Monday, February 29, 2016

Sermon on Luke 13:1-9, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, "Dismissing Danger or Finding Forgiveness?

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Welcome to our service on this Children’s Sunday! As parents, a special concern that we no doubt share, is the safety and well-being of our children, and setting appropriate boundaries for them. This echoes God’s parental concern for us, which shows up in all of our readings today.
All three readings echo a common theme—that sin is a serious danger, and that it’s predictable final outcome is death. The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel warns people to turn from their wicked ways, and names a couple of specific sins—robbery, injustice—but mainly says in general that if we continue in sin, we will die. The reading from Corinthians speaks of the bad example of the Israelites, from the beginning of the Bible, and how their worship of false gods, their sexual sins, and their grumbling and complaining against God, led to many of them dying. Then to round out the theme, Jesus answers questions about tragedies. He tells the people that tragedies don’t mean that those people were worse sinners than others—but He does say it reminds us all of the continual need to repent and turn away from our sins. So in each reading, the danger of sin is measured, and the conclusion is there is only one final outcome of sin—death. And that the only sensible course of action before God, is to follow God’s call to repentance—to turn away from our sins, and find forgiveness in Him.
Well what is sin, and is it really so dangerous? The Bible speaks of sin in a variety of ways, and of differing levels of severity. Sometimes sin is a deliberate, willful act of rebellion against God’s Law. When we know full well that something is wrong, but flaunt it and do it anyway. Sometimes sin is described in the Bible as wandering away from the correct path. Sometimes it’s committed out of weakness, ignorance, or thoughtlessness. Some sins are committed out of pride; other may be so horrendous, that the Bible says these sins “cry out to heaven”—like the shedding of innocent blood. Sometimes sin is simply described as the inborn tendency and determination to do what is wrong—what Christians often call “original sin.” But of all the different ways that sin can show up—from unintentional sins, to the sins and evils that are most atrocious—the Bible tells us that it all collectively places us in the pool of guilty humanity, rebels against God. Sin of all varieties boils down to every one of us here standing guilty before God, and facing the penalty of death.
Now the people who came to Jesus, in today’s reading, seemed to think that since some people die in ways that are particularly tragic, that must mean that they were worse sinners than others. Does the way you die automatically say something about whether you were more guilty or deserving of it, than someone who might go peacefully, for example? They were thinking of a particular atrocity committed by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, against some Galileans. Jesus immediately answers the people, No, these people were not worse sinners—and then He adds a second example, of a natural accident—a collapsing tower. In both cases, Jesus says, it wasn’t that these people were any more sinful than others. But, Jesus warns, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So don’t draw any conclusions about how sinful someone else was—instead be concerned that you yourself need to be made right with God, and repent or turn away from your sins. Life is precious and short, and tragedies are a painful reminder of the reality that we don’t know when we will die. But Jesus urges us to use that time wisely to make sure that we are right with God. It all comes back to not underestimating or ignoring the danger and power of sin, and taking action to turn away from that danger.
A person can certainly dismiss dangers, and take their chances. As a parent, you undoubtedly try your best to warn your children about real and potential dangers. The prophet Ezekiel, in our lesson today, was told by God that he had to be a watchman, to warn people that if they continued in the wickedness of sin, they would surely die. In many ways, the role of the prophet, the watchman, or the concerned parent, is not all that different from the role of a lifeguard. You’ve probably heard the news about the amazing 40 foot swells on North Shore Oahu this last week, and the Eddie Aikau competition. Eddie was born in Kahului, and was a famous big wave surfer and the first lifeguard at Waimea. His story is incredible. He saved over 500 people’s lives, at Waimea Bay, with its huge waves and hazardous surfing conditions. Then while sailing on the Hokuleia in 1978, he died while trying to paddle to Lanai, after the voyaging canoe capsized. A lifeguard like him, undoubtedly gave countless warnings to people, when ocean conditions were hazardous and extreme, that they shouldn’t enter the water. Warnings that no doubt often were ignored, and he had to go in and rescue the same people he had warned.  The phrase “Eddie would go”, apparently came from his willingness to go into the ocean and rescue people out of the waves, when no one else dared go in. His entire career as a lifeguard, he risked his life saving others, who either ignored the dangers, or were overpowered by the ocean.
