The Light Shines Out (Epiphany)

Epiphany

The Light Shines Out


We saw his star. What would cause and drive these learnéd men to travel hundreds of miles to find the toddler Jesus? There answer is simple: “We saw his star.” But what they say teaches us a very important fact. Our good and gracious Triune God is not afraid to surprise and shock us. He is not afraid to capture our hearts and challenge our minds. The wisemen saw the start and it drove them into God’s word. And then, out of pure joy, it drove them to act. In the words we look at this morning we see the same pattern. Through the apostle Paul, Jesus was capturing the imagination of his people and challenging their minds. In Acts 13, we read: 26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “ ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:26, 35–37 NIV11-GKE)


In the words we are reading here in the book of Acts, Paul is a guest preacher in a congregation where there are Jewish people and Gentiles. And by God’s Holy Spirit he says something that should have captured their imagination and challenged their minds. He gives to them this dilemma: People thought that King David was the “Holy One.” But how can he be the Holy One if God’s word promised that the Holy One would live on and not see decay? They knew that David had both died and was buried. But yet, in front of them, for centuries was this shocking oddity—like a star in the sky that does not move. The Holy One would not see decay.


The Lord did this to capture their imagination and challenge their minds. But instead, it had the opposite effect. Some of the Jewish people ignored the words because they had no use for them. But there were godly, believing, faithful believers who failed simply because they ran out of energy. There are lots of words in the bible. And it takes real work to read them, ponder them, and process through them. And after a long work day or week, there was little energy left.


Is the same true for us? All throughout God’s word there are these parts of God’s word that capture our imagination and challenge our minds—like a bright light shining in the sky that doesn’t move. And, if we are honest, we have to confess, that, when it comes to reading and studying the bible, there have been times we had a lack of interest. But, more often than that, would it be better to say that what we face is a lack of energy? Years ago, I remember a guy who was became a leader in my church. He worked long hours during the day and he took an instruction class to join our church at night. And every time we met it was the same pattern: about a half an hour into the class, he’d begin to nod off. So, he’d get up and walk from one side of the room to the other to stay awake. As Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”” (Mark 14:38 NIV11-GKE)


My friends in Christ, the solution to our weakness is not ignoring it. instead, it’s confessing it. It’s hearing words like Paul is just about to say to these people and cherishing them. Paul told them: 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39 NIV11-GKE)


How many sins have we been set free from? Jesus is the Holy One who died and yet never saw decay. He rose from the dead. So what Paul says is true for you: every one of our sins is forgiven—even the ones we commit when we lack the energy to study God’s word to find the light that is there in it. We are forgiven. We are justified, declared, “not guilty.”


But with that forgiveness also comes energy and zeal. The wisemen didn’t travel all that way to Israel and Paul didn’t travel all that way to Psidian Antioch on their own. No, they are just as weak, frail, and drained of energy as we are. The Holy Spirit gave them strength to study God’s word and find light, true light there in those words. And he does the same for you. So, in your life, what will that growth in God’s word look like? Will it be getting up earlier in the morning and pouring yourself some coffee and reading the bible in the morning? Will it be getting an audio bible and putting it on your phone so that you can listen during your daily commute? And when you find those parts that capture your heart and challenge your mind, will you email me or meet me at a coffee shop so that together we can an answer to these challenges? Will you set aside the time to walk through our bible study in Mark? So set aside time to plan our your year. But my dear friends, do so remembering why you did so to begin with. We study God’s word not out of a motivation of crushing guilt. No, instead, we study God’s word because there we find parts that capture our imagination and challenge our minds.


