What Does This Mean
There’s something you don’t see everyday. Every day I travel to the church along Bavaria road. And, over the weeks, there are certain sights I have gotten used to seeing. I’ve gotten used to seeing people walking their dogs, people biking, and people jogging. One day though, I was on my way to church, and there on the sidewalk was a guy riding a unicycle. It was such a jarring, shocking sight that I had to slow down and have a look. Finally then, the only conclusion I could reach was, “Well, there’s something you don’t see everyday.” This morning, in these words here in Acts 2 we very quickly arrive at the same conclusion. We read: “1 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:1–5 CSB17)
Every year it was commanded in God’s word that every male present himself to the Lord at the temple three times a year. On of those holy days was the feast of unleavened bread. And so, Jerusalem mushroomed and ballooned into a place where there were hundreds of thousands of men. And I deliberately mention the word, ‘men’ because it was the men that God’s word commanded to present themselves at the temple. And they weren’t just men. They were devout men.1 You don’t travel all the way across the Mediterranean Sea because you don’t care. These were devout men who knew their Lord and they knew their bible.
But what did these devout men see? They saw flames of fire resting on the heads of the apostles. They saw the apostles speaking in languages that they knew. So that’s what they saw. But what then did they say? “6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re drunk on new wine.”” (Acts 2:6–13 CSB17)
They see fire on the apostle’s heads. They see the apostles speaking in their own dialects. So then, what do they say? “what does this mean?” Peter then stands up and lifts up his voice. And first he tells them what all of this does not mean: “14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Fellow Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning.” (Acts 2:14–15 CSB17)
The flames on their heads and the dialects coming out of their mouths did not mean that they were drunk. Now here is where we need to pause for a minute. What kind of men were these? These were devout men. These were men who learned, cared for and studied God’s word. And without knowing it they ended up despising the Holy Spirit fulfilling God’s word. That was their sin. But we too sin when it comes to the question, “what does this mean?” One of the huge temptations we face is to make the one-time event of Pentecost into an everyday event. It is ever-so tempting to say to ourselves, “I want proof that I’m a Christian inside of myself.” We can say that we can proof that we are Christians by what we say or by what we do. And indeed, we are not alone. Sad to say, there are entire church bodies out there, who if they are asked the question, “how do you know that you are a Christian” they have an answer: They do what Christians do. They conclude that they are Christians because they have earned Jesus with their hands—they have done good works that everybody can see. Or they have earned Jesus with their hearts—they have decided to become Christians. And when they made that decision they felt different. Or even worse, there are those who conclude that they are Christians because of what comes out of their tongues. They can speak in unknown languages.
But what’s the problem? The problem is that both that these were known languages, not unknown one. And the other problem is that this was a one-time event. Or to put it differently, For all those people who say that they have proof that they are Christians because they babble in weird, unknown languages, how many of them can make real, true fire rest on their heads whenever they want? But we too can fall into the same trap and temptation—every time we want to find proof for our faith inside of us, by what we say or do.
So Peter gives a “not” answer. This does not mean. But then he tells us what these signs did mean: “16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out my Spirit on my servants in those days, both men and women and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:16–21 CSB17)
What does this mean? The Holy Spirit provides a one-time event to prove an every-day fact. The one-time event is the flames of fire and the many known languages. And the everyday fact is that whoever and whenever a person calls on the name of the Lord, that person will be saved. Look at the amazing work the Holy Spirit does. First, because we could not know God, he reveals God. Because we could not choose God, the Holy Spirit chooses us. Because we could not come to God, the Holy Spirit comes to us. He gives us this amazing gift of faith. Second, he brings salvation to us. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus rose to prove that they are forgiven. And whenever anyone repents of his or her sin, again and again, the Lord forgives them. What good news that was for these devout men—that they forgot what they should have known, and they are forgiven. What great news that is for us—for those times we try to find proof that we are saved with proof inside of us instead of promises from God’s word on the outside. And not only is that sin forgiven. But again and again, throughout our lives we continue to call on him. And he forgives us and gives us even more promises of his forgiveness in his word.
Now there’s something you don’t see everyday. They saw fire resting on the apostle’s head. They saw them speaking in their own dialects. So they asked, “what does this mean?” And now you know the answer: The Holy Spirit provides a one-time event to prove an everyday truth. What is that truth? Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Since the Holy Spirit has done his wondrous work in you to give you faith, call on him. Every day we sin. So let us call on him to forgive us. And he will. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲛⲇⲣⲉⲥⲉⲩⲗⲁⲃⲉⲓⲥ” (Acts 2:5 GNT-ALEX)
Which Path Are You On?
Which path are you on? Aidan, Camille, and Hannah, imagine a wreck at the side of the road. It’s one of those big semi-trucks. And its trailer is one of those huge tankers. And all around that huge tanker is a massive spill of something that looks like oil or gas. What would you do if you were driving by that? I hope that you would drive by that as far and as fast as you possibly could. You don’t want to be the guy who slows down, stops and then gets caught in the blast-radius, right?
This morning God’s word starts out with the same sort of picture: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!” (Psalms 1:1 CSB17) Notice here that there is a progression from bad to worse. There’s a guy walking down a road. But instead of a turned-over tanker at the side of the road there’s a group of God-hating, Christ-despising unbelievers. When you see them at the side of the road, what should you do? You should keep going and not stop. But notice what the guy does here in these words. First, he slows down and walks. Then he stands around and talks with them. Finally then he sits down and joins them and becomes one of them.
