Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd)

Good Shepherd

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)

Third Sunday of Easter

Sunrise

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.


Second Sunday of Easter

Bible

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)

The Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Dawn

Baptism

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)

Good Friday

Good Friday

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
On Israel’s altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.



But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.1



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

Maundy Thursday

Chalice

What We Share In We Care About


“You do that too?” Years ago I got into using fountain pens. And what I found out by using fountain pens, is that, if you have fountain pens, you need special paper for those fountain pens. And that’s expensive. And even worse, books full of paper are even more expensive. So I got into the habit and hoppy of binding my own books. And so, one day, I went into Michael’s to get some supplies. And the lady who was cutting the cloth was asking me what I was using the cloth for and I told her. And you would have thought that she rediscovered her long-lost best friend. She said, “You do that too?” And instantly we had this common bond. It was a reminder to me that what we share in we care about. But, we, as Christians, have so much more and so much better that we share in. And this evening God’s word reminds us of that fact. In 1 Corinthians we read: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16 CSB17)


In the Lord’s Supper we share in Jesus’ body. In the Lord’s Supper we share in Jesus’ blood. Notice what Paul is so clearly explaining to us. The Lord’s supper is not just a remembering of or picturing of Jesus’ body and blood. It is Jesus’ body and blood. Along with bread and wine there is Jesus’ body and blood. And in that body and blood Jesus delivers to us the forgiveness of sins. Because of this, the ancient theologian, Augustine, called baptism and the Lord’s supper the visible gospel. On Sunday morning we hear the gospel in our sermons and readings. But in the Lord’s supper we see, taste, touch and feel the gospel.


I was reminded how special and important that fact was years ago. About at decade ago I visited an elderly lady named Catherine. She couldn’t see very well. She couldn’t hear very well. So, when I visited her I would park myself next to her ear and share last week’s sermon with her. And she would take it in without any sign of either disagreement. But, after that, I gave her the Lord’s Supper. Much of what I preached in her ear was lost because of her hearing damage. But, when it came time for the Lord’s Supper, she sat up. Her hand trembled with reverence. And after she received Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine there were tears that stained her cheeks—tears of joy. There was such reverence in her because she knew that the gospel she couldn’t hear she could taste and touch.


And it’s my fear that we can be tempted to not care in the forgiveness that we share in the Lord’s Supper. And we can be tempted in this way by simply being too hasty in the Lord’s Supper. Today, we are way-too-time-conscious. We face this temptation to streamline the Lord’s Supper. We can do this by removing the parts of the liturgy that prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. We can do this by creating an atmosphere of rushing the distribution, as if we are some sort of assembly line for Jesus’ body and blood. There’s a reason that some of those communion hymns are so long. And it’s not just because there’s a lot of people to commune. It’s because people long ago didn’t want to rush what they shared in. They wanted to savor it. How sad it is when two Packer or Vikings fans meet on the street they can savor that time together. But here we share something so much more important, and we are tempted to rush it.


Our sin is showing that we do not care about what we share in. And that’s what what we are about do share in is so important and cherished. For in that bread and wine along with Jesus’ body and blood we receive forgiveness—even for that sin.


What we share in we care about. We share in Jesus’ body and blood. But we also share a common confession. We read: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17 CSB17)


There is one loaf of bread. There is one body of Christ, his church. And because of this, we have one, shared understanding and confession. This is why the Christian Church spends months and months teaching and training people before they join a church and before they share in the Lord’s Supper. For when you come forward to this table you are saying that you believe the same thing with the person beside you. That’s why what will happen at the end of next month on Confirmation day is so special. For these young ladies will be saying with their actions, “I believe what this church teaches. And now I get to share Jesus’ body and blood with the rest of them.”


But here too we face the temptation to sin. For if there is great joy in seeing people join our church and say and show that they believe what we believe, there is also fear. What about visitors to our church? Will they get angry when they hear that we aren’t completely on the same page with them yet? Will they come once and never come again? And with that fear comes the temptation to not care as much about the common confession we share.


