Wednesday, January 20, 2016

“Behold the Bride of the Lord!” Isaiah 62.1-5 Epiphany 2C, ‘16

  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 2nd Sunday after Epiphany is taken from Isaiah 62:1-5, it’s entitled, “Behold the Bride of the Lord!” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
  2. Visualize the downtown of a large American city. This downtown is an urban wasteland. Businesses and residents moved out to the suburbs long ago. Treeless sidewalks are strewn with broken glass, and weeds grow out of the cracks. Litter blows down empty streets. Boarded-up windows serve as canvases for graffiti. The old brick buildings are ghosts of their past glory. They are crumbling due to neglect, and one by one they are condemned, torn down, and turned into gravel parking lots, which are usually empty. At night, the downtown is mostly dark; few lights are in working order. This downtown is deserted, desolate, and dangerous.
  3. Now visualize this same downtown, except that people are returning! It is experiencing a dramatic revitalization. Investors are pumping millions of dollars into old buildings, turning deserted warehouses into luxury loft apartments. Old banks and hotels are being restored to their former glory. New businesses and restaurants are opening every week. New sidewalks are adorned with trees and flowers. Instead of litter blowing down empty streets, there are people milling about, daytime and nighttime. One by one entire city blocks are coming back to life. No longer deserted, downtown teams with life. No longer an eyesore, downtown is now the crown jewel of the city, of the entire state. It has been restored from desolation to delight.  It is a city that is adorned once again like a bride on her wedding day where all eyes are fixed upon her for this is her moment of glory. 
  4. Something very similar is promised in our text. The people of Judah and Jerusalem are taken into exile, leaving their land and city deserted and desolate. Isaiah prophesies in chapter 32, “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks” (Is 32:14).  So also Isaiah says in our Old Testament text this morning from Isaiah 62:1-5, 1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.  2The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.  3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
  5. The prophet Isaiah is proclaiming a word of hope to the people of God in exile.  Though things appear desolate, one day they will be like a bride adorned in splendor for her groom to care for her and watch over her.  Their captivity won’t last forever. Their homeland will not remain desolate; their beautiful city, Jerusalem, will not remain deserted. They will no longer be enslaved. God will deliver them from captivity and bring them home. The temple will be rebuilt, and the nations will come to it. Instead of a wasteland, their city will be the delight of the nations (see Is 60:10–16; 65:18–19; Jer 51:5).
  6. God will rejoice over them like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (see Is 61:9b; 62:12).  Behold, the bride of the Lord!  He will provide for them. He will forgive them, be a companion to them, take care of them, and listen to them (see Is 62:8–9; Mal 3:10b–12). He will protect them (see Is 62:6).
  7. Love can’t be earned.  God’s people had earlier taken on the behavior and appearance of an unfaithful wife committing adultery. They were unfaithful to him. They sold themselves off to the gods of the nations. They entrusted themselves to the care of other nations (see Is 31:1–3; 1:2–4; Ezek 9:9–10; 15:8).  God’s love for them is a “profound mystery.” He loves them not because they were so lovable, but because he loves them. They are beautiful in his sight. He has made them beautiful. He rejoices over them (see Is 49:7–18).
  8. The prophet Isaiah is proclaiming a word of hope to the people of God today. This passage was meant as much for us as for the people in Babylon. It was meant as much for our comfort as for theirs.  Our captivity to sin will not last forever. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). At the right time, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Gal 4:4). This is the one whom the Lord forsakes instead of his people (see Mt 27:46). When the time is just right, the Lord will come again, in glory, to bring his people home.
  9. God already rejoices over us like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.  Behold, the bride of the Lord!  He loves us through Baptism, where he provides for us the people of the Church, the bride of Christ, a gown of righteousness. Through Baptism he rescues us from the desolation of sin and death and makes us his delight. Through Baptism love covers up a multitude of sins. As a result, the Lord looks at his church, His bride, and loves her. She is beautiful in his sight.  God is protective of us, like a bridegroom protective of his wife, like a king protective of his crown. “No one can snatch them out of my hand” (Jn 10:28).
  10. God’s love still can’t be earned.  As individuals we have been unfaithful to him. We have chased after and given ourselves over to other gods. As a church, we have not lived up to the standard of being his bride.  We have been like an unfaithful wife. There are some dark chapters in the history of the church at large, of each congregation, yet he still thinks of us as “my people,” and “my church.” (See Is 1:3; Mt 16:18.) But, there’s great grace in that little word my.
