Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 98, for Christmas Eve, "Marvelous Things!"

The concluding Sermon from a series on "Psalms for Advent." May your celebration of Christ's birth be filled with joy!
            “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace good will toward men!” Our sermon text for this Christmas Eve is Psalm 98, and I’ll be quoting it as we go along, if you’d like to follow. As you may have already guessed, the great Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is directly based on this Psalm, and I’ll be making references to both.
    1     Oh sing to the Lord a new song, A song that celebrates God’s new work of salvation—a song to praise the redemption that Jesus brings as He is born to Israel, to all the earth—yes to all creation! For he has done marvelous things! He has made a new marvel for all time, the Virgin conceives and bears a child. The infinite and all powerful God, whose scepter rules over all creation, has joined Himself to lowly mankind. The Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus, our Immanuel—God with us. Marvelous! Marvelous that God and man are joined in the mystery of the incarnation—son of God and son of Man.
         His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of God the Father, rules in His Father’s power and might. He comes meek and lowly to the earth to bring the Father’s redeeming love, to work salvation for God by being born under the law to redeem us under the law. Salvation means rescue and rescue comes from danger and distress. Our danger and distress is sin and death. All the creation was subjected to futility because of the sin of Adam, and longs to be set free from the bondage of corruption, from sin, death, suffering and decay (Romans 8:18-23). We need a rescuer, a Savior! Christmas marks His coming, His birth for us! It marks the undoing of the curse, as Jesus comes to set creation free. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Not only mankind, but creation too is promised freedom from the corruption of sin and the curse.  
    2     The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. Angels were the first messengers to make His salvation known. Glorious angels praising the birth of the Christ child, proclaiming peace to the fearful and lowly, sending messages of hope across creation. Shepherds made salvation known to the countryside; wise men later came offering their gifts, and returned rejoicing. Through Jesus’ life and ministry the rippling tide of His message spread until after His death and resurrection, the ripples spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth! The righteousness of the Lord is truly seen in the sight of all the nations, and it continues to be made known as messengers, missionaries, pastors, teachers, parents and children tell the love of Jesus around the world.
    3     He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. The One True God does not forget His promises and love. He is faithful to His children, to Israel His chosen nation, and to people of every nation, tribe, people, and language, who have been adopted by faith and baptism into His ever growing house and family. God remembers—He forgets only our sins that He has forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross. He remembers His unchanging love.
    4     Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! The swelling joy of creation is so great and powerful at the arrival of Christ our Savior, that it cannot be contained! It cannot be quieted, it cannot be silenced, the very earth leaps for joy. An explosion of jubilation…celebration…as all of creation sings forth the new song of God’s salvation! Your songs and voices join too in the chorus—don’t quiet or quench the song, but make a joyful noise to the Lord.
    5     Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!  6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let every musician and every musical instrument be tuned to give praise to the Lord! Music is God’s gift to creation, to give glory to Him. With melodies and harmonies, strings, brass, and joyful horns “let men their songs employ” and echo forth through all creation to make a joyful noise before the Christ child, the King born in the manger, worshipped by all creation. Let the skill of hand and voice and the creativity of the mind give honor and praise to the God who made them and filled them with His glorious sound.
    7     Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!  8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together  9  before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. God has not only given voice and sound to mankind, but all heav’n and nature sing to Him. “Fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.” Crashing waves and babbling brooks, roaring waterfalls, deep calling to deep, all of creation humming with sound, resounding with the praise of its Creator and Judge. As another hymn puts it, “All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays, stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flow’ry meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee” (LSB 803:2). All creation calls back and forth, from the realms of glory where angels dwell, to the revolving spheres of the planets and the distant stars and galaxies that declare His glory and proclaim His handiwork (Ps. 19), down to the lowly lilies and sparrows of the field. Creation calls to us, “Worship Him! Praise Him! God, Creator, Lord! Join now in the new song of all creation to praise Him now as Savior and Judge!” 
            The very song of creation beckons our hearts to open and to hear that Joy has come to the World. “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room.” This joy that creation cannot contain is a joy that is meant to dwell in and overflow from your heart. The joy of the Christ child, creation’s King and Mighty Deliverer. A joy that will overflow from your heart to all your life. A joy that flows up from your heart to fill your lungs and resound through your voice, as you see and embrace your Savior. Your heart is the object of His coming, of His birth as God and man. Your heart is the object of His redemption, His costly blood shed on the cross, to give you the greatest gift of all—rescue from your sins, freedom from the curse, adoption as God’s children, the redemption of our bodies. He sends His Spirit into our cold, closed, sinful and selfish hearts, and opens and renews them—prepares a fitting temple for Him to dwell. His joy alone can lighten our hearts in a world filled with selfishness, darkness, and madness, and lightens our eyes to see Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome!
         He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.” Jesus’ judgment is a two edged sword—rescue and deliverance for those who trust in Him, but destruction for His enemies. We rejoice to know that He rules with truth and grace. We come to our merciful judge, because all “those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34:5). He will not turn away from us when we look to Him. His is a divine and wondrous love, that forgives us, poor, undeserving sinners. That gives His righteousness to us by faith, so that we are judged with the righteousness of Jesus Christ on the Last Day. We look to His righteous judgment, that He spare us from what our sins deserve, and declares that we are innocent because of Jesus Christ, and that therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  
            Marvelous things, all! Marvelous that God has worked salvation for us in the miracle of Christ’s birth—the miracle of His life, death and resurrection lived for us. Marvelous things that He has spared us from what our sins deserve, and that all creation is promised freedom in Him. Joy, Joy to the World! “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things! His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him!” In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sermon on Micah 5:2-5a, for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "Shepherd King"

