Paradise, Provision, & Protection – Sermon on Genesis 2:7-25 for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Genesis 2:7-25

7 Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In our Gospel lesson today (Mk. 8:1-9), we heard how Jesus fed 4,000 men plus women and children (see Mt. 15:38). In that desolate place, Jesus provided a little taste of the paradise He had created mankind to enjoy. Those crowds had been listening to Jesus teach for three days and now had nothing to eat. So, Jesus temporarily removes the curse of sin. Without having to sweat and toil for their food (Gen. 3:19), Jesus provided bread and fish so the people could eat and be satisfied. Now, this text from Genesis 2 shows how God created Adam and Eve to enjoy life before they brought the curse of sin to every aspect of our lives.

In full disclosure, I extended this lesson (originally it stops at Gen. 2:17) so we can see how God ordered creation in paradise to include two of the Three Estates. First is the Estate of the Church, second is the Estate of the Family (both of those are instituted before the Fall), and the third Estate is the Estate of the State (which was instituted after the Fall). I’ve preached on the Three Estates in the past and, if you’re interested, I can point you to some resources on this topic. But I wanted to take a little time today to focus on the second Estate, the Estate of the Family, and specifically consider the center of the family which is husband and wife living together in holy marriage.

To just briefly recall what the Three Estates are: In this lesson, we heard how God instituted the Estate of the Church when He told Adam to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or he would die. This statement from God established the Church because you cannot be righteous without faith. Scripture repeatedly says, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Ro. 1:17; Gal. 3:11).

Before they sinned, Adam and Eve had everything good from God because of the perfection of creation, so, to be righteous, they needed a promise of God to believe. That promise was implied when God gave the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, God’s command there also included a promise which was, “Evil is bad. Trust Me on this.” So, with this command and promise, Adam and Eve could have by faith what God never intended them to have by experience. God didn’t want humanity to experience evil and death by sight, only by faith. Through the Estate of the Church, God provides eternal life. And even now, after the Fall, God provides eternal life through the Estate of the Church through faith in Christ.

The second Estate, the Estate of the Family, was also instituted by God before the Fall when God took Adam’s rib and formed Eve. God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Even after we became sinners through the Fall, we know that God blesses and wants the Estate of the Family to continue because God repeats this command to Noah and his descendants after the Flood (Gen. 9:1). Through the Estate of the Family, God provides physical life as husbands and wives have children.

Just very briefly, the third Estate, the Estate of the State, was instituted only because of and after the Fall. There isn’t a direct passage of Scripture where God establishes the State; however, Scripture does plainly teach that the State is a good gift from God in both Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. In those passages, Scripture teaches that the State is not a terror to good conduct but to bad and that the State carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. The Estate of the State is limited in what it can do. The State cannot give life; it can only preserve and protect life through the threat of punishment.

And this means that the Estate of the State is the only one of the three that is temporary. When Christ returns, there will be no more need of the State because there will be no more sin. So much of our time today is, frankly, wasted focusing on politics and what is going on in our government. Don’t get me wrong, the State is important. The State and the authorities God has placed over us matter, and they are good gifts from God to protect life in a fallen world. But what is going on in your Family is vastly more important than anything that happens in the State. So, let’s put more of our focus and attention there.

With all of that in mind, we’ll focus now on the center of the Estate of the Family – marriage.

In Genesis 1, Scripture gives an overview of the entire creation. We see how, in six days, God created the heavens and earth – sun, moon, stars, galaxies, planets, oceans, continents, plants, birds, fish, animals, and humanity. The conclusion of each day of creation notes that there was evening and morning. Then, God rests on the seventh day, blessing and sanctifying it. The interesting thing about the seventh day is that there is no mention of evening and morning. In a very real way, the picture is that the day of blessing and rest doesn’t end. Now, in Gen. 2, the clock rewinds, and the focus shifts. Here in our text, we move from the big picture of all creation to the little world that we experience – human life. And we see that human life is centered around marriage.

Now, I want to be clear at the outset here. When I say that all human life is centered around marriage, that doesn’t mean that all people grow up in a home where a perfect husband and perfect wife have perfect kids. To be sure, sin has brought a brokenness to the Estate of the Family. God be praised if you grew up in a family with a father and mother and siblings. But even when that isn’t the case, marriage is still the center of human life. If you aren’t married or never will be married, you are here because of a marriage. Yes, some of you have been adopted into a family and are blessed through God’s invention of marriage with a father and mother. But even when that isn’t the case and you grew up without a father or a mother, your parents engaged in sex which an act of marriage. And even when someone is conceived through rape – in other words, someone has committed a grievous sin and stolen an act intended for marriage – that child is a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3). And, please, if you would like a fuller explanation on that statement or need any pastoral or professional psychiatric care if, please, please, please let me know. The many ways that family exists apart from God’s design for marriage just shows how sin has utterly broken what God designed for us.

The second half of this text (v. 18-25) is where God establishes the Estate of the Family and holy marriage. Again, in Gen. 1 we get the big picture of creation, God creates man and woman in His image (Gen. 1:26-30). But in Gen. 2:18, we get the detailed creation of man and woman and family, God creates the man first. Then, God says something totally unexpected. Over and over in the larger picture of creation, God sees what He has made and says, “It is good.” But in v. 18, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God created Adam first, and knew that Adam needed a helper compatible, complementary, and harmonizing for him.

Man alone is not good. So, God brings all the animals to Adam, and Adam gives them names. But still no suitable helper is found. God puts Adam to sleep and takes part of Adam’s side. Our translation which reads ‘rib’ is a bit polite and sterile. The Hebrew word there means ‘side’ or ‘rib cage.’ The teaching of Jewish rabbis can help explain the significance of this. God didn’t take Adam’s hair to create Eve. Then, she would have been over him. God didn’t use Adam’s feet or toes to create Eve. Then, she would have been below him. Instead, God took Adam’s side, or rib cage, so she would be next to him, beside him, and near his heart.

Take special note, please, of v. 19. God formed every beast of the field and bird of the heavens out of the ground. But Adam was created differently. Look back at Gen. 2:7. Adam, like the animals, was formed out of the dust of the ground, but God added to that dust the breath, or spirit, of life. Now, when God creates the woman, He doesn’t just gather up another bit of earth, form the woman, and breathe life into her. Instead, God takes a part of Adam and forms the woman.

So, follow me here. I know this sounds like repetition, but it isn’t, it’s building: Man alone is not good. That doesn’t mean that man alone is bad, he just isn’t good. To make mankind good, God creates a woman from man’s side to be man’s helper. By the creation of the woman, Adam is less than he was before God put him to sleep. But when Adam wakes up, he is more than he was before. After the creation of the woman, man is good. And this goodness comes about because as a married man, Adam is more than he was before. Now, he is complete, but this complementary, completeness comes from outside of himself. Only after this marriage is creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

All this action of God is why Jesus says that every marriage is a union that God arranges. When Jesus is asked about divorce by the Pharisees, He quotes Gen. 2:24 and says, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:6). And here is why this is important for you. To those of you who are married, and to those of you who will, one day (God willing) be married, you don’t ever have to wonder if you made a mistake along the way. When you are married and look at your spouse, you can always know that your marriage is God’s will for you. God is the One who joined you together as husband and wife. And this is also why being widowed is so painful. When a spouse dies, part of the living spouse is gone. So, God be praised that Christ has come to undo the curse of sin and death.

Also, because God joins husband and wife together, you can know that your marriage is good in the eyes of God. He joined you together, and everything that God does is good. Even when things are hard, this is a sign that your marriage is good because the devil attacks all good things that God has given. In our day, marriage is viewed cynically as some sort of outdated, antiquated institution. Sadly, a lot of people think marriage is restrictive, boring, and painful.

But study after study after study shows that marriage is much more likely to lead to fulfillment and happiness than any other alternative. All the surveys indicate that the number of couples who are happy in their marriage is extremely high. Studies also show that, even of those who are not happy in their marriage, two-thirds of them will become happy if they stay together. There’s a lot of talk today about believing science. Well, the science clearly shows that marriage is much more fulfilling, rewarding, and joy-bringing than what most people think.

Marriage is hard work, but even that is good. Any married couple can tell you this. Sometimes people think that the best marriages happen without any work or effort and when the couple is perfect and completely compatible with each other. And this leads people to think that the best marriages allow each person in that marriage be simply be themself and never change. But love, true love, doesn’t come naturally or easily. Love is work. Love is effort.

If we were perfect, sure, love would be easy. But every husband is an imperfect man, and every wife is an imperfect woman. Everyone here, including myself, we are all imperfect. Each of us is self-centered and self-absorbed. And this isn’t good. Our selfish nature hurts ourselves and those around us, and our self-centeredness never leads to more happiness for ourselves. It leads only to more pain and misery.

But know this: we are most fulfilled when we are emptied of ourselves and pour ourselves out in love and service to another person. People are happiest when they are serving and giving. And God has given no better setting to serve someone else than in marriage.

Yes, marriage is hard. The sinful self revolts against the changes and sacrifices that marriage requires. No two sinners are compatible. Any parent knows that when you put two kids together in a room, it only takes a while for the self-centeredness of each to take over. So, don’t despair if your marriage gets hard. Instead, rejoice because God loves you and has put you into the institution of marriage so you can have Him working on you through your marriage.

Finally, no consideration of marriage would be complete without the truest picture of marriage – Christ and the Church. At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul quotes v. 24 of our text, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Then, Paul says something absolutely wonderful. He writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32).

Dear saints, you are the Bride of Christ. You were formed from what Christ did on the cross. God put Jesus, your Savior, into the sleep of death. And from His pierced side, came water and blood. From that water, you are given the new birth from above, and from that innocent, forgiving blood, you are saved. God has made you to be bone of Christ’s bone, and flesh of Jesus’ flesh. Because of what Jesus has done, you can and do stand before the holy God unashamed, righteous, holy, blameless, and innocent. God be praised! Amen.

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

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

Dead to Sin, Alive to God – Sermon on Romans 6:1-11 for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 6:1-11

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This epistle text is dropping us near the middle of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Because that is the case, I want to quickly summarize what Romans says up until this point: In Ro. 1-2, Paul lays out everyone’s state under God’s Law. We’re all in trouble. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro. 3:23). And there is nothing you or I can do about it. Your works and my works cannot save. The Ten Commandments shut our mouths before the right and just judgment of God. Then, at the end of Ro. 3, we are given hope. In Ro. 3:21-24, Paul says that the righteousness God requires has been manifested apart from the Law through faith in Christ.

