Monday, February 27, 2012

Sermon on James 1:12-18, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Born By God's Will"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Two outcomes set before us: death and life. James charts the path to both. First the role of temptation/testing. Different in origin and purpose. Testing: from God—to strengthen faith, create reliance on Him. Temptation: from the devil (or our own desire)—to make us fall, weaken faith, death. God will work through tests and trials in life to accomplish His purpose in us, and to teach us that His grace is sufficient—His power made perfect in weakness.
2.      Devil ultimately wants us on the path to death, but James reminds us that we’re quite determined/capable on our own of choosing that path. Starts with our own sinful desire. Desire is tempted—put your hope for satisfaction in sinful pleasures. But when we seek to satisfy in sinful ways—greed, lust, anger, selfishness—the satisfaction is short-lived and empty. Driven to pursue it more, with less satisfaction. Law of diminishing returns. Racing down a slippery slope, chasing the carrot temptation dangles before us. Desire conceives and gives birth to sin. Sin matures and grows and gives birth to death. Earlier stages sin’s impact may be less; more contained. A thought that embitters our mind, or stirs up jealousy. But we have not yet unleashed it on someone else.
3.      But once conceived and given birth to sin, poison is set loose. Ugly how sin can pour out its harm as it matures and grows. Effects and consequences grow worse the further we pursue sin. Not that sin is any less deadly as a thought—therein lies the potential for evil, in every heart. But far better to root out the weed in our heart now, than let it grow deep roots. David pleads to God in Ps. 141, knowing the danger of sin even at its earliest stages. Implores God to guard his lips and heart: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” Cut off sin at its source. Don’t let evil words escape your mouth. Pray to God to keep your heart even from the inclination, the temptation toward evil. Keep from the company of those who would corrupt you, remembering that “bad company ruins good morals.”
4.      Ps. 7 (cf. James) warns of the cumulative effect of evil: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made” (Ps. 7:14-15). Evil matured from the heart to actions and lies is like digging a pit into which you will fall. The trouble we sow will return upon us. Not something we wish on anyone, but we’ve seen how it works. Death—spiritual death is the final consequence. This is the path our sin sets us on. This is what is conceived in us by sinful desires that give in to temptation. No little harmless sins that we can safely nurture in our heart. Sin will seize the opportunity if given the chance, and grow into something ugly and unmanageable, giving birth to death. So we pray “Deliver us from evil” because only God can deliver us, help us overcome these attacks and give us the victory.
5.      v. 12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.”
6.      But we must admit we face a daunting task. Impossible task for us. Temptation conceives and bears sin in us. The wages of sin is death. We are dead in trespasses and sins. At whatever stage sin has grown and matured in our lives, how can we be saved? No simple matter of patching our behavior up or 20 steps toward a better you. Can’t be fixed from the outside. Problem is born on the inside, in the heart. Then how to remain steadfast under trial, and resist temptation? Who can deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who gives us the victory! We cannot rescue ourselves, or face temptation on our own strength. What sin conceived in us is intertwined with our will and desires so that there is no one righteous, not one. No remedy in ourselves.
7.      But God has sent His good and perfect gift down to us in Jesus Christ. God, by His will gives us a new birth! v. 18 contrasts a second birth, a heavenly birth from above, that God wills in us, by His Word of Truth. The answer to our lost estate is to be born from above! God conceived us by His will and has given birth to His children, so that we might have life instead of death! Just as temptation conceives and gives birth to sin and death, God’s solution is that His Word and will conceives and gives birth to righteousness and life in us. You are in Christ a new creation. Your life is now “hidden with Christ in God!”
8.      What does that mean for you and your struggle against temptation? Not alone; not even just “powered up” by Jesus’ help. It means that your life is encapsulated, is hidden together inside of Christ’s life, so that His victory becomes your victory! Consider the first verse again: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” Christ is the man who remained steadfast under trial. He defeated the devil’s temptations at every turn, He remained faithful to God in all hardships and difficulties. With unwavering faithfulness, He sought God’s will only—and all the way to the cross. And since Jesus is victorious, His victory becomes ours as well—joined by faith. In Him you can find strength—God is faithful to show the way of escape in temptation. Not beyond what we can bear. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses, tempted as we are. We can hang through trusting Him.
9.      Jesus’ steadfastness rewarded with the crown of life—His resurrection, and He now promises to grant us the same crown of life—victory over sin and death, to all who love Him. In Him and through Him we can be steadfast through trial. The seed of God’s Word has already been planted and has conceived and born new life in you. It will blossom forth and give fruit as the Spirit works in you to give glory to God. This is entirely by God’s willing and grace, not by our own will or power, as John reaffirms (ch. 1): “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” By God’s will you are alive in Christ, you are born for life—so rejoice in His will for you and hold fast to Christ in every temptation and trial. He has worked life in us, where before there was only sin and death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

