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.

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

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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.

…And I Feel Fine – Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13 for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

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Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

It’s the end of the world as we know it…REM
It’s the end of the world as we know it…
It’s the end of the world as we know it…
And I feel fine.

That feeling fine ended up being a problem for the five foolish virgins. A big problem. They came to the bridegroom’s house feeling fine, but for no good reason. They were totally unprepared. They took no oil which meant that when the bridegroom was delayed, they could not light their lamps. And their fine feeling faded very quickly when the call came to come meet the bridegroom.

They go to trim their lamps, but they realize they don’t have any oil. So, they end up making a midnight run to the market to try and buy oil from the dealers who would had all closed up shop and gone to bed hours before. For these five foolish virgins, it was too late. While they were away, the bridegroom came, those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, the door was shut, and the five fools were left on the wrong side of the door.

Their knocking and begging and pleading for the bridegroom to let them in is met with the cold response, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Their foolishness meant that they were kept from entering the feast. They had felt fine, but when the end came, they were left outside in the cold.

Jesus tells this parable as a warning for us to be ready for His return. Jesus has promised that He will return and that we believers will live forever with Him. But Jesus didn’t tell us when He would return. So, in this parable, He commands us to watch because we do not know the day or the hour. Jesus wants us to be ready. When the feast begins, Jesus wants us there. Jesus wants you there. So be ready. Have oil. Don’t be left outside.

But be honest. This parable probably doesn’t strike that much fear in you. If you summarize the parable, it is a story of ten silly girls who fall asleep waiting for a party. Five of them are able to light an oil lamp and get to go into the party. And five can’t, so they don’t get into the party and have to go away. And if your high school experience was like mine, if you aren’t at the party, you just end up at home sulking and feeling a little lonely.

So, when Jesus tells us that the purpose of this parable is to get us to watch for the day of His return, why did He use this analogy of a wedding party and ten silly girls? If being ready for His return is so important, why not tell a parable with more urgency and more horrific consequences than simply missing out on a party? If I were Jesus, I’d tell a parable like this:

chicken-littleThere were ten fishermen – five wise who wore their life jackets the whole time they were on the boat and five foolish who drown because they figured they would have enough time to put them on when the storm hit.

Or, I’d tell a parable about ten soldiers – five wise who kept their hands on their sword hilt at all times and five foolish who got slaughtered when the enemy attacked because they left their sword lying around all the time.

Or, there were ten single parents – five wise who had instructions about where their children should live if something were to happen and five foolish who don’t leave any instructions so their children end up in terrible living situations.

In any of my parables, there is no good reason to be unprepared. The foolishness of the fools in each of those parables is much more apparent than in the parable Jesus tells, and the consequences are much more dire and horrific. But that is precisely why Jesus’ parable is different.

In each of my parables, the return of Jesus is a terrible, tragic, evil event – a storm at sea, an ambush by an enemy army, a death of a parent. But in Jesus’ parable, the thing to be ready for is the greatest day ever – the day of the arrival of Jesus, the Bridegroom and Savior of all mankind. A day of feasting, joy, merriment, and bliss for those who are ready to enter with Him. It is a day of escape, and the day we are looking forward to.

Christian, Christ’s return is not something you need to be worried about. Not at all! Christ’s return means that you will be in eternal bliss, happiness, joy, and contentment. There will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow. Christ’s return is something anticipate – more than a child anticipates the arrival of her favorite aunt and cousins. Christian, your prayer is always, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly” (Rev. 22:20). And it is that same anticipation that Jesus highlights in this parable.

In our Epistle lesson (1 Thess. 5:1-11), we do hear both sides – both the dire consequences of unbelief and the joy of deliverance. Paul says that the day of the Lord will come upon unbelievers like a thief in the night. People will think they have peace and security, but then sudden destruction will come upon them like labor pains come upon a pregnant woman. And Paul warns, “They will not escape.”

But Paul continues. You, believer, are not in darkness. And that day will not surprise you like a thief. You are children of the light. And God has not destined you for wrath. Instead, He has destined, chosen you to obtain salvation though our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, yes, Jesus’ parable is a warning for us. Our lamps can run dry. Faith must be continually fed. Your faith will not survive without the Word and the Sacraments. Repent and believe. Have faith in Christ.

