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The Gloria in Excelsis:

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by James Tissot

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Are You Ready for the Coming of the Lord?

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

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“Are you ready for the coming of the Lord?”

“Sure. The tree’s decorated. The Christmas cards are ready. Most of the gifts are wrapped. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I’m ready.”

“No, I’m not talking about getting ready for Christmas. That coming of the Lord was over 2,000 years ago. If you’re still trying to get ready for Jesus’ coming as a little baby in the manger in Bethlehem, you’re really late! I’m talking about the Lord’s Second Coming. Are you ready?”

John the Baptist told people how to get ready—through repentance and Baptism. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, St. Paul gives further instructions: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

St. Paul tells us how to be ready for Christ’s coming. In rapid fire, no less than eight imperatives follow one after the other. Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks! Don’t quench! Don’t despise! Test! Hold fast! Abstain!With these eight commands, the apostle reviews for us “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” These are not manmade guidelines. They are from God Himself. For those who are “in Christ Jesus,” they are vital and the way of true freedom and happiness. These are the keys for getting ready for the coming of the Lord.

So… how are you doing? Are you ready? Do you always rejoice? Is your life full of joy? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances? Do you always gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do you test everything according to the standard of God’s Word? Do you always hold on to those things that are good, and avoid that which is evil?

Of course you don’t! And neither do I. But according to our text, these are the very things that make you ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. You must be blameless… and a close examination of your life will show you that you are not. You certainly don’t measure up to the standards St. Paul lays down in our text. Still the apostle seems to indicate that you will be found blameless: “He who calls you is faithful; He will certainly do it.” How can this be?

We have here, in our text, a series of paradoxes. God holds us to the highest, holiest standards. He calls us to be blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; yet as we have just confessed, we are poor, miserable sinners, who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are warned to not despise God’s Word, to test everything, holding fast to everything that is good and abstaining from every evil; yet we know we daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. Our lives are often filled with sorrow, frustration, and adversity; yet we are called to always rejoice, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us.

How do we resolve these paradoxes? Actually we don’t… we can’t… but God does—in the cross of Christ! Only viewed through the cross can these paradoxes be resolved. You see, God does demand of us holiness and perfection. But we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. On the cross, Christ exchanges His perfect obedience and righteousness for your disobedience and unrighteousness. He pays the penalty for your sins and credits you with His holy life and His innocent suffering and death.

He has to! You are a spiritual beggar, hoping to enter the gates of heaven. You are a pauper. You don’t have even a dime to pay toward the high fee for admission. But there is One who has! Christ opened the gates of heaven to all believers with His death on the cross. He purchased your admission, and for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or will ever live, not with silver or gold but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

But that’s not all! Not only are you a beggar before God: you are the worst sort of beggar—one filled with pride. You’re a beggar who sits by the gates with his hands in his pockets, not willing to accept a handout, because you think you can make it on your own, even though you don’t have a dime to your name. And the fact is… you would not have the strength to reach out your own hand if you should condescend to accept His charity.

So Christ has to pull your hands out of your pocket, open your closed fists, place His gift of salvation into your hands, close your palms, and put your hands back in your pocket, so you won’t drop His wonderful gift.  

You cannot get yourself ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—but there is One Who has! There is One who is full of joy—“the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). The One who rejoices with the angels in heaven over one repentant sinner” (Luke 15:7).

There is One who prays without ceasing. He often withdrew to a solitary place to pray (Luke 5:16). During Holy Week, He prayed every night in Gethsemane (Luke 21:37; 22:39). He prayed so fervently that His sweat fell like blood (Luke 22:43). In the upper room He prayed for Himself, for His disciples, and for those who would believe in Him through their message (John 17). On the cross, He prayed for His enemies (Luke 23:34). Even today He intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:34) and speaks to the Father in your defense (1 John 2:1).

There is One who gives thanks in all circumstances. He thanked His Father for hearing His prayers (John 11:41). He thanked the Father for revealing His Word to the simple, and keeping its meaning hidden from the wise (Luke 10:21). And He thanked God before breaking bread and passing the cup (Luke 22:17,19).

There is One who did not quench the Spirit but was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in His Baptism (Luke 3:17). The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him as He preached the Gospel and did merciful works of healing (Luke 4:18). This One taught that one must be born of the Spirit through water and the Word (John 3:5). He promised to send His Holy Spirit to guide His disciples into all truth (John 16:13). He breathed the Spirit into them that they might pass on His Word of forgiveness (John 21:22-23).

