Saturday, November 02, 2019

Sermon on Luke 18:1-8, for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (C), "Pray, and don't give up!"

Sermon Notes:
Today: lesson in prayer, persistence/determination, justice, suffering, and the character of God. 
V. 1 Don’t surrender to discouragement or impatience! Have confidence to continually bring your prayers before God, knowing that He desires and invites them and has compassion. Christ is engaging with what is likely our common experience of frustration with regard to prayer: giving up prematurely. We are promised that we will face difficulty and crosses that will test our faith and persistence. Christ wants to build up our hearts, our resiliency, determination. 
“do not lose heart” Ephesians 3:13 “over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”
“do not lose heart” 2 Cor. 4:1, 16 in the ministry, or while our “outer self is wasting away”. 
Jesus tells various people to “take heart” when they were ill, when they needed forgiveness, when they were afraid because they didn’t recognize who Jesus was, or when they were to face tribulations in the world. See also Ps. 27:14/heart, courage, patience. Security of hearts in God!
Psalm 10 seems to tie into this passage quite closely—the wicked person’s disregard for God, His law and judgments, and his oppression of the poor and helpless. The question of the afflicted, of whether God hears or answers. The final deliverance of God’s saints by His justice for the vulnerable, and strengthening their heart. 
Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 82:2-4 English Standard Version (ESV) (God judges the courts) 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Isaiah 1:17 English Standard Version (ESV) 17 “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV) “8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
V. 2 Fear of God and respect of man—together, or even separately, these can make for a decent judge, to administer justice. But this judge had neither to urge him toward doing what was right. 
V. 3 a widow is vulnerable because no one else was there to advocate her cause. A judge, and the court system, is meant to provide protection for the vulnerable and helpless, those who cannot advocate for themselves. (OT passages about advocacy: Ps. 68:6). Here the legal system was failing her, but her persistence overcame it. “Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance”—Virgil. 
V. 4-5 This is so pathetic its almost humorous. He acknowledges his failure to observe justice, but he caves in because he’s tired of her complaints. “She will make an end of me by wearing me out.” Wearing-out is literally box or bruise under the eyes. Imagining a frail older women figuratively beating up this worthless judge is an amusing picture, except for the fact that he was failing to do his public duty. That was why she resorted to persistence as the only way to reverse her failed appeals. Finally he gives in, for the wrong reasons, but gives her the justice she deserves. On earth we may face such people, who don’t fear God or respect men, and they may have to be dealt with in the same way. 
V. 6-7 Jesus is clearly making a comparison from the negative to the positive, between the unjust judge to God as just judge. He’s saying that if at the very least, a scoundrel will do what’s right under such persistent pressure, how much more is God, who IS just, IS loving and compassionate, going to do what is right for His saints. 
V. 7 reminds of the saints beneath the altar in the 5th seal (Rev. 6:9-11) who had been martyred for the Word of God and their testimony, and they cry out for vengeance against their enemies, but God says not yet, because more are still to die”(!). The rhetorical question Jesus raises is “will he delay long over them?” 
V. 8 God will give justice swiftly. Here we deal with our perception of time vs. God’s tracking of time. 2 Peter 3:9 deals with this same question, about the apparent delay or slowness of the Lord in returning. We are tempted to see it as slowness, and unbelievers are tempted to scoff at God’s promises altogether. But God doesn’t perceive time as we do, but is outside of time. His “delay” is actually patience, because He wants all to be saved. God’s timing is always perfect. But Jesus also asks, more doubtfully, whether He is going to find faith on the earth? Implied, is whether all will have lost heart because they felt their prayers weren’t being answered, or justice being denied them? The challenge to have faith is raised to us. The purpose of Jesus’ parable is that we would always pray and not lose heart. Develop a prayer life that surrenders to God, but does not surrender to circumstance. A prayer life that finds security and takes heart in the midst of trouble by taking hold of the cross and promises of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not against our faith, but He knows our weakness and our wavering. The negative example of the unjust judge better illustrates the need for persistence than a just judge would. In God, we DO have a just judge, and we don’t need to doubt or wonder whether He will give justice. He WILL, but the timing is what requires our persistence. 
Isaiah 11:4 English Standard Version (ESV) 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Isaiah promises that Jesus will be the just judge who will defend the weak and vulnerable, and destroy the wicked. 
God’s promises and grace in the test: 
o Jesus’ invitation to persistence in prayer
o Jesus’ affirmation that God is just 
o God will finally deliver justice to His elect
o Jesus’ promise to return again
Who is a better example of persistence in prayer than Jesus? His prayers and compassion for the people. Patiently brought God’s Word to the people, against resistance and rejection. Prayed in the garden for another way, but submitted to God’s will if there wasn’t. Watched as human justice failed Him miserably—no fear of God or respect of man, when He was tried. Justice took a back seat to silencing Jesus. At the last, when all hope of human justice had long since faded, when Jesus breathed out His dying breaths, and even God’s justice seemed slow in coming, Jesus uttered this last prayer: “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit.” His final petition was entrusting Himself to God’s justice, which alone rules beyond the grave. His prayer showed that even in death, He had not lost heart that God would vindicate Him, or clear His name of the false accusations and injustice leveled against Him. If all else fails, will we lean on God, even if all earthly justice fails us? No matter how things go in this life, even if wicked judges and evil adversaries should seem to prevail against us—if all human justice fails—only God’s justice rules beyond the grave. Only God can right what is wrong in this life; and that justice comes through Jesus, who endured all the injustice of our sin. As God declared Jesus’ innocence by raising Him from the dead, so also we trust that whatever is not handled in this life, God will settle by His final justice in the end. May God grant that we can endure our crosses in life, never giving up on Jesus, and taking heart to answer His invitation to prayer. He will return to bring justice to His elect. Amen! Come Lord Jesus! 