But that too is why we receive the Lord’s Supper, so that we can be forgiven for that sin too. Jesus’ body and blood forgives our unfounded fears. But there’s more. Jesus’ body and blood here along with this bread and wine strengthens and guards our sharing. Years ago I took a class on Church Fellowship with professor Brug at our Seminary. And he mentioned how our practice of close communion is a great blessing to our church. First, it’s the Holy Spirit’s way of weeding out those who really don’t care about what we teach. Think about that for a minute. If a person gets angry at you because they cannot commune here with us at this table, what they are really saying is that they care so very little about what’s going on here that they don’t want to learn what the bible says. And second, it’s a blessing because it nudges fence-sitters off the fence. Professor Brug told this story about a kindly lady who was a member of his church. Her husband’s church had some huge theological problems. So he started coming to her church. And he really appreciated the truth of God’s word that he heard. But he great frustration was that he couldn’t commune with his wife. And this went on month after month. Finally then, the pastor sat down with the husband and said, “I can see that you appreciate what you are learning and hearing here week after week. If not being able to commune with your wife is the stumbling block, then just go through class. And if you agree with what we teach, then join our church.” So the guy finally gave up and came to class. And he was a faithful member of that church for many years.


I mention both of these blessings because we so very often are tempted to conclude that close-communion is something we have to endure. But it is a great gift that God has given his church both to ‘weed-out’ those who really don’t care enough about his word to learn it and to ‘nudge’ people into a church where they belong and can be pastored and fed with God’s word.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, what we share in we care about. We share in Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Hold his supper in holy awe and in holy joy. We share in a common confession. Care for it by practicing close communion. Amen.



Sixth Sunday in Lent—Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Cross

See Who The Son Of David Is


How do you tell someone who you are? If you wanted to teach and show someone who you are—who you really are, how would you do this? When I think of this question, I think of jobs and resumés. It’s been years since I’ve had to fill out a resumé. But it has to be a frustrating task. You have to condense your life down to one or two pages. You have to simply and succinctly communicate to a company who you are in one or two pages. How do you do that? How do you communicate to someone who you are? In the words we look at this morning that’s what Jesus is doing. He is introducing himself to his own city and teaching them who he actually is. In Mark 11, we read: 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.” (Mark 11:1–6 NIV11-GKE)


We read these words and we ask the question, “Why does Mark spend so much time speaking about a donkey?” Jesus here in these words is teaching the people of Jerusalem who the Son of David is. The Son of David was a humble human. Every other king on the face of the planet would come into his own city with an honor guard. He would come into his city with a body guard and a chariot. So, with an example they can see, he teaches them that the Son of David is a humble human. But there’s more to it. It’s not just any donkey. It’s a donkey that no one has ever ridden on. It’s a sign and a hint that there’s more going on here. He is a humble human. But he is also so much more. So Jesus shows the people of Jerusalem that he is the Son of David by allowing himself to be treated as the Son of David. But Jesus teaches them in yet another way: 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”” (Mark 11:7–10 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus shows that he is the Son of David by allowing himself to be treated as a humble human and also a holy God. But here we see that he isn’t just treated as a humble human and holy God, he is called both of those. He is called the name, the “Son of David.” It’s hard to find a name for Jesus that better teaches who he is. He is the human descendent of David. But he is also, at the same time, over David and greater than David. Jesus does all of this to teach to them who he really, truly is. He is a humble human and holy God. But there’s another way we see that he is the Son of David: “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mark 11:11 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus shows us that he is the Son of David by letting us see that he is treated as the Son of David, called the Son of David, and here, he has the attributes and qualities of the Son of David. Or, to put it differently, he does the things that only the Son of David can do. As a humble human he looks around with his own eyes. But as the holy God he sees everything.1


We wrestle and struggle to show people who we really, truly are. But look at Jesus. There Jesus is wrestling and struggling to teach us who he really, truly is. And he does this by having people treat him as the Son of David, name him the Son of David, and show the attributes and qualities of the Son of David. He does all of this to show what it means to be the Son of David, that he is both a humble human and holy God. Jesus works so hard to teach the people. But who learns the lesson? So very few understand who the Son of David is.


