If Only The Lord Would Come Down (Midweek Advent 2)

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If Only The Lord Would Come Down (Midweek Advent 2)
Midweek Advent

 
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If Only the Lord Would Come Down


What do you see? Being back in Minnesota at this time of the year reminds me of the years I went to school in New Ulm. And what I remember about this time of the year is flying back home. I didn’t fly home or anywhere very often. So when I was in that jet, both as it took off and as it descended and landed, I looked down had a good look at everything below me. And what I saw still sticks with me today. I saw snow. I saw all the multicolored lights during this time of the year. I saw the bring, busy places where people lived. And I saw the barren, open places where people did not live. All that I saw from above, flying overhead. In our psalm this evening, the psalmist asks a slightly different question, not what I see when I look down, but instead, what does God see when he looks down at the earth? In Psalm 14, we read: 1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” (Psalms 14:1–2 NIV11-GKE)


When the Lord looks down, what does he see? He sees a world of fools. And in the words that follow, in a very detailed way, he shows us what a fool is. The fool says there is no god. But even worse, a fool is not just a person who says there is no god. A fool is a person who might say that there is a god, but then, by that person’s own life, he or she shows that they don’t really believe the words they say. For example, there was a pastor who did evangelism work on college campuses. And what he found out was that almost nobody would come out and say that they were atheists. Instead, they would say that they were ‘agnostics.’ They did not know if there was a god or not, but they were looking, hoping that someday they’d find god. The pastor challenged them, bluntly saying that they were lying. For if they were truly looking for God, there would be some evidence of that search in their lives. They might possibly sleep in on one Sunday. But on the next Sunday, you’d expect them to go to church to see if maybe that church have the true God in it. But their actions prove their words wrong. In short, to use the words here in Psalm 14, they are fools. They don’t just say there is no God. They also live their lives in such a way that they show they don’t believe in any God.


But notice where the Psalmist goes next. The Lord looks down and sees a world of fools. But if we ask the question, “how many fools are there,” Notice what the answer is: everybody. There is no one who does good. And if we didn’t get the point he was making in verses 1 and 2, he makes the same point in different words which follow: 3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord. 5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. 6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.” (Psalms 14:3–6 NIV11-GKE)


How many have turned away from God? All. How many do any good? No one. How many call on and call out to God? No one. Notice this huge, ever-so-important point God is making to us in his word: Every person who comes into this world is turned away from God, with no ability to call on him and no desire to follow him. This is a fact that we need to keep reminding ourselves of again and again because each of us has a sinful nature, even now as Christians alongside our new nature, that hates it when we hear these words. We want to think that we can do our part. We want to think that there’s at least a spark of goodness in us that we can make use of to know God or earn him. And so, some churches, sad to say, teach that you can make use of this spark of goodness to reach out and choose God. Other churches say that because of this spark of goodness you can prove to God that you are worthy of redeeming. But what God’s word says here is clear and condemning: how many do any good at all? No one. We lie, we lust, we cheat, we steal, we put ourselves above all other people. And if we can’t do this publicly and get away with it, we harbor and tend these thoughts deep inside of our hearts.


In those rare times I fly over Minnesota, I see ice, snow and lights. But what does the Lord see from heaven? He sees a world of fools. He sees a world of people who either says there is no God or shows by their actions that they don’t believe the words they say. These are the sort of truths that drive you ask, ‘Is there any hope for us? Is there any help for us?’ The psalmist cries out these words: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalms 14:7 NIV11-GKE)


If only! The psalmist cries out an impossible wish. He says, “If only Salvation would come down from heaven to us.” What right does an abusive father have to ask the abused child to spend time with him? What right does the adulterous wife have to ask the husband she cheated on to spend time with her? What right do we have to ask the holy, perfect and just God to come down to us?


We have no right at all. But, what the psalmist speaks as an impossible wish, the Lord turns into a powerful promise. It is at this time of the year when we focus on the fact that the Lord did come down. Purely out of his own grace—his undeserved love towards a world of fools, he came down. He took on our humanity so that he could not just say, “there is a true God out there”, but instead, he would be that true God for us. He would be the one who would seek God because we don’t. He would be the one who would call on God because we can’t. All this he would do, and in Christ, did, for us, to take away our sin.


If only the Lord would come down. But he did. Where does that leave us here this evening? In our final words, we read: “When the Lord restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!” (Psalms 14:7 NIV11-GKE)


The Lord came down. Jesus took on our flesh and blood to take away our sins. He earned our salvation on the cross. And he delivered that forgiveness to us through his word. In our salvation and in our conversion we have no part. This was all God’s work. Well then, what is our role? We cannot earn our salvation or make ourselves Christians. But we can do what God invites us to do here. We can sing. We can be glad. We can rejoice. For this impossible wish, that the Lord would come down to a world of us fools came true. He came down to us to redeem us and convert us and give us true wisdom from above. So let this time of preparation, this time of Advent be a time of sober reflection on the fact that we, in so many times and ways are fools. But don’t let your thoughts stay there. Also rejoice that Jesus has taken away your sin and given to you his wisdom in his word. Amen.


