Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sermon on Psalm 110, for Lent 3 midweek, "Indestructible Life"

Sermon Outline:
·         Although this Psalm is more triumphant in tone, speaks of rule and exaltation—we can’t pass over it in our series. Most quoted in NT. Luther: wraps together pictures of the Messiah as descendant of David, Son of God, King, Priest, and Judge. Most NT references focus on the kingship, the glory, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven to rule at God’s right hand.
·         Hebrews 7, however, focuses on v. 4, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Unlikely; unexpected combination—king and priest. There are many suggestions in the Gospels that the people expected Jesus to be a King, and that they expected this in the Messiah. But was it a widespread expectation that He would also be a priest? (not sure). As Hebrews tells us, the law said nothing about priests coming from the descendants of Judah. But the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah. So how could He be a priest? Only from the tribe of Levi, and the descendants of Aaron, did the Law allow priests. But Hebrews shows their priesthood was inferior—destined to be replaced. Could never reach perfection, never take away sins, had to purify themselves, died in office and had to be replaced, required legal descent.
·         But the promise of Psalm 110:4 is of a new, greater priest—the Messiah, a priest forever. Superior priesthood, able to reach perfection, did not need to purify Himself (had no sin), not based on legal descent, but on an indestructible life. Everything we know of in this life is destructible. Can be destroyed, shattered, disintegrated. Titanium, diamond, the hardest substances we can manufacture, all have their breaking point. Can endure tremendous heat, pressure, force and stress, but all reach a point of failure. In the cross of Jesus Christ, His indestructible life was put to the test. Subjected to the tremendous heat of God’s wrath, the force and pressure of our sin and wickedness crushing down on Him. And by appearances, to the eyes of those who watched, it seemed as though He too had reached the point of failure. Crushed by our iniquities beyond recognition. Marred beyond human semblance. Our sin had made a wreck of the man. A man whose life had been beautiful, miraculous, and pure truth. Now battered and bruised, breathless and lifeless. An indestructible life seemed destroyed. Never before had the grave swallowed such big prey.
·         But God had sworn an oath, and He will not change His mind. There’s no higher enhancement, no greater verification, no more certain grounding of a promise than for God to swear it on oath. God’s very character, His being, His Word are at stake—and with this sworn oath, He promised that the Messiah would be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” And by God’s unchangeable Word and oath—Jesus’ priesthood will stand forever. And so, Jesus’ indestructible life proved to be just that. If diamonds are formed when coal is crushed under extreme heat and pressure, something far more marvelous happened, when Jesus, with a diamond-like indestructible life, was crushed and put to death. With resilient power and life, He drew breath in a body that had been transformed into something even more glorious, scintillating and beautiful than a diamond.
·         The beauty, the perfection of His everlasting priesthood, was founded on the higher and better covenant. A priesthood marked by one perfect self-sacrifice—one perfect substitute for sin—one act to seal and establish our salvation on the new and better covenant made in His blood.
·         So in Psalm 110:1, God the Father speaks to His Son: “The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” His Son is the perfect Priestly King, the One worthy to rule with God’s power and absolute authority. The One who has the total submission of all His enemies beneath His feet. The One who rules with His mighty scepter. In Christ, those two separate streams or trajectories, priest and king, intersect and unite in One person, Jesus Christ. A third trajectory, that of prophet, also joins them in Christ. Today Christ stands in that unique and unequalled splendor, as Prophet, Priest, and King. But for now we journey with Him again to His cross, to watch the perfect sacrifice unfold—to learn how He earned His perfect priesthood, and to learn how great is the power of God’s oath. And since His life is indeed so indestructible, as to survive even death on the cross—if God’s oath is so certain that even death and all hell cannot break it—then we have a sure and unshakeable salvation in our Great High Priest. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sermon on Luke 13:31-35, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "Self-preservation, or self-sacrifice?"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Gospel reading from Luke 13, begins with some Pharisees giving Jesus a warning to get out of harms’ way. Herod, known to be a maniacal king, wants to kill Him, they say. By human expectations, Jesus response is strange here--He doesn’t thank the Pharisees for the warning, or accept their advice. Instead He makes a statement of defiance over against Herod, and affirms that He was going to “stay His course” and finish the work He had left. Then He follows with hard words for the city of Jerusalem--but sandwiched in the middle of them is a picture of the remarkable tenderness of God’s love for us.
