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.)

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.

 

April 24, 2019- Born Again to a Living Hope- 1 Peter 1:3-12

jesus is not here

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:3-12 (ESV)

In Christ we are born again to a living hope. One of the many amazing things about the grace of God is that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from Him. In and of ourselves we are nothing but dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:1-3.

In the Garden of Eden our first parents discovered the sin of pride – of wanting to be God- and they learned the consequences of disobeying God. (Genesis 3)  Ever since the Fall, human beings have been mortal and doomed to suffer and to die as the consequence of this original sin.

Jesus shakes up that paradigm. If natural law were the last say, none of us could save ourselves by our own merit.  All of us earn and deserve eternal death and hell, and that is exactly what our fate would be if we were left to the consequences of our actions.

Yet God has mercy on us. Out of His desire to save us, He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. Our death sentence, our consignment to eternal punishment, was revoked at the moment when Jesus cried from the Cross- “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Paid in full. Set free. The curse of the Garden, set over all of creation, was broken.  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was given to suffer and die and take the penalty FOR US.

The apostles’ testimony was given to us so that we would know the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection from those who witnessed it first, so that we who did not see can believe. We have been given, by the gift of faith, the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Salvation and life are God’s gifts to us. We add nothing to the salvation equation except for our unbelief, rebelliousness, imperfections, and of course, the dirty rags of our sins.  Just as we love our own children even though we are always cleaning up after them and providing for them, God loves us and provides for us in spite of our inability to repay Him in any way. The reality is that the faith we need to even acknowledge God is itself a gift from Him.

The Sacraments- instituted by Jesus and given as gifts to us- are for everyone. We are given baptism, in which the Word of God and the water bestow the gift of faith, the gift of being named and claimed as God’s own child, is given for all ages and stages.  The effectiveness of baptism is not reliant on a person’s ability to understand or to ask for the gift.  We are given the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the very Body and Blood of Jesus in with, over and under the elements of bread and wine. In the simple gift of bread and wine we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We receive the very real presence of Jesus, in which we are given comfort and our faith in Him is strengthened.

Our trials today may seem overwhelming. Even though we hold each other up, because we are the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, we grow weary.  Many of us have health concerns that tax our ability to do even the most basic of tasks.  Some of us live in chronic pain and/or with debilitating diseases.  Many of us know financial poverty far better than we would like to. Others of us live with the grief of losing loved ones- spouses, parents or even children.  The trials and pains of this world are not the end of our story.  We are being tested by fire so that our faith is refined, and we are all the more willing to turn to Jesus and cling to Him, our Risen Lord.

April 19, 2019 Good Friday- The Punishment that Brought Us Peace-John 19:17-30, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:1-5, Matthew 27:51-54

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So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture – Psalm 22:14-15), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:17-30 (ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

The Lord of Life, tried and hastily convicted by a kangaroo court, at night, is now consigned to a cruel and ignominious death nailed to a Roman cross in a place called Golgotha, a place of a skull.

The penalty for sin- the sin of the Garden and all the sins that humanity has built upon and multiplied ever since- is death. This was death that Jesus had neither earned nor deserved. Our sins and our inability to save ourselves from the penalty of death put Him there.

Jesus’ captors took the opportunity to divide up his clothes, even rolling the dice to see who would get his one-piece tunic so they wouldn’t have to tear it up. The prophetic psalm of lament (Psalm 22) that David had written centuries before the Romans and their exquisitely cruel method of death by crucifixion came into being springs to brutal reality as Jesus was scourged, mocked, and left suffering, panting and thirsting on the cross.

He was offered sour wine, which could not have been worth much to assuage anyone’s thirst. After being offered this offensive drink, His suffering was finished. The punishment that brought our peace, the blood sacrifice required to redeem us from eternal death and hell, at that moment was fulfilled.

At the moment Jesus surrendered His spirit, the curtain of the temple that separates the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from common sinful humanity was torn. The new High Priest has made a new covenant in His blood, not the sacrifices of lambs and goats and bulls that could only foreshadow His true and once and for all atonement. The dead who had died in the promise of Christ by faith were raised from their graves.  Even the centurion assigned to witness the crucifixions on that day declared, “This truly was the Son of God.”

