Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Glory of God Revealed in the Flesh of Jesus

Luke 9:28-36 The baptism of our Lord and the transfiguration of our Lord are the two bookends to the Epiphany season and both are pivotal moments in our Lord’s earthly ministry-- but they need explanations so that we can understand how they are part of our salvation.
That is what Luke is doing when he says that the transfiguration occurred about eight days after these sayings.  But what sayings are those? 
Looking back at what immediately preceded our Lord’s transfiguration, we hear Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ and then Jesus explain just exactly what this means:  rejection by his own people, death upon a cross and resurrection three days later.  Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that they too will have a share in his suffering-- but if they will remain faithful to his Word, they will see the glory of God and have a place in his kingdom.
That’s what Jesus was talking about before the Transfiguration and these authoritative words form a summary of the Christian faith and life:  faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world—a life of discipleship following him as Lord-- and an eternal future with God. 
What the transfiguration does for us is shows that the one who speaks these words about the great questions of life—what we re to believe and how we are to live-- has the right to expect our faith and obedience and is able to keep all of the promises he makes to those who follow him for he is God in human flesh.  The Bible says that:
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray…and the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white…and they saw his glory
            Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ of God was a pivotal moment in our Lord’s earthly ministry and a high point in Peter’s life. 
But what did Peter mean when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ?      We know that many of the Israelites of that day were expecting national hero like Joshua who led the people to the Promised Land or a king like David who ruled a mighty kingdom. 
But who Jesus really was-- and what he had come to do-- was even more than the great heroes of the past and Jesus revealed the truth slowly—piece by piece.
He turned water into wine.  He drove out demons and healed the sick.  He fed the multitudes and calmed the stormy seas.  All of these miracles were intended to lead to only one possible conclusion:  that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh.
That identity of Jesus was confirmed on the Mount of Transfiguration.  The uncreated Light and Glory of God shone through the veil of human flesh that hid the divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity behind the face of a carpenter.  That identity shapes all that follows as he journeys to the cross.  And so then… 
It is God who will be rejected by his own people.  It is God who will lay down his life on a cross.  It is God who will rise again and come to the aid of his people-- and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to how we spend our life and where we spend eternity.  Let me explain why it is so important that we get this right.
Virtually every person in the world recognizes that a person names Jesus of Nazareth once lived here on earth.  Everyone regards him as decent and good and kind and what human beings ought to be.  The world’s religions all respect him.  But it is only in the Christian church that he is confessed to be—who he reveals himself to be—God. 
God in human flesh:  1. That is why the rejection by his own people (and by so many today) is a matter of eternal consequence—2. that is why we be confident that his death on the cross really has atoned for the sins of the whole including those sins that trouble us—3. that is why we can be certain that death is not the end for us—because it had been conquered for us by the Author of Life who rose from the grave. 
His identity as revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (God in human flesh) is the lens through which:  we view his saving work-- and his call to discipleship-- and his promise of another life to come.  The Bible says that:
Two men were talking with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 
            What was so important that the veil that separates heaven and earth was pulled back so that Moses and Elijah (departed from earthly life for centuries) could be there with Jesus that day on the Mount of Transfiguration?  What was so important? 
They came to talk to Jesus about his departure.  In the original language:  his exodus.  His exodus.  1500 years before this moment of Transfiguration, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt—living painful lives of sorrow and hopelessness-- and knowing that nothing better waited for their children either. 
But God saw their great need.  He saw that they were powerless to help themselves—and he had mercy on them and sent Moses to be their deliverer and bring them to freedom. 
Taking refuge from the angel of death under the shed blood of a lamb, by the power and might of the outstretched arm of Almighty God, Moses led them to freedom and they witnessed the complete destruction of their enemies. That’s the exodus.
What God did for the people of Israel in 1500 B.C. he was about to do for the WORLD in 30 A.D. as Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, would lead us out of slavery to sin and death and take us into the Promised Land of:  life with God here on earth and forever in heaven. 
That’s why Moses and Elijah were there!  That was the exodus he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem!  God’s plan of salvation from before the foundations of the earth—witnessed to by the Law and the prophets—was at hand! 