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

  1. In what way is Jesus both the man who remained steadfast under trial, and also the one who gives us the crown of life? Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; John 11:25-26. What is the crown of life? 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:10

  1. Why is it impossible that God would be the One who tempts us, or that God would ever do evil? Ps. 5:4-6; Matt. 19:17.

  1. What in us gives temptation and sin its first foothold according to James 1:14? Cf. Gen. 4:7. How should we resist temptation? See Jesus’ example in Luke 4; Ps. 141:3-4; 1 Cor. 10:13

  1. How does James’ imagery of the maturation of sin help us to understand its accumulative and deadly influence? Ps. 7:14-15

  1. How does God’s constancy bring us comfort? Jam. 1:17; Mal. 3:6. What is the second kind of “conception and birth” that God works in us, instead of sin? Jam. 1:18; John 1:12-13; 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3. How is this our hope and confidence in the face of evil and temptation? How does this reassure us that only God can deliver us from evil?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 1:1-3, for Ash Wednesday; Jonah, The Survivor Series: Part 1: “God is Calling!”

The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is taken from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 

            Do you ever wonder what it would be like if God called you? I mean directly spoke to you in audible and unmistakable words? How would we respond? How would we treat the call? Would we take our cue from everyday life and “screen the call” or let it go to voicemail? Most of us can relate to avoiding our calls at one point or another. What if we found we were doing the same thing to God?
            Welcome to the world of Jonah! Let’s begin at the beginning! When God calls Jonah to go preach in Nineveh, Jonah high-tails it in the opposite direction. The author highlights the irony of this effort to run away in a way that we wouldn’t catch—that in their time, boarding a ship for Tarshish was the cultural equivalent of boarding the Titanic for its maiden voyage. A trip doomed for disaster. Yet blind to this fact, so great is Jonah’s disobedience and eagerness to escape God’s call that he finances a whole ship and crew to sail away. The last call Jonah wanted to answer was this one from the LORD!
            Just like other Israelites, Jonah is called to go beyond his borders (p. 82). But this call was to Nineveh, “the chief of sinners” (pp. 85-89). The Assyrian army was the epitome of brutal war tactics, designed to degrade, humiliate, and terrorize their enemies. This is not a friendly nation or a friendly city, not exactly on the top ten holiday destinations of the day! In fact this is the nation that eventually invades and destroys Israel in 722BC (cf. 2 Kings 17). And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city that God calls Jonah to go. That’s right, it’s an overseas assignment to Kabul in Afghanistan or Tehran in Iran or to Mogadishu in Somalia. He was being sent right into the heart of enemy territory with a message that was sure to raise scorn and persecution—or so he thought.
            Jonah received a call that he would rather not get! You know the feeling. The phone rings and you just know it is your aging aunt who wants to come over and check her mailbox for the third time today. Or maybe you’ve had the experience of being “between jobs” and both the car payment and the mortgage are a few days late. You thank the heavens that you can screen your calls with caller ID!
            Calling Jonah to go to the Ninevites was like asking a Jew in 1942 to go from New
York to Hitler, and tell him that God loved him, and that everything he did would be forgiven if he would but repent. So the Jew got on a train, all right, and went to San Francisco, then got on a ship to Antarctica! He wanted nothing to do with it. So Jonah actually hung up on God! Have you ever had someone hang up on you? It doesn’t feel very good, and you likely experience a bit of anger. Who in the world would want to hang up on God and make God angry? The answer is in Jonah’s name (pp. 80-81). It means ‘dove’—like the bird. And the use of the word dove in the OT is often as a silly and brainless creature that flutters back and forth in fear. Jonah had a ‘dove moment.’
            So Jonah boards a ship going to Tarshish, which is not only Tarsus, the home-town of St. Paul (p. 72), but represents a pleasant place of security, a “distant paradise” (p. 73). A ship bound for Tarshish is bound to have enormous problems (cf. p. 76). Jonah’s “going down” (v. 3) begins a slow decent toward death (p. 74). And this is just what happens when we run from God’s call on our lives. Like Jonah there are times in life where we want to run from God’s call. The situation where we have been placed in life seems too difficult to face or accept.  The opposition or hurdles seem too great. We seek an easy way out, a short-cut, an escape. To back away from our problem instead of face it with God’s help and strength. Or we leave the call unanswered, or the phone off the hook, so to speak. We shut God’s call on our life out. But this path is a path of dust and ashes. Running from God is fraught with disaster, as all too many lives can testify. It is a path of slow descent towards death, as we turn away from God’s call on our lives.
            In the Bible, “to stand before the Lord” is equivalent to serving him (e.g., 1 Kings 17:1; 18:15). The opposite, “to be removed or to flee from God’s presence,” is to refuse to serve him. It can also carry the idea of being removed from his service (e.g., Gen. 4:16). The person who therefore “runs away from the LORD” or “flees from the presence of the LORD” is the one who is refusing to serve God in the task he knows he has been called to do. This is what Jonah is doing, he is refusing to serve God, even though he knows what his word says (cf. 73-74). It is like Jonah was on Mission Impossible, and he smashed the message device instead of accepting the mission!
            But God’s word will have its way (pp. 77-78). Jonah couldn’t so easily escape God’s call on his life. So also for us God will work to accomplish His purposes. The name of another prophet shows us how – Jesus. His name means “the Lord is salvation” because Jesus would save His people from their sins. No reluctant prophet, He willingly goes beyond his borders (p. 82) for us! He lovingly pursues a wayward and rebellious people. He comes after those who have run from God. He turns hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. He turns fearful and fluttering hearts to hearts of faith and courage. Listen, God is calling again. Through the Word inviting. He is calling us to confess our sin. But all the more he is calling us to confess the name of Jesus. Offering us forgiveness, comfort and joy! This is our path home from our wandering. He is our hope of survival! 

