Just a Glimpse – Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9 for the Transfiguration of our Lord

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Matthew 17:1-9

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the Transfiguration of our Lord, we see a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. His face shines like the sun, and His clothes become white as light. At no other moment during His time on earth, does Jesus become as gloriously dazzling and bright as at the Transfiguration. In the Transfiguration, we absolutely see that Jesus is divine. God the Father declares so from heaven, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” But all that being said, we do need to be a careful with equating Jesus’ brightness with His divinity. Just because Jesus is shiny doesn’t mean that He is God.

Here’s why we need to be careful. Jesus isn’t the only one shining at the Transfiguration. Luke’s gospel tells us that Moses and Elijah were both shiny as they stood with Jesus on the mountain (Lk. 9:30-31). Also, in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 34:29-35), we heard how Moses’ face would shine after he talked with God. Moses’ shining appearance made the people afraid to come near him. We don’t say that Moses and Elijah are divine because they were shiny too. They are normal, human men. They are Christians, but they aren’t divine. Yet, both of them also radiate a splendid light.

There are other examples of this too. In the book of Acts, we are told about Stephen (Act. 6:8-7:60). He had been chosen to be one of the first deacons. Acts tells us that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit and would constantly point people to Christ. The Jewish council didn’t like this, so they had some false witnesses accuse Stephen of blasphemy. When Stephen was on trial, we are told that the council saw that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel (Act. 6:15).

Now, this makes us wonder: how did they know what an angel looked like? Would they regularly see angles? Probably not. It’s likely that they thought Stephen looked like an angel because of how the Scriptures regularly describe angles. In Is. 6:1-8, the angels are called seraphim which means ‘burning ones.’ Or in Ezk. 1:13-14, Ezekiel sees angels and describes them as “burning coals of fire” that had “the appearance of torches.” So, the book of Acts doesn’t say this for sure, but it is likely that Stephen had a bright, shiny appearance as well. Many suggest that the glory that Stephen was about to receive when he was martyred in a few verses began to shine through Stephen’s face a little early.

All of this is to say that it is possible for ordinary humans to have the that bright, shiny countenance that Jesus has in His Transfiguration. Maybe it isn’t the same number of Kelvins, but you get the point. In short, when Jesus undergoes this beautiful, majestic, bright metamorphosis (that’s the Greek word that gets translated as ‘transfigured’ in our text), that’s not just because He is God, but it is also because He is a perfect, sinless, holy Man. Jesus was Man as God intended all mankind to be. In other words, at the Transfiguration, Jesus gives us just a glimpse of how all humanity is supposed to look. Here, Christ bears the unstained, true image of God. And one day, dear Christian, you will have this glory as well.

Try this picture: Imagine that your whole life, you had the flu. Every day of your life you have had body aches, fever, vomiting, diarrhea. Your hair is always disheveled, and you can hardly walk straight because you are so weak and miserable. But, again, this is all you have ever known, all you’ve ever experienced. So, if someone came up to you to you on any given day and said, “You look horrible. You should go get some rest.” You would probably respond, “What do you mean, I look horrible? I feel totally normal.”

Now, expand that out. Let’s say everyone in the entire world is sick every day of their lives. Everyone is in misery, and all everyone experiences is pain and sickness. But no one would complain that much because nobody knows anything different.

But then imagine that one day, you woke up, and your fever and flu were gone. You aren’t running to the toilet every twenty minutes to explode out one end or the other. You have a new appetite and a new strength and vitality that you never knew was possible. You are filled with so much energy, vigor, and liveliness that you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’d feel like Superman, and everyone who saw you would be amazed at how strong and alive you are because they are still sick and miserable.

What Peter saw in the Transfiguration was glorious, but what he saw is what it is to be normal human being. Peter saw in Jesus how God created us to be. The only reason it was so foreign and different was because of how sick we sinners have become and how deeply we have fallen into sin. And this vision was so wonderful that Peter doesn’t want to leave. Just to behold Jesus in that glorious state was enough for Peter, so he wants to make some tents and gaze upon Christ.

I hadn’t thought of the Transfiguration and how it reveals what humanity is supposed to look like before writing this sermon, but it’s important for us to do that because the testimony of Scripture bears all this out. Romans 8[:19-23] talks about how creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. And the creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption (think of the sickness) and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Don’t miss that. Creation itself is watching and waiting for the full glory of you children of God to be revealed.

But as wonderful as that text from Romans is, there is another one that is even more fitting as we consider the Transfiguration of our Lord. It’s 2 Cor. 3:18, which I included in your Scripture insert. To briefly put it in its context, Paul there is talking about what our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 34:29-35) considered about Moses’ face shining and the veil he had to wear because of the glory that made his face bright. Remember that when Moses went to speak with God, he would remove the veil, and when he would speak to the people, Moses would put a veil over his face. Then, 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transfigured (same word used for Jesus’ transfiguration lit. the Greek word is ‘metamorphosized’ though the ESV translates it as ‘transformed’) we are being transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

So, did you catch that? Already in this life, Christian, you are being transfigured into the same glory that Jesus had on the mountain. God brings about that transfiguration through His Word, through Him continually working on you through His Sacraments, and through Christian fellowship. Through these things, God is working on you to mold, shape, and metamorphosize you. We aren’t perfect like Jesus, not by a long shot. But we are, by the grace of God which we behold when we gather together in Jesus’ presence (Mt. 18:20), we are slowly being transfigured and metamorphosized into His glory.

Dear Christian, all you know is this life of sin, and so you think what you now are and how you see others is normal. But it isn’t. When we confess our sins, it is right – absolutely right – to call ourselves “a poor, miserable sinner.” And here’s the sad part, because we are so sin-sick, we set our hopes much too low. For, what, ten months now, we’ve been thinking how wonderful it will be to get past this pandemic and be able to spend time with family and friends, shake hands, give each other hugs, go on a trip, or walk into a store without having to wear a stinky mask. Sure, that will be nice, but you will still be in this fallen, broken world. A world full of sin and death, where you are still surrounded selfish, self-centered, narcissistic people just like yourself and myself.

Or we think, life will be so much better when my kids are older and can take care of themselves, when my preferred political party is back in positions of power, or when I retire and get to do what I want. Dear saints, that’s setting your hopes far, far, far too low. That’s like a person with the flu saying, “Won’t it be great when I only have to run to the toilet every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes.” No matter how good things get in this life, it’s not normal. Because of your sin, this life is not what God intended you to experience.

But there is a higher hope because God has promised in His eternal, abiding Word that you are being transfigured. And the picture of Jesus on the mountain today is what you are heading toward by the grace of God. That glimpse of Jesus’ glory is a preview of what lies ahead for you, believer. In Mt. 13[:42-43], Jesus says that the righteous – and that’s you, baptized Christian – the righteous will shine like the sun. And even now, Jesus declares you to be the light of the world (Mt. 5:14-16). May that light shine from you and radiate into this dark, fallen world.

This brief glimpse of Jesus’ glory is small taste of what is to come, and it made Peter want to remain there in tents. But Jesus wanted more for Peter, and He wanted more for you. It’s almost though Peter’s enjoyment of and desire to stay in this moment is what drives Jesus to set His face towards Jerusalem so that you with Peter can share in that glory without having to go through the trouble making a tent.

So, Christ went down from that mountain. He descended from that peak of glory. Jesus did it to ascend another mountain, Mt. Calvary, where He laid down His life for Peter, for Moses and Elijah, for me, for you, and for the whole poor, fallen, miserable, sin-sick world. He did this because He loves you and wants you to be fully transfigured to share in this glory. 

Jesus did all of this so that you wouldn’t have just a glimpse, but the fullness of the glory and splendor that God created you for. May He come soon and bring us to that glory. Amen.

