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The King Was Dead; Long Live the King!

“St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost”
by Benjamin West

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

If you read the bulletin carefully, you may have noted the title of this sermon: The King Was Dead; Long Live the King! It is a slight variation on the traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch to the throne: “The king is dead; long live the king!” This seemingly contradictory phrase is used to simultaneously announce the death of the previous monarch and assure the public of continuity and governmental stability by saluting the new monarch who has immediately assumed the throne at the moment of the predecessor’s death.

In this case, I’m using the past tense on the first phrase to emphasize an important point that Peter makes in his Pentecost sermon: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24).

The King was dead. God raised Him up. Long live the risen King!

The sermon itself is both short and extraordinary. It proclaims Jesus Christ to people who do not know Him. Oh, they know about Him, but they don’t really know Him. They don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Peter, standing with the eleven, lifts up his voice and addresses the crowd: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Peter reminds his fellow Jews of something they already know: God had acted through Jesus and His miraculous signs. Those works, says Peter, were God’s certification that Jesus came from God and did God’s work. Those works bore witness that Jesus’ message was God’s message. They attested to the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Israel’s hope, the King of the Jews.

“But you put Jesus to death,” Peter charges. “You handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified, a horrible, cursed death, reserved only for the worst of criminals.” Yet none of this could have happened if it had not been “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The men who crucified Jesus were responsible for what they did. But their sinful actions served God’s purpose to offer His Son for the sins of the world, an essential part of His plan of salvation.

Peter’s words are a hard saying. God’s people had rejected and killed God’s Anointed One. But “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for He is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’” Filled with joy and hope, David is confident that as one of God’s “holy ones,” the Lord will raise him up on the Last Day and he will enjoy eternal life with His Lord.

But this prophecy will not have its final fulfillment in David. “David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kings 2:10). If his tomb had been opened, it would have shown that his body had decayed. But before he died, God had promised David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12–13). Every Jew knew that that “offspring” is the promised Messiah, and Peter invites them to conclude that the “Holy One” whose body would not see decay is also the Messiah.

To make sure they do not miss the point, Peter goes on more specifically: “[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32).

David had prophetic knowledge that His holy descendant would rise from death. Peter and his fellow apostles had firsthand knowledge, historical knowledge. They had seen the risen Christ, spoken with Him, eaten with Him. More than five hundred people had seen the resurrected Lord at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). “God has raised this Jesus to life.” The King was dead; long live the King!

“God has raised this Jesus to life” was the heart of the message the apostles preached in all of the world and the one they recorded in the New Testament. It is the foundation of our faith. Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for our sins, and God raised Him to life to declare that the sacrifice was accepted. He died to destroy the devil, and God raised Him to life to declare that hell has been defeated.

The King was dead; long live the King!

Jesus’ ministry and reign continues and will go on forever. What the crowd is seeing at that moment is a manifestation of this. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

The people put Jesus to death, but God exalted Him to His right hand. That is, Christ exercises the power of God and enjoys the honor of God. What He had from eternity according to His divine nature He now has and uses according to His human nature as well. As such, Christ has the authority to send the Spirit to testify about Him and to equip His apostles to testify about Him (John 15:26-27), to guide them into all truth (John 16:13).

Notice that all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned here, separately and distinctly, a wonderful text for this Sunday of the Holy Trinity.    

Again Peter quotes David, this time from Psalm 110:1. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

David did not ascend to heaven, so his words must have their ultimate fulfillment in Him who did ascend. Just as Psalm 16:8-11 was a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection, so this verse is a prophecy of His exaltation. The Lord promises to give His Son victory over His enemies. That is the meaning of the picture of the footstool, for it was the custom of victorious kings to place their feet on the necks of those whom they conquered. God has given Jesus power and authority to subdue our greatest enemies—sin and death and Satan. The Son of God hid His power when He came as a servant. Now the work of redemption is completed and God has exalted him to His right hand.” The sending of the Spirit is a sign that this is so. The final manifestation of this victory will occur on the day of judgment.

