Genuine – Sermon on Romans 12:6-16 for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

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Romans 12:6-16

6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.Romans 12_2 - Christian Calling

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

How do you know if someone is really a Christian? I mean reeeeally a Christian. Well, according to the ESV’s heading on this text (which the translation we are using), this is it. The ESV adds its own title to v. 9 and following “Marks of the True Christian.”

In fact, do this: Take out one of the pew Bibles and turn to Romans 12. The ESV has this text falling under two headings. The first comes before v. 3 and is “Gifts of Grace” which is used for v. 3-8. I think that is an accurate heading for those verses. But then you get to v. 9 and all the way to the end of the chapter, all of that falls under the heading “Marks of the True Christian.” Those headings are not part of the Scriptures. The translators and editors of the various translations added them. Sometimes, they are fine introductions to what is going to come. But I would encourage you to ignore them more often than not because they influence the way you read the text.

From the heading there before v. 9 and the way the ESV reads here, I counted twenty-two commands/imperatives that follow in the translation. Twenty-two things that Christians are commanded to do if they, at least according to that heading, are true Christians. With that understanding, it would be easy for a sermon on this text to turn into a stern lecture on what you should be doing; how you are not doing it; and how you would be blessed if you actually got around to doing it. But here’s the problem.

First, there is no Gospel in the translation of those verses. And, second, if true Christians have genuine love; abhor evil; hold fast to the good; love with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor; are never slothful in zeal; fervent in spirit; serve the Lord; rejoice in hope, etc. If these are the marks of the true Christian and you take an honest assessment of yourself, how are you doing so far?

Speaking for myself, I would have to conclude that I’m not a true Christian because I’m missing a lot of those marks most of the time. And, when I don’t have those marks but still confess that I am a Christian, I need to find some comfort for myself. So, the easiest thing for me to do is to start comparing myself to others. I look at myself, and then I look at you and you and you. Then, I figure, “Well, at least I’m better than that person at obeying these ‘Christian’ laws.”

You have maybe heard the joke about when Sven and Ole were out walking in the forest and see a bear. Ole bends down and starts tightening his shoelaces, and Sven says, “Ole, you don’t think you can outrun a bear, do you?” And Ole responds, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, Sven. Angry BearI just have to run faster than you.” Well, guess what. When the bear of God’s Law is finished eating the guy who is slower to obey than you, it picks up your scent and resumes its pursuit of you because its appetite is never satisfied by eating up sinners.

Lord, have mercy. If our response to our failures and shortcomings is to compare ourselves to others, we are not doing what this text wants to inspire in us. We are not showing brotherly affection. We are not associating with the lowly. Instead, we are being haughty and wise in our own sight. Lord, have mercy. Comparing ourselves to others is not what the Holy Spirit intended when He inspired these words of Scripture. Only Jesus can satisfy the Law’s appetite. And, God be praised, by His death and resurrection He has done exactly that.

In reality, there are only four commands in this text. Three of them are in v. 14: Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. And one at the very end in v. 16: Never be wise in your own sight.

In reality, to be a Christian is not to keep twenty-some commands. Instead, Paul here is holding up a picture of what genuine love looks like (similar to how he does in 1 Cor. 13). Listen to this translation of v. 9-12. “Love is genuine/without hypocrisy, abhorring the evil and clinging to the good. [Genuine love] is showing brotherly affection for one another, in honor leading the way for one another, in zeal not [being] lazy, in the Spirit fervent, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, enduring persecution, holding fast to prayer.”

These verses are, in fact, perfectly describing Christ. Remember, that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16), and that means that Jesus is love embodied. And, yes, as Christians – which means ‘little Christs’ – we should be like Christ. But because we are sinners, we fail to live up to God’s Law. God’s Law always accuses us.

Sacred LogoThere’s a better way to understand these verses, and to get at that understanding, I’m going to connect this text to our theme for the year – “Sacred.” In Lev. 19:2, God speaks to His people, Israel, and says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” And Peter repeats those words for us Christians in 1 Pet. 1:16. In English, this sounds like a command because of the word ‘shall.’ But in both Hebrew and Greek it isn’t a command/imperative. A better translation for both is, “You will be holy.”

When the original people (both Old and New Testament) heard that, they would hear three things at the same time. First, it is an unfinished action – something like, “You will become holy.” Second, and closely related, it can be a future promise, “You will be holy.” And third, it is a soft command/imperative, “You are called to be holy.”

Yes, God wants our behavior to be consistent with His holiness. God is your heavenly Father, and He wants you to be chips off the old block. But it is also a process that God has begun in your Baptism, and He will be faithful to bring it to completion (Php. 1:6). God will continue to make and shape you after the image of Christ.

Dear saints, the genuine love that is pictured here is what God has called you to be. When you don’t measure up to your sacred calling as Christians, when you don’t have the marks of a true Christian, run in faith to Christ. Romans 8:3-4 says, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the Romans 8_1-4 - Walk according to the Spirit Law weakened by the fleshlikeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

In the arms of Jesus’ love and mercy, you will find forgiveness for your failure and love despite your lack. Receive what God gives to you. He gives you Jesus. Because He has died and risen again, Jesus delivers the very mercy and forgiveness that you need.

