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

What Will the Owner of the Vineyard Do?

wicked vinedressers1 (1)Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:13-15).

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

Do you remember last week when I told you the key to understanding any of the parables is to look for the point where it departs from everyday life? Well, good luck with this one! No one behaves in the way that we would normally expect them to behave. I mean, what landowner would keep sending his servants to collect the rent when they’re being so mistreated. Couldn’t he send a couple of big guys with swords? Maybe the sheriff? Or the militia? And then he’s even so naïve as to send his beloved son! What kind of father would do that?

And the tenants. “Oh, we’re not paying any rent. Get lost! And here’s a little beating just to show that we mean business.” Then they get so crazy that somehow in their mind, they think that if they just kill the son, if they just get rid of the heir, they will somehow get the owner’s inheritance. Who could be that foolish? That rebellious? That bloodthirsty? It could never, ever happen. Or could it?

The parable itself is allegorical. It describes the history of Israel in the same way as the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. God is the Lord of the vineyard. The vineyard is Israel, especially the city of Jerusalem. The tenants are the Jewish religious establishment, namely, the Sadducees and chief priests in charge of the public temple ministry in Jerusalem and the Pharisees and scribes who govern the people’s piety outside Jerusalem.

wicked vinedressers2 (1)As Jesus relates this parable, Luke has just noted that the chief priests, scribes, and the Sanhedrin are seeking to destroy Jesus but are reluctant to do so because the people are carefully listening to Jesus’ teaching (19:47). Jesus had just entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd. He had wept over the city as He reflected on the destruction of Jerusalem that would be coming because of its rejection of Him as Messiah. He had driven out of the temple those who had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. In the verses immediately preceding, these religious leaders challenged Jesus as to what authority He had to these things.

The first four stanzas of the parable retell the history of God’s work through the prophets for the salvation of Israel. Every time God sent a prophet to Israel, it created a “critical time,” a “right season,” because prophets speak for God. They declare His intentions to save and His judgment upon those who reject Him, setting up a time that is right for bearing fruit of the faith.

The three servants who are sent into the vineyard represent all of God’s prophetic activity during the Old Testament era, when the prophets called people to repentance and to show fruits of repentance, but when that call fell so often on deaf ears. The servants are mistreated and sent away empty-handed. In the words of Isaiah 5:7, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!”

Now it’s time for God’s own beloved Son to visit the vineyard.

In the phrase, “beloved Son,” there are echoes from both the Old Testament and the ministry of Jesus. The near sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son, foreshadowed Christ’s bloody sacrifice (Genesis 22:2ff). But the most significant echo is from the Gospel itself, where the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Jesus, the beloved Son, will not be treated any better than the prophets who went before Him.

At this point, Jesus breaks off the parable and asks: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Here we find a link to Isaiah 5:4, where God asks, “What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” The answer in Isaiah is clear: the fruitless vineyard must be destroyed. Equally clear is Jesus’ answer to His own question: “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16).

After Pentecost, the vineyard will not be leased to new farmers but will be given to them (Luke 12:32). Those new farmers do not include the previous abusive tenants. They begin with the twelve apostles who, through their commission go out into the world to make more disciples through baptizing and teaching, thus reconstituting the Church as the new Israel.

The people’s response is fear. “Surely not!” probably refers to all three events: the killing of the Son, the killing of the farmers, and the transfer of the vineyard to others. But it must happen, for the unstoppable plan of God calls for His Son to die just outside Jerusalem.

Jesus looks at the people to communicate nonverbally that these words are for them. Jesus looks with enlightened eyes at the crowds because He know the end of the story and meaning of Scriptures. But do they?  Jesus asks them in a form of a question, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builder has rejected has become the cornerstone’?” (Luke 20:17).

Jesus gives no answer, because the events of His life in the next few days will provide the answer. The people and the religious leaders already have had the answer for a long time in the Scriptures. After the resurrection, Jesus will chide the Emmaus disciples as “foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). They should have known that according to Moses and all the prophets, it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26).

