Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jesus Is I Am

We live in a world that tells us that it does not matter what we believe—so long as we believe something.  They say that what we Christians really ought to be about as the people of God are:  “deeds not creeds”.  Parts of the church have bought into it.  An old slogan for the World Council of Churches is:  “Doctrine Divides, Service Unites.”  And yet…
Before the sermon we confessed our Christian faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.  With doctrinal precision we confessed our faith in the Triune God as the one true God- and we confessed our faith in Jesus Christ as the God/Man Savior of the world—and we confessed that who Jesus is and what he has done is for our salvation.
Can there be a greater divide between those who call for “deeds not creeds” and those Christians who confess their faith this way?  And so who is right?  Which of these two parties can claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Who is closer to the Spirit of Christ? 
In our Gospel lesson we will see that Jesus was a staunch contender for the Faith because it is ONLY those who know the truth about God and Jesus who can be saved.  The Bible says:
The Jews answered Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
            The events of our text take place in the midst of a lengthy conversation—really a confrontation—that Jesus is having with the Pharisees about his identity and their claims to know the truth about God.  During this confrontation…
Jesus proclaimed himself to be the light of the world.  He said that those who do not believe in him will die in their sins and the only way to be free is to be set free by the Son.  He said that he is the one who speaks for the Father and that anyone who claims God as their Father must love the Son and that those who do not love the Son do not know God and are not of God.
            This is why the church contends for the faith that is confessed in the creeds—because Jesus contended for that faith—vigorously and without compromise!
The only hope that man has for salvation is found in knowing the truth about God and the truth about Jesus.  That is not what we believe because we are rigid and hard-headed—it is what we believe because that is what Jesus believed- and taught- and showed-- in his life. 
The response of the world to our contending for the faith is exactly the same as it was in Jesus’ day:  opposition, name-calling, and the questioning of motives. 
The Pharisees said that Jesus was a Samaritan (the worst insult they could think of) and that he was speaking for the devil.  The world around us (and sadly even parts of the visible church) claim that Christians like us who contend for the faith expressed in the creeds are rigid, unloving, and judgmental when we say that what is actually believed and confessed--matters.
And so why don’t we just go along to get along?  Why do we let ourselves be criticized and castigated by the world around us when we refuse to compromise on our confession of faith?  It’s because what is confessed by the church-- is a matter of life and death for the world. 
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
            This is what’s at stake when it comes to our confession—life and death—because the words of Jesus tell us the truth about God and the truth about salvation and to know and believe what Jesus says is to have eternal life.
Now, because it’s going to come up in just a few moments, I will point out that Jesus is obviously not talking about physical death—Jesus knew that people died, he encountered death throughout his ministry—he knew that he would die—it’s why he came.  But what Jesus is talking about is eternal death—separation from God for eternity.  That fact of the matter is…
This is what death really is—to be separated from God forever—and no one who puts their faith and trust in the promises of Jesus ever has to fear death for we will never be apart from God:  not in the dark times of life—not when we draw our last earthly breath—not in eternity.  That is what Jesus promises-- and we hold fast to his words.
That is where our confidence and life is found—in the words of Jesus—and that is why contending for the faith is so important—because it is the ONLY place where life is found!
Just a few days before these events many of those who had followed Jesus were turning away and he asked his disciples:  Will you leave me too?  And Peter answered for all of them:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life!
Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to save the world.  The words he spoke and the works that he did where not his own—but what he was sent into the world to do—and to reject his words and to reject his saving works is finally to reject God because Jesus is God’s Son. 
The Jews said to Jesus, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
This the question that all of us must answer:  Who is Jesus?  Is he a created being like the Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us?  Is he a great prophet as the Muslims want us to believe?  Is he a wise teacher and moral example as so many in our world believe him to be?  
Everyone has an opinion about Jesus—who he is and what he has done.  But it is eternally important to our salvation that we do not have merely a personal opinion:  but that we confess the objective truth about the person and work of Jesus and then contend for that faith.
We have creeds and confessions because over time this question has been asked and answered in ways that deny the real divinity and humanity of Jesus and his saving work. 
Far, far from abandoning the creeds of the church and the Faith that is confessed in those creeds it is imperative that the church of Jesus Christ be a confessing church which is willing to contend for the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to have a life with the Father.
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
The one thing that our religiously pluralistic culture cannot tolerate is for Christians to make absolute truth claims not only for themselves but for everyone else in the world besides.  To say with the apostles that “salvation is found in no one but Jesus for there is no other name given to men by which they can be saved” is considered to be intolerable hate speech. 
And so it has become fashionable for Christians who do not want to offend to adopt the language of the culture and say, “Well, this is what’s true for me” as if the person they are speaking to could also have some truth that stands opposed to what they believe and confess.  Even pastors who ought to know better go on TV and cannot bring themselves to say that Jesus is the Son of God and the way of salvation and those who do not know him are lost eternally.