And so, as we read in these words. The light shines out. It shines out so that we would study it. But there’s more in these words: 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:46–48 NIV11-GKE)


The light shines out so that we would study it. But the light also shines out so that we would share it. Where is the time? Where is the energy? No doubt, that was a question Old Testament believers asked. And we too ask the same question. And if it was true when it came to studying God’s word, it was even more true when it came to sharing God’s word. As a congregation, God has called on us to reach out and stretch out with this gracious gospel of Jesus, the Light of the World. But it’s so easy to run out of steam and run out of energy. And the result then is that, instead of sharing the gospel, we sit on it. And when we ponder this fact it fills us with panic and sadness. But my friends listen to what the Lord says to us from our Old Testament reading: ““It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV11-GKE)


We run out of energy and say, “ok, that’s enough” when it is not enough. But look what our Father says to Jesus. He tells Jesus that it’s not enough to shine out to the Jewish people. Instead, Jesus had to shine out to us, Gentiles. How amazing and precious it is for us that where we, with tired hands and hearts, say, “it is enough”, our Father said, “not enough.” And he sent Jesus into this world to take on our humanity. He sent Jesus to die for us. He sent Jesus to rise for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to create faith in us and preserve us. All this is the work that our Triune God did for us.


And where that leaves us this morning is with another truth that captures our hearts and challenges our minds. Jesus can do so much with so little. Think of what the Lord did with our own church. Someone else put in work, trying to establish a ministry in a prison down in Shakopee. And now I get to go down and share this light of Christ with them. Think of our Jesus Cares ministry. I and a few others in our church put in some work, and the Lord, purely out of his undeserved love towards us, blessed that work. And now, every month we have the privilege of sharing this gospel light with a group of people outside of our church. But, my dear friends there is more we can do. I’m quickly running out of time in my sermon and there’s so much more to say. But, in the days that follow, I’m asking you to remember two truths: First, remember your motivation. As a church we share the gospel out of thanks and appreciation that God chose us and forgave us. Second, pray for our church, that what we have so little energy to do, God will nevertheless accomplish through us. Amen.


Where Does The Law Lead? (Christmas 1)

Jesus in the temple

Where Does The Law Lead?


Where is this going? Years ago there was a child who was taking piano lessons. The teacher had the child begin by learning scales and memorizing key signatures. And the child was patient for a little while. But then, finally when the work of practicing was actually work, the child told the teacher, “where is this going?” The teacher had the child scoot aside on the bench and then played a beautiful, breathtaking piece the child had never heard before. The child then knew where this was going. And he threw himself at the work in front of him. This morning we look at two of the ten commandments. But we do so with a goal. We ask, “where does the law lead?” And God’s word will answer that question. In Exodus 20, we read: 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 NIV11-GKE)


In the words we are reading here Moses is with his people at Mt. Sinai. And there, through Moses, the Lord is giving the law to his people. And, as we are taught in catechism class when we are young, the first and foremost task that is getting done when we look at the ten commandments is that these commandments show us our sin. But my dear friends in Christ, that’s only where we begin with these commandments. They lead to an entirely different place.


So, at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Lord‘s people heard these words, that they should find rest in God’s word. But instead, in their hearts what they found was resistance to God’s word in their hearts. For, to them, the sermons that Moses preached hurt their feelings. And they didn’t like that. The bible study classes he taught were too long to them. But has anything changed? Every faithful preacher of God’s word has to deal with people who get angry when Jesus exposes their sin. And even before he gets in the pulpit, he has to deal with his own sin, Jesus poking and prodding his conscience because of his sin. And every faithful teacher deals with people who make time for food for their bodies, but no for food for their souls. There are herds of people who come into church, but hoards of people who rush out of church, not staying to learn and grow in God’s word. We, all of us, are the same as they were. God commands us to find rest in his word, but instead we find resistance in our own hearts.


When we see our sin, our hearts turn to Jesus. And this morning is an amazing example of how Jesus was different than we are. Where does the law lead? In us, the answer is often resistance. But for Jesus the answer was perfect wonder. What you have to picture when you read these words in our gospel for today is the boy Jesus at 12 years old who is amazed, enthralled, and fascinated at God’s word. And his wonder at God’s word is perfect. In fact, it’s so perfect that, when he starts sharing God’s word with the teachers and professors of the day, they are caught up in Jesus’ excitement and wonder at the word.


