposite of what John the Baptist said must happen. Paul proves his point from the Old Testament. His example is two different covenants/contracts/ agreements that God made with His people. One of those two covenants takes ultimate priority.
God’s covenant with Abraham was the covenant of promise. Then about a covenant 430 years later at Mt. Sinai came the covenant of law. During that 430 years God’s promise to Abraham began to be fulfilled: his descendants grew into a great nation. Near the end of that time the Israelites were led by Moses out of Egypt—the Exodus. This 430 year period covers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Esau, Joseph, and all of the Israelites who grew into a mighty nation, enslaved under the Pharaoh in Egypt. When they left Egypt, still trusting in promises made to Abraham generations ago, God took them to Mt. Sinai to give the 10 Commandments. This covenant of Law at Mt. Sinai is the second covenant. So you have two covenants—the promise to Abraham, which was first—and the covenant of law at Sinai—430 years later.
Paul asks—does the second covenant, the Law at Sinai, invalidate the first? Definitely NO! God won’t go back on His Word, after He’s confirmed and ratified His covenant. Just like a human contract is supposed to work—you can’t go changing the terms or cancelling it, once it’s been signed and approved. And God’s covenants are infinitely more solemn and serious than our human contracts and agreements. The upshot is that God’s covenant to Abraham is clearly greater—and it depended on God’s promise—not the works of the law. God’s promise to Abraham didn’t require anything on Abraham’s part in return. In other words, it was “unconditional” or a covenant of grace. Grace, promise, inheritance—these are all gospel words that speak of something that is not earned, not deserved, but given. We need to learn these words so that we give credit where credit is due—all glory and honor to God alone! These words all help us to decrease, but Christ to increase. Paul piles on the reasons to show that everything Abraham received by God’s promise was completely by grace—a free and undeserved gift from God, so that we might have joy in the same free gift.
Now then what was that covenant of Law, at Mt. Sinai about? That was a “conditional” covenant. It was not about grace, but about commands and obedience. Blessings for obedience to God’s commands, and curses and punishment for disobedience. The tragedy is that this covenant was broken. Israel, and mankind more generally, could not hold up their end of the deal. The covenant of law does ask something of us in return. A few verses earlier in Galatians 3:10, Paul cites the words of that covenant: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, and do them.” This second covenant clearly extracts a price for disobedience. Failure even in part demands the curse. Only total, perfect obedience satisfies the covenant of law. The covenant to Abraham, by contrast, was upheld strictly by God’s promise and Name. This is what I mean by calling the covenant of promise “unconditional”.
Back to the Pharisee and tax collector example, Paul would have argued that the Pharisee looked to the Law for his salvation. He was trying to reach the bar of the covenant of Law, and get God’s approval. But he was self-deceived, just as Jesus showed. Only Christ reaches that bar. Nobody takes a run at those hurdles of the law, and clears them all unscathed. In fact, Jesus faulted the Pharisees with trying to cheat by lowering the hurdles and praising themselves for clearing the “low bar” laws they made up themselves in their enthusiasm for the law, but their overlooking of the promise. Jesus (and Paul!) continually raise the hurdles to the full extent of the law, and show how none of us meets that standard. Why? So we’ll trust in God’s promises instead of ourselves! So that we’ll cling to the greater covenant of unconditional grace to Abraham and his descendants (those included by faith!), instead of clinging to the impossible covenant of the Law.
But then what was the Law covenant for anyway? He says it was to imprison everything under sin, so we would wait for the promise by faith. Sadly, because of sin, we need restraining by God’s good law. Left to our own devices, we don’t often stay on the straight and narrow, or automatically do what is kind and just. Instead, our sinful nature is constantly leading us astray. The Law checks and guards our sin, and teaches us what is God pleasing. But most importantly, it convicts us of our sin. It rings the alarm in our conscience of accusation or guilt, that tells us when we have done wrong. But the problem with that word of the Law, is that it can’t give us any solution. The covenant of the Law doesn’t contain the answer to our problems. Believer or unbeliever, Pharisee, tax collector, disciple, whoever—the Law is not our avenue to getting right with God. It’s a dead end for that purpose. No one is getting to God that way.