When God warns us that sin is deadly, He knows the real danger, and we do well to listen. Since sin is ultimately choosing our way, over God’s way, it’s an error that’s bound to end up badly for ourselves. It’s not a matter of being big-enough, or adult-enough to “handle” sin—sin is overpowering and more dangerous than the oceans’ hidden currents and pounding waves. The Bible describes sin as sometimes beginning with something seemingly small and insignificant, but growing into full blown deadliness. And yet we ignore the warnings. We head into danger, against God’s Word, blindly, or sometimes, even open-eyed. And who went in to rescue us? God sent Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, and rescue us from that deadly danger. Jesus, watchman and shepherd for us, laid down His life on the cross, to set us free from the power of sin. So when Jesus tells us to repent, so that we not die in our sins, He’s calling us back to life in Him. There is a life to be lived and enjoyed, in goodness and safety. It’s the same motivation that you have as parents to set healthy boundaries for your children.
Raising children requires boundaries, and parents may set those boundaries differently, and according to the age and responsibility of their children. But God has some firm boundaries that apply to all people, universally. They are summed up in the 10 Commandments. God says, “You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, maidservant, his ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
In ten words carved in stone, God etches the boundaries of our relationship to God Himself, and to our human neighbors. Boundaries that show God is the one and only God and Lawgiver, who is to be worshipped, honored, and obeyed. Boundaries that guard the respect for authority, for life, for the keeping of sexuality in the bounds of marriage, for protecting property, protecting reputations, and for protecting us against “coveting” which is the wrongful desire to have something that is not or can’t be ours, or to try to get something (even something good) in a dishonest way. The 10 Commandments stretch over every area of our life, and set down God-pleasing boundaries for life.
And inside those boundaries, God helps us to live a fruitful and significant life. He warns us against the dangers that threaten life, so that we can experience the goodness of life according to God’s design. It is not God’s design that we should die or suffer, but that we should live. This heart of God shows up in our Old Testament verse, Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Rather, God finds pleasure in us turning from sin, back to Him. God finds pleasure in us believing in Jesus Christ, and having eternal life!
Life lived in repentance brings us humbly to God. It makes us surrender before Him and admit that we are helpless before the powers of sin and death. It makes us surrender to His rescue. Like Eddie we dive into the water. God starts our new life with a drowning, in the waters of Holy Baptism. Our sinful nature dies in the waters of baptism, but Jesus makes us the rescued. In that lowly place of surrender, we find forgiveness. We find Jesus, our watchman, shepherd, our lifeguard, our Savior, rescuing us, pulling us up above the waves, and out to the safety of shore. We find Jesus breathing new life into us by His Holy Spirit. The Spirit and life that shows itself in good fruits—the outward evidence of a changed life. The Holy Spirit renews us to walk in Jesus’ ways, to learn forgiveness, to turn from evil thoughts, words, and deeds, into the way of righteousness and peace. Not just once, but daily as we walk in the new life of baptism.
Dear children—when we make ourselves strangers to God, or when we back ourselves away from Him into the dangers of sin—crossing those boundaries…we may run from God’s voice into even worse hurt and pain. But God surely wants us to live, and not die. He wants us to walk in the path of repentance and forgiveness, to find life with Him. He has sent His Son Jesus to our human race, who rejected Him and ignored His warnings about sin—but Jesus came to rescue us from pursuing our own destruction. We have a loving God and Savior, who desires that we worship and know Him, and that we receive His freely given gifts, of forgiveness, life, and salvation. When we come to know Him as our dear Heavenly Father, we begin to see His great heart of love for us, and to approach Him humbly, to have Him rescue us from all our sins. May His saving love open all of our hearts to humble ourselves before Him, and receive His love in faith, and thanksgiving, and praise to Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Luke 13:1-9, Jesus discusses two types of tragedies, and responds to the theories about why those people died in this way. What two types of tragedies were they, and how does that relate to our own modern experiences of tragedies? What did the people seem to think was the reason why people suffered these tragic deaths?

