Supplicate!

3rd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 32;1-9, 16-21

Come, oh come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Imagine that you were diagnosed with a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No! It would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. What about prayer? How important is prayer to your daily routine? Is it something that you do once in a while? Is it what you do when you happen to find the time? Is it something that you turn to only when you’re desperate and hopeless – like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life when he’s about to end his life by jumping over the bridge? Is prayer that thing you do that is like children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap spelling out their wish list of all the things they want? What is prayer? How do you view prayer?

We are continuing our advent preparation by preparing with a king, the Old Testament king Hezekiah, for The King, King Jesus. Today we’re learning with Hezekiah how to “supplicate.” In other words, how to pray. And we’re going to specifically focus on three things: The balance of prayer, the basis and objective of prayer, and the power of prayer.

First, the balance of prayer. You notice the context of this event. “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib, king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” Remember how faithful Hezekiah was? He returned the people back to worshipping the true God, reopened the temple of the Lord and rededicated it, last week we looked at how he faithfully celebrated the great Passover of the Lord. After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, now he faced the powerful and ruthless king of Assyria. Sennacherib’s father Sargon was the Assyrian king who finished off the northern kingdom of Israel. Apparently after Sargon died and Sennacherib took over many of the nations around Judah chose to rebel to gain their freedom so Sennacherib came with his vast army to put them in their place. In fact, the Hebrew word for Assyrian could be translated “horde.”

Just the word of the Assyrians coming was enough to frighten any king. The Assyrians were known for their inhumane cruelty and bloodshed. And now they were capturing city after city and heading straight for Jerusalem. Where is God in all of this? Why is He permitting this? After all Hezekiah had so faithfully done doesn’t he deserve something from God? Perhaps you’ve had those same kinds of questions when one thing after another just piles up on you in life. Luther says that it’s precisely when God seems hidden that people have the greatest opportunity to exercise their faith in His promises.

So, what does Hezekiah do? He knows he is no match for the Assyrian horde, so he prepares by strengthening his defenses. He stopped up all the springs outside the city so the Assyrians would have trouble getting water, he also dug a channel underneath Jerusalem so they would have water from the Gihon spring, he repaired the wall, built another wall, and had a bunch of weapons and shields made as well as appointed military officers.

So, what’s the proper response to trouble or challenge? Prayer or work? When you’re facing a crisis- what should you do? Should you sit on your hands, pray, and trust that God is going to deliver you? Or do you get busy and do everything you can to fix the problem? Some people are more pragmatist and some are more idealist. The pragmatist insists on getting busy and doing something in the face of a challenge. The idealist insists on simply trusting God and praying. The idealist will look at the pragmatist and say, “You have no faith! Just trust in God!” And the pragmatist will look at the idealist and say, “You’re tempting God!” The pragmatist can easily think that it’s his actions that save him and the idealist can easily become carelessly confident and become lazy.

Hezekiah demonstrates the balance of prayer. Both prayer and work go together. Trust in God and using the means, resources, and abilities He’s given me, go together. Hezekiah both prays and gets to work, but all the while he depends on the Lord’s mighty power to deliver him. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

That leads to our second point: the basis and objective of prayer. Over the years there have been many military commanders or leaders who have tried to fire up and encourage their troops. Maybe they’ll direct their troops to the glories they will win or to their nationality, like, ‘We’re Americans!’ or to their noble cause, like freedom and liberty. But the basis for Hezekiah’s trust and prayer is the might and strength of the Lord. And his objective is not personal glory, is not a larger kingdom, is not fame, his objective is that “all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” His objective is God’s glory and His honor.

Sennacherib had sent his messengers to mock, ridicule, and insult the Lord, claiming that the Lord would not be able to help the people of Judah. He meant to crush their spirits, to frighten and terrify them so they would just give up. But Hezekiah bases his prayer and his trust on the Lord’s power and for the Lord’s glory. For no matter how bloodthirsty and terrifying the Assyrians were all they had was the arm of flesh, “but with us is the lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

I think we all want to pray more and to go deeper in our prayers. We know that a natural outgrowth of reading, studying, learning, meditating on the Lord’s Word and receive the sacraments is a desire to pray. But someone once said that nothing really helps us go deeper in our prayers than simply being hopeless and desperate on our own. The Assyrians had over run every city and were now about to take Jerusalem. Hezekiah probably felt like he was in a pool with the water up to the neck- only the Lord could rescue him from this situation.

We too face many things in life. What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life? What is it that is leading you to be hopeless and desperate on your own? What is it that is stealing away your joy and gladness this Advent season? Is a fear for an uncertain future? Is it some kind of sickness or illness or simply growing old? Is it the terror of loneliness or thinking about spending the holidays with a loved one not present who has passed away?  Is it the threat of Satan’s continuing onslaughts of temptations or your own sinful flesh? What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life and sapping your joy in life, your strength, and making you feel desperate?

With Hezekiah prepare for battle by first turning to the Lord. Why so? With them is only the arm of flesh, but with you is the Lord your God to help you and to fight your battles. Your true King, King Jesus, has come. He has taken everything that condemns you, everything that threatens your eternal life, all your sin upon Himself and won the victory with his death on the cross and His resurrection! He has trampled every enemy underfoot and depending on his strength you win the battle over everything that threatens you. So pray, based on the Lord’s unlimited strength and for His glory.

And how do you know? As you face fears, concerns, worries, troubles this Christmas season, how do you know that the Lord is with you? How do you know that He cares that much about you? How do you know He will deliver you? The Lord has given you the sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – God with us. God Himself became a human being in order to rescue you. So, you live in the city of God and even though the entire world is exploding in chaos around you, you can always enjoy perfect peace- for the Lord is with you, He has rescued you and He will rescue you.

