Monday, January 27, 2014

Sermon on Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25, for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, "The Light Shines in the Darkness"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. A few weeks ago we heard how Jesus began His public ministry with His baptism in the Jordan River. Immediately after that, Matthew 4 records Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness, and then our reading today begins. So today we hear Jesus’ first public words of teaching, as He embarks on His ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Matthew ties Jesus’ teaching debut in with the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. He highlights where Jesus began His ministry—in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali—two rather insignificant tribes at the northern border of Israel. The prophecy said: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:15–16, ESV) And Isaiah describes this region having been clouded by gloom and anguish, and that the land had formerly been in contempt.
So what’s so significant about the location where Jesus began His ministry? What was the story of these people living in anguish and darkness, near the Sea of Galilee? Being a border region, the people of this territory had repeatedly suffered the humiliation and defeat of war. Going back generations in their history, they had suffered defeat at the hand of the Syrians, north of their border, and some generations later, they were crushed and deported into exile by the dreaded Assyrian empire. Their little corner of Israel had been the first to fall, still some years before all of Northern Israel was defeated and exiled. Worst of all, they’d brought this evil down on their own heads through godless leadership, turning away from God and His Word, and trusting occult practices to learn their future or seek guidance. And the darkness of warfare and foreign oppression would hang over them for generations, as one by one different world superpowers swept over their land and power changed hands, but never returned to them.
So what is so significant about the location where Jesus began His ministry, was that He planted Himself in the very heart of the most discouraged, down-trodden, and seemingly God-forsaken region of the country. The place where people dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death. I wonder if it was the kind of place where people were cynical toward hearing any good news, much less hoping for the Messiah, the Promised One. Every country, and every state has it’s regions like this—not only the places where war struck, but the ghettoes and slums, the places where poverty, street gangs, and drugs hang over the community like a dark cloud. Or alternatively prisons or various institutions for the physically or mentally afflicted, can also be places of loneliness and darkness. And while the “collected despair” of such places may seem more obvious, we should also remember that individuals and families also can experience isolated despair and darkness. My point is not that Galilee faced the same kind or depths of despair, but that Jesus could easily have focused His ministry where life was lighter, safer and easier. The kind of places that would never be the butt end of jokes, and where nobody would say, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)
But if that were so, if Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of heaven only among the posh, comfortable upper-class, then how easy would it have been for those suffering real trials, anguish, and difficulty to write His message off? How easy for cynics and skeptics to dismiss Jesus’ message as “fine for them”, but “not for me”? But Jesus was unveiling the kingdom of heaven, right in the midst of suffering, oppression, and affliction. In the midst of “Galilee of the Gentiles”—the mixed neighborhood of discouraged Jews who didn’t get along with the Gentile settlers who lived all through former Israelite lands—especially Galilee and the Decapolis. It was here that Jesus shone His light into the darkness that hung over the land. Just like we heard last week in Isaiah 49, God was not just assigning Jesus an easy task, but was going to send Him as a Light for all the nations, to the end of the earth. He expected great glory from His Son.
From Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord would remove the yoke, staff, and rod of their oppressor, this may have sounded to the Jews like the restoring of the kingdom of Israel on earth, and driving out the foreigners. But Jesus came, not proclaiming a kingdom of earth, but the kingdom of heaven. And to prepare for it by repenting! Turn away from sins! He identified the problem not first of all as political oppression, or who is in power—but Jesus identified their greatest problem as sin. Sin is the root cause beneath all the various forms of darkness that bring gloom upon mankind. The Bible tells us that sin brought “the curse” onto the world, and all the disease, physical, mental, and spiritual afflictions are the outcome of our sin and rebellion against God. When the apostle Paul spoke about why God sent Him to the Gentiles, he said it was to “open their eyes, so that they might turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).
Darkness in the Bible, is not only physical, but also spiritual, and describes the enmity between Satan and God. Jesus’ message opens our eyes, and turns us from darkness to light by the forgiveness of sins and faith in Him. Jesus said that “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). Jesus, is the Light shining in the darkness, the Light that dawned on those dwelling in the region and shadow of death. And His light brought glory, joy, and gladness to that seemingly God-forsaken land of Galilee. God alone clearly sees the way in the darkness, to lead us out of it, because as Scripture says, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:12, ESV)
As I struck on this note last week, and after Christmas, Christians have the great privilege of bringing Christ’s light into the darkness. We see both how Jesus intentionally targeted the region that had suffered the greatest darkness in Israel. But not only that, but the end of our Gospel reading shows people pouring out of Galilee, of foreign Syria, out of the Gentile Decapolis, and Jewish Jerusalem and Judea. They poured out to see Jesus, and to bring Him “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.” In other words, they brought people who were in darkness, to Jesus, the Light. And while Jesus’ highest concern was for our spiritual condition—to repent of sin and receive His forgiveness—He did not limit His care to these spiritual needs, but cared for the whole person, in their physical and mental afflictions as well. Because the spiritual gifts of forgiveness of sins and salvation have transforming effects that spill over into our physical life as well. To say that Jesus first concern was spiritual, was not to say He ignored this life.
Are we aware of the darkness around us? Is our own life shrouded in darkness or gloom, so that we need the forgiveness of Jesus to shine in on us, and lead us to faith in Him, so we don’t remain in darkness? Do we see those who are in darkness around us? Those who have never seen Jesus’ Light and God’s love? Those who Paul describes in Ephesians 4, as being “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:18–19, ESV) Wherever the darkness of sin and death and their effects hang over people, there the Gospel light is needed. Jesus’ light thaws hardened hearts, cuts through the chains that imprison people in sin and guilt, and leads us in His way of freedom. And whether we bring the Light of Jesus to them, or bring them to the Light of Jesus, His almighty power gives light, hope, and joy, and releases people from gloom and anguish.
For Jesus Christ Himself descended into the darkest depths of human despair and suffering. He willingly went forward to the anguish of the cross and the pitch darkness of the grave, so that by His death and resurrection, He might conquer sin and death for us. His rising from the dead, as the dawning of the light, brings eternal Light and hope for us. And this hope and increasing joy that Jesus gives is one that endures even through bleak times of physical, mental, and spiritual distress. It’s the victory that endures forever, the conquering of sin and death as our most feared enemies. When Jesus lifted the burdensome yoke from His people, it was to take our sins upon Himself, and give us His light and easy yoke. When Jesus guides us with His staff, it is as the Good and self-sacrificing Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep. When Jesus “broke the rod of the oppressor”—it was not just liberating us from foreign enemies, but it was breaking the power of Satan so that we could be truly free.
The darkness may be all around us—but Jesus’ Light shines eternal. The darkness of sin and guilt may even lurk within us, but Christ casts the beams of His dawning light on our hearts to purify and cleanse us from all sin. Our human understanding may be darkened, and hearts hardened and cynical toward hope—but the True Light shines in the darkness so that we may believe in Jesus Christ and know real hope and lasting joy. Come Lord Jesus, shine on our hearts and illumine your Church! Amen.