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, Simeon predicts: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (2:34). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see this come true time after time as those one would most expect to receive Jesus reject Him instead, while those who seem least likely to believe that Jesus was bringing the kingdom receive Him in faith.

From the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem, the scribes and Pharisees were seeking an opportunity to seize Him. His teaching in the temple—particularly this parable—confirmed how dangerous Jesus was for them. But they were equally aware that many believed His teaching, and they were afraid to arrest Jesus because of how the people might react.

More importantly, these religious leaders were fully aware that Jesus told this parable against them. They even may have been aware that Jesus’ reading was in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus spoke the parable as a warning call to repentance and faith in Him who would become the cornerstone. In their unbelief and rejection, the parable’s application to them was only Law.

wicked vinedressers3 (1)And so, how do these “tenants” in the crowd respond? They want to kill the Son that very day; and in a few days, they will.

And what does the “owner of the vineyard” do? He takes the vineyard from them and lets it out to other tenants. True to His Word, He uses the death of His beloved Son for the good of sinners. Rather than stomping the world out of existence like an annoying bug, God uses His Son’s death as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Son dies on the cross for the sins of the terminally foolish and faithless tenants who kill Him. Then He rises again three days later. Why? To judge and condemn? No, judgment will eventually come; but for now, He rises to declare peace, to declare that His death was for the sins of the world, and that whoever believes in Him will be saved. The Lord uses the murder of His Son to gain redemption for the sinners who rebel against Him. Now that’s crazy!

But upon further review, maybe the parable isn’t quite so outlandish after all. That’s because it’s not about how people are supposed to treat each other. If it were, the parable is just crazy. But the parable is about how sinners treat God and how God treats sinners.

Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. God gives spouses, and sinners covet those that they’re not married to. God gives family and friends and neighbors to serve, and sinners neglect them or take advantage of them for selfish gain. The Lord warns of sin so that sinners repent and don’t die, and sinners get ticked off that the Lord would try to save them from death. The Lord says, “Here I am” in His Word and Sacraments, and sinners say, “There’s really other stuff that I consider more important.”

That’s how sinners treat God.

If you examine yourself, you’ll confess that that is how you treat God, too. And if your first response is, “No, I don’t!”, it is only an echo of the scribes in the text saying, “Surely not.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no one who seeks after God. This is not a pleasant truth to confess, but it is true all the same and important to confess. As long as you hold onto sins, discount them as something that God doesn’t care about, or resent God for telling you they’re wrong, then you are not forgiven. You may well be saying, “Jesus died to take away all of my sins,” but you’re also saying, “I don’t want Him to take away quite all of my sins.” If you hold onto your sins, then you are not forgiven; and on Judgment Day, you will be crushed. You will not be crushed because God wants to, but because you’ve refused the gift of grace that He has given to you time and again.

For this is how Jesus treats sinners: with patience, mercy, and grace. 2 Peter 3:9 declares: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.

You will be tempted to believe that God doesn’t care; that God doesn’t care about sin because He doesn’t punish your sin immediately; and that God doesn’t care about you, because He doesn’t punish those who sin against you immediately. But it is certainly not about neglect. It is the patience of God, who suffers long to give grace to the sinner, you and others—even when it means suffering the death of His only, beloved Son to win that grace in the first place. He does not want you to be crushed in judgment. He desires that you be built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ, for eternity. Forgiven for your sins, you are in His vineyard forever.

One of the Lord’s many prophets, Joel, declared, “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). His grace, His mercy, His patience and steadfast love are all yours for the sake of Jesus; because, for the sake of Jesus, 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

Holy Ground: Holy God and His Holy Things

moses-and-the-burning-bush-1966.jpg!Large
“Moses and the Burning Bush” by Marc Chagall

Click here to listen to this sermon.

When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

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

One of the most famous speeches in American history is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The occasion was the dedication of a cemetery where those who had been killed in the Civil War battle were buried. It was, Lincoln said, “altogether fitting and proper” that they would do this.

But, Lincoln went on, in a larger sense, those who had come to set apart that ground could not “dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” The brave men who had struggled there had already hallowed it “far beyond our poor power to add or detract.” It was those who had died for their country at Gettysburg that made holy the land on which they were standing.