Peter closes strong: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The King was dead; long live the King!

The Holy Spirit does His work through Peter’s sermon. He brings the people to realize that they have earned God’s judgment. They don’t say, “We didn’t crucify Him.” They don’t say, “He is not the Christ.” They don’t not say again, “You have had too much wine.” They are cut to the heart and ask: “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Can you imagine what would happen if they asked if they asked that question of anybody else on earth? You could pick any time in history, any place on earth. What would people say if they were asked, “What shall we do?”

What if we asked that question of the great religions of the world? Those to the west of Jerusalem would mostly say one must live the most pure and devoted life possible, so in the final judgment the good deeds might outweigh the bad ones.

Those religions to the east of him might warn that the repercussions of their guilt would take many generations, many lives to purge. But little by little one can strive to redress the evil with acts of love or meditation or simple suffering, and finally there could be escape from it.

We could turn from religion to philosophy. Pose the question to the existentialists of the last century and perhaps they would tell you how killing the Christ is an inevitable part of the human condition, and finally nothing can be done, except in the choices one makes and the person one is becoming.

Ask, if you like, the man in the street, what can be done to compensate for our wrongdoing. Mostly you will hear how one should do one’s best, live the best one can, and try to get over the destructive sense of guilt.

Ask a Muslim and, of course, he’ll say Jesus was never actually crucified.

If the men of Jerusalem had asked their question of anyone else, the answers would all have this in common: they would tell you to look within yourself and to make your very best effort to be the best you can. They would probably never say, “You can do nothing, but something can be done to you.”

This is exactly what Peter says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Confronted with the truth of God, already the hearers were cut to the heart. They did not reach the conclusion of themselves. The Law of God worked within them, accusing them and condemning them, and bringing them to repentance. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to illuminate the Law in human hearts and minds and, “to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This, however, is no cure. To know the problem is not to solve it. So, Peter goes on, “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is where the answer Peter gives stands apart from what anyone else would be able to offer—the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s advice is not to go and do something, but that something must be done to us. Namely, to be baptized. The action here is entirely from the Triune God towards us, and this is what sets it apart from every religion and philosophy as Gospel, good news, as opposed to religious obligation.

St. Peter’s words also apply to us. Not, of course, that we have crucified Christ, save for our sin and our treasonous heart, for which He died. So, crucifying Christ is the crime of humanity, not just of history. I daresay most, if not all, of the people in attendance that Pentecost had no direct part in Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet Peter told them, “You did it.” They were spiritually implicated, and so are we.

But just as the condemnation embraces us even now, so too does the remedy and the promise. There are two aspects of the promise, in particular. The one is forgiveness of sins. The second aspect is tethered to it, as Martin Luther says: “Where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism). This is what Peter says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So not only is sin removed, something is also given. In your Baptism you received the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the gift that is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has made you His own and knows you by name. He will return in glory for judgment—to declare you righteous for His own sake and to deliver you to eternal life. In the meantime, by the work of the Holy Spirit, your King returns in His Word and Sacraments to forgive your sins and keep you His.

The King was dead; long live the King! Because of His cross, 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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Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand

Trinity Bulletin Cover

Our theme for the 125th anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church is “Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand,” based upon the hymn of the same name. Admittedly, it is not a very original theme—other congregations, including this one, have used it before—but it is hard to think of a more appropriate theme. Trinity Lutheran Church in Jasper, Minnesota is built on rock. The building itself literally rests on the quartzite rock that is so abundant in the area. The foundation of the church building is made of this rock. More importantly, Trinity Lutheran Church in built upon the Rock, Christ Jesus Himself. He is the foundation of His Church of which this congregation is a part, and we are to build upon Him and His Word. Throughout her long history, the faithful pastors and parishioners of this congregation have proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners in this community—in good times and in bad.