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

1.      What was the history of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali (region of Galilee) that made this a place of gloom and anguish? 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29. Why was it significant that Jesus chose this location to establish His ministry and proclaim the kingdom of heaven? Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25.

2.      Where formerly this land had fallen into contempt, how was it going to be made glorious? What shows that this was not only for Jews, but also Gentiles? Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 24-25.

3.      What kind of gloom, anguish, or darkness do we find ourselves or other people in today? Or what is the cause of such darkness and anguish? Psalm 55; 107:9-16; Isaiah 59:1-13; Matthew 6:22-23; Acts 26:18; 1 John 2:8-11

4.      How does God bring light in our darkness? 2 Samuel 22:29; Luke 1:76-79; John 8:12; 12:46; 1 Peter 2:9-10. How can we bring light to those who are in darkness? Where do we see the darkness around us, and how can we be more aware of those who are suffering and need the light?

5.      How does the light of Jesus result in joy, gladness, and rejoicing? How can this be possible even when sometimes the physical causes of suffering remain? Matthew 11:28-30; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

6.      Jesus Christ entered even the deepest darkness of death and the grave for us, so that His Light and salvation would set us free. Tell about how this brings joy and comfort to you. Now share that with someone who is in darkness!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sermon on Isaiah 49:1-7 for Life Sunday, "Light for the Nations"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we observe Life Sunday, in memory of over 50 Million innocent lives taken by abortion in the U.S., since it was legalized nationally in 1973. 50 Million is a shocking number, but it’s only a fraction of the unjust deaths by abortion world-wide, and only since 1973. And as millions continue to die each year, do we remain numb and unfeeling to the tragedy? It’s not the casualties of a war on a faraway continent, nor the body count of some disaster in the distant past, but it’s an ongoing, daily reality all around us in our communities, and touching our families, friends, and neighbors. Inside and outside the church, on Maui and in every community. Yet so often it is a hidden reality, done quietly, and few, if any, know that it has even happened. Many women suffer silently with the pain and guilt, whether they chose it of their own accord, or under the pressure of others. They feel that they have no one to talk to, or wouldn’t dare to, for fear of what someone might think. Many end up hearing false assurances from an abortion provider, and think they have found an easy way out.
And some would prefer to keep this reality hidden away; but this does a terrible disservice to those who need compassion, guidance, love, and forgiveness. There is a spiritual darkness over this issue. As I preached just after Christmas, about the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem by King Herod; we as Christians should never back away from the tragedies and disasters of this life, because it is the very good news of Jesus Christ that shines into the darkness with a liberating light. People whose lives have been affected in this way are in the greatest need of hearing the honest truth, of having loving guidance and not being deceived by false assurances. They need compassionate care that equips them to face a difficult situation and to choose life, rather than death. They need compassionate help to provide for them and their child as they continue motherhood. And women or even men who’ve suffered guilt from an abortion, need the words of love and forgiveness that can only be brought to us because of the incredible grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world as the Light for the nations, the salvation of all the ends of the earth. He comes to dispel the spiritual darkness with His Light.
For all these reasons, abortion cannot remain a hidden reality, either for the innocent children, or for women who are distressed and alone. We must speak up for the voiceless, and show compassion. And for all these reasons, the women who are affected by these things here on Maui, need confidential, compassionate, non-judgmental care, such as will be offered to them through the Malama Pregnancy Center, opening soon here on Maui. This is one concrete example of Christian love in action, and it shouldn’t stop there. Individually as Christians, we also should seek to bring the light and love of Jesus Christ wherever there is darkness, and lovingly show people that God’s Word does indeed have much to teach us about life, and more, how God responds to even our worst tragedies.
Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49 displays a sharp contrast to our world’s way of death. Long before the arrival of ultrasound technology, the Bible confesses an unambiguous view of life in the womb. The passage says in v. 1, “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name,” and in v. 5, “now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant…” Already before His birth, while still in the mother’s womb, the individual described is given a name, is called by God, and given a purpose—to be the Lord’s servant. This echoes familiar words from Psalm 139, which says “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13–16).
