Sermons, Uncategorized

Go Tell It on the Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is great news for every herald of good news!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Christ’s Glory & the Prophetic Word

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1w7V6hMZ62jDwi36konghFZkFbJ6Ox9W7/view?usp=sharing

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

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

God has a history of revealing Himself on mountains. Moses came face-to-face with God and heard Him speak from a burning bush on Mount Horeb. The fire indicated the presence of God. God’s presence was confirmed in the Word that God spoke from the bush. God’s presence made this ground holy (Exodus 3:5).

Later, when Israel fled from Egypt, the glory of the Lord dwelt with them on that same mountain, also called Mount Sinai. Moses assembled the people and told them all the words of the Lord and all the rules. All the people answered with one voice: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain, where they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings to the Lord. Moses consecrated the altar and sprinkled the people with blood and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:1-8).

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders went up, and they saw the God of Israel. “They beheld God, and ate and drank.” At the Lord’s command, Moses went up further on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which God had written for their instruction. A thick cloud appeared over the mountain for six days. And on the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Similar to the time Moses first met God, “The glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people” (Exodus 24:9-17).

Centuries later, again on a high mountain, the Lord reveals Himself to Peter, James, and John. Jesus is transfigured before the apostles’ eyes. His face shines like the sun, revealing the glory of God. Jesus’ clothes are as white as light. Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets, announcing—in effect—that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scripture.

While the prophets are speaking with Jesus, a bright cloud overshadows them. A voice from the cloud says, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The apostles see, and then they hear. That they had not heard at the Baptism of Jesus, they hear now: “Listen to Him.” Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet to whom the people should listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus is that prophet. He alone knows the Father, who has handed over all things to His Son (Matthew 11:27). Listen to Him!

Upon hearing, the apostles immediately understand this is holy ground, and they are in the presence of the Holy One. They hit the dirt, their faces to the ground, overcome with fear and awe at what they see and hear.

Jesus comes over and touches them, moving them out of their dazed state with this human gesture. “Rise, and have no fear,” He says. They cautiously lift up their eyes and see no one but Jesus only in His normal, everyday appearance.

Now the disciples know that where Jesus and His Word are, there is a holy place. This is really a glimpse of heaven. Peter and his fellow apostles are eyewitnesses of an awesome sight, and Jesus reveals to them the glory of His presence. God is where Jesus is—in Christ and the prophetic Word.

In our Epistle, St. Peter encourages the Christians of Asia Minor to remain faithful to Christ and His Word in the days to come. He knows his time on earth is not long and he wants to remind them of what they have been taught.

All of us forget things. Information slowly drains out of our brains each day. Sometime forgetfulness is cute or harmless. But forgetfulness can get embarrassing or costly, like missing an appointment, running out of gas late at night, or skipping an important medication dosage.

Sometime forgetting is ugly and dangerous, as when a spouse “forgets” that he or she is married and slides into adultery. Or when church leaders “forget” that they are servants and start bossing people around as if they were lords.

And sometimes forgetting causes spiritual sickness and even death, as when people forget that they are by nature sinful and unclean, forget the expensive rescues by which Christ lifted them out of hell, forget about the prince of darkness and their other spiritual enemies, or forget to put on their spiritual armor and pick up their spiritual weapons.

Peter wants to strengthen and encourage these Christians. Unlike the false teachers, he does this not by bringing in all kinds of new teachings but by reminding them of teachings from God’s Word, which they already know. And he wants to make sure their memories will be continually refreshed even after he dies.

How can this happen? By writing this letter down, for one thing. A written letter can be read and reread and taught to others. For another, Peter might be alluding to the apostolic practice of recruiting and training new workers for the kingdom who will keep the remembering process going. Or possibly he is referring to the remembering he did to help St. Mark write his Gospel of the life of Christ.

The churches in Asia Minor are forgetting the true source of their information about God and are drifting into uncertainty about what to believe. False teachers are exploiting the people with their own made-up revelations and are promising the people pleasure and “freedom.” But there are not many truths; there is only one truth (verse 12). And so, Peter reminds them about a certain event on a certain mountain involving three disciples, two prophets, and one Messiah:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

  All attacks of Satan on the Church sooner or later come around to this—an attack on the apostles and prophets of the Lord as true and authoritative sources of information about the Lord. That attack is as old as Eden: “Did God really say…?” The new breed of teachers who are demanding attention in the Asia Minor churches are disparaging the reliability of Peter, the other apostles, and the written message of the Old Testament prophets.

Peter recognizes the deadly peril. They are denying the power and coming of Jesus Christ. They are leading people to doubt that Jesus really does possess and exercise God’s power, that He really does enter people’s lives and work on their behalf. They are leading people to think that Jesus will never come back, that they are not accountable to Him for their beliefs and lives. The bitter irony is that the very people who are accusing Peter of making up cleverly invented stories are the ones making up cleverly invented stories.