As I write this article, news has just come out of a huge fire at the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. While it seems they were able to save most of the structure and contents, the roof made of wood dried by the centuries was completely burned up and destroyed. The steeples and spires crumbled and fell. Regarding this catastrophe, one of my friends, Kelly Klages, reflected:

Preserve and conserve what you can. Don’t assume that what you take for granted will always be there, especially if it is neglected and unvalued. It takes the blink of an eye for a fickle bit of wind to change, and the effects can be devastating and irreversible. Say no to apathy. This is especially true for the things of faith. It is true for your own church and your own congregation.

This advice seems especially fitting on the occasion of Trinity’s 125th anniversary. Early in its history, this congregation experienced a devastating fire that destroyed the entire building. But within months, the people of this congregation had already built and dedicated the structure that we worship in today. It is important to look back and preserve the history and memories of a congregation and its people. We cannot assume that this church—the building or the congregation—will be around forever. But it is even more important is for us to remember why Trinity Lutheran Church was founded, why it was rebuilt, and why it continues to serve God’s people in this community.

Just before He ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus gave His disciples a mission and command: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church of all times and all places is sent out to share the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ with the world, beginning at home. Toward this end the Lord gives us His Word and Sacraments. As you can see from the lists of baptisms, confirmations, Christian marriages, and Christian burials, the pastors and people of Trinity have been diligently at this work throughout the years. Many souls have been brought into the kingdom of God through water and Word. Many men, women, and children have been nurtured in the faith through God’s Word preached and taught in its purity, and many repentant sinners have received Christ’s body and blood given in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion for the forgiveness of their sins.

When you look back at the pictures from the history of Trinity, it might be easy to wistfully desire “the good ol’ days.” You see the pictures from the days when the pews were all full and the Sunday School and choir were bursting at the seams. You see pictures of young men and women who have moved away. I know it’s easy to think of that as Trinity’s loss, but I prefer to think of it as the kingdom’s gain. Many of those young men and women have gone on to be active members and leaders in other congregations across the state, the country, and even in different places in the world. Much like parents raise up their children to be responsible, godly adults so they can one day leave the nest and establish their own home, this congregation has raised up many men and women who serve the Lord and their neighbor in other locations in the ways that were taught and had modeled here at Trinity.

As for the future: How long will Trinity Lutheran Church be here? Nobody, but God knows. That’s true for all of us. But we do have Christ’s promise that as long as He sees fit to have His name proclaimed in this location, He will be with us. “Were we but two His name to tell, Yet He would deign with us to dwell With all His grace and favor” (LSB #645, v 3). We are not called to certain achievements or earthly goals; we are simply called to be faithful. Let this, then, be our prayer:

Grant then, O God, Your will be done,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
“I know My own; My own know Me.
You, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you always.” (LSB #645, v 5).

In Christ,

Pastor Robert E. Moeller, Jr.

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The Gracious Heart of Jesus

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:20-21)

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

According to John, it was the last thing Jesus said in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. After teaching His disciples many things about Himself, the world, and things to come, Jesus concludes His last evening with His disciples in prayer to the Father. And He concludes His prayer with the words in this text. As the saying goes, you can learn a lot about a man by listening in on his prayer. I would submit to you that you can learn so much more listening to the prayer of a man who knows that he will soon die.

And Jesus is headed to meet His death. In the next verse after our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus goes with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, who betrays Him, leads a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees to meet Jesus and to arrest Him.

What can we learn about Jesus through this prayer? It helps to pay close attention to the details. Notice that in these final petitions, Jesus isn’t praying for the world. Neither is He praying for the disciples. No, in our text, Jesus is praying for those who would believe in Him through the apostolic Word. In other words, He is praying for you, me, this congregation, the whole Church.

