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Guest Preacher, Rev. Doug Minton: Eat and Drink Freely

“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

You are daily in the devil’s kingdom. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three commandments and all the commandments. Therefore, you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle and the Word does not make a sound, the devil breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware.

How aptly Luther describes the world we live in as Christians! Neary five hundred years and forty-six hundred miles distant, but he summarizes the current cultural climate very well. We have heard and sung the great promises that are ours in Christ, but many Christians live in a constant state of fear. Fear of disease. Fear of being caught without our masks. Fear of persecution for our own thoughts and beliefs of what is going on in the world. Fear of death. Fear of the devil. All things which should not cause us fear. But many fear anyway. Because fear is more contagious than any virus.

But, as Christians, what do we have to fear? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” It’s very easy to say, but it is difficult to put into practice. But that is pulling the verse out of context a little bit. Let’s look at the context around it. Jesus continues by giving this comfort: “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Your heavenly Father knows you so intimately that He knows the exact follicle count on your head! If He has concerned Himself with knowing that, why do you continue to worry and fear despite His promises?

We have heard and sung these promises throughout the service this morning: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart and mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind.” “Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall; You have opened Paradise, and Your saints in You shall rise.” “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” All of these wonderful promises, but fear still tries to win the day.

The LORD asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Why? Why do we prefer the fear over the promise? The first words out of our mouths this morning: “Lord, ‘tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me.” Without Christ and His grace, all we know is fear. By nature, we hear the LORD’s promises, but we cannot believe them. They are foreign to our natural way of thinking. Ever since the Fall into sin, man has allowed fear to rule his life. We always question God’s motives. We always question His promises.

With all the questions in our sinful human nature, what are we, as Christians, to do? How would Luther encourage us to go forward? He continues in the Large Catechism:
On the other hand, the Word is so effective when it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words.

“Hear, that your soul may live.” Listen “to Him who alone does great wonders.” Fill your heart, lips and ears with His Word constantly. They are not just “lazy or dead” words on a page. They are “creative, living words.” Three weeks ago, we heard the end of this chapter in Isaiah. We heard exactly what happens when God’s Word is proclaimed: “It shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” What is God’s purpose in sending His Word? To free us from our fears. To welcome us back into His loving arms.

“I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” This morning’s Psalm reminds us of this constantly. The last half of every verse in the Psalm confesses, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Steadfast love that never leaves His people. The people He has claimed through His covenant.

St. Paul shows us this wonderful promise even to those who have walked away from His Word. Stopped their ears to listening. Closed their hearts to His love. As he begins to speak about his “kinsman according to the flesh,” what does Paul say? “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises.” The Israelites had completely abandoned God, turning the faith of the Old Testament saints into a religion of the Law. The Israelites had everything they could ever want from God, but they turned aside because our sinful human nature seeks to reject everything that comes from God. As it has been from the beginning. The serpent deceived Eve that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would make her and Adam “like God.” Ever since, sinful man has always thought he knows better than God how to live in this world. Therefore, he seeks to throw away everything that has to do with God.

How does God respond to this? How does God react to His people getting rid of anything belonging to Him? He continues to send messengers, calling His people to return to Him. Isaiah was one of the many Prophets God sent to His people, but Paul points back to before the Prophets. “To them belong the Patriarchs.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To them, God promised the land in which they lived as strangers and sojourners. He promises them salvation through their Seed. He encourages them to listen and hear the Word that He has proclaimed to them. The Word that would become incarnate and dwell among His people. This incarnate Word brings the LORD’s great blessings with Him as He begins the process of the new Creation through His blood.

Therefore we sang, “Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed, paschal victim, paschal bread; with sincerity and love eat we manna from above. Alleluia.” This wondrous incarnate Word brings forth His message of salvation. One almost as old as time itself. The same message given to Adam and Eve. The same message given to the Patriarchs. To the Prophets all through the centuries. To the Apostles and the pastors they sent out. All of these proclaimed the same message. Christ, who would come from the Israelite line, would shed His blood as a once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

With the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew drives home the point that Jesus comes from the Israelite line in the flesh. Matthew, whose Gospel we are reading throughout this year, has a great deal to say about this Savior who has come not only to satisfy our stomachs with bread and fish, but He comes to satisfy us with the forgiveness of our sins. A promise made millennia ago to our first parents. Echoed down through the generations. Made personal in Jesus’ Incarnation. Applied to your sins and mine in Baptism.

