Gifts and Mercy – Sermon on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

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John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” wedding at cana water into wineNow there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

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

Notice first that John doesn’t call this miracle of Jesus a ‘miracle.’ It is, of course, a miracle to take somewhere between 120-180 gallons of water and turn it into wine in an instant. But John doesn’t call it a miracle, he calls it a ‘sign.’ And importantly, this is the first of Jesus’ signs and manifests His glory. This sign becomes the standard by which all other signs of Jesus are known. This sign shows how Jesus loves to give good gifts even when they aren’t known, recognized, or appreciated. And, therefore, this sign shows us how beautiful is Christ’s love and mercy.

Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Galilee is a region that isn’t all that important. The kings, rulers, religious leaders are mainly in Judah to the south. And Cana is a town that was so small and insignificant we still aren’t sure where it is – archeologists haven’t discovered it yet.

At that wedding feast, the wine had run out. Either those planning the wedding didn’t plan properly, or (and probably more likely) the guests had been too busy refilling their glasses. The master of the feast (and we’re going to come back to his statement) will say that the good wine that Jesus provides is a mistake because the guests have become drunk using the same word that the Scriptures will repeatedly warn against.

So, this first sign, this first miracle of Jesus isn’t like His other miracles in the Gospels where Jesus gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, gives hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the lepers, freedom to those possessed by demons, and resurrection to the dead. But this turning water into wine is not simply a parlor trick that Jesus does to impress people. It is an act of pure mercy. Jesus turns water into good wine for a bunch of people who already had wine.

Mary lets Jesus know the party has run out of wine. And Jesus doesn’t seem to want to get involved. But Mary has faith that Jesus will do what is good, so she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus could have told everyone the feast is over, pack up, and go home. But He doesn’t. His mercy extends far beyond our imagination.

Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone water jars that are there for the Jewish rites of purification. These rites of purification were an addition to God’s commands for His people to be clean. The Pharisees had a bunch of rules about washing before eating (see Mk. 7:1-5where the Pharisees will accuse Jesus’ disciples of not following these man-made rules). So, these jars aren’t there to hold drinking water. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to drink water from these jars as much as you wouldn’t want to drink from a bowl of water that people had used to wash their hands.

Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana.jpgJesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, and they fill them up to the brim. And, at Jesus’ command, they take some of it to the master of the feast. The master tastes it, and it isn’t water anymore. It is wine. The master didn’t know. The guests didn’t know. Only Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples know that this had been water miraculously turned into wine.

Now, we have to slow down for a minute and consider the words of the master of the feast: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Practically speaking, the master is absolutely right. You don’t waste the good stuff on people whose taste buds are numbed and who are probably going to throw it up anyway. You serve the good tasting wine first and serve the crummy wine when they don’t really care what it tastes like any more.

But in doing this, the master of the feast takes on a satanic role. And, I think (you can disagree) that is why John quotes the master of the feast. He is saying that there is a huge waste in giving good wine to people who cannot appreciate it, people who are going to abuse it, and to people who have been abusing it. You could almost say that the master goes to the groom and says, “You are some fool for giving people good wine when they can not appreciate it.”

This is what the devil says about God as God continually gives us His gifts of grace and mercy. Satan is enraged that God would love and forgive us who do not appreciate His gifts and mercy.

Cross and CommunionBut, dear saint, that is precisely the point. God is willing to give His gifts and mercy anyway. This isn’t a license to go on and sin because God will forgive you anyway. In fact, you are to abhor what is evil and hold to fast to what is good. Love one another. Outdo one another in showing honor (Ro. 12:9-11). And do all of that as you remember that God gives better than you deserve or appreciate.

Finally, remember that this sign occurs, as John says, ‘on the third day.’ This third day is the last in a series of days that John tells us about. The first day was back in Jn. 1:29where John the Baptizer says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, John says ‘the next day’ Jesus called His first few disciples. Then, this miracle occurs ‘on the third day.’ John could have kept his reckoning of time any way he wished. He could have said Jesus is proclaimed to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on Tuesday; on Wednesday, Jesus gets His first disciples; and on Thursday, Jesus was at a wedding in Cana. Or, John could have just kept saying, ‘the next day, the next day, the next day…’ But John doesn’t. John is pointing us to the fact that this is ‘the third day’ which is a foreshadow of the resurrection. ‘On the third day,’ the day of the Resurrection, Jesus gives wine is not earned, deserved, or even appreciated to sinners who at best deserved to be told to go home.