The New Testament marvels at John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leaping for joy while still in his mother’s womb. The Psalmist writes about how he trusted in the Lord even from His mother’s womb, before his birth (71:6). Scripture plainly teaches that from conception a child is a unique, created being, and a spiritual vessel capable of faith and trust in God. Even in the months before we’re born, God has a plan and a purpose for our life, knowing all that we will be and do. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And our reading from Isaiah 49 shows one particular child, being formed and knitted together in His mother’s womb, who would have a uniquely great and wonderful purpose. All of us dream of big things for our children, but Jesus, given His name while still in the body of His mother Mary, formed from the womb to be the servant of the Lord, had the greatest calling of all. In v. 6, God said, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” I love this verse because it’s as though God is saying to Jesus, “I have called you to do a great and difficult thing—to rescue my people Israel—but just to do that would be too easy. Too light a thing. I want you to do something still greater—to bring my light and salvation to the ends of the earth.”
For Jesus to raise up the tribes of Israel was one thing, but to bring salvation to the ends of the earth is still greater. Just a chapter before, God describes Israel’s iron stubbornness and obstinacy (48:4), their deafness and rebelliousness (48:8), but how for His own name’s sake He put aside His anger (48:9). Again demonstrating that the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. It was no easy task for Jesus to bring the tribes of Israel back to God, to raise them up from their darkened and lost condition. Wherever spiritual darkness reigns, there will not only be despair and suffering, but often even outright hostility to God’s Word and light. The Good News of Jesus encounters much resistance. In fact, 49:4 even expresses great frustration that “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” One senses the frustration Jesus felt at countless times in His ministry when people turned away from Him with hardened hearts and deafened ears. And yet that frustration, if it can be called that, stops short of despair or giving up, when He continues in v. 4, to say, “yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” Jesus’ confident resolve was that however badly things seemed to be going with His laboring for the lost, that the outcome rests fully in God’s hands. As one commentator puts it, “The Servant of the Lord is saying: I thought that I labored in vain; but that is not possible, because the cause that was assigned to Me is not Mine, but the Lord’s, and the success of My labors lie in His almighty hand.” (Pieper, 356).
Looking back on Jesus’ life, we can say that from a merely human perspective, the hours of His death on the cross made everything He had worked for seem like it was coming to nothing. If Jesus had stirred the hearts and led thousands in Israel before His death, now it seemed that everyone had deserted Him, and all His prospects as the great Teacher and Christ had come to nothing. Or so it seemed. The deeper truth unfolding at the cross, was that God was going to be glorified in Jesus Christ, His servant (49:3). God’s own hand was bringing about the success of Jesus’ labors. When Jesus rose from the dead, hardened skeptics like Saul to the fearful disciples who had abandoned Jesus in His last hour, believed anew in Jesus. The miracle of His resurrection proved His right and His reward were with God, and that His work had not been in vain. This single miracle of His, turned more of the chosen people of Israel to Jesus than anything else.
And if it was a hard thing for Jesus to create faith even in their hearts, still harder, still greater a work, is it for Jesus to be the Light for the nations and bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. The good news of Christ will continue to meet stubborn resistance and opposition wherever it spreads, and wherever darkness and sin’s delusions hold sway over mankind. Yet for 2,000 years, that good news, Gospel Light of Jesus, continues shines out to all the world, and brings light and faith to many. And because it’s God’s cause, He will grant success, even when it seems difficult or impossible. Whenever someone comes to believe in Jesus, it’s always because of the Living presence of Jesus Christ in His church, through His Holy Spirit, who creates and gives faith to our hearts. In other words, it’s never our own accomplishment, done without Jesus, but always His gracious work as He is in and among His church even to the end of the age. Jesus Christ in every way lived up to His Father’s greatest expectations, and continues even today to bring glory to God as He rescues and returns us sinners from darkness and error, to His light and truth. All the credit, glory, and honor belong to Him. He is the Light to the Nations, to the ends of the earth, and we are privileged to be little bearers of His light as well. And wherever that Light shines, faith, hope, and love are born, even in the darkest places. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

