Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:10-11, for Christmas Eve, "Like a Shepherd"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      This night shepherds came to greet One who would be a shepherd like them. As their dark night flashed into brilliance and joyful sound with the arrival of the angels and their announcement, these shepherds jumped up to run and see a miracle. God’s Son, born into the world, bringing peace and goodwill to men. They would come and find a shepherd par excellence. One who would excel in their profession. Jesus probably never tended the four-legged variety of sheep, but this child was born to shepherd His people Israel, and also others not of that flock (the Gentiles He would later call).
2.      Shepherd needs to be strong and brave to ward off danger and protect the sheep. Strength of His arm against foes, but safety for the lambs gathered in His arms. Like young David fighting off wild bears and lions to protect his flock. Not a weak or timid God. Jesus showed His strength and bravery in a remarkable way, by laying down His life for the sheep. Unafraid to die, knowing it was the only way to secure a future for His sheep and Himself. “YHWH combines toughness and gentleness. There is a special authenticity about the gentleness of a tough person, and about the toughness of a gentle person” (Goldingay). Can you picture such a person you knew like that? Perhaps a father figure, or grandfather? Who was tough, but gentle? A mother or grandmother? Who was gentle but tough? The authenticity of that person’s actions, balancing both toughness and tenderness speaks volumes of their love. So also God is tough on sin, but gentle to His lambs. Makes war on the thorns and briars that trap us, but gently holds the sheep in His arms.
3.      Shepherd’s need to be watchful and responsible. Always tending to their sheep, because they often go astray. Can’t neglect or ignore the sheep, they will fall into danger. Jesus watches over His sheep. Brings us back on His shoulders, rejoicing, when we go astray.
4.      Shepherd needs to be gentle. Sheep will hear His voice and love Him if He is tender. Jesus shows incredible love to His lambs, “He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Infants and mothers with children are the most vulnerable. Knows our situation, is gentle with us. In His bosom we are sheltered and secured. Jesus draws us, His little lambs, close to His heart.
5.      He gathers those who have been scattered (i.e. exile). Jesus gathers the flock into one fold. Jews and Gentiles, all are still called to come into His pasture, to know Him as shepherd, trust Him, hear His voice.
6.      Wolves exploit the vulnerable, multiply their sufferings. The church and Christ its shepherd protect and love the vulnerable.
7.      Shepherd needs to know where it is safe to drink and good pasture. Jesus leads us to the still waters of baptism for the forgiveness of our sins, the refreshing of our soul, the quenching of our thirst for life—eternal life. He leads us in green pastures, feeding us with His Word, guarding us in the safety of the church from the pains of an unforgiven conscience, from the guilt of unresolved sin, from the hatred of the world, from the unhealthy diet of lies and empty promises that cannot feed us, from the idols we build that have no strength, no power to save.
8.      Almost impossible to comprehend, if you were Mary and Joseph, or one of the shepherds, to look at those tiny baby arms of Jesus, and to imagine that they would one day be pierced for our sins. To imagine that those arms would grow to be the strong and everlasting arms of our God—strong to bind up the broken, the gather in the sheep and carry them in safety, through all the whirlwind storms and troubles of life.
9.      Yet these were God’s arms. On that night they would look so tiny, so innocent, soft and frail. Unimaginable that those shoulders would bear the weight of the world’s sin. But they would. And those arms would grow in adulthood to great strength. To toughness and tenderness. To gentleness and love. In His arms we will be safe and He’ll preserve us to everlasting life. Arms stretched out in love for the world, sheltering all His own who hear His voice and follow, and calling the rest to take refuge in Him. Tonight in the manger you find a shepherd. The Good Shepherd. Your Shepherd. Trust in His arms and be gathered near to His heart in love. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "Finding Favor"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      This last week before Christmas, our telling of the Christmas story begins with the visit of Gabriel to Mary. “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” “You have found favor with God.” Mary is troubled. Taking notice of me? What did it mean for Mary to find favor with God?
2.      For us, in everyday life, “finding favor” can sometimes mean “working hard to impress someone.” A new worker trying to prove his worth to his boss—advancement. College student trying to impress and pass with a tough professor. Politicians rising in the ranks among their fellows.
