Grace and Peace to You!

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6th Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, and of the Son who gave Himself for our sins, and of the Holy Spirit who worked that miracle of faith in our hearts, dear friends in Christ: So where do you begin?  Where do you start?  What do you tackle first?  Have you ever asked questions like those?  Well, perhaps you’ve spoken words similar to that when you meet a friend or relative whom you haven’t seen in years- so much has changed; where do you begin?  Or perhaps you’ve thought those questions when you sit down to start a new endeavor or work on a large project- so much new information, where do you start?  Well as you might have guessed those questions also run through a young man’s mind and heart when he first becomes a pastor : ).  But thank the Lord that in spiritual matters, in eternal matters, in matters that matter the most, God’s given us the place to always begin and end.  The Word of God for our consideration this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 1.  (read text)

You see Paul first wrote the letter of Galatians to a group of Christians who were struggling.  They were being misled into believing that a.) Paul was not an apostle sent by Christ and b.) that you needed Jesus PLUS something that YOU have to do in order to be saved.  Paul certainly had a big task on his hands.  Perhaps he even asked, “Where do I begin?”  But these are the words which Holy Spirit inspired him to begin with.  “Paul, an apostle- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.“  The apostle Paul did not come up with a message on his own; rather, he was sent by God Himself.  So, if God wanted the people of Galatia to listen to God’s Words given through Paul, well then certainly today also God wants us to listen to the words He’s given through Paul as well.

Paul follows the basic set up of letters written in his day, first the sender is listed, “Paul…and all the brothers with me.”  Paul makes it clear that his ministry is a collective one; it includes more than just him.  After listing the sender the custom was to list the recipients of the letter, “to the churches in Galatia.”  God’s message is to churches, literally the word for “church” in the Greek means “those called out.”  The people in Galatia were “called out,” called out both from following their own sinful flesh and called out from following the sinful ways of the world they lived in.  And that’s also what St. Mark’s is, a group of believers who are special in God’s sight, who have been “called out” from the darkness of sin, from the darkness of the sinful ways of this present world and called into the light of truth.

And finally Paul gets to the greeting of his letter: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Wow! What a beginning!  What a way to begin a message from God!  Grace- a favorite word of the NT which describes the love of God that we can’t earn and certainly don’t deserve but God freely gives it to us in abundance anyway, grace- the love that begins in the very heart of God and flows to His people.  Peace- a favorite of the OT (Shalom) which describes that condition or state that God established through Christ, peace- that state we are in right now whether we realize it or not, it’s our current relationship with God from which flows our realization of that peace, the rest, satisfaction, and joy that are ours because we are at peace with God, everything is just right between you and your God.

And why are grace and peace ours?  Because He “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  There was a price that needed to be paid.  Jesus paid that price by giving Himself for our sins.  And He did that to rescue us from this evil age, he plucked us from imminent death.  Maybe think of it kind of like an infant baby left in a burning house, helpless on his or her own, but is rescued by a fireman who carries that baby to safety.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection saved us from this present evil age.  You see, God has rescued you from a life that will one day end into a life that will never end.  If God hadn’t rescued us, then we would have no eternity in heaven to look forward to, no confidence in a life after death.  But, as God’s child the end of your life here on earth is simply the entrance into life eternal in heaven.  You and I are part of something eternal, not part of something that will one day pass away!  And this is all what God wanted from eternity!

But is that really how we live?    Do we live as ones who have been rescued from this present evil age, this temporary existence?  Is it always clear from our lives, our attitudes, our speech, that we are part of God’s eternal kingdom?  Is the way we spend our time a reflection of how we’ve been rescued from this present evil age?  I think it wouldn’t take any of us too long examining our own lives until we have to admit that there have been many times when we’ve failed to live as who we are, members of eternal life.  In fact there may be so many times that we must ask the question: Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

But it’s so easy isn’t it?  It’s so easy to lose our eternal focus on life, isn’t it?  I mean there are so many things pulling our attention to the here and now and causing us to forget the reality, the reality that this temporary existence isn’t the be all and end all of life.  I’ve got this event to go to, or this project to work on, or that t.v. show to watch, or _____________.  And before we know it we can’t remember how long it’s been since we let our Lord speak to us through His Word about the most important stuff, the spiritual stuff, the eternal stuff.  And you know the consequences as well as I do, soon we’re also riding the up and down waves of this changing world.  Thrilled and happy when the stock market goes up and devastated and bitter when the economy slumps, happy and kind to our spouse when he or she did something for ME, but angry and upset when he or she doesn’t want to do things MY way.  So do we really live as ones rescued from this present evil age?  Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

And the sad fact is that we know the danger.  When we don’t live as God’s citizens of eternal life we try to make ourselves part of the present evil age.  And it doesn’t make any sense, it’s like the baby kicking and screaming at the fireman and trying to get back into the burning house.  It doesn’t make any sense!  So where do we begin?  Where do we start?

God has the answer.  He gives us the answer in His Word.  Where do we start?  Where do we begin?  Right where He started: God so loved the world that He wanted to send His Son Jesus to live a perfect life in the place of every single sinful person and to suffer and die on a cross as the full and complete payment for all sins of all time, yours and mine included.  Then on Easter morning He proved His victory over sin, death, and the devil when He rose from the dead- and His victory is also your victory.  That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is grace!  And that incomprehensible grace is what gives you peace throughout this life and into your life in heaven!

Paul spoke these words of grace and peace to some of the first Christian churches.  Almost 2,000 years later these words are still being spoken and they are being spoken right here at St. Mark’s in Bemidji, MN.  Yes, many things change over time, even pastorates change, but one thing will never change and that’s God’s Word, God’s love letter to you, God’s message of grace and peace to you!  So where do we begin?  This is how we always begin all endeavors in Jesus’ name: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.

 

Rejoice in your triune God!

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2nd Sunday after Pentecost

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.  The word of God for our consideration is from the book of Romans chapter 5.  (Read text).  In the name of our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dear friends in Christ:

“Guess what!  Guess what!  You’ll never believe it!  I can’t believe this is happening to me!  This is awesome!  Wow!  I’ve just got to tell you!  This is incredible!”  Have you ever experienced so much joy and pride that you’ve spoken words like those?  Have you ever been so excited you couldn’t help but announce it to the world?  Maybe it was getting engaged…maybe it was acing that difficult test…maybe it was becoming a dad for the first time…maybe it was…fill in the blank.  It’s great to be joyful and proud isn’t it?  It’s great to take pride in something, to be excited about something, right?  Like on the 4th of July you take pride in your country, or like last week on Father’s day if you had a good father you take pride in him.