Often, we think of repeated messages as being rather “lazy or dead.” However, Jesus shows in our very lives that they are truly “creative, living words.” Words that cause our lives to overflow with His blessings, even when—and maybe, especially when—things are falling apart around us. It is in these moments were we must see His blessings around us. Understanding these blessings appropriately, we can have “ever joyful hearts” that rejoice in His wonderful gifts. Where we can thank Him in our deepest struggles like we can when everything is going well.

He encourages us—even commands us—to come to Him in times of hardship and times of plenty. When our stomachs are satisfied and when they are growling. When our throats are parched, He says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Eat and drink freely! Not just to satisfy your belly. Satisfy your soul. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Your Lord comes to you with His Word of forgiveness, leading you to the living waters of salvation, so that you may be satisfied in righteousness. Jesus promised this living water to St. Photini, the woman at the well: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Again, the promises far outweigh any fear we might have in this world. God’s promises last far longer than your mortal life. Your fears last until you overcome them or you die. Fears do not follow you into God’s Paradise. God has promised you His Paradise after this life. A place with no fears, no sorrows, no mourning, no death. With this awaiting us upon Jesus’ return, what fear on earth can stop you in your tracks? There should be none.

However, we still succumb to the fears of this world. We do live in the devil’s territory. He does everything he can to keep the fears of this world front and center in your minds. But his words always fall short. All of the fear he can muster is nothing compared to God’s promises. As David says, “The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” He goes on to say, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life to gaze upon His beauty and to inquire in His Temple.”

How do we keep this confidence? We hear the Word. Not just the sound waves hitting your ear drum. Listen to the words and their meanings. “You must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears,” Luther said. Only then can you seriously contemplate, hear and use it. The familiar Collect of the Word encourages us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” God’s holy Word so that “we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” Holding to this hope is seen by coming to God, eating and drinking freely from the fountain of salvation. Hearing His Word. Eating His body. Drinking His blood. Receiving His promises as truly “creative, living words” that do not return to Him empty, but accomplish His purposes and succeed in giving and fulfilling the promises He gives you. Promises that overcome every fear in this world. Amen.

If you wish to check out more of Pastor Minton’s work go to:

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The Hidden Treasure

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

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“[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Hidden treasure. Who among us has not dreamed at least one time of finding hidden treasure? A map that leads us to the buccaneer’s buried booty. An old chest covered with dust in the attic of an abandoned farmhouse. The valuable antique discovered in the contents of a box purchased at an estate auction for a dollar. We’re captivated by stories of hidden treasure.

Jesus tells a story of hidden treasure and He puts you and me right in the middle of it. “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure,” is one of seven parables in Matthew 13. In each, Jesus describes an aspect of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why do You speak… in parables?” Jesus explained, “To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (vv. 10-12).

The kingdom of heaven is a secret in that it is beyond our sinful human comprehension. It is unlike any kingdom on earth. No human words or descriptions can describe its glories. That is why Jesus used parables to describe it. When Jesus told His parables, a separation took place among the hearers. For those who heard and accepted His Word in faith, the parables helped them to understand the deeper truths of His kingdom. On the other hand, for those who rejected Christ, the parables became a means for obscuring the truth. Their calloused hearts prevented them from understanding. In this respect, parables served a purpose beyond that of the direct sayings of Jesus.

We must constantly remind ourselves that it is precisely His work of redemption that Jesus had in mind as He told His parables. In fact, when we read the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” we might paraphrase them by saying, “When Christ is active redemptively among men, this work is like…” The kingdom of heaven belongs to the plan of salvation our heavenly Father designed from all eternity centered on Jesus Christ.

Although we often think of this kingdom as something in the future, the kingdom of heaven is a present reality. The parables do not describe something that just goes on in heaven. They were designed to tell what goes on here and now among men when God is busy re-establishing Himself as King.

In “The Parable of  the Hidden Treasure,” the kingdom of heaven is compared to a thing—a treasure. A treasure is something that is highly prized, valuable, eagerly sought after. This term is used so that we might think of all the precious things in the kingdom: e.g., righteousness, pardon, peace, salvation, eternal life.

This treasure was hidden in a place where no one would expect it to be—buried in an open field. In the Near East, great treasure, such as gold and jewels, was often hidden, due to war, changes of rulers and such. Men of wealth divided their riches into three parts: one for doing business, another part converted into precious stones with which they could flee if necessary, and a third part buried in a safe place for when they returned.