But this goes back to Paul’s argument. The Law was never supposed to be the way to God—and that’s a great and joyful relief! Whatever failings occurred under the second, law covenant, did not invalidate the first and greater covenant to Abraham. This stayed in effect by God’s unconditional promises. All nations are blessed through the promise of the One offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Through Christ, that covenant reached God’s fulfillment. God kept His Word to send blessing through Abraham’s one offspring—and Jesus even fulfilled and perfectly kept the covenant of Law—the 10 Commandments, also. God’s promise never failed.
The Law could never give us life—but Christ does give us life. The promise by faith in Jesus Christ is given to those who believe. Jesus and Paul get us off the dead end road, and onto Jesus—the Way, the Truth and the Life. Surrender your attempts to rely on yourself, and hang on only to His Word. Jesus is the Way to the verdict of innocence, the verdict of justified by faith.
Why does that matter so much for our lives today? Because what greater gift could we receive than God’s free and undeserved favor? The forgiveness of all our sins, a slate wiped clean, the promise that we remain in Jesus and He in us! In Christ, our salvation is full, complete and free—from start to middle to finish. Any other way, that relies on works, leaves either the beginning, middle or end up to us—and that leaves room for boasting, or failure, or despair. Relying entirely on Jesus Christ and His promise leaves us open to humility, thankfulness, joy, confidence and hope. In fact this is Jesus’ very purpose for you—that in Him you may have joy, and that your joy may be full. Life’s better when God gets the credit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      Read Genesis 12:1-3. What were the three main, original promises God made to Abraham? This was a covenant or contract between God and Abraham. Was is “conditional” or “unconditional?” Does that make it a covenant of “law” or “promise?”
2.      If a man made covenant is not supposed to be annulled or have terms added after it’s been confirmed—how much more is this true of a covenant ratified or confirmed by God? Why won’t God change His covenant, once He’s committed to it? Hebrews 6:17-18.
3.      In Genesis 22:17-18 is one place where it refers to Abraham’s “offspring” (cf. Galatians 3:16). All nations on earth will be blessed through the one “offspring” Christ Jesus. How does this show the covenant God made to Abraham remains in effect beyond the later covenant made at Mt. Sinai?
4.      What was different about the covenant made at Mt. Sinai? Was it conditional or unconditional? Law, or promise (Gospel)? Why was it put into effect? Galatians 3:19, 21-22.
5.      The Law and the Gospel have different, but related purposes. Explain what the purpose of each is? Why is it “good news” (i.e. gospel) for us that we receive the promise by faith in Christ? Galatians 3:22. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Sermon on Isaiah 29:17-24, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "God's Mighty Reversals"


Sermon Outline: 
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
·         Isaiah 29—miracles of Jesus’ ministry. 700 years before Jesus. Example of the miracles in the Gospel reading—heal the deaf and mute.
·         Prophecy > fulfillment shows the Bible is God’s inspired Word
·         deaf hear, blind see, the meek and the poor rejoicing in the Lord. Reversals of injustice, suffering, oppression.
·         Reversals go beyond the suffering, to also oppressors >> ruthless come to nothing; scoffer ceases; all who watch to do evil, cut off
·         Take a sample at any age in history, and find suffering and injustice—different kinds, but ultimately the same. Progress in some ways, regress in others.
·         Isaiah’s day—Judah soon to be destroyed. All the surrounding region. Spiritually deaf and blind, they won’t look at or hear God’s Word. God’s judgment will fall on them. How useful to the devil when we are spiritually blind and deaf! When we won’t listen to God’s Word, we too face judgment. But this passage turns to the restoration, when that judgment has passed.
·         Read v. 17—Lebanon. See other verses in Is. 2:13, Zech. 11:1-2; proud, majestic forests leveled. Think of National Parks—Redwoods, Sequoias, symbolic national treasure. Destroyed, razed. Now 29:17 is the reversal. God restoring what was devastated.
·         Fruitful field > forest? So lush and rich in growth, not just a farm field, but back to the glory of a forest. God doesn’t stop with a little growth, but turns the wasteland to abundance
·         V. 18 deaf shall hear words of a book. videos of First time hearing or seeing—stunned emotion, tears of joy—hearing the voice of mom or friends, leave silence and enter the world of music and sound or color and sight. “out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” Situation of blind and deaf are much improved today in 1st world, but in 3rd world countries it is often a sentence for early death, poverty or great suffering. In Jesus’ day, what joy! (v. 19) Some of the greatest rejoicing in the Lord now and in the past, comes from the poor and the meek! How little those who are full and have everything remember to be thankful!