That, my students, is the bad path. And that is the path you need to avoid at all costs. But just how is it that today you can end up on the same path as the stupid guy pictured here in God’s word? It happens in a slow progression. First, you say the words to yourself, “I don’t have to.” You say to yourself, “I’m confirmed. I don’t have to come every Wednesday night to class. I don’t have to memorize parts of the bible anymore. I don’t have to.” After that, you end up saying, “I don’t want to.” This middle stage is a sneaky one because it you can so easily replace God’s word with something fun. So, for example, some of the fun parts of being a confirmed member of a church replace the fun you have found in God’s word. You the bell choir or the voice choir. You sign up to mow the lawn or care for the flowers. But very quickly your joy turns to sadness and anger. Why? You replaced the fun of growing in God’s word with the fun of service. And the same can happen at home. it is not a sin to have games to play at home. But when the fun at home is more fun that the fun you have in reading God’s word by yourself and for yourself—that is a problem. So, “I don’t have to” becomes “I don’t want to.” And finally where does it lead to? “Don’t tell me to.” You end up mocking and despising those who invite you to receive the Lord’s Supper often and grow in God’s word often.
Which path are you on? That, is the bad path. What then is the good path? We read: “2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalms 1:2–6 CSB17)
The good path is meditating on God’s word. The word here describes something that is so much a part of you that you talk about it under your breath.1 It’s like that song you can’t get out of your brain that you heard on the radio. You spend so much time in God’s word that it flows off of you and oozes out of you.
And know that right now you are on that good path. For so many years you have been drenched and saturated with God’s word. It started when you were tiny children. And your parents carried you forward to a baptismal font where Jesus performed an amazing good work. He washed away your sin and made you his child. It continued when, week after week, your parents brought you to church to hear God’s word so that you could sink your roots into that deep, rich soil of God’s word and grow. And it continued in these last two years as you have had the opportunity to move from milk to meat in catechism class.
That is the good path. And that good path leads to good fruit. Being drenched and saturated with God’s word leads to trust. These years that you’re going through are years of working and waiting. You do your homework year after year and then what do you do? You wait. And through God’s word, God causes you to trust that he is good and kind and that he knows what is best for you.
God’s word bears the fruit of trust. But it also bears the fruit of joy. One of the saddest rotten fruit I’ve seen over the years is the anger and panic I’ve seen in leaders of the church over many years. There’s this great irony. They are doing fun activities. They sing in choirs. They mow the lawn. They plant flowers and bring yummy food to church. What fun this is. But very quickly they become sad or mad. Why? The promises they made when they were confirmed, they forgot. They forgot that the source of their joy was not serving Jesus, but instead Jesus serving them. They forgot to receive the Lord’s Supper often. They forgot to read their bibles at home and come to bible study at church often. But you, right now, are on the good path. You have the great joy of seeing your Savior, Jesus so clearly because you were brought to those waters of baptism and taught in these years of catechism.
God’s word bears fruit. It gives you trust and joy. But finally, it gives you defiance. Who would have thought that saying, “no” would be a good fruit? But it is. And being drenched in God’s word gives you the anger against the Devil enough to say “no” when death comes to you. When you die the Devil will be there to say, “See, Jesus doesn’t love you. And here’s proof: you’re dying.” And now, being drenched and saturated in God’s word, you can sing out and cry out, “No.” You can say, “I may die, but Jesus died for me. I may die, but I will never die because Jesus rose for me.”
Aidan, Camille, and Hannah, you are on the good path. Now stay on it. Amen.
Love One Another
Why can’t we be like them? Years ago I was in a congregation where the basic group of people who did the major amount of work in the congregation was a bunch of newly-wed couples. And what was fascinating was seeing how, when given tasks, each couple worked at that task. When given a task, in one couple, the husband quickly diagnosed the problem and then divided up the work between himself and his wife. In another couple, each of them would study the situation, talk about it, and then each of them would divide up the work and get it done separately. But then there was a third couple. That third couple immediately started working on the problem together. And what was shocking was that they actually did work better together than apart. They weren’t in each other’s way at all. After seeing this, the wife in one of the other couples said to her husband, “why can’t we be like that?” And the husband shouted across the room, “stop making me look bad.” There are those times in our lives when we see a relationship that two people have and we yearn to have what they have. This morning, in John’s gospel, we have that sort of example. In John 15, starting at verse 9, we read: ““As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9 NIV11-GKE)
Our Father and his Son, Jesus have a unique, beautiful and perfect relationship. The Father has a perfect love for his Son. The Son has a perfect love for his Father. And as we read these words, we end up asking the question, “why can’t I have that too?” And what is amazing in these words is that Jesus tells us that that is exactly what Jesus does for us. Just as the Father loves the son, in that same exact way the Son has shown his love for us. But then, right after Jesus says that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves us, what does Jesus tell us? “Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9 NIV11-GKE)
The same love that the Father has toward the Son, the Son has toward us. And now that you have that love, Jesus tells you to remain in it and to not mess it up. What follows then is an answer to a question. If we ask the question, how—how can we remain in that love, here is the answer Jesus tells us: “10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10–12 NIV11-GKE)
How can we remain in the love that Jesus has for us? We keep Jesus’ commands. And Jesus even narrows the focus down to just one command: love one another. Notice how here is a really good place to talk about what love actually is. In english we have one word, “love” to describe many different types of love. I can use the same word in many contexts. I can say I love my wife, my children, good movies and good pizza. And if you can use the same word to describe your bond with your spouse or children and also use it to describe food, you have to realize that the word runs the risk of becoming worthless. The word that Jesus uses here is a very special and specific word. In greek the word is, ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ. It’s the sort of love that brings out the best in what it loves. There is no cost, no extreme, no limit that this love goes to to do what is best for its object. And Jesus gives an example of this in the words which follow: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV11-GKE)
If you want to see true ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ love, then look at someone laying down his life for another person. That is the fullest extent of what it looks like to do what is best for the other person. Notice how in these words Jesus is the model for what this love looks like. When Jesus says these words he’s only a few hours away from being captured and crucified for the sins of the world.
