Sermons, Uncategorized

Guest Preacher, Rev. Doug Minton: Dread Warrior

“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

You can find more of Pastor Minton’s work at https://www.wrestlingwiththeology.org/

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten” (Jeremiah 20:11).

“The LORD is with me as a dread warrior.” What a frightening image! The LORD being some great warrior king, fighting the battles for His people. No wonder Jesus was crucified. He looks ”’nothing”’ like that in the Gospels! Right?

The Gospels show Jesus as kind and compassionate. Helpful to friends and enemies alike. Not some valiant warrior looking to reclaim His throne. When we think of dread warriors, we look to guys like Goliath or Hercules. Guys who look like they’ve just come out of a wrestling ring with muscles bulging out of places we’re not even sure we have. But Jesus isn’t shown like that.

But we can only say that if we skip His Passion. How does the Passion paint Jesus? A very dread warrior fighting the most epic battle ever fought. The battle with sin, death and the devil for the souls of all the people on earth.

He is a dread warrior whose enemies made Him a laughingstock and mocked His battle. Roman soldiers stripped Him of His own clothing. Clothed Him with a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns. They mockingly hailed Him as the King of the Jews. Other soldiers gambled for His clothing. The bystanders, egged on by the chief priests and elders, taunted Him from the foot of the cross: “You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” The mockery continued from the thieves hanging on either side: “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” Does He look more like a dread warrior or a laughable fool?

The battle raged on and reached its full height as the sky darkened. For three dread hours of darkness, sin, death and the devil did their worst. Then, Jesus gave up His spirit. Everyone thought He was done. Jesus had gone the way of all flesh. He had died. The battle was over. He had lost. No one had to worry about Him anymore. He was not the dread warrior people had hoped He would be.

But then the victory march began: “The veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened.” Jesus’ victory march began with the tearing away of the barrier between God and man. When God revealed the plan for the Tabernacle to Moses, He said: “You shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” He further commanded, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die,” except on the Day of Atonement. But now, the veil is gone! Torn from the top! ”’God”’ tore the veil! God declared no more separation between Him and His creatures since His Son, the dread warrior, had won the war.

Nature itself announced the next phase of the victory march. The earth quaked. The rocks were split. The tombs were opened! Recently dead saints were resurrected! They proclaimed the glory of the dread warrior who would soon be resurrected Himself. The earth could not stand still as its Creator had died. It could not keep quiet. It rejoiced that the firstfruits of salvation had begun. There was an end in sight for its constant groanings under the plague of sin.

Jesus Himself rose from the dead. The dread warrior would not stay dead! His own resurrection brings the victory march to a fevered pitch. His appearances to His disciples from Easter morning until He ascended into Heaven were to declare what the resurrection truly means. The battle is over. The LORD, the dread warrior, has won. What happens now? Six centuries before, Jeremiah proclaimed the results: “Therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

After the Good Friday portion of the victory march, “the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.” The chief priests and elders, who had handed Jesus over to the Romans because of envy, stumbled when they saw all the miraculous events that surrounded Jesus’ death. This “impostor” revealed Himself as the dread warrior, and they didn’t know what to do about it. Their religious world had been rocked, just like the earth quaked.

When Jesus rose from the dead, they stumbled further in order to discredit Jesus. When the soldiers guarding the tomb came back with the report of the resurrection, the chief priests and elders paid off the guards to give a phony report of what had happened. The news that Jesus had ”’actually”’ risen from the dead made them have to backpedal and rethink everything. Now, their entire religious structure and system would have to switch to a complete and total rebuttal of Jesus of Nazareth being the resurrected Messiah. Their entire religion, which would become modern Judaism, walks away from God’s Word to focus completely on disproving Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

Most of them would not–could not–bring themselves to acceptance of the fact nor to repentance over having killed the Messiah. Some did believe in Jesus as the Messiah and join the ranks of the disciples, but the majority remained steadfast in their arrogant defiance of what they knew to be true. Their arrogant defiance would lead them to great shame which will never be forgotten.

The chief priests and scribes gave themselves eternal dishonor in their arrogant refusal to accept that Jesus is the Messiah. This will never be forgotten because the Holy Spirit caused it to be recorded in the Scriptures. I’ve already mentioned the cover-up with the guards at the tomb. The fallout that would continue to shape the way of Jewish apologetics forever. They would not see Jesus as the dread warrior that He was promised to be throughout the Scriptures. The dread warrior who would crush the serpent’s head. The dread warrior who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities … with His wounds we are healed. … The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but ”’whoever does not believe”’ will be condemned.” The unbeliever’s dishonor does not end with their earthly death. Just as Jesus’ death began the slow victory march to be completed on the Last Day, the unbeliever’s death begins the slow march of the condemned. They wait for the Last Day so that they will be reunited body and soul in order to continue their eternal dishonor in the fires of Hell. The final dishonor that cannot and will not be undone or forgotten.