“Are you really a Christian?” Well, do you trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? That is the mark you need. Yes, you fail in your calling. But faith in Christ, and faith alone by grace alone, makes you a genuine child of God. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

I Need to Be Baptized by You – Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 for the Baptism of Our Lord

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Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John the Baptizer tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, but it wasn’t the first time that John had the inclination to not baptize. A few verses before our text (Mt. 3:5-10), Matthew tells us that all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were being baptized by John. But, when many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John to be baptized, John sees them and says, John the Baptizer“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” The text doesn’t explicitly say it, but it appears as though John refused to baptize at least some of the Pharisees and Sadducees. But why? Why do they get a tongue-lashing and no baptism?

To get to an answer, we need to have a little background. First of all, we have to understand a little more about what baptism is because baptism isn’t something John invented on his own. The most basic meaning of the Greek word βαπτίζω (which gets translated ‘baptize’) is to wash something either by immersing it in or sprinkling it with water.[1] In the Old Testament, God had given lots of instructions to people who had become unclean to go and ceremonially wash themselves before going to the priest to be declared clean (like when a person had contact with a corpse Lev. 11:25, had a skin disease Lev. 13:6, the person who led the scapegoat into the wilderness Lev. 16:26, etc.). After becoming unclean by contact with what was unclean, that person was to wash and be declared clean, and this is the background of the baptisms going on in John’s day. They were further washings that weren’t commanded or forbidden in Scripture. Things that are neither commanded or forbidden in Scripture can be either good or bad. Scripture doesn’t command us to celebrate Christmas, but it is good and even necessary to do so. But we can make celebrating Christmas such a big deal that it becomes the only day that people come to church, which is bad.

We don’t have a lot of information about the history, but we do know that people who wanted to become part of the Jewish people would be baptized (though, these mainly appear after Christ’s ascension into heaven). But there are records outside of Scripture where baptisms did happen and were somewhat common during the time of the Old Testament and between the Testaments. However, these baptisms were all self-washings. They were a way of physically confessing your sins, turning over a new leaf, recommitting yourself to God, and making a better life for yourself. In other words, those baptisms were something people did forGod.

Now, we can’t say for sure, because Scripture doesn’t explicitly say it, but this is possibly why some of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John to be baptized by him. Their thinking possibly went like this, “It is good to commit your life to God, and maybe people who are more sinful than I am will follow my example and commit their lives to God.” But here’s the problem with this attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees, if that is correct, they weren’t coming in repentance to receive the forgiveness of their sins. And Scripture does say that John was baptizing unto repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 1:4).[2]

John was baptizing unto repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but the Pharisees in particular didn’t see themselves as having sins to confess. Remember Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like that rotten sinful tax collector (Lk. 18:11).

So, it is possible that these Pharisees and Sadducees who are denied baptism by John are not coming to be baptized because they have sins that need to be washed away. They are stuck in a way of thinking that they could do enough things for God that God would be pleased with how holy they were. They thought getting baptized was something more they could do to earn favor with God, so John refuses to baptize them because they aren’t repentant. The sad thing is that many Christians today have this type of view of Christian Baptism. They view Baptism as something they do for God once they have come to faith. But this is not the picture of Baptism that Jesus and the rest of the New Testament gives. Not at all!

Jesus' BaptismNow we come to our text. John is baptizing all these people. A thief comes confessing his stealing, an adulterer confesses his adultery, a liar confesses her sin, and John absolves and baptizes them. But then to the front of the line comes Jesus, and John knows Him (Lk. 1:39-45). They’re related to each other. John knows what the angel Gabriel told Mary, that this Jesus would be Son of the Most High, that He would reign over the house of God, and that His kingdom would have no end (Lk. 1:26-38). John knows the angel Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would be the One to save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:18-25). John knows that Jesus is the sinless God in the flesh. And here He is coming to be baptized unto repentance for the forgiveness of sins? This shouldn’t be!

John recognizes that he is the sinner who needs to confess his sins and be baptized by Jesus. “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

But Jesus reassures John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So, John consents and baptizes Jesus. The heavens are opened. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove and rests on Christ. And God the Father says from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Such a beautiful picture of each Person of the Holy Trinity there at our Lord’s Baptism.

What happens when Jesus is Baptized is both the opposite and the same thing that happens to you in your Baptism. In your Baptism, God washed away your sins (Tit. 3:5-6). But when Jesus was Baptized, the opposite happened. Picture it this way. Those sinners who had been baptized by John in the Jordan came to have their sins washed away. But when Jesus enters those sin-filled waters, He absorbs all those sins into Himself so that He can take them to the cross and die for them.

We say this because it is only after Jesus’ Baptism that John says Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John can say that because of what he saw in Jesus’ Baptism. There, Jesus had all the sins of all people of all time piled upon Him. in Isaiah 53, God says that Jesus would be numbered with the transgressors (Is. 53:12) and that God would lay on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:4-6). That happened at Jesus’ Baptism.