Jesus NEVER suffered from that kind of spiritual cowardice because he knew that eternal souls were at the risk of being lost forever.  Jesus NEVER hesitated to tell the truth about the spiritual condition of those around him because he knew that unless they came to grips with the fact that they were lost without him-- they would be lost forever.
There are countless people around us who do not share our faith in Jesus and yet claim to know God and love God and have a life with God.  Just like the Pharisees, they say:  He is our God.  Is this possible?  Jesus says:  No!  The judgment of JESUS is that they are liars and do not know God BECAUSE they will not glorify the Son he has sent who has always been the only way to the Father. 
Jesus said:  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” It’s not as if Jesus were telling the Pharisees something new about the way to have a life with God.  God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the world would be blessed and when he held little Isaac in his arms he knew that the LORD was the God of kept promises and that he could be trusted for salvation. 
That is the content of saving faith:  the promises of God fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and there is no other way to salvation.   For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life. 
These words of John 3:16 are the content of the creeds:  This is the God who loves the world.  This is the Son is who has saved the world.  When we confess our faith in the words of the creeds, we simply say what Jesus has said about himself and about God:  that he is the Son of God and that to know him is to know the Father.
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
You will note that Jesus did not say:  Before Abraham was—I was—as if Jesus had a beginning before Abraham (as remarkable as that would be!).  No!  He says:  Before Abraham was:  I am.  Just exactly what God said of himself when Moses asked about his identity at the burning bush is what Jesus says of himself right here:  I am!  I simply exist without beginning and end because I am God.  The Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim and they tried to stone him.
That scene takes us back to the beginning of the sermon and the opposition of the world to the confession of the church.  Contending for the Faith takes courage to face the opposition of the world.  It takes clarity about what we believe.  And it takes the conviction that what we confess in the creeds about who God is and what Jesus has done is true:  true for us and true for the world.  Courage.  Clarity.  And conviction.  That is what it means to contend for the faith.  May God grant it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Jesus Is Our Self-Sacrificing High Priest

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jesus Christ Is Our Self-Sacrificing high Priest

Hebrews 10:5-14 From the moment God clothed Adam and Even with animal skins in the garden, the sacrifice of animals was the chief act of worship for God’s people for thousands of years.  It was built into the worship laws that God gave them on Sinai.  It was the very heart of their religious life.   
These sacrifices went on daily from Adam to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and there is no way to know how many tens of millions of animals were sacrificed in those millennia.  But not one of those sacrifices—in and of itself—actually took away sins or reconciled God to man.  The Bible says that:
when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
            When the Bible writer says that God did not desire all of these sacrifices and offerings, he is not saying they were not commanded by God—they were!  There were dozens of rules and laws and regulations given by God at Sinai that guided every aspect of this central act of worship-- and there were sacrifices and offerings for every kind of sin. 
But they were never intended to be an end unto themselves.  They were never supposed to be a merely external act that would somehow remove God’s wrath over man’s sin.  They were never intended by God to be permanent. 
Their only purpose was to literally put flesh and blood on the promise that God had made in the beginning—that he himself would raise up a Savior who undo the works of Satan.  That he was the one who would make right what man’s sin destroyed.
That promise, and its fulfillment, required—not an animal and tens of millions of sacrifices—but instead required the Seed of the Woman—one of us, a real human being with real human flesh who would suffer and die for the sins of the world.  That is what God promised and that is what God delivered.
In the womb of the Virgin this seed of a woman was conceived and was born and entered into the world—one of us in every way except sin—born under the demands of the Law that convicts every one of us because we have failed to do God’s will. 
But this one who bore our flesh would not fail under the law’s demands but would instead fulfill them every way, all his days.  Jesus said about himself:
‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”  When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.”
            Adam and Eve were commanded by God to do just one thing—one act of obedience that would demonstrate their submission to God’s will:  to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which they promptly did anyway. 
From that moment on, in their own immediate family, and in the family of man throughout time—all of their children, including us here today, have done exactly the same thing as they did, ignoring and disobeying God’s will in thought, word and deed—in the things that we do and in the things that we have left undone.
But throughout the Bible, the prophets spoke of one to come who would delight to do God’s will—who would render to the Lord the perfect obedience that God expects of us all. 
Moses spoke of the greater prophet to come and David spoke of the perfect King and Isaiah spoke of the priest who would offer the sacrifice that would truly bring peace and healing.
They looked forward to, and spoke of, Jesus Christ, who in every way, throughout his life desired nothing other than to do his Father’s will.  Jesus said about himself, I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
God demands of all of us that we be holy in exactly the same way that he is holy-- and yet all of us—from the very beginning have failed to do that. 
Jesus didn’t fail.  He did his Father’s will.  He spoke his Father’s words.  He accomplished his Father’s mission.  Jesus says,
this is my Father’s will, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.
