Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“God’s Mystery Revealed” Romans 16:25-27—Series B, Dec. 18th, ‘11

1.            Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this 4th Sunday in Advent is taken from Romans 16:25-27, it’s entitled, “God’s Mystery Revealed,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.            The Apostle Paul loved a good mystery and maybe you do too.  Maybe you can remember sitting in front of the television screen as a child watching the detective trying to unravel his case to discover who committed the crime.  Only to find out that you’ll have to wait until next week to find out if he cracked the case.  In our text today from Romans 16:25-27 the Apostle Paul says, “25Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
3.            Here the Apostle Paul is referring to the biblical mystery of Jesus Christ.  In Scripture “mystery” is a technical theological term.  It identifies some previously hidden or only hinted at facet of God’s eternal plan, which has only been recently revealed.  Christ, Paul realized with wonder, is the greatest of all the mysteries of God.  How could God forgive the sins of past saints?  How could God not simply declare human beings righteous in His sight, but actually make them righteous?  How could God, committed as He was to the Jews, open wide His arms to the Gentiles too?  How could Jew and Gentile ever find common ground, enabling the race to be drawn back together into one?  How could God’s love for all the human race be so stunningly displayed that hardened sinners would suddenly halt, reconsider, and kneel, broken, before God?
4.            These and all of history’s unanswered questions are, for Paul, answered in Jesus Christ.  He is the mystery hidden for long ages past.  He is the one glimpsed in prophetic writings.  He is the One who has come and stands fully revealed today that all nations might believe and obey Him.  He is the one who has at last enabled us to sense not only the love but also the wisdom of God.  He is the One whom God receives glory, forever and ever.    The Old Testament did not make all things clear. But in the New Testament, the mystery is now revealed. God in Christ has united Jew and Gentile together in one Body.  Paul also writes in Eph 3:4–6, “4When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  As St. Augustine, one of our early Church Fathers has put it, “The new is in the old concealed, and the old is in the new revealed.”
5.            Here at the end of Romans 16 Paul gives us a grand doxology where he wraps up his lengthy letter to the Church at Rome.  This is the whole Epistle of Romans in a nutshell.  God strengthens us through His Gospel in Jesus Christ, through the preaching of Christ, the mystery that was long hidden and is now broadcast through the length and breadth of the world to all nations.  This Gospel brings about “the obedience of faith” that is, it imparts the faith that clings to the righteousness of God so that people are rescued from the old dead end way of living and made partakers of the living Body of the Son of God, whom they eagerly await from heaven.  And for this Gospel—this joyous good news—all glory goes to the Father of Jesus Christ forever!

6.            This doxology that Paul uses here near the end of his letter to the Romans reflects everything Paul has said in this New Testament Epistle.  You may recall how the book of Romans began with Paul’s assertion in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” 
7.            Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is at the heart of Paul’s message.  Jesus is the key, the revelation that unlocks the mystery hidden for long ages past.  God’s gracious plan of salvation has been effect since Adam and Eve—yes, even from eternity.  But for a long time it looked like the personal possession of the Jewish nation.  But, all of that changed when Jesus came to earth, completed His saving work and commissioned His followers to proclaim the salvation to all the world.  Thus, the “mystery” of God’s grace—disclosed to Paul and proclaimed in his gospel—is that by faith in Christ as our Savior from sin, death and the devil’s power, God’s salvation is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.
8.            The Apostle Paul had experienced the power of God in the gospel not only in the spiritual rebirth it brought into his own life, but also in seeing that miracle repeated in hundreds and thousands of lives in connection to the work the Lord had privileged him to do.  His gospel had brought the power of God into the hearts of both Jews and Gentiles, setting up centers of Christian worship all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum.
9.            Hence Paul is confident that this Word will now also establish the Romans both through the written message he is sending them and through the spoken Word when he comes to visit them.  So confident is Paul that he could say in Romans 15:29, “I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.”
10.        Paul’s confidence, of course, was not misplaced.  For almost 2000 years now, that Word has advanced, particularly to the west—to Spain and beyond—to the point of also having reached us and won our hearts.  Moved by that gospel in general, and in particular by Paul’s exposition of it in his magnificent Epistle to the Romans, we too join with the apostle in saying, “To him who is able to establish us by the gospel… to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.” 
11.        Christians can differ honestly about many doctrines.  They can dispute about practices.  But on one thing we all agree.  We all love the One Jesus Christ whose coming into our world in the form of a little baby, which we’ll celebrate at Christmas, explained the mystery of God’s plan, and revealed once and for all the full extent of His mysterious, wonderful love in dying on the cross to save each and everyone of us from our sins.  Amen.    