1.      While statistics are incomplete and underreported, conservative estimates of the abortions performed in the U.S. alone, since 1973, number over 50 million. Why are people able to feel insulated from this enormous tragedy? Why should Christians be concerned that those affected by abortion not be left to suffer in silence? Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:9
2.      Why is the Good News of Jesus Christ the greatest need of those who are blinded by the lies of the world; are suffering guilt, regret, or shame; or feel that no one cares about them? Why should Christians never shy away from the tragedies and hurts of this world? Romans 1:16
3.      Why must love and compassion be demonstrated in action, not merely in words? Romans 2:13; James 2:14-17 What are some ways you can do that? How can we make ourselves available for the Lord’s use?
4.      How does Isaiah 49:1, 5; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139; 71:6; Luke 1:15, 41, etc affirm the uniqueness, the value, and dignity of life in the womb? How do they also confirm that the unborn are already spiritual beings, capable of faith and the indwelling of the Spirit?
5.      What was the great and high calling God had for Jesus, His servant? Isaiah 49:6. How does He express frustration, yet also confidence that the Lord will accomplish His purpose? V. 4. Why did the crucifixion seem like the unraveling of Jesus’ ministry? How did the resurrection confirm Jesus’ right and recompense was with the Lord? v. 4, Acts 2.
6.      Jesus is in the first place the “Light for the Nations”; see Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32; how are we, His people, also then called to be a light to the nations as well? Acts 13:47; 1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 5:14-16
7.      For further information on Life Issues, see the following websites: Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui Silent No More Campaign

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17, The Baptism of Our Lord, "Stands in the sinner's place"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Baptism of Jesus marks the public beginnings of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Jesus’ baptism, His identity is first publicly revealed. Let’s read back just a few verses earlier, to get the context from Matthew 3, starting at verse 11:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:11–17, ESV)

