Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“Jesus: Our Great High Priest” (Hebrews 5:1-10) Lent--Series B March 25th, ‘12

1.            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  In our Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah 31:31–34, the Lord promises a new covenant for his people, a covenant of the full and free forgiveness of sins. Through this covenant, the Lord would separate for himself a holy people which would know him fully.  And, in our Epistle lesson for today, Hebrews 5 describes Jesus’ work as the obedient Son of God, who humbled himself under the law of God and the will of his Father in order that he would earn eternal salvation for us. He became our eternal High Priest so that he could render to God a full payment for all our sins.  Once again our Bible readings for this 5th Sunday in Lent focus our attention on our Savior Jesus, as he continues his journey to the cross. It’s by his perfect life and his sacrifice on the cross for us that he became our High Priest and put into effect the new covenant which God promised to his people.  The message is taken from Hebrews 5 and is entitled, “Jesus:  Our Great High Priest,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.            Since today is Confirmation questioning, I thought it would be best for all of us to have a little confirmation review in church this morning.  What is Jesus’ threefold office?  That’s right; he’s our prophet, priest, and king.  As our prophet, Jesus proclaims the Word of God to us and he continues to do so through the pastors he sends to preach his Word to his church.  As our priest, Jesus offered Himself up as the supreme sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  And, as our king, he sits at the right hand of God ruling over all in the interest of his bride the church.
3.            In the book of Hebrews the author is writing to Jewish Christians who were placing too much emphasis upon Old Testament worship practices, believing these were necessary for a proper attitude toward God.  Instead, the writer of the Hebrews launches into what Jesus has accomplished as our High Priest.  When using the proper forms in worship becomes the primary focus, there’s a danger the doctrine of faith and salvation takes a back seat.  The Old Testament high priest was selected from men to offer sacrifices for himself and the people.  In the New Testament, Jesus established the Office of the Holy Ministry, the pastoral office.  Even today, 2000 years later the pastor represents the Lord and speaks on Christ’s behalf to his Church, the people of God.  The pastor is called into the ministry from among men.
4.            Like the high priest, the pastor must also recognize that he’s a sinner.  In humility, he comes before God, confessing his sins and begging for forgiveness.  Being conscious of his own sins helps him develop an attitude of gentleness in dealing with his own congregation.  The high priest of the Old Testament never took upon himself the honor of the office, and neither should any man assume the pastoral office on his own authority.  He should only become a pastor by the call of God through the Church.  This is what the author of Hebrews refers to in Hebrews 5:1-4, which says, 1For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
5.            Sadly, today some people denigrate the Holy Office by simply declaring themselves to be ministers, such as some on TV whose main focus is on raising money for “their ministry,” while neglecting to proclaim Christ crucified.  Jesus, as our High Priest, never sought to glorify Himself, but always brought glory to His heavenly Father.  He did so by being obedient to the call of His Father.  This obedience included becoming the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world.  The author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 5:5-10, 5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
6.            Some years ago, a pastor wanted to divorce his wife of 25 years.  The pastors in his district began to counsel him with much patience trying to get him to reconsider his decision.  When this pastor would hear no more counsel and wouldn’t change his mind, he complained to the pastors counseling him, “You have no idea what I’ve been going through.”  One of the wise old pastors answered back, “Yes, that’s true, brother, but do have a Lord who knows and sympathizes with your afflictions.” 
7.            Jesus our High Priest is there to redirect us from temptation.  There’s no greater help than to have His sympathy.  Although He can’t be seen now in the Church, He hasn’t abandoned His people.  When we’re faced with spiritual temptation, we have a High Priest who calls us to faithful confession of his gracious care for us. 
8.            Temptation will come.  That God doesn’t promise to lessen.  Suffering and trial under the cross of Christ will always be the hallmark of the life of a Christian, but can’t overwhelm or defeat Christ.  Suffering and trial can’t undo the Jesus our High Priest’s sympathy for us who need rest from him.  Our suffering never makes our Lord unable to save us.  His power to save is seen to be all the more glorious when we’re found to be burdened by trials and temptations.  Our weakness shows his strength.  Our comfort is never in ourselves, but in the sympathy of our High Priest, Jesus.
