Thursday, February 18, 2016


Luke 13:31-35 When it comes to our life of faith it is often times two steps forward and three steps back.  We don’t make the kind of progress in living out our faith that we ought to make.  We struggle with the same old sins that we have struggled with for years.  Our faith is not as vibrant as we want it to be and our life of prayer is oftentimes spotty.  We are not the kind of people we ought to be considering how long we have been following Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
And that’s discouraging!  To add insult to injury the devil loves to add doubt to our discouragement.  He says:  surely you’re just kidding yourself that you even have faith at all.  It’s just a mental game that you are playing with yourself.  And besides, wouldn’t this Jesus get tired of your constant struggles at some point along the way?  Wouldn’t he get tired of having to forgive you again and again of those same sins? 
None of this is new or unique to us—not the discouragement with our failures to live up to our high calling as God’s people—not the temptation to doubt the depth of Christ’s love and forgiveness.  None of this is new-- but what we must not do is let discouragement and doubt lead us to despair because Jesus loves us—even in our sins and failures.  The Bible says that: 
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
            While were still sinners—Christ died for us!  Surely these are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible for they speak of Christ’s love for all people—even those who don’t always get it right—even for those who do not love him at all—even for those who are his enemies.
That is what we see in our text today:  Christ’s love that compelled him to go to the cross and die--for those who wanted to have a life with God on their own terms—for those who loved their sin more than the Savior--for those too caught up in their own lives to commit their lives to him—his love for all. 
It is his loving commitment to us--not our faithfulness to him-- that is our hope today.  It is his resoluteness in going to the cross that gives us the strength we need to once again take up our cross and follow him as his disciples.  The Bible says that:  Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.
If this was all that we knew about the Pharisees, we might say to ourselves:  well isn’t that nice!  Those thoughtful, concerned Pharisees trying to help poor old Jesus by warning him of a plot on his life!  But of course their words have to be seen in the context of the big picture.  These guys weren’t his friends at all and their only concern was to get him out of their hair because he was going against their religious ideas.
They were teaching the people (and had taught them for centuries) that life with God was making sure you kept all the rules—and not just the Ten Commandments that God actually gave—but all the hundreds of rules that they had piled on top.  In their system…
Faith in the God who forgives and saves and sets free had been abandoned along the way for a list of rules that would lead you to God by your own efforts and if you had any questions about those rules—just listen to us and we will be glad to tell you how to live.
But then Jesus came along to ruin their racket.  He taught that life with God was about faith in him.  That what God really wanted to do was change people from the inside out—to make them new people who would love him—not out of some kind of legal obligation—but from the heart. 
And horror of horrors, he taught the people that, not only did they not have to listen to the Pharisees—but the Pharisees were nothing but white-washed graves:  nice and clean on the outside but dirty and dying on the inside.  And so as a group they opposed Jesus.
NEVERTHELESS—Jesus loved them and he would go to the cross for them—and he would lay down life and shed his blood to pay for their sins too.  It is what he had come to do—it is what love compelled him to do.  Jesus said to them:  “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.
This Herod that wants to kill Jesus—this Herod that Jesus call a “fox” (one of the worst insults of that day) is the same Herod that put John the Baptist to death by the sword because John had the nerve to point out that Herod was an adulterer—which may have silenced John but did not nothing to change Herod’s sin. 
Herod was still caught up in the same adulterous relationship.  He was still outside God’s kingdom because he was an unrepentant sinner.  And Jesus was just as forceful, uncompromising preacher as John had been and Herod could not stand to have his sin rebuked and so he was opposed to Jesus too and wanted to silence his voice.
The world is still full of Herod’s—people who love their sin more than the Savior.  And in our day it’s even worse.  Herod knew there was no chance of getting anyone to approve of his chosen lifestyle and so he did everything within his power to silence opposing voices.
In our day it’s not enough to silence voices that speak of common decency and shared moral values--now those who love their sin more than the Savior insist upon their evil being called good and demand a moral equivalency for their sin with God’s good gifts.
NEVERTHELESS Jesus loved Herod and would go to the cross for him too and for all of those who love their sins more than the Savior.  Jesus would not be deterred from caring for people simply because there were those in high places who opposed him.  Jesus said:
Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’  
            We can understand why the Pharisees wanted nothing to do with Jesus—they wanted to make their own way to God and that certainly seems easier to do with a list of rules than it is with faith and trust.  And we can understand why Herod wanted to silence Jesus—it is no fun to have our moral failings identified and rebuked.
But surely the common folk, the regular every-day, decent people of Jerusalem would welcome the Savior—right?  No, for you see by nature they were no different than the Pharisees—no different than Herod—no different than us.
They were just as certain as the Pharisees that they could have life with God on their own terms—that what was really needed was not a new birth but a moral touch-up.  They were certain that things were fine between them and God because when they compared to others they came out smelling like a rose. 
Their sins may not have been quite so dramatic—maybe not quite so public as Heord—but they were no less willing than was Herod to hear that lust and worry and anger would send you to hell just as certainly as adultery and idolatry and murder.  They had no interest in hearing that a change in their lives would have to be made.
NEVERTHELESS Jesus loved them and would go to the cross for them and shed his life blood and die for them to forgive them and reconcile them to God. 
Not the works-righteousness of the Pharisees—not the public sin of Herod—not the deaf ears and blind eyes and hard hearts of the Israelites—and certainly NOT our failures to be all that God has called us to be could keep Jesus from fulfilling his ministry or stand in the way of his bringing hope and healing to broken lives, and going to the cross and die.
As hard as it is for us to believe (weighed down as we are by discouragements and tempted to doubt and despair by the devil) Jesus loves us.  That love is difficult to comprehend and it always has been.  Paul prayed that the Christians of his day would know how long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses all human knowledge.
It’s impossible for us to understand it intellectually but we can see it here and be comforted by it.  Jesus:  confronted by his enemies, knowing that he is hated, sent to a people who have rejected every prophet before him and who will reject him too—says this:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Jesus longs to gather sinners to himself—all of them:  the self-righteous like the Pharisees who think they can make it to God on their own—the terrible sinner like Herod who loves his sin more than the Savior—the person who has rejected him again and again like the citizens of Jerusalem—and even his own children sitting here today who can never seem to make a whole lot of progress in their faith—he loves them all and longs for them to come to him for salvation.
He says:  You will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”  There is both a warning and a comfort in these words of Jesus.  Those who will not acknowledge Jesus as the heaven-sent Messiah and Savior of the world—those who choose to trust in their own righteousness and rules—those who will not abandon their sin—those who are too caught up in this life to prepare for eternal life-- will not see God. 
But the Good News is that whether you are a Pharisee or a Herod or an Israelite or someone sitting in their pews who struggled this week in their faith Jesus loves you and longs for you and says this to you this morning:  My child, my child how I have longed to gather you to myself!  May God grant us willing hearts that welcome his invitation to come and have a life with him!  Amen.

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.