Monday, November 20, 2017

“Encouragement Desperately Needed!” 1 Thessalonians 5.11, Pentecost 24A, Nov. ‘17

1.         Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again for you! Amen!  St. Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica then, as well as believers today, to be prepared because the day of the Lord will come upon all people like a thief in the night, or like a pregnant woman who suddenly has those final labor pains before her child is born.  1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 says, "But you, brothers and are all children of the light and children of the day...Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."  The message is entitled, “Encouragement Desperately Needed,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.         So the Bible is clear, "Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead." The Christian church is clear when each Sunday believers around the world stand together and confess in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds that Jesus Christ is coming to judge the living and the dead. The One Who created the world, the One Who redeemed and restored the world through His death and resurrection, He is the One Who is coming to judge the world in perfect justice.
3.         Now, I don't know about you, but such talk doesn't encourage me. What do you think? Such talk about judgment makes me afraid, not full of great joy. How can Paul encourage Christians to be comforted by the fact of Christ's certain coming to judge the living and the dead? Well, maybe one of the reasons we're not encouraged, maybe why we fear such talk is that we think that Jesus, the One Who is coming; we think He is fickle. We're afraid that He doesn't have our best interests at heart.
5.         Can you remember a time in your life when you were afraid because you were by yourself and you needed someone to come to your aid? We've all had moments like that in our lives when we were vulnerable. Can you remember hoping that someone would get there soon? It may have been a time when you were out late and the car stalled and you were waiting for your dad to come help. But, suddenly, at that moment, a stranger approaches and calls out "Need some help?" What do you do? Or, maybe even something scarier, a robber in the house, and you've just called the police. Then, suddenly you hear a loud noise. Is the intruder coming up the stairs? When will those policemen get here? Or maybe you're in a new city and you find yourself in an unfamiliar part of town, all alone. Then suddenly, someone's comes up to you and says, "It looks like you're lost!" What emotions are you feeling at those moments, relief or fear?
6.         It all depends on Who's coming? Or does it? Maybe it's not who is coming after all, but what we are waiting for. You see, as sinners we often see Christ, not as the friend coming to save us, but the enemy out to destroy us; not as the loving Father, but the demanding stranger, not as the protecting officer, but as the robber of our freedoms. The real problem is our sinful love of the darkness, not our fear of the light; our rebellious love of our independence.
7.         Jesus doesn’t come to judge or to grant mercy on a whim. As crazy as it sounds, as sinful human beings, we would rather grope around in the darkness of our sins and the darkness of our fears rather than let Jesus call us into the light of His forgiveness, grace, and righteousness.  W.H. Auden gets humanity right when he says, "We would rather be ruined than changed; We would rather die in our dread; Than climb the cross of the moment; And let our illusions die."  But, the Bible says it even more pointedly in John 3:16-20 - "16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life..........whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world," says John, "but people loved darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil."

8.         God's Word calls us to repent of the darkness of our sin. It reminds us that our fears are about who we are. God is calling us out of that darkness into the light of His salvation, His forgiveness, His grace in His Son, Jesus. For the Christian, repentance is turning away from our love of the darkness to a trusting faith in God’s grace in Jesus our Savior.  In faith, those who trust in Jesus can await His coming with joy...for He comes with life, with light, He comes with forgiveness and hope, and He comes to put darkness and sin in its eternal place, once and for all.
9.         So, it's not a question of His coming, it's the joy of the fact that Jesus is coming again to judge the "living and the dead," to finally put the things of the night into their eternal place and to establish the light of His righteousness, joy, and peace forever. And that's good. Who would want the "Darkness of sin and death to reign forever?" Bad things, evil things, they usually happen in the darkness. In the literal darkness of night or in the darkness of unbelief, but the result is the same, destruction, hurt, guilt, loss.
10.        By the cross, Jesus literally "took on the darkness" and overcame it. Jesus didn't just defeat sin, death, and the Devil, He defeated loneliness and heartache, frustration, jealousy, sickness, disease, and all those other things that are aspects of a world that is passing away. He took them all to the grave and He defeated them. He's coming. He's coming again, and for those who trust in Him that's very good news! The One Who is coming, has come so that we might live. The Christmas Baby became the Good Friday Savior and the Easter Hope for the whole world. And He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.  As Christians, we live in Him now by faith and on that day we will be with Him forever in love! Because of Jesus Christ and His work for the world, for you, be encouraged by those words.
11.        Paul says an amazing thing. "God did not appoint you to suffer wrath." If you are honest with yourself, wrath and punishment, these are the things that you and I know we deserve. Deep in our hearts we know that there should be punishment for the things that we think and say and do and even the things we don't do. But then we hear this incredible phrase, "God has not destined us for wrath." That's not what God wants for you!  Be encouraged by His Words!