Did Jesus question the sincerity or the motives of their warning? Or was He just undeterred from the job that lay ahead of Him? Certainly before, Jesus had been able to make a safe exit when His life was in danger, but He was also no coward. When He knew His cross drew near, He didn’t run when it came down to it, but stood His ground and faced His fate. It seems like He didn’t have the instinct for self-preservation. Isn’t the survival instinct basic to us all? When He knew His betrayal was near, Jesus made no attempt to escape. When He was arrested by the guards, He put up no struggle--even rebuking His disciple Peter who fought with the guards. When He was struck, He remained silent, when He was falsely accused, He made no defense. When the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was amazed that Jesus did nothing to get out of a situation that was rapidly going from bad to worse--Jesus solemnly committed Himself to the course He was destined to finish. When Jesus was on the cross--the crowds threw cruel words at Him, challenging Him to preserve Himself, if He had helped so many others. His disciples, on the other hand, undoubtedly wished that He would free Himself also. To what can we chalk all this strange behavior up to? How can we understand Jesus’ actions? He was not oblivious to the danger. His eyes were wide open, and the pain and the insults were real.
We find the explanation in today’s reading. Jesus compares Himself to a hen, who gathers her chicks under her wings for protection. When danger comes to threaten, a hen also gives up her instinct for self-preservation, for the greater good of protecting her young, vulnerable chicks. A Discovery channel program about animal parents showed how this is true. While a mother hen was with her chicks, suddenly a chicken hawk, a bird of prey, circled overhead. The hen, sensing the danger, squawked excitedly to the chicks, who quickly gathered under her wings. She fluffed up her feathers and spread her wings, protecting them with her own body. The hawk swooped down upon her, but she blocked him with her body. A second time he dove in for the chicks, and she spread her wings wider. A third time he came at her, but was thwarted by her determination. She was too big for him, so he flew off in search of easier prey. Whether the chicks knew the danger or not, they were kept safe by the mother hen’s focused self-sacrifice.
Jesus’ words, and the example of the hen, unfold the apparent mystery of Jesus’ actions. They explain His unshakable determination, His unwillingness to turn from the course, His focused self-sacrifice. They explain His great sadness over the city of Jerusalem, and His longing plea for them to listen, and come under His shelter. Like a hen guarding its chicks, Jesus sacrificed the “survival instinct” to the greater good of protecting us. This is the meaning of true love. His love for us was so great, that He protected us from the circling danger, throwing His own body, even His own life in the way, to ensure our safety.
But what is the danger? What was the danger then? The danger now? Herod was just manini, a small fry, a fox near the hen house. However unpredictable and dangerous he was to the Jewish people he ruled, Jesus’ eyes were on the real threat. The real threat, then and now, is our threefold enemy of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. It’s the spiritual power of evil, that draws us away from God and His protection. It’s the subtle voice of temptation that tells us there’s nothing to fear from ignoring God and His good commands. It’s the subtle voice that tells us that this life is all there is, and our lives have no consequence for what comes after.
Jesus said, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem! the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” You can hear the tears in His voice as weeps for the city, the people that He loves, who refuse to listen to Him. The pain of watching a child forsake their parent. He weeps also for us, when we close our ears to His voice. God is not willing that anyone should perish, but wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth. Some still choose to forsake Him and His protection, though, and this saddens God--who longs for us all. The prophets and Jesus both, called then and call to us today to confess our sins and to take shelter under God’s wings. To take refuge from the spiritual evil that circles around us. Jesus’ calls us to gather to His side, to find refuge under His wings.
But the astonishing thing, is that unlike the chicks who have the good sense to listen to their mother’s voice, and run to her for shelter when she calls--we as human beings so often run away. As the words of the old hymn put it, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” Our hearts are ever wandering, always in search of something better, never content to rest in God. We wander into danger, knowing or unknowingly, chirping that we’re fine, as we run away from God. This is also why Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd that find His lost sheep, to bring them home.