3.      But this isn’t what “finding favor” in God’s eyes meant for Mary. Indeed she was chosen by God for her purity and virginity, as a fitting vessel for God’s service, and for the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that the Savior would be born from a virgin. But she’s not credited by the angel for greatness of life. No mention of her deserving it—only that God had shown favor to her. What did this “finding favor” with God mean for her? It meant that she was the chosen vessel or instrument for God’s plan of salvation to unfold, through the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. She was greatly blessed to believe in the promise of the Word and be honored in this service of the Lord. Unique and unrepeatable in human history. In fact she praised God afterwards by saying “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant”. She speaks of God’s mercy to the poor and humble, and how He exalts or raises their estate.
4.      Mary found favor through Jesus, her Son. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” He was the blessing, God’s favor being extended to the world of sinful humanity. The way Mary found favor—through the birth of Jesus, is also how we find favor with God. God coming into the world to reconcile us with Himself.
5.      While of course no one else will ever be a vessel for God’s service in the precise way that Mary was, each of us can be vessels of God’s service in various smaller ways. Mary’s unique calling as mother of Jesus. We all have callings or vocations where God has placed us for His service. Mothers and fathers, children, employees and employers in all sorts of diverse professions, citizens and rulers, pastors, teachers, and church leaders, listeners to God’s Word, students, friends and neighbors. God has important work in each station. Live under His reign in each area of life.
6.      Not just one small segment of our life where God reigns: i.e. some small area of my “church life”, let’s call it, where God is in charge. But the rest of my life is my own. I’m in charge there, and I follow my own rules or the ways of the world there. But God doesn’t seek out one small little corner of our life to occupy, but our whole life together is under His rule and reign. There is no aspect of our business or work life, our family life, our social life, or wherever, that God is absent or unimportant. We are always to be mindful of who we are—as Mary remembered: “I am the servant of the Lord.”
7.      God’s calling on her life transformed it all. So also God’s calling on our life is pervasive and whole. We can’t be divided between two masters--be they God and money or God and anything else.
8.      What does it mean to live and carry out our duties in the kingdom of God, under Christ’s reign? To confess faithfully that Jesus is the Son of God, our Forever-King, and to perform our service and duties faithfully as giving an account to Him. “To live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” As our “forever-king” He will live and reign to all eternity. Our king will never change. A news pundit recently joked that “in other countries they were complaining that they couldn’t and didn’t elect their leaders, but in America they were complaining because they could and did.” (Uncle Jay) By contrast, we don’t “elect Jesus” as our King. Mary didn’t choose Him; we didn’t choose Him or make Him our King and Lord, but rather He is King and Lord of all by His divine right and because of His humble obedience to God the Father, in suffering on the cross, dying, and rising again to win for God His kingdom of believers, who worship His holy name. Unlike politicians that we might elect, there is nothing to be disappointed in by His reign--there is no corruption, no self-serving, no injustice or scandal. There is only the endless increase of His rule and peace, and the establishment of His throne on justice and righteousness. (Isaiah 9:7).
9.      In Jesus Christ, God entered the world to establish His reign of justice, mercy, and peace, and to rule in our hearts forever. Mary acknowledged God’s reign in her life when she spoke the faithful words, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She was submitting to God’s gracious reign in her life, and to have her life led by His direction. How often do we speak those words? “Let it be done to me...according to your word.” Will we let Christ reign in our life? Let Him drive out sin from our hearts? Thy will be done, not my will be done? To trust in His promises and commit our future to His leading.
10.  When we acknowledge Jesus’ reign in our lives, and say “Let it be done to me…according to your Word,” we might face crosses and difficulties, challenges of faith. But we can face them all with confidence, knowing that we are under the reign of our good and gracious king, whose throne is established on righteousness and justice, and before Him goes out steadfast love and faithfulness. Before such a king, we can be confident and trusting. We fear no “change of power” or injustice or defeat. For we know that He is our Forever-King, and of His kingdom there will be no end. All Glory to the King of Kings! All Glory to the King who comes to be born in a manger! Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. What was the angel Gabriel’s comforting response to Mary, when she was startled and troubled by his unexpected greeting? Luke 1:30. How does this compare to other angels bearing good news to humans about Christ? Luke 1:13; 2:10; Matt. 28:5