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve—the much anticipated arrival of the birth of the Christ child is almost here. Tomorrow our Christmas carols will joyfully leap from our tongues, as we “come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King.” But while many might already be burning out from an overdose of trite, secular Christmas music, let’s prolong our anticipation one more day, before the full tide of Christian joy and celebration pours out tomorrow and on Christmas Day. Let’s tune our ears in to hear the sacred “hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises” that the Church sings to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Let’s once more hear the voices of the prophets, chanting in one accord, promising the birth of the long-expected Jesus. Today the prophet Micah sings his haunting solo, then blends his voice to sing in tune with all the prophets, as he announces the hometown of the Promised One, the Savior, the Christ.
            Micah’s song was mournful at times, watching God’s dread judgment come against Israel, one half of the kingdom being taken into exile by the Assyrians, while the other half of the kingdom looked on, unconcerned that their sins were propelling them down the same path of judgment. Soon that fate would become their reality, and siege armies would surround the gates of Jerusalem. Exile awaited them too. But at this point in the song, Micah’s song rises to sing of hope and deliverance—the verses you heard read today. A ruler would be born for them. But who? Who would he be? A war hero, coming with mighty power, to smash their enemies, and secure their borders? What kind of deliverer would He be? All the OT was a search for Him.
            Ever since Adam and Eve shattered our relationship with God by the first sin, and we followed in their footsteps—the watch was out for this Deliverer, this Savior. At first the wide beam of a searchlight turned on, sweeping back and forth across a broad area: “look for the Savior to come from the offspring of Eve. He will crush the head of the ancient serpent, the devil.” Gradually the sweeping light gathered focus on the descendants of Shem, then on Abraham called by God, “Look for Abraham’s offspring: through Him all nations shall be blessed.” Down through time the light freezes on the line of David: “Look to the line of David, from Him the King to rule forever shall be born.” More centuries pass and the beam of light concentrates with laser-like precision: “Look for the Son born of a virgin; they will call Him Immanuel, ‘God with us.’” “Look for the birth of this ruler in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
            These and dozens of other prophecies were spoken of Jesus “with one accord” by the ancient prophets. Centuries more would pass, until finally, as one author put it, “all the scattered rays of prophecy concentrate in Jesus, as their focus.” The searchlight had become a spotlight, with Jesus Christ standing front and center, alone, as the sole fulfillment of all these prophecies in one man. The one born in lowly Bethlehem Ephrathah, an insignificant countryside town, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.”  He stands forth as the One whom God called to be “ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from days of eternity.” Clearly no mere earthly mortal. The Eternal One who alone could utter these words, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:58). He exists from “days of eternity”—before all time, He who is, was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8). 
            Then Jesus, this mysterious-yet-familiar, unknown-yet-longed-for Deliver is born. Born under the spotlight of the Star of Bethlehem, the Star of Jacob; born under the spotlight of prophecies spoken from the time of Adam to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth blessed Mary in today’s Gospel reading, saying, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” The birth of Jesus was that fulfillment, the promise of the angel Gabriel, that the Virgin Mary would give birth.  The prophet Micah had also said that Israel would be given up to their enemies until the time when “she who is in labor has given birth.” Their rescue, our deliverance, came when the virgin Mary, gave birth to the child of promise.
            Who would He be? Not a military conqueror, as Micah’s audience may have hoped for. But certainly no weakling or coward either. Not one to run or cower from a fight. Instead, a strong yet gentle king. A Shepherd King. Fitting, to be sure, since He was, after all, to be born from the family and in the same hometown, Bethlehem, of that first great shepherd king, King David. But Jesus, the greater One would “stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” To be a good shepherd of the flock, He needs to be strong and courageous enough to ward off the enemies that come after the sheep. But these were not the physical enemies with sword and spear and shield that Micah’s hearers saw—rather the enemies that Jesus, the Shepherd-King guards against, are sin, death, and the devil. That roaring lion who prowls around, seeking whom he may devour. And just as David stood firm against the lion, the bear, and even against the great warrior Goliath, and slew them all, so also Jesus, the greater Good Shepherd, stood firm against the spiritual enemies that are ever poised to strike at His flock.
            The weapons they bear are accusations of sin and guilt that have us dead to rights. In God’s courtroom, we should all stand guilty, condemned, sentenced to eternal death without parole. The devil is no trifling accuser to be messed with, and the record of our sins is true. So who will shield the lambs of God’s flock, doomed to die? The answer is our Shepherd King. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep. The sacrificial lamb of God who laid down to take the death blow, to be nailed with all our record of sins to His cross, to “bear and fight and die” against the deadliest enemies that lay siege against us.
            But our true champion Jesus, greater than any would-be war hero, died at the climax of the battle, but in His death sealed His victory over death! His death and then rising from the dead shows the strength of the Lord and how Jesus, our Shepherd King rules “in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.” His life and His rule is filled with paradoxes: His lowly birth in a manger, yet born from a royal line. His cruel death on the  cross followed by a glorious triumph in resurrection. So why did God send the Deliverer from such a little, insignificant place, through such humble and lowly means? Born of a peasant family in a crude manger for a crib?
            God works in the smallest, most common, unlikely ways. Jesus was not born to power, prominence, or prestige. He didn’t arrive mysteriously as a powerful adult, war hero, politician, high priest, etc. He came in the lowliest form. He even allowed Himself to be despised by the world, born in a feedbox for cattle, surrounded by shepherds for His first visitors, living from town to town with no place to lay His head as an adult, finally suffering a criminal’s death on the cross. God could have sent Jesus in mighty power and terror, with such piercing glory and holiness that none could approach Him, or that none could despise Him. He could have been born to the finest luxuries, in the richest palaces, served by untold heavenly hosts. He could have struck terror in the heart of all who saw Him, and wielded fierce judgment. He could have come glorious...but unapproachable. But instead He cloaked His glory in humility. He stooped low to take on human flesh,  the “servant’s form [put] on to set His servants free” (LSB 331:2). He came with the tenderness of a shepherd, that we might approach Him and take refuge in His arms, and find safety from our enemies.
            His second coming will be glorious, however. It will come with His full glory and brightness and the sound of the trumpet, as every eye beholds Him. At Jesus’ first coming, many despised Him and did not proclaim Him King. They scorned His humility, His suffering, His lowly childhood origins and His death. But when Jesus comes again, all the glory, power and dominion will be His. Every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Now is the time to embrace the Shepherd King, to claim Him as Lord who comes tenderly to bring us His mercy, life, and salvation. Now is the time to approach His throne of grace with confidence, to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). To embrace Him as Savior before He comes as Judge. If we believe in Him and confess Him before men, then when He returns He will confess us before His heavenly Father. And His return will not be terror for us, but rejoicing and delight! Then we can pray with joyful expectation: “Come, thou Long-expected Jesus!”
            “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2).  Jesus comes to us even now, wrapped in the words and pages of Scripture as His swaddling clothes wrapped Him in the manger. As we hear the word preached, we hear Christ, Israel’s deliverer and ours. Our hearts are lifted with hope and joy to believe in Him and long for His deliverance. Jesus comes to us and to all, continually, beseeching us to come and believe in Him. Now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation! Today He comes to us, “not in terror as the King of Kings, but kind and gentle with healing in His wings.” He comes to us as the Shepherd King, the strong yet gentle hand of our Savior, giving us His forgiveness, life and salvation. He Himself is our peace. Rejoice in His gracious and merciful reign over us, and let your praises rise to our God and King this Christmas season! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. The prophet Micah wrote while the nation of Israel was in turmoil. The Northern Kingdom had been exiled to Assyria, and he was warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah that they were headed in the same direction. Read Micah 4 &5. How did Micah bring hope that the exiles would be restored? How did he describe the Deliverer who would come? (5:2-5a).