  11. God’s love for us is a profound mystery. It’s not a superficial love. His is a steadfast, everlasting love. Even “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Jesus the church’s bridegroom takes delight in us His bride. He holds us up as a crown of splendor to the nations. Jesus displays us as his masterpiece, so that others will be drawn to his righteousness. This also has implications for how we live as Christians (see Eph 5:25–29).
  12. Behold, the bride of the Lord!  Praise and thank the Lord, people of God. He has turned our wailing into dancing. He has driven out the evil within us and taken up residence. He has replaced our guilt with joy. God has changed our despair into the assurance of his love. He has rescued us from loneliness and loves us with an everlasting love. He has turned us from our own desolation to be his delight!  Amen.

“Fear Not, You’re Mine!” Isaiah 43.1-7, Baptism of Our Lord Series C, Jan. ‘15

  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 morning is taken from Isaiah 43:1-7 and is entitled, “Fear Not, You’re Mine!” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
  2. Early every year at this time the church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord.  Many people have just taken down Christmas decorations, returned from holiday traveling, and resumed the routine of school and work. Only a couple weeks into the New Year, many may be battling with New Year’s resolutions they’ve made and not yet fulfilled. For many across our country, days are cold and dreary this time of the year. Counselors and psychologists say they see increased signs of depression and anxiety just after the first of the year.  What better time for us as Christians to clarify what’s our real identity in life? Our identity isn’t found in the “new me” because of the weight I lost as a result of my New Year’s resolutions. Our identity isn’t wrapped up with holidays of Christmas & New Year’s, as great as they were. Our identity isn’t connected to what gifts we gave or received at Christmas. As wonderful as they are, our identity also isn’t only found in our connections with family and friends we visited during the holidays. Rather, our identity is with God, who came to identify himself with us. In the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus identifies himself with us because his baptism was to fulfill all righteousness on his way to the cross. Christ wasn’t baptized for his benefit, since he’s without sin. Instead, he was baptized for our benefit as he connects himself to us.
  3. In our Epistle lesson from Romans 6, Paul makes clear our true identity. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. . . . You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:4–5, 8, 11). Again and again Paul connects our identity to Christ’s through his death, resurrection, and new life.  In our Gospel lesson from Luke, we read that the people were trying to identify themselves with John. But John is quick to point them to Christ, the more powerful one. At the Baptism of Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit identify with God the Son. The Spirit doesn’t just appear but actually descends on Jesus. Likewise, the Father connects himself to his Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). Father, Son, and Spirit are connected to one another in the unity of the Trinity.  Finally in our Old Testament reading we see God identifying himself with us his people reminding us to Fear Not, for we are His!  God says to us through Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 43:1, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”   As Christians our true identity in Christ isn’t because of who you are or what you’ve done.  For no one can earn their way into heaven by their own works. It’s always because of who God is and what he’s done for you. In the Baptism of Jesus, God identifies himself with us and in him we have our identity. He does it all as an action of his grace in our lives.
  4. More than 2,700 years ago, God inspired His prophet Isaiah to record a most comforting message in Isaiah 43:1-7, “ “1But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. 5Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 6I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
  5. Notice how Isaiah refers to God as the one who created Jacob.  That is, who created mankind.  Having God as our Creator reminds us that we definitely belong to him because he’s given us life and breath.  This statement is as clear–cut as it could be. God addresses the nation Israel in this entire section, and I don’t think you could misunderstand Him unless you deliberately wanted to misunderstand.  He speaks of their origin: “the Lord that created thee.” God took a sad specimen like old Jacob, whose name means “crooked or deceiver” and made a nation out of him.  God took the dust of the ground, breathed into it the spirit of life, and it became a living human being. And that human being rebelled, but now God makes sons of God out of those who will trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I don’t accept the evolutionary theory that I evolved from a monkey. I came from something worse than a monkey! I came from a rebellious sinner who on the physical side had been taken from the ground. That first man passed on to me a sinful nature. But God has given me a new nature through my baptism into Christ.
