Behold the King!

The last Sunday of the church year emphasizes the Christian’s final status. Today we gather in thanksgiving that we have an eternal king that protects us now and into eternity. Give thanks to the Lord, the King, who will come and raise his harvest home!

For His Love Endures Forever!

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Thanksgiving Day
Psalm 136

Creation – Verses 4-9

There’s a recurring theme throughout Psalm 136. Perhaps you noticed it. “For his love endures forever.” For whatever reason the NIV chose not to translate the “for” or “because” but it’s in every phrase, “for or because his love endures forever.” And the Hebrew word translated “love” is actually a special word for love. In the KJV this word was typically translated with “lovingkindness.” It has the idea of a heart that is so filled with compassion that it has to reach out in love to some object. It has the idea of loyalty, of unearned love and grace.

And, in God’s loving kindness He created the world. Now, think about that for a moment. Here is God. He has existed from all eternity and will exist to all eternity. He has absolutely no need, He has everything, He lacks nothing. He is just fine all on his own. He has no one rebelling against him, no one fighting Him, no one complaining to Him, no one profaning His name, no one angry or upset with Him. It was just God, no one else.

But God wasn’t content to just leave it that way. Rather, He wanted others to share in His joy, share in His love, share in His goodness. So what did God do? He created all things! He made the heavens, he spread out the earth, he made the sun, the moon, the stars. How incredible His power! But he didn’t just stop at creating a beautiful, incredible world, he made humans, he made you, he created you. Why? Because he wants YOU to be able to spend eternity with Him!

And so, today, we say, “Thank you God! Thank you for making all things; thank you for making me!” And why did He do it? Because his love endures forever!

Redemption – vv 10-15

The Israelites faced two things out of which the Lord delivered them. First of all they were slaves. What does it mean to be a slave? To be a slave means you are actual property of someone else. You can’t do whatever you want, you have to do what someone else tells you, you have to do the jobs no one else will, you work and work and work and do it all again the next day without any hope for a future or for release. Second, the Israelites faced death. When God delivered them from Egypt Pharaoh’s army came to attack them from behind and in front of them was a massive sea- they could either be slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army or drown in the water. They faced death. But what did the Lord do? He miraculously rescued them from both. He delivered them from their slavery in Egypt by the final plague, the Passover, where every firstborn in every home would die unless they painted the blood of a lamb over the door posts on their home, then the Lord would pass over them. After that plague the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt. Then, when they were standing before the Red Sea with water in front and Pharaoh’s army behind them and it seemed like they faced certain death and destruction, God did the unthinkable, He opened up the sea so the entire nation could cross it on dry land and be rescued. God redeemed Israel from slavery and from death.

But he hasn’t just done that for Israel. You and I were once slaves. We were once slaves to sin. We were in bondage, we couldn’t please God. All we could do is follow the sinful desires of our hearts. And not only that but we also faced death, not just physical death, but spiritual death. We were hopelessly lost slaves to sin and facing eternal death. But just like God delivered the Israelites, so he has delivered you. Not by the blood of a lamb, but by the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus, God has set you free from sin forever. He has rescued you from death not by the waters of the Red Sea, but the waters of your baptism where he worked faith in your heart and washed you with the blood of Jesus. That is something to continually give thanks for. Give thanks to the Lord, His love endures forever! Amen.

Faithfulness – v. 16-22

Ok, so we have a bunch of slaves who are going to leave their land of enslavement, travel several hundred miles through a desert wilderness without any food or water or extra clothes, have to defeat several powerful kings so they can take over a land that is already inhabited and strongly fortified. Right, sure, that’s going to work.

But it did. That’s exactly what happened. How so? Not because the Israelites were such great people but because God was such a great God. How did it happen? It happened because God had promised it would happen and when God makes a promise, you can be absolutely certain of it, you can count on it that it WILL take place.

And so, you can count on the Lord completely, 100%, absolutely. He promises that he will never leave you, nor forsake you. You can count on it. He promises that he will guide and direct you. He will. He promises that His angels are constantly guarding and protecting you. They are. He promises that you will have an inheritance – an Eternal inheritance in heaven. You have it. He will make good on all his promises. Why so? Because your God is faithful. You can see it in the “big things’ – that He sent His Son to live, to die, to rise for you. But you can also see it in the “little things” – the sun rose today, and will tomorrow, you have air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. It all happens because your God is faithful. Thank the Lord for His faithfulness. O Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever! Amen.

He Remember us in our Low Estate – V. 23-26

Yes, our God’s love endures forever. He made us, He created us, He redeemed us, He’s faithful to all His promises to us. But one last thought which leads us to say, “Thank you Lord.” And that’s the truth that He even works through us.