The kingdom of heaven is hidden in a similar way. Although it is in plain sight, not everyone is able to see it. It is seen only through the eyes of faith. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed nor will they say, ‘Lord, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). Even though the kingdom of heaven was present among them in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees were not able to see it because of their unbelief. They were looking for a kingdom of power and glory, not a kingdom of the cross and humility.

But God’s hidden treasure is meant to be found by us. He did not hide His treasure far off in the heavens where no human being could even come near it, but in a common, lowly place, where it could indeed be found. The kingdom is hidden right in plain sight. But it cannot be seen by the earthly wise, or the proud and self-sufficient, but only by the humble and helpless.

God hid the treasure in His Son. He hid it in His Word. He hid it in the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. It is those gifts that give us the child-like faith to see the priceless treasure of the Gospel. As Jesus had prayed, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

It is only those who despair of their own efforts and accept God’s gift of salvation with the faith of children, who are shown this wonderful treasure. As we read in Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you receive My words and treasure up My commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

The kingdom of heaven outweighs in value everything else. Just as the man in the parable who finds the treasure will go and sell everything he has in order to take possession of it; the man who understands the value of the kingdom of heaven will, with great joy, part with all he owns. As Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save His life for My sake will lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

You would think that anyone who found such a treasure would indeed be willing to give up everything he had to obtain it. But can we really do that on our own? Can we really give up everything for the treasure of the kingdom?

Think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what He must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at him and loved him. “You lack one thing;” He said. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). The young man went away sad, for he had great possessions.

Treasure in heaven is the gift of eternal life, or salvation. It cannot be earned by self-denial or giving of one’s material goods. The cost is complete surrender to Jesus Christ. In giving away his wealth, the young man would have removed the last obstacle that kept him from trusting in Jesus. But he wasn’t willing to or able.

By our old sinful nature, neither are we. You and I would rather try to hold on to the things we already have. Old Adam would rather cling to the things of this world than give up everything for the treasure. Even if we were willing and able to sell everything we have, we could not buy that treasure. It’s out of our price range. It’s too rich for my blood… or yours.

Only one man could give up everything for the treasure. Our Savior Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who embodies the kingdom of heaven in His person and work. You see, Jesus is the man who found the hidden treasure in the field.

A common feature in all the kingdom parables is that the central character always represents (more generally) God or (specifically) Jesus. The kingdom of heaven concerns what God is doing to reestablish His reign in His fallen creation through Jesus of Nazareth. It is only Jesus who could find the kingdom of heaven hidden in this sinful world. And once He found it, He hid it again so that He could give up everything He had to purchase that field—the world. He gave up all for that treasure.

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

And that means… you and I are the treasure. Despite all the appearances to the contrary, we are that treasure. That’s the way God sees us through the lens of Christ. He told the people of Israel through the prophet Moses, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). He declared through Malachi, “They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (3:17-18).

Jesus unselfishly gave up His own life and bought the whole world. To claim us as His treasured possession, Christ gave up all that He had. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He willingly sacrificed everything—His power, His majesty, even His own life—to pay for the sins of the whole world. Not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, Jesus purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation to be a kingdom and priests to serve God (Revelation 5:9-10). To get His treasure, Christ bought the whole field.

Obviously, the kingdom of heaven is the highest treasure. Nothing else measures up to—or even approaches—the tremendous personal value of forgiveness and peace with God. This kingdom was purchased at a great price: the death of God’s Son. Jesus willingly gave up His life to ransom a world imprisoned by sin and Satan. His work of salvation, completed at the cross and vindicated at His resurrection, is our assurance that nothing will separate us from God’s love.

This kingdom is not yet clearly visible to the world. It is not present now in all its future glory, but hidden in the simple, humble, and even among the godless and evil. That’s the way God works. The Savior came to the earth as a child. His ministry revolved around quiet service and obedience. He died the death of a criminal and outcast. But Christ’s resurrection signaled God’s acceptance of His atonement for the sins of the world. From this humble beginning, this kingdom of heaven continues to grow by God’s grace. Through ordinary means—words proclaimed, water, bread, and wine—when we are brought to faith, we are present in that kingdom here and now.

This treasure has been hidden in and among us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In the Near East, it was customary to conceal treasure in plain clay jars, which had little value or beauty in themselves. These would not attract attention to themselves and their precious contents. In choosing us as vessels in which to hide the kingdom of heaven, God has done the same. He has taken our ordinary, mortal bodies to hold His most precious treasure.

