Tag Archives: Isaiah

Unworthy, yet still saved in Jesus Luke 3 First Saint Johns Dec 6, 2015

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who hear John the Baptist’s words to warn those to flee from the wrath to come said … Amen!

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when we remember the coming of Jesus, not just the first coming His incarnation, but we also think about His second coming, when the old will be destroyed and Jesus brings the new perfect world.

John the Baptist, some like to call him John the Baptizer, can well be talking to our generation as well as talking to the generation of the first century. John was an Old Testament prophet, he wasn’t playin’, he was there to make sure that things were set up for the coming of God the Son. He was quoting Isaiah, we often call Isaiah’s book the fifth Gospel. The Greek word Gospel means “Good News” and Isaiah was certainly telling the people of his time, five hundred years before Jesus’ coming, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus’ coming. That the hope and promise of Yahweh, God the Father, would come and that they would have the hope and promise of reestablishing the relationship that Yahweh had with His people. The people of Isaiah’s time had been brought to the bottom. They needed this hope and promise, they were beaten, they were exiled, they had no expectation of seeing their homeland, Israel, ever again. They felt abandoned and lost, and they knew they were exiled for a reason. They knew that they had sinned against God over and over. They knew they deserved to be punished. By the same token, God knew that He couldn’t just leave His people in Babylon with no hope and He gave Isaiah the words to give them the hope and promise that He had not forgotten them and that they would be restored into the relationship they had with Him. But it wasn’t going to be right away. God wanted to make sure the lesson had sunk in. It seems that it had. Israel stopped looking for foreign “gods” we don’t see further evidence of people worshipping Baal or Molech or other pagan “gods”. By the time John made his appearance, they did seem to be patiently waiting for Messiah, the anointed one of God, to restore them.

This doesn’t mean that they were all nicely squared away in waiting. They let a lot of pious kinds of beliefs build up around God’s Word. Jesus certainly criticized them for letting their man-made traditions get in the way of God’s Law. Also the Jews expected that Messiah would come to drive out the Romans which was wrong. Jesus was not some Davidic king who would drive out the Romans and re-establish a Davidic kingdom, the height of the Jewish nation. Jesus came so that all people would know the true God, and to give them God’s Word and Will. Jesus came to live that perfect life, to be the perfect, wholly innocent sacrifice, He would be the payment of our sins. God is truly holy, merciful and just. God’s justice cannot allow sin, there has to be a penalty for sin. The only penalty that would be truly sufficient to pay for the sin of the world, was the sacrifice of His truly holy, perfect Son, who lived the perfect life, in order to be the perfect sacrifice. So the Old Testament preacher, John the Baptist, is sent to fulfill the first prophecy that in the spirit of Isaiah, the one Isaiah said would come to make his, the Messiah’s, path straight. Like Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets, John knew he hadn’t been sent to make nice, pat people on the head, tell them it’s all about “Your best life now” [Joel Osteen book]. John is telling them, no more playin’, it’s time to pay attention and know that God the Son is coming and will lead you back to a relationship with the Father in Him and John is not pulling any punches.

John quotes Isaiah saying: “…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … all flesh shall see the salvation of God…” [Isaiah 40:3-5]. His words, 500 years earlier. Now, it’s happening and it’s time to stop floundering around, making things up, living in denial. It’s time to either know who Jesus is and that a new generation, a new era has begun, or resign yourself to hopelessness and loss. There’s no other choice. John says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Let’s take the second part first. John is saying, you’re not worthy to be here, who led you here in order to hear the words of salvation? If we are following God’s script, that’s really kind of a rhetorical question. If you know why you’re here, how do you know that? As Lutherans we know the answer to that. Who leads us to know Christ as our Lord and Savior and leads us to salvation? … The Holy Spirit leads us. We can’t know how to be saved, we don’t make that decision. We are too lost in our sin to know the holiness and salvation of God. John is the first to refer to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

Too often we read the Bible as being all nice and polite. But John’s first statement is flat out judgmental, oooh, that’s not nice, being judgmental. Yet here it is. Why is this so judgmental? A brood is defined as a family of young animals. So first Johns is saying that you’re just a bunch of not just immature, but animals. Not just any animal, he says they are a brood of snakes. Why snakes, why would that be especially compelling, even insulting to a group of Jews? What was special to them about the snake? … The snake was the form that Satan took to corrupt God’s perfect creation. The snake corrupted Eve and because Eve had fallen, Adam followed Eve and gave in to the temptation offered by Satan. Adam snubbed God and chose to give in to Satan’s temptation. The same with the people John is preaching to.

So John goes on to say. “OK, you may be here as a result of the Holy Spirit leading you here. If that’s the case, then you better start living up to that and repent of all your sins, and start to bear fruit in accordance with that repentance.” In other words, you need to start living your life in a way that glorifies God and justifies the fact that He has sent His Son to save you. Why? Because “…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is saying that at this point, every one of you here is doomed to Hell. God has already condemned you and judged, oh, that bad word again, judging. God has already condemned your sin and your snubbing of Him will send you to Hell.