Think about it, in comparison to God, what are you and I? Why, we’re nothing! I’ve often thought about little ants that busily build their little home, little morsels of dirt all piled up, they go about their lives completely oblivious to the fact that my foot towers above them is about to squash them and their little home. And how much infinitely greater God is to us than I am to that ant! Is that the way that God relates to us? Far removed, far away, distant?

Not at all. What are we told here? God remembers us. He remembers us in our low estate. He thinks of us. He even loves us!

And not only is that true, but He also works through us. Verse 23, “To the one who remembered us in our low estate” is quoted by Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. God had “remembered” her. And God had done what? Worked through her to bring about the most important event of all time – the birth of Jesus. Can you imagine? God worked through one of us humans to accomplish that!

And God continues to remember us and work through us. He brings people to know Jesus – through you and me. He brings His comfort and peace to other people as we share with them the words and thoughts of Scripture. He spreads the message of salvation through you and me! Really, the most important work of all, the sharing of the message of eternal life, God entrusts to you and me!

And so, we can say, not just today, not just on Thanksgiving, but on every day of life, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” Amen

Thank you, God, For Working in Mysterious Ways!

Give thanks to God at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day Sermonettes

Jonah 1:17– Thank you, God, for confronting me

How would you have felt?  God asked Jonah to go preach in the capital city of one of Israel’s most powerful enemies… because God wanted to show them compassion and love.  Would you have been jumping up and down to go?  Jonah wasn’t.  So he got on a ship that was sailing as far away as possible.  But God sent a fierce storm, so fierce the ship was about to break up, the sailors figured out that the storm was because of Jonah.  So with Jonah’s permission they threw him overboard…and everything immediately grew calm.  But what happened to Jonah?  “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”  Do you think Jonah got God’s message?  Do you think he had time to think?  Do you think God got his attention?  He did…in a very unusual way.

Have we been in Jonah’s shoes, shoes of rebellion against God? God tells us to forgive those who sin against us, but do we say, “No way!  That’s his problem; after all HE sinned against ME!”  God tells us to put Him first, but do we say, “No!  I have my own wants and needs to take care of first, maybe if I have some leftovers I’ll give something to God.”   We’ve all had times like that.  And what does God do?  He wakes us up.  Probably hasn’t been with a great big fish, but maybe it’s a sudden challenge in our lives which draws our attention heavenward.  Maybe it’s a serious illness that strips us of our “I can make it on my own” attitude.  Maybe it’s a long, hard look at God’s law that shows us how greatly we’ve fallen and how desperately we need a Savior.  Whatever it may be, THANK the Lord for confronting us with our sin and showing us our desperate need for a Savior.  Realizing our sinfulness let us confess our sin to God:

Hosea 3:1 – Thank you, God, for your faithful love

God has taken away your sin.   For as high has the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for you; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your sin from you.  You are forgiven.  How might you picture that kind of love?  I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed this one.  God gave the Israelites and us an object lesson.  God told the prophet Hosea to marry an adulteress, a prostitute.  God wanted Hosea to unconditionally and unselfishly commit his life to a woman who had a terrible history of being faithless and unfaithful in the deepest way.  How would you have felt if you were Hosea?  I think it’s safe to say that no one looks for a spouse who is unfaithful or not-trustworthy.  But what was God’s point?  Look at the verse, “The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”  What’s the point?  God still loves the unfaithful.

Although we are the unfaithful ones, unfaithful with the gifts and abilities God’s given us, unfaithful with our devotion to His Word, although that is who we are…guess what…  God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for your unfaithfulness.  God picked you up and united Himself with you.  God still continues to love you. God will not turn away from you, God will never divorce you, God does not leave you.  God loves you unconditionally and His abounding love and forgiveness will never, ever run out for you!  Is that something to be thankful for?  THANK you, Lord, for Your incredibly faithful love!

Jeremiah 32:7-25 – Thank you, God, for reminding me of the big picture!

To understand this next segment, we need to understand the context.  Nebuchadnezzar – the Babylonian king – has come with his army and is besieging Jerusalem.  He’s already overrun the rest of the country, and is about to destroy the capital city, Jerusalem, and will be killing many and taking many more off into exile.

What do you think?  Is that a good time to be buying property?  Not so much, right?  J

And, yet, that’s exactly what God tells Jeremiah to do.  He tells Jeremiah that his cousin is going to come and ask him to buy his field, and that Jeremiah should buy it.  So, sure enough, Jeremiah’s cousin shows up, and Jeremiah dutifully weighs out the silver, and buys the field.

Later, Jeremiah’s praying, and he says to God, and it seems like it’s probably with some degree of frustration, “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. {25} And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.'” (Jer 32:24-25 NIV)

What was God teaching Jeremiah, and us?  He’s reminding us that He sees the big picture!  Yes, the army was at the gates at that point.  Yes, the Israelites were in trouble at that point.  Yes, they would be going into exile.

But they would be coming back!  It would be years later, but they would come back!  God knew the big picture, and would guide His people through it!

