Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon on Mark 10:35-45, for the 5th Sunday in Lent, “To Serve and Be a Ransom”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today in our Gospel reading Jesus contrasts true greatness with the self-promotion of the world. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

James and John were fairly shameless in their request to be granted whatever they wanted…as if Jesus were a genie in a bottle to do their bidding. And what a request! To be the right-hand and left-hand men to Jesus, when He came in His glory. Of course, who was better qualified? They were the go-getters, bold and over-confident in their abilities. They were confident that whatever honor or greatness Jesus would rise to, that they were equal to that ascent. They were fit to share in that honor and glory. Apparently the other ten disciples had less confidence in James and John, than they had in themselves. The ten disciples became indignant or sorely angry when they found out about this request. Was it because they thought it should have been them instead?

Isn’t it easy to become the center of your own universe? That our will, our preferences, and our ambitions should be held up as superior over everyone else? Of course, who knows better than us? Life should conform to our demands, so that in true Burger-King fashion, we can “have it our way, right away.” Advertising surrounds us with this idea, making the buyer supreme, in choosing every customizable product or experience available. On the radio a few months ago, they made the comment that “Advertisers tempt us to project our hopes on the objects they are selling.” Our hopes are placed on the material objects we gather, in the expectation that they’ll give us fulfillment. And once again, we’re at the center. Everything revolves around us and our satisfaction.

When we become the center of our own universe, watch out! We’ll begin to start making some outrageous demands. Like “seat me at your right hand or left hand in your glory.” I wonder if I’m the only Christian who’s ever secretly wondered if they have a shot at either place. Of course this is nothing but prideful arrogance and missing the entire point. If we’re not so self-promoting to think that we’ll be God’s favorite, at least we’ve probably shared the opinion of the disciples James and John that we know what’s best for the rest. We don’t hesitate to set ourselves as an authority over Scripture, judging what to keep and not to. Or in work, church, or family, we become the self-appointed experts on everything. Obviously this attitude is not compatible with Jesus’ view of discipleship or with true greatness.

Jesus warns the disciples that those who were considered rulers lorded their power over others, exercising their power and authority over them. This is standard operating procedure for how the world works. But Jesus says, “But it shall not be so among you!” This self-promotion and putting ourselves at the center of the world, won’t fly among Christians. This attitude must be repented of, and put behind us. Jesus says that whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. In a black and white contrast to the way the world seeks greatness, Jesus says that the path to true greatness is by the road of humility, servitude, and suffering. This path, Jesus showed James and John, was more difficult than they thought it to be.

He said they really didn’t know what they were asking for, because there was a cup He was going to have to drink, and a baptism that He was going to undergo, in His rise to glory. What cup? At a meal? What baptism? His baptism in the Jordan river? The cup that He was speaking about refers to a well-known Old Testament metaphor for God’s judgment. The Old Testament prophets wrote in many places about the “cup of wrath.” Honestly, it’s one of the most fearful and terrifying images in the Bible. A cup that is filled with wine, wine that represents God’s wrath that is storing up against sin. The longer God’s people sin and rebel against His law, the more the cup fills up with the wine of His wrath. Then in frightening imagery, the prophets wrote that God would force them to drink this cup of wrath to its bitter dregs, and that they would stagger and reel from His fierce anger (Is. 51:17ff). God’s punishment would be unleashed, and it would make them stagger like drunken men.

These are chilling words, and are difficult to hear. How can we think of God as wrathful? Is He not a God of Love? He most certainly is. But to deny God’s terrifying wrath against sin is to deny God’s absolute opposition to evil. It would mean that God is tolerant of, or even approving of evil. But the Psalms say of God: “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Ps. 5:4). Evil cannot exist in the holiness of God’s presence. He takes no pleasure in evil, not in the least, and to believe in such a god would be even more terrifying. A god for whom evil was no different from, or just as acceptable as the good, would be like a judge who shrugs at and ignores heinous crimes, and lets off the guilty with the innocent. There would be no difference between his blessing and his cursing. But we have no such God. We have the God who is truly the God of Love, and who is utterly opposed to evil. His wrath and love are not incompatible, nor are they opposites.

To quote an excellent observation of another pastor: “The opposite of love is hate. The thing that God hates is sin. He is vigorously and relentlessly opposed to sin and all evil because sin mars, disfigures, and destroys what He has lovingly created. From that standpoint, the more God loves, the more He will be angry with everything that mars the perfection of the beloved, the more he will be angry with sin. That’s not hard for us to understand. If you had spent all day painting your garage only to have some vandals come along at night and spray paint obscene graffiti messages all over your garage, wouldn’t you be angry? In a very real sense, God’s wrath could be seen as God’s love blazing out in fiery indignation over every sin and evil that makes obscene what He intended to be clean!” (Pastor Stephen Starke, 3/21/07 Sermon on Propitiation.)

So this background helps us to understand what Jesus meant about the cup He was going to drink. It helps us understand the sheer human terror that Jesus felt in the garden when He prayed that if there was any way, that “this cup” could be taken away from Him, that it would be. Jesus knew the cup of God’s wrath that He was about to drink would cause Him to stagger and reel from God’s fierce anger against sin. More than just the physical torments that we see vividly on the cross, but the spiritual torment of sin and guilt and shame upon Him, and the righteous anger of God pouring out against Him for all that sin has done to mar, profane, and destroy His creation. This was the baptism that Jesus would undergo…the baptism of His death on the cross, the shouldering of all the sins that He had been washed in, and bearing them till His life ebbed out. This is the astonishing way that God maintained His holiness and wrath against sin, yet in unbounded love turned His wrath away from us sinners.

We were spared from drinking that cup of wrath, because Jesus drank it for us, to the bitter dregs. He staggered and reeled under the force of the blow, till the weight of the cross was so unbearable that Simon the Cyrene humbled himself to become a servant to Christ, this condemned criminal dragging the heavy weight of His own cross, and the even heavier weight of sin. Jesus asked James and John if they were able to drink this cup. They answered that they were able. They would share in the cup of Jesus’ sufferings—James, when he was the first of the 12 disciples to be martyred, and John, though he was not martyred, endured persecution and exile for his faith. But even this limited participation in the sufferings of Christ was not sufficient to grant them places at Jesus’ right and left hand. And their sufferings could not compare to Jesus’. But when they shared His cup, and in whatever small way we share this cup of suffering through our own persecution for the sake of Christ—we’re even more so participants in His grace and blessing. For “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

So for us the marvel of the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, is that by His drinking of the cup of wrath for us, He turned God’s wrath away from us. God’s wrath against sin will not weigh against us because by faith we have been enfolded in the loving arms of Jesus. Here is how Jesus became our servant, and became a slave to all. Jesus, the only Son from heaven, took the lowest place, becoming a servant of mankind. Becoming the lowest criminal to die an inglorious death. To drink the cup of wrath that was filled for us, and thereby turn God’s wrath away from us. He did what no one else could or willed to do. He chose not to have it His way, He chose not to possess all material things and lord His power and authority over all His subjects. He sought nothing for Himself, but everything for us. He chose to be the humblest slave and servant of all, even giving His life as a ransom for many.

