Monday, January 31, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, "Under the Cross"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In today’s epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, the Apostle Paul talks about the relationship between the wisdom of the world and God’s wisdom. So what’s the place of reason and knowledge in the Christian faith? What’s the relationship of the word of the cross, or the message of the Gospel, to human wisdom? And how’s God’s true wisdom taught in the cross?

Some people claim that Christianity is against reason and wisdom. That it’s irrational. They would call the Bible a book of legends and miracles that disobey the laws of nature. Some would say that Christianity is above reason and wisdom. That faith and reason belong in two completely disconnected realms. They would say that reason can neither prove or disprove nor explore the events and claims of the Bible. Still others might claim that Christianity is completely rational and that everything in the Bible can be logically explained and understood by science and human reason.

So why does human wisdom rebel against the message of the cross in particular? Paul said that for those who’re dying in their sins, the message of the cross is folly. Foolishness. It seems like a ridiculous message to them, and not worth their time. What is it about the cross that seems folly to them? Paul says it’s because the Jews sought after signs. This is just what Jesus said, that they were always looking for Him to perform another miracle. One pastor said that they saw Jesus like a walking emergency room, healing the sick and the blind and the lame everywhere He went. They wanted a miracle to prove that He really was who He said, but in reality there were never enough miracles to satisfy them, just like the Old Testament Israelites continued to grumble and lose faith despite all the miracles God showed them in the Exodus.

Also, many different groups of Jews had expectations about who the Messiah, the Savior would be. Some expected a revolutionary leader to overthrow the Romans. Others expected someone who would purify the Temple of all its abuses. But all had in common that they expected a powerful man. And almost all stumbled and were shocked and offended to see Jesus, their proclaimed Messiah, humble, weakened, and obedient even to death. Death on a cross was considered a curse for any Jew. This is why Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews. It’s very difficult to grasp that He took the curse of sins in our place.

To this day, not only Jews stumble at this idea that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Of course there have always been those outside of the church who ridiculed Jesus’ death on the cross as our way of salvation. But sometimes even Christians have tried to hide or shed the cross as a particularly unpleasant part of our belief. Our human reason becomes an obstacle to faith. I’ve mentioned before that even some well-known “mega-churches” with tens of thousands of members have intentionally avoided the use of the cross anywhere in their buildings or even avoiding to mention the cross of Christ. They fear that visitors and outsiders will be put off by that symbol of death.

In a different situation, a well-known atheist, Christopher Hitchens, was being interviewed for a magazine. Hitchens is well known for being one of the most outspoken and fierce critics of not only Christianity, but any and all religion, any talk of faith or the supernatural. He was interviewed by a woman who is a self-proclaimed liberal Christian and retired Unitarian Universalist minister. The most striking part of the interview was when she informed him, rather proudly it seemed, that she denied the teaching of the atonement, that Jesus died for her sins. His reply was simply: “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

While is he flatly rejects any religious ideas, and specifically the message of the cross, at least he correctly understands what is at the heart of Christianity, and what it means to be a Christian. He knows that if one doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, that as Paul says, we of all people deserve to be pitied the most. So in telling her that she was in no meaningful sense a Christian, he was merely applying the Bible’s own definition to her. She later added that she was unsure whether God existed at all, but still felt there was something meaningful in the stories. What was so amazing about this was that an atheist understood better than a person who called herself a Christian, what the heart and center of Christianity was. The message of Christ crucified for our sins.

And that truly is the heart and center of our Christian faith. However much our human reason might rebel against the idea, or wish to change or ignore it, we cannot. To remove the message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead, is to take the heart out of Christianity. Then all you are left with is a lifeless shell. Christianity cannot survive without it’s heart. We cannot make the message of the cross more agreeable to unbelievers by changing it—they will always find it to be a stumbling block, an offense. Take away the message of the cross from the church, and you take away its very life and the power of God for salvation. Tamper with the message and the church becomes spiritually very sick.

Paul said that Christ crucified was folly to the Greeks, because they seek after wisdom. It doesn’t seem wise to unbelieving, human reason, to save the world in the way that Jesus did. To our way of thinking, there must have been some better way. Why did Jesus have to go through that? Why didn’t God choose to reveal Himself in a much more glorious and powerful way? Writers and debaters of every age have wrestled with this, either mocking it or defending it. But Paul asks, where are all these? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? God destroys the wisdom of the wise. God chose not to reveal Himself through human wisdom. Writers, debaters, philosophers have spilled tons of ink and spoken countless words, claiming to show the way to know God. But God was pleased to show this man-made wisdom to be foolish, and to reveal Himself instead through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Even though it defied the understanding of the world, and even though it was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the world—Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s way of showing His seriousness about sin, but even more importantly, giving forgiveness to every sinner on earth. It was a cross of shame and humility, of suffering, abandonment, and cruelty. God bowed His head under all the grief and shame of the world, and bore it as though it all belonged to Him. He became sin for us, taking all our guilt and hurt, and suffering for it as though He were responsible for it all. Yet He remained truly innocent, and suffered only out of His pure willingness and love for us.

Why do that for us? Why would God become man and bear the worst indignities and insults and pain, although no one required Him to do it? Why suffer all that willingly? Because God loved us so greatly, and in the mystery of His wisdom He knew there was no other way. God confounded all the wisdom of the world, all the attempts to know God or to figure out how to please Him. God used things and people that in our eyes would be foolish, weak, and despised to shame our wisdom and strength. Paul gives us the reason why God did this seemingly inexplicable thing. Why God chose such an unusual and extraordinary plan of salvation. It was so that no one could boast in God’s presence.