And finally, the power of prayer. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, trusted in Him and you know what the Lord did? The Lord sent an angel and annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king – 185,000 soldiers died. Sennacherib withdrew in disgrace. Judah was delivered and could live in peace. What is the Lord able to do? Anything. The Lord, the ruler of the universe, takes our prayers into account, chooses to work through our prayers in His master governing of the universe to accomplish His will. That’s power! Luther commented that God’s command and the prayers of His people are the two pillars which support the world. God uses your prayers. If it wasn’t for Christians and their prayers the world would have ceased to exist long ago. Prayers are powerful and God always answers prayers in the best way, he will always answer your prayers in the way that you would have asked if you knew everything He knew. And how do you know that? We look to a different battle, a battle fought in a garden, a battle that involved sweat like drops of blood where God’s own Son pleaded to not drink the cup of God’s wrath for all sins, but only as God wills it and God said no. Since Jesus willingly faced the worst battle ever for you and me, we know God loves us dearly, we know that God will use His power to help us, we know that the prayers of God’s people are powerful and effective.

So this Advent season- supplicate. Pray- balancing trust in God with faithful work, basing your prayer on the incredible strength of God and that he might answer your prayer in a way that gives God glory, and trust in the incredible power of prayer.

Wait for Jesus in Seriousness!

2nd Midweek Advent Service
Luke 11:29-36

Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel and ransom us the captive Israel. Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
“Hey, why are you so serious? Loosen up a little bit! Have a little fun! Don’t be so serious!” Has anyone ever said that you? Have you ever told that to someone? We typically say that when someone is seemingly being overly rigid about something or overly determined about one thing. And while there are certain things in life that we can loosen up a bit about and not be too serious about, the reality is, everyone is serious about certain things. In fact, everyone would agree that it’s actually a very good thing to be serious about certain things. And it’s especially true when lives are on the line. I don’t think anyone who rides on an airplane would like their pilots to not take their job very seriously so they don’t end up crashing the plane. I think everyone who hires a mechanic to fix the brakes on their car wants their mechanic to take his job very seriously so that your brakes don’t malfunction when you need them. I think everyone expects that the surgeon who operates on his/her body or the body of one of their loved ones would take his or her job extremely seriously. Being serious about certain things isn’t a bad thing, in fact, when life is at stake -it’s a very good thing!
Our theme for this evening is wait for Jesus in seriousness. The problem in our text is that the people were not serious about the amazing and great thing that God was doing for them. Our text this evening is Jesus’ words right after the words we focused on last Wednesday. Jesus has just done a miracle, he had just driven out a demon who had made a man mute. After that, instead of appreciating this sign that showed that Jesus is God, some said that Jesus drove the demon out by the power of the devil, not God. Jesus answered that charge by pointing out that it wouldn’t make any sense of Satan to drive out Satan for he’d be destroying his own kingdom. Rather, Jesus is like a strong man who has tied up an even stronger man and is carrying away his possessions. After hearing all this a woman yelled out that Jesus’ mother is to be blessed. And in response Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and guard it.”
Then Jesus gets to our text. Jesus first calls the people a “wicked generation.” Why so? Because they keep looking for a sign when the most important sign is standing right in front of them. The Queen of Sheba traveled from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom with which the Lord blessed Solomon- but one far greater than Solomon is here! The Ninevites repented at Jonah’s preaching, but the people in Jesus’ day refuse to listen to him. They aren’t taking Jesus’ seriously.
How serious are you about Jesus? Are we any better than the Jews of Jesus’ day? They ignored the signs of God’s grace right in front of them. What about us? We have Jesus right in front of us, we have his Word in print, His Word attached to water, and His Word attached to his body and blood in the sacraments. How serious are we about these signs of his grace? How serious are you about God’s Word? Do we fritter our life away filling it with trivial things that on the Last Day have absolutely no consequence? How serious are you about your baptism and recalling your baptism and drowning your sinful flesh in the water of your baptism every day? How serious are you about the Lord’s Supper and coming forward with a repentant and joyful heart and leaving to live a new and holy life? Do we hear His Word, receive His sacrament and return to our same old sinful habits? Are we the “wicked generation”? We want our doctors, our pilots, and our mechanics to be serious…but are we serious? This isn’t just physical life! This is eternal life or eternal death- are we serious about that?
Jesus, our Savior, comes to us and tells us to wait eagerly for him in seriousness. He’s coming again. Soak up His Word and his Sacraments. In it he gives you true wisdom and true treasures. What could possibly be more important? Wouldn’t we want to travel far more than the Queen of Sheba to receive the gifts God gives us freely through His Word? Gifts like – forgiveness for sins in Jesus, peace for a guilty and troubled conscience, joy in a risen Savior that no sadness can snuff out, a love that compels us to live more Christ-like everyday.
And what happens when we’re serious about Jesus and His Word? On our own we’re nothing but darkness inside, but the gospel fills us with nothing but light. Light dispels the darkness. When we take Jesus seriously and wait for Jesus seriously His light fills us and shines through us to others. The more you know about Jesus, the closer you are to Jesus, the greater His light shines through you to others. They see it. It’s like having Christmas lights shining in you and through you. Take Jesus’ Word seriously, let His light shine in you, and you will be a beacon of light in this sin-darkened world. And this is how serious this is: God will use His light shining in you and through you to reach more and more souls that they too might be saved eternally. That’s serious business!
So, wait for Jesus in seriousness, taking his word seriously and seriously letting the light of the gospel shine through you. The souls God reaches through you will be eternally grateful that you did. Wait for Jesus in seriousness. Amen.