Friday, November 01, 2019

Sermon on Luke 18:9-17, for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (C), "The Record-Keeper or the Merciful God?"


 Sermon Outline:
·         Parables: ordinary story with spiritual meaning. Look for the surprise/unexpected. The recognized sinner is “justified”, while the apparently upright religious person is not.
·         Who are the Pharisees? Model citizens, lay leaders with intense dedication to their own version of religiosity. Highly respected. Tax collectors? Despised. Took more than allowed, worked for enemy.
·         Dimensions of the story/pitfalls to avoid
o   Comparisons/treating others with contempt (look at all those terrible people)
o   Self-righteousness/trusting yourself, nothing to repent (look at my record!)
o   Boasting before God/not a real prayer (my good deeds should impress God; reward)
·         What is it aiming for?
o   Humility established in repentance before God
o   Humbly receiving righteousness by faith in Christ
o   Humbly cultivating a life of righteousness and mercy toward others
·         In our life: may feel better about myself if I can just find someone worse than me. But we’re not judged “on a curve.” See the posture of the Pharisee? Self-righteousness, condescension; not humility. Looking down on everyone. He thinks God sees him as he sees himself—better than everyone else. He thinks he will be judged against others. Don’t we often assume the same? Trying to be judged before men, instead of before God? Rank yourself against others, find a guiltier person than you, by reason of their sins, or power and privilege, or their past, or whatever made you think: “I’m better than them”. It’s a short stop from there to: “And God should know, after all. Maybe I should be rewarded!” But with this posture and attitude, we are in for an unpleasant surprise.
·         How did the tax collector find righteousness? His posture was humiliation and repentance before God. No righteousness of his own but sought the God of mercy. Psalm 130:3 “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” 
·         Psalm 32:1 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
·         Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. [Confess your sin! God already knows!]
·         Psalm 25:7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! [Seek God’s mercy for all our past sins!]
·         Psalm 19:12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. [There are many sins we don’t even know that we have committed.]
·         The total realization of the Psalmist is thankfulness that we don’t have a “Record-Keeping God.”
·         Psalm 103:10-12 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. [Again God is not a record-keeper, but His forgiveness is a total separation of our sin—not parole or probation]
·         Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. [when Christ forgives our sin, it is gone forever!]
·         Humans judge each other differently by a variety of standards, better or worse. But God alone judges by the fixed and eternal standard of His Law.
·         Military has a quick way of sizing a person up in a few seconds—checking rank, patches, and tabs. Quick judgment. Some might puff up their chest while others with all the patches, tabs, and experiences wear the uniform with humility and leadership that is strong, but not boastful. There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition and pushing each other to strive and excel, but the Bible often warns against selfish ambition; negative rivalry. Positive rivalry in doing good is encouraged.
·         Often we crave some form of affirmation from others—respect, love, admiration, fear—in different ways. Noticed for our strength, or intelligence or achievements; some people even seek attention in negative ways also. But Pharisee would find no affirmation from God for his boastful, self-righteous attitude, no matter how righteous he might have been in the sight of people.
·         The problem was not that the Pharisee was trying to cultivate a life of righteousness—it’s not his fasting or generosity that is at fault, or that he didn’t bribe, cheat, steal or commit sexual immorality—the problem was his prideful spirit and how he despised others. Self-condemned.
·         Les Miserables book/musical/movie (available on Netflix); strong themes of justice, mercy, and redemption. Jean Valjean: imprisoned 19 years for stealing. Life in prison turned him into hateful, bitter man. Relentlessly Javert pursues because he thinks “once a thief, always a thief.” Out of prison, no work or food anywhere because he’s a convict, and is mistreated by everyone. But priest shelters and feeds him, and treats him with kindness and humanity. Though Jean Valjean is puzzled and touched by this human act of kindness, at night he steals all the silver platters and tableware from the priest’s home, and runs away. Caught and returned by the police, the priest makes a costly act of redemption—saying, Sir, you left without the best! Take these candlesticks also! After police are gone, invites Jean to see this act of redemption as a higher plan of God; his soul was saved for God. Transforming event in Jean Valjean’s life; from a hardened and hateful ex-convict and runaway, into a man who is dedicated to living by mercy and compassion.
·         Javert is a picture of justice with no mercy. He says “I am justice and justice is not mocked. I spit on your pity.” What is right must be rewarded and what is wrong must be punished. But cracks develop in his rigid legalism when he is shown mercy by Jean. Jean is a picture of a life redeemed from sin and hate, to live for God and with mercy. Javert is very much of the same mindset as the Pharisee. Contempt for everyone; can’t bear that ex-convict Jean Valjean could become a better man than he, or anything but a lowly thief. Believes in the same record-keeping God as the Pharisee; sees himself as God’s enforcer of justice. But that crumbles under him. Finds himself guilty under the higher good of mercy, and will not receive mercy from the one he saw as beneath him.
·         Our biggest blind spot is ourselves, and how hard to recognize when this mindset creeps into us. We assume a certain sort of people are beyond God’s redemption or reach, or we write someone off and despise them. We treat others with contempt. The Pharisees list of contemptibles were extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and tax collectors. Our list might be different.
·          Self-righteousness is not just a problem for the religious. It’s a problem for all people. We all try to find ways to feel superior to others, or more “put upon” than others, or whatever. It might turn into: “thank God I’m not like that Pharisee!” Or “Thank God I’m not like those religious people!” Or those democrats, or republicans, or rich people or poor or you fill in the blank with whoever we are trying to claim superiority over or blame for our circumstances. Whatever the list, do this and we’ve become a photo negative of the Pharisee’s self-righteousness. It doesn’t matter if we’re pointing the finger at the self-righteous Pharisee instead of the sinful tax collector—either way, the same three fingers are pointing right back at us. It’s only by stopping all the comparisons—by looking at our own hearts and humbling ourselves before God, that we escape that vicious cycle of blame or comparison or puffing ourselves up.
·         How then are we to cultivate a positive life of righteousness, if the way of the Pharisee is a clear dead end? It must begin with humility, as Jesus began His Beatitudes with the saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). We cannot be filled with pride and count ourselves so rich in spirit that we have nothing we need to receive from God. This will never work. We must be poor or empty in spirit; open to receive everything from God. This kind of receptive spirituality is how Jesus tells us to pursue righteousness: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). God is the source of the only righteousness that allows us to stand justified before God like the tax collector. Because we are clinging to His mercy. And the righteousness that we receive from God—how does that inform the life of righteousness that we cultivate or practice? “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1)—not announcing your giving, not praying to be seen by others, or fasting so that others will see. A life of righteousness is to be cultivated and practiced humbly, without show or display, and for our own private growth in faith and for the actual good of those who need our good works, not to post our good works to be seen by others. This again is why the Pharisee failed to be justified, but the tax collector, who humbly confessed his sins and sought the God of mercy, went home justified.
·         Paul speaks about this same dynamic in Romans 9:30-33, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
·         Jesus Christ is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense—and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame. He is the God of mercy who gives the righteousness by faith. Those who try to pursue this righteous standing by the law or by their works, did not succeed, but stumbled. Pursuing righteousness by works of the law is begging for the record-keeping God. It’s begging God to examine our record. I can say with the authority of Scripture that’s a bad idea for all of us. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But humbling ourselves to confess: “God be merciful to me, a sinner” has a much better outcome: “and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23-24).
·         Because there are many who fall for a different lie—the lie that God can never love them. The lie that their sins must be too great for God to forgive. Those are the people who may never even dare to enter a church, because they believe the lie that “it’s too late for me” or they’ve only seen self-righteous glares of condemnation, and have never had the hand of the repentant tax collector grab them and say, “Come! I will show you the merciful God! Come! Meet Jesus who has forgiven my sin and who will forgive yours as well! Come! Taste and see that the Lord is good!” It’s with this kind of love and humility that we must bring other sinners to know the God of all mercy in Christ Jesus.
·         Becoming like the tax collector, emptying ourselves to be filled by Christ, is to grab hold of the merciful God. God have mercy on me a sinner! We crave, cry out for the God who will not count our sins against us, who will not punish us as we deserve, who will not remember the sins of our youth, but in steadfast love casts our sins into the depths of the sea, sends them from us as far as the east is from the west, and lifts up the head of the humble and calls you, “My forgiven, precious child.” The merciful God in Christ Jesus. His mercy put Him on the cross for us, bearing away all our sin to the grave, and rising to give us new life. His mercy and His life declares Your debt is paid! Come to me and be righteous by my judgment! Stand forgiven by my verdict! He is the God of mercy, claimed by the tax collector, claimed by all who would be righteous by faith. In His Name, Amen.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Sermon on 2 Timothy 2:1-13, for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (C), "A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus"