Faith trusts God to do what He says He will do, but without God’s Word, that faith will dry up and go out. You need, constantly you need, God’s Word. You need to hear God’s Law which calls you to repentance, and you need to hear God’s Gospel which tells you of Christ’s love, His sacrifice, His cross, His death, His resurrection. You need to be in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You need to be built up and you need to build others up and encourage one another.

Look UpAnd remember that as the end approaches, as you continually see signs of Christ’s return, remember what that means for you. Christ says it means your redemption is drawing near (Lk. 21:28). The bridegroom is coming, and you are His bride. Jesus has purchased and redeemed you so that you are without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Eph. 5:27).

This world is ending, good riddance. You have Christ. Your redemption is secure. Your eternity is certain. So, yes, it’s the end of the world as we know it. But you, you Christian, you believer, you saint, you feel fine. Amen.

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

Miracle Sandwich – Sermon on Matthew 9:18-26 for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

Woman with the Issue of Blood20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

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

One text; two miracles. One story begins, but before it finishes, another story takes place. Why would Matthew (along with Mark [5:22-43] and Luke [8:41-56], who also tell us about this event) lump these two miracles of Jesus together? Why make this miracle sandwich? Why take these two slices of bread – the healing of the woman who had a discharge of blood and the raising of a girl – and mash them together? The most obvious answer is that this is how it actually happened. But there are also important lessons for us to learn in this ‘holy hoagie.’ Those lessons are what makes this ‘supernatural sub-sandwich’ so delicious. So, let’s take a bite!

For the top slice of bread, we see Jesus is approached by a ruler. We learn from Mark and Luke that he is a ruler of the synagogue and named Jairus, and he is there to get Jesus to come and heal his daughter who is at the point of death. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells the story as quickly as possible. So, Matthew introduces Jairus as a father asking Jesus to raise and restore life to his dead daughter. But Mark and Luke let us know that Jairus had left his dying daughter to come to Jesus.

Notice Jairus’ faith. Jairus doesn’t offer any compelling reasons that Jesus should come to his house. He doesn’t mention his life of service in the synagogue. He doesn’t say how well-behaved his daughter is. He doesn’t make promises of how he will change his behavior if Jesus does this for him. Jairus simply believes that Jesus’ touch has life, so he says, “Come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus confirms Jairus’ faith by going with him.

But as Jairus leads Jesus through the streets to his house, there is a problem. The crowd is getting in the way. People are all coming to get a glimpse of Jesus and pressing in on Him (Mk. 5:24). Jairus keeps his eyes forward, darts through the people, and pushes his way through the throngs merging to get close. Every moment is precious. Every second matters. But suddenly, Jairus notices that Jesus is no longer with him.

Jesus has stopped. Jairus makes his way back to find Jesus, and there He is chit-chatting with a woman which is the bottom slice of bread in our sandwich.

This woman had been suffering with a discharge of blood for twelve years. She had gone to every doctor and specialist she could find, but her every effort failed. Every bill she paid didn’t bring the relief she needed. Her last penny had been spent (Lk. 8:43), and yet her life was still slowly draining away. But this woman had an idea.

She thought to herself, “If I only touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, I will be,” (not, “healed,” or, “made well,” as our translation puts it), “I will be saved.”

Now, to any rational person, this is silly and even boarders on superstition. But notice her faith. Yes, it is uneducated; her doctrine is severely lacking. She doesn’t believe all the right things. Apparently, she doesn’t believe Jesus is God because she’s going to sneak up on Him, and you can’t sneak up on God; He knows everything. Also, all the other times Jesus healed people, He spoke to them or, at least, knew about them and their need. And this woman thinks, what? That she can steal what she needs from Jesus. Yes, her faith is silly and even infantile. There wasn’t anything special about Jesus’ clothing. Jesus wore the same types of clothing that everybody else wore. The type of stuff you would get at Eddie Bauer or Kohl’s today. But this woman has it in her mind that Jesus is so mighty, so powerful, and so gracious that just a brush of His cloak will save her.

