What The Future Holds


December 5th, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent-HL,
December 4th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Romans 15:4]

the_end_book
The Song you just heard, “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” by Ronnie Milsap, will act as our audio and mental hook to hang our message on this morning. In spite of Ronnie’s desire and probably most people’s desire to remain ignorant of the end of all things, God does indeed in His Word tell us how the story ends; He tells us what the future holds. And what it holds should give you hope.

What a treasure scripture is in our hands.

With it, we can search through the will of God like a detective searches through his case file, or as a student looks through their notebook, as they prepare for an exam. God gave his people His plan for life. How happy the devil is when God’s people are ignorant or neglect that plan. How angry he becomes when we make faithful use of it. Do you want to frustrate the devil? Keep remembering and proclaiming just how close we all are to the Last Day and to Christ’s judgment over evil, and rejoice in the truth that God is in control.

The Word of God speaks in some places about how, as the world nears its end, children will turn against their parents and parents will turn against their children. Our world is full of examples that this happens and is happening even now. Parents commit the ultimate in child abuse—when they neglect their children’s souls. They don’t care where their children will spend eternity. They’ll spend money for their children’s bodies, education, and entertainment, but they neglect to tell their children the commands and laws of God, to talk about them on the way, to write them in their homes and on their hearts.

But there are also those parts of scripture that declare that as the final day grows closer and closer, parents and children will be talking to each other and turning to each other. There will be good families. God will see to it! In our day when we sometimes feel like despairing because there are no good families left, there are good families. Families do pray together and do stay together through life. This is the greatest turning together of hearts, parents talking to their children about the Savior, children talking to their parents. Their hearts are being touched by the only thing that changes hearts, the Word of God.

In our Old Testament lesson (Malachi 4:1-6), which is the very last book of the Old Testament, the very last Word it speaks is one of prophecy; a Word that tells us how the story ends. But the end will come as a time of hope for God’s children of faith who are baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. And this hope will restore families and bring strength to the faithful as we wait for the end of the story. But before we go to the end, we must start in the beginning of God’s New Testament of hope.

In the fullness of time Christ came to our world.

Every thing that had taken place before pointed forward to this singular event. And everything that has happened since finds its meaning and importance through Christ. Even right now, this particular moment in history has its goal in Christ. “He is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” [Acts 10:42] Whether we believe it or not, all of us are moving forward to the great day when we shall meet the Lord.

This is why God asks us to believe that there is definite meaning in all of world history. Throughout our history, it has been both God’s command and desire that the Gospel be preached to all people. The great net of the kingdom of God must be drawn through the sea of time, and at last the great catch will be cast upon the shore, where all the evil and the righteous will be separated from one another.

But to say that the movement of history has meaning is not the same as saying that we can understand or discern that meaning. Each of us have grown accustomed to believing as our culture teaches us, that the world is moving forward and upward, and that little by little things will be getting better, and that it will become increasingly easier to live.

Perhaps some of you are fans of Gene Rodenberry’s utopian portrayal of mankind in the 24th century, as described in the various presentations of Star Trek. Within Rodenberry’s fictional account of mankind, through technology, humankind has progressed to a point where there is no more hunger, racism, and economic status; position and status has been nullified, and even war no longer exists on the planet earth.

But the Word of God gives a more realistic view. It is true that technology and science have made incredible strides forward. Man has been given dominion over nature and even over the vast universe. But this does not mean that evil is less active. Evil too has made vast steps forward; evil too can utilize technology and science.

As time moves forward, the battle of evil becomes bitterer against Christ and His church. Wars become more brutal, and the catastrophes of world history become more destructive. The Book of Revelation paints this kind of picture very vividly and also makes it very clear why things do not get better in spite of all the warnings God gives. People simply do not wish to repent! They continue in their former foolishness and sin. As the end draws near things will get worse, says Jesus: “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” [Matthew 24:12] Our observations after two world wars, two police actions, and now an international war on terror in our generation ought to have taught us how true our Lord’s warning is.

But our hope is not defined by the world around us but by the very Word of God that tells us how the story ends.

Knowing how the story ends helps us live out our part of the story with hope.

Today you have heard it declared that the Sun of righteousness will rise soon above what seems to be dark and ominous skies. This is the very news that gives us hope; it is what we the church, have been looking for and waiting for. There has long been that pre-dawn glow in the sky, and so we know that the Sun is coming. We who once lived in darkness have seen a great light. Now it peeks above the horizon and soon it will leap into the sky in all of its splendor. It brings healing too; an eternal presence that no longer knows sickness, disease, poverty, violence, or even pain. The utopia that so many long for becomes a reality. As this Sun of our righteousness rises we can bask our cold stiff joints, limbs, and hearts in its glow. It heals and restores. It brings eternal life!

Besides this wonderful, warming Sun there is the picture of calves released from their stalls after being penned up all winter. They feel good. They want to run and jump for the sheer joy of it. That’s the way it is even now with Christ’s people, you the baptized who understand and appreciate that Christ’s birth, life, death upon the cross and the empty tomb has set them free.

No sick calf feels like jumping, but we have been healed in the blessed waters of our baptism. The sickness of sin is past! Our spirits feel good! They want to kick and frolic in God’s sunshine forever—and they shall! Nothing can hold us back. We the saints stream into our final pasture. The Good Shepherd has kept his word. All is well and good. And that truth, knowing how the story ends makes all of the difference.

In life as we wait, we wait in hope. We gladly work to love God with all of our being; we greatly desire to love our neighbor as our self, in fact these things have become our passion. We desire to live a life that demonstrates the love of God to others, because in Christ, God first loved us!

The truth is friends, our outlook for the future would seem rather hopeless, if there were no Christ.

But now even this is woven into God’s good plans for us who love His Christ. And these plans, culminate in the victory of Christ and a new world where no sorrow or crying or tears shall be. And so compelled by the Holy Spirit, we confidently live our lives refusing to sink into despair or drop out of life when all the things Scripture warn us of begin to happen. Instead we can lift up our heads. Now our redemption is drawing near. Now the Son of our eternal summer is approaching. And so we remain awake and alert. We remain steadfast, both in calm moments and in the middle of life’s storms. And we also continue to be soberly realistic.

With the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, we will not panic when things seem to be moving toward catastrophe. These moments of tragedy must take place, but they alone do not mean that the end is at hand. But if it does come, if and when the end happens, we simply remember that all is happening exactly as our God warned us it would. Heaven and earth may pass away, but never God’s Word, nor he who believes it and holds fast to it.

May you always cling to Christ and His Word until that very hour… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Do You Say He Is?

November 27th, 2016

First Sunday of Advent-HL,
November 27th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.” [Jeremiah 23:6b]

img_0040Who do you say Jesus is? This maybe the most important question you could be asked, and it is critical that you not only know the answer, but that you believe it. Today, many people love to give an answer that they feel comfortable with; an answer that won’t offend and offers hope in a way that they feel will be most appreciated. But God will not allow you to be comfortable with any answer but His own. Jesus is not simply your source of strength in trying times; Jesus is not your illustration to prove a political point; Jesus is not your last resource in desperate times. You see, Jesus alone is your only source of righteousness before God the Father; Jesus is our righteousness.

This morning, if you say that Jesus is your King, well very good, but what do you mean by that?

You see, He is more that just someone great who rules over your life. He is more than “your” king. By His birth He is the Son of David, and the people who called out to Him in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:1-9), were correct in acknowledging Him as their true King. But He is oh so much more that the King of the Jews.

He is a king indeed, and there is none other like Him; He has a kingdom that is not of this world, and it is the type of Kingship that will last forever. The subjects of other kings must humbly come to them, but this King comes to His subjects, humbly seated upon a donkey. Other kings draw all of their income from their subjects, but this King gives all that He has and is to a people who do not seek Him, nor do they care to know Him as He truly is.

This King has a proper title that also defines His person; He is the Christ. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which we translate as Messiah. Both words mean “the Anointed One,” or if you prefer “the Crowned One,” or better yet, “the King.” It was the Jewish name for the Lord who God had promised through the prophets. It was upon His shoulders that the government would rest, and His Kingdom would be established and upheld “with righteousness for this time forth and forevermore.”

When the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), this was a tribute to the Messiah of God. The church today offers the same tribute to our Lord today, on this first Sunday in Advent, and also on Palm Sunday. The lessons for this Sunday say the same as our own Hosanna: Jesus is the Christ, He is God’s Messiah, the Promised One that will come again, our King, the Lord of the whole creation. He alone is our righteousness!