Celebrate!

2nd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 30

Come, O come, Emmanuel! And ransom captive Israel. Amen. In the name of Jesus, who comes to save us and will come again, dear friends in Christ, how do you drive in a snowstorm? It’s that time of year again when we all have to relearn how to drive in snowy, icy conditions. So, how do you drive on a road that hasn’t been plowed yet? Carefully, yes. Slowly, yes. But there’s one other rule of the road. You do your best to follow the tracks that other cars have already made on the road. Why? Because if you go too far to the right or to the left you risk getting your tires on the slippery snow and losing all control either sliding to the left into oncoming traffic or sliding to the right and either crashing or getting stuck in the snow. Guaranteed every year you will see vehicles stuck in the snow on either side of the road. You want to stay on the narrow path.

Well, there’s also a narrow Scriptural road that we want to stay on. The devil is constantly trying to push us humans to either stop short of what God says or go beyond what God says. At Christmastime we are faced with one of those instances where we need to stick to the path and not slide off either side of the road.

You see, at Christmastime, perhaps more so than any other time of the year we see the depth of sinful materialism. It seems that every year we hear about a death or injury at a mall or a shopping center because people were trying to get the heavily discounted item. We also see and feel ourselves the many stresses and worries about stuff. About getting the right gift, “Should I get this person a gift or not, what should I get them, what if I don’t get them a gift but they get me a gift?” And it even affects our children. How disappointed children will get if they didn’t have any presents or enough presents or the right presents.

There’s a part of all that which bothers us and it should. It shows the depth of our sinfulness, it shows our incessant longing to find happiness, fulfillment, peace in stuff instead of our Savior. It shows how much we deserve God’s punishment forever. That bothers us.

So that’s slipping off one side of the road. But here’s the other side. The subtle implication arises that it’s perhaps sinful to celebrate Christmas. There arises perhaps this idea that we’re somehow sinning if we give presents or if we have a nice meal or a nice party. And that’s where we need to be reminded about driving on the narrow road. Yes, our celebration for Christmas can be sinful if we’re focused on the wrong things. At the same time, God never says that we shouldn’t celebrate it. In fact, it’s a great and wonderful thing to celebrate the great acts of God and to do so with a great celebration and a clear conscience.

And we see it here with Hezekiah. Remember, Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had been an absolutely horrible king- shutting the doors of the temple, sacrificing to idols, setting up altars to false gods all over Jerusalem. It was a time of terrible spiritual darkness. But then, Hezekiah came to the throne and his first job was restoring worship to the one true God. He re-opened the temple, reconsecrated everything, reestablished the sacrifices, rededicated the temple. Great!

But there was a huge festival that still needed to be celebrated: the Passover. The Passover was supposed to be an annual reminder for the Israelites of God’s incredible grace. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for generations, but the time had come for God to take them to the Promised Land. So, God gave Pharaoh sign after sign, plague after plague, but Pharaoh hardened himself in unbelief and refused to let them go. The final straw that led Pharaoh to let them go was the Passover. Each Israelite family was to take a one year old male lamb without blemish, slaughter the lamb, paint the blood on the door posts. Then, that night the angel of death would pass through all of Egypt and wherever he saw blood on the doorway, he would pass over that house and not bring death there. But where there was no blood, the firstborn would die. And, it happened! Just like God had said. And the Israelites were able to leave their slavery and were free to go to the Promised Land.

And God wanted them to celebrate this incredible event every year. So right at the beginning of their calendar they would be reminded of God’s incredible power to deliver, God’s incredible grace to rescue them, and God’s incredible faithfulness for their future.

And what did Hezekiah do? He determined that it was time to celebrate the Passover again. He invited all Judah to come, he even invited everyone from the Northern Kingdom that had been left after the Assyrians had conquered them. And they celebrated! A huge crowd of people gathered in Jerusalem. The entire event lasted 7 days, the Levites and priests sang to the LORD every day, accompanied by instruments. At the end of the 7 days, they had enjoyed it so much that they decided to celebrate for another 7 days! Hezekiah provided 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep/goats for the people, the officials provided another 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep/ goats. And even more priests consecrated themselves. Nothing had been seen like this in Jerusalem since the great days of King Solomon.

But don’t you see? What they celebrated pales in comparison with what we’re about to celebrate! They celebrated the release from earthly slavery, we’re celebrating our release from sin’s eternal slavery, release from the imprisonment and torture of sin, death, and hell forever! They celebrated shadows of the coming Savior, we get to celebrate the reality. You know, if Hezekiah were to come here today, if he got to see what you and I get to see, hear what you and I get to hear, if he had the opportunity to celebrate what you and I get to celebrate, he would be jumping up and down saying, “Don’t you see?? We celebrated shadows of deliverance, rescue, salvation, you have the real thing! You get to celebrate the reality that God loved us so much that he came himself to be born into our world, to live our life, to die our death. You get to see the glory of the one and only born as one of us and placed into the manger all in order to go to a cross in order to save us. You get to see it and celebrate it!”

But what would he see in us? “Oh Christmas again.” “Oh, I can’t wait until the holidays are over.” “Ugh, I have to go spend several hours with those people?” “Ugh I have to find a present for so and so.” “Ugh I have so much baking to do.” “Ugh I have to get the house clean.” “I’m just so stressed and exhausted.” If Hezekiah were here and he observed us, would he be just dumbfounded at our lack of celebration? We have awesome, amazing, good news truths to celebrate!