And so God will do with you and me.  He knows what will happen next month, next year, 50 years from now.  Even now He’s guiding and directing all things for the good of His people, including you.  In fact, even now God’s causing/allowing things in your life which will be a blessing for your great, great, great grand-children!

Thank you, God!  Thank you for knowing the big picture!  And thank you for reminding me of that big picture, that I might approach all of life with confidence and joy!

Exodus 17:10-12 – Thank you, God, for Gifting Me in Unique Ways!

Okay, everyone, I want you to do something a bit different.  Hold up your arms into the air.  Go ahead, hold them up high as you listen to this last sermonette.

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land after having left Egypt.  Indeed, it wasn’t long after God had begun giving them manna, that the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites.  And God did something, well, strange.

He had Moses stand on the top of a hill, holding up the staff of God (the same staff, apparently, which he’d held out over the Red Sea when God divided it).  As long as Moses’ hands were up, the Israelites would be winning the battle; when his hands went down, the Israelites would begin losing.  Strange!  The challenge, of course, was for Moses to keep his hands up there.

By the way, how are your arms doing?  Starting to feel it a little bit?  Well, imagine doing this for hours, and the success of the battle depends on you keeping your hands up!  Would it be nice to have some help?

Well, that’s what happened!  Aaron and a man named Hur stood to Moses’ side, and held his arms up, and so the Israelites won the battle.  Aaron and Hur’s contributions were huge!  Simple, but huge!

And, you know what’s neat?  God uses each of our talents in accomplishing His eternal work!  God uses each of our talents – maybe we’re “Moses,” maybe we’re “Aaron/Hur”, maybe we’re one of the “foot-soldiers” in the trenches – to accomplish His eternal work!

All of which leads us to again say, “Thank you, God!  Thank you for gifting me in a unique way!  Thank you for using me to either hold up my hands, or to help hold up someone else’s hands, or to be blessed by those hands being held up!  It may not be obvious to me how it’s happening.  It may not be obvious to me how I’m a blessing to others.  But You’ve promised that I am.  Hands down!  J

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? What is your “ideal” Thanksgiving Day so that at the end of the day you can sit back and say, “Now that was a good Thanksgiving Day.” What is it? Is it having all the family together? Is it if the turkey is cooked just right- moist and delicious? Is it if you get your fill of all the Thanksgiving feast trimmings? Is it if you get to do all your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Is it if the Packers come away with a win? What is it? What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? Perhaps another question: What is it that makes any day a good one? What makes one day good and another day bad for you? There could be all kinds of answers, right? But for most, good days are days when things happen like you plan or want and bad days are when things happen that you don’t want or don’t plan.

And knowing that there are such things as good days and bad days might make the words of our text this morning sound quite impossible: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Go’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Really? Joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances? Always? Continually? In all circumstances?

No way! Right? There’s way too many bad things that happen in life to make this possible, right? There’s way to much garbage and trouble and problems that we have to deal with on a regular basis to make this even possible, right?  But don’t we know God’s promises? God’s given us some pretty spectacular promises in His Word that extend for our entire lives- not just on good days. Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age, I will never leave you or forsake you, God works all things out for the good of those who love Him, God will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways, cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  All kinds of promises and hundreds more. But isn’t there a little voice in the back of our heads that says, “Come on, show me the money God.” I need to see it to believe it. If things don’t happen the way I want or the way that I plan, then this can’t be a good day. And what happens? We make ourselves miserable. Jesus has given us more blessings than we could possibly use and is ready to load us down with even more, and we make ourselves sick wondering if God really means it and worrying that he might not! And hence our joy disappears, our prayers cease, and we find more things about which to complain than give thanks.

Historians have concluded that in Martin Luther’s day 6 out of 10 children died in infancy, life expectancy was about 40 years old, not long before Luther was born the black death wiped out a third of Germany’s population, in 1515 a law was passed that stipulated that German farmers could not be forced to work more than 15 hours a day. In the midst of all that, what did Luther write in his explanation of the First Article?  “I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all that I need to keep my body and life.” Where was the evidence, where was the proof?  In his day, Luther didn’t have much of either.  But he had a faith that believed he would receive because Jesus promised it.

And isn’t that the answer? How can we be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances? Is it not simply trusting that we will receive all we need no matter what simply because Jesus says we will?  So we can rejoice always. The joy that every Christian has is a joy that underlies their whole life. It is the joy of the gospel. The joy of knowing their sins are forgiven, the joy of knowing Jesus as their Savior. The devil knows he can’t take away your salvation so he will try again and again to take the joy of your salvation away. He will use adversities and troubles and problems to get you to think that God doesn’t care about you or make your life miserable, or convince you that you have no reason to rejoice. But remember, Jesus’ promise to you: He works all things out of the good of those who love him –even “bad” things God is able to turn for our good to draw us closer to him, to purify our faith, and give us opportunities to share the hope we have to others.  At Christmas time we let our children pick out presents for each other at the dollar store. Sometimes I am just shocked at what they pick out and think I’d never pick that out. Well, sometimes we think we understand life but really don’t. We think we know what would be best for us, but really don’t. God has a much greater idea of what we need when we need it than we do. A Christian rejoices always because he or she knows that God is graciously guiding all things to bring them to their eternal home in heaven.

