February 20, 2020- Justice, Truth, and Jesus, the Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior- Isaiah 59:14-21, Acts 4:11-12, Isaiah 55:10-11 and Acts 10:39-43

transfiguration

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment.

So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives.

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:14-21 (ESV)

There is no mortal man who can intercede for the sins of humanity. Since the day of the Fall the whole creation has been crying out for healing and redemption.  The forerunners of Jesus in Scripture- Moses, Boaz, David, Solomon, and so forth, all pointed to Jesus, but they were fallible people who could not save themselves or anyone else from the curse of the Fall.

We deceive ourselves if we think we can save ourselves. As the apostle Paul taught,

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

Isaiah also tells us of the real Intercessor, Redeemer and Savior- Jesus, the God Man Himself.

Though Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel 700 years before Jesus came to earth as a man, the truth that he spoke to them is full of hope for us even today.

The Holy Spirit that lit upon Jesus at His baptism, the Spirit that came down as tongues of fire on the first believers at Pentecost is alive and among us.  The words of God always fulfill their intent and do what God intends for them to do.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

We can have great confidence and comfort knowing that God is faithful and that when He says He has sent a Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior, He has done it.

The Lord Jesus stands as the Cornerstone, the Suffering Servant, Who is coming again to judge the living and the dead as we confess today in the Apostle’s Creed, as the apostle Paul preached:

God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:39-43 (ESV)

 

December 20, 2019-Advent 20, Luke 20- The Authority of Jesus, Wicked Tenants, Taxes, the Resurrection, and the Son of David

Read Luke 20.

Jesus-and-the-pharisees

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up  and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”  He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”  And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:1-8 (ESV)

The establishment was never a big fan of Jesus. Jesus, Who taught with authority and healed the sick and raised the dead was a threat to their power over the people.

The baptism of John was for repentance, a preparation for the coming of the One Who came to wash away the sins of the world with His blood.  John was indeed a prophet, and his birth and his mission had long since been foretold- the one who was to prepare a highway in the wilderness for the coming of the Son of Man.

The religious authorities were blind to the fact that it was the Son of Man teaching them.

Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants.  The master sends one servant to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard and the tenants beat him and sent him away.  He sends another servant, who is also beaten and sent away, and then a third who is beaten and driven off.  Then the master sends his son, thinking that the tenants will respect his son.

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 20:13-18 (ESV)

 

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius.Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.”He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:19-26 (ESV)

Nobody likes to pay taxes.  The religious authorities were trying to trick Jesus into saying that it was OK not to pay tax so they could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities.  Jesus confounds them by telling them that yes, we should give the governing authorities their due.

The Sadducees tried to trick Jesus into denying the resurrection of the dead by posing a scenario where a woman is married to each one of seven brothers.  “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection,” they ask.

Jesus explains to them that the life after the resurrection isn’t like life on earth.

And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”For they no longer dared to ask him any question. Luke 20:34-40 (ESV)

Jesus warned about the corruption of the religious leadership on many occasions.

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:45-47 (ESV)

There is a good and useful place for authority, both spiritual and temporal.  But the abuse of authority is harmful to both temporal governance and promoting spiritual truth.  When those who are in authority abuse their authority or hide the truth, those in their care suffer.

Jesus is indeed the cornerstone on which all is built upon.

Lord, we know that when we fall on You we will be broken, but we trust that You will heal us and remake us in Your image.  We pray that we will not defy You and be crushed by your judgment, but that we would believe and trust in You, for You have the words of eternal life.

October 29, 2019 – Gentle Jesus? The Love of Money, and the First Commandment- Mark 11:15-19, Leviticus 25:36-37, Matthew 6:24

Jesus-clearing-the-money-lenders-

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:8 (ESV)

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)

Gentle Jesus…yes, but not always. Emotions are not inherently good or evil.  What we do in response to our emotions is what matters.  Jesus got angry.  Jesus acted upon His anger, which was justified.  People had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a holy place of prayer, into a place to rip people off.

