John 3:1-17 – v. 3 - Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we begin a four part sermon series centered on the chief article of the Christian faith –in the courtroom of the Holy and Triune God, we are justified by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. That whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will not perish but have eternal life. In this sermon series, the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ would be front and center. The Gospel is the first and the final word we want you to hear. We lean in a strong way on a book written by J.A.O. Preus, who has written a book called “Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel.” In it he writes that the Gospel is more than words, but it is still words – words about the Word made flesh for us, words that convey the Word made flesh to us….is the Gospel just words? No! Never just words. Rather words that make us just.”
Four Gospel metaphors we put before you in these four Sundays of Lent. Next Sunday, Jesus is Living Water, the following Sunday – Jesus is Light in the midst of Darkness, the Sunday after that – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Today, the Gospel is new birth, Jesus is synonymous with new life. the coming to faith in Jesus and receiving his life giving benefits is like being born anew by the power of God We contribute as little to our spiritual birth as we do to our physical birth – nothing.
Martha’s distress. Little four year old Martha loved dolls. She carried them wherever she went. She took them to bed with her. She changed their clothes. She spent all kinds of time loving them, talking to them, and spending time with them. One day she looked up at her mom with a distressed kind of a face and cried out, “Mama, I love them and love them and love them, but they never love me back!”
Could it be that our God in heaven above has had similar thoughts all the way through Old Testament days, “I have loved all of them with an everlasting kind of love, but so many of them do not love me back.” No doubt Jesus had similar thoughts one day when He looked out over Jerusalem and wept, “I love all of them and yet so many of them do not love me back.” Two lessons we want to put forward today about the love of God that came down from heaven above so that we you and I could be born again, so that you and I might have new life.
Lesson #1 is that New life comes from above for everyone but is received by (just a few). Or as Matthew records Jesus saying, “ For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. And again at the end of the parable of the great wedding banquet, perhaps with tears in his eyes, teaches “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
And in our text for today, Jesus wonders out loud how Nicodemus can a teacher of Israel and yet not understand that a man would have to be born again to be saved. Jesus had been doing all kinds of signs and wonders, but the religious leaders of that day would not believe that He was the Son of God. He had been bearing witness to truth, but Nicodemus and so many Pharisees would not receive his testimony. Jesus is that great light who has come into the world, but in so many ways people prefer darkness. That’s another way of saying that new life has come into this world, but in so many ways, people prefer the old and comfortable life.
Two simple truths we want to learn again about the new life that comes from above for everyone but is received by just a few. First, it’s at the same time free and (expensive). Salvation is free for us, but expensive for our Father in heaven – it cost Him His only Son. The forgiveness of sins is free for us, but so very costly for the Son of God, it cost Him His life. There’s no charge in this place to get your babies baptized, but if that water is going to be anything more than simple water, it has to be connected to Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen again. Holy Communion is pure Gospel in this place, the forgiveness of sins is given freely and without condition, come just as you are, but as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.
A second truth about the new life coming from above is that it’s at the same time predictable and (surprising). When I say that the grace of God is predictable, I’m referring to what Lutherans call the means of grace. The means of grace are the ways by which the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. They include the Word, Baptism, and our Lord’s Supper. In Baptism, babies are born again into the family of God, they are claimed as sons and daughters by the Triune God. That is predictable. When sinners hear the Word of God and believe it, they get new hearts. That’s predictable. As often as broken and contrite sinners eat and drink at their Lord’s Supper, their sins are forgiven, their faith is strengthened, the mercy of God sweeps over their souls and spills out into the lives of others. That’s predictable.
When I say that the new life coming from above can be surprising, I think of how it comes in all the seasons of life, at all times of the day or night, often when you least expect it. New life came into Abram and Sarah’s family, long after it was humanly possible for her to have a baby. New life came to Nicodemus at night time, as he wrestled with the idea that a grown up Pharisee would have to be born again if he wanted to see the kingdom of God. New life often comes to people in days of crisis.
