Monday, October 30, 2017

Sermon on Romans 3:19-28, for the 50th Anniversary of Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Maui, and the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, "To God Alone Be Glory!"

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today is a joyful day, a day to praise God and sing aloud; to give all the glory to God alone for His great salvation! God, by His grace and favor, has blessed Emmanuel Lutheran Church, with 50 years of sharing the Good News of Jesus on this island of Maui. 50 years of worshipping together as a family in Christ, 50 years of baptisms into God’s family, 50 years of prayer and intercession for this community, 50 years of preaching Jesus Christ. So many blessings have developed from the work of the Holy Spirit among us. Not to our credit, but to God’s credit, to His glory alone. 50 years of sharing the Gospel Truth that we are loved by God, we are forgiven freely by Jesus Christ as a gift, and that Jesus has called and blessed us into service toward others.
            And bigger than our tiny corner of the globe, we also celebrate the worldwide blessings of 500 years of the Lutheran Reformation, dating from October 31, 1517. The same blessings God has shown us, multiplied the world over, by churches that proclaim the same Gospel of Jesus Christ Sunday after Sunday. 500 years ago this Tuesday, Martin Luther first challenged the church with 95 Theses arguing that God’s grace is not for sale, but that God calls us to a life of repentance and free forgiveness. Luther didn’t know then how greatly the church and the whole world would be transformed. 500 years later, the ripple effects are still being felt. But as Luther would reflect on it some years later, he would say: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing…I did nothing, the Word did everything.” He knew, as we should, that he couldn’t boast in what he’d done. It was not his power or intellect, it was not by force or bloody revolution that reformed the church, but the Word of God being free to do its work. Luther did not boast, because it was the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word to heal the church. A church that had become so confused and corrupt as it forgot or obscured God’s Word. Still today we need to open God’s Word and study it earnestly, to guard against new temptations to forget or obscured God’s Word. As Luther opened the Word of God for his own study, and taught it to the church, the Word did its work. All Glory goes back to God alone.
            And really, 500 years is just the tip of the iceberg. Even though God used Martin Luther to bring the focus back to Christ, the Good News of Jesus Christ has always been at work in human history. As our first reading from Revelation 14 says, it is an “eternal Gospel” proclaimed for all people on earth. From the dawn of creation, until the final judgment. God’s message of salvation stretches from the beginning of time till eternity, and we can and should celebrate His grace in every season, in every millennium. What was significant about 500 years ago, was that the Gospel rang out clearly where it had been muffled or almost silenced for so long, and began to ring out those joyous notes loud and clear again: “To God alone be the Glory.”
            But Luther’s reminder that we have no grounds to boast, points us to Romans 3 today, which 1500 years before him, urged that we have nothing to boast about. Certainly not boasting in our works. For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We don’t boast before God, because no one stands as righteous before Him. Nobody has satisfied God by perfect obedience. Only Jesus Christ, has done so. Only Jesus has perfectly and completely satisfied God by His perfect obedience and sacrifice. And the Reformation was all about putting Jesus back as front and center for our salvation. And that His work was complete for us. So while we cannot boast in our works, Paul says in Galatians 6:14 “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We boast in the cross of Jesus; we boast in the Lord, because He is our salvation! We have nothing to offer to God except our sin; but Jesus has offered God His perfect life, death, and resurrection; His righteousness on our behalf! That’s something we can boast about, because all the glory goes to Him, and not to us!
            Now Romans has some very important theological language, that we don’t use every day, but words that carefully show that all our salvation comes by faith in Jesus—not by our contribution or effort. This heart of the Gospel all but shouted out to Luther from Romans. He saw words like “gift”, “redemption”, “justified by faith apart from works”, and realized that salvation is God’s free gift. It’s not a merit system, but by grace. Salvation is not probation, where your good efforts are measured and graded, and God shortens or lengthens your punishment based on your works. Salvation is not a debt-repayment plan, where we negotiate lower payments for our forgiveness, based on what we can afford to contribute. No, salvation is God’s free gift in Christ Jesus, a total erasing of our debt before God. “Redemption” means that God has purchased us back from sin and death by the precious blood of Jesus. Jesus’ redeeming work gives all the glory to God.
            And this is complete; sufficient; it is not a partial or incomplete assignment, like students sometimes sheepishly turn in to their teachers—it is Jesus’ 100% effort, completed, and accepted by God! How do we know that God accepted it? Jesus rose from the dead! God affirms Jesus’ innocence; He accepted the payment for our sin by raising Jesus from the dead. And now Jesus tells us, go tell the whole world about it! Repent of your sins and be forgiven! Believe and have eternal life in Jesus! Don’t reserve any credit for yourself; give all glory to God alone! The Gospel is “anti-credit” to us.
            But perhaps most important in this reading are a “word family” or group of related words. English hides the connection between them, but the words “justify, justification, just, or Justifier” are all related to “righteous or righteousness”. This word family can be pictured in a courtroom, where God is judge, and there are two possible verdicts, when we are on trial. We can be guilty or innocent—or in the language of the Bible, unrighteous or righteous. Righteousness and justification are about God giving an innocent verdict. To be justified is for God to declare us righteous. But the key question for this Bible passage, and for Luther in the Reformation, is how do we get this verdict? How does God justify us?