The Good News for us is that God counts Jesus’ holy obedience as our own obedience through faith in him and credits that holiness as our own righteousness in his sight.  This is what thousands of priests and millions of sacrifices could never do.  The Bible says that Jesus:
does away with the first in order to establish the second.  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
            There was one purpose for the Old Testament priests and sacrifices and that was to point to Jesus Christ—to paint a portrait of what the Savior would do-- and who the Savior would be.
And when he entered into our flesh- and bore our sins- and sacrificed himself on the cross- that purpose was fulfilled for all people in every time and place.
When Jesus commended himself into the hands of his Father, and gave up his Spirit, and died on the cross-- the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom signifying that the old distance between God and man no longer existed because the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross had paid for the sins of the world and bridged the distance between God and man.
The Old Covenant came to an end, not because Jesus sinfully set aside the very commands of God regarding the worship life of his people, but because he fulfilled it perfectly—as both priest and sacrifice. 
That was a sacrifice that had never happened before-- and would never happen again –and need never happen again--and through faith in Jesus we are holy in God’s sight.
That is what the Bible writer is talking about when he says that we are “sanctified” through the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Our sins were laid upon Jesus as the Lamb of God and like the scapegoat in the Old Testament he has carried them away.  He is the sin offering whose blood has atoned for our failure to do the Father’s will. 
And through faith in him we are holy in God’s sight and set apart as his children who will one day join him at the Father’s right hand.  The Bible says that:
when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
            In the Old Testament, when the priest had finished their work day in the temple, they rested that night, but they got up in the morning to do the whole thing all over again. 
Day after day after day, the smell of the sacrifices never left their nostrils, and the blood on their hands was never really washed away, because the sinning of the people was never done-- with and the sacrifices necessary to remove those sins were never complete.
But when Jesus our great high priest offered up the sacrifice of his sinless body upon the cross, he said “It is finished!” and it was.  The proof of that finished work was given when Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.
The restoration and renewal that God has promised in the beginning through the Seed of the Woman was accomplished by Jesus Christ so that now we can once again count ourselves God’s son and daughters and live in perfect fellowship with him as did Adam and Eve in the beginning and we count on the end of the devil and his works and ways.  The Bible says that Jesus is: 
waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
            The fall of man in the Garden of Eden was not just the story of man’s sin, it was also the story of the devil’s deception.  Satan rebelled against almost from the beginning and his assault upon the ways of God manifested itself on Adam and Eve and their spiritual destruction.
And so when God confronted them all in the garden he promised that he would save mankind but he would destroy the devil by the promised Savior.  And so he has. 
The Bible says that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  And so from Jesus’ victory over Satan in the wilderness-- to every time he cast out devils-- to his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan every step of the way.
And yet, he still prowls around like a roaring lion looking for those he can destroy.  But only for a time. 
When our Lord returns he will judge all of those who have walked with the devil and he will punish them in the fires of hell and along with them the devil himself will be cast into the lake of fire where he will never again afflict the children of men. 
Until that day we can be confident that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, into which we are baptized, and by which we are fed, and through which we are brought to faith and declared to be God’s children, is fully sufficient to make us holy and set us apart as God’s people forever.  Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jesus Abundantly Meets Our Needs

John 6:1-5 Over the course of our lives all of us will be confronted by situations that seem hopeless.  Out of nowhere a deadly disease will strike down a loved one.  A couple that we know and love will make some very bad decisions and get a divorce.  A friend will bring misery upon themselves and their family through some addiction. 
            That’s when the misery of the world becomes our own.  Most of us will make an effort to help.  But when we see the poverty of our own resources we are tempted to throw up our hands in despair and give up–and lose hope.
            That is why it is so important for us to know that, when we are confronted by situations that seem hopeless, God is not asleep at the wheel, he is not nodding in his rocking chair, and he has not abandoned us. 
            In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus steps right into the middle of this broken, needy world and assures us that there is help for us in these situations no matter how hopeless it seems and no matter how meager our own resources are.  The Bible says that:
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the sings he was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand.  Lifting up his eyes, then, and saw that a large crowd was coming toward him
      The Good News for us today is that no matter what we are facing, no matter how difficult and overwhelming, Jesus knows about it and cares.  With the same eyes that saw the needs of the people that day Jesus sees our needs today.  Not only are our spiritual needs his concern--but our physical needs as well are a part of his loving concern for us. 
            What drew the crowd to Jesus were those miracles that met physical needs and relieved physical burdens in hopeless situations.  He healed the sick and raised the dead and drove out demons.
            In every situation Jesus showed that where our resources and efforts are insufficient–when the situation seems hopeless--he is more than able to lovingly provide for the needs of his people—just like he did that day.
