Sermons, Uncategorized

Are You Ready for the Coming of the Lord?

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

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Baptized with the Holy Spirit for a Life of Repentance

“St. John the Baptist Preaching” by Salvator Rosa

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[John the Baptist said:] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

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

Our Advent journey began last week with Jesus headed into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Today we back up a few years and take a detour through the Jordan where Jesus began His public ministry in baptism, much as we begin our discipleship in Holy Baptism. The way of the Lord is a rigorous one because we always journey “in Christ.” But we know where we are going, and we know who we are. In this second week of Advent, we remind ourselves that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance.

We will soon celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, but already on these first Sundays in Advent, it’s clear that our destination is not an idyllic manger scene with an adorable baby. There is a cross to be suffered. And that means Jesus’ mission is serious business, not be “tagged along” by the casual traveler or the unprepared. Thus, John suddenly appears on the scene to prepare His way. An attention-getting appearance, to say the least! One that illustrates suffering and sacrifice along a weary way. A robe of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. A diet of locusts and wild honey. A voice crying in the wilderness.

John comes to prepare God’s people for the messianic journey ahead—to teach that the journey is one of suffering and deprivation, like Israel’s time in the wilderness. There is all righteousness to be fulfilled, pictured by Isaiah as filling in the valley, leveling the hills, making the Messiah’s paths straight. Anything that stands in the way will be bulldozed by the earthmover coming through. It is time to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Crowds are going out to John from the entire region for just that purpose. They are confessing that they do need to repent. Then John’s baptism is washing away their sin, preparing them for the kingdom’s coming in the person of the Messiah. Others, though, come as hypocrites. The Pharisees and Sadducees are sure of their own righteousness because of their bloodlines and circumcision. They refuse baptism because they feel they have no sins to wash away.

John cuts through their hypocrisy in the most graphic terms. Calling them a “brood of vipers” is bad enough. For John to say that “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham,” is a greater insult to the Jews, for Gentiles are considered stones, so John is saying that God can create children of Abraham out of Gentiles by means of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Unless these hypocrites repent, they will be chopped down like dead trees and cast into the fire.

John’s appearance is the signal that the Lord Himself is at hand. The coming kingdom is Christ Himself. Already now He is among the people. While John’s coming on the scene has made a huge splash, John is even less before the Messiah than the lowliest servant before the greatest master.

John baptizes with water for repentance. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When will this be? Certainly, He does, in part already, in His own baptism, in His crucifixion, and at Pentecost. But the context here, however, has the Last Day firmly in view, and refers directly to the salvation and judgment that Christ will administer when He returns in glory. On the Last Day, Jesus will pour out the Holy Spirit on those who repent and look for the coming of God’s kingdom in Him, and all such will be gathered into His barn and saved. On the other hand, those who persist in their unbelief and reject God’s reign in Jesus will receive on that day the unquenchable fire of eternal judgment.

So, are you properly prepared?

John’s simple message comes in two parts. The first concerns the kingdom, which is now at hand, not because of anything the people have done or are doing, but because God is at work. The second concerns how they should respond. They should repent. The two go together; the coming of the kingdom and the call to repent. This was true then, and it is still true today. God will judge all people. Therefore, all people everywhere must repent.

While the message remains much the same, the audience has changed. John preached before Jesus; before His baptism, before His teaching and preaching, before His death and resurrection, before His ascension. He preached to prepare his hearers for these events. In contrast, you come here after the fact. You have heard about the empty tomb and believe. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have begun a life of repentance. It would be inappropriate to call you a brood of vipers. You are neither Pharisees nor Sadducees.

And yet, you and I still need to repent. Despite our baptism, things in our life are not as they should be. The problem is not that we are unrepentant. The problem is our contrition is too small. Too often it stops short. It is a mechanical, transactional (and therefore distorted) version of repentance. I think you know what I mean. It is what happens when we feel guilty, ask for forgiveness, and then find relief in the words of absolution. This is good, as far as it goes. But too often, that is the end. We go right back to life as usual. We return to things in our lives which are not as they should be. After a while, the guilt mounts and we go back through the motions: repent, relief, repeat—but never truly repenting.