What does Jesus ask the Father? What does He want for (and from) us who follow Him? We find that in three clauses in verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Jesus first prays that all believers may be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s really close! But that’s not all. Jesus also prays that these believers would be “in us.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t only desire for His people to be close to each other, but also close to Him and the Father. Indeed, the only real unity is unity around and in the triune God. Those first two clauses beginning with “that” help us understand the content of Jesus’ prayer.

But the third clause, the one that begins “so that” does something else. It is a purpose clause, and it points to the ends of this unity. Jesus desires that, through Christian unity, the world might believe that He was sent by the Father. Note that Jesus doesn’t pray for the world directly. Instead, He prays for the world through the unity of His people. The unity of the Church is a witness to the world. It is fundamental to the Church’s mission.

But an honest reflection would show that Christian unity is lacking these days. There’s the fragmentation of the Church into so many denominations—even so many church bodies that claim Lutheran heritage. There’s the biting and devouring that takes place between members of our own denomination. Closer to home, we may find the temptation to think only of our own congregation’s wants and ignore the need of the larger body of Christ. Or a lack of concern individual members of our congregation have for one another. Each of these hurt our Christian witness to the world. But they also hurt our fellow saints.

In a most perverse way, the devil will use affliction to tempt you away from God. We should know better: it was the afflicted and downtrodden whom Jesus especially sought out, who most joyously heard His Word because they knew this world only breaks you eventually. Sometimes, the hits keep on coming in the form of sickness, injury, financial loss, family troubles, grief, and more. Satan will use them to make you curl up in a ball in the corner, to turn your face to the wall—to separate yourself from sadness. That’s where isolation happens—divided from Christ and His body, the Church. The devil works hard at this one, because he knows how comforting the Gospel will be if you hear it at such a time. Remember that the Lord is your strength, and it is in His means of grace that He delivers grace and life to sustain you—even in the worst of trials.

This is a time when Christians often fail each other: when people are afflicted, the temptation is to leave them alone—because we don’t know what to say, we want to “give them space,” or because being with sad people makes us uncomfortable. The same is true for those who, because of health, can no longer make it to church. It’s a lonely existence. The inaction of others leaves the one who suffers isolated and alone—and the devil will use that to convince them that they are separated from God, too; that they are no longer part of the “one in Christ.” The Lord uses us as His hands and voice: let us not cease in visiting and caring for those who are in deep distress. And let’s not be afraid to let others know our needs.

If Jesus is all about restoring oneness, then the devil is going to be all about fostering division. That is what sin does: it divides. It shatters. It fragments and isolates. Plenty of sins divide and separate. Pride will have you alone on your pedestal, considering others below you and not worth your time. Greed will have you gather possessions to yourself, not friends or family. Lust will have you view others as objects to be used, not as fellow people for whom Christ has died. Many sins entice you to hide in a room with your sin, all alone. They work to destroy friendships, marriages, families, and congregations by division and subtraction.

All of that separation is awful enough, but it distracts us from what is worse: sin separates you, divides you from God. It keeps you unholy, and an unholy you cannot be one with your holy Savior. If you cannot be one with Him, all that is left is the ultimate, eternal separation of death and hell

It’s a problem that’s been going on ever since the Fall in the Garden. The Bible tells us that the first Church was in perfect unity with God and with one another. Adam and Eve were perfect, sinless, and holy. Furthermore, they were created in the image of God. Because God is righteous, they were righteous too. They reflected His glory. Furthermore, they could be in His presence. They could walk with God in the Garden. They could look upon His face. There was no shame, no guilt that would make them run away and hide.

Sin changed all that. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin and heard God walking in the Garden, they ran and hid from Him. When He asked what they had done, they blamed Him and each other. They were no longer one with God. They would no longer be as one with each other, because they would always have selfish, ulterior motives in dealing with one another. Because of their sin, God cast them out of the Garden, away from the tree of life—but not before He promised that the Savior would come and deliver them from death and devil. The Savior would come and reverse the curse of sin. He would bring people back to God by removing their unrighteous sin and make them holy once again.