Friday, December 16, 2011

“Pointing the World to Jesus” (John 1:6-8, 19-28) Series B Advent 3, Dec. 11, 2011

  1.             Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  When he preaches repentance, John the Baptist points us to Jesus.  In our Gospel lesson for this day we learn that John was sent by God “as a witness, to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:7).  He baptizes with water in order to “make straight the way of the Lord,” who shall redeem His people from their sins (John 1:23).  John’s whole ministry was to point the world to our Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The message is entitled, “Pointing the World to Jesus,” let he who has ears to hear, let him hear.   
  2.             Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. A.D. 342) is one of the best known.  December 6th has been the day that the Church observes the festival of St. Nicholas, which we celebrated this past week. Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor man’s 3 daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry to enable them to get married, a present that landed in some shoes or, stockings that were hung up to dry. But there’s more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied that our Lord Jesus is fully God, equal to God the Father. He was one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. In fact, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.  During the Council of Nicea, Nicholas got so fed up with the heretic Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and decked him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office as bishop, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.
  3.             St. Nicholas was a lot like John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson this morning.  He was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing the name of Christ. Maybe we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting St. Nick in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas customs. So should the St. Nicholas slap. Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, warning tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not only for nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas. 
  4.             As I said before, both St. Nicholas and John the Baptist remind us that they themselves aren’t so important as the message that they came to proclaim of Jesus Christ and Him crucified on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  John 1:6–8, 19–28 says,  6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”         
  5.             John 1:19 says, “19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” This is the first incident in the life of John the Baptist which John gives us in his Gospel record. We find out about his birth in the Gospel of Luke, but here the record of John the Baptist begins when a delegation from Jerusalem comes to question him. They come out to ask him, “Who are you?”  In this question there’s a subtle temptation because this offered John an opportunity to make something of himself. In John 3:30 we find his response when his disciples wanted him to make something of himself. He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What a statement that is! That’s a statement that every believer should make.  A statement that I’m sure St. Nicholas would make as well. And every believer should live it too. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Either Christ is primary in your life and takes first place, or you (that is, the selfish “I”) will be on top. You can’t have both. He must increase and I must decrease, or else it will be the other way around. 
  6.             Then John 1:20 continues saying, “20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  You see, the priests and Levites from Jerusalem suggest that John the Baptist might be the Messiah. But he makes it very clear that he’s not the Christ; he’s not the Messiah. They’re looking to the wrong man. So, if he’s not the Christ, what great person is he?  John 1:21 says, “21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Notice how brief and matter–of–fact John is. If he’s not the Christ, he must be Elijah. If he’s not Elijah, he must be “that prophet.” They are referring to a prophet “like Moses” who had been promised back in Deuteronomy 18:15. John gives an emphatic “No!” He’s not the predicted prophet of Deuteronomy.
  7.             John 1:22-23 continues, 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  Notice that John is a voice. You see, Christ is the Word! John is the voice! A voice is all that John wants to be and that St. Nicholas wanted to be. Both of them along with you and me have a grand message to give, a message much greater than we are. And notice the grand message that John gives, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” In other words, “Get ready for the coming of the Lord.” John means that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It was at hand in the person of our Lord Jesus, you see. And he tells them to “Make straight the way.” This would be the same as telling them to get the crooked things out of their lives, to deal with the things that are wrong. This we need to do also. 
  8.             And what are the crooked things in your livesIt may be that you fail to bear the name of Christ in your everyday life.  That you live as a Christian on Sunday, but the rest of the week you hide your faith and act more like an unbeliever for fear of being found out by the world.  Or maybe you continue to use pornography and defile your body by committing adultery in your heart and with your eyes.  You indulge yourself in too much alcohol and lose control of your body and your speech because of it.  You fail to honor those in authority over you that God has placed into your life as your leaders.  You sin when you don’t help your neighbor when he or she is in need.  Or, have you considered that when you curse, swear, or use God’s name aimlessly that you’re taking God’s name in vain?
  9.             John the Apostle says in 1 John 1:6, “6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We need to get our lives straight.  But, we can’t do this on our own.  The way our lives are straightened out is when we take our sins to Jesus, as we are taught in 1 John 1:8–9, which says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  If you confess your sins to Jesus and repent of them our Lord Jesus will forgive you and give you eternal life because He bled and died on Calvary’s tree for you!
  10.             Both John the Baptist’s and St. Nicholas’ purpose in life was to point the world to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That includes your sin and my sin.  And from this flowed John’s calling as a believer, teacher, preacher, catechizer, prophet and more.  But, in all that John did for Jesus, none of it could ultimately save him from his sins, since he like you and me, was conceived into sin.  Nothing in John’s divinely given purpose could save him from his own sin.  He, like the rest of us would need Jesus to take away our sins.  Thanks be to God that our Lord Jesus has come to take away our sins and that He promises to come again to take us to our heavenly home.  Amen.  Please pray with me.   O Christ, prepare a royal highway in my heart, that I may receive You in steadfast humility and joy. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Worship from the heart