Today we take a somber look at Jesus’ death. We thank God that by His wounds, we are healed.  By His suffering and death, we have peace.  We dare not overlook so great a salvation.

By the grace of God, in Christ, it is finished. He has had the final say over death and the grave.

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.


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)

February 15, 2019- Jesus is God, The Only Way to Life- John 5:19-29

only way

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:19-29 (ESV)

There is no mistaking Jesus for a mere prophet, or simply as a good teacher. Jesus is God Himself as he clearly attests here and at other points in the Gospels.  The Son and the Father, and the Holy Spirit are one.  Rejecting Jesus- or any of the Persons of the Trinity- is saying no to God.

It can be difficult for some to accept, but the truth is that there is only one way to God. There is salvation in one name alone, and that is in the name of Jesus.

When the apostle Thomas asked Jesus the way to the Father’s House, Jesus answered that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:1-7)

How is it that we can “do good” and come out of the curse of death to the resurrection of life? Jesus says:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

The wisdom of the world says that all paths lead to God, or that a good God would not pass judgment on His creation. We learn otherwise in the Bible.  There will be judgment, and we cannot stand up to God’s standard of perfection apart from Jesus. We are saved by faith in Jesus- in trusting that we are justified by His death on the cross to save us from our sins.

We are called to hear God’s Word, speak God’s Word and teach God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works faith in Jesus for others through us when we hear, study, and teach His Word.  Through His means of grace- hearing the Gospel, being washed in the waters of Baptism, and in taking and eating the elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion, we are brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

January 24, 2019- God Says, “Vengeance is Mine,” Romans 12:17-21

forgive your enemy

 

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Popular wisdom dictates that revenge is a dish best tasted cold. Often when we are still angry or indignant over being wronged, we can only see our need for personal justice rather than the complete picture. Many regrettable actions have been committed in the heat of anger- actions that result from pure rage, or from a lack of information, or both. It does sting when someone else wounds us, regardless of whether or not the damage was intentionally inflicted.  Our instinct is to lash out and strike back, but we are specifically called not to do so.

God takes the dispensing of revenge to a different level. We aren’t called just to wait until the heat of anger cools before we strike back, but we are commanded to refrain from striking back at all. Revenge is a dish we don’t partake of hot or cold, but leave for Him to serve.  It is not our place to mete out our own retribution, but to forgive and love our enemies even as Christ forgives and loves us.  God will see that justice is done, whether by God’s means here on earth (i.e. civil punishment when one commits a crime) or ultimately at the final judgment on the Last Day. Our hope and our prayer for our enemies is not their destruction, but that God would bring them to repentance and faith and salvation in Christ with us.

This teaching does not mean that we are never to stand up for ourselves or for others, (nor does it negate the necessity for civil justice here on earth,) but to trust God in both His judgment and His mercy.

As God’s people we are called to seek out the good of others- to serve others, to be peaceful and productive and to glorify God in our vocations.

The ministry of Christians here on this earth should be one of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away and forgive our sins so that we may not be consigned to eternal judgment, but to eternal life.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Third Petition is notoriously difficult to pray and mean it, because in this petition we pray for the ability to set aside our anger and our thirst for retribution and to open our hearts and minds to God’s will. Thy will vs. my will is a constant battle for everyone. We also pray in the Fifth Petition, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Why do we forgive? Because Jesus forgave us. In Him we have been given the grace to forgive others.

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In faith we can set aside our need for revenge and trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God. If God is truly in control and has our ultimate good in mind, can we trust Him even when others do us harm? Do we trust Him enough to show mercy and grace to others as He has shown to us?

Thankfully in Christ we can go to Him and be forgiven for the times we fail to show mercy or for when we take justice into our own hands. We pray for the grace to forgive others the way Jesus has forgiven us, and to be merciful to others as He has been to us.