9.            One of our Early Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom writes this about Jesus our Great High Priest, “He is not ignorant of what concerns us, as are many of the high priests, who know not those in tribulations nor that there is tribulation at any time.  For in the case of men it is impossible that one who has not had experience and gone through the actual sensations should know the affliction of the afflicted.  Our High Priest endured all things.  Therefore He endured first and then ascended, that He might be able to sympathize with us.  But He ‘in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).  Observe how both above [the author] has used the word ‘likewise’ (Hebrews 2:14) and here ‘in ever respect’ (Hebrews 4:15).  That is, He was persecuted, spit upon, he was accused, was mocked at, was falsely informed on, was driven out, and at last was crucified.”  (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews, 7.5). 
10.        Jesus could have done otherwise, you know. That’s what makes these words from Hebrews so astonishing. The Word in whom the world has its being, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, the incarnate God—he didn’t have to respond to the certainty of his death with the silence of a lamb. The one in whom all creation holds together could have opened the earth to swallow his enemies, could have sent a flood to sweep them away, could have summoned rank upon rank of angels to his defense. He could have walked away from the cross and left you and me, his enemies, to die in our sin. He could have, but because of his humble faith in the Father he did not, but died to save us and was raised from the dead.
11.        This is the way of Jesus into whom you have been baptized. You have been given his life and faith. Struggles in life and in faith no longer make us turn from God in resentment, but faith in Jesus turns you to God in trust in his wisdom and love. No longer turn suffering into an opportunity for resentment, or our neighbors into rivals, but in faith in Christ turn to God in prayer and humble obedience.  Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

“God’s Grace Makes the Difference” (Ephesians 2:1-10) March 18th, 2012 Series B

“God’s Grace Makes the Difference” (Ephesians 2:1-10) March ’12 Series B
1.                  Sanctify us in the truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  As we move further into Lent, the cross looms ever larger before us. It was on that cross that the love, mercy, and grace of God reached their climax. The Old Testament and Gospel readings for this day vividly hold the cross before us. Our text from Ephesians 2 this 4th Sunday in Lent gives us a “behind the scenes” glimpse at what motivated God to sacrifice his Son Jesus on the cross for us. In the first 3 verses of Ephesians 2 Paul reminds believers of their former unspiritual condition. It’s not a pretty picture! He describes their former state with phrases like “being dead in transgressions and sins,” “following the ways of the world,” “gratifying the cravings of the sinful nature,” when they were “by nature objects of wrath.” What follows in our text stands in sharp contrast to what used to be. “God’s grace has made the difference.”  But, once we receive this grace from God in Christ what are we to do with it?  We’ll look at this a little further in our message from God’s Word today.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.         
2.                  YouTube videos go viral all the time, but sermons rarely do. Enter Jefferson Bethke, a young poet who posted the video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." It’s been viewed more than 10 million times in a short manner of time.  The video opens with the phrase "Jesus is greater than Religion.” His poem begins, "What if I told you, Jesus came to abolish religion?"  In a hip style, he continues with such controversial questions for four minutes: "If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?" Mr. Bethke describes religion as no more than "behavior modification" and "a long list of chores." This leads him to conclude, "Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums." And his grand finale: "So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it."  We might consider that Bethke risks appearing arrogant by claiming to love Jesus and hate religion, but this is an arrogance that I think I’m as guilty as anyone. To separate Jesus from religion is to create an untrue juxtaposition of two non-mutually exclusive concepts. Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion. He didn’t come to abolish the law as Matthew 5:19 tells us. Jesus came to do what He’s still in the business of doing: to redeem you from your trespasses and sins by keeping the law perfectly in your place. 