“So you are a king?” Pilate asked. And Jesus answered: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world.” It was no accident that Jesus was born of the lineage of David, of royal blood. And yet He was not Just a descendant of royalty. He himself says to the Pharisees that even David called Him Lord. This King existed in the time of David, and even before Abraham was, and He is Lord over all. All of history before and after His birth had its goal in Him. Since humankind has risen in defiance of God, God has planned this way—the only possible way of salvation for His children. In the fullness of time God sent His Son. All of the long preparation of Israel has its meaning only because it pointed forward and prepared the way for Christ.

Through the entrance of Christ into the world something decisive took place in history. And it is a this place that every human being is forced to make a decision. To answer the one great question: Who do you say that He is? We can either confess with St. Peter that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God or we can scoff at the question and turn down God’s great invitation to turn to this Christ and His cross for eternal life.

The enemies of Jesus felt that this was a place where commitment was called for. Their chief accusation against Him was: He claims to be the Messiah, a king. For a long time they did their level best to avoid the question of who Jesus is. When they were face to face with the power of His mighty acts they declared that He was in league with the devil and that He practiced sorcery. Finally the high priest asked a direct question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And when Jesus answered that He was, they condemned Him to death. [Mark 14:61] They really had only two choices, the same choices we have; either they must acclaim Him as King and Messiah, or they must declare that He was a liar and a blasphemer. The high priest chose the latter rather than the former. Which do you choose? They would not submit to the power of Jesus, will you?

How you make your choice depends on if you see Jesus as your only source of righteousness; that is if you see Him as the only way you can be acceptable before a perfect and mighty God.

This morning, the psalmist (Psalm 24), asks us a very important question: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” And before we can have time to formulate an answer, He gives it to us: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Is there any hope for you; can you accomplish these things? Did you know that it is God’s deepest desire for you that you will? God is so serious about having you ascend to His place reserved for you, this paradise restored, that He encourages you with these promised blessings once you arrive: “He (who ascends) will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Is God speaking to you? Yes, He is. Listen: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” The time is now, and the generation is yours, and all you must do is seek Him in the way He can be found.

This morning, God declares to you that if you can not boldly declare that you are the person who can stand before Him with out guilt or fear, if you are not the person with clean hands and someone who has no deceit in them, then you are almost ready to ascend the holy hill of the Lord. All that you lack is God’s provision to be righteous before Him. And now, hear the good news: Jesus is that provision’ Jesus is your King and source of righteousness.

Jesus is called the King of glory because he is true God and because he has defeated all the enemies of God’s people. He came in glory when he entered the world as a baby, born to die for our sins, but his glory was concealed, except to the eyes of faith. Many of the people of Israel did not recognize Christ’s glory when he came, and they still refuse to welcome him today. When Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he received a royal welcome, but it was superficial and short-lived—yet he will not be deprived of the honor due him.

When the psalmist urges the gates of Jerusalem to open wide so that the King may enter, he is really inviting all of God’s people to welcome their King with joy when he comes. Jesus comes in glory now through the gospel, and we welcome him with joy when we receive that Word in faith. Jesus’ glory will be more openly displayed when he comes to judge the world. When Jesus returns, the angels will gather all believers so that all of us can welcome him. [1 Thessalonians 4:14] When Jesus returns in glory, He will receive from his people a royal welcome that will last forever.

But how do you know that you are counted as one of His people? Because you have been baptized in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of this work of God, you have both a desire and an ability given through the Word of God to not only know this King, but to be numbered as one of His beloved. In Holy Baptism, you put on Christ, or rather, He was put on you. On that day the Holy Spirit of God began to dwell in you richly. And now God, invites you to daily “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, (or) to gratify its desires.” [Romans 13:14] That is everyday, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life that glorifies and pleases God.

In holy baptism Jesus brings you into His rule of righteousness.

The effect of His rule of righteousness is promised to be dramatic. Judah would be saved; Israel would dwell in safety. These are pictures of confidence, certainty, and peace. Such security and well-being are conveyed along with the righteousness of Christ, the forgiveness of sins given to every repentant baptized sinner. This picture describes the peace that the work of Christ brings to the believing child of God. The believer has peace because of the final word of Christ’s promise.

The cause of their peace and its guarantee, its true character, are revealed by the name that the Lord gives to the Messiah: The Lord Our Righteousness. This is the whole gospel, the whole message of Scripture, summed up in a few precious words. The Lord himself is our righteousness. For that to be true, the Lord himself must have become one of us, having taken all that we are upon himself.

These words point us to the Christmas miracle of the incarnation, the Word of God made human flesh. But they also point to that most comforting truth: not only is the Messiah righteous in himself, but through his perfect life of obedience, His suffering and death and rising to life, He won for us justification and reconciliation with God, through the forgiveness of sins. What He is and what He has done, he has done for us, and it is given to us a gift, the gift of righteousness, a righteousness that we could never have gained for ourselves. Here is the way that allows you to ascend God’s Holy hill; here is the door that opens paradise and keeps it open: The Lord is our righteousness; yes, the Lord is my righteousness; the Lord is your righteousness. What He did, He did for you. And this is what He gives to you in holy baptism: He has made you His own. This is your certainty, your hope, your confidence: the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Now that you know God’s only answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”, it is time for you to answer for yourself. What God has spoken and done here today is for your own eternal salvation; that is, your eternal salvations depends on the answer that you give. And so Christ asks you here and now: “But who do you say that I am?” [Mark 16:15]

The King’s Judgment is Final!


November 21st, 2016

Last Sunday of the Church Year-HL, November 20th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

” Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. ” [Matthew 25:1-2]

cross theologyThe Last Sunday of the Church year always gives us hope; hope in the eternal life and the Paradise that is prepared and waiting for us. But inevitably some will always focus on the judgment and condemnation rather than the picture of hope. They seem to bypass the message of joy that awaits us when we join Jesus, our Christ and King, and instead they focus on the foolish or condemned, which is personified in verse 12 of our reading: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

So with this in mind let’s address immediately why Jesus says to one group that waits for His return that He does not know them.

Those who wait for eternal life can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise. What separates the two? In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps.

Both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet. Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet. Friends, the oil in the lamp represents God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins. And this oil or grace must be purchased or received only as God has determined. “But isn’t God’s grace free” you may counter? Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it! How?

Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time. If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word and Sacraments! Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours; that you are already judged righteous and worthy to enter Paradise. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of (Jesus) Christ!” [Romans 10:17]

The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil. What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it? They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet. They would have been just as foolish as the other five. So the oil, or faith in Jesus is the evidence that your mansion in paradise is waiting for you. To understand what Paradise will be like let’s allow the Prophet Isaiah to show us.

Through Isaiah, God has given each of us a glimpse at His new heavens and earth; it’s a paradise that is so unique, so beautiful, so wondrous, that the “former things (of this world) shall not be remembered” (Is 65:17).

In this new creation, neither the sound of weeping nor the cries of fear nor pain will be heard (v 19). This glorious new life in Christ will never be cut short by death. Predator and prey will dwell together in harmony: “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together” (v 25). Carnivores would once again be herbivores: “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (v 25). Once again, animals will live together in peace. People will live in peace. People and animals will once again walk together without fear of each other. Just as God had created the original creation, so there will be no destruction or violence in this new world. There will be no crime or terrorism. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (v 25). In this creation, God will preserve mankind and the angels from falling into sin. Never again will sin, Satan, or death threaten God’s creation.

This new creation isn’t just a future hope, but it’s also a present reality. Christ has completed the work of the new creation upon the cross. Already, right now, you are a new creation. You’re no longer bound by sin and death. With new life created by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, the old has passed away for you. St Paul says it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]

We live in the time of “now, but not yet.” God’s new creation is a present reality for us, but the totality of His new creation has not yet been revealed to us. As a result, the old sinful Adam still lives alongside your new baptized nature in a constant daily struggle. We can plainly see that we live in a world ripe with the consequences of sin, a world engulfed with the division and suffering that won’t exist in the new world. And as we experience the consequences of sin—sickness, suffering, pain, and death—all of creation groans right along with us as we await the redemption of our bodies. [Romans 8:22–23]

What the Lord describes through Isaiah is simply the mixing of the New Testament church in this world with the church triumphant in eternity. Old Testament prophets often viewed the future without distinctly specifying the first or second coming of the Messiah. It’s as if Isaiah saw the church as a great mansion with a massive courtyard around it. The mansion itself represents the home of the church triumphant and at rest, the eternal Jerusalem that waits for all believers. The courtyard is gated and walled because the Lord protects all within. Yet those in the courtyard have not yet entered the mansion. They wait because they represent the church in action, believers who still live in this world. God’s prophets see them both at once. But once we leave this broken sinful world where the courtyard exists and enter the King’s mansion in paradise, we won’t remember the former troubles and difficulties that we leave behind. We will be glad and rejoice forever! We know that this new Paradise restored exists and is waiting for us because God has said so. Although we wonder about it and sometimes have doubts while we wait in the courtyard, God has devised a way to help us wait in confidence. We wait by faith, which is always created by God’s Word and Sacraments and sustained in prayer.