Where does the Law lead? It leads to perfect wonder—but not yours. The law leads us to see Jesus’ perfect wonder at the word in our place. The Law leads us to see our gracious, forgiving heavenly Father looking down at us and seeing not our sin of resistance, but instead his son’s perfect wonder in our place. That wonder that Jesus had forgives our sins of resistance. But it does more than that. It leads us to have the same awe and wonder as Jesus had. In the Large Catechism Luther says this:


when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living. Even if no other benefit or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be motivated by the realization that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight.1


The law starts out showing us our sin. But it leads us to Jesus, who has had perfect wonder at God’s word in our place. But he also, by his Holy Spirit gives us that same perfect awe and wonder. For we have this promise that God’s word delivers forgiveness, drives out fear, and destroys Satan’s work. The law leads to perfect wonder. But leads also to another place. We read: ““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV11-GKE)


In these words God was commanding his people to respect their parents for one important reason: God put them there in a position over them. And with this then, God establishes all authority figures. But instead of respecting them, they rebelled against them. At the end of his life, Moses has to call them stubborn and stiff-necked. For they despised his authority, and through that taught their children to despise all authority.


We too have to confess that we are guilty of this sin. We have not shown our parents respect as we should have. When we are young, either because they embarrass us or we think we know more than they do, we rebel against them. When they are old we ignore them because, yes, once again they are telling that story we have heard them say a hundred times. And all of that is the opposite of respect.


So the law starts by showing us our sin of rebellion. But where does it lead? It leads once again to this boy Jesus in the temple. If there’s ever been a time when you’ve been embarrassed at your parent’s weaknesses and failings or thought you knew more than they did, just look at Jesus. Jesus was perfect and omniscient. And yet, at the close of the gospel for this morning, we hear that Jesus stops teaching the teachers. He humbles himself and obeys his parents and goes home. Look at the pleasing work Jesus did for you. He obeyed his Father in heaven. And that work pleased our Father. He obeyed his parents here below. And that work pleased them. Jesus fulfilled this commandment for us, so that when our Father in heaven looks at us, he does not see our embarrassment at or our rebellion against our parents. Instead, he sees the pleasing work our Savior offered up in our place.


But Jesus doesn’t stop at that. Through his word, the Holy Spirit changes our heart so that that where there was rebellion, there is the desire to follow and worship and please our Father in heaven. And here in the fourth commandment is a beautiful way in which we can get that done. For it is not just work. It is pleasing work. God looks down when we respect our parents by listening to them and obeying them and he is filled with joy, wonder, and awe. For one of the best ways we worship God is by obeying the people sets up to do his work on his behalf. Again, we do this not to appease God’s wrath. Jesus appeased God’s wrath by with his pleasing work in our place. No, we do this purely out of thanks.


And so, musical scales and musical keys lead to the making of a musician. But where does the law lead? It leads to perfect wonder at the treasures there in God’s word. It leads to pleasing work—that I can work by respecting my parents and my Father in heaven is so very pleased with that work. Amen.



1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 400.

Jesus Is the Redeemer of Time (Christmas Day)

Christmas

Jesus Is the Redeemer of Time


Time was my tormentor. When I was growing up we used to visit uncle Ferd and Aunt Leoma. And what I remember most about their house was time. To be more specific, they had this monster-sized Grandfather clock. It would ring so loudly on the quarter hour that everyone had to stop and wait for it to stop before they could continue talking. And at night it was even worse. All us kids had to sleep on the carpet floor in the living room. And every hour, on the hour, the ground would shake and your ears would cry out in pain when it sounded the hour. Time was my tormentor. But I’m not alone. In a different way all throughout all the ages, time has been our tormentor. In John 1, we read: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


John starts here in a very fascinating place. He lets us know that at the beginning there was this perfect communication—the word. And this word was more than just words and thoughts. It was God himself. Now then, remember what happened in the Garden of Eden. In that garden everything was pure and perfect. But then that serpentine Satan came along and tempted Adam and Eve to sin. And they listened. From that time on time itself was corrupted. Time became the world’s tormentor. God stood apart from and outside that time. Now, if we put ourselves in God’s shoes for even a moment, it might have been tempting to stay away from this world and the corrupted time in it. But, instead, the opposite happens. We read: 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:4–11 NIV11-GKE)


In the same way we might want to avoid a long line at the supermarket or the shopping center because of the extreme waste of time waiting, there would have been a temptation to not come down to earth. But that’s what Jesus did. Jesus came to his own. But his own did not receive him. Instead, they rejected him. For about three decades Jesus was growing up as a Jewish carpenter. And the first ones to not believe that he was the Son of God was his own brothers—his own family. He came to his own people, the Jews. And for the most part they liked his fancy miracles, but wanted nothing to do with his teaching. And think of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who demanded that he prove that he was the Christ. And then they plotted to put him to death. And Jesus endured this rejection over decades!