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

Manifest Glory – Sermon on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

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John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 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 Jesus. Amen.

If you ask a woman about a wedding, you are going to hear about the colors of the bridesmaids’ dresses. You’ll hear the flowers described as only a botanist or florist could. She’ll tell you about the style of the bride’s dress – A-line, mermaid, trumpet, column, bell gown. (Yes, I had to look those up.) Then, she’ll go on to describe the more specific details of the gown. She’ll tell you about the décor of the reception and the menu of the meal. You’ll probably even get a lot of details about the wedding cake. Finally, you’ll hear about the dance and the DJ. If you ask a man about a wedding, he’s likely to say, “It was good.” Or, if you ask me, I’ll probably say, “It was successful.” I have yet to attend an unsuccessful wedding.

The Apostle John tells us about a wedding, and he does it as a man would. He mainly tells us about these six stone water jars that are there for the Jewish rites of purification. To our ears, that detail is brief and mundane. But these stone jars tell us more about the wedding and the miracle than we might expect.

Stone jars were especially desirable for the purification rites because they did not become unclean when they came into contact with things that were unclean. When clay jars, which were more common, when clay jars were used for purification, they became unclean and, according to God’s command, had to be broken afterward (Lev. 11:33). But stone jars didn’t become unclean, which meant they were great for the purification rites, but it also meant they were expensive. The fact that this wedding had stone jars indicates that either the couple or their relatives were somewhat wealthy. But even with their wealth, this couple has a problem because they run out of wine during the feast.

Mary lets Jesus know about the lack of wine. And based on Jesus’ response, it doesn’t sound like He’s going to do anything about it. Of course, He does. He provides 120-180 gallons of the finest wine to people who have already had enough wine that they cannot appreciate the goodness of the wine Jesus provides. In fact, the master of the feast figures it’s a mistake. When he tastes it, He assumes someone messed up. You’re supposed to serve the top-shelf stuff first, only later do you break out the boxes of wine. Our English translations soften the master’s words, but he literally says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk” (same word that is repeatedly condemned in the New Testament [Ro 13:131 Co. 5:116:10Gal. 5:21Rev. 17:26, etc.]), “when people have become drunk, then the poor wine.” In short, Jesus is giving people what they do not deserve and cannot fully appreciate.

Dear saints, this Is the definition and nature of grace and mercy.

Can you imagine John the disciple, who was there at that wedding, later in life? John, by the way, was the only disciple to die of old age. He became the bishop of Ephesus. Pastor John would have been the guest at many dinners in many houses. But at every meal, he would taste the wine, remember this wedding in Cana, and smile and say, “Not as good.”

The amazing thing is how few people at the feast actually know the Source of this fine vintage. The bride and the groom didn’t know. The master of the feast didn’t know. The guests didn’t know. Only the disciples and the servants know. The humble and the lowly see the work of Jesus.

Yet John tells us that this is how Jesus manifested (lit. “epiphanied”) His glory. That is the main point John wants us to take from this text. He wants us to see Christ’s glory, but we have a problem with that. We don’t see the big deal. Turning water into wine seems like a nice party trick, but nothing compared to walking on water, feeding the hungry, cleansing lepers, making the lame walk, causing the blind to see the deaf to hear, or raising the dead. In our minds, those are the “real” miracles. What’s the big deal about turning water into wine? That is something God does all the time. Every drop of wine across the world in all of history was once water inside a grape. All Jesus does here is speed things up a bit.

Dear saints, this is a call for us to open our eyes to the everyday, manifest glory of your God. Every moment, you are surrounded by the glory of our God. We notice it, at times, when we see a beautiful sunset, a pristine meadow covered in fresh snow, beautiful sun dogs, etc. But don’t miss the more regular manifestations of the glory of God. Don’t let the regularity of glorious things you see every day cause you to think they are mundane. See the glory of God in how a mom feeds her infant, how our food comes up from the ground, and how a child learns to read. If we would just open our eyes we would see the wonders of God all around us, and we would be surprised at every turn.

Especially, don’t let the manifest glory of God pass by you when you are here in church. When you hear the Scriptures read, the Holy Spirit is working on you in a miraculous way. When you hear the absolution, God is actually removing your sins from you. When you come to the altar today, Jesus is actually feeding you with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Every week throughout the entire service, God is visiting you with His mercy and grace to give you what you could not earn or deserve. He is purifying you, cleansing you, and strengthening you to live holy lives because no amount of your own efforts to cleanse yourself will ever work.

Which brings us back to those stone water jars. The sad thing with the stone water jars is that we see how far from the Gospel God’s people had fallen. Their religion had declined to a cold set of laws and rituals. When God had given the purification laws in Leviticus, it was to remind His people of their uncleanness and that true purity and holiness comes only from God. But the rabbis had added to God’s laws all sorts of unnecessary ceremonies and rituals. You remember when the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of eating with unwashed hands (Mk. 7:1-8). They had certain ritual washings that you had to do in order to interact with others socially. You had to pour the water a certain number of times over each hand. And each of pouring had to be in a prescribed direction. These were invented regulations from the Pharisees to be spiritually clean. All of these things were works to make yourself right.

But now what happens once those jars are no longer filled with water and instead are filled with wine? That ritual washing is no longer possible. We are invited to imagine another woman go to the stone jars and find that they aren’t filled with water, so she goes to her Pharisee son and says, “They have no water.”

These jars had been set apart for self-purification, and Jesus uses them to bring the joy of wine (Ps. 104:15) to a wedding feast. Jesus overtakes the works and efforts of man and brings them into submission to Him. Whenever Jesus comes, all human efforts to become righteous and holy are taken away and only joy is left in its place.

When Jesus comes to forgive your sins, He takes away all your works and efforts to make yourself holy or righteous. In their place, Jesus brings His eternal joy. This sign is not just pointing to Jesus’ power, this sign is pointing to what Christ has come to do. He has come to bring the best, to overflow your cup, and to bring you to His eternal kingdom.

Dear saints, our Lord manifests His glory with His first sign at a wedding in Cana because Jesus has come to end the divorce. Jesus came to end the divorce between men and women, between Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 3:28), and most importantly between God and man. Because of what Christ has done, we will be reunited with God just as we were meant to be. And this same God now welcomes you to His altar to have a foretaste of the great wedding feast to come. Amen.

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

Guilt, Anger, and Forgiveness – Sermon on Luke 2:41-52 for the First Sunday after Epiphany

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Luke 2:41-52

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I will be making some comments about what has gone on and what is going on in our country, but to do so, I’m going to lay some groundwork from this text first.

One of the most remarkable things we see in this text is the fact that God the Father put His own dear Son into the care of very fallible parents. Now, God didn’t have a choice in that. Anyone God would choose to be the parents of the Savior of the world would be fallen, sinful, people. But here we see what is probably the worst case of child neglect in all of the Scriptures.

Imagine taking your family on a long road trip – let’s say you’ve driven to Houston, Texas (I don’t know why Houston, but it’s my analogy, and I get to pick). It’s time to return home. You get everything packed up and start driving. As you travel down the road, you pray for safety and begin to have a conversation with your spouse. Your kids are in the back quietly reading, staring out the window, watching a movie, or playing on their devices. After a couple of hours, you ask your twelve-year-old a question, but there is no answer. So, you ask one of the other kids, and get a response. You don’t think it’s really a big deal that your twelve-year-old didn’t answer, so you don’t turn around to see why he is silent. Eventually, you stop for gas and snacks. The kids go to the bathroom, and you get back on the road. You try to engage with your twelve-year-old again, and still no answer. Finally, you get to the hotel in Kansas where you are planning on staying and check in. As everyone gets settled in the room, you realize your twelve-year-old isn’t there. So, you go check the lobby, the pool, and the car. Still no twelve-year-old. You ask the other kids, and they inform you that the twelve-year-old never got in the car before you left Houston.