As parents, I’m know you’ve all had moments of fear and protectiveness for the safety of your child. You’ve watched in shock when they wandered toward great danger, and were out of arm’s reach. As a child the dangers might be a hot pan, a busy street, a suspicious stranger, a deep pool. Often to them, danger is hidden, and they instead see something intriguing, exciting, mysterious. We see the danger, we might even warn them, but we’ve all seen them ignore our cries and charge right into trouble. Hopefully you haven’t experienced too many heart-stopping situations, where they genuinely had a near miss with real harm--but we all know what we’d be willing to risk to protect the life of our child. Our protectiveness and love for our child would even override any thoughts of self-preservation. As they get older, the dangers might change--their unwillingness to hear our warnings may or may not. And to confess the truth, we all know that we’ve done (or perhaps still are doing) the same. In the same way that kids are often blind to those dangers, so also we are often blind to the spiritual danger that God warns sin is for us.
Sin is an ever-present danger, a compulsion to disobey or ignore God’s voice. Just like for a child, we too often ignore the danger. It’s hidden to us, or we choose to ignore it. And God watches with grave concern that we don’t listen. We roll our eyes and say, “oh brother!” We scoff at the notion of evil, or that harm could come to us because of disregarding God’s law. But our wise heavenly Father does not give His Word as idle warnings, and He truly does know what’s best for us--far more than any earthly parent could.
But God doesn’t just watch His children with helpless fear. He sprang into action with the deepest compassionate and self-sacrificing love. Jesus Christ stepped into the path of danger, and shielded us with His body. That’s what His cross is all about--Him taking the penalty of our sin, our wandering, our guilt, and dying for it, so that we might be spared.
Another story tells about a man named Ike who visited his grandpa’s hen house that had just burned down. When he and his grandfather were sorting through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead, near what had been the corner of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed by the fire, her body limp. Ike bent down to pick up the dead hen. And just as he did the hen's four chicks came scurrying out from underneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hen’s wings.
We don’t tend to think of a hen as a particularly noble bird. We might even think of them as silly, or a nuisance. A rooster at least is proud, fearless, and will fight--but a hen doesn’t convey strength to us. Jesus’ death on the cross may not seem proud or noble to the world. It rather seems filled with shame and defeat. But when the house burns down, when the world comes to its end, when all the chips are cashed in, we’ll be glad to have taken shelter under Jesus’ wings, under the refuge of His cross. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin--it’s true hidden danger--is death. It tells us that the “sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” That means that sin, sin against God’s law, is the bitterness about death. Sin keeps us from inheriting eternal life. It poisons our relationship with God, if we leave it unaddressed, unforgiven. It makes death a bitter ending, rather than a joyful beginning. But the same Bible passage goes on to say, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ!”
You see, while the world may not think much of Jesus and His cross, Jesus was not bowing His head in defeat! He was laying down His life in self-sacrifice, letting the full danger and harm of sin and death rain down on His body--to shield us from what we deserved. He died that we might live. He went to the city of Jerusalem, where so many prophets had died, and He faced the same inevitable fate of those who had dared to warn the proud and the stubborn of the danger they did not see. He died on Good Friday, lay in His tomb on the morrow, and on the third day, He finished His course, rising from the dead in Victory that Easter morning! With 20/20 hindsight, we can see and understand what Jesus was about when He behaved so strangely toward those who warned Him to flee for His life. We can see and understand why He didn’t run and play “chicken” but stayed and played “hen” as He faced the rising danger that our sins poured out against Him. We see that He died with arms enfolded in love around the world--even draped over the soldiers who scorned and mocked Him. On that day, who would imagine that they were the “chicks” who had been spared by the “hen’s” self-sacrifice?
Yes, when it comes to you and me--to sinners who could not see their way to safety--Jesus showed His ultimate love. He becomes the wondrous show of God’s love, the Savior of those who seek refuge from their enemies, and the one who holds us as the apple of His eye; hides us in the shadow of His wings (Ps. 17:7-8). On the third day after His death, His rising to life again shows us the power of His victory--and transforms the cross from symbol of death and shame, to the glory of our salvation and the victory that brings us life! His death for sin meets our repentance with the forgiveness of sins. God has done this for you, and He calls you to the shelter of His side. With the joy of a child who has had the sudden realization of being rescued from serious danger--and is now resting securely in their parent’s loving arms, we pray to God our Loving Father, and Jesus, His dear Son, to “bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.” Let God’s grace keep you tied closely and safely to His forgiveness, mercy, and life, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