            He was not just a disinterested observer of the world’s misery (as we sometimes are) and he didn’t turn his back on those in need (as we sometimes do).  He saw their need, had compassion on them, and brought the mercy and power of Almighty God into their lives to provide for their needs. 
            So it is with us who gather around Jesus today in this place.  He sees your needs and the needs of those you love and promises to provide.
            Because Jesus is with us, we are not alone- and the situations that trouble us are not hopeless.  Whether it is an illness or a marriage in trouble or an addiction or a financial disaster that threatens us, we can be confident that Jesus sees our needs, has compassion on us, and will act in perfect love and wisdom to provide for those needs just like he did that day.  The Bible says that:
Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people might eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 
            The second point I want to make is that we are not merely at the mercy of forces beyond our control but that God uses difficult situations–even the seemingly hopeless situations that are troubling us right now-- for our good.  They have a meaning and a purpose that is rooted in the eternal, loving will of God for our lives. 
            Often times, just like with Phillip, they are a test of our faith—God lovingly using difficult times to make our faith stronger.  The Bible says that we are to:
Consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. 
            We know about this kind of testing don’t we?  We can look back at moments of testing when we went through hard times and how with God’s help we became stronger Christians because of it. 
With Christ by our side, we can be joyful even in the midst of trials because we know that he is strengthening and sustaining and purifying our faith.  That’s what Jesus was doing that day with Phillip.
            Jesus wanted Phillip to recognize two things.  He wanted him to recognize his own insufficiency to meet the needs of the people of that day–Phillip passed that part of the test.  He said:  Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.  Phillip knew that he and the other disciples didn’t have the resources to meet those needs. 
            But more importantly, Jesus wanted Phillip to recognize that there was One there with him who was more than able to provide for the needs of the people in such a hopeless situation and it was Jesus. 
Jesus who had calmed the sea, Jesus who had healed the sick, Jesus who had raised the dead was more than able to feed the multitude---but Phillip was so focused on what he didn’t have that he forgot about the one standing next to him. 
            We do the same thing.  When we are confronted by the impossible and the hopeless we forget that it is that Jesus is with us every step of the way!  He wants us to lift up our eyes from what we don’t have to who we do have-- and see in him the provision for our needs of body and soul.  The Bible says that: 
One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?
            Phillip gets some bad press in this account but Andrew didn’t do much better.  He suggested five barley loaves and two small fish but recognized that it wasn’t much.  He too forgot about who it was that was with them–the only one who could provide for that multitude of people.
            But there was another disciple there who was following Jesus.  He doesn’t have a name in the story but he was a follower of Jesus–a believer--a little boy who brought his little lunch along–barley loaves and fish, the food of the poor and he placed his lunch in Jesus’ hands with confidence and faith in Jesus’ power. 
            We can do the same.  We all have resources that Jesus has provided to us to give to someone in need.  A shoulder to cry on–a compassionate ear to listen to their worries–physical resources to meet their needs. 
Like Andrew, too often we see how little we have to give--and so we give nothing—but the little disciple in our text reminds us that though we may have little to give, if it is given in child-like faith, simply entrusting it into the hands of Jesus, it can meet the needs of others beyond our wildest imaginations.  Jesus told his disciples:
“Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
            We have heard the miracle of the loaves and fishes so many times over the years of Sunday school and church and I’m afraid because of that we don’t hear it anew.  But just imagine with me for a moment how the people must have experienced it that day. 
            You are seated in the midst of a crowd, people as far as you can see, and one guy way down in front lifts up the food to heaven, gives thanks to God for it, and begins to hand it out. 
            And then a miracle takes place.  Rather than being depleted by the distribution to the crowd, the food grows and grows and grows.  And by the time the meal is finished, with everyone holding their stomachs and groaning with satisfaction, there is more left over than what they started with. 
You can imagine how the murmurs of amazement in the crowd must have grown into shouts of joy and delight as they saw what was happening. A miracle!  A sign from heaven pointing directly to Jesus as the one whose open, outstretched hand provides for every living thing. 
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”  Perceiving then that they were to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountains by himself.
            Scripture had foretold of the prophet to come who would do greater miracles than Moses.  That is who the people knew Jesus to be and so they set out to make him king.  But Jesus would have none of it.  He knew what was in people’s hearts.  They wanted a “bread king”--someone who would always satisfy their physical needs. 
            We fall into the same temptation of wanting Jesus’ help for our needs but rejecting the salvation he offers and his lordship over our lives.  We too want to make him into a “bread king”.  But Jesus will not let that happen because he knows that “bread kings” ultimately destroy people’s souls—giving the people what they want instead of what they need.
            Jesus knows that we have a need that is greater than food and clothing and shelter—and that is the need for salvation.  Our own resources of good works and right intentions and serious resolutions to try harder are insufficient to meet that need.
Nothing that WE can do or we can say to God is going to change his verdict of guilty for our sins of hopelessness and materialism and doubt.  But God does provide a way of rescue in his Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus came into the world NOT JUST to provide healing and food for a time for a few-- but to provide forgiveness and salvation for eternity for all. 
