What Will You Say to Jesus on Judgement Day?

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Today we welcome Guest Pastor Paul Lindhorst from Great Plains Lutheran High School in Watertown, SD. Thank you for leading us in worship and sharing the Word of God with us!  We typically do not receive transcripts from guest pastors, so please enjoy the audio recording and scripture below.

Theme:    “What Will You Say to Jesus on Judgment Day?”

Text:         Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV2011)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

Enter the Most Holy Place with Confidence!

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6th Midweek Lenten Service
Hebrews 10:19-25

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, what makes you nervous? When you’re nervous about something you get a pit in your stomach, your hands get clammy, maybe you begin to shake, you can almost hear your heart beating in your chest, what is it that makes you nervous? Maybe it’s speaking in front of group of people, maybe it’s having a difficult conversation with someone you care about, maybe it’s doing something you don’t want to do, maybe it’s hearing a strange noise in the house at night. Being nervous can stem from a fear of being embarrassed or losing face or it can come from a fear of physical harm. Many of you know a couple of weeks ago I spun out while driving on the icy freeway and ended up in the ditch. If that’s happened to you, you know the feeling, I was very nervous driving on the icy roads for quite some time after that. What is it that makes you nervous?

I’m guessing that the high priest was pretty nervous when it came to serving in the tabernacle or the temple on the great day of Atonement. Why so? Because this is what God told Moses when He established the Great Day of Atonement, he said, “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.” You see, if he or anyone dared to come into the Most Holy Place on their own whim, God said they would die. God was teaching something through that. It was the same teaching God gave to Adam and Eve after they sinned. Remember what happened? They had to leave the Garden of Eden, the place where they met with God, and God placed cherubim, angels, with flaming swords at the entrance so they could not go back there. Interestingly, God had cherubim sculpted on top of the ark of the covenant which symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites and there were cherubim also woven into the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In all of these ways God was teaching the people: sin separates you from God. Sin makes us unworthy to enter God’s presence.

So, can you imagine the High Priest entering the Most Holy Place on the Great Day of Atonement? What if he messed up? What if he went in without a pure heart? What if he didn’t do everything the right way? Add to all of that- apparently they would tie a rope around the priest as they ministered in the Most Holy Place and the end of the rope extended outside the tabernacle. You might think, that’s odd. But there was a purpose. If the High Priest died while in there, they had a way to get his dead body out! Can you imagine? Do you think his heart was racing, his hands were clammy and he had a pit in his stomach?

Maybe we can imagine. I mean, the only one who knows more about you than you is God. He’s been there and he’s seen ever dark shameful sin you and I have ever committed. We may be able to hide them from everyone else in the world, but not God, He sees, He knows. We may be able to conceal shameful thoughts in our heads about other people, but we can’t conceal them from God. He knows. We may be able to even almost completely hide from our memory things that we’ve done, but God sees everything.

And to go into His presence? One day we’ll have to stand before this holy and perfect and righteous and just God? That’s terrifying. He could justly and rightly strike us down and be done with us forever. Everything else in all of life that might cause you to be nervous ought to pale in comparison to having to stand as a sinner before the holy and just God of all.

That’s what that curtain symbolized. But what happened to that curtain? What are we told here? “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us form a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Do you see it? When Jesus cried out on the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that temple curtain, some 60 feet high and 15 feet wide and as thick as a man’s hand, was torn in two. God reached down and tore the dividing wall in two. Why so? Because as Jesus died on the cross, those sins that had separated us from God, those sins that fill us with shame and guilt, those sins that wreak havoc in our lives, those sins- all of them – were placed on Jesus, He suffered the separation from God, He suffered the abandonment from God that our sins deserved.

All for what purpose? So that we can draw near, so that we can have confidence going into God’s presence, so that we can have full assurance, so that we can be cleansed and forgiven. In the OT only priests were allowed in the Most Holy Place, but now, Jesus has made you a priest, you get to go in. And boldly.

Think of the thief on the cross, he deserved nothing but judgment and wrath, but by the work of the Holy Spirit he saw in Jesus His Savior and with the boldness of faith he said, “Remember, me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I don’t know what makes you nervous today or what is troubling your heart. But know this, the temple curtain has been torn in two, there is no separation, Jesus has sprinkled with his blood and cleansed you. God is your dear Father. You can go to him- instead of worrying, you can go into the Most Holy Place and pray to the Father who hears you and answers you.

And one day The Day will arrive when Jesus returns and on that day you have no reason to be nervous because you know that because of Jesus He will bring you safely into the Most Holy Place, in his presence forever in heaven. Amen.

What do you value most?