When he gets to Ro. 4, Paul uses the example of Abraham who was declared to be righteous not because he was such a good person but because he believed God’s promise to him (Ro. 4:3 see also Gen. 15:6). In Gen. 15, God promised old, childless Abraham that He would bless him with a son. God brought Abraham outside, told him to try to count the stars, and promised that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. God made a direct promise to Abraham there under that night sky, and Gen. 15:6 says, “[Abraham] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”

And notice how God connected His promise to Abraham to something physical, the stars. Think about how the nights were for old Abraham after that. Imagine him going out on a clear, cloudless night and seeing all the stars. How many nights, do you suppose, Abraham would remember God’s promise and start trying to count the stars? How long would he count before he would give up, realizing it wasn’t possible? And then Abraham would get tired, yawn, smile to himself, go to his bed, and fall asleep thinking, “Well, God made a promise to me. It’s hard to imagine and believe, but God promised.”

Back to Romans. When we get to Ro. 5, Paul changes gears and compares Jesus to Adam by saying that Jesus is the second Adam and new head of humanity. The first Adam brought sin and death to all humanity, but Christ, the second Adam, brings forgiveness, justification, salvation, and life. Paul writes in Ro. 5:18-19, and listen carefully to these verses, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Through Jesus’ righteousness and obedience, you, believer, are made righteous. Eternal life has been secured for you – not by your works, efforts, and achievements but solely by the work of Christ, which is yours through faith. God be praised!

All that brings us to our text. In this first part of Ro. 6, Paul deals with a question even before it is allowed to enter a forgiven sinner’s mind. When we hear the Gospel, that we are forgiven and reconciled to God for Christ’s sake, the old Adam in us wants to go wild. “If God loves to forgive, let’s give Him lots to forgive!” Paul says, “Not a chance; may the possibility of that thought never come to be! How can you live in sin when you are dead to it?”

“Don’t you know that all of us who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death?” (Ro. 6:3). Just like He did for Abraham, God has made a promise to you that is connected to something physical, the water of your Baptism. You who are Baptized have been picked up from where and when you are and joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. In your Baptism, God joined you to Jesus’ death so that you have a Jesus-kind of death. In other words, a death that doesn’t last very long, and a death concludes with resurrection. That means that sin and death no longer have a say in your life. You are dead to them. You are alive to God in Christ Jesus. The day you were Baptized was both your death day and the day you were begotten from above (Jn. 3:3-5).

But Paul goes on to say that this truth is something you have to take on faith. “You must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 6:11). This is why we don’t believe that everyone who is Baptized will be saved. Yes, Baptism is where and how God saves you (1 Pet. 3:21) and delivers what Jesus has done for you by His death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-11). But you can walk away from the promises God gives you in Baptism.

“Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Believer, you have two identities at once – one in Adam and another in Christ. You must reckon yourself as dead and alive at the same time. By your birth into this world, you are a sinner. By your new birth from above (Jn. 3:3-5), you are a child of God.

This means something for you each day of your life. It means that sin is no longer your master because sin has been dethroned by Jesus. He’s your Lord now, not sin. So, don’t put sin back on the throne. Fight against it. Don’t use your body as an instrument of unrighteousness. Sin and death will have no dominion over you because they have no dominion over Jesus, which is what Paul says in the next few verses after our text (Ro. 6:12-14).

Dear saints, you are, right now, dead to sin and alive to God. That fact might seem strange because you know that you still sin. The old Adam still clings closely to you. At times, you feel that old Adam and know the guilt and shame of your sin. You recognize that you are not what God intended you to be. The wages of sin is death (which is what you earn by yourself) but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro. 6:23). That’s why considering and reckoning yourself dead to sin and alive to God is so important. You are simultaneously righteous and sinner.

So, when you are inclined to sin and cave into temptation, you have all the proof you need that the old Adam is still hanging around and you need repentance. So, repent. Repenting is saying and believing what God says about sin. Confessing that you do not deserve anything good from God, but don’t stop there. Keep going! Confessing your sin also means saying what God says, that those sins have been died for and are forgiven because of Christ.

And when you are upset, discouraged, and appalled that you have sinned, when you resist and fight back against your wicked thoughts, words, and deeds, you can know for certain that you are alive to God.

Through your Baptism you are truly forgiven, regenerated, and made holy. That is how God looks at you, Christian. But we also recognize from both Scripture and our experience that this new life has only begun. It is not yet complete. But know that the God who began a good work in you, He will be faithful to bring it to completion (Php. 1:6).

What occurred in your Baptism – the drowning and rising, the death and resurrection – isn’t something that is merely in the past, but neither is it something will only come later in the future. Your Baptism is your present life, believer. Daily you repent of your sins, daily you believe in Christ crucified for your forgiveness, and daily you walk in newness of life until that great day when your Old Adam finally perishes, and you are perfectly and eternally renewed.

In other words, because your Baptism has joined you to Christ’s death and resurrection, live that out. Sin now has no dominion over you. You are dead to sin and alive to God. Amen.

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

Know-It-All Jesus – Sermon on Luke 5:1-11 for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 5:1-11

1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

How many miracles do you see in this text? Obviously, the huge catch of fish is one. Peter, James, and John leaving everything to follow Jesus is probably a second. But some of you might see a third miracle. How often does a man get told to go fishing and doesn’t jump at the opportunity? It’s a miracle!

One thing we need to understand when considering this text is that this is not Jesus and Peter’s first encounter – not even close. Somehow, we have gotten a view of the disciples that they just jump right on the Jesus bandwagon and follow Him wherever He goes from the start. But actually, this is the third time Jesus calls Peter to follow Him. We have to consider the other Gospels to realize this. Back in John 1, John the Baptizer sees Jesus and proclaims Him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Peter’s brother, Andrew, had been one of John’s disciples, but after John says this Andrew starts following Jesus. Andrew went and found Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41), so Peter also started following Jesus. The second call comes at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and says to Andrew and Peter, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17).

Now, when we come to this text, we see another different scene. Crowds are pressing in on Jesus to hear Him preach. Jesus asks Peter to help Him get a little space for preaching. (Maybe, this is the precedence for Lutherans sitting in the back rows. Give the preacher enough room to preach!) Peter stops cleaning his nets and puts the boat out a little from the land so Jesus can preach while sitting on the boat and not get trampled by the crowds.

When Jesus’ sermon is over, He tells Peter to grab his freshly cleaned nets, put the boat out into the deep waters, and have a catch. But Peter isn’t too keen on the idea. That previous night of fishing had been frustrating. All his work had led to zero fish, and now this Son of a carpenter is telling him to go out in the middle of the day and have a catch. No! Peter knows fishing. He thinks Jesus should stick to making tables and chairs and preaching. Daytime is not the time to fish, and the deep waters aren’t where you find fish. But Peter relents; he does as Jesus says almost like he is humoring this know-it-all Jesus.

Peter and Andrew row out into the deep, drop the nets, and enclose such a large number of fish that the nets begin to break. Even though this text is just twelve verses, we have to understand that it would have taken a long time of tugging and pulling and grunting to load up their boat with all these fish, and there still isn’t enough room. So, Peter and Andrew signal to their partners, James and John, to bring their boat out into the deep water and fill that second boat up until both boats begin to sink because there are so many fish.

Again, this is clearly a miracle which, you would think, would excite Peter and have him try to sign Jesus to a contract as a full partner in his fishing business. But that isn’t Peter’s reaction. He says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Now, Peter had seen Jesus do miracles before this. We know that Peter had been at the wedding in Cana when Jesus turned water into wine in Jn. 2:1-11. That text tells us that when Peter and the other disciples saw the miracle they believed in Jesus. And, if you look back to Luke 4, you see that Jesus had done several other miracles. It is very possible that Peter was in the synagogue when Jesus cast out a demon (Lk. 4:31-37). After that, Jesus goes to Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Lk. 4:38-39). Peter would have been there for that miracle. It’s likely that Peter was with Jesus later that same evening while Jesus healed all sorts of people who were sick (Lk. 4:40-41). Never after any of those miracles does Peter ask Jesus to leave. So, why does Peter ask Jesus to go away after this catch of fish?

Probably, it is because this miracle is taylor-made to teach Peter that he doesn’t know it all. Sure, Peter is a successful fisherman, but his knowledge and wisdom and expertise has its limits. And Peter is going to have to learn to simply trust Jesus’ word, especially when Peter enters the new vocation that Jesus is about to call him to.

With this miracle, Jesus is teaching Peter something very important about preaching. You might be wondering, “What does a massive catch of fish that nearly sinks two boats have to do with preaching?” Well, you notice at the end of this text Jesus says to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” In other words, this catch of fish is a set up. It is a preview of what is going to happen when Peter begins his new calling and vocation of preaching the Gospel. From this point forward, Peter is going to learn from Jesus how to be a minister of the Word.

We heard in our Epistle lesson (1 Cor. 1:18-25) that the message that Jesus is going to have Peter preach is called “the word of the cross” and is folly to those who are perishing. That Epistle text goes on to say, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” In other words, this new vocation that Jesus is calling Peter into – catching men with the preaching of the Gospel – it isn’t going to be flashy and impressive. It isn’t going to sound wise and knowledgeable. Instead, it’s going to sound as silly as trying to catch fish at the wrong time of day in the wrong spot when everything you would expect to work will fail. But the results, the results will be unimaginable.

And that’s what we see at Peter’s first opportunity to proclaim the Gospel after Jesus’ resurrection. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon that isn’t overly profound or insightful or persuasive. He simply preaches Christ crucified and risen, and 3,000 souls are saved (Act. 2:14-41). God worked through His Word on that day of Pentecost to bring in a large catch of men through the net of the Gospel, just as Jesus worked through His Word to Peter here with the catch of fish.