So make your plans for your celebration!  Get presents, or decorate, or send cards, make cookies, prepare a meal, get together with family, volunteer somewhere, or whatever it is that you like to do.  Celebrate!  Provided one thing: provided that we remember WHY we’re celebrating.  No, the getting together with family isn’t the key point.  The presents, the cards, the meals, the cookies, the volunteering – none of those are the key point.  And if our celebration becomes focused on those things, then our celebration will be fleeting and will leave us strangely empty.

But if our celebration keeps the central focus, that we’re celebrating Jesus, the baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, the Savior who’s come to save us, then our celebration will be what it should be: wonderful and uplifting, God-pleasing.

So, yes, the devil is going to try to lure you down the path of commercialization, will try to focus your celebration on the things of this earth rather than on the eternal grace of God.  Resist that urge!  Fight it!

But the devil will also send “Scrooge” to you, trying to condemn you for celebrating at all, trying to make you feel guilty or exhausted or stressed. Fight that too!

Don’t slide to the right or to the left. Stay on that Scriptural road, the road that leads you straight to your Savior, and then your celebration will be God-pleasing, uplifting, and wonderful.  Amen.

Wait for Jesus in Stillness

1st Wednesday of Advent
Luke 11:27-28

In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

“Hey you!” “Excuse me, sir.” “Pardon me, mam.” “Everyone listen up!” How do you get someone’s attention? That is a very important question in our world. Businesses spend billions of dollars every year on advertisements that are designed to get your attention- whether it be on the internet, in the newspaper, in a magazine, on a billboard, over the radio. In fact, there are tons of things that are vying for your attention every day. Coming off of Black Friday and Cyber Monday perhaps you noticed how many stores are vying for your attention because they want you to buy their product. Why will we soon hear bells ringing outside of different stores? People who volunteer for the Salvation Army want you to see them and donate money to their cause. There’s just so many things that are trying to get our attention that if you stop and think about it for a little while, it’s phenomenal.

Well, in our text for this evening we hear about a woman who cried out for attention. Jesus had just done a miracle and had driven out an evil spirit from someone and Jesus’ enemies accused him of driving the evil spirit out not by the power of God, but of the devil. Jesus answered their accusation by first of all making the point that if the devil was driving out the devil his kingdom could not stand because it would be divided against itself. Then Jesus uses a little illustration- if a strong man guards his house, his possessions are safe, but if a stronger man comes, he will overpower the strong man and carry off his spoils. In other words, Jesus drove out the evil spirit because he was stronger than the devil and is rescuing people from the devil’s hold.

Well, after those things an excited but misguided woman yelled out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” What did she mean by that? Does she think that Jesus’ mother was goddess or something? Maybe she was well-intentioned but she was still distracting people away from Jesus to focus on his mother.

There are many things that cry out loudly for our attention this Advent season. There are many things that can distract us from what is really important. We get distracted by garland and gifts. We get distracted by parties and presents. We get distracted by stores and cookies and snow. Not that those things are bad in themselves, but when we allow them to take our attention, when we allow them to rob us of our focus, we’re sinning.

Jesus says, “Wait for me in stillness.” Quiet yourself from the hustle and hurry, the going there and the doing this, quiet your heart in the Spring of joy, the Root of life, in Jesus and His Word. Jesus directs our attention here to where it needs to be: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Jesus is calling someone blessed here. Really, he’s complimenting someone. We all like to hear compliments right? “You look very nice today. That dress looks very good on you. Great work on that project!” What we tend to do is value rate someone’s comments based on how important that person is to us. A compliment from your boss is probably more important to you than a compliment from someone who works for you. What about a compliment from Jesus? How important is that? Who does God compliment? You know, on the Last Day Jesus isn’t going to compliment the people who built the biggest churches or who gave the most money to the needy or achieved a Nobel peace prize or a presidential medal of honor. Rather, he complements those who are humble, broken in spirit, contrite in heart and tremble at His Word. In other words, it’s people who know they’ve sinned, know they’ve failed, know they’ve allowed themselves to be distracted over and over again, know they deserve nothing but God’s punishment. But they listen to Jesus’ words, they spend time with God in the Bible, they guard and treasure His Word.

Why so? Because Jesus’ words are our most prized possession. All the gifts you get at Christmas, all your toys, all your possessions are one day going to be gone, they won’t matter. But Jesus’ words in our hearts will matter. Jesus’ words that reassure us that He was born in order to save and rescue us, Jesus’ words comfort us that we have a Savior who has forgiven all our sins. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word never will.

So wait in stillness. Ignore the loud cries, ignore the attention thieves of our world, ignore the busyness and the hustle. Just wait, wait in stillness listening to the Savior’s Word and obeying it. Doing that you will be blessed both now and forever – Jesus says so. Amen.

Rededicate!

1st Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 28-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We use words like that all the time, right? Well, what does it mean when we add those two little letters “re” to the front or a word? “re” is a prefix that often indicates that we’re doing something again. So, we have a mechanic “repair” our car- that is, he takes what was broken and he fixes and makes it work again. We take an old piece of furniture to a wood worker to “restores” our furniture – that is, he takes something old and makes it look new again or usable again. If you’re browsing the internet and the webpage you’re on has become outdated or new content has been uploaded, you can press the “refresh” or “reload” button to load the webpage again. We even occasionally have a husband and wife who will “renew” their vows to one another. It doesn’t have to be, but often a renewal of the vows comes after something has broken the relationship or many years have passed that commitment has become somewhat dulled over time and the husband and wife “renew” or “refresh” their promises to one another, recommitting themselves to one another again. We use these “re” words all the time, don’t we?