You know how you feel when you are caught doing something wrong. You have a physical reaction – maybe you feel a rush of heat and guilt, and you feel the weight of it. Imagine having every sin of every person of all time piled upon you. How crushing would that be for Jesus? But having the weight and burden of the sin of the world put upon Him, Jesus hears the comforting voice of His Father, “You are My Son, with You I am well pleased. You are doing what I have sent You to do.” So, Jesus’ Baptism works the opposite direction of yours. Your Baptism washes away your sins, and Jesus’ Baptism is where Jesus is loaded up with your sins.

Matthew 3_17 - Baptism of Jesus Holy Spirit DoveBut also, the same thing that happens to Jesus in his Baptism happens to you in yours. In your Baptism, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and are made God’s beloved child. In your Baptism, God intimately joins you to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-6).

John’s question in our text, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” can be turned into a confession of faith. “Jesus, I need to be Baptized by You, and You have come and Baptized me.” Jesus does come to Baptize you and make you His disciple (Mt. 28:18-20). God has Baptized you through the hands of whatever pastor did the Baptism. It wasn’t the pastor doing it alone; God was Baptizing you. The pastor was simply God’s instrument to put the water upon you.

I have one final encouragement for you, and it is going to seem to come out of left field but bear with me. In Genesis 15[:1-6], God appears to old Abraham who has no children. God tells Abraham to try counting the stars and says, “So shall your offspring be.” God made a promise to Abraham and connected it to something physical that Abraham could see. And Scripture says, “Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”

Now, imagine every night of Abraham’s life after this. I wonder how often he would go out at night with that promise of God echoing in his ears and start counting. Imagine him trying for a while but then having to give up counting because he’d lose track. And yet, Abraham continued to believe God’s promise.

Dear saints, God has given you something even more precious in your Baptism. God connected His promise of mercy, forgiveness, and life to something physical, to water – something that you interact with daily. Baptism 2In your Baptism, God has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). In your Baptism, God has promised to wash away your sins (Act. 2:38-39), save you (1 Pet. 3:21), make you His child (Mt. 3:17), connect you to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-6), clothe you with Christ (Gal. 3:27), and fill you with the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). So now, whenever wash your hands or take a shower, you can remember that God Himself has washed you clean and made you holy and sacred. Whenever you take a drink, you can remember that, in your Baptism, Jesus has given you to drink of the living water that wells up to eternal life (Jn. 4:10, 14).

You have need to be Baptized by God, and God has done this. Believe these promises of God. Trust them. Don’t leave them. And if you do walk away from the blessings and promises that God has given to you in your Baptism, remember that God hasn’t changed His mind. Those promises are there for you to return to because God is always faithful. He who began a good work in you in your Baptism will be faithful to bring it to completion in the day of Christ (Php. 1:6). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] In Mark 7:4, Mark mentions that the Pharisees had rituals for baptizing (most translations will simply say ‘washing’) they would baptize cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches. Unless you want to ruin it, you don’t immerse a dining couch. So, to say that Scriptures always mean immersing when they speaks about baptism is simply wrong.

[2] Scripture does make a distinction between John’s baptism and Jesus instituting Christian Baptism (especially in Mt. 3:11-12 and Act. 19:1-7). And we could spend a whole bunch of time considering the differences but let me just say this. According the Scripture, John’s baptism is a precursor to Christian Baptism. John would have repentant sinners come to him, confess their sins, and be baptized by him. And it was those very sins that Jesus would die for. So, God was granting forgiveness through John’s baptism.

Saving the Savior – Sermon on Matthew 2:13-23 for the Second Sunday of Christmas

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Matthew 2:13-23

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The Slaughter of the Innocents of Bethlehem Matthew 2 1616 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year! Today is the twelfth and last day of the Christmas season. Maybe you began celebrating Christmas when the Hallmark Channel began their “Countdown to Christmas” way back on October 26th. And, no, I’m not going to mock their movies today. Finally, after ten years of being your pastor, I’ve learned to not do that anymore – at least not in a sermon.

Maybe you have taken down your tree and lights and have stored all the decorations in your garage and shed. Remember for Christians, every Sunday is Christmas and Easter – even if your house or this sanctuary isn’t decorated accordingly. So, before we take everything down today after the service, God would remind us of why Jesus came. And this reminder comes in a sobering way with a sad text. The reminder is this: Jesus entered this world to bring life and salvation to people who are obsessed with death.

The birth of Jesus wasn’t the soft, cleaned up picture that we so often have in our minds. Joseph and Mary didn’t lay baby Jesus in a warm, comfortable, well-kept barn. It was a normal barn – cold, dirty, and stinky. They weren’t surrounded by well-groomed animals. Instead, the Scriptures make sure we know that things were much humbler and more dangerous for the holy family. After the birth of Jesus announced by gruff shepherds, the families of Bethlehem wondered at the news (Lk. 2:18) but soon returned to their normal lives. Then at the beginning of Matthew 2, King Herod heard from the magi about the birth of the One who had been born King of the Jews. And Herod did not think this was good news at all.