So, she gets close enough, reaches through the crowd, touches Jesus’ garment, and is instantly healed (Mk. 5:29). And Jesus stops to confirm her faith. Jesus looks her in the eye and tells her, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has saved,”(again not, “made well,” as our translation says), “your faith has saved you.”

Now, back to Jairus. Don’t forget about him. While Jesus is speaking to the woman, someone from Jairus’ house arrives to tell him, “Your daughter is dead; don’t trouble Jesus any more” (Lk. 8:49). Imagine what the devil must have been doing in that moment to Jairus’ faith. But Jesus hears this and confirms and strengthens Jairus’ faith by saying, “Do not fear; only believe” (Lk. 8:50).

Arriving at the house, Jesus sees all the people gathered there to weep and mourn. And Jesus talks to them, and what He says is something that, to our ears, sounds as silly as the belief that Jesus’ clothes can heal. Raising of Jairus DaughterHe says to the mourners, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And the mourners laugh, mocking Jesus and His words.

But Jesus isn’t concerned with their mockery. He marches straight into the house, takes the girl by the hand, and lifts her out of death just as easily as you would help your kid up after you have tied her shoe.

One text; two miracles. The healing of the woman and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Two slices of good wholesome bread. But what makes this miracle sandwich so tasty; what is the Miracle Whip? Pun intended. What can we learn from this text?

Several things:

Go ahead and pray for things that seem silly or even impossible. Your prayers – whether they are big, small, or impossible – are not a bother to our Lord. Don’t be shy with your prayers. If you hold back on your prayers, you are showing that you don’t trust God. If you want your team to win the game, if you want a good parking spot, if you want your spouse to rise from the dead, ask God. He won’t laugh at your prayers any more than a mother would laugh at her four-year-old for saying he wants to be a dragon. Trust God with your desires – all your desires. He loves you. Don’t be afraid to ask. He already knows your desires anyway.

Also, don’t look at how things are going on in your life when you should be listening to Jesus. When your money is tight and you don’t know how you are going to make it. When you are arguing with your spouse and begin to wonder if they really love you or if your relationship will ever be the same. When your children fall into sin and make you doubt every parenting decision you ever made. When your health is so deep in the toilet and the pain is more than you can handle. In all those times, don’t let sin creep in and make you doubt God’s goodness, power, or love for you. Let Jesus’ words remind you that even if He doesn’t heal you like He healed the woman with the issue of blood, Resurrection Pulled out of DeathHe will raise you from the dead when He returns in glory. Even if you don’t get the things you want now, Christ will give you everything on the Last Day.

Finally, realize that, “True Christian worship is faith fighting against despair.”[1] When life seems hopeless or impossible, when the winds of despair blow, recognize that these are the temptations and assaults of the devil. In all those moments, Christ says to you what He said to Jairus, “Do not fear; only believe.”The greatest worship you can offer is to trust Christ’s words over everything you see, feel, and experience.

Listen to the words of Jesus. He is there to comfort you. He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to His kingdom. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. And nothing in this life can ever take that away from you. Amen.

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

[1]Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 44 (Kolb-Wengert, 338).

The Race – Sermon on Hebrews 11:39-12:2 for Observation of All Saints’ Day

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Hebrews 11:39-12:2

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also 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 founder and perfecter 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.

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

Let these words of Scripture paint a picture in your mind. The picture is of a huge stadium, and it has to be massive. We’re not talking thousands or tens of thousands of seats. Imagine millions, billions, even trillions of seats. And every single seat is filled – a capacity crowd. You, believer, are there in that stadium, but you are not in the stands. You are running a race on the track.

All the people in the stadium are Christians. They are the believers who have come before us. Hopefully, the rest of Hebrews 11, which you didn’t hear, is familiar to you. It is sometimes called “the hall of faith” and is a list Old Testament believers who finished the same race. The chapter gives sixteen names including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, etc., but it also includes multitudes more who aren’t named. All of them had faith in Jesus (v. 13, 39) even though they faced persecution, difficulty, trials, and temptations. They were all sinners who clung to faith in Jesus. But these saints have finished their race, are now in heaven, and are part of that great cloud of witnesses that surround us.