You finally get back to Houston and find your kid in the church you attended. He’s sitting and politely listening to a Bible study. Are you going to get after your twelve-year-old for treating you badly? The whole drive back to Texas, are you going to yell at your other kids for not telling you one of their siblings wasn’t in the car? If I’m being totally honest, I might.

Well, that’s the modern equivalent of what happened in this text. Joseph and Mary completely dropped the ball, failed as parents, and are guilty of serious neglect. We can’t go soft on Joseph and Mary here. They had a serious lapse in judgment. They left the big city with their friends and family while their twelve-year-old Son stayed. They didn’t think much of it at first. They figured He must be with the group, but He wasn’t. So, back they travel to Jerusalem, search for two more days, and finally, on the third day, they find Jesus listening to the teachers and learning from them.

And hear again what Mary does. She speaks to her perfect, sinless Son in a stern tone, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Your dad and I have been worried sick about you and searching for you.” Don’t skip over that. I have little doubt that Mary felt her guilt and sin. She should have known better. She knew that Jesus was God’s miraculous Son, born to set people free from sin. He was the Messiah and Savior of the world. She was chosen by God to protect and raise the long-awaited Messiah, and she had failed. She knew her guilt. But notice what that guilt and shame does to her. Instead of owning up to it, confessing it, and repenting, she projects her guilt on to Jesus.

We all have this fight or flight instinct when our guilt is hunting us down. Unfortunately, we most often chose to fight, but it’s never a fight we can win. The best we can do is drag others down with us, but we do it anyway. The best option would be to simply say, “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” But we don’t. We attack and we try to circle the wagons around us. Repent.

All of this brings me to the events in our nation’s capitol this past week.

First of all, it was wrong. It is a shameful thing that the world was watching that happen in the greatest, most blessed nation in the history of the world. It should not have been and we are already seeing the impact on our culture. And there are a lot of questions. Who were the people who did this, and why were they doing it? But I’m not going to get into that because it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this sermon. I will simply say that we need to let the process work. As information is gathered, that will all be sorted out and those who have broken the law should be prosecuted and punished.

As Christians, we should be united in saying that what happened was wrong and we should have similar feelings about it as we did when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

There has been a lot of rhetoric surrounding the storming of the Capitol. Some will say that the right is to blame, and others will point the finger back at the left and how they cheered on the various protestors over the last six months. Both sides have valid points. But here’s the deal. All of that needs to stop because it doesn’t help the situation. And as followers of Jesus, we need to be the first to shut our mouths when it comes to blaming “them” – whoever “them” is.

Jesus is clear about this. In Luke 13[:1-5], Jesus gets asked about a time when Pontius Pilate killed some Galileans while they were offering their sacrifices. The people bringing this question to Jesus are looking for Jesus to speak out against the evil of Pilate. But Jesus doesn’t have it. He responds, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners… because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Then, Jesus even goes further and adds, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

In other words, whenever there is injustice and tragedy, your Savior calls you as an individual to repent. Whether the injustice comes from the authorities whom God has placed in those positions to keep and promote peace, or whether it is some natural disaster, whatever the case may be, the problems you see in this world should cause you and I to individually repent.

Back to Mary. In light of her pain, grief, and guilt, she blames Jesus for all of her feelings of distress. She says, “Why have You treated us so?” In other words, Mary is saying, “Jesus, you’ve made us feel bad.” And we all fall into the same trap of projecting our guilt away from ourselves. Repent.

We don’t get a free pass for our sinful feelings. We chose to feel the way we feel. We are not animals. We chose our reactions. Yes, we can be provoked and prodded, but that does not excuse us from our sinful actions and reactions. We indulge ourselves in our anger and choose to take vengeance for ourselves, while God says, “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay” (Dt. 32:35Ro. 12:19Heb. 10:30). But we aren’t content to wait for God’s action, so we take it up ourselves. And this is pride which is in violation of God’s Commands.

But now watch how Jesus responds. Jesus has to address this accusation from His mother. Mary has accused Jesus of breaking the 4th Commandment by not honoring His father and mother, so He cannot be silent. But watch what Jesus does. He does rebuke Mary and her anger toward Him, but He does it in the kindest way. He doesn’t say, “Hold on there, mom. Back up. You’re the one who is supposed to be watching out for Me.” Instead, He says, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” 

In this rebuke, Jesus isn’t defending His honor; instead, He’s defending His work. He has to be sinless to be the Savior and die for the sins of the world.

So, Mary stands rebuked by God in the flesh, and thanks be to God she accepts it – to her absolute credit. She might have been tempted to snap back at Jesus, “Listen you tween, what do you mean by that?” But she doesn’t. She submits to the rebuke in humility. And notice that even though neither Mary nor Joseph fully understand what Jesus is saying (see v. 50), yet still, she submits to His correction.

Here’s the point. Jesus is your Savior, and He will rebuke you when you do wrong and have guilt, but He does it kindly and gently so that you repent and return to Him for His mercy and forgiveness. May we, when we are rebuked by Christ also accept that rebuke, repent, and receive His forgiveness and delight in His presence. And when we are wrongly accused of sin, may we follow in Jesus’ steps and not put up our fists to defend our honor. Instead, let us be calm, measured, and offer correction and forgiveness.

After this, Jesus returned to Galilee with His fallible parents and lived in submission to them. Dear saints, this shows us that God works in and through families by shedding His light of mercy and forgiveness in and through them. Parents, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your failures and shortcomings disqualify you from being a good parent. One of the best things you can do for your kids is confess your failures, receive forgiveness from them and from Christ, and teach them that God’s grace and mercy is the most important thing in the world. And as you do that, love your spouse, hug your kids, share with them the forgiveness of Christ. That will do more for this country and the world than anything else you can do. 

Dear saints, there appears to be difficult days ahead of us. If you want to start changing the world, pour yourself into your family and those that God puts into your life. Because it isn’t great power that holds evil in check. Don’t be conformed to this world in thinking that way. Instead, be transformed by God’s Word which renews your mind (Ro. 12:2) recognizing that it is the small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.

And above all, live in the free gift of forgiveness that Christ has given you. In the midst of this fallen world, keep singing the songs of Zion. May our Savior return quickly and deliver us from our exile and captivity. Amen.

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

Flight to Fight – 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.” 

16 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.

We don’t always understand God’s ways. That’s the understatement of the year – young though it is. God’s ways and thoughts are too high and too wonderful for us to understand (Is. 55:8-9).

For example, take the Old Testament promises of the Messiah. When the wise men first came seeking Jesus because of the star, Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born (Mt. 2:1-6). The scholars told Herod that the Scriptures taught that Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). We also just heard that the Messiah would come out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1), and He would be called a Nazarene. Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazarene – no wonder people had a hard time recognizing that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah. You can see how it would be hard to wrap your mind around all this without the Gospel of Matthew mapping out the fulfillment point by point.

While all of that fulfillment of Scripture could be its own sermon, that isn’t what we are going to focus on today. Instead, we are going to focus on how God’s ways and actions are so different from ours – especially when it comes to how God deals with evil.

The slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem who were two years old and under is one of the most horrific events in all of Scripture. Jesus is protected while those boys are killed. Their only “crime” is that they resemble Jesus in gender and age. We hear this and our minds are often filled with questions. “Couldn’t God have intervened?” “Why didn’t God warn all the fathers of Bethlehem in dreams?” “Why does Jesus get spared while the rest of the boys aren’t?” “Why couldn’t God just kill Herod and spare the baby boys?”

