Thursday, December 21, 2017

“A Light with a Special Purpose!” Rom. 1.1-7 Advent Midweek 3, Dec. ‘17

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 in our Advent Midweek series, “Behold the Light,” is taken from Romans 1:1-7 and is entitled, “A Light with a Special Purpose!” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.       During this Advent season, our texts from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans have focused on the Christian life, illustrated by the lights on a Christmas tree. We heard about a routine as we prepare for Christ, the true light of the world, by putting on Jesus, in faith, as our armor of light to protect us from the darkness of this world and the temptations of the devil. Last week, we heard again from Paul the encouragement God’s Word provides each of us in our living together—that in faith we may be united and shine brighter than we could alone in bringing praises to God, who has given us an eternal hope in Jesus, our Savior.
3.       As we look at the lives of Christians living together and shining brightly the light of Christ, it causes one to consider how the lights on a Christmas tree are used. Over the year’s of serving as a Pastor, I heard of one family having a Christmas ornament that’s a small church that has an opening for a light to be placed inside. As that family unwrapped this simple ornament, hung it on the tree, and placed the light inside, they were always amazed at how this simple church ornament takes on a whole new identity. Displayed among all the other lights, this particular one stands out as a light with a special purpose, as the light shines out of its windows, drawing one’s attention not to the ornament itself but to the light inside.  That’s very much what St. Paul says about himself in our text—and what he says about each of us. He tells us that we are each a light with a special purpose.
4.       Paul’s opening words in his letter to the Christians in Rome bring out the similarity to this simple church ornament: Romans 1:1 says, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” Just as the ornament was filled with darkness until the light was placed inside, so also was the life of Paul. As a young Pharisee, he went by the name of Saul, and, like many of his contemporaries, he lived a strict life of observance to the Jewish religious laws and ceremonies. His life’s goal was to persecute Christ and see to the arrest or murder of anyone, including the apostles, who proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.
5.       Amazingly, Saul became the great apostle we know as Paul, the author of our text who so beautifully writes about his faith as one who had been set apart for a special purpose in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Set apart in an extraordinary life that wasn’t chosen by himself but as one sent by Christ, a life as a servant with a mission to shine the light of Christ into the lives of the Gentiles.
6.       Paul didn’t choose to be a servant for Christ. It was quite the opposite, he’d chosen a life of artificial shining success within the world. The standard for shining success in the world is different and distorted. Even as Paul refers to his readers as those “loved by God and called to be saints” (v 7), there’s much confusion in the hearts and minds of man. The world would have us to believe in ourselves, to be wise and strong in making our own choices, taking the initiative to be good and worthy first, long before God would even consider loving us. For us, becoming a saint is a challenging work that we must strive for and accomplish. The world would also have us to believe that once you or I accomplish sainthood then we may have earned the right to be loved by God. Isn’t that what Saul was really trying to do through his persecuting of Christ and arresting those who witnessed of Jesus?
7.       By those same distorted standards, Saul and all men are left in the dark and truly unsuccessful in earning God’s love. Success in self-achieving sainthood and earning God’s love is impossible, leaving us in the darkness of our sins, searching for “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). If we’re honest, as God’s Word reveals our sinfulness, we’ll humbly admit as Paul writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
8.       But God had even murderous Saul in mind when he set apart his own Son, Jesus, for His most special purpose: to be the Light of the world, the Messiah promised through the Old Testament. Jesus is the Good News “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3–4). Yes, this Good News message centers on Jesus, who was born of a humble mother and laid in a manger. Born a direct descendant of David through Mary and Joseph. Born to fulfill God’s first promise to Adam and Eve—to send a Savior, the Seed of the woman, to rescue all men from their sins. Born to suffer and die with the burden of every man’s sin laid upon Him on the cross of Calvary. Born to die and be laid in a tomb. But God’s grace didn’t send His only Son into this world to be born and die to the same dead end that death is for every other human. Christ Jesus, after taking our sins upon Himself, put them to death and then was vindicated as the Son of God, conquering death by His resurrection.
9.       For Paul, this all became clear after that unforgettable day when he was on the road to Damascus and the “light from heaven shone around him” (Acts 9:3). From that moment on, life was no longer his own to do with as he pleased. He had been set apart from everything he was and had done before, as Jesus revealed Himself in light and Word.
10.   As Christ’s chosen instrument, Paul listened and obeyed the words of his Lord. Christ had called him for a special purpose: to be an apostle, set apart to shine the light of Christ’s Gospel through to others. “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:5–6).
11.   Rightly so, Paul refers to himself, in v 1 of our text, as a “servant of Christ Jesus,” taking great joy in being a slave for his Lord and Master. No longer did he wish to achieve his own glory but sought to share the light of Christ with those living in darkness. Paul realized the light that was now shining through him wasn’t based upon his own worthiness, but was rather a pure and holy gift of grace. A gift of loving grace from God, a gift that changed his life and the life of all men as “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
12.   We, too, have been called by God’s free gift of grace in Christ for the special purpose of living and sharing with others, through word and deed, this Gospel message. It’s entirely a matter of grace that we are among those “who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). Loved and called by grace through His Holy Spirit in His Word and in the washing waters of Baptism, making us His own, in faith, and setting us apart to be witnesses for Him. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
13.   Being loved by God and called as a saint to shine the light of Christ on others isn’t always easy. There are many fears and doubts that overshadow the light of Christ in our lives, just as there were for the prophets, evangelists, Paul, and the other apostles. Man’s sinful nature will always welcome the temptations of the devil to pull down the shade on sharing and living the light of Christ. Yet in God’s grace, there’s peace and assurance of strength. The angels announced that peace over the shepherds as they sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14). Their message of peace wasn’t one of drying our tears in comfort for the moment.  Instead, their message of peace was anchored in the redemptive work of Christ. His redemptive work is given to us in His Word and through His Sacrament of the Altar, where we receive the forgiveness for our sins, the strength in faith to endure temptations, and the assurance of life everlasting. Their message of peace calls us to seek our rest in Christ when overwhelmed by temptation, to call upon Him, to answer our prayers, and to grant us comfort when challenged by life.
14.   Paul was called by Christ to be a light with a special purpose. He was “set apart for the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1), to shine the light of Christ into the lives of the Gentiles. We, too, have been called by Christ to be “light(s) of the world” and to let our “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14–16). Amen.

“Pointing the World to Jesus” John 1.6-8, 19-28 Advent 3B, Dec. ‘17

  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. 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. The location of Myra where Nicholas was a Christian Pastor and Bishop is now modern-day Turkey. 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!  Jehovah’s Witnesses are an example of modern day Arianism. Nicholas’ un bishop like 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 lives?  It 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.