Trust in the Lord
Do the bible and sports belong together? Every now and then at a football game you see someone holding a big sign that reads, “John 3:16.” And I suppose, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course it assumes that a person who is not a Christian has a clue what “John” is and what “3:16” is. But there are worse signs you can hold up at a football game. But there is a context in which sports and the bible do not belong together. Every now and then you hear of an athlete who either memorizes or even worse, tattoos the words, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV11-GKE) When you see a guy do that, take note of him. Because, most likely, if he’s a quarterback, he’s going to get sacked. If he’s a running back, he’s probably going to be the one to fumble the ball. Why? When Paul wrote those words the game football didn’t exist. And it’s wrong to take those words out of context and make them into our own image. All of this I mention because, if there’s any part of the bible in which we need to understand the context, it’s the book of Isaiah. In the opening words of this part of the bible we read: “Jacob, why do you say, and, Israel, why do you assert: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by my God”?” (Isaiah 40:27 CSB17)
God does not hear me. That is what the Israelites are saying in these words. That is their complaint. But again, what is the context. As you read the book of Isaiah, recognize that there is one author, Isaiah. But there are two distinctly different parts. In the first part Isaiah speaks to Israelites who despised God’s word. And so, through Isaiah the Lord invites the Israelites to repent. And then threatens them that the Babylonians will come and destroy them if they don’t. Those Israelites did not listen to the Lord. So the Lord brought down the Babylonians against them and they were carried off into exile. Then Isaiah writes to the second group of people. He writes to a despairing group. You see, the children of that rebellious generation grew up, not in Israel, but instead, in Babylon. And they gave up trusting and hoping in the Lord. And from a human perspective they had every right to do so. For the Lord had promised that the Messiah was to be born in Israel—and in Israel alone! And if the Jewish people were not in Israel then there was no Savior for their sins. So the Lord promised to this despairing group of people that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Israel. And this Messiah would be both God and human.
The context in Isaiah 40 is despair. It is despair over sin and the consequences of sin. And that, my dear friends in Christ, is a context we know all too well today, don’t we? A guy begins smoking in high school. And decades later he sees how horrible of a habit that is as his lungs are destroyed. And he even, with every ounce of strength in him stops. But the consequences of his sin remain. His lungs remain damaged. The young man grows up and gets married. He has his first child. And for the first time in his life he ‘mans up.’ He gets a job. He works hard. He works long hours over many years. But then what happens? The years go by, and with pain in his heart he realizes that his children are almost grown up and he was so busy working he didn’t really know them. And the consequences of sin remain. A girl is born. She grows up in a very non-Christian household. And she gets married to a Christian man. And through him she hears about Jesus and God’s word creates faith in her heart. She has children. And she wants more than anything to share God’s word with her children. But she fails to because she isn’t in the habit and because she has no idea how to accomplish this. And the consequences of sin remain. It is in that context that we too can cry out with complaints, saying, “My way is hidden from the Lord, My case is ignored by my God” When will my sin be forgiven? When will I be given strength to fight against that sin?
The Lord answers our complaint in a very fascinating way. Through Isaiah the Lord says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.” (Isaiah 40:28 CSB17)
We are not eternal. We are not omnipotent. We are not omniscient. But the Lord is all of these and more. Now this might seem like a very stupid response for the Lord to speak. We all know this, don’t we? We memorize these atributes of God in catechism. But what good are they to us? Well, Isaiah tells us: “29 He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. 30 Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, 31 but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength;” (Isaiah 40:29–31 CSB17)
When I was a child my oldest brother used to get bored. And when he got bored that’s when everything fell apart. He would sometimes take whatever toy I was playing with and hold it high above my head. And I would jump and not be able to grap that toy. But, to make the situation even worse, he would lower the toy down to where I could reach it. And when I jumped he would quickly lift it out of my grasp. And the more frustrated I got, the more entertained he was.
We have to admit, that in our lives, there are times that it seems like that’s what God is doing to us. He is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. But what good does that do us? Here in these words is where we see the truth. The Lord is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. And what does he do? He gives to us his strength. But again, there is a context behind these words. Isaiah is not saying that because we are Christians we can become little gods will little sparks of the divine inside of all of us. No, instead, he is giving to us two important promises. first, despite what we might conclude in our everyday lives, Jesus has paid for our sin and we are forgiven. It is true that we can look in the past and see so many times and ways we have sinned. And we can see in our every day lives the consequences of those sins. And those consequences scream out to us, “You are not forgiven.” But these words are so beautiful. For they promise to us that our sins are forgiven. Christ’s strength is our strength. He is the one who lived for us and died for us.
But there’s also a second promise. The Lord gives us his strength so that we can persevere. Now notice the word I used. I did not say, “conquer” or become “perfect.” The Lord gives us his strength so that we can endure and persevere. We may have our daily load of sin and its consequences. But in Christ, they don’t seem as light. For he gives to us his very own strength. And the consequences of our sins may remain with us to the day we die. But with the knowledge that Christ’s strength is our own to forgive us and to cause us to persevere, we can carry on—even with joy in our hearts.