Whenever we stand face to face with evil, we ask the “why” questions. Many people use the presence of evil to argue that God is weak or doesn’t even exist. They will say that if there is a God, He certainly wouldn’t let things like this happen. If God is merciful and loving, if He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere present), and omnipotent (all-powerful), why doesn’t God use all those “omnis” to do something about evil?

These questions have been something that humanity has wrestled with ever since the Fall into sin. Part of the reason we ask those questions is because we aren’t those “omnis” and could only deal with one evil at a time. And because we could only deal with one evil at a time, we would handle it only with punishment. But because God is all of those “omnis,” He can address evil with grace and forgiveness.

Also notice that those questions only focus on the evil of this world and spend no time considering if God has done something about evil – which He has. It’s like when a kid is having a rotten day and emphatically states, “Nothing good ever happens to me.” (I’ve been that kid.) You can try to point out the good things that have happened, but the kid dismisses all of those. And sure, if you don’t count anything good that happens in your life, it will be filled with badness and evil.

The whole book of Job deals the problem of evil and God’s goodness. I highly recommend you read Job, but when you do, know that Job’s three friends are all off base – they give wrong answers. And even Job can go a bit too far at times. But make sure listen to Job’s fourth friend, Elihu (Job 32-37). And especially listen to how God answers Job at the end of the book. Hopefully, this sermon will be a help to understand both the book Job and the goodness of God in the presence of evil. And to get to an answer to how there can be a good God when there is so much evil, you have to go back to the fact that God’s ways and thoughts are higher and more wonderful than ours.

First of all, when we consider evil in the light of God’s goodness, we have to remember that we cannot blame God for the evil in the world because God is not to blame. Secondly, and more importantly, God has addressed, overcome, and defeated evil, but not in the way we would expect. In fact, the infant Jesus being whisked away to Egypt was part of how God addressed the evil of this fallen world.

Jesus ran to Egypt to be God’s answer to all evil. One of the key verses to understanding all of this is Romans 12:21 which says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Hear that again, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is how the Gospel always works and how it has to work because you cannot force good into evil.

In His omnipotence, God had the power to wipe out sin right away when Adam and Eve fell. But He is not that kind of god. That kind of god would not be the God of the Bible. The God who created you is a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6-7). So, to overcome the evil in this fallen, sinful world, God did something unimaginably good. And in His goodness, He came to earth to deal an eternal blow to all evil.

Jesus fled from Herod, not because He was allowing Herod to continue being an evil, bloodthirsty, power monger. Instead, Jesus came to save even wicked King Herod from his evil.

On His journey to and from Egypt, Jesus passed by Mt. Sinai where He gave the Law which condemned the sins of Herod and your sins. And Christ came to keep and fulfill that Law because you and the Herods of this world couldn’t keep it. Because of His love for you, Jesus fled from His homeland so that you and all sinners could return to yours. Jesus made Himself a sojourner and refugee so that you and all humanity could have an eternal home.

The flight to Egypt looks like weakness, but it is not. It shows Christ’s almighty power. Don’t forget that the humble, helpless Infant traveling through the wilderness is the Creator of heaven and earth. In His extreme humility, God came down to earth, to stand in your place, to fulfill the Law on your behalf, and to suffer and die with your evil and sin laid upon Himself. Without His humility, everyone would be eternally bound to our sin and evil. In other words, Jesus’ flight to Egypt is how God fights evil. He flees this evil in order to fight and defeat all evil for all time. Again, His ways are not our ways.

Whenever you see and experience evil, resist the temptation to focus and dwell on the evil. Instead, focus on Jesus. And in the context of this text, focus on that Child who is the object of God’s attention. Jesus is whisked off to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. Christ couldn’t die by Herod’s sword; He had to die on the cross. Jesus is God’s Child, the promised Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and deal decisively with sin, death, and evil once for all.

Saving those baby boys of Bethlehem would have spared them and their mothers’ tears, but it would not have saved them or the world from sin and damnation. If we can discern anything at all about God’s plan and agenda, it’s that He’s committed to saving the entire world – not just bits and pieces of it. God isn’t content with saving just a handful of people here and there – He’s after the world, the entire cosmos. He created everything by His Word, He intends to redeem and save all people from their sins by Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Seeing how God delivers the world from evil by overcoming it with the good of Jesus dying and rising again, that stands as a call for us to follow His example. We are so quick to want to get back at those who have wronged us, but that is precisely why we are in the mess we are in today.

So, what do we do with the baby killing Herods who appear to become more and more emboldened? How do we defeat their evil designs? How do we join with God to overcome the evil of our day?

We do it with good. We love who persecute and slander us (Mt. 5:441 Pet. 3:9). We love the sinners for whom Jesus died (Ro. 12:201 Tim. 2:1-4). We pray for their conversion to the truth while we confess the saving truth to them. And as our Epistle text (1 Pet. 4:12-19) said when we suffer according to God’s will we entrust our souls to our faithful Creator while we do good (v. 19).

Just as the almighty God hid His power under the appearance of weakness while Jesus fled from Herod’s anger, God still today hides His almighty power under the humble forms that the Gospel takes among us. God’s Word is still powerful to save sinners and to usher them into Christ’s kingdom of grace.

And here and now, God brings the power of the Gospel to us sinners. Here, Christ feeds you with His Body and Blood to deliver to you the forgiveness He has won for you. And with this holy Sacrament, He strengthens you to go and do good to your neighbor even when it is difficult. So, come. Be fed, be forgiven, and be strengthened to overcome evil with the goodness that Christ pours into you. Amen.

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

God Makes Room – Sermon on Luke 2:1-20 for Christmas Eve 2020

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Luke 2:1-20

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace among men, with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Merry Christmas!

The first twenty verses of Luke 2 are extremely well-known. Some of you might be able to recite them word for word, and many of you can probably recite them with a little help here and there. Sure, you might need a little help remembering that Quirinius was governor of Syria. (It’s a hard name to remember.) And it is good that you remember this passage. These verses record for us the most significant event in human history. The only other event that would be tied with the birth of Christ would be His death and resurrection.

But one of the problems with our familiarity with this text is just that – we are familiar with it. With that familiarity comes certain ideas that aren’t part of the text. And those things can get ingrained in our minds. Some of the beauty and brilliance of this event fades away when some common misconceptions about the event overshadow the reality. Well, tonight, I’d like to take this magnificent gem of a text and get it cleaned and polished to remove the haze of one of those misconceptions. We’re mainly going to focus on one verse of the text. And I hope and pray that you are blessed. 

The birth of Jesus takes up one verse and is simply recorded for us in v. 7, “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

First let’s lay out the misconception. Unfortunately, we have gotten the idea that Tom Bodett for Motel 6 didn’t leave the light on for Joseph and Mary. (I really hope most of you are old enough to get that reference; if you don’t, you didn’t listen to enough Twins games on the radio in the mid ‘90’s.) All the familiar English translations use the same word there, ‘inn,’ which gives an idea of a hotel. So, we get the idea that, by the time Joseph gets the very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, it’s late and all the hotels were booked because so many people were there for the census. And it isn’t too hard to imagine that being the case. Anyone who has traveled with a very pregnant lady knows you have to stop for bathroom breaks – a lot of bathroom breaks. The picture in our minds is that Joseph and Mary check at all the hotels, find no rooms available, and end up staying in a stable or barn.

The problem with this is that the word that gets translated as ‘inn’ doesn’t refer to a hotel. In fact, Bethlehem was so small that the little town probably didn’t even have a hotel. Now, the word that gets translated as ‘inn’ here only occurs two other times in the New Testament. The other two times this word gets used are once by Mark and also later at the end of the Gospel of Luke. And both of those times is in the context of Jesus telling His disciples to follow a particular man to his house and say to him, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is My guest room (not ‘inn’ but ‘guest room’ – same word), where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” (Mk. 14:14Lk. 22:11). And Jesus didn’t institute the Lord’s Supper in a hotel conference room. Also, Luke knows the typical word for an ‘inn’ or ‘hotel’; he uses it in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:34), but it’s a very different word. If Luke had meant to say there were no rooms in the hotels of Bethlehem, he would have, but he doesn’t.