  1. Promises of the Savior began very broadly (Genesis 3:15), and through the centuries narrowed in focus through the family of Shem (Gen. 9:26) and Abraham (Gen. 12:3), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and so on down through the family of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Prophecies of the Messiah became more and more precise till Isaiah 7:14 & Micah 5:2 gave exact details of His birth. Dozens of other prophecies cover various aspects of the Savior’s life and are fulfilled completely only in Jesus.

  1. What details in Micah 5:2, 4, show that Jesus was no ordinary man? Cf. John 8:58; Revelation 1:8; John 1:1-3.

  1. How was Jesus a “Shepherd King?” John 10; Matthew 21. How was He strong and yet gentle? What enemies did He come to defend and deliver us from?

  1. Why is Jesus’ humble birth, life, and lowly death important to us in terms of our approach to God? Hebrews 4:16; Philippians 2:5-11. How will He be exalted one day, and how will His second coming differ from His first? How shall we receive Him and “prepare Him room” for His coming? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 146 for Advent Midweek 3, "Praise the Lord!"

            Psalm 146-150, all 5 Psalms begin with the Hebrew word “Hallelujah!” Which translated, is “Praise the Lord!” v. 1-2 Like every Psalm, this one praises the Lord by telling back God’s mighty deeds. The Psalmist views the singing of praise to God as a lifelong endeavor—that as long as he draws breath, he will praise and bless God’s holy name. And yet even a lifetime of praise would fall short of declaring the riches of God’s glory. To Him we owe our very existence, our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason, and all our senses. And He still takes care of them. He does this all only out of His fatherly love and divine goodness, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty to thank and to praise, to serve and obey Him. Praise is God’s rightful due—it’s the worship God expects and deserves from all creation, as the 1st commandment says: “You shall have no other gods before me,” the 2nd: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” and the 3rd commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”
            These commandments tell us that God alone is to be worshipped, and that proper worship reveres and uses His name in honor, and that the day of worship and rest should be set aside for the Lord. All creation does praise Him, as Psalm 19 tells, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Or Psalm 148 tells that all the creatures and all the mountains and hills of all creation praise Him. Or Jesus said that if the crowds who praised Him were somehow silenced, that “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Our voices join the whole chorus of creation rendering praise to God.

v. 3-4 In an election year, with all the races now decided—some Americans are excited, some are disappointed, and still others are indifferent to the results of the election. But wherever you stood on the spectrum of joy, sadness, or indifference toward our newly elected leaders, we are all reminded of these words of the Psalmist: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” We are reminded that no president, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, nor any other earthly ruler can save us, and that in the span of history their lives are but a passing moment. Their plans cannot bring us salvation—they are but mortals like us. Our trust must rest with someone greater than them.

v. 5-7 Trust that is well-placed is in Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us salvation. He is the Righteous King we spoke of last week in Psalm 72—the helper to the poor and the needy. This Psalm reminds us of the same—that blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord His God. God is our helper; the helper of all those who can afford no help. Spiritually poor and needy, we are all “flat broke” and unable to purchase our redemption, our help. Nothing we could pay, nothing we could render in service could “cover the cost” of our salvation. Because we are so poor and needy, because we can give Him no help in return, God is the helper to the helpless. The One who will not turn away from us, but can help in every time of trouble. This is the meaning of His grace. A pure and undeserved love—that isn’t owed to us, but graciously given out of His love. It was a costly gift He gave, when Jesus died, the world to save. His death and blood were the costly price, but to us His salvation comes free.
            From the wealth of God’s grace, we are given countless spiritual blessings, free of cost to us. It’s as though God has opened a limitless bank account, paid for by His grace, and offered to us to “charge it to Him” when we come and eat at His rich banquet—feasting on the gifts of forgiveness of sins; His comfort and consolation in times of distress; His gifts of patience, joy, and self-control; the Sacrament of His body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness. All these spiritual blessings and more are God’s free gift to us, like Isaiah the prophet described: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

v. 7-9 describes all we who receive help from the Lord. Those who trust in the Lord and on “account” of His grace can now “afford” His help include the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, those bowed down by the burdens of life, the righteous, the foreigners living among us, and the widow and the fatherless. To all who are disadvantaged, discouraged, disheartened, He “comes with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong; to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong.” See what a wonderful King we have? See why we praise Him? He looks to the poor and neglected—His eyes are toward those who suffer—and His hands are help and healing for the lonely and the broken. His wounds are the healing for our sin, guilt, and shame. He sees the way of the wicked, and brings it to ruin. He is the God of Justice, and the only One who can one day set right all the wrongs that have been done.