The Savior is Jesus, the One praying in the Gospel. Remember what happens next: Jesus will be arrested and hauled out of the Garden of Gethsemane. He’ll be put on trial and sentenced to death for being guiltless. Then He’ll be taken from the city to the Place of the Skull, and He’ll be crucified.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. When the Passion of our Lord begins, He’s removed from a garden, too—because of His holiness. Where Adam was sentenced to death by God because of His guilt, Jesus is sentenced to death by man because of His innocence. Where God grieved at the sin and separation brought about by Adam, man rejoices to be separated from the Son of God when He dies on Calvary.

Jesus is undoing what Adam did. He’s taking Adam’s place to undergo Adam’s punishment: not just physical death, but far worse. He’s fully forsaken by God on the cross. That’s what it means when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son of God—one with the Father from eternity—suffers the ultimate separation from oneness with the Father. In other words, He suffers hell on the cross before He is restored to His Father again.

All of this lies less than a day away as Jesus prays this prayer; and listen again to what He prays about you: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). Jesus prays that you would be one with God and one another again, like Adam and Eve before the Fall into sin.

 In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the gracious heart of Jesus. Not only does He desire unity in the Church and unity with God. He does what it takes to make it happen. You see, there’s only one way for that prayer to be answered, and that is for Jesus to suffer the ultimate separation from God in your place. That’s what the cross is about. For Christ, separation and condemnation. For you, redemption. Restoration. Reconciliation. One with God and one another again.

Look around you here, and you will see a miraculous gathering of people. Not many in numbers, certainly; but more than that first two-member congregation. The Lord Himself has gathered you together, and it is He who keeps you together—who keeps you one with one another, His whole Church, and Himself. And He tells you how He does in our Gospel for today.

In His prayer, Jesus calls you “those who believe in Me through [the apostles’] Word.” He’s given you His Word, and His Word makes and keeps you one. Faith comes by hearing His Word, which He gave to us through His prophets and apostles. His Word is the means to gather us together, and His Word is His means to keep us together, one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins of ignoring His Word in favor of our sinful, divisive desires.

Jesus has given you His glory. He prays to His Father, “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one.” The glory of Jesus is foremost the cross, for that is the ultimate act of love for us, that is where we best see the gracious heart of Jesus.

Jesus has given His cross to you and it didn’t hurt you any more than three quick splashes of water. In Baptism, Jesus joined you to His cross, His death and resurrection. Without that, you’d have to die your own death for sin, isolated from God forever. But because He’s shared the glory of His cross with you, you are now one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins that would separate us from His life and lead us death, for Christ has opened to us the way of salvation.

Furthermore, Jesus prays, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus has made His name known to you: He has made known to you that He is the Savior of all nations, forgiving you all of your sins. He’s put His name on you—marked you as His own! You are not left as individuals trying to find your way to an unknown God through any variety of religions. And with His name, the Lord has also made known to you His will. He tells you that He has gathered you in, forgiven your sins, made you one with Him by His sacrifice. That’s why we gladly repent and confess our pursuits of other gods that cannot save, including our own desires and wishes, for salvation is found in Christ.

Jesus has given us His Word, His glory, and His name. It is in these gifts that we best see the gracious heart of Jesus for you and me. It is by these gifts that He has made us one. It is by these gifts that He keeps us one.

I give great thanks this day, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to be united in Him and with you. This is all the Lord’s doing, and so you can be sure: you are one with His body, the Church, and one with Christ: for His Word, His glory, and His name are all summed up in these words: 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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Seated in the Heavenly Places: The Ascension of Our Lord

“Ascension of Christ” by Benevuto Tisi

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:15–23).

 

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You Have to Walk Before You Can Run

You have to walk before you run.

