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

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Luke 2:22-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas Emotions – Sermon for Christmas Eve Candlelight Service 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John 1:19-28

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

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’

as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John Points to Christ24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 11:2-11

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a simple ‘yes/no’ question. But Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, doesn’t give a ‘yes/no’ answer. Instead, Jesus sends John’s disciples back with a message, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

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

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

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

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

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

The Oven, the Stubble, and the Sun – Sermon on Luke 21:25-36 for the Second Sunday in Advent

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Luke 21:25-36

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Christ's Return in Glory28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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

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

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

A couple of years ago, we had some trouble with the oven in our home. For some reason, it would suddenly go into self-cleaning mode while something was being cooked. Apparently, self-cleaning mode brings your oven’s heat to somewhere between 750-1,000°F. Banana bread does not like temperatures that high. Also, apparently, my family’s lungs did not like the banana bread’s response to temperatures that high. The worst part was how long it took to extract the smoking loaf from the oven. Even after the power was cut, the oven door remained locked and the bread kept smoking until the temperature fell to whatever Whirlpool deems safe. I stood next to the oven waiting so that as soon as I heard the lock release, I could open the door and take the glowing loaf outside to finish smoldering.

I was amazed at how our normal oven was able to turn what was supposed to be tasty goodness into a block of inedible, charred ash. But God speaks of another oven that will be more intense than anything we can imagine in our Old Testament text (Mal. 4:1-6). God speaks there about the day of judgment. Listen again to the first verse: “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Now, that’s one hot oven.

Too often, it seems as though the wicked are strong, powerful, and unmovable. Too often, we think the wicked will always prosper and be better off than we poor, little Christians are. Malachi here says that our perception is that the evildoers are like strong trees with deep roots and large branches. But the burning oven of that day will incinerate them so that there will be neither root or branch left. Instead, the evil will prove to be nothing more than stubble that will burn up quickly. For those who refuse to repent, the Last Day will mean their utter destruction because the oven of God’s wrath will burn the stubble of the wicked.

As Jesus talks about this same day in our Gospel text, He doesn’t use the picture of a burning oven, but He uses similar pictures of calamity. Signs in the sun and moon and stars. Distress of nations in perplexity. Roaring of the sea and waves. People fainting with fear and foreboding because of what is coming on the world as the powers of the heavens are shaken.

We don’t like that imagery. We don’t like it when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. Our fear probably lies in the fact that this world is all we have experienced and known. So, when we see it falling apart at an alarming rate, we get anxious. Repent. This world is not all there is.

Dear saints, we don’t need to be worried when we see the world collapsing. Jesus told us that it would happen. He gave us these signs so we would know what is actually going on. Jesus warned us so that we wouldn’t be afraid. It’s like Jesus is saying, “When it looks like everything is falling apart, when all creation seems to be disintegrating, it is. But don’t worry about it. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Instead, be glad because all of it means that your redemption is drawing near.”

When you see signs in the sun, moon, and stars; when you see the nations in distress and perplexity; when you see the roaring of the sea and waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding; when you feel the oven heating up and see the stubble burning, remember what the Scriptures say. You are safe in the nail-scarred hands of your Savior, Jesus.

Again, as God promised in Malachi, “For you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

So, the pictures we have, so far, of Christ’s return are an oven burning up the stubble of the wicked. But for you Christian, the picture is that the sun is rising and a new day of joy and everlasting peace is dawning. Imagine it this way:

You are in a castle at night, but suddenly all the guards and soldiers start running to the walls of the castle. They take their positions there because outside the castle walls is an army marching to attack the castle. The boots of that attacking army stop tramping, and you hear the shouts of commanders telling the troops to load the catapults and start banging away with the battering ram. Then you hear it. BOOM! The battering ram hits the castle doors and the walls shake. BOOM! A rock launched from a catapult hits its target and a couple of windows break and dust falls from the ceiling. Again and again and again BOOM!

Christ Returns in Power and GloryNormally, you would be terrified in a situation like that. But not now. Not now because you are in the prison of that castle being held captive. And the commander who is leading the army that is storming the castle is Jesus coming to save you.

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

Dear saints, I said it a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll say it again. This world is ending. Good riddance. Every sign pointing to the end of this world – no matter how fearful or painful it may be – is a sign of your rescue. All of them are signs pointing you to the return of your Deliverer, your King, your Savior.

The oven is heating up. The stubble is smoldering. But, dear saints, lift up your heads. The Sun is rising. A new, eternal dawn is breaking forth on the horizon. And your redemption draws near. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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

Repent, Rejoice, Repeat – Sermon on Romans 13:8-14 for the First Sunday in Advent

Listen here.

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

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

Think about the opening words of this text for a moment: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.”

Beatles All You Need Is LoveAt first blush, this seems simple enough. Just follow Dave Ramsey’s advice for getting rid of your loans, car payments, and mortgage. Then live your life humming the Beatles, “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love, love. Love is all you need.”

But before images of a debt-free, hippie-eyed, easy-peasy life fill your brain, realize what this actually means in light of what the Scriptures say love is. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love bears all things. Love hopes all things. Love endures all things. And remember, love never ends (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

So, when this text says to owe no one anything except love, it is saying that we owe one another absolutely everything because love fulfills the Law. All the Commandments, every last one of them, can be summed up with one little sentence, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When you think about what that simple phrase, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other,” really means, those few opening words of our text should accuse and terrify us. To the sinner those words could just as easily be, “Go to hell.” So, sinner, repent.

But Paul doesn’t seem to be throwing down the hammer of the Law here. And, in fact, he isn’t. Paul isn’t writing these words to sinners – at least they aren’t only sinners. Paul is writing these words to sinners who are Christians. So, these words are for you who believe and are walking in the way of righteousness.

Christian, since you are loved unconditionally by Christ, love one another. But how do you do that? How can you love others perfectly as the Law demands? Trying harder, being more resolute, and making promises to do better haven’t worked in the past. And it won’t work in the future. So how can you keep the Law which you have never kept before?

The only way for sinners to keep the Law is to have the Law kept for us. God be praised, this is what Christ has done.

Christ has fulfilled the Law for you. He loved you as Himself. Just as Jesus came riding into Jerusalem to lay down His life on the cross for you, He also came and was born in Bethlehem to lay down His life while holding nothing back from you.

Clothed in ChristSo, as our text says, put on Christ. Clothe yourself in Him. Make His life, His obedience, His perfection your coat, your suit, your dress, your shirt, your shorts, your jeans, and your pajamas. How do you do that? Galatians 3:27 says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Dear Colt, today you are Baptized. Today, Christ has connected His Word and promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation to water. So, as that water poured on to you, it didn’t simply clean your head. Instead, God’s promise is that in your Baptism, He covered you with Christ.

Colt, today you are a Christian. So, today you begin the constant life of following Christ and loving your neighbor. And this command to love your neighbor as yourself is a command that you will fail to keep. But when you fail, confess that for the sin that it is, and believe. Believe in Christ’s forgiveness remembering that Scripture declares that you are loved perfectly by Christ. Rejoice in that love. And, go, love your neighbor.

Repent. Rejoice. Repeat. Again and again and again. And this is the case for all of you who have been Baptized.

But you say, “Pastor, I keep sinning. My fallen, sinful desires have gotten in the way. I keep failing to fulfill the command to love. There has to be something more.”

Baptism 2Well, there is something more, but it isn’t anything different. Repent again. Cast off the works of darkness again. Put on Christ again. Return to the promises God made when made you His child, when you were born again of Water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5) in your Baptism.

Repent. Rejoice. Repeat. In other words, be a Christian. Amen.

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