Christmas Is a Collision of Kings (Midweek Advent 1)

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Christmas Is a Collision of Kings (Midweek Advent 1)
Midweek Advent

 
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Christmas Is A Collision of Kings


That isn’t going to end well. One of the interesting parts of growing up in Montana is that you have to deal with problems that people elsewhere don’t really have to deal with. When we were children in school the teachers would set aside special time to have a special talk with us as a class. What was the talk about? Evidently, when you became a teenager and got your driver’s license, every teenager had this unquenchable urge to beat the train to the intersection. And if a train and a car collide, who is going to win? Now, the trains in MT could be more than a mile long, so you could see the incentive a person might have to beat the train. But still, train always beats car when they collide. This evening, as we look at Psalm 2, we see a collision. But it’s not a collision of cars. It’s a collision of kings. What will happen when the kings of the earth collide with the king that the Lord has chosen? In Psalm 2 we read these words: 1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One: 3 “Let’s tear off their chains and throw their ropes off of us.”” (Psalms 2:1–3 CSB17)


What happens when the Lord’s chosen king and the kings of the earth collide? The kings of the earth plot and plan. In a few weeks down the road, on Epiphany, we’ll see this in more detail. The Magi came to Herod asking for advice. And we might make fun of Herod because he was a sad excuse for a king in a super-small territory in the far-flung nether-reaches of the Roman Empire. But Herod knew what we might not. As soon as the Magi spoke about the king prophesied from of old, there was a collision of kings. And whenever there is a collision only one walks away. And Herod wanted to be that king, who at the end of the day walk away from the wreck.


It’s always been that way. It was that way in King David’s time. It was that way at Jesus’ birth. So what then is the Lord’s response to the plotting and planning that the kings of the earth take part in? 4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them. 5 Then he speaks to them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath:” (Psalms 2:4–5 CSB17)


Notice how the Lord has two reactions. First, he laughs. This reminds us that the Lord wasn’t just in control. He was in complete, absolute control. There is nothing any king of the earth could do to overrule or over throw the king that that Lord chose. And second, after the laughter dies down, the Lord terrifies them in his wrath. These are words to pause and ponder. What happens to every earthly king that takes his stand against the king the Lord has chosen? The Lord limits their power while they are a king here, and then when they die he gives the every reason to be filled with terror as they collide with their own well-deserved judgement in hell.


It’s good for us to walk through these words this evening. For in these words we see our own temptation to sin. For when we see Christians cut down in Africa or sent away to torture chambers in China or the freedom of religion in our own nation be put in quotation marks as if it’s in the same made-up category as pink unicorns—when all of this happens, our great temptation to sin is that we forget these words. We forget that right now our Lord is laughing. Their pathetic and petty attempts to out-rule and overthrow Jesus are laughable in God’s sight because he is in complete and absolute control. And we forget that for all the evil they plot, plan and then produce, there is wrath waiting for them at the end of their time here.


These words are a reminder of our sin. But they are also a reminder of the Lord’s love for us. If the Lord is laughing at the kings of the earth and all their plots and plans, then in our own hearts, we can too. And if the Lord promises to bring them just wrath for trying to overthrow Jesus and destroy his church, we can be content and at peace with that.


Christmas is a collision of kings. And when that happens, the Lord threatens to make these kings afraid. But what happens next is surprising and shocking: 6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 7 I will declare the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalms 2:6–7 CSB17)


What happens when kings collide? First, the Lord opens up and reveals to them mysteries that he and he alone knows. He lets the kings of the earth in on the secret that God the Father has begotten his Son…from eternity. This passage has presented translators with problems for hundreds and hundreds of years. First, the word here is usually spoken of a mom giving birth to a child.1(Psalms 2:7 BHS-T)}} But fathers don’t give birth to sons. Second, How can the Father give birth to the Son from eternity? This here is not speaking about Mary giving birth on Christmas. Instead, it’s speaking about the Father having the completely unique relationship with his Son from eternity. This is an amazing mystery that we struggle to understand. But, in these words, who is the intended target for this amazing mystery? The very kings that take their stand against Jesus are the ones who are addressed. And that makes us ask the question, “why?” God answers that question in the words which follow: 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with an iron scepter; you will shatter them like pottery.” 10 So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling. 12 Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for his anger may ignite at any moment.” (Psalms 2:8–12 CSB17)


What happens when kings collide? The Lord threatens to make them afraid. But notice what happens here: the Lord is inviting them to be afraid. No, my friends in Christ, fear isn’t always a bad quality. Fear in the bible doesn’t just mean being terrified and trembling. It is also a positive attitude. As is says here in our version, “reverential awe” (Psalms 2:11 CSB17). The Lord goes out of his way to win these unbelieving kings over not with threats of wrath, but instead with invitations of awe and wonder.


This too reminds us of our sin, doesn’t it? For, when it comes to the leaders of the land and rulers of the world that take their stand still today against Jesus, the Lord’s chosen king, what, so often, is our attitude towards them? Our temptation is that if they take their stand against Jesus, then the Lord should waste no time and just put them to death and send them to hell. But that’s not Jesus’ desire and plan. No, instead, he wants them to take their refuge in him. And how do we know this? He tells us: “All who take refuge in him are happy.” (Psalms 2:12 CSB17)


Just as he took you, as cruel and rebellious as you are and shared with you mysteries that the unbelieving world does not understand, so also, he wants to do the same with the rest of the unbelieving world. He wants them to look at not just this amazing mystery that God the Father from eternity begat his own Son, but also the amazing mystery that this Son took on our humanity for us, to save us from our sin—even the sins we commit when we forget that God is in control, laughing at the plots of kings—even the sins we commit when we forget that we too at one time were just as unbelieving and rebellious as the the godless kings of the earth. Those sins are forgiven in this mystery of the Lord’s chosen king taking on human flesh and blood for us.


What happens when kings collide? First, the Lord threatens to make them afraid. Second, he invites them to be afraid—filled with holy, joyful, reverent fear. Amen.



1 ”יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ“

Midweek Advent 1

Midweek Advent 1
Midweek Advent

 
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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.