            If we step back, we see that Paul speaks of two kinds of righteousness. Two standards, if you will. The first, is righteousness measured by the law. The second, Paul says, is a righteousness apart from the Law, or the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus (who is our Defense Attorney). Under the first standard, of the Law, we are all held accountable to God, all silenced before Him, and none of us are justified in His sight. None of us meet the first standard. We are guilty and condemned under the Law. But the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus, does not measure what we have done, but measures Jesus’ righteousness. For all who believe in Jesus, God justifies us freely, by faith. Jesus became our substitute in death, and His righteousness is counted to our behalf. So in God’s courtroom, this is His verdict: we are guilty under the law, but pardoned or justified by what Christ did for us. Verse 26 says, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
            Justified or righteous—both are speaking of the same concept—that Jesus takes away guilt and supplies us His innocence, His righteousness instead. Still today we gather in worship to be justified—to hear God’s verdict, His forgiveness, and to believe it and have eternal life and the comfort of a clean conscience before God. God’s verdict comes not by what we have done; but because Jesus perfectly took our place. And this means, that all glory goes to God alone! Justification is about Jesus.
            Circling back to how this was at the center of the Reformation, the church at that time was teaching that it’s not by faith in Jesus Christ alone that we are saved, but that faith plus works is how you are justified. Luther forcefully proclaimed passages like Romans 3:28 again and again: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” If works of the law are ruled out of our justification; if, verse 20, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight”; then it is only by faith in Jesus that we are justified. There’s no wiggle room. Luther said the church stands or falls on this article of justification. This was the make or break issue, the hill to die on. Why? Because where would we be if God justified us by our works? Plainly, NO HUMAN BEING would be justified! To trade away this free Gospel of gift, for any other message, is to lose our very salvation! St. Paul said it most emphatically in his letter to the Galatians 1:6–8 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul warned this was a spiritual life or death issue, and don’t accept any distortions—even if an angel from heaven should preach it! Hold to the grace of Christ!
            The church stands or falls on this article of justification by faith, because only by faith does God give that righteous or innocent verdict. Believing in Jesus; receiving His free gift. Anything else keeps credit with us, which steals it from God; even faith is God’s gift to us. To God be all the glory!
            Many opposed Luther and feared that it would take away incentive for doing good works, if the Bible were taught plainly. If people aren’t working to be good, in order to get into heaven, then they will just stop doing good, or will be lazy! Of course, no one can argue that humans aren’t usually lazy about doing good. But in reality, trying to earn your salvation, as Luther discovered, is a fearful and exhausting effort, doomed to failure and despair. Also, works done for this reason are from the wrong motive. But once we are freed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, freed from the fear of judgment, from attempts to pay an impossible debt—then we are truly free to do good works of love for God and love for neighbor, out of the freedom of the Gospel. We are given a new motive—thankfulness for what God has done! And this puts the cart back behind the horse—faith in Jesus saves us, but good works naturally follow as the fruit that comes from God’s new life in us. So works are not lost or forgotten—they are simply removed from the equation of justification, and put back in the context of loving our neighbor as ourselves, for their earthly good.
            It is a beautiful thing that God gave Martin Luther the insight to rediscover the Gospel in the Holy Bible, and to boldly bring that powerful Word back to work in the church. Doubtless, had Luther surrendered in the face of threats to his own life, or had he given up—God would still have raised up another reformer. But in any event, the church would only be healed by restoring Jesus Christ to front and center. Only by reclaiming the Good News that we are saved by grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone, did the church begin to heal, and to send forth once again that loud and clear song of salvation. And that song rings out loud and clear: “To God alone be all the glory, in Jesus’ Name, Amen!”
Sermon Talking Points
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  • The book of Romans as a whole, and Romans 3:19-28 in particular, was crucial to Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the Bible, as He immersed Himself in study of the Bible. This passage gives such a clear description of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law. Nevertheless, it has some theological terms that may not be familiar to us, and some weaknesses of the English language prevent us from seeing the relationship of all the ideas. Here is a quick  vocabulary list to help clarify:
  • “the Law and the Prophets”—expression for the Old Testament (v. 21)
  • “works of the Law”—obedience (or lack thereof) to God’s commandments (v. 20, 27, 28). This is excluded from our justification
  • “justified”—in Greek it’s part of one word family, together with “righteous” or “righteousness” (below), and means “to declare righteous/innocent”. “Justified” can be thought of as God’s legal verdict of innocence—not by “works of the law”, but only by faith in Jesus (v.20, 24, 26, 28)
  • “righteous/righteousness/just”—in Greek, all part of the same word family, meaning upright and innocent. Note there are two kinds of righteousness—by the law (we are actually all unrighteous by this measure) and the righteousness “apart from the law” (v. 21), which is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus” (v. 22) (a free gift!)
  • “believe/belief/faith”—again, all one word family in Greek, but split in English into the verb “believe” and noun “faith”. Means our trust in God, or “honesty about dependence” on Him.
  • “propitiation”—a putting away of God’s wrath against sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the satisfying of the just demand of the Law that sin and evil be punished. (v. 25)
  • “redemption”—to buy back, from sins and death (v. 24)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8, for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, "Your Sins are Forgiven"

            “I could tell you the story of my life before I met Jesus—how I was paralyzed, and who I was before that incredible day when Jesus said my sins are forgiven, and then healed me. But my story is not really so important in the big picture. And besides, I don’t know your story either. I don’t know the sins that marked your life, the doubts or fears, or the physical illnesses and challenges that may face you. All I know is that meeting Jesus changed my life forever. I was one of hundreds of people healed by Jesus—but far more important than our names and backstories was what Jesus did for us, and who He was.
            I wouldn’t even be telling you this story if it weren’t for my friends. They had incredible faith in Jesus, that He would heal me. It’s hard to find friends like that, who would stop at nothing to help you when you were truly in need. You have to imagine, that when they carried me on that mat to the crowded house where Jesus was teaching, I began to lose heart. How could we even get close enough to be seen by Jesus? I was ready to give up—was this even going to work? You probably don't know how it felt in those days to have people look at your illness or injury, and wonder aloud things like, “What sin is he guilty of, that God punished him this way?” You can read other examples like that in the Gospels. It was just the way people thought.  Being in public made me feel like a spectacle. People don’t realize how cruel their words can be.