And as these words close, Isaiah paints a picture for us. What does this daily life of trusting in the Lord look like? We read: “they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 CSB17)
Notice the point that Isaiah is making here. Those attributes of God that seemed to be against us, now, as Christians who trust in the Lord, are now for us. Now, to drive home this point, I could speak about any of these three attributes, his omniscience, omnipotence or eternal nature. But, because my time is coming to a close, let me just speak about one of them. Just take a look at the Lord’s eternal nature. As sinful human beings, time is our enemy. Have you ever thought about that? I’ve been here ten years. But it flew by like a dream. I’ve baptized people’s children. I’ve buried their parents. And it all flew by. And in two days I’m going to get in a car and drive away. And I do not know when I will see you all again. For some other man will have the call and joy to be your pastor. What does it mean then when the Lord here says that he will give to us his strength? What it means is this: All of us who continue to trust in the Lord will see each other again. It’s OK to say goodbye if you know you are going to see a person again.
And that’s why, my dear, treasured brothers and sisters in Christ, let me leave you where I began. Parents, bring your children to Sunday School and read to them at home. When you call a pastor to teach you God’s word, actually come to bible class. When you rejoice at having a pastor once again in this pulpit, listen to him. Humble yourself when he preaches law, and rejoice when he preaches gospel to you. And treat him with the same care and compassion as you poured out on me and my family. Continue to trust in the Lord. For he will give your his strength. Amen.
Jesus Teaches With Authority
Beware of big words. Over the decade that I’ve been your pastor I’ve been teaching you that the danger in learning big words is that we think we know them, but the danger is this: that we either don’t know what the word means, or we aren’t able to actually tell others what the word means. And one is just as bad as another. This morning we bump into one of those words: authority. What does it mean to speak with authority? We might conclude that speaking with authority means that the person is really sincere and truly believes what he or she is saying. But that’s not how the word was used 2000 years ago. In the words we are just about to look at, we hear that the people were amazed that Jesus taught with authority. And I’ll give you a hint. That word does not mean that Jesus was just speaking authentically and sincerely. So what does it mean that Jesus taught with authority? Let’s read these words and find out: “21 They went into Capernaum, and right away he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. 22 They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not like the scribes.” (Mark 1:21–22 CSB17)
Here in these words we begin to understand what it means that Jesus taught with authority. We learn what authority is by contrast. Jesus did not teach like the teachers they were used to. You see, Jesus said the simple and clear words, “This is what the Lord says.”1 But the teachers of their own time would says words like, “I think, I feel, Some say…others say, I suppose.” Jesus would leave his hearers with a clear understanding of the truth. Their own teachers left them with a mountain of doubt.
So Jesus speaks with authority against the teacher’s doubt. And in this we see what authority is. Authority is simply saying what the truth is and taking your stand is. That is what authority looked like during Jesus’ day. And the same is true today. For forty years the Lord has blessed this congregation with faithful teachers who taught with authority. And you could tell that they taught with authority because, instead of saying , “I think, I feel, some say, others say,” they said, “This is what the Lord says.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something to rejoice in. But it brings up a real question. And that question is: why. Why is it that a pastor would change from saying “thus saith the Lord” to saying “I think, I feel, I suppose”? A pastor can very easily change from speaking with authority to thinking his own opinion when he speaks with authority and his own people don’t like it. It sounds good to have a pastor who speaks with authority…until he speaks with authority against me. When your pastor condemns your own laziness, lustfulness, gossipping, lovelessness, then, all of a sudden, having a pastor who speaks with authority becomes a bad thing. And when the people push back, sad to say, there are many pastors who change from “this is what the Lord says” to “I think and I feel.”
As Christians we receive what God’s word says not just when it speaks comforting words to us, but also when it crushes us by exposing our sickening sin. We repent. But if God’s word is true when it comes to our sin, then it is also true when it comes to all the comforting promises contained in it. When it speaks about my forgiveness in Christ, my Salvation won by him, my resurrection from the dead paved by him—in all these areas God’s word speaks with authority. And because it speaks with authority, I know that my sins are forgiven.
Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks with authority against the teachers doubt. But he speaks with authority in another area too: “23 Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, 24 “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit threw him into convulsions, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and so they began to ask each other: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once the news about him spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee.” (Mark 1:23–28 CSB17)
Jesus speaks with authority against the teachers’ doubt. But he also speaks with authority against the Devil’s Dominion. When Jesus spoke with authority people heard it and embraced that truth that Jesus spoke. But there was someone else listening to what Jesus was preaching. The Devil was there. And so the Devil pushed back. There was a man who was possessed by a Demon. And through this demon the Devil pushed back in two ways. First, he tried to discredit Jesus. Having a known-liar say that you are trustworthy is probably not what you would like to have happen to you. Even more so, a demon endorsing Jesus as the Holy One of God is the opposite of what Jesus would want.