12.        Paul talks about living "sober lives," focused lives, armed lives! Arm yourself for work in the daylight! Put on the armor of faith and love. Let God's gifts of life and salvation guard your heart like a Roman breastplate. And put on the helmet of God's Salvation or should I say, "the helmet of God's future expectation" for those who trust in Him. Helmets guard our minds, breastplates guard our hearts, God has called us to a life that was meant to be lived, body, mind, and spirit in His grace and in His love, and in service to our fellow man. To be truly human, not just today, but forever, that's news to live by now.  The Christian life is not about trying to prove to others that we have light and others don't, instead it’s shining the light that we have  received so that others might receive the light they so desperately need.
13.        In New York City, a boy in dirty clothes was seen with a small piece of a broken mirror in his hand. Holding it high in the air he moved it back and forth, watching the narrow slit of a window above him as he did so. "What are you doing?" suddenly said a man as he shook the youngster by the shoulder. "Like most boys in this neighborhood, you're probably up to some mischief, aren't you?" The boy looked up to the stern face of his accuser and said, “No, I'm not up to mischief. See that window up there? Well, I have a little brother who has a room on that floor. He's a cripple and the only sunlight he ever sees is the sunlight I shine up to him each day with my mirror! I want to make sure that he sees the sunlight that I get to see every day!"  If you are a believer in Jesus, the day of the Lord's Second Coming is a day when darkness, sin, sickness and disease will forever be put away, and the light of eternal life will shine forever! Believers don't live in fear of that day, they live in eager expectation. They shine, they reflect the light they've received to all who will receive it.

14.        So pick up your mirrors dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Find the windows that need the light of Jesus and reflect what God beams to you. Are you forgiven? Then forgive. Are you blessed? Then bless. Are you comforted? Then comfort. Are you strengthened? Then strengthen.  Every one of you not only has a mirror, but the light of God in Jesus in your lives by faith, a light that illumines, a light that even nourishes your hearts and your minds.
15.        This is the encouragement we so desperately need! Live as believers who already belong to the gracious light of God's salvation. Pray that His day comes sooner rather than later, that day when there will be no more heartache, no more fears, no more troubles, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more strife, just God's grace in full, eternal life.  For that day, the night will be dissipated and the daylight of eternal life will dawn, there will be great rejoicing in the "waiting room of heaven." Thief in the night? No, better, labor pains of new birth. Encourage each other with these words!  God bless you until you see Jesus face to face. Amen.