It was also a death that enables us to stand on holy ground. Jesus’ death enables us to stand on the holiest ground, in the very presence of God.

What makes ground holy? Let’s go to our Old Testament lesson.

As Moses tends the sheep of his father-in-law, he notices an astonishing sight: a bush that is on fire and yet is not consumed. The Angel of the Lord calls out to him from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses!” When the eighty-year-old shepherd answers, He tells Moses to remove his sandals because the ground on which he is standing is holy ground.

“I am God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” He goes on to say. Realizing this is the Lord God Himself, Moses hides his face, because he is afraid to look. He knows that a sinful human being cannot stand in God’s holy presence and live. Moses could not bear to look up. But that’s not really surprising, is it? Think of it—the God who had spoken to the forefathers of Israel, who for hundreds of years has been silent, is now speaking to him out of this burning bush! What would you do?

God assures Moses that He has heard the cry of His people. He will rescue Israel from their slavery in Egypt, and Moses is His chosen instrument for this deliverance. God tells Moses that He will be taking them to a good and spacious land. The good land is fruitful, “flowing with milk and honey,” but unfortunately it is also filled with wicked people. The people are so wicked that God doesn’t want any of them left when the Israelites settle there. God wants them completely wiped out so their idolatry will perish with them. So that they will not contaminate His holy people. He knows that if any of them survive they will easilty ensnare the people of Israel with their idolatry.

The ground Moses is standing on isn’t nearly as spacious as the Promised Land. It isn’t a desert—sheep can graze there—but it isn’t flowing with milk and honey, either. Still, it is a special place; it is holy ground because it is where God chooses to reveal Himself to Moses.

God reveals Himself as Yahweh, “I AM WHO I AM.” It is a name that will be in use for generations to come. Years later, Jesus will apply the name to Himself, “Before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:58). “I AM the Good Shepherd…I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). “I AM the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 12:25). “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). This is the key to all holy ground. Holy ground is a place where God reveals Himself to us.

How can anyone stand on such holy ground?

Moses understands how unworthy he is. He isn’t even up to the task God has for him: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” he asks. This is a much different Moses. He’s grown up a lot in the last forty years. He’s much humbler than the man who had wanted to take on this job of deliverer all by himself when he killed an Egyptian and tried to settle an argument between two of his people. Now he doubts his own ability to do this work.

The truth be told, Moses isn’t worthy to go to Pharaoh as God’s representative. He’s even less worthy to stand in the presence of God. Sin makes anyone unworthy to stand in God’s holy presence. God’s holiness cannot tolerate sin. In fact, anyone coming into God’s presence dressed in the rags of sin would be destroyed.

But God says, “I will be with you.” He even gives Moses a sign as a pledge. “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” It is on this very same mountain, this holy place, that Israel is to receive God’s Law as His own covenant people.

It’s ironic that God first says, “Don’t come any closer; this is holy ground.” Then He says, “I will be with you.” Why the difference? For the answer to that question we need to take a broader view.

God’s calls to his prophets and deliverers in the Old Testament (also to Gideon, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah) follow a remarkably similar pattern:

  1. God speaks.
  2. The one to whom God speaks is confused and asks for clarification.
  3. God verifies that it is indeed God.
  4. The one God is calling acknowledges his unworthiness and humbles    himself before God.
  5. The assignment is given.
  6. Objections are raised.
  7. Assurance is given, often in the form of a sign.
  8. The assignment is accepted.

It may seem in these cases that God is going through some rather cumbersome motions, but God’s way invariably brings an important effect: in each case the one who is called is able to say that he did not seek this calling himself. God called them when they were busy doing other things. Since the calling is completely God-initiated, the outcome is also dependent upon God. In considering a call, we can always trust God. Vocation is truly an expression that nothing is impossible with God.

That’s certainly true of our salvation. By nature, we are children of wrath, enemies of God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Spiritually blind, deaf, and rebellious. Unable to move the first step toward God, and even if we were somehow able to, we couldn’t last for a millisecond in His holiness. As we are by nature, we could no more stand on such holy ground than could Moses. We, too, are corrupted through and through by sin. We could never dare approach God on our own merits.