  1. How did Jesus respond to the idea that these people were worse sinners than others? How does this compare to what His disciples thought on another occasion, and how Jesus responded? John 9:2-3. Cf Job 4:7; 8:4; John 5:14. Jesus does not blame the victims for their tragic death, yet He leaves everyone with an important and difficult lesson to learn from these tragedies. What is the lesson? Luke 13:3, 5.

  1. What is repentance? Luke 3:8, 10-14. The word repentance means a change of heart, or change of mind, and a “turning away” from sin. Where is the sinner who repents turning to? Joel 2:12-13. What are we promised to find when we confess our sins to God? 1 John 1:8-9.

  1. Today’s readings from Ezekiel 33:7-20, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, and Luke 13:1-9, all echo the same thought—that sin leads to death, and that the only appropriate action on our part is to repent, or turn away from sin. What does God tell us about whether He wants people to die in their sins? Ezekiel 33:11; 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4.

  1. How are we tempted to underestimate the danger of sin? Why would we ignore or dismiss the danger? How does a watchman (Ezekiel 33:7-9), a lifeguard, or a shepherd have to respond to seeing others in danger? John 10:1-18. How did Jesus save us from the deadly danger of sin?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sermon on Luke 13:31-35, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "The Refuge is Open"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today in our Bible readings, we hear some dire warnings—first in the Old Testament reading, where the prophet Jeremiah is rejected by his own people because he spoke God’s word of judgment against the city of Jerusalem. This was some 600 years before Jesus was born. Then in our reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, in the time after Jesus’ ministry, how many people still set themselves as enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. Finally, in our Gospel reading, Jesus Himself is facing the rejection of His own people, and how they would not listen or receive God’s help. None of them sound particularly promising or hopeful. Time changes little about our willingness to listen to and hear God’s Word. Just like every generation of children goes through the same battles of disobedience and rebellion against the authority of their parents, so also every generation of mankind battles against God’s will. We seek our own way, all the while God holds out His hands to us, inviting us, calling us to turn back to Him. And when we endanger ourselves, God calls out even more urgently, with louder and sharper messages so we will hear.
But if you pay close attention to each of the readings and the authors, you’ll find that God is never giving out idle warnings for the purpose of creating hopelessness or that He wants to cast us away from Him forever. Rather God passionately desires and hopes for us to turn back to Him for His help and protection. Often when we hear the strongest words of God’s disapproval and warnings of judgment, these are contrasted all the more brilliantly by His promises of light and salvation when we come back to Him. Like a parent is compelled by their love for their children, so much more is God earnestly and faithfully seeking after us.
            Today I especially want to focus on the message of Jesus in Luke 13, as it reveals and shows us God’s heart—but also to tie it in with the related message of the prophet Jeremiah, about what hope there would be for God’s people in dark times. What kind of Father is our God?
Jeremiah and Jesus lived 600 years apart, and we live 2,000 years after Jesus walked on earth, but to different degrees, we’ve all lived in dark or dangerous times. The threats and dangers may have changed, but the world of wars between nations, political tensions and resentment between the people and their leaders, and those who have spoken against tyranny and corruption—that is all the same. Nothing is new under the sun. Jeremiah warned the Jewish nation that after centuries of sliding further into disobedience against God—the time was not long before their nation would fall to the kingdom of Babylon. And it happened. Jesus also foresaw danger coming against the people of His day—but the danger He saw was more than just a political or national threat—it was the internal danger of being carried away into God’s judgment by our own sins.
Many of us here today have children that are precious to us. And God has given children their parents to protect and watch over them. Without the vision of parents to protect their children, to see and sense danger, and to rescue children from running in the street, or touching electricity, or eating the wrong things, they would inevitably harm themselves. As parents we have a good, but imperfect sense of danger—at times we can swerve too far towards overprotection, at other times we may swerve towards carelessness. But you all recognize that as adults there are dangers you can see that your children can’t, and that they depend on you for safety. It is the same, but greater, with God our Heavenly Father. He doesn’t struggle with how best to apply discipline, or to strike a balance—God knows perfectly what dangers threaten us. His warnings are clear and true, and neither overprotective nor careless. And you know how often it is, whether with our earthly parents, or with God our heavenly Father, that children will run away from and ignore their parent’s well-intentioned warnings.
