October 16, 2019 – Be? or Do? James 2:14-26, Ephesians 2:1-10

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What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (see Joshua 2)  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. – James 2:14-26 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.   For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Lutherans don’t usually make a habit of quoting the Book of James, because on the surface it may appear that James advocates the concept that we can earn salvation through the things we do much as a worker earns a wage or we exchange money for items we buy.  There is no exchange.  God has already acted on us. Our wages have been paid in full, through the merit of Christ.   However, faith (knowing who we ARE in Christ) always results in action.  As we believe, so we respond. What we do is a result of our faith, a response to the work of God within us.

We believe that faith is a gift of God.  Jesus teaches us in John 6:44- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus gave the church (meaning all believers) its marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All of the other activities the church gets involved in are secondary to making disciples. Yes, it follows that we as Christians would seek to help our neighbors with their physical needs.  Yes, it follows that we would strive to be good stewards of the environment and that we would care for animals, land and water, which are good gifts from God.

But if we simply focus on doing we can forget from whom comes our being. If we neglect to preach and teach the Bad News- that all of humanity is born dead in trespasses and sins and that we cannot save ourselves, followed by the Good News that Jesus took our penalty and paid the price we all owe when He died on the cross, and that we who belong to Him will live forever with Him, then our good works have no lasting value. This world is temporary.

Without Jesus, there is no point. We can and should encourage people to do good things for each other.  We should be good stewards of our world which is a gift to us from God.  But a message and a life that is not focused on the cross of Christ is no life at all.

The cross of Christ is central to who we ARE. What we do for others springs from the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn favor or repay God for what He has first given us.

Without Jesus, serving others is a chore, an endless to-do list that wears on the body and burns the conscience.  We are not capable of doing enough to earn our own way.  But in the light of His mercy, serving others becomes a delight.  In the light of His mercy as we serve, we are being served.

 

October 13, 2019- Message- Responding to Jesus (Y’all Need Jesus!)

y'all need Jesus

On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
The relationship of a parent to his or her child can be a strained and complicated one. Some of our children are easy to love some of the time. Some of our children can be difficult and hard to manage from day one forward. Most of them are a little bit of both- a little sweet, a little sour, just like the Sour Patch kids. We do things for our kids not because we want them to be grateful for what we do, but because they’re our kids. We love them even when they don’t care whether we love them or not. We love them when they are unlovable. We love them even when they are ungrateful. We love our children even when they don’t respond to our love in the way that we hope.
There’s a popular T shirt that states: Y’all Need Jesus. It’s fun to wear t-shirts with catty sayings such as this as a conversation starter. In one way the saying on the shirt is supposed to imply that others’ behavior is so bad that they need Jesus to straighten them out. In another it reveals the truth that we are dependent upon Jesus- and for far more than to keep us from saying or doing things we shouldn’t.
Our need for Jesus is just as profound and essential whether we are people needing healing from leprosy or people dealing with the turmoil of the 21st century. We ALL need Jesus. Our very lives, the heartbeats within us, the air that we breathe, the very existence of all matter depends on Jesus, whether we acknowledge His hand and His sovereignty or not. A lot of the time we are like the nine guys, the former lepers who were healed and just went along their merry way, not considering the amazing thing Jesus had just done for them.
All good gifts of God, including healing, are gifts- given not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. God does not give gifts expecting anything in return from us. What does God need? Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t give us first?
The rain falls on good and bad people alike, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:45. – For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That’s not the message we expect to hear. We instinctively gravitate to the wisdom of the world that says, “one hand washes the other.” Quid pro quo. You get what you deserve, which is the concept that some of the world’s religions refer to as Karma, the principle that every world religion, with the exception of Christianity, believes. Because of Jesus we don’t get what we deserve, and that is good news considering that every human being deserves death and hell.
Cause and effect logically follow in our minds. Cause and effect are powerfully evident in the natural world. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people alike. But Jesus’ economy isn’t our economy. Jesus is the Giver, the Sustainer, the Lord of Life, whether we understand or acknowledge that or not. As we learn in the book of Job, God gives and takes away as God wills, not according to what makes sense to us.

Some of us pray for physical healing and will never see it this side of eternity. Some of us grieve the loss of someone precious to us who we will not see again until Jesus returns. All of us are crying out for some sort of deliverance or comfort at one time or another. The human condition since the Fall is such that we will all suffer. Some of us get respite from our torments, while others of us can only take comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

We will share in the cross of Christ just as we will share in the resurrection and life of Christ.