The kingdom of God is like a middle aged man who hasn’t come to church for years, but now that he is recovering from a heart attack, he asks his pastor whether he would still be welcome at the Lord’s Table. The kingdom of God is like a young married man whose wife has left him for greener pastures, he cries out in prayer to His God why life has to be so hard. The kingdom of God is like parents whose teenager has committed suicide and they ask a thousand questions of themselves, to nobody in particular, and to God.
In all three stories just told, new life came from above, as they asked good questions, as they listened like they had never listened before, as the Holy Spirit taught them. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
One observation we can make about Nicodemus in John chapter 3. He asked good questions of Jesus. He put himself in a position where the Spirit of God could work on him. In a position where new life could come into his heart and mind. The next time we hear of Nicodemus is at the trial of Jesus,where he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged. The final time we hear of him, Nicodemus is assisting Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.
Are you asking good questions these days? Are you asking the kinds of questions which put you in a position where the Spirit of God might teach you? The kinds of questions that could lead to new understandings, new insights, new directions in life?
Lesson #2 is to learn both from the stories of Abraham and Nicodemus that to believe in the promises of God means that life will never be the same again. New life takes us from the familiar towards the (unfamiliar). Our text says it this way, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” As often as we drown the old sinful adam inside of us with all of its crabbiness and orneriness by daily contrition and repentance, that often a new man, a new woman rises up on the inside of us with a spirit of kindness and patience. The old has passed away, surprisingly, the new has come! As often as the Spirit of God is ruling inside of us, that often we see the old sinful nature in the rear view mirror. As often as an infant is delivered into this world, that family has to look in their rear view mirror to see the old days of pregnancy and the pains of child birth. The familiar has given way to the unfamiliar.
In his rear view mirror, Abraham saw (idolatry). God was calling Abram to leave his surroundings of paganism an false beliefs and go to a land he would be shown when he arrived. He would be leaving a lifestyle where there was nothing but condemnation and death and to go to a place where he would live by faith in the promises of God’s grace. The familiar would give way to the unfamiliar.
In his rear view mirror, Nicodemus saw (self-righteousness). Jesus was calling Nicodemus to leave the teachings of the Pharisees and to be born again of water and the spirit. He would be leaving a lifestyle where men were still living according to the flesh and go to a place where he would live by faith in the Son of God. The familiar would give way to the unfamiliar.
What is it you need to be leaving behind these days? The Law of God is like a mirror, it can only show you where you are, what you look like, and what is wrong. The Gospel on the other hand shows you where Jesus has gone on your behalf, it gives you new life, it takes you in a whole new direction. The Law will always accuse you of being in the wrong place, the Gospel will take you to new places. The Law will always distress you, the Gospel will grant relief.
Delilah’s relief. The kingdom of God is like an elderly lady named Delilah we used to visit in the Waterville Nursing Home. She couldn’t remember much about life, but she trusted in Jesus as her Savior. Every month, I would ask her if she was sorry for her sins, if she believed in Jesus as her Savior, and if she wanted to amend her sinful life. She would answer yes. Every month I would tell her that Jesus loved her and that Jesus had died for her…..at which point every month Delilah would be very distressed. She would look me in the eyes and ask, “Jesus is dead? To which I would reply, “yes, Delilah, but He rose up again. He is alive.” At which point she would be visibly relieved. And say something like “thank goodness He’s not still dead.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the folks are more and more understanding the fullness of the Gospel. More and more the Spirit of God is taking them from the familiar to the unfamiliar. More and more new life is coming from above and their God is getting all the glory. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Temptation arrives (early and often)
The kingdom of God is like a school aged child who wakes up on a stormy school day hoping for a snow day but finds out there will be classes that day. Worse yet, they don’t even have a late start. First thing in the morning, a bad attitude sweeps over her soul, she doesn’t want to get up, she doesn’t want to brush her teeth, she doesn’t want to make her bed, she doesn’t want to cheerful. Temptation has arrived.
The kingdom of God is like a mother of young children who wants to sleep in late on a Saturday morning. Two of her kids have different ideas altogether. They are up, they are hungry, they have no desire to go back to their bedrooms and be quiet. First thing in the morning, a less than loving feeling sweeps over that mother’s soul, she doesn’t want to be cheerful, she doesn’t want to be up and at it, she is as far away from wanting to rise and shine as she can be. Temptation has arrived.