Dear saints, God will continue to work through that the proclamation of that Word. He has promised! While we see our country slide into greater and greater sin and unbelief, we don’t need to start figuring out how to make the Gospel more appealing to people. Again, the message of the Gospel is folly to those who are perishing. The Gospel we preach and believe is that sin separates you from God and is damnable. But God Himself has taken the punishment you deserve, and you get off scot free. And if we try to repackage the Gospel so that it doesn’t sound so foolish, it will cease being the Gospel. As a congregation, we need to do nothing more than to be faithful in proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners, and God will use that net of the Gospel (Mt. 13:47-50) to do His work.

Dear saints, you aren’t called to be like Peter in this text. I know there are a lot of sermons on this account that conclude with a challenge to leave everything behind and follow Christ. And because Peter is a towering figure in the Christian church, a lot of people have the idea that they should do as Peter does here. But honestly, the only thing Peter does in this text that all Christians should emulate is listen to Jesus – even when Jesus seems to be a know-it-all and calls you to do something that seems as ridiculous as fishing at the wrong time in the wrong place. Otherwise, there’s nothing that Peter does in this text for you to mimic.

Honestly, Peter is kind of a mess in this text. Even when he confesses his sin, he is only half right. He recognizes his sinfulness which is good, but then he asks Jesus to depart which is silly. Dear saints, when you recognize your sin, that is when you ask Jesus to come and wash away your sin.

And, no. You aren’t called to be like Peter and leave everything to follow Jesus. It is an amazing thing that Peter does this, but Jesus hasn’t called you to do that. God has put you into particular relationships where He uses you as His hands and feet to minister to the needs of your neighbor. Don’t leave those vocations and relationships. Instead, serve Jesus where you are.

Scripture is clear on this. 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 says, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)… So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

Dear saints, God needs you in the stations and vocations where He has placed you. Jesus knows how He can use you best in the kingdom of God. Jesus knew what He was doing when He placed you into your family, into this congregation, in your job, in your neighborhood. He has placed you there to be a faithful husband, wife, child, employer, worker, and neighbor. You don’t need to leave that in order to serve God more faithfully. God has placed you there to serve Him by serving those neighbors He has given you. Even if you think Jesus has made a mistake by putting you there, just trust that Jesus actually does know it all. And He will use you in the way that He sees fit.

Finally, if you want to see yourself in this text, you are the fish caught up in the net of the Gospel. You have been brought safely into the boat of the holy Christian Church by Jesus who went to the cross and shed His blood so you could be forgiven and saved. And Jesus Your Savior now calls and invites you to come to this altar and receive His Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

So, come. Receive. The holy Son of God does know it all, and He is here for you now and forever. Amen.

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

Fear & Forgiveness – Sermon on Genesis 50:15-21 for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Genesis 50:15-21

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This is a phenomenal text and a beautiful conclusion to a long story of Joseph and his brothers. I know you’re familiar with it, but I still want to review it to highlight some details that are often overlooked so we can see just how dramatic this scene is.

Joseph’s father, Jacob, had two wives (which Scripture repeatedly shows is a bad idea), and his wives were sisters, Leah and Rachel, and this family arrangement poisoned the relationship of these two sisters. Because Jacob loved Rachel but not Leah (Gen. 29:31), God made it so Leah is able to have children, but Rachel isn’t. Without getting too much into the seedy details, only after Jacob has ten sons does Rachel conceive and bear Jacob’s two youngest sons, Joseph then Benjamin. So, of his twelve sons, Joseph was Jacob’s hands-down favorite, and Jacob didn’t hide that fact (Gen. 37:3).

When Joseph was seventeen years old (Gen. 37:2), he started telling his brothers about his dreams where they bow down to him and serve him (Gen 37:5-8). What can you say? He’s the spoiled-rotten, favorite child. Sometime shortly after this, Joseph’s brothers concoct a plan to murder Joseph (Gen. 37:19). But Joseph’s oldest brother, Reuben, convinces his brothers to simply throw Joseph in a pit, and Joseph ends up being sold to a caravan of slave traders. Joseph’s brothers lead their father to believe that Joseph has been attacked by a wild animal and is dead (Gen. 37:31-35). The slave traders take Joseph to Egypt where he is sold to a man named Potiphar who is an officer of Pharaoh and his title is the captain of the guard (Gen. 39:1). Joseph works hard and eventually becomes the overseer of everything in Potiphar’s house.

Potiphar’s wife finds Joseph attractive and tries to seduce him, but Joseph refuses to sin against God and his master. So, Potiphar’s wife makes false accusations against Joseph (Gen. 39:1-19). And just quickly – I’ve mentioned this before – I think there is good reason to believe that Potiphar doesn’t believe the accusations of his wife against Joseph because if he had Joseph would have been executed immediately. Instead, Potiphar puts Joseph into the same prison where Pharaoh’s prisoners are kept (Gen. 39:20), and Scripture tells us that the keeper of that prison is Pharaoh’s captain of the guard (Gen. 40:3), which you remember is Potiphar’s title. This helps explain why Joseph quickly gets put in charge of basically running the prison (Gen. 39:22-23).

While Joseph is there, Pharaoh’s chief baker and cupbearer anger Pharaoh and get thrown into the same prison where Joseph is. They each have a dream that troubles them, and Joseph notices they are down in the dumps. The cupbearer tells Joseph his dream, and God gives Joseph insight to interpret the dream. The cupbearer’s dream means that he will be restored to his position in three days, and Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him when he gets back to serving Pharaoh his wine (or whatever Pharaohs drink). The chief baker hears that the cupbearer’s dream means something good will happen, so the baker wants Joseph to interpret his dream. The baker, however, doesn’t get good news about his dream. Joseph interprets his dream to mean that Pharaoh will have him executed in three days. The baker is probably even more disappointed when the interpretation of both dreams comes true (Gen. 40:1-22). The only problem for Joseph is that the cupbearer forgets all about Joseph for two whole years (Gen. 40:23-41:1).

After those two years, Pharaoh himself has a couple of dreams that none of his magicians can interpret. Only then does the cupbearer remember about Joseph and the interpretation that God had given him about those two dreams (Gen. 40:8, 41:16). So, Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and hears his dreams about fat cows getting eaten by skinny cows and bad crops eating good crops. Joseph says that God is telling Pharaoh (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32) that seven years of plenty are coming, but those good years will be followed by seven years of severe famine. Joseph suggests that Pharaoh tax one-fifth of the produce during the years of plenty so there will be enough food stored up for when the famine comes (Gen. 41:33-38). Pharaoh basically says, “You’re my guy. You’ve got the Spirit of God in you. You’ll be in charge of implementing this plan.” So, Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of all Egypt, has everyone bow down to Joseph wherever he goes, and even gives Joseph one of his daughters as a wife (Gen. 41:37-45). And at this time, Joseph is thirty years old (Gen. 41:46).

Now, just to sum up: Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:2). His first 13 years in Egypt are spent partly as a slave in Potiphar’s house and at least two (but probably more) years in prison before he becomes, basically, the prime minister of Egypt at age 30 (Gen. 41:46). For the next seven years, Joseph oversees the storing up of so much food and grain that they stopped keeping track of how much extra they had (Gen. 41:49). So, at this point, Joseph has been in Egypt for 20 years and is 37 when the famine starts. And the famine was so bad people from all over the earth came to Egypt to buy grain (Gen. 41:57).

Joseph’s father and brothers are still living in Canaan, and they have no food. So, Jacob sends Joseph’s brothers to go and buy grain in Egypt. All of Joseph’s brothers except his only full brother, Benjamin, go down to Egypt to buy food. But if you want to buy food in Egypt during this time, the guy you have to see is Joseph. So, when Joseph’s brothers arrive at the checkout counter, Joseph is the one taking the money (Gen. 42:1-6).  And when your life and the lives of everyone in your entire family is in the hands of the prime minister of the only country that has grain and when that prime minister is the clerk, you don’t ask if there are any sales, specials, or coupons. You don’t want to get him upset with you. You show him respect. So, Joseph’s brothers bow down to him fulfilling Joseph’s dream that he had twenty years before (Gen. 37:5-8). But Joseph’s brothers don’t recognize him after twenty years, and they figured he was dead. However, Joseph recognizes his brothers and remembers his dream (Gen. 42:9a).

Now, we need to pick up the pace. Joseph puts his brothers through the ringer for the next 3 chapters of Scripture which span two years. Joseph throws them in jail for three days (Gen. 42:9b-17). He sets them up to think that they didn’t pay for their food (Gen. 42:25, 35). Two years into the famine, Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt a second time to buy more food (Gen. 45:6). And Joseph shows favoritism to his only full brother Benjamin whom Joseph forced to come on this second trip (Gen. 43:34). And Joseph concocts a plan to make it appear that Benjamin has stolen Joseph’s silver cup (Gen. 44:1-2). When his brothers are confronted with this, the brothers all go back to try and save Benjamin from punishment because they know their father will die if they don’t return with Benjamin (Gen. 43:1-14; 44:18-29) whom Jacob thinks is the only living son of Rebekah (Gen. 35:16-20).

Now, before the brothers had left Canaan the second time to buy food, Reuben tried to make a deal with their father Jacob by saying, “We’re not going to get food in Egypt unless Benjamin comes with us, and if he doesn’t come back, you can kill my two sons” (Gen. 42:37-38). But Jacob doesn’t agree to this pagan-like, child sacrifice arrangement. But then Judah says, “Listen, dad, I’ll be responsible for Benjamin. If he doesn’t come back, you can kill me” (Gen. 43:8-10). So, when Judah sees that Joseph is going to punish Benjamin for stealing his cup, Judah gives a beautiful speech, which I’d encourage you to read later today (you can find it in Gen. 44:18-34). In that speech, Judah basically repeats the Gospel promises that Joseph had grown up hearing. Judah says, “I didn’t commit this sin, but treat me as the one who did.” In other words, Judah says, “Let the guilty one go free. Give me the punishment that one deserves, so he can return to the arms of his father.”

And you have to realize how impactful this is. Joseph has been the only Christian in Egypt for 22 years now. He didn’t have any fellowship with fellow believers. He had to be content simply remembering the Gospel promises his father had taught him up until he was sold into slavery at age 17. Now, at age 39 he gets to hear his brother Judah preaching that Gospel to him. Judah is living out the Gospel promise that he failed to live out 22 years before when he had a hand in selling Joseph into slavery.