Certain special things in life make us proud and cause us to rejoice.  But all of these things are just that, special cases.  They happen once and then some time later its business as usual.  The excitement wears off.  So what keeps us going from day to day?  Isn’t there something that we can rejoice in from one day to the next?  Something to make us feel good of when we get out of bed in the morning?  Something that we can claim as our own and boast about from one day to the next?  What do you take pride in?  Maybe it’s my health, “Well, I’m in decent health I can get around…I can do most of the things I enjoy…my health makes me feel secure.”  Maybe it’s my possessions, “Well, I don’t have everything that’s out there…but I’ve got the main things…life’s pretty good.”  Or maybe it’s my large network of friends or my job or that one thing that everyone says I’m good at.  But the problem is, when we find our security, our meaning for life, our pride and joy for living in any of those things we’re actually putting all of those things above God, and that’s sinful.  And when we put our trust in those things, they’ll always fail us, why?  Because none of those things can make life more meaningful, none of those things have any positive bearing at all on what really matters…and that’s eternal life.

So thank the Lord that God’s given us Romans 5:1-5.  Why?  Because here God tells us what we can take pride in, who we can rejoice in, who we can even boast in and about.  Who is it?  It’s our Triune God.  And why do we take pride in our Triune God?  Why do we even boast about our Triune God?  Because He’s our three-in-one God!

He’s God the Father.  He’s the almighty Maker of heaven and earth.  He holds all things in the palm of His hand and protects His children.  In complete independence He does not have to answer to anybody and He does whatever pleases Him.  And what exactly pleases Him most?  It pleased God the Father to look at this world of sinners who by nature can only rebel against Him and who deserve only punishment from Him and say, “My love knows no bounds, I declare you all innocent, not guilty, justified.”  And as God’s children we look at this “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God” and say, “Wow!”  With a holy and just God whom we should be frightfully scared of, you now have complete peace face to face with Him!  Everything is just right, just the way it’s supposed to be: you’re God’s loved child and He’s your loving Father.  You can take pride in that; you can boast in that; you can rejoice in that!

But something isn’t quite adding up.  How could a just and holy God ever make such a declaration?  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You see, the second person of the Trinity is God the Son.  Although none of us could even add a speck to His infinite glory, in love He chose to live on this earth perfectly in every way because we couldn’t.  And He took upon Himself the full punishment for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the world and paid for them with His death on the cross.  By rising from the dead he proved His victory which is also your victory: your sins are forgiven once and for all!  And because of this “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”  Because of what Jesus did, you have access to the triune God.  He listens attentively to you!  You can take pride in that!  You can boast in that!

And finally how did all of this become yours?  “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  All of the blessings of God become yours through faith.  And God didn’t even leave that up to you.  No, He sent the Holy Spirit into your heart to work in you that miracle of faith in Him.  He sent the Holy Spirit to convince you that all He’s done for you is true.  And the Holy Spirit keeps on strengthening your faith and building your faith in Him through His tools: the Word and the sacraments.  You can certainly take pride in that!

What an awesome Triune God we have, who has done such amazing and glorious things for us!  A God who we take pride in and boast in!

And then…we hear those troubling words whispered in our ear: “Oh wow, yea, look at you, you and your Triune God, some help He is for you, why look at you… you can’t do half the things you used to physically be able to do…oh and look at how great life ISN’T going for you…some Triune God you have… oh and remember that tragedy you went through… sure doesn’t look like that Triune God loves you, much less is on your side”  Yea, troubling words.  Maybe even more troubling when we read in our text: “We also rejoice in our sufferings.” Rejoice??!  The Greek is actually even stronger.  Literally, it’s the Greek word for how I started this sermon.  It’s boasting!  It’s being so happy about something that you’ve just got to tell someone, it’s overflowing with excitement, pride, and joy.  Now, how in the world can you react that way to suffering?

Because we know that God uses “suffering to produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us.”  Hope? Hope in what?  Hope in the glory of God.  No matter what happens to you, no matter what you lose on earth, no matter what the devil whispers in your ear, one thing God never wants you to lose: the glory that awaits you in heaven with Jesus.   No matter what happens, your Triune God continues to guide all things in order to bring you to your real home, your eternal home in heaven.  If suffering keeps us weaned off this world and keeps driving us back to God and His Word, then thank the Lord, because finally heaven’s  what matters most and that’s what your Triune God cares most about! And so we rejoice- yes, we boast! – in our sufferings, because they drive us back into the arms of our triune God!

And that Triune God; our three-in-one God; the Father who’s given you peace, the Son who’s given you access to the Ruler of all, and Holy Spirit who’s constantly pouring God’s love into your heart, that Triune God is YOUR God.  And your Triune God is with you and He’s the One who gives you joy in everything. And why?  Because He’s done everything and will keep doing everything for you with one purpose in mind: to bring you to be with Him where He is:  Yes, no matter what, no matter what happens to you, no matter what great joy you have, or what great suffering you experience, you can always take pride in, always rejoice in, and always boast in your Triune God!

How much does God expect from me?

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2nd Sunday of End Time – Last Judgment
Luke 19:11-27

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Friends in Christ, your boss has them, your parents certainly have them, your spouse has them, your friends have them, your family has them, etc.  What are they?  Expectations.  Expectations of you.  Whether or not we agree with them or meet them or want them, each one of us is expected to do or to be something by someone else.  Yet, what about God?  Does He have expectations of us?

This question becomes even more important as we consider in what time we are living.  We’re living in the end times aren’t we?  No one can deny it, the signs that we are living in the end times are all around us.  Jesus has given us some indicators of when He will return and what we can expect: wars… check… rumors of wars…check… famine… check… earthquakes… check…. false prophets… check… persecutions… check.  The King, Jesus, could return at any moment and usher us and all believers into His eternal kingdom.  But He hasn’t returned yet.  Yes, one day He will return, He’s told us that He’ll return, His return is inevitable, but when He’ll return, that we’re not sure about, because He hasn’t told us.  So, between now and that future time… what does God expect us to be doing?  How much does He expect from us?