·         Sermon Notes: 
·         Paul is addressing Timothy, a young pastor, to build him up in Christ. You don’t need to be a pastor to also be built up by Paul’s words here.
·        
V. 1 “My child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”—We need the strength of Christ as we live our Christian lives, just as soldiers need strength for their work. But it’s a different kind of strength. Soldiers look largely to their training and equipping for the physical and mental strength for their mission. A “good soldier of Christ” needs strength also, to endure suffering, face temptation, and grow in faith. How does God arm or equip “good soldiers of Christ” with this strength, by grace? Romans 13:12 & 14 says in spiritual battle we are to “cast off the works of darkness” and “put on the armor of light.” What is the armor of light? V. 14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Professional soldiers both ancient and modern wear armor and/or a uniform. Many here have military issued uniforms, and you all have been issued IBA (individual body armor). Likewise in Baptism God has clothed each one of you in Christ Jesus! Galatians 5:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This is God’s standard issue uniform or armor, to all baptized believers in Christ Jesus! You need His strength, His grace, to stand on the battlefield.
·     
    Hopefully, you who wear the military uniform, that uniform instills a certain pride and honor in you. Less than 1% wear the uniform. High call of duty hopefully pushes you to a nobler life than you might otherwise live. Example of others, role models and mentors; discipline and training, and some positive and negative peer pressure! Leads to pride and honor in uniform.
·       
  Christians clothed in Jesus Christ...what does it mean for us to wear that uniform, rep’s of Christ? Pride and honor? To be clothed in Him? How are we elevated to the noble calling of a soldier of Jesus Christ?
o   Holy Spirit from the “inside-out.” Spiritual gifts sown through God’s Word and grow by the Holy Spirit.
o   example of others, mentoring, encouraging us in the body of Christ. We are not lone members, or lone-wolf disciples.
o   disciplined by the Lord; spiritual training—both individually and as body of Christ. God has promised that He disciplines those He loves. Hardship is not a sign that God has turned against you, but that through bearing your crosses and enduring under discipline, you might grow into maturity.
o   Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
·        
Can only the 1% wear this Christian uniform? Clothed in Jesus Christ? Actually, God freely offers it to all. We don’t wear it by our achievement, our worthiness or good works, but it is pure gift—by grace. It’s freely given to the weak and lowly, and only the proud and arrogant refuse to wear it. But does that make it less of an honor? Less valuable or honorable to wear the “armor of God?” Absolutely not! Purchased by the precious blood of Jesus Christ! Free to us; costly to God! Jesus had to suffer on the cross and lead a perfect, obedient life. This is a priceless robe that a king would envy to wear! To know the honor of being dressed in Christ Jesus is to know the price and the sacrifice that He paid to clothe us so richly. To know what we were before, in the depths of our sin, and how He’s lifted us up to be called sons and daughters of God.
·      
   V. 2, instructions specific to Timothy as a pastor and mentor to others.
·       
  V. 3 Calls Timothy a good or noble soldier. It’s figurative, as Timothy was a pastor, not in a literal army. Lesson? 3 examples from everyday life. A soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. I know we have soldiers and athletes here; any farmers? Summary—a soldier teaches us to be mission-focused, and not distracted. An athlete teaches us to compete by the rules, for an honorable reward for our success. A farmer shows that the hard worker earns his share of the profits.
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       These lessons apply widely to us as well. Be a good or noble soldier. There is a lofty example to live up to. Spend some time reading the memorial plaques in the buildings and on the streets, and consider the example and the service of those who paid the ultimate price. Dishonoring the profession dishonors not only ourselves, but also our uniform and what it represents. We should not cheat or cut corners to get ahead, or receive awards or promotions, but compete fairly according to the rules. Stay mission-focused and avoid distractions, because it’s your aim to please your superiors with a job well done. We aren’t commended for shoddy work, or a job-half done, or nosing into someone else’s business and ignoring our work.
·      
   So also Christians don’t want to dishonor Christ as we are clothed in His grace. The “uniform posture” of the one who is clothed in the grace of Christ, is “ready to serve”—the “one who wants to be greatest among you must be last, and servant of all. For even Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). That’s what our standard issue uniform, being clothed in Christ, represents.
·      
   What does it mean—soldiers don’t get mixed up in civilian affairs? Mission focused. Do your job; “stay in your lane;” be successful and please your superior. As soldiers of Christ, He enlisted us. He is the Lord and Commander and we are His followers, His disciples; baptized and taught everything He commanded. Those are His “marching orders.”
·       
  The next analogy is that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. No cheaters or poor sports. Disgrace of certain athletes who lost a career’s worth of awards and records after discoveries of drug use or doping, or shattered Olympic prospects. Fact of life: different natural talents, gifts, strengths. But we cheer and root passionately for the discipline, the training, and the growth in skill that athletes show as they develop their skill and strength to maximize their competitive edge. But we don’t like cheating.
·     
    Christian walk isn’t a competition, to defeat or push ahead of others. Marathon not a sprint; steady, enduring. How to react when a brother or sister stumbles, falls, or struggles? Look out for one another. Support the hurting; be a shoulder to lean on. Pray with the person who faces suffering and doesn’t know how it’s going to end. Eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. By the rules, strive to obey all that He has commanded.
·   