So the Devil tries to discredit Jesus. But there is a second way he pushes back. He resists Jesus’ command. Jesus tells him to ‘shut up’ and ‘come out’ and the demon doesn’t. And even more so, he throws the man down to the ground trying to do as much damage as he can to the man. And look what happened. The Devil at every turn planned so much evil. But, at the end of the day, every evil the Devil planned and actually carried proved Jesus’ authority. Because authority doesn’t just speak the truth. It also produces results.
It’s somewhat funny to put yourselves in the shoes of the people gathered there. The man says all his demon-possessed crazy words. Jesus tells him to shut up. The demon doesn’t. Oooh, what is Jesus going to do? He commands the demon to come out. But the demon doesn’t. Hmmm, what is Jesus going to do now? The demon even throws the man to the ground. But at the end of the day Jesus is the one who has authority, not the Devil—and everyone knows it.
And my dear friends in Christ, the same is true today. But do you have the patience to wait till the end of the day? Do you have the tenacity and strength to cling to Jesus’ promises until he fulfills them? About a hundred years ago people went over to Israel and dug up almost everything. And they found Jericho. And when they found Jericho they also started reading the bible and they found out that the bible mentions not one, but two Jerichos. They used what they discovered to try and prove that the bible was full of lies. And the people lived the rest of their lives without archaeological proof that God’s word was true and they died that way. But then, years later, people did more digging and found that there were actually two Jerichos near each other. So the bible was true.
Do you have the patience and diligence to wait till the end of the day? Here is where it is so beautiful to consider the fact that Jesus speaks with authority. For Satan so powerfully and forcefully drives us to despair when we don’t see obvious, tangible proof that what he says is true. How wonderful and amazing it is that Jesus forgives that sin. And he does even more. He strengthens our faith. Satan is powerful. And he exerts that strength powerfully. I’ve been here serving as your pastor for almost 10 years. And I’ve been there to bury so many of you. And I can tell you that some of you went to your graves confidently. And others went to their graves trembling and doubting. And my dear friends, that should not shock or surprise you. If Satan is there lashing out with his demons as Jesus preaches, you have to know he will be there when you are just moments and minutes away from heaven. But here is where we see Jesus speaking with authority. Jesus didn’t get rid of the demon in the synagogue. And most likely he won’t get rid of every doubt as you face your death. But at the end of the day, you will know that he spoke with authority. For he will strengthen this gift of faith he gave to you so that alongside the doubt and despair there is confidence, strength and trust in his promises.
That, my dear friends, is what it looks like to speak with authority. And that’s what we have in our Savior Jesus. Jesus speaks with authority against the teacher’s doubts and against the Devil’s dominion.
1 כֹּה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה
Speak O Lord
The why is just as important as the what. Years ago when I was in grade school I was on the basketball team. And we did these runs where we would run out to the free-throw line and then the half court line, then the free throw line on the other side. And finally, we’d run all the way down, touch the line and run back. We were told to do it, and so we did it. But what was missing was why. And it showed. There were a number of kids who stopped running not as much because they were out of breath as the fact that they didn’t see the point. You could run laps around the outside and get in better shape. That is a danger we face as Christians. We can end up doing the what without remembering the why. For example, if a child asks the question, “why do I need to go to catechism class,” it’s easy to say, “because that’s what we do.” We haven’t answered the why question. This morning we have the answer to a why question. We emphasize how important it is to read, learn and hear God’s word constantly and continually in our lives. But these words answer the question, why. In 1 Samuel 3, we read: “1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”” (1 Samuel 3:1–8 NIV11-GKE)
If we ask the question, why do we read, study and savor God’s word, here in these words we begin to find an answer. Look here at the patience Samuel shows. He’s like the human hockey puck. We know that the Lord is the one who is speaking to him. But Samuel doesn’t know this. So we see this repetition, again and again, three times. And what you will notice is how the Lord could have stepped in at any time and cleared the matter up. But he didn’t. He let’s Samuel be the human hockey puck. And it’s good for us to look at Samuel, because the Lord does the same to us, doesn’t he? Think of your prayers. How many times do you pray to your Lord for something that is necessary and important to you. And then what happens? Seemingly nothing happens. Just as the Lord was silent to Samuel, he is to you too. And you find the same when it comes to his promises. He keeps all his promises, but he does so in his own time and in his own way.
And where we see our sin is when the Lord treats us like human hockey pucks and then we conclude that he has no right to do this. We may not say it. But we think it. And we might pray to God to take away the silence and act. But when he doesn’t, we silently blame him. And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is sinful.
You see, it’s easy and tempting to conclude that we are Samuel in this part of the bible, ever-patient, ever-trusting. But there are so many times we are impatient. And for that sin we need a Savior. If we sin by blaming God when there is silence, and if you feel the weight of that sin, then turn to your Savior Jesus. Think of the silence Jesus endured on the cross. There he was bearing the weight of the world’s sin, bleeding and dying for us. There he was, crying out those words, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 NIV). And what answer did he receive in response? Nothing, piercing silence was all that there was for our Savior. But Jesus endures the silence with absolute, pure patience that his Father would not abandon him. And all of this he did for you.