But even as we read these words we see how far away we are from them. For in our lives the types of love we show are often the opposite of this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ love. Agape love does what is best for the person it loves. Our sort of love does what is best for us. One of the ways I see this more and more is when I see parents. More and more today I hear moms and daughters referring to each other as “besties” and “bff”s. And while the bond between a mother and daughter is strong, making it into a “besties” sort of love is not natural. And it’s not natural for one simple reason: Your mom has to do what is best for you. And for many years of your life that means that your mom has to say “no.” When you want to stay up too late at night, she says, “no.” When you want what your family can’t afford, she says, “no.” When you say something stupid or do something selfish, she lashes out in anger. And, again, she does this for one simple reason: she is doing what is best for you. This naturally creates a relationship that is not “besties.” But it’s a good, healthy relationship. I use this as an example. But there are so many others, aren’t there? Every time our knee-jerk reaction is to think and say to ourselves, “what do I want or need” instead of saying, “what does the person next to me want or need” I show the lack of this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love.
Jesus tells us to show this sort of love to others. Then he holds himself up as the model for this sort of love. But he’s not just the model for this sort of love. He is also the motivation for this sort of love. He is our motivation because the love we are unable to show he did. When is it that Jesus speaks these words? He says that he will lay down his life for them even though he knows that Judas will betray them and the rest will abandon him. And we find the result of this in the words that follow: “14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:14–16 NIV11-GKE)
Not only are our sins of self-love forgiven. But by laying down his life for us, Jesus makes us his friends. And here too, that word, “friend” needs some explanation. The word that Jesus uses describes the love of equals. It is a love based on what is shared. For example, if you’re a Vikings fan you can go into so many bars and especially if the game is playing, you have instant friends. But if you don’t know anything about the Vikings or football, but instead you know so very much about curling, don’t expect to find any friends. We are friends with Jesus. We are friends with him because we share with him what is so important to him. Because he laid down his own life for us, now we are clothed with his perfect. But even more than that, we are his friends because we know his Father’s will just as Jesus does. We know the Father who created the universe, cares for it, and cares for us. We know him and his plan for us.
All of this then motivates us then to do the one thing Jesus asks. In our final words, we read: “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV11-GKE) Notice how simple and wonderful these words are in their own way. How can you repay Jesus for laying down his life to win your life for him? What do you have that would balance out Jesus’ life poured out for you? The simple answer is; nothing. We cannot repay Jesus. But Jesus does give us the opportunity to thank him. And we worship and thank him by showing this true Christian ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love toward each other.
Now, if you hear these words, and instead of being filled with joy at hearing them, you are filled with sadness, because you see how powerful your sinful nature is to lead you to only care for yourself—if that’s the case, then travel with me back to these words yet again. Jesus laid down his life for you. Those sins you commit when you care for and worship yourself are forgiven. And with thankfulness, pure thankfulness, he moves and motivates us to show this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love to others. So my dear friends in Christ, Love on anther. For Jesus is the model of love. And he is also the motivation for love. Amen.
Jesus Is The Vine
ILike Marigolds. I like marigolds because they are hearty and dependable. You plant them. You water them. They grow. And they stink so much they drive away bugs. What could be better than that? But there are people out there who, for some strange reason, don’t like easy plants. They like the ones that ones that require labor. I think of my Father in law. At one time, he planted leeks. And he told me how he had to keep building up the dirt around the leeks as they would grow. But if you were to make a list of some of the most labor-intensive plants to grow, grapes would be somewhere at the top of the list. All the preparing, planting and pruning that is involved with grapes is amazing. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus compares himself to in these words this morning. We read: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1 CSB17) Jesus compares himself to a grape vine. And then he uses this to teach his disciples what that means for us in our everyday life. First, he says: “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes,” (John 15:2 CSB17)
Jesus is the vine. And what does he do first? First, he cuts. Specifically, he cuts every branch that does not bear fruit. There’s a picture in these words. A farmer would come along, and if he saw that there was this branch that was dead, and there was no hope of it coming back to life, what did he do? He cut it off. He cut it off so that it wouldn’t draw nutrients away from the vine. Here in these words we find a warning. He cuts off every person from him that does not bear fruit. Now here is where we have to look at these words carefully. First, What is “fruit?” Here Jesus is not speaking about grapes or olives. He is speaking about that which is morally good. Good thoughts and intentions leading to good actions. That’s what fruit is in this context here. And second, Why does Jesus point to the fruit? Jesus points to fruit as proof of faith. This is an extremely important point to understand. Jesus looks for that which is morally good in us not because good works are what get us into heaven. No, faith is what connects us to Jesus. Instead, he looks to fruit inside of us as proof of faith. If you go down the bad road, not understanding these words, you’re going to get to the Athanasian creed in a couple of weeks and read this part of the creed and come to the wrong conclusion: At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.1 All those who do good will go into heaven. That is a true statement. But what those words do not address is the question, why? Why is it that those who do good will go into heaven—not because good works are how we get to heaven. No, instead, as Jesus points out here, good fruit is proof of real faith.