Wedding Feast of the LambSo, the picture is this: These Christians have crossed the finish line. But instead of going to the locker room and getting into an ice bath, they go into the stands to cheer us on as we run our race. And again, this is multitudes of people – more than you could count – people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9). Imagine the cheers, chants, clapping, and whooping encouraging you as you run.

Here you are on the track. Running your race of faith. The race has been long. It has been hard and difficult. Parts of the course of your race have been filled with sorrow, with disappointment, with discouragement. Parts of your course have brought you through the valley of the shadow of death. And you have gotten tired. Your lungs are burning. You can hardly feel your legs, and with each stride your feet hit the ground harder and harder. You are weary and might be tempted to stop pushing, to take it easy and walk, or even stop the race altogether.

But everyone in the stands is cheering you on, “Don’t stop! Run! Keep going! Dig deep! Keep pressing on! Go!”

I remember when I was in cross-country (I was never a great runner, but I still did cross-country to get ready for swimming, and I was good at swimming). But when I was in cross-country, everyone running the race would start in a huge pack. Scores of runners would all get on the starting line, and all the parents and classmates would be there to cheer everybody on at the start. As the runners would make their way through the course, fans would find different spots to cheer people on, and when their runner went by, they would move to another spot to cheer. Anyway, people would all try to be at the finish line to encourage runners to finish strong. But as the leaders and the main pack of runners finished, the crowd at the finish line would thin out. Usually, by the time I would finish, there would hardly be anyone left to watch. I think even once, the official timer wasn’t paying attention when I crossed the finish line which was discouraging to say the least.

But that is not the picture Scripture gives us about the race we are running. This great cloud of witnesses is there encouraging us at every last bit of the race.

These Christians who have gone before us and are cheering us on are called ‘witnesses.’ They aren’t called an ‘audience’; they are ‘witnesses.’ That means, as we run our race, they are cheering us on with their witness, their testimony, encouraging us to press on.

Exhausted Runner.jpgSo, maybe you are tired and struggling with quarrels in your family, and you want to quit running. But there is Abel cheering you on, “Keep going. I know it’s hard. My brother hated me for my faith in Jesus and killed me. But Christ was faithful to me and brought me to the end of my race. Keep going.”

Maybe, you are tired of all the evil in the world and it’s pressing down on you. But there is Noah, “Don’t stop. The evil in the world is nothing new. I was one of only eight people in the whole world who believed in Jesus. But Jesus protected us. He delivered us from the evil. He brought us to the finish line. He’ll get you there too.”

Maybe, you discouraged because you want to have kids but can’t. There is Sarah, “I know your pain and heartache. Keep running. God is faithful. Jesus will see you through.”

You are afraid of your enemies, there are the people who crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the people who walked around Jericho and shouted telling you to look to Jesus.

You are filled with regret and guilt or how you gave your body away to people who were not your spouse, and there is Rahab telling you to look to Jesus.

You committed one little sin which tossed you headlong into more sin, shame, guilt, and regret. There is David telling you that Jesus is faithful to you.

This is one reason – not the main reason, but one reason – that it is important to know your Bible. No matter what you are struggling with, no matter what problems and guilt and shame you have, you can see how Jesus was faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ who went through the same things you are going through.

All those saints are bearing witness. They are telling you, “Those sins and burdens you have, let them go. Get rid of them. You don’t need them. Lay them aside. Let them go, and don’t look back. Cross and CommunionLook to Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him. Look to Christ, the author, the founder, and the perfecter of your faith. For the joy what was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Yes, dear saints, the race is long and hard. But here is Jesus. He is here to lift your drooping head. He is here to draw your wandering eyes back to Himself. He is here to nourish and sustain you for the race. He is here to give you His Body and Blood in His holy Sacrament. Amen.

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

Liberated – Sermon on John 8:31-36 Remembering the Reformation

Listen here.

John 8:31-36

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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

The parable of the prodigal son was just that – a parable. It was a story Jesus told to teach the people that He had come to save, restore, and free sinners from their slavery to sin, death, and the devil. It was a parable. But that parable tells a story about two – not just one, but two – who are lost. The younger one was obviously lost. But the older brother had wandered farther away from his father even though he never left home.