Recently I was reminded of the wisdom of that old saying as I’ve been trying to get back to running on a regular basis. While being a pastor is work, it is obviously not physically active work, so I need to intentionally set aside time to exercise. Because it seems there are always more things for me to do than I have time, I must look for balance between work, family, and play, and make exercise a priority. For me, running seems to be the best fit. I can burn a lot of calories in a fairly short time. I can do it according to my own schedule. I don’t need a lot of extra equipment. It gets me outside. And I actually feel good when I get done.

I never intended to run in the first place. I started walking with Aimee because it was a good chance to spend time with her and we could get a nice discount on our health insurance. We needed to walk 150 minutes (or 50,000 steps) a week. So, we planned to walk for 3 miles, three times a week. After a while we were covering more than three miles in the 50-minute time period, so we stretched the distance. Then we extended the time. Then we started going five times a week. On days we couldn’t walk outside we used the treadmills in our apartment.

One day, I thought to myself, “I think I could run for a while.” I ran for about a half mile and then walked, ran for another half a mile and completed four miles. After a few days of this, I decided to see if I could go for a whole mile without stopping. It didn’t take long and I found that I could run for three miles without a break for walking. Since that time, I’ve always found the first mile of every run to be the most difficult. Once I make it past one mile it is surprising how far I could go. At my peak I could run 13 miles at a 9 minute 30 second per mile pace and 3 miles at an 8 minute per mile pace, not world-class performance, but respectable for someone in his upper 50s.

I didn’t realize how hard it is to do this, until I got away from it from awhile and tried to start back up. When I began to run a few years ago, I had no expectations, so I worked my way slowly and gradually. It was easy to see each little improvement as an accomplishment. Now, I remember what I could do at my peak, and it’s frustrating to think that I can’t do that now. I have to admit I also feel a bit guilty about taking my fitness for granted and letting all the progress slip away. Now, I’m tempted to push too hard before my body is ready for more speed and distance. So far, I have not given in to that temptation and have avoided hurting myself. I can start to feel my leg muscles and lungs getting stronger. After a little more than a month, I cover about 30 miles a week and run about a third of that time. And I keep reminding myself: “You have to walk, before you can run.”

Now, I know you’ve heard more than enough about me. But I use myself as an example, not because I’m doing something special, rather because I understand struggling to establish healthy routines and habits. And it occurred to me, that this may have application for many of us in our spiritual disciplines like daily prayer or devotions or Bible study or worship.

Maybe you’ve never really done any of these things. Maybe you do all of them regularly. Maybe you used to do one or more of these, but you’ve fallen away from it. Maybe you would like to establish or re-establish one or more of these disciplines in your daily routine, but you’re not sure how. Maybe you feel guilty for failing to appreciate or losing what you once had.

I would offer a couple of suggestions:

  • It’s a matter of priorities and balance. You have to intentionally set a regular time and do it even when you have other important things to do. Nothing is more important than your spiritual health and well-being.
  • Start slowly. You have to walk before you can run. If you haven’t been having personal daily devotions, start with a short Bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer. After a while you can add a short devotional. Don’t bite off more than you can handle, or you’ll end up frustrated.
  • Don’t be afraid of trying something new! Afraid to come to Bible study because you might not know as much as the other participants? Don’t be! All of us start as beginners, and even the most advanced biblical scholars will tell you that they’re always learning something new. Often that’s because someone new has asked a question that has gotten them to think about a teaching or passage in a new way.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure! If you miss a day or two, start back up. You can’t do much about what has happened yesterday, but you can do something about today.
  • Always remember: The first mile is the toughest. Once you get a good start the rest of it goes much easier.
  • Enjoy your time in your spiritual discipline. Find what works best for you and do it with joy. What could be better than growing in the wisdom and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? What could be better than spending some time alone with your Savior or in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ!