The kingdom of God is like a man who wants to take his family to church, he wants to lead his wife and children in a strong way to know the Lord, but over the years he has gotten out of the habit. Other habits have risen up and more days than not, they win the day. This Sunday morning is one of those days. A small still voice tells him to roust everybody out of bed and get them on the way to God’s house, but a louder voice has a different message. It sweeps over his soul and assures him that today is a good day to let people sleep, next Sunday will be a new beginning. Temptation has arrived.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the Spirit of God leads Jesus out into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted. The Father has recently declared Jesus to be the very Son of God, and now was His appointed time to be tempted in every way that all of humanity will be tempted. In three ways, the devil tests the Son of God. He tempts Him first of all with regard to a basic need – food. Secondly with regard to fame, and third with regard to power. Food, fame, and power.
First he tempts Jesus to doubt God’s Word, secondly to twist God’s Word, and third to disobey God’s Word. In all three cases, Jesus quotes Holy Scripture as a way of resisting temptation. In all three cases, Jesus stays on track to follow His Father’s plan to save the world. In all three cases, Jesus had the perfect answer. Today’s sermon would fix our eyes on Jesus as the one with all the answers. Not only does He have all the answers to every question that matters in life, He is the answer to all that questions that matter in life. And so our sermon theme is “The Answer Man.
First of all, Jesus was Tempted to (doubt) God’s Word. Although Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, it is also clear that Jesus went willingly. The temptations Jesus faced were serious efforts by the devil to rob the world of its Redeemer. Satan had been successful in leading the first Adam into sin so that a Redeemer would be necessary. The Greek word used for the devil is diabolos, from which we get the word diabolical. The meaning of this word is slanderer or liar; he is a constant liar. He is the father of lies. He invented the very idea of lying and told the very first lie.
For 40 days Jesus had neither food nor drink. For 40 days in a row, the Father had sustained him. It is interesting to note how frequently the number 40 occurs in the Bible. The great flood began with 40 days and nights of rain. Israel spent 40 days in the wilderness. Jonah had threatened the city of Ninevah they would be destroyed in 40 days if they did not repent. Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after Easter. This past week, the church worldwide kicked off 40 days of Lent, a season of living at the foot of the cross, admitting the messes we have made in our lives, crying out for forgiveness, a season of hearing and holding onto and treasuring the written Word of God.
In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve and Adam to doubt whether God had really meant what he said, and so also in the wilderness, he tempted Jesus to doubt that Father would do what He had already been doing. He tempted Jesus to take care of himself instead of trusting His Father to do what He had promised.
Instead of commanding stones to become bread, Jesus followed the plan to be the (Bread of Life). Instead of letting seeds of doubt grow, He answered with what the Spirit of God had already caused to be written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For Jesus, life wasn’t about Him, it was about you and it was about me and it was about sinners in every generation. Our Epistle lesson for today reminds us that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” That’s another way of saying (listen carefully now), we are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. E sin because we are born sinners. The proof of that is death. Jesus isn’t just the man with great answers today, He is the answer to every important temptation that may be arriving in your heart in this hour.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has just returned from a mission trip and is tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would permit millions of people to live in abject poverty, he is tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would allow so many children and teenagers to grow up with such hopelessness, tempted to wonder why a loving and good God would let it be true that brutality and criminality are in so many places on the uprise. The answer comes to him in this very hour, he is still, he knows that God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. He remembers, greater love hath no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends.
First Jesus was tempted to doubt God’s Word. Next, He is Tempted to (twist) God’s Word. The first temptation was intended to cause distrust, the second meant to engender a false trust. The devil quoted a promise of God to protect people by sending angels and suggested that if Jesus would not throw himself down, he would be showing a lack of trust in His Father. Luther commented, “If the devil does not succeed in robbing us of our confidence in God, he will go to the other extreme and try to make us cocksure and much too daring.”
Instead of throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus followed the plan that required Him to be (lifted up high). At a place called Massah, the people had put God to the test by demanding a miracle that he had not promised them. All of God’s previous miracles back in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness should have convinced the people that God could and would always provide for their needs.