            But just when it seemed there was no way in, my friends did the most remarkable and embarrassing thing. They climbed up on this guy’s roof, with Jesus inside, and dug a hole through the mud roof! You can imagine how embarrassed I was, and with all the cries and shouts of what’s going on, and here I am, helpless, coming down on ropes in front of Jesus. I thought my friends were crazy! But like I said, it’s hard to find friends like that, who will go out on a limb for you, and did they ever.
            But the next big surprise was when Jesus first spoke to me. He didn’t know me, but the first words from His mouth were, “Take heart child, your sins are forgiven you.” He didn’t say, “I forgive you”—as though I had personally done Him wrong, but “Take heart…your sins are forgiven you.” I hadn't done anything. Just showed up, and He forgave all my sins. For some people, guilt is a feeling that torments them. For others, guilt is barely on their radar. I don’t what type you are, and how your conscience responds when you sin—but He wasn’t talking about my feelings—He was telling me that my sins, that objective guilt, was all forgiven. Of course I didn’t process that all right away, but through reflection on those incredible words, it’s clear that Jesus was erasing my debt before God. The scribes sure knew what He was talking about. All of a sudden their faces turned to frowns—not at me, but at Jesus.
            And again, who was this Jesus? Suddenly He’s reading their minds, saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He turned to me and said—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” It was pretty unnerving to have someone reading their thoughts—I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty used to my thoughts being my own private space. Nobody invades my thoughts, and I don’t particularly want them to see my fears and personal demons. But here Jesus looks right in the window into our minds. Is that why He told me, “Take heart child”? I could feel my spirit lifting with a joy I had never felt before, even before He healed me! Have you listened to the teachings of Jesus’ apostles, and felt that same peace with God, when your sins are declared forgiven?
            So which do you think is easier; for Jesus to forgive my sins, or to say, “Rise and walk?” Of course, anyone could just say your sins are forgiven—but how could anyone prove it? But only someone with real authority—God’s authority—could say, “Rise and walk!” And then here I am, a walking, living proof of Jesus’ power! But Jesus said, His ability to heal me, proved that He had the authority on earth to forgive my sins too! The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. I’ve had many years to reflect on the beauty of those words. Even now I realize that the greater gift that Jesus gave me that day was my forgiveness. My healing would last until death. But my forgiveness lasts for all eternity.
            Jesus saw wickedness, evil in the hearts of those scribes. Do you fear to think what He sees in yours? Do you know that none of us have any secrets from Him? Scripture tells us, “no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). That can scare the living daylights out of you—that your own thoughts and actions are not private territory to God. The only one fooled if we say we have no sin, is ourselves. God already knows. But I hope that you know, it doesn’t have to be such a frightening realization. At the same time that Jesus was reading my thoughts, He told me, “take heart child, your sins are forgiven.” Do you think He would turn away from you if He saw your thoughts; or is it more likely you would turn away? Well, he did not speak fear to my heart or condemnation, but peace and courage! He did not turn away from my suffering, as I'd seen so often, but He spoke life and healing, when I needed it, in body and soul.
            I don’t know your personal story; and I guess the details don’t matter too much. More important than who you are or where you came from or what you’ve done, or how healthy or sick you are, is that Jesus is the Great Physician of body and soul. It all starts with forgiveness. I didn’t even know I needed it that day. It’s not even what I came for—and certainly wasn’t on the minds of my good friends. But Jesus knew even better than us what I needed most.
            Leaving behind the little role play of that healed man, I hope you can reflect on how great a gift Jesus’ forgiveness is. When the crowds saw Jesus heal and forgive this paralytic, they were afraid; and they glorified God who had given such authority to men. It was so strange, back in that day, for the Jews to hear a man like Jesus declare “your sins are forgiven.” I don’t think those words strike us so strange today, because we’ve believed and accepted for 2,000 years that God has entrusted His forgiveness to men. The church proclaims the forgiveness of sins with the very authority of Jesus. Pastors absolve you of your sins, not on any independent authority of their own, but on the very authority of Jesus Himself, who said to His disciples, after the resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:22-23). For those who repent of their sins, we declare they are forgiven—and it is so—by Jesus’ word. For those who remain unrepentant, their forgiveness is withheld, as long as they do not repent—and it is so—by Jesus’ word. We have no independent authority to change God’s Word in this matter, only to speak as He has said. But what remarkable authority to speak on earth that your sins are forgiven, and to be assured by Jesus that it is also done in heaven!
            As we have been forgiven by Jesus, so we forgive others. Though we hear of forgiveness countless times in church, we always need both to live in Christ's forgiveness, and also live that forgiveness toward others. Forgiving someone means that you will no longer hold that wrong against them. Forgiveness is not a brushing aside of sin, or a sweeping it under the rug, or pooh-poohing sin, or any other expression that makes sin seem trivial. But forgiveness allows us to admit a real wrong has been done, a real hurt has been caused, a real failure to obey God’s command to either love God, or to love neighbor.  And that means we have a real debt that exists between us and God. We acknowledge this real debt—and that we can’t pay it—and then forgiveness is the Gospel word that Jesus has actually paid the real debt by His death on the cross. Take heart child, your sins are forgiven. ARE! Jesus has made things right between us and God. And so we forgive others. We tell them the debt has been taken away, and I will not hold it against you.