For Next Week: Read Jonah 1:4-16 and ask yourself:
1) Even when God, in his grace, has sought me, how have I dug in my heels, refusing to hearken to him?
2) How has my acting in such a fashion caused trouble for others?
3) How was Jonah’s sacrifice similar to as well as different from that of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sermon on Mark 9:2-9, for Transfiguration Sunday, "Jesus Only"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Encountering the miraculous—foreign to our everyday experience. Skeptical. Miracles strewn through Jesus’ life. Public miracles…private: only the inner circle of disciples. Miracles bound up with His identity. Followers were eager to proclaim it—enemies grudgingly admitted it. Enemies gave unflattering explanations, but had to admit the miracles. To take Jesus’ identity seriously, we must take account His miracles. What do they tell or prove about His identity?
2.      Jesus’ puzzling command after this particular miracle. Why not rake in the glory and attention from this miracle? Why tell them in the verses that follow this story, that He would first have to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead before they could talk about it? Why put this glorious experience beneath the cross?
3.      Even after all the cross and resurrection when Peter wrote about it, he was reluctant to make too much of this glorious personal experience, instead pointing us to the more certain truth of God’s prophetic Word. Surprisingly, Jesus often seemed intent on not drawing attention to His miracles. Not all about the glory. Miracles told the amazing truth about Jesus’ identity, but they were not the “big deal.” The big deal was the suffering on the cross and the resurrection: miracle of miracles. If this did not convince people of His identity as the Son of God, none of His lesser miracles would. Only looking back after the cross did the transfiguration make sense.
4.      Overwhelming experience of awe and fear—Peter dumbfounded and utters only words that comes to his mouth. Wants to prolong the experience. Stay in the glory. While their minds were still reeling, trying to process what had happened, Jesus tells them don’t tell anyone till He suffers, dies, and rises from the dead. Even this they couldn’t grasp—what or why He had to die. Couldn’t make complete sense until the full light of later events—the cross and the empty tomb, made everything clear in retrospect.
5.      So what was the point of it all? Why this experience? Show the disciples Jesus was the Father’s beloved Son. So they would believe in Him and listen to Him. Almost same words from baptism (my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased). Fleeting moment, the covering of humility peeled back, Jesus’ glory is glimpsed—radiant, blindingly white, intense. All about who He really was. Amazing that He was covered by the ordinary every day. That you wouldn’t recognize Jesus in a crowd by something remarkable in His appearance. No halo, special glow. Dusty, sandaled feet and a traveler’s cloak.
6.      Image forever emblazoned on their minds. From then on they could never forget that He really was somebody. In the words of another pastor, “He was not only somebody, He was the only somebody who really mattered. He was the only one.” When Jesus finally did die on the cross for our sins, rise from His grave, defeating death, all the last puzzle pieces fell into place to understand who this somebody was. This ordinary-looking man from a little hillside village called Nazareth, was actually the Savior, the Son of God. The glory they had seen on the Mount was just a sneak peek of the real identity of Jesus—God’s only Son.
7.      How amazing that He chose to hide Himself in humility, and not parade His glory instead! Wouldn’t that have made it easier for people to believe who He was? Convince them He was the Son of God? However appealing an idea, Jesus tells us why not: “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). God in His wisdom knows all the reasons why, but here Jesus simply tells that His purpose was not to be served, but to serve us by His death and rising.
8.      This is why all the other miracles fell into the shadow of the cross. That was the real eye-opener, the clinching event. What a radically undeserved gift for us, that He came not in raw power and fearsome glory, but in humility, in suffering, in oneness with our human nature, in love and in undeserved service for us. That God, in Jesus, served us and gave His life as a ransom. Ransoming us from the penalty of our sins. Apart from this truth, none of the rest of Jesus’ life and miracles could make sense. Jesus came not to seek glory for Himself, but to glorify God, His Father by the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of ransoming love.
9.      So likewise the transfiguration was not a self-serving event for Jesus’ benefit, but for the disciples and us to be reaffirmed in the knowledge of who He is. And it was this knowledge that would sustain them through the ordinariness and hardship of life. When the glorious miracle was over as suddenly as it began, they were left with Jesus only. He was all they needed as they returned to their ordinary life. And only 3 of them had even seen this miracle. So for all the rest and for us as well, no mountain glory is needed. God’s voice from heaven directs us to Jesus, His beloved Son—that we listen to Him. We need Jesus, and Jesus only. Not the miraculous, not the mountaintop spiritual experience, but the sure Word of God and Jesus alone.
10.  Life will come at us with all its hardships, trials, and difficulties. Being a Christian does not mean that all our life problems will magically disappear when we go home. For Peter, James, and John, the transfiguration was an eye-opening glimpse into Jesus’ full majesty as the Son of God. A ray of brilliance and encouragement for the difficult and challenging road ahead. Showed them who they put their trust in. Jesus’ betrayal, unjust trial, and death lay ahead. Later opposition for the disciples, as they spread the good message about Jesus Christ and what He had done. But we can look forward to the day when all the humility and suffering is finally peeled back, and we’ll see our Jesus face to face.
11.  This is to strengthen and sustain us through life. We are given one more blessed promise in connection with this transfiguration, and that is the transfiguration that believers in Jesus Christ will one day undergo. Bible tells that a new creation is begun in us as well. By faith in Christ a transformation is already at work inside us, being transformed into the image of the Lord’s glory, and that one day in heaven the new creation that is now hidden inside us will also be fully revealed. Glorified and immortal bodies like Jesus. So it remains true for us, that in whatever we face in life, we need Jesus only—and that whenever life is overwhelming, to be still and know that He is God. Knowing this, you can trust your life in His hands. Amen.