  1. What did it mean that she had “found favor” with God? How was God’s favor shown to her? Cf. Acts 7:45-46; Heb. 4:16; Gen. 6:8. Favor is found in God’s eyes/sight. The favor of God is extended to us as well through the birth and the life of Jesus, our Savior. It is through Jesus that we are found innocent in God’s eyes. Luke 2:14

  1. Mary’s virgin conception by the power of the Holy Spirit was in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, a prophecy made 7 centuries earlier, to the Jews. How would the fulfilling of this prophecy mean that “God is with us” (Emmanuel)? How was it also a fulfillment of the prophecy to David, made about 1,000 B.C. (before Christ) that God would make his house and kingdom sure forever before God? 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16

  1. What would be the characteristics of Jesus’ rule as the King on the throne of David? Isaiah 9:6-7; Psalm 9:7-8; 89:14. What peace and hope does this give us, in contrast to the rule of earthly kings and authorities? What disappointment are we spared from because of the fact that Jesus is our “Forever-King?”

  1. How did Mary submit to Jesus’ reign in her life? How do we likewise submit to God, and find His reign and favor extended over all of our life?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:6-9, for Advent 3, "Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates"

Sermon Outline
1.      Frailty and shortness of our own flesh and life contrasted with the Word of our God will stand forever. This is not any word of God that stands forever, but the word of the covenant God, Yahweh, who graciously reenters into a relationship with Israel to bestow his gift of double comfort. The psalmist says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, your word brings me life” (Ps 119:50).
2.      The entire book of Isaiah is dominated by a profound theology of Yahweh’s word. Creative Word. Word going from Jerusalem to call all nations to learn Yahweh’s ways of peace (2:1–5). Spiritual life is depends on hearing and responding to this word (37:33–35).
3.      As all flesh, all human achievement, effort and striving could be seen to wither and fade away around them, the Israelites left in exile in Babylon were despairing, longing for home. They wept as they remembered the “good old days” when they worshipped in the splendor of Solomon’s temple, worked and shopped in the City of David, and saw the beauty of the Mount of Olives. Oh to be home again! Instead they were surrounded by false gods/idol worship. Wept as they remembered that they had no king, no temple, no royal city, no land, no liturgy, no sacrifice, no hope, no future and no song. How can they sing God’s songs while in a foreign land?
4.      Some of us are far away from home; all of us are far away from the Father. It’s the way we operate. We are, again, right here, just now, exiled in a Babylon of our own making. Like the Israelites who were exiled for their idolatry, we too have engaged in making ‘gods’ of our own design. We chose what it looks like. We personalize it with our preferences. It’s just what we want in a god. It’s a god who likes what I like, hates what I hate, and who shares my opinion. It is a god who increases my standard of living and happiness. This is a god who gives me what I want and stays out of my way the rest of the time. John Calvin states that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. First commandment, Luther states in his Large Catechism, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.”
5.      What are some of the idols you and I are building? We’ve sold our baptismal inheritance and faith in the True God, and ended up with double lives, empty relationships, and inflated egos. We’ve manufactured gods of our own design, and as a result, we’ve learned the hard way what the Psalmist says: “The sorrows of those who run after other gods shall multiply.” (16:4). And so we have no song to sing. In our exile God speaks.
6.      So what is the answer? In the context of such massive idolatry we have a word from God. Isaiah says, “Behold your God!” we who love God must make a dwelling place for the eternal Word of God (40:8), in our minds and hearts, for he dwells in our hearts by faith. (Cyril of Alexandria).
7.      The eternal Word of God came in human flesh. In the fullness of time he came, and in one instant, he made himself breakable. He who was larger than the universe became a Babe. Our God came, not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard in a cattle stall along with cows and sheep. His feet will feel the cold sea water and writhe at the invasion of the nail. His heart will be torn by people’s accusations and be crushed under the weight of our sin. His eyes will see our shame, for we cannot hide. They will see our selfishness, for we cannot give. And they will see our pain, for we are so full of hurt. His hands will touch lepers, hold little children, break bread, feel the ground at Gethsemane, and be stretched out on a Roman instrument of death.
8.      Because he bled and died in our place, Jesus demonstrates that he alone is able to heal our hurts, forgive our sins, and defeat our death. No wonder the Bible says that idols are nothing and chaos and only compound our pain because a cross-less “god” is no god at all. No other god has the marks of nails in his hands. A “god” who doesn’t suffer, a god who knows no agony, a god who doesn’t die; this is a god without grace, a god who cannot deliver, and a god who offers no hope and no future. But this is not our Jesus! He is crucified, but risen indeed! So it is time to turn in our tools, stop building substitutes, throw away the idols, and to fall down and worship in glorious awe, the True God who is powerful to save, and who has ransomed us from our exile, and brought us home. “Behold your God!” Behold your God Jesus Christ, and receive in your heart His eternal word that is powerful to save. Here at last is reason for our songs of praise to return, and for us to lift up our heads with joy and thanksgiving at the sight of our coming King!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, "God's Anointed"

Sermon Outline:

1. Prophecy from Isaiah: about what happens/will happen when the Anointed One, the Messiah enters on the scene of history/our lives. The Anointed One/Messiah/Christ—God’s chosen Savior for us. Jesus. Interesting, Trinity in OT. LORD God-Father; the Anointed One—Jesus; Spirit of the Lord. A scene of hopelessness, despair, of brokenhearted-ness and bondage is transformed into a scene of hope, life, gladness, praise and confidence.

2. The Jews who were the original recipients of this message, as said in previous sermons, where on such a scene of wreckage/hopelessness. Is your life the scene of hopelessness or despair? Surrounded by the wreckage of sin and a broken world? We have suffered under the heavy hand of the Law, which convicts our consciences of sin. Trampled down under life’s heavy burdens or griefs. Imprisoned in cages of sin of our own making. Only one can free us. One alone is strong enough to break our chains, proclaim God’s favor to us instead of condemnation, liberty to captives.

3. Jesus’ is that Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. What a beautiful job description!! “to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Is 61:1-3). When Jesus arrives on the scenes of devastation and hopelessness, darkness is driven away by the light of His coming.