            If God is not behind that forgiveness, it will stutter, sputter, and fail. We are ever weak when it comes to treating others the way God has treated us. And if we think we’ll do it under our own steam, we won’t succeed. But God’s divine forgiveness pours into us generously through all these outlets that He has given—His Word, preached, read, heard, and taken to heart. His washing of Holy Baptism, where your sins are washed away, and you are joined to the saving life of Jesus. His Supper, where Jesus gives you His body and His blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The absolution—where Jesus appoints His ministers to speak to you on His behalf—your sins are forgiven. In all the ways that God pours out His forgiveness for us, that creates His new life in us. It enables us to forgive and love as He has loved us. He fills us with the faith to be great friends to the paralytic, to the suffering, to the lonely, or whoever needs our friendship and our willingness to bring them to Jesus. For Jesus knows what we need, and He comes to take away our fears, sin, and our weakness, and to give us His life. All glory to God! Amen.

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       Special note: Ephesians 4:26 may be puzzling: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We should understand from this verse that anger in itself isn’t always a sin. It’s the outcome or actions we take as a result that may be sinful. We are warned to avoid sinning in our anger, and certainly not to go to sleep with unresolved resentment.

  1. Read Matt. 9:1-8. What was the obvious need of the paralyzed man? What did Jesus address first instead?
  2. What did the Jewish people often (incorrectly) assume about a person suffering an illness? John 9:1-5
  3. Why is our sin the most life-threatening ailment we face? Read Romans 6:23 Why is it even more important to have forgiveness than physical health? (hint: what happens even to all healthy people eventually?)
  4. Why were Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven!” such a shock to the religious leaders? What was the sin they accused Him of doing? Read the parallel account of this healing in Mark 2:1-12 (esp. 7).
  5. How did Jesus address their challenge of His authority? How did Jesus demonstrate His authority? (cf. later, John 10:17-18)
  6. What are the consequences of not having forgiveness? How does it affect our lives or those around us? How does forgiveness change us? What did Jesus do to make forgiveness possible?
  7. How has Jesus entrusted the power to forgive to His church? Read John 20:21-23; Luke 10:16; 24:45-49. Let’s forgive!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46, for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, "Commander and Savior"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last Sunday, if you were here, we had a bulletin quote from Luther, that whether God’s Law or man’s law, the law should never bind further than love goes, and that love should be the interpreter of the law. “Where there is no love these things become meaningless and the law begins to do harm. The reason for enacting all laws and ordinances is only to establish love, as Paul says, Romans 13:10 ‘Love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.’” Luther’s reflection and St. Paul’s comments both echo Jesus’ words today. He shows the Law is given that we might love. Jesus sums up the whole of God’s law in two great commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
            If we just reflect for a moment, we’ll realize that enforcing laws with excessive cruelty, goes beyond love. Laws applied inflexibly, so as to prevent compassion or to harm the innocent violate the principle of love. The apostle James reminds us: “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Jesus shows both perfect love and true mercy. He sets the boundaries of what love is and what is obedience to His commandments. Since they are His commandments, He is the Commander of Love. Jesus aims our love in two directions, when He sums up the commandments: “Love God” (what we might call the “vertical direction”) and “love your neighbor” (the “horizontal direction”).
            Whatever trap they had in mind for Jesus with their question, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” they had to agree with His answer. Famously, the Pharisees counted 613 commandments in the Bible. Perhaps they thought He would choose one among the many, and they could nail Him for whatever He left out. Instead, He summarized the Law so completely, that they had no response. But later they would still “nail Him” anyway for a different reason. Jesus perfectly grouped the 10 Commandments into what we call “the Two Tables of the Law”—the First Table: commandments about our relationship to God (vertical dimension); and the Second Table: the rest of the commandments, which are about our relationship to our neighbors (horizontal dimension).
            Jesus says, on these two commandments depend (literally “hang”) all the Law and the Prophets. Perhaps it’s just a happy coincidence, but when you join together these two dimensions, you get a cross. Jesus says all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments. The weight of everything God commanded, required, and foretold, hung on these love commands. Jesus later says, after His resurrection, that all the Law and the Prophets testify about Him (Luke 24:27; 44). Jesus hung on this cross, He hung physically on a wooden post and cross-beam, but spiritually, the whole Law and Prophets hung upon Him. Their fulfillment and our life, hung upon the outcome of Jesus’ saving act. Unpin these two commandments, or remove Jesus Christ, and the whole thing comes apart. But in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17), and Christ walked the way and suffered the death that atoned for us all.
            For our part, Luther warns us not to neglect the 10 Commandments, because they relate to all of our life. But make no mistake—they can’t save us. Thankfully, Jesus turns our attention, and the Pharisees’ to the very teaching that can save us. He asks them who the Christ, or Messiah is. Messiah is the Hebrew, and Christ is the Greek translation of the same Old Testament title, which means “Anointed” or “Chosen One.” Jesus knows they were waiting for this Anointed One, but didn’t yet know who He was. Some early Jews even debated whether there would be one, or even two Messiahs. One a king, and perhaps another a priest. But they all agreed that there would be the Messiah or Christ who descended from David.
            Agreed that the Christ was to be born from David’s line, Jesus puts them in an unexpected corner, by quoting Psalm 110:1. They knew this Messianic passage well. It was a Psalm King David wrote. And Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted passage in the New Testament. It reads: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. It can be puzzling, so let’s look at it piece by piece, and then the whole picture. “The Lord said to my Lord”—two persons are conversing, “the Lord”, and “my Lord”. If we turn to the Hebrew, we get a  little help—the first “Lord” is the name of God Himself, Yahweh. And the second, “my Lord” is the Hebrew title “Adonai”. So YHWH said to my Adonai, sit at my right hand”. That first person is obviously God the Father. But who is “Adonai” or “my Lord” that God is speaking to? The Jews believed this to be the Messiah, or Christ. Jesus agrees, but then points out how unusual it is that David is speaking with respect and honor, by the title “my Lord”, to a human descendant of his, who is yet to be born!
