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Declare How Much God Has Done for You

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The Swine Driven into the Sea
“The Swine Driven into the Sea” by James Tissot

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Water: Holy God & His Holy Things

Desert SpringsClick here to listen to this sermon.

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:16–21).

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

In all the searching that scientists do in outer space, one of the things they are most anxious to find is water. If they can find water, it would improve the chances that other forms of life might exist in the universe besides the life here on earth. Or, if water can be found somewhere else, it could be used to support human life in other parts of the universe. Water is essential to life—whether it be plant life, animal life, or human life. Without water, there is only death.

That was true in the history of the people of Israel, and it’s even more crucial to our spiritual life. When God speaks of or uses water, it usually signals something that is literally of life-and-death importance to His people. Truly, God’s use of water is a holy matter of death and life.

Our text reminds us of how God brought about death and life at the Red Sea (vv 16-17). Israel, just days after coming out of Egypt, was trapped with water on one side and the powerful Egyptian army on the other side. God provided a way through the water for His people, but when Pharaoh and the Egyptian army entered the sea, they were drowned (v 17).

For Israel, on the other hand, the waters of the Red Sea were saving waters of life (v 16). For God’s people, the way through the sea was the way to safety, a new life of freedom. Both groups went into the water, but only one group came out alive. This was the Lord’s gracious doing.

Because of their failure to take God at His Word to deliver them to the Promised Land, the Israelites were made to wander in the desert for 40 years. Water was always a life-and-death matter. Time and again the people complained that they would die of thirst (Exodus 15:22-24; 17:1-3; Numbers 20:2-5). In fact, their murmuring against God did lead to the death of many (Numbers 21:4-6; Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Nevertheless, the Lord again saved them with water. This time He provided water so that they wouldn’t die of thirst. He brought water from the Rock, changed the bitter water to pure, drinkable water.

Water was often a matter of life and death for God’s Old Testament people. And God, in His mercy and grace, provided for their needs, often in miraculous ways. In our text, though, the Lord tells Isaiah’s hearers not to look back on all that: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, now I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19a).

So much of our faith and the faith of the Old Testament people is based on remembering the past. Here Isaiah urges the people to forget the former things because the new workings of the Lord will be even greater. The one who made a way through the sea will now make a way through the desert.

God will do a new thing to bring about both death and life—still using water. The new thing is a whole new era of history, which Isaiah describes in terms of abundant water. As the wandering Israelites had known so well, the wilderness was parched, inhospitable to animals and people. But in a new era, a day God let Isaiah foresee, it would be as if the desert would flow with rivers, providing abundantly for man and beast.

 

The more immediate context is God’s promised deliverance of His people from Babylonian captivity. Because of Judah’s stubborn rebellion and rampant idolatry, the Lord will use Babylon to chastise His people, to call them repentance. Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. God’s people will be marched off to Babylon. But God promises that after a while, He will bring them back home.

The Lord will break the power of the Babylonians and make these once power Gentiles fugitives. Their ships, which once carried precious cargo, in the future would transport them as fugitives. The Lord would dispatch the necessary forces to make this happen. Not only would God break the power of the Babylonians, but God would also release His people from captivity. They would find a way through the desert so they could travel back to Jerusalem, just as God once led Israel through the Red Sea and wilderness to the Promised Land.

This deliverance is greater in that it is a key event in God’s plan of salvation. More than the deliverance from Egypt, the release from Babylon paves the way for the fulfillment of a spiritual deliverance. Leaving Babylon behind, the people came back to Palestine to rebuild the temple, resettle in Jerusalem, and resettle the villages and towns of Palestine. They resettled Galilee, inhabited towns like Bethlehem and Capernaum, and made Jerusalem their center of worship once again. A great Redeemer would come from Bethlehem, begin His work in Galilee, and enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He would be beaten, suffer thirst, and die on a cross just outside of Jerusalem.

The people remained in the land until the coming of Jesus. One deliverance paved the way for the greater. No wonder, then, that they were to forget the deliverance from Egypt. It was a great deliverance, but an even greater one awaited. It was all part of God’s plan for His people.

This would be the age of the Messiah, the day when the Christ would come and restore the reign of God, making right all the corruption that sin brought into a once-perfect world. This age is now, the new reality established when Jesus came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the grave. The new age came with death, Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ death removed the curse of sin that turned the mists and rivers of Eden into wastelands and deserts. Jesus’ resurrection declares all things right again. The Church has long seen the Red Sea passage as a foreshadowing of this resurrection, life arising from certain death.