Jesus is the vine. He cuts. And these words carry with them the warning for us to look closely at our lives and compare them to God’s word. For if there is no fruit and desire to have good fruit in our lives, that can choke off our faith. So Jesus cuts. But what also does Jesus do? We read: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit” (John 15:2 CSB17)
As I mentioned before, grape vines take a tremendous amount of care. And one of the ways they need to be cared for is that they need to be cleaned up and pruned. They can grow in the wrong direction. They can have too many shoots when you want just a few and you want the trunk to grow. So the good gardener cleans and prunes them. And that’s why what Jesus says here is a little shocking. The good gardener cuts off the dead branch. But he cuts down the branch growing in the wrong way—even if it is producing fruit! For us as Christians who are wrestling and struggling to do what is good and right, Jesus comes along and causes us pain. Here I’m not talking about the pain that comes as a consequence of sin—if, for example, I lie, and then I get caught. No, here, Jesus is speaking about the fact that he brings toil and trouble into our lives simply because he wants to. Your classmate makes fun of you at school—for no reason. You get sick—for no reason. You get stuck in a traffic jam—for no reason. All of these troubles great and small Jesus allows to come into our lives. And in these words we have the answer to the question, why: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” (John 15:2 CSB17)
He brings these into our lives so that we will produce even more fruit. Think of whatever good desire there is there in your heart. Those good desires for what is good and right don’t do a whole lot until they are tested. The farmer doesn’t learn to trust if every year he has more than enough rain for his crops. But when there’s a drought, then he is forced to trust that God will provide rain. The office worker doesn’t worry too much about trusting when everyone has their job. But when he sees the guy next to him get ‘let go’, then he is forced to trust in and remember who it is that provides food, shelter and clothing.
And here, my dear friends, is where we see our sin, don’t we? So often in our lives we desire rotten fruit instead of good fruit. We desire our lies, our laziness, our self-focused worship like a person biting into a worm-filled apple and then gladly, willingly eating the rest of it. And not only do we desire bad fruit, we also despise the cleaning that Jesus does in our lives. When there are troubles, be they great or small, we despise them and despise our Savior who sent them for our good.
We see these sins and repent of them. And Jesus, in his undeserved love toward us forgives our sins. Or, to use Jesus’ words here: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3 CSB17) The very same word that created faith in our hearts to know and trust in Jesus so long ago he uses to convey forgiveness to us. Through God’s word we see the Savior who was made fun of—for no reason. And people tried to put him to death—for no reason. And he was abandoned by his Father for a short while on Good Friday—for no reason. He did not deserve any of this hardship. But what happened to him for no reason he made his own reason, so that he could save us. And through God’s word he conveys this forgiveness to us. For all the times we desired rotten fruit—they are forgiven. For all the times we despised the cleaning and pruning that Jesus brings in our lives—they are forgiven too.
Jesus is the one who cuts and cleans. But there is one last detail to take care of this morning. Jesus tells us: “4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:4–8 CSB17)
Jesus not only cuts and cleans; he also creates. He creates good fruit inside of us. Alongside the old person inside of us, he gives us a new person. And this new person sees what is good, wants it, then asks for it. And out of his undeserved love toward us, Jesus gives it to us. And so, there is this amazing invitation in these words. Pray for fruit. Pray that inside of you the Holy Spirit would give you every good yearning and desire—not to earn heaven. No Jesus won that for you on the cross and conveys it to you in his word. Instead, ask for it because Jesus, the vine creates good fruit inside of you. This is what he promises. For Jesus is the Vine. He cuts, he cleanses, and he creates good fruit inside of us. Amen.
1 CW, p. 133
Be On Guard
What does your dad do? Years ago they used to have an annual “take your kid to work” day. I don’t think they do that much anymore. But maybe they should. I remember when my dad brought me to work with him. Dad worked for the railroad. And so he showed me the computer where he did his work. He explained to me how it was his job to make sure that the grain got on the cars here and then traveled to there. And I thought to myself, “how boring.” Then, as he was explaining this, a train went by the yard office. The ground began to shake. And a guy, without thinking, picked up his coffee cup from the desk so that it didn’t spill. The ground shook. The horn blasted. And a few minutes later everyone went on with work as if nothing had just happened. And I thought to myself, “who would work here. This is a scary place to work.” I look back and appreciate that day because, for one day in my life, I got to walk in my dad’s shoes and look at the world through his eyes. And this morning God’s word give us the same opportunity. In these words here in the book of Acts one shepherd of God’s flock gives real and true wisdom to other pastors. And so today, we have the privilege of walking in their shoes. In our opening verses we read: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 CSB17)
If you want to understand what it is to be a pastor, read these words. A pastor is a man who is “on guard.” For his own sake and for his own flock that he shepherds, he is a man that is continually on guard. And what exactly is he on guard against? “29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.” (Acts 20:29–30 CSB17)
As we read these words we need to understand that in them Paul is saying goodbye. He is saying goodbye to a group of people he had gotten to know for about two years. And that was a long time for Paul. So he urged the pastors he was saying goodbye to to be on their guard. Why? Savage wolves would come in and not spare anyone. And they will tear apart the flock—not from the outside, but from the inside. This is an important part of God’s word to understand. For there are people on the outside of God’s church who want to tear apart God’s church. Take for example Bill Nye. Bill Nye is a science teacher who has a TV show for children. And he has publicly said that Christianity and science cannot go together. He has even gone so far as to say that if you parents teach your children God’s word, you are committing child abuse. But what Paul mentions here is much, much worse. For worse than the wolves that are on the outside of the church are the ones that are on the inside. And Paul gives us the reason: They will not spare anyone. Bears, for example, will kill some of the flock, but not all of them. For they are smart enough to realize that if they eat them all, there won’t be any next year to eat. False teachers within the church have no restraint.