But, as you’re traveling through the bible, looking for those who did not receive him and instead, rejected him, don’t forget to look at your own heart. Each of us has a sinful nature. And time itself testifies against us. For when our Savior asks us to serve, that sinful voice inside of us says, “not your time, but mine”. Such selfishness we show. But there’s also laziness. We do what we are called to do. But we it with slow hands and a complaining heart. And we waste Jesus’ time by wasting the time of others around us. And that waste of time goes on every day, month and year of our lives. So the people in Jesus’ day aren’t the only ones who have not received Jesus and instead rejected him. Just as much as time torments us, we use time to torment Jesus. Who will lift this weight of wasted years from our shoulders and hearts? Listen to what John tells us: 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12–13 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus is the Redeemer of time itself. And in these words we see how. Jesus takes on human flesh and blood and willingly waits. Oh, how much he must have yearned to be grown up preaching God’s word as only the Divine Word can do. But, instead, he waits. And he does so willingly and wondrously. And my brothers and sisters in Christ this is good news. For, where we wait restlessly and waste Jesus’ time. He waited willingly in your place and in mine. And that patience payed off. For at just the right time he allowed himself to die for the sins of the entire world and make a payment to take away your sin. The result is wondrous and joyous. Your sins of willingly wasting God’s gift of time to you are forgiven by Jesus’ patience and his payment. And all of this is ours through this gift of faith. But there’s more. John writes: 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:14–18 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus is the redeemer of time through the gift of time redeemed. But he’s also our redeemer through the gift of time restored. Here in these words we see the result of God’s grace. The time that was our tormentor now is our ally. One of the great paralyzing parts of being a human is that we fail, feel horrible about it and then are terrified of moving ahead in the future. If you’ve wasted your time and you are there sitting in the classroom or boardroom and you are completely unprepared for the test or report you are called to do, you can be paralyzed with fear for the future. If you’ve said something mean to someone and, despite the fact that you have apologized to that person and repented to God, nevertheless, time is your tormentor. For time reminds that other person what you did. Jesus took on human flesh and blood to redeem you of the torture and torment that time brings you. And he accomplished that through his patience for you and payment for you.


You are forgiven. From that fact flows so much freedom. We do not have to live in the future anymore. We can boldly go ou there into the world and use the time God has given us even if we might make mistakes and even if we might commit sins. We do not need to live in terror of making a bad choice and as a result we make no choice. No, Jesus has redeemed us from the terror, torment, and torture of time. Time now is a gracious gift to us. So, my dear friends in Christ, live in that freedom. Amen.



What Is The Real Present? (Advent 4)

What Is The Real Present?


Somewhere we lost focus. Many years ago there was a bishop over an area of Asia Minor called Palmyra. This bishop became well-known. He became well known because he stood up against the false teacher, Arius at the council of Nicea. He also became well-known because of what he did in his church and in his community. There was a dad with three daughters. He died. And the three daughters would have been sold into slavery. But this bishop and pastor took these daughters in at great cost to himself and his church. This man was Nicolas, Archbishop of Palmyra. What do we know him as today? Santa Klaus. Somewhere we lost focus. That is our trap as humans, for that is our tendency. And there’s nothing new under the sun. Humans thousands of years ago had the same temptation. We see that in our reading for this morning. In Hebrews 10, we read, 1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4 NIV11-GKE)


In the Old Testament God commanded the Jewish people to bring forward offerings. But what happened is their feelings took over their focus. They came to Jerusalem pulling behind them sheep, bulls, and goats. And when they got there they were filled with awe and wonder. They saw the amazing temple and said, this is my temple. Instead of being surrounded by a few worshippers of the Lord, they were surrounded by many. And they said, “this is my people.” And they looked down at that animal and their heart swelled with pride and they thought, “this is my offering.” And the feelings made them lose focus on why they were there. The writer to the Hebrews brings that focus back. Those animals they carried in their arms and pulled behind their backs were not the solution to sin, they were the reminder of sin. They were the promise of the good sacrifice to come, not the sacrifice itself.