Of course Moses and Elijah were there—for the promise of God they proclaimed (the reconciliation of God and man) was about to be fulfilled!  The Bible says that:
Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 
            Peter’s desire to remain in the presence of God and his saints was right and good and God-pleasing.  It’s just that his timing is a little bit wrong.  Peter had this same trouble when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then tried to turn Jesus away from the cross. 
Life in God’s presence (now and in eternity) is the absolute promise that Jesus makes to all who trust in him as Lord and Savior-- but that journey to heaven goes through the cross!  It did for Jesus and it does for his people.  There is no way of escaping it. 
Jesus never sugar-coated what the life of a disciple is really like—that each of us are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus and die unto self-- and that it profits us nothing to gain the world and lose our souls.
That said, the Transfiguration of our Lord is a wonderful confirmation that the promise that Jesus makes to all who follow him about seeing the glory of God and having a part in his kingdom and enjoying life everlasting—is absolutely true --and something that we can look forward to and comfort ourselves with as we follow Jesus in this life.
And until that day, we have his Word to guide us and strengthen us each step on the way of the cross.  The Bible says that:
A voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
            Jesus once said that if anyone was ashamed of his Words, the Son of man would be ashamed of him on the Last Day.  On the Mount of Transfiguration we hear the voice of God himself speaking to the world and directing us to listen to his Son.  Faithfulness to the word of Christ is the mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
His Word—must be the final Word—in our lives and in our congregation.  Unashamedly—unapologetically—unreservedly.  That is easy enough to do sitting here in church with our fellow Christians but when we go out back out into the world-- as we all must do—how much more difficult this becomes! 
The words of Jesus about forgiveness and priorities and values and how we are to treat our enemies become much more difficult to follow- and much more easy to  ignore- because they are so different than what we hear and see all around us in the world.
But what we see on the Mount of Transfiguration is that the One who speaks authoritatively and says “my words are truth” and the One who speaks from the majestic glory and says “listen to my Son” cannot and must not be ignored-- for these words are the dividing line between life and death—promising judgment to those who are ashamed of Jesus--but the kingdom of heaven to those who believe what he says.
Peter, James, and John saw how true that was on the Mount of Transfiguration and bear witness of that Good News to us:  that Jesus leads us from slavery to freedom in a land of our own—that death is not the end for those who trust in him—but that life in the very presence of God is promised to all who trust in as Savior and follow him as Lord!  May God graciously grant it to us all!  Amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jesus in Worship, As Was His Custom

Luke 4:16-30 The scene that we have before us in our Gospel lesson is a mirror image of what we are doing right here and now:  the Lord’s people gathered in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day in the presence of the Lord to hear the Lord’s Word.  And so…
What we’re going to do this morning is a little “people-watching” at the folks in Nazareth and their worship service and see if there is anything that we can learn about ourselves at worship. 
As we do that I want you to think about these questions:  Where should I be on the Lord’s Day?  What should I hear on the Lord’s Day?  And how should I respond to what I hear on the Lord’s Day?  The Bible says that:
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day
            Throughout the Bible we see Jesus taking an active part in the worship life of the people of God as was his Father’s will: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  This is the commandment of Almighty God and it extends to every person.  Jesus—born under the Law just as we were—kept that commandment faithfully. 
We get upset about the sexual immorality of our culture and the murder of unborn children and the greed inherent in our economic system—and we ought to—for these sins are abominations in the sight of Almighty God.  But we get a lot quieter when it comes to the Third Commandment that deals with our life of worship. 
We would never think about saying that a little bit of adultery or a little bit of murder or a little bit of stealing is no big deal.  But we bend over backwards to find a way to excuse those who break the Third Commandment—especially when they are our friends and family and fellow church members.
Luther’s Small Catechism says that to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy means that we will fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  The judgment of God is this:  those who do not worship, do not fear God or love God-- but instead, despise preaching and His Word.  That is a hard judgment!
That is why this first verse of our text is such Good News for us:  that Jesus always gave his heavenly Father the worship that is his due-- and that through faith in Jesus—his faithfulness and righteousness is counted as our own in place of all those times we have not worshiped God as we ought—whether in church or absent. 
That gift calls for our praise and thanksgiving and brings us to the Lord’s house to worship.  And so what should we hear when we come to worship?  The Bible says:
Jesus stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 
            First of all, when you come to the Lord’s house you ought to hear the Lord’s Word.  Then and now—that is the heart of  worship and the purpose for being in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day—to hear the Lord’s Word preached and taught. 