So it should not shock or surprise you that your pastor is guy who is constantly on guard. Whenever theres someone who twists God’s word, there your pastor is to warn you about it. Whenever there’s someone who says that it’s our work to earn our forgiveness, where the bible says that it’s God’s work, there your pastor is to warn you. Whenever there’s someone who says that getting faith is your work, when the bible says that it’s God’s work, there your pastor is to warn you.
But what’s the problem with all of this? The problem is that a pastor might warn his flock about a wolf who twists God’s word. But what does the flock do? The flock concludes, “Yeah, not everything that other pastor preaches is good, but there’s so much that’s good.” And slowly, over time, their understanding changes from the truth of God’s word to the twisted teachings of people.
So if you ask the question, what is it like to be a pastor, there’s your answer. A pastor is a guy who is constantly on guard. He’s on guard against wolves. But he’s also on guard in another way: “31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears. 32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:31–32 CSB17)
Paul encourages these pastors to be on guard. First, against the wolves. But here he changes the verb. This word carries with it the idea of being completely awake and aware.1 Your pastor is awake and aware so that he can find and use every opportunity to share God’s word. Notice already, in these words you can see what your pastor is not. Your pastor is not your life-coach, your cheerleader, your manager, and your magician. He is the man that the Holy Spirit chose to share God’s word with you.
And just why is it so important for us to understand that this is the work that a pastor does? Paul gives us two reasons: First, God’s word is able to build us up in our faith. Second, God’s word is able to give us forgiveness. Notice that God’s word is not truth that you need to work on. No, instead, it is truth that works on you.
And here too we see our sin. How often do we treat God’s word as if it’s homework. I need to go to church to learn some stuff from God’s word—or at least not forget the stuff I already learned. It’s homework to us. And, like all homework, the only value in homework is the value we put into it and get out of it.
And that’s why you have a pastor. He is the one who is on guard to share God’s word with you. And what is the main point and preaching of God’s word. We find that answer here in these words: God bought you with his own blood. And when your pastor shares that message with you, God’s word does something. The Holy Spirit uses that powerful word to build you up in the faith so that you believe it. And the Holy Spirit uses that word to give you forgiveness. And so, for those times our pastor warned us to watch out for false teaching and teachers and we ignored him, that sin is forgiven by God’s blood. And for the times we thought that the only power that there was in God’s word was the power we brought to God’s word, that sin is forgiven by God’s blood.
Be on your Guard. That is what Paul says to the pastors he is saying goodbye to. And he says it twice. So if you want to understand what it is to be a pastor for a day, start here in these words. He is the man who is constantly on guard against the wolves within the church. He is the man who is constantly on guard to share God’s powerful word. Amen.
1 “ⲅⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Acts 20:31 GNT-ALEX)
Walk In The Light
Sunrise and sunset. One of the facts I’ve been reminded of now that I’ve moved to Minnesota is that it’s hard to be a good sunrise and good sunset. They are so beautiful that you want to stop what you’re doing and just stand there looking at the beautiful colors. It’s so beautiful that you want to buy some property on a lake, put up a chair or a dock, and just sit there watching it. It draws you in with its beauty. That’s where John starts this morning. He invites us to walk in the light. We read: “5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7 NIV11-GKE)
Walk in the light. That is the main point that John is making in these words. But, notice that he does not mean that literally. He does not want us to build a rocket and launch ourselves into the sun. If we ask the question, ‘what is the light,’ John answers our question. God is light. And just as important as that thought is, the second thought is just as important: There is no darkness at all in him. And so, walking with God, in the light, means walking out of darkness. It means resisting our sin and wrestling against it. There’s a great warning here in these words. Day by day, in every way, we need to be wrestling against sin. We need to be walking out of it. Why? Because if we don’t, the darkness will consume us. If we live for our sin, then our sin will be our God. And those who have sin as their God will end up in the place of eternal darkness when they die: hell. These words show us our sin, don’t they? They shine the light on the fact that there have been times when we have been friends with our sin instead of waging war against it. We have loved the darkness and not wanted to come into the light and leave our sins behind. And that’s a saddening and sickening thought. How wonderful these words here are, when John says, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 NIV11-GKE) Our sin—even those sins we commit when we love to be friends with the darkness—those sins are forgiven too. And with all the strength in us we spend our lives wrestling against our sins and walking out of the darkness.