They lost their focus because their feelings in their hearts overcame the facts in front of their faces. Isn’t the same true for us? It is ever-so-easy to replace the fact of Christmas with the feelings of Christmas. So what does this look like? We put up red poinsettias and bright lights because it makes us feel right. We eat cookies and cakes because it makes us feel good. We go out and get a tree or bring it up from the basement because that’s what we did when we were children. All of this we do to recapture the feelings of Christmas. Now, before I go any farther, there is nothing wrong with feelings in and of themselves. But when the feelings that surround Christmas cause us to loose focus on Christmas, then it becomes a sin. It becomes a sin in two ways. First, Jesus was not born to make us feel good as if he were a potent wine or a rich cookie. No, instead, the hymn we just sang words it correctly:


Come, O long-expected Jesus, Born to set your people free;
From our sins and fears release us By your death on Calvary.


Just as the goats and bulls in the Old Testament should have been a reminder of their sin, so also, Jesus birth should first of all be a reminder of our sin. But so often we lose focus and conclude that Jesus’ birth is all about good feelings like fancy cookies.


But there’s a second way we fall into sin by replacing the fact of Christmas with the feeling of Christmas. What if you don’t have the proper feelings? How many of remember the immense and intense joy of our Children’s Christmas service? But now, years later those same immense and intense emotions are not the same. Is it real Christmas if I’m not fired up? That’s the trap with losing focus and replacing the fact of Christmas with the feelings surrounding Christmas.


So what’s the real present of Christmas? It’s not frail feelings. That much we know. But what is it? God’s word tells us, 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” (Hebrews 10:5–6 NIV11-GKE)


The real present of Christmas is Christ’s humanity. Now, notice where God’s word goes in these words. Usually the present we speak about it Christ’s divinity. Here the present our Father in heaven promises is humanity. That is the present we focus in at Christmas: God gives us a human body to bear sin. I came into this world as a sinner. I cannot kill any animal to pay for that sin. I cannot kill myself or anyone else to pay for my sin. But all of those countless animals in the Old Testament that needed to be killed pointed ahead to Christmas: a human body to bear sin. That, my friends is the real present. But Christ’s humanity gives us another gift: 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’ ” 8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:7–10 NIV11-GKE)


An ancient pastor in the church once said that “that which Jesus did not receive, he did not redeem.”1 God gave a human to us as a present to bear our sins. But he also gave us a human to us as a present to obey our God. We so very easily lose focus. We so easily lose focus on the fact of Christmas and focus in on the feelings surrounding Christmas. But Jesus had a human will that was perfect. He not only wanted to obey his Father, he was actually able to doing what his Father commanded completely and continually. And all this he does in your place.


It might be ok to forget who the real St. Nic is. But this morning don’t forget what the real Christmas present is. God gave to us a real human—a human to bear our sins, a human to obey our God. That is the fact that will bring our focus back to where it needs to be. Amen.



1 ⲧⲟⲁⲡⲣⲟⲥⲗⲏⲡⲧⲟⲛⲁⲑⲉⲣⲁⲡⲉⲩⲧⲟⲛ: Gregory Nanzianzen

This Is Love (Midweek Advent 2)

This Is Love


Christmas is love. As someone who has to work with words as a calling and profession, ads have always fascinated me. You only have 30 seconds (or less). And you have to artfully and concisely tell your audience what you have and why they should want to buy it. Lately, as I’ve been listening to internet radio channels, the ads let me know that Christmas is all about love. And, if were in doubt as to what love is, the ad tells me. Love is buying that product for the person in my family. If I buy that item, then I love my family. But it does bring up a good question though, doesn’t it? What is love? This Advent we have as our theme: \textsc{Lord Jesus, Come To Us…in your love.} And this evening we see what true love is. In 1 John 4, we read: 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8 NIV11-GKE)


What is love? Here in these words, notice how the sort of love John is speaking about here is a different sort of love than we speak about in english today. We can say, “I love my wife; I love my dog; I love pizza” and use the same word. Here the meaning is much more specific. We are taught at our Seminary to not drag the Greek and Hebrew into our sermons and bludgeon our hearers with those words. Here, however, is a good exception. This is a word worth memorizing. The word is, “agápe”.1 It means, to bring out the best in the one you love. Now, notice how this is a bit different than how we might use the word today. Because if you show this sort of love, you might sometimes even hurt the feelings of the person you are showing love to. A mom with a two-year-old slaps the hand of the child who has just picked up a candy off of the ground. She hurts the child’s feelings. But she does this for his good. She does what is best for him.