And it might be tempting to be harsh and mean to those who cut down palm branches and laid down their clothes to pave Jesus’ way in to Jerusalem. But we too face the same temptation. We face the temptation to forget what it means that Jesus is the Son of David. Jesus is the Son of David. And that means that he is a humble human. And we can forget this. I remember when I was a child in Sunday School, my teacher once said, “Don’t forget, Jesus needed his diapers to be changed too.” Jesus was a humble human. I remember this when I think of that time when Jesus was invited to go into a Pharisee’s house and have dinner with him. The Pharisee, by his actions, shows Jesus that he despises him. He does not have anyone there to wash Jesus’ feet. But a woman who had led a sinful life shows up. And with her tears she stains Jesus feet. And what the Pharisee did not do, she did. She wiped off the sweat, the stink, the sand with her own hair. It’s so easy for us to forget how human Jesus is. And if we fall to that temptation we can fall into an even worse trap. We can begin to conclude that Jesus came not to save us from our sin, but instead, from our humanity. Being human is not sinful. No, instead, being sinful is sinful. God made us with these bodies. Jesus took on a human body. And just as he rose with a human body, so too will we.


Now, what I don’t want to have happen in all this is all you teenagers going home and saying to your parents, “Jesus’ feet stank, so it’s fine if my feet stink.” That’s not the point to walk away with this morning. No, instead, the point is that Jesus wants to show us who he really, truly is. He is the Son of David. And that Son of David was a humble human for us. And by being a human perfectly in our place he paid for all the times we used our bodies for sin or thought there was shame in just simply having human bodies themselves.


But there’s more. When Jesus shows them that he’s the Son of David, he’s also showing them that he is our Holy God. These are words you have to picture. Jesus gets up the hill to the temple. And the sun is just barely going down. The sky is mixed with orange, red and yellow. But is Jesus staring at the sunset? No. Instead, Jesus is looking around at everything. The Son of David sees everything. In Catechism class I ask the children this question: “Is it good or bad news that God sees everything?” Then I tell them, “God sees every thought that travels through your brain and every desire in your heart. Is that good news or bad news?” And then they say that it’s bad news. We forget this don’t we? Just as we can forget that the Son of David was a humble human, we can also forget that Jesus is our Holy God too. And that too is a sin. For we, as Christians, have no excuse. For we have been taught from little on up that God can see all. But the Son of David doesn’t just see our sin. He also sees our need for salvation. And since he is the one and only Holy God he does we could never do. He dies and pays for all our sins. He pays for the sin we commit when we forget Jesus’ humble humanity and holy divinity.


So my dear friends in Christ, if you wrestle to show people who you are, look at Jesus here on Palm Sunday. For here he wrestles and struggles to show the people and us today that he is the Son of David. He does this by showing them that he is treated as the Son of David, called the Son of David, and does the things that only the Son of David can do. And he does all of this for you. Amen.



1 “ⲡⲉⲣⲓⲃⲗⲉⲯⲁⲙⲉⲛⲟⲥⲡⲁⲛⲧⲁ” (Mark 11:11 GNT-ALEX)

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Lent

Trust Jesus, Your High Priest


You need to trust instantly and completely. There are those times in our lives when you are told to trust someone instantly and completely. I think of what happens in hospital rooms. A person goes into the E.R. The doctor takes one action after another to keep the person from dying. And the loved ones are there in the waiting room with nothing to do with their time but simply trust that the doctor knows what he is doing. The same was true in the Old Testament when it came to the high priest. The high priest was the one man who on one day was allowed to go into the one place—the most holy place. He went into the most holy place with a bowl full of the blood of animals. He sprayed blood everywhere in the most holy place. And then if he came out and sprinkled that blood on the people, then they knew their sins were forgiven. They had to trust instantly and completely. In the New Testament we learn that Jesus is our Great High Priest. And in these words here in Hebrews we learn why it is that we should trust him: 1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed in matters pertaining to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also clothed with weakness. 3 Because of this, he must make an offering for his own sins as well as for the people.” (Hebrews 5:1–3 CSB17)