Jesus knew in perfect fashion His Father could be trusted, He knew that the written Word of God was without error, he knew His Father’s plan was for him to be lifted high on across, He knew that His one act of righteousness would lead to justification and life for all men.
The kingdom of God is like a young couple caught up in a lifestyle they know to be wrong. On the one hand, they feel guilty, and on the other hand, they have their reasons. On the one hand, they want Jesus to be close, and on the other hand, they want him to be at a distance. In this very hour, they wonder if in fact they are twisting God’s Word to suit their own purposes. The answer comes as they sit still, they know that God is in fact their refuge and strength in every trouble, they hear one more time, Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
First Jesus was tempted to doubt God’s word, secondly to twist it, and finally Tempted to (disobey) God’s Word. After failing to trip Jesus up the first two times, the devil puts on his Monte Hall “let’s make a deal” hat and takes Jesus to a very high mountain, he shows him all the kingdoms of the world, he offers a way easier than the way of the cross. He offers a plan where Jesus would not have to suffer, He would not have to die, He would just have to bow down and worship, just this one time, nobody else would even be aware. Yet one more lie, yet one more promise Satan could not have delivered, yet one more shortcut that would in reality be a dead end. In this temptation, the tempter offered what he loves to offer – an earthly pleasure in exchange for heavenly joy.
Instead of gaining earthly glory for Himself, Jesus followed the plan that acts (for the sake of others). One of the more amazing passages in the Bible, at least for me, is the one where the writer to the Hebrews declares we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize / empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Jesus tempted in every way that I am tempted? Really?
The kingdom of God is like a man who is tempted early and he is tempted often to live for himself instead of another. Day after day he has one foot firmly planted in the world and one in the church. He wants the best of both worlds, even though he knows better. The good that he would he so often fails to do, and the bad habits he is trying to break, more often than not, he fails. Again and again he is tempted to take the path of least resistance, again and again he hears the Spirit whisper, “Greater love hath no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends”, now he hears himself speaking up, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”
Isaiah 10: 41 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Dear Friends in Christ,
A little boy was walking down the beach one day, and spotted an older lady, a lady who looked like a grandma sitting under a beach umbrella. He walked up to her and peppered her with questions, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes” she answered. “Do you read your bible every day?” “Why, yes I do.” “Do you pray often?” “Yes, why do you ask?” “Well, I was wondering if you would hold my quarter while I go swimming?”
Obviously, the little guy wanted to know a little of this lady’s character before he trusted her with his 25 cents. So also in Isaiah 41 did God want the nation of Israel to know that His character was rock solid, His record of keeping promises was perfect, His right hand was always going to be stronger than any enemy could throw their way.
In Isaiah 10, the prophet wanted Israel to know exactly how special they were in His sight. No matter what happened to them, they were to remember how gracious God had been to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Out of all the nations on God’s green earth, He had chosen Israel as the nation from which the Messiah would come. Verse 10 is a verse Dolly’s family wanted all of you to be focused on this morning. V. 10 piles comfort upon comfort.
It begins with words we so frequently hear in Scripture – do not be afraid. As God’s people mired in exile, they had all kinds of reasons to be afraid. They had to wonder if their brutal oppressors would ever let up, they had to wonder if their children or grandchildren would ever e allowed to return to their homeland, they had to wonder if their pain would ever be less, if their suffering would ever end, if their future would ever be bright again.
Again and again, God would give His people a history lesson and invite them to rest in His faithfulness. He was the one who delivered them out of Egyptian slavery, he was the One who had brought them across the Red Sea with an outstretched arm, He was the One who had guided them through 40 years of wilderness and into the Promised Land. He was the One Who had given them victory after victory, even when the oddsmakers would have put all their money on their enemies.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
So also did Dolly have to wonder some days. No doubt she had days in her marriage and raising family days that were better and for worse, days of sickness and good health, days that were richer or poorer, days that seemed blessed and days when it seemed as though nothing went right. No doubt there were days when she didn’t think Reinhardt’s jokes were very funny, no doubt there were days when her kids made her mutter, no doubt she worried about her grandchildren and what their future would be like.