Joseph is so overcome with emotion that he reveals himself to his brothers. He tells them to get Jacob and the whole family and move to Egypt because there are still five years of famine left (Gen 45:6). The family arrives in Egypt and lives in the best land of Egypt. And Joseph takes care of them for the next seventeen years in Egypt until Jacob dies (Gen. 47:28). Which, finally, brings us to our text.

Even though Joseph had forgiven his brothers (Gen. 45:4-15) and provided for them during those seventeen years, they still fear that Joseph is going to punish them now that their father had died. Joseph’s brothers make up this story, “Hey, bro, right before he died, dad totally told us that you can’t punish us for our sin against you 39 years ago.” You see, through those 39 years, Joseph’s brothers are repeatedly haunted by their guilt of sinning against Joseph (Gen. 42:21-22, 28; 43:18; 44:16). And even after living for 17 years under Joseph’s care and forgiveness, they are still afraid that their sin is going to be punished by Joseph.

But look how beautifully Joseph replies (Gen. 50:19-20), “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” In other words, Joseph is saying, “Listen, I wasn’t just taking care of you because I loved dad, and now I’m going to get back at you because he’s gone. I have truly forgiven you. I love you, and will continue to care for you.” And please notice carefully what Joseph said there, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Think back to our Gospel reading today (Lk. 6:36-42). Those verses contain every non-Christian’s favorite saying of Jesus, “Judge not.” If any atheist knows a lick of Scripture, it’s probably those two words of Jesus. But the way unbelievers (and even some Christians) twist those words is abhorrent. In fact, the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading today are probably the most misunderstood, taken-out-of-context words of all Scripture. Sinners love to say, “Jesus told you not to judge.”

But when our Lord says, “Judge not,” Christ isn’t saying that Christians are never allowed to point out the sin of others and call them to repentance. Instead, Jesus wants us to not be hypocrites. Christ doesn’t want us judging others unless we recognize that we need repentance too. So, Jesus gives the analogy of the logs and specks in eyes. In short, Jesus wants you to repent of and remove your timbers of sin in your eye so that you can see clearly and help remove the specks of sin in your neighbor’s eye. Jesus is clear that He wants everyone’s eyes to be free of logs and specks.

Now, all of that brings us back to Joseph and his brothers. The brothers feared that the only reason Joseph was being nice to them was because of their father Jacob. Now, their dad is gone, and they figure the hammer is about to fall, so they fear. So, see how Joseph, in such a godly way, addresses the seriousness of their sin by rightly acknowledging that they meant evil against him. He doesn’t say that their sin didn’t matter. But then, Joseph immediately comforts them with the Gospel and forgiveness.

Dear Christians, if we identify ourselves as any of the characters in this story, it should be Joseph’s brothers. We follow their pattern. We sin and fear that our punishment is just waiting to fall, but our brother, Jesus, comforts us with His forgiveness and cares for us for all eternity.

Jesus teaches us that we sinners are right to fear God. Jesus says in Mt. 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” According to Christ, we should fear God. And when we do, God comforts us and kindly speaks His absolution over us. Psalm 130:3-4 says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Because Jesus, the sinless One, has died in your place, God forgives you and cares for you. Because Jesus went to the cross to shed His blood providing everything you need for eternal life, you are set free to run back to the arms of your Heavenly Father.

When you rightly fear God because of your sin, He smiles back at you and says, “Yes, your sin is terrible, but I have taken care of it. I love and forgive you.” When you fear, love, and trust in God above all else, God says to you, “Fear not, my beloved child.” And when God, the only One who is worthy of your fear does that for you, you are set free from all fears because His perfect love casts out your fear (1 Jn. 4:18) now and forever. Amen.

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

Invited – Sermon on Proverbs 9:1-10 for the Second Sunday after Trinity

Proverbs 9:1-10

1   Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.

2   She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.

3   She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,

4   “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,

5   “Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.

6   Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

7   Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.

8   Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

9   Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, we’re diving right in. Jesus is Wisdom who speaks in this text. Jesus is the one who has prepared this banquet and invites the simple (probably best understood as ‘gullible’) and those who lack sense to a feast He has prepared. Don’t be offended by that interpretation just because Wisdom here is given feminine pronouns. “Wisdom has built her house, hewn her pillars, slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine…” etc. The word “wisdom” in both Hebrew and Greek is a feminine noun, so don’t let that confuse you. This text is not teaching that God is a woman. Wisdom is the everlasting, eternal, infinite, almighty Son of God.

A bit of context helps cement this interpretation. Back in Pro. 8:22-23, 27-31, Wisdom says of Himself,

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth….
When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman.”

In other words, God created with and through Wisdom, and all of that echoes the opening of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1-3, 14). And if that isn’t enough to prove that Jesus is Wisdom who is speaking here, in Lk. 11:31 Jesus calls Himself the Wisdom greater than Solomon. And in 1 Cor. 1:30, Paul says that Jesus is the wisdom from God.

Jesus, the eternal Son of God and wisdom of God, is the Father’s voice to the world. Jesus reveals God’s heart. And Christ gives us true wisdom that remains when everything else is gone. And look at this beautiful invitation:

He prepares the food, sets the table, and calls all people – even the gullible and senseless – to come to the banquet. This feast is free by grace. God charges no admission fee, and the guests have no bill at the end of the meal. They don’t even have to cover the tip. Those who have no money are invited to come and have their fill. This beautiful picture is also what we saw in our Gospel lesson (Lk. 14:15-23). There, the king doesn’t care if the guests are poor, crippled, blind, or lame. He doesn’t even care if they are citizens of his kingdom. He tells his servants, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that My house may be filled.” God has a banquet. He wants His tables to be filled with guests. He desires that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

The past three times these readings have come up, I’ve preached on that Gospel text and highlighted the importance of coming to church because the riches of the feast that God gives us right here, in this sanctuary, are so grand, elaborate, and infinitely valuable. But I’m not preaching on the Gospel lesson today. The main overlap of the Gospel lesson and this lesson from Proverbs is the invitation and how we are commissioned by God to spread that invitation to the divine feast far and wide. So, for the rest of this sermon, let’s consider evangelism and witnessing.

Honestly, there is a lot of bad theology when it comes to evangelism and sharing the Gospel. I want to consider three truths about evangelism today. There are more, but these three are central. And I want to be very clear at the outset here. I’m going to criticize some of the common trends and ideas about evangelism. Just because I criticize them doesn’t mean that those things have never worked to share the Gospel.  Instead, I hope that as we consider what the Scriptures have to say about salvation and how we see that Christianity spread in the book of Acts, you are encouraged and emboldened to simply be who you are in Christ. Be a sinner who has been washed in Christ’s forgiveness. That is all the equipping you need to be a faithful inviter to God’s eternal feast.

The first truth about sharing the Gospel is that evangelism is nothing more than simply announcing that there is a feast that is ready and free to any who will come. As v. 4 of our text said, Wisdom sends us to proclaim, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.” And as they arrive at the banquet, Wisdom – in other words Jesus – says to them, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (v. 5-6).

God gives us opportunities to invite to a banquet; He doesn’t call us to scare people into heaven. Plays like “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames” and fire-and-brimstone-street-corner preaching aren’t what Christians are about. Christians are about the free Gospel, the abundant mercy of Christ, and the joy of the eternal banquet. Yes, the horrors of hell are real. But if people are scared into believing in God, they are more slaves than children. And God wants children to love and cherish. Christian, you have the Gospel – the greatest news ever. Jesus has died and shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. That message is for all people. Out of His pure mercy, Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). God’s greatest delight is to give sinners His kingdom and have them as His guests at His banquet.

The second truth about evangelism is that you don’t have to go out and find people to evangelize. I’ve been through (and even taught) evangelism models that encourage you to seek people out, strike up a conversation, and then turn that conversation to spiritual matters so you can share about Jesus. First off, not a lot of people are comfortable doing that. And very few people who are comfortable doing that can do it naturally – especially when the person they are trying to evangelize tries to change the subject away from spiritual matters. I’ve been a victim (and I’m using that word a little sarcastically) of people who are part of pyramid schemes. Of course, they don’t call it a pyramid scheme – it’s ‘multi-level-marketing.’ At first, they are very friendly and outgoing, but then comes the moment when they try to feel me out about their great, wonderful product. When they realize I’m not interested in purchasing or selling their product, they aren’t interested in me anymore. And you know what that does to my opinion of them? Yeah.

Dear saints, you don’t have to seek out potential converts to Christianity. Repeatedly in the book of Acts, the apostles would proclaim the Gospel in the synagogues – to the people who were already familiar with God’s Word. In those synagogues, some would believe in Christ, but many would reject. The interesting thing is that the apostles never sought out people who were unfamiliar with God’s Word. They never made cold calls. God would simply bring people to the apostles, they would preach, point to Jesus, and people would believe.

Just a few examples: At Pentecost, God brought people together by the sound of the rushing wind (Act. 2:5-6) and the apostles pointed them to Jesus. In Acts 3, Peter and John go to the Temple for prayer one afternoon and encounter a paralyzed man who was begging. Peter tells the guy, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” The guy does, and whole crowds get drawn to Peter and John to hear more about Jesus (Act. 3:1-4:37). God dropped the Ethiopian eunuch into Phillip’s life (Act. 8:26-38). And when Phillip was done baptizing the eunuch, God teleported him somewhere else to share the Gospel (Act. 8:39-40). God told Cornelius to send for Peter (Act. 10:1-8). We could go on and on. But I’d encourage you, read the book of Acts this week, and notice how God just drops people into the lives of the apostles. Then they simply share the Gospel and point the people whom God put in their lives to Jesus.

Dear saints, you don’t have to seek people out. Be faithful in the vocations and callings that God has given you. Be a good spouse, parent, child, worker, student, neighbor, whatever. Have the best, most genuine relationship possible with the people God brings into your life. Be an authentic person and be ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15-16). As you have opportunity, point them to Jesus, and invite them here where Jesus has prepared His banquet. The most recent survey I saw showed that 86% of people who attend a church go to that congregation because a friend invited them. Be friendly to people not in an effort to convert them – that isn’t true friendship. Just be a friend, and be ready for God to open doors to sharing the Gospel. Like Phillip did for Nathaniel, invite people to come and see Jesus (Jn. 1:46).