A little background on King Herod. This Herod was known as Herod the Great, probably because of the many building projects he completed. Herod wasn’t an Israelite; he was an Edomite, a descendent of Esau. But Caesar had given him the title king of the Jews. Herod was utterly and completely wicked and would do whatever he thought necessary to protect his power. He had nine or ten wives, most of whom were murdered because he suspected of them plotting against him. Herod was so bad that Caesar Augustus, who was his friend, said that it was better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.

Five days before Herod’s death, he murdered his oldest son to keep him from gaining his throne. As Herod lay on his death bed, he called all his advisors and all the influential men of Jerusalem and Judea to gather together and had them locked in the Hippodrome which was a horse racing track. Herod ordered his armies to surround the stadium and kill everyone inside after he died so that the city cry when he died – even if they weren’t crying for him. Apparently, the order wasn’t carried out.

So, when the magi come to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” you can imagine how troubled Herod was. King of the Jews is his job, his title, his office. herod and the magiThe guy who didn’t even want his own children to be king after him hears that someone else has been born to be King of the Jews. Well, Herod isn’t going to let that stand. And when Herod is troubled about this, the rest of Jerusalem is also quaking as they wonder what will happen next.

So, Herod learns from the chief priests and scribes that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, he sends the magi to find the Child and let him know where the infant Jesus is. But God tells the magi to not return to Herod, and they depart to their own country. And God sends an angel to warn Joseph to take the infant Jesus to Egypt, the land of slavery and infanticide (Ex. 1:8-21), to save the life of the Savior. As the soldiers marched south from Herod’s castle toward Bethlehem to carry out their murderous orders, the holy family fled ahead of them to Egypt.

Again, the first Christmas was not a tranquil, picturesque scene. Lord, have mercy.

The slaughter of all those boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem is one of the saddest, most horrific things recorded in all of the Scriptures. And yet, it is not so different in our time and culture today.

In 2018, the number of abortions performed in the US passed 60 million since the Roe v. Wade decision. Worldwide, the numbers are much more devastating. In our country, the killing of these pre-born children isn’t to protect a title of a king. Instead, these children are killed for the sake of convenience and independence. And it is all done in the name of choice. Politicians used to defend abortion saying that it should be safe, legal, and rare, but many of them are pushing to expand access to abortion and even suggesting that babies who survive attempts at abortion can be left to die on a table. And now, the leading provider of abortion in our country encourages women to shout their abortions and celebrate them.

Dear saints, there is a modern-day holocaust going on in our country, and it should daily drive us to our knees in prayer. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of our country, a man who published his own version of the Gospels that removed all of Jesus’ miracles, all the claims of His divinity, and even the Resurrection, Jefferson said, “A single human being is of infinite worth.” Even this secular principle is right and is enough to peacefully (and notice I said peacefully) oppose abortion with every ounce of our strength. But the coming of the Son of God in the flesh has raised the sacredness of all human life to an even higher dimension (Dr. Rev. David Scaer). In Jesus is life which gives light to everyone (Jn. 1:4, 9).

BaptismIn the incarnation, the eternal Son of God shares in the life of every man, woman, and child – born and unborn. We human beings are all taken out of the flesh of Adam which means that we are all part of one another. But even more importantly, by His conception, the eternal Son of God has permeated all of humanity. This is why the devil loves abortion. Satan loves abortion because every unborn child reminds him of the fact that the Son of God came in the flesh, took up residence in His mother’s womb, and defeated him. The fact that your Savior was once a pre-born child is primary the reason Christians oppose abortion.

Because we are descended from Adam, we all stand before God under the just verdict of guilty and deserving of hell (Ps. 51:5). But again, more importantly, because Jesus has taken on our flesh, we can stand in faith before God with Jesus, the second Adam, to hear a verdict of innocent, holy, and righteous because this Jesus has taken your place. On the cross, He become your sin (2 Cor. 6:21) so that He is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin (Jn. 1:29) and buries it into the emptiness of His tomb.

The young boys of Bethlehem died that night so Jesus could escape death as an infant but not escape death forever. Jesus grew up and died for them and for you upon the cross. Jesus died for them and for the evil Herod’s, Hitler’s, Stalin’s, bin Laden’s, and Soleimani’s of the world. Christ paid for the sins of every abortionist, every woman who has had an abortion, and every man who has pressured a woman to get an abortion. Your Savior died for those sins just as much as He died for yours.

Today, you have heard how your Savior was saved from death so that, at the right time Christ could die for you (Ro. 5:6). So, yes – rejoice because of Christmas while you remember why Jesus came. He came to bring salvation and life to a world obsessed with death. He came to make you – yes you, sinner – His own. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Holy Peace Dwelling with Us – Sermon on Luke 2:1-20 for Christmas Eve 2019

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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear saints, merry Christmas!Incarnation Icon Tonight, and all the days of your life, you can celebrate the fact that Jesus is born. God has taken on your flesh to save you. He has come in your likeness, born of a woman, in order to deliver you from your sin.

This Gospel text is one of the most familiar passages for Christians. As it was read, you could probably finish most of the phrases from memory, and that is good. But that familiarity can bring with it a loss of the wonder, awe, peace, power, and glory that this text has for us.