This has all been great, but what does it have to do with us who believe in Jesus? Where is this dread warrior now? “The LORD is ”’with me”’ as a dread warrior.” This dread warrior is beside you in all your trials, tribulations and troubles. He fights ”’for you”’! Giving you the great spoils of His battle. What He won, He gives to you! ”’Your”’ persecutors stumble! ”’They”’ will be ashamed! ”’Their”’ dishonor will never be forgotten!

The dread warrior is no longer frightening. In fact, He is very comforting. He is your refuge and fortress. You stand in the shelter of His wings, as they are stretched out on the cross. His war brings you the victory through faith. He has overcome the world. Since we are in Him, we too will overcome the world. He “will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” That means, though, that you sometimes find yourself ”’in”’ the fowler’s snare or surrounded by the deadly pestilence. Even through all this, He guards and keeps you as His own. The evils of this life will overtake you, but you will overcome them! Because you stand on the foundation of the dread warrior’s “excellent Word.”

Your persecutors will stumble. Those who revile and rebuke you. Who might even be from your own house: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” Why do we have this division among people? Jesus. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And your persecutors ”’love”’ to point this out. ”’Love”’ to stress the division.

But your division is not from the LORD. As we heard last week from the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.” You are not divided from your Lord. You are forever bound with Him through the engraving of the nail prints in His hands. “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Under His wings, you “have been brought from death to life.”

All who try to divide you from Him will stumble and be ashamed. He forgives sin. He has overcome death and the devil. Who can stand against Him? He is the dread warrior who has won the greatest victory ever. He is the refuge that allows you to “depart this life confiding in [your] Savior.” You can confide in Him because He has given you His life. He has saved you so that you may rejoice in Him for all eternity. Rejoicing because your persecutors can only kill your body. They cannot destroy your soul. Their power is limited and fading. His is ever overflowing.

His eternal and ever overflowing power gives you honor that will never be forgotten. It is His free gift to you. You have committed your cause to Him. He is committed to you and your salvation. Otherwise, He would have turned away from the cross and let you wallow in your sin. But He came down and pick you up out of the muck and mire that surrounds you. He calls you His own. For now, you might be mocked by the world. You might become a laughingstock to unbelievers. But this is all momentary. The problems of this world are fleeting. His love and salvation are forever. His love wells up inside you like “a burning fire shut up in [your] bones.” You cannot help but confess your faith in Him as your dread warrior. We do this with our words and our actions. We show the world that the battle has been won. Jesus the dread warrior has emerged victorious from ”’everything”’ His persecutors put up against Him. He brings you along so that you may share in His eternal honor and glory.

You are part of the dread warrior’s victory march. “His faithfulness is a shield and buckler” against all attacks. He is your refuge in the ongoing battles of this life. He is the fortress that stands firm forever. His dread warfare is your great glory. “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” You will endure because the dread warrior has fought for you and won the war. Amen.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Comes to Divide

WordItOut-word-cloud-3877686Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

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

“This is the Gospel of the Lord,” we say each week after reading the Gospel, but there is no good news in these words from Jesus this week. It’s a hard text to preach on. The difficulty stems from a dominant (and often unquestioned) cultural assumption about God and His relationship to us. As a rule, Americans tend to believe life is primarily about the pursuit of happiness. They also believe that God, if and when they consider Him, exists to help them in their pursuit. This is why most prayers are for good things—like healing, favorable weather, economic growth, reconciliation, wisdom, strength, and … peace.

But here is the rub. Jesus is clear in this text: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). That’s not quite what we would expect Jesus to say. And I must admit it would be easy to pass on the Gospel reading this week and go with a different text. But I would suggest that our difficulty with this text means we need to hear it and take Jesus’ words to heart and ponder them all the more closely. This text confronts some of our deeply held views about God and our desire for peace.

As a pastor, I see more than enough division—divided families, divided congregations, divided denominations, a divided nation—and I work hard to bring peace. I’ve counseled families who are divided. I’ve met with couples who are in deep conflict, even contemplating divorce. I’ve seen firsthand what division can do to a congregation. Sadly, our own synod is divided—some calling themselves confessional, others missional. Some conservative, others moderate. And in our nation? The politics of personal destruction and partisan division rule the day.

Yet, Jesus states clearly that He is in the business of dividing. Jesus comes to divide—houses and families. Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

This needs to be unpacked, of course. God’s ultimate purpose is not to divide spouses or separate parents from their children. His chief goal is to separate us from our selfishness and our sin, and in doing so, to unite us with Himself and all believers. His words in the reading today describe what happens when that division does not take place. To use a theological term, Jesus’ dividing work is His alien work. It is, indeed, His will and His work, but it is not His primary will and work. This division serves to accomplish Jesus’ ultimate will and proper work, which is the redemption and salvation of mankind.

For those who were originally there to hear Jesus say these things, His words would not have been as jarring. Luke 12 falls in the middle of the travel narrative in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, teaching the crowds. His message was not soft and flowery. Much like Jeremiah in the Old Testament reading for today, Jesus was calling them to turn from their sins and repent.