So why is it that we read God’s word? And why is it that this morning we would say a small prayer to our Lord, asking him to speak to us? We say this prayer because through God’s word we see God’s patience with us. For if Jesus showed perfect patience in our place and if the Father accepted that perfect patience on our behalf and proved it by raising Jesus from the dead, then what grip does that sin have on us? Our sins are forgiven—even those sins we commit when we do not like to be human hockey pucks, bouncing around in silence and blaming God.
And so this morning we pray, O Lord, speak your word. For through it we see your patience with us. But there is another why answer to the question. We read: “8 Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”” (1 Samuel 3:8–10 NIV11-GKE)
We can boldly say to our Lord, “speak your word.” For though God’s word we see his patience with us. But even more so, through God’s word we see his patience given to us. Why did the Lord wait so long? He could have stepped in at any time? Did he miss a flight? These words are a reminder to us that the Lord delayed in revealing himself to Samuel not for his own sake, but instead for Samuel’s sake. And through that he not only tested Samuel’s patience but also gave him more patience. And my dear friends in Christ the same is true with us. God gives us opportunities to flex our faith. He gives us time to be patient when we want him to speak and to act. And he does this so that he can let us be burdened by waiting for just a little while and then he acts. And by doing this again and again he teaches us to trust his promises. And bit by bit, as we stretch out and reach out with this amazing gift of faith given to us we begin to be patient.
But don’t worry, there will be areas of our lives where we will grow in and be patient. But just wait, at about that time there will be other times when new areas of stress jump in. And then again, we will have another opportunity to learn to be patient.
So this morning we say the same prayer Samuel spoke. We say, “Speak, O Lord.” For through God’s word we see God’s patience with us. And through God’s word we see God’s patience given to us. Amen.
Who Are You Living For?
Why would you fight for your enemy? Years ago there was a woman who was being beaten up and abused by her husband. So she called the cops. The cops showed up. They heard him beating her up so they burst through the door and both of them subdued the husband. Then something happened that you would not expect. The woman took a frying pan and hit one of the police men over the back of the head. The police officers and everyone who has a brain would say and shout one clear question: why? Why would you fight for your enemy? Even worse, why would you live for him? In the words we look at this morning from Romans 6, that is the point that Paul is making. We read: “1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
The husband was the woman’s enemy. Why would she fight—why would she live for him? Who is the enemy in the words that Paul says here? Sin is our enemy. And sin showed that it is our enemy by putting us to death. It put us to death spiritually when we were conceived and born with hatred toward God in our hearts. And it proves it is our enemy when we face physical death at the end of our lives. Sin is your enemy. Why would you live for it? These words are a great reminder to us that we hate the sins we commit. We hate the lies we willingly believe about ourselves and others. We hate our laziness. We hate how easily we live for ourselves and ourselves alone. We know that this is how we act and we hate it. And that then drives us as Christians to ask the next question: how. How then will we be able to live for God instead of living for sin? Paul answers that question in these words which follow: “3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3–5 NIV11-GKE)
If we ask the question, ‘how do we live for God,’ look what answer God’s word gives us. The answer is our baptisms. There are many Christians who, sadly, conclude that baptism is a good work that we provide for God to prove that we are his. Bur notice here how Paul says just the opposite. Baptism is a great and wonderful gift that God gives to us. For if we want to live for God and not for our sin, baptism is the answer. Baptism is what gives us the power to ‘carry out a new life.’1 There is a progression in these words. What happened to Jesus? He died, was buried, but then what happened? He lived. And God’s word so clearly tells us that the same progression happens to us when we are baptized. In our baptisms we died, we were buried and now we live a new life.
So there is a progression that we find in baptism. We die, get buried and rise from death living a new life. And to make sure the point is so very clear, Paul also tells us that there is a promise in baptism too: “6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” (Romans 6:6–9 NIV11-GKE)
What does baptism do to our bodies that are so contaminated by sin? What does baptism do to our sinful selves? Baptism nullifies them. Notice what baptism does not do. Baptism does not eradicate and destroy our sinful natures. You sin now. And you will sin all the way to your last day and your last breath. But your sins domination over you is destroyed. Sin is no longer your master. And Paul even illustrates this fact with a beautiful picture. a person who dies and then goes to heaven is freed from sin’s influence and power in his or her life. In your baptism your sinful nature’s power is put to death. Jesus is your Lord and master. Sin no longer enslaves you.