God didn’t choose to work through any of the ordinary channels of power—whether that be military or political power—so that no one might trust in these things to save. He didn’t choose to work through the wise men and philosophers of the day, so that we might not boast in our human reason and skill. Instead of making priests and teachers of the law His apostles, Jesus chose uneducated fisherman and a despised tax collector. Paul himself was oddly chosen to serve Christ, because he had first been an enemy of the cross. He tried to persecute and kill Christians. God takes the lowly and despised things of this world and puts them to His service and glory. He turned the cross, and instrument of death and shame into the tree of life where Christ brought every good to us—forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The cross keeps us from boasting also because in that one time event, God accomplished the whole deal. All of salvation was paid for. And the rub or the offense to our unconverted human reason is that we didn’t get to play the starring role. It’s not about us, and we didn’t and don’t do anything to earn it. Rather, so far from earning it, the only thing we contributed was our sins and guilt to lay on Jesus. Again, our human reason is offended. We wish for our own goodness to be seen and validated by God. For us to get at least some partial credit for being a good enough person. We want God to see our righteousness—not realizing that before God, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. When we try to parade our own goodness before God, it’s like we’re clothed in filthy old rags. Our goodness falls so far short of God’s goodness. In our sinful mind we cannot fathom how pure and perfect God’s goodness is.

So this is why God chose the humility and shame of the cross, and the weakness and non-resistance of Jesus to His death on the cross. It was so that our human nature would have no grounds left to boast on before God. That we would give up all the glory and honor to Him, and that we would boast only in the Lord and His cross of our salvation. We truly can boast in Him, because His power and wisdom is not at all of ourselves.

So what place then is left for reason? Is Christianity irrational because our fallen reason can’t understand or comprehend God’s wisdom? Does Christianity banish reason from the church? A search of the Scriptures reveals that this is not the case—but that God is a God of knowledge, that the fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom, and that He and His creation teach wisdom to the humble. So how do we reconcile the two? As one writer put it, before reason can enter the church it must be converted from “a judge into a penitent, from a master into a servant, from a professor into a pupil—or, more precisely, from a pagan into a Christian.” What does he mean by that? That human reason goes wrong when it sits in judgment over God’s Word. When human reason considers itself higher than God’s Word. When our reason becomes the master or professor that tries to trump what God teaches.

If that is how we try to use reason, our wisdom will be made foolish and weak by God. But the proper way and the blessed way for us to use our reason is when we submit our mind to God, and accept His Word as Truth. To place our reason under the cross. When we repent of our pride and seek to learn from God as a student, rather than to instruct Him. Luther liked to say that we should grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being wiser than you are. So even when our mind stumbles and cannot grasp God’s plan or will, to realize that in all things He knows best. When we cling to the message of Christ crucified for our sins, we may not receive the appreciation of the world, but we will learn the wisdom of God and know His power for our salvation. For this, we will gladly be considered fools, for Jesus’ sake, 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. In what ways does the “wisdom of the world” consider the Christian faith to be foolishness? What Biblical teachings clash with our human reason? What have you wrestled with? Why does our mind and reason rebel against God’s word?
2. Why in particular is the cross of Christ a “stumbling block to the Jews?” Romans 9:30-33; Gal. 5:11; 1 Pet. 2:6-8. Why is it “foolishness to the Gentiles?” Acts 17:18-21, 32; Acts 26:22-29
3. Why is the word of the cross the heart and center of Christianity? 1 Cor. 1:18, 23; Luke 24:25-27, 45-47. How does this message give life and power to Christians?
4. How does our mind become humble and submissive to God? How does this locate reason in its proper role? Consider the following quote:
“Reason as such has by no means been abolished from the Christian church. But before it can enter there, it must be converted from a judge into a penitent, from a master into a servant, from a professor into a pupil—or, more precisely, from a pagan into a Christian.”
5. When reason is in its proper role, as a student of God and His Word, how does Scripture praise this gift of knowledge in contrast to the blind ‘knowledge’ of unbelief? 1 Sam. 2:3; Ps. 14:1-4; 19:1-4; 94:8-11; Prov. 1:7; Rom. 11:33; 15:14; cf. Eccl. 1:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 2 Tim. 3:7
6. What is the true wisdom of the cross of Christ?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, "I Appeal to You"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth is a surprising study in how much can go wrong in a church. The books of 1 & 2 Corinthians are New Testament letters to the Christian church that Paul founded in Corinth. Corinth was a prosperous city of major importance in Greece, sitting on a narrow strip of land that connected important commercial routes. A center of commerce, culture, religious pluralism, and philosophy, Corinth was a melting pot. It was infamous for its vices and immorality.

The Christian church that Paul started there struggled with all kinds of pressures surrounding them. The worship of a pantheon of idols and false gods, the popularity of various religious philosophies, the temptation and wide acceptance of all kinds of sexual sins and the low regard for marriage, along with the usual temptations of wealth or pride. It was an easy place for the church to go astray. Many of the Christians at Corinth had been converts from their former godless way of life, but still struggled with old sin. Within the church there were various issues that Paul addressed: spiritual pride, their understanding of sexuality and marriage, Christians suing one another in the public courts, their understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper, issues with spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, and the role of women within the church. This was all surrounded by divisiveness and quarrelling.

Sounds like the church you would search out to join, right? But if we’re honest, we see that the issues are practically the same today, and that Corinth could be any modern day American city, and any modern day church wrestling with the exact same or similar issues. If we’re honest we can see some reflections of ourselves in the people and church of Corinth. Although if anything, the city of Corinth was probably far less friendly a place to start a Christian church. But we still live in a mix of religions and philosophies. We have plenty of forces that can pull us astray as well. We have Christians and non-Christians alike debating the meaning of marriage. Christians are swept into our litigious society, taking disputes to the courts that we should be able to settle ourselves. Issues of speaking in tongues, communion, and the role of women remain hot topics. The “First Church of Corinth” would blend right in with today. Sadly the Corinthian church seemed hopeless. They weren’t the poster-children for a healthy Christian congregation.

But amazingly, Paul still addresses them as, “The church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul called them brothers and saints! Despite all their warts, controversies and blemishes. How does it feel for us as Christians with our struggles and sins, to be called the same? Brothers in Christ and saints! When Paul begins his letter, he sees these saints in trouble. He’s heard a trustworthy report that division and quarrels were splitting the church into factions. What kind?