In this new age, God still kills and makes alive by water. Even more so than with the “former things,” water is important in our faith history. In fact, without water we have no faith history. We each share in God’s new thing by Holy Baptism.

Baptism with water kills. In Baptism, we die with Christ: “We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That means we also die to sin, putting away the deeds of the sinful flesh. We no longer wish to carry out the lusts of the old man or woman. Of course, this dying with Christ, dying to sin, is so that we may live a whole new life. By Baptism, God also makes us alive again.

Baptism is when our life of faith began. Water was used and applied to us. It’s true our rescue was not as dramatic as that of the Israelites, but it was no less important. We were in a hopeless situation with nowhere to turn.

The way out was through water, and God provided it. When we were baptized, the Holy Spirit created in us a new person. In our text, God calls us “the people I formed for Myself” (v 21), using a Hebrew word much like the one describing His creation of the world, making something from nothing. Baptism literally brought spiritual life from spiritual death.

Obviously, it’s not the water itself that does such great things. We don’t keep or revere “holy water.” Rather, Luther explains in the Small Catechism, it is not the water indeed that does this, “but the Word of God in and with the water… along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.”

God’s Word of Baptism is rich in promises. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:25–26).

The water of our Baptism has long dried off, but the words that made that water a Baptism are still with us, and we are invited to recall them daily through contrition and repentance. So that our old sinful nature may be put to death, so the new Christ-like nature arises to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

Whether in ancient Israel or in outer space today, without water, there’s no hope of life. We thank God, therefore, that He has done an entirely new thing, better than giving water in the wilderness: by water and the Word, He’s delivered us from death and given us life in His Son. For Jesus’ 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.

 

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child

10261_1521254229736Click here to listen to this sermon.“Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

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

Dear friends in Christ, in the last few weeks, you have heard what a place of honor Jesus affords to little children. You have heard that one who receives a little one in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. You have also heard the warning against leading a little one astray, both through false teaching and failure to teach. And our Lord takes it one step further in our text this morning/evening. Jesus declares in that little ones can believe in Him, and are, in fact, models of faith.

People are bringing their children to Jesus. They have heard of Jesus’ miracles, and may have witnessed some of them personally. They desire the spiritual blessing associated with Jesus laying His hands upon them, to receive His benediction. And these are not just little ones who can already tell you that Jesus loves them. St. Luke’s account of this story indicates specifically that the people were bringing infants—their newborn babies—to receive Jesus’ blessing.

And when the disciples, for some unknown reason, rebuke the people, Jesus grows indignant against them and says, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

The kingdom of God belongs to little children, including infants. Put this knowledge together with other teachings of the New Testament, such as “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved,” and “by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God; not by works, lest any man should boast,” and you get a powerful proclamation of God’s kingdom that goes against the conventional wisdom of man.

The conventional wisdom of man goes according to the Law that is written on his heart. From that, man concludes that salvation is contingent upon one’s works and deeds in this life. “If you want to go to heaven,” the sinful heart says, “you do these certain things. You jump through all the hoops. You decide to follow Jesus. You get yourself baptized. You do good works to get a reward.”

But while Jesus does speak of the necessity of good works and bearing good fruit, nowhere does He ascribe one’s salvation to one’s own works. His blessing of the infants here in Mark 10 is undeniable proof of this. What works are infants performing toward their salvation? What good deeds are they doing in order to gain God’s favor? None, absolutely none! Why, these little ones could not even come into Jesus arms, if someone else did not bring them!

And lest anyone here respond with the notion that little children are exempt from God’s Law and they are not responsible for sin until reaching an age of discretion or accountability, the Scriptures clearly declare otherwise. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). King David laments in the 51st Psalm “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And St. Paul also says without question that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So, while an infant may appear innocent and pure to us, the child still has the original sin that infects us all. And this original sin is a terminal illness, as is evidenced by the tragic fact that even babies can die.

Knowing, therefore, that little children need the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of God’s grace, we understand the gravity of Jesus’ command not to hinder the children. But we also learn an important lesson about our own Christian lives as those who have grown up and confessed our faith. If a little child receives the forgiveness of sins and the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit—that is, receives saving faith and the promise of eternal life—it is fitting and right for us to recognize how God works to save all of His people.