So we walk in the light. We walk in the light by walking out of the darkness. But John writes more: “7
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:7–10 NIV11-GKE)
Satan is sneaky. And we see that in these words. Who would have thought that there would have been anything wrong with wrestling against our sin and walking away from the darkness of sin inside of us. But it can be. It can be wrong to walk away from sin if it sets off a chain reaction: First, We walk out of darkness by wrestling against sin. Second, if we begin to have some success in this area we begin to conclude that we don’t need to confess our sins. We can begin to conclude that we have our sins under control. And this leads then to the third stage. We look down on others who cannot hide their sins like we can. What a tragedy it is to conclude that just because you don’t call people bad names to their faces that those thoughts aren’t there in your heart. They are. You’ve just become better at hiding them than newer Christians.
Years ago I met a man who was new to Christianity. He was a brand new member of his church. And he invited the vicar over to his house after Easter. Everything about this guy was rough around the edges. But he made the point of letting all of his family members know who I was. He told them all, “this is the vicar.” He did this because he wanted them to come to church with him—his church. I remember how after the family members left, he asked me if I played chess. And I told him that I hadn’t played for years. But I could play if he wanted. So he took out his board. He won the first game. But the second game was not so easy for him. And the more difficult it was the more he smoked and filled the room up with smoke. And then, by a miracle I won the second game and there was a chain of foul language that streamed out of his mouth. He was so frustrated because he didn’t see it coming. And what he did was amazing. Now, let me be clear: what was amazing was not his over-smoking and his foul language. No, my friends in Christ, what was amazing is what happened after. He confessed his sins and I could see that even then he was fighting with everything inside of him to walk out of the darkness.
I mention all of this because we can be Christians for so long that we begin to fool ourselves and conclude either that we don’t really sin as much as others or that sin is conquerable on this side of heaven. That’s why what John says here is just as important as what says before. We walk in the light by walking out of the darkness. But we also walk in the light by confessing the darkness inside of us. Notice that that is the solution. Yes, we wrestle against sin and walk out of it all the days of our life. But take to heart what John says here: To your very last day, to your very last breath, you will sin. And the solution to that is confessing them. We cannot take those sins away. But Jesus can and does.
Notice then where these words finish: “1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
I love what John says here because sometimes we end up asking the question, “why are your saying this?” And here he answers the question with two answers. First, John is writing this so that we would not sin. Every day we wrestle to walk out of the darkness so that the darkness doesn’t enslave us and consume us. And second, so that we would know Jesus who atones for our sin.
There are two beautiful thoughts in that statement. First, the word here describes what happens in the Old Testament sacrifices. When the blood of animals was connected with God’s holy word it covered up sin. It buried it so far and so deep that it will never come back again. As we confess our sins, our Savior Jesus buries them. Those around us might remember some times we said and did what was wrong, the selfish, sinful, self-seeking words and actions. Others might remember them. But because of Jesus covers them with his own blood. And so they are forgiven and forgotten in the eyes of his Father in heaven.
And just to make sure that we know this forgiveness is ours John adds two massive, momentous words. He could have just said, “us.” But instead he says “the world.” And he also says “All” the world. He does this so that we would know that because Jesus died on the cross the entire world is forgiven in God’s eyes. Now, there are many that despise this fact and will end up in the darkness on hell on the last day. But this double emphasis of “all” and “world” gives us double comfort. Because if Jesus died for the entire world, then I can conclude that Jesus died for me.
So my dear friends in Christ, walk in the light. Continue to walk out of the darkness of sin. And continue to confess the darkness inside of you. Amen.
What They Saw, They Shared
You missed it. Every child lives in fear of those words. For in so many schools there is a cherished class trip that they go on. When I was a child we would go to a swimming pool at the end of the year. And you lived in fear of being sick on that day. You lived in fear of being at home sick in bed and having someone say those words, “you missed it” the next day at school. This morning that’s how these words from 1 John start. We read: “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared” (1 John 1:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
What is John doing in these words? As an old man, most likely in his 90’s, he is answering a very basic, but important question: who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? He is the word. He is perfect communication itself. He knew all things perfectly. He knew how to communicate them perfectly. Who is Jesus? He is the life. In other words, he is the one who is eternal life and gives eternal life.
That’s who Jesus was. But then John answers the next question: how did they interact with Jesus? They heard this perfect teacher share God’s word. They saw Jesus on the cross. And they saw Jesus after he rose from the dead with their own eyes. And even more than that, they touched him—putting their hands in his side and in the nail marks in his hands.
So John, in these opening words answers those two questions: Who is Jesus and how did they interact with Jesus? But what is the problem? The people who John was speaking and writing to could so very easily say to themselves, “We missed it.” They could say, “All the people who saw Jesus with their own eyes and put their hands in his side—they’re dead. And John is in his 90’s and he’s going to die.” And from that fact they faced two great temptations to sin: First, they faced the temptation to give into envy. They could ask the question, “why can’t I see Jesus with my own eyes and have him speak to me with his own mouth?” And the other temptation is to give into fear. They could say to themselves, “John will die. And when he dies, our church will die because we have no one to answer that question, “who is Jesus” anymore.