  6. The Lord’s promise through Isaiah must have seemed incredible. Instead of walking on the Lord’s path, instead of following His way, the Israelites walked “in a way that [was] not good, following their own devices” (Is 65:2). The Lord’s path was one of light and safety and certainty. Rather than walking on His path in the light of His Word, Israel chose to leave His path and walk in the darkness of self-centered sin. By wandering off the Lord’s path, they had wandered into great danger. Off the path, in the darkness of sin, prowled Satan, “seeking someone to devour” (1Pt 5:8). Off the path, “on every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man” (Ps 12:8).
  7. For more than 800 years, the Lord sent His prophets out to call His people back to Him, back to His path, back to the light. But they wanted it their way, wandering away from the Lord’s way, doing what was “right” in their own eyes, loving other gods who were incapable of love, and ignoring the one true God, who is love. As stubborn and stiff-necked as these people were, they remained God’s people, a people called out of darkness. So in love, God sent them walking into exile (587 BC) far from the temple, far from His promised place of presence. They may have thought He had left them to walk alone, but He remained their God and they remained His people. He loved them despite their sin, and through His prophet Isaiah, He promised them they would not walk alone through the trials and tribulations they faced. They would not walk alone as they left captivity in Babylon and returned to Jerusalem (538 BC). He would walk with them, because He had redeemed them and called them by name. They were His.
  8. Often, we’re like these ancient Israelites. We want it our way instead of God’s way. We want to walk our walk instead of His. But, the Lord is patient. God promises to walk with you as you walk through the hazards of this life. He promises you, His called and chosen people, that you shall never walk alone. He promises to be with you as you endure fierce storms and fiery trials. This is a sure and certain promise for you.
  9. You can be certain of this promise because the Lord has redeemed you. He’s purchased and won you with His Son’s holy, precious blood poured out for you on His cross. He’s bought you with “His innocent suffering and death” that you may “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Small Catechism, Sec. Article). You are of great value to God because your redemption cost Him dearly. As a consequence, when you endure the fiery trials of this life, He promises you will never be lost (Is 43:2b).
  10. You can be certain of this promise because the Lord has called you by name. He’s washed you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism and given you His name (Mt 28:19). You’ve been baptized into Him; therefore, you are His.  God says to you, “Fear Not, You’re Mine!”
  11. But, as Christians we can expect to suffer much in this life. St Luke wrote, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Ac 14:22). Satan will assault you and afflict you in body and soul. He will cast uncertainty on God’s certain promises. He will attempt to lead you off the Lord’s lighted path into certain danger and destruction by urging you to do what is right in your own eyes and to walk your own walk in the darkness of sin.  In this hostile world filled with sin-wrought suffering, when you stray from the Lord’s lighted path and attempt to walk in dark danger, God will never abandon you or give up on you. He will walk with you to the gates of heaven. He promises to take the same stormy circumstances in life that Satan plans to use for evil and use them instead for your eternal good (Rm 8:28; Is 43:1b–3a).  So fear not my friends, God has called you by name, you’re his.  Amen.


Wisdom that Comes from Above--1 Kings 3.4-15, Christmas 2C, Jan. ‘15

  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 2nd Sunday after Christmas is taken from 1 Kings 3:4-15 and is entitled, “Wisdom that Comes from Above,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
  2.       Before going to Europe on business, a certain man drove his Rolls-Royce to a New York City bank and went in to ask for a loan of $5,000. The loan officer, a bit taken by this, requested collateral for the loan. The man replied, "Well then, here are the keys to my Rolls-Royce."  The loan officer then had the car driven into the bank's underground parking for safekeeping and gave him $5,000.  Two weeks later, the man walked through the bank's doors and asked to settle his loan and get his car back. "That will be $5,000 in principal, and $15.40 in interest," the loan officer said. The man wrote out a check, got up, and started to walk away.  "Wait sir," the loan officer said. "While you were gone, I found out you're a millionaire. Why in the world would you need to borrow $5,000?"  The man smiled. "Where else could I safely park my Rolls-Royce in Manhattan for two weeks for only $15.40?"
  3.       Here in this story we learned that this millionaire was wise by the world’s standards.  He used the system of the world to gain his advantage, but this example only shows worldly wisdom.  The wisdom that comes from God is different from the wisdom of this world.  But, what sort of wisdom do we learn about in our text from 1 Kings 3:4-15?  Well, to answer this we need to have a little bit of background on our text.