To be a ransom. A word connected with slavery and servitude. We were truly slaves chained and sold in sin. And He became the slave of all to be the ransom of all. He took our place on the auctioning table, ransoming our lives, and surrendering His own. He took the terrible fate of the cup of wrath so that we now stand acquitted, innocent before God. Not because God left sin unpunished, or had no wrath against sin. But because Jesus Christ our Blessed Savior, turned away God’s wrath forever (LSB 627). So we are now free to give our lives in service and humility to those around us. We know the futility of self-promotion and seeking to be first. We know that that path does not lead to glory or greatness. But since we have been ransomed from the slavery of sin, we can enter into the voluntary service of others, so that they might see Christ’s love in our actions and words. And we can help call and steer those who find themselves under the wrath of God, to find shelter under His everlasting love, and to become one of the ransomed. Ransomed by the life of Jesus. 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:
1. What actions or attitudes in our own lives are examples of self-promotion or self-centeredness? Why are such attitudes unchristian?
2. What is the cup that Jesus spoke of drinking? Why was it so terrible? Read Isaiah 51:17-52:3. Jer. 25:15ff.
3. Are God’s love and wrath contradictory? Why not? What would be lost if God’s wrath against sin were denied?
4. How does God spare us from His righteous wrath without ignoring sin or taking evil lightly?
5. In what limited way do Christians partake in Jesus’ cup of suffering? How is the cup of wrath turned into a cup of blessing for us through Jesus’ death?
6. How was Jesus a servant and a ransom for many? What does this mean for your life and actions?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 22:41-46 for Lent 5, "If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his son?”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our 5th part of the sermon series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered” is where Jesus decisively turns the tables on the Pharisees and Jewish leaders, and puts an end to their questions. Instead of continuing to field their questions—ones for which they won’t accept His answers, He asks them one that silences them all. There’s a delicious bit of irony in this chapter of Matthew, because in the preceding sections, the Pharisees were excited that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, with whom they strongly disagreed. Then they tried to stump Jesus, and failed. And now with today’s questions Jesus silences them! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus doesn’t gloat over or humiliate the Pharisees, or even ask the questions directly concerning Himself, but humbly asks “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” They’re given the relative safety of answering truthfully about the Christ, their Messiah, without having to decide whether Jesus Himself is or isn’t the Christ. They of course studied and knew the Law and the Prophets, and were well-acquainted with the prophecies concerning the Christ, and believed them. But their knowledge was incomplete. They readily answered Jesus’ question that the Christ was David’s Son. They knew well that the Christ would be the descendant of David. So did the crowds! “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Remember? Pharisees and the common folk both knew the Christ would come from David’s line, to establish King David’s throne and kingdom forever. But for all the knowledge of the Pharisees, there was still an unwillingness to learn what was needful. They wanted to remain the experts on the law.

But once they’ve answered the question that the Christ is David’s Son, they’ve backed themselves into a corner for Jesus’ next question. “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”?’ If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1, which we spoke responsively earlier. First of all, Jesus acknowledges that David spoke “in the Spirit.” This is an important statement for our understanding of how the Scriptures are “inspired.” Inspired means “God-breathed.” That God-breathed out through the Spirit the very words that David wrote. In other words, Jesus was saying, “David was not in error when he wrote, for he wrote by the guidance of the Spirit.”

Let’s look at what David said: “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” Who is “The LORD?” Who is “my Lord?” Who is talking to who here? David? God? There’s a little help from the Hebrew original. There are actually two words for “Lord” in this passage. The first, “The LORD”—usually spelled in all capitals throughout the Old Testament is God’s Divine Name, YHWH. If you’ve never heard that name for God, you’re probably more familiar with the mispronunciation “Jehovah.” YHWH was the name that God used to reveal Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai in the burning bush. God told Moses, “I am who I am!” When Jesus took those words “I AM,” on His lips in the New Testament, He was unmistakably making the claim that He was YHWH, true God…and the Jews wanted to stone Him for it (John 10:31-33). And they did eventually crucify Him.

But back to the verse from Psalm 110, the LORD, YHWH, said to my Lord…The second “Lord” in the passage is the title “Adonai,” a common Old Testament address to God. So to keep it straight, there are two different words for Lord here: the Divine Name YHWH, and the title Adonai. Adonai is one of the many OT titles given to God, but YHWH is the only personal name by which God reveals Himself in the OT. So what we have here is King David writing down a heavenly address that takes place between God the Father, and God the Son—the coming Messiah. God the Father, YHWH, addressing David’s Lord, Adonai—who is none other than Jesus, the Son of God. And the Father is telling His Son that He will seat Him at His right hand, the position of all power and authority. It means that He’ll exercise God’s authority.

God would make His Son the ruler of all the nations, so that His enemies would be under His feet like a footstool—a sign of their submission and His power. So what use did Jesus make of this passage? The Jews had already recognized that the Christ was to be the Son of David, and they should have recognized that this passage was speaking about the Christ. But what Jesus opened their eyes to was the fact that David speaks of the Christ as “my Lord.” Why would David, the Great King of the Golden Age of Israel, address the Christ, one of his descendants, as Lord? Why would a king, the highest earthly ruler, address any of his descendants—like a great grandson or great-great grandson, etc—with the honorific title of Lord? What Jesus exposed with His question was that they were perfectly willing to accept the promised Christ’s humanity as a Son of David, but were unwilling to realize His divinity. They could not accept Jesus as the Christ who is both divine and human.

And they could not give an answer to this question, because to answer it would have forced them to admit that David’s Son and David’s Lord was the Christ, the Divine Christ who is Adonai. Then they too would have to worship this Christ, who would have authority over all the nations. This was the decisive question that silenced them for good. They had been foiled too often in their attempts to catch Jesus in His words, and they no longer dared ask Him any more questions. They knew they’d be cornered again! It must have been frustrating! All their excuses and ways out had been cut off, and their objections silenced…so now all that stood in their way was their unbelief.

This had paved the way for Jesus’ trial and crucifixion now. Jesus was clearly unwilling to back down into a niche or role that they could tolerate—that of a prophet or teacher, but not the Christ and claiming to be the Son of God. This was too much to handle, and since Jesus wouldn’t give on this matter, there was logically only one option left for them: to kill Him. Assuming that He was a blasphemer rather than the True Son of God, they would now carry out their plots against Him. Again and again the answers of these questions force them closer and closer to the uncomfortable conclusion that Jesus is the Divine Christ, the Son of David, and that He would be granted all power and authority.

From His cross He would establish His eternal kingdom of believers, the church. But whether for Christ or against Him, it wouldn’t change the fact that every knee will one day bow to Christ, the Son of God. The difference is, that for those who believe in Him, we will bow in loving worship and adoration, and will be called sons and daughters of the king—to share in His eternal inheritance. But for those who remained in their unbelief and wouldn’t acknowledge Him as Lord, who remained His enemies—they shall become His footstool. He will execute His judgment against the nations. So it should be clear that we want to stand with Christ, and not be opposed to Him. For though His enemies thought they had gained the upper hand by crucifying Him on the cross, it was in fact their world that had been turned upside down. For the Risen Jesus possesses an eternal kingdom of unconquerable rule. To Him belong the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21, for the 4th Sunday in Lent. "So must the Son of Man be lifted up"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today the sermon will be based on both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading. In the same passage of John 3, where we find the famous verse “For God so loved the world…”, Jesus compares His death on the cross to this unusual OT story of the bronze serpent. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Forty years of wandering in the desert had been God’s punishment to the Israelites for their lack of trust in God to bring them into the Promised Land. Forty years of regrets and a generation of adults who were unable to enter the Promised Land because of their rebellion. Yet also forty years of provision for their needs—God’s heavenly gift of manna, the bread from heaven, and quail to feed them, His miraculous provision for their water and clothing—all by God’s grace, despite their quarrelling and rebellion. Yet here in the middle of it all, after learning countless lessons the hard way, they once again show ingratitude to God’s provision for them. Impatient and grouchy, they spoke against God and Moses, saying “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water, and we loathe this worthless food.” They called God’s daily bread for them loathsome and worthless food! They had not even worked for that bread, but received it wholly by God’s providence. God’s swift punishment for this ingratitude was sending poisonous snakes among them, and many were bitten and died.

It doesn’t take long to fall into the sin of ungratefulness, and to begin complaining. Ungratefulness or ingratitude are when we’re dissatisfied with what we have or what God has given. A lack of contentment. And while we don’t have swarms of biting serpents nipping at our heels with burning venom to snap us out of our funk, we have the more deadly venom of sin to contend with. While ingratitude is one sin of thought, word, and deed for which we are guilty, all of our sins bear that deadly venom of sin, which creates all kinds of misery in life—but ultimately leads to death. Like venom that wastes away the flesh or burns like fire, so un-confessed sins waste away our conscience or burn us with shame. Sometimes sinful life choices lead to their own physical consequences on our health and emotions. Grudges and bitterness cause us to decay from the inside out, until anger and resentment spill over. Sometimes the venom of sin spoils our relationships and brings grief and pain between close friends or family. But wherever the venom of sin takes root—know this, that the end of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

Paul wrote about the Israelites’ rebellion in 1 Cor. 10:9, saying that the Israelites put Christ to the test and were destroyed for it. Catch that? It was actually Christ that they were putting to the test! These things happened as an example to them and instruction for us to take warning lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:11-12). Paul said, “Let anyone that thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall.” In other words, don’t be lulled into complacency by sin, and think that you have no need to repent. The plague of snakes snapped Israel to their senses, and they realized that they had sinned against the Lord and Moses (21:7). The prick of the law on their hearts (and perhaps the prick of the fangs on their heels??) had driven them to repentance. This is the work of God’s Law: to remind us of our sinfulness, lead us to sorrow over our sin, and point to our need for a Savior who offers the forgiveness that we cannot get on our own.