Dear saints, you live in the time of ‘the third day.’ Jesus lives. The shadow is past. Your sins are died for and forgiven. The resurrection is now. The marriage feast has begun. The Holy Spirit is given. You receive the best wine and all of Jesus’ gifts. But it is still not what it will be.

Jesus will return. The trumpet will sound, and then the wedding of the Lamb of God will begin in earnest. And never forget that you are His bride, His beloved. Come and receive now what you have not earned, deserved, or can even fully appreciate. Receive it knowing that your Lord is not afraid to give it to you. His love reaches to the heavens; His faithfulness stretches to the sky (Ps. 108:4). Come and receive His gifts and mercy. Amen.

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

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Exalted – Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 for the Baptism of Our Lord.

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Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus' Baptism Spirit Descends13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”Then he consented. 16And 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; 17and 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.

Our texts today (both this Gospel lesson and the Old Testament lesson [Josh. 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17]) bring us to the banks of the Jordan River. And to understand what is going on at Jesus’ baptism, we have to understand what happened in Joshua.

In that Old Testament reading, all the people of Israel are outside the land that God had promised to give to them. They had been waiting and wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Their leader, Moses, went up on a mountain to die. And Joshua, as God’s appointed man, takes over the leadership responsibilities.

Anyway, it is time to enter the Promised Land. So, God tells Joshua that He is about to exalt Joshua in the sight of all Israel so that the people will know that God is with Joshua as He had been with Moses. The priests who carry the ark of the covenant are to stand in the Jordan, and the waters of the river will be cut off from flowing so that the people can pass through on dry land. Just as God parted the waters of the Red Sea to lead God’s people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt (Ex. 14), God will lead His people through water into their own land.

The priests were carrying the ark and as soon as their feet are dipped in the brink of the Jordan (which, like our river here, floods its banks) the swollen waters stop flowing. The river stands and rises up in a heap. The people pass into the Promised Land near Jericho. And Joshua is exalted in the sight of the people just as God had promised (Josh 4:14).

So, what does this text from Joshua have to do with Jesus’ Baptism? Well, first the place is the same – the Jordan River, but there is so much more. Bear with me for a bit.

When John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing, he was there by the Jordan River – the place where God’s people entered their own land. Now, baptism is something that had been going on well before John ever started doing it. When someone who wasn’t a Jew converted and wanted to become part of God’s people, they would be baptized. The idea was that Israel had all gone through water to enter the Promised Land and become God’s people through their ancestors, so people who were converting would also go through water.

But remember, John was baptizing people who were already Jews. John is out there calling people back to their roots, back to the Jordan, back to where God brought them into their own land and made them a people. And they are being baptized ‘unto’ repentance (Mt. 3:11), confessing their sins, and receiving forgiveness. Sinners are going to John. They receive a baptism that is for sinners and brings about repentance.

Baptism of Christ - TheophanyTo that very place and in that very context comes Jesus Christ, our Lord. And what is He coming to do? He’s coming to be baptized!

John says, “No way! No sinner’s baptism for You.” But Jesus corrects John, and John consents. Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan. The heavens open. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove. And a voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

There is a lot for us to see in those two verses (v. 16-17). But to get the whole picture, we need to hear what John has to say about this event in the Gospel of John(1:29, 32-34[it’s in your Scripture insert]). After Jesus had been baptized, John is hanging out with his disciples. He sees Jesus and points to Him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John goes on to say how he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus and remain on Him after He was baptized. And John testifies saying, “This is the Son of God.”

So, here is the whole picture:

When Jesus, our great High Priest, was baptized, He stepped into the Jordan River. But the waters did not part like they did for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant. Instead, the heavens opened, and God proclaimed His presence in this world. And what is Jesus, our High Priest, here to do? He is here to be the sin-bearer.

All the sins of the people who had been baptized by John are there in the Jordan River. Jesus enters those waters. And as He is baptized, Jesus sucks up all those sins into Himself like a sponge. As Isaiah wrote, “[Jesus] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The Lord laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:4, 6, 11). That is why John can say that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

As God lead His people through the Jordan to exalt Joshua in the sight of the people, God led Jesus (who shares Joshua’s name), the new and greater Joshua, and exalted Him by saying, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And know why it is that God is pleased with His beloved Son. It is because He, in His baptism, takes on your sin. He takes on your sin so He can carry it for you. So He can bear it to the cross for you. So He can bear God’s wrath against that sin for you. So that He can die in those sins for you. And so that, when He rises from the tomb leaving it empty, your sin is nowhere to be found.