The gathering of those helped by our King’s righteous and gracious salvation begins to look a lot like the list of attendees who come to the great heavenly banquet Jesus described in the parable in Luke 14. The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Those whom people often overlook or count of little importance become Jesus’ honored guests. It’s a little reminder of the kindness King David showed to Mephibosheth in the Old Testament, who was the crippled son of his dear friend Jonathan. King David seated Mephibosheth at the king’s table for all his meals, and treated him as one of his own sons. That little known episode is a distant Old Testament echo of the truth that Jesus taught, that it is a kingly thing to help the downtrodden and poor. It is a blessed and God-pleasing thing to invite those who cannot repay you to your banquet. And in this blessedness of being His guests, we are treated as royal sons and daughters. We are seated at the kings’ banquet. We have been made a kingly priesthood, called to proclaim His excellencies who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. In showering down His help on the helpless and undeserving, Jesus is the King par excellence.
            It was a kingly thing when Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross—the single most astonishing act of loving service that our Heavenly King could perform for us lowly, sinful creatures. Truly He has no other earthly counterpart—there is no king or ruler on earth that deserves our trust or offers any hope for salvation. Blessed are we whose help and hope is in the Lord our God, who alone can save! He alone deserves to rule forever and to receive our praises forever. And so we lift those praises on high: “O God of God, O Light of Light, O Prince of Peace and King of Kings: to You in Heaven’s glory bright, the song of praise forever rings. To Him who sits upon the throne the Lamb once slain but raised again, be all the glory He has won, all thanks and praise Amen, Amen!”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sermon on Philippians 4:4-7, for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, "Rejoice in the Lord"

Note: This sermon on joy was written with the tragic and senseless events of the recent school shooting in mind. Our prayers and hearts go out to the victims and survivors, that God would sent His peace and the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness of this time. As the Psalmist in Psalm 42 reflects, sometimes joy may seem distant and we may feel only bitterness and grief. Yet he puts his hope in God that there will again be a day of praise and gladness. The Bible's teaching on joy is a reminder to us that Christian joy does not concede or retreat from evil, or times of grief or loss, but rather that God sends His good news of redeeming love and comfort to us precisely when we are hurting, lonely, and lost. It is the message of Jesus' victory of good over evil at the cross, that is the only hope for joy in a time of darkness. It is this joy in the Lord that is brighter than the darkness, and that gives us hope even in midst of our worst troubles. 