And now, so many hundreds of years later, we too face the same temptations. We face the temptation to give into envy, thinking to ourselves, “why can’t I be the one who was there to see Jesus in his resurrected body.” We face the temptation to doubt, concluding that since John has died and now we are so many generations away from Jesus’ resurrection, we cannot be sure of what happened.
How does John deal with these temptations? We read: “2 we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4” (1 John 1:2–3 NIV11-GKE)
What theys saw, they shared. First, What they saw, they spoke about. John and the rest of the evangelists wrote their gospels so that you would know…who created you, who cares for you, who was crucified for you, who crushes death for you. All of these important facts you know for one simple reason. The apostles spoke about them. And with that comes the truth that your sins are forgiven—even those sins you commit when you either give into envy or give into fear. They are forgiven. And what is the result of this? We have fellowship with them. Nobody wants to be on the outside looking in. I remember when I was in high school and the movie Dancing With Wolves came out. And the kids in school were going around saying “Tatonka!” And, since I hadn’t seen the movie I was on the outside looking in. Or, to use John’s words, I didn’t have fellowship with them. But because what John saw and heard he spoke, we today, even hundreds of years later, have fellowship with them.
So what they saw, they spoke. But just as important what they spoke is the fact that what they saw they also wrote: “We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:4 NIV11-GKE) Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and others they wrote down what they saw and heard. They wrote it down and the Holy Spirit carefully preserved what they wrote so that we have it today. And what is the amazing result of this? John tells us that we are filled with joy.1 And we have an example of that joy this morning in the gospel. Look at Thomas. We find so much joy in him because we are just like him. Don’t you, like Thomas, want to reach out and not just see that Jesus has risen from the dead, but also touch those wounds? Doesn’t it make you laugh to hear Thomas ‘double-down’ and say that unless he sees and touches Jesus, he will never, ever believe? Doesn’t it fill you with such joy to hear Jesus say those words, ““Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” (John 20:29 NIV11-GKE) Jesus is talking about us. We are the ones that have not seen Jesus. But God’s word has performed a miracle. The Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts so that even though we do not see Jesus, we believe in him.
That is the sort of joy that John promises we are filled with for one simple reason: They wrote it down. Notice then what our attitude towards God’s word will be then: We read it. What will our attitude be? We will learn it by going to bible study with our pastor. In December you formally and officially told me that that is what you wanted me to do for you. You wanted me to teach you God’s word. So now, taking you at your word, please allow me to do just that. Come to bible study classes. And there I promise that you will find fellowship with those early Christians and joy in Christ. And I can promise that because that is exactly what John promises here. For what they saw they shared. They spoke about it. They wrote about it. And that great treasure is ours. Amen.
1 “ⲓ̈ⲛⲁⲏⲭⲁⲣⲁⲩ̈ⲙⲱⲛⲏⲡⲉⲡⲗⲏⲣⲱⲙⲉⲛⲏ” (1 John 1:4 GNT-ALEX)
Our Baptism Connects Us to Jesus’ Resurrection
It was killing me. I can’t speak for all of you, but I spend much of my day just trying to stay awake. So years ago, I started drinking tea. Then I found that you could buy bags of loose-leaf tea. And so, every morning, I’d fill up the tea ball with earl grey tea. And then just keep pouring water in that cup throughout the day. And I’d go into the doctor and the doctor would tell me that my liver and kidney numbers were off. I did my research and found out that a little tea was fine. But the oil of Bergamot in earl grey in higher doses was toxic. It was slowly killing me. So when I found that out, what did I do? I kept drinking tea? No, I stopped. If there is something out there that murders you, would you love it? Would you live for it? That’s where Paul starts off this Easter morning. We read: “1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1–2 CSB17)
Sin is toxic. Sin is poisonous. Sin put us to death when Adam and Eve first sinned and now that sin is passed down to us. Sin did all this evil. We died because of sin. Why would we love it? Why would we live for it? Well if sin is so toxic and so poisonous, what is the solution to it? Paul tells us: “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3 CSB17)
One of my professors used to say that one of the proofs that the bible is true and inspired by God is that, if we were writing the bible, it would never turn out the way it is written in the bible. And here’s a good example. If sin the toxic, poisonous problem, then what is the solution? Baptism is the solution. And what I love is how Paul explains this. He tells them that this is something they should know already.1 And what should we already know? Baptism connects us to Christ’s death.