Apparently the Corinthian congregation was tearing apart, and people were lining up behind their favored leader: “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, or I follow Christ.” The details of the conflict aren’t clear, but the effect was that cliques and factions were forming, and the unity of the congregation was in danger. It doesn’t seem like it was even really a theological question, since Paul would always strongly set forth the truth whenever the Gospel or a Biblical teaching was at stake. Possibly the factions were based on personality, and certain people gravitated more towards Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Perhaps in high-sounding talk, others claimed to be more spiritual than all the rest, and said they followed none of those, but they followed Christ.

However it shaped up, whether it was a personality cult or something else, this “party spirit” proved divisive, and Paul calls for an end to it all. He expresses disbelief that they would behave as though Christ were divided, as if Paul were crucified for them, or that they were baptized into Paul’s name, not the name of Jesus. What is so interesting about this chapter is how Paul approaches the particular divisions that they were facing here. He doesn’t lean on his authority as an apostle, and he doesn’t command them as he sometimes did elsewhere. Rather, he urgently but gently appeals to them “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one name that should completely overshadow any party names and loyalties. After all, this was the name into which they had been baptized” (Lockwood, 42).

And isn’t that the way it should be when Christians are divided amongst themselves, and are caught in party spirit and infighting? That we should appeal by the name of Jesus Christ for the divisions to cease? When we hear the appeal by the name of Christ to turn away from our fighting and disagreements, and reconcile and agree with one another, shouldn’t we respond? So often pride gets in the way. Nevertheless, whatever divisions there may be in Christianity, both at the national level with denominations, and at the local level with individual congregations, Christ is not divided. Whatever external divisions there may be among us, Christ knows all who are His own. True believers hidden throughout the world form the body of Christ, the church. And the true church, the body of Christ remains undivided.

But how does Paul propose to amend these divisions? His appeal is by the name of Jesus Christ, because it is in Christ and the word of His cross that the power of God is found. The power of the Gospel is in the message of Christ and His cross. Not the kind of power we’d expect to settle earthly problems. Not a power of force or might, but an appeal from the humility and suffering of Christ, who bled for our reconciliation. On the cross God reconciled us to Himself; so that is also the starting place for our reconciliation with one another when there is division. Paul’s appeal by the name of Jesus is that they all agree and that there be no divisions among them, but that they be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

The first part of his solution is to agree with one another and not have divisions. How? When he calls us to agree, it’s literally in Greek, “to say the same thing.” Obviously if everyone is saying different and contradictory things, that is a sign of discord, not agreement. Christians have long valued the unity of voice that’s expressed when we verbally confess our faith. To say out loud together what we believe. That’s what our creeds and confessions are. They’re statements of belief that have been handed down over the centuries, that express our unity of faith with Christians who’ve gone before. The word “creed” means “I believe” and is one way in which we “say the same thing” as Christians who’ve confessed Christ for thousands of generations.

To agree by saying the same thing is also related to what Paul said in his letter to the Romans, chapter 15:5-6, which I preached on in early December. There Paul speaks of unity in this way: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There Paul uses very similar language to talk about Christians living in harmony, which literally is “to think the same thing according to Christ Jesus” and glorify Him “with one voice.” Unity of voice and mind are key to healing divisions. Yet, as Christian history and our own individual experience can attest, such unity of mind and voice is not always easy to come by.

One commentator points out that Paul isn’t picturing a “colorless uniformity” where no one has individual ideas or expression. But rather he is appealing for a “great consensus” among them. That they stand together on the truth of God’s Word, and not be divided by petty things or personalities or cliques. But that unity in voice and mind be centered on Christ and His word. That is the building ground for consensus and unity. Neither was Paul imagining what has become common today, for everyone to hold their contradictory ideas or teachings, but cover it with one big tent. That is a unity with no unity.

However, Jesus and Paul both taught that the word of Christ would cause division among people, in that it divided truth from error, and believers from unbelievers. This kind of division happened through Jesus ministry and happens still today. The kind of division that centers on a true or false confession of who Jesus is, what salvation means, what the teachings of the Christian faith are. On those matters of faith, there is not room for compromise, and truth and error cannot coexist. Those are necessary divisions. But what Paul laments in Corinth is these unnecessary divisions that weren’t over truth or error, or anything of real substance. But they were divisions and quarreling within the church, and that’s why he appealed in the name of Jesus for them to stop. So when divisions arise, we have to know whether these are over matters of truth and God’s Word, in which case God’s Word settles what is true and false. Or are they divisions over other things that might seem so important to us, but don’t serve the church and it’s unity? Here again God’s Word encourages us and appeals to us to work through our divisions and find unity.

Just as St. Paul rejected the divisiveness and partisanship that was taking root in the Corinthian congregation, so also we should never give room for the “root of bitterness” to spring up among us (Heb. 12:15). We should appeal to one another as brothers and sisters by the one name that banishes all party loyalties. That’s the one name of our Lord Jesus Christ, into whom we were baptized and to whom alone belongs all our loyalty. At baptism a new name is placed on us, the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That name is the seal and mark of God’s ownership, that we are his dear children. In Christ there is no Paul or Apollos or Cephas, there is no Jew nor Gentile, barbarian, slave or free, there is no male or female. In Christ, whatever identities would divide and separate us on earth are placed behind the new identity that we have in Jesus Christ. The identity of God’s forgiven and redeemed child. One who finds in the word of the cross the power of God for our salvation.