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1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-18

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, I’m convinced that when God brings two people together in marriage, He takes a man with strengths and weaknesses and unites him to a woman with different strengths and weaknesses and the goal is not that they fight about these differences, but that these differences complement each other. That’s true about many things in my relationship to Katie, but one that particularly stands out is my desire to hold on to things, to not get rid of things and Katie’s ease of throwing things away or getting rid of things. And I attribute this desire to hold on to things partially to my genes. You see, my dad has this gene, my Grandma has this gene, and my great-grandma had this gene. My dad tells the story about my great-grandmother who lived in a big farmhouse in Freistadt, WI, and she collected and saved everything. Well, one day, her husband was so frustrated with all of this “junk” that she saved in the attic that he opened the attic window and just started chucking it out the window. Well, about as fast as he was throwing it out, my great-grandma was going out gathering it and bringing it back into the house through the kitchen.

I’ve inherited this. And as you are all aware, my family and I are preparing to move to Cheyenne. Part of the moving process is going through our accumulated things and deciding what you want to move and what you want to get rid of. This is very easy for my wife, it’s very painful for me. But whenever you go through things, there’s this principle: that which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up. That which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up.

So, the question is: What do you value the most in life? What are you most unwilling to give up? During Lent, some people take up the practice of fasting. They set aside something that is important to them, give something up for Lent. And, perhaps there are some useful reminders in such a practice, it can show us how frail we humans are or how much we so easily attach ourselves to the things of this world. But God nowhere commands that we fast. In a way, though, our entire lives are to be a “fast” in a sense. God wants us to value Him the most and be ready to give up anything that might get in the way of our trust and reliance on Him alone. So, what about you? What about me? What do you value most? What are you most unwilling to give up?

The text that we’re looking at this morning is really a climactic point in the life of Abraham. So we really need to understand what led up to this point. God had called Abraham, brought him to faith, directed him to travel to the land of Canaan, gave Abraham some incredible promises, promises like many descendants, a promised land that his descendants would live in, and, most importantly, through Abraham all people would be blessed, in other words, through Abraham’s descendants would come the Savior of the world. Abraham obeyed the Lord and moved to an unknown land. But then there was a famine in the land and Abraham had to move to Egypt for a time. And while in Egypt he had a choice: rely on God or rely on himself? He reasoned that the king of Egypt would see how beautiful his wife Sarah was and kill him to have her. So, Abraham relies on himself, says that Sarah is his sister and Sarah ends up in the harem of the king of Egypt. So God had to intervene and get her out of there. Later, Abraham has a problem. God’s given him some wonderful promises, but they all hinge on the fact that he needs a child, a son, which he doesn’t have. Again, rely on God or rely on himself? He relies on himself and takes his wife’s maidservant Hagar, sleeps with her, and has a child with her – Ishmael, contrary to God’s will. Then once again Abraham was afraid of a local king and has a choice of relying on God or himself, and he relies on himself, lies to this king, Abimelech and says that his wife is really his sister, the king takes Sarah into his harem and God has to get her out of there immediately!  Well, finally, God, in a miraculous way and according to his promise, allows Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to get pregnant. So a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman have a child and not just any child but THE child, Isaac, through whom God would fulfill the promises to Abraham of many descendants who would inherit a special land and eventually the Savior of the world – Abraham’s Savior – would come from the descendants of not just any son, but THIS son Isaac. How do you think Abraham felt about his son? How would you feel if you waited for something for some 75 or 80 years and finally had it? Do you think he loved his son dearly? Do you think he played with him? Do you think this son was the apple of his eye and the joy of his heart? Do you think he cared deeply about his son?

And then we come to our text.  And remember, that which we value the most is the thing we are most unwilling to give up.  God tested Abraham. That’s what we’re told, not what Abraham was told, he didn’t know this was simply a test and everything was going to work out in the end. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love- Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” What??!! Sacrifice my son! Are you kidding! Is this some kind of sick trick! Not only was Isaac the son of Abraham’s old age, the long waited for son, Isaac was the object of God’s incredible promises, Isaac was the joy of Abraham’s life, killing Isaac wasn’t just killing his own son, that meant killing God’s promise of a Savior, Abraham’s Savior! But God knew something that Abraham perhaps didn’t even know himself. Abraham was in great danger. Danger of slowly coming to the point of where he would have loved and valued his son more than God Himself.

So, what did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he got up gathered the things together and set off for the 3 day, 50 mile trip to Mount Moriah where he would sacrifice his son. How it must have pained his heart! How the devil must have tempted him, “How could God be loving if he commands this?” How it must have felt like a knife in his heart when he heard his son say, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering.” How it must have hurt to think, “You, my son, are that lamb.”

You see, with every sacrifice that took place there are really two sacrifices that God demanded. There was the putting to death of the object of the sacrifice. For example, let’s say, a sheep. That sheep was to be slaughtered, killed, put to death. But there was another sacrifice, a more important sacrifice that was to take place. It was the sacrifice that happened inside the heart of the one who was doing the sacrificing. That for the Lord I am perfectly willing to surrender this thing, that the Lord is more important to me than this thing, I value my Lord more than I do this thing, the second sacrifice is the more important sacrifice. As NT Christians we don’t have sacrifices because our entire lives are to be one big spiritual sacrifice to God. “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to the Lord” (Romans 12:1). But the problem is, we all too easily become more attached to things. So, in love God sends us a test, like He did for Abraham- a test, not a temptation to sin, but a test, perhaps He removes something in our lives that we were beginning to treasure too much or something that we were in danger of treasuring more than the Lord Himself putting our salvation in jeapordy. When God removes whatever it is we are faced with a challenge, a test. We are faced to confront the issue of our hearts, much the way that Abraham was forced to confront his own heart. God already knew what was in Abraham’s heart, He already knows what’s in our hearts, but the trials and tests we face are opportunities where God opens our eyes to where our hearts really are or the direction where they are going. Have I begun value someone or something more than my God? Am I willing to lose anything and everything in my life should God in His wisdom and love demand it from me? What we value the most is what we are most unwilling to give up.