In today’s reading, Jesus stands in the middle of a hostile environment, with religious and political leaders seeking His death. He even gest what may have been a friendly warning, to get away while He can. But Jesus shows a sturdy determination to stay and continue His mission. He did not fear the danger to His own life—He was sent by God, His Father, to speak, to teach, to love, and rescue God’s children. All who had gone astray. His mission put Him in danger, because He came, not as the All-Powerful God in blinding light and irresistible power—but He came in humble, human form. Born as one of us, born to live under God’s own Law, born to experience all the human joys and sorrows of life as we do. God came to earth in an entirely relatable way, as a true human person. For this purpose—God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
God came to us in human likeness, to keep us from the childish danger of running away from His love, and pursuing the deadly danger of our sins. As a human being, Jesus set aside His full power, and became relatable. And even resistible. He did not force anyone to listen to or obey them. Instead, He appealed to them. Many did not and would not listen. He was rejected and attacked. He allowed Himself to be mistreated, even unjustly sentenced to death. He became vulnerable to our rebellion. But this would not turn Jesus from His mission of saving the world. Any and all who would come to Him, He received.
Listen to Jesus’ words again as He cries out in sadness over His people: “O 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! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Jesus knew His mission led to the cross. Instead of coming to punish His rebellious people—Jesus came to bear that punishment Himself. They would see in His own death, the awful price and cost of sin. That God Himself would right the wrongs that we had done, and take our place.
And Jesus uses a picture of God from the Old Testament to describe what He’s doing—a bird who stretches out its wings to protect and shield its young. Jesus borrows and makes His own, a common phrase from the Old Testament. Jesus says like a hen would gather its chicks for safety, under its wings, so He would gather His children Israel, and keep them safe. In the Old Testament, God’s people prayed to take refuge in the shadow of His wings. They prayed that God would protect them under His wings, till the storms of destruction would pass them by. And Jesus answers—Yes! I want to spread my wings over you, and protect you! But so often, like senseless chicks, we run away instead.
But the good news is that Jesus’ wings are still spread open, and He still calls us to take refuge in Him! Many took refuge then, and we still take refuge in Him today. Jesus’ mission did not end at the cross, but there He secured our forgiveness. And on the third day He completed His course, and rose from the dead to conquer the grave. When Jesus rose from the dead, and appeared to His disciples and many others, He charged them to continue this mission. He charged them to carry the words of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, to all ends of the earth. Jesus told His disciples to continue pointing people to Him, to take refuge in His mercy. The time is not too late for any of us to hear God’s call, to listen to His Word, and seek shelter in Him from the danger of sin and death. Jesus is our refuge, and the refuge is open! He calls us to learn and know His love, just as a parent wants their child to stay and know the security of their home and their love.
We were all children once, and we all know the times when we threw caution aside and ignored danger. It’s not hard to figure out why we would do the same towards God. None of us like to be told “no”. It’s in our sinful nature to seek our own way. But the stakes are much greater with God. We have eternity in store for us, after this life. Jesus calls us to the way of eternal life, to turn away from the wide path that leads to eternal judgment. We also probably can remember times when we were a little older, and our parents let us make our own choices, even if they knew some of them would end badly. There is no reason, or sense for us to ignore God’s warnings and His calls to us. He tells us plainly and accurately that the consequence of rejecting Him, is hell—to be forever separated from His love. Even though our sins deserve this, God eagerly, passionately desires to keep us from that fate. He paid the cost to spare us from it, so that no one need have that fate.
Jesus calls to us, He calls to you. God love prepares a way of safety, a path to shelter and refuge under His wings. Jesus made the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, to bear the full guilt of sin, and face the full punishment of its guilt in death, so that we could be spared. Jesus calls for us to believe in Him, so that we will never be desolate or forsaken, but that we will have a home, a house—an eternal dwelling place together with our God who loves us. In short, God has done everything for us, and more than we ever deserved. He stretches out His open arms to receive us as His children. Hear His call. Come to Him. Receive His love—and when you do, you will find yourself caught up together praising Jesus and waiting for His return to take us home—singing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why does Jesus ignore the Pharisees’ warning that Herod wants Him dead? What was Jesus preparing for? How does this show Jesus’ resolve to accomplish His mission?

  1. What had happened to many of the prophets in Israel? See the speech of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees, in Matthew 23:29-36. Hebrews 11:32-38. Why did God send the prophets again and again, knowing that they would be rejected? 2 Chronicles 36:15-16.

  1. Jesus’ analogy of the hen and the chicks recalls many Old Testament passages about God providing protection for His people under the “shadow of his wings”. What message does this communicate to His people? Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; Ruth 2:12

  1. How does the Bible speak of God’s love and concern for the lost and for sinners? Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9

  1. Why do we go astray from God and His desire to help us? Why do sinners turn away from God? What is the deadly danger of doing so?