Jesus’ parable answers this question for us.  Jesus spoke this parable likely about a week before His crucifixion on Good Friday.  He was in Jericho, a city not that far from Jerusalem- the capital and religious center of Israel.  The people had just witnessed Zacchaeus a well-known and disliked tax-collector, offer to give half his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he cheated 4 times the amount!  All of this… because of Jesus!  Then Jesus made the remarkable statement, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  Something was about to happen, something was in the air.  Perhaps many were thinking, “Could this be the Messiah who will set up a great earthly kingdom for us?”  To this end Jesus told them a parable:

There was a nobleman, a man of means, wealthy, who had servants.  He was given a kingdom in a far distant land.  This was fairly typical of the time.  Kingdoms could be given to people of worth as a favor.  During his absence the king did not want his wealth to go to waste.  So he called in ten servants and gave to each of them a mina.  A mina was about three months wages, so think of in our day, about $10,000 to $15,000.  He told them to use the money, put it to work with the expectation that they would earn something with the money.  So off the nobleman went, but the people of his new kingdom hated him without any given reason and didn’t want him to be their king so they sent a delegation to their king, saying, “We don’t want this guy to be our king.”  Yet, he had every right to be king and he was made king-and he had every right to expect his subjects’ honor and respect.

Later the king returned to his home.  He sent for his servants and expected to hear what gains they had made with his money.  The first servant met his expectations, he said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more” and reported a 1,000 % return.  The second servant as well met the king’s expectations with a 500 % return.  Both were commended and graciously given rule over cities.

Then a different servant came in, “Sir, here is your mina; I kept it hidden away in a cloth.”  Essentially this servant said, “I have no use for this, take it back, I was afraid of you…in fact, YOU are a hard man!  YOU are ungenerous and harsh in your dealings with others, taking what you haven’t worked for!”  His master replied to him, “I’ll judge you by what you say…you knew that I was a hard man, if you knew that I was a hard man, why didn’t you act accordingly?  Why didn’t you use this very easy means of putting my money in the bank and letting others do the work, so I’d have at least some interest when I returned?  Take this servant’s mina away and give it to someone else!”  He continued, “Everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.”  Then the king ordered those subjects who hated him killed for rejecting him as king.

So what was Jesus’ point in telling this parable?  Remember that a parable is an earthly story that has a spiritual meaning.  So what’s the point?  Who’s the nobleman?  Well, it’s Jesus.  He has a kingdom of which He is the King.  And since He is the King He has every right to expect His subjects to obey Him.  Who are His servants?  You and I.  Our King hasn’t returned yet, but he’s given us something to do in the meantime.  He’s given us gifts to “make spiritual gains” for His kingdom.  But what’s the problem? Some reject Him as King and some reject His gifts.

What does God expect from us?  One thing God expects of us is to honor Him in our lives for who He is, our King!  And that’s great isn’t it?  Don’t we do that already?  Surely we’re not rejecting him as king!  We’re certainly not like those foolish subjects who sent a delegation saying, “We don’t want this guy to be our king,” right?  Certainly not to the fullest extent, but are we satisfied in giving our King less than our best?   Do we make it clear that He is our King when we’re at work, or at school, or at home, or when no one else is around?  Are we really honoring Him as King when we are more concerned with building our own earthly kingdom to the neglect of the far more important spiritual kingdom?  God expects our 100 % devotion to Him as our King.  And that’s not all, what else does God expect of us?

He expects faithfulness from His servants.  Which servant do we look more like?  Our King will return one day and will ask for an accounting of how we used His gifts in this life.  When you think of your life here on this earth how big is it in the grand scheme of things?  Our life is a mere inch compared with the next life which will last for eternity.  Considering the fact that what happens here in this little life impacts where we will be for eternity puts a proper perspective on things, doesn’t it?  God’s given us lots of “minas” or gifts in this life in order to make spiritual gains for Him for the next life.  That means how I use my time, my abilities, my money, my friendships, my mind, my mouth, my hands, has an eternal impact.  And God is expecting me to use those for the benefit of His kingdom.

Finally, isn’t the most important “mina,” the most important gift that God has given us, His Word?  God expects us not to hide it away “under a cloth.”  God expects me to use His Word and use it for profit in His kingdom.  But can I honestly say I’ve been making gains with God’s Word if I’m satisfied with a half-hearted regard for His Word in my life?  Can I make gains with His Word if I do not have family or personal devotions?  Or share it with my friends and family?  What does God expect from us?  God has every right to expect absolute perfection from us, absolute perfection in how we use His Word.  But, “That’s impossible!  If that’s true then God is unfair, He’s harsh, He’s ungenerous!”  Really?

So, what does God expect from us?  When our King returns how much does He expect from you? From me? So, perhaps the better question for us to ask is not “What does God expect from us” but “What can WE expect from GOD?”  A frightening verdict?  A harsh judgment?  A sentence of death? A grandfatherly, “Oh, it’s ok”?  What can we expect from God?  There was a Servant, a faithful Servant, who gave perfect honor in everything to God His King.  A Servant who perfectly used the “mina” of God’s Word faithfully in His life.  A Servant who soon after He spoke the Words of our parable would be the Suffering Servant rejected by His people and put to death on a cross.  In the perfect Servant Jesus all of God’s expectations of us were met.  Jesus paid the price that was expected of you!  And so, since you know and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, you can be absolutely sure you have life in His name!

It is because of Jesus and Him alone that the Last Day, the Last Judgment, when Jesus returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for everyone to see, that then in full confidence, in full certainty, you can know for absolute sure, that because of Jesus and what He has done for you, you will hear these words from your Master and King, these words that make all service to God here on earth worth it, these words that change our whole perspective on this life, these words from your King Jesus, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!  Come to the eternal paradise prepared for you!”  On the Last Judgment that is what you can expect from your God!

Forgive us our Sins!

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10th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dear friends in Christ Jesus: Today we are considering the petition “Heavenly Father…forgive us our sins.”  What is forgiveness?