One day, Christ will come to reclaim His treasure. On the Last Day, our Lord will raise our bodies from death, gather all His saints, and welcome us to His eternal kingdom. As you wait for that day, always remember the great price that was paid for this treasure, living a life that reflect the tremendous value He has given to you. Joyfully tell others of this hidden treasure so that they too may participate in the kingdom of heaven.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Subjected to Futility in Hope of Redemption

“The End is Near” by David Sipress (The Phoenix)

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It seems the world is getting worse and worse. There’s a good reason for that…it’s true. Despite advancements in many areas our world is winding down. One step forward and two steps back. Science even has a name for this condition—entropy. Things left to themselves deteriorate and decay. You don’t have to look far for evidence. How about your home? Do the appliances last forever? Shingles and eaves? Check inside the refrigerator. What happened to that sealed container of leftovers that got pushed to the back? It turned into big petri dish, didn’t it? Growing a colorful, perhaps pungent collection of molds and bacteria.

But the evidence is even closer to home than your home. You carry it with you. You can eat the right foods, make sure to get enough exercise, avoid too much sun and toxic substances, and you’re still going to age. The aches and pains build up, no matter how careful you are, because you’re wearing out, too. And then, there’s all the stuff outside of your control—cancers and auto-immune deficiencies, mental failures, and various viruses and infections that come along and find you. Because you are a part of creation, you are subject to corruption as well. You can work hard and try to maintain for a while, but in the end it’s futile.

Why is it like this? We’re going to do a little time travel today to find out. Not just a few years forward or back. Not even just a few centuries. No, that kind of time travel is for amateurs. Our guide, St. Paul, is going to take us to the dawn of time, then to the end of the age, and back again. In just a few sentences, the apostle gives us a brief history of the world, starting with the present suffering and futility, going back to creation and the fall, then looking forward to Judgment Day and restoration, and finally back to what this all means for us now.

Declaring, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” St. Paul sets the stage for the entire discussion to follow. He is driving toward a satisfactory answer to explain how and why these “sufferings” are to be endured, even overcome.

So, he continues: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Paul personifies creation, ascribing to it personal qualities and characteristics. Creation “waits in eager expectation.” Creation “has been groaning.” With the phrase “eager longing,” he pictures creation stretching its neck forward, looking ahead for an eagerly awaited event. Creation seems to comprehend that it will only be made perfect when we are.

The restoration of creation will not happen apart from the revelation of the sons of God. In the everyday world, it is impossible to tell with certainty who is a child of God. We cannot read hearts. But who is and who is not among the “sons of God” will become public knowledge only on Judgment Day.

The apostle explains, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). Creation is eagerly waiting Judgment Day, when believers will be identified, because that day correlates closely with its own release from “futility.” Creation is frustrated because its original goodness is diminished by man’s fall into sin. Ever since that time, there has been a constant deterioration. Creation is in “bondage to decay” through no fault of its own.

So, how did creation end up in this situation? Not willingly, Paul says; instead, it was subjected. The one who subjected creation is not explicitly identified here. Some propose Adam or Satan. But Genesis 3:17-18 provides the answer. There the Lord God tells Adam: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.”

This subjecting of creation to futility happened in the fall into sin. But Adam is not the one who is doing the subjecting. Rather, God is the one. Through Adam, sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12) but it is God who subjected creation to futility. It was God’s will to curse the earth and have it produce thorns and thistles. In this way it became hard to work and such served as a constant reminder to Adam and his descendants of the seriousness of their sin. But, as Paul reminds us, suffering is also a method of hope on God’s part. It is a gift to teach us that our pains have purpose and meaning.

In expounding Psalm 6, Luther reminds us his pastoral and practical way to  remember, first and foremost, that our suffering comes from the Almighty.

In all trials and affliction man should first of all run to God; he should realize and accept the fact that everything is sent by God, whether it comes from the devil or from man. This is what the prophet does here. In this psalm he mentions his trials, but first he hurries to God and accepts these trials from Him; for this is the way to learn patience and the fear of God. But he who looks to man and does not accept these things from God becomes impatient and a despiser of God.[i]

It seems strange (even blasphemous, I know) to hold that God brings suffering into our world. But it is so. After chronicling Job’s grief, the Holy Spirit tells us that our brother was comforted “for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). Some of my fellow pastors try to “defend” God by explaining, “God doesn’t want you to suffer. It’s better to say that He allowed this to happen.” But as Luther and Psalm 6 teach us, this, too, is from God. God’s permissive will is still God’s will.