Again and again God’s Word would give her reason not to be afraid. In Holy Baptism the sign of the cross had been placed on her forehead and on her heart, marking her as a redeemed and forgiven child of God. From her mother’s knees, she had been taught that Jesus loved her, that He had loved her enough to live a perfect life for her, He had loved her enough to suffer all that He was sent to suffer for her, Jesus had loved her enough to be crucified until He was dead and buried for her, He loved her enough to rise up again on the third day for her. In all the chapters of her life, her Father in heaven was sending His angels to be with her, her Good Shepherd was following her around with goodness and mercy, the very Spirit of God was working on the inside of her a faith that could fight through her challenges. As often as Dolly received her Lord’s Supper, that often her sins were forgiven, that often her weakness gave away to an out of this world kind of a strength, that often she could rest in God’s faithfulness.
A true story is told of a boy that was getting picked on by the neighborhood bully. He teased and he taunted, he ridiculed, he ranted, and he raved, he pushed and he shoved day after day until one day with his Marine Corp dad happened to see what was happening. This dad did what any good father would do. He picked up the neighborhood bully by the scruff of his neck and scared the living daylights out of him. He held him in the air until it was clear that he understood that if this bullying happened even one more time, there would be hell to pay.
From that day forward, the boy that had been getting picked on rested in his dad’s strength, he rested in his dad’s promises, he rested in his dad’s faithfulness.
So also for you, dear friends, your Father in heaven invites you this very day, in all of the chapters of your lives, to rest in your God’s strength, to rest in your heavenly father’s promises, to rest in your God’s faithfulness. It’s interesting to note that Dolly passed away on Ash Wednesday, a day where millions of Christians are reminded by ashes in the form of a cross that from dust they came and unto dust they will return.
The Lenten season points us forward one more time to a dark Friday afternoon where it seemed as though the neighborhood bully had gotten his way, that Friday the devil and his minions had taunted and they had teased, they had ranted, they had raved, and they had ridiculed. That Friday we call good, the enemies of God had pushed and shoved, it seemed as though they had prevailed, but in reality the exact opposite had just happened.
In reality, God was doing what He had said He would be doing. In reality, by suffering, dying, and rising again, our God was picking up the devil himself by the scruff of his neck and making clear there was a new sheriff in town. By rising on the third day, Jesus proved that He was Who He said He was, He proved that all of Scriptures are true, He proved that the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son, He proved that because He lives, so also shall Dolly Melchert and all believers live.
As often as Dolly remembered or heard and believed the Word of God, as often as she treasured the forgiveness of her sins, as often as she received the very body and blood of her Lord in the Supper, that often the victory of Holy Week was delivered directly into her soul. That often the grace and the mercy of her God was able to sweep away her fears. That often the righteous right hand of her God was able to lead her into an unknown future.
The kingdom of God if like a frightened toddler who is comforted so long as mom or dad is near. It’s like a nervous teenager who is able to make it through a school day as long as she knows one friend will walk alongside of her. It’s like a distressed traveler whose car has broken down, but help is on the way. It’s like a family waiting and waiting for death to separate them, but knowing for certain their loved one will soon be in the very presence of Jesus Christ, knowing for certain the day is coming when the dead in Christ will rise up.
The kingdom of God is like a kid who once lived in fear of the neighborhood bully but now is resting in the righteous anger of his dad. It’s like a man not too far away who used to spend his days wallowing in the guilt of a messed up life in days gone by, but this morning he is resting in the forgiveness of his sins. It’s like a woman who used to be consumed with worry about what the future might be holding, but this morning, she is resting in the promise of her God to give her the strength to cross bridges when they come. It’s like a family bowed down in grief this week, but at the same time, they are resting in the faithfulness of a God who promises the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. May God help every one of you live one day at a time, knowing that each day has enough trouble all by itself, believing that your God is a God of new beginnings and second chances, and trusting that Dolly and Reinhardt Melchert are resting in the arms of their Savior. Amen.
Joel 2:12- 19
· Story about a newly wed couple where the groom drank too much at their wedding reception, he drove drunk, crashed his motorcycle, caused the death of his bride, wounded himself, and ended up in jail. Jesus Christ was wounded for that man, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for that man, He rose up again so that His Father could be gracious to that man.