  1. Why is Jesus’ behavior toward those who warn Him of danger puzzling? What was this King Herod capable of? Luke 3:19-20; 9:7-9. How did Jesus stand His ground?

  1. What kept Jesus so committed to His course, despite the danger, which turned into betrayal, great pain, suffering, and death? Luke 22:39-46; John 10:7-18

  1. How are we saved by Jesus’ focused self-sacrifice? From what danger and harm are we spared? Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56-57; 1 Peter 5:8-9.

  1. Why is Jesus so saddened that the people did not listen to His voice, or the voice of the prophets, and repent, and turn back to God? Luke 13:34; Ezekiel 18:23. Can you describe the pain of a loved one turning away from your voice?

  1. What dangers do we face in this world? Why is danger often hidden to the young? Why are we often equally naïve about the danger of sin, that God is able to see?

  1. Why are we prone to wander, to leave the God who loves us? How does He sacrifice Himself to protect us? 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

  1. How did Jesus’ self-sacrifice end with glorious victory? Acts 2:24

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sermon on Psalm 89, for Lent 2 midweek, "God's Anointed"

Sermon Outline:
·         Psalm 89: sings at length of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. A song and praise to sing for all generations—a song the heavens join in singing. To the incomparable God, greatly feared, all powerful, surrounded by faithfulness. A song sung from the mountaintops and throughout all creation—wherever the might of God’s hand has been displayed. In the power over creation, power over His people’s enemies, and His steadfast love. v. 14 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne, steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”
·         Lays a sure foundation of the Psalmist’s hope. Pillars of God’s throne and rule. His unchangeable qualities, on which we can bank. Foundation of our confidence to call on Him for help. Lays foundation for a major prayer and crisis in the 2nd half of the Psalm.
·         v. 19-37 (still first half), recounts God’s covenant, His promise to David and his throne (2 Sam. 7). Specific example of faithfulness.  v. 3-4 already mentioned: “You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Prophet Nathan—throne established forever, steadfast love will not depart (even despite discipline). A promise that would have to fall short if spoken only of human descendants—already David’s rule has been broken. But looks all the way forward to Jesus, the ‘Anointed One’ of v. 51, and the One who cries in v. 26, “You are my Father, my God and the Rock of my salvation.” Of whom God says, “I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
·         This leads into the distress—though God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are sure—the and His covenant inviolable, it now seems as though God’s promises had failed. Psalm written at a time (unknown to us) of national crisis—so deep that the crown is defiled in the dust, the enemies triumph, God is “full of wrath against your anointed,” falling in battle, end of splendor, days cut short, covered in shame. Deep cry of affliction—How long O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? What happened to your favored dynasty? Remember us! Remember your covenant, your steadfast love & faithfulness. Show us again—show us your merciful face, your mighty hand acting in mercy toward us.
·         Psalmist is wrestling with the apparent failure of God’s promises—but comes to the wonderful conclusion: “When God’s promises seem to have failed, then affirm them in joyful song (1, 2) and bring all the grief of the unfulfilled promises to God in prayer (46–49, 50–51).” The Psalmist prayed even without realizing the remedy—the remedy hidden in this very Psalm! The sad history of Israel’s kings and the children of Israel (v. 30), disciplined by God for forsaking, the punishment with the rod & their iniquity (guilt) with stripes (v.32) would merge together with the punishment of Jesus’, God’s own Son, the anointed, the Messiah. Born from their rebellious line of ancestors, born with human blood yet without sin, Jesus would bear the rod and the stripes, He would bear the chastisement that brought us peace, so that by His stripes we are healed.
·         As Israel’s history, as the covenant promise of the throne, merged together with the offspring of David, Jesus, God’s anointed, highest of all the kings of the earth—this Psalm takes on a new character and meaning. Foundational are God’s promises, His faithfulness, steadfast love and covenant—but also the distress of God’s people over Jesus’ own sufferings, His humiliation, His days being cut short, His being covered with shame—all raises the question of the apparent failure of God’s promises. So fully did Jesus identify with us, with sinners, with rebellious descendants of David and more, that He bore God’s wrath. Jesus stands fully in our sinners’ shoes, and wears all the garments of our shame and guilt. He bows His head silently under the bitter outpouring of God’s wrath. And here, it is not Father against Son, but God as One in will and purpose, bearing within Himself all the guilt, hurt, and wrong of sin. And so, even Jesus, the Son of Man, did not live without seeing death. But God’s foundational promises stand sure. God did not remove His steadfast love or faithfulness. He did not violate His covenant. Though Jesus was mocked and insulted by His enemies at the cross, God’s steadfast love would return to Him. Past the moments, and hours of forsakenness, into the barely glimpsed bright future, a glint of hope and triumph shines. Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen! The last words of the Psalm recommit the Messiah’s hope, the people’s hope, our hope to the God whose faithfulness has already been established and gone before.
·         It is enough now, even if the scale of God’s promise-keeping goes beyond our narrow time-window on life, to confess that God’s promises cannot fail, and to set our Amen! to them. For Amen and amen means, “Yes, Yes, it shall be so!”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Victor on the Battlefield"