“The Bridegroom Is Coming,” Matt. 25.1-13, Pentecost 23A, Nov. ’17

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 Matthew 25:1-13 and is entitled, “The Bridegroom is Coming.”  Today, Jesus tells us that His coming is sure (vv. 6, 10–13) and is your preparation sure? (vv. 1–5, 7–9) Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                   After the bombing of the Twin Trade Towers in New York, and the sabotage of the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the plane crash in Pennsylvania, these events caused thousands to immediately re-examine their lives. In fact, on the first Sunday following September 11, 2001 there was an approximate 20 percent increase in church attendance across the United States. But then, researchers tell us, on the second Sunday following September 11, 2001 nationwide church attendance began to drop off. Within a few weeks, church attendance was once again roughly back to where it had been, before these tragic events occurred.
3.                   Modern man's memory of events, even national tragedies, is very short-lived. In fact, we treat real life and death tragedies very much the way we treat fictional tragedy on TV. It affects us emotionally for the moment. But then it all quickly passes. But short-term memory is related not only to tragedies. Fleeting memory, this spiritual sleeping sickness, is a daily deception of the devil. You see, the devil desires to direct our daily thoughts away from our loving heavenly Father.
4.                   This temptation you you must oppose it vigorously! Our heavenly Father has created each of us. He’s the One who helps us every day. Our gracious God is the One who has given us all things: blessings you and I don't deserve. And, Satan works at nothing more diligently than to get your mind away from the love of God in Jesus Christ. How tightly we must cling to the Good News that "if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature; the old things passed away, new things have come. All these things are from God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. Yes, the Bible says that God was in Christ, reconciling you and the world to Himself. God has made Jesus who knew no sin, to be sin for you, so that you might become the righteousness of God in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21). Upon Christ's back, God the Father has laid all of your sins, and over your shoulders, your heavenly Father has placed the robe of Christ's perfect righteousness. Now you see, the devil wants you to forget God's Good News, and to forget that without God your future is without hope. In fact, even people who attend church regularly are often like the disciples--like those who were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
5.                   Remember that scene just before Jesus went to trial and to His death. Well, first Jesus went off by Himself in the garden to pray. But when Jesus left His closest followers in order to be alone to pray, they fell asleep. This happened three times! The fact that Jesus asked His closest followers to stay awake and watch and pray, yet they repeatedly succumbed to the devil and dozed off, is a solemn reminder of the power of Satan. You and I better not brag. This can happen to us also. In his letter to the Corinthian Christians, St. Paul writes: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
6.                   You see, every time you are tempted to brag about your commitment to Jesus, then, remember Peter. Peter was temporarily deceived by the devil and denied Christ. But, our Savior Jesus graciously restored His beloved disciple. Most horrible of all, however, is the devil's deception of Judas. The devil tempted Judas who then in despair took his own life.
7.                   Staying spiritually awake is absolutely crucial for you and your entire family because Jesus says that the He, the Bridegroom is coming. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus told His disciples to "watch." Jesus then told the parable of the 10 virgins. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven can be likened unto 10 virgins. These virgins prepared to meet the bridegroom by taking their lamps." Now Jesus explained five of these virgins were wise and five were foolish. The five foolish virgins took their lamps but didn’t take any oil with them. "On the other hand, the five wise virgins took oil in their vessels with their lamps." The Bible says this is what happened. Jesus said, "The bridegroom was delayed. And consequently, all 10 virgins fell asleep. Suddenly, however, at midnight, there was a loud cry, 'Behold the bridegroom is coming. Let's go out to meet him.'"  "Then" the Bible tells us, "all 10 virgins got up from their sleep. They trimmed their lamps." "At this point, however, a major crisis occurred. The foolish virgins had run out of oil. And so these foolish virgins said to the wise virgins, 'Give us some of your oil because our lamps have gone out.' However, the wise virgins answered, 'Not so. There is not enough oil for us and for you. You must go to those who sell oil and buy oil for yourselves.'"
8.                   The Bible tells us "while these foolish virgins were gone buying oil, suddenly the bridegroom arrived. Those who had their lamps ready went in with the bridegroom to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. "Sometime later the foolish virgins arrived at the door and said, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' But the bridegroom answered, 'Verily I say unto you, I know you not.'" Then Jesus told all who were listening the powerful point of His parable, "Watch therefore because you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man will return."
9.                   Jesus' words couldn’t be more appropriate than for our generation. God is calling all of us to be spiritually awake. On our own, we’re spiritually dead. You and I can no more make ourselves alive, than a child can decide to be born. But, through His life-giving Word, God brings us new life in Christ. Yes, in Christ, you and I can rejoice in the words of the apostle Peter when he writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; to obtain an inheritance, which is imperishable and undefiled, and that will never fade away. This inheritance," friends, the Bible says, "is reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4.).
10.               Now, some of you in the past may have been awakened spiritually, by a tragedy or some other event in your life. God often does this. He often permits personal tragedies to wake us up. Maybe you lost a loved one in a car accident. Or maybe, your friend or a parent died from cancer. Or, maybe you were seriously injured. In these special moments, you may have been truly spiritually awakened.  Yet, in more recent months or years, like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, or the virgins at the wedding feast, you have become spiritually drowsy and maybe have even fallen spiritually asleep. Yes, maybe you are one of the many thousands who went to Sunday school as a child, or, maybe you used to go to church regularly. But now, you are spiritually inactive. Be careful, friends. Be very careful because Jesus said you may be on the very doorstop of spiritual death.  As CS Lewis has written in his book the Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
11.               If this is true for you, let the words of the apostle Paul speak to your heart. "It is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep. The night is almost gone and the day is near. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:11-14). Turn away, the Bible says. Turn away from all those things in the world which now demand your time and money. Turn instead to Jesus. Listen to His call as He says to you, "Repent, and believe the GOOD NEWS, the Gospel of God."  The Lord Jesus is more important than money. Jesus is more crucial than the lottery, more necessary than good clothes, and more critical than being famous.
12.               Therefore, if the devil has directed you away from Christ, the church’s bridegroom, listen to St. Paul's words: "Awaken from your spiritual sleep." Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, by going to church, by listening to His life-giving Word faithfully, and by becoming involved in a group of believers in the Lord Jesus, whose primary purpose is to serve others.  Alone, there’s no way you can stay spiritually awake. But, when the living Word of God occupies your mind, this Word will work like a "spiritual" Red Bull energy drink. Your mind will be occupied by God’s Word and the Good News of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  This is also why the apostle Paul urges that all believers in Christ occupy their mind with Christ-centered "psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing, and making melody to the Lord in your heart, always giving thanks for all things, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19-20).
13.               Yes, the Living Word of God is your hope! You see, every time you sin through His living Word, God reminds you:  He sent His Son to die on the cross for you. And, when Jesus died, God the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son as a complete payment--a complete pardon for all of your sins. This same Word consoles your heart, assuring your Spirit, that Jesus is at the very throne of God, hourly interceding on your behalf. This Word will also enable you to stay spiritually alert as we await the coming of Jesus the Church’s bridegroom.  Please pray with me. O Lord, we pray, let not one of us today fall spiritually. Instead, enable each of us to be aware of Your love, mercy, and Your total forgiveness in Jesus Christ. O Lord, keep us awake. Enable us to "watch" for the glorious return of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us, O Lord, for our help is in You. Jesus is our hope. He is the Author of forgiveness.  In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.