Acknowledging the confusion about repentance in their day, the Reformers spelled out true repentance in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:

 We have attributed these two parts to repentance: contrition and faith. If anyone desires to add a third—fruit worthy of repentance, that is, a change of the entire life and character for the better—we will not oppose it… The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works.[i]

John is talking about repentance manifesting itself in fruit (Matthew 3:8). It begins with confessing sin (Matthew 3:6), but it does not stop with words of forgiveness. It continues with a new life of love and obedience. The Lutheran Confessions call this “total repentance.” It involves forgiven sinners showing forth their repentant hearts in the way they live.

We say that good fruit, good works in every kind of life, should follow repentance, that is, conversion or regeneration. Neither can there be true conversion or true contrition where the putting to death of the flesh and bearing good fruit do not follow. True terrors, true griefs of mind, do not allow the body to satisfy itself in sensual pleasures, and true faith is not ungrateful to God. Neither does true faith hate God’s commandments. In a word, there is no inner repentance unless it also produces the outward putting to death of the flesh. We say that this is John’s meaning when he says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).[ii]

To make it clear what they were referring to, the Reformers went on to speak of what sort of fruit repentance produces:

These good fruit are what the commandments teach: prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. We should not kill, not hold on to hatred, but we should be forgiving and give to the needy, so far as we can according to our means. We should not commit sexual sins or adultery, but should hold in check, bridle, and chastise the flesh, not for a repayment of eternal punishment, but so as not to obey the devil or offend the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should speak the truth. These fruit have God’s command and should be produced for the sake of God’s glory and command.[iii]

Repentance is not a one-time act. The entire life of a Christian is to be characterized by repentance. Our baptism should remind us to drown our old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.

Is it not time that we join the faithful in confessing our sins? Confessing our pride in who we are, our hypocrisy in wanting to look pious, yet living daily lives that deny our identity as children of God. Confessing that without forgiveness, we really will be cast into eternal fire. Confessing all our sins in thought, word, and deed, what we have done and what we have left undone for which we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

We confess that we are indeed poor, miserable sinners. Yet, we confess our sins with hope, because we now walk in the way of the Lord, looking for Christ to come again soon (Matthew 3:11-12). In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.

You are a child of God. When you were baptized, you were baptized into the very “baptism” Jesus underwent—the baptism of His cross. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance. That means your life is now one of walking the way of the Lord—with all the wildernesses and deprivations and hard lessons and crosses that entails. But it also means that you walk the way the Lord walked in His resurrection—to everlasting joy in the kingdom.

What might such fruit look like in your life? Let’s take something rather simple and immediate—the observance of Advent and Christmas

Imagine how Christians celebrate Christmas differently than the rest of the world. This involves much more than simply saying, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays.” At the very least, it involves paying more attention to the fruit of repentance than the things we place under the tree.

It will probably include generosity and mercy—helping out your neighbor in need. There are certainly many needs and many opportunities for giving this time of year. The fruit of repentance may include reconciling with those whom you  have become estranged. Confessing to them how you have wronged them and forgiving them for their offenses against you. The fruit of repentance will include making time each day for prayer and the study of God’s Word. And the fruit of repentance will certainly include making worship a priority. Christians will not plan worship attendance around family events, but family events around worship attendance. What better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord and to celebrate Christmas than to gather with your family for worship to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament? It is only by that Word and Sacraments that you are motivated and equipped for genuine repentance on every day.

And so our pilgrimage to Jerusalem continues. With the people of Jerusalem who came to John in repentance and faith, we, too, come before Christ, who visits us now at the Table He has prepared to nourish us on our way. You who are clothed in Christ, receive Him again where He gives Himself for you! Already now the gifts of Christmas are given here in this Divine Service. Come confessing your sins and your faith as we prepare for Christmas by receiving the Christ Child here in bread and wine. Come to the Table, for it is time to walk in the way of the Lord. You are baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 160–161). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[ii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 176). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 183). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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