Now, as we read these words, there are two vital truths that we need to understand as we read them. First, this is not picture language. Jesus really, truly died. And our baptisms really truly unite us with his death. And second, baptism is not our work. It is God’s. In every passage in the bible speaking about baptism, this sacrament is not our gift of obedience that we offer up to God. Instead it is God’s gift to us and work in us. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death. And because of that it does much more. We read: “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4 CSB17)
Notice the clear progression of thought: Jesus died → Jesus rose. If in baptism God connects us to Jesus’ death, → he also connects us to Jesus’ new life. And, my dear friends in Christ, both of those thoughts are vitally important. God delivers resurrection forgiveness through our baptisms. Sin is put to death with Jesus’ death on Good Friday. But what good is that payment if that forgiveness doesn’t come to us? We need a delivery system to get that forgiveness from the cross to us. And our desires and decisions will not get the job done. What is the tool that God uses to deliver that forgiveness to us? His word. And here in baptism, that word is connected with water and tied to Jesus’ death so that the forgiveness that Jesus wins will be ours. But there’s more happening here in baptism. Paul tells us: “5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5–7 CSB17)
If in baptism we share in Jesus death (and we do!), then also in baptism we share in Jesus resurrection strength. So, up to this point, we have been building some beautiful theology. But, as our professors used to tell us, theology is practical. We need to ask the question, ‘why should I care that baptism connects me to Jesus’ death and new life?’ And here’s your answer: In baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. I can give up tea because I’m not really that connected to and addicted to it. But can I say the same about sin? Years ago I knew a man who smoked. And he had smoked often over the course of decades. He went to the hospital because of the damage he had done to himself. The doctor said that if he didn’t quit he’d be driving himself to an early death. So he tried again and again to quit, but was unable. “ Can I be forgiven?” That was the question he asked. For it was one thing to fall into sin. It’s another thing entirely to be addicted to it. And all of us have these addictions because that what sin does. It connects us and addicts us to what is evil. Some are drawn to bad pictures and videos on the internet. Others are drawn to gossipping in the internet. Some eat and drink too much. Others eat and drink too little. So very many addictions—and what will rescue us from them? Notice how clear Paul is. Your baptism connects you to Jesus’ death. In that empty tomb your addictions are put to death. On that bloody cross your addictions are crushed along with Jesus’ body.
Oh, but there’s more to it than that. In baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. But also in baptism Christ’s strength is given. As we pile up so many sins over our lives we want and yearn to be done with them. But they defy us and defile us. And we can easily end up in a place where we simply give up and say to ourselves, “why bother?” That’s where these words are so full meaning and hope. In baptism Christ’s strength is given. In baptism we are connected to all the strength, might and power Jesus showed in his resurrection. And he connects us to his strength so that we would no longer be enslaved to our addictive sins, but instead, willingly, gladly and freely follow Jesus.
So my dear friends in Christ, year after year, when you return to this day don’t just think of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day. Also ponder the fact that in your baptisms God connects you to this day. For in baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. And in baptism Christ’s strength is given. Amen.
1 “Ⲏⲁⲅⲛⲟⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Romans 6:3 GNT-ALEX)
We Need A Permanent Priest
When it matters most, you take an oath. Have you ever noticed that? The big moments in a person’s life—they are all accompanied by an oath: Weddings, confirmations, ordinations. We do this because they matter and we want them to last. Our Lord above does the same. Our Father in heaven makes an oath that Jesus is a priest forever. In Hebrews 7 we read these words: “20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ” 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:20–22 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus is better. Jesus is better than all the priests in the Old Testament. How do we know? His priesthood was confirmed with an oath. It was confirmed with an oath because it needed to last. It needed to be permanent. And what follows in these words are two huge reasons why the priesthood that Jesus had needed to be permanent. We read: “23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:23–25 NIV11-GKE)
We need a permanent priest. Why? We need a permanent priest because we need a priest who can pray continually…for us. One of the ways we clearly see our sin is in our prayer-life. There are times when we forget to pray—those times when we know we should pray but then don’t. And then, when we have a problem worthy of taking to our Father in heaven in prayer, what happens? Instead of a long prayer offered up to our Father who can help us, we end up complaining to a friend or a family member who most likely cannot help us. And finally then, when we do pray, the first person we pray for and about is ourself. We can spend long minutes and even hours praying for ourselves. But how often do we remember others in our prayers?
My dear friends in Christ, that’s why you need a permanent priest. You need a High Priest who prays continually for you. And here on Good Friday we find such an amazing example of this. As Jesus is there dying on the cross, he says these words: ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” (Luke 23:34 NIV) You would think he would have other priorities on his mind: His anger against the Jews who voted to put him there; his sadness over his disciples who betrayed him. If anything, you’d expect him to pray against the people gathered there. But instead he prays for them.
And the same is true today. We need a permanent priest—one who continually prays for us. And we need this because we continually sin. For all the times we speak careless words and think selfish thoughts, Jesus is there, interceding for us, saying to his Father, “Father forgive him.”
And so, what we need, we have. We need a permanent priest. And we have that in Jesus he prays continually for us. But there’s more. We read: “26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Hebrews 7:26–27 NIV11-GKE)
We have a permanent priest. He prays continually. But he pays once. Look at the price for your sin. Here in these words, as we look back into the Old Testament, we see that price. The price was blood, millions and millions of gallons of blood. We find this echoed in the hymn we just sang earlier:
Not all the blood of beast
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Countless animals had to die because of their sins. When the people saw how many animals had to die because of their own sin, they could never say that their sin was small. For living creatures had to die because of their sin. And all those countless, continual sacrifices pointed ahead to one final sacrifice that would make them all valid. And that one sacrifice would pay for all their sins.
When you look at Jesus on the cross, you don’t get to say, “My sin isn’t a big deal.” And when it comes to your sin, Our Father does not say, “Aww, don’t worry about it.” Instead he pays for it. He sends his own Son to pay for your sin. We need a permanent priest. And here in these words we see why we need a permanent priest. Yes, it’s true that only a permanent priest could pray continually. But it’s also true that only a permanent priest could pay once for the sins of the entire world.
So this evening go home with this truth in your heart: Your Father has made and oath to you. He has promised that his Son is a permanent priest. Because of this he prays for you continually. And because of this he pays once for the sins of the entire world—and that means your sins and mine too.
1 CW 128:1-2