This is a very painful example of what we Lutherans call the alien work of God the Holy Spirit. His main and favorite work is to comfort us with the Good News of what the Son has done for us with His own death and resurrection. But before we will become interested at all in trusting Jesus to be our Way, He must show us beyond all doubt how lost we are, and the consequences of our sin and rebellion—both to us and to all of creation.

Creation suffers collateral damage from man’s fall into sin. It is waiting to be freed “from the bondage to decay,” something it has endured ever since Genesis 3:17-18. Creation will only be freed from, this bondage and made perfect together with us on Judgment Day when our role as God’s children is fully and finally revealed to all. In fact, we, will then be heirs of the world.

Paul’s main emphasis here is for us believers to patiently endure under suffering. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

In Old Testament times, God commanded His people to offer the first of the harvest to Him. For the believers to cheerfully offer the first of the crop to the Lord implied their trust and confidence that God would be giving them more later. As such, the “firstfruits” came to be looked at as a pledge, God’s down payment, assuring that He would give them the rest of the harvest also. Here, Paul emphasizes the firstfruits are not our offering to God, but a gift from God to us. God’s sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts as firstfruits is God’s down payment assuring us that He will also give us the rest of what He has promised.

What has He promised? Our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Our adoption is present—in baptism, God made us His son, heirs of His inheritance. But it is also future, as is “the glory which is to be revealed to us.” The longed for “not yet” aspect is the redemption of our body.

The divine solution promised by Paul—the bodily resurrection—is in marked contrast to the dominant philosophical expectations of his day, as well as those of our own modern age. Physical creation is not something to be destroyed or from which one must escape. Neither does our future redemption consist of being permanently delivered from any physical body. As creation longs for future restoration as the solution to its own present groaning and travail, so also believers yearn for the redemption of our bodies, not from them. This redemption will take place in the final resurrection on the Last Day when we are raised with glorified bodies to live with God forever in a new heaven and a new earth. That glorious hope is to strengthen us in anticipation of God’s great day at the end of the age.

From this text, we can see in astonishing clarity the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s creation. It is the kind of view that speaks to our souls and changes our perspective. The key to understanding what God has been doing in the world, and will continue to do, throughout all of world history all pivots on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God.

Man was created in the image of God and put in charge of creation. When our first parents rebelled, man lost the image of God, creation fell into disrepair—weeds and wild, poisonous and deadly. But even then, human hearts corrupt it further: “Exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave [us] up in the lusts of [our] hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of [our] bodies among ourselves, because [we] exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:24-25).

God allows this state of our self-enslavement to continue, not because the created order wanted to be like that, but He is determined to eventually—at the fulness of time—reclaim His usurped earthly kingdom and restore it. God sent the new Adam, Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind, so that we might take our place under God and over the world, worshiping the one and only Lord, and exercising glorious stewardship over the world.

The creation is not waiting to share the freedom of God’s children, as some translations imply. It is waiting to benefit when God’s justified-by-grace children are at last restored and glorified. It is waiting expectantly for the freedom it will enjoy when God gives to His adopted-through-baptism children that glory, that wise rule, and stewardship, which was always intended for those who bear God’s glorious image. It is an image perfected in the Son of God and gifted to those clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

This perspective on the created order has all kinds of implications for you and me; from the way we think about the ultimate future of the world and ourselves to our present anticipation of that final responsibility for God’s world. Going to Heaven, it turns out is not the final goal, but rather the staging ground for our glorification. This is a positive, world-affirming view, without any of the risks associated with pantheism on the one hand or the cult of environmentalism on the other. Yes, there is still evil, and mankind is the source of it in the world and the world continues to be affected by it… so it groans. But think about how hopeful Paul’s message is, how far-reaching the Gospel is: The Earth itself, into which the blood of Christ seeped, will be redeemed and renewed, just like our bodies on the day of the resurrection. God through Christ Jesus reclaims His kingdom and creation from corruption and, behold, all things are new.

In saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), Paul is not making light of your suffering. He’s not saying it is no big thing. Rather, he is saying that no matter how terrible the wages of sin you encounter in this life, the glory of the resurrection is that much indescribably better. You simply cannot imagine how great and wonderful are the blessings of eternal life that await. But they are yours.

They are yours because Christ has died to make you His.

They are yours because the Spirit safeguards them to you as He delivers repentance and grace by His Word.