And if all of us as believers have our identity first and foremost in Christ Jesus, and His cross of our salvation, then there should be no insurmountable obstacles for us reconciling with one another in Christ. And unless we are dividing truth from error, there should be no reason that other loyalties and opinions pull us away from harmony with one another in Christ. The great work of reconciliation has already happened in Jesus’ death on the cross, the power of salvation. Now it’s just a matter of realizing that truth by faith, and watching God’s reconciliation work its way through our hearts and lives and relationships, as we forgive like Christ forgave. May you always remember the name of God and your new identity, given to you in your baptism—in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

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

1. Read the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians. Identify the doctrinal and moral struggles they faced. What similar challenges does the church today face, both in matters of doctrine and morality?
2. Despite all their sins and controversies, how does Paul address the people of this church? 1 Cor. 1:2 On what grounds could he call them this? How is the same true for us?
3. What kind of factionalism was developing within the Corinthian church? What are examples of the same today?
4. What is the ground for Paul’s appeal for unity? What is the strength of this appeal? What greater unity did it call them to recognize? How do we know that the body of Christ is truly not divided, despite external appearances? How is this an article of faith, not sight? 1 Cor. 1:13; Matt. 16:18. John 10:14-16.
5. Describe unity of voice and mind. What it means and doesn’t mean. See 1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 15:5-6; Phil. 1:27-2:7.
6. What is the difference between (necessary) divisions over truth (ex. Luke 12:51; John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19; Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 11:18) and (unnecessary) divisiveness (ex. 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Gal. 5:20; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; Titus 3:10; Jude 19)? What is the difference in motivation behind each?
7. How is our new identity and name in Christ the source of reconciliation? Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:11; Rev. 2:17; 3:12. How does the cross re-center our loyalties? What is the ministry of reconciliation begun at the cross? 2 Cor. 5

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 49:1-7, for Life Sunday, "Formed from the Womb"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In the reading from Isaiah 49, the speaker calls us to attention: “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar.” Are you listening? Who is it that is speaking? Read the text before you in your bulletin. The speaker says “The Lord has called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” And the Lord God said: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” So what is the identity of this speaker, who calls for our attention, says that God called Him from the womb, and God gave Him a name while He was still in the body of His mother?

Of course it’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus Christ is the servant of God who would bring glory to God, and who was chosen from long before His birth to be God’s servant. And He was named Jesus and titled Immanuel, God with us, from before His birth. Only when this was written, this was some 7 centuries before Jesus’ birth, in the time of Isaiah! So it should be astonishing to us that these words of prophecy were describing events that were so far off through the voice of One not yet born! When you look at these prophecies, and others throughout Isaiah, you find remarkable descriptions of Jesus’ life and ministry, and taken as a whole, they are a powerful witness to the Divine Inspiration of these words—that God Himself breathed these words out to be written by the prophet.

So this Bible passage, this prophecy, is the eternal Son of God, Christ, talking about how He was called, what His purpose in life would be, the struggle He would face, and its final outcome. Here is a perfect place to stop and point out that this is a marvelous affirmation of life, already from conception and development in the womb. God chose and formed His Son from the womb, to be His servant. “He formed me from the womb to be his servant.” Already within the womb He had a name, a purpose, and a calling by God. A living person. A human being, miraculously and wondrously being knitted together by God in Mary’s womb. A staff member at our school remarked to me after my daughter’s birth, “How could anyone ever witness the birth of a child and not believe in God?”

Witnessing the birth of my first child, I can’t help but agree. Even before birth, whether we’ve named them or not, our children have unique identities. They’re living human beings, miraculously and wondrously knitted together by God in their mother’s womb. God has a plan for them, even if we do not know it or see it yet. Unborn children can already in the womb hear sounds and interact with us. They respond after birth to the familiar sound of their mother or father’s voice, or music they heard in the womb. John the Baptist leaped inside the womb of Elizabeth when he heard the voice of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus. The Bible tells us that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb! Unborn children are capable of faith; as living humans they are spiritual vessels that can contain the Holy Spirit. God has left us testimony throughout the Bible that children born and unborn alike are specially created by Him, and are the recipients also of His grace, and able to trust in Him.

Sadly, this high view of life is not shared by many in our world today. In fact, even from ancient times, Christians stood apart from the rest of the world in their opposition to abortion and infanticide. One pro-life speaker has remarked that “If wombs had windows, there would never be abortion.” Whether we are speaking of the unborn Jesus, or John the Baptist, or your child or my child when they were unborn in the womb—they were not blobs of tissue, they were not a growth or any sort of sub-human thing. They were always and from their conception a genetically unique and special human being. Not just potentially unique, but already unique and distinct from either parent, but joined to and dependent on them. It is our obligation to protect the dignity and value of human life, even at its earliest and most vulnerable stages.

Another threat to those vulnerable human lives comes cloaked in the garb of technology and medical research. Embryonic stem cell research has been a heated debate in recent years. The thought seems to be that if we can simply “harvest” human life early enough, we can get it before it’s recognizably or independently human. But the veneer of technology cannot hide the fact that we’re offering our unborn future generations to become involuntary research subjects, to satisfy our own search for medical cures and life. No matter how noble and high-sounding the supposed goals, or even the possible cures that could be discovered, does the end justify the means? Does the “good” of curing paralysis outweigh the evil of sacrificing unborn life on the altar of medical knowledge? NO!! Their lives are not worthless, and there is no stage in life at which we are not human and deserving of full dignity. God states it clearly in the Bible that all human life is to be guarded against bloodshed for this reason: God made us in His image (Gen. 9:6). We can never think to do evil so that good may result (Rom. 3:8). Rather we must overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). So this prophecy of Jesus, describing His life and calling from the womb is already a marvelous affirmation of human life from the mother’s womb.

Looking further at this ancient prophecy, what did the Son of God say about His life and purpose? In verse 4 He laments, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord and my recompense with my God.” Here it sounds like Christ was discouraged and defeated about His life. It sounds as though He feared that His work was futile and that He had wasted His efforts.

What can explain these troubled prophetic words of Christ? Those words seem like something we would say when we feel frustrated or defeated by events in life. But of course Jesus encountered much in His life that would’ve discouraged or defeated anyone of us. While He was called by God to rescue His people of Israel, His own people didn’t receive Him (John 1:11). You know the rejection and opposition that He faced through His ministry. Isaiah 49:7 says that He would be “deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers,” or in another translation, the “slave of tyrants”. This is a fitting description of His death on the cross, when those He came to save mocked at Him and spit on Him, decrying Him for blasphemy, claiming to be the Son of God. Deeply despised and a slave of tyrants. Rulers who had no regard for justice, but chose instead to crucify an innocent man to appease a wild mob.