So, we should understand that Luke isn’t talking about hotels. Instead, when Luke says there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the ‘guest room,’ he’s telling us that the couple had arrived at a home – probably the home of one of Joseph’s relatives – but other members of Joseph’s extended family had lodged there and that there was no longer any place for them in the guest room. In fact, it might be even worse. Maybe, when Joseph and Mary get there, the pious, religious relatives learn that Mary is pregnant out of wedlock and they aren’t willing to make a place in the guest room for her even while she is in labor. So, Joseph and Mary only have one option for the birth of the Child and that was the part of the house where the animals were kept. And, just so you know, it was typical back then for houses to have a place for their animals in a lower part of the house.

Now, don’t go home and throw away your nativity sets. Please don’t. They’re good. But it would be good when you look at a Nativity set to tweak your thinking just a little bit. Add this picture to it: Joseph and Mary aren’t out in a pasture away from everything else. Instead, they are inside a full house where relatives are likely talking, eating, drinking, and laughing – just like at a family reunion. And Mary is off to the side, giving birth, wrapping Jesus in swaddling cloths, and laying Him in a feeding trough.

The Messiah, the One whom all of God’s people were waiting for, is finally born, but there is no place for Him to lay His head except for that manger.

So, play this out a little: When the company of angles come to proclaim the greatest news in all of history, they announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. But the shepherds aren’t the first to know about Jesus’ birth. Joseph’s family would have already known. Joseph and Mary probably tried to give an explanation to the family, but they didn’t believe that Mary was miraculously pregnant with Jesus. And, so, they did not make room for the birth and arrival of the Son of God.

Now, this is nothing new. Because of our sin, all humanity is opposed to God’s presence, and in our sin, we have no place for God. That is what we see when Adam and Eve fall into sin. They hear God walking in the garden in the cool of the day but try to hide themselves (Gen. 3:8). It’s what happens after God speaks to His people on Mt. Sinai; they hear His voice and ask Moses to tell God to not talk to them anymore (Ex. 20:18-21Dt. 18:16). It’s why the scribes and Pharisees reject Jesus even though He repeatedly proves that He is God (see esp. Mt. 26:59-66). It still happens today when people use any and every excuse to not be where Jesus is present with His gifts. In his Gospel (and you will hear these verses in a few minutes), John says it more bluntly than Luke. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11).

In the end, we see the sad reality that sinners have no place for the presence of God.

Now, please, don’t finish my sermon for me. This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. I’m not going to give you a sales pitch appealing to you, “Please, make room for Jesus in your heart.”

Just because God took on flesh and was a helpless Infant, don’t get the impression that Jesus is a fickle, desperate god who is just waiting around for you to make room for Him. Even when He is rejected, when He is pushed out, even when the very people He came to save have no place for Him, He doesn’t twiddle His thumbs and wait for you to make room for Him. Instead, God in His great love for you makes room for Himself.

Don’t let the humility of Jesus’ birth lead you to diminish His power. Even as a little Infant, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, King of kings, Lord of lords. Rather let the humble birth of powerful Jesus lead you to recognize His great love and mercy for you.

Jesus knew what He was coming to and wasn’t surprised that there was no place for Him. But He came anyway. He came to make a room in eternity for those who did not make room for His birth. He knew that the infant hands, feet, and body that Mary swaddled up to keep Him from getting cold would be the same hands, feet, and body that would be nailed to the cross. And He did all of this voluntarily and out of love for you so that He could make an eternal place for you with Him in heaven.

That is the moral of this reading, the whole blessed idea of Christmas, and, in fact, the teaching of all Scripture. God doesn’t wait for you to make room for Him. If you don’t make room for Him, He just nestles in anyway. Whenever He comes, He comes to you to bring you His love, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus made room in His heart for you. All of your life and salvation is not about how open you are to God rather on how He is open to you. And the the birth of your Savior shows, proves, demonstrates, and manifests how open He is to you.

And Christmas then is the time when we do nothing but watch our God come in the flesh and simply say, “Thank you.”

One more thing and then I’ll stop. Luke is a historian. He is detailed and precise. He mentions all the details about it being the first census when Quirinius was governor, etc. which helps prove the factuality of his Gospel. And Luke does this in all his writings. But notice how Luke is fairly vague in v. 7. He simply and briefly records the fact that Jesus was born and laid in a manger because there was no place in the guest room, and he leaves it at that. Luke doesn’t name names or give addresses. He doesn’t criticize, scorn, or belittle Joseph’s relatives for their rejection of Jesus. He doesn’t throw them under the bus. He simply says, there wasn’t room.

Here’s the point: It isn’t a stretch of the imagination at all to think that the very people who refused to make a place for Jesus when He was born became Christians by the time Luke wrote his Gospel. So, Luke covers their sin and doesn’t call it out. Jesus does the same for you.

Because of what Christ has done by coming to earth, being born in such a humble manner, by giving His life on the cross, and by rising again for you, your sins are removed from you as far as the east is from the west.

And God be praised. You are here tonight. You have rightly made room in your celebration tonight for the birth of the Savior who has made room for you.

People loved by God: Merry Christmas! 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 by Pr. Jared Melius for the direction of this sermon.

Rejoice in Peace – Sermon on Philippians 4:4-7 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Philippians 4:4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In a year that has brought sickness, hardship, loneliness, isolation, frustration, and disappointment, this is a wonderful, beautiful reminder from God’s Word to rejoice. We are usually quick to rejoice and don’t need a reminder when things are light and easy. Instead, we need to be reminded to rejoice precisely when we do not feel like rejoicing and when we feel the pain and injustices of this world. And, please know, this call to rejoice isn’t a legal requirement. It is a Gospel invitation. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”

Now, when Paul calls us to rejoice, it is not some shallow cliché. This isn’t a, “Don’t worry; be happy” or a “Hakuna Matata.” And it isn’t as though Scripture is saying, “Well, you should be happy because things could be a lot worse.” Instead, there is real cause for rejoicing. Rejoice because the Lord, your God, your Savior, and your Redeemer is at hand. He’s right here with you now, and He is with you always bringing His mercy and love.

Yahweh, the great “I am” (Ex. 3:14); the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; your Creator who is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6) – this very God has come for you, born of a woman born under the Law to redeem you who were under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for you while you were still His enemy (Ro. 5:10).

Dear saints, there is enough there for an eternity of rejoicing.

Now, when Paul wrote this call to rejoice always, he was sitting in prison, yet rejoicing. Paul knew pain and injustice – from both sides of the coin. Paul was a persecutor of the Church, and after Jesus met him, Paul was a persecuted member of the church. Paul knew what it was to throw people in prison and what it was to eat prison food. And even in his low moments, he reminds us that there is reason to rejoice, and that reason is, that no matter if things are going well or not, God is on your side.

As you rejoice in the faith and confidence that God is favorable toward you, our translation says, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Other translations, instead of ‘reasonableness,’ will use ‘gentleness,’ or ‘moderation.’ Unfortunately, we don’t have a good English word for it. The idea of the word there is to have nobility and authority but acting in meekness and kindness while not using your position for yourself but for the sake of serving others. The word carries the idea of having every right to do demand justice for yourself but using that right to bring mercy to anyone in need. Let that kind of noble, gentleness be known to all people.

And then – it is so interesting – as we rejoice and let our noble gentleness be known to people, we are to make our requests be made known to God. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.”

