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.

Advertisements

Death & Beauty – Sermon on Luke 7:11-17 for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. The Resurrection of the Widow's Son at Nain12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

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

Funeral processions – you see them from time to time. A hearse drives down the road followed by a line of cars driving from a church or funeral home on their way to a cemetery. Car after car follows the dead body of the husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother, child or friend. You see death, and out of respect you pause for the mourners. You yield the right-of-way and let death pass.

Contrast a funeral procession with a parade.

Parades are also long lines of people and vehicles. Parades are also given the right-of-way. Out of respect for the people in the parade you smile and wave no matter how silly the costume no matter how poorly the band is marching and playing, no matter how vehemently you disagree with the political candidate. It is a parade. Parades are happy.

Well, what happens when a parade – a line of celebration, happiness, and glee –  meets a funeral procession – a line of despair, mourning, and death? That is precisely what happens in our text today, and Luke gives beautiful details.

Jesus is at the height of His popularity; a great crowd follows Him – people who have been healed or were witnesses of Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the diseased, and good news to all. Jesus is bringing the reign of God to earth, and a parade follows Him.

But as this parade following Jesus reaches the gate of Nain (which means ‘Beautiful’), they meet something ugly – the funeral procession for a young man. Luke tells us that this young man was the only begotten son of his mother. Death has reared its ugly head to the town called ‘Beautiful.’

This mother is familiar with funeral processions. She had walked out of that same gate following the same path to the same cemetery to bury her husband. Even though the road was familiar, the procession has lost none of its bite or pain. In fact, this procession is more bitter, more final because, now, this widow is truly alone (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

You would think that, out of compassion for this widow, Jesus would respectfully turn His parade aside in quiet respect for the dead. You would think that happiness and joy would pause and defer to mourning and death. But you would be wrong. Jesus and His parade simply will not yield. And what Jesus does is so foreign to our thinking.

If you saw a hearse leading a line of cars to a cemetery, you would not swerve in front of the hearse blocking the road. You would not demand that the driver get out of the vehicle and throw the keys into the ditch. You would not go to the back of the hearse and pull out the casket. And you certainly wouldn’t open the casket revealing the body and start speaking to it. But that is what Jesus does.

There’s no question that Jesus has compassion on this woman, but it doesn’t pass for what we would call compassion. Jesus speaks only two words to this woman, “Weep not.”Imagine telling a parent who is mourning the death of a child, “Quit crying.” But as shocking as that is, Jesus goes even further – He stops the procession, touches the bier, and speaks to that dead flesh, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

The dead boy sits up and is given back to his mother. He is put back where he belonged.

Jesus does not yield to death. Instead, death yielded to Jesus. This account reminds us of another time when Jesus and death marched toward each other.

Then, the funeral procession began long before death stuck its blow. Jesus Carries His Own CrossThe funeral procession began at the sentencing as crowds shouted out, “Crucify, crucify Him.” In that funeral procession, Jesus carried His own bier, His own cross, until He could carry it no more. A great crowd of people followed Jesus mourning and lamenting for Him. But even in the midst of that funeral procession, Jesus’ words are the same, “Weep not”(Lk. 23:26-28).

At that confrontation between Jesus and death, Jesus’ own widowed mother mourned the loss of her Son. In that epic meeting between Jesus and death, by all appearances, death had won. The Man who had raised the dead was now dead. His corpse buried, and for three days it rested in the ground from which it was taken.

But, once again, death gave way to Jesus.

Funeral processions can get ugly. The weeping and mourning and wailing can make us uncomfortable. Even though death is in your future, you deny or ignore it. Be honest, you see everything around you rotting, decaying, and dying. You have grown so accustomed to sin and being around death that you don’t notice it very often.

This morning, you were part of a funeral procession. You are guilty of sin, so the stink of death hangs around you. You are part of your own, constant funeral procession. Young and old – man, woman, and child – you all dragged some dead thing here with you today.

Is it your relationship with your spouse that is slowly dying, and yet you stand idly by?

Is it the cadaver of disobedience to parents or others in authority over you? You only do what you need to get by, even though you know you could do more.

What dead thing have you brought with you?