But while those words may seem despairing, and reflect the same human fear that Jesus experienced in the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane, they do not end in despair or fear. Rather He says, “Yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” Although Christ was attacked by doubt, yet His faith was strengthened and remained immovable. He realized that while it appeared His work was failing and unsuccessful, the cause of His great work was the Lord God’s, and the success of His work lay in God’s Almighty hands. What remarkable words of faith! Every earthly indication was that Jesus’ ministry and work was falling apart—He was losing disciples, the religious leaders were becoming increasingly intolerant of Him, and finally from among His closest disciples one betrayed Him and another denied Him. From there the outlook became even more despairing as He was convicted without a fair trial and sentenced to death. But in the midst of all this, Christ had hope, and knew that the work was not His own, but that His cause lay with God the Father.

He said, “My recompense is with God.” Recompense means to be compensated in return for sufferings or losses that you’ve experienced. To be repaid for your losses or damages. So how would Christ, who suffered so painfully and lost His own life be re-compensated? The passage tells us that it is because He is honored in the eyes of the Lord, and God had decreed greater things for Him. In deeply beautiful words, God speaks to Christ, saying “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” It’s as though God is saying to Christ, “I’ve called you to a great and important job, to deliver my chosen people Israel. But this is far below your potential and your ability. You would be underused to only do that. I have a much grander plan—that you will also deliver all the nations. You will be a shining light to bring salvation to all the ends of the earth. This will be fitting of our honor and glory.”

God wasn’t content to just have Jesus do the little thing of saving a remnant from Israel. Part of Jesus’ recompense or reward was that His glory would stretch far beyond those He came first to save, the Jews. It would reach far beyond to the ends of the earth. But finally in verse 7 of the reading, God fully gives answer to Christ, about His fear that His work was in vain. God the Father speaks: “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and His Holy One, to One deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: ‘Kings shall see and arise, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’” Christ’s recompense and reward for His suffering and death, would be that God the Father would fully vindicate Him from all the lies and injustices He experienced at the cross.

When Jesus rose from the dead, it was God’s glorious proclamation of Christ Jesus’ innocence; that He was in fact the Son of God. Those who had called Jesus a blasphemer were speechless. Those who had turned from Him in fear found new reason to believe. But even now there are still those who reject and oppose Him. But in the final conclusion, when the world has reached its end and Christ is ruling from His heavenly throne at the side of the Father, every king, prince and ruler, every citizen, subject, and freeman will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. All will finally see that it is truly at the cost of Christ’s death and resurrection that we have the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. God the Father had prepared and formed Christ from the womb for all this great and glorious work of salvation.

One final point to make about this prophecy. God calls Him “My servant Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Here we see that Christ is the nation of Israel reduced down to one faithful and obedient man. One man Jesus Christ, who was a true and faithful Israelite, obeyed every one of God’s commands in the place of all the disobedient. Despite His rejection and the seeming futility of His work, He died on the cross and rose from the dead to God’s glory. He is the true and faithful servant that God equipped from before His birth to bring salvation to the end of the earth. To Him we bow down in reverent worship and give all honor and praise—Jesus Christ. 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. Who is the main speaker in the passage, Isaiah 49:1-7? How was He called by God and named before birth? Is. 7:14; 9:1-7; Luke 1:31; 2:21.
2. How does the Eternal Son of God, Christ, reflect on His purpose and ministry in this prophecy? How is this passage an affirmation of life from within the womb? How else does Scripture affirm the life of the unborn? Psalm 139:13-16; Ps. 71:5-6; 22:9-10. How do these verses show that unborn infants can trust in God, and are already spiritual beings? Cf. Luke 1:15; 1:41-44. Why is all human life valuable? Gen. 9:6
3. How can we work to protect the innocent and vulnerable in society, especially those children who are unborn? Why must we never do evil so that good may result? Why doesn’t the end justify the means? Romans 3:8; 12:21. How can we work to overcome evil with good?
4. Why did Christ seem discouraged and almost defeated? What opposition did He encounter? John 1:11; 6:41-71; continue reading the following chapters of John 7 & 8 for further examples of His rejection.
5. What was Christ’s hope in the midst of the doubt and discouragement of His ministry? What was His recompense? Who would guarantee the final success of His work?
6. How did God have even greater things in mind for Jesus than merely the promised redemption of Israel? How will all finally see and glorify Jesus for His salvation? How is Christ the nation of Israel reduced down to one man? How is He the one faithful Israelite, and what did God prepare Him from before birth to do? Hosea 11:1; Matt. 2:15

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sermon on Romans 6:1-11, for The Baptism of Our Lord, "Rescue At Sea"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. A person is lost deep at sea, and drowns in the ocean. A ship comes near to rescue. The captain dives in the water, rescues the victim, and resuscitates him on-board the ship. The victim coughs and spits up water, then breathes in the life-giving air. “Welcome aboard the Ship Salvation,” says the captain, “We’ll safely bring you home to Heavenly Harbor. There you can thank my Father who sent me on this rescue mission to find you. Here’s a set of clean clothes to wear. Put these on and we’ll throw away those old dirty rags you’re wearing. It’s quite a long trip back to Harbor, so please join our other rescued guests onboard in the ship’s chapel.”

“There are other guests?” Asks Peter, the newly rescued victim.

“Of course! This ship sails for one purpose, to rescue lost souls drowned in the sea of sin.” He continued, “I’m the Captain of the ship. I cross the sea and pull in many a drowned sinner who has been overcome by the storms of life. This is my life’s work—I pull men and women out of the water like fish, there’s so many.”

“But sir, I have no money to pay for a fare. How can I ever repay you? I don’t deserve this.”

“There’s nothing you can do to repay me, and there is no fare. I’ve paid for the ship and every passenger. It’s my joy and reward to rescue people like yourself. I count it all joy to risk my life to rescue sinners.”

Sometime later Peter is observing events on the ship. He notices another victim in the ocean, and again the Captain dives in and rescues them. Brought to life again through CPR, they wake up coughing. The Captain explains to them where they are and where the Ship Salvation is headed. That its free and there’s nothing they can repay. This rescued victim then scoffs, “But you mean I have to stay onboard this ship with all the rest? Forget that! I’d rather stay in the ocean! I’ll get to land just fine on my own, thank you very much! Don’t need anyone’s help at all!” Peter watches in amazement as the person rejects the rescue and jumps back into the sea, quickly to disappear in the tossing waves.