Sermon Outline:
·         Age of “camera angles”. News, sports. Bird’s eye view of sports? Adjustment. Perspective. Scripture gives unfamiliar “camera angles” or perspectives on life, world. Spiritual perspective—bird’s eye view. Life is a spiritual battlefield with its temptations. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Or: Eph. 6, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Vantage point: we learn..? Used to our own two eyes. Trains us to see spiritual dimension. Temptations, sufferings, conflicts. Be strong in the Lord.
·         Gospel: Jesus, Champion, enters the spiritual battlefield. From our two eyes: unarmed. Weakened by 40 days of fasting. Exhaustion, hunger, vulnerability. Ripe for temptation? Concluding perspective: Divine Son of God—but doesn’t use His powers. Armed with the Word of God. Resisted and won over temptation. Same strong Lord who armors us with His Word, faith, and Spirit. His victory is ours.
·         What is the Word He quotes? Each quotation from Deuteronomy. Each compares Jesus’ temptation to temptations the Israelites faced, during the Exodus. Each one they failed—Jesus succeeded (Fitzmeyer, Luke vol. 1, 510-11). First: “Man shall not live by bread alone [but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord]” (Deut. 8:3). Recalls miracle of the manna. Didn’t want to be fed by God—longing for Egypt. We’re taught: soul is more important than stomach. Bread of Life (Jesus!) more important than your loaf of whole wheat. Spiritual goods and blessings superior to material. God supplies both. In time of want, don’t turn away from God for your needs. Devil sought a weak spot. Be sober and watchful—aware that the devil looks for our vulnerabilities. What weakness might he exploit? How should you be proactive in guarding against it? Avoiding compromising situations, choose good friends, influences. Feed on God’s Word. Jesus rejected the temptation, fed Himself instead on God’s Word.
·         Second quote: “You shall worship the Lord you god, and Him only shall you serve” (Deut. 6:13). Recalls the temptation of worshipping other gods—golden calf, etc. Wondering where Moses was, and what was God going to do for them—took matters into their own hands, made a new god. Found what “worked for them.” Impatience with God and Moses’ inaction or perceived delay. Their action brought disaster, and only by Moses’ interceding were they spared worse. Jesus resisted the temptation of power, an apparent short-cut to glory. Not fooled into thinking the devil had the authority to give, or that He would ever worship anyone but the true God.
·         Third quote: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Another episode where Israel grumbled and tested God about water. Their charge against God was “Is the Lord among us or not?” Despite all miracles. Issue a challenge to God: I’ll trust or obey you…if… Require additional proofs of God’s faithfulness or love beyond what He’s already pleased to give. Jesus entertained no such test of His Father’s love and protection. He bore all His sufferings, temptations, and cross willingly. He did not test His Father’s love, but faithfully endured the test of His obedience, without sin.
·         When Jesus had repelled every temptation, the devil left for a more opportune time.
·         Facing temptation is not like making a “disaster preparedness manual” or “emergency evacuation plan.” You won’t face the same temptations as the three here—no single template for the temptations we’ll face. We can name many temptations you might face, but…unique to your own desires, lusts, pride, weaknesses, personality, age, maturity, etc. But certain things in common—sufferings and temptations shared by all—you’re not alone. Devil wants you to fall, disobey, doubt, despair, hurt, lie, deny, stumble, lose trust in God and lose your salvation. To ask where God is, or challenge if God is really with you in your time of darkest need. To demand proof when God has so abundantly shown His love.
·         Relief: not on the battlefield alone. Our Champion fights for us. “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.” The victory over sin, death, and hell is not from our temporary battles over sin (important though they are)—but by Jesus climactic battle with sin, death, and the devil, when He conquered them through the cross and resurrection. He sends us onto the battlefield where the victory is already won, and we can be assured of that. But the work, the life, the wrestling and striving against temptation that we do is not insignificant—it is our daily struggle to put to death the sinful flesh, and be raised up in the new baptismal life we have in Christ. It’s the daily return of repentance to our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The daily rise to new life. This perspective, this spiritual camera angle on what our life means gives us the boldness to fight the schemes of the devil, to work faithfully for the Lord and our neighbor, and to pray with confidence to the God who holds our victory in His nail-pierced hands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

1.      Why might the Bible’s “coverage” of spiritual warfare be unexpected for us? What does this hidden “camera angle” reveal to us about life in general? 1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10ff. How does this prepare us to face life and temptation with a new perspective?

2.      To earthly eyes, Jesus appeared unarmed and weakened in His contest with the devil. But what powerful weapon did He wield against temptation? Can we use the same?

3.      Jesus success over each of the three temptations was matched by a similar failure of the Israelites to the same. Read Deuteronomy 8:3. How did this temptation echo the Israelites longing to be fed apart from the Lord? Exodus 16. Read Deuteronomy 6:13. How did the episode of the Golden Calf and other examples of idolatry show their wavering commitment to the Lord? Read Deuteronomy 6:16. How did they test the Lord at Massah? Exodus 17. In their rebellion and doubt, what accusation did they level? Ex. 17:7

4.      Greater than any step by step plan for us to defeat temptation, what does Jesus’ temptation in the desert give us? How does His victory become ours as well? Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 6:10. Why is His victory our final and only hope to deliver us from evil? How did His climactic battle against sin, death, and the devil go? Read the end of all four Gospels J

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sermon on Hebrews 3:1-6 & Luke 9:28-36, for Transfiguration Sunday, "The Supremacy and Sonship of Jesus"