            He lived a holy life in our place, always loving and caring for people and providing for people and he suffered the punishment for our selfishness and doubts and hopelessness on the cross.  His life’s blood was and is God’s perfection provision for our salvation. 
God invites us today to look up from our insufficiencies and failures, to turn our backs on hopelessness and despair, and to trust in Christ alone for our salvation. 
No sin of yours or mine or the entire world is enough to deplete the love and mercy of God that is bestowed upon us through in the crucified and risen body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Jesus Christ Is Our Perfect High Priest

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jesus Christ Is Our Perfect High Priest

Hebrews 5:1-9 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
            The role of the high priest in the Old Testament was to stand between the people of God and the Lord—to be a mediator who would offer sacrifices for the sins of the people and pray to God to forgive them.
His very presence was a living reminder that something had gone very, very wrong between mankind and God—that the perfect fellowship that God created in the beginning and intended to last forever had been lost along the way and now there was a distance between God and man on account of sin.
No longer could man come to God on his own—no longer could he expect to be heard by God—no longer could he live in the presence of a holy God.
And so God established the priesthood from Aaron’s family and ordered the worship life of the people of God in such a way that fellowship could be re-established between God and man by the service of priests. 
The priests and especially the high priests would come into the presence of God and confess the sins of the people of God and sacrifice an animal whose blood would atone for those sins.
Of course, we know (just like they did) that the blood of animals could never really pay for man’s sins but only had its power by pointing to the once for all sacrifice to come-- and so those sacrifices had to be repeated again and again, countless times over hundreds of years.
That was the job of the priests-- and even though they were specially chosen for this work, they were still no different than any of the other people in that they were sinners too. 
That gave them some compassion and understanding of the people’s weakness but it still ultimately left them in the same place—as needing someone to make things right for them too—someone who would truly reconcile them to God.  The Bible says:
Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.
            Once a year on the Day of Atonement, this cycle of sacrifice reached its culmination in the worship life of the people of Israel. 
A bull was slaughtered for Aaron’s sin and its blood was drained into a bowl.  He dipped his hands into this blood and sprinkled it on the cover of the ark and the front of the ark as a visible sign that it took the shedding of blood for sinners to come into the presence of the Lord.
   And then two goats were brought to Aaron and the first was killed for the sins of the people and then he took his bloody hands and laid them on the head of the second goat and confessed all the sins of Israel and it was led away out into the wilderness as a visible sign that their sins were taken away. 
The Lord demanded that the people were to worship in this way so that they would learn the wrath of God that demands a life for sin—but also the mercy of God that provides a substitutionary sacrifice of one life in place of another. 
All of it commanded by God down to the last detail so that God’s people would believe in the Savior to come who would be both the sacrifice and the priest who would make it once for all.  The Bible says that:
No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 
            Aaron did not take the office of priest for himself—he was chosen and called by God.  In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true high priest did not usurp an office that did not belong to him but was chosen by his Father to be the one who would offer up the once for all sacrifice that atoned for the sins of the world.
As great a man as was Aaron, as important as was his ministry of setting before the eyes of the people the promise of a Savior to come, he was only a servant compared to the very Son of God—Aaron was sinner like all the rest of God’s servants compared to God’s only-begotten Son.
The Bible says:  Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
That was who was needed if people were truly going to be reconciled to God—not the sacrifice of animals—not even the sacrifice of one sinner for another—but God’s holy, sinless Son going to the cross as our perfect substitute—able to bear the sins of the whole world and die for the sins of the whole world and atone for the sin of the whole world and reconcile the whole world to God because he was God himself.
Such is the incredible love that God has for us poor sinners that the heavenly Father chose his own Son to be the great high priest who would offer the sacrifice necessary to pay for our sins and bring us back to God who said about him:  “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 
Like every other priest before him and every other priest after him, Aaron served the Lord for a time and then died.  His high priestly work came to an end.  Jesus’ great high priestly work for us has not ended and in this he is like Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament.  The beginning of his story is not told nor do we hear of his death.  He reigned as king of Salem during the days of Abraham, the city of peace that would become Jerusalem. 
His name “Melchizedek” means the King of Righteousness but he was also a priest.  Abraham came to him and bowed before him and offered him a tithe.
In all this, Melchizedek is a picture of the Savior to come who is the righteousness of God personified-- and who rules a kingdom of peace-- and who is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. 
Jesus rules the world at this moment for the sake of his people-- and it is his righteousness that is our right standing before God-- and his high priestly work of intercession goes on for us every moment of our life as he lifts up his sacrifice for our sin and beseeches our heavenly Father for our salvation just as he did during his earthly ministry.  The Bible says:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
            Throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry, we see Jesus going about his high priestly work of interceding for and praying for his people.