Once the burning venom of sin has snapped us to our senses, or the sting of conscience and the conviction of God’s Law leads us to repentance, then what? Join in the words of the Israelites: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord…pray to the Lord, that He take [our sin] away from us.” Join in the words of confession, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed…[and] for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.” We lay our sins before Christ and acknowledge we have sinned against God, and pledge to turn away from our sin and leave it behind, so that we may delight in God’s will and walk in His ways to honor God’s name.

The Israelites looked to Moses as their intercessor before God, but we look to Jesus Christ. He is the one who prays to the Lord for us, and who opens the way to the Father. But Jesus’ role as intercessor is far beyond what Moses did. What sort of intercessor was Jesus? Jesus not only seeks mercy for us to be spared from punishment—but He Himself took our punishment. Moses didn’t give up his life for the people. But by God’s command he put a bronze serpent on a pole, and instructed everyone who was bitten to look to the bronze serpent and they would live. Bizarre! The emblem of the serpent, the very image of the thing that was plaguing them and causing them to die! With wounds stinging from venom, and the fearful dread of those cursed snakes, they were to look up to a bronze serpent and live? But this was the cure—look to the bronze serpent, and the burning venom and gathering death left their body, and they lived!

God was here preparing a type or example of Christ for them, and for our instruction as well. He created a picture lesson for the way that Christ would become our intercessor. Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The bronze serpent was a type of Jesus’ death on the cross, where He hung as the despised and rejected. The words of Psalm 22 were on His lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The same Psalm that voices His agony on the cross: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” (Psalm 22:6-8) So on the cross Jesus became sin for us. He became our sin embodied on the pole of the cross, the very place from which He drew all the venom of sin into Himself. Satan, the old serpent who first deceived Adam and Eve now sunk his fangs deep into Jesus’ heel, as iron spikes fastened Jesus’ feet to the cross. Fulfilling the ancient prophecy to Adam and Eve that her future offspring would crush the head of the serpent who had deceived them, but that the serpent would strike His heel (Gen. 3:15). All the ugliness, the ungratefulness, the hatred, the wasting bitterness of sin—that burned in our lives, was embodied in Jesus, who became sin for us.

And it won’t be surprising, that some will turn away from His cross. That some, like the Israelites would refuse to look to Him and be saved. To let the venom of sin work its deadly poison in their lives till its ultimate conclusion. Perhaps to look at our sin embodied there in Jesus seems out of measure with our own evaluation of our sin. Perhaps it is too unpleasant. We despise the cure. Or perhaps we hide our eyes, not from unrepentance or ungratefulness, but from such a deep shame and fear that we doubt that even our sin could be forgiven there. But this is just as great a sin, because it tries to make our sin bigger than Christ’s cross. Never believe that your sin was too big to be forgiven there. There He hangs, interceding for you nevertheless. Calling your name to the Father for forgiveness.

Far beyond the intercession of Moses, Jesus intercedes for us from His very cross. From His cross His blood cries out for our pardon, instead of for vengeance. From His cross He takes our abuse and the anger of the world and actually cries out that we should be spared this awful judgment! As if to say, My Life is Enough! Let no one else perish from this cursed venom of sin! “It is Finished!!” For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. So to have eternal life is to look to Jesus Christ crucified, and believe in Him. Like the Israelites, we gaze on the emblem of our suffering and shame—we gaze on the One who became sin for us. He is our life, hanging before our eyes, in the beaten form that our sin left Him.

But fix our eyes on Him, and the burning venom of sin that plagues our lives will leave our body. The burning shame of guilt, the remorse of sins confessed is drawn to His cross. The gathering death and gloom that once hung over our lives is now lifted in the One who was lifted up on the cross. Seeing His death, we have life by faith. See your sin hanging there, see your debts paid. See His precious blood poured out for your forgiveness, and know that life everlasting is now yours! This was why Jesus, the Son of Man must be lifted up on His cross. This was why God took the bitter poison from our sins. So that we might believe in Him and have eternal life.

In this way God loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. In this way Jesus showed God’s love, that whoever believes in Him will not be condemned and die from sin. In this way God loved the world, so that the world might be saved through Him. Trust in Him and Live! 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:
1. How did the Israelites show their ungratefulness? How has the sin of ungratefulness been evident in your own heart and life?
2. How has the venom of sin plagued your life or relationships? What have been the effects?
3. How does God’s Law awaken our need for repentance, or alert us to sin’s deadly effects?
4. Why was it so distasteful for them to look at the bronze serpent? Why is it so distasteful for us to look at Jesus crucified? What would God have us learn by this?
5. Compare Jesus with Moses’ role as an intercessor. Compare Him to the bronze serpent. How does Jesus’ being “lifted up” draw all people to Himself and bring glory to God? (Read John 12:27-36; 8:25-30) What is that “lifting up”?
6. How does Jesus’ lifting up on the cross “draw the venom” from us, and what is the result for us?
7. For your own study, read 2 Kings 18:1-12 (esp. v. 4). How did the bronze serpent later become twisted to a false purpose and use?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 21:23-27 for Lent 4, "By what authority...?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The fourth question of our series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered,” comes from Matthew chapter 21, the question of the chief priests and elders. They asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The chief priests and elders raise a question of authority, and Jesus answers a question with a question. Things were escalating to a confrontation as Jesus returned to teach in the Temple, after last week’s encounter, when the chief priests were angry that Jesus didn’t stop the children from praising Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Turning over the tables of money-changers and chasing the animals and merchants out of the Temple with a whip was a pretty gutsy move, and they were demanding an explanation. By what authority do you do this? Who do you think you are? Who gave you this authority? Did you take it for yourself or has someone given it to you? We’ve got a pretty-nicely oiled religious machine going here, and who do you think you are to throw a wrench into things? Are you telling us we don’t know how to worship God? They wanted some clear answers about Jesus’ authority. Their questions assumed that Jesus had no such authority to do these things, but that He had wrongfully taken the authority upon Himself. They were blind to the possibility that He was sent from God. They failed to worship the One whose praise the children sang.

In a style common to Jewish debate, Jesus answers a question with a question. He promises to answer their question about His authority, if they can answer His. His question is about John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner. John was none to popular among the priests either. When John first began baptizing in the wilderness, the Jews sent priests and Levites to question John about who he was and why he was baptizing. He answered that he was the “voice of one calling in the desert, make straight the way for the Lord;” quoting the prophet Isaiah (John 1:19-27). John also called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” for their hypocrisy. John had been another irritant to them. So Jesus’ question is, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

Proving once again that it doesn’t pay to dispute with God, Jesus’ question throws them into another pickle. Admit that John’s baptism came from heaven, and Jesus’ quick reply would be—then why didn’t you follow him? Why didn’t you repent and turn from your evil works, and prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord’s Messiah? Obviously they didn’t believe John’s message, and couldn’t give this answer without conceding their disbelief. Alternatively, answering that John’s baptism was from men would put them in political hot water with the crowds. It was political suicide to tell the crowds that John was no prophet, and just spoke on his own authority as a man. The priests already had a tenuous political position as it was—trying to please the Jews who favored the Pharisees on the one hand, and the Romans who held the political authority on the other. What lay exposed in their heart was how they desired to answer the question—not according to principle and what was true—but by what was safest to say or politically expedient.

Jesus had them cornered, with no way to escape to the right or the left, and instead of answering the question directly they chose to give the lame excuse for an answer that they didn’t know. Their hearts were already made up, and they didn’t believe that John’s baptism was from God any more than they believed Jesus’ authority was from God. But they wouldn’t even admit this answer, because they wanted to try to stay neutral towards the crowds. Fear prompted them to act in the safest way, instead of principle guiding them to say what is true regardless of the consequences. We may face similar challenges and tests of conviction. Will we allow fear to keep us from doing what is right or saying what is right? Or will we be driven to take the safest avenue to avoid trouble? Jesus pushed them to face the real question of His own authority—was it from heaven, or was it from man?