Baptism 2Christ’s glory, His exultation is to call you and chose you who are not wise according to worldly standards, not powerful, not of noble birth. Instead, He is exalted to choose us who are foolish, weak, and despised in the world (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Christ’s glory is to be numbered with us transgressors and to bear our sin (Is. 53:12). He has taken your shame, your pride, your lust, your iniquities and given you His righteousness.

God’s delight and pleasure is in His Beloved Son, Jesus. And that is where you are. In your Baptism, you were united and clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). You were buried with Christ in your Baptism so that you would be joined to His resurrection (Ro. 6:3-4). Jesus has indeed fulfilled all righteousness, and you are in that. Amen.

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

The Magi – Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 for Epiphany

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Matthew 2:1-12

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” herod and the magiWhen Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the magi secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

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

Before we dive in here, I would just like to note something: One of Martin Luther’s sermons on this text is 110 pages long. As tempting as it is to preach a three-hour sermon, I promise to be slightly more succinct. You’re welcome.

When Matthew says there in v. 1, “behold,” he’s putting up a big sign. Matthew wants us to slow down and be amazed at what is going on in this text. If we put it in today’s language, v. 1 could be translated, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, check this out, magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”

Now, who are these magi? We have to clear up some misconceptions that have become so engrained in our minds. Sometimes, we call them ‘wise men.’ Well, there is nothing in the Scripture that identifies them as ‘wise’ – at least not anything they do is particularly wise, except for when they worship the Christ Child. They may have been educated, learned men, but not ‘wise.’ In fact, we will see how they are constantly dependent on the Word of God to do the right thing. Sometimes, they are called kings like in the hymn “We Three Kings.” But there is nothing to indicate that they were kings or lords or governors or rulers or anything like that. The Scriptures indicate that they are well off financially, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they are kings. And there is nothing to tell us for sure that there were three of them. All we know is that there were at least two because the word magi is plural. They do bring three gifts that are fit for a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (The idea of there being three of them is kind of nice unless you like to imagine a fourth magi standing sheepishly in the corner while the other three give their gifts.) So, who are these magi?

The Scriptures call these guys μάγοι which is where we get our word ‘magicians.’ Now, we aren’t talking about street performers who can tell you what card you drew from a deck or pull a rabbit out of a hat. This ‘magic’ that they would have practiced is satanic stuff. The pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, had some magi at his disposal when he had a dream in Daniel 2(:2-11). Nebuchadnezzar called in his magi, enchanters, and sorcerers (see how these jobs are lumped together). He wanted these people to come tell him what his dream was and what it meant.

So, when the first readers of Matthew came across this term ‘magi,’ they would have understood this to mean these men would have been involved in witchcraft, astrology, sorcery, fortune-telling, speaking to the dead, magi travelingOuija boards, etc. – all things that the Scriptures consistently forbid because they are all demonic, satanic practices. So, again v. 1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, check this out, magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” It’s absolutely shocking. These are the first Gentile (non-Jewish) people in all the Gospels to seek Jesus, the Son of God.

Through their demonic practices, probably astrology but whatever those practices were, they see a star that leads them to Jerusalem and to Herod. They ask, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star and have come to worship,” not just give Him honor and respect, “we have come to worship Him.” Herod could have legitimately said, “Well, you’re in luck. I’m Herod, king of the Jews. Go ahead and bow down.” But even Herod, for all his evil, wicked, murderous ways, even Herod recognizes he isn’t divine and deserving of worship.

But notice what Herod does do. He summons the chief priests and scribes and asks notwhere the descendant of King David would be born but “where the Christwas to be born.” Herod makes the connection – the King of the Jews these magi are looking for is the Christ, the promised Messiah.