It could be a thing or item – my home, my car, my money, it could be a person – my spouse, my child, my friend, it could be something physical – my health, my body, my skills, it could be something totally different- my reputation, my pride, my self-sufficiency, my popularity. Any of those things – and many more – can easily become more important to me than my God. And when that happens we break the first and most important commandment. And it’s in tests and trials where God removes something from our lives and shows us just how attached we are to things or how reliant we’ve become on ourselves than on our God. And if we are so prone to value things over our God, to give up our devotion to God instead of things of this life, why in the world should He put any value on us? Why should God have any reason not to give us up to the fires of hell?

Abraham is standing over his son about to kill him, in his heart he’s already slayed his son in obedience to God, for he must value God the most and is unwilling to even let his love for his son crowd God and devotion to Him out of his heart. And then God intervenes, stops Abraham, and Abraham looks up and there – provided by God – is a ram and Abraham offers the ram in place of his son and Abraham calls that mountain “The Lord will provide.”

And it just so happens that it is this very same mountain on which the city of Jerusalem and the temple would later be built. It just so happens that just outside the walls of the city on this mountain God provided something else. A sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. That which you value the most is that which you are most unwilling to give up. On this very mountain God provided His own Son who wasn’t spared but was provided as the sacrifice for sins once and for all. Why? Because what God values the most and what God is most unwilling to give up… is…you. You and I deserved because of our sin to be given up by God, cast out of His presence forever for we are creatures who are so ready to give up on God for stuff, for things, for other people, yet in unimaginable love God gave up His own Son, so He wouldn’t have to give up on you and me!

And if you think about it, if God 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? How will God not also see you through every trial and test? How will God not also comfort you with His never-ending, never-ceasing love no matter what you have in life or don’t have in life, no matter what you get or what you lose? In God you have it all. He has provided you with everything you need for eternal life in His Son and His sacrifice on the cross for you.

It was that sacrificial love of God that won Abraham’s heart and his devotion and it’s that same sacrificial, unconditional, never ending love of God that has won your heart and your devotion to value God most and be most unwilling to give Him up no matter what because on that mountain, on that cross God provided salvation…for you!  Amen.

 

Speak, for your servant is listening

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2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10

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, do you know how to listen? One key skill that every person needs to develop in order to have healthy relationships with other people is something that is called “Active Listening.” In other words, you’re actively listening and actively engaged paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Here are some tips that people have come up with to assist in active listening: face the speaker and maintain eye contact, be attentive but relaxed, keep an open mind, listen to the words and try to picture what the person is saying, don’t interrupt and impose your solutions, wait for the speaker to pause before you ask clarifying questions, ask questions only to ensure understanding, try to feel what the speaker is feeling, give the speaker regular feedback. So, are you a good listener? Certainly we all want to learn good listening techniques when we’re dealing with other people. But what about with God? Are we active listeners when it comes to what God has to tell us?

In Samuel’s day we’re told that the Word of the Lord was rare. It seems that for about 300 years during the period of Israel’s history while they were ruled by people called judges, there were only 2 prophets from God that we know about. You see, one of the greatest judgements from God on a certain people is that when they no longer appreciate his Word, He takes His gospel from them. That doesn’t surprise us. A few weeks ago we saw how King Herod and the religious officials from Jerusalem heard the Magi message, saw the prophecy in Scripture where the Christ was to be born, but they didn’t appreciate the message, so only the Magi got to see their Savior and their salvation. The same is true today. Let us continue to appreciate God’s message!

How do we do this? By continuing to listen to our Lord’s voice, His speaking to us, to keep saying with our thoughts and words and actions, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” That’s what Samuel did. When we find Samuel in our text this morning we’re not exactly sure how old he is, but some have supposed he was around 12 years old. If you remember Samuel’s background, he was the son of a woman named Hannah. Hannah had been barren and prayed to the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would give him over to the Lord for service in God’s house. In mercy, the Lord granted her request and she brought Samuel up in the training and instruction of the Lord and taught him to honor, respect, and obey. Then, when he was very young, she brought him to the house of the Lord and stayed there day and night. He probably did things like open the doors for people to come in, replenish the oil in the lamps, and so on. Part of his job was also helping out the aging priest, Eli, who was getting quite old and we’re told was not able to see well anymore.