                                                                                                Pastor Moeller

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Two Big Promises

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[Jesus said:] “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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

Jesus makes two big promises that Christians need to hear. The latter is more popular and, at first glance, more comforting. It is the kind of promise that people put on the signature line of their emails or make into memes on Facebook or Instagram. The former is just as certain, however, and equally significant, but in a different way.

Jesus spoke these two big promises to His disciples in the Upper Room just before His death and resurrection, but they apply to all followers of Christ.

We’ll start with the first promise: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

Jesus begins by talking about the world. He said a lot about the world in the Upper Room that night: it cannot receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:7); it does not give peace as Jesus gives (John 14:27); it hates Jesus and will therefore hate His disciples (John 15:18); Christians are not “of the world” and are chosen “out of the world” (John 15:19); the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:11); and the world will rejoice while the disciples weep and lament (John 16:20). Then comes John 16:33, where Jesus promises His disciples that in the world they will have tribulation.

The word translated “tribulation” has both a literal and a figurative meaning. In the literal sense it means physical pressure. This pressure is not the good kind. Think pressure cooker or hydraulic press. The kind of pressure you experience when life squeezes you or when circumstances beyond your control press down on you. It is when the weight of the world bears down and threatens to crush you. Christians should expect this kind of pressure from the world.

When you are not experiencing this kind of tribulation, the promise of “you will have tribulation” hardly seems comforting. It seems almost threatening—at least disconcerting. But when you are in the midst of it—when the pressure of this world is bearing down on you—it is comforting to know it has not caught God unawares. It is comforting to know God has not abandoned you. Indeed, experiencing the unpleasant fulfillment of this first promise drives us toward dependence on the second promise: “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

This is not the first time Jesus told people to “take heart.” He said the same to the disciples during the storm at sea (Mark 6:50), to the paralytic in Capernaum (Matthew 9:2), and to the bleeding woman who touched the fringe of His garment (Matthew 9:22). Those who follow Jesus are to be “always of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) even amid extreme pressure.

On what basis? On the basis of His victory. He has overcome the world which opposes Him. Note the verb tense. “I have overcome.” When Jesus makes this promise, it is before Easter. Even before He rises from the dead, Jesus has overcome the world. His resurrection confirms His lordship of the world opposing Him. This is no small thing, for it reminds us how His victory over the ongoing pressures we face is already completed, even before we finish enduring them.

The disciples are going to need these comforting promises of Jesus. Though they confidently claim that they understand Jesus’ parting words, Jesus utters the sober prediction that they will soon abandon Him. The time is coming when their faith will undergo a severe test, a test they will fail miserably. When push comes to shove, when the going gets tough, they will all scatter, each going his own way. They will leave Jesus alone in His darkest hour. But Jesus will overcome.

In a very short time, Jesus will face and overcome tribulation greater than any of His disciples will ever face. In great fear of death, He will sweat blood on the Mount of Olives. He will be abandoned by all His disciples. He will willingly give Himself into the hands of those who will lead Him mercilessly, bound hard and cruel, from one unjust judge to another. He will be falsely accused and condemned, spit upon, scoffed at, and struck in the face with fists. He will be hit, whipped, crowned with thorns, and treated wretchedly—like a worm and not a man. He will be counted a sinner and hung up between two evildoers as a curse. He will be pierced in hand and feet with nails, and in His highest thirst He will be given vinegar and gall to drink. Finally, in great pain, He will give up His spirit.

All of this Jesus will do for you and me, so that He might redeem us poor and condemned creatures, not by any of our works, merit, or worthiness, but by His holy suffering, death, and shedding of blood. So that He might pay our debt and we might be healed by His wounds. So that He might overcome sin, death, and the world on our behalf.

Let us heed the warning: Pride goes before a fall. Those boasting about spiritual maturity stand in danger of succumbing to human pride and unbelief. And none of us are immune. The devil and the world seek to scare us or ensnare us. And our old Adam is all too often a willing ally.