They are yours because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 140). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sermons, Uncategorized

God’s Word Works

“The Sower” by Eugene Bernand

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[Jesus said:] “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

In our readings today, we have a paradox. God’s Word is all-powerful and yet can be resisted. These truths seem to contradict one another. If God’s Word is all-powerful, then it seems that it cannot be resisted. If God’s Word can be resisted, then it must not be all-powerful, right? Yet our readings today call us as Christians to believe this paradox: God’s Word is all-powerful and can be resisted.

When you hear the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, you see how God’s Word is all-powerful. Using natural imagery, Isaiah proclaims God accomplishes what God wants through His Word. “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth… so shall My Word be… it shall not return to Me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isaiah 55:10-11). God’s Word is all-powerful, and God accomplishes what He desires with it.

Yet, in the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the sower and teaches His disciples that God’s all-powerful Word can be resisted. The sower goes out to sow and some of the seeds are snatched away, some are scorched, and some are choked. Only a portion of the seed produces grain.

When you hold these two readings together, you encounter a paradox of faith. God speaks an all-powerful Word that can be resisted. This is an important paradox for us to meditate on because it helps us make sense of the tension we see in the ministry of Jesus, both in the Gospel of Matthew and in our lives today.

The seed is the Word of God. And the different kinds of ground are the different types of hearers. The seed that falls on the beaten down path and is quickly gobbled up by the birds is illustrative of the Word which is proclaimed and never received in faith. Satan comes and takes away the message about the Kingdom of God that Jesus is proclaiming and His hearers never understand it or even begin to believe it.

The shallow, rocky ground describes the person who gladly hears the Word of God and believes it. He is very enthusiastic about being received into God’s Kingdom and into membership in a Christian congregation. He expects that his Christian faith will exempt him from the troubles that other people experience in this life. He looks for success and prosperity, good health and uninterrupted happiness. (Sad to say, there are some false prophets who lure people into their church by giving them such false hopes.) But then reality strikes. Troubles, which are an inescapable part of living as sinful people in a fallen world come into this person’s life. Or hardships are inflicted upon him because of his Christian faith. Unprepared for such trials, he gives up his faith without much of a struggle.

“The Sower” by Eugene Bernand

Thorns represent “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.” The seed sown among thorns grows for a while but never really thrives. This kind of hearer is still too concerned about material things and the problems of this life. He has great difficulty trusting God to provide for all his bodily needs. He imagines that if he can only accumulate enough money and all the good things that money can buy, then he will be perfectly happy. If he gets rich and still is not happy, he imagines that the solution is to get even richer, and he never has enough. If he fails to get rich, he may still pin his hopes on what money supposedly could accomplish for him. Mammon is his god, and he becomes Mammon’s slave, so he never produces fruits of faith to glorify God.

Some of the seed falls into good soil. Some hear the Word and understand and believe it, and they produce abundant fruits of faith, such as good works, and the sharing of God’s Word with others. In this way, the seed of the Word literally is multiplied 30 or 60 or 100 times or more.

So, the parable of the sower describes the various ways in which people who hear God’s Word respond to it. We can easily see that it is an accurate description. But what is the benefit of hearing this parable? Is it just to enable us to pre-qualify our evangelism prospects? To enable us to classify people as hard or shallow or thorny ground? No, God’s Word works when and where He desires. Is the parable telling us that people are inherently different and that some simply are more receptive to the Word of God when they hear it? No, the Bible makes it very clear that by nature it is foolishness to natural man. When people hear the Gospel and believe it, it is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God. On the other hand, when some hear the Gospel and reject it, that is entirely their own fault.

That doesn’t sound reasonable or fair to our human minds, but that is what God says, and we leave it at that. Any attempts on our part to logically explain this mystery of “why some are saved and not others” only leads to our denial or rejection of other clear Bible truths. So, we simply marvel at the grace of God that saved us when we were as bad as all the rest of sinful humanity, and we look for ways to express our deep gratitude to our gracious God.

Jesus’ teaching in this parable is an important antidote to a simplistic application of “church growth” principles in our own day, principles that border on “marketing” the Church in such a way that it gives the impression that the growth of the Church is predictable and within our control. There is nothing wrong with careful long-range planning, larger parking lots, or working hard to understand the people to whom you are trying to reach out. These are good First Article gifts. But we must always remember that it is the Word of God that makes disciples. Sometimes that Word takes root and produces a harvest, often it does not.