The chief priests and scribes rightly go to Micah 5:2which states that Christ the King will be born in Bethlehem. So, Herod calls the magi back in secretly; he has a private meeting with them to find out when they first saw the star. We know his intentions were evil because right after this text, Herod will use the information from that meeting to try and kill Jesus by exterminating all the boys in Bethlehem who were 2 and under.

epiphany iconThe magi take leave of Herod. The star appears again to lead them (Had it disappeared for a time?). They see it and “rejoice with exceedingly great joy.” And they find what they’ve been looking for, what they have been traveling for months to find. There, in a house, is the infant Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. And they worship the Child who will grow up and die on the cross for them. But then, notice, they have to be warned in a dream to not return to Herod. And they return to their country by another way.

So, there’s the text, and there is so much we could focus on: How an infant Child is worthy of worship. How the chief priests and scribes and all the people of Jerusalem trembled in fear when they should have been crawling to the house to worship the Child. But today, we are going back to behold, to check out, the magi. And most importantly how God graciously leads them to Himself.

God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) – even these magi who practice demonic arts. And God gives them signs to see even as they live in their sin. But those signs don’t lead them directly to the king they are looking for. God could have used the star to bring them straight to Jesus, but remember that God always works and calls people to Himself through His Word. And those signs lead the magi only as far as the Scriptures. Remember, they followed the star which, initially, only got them as far as Jerusalem and Herod; Herod connects the magi to the chief priests and scribes; and the religious leaders are the ones who introduce the magi to the Scriptures (specifically Micah 5:2).

Now, I want to be clear that I’m going to speculate for a moment here. But it isn’t, at least in my opinion, reaching very far: These magi learn about the sacred text from Micah 5about the one they are seeking. They would have probably been used to studying ancient texts, so it is very conceivable that they would want to know more about what Micah had to say. When you have been traveling for months to find something and stop to get more directions, you want to be sure those directions are legitimate. The passage about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem was from Micah 5:2. And, if you keep reading and get to Micah 5:12, God says there, “I will cut off (lit.exterminate) sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes.” So there is no question that God uses the star to lead these magi to the Scriptures. But conceivably, the magi study the Scriptures further which leads them to repentance of their livelihood, and finally to their Savior.

Now, even if that isn’t the case, here is the point: Don’t give up on praying for your friends and family who are far from God even when it seems that they are so far from God you think they are a lost cause. Point them to the Scriptures. Point them to Jesus, the Word who became flesh and brings God’s mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. To do that, of course, you will have to know the Scriptures.

Cross and CommunionAnd always remember, that God doesn’t give up on you either. Through the same Scriptures, God has led you here to Himself. He hasn’t used a something as uncertain as star or a dream. He has led you with something more certain (2 Pet. 1:19) – His Word. He has led here to receive His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He leads you now to His altar to receive His very Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Leave your sins behind. Come, taste, and see that your God is merciful and gracious, full of steadfast love and righteousness. Amen.

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

The Sword – Sermon on Luke 2:22-40 for the First Sunday after Christmas

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Luke 2:22-40

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Jesus presented in the Temple SimeonAnd he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

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

Merry Christmas! Today is the sixth day of Christmas, so make sure you have enough room in your house or yard for your six geese a-laying. Someone will bring them by sometime later. Probably, most people you come across think Christmas is over and done with, but not here in church. The Church is right in the middle of celebrating Christmas. In the Church, we get to enjoy Christmas until next Sunday when we remember the visit of the wise men on Epiphany.

This text today has a lot going on, and we could focus on so much. But we are going to consider mainly what Simeon says to Mary in v. 34-35. Listen to those words again, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

First, Jesus is appointed for the fall (or ‘ruin’ or ‘downfall’) of many. In other words, many will reject Jesus to their damnation. But Jesus is also appointed for the rising of many. That word, ‘rising,’ is the word that also gets translated as ‘resurrection’ when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”(Jn. 11:25). Many will trust in Jesus and from Him receive forgiveness, salvation, resurrection, and eternal life.

Simeon & Presentation of Jesus in the TempleThis forty-day-old Jesus is going to bring a division between believers and unbelievers. Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says this division comes because what a person does with Jesus will reveal the thoughts of their heart. The division falls in one of two ways: many will oppose and reject Jesus to their fall, to their ruin, and to their damnation, and many will trust in Him to their resurrection and eternal life.

But there is one more phrase from Simeon’s words to Mary that we haven’t touched on yet. It is the phrase in parenthesis. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” And this is what we are going to pull apart and consider for the rest of the sermon.