Try to picture that crime scene.  It was horrible.  Who could’ve ever thought up such injustice, such tragedy?  Oh, revenge is sweet, isn’t it?  Pay back?  Didn’t he have every right to get even?  After all he’d been through, after all he’d experienced, after all he’d suffered, and didn’t he have every right for revenge?  Remember the account about Joseph in the OT?  His own brothers, his own family, seethed with hate against him.  So when they saw Joseph coming they plotted, they schemed, “Let’s murder him or let’s sell him into slavery and convince dad that some wild animal attacked and killed him.”  So his own brothers did just that.  Then in slavery in Egypt things were starting to look up, he was the head of Potiphar’s household, then another crime scene.  He was framed, the evidence was falsified against him, and he was thrown into prison for a crime he never committed.  How would you feel?  Surely, if anyone, God would understand a refusal to forgive, right?  And later those same brothers, those criminals, stood bowing before him, now 2nd in command of a powerful nation- he had the opportunity for revenge, to get back at them- after all he was the victim- but instead what did he do?  He forgave them.

How could Joseph do that?  After being the victim of such horrid crimes?  How could he forgive?  What’s the answer?  Each one of us are in Joseph’s shoes as well, aren’t we?  Each one of us has indeed been wronged by someone and probably someone close to us.  But that isn’t the worst part.  The worst part is that each one of us here, like Joseph, has committed the worst crime possible.  Each one of us has sinned; we have wronged the almighty God of the universe.  Because we’ve committed this crime we deserve to die eternally.  We’re in a desperate situation.  The only escape from rightful punishment that we have is… forgiveness from God.  Joseph understood that and we do too.

Thankfully in His Word God tells us that He has forgiven us. And what’s His forgiveness like?  God’s love and forgiveness have always been there- even before we ask for it or realize we need it.  God’s forgiveness is full and complete- when He forgives He forgets.  God loves and rejoices in forgiving sinners.  And God’s forgiveness begins with Him.  What a comfort and joy it is to know that!  We don’t have to wonder if God’s forgiven us, we don’t have to doubt God’s forgiveness, we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness!  He gives it freely!

So, why then do we pray, “Our Father…forgive us our sins”?  Even before we prayed for it, God already gave us forgiveness because He already told us what He’s already done for us in His Son Jesus.  When Jesus died on that cross He didn’t leave any sin of any person unpaid for, on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” and God does not lie.  So why pray this petition?  We pray that God would lead us to both recognize that we constantly need His forgiveness AND that indeed we have forgiveness because of what Jesus has done for us.

But what about that second part “as we forgive those who sin against us”? Is it hard?  Is it difficult?  Oh it can be a struggle can’t it?  “Well, they sold me into slavery!” “She’s the one who lied about me!” “It’s his addiction that’s deprived our family of the necessities to live!”  “We’re the ones who were wronged! Don’t we have rights?”  And yet how much five words from the heart change everything: “I’m sorry, I forgive you.”  Habits are broken.  Patterns are changed.  Hurts are healed.  Relationships are restored.  Loads of guilt are lifted.  Love grows.

And what’s the alternative?  To not forgive?  What happens then?  Rifts cause divisions that last months, years, decades!  What else?  Resentment: clinging to the memory of how someone wronged me and ready to bring it up in a moment, always picking at that scab so that it’ll never heal.  Revenge:  determining that we know better how to give someone “what they deserve” better than God does.  How horrid the cycle of un-forgiveness can be!

Thank the Lord that someone broke that cycle.  Thank the Lord that God stepped in and when there was no reason to, no wrong on His part, nothing for Him to gain, He forgave us.  In His kindness He did the unthinkable, in His compassion He poured out His heart, in His love He forgave us.  It’s because of Him and only because of Him that we’re able to forgive one another.  And He’s even told us over and over in His Word how much He’s forgiven us.  Our text is one of those examples: (read text)

That’s where it all starts.  Forgiveness begins in the heart of God.  In the heart of God who so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!  God is the one who did not treat us as our sins deserve but graciously “gave Himself up for us”.  God made us His “dearly loved children” and gave us the only possible reasons to be kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving.  He first loved us and “gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” in our place.  Now that’s forgiveness!  That’s something to imitate!  To imitate the love of our gracious Father in heaven!

Be imitators of God”- literally the Greek says to “mimic” or “to do exactly the way as”?  Ok, easy enough…right?  Well, let’s think about it.  By nature each one of us was born into this world a sinner and therefore God’s enemy and hostile to God.  And what did God do?  He gave His own Son up on the cross to forgive you and me, His enemies!

Imitate that to my enemy?  “What about when I’m wronged, when I’m the victim of a horrid crime, when I’ve suffered terribly at the hands of someone else, when I’m lost in tears at a crime scene against me?  Where’s my justice?  Let the government use its tool, the sword and carry out justice as it sees fit, but don’t tell me that the church should then use its tool, the Gospel, and tell that  low-life that Jesus died for his sin as well.  No way!  And don’t dare tell me that I should share with him the Gospel.  No, put me on the witness stand in God’s courtroom and let me testify at the proper time, I’ll decide what is right.  I’ll decide that Jesus’ blood should not count for him.  If you were a victim of such a crime you would too!”  How horrible…of me.    Because if you could see the crime scene that is in my heart you would tell me that Jesus’ blood should not count for me either…and it shouldn’t.  Jesus tells me, “When I hate my brother I am a murderer.”  There’s nothing clean about that.

And if only that one out of a countless offenses is true, and it is, then this gathering here is a shocking and graphic crime scene.  Each one of our hearts is covered in blood.  And without words like our text this morning, I would have never known…you would have never known that this blood covering us is not our own.  Only the words like our text will tell us that this blood that covers us is the blood payment of Jesus who said, “Let me testify at the proper time and I’ll decide what is right, not according to the crime scene in your heart, but according to the crime scene… on the cross.  Because there I took your sins every one of them and washed them clean in my holiness; there God showed you His love; there God forgave you completely; there is now no evidence to convict you, there God forgave your enormous debt of sin.”

At the cross Jesus gave Himself up in your place for you.  So know this: Your sins, everyone one of them, have been forgiven completely by God Himself, you are at complete peace with God!  That forgiveness is yours!  That’s forgiveness to share!  So yes, reminded, assured, and motivated by God’s forgiveness in Jesus we pray: “Heavenly Father…forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

 

Give us today our daily bread!