  1. Jesus warns the people: “Behold, your house is forsaken.” In the prophets, God spoke of the people of Israel or Judah as the “house of Israel,” or the “house of the king of Judah”—referring to the kingdom and people of God. In Jeremiah 12:7 He talks about leaving that house forsaken, and enemies coming against them. What is the reason, given in Jeremiah 22:1-5, for why God was forsaking them?

  1. How does Jeremiah speak of God’s returning compassion, after the people have been punished for their sins? Where would their hope be directed? Jeremiah 12:15; 23:3-6. 31:31-34. How does Jesus give us refuge?

Monday, February 15, 2016

"With me Stands the Righteous One," a hymn about the Christian facing temptation with Christ

With me Stands the Righteous One
author: Joshua V. Schneider
meter: 78 78 77
tune: Lutheran Service Book 609, "Jesus Sinners Doth Receive", Meinum Jesum Lass' Ich Nicht (Darmstadt)

Near me stood the Evil One,
though from my own eyes he’s hidden.
“Shall I throw the righteous down?”
Mocking words into the heavens.
“Will he trust in God each day;
if you take his goods away?”
“Harm his family, harm his life,
then we’ll see if he still raises;
Prayer and thanks to God above
lifting high his holy praises.
Only when his life’s secure
will his trust in You be pure.”
How could I perceive the cost,
knowing not the war was waging;
for my soul the devil wants,
threats and accusations raging.
“Ah dear God please tell me why,
these afflictions round me lie?”
“Life on earth is all too short,
Can’t you see this human weaken?”
Father knows that we are dust,
has compassion on His children
Cast your burdens, every one
On my Chosen, Righteous Son
Near Him stood the Evil One
In the desert tried to tempt Him
Mocked the Holy Son of God
tried to turn Him from God’s mission.
But Christ Jesus did obey;
Satan’s efforts turned away.

God would prove His saints are true,
helping them withstand temptation.
Will not give too much to you,
He provides you help to face them.
Proving Satan he is wrong,
we are weak but God is strong.
With me stands the Righteous One
In baptism I’m adopted
God shall make the righteous stand
Glorious words ring in the heavens.
“Put your trust in God each day;
He takes all your sins away.”
“What you here on earth have lost
For my sake, my Son will give you
Strength to take up, bear your cross
And redeem your soul for heaven.
There in glory hundredfold
Treasures worth much more than gold.”

This hymn was based on reflections about the life of Job, especially verses 1-2, which describes the devil’s hidden attack against him, and how that relates to our own Christian struggle with crosses and temptation. Often the spiritual battle behind our struggles remains hidden from us as well (vs.3). Verse 4 echoes the words of Psalm 103, especially verses 13-17. Verse 5 parallels our temptation with Jesus’ own testing in the wilderness. Verse 6 tells us how God uses temptation and helps us. Verse 7 proclaims our victory in Jesus, and parallels to verse 1, capturing the theme of the hymn. Verse 8 looks to the eternal restoration of what we have suffered while bearing crosses and living for Jesus’ sake. Luke 9:23-26, Matthew 19:28-30. 

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "With Me Stands the Righteous One"