Well, our text this morning describes a lot of “redoing” – rededicating, re-consecrating, reestablishing – the religious life of the Israelites. But we first need to ask, “Why?” Why did King Hezekiah have to do this?

King Hezekiah ruled about from about 715 BC to 686 BC. He took over being king of Judah after his father, Ahaz died. Remember that about 930 BC is when the kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms after the spiritual rebellion that happened during the reign of king Solomon. So, after that there were two kingdoms – one in the north and one in south. The southern kingdom, also called Judah, continued to carry the line of the promised Savior. The northern kingdom when into a steep spiritual spiral that ended in 722 BC when the Assyrians invaded, demolished, and destroyed it. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Judah was in just about as bad a shape spiritually as the northern kingdom. Ahaz was a terrible king.

What did he do? What are we told?  He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.”  So what did the Lord do? The Lord allowed the Arameans to defeat Judah and inflict heavy losses on them. And how did Ahaz respond? “In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he though, ‘Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.’ But they were his downfall…Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and took them away. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods.” God summarized his rule: “He had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”  How might you have felt if you were an Israelite at the time of King Ahaz?  “Can it get any worse than this???”

And then Ahaz, the Israelite king who did all the evil and wickedness we just talked about, died.  His son, Hezekiah, took over and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”  Immediately, he re-opened the doors of the temple and repaired them.  He re-consecrated the priests and the Levites (those responsible for leading worship).  He had the priests re-consecrate the whole temple and its furnishings.  He resumed temple worship with blood sacrifices for sin.  He reassembled the people for worship and praise to the true God.  He restored the bringing of sacrifices and offerings.  The people of Judah responded with abundant offerings and sacrifices.  And then at the end of the account of all these reforms we read: “So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.” (2 Chronicles 29:35-36). 

Things got pretty bad in Israel, but are things much different today?  Is there godlessness in the world around us?  We see beautiful blessings of the Lord … murdered in their mothers’ wombs.  Drug deals, murders, theft, and corruption are constantly on the news.  And it seems like the sound of police sirens never stops.  How the world continues to wander away from God!

Yet, before we shake our heads at the Israelites or the world around us we need to take a look at our own lives.  What horror we would feel if all our thoughts for just one day were read aloud for everyone to hear.  What terror ought to loom inside of us when we consider our own altars to the idols of greed, selfishness, and jealousy.  What guilt weighs us down from our many past failures and sins!  How often we have shut the doors of God’s temple inside of us!  How unfaithful we’ve been in our devotion to God and His Word!  How far have we fallen?  Each of us has to ask, “Can it get any worse than this?”  Are we ready for the coming of the King?

The Israelites at the time of Hezekiah weren’t ready for the Lord’s first coming.  Many Israelites had completely rejected the Lord.  They had forsaken God, turned their backs on God, and refused to worship Him.  But what did God do?  He didn’t wipe them off the face of the earth, He didn’t completely annihilate them for their unfaithfulness, and He didn’t even leave them to sit in the stench of their sin.  Instead, in great love God gave the Israelites another day of His grace, another opportunity to rededicate themselves to Him.  And even more than that… God accepted their rededication!

And look at what we have standing before us today…yet another day of God’s grace, another day when God gives us the opportunity to rededicate our lives to Him.  God did not have to accept the Israelite’s rededication, but He did.  The same is true for us, we have no right or reason on our own to be accepted by the Lord, but He has accepted you.  In amazing love God took you where you are, lost in sin every day, and accepted you! Before you were even born, Jesus lived a perfect life for you.  Before you were born Jesus died to pay for each of your sins.  Before you were born Jesus gave you the victory of His resurrection!

God chose you to be His own child and now He gives you another opportunity, another day of grace to be His child, so rededicate!  This is what Advent is all about. Our Savior is coming, are we ready? Take this day of God’s grace and rededicate your life to Him!  Take the opportunity to recommit to living in His Word.  Take the opportunity to replace the sinful habits in your life with godly ones.  Take this opportunity to be reminded who you are, God’s loved child!

The Israelites took the opportunity under King Hezekiah and rededicated their lives back to the Lord.  They consecrated themselves for the Lord’s service, they cleansed the temple of the Lord, and they started worshipping the Lord again.  Very importantly, they also all began to bring offerings and blood sacrifices to the Lord.  With these offerings and sacrifices they were again reminded of the coming Savior.  How blood needed to be shed for the forgiveness of sin, how a sacrifice would bring about the forgiveness of sins, and how it would be a whole and complete sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  The people responded with their offerings with such generosity and such abundance that the priests could not handle it all by themselves.  And then “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people.”  Their rededication caused all of them to rejoice!

And you know what?  Rededication does the same for you and for me, too.   It causes us to rejoice, to have joy!  As I prepare for the King and remove the idols of greed and selfishness in my life, I lean more fully on the Lord.  Trust in the Lord replaces anxiousness, security replaces uncertainty, and prayer replaces worry.  As I prepare for the King and am cleansed from the guilt of my past sins, thankfulness replaces regret, kindness replaces anger, and joy replaces sadness.  What joy fills my life as I rededicate my life for the coming King!

And it doesn’t even stop there.  Rejoice!  The more you prepare the more clearly you see God’s love for you.  As you rededicate your life, the more time you’ll want to spend in the Word, and the more time you spend in your devotion to God’s Word the more clearly you’ll see the love of God your Father.  The more clearly you see the love of God, the more you’ll appreciate the first coming of your Savior Jesus!