            So let’s recap this: God the Father is speaking to the Messiah or Christ, whom David is addressing as “my Lord.” The Jews agreed that the Christ would be a human descendant of David. But how could they reconcile the fact that David is calling Him Lord? Do you address your grandchildren as “lord?” I hope not! It’s highly unusual—but it shows that David knew his Lord would rank above him, and be seated at God’s right hand, to rule over all His enemies. David was worshipping his future Savior, the Christ! What other conclusion could they come to, than that this was the Divine Son of God?! Jesus’ point is that this passage betrays David’s understanding that the Messiah or Christ was both human and divine, else he would not have addressed Him as “my Lord”.  The Pharisees didn’t miss this fact, but they had no response—once again. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer, and after this, didn’t dare test Jesus with any more questions. Jesus had an undefeated record against them.
            We know that they didn’t miss the connection Jesus was making for them, about Him being the Messiah or Christ, and that this Christ was divine—the Son of God. We know it, because in Matthew 26:63, when they arrest Jesus and put Him on trial, the high priest demands of Jesus: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Enraged, the high priest charged Jesus with blasphemy (a mere human claiming to be god), and they declared Jesus deserved death. So by Jesus asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he? If David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” Jesus raises the conversation to the ultimate, the highest point. It all revolves around who He is. If they accept what the Scriptures reveal, they will find that Jesus is the One sent by God. But as we know, they chose instead to crucify Him. But even in this act of hatred, they only allowed Him to prove His claim that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, by His rising from the dead. Something only God could do.
            So following the arc of our reading—Jesus answers their question about which is the greatest commandment, by teaching them the commandments of love—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. With perfect authority, Jesus is the good “Commander” of these “love commandments”. Hearing them, we immediately see their validity, but also the perfection they require. To love God with the full intensity of heart, mind, soul, and strength, is sadly a command we fall short of, even with our best efforts. And to love our neighbor as ourselves, as simple as it sounds, is a mirror in which we can see the countless faults and failings of our love toward those around us. Before God, the “Commander” of these good laws, we can only confess our guilt; all that we have broken.
            But by turning the conversation to the Christ, Jesus aims the arc of the conversation right to the target of Himself. Who is this Christ? In Him we find our Savior from guilt, sin, from broken commands. The great commandments are good and worthy of our whole effort, our whole life long. But we cannot be saved through them. If the conversation doesn’t lead to Christ then all their “spiritual efforts” are for nothing. But in Christ, our Savior, we are rescued from the depths of sin and death. In Jesus we are rescued from the impossible perfection demanded by the Law, into the grace-given salvation from Him. Martin Luther sums Jesus’ teaching up: “Be on your guard, learn God’s commandments and the gospel of Christ; God’s commandments teach what you are to do, which estates are pleasing to God and are ordained by him; but my gospel teaches you how to escape death and be saved. These doctrines will give you more than enough to study as long as you live, and no one will be able to master them completely.” Truly, this short passage of Scripture covers two of the biggest topics of the whole Bible—the Law and the Gospel—in a nutshell. And they show how Jesus is both the Commander of God’s Law, but also our Savior, our rescuer from sin and death.
            All the Law and the Prophets “hang” on the two “love commands”: “Love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” All these commands, requirements, and promises of God hang on Jesus Christ, hung on the cross, so that we might have His free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Loved by this all surpassing love—loved by the One who Commands love, and who mercifully and generously gives it—we are saved by Jesus—the Christ, the Son of God, and Son of David. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Matthew 22:46, we reach the last questions the Pharisees or any of the Jews dared ask Jesus anymore questions (about God’s Word). Why did they stop? When they gave up conversation with Jesus, what did they resolve to do instead? Matthew 26:1-5.
  2. In Matthew 22:34, the Pharisees seem either excited or impressed that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees (their religious and political rivals). They decide to try to test Jesus too. Does Jesus answer their question directly? (vs. 37-40). How does Jesus’ answer perfectly summarize all 10 Commandments? Read these commandments in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
  3. From teaching about the Law in verses 34-40, Jesus turns their attention to the teaching of the Gospel (Good News) in vs. 41-46. What does the title “Christ” or “Messiah” mean? What was this descendant of David going to do? 2 Samuel 7:12-14.
  4. Psalm 110:1-4 is the most quoted passage in the New Testament. Jesus uses this well-known prophecy of the Messiah to discuss a surprising revelation—why would King David, address a human descendant of his, not yet born, as “my Lord?” What did this reveal about who the Messiah was? Why were they unable or unwilling to answer Jesus? What did they realize He was claiming? Compare to Matthew 26:63-68.
  5. How does Jesus’ revealing of Himself as the Christ, and the bringer of salvation to mankind, help answer our inability to perfectly keep God’s Law? When Jesus says David wrote “in the Spirit” (vs. 43), what does this say about the origins and authorship of Scripture? 2 Timothy 3:16. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sermon on Luke 14:1-6, for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, "Day of Rest and Gladness"

·         The first part of our Gospel today is a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Sabbath. It’s not His first bout with them. First it was a complaint about His disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. There Jesus asserts that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Then, a second time, He heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and again, they were closely watching Him to find a reason to accuse Him. Like our reading, Jesus ask them (ch. 6): “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” Then, in chapter 13, it gets even more heated as Jesus heals a woman at the synagogue who was crippled by an evil spirit. This time, the ruler of the synagogue rebuked Jesus for this act of mercy, saying: “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord answered: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” This shamed the adversaries of Jesus, but the people rejoiced at the miracle. Today, their answer to Jesus’ teachings is nothing but silence. They couldn’t refute Him.
·         Today’s story again pushes hard against the legalism of the Pharisees—but without quite turning explosive. But there was still time until they would respond brutally against Jesus by His false trial and crucifixion. There is both rebuke and entreaty in Jesus’ words—to correct their false understanding of the Sabbath, and to awaken their compassion and give true spiritual insight.