            Today we stand with the disciples at the high mountaintop of the Transfiguration, watching Jesus gloriously transformed to dazzling white, before we descend with Him on the journey to the cross. His departure, His exodus, the path He leads down through suffering and the grave, and up and out to the promised land of eternal life. Today we leave the high mountaintop of Transfiguration to descend into the valley of Lent—our annual springtime journey beside the footsteps of Jesus, leading toward His cross. The journey where we become acutely aware of our sins and the sufferings that they cost Jesus, and His incredible love that bore all our sins willingly.
            From this mountaintop we can see why the writer to the Hebrews wrote about the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, and His unique and superior role in God’s plan of salvation. Hebrews 3 argues that Jesus is greater than Moses. It’s in the context of a larger sermon: greater than angels, high priests, priesthood, sacrifices, place of worship. Greater in every way. Jesus is supreme over all. What Moses did in his faithfulness as God’s servant, as revealer of the Law, Jesus is still greater, as He is “faithful over God’s house as a Son.” But what does Jesus’ Supremacy and Sonship mean for us?
            The Letter to the Hebrews begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hb 1:1-3).
            In ancient times: God revealed through the prophets—but now has sent the all-surpassing revelation directly through His Son. The prophets were faithful, trustworthy spokesmen for God. God spoke true through His prophets. Moses, Elijah, most prominent among the OT prophets, both having had mountaintop encounters with God before—now appear on the mount of transfiguration with the Greatest Prophet—the singular and divine spokesman for God, Jesus, His own Son. He radiated with God’s glory on the mountaintop, and in Him we see the exact imprint of God’s nature. This means that Jesus is completely God, and that God is completely known through Him. For the world to know God, it must know Him through Jesus. No higher, clearer, or more direct knowledge of God available, than through Jesus—the exact imprint of God’s being. His glory shone out in blinding radiance on the mount of Transfiguration, before it was again hidden, and Jesus was once again approachable, a man they could face. But not before they heard the Father’s own affirmation: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” It was unmistakable that God has sent Jesus, with His own divine seal of approval, to teach us; and that we should pay attention!
            This is the same message the author of Hebrews had in mind as he convinced his hearers of the Supremacy and Sonship of Jesus Christ. What are we to think of it? That we should pay careful attention; how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? God has made it clear He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on this gift! We should bear this in mind when we’re tempted to follow our culture today. There’s much talk of being “spiritual, but not religious”—usually meaning “I’ll seek God or whatever higher power(s) there may be on my own terms or by my own method of exploration.” Implied is also a rejection of any authority like the Bible, to direct us to the Way.
            The ways people say they are seeking for God or a god, are more numerous than the religions of the world. They might involve a passionate and driven pursuit of knowledge, seeking some great learning or point of illumination. They might be a casual, bored indifference to or rejection of knowledge—saying that there is no truth to really know, or no way of knowing it. They might be a rigorous attempt to earn God’s approval through the most excellent life and moral striving, or the attempt to lose oneself in a deep, mindless sea of meditation. Or it might be through some journey of self-discovery, trying to taste all of life’s experiences. But for whatever the attraction or appeal of those various false spiritualities, Jesus promises there is One Way to the Father, and that’s through Him. One Way to know God. So we can bank on His Word that there’s no higher or greater revelation that is going to surpass what is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. There’s no “better offer” on the market. It’s not car sales, but salvation that is at stake. God has sought us out in Jesus Christ, and He has extended this salvation to us. We’d be fools to refuse it, in search of a better alternative.
            But why is Jesus supreme over all? First of all, by His exclusive right as Son. He is God’s only begotten Son, the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power. No one else has a rightful claim to His throne. No one else in all creation has a rightful claim to our worship as true God. But Jesus is also supreme over all by His unmatchable merit. Moses had an impressive track record. Sure it had its faults, but at the end of his life, we read in our OT reading that there was no other prophet like Moses in Israel (until Christ of course). No one who knew God face to face, who had done such miraculous signs and wonders by God’s hand, and his mighty power and great deeds of terror. Moses was described as though he were the most merit-worthy, the most deserving figure of the OT. Our reading from Hebrews 3 says that he was faithful in all God’s house as a servant.
            But Jesus surpasses all in merit and honor. Why is His supremacy over all things most-deserved? Hebrews 2 tells us: He was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” and He is the founder of our salvation, made perfect through suffering. His glory and honor was made perfect through the cross. Jesus endured the most terrible sufferings, yet did it obediently—submitting to His Father’s will. He bore our pains at the cross, that He might be made perfect through suffering, and achieve our salvation. But His perfectly obedient life began long before His death. From His conception to His death and resurrection, all of Jesus’ life gave the resounding testimony that He was a righteous, innocent, and God-fearing man. His record alone is blameless, faultless. But His suffering of death was His crowning honor and glory—it was the pinnacle event where God was most glorified. The greatest love, sacrificial love—His life laid down for us, to give us life. In that moment, salvation was sealed. God’s victory over sin, death, and evil was sealed.
            When Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus and the three disciples on the mountain, this was the very topic of their conversation. Jesus’ coming suffering, death, and resurrection, through which He and the Father would be glorified. With spiritual vision, they saw and anticipated His departure (exodus in greek). They saw forward to His accomplishment of that divine mission that would bring us salvation, and seal His supremacy as the Son of God, our Savior, the author and perfecter of our faith. So with eyes trained by spiritual sight, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and journey on this path we follow through the valley of life, ever repenting of our sins and ever turning to Jesus God’s Chosen one, and listening to Him for those blessed words of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In His name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday when the somber season of Lent begins. How is Lent an annual spiritual journey to the cross?