Being a Christian does not mean that you never have any worries. But one of the reasons you can rejoice is that you can cast all your anxieties and cares upon God (1 Pet. 5:7) by turning those worries into prayers. In other words, whenever you are worried, turn those worries into prayers, leave them at God’s feet, and let God worry about them.

One of the best examples we have of this in Scripture is how King Hezekiah responds when Jerusalem is surrounded by the army of Assyria (see Is. 36-37 and 2 Kgs. 18:13-37). The king of Assyria is marching against Jerusalem is boasting that he is going to destroy the city. He continually mocks God saying that there is no one who can save Jerusalem from his army. King Hezekiah is terrified and anxious when he hears all of this. He tears his clothes and covers himself is sackcloth and takes a letter repeating all these threats, goes to the Temple, spreads out the letter before God, and prays.

And God answers. That night, God went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrian army. God’s people went to bed thinking that they were about to be destroyed, but when they woke up, they found themselves delivered.

Now, this is not mean that God will instantly deliver you from any and every trouble. But He will and, in fact, He already has rescued you. Christ will bring you and His entire Church into the glories of heaven where none of the troubles of this life can enter. That day will come as surely as if it had already arrived. This is why we rejoice.

We can rejoice in the Lord because we know that He rules and reigns over all things, and, in His mercy, He uses His power for our benefit. We rejoice in the Lord because Christ has buried our sins in the emptiness of His tomb. Your sins cannot accuse you anymore; they are gone.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Not just when you’re feeling religious or pious or healthy or happy. Rejoice in whatever condition you find yourself because when you’ve had a rotten day, or when your health is in jeopardy, or when your friend has turned against you, and when your finances are upside down, in any bad situation, you are no less a citizen of heaven than when everything is going your way.

Hudson, God be praised, today you are Baptized. Through the waters of your Baptism, God has joined you to Himself. You have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-6). You have been clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Just as the heavens opened above Jesus when He was baptized, heaven’s gates are now open to you. That means everything Jesus was born to do and has done is now credited to your account.

All of this is to say – Hudson, Luke, Sarah, Maddie, Brayden, and all you saints – that today is a day to rejoice just as every day is to rejoice. God’s steadfast love toward you will never cease. His mercies will never come to an and. They are new each and every morning (Lam. 3:22-23).

Hudson, and all you saints, rejoice. The Lord is at hand, and you know why He comes. He comes to be your Savior. The Jesus who is coming again is the Christ of Calvary and the Christ Child born in Bethlehem. He is the only one who can bring you peace, and that peace is so great that it surpasses all understanding.

Hudson and all you saints, the Prince of Peace is coming to pour His righteousness upon you and make you His own. Know everything else through the fact that Jesus loves you. And His love for you will never fade or fail. Amen.

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

Unto Eternity – Sermon on Psalm 23, Revelation 22:1-21, and Luke 12:35-40 for Midweek Advent 3 2020

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In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Dear saints, what will eternity be like? Through these Advent services, we’ve considered the comfort of Christ’s coming and what it means for us now and on the Last Day. But what does it mean for us beyond that? What does Jesus’ coming mean unto eternity? Even though we don’t get a ton of details, the overwhelming picture of Scripture has one common theme, and throughout the all texts tonight (Ps. 23Rev. 22:1-21Lk. 12:35-40), God serving you has been that theme.

First you heard how God serves you throughout your life. In Ps. 23, God serves you as your shepherd making you lie down in green pastures, leading you beside still waters, protecting you through the valley of the shadow of death, and finally preparing a table before you in the presence of your enemies anointing your head with oil, and overflowing your cup. Indeed, God’s goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life. Really, the translation there is too weak. ‘Follow’ is not nearly strong enough.

The Hebrew word there is almost always a military term to pursue. It gets used when Pharaoh had his army chase the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:48-923). It is what Israel’s army did to the Philistine army after David defeated Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52). At the end of Ps. 23 – the picture is so beautiful – God’s goodness and God’s mercy pursue you and hunt you down all the days of your life. No matter how often you try to flee, God is coming after you with His goodness and mercy. And that care and compassion of God will continue because you will dwell in His house forever.

In our Gospel lesson, we have another picture of God serving us. And it is so interesting. Jesus opens that text by commanding us to, “Stay dressed for action.” Literally, the phrase is, “Let your loins be girded.”Now, I’m sorry to do this to you on a Wednesday night, but the grammar is too important to not do it. This is a perfect imperative. In other words, it is a command to already be in a certain state. So, Jesus is commanding you to have your loins girded – which doesn’t mean much for us today. But in Jesus’ day this would mean that men would lift up the heavy robes from around their feet and ankles so they were ready work or travel. This is important because God gave the same command to Moses on how the people were to eat the original Passover meal (Ex. 12:11). They were to eat the Passover with their belts fastened (that’s the girded loins idea), sandals on their feet, staff in hand, and eat it quickly.

Now, remember during the original Passover, they had to put the blood of the lamb around their doors to keep the angel of death from entering their household. And this was the final plague which brought God’s people out of slavery. But in this text, Jesus bringing about a beautiful reversal. He gets our minds to be thinking about the Passover with the command to gird our loins, but, dear people of God, we aren’t waiting for the angel of death to pass over. Instead, we are waiting for our Lord and master to come home from the wedding feast He has attended.

So, here’s the picture: Jesus has died, risen again, and ascended to God’s right hand in heaven where there is a joyful celebration going on. But Christ has promised that He will come back for us, and He wants us to be ready for His return. And those who have heeded Jesus’ command to be ready to work when He returns find the most amazing thing upon His return. Instead of us, Christ’s servants, serving Him, Jesus serves us. In other words, Jesus will go to work while you recline at the table and feast for eternity.

Dear saints, Jesus, the Son of Man, came on Christmas day not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for you (Mt. 20:28). And Jesus is returning not to be served but to serve you and shower you with His eternal love.

Finally, we have the most beautiful picture of this in our Epistle text (Rev. 22:1-21). Christ Himself will be your Lamb who shepherds you by the still waters of the river of life which flows from the throne of God. He will feed you in the eternal green pastures from the tree of life which bring healing for the nations. No longer will there be anything that is cursed. You will see God’s face, and His name will be on your forehead. There will be no more night. God Himself will be your light, and you will reign forever and ever.

Dear saints, throughout these Advent services, you have been reminded of the urgency to be ready for Christ’s return. Jesus could come back before this service ends, so be ready. It could be months from now, so do not grow weary, but be ready. It could be millennia before He returns, so ingrain the faith in your children and pass on the faith to ensure others will be ready as well. We need to heed Jesus’ warnings about being ready for His return.

But then we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh because what we are waiting for an eternal party. Christ has already come winning your salvation. Jesus continually comes bringing you His forgiveness. And your Savior is returning bringing eternal joys. 

Ultimately, know this: Jesus isn’t returning like a picky mother-in-law inspecting the china she gave you as a wedding present to see if it’s been chipped or damaged. Instead, Jesus is returning like your favorite uncle with treats in one hand and a pile of fireworks in the other. Yes, we do need to watch and be ready for His return but mainly because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun. 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.

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

Comfort Doubled – Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-8 for the Third Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 40:1-8

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 
2  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
and cry to her 
     that her warfare is ended, 
that her iniquity is pardoned, 
     that she has received from the Lord’s hand 
double for all her sins. 

3   A voice cries: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; 
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
4   Every valley shall be lifted up, 
and every mountain and hill be made low; 
     the uneven ground shall become level, 
and the rough places a plain. 
5   And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, 
and all flesh shall see it together, 
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 
6   A voice says, “Cry!” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
     All flesh is grass, 
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 
7   The grass withers, the flower fades 
when the breath of the Lord blows on it; 
surely the people are grass. 
8   The grass withers, the flower fades, 
but the word of our God will stand forever.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I titled this sermon “Comfort Doubled,” but it maybe should have been “Infinite Comfort” because the whole text is dripping with comfort. Dear saints, whenever God comes, He comes to comfort you. Listen to what He says in v. 1 again, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” These words are akin to what Jesus, who came not to call the righteous but sinners (Mt. 9:13), says in Mt. 11:28, “Come to Me, all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” To any and all who are troubled, afflicted, and uncomfortable, God says, “Here is a double dose – two shots of comfort.”

