June 20, 2019- The Absolute Truth- John 18:33-38, John 14:6

jesus-before-pilate

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, (the apostle Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” may or may not have been asked in a sarcastic or snarky tone.  Pilate was a product of a largely permissive culture that embraced multiple gods and belief systems- similar to our culture today.  Our culture also has a real problem with absolutes.

How many times have we heard in the media or from others, “You have your truth, I have mine.”   The implication in that statement is that truth is subjective,  but for truth to be true, it must remain absolute.

Either Jesus is the King of the Jews, the inheritor of the throne of David, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, or He is not who He says He is.

There is no middle ground with Jesus, no gray area.  As Jesus tells Thomas- who is sometimes reviled as being “Doubting Thomas-” No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

Thomas was actually wise to ask Jesus questions and to demand proofs of Him.  Faith must have a valid object.  We have faith that the highway bridge over the river is going to hold up because it is built with steel and concrete and it was engineered by people who understand what it takes to build a bridge that will stand up to weather and time and tons of vehicles driving over it.  Faith would be sorely misplaced if one were to have faith that it’s possible to float a car across a river on a pool float.

God has given us the inspired Word of Scripture so that we can be like Thomas and find the proofs of Jesus’ truth.  There is nothing wrong with having an informed faith.

So what is truth? The truth is found in Jesus, and in the faith in Him passed down to us in the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s Creed is a synopsis of the Christian faith which is derived from the Scriptures:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Message June 16, 2019- God is Good When Life is Good

life is good

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14 (ESV)

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe.  And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9 (ESV)

When life is good, remember the Lord. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with enjoying life that we forget to thank God and know that it is only by His grace and by His hand that we live and that we can enjoy life, family and creation.  The mountaintop experiences are amazing, but for the most part we live life in the valleys.  We set up our remembrances while we are on the mountaintop so that we can reflect when times are not so good, and say, “Look what God has done for us.”  We don’t generally put stones in rivers, but we do take pictures and buy souvenirs.  Sometimes we leave something of ourselves behind- a signature, or a coin, or a dollar bill with a catty saying scribbled on it, so that others will know we were there. Son of Thurman’s in Delaware has dollar bills with various scribbling and signatures on them all over the dining room- on the seats, the walls, everywhere, there are commemorations of visits from people from time past.  We can see who was there in July of 2014 or March of 2009.

We put up memorials to commemorate those who served in the military and have parades so we will not forget them or their service to our country. We celebrate the building of new homes and buildings. Often the owners or contractors of a building will set up some sort of plaque to remember who funded the building and for what purpose it is dedicated.

God commanded the Israelites to set up the twelve stones in the Jordan so they would not forget what He has done for them, to commemorate their passing into the Promised Land.

What kinds of things do we celebrate? As a nation, as a church, as a family?  How do we celebrate when life is good?

God has shown love and mercy to our ancestors, and He shows His love to us, just as He did to the twelve tribes of Israel.

We don’t need to be afraid of the things that seem so much larger than us- people who don’t have our best interests at heart, bad circumstances, things that would defeat us, because God is with us. He is with us when we celebrate, and when we mourn.

God is our refuge- Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 (ESV)

God, Our Mighty Fortress – Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy- Psalm 61:1-3 (ESV)

God is good when life is good.

God is good when we remember where we came from. Our families are important.  Our faith is often handed down and strengthened through our family, whether we share genetic bonds or simply bonds of the heart.

We share our good times and remember our victories with our families. We commemorate events and memorialize them together as a culture, as a country and as families.  We celebrate holidays and birthdays- and special days like today (Father’s Day) together.  As God’s family, the church, we remember God’s story that has been written down for us in Scripture.  We learn that ultimately God is the hero of the story, no matter the circumstances and no matter who the characters in the story may be.

Most importantly, we know the end of the story. God wins!  Jesus won when He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead.  We will be with Him to celebrate His victory over sin, death and the devil, forever in the new heaven and new earth.  God is preparing us for life forever with him even as we live in this world of now, but not yet.

There are more celebrations coming for those who have faith in God. The apostle John was shown a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth as he tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

We may not be able to imagine exactly what our future life and joy with the Lord may look like, but we can trust that it will be good. Even as we celebrate the joys and mourn the sorrows of this life here and now, we hold on to the promises of God.  We trust God like Abraham trusted God, like David trusted God, not because we are such fantastic people, but because God is faithful.  God is good, all the time.

June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

Jesus-prays

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

June 14, 2019- Father, Forgive Them, Luke 23:32-43, John 14:1-7

crucifixion

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus).  And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of the Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And he (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering.  He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.

We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.

The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses.  The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus.  The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus.  The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.

As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing.  God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.

Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus.  It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.

The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”

(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.

God Speaks- Psalm 19:1-6, John 1:1, Job 38:1-7,34-36, Romans 5:15-17

majesty of God

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, 

which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

In the Gospel of John, the writer mirrors the Genesis creation narrative in which God spoke the world into existence.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1(ESV)

In some religious traditions (those that espouse pantheism or panentheism) God is viewed as being the universe (creation is God, in a sense) or that God includes and encompasses the universe and beyond, i.e. God is the universe and more.  Yet in the Christian understanding, God is outside of creation.  Creation came to be by the Word of God; by His speaking the universe into existence.  We dare not confuse the Creator with the creation.  The heavens declare the glory of God, but they are a reflection, a creation that shows us just part of His vastness and majesty and glory.  The heavens are not God.