But are we on our own?  It’s NOT completely up to us to rededicate our lives for the King! Rejoice with the Israelites at what GOD brings about for his people!  Rejoice, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13).  It is God who works in us through His Word to identify sin in our lives.  It is God who works in us through His Word to convince us that Jesus won forgiveness for all of our sins.  It is God who works in us to give us the strength to reject sin and live the life He wants us to live.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rededicate your lives to the Lord!  Why?  Because that baby in the manger came for YOU!  God has dedicated Himself to YOU in the most wonderful and profound way, He became one of us.  The almighty God was born into this world as YOUR brother.  Jesus dedicated Himself totally to YOU by living His life for you, by dying your death for you, and by rising from the dead so eternal victory is completely yours.  Yes, rededicate!  Because God has already completely dedicated Himself to you!  Amen.

Advent Sermon Series – My Son, My Savior

My Son, My Savior Sermon Series – Both on Sunday and Wednesday worship services during Advent we will follow the theme “My Son, My Savior.” We’ll look at various ancestresses of the Savior and what the Lord wants us to know from them. Come!

 

my son my savior

My Son, My Savior DVDS available! The WELS has put out another evangelism movie called “My Son, My Savior” looking at Jesus’ mother Mary. We’ll have a showing of the DVD in place of Bible class on December 20th. If you’d like to purchase one of these DVDs, they are available at church for a suggested donation of $5. Please submit your donation in offering or put it in Doug Kranich’s mailbox.

 

Read or Listen to Sermons:

Nov. 29 – Eve “My Son, My Substitute”

Dec. 2 – Tamar “My Son, My Longing”

Dec. 6 – Leah “My Son, My Life”

Dec. 9 – Rehab “My Son, My Sanctifier”

Dec. 13 – Ruth “My Son, My Redeemer”

Dec. 16 – Bathsheba “My Son, My King”

Dec. 20 – Children’s Christmas Program “Did you know?”

Dec. 24th – Mary  “My Son, My Savior”

Dec. 25th – God’s Son, Our Savior

Bathsheba: My Son, My King

bathsheba

3rd Wednesday of Advent
2 Samuel 11:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Why does God give us certain commands? Why does God want us to obey what He tells us? Is it just God’s way of holding us back, does God just want us to miss out on the fun that the sinful world has to offer? Does God just not understand how much better it would be for us to sin than not to sin? Is God just restricting us? Why does God give us certain commands? If we think those things, we don’t truly know who our God really is. Yes, God is the ultimate and final King, so if He tells us to do something, we have no right to question Him in any way. But there’s far more to it than that. Our God is also a God of love. So, even the commands that God has given us are expressions of His deep care and love for us His people.

Disobeying God and sinning always bring about pain and heartache. And we see that in this familiar account of David and Bathsheba. Well, what do we know about Bathsheba? For the few things that we do know about her, there’s a ton that we don’t know. We know that she lived in a home that wasn’t that far from the king’s palace, perhaps that indicates that she was part of circle of people close to the king. We know that she was the daughter of Eliam, an important official of David’s. We also know that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was also one of David’s royal guard, his mighty men, an excellent and devoted soldier, a close friend of his, who happens to be gone fighting for His king and country. And we know that she was very beautiful.

And one evening David’s at home and he has nothing better to do, so he looks out over the city and sees her bathing. Well, first we must ask, “Why was he at home?” Where should he have been? He should have been off at war with his fellow soldiers- that’s what kings were supposed to do. But, David is at home. He’s unfaithful in something rather small, but look where it leads. As he sees her he covets, he lusts, he inquires about her and sends for her. What’s going on with David? This is how sin often begins, isn’t it? Can you just picture David spinning a web of rationalizations, defenses, self-deception as he concocts a plan? “I deserve this, I’ve been such a hard worker, I’ve been so faithful, I deserve this “little” self-indulgence, no one will know about it, it will happen only this once, after all I am the king, after all God clearly loves me- I can do what I want.” That’s not a little baby step towards unbelief, that’s a huge leap! “God loves me, I can do what I want.”

What happens next? Bathsheba comes. Now, we don’t know exactly what’s going on with her. We don’t hear about her protest or refuse to come or even try to turn him down in anyway. But we also have to understand that David was a king, he was a dictator, there weren’t any checks and balances like we have in government, he was king and when the king summoned, you came. He used his power as king to commit sin and include someone else in his sin! She goes to him, she sleeps with him, and she finds out that she’s pregnant.  And what’s the punishment for adultery? Death for both the man and the wife.

Then what follows is David’s attempt to cover everything up, first he brings Uriah home, hoping he’ll go home sleep with his wife and no one will know the difference, but when Uriah doesn’t go home, David gets him drunk, still doesn’t go home, David sends him back to battle with directions to essentially murder him (and the other soldiers with him). And when it happens, David responds callously, “Well, that’s what happens in war, people die.” And then takes Bathsheba as his wife and nine months pass.

But the pain begins. Sin always, always brings pain and heartache. We hear about some of David’s pain throughout this nine months from the Psalms. David talks about how when he kept silent his bones wasted away, groaning all day long, God’s hand was heavy upon him, his strength was sapped. That’s what guilt does. When we try to hide our sins it eats us away spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. But there was going to be more pain too. His child was going to die, in fact, he was going to end up losing 4 children and deal with all kinds of trouble in his family. Sin always, always brings pain and heartache.