John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the mightier One, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. John put the fear of God in people by proclaiming the judgment of their sins; calling them to turn sincerely in repentance to God. John targeted and exposed the hypocrisy of those who came to him for the baptism of repentance, but who harbored evil thoughts or intentions in their heart. He called them to show the fruits of repentance in their lives. John trail blazed the way for Jesus, and many people entered those waters of repentance, confessed their sins, and were baptized. John laid down the law to make way for the Gospel, the good news.
But did John ever imagine that next in line to be baptized, in his busy Jordan River ministry, would stand Jesus, that very Mightier One, whose sandals he dare not touch? That Jesus would stand in the long line of sinners before and after Him, and go into the water for a sinner’s baptism? That Jesus would submit to John’s baptism, rather than the other way around? Not at all. John was thrown completely off-guard. First, he knew Jesus was the Promised Christ, and was sinless. Jesus didn’t even have any sins to confess! John even announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, when he saw Jesus approaching. And secondly, John tells Jesus, “Wait! I’m the one who needs to be baptized by you!” John was aware of his own sin, and how could he baptize Jesus?
Everyone baptized before and after Jesus was a sinner—but this one anomaly, this One Man stood innocent in those waters. And John is flabbergasted, and doesn’t know what to do. Until Jesus instructs him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. John didn’t understand yet, but this was part of God’s plan to fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean? What was Jesus doing in those waters of repentance? Why was He being baptized, if He had no sins to confess? Let’s ask some parallel questions first, that all have the same answer. Why was Jesus circumcised and dedicated at the Temple? Why did Mary and Joseph offer sacrifices for purification after His birth? Why did He observe the Passover and other feasts? Why did He keep the Sabbath? Why did He obey every command of God, though He was God in human flesh? And most importantly, what was Jesus doing on the cross? The answer to all of these questions is the same.
In the words of Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV) Jesus is there for us! He obeys the law for us. In Jesus’ own words, He fulfills all righteousness. He lived under the law voluntarily, but obediently, for us! Why? To redeem us! He’s in the waters of repentance, the waters of baptism, for us! He’s on the cross, suffering, bleeding, dying, for us!
But what about the law needed to be kept in baptism? John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). The baptism we receive today, the Baptism of Jesus is that, but more. Jesus’ baptism succeeds John’s—it includes the repenting and the washing, but brings us more than John’s baptism. We know from Acts 19, where some disciples of John the Baptist, who had somehow not heard all of Jesus’ works and teachings, including the teaching of the Holy Spirit, were baptized in the name of Jesus, to receive the Spirit. This is the only instance of a “rebaptism” recorded in Scripture, and since no one living has received the baptism of John, it remains a unique historical event, rather than a pattern for us to follow. Baptized once into Jesus, into the Triune name of God, we’re baptized—with no need for repeats. But baptism, whether of Jesus, or of John, always includes repentance.
So what’s missing in our repentance, that required Jesus to be baptized, and so fulfill all righteousness for us? The same thing that is lacking in all our keeping of God’s law—total and perfect obedience. Repentance is turning around, or turning away from our sin. It’s doing an “about-face” to turn from sin and face God. But facing God can be a pretty terrifying thing if we really own up to our sins! Doubtless there were many who were shook up in their sins when they heard the preaching of John, that the ax was at the root of the tree, and that the fires of judgment waited for the wicked. But Scripture also tells us, that facing God, when we have confessed our sins, is not to face anger and rejection, but to face the faithful and just God, who cleanses us from our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness. God doesn’t turn us to Him in repentance so that He can turn away from us—but in the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3, ESV) God turns us to Him so He will return to us. God does this so we can face His gracious and merciful face, and receive His forgiveness!
But our repentance, like our obedience is inevitably incomplete, half-hearted or insincere. We can hardly measure the true guilt of our own sin, and the distance it places between us and God. If we had our way, we’d want God to just “get over it” and accept our sin. We minimize, excuse, or pass the blame for our sin. But God has a much more ambitious plan for our lives than our weak repentance imagines, and God takes a far more serious view of sin. God’s plan, as we heard from Romans 6, is for us to “die to sin” in our baptism. To be buried with Christ by baptism into death, and to walk in newness of life with Him. His plan is for our old self to be crucified with Him, for our body of sin to be brought to nothing. God is plainly determined to drown, extinguish, and crucify that old body of sin in us, and then to set us free from sin! To raise us to a life we that we live to God, and not to ourselves or our sin.
And for this, God needs our true repentance. A repentance better than even we can offer. A total and complete forsaking of our sin. Not a half-hearted repentance, that has in mind to go right back to sinning. Not a plan to sin now and repent later. Not giving up on trying because its hard and we keep struggling. Not finding someone who you think is worse so you can say, “At least I’m better than them!” Not thinking we can continue in sin so grace may abound. By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it!
And just when we despair of producing true repentance on our own, Jesus stands in the water with sinners to do what we are unable to do. He’s in the waters of repentance so that He can perfectly repent of our sins, perfecting our repentance. Jesus gives you true repentance so that He can turn you back to God. To the gracious and merciful God who has forgiven all your sins precisely for Jesus’ sake. He gives you true repentance to bring you to His true joy and good news, of knowing all that Jesus has done for you.
Jesus’ whole life and ministry was one of standing in the sinner’s place, doing what we by our weakness are unable to do. He’s obedient to God’s law so He can perfectly obey, perfecting our obedience. He suffers on the cross so He can assume all the guilt and judgment of sin, so that we might have His perfect righteousness. “He undertakes a great exchange, puts on our human frame, and in return gives us His realm, His glory, and His name” (LSB 389:4). He rises from His empty tomb that our tomb may be empty on the day of our resurrection, when He returns in all His glory to judge the living and the dead. And this death and resurrection, this dying and rising is yours in baptism because it joins you to His death and resurrection.
So fast forward to your own baptism, Jesus has joined Himself to you, with all His perfect life of obedience, perfect suffering and death, for you. You’re joined to His dying and rising, so your old sinful nature dies with Him, and the new spiritual nature is raised with Him to live a new life dedicated to God. We will continue to war and struggle against sin and temptation, but the good news is that our salvation and success do not depend on us, but on Jesus’ whole-hearted and perfectly obedient life. And God gives His explicit stamp of approval on Jesus, and what He does for us, in the words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God is well pleased that Jesus accomplishes all righteousness for us, and when we stand in Jesus Christ, baptized and clothed with Him, God is well pleased with us, His children also. And He sends His Spirit into our lives through baptism, to daily renew and strengthen us, perfecting us little by little, granting us true repentance, and leading us into obedience. Day by day He conforms us to the image of His Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29). So baptized into Christ Jesus, we already have the life we need, the Life of Jesus Christ, who stands in the sinner’s place. In His name, Amen.