·         Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we gather together today, doubtless many of us ache in our hearts for the victims of the unspeakable tragedy that just took place at the elementary school in Connecticut. We’re horrified to see such evil, especially against young children. Our hearts are filled with sorrow for the countless families of the victims, and also for those who witnessed these events and are still reeling from them. Many may feel at a time of such tragic loss, or during our personal losses, that for a long time there may be no room in our hearts for anything but sorrow. We may feel like the Psalmist, who in Psalm 42 bleakly remembered the glad praises he used to sing in the Temple, while he was wrestling with the turmoil in his soul because of some great grief. Yet from the depths of his sadness, he echoed this refrain: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”. Sadness filled his soul, yet he hoped for the day when praise would again fill his lips—praise for the God of our salvation. The hope that rests in God does not die together with our losses. The darkness cannot extinguish the light.
·         Yet at such a time of loss, a person may wrestle with the familiar words from our lesson today: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!” Joy may seem to be the furthest thing from our heart, even if we long to experience it again, and to be renewed and refreshed from our griefs. Can joy be like water to a person who is desperately thirsty, parched dry by grief? We struggle especially with how it’s possible to rejoice in the Lord always. Like in the midst of our sorrows. When we feel like we’re living in deep darkness.
·         Yet surprisingly, in numerous places throughout the Bible, the river of joy flows right alongside our sorrows. Jesus spoke about joy and sorrow when He was preparing His disciples for His departure. He spoke of them in the same breath, and acknowledged that at many times, they will exist side by side. Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Not a worldly peace, not a fleeting, temporary peace, but an abiding peace in our hearts. He also said they “would have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” This is a joy that cannot be robbed from us, and a rejoicing that comes from knowing we’ll see Jesus again one day. Jesus concluded that speech to His disciples by saying: “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
·         You may also have noticed that He connects joy with the peace of God, just as Philippians 4 also speaks of the peace of God that passes all understanding, right after telling us to rejoice in the Lord always. It is indeed a mysterious peace, one that goes beyond all understanding, because this peace can exist even in the worst of situations. It is the deep peace of knowing that our sins are forgiven before God. The peace of knowing that everything has been made right with God because of what Jesus did in dying on the cross for sin.
·         Paul wrote those words “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice” while He was in prison for preaching that very good news, uncertain of whether he was going to live or die. Joy and peace for him existed in the midst of trouble. Or 1 Thessalonians 5 he wrote: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In all circumstances. Again! How is that possible? What can we conclude from all these passages about joy?
·         From Jesus we learn that this joy is not naturally inside of us, but rather this joy and peace comes from outside of us, and doesn’t depend on our “ups and downs!” It’s not a peace or joy that the world gives, however pleasurable and satisfying those may seem as long as they last. It’s not a joy that flees from grief and despair, but it is the good news sent to those in darkness. This joy that comes from outside of us is a gift of God. It comes from Him, and not from us. It’s the joy of knowing that Christ has overcome the world. It’s the only joy that can face even the ugliest evils, because it’s the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ is the victory over evil. In the face of the greatest evils, even school shootings where any hope of justice seems impossibly out of reach, we know that a greater triumph of good over evil exists. This is the One Victory of good over evil that matters above all else. It is the victory of the cross of Jesus. In that victory, we can take heart that Jesus Christ has overcome the world. When the innocent Son of God, Jesus Christ, hung on the cross, justice also seemed impossibly out of reach. But His innocent blood had to be shed, in order to conquer the sin and evil that lives in every one of us.
·         Ephesians 2 tells us that this was how He Himself became our peace, and reconciled us to God by His blood shed on the cross. Through this mysterious victory on the cross, He brought us near to God, so that nothing can separate us from His love. So in His rising from the dead, we see that no barrier can stand between us and life with God—not even the ugliest tragedies, not even our most painful memories, not even the guilt of sins we feared were unforgivable. He is our forgiveness, He is our peace.
·         His victory becomes our victory by faith, as 1 John 5 says: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” By faith in Christ, we too have victory, even over death. And our joy, our peace—the peace of God, really—rests in our hearts. This is the joy and peace that we have in all circumstances—joy in the Lord. Joy in ourselves or joy in our circumstances either doesn’t exist or doesn’t last—and certainly cannot stand up to the darkness of our world.
·         And so the call to rejoice should never become one more thing to feel guilty about—as if feeling guilty about it could help reverse the situation! Because this joy in the Lord doesn’t come from within us by manufacturing or stirring up the right feelings by our own willpower. This joy comes from outside of us, from Jesus Christ our Lord. And it’s available to us even when outward circumstances are bad: in the midst of our loneliness, fear, hopelessness, or whatever imprisons us. If Christ’s joy penetrated and illuminated Paul’s prison, so also can it penetrate and illuminate our own prisons, whether they are of our own construction, or of others. But more than that, Christ sets us free—free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, who with his constant lying and murdering would do anything to rob us of our peace. So the joy we have is also the joy of knowing that in the Lord we will one day be utterly free of those powers, and never again be subject to death, fear, sin, or sorrow. We know that “The Lord will rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).
·         This is the light we see, shining in the darkness, shining into our gloom. The light the prophet Isaiah wrote of, so long ago: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest” and, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2-3, 5 ). The joy, the light that shines in on us is the joy of the Christ child, born to us to be our Prince of Peace. The joy of knowing Christ has overcome the world; He was born to set His people free, from our fears and sins to release us. He is the dear desire of every nation, the joy of every longing heart (Come, thou long-expected Jesus).
·         So with that joy of the Lord in our hearts—let us “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
·         Pray: Friend of the little children, lighten the darkness of our hearts. Remember in mercy all who have been devastated by the shooting this week in Connecticut. To Your care we commend the injured and the mourning, the traumatized and the terrified. Embrace and comfort each hurting family, O You who have known in Your own flesh what violence and hatred can do, and yet triumphed in love. Give them Your peace and a share in Your hope. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Read Philippians 1:7, 12-14 & 4:4. In what circumstances did Paul find occasion to tell us to “rejoice in the Lord always”? What circumstances do we find ourselves struggling to rejoice? How does the peace and joy of the Lord penetrate our prisons of hopelessness and fear? Why does this joy truly come in the Lord?

  1. Why is joy “seated” in a deeper place than emotions like happiness and sadness? How does this make it possible to have joy, even when outward circumstances are bad? 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:13; John 16:22. How does joy relate/compare to the blessedness of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)?

  1. What is the “reasonableness” that Paul speaks of in verse 5? Titus 3:2. In other passages, this word is sometimes translated gentleness. Why ought patient listening and gentleness be characteristics of all Christians and evidenced in our interactions with others? How do the opposite behaviors harm our witness?

  1. How is prayer the prescription for anxiety (worry)? See again 1 Thess. 5:16-18; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Matthew 6:25-34. Why does giving thanks to God in all circumstances help change our perspective on anxiety?

  1. God’s peace passes both human understanding, and also angelic understanding. How does this peace have the power to change our hearts and minds, and guard them against every attack of the devil to rob us of peace? How did Jesus give us this peace? Ephesians 2:13-18; when did Jesus announce this peace to His disciples? John 20:19; 14:27; 16:33

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 72, for Advent 2 Midweek, "The Righteous King"