Sometimes you have to wait to figure out the point to a certain part of God’s word. Not here. The writer to the Hebrews right away tells you why you should trust Jesus your High Priest. Notice the two reasons: First, He was chosen by God. Second, he suffered perfectly for you. The writer to the Hebrews works so very hard to encourage us that we have every reason to trust Jesus as our Great High Priest. First, he was chosen by God. And he elaborates and explains that point in the words which follow: 4 No one takes this honor on himself; instead, a person is called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 In the same way, Christ did not exalt himself to become a high priest, but God who said to him, You are my Son; today I have become your Father, 6 also says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:4–6 CSB17)


How do you know you can trust this man? He did not choose to glorify himself. Instead God is the one who chose him. The High Priest was chosen from among the people, but by God himself. The same is true today. One of the reasons you can trust the pastors you have had in this congregation is that they didn’t choose themselves. Oh sure, each of the men who has preached in this pulpit as your pastor chose to study to be a pastor. But from there others chose. At the end of eight years (or nine in my case) of studying, our Seminary officially said, “We chose this man as a pastoral candidate.” Then what happened? Then you chose that man to be your pastor. Pastor Monday didn’t have a clue about this church until he was called here. And the same is true for me. You can trust them because they didn’t choose and glorify themselves. No, God chose them through you. How much more so is that true of Jesus. God chose Jesus to be the Great High Priest.


What’s the problem though? How do you trust someone you can’t even see? As Jesus speaks to us from his word he tells us to trust him many times and in many different ways. And our great sin is shown when we trust him in the easy ways, but doubt him or trust ourselves in the more difficult ways. Jesus says, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) But in our lives we so very often do the opposite. We get our ducks in a row when it comes to the financial, earthly details, then, when we think those are figured out, we then move onto the churchly issues. The high school student chooses the college that will pay the best paycheck and get the best job, but doesn’t consider how he or she will remain a Christian and even grow as a Christian. The grown-up is offered a pay-raise and the first thing he or she thinks about is the money. Then he thinks about traffic and travel. What is the last detail to consider: where is a WELS church? When we think like this we show that we do not trust Jesus as our High Priest.


And that’s where these words are so important for us to hear. All the other high priests had to offer up something else. They had to sacrifice an animal to take away first their own sins and second, the sins of the people. Jesus was different. First, he was perfect. So he didn’t have to sacrifice for himself. Second, since he was the perfect human and son of God, he could offer up himself to pay for our sins—all the times we should have trusted Jesus but didn’t. And with that then he gives us every reason to trust him. For he was chosen by God. He didn’t choose this work himself. But he did it perfectly for us. But there’s also another reason we should trust Jesus. We trust him because he was chosen by God. But we also trust him because he suffered for us. We read: 7 During his earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. 9 After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 and he was declared by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:7–10 CSB17)


You probably haven’t thought about it, but every person in the pew expects the impossible of their pastor. You want a pastor who has lived enough and maybe even made enough mistakes that he knows what you’re going through. And yet, if he’s made too many mistakes, then he’s not qualified to be a pastor. The same paradox is true in the Old Testament. They wanted and needed a high priest who could sympathize with them because he would be the one praying for them. If he didn’t have a clue what their lives were like, how could he offer up any prayers that dealt with what they were going through? Here, we read some absolutely beautiful words. First, Jesus cried and prayed to God because he knew that God would save him. You think of the cries and prayers Jesus offered up for us in the darkness of the garden of Gethsemane and the darkness on Good Friday. Why was Jesus so willing and faithful to continually cry out to God? Jesus knew that his Father would be with him at the end, on Good Friday, because he was with him all the way from the beginning. The Father taught the Son to trust him through suffering. And he learned that lesson perfectly in our place.


Take, for example, when you were a child. You fell down and skinned your knee. You came running inside and yelled and cried for your mommy to help. Now, I don’t know about you, but my mommy used to take out this reddish-orange liquid. And she said, “This is going to hurt. But then it will feel better—I promise.” And what do you think I did? I ran away. All I heard was, “This will hurt.” And we as adults do the same thing. How many of us avoid seeing the doctor for one simple reason: we think it might hurt. But Jesus, our Great High Priest did the opposite. Throughout all the pain Jesus endured, he clung to the promise his Father spoke to him. And how do we know we can trust that Jesus will get the job done on Good Friday and take away our sin? We know this is true and can trust him because of hundreds and thousands of times Jesus endured pain because he trusted the promise from his Father that he would not abandon him. What comfort this gives us to know that when we run away from any kind of pain, Jesus didn’t. Jesus trusted his Father throughout all the pain. And he did this for us, so that his obedience would cover and smother our cowardice.