One night, as Samuel was in his bed sleeping and it was probably very early in the morning since the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Samuel heard someone call, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel dutifully jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Now, I’m a parent and I have young children, now, when I try calling them in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when they are wide awake, it may take 4, 5, 6 times of calling before they slowly and sluggishly come or say, “just a minute.” But Samuel was different. Three times he was called and each time he came running to Eli to see what he wanted and Eli kept telling him, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now we’re told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” It would be terribly naïve of us to think that means Samuel didn’t know who the Lord was. He had been brought up by a God-fearing mother, he was working in the house of the Lord day and night. He knew the Lord. But what had never happened to him before was that the Lord was speaking directly with Samuel, he didn’t recognize the Lord’s voice and that’s why he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him.

Well, finally the third time Samuel went to Eli and Eli finally realized what was going on. He “realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” So, Eli correctly told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” There is nothing better in all of life that Eli could have directed someone than to say those words. So, Samuel went back and lay down as before. And then the Lord Himself came and called to Samuel the fourth time: “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel would go on to become a great prophet leading the nation of Israel through the transition of having judges to kings. Yet, what made Samuel great was not so much that he could speak to people, but that he would listen. Listen to the Lord speaking to him. And I would say to you that no matter what you strive for in life, what will make you or me someone great, isn’t so much how well we speak, but how well we listen, and not just how well we listen in general, but how well we listen to the Lord.

And notice something else. Samuel had no idea what the Lord would require of him or what the Lord would ask of him. He didn’t know the ins and outs of what God was going to tell him. He didn’t know where the Lord’s direction would lead him. He didn’t know what his future held. But notice his response, his attitude: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The truth is that’s what God calls each of us to as well, to actively listen to Him. And how do we listen to God’s voice? When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt he was studying in the library when he came across a Bible and he happened to open it up to this account and began reading. He was fascinated and thought how great it would be to be like Samuel and to hear God’s voice. But the truth that he rediscovered is that God DOES speak to us! He speaks to us through the words of the Bible.

So, are you listening? Am I? Do we have the same attitude as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” What is our attitude toward God’s Word? Is listening to our God’s Word the most important thing we do each day? If someone was objectively watching your life or mine on a day to day basis would they be able to tell that the most important thing to us is listening to our God?

And it’s not just listening either, is it? God also wants us to be ready to do whatever it is that he tells us to do no matter the implications. God asks husbands and fathers to lead their homes by being the greatest servants and putting their family before their own interests. “But, but, I just need time for myself, I work hard all day isn’t that enough?” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God asks wives and mothers to be servant helpers to their husbands and families. “But, how could I possibly submit to my husband, when he rarely shows me he loves me?” “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God wants children to obey their parents. “But, I want to do my own thing, I know what’s better for me than they do.” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” How often are we not all guilty of presuming to know more about how to run this universe, what would be best for our lives, what God should be doing than God does.  How much don’t we say, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking?”  “Listen Lord, I could sure use more money in the bank account, a better job, a new car, more obedient children, a more understanding spouse, etc, etc.”

But remember Samuel. What made him such a good prophet of God wasn’t so much what he said, but that he listened, listened to God.  But why? Why would Samuel characterize his life by listening to God? Why would we ever want to conform our lives to listening to God? It’s because of who our God is. You see, we have a God who listened to us and to our needs far before we were even able to speak. We have a God who planned out our eternal rescue from horridness of sin’s slavery, the fear of death, and the punishment of hell, long before we were even born. We have a God who listened so intently to our every need that He came in this world. Jesus came in order to be the perfect listener, to listen and to do perfectly everything that God wanted from you and me in our place. Jesus even listened to the point of going to the cross and assuming in Himself God’s righteous wrath for all of our sins. Why would we ever want to listen to our God? Because again and again through God’s Word He reminds us of the precious good news of His endless love for us, of His joy in rescuing us eternally, of His plan to bring us home to heaven.

So what do you do? Where do you start? First, make it a habit, schedule a time every day where you can say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Open the Bible or if you have an audio Bible listen to it. Second, meditate on it. Take a short section and ask yourself over and over again, “What does this mean? What is my Lord telling me here?” What’s amazing is that in the Hebrew the word “meditate” is also used for the word “growl”- it’s like what a dog does with a large bone. It takes it to a quiet place, it chews on it, relishes it, turns it over. Do that with God’s Word. Thirdly, keep at it. Chinese bamboo is very interesting. When you plant it, it spends over 4 years underneath the ground, nothing is seen, but then in the fifth year it grows some 80 feet in just 6 weeks. Perhaps we’re tempted to stop listening to the Lord because something is difficult, but don’t give up, keep at it, the Lord will bless it. And finally, don’t just listen, do what the Lord tells you. Why? Because you know that the Lord who loved you so much to rescue you eternally, will only tell you what will bless you eternally. May you have such a Samuel attitude, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.

Don’t Adapt to Christmas!