We acknowledged as much at the beginning of this service. I said, “Since we are gathered to hear God’s Word, call upon Him in prayer and praise, and receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the fellowship of this altar, let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. Together as His people let us take refuge in the infinite mercy of God, our heavenly Father, seeking His grace for the sake of Christ, and saying: God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

God knew that we couldn’t act first to enter His holy presence, so He sent His Son to death before us. That’s why God can be with us even after He’s warned us to stay away. He came near to us. He came as one of us. Like us in every way, except without sin. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Perfectly obedient to the will and Law of God. Suffered, died, and was buried as payment for our sins. Risen from the dead for our justification, the firstfruits of our own resurrection. He ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, where He continues to intercede on our behalf even as He has promised to be with us always in His means of grace—His Word and Sacrament.

Because of Jesus, we can draw near to God. Baptized into His triune name, we come fearlessly into His holy presence, this holy ground. Just as God spoke through the burning bush, so today, through His called and ordained servant, the Lord speaks His holy Word and absolution. God’s doesn’t say, “Don’t come any closer.” He says to us, as we sing in the Communion hymn, “Draw near and take the body of the Lord” (LSB 637:1).

As daunting as the task of going to stand before Pharaoh seemed, the more amazing call from God was for Moses to stand in His, God’s, own presence. If Moses was inadequate to the task of freeing Israel from Egypt—and he was—he was infinitely less adequate to stand in the presence of the holy God. No one wrapped in sin can. But God enabled him to do both. By promising to go with Moses, God would enable Moses to face Pharaoh. And by sending Jesus into death to remove sin, God allows Moses—and each one of us to stand in His holy presence now, and on the most hallowed ground, forever.

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I therefore forgive you 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

Holy Destruction: Holy God & His Holy Things

jeremiah-preaching-to-his-followers
“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12-13).

 

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

Last week we continued our series, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” by remembering that God has set us Christians apart as His holy nation. Now, it would be nice to believe that we are immune to every danger, protected from every threat. Too bad. It’s not so. In fact, in our text today, we discover that God’s holy things, including His holy people, may face not only danger, but total destruction.

Set apart for destruction? What’s holy about that? Well, as always, God, who sets apart for holy purposes, has a holy purpose. That’s true even of “holy destruction,” because God’s destruction of holy things is always for salvation.

It was early in the reign of Jehoiakim, around 609 or 608 B.C. At the Lord’s command, Jeremiah was to repeat a message he had first delivered during the reign of Josiah. The message contained both a threat and a promise. The threat: If the people of Judah did not repent, the Lord’s house and city would end up like Shiloh.

Shiloh was one of the original places of Israel’s worship, where the ark of the covenant had been enshrined. But when the sacred chest has been degraded into a good-luck charm, it was captured by the Philistines, and the city was destroyed. Jeremiah warns that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem is not immune either. It will suffer the same fate if the people persist in worshiping false gods. God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly ignore His Word.

But it was not all bad news. God also made a solemn promise: If the people repented, God would not carry out His judgment. The Lord again displayed His great love and patience. He offered Judah and all its people another chance.

Jeremiah told the people exactly what God had commanded, for the message was not his, but the Lord’s. Duty to his calling, fear of the Lord, and love compelled him to deliver the whole message even though he feared it would be met with unwelcoming ears, minds, and hearts.

In his last words to the Ephesian elders, the apostle Paul confesses that this is the solemn duty of a man of God: “[You know] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house… Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 26–27). The only hope for Jeremiah’s listeners lay in knowing their true situation. And Jeremiah laid it all on the line.

The response of Jeremiah’s listeners, unfortunately, was predictable. Out of their hearts they spoke and acted. The Lord had rightly evaluated their hearts. They were wholly impenitent from top to bottom, from the priests and prophets to all the people. Without hesitation they arrested Jeremiah and declared: “You must die!”