So my dear friends in Christ, trust Jesus, your High Priest. For he was chosen by God. And he suffered for you. Amen.


Fourth Sunday in Lent

Snake

Look To Jesus And Live


Heat leads to stress. Last summer our family visited a number of national parks. One of those parks was Petrified Forest National Park. It was a very pretty and amazing park. But what was the problem? It was hot—really, really hot. Heat has a way of making the most pleasant place stressful and horrible. This morning we are in the book of Numbers. And this part of God’s word begins this way: “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;” (Numbers 21:4 NIV11-GKE)


In these words the Israelites are coming up out of Egypt. But when they want to go into the promised land the Edomites tell them, “no, you cannot come into our land.” So the Hebrews have to go down and then go around through the lowest, hottest parts of the desert. That is where we need to start in these words. It’s the stress of not being able to go into the Promised land right away. It’s the heat of the hottest part of the desert. And in that setting what happens? “they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”” (Numbers 21:5 NIV11-GKE)


The heat and stress leads the Hebrews to complaining and despising. And what’s the object of their complaining? Bread. Firstthey say, “there is no bread.”1 Next, they say, “We are disgusted by this horrible bread.”2 It’s hard to find a more hypocritical complaint in the bible, isn’t it. Out of his goodness, God provides them bread. And what is the target of their complaining and despising?: God’s good gifts.


And this, my dear friends in Christ, is a trap we can fall into. God, out of his goodness gives us one good gift after another. And our response is to complain about them and despise them. And it happens in so many ways. I’m working my way through different congregations during Lent. And last night there was a family with the grandma in one pew. And the daughter was in the pew on the other side. And what happened? There was a little girl who spent most of the time running between the two…during the sermon. I thought to myself: “Can’t they get some control of that kid?” And then, as I watched longer I realized that they were trying. It’s not easy to have little, tiny children in church for an hour. And they were trying to teach these children to stay. And I realized that it was so easy to complain. It was so easy to despise the good gift of having children in our churches. For which would you rather have, children that sometimes move around, or no children at all?


And the same is true not just with children, but also with the elderly. It is ever-so-easy to conclude that our elderly are dead-weight. They can’t mow the lawn anymore. They don’t have the energy to serve on Church Council anymore. And some of them are a real drain on our resources when the pastor has to go out to their houses because they cannot come here. But, my dear fellow Christians, A congregation without grey hair is a congregation without maturity and without wisdom. It is so easy to despise the good gifts God has given to us.


And finally, another gift God gives to us is music. I have been to many, many churches over the years and there is no congregation of this size that has had the musical gifts this one has. That is a good gift from God. But it is so very easy to despise it. It is so easy to say, “uccckhh, we have to hear those bells…again. We have to hear that choir….again. We have to sing all the verses of that hymn. My dear friends, look around you. There are many churches out there in our country that have a guy singing for 10 minutes on a stage followed by a 10 minute guitar solo. And they do this to hide the fact that neither the pastor nor the people in the padded seats can sing.


It is a sin to despise the good gifts God has given to us. But what does the Lord do about those sins? 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.” (Numbers 21:6–7 NIV11-GKE)


What did the Lord do about their sin of despising the good gifts the Hebrews were given? He sent burning snakes to bite them.3 In what way were these snakes ‘burning?’ Either their color was burning red, or their venom burned. Probably both. The Lord was not afraid to discipline his people then. And he is not afraid to do the same with us today. He does this by showing us our own hypocrisy. He does this how wicked it is to despise the good gifts he has given to us. But that then drives us to ask the question, why? Why does he hurt us and show us our own sins even with pain and misery? We read: 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (Numbers 21:8–9 NIV11-GKE)


The Lord hurt them with burning venom not because he hated them, but because he wanted to show them how evil their despising of his good gifts was and because he wanted to show them how much he loved them. And the same is true today. These sinful Hebrews looked to that snake lifted above the earth and lived. Jesus forgave their sins. And not only did he forgive their sins, he did so continually. As often as they repented and turned to their Lord by turning to that snake, their sins were forgiven and the venom healed.