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

1.      How is Jesus identified in His baptism (His first public act, inaugurating His ministry)? John 1:29; Matthew 3:11-12; 17. How did John recognize his own sin and unworthiness in relation to Jesus?

2.      Why was John surprised that Jesus wanted to be baptized by him? 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15

3.      Why did Jesus enter the waters of a sinner’s baptism? Why is this question parallel to why Jesus’ parents made the offerings of the law for Him; why He observed the feasts and Sabbaths; why He died on the cross in our place? Galatians 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21

4.      What was different between John’s and Jesus’ baptism? What was the same? Mark 1:4, 14-15; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 19:1-7. Why does the Acts 19 passage not set up any precedent for rebaptism? Cf. Ephesian 4:4-6

5.      When we repent, we “turn around” or “turn away” from our sin, how does God receive us? Zechariah 1:3; 1 John 1:8-9.

6.      What are some examples of our incomplete, half-hearted, or insincere repentance? What is God’s intent for transforming us in baptism? Romans 6; Galatians 6:14; Romans 8:29.

7.      How does Jesus stand in our place, to do what we are unable to do? How was Jesus our perfect substitute in everything? How does God give His stamp of approval to Jesus’ life lived in our place? Matthew 3:17; 17:5.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sermon on 1 Kings 3:4-15 for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "Christ, the Wisdom of God"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we come to the end of the Christmas season, and tomorrow January 6, officially begins the season of Epiphany, which focuses on Christ revealing Himself. Today’s reading are linked by the theme of wisdom. In the Old Testament we see King Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, and son of the great King David, having a vision from God and asking for wisdom. Then in our Gospel reading, we see the 12 year old child Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem, and “increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Like any other child, Jesus grew in knowledge of the Lord, studied the scriptures, and sat listening to the rabbis, asking them questions.
Yet in a marvelous mystery, the Scriptures also reveal Jesus to be the eternal, all-knowing, Wisdom of God. In fact, while Advent is still fresh in our memories, we might recall the first of the “O Antiphons” which prays to Christ: O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. Today we’ll follow the theme of wisdom from Solomon through to Christ, who and is named Wisdom and proceeds from the mouth of God, ordering all things.
Typically we think of wisdom abstract quality, as in a wise person having uncommonly good sense. Or that they have a lot of knowledge and are wise to apply it to difficult challenges. So perhaps an element of problem-solving, of knowledge, and good decision-making make up what we think of as “wisdom.” The book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon seems to also point to this practical, daily life wisdom. But also, if we pay attention it also points us beyond to a greater Wisdom, not as abstract thoughts and reasoning, but Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8. Not until the New Testament do we discover who this Wisdom of God is. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us the wisdom of God.”
But our story begins with a young man, King Solomon, who had been established as king after his father King David died. Still very early in his reign, he goes to make sacrifices to God and has a vision of God at night. God says to Solomon, “Ask what shall I give you.” Such an offer seems too good to be true to us, but it never says God obligated Himself to do whatever Solomon asked. God watched how Solomon would answer, for God indeed intended to bless Solomon. Solomon’s answer begins, not by launching into a greedy request, but first by praising God for His steadfast, unchanging, faithful love to David, his father. This also models how we ought to pray, acknowledging God’s goodness and praising Him for what He has done. Not as if we can “butter up” God to hear our requests, but so that we don’t forget who He is and who we are, and what He has done for us.
Solomon’s next words are filled with recognition that God had a faithful and loving relationship to David his servant, now to Solomon as the servant of the Lord, and also to the people of Israel as God’s own people, His chosen. Solomon was king of Israel, yet he knew both he and his father were just servants of the Lord. They answered to Him. And neither were the people they ruled their own people, as though they had some ownership or right to rule—but these were God’s people. These humble admissions show that Solomon already had some wisdom, and knew that God is One who, in the future words of the Virgin Mary, “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52).
And while we summarize Solomon’s request as a prayer for wisdom, the word “wisdom” itself never even comes off his lips, but God is the first to use this word. When Solomon finally gets to his request, he says, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” Solomon, in awe of the responsibility that was placed on him, and also feeling like a little child who’s not up to the task given him, asks for understanding and discernment so that he can rightly govern the people. The words “understanding mind” can be even more literally translated as a “hearing heart” or “obedient mind”. Sounds strange because we don’t usually think of listening with our heart, but rather with our ears. But “hearing” is crucial to wisdom or understanding, as Solomon himself would later write: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1–2, ESV) Better to listen than to speak, and to remember our place before God, as we are but His creature. By contrast, to close our ears to God’s Word is foolishness, and leads to bad decisions and bad living.