We live sustained by the Word of God and prayer. We listen to the Lord as he speaks to us in His Word. When we face trouble, heartache, and danger, we don’t wait alone, but we wait together as the church, as a congregation, and we wait in prayer. Verse 24 provides powerful encouragement to pray; listen: “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” As we believers wait in God’s courtyard, we call out to Him in every trouble. And He promises to hear our prayer and respond!

But as we wait we also have one eye always on the judgment of Christ the King. This judgment will always loom with a degree of fear, but God does not desire us to be afraid or uncertain about our own judgment but instead we are to be afraid for those who do not wait in the same faith that sustains us. This is why we gladly give our witness of God’s love to all who are willing to hear. So what does God’s Word say about the final judgment? Well…

The Final Judgment is just that… final!

There will be a day of judgment, “because (God) has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed.” [Acts 17:31] It will come for all of us, and on that day, Jesus the Son of Man “will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations.” [Matthew 25:31] Before Him will be gathered all peoples and all ethnicities. And all who are in their graves will arise and be gathered before Him.

This will be the final judgment. None beyond this will be held. There is no higher court so to speak, that a person may appeal to. That day “when God has endured with much patience” all the evil of the world will come to an end. There will be a separation forever from God for those who would not come to Christ, and the door to paradise will be closed forever.

And what about the judgment? Well, it will be carried out in accordance with the deeds we have done. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one (of us) may receive good or evil, according to what (we have done) in the body.” [2 Corinthians 5:10] But scripture also states that this judgment will be given out according to our faith in Jesus. For Jesus clearly says, “… he who believes in (Me) has eternal life.” [John 3:15] Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish and will not be brought to condemnation.

There is no contradiction in this. Our deeds are the kind of work that we do by faith. Our works reveal whether there is faith or not. And among those things that God seeks of us and expects of us is that we should believe in Him and His Son, Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. When we ask what should we do to do the works of God, Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.” [John 6:29] And to love God above all else, which is the chief commandment; this can only be done through Jesus Christ.

But we must remember that neither our love for God nor our love for our neighbor will ever be so strong that we can stand innocent of guilt before the judgment seat of God. This is why in Christ, God has atoned for all of our sins and has made it possible for us by faith in Christ to be partakers both of forgiveness and eternal life. To be found with faith in Christ then is first and foremost.

With Christ, life and good deeds will always follow. The thief on the cross could no longer do good, yet he was saved. But the person who has an opportunity to serve his neighbor for the sake of Christ will always do just that; it will simply be natural. A person of faith doesn’t think highly of his own deeds, and you won’t even bring it up on the day of judgment. You will be surprised and shocked when you hear about all of your good works that God was pleased with. But for now, we simply live life here in the courtyard as poor sinners who hope for mercy for the sake of Christ. And because of this grace centered thinking that is focused “on Christ,” we dear saints remember that in Christ there is no condemnation. [Romans 8:1]

And so we wait with one foot in the courtyard, which we can call the “church in action” and another foot in the King’s mansion, which we can call paradise, or the church triumphant and at rest. And while we wait, we are ever watchful because we do not know the hour that our King and Lord Jesus Christ will call us home and speak the judgment: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy (and rest) of your Master.” [Matthew 25:21]

Are You Ready For The Rending?


November 14th, 2016

Twenty Fifth Sunday After Trinity-HL, November 13th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence” [Isaiah 64:1]

isaiah-42-1-o-that-you-would-rend-the-heavens-red-copyAre you ready for the rending; for Christ to come again? He has done everything to prepare you for that momentous day. For you the baptized who are fed His Word and Sacrament right here in this place, He has given you faith to see the day of His return as a day of joy. But for those who lack this gift of faith, for those who can not or will not find His grace sufficient as promised in His Word, the day that Jesus rends the heavens will be a terrifying day of judgment. On that day, the God that burned with anger on Mt. Horeb will return, and this time there will be no relenting in His anger and punishment.

In our Old Testament reading [Exodus 32:1–20] we find that the incredible blunder and sin of the people of Israel was almost enough to move God towards wiping out the entire lot of them, men, women, children, and even little babies from the face of the earth. He was ready to start over and only allow Moses to survive. Why?

Because they forgot. They forgot about the One true, only almighty God that had rescued them from severe bondage in Egypt. They forgot that God had been their God since the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They forgot the signs and wonders God used to accompany them through the wilderness so that they could gather around Mt. Horeb and receive the covenant promises of God. It is incredible that these people should forget so quickly the mighty work of their Savior-God. What happened?

Sin happened. All throughout God’s Word we are reminded that sin, our sin and other folks sin strikes when it is least expected, and often times it is committed by people who should know better; people who have experienced the Lord’s abundant mercy.

So in the midst of their sin of false worship, God speaks to Moses and says, “Go down to your people now and watch me destroy them.” With these Words, God is putting Moses to the test; He is seeing what the character of Moses’ faith is, and He is testing Moses trust in God’s call to lead the people. And Moses stands the test! He serves as a true shepherd and mediator between and angry God and a sinful people. “Why should your anger burn against your people,” Moses replies, “whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?” And finally Moses uses perhaps his most persuasive argument, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel….” Remember the promises you made to the fathers of this people! And the Lord who is faithful to all of His promises, “relented” and did not carry out His threat to destroy Israel.

God did not change His mind. The God of all grace, who has promised to hear the prayers of His children, wants them to hold Him to His Word of promise. He wants us to do the same in our time of need. St. Paul puts it this way: “No matter how many promises God has made, they are Yes in Christ. And so through Him the Amen is spoken by us to the glory of God.” What a comfort for us who trust in God’s mercy by faith. By faith we can turn to the same Lord in times of trouble and simply hold Him to His Word. This truth comes out clearly in our Gospel reading (Matthew 24:15-28).

In our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus warns His little lambs about a terrible day that will soon come after His return to heaven. It will be a day that signals that Jesus is coming again in anger to judge and punish the sinful world, and this time He will not relent..

In the year 70 AD the abomination of desolation occurred just before Jerusalem and the temple fell to the Romans. It took place when the Zealots, who held the temple under arms supposedly to protect from it Roman Army, allowed a non-Jewish group of rabble rousers known as the Idumeans entry into the temple. Once in, fighting broke out within the temple, even within the Holy of Holies and the blood of over 8,000 people was shed.

News of this atrocity spread quickly throughout the city, and because Jesus had warned His disciples of this event, most if not all the Christian-Jews within Jerusalem were able to escape the city before the Roman siege took place. And as history tells us, all of Jerusalem was destroyed, along with the temple and its way of worship. The Old Covenant religion given to man by God on Mt. Horeb had come to an end.

If we were to look for a physical sign of the birth of the Christian New Covenant Church that would exist throughout the world, this would be the time. Jesus knew all of this and warned His little lambs that the wrath of God, which He relented from at Mt. Horeb, would finally come and put an end to the Old Covenant promises; a covenant that the people of Israel had broken time and time again. But these new children of Abraham, who were children by faith would be safe because they trusted in Christ alone!

Christ has come and Christ will come again!

This was the mantra of the early church and it still is today. Christ will come again. Jesus has said so time and time again with promises like this: “Hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” And “The Son of man shall return in the glory of His Father, and then He shall repay every man for what he has done.”

This teaching is irrevocably bound together with the fact that Jesus is the Son of God who became man, who redeemed all things, and then rose again, and through all of this He brought forth a new humanity and a new creation. In the drama of salvation there remains only the final scene, His rending; His return in power and glory. This is what the Bible speaks of as “His coming again.”