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Children Christmas Service
Luke 2:14

In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Our bodies have this amazing ability to adapt, don’t they? For example, in the fall, when the temperature changes for 60s-70s to 30s-40s we’re freezing, ready for the winter coats. But then in the spring when the weather changes from -20s—30s to 30-40 degrees, we’re ready for shorts and short sleeves, right? Our bodies have a way of adapting, don’t they?

But we can also adapt in such a way that something that at one time gave us such joy and excitement over time perhaps we lose some of our amazement. You might really enjoy a certain movie the first time you watch it, but then, watching it a 2nd or 3rd time, it’s not quite the same.

Does that happen to us about the Christmas account? May it never be so! What we have before us once again this morning is a truth so simple that children can explain it to us and yet so profound and glorious that it will take eternity to fully enjoy.

This year we’ve done some special things to focus our celebration on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 500 years ago this year Martin Luther began what would later be called a Reformation. He sought to restore the church back on the right foundation of God’s Word. There were certain phrases that became known through the Reformation and each of them starting with the Latin word “sola.” Sola literally means “alone.”

And what we’re going to look at this morning is the truth that was rediscovered through the Reformation that we are saved, rescued, redeemed by God alone. God alone gets all the credit for our salvation. And that’s wonderful good news! For if it were up to us -even in the slightest bit- we could never have peace, we could never have certainty, we could never rest at night knowing that we are going to heaven when we die. Why not? Because if salvation was up to us, we would always wonder: “Have I done enough? Did I do it right? Have I done it well enough? Will God accept me?” We would never have peace.

But then comes Christmas. Then comes the truth of Christmas that little children can explain to you. Christmas happened because we couldn’t save ourselves. Christmas happened because it takes none other than God Himself to take on our human flesh, to become one of us, in order to rescue us. And He did.

This little baby that we’re going to hear about this morning. This baby Jesus was born for the sole purpose of dying. Jesus was born for the sole purpose of living 33 years and then going to the cross to die for the sins of the world, for your sins, and mine. This little baby was born so that after dying he might rise from the dead and defeat sin and death forever.

In short this little baby was born because we couldn’t save ourselves, but God in incredible grace, wants nothing less than for you and I to spend eternity in heaven with him! And what does knowing that bring? Exactly what the angels announced: “Peace to people on whom His favor rests.” Amen.

The Lord will Rescue Me

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Reformation Sunday
2 Timothy 4:16-18

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.” So Martin Luther said as he stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and faced being excommunicated and declared an outlaw and at risk of his life should he not recant the truth of God’s Word which he rediscovered. Where did it start? 500 years ago this little known monk and German pastor nailed 95 theses or statements to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements were translated and spread and printed on the newly invented printing press. One thing led to another so Luther stood here before the emperor and was ordered to recant, retract, take back everything he had written or face excommunication, being called a heretic, being declared an outlaw, his books banned and burned, and his life at stake anywhere, anytime, by anyone. How did he do it?

And it was all for what? He saw the problems and the abuses there were going on in the Catholic Church at the time. Worst of all, he saw the false teachings with which Satan had infiltrated the Christian church. And all those false teachings really boil down to this: that there’s something that YOU must do into order to earn salvation. And there are only two directions you can go when you believe that: either you will become a Pharisee thinking you’ve earned something from God or you will fall into despair because it’s entirely impossible to earn or deserve anything from God. Luther was the latter. His conscience bothered him, no matter how hard or how much he did, there was no way he could live up to God’s demands. But then by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God he came to understand that we are saved completely by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ Jesus alone revealed in the scripture alone. Then and there he found true peace. But what did that get him? Opposition. He was labeled a heretic, excommunicated, outlawed and a death sentence was placed on his head. He didn’t know where it would all go, he didn’t know what would happen, he didn’t know the end of the story. So what kept him going?

Take someone else. His name was Daniel. He lived and worked under several corrupt governments. The last of which had a group of self-centered glory-seekers who devised a plan to play on the king’s egocentricity and have a decree published that people could only pray to the king for 30 days. What does Daniel do? Obeys God. Trusts in God. Continues to pray to the Lord just like he always did. Which led to what? Being arrested, condemned to death and thrown into a den of hungry lions to be eaten alive. For all he knew he was about to be viciously torn apart and devoured! How did he do it? How did he get through? He didn’t know what was going to happen to him.

Take someone else. His name was Paul. He, too, lived at a precarious time and under a corrupt government. At one time he was a Pharisee who thought that God was pleased with all the good things he did like persecute these Christians. But then the Lord brought him to faith. The Lord showed him that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.” The Lord taught him that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Paul’s entire life became a mission to share this grace of God with others, but what did it get him? He was pursued, persecuted, beaten, flogged, stoned, constantly maligned and accused and abandoned. Here in our text from 2 Timothy he’s writing from a dark, dank, damp dungeon. He’s cold- he wants his cloak. He’s expecting death at any time for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. How did he do it? How did he get through? He didn’t know what was going to happen.