4. Isaiah 61—context of a “Year of Jubilee”—explain. OT Israel, 50th year, “During that year, all debts were canceled, all land was returned to the original owners, the slaves were freed, and everybody was given a fresh new beginning. This was the Lord’s way of balancing the economy and keeping the rich from exploiting the poor.” Do you sometimes wish there was a Year of Jubilee; balance our economy, stop exploitation? The “year of the Lord’s favor” is a spiritual year of Jubilee that arrived when Jesus came on the scene of human history. Preached this in His first sermon—Nazareth. Announced this time was now here.

5. God was balancing “the economy” when He sent Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. Paying off our debts, releasing the captives. “If you trust in Christ as your Savior, you are living in the Spiritual Year of Jubilee, the Year of the Lord’s favor. You have been set free from bondage; your spiritual debt to the Lord has been paid; you are living in “the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Wiersbe)

6. When God’s Anointed, Jesus delivers these promises to us in His Word, mourning is turned into dancing. Sadness into joy. Study Psalm 30. God’s anger is but for a moment, but His favor for a lifetime. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Sackcloth, ashes, signs of mourning. Replaced with gladness and a beautiful headdress/garland. Jesus can turn our lament of sorrow into a song of joy, can carry us through mourning till the day of gladness.

7. “Faint of spirit” -- drooping, exhausted, flickering spirit. A sign of extreme grief or despair. But Jesus, God’s Anointed, His Messiah, Christ, gives peace, not as the world gives. Not an external peace that comes and goes with circumstances. But a deep inner peace than cannot be wrested away. Source of deep inner joy of the Christian. The peace of knowing Jesus, and that He is the One who speaks comfort and calm in our sadness, brokenheartedness, and imprisonment.

8. This peace, joy and strength, given to the Christian by Jesus—God on the scene of our lives. This gives the strength and vitality of spirit, that we can be called “oaks of righteousness.” Strong, deeply rooted, fresh and green and happy in the knowledge that the grace of God is ours, because of Jesus, God’s Anointed.

9. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved. Call on the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. The one who is on the scene to turn a life of despair back into a life of gladness and strength, by the forgiveness of our sins, the reconciling of all accounts in our favor, the balancing of God’s economy to set right all injustice. His peace is yours in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points

Read past sermons at:

Listen to audio at:

1. Who directly fulfills this prophecy from Isaiah 61? See Luke 4:16-30; How did Jesus’ ministry carry out these promises? How does He continue to perform this work today?

2. “Anointed” (v. 1) is the translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (“Christ” in Greek). “Anointing” typically took place when a prophet, priest, or king took office (see 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13; 2 Sam. 2:4; Exodus 29:7-9; 1 Chron. 16:22). Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. He is Prophet, Priest and King par excellence.

3. What was Jesus anointed to do? How are the poor and the downtrodden comforted? Matthew 5:3-4. How are the brokenhearted given hope? 2 Cor. 1:3-7. In what way are all of us prisoners? Who sets us free?

4. How does salvation strengthen and establish Christians to be “oaks of righteousness”? How is the peace that Jesus gives different from the peace that the world gives? John 14:27

5. Read Psalm 30. How does the promised and the blessing of Jesus as our Messiah, God’s Anointed Savior of His people, turn our mourning and sadness into joy? What is the Christian’s hope and confidence in the face of all despair, evil, and even death? 1 Corinthians 15

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:3-5, for Advent 2, "Prepare the Royal Highway"

Sermon Outline:

1. What’s in a highway? Part of our everyday landscape—don’t think about it much. But roads are the quintessential sign of rule and dominion. By roads a kingdom is made. Joined together, united for trade, travel, military, communication. Isaiah 40 speaks of preparing the “The Way of the Lord” (not the people of Israel), make straight in the desert a “highway for our God.” It’s the way of God back to Jerusalem, to visit His people restored from exile. The way of God to our hearts. “Make straight the way for God within, and let us all our hearts prepare for Christ to come and enter there” (On Jordan’s Bank the Baptists’ Cry)

2. Part of God’s plan is to level the “mountains” of human pride, in His way to their heart. Repentance is to clear, straighten, level the highway to our heart.

3. Resistance to repentance. Obstacles we raise: “mountains of pride,” crooked hearts, stubborn hearts and stiff-necks. Sin tries to blockade God out of our heart. This is why a “highway” to the heart cleared by repentance is a sign of God’s rule and reign in our lives. Sometimes we’ve locked ourselves into self-made cages of sin. We are crying: “Let me out!!” and don’t know how to break free from our own chains. “Some of you are in the cage of addictive behavior like high anxiety, unpredictable anger, or biting sarcasm. Some know the dark world of Internet pornography. Others are chained to a grudge that won't leave until there is revenge. Still others are fighting an inner battle with a skeleton in your closet that is rattling louder and louder. Whatever your particular sin, it has left you in a cage of despair, darkness, even death. Your heart cry has become: “Let me out!”