This was more than just a matter of indecision…they were chief priest and elders of the people—leaders! If anyone was responsible, they were—to distinguish between true and false prophets, between true and false teaching. But they surrendered their authority and responsibility to the people by their unwillingness to take a stance on John’s authority and ultimately Jesus’ authority. The warning for us is not to get caught in the same cowardice of not facing the truth—even when it’s uncomfortable. We are responsible and accountable to the truth. Trying to be “safe” by being indecisive about Jesus just isn’t an option. There is no neutral position of “I don’t know.” Jesus won’t allow us to sit on the fence about Him. His authority is either from God or from men. There’s no two ways about it.

How do we answer the question about Jesus’ authority? Do we clearly and with the conviction of faith confess that Jesus’ authority is divine? Or do we try to hedge our bets about the authority of Jesus and His Word, and choose the easy to swallow parts and the parts that fit with what we think, while rejecting the more difficult teachings? Do we pick and choose what we accept on His authority? If we answer that His authority is divine, from our Father in heaven, then we aren’t free to build halfway-houses, and try to take some of God’s Word and leave the rest. Instead we are to be truth-tellers, to be people of conviction. If all Jesus asked of the priests was that they go along with what they already accepted and agreed with, then they would’ve had no problem following Him. But He calls them and us to a full declaration of His authority and to submit to God’s Word in every way.

This is a radical commitment and has big implications for our lives. It means giving up our indecision and fear of the world. But Jesus is the very Son of Man, whom the prophet Daniel saw being given an everlasting dominion, an eternal kingdom and glory. Jesus is the Son of Man who holds authority in heaven and on earth, and all powers, dominions, and nations will serve Him. To submit to the authority of Jesus and to trust in Him as our Savior is to be under the authority of the one who commands the stars and the heavens, who rules over every nation, who has the power over life and death. Accepting His authority may be difficult, but far better to stand on God’s side, and have His power and authority exercised for you and your protection; for your very salvation—than to stand opposed to God’s authority. As subjects in His everlasting kingdom, He exercises His authority to destroy sin for us. He destroys the power that death holds over our lives. He is the one who has the power to cast out fear from our lives. Through His cross and resurrection, we receive all the benefits of His rule: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. To trust in Jesus is to have God on our side! Of whom, then, shall we be afraid? Truly, for those who believe, Christ’s authority and rule brings blessing and peace. And now may that peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, "Foolishness, Wisdom, and the Cross"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1. Here the apostle Paul speaks about the centrality of Christ crucified in Christian preaching. Thinking about this passage, I remember once when I was shocked and even a little offended when I saw a book my dad owned, titled, “The Foolishness of God.” What could that phrase mean? Isn’t it blasphemous? And then I found those very words come from the Bible, in this passage to the Corinthians. The book, it turns out, was not insulting God, but showing how God’s ways are far beyond human understanding and reason. Today we will look more closely at the foolishness of God and how the foolishness of God proves wiser than man’s wisdom. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We preach Christ crucified. It’s the heart and center of our faith and life as Christians. It’s the indispensible message that holds everything else together, that makes sense of all the Gospels and how God’s plan of salvation unfolded through history. Without the message of Christ crucified for sinners, we could no longer claim to be the church—at least not Christ’s church. Yet this isn’t a popular message. It makes us squirm to think about it. Paul wrote that it was no different in the first century. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” Christ crucified is a “stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” It was as unpopular then as now. But how’s the message of cross—the very power of God to us who’re being saved—how’s this a stumbling block and foolishness to the world?

First of all, for the Jews, the cross was the ultimate offense for how a man should die. It was shameful beyond measure. The book of Deuteronomy records, “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23). Now combine that with the Jews’ hope for a Messiah, and how they envisioned Him—more along the lines of His Triumphal Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem than with a “suffering servant”—and you will begin to see why the cross was a stumbling block or a scandal to them. They tripped over this offense, that the Messiah sent from God, would die on a cross and be under God’s curse. It was scandalous to think that God would use a man who died like a condemned criminal to save them! It was completely backwards! Or so it seemed.

To the Gentiles, this was mere foolishness. The Roman orator and author Cicero summed up what the Gentiles thought of crucifixion: “Let the very name of the cross be far away from Roman citizens, not from their bodies only, but from their thoughts, their eyes and their ears.” Even though this was the supreme penalty for Roman justice, and was quite a public spectacle, it was nevertheless so offensive and repugnant that they didn’t want to see, hear, think or talk about it. In fact, the Four Gospels’ account of the crucifixion of Jesus is the most detailed record of any ancient crucifixion. So shameful that it was barely written about. The Greeks mocked that Christians worshipped a dead man. But of course nothing could be further from the truth. Far from worshipping a dead man, the centrality of Christ crucified to our preaching and our message has everything to do with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and His death on the cross is in fact the power of God for those who’re being saved.

But until Christ’s return, this will always be the reputation of Christians and the chief objection to our faith—that it centers on the shameful death of Jesus, and His resurrection. To the eyes of the world, there’s nothing that seems wise or noble or powerful about God’s plan of salvation through the cross. Today we’re still offended by the cross, we still think it’s folly, and we still try to hide it from our eyes. What is the offense in this message of Christ crucified? We wish to excuse ourselves from having any blame in the matter of Jesus’ death. It’s easy enough to vilify those who put Jesus to death—in fact it’s very easy to do this as a preacher, a failure I’m certain I’ve made at times. We make the Jews and Romans to seem horribly cruel and hateful. We become His compassionate sympathizers, who would never have done such a thing. Jesus then becomes just another victim like us, and we stay (nearly) innocent of the whole thing.

But this is precisely the offense of the cross that we’re stumbling over. That we too had a direct part in His death, and that we cannot tolerate the judgment of God who sits over all our sin and says that we’re unworthy and deserve to be punished. We twist and writhe every which way to find a way out of the judgment, and see our way out as claiming to be victims. The cross shows us that we could’ve been the victim. God’s wrath could’ve been emptied on us, and we would’ve paid the ultimate price, and still failed to redeem our own skin. We realize that God is perfect in His holiness, and could’ve just as easily blazed us sinners out of existence…so futile is our attack of sin against Him. The cross shows us that rather than us being the victim of human sin, God Himself became the victim. His attack against sin was to die on the cross, for Jesus to face His full wrath against sin, but simultaneously pouring out His mercy and forgiveness on those who’d look to His cross and be saved. The offense of the cross is that it pushes us to realize that we can’t save any shred of our innocence, or cover our nakedness with fig leaves. That the solution isn’t making excuses or justifying our actions, but that we die there at the cross—dying to our sin through repentance and baptism. We admit our part in the bloody matter, and so we receive His absolution from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So we can’t hide our eyes from the offense of the cross, lest we hide from our eyes our very salvation in Jesus. The work of salvation that Jesus accomplished there through His suffering and death are indispensible to the life and preaching of the church. If this isn’t our message, we may as well close the church. Self-help and pop-psychology, financial advice, ways to build self-esteem, can all be supplied by the secular world, with no mention of the cross required. If the church is just here to offer a “Christian replica” of what the world already offers, then we’re already irrelevant. Then we aren’t going to be salt and light—and we aren’t going to be giving the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Is Christ’s death on the cross necessary for my financial success? My self-esteem? No. But is Christ’s death on the cross necessary for my salvation? For the forgiveness of my sins? For the wisdom of God to be known to us? For our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? For peace with God and a clean conscience? Yes to all of these and more! And this message is relevant in every time and place and culture, because we all share the common ailment of sin.

To the eyes of the world, the cross just doesn’t make sense. That so much good, that our salvation, forgiveness, life—could come from something so horrible and despised and shameful as the cross. The world judges success by wisdom, power, and fame—by the praise of mankind. This is what has been called a “theology of glory.” A theology of glory is the mindset that when everything is going good and well and we’re healthy, wealthy, and wise—then God is shining His favor on us and we know that we’re pleasing to Him. On the flipside, a theology of glory says that when there’s weakness and poverty, when there’s death or loss in our life—this is a sure sign that God is angry with us. In other words, a theology of glory tries to determine God’s favor or His attitude toward us by the external circumstances of life. And so the heart of a theologian of glory thinks, “I’m a good, moral, upright person; I’ve a large family, am blessed with prosperity and a good job. Life is good, God must be satisfied with me.”

But equally a theologian of glory is the person who says, “My life is miserable, and my job is failing, I’ve lost my security and my home, God must be punishing me…or there is no God at all.” The theologian of glory tries to read the events, the fortunes and misfortunes of their life as a guide to what God thinks of them. Every one of us is by nature a theologian of glory. In the irreverent comedy “Bruce Almighty,” Bruce is the perfect example of a theologian of glory, when he sneers that God is like a big kid who is burning ants with a magnifying glass, laughing at us in our misery.