That is what love is. But, as John continues with these words, he is very practical. He lets us know that we don’t just have this love as children of God, we also can use this love. We can use this love as a test. How do we know the difference between true preachers of the word and false ones? Do they do what is best? A televangelist asks for your money. But does he visit you in your home and give you the Lord’s Supper when you cannot get to church? It’s a test for those on the outside of these walls. And it’s a test for those on the inside of these walls. Do we love each other enough to speak the truth in love, correcting each other’s sins? Do we love each other enough to speak those precious words of forgiveness even when the hurt is real? What is love? Love has a definition. Love does what is best for that which it loves. But there’s more: 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9–10 NIV11-GKE)


This is love. Love has a definition. But, as John travels on, we see that love also has a foundation. If you really want to see what this sort of love looks like, you need to look above to heaven and behind you in time to Christmas. True, “agápe” love is the Father sending his Son to take on human flesh and blood to give us eternal life. The foundation of this love is not us loving God. Instead, the foundation of this love is God showing this sort of love to us. God’s love for us is the foundation of true love because before we can love others we need to know that we, ourselves, are loved—and loved in a specific way. We need to know that our sins are forgiven. The times that we should have corrected our fellow Christian, but found it so much easier to say nothing. The times we should have forgiven our fellow Christian but didn’t. We need forgiveness for those sins. And true love is shown to us in this fact: Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for those sins and all the others. This is love. Love has a foundation. The foundation of love is not what we do for God or others. The foundation of love is what God has done for us in Christ. But John continues: 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11–12 NIV11-GKE)


This is love. Love has a definition: that which does what is best for the one we love. Love has a foundation: God loved us enough to send and then sacrifice his own Son for our sins. But here in these words we see that love also has an effect. As we ponder his love shown to us, then the Holy Spirit strengthens our new person inside of us to show this Christian love to others. And then that love that we show to others ends up be a proof that we are Christians. Now here is where we need to stop for just a moment. The love that we show to others is not the first or the biggest proof that we are children of God. Proof that we are Children of God starts with our Triune God and what he has done for us. But, as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts through his word day by day, we naturally and spontaneously reach out and stretch out in love toward each other. And there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that this is love. But even this love is a gift from God and it did not start or come from us.


And so, my dear friends in Christ. Love has a definition: doing that which is best for the person we love. It has a foundation: God’s love for us. And it has an effect: the Holy Spirit providing proof that we are his children. Amen.



1 “Ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲱⲙⲉⲛ” (1 John 4:7 GNT-ALEX)

The Messenger Will Come Back (Advent 2)

The Messenger Will Come Back


The best stories are the ones you don’t know. One of the great parts about watching a new movie is that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Is it a sad story that ends up happy? Is it the opposite? Is it a story that you know the ending to, but you wonder how they get there? In all of these movies what glues them all together are clues and context. This morning we walk through the first part of Malachi 3. And what glues and binds this part of God’s word together is clues and context. So let’s look at them: “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:1 CSB17)


The Messenger of the covenant will come back. That’s the main fact the Lord tells his people. Who is this? In order to answer that question we have to put together the clue and the context. In the Old Testament the Angel of the Lord—the Messenger of the covenant appears at many important times. And it would take many hours to thoroughly lay out who this is in detail. But let’s take for as an example what we walked through on Thanksgiving Eve. In our sermon on Thanksgiving Eve we heard about a man named Jacob. And all throughout one dark night there was a messenger who wrestled with him. This messenger was from God, but also was God. This messenger was clearly God. But, in a miraculous way, he was also a man. Now, let’s put the clues together. Can you think of anyone who is both God and sent from God—someone who is both God and fully human? This is one of these beautiful parts of God’s word that shows us that Jesus is the Angel of the Lord. And that this Messenger of the Covenant would come back. But the real question for the Old Testament believers was this: were they ready for his return? We read: 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. 3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 5 “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, and the fatherless; and against those who deny justice to the resident alien. They do not fear me,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:2–5 CSB17)