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9th Sunday after Pentecost

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Dear friends in Christ Jesus:  I’m sure it’s happened to you before too.  It’s frustrating.  It’s antagonizing.  It’s exhausting.  It just about drives you crazy.  Last year when I was at the Seminary I came home from work one evening and my wife, Katie, told me she couldn’t find her cell phone.  So, I said, “Well, let me trying calling it.”  So I called it…and called it…and called it…and we looked and looked and looked everywhere in our apartment…nothing.  So, “Did you go anywhere today?”  “Yea, the grocery store.”  So we looked in the car…nothing.  And then we went to the grocery store and looked up and down the aisles…nothing.  We asked the customer service lady…nothing.  We went back home and looked, and looked, and looked…nothing.  We then canceled the phone, plan, everything.  It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, when you lose something important, isn’t it?  Then a few hours later…there it is sitting in plain sight in the back seat of our car.  What!!!  So much frustration, exhaustion, and effort could’ve been avoided if we just first looked in the right place.  Ever had times like that?

Today we’re going to take a look at what we’re praying when we say, “Our Father in heaven…give us today our daily bread.”    In our text we’re going to see that so much of our angst, our anxious concerns, and our worries about the day-to-day things of life are really caused by looking in all of the wrong places.  Where do we focus our eyes on for our daily needs?  We’ll find out, but first we need to know what we’re looking for: daily bread.  What is daily bread?

Are we asking God for a piece of bread every day?  Or a piece of food every day?  For a moment, picture a loaf of bread on your table at home before dinner.  How did that loaf of bread get there?  Did God cause it to fall out of the sky?  Nope.  Well, first of all God provided someone with the abilities to be a farmer, then God provided that farmer with grain seeds, then God gave the farmer machinery to plant that seed, then God caused the rain and the sun to shine, then God caused a bunch of seeds to sprout, then God allowed the farmer to harvest the seed and to sell it and a company to bake it into a loaf and package it and put it on a shelf in a store.  Then God gave you the money to buy that bread, He gave you the means to go to the store to buy it, He provided a place close to you to sell it, then He supplied the protection for you to get to the store without being harmed, then He gave you peace in your family to enjoy that loaf of bread and then He gave you your health to be able to eat it.  So…when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” we are praying that God would both supply all our daily needs and everything else so we can enjoy them in peace and harmony.  And if you let your mind go there’s a lot more involved than just those things for getting one piece of bread, things like air, water, a beating heart, etc.  And that’s just for a loaf of bread!!  Now how about everything else in your life?!!  Wow!!

Daily bread is everything that we need for our bodies and our life here on this earth.  When we pray “give us today our daily bread” we are asking God to continue to provide our daily necessities of life on earth.  And so we both recognize that all of the things for our life on earth come from our Father in heaven AND that we give Him thanks for blessing us so richly.

But guess who doesn’t want you to have daily bread: the devil.  He’s not content to just lead us away spiritually; he’s also interested leading us astray with the things of life.  He does this in two ways: either he uses disasters, turmoil, riots, murders, calamity of every kind in order to deprive us of our daily bread.  Or he’ll try to give us more, more, more so that we start to love possessions, money, things, the “daily bread” in order to lead us astray.  So, when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” we’re also praying that God would prevent the devil from both depriving us of our daily bread and causing us to misuse our daily bread.

And how does God normally provide us with our daily bread?  Does He cause it to fall from heaven?  He normally uses natural means like sunlight and water AND the income we earn by working.  If someone cannot work for their daily bread God wants others to share with them.  But, conversely, if someone can work for their daily bread but doesn’t want to, then that person should not expect others to provide for them either.  God says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

In short in this petition we are asking God to provide everything that is connected with our life on earth, to guard us from anything that would harm our lives on earth, that we recognize that all things come from our gracious God, and that we receive all our daily bread from God with thanksgiving.

But why do we pray for our daily bread?  Why not just pray “Give us our bread”?  That’s what we’re going to focus on in our text this morning from Matthew chapter 6.  This is part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jesus is speaking: (read text)

If we were perfect and not constantly tempted to worry and have anxious care then Jesus wouldn’t have had to speak the words of our text.  But guess what…Jesus understands our constant weaknesses and our many cares so He graciously gave us these words to help us.  Unfortunately, when we do worry or when we are anxiously caring or constantly troubled by what we’re going to eat, drink , wear, or any of our “daily bread” that means we are looking in all of the wrong places.  Essentially worry is looking to ourselves for the answers; thinking that everything depends on us.  Worry is doubting that God will do what He’s promised to do.  And notice what looking in all the wrong places gets us: “I don’t know what I’m going to do…I don’t know how I’m going to make this work out…I don’t know how I am going to put food on the table tomorrow…what am I going to do?!”  So much worry, and yet, what does it accomplish: frustration, angst, exhaustion, headaches, etc.

And so God tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on me, for I care for you” (1 Peter 1:7).  God our Father instructs us to pray: “Give us today our daily bread.”  If we pray for our necessities of just today then we trust that God will continue to provide our needs the next day and the next day and so on into the future.  And yet, at the same time, it’s not wrong to plan.  God even encourages us to “count the cost.”  But we do that with the trust that God can- and will- change our plans.

So to help us Jesus gives us the right places to look.  Look here: If God has provided you with your life (which He has), well then He’s certainly going to continue to provide the things you need for your life, like food, drink, clothing, your daily bread.  And look in this place: the birds, if God continues to provide for the birds so they have food to eat every day, will your heavenly Father, who does that for birds, will He not continually provide for His own children!!  And look here: the flowers of the field, see how beautifully God clothes them, which are here today and tomorrow are gone, how much more will God make sure His own children are taken care of!!  And look here: long before we even realize that we have a need, guess what, God already knew about it!

And God gives us one more right place to look: when troubles come (and they will) cause we’re sinful people living in a sinful world, when you think everything is fine and then it all collapses, when you come face to face with that thing that most people spend tons of time worrying about: death, when temptations to look everywhere else come, when you’re frustrated from looking in all the wrong places, look at this place: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given you as well.”  Look in that one right place.  Look at Jesus.  Look at what Jesus has done for you.  Look at how He took every one of your sins away by dying on that cross.  Look at how in exchange He’s given you His perfect life.  Look how you are wearing Jesus’ perfect robes of righteousness.  Look at how He’s established His kingdom in your heart.  Look at how He’s preparing a place for you with Him in heaven.  Look at how He turned death into the doorway into heaven.  Look at how He’s now leading you through this temporary world to your eternal home.  Yes, in everything that’s the right place to look first and all of our daily bread will be provided us as well.  So with trusting hearts we pray, “Heavenly Father…give us today our daily bread!”