But we all identify with this struggle. So what’s the alternative? The alternative is the theology of the cross. The theology of the cross doesn’t try to peer behind the mystery of God’s will, and figure out why the good things or bad things in life are happening to us. But the theologian of the cross instead rests assured that we know God’s heart and attitude toward us through God’s visible suffering and the cross. The theology of the cross puts Christ crucified for sinners before our eyes, to see that God has shown His favor to us, even in the midst of suffering, trial, and temptation. The heart of a theologian of the cross says, “Though all around me I see pain, loneliness, and death, I know that God has not abandoned me—for He has pledged His love and mercy to me through the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus was forsaken on the cross for my sin, so that God won’t forsake me.”

Read the book of Job sometime, and consider it in this light. The book of Job is a case study in the comparison of the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Job had gone from being the epitome of success, to experiencing the heart-wrenching loss of his children, his flocks and herds, and his health. His three friends were poor comforters, and were all theologians of glory, as they each told him that this was a sure sign that God was punishing him for some hidden sin that he refused to confess. But Job, in the midst of his suffering, didn’t turn away from God, but spoke tremendous words of faith—even though he questioned what God was doing. He said to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) In his despair he cried out, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him!” (Job 13:15a). He said, “All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come” (Job 14:14b). “I know that my Redeemer lives!” (Job 19:25). The theologian of the cross, like Job, may look at the circumstances of life and feel like God is a million miles away, and making us suffer without reason. But he still trusts that God is good, and He is near to us, even in the pit of despair.

Countless Christians have suffered persecution in prison, times of tremendous pain and loss, times when they’ve been brought so low they feel they can hardly bear it—yet they’ve known through it all, that Christ is with them. With all the world’s disfavor and rejection—whatever circumstances in your life seem like God has turned His face away—when we look to the cross we know with certainty that God still has favor on the broken-hearted, on the repentant. God will hear those who call to Him, and He doesn’t hide His face from us when we’re in distress (Psalm 102). But His face isn’t found in the circumstances around us, good or bad—His face toward us is the suffering face of Jesus, weighed down by our own sin on the cross, bleeding with the crown of thorns. That in that face we see where God truly did hide His face, God truly did pour out His wrath against our sin—but all so that we might be spared. So that in the face of Jesus we would find forgiveness and life—and the nearness to the God who suffers for us.

In the cross God has made foolish the wisdom of the world, shown that the strong and powerful and the wise man and the debaters will become powerless and weak. All proud self-achievement and pretense will be brought low, and the humble, the suffering, will be exalted. God chose to use the weak things, and the things that are not—even people who were not wise, not powerful, not of noble birth—so that through their weakness, God’s power might be shown. The cross removes all our boasting, so that our one boast may not be in ourselves, but in the Lord. For He has rescued me from the pit, and set my feet on level ground—and though all the earth should give way around me, and every hope around me collapse—I will trust in Christ crucified, and know that God is ever my refuge and strength (Ps. 46:1-2).
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. How is the cross foolishness to the Gentiles (world) and a stumbling block (scandal) to the Jews?
2. Why is the call of the church and of preachers to “preach Christ crucified?” Why won’t a substitute message suffice? Consider this criteria for a Christian sermon: “Did Christ need to die on the cross in order for this to be true/to happen?”
3. What is wisdom in the eyes of the world? What is the mindset of a “theologian of glory?” A “theologian of the cross?”
4. Look at the life of Job. How does his dialogue with his friends and eventually with God, bring out the contrast between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross?
5. How has God’s foolishness and weakness at the cross proved wiser and stronger than men?
6. How has the lowness of our own calling (in worldly standards) again proved God’s wisdom and strength?

Sermon Corrections:
A couple of mistakes were pointed out to me in recent sermons, which I would like to correct here: In my sermon on the Transfiguration, I mentioned that Moses and Elijah had died centuries earlier. In actuality, Elijah did not die, but as the reading from 2 Kings 2:11-12 indicated, he was taken directly up into heaven. Secondly, in the same sermon I mentioned that the voice of the Father from heaven was only heard twice in Jesus’ public ministry, at His Baptism and Transfiguration. I found that at least one other occurrence is recorded in the Gospels, in John 12:23-33. Can you find any others? Thirdly, I made a theological mistake in the sermon on Abraham’s test of faith, when I stated that God chose Abraham because of His faith. To state it more accurately, God does not call us “in view of our future faith” or any other quality in us, but we are first chosen (predestined) solely by His grace, then we are called and justified by faith (Rom. 8:29-30). Further, we “cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ [our] Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called [us] by the Gospel” (Small Catechism, Explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed). This is to say that God’s gracious calling comes first, our faith comes afterward as a consequence!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 21:14-17 for Lent 3. "Do you hear what these are saying?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This third part in the Lenten series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered” is based on Matthew 21:14-17, and the question the Jews raise to Jesus is: “Do you hear what these are saying?” This exchange takes place in the Temple, shortly after Jesus has made His Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. He’d been greeted by crowds waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” That same cry of praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David” is criticized here. Only this isn’t in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the courts of the Temple, right after Jesus had just cleansed the Temple of moneychangers and merchants. Today we’ll consider how Jesus responded to this cry of praise. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It must have been a chaotic day in Jerusalem, with all the buzz and stir that was happening around Jesus. First the triumphal entry on the donkey, with shouts and praises acclaiming the Son of David—Matthew says that the city was so stirred up so that everyone was asking, “Who is this?” Then suddenly Jesus is creating an uproar in the temple by driving out the moneychangers and animals. They had a profitable and accepted business going on in the Temple, and now this man who’d just been given the royal treatment is throwing their trade into chaos. The blind and the lame are being healed in the courtyards, and now children singing in the Temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” What a day! What was going on, and who was this man? And why are children now praising Him, considering what an upheaval He’d caused?

But this was no trifling matter that the Jews raised to Jesus, when they asked Him “Do you hear what these are saying?” They were indignant that Jesus was receiving praise from the children, and He didn’t silence them. The reason it was such a serious question, was that only God can rightly receive worship. From the first commandment that “You shall have no other gods before me” to God’s statement that “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Is. 42:8)—God made it clear that He alone was to be worshipped, and that He shares His glory and praise with no other. Not even angels, as exalted beings, could receive worship. The Jews learned this the hard way by being exiled in Babylon, because of their unfaithfulness to the worship of God, and how they mixed idol worship with the worship of the true God. So wrongful worship or the wrongful receiving of worship was no laughing matter. And now here in the Temple, the man Jesus was receiving praise from children! But they were mistaken about Jesus identity; thinking that Jesus wasn’t God. Had they realized who He was, they would have joined the children in their praises.

Nevertheless, Jesus calmly receives their accusing question, “Do you hear what these are saying?” and answers “Yes.” He clearly knew the implications of what they were doing in praising Him, and He clearly knew that to be worshipped was for God alone. He also saw the reaction it produced in the Jews. But unperturbed, and to their dismay, He welcomes this worship that is rightfully directed to Him as the very Son of God. He quotes for them Psalm 8, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” He showed that even though those who were wise in their own eyes would not praise Him—God had prepared praise from simple and humble children. The rest of the verse that Jesus left unquoted says the reason for God preparing this praise was because of His enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Ps. 8:2). Truly Jesus’ enemies were silenced and confounded at this, by the children.

Rather than silencing the mouths of the children, His worshippers, as the chief priests and teachers of the law wanted—He silenced the priests instead. He silences the mouths of His antagonists, and gladly receives the worship of those who are despised or treated as nothing. Jesus once again, as He did several times in His ministry, showed how the true model of faith is not the faith of an adult, but the faith of a child. Children are remarkable for their sincerity and ability to judge the character of a person. So it should come as no surprise that they clearly recognized Jesus as the Son of David, who would save them, while the scholars and scribes were blind to Him. In all their wisdom and learning, they did not see what the simple children saw, or join them in their praise, “Hosanna, to the Son of David!” Children are held up as the model and example of faith, not because they’re gullible, but because of the sincerity and simplicity of their faith, that isn’t clouded by doubts and fear, as is often the case with us adults.