The people listening, have completely understood what John is saying and decided that they need to take him seriously. How do we know that? … The crowds started to ask him “What then shall we do?” It’s too early for John to say “you need to know Jesus as Savior.” Neither he nor anyone else there knows how that’s going to play out. But he does say, “start getting your life together”. Stop trying to live just for yourself and live for those around you, so that they will see that things are changing. John answers the crowd saying: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food to do likewise.” Stop living selfishly, if you are in a position to help someone else give them something that they are in need of. The tax collectors and soldiers then ask John what they can do. Remember, these are probably the two most hated groups in Israel at the time. But clearly the Holy Spirit has moved these groups of men, who appear to be far over the boundary of redemption. No one wants them saved, yet John gives hope and promise to even the two groups of hated sinners. He tells them, stop ripping people off, stop trying to intimidate, injure and kill other people.

His listeners are now just breathless with anticipation, “…surely this has to be Him, this has to be the Messiah that God has promised us for centuries.” John sets them straight, that someone who will be much more then him is coming. He promises them that the Messiah to come will be that hope and promise. But in good Lutheran style, John warns them one more time: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” For those who are trying to convince us that Jesus isn’t serious about Hell, John is making it very clear. Jesus will come and gather the wheat, the good crop, gather those who are saved in Him into His “barn”, into heaven, to eternal life in the Resurrection. But, for those who are chaff, those who are not a good crop, not saved in Him, they will burn with unquenchable fire. The only place I know that is “unquenchable fire” is Hell. John makes it very clear, this is the default, which we are all in danger of, which is Hell. Salvation and true life is in the Messiah to come. That is the message I am telling you now. John then goes on to “preach good news to the people”. The Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation, our preparation as those who are saved in Jesus is always to the time when He will return, our resurrection in the New perfect World. Part of that preparation has to be in terms of being someone who will warn those around us who do not know Jesus “to flee from the wrath to come.”

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

John the Baptist proclaims the arrival of Jesus John 1 19-34 homily and Bible study on KFUO radio

The following is the text for my homily message on KFUO radio on February 5, The first link is for the discussion on John the Baptist. The second link is my homily on John 1: 19-34

ESV John 1:19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)

25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,

27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.

33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John 1:19 – 34  Sermonette on KFUO for February 5, 2015

I’m from Boston, where politics is as much of a spectator sport as the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots or Bruins. One of the great events is the politician, office holder who gets stopped by the police. Doesn’t matter the offense, the retort is always “do you know who I am?”. That’s almost always a tip off that the person knows they got busted, that they’re in trouble and now they’re trying to use their position to weasel their way out.

Seems we often get too caught up in the person and not the message.

There certainly is a time and a place, a need to know what someone is doing, who it is that’s doing it. Why do we get so caught up, so often needing to know the messenger and not focused on the message? Yes, we get some really messed up messages today and from multiple sources: Television, computers, radios, music recordings. How do we know that they are not of God? Because they don’t communicate the Gospel message. As Christians we should be able to discern what the Gospel message is from the message of the world.

Why do we get so caught up in the “Who are you?” In this day and age, it’s not so much “Who are you?” But “Who are you to tell me?” The message doesn’t seem to matter any more..There is no discernment today, there is simply blind allegiance to whoever it is that is conveying the message. If it’s the right athlete or the right recording artist or the right author, politician yada, yada. The right Bible teacher? Ahhhh, not so much… Unless he’s telling us what we want to hear.

The priests, the Levites, just weren’t that terribly concerned with what John the Baptist preached. Just not really interested, they were interested in who he was. They did that a lot with Jesus too, “where is your authority?”, “What gives you the right?” Not so much like the Bereans, they knew perfectly well who Paul was, good and bad. What did they do, just fall in love with the fact that Paul was talking to them? No! Acts 17:11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

The priests and Levites didn’t seem to be terribly impressed with John or his message, they wanted him to be Elijah, or someone with a rockstar name for them to fall in love with and listen to. Despite the fact that John was saying all the right things, mostly quoting out of Isaiah and continually steering attention away from himself, something else that made him suspect, at least to the priests and Levites. He was odd, odd clothing, odd food, odd practices, baptizing people, and like Jesus did not fit the mold that they were looking for. They weren’t interested in the validity of the words. They didn’t take down his words and go back to study if John was validly preaching Scripture, God’s revelation, especially as it related to the coming Messiah. No, they wanted the messenger to be Elijah, “the prophet”, who was this guy John?