·         No one cares for the meek and the poor quite like God does. Commentator said that if all the odds in the world seem in favor of the corrupt and violent, that is the fault of the oddsmakers, because God is on the side of the powerless who trust in Him (Oswalt).
·         V. 20-21 describe oppressors and reversal that God works against them. 
·         Ruthless—those oppressors who heartlessly squeeze the weak to extract what they can from them; scoffer—mocks truth, honor, and decency, and delights to serve himself at the cost of others; all who watch to do evil—political and judicial authorities on the lookout for ways to use their power to prey on the innocent
·         “All who watch to do evil shall be cut off
§  By a word make a man out to be an offender (false accusations, slander)
§  Lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate (stop the righteous man from intervening against evil)
o   With an empty plea, turn aside him who is in the right (deny justice to the innocent)
·         We can see all these today—seeming imbalance of justice and injustice. It will all be overturned—not just future, but God’s promise is that the way of the wicked will not prosper or succeed. No lasting joy or peace for them. Wicked are consumed by fear, uncertainty, loss. The believer has certainty, trust, and gain in God, whether their fortunes in life are good, modest, or poor. Our hope does not ride on the tides of life, but on God our Rock. Our reward is not merely physical but spiritual. The Truth of God’s Word brings the ruthless, the scoffer, and the evil to nothing.
·         The first words on the lips of Christians who see the suffering of the world needs to be “Lord, have mercy!” not “There ought to be a law!” Blessed is the one whose help is in the Lord. He is the one who executes true justice for the poor and oppressed, the little people and the great people. He brings the ways of the wicked to ruin (Phil Brandt)
·         Jesus ministry= beginning of reversals—healing miracles as sign. Mt. 11, John the Baptist sends messengers? Are you the One? Jesus says watch—all the signs prophesied by Isaiah and more are fulfilled. Jesus fits the job description + more. Blind, deaf, lame, lepers, dead, poor, all experience reversals at Jesus’ hand. He is the One to restore justice.
·         Result of Jesus’ redemption, according to v. 22-24: no more shame for Israel—instead, rejoicing. Cf. Luther’s Small Catechism, expl. to 3rd Article of Creed. What does the Holy Spirit do? Calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Jacob, the great grandfather of the Israelites sees his children gathered together, sanctified (made holy) in God’s name. They are the work of God’s hands. His creation, His redeemed, His sanctified. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
·         What do they do? They praise God’s name and stand in awe!
·         Wandered from the faith, return to learn. Complainers come to instruction. God restores the lost. God’s Great Reversals all through history. Odds seem stacked against His people, but He’s always with the powerless who trust in Him. We are the church of God, the children who are the work of His hands, and we have seen in the past, and in our present, and still hope to see many Great Reversals at the hand of God—reversals of lifting up the humble, and bringing low and defeating the wicked. Lord, have mercy! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      Read Isaiah 29:17-24. Look at this description of a great “reversal” that God is going to bring about. Two main groups are described—those who are humble and suffering, and the proud and the wicked. How are each described? What reversal of their fortunes will they experience?
2.      The forests or cedars of Lebanon were a well-known landmark and symbol of glory, pride, and majesty. Isaiah 2:12-13; 10:34; 37:24, and Zechariah 11:1-2 all talk about this forest being leveled. But Isaiah 29:17 talks about the reverse—the glory and fruitfulness of fields returning until they are as great as a forest. What does this say about the flourishing of God’s kingdom? How does this happen?
3.      Read vs. 18-19 and compare to Matthew 11:5-6. How does Jesus fulfill these words of prophecy, along with Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1? What does Jesus do that is even more than described here? Who puts their trust in God, and why won’t they be disappointed?
4.      What are the examples of the sins of the arrogant and wicked? V. 20-21. How do we see these today? What is frustrating about the progress of evil? But what is their final end? Psalm 73:16-19, 27.
5.      In Luther’s Small Catechism, the explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed, he describes the work of the Holy Spirit in this way: [The Holy Spirit] “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” How is this description paralleled in Isaiah 29:23-24. How does the Spirit make the church come alive? How do they respond?
6.      Describe the Great Reversal theme in this passage one more time—reflecting on how God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is active in this reversal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sermon on Luke 18:9-14, for the 11th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "Give me a pedestal, or bring me to my knees?"


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s parable may be familiar: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Two men are praying to God in the Temple. They stand up before God and before men. But with two very different attitudes and  outcomes.