Typically, the understanding of that phrase from Simeon is understood to mean that Mary is going to be very sad when she stands at the cross and watches her Son suffer the wrath of God against all sin. Now, I don’t want in any way to diminish Mary’s sorrow at the cross. But if that is what Simeon is saying there, it is very out of place. Simeon is focusing on the division and separation that Jesus will bring between believers and non-believers. So, for him to tell Mary that she is going to be very sad at some point would be odd.

A better understanding is that Mary is going to be divided even within herself because of Jesus. Not only is Jesus going to challenge, confront, and expose those who reject Him. Jesus is also going to challenge, confront, and expose those who believe in Him and are Christians. Now, Mary is a Christian. She believes and trusts in Jesus. God had told her that she was bearing the Messiah and Savior. But Mary, and all Christians (so you too), all Christians are going to be divided within themselves because of Jesus.

And that is where this sword that Simeon talks about comes in. What is this sword? The book of Hebrews helps shed some light on Simeon’s words. Listen to this verse, you are probably familiar with it: Hebrews 4:12“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Do you see how similar that is to Simeon’s words?

God’s Word is like a scalpel that divides between soul and spirit. Usually in English, soul and spirit are synonyms. The Bible will even use the two as synonyms (Lk. 1:46-47; 1 Pet. 3:19; Rev. 6:9). You aren’t made up of three things – body, soul, and spirit. You are made up of two things – body and soul or body and spirit. But there are times – and Heb. 4:12is one of them – where Scripture makes a distinction between your soul and your spirit.

When the Bible does make a distinction between soul and spirit, usually the soul will refer to your thoughts, emotions, personality, and inward life. Your soul is who you are. It is your personality, and it is wrapped up with your body. If your body has a traumatic injury, it changes who you are. So your soul is shaped by your past, by your upbringing, by important people in your life.

On the other hand, your spirit different. Your spirit is who you are from God’s perspective. Before you were a Christian, your spirit was dead in sin and trespasses (Eph. 2:1f), but your soul was not dead. When you were born again, your spirit was reborn. Remember when Jesus says to Nicodemus (Jn. 3:6), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the [Holy] Spirit is spirit”(also, see Ro. 8:16).

So, God causes your spirit to be born again. You are saved, reborn, renewed, forgiven, perfect, and sinless by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). When God looks at you, He sees your spirit which has been washed and renewed. So, now, back to Heb. 4:12, the Word of God is a sword that is sharp enough to distinguish between your soul and spirit.

Hebrews 3_12-13 RenewedThere can be, and often is, a conflict between how God sees you in your reborn spirit and how you see yourself in your soul – your thoughts, and emotions. You have probably experienced this. Part of you, your spirit, wants to live a certain way. You want to keep God’s commands, you want to live a God-pleasing life, you want to love your neighbor, etc. But part of you, your soul, doesn’t. Your soul would rather make sure you are comfortable and doesn’t really care about what God has commanded or what would benefit others. Paul talks about this conflict in Ro. 7(:7-25)where he wants to do good, but instead he keeps doing the sinful thing that he hates.

This is why, dear Christian, you need the Word of God. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. It can cut across even your soul and spirit. The Word of God will distinguish what is right, good, and holy that has come from God. And it will distinguish what is sinful and your soul tries to hold on to but needs to let go.

In other words, the Word of God does surgery on you, Christian. Like a surgeon cutting out and removing a tumor leaving the good, healthy tissue behind, the Word of God will cut out the pollution of sin and leave behind what is good and right. Those things that you thought were normal and did all the time, but they really harm you and your neighbor, the Word of God wants to cut those things out. And those things that are right and good and come from God, the Word wants those things to remain.

Michelangelo Sculpture Quote.jpgThe artist Michelangelo (not the Ninja Turtle) used to say that when he looked at a hunk of marble, he didn’t see big rock. Instead, he saw the sculpture that he was going to free from the rest of the rock that he would eventually chip away. He would say that he wasn’t creating a sculpture, he was just getting rid of all the rock that wasn’t part of the sculpture. That is somewhat the idea in the verse from Hebrews about the Word of God doing the work of dividing soul and spirit.

So, here is the picture. You might think that you are just fine. You are better than others and don’t need forgiveness like they do. That is the rock and debris of your sinful soul. Repent of that. God’s Word is sharp and will cut away the veneer of your pride and arrogance. The Word of God will remove all of that and mold and shape you into the person God wants you to be.