How can a Christian pray continually? A Christian prays continually when he or she commits all things at all times to the one who cares for us. It’s an inward spirit of trust in God – a constant leaning of the heart upon God in all things. How is that possible? Because Jesus says that he hears all our prayers, listens to them all, and has made his home inside of us, His people. He hears the trust we place in him, he hears the thoughts in our heart as we think about him, he hears the prayers we speak from the heart that don’t even make it on our lips.

And give thanks in all circumstances? What happens when you receive gifts or blessings? Does it not lead you to give thanks? How can we be thankful in all circumstances? Isn’t it by recounting the great blessings God has given us: physically He’s given us air to breathe, food, water, clothes, house, cars, family, and an abundance of things we don’t even need, but even more importantly what has he given us spiritually? Faith, peace, joy, God’s presence, protection, guidance, care, love, His Word that nourishes our faith, His own body and blood in the Sacrament, Jesus’ perfect life credited to us, eternal life with him in heaven forever. You see, it’s when we see our blessings that we’re led to give thanks in all circumstances. And it really changes our entire outlook on life in general. People who are thankful see so many more things in life; they can see the blessing and mercy of God in every situation in life. I recently ran across a neat illustration: If you had a bowl of sand and in it mixed some iron shavings, it would be nearly impossible to dig through them with your hands to find them. But if you had a magnet you could find them all by mere attraction. Having an unthankful heart is like digging clumsily through sand and it’s almost impossible to find the blessings of God, a thankful heart is like a magnet that attracts and finds –even in the worst of circumstances- the blessings of God in every situation.

So, what will it take at the end of the day today to say this was a “Happy Thanksgiving”? The family, together or apart, wealth, much or little, health, good or bad, everything comes from God who wants his blessings to bring us closer to him.  “What then shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”

I have no idea what blessings you’re thanking God for today.  But pray God that he would give you a faith that receives those blessings and then sees those blessings in the light of God’s greatest blessings, that he has forgiven your sins in Christ, that he has joined you to himself by the blood his Son, and that he will take you to heaven to be with Jesus in Paradise.  Then you will have a faith that leads you to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances today and tomorrow too.  Amen.

Persevere with Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day
James 5:1-11

This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it!  In the name of Jesus, the most important gift to be thankful for, dear friends in Christ, being thankful is a good thing.  December 7, 2001, just before my 17th birthday, I can’t remember being more thankful in my life up until that day.  On that day I made the biggest purchase of my life up to that point.  I had worked long and hard and saved and saved so I could get it.  On that day I bought my first car, a pick up truck, a 1995 Dodge Dakota slt with the off-road package and only 195,000 miles on it.  It was great.  I remember driving it home and parking it in my parents garage and just spending hours looking it over.  I was very thankful.  But then a few months down the road I replaced a thermostat, a water pump, a radiator, a fuel pump, a catalytic convertor, but hey it was still my truck.  But after a couple years, the tie rod ends were bad, the ball joints were bad, the suspension was bad, and, the rust started settling it, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get rid of that rust!  So about 3 and half years after I bought it, I traded it in for something else.  What happened to that thing that was so, so, precious, that I dreamt about, and I was so, so thankful for?  That happens to us, doesn’t it?  We can be so thankful at one point, so thankful for something in our life, but then the problems come, the disappointments come, and our entire attitude can change.

The word of God we’re meditating on this Thanksgiving morning is from James chapter 5.  James, who was likely the half-brother of the Lord himself, wrote to early Christians who were in a situation that would have made it difficult for them to be thankful.  Yes, they knew the Lord, yes, they knew they were heading to heaven, but the meantime was difficult.  Particularly because some of them were being mistreated by some wealthy unbelieving people.  Apparently, these wealthy unbelievers would deny their Christian workers their honest pay and live in luxury while others struggled for the basic necessities of life and as wealth often does, it gave them power, so they could win their case in court and even have innocent people executed.  So, James has some sharp words for these unbelieving rich people: (read 1st part)

Now, remember James is speaking about unbelieving rich people.  People who are unbelievers even though they are rich are ripe for God’s judgment.  In selfishness they have fattened themselves with earthly stuff like cows who continue to eat even on the day they are slaughtered.  And yet it’s also important for us to remember that it isn’t a sin for a Christian to be rich, likewise it is not a virtue to be poor.  In His wisdom God has determined to give people unequal amounts of wealth and goods.  Some have more, some have less, that’s just the way it is.  And we often have our own conceptions about who is rich and who isn’t.  Perhaps we think someone with millions or billions of dollars is rich.  Yet, someone from the jungle of Africa would look at every person here and say, “You are all incredibly, extraordinarily rich!”