Remember the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32)? He didn’t do all the wrong things his younger brother did.He didn’t tell his father to drop dead. He didn’t demand his inheritance be given to him so he could move away and blow it all. He didn’t end up in the pig-pen. He didn’t have to come crawling home begging for daddy to make him a servant. No, the older brother hadn’t done anything wrong.

Instead, that older brother insists that he did all the right things. He was dutifully working in his father’s field when his despicable brother returned. And when his father came outside to compel him to come in to the party celebrating his brother’s restoration, he answered his father, “I’ve served,” notice that, “I’ve servedyou my whole life. I’ve never disobeyed your command. I’ve never wasted your money. But when this son of yours comes home, you go and kill the fattened calf for him.”

And the parable ends with the father pleading for his older son to come inside the house and join his party.

Now, bring this picture of the older brother stubbornly standing outside the party with his father pleading him to come in. Bring that picture to the text before us now. Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.”

Jesus is speaking to people who believed in Him. Please note that, these people believed in Him. But when Jesus tells them that the truth will set them free, they aren’t interested in the freedom that Jesus offers because they figured they haven’t ever been slaves to anyone (which is ironic because they are basically slaves to Rome and Caesar). But they honestly thought they were already free.

Their belief in their freedom was a lie. And they had a more demanding master than Caesar. They were enslaved to their sin. They figured they had done all the right things, and they denied ever doing anything wrong.

So, when Jesus tells them, “The truth will set you free,”they balk at the idea. They honestly don’t think they needed the freedom that Jesus offers.

As the Gospel of John will continue to play out, the people following Jesus will dwindle. In just a handful of chapters, Jesus’ followers will be few enough that they will fit around a table in the upper room. And the people Jesus is speaking to here in our text, again people who had believed in Him, will be found crying, “Crucify Him.”

Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Freedom, liberation comes from the truth. The truth must be learned. You must be discipled. And the only place that learning, that discipling, happens is in the Word. And not just any ‘word,’ but the Word of Jesus. If you want to be free, if you want to be liberated, you must learn the truth of Jesus’ Word.

Listen to what the Scriptures teach. Listen to what Jesus teaches in His Word. Jesus teaches in His Word that you cannot set yourself free from sin. Sin is stronger than you are. You cannot simply choose the good and avoid the evil. You do not have free will. It sounds nice, but it’s not true. Your flesh is totally and completely corrupted by sin.

How do you know this? Because that’s what God’s Word teaches, and God cannot lie. We heard in our epistle lesson (Ro. 3:19-28) that God’s Law finds all of us guilty so that every mouth is stopped, and we are all held accountable to God.

You are a sinner. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” ‘All’ means ‘all.’ ‘All’ includes you. You have sinned. You have fallen short of the glory of God. You practice sin. You are a slave.

Learn this. God demands that you obey His commands. But you demand your own way. God says, “Do this,” and you don’t. God says, “Don’t do that,” and there you are doing what was forbidden.

But here also is the truth of God’s Word. Here is the truth that sets you free, sinner.

God has sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus has redeemed you. His obedience, His righteousness, His perfection, His life, His shed blood, His death, His resurrection was and is all for you. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, “all have sinned.” But for you who abide by faith in Christ Jesus, “there is no condemnation.” None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothin’. No condemnation.

It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t even matter what you think. There is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.

Christian, you don’t ever get beyond this truth of God’s Word in this life. Learn it. Abide in it. Because in it is freedom. In the truth of Jesus’ Word that you are a sinner liberated by Jesus, there is freedom. In that truth, Jesus sets you free, and you are free indeed.

We celebrate it as a congregation today, but Wednesday will mark the 501stAnniversary of Martin Luther walking from his dwelling to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg Germany to nail his 95 Theses. The events that followed changed history.

But we would be wrong to look only at Luther as the one who caused the things that followed. Luther even said so. He described himself as a rotting bag of flesh who did nothing but preach and teach the Word of God. The Word of God did everything.

May we cling faithfully to that Word of God, and may it change us from slaves and captives to sin to liberated sons and daughters of our heavenly Father so that we may dwell with Jesus in God’s house forever. Amen.

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