4. And only God can answer that cry. The Holy Spirit lays the groundwork. Does the preparation. Breaking up the stony soil, cultivating hearts for repentance, giving a new heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. Repentance can be painful. It can be difficult break from past behavior that was so enticing, pleasing, self-satisfying. Or it can be a joyous release from guilt and slavery, from sins that held you captive for so long. Realizing that you really could “give up” the sin that you thought was inseparably intertwined with your life.

5. The Holy Spirit’s groundwork, convicting of sin, prepares the Lord’s highway for our heart. Jesus Christ will come and enter there. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Jesus’ coming in human flesh among us, was God preparing His salvation in the “sight of all peoples”. Setting captives free, proclaiming good news to the poor and imprisoned.

6. For the Jews who first heard Isaiah’s message, God’s glory had departed from Israel when the Temple was destroyed. To have the hope and promise of God’s glory returning among them—great joy. Promise of restoration, rebuilding, new Temple, glory of the Lord visiting that Temple. “Fear not. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:6-9).

7. Glory of the Lord would visit the Temple in the person of Jesus Christ. Then the glory left to die on the cross alone. But His glory was seen again in His resurrection on Easter, and His departure to heaven. From thence He promises to come again, to appear in glory where truly “all flesh will see it together.” Jesus’ glory will be seen by all, and all who worship Him and wait for His coming, will be caught up together with Him.

8. How do we prepare for this coming? God is on His way toward us. Are we ready to receive Him in our hearts? Prepare by repentance. Lay all your sins before God and ask Him to remove them from your life. Turn to Him, and He will clear that highway to your heart and establish His rule and reign there.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sermon on 2 Peter 3:8-14, for the Second Sunday in Advent, "Eagerly Waiting"

Sermon outline:

1. “The hardest part is the waiting.” Young children—5 minutes or 1 hour can both seem an eternity. Waiting for the birth of a child. Waiting while a loved one is undergoing surgery. Waiting with someone who is dying. Time stretches and lags. Or it can fly by if we are enjoying ourselves. Contrast the “eternity” of waiting to the “joy” of arrival. Of a healthy birth, of a return from successful operation, or arriving at the gates of heaven after your death—the joy makes all the waiting worth it. Can even fill the waiting itself with joy.

2. The Lord Jesus clearly promises He will return, but at an unknown time. Unexpectedly like a thief in the night. Waiting. Time seems to drag. When will the promise be fulfilled? Is God slow to keep His promise? God does not perceive time as us. Time does not pass more slowly or quickly for Him. He is just as close to the first man Adam, as to the last person to be born in time. Outside of time. We experience it in sequence. Like looking lengthwise at a tall tree lying on the ground. Can only see one end. Time is an order of events from the bottom of the log, step by step, all the way to the other end. But God can view time as from the side, seeing the whole “log” of time, with all events before Him. All things are together (Luther). Day like a thousand years and vice versa.

3. Learn patience from this—God is not slow, but reason He appears to delay (our perspective, not His), is to give opportunities for all to repent. For us waiting is an eternity. For God it is gracious patience. God’s nature—not to destroy—which He could do to all if He judged immediately—but to make the way for salvation open to all. This remarkable patience and mercy of God is so contrary to the way people often come to think of Him, as a harsh and demanding judge, who is eager to destroy the wicked. In reality, God delays and is patient to all so that they can have opportunity to repent. to be saved, to come to a knowledge of the truth. God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they would turn from their way and live. Ezekiel 18:23

4. What about the suddenness of His coming, and the completeness of destruction? Seems drastic. Kind of attached to this world. Seems incredible that the whole universe could just dissolve in fire and cease to exist. But even scientists now admit this fact, that the universe and the matter that makes it up, is not eternal, won’t last forever. Difference—the end will come much sooner and more suddenly than they think. Break our attachment to worldly things. “Diamonds are forever.” Not really. All that seems so durable and long-lasting will disintegrate. But why? New heavens and new earth. This groaning old creation is bound under the decay and effects of sin. Replaced with a new, better heavens and earth, according to God’s perfect plan. Free of sin, decay, death, suffering. Get attached to God, His Word, to things eternal. To God’s Word which will survive this great and total destruction of the universe, and preserve His people. Waiting will be rewarded with glorious heaven.

5. How to prepare for a disaster? Food, water, emergency light? Different for this final disaster. But we need light—Jesus is the Light of the World—a light never to be extinguished, unlike the failing lights of this universe, that will one day grow dim and flicker out. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”

6. Live lives of holiness and godliness. Always repenting, turning away from sin, back to God. What is holiness? Set apart for God. Characteristic first and foremost of God. Only by God sharing His holiness with us, do we also become holy. By our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are made holy. Joined to His forgiveness, set apart (holy) for His purposes. Breaking our attachment with the world, means also breaking our attachment with its values and ways. Holiness is not simply a matter of the mind—thinking the right thoughts, having faith in God. But also especially a matter of the body. How we use our body. Can glorify God with it, or dishonor it by impurity.