And there are temptations for both.  James’ point in speaking such strong words against these unbelieving rich people was also a warning those Christians who are rich.  Literally, the end of verse 5 says, “You have fattened your hearts.”  That’s where the problem is.  The temptation for the rich is to trust in their wealth, to find their security in life in their riches, to treasure the gifts and forget about the Giver.  And as James points out, and as I found out with my treasured truck, earthly stuff has a way of falling apart, of rusting, corroding, becoming moth-eaten and in the end all of this earthly stuff is just food for the flames on the Last Day.

And yet there are just as many temptations for the poor person too, just like there were temptations for me when my treasured truck started having all kinds of problems.  I’m sure some of the Christians to whom James wrote were envying the riches, the wealth, the earthly stuff of their unbelieving oppressors.  “If only I had money, I would do all this good stuff.”  “If only I had money, then I could really show them who’s boss.”  Or there’s the temptation to complain or grumble when things aren’t working out the way we want.  So, James also wrote to encourage the believers: (read 2nd part)

So what does God tell us today about being thankful this thanksgiving day?  How can we remain thankful whether we have more than enough to know what to do with or we’re barely scraping by?  How can we remain thankful whether we just bought a new car or are car is having problem after problem?  How can we remain thankful whether everything is going well or we’re experiencing hardship and difficulty?

The Lord puts all of our stuff into its proper perspective.  Yes, He’s given us stuff to enjoy here on this earth, but one day all the stuff we own will perish in the flames when Jesus returns on the Last Day.  So, we don’t get lost in it.  The be all and end all of our existence isn’t in stuff.  We don’t complain or grumble when we miss that black Friday special, we aren’t envious or greedy because someone else has more stuff than we have, we don’t gripe or grumble when life isn’t easy, God is in control and Jesus will one day return.

Secondly, we realize we have everything to be thankful for this Thanksgiving day and always.  Whether we have a lot or a little, whether life is easy or life is difficult, whether someone is mistreating us or not, whether our car is breaking down or not.  Why?  Because “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  In His compassion and mercy he rescued you from sin with his blood on the cross and because of that you are eternally rich.  Think on that this Thanksgiving day and you’ll see you have every reason to keep thanking the Lord again and again and again no matter what!  Amen.

 

See and Thank!

Thanksgiving Day

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Why is it so difficult for us to say “thank you”?  One of the things that is very difficult for people to do after some celebration or giving gifts is to sit down afterwards and write thank you notes.  In fact, I’ve received thank you cards many months later, long after the event and I had already forgotten completely about whatever it was that we had given so and so.  And of all people I am just as guilty at that.  I remember growing up my mom would have to be on me hovering over my shoulder reminding me to write thank you notes after my birthday or Christmas.  Why is it so difficult for us to say “thank you”?  Or perhaps the better question is: how do we solve this?  Well, wherever there’s a problem, a solution, (not necessarily the right one), is provided on…the internet.  Believe it or not, there are companies that you can tell who to send a thank you note to and some will even hand write a note for you, sign your name to it, and drop it in the mail for you!  All for a nominal cost!  Ah!  A solution right!  But I submit to you that the problem goes much deeper than that : ).

In our text for this Thanksgiving Day we see a certain man who said, “Thank you” to Jesus.  Instead of reading it through all at once, we’ll kind of walk our way through the text.  The time is a few weeks before the final Passover week when Jesus would be betrayed and go to the cross.  Apparently Jesus is on His way making a slow and round about trip towards Jerusalem.  We’re told that, “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.”  Kind of a strange place to be traveling.  If you think of the area of Israel, Galilee is in the north (where Jesus grew up) and Judah is in the south (where Jerusalem was), but in between was this area called Samaria.  Most Jews avoided Samaria at all costs and wouldn’t come near a Samaritan.  Samaritans were half-bloods, imposters, former Jews who had intermarried with heathen nations.  If Jews were traveling down to Jerusalem in the south they avoided Samaria and usually traveled miles out of their way to avoid the area.  Perhaps Jesus is about to meet up with some more people on their journey down to Jerusalem for the Passover, but perhaps more likely Jesus is on His way through there because there are 10 lepers who need His divine assistance.

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance.”  10 unfortunate souls.  Can you imagine contracting the dreaded disease leprosy?  Finding out you had leprosy was like a death sentence.  Perhaps similar to receiving the news: you have terminal cancer, you won’t recover.  Leprosy was a skin disease that produced white, porous scabs across the body, very painful, it ate away at a person’s flesh, caused sleepless nights, caused the toes to curl, the infected body parts would actually die and fall off the body, and there was no known cure.  Add to that the social aspect.  Since they were “unclean” they had to live outside of society, couldn’t associate with family or friends, ate food from pre-arranged places where people would leave it for you.  And finally there was the spiritual agony.  Many viewed this horrible disease as a consequence of a heinous sin you committed instead of just an effect of living in the sinful world.  In all cases, leprosy was horrible.