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

  1. The word “transfigured” is a translation of the Greek “metamorphosis.” It describes a change in form or outward appearance. In what way was Jesus transfigured? How was His identity nevertheless unchanged?

  1. Jesus told His three disciples that this particular miracle was to remain hidden until when? Why? Mark 9:9-13; 2 Cor. 4:3-6 What is surprising about the fact that Jesus chose to keep His glory hidden? What does the Bible tell us about why this is? Mark 10:42-45; John 8:54; 13:31-35; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 1:21-25

  1. When Peter later reflected on this Mountaintop Experience, instead of boasting of that experience, what did he point to as far more sure, certain, and reliable basis for faith? 2 Peter 1:19. How does this give us light in the midst of darkness? Psalm 119:105.

  1. Although neither Peter nor we can stay with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, we can and should remain with Jesus at His cross. Why was that the central act in Jesus’ life for us? What comfort does it bring in the midst of life’s difficulties? When, like Peter, do we need to just be silent and listen to Jesus, our Teacher? Psalm 37:7-8; 46:10; James 1:19

  1. In what way does the Bible tell believers that they too will participate in a “transfiguration” or metamorphosis? Romans 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18. What hidden reality is already at work now in those who believe? 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15. When will this change finally be visible in us? 1Cor. 15:35ff.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sermon on Mark 1:40-45, for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, "Putting Words in Your Mouth (and in your ears)!"

Sermon Outline:

1.      Not something you’d normally recommend doing—I’d like to put words in your mouths. Generally we get frustrated when people put words in our mouth, and rightly so. But let me explain. Two lepers: one prideful (at first) wishing to be clean but on his own terms, the second humbly begs for healing. “If you will, you can make me clean.” He approaches Jesus humbly, begging on his knees, trusting that Jesus can heal him.
2.      The words that I would put in your mouth is that plea to Jesus: “you can make me clean.” Humble words of repentance, seeking mercy and help. Nowhere else to turn. Recognized he couldn’t “clean” himself, or would have long ago. No one else, only Jesus. How many hold back from coming to God, for fear that God wouldn’t receive them? From shame over their sin, uncleanness. Maybe too stubborn to accept help, like Naaman. Unwilling to humble themselves before God. Or a lack of having the words to say to God. We feel distant, separated, outcast, lonely, whatever it is--but don’t have the right words. God would have us ask for His help. I wish all of us who are sinful and unclean would put those words in our mouths: “Lord, you can make me clean!” Verbalize the cry of your heart into a simple request that God would cleanse you--forgive you; wash you clean and make you new again.
3.      We don’t realize how eager and willing Jesus is to answer this request! That He wants us to come to Him for cleansing, with repentance and humility in our hearts. How willing is He? So willing that He shed His blood on the cross for us, so that it could be said: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-22). The cleansing Jesus gives us: more than physical, from leprosy—shed blood opens the way for our approach to God—hearts clean, bodies washed. Baptismal language. Spiritual renewal.
4.      We are constantly “soiling” ourselves with sin. Return to baptism by repentance. Turn away from sin. Fall back into those waters; drown the sinful nature; have Christ plunge our sinfulness down with Him from the cross into the grave. Sin is buried with Him, not to haunt us like ghosts of our past, but to remain dead and crucified, separated by eternity through forgiveness. To have Christ pull us up from the waters of baptism, sucking in generous gulps of air in the new life that God has promised you. Calling you to live again, breathe again, walk and not grow weary, to run and not be faint.
5.      Jesus cleanses in baptism. Cleanses our hearts by faith (Acts 15:7-9). “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) Jesus puts these words into your ears, so you hear and believe and are cleansed by faith in His Word.