*Please check out an accompanying post for a hymn that I wrote that speaks of our temptations and how Christ is with us, with the same title as the sermon.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we study the temptation of Jesus today, let’s first discuss the significance of temptation in general, then look specifically at how this passage gives us courage and hope in the face of temptation. No story of Jesus’ life would be complete without seeing how Jesus faced temptation. The Gospels show the teachings and miracles of Jesus, they follow the trajectory of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus lived and knew—and follow Him all the way to the cross. But had the Gospels not recorded Jesus’ temptation, we would never have seen inside His personal struggle against the devil—who tempts Jesus, just like us, to commit sin and evil. The New Testament tells us that we are blessed to have Jesus as the One who represents us before God—the One who is our great High Priest—because He is like us. He’s no stranger to our struggles, our weaknesses, and temptations, but rather He is like us because He became a human in every way, except without sin. He faced temptation, just as we did—but He always and faithfully obeyed God. In other words, He resisted the attacks of the devil at every single turn.
Temptation is an everyday struggle for every Christian and unbeliever alike. The world of sin that we live in has no shortage of opportunities for evil. Many of them, we simply don’t recognize, because we don’t know God’s law like we should. St. Paul would write that if it weren’t for God’s law, he wouldn’t have known what coveting was, or that it was wrong. But whatever our weakness, or whatever the sin, humans face the choice between good and evil thoughts, words, and actions on a daily—even on a moment by moment basis. Many people, Christian or not, might choose to do something good instead of evil out of simple decency or out of common sense to avoid punishment by the law, or retaliation from those whom they might harm by bad deeds or actions.
That’s to recognize that when we make bad choices, when we fall into temptation and choose to think, speak, or do evil, instead of the good, there are consequences for what we do wrong. Sometimes the consequences mainly affect us—sin poisoning our thoughts, or teaching us the habit of lying, or creating a blindness to our own wrongdoing. Sometimes the consequences of our sin are not so contained, and they spread and hurt others. Hurtful words and actions that we sin against others can sometimes cause lasting damage to ourselves and those around us. Some things, like a murder, or permanent injury, may never be able to be healed or restored in this life. Other things may be partially restored or healed in this life. But the point is that sin inevitably leads to damage of one sort or another. It’s not unimportant—it causes real harm, whether we can see that immediately, or whether it is fully or partly hidden. God’s Law, that directs us to do only good, is not arbitrary and without purpose.
So on the other hand, to resist temptation by making a choice to do something outwardly good is still not finally enough to put people right before God. Making good choices is better and wiser, and leads to better consequences and usually better results. As I said, a believer or an unbeliever can certainly make conscious choices to not act in a criminal way, to do what is outwardly good. But they cannot, by doing so, make themselves righteous before God. Even the most decent, upright person doesn’t get special recognition or standing before God. Even with a pretty good “batting average” of good choices, no one stands a chance on their own, of being found innocent before God. It takes only one sin to have a guilty record before God. Temptation is not a game won by batting averages. And truthfully, none of us would even measure that well if it were.
If it were, we could read the story of Jesus’ temptation like a “What would Jesus do manual”, and practice our skill at following those user instructions. And of course there is much to be learned from Jesus’ particular example. But it’s not by your success in imitating Jesus, that God will count you righteous. You cannot be saved by your good works. Rather, you can only be saved by Jesus Himself! The story of Jesus’ temptation is not a user manual, but a play by play of His victory and win for us! And Jesus is not a retired “hall of famer” whose “win” remains in the history books, waiting for another great achiever to copy—but Jesus is the living Lord who is with us and who reigns in our lives even now. He’s not a coach from the sidelines, who sends us to battle alone, but He lives in us by faith and through His Holy Spirit. When we conquer temptation, it’s not by our strength or cleverness, but by the fullness of His life in us, and His fighting on our side. What else does it mean when Scripture says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31). Don’t try to face temptation alone, but stand with the God who is for us in Christ Jesus.
Even Jesus did not face the temptation alone. The beginning and end of the reading in Luke 4 show us how He faced it—after His baptism, it says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Then the verse after our reading says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee”. Jesus faced temptation full of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans that we can have our mind set on the flesh—which is death, or our minds can be set on the Spirit, which is life and peace. Jesus most certainly had His mind set on the Spirit, and sought life and peace by obedience to God’s perfect commandments. By the Living Spirit of God, Jesus did not give into any of Satan’s lies or temptations. He could not be deceived, like we so often are.