Hallowed be Your Name!

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7th Sunday after Pentecost

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Dear friends…. “Peyton Manning,” “Barack Obama,” “Jenna Nitz”…what’s in a name?  When you heard those names you thought about more than just a few letters, right?  You probably thought about who that person is, what you know about that person, the impression that person has made on you, how you feel about them, etc.  So, in a sense, encapsulated in a name is everything you know about, feel about, or have experienced with that person.  In a similar way God’s name is everything that we know about Him, everything that He’s revealed to us about Himself in His Word.

Today, in our text we’re going to take a look at how God Himself summarizes everything we need to know about Him in His name.  But before we take a look at the text let’s consider this concept of a “name” for a bit.  Particularly, how we expect our names to be used is not all that different from what God expects about His name.

Let’s think about it for a bit.  Let’s say I go and rob a bank.  After the police catch me and are questioning me as to why I did this crime, I then lie to them that I was told to do it by you and all the plans were given to me by you, and I give them your name.  Would you appreciate me using your name to lie?  Or maybe I just twist around some of your words to imply that you were involved with my crime…would you be happy with me?  I’m guessing not.  Or a different scenario, let’s say one day you come running up to me in tears yelling, “Call 911!!”  And I say, “Now I don’t think that’s exactly what you mean.  Because this is coming from you, this could be interpreted in a number of different ways: Maybe when you say, “Call 911” you really mean that I should go to the store for you or that I should lend you 20 bucks, but you really can’t mean that I should call 911.”  Now that’s absolutely absurd isn’t it!

In the same way God does not appreciate people using His name to tell lies or false things about what He says in His Word or twisting His Words in order to make it say whatever.  He also doesn’t appreciate it when people say that His words can be interpreted in all kinds of different ways and that no one can really ever figure out what God is saying anyway.  He not only doesn’t appreciate those things, He hates it when people abuse His name by abusing His Word.  And He hates it when we don’t go back to His Word to see if the book we’re reading or what we’re hearing on T.V. is being truthful to His name and truly saying what God says in His Word.

Let’s consider another situation.  Let’s say I get a T-shirt and put your name on it front and back and I wear it.  Then I go down to the mall on a Saturday afternoon when it’s just packed and I start yelling curse words at the top of my lungs and ripping things off shelves and getting into a couple of fights…would you appreciate me using your name to do that?  Ok, well what if I just, just do it once…would you appreciate it?  I’m guessing you would hate it and you wouldn’t be too happy with me either.  Well, in the same way, as Christians, with God’s name written on us, when we live immorally or are dishonest or whatever, then God doesn’t appreciate it, in fact, He hates it.  He hates it when people abuse His name by not acting like His children.

So when we pray “Hallowed be your name” we are praying that we keep God’s name holy.  That we keep His name holy by teaching/learning His Word correctly AND that we live upright, honest, and moral lives as His children with His name written on us.  This glorifies God’s name.  This is how God wants us to use His name.

And this is of course something that we want to do.  Why?  Because of what His name means to us.  Because of how He has revealed Himself to us.  Because of what we know about Him.  Everything that we know about God can be neatly summarized in the verses of our text, which has been called the John 3:16 of the OT or the Lord’s sermon on His name.  Moses has just gone up on a mountain to receive the 10 commandments and he asked God to see His glory; instead of showing him His full glory (which would have killed Moses) God gave Him these words explaining His glorious name: read text.

So what comes to mind when you hear the name “the LORD”?  It is this: that the almighty God who exists exalted above all things, in absolute independence, who doesn’t have to please anyone, who isn’t afraid of anyone, out of the unselfishness, goodness, and mercy of His heart generously pours out His love and grace on human beings!

The LORD, the LORD the compassionate and gracious God”- that’s what the Lord’s name means.  The Lord is compassionate.  He sees the suffering of His people, He sees their helplessness on their own, His heart goes out to them and He chooses to show compassion on them.  He is also gracious.  Not only does He have compassion but He also has a heartfelt response to give something to those in need.  It’s a word that describes God as one who has something to give the poor and needy who can’t help themselves.  He has a gracious gift of grace to give them.  And His name is further explained:

The LORD…slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”- He is the Lord who is long-suffering, slow in anger, He does not have a short temper or lose His cool easily.  He has incredible patience.  The Lord is also abounding in love and faithfulness.  There is no limit to God’s faithful love.  His love will never run out, never be used up, never be exhausted.  God will always keep His Word, He will never go back on what He says, His promises are sure and certain.  God further explains His name:

The LORD…maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”- When you hear the name “LORD” what do you see Him doing?  You see Him “maintaining,” literally “guarding” or “keeping” love to thousands, to an unlimited number of people.  This is kind of a funny way of speaking, but the love God has for us is guarded by Him and if His love for us is protected by Him there is no way anyone is going to take it away from Him.  And what else does He do?  He’s forgiving sins.  He calms the troubled conscience burdened with guilt, He forgives sins of rebellion, sins of turning one’s back on God’s goodness in order to sin, He forgives sins of weakness, daily sins of being a sinner in a sinful world.  That’s what comes to mind when you hear “the LORD,” forgiveness full and complete!

God explains His name with one further phrase “The LORD…yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation”- that’s what the Lord’s name means?  But wait!  Didn’t we just get done talking about how merciful, compassionate, and gracious God is?!!  Yes, but God’s boundless grace does not mean He’s indifferent towards sin or that He simply overlooks sin.  God says there will be no unpunished sinner.  So how do we reconcile this?  On one hand God says that He’s gracious and compassionate and then on the other that He doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished?

There is only one solution to this contradiction: No guilt, no sin remains.  Why?  Because JESUS became the one stricken by God, smitten by Him in our place, He was pierced for our unfaithfulness, He was crushed because of our iniquities, while we were headed for destruction He cast all our guilt upon Him, and because He was punished we are healed, we have peace, we are justified.  Yes it’s only at the cross of Jesus where God’s name becomes the most clear to us.  It is there where the righteous justice of God is satisfied by the same gracious, compassionate, and loving God.  It is by the name of Jesus that we are saved.

