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During the summer, many adult children are traveling back to their hometowns to visit parents and relatives.  They revisit the places and people who gave them their start in life.  Often, this experience re-kindles memories and dreams of the future which were lost under the layers of the years.

As we come up to the 500th year of the German Reformation, it is fitting to remember what we will be celebrating.  For the past few weeks, we have been reading snippets from the Book of Concord in anticipation of this event.  Some have never heard these words before, while the readings have re-kindled memories of Sunday school for others.  The words serve as a reminder of what we believe, teach and confess at Calvary.

Yet, at its core, the German reformation centered around one man.  Even more to the point, it centered on one man’s discovery.  What we will celebrate on October 31st, 2017 is the re-discovery of the Gospel by a monk named Martin Luther.

But, what is the Gospel?  Here is a quiz:

The Gospel is …

  1. The greatest commandment that Jesus gave — “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
  2. Hearing the facts about Jesus and making a decision or praying a sinner’s prayer
  3. Surrendering your life to Christ fully
  4. Doing good works – Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.
  5. God’s only Son became man, lived among us, bore all our sins as a perfect sacrifice, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day, He rose again.  By His work on the Cross, you have been forgiven all your sin, and been made right with God through His blood alone.

In the first four examples, ‘the gospel’ is contingent on my efforts.  You have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace.  They are pre-requisites to salvation.  Faith is a result of what you do (even in your heart).

In the last example, faith is a result of what Jesus has done.  It is not a proposition to be decided on (as if I am God).  It is not a work of Christian piety (living a ‘spiritual’ life).  It is not determining to clean up one’s life.  It is not obeying God’s commandments.

The Gospel is Jesus Christ.  He is the Good News that God has come to rescue us.  God the Father has provided Jesus as the scapegoat for all of our sins.  And, He has rescued us from sin, death and the devil by becoming a curse for us.  At the cross, He paid the full penalty for your sin and mine.  In Him alone, we have the righteousness of God.

In preparing this article, I read the effect Luther’s re-discovery (through his commentary on Galatians) had on one reader.  The individual (Mike) wrote:

@brilliant – … I first encountered Luther’s works at a secular university where all of his works were free in the library. I was so happy to randomly start reading Galatians one day. I got so excited I photocopied the whole thing and marked up each line with a worn out highlighter. – Mike Jul 31 ’12 at 7:49  [emphasis mine]

(http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8742/when-and-how-did-martin-luther-arrive-at-the-justification-by-faith)

Although Luther has been with Jesus for almost five centuries, his rediscovery of the gospel is still making an impact (even in a secular university!).  We are inheritors of this discovery.  A discovery which comforts troubled consciences.  A discovery which breathes life and faith into the hearer.  A discovery based on one man’s decision.

Christ made the decision: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

His Gospel cuts through the layers of man’s efforts.  In fact, it completely undercuts man’s efforts at rescuing himself.

Whether you are a rebel openly disobeying God’s Law or you are a pietistic saint who follows every jot and tittle, the gospel is wholly outside of you, hidden in Christ.  All of the benefits of His death and resurrection have been applied to you in the waters of your baptism, and He continues to sustain you through word and sacrament.

Jesus essentially cries out “Return to me.  Forget the other nonsense.  Abandon open rebellion.  Abandon pietistic law-keeping.”  Jesus says the following in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life.  There is no other way to the Father but by me.”

Later, John records Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” Christ is our life, our hope and our savior.  This is the Gospel we return to, reflect on, and make known to the world.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  What an amazing discovery!

Amen

Pastor John

 

Sermon on John 11

Jesus talks with Martha in John 11 (15 minutes):

 

 

-John

The good work of trials

Hebrews 12:

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

I don’t like trials.  Initially, I respond badlyto them.  I resist them, deny they are happening, and sometimes, get angry.  They really suck.

And the intensity of trials (nowhere to run to escape them) causes us to think they are evil.  They are only present because God’s blessing is absent.  In fact, the reverse is true.

God tells Ananias to lay hands on Paul of Tarsus, a man who had sorely persecuted the church (Acts 9):

13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Emphasis mine).

Paul, himself, states in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church”

What’s the deal, God?  Why are you sending pain into the life of a guy you just converted?  Shouldn’t he become a king or something?

1 Pet. 2 states:

20For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps …

So, even we are called to enter into suffering.  But, not purposeless suffering.  It is the means by which God disciplines us into acceptable sons and daughters, properly trained in this life to be princes and princesses ruling in the next.

Our humiliation in this life is the result of sin, but orchestrated for our benefit to train us.

Where is God when we go through trials?  We are pitied, felt sorry for, and spoken of in quiet tones.  In this world, the trials Christians suffer seem shameful, as if God rejected us.  The truth is, the trials we go through is a test of our faith, but a judgment on those who are not counted worthy as sons and daughters to go through these trials.  God does not abandon us during trials (despite feelings and confusion); He is intimately connected to us in them.