      “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for God will give you understanding in everything.” A person should not be robbed of the hard-earned profits of their labor. OT major point: workers should not be deprived of or delayed in pay. Unjust to take a person’s work and cheat them of their income.
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       V. 8 Always remember Jesus’ resurrection—the good news! Paul in chains (a “farewell letter”?). Constant reminder. Paul determined to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Never outgrow it—the very shape of our Christian life: crucified and buried and raised to new life.
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       V. 9 I love how Paul says that he is in chains for the Gospel but the Word of God is not bound! No power on earth can bind the Word of God or make it powerless! Not prison bars, not governments, not evil men, not even death! The devil and the sinful world will make war against the Word of God until the final judgment, but they can never gain final victory. Final victory has already been established and assured to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So be a good soldier of Christ Jesus, strengthened by His grace! Don’t go into battle blind, unprepared, and without armor/undefended! Jesus has armored us and readied us for the spiritual attacks of the devil, so that we are not fearful or unprepared.
·    
     Do we fear resistance will hinder God’s Word? Take God’s promise to heart! His Word is not bound! The heavens and earth may pass away, but VDMA. Outlasts all opponents, and God’s Word never returns void. Speak God’s Word, put it to use in lives, and God will work! St. Augustine said: “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
·     
    V. 10 Paul sets the example of a good soldier, he will “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Dedication to the good news of Jesus Christ: life on the line for others. Ultimate selfless service of a soldier. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Jesus told us that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Will you surrender anything, up to and including your own lives, for the Gospel? Rare to actually die as martyrs—but more now than ever before. How does selfless living benefit the elect? Consider the opposite: If we quit the faith at 1st sign of trouble….ran from danger…caved in under hardship…this gives you an idea of the answer. We would not be a good soldier of Christ. We would have the same opinion of a soldier who always tucked their tail and ran at any sign of danger. Soldier of Christ endures, is strengthened in the grace of Jesus, encouraging other believers to strive for salvation.
·   
      The closing lines of our reading v. 11-13 seem to be a hymn or recognizable saying of the faith, that St. Paul is quoting: The saying is trustworthy, for:
o   If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
·  
       Spiritual death and burial with Christ in baptism. God drowns our old sinful nature. Death to ourselves, to enslavement to our passions and sinful desires. As necessary as death with Christ is, so certain is our resurrection. Romans 6: buried by baptism into death then raised with Him in newness of life. Count on your new life! It’s promised! Live with that joy and peace.
·  
       If we endure, we will also reign with Him. We’re still ‘in between.’ Future: final redemption of our bodies; promises outstanding, awaiting fulfillment. Plenty of challenges ‘in between’ and sufferings as a good soldier. Look to the final victory and peace when Christ is forever exalted as King. Right hand of the Father, at the throne. Still await the final subjection of all things under Him, and the final defeat of death. Beyond that, God has prepared for us to reign together with Christ! Do you remember that the New Testament speaks of you believers as a “royal priesthood?” Royal, or kingly, because we are to reign with Him.
·  
       If we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself. Jesus: confesses me before men, I confess (acknowledge) you before the Father. But whoever denies Him before men, He will deny before the Father. Echo. Do not turn your backs on God! But most interesting and comforting is the second part—if we are faithless, He remains faithful. This is an extremely important truth about God. He is always true to His Word. I wish we could say the same! I wish we were all always true to our Word. We should be!
·    
     So what does this mean for us? When a believer is faithless? They struggle and grow weak in the faith. Does God cancel His promises? Forsake His love for you? No! Even if we are faithless, God is always faithful, so if we return to Him, His love and His covenant for us are unchanged. Consider how far St. Peter fell, when he promised how bold and fearless he would be, standing by Jesus, even up to death. Like a fearless soldier. But when the rubber hit the road, and Jesus was arrested, Peter’s courage wilted. When the accusation came that he was one of the followers of Jesus, Peter wavered. He denied the Lord! What a devastating fall! Jesus looked on Peter with compassion, so that Peter remembered His Words. Jesus had prayed earlier for Peter that His faith would not fail. Jesus remained faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. What greater love can we ask for, than the Love of our God, who loves us through our greatest failings and weaknesses, and prays for us that our faith would not fail? What greater love than that He knows our mortality and our sin, loves us and cover us with such a grace as forgiveness. That He would die for such as us? “You, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”—His grace is costly, it’s purposeful, it’s loving, it’s intentional. And He’s ever faithful. Who will not abandon us. Jesus rose from the dead, and He restored repentant Peter, He embraced Him again in His love, and sent him out on His mission again. He strengthened and bolstered Peter again with His grace to go back out and soldier for Christ Jesus. Peter soldiered on as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, the rest of his life. No doubt with bumps along the way.
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       Have you stumbled? Have you been faithless? Do you need to return to Jesus, your first love? Then remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Remember that His Word is not bound, and He is always faithful. Receive His grace as a gift, to be strengthened and renewed, so that you are sent back out on mission, to soldier on for Him! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Sermon on Galatians 3:23-4:7, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Law. Justified. Faith"