When will His coming again happen? Jesus was very explicit in stating that no one knows the time, not even the angels in heaven. And none will ever know until it happens. We His disciples, His little lambs, have been warned that it’s coming; that we must live by faith. We must remain dressed for action and our lamps must always be burning. We are to be like servants who are waiting for their master, and we must stay awake so that we may open the door to Him immediately when He comes and knocks. And Jesus stresses this truth with these Words: “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. In a time you do not expect the Son of man will appear. That day will come like a snare upon the whole earth.”

But you dear saints can rest easy in faith, because you know that God has indeed placed a limit on the amount of sin and suffering, and the time that this world has left; the earth will have its final day. And when this day comes, it will be the beginning of a new age, a new creation, and a new beginning in our collective history. This day of the Lord will “come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved by the fire of the Lord, and the earth and all that is upon it will be burned up, in a twinkling of the eye.” We know that God with a single Word and just a movement of His finger can destroy everything that He has created.

But why does God wait? Isn’t there already too much evil in this world? Yes, and all of it will meet its end when Christ comes again! The Bible has given us an answer to help explain why God seems to be taking His time: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9] This evil world remains because of the mercy of God. There is great reason to trust in God’s promises and have courage. We can be certain that God still has work to do among us. There are still souls to be won for Christ and saved for the Kingdom of God.

Dear saints, the church does not live in a vacuum; we can not deny the turmoil that our nation is facing right this moment because of a divided election that has taken place. But whether the person you voted for won or lost, you are not to identify with those emotions that are being poured out on the streets and the cyber-world of social media. You are to be above the anger, hate, and fear, because you serve the One true Saving God, Jesus Christ. You serve Him knowing that all will be well with you and those who also trust in His promises. So you have a message of hope and peace to declare in the midst of the turmoil.

The truth is, no one knows when Christ will come again. But there are signs that we are to look for; signs that will preceded His return. They will be the last phase in the battle between God and the forces of evil. Nation will rise against nation, people against people. Famine, war, and catastrophes will be upon the face of the earth, and brutality will increase. Hmmm… does that sound familiar?

Many people today and tomorrow will refuse to read these signs, and that is where you come in; you must help them by speaking of a forgiving God who is coming again very soon. They will try to reassure themselves through political action that soon enough if they work hard enough, everything will be alright in their world, but it really wont be; things will only get worse. So you are to remind them that we have a mediator who is greater than Moses: Jesus Christ, who “bore the sins of many, and made intercessions for the transgressors.” [Isaiah 53:12] And concerning this Jesus the very Son of God, the writer of Hebrews declares, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” [Hebrews 7:25] And when He comes again, when He rends the heavens, in an instant, He will raise the dead, transform the believers into His likeness and then bring to effect our final deliverance.

Let’s pray… O Lord Jesus, You have revealed to us the manner of Your return. Therefore we pray, keep us watchful for You so we do not follow those who seek to deceive us. Amen

Eternal Life: Now/Not Yet

November 7th, 2016

Twenty Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, November 6th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

eternal-lifeThis morning, St. Paul speaks for all true pastors, “(We have not ceased in) giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light.” [Colossians 1:12]

Now that is good news. God the Father has qualified you in Holy Baptism, through the cross of Jesus Christ to share in the inheritance of heaven, as and with the saints in light. So behold a host, arrayed in white; behold the saints with palms; behold the saint gathered also to receive holy communion, yonder there they stand. Can you see them? Sure you can, with eyes of faith, but for right now you cant see them with your physical eyes. But one day, soon and very soon, maybe sooner than you think you will not only actually and visually perceive them, but you will be them. In fact, God’s Word tells us that we the baptized are a part of them right now!

You do believe in eternal life don’t you? I only ask because those eggheads known as the Sadducees during the time of Jesus, didn’t believe.

At one time, they even tried to embarrass Jesus by asking Him a double pronged question about who in heaven would be the husband of a woman who had had several spouses in this world. Their question showed, said Jesus, that they understood neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

You see, Holy Scripture teaches that after the resurrection we will live in a new age and in a new manner of life, “like angels,” within a new Paradise where heaven and earth have become one. We will still be individuals in that new life, with our being and even with a new body. St. Paul calls it a “spiritual” body as a way to help us keep our new bodies distinct from our present ones. Our new bodies will not know sickness nor disease, fatigue nor temptation. But at the present time, we still must live in and be thankful for our “physical” body, even though we may even right now be experiencing sickness, disease, temptation, and fatigue. Why? Because our bodies right now are being animated by the life which God in creation bound together with the brain, the nerves, and the living substance of our tissue and limbs. So in other words, this life, our lives are gifts from God! But even so, these bodies are destined to die.

But in the resurrection God will give us a new body, like the body of Jesus after His resurrection. Life in that new body is similar to the very life of Christ. So, in regards to this truth, God confronts us this morning, He confronts our fears of death in this physical world with these Words we read in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 51:9-16), “Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker? (You) who are bowed down (in old age, in sickness and disease, in temptation and fatigue) shall speedily be released, (you) shall not die and go down to the pit, and neither shall (God’s care for you) be lacking.”

This morning, each of us finds our selves very much in a similar situation as the ruler and the woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 9:18-26).

We are similar in that all that we have to place our trust in is Jesus. You have not really seen with your own eyes the power that this Son of God has, but you have heard Word of who He is and what power He has. For the ruler who’s daughter had died, this meant having faith in a Messiah who was even Lord over death. For the woman with the blood disease, it meant believing that Jesus is the Great Physician, who can heal disease and sickness.

But you are dissimilar to these two people of faith in that the Word of God, the promises of God are far more numerous and specific than the ones they had to go on. Notice, I did not say more powerful, because where ever the Word of God is, there is all of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in power and in strength. But the specificness and completeness of all of God’s promises have shown you an even greater miracle. Jesus is also the Lord of eternal life.

Because all of God’s Word is yours by faith, you now can put your trust in the truth that through Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, God has atoned for your sins, removed them from you as far as the east is from the west. Through His life blood, Jesus has ransomed the world out of the prison and punishment of hell, and in your baptism He has done this great work just for you. But that is not all. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, He promises that you too, like those saints that died in their baptismal faith before you, shall also rise from the dead in a new body to live in a new paradise.

So for us, by faith, eternal life is something that has already begun even in this fallen and sinful world.

But our eternal life is hidden in our faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Christ dwells with the saints in heaven with His life-giving spirit, so too, He dwells with us right now in the same manner, in Word and Sacrament. We live by faith and they live by sight.

On the blessed day of our baptism we were clothed in Christ and we have grown together with Him since then, so that one day we might also share with Him a resurrection that is like His. This is why Jesus can promise you that, because you believe in His work and gifts for you, you too shall obtain eternal life. But Jesus can also say, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:3] “…He who hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life; He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” [John 3:36; John 5:24; Romans 6:13]

This morning in our prayers, we will speak/hear the names of our loved ones, saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus. When we speak of them, we remember God’s grace and mercy that saved them and set them apart as sanctified to do His will during their earthly lives. And when we remember, we give thanks for the life of faith that they lived as an example for us who still walk by faith.

For us this morning, Holy Scripture speaks of eternal life that is hidden with Christ in God by faith. For us, we can compare it to a great treasure hidden within earthen vessels. When the time comes for us to join Jesus and our loved ones who have gone ahead of us, we will, like those who have gone before us, experience eternal life in all of its fullness and glory. But in the meanwhile we walk and live a life of faith that Christ gives us always through His Word and Spirit.

These two forms of life eternal are bound together in this way. One must possess the hidden life of faith if one is to become a partaker in the full revelation of the glory of the resurrection. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. But to appear there without a portion in the life of Christ, Jesus says, is to be raised up unto judgment and not unto life. Therefore it is true both here and in eternity: “He who has the Son has life.” [1 John 5:12]

This morning we end our message as we began it, confronted with the Word and promise of God. Hear your God speak and be filled with awe and faith and then simply believe those Words: “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to (you the baptized), ‘You are my people.’ ”

May God continue to give us eyes of faith to believe this truth until we are given eternal eyes to see that all things do indeed work together for our good. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Two Kingdoms: Man vs. God

October 30th, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 30th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 3:20]

churchstate-300x186Tomorrow is the official 499th anniversary date of the Reformation of Christ’s Church. It all began when Martin Luther, a simple parish priest and monk published a professional paper now know as the 95 Theses. This document was meant to begin debate and discussions about what Luther felt were grievous sins and errors of the church. What began Luther on this life-long journey with God were really two distinct passages of Scripture. Let me share them with you now: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9] And second is this Word: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” [Romans 1:16-17] From these two portions of scripture the very basis of the Reformation was born, and that basis can be summed up like this: “Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. All under the banner of Christ alone!”