So if you ask the question, ‘how do I live for God,’ where will you look for your answer? Look to your baptism. There in your baptism you find an amazing progression: Just as Jesus died, was buried and then returned to life, so also you died, were buried and now live for him. Now you are able to carry out a new life. And you also find a promise: You are not enslaved to sin—not anymore. You are forgiven. And you are given a new master to serve. He is not the abusive, coercive, destructive master you used to have. Now you have a good, kind and caring master, your Savior, Jesus. Paul then concludes this part of scripture with these words: “10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10–11 NIV11-GKE)
As Paul closes off these words, he gives us two encouragements. First, consider yourself dead when it comes to sin. Sin is your enemy. It put you to death spiritually. If Jesus delays in coming it will put you to death physically. And in these words we find an amazing irony: Sin put us to death. But through this amazing gift of baptism, we now put sin to death. We put it to death every time we see our sin and hate it, resist it, and repent of it. And second, consider yourselves as ones who now live for God. Notice how beautiful these words are. In your baptisms you can live for God. In your baptisms you do live for God. But notice where that power to live for God comes from. It does not come from you. It comes to God. And it is give to you in those waters of baptism. So when you sin—and you will, do not return to yourself, trying with your own power and your own effort to fight against sin. Instead, return to your baptisms. For baptism is what gives us the ability to live for God. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲛⲕⲁⲓⲛⲟⲧⲏⲧⲓⲍⲱⲏⲥⲡⲉⲣⲓⲡⲁⲧⲏⲥⲱⲙⲉⲛ” (Romans 6:4 GNT-ALEX)
We See Him Clearly
It’s all about me. Have you ever met anyone who, from everything you could see on the outside, that was the theme of their life? Years ago I met an elderly woman who had serious health problems. She was in pain, real, chronic pain every day of her life. And when I would go over to visit her, I usually just spent time letting her speak about her pain because that’s what she needed. But one day her daughter came over. And her daughter only talked about herself—how hard her job was, how difficult her life was. And the only conclusion I could reach was that in this woman’s life it was all about her. But, I have to admit, at least she showed up. There are many people out there who show that it’s all about them by not even caring enough to show up. This evening we hear the words of a man who had that as the theme of his life. This man is named Balaam. Balaam was a godless, wicked man whom the Lord used to share his truth to people of his time and to us today. The theme of Balaam’s life was, “it’s all about me.” And we keep that in mind as we read these opening words in Numbers 24: “15 Then he proclaimed his poem: The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened; 16 the oracle of one who hears the sayings of God and has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls into a trance with his eyes uncovered:” (Numbers 24:15–16 HCSB)
Notice how Balaam speaks about himself. He says, ‘Look at me, I’m the one who sees.1 I’m the one who hears the word of God.2 I’m the one who understands God’s knowledge.’3 And as if we didn’t hear him the first time, he finishes by reminding us that he is the one with open eyes.4 And what is it that he sees, hears, knows and sees? In verse 17 we read: “I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob,” (Numbers 24:17 HCSB)
Balaam tells us that he sees a “him” in the future and far away. And what is this he? He is a star that rises and shines. What Balaam saw dimly and darkly the Magi saw clearly. From God’s word they saw the truth so clearly that they traveled for months to see this shining star. And if that wasn’t amazing enough we see him even more clearly than the Magi do. They saw Jesus at about two years old. But we, as we look at the pages of scripture, see him at every age. We see him fulfill thousands of prophecies. We see him shine out for Jews. And even more amazing, we see him shine out to us Gentiles.
And yet there is this powerful irony in these words. For the Magi traveled hundreds of miles over many months to see this light shining out of Jacob. And all we have to do is travel to our desk, our bed, our couch and see him even more clearly. And very often we don’t. We know it would be easy to read our bibles. But there are times that we don’t. Work, hobbies and habits get in the way. Or just plain laziness gets in the way. How horribly sinful it is to not have to travel at all to see this light shining in God’s word and yet we don’t. We like to think that we act like godly wisemen. But so very often we act like godless Balaam.
When the light shines on our sin, we see it and mourn over it. We repent of our sin. We repent of our laziness. We repent of our lack of zeal. But where will we find that zeal once again? Find that joy and zeal to read God’s word on your own here in these sacred pages. Find it here in what we learn about these Wisemen. These Magi were not Jews. And neither are you. But this Christ-child forgave their sins and gave them joy and zeal both to travel home and to share what they had learned. And so I ask you: are you a Gentile? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then know that this Savior is for you too. And he grew up, lived and died to take away your sins—even the sins you commit when you should have joy and zeal at reading his word and seeing his light shine.
We seem him clearly. We see a star that shines. But through Balaam we see even more. We read: “17 and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites. 18 Edom will become a possession; Seir will become a possession of its enemies, but Israel will be triumphant. 19 One who comes from Jacob will rule; he will destroy the city’s survivors.” (Numbers 24:17–19 HCSB)
The context behind these words is important. The king of Edom is named Balak. Balak paid Balaam to curse the Hebrews. But instead, Balaam prophecies that an Israelite King would crush Edom. This happened in the Old Testament. But this prophecy is both a picture and a promise of what happens to all those who oppose our Lord Jesus. The enemies of Jesus both fight and bite against him. But Jesus is the one who triumphs.
And this is precisely why we return to these ancient words. Because these words were true then. And they are always true now. When you look out there in the world and you see less and less people coming to church, or when you look in here and you see people dying off and seemingly there are none to replace them it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that Satan has won. But return to these words. For we see the truth clearly. When the Israelites looked up to the hills and saw the Edomites there it looked dark and bleak, but Jesus triumphed over the Edomites in battle. When Mary and Joseph had to run for their lives right after the Magi visited all things looked dark and bleak. But they clung to the promises of God’s word. When Jesus was dying, naked on a criminal’s cross the day turned to night as if to preach how bleak and dark all hope was. But Jesus had promised that even this was part of his plan.