Standing beside the grave of Lazarus and praying that people would believe in him as he gave life to a dead man; interceding for the church throughout the ages in the Upper Room; crying out to his heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as he is about to consume the cup of God’s wrath over our sins; and especially on the cross as he calls upon his Father to forgive us of our sins.
The Good News for us is that his heavenly Father heard and answered these prayers of his Son, our great high priest.  And so it continues to this moment and every moment until he come again as Jesus intercedes for our salvation. 
We are part of the on holy Christian church, united in the body of Christ just like he prayed for in the upper room.  We will be raised from our graves just like Lazarus was for Jesus in the resurrection and the life.  And our sins are forgiven just like Jesus prayed for on the cross, shedding his blood to wash them away. 
The Good News for us is that Jesus prays for us and his Father hears him and we are saved by his holy obedience and innocent death.  The Bible says:
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
            When Jesus came to be baptized by John, John was aghast and refused—he knew that Jesus had no sins that needed by be washed away and Jesus prevailed upon him and said that it was necessary that all righteousness be fulfilled and he was anointed in those waters by the Holy Spirit to be our prophet, priest and king.
That was God’s own declaration concerning his Son and yet Jesus continued to do everything spoken of him in the prophets—giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, and setting the prisoner free. 
He lived a perfectly holy life in our place, doing outwardly and inwardly everything that God requires of each of us.  He was tempted and remained faithful to his Father’s will.  And he suffered under every bit of his Father’s wrath over our sins and paid for every sin of every sinner who has ever lived.
As God’s Son he didn’t have to do any of this for himself but he did it for us, as our substitute, born under the demands of the law as we all are, making himself subject to it for our sake as one who took himself our flesh. 
He perfectly fulfilled, in his human flesh, everything that God expects of mankind and he did it so that through faith in him, his perfect, holy, obedience and righteousness could become our own.  That is what is necessary for us to be saved—to be holy as God himself is holy—and the only way for that to happen is to receive the holiness of God’s Son as our own through the obedience of faith that looks to our perfect high priest and trusts in his work on our behalf.  God grant it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Be Imitators of God

Ephesians 5:-9 Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
            In the beginning God created man in his image.  Adam and Eve were made to be reflections of him—and to live with him as his children.  They were not puppets on a string but children whose life with the Father was that of a loving family. 
But sin wrecked that that relationship that we were supposed to have with God.  Sin drove a wedge between God and man.  From that moment on:  man lived in fear of God rather than love—obeying out of compulsion rather than freedom.
But God never abandoned his plan.  Never.  God sent his Son Jesus who was what God intended all of us to be:  someone who freely, out of love, offered himself in every way to God—not out of compulsion or under threat-- but from love. 
The offering of his own life on the cross has begun to restore God’s purpose in us—so that now, believing in him we can begin to be what God created us and redeemed us to be:  children who love him—children whose lives are a reflection of his own—children whose lives are to be marked by holiness.  The Bible says:
Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 
            Couples who get married in this church must go through biblical, pre-marital counseling.  One of the topics we cover is sexuality from God’s perspective.  Most of them can remember the sixth commandment—that we are not to commit adultery—but most of them don’t really have a good grasp of “why” and often times their understanding of sexuality is much more formed by the culture than by Christ.
And so we cover the biblical basics:  that sexuality is God’s gift to be used within the parameters that God has established for one man and one women united in a lifetime marriage:  for the procreation of children, as the physical sign of the one flesh union that exists between them, as a guard against sexual sins, and so that man and woman would delight in one another.  This is God’s standard and anything else is sin—what the Bible calls “covetousness”. 
Now this may seem like an odd way to talk about sexual immorality.  But think about it:  covetousness is a sinful desire for that which is not ours.  And so when there is sexual activity outside the boundaries that God has established—there is a sinful desire for that which is not our own—and there must be a hint of that among Christians. 
What the Bible plainly says is very, very different than what so many parts of the church are saying.  There are church bodies that are allowing and approving sexual sin.  These churches have forfeited the right to be considered gathering places of the saints of God and instead have become temples that serve a perverted pagan culture.
Not only does the Bible forbid any and all sexual sin-- but it also forbids speech that degrades God’s gift of sexuality.  The Bible says:
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
            In 1936 Walter A. Maier, the first speaker of the Lutheran Hour wrote a book entitled “For Better, Not For Worse” that dealt with issues of marriage and family and sexuality.  Some of the chapters included “The Literature of Lust” about the dangers of popular fiction and newsstand magazines.  Another was entitled “Moronic Motion Pictures” about the dangers of the modern movies.  Another was entitled “Hazards of the New Age” one of which he said was the suggestive dance.