The money changers and other vendors had taken legitimate business and turned it into price gouging and taking advantage of people who traveled to the temple over long distances. They engaged in a similar philosophy that lies behind the truth that a Bud Light that costs $1.50 at Kroger costs $12 at the football stadium or hockey arena.

Most of us can live without a $12 beer. It’s there if we really want it, and it is a rip off to pay that much, but the people coming to the temple had no other place to exchange their money for temple currency.  Most people coming to the temple also could not bring live animals for sacrifice over long distances, so they had to buy animals on site. The money changers and other vendors had a captive audience at the temple for needs rather than for wants or conveniences, which makes that sort of price gouging a form of extortion.

Some people have interpreted Jesus’ actions toward the money changers and vendors to mean that one should never sell anything at church. To this day many churches will not conduct fund raisers inside the church building because of this example from the life of Jesus, but the act of selling things in the temple isn’t what made Jesus angry.

The money changers and temple vendors were not wrong to be exchanging “secular” money for temple currency for the offering, nor was it out of bounds that they were selling live animals for the ritual sacrifices.  Both the exchange of “secular” money for temple currency and the purchase of animals for sacrifice were required for those who were observing the Mosaic Law and keeping the Passover. The sin of the money changers and temple vendors was that they were making exorbitant profits on those transactions and taking advantage of their neighbors. The money changers and temple vendors were ripping people off and lining their pockets with the proceeds in clear violation of the Mosaic Law which states that the people of Israel were not supposed to loan to each other with interest or exact a profit off of each other.

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.  You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. – Leviticus 25:36-37 (ESV)

See also: Ezekiel 18

The fact that the chief priests and the scribes were so unhappy with Jesus for his reaction to the vendors activities suggests that they may have been on the take as well.

Jesus was bad for business.

Which brings us back to the question: “Which god were the chief priests and the scribes actually serving?”  It wasn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus Himself taught:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The sin that the chief priests, the scribes, the money changers, and the vendors in the temple all shared is the worship of a god (money) that isn’t God. We are tempted in that direction as well.

The love of money is the most attractive false god (other than ourselves) that people fall prey to.  While it is true that we need money to buy the things we need to survive, it is also true that God is the maker and provider of all things.  God is the one who provides us with the means to earn what we need to survive, as well as to serve our neighbors (vocation.)  We cannot put our trust in our abilities, in money or in anything else other than in Jesus.

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

The First Commandment: 

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

No one puts God first in all things. We are not capable of obeying the Law.  We all get obsessed with having enough (or not having enough) money at times.  Money in and of itself, like anger, is not a bad thing.  But do we love money more than God and others?  Do we get angry without having a good cause and an appropriate release for our anger?

Jesus took the penalty for all the times we violate the law.  We don’t deserve His pardon. We can’t earn His pardon.  Jesus took the penalty of death for us because He loves us.  Jesus was angry at the money changers and the temple vendors because they were turning a holy place that was supposed to be reserved for prayer to God and worship and turned it into a place to rip people off.

How maddening it must have been for Jesus to watch people ripping each other off for the love of money and worshiping the acquisition of wealth when He was right there in front of them- the Creator and Source of all.

The priests and scribes put their love of money above the love and worship of God.  Most of us would be guilty of the same sin against the First Commandment.

Yet God turned the priests’ and scribes’ intents- as well as our intents- for evil to our good.  The people who plotted the death of Jesus did not know that His blood would be spilled for the forgiveness of their sins. They looked right at God but didn’t know Him.  They rejected the stone that God had made to be the cornerstone.  The reproach of the reprehensible fell on God in human flesh alone.

Save by the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Jesus.

Lord, we thank You for Jesus, and we thank You for the gift of faith that we cannot earn and do not deserve. Help us to always remember Your death on the cross to save us from our sins. Comfort us and give us confidence that in our Baptism we have died in Christ and are made Yours forever.

We pray that we would trust in Your provision- that we would have enough for ourselves and some to share with others- neither too little so we would be tempted to steal, nor too much, lest we worship the thing (money) rather than the Creator and Giver of all.

We pray these things in the holy Name of Jesus.

 

November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.