Take someone else. Not Martin Luther, not Daniel, not Paul, but you and me. Are there times in your life when you’re left wondering why God would allow something to come into your life? Are there times when you’re frustrated or confused because something happened in your life? Are there times in life when you face just one obstacle after another and your sinful nature leads you to doubt God’s care, God’s concern, God’s love for you? Perhaps none of us will face a condemning edict from the emperor or a den of hungry lions or a dark, dank dungeon, but what do we face? Day-to-day trials, times that leave us lying flat on our backs, an upcoming surgery or health scare, a financial loss, a relationship conflict. What does the future hold? What is going to happen? What is weighing on you? What difficulty in life are you facing? How do you get through?

You know what would be really nice? It would be really nice to know the ending before the beginning, right? Imagine if you were going to take a very difficult test, but you knew before the test began that you would ace it? Do you think you’d be anxious or worried? Or, what if you had a very serious health examination to find out whether or not you had a serious incurable illness, but you knew beforehand that the tests would come back showing you to be completely healthy? Do you think you’d be concerned to take that test? If you were going in for an important job interview, but you knew beforehand that you already had the job, would you be nervous and scared? No! Wouldn’t it be nice to know the ending before the beginning?

How do you think Luther did it? Or Daniel? Or the apostle Paul? Daniel may not have known how this whole ordeal was going to work out, but he trusted in God and “no wound was found on him because he trusted in his God.” He knew that his days, his times were all in the hands of our gracious God. No flippant king, no wicked official, no hungry lion could do anything to disrupt God’s plans to work out all things for the good of his believers. How did the apostle Paul do it? What did he know? “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” No wicked king, no plot, no executioner’s sword would separate Paul from the love of God in Christ Jesus. How did Luther do it? How did he keep going in the midst of threats, hate, violence? “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit. And do what they will – hate, steal, hurt or kill – though all may be gone, our victory is won; the kingdom’s ours forever.”

All of our days, our times, our lives rest in the hands of our loving, faithful, compassionate, gracious God.  The God who can shut the mouths of hungry lions, the God who made sure that the “Message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it,” the God who made sure that no emperor, pope, or corrupt church could silence the message of the gospel, is the God who has all the power to rescue you from every evil attack and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom!  Trust in Him!!

Luther spent his whole life pointing to one person.  So did Daniel, so did Paul.  It wasn’t Daniel or Paul or Luther, but someone else who prayed to God regularly, who had a group of malicious accusers seeking to entrap him because of his faithfulness to God’s Word, a group of unruly people brought Him to the ruler accusing him of breaking the law, the ruler finding him innocent eventually appeased the crowd and condemned him to death, a rock was placed over the enclosure and sealed with the kings own ring, but at dawn it isn’t the king hurrying to the tomb, but a few ladies.  And what they find is shocking.  Who is it?  Jesus who was dead, is alive and lives!  Jesus is the living one, the one who has conquered our greatest enemies: sin, death, and hell forever!

And since Jesus lives and since you know the end of that true story, that of Jesus, then you also know the end of your own story as well.  So, what opposes you today?  What is it that causes your faith to tremble?  What is it that causes your trust to shake?  Look to the Author of your story, who’s written not only the beginning of your story but also the ending, look to your Savior who has cleansed you in His holiness, taken your every sin away as far as the east is from the west, who has removed your guilt forever.  You know the end of your story, heaven is your home and that is where you’re headed, keep your eyes on the end of your story, the one written with the blood of Jesus, and that will make all the difference!  The Lord will rescue you and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. Now that’s a happy ending!  Amen.

How Long will you waver between two opinions?

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5th Sunday of Easter
1 Kings 18:21-39