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. What can turn us from prisoners, slaves, or children under guardianship and into freed people, adopted sons, and full-fledged heirs of God? That’s the change our reading is about today. We’ll look closer to see how, but first of all realize this isn’t a status change we can accomplish by our power. Getting free from the power and slavery of sin is something only God can do by His grace. Only He can make us His heirs. This is about what God does for us, not what we can do for ourselves.
First, you should know the audience of this letter. Galatia was a Roman province in the middle of what is now Turkey, and Galatians is one of St. Paul’s most important letters. So urgent that he skips his usual formalities and launches sharply to the point. With fiery urgency he tells them the very Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. They’re surrendering the true Gospel for a counterfeit. His urgent message is sent to get them back on solid ground.
In order to understand this passage, we need at least three good definitions. The words law, justified, and faith. We’ll go in that order. “Law” can broadly cover all of Moses’ teaching—the first five books of the Bible. Sometimes we hear of the “Book of the Law”, or “the Law and the Prophets.” In that general sense, the word ‘Law’ is a catch-all for a lot of different elements, such as history, narrative, teaching, promises, prophecies, commands and rituals, etc. But then Paul also narrows the meaning down. More narrowly ‘law’ is the actual commandments and rules of God: the 10 Commandments or circumcision, or food and worship laws. To be precise, God’s “law” is what He commands us to do.
Knowing God’s law does something else. It shows our sinfulness and failure. A mirror for our guilt, it puts us under the severe judgment of God’s wrath. It shows that we are filthy, covered in sin. The law is a painful reality check. If you remember the acronym S.O.S.: the law “shows our sin.” When Paul uses this narrower definition of God’s law, it’s in contrast with the other Word of God: the Gospel or promises of God.  The Gospel is a different S.O.S….it “shows our Savior.” The Gospel gives no commands, it creates no guilt or fear of punishment—but the Gospel is the news of what God has freely done for you in Christ Jesus.
Think law—think obligation. Think Gospel—think gift. Think law—think: “Do this”. Think Gospel—think: “this is what Christ has already done for you.” Think law—think punishment. Think Gospel—think rescue. Think law—think sin and death. Think Gospel—think forgiveness and life. The point is not to build a negative idea of the law—it is God’s good law, after all! But the Law can’t save us. Our sin and brokenness make the reality check of the law hurt so much; not any failing in God’s law itself. The true purpose of the law is to imprison us make us accountable for our sin. The Law holds us as a guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. The Law is unable to do for us what only the Gospel can do.
The trouble in Galatia has been a human trouble for every generation, including ours: We  try to credit ourselves as worthy before God by our works or good deeds. We conclude: “I’m going to heaven because I’m a good person.” That thought can go along with others, ranging from “God will just overlook my wrongdoing” to “Thank God I’m not a dirty sinner, hypocrite, or fill in the blank, like that person”…a sense of self-righteousness, that fails to see our own sin. All these thoughts are wrong because they are dishonest. They don’t hold up in God’s presence. God knows without a shadow of a doubt that none of us are good enough to go to heaven. When you read what God has to say about our human condition, He blows over all those ideas like a house of cards. A few proofs from this letter to the Galatians: “By works of the law no one will be justified.”(Gal. 2:16b); “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (2:21); and “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Gal. 3:10-11). There is a giant “WRONG ANSWER” sign fastened over the law and our works. Law and works have a very important role—but it is most definitely NOT in making us righteous to stand before God. That’s a NO-GO.
Jesus faces this same trouble in the parable of the tax collector. A proud, upright, and religious Pharisee, boasts before God of his goodness and righteousness. Nearby, a sinful tax collector thinks differently. Humbly and in distress, he cries out before God for mercy, repenting of his sin. Jesus said the tax collector went home justified. Jesus did not count the Pharisee’s self-justification or self-righteousness for anything before God. Even the religious Pharisee could not be justified by law.
That’s our next word to define. It could lead us into a whole lengthy discussion and debate. But for a simple definition, ‘justified’ means “declared righteous or innocent”, like in a courtroom. The judge hands down the verdict: innocent or guilty! “Justified” is innocent. “Condemned” is guilty. God is judge; it’s His courtroom, and His Law rules. God set the terms and limits of His Justice. His Holy and Just commands spell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. God’s Law expresses His perfection and holiness and justice. If we miss that perfection in the least degree—which all of us sinners do, by a mile and much more—then we can never be “justified” by His Law. No one has credible grounds to claim pure, undefiled innocence before God or total obedience, measured by God’s Law. Rather, we must follow the tax collector’s example: plead guilty and ask for mercy, if we hope to be justified. Because God cannot violate His justice without violating His very self.
Consider a poor analogy: you have an earthly judge. They have a good reputation; known for fair decisions. Then, all of a sudden, they start accepting bribes and ignoring the law. They would be unfit to serve as judge anymore. God is a righteous, holy, and just Judge. To ignore His own justice would go against His holy and just nature. But God was not going to leave us all doomed to condemnation under His law. The reading says, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This is a question of how does God interact with His own law? Does He just hand it to us from the top down? No, rather, He comes to earth so that He can also obey it from the ground up. This is the most amazing truth in the Bible—God’s Son Jesus became human so that He could be ruled by the very same law He required of us!!. Some people imagine God is a cruel and unfair taskmaster who makes arbitrary laws and wants to see humans suffer in a corrupted world. Far from it! God “took His own medicine” and came under the law just as we are, and obeying it completely in Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully obedient to God’s law, for us. So God fully upholds His justice as a true Judge, but also grants mercy to all sinners.
This is our redemption—freedom from the prison and slavery of sin. Jesus rescues us from being judged and imprisoned under the law—guilty prisoners deserving death—to freed children of God. On the cross Jesus bore all the crushing, driving, accusing weight of the law. Our sin, pinned One Innocent Man down. But He was there willingly, not as a helpless victim, but taking our guilt so that we could be justified, declared innocent. Redeeming us from the curse of the law so we could get free.
The last definition I promised you was “faith.” We’ve talked about the law and “justified.” The law can’t justify us. But on account of Jesus’ perfect obedience and death in our place as a substitute for our guilt, He justifies us by faith. The word “faith” here, means to believe or trust in Jesus. When you trust someone, you can give yourself over to their care and protection. One of my NT professors describes faith as “honesty about dependence.” We recognize that when it comes to our slavery or captivity to sin—we are bound and helpless. The honest truth is we can’t cut ourselves free from those chains—we depend on outside help—Jesus. But if we are “dishonest” with ourselves, we will always think we can do it on our own, like the Pharisee. We might struggle and strain, but even if we convince ourselves that we are free and independent, we are still deceiving ourselves. We inevitably fail to recognize just how deep the power of sin is, polluting even the thoughts and motivations of our hearts. It’s like we say at the beginning of worship: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But God wants honesty before Him. He wants us to fully recognize our sin before Him. “But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Faith is the honesty that says, “I am a sinner, guilty before a holy and righteous God. There’s nothing I can do to save myself”. Faith clings to God’s mercy and promise in Jesus Christ, like the tax collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Faith is not disappointed, because Jesus says, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). He does not turn us away when we come in faith. When we are honest and humble before God …when we approach His grace in need—God is not stingy with His grace or forgiveness. He pours it out generously! He rejoices to give you the very gift He most wants you to have!
Our reading says that whoever is baptized into Christ is clothed with Christ. That means by faith God dresses you with the pure and spotless innocence of Jesus. God, and only God grants your verdict: justified by faith—innocent. By the law, God would have to judge you guilty for all your sins. But by the Gospel, by Jesus’ perfect substitution for you, He judges you by Jesus’ life and worthiness. Baptism dresses you with this pure robe of Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin or a prisoner in old rags—you are no longer the child needing supervision and the guardianship of the law. Now you are a baptized child of God—cleansed, forgiven, and a full heir of His promises. By faith in Jesus Christ, you stand ready to receive God’s promises—forgiveness, His innocence, salvation, and the joy of living in Him. This is a wonderful honesty to live in—the honesty of faith, and the dependence on the mercy of Jesus Christ. All glory and credit be to Him alone! Amen.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Sermon on various OT passages for Trinity Sunday, "Tracing the Trinity in the Old Testament"