This is a point of humility for us adults, to realize that a child’s faith is the model—that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become like a child. To have simple trust and security in Jesus as our Risen Lord, not doubting or fearing. And we should not be surprised or upset to hear the truth so clearly spoken by little children, or that they would be bold in witnessing to Jesus. And just as Jesus’ detractors were unable to silence the children and those who worshipped Him, so also today no enemies of Christ can silence His church. The praise of His name will endure through all generations—even infants will sing His praises, for He is the Son of God. Though the devil may howl and rage against the church for worshipping and praising Jesus, He promises that the gates of hell will not prevail over the church (Matt. 16:18). As long as the church stays steadfast in its confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, it will prevail.

The reading from Revelation also emphasizes this point about the worship of Jesus and how it testifies to His Divinity and equality to God. The book of Revelation is very much concerned with the topic of worship and the relation of the Father and Son within the Trinity. Jesus is portrayed as the Lamb who had been slain, but is living, just as Christ was crucified, but rose to life again with the marks of the nails and spear still in His hands and feet and side. The vision in Revelation shows how worship is simultaneously given to God the Father and to the Lamb who is seated with Him on the throne. The hosts of angels and elders around the throne sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” And this was followed by the refrain of all creation, singing, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever! Amen” Worship is given to both the Father and the Lamb, the One True God who doesn’t share His glory with any other, and who alone is worthy to be praised. So also we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, knowing that He is the source of every good thing.

Never silenced by detractors, we’ll join in the angelic songs of praise, and in the song of the children in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Hosanna—Save us! Our worship and our cry is to the One who is truly powerful to save, a cry to the Messiah, the Savior born of David. Boldly we praise Him as the King who is worthy of our worship, for He is God, and He’s the Lamb who was slain on the cross for our sins. And He lives forever to receive all glory and honor! To Him our anthems forever rise. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 for the Second Sunday in Lent. "Who do you say that I am?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s sermon is from the Gospel reading, Mark 8:27-38. Jesus asks His disciples and us that all-important question: “Who do you say that I am?” It is my aim that you would be able to answer that question for yourself with certainty, or at least make it a front burner issue to decide what you think of Jesus. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ first question to His disciples, was “Who do people say that I am?” What was Jesus after? Did He have an identity crisis? Was He looking for validation? No, He was looking for the disciples and others to take a position on who He was. The public opinion poll about Jesus came in from the disciples that some thought He was John the Baptist (the prophet and cousin of Jesus who had recently been executed, and who some feared was now back from the dead). Others thought He was Elijah, the great prophet of old, and others thought He was another one of the prophets. If we polled people today about who they thought Jesus was, we could get a whole different range of answers. I think the most common result is that Jesus is targeted as a great moral teacher, in line with Aristotle, Confucius, or Gandhi, or maybe a martyr for His cause. Some might merely try to dismiss Jesus’ existence all-together, not aware of the weight of the historical evidence that He lived and walked and taught in the land of Israel 2,000 years ago. Or people may just try to co-opt Jesus for their own purposes: the Jesus that is used for marketing everything from popular movies, books, and toys, to being the champion of our personal political causes, to the sale of hybrid cars and the promotion of vegetarianism.

Examples of how Jesus is misused abound. But in many ways, this “Jesus” of public opinion is even less than a faint shadow of the real Jesus. This “Jesus” of public opinion has been tamed down and apparently been made “safe” for consumption. This sort of Jesus doesn’t make any demands of us that would require any real self-sacrifice. Certainly not along the lines of what He told His disciples it meant to follow Him—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38). The real Jesus cannot be turned into a harmless milquetoast.

No, the real Jesus won’t be done away with so easily, or brushed off as just another moral teacher. The atheist-turned-Christian defender of the faith, C.S. Lewis, wrote about this in his book “Mere Christianity.” He wrote that people will say,
“I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Lewis’ point is that there are really only three viable positions about who Jesus was: He is either a Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” simply cannot be answered with: “Jesus is a great moral teacher, but not God.” He doesn’t fit into that character. Jesus’ claims and demands don’t allow for such a “safe” middle position. Jesus’ claims force us to adopt one of those three alternatives—He has not left it open to have the patronizing opinion that He is just a great human teacher. He never intended for such a lukewarm response to His claims.

So what were Jesus’ claims, and how do they force us to make a choice about this crucial question of “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus said in our reading today that He would come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. He said that He would suffer and be killed, and after three days be raised again. He said that God had appointed Him judge over all humanity (John 5:22). Now ask yourself some questions. Can any mere human being claim to know the precise manner and timing of His death, and promise that He will be able to rise to life again in 3 days? And if you would disregard those claims as lunacy or someone having a “god-complex” for someone else, would you still accept such a person as a great moral teacher? If a mere human being proclaimed that after death he would return with God the Father’s glory and accompanied by angels, to be the judge of all mankind, living and dead, would you say “he’s half-baked on all that,” but I’ll still accept everything else he says?? To make claims like that, and not really be God would qualify anyone as insane at best, or a malicious liar and deceiver at worst. And no one would consider either type of person a great moral teacher.

No…Aristotle or Buddha or Confucius or Gandhi never made such radical claims as Jesus, and those claims just don’t permit Him to be counted on the same level. Because if His claims to be God are false, then all the rest has to fall with it. But does the eyewitness report of Jesus, from His first century followers and the description of His enemies as well—do His teachings themselves bear the mark of the ravings of a madman or a liar? Could someone who was deluded with grandiose ideas of being God, teach with such power and authority and wisdom that even His enemies were confounded and amazed? Even His enemies were forced to admit that He cured the blind and the lame, though they despised the fact that He did it on the Sabbath day, which they thought violated God’s command to rest. Even His enemies couldn’t produce His body, and were forced to acknowledge His empty tomb, after He died on the cross—and they were forced to spread rumors about a stolen body. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who had no interest in religion or truth, found Jesus to be guilty of no crime deserving death.

What mere man, having successfully gotten crowds to believe He was the Son of God and Messiah, would face an agonizing death and abuse on the cross—the worst of Roman torture—and not break down and admit that it had all been a sham. At that lowest point, there was nothing to be gained, there was no earthly profit in staying the course. There were those who spit on Him and called for His crucifixion, treating Him like the liar or lunatic. But they did not praise Him as a great moral teacher. No, it’s really unthinkable—it’s beyond reason, that He could have been a Liar or Lunatic. Neither a liar nor a lunatic could’ve faced death in the way that He did. More than just holding to His innocence and more than just maintaining His claim to be the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One—He showed an unearthly love and forgiveness to His tormentors. Without bitterness He forgave them from His cross, and didn’t cry out curses or revenge against them. Even the Roman centurion who stood guard over His death could come to no other conclusion after seeing a death like this, than to cry out “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54). At the cross of Jesus, all our falsely constructed identities of Jesus crumble away, and there the true Christ, the Savior sent from God is revealed.

So now we’re faced with the crucial question again—in light of all this, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” And the answer that everything is pointing to, “You are the Christ, my Lord” is a daring one. Not daring because there should be any doubt, but daring for what it’ll mean for your life, for my life. Daring because it’s far from the safety of easily dismissing Jesus as a great teacher, but a mere human who has no claims on your life. Daring because you’ll have to step out of the indecision of not knowing. But daring most of all because to call Jesus the Christ—the One whom God specially chose to be the world’s Savior—to call Him Lord, is to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. This is no easy task. And Christ Jesus says that “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.”

Holding on to our life, trying to save it by avoiding the question or avoiding the uncomfortable implications of who Jesus is, will only end up with losing our life. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? In the end, by trying to save our life and gain everything this world has to offer, we lose the very life we’re trying to save. And on the Last Day, Christ will be ashamed of us. But by losing our life to Christ—surrendering ourselves to believe and receive Him as Lord—this is to truly have our life saved. By giving everything up to Him, taking the risk to believe, we gain more than we ever lost. In Christ, we gain the forgiveness of our sins through His cross, the cleansing and freedom from our guilt and shame, the certain promise of eternal life with Him. So call everything you have and are a loss, and count it as nothing, and fall down at the feet of Jesus Christ and worship Him as Lord and God, and you will receive a fullness of peace and life that you have not known, and on the Last Day, Christ won’t be ashamed of you, but will call you brother and sister—God’s child and His heir.