      The Psalm is titled: “Of Solomon” and may have been used at the coronation, or crowning of King Solomon or other kings of Judah. Historically Solomon received the gold of Sheba, described in vs. 10 & 15, when the Queen of Sheba visited him. Also in other ways this Psalm is a prayer of blessing and description of his reign. Solomon’s name means “peace” and his reign was certainly one of peace. But he ultimately only foreshadows the greater rule of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the royal Son of God, the glory of whose greater reign eclipses Solomon’s lesser rule. So as we consider this Psalm, we’ll focus not on Solomon’s role as foreshadow, but on the purest fulfillment in Christ the King.
      V. 1-4, Jesus is the Royal Son, the Only Begotten Son of God, who rules with God’s own justice and righteousness. These are repeatedly described as the hallmarks of His rule. It’s necessary that He drive oppression and wickedness away, and help the poor and needy. Our vision of what kingship means probably has more to do with catering to the rich and the powerful, than to being the helper to the poor and the oppressed. But in Christ’s kingdom, it’s the poor and the humble who will be exalted and find help from the King. The Holy Spirit “anointed [Jesus] to proclaim good news to the poor. He [was sent] to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
      V. 5-7, Today many commentators in the media criticize the idea of “trickle-down economics.” But here, we have one real example of that happening—where the overflowing bounty and goodness of Jesus as the righteous King, would “trickle-down”—no, better, pour down like showers of rain upon the earth. And instead of “trickling down” from a few rich to the many poor, these blessings pour down from the One Righteous King Jesus to the many needy sinners. Prosperity and blessing for the righteous would follow His rule. Where wickedness had parched the land like a spiritual desert, now in the righteous reign of Jesus, the righteous would flourish and the land would be blessed with plenty. Forgiveness of sins overflows like a fountain to all who come to Jesus, the Living Water.
      No earthly king, president, or emperor ever had a reign that matches the description of verse 8: “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” No earthly ruler will ever rule the entire earth. But Christ alone as King, is ruler of all the nations. In Psalm 2, the Father tells the Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” It goes on to describe His rule, and that the kings of the earth and all people would be wise to serve Him, and to take refuge in Him. Jesus, as King, will one day stand in judgment over all the earth. Christ’s reign already exists in every nation in every heart that believes and confesses Him as Lord. His reign continues to spread as the Word of His Gospel goes out to all the ends of the earth, to every nation and every tongue. One day, when He returns, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. All kings will fall down before Him, all nations serve Him. No corner of creation will fail to submit to Him—and when He finally destroys the last enemy—death—then everything will be in subjection to Jesus, who in turn will place all things in subjection to the Father, so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:20-28).
      V. 9-15, For all who are poor and needy, for those who have no other helper and nowhere to turn, we rejoice to have such a Savior and friend as Jesus. For those who by their wickedness set themselves as enemies of God—those who oppress the poor or the righteous—they will lick the dust, just like the serpent in the garden. The oppressor will be crushed, just as God promised to crush the head of the serpent who deceived in the Garden of Eden. Kings from foreign lands would render this righteous and just King tribute and bring Him gifts at His birth. Wise men or Magi from the East would lay gold, frankincense, and myrrh as precious gifts before the child Jesus, born to be a King. 
      Jesus made His place with the lowly from His very birth, coming to humble shepherds and being born in a manger. His heart is always near to the weak and needy, and “precious is their blood in His sight.” Countless kings and tyrants the world over have shed the blood of common men like water; whether their enemies, slaves, or even their own foot soldiers. Many rulers lived with the brutal opinion that “life is cheap.” They traded the lives of thousands or even millions—or even one single innocent life—for greed or power. This is the very opposite of the just rule that Christ comes to bring. In His kingdom, even the lowliest person is of precious worth to Him. In His kingdom there are no “untouchables”, no outcasts, no lepers, no one whose life is cheap to Him. Rather, the lowliest are nearest to His heart—the child, the poor, the broken-hearted. He is the King we long for, the One whose name we bless continually. His Name to us is Love.
      V. 16-20, His reign alone, unlike all other kings, is not bounded by the shortness of His earthly life—not a short generation after which we will look back on the “golden age” of bygone years. Rather, His reign is forever, as He lives forever before God. His resurrection from the dead seals His immortal reign on the throne of David forever. He is the One in whom all nations will be blessed, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. He lives forever to pour down His blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation on all who put their trust in Him. Truly in Jesus Christ, all the promises and blessings of God coalesce and find their perfect fulfillment. This is the work of the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Jesus is at work spreading the glory of His name, and the greatness of His reign through all the earth. For this King and His Righteous reign, our hearts long this Advent season! In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon on Malachi 3:1-7b, 2nd Sunday in Advent, "Messenger of the Covenant"