We can respond in many ways, but a good close reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John will reveal the opposition and difficulties Christ faced on this earth.  Hold fast to Him.   Remember, Jesus Christ, himself, is interceding for you and me.  Pray for yourself.  Pray for me.  We share His name, therefore, we share His sufferings.

Jesus, himself, led a lousy, deprived, short, and, seemingly meaningless life to outward observers.  But all the trials, testing, and temptations led to the ultimate glory to God … The death of the Lamb on the tree.  And without the death, there is no sonship for us whatsoever.  We would be lost for all eternity.  His work is the blessed work of the cross.  It was the epic, total destruction and disarming of the powers of evil.  And, it couldn’t have happened unless Jesus suffered unto death.

So, when people think you’re suffering is bad, sad, or shameful, tell them that it is the very proof that God is your Father. Tell them He has counted you worthy to share in Christ’s sufferings in this life so you can share His glory in the next.

Amen

Who am I?

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”

Can you remember your first job?  Fast food restaurant, athletic club, or maybe a supermarket.  The first day, they started to train you, and can you remember how that went?

It’s not unusual to feel inadequate for a job.  Feelings of inadequacy are normal when you are doing something new.  You might also feel overwhelmed and lost which cause you to question why you decided to take this job.

Moses stumbles across the burning bush in the midst of his job.  He’s gotten herding sheep down to a science.  He’s good at it.  He feels confident yet is ever-aware of the dangers he might face.  He is up to the challenge.

But a burning bush that isn’t consumed is completely strange.  He doesn’t know what to make of it, so he approaches more closely.

Then God starts to speak.  He tells Moses what he needs to do.  He tells Moses to step out of his comfort zone boldly.  Moses then asks the question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  Do you hear the fear in his voice?  The trepidation?  The worry?  The feeling of inadequacy?

God doesn’t address him with modern psychology.  Instead, God says to him, “I will be with you”.

The very thing God is telling Moses to do is a great and mighty work.  It is an impossible work.  It is a fool’s task, and Moses doesn’t want to look like a fool.  He is afraid of the risk and returning to a powerful nation to demand something when he is powerless.

He might believe he will be thrown in jail for such a request.

It’s possible that Moses had a speech impediment.  We know he had an anger problem.  Like anyone else in this world, he had limitations and “issues”.

But God doesn’t refer to any of these.  Instead, He declares who He is and that He will be with Moses.  All of the success of this enterprise is based on God’s working.

And, wherever He sends, He goes.  He does not abandon His children.  Whatever He asks us to do, His promise is sure that He will be with us.  He says to Moses, “when you have brought the people out of Egypt”, not, “if you bring my people out of Egypt”.  God’s confidence is sure, because His promise is based on His Word.

And this Word is Christ, who is the saving God.  He will lead us to the promised land of heaven.  Why? Because we are without limitations and issues?  No, but because this promise was secured at the cross.  All of our excuses and fears are extinguished by this single phrase, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.

In the end, Moses didn’t need to worry about who he was, because God made his name great.  He made his name eternal.

Life in the Middle

Life in the middle

 

Have you ever seen the show, “In the middle”?  It’s about a family who lives in the mid-west and they are middle-classed.  The parents are middle-aged and they struggle through life.  Their appliances are continually breaking down, their kids have quirks and issues and their furniture is run-down.

 

They accept their middle of the road lifestyle.  Yeah, sometimes the mom has aspirations to live a more productive life, but eventually all her best efforts lead her to the same place she began.

 

In the New Testament, Acts stands out as an interesting book.  It is a series of stories, like the Gospels, but it’s not a letter like the epistles.  It’s smack-dab in between the Gospels and the epistles, too.

 

Our passage in Acts today tells us about a time in between two important events in the New Testament.  The first is the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven which we celebrated this past Thursday.  Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of sight.  He ascended to His throne in Heaven.

 

The second important event, which we will celebrate next Sunday is Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  After this event, began the greatest missionary effort of the Christian church in history.  This wasn’t a lukewarm experience for them.

 

But, the time between these two incredible events was a little … slow.  The disciples went back to Jerusalem and waited at the place they were staying.  They reunited at a central location.

 

We can get into a rut, too.  The Sunday after Easter isn’t as well attended.  The flowers don’t have quite the same glory as before, and everyone seems a little bit run-down.  We gather to pray and hear God’s word, but it just isn’t the same thing.

 

It’s kind of like high school graduation.  You reach the top of the platform to receive a diploma, but by the next week, you’re thinking about the next step in life.  You’re beginning again.

 

Maybe you’ve just lost your job, or are newly retired.  You’re thinking, “now what?”  It’s that sense of being lost, in limbo, but not quite in purgatory.  It’s the doldrums.  At times like this, we “re-assess” and “consider our options”.  We want a new life, a strong and stable identity.  You might pray more, and read the Bible more in order to find “God’s will” in the situation.