·         It appears that the Pharisees were somewhat indifferent to the suffering of the man with the illness, as he was “planted” by them at the meal to present a trap for Jesus. Since it’s clear they would have been angry with Jesus healing him on the Sabbath day, it doesn’t seem they had any genuine faith in Jesus, for him to be healed; only animosity. But Jesus was not to be manipulated by them. He pursued the good course, regardless of their ulterior motives. He heals that man for His own sake, and sends him away, while Jesus confronts and teaches them once again. He says, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”
·         There have been a couple of famous news stories I recall, of children stuck in wells, and the long, laborious, and anxious work that it took to remove them. A son fallen into a well would be distressing on any day of the week, and the chance that it would happen on a Sabbath would not in the least make the parent hesitate to rescue them. Even in the lesser case of an animal—the great risk of death or harm to the animal would make it urgent to rescue. Jesus’ point is that it’s absurd to think that someone would be so pedantic about Sabbath law, that they would postpone the rescue of their child or animal facing bodily harm, thinking that that would violate God’s Law. Even hard, sweaty labor to pull someone out of a well; you would do it! And rightly so! Remember Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord, even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28…parallel to Luke 6). This shows that the core of God’s commandment is the well-being of man. Therefore it cannot be obedience to the Sabbath commandment to jeopardize a person’s (or even an animals’) wellbeing by neglecting to help them on the Sabbath. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, Jesus says.
·         Now, we might have a certain disconnect with the problem Jesus was facing in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so driven to obey the Sabbath law, by not working on the Sabbath, that there was a long list of things they couldn’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day. That list apparently included healing people. But is there anything that we can’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day? In other words, do we ever say to ourselves, “I really shouldn’t be doing this on the day of rest and worship?” Do we ever think to ourselves, “Perhaps I’m not really resting one day a week, and worshipping God, as I ought to?” “I might even be a workaholic!”
·         Now, those questions could propel us into a guilt driven plan to make up new “rules and regulations” about what we are permitted to do or not do on the Sabbath. And we’d be right back where the Pharisees were—trying to address the problem by a legalism that made them miss the true point of the law, and the true gifts of the Gospel. Instead, those questions could make us reflect on whether we are missing out on the true purpose of the Sabbath day—to be refreshed and renewed in physical rest, ceasing our labors—which our bodies urgently need—and in spiritual rest, hearing the Word of God and receiving His gifts—which our souls urgently need.
·         We might instead ponder, who is this Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, and why has He invited me to His table? Why has He called me to cease from my frantic worrying and work, to dine at His side, and to hear His conversation? And to these questions, if we listen, we can hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus gives rest for the weary, rest for our souls—and He gives us a yoke to work with Him; to pull with Him, but assures us that it is easy and His burden is light. Jesus wants us to return to our labors refreshed and with His rest for our souls.
·         The Sabbath rest is for man—it is for us and our own good. It’s not that we were created for the sake of the Sabbath day. It was given for us. And Jesus is Lord over it all. He heals and makes alive, on this day especially! Wholeness and wellness is in Him, and there’s no better day or place to find these than in Him, the Lord of the Sabbath.
·         Now we as a side note, the Sabbath commandment—the 3rd Commandment by our counting—is the only one of the 10 that gets slightly modified by the New Testament. Jesus was showing the true purpose of the Sabbath, over against unhelpful restrictions invented by the Pharisees. But also, after Jesus died on Good Friday, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath Day (Saturday), and rose on Sunday morning from the dead—the early Christians quickly moved to worshipping on Sundays, to celebrate “The Lord’s Day” and His resurrection, instead of Saturday—the day originally prescribed by the 10 Commandments.
·         Did they change God’s commandment by their own authority? In Colossians 2:16 we are given the answer: the Apostle Paul writes: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This passage shows that the kosher food laws and the Old Testament ceremonial and Sabbath calendars, were temporary shadows, that foreshadowed the substance, the reality of Christ. With Christ and His fulfillment of these shadows, we no longer have the command of the Lord to observe those ceremonies of the law. In other words, like the disciples we are free to worship on Sunday in celebration of the resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath. We are still honoring the spirit of the law by honoring Christ in this way; keeping the core of the Sabbath commandment that remains.
·         This slight modification of the 3rd commandment didn’t lead the Christians to stop gathering together for worship. To the contrary, in Acts 2, the earliest description of the Christian pattern of worship after the Resurrection of Jesus, it says “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47). If anything, the early Christians met more often! The moral command of the law to rest and worship is unchanged—it is only the ceremonial form that has been changed (Chemnitz, Examination, vol. 4, p. 416).
·         Also, Jesus did not condemn labors done out of need or charity or healing, as we’ve already seen. Instead, what Jesus did condemn, was the abuse of the Temple as a place of worship, and turning it into a marketplace or den of thieves, and disturbing the place of prayer (ibid). Jesus does not want the day of rest and gladness to be undercut by these other activities. Worship ought to be for us a time to set aside distraction and busyness, and to receive the things of God—or in the metaphor we used last week—to quiet ourselves long enough to see, wonder at, and meditate on the panorama, or scenery of God’s amazing grace to us. If we don’t stop to pay attention, we may well miss the things of greatest importance, while attending to all the other minor things that preoccupy us.