And the same is true for us, isn’t it? How many times and in how many ways have we complained against and despised God’s good gifts? And yet, as often as we look to Jesus and repent, we live. And the reason we are forgiven is that God loved the world so much that he gave to us the most amazing gift—his very own Son. That son Jesus was the one who was punished in our place. The burning venom those Israelites felt was nothing to the burning hell our Savior endured. And that is his costly and priceless gift to you. And because he paid this price and because you can look to Jesus continually throughout your life you can be sure that your sins are forgiven—yes, even the sins we commit when we despise God’s good gifts.


So look to Jesus. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. But he does even more. He also continually gives us contentment. The Holy Spirit has given to you this great amazing gift of faith in Jesus. And my dear friends, that is not a small gift. That gift gives us the ability to be content enough with God’s good gifts to see these gifts and thank our Triune God for them. But even more, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to use these gifts.
So, if children are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We teach them. If the elderly are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We listen to them and learn from them. And if music is a gift God has given to us, we grow in it and give it to those after us. Every week we print out this big bulletin. And in this bulletin whenever there are parts that are sung, there are notes set above the words. Let me tell you why. When I was a child we had this hymnal called, The Lutheran Hymnal. And when I was a little child I could follow along. I noticed that when the notes went up, people’s voices did. And when there was space between the notes, people took those parts slower. But then what happened? I got older and my voice got lower and I couldn’t sing the notes on the top anymore. But I noticed the notes at the bottom. Those were low enough. It took time, but I was able to sing those notes.


But my dear friends, none of that would have been possible if there weren’t large notes, clearly written on the page. You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give us the gift of seeing what gifts are, he also gives us the joy of using those gifts. And we need to ask ourselves the question, “how are we teaching those around us and after us to appreciate these gifts?” What you see in this bulletin is the result of 14 years of pastoring. Big, large and clear notes aren’t just in the bulletin so that when visitors come who can read music it helps them. It’s also to teach those who cannot sing. And that takes toil. That takes effort. And that drives us back once again to Jesus. That’s why we look to Jesus and live. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. And he is the one who continually gives us contentment. Amen.



1 ”אֵ֥ין לֶ֙חֶם֙“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)

2 ”קָ֔צָה בַּלֶּ֖חֶם הַקְּלֹקֵֽל“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)

3 ”הַשְּׂרָפִ֔ים“ (Numbers 21:6 BHS-T)

Third Sunday in Lent

Lent

What Do We Do With These Words?


This doesn’t apply to you. Hospitals are places that are full of rules. I remember one of the first times I had to visit a hospital as a pastor. One of my members was in the ICU. So I got to the door just outside of the ICU. And it was closed. And there were no knobs or latches to get in. And beside the doors was a large poster. And on that poster was a massive lists of commands. You cannot come in here if… And even when if you can come in here, you can only come in during these hours. After reading the huge list I was beginning to conclude that no one could come into the ICU. Then a guy wearing scrubs walked past me, swiped a hidden box on the wall and the doors opened. And of course, when the doors opened, I snuck in after him. But notice, my friends in Christ, that the rules didn’t apply to him. He could come and go as he pleased. This morning we look at these ten “words” that the Lord speaks to his people. But the first lesson to learn is what applies to us and what doesn’t. And so, In Exodus 20, we read: 1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 3 Do not have other gods besides me. 4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. 7 Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:1–7 CSB17)


The first lesson we need to learn as we approach these words is that much of this does not apply to you. In these words God commands his people to not make any carved images.1 Yet look around you. You see pictures and images all around you in this church. Even more than that, you have pictures of God put right here on your altar. And so, there are parts of the second commandment that do not apply to you. And the same is true with the third. Moses tells us: 8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. 11 For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 CSB17)


What day of the week do we usually worship on? And yet here we see the command to worship on the Sabbath—on Saturday. Part of the third commandment does not apply to you. But here’s the question we need to ask: why? Jesus fulfills all the commandments in our place—all of them. And so, there are parts of these ten commandments that do not apply to us. The apostle Paul uses a beautiful picture for this: 16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17 CSB17) The illustration I use is this: If there’s a person walking around a corner, you see the shadow. You focus in on it because the closer the person gets the more details you find out. But when the substance (the person) comes, you don’t look at the shadow anymore. So there are parts of even the ten commandments that are shadow. And Jesus is the substance that fulfills them in our place.