The Samaritan leper understood the mercy and grace given to him by Jesus. He may have understood it even more profoundly than the Jewish lepers because he wasn’t “born into” the promise. It was only by faith in Jesus that he was healed. He knew that there was no way that he deserved or earned healing and that his healing was indeed a free gift of God.
Jesus tells us a story of a Pharisee – a guy who thought that he earned “having it made with God” and a tax collector, who acknowledged being a sinner in need of a Savior, in the temple.
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee’s prayer was not as much in praise of God as it was in praise of himself. “Thank God I am not that prostitute, or that tax collector, or that guy.” He might as well have said, “Thank God I go through all the right motions and say all the right things.” The Pharisees even had prayers in which men thanked God that they were not born women. Today we still find ourselves trying to compare ourselves to others, saying things like, “at least I’m not an addict or a criminal,” without realizing that only by the grace of God we could be the ones trapped in addiction or mired in a life of crime. We have no idea to the extent and depth we are beholden to God’s grace.
We see the mercy of Christ when we see how completely and often we break God’s laws, yet He is still good to us. He still forgives us for all the times we break the Law. It is only because of His grace and mercy that we can stand, and He is the One Who chooses to make us His own. We do not choose God any more than children choose their biological parents.
We are invited to come to Him, to confess our sins and to be forgiven. No matter how many times we have broken God’s laws. No matter how horrible a sinner we may believe we are, even a sinner like the apostle Paul who claimed to be the chief of sinners, as he tells his protégé Timothy : The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus bled and died to pay for the sins of ALL. There is no one beyond the scope of God’s grace, unless we choose to put ourselves there. We can choose to ignore God and fail to acknowledge Him, but ignoring God is not a good choice, as we learn from the Psalmist (possibly King David) who teaches : The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

There is a big difference between assuming the grace of God because of what we do or the tradition we follow, and knowing one’s sinfulness and undeserved favor before a holy God.
We learn from the writer of Proverbs that the fear (fear meaning: a reverent respect) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
In our baptisms we are made children of God- some of us are the easy children who smile and hug and cooperate and make our parent’s heart glad. Some of us are the difficult children who are incorrigible and frustrating and are the children who make us question our choice to become a parent. All of us are both- saint and sinner- some of the time. A lot of the time we are like the nine lepers who didn’t give God a second thought. Yet God gives His gracious gifts to us all, for the sake of Jesus Who died to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to the Father.
We all desperately need Jesus. Seeing this need is wisdom, and living in thanks to God for life in Jesus is a gift of faith.
Whether we are healed here and now or whether we suffer here and now, or we live a life of both suffering and of being healed, we live in thanks to Jesus. We look to the Suffering Servant who gave His life so that we may live with God forever. We believe Him and take Him at His word. We thank and praise Him, not as though there would ever be anything we could to do to repay Him, but simply as a response of thankfulness and praise to the Author of all things who has delivered us from death and brought us into ultimate healing- the healing and peace of eternal life with Him.

October 11, 2019- Jesus, the Healer and Restorer is Faithful – Mark 5:25-34

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And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34 (ESV)

“Faith healing” is often seen (and for the most part, probably should be) as a parlor trick or as a hustle and scam perpetrated by false teachers.  If we witness something that’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Yet Jesus’ healing is different than  parlor tricks or the quid pro quo scams of the hustlers.  Jesus does not heal on our demand, or in exchange for anything we do, or according to how much we pay.

Instead, Jesus declares to the woman trusting in Him for healing: Your faith has made you well.

The question about faith is: “faith in what, or in whom?”  Faith must have an object.  We have faith that the concrete bridge on the freeway will hold up the car as we drive over it. We can see the bridge, and we trust that since it held the car up yesterday that it will hold the car up today.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning, because we can see it and we can feel its warmth, but because we can’t see Him, we struggle with faith in Jesus, who is Lord over both the concrete bridge, and who is the one who created the sun.  The concrete bridge (that we really don’t give a lot of thought to) that we trust to endure was made by fallible men, and the sun, as timeless as it appears to be, is a created thing that God designed to have a limited and finite lifespan. We trust both of those created things without really thinking about them, because we can see and touch them, but both of those created things, eventually, will fail.

Jesus will never fail, and His word always accomplishes its purpose.  Our faith is well placed in Him, but we struggle with that faith, especially when we can’t see how and when He is working.

We struggle with that faith because we can’t always see Jesus’ fidelity.  We suffer tragic and unforeseen losses- natural disasters, and man-made disasters that make no sense. We see children die of cancer even when we prayed for their lives to be spared, and that loss causes us to doubt Jesus’ power to heal. We encounter senseless violence and destruction every time we turn on the news. We question, “How can a merciful God who claims to love us allow this senseless violence to continue?” We cry out to God, “How long!” when we endure and continue to observe what seems to be endless suffering and pain.  When we have to wait on the fulfillment of His promises, the waiting can be hard. It is easy to lose hope in this fallen world.

We are still subject to and are witnessing the effects of the Fall that brought sin and death into the world. We are painfully aware that in this world suffering and death and loss are the defaults, even as we are painfully aware that death is not normal and suffering is not acceptable.  We see the kingdom of God to a degree today, but as the apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Faith is trusting Jesus, who we can’t see clearly and completely while we still have one foot here in the earthly kingdom.

We do get to see glimpses of Jesus and His healing power breaking into this world through His ministry here on earth. We see the woman who was healed of her bleeding disease after suffering for twelve years.  We see Jairus’ daughter in that same chapter of Scripture, being raised from the dead.