The uproar reached the palace, the court of the king himself. The chief officers hurried from the palace and assembled to hear the case against Jeremiah. The priests and prophets and others sympathetic to them leveled the charge: “He has prophesied against this city” (v 11). They accused Jeremiah not of false doctrine or of being a false prophet, but of treason—a crime against the state.

Jeremiah tried to make it clear: Their problem was not really with him, but with the Lord: he was only the Lord’s messenger. They were furious with Jeremiah because he had convicted them of their sin. In their minds, it had to be Jeremiah who is in the wrong not they, so he should be silenced.

Many an impenitent sinner has acted in the same way toward one sent to call him to account for his sin. It is as Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). The unbelieving world conspires to silence the call to repentance any way it can, for it will not face up to its sin.

Jeremiah did not flinch in the face of opposition. He answered his accusers directly, “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jeremiah 26:14-15).

God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly ignore or rebel against His Word.

In today’s Epistle, Paul speaks of the holy destruction of people, rather than places: “Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). In saying, “their god is their belly,” Paul means they are serving the appetites of their sinful human nature. It is shameful to do anything that contradicts God’s design for human life, but human arrogance reaches a point where it actually prides itself on such behavior and flaunts this attitude as though it were something of which to be proud.

Those who refuse to admit their guilt under the Law and therefore refuse to accept Jesus’ accursed death as the propitiation for their sins will meet destruction. Their bodies will certainly perish in time. Their souls are even now perishing under their contradiction of God’s salvation. If unchanged, they will suffer being cut off eternally from God in the lake of fire.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the destruction of those who persistently resist the Lord: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:34-35).

Israel’s status as God’s holy nation would not keep her from being overthrown. Jerusalem’s status as God’s holy city would not keep it from destruction. The temple’s status as the holy house of the Lord would not keep it from being torn down. As a result of their resistance to God’s love, their house will be left desolate. God’s holy things—even His holy city and His holy temple—are subject to destruction when His people repeatedly resist His Word.

Today’s lessons are each a warning to us that even we, God’s chosen people, His holy nation, are also subject to destruction if we resist His Word. Whole church bodies can be (and have been) left desolate by the Lord if they abandon His pure doctrine and practice. Congregations can be left to their own self-destruction if they fall into squabbles and infighting.

Each individual Christian can be destroyed by giving himself or herself over to sin. Even God’s holy people will struggle constantly against sin. (In fact, only God’s holy people struggle against sin, because the unbeliever is totally given over to sin, while the believer is both new person and old.) Sins like Judah’s pride, Paul’s examples of lusts for sex, pleasure, and earthly things, and the Jews’ self-messiahship can be especially entangling. If we refuse to heed God’s warning against these sins, we can forfeit our holy status and be destroyed eternally.

But even out of the wreckage, God can rebuild wondrous things. Out of the disaster, God brings something good.

Jeremiah’s call, even when it required prophesying destruction, was always ultimately to restore: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12-13).

Less than 40 years after Jesus spoke the words of our Gospel, Jerusalem was destroyed and its temple was leveled by the Romans—an act of God’s judgment upon the rebellious nation. Its people were scattered around the ancient world. Yet from Israel’s general rejection of Christ, God brought forth the New Testament holy nation, the new Israel, the Church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles.

When the visible church, the church of Rome, abandoned God’s pure doctrine and practice, God left it to its own desolate teachings, but raised up a new visible church on earth through the Reformation.

Even the “destruction” of the individual Christian, when the Church exercises discipline and removes him or her from its membership, is intended to—and indeed can—result in the soul’s salvation (1 Corinthians 5:5).

All of these “holy destructions” are able to bring blessings and restoration because of the destruction of God’s Holy One, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, His opponents asked Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He was speaking about His body.

Jesus’ death on the cross was a painful experience. Adding to the physical pain was the fact He had done nothing wrong. He had done nothing but help people all His life. Surely of all people, Jesus deserved to be destroyed least of all. But by the scheming of wicked men He was destroyed, and, amazingly, this was according to God’s holy plan.

Out of this destruction God brought the highest good. Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised Him from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we know that any destruction God works in our lives is only to bring us also eternal resurrection. The Lord “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21).