The whole book of Proverbs is filled with this contrast, that the foolish refuse to listen to rebuke or instruction, but the wise loves reproof and seeks understanding. The rest of Scripture is filled with rebukes for those who will not listen or are “dull of hearing.” Key to wisdom is realizing that you don’t know it all, and having a heart that is open to hear God’s Word and obey. That word in Solomon’s prayer, binds up together the ideas of hearing, obedience, and understanding. These make for wisdom, just as the words of the O Antiphon pray that God would come and teach us the way of prudence. Prudence is simply wise and reasonable living; the opposite of the way of foolishness, which ignores God’s wisdom and pursues destruction. So we too, to be wise, must have a hearing, an obedient heart, that listens to God’s Word and constantly seeks to grow in wisdom and the knowledge of God. And a “hearing heart” is also necessary to fully understand a situation, hearing all sides of the story and coming to a wise judgment, as Solomon later became famous for.
Secondly, Solomon asked for discernment, to discern between good and evil. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that discernment is a mark of maturity—in other words it’s learned through experience, as ch. 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” To know the difference between good and evil, we again turn to God in His Word, and see how He “mightily orders all things” according to His wisdom. If instead, we are lazy, and take our lessons in what we think is good and evil from society—from TV, movies, internet, and all the other forms of mass media and influence—then our understanding of good and evil will be warped. If we listen to the world, and not to God’s wisdom, we won’t be able to correctly tell the difference between good and evil. And this “maturing” in God’s Word is not instantaneous, but comes from a lifelong walk in the Way and in the knowledge of the Lord.
God was pleased with Solomon’s request, seeing that it wasn’t greedy or self-serving, but to make Solomon a better ruler for the sake of God’s people. Would it surprise you then, to know that God actually not only invites us to pray that same prayer for wisdom, but that He also promises that if we ask, He will grant wisdom to us too? James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV) While Solomon received wisdom in a degree unique in all the world, so that there would be none like him before or after, God is also eager to bestow wisdom on us.
But as we said before, wisdom in the Scriptures is so much more than having a good head on your shoulders and knowing the right thing to do in a tough situation. All true wisdom, all the good ordering and design of God’s creation, by which things operate, point toward and are fulfilled in Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God. When Jesus came teaching 900 or so years after Solomon, and the crowds were amazed, saying, “where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (Matt. 13:54), they recognized His wisdom, but they took offense at Him and would not listen. They lacked a hearing, obedient heart, and so were closed to true Wisdom. Jesus also rebuked the crowds for having the signs and miracles He performed right in front of them, but not listening to Him. Then He compares this to the time of Solomon, when the Queen of Sheba came from a distant land to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and Jesus says, “behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Jesus and Jesus alone is the Wisdom of God that surpasses even the wisdom of Solomon! And God grant us a hearing heart to hear and believe Jesus’ words.
Because Scripture also teaches that God’s wisdom exposes all the human wisdom of the world as folly, as child’s play. And it does this through what seems to all the world as the greatest foolishness—the cross of Jesus’ Christ. Nothing about the cross seems noble, great, or wise to the world. But God in His wisdom is pleased to save all who believe through the preaching of Christ crucified. Jesus on the cross is the Wisdom of God that saves the world. He also is the humble Servant-King who is greater than His ancestors David and Solomon. It’s a spiritual truth that a natural person can’t accept or understand, but Christ Jesus becomes not only the wisdom of God, but our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In other words, Christ on the cross is everything we need to be saved. This is the wisdom of God that empties us of any reason to boast in ourselves, our intelligence, our works, our goodness, our talents or anything else. It’s the wisdom of God that brings us humbly back to our knees—as little children unable to go out or go in, but who hear, who learn, and receive from the mouth and hand of our good and gracious God. Christ crucified is the wisdom of God that purges us of our sinful foolishness and hardness of hearing, and all our accompanying sins, and puts us back in the humble estate of receiving every good thing from the hand of God. And into our empty hands and our hearing hearts, God pours such a richness of blessing as to surpass all the wealth of Solomon. For in Christ we have all the fullness of God, His forgiveness, His life, and His wisdom for each new day. O Wisdom…come and teach us! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      King Solomon’s famous vision of God and his prayer for wisdom begins with God telling Solomon, “Ask what I shall give you.” Does God obligate Himself to do whatever Solomon would ask? Does God ever obligate Himself to do whatever we ask in prayer?
2.      How does Solomon begin his response to God? What does he mean when he recounts the “steadfast love” of God? What words does Solomon use that show relationships between God and David, God and Solomon, and God and His people?
3.      How does Solomon humble himself? Why is this a proper posture before God, at all times, but especially in prayer? Luke 1:46-55; Mark 10:42-45
4.      When at last in v. 9 Solomon comes to his request, is it something self-serving, or for the good of others? Why is this the proper mind of the Christian? Philippians 2:1-11. What does “discernment” mean? 1 Kings 3:9-12; Psalm 19:12; Proverbs 14:8; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 5:14.
5.      The phrase in v. 9, “an understanding mind” can also be translated more literally as a “hearing heart/mind”. Why is hearing key to obtaining wisdom from God? Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Proverbs 4:10; 22:17; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; James 1:19.
6.      How do we know that God also wants to grant us wisdom if we ask? James 1:5.

7.      Why does all true Wisdom point us to Christ? Proverbs 9:10 tells us where the beginning of wisdom is. How does the New Testament identify Jesus as not only having great wisdom, but being Wisdom personified, as in Proverbs 8? Matthew 11:19; 12:42; 13:54; Luke 11:49; 1 Corinthians 1:30. Why is the greatest wisdom to know and believe in Jesus Christ crucified? 1 Corinthians 1:18-25