·         Would you accuse God of injustice? A fearful proposition, to lay that charge at God’s feet—yet this is just what the people had done in Malachi 2:17. Malachi wrote: “You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” They accused Him of leaving the wicked unpunished, and that evildoers were prospering. Their question “Where is the God of justice?” Is tantamount to them saying, “God, what are you going to do about all this evil that is going on? Are you going to prove yourself just and judge them, or will they continue to escape?”
·         Malachi 3 is God’s response to this charge. Malachi, the last prophet, ~430 BC records God’s response. Watch what I will do—I’m sending my messenger to prepare my way. God’s saying, “I’m coming on the scene. I’m going to handle this myself.” God was going to get up close and personal with the world of injustice. He says, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
·         John the Baptist was the first messenger who prepared the way, as we read about him in our Gospel reading (Luke 3). A prophet in the same line as Malachi and the OT, but 400 years later. But the greater One coming after him, the “messenger of the covenant”—the Lord Himself was coming to the Temple. Jesus is that messenger of the covenant. He would come to speak and proclaim the new covenant that God made with His people. Jesus would be the One to make a new covenant in His blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.
·         “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when He appears?” Both John the Baptist as Jesus’ forerunner, and then Jesus after him, were undeniably fiery at times. They traveled and preached on that same kingdom path of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus’ piercing knowledge of men’s hearts and full embrace of God’s truth is a fiery test of our thoughts, words, and deeds. Hypocrisy and false religion lay bare and exposed before Him. When in fulfillment of this prophecy, the Lord came to His Temple, what did Jesus do there? He overturned moneychangers’ tables and drove animals out with a whip, as He cleansed God’s house of prayer. Verses 3-4 of our reading talk about Him refining and purifying the sons of Levi—that is the priests who served in the Temple. He came to reform and purify the Temple—ultimately even to supersede the Temple, when He became the final perfect sacrifice for sin. His zeal to cleanse the Temple shocked those who assumed that naturally God was pleased with their Temple worship.
·         But Jesus turns on this blazing heat of testing and trial, not for the purpose of destroying, but as the metaphor of refining silver or gold suggests, to purge away the dross. Theme in OT: refining. Dross as the worthless impurities or waste, removed at high heat—successive purifications by fire make the precious metal purer. Dross, sin, rebellion, stubbornness. Furnace or heat is afflictions, sufferings, trial. Experiencing them may even tempt us again to accuse God of injustice. But would we rather remain as “impure metal” contaminated with the dross of our sins? Jeremiah 6 gives a picture of what that would be like, and that the if our dross is not purged away, that spells rejection for us.
·         But God purifies and refines us not to destroy us, not because He hates us, and most certainly not because He is unjust—but rather that we might be purified before Him. He disciplines and chastises us because He is treating us as sons.
·         How else does God answer the charge of injustice? He warns in verse 5 that He will draw near to us for judgment, and that He would be a swift witness against those who practice magic and witchcraft, the adulterers, the liars, those who oppress their workers and hold back their wages, or who oppress the widows, the orphans, or the foreigners who lived among them. All these sins were alive and well in Malachi’s day in Israel, and many of them are alive and well in our day. God warns that He Himself will judge—He doesn’t need any eyewitnesses to our sin, because He alone knows every man’s heart and sees all we do—He has no need of anyone to bear witness to Him about what is in man (John 2:24-25).
·         The point He makes is that those who commit these sins live with no fear of God. They are either oblivious to or scornful of God’s judgment. When people openly commit sin and wickedness with no fear of God, then they should rightly fear His judgment.  Psalm 119:119-120 says: “All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies. My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” The righteous person rightly fears God, knowing that sin and wickedness, like dross, will never have any place before God. A proper sense of the fear of God can keep our feet from walking on the path of wickedness.
·         As God’s messenger of the covenant, Jesus Christ, came to earth, He got up close and personal with our sin, our dross, our injustice. He suffered the injustice of brutal and careless men who cared nothing for justice, but only for the favor of the mobs. He suffered the injustice of having ungodly Roman rulers declare Him innocent, while the high priests and religious ruling council condemned Him to death. His eyes were witness to human cruelty, forsakenness, and abandonment. And to crown it all, He was crowned with thorns in mockery of His kingship—in mockery of the rule He came to bring. The rule of God’s kingdom, which is founded on justice and righteousness. And yet we would call God unjust? To think that Jesus endured and witnessed these very injustices, so that He might break the power of sin and injustice over us! That He might shatter the thrall that sin held over us, so that we might enter His freedom, righteousness, and life.
·         That in His precious ransom of His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus was fashioning in us the new person in Christ Jesus—the redeemed YOU, who are now of priceless worth to Him. That by virtue of His death on the cross, Jesus, the messenger of the covenant, was making you the worthy silver or gold that He seeks and desires to keep. That His refining, the trials and testing, the afflictions you endure in this life, are not meant to destroy you, but to refine you for His keeping!
·         The astonishment and surprise is that when all is said and done—when we’ve been guilty of charging God with unfairness, or neglecting to judge evil—while all the while we’re guilty of injustice ourselves and committing so much sin; or that when all the sin and wickedness of mankind is laid bare before His judgment—that God provides grace and deliverance to those who return to Him. That He does not “not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). But rather He declares (Mal. 3:6) “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The astonishment and surprise is God’s grace and mercy in the face of our ungratefulness and disobedience. Of our repeated turning away from God’s commands. That He will not consume us. Everything we should expect and deserve would be punishment—but instead He offers us grace. Why? Because He is unchanging. What does that have to do with God’s grace? The OT repeats the refrain over and over, that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God’s heart and character is both of holiness and justice, but also of love and compassion. As the book of Lamentations records, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23). From this unfathomable love and ever-new mercy, God does not consume us. It says “therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” God speaks to us as Father to His children. His deep and unfathomable love for us flows from His fatherhood to us—and while a father disciplines those whom He loves, He will also receive us and spare us. For His love and acceptance, for His grace and compassion we live and hope each day, as we wait for the full revelation of His justice and peace, on the day when His kingdom will come uncloaked, and His rule will be eternal and unchallenged, and filled with everlasting peace. In His most Holy Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      Malachi 3:1-7 (and following) is God’s response to the question posed by the people in 2:17, accusing God of favoring the evil, or allowing them to escape punishment, and asking “Where is the God of justice (judgment)”? How does the “messenger of the covenant” whom God sends, deal with this apparent injustice?

2.      Verse 1 speaks of “my messenger who will prepare the way before me”, then also of the “messenger of the covenant.” Who is this first messenger? Luke 3:2-6; Isaiah 40:3-5. Who is the “messenger of the covenant”? John 1:23-27. When did “the Lord whom you seek…suddenly come to his temple?” Luke 2:22-38; John 2:13-22; cf. Haggai 2:6-9 (compare Bible translations on verse 7).

3.      What would make His arrival (and also His messenger’s) hard to bear? Luke 3:7-9; Matthew 23. How are we “refined and purified” by fire? Why does God purge away our “dross”? What is His goal? Psalm 119:118-120; Isaiah 1:21-26; Titus 2:11-14. How does God Himself make us the very “precious metal” that is of worth to him? Revelation 3:17-19; contrast to Jeremiah 6:27-30. Why is it worth it to us to stand the test of the fire, trials, and afflictions? Revelation 3:18-22

4.      Why does a proper knowledge and fear of God’s judgment help to turn us away from sinning? Read Malachi 3:5; Prov. 1:15-16; Isaiah 59:7-8.