Jeremiah showed his faith in the life to come as he warned his captors, “Behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jeremiah 26:14-15).

Jeremiah’s caution elicits no response in our text. But in the Passion-story the frenzied, fanatical crowd cries out, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). They, of course, meant, “We’ll take the consequences for killing Jesus—gladly. And for all we care, if there are any consequences left over, our children can experience them, too.”

The Gospel, of course, lay not in the curse the Jews of Christ’s day wished upon themselves but rather in the unintended and ironic blessing their words foreshadowed. Christ’s blood was on them and on their children—not in the damning sense they meant but in the saving sense God had in mind from eternity. As St. Paul reminds us, “We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). The blessings (not the consequences) of Christ’s blood are on all people, including Jeremiah’s enemies in our text as well as the frenzied, fanatical mob which had something quite different in mind when it voiced the blasphemous cry, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”

Because of Jesus’ holy destruction and resurrection, we can always cling to the same faith. Our sins are forgiven. The words of absolution are certain. Our Baptism remains. We can always repent with the absolute confidence that we will be welcomed back, restored to the status of God’s holy nation. We will not be destroyed eternally.

Jesus redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, live and reigns to all eternity.

On the Last Day, Christ will return, not for our judgment, but He will raise us and all believers to everlasting life. He will gather all God’s children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and we will live with the Lord in His kingdom forever. This is most certainly true.

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

Holy Nation: Holy God & His Holy Things

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“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which You, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

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

Tonight, we continue our series, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” based upon our Old Testament readings during Lent. To be “holy” means to be set apart for a unique purpose. The One who is Himself “holy, holy, holy” is set apart from us as infinitely as heaven is above the earth. Yet, surprisingly our holy God wishes to be with us, to be close to us, and to that end He has set us apart as a people for Himself.

Moses gave instructions to the Israelites for the day when they settled in the Promised Land. At a place that the Lord would choose, the people were to bring the firstfruits of the land and give it to the priests. Right up front, the Lord wanted His people to give back to Him the first and best of what He’d given them, in anticipation of further providence and blessing down the road. Although Moses described them as “some of the firstfruits,” it was to be a widely distributed sample, some of the firstfruits “of all that you produce”—not just of fruits and vegetables, but also of sheep and cattle.

The Israelites will not have acquired this land by accident, nor by their own genius or military muscle. The covenant-Lord had spoken an oath to their fathers that He would give them this land, and He would do what He promised. This new land was an inheritance, something that belonged to them as His gift. It didn’t matter to God that there were still many other nations living in the land who didn’t wish to give it up. In the Lord’s eyes, and in the eyes of Moses, the land was already Israel’s inheritance, they were His holy nation.

It may seem out of place to have this reading during Lent. Lent is a time when we think of the dangers and perils to which we are exposed on our journey to the “promised land.” This text tells what the people of God are to do after they are safely settled in the Promised Land. But it’s always good when you’re on the journey to be reminded of the blessings ahead, what it will take to get you there, and the appropriate response when you finally arrive there.

The brief recital of Israelite history in verses 5 through 10 is similar to a creed or liturgy. As the Israelites offer the firstfruits of the land, they are to remember their ancestors, who had been landless and suffered countless hardships in Egypt before the Lord finally delivered them.

The men and women and children of each new generation could adopt these verses as their own confession of faith. Even though they hadn’t yet been born when the Lord had rescued His people from Egypt, they could identify with their fathers and grandfathers who’d seen the Lord’s mighty miracles and received the gift of the land.

God set had apart Israel as a holy nation from the time of Abram. “From [that] one man, and him as good as dead,” (Hebrews 11:12) God had built His people. They came from humble beginnings among the nations. They were few in number, homeless, and oppressed. It was only by God’s grace that they survived and became strong and numerous.