3.                  We don’t get to separate ourselves from the Church, as Christians. As someone once said, “to say that you love Jesus but hate religion is like saying you love your best friend but hate his wife.” That relationship won’t last. As Christians we aren’t required to check our brains at the door, but we are to work together to be more loving, compassionate, humble, and gracious in our spirits. We’re called to love one another, and we do so with the power of our Lord Jesus who came to this earth and died for our sins and has redeemed us by His death on the cross. 
4.                  But, here’s the question: What’s religion? Is it hypocrisy? By ‘religion,’ do we really mean the way of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Westboro Baptist Church? Because if so, we’re in trouble.  Is it, like Bethke said, “putting perfume on a casket?” Is it legalism – “behavior modification, like a long list of chores?” Because if so, we’re in a lot of trouble. I’m guessing Bethke doesn’t actually hate religion. In fact, I would bet that he loves it. As we are told in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In fact, it sounds similar to where Bethke claims ‘religion’ falls short: “Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor/Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce?”  It seems that in much discussion between Christians about Jefferson Bethke’s YouTube video that what he really was protesting is faith without works. Empty speech and selfish thinking. Building monuments to our own greatness and abandoning the widow and the orphan. What we need now is not less religion, but more than ever.
5.                  And this is what leads us to our Epistle lesson from Ephesians chapter 2 today.  Ephesians 2:1–2, “2  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  Although physically they were alive and active, Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that spiritually they’d been dead. Corpses can’t move. Dead people can’t do anything; they’re totally unable to help themselves. Such was the spiritual condition you too were in before God made you His own through your baptism and the hearing of His Word. If any of the Ephesians questioned Paul’s diagnosis regarding their spiritual bankruptcy, he urged them to take a look at their own lives.  Like their friends and neighbors, the Ephesians had shown the common weaknesses of gentile society much like Jefferson Bethke was critiquing about the Christian church today. They’d been godless, immoral, loveless, lazy, and disobedient. Society is that way, according to Paul, because it follows “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” That “ruler,” of course, is Satan (John 12:31; 14:30). He’s a dangerous foe. Like a roaring lion, he stalks about, seeking victims to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And the Ephesian Gentiles had been easy prey.
6.                  Ephesians 2:3 says, “3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”  When Paul says, “We also lived among them,” he includes himself and his fellow Jews with the disobedient Gentiles.  God’s law, given to Israel on Mount Sinai, guided and regulated nearly every phase of Jewish life. As such, the law held in check among the Jews many of the coarse outbreaks of sin that were common among the Gentiles. But, whether sins are done in the open or in secret, blatant or subtle, sinful actions and thoughts infect every man, woman, and child since the fall into sin. Sin is an inherited condition. We bring it with us from birth. And it rightly earns us the anger of a holy and just God. With Paul we too need to say, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
7.                  Ephesians 2:4–5, 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  Paul tells us that God raising Christ from the dead signaled the completion of Christ’s saving work and sealed our redemption. It made possible our resurrection from spiritual death.  When he says, “God … made us alive with Christ,” he’s referring to the miracle of conversion. When we could not lift a finger to help ourselves, God through Word and sacrament worked faith in our hearts, creating life where formerly there had been none. In this way he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
8.                  Ephesians 2:8–9, 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Paul underscores the theme of his message by repeating it: we’re saved by grace! Right now we’re “the saved ones.” There’s no waiting, no trial period, no background check. We possess salvation right now. But, Paul tells us this isn’t our own doing, it’s “through faith.” Faith is the hand that receives all the blessings of God’s grace. It’s a gift given by God, worked in us by the Spirit. The credit, the glory, the praise all belong to God.