Finally, the third truth about evangelism is this: Rest in the fact that you can’t mess it up. Dear saints, Scripture is clear on this. No one will go to hell because you failed in sharing the Gospel with them. It isn’t possible. Jesus promises in Jn. 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

There is a fascinating verse in Acts 13 about this. Just to give a bit of the context here: Paul and his companions arrive in the city of Antioch (Act 13:13ff). As was their custom, they go to the synagogue and are asked by the rulers if they have a word of encouragement. Paul preaches a little sermon about Jesus (Act. 13:16-41). Some believe, and Paul and Barnabas are invited to come again the next Sabbath. When they do, the whole city of Antioch gathered together to hear the Word of the Lord (Act. 13:44). Paul and Barnabas again share about Jesus. Some were filled with jealousy and were contradicting what Paul was preaching and reviling him (Act. 13:45). But then (and this might be the most important verse you can memorize to encourage you as you think about evangelism), Acts 13:48b, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

Dear saints, salvation belongs to God (Jon. 2:9; Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). You and all Christians are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Since you aren’t the source of either salvation or grace, the work of saving people belongs exclusively to God. God can and does use you to be His salt and light (Mt. 5:13-16), and when He does, God be praised! But know that no one, not a single soul, will end up in hell because you have failed. You aren’t that powerful. You cannot erase someone’s name from the book of life (Rev. 3:5). Romans 8:38-39 says, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Dear saints, evangelism, inviting anyone to Jesus’ banquet is zero risk, infinite reward.

Dear saints, there is a banquet. It is free to you and to all. You are invited, and you have the privilege and joy of inviting others. So, invite them. Invite them because of the joy of being part of that feast yourself.

The banquet is prepared. The gifts are ready. Jesus calls you, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Amen.

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

Carried – Sermon on Luke 16:19-31 for the First Sunday after Trinity

Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Right off the bat, this text confirms that there are things much worse than being poor, hungry, covered with sores, and having dogs as your only friends and caretakers. There is eternal life after this life, and after you die, there are only two destinations. Heaven and hell are real. You will spend eternity either in bliss with God your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, or in eternal damnation and torment.

Because that truth stares you in the face when hearing this text, I want us to focus for a moment on a rich man in this text.

There was a rich man who was adorned with the finest garb. This man daily feasted on the best food. Wherever he went, he was chauffeured around in decadence. This rich man had the most precious things in all creation and was truly blessed. And this rich man’s name was… Lazarus.

Now, I can hear what you’re thinking: “Pastor, Lazarus didn’t have anything good in this life. Abraham even said that Lazarus received bad things in his lifetime.” Absolutely, I’ll concede that point. But with this parable, Jesus is trying to fix our hearts where true joys are found. Both in this life and the next, true joy is to be found in the promises of God’s Word.

Too often, we Christians are tempted to think that if things aren’t going a certain way that God is mad at us. I often hear testimonies of Christians who will say things like, “I thought I was saved, but…” Then, they’ll recount some difficulty or hardship they have gone through. Then they will continue, “But then, I truly gave my life to Jesus, and everything got so much better. And now I’m really saved.” Honestly, that is sad to hear.

Dear saints, beware that kind of thinking and mentality. The devil wants us to tie our assurance of salvation to how things are going in this life. Honestly, that type of thinking is precisely what the book of Job is teaching against. God says that Job is righteous and upright (Job 1:8, 2:3), but the devil says, “Hey God, let me have a crack at him. Let me take everything from him – his wealth, family, possessions, and health. And Job will curse You to Your face, God” (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5). And even when Job’s friends try to get Job to confess that he must have done something sinful to cause all the evil he endured, Job clung to faith in God’s promises.

Considering our life and judging what God thinks of us based on our blessings or lack of blessings is a dangerous place to be. Jesus Himself says that the life of faith is going to be difficult. Remember, Jesus promises that if the world persecuted Him, believers will be persecuted too (Jn. 15:20). Jesus calls Christians to follow Him which means picking up a cross – not a lazy boy (Lk. 9:23). If we are always stuck looking at how our lives are going, we’ll never be at rest as Christians. In fact, we will easily fall away. All the devil will have to do is keep bouncing us between highs and lows, and eventually, we will break.

Now, there are all sorts of ways we can go wrong when we consider this parable about Lazarus and the rich man unless we understand Jesus when He says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28). Those who hear God’s Word and believe it live blessed lives despite all appearances to the contrary. And that is the main difference between Lazarus and the rich man.

So, back to the idea that Lazarus was the truly rich man in this parable: Yes, absolutely. Lazarus was poor in this life, but when we consider what God’s Word says, we see that Lazarus was rich. In the parable, Jesus doesn’t say what kind of rags Lazarus wore, but Scripture does say that all believers are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). In fact, Ephesians 5:25-27 says that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her and cleanse her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish. Because Lazarus was a Christian, that is how he was clothed – despite the appearance of his beggarly clothes.

In the parable, Jesus says that Lazarus was hungry and desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. But because Lazarus was a Christian, he did not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). Lazarus knew the mercy of Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), who is the living bread that comes down from heaven (Jn. 6:50-51). That Word of God was sweet to Lazarus’ taste, sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:103).

And Lazarus had the finest chauffeurs who, when he died, carried him to Abraham’s side. The angels took care of all his transportation needs. Yes, despite all the suffering Lazarus had in this life, he was truly blessed.

And when we consider the rich man in the parable, we see the opposite. For all the temporal blessings the rich man had in this life, he did not have the most important thing – faith in God’s Word. Even as he is tormented in hell, the rich man continues to reject God’s Word. In damnation, he has the audacity to tell Abraham that God’s Word isn’t enough to warn his five living brothers about the peril of their sins. He demands that Lazarus be raised from the dead and warn them. But Abraham responds, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (in other words, the Scriptures), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” In other words, to hold fast to God’s Word is to be truly rich through faith in Christ. Blessed are those who hear the Work of God and keep it.

Don’t trip up on v. 25 where Abraham says, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things.” Some will say that statement teaches that the poor in this life go to heaven and the rich in this life go hell. That can’t be the case. Instead that again teaches us to not look at our blessings in this life, whether they be many or few.

Just think about the other rich man you heard about today in our Old Testament lesson (Gen. 15:1-6) – Abraham himself. In his day, Abraham was one of the wealthiest men in the world. One night, the Lord promised Abraham that His reward would be very great. But when Abraham looked at himself, he saw an old, wrinkled man. When Abraham looked at his wife, he saw an old woman who was past the age of bearing children. Abraham looked over at his servant Eliezer who was going to get all Abraham’s stuff when he died because Abraham had no heir. So God took Abraham outside, told him to look at the stars and try to number them. And God promised, “So shall your offspring be.” And Abraham stopped looking at his temporal blessings, and he looked past the limitations that seemed to contradict God’s promise. Instead, Abraham believed the Lord, and God counted it to him as righteousness.

Lazarus had that same faith. The name “Lazarus” means “one whom God helps.” Even with his beggarly status in life, Lazarus rested on the promises of God for forgiveness, life, and salvation despite all appearances to the contrary. Those promises carried Lazarus throughout his life, so when he died, the angels carried Lazarus to paradise. Yes, the rich man had earthly treasures in this life, but once he died, those treasures were gone forever. Because he didn’t have faith in God’s Word, he had nothing and was truly poor.

So, parents, this is mainly directed at you, but it is also for all of us Christians: We need to reconsider how we encourage our children and young people. Too often, we urge kids to grow up to be like the unnamed rich man in the parable. Obviously, he was wildly successful financially. He was a family man who cared about his siblings. He was probably a very generous man. Why else would Lazarus be begging at this man’s gate each day? The unnamed rich man was independent, successful, and a model, upstanding citizen. But he lacked the faith and fear of God. And without that, he had nothing.

And don’t get me wrong here. It is good to teach, instruct, and encourage our children to work hard, be independent, earn an honest living, and take pride in their accomplishments. It is important to do that. But never to the neglect of faith in God’s Word. Above all else, let us train our children and encourage one another to be dependent upon God and rest in His promises.

Those promises of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness carry us through this life. And when our time comes, may we be found faithful to Christ and like Lazarus be carried by the angels to the side of our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Triune Love – Sermon on John 3:1-17 for Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

John 3:16 might be the most recognizable verse of all Scripture. It has, rightly, been called “the Gospel in a nutshell.” That being said, there is a common misconception about one little word of the verse – the word “so.” Most of the time, we understand “so” to mean “so much,” so we read into the verse, “God loved the world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son….” However, the Greek word that gets translated as “so” has a different nuance. It actually means, “in this way.” Here’s how it comes across in Greek, “For God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

God the Father loved you by sending His only-begotten Son to die and rise again for you. It is one thing for a person to love you by sacrificing his own life for you. But your God goes further by giving His eternally beloved Son so that you might be saved through Him. In other words, if you ever have doubts about God’s love for you, you only need to look to the cross and empty tomb. By the concrete, historical, provable action of God sending Jesus to shed His blood, die, and rise again for you, God has loved you. That love has not, will not, and can not ever change.

In a lot of ways, that’s enough of a sermon right there, but you’re going to get more.

Today is Trinity Sunday. Scripture teaches that there is one God in three Persons and three Persons in one God. So, as Christians, we worship one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s easy for us as Christians to think that there is the God we know and love, but then there are a bunch of guys on the fringe of Christianity called “theologians.” These stuffy guys dress weirdly, have no social skills, and like talking about this thing called “the Trinity,” while go about the important things of real life. I hope this sermon is a beginning of seeing how doctrine – and specifically the doctrine of the Trinity – sparks a joy and wonder in our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The doctrine (or teaching) of the Trinity is the first mystery of the Christian faith. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a secret. A secret is something that you keep to yourself, and if you tell it to another person it isn’t a secret anymore. A mystery is something that, even if you say it and confess it, is still a mystery and above our comprehension.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the Trinity.

Even though the word “Trinity” is never used in Scripture, it is a concept that Scripture presents, so we believe, teach, and confess it. And the word “Trinity” is a helpful term that has been used by Christians going way back to the late 100’s AD. “Trinity” smashes two words together – tri meaning “three” and unity meaning “oneness.” This week, I came across how “Trinity” is communicated in sign language, and it is absolutely beautiful. You hold up three using your thumb, index, and middle finger on one hand behind your other hand; then, you move those fingers underneath and to the front of your other hand to hold up your single index finger.