The take away is this. We are not called to fall in love with the messenger. John the Baptizer was the last of the Old Testament prophets, he was an odd duck, as they all were, none of them were rockstars that you’d fall in love with. But they did convey God’s Word, they did give us God’s revelation? This passage in John’s Gospel quotes John the Baptizer as quoting or alluding to passages in Isaiah, Daniel, Malachi, Genesis and Psalms. The priests and the Levites, the rest of the house of Israel missed the point, getting so caught up in “do you know who I am?”, They missed the message of the Gospel. They stuck with their Laws and rules, relying on them to save them, when they had actual grace and forgiveness in their presence, right before them. They missed salvation in the Gospel. As a pastor, as a minister of Christ I am charged with preaching the truth, I am charged with giving the hope and promise of the Gospel. Not what someone wants to hear, but what God the Father tells us is true salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. I’m definitely not a rock star, but if I am telling you what you need to hear and giving you what you need; Baptism, the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Word, the Father’s Absolution of your sins, you should listen. By all means, be a Berean and take my word back and study it. I love it when someone pushes me on something I said in a sermon or wrote in a blog. But trust that I was placed here as a minister, as a representative of Jesus in order for Jesus to use me to give to you what you need for salvation in Jesus. I’m definitely not going to say “do you know who I am?” Because you wouldn’t. But I can say, as any disciple in Jesus can say, do you know that I am a brother in Christ and that true salvation is in Jesus? It’s not the messenger, it’s whether it’s the message of Jesus Christ in Scripture that is telling you that God the Father has saved you in Jesus. John would have told them: “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” They just wanted to ask the questions when they could have stopped and listened to the one who prepared the way for the Lord.

In the Fullness of Time Galatians 4: 4-7 First St Johns December 28, 2014

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the perfect timing of God said … AMEN

Under the heading: “There is no such thing as “coincidences” where God is concerned, for that matter anything, since God is concerned with everything about our lives, we read Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Galatian’s four short verses are loaded with teaching. Paul’s quote in Galatians 4 is particularly interesting: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son … to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons … you are no longer a slave, but a son,…”(Gal 4: 4-7)

The part that of find of interest right here is “…the fullness of time…” Some think that had something to do with Mary coming to term in her pregnancy, or something that was dictated by Joseph and Mary’s situation. But most see Paul’s short expression as an appreciation and understanding of how God does things in His time and dictates the course of events and history according to His will. The Father didn’t turn to the Son one day and for just any old reason say, “yeah, think it’s about time we do the incarnation thing.” This had been the plan since the beginning, He chooses to reveal that plan to us, first, in Genesis 3:15, at the very beginning and then just before He throws the switch to make it happen, the Father reaffirms His plan, in an even plainer way in Isaiah 9:6. The Genesis passage, the proto-Evangelium, where God promises Satan that there would be a Savior, that the Messiah, anointed One of God, would come into the world to crush Satan’s head. God the Son would crush Satan’s head and by doing so, would save us from the curse of Hell. That sounds harsh, necessary, but in your face. However the Father’s promise to Isaiah is the one that is His majestic promise that He made when Judah is about to be crushed by Assyria and to disappear as a nation, most of her people killed or enslaved. Certainly a great crisis where Yahweh promises them; “A Child is born, A Son is given, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The Israelites knew that they were about to take a harsh and long-lasting beating and they needed this promise. Isaiah could have said the same thing Paul writes: “But when the fullness of time had come…”, because Israel had pushed too far for Yahweh and He was now about to let His people know what happens when they ignore Him and get too caught up in their own plans and expectations. The fullness of time had come and Israel, at least for a few generations, would cease to exist.

Paul on the other hand tells us that the “…fullness of time…” had just occurred for the Father to fulfill His promises to Adam and Eve, and to the people of Israel by Isaiah and it happened at this intersection of time. Although Paul didn’t know it, although Jesus prophesied it, this was the perfect time for God. While they were strolling away from the temple and the disciples were admiring the view of the buildings of the temple, Jesus took them to task and said “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Don’t become to fascinated by the things man, in this case King Herod, build, because there is going to be another turning point in Israel’s history and this temple that you find so fascinating will be completely destroyed in just a few years. In about 40 years Israel, as you know it now, will cease to exist along with the temple. The Judaism of Israel would no longer be focused on the temple and would be scattered again. A new world would begin and the Christians in Israel would be forced to leave and take Christianity into the world.

This time, that Jesus had been born into, was the perfect time for Him to come into the world and conduct His incarnational ministry. It was a time of peace in Israel, Jesus did not have to contend with wars or any kind of famine or drought. He could get everyone’s full attention on His ministry and drive it deep into their awareness so that they could readily understand their new relationship with the Father. They had time to absorb the Gospel and begin to live it before they had to go into the world to spread the Gospel. They had to unlearn the legalism of Judaism and the debauchery of paganism and to come to understand that they were saved solely and completely by grace. They couldn’t earn their way to Christ in this world or to eternity, they could only be brought to salvation in Him and through His actions, what Jesus does to save us.

The conditions were exactly right for the disciples to absorb Jesus’ teaching and take those teachings into the world. Not only was there peace, the conditions surrounding them enabled them to bring Jesus to the world. As Lee Strobel points out: “The time period when Jesus lived was ideally suited for the spread of Christianity. The vast reach of the Roman Empire primed the known world for the gospel. Roman roads allowed relative ease of travel and greatly increased the area to which the gospel spread. Roman authority also helped protect travelers from robbers and attackers. Throughout the Roman Empire, Greek was the common language, and allowed communication of the gospel between groups who lived hundreds or thousands of miles from each other.”1

The Pax Romana, that is the peace of Rome, which united the entire world, enabled Jesus’ disciples to teach and preach without the distraction of wars or other disruptions to those they preached to. Jesus’ disciples could travel and teach without being abused because the Roman Empire tolerated many belief systems. Any earlier or later, and the disciples would be persecuted before Christianity could take root. At this time Christians could worship and evangelize unmolested. God created the conditions through man, mostly the Romans, so that He could send His Son into the world to preach God’s Word and Will and so that His church would grow. The church of Jesus Christ might otherwise have been steamrolled or isolated to small parts of the world. Jesus’ appearance met other promises of prophecy. Strobel writes: “God fulfilled his prophesied time frame. Daniel predicted that the Anointed One would come and would be ‘cut off’ (killed) before the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple (Daniel 9: 24-26).”

From Paul’s writing we can see the sovereignty of God, that is God controls and is Lord of all that He has created. He planned and controlled human history so that at just the perfect time in that history His Son would appear and become the focus of the entire world. The world had never been brought together as it had under the Roman Empire and in a couple of hundred years it would be shattered and different peoples would be separated from each other, unable even to communicate. God controls the events of the world, which He does, although He permits man, because of His sin, to spread war and sickness and famine throughout the world. Then clearly God controls those who He has chosen to be Lord of their lives. For myself there is no doubt that God chose the perfect time for me to know Jesus as my Savior. Because you are here, baptized, listening to His Word, about to take His Body and Blood, He has chosen you at just the right time to be saved in Jesus.

Strobel writes: “ God had an appointed day when he would intersect human history with the promised redemption. The moment in history when Jesus arrived was tailored for the rapid spread of the Gospel. All human history is balanced on the fulcrum of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”2 God gives us the understanding we need in order to know Him as our Father and Jesus as our Savior, and when we see it in human history, we can better understand how He works in our own personal lives. Take some time over the next week and think about how “..in the fullness of time…” God the Father, Abba, has made us His own sons and daughters that Paul writes about in this passage.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

1Lee Strobel The Case for Christ Study Bible p 1634

2Ibid p 1634

A Decree Went Out From the Father, His Son our Lord Jesus Luke 2 First St Johns December 24, 2014

A BABY CHANGES EVERYTHING

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who “have seen a great light”, our Savior Jesus, said … AMEN

Almost 700 years before He was born, some of the greatest words of Jesus were said by the prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;…” Who are the people who have walked in darkness? … Yes, we are. Sure the sun in the sky may be out and shining, but so often we feel that we are in darkness. We all know what darkness is like, especially this time of year. When I worked in Boston, I would have to take the train and it would come pretty much around dawn this time of year, I would get into the city and the trip would mostly be in the dark and when I left at or later than 5pm, it would always be dark and get darker on my way home. The cold of walking to the train station through city streets, often walking through snow and wind, that would just take your breath away and cut you down. My only hope was to make it to the dim light and less cold of the train station to get on a train, that would at least, get me out of the weather and give me enough light to read a newspaper.

Even in the brightest summer day we really walk in darkness, especially if we don’t know Jesus as Lord. We all live in the same world, the world is dark and evil. I really hate winter weather, even when the weather is relatively mild, I never refer to it as “warm” just “less cold”. In the same way, yes we have light, but it’s really only “less dark”, the real light is in Jesus and that’s what He brought into the world in the dark night in Bethlehem. No one who was there would say that it was any “lighter”, whether it was at the beginning of winter or early spring, there really is never any light in a dark and evil world. A baby changes everything, in this case the Baby Jesus. The dark and the evil of the world is why Jesus came into it, He brings His eternal and more than sufficient light into the world, He brought it with Him to Bethlehem. But for all those people out there, right at this very moment, maybe even scurrying around for that one last Christmas item, present, decoration, card, food for the feast, they scurry in the dark.

No matter how hard they try to “understand” God, unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit, they cannot understand; God’s wisdom, His Will, His light, His Word and frankly they just don’t want to. It has to be about God and His way or it’s not at all. Only those who are in Jesus will understand God’s will for the world. For each one who has been baptized, hears the preached Word and takes the Body and Blood of our Lord. I hesitate to say “understand”, because I doubt that any of us would say we “understand” God even as His born again children, even though we do accept what He does and understand when He does it. Only to His children in Jesus, will God’s will, word, His Light, and Warmth be accepted. John 1:9 describes it as the “true light, which enlightens everyone”. But John 3:9 acknowledges that people really don’t love the light; “…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

Faith Hill’s song “A Baby changes everything”, she’s talking about Mary and how her life goes from being, probably, a teenage girl, getting ready to be married, a huge step for anyone, how anyone of us has a boatload of expectations for marriage and then Mary is told that she will be the mother of Messiah. Her life has now been changed extraordinarily, she knows that this is of God and that she has been honored above all women, but her life is taking a course that she could never have expected. This baby has certainly changed everything for her, a life beyond her expectations, she has only an inkling of how this Baby has changed everything for man. Before this Baby our sin separated us from a completely just, completely holy God we were in a state of hostility with God. Now this Baby has changed everything and we are at peace with God. Before we were brought to eternal death, now we are saved eternally because we are at peace with God, we are His children. When we are “born again” through our baptism in Jesus and our nature is changed from the world and flesh to a nature that is in Jesus, a divine nature. We are still sinful beings, but in Christ, in that “Baby” who has changed everything, we are saved as eternal beings, we will be resurrected in the flesh. But no longer will that flesh be corrupted, it will be perfect in a perfect, physical world, that we were always intended by God to live in.

Ceasar Augustus issued a decree and all the people of the Roman Empire picked up and moved in order to be counted by the Roman government. That was for a time, and those people who were counted soon died. God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Godhead, issued a decree, that there would be a great light that would come into a world of darkness. That decree was originally issued through Isaiah who promised that great light would shine on all men and it would result in great rejoicing.

A Baby changes everything, Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a time. God the Father, through His Son, born a Baby issued a decree for eternity and His Son was the messenger. St Augustine writes: “Christ was called the Angel [Greek for messenger] of Great Counsel because he brought the message of the kingdom of heaven and the will of the Father.”1 That because of His incarnation, His birth as a baby that everything would be changed between us and the Father, we would have peace with the Father and be saved because that Baby would grow to be a man who would be the sacrifice, the payment for our sins.

I like to use a story that Paul Harvey would tell on Christmas to illustrate how the Father came down to us so that we would understand who He is and His will for us:

The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

He put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.”2

Foil Satan and hell, sin and death—foil them with the joy only Christ Jesus gives. Let Him comfort and defend you. Let Him feed and strengthen you. For He who once was born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger, is here for you in His Holy Word and soon will be wrapped in bread and wine and placed on a plate and in a cup for Your salvation!

Yes, we’re surrounded by troubles and heartbreaks, and Satan, sin and selfishness relentlessly attack, but don’t just sit there—sing for joy! Your Savior is born! There is peace on earth for you, come for all, to set us free.”3 A Baby does change everything.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

1Augustine quoted by Steven McKinion Ancient Christian Commentary Old Testament X p 69

2[1]Keiki Hendrix, Everyday Christian, Christmas Classics: The Man And The Birds By Paul Harvey (December23,2012, http://www.everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/christmas_classics_the_man_and_the_birds_by_paul_harvey).

3God’s Love at Christmas CPH sermon

Good News to the Poor, All of us Isaiah 61: 1-11 First St Johns Dec 14, 2014

Please check out the audio version of this sermon, click on he above link or copy and paste into your browser.

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and if you are anointed and if the Holy Spirit is on you, say … AMEN!

The reading in Isaiah is the theme of the sermon today, but I have to start with our epistle reading. Paul tells us to exhort, so I am going to exhort you: “Rejoice always!” We know what time of year it is, we are reminded that while Advent is a time of penance, of clearing the clutter of sin that has gathered in our heart we are prepared for the coming of the Christ child and just as significantly, His second coming at the end of time. So yes, rejoice, but still remember to pray without ceasing. Part of prayer should be repentance. Pray for forgiveness, but a special emphasis on praying for help to prepare for His return. For myself, Lord remind me of whose I am in You, that I am saved in You. Yes I need forgiveness, that I am sinful, that I need a Savior.

700 years before the fact, before it actually happens God is giving Isaiah the words that Jesus says in Luke 4: 18-19. These are the words that Jesus says at the beginning of His earthly ministry. He had just gone through the temptation by Satan, certainly Satan knew Jesus is God the Son and now Jesus has gone back to his hometown, Nazareth. He proclaimed the words of Isaiah to identify Himself as the one anointed by God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but His ministry started when He returned to Nazareth and in front of the synagogue on the Sabbath day He proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.”

What, just the poor? Yea! Who are the poor? In terms of our relationship with God, we are all poor. Remember “Christmas Clubs”? I don’t think banks have them anymore, but all year long, you would go to the bank (yea, definitely before electronic banking), you would take part of your regular income and deposit it in your Christmas Club account? Back then it would actually earn some meaningful income and then just before Christmas, not Black Friday, that wasn’t around either. You would take everything you’ve saved, go and buy your presents and decorations and holiday food. When you emptied that account you might have felt like you had some money, but after a few days of Christmas shopping you felt even lighter in the pocket book then you had before. You may have been poor again, but celebrating the birth of Jesus makes us rich.

Yea, this time of year, like it or not, we are all kind of poor so that we can have that great holiday celebration. But that’s not what Jesus is really talking about.  He’s talking about the “Poor in Spirit”. Where does that phrase come from? … The Beatitudes, “The Sermon on the Mount”. What does He say about the “Poor in Spirit”? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We want to be “Poor in Spirit” don’t we? As Christians, by definition we should be poor in spirit in order to have the Kingdom of Heaven. That Kingdom came when Jesus came into the world. We who are the poor in spirit have inherited that kingdom. We are living that kingdom today. While that kingdom has arrived in Jesus and we should live our lives as subjects of the kingdom, as loyal subjects of King Jesus, the kingdom that is to come, as we pray for it, has not yet been realized. You may not think you’re “poor” in anything, but you would be wrong, unless of course you don’t know Christ as your Savior.

It is Jesus who has been xv;m’ That is anointed, kings and priests would be “anointed”, this would be a special blessing to them to bear their duties, to faithfully serve, to be the ones who would do what Yahweh has designated them to do. We call Jesus, Messiah, that is the One who is anointed, who has been blessed and designated by God to bring us the Good News, to bind up, proclaim liberty, release those who are bound. All the things that sin imposes on us and Jesus is anointed to save us from.

While Yahweh is giving the words to Isaiah of the great promise of the Savior, He’s also reaffirming a previous promise. He’s reaffirming a promise made about 800 years earlier, to Abraham, not just that Abraham will have, what we know to be hundreds of millions of descendants, but that they will be blessed in Jesus who has been anointed, who has the Spirit of the Lord. We who are blessed to be eternally saved in Jesus, in the resurrection. In one of the verses not quoted, Yahweh promises “…you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of God;…” Peter re-emphasizes that when he writes 700 years later: “But 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.” You may be poor in spirit, but Yahweh says that we are priests, minister of our God and speaks through Peter to re-affirm that promise 700 years later.

We end with God’s promises that will be confirmed and carried out by Jesus during His human lifetime and will be the gifts of all who are in Jesus, you and I, until He returns that second and last time. Isaiah writes: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; … He has clothed me with the garments of salvation…the robe of righteousness, the bridegroom will have a beautiful headdress and the bride will be adorned in jewels.” It may be difficult to picture or appreciate, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will understand how magnificent it will be when we see it accomplished in all of us who are in Jesus. We have a tiny little speck of it when we celebrate Christmas, the lights and decorations, for the Lord’s first coming. We can’t even begin to imagine how magnificent it will be, what we will see in the second coming of Jesus.

Paul’s words, two simple phrases, write them down in your journal, really think over them: “Rejoice always” “Pray without ceasing”. Rejoice because we have the promises. Pray to stay strong in God’s promises. Rejoice always means, always. It’s often tough to do, but always means always; not just when you’re in the mood. Not just when Christmas is coming, or maybe when it’s over. Rejoice even when someone bashes in your door, when you’re in the hospital, yes even when the time of year reminds you who won’t be at the Christmas feast this year. Rejoice not because they’re gone, but because we have the eternal promises to be with those we love and to enjoy the magnificence of eternity in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So how do you rejoice this Advent, what are your prayers?

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

Remembering our sin in preparation for the Child First St Johns November 30, 2014 Isaiah 64: 1-9

For the audio version of this sermon, click on the above link, or copy and paste it into your web browser. Thank you and God bless.

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who prepare for the coming of the Son in the new liturgical year said … AMEN!

Happy New Year, sounds a little weird, aren’t we supposed to have Christmas first and then have New Year? Today is the first Sunday of the church New Year, the time of Advent, the time where we wait in anticipation, our whole life is a time of waiting in anticipation of the coming of Jesus in the clouds of His power and glory. But for now we wait on the feast, the celebration of the coming of the Christ child. The Advent of His Kingdom in the world. We joined together in the Apostle’s Creed to remember that He will come again, to judge both the living and the dead. Those who have died in Christ will be raised to the resurrection the eternal Kingdom, the New Jerusalem.

Isaiah says “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold please look, we are all your people.” (Is 64:8-9) Ya, Isaiah is addressing the Old Testament God. Remember Isaiah 6? Isaiah is raised into the presence of God: “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!’ (Is 6:5)? From the beginning of Isaiah to the end, our reading today, Isaiah is readily acknowledging the fact that we are sinful and unclean, we are simply not suitable to be in the presence of a pure, holy, God. Clearly God has revealed to Isaiah that we are sinful and there needs to be a solution to our condition. Yahweh makes it very clear to Isaiah that the sacrifices of Israel; rams, bulls, lambs, just doesn’t cut it. Read all through Isaiah 1: 10-15. But then what does God do? He promises that they will be made as white as snow… our sins will be like wool, nice and white, cleaned, made pure. He makes it very clear all through Isaiah’s book that we are sinful, and Isaiah is completely aware of his own condition. Imagine being brought straight into the presence of our completely holy God, just being overwhelmed by His holy presence, His Holy being and our being, the complete opposite, totally depraved and sinful. It must be an overpowering experience. Many people demand that God come into their presence, we couldn’t begin to cope with that, we would be consumed by our sinfulness in contrast to His holiness, we would be completely blown away and that’s why God won’t do it.

Until we completely internalize Paul’s words in our epistle reading: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Cor 1: 4, 8) Only in Christ are we guiltless, that we can then be in the presence of the Father, totally righteous and holy, but only through our baptism-new life, we are made holy, we don’t have to be reduced to the fear and disgust that Isaiah felt. In Christ, in the Father’s presence we are lifted up to joy, we can rejoice. I have no doubt that it will be an overwhelming feeling of love and freedom in Christ, in the Father’s presence.

Isaiah is making a plea for restoration. He has been made completely aware of how unworthy he is, how unworthy we all are. Isaiah is no better or worse then we are, none of us is any better or any worse. Isaiah is making this plea that we can be restored. In what way are we restored? We can now be in the Father’s presence, we are no longer separated from Him, alienated from Him. We are alienated from Him because we are aliens in relation to Him. No we aren’t green or odd-shaped, we don’t have antenna’s in our head, but our nature, as Isaiah has been made profoundly aware of, is totally opposite to His. He is completely holy, completely perfect, we are imperfect and deeply sinful. Walter Roehrs in the Concordia Self-Study Commentary writes: “Isaiah devotes the remainder of his book to correct two misconceptions his hearers and readers are prone to harbor about the way God wants to lead them to glory.” I might add that this is the way we think today, probably more so, then what the people in Isaiah’s time thought. “It is a fatal mistake on the one hand, to … walk with God with one foot, and with the other to stalk through the sewer of sin.”1 That’s the way we think today, “I’m good enough, I haven’t killed anyone, there are others much worse than me.” So we continue to live our lives in this mind-set that I can give God what ever I decide and He has to take what I give Him and deal with it. God is not a half-way kind of guy, it’s His way or no way. How the world comes to another conclusion totally baffles me. Why should a perfect, holy God be happy with some scraps that we throw Him, bring us into His presence and just allow whatever phony, mooshy, sentimental whim we chose over His perfect being? Why would He let our lusts and greed overcome His Holiness. Through our sin, we’ve messed up what God created, away from Him, cutoff from Him. He drove Satan out of heaven when Satan presumed to be better than God, why would He let us in to do the same thing Satan did? He’s not and if you think otherwise, you’re only kidding yourself. Dr Roehrs writes: “Isaiah had to set Israel straight [and by extension us who are now Israel] on both counts. He [Isaiah] foretold certain disaster for a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity’ and so depraved as to lift ‘hands … full of blood’ to the Lord in a pose of prayer.” (Is 1: 4, 15)2 That’s us, and that’s not going to work in the presence of God the Father, but in Christ we become cleansed and pure and suitable enough to be saved to eternity in God’s salvation in Jesus.

Isaiah is acutely aware of the human condition in relation to God: “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

So what now, what needs to happen. Can we do anything that is going to make us closer to God, to make us more desirable, more deserving of being in His presence? No… But earlier in his book, Isaiah knew that God was going to move, to do something. It was going to take about 700 years, for us that would be intolerable! We want the solution, we want it now and well, if you can’t make it happen on our time table, we’re just going to have to get ourselves a new “god”. But in God the Father’s time, it is perfect, complete, not a band-aid fix, an eternal, complete, perfect fix: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6) I like what David Johnson says: “…Advent is not just anticipatory of a saccharin sweet nativity story, but bona fide bitter judgment against sin! Heaven and earth collide and are mingled in Jesus! God and man! Jesus is wrapped in human flesh; the world is wrapped in divine grace…”3 The seasonal color for Advent is usually blue, although purple is acceptable also. What other season is purple the seasonal color? Lent. The blue, and some say it’s bluish-purple, is a symbol of waiting, it represents Mary waiting with the rest of the church for her child. But the more traditional color is purple and like Lent means a time of repentance, in the sense of preparing for the coming of the Savior in repentance, being prepared for Him by repenting of our sins. That’s why we don’t normally sing Christmas carols, which are celebration, we are faithfully preparing and repenting so that in the Christ Child we are saved and we spend the Christmas season in joy and celebration. Spend the Advent season raising up your sins for forgiveness, clean out your heart, like you clean your house on Shrove Tuesday and you will be prepared to receive the child on Christmas Day as we receive the risen Christ on Easter.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

1Roehrs, Franzman Concordia Self-Study Commentary p 490

2Ibid

3David A Johnson Concordia Journal Fall 2014 p 322

Where are you being guided to in Jesus? First St Johns, York, Pa. October 26, 2014

Please click on the above link to hear the audio of this sermon

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are led by and follow the Holy Spirit said … AMEN
Paul’s charge to the Thessalonians tells us that: “…we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess 2:12) Those who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ are constantly being guided, are constantly being charged to walk, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Marge and I were moved to pick up our lives in Massachusetts to go to St Louis for a season, complete education and then to be led to where? We didn’t know, but as things unfolded and we were faithful, we were guided to be in York, Pa. Dr Jerry Kieschnick asked me, as I received my call papers if I knew where York, Pa was? Not really, but in our faith we didn’t question where York was, we were led here and have been made a part of this great family in Jesus here in York.
On this Reformation Day, we remember Dr Martin Luther, posting the 95 Thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on All Saints Day. As I’ve said before, Dr Luther wasn’t looking for some kind of showdown, too many times we see him depicted as a Christian version of a gunfighter at the OK Corral. That was not his intent. He was a brilliant man who never stopped studying, as he studied, the more he realized that there were problems with the doctrines that the Roman church was teaching. He was a teacher at the time and the more he had to deal with these doctrines, the more he felt led to start a journey of inquiry. He never anticipated what would happen as he nailed his document to that door. His whole intention was to raise these issues in a genuinely collegial sense. He wasn’t looking for a brawl, a battle, but I have no doubt that God led Luther to do this in order to raise issues about God’s church that demanded discussion. The Roman church, at the time, chose not to discuss those issues. Luther wrote: “In the year 1516. I began to write against the pope. In the year 1518 Doctor Staupitz released me from obedience to my order and left me alone at Augsburg when I had been summoned before Emperor Maximilian and the pope’s legate, who was then at the place. In the year 1519 Pope Leo excommunicated me from the church and so I was released a second time. In the year 1521 Emperor Charles excommunicated me from his empire and so I was released a third time. But the Lord took me up.”1
Many times when we are led to leave, by God, we’re told to leave by the world. Luther has the distinction to be told to leave three times, you think you have it rough, you may be told to leave your work, your school, wherever, because of your Christian beliefs, but probably only once. Luther got “shown the door” by the head of the Augustian Order where he had lived and served as a monk, by the head of the Roman Catholic Church and then by the head of state of the largest empire in the world. Luther could honestly say that he had been thrown out of better places then most people. Sometimes to be thrown out of places that are just frankly not good to be in to begin with, is a badge of honor. No one wants the shame of being publicly asked to leave, but afterwards you realize that being thrown out was the right thing, was something that needed to happen in order to glorify God, then so be it and God speed.
It is then usually a case of not just being led somewhere, but also a commentary on being thrown out of somewhere. Jesus told His disciples that they would be thrown out of houses and towns; “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matt 10:14, Mark 6:11 and Luke 9:5), each of the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels, do not tell all of the same events or sayings, but apparently they were all so aware of the fact that they would get tossed out of places, that they all made a point of relating this direction of Jesus. Did that mean that they had failed, or were somehow not completely adequate disciples? No, it could well mean that Jesus was making sure everyone knew that they had a chance to hear the Gospel, if they rejected it, well too bad for them, Matthew 11:23-29: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” If any place had its chance it was Capernaum. Jesus had been led there, most of the disciples lived and worked there, all sorts of miracles and preaching went on there. What happened? Luke 4: starting at verse 17, do you remember what Jesus did? After reading Isaiah He declared that He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me…” Jesus was the anointed of God, the Messiah. Their response? Woe, wait a minute there, this is Joseph’s son, He’s saying that He’s the Messiah? No, I don’t think so. Jesus responded, yea, kinda figured, because no prophet is acceptable in his hometown, and that is when the people in the synagogue tried to hustle Jesus down to a cliff to throw Him off of it. Yea Jesus got run out of Dodge, but did that make Jesus find a corner to sit and cry? “They threw me out of my hometown, wah, what will I do?
Sometimes we are moved as Paul described to the Thessalonians. Now Paul had certainly been moved around by the Holy Spirit, a lot of places we don’t know about. But he tells the Thessalonians: “…like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 11). The Greek word Paul used peripate,w like the English can mean how we conduct ourselves and to also literally walk. No doubt Paul expected that some of those in Thessalonica that he was preaching to would be led on their own literal walk or journey.
Luther was led on a walk, to initiate that walk he was thrown out of somewhere else. The door was closed on him at the monastery he was at the church he preached at and even the country he lived in. Clearly God was using an exclamation point to emphasize that it was time for Luther to step out in his Christian faith. That wasn’t Luther’s perception, no doubt he was otherwise comfortable and at home where he was. God emphatically moved Luther so that Luther was left without any choice. He had to pursue the issues that he raised. These issues weren’t going to be in terms of some hypothetical debate, something that maybe would result in changes or maybe not. No! God didn’t leave any room for Luther to maneuver, there was only a straight line and that was to see through the establishment of a church that would faithfully preach the Word of God. A church that would be faithful to Scripture, God’s Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question before you is this: Are you truly listening to what God is saying to you? Are you faithful in prayer, not the kind of prayer that’s “OK God listen up, this is what I need from You and what I need You to do!” But prayer that is also asking and seeking God’s will in your life, where he wants you to walk to? I doubt that most, if any of you, are being asked to pick up and leave York. Dick and Gloria have already gone and returned from their mission trip in Liberia. But, God might be guiding some of you to short term mission in Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, or maybe to Helen Thackston charter school, your next door neighbor, the man or woman in the cube next to you at work, to a young man or woman who may be making bad decisions and needs someone to turn them to Jesus. You might have to walk across the world or across your lawn.
Ya, here we go, take out that journal and pray over it and listen for God’s guidance. Where is He directing you to and who is He directing you to witness to or to serve, to faithfully build a relationship with in order for them to come to know the love of Christ? What comfortable place are you being asked to move out of? You may have to stand up against the powers, but the Holy Spirit will give you the words.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.