These Old Testament believers yearned for and were excited about this Messenger of the covenant coming back. But they shouldn’t have been. For they were not ready. We have these words fulfilled for us in the life of Jesus. Here in Malachi we learn that this Messenger of the covenant would go to his own house. And Jesus did exactly that. And when he went to his Father’s house, what did he do? He wove together a whip with slow-burning anger and drove out all the people from the temple courtyard. And here in these words in Malachi we see why he whipped them. They wanted to be in God’s presence. But they didn’t want to do so with repentance. They lied. They lusted. They lived for themselves—and themselves alone.


All of this I have been speaking about them at that time. But what about us? Jesus, the Messenger of the Covenant, will come back to judge the living and the dead. Are we ready for that? See, the great trap we can fall into as New Testament believers is to pine away and plan for Jesus arrival at Christmas and on Judgment Day the same way they did: without repentance. What about our lies, our lust, our living for ourselves. A friend of mine texted me, letting me know that the church he used to go to in Indonesia fell prey to a terrorist attack. And my first thought was, “I guess that’s what you get for living over there.’” I had this great opportunity to grieve with and pray for our fellow Christians. But instead, my thoughts were only of myself. How easy this is for us, isn’t it? The Messenger of the covenant will come back. But are you ready? Look at where these words go from here: “Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6 CSB17)


What is amazing about these words is how they don’t seem to fit at all here. In these words the Lord is getting angrier and angrier. He is listing one grievous sin after another. And we would expect the conclusion to be a promise to destroy. But, instead of punishment, we hear a promise. The reason we are not destroyed is because the Lord does not change. We change. We make promises and do not keep them. But Jesus does not. From the beginning, God made promises—promises that he would keep—promises that would save us from our sin. Think of the promise he made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Satanic Serpent would kill Jesus. But Jesus would then end Satan. Christmas is the beginning of that promise. Good Friday and Easter are the end of that promise. And for that reason, we are not destroyed. Jesus whipped the people he saw in the temple. But because he kept his promises, he was the one who was whipped for them on Good Friday. The Lord told them that they were not destroyed. And the only reason that was true was because Jesus’ body was the one that would be destroyed on Good Friday. He made a promise to pay for their sin and he kept it. For that reason, we have every reason to look forward to the Messenger of the covenant coming back. And in our final words, the Lord gives us a reason why: “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from my statutes; you have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:7 CSB17)


The Lord ends with this gracious invitation: Return to me, and I will return to you. This is a reminder to us to look behind us at Christmas, and the baby Jesus placed in a manger. But even more so, we look ahead and above. For the people yearned with such joy to have this messenger of the covenant come back. But my friends in Christ, Jesus will come back. Because of this, our yearning ahead and above should be far more than our yearning behind us. Think, for example, of the Christmas hymn, Now Sing We, Now Rejoice. In the final verse, we sing:


Oh where shall joy be found?
Where but on heav’nly ground?
Where the angels singing
With all his saints unite,
Sweetest praises bringing
In heav’nly joy and light
Oh, that we were there!
Oh, that we were there!


The hymn writer invites us to wish that we were there. And, my friends in Christ, take him up on that invitation. But don’t stay there. For the Messenger of the covenant still has more promises to keep. Look ahead and look above. For Jesus will come back to be with us forever. Amen.



What Does Righteousness Bring? (Advent 1)

Advent

What Does Righteousness Bring?