6.      Don’t get the wrong idea about putting “words in your mouth.” Repentance is not just a matter of mouthing the right syllables or reciting a phrase—it is a matter of your heart. That your heart is humbled before God.
7.      Cleansing we require is deeper than skin, deeper than a bath can fix. Sin goes deeper than we can touch or remove. Has its root in our heart, and its sinful desires. Like leprosy was an uncleanness on the surface, but penetrated beneath the skin, and could not be washed off, so sin is a deeper malady. While we often speak of all sins, great and small, incurring guilt and judgment before God, at the same time there is also a difference in the effects of our sins.
8.      Like physical wounds on the body do different damage, so also with sin. Both what we have done, and what’s been done to us. Some superficial like a skinned knee or scraped nose—maybe heal quickly, no scar. Bleeding cuts, take longer to heal, may have scar. Bruises—visible, but most damage is beneath the surface. Deep and vicious wounds—broken bones, life in danger. They may be terribly difficult to forgive, and leave us feeling either terrified, vengeful, devastated, numb, or some combination of each. Or leave us feeling terribly ashamed, unable to believe what we did, what we thought we never could do. Not all sins are alike in their effect and the damage they do. All are harmful and wrong in themselves, but some require more healing, repairwork, etc. Some are self-inflicted, some are inflicted by others. Both can be equally painful. Some leave scars, others don't. So it is with some of the sins that leave us unclean or feeling unclean. Healing may take time. But God is a patient God and compassionate and near to the broken-hearted. Jesus is willing to make us clean again, and He alone is able. If we fear a wound is too deep to survive, to deep to heal, remember the wounds that Jesus bore in His body on the cross. Fatal wounds. Felt sin’s fatality in a deeper way than we could ever know. But He lives again! Rose for us. He alone can heal all our wounds, bring life and cleansing for all we’ve done and that has been done to us.
9.      Cleansing of the heart that Jesus gives—can happen with or without full earthly healing of our “wounds” and even our physical illnesses or emotional distresses. We can experience substantial healing even now, but our full healing is in heaven. The cleansing of our heart by faith is the real healing that Jesus was after. Hearts made new in Him will live for eternity, renewed and free of death, illness, distress. Our cleansing by faith should open our hearts to others as well.
10.  Can we now look at other’s through Jesus’ eyes? See the poor and needy and sick flocking to Him? Desperate for love, care, cleansing? Freely share the word of Christ that cleanses, forgives. Would we turn away from those who are not “clean” in our eyes, whether from physical condition, from appearance, from stigma?
11.  Kids do this all the time. Avoiding the kid who’s called names, whose clothes don’t fit right, talks funny or behaves differently. Know and recognize. Yet less likely to see how we do the same as adults. Pick our little groups of friends and put up walls toward others. Turn away from those who are reaching out for help, and find legitimate excuses for why we can’t be troubled. Jesus too was slowed in His work of proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom by the constant flow of diseased and suffering people, coming to Him for healing. But He received them as part of His ministry, He opened His heart to them and had compassion. Sometimes there is nothing more that we need or can give to another hurting soul, than compassion. We don’t have the answers to their problems, we can’t cure their illness, but we can offer them compassion. We can listen with a heart joined to their need, and lift them up with a Word of Christ and a prayer. We can bring them to Christ and Christ to them. Put the words of Christ in their ears, to know God loves them too, and that Jesus can cleanse them.
12.  For you, for me, for them, that Christ speaks forgiveness. That He died. That He became unclean with our sicknesses, sins, and shame, and proclaims cleansing, healing, and honor to us. All for free, though at the price of His costly love. Let your mouth find its words for repentance and then praise and thanksgiving, and let your ears receive the Good News gladly, that Jesus wills it, and you are clean!