Or, on the other hand, maybe you think that you are worthless and unlovable. Sometimes, you and I even imagine that those thoughts of worthlessness are a good work. But, really, that is just the other side of pride and arrogance. Repent of that too. That is not how God sees you, Christian. Jesus was not wasting His time when He died on the cross for you. He loved and valued you and was cleansing you by the shedding of His blood. So, the sharp Word of God comes along and cuts away that wrong idea that you are worthless and unlovable.

For about a month now, I’ve been inviting you to join me in 2019 to read through the entire Bible. I hope you take me up on that invitation. There will be times where it will be painful and difficult. But remember that God’s Word isn’t just a bunch of words like any other book. God’s Word is always doing what God wants it to do.

May your Lord and Savior continue His work of molding and shaping you through His Word this coming new year. Amen.

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

Christmas Emotions – Sermon for Christmas Eve Candlelight Service 2018

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

Out of all the nights of the year, Christmas Eve is probably the most emotional and nostalgic. Outside is dark and cold, but inside is bright and warm. You have come to a cozy sanctuary that many of you have been attending for years.

Some of you have been right here, in this sanctuary (maybe even in the same seat), every December 24thof your life. You will probably leave here and have a nice meal and an enjoyable time with family and friends. You will spend the rest of your evening opening well-wrapped presents set under a tree filled with decorations you have had for longer than you can remember.

Everything about this evening feels cozy, quaint, and sentimental.

But, what happens if all the things that you have come to appreciate about this night were gone? What if there are no candles, no lights? What if the furnace here had stopped working and the sanctuary was 40 degrees?

What if, instead of lutefisk, meatballs, and lefse, you went home to peanut butter, jelly, and stale bread? What happens if there is no tree, no ornaments, no tinsel, no wrapping paper? How would this evening feel if your gifts were handed to you in a plastic grocery bag, or – heaven forbid – you had no presents at all?

If everything you associate with a perfect Christmas Eve was gone, would there still be reason to celebrate this night?

Yes. Yes, there would. None of the things we add to this night change the fact that Jesus was born. The fact of Christ’s birth, the fact that God has come in the flesh, is not based upon a mood or emotional feeling we get from the things we normally associate with this night.

Jesus was born at a real time in history, and that night was notfilled with the warmth and ambiance we associate with this evening.

David’s royal line had nearly vanished. The priests were barely more than puppets of the Roman empire. And most people had lost hope in God’s promises.

Mary and Joseph were away from the comforts of their home. An occupying military force was demanding more taxes, and the small-town carpenter had to travel a long distance to pay. Joseph’s extended family didn’t have room for him and his extremely pregnant wife in their homes.

That time in history was filled with uncertainty in the government, uncertainty in economy, uncertainty in health and safety, and even uncertainty in religion.

But there was no uncertainty with God. The time was perfect for Him. In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus, born in the flesh to be Emmanuel – God with us, God with you. God with you to redeem you. God with you to forgive you. God with you to give His everlasting love mercy to you.

For some of you, this will be the most memorable Christmas you have ever had, and you will cherish the memories of this night for the rest of your life. For that, praise God.

For some of you, however, this year the Christmas lights won’t be as bright, and the feelings will be less warm. Things have changed. Loved ones have died. Relationships have broken up. Kids have moved away and aren’t coming home for the holidays. For some of you, the absence of someone tonight will leave an emptiness.

But whether tonight is your best or most difficult Christmas, the fact doesn’t change – Jesus was born. Your Savior now lives as true God and true man forever.

Jesus’ birth was not the culmination of the Old Testament prophecies. It was the beginning. Jesus was born not to remain a baby, but to rescue all people from their sins by His sacrifice for you on the cross.

Jesus was never meant to stay in a manger, and you are not meant to stay in this world. The Light that dawns on you in Christ’s birth will be brought to perfect completion when you know the fullness of His forgiveness and joy in heaven.

Because Jesus was born, because He grew up, suffered, died, and rose again, it doesn’t matter what emotions you have or don’t have tonight. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t have to adorn your celebrations.

Nothing matters except that you have a Savior. Unto you He is born. For you, He lived. For you, He died. For you, He rose again. For you, He lives evermore and evermore. Amen.

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

The Savior Who Is Not You – Sermon on John 1:19-28 for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

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John 1:19-28

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.”