Peter reminds them that he had been present at the transfiguration, surely one of the most significant events in Jesus’ life. The transfiguration is not some cleverly devised myth. No, he and James and John were eyewitnesses. They were allowed to see something no other human being would see before Judgment Day—the true glory of the Son of God.

Jesus was transfigured before them, glowing with the brightness of the presence of God Himself. Surrounding the shining Savior was a bright cloud, which Peter calls the “Majestic Glory.” In the Old Testament, “the glory of the Lord” refers to an appearance of God in cloud and fire to mark a significant advance in His plan of  salvation. In addition to the appearance of God to Moses and the people of Israel already mentioned, God appeared to Abraham in a smoking firepot. On the day of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, the glory-cloud filled the temple. In this way the Lord signified His approval and His actual presence among His people.

When the glory-cloud blazed around Jesus on the very high mountain, the Father was demonstrating His approval of His Son’s person and work. He also showed that through Christ He was present on earth among His people. Peter declares, “I saw those things happen,” not to brag but to demonstrate his authority to speak on Christ’s behalf. Unlike the peddlers of self-invented notions, he was an eyewitness.

Peter was also an earwitness. He saw the glory; he also heard the voice. Three different times during Christ’s ministry, the voice of the Father had boomed over His dear Son: once at His baptism in the Jordan, where John the Baptist anointed Him for His Savior work; once during Holy Week, when the Father confirmed that Christ’s work was indeed bringing Him glory; and once on the very high mountain up north, in front of three terrified disciples and the two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. The glory and the voice forcefully proclaimed the Father’s love, approval, and pleasure and greatly strengthened Christ in His determination to go to the cross for sinful mankind.

They also strengthened the certainty of the apostolic eyewitnesses. The disciples’ faith in Christ was sometimes shaky, as is ours, because we are disappointed by the subtle, hidden way in which Christ comes. The manger, the cross, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper promise the victorious Christ by faith, not by sight. But Peter did see, and hear, once. He never forgot, and he didn’t want his friends to forget either. He wanted them to grow in their certainty of what they believed. Jesus really is who He says He is; He really does what He says He will do; and He really gives what He says He will give.

Peter wants his readers to remember where they will find true comfort and certainty in the years to come: “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19).

At a time when many people claim to be speaking for God, it is reassuring to know that there is a written, unshakable source of spiritual information and authority—the timeless truths of written Scripture.

Satan is the prince of darkness, and everybody who works for him knowingly or unknowingly spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness, some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can figure out right and wrong by themselves. Some in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing that there is a Savior for them. And some simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is satisfying their appetites. Satan uses false teachers to push Christians into these kinds of darkness.

God’s written Scripture will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can lean our lives on it. The best way for Christians to grow in the certainty of what they believe is to go back to God’s written Word. God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illumines our minds and hearts. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness and confusion of hell. As the Word does its work, the glory that shone from Christ and the Majestic Glory of the Father now shines in us. The day of grace dawns; the Morning Star rises.

In popular astronomy, the planet Venus is sometimes called the morning star. It is, of course, not a star at all. But it reflects the sun’s rays just before dawn, and its light is a sure sign that night is almost over and the day is at hand. Jesus is called the bright Morning Star in Revelation 22:16. His coming into the world signals that the power of the night of sin, sickness, death, and hell has been broken and will soon be over. His Word reflects His light. His people wait longingly for the full revelation of the Son of God when He returns to take us home.

In the meantime, He is still with us in His means of grace.

In the holy mountain of the altar, Jesus comes to you, inviting you to eat His body, which is given to you in the bread. To drink the cup, the new testament in His blood, which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And to do this “in remembrance of Me.” There, in, with, and under the bread and the wine you behold God, eat and drink His real presence.

At the font, Christ washes away your sins, clothes you in His robe of righteousness, and gives you the gift of His Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Through contrition and repentance, you live in your Baptism, daily putting to death the old Adam so that the new many may arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

In Christ’s Word of forgiveness preached to you, in the Holy Absolution applied to you, you have the forgiveness He won at the cross.

Here, in this holy place Jesus reveals the true God to you—that same forgiving presence of the Lord—wherever His Gospel is purely taught and His Sacraments are rightly administered.

Here, in this holy place, hidden in water, wine, bread, and the voice of God’s called and ordained servant you will find Christ’s glory. Here is the prophetic Word more fully confirmed that always points to Jesus. Here is the One who came to save the world by His death on the cross. Here is the One for you, Who brings you salvation and eternal life, in Whom 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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