  4.        1 Kings 3:3 says, “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places.”High places” were mountaintops where the Canaanites worshiped Asherah and Baal, their fertility gods. Their worship practices included sexual immorality along with sacrifices and feasting. When Israel entered the Promised Land they were ordered to destroy the pagan high places. They were to offer their sacrifices only at the tabernacle.  That worship of the LORD at the altars of high places had become accepted is shown by Solomon going to Gibeon, the “great high place.” More significant is the fact that after the Philistines destroyed Shiloh and stole the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle and its bronze altar were set up at Gibeon. Then the ark was recovered. David brought it to Jerusalem, but the tabernacle was left at the high place in Gibeon. It’s where the Israelites went to worship the LORD. That’s where Solomon went and where the LORD appeared to him.
  5.       But, what does it say that the Lord was willing to appear to Solomon at Gibeon even though this wasn’t the place that God originally wanted his people to worship him?  The Lord was willing to appear to Solomon there because he’d gone there in sincerity to worship the Lord. The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s humility and his desire to be a wise  king for the benefit of God’s people. Solomon said to the Lord, “I am but a little child.” Scholars suggest he may have been only 12 or 13 at the time, and certainly no more than 20.
  6.       1 Kings 3:10-15 says, 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days. 5And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.”
  7.       We Christians today need not envy Solomon.  God has spoken to us also—not in a dream but through the Scriptures and He’s invited us to ask for what we desire.  In John 16:23 Jesus says to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”  That invitation is addressed to God fearing people like Solomon.  Those who love and serve the true God are able to pray in the name of Jesus.  Believers in the Messiah have the privilege of calling God, “Father.”   
  8.       Notice here in 1 Kings 3 that Solomon felt that as a young man worldly wisdom wouldn’t be enough for him to lead God’s people as their king.  He saw his own weakness and inability to rule the Israelites.  That’s why Solomon prayed that God would give him a wise and understanding heart so that he might rule well the chosen people of God.
  9.       We too would do well to imitate Solomon’s prayer for wisdom.  Children might pray, “God give me wisdom so that I know how to honor my parents and others who are in authority over me.”  Parents might pray, “God give me wisdom to understand my children and to discipline them in love.”  Church leaders might pray, “God give me wisdom so that I may properly rebuke sin and unbelief and so that I speak words of real comfort to all who need them.” And all Christians might pray, “God give me wisdom to understand correctly the situations that confront me, wisdom to speak fitting words to that others might come to glorify you as their Savior.”  In fact, St. James in James 1:5 assures us that God will also hear and answer our prayers for wisdom.
  10.       Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”  That’s what happened here.  Solomon’s prayer wasn’t a selfish request.  He prayed for practical gifts that could be used in God’s kingdom.  That’s why God gave him not only what he asked for, but much more.  God gave Solomon wisdom the likes of which this world had never seen and would never see again.  God also gave him riches and power.  And if Solomon would continue to walk in God’s ways, God promised to give him a long life on earth.  To show his gratitude for those blessings, Solomon offered more sacrifices to God when he returned to Jerusalem.       
  11.       So how does 1 Kings 3 tie into our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 2:40-52?  Well, just as Solomon grew in wisdom and stature in the Old Testament, so too Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior grew and became wise.  Here we learn from St. Luke that Jesus truly did take on human flesh.  Jesus is 12 years old and he conforms himself to the religious customs of the Jews.  The Creator of the world is obedient to His parents.  The all-knowing Jesus grows in wisdom.  The all-powerful Son of God increases in size.  But we also learn that Jesus calls God His Father.  His heart is set on His Father’s house and His Father’s business, which is to save us from our sins through His death and resurrection.  More than that, to fulfill the law of God in our place.  To do what we couldn’t do because of our own sinful natures. 
  12.       Just as Solomon went to worship the Lord in 1 Kings 3 so too Jesus and his parents went to worship in Jerusalem in Luke 2.  Did you notice in Luke’s Gospel that it said that Jesus and his parents went up to Jerusalem?  What happened to this 12 year old boy is prophetic of what happened later to the 33 year old man Jesus.  Jesus said to his disciples in  Luke 18:31, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.”  It was there too that Jesus lingered in Jerusalem, for the great events of Holy Week.  It was then that Jesus was in His Father’s house cleansing it from those who were seeking a profit within it.  Then finally He was about His Father’s business dying for you and me, achieving the salvation of the world that God so loved.  This wisdom that comes from above has come down to save us from our sins and fill us with His Holy Spirit.  Amen.