This might be a strange topic to plow through on Sunday morning. But, my friends in Christ, this is important. This seems like irrelevant data until…until your friend who goes to a Calvinist church tells you that you’re sinning because you have pictures and sculptures of Jesus in your church. It seems irrelevant until the neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist tells you that you’re sinning because you don’t worship on Saturday. There are parts of these commandments which do not apply to you. And just as it’s a sin to ignore the parts of the commandments that do apply to you, it’s just as bad to feel guilty over the parts of these commandments that do not apply to you.


So then, understanding this, we can begin to answer that question, “What do we do with these words?” First, recognize that each of these commandments has a heart and core, a foundation that applies to you. Recognize that these commandments—all of them—are commandments you cannot keep. These words are not rungs of a ladder that we can use to climb up to heaven. No, these words are commandments that show us how really, truly sinful we are. And the most piercing way we see this is by looking at our gospel this morning. As we compare ourselves to Jesus in the temple it’s not pretty, is it. Somewhere along the line we learned that anger is a sin. But, what these words here in the gospel for this morning show us is that Jesus was perfectly angry and zealous for his Father’s house and there have been times where we should have been angry and zealous but were not. It should make me angry when there are times that I do not treat this place at a holy place where people worship. It should make us angry when other people do not treat this as the holy place it is. I still remember the one of the worst spankings I ever got when I was a child. I was a little child and my parents were taking forever talking after church was done. I was running through the church like a wild-child. They told me to stop and I ignored them. Then, out of nowhere, was a spanking. But why was it so swift and so severe? My mom said, “You are in the Lord’s house. This isn’t a playground.” She was angry—and properly so. But how many times have we should have been zealous and even angry, but we weren’t?


Recognize that these words are commands that we cannot keep. But isn’t is wonderful and amazing that Jesus was perfectly angry in our place. Look at your lives. There are times that we are angry when we should not be. And there are times when we should have been angry but weren’t. Then look at Jesus. Look at the Savior who shows such burning anger and keeps the third commandment in your place. Recognize that these words are commandments that you cannot keep. But also recognize and rejoice that Jesus could keep them and did. And the perfection and forgiveness that Jesus has in your place he gives to you through his word.


So what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that we cannot keep, but Jesus kept in our place. but notice then, that when we recognize this, it changes how we look at the commandments. When we see that Jesus freely and completely kept these commandments in our place, we naturally want to keep these commandments. We don’t want to keep these commandments to earn heaven. That’s impossible. No instead, God has given to us a new person alongside that old person. This new person thanks and praises our Savior and looks for ways to thank him. And what is so beautiful about these words is that these words are not just commands. They are also promises. Listen to what the Lord tells us: 12 Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 Do not murder. 14 Do not commit adultery. 15 Do not steal. 16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:12–17 CSB17)


Look at the fourth commandment here: Honor you father and mother. But there’s more to it. There’s also a promise. God promises to lengthen life so that, out of thanks, we would thank him in the way he would like to be thanked. And that’s the key thought. If we ask the question, “how can I thank God,” there’s your answer. If he really wants us to follow the commandments and really likes it when we do so, we can humbly follow down that path. Think of the promises in these words as the opposite of fruitcake. Now, if you like fruitcake, then you can forgive me for beating up on fruitcake. But, let’s face it, fruitcake is pretty much the universal anti-gift. You can’t eat it. You can’t use it for a book-stop. It doesn’t decompose. You didn’t want it. But someone gave it to you anyway. These promises here in these words are the opposite of fruitcake. What a great joy it is to know that the promises in these words are what our Lord actually wants and likes.


And so, what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that are only kept by Jesus. And we recognize that they are promises given to us. Amen.



1פֶ֣֙סֶל֙“ (Exodus 20:4 BHS-T)