Now we may kind of smile to ourselves and think:  how naïve!  But do you want your children reading the magazines that are in plain view at the grocery store or taking their cue on sexuality from what they see on TV or imitating the dance moves on “Dances with the Stars”?  It’s not that Dr. Maier was naïve, it’s that we have become desensitized by the relentless assault on God’s gift of sexuality by the culture around us. 
Instead, the Bible says that we are to give thanks for God’s good gifts of marriage and children and sexuality.  The Bible says that when God brought Eve to Adam he said this at last is bone of bones and flesh of my flesh.  The Bible says that we are to delight in the wife of our youth.  The Bible says that we are to keep the marriage bed pure.
We have a responsibility to speak and live in such a way that those around us see marriage as a wonderful blessing--and regard children as a blessing to be received with thanksgiving and not guarded against- and recognize sexuality as a gift given by God.  We are called to live and speak in this way because there are terrible consequences to living outside of God’s will in these areas. The Bible says:
You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
            When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, he set before her a good thing:  the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It was a good thing but it was forbidden to her.  She knew it!  But rather than turning away at his temptation—rather than fleeing from his presence—she listened to him.  She said to herself:  it’s beautiful and it’s good for obtaining knowledge.  And she took of it and ate.  
She went from coveting that which was not her own, to standing in the place of God and deciding for herself what was right and wrong.  On account of her sin, she and Adam were cast out of the garden.
That is what the Bible is saying about sexual immorality:  it is a sinful desire for that which God has forbidden to us (whether that is homosexual activity or a couple living together outside of marriage or an affair or a divorce to marry another or pornography) and when we choose to engage in them we put ourselves in the place of God deciding for ourselves what is right for us.
There can be only one King in God’s kingdom and that is Jesus Christ.  He has made us his own and he wants us to take our rightful place in his kingdom.
But if we insist on being our own king, we cannot expect that he will allow a rebellion against his rightful rule.  Instead, we will find ourselves under his wrath and outside of his kingdom just as surely as Adam and Eve were cast out for the garden. 
Now, you know as well as I do that there are many places in the world and our culture and sadly even the church that say something very different.  Hear God’s warning about listening to those voices:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with
            The measure of everything that we believe about God’s good gift of sexuality is the Word of God. 
And so when we hear that:  homosexual marriage is a civil right—that marriage is based upon feelings that come and go rather than a lifetime commitment to live according to God’s commands—that being discreet and modest is puritanical—that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in the churches and their attitudes to sexuality--we take those “empty words” and we measure them against the Word of God. 
What God says is what we believe, teach, and practice as Christians and a congregation.
Not only are we to not listen to their lies—we are to have no partnership with them.  This is a solemn warning to those Christians who remain in apostate churches to come out of them--but it is also a warning to us who still believe the Word of God that we are not to receive any person as a brother or sister in Christ who practices sexual immorality—or practice Christian fellowship with any church where this goes on--but call them to repentance and faith in Jesus, with a humility that recognizes that all of us are susceptible to these temptations and all of us have failed.  The Bible says:
At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
            The Bible does not speak these words to perfect people—to people who have never failed in some way when it comes to their sexuality.  We all have in one way or the other.  But it does speak these words to people who can count these sins as those which are past—forgiven by Jesus on the cross and forgotten by his heavenly Father. 
These words direct our attention to the future and our lives as God’s children who do not walk in the darkness of this world’s lies about sexuality—but walk in the light of God’s Word that shows sexuality and marriage and family as great blessings from God.
As we walk in the light of God’s Word- and follow his counsel- and adopt his vision for us, there are great blessings for us.  The blessings of:  Marriages that are truly pictures of the love that exists between Christ and the church.  Families where children are received as a blessing rather than a burden.  Young people who live chaste and decent lives so that they can give themselves to their future spouses without shame and guilt. 
May God grant these blessings to the people of God in this place as we walk in light and love rather than darkness and selfishness!  Amen.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jesus Is Our Compassionate High Priest

Hebrews 4:14-16 We confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  We confess that there is one God in three persons.  We confess that the Bible is the Word of God and that all it teaches is true.  We confess that that this world is not all there is, that Jesus will come again, and that death is not the end.
But the challenge for all of us comes in holding fast to that confession of faith throughout our life so that it is not mere words but the shape of our life until we go to meet the Lord. 
And so we need the encouragement we have from God’s Word tonight that in Jesus Christ we have a compassionate high priest who knows our weaknesses and understands our struggles and has done everything necessary so that we will hold fast to our confession to the end and be saved.  The Bible says:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
            We know so many people who have begun their life in faith and ended it in unbelief.  Several weeks ago we heard Jesus tell us the Parable of the Sower and how the devil works to steal God’s Word from our hearts --and how we fail to put down deep roots of faith --and how we focus on the wrong things.
When we have these kinds of spiritual enemies inside of us and outside of us we can’t help but wonder and worry how we will ever be able to endure in faith and be saved.