9.                  How fitting that Paul should refer to all this as the gift of God. Think of occasions when gifts are given. Seldom does one receive a gift from a total stranger. They usually come from those who know and love us. It’s given freely as an expression of love and friendship. In the same way the gift of salvation is given by God the Father who knows us well and loves us dearly, and it’s given unconditionally.  We must also remember that gifts aren’t earned. Paul was aware that work-righteousness is deeply ingrained in the natural man. This is a condition to which Christians can easily revert if they let down their spiritual guard. While good works do play a part in the Christian’s life, they’re excluded when it comes to our salvation. Paul’s words are emphatic: “And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works.…” In the area of justification works and faith are opposites. Relying on works would rob God of the glory that is his.
10.              But, notice how Paul doesn’t exclude good works from the life of the Christian. While Paul tells us that our good works are excluded in justification, they’re expected in sanctification, which is living out a holy and God pleasing life. Those works are the Christian’s loving response to God and His grace. We not only say our thanks to God; we live it every day. Here, too, notice the grace of God. He not only enables us to do good works (Heb 11:6), but He also gives us the opportunities for service. And such opportunities for service aren’t confined to spectacular or unusual things. Every day, routine chores also offer ways for glorifying God and serving our neighbor (1 Co 10:31). A Christian’s life should bring glory to God. Our lives are to be reflections of His grace. For remember, God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does and we do all of this because of God’s grace given to us through our Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

“Asleep & Awake in Christ” (John 11:20-27) Funeral Sermon for Rudolph Sommer, 3/12/12

Asleep & Awake in Christ” (John 11:20-27)
Funeral Sermon for Rudolph Sommer, 3/12/12.  By: Pastor John M. Taggatz

1.                  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Dear family and friends of Rudolph, on behalf of the congregation here at St. John, I want to express to you my deepest sympathies as you mourn over his death.  But, I want to tell you today that even though we grieve over his death, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope.  We can take hope and comfort that Rudolph was baptized into the Christian faith through water and the power of God’s Word and was brought from death to life just this past week on March 7th, 2012 in his home. As the pastor who baptized Rudolph, I was able to tell him that his baptism gave to him the promise of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation on account of our Lord Jesus.  This is what the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans chapter 6.  The message from God’s Word is taken from John 11:20-27 and is entitled, “Asleep & Awake in Christ,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ. 
2.                  As all of you know Rudolph was deeply loved by his family and friends. He farmed with his brother Louie and assisted managing their farm in Missouri.  Rudolph was known to turn down a ride home from the fields for a meal just to enjoy taking a long walk through the farm field to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  Rudolph was a caring man, especially for his family.  He was always looking out for his family members.  And he was always thinking and trying to figure out problems.  Rudolph cared for his country as well.  He was a US Army Korean War Veteran serving from 1952 to 1954.
3.                  We’re here today because sin has caused our loved one to die.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death.  Sin came into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.  Sin is what has caused all the suffering, pain, and toil that we go through in this fallen world.  It’s because of our fall into sin that we rebel against God and harm our neighbor through our words and actions.  If the result of sin is death, then how is it that we can have the hope of living eternally in heaven?  Well, we get an answer to this question in our text from John 11.
4.                  When Jesus receives the message from Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, that their brother has died, He says to the disciples in John 11:11, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." Jesus often referred to being dead as sleeping. He did this when Jairus's daughter was dead, and again in the New Testament the dead are referred to as "those who have fallen asleep," such as in 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18. Therefore, death is a kind of sleep. It's easy to misunderstand this expression because people have an incorrect assumption about natural life and sleep. We assume life is something we "own," something we have control over. Sleep is a pause, a period of rest in this life. We still own our lives during sleep and we’ll wake up. But life isn't something we possess. It's something we receive from our Creator. We’re in His hand our entire lives, dependent upon Him. We live only as long as God continues His creative work, and gives us life. That’s what sleep is too.  The biblical truth about sleep is found in the Psalms, in Psalm 3:5 it says,: "I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me."  If I wake to a new day, it's because God has sustained me. When death is called sleep, it means that the dead are also in God's hand.  This is the comfort we have for our dear brother in the faith, Rudolph, that He has fallen asleep in Christ. God our Creator has the same power over those who have died that He has over those who are alive. They, too, are in God's hands, completely dependent upon Him.