But the reformation also brought us another very important doctrine of scripture that I am afraid seems to be neglected in our current time, and it is this…

We live in two kingdoms. The kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God.

Christians are citizens of two worlds. First, we have a heavenly citizenship, where Christ is our King. This Kingdom is more than a future hope it is a present reality as we gather in Christ’s church where we are given new birth, and nourished and sustained by His very Word and Sacraments. As Christians, we are at home in this Kingdom of God. But we are also citizens in a community, in a nation of communities where we are subject to its laws.

And there is no contradiction between these two citizenships. We don’t have the same relation in this world as we enjoy with God, to be sure. So, in regards to the two Kingdoms, we must always be sure that we are not serving two masters. But to serve God and the nation we live in does not mean that we serve two masters. Because behind the nation we live in is the authority of God.

The Bible teaches that the government with all its orderly processes of law—those things the Bible calls “human institutions”—is also a creation of and maintained by God. The Bible goes so far as to say that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exists have been instituted by God.” [Romans 13:1] And those words were written at a time when the authority of the Roman Empire was in pagan hands.

To understand this we must remember that God rules the world also through the powers He has placed in the hands of men and women. He has given us a natural intelligence, a sense of what is right and wrong, a love for home and family, the ability to organize society and to enact good laws. These powers function just as clearly among people who do not know Christ or believe on Him as they do with Christians. This is why communities are found and maintained wherever people exist. Now, because these institutions are made up of sinful imperfect people, problems are bound to arise. But however defective these governments might be, they are still an effective deterrent to violence and wild individualism. They become one of the means by which God shows His concern for our earthly welfare. This is why God’s Word commands us to be loyal and obedient to human authorities, not simply because of the fear of punishment but also for the sake of a “good conscience.”

The duty of all governments is to uphold justice and to show concern for those who otherwise would be wrongly treated. So the government and those who serve within it are “a servant of God for the righteous.” And everyone who has been granted power by God to rule over others must one day answer to God how he has used that power.

But the state can misuse its powers. It is not true to say that if something is “lawful” it must also be right in the eyes of God. There are rules concerning marriage and abortion for example, which cannot be observed without sinning against the commandments. This is why Jesus’ teaching this morning is so important for us to understand.

In our gospel lesson [Matthew 22:15-22] Jesus is confronted with a trap devised by the Jewish leaders.

It was a pit so to speak that was dug for Jesus to fall into and be trapped by His own Words. Foolish men; they were told Who Jesus was and where He came from, but they would not believe that the very One they were attempting to discredit was in fact God in human flesh. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The popular answer that was sure to garnish public support for what they saw as Jesus’ campaign to be the Messiah was, “Heck no, it’s not lawful! We are sons of Abraham and have never been enslaved by anyone! We are sons of King David and I, Jesus of Nazareth am a direct descendant of David, so let’s get rid of Caesar and I’ll be your Messiah-king!”

But Jesus was not that kind of king and He had not come to lead a rebellion. So seeing the trap they set, He allows them to fall in it instead. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And this dear friends is where God both gives to you wisdom and demands that you use it. We are called to give to the government what is theirs and give to God what is His! So what are we to do when the law of the government is in direct contradiction with the Word of God. In such a time, we must obey God rather than man. Christians in the early church suffered martyrdom rather than give sacrifices to Caesar. And the Bible speaks clearly about a day in the future when we will have to reckon with a state that is under the dominion of the Antichrist. This is why our Gospel lesson and Jesus Words this morning must be taken very seriously.

Today in our own time, several pits have been dug for you dear Christians. Our government by the people has presented two great traps for us to fall into which will then lead us to withhold giving honor to God and His Word, and thus abandon our Christian faith. These two great traps are the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of unborn human life. These are watershed issues on which your Christian faith will either stand or fall. They are just as important as grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, because they are also under Christ alone.

Marriage is not a relationship instituted by man but by God. When a man and woman wish to live together, God commands that it be done not in simply living together, but within the bonds, within the blessings of Holy Matrimony. These rules for marriage were not invented by the church but they were commanded by God. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (his woman) and the two will become one flesh.” So intimate relations between two people are to be within the confines of marriage and they are to be between a man and a woman.

But society and even our government will counter with, “What is the harm of two people living together first before they are married? What is wrong with making sure they are compatible? And what is wrong with that couple being of the same sex if they are in love. Shouldn’t we celebrate their marriage just as we celebrate a heterosexual marriage?”

Beware dear friends, this is a trap just as real as the one set for Jesus. On it’s own, there is nothing wrong with love. And on our own who are we to judge what makes others happy? We are no one but fellow sinners, struggling to find happiness just as they are. But we cannot ignore what God has spoken.

Human life is sacred. It’s sacred because God’s Word says that we were created in His image. Throughout God’s Word, He speaks this truth and He reaffirms that in the womb He knows us; He knows and loves all human life. When we read these Words we are moved by the Spirit to agree with God! But when confronted with the trap of society, the edict of the government, we begin to see the issue of unborn life from a different perspective. “Does not a woman have a right to choose what she does with her body? What about the future of a young pregnant teen, and what about exigent circumstances? Surely you can’t be saying that God has no compassion for these women?”

Do you see the trap? You are being asked to speak for God about something that He has not spoken to you of. You are being asked to defend God or deny Him by abandoning what He has spoken.

So what are we to do? Well, in both of these circumstances of life we are to love our neighbor. We are to understand the pain and the fear that is behind both examples. We are not to judge them but to love them. We love them when we simply repeat what God has said and we encourage them to embrace God’s truth and do as we do everyday, repent. We repent when we simply surrender to God and admit that He is right and we are wrong. We repent when we turn to the cross of Jesus, and receive His forgiving love, which was poured out upon us within the waters of holy baptism. We demonstrate our love for those who are caught within these two life styles that conflict with God’s Word by being both friend and brother or sister. We do not abandon them but we accompany them on their journey of turning back to God; giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s.

Our love for sinners is given under the same manner and authority as it is given to us, through…

The Office of the Keys. Each of you I trust remembers this teaching from your catechism. The Office of the Keys is…

A spiritual power, which must always be clearly distinguished from the temporal power of governments and societies. It’s a spiritual power because it pertains to the spirit and soul of men and women; it offers and gives spiritual blessings, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. It does not use force but the very Word of God.

It is a power that was given by Jesus Himself to His Church here on earth. A church that also exists within the confines of a temporal government. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 21:22-23]

The Office of the Keys is also the power of the Word of God. By the Word we are to be sanctified, brought to faith, and gathered together as one in Christ Jesus. As the church, we have no right to use violence to institute change that is pleasing to God. That is the power of the state not the church. Our power is found in the Word of God and our trust and faith is in it alone.

The Office of the Keys is simply repeating to all who will hear what God has said in His Word. The church is to teach men to observe all that Christ has commanded, and only what He has commanded. This is the only power the church has, and beyond the Word, the church has no power.

Finally, the cardinal truth of the Word and the commission of the Church within the office of the Keys is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the cross of Jesus, God has forgiven all people their sins for Christ’s sake. This is the truth that the church must always proclaim to this world of sinners who are trapped as we once were. We speak God’s forgiveness to sinners who are then convicted to repent of their sins just as we are convicted and just as we too must repent.

The church is to perform her mission by preaching and teaching the true Word of God, both the law and the Gospel, and we are to bring that Word with the love of God. We are to administer the sacraments, which are also the Word of God, and we are to release and bind sins as God Himself works to offer grace and forgiveness to all men and women by these means of grace alone. And as the church works to administer these means of grace, we are ever watchful for our loved ones and neighbors who have turned to Jesus by faith alone. We stand ready to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to them by reminding them they are part of a greater community of fellow forgiven sinners who were also saved by Holy Scripture alone.

I pray that each of us will be empowered to continue giving to Caesar what is Caesars while standing strong under the banner of grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, and serving Christ alone unto eternal life… AMEN!