Who gets this comfort? God’s people – whenever they are troubled. That means you. You are those for whom Christ was born. You are those whom God has claimed as His Own. You are the people for whom Christ has died. God says so Himself. He is the One who calls you, “My people,” and He is not ashamed to call Himself, “Your God.” If you play the first verse of this text backwards, God says to you, “I am your God. You are My people. And I give to you comfort on top of comfort.”

The context in which these verses were originally written helps us see just how comforting these words from God are. God has Isaiah tell Jerusalem that her warfare is ended, but when Isaiah writes these words Jerusalem isn’t even at war. Eventually, Babylon will come and besiege Jerusalem, and God’s people will be taken into exile. But even before any of that has happened, God comforts His people with the promise that her warfare will end.

Dear saints, God’s anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Ps. 30:5). And before the suffering begins God preaches comfort to His people.

This is in line with God’s character, and we see this repeatedly in Scripture. Isaiah experienced this when God called Him to be a prophet. Isaiah saw God’s holiness and was terrified because he recognized his sinful lips. But God sent the seraph with a flaming coal to take away Isaiah’s guilt and atone for his sin (Is. 6:1-7). 

Remember how the shepherds saw the glory of God (Is. 40:5) and were terrified? But the angel assured and calmed them saying that God’s appearance in the birth of Jesus was “good news of great joy that would be for all people” (Lk. 2:10).

And even think to our Gospel lesson. John the Baptizer was sitting in a dank, dark prison cell, likely knowing that he would soon be executed. In that dark moment, John sent some of his disciples to confirm that Jesus was indeed the coming Messiah. And Jesus sends them back to John with those beautiful words of reassurance, “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” (Mt. 11:4-6). All of these are fulfillments of what the coming Messiah would do (Is. 29:1835:5-6). John’s disciples return to John to reassure him with Jesus’ words. And after John’s disciples leave, Jesus goes on to talk to the crowd about John, and I think there is comfort for you in how Jesus speaks of John.

Think of this. After John’s disciples leave, Jesus affirms the fact that John was the prophet who was going to prepare the way of the Messiah. And Christ confirms to this large crowd that there is no one born of women who is greater than John the Baptizer. Now, here’s why you should find this comforting:

When you are in the lowest moments in life, when you have doubts and grow weak, you would be pleasantly surprised to know who was defending you even though you might not know it. While John sits alone in prison, Jesus is in front of that large crowd gushing John’s praise. Remember that. Remember that especially when you get down on yourself for your shortcomings. Know that God doesn’t think of you in low terms even though you might. You are God’s beloved child. And do not forget what Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before My Father and before the angels” (Mt. 10:32Lk. 12:8). Dear saints be comforted. In any and every time of suffering, God brings His comforting words to you.

Ok. Back to our text from Isaiah. That final line of v. 2 may still make you scratch your head a little bit. This talk of receiving “from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” What is that all about? 

Be careful with what you do with that verse in your mind. Unfortunately, we are often tempted to add a word to that sentence. We read it and add, “she has received double punishment for her sins.” 

Why do we do that? Well, we all know what Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro. 6:23). So, it is natural to think of punishment whenever we think of receiving something for our sins. But that can’t be what God means when He says His people have received double for all her sins. You wouldn’t speak tenderly and tell someone, “Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. And it’s ok. I’ve punished you twice for your sins.” That doesn’t fit the context.

Again, what is God giving here? Comfort. A reminder of punishment isn’t comforting. God has given double comfort. Christ came giving double for your sins.  First, He took them away which brings comfort, and second, He gave you His righteousness which brings even more comfort. 

You see, God doesn’t want you to receive any of His wrath or judgment. He doesn’t want you to pay for any of your sin.

Be comforted. Christ has come. Jesus has ended your warfare and pardoned you. You receive double from God for all your sins because your sin is already punished – not on you but on Christ. And in return, you are given Jesus’ righteousness, holiness, innocence, and good works.

This is how God’s accounting works; here is how God manages the debt of your sin. Jesus doesn’t just simply get you out of debt; He gives you an increase. In other words, imagine you stole $1,000 worth of stuff from God. Instead of simply forgiving the debt and calling it even, God gives you $1,000 more (Pr. David Petersen). That is how your God is for you.

Here is your hope, Christian. You have God’s comfort in all things. 

There is nothing sure or lasting or certain in this world. Not the trees, not the mountains, not the grass or the flowers. Only this: the Word of your God stands forever. You can be sure of that. And by that Word you are forgiven, you are justified, you are sanctified, you are glorified, you are comforted, all in Jesus, and all for Jesus‘ sake.

Heaven is on your side. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity pardoned. And no one, not even God Himself, will charge you for your sins because His Word of comfort stands forever.

You heard it at the beginning of our service, but it bears repeating. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice” (Php. 4:4). Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, God with you, shall come to you. Amen.

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

At the Last – Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 for Midweek Advent 2 2020

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In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Your Savior, whose first coming was humble and lowly yet announced by the angels, is coming again in glory, and every eye will behold Him. His swaddling clothes will be exchanged for royal robes, and instead of lying in a manger, He will sit on His glorious throne.

Your Redeemer, whose birth was celebrated by the shepherds, is coming again for you as your Good Shepherd.

Growing up, I remember fearing the day of Christ’s return and standing before Him to be judged. I think it started as a dream, but I would often replay the scene in my head. In my mind, the final judgment consisted of Christ setting up a tent (I don’t know why it was a tent) on 8th Ave. East in Williston, North Dakota. I pictured myself waiting in line to go in that tent which opened right in front of our mailbox situated on a wagon wheel.

In my mind, I entered that tent and there was a makeshift projector screen on one of the walls. Jesus invited me in and began to replay my life on that screen, and the replay lasted just over one second. Afterward, Jesus peppered me with hundreds of questions about my conduct and actions – especially regarding my sinful behavior. Sadly, I had no answer, no excuse to offer for my sins, iniquities, and shortcomings. Sadly, the end result of this was that I was terrified of the return of my Redeemer.

God be praised, that is not how Scripture depicts Christ’s return! There will be no replay of your life, no grand inquisition, no need to offer excuses. In fact, the only thing that I can’t disprove of my imagining of the final judgment is that it won’t take place on 8th Ave. East in Williston.

Our Gospel text tonight is typically known as “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.” However, there is no indication that this is a parable. The way Jesus talks here, we can expect that this is exactly how it will happen.

Christ will return in His glory. All the angels will be with Him. He will sit on His glorious throne. All people will be gathered before Him, and He will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. Sheep to the right. Goats to the left.

Christian, you will hear the sweetest, kindest, most merciful and beautiful words your ears have ever heard. “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Then, Christ will divulge before all people your good works and honor you for what you have done. Jesus will confess that you have been merciful even as God Himself is merciful. Christ will declare that you have given as you have received.

Now, we need to be clear. None of these works are the cause of God’s love for you. In fact, God loved and chose you from before the foundation of the world before you had done any good works. In His love for you, God prepared a place for you before you were born. You do not earn salvation and a place in His kingdom by works. Entrance into the kingdom is not a wage that is paid; instead, it is an invitation to be an heir.

The works that God will honor at the final judgment are simply the proof of your faith. 