The Word is not silent. The voice of God still commands the ebb and flow of the tides, the revolution of the planets around the sun, and the appointed movements of the constellations in the sky. As God reveals to Job, His speech and His sovereignty over creation are beyond our ability to comprehend:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,

 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts            
    or given understanding to the mind?” Job 38:1-7,34-36 (ESV)

Adam earned all his children the curse of death through the Fall, and fallen humanity could not break the curse. God could have just abandoned us all to death forever, but that was not His plan.  Jesus, the one and only God-Man, entered into this broken and fallen world to redeem us.  The apostle Paul explains:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15-17 (ESV)

God still speaks to us today. He speaks to us in the majesty of creation, but He speaks to us most directly in the Scriptures. Through the written Word of God- the Bible- God speaks to us.  Through the hearing of the Word, we come to saving faith. (Romans 10:17.)

The Substitute. Is the Cat Really Away? Luke 20:9-18

classroom_2

And he (Jesus) began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’? (Psalm 118:22) 

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 (ESV)

There is a saying about the human condition – “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” A good example of this can be seen when a class of young students is left with a substitute in charge who isn’t aware of, or doesn’t have the fortitude to enforce the regular teacher’s rules.  Chaos often ensues, because some children see the absence of the regular teacher as an absence of rules and leadership.  The substitute just doesn’t radiate the same authority or carry the same gravitas.

Who are we, and how do we act when we think nobody’s watching?

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants really didn’t care what the owner’s servants were trying to accomplish. They were just hired hands after all- substitutes- and the tenants knew that the servants didn’t carry any real authority to carry out any sanctions against them.  So they were just going to do what they wanted, because they were confident they could get away with it.

The tenants didn’t take the owner’s son very seriously either. In fact, they took the opportunity to do away with the son so they could take the vineyards as their own.

We can see some of the parallels of Jesus’ example today. Many people in today’s world do not acknowledge the existence of God, or believe that He is involved in the world and in individual lives. The “cat’s away” mentality among many people has led to widespread lawlessness and an increase of evil in the world.  Those without faith and trust in God are like the tenants who behave as if the owner doesn’t care what we do, or that the owner of the vineyard is powerless to do anything about our misbehavior.

Jesus makes it clear that even though the authorities of the world rejected Him and even put Him to death, that He is the foundation- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To reject Him is to reject the life of the vineyard, to be banished and separated from God.

The way of the cross will break us- when by the grace of God we fall upon that Cornerstone we are broken, but broken in good ways. Our pride will be shattered. Our hearts of stone are replaced by soft hearts of flesh that God can use to His glory.  The haughty smirks are wiped off our faces. We fall to our knees and pray as the tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We remember that in our baptisms we are daily washed in water and the Word.

The “cat” is not away.  Someone is watching, whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Someone who bled and died at Calvary to take away our sins and the sins of the world is involved in every detail of our lives. For the sake of Christ and of God’s kingdom, how we live and the witness we have in the world matters.

We still live in the now, but not yet, world. We are both saints and sinners, but we should not be living like elementary school kids looking to get as much mischief in as possible while there’s a substitute teacher.  We are called to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, because He is not away.  He is with us.

God Came Down… Luke 2: 2:1-7, Isaiah 53:1-5, Romans 5:15-18

Avengers-Endgame-5

Kids and teens love action movies. This being said, one of the catechism students at church had just seen “Avengers-Endgame,“ and was fascinated with the details of the movie.  During the lesson, which was on what the Small Catechism has to say about salvation, he kept on saying, “But, yeah, God came down, POW, and that was it!”

The way that God came down was much different that the superhero movie plot in which the * insert good guy (s) here* come(s) down in a blaze of glory to rescue the world from the big baddies who are trying to annihilate it.

God came down, alright, but not in a blaze of glory. There was no POW heard ‘round the world as it would be in the movies of the Marvel universe. God came down to this earth in such a way that it is impossible to believe without having faith. He was born- a helpless baby- to a poor virgin girl in an obscure part of the world, with only shepherds and farm animals to greet Him.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

As far as the superheroes in the movies with their superpowers and super weapons and space craft, Jesus had none of those things. In fact, the only way that people in Jesus’ day knew Jesus was God in human flesh when He walked on earth was that God the Holy Spirit revealed that knowledge to them.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

 

 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

God came down, but not to blast away intergalactic baddies with a laser gun. God came down to earth in human flesh to be Emmanuel, God with us. God came down to earth to take the punishment that humanity, buried in our endless sea of trespasses and sins, earned and deserved.  God came down to earth to die on the cross, so that we may live with Him forever.

(The apostle Paul teaches: ) But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:15-18 (ESV)

Yes, God came down. He came down to be one of us, to die for us, and to raise us all to eternal life.