·         To be refreshed and made whole on the Sabbath, we impose no new burdens or laws, but only take up the light and easy yoke of Jesus our Savior, who bore the heavy yoke of our sins, our worries and cares, to the cross. We are refreshed and made whole, seated at His table, fed by His body, the bread of life; nourished by His conversation—the life giving words of forgiveness and truth and divine wisdom. We are not living under the fear and compulsion of the law’s punishment, but as we heard last week in Ephesians 3, we live with the Holy Spirit in our inner being and Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We come to rest and be refreshed on the Sabbath—out of the joy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; out of the relief of having our sins forgiven; out of the anticipation of receiving Christ’s gifts. We come to cast off the dead weight of our sinfulness, and the gathering anxieties and fears of this world—eager to come into the light of Jesus, and receive His light yoke. And we come to rest from our labors, so that we may be renewed and refreshed to be sent back again into the Lord’s labors, joyful and carefree—under the forgiveness, grace, and shed blood of our Lord Jesus! In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Three Sabbath healing miracles happen in Luke 6:11; 13:17, and 14:4. The reaction of the Pharisees progresses from anger (6:11), to _____ (13:17), to ____ (14:4). This shows that  they could not refute Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath.
  2. Read Jesus’ questions in Luke 6:3-5; 6:9; 13:15-16; and 14:3-5. What common idea runs through this? How is Jesus trying to reform their understanding of the observance of the Sabbath?
  3. The man with the illness seems to have been “planted” by the Pharisees at the meal to trap Jesus. Luke 14:1-3. How can we show greater sympathy and awareness to the needs of other people? How does the Sabbath turn our attention to doing what is good and charitable?
  4. Why would Jesus permit labor to save life or to give food or drink on the Sabbath? What is the purpose of the Sabbath? Mark 2:27-28. How do we rest on the Sabbath day, or what things hinder or prevent us from rest and worship?
  5. Why does Jesus call us to rest on His Sabbath? What does He give us? Matthew 11:28-30.
  6. How is the 3rd Commandment (Sabbath Day) modified in the New Testament? Colossians 2:16. What was the new day for worship observed by the early Christians, and why? Acts 2:42, 46-47; 1 Corinthians 16:2.
  7. What kinds of disruptions of the Sabbath/worship did Jesus condemn or obstruct? John 2:13-16.
  8. What joy and refreshment do we receive on the Sabbath? Who is the giver of all of this, and what does it enable us to return and do?

Monday, October 02, 2017

Sermon on Ephesians 3:13-21, for the 16th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Know the Surpassing Love of Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today in our reading from Ephesians 3, a tender scene unfolds between the Apostle Paul, and the church in Ephesus, to whom he is writing. In the book of Acts, we learn that this congregation was especially dear to Paul’s heart, as he spent three years there, the longest we know of any of the mission churches he served. And the tenderness of the scene is that Paul appeals that they not lose heart or be discouraged because of his suffering, and he is bowing his knees in prayer to God the Father, praying for their strength. He is already confident of their sincere faith, but now is boldly praying for growth in their spiritual maturity, knowledge, and resilience to suffering and tests. I could say the same, that I’m confident of your sincere faith, and also pray, as do all pastors, for your spiritual growth.
Paul’s suffering was that he was writing this letter from prison. As often in his ministry, he was in chains for the Gospel. Boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ frequently landed him in hot water with the authorities, and Paul was jailed again and again for his faith. But Paul is not concerned for his own discomfort or captivity, but for how it has discouraged the Christians of Ephesus. He had seen it proven time and again, that God could work powerfully, even in the midst of imprisonment and suffering. So Paul is actually encouraging and comforting them! Don’t lose heart over my suffering, which is your glory.
One of my former professors explains this puzzling phrase. What does he mean that his suffering is their glory? Glory comes from what no one else could or would do. Glory is an exceptional honor, for rare and outstanding sacrifice or work. Glory is not always seen, acknowledged, or rewarded. A soldier who bravely leads the charge, a unit of firefighters that risk their lives to rescue a family from a burning building, mother who sacrifices everything for her child—each has a unique and different measure of glory. But here, Paul’s suffering was the glory of the Ephesians, because he was faithfully teaching the free Gospel of Jesus Christ, and was enduring every hardship to do so. His willingness to endure all this for them, witnessed to the incomparable greatness of the life that God gives, and the glory of what Christ has done. Why else would anyone willingly suffer all this? Paul’s service was done in praise of God’s incomparable works. He knew the Gospel of Jesus made it more than worth it all.
This is why Paul says he is taking the knee in prayer to the Father—to ask that God strengthen the Ephesians. Paul desires that they be filled with and know the surpassing love of Christ Jesus. Notice that this prayer is very Trinitarian—Paul prays to the Father, counts on God’s answer because of the riches of God’s glory, and prays the Spirit would strengthen their inner being, and Christ would dwell in their hearts. Father, Spirit, and Christ, each working in unison, in harmony, for the salvation and strengthening of the believers. His prayer is clearly grounded in the riches of God’s glory, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the indwelling of Jesus Christ in our hearts. So clearly do we depend on God, as His children. So clearly are we recipients of God’s blessing and His power to work. This is what we mean by grace. A Christian radio host pointed out that as humans we are always wandering astray—but never wandering (accidentally) towards more reliance on God’s grace. The very opposite—we are always wandering towards more independence and self-reliance.
This is why Paul so enthusiastically proclaims grace in the letter to the Ephesians. It’s why, Lord willing, I aim to do the very same. Constantly, week after week, reminding you of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. What we don’t often realize, is that the more we try to take credit or rely on ourselves, the more credit or glory we steal from God. The more that we try to do on our own, the less we are relying on God. But do you know how much we have to rely on God? Ephesians 2:5 tells us we were dead in our sins. How much can you do when you are dead? Nothing! And he goes on to say we were made alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. All the credit goes to Christ Jesus. Until this sinful flesh dies, we constantly have to be redirected to that truth, that we are 100% dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ.