John Points to Christ24 (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.

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

From 4th grade until I graduated High School, I spent too much time at swimming pools. Monday-Friday consisted in at least two hours of practice. And most weekends December–March and June–August were swim meets. In the summer, if my friends wanted to hang out, it usually meant we would go to the pool. Now, there are different sets of pool rules: one set for swim team members during practice and another set for everyone who comes for open swim.

I knew all the lifeguards because most of them were also on the swim team. During practice, they were teammates (even though, until I got to High School, they were much older than I was). But during open swim, they were no longer teammates. They were the authorities. I had to obey their commands and comply with their whistles. And, believe me, they made sure I got a whistle for every little infraction during open swim.

So, when I was old enough, I took the class to get my lifeguard certification so I too could get a job at the pool. I received that perforated card from the Red Cross with the words written in bold “Lifeguard Certification.” And I had ascended the ranks. I donned my white tank-top with the bold red cross, grabbed my whistle, shouldered my 50” rescue tube, and climbed to the throne of the lifeguard stand.

Now, I had authority. I could boss around the younger kids who were on the swim team when they came for open swim. I could bark commands at the college kids and adults who dared to hang on the rim of the poolside basketball hoop, run on the deck, dive in the shallow end, or take more than one bounce on the diving boards. The first few months of being on the stand, I was the Attila the Hun of lifeguards. All feared and obeyed me. (But, I’m sure, the swimmers and my fellow lifeguards thought I was ridiculous.)

The point of all that is this: Whenever we are unsure of our authority or position or status, we take every opportunity to assert ourselves to make sure that everyone around us can see that we are important, we are in charge, we have the answers. And, in our minds, those who can’t see that are just plain clueless. So, we respond to their ignorance about our greatness and importance by doubling down on insisting how important we are. The worst part is that we don’t see how sinful and stuffed with pride we have become, and we refuse to repent because we have justified ourselves in our minds.

John the BaptizerJohn the Baptizer was important. He was the forerunner of the Messiah and the last prophet. He was foretold in Scripture. He had the attention of all Judea and Jerusalem as they came out to him. And the religious authorities were sending envoys to him asking, “Who are you?” They wanted to find out exactly why John was doing what he was doing.

John could have easily persuaded and convinced everyone that he was something more than he actually was. But John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet.”

John stayed in his God-given role, his God-given position, his God-given job, his God-given task, his God-given vocation, “I am not the Christ. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Those two, brief confessions from John can also bring stability, peace, and joy into our lives. John confesses who he is not, and John confesses who he is. When you recognize and trust that you are not your own christ and that you have your own God-given calling and vocation, everything falls into its proper place.

You, like John, are not the Christ. Repeat after me, “I am not the Christ.” You do not have to justify yourself or your actions. Now, let me be clear, there may be times where you are falsely accused of doing wrong and you will need to set the record straight. But even in those instances, there is always some sin you have committed even if it was only a thought or wrong attitude. If we say we have nosin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8). So, rather than covering your tracks, rather than justifying yourself, rather than trying to be your own christ, your own savior, you are free. Free to ask for forgiveness – from God and from your neighbor.

There is freedom in saying, “I am not the Christ,” because there is a Christ, there is a Savior who is not you. Jesus, the Christ and Savior, sits at His Father’s right hand with His nail-scarred hands and feet. He vouches for you to God the Father saying, “I am the Christ. I am the Savior. I died and rose again to forgive that one there.”

So, confessing, “I am not the Christ,” brings peace and joy. But so also does John’s other statement, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness…”

cropped-jesus-lamb-slain-silver-goldNow, you aren’t the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, but you are a Christian. And you are a Christian because there is a Christ. You bear His name. You are washed clean of all your sins in His blood. You hear Jesus’ Word. You pray His prayers. You live His life. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you (Gal. 2:20). This means that you have your own God-given calling, role, task, and vocation to carry out. So be faithful in those callings and vocations.

And rejoice. Rejoice because there is a Savior who is not you. In Him is your rest. In Him is your forgiveness. In him is your peace. “Rejoice the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Php. 4:4-5). You have no reason to be anxious about anything. You are the forgiven, ransomed, redeemed people of God. You have the Savior. You bear His name and have been made His royal children. And Christ the King, your Lord and Savior, He is at hand. Amen.