We see him clearly. We see a star that shines out even to us Gentiles. We see a scepter to triumph over all his enemies. So, in this new year, if you’ve gotten out of the habit, open up your bibles once again and read it. And unlike Balaam who thought the the world revolved around himself, you will see this start shine and you will see this scepter triumph. Amen.
1 הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן
2 שֹׁמֵ֙עַ֙ אִמְרֵי־אֵ֔ל
3 וְיֹדֵ֖עַ דַּ֣עַת עֶלְי֑וֹן
4 וּגְל֥וּי עֵינָֽיִם
Lord Bless Us With Your Name
W e all make assumptions. Years ago I watched a movie. And in that move one of the characters said to the other, “Do you remember that one time we went to that one place and did that thing.” And the joke, of course, was that they knew each other so well that they didn’t even have to give details. They could make assumptions. But very often we make assumptions and we realize later that maybe we should not have. Days ago in bible study we talked about the heavenly host that surrounded the shepherds, announcing that Jesus was about to be born. And I asked the question, “what is a host?” And nobody knew. A host is an army. You see, one of the areas we make assumptions is biblical language. So, if I asked two questions, what answer would you give? First, what is a blessing? Second, what is a name? Both of these words we hear and read in a church setting all the time. But what do they mean? Some might say that a blessing is to think kind thoughts toward someone. Others might say that to have a name is to have an identity. But there’s more, so much more to those words than that. In these words that we hear at the end of most of our worship times, the Lord blesses us with his name. And we have the privilige of looking at that in detail. And so, in Numbers 6, we read: “22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you;” (Numbers 6:22–24 NIV11-GKE)
In these words the Lord commands the priests to bless the Israelites. To bless is more than to think good thoughts toward someone. In ancient societies they wouldn’t do much of anything without seeking and securing the blessing of their pagan god. So, for every agreement, whether big or small, animals had to die to get on their god’s good side. They really, sincerely thought that unless Molech or Baal blessed them and was on their side, then everything would fail. The irony is that we fail in the completely opposite way. They prayed to pagan non-existent gods for blessing that would never come. We forget that blessing only comes from our Lord, The Triune God. And that’s exactly the point that the Lord is making in these words. In these words three times the Lord blesses his people. The first is the blessing from God the Father for protection. Notice here how blessing isn’t some vague, worthless emotion. Instead, it’s a concrete reality. If God the Father blesses us, then we have his protection. And and this is so vitally important for us to understand when we realize that there are so many dangers out there. When you drive out there on the snowy, icy road what is it that keeps you on the road and not in the ditch? Our knee-jerk answer might be to say, “good tires.” But really, truly, the first and biggest answer to that question is God our Father. He blesses us and gives us good things by protecting us.
And how he does this is important too. The Lord’s name is on us. We belong to the Lord. And since we belong to him he sends his angels to watch over us and protect us.
So the Lord blesses us with his name by protecting us. In the next verse we find another way that the Lord blesses us: “the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;” (Numbers 6:25 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Jesus forgives us with his name. The Lord is gracious to us.1 Grace is this undeserved love that God showers on us in Jesus. He forgives the sins we commit that we cannot erase and get rid of. Notice again how blessing is not some vague, wispy abstract thought. The Father protects us. The Son forgives us.
And again, how does he do this? He protects us with his name. We read these words from Luke 2 and conclude that not much is being done. Jesus is just being named, right? No, there’s more to it than that. Jesus is named as the one and only one who could and will obey God’s commandments in our place. For all the times we should have called on God’s name for protection and forgiveness, Jesus did that in our place. We are forgiven with Jesus’ name. And that forgiveness comes to us through Jesus’ name too. For in our baptisms God places his own name, the name of the Triune God on us. And so, the forgiveness that is won there on the cross is hand-delivered to us in baptism.
The Father protects us with his name. The Son forgives us with his name. Maybe you can guess who we’re going to be speaking about next. We read: “the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’” (Numbers 6:26 NIV11-GKE)
The Holy Spirit gives us peace with his name. In Christ your sins are forgiven. All those times you were worse than a pagan godless unbeliever because at least they prayed to some made-up God for blessing and you went down your own path forgetting to pray at all—those sins are forgiven by Jesus. But here is where the Holy Spirit gets to work. Because if a person, indeed, if the entire world is forgiven and yet doesn’t believe that fact, then what good is Jesus’ work? So the Holy Spirit gives and brings to us peace. First, he tells us that we are forgiven. Then, he gives us faith to believe that we are forgiven. And through that we have peace. We have peace with God above. And we have real concrete and complete peace in our hearts too.