The ministry of the Son of God Himself met with widespread rejection, animosity, and lethal opposition. Should we expect better results? The parable of the sower teaches us a sobering reality. You can be right, you can do right, and you can get it right in your participation in the ministry of Jesus, who is present as baptizing and the teaching of His Word continues—and still for many, many people to whom you minister, there will be no faith, no understanding, no discipleship. God has to give the revelation to the people, and they have to keep their eyes and ears, heart and mind open.

So, this paradox Jesus offers His disciples, that God has an all-powerful Word which can be resisted, is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a spiritual reality. They have seen the Word of God cast out demons, still storms, and heal withered hands, but they have also seen the powers of government, religious institution, and indeed the Devil himself oppose such work. How are they to respond? In this parable, Jesus offers an encouraging word: God’s Word works, even in the face of opposition. God’s Word will bear fruit.

Such words are powerful for us today. Christianity no longer has the status it once had in our cultural setting. While some might remember the good God has done through the Church, others attack our beliefs as destructive of a common, public life. In newsfeeds and Facebook posts, they make accusations that Christianity has been used to subjugate women, to silence science, to foster racism, to fuel homophobia, or that is has been used to cultivate self-loathing and a lack of initiative through calls for repentance and humility. Such responses demonstrate hearts that resist the words and works of Jesus.

In such a world, it is easy to wonder how long we can go on. Jesus, however, offers us an encouraging word. His parable acknowledges our reality. God’s Word can and will be resisted. We are not missing the right communication techniques, the appropriate public relations programs, or the gifted evangelists and missionaries who will turn everything around. No, we proclaim an all-powerful Word that can be resisted. And we know in our own lives, in great detail, the power of such resistance.

But… Jesus reminds us… but God does have an all-powerful Word. Rather than retreat into the safe havens of our congregations, rather than hide our faith from public notice, Jesus encourages us to trust in the Spirit’s work through the Word. Even through this Word can be resisted, it remains all-powerful and will accomplish the growth God desires in His Kingdom.

Jesus is the Word made flesh, who encountered deadly resistance. He died under the attacks of this world upon God’s Word. But God raised Him from the dead and Jesus sent forth His people proclaiming His Word, bringing the Kingdom of God to the ends of the world. We cannot control the resistance of people to God’s Word, but we can trust in God’s power and promise to work through His Word. We can continue to joyfully sow that Word here and abroad.

So, this parable of the sower does not call us to turn our attention inward, to examine our hearts and question, “What kind of soil am I?” No, this parable turns our eyes outward, to the public conflicts of our world. It asks us to look out the windows of our churches and see how the Word is being stolen from some by Satan, how it is being scorched among others who begin to follow but fall away, and how it is being choked out by those who would rather have the pleasures of plenty than the poverty of the Kingdom.

But if we continue to look out the windows and see all the suffering and resistance, we will soon see a familiar figure walking on the distant horizon. Jesus, the sower, continuing to walk amid such great opposition, and continuing to speak His Word and do His work, trusting that, even though it is being resisted, this is still God’s all-powerful Word and it brings about His Kingdom, where and when God desires.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Hidden from the Wise, Revealed to Little Children

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At that time Jesus declared, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When our grandson, Abbott, was quite a bit smaller—about two years old—Aimee and I would take him along on our walks through Dunham Park. On one occasion, he insisted on bringing along one of his toys. Planning on walking at least three miles and knowing he would probably get tired before we got back, we tried to persuade him not to bring along the extra load. But it was to no avail. So, we took off, with Abbott carrying his special toy that he felt was so necessary to bring along. We figured he would have to learn the lesson for himself.

It took a while for our suspicions that his (in our view, unnecessary) burden would soon become too heavy for him to materialize. For someone with so much shorter legs, he really kept pace with us. For a while it even looked like he might make it the whole way. At about the 2 ½ mile mark though, he pulled up short. His chubby cheeks were bright red, sweat was glistening off his forehead. He said, “Papa, can you take this for me?” I said, “No, you wanted to bring it with us even when we told you that you should leave it home, so you’re going to have to carry it.”

But I could see that he was really hot and tired. So, I told him to hold on to the toy and I picked him up, put him on my shoulders, and we walked all the rest of the way back home. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed every minute, every step. I guess you could say at that point it was a labor of love. Abbott carried his load (the toy) and I carried him and his load. But it didn’t happen until Abbott realized his own limitations. He needed to find out that perhaps he wasn’t as big or strong as he thought he was, to admit he needed help, and then to turn to the one he know could help him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but there is something like this going on in our text for today. Jesus is calling all who are weary and heavy-laden to come and follow Him. In reality, that is each of us. Each of us are weary and heavy-laden, weighed down the burden of our own sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world. We are all “little children” in being utterly dependent on God to save us.