“A wandering Aramean was my father” refers to the patriarch Jacob who had lived for a while in the region of Aram (or Syria). He left Canaan because he had to flee for his life from his brother Esau (Genesis 27:41-45), lived in Aram until his uncle Laban came after him (Genesis 31:17-30), and finally relocated to Egypt to escape the famine (Genesis 46:1-7). Jacob’s extended family numbered only 70 sons and grandsons when they left Canaan (Genesis 46:27), but the Lord multiplied them into a people so large and powerful that the Egyptian pharaoh enslaved them because he feared they might join Egypt’s enemies (Exodus 1:6-14).

The Egyptians mistreated them and made them suffer with hard labor. It wasn’t only physical pain, but also humiliation that made their lives miserable. In their suffering they cried out to the God of their fathers.

When they cried to God for help, He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with miraculous signs and wonders. The miraculous signs and wonder included all the plagues the Lord inflicted on Egypt. Throughout the plagues, He made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians (Exodus 8:23), spearing the Israelites from the plagues of flies (Exodus 8:22), death of livestock (Exodus 9:4), hail (Exodus 9:26), and darkness (Exodus 10:23).

In the tenth and final plague, the Lord dealt differently with Israel in the most dramatic way. While He struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock” (Exodus 12:29), the Lord rescued all firstborn of Israel through the blood of the Passover lamb. “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians,” Moses told Israel’s elders, “and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23).

This last plague caused such a great terror among the Egyptians that they “were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead’” (Exodus 12:33). The Lord carried out these miraculous signs and wonders to bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), so the Egyptians would know that He was the Lord (Exodus 7:5), and so His name would be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16).

The Lord would bring the people of Israel into their own land flowing with milk and honey. He would make them into His holy nation, not because of their merit or worthiness, but because of His mercy and grace. As Moses explained earlier in Deuteronomy:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8).

The Lord would bring His people out of the misery and oppression of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into His Promised Land, a land filled with good cities they did not build, a houses filled with things they did not work for, cisterns they did not dig, vineyards they did not plant, a land flowing with milk and honey. And the people are encouraged to believe this, even as they wander in the wilderness. And they are cautioned, that when they do receive all these things, not to forget this. In response to their deliverance, they are to bow before the Lord and bring Him the firstfruits of the land.

Ultimately, the greatest gift the land will provide is the Messiah. The prophets of the Lord are clear. The Messiah must be born in the Promised Land. Thus, we see how important this small piece of property becomes. Its true value is in the gift of Jesus, who will provide His blood and very life to endow all people with forgiveness and everlasting life for His children.

St. Peter reminds us that, like Israel, God has set apart us Christians as a holy nation as well: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Like the Israelites, we are also of unremarkable origin among the nations of the world. Paul tells the Corinthians:

“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

This has been true throughout history. There is nothing special in us that caught God’s eye or earned His favor. He saved us solely out of His goodness and mercy without any merit worthiness on our part. He called us to be His people, His holy nation. He did it all! The Lord’s outstretched arm, signs, and wonders set us apart from the sinful world as holy.

We are set apart as holy by the forgiveness Jesus earned when He literally stretched out His arms on the cross to save us. In His resurrection, Christ gives us the greatest of His miraculous signs, proof that He is the Son of God, that His Word is true, that the Father has accepted His sacrifice for our sins, and that we, too, shall rise.

God’s mighty acts continue through His ministers and means of grace: The Gospel proclaimed and carried out is powerful beyond any earthly might. In Holy Baptism, God gives us His Holy Spirit, He delivers us from the bondage of sin, promises us an inheritance in God’s heavenly land, and declares us saints even now. The Lord sustains us in holiness as He gives us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

As the people of God, we do not live with amnesia about the past. The remembrance of God’s saving acts gives us our identity. Because this identity is a gift, we live lives of gratitude expressed in acts of worship and obedience. Our thankful recollections for God’s saving acts compel us to bring gifts to Him. These gifts will also be of benefit to the Church and to the needy.

In response to God’s deliverance, we bring Him gifts and worship Him. Truth be told, we give Him what was always His in the first place. We are simply stewards of His creation and gifts. The worship we bring is simply receiving His Word and speaking it back to Him. The good works that we do for our neighbors were prepared by Him beforehand.

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

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

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