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you like options? Did you know that if you take into account all the different variables, there are over 80,000 different drink options you can order at a Starbucks coffee shop? Think about your closet. I’m guessing you don’t have simply 1 or 2 different clothes options- I’m guessing that each of us has literally hundreds of different clothing options in our closets. Think about the grocery store. At the grocery store you don’t have only a handful of options of food- you literally have thousands of options! Very few restaurants would probably survive if they only had one option on their menu. I think it’s safe to say that we humans like options, right? I wonder why. Why do we like having so many options? Perhaps it stems from our desire to have control. We like to be in control. We like things to go OUR way, we don’t like being told what to do.
In fact, we can trace this all the way back to Adam and Eve. Why did they take that fruit off the tree? Because they wanted to be like God, they wanted to be in control. There was only one clearly good option, but they chose to turn away from God. We also see that very thing going in our lives. We are faced with many options every day, we’re faced with many decisions every day: honor God or give into sin, be unselfish or be selfish, speak well of someone or tear them down. We also see this same thing going on in our text this morning.
The Israelites had an option: do things God’s way or do things their own way. What God wanted was for them to completely drive out the heathen Canaanites from the Promised Land because He knew those people would become a snare to them. Well, instead of doing this God’s way, the Israelites left many of those Canaanites alone and even went one step further: they decided to learn agriculture from them. So, again and again in the OT we hear about how the Israelites were sucked into idolatry and worshipped false gods and idols. One of those prominent idols that we hear about again and again is the false god Baal. Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites. Baal was the one who supposedly would help your cows and sheep reproduce, who would help your women get pregnant, and help your crops grow by sending rain. And rain, at this time, in many ways meant life, lack of rain meant death.
Well, there were also certain features of Baal worship that weren’t so distasteful to the Israelites. You see, Baal worship offered a physical, visible god to worship rather than the invisible true God. Baal worship also offered a god you could manipulate and control, while the true God is uncontrollable and not manipulated by our behavior. But it was also a human-made religion. And you’ll notice that any human-made religion invariably caters to the sinful nature. Part of “worshipping” Baal was consuming lots of alcohol as well as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity.
Add to all of this that the Israelite king at this time had even married a woman named Jezebel who was from a heathen-Canaanite city and a big patron and supporter of Baal worship. So, right in the midst of the very nation that had the truth, had God’s Word, had the promises of God, and was the nation through whom God promised to send the Savior into the world, right in their midst, we have what? Rank idolatry, horrid immorality, and a king and a queen who were actually putting to death anyone who was a prophet of the Lord. And we see right in our text that Baal had 450 prophets, but for the true God? One.
So what did God do? In incredible love God sent a drought. They claimed Baal was the fertility god who made it rain and caused things to grow, so God had Elijah pronounce that there would not be a drop of rain for not just one year, not just two years, but three years. Now, imagine if America didn’t have any rain for 3 years, we’d be seriously hurting, even though we have irrigations systems and wells. In Israel- no rain meant death, no water to drink, no food to grow. But instead of repenting and turning to the true God what happens? Ahab blames Elijah! “You troubler of Israel!” As if Elijah caused all these troubles!
Elijah has everyone gather at Mount Carmel. And notice what he says to them: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him. If Baal is god, follow him.” Now, perhaps we’re shaking our heads and thinking, “There’s clearly really only one option here” right? Ah, but then we have to examine our own lives. This question could be asked of us too, can’t it? “How long will you waver between two opinions?” The word used for waver here is the same used later on to describe the prophets of Baal dancing before their altar and it literally means to “limp” back and forth. Do we do that? Do you do that? Every day you’re faced with many options. Let’s see: serve my spouse OR serve myself, defend that classmate or join in making fun of him, open my Bible or turn on the TV, listen to my parents or do my own thing, respond in love and kindness or get angry and get revenge. You see, the people in our text aren’t the only ones with divided religious loyalties. Each of us here tries to have God plus something else. But Jesus says it clearly: You can’t have two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. But how often haven’t we wavered trying to have God and our sin? And notice what happens when you pick the option away from God? You’ll always be burned. Look at this! It’s almost comical! The prophets of Baal are dancing around their altar, they’re shouting louder and louder, they begin to slash themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed and notice that this was their custom! That’s what following a false god will do to you- hurt you and often literally.
But notice something. Nothing can snap people out of their divided religious loyalties except the intervening of God Himself. The people had not come to the logical conclusion that after 3 ½ years of drought that Baal did not exist. The all-day long chanting, slashing and shouting session of the prophets of Baal didn’t convince them. The LORD must intervene. And He did boldly and powerfully. Fire from the LORD consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, the wood, the stone, the dirt, and even the water he had poured on the altar! And the people responded: “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!”
But as powerful and dramatic as this was, God intervened in a much more powerful and persuasive way when he consumed a greater sacrifice than the one Elijah offered. He himself offered this sacrifice. It was His own Son that He brought down from heaven and placed on the altar of the cross. It was this sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who was consumed by God’s burning wrath over sin. And it is this sacrifice, Jesus that leads double-minded people to respond, like the Israelites: “The Lord- He is God! The Lord- He is God!” And we have seen it. On Good Friday we saw how God intervened into human history for His double minded, fickle people. On Easter Sunday Jesus powerfully came back to life forgiving all your sins of wavering and mine!
This week, when your mind is tempted to trust in two different gods, respond like Israel on Mt. Carmel. When you are tempted to trust in the LORD and in your money, let Elijah’s words run through your mind: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then say, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” When you’re family is tempted to dive into their electronic devices instead of having a family devotion, let Elijah’s words echo in your ears: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then answer confidently, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” When you’re raising your head off your pillow next Sunday and you think, “Should I go to church or not?” Listen to Elijah’s words to you, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And say to yourself, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” You see, there is nothing to be gained by lingering unnecessarily over two options. Lingering over trust in two different forces only benefits the wrong side. He who hesitates is lost. There is really only one clear option in most situations we face in life. “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Let’s say it together, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” Amen.

A Light Has Dawned!