In further amazement, Peter, the rescued victim, watches as a couple of other rescued guests look sheepishly around, and then jump back in the ocean too. What is going on? Then he watches another person digging through the garbage bin, pulling out their old rags, and putting them on instead of their fresh, clean clothes! “Always liked these clothes better” he overheard the person say. “Who’s the captain to prefer that I wear His new clothes anyway?” Peter is caught in total disbelief. What could this mean? Why would those victims jump back in the ocean? Why would the other man pick out those old filthy rags to wear, instead of his new clothes? Aren’t they thankful for what the Captain did?

As Peter was troubling over this, the Captain came up from behind and gently laid His hand on his shoulder. “Friend, what has you so worried?”

“Captain, I can’t believe what I just saw! That person you just rescued just scoffed at you and jumped back in the ocean! What were they thinking?”

“Dear Peter, there are many who feel that if they can’t save themselves, then they won’t let anyone do it. Their pride is so great that they are blind to how helpless they are in the great sea of sin. They think that they can stay afloat by their own efforts. I’ve rescued many like this, who are too proud to give their allegiance to me.”

“But what about those others, who were already rescued? They were clothed and safely aboard! They knew that this ship was a safe place, and they enjoyed your hospitality and food, and wore your new clothes. Then they just jumped back in the ocean, as if no one would notice!”

“Dear friend, the ocean of sin is a powerful magnet for all people. All of our deepest cravings seem to be held in its depths. Many cannot resist the temptation to return to it, foolishly thinking that life was better there. Some crave money, and because money becomes their love, they plunge headfirst into its depths and drown themselves with many sorrows. They might have the illusion that it is theirs for awhile, but that love of money is like a sinking treasure chest. They cannot stay afloat. Others look in that ocean and see the temptation of pleasure. They crave what is not rightfully given to them, or they make pleasure their idol. What they don’t realize is that the pleasures they enjoy in the ocean of sin will gradually diminish more and more until their craving is only filled with more emptiness. Onboard this ship, however, they can find true pleasure as I bless it, and they can learn godly contentment, which brings great gain. There are many other temptations that people find in that ocean, but all of them prove to be empty and fleeting. Sadly, its the fastest path back to drowning. Reaching for all the things they want, they lack the solid ground to stand on, to receive them as I have intended.”

“Ok, Captain, I guess that makes some sense, but it still seems crazy to me! Why would they do that?! What about that man who took out his old rags from the trash bin and won’t wear your new clothes?”

“Sadly, Peter, such a man cannot remain onboard this ship. One cannot despise my rescue and hospitality, and take back their rags. If so, they will not be permitted to enter the heavenly harbor. If they wish to stay aboard the Ship Salvation, they must take off those old rags again and throw them away, and be clothed in my new clothes. I offer them free of charge, but without them one cannot enter the heavenly harbor. But if they wear my new clothes again, my Father and I will gladly welcome them back.”

“Sir, that is truly kind of you. I don’t think I’d be so patient.”

“Well, people have long described Father and I as ‘slow to anger, but abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’ You know my Father appointed me as His agent of justice. But the justice that I bring is not just about punishment and retribution--though those that choose to remain in the ocean of sin, and rejected my rescue, have already chosen their own punishment. But the justice I bring about is where mercy triumphs over judgment. I willingly risk my life to rescue all the drowned, and bring them aboard the Ship Salvation. I take the chance that they will reject my love and rescue. I offer them my best gifts, and even when they are drawn back to the ocean, I forgive and receive back those who turn to me. My justice has much room for forgiveness and mercy to the weak or the discouraged. To the broken and the tempted. They need my help more than anyone. The proud and the arrogant however, I must humble. Then there may be time for their hearts to change.”

“Captain, truly you are Good, like no one else I’ve ever known. I could never be so generous, loving, and forgiving as you, but I would like to. I admit I’ve started to feel the pull back to the ocean too. What do I do? How should I live, so that I don’t end up jumping ship or digging back through the rubbish for my old clothes?”

The Captain answered, “True, you cannot live up to my example, but I know that. Remember I’ve already paid for your place aboard this ship, and I guarantee your safe passage to Heavenly Harbor. But I’m already working on you, changing your heart, even though you might not realize it. You’re already beginning to feel compassion and concern for those other lost souls that you’ve seen. My love will continue to work its way in you.”

“And it’s true that being rescued from the ocean of sin still has its lingering effects as you still cough up that salty water. Remember, you were dead and drowned in the ocean of sin, and you’ve been brought back to life. Have that salty water fill your lungs for long enough, and no surprise that it feels normal. You will still feel the pull back to the ocean, but with my help you can resist it. Life is up here. Breathe the air. Wear the new clothes I’ve given you, and you’ll begin to realize the new identity you’ve been given.”

“Join the other rescued victims in the Ship’s Chapel. There you’ll find my book, the Bible. It tells all about me and my life’s work of saving people. It’ll teach you about my Father and His great love, and this rescue mission He sent me on. In the Ship’s Chapel you’ll find encouragement from others who were rescued, and will help you to live as I’ve called you, till we reach the Heavenly Harbor.”

“Captain, I’m just overwhelmed, I can’t thank you enough. Where would I be without you? Tell me one more thing: how did you say you purchased this Ship Salvation, and our place aboard it?”

The Captain answered, “You’ll hear about that in the Chapel. I think a service is just about to start.”

Peter hurried into the chapel just as things began. In the reading from the Captain’s book he heard learned that Salvation is Jesus’ rescue operation. He learned how Jesus purchased the Ship Salvation. He learned that it cost Jesus His very life. The people He came to rescue misunderstood and rejected Him. They didn’t believe that He truly came from God the Father, to save them from their sins. They put Him to death on a cross for saying He was God’s Son, even though it was true. But even in the awful suffering of His death, Peter heard the same love and amazing forgiveness that he himself experienced when he was rescued. He heard Jesus say to those who mocked Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Peter remembered how Jesus even received back some who had turned away from Him, but were rescued again. Peter began to tremble when he heard that a disciple of Jesus with his same name, had denied Jesus three times, but was later forgiven and restored to Jesus. Peter then felt an overwhelming peace he’d never known, when he saw Jesus’ patience, His love. His persistence to bring back the lost.