First, let’s talk about the unity of the Trinity. In the Old Testament, God gave His people a creed to confess, and it opens like this, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt. 6:4). We Christians worship one God, yet the testimony of Scripture is that this one God is also three Persons.

The Trinity is taught in the opening chapter of the Bible (especially when we understand creation in light of the rest of the Scriptures). The very first verse of Scripture says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for “God” is אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) and is the most common Old Testament name for God. The interesting thing about the Hebrew word Elohim is that the word is plural in form, but throughout the Old Testament the verbs that follow Elohim are singular.

Also, at creation, you have God the Father creating, God the Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and God the Son being the Word of God that creates as it is spoken. Admittedly we only rightly understand this when we know what is taught in Jn. 1[:1-3, 14], “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” We also get to hear the Trinity having a conversation before the creation of Adam and Eve. God says (and listen to the pronouns), “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Then Scripture goes on to say (again listen to the numbers in the nouns and pronouns), “So Elohim (pl.) created man (sg.) in His (sg.) own image, in the image of Elohim (pl.) He (sg.) created him (sg.); male and female He created them (pl.)” (Gen 1:27).

This is an aside, but part of the way that mankind bears the image of God is to have more than one person of the same nature and essence. Humanity has a plurality – male and female. This is why so much of the current push to normalize transgenderism is demonic. There is no other way to say it. The transgender movement isn’t a just a rejection of the way God created a person with boy parts or girl parts. It’s also a rejection of the true God who is plurality in unity. On the one hand, I hope this gives us more compassion toward those who have been deceived by the transgender movement. And on the other hand, I hope it helps us recognize the wickedness of the satanic nature of those who promote transgenderism. As the Church, we need to start preparing ourselves now to welcome back those who have undergone hormone treatments and mutilating surgeries because many of them will eventually realize how they have been deceived. In the next five to twenty or so years, we Christians will need to be ready to give the Gospel in loving, kind ways. I know there is a lot to explore there, but we’ll leave that for another time.

Back to the Trinity.

Now, there are some who will say that the three Persons of the Trinity are simply different ways that the Bible will talk about God. In other words, they say that in the Old Testament, God is depicted as the Father, in the Gospels as the Son, and ever since as the Holy Spirit. This error was given a name, “modalism.” Modelists wrongly say that there is just one God and Father, Son, and Spirit are just different titles for that one God. However, that can’t be the case. Already, we have seen all three Persons in creation, but we also see all three Persons distinctly and individually show up at the Baptism of Jesus (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; and Lk. 3:21-22). There you have Jesus, the Son, in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, and God the Father saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Now, everything said so far is pretty basic, and you have hopefully heard all of that at some point in your life. But I wanted to review that before we take it a step further. Because it is only with a right understanding of the Trinity that Scripture beautifully teaches two essential, joyful, wonderful things. First, that God is love. And second, that God is just and merciful.

Scripture teaches that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16), but that can only be true because of the Trinity. If God were one, He could not be love. Here’s how that works: God is eternal and has always existed. And for God to be love, there has to be an object of His love. If God were one, He could not have love as part of His essence. Love would not be essential to His being. A god who is one and not triune could think highly of himself, but that wouldn’t be love; it would be pride. But with the Trinity it is possible for God to be love. There is an eternal love of the Father for the Son and Spirit. A love of the Son for the Spirit and Father. And a love of the Spirit for the Father and Son. This perfect relationship of love has eternally existed in the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, in God Himself, there has always been an object of love. Islam and Judaism cannot say that love is essential to who God is because they do not confess the Trinity. Now after creation, that perfect, eternal love that has always existed between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that love flows from God to us, God’s creatures. God shares that love with us. And, again, we see this most clearly in God giving His Son to save and forgive us.

And because God is love, the blessed Trinity can be merciful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I’m going to pick on Islam to make this point. The false god of Islam is Allah, and the Koran radically teaches that Allah is one. In fact, the Koran intentionally makes fun of Christianity for teaching that the true God is Triune. But again, a god who is one cannot have love as part of his essence. So, for Muslims, Allah has always existed from all eternity, but he existed as a solitary being and cannot have love as part of his essence. A false god like Allah can only be just; he cannot be merciful and loving toward sinners. In short, if god were only one, the story of that one god and his creatures is the story of an all-powerful master with naughty slaves. Maybe that false god could get his slaves back into his service, but he cannot love his slaves and they certainly cannot be his children.

But the true God is Triune. That means that God is perfectly just, but He is also merciful. Because God is Triune, God can provide Himself the sacrifice for sin as Abraham tells Isaac in Gen. 22:8. Salvation can only be by grace if God is Triune. If anyone but God Himself had to provide the sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, first, it wouldn’t be enough – it would not be sufficient. And second, it wouldn’t be by grace.

And if the Holy Spirit were not God, what possible right would He have to bring us into a relationship with God. If the Holy Spirit isn’t God and just a creature, He doesn’t know the mind of God. If the Holy Spirit isn’t God, He is no more use to us than an angel.

But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is God. The Son has done for us and in our place what we could not do for God. Jesus has come and been perfectly obedient to all of God’s commands. Because He is God, Jesus can render that perfect obedience to God on our behalf. And the Holy Spirit works faith in that work to the Father and Son.

Dear saints, all of this is to say that because God is triune, He can perfectly love and save you by grace. Because God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are not simply His slaves or pets. You are the object of His love. God the Father has created you out of pure love. God the Son has redeemed you out of pure love. And God the Holy Spirit has sanctified you out of pure love. You are saved and redeemed to be God’s children.

Jesus, the eternal Son of God, has come into the world not to condemn you, but in order that you might be saved through Him. Blessed be the holy Trinity. Amen.

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

Pentecost Miracles – Sermon on Acts 2:1-11 for Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-11

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;

18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;

20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon
the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

To understand the significance of this text and what happened here in Acts 2, it is helpful for us to realize two things. First, Pentecost was already an important feast that had been instituted by God. And Second, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before this text. But let’s dive into each of those a little more. What was this feast, and what was the feast celebrating?

Pentecost was one of three Old Testament feasts that required a trip to Jerusalem. The other two were Passover and the Feast of Booths. Now, you won’t find the word “Pentecost” in the Old Testament. There, it’s usually called the “Feast of Weeks.” To understand why it eventually gets called “Pentecost,” we have to do a little math. (Yes, math in a sermon.) In Lev. 23:15-16, God tells the people to count seven weeks plus one more day after the Passover. So, you count seven weeks – 7×7=49 – plus one more day equals 50. And “Pentecost” means the 50th day. In the Jewish mind, the 50th day was a week of weeks plus one more day. So, the “Feast of Weeks”/Pentecost is a celebration of the 8th day.

And this is significant because when Genesis tells us about creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3), it counts out the first seven days, but that’s it. So, in the Jewish mind, the 8th day is the day outside of creation and the day of the new creation when we stop counting. The festival of Pentecost was a time of joy and rest because it was the end of the barley harvest (similar to our Thanksgiving holiday), and the focus of Pentecost was looking forward to the eternal rest God promised to His people.

Pentecost was also considered as the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. The idea was that Passover and the exodus from Egypt was the birth of the people of Israel, and then fifty days later, God gives the Law on Sinai which was understood as God’s marriage to His people, Israel. To see this, it is helpful to expand our understanding of what Ten Commandments are. (And if anyone is interested, we can have a brief Bible study after the service to cover this more thoroughly.)

In Exodus 20:1-17, God speaks to the whole congregation of Israel and gives the Ten Commandments. When you look through those verses, God says a lot of things, and if you take all the “you shalls” and “shall nots” there are more than ten. In fact, you get at least 13. But in Ex. 34:28 and Dt. 10:4, the Bible tells us that there are ten things there. But there is no place in Scripture where we are told how to number the things God gives there. God simply lets us figure it out, which is why there are different numberings of the Commandments.

The other important thing to know is that the Bible itself doesn’t call what God gives us in Ex. 20 “Commandments.” Scripture simply calls them the “Ten Words.” So, to get to the point quickly (again if you want more of an explanation, stick around after the service), the Jewish people count the first of the Ten Words as, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The way they count the Ten Words, the first Word is a promise from God. God defines who He is – He is their God who delivers them. Then, in the other nine words, God gives the instructions about what His people are to be in this world because He is our God.

So, the Ten Words are understood as the wedding vows. God is the faithful husband, and His people are to be His faithful bride. And, again, Pentecost was a celebration of that. That is why the people have gathered in Jerusalem. They are celebrating because the harvest has ended, and they are looking to the eternal rest with God, their faithful husband.

The second thing that helps us understand what is happening here in Acts 2 is a right understanding that the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before this first Day of Pentecost. Just a few examples:

In Gen. 1:2, we see that the Holy Spirit was involved in creation.

In Gen. 41:38, Pharaoh recognizes that the Holy Spirit had blessed Joseph with wisdom to interpret his dream and make plans to provide food during the upcoming famine.

In Ex. 31[:3] & 35[:21], God says that a guy named Bezalel is filled with the Holy Spirit to have artistic skill so he could make all the different pieces of the Tabernacle.

In Num 11:26-29, the Holy Spirit rests on two men named Eldad and Medad, and they begin to prophesy. (And I’ll give $100 to anyone who has twin boys, and names them Eldad and Medad. Those names mean, “God has loved,” and, “Love.”)

In Num. 24:2ff, the wicked prophet Balaam has the Holy Spirit come upon him so that he blesses Israel instead of cursing them like he intended. In Num. 27:18, Joshua, Moses’ successor, is said to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.

In Ps. 51:11, David’s great Psalm of confession, David prays that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him.

Is. 63:10, talks about how God’s people sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit.

In Lk. 1:35, Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive Jesus when the Holy Spirit comes upon her. We could go on, but I hope you get the picture. The Holy Spirit was active in many ways before He came upon the disciples here in Act. 2.

To sum up: Pentecost was already a festival celebrating the eternal rest of the new creation and God being a husband to His people. And the Holy Spirit was already at work in many significant ways before this text in Acts 2. So, what is the big deal about Pentecost?