That same radio show on grace talked about why we have this need, this dependence. It comes from our total depravity, the depth of our sin before God. We humans are usually offended by the claim that we are through and through, full of sin, apart from God. But if you consider it a little more carefully, you will realize that this magnifies and glorifies the love of God, who did what no one else could or would do. God loved us and sent His Son to save us, even when we were still sinners. Even when we were His enemies. It takes an incomparable love to do that. It wouldn’t require so great a love to love people who were already pretty good. Once again, when we minimize our sinfulness (in our own minds only), we are also minimizing the greatness of God’s grace. But when we grasp the true awfulness of rebellion against God—of turning away from Him, then it begins to dawn on us how awesome and mighty is God’s love. We realize how glorious and difficult what Christ did was.
Paul so earnestly wants the Spirit and Christ to dwell in us, so that we may be rooted and grounded in love [and] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. You know you can go to the theater to see a 3D movie, and take off the glasses, but you will only see 2 dimensions, and it will be a little blurry. Paul is praying that we would have the strength to comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love. Without Christ and His Spirit in us, we can’t begin to grasp the greatness of God’s love.
Living on Maui, I know you have all stood before some awesome, sprawling, breath-taking scenes of God’s created splendor. Whether the vista of sunrise and the crater on Haleakala, or the green valley and mountains of West Maui, the surrounding islands and the sunset, or gorgeous scenes of tropical growth—I hope you have had the experience of standing before a breathtaking vista, and just trying to drink it all in with your eyes. And I hope you weren’t in a rush, ignored it or turned away. You could, of course “sip” at the scene by just glancing quickly, and then turning your head back down to the ground, or to your cell phone, or whatever else might be occupying your thoughts or seem more urgent at the moment—but you’d really be missing out. On the other hand you could drink it all in deeply. Have you stood and just stared and stared at the greatness, the expanse of the sky and the stars, and tried to imagine how broad, how long, how high and how deep is the universe? Have you stood with wonderment at the sunsets or the mountains and simply been unable to drink it all in with your eyes? Sometimes we need someone to pull our arm and force us to look up with our eyes to appreciate and open our eyes to the wonder of something truly magnificent.
So it is with appreciating how broad, how long, how high, and how deep is Christ’s love for us. God first has to be pulling at our inner being with His Holy Spirit, Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, to open our eyes and lift our heads, to try to soak in the marvelous goodness and unfathomable dimensions of God’s love for us. It’s a sight too big to take in at once. And when we consider our insignificance and our sinfulness, and how nevertheless Christ loves us and gave Himself up for us in such an outpouring of God’s love, it should never cease to amaze us. Not in a lifetime can we exhaust the Scriptures or the riches of God’s glory, to become bored with or sated with the knowledge of God, if we seek earnestly. And yet we can, and often do, content ourselves to just quickly “sip” and then return to our ever increasing world of distraction. Or we let our sight get clouded by sin and the worries of the world, and we lose focus, or even blind our eyes to Christ’s love. We can either go through life oblivious to the glory of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, or we can have our eyes opened by Christ and see from the revelation of Scripture, the matchless love of Christ Jesus for us.
So we pray with Paul that God strengthen us with the Spirit and that Christ would dwell in our hearts. That our blind eyes would  see, and we’d be given the strength to comprehend the vast dimensions of His love. Paul is gushing to describe the goodness of God, as he strings together so many superlatives or statements about the greatness or excesses of God’s power and love all through the book of Ephesians. Just in our reading: Surpassing knowledge, fullness of God, far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. We too, filled with the fullness of God, can delight in and overflow with the goodness of what God has done for us. Even if our words fall short to express it, as for Paul. Just like they do when we behold something truly wondrous and breathtaking. It’s a most profound mystery that God has united us to Jesus, and made Him to dwell so closely in our hearts. Cleansing our unclean hearts and making a holy dwelling in us.
In baptism we are united with Christ Jesus, and as we said before, even though we were formerly dead in our sins, God made us alive together in Christ Jesus. United with Him, we die to sin is in Him, and we rise to new life in Him. God joins us to His new life in baptism, and so with that knowledge, let us see that Christ’s glory does not go unseen or unacknowledged among us, but that we acknowledge and praise God for all His great glory, together with St. Paul: Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. United by faith to Christ Jesus, God can accomplish do in us so much more than we ask or think—we are too hesitant and shy in our prayers—we can and should ask boldly for God to work in our lives, confident of His riches and love. Truly God does what no one else could or would do—to Him be all the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Ephesians 3:13, what is Paul suffering for them (the Ephesians)? Ephesians 3:1; 4:1. Why would this not be a reason for them to be discouraged, from Paul’s perspective? Cf. Philippians 1:12-14.
  2. Paul says his sufferings are for their glory. If glory means “that which no one else could or would do”—how does Paul’s suffering on their behalf tell of the great uniqueness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. In Ephesians 3:14, Paul says he “bow[s his] knees before the Father.” What does this mean? In v. 16-19 try to identify the main verbs that describe what Paul’s asking God to do for them.
  4. In Ephesians 3:14-15, there is a play on words in the original Greek, between the word “Father” and “family” (which is “fatherhood” in Greek). How is every family in heaven or on earth, or all “fatherhood” named for God the Father? Ephesians 4:6; Malachi 2:10; Deuteronomy 32:4-9.
  5. Note that this passage clearly teaches of the Father, Christ, and the Spirit. Where does the work of the Spirit and of Christ take root? Ephesians 3:16-17. What gifts do they bestow, what works do they accomplish in us?
  6. In Ephesians 3:18-20, Paul uses several “superlative” phrases to describe how God’s love and power exceeds what we can grasp or think. Which are those phrases? Why is it so fitting to describe the work of Jesus in this way? Think back to question #2 about glory. How does this glory uniquely and supremely belong to Jesus Christ?
  7. When we are filled with the sense of the awesomeness of God’s incredible grace for us, what does it encourage and empower us to do? Ephesians 3:19-20. Also, as in vs. 13, we can learn how to not lose heart in our own sufferings, and give glory to God for His mercy and salvation.