Is it the dying remains of your finances that cause you to worry and doubt, or simply discontentment with what God has given you?

Is it the carcass of lust that flames within you?

Is it the rottenness of pride that is so focused inward that you do not see the needs of others? A pride that boasts in your own accomplishments and belittles others?

What dead thing have you brought here with you?

Maybe, it is not even your fault. Maybe, it is just the fear of what will happen in the future. Maybe, it Is the worry and concern you have for others. Maybe it is anger for how your neighbor has wronged you. Maybe, your dead thing is your own sick, crumbling body. What dead thing have you brought here with you?

You are in your own funeral procession. Yes, maybe it will be months, years, or decades before you are finally lowered into the ground, but from the time you were born you have been marching toward your grave. Just admit it.

Jesus approaches your funeral procession, and He does not stop; Jesus does not yield.  Jesus does not give way or defer to death; He doesn’t have time for it.

Cross and CommunionInstead, Jesus defeats death, each and every time He meets it.

Jesus is here today. Jesus meets you as you plod along in your personal funeral procession and gives you life. Jesus meets you at this altar, this beautiful gate, to give you His living Body and His life-giving Blood. Amen.

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

This sermon was reworked from 2014.

Sigh – Sermon for the 12th Sunday of Trinity on Mark 7:31-37

Listen here.

Mark 7:31-37

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,”that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

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

Most of Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels are fairly sterile (if you will allow me to use that term). Christ tells a bunch of servants to fill jars with water, take some to the master of the feast, and the master wonders why the best wine was served so late. Jesus tells a paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home,”and the man does. And Jesus takes bread and fish, gives thanks, hands it to His disciples, and thousands are fed. Clean, neat, tidy miracles.

Little Girl Meme GrossThis miracle, on the other hand, is odd. It’s dirty. Maybe, you even find it disgusting. Jesus takes a deaf man who has a speech impediment off to the side. He sticks His fingers into wax-filled ears. God in the flesh spits (apparently, Jesus wasn’t taught how to give a proper wet-Willy). Christ literally seizes, not just ‘touches,’ the man’s tongue. And then, Jesus looks up to heaven. Sighs. And says, “Ephphatha,” which means,“Be opened.”

Scripture says that Jesus did more miracles than are recorded for us in the Gospels (Jn. 20:30; 21:25). It could be – maybe it isn’t, but it could be – that most of Jesus’ miracles were crazy and odd like this one rather than the ‘normal’ ones God has recorded for us in the Scriptures. That might explain why in Mt. 8[:5-13]the centurion who had a paralyzed servant tells Jesus to not bother about coming into his home, but to just speak the word.

Now, imagine how it was for this man. He had lived his life in a world of silence. He wasn’t able to communicate with others. Imagine his friends and family who have brought him to Jesus. They have wanted so desperately for him to hear and rejoice in God’s Word. They wanted him to be able to hear them say that they loved him. They have wanted to sing God’s praise with his voice added to their chorus. And now, here is Jesus. A man who can do the miraculous. So, they bring him to Jesus and beg and plead Jesus to heal him. And Jesus does this?

As unconventional as it is, the man is healed. His ears are opened. He is able to speak clearly. Though the man has a new-found voice, Jesus commands this man and his family and friends to tell no one what has happened. But they don’t listen. They disobey.

The Jesus who opens deaf ears has one simple command for to their ears to hear. The command comes from the Jesus who loosened the man’s tongue, “Don’t use your tongues to tell others about this.”But they shut their ears to His command, and they open their tongues in disobedience.

They were telling people that Jesus was a miracle worker who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. They weren’t spreading lies about Jesus, but what they were proclaiming was misleading. It seemed like a victimless crime. But here is the problem – the people who heard their message got the wrong impression of who Jesus is and what He had come to do.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the wolrdJesus had come to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not to be the audiologist who takes away the deafness of the world. Jesus had come to give eternal life through His death and resurrection, not to give a voice to the voiceless.

Jesus had a reason for telling them to keep silent about the miracle even if we don’t know exactly what that reason was. And their disobedience had consequences.