“...but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making medlody to the Lord with all your heart...” Ephesians 5:18-19

 Jerome: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians Jerome (ca. 345-419) “Let youth hear this, let them hear it whose office it is to make melody in the church: Sing to God, not with the voice, but with the heart; not, after the fashion of tragedians, in smearing the throat with a sweet drug, so that theatrical melodies and songs are heard in the church, but in fear, in work, and in knowledge of the Scriptures. And although a man be kakophonos, to use a common expression, if he have good works, he is a sweet singer before God. And let the servant of Christ sing so that he pleases, not through his voice, but through the words which he pronounces, in order that the evil spirit which was upon Saul may depart from those who are similarly troubled and may not enter into those who would make of the house of God a popular theatre.”

 Ouch! That’s the problem with Church history – those who have preceded us have already wrestled with many of the issues with which we struggled today. We look to the wisdom and experience of our forebears to help us maintain right doctrine; should we not also consult them concerning right practice? Jerome encouraged heart-felt singing, not entertainment, and called on even those who don’t thing they can sing to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Give me that old time cacophony over those carefully rehearsed performances any Lord’s Day. Can people learn to sing from the heart? What is the pastor’s responsibility in teaching them to do this?

Monday, December 5, 2011

“Our Patient God” (Isaiah 40:1-11 & 2 Peter 3:8-14) Dec. 4th, 2011

1.            Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  As the Prophet Isaiah had written, John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson for today is the messenger of our Lord Jesus, sent before Him to prepare His way.  To this day, the ministry of John continues in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  By these means of grace your Good Shepherd Jesus “will gather you into His arms” (Is. 40:11).  The Lord Jesus comforts you by forgiving all of your sins (Is. 40:1–2).  So during this Advent season take time to repent and humble yourself as you wait for His coming in peace (2 Pet. 3:14), because He “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).  And that’s the message that we want to talk about today, the fact that God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but that all may receive eternal life through His Son Jesus.  The message is entitled, “Our Patient God,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.            Waiting is never easy. In our day of high speed internet, instant messaging, and fast food, waiting for anything seems like forever. Do you remember your days as a child?  When the season of Advent came closer and closer to the day of Christmas.  How difficult was it for you and your siblings to wait to open your presents? Maybe you had such a hard time waiting that you would often coax your parents into allowing you to open some, or maybe all of your presents on Christmas Eve. You probably remember some years where you couldn’t wait any longer, and your parents couldn’t stand your whining and begging either, so they finally gave in and let you open all of your presents before Christmas Day. 
3.            The season of Advent begins a season of waiting. It marks the beginning of the church year and asks us to wait for the coming of Christ, the King. Each new Advent season raises our expectations as we wait. Will we see the return of the Lord in this Advent season? But, it also leads us to a time of reflection concerning how we wait because waiting, by its nature, is difficult for all of us. Like children getting up on Christmas Day to open their presents early because they can’t wait any longer, we often wait impatiently, rather than with expectant hope. 
4.            Waiting for God is difficult enough, but, waiting in the wilderness can make the calmest soul waver. The whole history of Israel is a history of waiting, waiting in the wilderness to enter the Promised Land, waiting for a king, waiting in exile for return to the land of Israel, and waiting for God to deliver them from their enemies. Imagine, then, how their hearts moved with hope when they heard of the promise of the Lord once more from Isaiah. We can feel the hope rise as the prophet Isaiah cries out: “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low...Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together” (Isaiah 40:3-5). And yet, generations came and went and the years passed by with no sign of the promised one. Israel went into exile, and the voice of the prophets became silent. Would there be a way in the wilderness, and a smooth path cut through the desert? Or would God leave his people as exiles in the wastelands? 