            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is Trinity Sunday. This Sunday is unique on the Christian calendar, because it doesn’t commemorate an event, miracle, or a person, but rather a doctrine. The teaching of the Trinity is central to the Christian faith. Attacked for centuries, but always defended as the orthodox or correct teaching of the Bible. From the earliest centuries the Creeds were confessed to defend against distortions of the Bible, especially about the Trinity. We could get stuck on the semantics of the word “Trinity”. The word itself is not found in the Bible, but that’s not the important question. The important question is whether the teaching is found in the Bible. We simply use “Trinity” to describe how God shows Himself in Scripture; as Three Persons, One God.
            I assume most or all of you already believe the teaching of the Trinity. You believe and confess that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons, but one being or essence, as revealed in the New Testament. But today we’ll examine how it’s consistent with and traces back through the Old Testament. This is important, because the OT is the first 80% or so of the Bible, and Jesus said these same OT Scriptures “testify of me” (John 5:39). He also taught His disciples all the OT said about Himself (Luke 24:27, 44).
            If we go searching for traces of the Trinity in the OT, we’re not expecting to find it laid out in full—that was only done by Jesus and the apostles in the NT. But we’ll find that God is regularly described in plural terms, or named multiple times in a single sentence. We’ll find God conversing “within Himself”. And we’ll find that OT or NT, the Bible everywhere confirms that there is only One True God—not two, three, or more gods.
            Believe it or not, there are so many verses to explore for hints of the Trinity in the OT, that we can’t cover them all here, but I want to jump directly into some examples. Let’s go to the first verses of the Bible: Genesis 1:1–3
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God and the Spirit of God are both named at the creation. Where is the Son of God, Jesus? The Gospel of John echoes these words in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As God is speaking the world into existence, the Son is the spoken Word of God. As the creation story unfolds in Genesis, God says “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness” (Genesis 1:26). At the Flood and at the Tower of Babel, God also speaks in this way: “Let US…” in the plural. It shows that while God is One, He is a unity.
            The next example is when God speaks about Himself as one person to another person—another hint of the Trinity. For example, in Hosea 1:7, the LORD says, “I will save them by the LORD their God.” The Father will save them by the Son. Or Isaiah 42:1, God speaks of His Son the Messiah, and His Spirit is on Him(!): “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him”. Or in Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand…”. There is a conversation internal to the Trinity, Father speaking to Son. This shows that God is not a singular person.
            Sometimes we find God’s name repeated two or three times in the same sentence. Admittedly, this is harder to recognize, but it also hints at a distinction of persons. For example in Isaiah 33:22, “For the Lord (1) is our judge; the Lord (2) is our lawgiver; the Lord (3) is our king; he will save us.” Then, one of the most important verses in the Bible for affirming the oneness or unity of God, the Shema or the first Hebrew Creed, Deuteronomy 6:4,  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord (1) our God (2), the Lord(3) is one.  Or in Isaiah 6:3, the three-fold repetition of “Holy, Holy, Holy” to describe the Lord of hosts. Then in the familiar benediction at the end of worship, from Numbers 6:24–26, is also a threefold blessing:  “The Lord (1) bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord (2) make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord (3) lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” While no one expects you to see this pattern beforehand, after the revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, it’s a familiar pattern hidden in plain sight.
            Then there are the passages that talk about the Name of LORD. The proper name of the Lord, by which He calls Himself in the OT, is “YHWH” (shown as LORD in English). YHWH is related to the word “I AM”, as God tells Moses: “I AM who I AM” when He reveals this name. What’s interesting is that in a limited number of situations, God gives His name YHWH to another person—such as the angel of YHWH (no ordinary angel!!) or to the Messiah. For example, Jeremiah 23:5–6 speaks of the Messiah as the coming King:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