Well as they stood at a distance they saw Jesus approaching and “called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”  From somewhere, from someone they had heard a glimmer of hope: Jesus.  Jesus who had the power to do the seemingly impossible.  Someone who could help them when no one else could.  They didn’t tell Jesus what to do, but simply asked for His mercy, His pity, His compassion on their desperate situation.  “When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’”  Hmm…imagine their situation.  They must have stood there, looked at each other and wondered.  Certainly not what they expected Jesus to say.  They were to go to the priests in order to be inspected to be declared clean from leprosy.  They were to go, when in fact, they had yet to be healed!  What should we do??  Add to that the likely place they would have had to go was all the way to the temple in Jerusalem, a day or two journey away.  (Possibly there would have been a local priest somewhere closer, we’re not sure.)

But what is Jesus doing?  Leprous as they were they were to go to their priests like clean men to be pronounced clean!  They had to simply take Jesus at His word, trust in His words, trust in His power to heal them.  Jesus gave them His word and it moved them to act.  Far more concerned is Jesus about their souls and their faith than their physical well-being.  The whole point of this miracle is that they are led to see in Jesus not just a miracle worker, not just someone to give them physical blessings, but to see in Him their Savior.  Jesus is after their hearts.

And as they went, they were cleansed.”  Miraculously as they went on their way, their skin was transformed from ugly scabs to health, their toes were straightened, their flesh previously eaten away was restored.  Can you imagine them on their way pausing and looking at their newly restored skin?  Now the question presents itself…what do you do?  Keep going?  “One of them,” a Samaritan knows.  He knew better than anyone else what it meant to have leprosy and now to be cured.  He didn’t need a priest to examine him and tell him that!  Now there was something of utmost importance: thanking Jesus.  But what about the rest?  Follow the Samaritan?  Or go to the priests to get on with their lives?  Go back to Jesus?  Or waste no time enjoying their new healthy condition?  The Samaritan leaving them was an invitation to follow.  But there’d be plenty of time to do that later, right?  A day traveling to Jerusalem, 7 day wait period for a clean pronouncement from the priest, a few days to offer the prescribed sacrifices, a day back to where Jesus was.  But would they find him?  Even if they would have it would be like telling someone happy birthday two weeks late.  No, the time is now.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him- and he was a Samaritan.”  He saw, he praised God, he thanked Jesus.  He saw and he thanked.  He saw what Jesus had done for him and nothing could contain his joy and gratitude to God.  Thanking Jesus was his top priority, everything else could wait.

Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’”  The other 9 probably Jews, people who boasted to be God’s chosen people, were nowhere to be seen.  Wherever they were, they weren’t there thanking Jesus.  Jesus was on His march to His death and so many in Israel all they wanted were Jesus’ material blessings but they closed their hearts to who He is and the greater blessings He had to give them.  The nine…where?

Why is it so difficult to say, “Thank you”?  Only 1 out of 10 returned to thank Jesus for the wonderful gift He had given them.  What do you think you would you have done?  What would I have done?  Does this Samaritan put us to shame?  Well, the fact is, gratitude and thankfulness are unnatural to us.  Each one of us by nature are complainers and whiners.  It comes natural to us to complain about our circumstances, to gripe about things, to be cold and unthankful, not only to the people around us, but most of all to God.  We are born into this world sinful and therefore hard-wired to be unappreciative and ungrateful.  And even when we do receive things we’re inclined to an entitlement attitude, “I deserve this,” “I’ve earned this,” “they ought to do this for me, they ought to give me this.”  That’s why it’s so difficult for us to say, “Thank you.”  Each one of us is infected with a disease far worse than leprosy, sin.

So, the fact is, none of these lepers deserved anything from God.  The fact is also, that none of us deserve anything from God either.  The only thing we deserve from God is to be punished for our daily and many sins.

But what did Jesus do?  He healed all ten.  Fully knowing that each of us is fully capable of taking His gifts and running, running far from Him, God still blesses us beyond compare.  What!  Why?  Would you do that?  Would I do that?  Why in the world would GOD do that?  You see, the answer lies in the very fact that here in our text Jesus is on His death march.  He has set His sights on Jerusalem, He’s on His journey to that cross in order to pay all sins, to pay for our sins of ungratefulness and un-thankfulness!  You see, that difficulty to say “Thank you” slowly disappears when we open our eyes to see.  Just think, each of us has received a multitude of blessings from God, most of us luxuries far superfluous of our needs.  We have refrigerators and pantries stuffed with food, many of us are going home today to eat a feast, we have homes and shelters to live in, jobs to work in, vehicles, beds to sleep in at night, air to breathe, water to drink, family, friends, a church to gather in, etc. etc.