 

 

Signs From Heaven

October 16th, 2016

Twenty First Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 16th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” [John 4:48]

Well, people haven’t changed much since the day Jesus said these Words.  They were spoken in response to a desperate father’s cry for healing on behalf of his dying son.  People still beg for miracles from a God they hardly know and seldom acknowledge.  People still today, imagine that if they could only see some kind of miracle from God, it would make it so much easier for them to believe.  Maybe it’s true, that most people normally don’t think very much about God.  But when they are in trouble, well you know the saying; “There’s no atheists in a fox hole.”  Most people, when they become desperate, will pray for a miracle from God.  It’s as if they are putting God on trial and demanding that He prove He exists.

Even Jesus enemies accepted the fact that He could probably do wondrous and miraculous things, so the signs He performed became His reputation and not the proof that the Messiah had come to save His people.   But search the gospels, and you will see that Jesus never worked miracles to impress people or to make Himself more popular or to gain true believers.  Even the devil with all of his temptations thrown at Christ, could not move Him to do that.  Jesus used His power to help others, but He never used it to help Himself or to make His life more prosperous or comfortable.  He always used His divine powers to reveal the mystery and mercy of God and God’s loving presence in the midst of a sinful generation.  For those who had eyes to see, His miracles revealed that the Kingdom of God was now with sinful men and women and that the Messiah had indeed come!

But why didn’t Jesus perform such signs as would convince others of who He really was?  Why doesn’t God allow such signs to be given to us today?  For the answers to these questions let’s look at our gospel lesson. [John 4:46-54]

The healing of the royal official’s son shows us both the expectations of sinful people when dealing with their perfect Creator, and the perfect Creator’s response when dealing with sinful men and women.

“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.””  Now here’s a question that begs to be asked, “If the man knew of Jesus and His miracles, why did he wait so long for an opportunity to know Jesus; why did he wait for this desperate hour, literally the last hour of his son’s life before he sought out Jesus?”  The answer that was true then is the same answer that’s true today:  Knowing God and serving him is never a priority until it’s an emergency.  This is why Jesus said that unless we sinful people see signs and wonders we wont believe.  We wont believe because we don’t see a need to believe.  And when the need like an emergency arises, we have faith alright, but it is a general faith, a desperate faith.  But Jesus refuses to be known in this way, like some kind of magic genie who only lives to fulfill our wishes.

Somehow this desperate father perceived this rebuke in Jesus statement.  So his guilt and his desperation produced repentance and he was some how filled with the audacity and persistency to ask Jesus again, but this time with a heart that was beginning to understand something about how God works.  So the desperate father said to Jesus again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  This father, broken of pride and humbled by the impossibility of the request refuses to leave because it has nowhere else to go but to Jesus.  But most importantly it now knows that only Jesus can do the impossible.  The audacity of this hope is that it believes that Jesus really wants to help!

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  Now this man’s faith has moved from a general faith to a specific faith in Jesus alone and it is well on its way to a saving faith.  Listen: “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.”

He believed!  But what does He believe?  He believes that the Word of Jesus is true.  He believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior who has come to save sinful mankind.  He does not understand this nearly as intricately as you do today, because he did not have all of the facts that you have, but nonetheless, he believed!  And what’s more, he shared his newfound faith in Jesus with his family and now they believe; they too are saved from their sins through faith in the Word of Christ alone!

So which is the greater miracle, the healing of the boy or the salvation that came to the family by faith?  Is this gospel lesson today about healing or about salvation?  How you answer that question will reveal what kind of God you think you serve and trust in.

Some people search for promises of healing and prosperity when they read their Bibles and others search for promises of forgiveness and restoration.

People who search for prosperity and healing will always find disappointment, because Jesus did not come into this world to make us rich and healthy but to save us from our sins.  When people asked Jesus for a sign or miracle, He told them that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up (upon the cross).  He said that they would receive no other sign than the sign of Jonah.  Jesus means two things by this.  In the first place He declares the need for seeing and confessing our sins.  This was the message at Nineveh when Jonah declared that the sinful proud Ninevites were damned to eternal punishment; this is the message that brought them to their knees in repentance.

But this is also a message of Gospel hope, which Jesus proclaims in His own death and resurrection.  Just as the sinful Israelites were to look upon the serpent on the pole as their only means of salvation and forgiveness, so too sinful men and women must look only to Jesus, lifted upon the cross, as their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  Just as Jonah stayed three days in the belly of the whale but was brought back among the living after the third day, so too, Jesus would rest within the tomb and on the third day rise to life and declare victory over sin, death and the devil.  This is why Christ has provided preachers for His church, so that we too can be confronted with the fact that Jesus died and rose again for grievous sinners like us.

And this kind of faith, according to Jesus, is the kind that saves.  In Jesus Words, the same Word that was spoken to the desperate father, is the power of God unto salvation; a power that touches our consciences and appeals to our sinful souls, and then confirms that because of the work of God alone, we “are of the truth.” [John 18:37]

In Jesus’ Word, we sense the accusations, we hear the promises, and we know what God has done not just for the world, but for us!  But if we do not have a conscience that is open to the voice of God, that is if we refuse to allow our faith to move from a simple general kind of faith to a saving kind, well then, no sign or miracle will help us.

Even King Herod wished to see a sign from Jesus, but he never received it.  He already received his sign when John the Baptist stood before him and preached directly about his sin; a sin that was separating Herod from the forgiving love of God.  When Herod silenced that voice of conscience, he had no other hope.  Jesus answered him not a word.  And if we silence the voice of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to bring us saving faith, neither do we have any other hope. [Matthew 14:9-12; Luke 23:9]

For each of us today, it is critical that we do not become a “faithless and unbelieving generation” who demand signs because we will not repent until we first have been thoroughly convinced.  [Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:16]  If today you hear His voice in Scripture and know that Jesus is your God and you are His, give glory to God alone.  And know that the only person who will come to God is the person who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it is profitable or not.

When it comes to answered prayer, know that in Jesus in regards to the promises of God the answer is always yes.  Yes, you are forgiven through Christ because God has said so.  Yes, you will return one day to live eternally within the new Paradise of God restored to perfection.  Yes, you can have peace with God and joy right now, simply because God promises that it is so.  But in regards to asking for something that God has not promised is yours, something like a healing or a blessing of prosperity here in this sinful world, you must not be ashamed to ask, but you should also remember that their is no promise of God attached to your request.  So, keep on asking.  Keep on praying in faith, and then simply trust that God will give to you always and only what is best for you.

So where God speaks a promise we must believe by faith that it is so, and where God is silent we must trust and rest in His perfect love.  May God continue to make this so for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Fight The Good Fight!


October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” [Matthew 9:2]

These are the Words of Jesus, spoken for you this morning.  They’re Words that give great faith.  Our faith is what scripture says is the victory that over comes the world. [1 John 5:4]  But our faith is also a struggle.  Paul urges us to fight the good fight of faith. [1 Timothy 6:12]  And in this fight, we fight like an athlete who knows that only one can win the prize.  When St. Paul looked back upon his own life, he could declare that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the course, and had succeeded in keeping the faith; specifically, faith that saves.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is the type of faith that trust only in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for sinners like us who want to be saved from our sins.  Saving faith says, “I’ve got to get to Jesus!  No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment; Jesus is the solution to my problem.”

Think of the paralytic and his four friends in our gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8); they were certain that if they could get to Jesus, well then, healing and restoration would be the result.  We don’t know much about this band of brothers, but we do know that there were five of them, and one of them was paralyzed and confined to a bed or stretcher of sorts.  The four who carried their friend must have loved him dearly to go through all of this trouble to help him get to Jesus.  But when they arrived the place was packed.  Now what?  Well, if they couldn’t go through the door or a window they would have to improvise, and improvise they did; they lowered him through a hole in the roof and down to the very feet of Jesus!

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.””  Wait… didn’t they come for a healing.  Didn’t these band of brothers want their number to be restored to five rather than four?  Yes they did, but Jesus knew something they did not; Jesus Christ the Son of God, very God of very God looked into the paralytic’s heart and saw guilt; great guilt.  He was sorrowing over his sinful life and the restoration that he needed ran so much deeper than just a physical healing.

Can you relate to that feeling?  Do you too know the burden of past sins and the fear of potential future ones?  If so, then you too desire something deeper than just a physical healing; you desire complete and total forgiveness and new life.

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” [Matthew 9:3]

These men came from Jerusalem and Judea as well as from Galilee, and they came for one purpose, to keep track of Jesus and to gather evidence against him.  Now, Jesus had just claimed to be able to do what God alone can do; forgive sins.  In the futileness of their sinful minds, they could never think of Jesus as anything but a mere man, so when He claims to have the right and ability to forgive sins, in their minds, He was pretending to be God—to them, this was the very worst type of blasphemy.  Even this, Jesus knows.

Jesus, the very Son of God knows all things; he knows the sinful hearts of these men and He knows your heart, and He desires only to free them and us from our sinful nature so that by faith we all may be born again.  “(So) Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus has performed the one great act, forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The effect of this act is invisible: no one saw the sins piled up on the man’s soul, except Jesus.  And no man saw that mass of sin vanish from his soul with just a Word from Jesus. And now Jesus follows up this first act with a second one, he heals the paralytic. The effect of the second act is visible to all: they see the man rise, pick up his bed, and walk away not only freed of paralysis but forgiven and invited into eternal life, all this having been done in an instant. The act which the eyes are able to see verifies the other act which no eyes can see.

Jesus saving ministry of the gospel is still going on today.  He promises the church that He continues this ministry through contemporary disciples of every age.  So the church is always carrying out the work of baptizing and teaching, as Jesus abides with His church, which carries out those missional tasks. While it is true that the saving work of the church is completely a work of God, because the Son, who became a man calls others to follow him, He gives authority to His disciples to continue the in-breaking of the reign of God all the days until Christ returns. So God alone brings and gives this authority to save and recreate sinful people within the realm of men with the call to…

Put off your old self!

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 4:22-28), St. Paul calls upon all Christians to put off or put to death, once and for all the old sinful nature.  It is a final act but is repeated every day, in fact every moment of everyday because every day our old sinful nature still clings to the sinful life and its own desires.  This truth creates tension within us, because our baptized nature clings to and trust in Christ alone.  When we put on our new baptized, Christ-like nature, that is when we fight to do what is God pleasing, we can say that there truly is a war going on within us; a war of two natures and two desires.  We witness this as we discover that the sinful things we do not wish to do are the very things we seem to keep doing, and the Godly things we desire to do are the things that we struggle the most to accomplish.  Another way to say this is that we fight to be holy and righteous.

To be holy and righteous is to be like God; because He alone has these qualities.  Before the fall to sin, our first parents, Adam and Eve walked with God in peace and without fear.  They walked in holiness and righteousness; they did this because God gave them these qualities.

Holy baptism restores these qualities to you the baptized.  In the waters of your baptism, God imputed or recreated you to have these qualities as well.  In essence, He gave back to you what Adam and Eve had lost.  And now, everyday, He encourages you to become what He has already declared that you are… holy, perfect, and righteous.  We do this as we put away the old sinful nature of Adam so that the nature of the new Adam, the righteousness of Christ, comes alive within us.

We put the old Adam off by the active and effective power of grace. This power of grace doesn’t help us to do something, instead it recreates and renews us as we repent and believe that God with His divine power is in fact putting to death our old sinful nature.  For this reason we never say that our sinful nature is being converted or changed; it is not because it cannot be; it is not renewed—because it cannot be; it is replaced by the new nature solely through the a creative act of God as we fight to walk with Him and please Him in thought, Word, and deed.

So what is it that our faith must fight?

Obviously it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to interfere with others who are coming to enter a life of faith.  The Bible speaks of these as “the world.”  From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition head-on.  It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46]  Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner.”  It could take place under the threat of imprisonment and even death.

But we encounter this resistance to faith within ourselves as well.  Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe.  It must be crucified with Jesus. [Galatians 5:4]  But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its arguments against faith, and its nature remains as an enemy to God.

How, then, can it be possible that our faith can become so strong that it can overcome the world?  Well, it depends first and always upon whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Jesus Christ is the One who died upon the cross and rose from the dead, forever defeating our true enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  So “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [1 John 5:5]  Jesus our Savior is the One who alone gives us real faith; faith that gives us the final victory over all enemies of God.

This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ Himself, that is, with Him who has overcome the world.  If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]  You see, the victory does not depend on our faith but on Christ, to Whom our faith holds onto.  And so a struggling faith, a faith that feels itself weak can be so much stronger than a faith which feels itself strong because it relies on its experiences, its warmth, and its victories.  If God permits us to fail, then it may be that He wishes us to learn to rely entirely on Christ.

So that which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word.  So if we want to exercise and strengthen our faith we must be careful not to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments, and never think that we can get along without them.  We who gather each Lord’s day are those who it may be said of: “The Word of God dwells in you,” [Colossians 3:1]. We are called, “(Those) who have overcome the evil one.” [1 John 2:14]

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, help us we pray to remember these truths and then by faith, cling to Christ alone.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Everything Is a First Commandment Issue

September 25th, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 25th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. [Matthew 22:37, 38]

We know Jesus said this.  And since He declares it to be the great commandment, we must take it very seriously; we should approach it as the most important thing of all and be prepared to give an account for its demands when the day of judgment comes.  Jesus also said, if you “Do this, you will live.” [Luke 10:27]

Martin Luther said that this commandment alone clarified all of the other ones.  He taught this truth this way: We should fear and love God so that: We have no other gods; We do not misuse the name of God; We remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; (We must fear and love God so that) We honor our Father and Mother; We do not murder; We do not commit adultery; We do not steal; We do not lie; We do not covet our neighbors house or possessions; We do not covet our neighbors spouse.  So you see…

Everything in life really is a First Commandment issue.

We must love the Lord our God not just to the best of our ability, but perfectly, with every atom that forms, and holds together brain, blood, bone and sinew, with our whole undivided self, with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

But we also know how difficult, in fact how impossible this is for us on our own.  I mean, if we loved God above all, we wouldn’t have such a hard time confessing our faith before other people.  We wouldn’t find ourselves thinking of the commandments as an insurmountable burden.  We would never fear God’s wrath, since perfect love cast out all fear. [1 John 4:18]  We would never be uncertain when there is a choice between God and the ways of the world.

And yet we know that this happens to us.  If we take God’s Word seriously, we know how grim a matter it is to not keep the First Commandment.  We understand the troubled question, which the apostles asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” [Mark 10:37]

It’s important to remember that even the commandment of love belongs to the law which Christ alone has fulfilled.  The demand of this chief commandment reveals to us more clearly than any other place that we are and continue to be sinners who cannot answer before God in any way.

But because we’re interested in what makes the First commandment supreme, we must also consider a second commandment that is like it in supremeness.  This is why Jesus mentioned a second commandment, specifically the one declared in Leviticus 19, in the eighteenth verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In quality it is “like” the one regarding God. Here again we have “love,” and here again we have the full extent of this love, which includes every contact we have with our neighbor and indeed all of humanity.

The truth is, we would all be lost and shut out from God unless God Himself acted to save us; unless God out of His love for fallen and sinful people like us acted first.  And He did!  He acted first when He gave His own Son who shed His life blood for us upon the cross.  So you see, it is not our love that saves us but God’s love towards us.  Love is not to be found in that we have loved God, but in that He first loved us and sent His Son to redeem and save us from our sins.  The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world, into your very life, in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our gospel lesson, [Matthew 22:34-46] Jesus after successfully demonstrating the two most important commandments now sets His face towards the cross; the instrument of death that the very men He was speaking with would ensure He would walk to and die upon in just two short days. He does this so that these men and indeed all of mankind would understand just Who it is that gives His life and why He gives it.  He does this with a simple question…

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?”  The Pharisees quickly parroted the answer that had been passed on through many generations after David’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah’s bloodline: “The son of David” they answered.  But Jesus will not allow that answer to be sufficient; He cannot, because there is infinitely so much more, and if we do not grasp this truth and accept it by faith we cannot be saved from our sins.  You see…

Jesus cannot simply be a complete man who reveals how a good man can love.  If that were the case, we would be lost in our sins and mandated to suffer God’s judgment and punishment for our sinfulness, because let’s be honest, even after our best efforts we still do not love God as we must.  No, Christ must be more than “the son of David,” that is, He must be more than a mere man with unusual qualities and of unusual importance.  You see, He must also be David’s Lord, and far beyond any of the greatest figures of history.  This is why Jesus follows up with another question.  “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?”   If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

In this question, Jesus is passionately trying to demonstrate exactly Who it is that they will condemn in two short days, and who it is who will suffer and die as the only true innocent man upon the cross of a criminal.  He wants them also to understand that in just three days after the death of this innocent man, who it is exactly who will rise from the dead and both proclaim and give victory over mankind’s true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil!

Who do you say Jesus is?  Do you agree that He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God who comes to us as the perfect, mysterious son of Mary, who has come to die for you?  If you answer yes by faith, then you have both learned and received the divine gift of agape love. [1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:9]

Jesus is God’s solution to our sinful natures’ inability to love both Him and our neighbor as we should.  As both Creator and creature, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and son of Mary came into this world as one of us.  He lived the perfect life of love for God and neighbor that we can not, but most importantly He did it for sinners; He did it for you!

And if you do the one most important thing that God has equipped and encouraged you to do, that is if you receive Jesus as your Divine King and live under and within God’s love by faith, it will become a power in your very lives.  He who believes “is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7]  It will be as when a man finds a treasure in a field, or a merchant discovers a pearl of great price that he has searched for long and patiently.  Your heart will become dominated by the power of this great treasure. [Matthew 13:44-46]

When our hearts are opened to the love of God, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and captured by it.  Not so fully that we cease to be sinners, because we still live and struggle with our sinful flesh, but so that we can honestly say along with St. Peter, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” [John 21:17]

Who you say Jesus is will then determine how you will live the rest of your life.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission, one last commandment of love to His church before He ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.  Listen: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Why do we preach and teach the Word of God and then form and support the various congregations throughout this world?  Because we fear and love God; because we love our neighbor who is still trapped, dead in their sins.  Why do we meet each Sunday, careful not to neglect the meeting of the saints?  Because we love our brothers and sisters born of Holy Baptism just as we were.  Because together we equally need the gifts that God so freely lavishes upon us in Word and Sacrament every day so that we can continue to grow in love towards God and one another.  And then together, with one heart, the heart of Jesus, we are enabled by God to go out each and everyday, prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ. And the answer we give, will always be centered in God’s gift of mercy and love that fulfills both the great and second great commandment to love.

May God the Father Who created us, may God the Son Who redeemed us and saved us from our sins, may God the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies us and fills us with divine love and wisdom, keep both us and Christ Church until the resurrection of the dead.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Freedom to Be…

September 18th, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 18th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

To be free is not the same as to do as you please.  You are not made free by forgetting God.  Someone who acts contrary to the will of God is simply proving that they’re bound to the way of this world and serving the prince of the spirit which is now at work in the sons of disobedience. [Ephesians 2:2]  Everything we do, either finds its source in God or in His enemy.  The person that commits sin is a slave of sin—that is how Jesus puts it. [John 8:34]

The worst of it however, is that there is in our own inner nature something that is not free, and is held captive by a force that wants us to resist God.  Scripture speaks of this as “the flesh” and says that it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.  Simply put, with your flesh you serve the law of sin. [Romans 7]

Usually we do not recognize this bondage until we try seriously to change it; that is until we try to serve God and live an honest life that practices love for our neighbor.  It’s at this point, that we discover that “the evil we do not want to do is what we do” and that “we are flesh, sold under sin.”

The Pharisees who invited Jesus to their banquet in order to trap Him and discredit Him as the Messiah were in this condition. They invited Him there so that they could teach Him what a proper banquet looks like; in order to demonstrate that a truly religious person does not eat and drink with sinners.  Oh yes, they also invited Him so that they could catch Him in the act of healing on a Sabbath.

And so knowing all of this, Jesus decides to immediately address the issue of who He is.  One of the marks of the Messiah who was to come was that He will bring healing to the people.  The Pharisees had heard of the various healing miracles of Jesus, even that He had raised people from the dead.  But now Jesus would do this work of healing in their very presence, on a Sabbath!  And why shouldn’t He?  Jesus is their Messiah; as the Lord of the Sabbath He would heal a man with dropsy.  Dropsy is an abnormal retention of water, possibly due to congestive heart failure.  “And Jesus (looking them in the eye) responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took (the man with dropsy) and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.”  They could not reply because they were entangled in their sins; trapped in their pride.  It was their pride that prevented them from accepting Jesus the Messiah as their only hope of being freed from this bondage.  Instead, they continued to rely on a false hope centered in their false religion that minimized their own sin and maximized their own efforts to be free of that sin.

Even today, people in their desperate attempts to be free from this bondage to sin, often become more enslaved than ever before.  Like the Pharisees, they try to be more strict, more “religious” and scrupulous in order to win God’s favor.  They intensify their demands on themselves and others.  They become legalistic and quick to judge others, and they entangle their lives with morality, rules, and man-made teachings; they begin to concern themselves with what the Bible calls “human precepts and teachings, rigor of devotion, and severity of the body.” [Colossians 2:21-23]

There are still some major religious institutions around today that forbid their priest to marry, and some demand that their followers worship only on a certain day or abstain from certain foods that God has declared were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  These are modern day examples of the same bondage that trapped the Pharisees who were always busy creating endless rules about tithing, about the Sabbath, and about things that were determined to be unclean.

But all of this was, and still is rooted in one great sin… pride!  It is a very difficult thing for a sinner to accept the freedom that Jesus brings without demanding that something be given or done by the one whom Jesus invites.  They always tip their hand when they respond to Jesus invitation to repent and rest with the words, “I think that…”  Listen God is not interested in your opinion or how you think things should be done.  He simply wants you to be humble.

Humility is a hard lesson for sinners such as us to receive; it’s hard because it completely nullifies a need for us to offer an opinion or give a contribution.

As Jesus observed the various Pharisees vying for the best seat at the banquet, he observed just how deadly their self serving pride was.  His heart ached for them as they pushed and shoved in order to get the better seat; He longed for them to be free of this sin and enter into His Father’s Kingdom so that they could have a seat at His Father’s eternal banquet table.  To illustrate this truth, Jesus offers a parable.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What was Jesus teaching the Pharisees with this parable?  What is He teaching us this morning?  Well, simply put, He is teaching us that there is only one way to be free, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:36]

Jesus the Son of God releases us first from our guilt, and in doing that, He also frees us from our false pride and our despair over our past; He even sets us free from ourselves!  He releases you from the dominion of sin.  Now, you still must resist your sinful desires such as pride, but “sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]  And being under grace makes all the difference; at last as a new creation in Christ, God has truly set us free from both  the bondage of sin and the opinions of men that are created out of their own evil imaginations.

Christ has made us free indeed.  And because of this freedom we fight against any thing that would lead us astray and set up any other requirements for salvation other than the ones which really matter, namely baptism and faith in Christ Jesus.  And the good news is that Christ has equipped us to do this very thing when we simply rest in the unity of the Spirit of God, which is completely ours within Christ’s church.

Within the church, Jesus has brought us into His body, which alone brings freedom.

This one great body has only one Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  It has only one Lord, and He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It has only one faith, that which is clearly defined in Holy Scripture.  And it has only one Great Father, who is both Father to the Son of God and our Father through faith in Jesus Christ.  And by proclamation of our Heavenly Father who is Father over all, there is only one baptism performed in and through the name of God that Jesus revealed, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:18-20] It is in this one very simple and eternal act of the church that Christ moves you from the objective truth of the cross, where He died for the world, and then makes it very subjective by making the work of His cross a work for you.  So on the day you were baptized, Jesus declared through the washing of the water and the Word that He died for you personally.  On that day, Jesus set you free from your bondage of sin.

But this freedom does not mean self-indulgence.  We must not use our freedom in such a way that we give any “opportunity to the flesh.”  It is only in Christ, as members of His body, that together we find freedom from sin, from guilt, from punishment, and from death.  So, our freedom in Christ can be described as being possessed by Christ.  We belong to Him with all that we own.  Such dependence is not a burden; it is not bondage.  This dependence on God is what gives back to us the freedom we were created to be; it frees us to be once again the good and happy children of God.  This true freedom is ours right now within God’s kingdom of grace, even as we live our lives under stress, and within the struggle to be good, humble, and victorious over temptation.  But in the kingdom of God’s power, one day we shall be completely free of this stress and in possession of “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” [Romans 8:21]

So the table is set; you are an invited guest.  You are free to be a guest.  The example of how to behave at the table of the Lord has been given and taught by Jesus Himself.  You are free to be humble.  You have been freed from the bondage of sin such as pride.  You are free to live a life as one who has been redeemed.  Because you have been baptized you are already seated at the Lord’s Table within His kingdom of grace.  One day you will close your eyes for the last time here in the kingdom of grace and you will discover that your seat is still yours within God’s Kingdom of glory and power.  It is there, in that kingdom where you will be told, “Friend, move up higher” to the place that is yours.  AMEN.