 

In our passage, the disciples began to pray.   They were praying together as one body including Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His brothers.  And Jesus was there, too.  Matthew records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(18:20).

 

This was the beginning of a community.  And this community wasn’t so small.  In fact, when Peter stood up to talk, there were 120 people present.  He stood in the middle of them and spoke about Judas.

 

He was putting things into perspective.  After Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter realized how the prophecies by King David in the Psalms were fulfilled by Judas.

 

And, who was better to realize this than Peter, who denied Jesus, and may have realized that He was this close (finger gesture) to being counted with Judas.  If it wasn’t for the intervention of Jesus praying for Peter before the Father, we might have had a different story.  Acts might have focused on John, or James, or Andrew instead.

 

But, Jesus did intervene.  He knew Peter would fall.  He knew he would deny Jesus.  Despite this, Jesus steps into the gap and prays for Peter: Luke records in Chapter 22, verses 31-32:

 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 Jesus gave him the promise that Peter would turn again, despite his falling.

 

Peter’s sin lead him to weep bitterly for his betrayal.  It’s a sin that repeats over and over again.  If you consider the Old Testament Israelites and how they so readily worshipped the golden calf Aaron made.  God was so angry that He basically told Moses to step aside while he destroyed the entire nation.  Thankfully, Moses intervened and Israel was spared.

 

At other times, God simply struck down those who would betray Him by following other gods.  The sacrifice of animals was not enough to intercede on their behalf.

 

You and I, too, have a tendency to go astray.  Maybe we fall into a form of worship of personalities, politicians or our own position in life.  We get caught up in money, importance and security.  But our God is a jealous God.  He will not share His glory with anyone, including you or me.  In fact, Jesus Christ has stepped into the middle of human history for one purpose; to kill us.  Because, unless He drowns the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, He cannot resurrect us.  If we remain hopeful in one work to make ourselves right before God, then we are making ourselves god.  In a word, we commit idolatry.

 

We are made aware of this idolatry and other sins through the preaching of the Law.  The law, though, is not the sum and total of Christian preaching.  A preacher who only tells you about the Law and what you should be doing is leading you into the bondage of self-righteousness.

 

Jesus has come and fulfilled all righteousness for you.  He has obeyed His Father perfectly for you.  He was the “middle man” who defended you and I before the damning testimony of our sin.  He has set you free from the rule of sin and death.  And He has come to begin the final assault on our greatest enemy; our own sinfulness.

 

The beginning of this assault was at the waters of your baptism.  It continues every time a brother or sister pray for you and with you.  It continues as Christ is present in the communion for the feeding of your faith.  It continues as you hear the word rightly preached.  And, when we go astray, make no mistake about it, the good shepherd is willing to leave 99 other sheep to find you.

 

Jesus is the intervening God who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals to become our eternal intercessor.  And, He didn’t stop there.  Jesus Christ still stands before the Father, praying on our behalf as the great high priest.  The lot has been cast in your favor in Christ. He never ceases, continually working for our salvation.

 

And He has given you a new identity; you are a son or daughter of the living God.  We have been made the children of God through His blood.  Because of this, we can pray with Jesus, saying “Our Father who art in heaven”, all in Jesus’ name.

 

To God be the glory now and forever,

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit trail Bible reading

When I was in college, one of my friends was in a church that was reading the entire Bible over a summer.  It sounded really good, so I followed the plan along with the others.

The first week was really good.  We read Genesis and Matthew at the same time.  The “story” style of those books was an easy read.

After a couple of weeks, though, the reading became a drudgery.  Long list of laws, genealogies and directives put a damper on the joy of reading.  After a while, I quit.  Others quit, too.

Part of the problem was the type of writing we were reading.  The later books weren’t the narrative type we had encountered in the Gospels and Genesis/Exodus books.

The other part of the problem was a lack of a “big picture” to help guide the reading.

So, here I am to advocate a completely different form of reading.  I call it Rabbit Trail Reading.

Let’s say you’re going to read Hebrews.  Hebrews has four perspectives on Jesus as prophet, priest, King and sacrifice.  What books in the Old Testament speak to sacrifices and priests?  Think Leviticus and Deuteronomy.    My suggestion is that one reads a good portion (say 8-10 chapters) of the O.T. book before venturing into the New Testament book.  That way, you have some background knowledge before you are forced to use the reference notes in your study Bible.

Similarly, read Genesis before and during a read through John’s Gospel.  Compare structure, words, phrases and ideas.

It may not be a systematic reading plan.  Instead, it is a content-rich reading program which the individual can determine for himself/herself.  Your interest determines the material.  The material shapes your understanding and further interest in God’s Holy Word.

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