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

1.      While we may not suffer the uncleanness of leprosy, what are the things that make us unclean? Mark 7:14-23; 2 Cor. 7:1; . What did Jesus declare clean, that had formerly been unclean? What holds many of us (or others) from coming to Christ for cleansing?

2.      How does Jesus cleanse us? Mark 1:41; Heb. 10:19-22; Acts 15:7-9; John 15:1-5. How do we respond and live in that knowledge? Describe what it means for you to live in your baptism into Christ.

3.      How ought we to approach Christ for our cleansing? Compare/contrast the man with leprosy in Mark 1, with how Naaman, in the OT reading from 2 Kings 5 approached Elisha for his cleansing. What is God looking for? Psalm 51:17, then read 51:10-12; Luke 14:11.

4.      What is the irony about Jesus’ command to the man who had been healed, and what he did instead? What is the irony about how we often respond today, when we have been given the call to tell the good news?

5.      What was the true goal of Jesus’ ministry? Mark 1:38; How did the crowds seeking healing sometimes slow or hamper this goal? Where was the ultimate healing to be accomplished? How would Jesus do it? What was the cost? Why did He do it?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sermon on Isaiah 40:21-31, for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, "Comfort for the Weary"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our text today is the reading from Isaiah 40. It’s scarcely possible for us to contemplate the vastness of the universe and the majesty of God’s glory that it displays. The incredible window seat God gave our earth to view the depths of the universe through telescopes and space exploration has stunned countless humans with the realization that those tiny twinkles of light that pepper the nighttime sky are all giant, burning stars like our sun—and often many times greater in size. And yet they are at such great distances from our own solar system, that it staggers the human imagination. Perhaps if it does not fill us with pride, we might say that because we have those glimpses of the grandeur of the universe, we can even better appreciate Isaiah’s words: “It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in....lift up your eyes on high and see; who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might and because He is strong in power not one is missing.”
When we gaze up at the stars, and try to fathom how far away they are, and how massive they are in size, we truly can feel like ants or grasshoppers in comparison. Even flying in an airplane over a city or seeing videos from the space shuttle, looking down at earth, gives one a sense of this smallness and seeming insignificance. Once while taking some youth to a Lutheran summer camp, I led the group in some stargazing and finding constellations. One of the young boys, looking up at the stars for the first time free of the hazy glow of city lights, was amazed at how beautiful it was. He remarked that the nighttime sky looked like a giant tent spread over us, and the stars were like little holes where the light poked through from outside. I was thrilled to tell him that this is just how the Bible describes the heavens, and what God did in “stretching them out like a tent” when He created the universe. He was pretty excited to find that the Bible used the same description he thought of to describe the stars. Truly, out of the mouths of children God has ordained praise. (Ps. 8:2)
God truly “determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. (Ps 147:4). Not one of them is missing. If God knows all the stars and calls them by name, how much more wonderful that He knows us so intimately as to know the number of hairs on our head. Every corner of the infinitely vast universe we live in is known by God’s wisdom and knowledge. And He is still greater and still more magnificent, awesome, and beyond description than His beautiful universe. Yet we are not forgotten or unnoticed in the midst of all its grandeur, however puny and insignificant we may seem in comparison, like little grasshoppers.