Just like how Satan tempts us, the devil tried first to make use of Jesus’ physical need and exhaustion. The first temptation, to make bread from stones, to satisfy Jesus’ hunger, came at a time of what must have felt like near starvation for Jesus. Without food or water for 40 days, Jesus had completed a marathon fast, that would have drained any human’s energy and strength. Jesus’ hunger would make that offer seem very satisfying. We face times in life where we feel at the brink of our patience, our sanity, our strength, our finances, or whatever else might be whittled down to almost nothing. And sometimes in those moments, pushed far beyond our limits, our mind flies to quick but sinful solutions. Perhaps to steal, to cheat, to hurt, to lash, or whatever “short-cut” might be easier than doing what’s right. It would be so easy to rush into satisfying, but evil courses of action. The apostle Paul warns us against this, not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Even when we are at our weakest, God compels us still to do what is good. The Spirit lives in us, to convict us of right and wrong, and to supply us with His gifts to grow in spirituality, in faith, hope, and love.
Jesus’ answer to Satan’s temptation is deeply profound. “Man shall not live by bread alone.” It’s a quote from Moses, from Deuteronomy 8:3. The rest of the verse says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of the Lord. Moses was teaching the people of Israel why God fed them the manna, the bread from heaven. It was so that they wouldn’t count their survival on bread alone, but that they would look up to God to ultimately supply and provide all they needed to live. God tested His people, to see if they would obey His commands. Their survival, He’s saying, was not a mere matter of physical food. Their survival depended on listening to His Word.
Think about what that means for us. Our spiritual life and existence lives and feeds off God’s Word. We can’t live without it. A man without God’s Word, is spiritually speaking, like a starving man without bread. He’s missing something even more essential for his life than food. God’s Word gives us life, and is the only thing that can sustain us beyond this mortal life, into eternal life. Peter, after eating his fill of bread with the crowds of 5,000, confessed to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus’ word is eternal life. Man shall not live by bread alone. Man lives by Jesus’ words of eternal life. Living is about much more than digestion and supplying energy to your body! We are living souls, meant for relationship with God, and that cannot survive without His Word.
Though it may be invisible to us, that the devil prowls around us like a roaring lion, we are not ignorant of his schemes. God’s Word warns us about what the devil is up to, and that he marks us as His prey. But though it may also be invisible to us, we can be just as certain that Jesus is with us—even more certain—as He has promised to be with us till the end of the age. When the evil One stands against us for temptation, there is a still great fighter who stands with us—Jesus the Righteous One. In our baptism we’re joined to His death and resurrection victory. We know that God stands for us, so nothing can stand against us. If the devil is a strong one, than Jesus is still stronger, and He proved it during the first 40 days after His baptism.
When you are baptized, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to strive and struggle with temptation—it doesn’t mean that you get a free pass from cross and trial—but rather it means that you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of your sins. And guess what that makes for you? The devil is your perpetual enemy. But far better to have the devil as your enemy and God on your side, than to be on the losing side of eternity, and the burning side of God’s anger. Better to have the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who loves you and lays down His life for you—than to side with one who hungers for your death, and tempts you with lies and false promises. And in your baptism you have Jesus to lead you in the way of life and peace.
And if and when we fall into sin, Jesus stands near to lift us up, to call us to repentance, to turn away from our sins. He stands with us to forgive the humble and repentant, and to make us stand again with Him in His forgiveness. Jesus is with you every step of the way. Don’t go it alone! You have the champion that has fought for us and won, and who still lives with us. Jesus is that Righteous Son of God, and by faith, His righteousness is ours as well! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Luke 4:1, Jesus is described as “full of the Spirit,” and “led by the Spirit” to the wilderness. What role does the Holy Spirit play in equipping us to face temptation and trials? Do we stand alone against temptation?
  2. What might happen if we treated the story of Jesus’ temptation like a “users’ manual” for us to face temptation on our own?  Instead, how do we face temptation, and by what power do we resist the Evil One? Matthew 6:13; Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 5:8-11
  3. How was the time period of Jesus’ temptation like other significant events in the history of God’s people? Genesis 7:4, 14; Exodus 24:18; Numbers 14:33-35; 1 Kings 19:8. What about the location of where Jesus’ temptation occurred? Deprived of many luxuries and things they wanted or desired, where did this force them to look for help?
  4. God has declared that “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). What lesson did God intend to teach His people by this statement? Read all of Deuteronomy 8, esp. vs. 1-6. Since God has declared this of mankind, what does it mean that people who do not heed or hear God’s Word are missing? What aspect of our existence lives and feeds on God’s Word?
  5. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13; the devil quotes Psalm 91:11-12; Jesus replies quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. What was different about Jesus and Satan’s use of Scripture? What does this teach us about the cleverness of not only the devil, but of false teachers, that can use the word of God, seemingly to their advantage? How do we avoid being led astray? John 5:37-40; 1 John 4:1-12
  6. The devil departed from Jesus, until an “opportune time”. What sort of “opportunities” do we unwittingly offer the devil to tempt us? How do we make ourselves vulnerable and open to temptation? What are your personal weaknesses the devil may use to exploit?
  7. In all temptation, fear, and need, who stands with us and gives us the victory? How and why do we foolishly try to face temptation alone? Why must we trust Jesus alone?