What about Bathsheba? Is it fair to say that she, too, struggled with guilt from their sin? She, too, would experience the loss of her child, something I’m sure she would never be able to completely forget about. Sin wreaked havoc on her life too: adultery, involved in the corruption of power, loss of a husband by a violent act of murder, loss of a child.

There’s a saying which says, “You can choose your sin, but you can’t choose its consequences.” As believers we face choices every day. We have choices to either obey God or sin, God or our sinful nature. And while we can choose to do evil, we can’t forecast all the pain, hardship, and heartache that it will wreak in our lives or the lives of others. The reality is that sin always has consequences.

You see, all this started when David broke God’s commands: Do not covet, do not lust, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not murder. God’s commands are not here to restrict us, burden us, cause us to miss out. God’s commands really exist for our blessing, to protect us from the pain and consequences of sin. You see, it’s sin that separates us from our God. But God in His grace wants nothing less than to draw ever closer to us.

So what does God do? He allows there to be consequences to sin. If David didn’t feel any consequences for his sin, he would have kept going down a path that leads away from God and finally to unbelief and hell. By God’s grace, God doesn’t abandon David or Bathsheba, but He sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin and by the power of God working through His word David was convicted of his sin, repented and immediately forgiven.  That’s the grace of our God, He wants nothing less than to draw us to Himself with His forgiving love.

And yet after confronting them and forgiving them, God does something even more! He blesses them with another child, Solomon, and how fitting that his name means “the peaceful one” and we’re told was loved by the Lord. In spite of their sin, their rebellion against God and His commands, God forgave them and blessed them with another child, the peaceful one. What was it that was going to cleanse them from the guilt of their sins? What was going to sustain them through the future painful consequences of their sin? What was going to motivate them to follow God’s laws in the future? It was knowing who was coming. And in the genealogy of Jesus in Mathew 1 we’re told that Jesus, the Savior, descended from Solomon, the peaceful one, whose father was David and whose mother “had been Uriah’s wife.”

Do you see the grace of God? He brings the Savior into the world from sinners in order to save sinners. God took all the filth of David’s sin, all the filth of Bathsheba’s sin, all the filth of your sin and my sin, and put it on Bathsheba’s son Jesus who paid it in our place on the cross. Yes, Bathsheba suffered because of the sin and lust of someone else, but Jesus was totally innocent and yet He suffered all the pain and punishment of the sin of everyone else. Yes, David was a king who used his power to commit sin, but Jesus is THE king who used His power to NOT sin and to pay for and forgive the sin of all.

That’s the son we’re preparing to receive this Advent season. And we prepare by listening and obeying the gracious commands of our true King and live to thank our true King for the real peaceful one, the one of whom angels sang was born to bring peace and pardon to people on whom God’s favor rests.  That’s Bathsheba’s Son, our Savior and our King. Amen.

Ruth: My Son, My Redeemer

Ruth

3rd Sunday of Advent
Ruth 4:13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who is our eternal Redeemer, dear friends in Christ, my 2 year old son David has learned a new word: Why. I think there’s a time in every child’s life when they learn that word and it becomes a favorite. “David, go to the toilet.” “Why?” “David, come to the table.” “Why?” “David, stop playing with that!” “Why?” “David, don’t hit your sister!” “Why?” If you have children, I’m guessing you know what that’s like. J Now, I don’t know if he just picked that up from one of his parents or one of his siblings or if he just likes saying the word and doesn’t care about an explanation. But it does strike you that he’s questioning whether someone else knows what’s better for him than he does. But, really, that’s a question that never really goes away in life. “Why?” And what about when it comes to God? Do you ever ask that question of God? Do you shake your head, look up, and wonder, “Why God?” Do you think God looks down at us and sees a bunch of little children asking “Why?” all the time?  And why would we ask why? Isn’t it because our definition of life or the way things should be in life is not lining up with the way God is working things out in life? Don’t our questions come when our ideas of a good life are not matching up with what God has in the works?

You see, our relationship with God is based on trust. He doesn’t spell everything out for us, He doesn’t explain everything to us. In grace He’s given us His Word, in love He’s won us for eternal life. And He says to us, “If you give up your definition of what you think life should be and you follow me, doing the right thing, your life won’t be what you expect, probably won’t even be the good life you were hoping for, but I’ll take care of you and it will be great.” Let’s think about that as we review this incredible account about Ruth.

It all begins with the family of Elimelech. Elimelech and his wife Naomi move out of Israel and into the foreign country of Moab because a famine is devastating Israel and they don’t want to die. They had two sons who, while they were living in Moab, meet and marry two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Well, in the course of time, exactly what they were trying to avoid happens!  All the men die. Elimelech and his two sons. And Naomi hears that there is food once again in Judah. So she sets out to move back to her homeland. Ruth and Orpah accompany her, but Naomi urges them to stay in Moab because it will be much better for them, they’ll be by their own families, they’ll be taken care of, and have better prospects for getting married and having status in life. But that leaves Naomi in a devastating position. She’s old and she’s a widow.  So, there were really 4 ways that she could be taken care of as a widow: 1. Work in the fields, but she’s too old, 2. Get married, but she’s too old 3. Your children support you, but her children are dead and her daughters in law are Moabites 4. Sell her dead husband’s property and hope that she can survive on it. And as we’ve noted before, a widow in Bible times was the most vulnerable in society. She had to live at the mercy of others. Naomi’s life is miserable, she’s lost everything in that culture that would give her meaning and significance in life. In tears, Orpah returns to her own home. But not Ruth. We’re told that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. It makes no outward sense for Ruth to go with Naomi. Her home, her family, her status, her safety, her prospects of a getting married and having a good life are in staying in Moab. But this is what we hear from Ruth, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” What a confession of faith from this Moabite woman! Finally, Naomi relents and lets Ruth come with her.