So why should a person give time to contemplate the majesty and awesomeness of God? Our troubles can certainly leave us feeling forsaken, glumly looking down at our feet and feeling hopeless. We might cry out in the words of verse 27: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.” As though to say, “God is ignoring me in my troubles. He’s not paying attention to me, and He’s not listening to my prayers!” Whether demanding or despairing, our cry goes up, “How long?” How long can it last? How long can I last? I’m weary, I’m faint, I’m exhausted, I’m on my last legs. “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.” If this is our cry, that God has forgotten us in our trouble, Isaiah proclaims that the God who is inexhaustible in His strength and power is the One who gives strength to those who become faint and exhausted under the strains of life. To the weak He gives strength, to the weary He sets their feet back upon the path to walk upright.
He describes how the youths and young men will faint and be weary, and the young men shall fall exhausted. You know what it is that wears you down in life. What struggles sap your strength, what trials test your prayer life and reliance on God. What burdens you have tried to carry on your own, instead of turning them over to God. For many, life can be exhausting, even to young and energetic people. The cares and struggles of life can often be much greater than we can bear. Yet God describes those who wait for the Lord renewing their strength, and continuing on, even soaring like eagles or running without fatigue. More than just a “second wind” like a marathon runner gets who breaks past “the wall”—this description is of one who can keep going on, despite enormous odds against them. This description is of one rising above their circumstances and finding supernatural strength in God alone. The description of one who by all odds should have been crushed under the difficulty of their situation, but instead is renewed in their strength by the Lord. God is their resilience.
Isaiah’s call for the weary to look up from their troubles to God is the call of the Psalmist as well. That in our trouble we might pause to look up to the heavens or to the mountains, and ask ourselves “From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” (Ps. 121:1-2) To look up to God, to contemplate His majesty and great power puts us in mind of the fact that He’s in control of all things, that the universe is made and moved by the might of His hand, that the stars bear their light at His will and command. It’s a humbling reminder of our insignificance before Him. But when we have come to that humbling knowledge, it also serves to teach us “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4). We’re reminded that as glorious as the heavens and earth are, and as insignificant as we seem in the eternal span of time and in the immense order of the universe, that God is still mindful of us and has bestowed great honor and glory on mankind as the crown of His creation.
While we may often be forgetful of our place in the universe, God never forgets or forsakes His children. As glorious as the heavens are, their creation is described as almost an afterthought: “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.” (Ge 1:16). Yet God has crowned mankind with glory and honor, and given them dominion over all the creation. God gave instructions to Adam and Eve to master the creation and rule over it. To reflect on God’s majesty, therefore, puts us in mind of our place beneath God, but also raises our position to know that among all the wonders that God has created, we stand out for His special attention, love, and concern.
Of all the things that God could “occupy” Himself with, the creation of vast, unexplored wonders and beauties, hidden beyond what the naked eye can see, out in the distant stars, or hidden in the depths of caves and mountains, or the great abysses of the sea—still God’s greatest marvel, His most loving, caring, and superb act of creation was making human beings in His own image. That He would give the imprint of Himself on the living souls of Adam and Eve, saying “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Ge 1:27). This act is only surpassed in greatness by the redemption that Jesus Christ accomplished for us, by buying us sinful humans back from our fallen glory, when He died on the cross for our sins. We are His first, because He made us, but secondly we are His because He bought us back through Jesus Christ. For both these reasons, God is not aloof and unconcerned with His precious children, but rather He is deeply concerned with all that happens in our lives, so that we are promised, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