This is to say, that the risk and danger of losing your life, giving it up to Jesus by putting your full trust in Him, is worth all the gain that He promises. Not an easy life, nor one free from suffering…but one filled with His promises, His forgiveness and eternal security, and His peace and hope. The Son of God did not go to such great lengths and pain to suffer death on a cross, to bring us petty things. Discover what an inheritance He has in store for you, as His free gift to all who believe. May you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with this answer: “Jesus, You are my Lord.” 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:
1. Who did people say that Jesus was in His own day? What do people say about Him today?
2. The title “Christ” (Greek) or “Messiah” (Hebrew), both mean “Anointed One.” When Peter confessed Jesus as being “the Christ,” he was acknowledging that Jesus was the one God had chosen from the beginning of the world, to be our Savior.
3. What did C.S. Lewis mean when he wrote that there are only three possibilities for who is: either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Why would Jesus’ claim to be God either prove or discredit His teachings?
4. Who do you say that Jesus is? What implications does this have for your life?
5. What is the risk involved in believing? What does it mean to “deny yourself and take up your cross?” What does it mean to “lose your life” for Jesus’ sake, only to find it? What gain is there in losing our life to Christ?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 15:1-20 for Lent 2, "Why do your disciples...?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Tonight we continue our sermon series on “Questions about Jesus that they don’t want answered.” The text is the reading you heard from Matthew 15:1-20, the Pharisees question about traditions. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Arguing with the Son of God is never a winning proposition. Whenever the Pharisees or others tried to catch Jesus in His words, or trip Him up, they ended up being snared in their own words. Jesus could quickly turn the tables on them, and expose the lie in their hearts. The Pharisees’ question today, was about why the disciples broke the tradition of the elders by eating with unwashed hands. This referred to certain ceremonial laws that the rabbis had recorded, but were not scriptural. Instead of answering their question, Jesus puts another one of their manmade traditions or laws to the test. Why? To show that they really weren’t concerned about obedience to God, but obedience to their own traditions.

In his parallel account, Mark (7:11) records the name of this manmade tradition that Jesus was going to expose. It was called the Corban rule. This rule basically said that if a person wanted to will their money or other material inheritance to the temple, after their death, this money couldn’t be transferred to anyone else. However, it could be used for your own benefit while you were alive. Therefore, according to the Corban rule, a son could say to his parents: “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” and he didn’t need to honor his father or mother. In effect, it gave the greedy son or daughter an excuse for not supporting their parents, and keeping all their money to themselves by saying that when they died, all their inheritance was pledged to God. So for their parents to expect any help or support from them, would be tantamount to robbing God. Or so went the pretense. So it appeared pious and reverent toward God, by promising future help to the needy—while it denied help to the parents who were concretely in need. The book of Proverbs comments on this attitude, saying: “Whoever robs his father or his mother and says, “That is no transgression,” is a companion to a man who destroys” (Prov. 28:24).

So here, by using the Corban rule, the people would honor a manmade tradition, but would disobey the divine commandment to honor your father and mother. The tradition made void or nullified the fourth commandment by making it ok to hide behind a tradition while robbing your parents of their rightful care. The fourth commandment teaches us that we should “not despise or anger our parents or other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” Since our parents or legal guardians went to great expense and sacrifice to raise us, it should be a joy for us to willingly support them when we are able, and to return the love that they showed to us.

Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites for holding the doctrines of men above the commands of God, and calls it lip service to God. Quoting Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Is. 29:13). This kind of devotion to God angers Him, because it hurts other people (Bruner, see below). The lips give service to God, and make a show of holiness, but the heart is corrupt and wicked. What is true worship instead? To honor God’s commandments and teachings above those of men, and to worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). His Word is Truth, and His Spirit is active through His Word.

Jesus follows up this discussion with the crowds and His disciples, explaining to them what really defiles a person or makes them unclean. It’s not the failure to wash your hands, as the Pharisee’s question assumed. Jesus goes further to say that it’s not even a matter of the food you eat, which was an important thing for Jews considering their kosher laws. Jesus says none of these things that go into a person make them unclean. Rather, it is what comes out of their mouth, which flows from their heart that makes them unclean. Breaking God’s commandments, not human commandments, is what defiles you. Jesus replies: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Jesus’ answer is another one we don’t want to hear. We always want to assume that our hearts are the source of our best motivations and desires, and that even if our outward actions don’t always measure up—at least our heart is right. But Jesus lays the heart bare as the source of the evil thoughts that give rise to such transgressions against the 10 Commandments as murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. Why are all these things the fruit of the heart? Because Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). Like a good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit, so the condition of our heart will be reflected in the words that flow from our mouth and in the actions that follow. Jesus’ examples were from the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th commandments—which are directed at protecting our neighbor’s life and health, their sexual purity and that of their marriage bed, the protection of their property and possessions, and the protection of their reputation.

We see this “bad fruit” and the result of evil thoughts from the heart in many ways. Oftentimes even disguised behind a veil of legitimacy, just as the Pharisees’ Corban rule gave honor to human laws and traditions, while disobeying God. Hiding behind so called “rights” that give permission to take an innocent life in the womb, honors human law but disregards the Divine commandment. So called “protection” for “safe-sex” offers no protection against the loss of sexual purity, or dishonoring the marriage bed. Using legal means to dishonest gain, whether someone else is hurt by it or not, is still theft in God’s eyes. False witness and slander may be the regular fare of gossipers, and there may be an endless number of excuses to legitimize it, but it still disregards God’s command and takes the prerogative on yourself to judge another. But these and other examples of evil thoughts and deeds have at their root a heart that is far from God.

So what is the solution? How do we bring about the godly virtues and obedience to God’s commands that flows from the heart, and is more than just empty lip-service? First of all, there is no amount of moral reform or coercion that can bring about the old sinful nature to more than just an outward obedience. More than just lip-service. Secondly, we can never fulfill the law to the complete and perfect extent that God requires. The solution is more drastic: we need a heart transplant. We need God to give us a new heart, a heart of flesh, not the sinful, hard-heart of stone. Our sinful heart with its immoral intentions, with hateful and lustful thoughts, with greed and gossip and slander, cannot give rise to real change. But God, who by His Word and Spirit can “Create in me a clean heart,” and through the washing of baptism can give us rebirth, can transform our lives and actions into true worship that flows from a pure heart, and worships God in Spirit and Truth.

If the Pharisees and chief priests had known who they were speaking to, and that Jesus was the Son of God, they would have turned to Him in repentance for a clean heart. He would grant them the Holy Spirit and faith, that they would then worship Him and His Father in Spirit and in Truth. They would recognize in Him the perfect fulfillment and obedience of the Law, as God requires…the One who fulfills the Law in our place. It is my prayer this Lenten season, that you and I both would seek after Jesus in repentance for the evil thoughts of our hearts, and that we would cry out to Him for a clean heart and a clean conscience, forgiven through His shed blood on the cross. That we’d trust in Him as the One who fulfills the Law in our place. That we’d recognize our own role in the death of Jesus, by contributing our own sin—but pleading for His mercy upon us poor sinners. Then we will find as the Psalms say, that God is near to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18), His salvation is near to those who fear Him (Ps. 85:9), and that He is near to those who call on Him, who call on Him in truth (Ps. 145:18).

With this attitude of repentance and sorrow over sin, and seeking God’s mercy in Christ, we are surely near to Him, and not far away. And because He is our great High Priest, we can in the words of the book of Hebrews: “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:22-25). Then we will have the obedience that God desires: “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). God is near to us. Christ is near. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sermon on Genesis 22:1-18, for the First Sunday in Lent "The Lord Will Provide"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Old Testament reading, God’s testing of Abraham, Genesis 22:1-18. Today we will think and consider how God tests us as well, and how the Lord will Provide. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know in what particular ways God is going to test you throughout life. The individual tests of faith that we face as Christians, may be as different from one another as the differences between our personalities, our personal strengths and weaknesses, our work circumstances and environment, our personal and family relationships, our age, etc. Young or old, married or single, wealthy or poor—our lives will be tested. But regardless of the wide differences that may face us in the types of trials and tests that we face, this is near certain to be in common—that they will challenge your trust in God’s Word and Promises. The circumstances of life will cause us to doubt or struggle with those Promises, and wonder how they can really be so, considering all that is happening to us.