Now this may seem like something that doesn’t need to be said—but it does-- because the day that God warned us about (when people will accumulate teachers who will tell them what their ears want to hear) is upon us. 
In so many sermons today you will hear amusing anecdotes and inspiring stories --there is talk about self-esteem and the positive thinking—but there is very little Bible.
The purpose of worship is to hear the Word of God.  And so if you hear some sermon where the pastor begins with the text and then you never hear it again and wonder to yourself “what does this have to do with the reading”—that pastor has failed to follow the example of Jesus in preaching the Word!
But there is even more that we ought to expect when it comes to what we hear in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.  We should expect to hear about the person and work of Jesus Christ—that he alone is our salvation!  The Bible says that:
Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus took the Bible in his hand, read it to the people, and proclaimed himself the fulfillment of it—that he was the one who would set the prisoner free and give sight to the blind and bestow God’s favor.  He was the fulfillment of God’s saving promises!
That is what every preacher must do:  preach Christ crucified for the sins of the world because if you have not heard that, you have not heard a Christian sermon.
The Bible has one subject and that is Jesus Christ and he must be proclaimed in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.  The Bible has one story and that is the Good News of salvation and it must be told in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. 
Jesus Christ was chosen by his heavenly Father, sent into this dying world, and anointed with the Holy Spirit so that by his death and resurrection we would be free from our sins—so that death would not be the end of us—so that our eyes of faith could be opened to the Good News that there is a God who loves us with an everlasting love. 
That message can only be found in the Lord’s house and it ought to be heard each Lord’s Day.  And so what should our response be to that message?  The Bible says that:
All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.
            Each Sunday we hear God speak to us in Holy Absolution and forgive us our sins.  He speaks to us in the lessons that are read and the sermon that is preached so that we would know his will for our life and his forgiveness when we fail.  His Son gives us his body and blood in Holy Communion and says “given for you” and “shed for you” to assure us that the sacrifice of Calvary was for us personally and individually.  These gracious words are to be received in faith!
The people that day in Nazareth marveled to hear the words of life and salvation that Jesus preached-- and so should we.  In the words of that old spiritual we ought to be glad each Lord’s Day to hear that “old, old story of Jesus and his love”. 
But of course we know that not everyone is—that there are those who reject the gifts of salvation given in the Lord’s house just like those in Nazareth that day who said:
“Is not this Joseph's son?” And Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.
            There were those that day who rejected the message because they rejected the messenger:  “Who does this Jesus think he is?”  “We knew him when he was just a boy!”   
There are still those who reject God’s Word because they reject his messengers.  The man who stands in the pulpit of the Christian church has been called by the Holy Spirit for one purpose:  to speak forth God’s Word, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 
That we don’t like his style or personality or the way he cuts his hair has absolutely nothing to do with anything --and so long as he speaks forth God’s Word (calling us to repentance and faith in Jesus) we are to listen to him and believe what he says.
But not only did those there that day reject Jesus because of who he was, they rejected him for his message.  The two examples that Jesus gave from the days of Elijah and Elisha were intended as a sharp rebuke and a hard preaching of the Law—to warn them that unbelief had consequences—that God would reject those who rejected him.
This message was not well received and they reacted with fury and so it still is today when the law is preached. 
We are perfectly happy to hear a sermon where the sins of others are pointed out but then we hear a sermon that cuts to the heart of something in our life that is not right.  It could be anything thing—but God’s Word has come close to home and rather than acknowledging our sin and repenting of it—we make excuses and justify ourselves and reject God’s messenger and his message.
If that is where you find yourself this morning you need to take this scene to heart and not let this day pass without confessing your sins, receiving Christ’s forgiveness, and making amends for your mistakes by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
We don’t know if those folks ever got another opportunity-- but that was a day of salvation for them just as this day is for us-- and we must not let it pass us by without responding to what we have heard in repentant faith. 
By our heavenly Father’s wise leading we have been brought to the Lord’s house this Lord’s Day.  We have heard the voice of Jesus promising us that he has come to open our eyes of faith and set us free from our sins and grant us God’s favor now and forever.
And so let us respond to those gracious words with praise and thanksgiving and the worship of heart and minds and voices that stand in awe of his great mercies.  Amen.