Jesus approves the tax collector with this phrase: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus approves the tax collector with the word “justified.” That’s God’s verdict—God has declared you innocent; righteous in His eyes—justified. The other possible verdict is “condemned”—God declares you guilty, or unrighteous in His eyes. Justified or condemned, innocent or guilty—these are the two opposite verdicts. The surprise is that Jesus doesn’t justify the man who appears better, more law-abiding, and religious—namely, the Pharisee. But instead, the tax collector, a despised sinner, whose job was identified with crooks—the one who to all the world looks guilty—he goes home justified.
Justified is where we want to be also. That’s the verdict we should want from Jesus. The Pharisee shows us how not to get there. He was the example of those who trusted in their own righteousness. If you trust in your own righteousness, essentially it means that you are trying to pass your own verdict. No matter how a defendant in court pleads their own innocence, that cannot overrule the judge’s verdict. But we still try to play defendant and judge at the same time, and claim that our judgment of ourselves is better than God’s. Whatever tricks we may play, no one can push God out of the judgment seat or avoid His justice. We have to play by His rules. His Law, His court.
But then do we fear the courts of the Lord’s house? No, this parable shows we can approach His judgment seat, (or use the new name given it by the book of Hebrews) the “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). We can approach God’s throne of grace “with confidence”.
But the Pharisee had the wrong kind of confidence. His confidence was in himself. He thought he saw a pretty impressive man in the mirror, which also meant that he was stepping up on a pedestal, to look down on everyone else. When he looked at his fellow man, he did not see his equals, or men and women made in God’s image, or even people struggling with the same sins and failures as himself—he only saw the misery and failure and wickedness of others, and “Thank God I have no part in that!” “Thank God I’m not like them!” What a thing to thank God for! He might as well have said: “Thank God that I’m God’s gift to man”.
We’re all inclined to same sort of thing. And the thing is, you don’t have to be wealthy, powerful, or religious to step on that pedestal. Anyone can and will attempt it, to find their own good reasons to trust in themselves, and treat others with contempt. Ironically judgmentalism is an equal opportunity employer. Anyone can wear the suit, and stand on the pedestal—and the number of reasons for why we think we’re better than others, is endless. All that we need, is some difference between ourselves and others—real or perceived—and we step up on that pedestal and declare our superiority. It’s hard not to step on that pedestal. It’s hard to be humble, and to refuse to step on it. In fact, one  of the easiest ways to step into that trap is for our prayer to become: “Thank God I’m not like that nasty Pharisee, or those priggish hypocrites.” And quick as you like, we’ve become the very thing we’ve despised.
They tell stories about one of my uncles who would go around saying: “Humble?!? I’m the humblest man in the world!!” And of course the humor of that and the truth of the matter is that even humility can be pretended, to pass yourself as better than others. We want people to praise and affirm us, and so the temptation is to find one way or another to get on a pedestal. In religious circles, false humility might get attention. But even showy deeds, like the Pharisee’s brag about his giving, can boost you up in some circles. In societal circles, the flashy car, biggest salary, or biggest boasts might get you the attention. Right now there’s a bizarre status structure based on how victimized a person or group thinks they are. The more you can position yourself as being the one who is oppressed, the more right you have to be judgmental and superior, without feeling guilty for judgmentalism. The point is, our sinful human nature can twist and pivot and slither a thousand ways till Sunday to give ourselves the permission to feel that we are above all the rest, or that we deserve to be on that pedestal.
So what is our prayer to God going to be? “Give me that pedestal?” Of course everything would be ok if God would just approve how hard we have worked, or how good we are, or how much we have been put upon by everyone else. All God has to do is agree with our own judgment, and we’ll have the satisfaction of His approval, which is really just an echo of ours. That’s the miserable slog and lie of self-righteousness, of trusting in ourselves. We can hide it deep under a mask of false humility and religiosity, or wear it brash and rude on our sleeves, but it still stinks the same. God has to dash and humble this kind of arrogance if we dare to come this way before God’s throne.
But look at the tax collector. Rather than asking for God to give me a pedestal, we should be asking God, like he did—bring me to my knees. Listen how one prayer does it. On pg. 292 in our hymnal (LSB), there is a short form of private confession, if a person wants to confess their sins before the pastor to receive personal absolution. It reads like this:
I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin. What troubles me particularly is that… and the person may then name the sins that weigh on their hearts.