If you were to imagine what it would like to be eternal, and have no measurement of the passing of time like we do, could you also envision what our human problems would be like? From problem to solution, all our life’s events would lay before you, and you would see clearly to the end of each one. There would be no fretting about the outcome, because you would already know it. God sees all this from His heavenly perspective, and knows how He will bring us through them all. When we wait on the Lord, patiently enduring our situation, we acknowledge His superior rule and wisdom; that all things are in His hand. We rest in His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and that He will carry us through to the end.
As proof of God’s love and concern, He heard our cry from the depths of our pain, struggle, and human misery, and Jesus Christ came down from the exalted heights of heaven and joined us in the depths of human existence, to became one with us in our sufferings. He knew them face to face. And more than sympathy for us, He proclaims release and life. “He comes with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong, to help the poor and needy and bid the weak be strong; to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light, whose souls condemned and dying, were precious in His sight.” (LSB 398:2) In place of our sighing, groaning, and sadness, God supplies us with songs and rejoicing.
Charles Spurgeon commented on Psalm 97:1, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice”--saying that as long as this sentence is true, there is no cause for worry and unrest. God’s power just as easily controls the raging of the wicked as it does the raging of the sea. God’s love just as easily refreshes the poor with mercy as His rain refreshes the earth with showers. His majesty gleams in flashes of fire in the horrors of a storm, and His glory is exalted over the fall of empires and the crash of thrones, which stand as nothing before Him. Spurgeon adds that in all our conflicts and trials, we can behold the hand of our Divine King. Since God is who He is, since Jesus knows our needs and well provides them, we can rejoice, and we can sing a song of gladness, as we look to Him for refreshment and strength.
His refreshment comes to you in the waters of Baptism, where you drink of Jesus Christ, the Living Water, and your soul is refreshed in the cleansing of your sin and the gift of a clean conscience before God. His strength comes to you in His Word, spoken into your heart, so your soul finds delight in His Word and hope for your future. It comes in the knowledge that Jesus suffered to the point of exhaustion, even to death on the cross for us, so that we would be spared the guilt and weight of our sin, and that we would find eternal rest in Him. His comfort comes to you in the consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ who help to shoulder your burdens together with you, as we each turn them over to Christ. His strength comes as He feeds you with the heavenly manna of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, to strengthen you for your journey so you can run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint. In all these ways, Christ sends His Holy Spirit to enliven you, to take your prayers and inner groanings before God, and to renew you in the knowledge that He who watches over you never slumbers nor sleeps, and that in His arms you rest in safety, though all the earth give way. Find your rest in Him, 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
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1.      What did the glory of the heavens move the Psalmist to sing? Psalm 19:1-6; 50:6; 97:6. How does this adjust our sense of size or importance?

2.      How did God create the stars and the universe? Gen. 1:14-19; Psalm 104. How thorough is God’s knowledge and attention to His creation, both at the cosmic scale, and at the microscopic scale? Isaiah 40:26; Ps. 147:4; Matt. 10:30.

3.      Nevertheless, what question often forms when we are faced by our troubles? Isaiah 40:27; Malachi 3:14-15; Psalm 73. What is God’s answer? What shows us God’s attention, concern, and involvement? Psalm 8; 121:1-2; Phil. 2:6-8

4.      What are the things that have you troubled, or weigh you down? Have you ever thought that God didn’t care? Where are His sure promises to you given? Acts 2:38-40; Matt. 26:27-28; John 11:25-26; 1 Pet. 5:7; Rom. 8:26-27; Luke 11:13

5.      What comfort is there in knowing that God has an eternal perspective on our problems, and that we can turn them over to Him, instead of bearing them ourselves? Matt. 11:28-30; Psalm 97:1

6.      See other Psalms of comfort for times of distress: Psalm 4, 6, 10, 13, 18, 46, etc.