And far more important than all of those things, which can come and go so easily, God’s blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!  You see, everything that we have, everything that we enjoy is due to the continual mercy and love of our Lord.  God doesn’t owe us anything, but He’s given us everything that matters: the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, peace with God, access to God in His Word and prayer, His promise of His presence and continual protection, His promise of divine working of all things for our good, the joy of salvation, of an eternity with Him!

That leper stopped, he saw, and he thanked.  Today stop, see the blessed gifts God has given you and thank Him.  Thank and praise Him.  Fall before Him and worship.  Not just today, but every day!  Live a life of thankfulness to God and to all those He uses in your life to bless you.  Look to your Savior and you can’t help but say, “Thank you.”  Amen.

Thank you, Lord, for the Means of Grace!

Thanksgiving Day

Galatians 3:26-27 – Thank you, Lord, for washing me clean!

We all have so much for which to thank the Lord.  So many things in our lives: homes to live in, food to eat, family and friends, air to breathe, and the list could go on and on.  Today we pause and thank the Lord not only for what He’s done for our bodies, but especially for what He’s done for our salvation.  We thank the Lord for sending Jesus into this world to live perfectly in our place, to die for our sins on the cross, and then to rise from the dead to prove His victory.  There Jesus won some amazing things for us.  He won for us the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, a new life, and life forever in heaven.  Today we thank the Lord for the tools or the means He uses to get these treasures into our hearts.  We thank the Lord for the tools He used to work the miracle of faith in our hearts and still uses to keep us in that faith.

One of the tools God uses is baptism.  Well, why is that we need baptism?  The fact is that each one of us was born into this world separated from God.  “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  And again, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  And “The wages of sin is death.”  Each one of us has a deep need.  Each one of us needed to be born again, to be reborn spiritually.  Where there is a need, God fills that need.  So when Jesus was about to leave this earth after He had completed the work of our salvation He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them…”  Since every person in this world needs a spiritual rebirth God provides a way for every person, all nations, from the tiniest baby to the oldest adult to be reborn into God’s family.

And what are the results of baptism?  God says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  It is important to note that in the culture when Paul wrote Galatians, sons were the ones who got the inheritance.  God is saying, “No matter who you are, male or female, you get the inheritance from God your Father.   God further says that in baptism you are clothed with Christ.  What do Christ’s “clothes” look like?  They are white with perfection.  When someone is baptized they are adopted into God’s family and are given the perfect robes of righteousness Christ won for them on the cross.  Now when God looks at you He doesn’t see your sinfulness, He sees Christ’s perfect life!

Now the devil likes to find ways to make you doubt, especially when older, “How do you know you are saved?  How do you know?  Are you sure you’re one of God’s children?”  Not only do you look at the reality that Jesus died and rose but you can also look at your baptism.  Your baptism is proof that you are a child of God- what a wonderful fact of history that you can point to “I was baptized, clothed with Christ, adopted as God’s child, my sins were washed away, I was given the inheritance of heaven!”  We thank the Lord for the many physical blessings that He’s given us but any of those could change I a moment’s notice.  The devil might be able to take away everything that you have on this earth, but one thing he can never take away… and that’s your baptism, the proof positive that your name is written in the book of life.  Thank you, Lord, for washing me clean in baptism!  And today we rejoice and give thanks to God that one more name is going to be recorded in the book of life!

Matthew 26:26-29 – Thank you, Lord, for giving me You!

So we’ve been baptized, adopted into God’s family.  Yet the sad fact is…we have the terrible ability to walk away from our baptism, to despise our baptism as meaningless, and to lose all of its benefits.  You plant a seed in a garden, then leave it alone, never water it, never weed it, what’s going to happen?  It will die.  The same goes for our faith as well.  If we never feed our faith it will also eventually die.  So the Lord in His grace gave us the tools to keep our faith strong and healthy.  He’s given us the daily reminder of our baptism, He’s given us His Word that strengthens our faith, AND He’s given us Himself.

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, the day before He’d be crucified, on a very important day, just before He was going to leave His followers, He wanted to give something to His own.  He could have done this in the company of the thousands who had come to listen to Him, but He didn’t.  Rather He wanted to give something in the close company of the disciples whom He had been intensely training for 3 years.   He had nothing else to give them… no bank account, no investments, no heirlooms…so what did He do?   He gave them Himself.  And what more could He give!!