  1. Read Hebrews 3:1-6. Look over the first 10 chapters of Hebrews. They argue for Christ’s supremacy over a variety of Old Testament figures and systems. What implications does Jesus’ supremacy and Sonship hold for us and our salvation?

  1. Read Hebrews 1:1-4. What is different about the way that God revealed Himself in ancient times, to the way He has now revealed Himself to us? Which is superior? John 1:18; Colossians 1:15-20

  1. Why is it dangerous/foolish to neglect the message of Christ? Hebrews 2:1-4; 4:1-13.

  1. What kind of false spiritualities do people often create to “seek God?” Why are they bound to failure? Acts 4:12; Romans 3:10-12

  1. Read Hebrews 11. Although the ancients are commended here, note that they are not commended particularly for their works, but rather for what? Hebrews 11:2, 39; 12:2.

  1. What else, in addition to His Sonship, made Jesus distinctly worthy of all glory and honor, above all else? Hebrews 2:9-10; 12:2. Why did He do it all for us?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Sermon on Luke 4:31-44, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "Responding to Jesus"

Sermon Outline:
·         Jesus was undoubtedly a person, who if He entered into your life, you could not leave unaffected. We shouldn’t expect any different today. Controversy followed—divided opinions among Jews. Teachings and miracles magnetic—drawing crowds. His Word was challenging, at times provocative, acclaimed for being authoritative. Not just quoting others, building authority on what 5 generations of rabbis had taught. He was authority—He spoke and His Word commanded attention. His Word was self-evidently true—it rang true with the very authenticity that spoke for itself. Taught from God’s Word as though He was its author and rightful interpreter (and He was in fact both!). His teaching compelled people of every stripe to look deeper than mere outward signs of good behavior and church going, to see if their hearts and minds were right with God. To see whether your “inner and outer reality” were in sync. That is—hypocrisy, or show-religion—didn’t impress Him. And neither was He fooled by boasted good intentions.
·         No, you couldn’t truly encounter Jesus without being affected. His Word looks into our hearts—which leads to either repentance, when we discover and lament our sin we find there, or it leads to defiance, as we refuse God’s authority over our life, or Christ’s approach to our heart. One thing is clear from the Word of God, that the ingrown, natural orientation of our heart is not toward God—but away from Him. That’s why we need a dramatic reorientation called repentance. And your “response” to Jesus is not just a one-time event in your life—a point of conversion, or a “first impression”—our lives driven and shaped by Jesus’ Word and presence. “Living response”—a life reoriented by a new magnetic pole, from which we take our heading; or the Bright Morning Star, the Hokuao, that is our guiding light. Navigating always toward His Light, Christ steering our lives and leading us on His Way.
·         Today’s Gospel is a wide-angle snapshot of a flurry of activity around Jesus in Capernaum, a city of Galilee, before He continued on His way south to Judea. Whole host of reactions, responses, to Jesus and His Word (not exhaustive). Some of these responses teach us about who Jesus is, and His power; other responses are worthy of our imitation and reflection, as we consider our own response to Jesus’ Word.
·         First reaction, v. 32 astonished at His teaching, for His Word possessed authority. He taught the kingdom of God, and wasn’t just repeating what someone else had said before, and yet every Word was consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures. Not trained by a rabbi, yet He mastered them all in knowledge. At times He turned the Word of Law, the commands of Scripture, to an unflinching examination of hearts. If we’re honest with ourselves—when God’s Word examines our hearts; when the pure blinding light and magnifying glass of God’s Word shows us our sin—we won’t like what we see. We don’t like to be confronted by where our actions, attitudes, and words are wrong. The law of God shows us our selfishness, our pride, our resentment, our stubbornness, and so on. Even if we’ve believed in the Bible our whole lives, if we continue to engage in God’s Word, we will find it exposing our sins and sinful attitudes our whole life through. Not only was His teaching of Law astonishing, but also the sweetness of the Gospel He proclaimed was astonishing. Forgiveness for the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. Jesus’ Word is astonishing not only for the clarity that it brings to our lives and thinking, but also for the relevance that spans millennia from ancient times to modern, from cultures agricultural to mega-urban.