There is One who never despised God’s Word but held it sacred and glad heard and learned it. At the age of twelve, He was found in His Father’s house, listening to the teachers and questioning them. When tempted by the devil, He showed that God’s Word meant more to Him than food, power, or fame.

There is One who tested everything concerning Christian faith and life. He warned His disciples to be on guard against false doctrine (Luke 12:1). He abstained from every evil. “He was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet [He] was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  

There is One who does all of these. And He does them for you! Not only does Christ justify you—declare you right with God, He continues to sanctify you—to conform you to His own image through His Word and Sacraments.

This is “the will of God in Christ Jesusfor you.” It is only when we look at God “in Christ Jesus” that you may see Him as your loving, forgiving Father. It is only when you remember that God now always looks at you “in Christ Jesus” that you may be confident that He will be at work in everything for your ultimate good. Such confidence emboldens Paul to pray that God might sanctify you completely and keep you in faith so that you would be ready for the Lord’s coming.

It is a formidable list of commands that Paul has penned here by inspiration of the Spirit. They are guidelines that God urges upon you for your good now and eternally. But they are guidelines that you cannot reach by your own understanding or strength. Only the believer who by faith is clothed in Jesus’ blood and righteousness will be found blameless when Christ comes to judge the world.

As God works in you through His Word and sacrament, you are taught and enabled to “rejoice always.” By God’s grace, Christians are able to be joyful even in times of trial and tribulations that cause us sorrow. Why? Because we know that Christ rules heaven and earth, so that the sorrow that enters our lives is not a matter of blind fate. Anything that causes us sorrow is something our Savior permits to come and will ultimately serve our good.

Sorrows draw you closer to the Lord (Romans 5:3-5). They purify and refine your faith (1 Peter 1:17). They provide you with opportunities to confess the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:13-15). There is, however, one thing sorrow cannot do. It can never, ever separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:39).

God also enables you to “pray without ceasing.” This does not mean that you go around constantly mumbling prayers. To “pray without ceasing” means developing an awareness of Jesus’ presence and an attitude that brings Him easily into every thought and every activity of life.

Closely related is Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let us never forget to thank God for all of His blessings, including those “blessings” that come disguised. Giving thanks in all circumstances means living by faith and not by sight. It is a theology of the cross trusting that God is graciously at work for His people even in the most difficult of circumstances. The Greek in this verse calls for more than “feeling thankful.” It commands an active, conscious givingof thanks in allthings. Of course, you will not “feel thankful” during difficult or unhappy circumstances, those that are threatening and hurtful to you. But you can activelythank God in allcircumstances because you know that He has allowed them and is at work in them for your good.

Nor is your thankfulness limited to words. You can also express it by your actions. “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). The simplest actions of every Christian done in faith bring glory to His name.  

Next Paul instructs, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Your coming to faith is a miracle in which you had no part. God the Holy Spirit lit the fire of faith in your heart. He keeps building “the fire” through the Word and Sacraments. But failure to use these means of grace gives the devil the upper hand. He is ready to help us put the fire out. And your Old Adam is a more than willing ally in the struggle.

But once you are brought to faith, you have a new man in you who enables you to fight “the good fight” of faith (2 Timothy 4:7) and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) in cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. To this end God gives you His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith and renews your zeal to live according to the new man.

That’s why it is important that you “do not despise prophecies.” You must not look at preaching and teaching of the Word as just “human opinion” instead of receiving it as God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to create that which it calls for. Only as far as it is God’s Word that is being preached or taught will it bring life and salvation. That’s why it is important for Christians to test everything.

The word test is the Greek word used for testing the genuineness of precious metals. The standard God wants you to use is His pure Word. Everything you meet in your daily lives is to be tested and examined in the light of God’s Word.

If you find that what you are testing is “good” according to the standard of God’s Word, then you are to “hold fast” to it. If you find that something is “evil” by its nature, you are to “abstain” from it. Consciously and constantly God wants you to put distance between yourself and whatever conflicts, even in a small way, with His pure Word. Why? Because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” A little bit of impurity mixed with God’s truth will eventually destroy the truth and lead to one error after the other.