Then Peter’s heart leapt with joy as He heard of Jesus’ resurrection and His victory over death. So that was how the Ship Salvation was purchased! That’s why Jesus was patrolling the ocean rescuing victims like me. How could I ever want to continue living in sin? I’ve got a new lease on life, a new set of clean clothes that Jesus has given me, and I’m heading to what sounds like the most wonderful destination! Thanks be to God for delivering me from my sin! Peter’s thankful thoughts turned to songs of praise as he joined in singing with all the rescued worshippers to their Captain and their Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

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

1. My sermon attempts to put the question of “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” into a story about salvation, that can help us to see why it’s completely illogical to dive back into sin—as Paul says: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

2. How is our salvation and rescue from sin truly like being drowned, rescued, and brought back to life? Ephesians 2:1-10, especially vs. 1 & 5

3. What are the new clothes of salvation that we wear? Gal. 3:27; Romans 6:1-11; 13:14. What are the old rags that Christ takes off of us? Isaiah 64:6; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:5-11. Why can we not enter the “Heavenly Harbor” wearing our old rags? Matt. 22:1-14

4. What is Jesus’ aim and purpose? Luke 19:10; John 10:11-18; 1 Tim. 2:4

5. Why are some people dissatisfied to remain aboard the “Ship Salvation?” Why would people prefer to live in the old ways of sin? How is this incompatible with “life aboard ship”?

6. How is the “ocean of sin” a powerfully deceptive lure? Matt. 13:22; 1 Tim. 6:6-10; Prov. 11:28; John 8:34.

7. How do God and Jesus show their patience toward us in salvation? 2 Pet. 3:8-10; How is Jesus the agent of God’s justice? Isaiah 42:1-9; James 2:13. What should our response be to such a great salvation?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sermon on Luke 2:40-52, for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "In His Father's House"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Following on the heels of the birth of Jesus, and then His naming and presentation in the Temple as an infant, the next big story in the life of Jesus is when He is 12 years old. The Gospels give very little biographical detail about Jesus’ early life, other than His birth in Matthew and Luke, and then this one account at age 12. People have always itched for more background, and speculated what the child Jesus would be like. From the centuries after the apostles, right up to the present day, various authors have tried to fill in those missing years with stories ranging from pious, misinformed legends to shameful lies and dreams. Some have made up stories about Jesus’ infancy and childhood to make it seem more miraculous and spectacular than the Bible records; others have made up stories to make it seem un-miraculous and ordinary.

So what does this single story of Jesus’ childhood tell us about Him, and why might it have been included in the Gospels? Otherwise, the Gospel writers completely skip over the years of Jesus from birth till age thirty, when His public ministry began. First, this story tells us about the environment that Jesus grew up in. He grew up in an ordinary Jewish peasant family, with a regular community of relatives and friends. His parents were faithful in keeping the Passover celebration, which all males were required to do once a year in Jerusalem.

It also shows us how greatly His parents loved Him. It’s probably one of the universal childhood experiences that every child or parent has experienced—when a kid gets lost or separated from their parents. Maybe mom is shopping in the store, and the child wanders off, and suddenly both are in a panic trying to find each other. Here Mary and Joseph have lost track of Jesus, naturally assuming that He’s probably playing with His cousins or friends in the caravan of worshippers returning to Nazareth. Panicked because they can’t find Him, they go to Jerusalem and look for three days before finding Him! The couple of times I got lost at the store as a kid couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes, although it can seem like hours when you are a small, frightened child. But can you imagine a parent’s reaction if they couldn’t find their child for three days! How could they have slept?

After three days of your child gone missing, you might expect to either find them caught in some trouble because they ran away or were misbehaving, or you might fear that some harm had come to them. But amazingly they find Jesus behaving perfectly well, caught up in no trouble at all, but respectfully listening and learning from the teachers in the Temple. Jesus was unconcerned, unaware that they were looking for Him. His age of 12 in those times would have been the age of maturity in spiritual matters. He was no longer just a child, and began to have serious questions and have deep interest in God’s Word. As the verses at the beginning and ending of the Gospel reading both affirm, He was growing both physically and in maturity, in strength and wisdom and favor with God.

Incredible relief must have swept over Mary and Joseph as they found their son safe and well, and learning God’s Word, no less! But Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph’s concern and searching for Him, is the most important part of the story. They are also His first recorded words in the Bible. He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus would be in His Father’s house—the Temple—the house of God. This is such an important passage because it shows us that already at age 12, Jesus understood who He was and what He was to be about. He knew that He was the Son of God Almighty and that His destiny was in Jerusalem (Just, 130). More than 20 years later He would return to celebrate His last Passover, before dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The Passover, the Temple in Jerusalem, and God’s Word were all bound up with His destiny. He knew that He was to be about His heavenly Father’s business, and that He must learn and know the Scriptures. He found joy to be in God’s house, just like the Psalmist who wrote, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (Ps. 26:8).

This important story shows a contrast to the claims of many liberal scholars who have tried to explain away the miraculous nature of the New Testament or the radical claims of Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. They want to see Jesus as merely being a man, and they claim that Jesus only gradually grew in His “Messianic self-consciousness.” They want to see Jesus as just an ordinary man and teacher, who didn’t start out thinking that He was the Son of God, or the Savior, but only came to “realize” that He could be later in His ministry. Or even that it was His disciples who later elevated Him to that level. But in 180 degree contrast from those fictions, Jesus never is seen as confused about His identity. He never questions who He is or wonders if He is the Son of God. He didn’t just wake up one day in the middle of His ministry and discover that He could play the part of the Messiah. Rather, even at age 12, in this one single account, He already shows that He knows who His true Father was, God in heaven.