What we don’t see about Jesus’ physical healings and His miraculous raising people from the dead while He lived here on earth was that these people still physically died.  They were still ultimately subject to the curse of sin and death. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment is not still living on this earth.  The little girl who Jesus raised for a time, is long since dead and buried, awaiting the re-creation of heaven and earth.

Jesus is always the Author of healing- whether it be through the means of medical science, through medication, or through the natural processes of the body.  Sometimes His plan for us does involve delaying or even denying our bodily healing for a time. And until Jesus returns, all of creation is subject to the curse of decay and death.

Ultimately Jesus will be the Author of a new heaven and a new earth and we will have incorruptible bodies.

The apostle Paul explains: Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (ESV)

So in whom do we place our faith?

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10 (ESV)

Our life with Jesus began in our baptism.  How joyful it is to know that we too, will be healed- maybe here and now, or maybe not, but we will be healed- permanently- when Jesus returns.

 

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

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“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

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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.

June 12, 2019- Who is the Object of Our Faith? Luke 22:31-33, 54-62, Ephesians 6:10-12

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(Jesus said to Peter: ), “Simon, Simon, behold- Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”… Luke 22:31-33 (ESV)

Then they seized him (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”  But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

Who is the object of our faith?

Faith is only as good as its object. We have faith that when we drive over a bridge that it will hold fast- at least until the car goes over it.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  Faith is backed up by past performance- we drove over that bridge yesterday and made it to the other side in one piece.  The sun rose and set yesterday, so it’s probably going to do the same today.

Sometimes we have a habit of putting faith in things that we shouldn’t put faith in- such as that sketchy tuna salad that’s been in the fridge how long? Our culture tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, “tough it out,” “believe in yourself,” and culture gives us various other motivational mantras based upon the values of independence and self reliance.  Autonomy is not necessarily a bad thing- nobody wants to be a leech or a mooch, but humans were not designed to be lone rangers.  We were made to rely on God and made to serve our community.

In the first Commandment we are instructed to have no other gods besides God, but we fall into the self reliance trap pretty easily. We really shouldn’t have faith in ourselves, because we make pretty lame gods, but this was the sin of the Garden, the sin of pride that claims that we can be like God.

The problem with our illusion of self reliance is that we really aren’t self reliant at all. The saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is very true.  The apostle Peter believed (read: Peter had faith in himself) that he could follow Jesus to His death in his (Peter’s) own strength.  He fell miserably, three times.  Peter’s faith was not in Jesus, but in his own willpower.

We don’t talk about Satan much in Christian circles any more, even though Jesus did talk about him. Jesus prayed for Peter that Satan would not prevail against him.  Jesus intercedes for us in the same way.  While we are in this world we, like Peter, are surrounded by adversaries, whether they are our own desires for control, the influence of other people, or the Adversary himself.  We cannot overcome the world by having faith in ourselves.  The apostle Paul teaches that we must rely upon God alone:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

The good news is that Jesus is faithful even though we are not. Our faith is not from us, but a gift from God. Jesus did not abandon Peter after His resurrection.  Jesus did not hold a grudge against Peter for his faithlessness and his denials.  Jesus was faithful to Peter and did establish him as the first earthly leader of the church as he said He would do in Matthew 16:18. We learn of Jesus restoring Peter to ministry in John 21:1-19.

Peter’s mission was not to believe in himself or his own willpower, but to have faith in Christ, and to lead others to that same valid, saving faith in Christ. (Acts 2:14-41)

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”- Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

In Jesus – the object of our faith- we are forgiven for our sins.

Even when we are faithless and deny Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds, He is faithful to us. He has paid the price for our sins, and only in Him are we made worthy in God’s sight.

In Jesus- the object of our faith- we are baptized and born into eternal life.

March 25, 2019- Nothing is Impossible With God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 7:10-14

annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

Nothing will be impossible with God. Mary had no way of knowing that she would be the virgin Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before the angel came to her with his “impossible” message.  Even as Isaiah prophesied bad times for the bad king Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah, God had a sign for Ahaz, whether Ahaz wanted it or not:

 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:10-14 (ESV)

Ahaz didn’t live to see the sign. By the time Jesus was born there had not been a descendent of David ruling the Israelite people for hundreds of years.  Yet God’s promise was good.  His sign is real, whether we expected it, asked for it, or even knew we needed it.

How many people in the world today know they need Jesus? Ahaz didn’t think he had any need of a Savior. Ahaz didn’t want to ask God for a sign even when God told him to ask.  Ahaz thought that he was a power unto himself rather than subject to the rule and authority of God.

Mary believed the promise. She trusted God even though she didn’t understand. She trusted God even though what she was hearing from the angel wasn’t technically possible. Like Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, Mary believed.

It is difficult to imagine what would have been going through Mary’s mind- to be visited by an angel of God and to be told that against all possibility that she would be the earthly mother of the Son of God.

There is a saying that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Those of us who find their comfort and satisfaction in this life and in the acquisition of material things often don’t see their need for Jesus. We see our need for Him when we are hurting. We see our need for Him when we are helpless.  We hope in Him when all else seems hopeless.

Emmanuel-  God with us, comes to us clothed in humanity, given to save us from the penalty of our sins.  This is a wondrous sign and great news.