5.                  Upon arriving at Bethany, Martha, Lazarus’ sister says to Jesus in John 11:21“Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  It’s like Martha is saying, “Jesus, if you really loved us, You would have come here right away to heal my brother.”  And such is the devil’s temptation.  He loves to make us think, “Jesus, if you truly loved me, You wouldn’t have taken my loved one from me.”  Jesus if you truly cared, then I wouldn’t be so sick.”  “Jesus if You are always there for me, why am I feeling so lonely?”
6.                  Jesus loves Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, and that’s why he waits.  Although it’s hard to understand, Jesus’ inaction is the best action.  He knows what’s going to happen—Lazarus will be raised from the dead, and the result of this miracle will be that Jesus will be glorified and many more will believe that He’s the Son of God.  And because Jesus loves you, He often waits.  He doesn’t answer your prayer in the way or the time that you had hoped.  He unexpectedly calls someone you love to his heavenly home like he did to our beloved Rudolph.  In the midst of trial, he appears to be slow to help.  It’s not easy for us to wait on the Lord.  But know this, our Lord will act.  And when He acts, He will bring glory to Himself.  He may not heal your sickness or take away your cancer, but He will strengthen your faith through suffering and even use it as a witness to others.  Because he loves you, your Lord will always do what is best for you.
7.                   If Jesus says that Lazarus has gone to sleep why is it that in our text he weeps?  It seems strange to the grieving family and friends of Lazarus.  Their response in John 11:37 is, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also kept this man from dying?”  If Lazarus’ death would make Jesus cry, why didn’t He keep Lazarus from dying?  And it’s strange to us as well that Jesus wept. Jesus stayed where he was for two days before going to Bethany to see Lazarus and his family.  And when he finally decided to take the journey he told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”  Jesus knew what He was going to do in Bethany and it’s for that reason that He waited.
8.                  Keep in mind that Jesus doesn’t weep because Lazarus had died or because he felt helpless or weak.  He weeps for Mary and Martha, and their family and friends that the pain of death brings.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Jesus will live even though he dies, and the believer shall never experience eternal death in Hell.  He who conquered death and the grave by His own death and resurrection gives life to all who believe now and also at the resurrection on the Last Day.  And this is the same promise that Rudolph received in his baptism and by which we who are left here on earth can be comforted.  As true man, Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses as Hebrews 4:15 reminds us.  In the church, we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who weep.  And what is true of the church, is also true of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of his body the Church.  When a loved one dies, we can be certain that Jesus, the resurrection and the life, has given eternal life to that loved one who died in the faith.  We can be confident that the one we love will be raised again on the Last Day.  We have that sure and certain hope and yet we weep. 
9.                  Yes we weep at the face of death and our Lord Jesus weeps too.  Even as He gives life to all who have fallen asleep in faith, He weeps with us who continue on our earthly journey.  He not only weeps, but He also comforts us, He reminds us that He’s the resurrection and the life and by His word of promise, He strengthens us as we mourn.  And we can take comfort in the fact, that this same Jesus, who has the power to raise the dead, will raise us and our dear Rudolph from the dead. when He comes again in glory on Judgment Day. So that we will be together again with Him and all the saints of God for all eternity. Amen.   