And that is what’s necessary!  Jesus says that it is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Paul says that there are many who run the race and never finish or are disqualified along the way.
When we look around at how many lose their faith along the way to heaven --and when we understand how great our enemies are who would want us to be counted among them--how can we be confident that we will remain steadfast?
The Bible says that we have a great high priest who is the very Son of God.  Not just a wise teacher or kind pastor-- but the very Son of God who has laid down his life for us in the cross to restore us to God—a great high priest of power and might and glory and wisdom and power who is right now doing everything in this power to keep us in faith and bring us to our heavenly home.
The death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is our assurance that Jesus lives for no other purpose than to make sure we hold fast to our confession all our days and enter into eternal life.
And our great comfort, especially when we consider our frail we are and how often we fall along the way, is that this same mighty, glorious, powerful, wise King is compassionate towards us and will not give up on us along the way.  The Bible says:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
            The great mystery and wonder of the incarnation is that God himself, in the second Person of the Holy Trinity took upon himself our flesh in the womb of his blessed Mother and became one of us in every possible way except for our sin.
When the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary, one cell became two cells, and two cells become four and four became eight and eight became sixteen and so it went as a baby began to grow and develop within her in exactly the same way as every other baby. 
When Jesus was born he was as helpless as every other baby and his mother cared for him as our mother cared for us.  He had to learn how to eat with utensils and how to crawl and walk and run and write his ABC’s.  He was happy and sad, tired and lonely, excited and bored like every one of us.
Jesus, our great high priest knows just exactly what it means to be human and what it means to face our struggles and live our life because he was one of us including facing temptation.
            On the first Sunday in Lent we heard about the temptation of our Lord, that he was tempted in every way just as we are.  From our very parents down to this moment and the people sitting in these pews every one of us have faced temptations and fallen to those temptation again and again.  Every person in the human family save one—Jesus Christ.
He knows about our temptation and what that means for us not just because he is omniscient, but because he faced them as well—with ne important difference:  where we have all fallen, he did not.  He took his stand upon the Word of God and remained faithful and his faithfulness is not only our example, it is our righteousness before God.
His faithfulness in times of temptation is given to us as a gift in place of our failures ad it avails in God’s sight for salvation but it also means that our crucified and risen and ascended glorious king is able to understand and sympathize with what we have to face as fallen people and his compassion leads him to reach out to us with his mercy and forgiveness for every time we fail and so we can come to him in our need and brokenness.  The Bible says:  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace
When Adam and Eve fell victim to temptation in the garden they fled from God and hid from God in shame and fear.  What they did to hide their guilt was wholly insufficient.  But God sought them out and God forgave them and God made a blood covering to hide their shame, promising that there was one to come who would destroy the works of Satan that led to their ruin.
That is who Jesus is and that is what Jesus has done.  He is the sacrifice whose blood washes away all our sins and he is the priest who makes that sacrifice with his own body on the cross.
There is absolutely no reason for us to hide from him in fear and shame and guilt—absolutely no reason to think for a second that we must do something to make things right with God by the work of our hands.  Jesus Christ has done that for us and so when we fail and when we sin we can draw near to his throne of grace.
And yet we know how often we are tempted to ignore that gracious invitation.  The devil tells us that Jesus will never forgive that sin or that there is some kind of forgiveness limit that we have already met.  But those are the devil’s lies.
Jesus lives and reigns at this moment on a throne of grace for the very purpose of forgiving us and welcoming us back into our Father’s house and restoring to us all that sin and Satan have robbed from us.
The throne of our great high priest is one of grace and not judgment-- and grace is exactly what we can expect to receive as we come to him with our sins and weaknesses and failures—grace to help in time of need.  The Bible says that we come to Jesus:  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When we come to Jesus with our sins and guilt and shame what we receive in their place is his mercy.  Mercy is the kindness and love and help that the powerful show to the weak and that is exactly who Jesus is and exactly who we are.
Our great high priest has defeated death and the devil and he rules the universe at this moment for the sake of his people, causing everything to work for our eternal good.  Jesus wants us to not only begin in faith but end in faith.  Jesus wants us to have all of the blessings—both earthly and eternal that are rightfully ours as children of God.  But he also knows and understands everything in our life that keeps us from enjoying those blessings and that trip us up along the way.
And so when we come to him in prayer, confessing our sins and throwing ourselves on his mercy.  His blood forgives us all our sin and keeps on forgiving throughout our lives.  But we also receive help so that we can go forward in life in a way that is better and more Christ-like than we have gone before.
He speaks to us in the pages of Holy Scripture so that we know better his will and are encouraged to follow it.  He feeds us with his own body and blood to strengthen our faith and remind us all that he did for our salvation.
He gives us pastors and teachers and fellow Christians who will instruct us and admonish us when needed and set an example for us to follow.
As we turn to him again and again we will always find a compassionate high priest who stands ready to meet our needs.  Amen.