If a little child is promised heaven through God’s work in the washing of the water and the Word, it doesn’t speak well for our man-made opinions regarding faith and good works. For we brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing with us. But our sinful nature seeks to glory in our own works and behavior, as if it were scoring points with God and earning a seat at the eternal feast in heaven. Our sinful heart says to us, “I’m a good person, or at least better than many. I give to my church. I love my children. I do my best to love my neighbor, and when I sin, it’s not really a big deal because it’s nothing really bad or serious. I’m a good Christian, and that is why God will save me.”

But dear friends, if God looked at your own works and deeds, as you do in this instance, and considered you righteous because of them, then Christ Jesus died in vain. Repent of all of the self-righteousness that continually creeps into your heart from your Old Adam. For although your Old Adam has been drowned in your Baptism, he’s still a good swimmer. The depravity of the human race manifests itself not just in the awful things people do to one another—in their sins against another, but, even more so, in the hardness of our hearts toward God Himself, in our unwillingness to receive everything from His grace.

The sinful heart does not want to believe that the work of salvation is complete already, and that all are in need of it. This is the sin the disciples committed when they hindered the children from being brought to Jesus. And the children had to be brought into God’s kingdom. They could not bring themselves.

In the same way, you must be brought into the kingdom of God—you cannot bring yourself. You cannot trust in your works to bring you there because your works in and of themselves are nothing but filthy rags. They might look good to you and your fellow man, but they earn nothing with God. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

The faith of a little child is faith that trusts in Jesus. It is the purest and strongest of all. If you ask a little one who believes in Jesus why they get to go to heaven, they’ll tell you it’s because Jesus died on the cross to take away their sins. That’s as good an answer as you can give. “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”

But the child will grow up, and as an adult becomes dissatisfied with the Sunday School answer, and looks for a more “educated” answer to the question. And eventually the concept of being a good person sneaks in. Even one who answers with “I am going to heaven because I believe in Jesus” already has taken the merit of Christ and replaced it with his own believing. He’s turned the gift of faith into his own work. And Jesus warns against this when He says: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Children receive the kingdom of God because God gives them faith in their Savior Jesus and He regenerates them in their Baptism. Adults receive God’s kingdom only when they despair of their own works and righteousness, and they possess a childlike faith.

A little child does not add to the Word of the Lord and supplement God’s work with his own. A little child does not tell others that he is going to heaven because he’s a good kid. A little child receives God’s blessing and the promise of eternal life before he can even speak, because God attaches this powerful promise to His chosen means of Baptism. It is God’s work, not the child’s.

Dear baptized, the promise of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life is yours as well, only because of God’s continued work in your earthly pilgrimage. For you have been justified by the faith which God Himself has given you, and which He feeds and sustains. He has declared you righteous in His sight, and draws you continually to His house. Here, He strengthens you and equips you to continually drown your Old Adam through repentance of sin, and trust in Christ Jesus to forgive you. Here, He comes to you with His mercy and grace.

When the people were bringing their children to Jesus, they didn’t just want Him to speak a blessing. They wanted their little ones to receive Jesus’ touch. For He was no mere priest of the temple or eccentric preacher. He was God in the flesh, who Himself had become a little child. Listen to how the Epistle to the Hebrews explains it in this morning’s reading:

“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given Me’” (Hebrews 2:8-13).

The Savior had to become like His people in every respect, and indeed He was even tempted as we are, yet without sin. The eternal Son of God became flesh to suffer and die in order to atone for the sins of the whole world. Thus, He, too, had to be an infant. The one, for whom and by whom all things exist, was made for a little while lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb and was born a child so that He might redeem all children from sin and the power of death. His whole life—from conception to death—was lived out in perfect obedience and holiness so that it might be credited to us by faith.

Christ death and resurrection conquered the devil, hell, and all their power, opening the gates of heaven to all who would believe in Him. This includes little children, and, in fact, places them at the front of the line. Theirs is a simple, trusting faith that receives God’s grace and doesn’t try to replace it with something else. Theirs is a faith that is in the Incarnate Lord Jesus, who promised to be with His people unto the end of the age.

Therefore, do not hinder the little children. Bring them to the Lord Jesus and encourage others to do the same. Teach your children about their Savior, and instruct them in the Christian faith, that they may examine themselves to be admitted to their Lord’s altar, when the same Jesus who touched the children to bless them now touches the lips and mouths of the faithful with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Furthermore, approach the altar of your Lord this day in repentance and childlike faith, despairing of your own works of righteousness, and trusting in the love and mercy of Christ alone, trusting that you, His servant, may truly depart in peace, “For to such belongs the kingdom of God”—children and those of all ages who hear and believe these marvelous words: “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.