“Cleaning House "(John 2:13-22) Lent 3, Series B, March 11, 2012

1.            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this 3rd Sunday in Lent comes to us from John 2:13-22, where we see our Lord Jesus clean out His Heavenly Father’s house.  In our Old Testament lesson today we see that the Lord rescues His people the Israelites out of the land of slavery in Egypt and makes His covenant with them by the Ten Commandments. Since He’s become their God by His grace, they shall be His people, having no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3). Our God is jealous for us as a husband for his wife and as a father for his children. He’s named us with His Name and called us to rest in Him (Ex. 20:5–9). So too our Lord Jesus, is jealous for His Father’s house, because it’s to be a place of grace and Sabbath rest for His people, and not a house of trade (John 2:16–17). His zeal consumes Him as He gives up the temple of His body on the cross, but in 3 days He raises it up again to be the true temple forever (John 2:17–21). By His crucifixion He cleanses all of us of our sins, and in His resurrection He becomes our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  The message is entitled, “Cleaning House,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.            It’s amazing how rude human beings can be to one another. Maybe someone raised his voice harshly to you in public. Maybe you hear language at work or on the softball field that doesn’t even belong in the locker room. We like quiet and calm.  But, sometimes what appears rude may simply be the outburst of strong conviction. Someone sees a miscarriage of justice or something wrong going on and just can’t remain quiet and polite. Conviction, zeal for a cause, demands a dramatic response.  In our text this morning, Jesus upsets the moneychangers in the temple and more! He creates a scene and offends. Is he being rude? No, it’s zeal for God’s house. Finding his Father’s house being misused and abused, Jesus’ zeal simply can’t be kept under wraps. In Jesus’ cleansing the temple of God’s house, we see Christ’s zeal revealed.
3.            John 2:14-16 says, 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  Here we see that when Jesus arrived at the temple in Jerusalem, he found serious distractions from the Passover festival. It was like opening day at the county fair. Some were selling animals and birds for the sacrifices. Others were changing money for the foreign visitors, who needed to pay their temple tax with a specified Jewish coin (Exodus 30:13–16).  But, there wasn’t just distractions taking place, there were also gross abuses going on.  The sellers had a corner on the market much like the vendors at Busch stadium have today. They were exploiting the people. Greed gathered wealth. Their greedy practices were subverting the true worship of God in the temple.  Here we see Jesus take action; he made a whip used it to drive out the cattle and sheep along with the marketers. He scattered the coins, overturned the tables, and ordered those who sold the doves: “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
4.            John 2:17 continues saying, 17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The Lord came to His temple. He came as a “refiner and purifier” (Malachi 3:1–4). He declared himself the Son of the Heavenly Father. His disciples watched, no doubt frightened and amazed. Being well-versed in Scripture, they recalled one of David’s psalms that spoke of the Messiah and applied it to Jesus: “Zeal for your house consumes me” (Psalm 69:9). In fact, that same psalm predicted some of the rejection and suffering that lay ahead for our Lord Jesus.
5.            Jesus had taken his stand against turning his Father’s house into a marketplace. What can we learn from this episode for today? God’s Word doesn’t say that all selling by the church is sinful. From what’s described, we might conclude that whatever detracts from worship, whatever distorts the church’s mission, whatever cheats God’s children should be driven from the church like the cattle from the temple.  We also see that Jesus’ integrity and character are so different from ours! Our character is often like that of the merchandising Jews, as we use God’s Church for our own ends. We seek the glory and praise of others. Pastors and elders use their positions to manipulate their people. Worshipers seek a me-centered service of good feelings and emotional highs rather than a God-centered one. We worship with dollar bills rather than tithes. Or, we give our tithes, but with tainted motives. Our thoughts wander while in worship. We treat God’s Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper casually, as if they were another chore to do.
6.            The “zeal of the Lord of hosts” (Is 9:7 ESV) meets us in the person of Jesus. No polite, “Well, let’s see about this,” when it would rob God’s people of the comfort and assurance of forgiveness they should receive when they come into the temple. No playing it safe, blending in, keeping quiet, even though this sort of outburst will get Him killed. No greater love, mercy, and humility could be shown us sinners than what we see in the person of Christ. With all zeal, he was obedient and reversed the curse of Eden. With all zeal, He overpowered the devil and bound Him forever. With all zeal, He covers us today with the drenching waters of Baptism. The zeal of His body and blood covers, cleanses, and cures us from our sin.