In one of my favorite lines from the Lord of the Rings movies, Sam is encouraging his best friend Frodo, who wants to give up on what seems to be an impossible mission, full of darkness and danger. Sam reminds him of all the great stories that really mattered. That the reason they were worth remembering was because there were countless times that they could have turned back and given up—only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. And if I can just make a small change about Sam’s quote to apply it to us. He said they were holding onto the hope that there’s some good in the world and it’s worth fighting for. I would change that to say that we’re holding onto faith in God’s Word and Promises. That’s what keeps us from turning back when the uncertainties and darkness of life loom large and our faith in God’s promises wavers.

Abraham was tested by God in a way far greater than we can imagine—yet unique to his circumstances and life. What makes the story of Abraham great and worth remembering is that he too had countless opportunities to turn back and give up, only he didn’t. He clung to God’s promises, no matter how contradictory they seemed to the challenge that faced him. It wasn’t that Abraham was an exceptionally courageous or powerful man, or born of noble blood—but God chose him because Abraham simply trusted in God. God’s promises to Abraham were threefold: 1) that God would make his descendants a great nation through his son Isaac (the son of promise), 2) that Abraham’s descendants would possess the land of Canaan, and 3) that all nations of the earth would be blessed through one of Abraham’s offspring. These were God’s promises to
Abraham, and they all depended on the survival and future offspring of Isaac.

Then God put Abraham to the single greatest test of his life—to see how strongly he believed in God’s promises, and how greatly He valued and trusted God, even above his son whom he loved, Isaac. God gave Abraham a direct command: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” God’s alarming command to Abraham seemed to be contrary to all that He had promised! How could God keep His promise to make Abraham a great nation, and bless the world through one of his descendants, if he was to sacrifice Isaac?

It would have been tempting for Abraham to try to explain away the command. “God can’t mean to literally sacrifice my son, can he?” “Perhaps I can think of a way out.” “Maybe I misunderstood Him.” Or “I just can’t go through with this—it’s unreasonable.” Did endless doubts cloud his mind, racing with questions and wondering why? “Who is the God whom I worship? Is He really like all the other Canaanite gods who want child sacrifice? Is there any other way out?” But God’s command was unerringly clear—it couldn’t be anyone but his only-begotten son whom he loved, Isaac. And he was to be offered as a whole burnt offering on Mount Moriah. Moriah, the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem, where lambs would daily be offered in sacrifice. After making the preparations, Abraham set out on the journey, and arrived near the mountain. Leaving the two servants behind, he said, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Though he didn’t know what lay ahead, he had faith that both he and his son would return to them.

Then began that painstaking walk of faith for Abraham and his son. The repeated words, “So they went, both of them together,” can only lead us to guess what thoughts and emotions tumbled through the mind of Abraham. He laid the wood of the offering on the back of Isaac, who willingly carried it. Abraham carried the fire and knife, with which he knew he was to sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac. “Why is God doing this to me? Haven’t I done what God desires? My son means everything to me. If only I could die in his place, I’d certainly do it! How will God keep His promise if I go through with this? But there it is again. God’s sure and certain promise. I cannot doubt it, no matter how grim things seem now. He has not failed me in the past. Yes, I will go on and obey—for He is greater than my doubts and fear—and He can keep His promise though I do not see the end of it.” Together father and son walked to what seemed to be Isaac’s grave. Gradually Isaac realized as he drew near: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for burnt offering?” In this moment of great conflict, Abraham does not answer that Isaac will be the sacrifice, but “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”

Isaac too had a walk of faith. He had to trust and obey what his father was doing. And it doesn’t say that he protested or resisted, even to being bound on the altar as his father raised the knife. What fear and confusion must have swept over him? Yet he was committed to his father’s will. The challenges that we face are similar in this way. Bad things happen, we struggle or fail, and we start to wonder if God is really watching over us. We see how much evil there is in the world, in us, in our failed choices, in our lives, and wonder—how can God love me? Isn’t there some way out of this? This is just unreasonable! Why is God doing this to me? Is God angry at me? Is He punishing me for some sin?

But we cannot resolve the seeming contradiction. We can’t know the reasons and purposes behind God’s will. But whenever the devil uses these trials and difficulties to make us doubt whether God loves us or whether God really intends for us to be saved, we must have faith in the sure and certain promises of God, and never let these be taken from us. We must grab hold of what is solid and sure, what is objective and true. Remind yourself, “I am baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ! Therefore He is my shield and great reward. I shall not fear, because I am His and He is mine.” “I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me grace. This promise will not lie, even if I should be cast into utter darkness” .

But right at the height of the tension, as the hand of Abraham is raised in agony to slay his son, the angel of the Lord calls him and stays his hand. God saw that Abraham had completely surrendered Isaac to God and brought his reason into captivity to the obedience of faith. He didn’t question the Word of God to him, but stood firm in his faith, as the book of Hebrews records: he considered that “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” Heb. 11:19. This is why he could say, “I and the boy will return to you” to the servants, and why he could say, “The Lord will provide for Himself a lamb.” And in fact, there in the thorns of a bush, was a ram, caught by his horns. And this ram became the innocent, substitute sacrifice, and Isaac was spared. So Abraham named that place on Mount Moriah, “The Lord will provide.”

Here we see an amazing picture of what God accomplished for us. We see in Isaac and the ram a type or foreshadowing of Jesus. God the Father, like Abraham, had to take His only begotten Son, the Son whom He loved, Jesus, and sacrifice Him. But Isaac was not yet quite like Jesus, for he in the end wasn’t sacrificed, but the ram instead. But Christ Jesus died on the cross as the innocent, substitute sacrifice for us. Like the happy reunion of father and son when Abraham saw that Isaac would live, so is the happy reunion between God and us, when we have faith in His Son Jesus, and through His death on the cross we are spared from eternal death and destruction. And God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead, so the reunion is complete, and whatever loss God the Father and Son suffered, it was for our gain.

Abraham’s faith in God to raise his son from the dead was a foreshadowing of the real thing, when God would literally offer up His own Son Jesus into death—the only sinless death that could satisfy God. Jesus was the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus showed perfect obedience and willingness, carrying the wood of His own cross as Isaac carried the wood of sacrifice. Like Isaac wondered at where the sacrifice was, Jesus was troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked if this was really God’s will, and was there no other way? By His full consent to the Father’s will and not His own, He gave His life for us. Though He faced His own death and grave, He committed Himself wholly to God’s Word.

But there’s a final part of the story. That after God saw that Abraham had done this, and didn’t withhold his only son—God swore by Himself again to keep his three promises to Abraham—to make him a great nation, to give him the land, and to bless all nations through his singular offspring—Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). God swore by Himself, because there is none greater to swear by, none greater than God whose promises are the solid rock and ground of our faith (Heb. 6:13). Because His Word is more certain than heaven and earth, we can have certain faith, knowing that even when we are shaken and put through great challenges in life, God will not fail to keep His Word. And by God swearing by Himself, He testifies to us that salvation is completely His work. He is bound to keep His promises, and no evil, no power of the devil, no doubt or fear can keep Him from fulfilling His promise to us.

Life may indeed seem to be a place of contradictions. The trials of life may cry out to us, “Why is God letting this happen? Does God really love me?” But to look to the sure and certain promises of God’s love, and to believe Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin, is to look with eyes of faith beyond our suffering and momentary darkness, and know that there is light ahead. It is to commit ourselves fully to God’s Word, no matter how contradictory it may seem to our experiences. It is to know that the Lord will provide for us, and we need fear nothing, for He is faithful to His promises, and He swears by Himself to keep them. 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:
1. What seemingly insurmountable circumstances face you in life? Or what test(s) of faith, large or small do you face, from which it would be easy to turn back?
2. What three promises had God made to Abraham (see v. 15-18), and how did He guarantee that He would keep them? What role did Isaac have in those promises?
3. What in your life seems contradictory to God’s promises to you? Which is more certain, God’s Word, or our trials? How do these present obstacles to our faith? Write down the questions they raise in your mind.
4. How did Isaac and the ram foreshadow Jesus’ death on the cross? What was Jesus’ own challenge of faith? In what way are we like Isaac?
5. What is the significance of God swearing by Himself? What does it show about the work of salvation?
6. For your own study: What is the significance of Mount Moriah & repeated place names in the Bible? Here in Genesis 22, it was the place of Abraham’s testing and the sacrifice. In 2 Chronicles 3:1 Solomon built the temple there, centuries later. Solomon’s father David had interceded for the people of Israel there in 1 Chronicles 21:15ff. Jesus’ death, though not inside the Temple, was very near Mount Moriah, but outside the city (Heb. 13:12).