The promised Messiah and King is called The LORD (YHWH) is our righteousness. This is significant because God is sharing His Name and Title with the Messiah. This looks ahead to Jesus, God’s Son, our LORD and King. When Jesus would call Himself “I AM” in the NT, He was identifying Himself as YHWH.
            There are many other verses that I could go into. It would take more detail and explanation; but let’s examine one last verse that connects the Messiah to God, and also to the Jesus’ suffering on the cross. In Zechariah 12:10 God says:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

Did you catch that? It’s easy to miss. God says His people Israel “will look on me” that’s first person language (I, me), and then it switches to third person (he, him), “on him whom they have pierced.” It changes from “on me” referring to God, to “on him”–the one who is pierced. This is a prophecy of Jesus’ death on the cross, but it also shows that He is divine—true God.
            So we have seen how God sometimes speaks of Himself in the plural, “us”…we have seen how sometimes God speaks person to person within Himself, as God to God…we have seen God’s name repeated in twos or threes in the same sentence, and the pattern three being connected to God…and we’ve seen God switch from first to third person in the same sentence when speaking about Himself. All of this is balanced by the equally necessary truth that God is One, a Unity—there are not multiple gods. There are no other gods, only worthless idols (Ps. 96:5). We’re warned hundreds of times against worshipping any other God, and that all others gods are false and worthless. So the Bible consistently balances between describing God in His “persons” as plural, but as the One and only true God, singular. Neither math nor human reason can solve it—it’s simply to be received and confessed by faith. God’s mystery is beyond comprehending, yet He has purposefully chosen to reveal Himself to us in this way.
            And that leads to the “so what?” of all this. Why is it so important to believe this way about God, that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance”? Is it just an academic debate to amuse philosophers and theologians? The answer is no. It takes no special degrees to be able to state the plain truth from Scripture that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, but only one God. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can explain that to you. But neither a preschooler nor a doctoral student can unravel the mystery of the Godhead and explain what is unexplainable. The Trinity is a mystery, a marvel we wonder and worship. And God did not reveal Himself to us in a meaningless way, but as with the rest of Scripture, He reveals what is necessary for our faith, salvation, and encouragement. And it is a great and necessary thing to have true knowledge about God, not to believe falsely about Him.
            In the Creeds and Bible, God the Father is primarily known as the Creator, who made all things, including making humans in God’s image. Jesus the Son of God, is primarily known as the Redeemer, who saved us from our sins by dying on the cross and rising from the grave. He also is the Revealer of the Father—we know what the Father is like through Him. And the Holy Spirit is primarily known as the Sanctifier, or the One who makes us holy or set apart. We think of the Father in His providence and care; we think of the Son as God took on human form to teach, live, die, and rise for us; and we think of the Holy Spirit in the fruits of faith and spiritual gifts. And yet each person works in unison and support of the others in the Trinity. Only Jesus dies on the cross for our sins, but the Father sent Him and Jesus prayed to the Father in death and yielded up His Spirit. We can’t “divide the substance” of God—splitting Him apart, nor can we mix up Father, Son, and Holy Spirit either. True knowledge of God reinforces true faith.
            In short, God’s identity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is reflected in your baptismal identity—created by God, redeemed by His Son, and made holy by His Spirit. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, placed His name on you at your Baptism. He claimed you and made you His own child. He presently works in you for your salvation, and through you to love and serve God and neighbor. You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to confess the Trinity, you simply need to hear God’s Word, believe it, confess it, and fall down in worship before the mystery of our God, the 3 in 1. God is unchanged through time, but He clearly revealed Himself to us in time, so that we might believe and be saved in Jesus, His Son. Amen.