But we don’t always recognize it. We aren’t always willing to admit our sin or our limitations. The world has taught us the importance of self-sufficiency, of carrying our own weight, handling our own problems. That strategy generally works best for us in the kingdoms of this world, but it doesn’t go far in the Kingdom of God. There, it is those who realize their own limitations, who realize their neediness, and the insufficiency of worldly wisdom, those with a childlike faith, who are the ones who find true strength and wisdom in Jesus Christ.   

Which brings us back to our Lord’s words: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Jesus makes this faithful confession after a sermon to the multitudes who have been carefully catechized by the Pharisees and their own sinful natures. They’ve been trained to believe that salvation works just like daily life. Since nothing comes from nothing, you’ve got to work hard to get to heaven, and every mistake is going to cost you dearly. Success isn’t guaranteed, and you may not be righteous like the Pharisees.

Remember, too, that there’s always more to do. The job of salvation isn’t ever done, so keep working hard. That’s why the Pharisees continually load down the people with demands. That’s why they instruct the people on how to walk, what to eat, even how much makes for a proper tithe of herbs. For the shakers, movers, and haves, the system seems to work. There are successful people who seem to be keeping the rules, and this is supposed to motivate everyone else to try. Some will try to be self-righteous. A lot more will give up and stop trying, because there’s only so much room at the top.

So much religion is run this way, sadly, even under the guise of Christianity. The Gospel is pictured as one more pursuit of excellence. If you’re wise enough and dedicated enough then you can develop a solid faith and a mature relationship with Jesus. You get out of it what you put into it. It makes sense—but it’s wrong.

This is why Jesus declares that salvation has been revealed to little children. The little children are the ones of any age who treat religion like a little kid: they are believers who are there to be given to. They are there to be fed with forgiveness. They’re there to be clothed in righteousness. They’re there to be taken places, namely the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re quite happy, like a child, to say to the Savior, “You’ve done all the work, and I’m happy to receive the benefits.”

That doesn’t work in daily life, but that’s the Gospel. You and I have eternal life because Jesus has done all the work by His life and death and resurrection. He’s lived the perfect life for you. He’s died on the cross for your sins. He’s risen from the dead in order to raise you up and give you everlasting life. He’s even ascended into heaven to prepare the way for your ascent into heaven. He doesn’t say, “Work hard, and if you do well enough I’ll save you.” No, instead He declares this: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

  “Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who tenderly picks up a tired child while at the same time inviting him, “Come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to rest in the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. But they’ll never make it.

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. Jesus does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

Daily living is enough of a challenge for you and me. Rather than seeking to make salvation work the same way, you and I ought rightly say, “In everything I do in daily life, there is always more to do and I can never get it done, especially not perfectly. This accuses me. It shows me my limitations and failings, and it teaches me that if salvation works the same way, then I am surely lost. Therefore, rather than seek to earn my way to heaven, I will simply confess my sins and give thanks that Jesus has earned my way to heaven for me. Rather than seek to wisely and prudently earn my salvation, I will instead be a child who rejoices to be taken care of, to be given to.”

Now, be careful. There is no greater joy than being a little child in the arms of the Savior, who delights to give you all good things. But, before you know it, your sinful nature will twist this around and say, “Did you hear that sermon? The pastor said that you don’t have to do anything, so go ahead and do whatever you want. The pastor said that being a Christian isn’t about how hard you work to build a strong relationship with God, so forget that stuff like reading the Bible and receiving the Sacraments.” Old Adam is highly skilled at hearing only what he wants, so do not be deceived.

A little child delights to be given to. A little child delights to be fed and clothed and taken places. But if the child refuses to eat, he grows weak and sick. If the child goes and hides so his parents can’t find him, then he can’t be fed or clothed or taken places. The Christian who does not often hear God’s Word and receive His Supper is not boldly demonstrating that He is saved by grace; he’s being a child who runs away and refuses to eat. Do not be such a child. Instead, rejoice that the Lord visits you time and time again, giving you forgiveness, clothing you in righteousness, promising the kingdom of heaven.

Life is a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He give it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. May your struggles and setbacks in life serve to give you this joy: that while you must labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That rest and salvation are yours in Christ. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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