7. Body is holy because it’s a temple of the Holy Spirit. Body is to be used for honoring God. Things we do with our body affect our holiness. Can make us unclean or impure. Call to holiness is to use your body well, in self-control, in purity. 1 Thess. 4:3 says: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable.” In several places holiness is directly connected with avoiding sexual sin. Keeping sexuality in the bounds of our own marriage, as God intended it. Not before it; not outside of it, but with our spouse. Holiness also has to do with frequent prayer, with avoiding unnecessary arguing and quarrelling, being in control of our bodies and tempers. Holiness has to do with modesty of how we dress and adorn our bodies—particularly women. Not to flaunt sexuality, but to show feminine grace and beauty through modesty, and through good works and love—which give a deep inner beauty that is more than skin. Study verses in talking points.

8. This kind of holiness and godliness is contrasted to the troubles faced in the last days, as ungodliness increases: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Godliness seeks to avoid the pleasure-seeking, the arrogance and pride, the dissatisfaction, disobedience, and other characteristics of unholy living. These things are all rooted in our sinful nature, and it takes very little for them to be inflamed into full-grown ugly sins that are destructive of ourselves and toward others.

9. So what if your description is found in the above? What if you used your body for impurity and not holiness? What if you succumbed to the base desires of your sinful nature, and those descriptions fit you? Repent, turn back to the Lord. The time of His coming is unknown, so don’t delay. This is what you once were—but God has and is redeeming you—buying you back from those sins, so that you may be set apart (holy) for Him. Jesus Christ presents you spotless and blameless, because He gave His live to forgive and erase those sins, and to bring you to something new and better.

10. All the waiting will be fulfilled. New heavens and new earth is the fulfillment and reward of all that we’ve been waiting for by faith in Jesus Christ. “where righteousness dwells.” Injustice, evil, sin, suffering, decay will be gone. Creation fully restored and made right. Home of everlasting righteousness and peace. God secured it. He makes it ours by faith in Christ. Preserve us Oh Lord—preserve us in patient waiting, preserve us in clinging to heavenly things, not worldly things; preserve us in holiness and godliness of life, to use our minds and bodies for your glory. Preserve us for the day of that great reward, so that we receive your coming without fear, but with joyful, eager expectation—with shouts of thanksgiving and praise as we witness your whole plan unfold to perfection in the new heavens and new earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

11. Sermon Talking Points

Read past sermons at:

Listen to audio at:

  1. Since God is outside time, what does that mean for the charge of scoffers, who mock that God is slow, or delaying, or just doesn’t exist? What is God’s reason for “delaying” (from our perspective) in His return? 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; cf. Ps. 90:4

  1. What does the suddenness of Jesus’ return mean for those who would try to predict a date for His return or the end of the world? Matt. 24:36; 1 Thess. 5:2; What will happen to the universe (heavens and earth) on the day of the Lord? 2 Pet. 3:12; Rev. 6:14; Matt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12

  1. How are we to be prepared and ready for this day of Jesus’ coming? Matt. 24:44; 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

  1. Holiness means to be “set apart for God.” Holiness is not only a matter of our mind, but also of our body, and how we use it to glorify God. In what way is our body a “holy temple?” 1 Cor. 6:19 What does this mean for how we use our bodies in holiness? 1 Cor. 6:15-20; Eph. 4:17-32; 1 Thess. 4:3-12; 1 Tim. 2:8-10

  1. What will the “new heavens and new earth” be like? Isaiah 65:17-25; Rev. 21-22. What does Peter mean in v. 13 by saying that it is where “righteousness dwells?” How does the hope of heaven lift you up in times of darkness or discouragement? How does it encourage you to strive to follow after Christ in holiness and godliness?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-2, for Advent 1, "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People"

Sermon Notes drawn from the series "Savior of the Nations Come" by Dr. Reed Lessing, of Concordia Seminary St. Louis, MO. Preached for the first Wednesday in Advent.

Illustration from Alfred Hitchcock show about a woman trying to escape from prison in a casket, to be buried and then dug up...finds that she's buried with the caretaker who was supposed to be her rescue…ever been buried?

Ever been buried like that before? Sure you have, and so have I.

We’ve been buried in questions: “If God is so good, why do I hurt so bad?” “If Jesus is the light, why am I in the dark?”

We’ve been buried in disappointment: “You’re just not like your older brother!” “You’re just not like our last boss!”

We’ve been buried in responsibilities: “Here’s a 30 page case study—be ready to discuss it tomorrow.” “Honey, the kids have softball and baseball games tomorrow.”

We’ve been buried in the past—the minute we lost our temper, the hour we lost our purity, the day we lost control, the years we lost our priorities.

And on top of it all—literally—we’re buried in our daily self-assertion, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency and self-will.

Buried, boxed in, six feet under, again, right here, just now—it’s dark, tight, claustrophobic and the enemy has nailed the lid shut. And if there isn’t screaming, there are heavy sighs and lifeless looks and empty hearts.