So what’s in a name?  What comes to mind when you hear the name “the LORD”?  What do you feel when you hear
“the LORD”?  Well, you know: the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin that is who YOUR God is and will always be!  The LORD, that name, we will always hallow, always keep holy!  Amen.

Freedom Sermonettes

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6th Sunday after Pentecost

Slavery Earned – Genesis 3:6, 22-24

Dear friends in Christ, what do you think it would be like?  Fortunately not many of us, if any of us, know what it would be like from experience.  Can you imagine living under an oppressive government, where you couldn’t just do what you wanted, and instead everything you’d do would be for someone else, where you’d always have to do what someone else told you or wanted you to do- and if you even thought about NOT obeying you’d be thrown in jail or punished?  Can you imagine how horrible life would be?  Thank the Lord that He’s given us lots of freedom in the United States, where we are free to live our lives in peace and where we are free to worship our Lord in peace.

God originally created human beings with incredible spiritual freedom: freedom to serve their loving Creator in love and joy.  But then this happened: read text

Adam and Eve turned their back on the incredible freedom God gave them and chose slavery to sin.  As descendents of Adam and Eve, not only did we inherit physically from them, but also spiritually- we inherited their sin.  So guess what…by nature we are slaves to sin, sin is our slave-master, no matter how hard we might try we are bound to sin- we were born with it and we are stuck in it.  By nature, on our own, we couldn’t do one single good thing.

And this slavery that we human beings are stuck in has consequences.  The final consequence of being enslaved in sin is death…eternal death.  Not only are we slaves to sin, by nature we deserve eternal slavery.

But there is good news.  Notice the name God uses for Himself here: the LORD God.  Remember what that name means?  He is the God of faithful love.  And the God of faithful love drove Adam and Eve out of the garden.  God didn’t want them and us to remain in our sin-enslaved condition forever.  No, thank the Lord He had something much better in mind.

Freedom Won – Hebrews 2:14-15

Imagine being a young boy or girl at one of the first July 4th celebrations.  Instead of celebrating the birthday of the king, you’re now celebrating the birthday of your country.  Bells ringing, bonfires, speeches, excitement.  Instead of being subject to a country thousands of miles away and separated by a great ocean, now you’re a citizen of the United States of America.  Imagine the exhilarating feelings!  And…that freedom that is yours and will be the rest of your life…all that…was won for you by other people…they did the work, you reap the benefits.  What a gift!

Thank the Lord we too have someone who fought our battle- the most important battle of all- the spiritual battle against sin, death, and the devil.  The writer to the Hebrews is talking about Jesus when he writes: read text

There’s a huge difference of where we ought to be and where we are.  We ought to be enslaved: enslaved by the devil’s temptations.  We ought to be led to fall ignorantly headlong into each of his deadly pits.  We ought to be enslaved by sin.  Sin ought to force us to make a huge mess of our lives and plague us with unbearable guilt.  And death ought to enslave us, to hold us in the grip of fear and cause us to do everything possible to avoid the inevitable horror of death…that’s where we ought to be.

Praise the Lord that’s not where we are!  Jesus fought our battle in our place.  Jesus released us from our slavery.  Jesus freed us from our oppression.  Jesus used that very thing that the devil thought he could use to enslave us with fear, which is death, Jesus used death in order to free us from the devil’s grip.  Jesus by His death on the cross freed us from our eternal death.  And Jesus not only set us free and released us, but He also “destroyed him who holds the power of death – that is the devil” or better, literally, the Greek says that Jesus “put the devil out of commission, rendered him inoperable.”  No longer is sin your slave-master.  No longer can the devil hold you in his grips.  No longer can death plague you with fear.  Why?  Because Jesus has set you free, Jesus has put the devil out of commission for you.

And the greatest blessing of all, you didn’t do a thing for it, Jesus handed you this awesome gift of freedom completely freely!  What a gift!

Freedom to Serve – Galatians 5:1, 13

What do you think the founding fathers of this country did after 1776?  Do you think they went right back into the same old system of government that they had?  Do you think they kept asking, “I wonder how we can be more like Great Britain?”  Do you think they went right back to the way things used to be?  No, they won their freedom and now they were going to use it, to be different, to live new lives in a new country with new found freedom.  Thankfully they stood firm on their declaration of independence.

In a similar way God encourages us to continue standing firm in the freedom that He has won for us: read text

How do we use this awesome freedom that God has given us?  If God has set us free from anything we have to do in regard to getting to heaven, then why not live it up!  Why not do whatever we want?  Why not enjoy all of the sinful things of this world?  Why care about what is wrong and what is right?  Why bother?  We’re free…right?

God has indeed set us free and given us real freedom.  Freedom from the burden of sin, freedom from the slavery of sin that hung around our necks.  You see, remaining in our sinful habits or continuing in our sin is like saying, “God that’s nice that you’ve freed me, but I don’t want it”,  and then going back to sin, death, and the devil and saying, “Here!  Bind me, enslave me, make me your slave.”  That would be ridiculous!  Why would we want to go back to that slavery from which Jesus freed?  It wouldn’t make sense!

God’s given us incredible freedom TO USE!  And with this freedom is incredible meaning in life.  God’s given us “freedom to serve one another in love.”  No longer is our goal in life “what can I get out of this.”  No, God’s freely given us all we ever need for eternity- eternal life.  So, if God’s given us what we need the most we can freely give ourselves in service to others.

The freedom Jesus won for us also gives us a fulfilling life.  No longer do we look at life with a sin-enslaved mindset and see life from behind the bars of “what I can’t do” or “what I’m restricted from doing”.  No, rather Jesus has truly set us free…and freedom connected with love says, “I am free!  What can I do?  How can I serve others in love?  How can I use my freedom to honor God by serving others? What possibilities of service are in front of me to use?”

That’s an awesome freedom God’s given you to use!  Freedom for a fulfilling life, freedom for a meaningful life, freedom to serve God by serving others in love!  Yes, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free”!  Let’s use it!

 

 

Hallowed be Your Name!