· No doubt there are people not too far away from here who have drove drunk, there are those who have caused accidents, there are those who have wounded loved ones and themselves with their reckless habits. Jesus Christ was wounded for those people, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for those people, He rose up again so that His Father could be merciful to those people.
· No doubt there are children in our school who have lied to their parents, children who have disrespected their teachers, children who have fallen into fits of crabbiness, fits of nastiness, fits of orneriness. Jesus Christ was wounded for those children, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for those people, He rose up again so that His Father could be slow to anger with those children.
· No doubt there are teenagers in our high school who have broken all kinds of commandments, teenagers who have had little or no time for the Word of God, teenagers who have failed to do the good they wanted to do and fallen into bad habits they didn’t want to fall into. Jesus Christ was wounded for those teenagers, he was crucified until He was dead and buried for those teenagers, He rose up again so that His Father could abound in steadfast love for those teenagers.
· Three lessons we want to learn from Jesus about Lent on this Ash Wednesday.
1. Lent is about staring in amazement at a sacred head, now wounded, instead of just passing by unimpressed.
· Amazed at how far He came to find us - the ones who came from dust and are returning to dust. The ashes for which this day are named symbolize that we are dying, they remind us that the wages of sin is death, they warn us against getting full of ourselves.
· Amazed that Christ would take on flesh and blood, as He did when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus went so far as to become dust for us, He went so far as to become sin for us, that we might be claimed by our Father as sons and daughters.
· If ever there was a season to be amazed by the grace of God, if there was ever a season to be quiet in the house of God, if ever there was a season to be sorry for the ways we have offended our God, if ever there was a season to weep over the messes we have left behind, if ever there was a season to regret the opportunities we have missed, this is the season.
#1 lesson – staring in amazement at a sacred head, now wounded, instead of just passing by unimpressed.
2. Lent is about pastors and congregations gathering in sacred assembly, admitting that we are wounded, and crying out for mercy.
· Luther writes that Joel was a kindly and gentle man. He does not denounce and rebuke as do the other prophets, but pleads and laments. He tried with kind and friendly words to make the people pay attention and mend their sinful ways. But it happened to him as it happened to the other prophets, they did not believe his prophecies, they held him to be a fool.
· In the first chapter, Joel predicts that Israel will be destroyed and carried away by the Assyrians. He pictures the Assyrians as locusts cutting, swarming, hopping, and unrelenting.
· In our text for tonight, Joel urges the folks to blow the trumpet, to consecrate a fast, to call a solemn assembly, to gather the people. The elders and the widows were to come together, the married and the single folks were to come together, the teenagers, the children, and the nursing babies were to be summoned, ministers and priests were to lead the people in admitting that they were wounded, crying out for mercy.
· No doubt many of their wounds were self inflicted, many of their wounds were brought on by their enemies, some of their wounds were just part of being human, all of their wounds, all of our wounds are to be brought to the foot of the cross. Again and again we cry out for mercy, and mercy is ours. Even before we can get the words out, by his wounds we are healed. Hear the good news tonight – a broken and contrite heart, our God will not despise.
· Lesson #2 is about gathering together, admitting we are wounded, crying out for mercy.
3. Lent is about getting turned around by God and going in opposite direction instead of just going through the motions.
· Lent isn’t for pretend sinners. Lent is for real, honest to God sinners who have fallen, they have fallen hard, and they realize they have fallen hard. Over a thousand times in the Old Testament, we have this word for repentance that has to do with getting turned around and returning to God
· Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning….return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…
· The best the Law of God can do is show us we are in the wrong place, only the Gospel can turn us around. The Law of God can get our attention, but it is only by the grace of God that new hearts can be created. The best the Law can do is show us what the damage we have done and the holes we have dug for ourselves. Only the Gospel can undo that damage, only the Gospel can lift us up out of those holes, only the love of Christ can compel us to go in brand new directions that give glory to God and build up other people.