5.            For over 2000 years, we’ve seen Advent season come and go, each year raising our hopes for Christ’s return. Unfortunately, as happens to so many, we lose hope and heart in waiting. You grow tired and weary, and you, like the false prophets of old ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Your temptation in the exile of waiting is to lose hope, to grow weary and faint. Your temptation is to give up rather than hold on. Rather than fill you with expectation, waiting can dull your hope and dry out your hunger for God. Yet the Advent season calls you back to watch and to wait in anxious expectation for the return of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
6.            But, have we every considered how much God the Father waits patiently on us?  Jesus says in Mark 7:21-22, “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside.”  When God sees anger in our hearts, He sees sin.   God does wait patiently on us.  We fail to worship Him as we ought.  Our bed is so much more comfortable to sleep in on Sunday morning, than to have to sit in an uncomfortable pew in worship.  Don’t forget the fact that maybe you despise having to hear God’s Word preached and taught, because of some sin you’re unwilling to repent of.  Maybe you’re living in the same house as your boyfriend or girlfriend and both of you keep putting off getting married.  As a Christian you know that God says don’t commit adultery, but you figure that God will just turn a blind eye to your adulterous way of living and forget about the fact that you’re living with someone else outside of marriage.  Or, maybe you just can’t stop talking about someone behind their back.  Each moment you get the chance you have to share that jaw dropping story to the next person who comes into your midst.  For all of these things God is very patient with you.  Remember, He tells you through 2 Peter 3 that He’s patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but that all come to repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins you need through Jesus Christ your Savior.   
7.            So Isaiah the Prophet says to us from Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”  The Lord Jesus our burden and sin bearer has come, He is the One who later on will fulfill everything that Isaiah said about Him. He will be the One to give the invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Lord Jesus Christ lifts our burdens. 
8.            Isaiah continues in 40:2, “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  It’s been suggested that when there was an indebtedness on a house in Israel, the fact was written on a legal document, and put on the doorpost so that all their neighbors and friends would know that they had a mortgage on their place. Another copy was kept by the one who held the mortgage. When the debt was paid, the second copy, the carbon copy, was nailed over the other doorpost so that all might see that the debt was paid. This is the meaning of “she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The sins of Jerusalem were paid for by the One who suffered outside her gates, Jesus Christ the crucified.
9.            This is the difference between the dealings of God with His people in the Old Testament and with us in our day. This actually separates Christianity from all pagan religions and from the Mosaic Law. The difference is all wrapped up in that little word propitiation. In the heathen religions the people bring an offering to their gods to appease them, and that is what propitiation means. Many people think that that is what it means in the Bible, that they have to “do” something—because God is angry—to win Him over. The people in heathen religions are always doing that because their gods are always angry and difficult to get along with. Their feelings are easily hurt, and they aren’t very friendly. The fact is that sin, your sin, has alienated you from God, but it is God who did something for you.
10.        And today God is propitious. You don’t have to do anything to win Him over. Propitiation is toward God, and reconciliation is toward us. God has done everything that needs to be done.  For He is patient with you, not wanting you to perish in your trespasses and sins, but for you to come to the forgiveness of your sins through your Savior Jesus Christ. Today you are asked to be reconciled to God, not to do something to win Him over. God is already won over; that is what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross. You need only to receive what Christ has done for You through the hearing of the Word that Your sins are forgiving, remembering that You are a baptized child of God, and that He gives You of His body and blood to forgive You of your sins.   So today do not harden your hearts, but hear the voice of our patient God speak to You through His Word, repent of your sins, turn to Christ and live.  Amen.