In this life, you will never reach perfection. But the Holy Spirit helps you to be content with nothing less. On Judgment Day our Lord will find you blameless because of His suffering and death on the cross. You will enter eternal life purified, for you will regain the sinless state human beings had before the Fall.

Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? You certainly are. You may be certain of this because He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it! Christ has lived the perfect life that you could not live. He has died on the cross in payment for your sins. He has risen victoriously from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Even today He comes to through His means of grace to sanctify you and make you blameless, He brings you this Good News: You are forgiven of 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

The Kyrie

St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness by Salvator Rosa

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Go Tell It on the Mountain

Custer State Park, Black Hills of South Dakota photo by Robert Moeller, Jr.

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“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:9–11).

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

What do you do when you have good news? You tell everyone you can. And this text is full of good news. The best news ever! It’s full of Gospel and promise and hope! The kind of good news that makes you want to climb a high mountain and shout at the top of your lungs so that everyone hears.

Of course, this passage should be filled with good news. It follows the verses that announce the comfort of God. You know: “Comfort, comfort My people… Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-3).

Immediately following our text, the prophet goes on to describe God in the most majestic terms, describing His wisdom, power, and might. He talks about God measuring the waters in the hollow of His hand and weighing the mountains and hills with His scales. The nations are like a drop from a bucket compared to His vastness. He is beyond all human understanding, a craftsman, par excellence. The prophet’s point is that however you might think of God, He is bigger, greater, and more powerful. And it is this incomprehensible God who makes the promises of care and blessings that we hear in our text. This is very good news!

This is great news for every herald of good news!

And that would include you and me. We are the ones that the prophet calls “Jerusalem” and “Zion.” We are all heralds of this good news. We are charged with announcing the good news that the God of all creation is coming, and that when He comes, He is coming to rescue us and bless us and take care of us with tenderness and compassion. That’s it! That’s our task! We are charged with telling others, this good news. But we are not responsible for their responses to it. We are not to try to argue them into faith or force the world to live as though it believed. We are to herald the good news and let others know about it. To go tell it on a mountain, to broadcast it so that all may hear. That is our assigned task.

We are tasked with telling about the coming of God. That first means we are called on to speak the uncomfortable and unwelcome message of the coming of the end, and that when it comes, the end will bring with it Judgment Day. The world doesn’t like that proclamation—at least not when it’s taken seriously. It’s fine with make-believe catastrophes like zombie apocalypses, Q-anon conspiracies, artificial intelligence takeover, and global warming theories, or the oddball with a long beard and prophet-sort-of-robe who stands on the street corner with a sign that declares, “The end is near!” But it’s never comfortable with serious talk about being prepared for Judgment Day. It will ridicule the message and the messenger, try to paint you as a kook, someone who should not be taken seriously at best—or someone who is dangerous and must be silenced at worst.

Of course, we are not to go about looking weird, and carrying placards, necessarily. We are called to herald the good news. We are not charged with telling horror stories or threatening people. We must tell them the truth about the coming judgment and the end of days, but we are to bring it with the good news that the God who created all, and who is inconceivably great and powerful, is coming to rescue us and to gather His people together like a shepherd gathers his sheep.

In other words, we have the Gospel to proclaim. We have the love of God to tell others about. We are to speak of and about Christ. We are to tell this good news loudly—lift up your voice with strength—and we are instructed not be afraid but to speak boldly and publicly. And we do. This worship service is part of the speaking we do. We advertise. We invite neighbors. We boldly and publicly proclaim God’s goodness and righteousness and truth at every service through Word and Sacrament, liturgy, and hymns. We also proclaim by how we live, and we proclaim by actually speaking to others about God and our hope and faith in Jesus Christ as we go about our daily vocations.

We have good news to share: God took on human flesh and blood and became one of us for our salvation. The story is old by now, but that is part of the reason that Isaiah continues after our text to tell of the greatness and immensity and the power of God. The wonder of it never fades. The God who measures the dust is the God who stepped down in humility to become the Babe at Bethlehem and the One crucified on Golgotha, all in the pursuit of our salvation. He died for us to redeem us from death and hell, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.

The task before us is tell the world “Behold your God!” This powerful and incomprehensible God loved you so much that He did this for you—He gave His only-begotten Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. You needed the impossible, and the almighty God did the impossible to redeem you and save you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Behold your God!