5.      Why does God’s unchanging nature (immutability) provide us the grace that spares us from being consumed because of our sins? Malachi 3:6; Lamentations 3:22-27; Psalm 102:27-28; Numbers 23:19; Isaiah 54:10. How is it also a warning to the wicked? John 3:34. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 25, for Advent Midweek 1, "Teach Me Your Paths"

This year for Advent Midweek services, I am preaching on "Psalms for Advent", using selected Psalms that I've chosen, reflecting the Advent themes of repentance, waiting, and expectation of the Messiah, the King of Israel. The order will be Psalm 25, 72, 146, and then 98 for Christmas Eve, while also making references to other Psalms throughout. 

“During Advent, our season of preparation, we’re asked to look at how well we accept God's guidance; along what paths are we walking?”  http://www.canticanova.com/articles/xmas/art1d1.htm  Psalm 25 is a prayer to God that He would teach us His paths, make known His ways. Are we willing to listen, or will we turn to our own paths? Psalm 1 contrasts the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. There is the path to sin and destruction, or the path to righteousness and life. Firmness, fruitfulness, life and blessing comes from one path, instability, unfruitfulness, judgment and death come from the other path. Similarly, the prophet Micah describes how all the people walk in the way of their own god. Everyone seeks out their own path, following their own god. Noticeably, he does not conclude that all paths lead to the same God. Rather, he states that we’ll walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. Sin and destruction are like so many rabbit trails and dead ends that lead off the path that leads to life. By contrast, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Ps. 25:10)

When hiking a certain trail up to the “Tabletop” in the center of Iao Valley, there are numerous small trails that veer off the main course, and can lead you astray from the destination—the crown of a hill with a beautiful panoramic view of the Valley and mountains. Since none of the trails are marked, the instructions I’ve often given to friends who would hike it, are that they should stay to the main, ascending trail. Some short paths climb steeply to a ridge top, but stop well short of the destination. Other trails meander slowly downhill to end lost in the brush. Likewise, the numerous side trails that lead away from the Lord’s way, His path, are too many to count, name, or mark off. Some promise a short cut to God, but can never reach Him, and leave one disappointed. Others seem at first to be headed in the right direction, but gradually turn out to be dead ends, leaving one lost, or forced to “repent” or turn back to the right path.

So how do we recognize the “ascending path”—the path of God’s truth and salvation? It is the path illuminated for us by God’s Word. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. With God’s Word, we can see clearly to know the truth from error, to be wise in our steps, and to keep to the true path. David continues in Psalm 25 to lament his sins and transgressions—the times he had wandered far from the path. We pray also that God would forgive our sins, and not hold our guilt against us. We can pray this with confidence because of the mercy of God. We know that because of our stubbornness and willfulness, we’ve often turned aside from God’s path. Though we were shown was is right, we rebelliously turned away from it. We pursued wrong paths, even becoming so lost and tangled in the brush, that like a lost sheep, we needed Jesus, our Good Shepherd to rescue us and return us to His path. God is good and upright, and He instructs sinners in the way when we are straying. Repentance, is like a GPS recalculating when you’ve gone off track, He turns you back to the right path, and instructs you in the way. How are our feet kept on the right path? As we heard recently in a sermon on the book of Jude, Jesus alone keeps our feet from stumbling, and present us blameless before God. It’s only by His grace and mercy that our feet are kept on the path and set back on solid ground when we’ve strayed, or our feet have fallen into the net laid by the devil.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way. Our stubbornness and pride need to be broken by repentance. Sometimes it’s through repeatedly going down the wrong path and getting stuck, that our pride is finally broken. Sometimes it’s the fear of being so lost we have nowhere else to turn than to cry out for help. Our guilt is great before God, and we cry out for pardon. Once we have been humbled, and repented from our sin, He teaches us His way. But the Good News is that the way of salvation is not like God sending you out into an unexplored wilderness, with a map (or even without one), and just giving you a pat on the back and saying, “Good luck kid! Hope you find your way home!” It’s not a matter of following rather vague directions along an unclear path, like my instructions to the would-be hiker. Rather, Jesus says He Himself is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” Instead of an obstacle course or a maze or an unmarked trail, the Way that we follow is the person of Jesus Christ. He is both path and guide. His Spirit accompanies us along the way, and leads us always into His truth.

When John the Baptist came crying out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”—he called sinners to prepare the way in their hearts to receive the Lord Jesus, who was coming. Jesus came as the exemplary, blessed man of Psalm 1, “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1). Jesus is the true embodiment of those words, and He alone resolutely avoided sin His whole life through, and took true delight in God’s law, meditating on it day and night. Jesus Christ alone is the truly Blessed Man, and because of His perfect life and for His name’s sake, we can be pardoned of all our great guilt. God looks upon Jesus’ life as the perfect, faithful substitute for our sin and great guilt.

As David in Psalm 25 considers the dangers along the path, he is wary not only his enemies who stand against him and mock him, but also the internal struggles of his distresses and the trouble of his heart. We too must be wary that the sufferings, wrestling over our faith, all the loneliness and affliction—that we endure along the path, do not snatch faith away from us. So we pray for God’s deliverance, forgiveness and grace from these assaults of the devil.

As the hymn we’ll sing shortly describes, we “walk in danger all the way” (LSB 716). The devil is constantly watching to harm us, so we must watch and pray for God’s deliverance. But trials, sins, and illness are crosses we bear along the way, and these work patience in us and drive us to the cross of Christ. Jesus is able to work for our good even amidst these crosses. And Christ remains our constant companion, the One who opened up this new and living way for us in His flesh. He endured all the struggles and trials, and most importantly His own cross—so that He could secure our safe passage on the way that leads to everlasting life. We walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails. Our walk is heav’nward all the way…our walk is on the ascending path that leads to heaven. It’s the path that leads us not merely to a glorious vista, but to enter the full joys of heaven, to remain on the mountaintop with all the redeemed of Israel, with all those who have been redeemed by God out of all their troubles. We will stand in that redemption, purchased and won for us by Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In His Name, Amen.