Jesus came to save us from sin. That is why He became flesh. That is why He lived a perfectly holy life. That is why He submitted Himself to endure His death on a cross. That is why He rose again three days later and ascended into heaven. All of this was for you and all the world—to open the gates of heaven once more, that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

However, this grace is—by definition—a gift. Jesus offers it to all by means of His Word, but He forces it upon nobody. Not everyone will hold onto the gift of life He gives. Many in their sinfulness will reject it, throw it away. There will be those who repent and those who do not. There will be believers and unbelievers. That is the division that Jesus brings, that Jesus gives.

It is a blessed division. Apart from Christ, all would be lost. Because of Christ, many are saved.

But you know how it often goes: When division arises, it’s the Gospel that gets the blame.

It doesn’t make sense to blame the Gospel. Picture the aftermath of a shipwreck with survivors flailing around in the water trying to escape drowning. A rescue ship has arrived on scene, with rescuers pulling survivors aboard so that they’re safe. The rescuers are dividing the drowning from death to life. But instead of rejoicing to join those on-board ship, imagine some in the water screaming that it’s wrong that those on board are different. Imagine them declaring that the rescue ship should be scuttled so that everyone is united in sinking once again.

That’s the position in which the Church finds itself today, and always, in the world. You’re safe aboard the ark of the Church, saved by Christ from death to life. As the Church, we proclaim that there’s plenty of room on board; but the world will declare that Christianity is divisive for proclaiming life in Christ.

“Jesus Christ is Lord” is a statement that divides between those who believe it and those who do not, and there will always be pressure exerted on the Church to change that confession to something like “Jesus is one lord among many.” But that says that every false god is as worthy of honor as Jesus. That leaves everyone without hope, united in hopelessness: everyone’s sinking, and there’s no true Savior to rescue. No, it’s far better to rejoice in the dividing Savior, to declare, “Jesus is the one true Lord and Savior—and He has died to save you, too!

If you think about it: Even a worship service creates division. Everyone is invited and all are welcome to attend, but a worship service is designed foremost to feed the people of God. It is the family meal, where the Lord feeds His beloved children. Some will visit a worship service and not like what they hear—I’m not so much speaking of style as I am of content. Apart from faith, people will not like the Gospel. This creates a division—some believe the Gospel and some do not.

As long as sinners remain, the division Jesus brings will be apparent. This is an important truth to accept, because many will argue that division is proof that Jesus isn’t there. Many will argue that peace and quiet is the proof of God’s presence. Look at the Old Testament lesson, the time of Jeremiah. God complains about the false prophets who proclaim “peace, peace,” where there is no peace. That’s the very sort of peace that Jesus comes to destroy, because it’s a false peace that denies the need for grace.

So it’s left to Jeremiah to be the bearer of bad news, to declare that the sin of the people has divided them from God, that judgment is about to fall with a heavy hand. And, who does everybody blame for causing division? Jeremiah, for telling the truth. But while he received the blame of man then, he now rests from his labors in heaven.

So there is such a thing as “bad peace” even as there is “good division.” But even “good division” is not without pain and cross, conflict and loss.

There are two places where this division becomes especially acute and painful. Jesus mentions one explicitly in our text: it is within families where some believe in Christ and some do not. This division may manifest itself in a subtle tension when some leave for church and some do not; or an underlying worry for the souls of those who don’t believe; or it may be open warfare when a non-Christian makes moral choices that contradict Scripture. This is a difficult cross for believers to bear, and the temptation will be to blame Jesus for the division, to decide that your loyalty to family is more important than your faith in Christ.

If you are in this position, you are in my prayers: and I pray that you would be delivered from the temptation of blaming the Lord. And I give thanks to God that He has divided you to life so that you might be His instrument in your own home and among close friends, that you might with love and patience speak His saving Word to them. There may be distress, but God will grant you the grace and faith to be His blessed instrument there.

The other place is within the family of the Church. The “problem” with the Church, of course, is that it is full of sinners; and where you’ve got a group of sinners gathered around the holy things of God, divisions are bound to develop along the way. I’m thankful that, at present, we have no great divisions within this congregation—it doesn’t mean that we’ve strayed from the Gospel, but rather that the devil’s attacks at present are of a far more personal nature on different members in order to harm the body of Christ here.

So when trouble arises, we first ask the question: is the disagreement over doctrine or over some other debatable matter? If it is over a matter of Christian freedom, then we respond by making sure that the strong in faith care for the weak. None of us is to try to get his way, but to look out for everybody else. This love for one another goes a long way in preventing people from being divided from the flock. And where it is a matter of clear, biblical doctrine, we firmly hold fast to it without compromise. We do so because we do not want to be divided from God for the sake of a manmade peace. We want to remain divided from death and united in Christ.

Because Jesus comes to give division, He divides you from death to life, from sin to holiness. Why, the word “sanctify” means “to set apart,” to divide away from that which is common or unholy. By His grace, He has set you apart from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from grave to heaven, from “enslaved to the devil” to “child of God.” He has done so by enduring the cross, that baptism of fire which damned Him so that you might be purified for His sake.

Blessed are you! For Jesus has come to divide you from death and give you true peace. He does so with these words: 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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