Now, Jesus has come. Christ has been born as a Man. He has suffered, shed His blood, and died. Jesus has risen again and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Now, the Holy Spirit comes in full measure and is poured out upon His Church as the promised Comforter.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes in ways that were seen and heard. The Spirit was visible in the fire that rested on the heads of those who were gathered. They had that fire rest upon them, but they were not burned or consumed like the burning bush where God appeared to Moses. And the Holy Spirit is audible first in the mighty rushing wind and then in the languages that the disciples spoke telling the mighty works of God (Act. 2:4, 11).

These miracles are significant. Remember, it was mandatory that all the Jewish males try to get to the Temple for Pentecost, so all sorts of pilgrims were gathered from all over the world to celebrate the harvest and rest God had given. And while those pilgrims are in the Temple, they hear the sound of the mighty rushing wind. V. 6 of our text says that the multitude gathered together because they heard the sound of that wind. This crowd knew it wasn’t just a normal storm, something extraordinary was hapening.

So, they come out of the Temple and hear not simply the wind, but they hear about the mighty works of God in Jesus in their native languages. And this is so spectacular because these people had just been in the Temple hearing God’s Word, but not in their native language. Hebrew was the language of the Temple, and it is likely that some of them didn’t even understand the Hebrew used in the Temple. Even though they were ethnically Jewish, they had been living for generations in other countries and didn’t know Hebrew at all or very well.

But that multitude who came together at the sound of the rushing wind did know more than one language. For them to get to Jerusalem, check into a hotel, and buy food, they had to know at least Greek, Aramaic, or Latin. These people couldn’t have been at the feast of Pentecost without at least a working knowledge of one of those languages. So, the Holy Spirit could have enabled the apostles to speak in only those four languages, and everyone there would have been able to understand. But the Holy Spirit is more gracious than that. Each person there heard in their native language the mighty works of God in Jesus.

So, here at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit reaches out to that entire multitude of pilgrims in a very personal way. The Temple was strict, everything had to be in Hebrew. But now people from every tongue are able to hear the mighty works of God in their mother’s tongue. The Holy Spirit sanctifies all those languages to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is so beautiful.

We heard in our Old Testament reading (Gen. 11:1-9) how God dispersed the inhabitants of the earth by confusing their language at the tower of Babel. Here at Pentecost, God reverses the curse of Babel, but not in the way we would expect. He doesn’t reunite the languages of the world into one language. Instead, God unites all people through the one message of the Gospel and blesses what once divided us. What used to divide humanity becomes a blessing and a variety of grace. And this multiplied grace continues into eternity. In Rev. 7:9-10, John sees a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and all peoples and all languages standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. In heaven, the saints are equally perfected, but they aren’t erased of their personalities and histories.

If you want diversity, look to the Church united in faith in Jesus.

But as amazing as all these Pentecost miracles are – the wind, the tongues of fire, the speaking in a multitude of languages – these miracles have their limits. Some in that crowd figure the apostles are drunk, which is absurd. Drunk people have difficulty speaking their own language let alone fluently, coherently, and eloquently in other languages that they don’t even know. But even those who don’t accuse the apostles of being drunk only get to the point of asking the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?”

So, Peter stands up for the apostles and says that Joel 2 is being fulfilled in their presence. In these last days (Act. 2:17), the Holy Spirit is being poured out so that the wonders of heaven and mighty works of God in Christ Jesus are being shown to the multitude so that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord may be saved.”

That is the most significant miracle. The greatest miracle of all the spectacles of Pentecost is the salvation that is available to everyone despite their sin.

Peter will go on to preach a short sermon. Listen quickly to the main thrust of that sermon in the three verses that follow our text here. Peter preaches, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Act. 2:22-24).

After Peter’s sermon is done, the multitude is convicted of their sin and asks, “What shall we do?” And Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise is for you and your children and for everyone who is far off, everyone whom the Lord calls for Himself.” And 3,000 believe, are Baptized, and saved.

That is the real miracle of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies those who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. The Holy Spirit used Peter to preach to them the Word of God – Law and Gospel. And the Holy Spirit causes them to repent, believe, and be saved.

And that miracle continues to this day. Whenever you hear the Word of God and are pointed to Jesus, there is Holy-Spirited, Pentecost work going on. Just last week, you heard how Jesus says we can tell when the Holy Spirit is working. In John 15:26 Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Wherever and whenever Jesus is being proclaimed as the Savior of sinners, the Holy Spirit is at work.

Dear saints, the real miracle of Pentecost is still going on; in fact, it’s happening right now. You think your pastor is preaching to you, but I’m just the speaker producing the sound. When you hear the Gospel that declares that all your sins are forgiven and that you have peace with God because of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, it isn’t a mere human telling you this. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, when you come to church with your sins, failures, and doubts, when you come stained and soiled by the godless world in which we live, the Holy Spirit enters into this place and opens the Scriptures to you. He brings to remembrance all that Jesus has said (Jn. 14:26). And by pointing you to Jesus, the Holy Spirit does His work of making you holy. That’s why He’s called the Holy Spirit. Yes, He is holy, but He is called the Holy Spirit because He makes you holy. He clothes you in the robe of Christ’s righteousness and sends you home at peace with God.

Dear saints, Pentecost happened. The Holy Spirit came that day nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, but Pentecost continues, and for that, God be praised. Amen.

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

Whom Shall I Fear? – Sermon on Psalm 27 for the Seventh Sunday of Easter & Confirmation Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Alyssa, Isaac, Annalise, and Naomi, God be praised for each one of you today. You have done a lot of work. You have read, studied, memorized, and learned a lot to get to today. This is good, and we praise God who has given you the ability to complete all that work. I hope that each one of you also recognize the work that your parents have done to help you. Matt and Lisa, Jon and Mel, Sam and Sarah, you have made sure your child was in class and have helped your child study and memorize. In other words, you parents have been faithful to the promises you made to nurture and raise your child in the faith when they were Baptized. God be praised for that as well. And I hope that each of you confirmands thank God for your parents’ faithfulness. Not all children have parents who faithfully keep those vows, but you do. You can also thank your Baptismal sponsors (or godparents, if that is what you call them). They also have been faithful in their prayers for you and supporting your parents in their duties.

So, today is a day to celebrate. It is a day to celebrate all the work that you and your parents and sponsors have done. Even more so, it is a day to celebrate because you will receive Jesus’ very Body and Blood and all the promises Christ gives with that.

But I do want to caution you. Just because you have come to this day of your confirmation, that doesn’t mean that you have finished the race. The beginning of Hebrews 12 talks about the life of a Christian as a race. And for everyone here who isn’t being confirmed today, you listen very carefully too. Heb. 12:1-2 says, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Christian life is a marathon; it’s a race that requires endurance. Alyssa, Isaac, Annalise, and Naomi, each of you are off to a good start. There’s no question about that. You are running well. But none of us can say exactly how far along you are in the race. As important and momentous as your Confirmation is, it isn’t time to relax a little bit and rest your legs. Keep up the pace. Keep pressing on; keep learning; keep growing in your faith. You aren’t at the finish line – not yet.

And to some of you Christians here today, maybe you have been slacking and slowing up in the race of faith. Repent. Consider this your reminder to keep running. Maybe you have been a bit lazy and started walking or even stopping to smell the roses. Maybe you have gotten completely off course. Now is the time to come back to the race. Put your past failures of loafing, slacking, and being lazy behind you. Start running again and forget them. St. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, “[Forget] what lies behind and [strive] forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Now, whether you are being confirmed today, were confirmed years or decades ago, or are not yet confirmed, it is good to remember that there are two other days that are more important than your confirmation day. The first is the day of your Baptism. It was at your Baptism that were begotten from above (Jn. 3:35), joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-11), and clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). That is why the day of your Baptism is more important than today. So, just briefly: 

Alyssa, you were Baptized June 10th of 2010 at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Wilson, WI. God used the hands of Pastor Les Johnson, your grandpa, to Baptize you. And your Baptismal sponsors were Stephen, Frieda, and Jodi.

Isaac, you were Baptized August 14th, 2007 here at this font by the hands of Pastor Gary Jorgenson. Your sponsors were Mark and Melissa. Many of those who are here today were present that day as well.

Annalise, you were Baptized February 15th, 2009 at St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church in Salinas, CA. You were Baptized by the hands of the pastoral intern, Sam Wellumson. Apparently, his supervising pastor thought he needed some experience doing a Baptism. Your sponsors are Abby, Nathen, Andrew, and Matt.

Naomi, you were also Baptized at this font on August 1st, 2010 by my hands. Abby, Nathen, and Andrew are your sponsors. Just like Isaac, many here today were witnesses of your Baptism. And Naomi, you are the first person I’ve confirmed whom God has put under my pastoral care for your whole life. While I rejoice in that, I also feel like I owe you an apology. But I trust God knows what He is doing.

Now, each one of you, know that your confirmation today is actually tied to your Baptism. Jesus says that disciples are made by Baptizing and teaching (Mt. 28:18-20). So, today, you are simply confirming and publicly confessing that the work that God began in you when you were Baptized has continued, and you have kept the faith that God gave you in your Baptism. And by God’s grace, you will continue in that faith.

The other day that is more important than today is still ahead of you and is the day you will cross the finish line when Jesus returns. On that day, by God’s grace, Christ will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:2123). So, again, keep pressing on until you reach that day. Keep learning God’s Word. Keep gathering with your fellow believers to be encouraged, sing God’s praises, be strengthened by God’s Word, and be fed by Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Today is not your completion of learning and studying God’s Word. Confirmation is not a graduation from Sunday School or Church or something like that. As hard as you have worked and as much as you have learned, you have just begun to explore the depths of the riches of God’s Word. Keep it up your entire life.

Ok. To the sermon proper. (Don’t worry, I know how long I’ve gone already).

Today’s sermon is titled “Whom shall I fear?” which comes mainly from our call to worship from Psalm 27. But this idea also fits with all three of today’s readings (Ezk. 36:22-281 Pet. 4:7-14Jn. 15:26-16:4) about being a believer in Christ and the dangers that surround all Christians. It also fits with the verses each of you picked as your Confirmation verses which are all related to faith triumphing over fear (Josh. 1:9Ps. 46:10Ps 4:8Dt. 31:8).