Luther said it pretty simply, that we should just stick with what the Gospel tells us about His childhood and be content with that. Not to speculate or add to what it records. “What more should the evangelist write? It was not yet time for him to perform miracles. He developed and was brought up like any other child, except that some children are more capable than others, and so Christ was a more capable child than others. There was nothing more to write about him than what was written by Luke. If he had recorded what he ate and drank and wore each day, how he walked, stood, slept, and acted while he was awake—what kind of narrative would that have been?” We can be content that the Bible tells us everything that is necessary for our faith and salvation and not more. The Bible doesn’t intend to satisfy every one of our curious questions, but only the most important things concerning our salvation.

We can marvel at the fact that Jesus was already so knowledgeable about the Scriptures at a young age, but also marvel at the fact that just as Jesus’ physical body grew as a normal human, so also His mind and understanding grew as well. Though He was truly God, He also experienced growth just as other human children. Through every stage of growth, from conception till adulthood, Jesus sanctified human existence. He made human life precious and holy by living at each stage of life like us. His perfect humanity was growing perfectly, without the obstacle of sin or any defect. He would become the realization of what God intended for us when He made us in His own image. That image that was marred in us by sin, would be seen in the perfect image of the invisible God in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15).

This short account of Jesus’ childhood also shows us that He was respectful and obedient, that He honored His teachers and parents. This story from Jesus childhood is also written for you children. For 12 year-olds, for kids older and kids younger. To see that even God’s Son, the one who had all power in heaven and on earth—Jesus, the God who made everything—still obeyed His earthly parents Mary and Joseph. He respectfully submitted to them. Do you children here remember the fourth commandment? Honor your father and your mother. Here we see that Jesus obeyed this commandment, He honored His father and mother. He listened to what they told Him, and respectfully obeyed and came home with them.

Children, in the same way you are to obey your parents. In our catechism classes we learned what the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” means. It means, “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” That means that when your parents tell you to do something, you should listen to them. Don’t argue or fight or complain. Your parents will be pleased with you when you listen and obey, and do as you’re told. You also are to respect and obey other authorities. Those are other people that God places over us. Not just as children, but also as adults. As children we have our parents, teachers, pastors, principals, aunts and uncles, in authority over us. Children and parents both have people in authority over us in government. The president and governor and mayor, the police and other officials of the law. We should also respect and obey their authority.

What’s the result of doing this? What’s the result of honoring and obeying? Jesus grew in favor with God and man. God was satisfied with Him, and so were His parents. They were blessed with a respectful and obedient child. Children, did you know that the same blessing is yours if you respect and obey your parents? If you serve and obey and love them, you will also find that they’re pleased with you. They’ll be blessed to have respectful and obedient children. You won’t be disciplined as much if you obey. Did you know that the Bible says that this commandment is the first one with a promise attached to it? “‘Honor your father and mother’—[this] is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Eph. 6:2-3). Our whole lives will be blessed if we’re obedient and respectful, instead of being trouble and showing disrespect. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20).

One of the most important ways that you children can be respectful and obedient to your parents as to God, is by being a good learner and listener to God’s Word. Jesus was eager to be in His Father’s house, at the place of worship, studying and learning from the Bible. So you can be respectful and listen to your parents when they take you to church and Sunday school, not to fuss or complain, but be ready every Sunday morning to go and worship. You can ask questions and learn your Bible stories with respect and be glad to come to God’s house. In fact, I hope that every one of us here, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, is filled with the same thirst for God’s Word that Jesus showed.

Think again how remarkable it is that the one thing that Jesus was so focused on as a twelve year old child, the one thing that had Him distracted from even noticing that His parents had left Jerusalem, was God’s Word. And that it was Jesus, the very Son of God, who was so eager to learn! If God Himself considered this the most important thing that He could do, how can we think anything less? What else could we find that is more important for us to be doing than to hear and learn from God’s Word? What else could take us away from our heavenly Father’s house? There should be nothing else, and we should always rejoice like the Psalmist to say, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells!” God, I love to be in worship and to be in your presence!

This story of Jesus’ childhood is just one glimpse into His early life, but it matches everything else we know about Him—that from birth till His death on the cross and resurrection, He held God’s Word to be of greatest importance. He studied and taught it. He obeyed it in every way. He was obedient and faithful to God and His parents in all things, and He treasured the place of worship as God’s house. Christ lived as a child, a youth, and an adult for us—and by His perfect life and death, He earned us salvation. So that all of our disobedience, all of the times when we didn’t listen or were disrespectful, that we could repent of those sins and be forgiven. Jesus obedience as a child carried through His whole life, and the outcome of that obedience was His saving death on the cross to forgive us our sins. May we constantly turn away from the path of disobedience, and walk instead with Jesus on the path of obedience and faith, receiving His forgiveness for our sins. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

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

1. All that we know about Jesus’ childhood, before Jesus began His public ministry at age 30 (Luke 3:23), is recorded by Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 in the birth narratives, and then this one incident from Jesus’ childhood at age 12. What important details about Jesus’ youth and maturing do we learn from this story? Why is it dangerous and inadvisable to speculate about the rest of Jesus’ childhood? Why do some wish to do that?
2. What does this story tell us about Jesus’ family and environment? What was required of Jewish males every year? Deut. 16:1-8, 16. What does it show about the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary?
3. Rather than being disobedient or causing trouble, where was Jesus eventually found? Why were the teachers amazed at Him?
4. What do Jesus’ first recorded words tell us about His self-awareness and clarity about His own identity? What did He mean that “I must be in my Father’s house?” See also Psalm 26:8
5. If the Bible doesn’t record a complete biography of Jesus’ life, why does it include the stories, teachings, and details that it does select? John 20:30-31; 21:25.
6. As true man, Jesus also grew like other children, physically and mentally. How did His full growth and maturity reflect what God intended for humans made in God’s image? How was Jesus the perfect image of God? (Col. 1:15).
7. What does this story teach children about obedience to their parents? Exodus 20:12; Col. 3:20; How do children and adults show respect and obedience to authority? What is the blessing of doing this? See Eph. 6:2-3. How does Jesus’ obedience trace through His whole lifetime, and what was the final outcome of that obedience for us?