The Lord blesses us with his name. The Father protects us. The Son forgives us. The Holy Spirit gives us peace. Now then, my brothers and sisters, what do we do with all of this? In our final verse, we read: ““So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”” (Numbers 6:27 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord blesses us with his name. First, I invite and encourage you to sit back and appreciate this fact. God blesses you with his name. That’s the sort of fact that is good to chew on when you’re falling asleep at night and driving through the snow. And second, call on the Lord’s name. When you need protection, forgiveness, and peace, call on him. And out of his grace he will give you all these blessings. Amen.
This is the audio from our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. There are sermon introductions to six bible readings.
Why Was Jesus Born?
We deliberately make mistakes. In our catechism class we are walking through the gospel of Matthew. And there’s this part when Jesus is speaking to the crowds where he asks them about John the baptizer. What did you go out to see? And sometimes teachers face that. They ask a simple, direct question and what is the answer they receive? Silence—pure and absolute silence. So he helps them along. He says, “did you find a guy in fine linen?” That would have made them laugh. For they all knew that John wore a robe made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Jesus makes a ‘mistake’ to teach them. Tonight I’m doing the same. Tonight we are reading the wrong words at the wrong time. We are supposed to be preparing for Jesus’ birth. But here in these words in John 18, we see Jesus on trial before Pontus Pilate. And you might be asking yourself, ‘Why is Pastor Bauer making this mistake?’ We find the answer to that question in these words: “33 Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?” 35 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?” 36 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”” (John 18:33–36 HCSB)
Notice what the context is in these words. Jesus is on trial. And the question that Pilate is asking himself and Jesus is: who are you? But notice that Jesus doesn’t really answer that question. Instead he makes Pilate deal with a different question: why am i here? In verse 37, we read: ““You are a king then?” Pilate asked. “You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. ”” (John 18:37 HCSB)
The question is not, “who are you?” No, instead, the real question is “why am I here?” And what is the answer Jesus gives? He tells Pilate that he was born for this reason: to testify to the truth. Notice how in a very beautiful and amazing way, Jesus takes Pilate back to Christmas. People might ask themselves the question, “why was I born.” And they might never be able to answer that question in a way that satisfies their curiosity. But Jesus knew. He was born to testify to the truth. Jesus came to testify to the truth that we are all liars. You see, during this time of the year we think warm and happy thoughts because God comes to earth. But before we go there we should stand in the sandals of the shepherds. When the angels appeared and the Glory of God filled the sky, did they sing and dance in joy? No. They fell down in fear. You see, they recognized that they were sinners. They mourned over the fact that they were liars. Liars don’t get to be in the presence of holy angels. And even more so, liars don’t get to be in the presence of God.
But it’s not just the shepherds who need to recognize that they are sinners. We too need to do the same. God came to earth. And we see our sins by contrast. In the same way that you really don’t see the moon in the day, even though it’s there sometimes, so also, the sinless Son of God comes down to earth. And in the burning bright light of his truth we see our lies. We see the times we have lied to get an advantage. We see the times we have lied to avoid embarrassment. We see the times we have said the truth and proven ourselves liars with our actions. And how much worse is this for us as Christians? For we call ourselves ‘followers of God.’ But in our every day lives we show those around us that we are really just followers of lies.
Jesus was born to testify to the truth that we are all liars. And when we see this real fact then we are ready to see the next truth. Jesus was born to testify to the truth that we are liars. But he was also born to testify to his Father’s love. These words drive us to ask an important question: how do you know that your Father in heaven loves you? The Father loved you so much that he sent his eternal son to take on the same flesh and blood as you. How do you know that Jesus loves you? Jesus came to do his Father’s work and will. And he did so joyfully, willingly and perfectly…in your place. And the result of this is very clear. Since Jesus was born to speak the truth in your place. And since Jesus was faithful to that work all the way till his death, your sins are forgiven. The times we lie to get ahead—they are forgiven. The times we lie to avoid embarrassment—they are forgiven. The times we speak the truth and then prove ourselves to be liars by our actions—those too are forgiven.
And so, Jesus testifies to the truth to show his great love for us. But there is one last reason why Jesus testifies to the truth. We read: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”” (John 18:37 HCSB)
This is a tough verse to translate. What does it mean to be “of the truth?” It means that who we are, our essence, our being, is tied to the truth. If a person is ‘of the truth’ that person belongs to the truth and the truth is now in that person. And in these words is this amazing truth that Jesus was born for yet another reason. Jesus was born so that we would belong to the truth. Jesus was born so that we would be born again. And through water and word that is exactly what has happened. Through this great gift of faith now we both know the truth and follow it.
My dear friends in Christ, that is not a small gift. Years ago there was a dear lady, who at 80 years of age, went through instruction class and joined our church. Then a year or two later she got cancer and then eventually died. Out of all the people in her family she alone was the Christian. And on her death bed in one way after another they showed that they were not ‘of the truth.’ For they were absolutely unable to acknowledge the fact that their mom, grandmother, and great grandmother was about to die. And I tried to gently but truly lead them to this truth. But they refused to listen.
You, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are the opposite of that. Through this gift of faith Jesus loved you so much to give you a new person alongside the old. And this new person faces the truth with courage and hope. This new person doesn’t just know the truth. This new person in us takes its stand on the truth. That is what Jesus means when he says that everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.