7.            This person of the Lord Jesus genuine. Unlike the money changers and sinners like us, He offers more than a fair exchange. He exchanges our guilt for His innocence. He exchanges our crosses of damnation for His cross of salvation. He exchanges our weaknesses for the strength of His resurrection. He exchanges the weak things of our world for the strong world of His heaven. He exchanges, on the Last Day, our vile bodies for His victorious, resurrected one.
8.            John 2:18–19 continues this story saying, 18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The Jewish leaders reacted in a guarded way to Jesus’ actions. Instead of addressing the faults Jesus had exposed, they asked Him for a sign to prove His authority to clear the temple.  And Jesus offered them one. But, as we’ll see, it wasn’t the kind of sign they wanted. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus said, “and I will raise it again in three days.”
9.            John 2:20–22 says, 20The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”  The Jews then became quarrelsome. They responded: “This temple has been 46 years in the building, and you are going to raise it in three days?” They were unbelieving. But, Jesus wasn’t talking about the temple He’d just emptied of sellers. He was talking about the temple of His body. He was saying He would die and rise again.
10.        The image of the temple for Jesus’ body was important. Just as the presence of God was manifest in the temple for God’s people, so in the Word become flesh was God manifest among the people. He fulfilled in person what the temple only foreshadowed. To destroy Jesus was to destroy the temple of God.  And yet, unbelief doesn’t recognize a true sign when it’s pointed out.  Instead, it becomes a sign of judgment. So these Jews later tried to use Jesus’ words against Him at his trial (Matthew 26:61). Even when Jesus rose from the dead to fulfill this sign, these Jews hardened their hearts to the truth. The disciples, on the other hand, “recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”
11.        When we feel abused by taxes, by poor health, or by the struggles of life, the Holy Spirit is near.   Luther reminds us that, “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, p. 17). St. Paul reminds us, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16 ESV).  This power in Christ is unmatched. His energies all move toward the intent of His Church. Even the gates of hell can’t prevail against this lowly but mighty body of believers. His zeal and power will one day raise our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Our Lord Jesus, though seemingly destroyed on the cross, was instead raised in power on Easter. And because He lives, we live forever.  The Lord has cleansed our sinful selves to give us an eternal home of glory in heaven.  Amen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

“Not a Tame God” (Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16)--2nd Sunday in Lent, March 4th, 2012

1.            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word for us today is taken from our Old Testament lesson in Genesis 17.  In His covenant with Abraham, the Lord promised to be with him, to bless him, and make him “the father of many nations.” It’s an eternal covenant in Jesus, the seed of Abraham. All who believe in Jesus are the offspring of Abraham and are blessed, because Christ has suffered many things, He was rejected and killed, and after three days He rose again (Mark 8:31). To understand this theology of the cross, we must set our mind “on the things of God,” and not “on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  The message from God’s Word is entitled, “Not a Tame God,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.            It often helps to illustrate that God works in ways that, at the time, make no sense at all.  Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.”  As sinful human beings we often forget our relationship to God that we are His creatures and He is our Creator.  We forget His majesty and power and expect Him to be "cuddly" and "safe" and to do our own bidding, according to our own will.  The great Christian thinker and author, C.S. Lewis, has illustrated this throughout his Chronicles of Narnia series. In the books, Aslan the Lion represents Jesus. Often the characters are reminded that Aslan is "not a tame Lion." He’s powerful, merciful, loving, kind, and trustworthy, but He’s not tame, predictable, controllable, or even safe.  I love this quote from Lewis' novel, The Last BattleDo you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?" said Tirian. "Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He's not a tame lion."  I enjoyed watching Disney's movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where this concept appeared again through this scene:  Mr. Tumnus: [of Aslan] He's not a tame lion.  Lucy Pevensie: No... but he is good.
3.            What a MIGHTY God we serve! How worthy of our worship! How strong on our behalf! Thank God that He’s not safe, not a puppet who dances at our whims, nor a small thing to be contained in the box of our limited understanding. He is MAJESTIC and AWESOME, and not at all tame.  Yet, He loves you. He acts in your defense and on your behalf. All that He does is good, even when you don't understand it. And He loves you. Even when He isn't doing what you think He should. Even when His ways are incomprehensible to you, when it feels like He is doing it all wrong, remember that He isn't tame, but He is GOOD.