·         At least two of the responses to Jesus in the reading today are powerfully negative responses—those of the demons or unclean spirits that Jesus cast out. Spiritual evil is real and powerful, and is something we tend to ignore or discount in our modern rationalistic age. Nevertheless it is present and the devil and his demons will always find themselves opposed to Jesus and His Word. But even greater astonishment (from the people) follows as they see Jesus’ Word take dramatic effect on the demon-possessed, and with a Word He muzzles the demons and casts them out. They cannot stand against Him. The demons’ last frightened words of protest acknowledge Him as the Son of God—but He rebukes them and they cannot speak. The revelation of who He was, wasn’t something Jesus was going to let happen through the mouths of unclean demons, but in His own timing and purpose.
·         When He was ready, in the “hour” of His set time, He would show His full glory at the cross. When His death and resurrection took place, every opportunity was now open for His identity to be fully revealed, declared, proclaimed, spread abroad. With the “linchpin” in place, with the central event of His ministry complete, all could see the full picture of who Jesus was, and know that He truly was the Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God. Then this knowledge would come through no one else, but through Jesus’ own Word and demonstration of mercy and power.
·         When people saw both the power of Jesus’ teachings, and also of His spoken Word, the news spread like wildfire. A key reaction to Jesus was telling other people about Him! Can we grow in our passion for Jesus, to the point where all of us as individuals, are telling others about Jesus? Better than any “gossip”, we would carry the “good word” of Jesus to others? Enthusiasm of the crowds, to bring to Jesus the sick, the needy, and the afflicted. That we would bring His Word of hope to them, that they might find in Jesus forgiveness, life, and salvation. Christ’s Word to the weary; comfort for those weighed down by the cares of life.
·         Simon Peter’s mother in law: rose to serve Him. When lives transformed by Jesus, when reoriented by repentance, He leads us into service in His kingdom. Our hands and feet, our compassion and our love is pledged to extend His help and love to others.
·         When Jesus finally left, the people didn’t want to let Him go! Far from indifference or apathy, they wanted Jesus’ presence, His teaching, and His miracles! What an honorable passion for Jesus—and oh that we would match that fervor! True, some came to Jesus for mixed or misguided motives, but He didn’t turn them away—He sought to reorient them to His true purpose. Who sought Jesus out? Those who were eager and willing to listen. Those who had bodily afflictions, illnesses, or deep spiritual needs (including overcoming demon possession). And these are (we are) the same who need to seek Him today. Eager to listen, eager to have our lives touched and changed by His Word. Many came merely for earthly needs, but He gave them something far greater, when He taught about the kingdom of God.
·         And as He explained why He couldn’t stay—He revealed His higher purpose—the driving mission that superseded the miracles and physical healings. The higher purpose that fueled His love, His mercy, His heart for the lost. That He go and preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well. And so also preaching the Good News, the Gospel, of the kingdom of God should supersede all the other work that the church engages in, and it should orient all our activities. Above all else, above our physical needs that the Lord does care about as well, is God’s desire that we become citizens in His kingdom by responding to Jesus, our King, in faith. That we look to the King who overcame evil, sin, and death for us, and who is the Way to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Luke 4:31-44. Why was Jesus such a compelling, and even polarizing figure? Describe the variety of responses to Jesus that you find in this passage, as well as in other places in the Gospels. How do they compare to peoples’ responses to Jesus today?

  1. Describe how Jesus and His Word searches the heart. Why was Jesus interested in seeing that inward intentions and outward actions be in harmony? How did He always drive people to the Gospel, His message as the key purpose for His ministry? What did many seek from Him instead?

  1. How is faith in Christ a total life reorientation? How does Christ guide and direct that? John 14:6; Matthew 28:19-20. What is necessary when we get off-track, and wander from His path?

  1. What amazed people about Jesus’ knowledge? Matthew 7:28-29; John 7:15, 40-48; cf. Acts 4:13.

  1. What is profoundly reassuring about Jesus’ power over evil? Why did Jesus not allow the demons to speak of Him? How do we see the spiritual forces of evil at work today?

  1. How should we imitate the response of the crowds in Luke 4:37 & 40? Who needs to hear about Jesus? Who do you know who needs God as their refuge and strength? What single purpose drove and oriented all of Jesus’ earthly ministry? 4:43; John 5:29, 40; 18:37.