“While they were eating Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.  When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Did you notice what Jesus said?  Jesus could have said, “This changed into my blood,” but He didn’t.  He could have said, “This represents my blood,” but He didn’t.  Jesus said, “This IS my body…this IS my blood.”  In a miraculous way when we receive the Lord’s Supper we really eat bread and wine and we really receive Jesus’ body and blood.  Perhaps if anyone else said this we’d have reason to doubt, but who is speaking?  It’s Jesus.  The God-man.  The Lord.  We have every reason to take Him at His Word!  What’s the point?  How much is God’s own body and blood worth?  It’s absolutely priceless!  And He gives it to you in His Supper.  In His Supper He not only assures you but actually gives you what you continually need: the forgiveness of our sins!  Yes, thank you, Lord, for giving me You!

Matthew  4:1-4 – Thank you, Lord, for telling me about You!

What amazing love of God that He doesn’t deal with us in minimums!  He gives us the life giving water of baptism, He further strengthens our faith in Him by giving us Himself for the forgiveness of sins in the Supper, AND He feeds our souls through His life-giving Word!  God uses the tool of the good news in His Word to bring us to faith in him, to keep us in that faith, and to set us apart for a godly life!

We all need to eat.  How long do you think you could go without having anything to eat?  After a day of not eating, what happens?  If you’re like me you get a headache, your stomach starts to growl, you start feeling lousy.  What about a week?  Probably at a week just about anything looks pretty good and you’re probably feeling very miserable.  Now what about your soul?  How long can your soul go without being “fed” by God’s Word?  A day?  A week?  A month?  Eventually if we stop eating, we will die, and it won’t take as long as you think.  The same goes for us spiritually.  If we stop feeding on His Word…we will die spiritually.  We’ve all felt what it’s like to go too long without being fed spiritually, haven’t we?  We’re miserable, we’re miserable to be around, we have a short tempers, we’re irritated, etc.  God knows that so He’s given tons of opportunities for us to hear and read and grow in His Word!!!

When Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days and nights fasting, probably quite physically weak, the devil came and tempted Him.  But Jesus, though He was tempted, never sinned.  “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Many of us will be enjoying a Thanksgiving feast later on today.  But most of all we thank the Lord for the feast He gives us spiritually through His Word.  Of telling us and reminding us again and again of all He’s done for us: Jesus paid for our sins, won us forgiveness, gave us new life, heaven’s ours.  God gives us the food we really need in His Word.  Thank you, Lord, for giving me Your Word and telling me about You!

Thank you, God, for confronting me

Thanksgiving

How would you have felt?  God asked Jonah to go preach in the capital city of one of Israel’s most powerful enemies… because God wanted to show them compassion and love.  Would you have been jumping up and down to go?  Jonah wasn’t.  So he got on a ship that was sailing as far away as possible.  But God sent a fierce storm, so fierce the ship was about to break up, the sailors figured out that the storm was because of Jonah.  So with Jonah’s permission they threw him overboard…and everything immediately grew calm.  But what happened to Jonah?  “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”  Do you think Jonah got God’s message?  Do you think he had time to think?  Do you think God got his attention?  He did…in a very unusual way.

Have we been in Jonah’s shoes, shoes of rebellion against God? God tells us to forgive those who sin against us, but do we say, “No way!  That’s his problem; after all HE sinned against ME!”  God tells us to put Him first, but do we say, “No!  I have my own wants and needs to take care of first, maybe if I have some leftovers I’ll give something to God.”   We’ve all had times like that.  And what does God do?  He wakes us up.  Probably hasn’t been with a great big fish, but maybe it’s a sudden challenge in our lives which draws our attention heavenward.  Maybe it’s a serious illness that strips us of our “I can make it on my own” attitude.  Maybe it’s a long, hard look at God’s law that shows us how greatly we’ve fallen and how desperately we need a Savior.  Whatever it may be, THANK the Lord for confronting us with our sin and showing us our need for a Savior.  Realizing our sinfulness let us confess our sin to God:

Hosea 3:1 – Thank you, God, for your faithful love

God has taken away your sin.   For as high has the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for you; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your sin from you.  You are forgiven.  How might you picture that kind of love?  I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed this one.  God gave the Israelites and us an object lesson.  God told the prophet Hosea to marry an adulteress, a prostitute.  God wanted Hosea to unconditionally and unselfishly commit his life to a woman who had a terrible history of being faithless and unfaithful in the deepest way.  How would you have felt if you were Hosea?  I think it’s safe to say that no one looks for a spouse who is unfaithful or not-trustworthy.  But what was God’s point?  Look at the verse, “The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”  What’s the point?  God still loves the unfaithful.

Although we are the unfaithful ones, unfaithful with the gifts and abilities God’s given us, unfaithful with our devotion to His Word, although that is who we are…guess what…  God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for your unfaithfulness.  God picked you up and united Himself with you.  God still continues to love you. God will not turn away from you, God will never divorce you, God does not leave you.  God loves you unconditionally and His abounding love and forgiveness will never, ever run out for you!  Is that something to be thankful for?  THANK you, Lord, for Your incredibly faithful love!