4.            Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 speaks to this idea that God is not tame, He doesn’t act in ways that we can predict or control,1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 15And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
5.            We’ve all had some strange requests in our lifetime. Many pastors tell stories of someone in their life who once said to them, “You should consider becoming a pastor.” And at the time, they may have thought the suggestion made no sense at all. And everyone can tell a story of being asked to do something that, at the time, seemed out of place. “You want me to be the head of this board at church? You expect me to take on this new position at work? You really believe that I could become an expert in the use of technology? Are you really asking me to marry you?”
6.            So now imagine Abram, age 99, no children with his wife Sarai, age 89, being told—not just askedtold that he would be the father of nations. Among other things, it helps to illustrate how God often works. He works in ways that, at the time, make no sense at all. He demonstrated over and over again that the laws of nature and what we would call “normal” don’t confine him. After all, He set everything in motion. He has the power to bring about the extraordinary. He’s capable of the impossible. But He acts not just to demonstrate that He’s the God of all things. He does so in order to carry out His plan for the eternal salvation of the children He’s created.
7.            Imagine the range of emotions Abram may have had. “No way,” may have been his first thought. “How could that be?” And no doubt he had no inkling of what God was really saying. He couldn’t have understood what God Almighty had in mind any more than an infant understands the significance of baptism. Practically speaking, it just didn’t make sense. But then it wasn’t Abram’s plan, it was God’s. And spiritually speaking, Abram, who was renamed Abraham, was ultimately led to trust God’s plan.  This wasn’t Abram’s first encounter with God. The covenant God chose to have with His people had been earlier revealed.  But, Abram and Sarai were convinced that the time for the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise was long gone. The covenant was now becoming sealed and intended as the sacred pledge that would foreshadow the gift of salvation God planned through Jesus Christ.
8.            Abram didn’t know at the time, but we know, that this God moment with Abram was the beginning of the gift of descendants that would lead to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Abram would come to be known as “Father Abraham.” It was the beginning of what would be remembered with great thanksgiving for all generations. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:4-5:  They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
9.            Abram was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, but he was told first by God to be “blameless.” That was as impossible for Abram as it is for us. Still, that is God’s will for all of us. We read in 1 Peter, “…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:15–16).  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God actually declares us to be holy. That’s what salvation is about. That was the plan of God He was revealing in a dramatic way to Abram. While the newly named Abraham couldn’t have known the depth of God’s plan for salvation, Jesus said that Abraham did see in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  Abraham didn’t earn or deserve the honor of becoming the father of nations. We don’t deserve to be part of God’s plan and to be declared holy because of the work of Jesus Christ. But we’re made holy, anyway. Paul tells us this in Ephesians chapter 1,Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph 1:3–4)
10.        And that just doesn’t make sense. It’s so outside of what we might expect. We can almost identify with Abraham. What God has declared to us is hard to believe. It’s strange and out of the ordinary. But it is true. Through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, we can stand before God “holy and blameless!” Imagine that!
11.        So are there circumstances in your life where God isn't acting as you think He should? Take time to confess your desire to control and tame Him. Ask His forgiveness and worship Him despite the circumstances.  I'm not sure who said this, but it fits, "If God were small enough to understand, He wouldn't be big enough to worship." God is worthy of our worship. AND He is knowable. We can submit to Him and feel safe and protected.  But, we must never expect that we can control Him.  Please pray with meHeavenly Father, I worship You. Your ways are not my ways. I submit to Your perfect will. Forgive me for the times I have been more concerned about my own will than Yours and expected you to do my bidding. Thank you for your forgiveness and patience with me. Thank you that in the midst of your majesty and power, you love me, and know me, and have my best interest at heart. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.