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5th Sunday after Pentecost

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Dear friends…. “Peyton Manning,” “Barack Obama,” “Jenna Nitz”…what’s in a name?  When you heard those names you thought about more than just a few letters, right?  You probably thought about who that person is, what you know about that person, the impression that person has made on you, how you feel about them, etc.  So, in a sense, encapsulated in a name is everything you know about, feel about, or have experienced with that person.  In a similar way God’s name is everything that we know about Him, everything that He’s revealed to us about Himself in His Word.

Today, in our text we’re going to take a look at how God Himself summarizes everything we need to know about Him in His name.  But before we take a look at the text let’s consider this concept of a “name” for a bit.  Particularly, how we expect our names to be used is not all that different from what God expects about His name.

Let’s think about it for a bit.  Let’s say I go and rob a bank.  After the police catch me and are questioning me as to why I did this crime, I then lie to them that I was told to do it by you and all the plans were given to me by you, and I give them your name.  Would you appreciate me using your name to lie?  Or maybe I just twist around some of your words to imply that you were involved with my crime…would you be happy with me?  I’m guessing not.  Or a different scenario, let’s say one day you come running up to me in tears yelling, “Call 911!!”  And I say, “Now I don’t think that’s exactly what you mean.  Because this is coming from you, this could be interpreted in a number of different ways: Maybe when you say, “Call 911” you really mean that I should go to the store for you or that I should lend you 20 bucks, but you really can’t mean that I should call 911.”  Now that’s absolutely absurd isn’t it!

In the same way God does not appreciate people using His name to tell lies or false things about what He says in His Word or twisting His Words in order to make it say whatever.  He also doesn’t appreciate it when people say that His words can be interpreted in all kinds of different ways and that no one can really ever figure out what God is saying anyway.  He not only doesn’t appreciate those things, He hates it when people abuse His name by abusing His Word.  And He hates it when we don’t go back to His Word to see if the book we’re reading or what we’re hearing on T.V. is being truthful to His name and truly saying what God says in His Word.

Let’s consider another situation.  Let’s say I get a T-shirt and put your name on it front and back and I wear it.  Then I go down to the mall on a Saturday afternoon when it’s just packed and I start yelling curse words at the top of my lungs and ripping things off shelves and getting into a couple of fights…would you appreciate me using your name to do that?  Ok, well what if I just, just do it once…would you appreciate it?  I’m guessing you would hate it and you wouldn’t be too happy with me either.  Well, in the same way, as Christians, with God’s name written on us, when we live immorally or are dishonest or whatever, then God doesn’t appreciate it, in fact, He hates it.  He hates it when people abuse His name by not acting like His children.

So when we pray “Hallowed be your name” we are praying that we keep God’s name holy.  That we keep His name holy by teaching/learning His Word correctly AND that we live upright, honest, and moral lives as His children with His name written on us.  This glorifies God’s name.  This is how God wants us to use His name.

And this is of course something that we want to do.  Why?  Because of what His name means to us.  Because of how He has revealed Himself to us.  Because of what we know about Him.  Everything that we know about God can be neatly summarized in the verses of our text, which has been called the John 3:16 of the OT or the Lord’s sermon on His name.  Moses has just gone up on a mountain to receive the 10 commandments and he asked God to see His glory; instead of showing him His full glory (which would have killed Moses) God gave Him these words explaining His glorious name: read text.

So what comes to mind when you hear the name “the LORD”?  It is this: that the almighty God who exists exalted above all things, in absolute independence, who doesn’t have to please anyone, who isn’t afraid of anyone, out of the unselfishness, goodness, and mercy of His heart generously pours out His love and grace on human beings!

The LORD, the LORD the compassionate and gracious God”- that’s what the Lord’s name means.  The Lord is compassionate.  He sees the suffering of His people, He sees their helplessness on their own, His heart goes out to them and He chooses to show compassion on them.  He is also gracious.  Not only does He have compassion but He also has a heartfelt response to give something to those in need.  It’s a word that describes God as one who has something to give the poor and needy who can’t help themselves.  He has a gracious gift of grace to give them.  And His name is further explained:

The LORD…slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”- He is the Lord who is long-suffering, slow in anger, He does not have a short temper or lose His cool easily.  He has incredible patience.  The Lord is also abounding in love and faithfulness.  There is no limit to God’s faithful love.  His love will never run out, never be used up, never be exhausted.  God will always keep His Word, He will never go back on what He says, His promises are sure and certain.  God further explains His name:

The LORD…maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”- When you hear the name “LORD” what do you see Him doing?  You see Him “maintaining,” literally “guarding” or “keeping” love to thousands, to an unlimited number of people.  This is kind of a funny way of speaking, but the love God has for us is guarded by Him and if His love for us is protected by Him there is no way anyone is going to take it away from Him.  And what else does He do?  He’s forgiving sins.  He calms the troubled conscience burdened with guilt, He forgives sins of rebellion, sins of turning one’s back on God’s goodness in order to sin, He forgives sins of weakness, daily sins of being a sinner in a sinful world.  That’s what comes to mind when you hear “the LORD,” forgiveness full and complete!

God explains His name with one further phrase “The LORD…yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation”- that’s what the Lord’s name means?  But wait!  Didn’t we just get done talking about how merciful, compassionate, and gracious God is?!!  Yes, but God’s boundless grace does not mean He’s indifferent towards sin or that He simply overlooks sin.  God says there will be no unpunished sinner.  So how do we reconcile this?  On one hand God says that He’s gracious and compassionate and then on the other that He doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished?

There is only one solution to this contradiction: No guilt, no sin remains.  Why?  Because JESUS became the one stricken by God, smitten by Him in our place, He was pierced for our unfaithfulness, He was crushed because of our iniquities, while we were headed for destruction He cast all our guilt upon Him, and because He was punished we are healed, we have peace, we are justified.  Yes it’s only at the cross of Jesus where God’s name becomes the most clear to us.  It is there where the righteous justice of God is satisfied by the same gracious, compassionate, and loving God.  It is by the name of Jesus that we are saved.

So what’s in a name?  What comes to mind when you hear the name “the LORD”?  What do you feel when you hear
“the LORD”?  Well, you know: the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin that is who YOUR God is and will always be!  The LORD, that name, we will always hallow, always keep holy!  Amen