Whenever we read the Scriptures, we should be looking for the unexpected. But our familiarity with the text means that almost nothing is unexpected, at least not anymore. We’re so familiar with it that we aren’t surprised even though there are surprises at every turn. It’s surprising that God uses something as normal as a census and taxes to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to fulfill His promise that the Messiah would be born in the city of David (Mic. 5:2). It is surprising, and saddening, that none of Joseph’s relatives had a place for him and his laboring wife to stay which meant they ended up delivering their Son in a barn. Though those things are familiar to us, they are still shocking, unexpected, and are worthy to have us to pause and consider them more closely. However, tonight we are going to focus on what happens outside of Bethlehem in the fields so that we get a fuller picture of what happened in Bethlehem.

Glory appears to the ShepherdsLuke tells us that those shepherds, who were minding their own business, suddenly found themselves surrounded by the shining, dazzling glory of the Lord. The surprising, unexpected thing is not the existence of God’s glory. God’s glory shining is something that happens throughout the Scriptures.

The glory of God led Israel out of Egypt, but God’s glory was veiled and hidden in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21-22). That same glory, veiled in a cloud, descended on Mt. Sinai when God spoke to the people to give them the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19:9, 16-17). Even though God’s glory was hidden behind the cloud, the people were so afraid of God’s glory that they asked Moses to tell God to not speak directly to them anymore (Dt. 18:15-19). God’s voice along with His glory, even when it was concealed by the cloud, was too much for them to behold.

But God’s glory continued to be with His people. When they built the Tabernacle, that same cloud entered the Tabernacle. And it was this glory of God that led the people through the wilderness during the Exodus. Whenever the cloud would stop, the people would set up their camp and stay there until the cloud was taken up and led them further (Num. 9:17-22).

Every time the people set up their camp, the cloud would enter into the most holy place in the Tabernacle. And God gave strict instructions to Aaron, the high priest, that he wasn’t to enter the holy of holies any time he wanted or else he would die (Lev. 16:2). And even when Aaron, and the high priests after him, were allowed to enter the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement, those high priests were told to burn incense and make a cloud of smoke to serve as an additional barrier between them and the holy presence of God (Lev. 16:12-13).

Glory in Solomon's TempleThis went on for centuries until the King Solomon finished construction of the Temple. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple, the cloud descended into the most Holy Place, and the priests had to leave because God’s glory filled the Temple (1 Kgs. 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14). God no longer dwelt in the tent of the Tabernacle; now, He dwelled in the house of the Temple which was where heaven and earth intersected. And still, year after year, the high priest would enter the most holy place be the representative of the people and meet with God behind the smoke made by the incense and the cloud that subdued God’s glory (Ex. 25:21-22).

But year after year, God’s people kept serving other pagan gods which defiled them and God’s Temple. And though God repeatedly warned them about their sin, they refused to trust in God alone. So, God sent His people into exile in Babylon. And it was in Babylon that Ezekiel had a vision of the Temple. In that vision, Ezekiel saw the glory of God in that cloud leave the Temple (Ezek. 10:1-19). And shortly after this, Jerusalem was destroyed along with the Temple.

God did bring His people back to their land. They rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, but when the second Temple was completed, God’s people had a problem. The cloud of God’s glory didn’t return to dwell there (Ezra 3:10-15; 6:16-18). God did not enter that second, rebuilt Temple. For several hundred years, it went on like this. God’s people had the Temple, but God’s glory wasn’t seen. So, the people didn’t know if God was there for them as He had been with them in the past. Because God’s glory had not entered the Temple, there was confusion and doubt. The people wondered, “Has God forsaken us forever?” And this was a legitimate question.

But now here in Luke 2, outside of the Temple, away from Jerusalem, out in a field, the glory of the Lord reappears. But notice, there is no cloud to veil God’s glory. Why was there no cloud? Well, the cloud was no longer necessary.

The cloud had been there to hide the full glory of God so the people wouldn’t be destroyed by God’s holy presence. Now in the birth of Jesus, the full glory of God is still hidden, but not in a cloud. Now, the glory of God is hidden in the infant Jesus lying in a manger.

Dear saints, tonight we celebrate the fact that God has hidden Himself in your flesh. This is the miracle of Christmas. God hides Himself in your humanity so that He can be with you, dwell with you, and reveal Himself to you. God veils His glory in the body of Jesus so that He can appear as your Savior. God hides Himself so that He can reveal Himself as your Redeemer.

We are sinners. To be found by God in His glory and majesty would be our eternal destruction. But there in Bethlehem is God wrapped in swaddling clothes. Empty Manger With Cross ShadowHe is there so He can grow up and walk among us in the towns and streets of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. He is there so He can be betrayed, arrested, beaten, tried, crucified, loaded up with your sin, die, and rise again.

This is how your God is for you. God does not approach you with His consuming holiness. He hides His holy glory, and He comes in peace so that He can clothe you in His holiness. And clothed in that holiness, you are now the temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you (1 Cor. 6:19). God continues to reveal His glory to all creation through you, Christian (Ro. 8:21). Because of what Christ has done for you by making you holy, heaven and earth continue to overlap as God’s glory shines through you (Mt. 5:14-16).

So tonight, we join our voices with the heavenly choir. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to you.” Behold Christ’s glory which is full of grace and truth. From this Jesus, you receive grace upon grace. For your God is pleased to well with you now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Shortest, Most Beautiful Sermon – Sermon on John 1:19-29 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

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John 1:19-29

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the wolrd29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

A more beautiful sermon has never been preached than John’s short, little sermon there: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In this Gospel text, John does exactly what he was sent by God to do. He points everyone who was there listening to him and the rest of humanity, including us, to Jesus. In that thirteen-word, one sentence sermon, John takes all the theology of the Old Testament and all of the religious practices and ceremonies and worship God had given to His people and piles it all on Jesus. Christ fulfills it all (Jn. 5:39; Lk. 24:27; Ro. 15:8; 2 Cor. 1:20).

Consider the Day of Atonement. That day was the only day that someone could enter the most holy place in the Temple. Only the high priest could enter on that one day. On that day, the people took two rams and flipped a coin to determine which one would be sacrificed and which one would be the scapegoat.

The high priest would take the scapegoat and bring it into the midst of the people, place his hands on the head of the goat, and confess all the sins of all the people over the previous year (Lev. 16:21). All their idolatry, blaspheming, and Sabbath-breaking. All their rebelliousness. All their murderous and adulterous ways. All their theft, lying, and discontentment. All those sins would be placed on the head of the goat which would then be led into the wilderness and away from the people.

Hebrews 10(:3) says, “It impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” but those goats could and did preach about the One who would come and take away the sins of the people. Those goats pointed the people to the Messiah who would bear the sin of the world in His body (1 Pet. 2:24). That was the point of all the sacrifices in the Old Testament – to preach about Jesus who would remove sin. When you saw any of the sacrifices – a bull or sheep or ram or pigeon burning there on the altar – you knew that animal didn’t do anything, it hadn’t committed those sins. But it pleased God to take the sins of the people and have them relocated to that animal. And as you saw that animal being killed and burned, you realize, “That should be me, but God accepts the death of another, He accepts a substitute, for my sin.”

That is what John is doing when he points to Jesus and preaches, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John is saying, “Here is the One who dies in your place. Here is Jesus, the One who has all of your sin upon Himself.”

John wasn’t just preaching about the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement and the sacrifices. He was also preaching about the fulfillment of the Passover (Ex. 12). Remember, the people were slaves in Egypt, and God sends plague after plague to get Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh refuses. So, in the final plague, Exodus 12_46 - Passover Blood marking the doorpostsGod sends the angel of death to go through the land of Egypt. But God’s people were to take a lamb. They were to slaughter that lamb and smear some of the lamb’s blood on the door of their house and eat the rest of the lamb roasted that night. And when the angel would see the blood on the door, he would pass by.

Again, when John points at Jesus, he is preaching, “Here is the one whose blood marks your door and guards you from the wrath of God.”

John is preaching about the fulfillment of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. For years, God had promised Abraham that He would give Abraham a child in his old age and through that child God would bless all the nations of the world. Finally, Isaac was born, but God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22). God wasn’t testing Abraham’s obedience with this crazy command; He was testing Abraham’s faith. God had promised that through Isaac, He would raise up the Messiah. And Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have great-great-great-grandchildren through Isaac even if he sacrificed Isaac on top of the mountain. Hebrews 11(:17-20) says that Abraham figured that God would raise Isaac from the dead because God had to keep His promise. Abraham believed that Isaac, the child of promise, wouldn’t stay dead. Abraham believed that God would be faithful. But God provided another way of keeping the promise. The angel stopped Abraham’s hand from sacrificing Isaac. And there in the thorns was a ram caught by its horns, and it was sacrificed in Isaac’s place. After this, Abraham named that place “God provides” because God provided Himself as the sacrifice (Gen. 22:8).

And on that very mountain, the Temple would be built. On that mountain and in that Temple, God would continually accept the death of another in place of the children of promise. And now, John says, “Here is Jesus, the Lamb of God, the one who trades places with you, sinner.”

One more. Let’s go all the way back to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. They believed the devil’s lie instead of God’s Word. Their eyes are opened, and they realized they were naked. To try and cover their shame, they sewed fig leaves together. Those leafy clothes are like every other human religion; they don’t work. They don’t cover their sin and shame – especially when God shows up. Then, when God comes into the Garden, Adam and Eve try to hide from God. God gives them all sorts of chances to repent, but their sin has made them so afraid of punishment that they continually try to hide behind the leaves of their excuses. God warns them about the curses that have come because of their sin, but He also promises that He will send the Seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head.

God had said that on the day Adam and Eve ate that fruit they would surly die (Gen. 2:17), but they didn’t die that day. Instead, Adam and Eve watch God take an animal, who hadn’t done anything wrong, and kill it. This was the first time in all of creation that something died. Genesis 3-21 - God made clothes from skins.jpgGod hung that animal up and stripped the skin from its lifeless body as blood stained the ground. And God wraps that skin around the shameful, sinful bodies of Adam and Eve.

Scripture doesn’t record this, but it invites us to imagine Adam and Eve watching God do all of this. And you can imagine them in their shock and horror asking God, “Is this what it takes to cover our sin and shame?” And imagine God responding, “No. This is only preaching. There is a sacrifice to come.”

That sacrifice is Jesus, God’s own Son. Prior to Jesus, all of the Scriptures tell the story of Jesus coming to be that Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And all of the Scriptures would have you believe that God lays on Jesus the sin and iniquity of you and me and of the whole world (Is. 53:6).

This short, beautiful sermon of John takes all of these pictures and points you to Jesus as the fulfillment – not the picture. He is the One who actually bears your sin in His body. This Jesus, who knew no sin, became your sin, so that in Jesus you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Did you catch that? The sin of the world. That means this Jesus takes away your sin. God’s anger falls on Jesus, not on you. When you see Jesus on the cross, you say, “That should be me. But Jesus, my Savior, has willingly taken my place under God’s wrath so that I can take my place with Him in eternal life.”

Dear saints, this Christmas remember that Jesus is born to be your Substitute and your Savior. He, and He alone, takes away your sin now and forever. Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am thankful for a sermon from Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller for much of the content of this sermon.

Living in Holy Light & Being Holy Light – Sermon for Midweek Advent 3 2019

Listen here. (The first 30 seconds of tonight’s sermon were not recorded. The missed portion was simply a summary of the previous weeks’ messages.)

The texts for tonight’s service were Isaiah 60:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:6-12; and John 1:1-14.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Tonight, we are continuing the theme from 1 Timothy 4:4-5, “Everything is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.” In the first of these Advent sermons, we considered how God, the Holy One, makes us holy through His Word which cleanses and sanctifies us (Jn. 15:1-5; 17:17). Last week, we saw how God initially created all things good, but nothing created was holy by itself – nothing is inherently or intrinsically holy. So, God places His holy name upon us in our Baptism which makes us holy so we can be in His presence. This not only gives us access to God’s presence, it actually makes us a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (1 Cor. 6:19). This means, Christian, that you are no longer common. Now, you are sacred.

Tonight’s sermon will give us the picture of what our sacred life looks like according to Scripture especially from the Epistle lesson (2 Cor. 4:6-12). Paul is using imagery that was very common in his day, lamps. In the verses leading up to that text, he says that the Gospel – the good news that our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection – is a light (2 Cor. 4:1-5). Then our text picks up that image. Look at those verses while I read and comment on them:

The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone (Where?) in our hearts. (Why?) To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. We have this treasure – the treasure of God’s glory – in jars of clay.

These jars of clay are the lamps people used in New Testament times. Back then, houses were lit up, not by flipping on a switch but by little clay lamps filled with olive oil. Those clay lamps (or jars) had a small hole for a wick that floated in the oil and fed the flame.

So, God’s holy presence is in us. We have the treasure of His glory and power, but that holiness, that sacredness, that power, and that glory is hidden. You can’t see it just like you couldn’t see the oil inside of that clay lamp. But you know that oil is there as long as the wick continues to burn. If you lit a wick that didn’t have any fuel feeding it, that wick would burn up quickly. But when that wick has fuel, it will burn for hours and hours. Imagine that you didn’t know about the oil in the lamp, you would be surprised at how long the wick can burn.

Back to v. 7, we have this treasure hidden in jars of clay (Why?) to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. To close out this picture, Paul says that the life we have in Christ is reveled and shown in our suffering. Listen to v. 8-9, “We are afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed, but not driven to despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed.” When we endure suffering, others are able to see this surpassing power of God because of how it is manifested.

Afflictions do not crush us. Instead, they cause us to run to God (Ps. 129:2). Things that are perplexing and confusing do not cause us to despair (Ps. 37:32-33). When we have trials, we don’t need to wonder if God loves us – He does! When we are persecuted, we can know that we are suffering the very same things that Christ did. Jesus said, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (Jn. 15:20). When we are struck down, we turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39) because we know that our enemies cannot destroy us – Christ has promised (Mt. 10:28). We have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-4).

You see, dear saints who have been made sacred, God’s glory and power given to you is manifested to this world in your weakness for when you are weak, then you are made strong by God’s power (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Our problem is that this is the opposite of what we normally think. In every other aspect of our lives, growing up means that we move from depending on others to becoming independent. When a child can feed herself, walk, is potty trained, able to dress herself, tie her shoes, etc., we see that she is growing up into an independent woman.

The exact opposite is true of spiritual growth. Growing up spiritually means that we become more dependent upon Christ for everything in every situation. As we mature in faith, we learn to borrow all that we need from Christ which means that we grow in holiness.

As God shines the light of the Gospel into you, that light shines out of you so that you are a light to others. Jesus puts it this way Mt. 5:14–16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

God put the light of His Gospel into you so that you would give light to the dark house of this world. Jesus commands that light within you to shine. English cannot do justice to what the Greek does there. Jesus commands the light He has placed within you to shine so that the people of this world would see your good works and give glory to your heavenly Father.