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36, for the Transfiguration of our Lord

  • Contrast of glory to cross
  • Transfiguration account follows right after Jesus’ first prediction of His suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Read Luke 9:22-27
  • 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
  • Jesus had just predicted His crucifixion, death, and resurrection for the first time—undoubtedly a difficult message for His disciples—and followed by taking up your cross and following Jesus. The way of self-denial and the cross. Facing rejection from others, and losing our life for the sake of Christ saving it. Sets contrast of glory to the cross.
  • 3 disciples—glimpse glory—ordinary appearance gives way to dazzling brightness and light. Transfiguration (metamorphosis), changed appearance, showed who He is.
  • Within an earthborn form He hides His all creating light; to serve us all He humbly cloaks the splendor of His might, the splendor of His might. LSB 389:3
  • We could easily imagine a totally different way of God bringing salvation by earthly glory, power and might, without the humility and suffering of the cross—but God determined that the cross, lowliness, and suffering were the necessary way for His glory to be revealed. In sacrifice, for sin, not in boasting or power or might, but laying down His life. Greater glory in this, but clothed under the cross. Not the worldly way of glory. Hidden under Jesus’ flesh and blood was the great glory of God’s own Son.
  • He undertakes a great exchange, puts on our human frame, and in return gives us His realm, His glory and His name, His glory and His name. LSB 389:4
  • The Son of God came down to earth, became lowly and human, born the baby Jesus, so He could give us the riches of His grace and glory. God shows His glory in the straw bed of the manger, the traveling rabbi sleeping outdoors with His disciples, and the crucified Jesus, hung between thieves.
  • For a brief moment, among only the 3 disciples, Jesus gives a glimpse of His true glory, before He hides it again. Peter would set up camp to bask in the glow, but Jesus takes them down the mountain with nothing but the astonishing event emblazoned on their memories. Contrast to Jesus’ death on the cross. None of the blinding light, the glory, the holy worship of Jesus, but in its place there is mockery and scorn of the same Jesus. The same Son of God who must be worshipped, is spat upon.
  • Both the transfiguration and crucifixion happen on a mountain. But for which does Jesus create a living remembrances for all generations to come? Not the mount of transfiguration, where only 3 disciples witnessed and remembered that glorious day. But the hill called Golgotha. For what Jesus did there, He established both a living remembrance and our ongoing participation in that event. Not for 3 disciples, but for generations of Jesus’ disciples to come. Jesus prepared a new meal, His Supper, to serve us His body and blood of the covenant, poured out for us, for the forgiveness of sins. His body offered up, His blood shed on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is a living participation, a communion in the body and blood of Jesus, remembering what He did on the cross for us, and receiving it in our hand and mouth.
  • It really should come as no surprise that the cross, and not the Transfiguration gets all the glory and the emphasis—even from Jesus. The mount of Transfiguration is a way-point, a rest stop on the journey—not the climax or “ground zero” of His journey. The mount of transfiguration was a high point from where Jesus, Moses, and Elijah could look out to the not-so-distant future, and see His coming cross. Luke tells us this one detail the other gospel writers leave out—the topic of their conversation. “They spoke of His departure, which He was to undergo in Jerusalem.” Footnotes in your Bible will tell you that “departure” is actually the word “Exodus.” Jesus, like Moses, was going to complete and accomplish His great redemptive journey in Jerusalem. Jesus was setting His people free from the slavery of sin, just as generations before, the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The cross would bring us freedom.
  • That was the turning point for Jesus’ true glory, and would mark the beginning of Jesus being lifted up, exalted, glorified by God.
  • So for now, the journey is still underway—we’ve paused to rest, to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and what lies ahead of Him—but now we descend back from the mountain with Jesus and the disciples, following His steps to the cross. This Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of 40 days of repentance, 40 days of humbling ourselves as we follow after our Savior. And as we journey with Jesus, this season of Lent, these words ring in our ears—words of our Heavenly Father: “This is my Son, my chosen One, listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus, learn from His lowliness, receive His grace, and worship Him!
  •  Your grace in lowliness revealed, Lord Jesus, we adore, And praise to God the Father yield And Spirit evermore; We praise You evermore. LSB 389:7