The Trinity: Hints and Allusions in the Old Testament

While the revelation of the Trinity is clear and unambiguous in the New Testament, the ancient Christians also gathered testimonies about the Trinity from the Old Testament, “even though they seemed somewhat obscure. They did this in order that they might use them against heretics and to show that from the very beginning God had thus revealed Himself and that the church of all ages had thus known God, invoked and worshiped Him” (Chemnitz, p. 66).

Several guidelines show where such clues or references to the Trinity occur:
  1. “When Scripture speaks of God in the plural:” Genesis 1:1-3; 1:26, yet at the same time the verbs used of God are in the singular, and Deuteronomy 6:4 stresses the unity and uniqueness of God, apart from all others. There is One God, but more than one person. See also Genesis 3:22; 6:3; 11:5-7
  2. “Whenever you read in Scripture that God is speaking about God, as a person about a person, there you are safe in affirming that the three persons of the Deity are indicated. For when two persons are named at the same time, the person of the Holy Spirit who is speaking in the Scripture is indicated, in accord with the statement in 2 Peter 1:21.” Cf. 2 Samuel 23:2. Examples: Hosea 1:7; Genesis 19:24; Isaiah 60:19; 42:1; 52:13.
  3. “When the name of God (Yahweh; LORD) is repeated two or three times in the same sentence, it is certain that a difference in persons is indicated even though obscurely, as in Psalm 67:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 6:3; Numbers 6:23-27; Isaiah 33:22.
  4. Often the context indicates a difference in persons, while united in essence, for example Exodus 23:20-21, the angel of the LORD bears God’s name (Cf. Isaiah 42:8). Exodus 33:17-23. Also, see how God raises up a son, and gives Him the name Yahweh: Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16. The third person, the Holy Spirit, is indicated as the One speaking, for example Psalm 33:6 “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the Spirit of His mouth.”

Other significant passages: Daniel 9:19; Psalm 2:7; 110:1 (dialogue within the Trinity); Isaiah 48:16; Genesis 18:2, 16-22; Judges 13:15-25; Zechariah 12:10. Many more passages could be added to these, that follow the pattern of the rules above. Others refer to God as Father (ex. Deuteronomy 32:6; Psalm 89:26); still others refer to the Son (ex. Proverbs 30:4; Daniel 7:13-14) or make reference to appearances of the Son of God as the Angel of the LORD, not to mention prophecies of His future incarnation as Messiah. There are also many places that refer to the Spirit of the LORD (ex. Isaiah 11:1-2; 63:9-10).

While these passages in themselves would not present a fully articulated teaching of the Trinity as we find in the New Testament, they show that the NT teaching is entirely consistent with that of the OT, and that hints and clues run throughout the OT.
Bibliography
Chemnitz, M. (1989). Loci Theologici, Vol. 1. (J. Preus, Trans.) St. Louis: CPH.