When Jesus was on trial before His crucifixion, Pilate sent Him to Herod, and Herod wanted Jesus to do some sign for him (Lk 23:6-11). When Jesus didn’t answer any of Herod’s questions or do a miracle, Herod had his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked Him. It might be that the report of these people fueled Herod’s curiosity to see Jesus the miracle worker and not Jesus the Savior.

You too, refuse to listen to God’s words and commands. Whenever you sin, you are refusing to hear God’s Word. You are choosing your own wisdom over God’s. Even when God’s command seems contrary to what is good, we must repent of our lunacy thinking that we know better than God.

But see Jesus’ grace despite their sin. Jesus knew that they would disobey Him. He knew that they would sinfully use His gifts as tools for their transgressions. Jesus looks to heaven and sighs.

Why does Jesus sigh? Well, Jesus sighs in sorrow over our sins against Him. He sighs when we act in self-righteousness. Jesus sighs grieving over our self-inflicted pain. He sighs in anger over what has been done to us by the devil, our neighbors, and even those who should love us. Jesus sighs, and yet, He acts in love and mercy.

Jesus is the friend of sinners, and He has compassion on all who suffer – no matter what that suffering is. He knows you are a transgressor and worker of iniquity, but He also knows that you are a victim.

Jesus takes and becomes sinYes, Jesus sighs and acts. He gets involved with us even though it hurts Him. He cannot help Himself. In His love and mercy, He gets bound up in the mess we make and that others have made for us. He gets entangled in our sin. In fact, He becomes sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

What Jesus did for this man, He has done for you as well. Jesus has miraculously opened your ears to hear His word of Law and Gospel. Listen to them intently. Believe what Jesus tells you in His Word because Jesus has borne your griefs. He has carried your sorrows. And even by the stripes you inflict upon Him, He heals you (Is. 53:3-5). Amen.

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

Scary Success – Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Trinity on Luke 5:1-11

Listen here.

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus Teaches from Peter's BoatOn one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 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 the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God gives better than you ask, and His promises exceed everything that you desire.

Peter was tired. He had spent the whole night fishing. Well, ‘fishing’ is too strong of a word. He caught nothing. If he had been using a pole and hook, he would have been up all night drowning worms, but Peter and his partners used nets to catch fish. Through the dark hours of the night, they cast their nets again and again and again only to bring them up empty each and every time.

You can imagine their frustration as they pulled the boats to shore while the sun broke on the horizon. They probably talked with each other about what went wrong. Maybe, they wondered how they would provide for their families and where their money would come from the next week. Now, they simply wanted to clean their nets, go home, and sleep.

But while they clean their nets, Jesus is there on the shore teaching God’s Word to a massive crowd. Everyone is trying to get close to hear Him. So, Jesus says, “Hey Peter, why don’t you row Me out a bit so I can keep preaching?”Peter obliges, and the boat becomes a pulpit.

Jesus’ sermon ends. Unlike me, Jesus doesn’t, apparently, slip into what I call a ‘post-liturgical coma.’ Instead, Jesus has an idea. “Hey Peter, why don’t we row out a bit further and catch some fish?”

Now, Peter knew fishing. There was a reason he and his partners had been out all night and not during the day – that’s when you catch fish. He had just finished cleaning his nets so they would be ready for their next excursion. Peter just wanted to go home and find his pillow.

Peter could have said, “Listen here, Jesus. Sure, You can teach the Scriptures like nobody else. But listen, Mr. Carpenter, fishing is my game. Why don’t You stick to teaching and woodworking?” But he doesn’t. Peter responds, “At Your word, I will let down the nets.” This statement is as good as faith gets on this side of eternity.

Now, imagine this. Peter and Andrew put down the nets and sail around a bit, knowing this isn’t the time to do this. They reach down to draw the net into the boat. That night, they had gotten used to lifting nothing but the weight of the net, but this time they feel resistance. They pull and tug and heft. The nets start creaking and breaking because of all the weight. They signal to their partners to come and help. All of them together can’t lift the net into the boat, so they start scooping fish into both boats as fast as they can. They are wet, slimy, and breathless as both boats become so full of fish that they begin to sink.