God does reward good works in this life. He uses those rewards to strengthen and encourage you to continue to put off your sinful flesh. But most of His rewards are dispensed in the life to come so that you don’t grow complacent and lazy. But know this: even when God defers and delays His rewards, God takes notice of the good works because they are good and God loves them.

Dear saints, the infant Jesus who came to save you from your sins is the same King who does not and will not count your sins against you on the Last Day.

At the last, Christ will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” What a day that will be. Amen.

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

Signs to Stand – Sermon on Luke 21:25-36 for the Second Sunday of Advent

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Luke 21:25-36

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Imagine being in a castle at night. Everything is quiet until suddenly all the guards and soldiers start running to the fortified walls. They take their battle positions because an army marching to attack. The boots of the advancing army stop tramping, and you hear the shouts of commanders telling the troops to load the catapults and advance with the battering ram. Then you hear it. BOOM! The battering ram hits the castle doors, and the walls shake. BOOM! A rock launched from a catapult hits its target and a couple of windows break and dust falls from the ceiling. Again and again and again BOOM!

Normally, you would be terrified in a situation like that. But not now. Now, you stand with confidence and hope because you are being held captive in the prison of that castle, and the general storming the castle is Jesus coming to save you.

Knowing that, every crash, every clang, every shout of battle, every wall that crumbles around you means that your release is closer. And you know that a new day is dawning, and it is the day of your deliverance.

That is precisely how Jesus wants us to consider the signs He mentions at the beginning of the text. Normally, those signs might make you want to crawl under a table for cover, but Jesus says that should not be our reaction. We should not fear. Every sign of the world coming to an end should give you hope, Christian, because it is an indication that Jesus is coming soon. Yes, that seems counter-intuitive, but remember Christ commands us, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because (pay attention and notice the word Jesus uses here) your redemption is drawing near. Your redemption is drawing near.”

You might be thinking, “Now, wait a minute! I thought Jesus already brought redemption.” As long as we’ve been Christians, we have been taught that Jesus has redeemed us, bought and freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death. 1 Pet. 1:18-19 says that Christ is the Lamb without blemish or spot who has redeemed us. The book of Hebrews 9:[12] says that Jesus entered once into the Holy Place by means of His own blood and secured for us an eternal redemption. Redemption is done. Nothing is left to do. It’s completed. Jesus said so Himself on the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Christ has made full satisfaction for all our sins. So, why does Jesus, when He is talking about the end of the world, why does He talk about our redemption being something in the future by saying, “Your redemption is drawing near”?

Christ does so to comfort and teach you that in His second coming, everything that He has already accomplished for you in His first coming will be fully yours. Yes, your redemption is complete. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, left to be done. Now, you are simply waiting in this veil of sorrow and tears for the result and goal of that redemption.

All of this means, dear saints, that when we celebrate Christmas now, we are not just celebrating something that happened in the past. Christmas has deeply meaningful and joyful implications on both our present and our future. The Good News of Christ’s birth which has happened is also Good News of what will happen. We can’t rightly worship the Christ child in the manger without talking about the end and eternity.

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to do what Jesus says, lift up your heads because your redemption drawing near. And the best reaction to all the fearful signs that Jesus mentions at the beginning of this lesson – signs in the sun, moon, and stars; distress of nations; roaring of the sea and waves; people fainting with fear and foreboding; even when the powers of the heavens are shaken – when you see these things, you should not, should not, be afraid. Instead, you are to straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen?

But, then in v. 34, Jesus gives another sign of His return. Jesus says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you like a trap.” Those are the signs that should concern us.

Now, I can hear you saying, “Pastor, there aren’t any signs there. None of that is anything compared to the signs Jesus mentions first.” Well, I think the devil has played his old trick on all of us. Satan has whispered in our ears, “Did God really say you should not be afraid?” The devil wants us to be concerned about all the stuff at the beginning of this text even though Jesus says we should not be concerned. And Satan wants us to be unconcerned about what Jesus says here in v. 34 though Jesus says we should be. Don’t fall for the trap.

The sign that Jesus mentions here is that most people won’t be taking things seriously. 1 Thess. 5:2-3 echoes this warning, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them… and they will not escape.” 

Let’s briefly go through these things that Jesus warns can weigh down our hearts. First, ‘dissipation.’ In the Greek, this means consuming to excess in a crazy way. This probably doesn’t mean getting drunk because that is what Jesus mentions next. Instead, ‘dissipation’ means overly consuming anything that can be used to excess. And, in that excess, you are oblivious of what is going on around you. Gluttony would be included in this, but it can be anything – anything that would distract us and weigh us down. It could be news, politics, social media, entertainment, amusement, even sports. We can get ourselves so wrapped up in these things that we get weighed down. Watch yourselves so you aren’t weighed down with dissipation.

Second, Jesus mentions drunkenness. You can get drunk on alcohol but also on all sorts of other substances. And all of that is on the rise during this pandemic. Watch yourselves so you aren’t weighed down with that either.

But if you think you aren’t really in danger when it comes to either of those, Jesus gives you a wake-up call. The third thing, Jesus mentions is the ‘cares’ or ‘anxieties of this life.’ The root of the word Jesus uses there is the same root for our word ‘biology.’ It means anything pertaining to life. In other words, it’s expansive and means all sorts of things. That’s your mortgage or rent. Your job, your business, and your homework. It’s the cleaning you have to do. It could even be the Christmas shopping you have to do. Literally, the cares of this life are anything you might be anxious about.

One of the worst cares of this life right now is COVID – but not the virus itself. Instead, it’s having your heart weighed down by fear of the virus. I’ve been noticing a tendency to an unhealthy fear. In fact, it seems like there are some who enjoy and prefer living in fear and don’t want to hear any good news or hopeful outlook that might challenge their reasons for being fearful. It seems like some have an attitude that the best good work today is a certain level of fear of the virus and the worst sin is not sharing that fear. Now, don’t misunderstand me. None of this is to say you shouldn’t be careful when it comes to COVID. By all means, be careful and care for others. But don’t let your heart get weighed down. Then, on the other hand, there are those who might wrongly think that any precautions or regulations are a government conspiracy to control us. That attitude can just as easily lead you to be weighed down by the cares of this life too. Don’t let your heart get weighed down.

I sincerely hope and pray that, whatever your attitude is regarding the virus, you examine yourself to see if you are being weighed down by the cares of this life. This is not my warning. This is Jesus’ warning. I’m just applying it to a specific care of this life.

When these things weigh down your heart and make you numb to the return of your Redeemer, things are not right. Don’t let it be that one of the signs of Jesus’ return is your own weighed down, unsuspecting heart. Don’t be lulled to sleep. The day of Christ’s return could come upon you like a trap. Stay awake. Be watchful in prayer so that you may have the strength to escape all the things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man. Don’t imagine that you cannot fall and be unprepared for Christ’s return. 

In 1 Cor. 10[:6-13], Paul reminds us of God’s people in the wilderness. They were eating and drinking and going about their life. Then, they grumbled against God for their lack of food, so God sent the serpents to destroy them. Then Paul brings the warning, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” If you think that you can stand on your own, you are in the greatest danger of being weighed down and falling. Repent.

The day will come when everyone will take Jesus’ return seriously. May it be that we take it seriously now, before He comes and not after.

But don’t be confused about what Jesus is saying here. Take your Lord’s warning seriously, but then remember with joy that your redemption is drawing near. The signs that Jesus speaks about are the signs that you should stand firm in your faith. Because the God who has promised that you are completely justified, righteous, and innocent because of the blood of Jesus, that God is faithful. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s promises to you will not ever pass away.

You are a sinner who has a Redeemer who has died for you. He is coming to rescue from the dungeon of this world.

This world is ending. Good riddance. Every sign pointing to the end of this world is a sign of your rescue. All of them are signs pointing you to the return of your Deliverer, your King, your Savior. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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