At no time in human history have people needed that message more than they do today! Things are troubling and dangerous and downright depressing in the world these days. We need comfort. We need hope. And here it is!

The Lord is coming! Even though it seems that He delays, He is coming, and coming soon.

He is coming with might. No one can snatch you out of His hands. No danger can threaten you that He cannot manage and rescue you from. No temptation will confront you that is not common to men and women, particularly those who serve the Lord, and He will provide the way of escape that you may endure! That is His promise, and that is our proclamation.

Being the sort of God He is, He is in control of world events. When it seems like things are out of control, it is not because it so. It is because we cannot see them rightly. Our perspective is skewed by our flesh and by sin. Some things we might view with horror are actually good things in the hands of God—we just cannot see past our pain and fear to His blessings and promise of good.

Take death, for an example. It is, for the child of God, the door to life everlasting. No more pain or sorrow or sickness or grief will follow but only joy and peace. But in this world, we experience the human, emotional response to death and to the other hard-to-endure, hard-to-understand things. We see in a mirror dimly; we know only in part. We do not see the heavenly purpose or the blessings that attend those difficult things, nor do we see the bigger picture of what God is working through them. So they tend to frighten us, worry us, and confuse us. But God assures us in His Word that even though such a thing seems difficult and disastrous, in His hand, it is good and a blessing.

Our God is coming, and He is bringing salvation and the rewards of grace. He is coming to give us that abundant life in glory with Him that He has promised throughout the Old and New Testament. Once we are His children, the gifts of God are assured. He allows us to continue here because He would have us tell others. He would have us get up on that mountain, lift up our voices with strength, and proclaim Him! This is our God! Behold Him!

The world is filled with lies and distortions about God, but we know Him. We know the truth. And it is this truth of His love and grace and salvation He has worked for us that He would have us proclaim so boldly, so that the people of the world around us would come to know Him and trust in Him and share in His grace. What greater joy, higher privilege, can there be than to be called by the Lord to be a herald of such good news?

Of course, there is the other part of the reality of His return. He is also bringing judgment and “recompense” with Him. I would not be surprised if perhaps God tells us about the condemnation of sinners who reject Him and His forgiveness as much to motivate us to share the comforts of the Gospel with them, as to paint a picture of damnation to encourage them to repent.

I suspect both are part of the motivation of God in telling us: That we may rejoice and praise Him for such a magnificent salvation. And that knowing what lies ahead for the ones that do not know Him, we would be moved to share the truth of God’s goodness and grace and love with them, so that they might not be destroyed. One would need a heart of stone to know what is coming and not speak a word of warning—and not tell them about God and His great rescue for us!

So we tell them. God is coming, and He is bringing His reward and His recompense with Him. He comes with might and rules over all. But for His people He will be like a tender Shepherd. He will be gentle and compassionate. He will lead us to the heavenly pastures and feed us with His heavenly banquet for eternity.

We have the first course here, a foretaste of the feast to come, in the Lord’s Supper, His body, once given for us, and His blood once shed for us, both hidden beneath the humble elements of bread and wine—but truly present and filled with heavenly blessings for all those who eat in faith, believing the Word of Christ, and hungering for forgiveness and God’s blessings.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Everyone who eats and drinks, receives the body and blood of Christ and are offered the benefits He has promised. But it is only through faith in Christ’s words that we receive the benefits as a blessing. When one partakes in unbelief, it is an act of blasphemy, and while they receive the body and blood of Christ, it works judgment and condemnation in them for their hard-heartedness and unbelief. That’s why we are so careful about who comes to the Lord’s Supper, that they would recognize Christ’s body and blood and be able to properly examine themselves. It’s not that we think we are any better than anyone else, but we don’t want guests to unknowingly receive the Sacrament to their harm.

We should eat Christ’s body and drink His blood confidently believing that He was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification. Trusting in His saving work, we receive His body and blood, given to us under bread and wine, as the guarantee of our forgiveness. When one eats believing, it is the bread of life and the medicine of immortality they we eat. It is a participation in the body and blood of Christ, who gave Himself up for as the sacrifice for our sins.

He is our Shepherd. He gently cares for us and guides us and tend to us and feeds us. One day, He will return for us. And He will gather us in His arms and carry us home in His bosom to be with Him forever.

Go tell it on the mountain! Herald the Good News! Behold your God! Christ the Savior comes with might. His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. For His sake, 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.