Pause here for a minute. Peter and his partners, apparently, had quite an operation going for themselves. They weren’t simply recreational fishermen. This was a business – several professionals operating several boats. They had never had a catch like this. You would think the first thing to go through Peter’s mind would be to sign Jesus as their navigator and guide. He could tell them when and where to cast their nets. They could buy a fleet of boats, hire more fishermen, and find a crew to clean and mend the nets. How slick would this be? Peter could retire early and live on easy street. But none of that enters his mind.

Catch of Fish from Luke 5Getting a catch like that would be the dream any fisherman. But it is too much of a good thing. This catch is threatening their livelihood, nearly breaking the nets and causing the boats to sink; it is killing them. And these fish – which had been their life and livelihood – could not save them. This fishing expedition is a massive success. Surrounded by what would provide for his life for months if not years, Peter can only see his sin.

Consider your life. What do you do each and every day? Where do you spend your time and effort? What are you focused on? What are your goals and dreams? What do you pray for and ask God to give you? Do you ever get frustrated with God when He does not answer? And when God does give you what you ask, how long are you satisfied?

Repent. Your goals and dreams are not what they should be. God knows what is good for you even better than you do. God is still good when He doesn’t give you what you what you ask for. God was good when He allowed the disciples to catch nothing that night. And Jesus is good by denying Peter’s request to depart.

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” is a stupid prayer. If Jesus answered that prayer, Peter would not only drown, he would go to hell because hell is where God is not present in His mercy for sinners.

Jesus knows how to answer better than Peter knows how to ask. Jesus answers Peter’s prayer in a way that exceeded anything sinful Peter could have desired. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Two weeks ago, we heard the scribes and Pharisees grumbling about Jesus, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” What they meant as mocking and jest is your faithful and holy confession.

Yes, Jesus does receive sinners. In fact, Jesus has this in mind when He gives Peter his new calling, “From now on, Peter, you will be catching men alive.”Jesus uses a particular word here. It doesn’t simply mean to catch, it means to catch alive.

Jesus does not depart. Instead, He draws closer to Peter so that Peter and the other apostles can have a new calling – to catch men alive with the net of the life-giving Gospel.

Cross and CommunionJesus’ will is that you be caught by the net of the Gospel, that you be brought into the boat of the church, and that you have fellowship with Him now and forever. It is Jesus’ will that He not depart from you but that He draw you to Himself.

Jesus says to you, “Fear not. I give to you My Body which was crucified but lives. I give to you My shed Blood which is the source of your life and forgiveness.”Jesus says, “Come and receive what you wouldn’t dare ask for, but I freely and happily give to you.”And you? You say, “At Your word, Lord, I will do as You say.” Amen.

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

Measured – Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Trinity on Luke 6:36-42

Listen here.

Luke 6:36-42

36 “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

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

Before we really get into this text, we have to understand that the way the world interprets these verses is wrong and sinful. Do Not JudgeJesus says, “Judge not,”and our fallen, twisted, evil, amoral society latches on to these words like stink on poo. If an unbeliever loves any words of Jesus, it is probably, “Judge not.”

The godless sinners of our society (and of all times) think this means Christians are not allowed to say that anything is sinful or wrong. How many times have you spoken against some sin and had these words, “Judge not,”thrown in your face? Even worse, how many times have you kept your mouth shut when you see sin because these words had been thrown at you?

Sin is evil and should and must be spoken against. When Jesus says, “Judge not,”He does not mean that you should be silent when it comes to others’ sin – even though the world will call you a hypocrite for doing so.

If someone steals your car, it is not helpful to you, to your faith, or to society to simply say, “Well, I guess it was his car.” That is simply adding sin to sin. The seventh commandment was broken when they stole the car. The thief probably also broke the eighth commandment saying the car was theirs. Don’t join them in breaking the eighth commandment by lying yourself.

When Joseph forgave his brothers (in our OT text [Gen. 50:15-21]), he didn’t say, “When you seized me, threw me in a pit, planned to kill me, and sold me as a slave instead of treating me like your brother, God was really doing a good thing through you.” No! Joseph says that what they did was evil. Yet, he forgave them and extended them mercy.

When we don’t call sin, “Sin,” we are judging God.