Buried, boxed in, six feet under—so also Israelites in Babylon. Buried under the weight of their sins, their idolatry and waywardness from God, that had resulted in their being carried off as exiles into a foreign land. Watching in despair as their capital city Jerusalem was pillaged, burned, leveled, and destroyed. Their homes, the walls of the city, their strength, and most importantly of all, the holy and beautiful Temple of Solomon that was the crown jewel of Jerusalem. Desecrated, looted, demolished. We can hardly imagine the scale of their sadness and loss. Buried with questions: “Is God unable to save? Does He exist? Are the Babylonian gods greater? Or had God utterly abandoned us?” To people in this despair—to us in our despair and empty hearts, God called for comfort. Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People—speak of peace so says our God.

From where would such peace and comfort come? An epic conflict once took place. Not between the God of Israel and the gods of the Babylonians. Not between Israel’s soldiers and theirs. But a greater and more deadly battle between our Savior God, and all the forces of evil that were matched against Him. Jesus disarmed Himself and said “Ok, take your best shot.” And all evil was launched against Him. Judas, Pilate, Herod … thorns, nails, spear darkness, sweat and screaming, screaming, screaming, until there was total silence.

It all ended “crucified, dead and buried.” Nothing is as bottomless as a pit, as lifeless as a grave, as hopeless as a tomb. Smell the mildew, the odor of blood, the stench of death. See the confines, the darkness, and the sealed stone. Witness the charred marks of a divine explosion to life!

Cramped by the chaos, suffocating in the stillness, trapped in transgressions and sins, screaming in the silence, let’s light a match and see who we’re buried with. Well get this—Romans 6:4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life!” Again Colossians 2:12: “Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Through water and the Word you and I have been buried and raised with Jesus our Lord. Our certain defeat is turned into a stunning, bottom of the ninth inning, come-from-behind victory. And so our buried, boxed-in scream is forever changed into a baptized, blood-bought, forgiven, Spirit-filled endless Hallelujah! God in Christ has pardoned all our sins that “well deserved His anger” and He has changed our deep sadness into ever-springing gladness. Truly God speaks tenderly to us when God writes, “Comfort, comfort my people.” Comfort is here. Comfort is yours. Comfort is now!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sermon on the Psalms for Thanksgiving Eve, "Giving Thanks with the Psalms"

Sermon Outline

1. “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15). Remembering to give thanks is sometimes a matter of opening our mouths to give thanks back to God. Forgetful, ungrateful, reluctant, preoccupied. Worship calls us to stop from our busy-ness, and open our mouths to give praise and thanks for God. Open our lips in praise and thanksgiving more often! Acknowledges God is the giver.

2. What is a life lived without gratitude (thanksgiving)? Selfishness, discontent, greed, jealousy. Gratitude keeps us from selfishness; recognizes what we have is a gift, not our own. Gratitude makes us open to sharing. Gratitude frees us to be contented; thankful for whatever we have, not expecting more. God provides. Gratitude guards against greed and jealousy; satisfied with what’s my own—happy to help others protect and keep what is theirs. Celebrate what you have been given, also what they have been given! (9th & 10th Commandments).

3. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Ps 9:1). Wholehearted thanks—more than just an obligatory “thank you.” How to give thanks? Start by telling all the things God has done. Go through one by one, name what God has done—individually; family; church; community; world/humanity. The crowning, wonderful deeds of God will always be His love and mercy in sending Jesus. His death and resurrection for us, overthrowing sin and death, giving forgiveness and eternal life.

4. “I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.” (Ps. 35:18. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Ps. 57:9) Giving thanks is something we should do before others—both in the church, the assembly of God’s people, and also before all peoples. Singing God’s praise among the nations. Shows we are not ashamed to give God the credit and glory. Takes the spotlight off of us.

5. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1). Honor God, and not ourselves. Difference between pride and humility. Gratitude leads us to give credit where due, and doesn’t seek to build ourselves up with self-praise.

6. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people…I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps. 116:12-14, 17) How do we repay God for all that He’s done? Impossible that we could ever. But we do give back ourselves to Him—call on His name. Offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Give thanks back to Him. Render our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1)

7. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps 103:1-5). As you are thankful this and next year, forget not all his benefits. Don’t forget what God has done. We are called to remember and to thank God for all He’s done. We know God is worthy of all our thanks and praise. Forgiveness, healing, redemptions, life, crown, strength. Won for us through God’s love and mercy, all thanks to Him!

Sermon on Isaiah 64:1-9, for the First Sunday in Advent, "The Incomparable God"

Sermon outline:

1. Ancient words from 2,700 years ago, still so applicable today. We wish that God would reveal Himself in His strength and power, with awesome miracles as of old. Show His power to His enemies and unbelievers. Recalls the miracles of the Exodus—Mount Sinai quaking at God’s presence, His powerful and fearsome miracles to deliver His people. Awesome things not looked for. Show us again! Today we also wish to see the miracles and power of God. Don’t remain hidden. Silence the mockers and doubters.