When Naomi returned there was quite a stir among the whole town of Bethlehem where she was from. This is how down Naomi is, she tells the other women to not call her Naomi, which means “pleasant,” but Mara, which means bitter. Well, Ruth immediately sets off to work in order to have food to eat. One of the things that God allowed for was farmers to not harvest every single piece of grain in their field and maximize their profits. They were actually supposed to purposely leave some in the field so the poor could go through and find food to eat. This is what Ruth did and she just so happened to pick a field that was owned by a man named Boaz. As she was going through after the harvesters, Boaz noticed her, inquired about who she was, and showed her incredible kindness. He doesn’t want her to glean in anyone else’s field, well, why not? Because he’s warned his servants not to touch her. Why would he have to do that? Well, as a Moabitess, she was an outcast of Israel and vulnerable to being hurt or harmed, he protects her, then he has her work with his working women who were harvesting, that means now she’s not just gleaning, she’s harvesting and can keep what she harvests.

Then Ruth went back to Naomi not with just a few gleanings, but a ton! Where did you get this? And Ruth tells her about Boaz and how he had been kind to her. Naomi says, “Oh my! Boaz is one of our “goels” – our kinsman redeemers.” Since Naomi had no husband or son or any income she was forced to sell her property. You see, there were two ways that a poor person could keep their property. God didn’t want all the land owned by only a few people destabilizing the economy and creating an impoverished underclass. So, first there was the year of Jubilee, every 50 years, property that had been sold would revert back to the original owner. Second, the kinsman redeemer. A close relative could “redeem” or “buy back” the property to keep it in the deceased family member’s name. Then the purchaser would buy it, maybe go into debt, work the land as Naomi’s trustee. But who would do that? But, then, in this case the land couldn’t really be restored because there was no descendant of the family. But another law also said that if a man died his unmarried brother was to marry his widow and if they had a son, that son would legally carry on the name of the deceased brother in order to preserve his deceased brother’s name in Israel. Well, this seemed to extend voluntarily to close relatives as well. Under this law, if Ruth, who was married to one of Naomi’s sons, would marry again and have a son, that child would then be able to legally claim a right to Naomi’s property and it would remain in her line. But who would do this? Who would marry a Moabite and then knowing that a male child would then be legally another families and then inherit the land you just purchased? Who would do that?

So, Ruth indicates to Boaz that she would be willing to marry him, even though he was quite a bit older than her. And what does Boaz say? “I’ll do it all. I’ll redeem Naomi’s property and also marry Ruth fully knowing that the first male child will legally carry on the name of Naomi’s family and inherit the property.” And it happened, and God blessed them with a son named Obed, who then becomes the grandson of Naomi, a son to carry on her family’s name, inherit her property and take care of her. But also think about Ruth, her life has taken a total reversal. She went from being an impoverished foreigner to having equal share of all of Boaz’s wealth –none of it she worked to earn!

A “redeemer” is really someone who “gives something to buy someone or something back.” And we have several redeemers here, don’t we? There’s the obvious one: Boaz. He takes on the debt of his relatives to keep them from poverty, he unselfishly unites himself to Ruth giving her equal share in all his wealth.  But then there’s Ruth of whom the book of the Bible is named. What does she do? Every immigrant leaves their own country expecting to have a better life, but look at what Ruth does, she leaves her home country expecting a worse life! She had a choice between a life that would have seemed good and what she knew was right, was what God wanted. She knew that if she didn’t go with Naomi, Naomi’s life was humanly speaking over, she had nothing and no reason to keep going, her life was “bitter.” So, if Naomi was going to get her life back, Ruth had to give hers up! She has to give up everything to go with Naomi. She impoverishes herself so Naomi can be rich. She leaves her home, becomes a foreigner in a strange land, gives her life in marriage to Boaz, all so that Naomi’s life is redeemed, restored! Why does she do it? Because she has placed God at the center of her life, she’s going to do what is pleasing to the LORD. “I will obey, I’ll do the right thing, I won’t expect an easy life.” And she put no conditions on it, “nothing but death will keep me from doing what I need to do.”

But there’s another Redeemer far greater than Boaz or Ruth. You see, Boaz became the father of Obed, Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had King David. And one day, born in the line of David, in Bethlehem, the town of David, the ultimate Redeemer was born. Like Ruth, the Redeemer, Jesus left behind a “good” life, left behind glory, to be impoverished in a world foreign to Him because of sin. Like Ruth, He gave up His life, so that we might have eternal life. Like Boaz, He paid our debt our ransom of sin with His own blood shed on the cross. Like Boaz, He unites Himself to you with the waters of baptism and His own body and blood in the sacrament, so that all of His wealth might become your wealth. Like Boaz, He is our true relative, our God took on our human flesh and blood, not to show us how we can live a good life to please God, but to be the good life, the perfect life we couldn’t live in our place as our substitute. And greater than Ruth, our Redeemer Jesus doesn’t even let death separate us from Him, but rose from the dead to prove without a doubt that we are His eternally.

With a Redeemer like Jesus, we can give up our own definition of what we think life should be or how life should go or what we think would be a good life, and even though we might not see it or understand the why, we can do what’s right, what God wants us to do, what is God-pleasing, and know that our life might not be what we expect, but it will be great. For we have been bought eternally by our Redeemer, Jesus, Ruth’s Son, our Savior. Amen.