Some sentences seem simple, but are really scary. For example, let’s say that you get a letter from the IRS. And in that letter it says that they’d like to have a look at your records. You wouldn’t think there would be any reason to become afraid when you read those words. But all of us know there is more to those words, don’t we? Those words carry the unspoken message with them, “we’re checking your records. And if we find that your records are in error, there will be consequences.’” I mention this because, here, now, at the beginning of a new year, God’s word in our first reading from Jeremiah makes a statement that sounds fine on its own. But if you do even a little more study you realize that these words are actually quite terrifying. In Jeremiah 33, we read: 14 “Look, the days are coming”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “when I will fulfill the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14–15 CSB17)


In these words the Lord was promising to come to them with righteousness and justice. And what was terrifying about this is that the people to whom Jeremiah was writing knew what those words meant. For the Lord spoke those sorts of words in their grandparents’ time. In that time, about 722 BC, the Lord had the Assyrians come down and destroy the 10 northern tribes. And he did that in the name of his righteousness and justice. And if they missed the weight and meaning of those words in their grandparents’ time, then they could not miss the meaning of those words in their own time. For, in the name of his righteousness and justice the Lord brought the Babylonians down against the two remaining tribes. Their own armies were killed by the Babylonians. And the rest were enslaved. And thousands were forced away from their homeland to be slaves in Babylon. And all of this happened in the name of the Lord’s righteousness and justice.


Maybe we should take a step back and define this word. What is righteousness? And what does it bring with it? Righteousness is a word that means holiness and perfection. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the sort of perfection that cannot tolerate imperfection in anything it comes in contact with. It’s the sort of perfection and holiness that deals with those who have unholiness and non-perfection in the same way a bug-zapper deals with mosquitoes and moths. It consumes them. That’s why this seemingly innocent statement of the Lord establishing his righteousness and holiness would have been terrifying to those people who had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians. For the Lord had invited them to repent for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years the Lord’s people turned their back on them. So he brought his righteousness against them.


But if we ask the question, what does righteousness bring, it shouldn’t just terrify them. It should also give us pause to ponder the word in our own time and in our own context. The Lord is holy. We are unholy. The Lord is sinless. We are sinful. The Lord cannot tolerate sin. We cannot get rid of our sin. When humans consider this fact, there is a distinct trap they can fall into. The trap is to conclude that the Lord tolerates, looks the other way, and is OK with our sin. For example, one of the statements you can hear churches saying is, “Come as you are.” There is some truth to this statement. God wants—really truly wants all people to come to church and hear and learn about him. But sadly, there many out there who conclude that we say “come as you are,” what we mean is the Lord tolerates my sin, looks the other way, and, at the end of the day, is OK with my sin. But the bible says, “our “God is a consuming fire.”” (Hebrews 12:29 NIV) Righteousness brings wrath. And our temptation is to fall into the trap of not seeing the true terror that is contained in that one word, righteousness, if we are not careful. For if the Lord did not hesitate to kill and enslave his people in the Old Testament twice when they did not repent, he is ever-so-willing to do the same with us today.


What does righteousness bring? It brings wrath. But, my dear friends in Christ, there is more to this word than just wrath. In the first verse we read, the Lord told us that he would fulfill the good promise he spoke. And in our final verse we learn more about this promise: “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely, and this is what she will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16 CSB17)


Righteousness brings wrath. When it comes it destroys sin and anyone who contains sin. But what if a miracle happened? What if the Lord shielded us from his wrath? What if he covered our lack of righteousness with his own righteousness? What if the Lord could remove and replace our sin with his own righteousness and perfection? What then? Then the Lord could come to us and there would be no need to destroy us. And that’s the point that the Lord is making in these final words. In an amazing promise the Lord tells desolate Jerusalem and rebellious Judah that the Lord’s righteousness is now our righteousness.1(Jeremiah 33:16 BHS-T)}} This then is another answer to the question. What does righteousness bring. Yes, it brings wrath. But it also brings redemption.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, when you look ahead several weeks down the road to that little baby placed in the manger, what should you see? See God’s righteousness. But also see that his own righteousness is now our own righteousness. See a child that will buy us back for him. See a king that will die like a slave. See a God who is now also a man.


See redemption when you look at Christmas Day. But also see redemption when you look at the last day. In our gospel for this morning, Jesus says, 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”” (Luke 21:27–28 CSB17)


So what does righteousness bring? The Lord’s righteousness brings wrath. And this moves us then to repent of our sin, not making our Lord accept and approve of our sin. No, we ask our Lord to purify us of our sin and pay for it. And that too is what Jesus’ righteousness brings: redemption. Amen.



1 ”יְהוָ֥ה ׀ צִדְקֵֽנוּ“