2. Isaiah’s time, Israel felt God was silent toward them. Enemies had taken Jerusalem and the Temple, Jews in exile in Babylon. A prayer filled with humility and sadness, recognizing their own guilt having brought judgment on the people and land. Admits they have been in sin a long time. Can they be saved? What firm ground can we stand on to face God when He does come? Our own righteousness? No. Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Then how?

3. I know there are people around us, if not you yourselves, then certainly among the friends and family of people here, who doubt if they can be saved, because of their sins. Believe in God in their heart, but fear His anger against their sin and disobedience. Fear it is irreparable. God could not, or would not take them back. Use words to describe themselves like: worthless, damaged goods, broken, lost, abandoned. Yet these are the ones Christ came to save! Joyfully, God can save us, though we have been in our sins a long time.

4. They have melted in the “hand of their iniquities”—guilt. We have all experienced suffering for our own sins, eating the bitter fruit of our actions. This guilt, this sin, even our righteous deeds that are like filthy rags—are an unbearable burden before our God. Unbearable before the incomparable, holy, sinless, perfect God. Face His wrath and anger and punishment.

5. Yes, God has anger against sin. It’s impossible that God could love or approve of sin, which is evil and contrary to His very nature. God will finally bring judgment one day against wickedness and those who reject Him. He will come as the prayer asks, “rending the heavens and coming down”. Jesus’ return will be in power and glory. His name will be known to all His enemies. We do not know how long God will withhold His judgment, so we should not test Him by our disobedience. But we know why He delays—He delays because it’s His desire that all repent and believe, so they can be saved. Wants our salvation/rescue.

6. Isaiah knew God was also merciful. God was unlike the false gods—because God did awesome things we did not look for. God’s salvation is not in a predictable way, such as we could have imagined. Not according to our own goodness—“all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”—but according to His mercy. Coming of Jesus for salvation was filled with “un-looked for” miracles and deeds. Jesus revealed the kingdom of God, and showed His grace in an unexpected and unlooked for way. No other God like Him, who acts for those who wait for Him. Incomparable God. Unequaled in goodness, love, and mercy.

7. Isaiah prayed that God had hidden His face from them because of their sins. The Psalmist (51) prays that God would hide His face from our sins, and blot them out. Isaiah prays that God would not be so angry, and would not remember our sins—Jeremiah (31:34) answers that God would forgive our sins and remember them no more. How has this hope of the prophet been fulfilled, for him and for us? Jesus turned away God’s anger against sin, by taking it fully on Himself at the cross. Face wrath and punishment for sin, so that God would hide His face from our sins, remember them no more, and would instead show His Fatherly face of love toward us, and remember us as His people. He acts for us because we wait (in faith) for Him.

8. God remembers that we are dust, knows our frame. He is the potter who made us, and knows our frailties. Scripture fits together beautifully, with pleas of mercy to God, and answers of His great and abiding love for us, such as Psalm 103:8-19, which could be given as a direct answer to the prayer in Isaiah 64:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Ps 103:8-19).

9. God will return, and it will be fearful for those who place themselves as enemies of God, by rejection and disobedience. But for those who have known and trusted in His gracious coming in the person of Jesus Christ, who have laid hold of His promises and joyfully wait for His return, when He rends the heavens and comes down—His coming will be a day of joy and celebration. The firm ground on which we can stand to face God in His glorious coming is the righteousness and innocence of Jesus Christ. God will at last call His children home to the inheritance prepared for them—the new heavens and new earth. God in His full power and glory—face to face, not hidden, but revealed and present among us as our God.

Sermon Talking Points

Read past sermons at:

Listen to audio at:

  1. Why might we wish, like Isaiah did in Isaiah 64, that God would come down and reveal His power and glory? What miraculous deeds of God did his prayer recall? Exodus 20:18-21.

  1. Why did Isaiah and the Jews feel as though God was silent towards them? Isaiah 63:17-19; 64:9-12. How do we sometimes feel or fear the same? That God is silent toward us because of our sins? How do we sometimes suffer under the guilt of our sin, when it remains unconfessed to God? Cf. Psalm 32 & 51

  1. How are some people moved to total fear of God, so that they doubt God could even love or save them? Are they really beyond the reach of God’s love? Luke 18:13-14; 5:31-32

  1. How has Jesus turned away God’s wrath against our sin? Romans ; 3:25; 5:9; 1 John 2:2

  1. How will Jesus “rend the heavens and come down” on the day of Judgment? Acts 1:11; Matthew 26:64; 1 Thess. 4:16-18

  1. Why does God presently delay His return for the final judgment? 2 Peter 3:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:4

  1. How were Jesus’ miracles and teachings “awesome” and “unlooked for” things from our incomparable God? How does God hide His face from our sins? Psalm 51:9; Jer. 31:34

  1. How does God remember and respond to our frailty as mortal human beings? Psalm 103:8-19; Where will He bring us at His return? Is. 65:17