I’d encourage everyone to open a Bible to Ps. 27. You already heard about one-third of it from our Call to worship. But I want you to see the progression of the Psalm as David originally wrote it. Most of the Psalms are pretty Lutheran in their structure (which is, admittedly, putting the cart before the horse). Most Psalms begin with a complaint or confession of sin and move toward hope and the promises of God, but Psalm 27weaves around a bit differently. And in a lot of ways Ps. 27 follows the pattern of the Christian life of faith.

In v. 1-6, David starts out very confident in his faith. V. 1 – because God is David’s light, salvation, and the stronghold of his life, he has no reason to fear. V. 2-3 – when enemies assail him, they are the ones who fall. V. 4-6 – all David wants to do is be in God’s temple and worship. In those first six verses, David has a lot of excitement and energy and enthusiasm.

But then in Ps. 27:7, there is a shift to earnest prayer. We don’t know specifically what it is, but something is causing David to suffer. He’s crying aloud to God (v. 7). He’s pleading his case. God wants David to seek His face. David is earnestly doing that (v. 8), but God still seems hidden (v. 9a). David isn’t doubting God; he hasn’t fallen away. David still recognizes that God has been his help and salvation, but David really needs God’s presence and salvation now (v. 9b-10).

It seems as though David is realizing that the life of faith is more difficult than he thought, and he wasn’t as prepared as he assumed he would be for the trials that have come his way. He begs God to lead him on a level path and deliver him from his enemies (v. 11-12).

Finally, the last two verses (v. 13-14) come back full circle. David recognizes that he cannot manipulate or control the world, so he sets everything in the Lord’s hands. God has made promises, and David will patiently wait for those promises to be fulfilled.

So, the Psalm opened with excitement and braggadocios faith that a young Christian (or confirmand) might have. Then, after getting beaten up by the world, that faith matures into a calm, quiet, peaceful trust and patience on God.

You confirmands, and all you Christians, there are times of great joy and excitement in the life of faith. Those “mountaintop experiences” are good, and we can praise God for them when they come along. But don’t be discouraged when those experiences fade. Don’t despair when life is hard. When it seems that evil and all sorts of danger surrounds you, remember that Jesus has promised to be with you forever (Mt. 28:20). Because of those promises:

Alyssa, as your verse (Josh. 1:9) said, you can be strong and courageous. God is with you wherever you go.

Isaac, as your verse (Ps. 46:10) said, when times get tough, be still and know that the God who is exalted over all creation is by your side.

Annalise, as your verse (Ps. 4:8) said, even in turmoil and tribulation, you can lie down and sleep in peace because God makes you dwell in safety.

Naomi, as your verse (Dt. 31:8) said, you have nothing to fear because God will never leave you or forsake you.

You can know all of this because of what the church celebrated this past Thursday. Thursday marked 40 days after Easter, which means it was the celebration of when Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus, the eternal Son of God who became man, is now seated as the ruler of all creation. That means the one who died and rose again for you is ruling and reigning over all things. In other words, Jesus, your Savior, is in control of all that happens.

And even though you still live in a fallen world full of sin hear what Scripture promises you. Ephesians 2:4-7 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

And in a few moments, your Savior invites you to receive those immeasurable riches of His grace and be His guest at His table. Come. Join in the feast. Receive Jesus’ Holy Supper of His very Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

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

The Mirror – Sermon on James 1:22-27 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Listen here.

James 1:22–27 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, we’re going to start by going back to the basics. On Wednesday, our confirmation students had their last lesson for the year which was a review of the two main teachings of the Bible – Law and Gospel. As your pastor, Law and Gospel is what you have called me to do. I’m constantly evaluating if a passage is teaching Law, Gospel, or both. In my conversations with you, I try to determine where and when to apply Law or Gospel. While I’m writing sermons, I try to find the right balance of Law and Gospel. But it’s been a while since we’ve gone back and specifically defined what Law and Gospel are. So, it’s time to do it again, and I apologize if this seems elementary to you.

Basically, the Law is what God requires of you. The Law tells you that if you do not do what it demands or if you do what it forbids, you deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. The Gospel, on the other hand, tells you what God has done for you. Specifically, the Gospel tells you that God has removed His anger, wrath, and punishment from you because of what Christ has done by His death and resurrection. Properly distinguishing Law and Gospel is what makes a theologian, and as a Christian there is enough for you to consider there for your entire life.

But let’s go a little further. The first Lutherans give a nice summary about how the Law actually has three “uses.” In other words, the Law is a tool that does three things. These “uses” are pictured 1) as a curb, 2) as a mirror, and 3) as a guide.

The Law is used as a curb to keep both Christians and non-Christians from committing sin. Think of when you are driving and take a corner too sharply. Your tire hits the curb which bounces you back onto the road. It’s good that the curb does that, but you don’t want to hit the curb too often because it’s bad for your tires. The Law is like that too. When you do wrong and get punished, it hurts and isn’t pleasant, but it gets you back on the path. This is why Christians support appropriate punishment when laws are broken. A thief can repent of his sins and be forgiven before God, but that doesn’t mean he should escape jail time or not have to restore what has been stolen. Those punishments help preserve order in society. So, that’s the first use of the Law – a curb. And it’s important to remember that this first use of the Law is for both believers and unbelievers.

I’m going to wait for a moment on the second “use” of the Law and skip to the third “use” of the Law is as a guide. This “use” of the Law is only for Christians. Christians are fully forgiven for the sake of Christ. We are free from the accusations of the Law (Ro. 3:196:14). But that doesn’t mean that we throw out the Law. No, Christians still need the Law to guide us as to how we live in love toward God and our neighbor. The Law guides us in our love and shows us how to love.

So, back to the second “use” of the Law. The second “use” of the Law is as a crystal-clear mirror which exposes our sin and drives us to Jesus who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The Law is used as a mirror for sinners which means that it is for both Christians and non-Christians. Those who are not Christians need to have their sin exposed by the perfect reflection of the Law so that they repent and believe in Christ. And Christians need this too. As long as we live in this fallen, broken world, Christians will still be sinners. We are forgiven and righteous before God, but our old, sinful nature still clings to us. So, we need the mirror of the Law to expose that sin and run back to Christ. And the end of Romans 7[:14-25] makes that very clear.

So, with all of that in mind, we can now turn our attention to our text here from James. This text, at first glance, sounds like all Law – all Law and no Gospel. We are, according to this text, to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. If we only hear the Word and do not do it, we deceive ourselves, and our religion is worthless. This should convict us because it is Law. Too often we fall into the trap of wrongly thinking that our sins don’t really matter before God, that His forgiveness means that He gives us a wink and a nod when we sin. This text should blast that idea out of your head. That is not the case. Repent. If that is your attitude toward sin, you are a hearer and not a doer. You are deceiving yourself, and your religion is worthless.

But, at the same time, this text isn’t only Law. Notice how these verses from James start. “Be doers of the Word… if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer.” Notice James’ vocabulary. It would have been one thing if James had said, “Be doers of the Law and not hearers only… if anyone is a hearer of the Law and not a doer….” If that is what the text said, we should abandon the Lutheran understanding of salvation and call Lutheran doctrine heresy. But James doesn’t say that. He doesn’t use the word ‘law’; he uses the word ‘word.’ The Holy Spirit inspired James to call us Christians to be doers of the Word which includes both Law andGospel. Notice how James continues:

“If anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his face in a mirror. He looks at himself and goes away and forgets what he was like.” Notice how James, again inspired by the Holy Spirit, now uses a synonym for the Word to conclude his analogy about the mirror. “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” There, James equates “the Word” with the “perfect law, the law of liberty.” The two are synonymous.

And, to top it off, the Greek word that gets translated as ‘perfect’ there is very important. The root is τελος which means ‘end, completion, or goal.’ The root can be used as several different parts of speech. Possibly, the most famous use of this root is just before Christ dies on the cross and cries out, “Τετέλεσται” or “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). And just so you know: in the ESV’s translation of the New Testament, of the 34 times the word ‘perfect’ shows up, 31 of them have τελος as the root.

So, when James talks here about the perfect law, the τελος law, the law of liberty – which again is the Scriptures, the Word, both Law and Gospel – James is talking not just about the Law and what God demands of you. James is also talking about the Gospel which is what Christ has done for you.

It would be legitimate to translate the phrase there in v. 25 “the perfect law” as “the completed law.” Jesus perfectly kept the Law for you, in your place. Christ said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” in other words the Scriptures, “I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). This τελος law of liberty declares that Christ’s perfect obedience is credited to your account through faith (Ro. 4:2-5). This law of liberty invites you to look into the mirror of the Scriptures and see yourself as God sees you – both as a sinner and also as righteous and blameless before Him through faith in Christ.

In other words, it isn’t just the Law that serves as a mirror exposing your sin. The Gospel is a mirror too. See in that mirror of the Gospel what Christ has made you. He says in that law of liberty that He has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). He has redeemed you. He has justified you. He has made you holy. You are a Christian. You are God’s perfect and blameless child. God declares that you are righteous. Don’t just hear that. Live it!

Christian, your religion, isn’t worthless. It is of infinite, eternal worth. Do the Word, the perfected, completed law of liberty, which is a mirror that reflects the fact that you are a child of God, at peace with God, and righteous before God – all for the sake of Christ. See that reflection of yourself in the mirror of God’s Word.

Today is Mothers’ Day, and we rejoice in the gift that mothers are for us. Everyone here has a mother, and it is good and right in the sight of God to honor your mother. Call her. Thank her for what she has done for you. And, if necessary, forgive her for any of her failures.

And, you Christian moms, see yourself as God sees you. You care for those that God has given to you. You feed, clothe, protect, defend, encourage, and comfort the children God has given you. And whenever you do that, you are being the very hands and feet of God on this earth. Do you always do it perfectly and with a willing and happy heart? Probably not. But you are still serving your children and home. And when you recognize how you fall short, repent, and know that because of Christ’s forgiveness you stand before God pure and undefiled. You are a forgiven, redeemed, righteous Christian woman, you are that excellent wife in Proverbs 31[:10-31] by God’s declaration (Mt. 25:34-40).

Dear saints, continue to live as doers of the Word and not hearers only. Live in repentance. Live in the faith and perfection that God has given you for the sake of Christ. Look into the perfect, completed law, and God will keep you unstained from the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

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