And so, tonight we make a deliberate mistake. But it’s a mistake that Jesus deliberately draws us into. Hours before Jesus dies, he speaks about his birth. And with these few, small statement we are reminded once again why Jesus was born. He was born to testify to the truth that we are all liars and the truth that out of love for us Jesus was truth in our place and gave us his truth. Amen.
God Is Able To Establish You
Look at the churches. If you haven’t realized it, you are living in an immensely beautiful part of the nation. Now, when I say this I’m not speaking about the land—though that’s pretty too. What I am speaking about is the churches. Whenever I have to drive around what impresses me is the churches. For, in so many towns, there are these churches built on the sides of hills. And some of them seem to be built on the sides of cliffs. And what is amazing and impressive is not just that they are built there, but that they last. Year after year of frost and humidity wage war on those buildings. But yet they remain. When you drive around, look at those churches. Look at them because they are like you. Paul makes that point in these closing words in the book of Romans: “Now to him who is able to establish you” (Romans 16:25 NIV11-GKE)
If you think it’s impressive to look at those churches that weather the elements generation after generation, just look at yourself. For God is able to establish you. Day after day, decade after decade, Satan and your own sinful self try to wear you down and break you down. The pain of what you did in the past; the worries about the future; the stresses of the present—all of them weather your outside and threaten to erode your foundation of faith. And, as Paul closes off his letter to the Romans, notice what he says. He tells them that God is able to establish them. And as these words continue he reveals more details about just exactly how our God does this: “25 in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 16:25–26 NIV11-GKE)
God establishes you with the gospel. God does not use brick or stone to establish you. He uses his word. He uses the good news about Jesus. And for us, as Gentiles, this is really good news. It is really good news because for many, many generations Jesus was hidden. For generations upon generations all the believers knew was that there would be a “he” who would crush Satan. Later on they learned that this “he” would be a prophet, a priest, and a king. And they learned hints of how this messiah would save the world from its sin. But what was hidden to many generations of people is revealed to you. In those generations they knew that God would send a savior. You know that this savior is God’s son. You know that his name is Jesus. And you can read his word to know everything you ever wanted to know about him.
And that, my dear friends is what gets you through. When you look at the past and there all you see is pain—the pain of stupid sins you should have never done, you can look to Jesus. When you endure one temptation and trial after another in the present, what will get you through? Look to Jesus. When you confront the future and all the unstable uncertainties that lie ahead, what will make you firm, established and solid in your faith? Look to Jesus. For through him God forgives your sins in the past and establish your faith in the future.
God is able to establish you. The weathering and beating that church buildings face year after year is nothing to the weathering and beating that you face. But your God promises to establish you through his gospel. But there is one last detail that Paul adds to this: “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:27 NIV11-GKE)
God is able to establish you through his gospel. But here we learn that God is able to establish you because of his wisdom. Your Father in heaven is wise. And maybe the best way to see this is for us to put ourselves in Satan’s shoes for a little while. Satan wants more than anything to make us share hell with him. But yet he knows that God has a plan to deal with him. And what’s his great, amazing plan? God has his son be born as a human? Jesus’ birth must have been one of the strangest moments for Satan. He expected powerful, heavenly armies. What happened was the birth of a baby boy. And so the solution was simple: kill the child. But when he has Herod try to kill Jesus, the Father hides his son. And then, at just the right time, after Jesus has finished fulfilling every promise and keeping every commandment in our place, what does God do? He puts his son to death! At every single moment, at every single stage, Satan was put off balance. And then, finally, the Father proved that he was the only one who was wise by rising his son from the dead. Because Jesus was born, died and then rose thepainful sins of the past are forgiven. Because Jesus was born, died and then rose, the fears of the future are set at ease. Because God is wise.
God is able to establish you. He establishes you through the gospel. And he establishes you because he is wise. And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what is our reaction to all of this? Let us learn from humble Mary. She is told that she will be the one who will give birth to the Christ. And what is her reaction? Does she say to the angel, “I’m going to climb a mountain for you” or “I’m going to make you the best apple pie?” No, she simply and humbly says, ““May it be to me as you have said.”” (Luke 1:38 NIV) You could boil those words down to one: amen.
You see, there are times that God’s word moves us to action. On Wednesday night God’s word moved us to cling to the truth. But there are other times God’s word simply moves us to acceptance. The holy spirit moves us to say, “amen.” And that’s what Paul is doing here. He says, “May there be glory to the only God that is wise…forever!”1 This morning we prepare our hearts for Christmas not be being busy, but instead, by simply accepting the amazing truth that God establishes us through the gospel. We prepare by giving the praise and glory to God our Father. For he is the only God who able to establish us through is gospel and because of his wisdom. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲟⲛⲱⲥⲟⲫⲱⲑⲱⲇⲓⲁⲓⲩⲭⲩ· ⲱⲏⲇⲟⲝⲁ” (Romans 16:27 GNT-ALEX)
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