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

Comfort & Rejoicing – Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11 for the Third Sunday in Advent

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Matthew 11:2-11

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

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? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 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.

Here we are – just over a week away from Christmas, and now we hear John the Baptizer. He is the fore-runner. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He came tearing down mountains as he preached the Law and raising up valleys as he preached the Gospel.

John is an interesting character. He is one of only three people I can think of – Isaac, John, and Jesus – whose birth was promised from heaven before the child was even conceived (maybe you can think of more). God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Zechariah that God would open Elizabeth, his wife’s, womb; Gabriel also said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born (Lk. 1:15). When Mary was pregnant with Jesus and went to visit Elizabeth, Mary greeted Elizabeth, and John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb (Lk. 1:39-41).

John the BaptizerJohn was born and grew up as a Nazarite, so his hair was never cut. Imagine his big, bushy beard and his long, tattered hair. John preached out in the wilderness wearing clothes made of camel hair and leather belt. He had a peculiar diet of locusts and wild honey (Mk. 1:6). Imagine having locust breath – probably even worse than coffee breath. Matthew summarizes John’s preaching as this message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). People would come out to the wilderness to hear him preach, and when he saw them he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). He would preach about the axe that was laid to the root of every tree that would cut down each tree that didn’t bear fruit and throw it into the fire (Mt. 3:10). So, John was a preacher of the Law. But still all the country of Judea and Jerusalem was going out to John and being baptized and confessing their sins (Mk. 1:4-5).

But John was also a preacher of the Gospel. He would point people to Jesus. He told them about the One who was coming after him, whose sandals he was unworthy to stoop down and untie (Mk. 1:7). He pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29, 35-36). John was a wild man frantically calling people to repent and pointing them straight to Jesus.

But that is not the John we hear about today. In today’s Gospel, John is in prison. He had preached against the sin of Herod, and Herod didn’t like it. The John in today’s Gospel reading isn’t standing in the wilderness next to the Jordan River with his hair blowing in the wind as he preaches repentance and the Lamb of God. Instead, John is behind bars in a stuffy, dank, dark cell. And the last words we hear of John the Baptizer don’t even come directly from his mouth. His last recorded words in Scripture are a question brought by John’s disciples to Jesus. “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Even John who, according to Jesus, was the greatest among those born of women, even John struggled with doubt. So, when you struggle with doubt (and please, notice, it I didn’t say ‘If you struggle with doubt’), when you struggle with doubt, know that you are sitting next to John. Maybe, you wouldn’t word your question the same way that John did. Maybe, your question is, “Is my spouse really going to rise again?” or, “Am I ever going to get better and be healed?” or, “Jesus, did You really die and rise again for me?” or, “Jesus do you really forgive me?” All of those questions also fall under John’s question, “Are you the One who is to come?”

It’s a simple ‘yes/no’ question. But Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, doesn’t give a ‘yes/no’ answer. Instead, Jesus sends John’s disciples back with a message, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: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.And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

john-in-prison-with-disciplesJohn was anxious in prison knowing he was probably going to be executed for what he had preached. Probably, John was wondering if he had preached rightly. And Jesus’ response points John and you to the Scriptures. In particular, Jesus points John to Isaiah 35:4-6, and you have to hear the context of those verses because it shows how beautifully Jesus answers John’s question, “Are you the One who is to come?” Here it is Isaiah 35:4-6, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy….”

Jesus directs imprisoned, anxious, troubled, doubting John and you, to the comforting promises of Scripture because the word of the Lord endures forever (Is. 40:8). The blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking, and the mute singing are evidence that God has come, and He has come to save. The comfort is notin the signs. The signs point back to the comforting news that God has come to bring salvation to you.

This is the good news, the Gospel, that John needs to hear. This is the good news that all sinners need to hear, that you need to hear. God has come. Jesus has come and saved you. christ-of-st-john-on-the-cross-salvador-daliHe opened the eyes of the blind. Christ made the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the mute to sing. All of that means that salvation has come to you who are anxious and poor in spirit. Rejoice.

Believer, you can have joy because of the comforting message that Jesus has come. He has come and saved you. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness and sadness cannot coexist, but joy and sadness can. Joy is not the absence of sadness or anger. Joy is confidence and contentment that God is in control and is taking care of things. Even when everything seems dark and fading, God is in control, and He has come. He has died and risen again. He has come and saved you. Amen.

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