I want to conclude tonight with one more image of what living in this light looks like by considering. Proverbs 3:5-6 (and I’m going to use a translation that might be different from what you are used to[1]), “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways know Him, so that He will straighten your paths.”

These verses picture traveling, but it isn’t the normal traveling from one place to another. It is traveling through life. Throughout your life, you travel on many different roads and paths that seem to have little or nothing to do with each other and it can feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. You go from one thing to another, but it feels like you have no destination.

But these verses invite to you to know the Lord in all your ways. What does that mean? It means that He is present with you in everything. Wherever you go, He is there with you. He is your invisible partner and companion. When you woke up this morning, He was there. When you traveled to work or school, as you ate lunch, while you drove here, He didn’t abandon you. He was right there beside you. You have had lots of little journeys today, and the Lord was with you the whole time.

All the paths of today and yesterday and six months ago, and all the paths of tomorrow and every day of your future are all one journey because God is with you every step of the way. In all your ways, know Him, see Him, expect Him. He is there walking with you leading you along the way. You don’t have to map out your own journey, you can simply trust Him because He is there making your path straight.

The biggest problem you have and that I have is that we think we are traveling by ourselves. We don’t even bother to look for Him because we don’t expect Him to be there. But there He is giving us His light, leading us, guiding us, directing us along our paths. This means that all our paths are sacred because of God’s presence.

All the little paths and bits and tasks of your life are not the story of your journey but the story of Jesus’ journey with you. Live your life in His holy light as you radiate that holy light. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Translation from Rev. Dr. John Klienig.

Rejoice! – Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11 for the Third Sunday of Advent

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The Scripture lessons for today’s service were Isaiah 40:1-8; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; and Matthew 11:2-11.

Matthew 11:2-11

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Baptism 2Dear Lincoln, today you are Baptized. Today, God has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). Today in your Baptism, you have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-5) and have been clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). And Lincoln, Derek, Brittney, and all you saints, that means that today is a day to rejoice. Even as we see the grass wither, the flower fade, and creation crumble, we know that the Word of our God will stand forever. God continues to shower His blessings upon us through that Word. And His Word to us today, and every day of our Christian walk, is the Word of the Gospel which causes us to rejoice.

But we just heard of John being in prison. In that dungeon, John isn’t wearing soft clothing. He is cold. He is hungry. He is lonely. And he is waiting to be executed. He doesn’t know when Herod is going to kill him, but he knows it is coming. In that dark night of his soul, John the Baptizer, greatest among those born of women, has doubts. It isn’t as though he doesn’t believe in Jesus anymore, but he has is struggling with doubt. John had preached about the one who would set the captives free (Ps. 102:20; Is. 58:6), yet he sits in chains and behind bars. So, John sends his disciples to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

So much for rejoicing. And I’m sorry to be a downer here, but this is the reality of all Christians. For all believers, faith and doubt coexist on this side of glory.

We live in a fallen and broken world. We suffer the effects of our sin. We work, we fight, we toil, and we struggle against our sin only to fall into it again and again. We imprison ourselves in the guilt and shame of our iniquities. Family and friends fail us. Health deteriorates. We bury those we love. And in the midst of all this, we wonder if God is truly our Father. If He still cares for us. And if He still loves us. We doubt and ask, “Are You really my Savior, or should I look for another?”

Lincoln, you will have days when you find yourself in these times of doubt. You too will struggle in your faith. But, again, on this side of glory faith and doubt coexist in the Christian.

And it is in those moments of doubt, Lincoln and all of you here, that you need to go back to inquire of your Savior like John did here. You need to hear from Jesus again and again and again. Joy isn’t the absence of pain, sorrow, and doubt. Joy is given to us through the peace that only Jesus can deliver in the midst of those things. Here is the reason we can have joy: listen to what Christ says, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Christ had not abandoned John as he sat in prison. And Jesus does not abandon you in your doubt either. He continues to bring His healing, resurrection, and Gospel to those who struggle balancing their faith and doubt today. Faith always asks for Christ to reveal Himself in mercy and lift us out of those doubts. Faith askes for Christ to forgive, strengthen, and encourage. And Jesus never fails to do those things because His steadfast love never ceases, and His mercies never come to an end (Lam. 3:22).

Christ Returns in Power and GloryIn Advent we are watching and waiting for the coming of our Savior and the end of our exile in this fallen, sinful world. Advent is the Christian life in a nutshell. We watch and we wait for the coming of our Lord. And as we wait, we are reminded that, whatever may happen to us in this veil of tears, the end is a joyful day for you whose citizenship is in heaven. As we wait, we remember that all the cares and sorrows of this world are temporary.

Lincoln and all you saints. Jesus comes to you today in the midst of your guilt, sorrow, and doubt to bring you His Gospel. He is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Friend, your Resurrection, and your Life.

This is why you hope and rejoice. Christ has died, He has risen, and He will come again. May God grant that this light would shine into our own hearts, deliver us from our doubts, and rescue us in our trials until the day we see Him face to face. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.