It’s no secret that it’s not easy to be a Christian these days. Millions of Christians across the world are experiencing persecution. Thousands are martyred each year. While we need not meet in secret, and none of us here has yet shed his or her blood due to tribulation, the time of being in the majority—if not in numbers, at least in cultural and political influence—is past. We are living in what some call a post-Christian era. Politicians used to at least give lip-service to Christians and Christianity; now some openly mock us or chastise us. A few of them go so far as to insist that they are the true Christians, and that we who hold to biblical teachings regarding the sanctity of marriage and human life are unloving and teaching falsely. For most of us, we are in completely new territory.

What are Christians to do, scattered throughout a pagan world that seems to thrive on hatred, violence, and oppression? What are Christians to do when we feel we are a minority, out of place, out of step, out of time? With the world falling apart all around us, what are scattered Christians to do?

Two common responses of Christians to the world’s attacks is withdrawal or compromise. Both are toxic because both acts reject the vocation and intellectual inheritance handed down to us. The act of withdrawal contracts Christianity leading to apathy or elitism, whereas compromise reinterprets Christian doctrine according to the ways of thinking currently in vogue. Withdrawal and compromise are inconsistent with biblical Christian living. Withdrawal denies that the Christian life is to be lived out in our vocations, lived out in the world, not of the world, nor separated from it. Compromise ultimately denies Christ and Him crucified for a world of sinners.

Dr. Peter J. Scaer had this to say about that in an online essay entitled “Double Down”:

For years, the American church has been in decline, and for a good number of reasons. My own best guess is that prosperity isn’t good for the soul. The more we have, the less God is needed. Or so we think. And so, what have we done? Well, we seek to make the Church more like the world that surrounds us. The Church becomes less a sanctuary, more a motivational center. The hymns are replaced with praise songs, not so much light, but flimsy. Fellow Lutherans have a hard time finding a decent church, one that has reverence, one that uses the liturgy, and sings hymns that fortify.

And still we wonder, what should we do? I would say, enough with the retreating, and the self-doubt. Enough we trying to be what we are not. What should we do? Double down. Double down on Lutheranism. Double down on our confession. Double down on hymnody and liturgy. As the world grows darker, the Church must be salt and light. Salt that loses its saltiness is good for nothing. And the greater the darkness, the greater the light that still shines.

And if the world is hell bent on spreading lies, let’s be heaven bent on speaking the truth, even and especially when it’s under assault. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” says our Lord. And as often as we do, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. So it is, we are memory keepers. We hold sacred the Scriptures that uphold us. One thing is expected of a steward, and that is faithfulness. And he who is faithful to the end will be saved. No gimmicks, no rebranding, no euphemisms, or treating the truth as if a distasteful vegetable that needs to be hidden under a fatty and sugary sauce.

So, dust off those hymnals, those catechisms and Bibles, and together, let’s double down on the faith of our fathers, the one thing needful.

What should the Church do in the face of declining interest and increasing opposition? Not new strategies or promotions, but more of what she’s done for centuries—the basics of faithful Word and Sacrament ministry.

Let’s be making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20).

Let’s live in the benefits of our Baptism, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Let’s put to death the Old Adam in us by daily contrition and repentance, that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Let’s live in the new life of the Spirit, loving the Lord our God with all our heart and all of our strength and with all of mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving one another as Christ has loved us.

Let’s be confessing our sins, and receiving absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Let’s be receiving Christ’s true body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith.

Let’s be singing joyfully and heartily the liturgy and treasury of hymns—old and new—that we have received from our fathers in the faith.  

Let’s have no fear of those who may harm us, nor be troubled, but in our hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us; yet doing it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when we are slandered, those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Let’s turn to the heavenly Father in prayer, trusting that He hears our petitions and will grant our requests according to His gracious will, for our benefit, and eternal good.  

Dear Christian brothers and sisters: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; Christ has overcome the world. 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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Love One Another

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Love One Another

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