3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 4:12-23

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,

The human eye is an amazing creation of God, isn’t it? Do you know how the human eye works? It’s all about light. Light is reflected from some object, the light enters the eye, it gets focused, and is then converted into electrochemical signals which are then passed through nerves to the brain, the brain then interprets the signals and an image is seen. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million colors or shades, if the human eye were a camera lens it would take pictures at 576 megapixels, it takes .2 of a second for your brain to understand the light that reaches your eye.[i] As incredible as the human eye is, the eye needs light in order to work. Without light, in the darkness your can’t see. So, what do you immediately do when you walk into a dark room? You immediately begin searching for the light switch. Why? So you can see. So you know where you’re going. So you don’t run into some object or step on something and get hurt. Why do many people (especially as they get older) not like to drive at night? Well, perhaps your eyes aren’t working as well as they used to and without a lot of light it’s hard to see where you’re going- you might miss a turn, you might get into an accident. In fact, the fatal crash rate for nighttime driving is 3-4 times that of driving during the daylight.[ii] We need light. We need light to see where we’re going. We need light for safety and security. We need light.

We also need light in a different sense for living in this world. The fact is, we live in a very morally, spiritually, and sinfully dark world. A world full of hate, murder, crime, disease, and disaster. It’s a dark world we live in. It’s a dark world full of injustice, poverty, and death. It’s a dark world we live in. But perhaps the darkest part of the life we live is right inside the human heart. It’s dark in there. What is it like to wander around in the dark? Everyone of us here at some point has walked into a dark room where we can’t see in front of us. What’s it like? There’s a little bit of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what’s in front of you.

The darkest part of the world is the dark human heart. The human heart that doesn’t know where it is, doesn’t know where it’s going, doesn’t know what lies ahead.  That’s the worst kind of darkness there is. Not knowing the answers to the big questions of life. What are they? Questions like: Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s the meaning of life? What’s the purpose for life? What’s going to happen when I die? And without an answer to those questions you’re condemned to a lifetime of wandering around in the dark.

And everybody feels it. There’s a certain discontent. A certain dissatisfaction with life. If only I had this or that, my life would be better. If only I had this job, my life would be better. If only I had a different spouse, my life would be better. If only I had this much income, my life would be better. If only my health were good, my life would be better. There’s a discontent in the heart. People who liked President Obama are discontent that he didn’t do everything they had hoped. Those who like President Trump are going to be disappointed that he won’t be able to do everything they want. There’s a certain discontent, a longing in the heart, a wandering round in the dark that every person feels. We live in a dark world. We need light.

And into this dark world, a light has dawned. To the people living in darkness, to the people in the land of Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, they have seen a great light, on those living in the fearful shadow of death a light has dawned. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali was the land of Galilee. Galilee was the region in the north around the Sea of Galilee. It was a land that had been ravaged again and again by war, it was formerly part of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had been conquered and repopulated by the Assyrians. There were many Gentiles living there among the Jews. The Jewish people there were considered not nearly as important as the Jews who lived in Judea around Jerusalem. Everyone figured that the Messiah would do his work around the capital city of Jerusalem. But about a year after Jesus began his public ministry, where does he go? Galilee. He brings light to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. It’s almost like Governor Dayton deciding to move the center of his operations from St. Paul to Bemidji or President Trump deciding to move his center of operations from Washington to Bemidji, unheard of!

And what is the light Jesus has come to bring? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” There it is! The kingdom of heaven he has brought near, follow him, he’s proclaiming good news of the kingdom.

To a world of darkness a light has dawned! You see, all the dissatisfaction in life, the discontentment in life, the disappointment with life finally comes down to a longing for something outside of this life. You know what it’s like. You long for something, you hope for something, you perhaps save for something, you finally get that something that you really wanted and it still doesn’t satisfy, there’s something else that you want even more. That’s the way that most people go through life. It’s just they don’t often take the time to think about it. There’s a dissatisfaction with life, but we busy ourselves and occupy ourselves and distract ourselves so we don’t dwell on it. We work and work and work so we don’t have to deal with the darkness inside. We consume ourselves with TV, internet, gadgets, entertainment so we don’t have to think about it. But that accomplishes about as much as closing your eyes in a dark room because you can’t see. There’s an intense longing in every human heart for something more than this world.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “God has set eternity in the hearts of man.” C.S. Lewis once said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Jesus alone brings light to a dark world. He has come to bring the kingdom of heaven near to us. He has come to offer his perfect life in place imperfect life, offer his innocent life on a cross in the place of our sinful life, he has come so that by his resurrection he can turn the darkness and hopelessness of death into the light of eternal life! This is good news! And…just like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Jesus has called you by the gospel, called you to faith in Him, called you to follow His light in this dark world.

Jesus has freed you and me from having to grope around in this dark world trying to find meaning and significance here. Live as a child of the light.  You know the big questions of life: You know where you are from, you know you are a special creation of God, a human being first made in God’s image and the crown of God’s creation. You know where you’re going when you die: to live in eternal life and eternal glory with your Savior in heaven. You know why you’re here on earth: to know and serve your Savior in all that you do and to make His light known to more and more people.

Our eyes are incredible creations of God. They’re all about light. They stream and filter and process light. Far greater however is your eyes of faith. Through which you “see” your Savior, the light of world. In Him you have the light of life and all you need for life here and hereafter. Amen.

[i] http://www.factslides.com/s-Eyes

[ii] https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/03jan/05.cfm