The kingdom of God is like a man whose head begins to hurt, his blood vessels are bleeding, he is rushed to the hospital, and after a short time, the doctor announces his decision to drill a hole in the top of his head. A more frightening moment is hard to imagine. And yet this surgeon’s drill saves a life. Recovery is slow, but sure. So also is God’s Law like surgeon’s scalpel on our sin. The Law cuts us to the heart, because we are indeed wounded by sin and death. It may feel quite uncomfortable, but God’s mercy makes such a healing possible. Praise God that he mercifully sends a wounded Savior to heal us wounded people.
Sixth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Matthew 6: 25-34
Dear Christian Friends,
At the beginning of our sermon series, we traveled through the beatitudes as a catalogue of God’s promises. Four weeks ago – who would be called great in the kingdom of heaven, three weeks ago, what are the standards for the kingdom of heaven, two weeks ago – life is all about Jesus, last week what it looks like when Christians are at worship, and today, what it looks like when Christians are living one day at a time.
Living and dying with (the Vikings) Here’s a quote out of a sermon I wrote for a Preaching Workshop class at Seminary in1980. “As a Vikings fan, I live and die with their success and/or failure. When I watch one of their games, my palms get sweaty, my hearts beats a mile a minute, and am oblivious to the outside world. When they lose, I cry. When they win, I rejoice. But while they are playing, I am in a constant state of worry. When they are behind, I worry that they are going to lose. When they have the ball, I worry they will fumble. When they throw a pass, I worry about interceptions. Even when they are ahead, I worry they will blow the lead. After 15 years of such agony, I am beginning to realize that my worrying changes nothing. Whether I worry about them or not, the outcome will be the same. My sweaty palms and rapid heart beat mean nothing to Bud Grant and the Vikings. I have no control over the game.”
Fast forward 37 years, and you might think I have figured out the foolishness of worry with regard to pro football. Some days I have, other days not so much. It is human nature cross over the line from proper concern to sinful worry, it is the devil’s great desire that we cross that line in a regular way, and as you well know, we have all kinds of misery in common with fellow worriers.
At the 2016 national youth gathering of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod youth, the top five concerns of youth were 1) terrorism, 2)the future, 3)college, 4)abortion, and 5) my faith. It’s interesting to note that in the previous seven polls going back 21 years, terrorism had never made the top five issues. It’s also interesting to note that the environment was listed #3 in 2013 and had dropped to #23rd in 2016. Suggesting that our list of worries ebbs and flows over the years, but one truth remains clear, we were tempted to worry yesterday, we are being tempted to worry today, and we will be tempted to worry tomorrow.
In today’s sermon Jesus would teach us once again what it’s like to have Him as the cornerstone of our lives, what it’s like to have a home built on solid rock, so that when the rains come down, the flood waters rise up, and the winds blow strong, our homes will stand strong. In today’s text, Jesus would give us three terrific reasons to trust in the Lord and lean not unto our own understandings. Three good reasons not to drag the guilt of days gone by and the worries of days yet to come into today. Three strong testimonies why we should spend less time worrying and more time praying, three strong testimonies set before us today to help us choose between life and good on the one hand and death and evil on the other.
There is the testimony of nature, the testimony of logic, and the testimony of Scripture.
The Testimony of (Nature) The Psalmist writes The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. In other words, just a glance into the skies, just noticing the beauty of the rivers and the valleys and the fields, just paying attention to the passing scenery will tell you that there is a God. The writer to the Hebrews says it this way, “Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that houses don’t build themselves, birds don’t worry about spring planting, birds don’t worry about fall harvesting, flowers don’t worry about what they’re going to wear tomorrow. They get taken care of by the providence of their Father in heaven.
And so when Jesus teaches us to look at the birds of the air and how they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, he reminds us that Even the birds (get fed). This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, if God feeds the birds, He’s going to feed you. If your Father in heaven is willing to provide for the little birds who spend zero time worrying, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like an elderly couple who spends time every day watching the birds feed outside their window. More often than not, they say to themselves, “Having food and clothing, let us therewith be contented.
Jesus would have us learn every day not just from the birds, but also the flowers. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow… in other words, Even the flowers (get clothed) Again the argument is from the lesser to the greater.. If God is able to provide for the very temporary grasses and flowers of the plant kingdom, I repeat this question, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like a woman who is learning more and more to enjoy all the seasons of the year, more and more she watches out her window, less and less her tv, more and more she revels in taking care of her house plants, less and less she fusses about the dust bunnies gathering behind them.