Like the tax collector’s, this prayer finds no one else to blame; makes no excuses for our sin, but recognizes we stand guilty before God. To approach the throne of grace with confidence,  we must only have a confidence in God’s mercy. The humble confidence that cries out: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!
This humble confidence trusts not in ourselves, but in God who has mercy. It’s a confidence based on the character of God, that He has mercy on those who seek Him. Trusting in His mercy, tax collectors or sinners like you and I—guilty before God of all sins—find an open welcome from God, when we turn from our sin and come follow Him.
Jesus’ mercy is first shown to us in untying those burdens. I have lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most. Jesus draws that poisoned selfishness out of us, and gives us a new heart, beating with the rhythm of “God matters most”, and the desire to live for and serve others. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. Jesus takes our defiled tongue, and cleanses and renews it to give praise to Him, to speak blessing to others, and fill our mouths with prayer. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. To the humbled heart, to the heart that wants to go home justified by God, not by ourselves and our flimsy self-righteousness—to this heart, Jesus enters in and makes a home. Lord, have mercy and let your love have its way with me! Let your love wash me over and make me clean again! There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. Again Lord, help me to reconcile and repair those wounds that I have caused. Help me to take responsibility, and Jesus, open my eyes to those whom I need to help!
So Jesus’ mercy is first seen in untying these burdens, laid down in repentance. But secondly, His mercy shines in granting us that verdict of “justified”. We never deserved it. This verdict is that God transfers the righteousness of His Son Jesus, onto you—so that you can stand before His throne of grace with confidence. As a washed, forgiven, loved child of God. Sent joyfully home with the word “justified” stamped over your name. Approved by God, not for what you have done, but for the sake of what Jesus has done for us. This is the mercy of God that the tax collector received, when he humbly prayed: “God have mercy on me, a sinner”.
We began by noticing that these two men—the Pharisee and tax collector, both stood before God and before men. We too, stand in relation to God, and to each other. How will we stand? On a pedestal? Treating others with contempt? Do we give our stamp of approval to ourselves, and expect God to echo it? Or does the Holy Spirit bring you to your knees? Block the sins of others out from your sight—you’re not being judged in relation to them anyway—and make confession of your own sin to God. The only way to God’s approval, to God’s verdict of “justified”—is the humbling of the Holy Spirit, and throwing all your trust on God. You’ve heard me describe faith this way before. Faith is “honesty about dependence” on God. Trusting in yourself, that you are righteous, ala the Pharisee—is a dishonesty about yourself and your dependence.
Not only is our relationship with God transformed when He creates faith in us, or this honesty about dependence on Him. But our relationship with others is transformed as well! We don’t have to be in the constant and pointless game of jockeying for position, trying to determine who’s better, who’s more deserving, what’s fair or unfair, or promoting ourselves as superior in any way. If we’re honest about dependence on God, we can give up that whole silly exercise, and get back to seeing each other as sheep for whom Christ died. Children loved by their heavenly Father, whether they’re in the sheepfold already, or still needing to be sought and found. We can live as the justified do—to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Only Jesus can keep us humbly on that path, and fill us with His thankfulness and joy. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      Read Luke 18:9-14. In their own eyes, and the eyes of others, how did these two men stand before others (i.e. what would people have thought of them)? How did they stand before God? Cf Luke 18:9; 16:15.
2.      What does the verdict “justified” mean? What is it’s opposite? Why can’t we pass our own verdict, or have God echo ours? Romans 3:10-23. Who is God? Genesis 18:25; Hebrews 12:23.
3.      Why can we approach the “throne of grace” with confidence? Hebrews 4:16? What is the wrong kind of confidence to bring with you? How do we fall into this trap? What pedestals do we make for ourselves?
4.      Look at the prayer of individual confession, on pg. 292. When we confess our sins before God, why is it important to follow the tax collector’s template, or this template, in excluding all other people and their sins from the conversation? What relationship is this prayer focused on? How did the tax collector find mercy?
5.      How does Jesus show His mercy to us through repentance? Romans 2:4. How does Jesus cleanse our sin, and give us a new spirit?
6.      How does Jesus show His mercy by this (undeserved) verdict of innocence (being justified)?
7.      Consider the definition “honesty about dependence” as a description of faith. How does it explain the actions of the two men? How does true honesty about dependence change our relationships, both toward God and toward our fellow people?