The parable about a blind man leading a blind man and Jesus’ statement about specks and logs in eyes shows that we as Christians are called to speak against sin. If you were blind, you wouldn’t offer to be a hiking guide for the blind at the Grand Canyon. You’ll all fall in. But if you see, you can and should lead the blind man safely. And Jesus isn’t saying that you should never remove specks from others’ eyes. No, Jesus says to receive His free forgiveness which removes the log in your eye. Then reprove, rebuke, and correct the one who has a speck in his.

Judge Hypocrite Adam4dKnow this: No one will thank you from hell for remaining silent about their sin on earth. And God forbid that they curse you from hell for remaining silent about their earthly sin.

The Apostle Paul sums up Jesus’ words for us in Galatians 6:1. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore (this is a command) him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself (also a command), lest you too be tempted.”

So, do you see that this text isn’t a prohibition against you calling sin, “Sin”? Good. Now, the text can wallop you, you hypocrite.

Your fallen mind is selfish, always measuring your motives and actions against others’. You speak against the sins of others while ignoring the fact that you are committing the same sin.

Take the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” for example. You decry the plague of abortion in our country. You know that it is the heinous murder of the most vulnerable in our society and is the cousin of the Holocaust. But then, you don’t think twice about encouraging a young married couple to get settled in their careers before having kids. Or, you look at your own kids as a burden. You place your sinful actions on a scale and measure them to be less offensive and sinful. You hypocrite!

Take the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” for example. You speak against the sin of homosexuality and say that it is against God’s order. You are right that it is. But then, you turn around and do not love and honor your spouse as you should. Instead, wives, you undermine your husband and speak ill of him to anyone who will listen. Husbands, you do not treat your wives with the love and care they deserve, and you don’t avert your eyes from the lustful images that come your way. With your faulty scale, your sin doesn’t even register in your conscience. You hypocrite!

Take the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” You get enraged when others spread false, malicious gossip about you. But then you talk about others behind their back in ways you never would if they were standing next to you. By doing so, you measure your sin against theirs with your thumb pressing down on their sin.You hypocrite!

You are not what you should be. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”You, as a child of God, should and must resemble your Heavenly Father. But you don’t.

Repent. As Scripture says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Because these words are Scripture, they are true and inerrant. But they are also wrong. Paul was not the foremost of sinners; I am. And I hope you can honestly and vehemently say the same.

We sinners keep measuring. We want what is our due. We demand our rights. We forgive only when we think our enemy deserves it – which isn’t forgiveness at all. Pretending that it is is harmful to our faith. Mercy, by definition, is never deserved.

Repent and hear again Jesus’ words, “Your Father is merciful.”

Jesus takes and becomes sinGod loves you from His very heart. God gives you real mercy. He loves the good and bad, the greatest and the least. He loves the sinner who strives to be merciful but fails, the hardened drug lord who doesn’t care about his sin, and He even loves you. In His mercy, God doesn’t simply get frustrated with your hypocrisy and ignore it.

No. God, in His infinite mercy, sends Jesus – His beloved, hypocrisy-free, perfect Son – to shed His innocent blood and die for that sin. God doesn’t simply love you with words but also with His actions.

God’s love for you in Christ is that He sees no log or speck of sin in your eye. His measure of mercy isn’t changed by the standard of your mercy toward others. His mercy is poured into your lap – good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing. So, let that mercy change you. And let that mercy pour out to others. Amen.

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

Before the Throne of God – Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-7

Listen here.

Isaiah 6:1-7

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 62Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

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

Why do you come to church?

Last year, Gallop polled fifteen hundred adults[1]to see why they go to church. They gave seven options, and here is the order those options were ranked:

  1. Sermons or talks that teach me more about Scripture.
  2. Sermons or talks that help connect religion to my life.
  3. Spiritual programs geared toward my children.
  4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
  5. A leader who is interesting and inspiring.
  6. Social activities to get to know people in my community.
  7. Good music.

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Anyone? Bueller?

No mention of receiving forgiveness.

Each of those responses is starting with the premise that when Christians gather together they are the ones doing something. “I’m learning. I’m becoming more religious. I’m doing my duty for my children. I’m helping my community.” And each of these responses is dead wrong.

When Christians gather together to hear God’s Word, God is the One who is acting, and we are the ones being acted upon. He sends His Word to convict of sin. And God sends His Word to forgive sin. That is why we want our service to be filled with Scripture. We want everything to be centered around God’s Word – Law and Gospel.

Isaiah tells us about what happened to him while he was at church one day.

Isaiah was a normal dude. He wasn’t a priest, so Isaiah couldn’t enter the holy places of the Temple. So, Isaiah is in the courtyard of the Temple where the laity would gather to offer their sacrifices and hear the Word of God. It was how God’s people did church in Isaiah’s day.

But while he is there, God gives Isaiah this vision to see what is really happening. Isaiah sees the Lord high, lifted up, and sitting on the throne. In the Gospel of John, we are told that Isaiah saw Jesus on that throne (Jn. 12:41) with the train of His glorious robe filling the Temple.

But Jesus isn’t alone. With Him are the seraphim – glowing, fiery angels with six wings. Why six wings? God didn’t create them with unnecessaryparts, and they aren’t mutations. These angels are perfect. Perfectly created, and perfect in their conduct. The angels never sinned and didn’t need to be redeemed. But even they need to cover the parts that show their creatureliness.

Each seraph calls out, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” This threefold ‘holy’ is not just repetition. Each of these holy’s stands on its own; it could be translated, “Holy One. Holy One. Holy One.” Three distinct Holy Ones each deserving of praise. Isaiah only sees one – Jesus, but the seraphim are worshipping Three – Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

Isaiah sees and hears this as he is there to worship at the Temple, and it is true for us, even though we don’t see it, every time we gather for worship as well. Every time Christians gather together, more are there than can be seen. Jesus promises that the Trinity is with even the smallest congregation (Mt. 18:20).

Wedding Feast of the LambHebrews 12[:22–23]tells us that there are many more here today than our eyes can see, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Isaiah sees what we can’t see, and he hears the worship we can’t hear. So he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “I’m cooked.” Before the lofty throne of the Almighty, Eternal, Triune, Holy God, Isaiah figures God is there to punish him. How incredibly sad!

Isaiah is a Christian. He believes that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).

If God had wanted to judge Isaiah, He could have opened up a hole in the ground and swallowed Isaiah to the pits of hell. God doesn’t toy around when it comes to executing judgment.

But Isaiah knows his sin. He knows that his sin isn’t something outside of him that sort of hovers over him. And his sin isn’t just something recorded in a divine naughty-or-nice list. Instead, Isaiah knows that his sin is on his lips, in his body, and part of who he is.

We wouldn’t have done any better than Isaiah did if we had this same encounter. We would have been just as terrified. The sins that we commit and don’t even think about would have been equally exposed. And we know that we have no excuse and no alibi when standing before the God and judge of all creation. We would rightly fear the Holy Trinity who after killing the body can throw us into hell (Mt. 10:28).

But when God appears to sinners. He isn’t there to destroy them. He is there to redeem them, forgive them, and comfort them. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

That seraph, that messenger of God, takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, and absolves him: “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

What comes right after this text is comical. We, at least I, forget that sometimes. There is the Holy, Holy, Holy, Triune God and forgiven Isaiah. And God asks a question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” God could have just given Isaiah his marching orders, “Ok, Isaiah. Now that I’ve forgiven you, you’re going to do something for Us.”

No, God gives Isaiah a chance to confess that he is forgiven. And Isaiah does, “Here am I. Send me.” Isaiah, the man cleansed of unclean lips, is given the task of proclaiming God’s Word as God’s prophet.

And you here today, you saints, you who have come into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, you too have been cleansed. Your guilt has also been taken away. Your sin has been completely atoned for. As you leave this place, go with a clean conscience. Go and do everything that God calls you to do this week. Go be God’s salt and light in this world.

And come back. Come back next week before the throne of God to once again receive His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Amen.

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

[1]http://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=syndication

Spirit-Convicted – Sermon for Easter 5 on John 16:5-16

Listen here.

John 16:5-15

“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Holy Spirit Dove Stained Glass12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

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

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

Jesus tells the disciples that it is to their advantage that He is going away. Because of that, I was tempted to title this sermon, “Go away, Jesus.”

This ‘going away’ that Jesus is talking about is His death on the cross. Jesus goes to the cross and to His Father so that first Easter evening He can breathe on His disciples giving them the Holy Spirit and sending them with the proclamation of Christ’s forgiveness (Jn. 20:22-23).

Right off the bat, it is probably important to address something. Sometimes, Lutherans are accused of not talking about the Holy Spirit enough. People today think the Holy Spirit is at work when they get a particular feeling or emotion because of the things going on around them during the service. Scripture is very clear that feelings are not a good gauge to determine whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work.

Now, maybe it is a fair assessment to say Lutherans don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough. But it should be noted that the Holy Spirit is very content not being talked about. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Jesus. Just a few verses before our text today, which we will hear in next weeks’ Gospel lesson, Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will bear witness about Me” (Jn. 15:26).

In other words, whenever you hear about Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit doing His primary work of creating faith. That is why Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, as our translation puts it, the ‘Helper.’

The word Jesus uses means ‘advocate, intercessor, or mediator.’ And Jesus focuses on three convictions of the Holy Spirit. He convicts us – He brings out into the open, or convinces us – concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement. And we need to consider each of these.

First, Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin “because the world does not believe in Me.”Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they are so horrible.

Christ of St John on the Cross Salvador DaliWe think that the opposite of sin is good works. So, we wrongly think our sin is something we can manage on our own. We imagine we can hide our stains by being kind to those around us. We think we can distract God from our lust, anger, pride, and selfishness with a few good works.

But the opposite of sin is notgood works. The opposite of sin is faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Romans 14[:23] says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

So, the Holy Spirit shows us the depths of our sin. He points us to Jesus who has taken all the punishment. The Holy Spirit shows us that we are fools if we think our sin can be taken away by anything other than the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin showing us that we need Savior Jesus.

But even when the Holy Spirit has convicted us of our sin, He isn’t done. There is still more Spirit convicting to do.

Second, Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness “because I go to the Father.”

The Holy Spirit speaks through the Scriptures to convict you that because Jesus has died, you are completely freed from those sins which should separate you from God for eternity.

Satan, the accuser, comes along and tries to tell you that God doesn’t love you. He lies saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t enough. He comes along and tries to tell you have been lying to yourself and that you really aren’t a Christian. Or if you call yourself a Christian you aren’t a ‘true Christian’ or a ‘committed Christian’ or an ‘on-fire Christian. Hogwash.

Listen to what the Spirit says in the Scriptures: You have been made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (1 Pet. 1:16). The Holy Spirit says Jesus became sin for you so that you would become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The Holy Spirit promises that there is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus (Ro. 8:1).

The Holy Spirit shows you that the righteousness you needed has been totally and completely provided for you by Jesus who went to His Father saying, “It is finished.”

And the Holy Spirit still isn’t done.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. Now, you might be thinking that Jesus is going back to Law. But notice that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment not because you are judged, rather “because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Christian, when you suffer, when bad things happen to you, you might think that God is judging you. But the Holy Spirit comes and says to you that you are not the target of God’s judgment. Satan is, and he always has been.

When God confronted Adam and Eve in the Garden, the first judgment He gave was to the devil. God promised that He would send Jesus to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has come and done just that.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to bring all this out into the open. Because of what Christ has done for you, you are not God’s enemy. God demonstrates His love for you that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you (Ro. 5:8). And even when you were God’s enemy, here’s how He treated you – He reconciled you to Himself by the death of Jesus (Ro. 5:10). The Holy Spirit points you to Jesus’ own words where He says that hell was designed not for you but for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41).

John 16_13 - Spirit.jpgThis is the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit takes all the work of Jesus and declares it to you. He is your Helper, Comforter, Advocate. Through Spirit’s working, He opens the Scriptures creating, sustaining, and strengthening faith and guiding you into all the truth.

So, believe. Your sin is paid in full by Christ’s shed blood. Christ’s righteousness covers you. And you are judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus. All that the Father has belongs to Jesus. And the Holy Spirit takes all that Jesus has and declares it to you.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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