Testimony #1 was from nature, secondly, there is The Testimony of Logic. So very many of our worries have absolutely no basis in logic, they are pure emotion. Logic dictates that certain things matter, and certain things do not. It matters that children get baptized, it doesn’t matter whether their wardrobe is brand name or not. It matters that children get nourished and cherished in the Christian faith, it doesn’t matter if the Packers advance to the Super Bowl or not. It matters that hurting people get listened to and helped, it doesn’t matter so much what people are thinking about you as you are listening and helping.
Jesus uses simple logic in this little sermon on the foolishness of crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful anxiety. He asks no fewer than five questions, 1) Is not life more important than food? 2) Is not the body more important than clothing? 3)Aren’t you more valuable than birds? 4)Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his span of life? Another translation has him asking, “Which of you by worrying can add a single cubit to your stature? 5) Aren’t you more valuable than the lilies of the field which are here today and gone tomorrow?
Two mental images come to mind, in terms of capturing the folly, even the danger of getting caught up in fits of anxiety. First, Worrying is like rocking in a (rocking chair). It is something to do, it involves all kinds of activity, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Secondly, Worrying is like biting off more than you (can chew). I can remember doing that more than once with a big piece of steak that wasn’t so tender. In my desire to eat in a hurry, I bit off more than I could chew. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t turn out that well. So also when we bite off tomorrow’s problems and try to chew on them today, along with today’s problems. Jesus would shake His heads at us today, sort of like my dad would shake his head when I wasn’t showing common sense. He would remind us that living one day at a time, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, is so much better than living in the past, it’s so much easier than trying to live in the future. First there was the testimony of nature, secondly the testimony of logic, and finally,
The Testimony of Scripture. The apostle John wrote it this way, “These acts of Jesus are written so that you may believe that Jesus it he Christ, and that by believing you may have life in His name. Paul said it this way to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”
Two truths the Spirit of God would use to persuade us today, to persuade us to hand over our worries in a regular sort of a way to God, to persuade us first of all that God is really smart, and secondly that God’s record is absolutely perfect.
First, God is really (smart) That’s the way I explained it to the children in chapel on Wednesday. God is really smart. Luke records Jesus saying that God knows even the number of hairs that are on each one of our heads. Wikopedia suggests that the average head has 100,000 to 110,000 hairs, also that we lose 50-100 hairs every day. Jesus was reassuring those early disciples that God was really smart, and therefore they shouldn’t be afraid when they were dragged in front of the emperors. God was really smart, and therefore they should not worry about what they were going to say in the face of persecution. If God was so smart that he knew how many hairs were on their head, then they should trust that he was smart enough to give them the words to say. Dear friends, God is smart enough to know exactly what you need in life, He knows how much success and how much failure you need,He knows how much prosperity and how much adversity you need, He knows exactly how to answer your prayers, He doesn’t need you to be consumed with worry.
God’s record is absolutely (perfect). He said that He would deliver Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land, and He did. He said He would be with Israel night and Day in days of wilderness and in days of exile and He was. He said He would send His own Son to be our Savior, and He did. Jesus said He would suffer and He suffered. He said He would die and He did. He said He would rise up again on the third day and He did. He said He would follow us around with goodness and mercy, and He does. He said He would never leave nor forsake us and He won’t. God says what he means and means what he says. In every circumstance of life, in every one of our days, when all the dust has settled and when we have done all that we could do and said all we can do, we have good reason to be still, to know that God is God, and to resist crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful worry.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people less and less living and dying with their favorite football team and more and more Dying and Living (with Christ). Less and less worried about what tomorrow might bring and more and more living one day at a time. Less and less blaming others for their troubles and more and more saying they are sorry and crying out for mercy. Less and less listening to the voices of jealousy and rage, more and more listening to the voice of their Good Shepherd. Less and less chasing after money and all that money can buy, more and more staying close to Jesus Christ and all that He is wanting to give. Less and less do they take life’s burdens on own shoulders, more and more they pray, Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther