Archive for April, 2009

Were You There?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego

“…and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:15b]
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We are all called to be witnesses to God’s forgiving love in our own lives.  Each one of us is to always be prepared to give our own testimony to why and how Jesus saved us from sin and delivered us into heaven.  We are His ambassadors.  But before we can give a witness we must have a testimony—that then will be the focus of our message this morning…honing our testimony, and we will begin and end our message with this question: Were you there when they crucified your Lord?

 In our reading from Acts, Peter confronts a crowd of people in Jerusalem who have gathered in amazement because of a crippled man who is healed.  They try to acknowledge Peter and John as the source of healing, but Peter will have none of that.  He immediately gives all glory to God and begins one of the most convicting sermons ever preached.  The most intense portion of his message was this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:13-15]  Jesus they denied and delivered to be killed, but Barabbas the murderer they chose to give life to instead of the author of life!

Now it is doubtful that there were many people present…listening to Peter’s sermon who were actually there when Jesus was sentenced to death.  Most likely, most of those people knew nothing about Barabbas being granted clemency in exchange for the death of Jesus, and yet Peter insists that they were the ones who delivered Him over to Pilate and asked for the death of the Author of life!  How can this be?  Because it was their sins that Jesus took upon Himself that compelled Him to go to the cross.  While they may not have been physically present the day Jesus was sentence and executed they knew that the man they once called Messiah was about to be put to death, and they said nothing.  They knew that an innocent man was about to die, and they offered no testimony on His behalf.    They killed the Author of life!

How many times have you turned away from doing what you know is right because it was inconvenient to be a person of faith?  For some here this morning, it may be easier to be politically correct than being faithful to God’s will.  Go along to get along!  Maybe you‘ve learned to follow society’s moral idea of right and wrong rather than what God’s Word says is good and evil?  If so, you killed the Author of life!  For others, maybe you know that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for you, but you have never really taken the time to know Him.  You know that His entire gift of grace is for you, but you have never really found the time live in it!  If so, you killed the author of life!  Maybe you are one of the many that finds yourself vacillating between claiming Him and forgetting Him.  Some days you are thankful for all that He has done for you and on other days, well…you live as if He never did a thing for you.  If so, you killed the author of life!  Or maybe you are one who has truly discovered what it means to be saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone just as the Bible says, but you are terrified to tell others how your relationship with Jesus has saved you.  If so, then you also must realize that you too killed the Author of life!

Dear friends, Peter was painting a bleak picture to the people around him that day and he paints a bleak one for us as well—bleak, but not hopeless!  Listen to what he says next: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” [vs. 17-20a].

Dear friends, if you have been convicted by God’s Word this morning then listen to what Peter says… “I know that you acted in ignorance.”  Confess your sin and turn to Him who was crucified for you, so that all of your sins may be wiped clean!  Instead carrying your guilt with you, come to your Savior, the author of life so that times of refreshing goodness and peace with God can be yours!

It was not by accident that Jesus suffered and died.  We may be ignorant that our sins took Jesus to the cross, but God knew what He was doing.  God knew that He must give Jesus as a lamb for the slaughter, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  We act out of ignorance, but God acts in full knowledge with an intent centered in nothing but love for us.  We may be ignorant, lost in our own sins, but thank God that His wisdom and undeserved love for us makes us wise through faith and brings us to salvation.  Through our own wicked sinfulness God brought us His salvation; He gave His Son Jesus to you who took away your own guilt as He took away the sins of the world! 

Is this good news?  If so, then repent!  Turn away from your sinfulness so that “times of refreshing may come for God!  The suffering, worry, and fear are over the battle is won!  Alleluia!  Turn from sins that so easily trap you and turn to your redeemer, your savior, the Author of life, Jesus Christ.  This is the what St. John meant when he wrote in our Epistle lesson that, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” [1 Jn. 3:6]  How do you keep from falling into sin?  Only by turning away from a sinful life and turning to Jesus!  How do you know that you are walking with Jesus and not following the ways of the devil and the world?  Because you practice what is right.  You look to Jesus alone as your way to please God and you hold on to the very things He’s given to you so that you will not lose hope!  You claim your baptism as His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you, and when you do sin, His Holy Spirit pains your heart to confess your sin to Him and then by the very same Spirit He gives you faith to know that you are forgiven.  How long will God put up with your sinfulness?  As long as you continue to turn to Him and be saved and recreated into His image and will for you.

This dear friends is exactly the relationship that God desires and it is exactly the relationship He creates and sustains within us as we abide in Him.  It is the relationship of a Father and His children.  Now there are other types of relationships that this world likes to show off.  They are relationships where one gives as much as another; relationships like husband and wife, friend and friend.  But in our relationship with God it is entirely one sided…He gives and we only receive in gratitude.  And what does He give?  He gives forgiveness, He gives new life… birth from God!  And what is our response?  Gratitude!  How do we show our gratitude? 

We show our gratitude by witnessing. In our gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and He teaches us how we are to live our lives because of what He has done for us and because of who we now are.  Listen: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:45-48]  Friends, Jesus has opened your mind through the gift of faith.  You too can understand scripture.  You too now understand that Christ suffered, died, and rose for you.  If you are living out this truth then you are a good witness.  You too have a testimony to give.

There’s a Christian guy who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty but this guy sat next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could get off the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and started weeping. He sobbed with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Can’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you tell me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?”

Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing?  Well you have one…the sign of the cross; the cross that saved you and the world.  Who should you tell?  Whoever you know needs to hear the good news.  How should you tell them?  By demonstrating love for God in your own life, and then by explaining why you love Him.  Have you experienced repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus name?  Remember, you can’t witness to something you haven’t experienced!  Were you there when they crucified your Lord?  If so, then tell your story!

The Stone is Rolled Away!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

“And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back-it was very large.” [Mark 16:3-4]

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INRODUCTION: Around the year 1930, a Communist leader named Nikolai Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev, Ukraine.  His mission was to address a huge assembly with the aim of advancing communism. His subject for the evening was atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling arguments and ridiculing the Christian faith. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak.  He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist leader. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  

The tomb where Jesus was laid on “Good Friday” is now a completely different tomb… it requires a different type of watchman.  It does not need a cemetery caretaker or a company of Roman soldiers assign to protect the dead but an angel from the realms of light and life. The servant-angel appears first; then his Master will soon be seen. This is the signal that a new time has come; an era where heaven and earth are now joined, because Jesus Christ, our Savior, has risen!  CHRIST HAS RISEN!  The wall of separation has fallen; God has reconciled Himself to sinful men; the sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father. This is the supreme Easter truth…CHRIST HAS RISEN!

I. St. Mark tells us that it was very early in the morning after the Sabbath was over, while it was still dark, when the women went out on an errand of love; they would finish anointing the body of their Lord.  The work of anointing His dead body was only hastily done on Friday late afternoon, and now it must be completed.  Some of them had witnessed Jesus death…they witnessed His passion for them, and now it was time for them to give to Him, even if in death, their own passion… their own service of love.  As they arrived at the tomb the sun had just risen, and they were faced with a problem, one that they had not thought of before they set out: Who would roll the great stone away from the entrance of the tomb?  (They did not know that there was a Roman guard assigned to protect the grave from tampering).  They probably blamed themselves for not having thought of the huge stone before.  “How could we have been so stupid?!  We should have insisted that Peter, John, or one of the other men come with us!”

The other gospel accounts tell us that before they arrived at the tomb, angels appeared with the power of heaven and hurled the stone from its groove and that it landed flat upon the ground.  We also learn from these other accounts that the Roman guard witnessed this and trembled with fear, latter running for their own lives.  As the women arrived, they discovered the stone resting in front of the tomb and they were afraid that grave robbers has disturbed the resting place and the body of their Lord!  Suddenly and angel appeared to them, sitting quite comfortably upon the stone, and he had a miraculous story to tell and an even greater mission: “Don’t be alarmed.  You’re looking for Jesus, right?  Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and died, well He’s not here!  He has risen!  Go inside the tomb and see the place where they laid Him.”  And they did go inside; they noticed that the grave close were exactly as they would be if the body were still laying inside, but there was no body!  The angel continued, “Go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just like He told you.”  Now they remembered.  How could they be so ignorant?  After all, the Lord had told them about this so many times.  He said that He would rise from the dead, and indeed He has risen!

II. Why didn’t the women know that Christ would be resurrected?  Jesus continually explained that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected in many different ways to them.  Why was the resurrection a surprise?  Why did it take an angel with the power of heaven moving the stone away to get them to remember and believe?  Jesus must rise from the dead because His own Word promised that this would happen.  Jesus could not be contained by a tomb because He was the very Son of God.  True to His Word, on the third day He did rise from the dead, and with His glorified body He immediately left the sealed tomb in order to prove to our dying, sinful world that God did love us, and that through His passion, His very life, death, and resurrection He reconciled all sinful men to His Father.  Now through His love we can now experience the love of God. 

Dear friends, the stone was not rolled away so that Jesus could leave the tomb; but rather it was rolled away so that the women and everyone else could see that He had been resurrected and was no longer confined by a grave!  The stone was rolled away because Jesus knew that the sinful flesh of His disciples still could not fathom the power of God that was His because He was God’s only begotten Son! 

The stone has been rolled away for us as well.  What are some stones that prevent us from seeing the resurrection power of God in our lives?  For some, perhaps it is a sinful life that you feel prevents God from loving you or accepting you.  “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for you!  See the place where they laid him.  He has risen!”  For others, perhaps it is time.  There is only so much time in a day and so many days in a week.  You work so hard, and you just can’t seem to find time to rest.  Sunday is the only day you can do that.  To this God’s Word reminds you of what Jesus said: “Come unto me you who are weary and I will give you rest!”  Friend, learn to rest in the Word of God and the company of others who have learned to do the same.  This morning, God is asking you to hear the words of the angel and let it be your truth, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for you!  See the place where they laid him.  He has risen!”

Or perhaps, you are more like Peter.  Something in your past is making you feel like God no longer wants you as part of His family…part of His mission team.  If so, then remember the angel who told the women to go and tell His disciples even Peter that He still loves you and that you are still part of the team.  Dear friend, Peter denied Him three times, but it could have been 3,000 x 3,000 times and it would not have mattered in the least.  Jesus died for Peter and He died for you!  Return to your first love.  Return to Him who first loved you!  He still wants you in the family and He still wants you as part of His church!

ILLUS: The story is told about an organist named Carol. She was an outstanding musician, but she did something no organist should ever do.  She overslept on Easter morning and missed the sunrise service. She was so embarrassed. Of course, the minister and the church forgave her. They teased her about it a little, but it was done lovingly and in good fun. However, the next Easter, her phone rang at 5:00 in the morning. Jolted awake by the loud ringing, she scrambled to answer it.  It was the pastor, and he said, “Carol, it’s Easter morning! The Lord is risen! … And I suggest you do the same!” The message is clear: We too can be resurrected. If your spiritual life has lost its passion, and you don’t feel close to God like you once did, then God’s Word makes it clear to us this morning, Jesus Christ is sharing his resurrection with us right now. He rises, and so can we. We too can have new life.  We too can make a new start. We too can rise out of those tombs that try to imprison us!  

III. There is one last lesson to be learned in our time together this morning and it can be introduced with this question: Why were the women the first to learn of Jesus’ resurrection and why were they the first to see Him alive?  Another way to ask this is why weren’t the remaining 11 apostles the first to experience Jesus’ resurrection?  A learned Biblical scholar long ago offered five reasons.  He said: God chooses the weak; overwhelmed most by their sorrow, they should be first in Christ’s joy; the presence of the women at the tomb silenced the Jewish lie that the disciples stole the body; as death came by woman, so salvation and life should be announced by her; and finally God wanted to reward the woman’s active love. But why is our learned scholar ignoring the obvious? It was the women alone who went to the tomb on Sunday morning, the women, and none of the men, not even John. They weren’t detained by fear or grief.  They weren’t allowing their busy schedule to stop them from serving God.  They made time because God was worthy of their time.  They continued to love their Lord because He first loved them.  This is why they were honored by being made the messengers of the Gospel to the men. If the Eleven men had also gone out early that morning, the story would have been different, but the love of these women receives its fitting reward. 

CONCLUSION: Are there any men here this morning who might learn a thing or two from the experience of 11 other Christian brothers who lived more than 2000 year ago.  If so, let them mentor you.  Let them speak to you and teach you about how life changing a real relationship of service to Jesus Christ can be.  You can meet with them any time you like.  They are always waiting to teach and guide you.  There words and experiences inspired and guided by Jesus Himself have all been recorded for you in the New Testament.  Let God teach you through those who went before you.  Let this be the day that you live a life that celebrates the fact that the stone has been rolled away.  Let this be the day that you meet your risen Lord and say with sincerity and excitement: CHRIST HAS RISEN FOR ME!

The Passion of our Lord!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

NOTE: Scripture only for the 7 Meditations (short messages) are provided.  Audio for Pastor Brian’s meditations are available by clicking on the link provided at each message.

Meditation 1 (John 19:1-16a)
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1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Meditation 2 (John 19:16b-22)
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So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Meditation 3 (John 19:23-24)
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23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,


Meditation 4 (John 19:25-27 )
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25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Meditation 5 (Luke 23:39-45 )
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39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Meditation 6 (John 19:28-30)
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28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Meditation 7 (John 19:31-42)
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31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness-his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth-that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

It IS The Lord’s Supper You Know!

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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If you were invited to have dinner at a close friend’s home, would you even consider telling that person that you want them to prepare something else?  Would you tell that person that their dinner plans are unacceptable, and that you would rather have them take you out to an expensive restaurant instead? If your friend served prime rib, would it be appropriate to tell everyone the next day that you had hot dogs?  Yet all around us we find many different explanations about what Jesus instituted and served on that first “Christian” Passover meal long ago.  How are we to approach this Holy meal this evening?  Let’s allow our Lord to answer this question for us; After all, it IS His Supper you know!

On the night before He died, Jesus shared with His disciples the Passover, or the Seder. But in the midst of this Seder meal, Jesus served and instituted another meal, a new meal, a meal that was to be repeated, “The Lord’s Supper.”  Tonight, through eight explanations, we will explore just what kind of meal it was and continues to be today and always will be until He returns!

I.  First, it is a historical meal.  In Exodus 12, we learn that the Seder meal was instituted as a time for the Jews to remember and to celebrate God’s saving work as He led them from captivity in Egypt towards their promised land.  God did it. Not one Israelite army stood against the mighty Egyptians; not one Jew contributed anything in accomplishing their deliverance!  Freedom came in the blackest night while Israelite families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance. Why was it called the Passover meal?  Well, it’s because the angel of death visited only the homes of the Egyptians but it passed over the homes of the Hebrew families because they had marked their homes as God directed them-with the blood of a lamb.  The Jews celebrate that event each year with humility and praise through the Seder meal.  In that meal they remember how God alone saved them; there is no room for pride. For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant dependence on God. In fact, God comes back to this event throughout the Bible as a way of describing himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Much later, in the upper room, Jesus would give Passover night an even broader significance. In a time when Jews throughout the world were bringing out their choice lambs to slaughter, eat, and remember the blood and deliverance, Jesus would now show the world that He had been selected as the TRUE Passover Lamb, not just for the Jews, but for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) came to convey a whole new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is now superior to the Passover meal in that it promises salvation not from physical slavery, but deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.

II. Second, it is a Memorial Meal That Remembers Christ’s Death on Behalf of Us All. St. Paul speaks of Holy Communion as a memorial meal in this way: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

Did you notice that each time Jesus delivered the elements of His Holy Supper that he punctuated it with the need to Remember Him?  Since the bread eaten is Christ’s body “for us” and the wine drank “is the new covenant in (His) blood” then clearly this meal is a memorial or a way of remembering Christ’s atoning death. In churches all across the world, we can find other Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper and recognizing it as a meal that remembers Christ’s death. But sadly, sometime after the zeal of the Reformation wore off, some churches began to look at HIS Holy Supper as nothing more than a memorial meal.  It is here that we need to turn our hearts towards God and receive all that He is graciously giving to us in this meal, because it is so much more than a memorial meal!

III. Third, it is a Holy Meal, because God’s very Word consecrates it as Holy.  When family, friends, neighbors, classmates or coworkers ask you “Why do you believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus?” you must quickly and simply answer that “It is God’s Word that makes it holy!”  You see, the words of consecration that Christ spoke at the Last Supper and which the Pastor repeats each time this meal is served are the very power of God. We do not say that a pastor or priest by virtue of their ordination has the power to transform the bread and wine, but rather it is the very Words of Christ spoken over the bread and wine that makes this a holy meal, presenting both bread and wine and Body and Blood. But why does God do this?  The answer to this question brings us to our Fourth explanation of what kind of meal this is.   

IV. It is a meal in which God feeds us with the forgiveness for all of our sins and serves us an overflowing cup of peace with God.  In our Gospel reading you heard Christ Himself say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” If you can only remember one thing about this meal then remember this, IT IS A MEAL OF FORGIVENESS!

Just as the preached Gospel announces and gives forgiveness through the cross of Christ to all who believe, so does this meal. In the Holy Supper, the Gospel of forgiveness is not only heard but it is also seen, smelled, touched and tasted. But why?  Because we have been wonderfully created to experience God in ways even the angels stand in awe of!  You see God created us as flesh and blood.  We experience God through our senses.  Not only does God wish us to hear and see Him through His Word, but also through the Sacrament of Baptism and His Holy Table.  It is there that He gives us the opportunity to touch, see and even taste Him in a way which was designed to build an intimate and lasting relationship with Him.  Through all of our senses, God is allowing us within His Holy Meal to experience the complete forgiveness that Christ has won for us on the cross. In the Lord’s Supper, that once-and-for- all forgiveness is freely given to each one of us who by faith, believe in His promise.  God wants you to experience the assurance that all of your sins, including the ones that are heavy on your heart right now, are completely forgiven.

This is why we teach that the Lord’s Supper is for true sinners.  If you are sorrowing and struggling over your sinfulness, then Jesus says “Come unto me ye weary and I will give you rest!”  Friends, this is not a meal for people who feel worthy, but it was instituted for those peculiar children of God who cry out “Have mercy on me Lord Jesus, a pitiful and unworthy sinner!” 

V. Fifth, it is a Meal that is God’s Work for Us, Not Our Work for Him.  Just as the Jews played no part in their deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptians, we also play no part in our Salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins.  This is all entirely the work of Jesus.  It was His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. In this holy meal, Jesus invites us to eat and drink. Can you see that it is Jesus, not us, who is the one who offers, prepares, and serves this Divine Supper?  He serves us His body “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). He serves us His blood “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). All the emphasis is on what He gives for us. Our “job” is only to receive.

VI. In our sixth explanation we are taught that this is a Meal in Which We Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood.  Most Christian traditions affirm that Christ is present somehow in the Lord’s Supper. But it’s not enough to just say that Jesus is present in this meal. Some Christians today speak of Christ’s “real” presence in the bread and wine as being spiritual.  Some will say that when Christians eat the bread and drink the wine that they spiritually ascend to Christ who is at the right hand of God. While these words of well meaning may seem harmless, we must not be deceived; remember, IT IS HIS SUPPER, NOT OURS!  Jesus clearly says “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.”  He did not say that this represents my body and blood; nor did he say ‘I am spiritually present in the bread and wine.”  No, our Savior clearly states that the bread IS His body and the fruit of the vine “IS (His) blood of the new covenant!”

We Lutherans firmly believe that this is a meal in which we consume Christ’s body and blood along with the bread and wine. We base this on the words of institution, in which Christ offers bread and says of that bread, “This is my body.” and offers the wine and says of that wine, “This is my blood.” Do we attempt to explain how this can be? No! We simply accept the plain sense of the words that the bread, somehow, is also Christ’s body, and the wine, somehow, is also Christ’s blood.

VII. In our seventh explanation, we learn that this meal is also a Family Meal that Gives and Celebrates Unity Among Those who Eat It.  The Lord’s Supper has often been called the Sacrament of unity. Why? In part, because of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

These words infer two things. First, they infer that the one bread broken and distributed signifies the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church. On most Sundays this may be difficult to understand when we receive individual bite-size wafers. But tonight I will distribute the body of Christ from one large loaf of bread.  As the bread is broken and distributed think about this concept of unity. Realize that while you may be receiving only one small piece of the loaf, every one here is being fed from the same source. 

Second, the words of Paul infer that those who partake of the one bread become one body; that is, the eating of this meal creates as well as celebrates unity. St. Paul’s point is that it is wrong to enter into communion with those with which you have no true unity – and true unity includes recognizing all of the mysteries that are given in His Holy Supper.  For us here tonight, when we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we are professing that we come together truly as a family that is one body in Christ, one in faith, and one in doctrine. When we eat this meal together, we will as one heart celebrate our Lord’s life, death and resurrection until He returns!

VIII. Lastly, in our eighth explanation, we discover that this is a Meal that is “a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.”  This phrase, taken from a Communion liturgy of Lutheran Worship, beautifully expresses another aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It is meal that is a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly meal that we will enjoy with our God. For this meal points not only backwards but also forward in time. It looks to the past and remembers, looks to the present and receives, and looks to the future and anticipates!

In this look towards the future, we are strengthened in the present.  In His Supper, we are allowed to look ahead to a time when there will be no more tears or pain, only joy and peace.  Through this Holy Communion, we are assured that no matter how difficult our current circumstances may be, through our crucified and risen Savior, we shall overcome, and feast with Him in glory forevermore!  How can this Holy Supper do all of this?  Because He says so, and after all “IT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER YOU KNOW!”  AMEN and AMEN!

You Are The Light of the World!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

In the last several weeks we have learned a lot about following a God given vision.  Tonight, we will learn that while we are busy pursuing our vision, God is also busy doing something else.  Something we probably wont see or even be aware of, that is until our work is accomplished.  While we are enthralled with the nitty-gritty of accomplishing the vision, God is also doing a work that will ultimately give a very deep significance to the vision or visions that have been monopolizing our time and attention.  You see, God has a broader and more significant agenda in mind than just fulfilling the vision He gives to us.  These aren’t competing agendas; on the contrary, as we will discover this evening, one is a necessary precursor to the other.  All of our God given visions that we are so intent on seeing through to the end are actually paving the way for something much greater.  Listen to this inspiring thought by a Christian woman named Catherine of Genoa, which was written around 1460; I think it communicates this thought pretty well.  “If we could see what we will receive in the life to come, we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven.  But God, who desires that we see by faith, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith of which we are capable.  In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.” 


Nehemiah certainly knew what it was like to wait on God and be consumed by the details of a vision.  Move the rocks, clear the debris, hall the timber, cut the timber, meet with the workers, and do it all over and over again day after day.  It could have been so easy for him to get lost in the daily routine of rebuilding the wall,  but he trusted that God was working in the background accomplishing things that Nehemiah didn’t have a clue about!


Tonight we will learn to understand God’s “parallel agenda” in Nehemiah’s life and the life of exiled Israel, and that will lead us to also understand what He ultimately desires to accomplish in our lives and the visions that He gives to us.


God’s ultimate desire for Israel was to establish her as a light to the surrounding nations.  God spoke this truth very clearly through the prophet Isaiah this way: “I will also make you a light of the nations so that My Salvation may reach to the end of the earth. [Is. 49:6b]


It was God’s desire that the pagan nations would see His activity in the life of Israel and realize, “Israel’s God is the true God!”  Israel was to be a lighthouse and a beacon!  They were to be God’s constant reminder to the nations that there is only one true God!  It was God’s desire that Israel would demonstrate God’s character to all that they came in contact with.  In this way, Israel would bring God glory and also bring salvation to the surrounding nations.


This very purpose is communicated throughout the Old Testament, beginning in the book of  Exodus where Moses led his people out of bondage in Egypt and it continued right up to the days of Nehemiah.  Throughout Israel’s history we find God intervening in ways that humbled her enemies.


Think back with me now to many of our faith stories preserved for us in the Old Testament.  Why did God ask Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho rather than attack it directly.  Because God was after something more than just the destruction of the city; He had a point to make.  He wanted the surrounding nations to be awed, not by Israel’s military strength, but by her God.  Why did God command Gideon to reduce his army from thousands to just a handful of soldiers before sending them out to battle the very large Midianite camp?  Why have a boy with a sling named David fight and slay a huge seasoned warrior?  In every case, God was up to something behind the scenes.  He was using Israel as a mirror to reflect His glory and might.


But from time to time the mirror became tarnished.  Israel would forget who was their true source of strength and glory.  She would loose sight of her God and embrace the idolatry and sinful lifestyles of her neighbors.  Each time this happened God would correct his people and adjust their image so that once again they were reflecting His glory to the world.


Eventually, Israel’s leaders refused to repent of their sins, so God allowed Nebuchanezzar to invade and destroy the nations of His chosen people.  Through captivity and the loss of her independence, God disciplined His people.  As you may have surmised, it was this captivity that set the stage for Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem years latter.


While Nehemiah was busy rebuilding the walls, God was setting the stage once again to demonstrate His power to the nations.  Notice the response of Israel’s neighbors when the wall was completed: “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” [Neh. 6:15-16]  With God’s help, Nehemiah and his crew did in 52 days what some said could never be done at all…and that was exactly the point God had planned to make all along.  Once again, Israel’s neighbors were confronted with the power and presence of the true God! While you are consumed by the details of pursuing God’s visions for your life, family, occupation, and ministry, God is up to something you may have been unaware of.  What was once true of Israel is now true of you.In the New Testament an important transition took place.  God transferred his glorious presence from Israel to the church and to individual believers.  Jesus taught us this truth with these words: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]   At one time God demonstrated His glory through the military victories of Israel, but now God’s glory has been accomplished through His direct victory over sin, death and the devil.  Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has made all things new, including our sinful hearts.  Through the cross, God has called to Himself a new nation, one that can relate to Him by faith through grace; a nation that has been sealed and marked as His dear children through Holy Baptism; a people who have mysteriously been called the body of Christ—the church.  Through Christ you have been called to reflect His glory through your personal character and lifestyle. As we slosh through the brick and mortar phase of pursuing our visions, we are able to live our lives in a way that reflects the character of Christ.  We are able to conduct ourselves in such a way that causes others to take notice.  And upon further examination of our lives, they are led to the conclusion that there is something special, something divine about our lives. God’s ultimate plan for our lives reaches beyond the visions He’s given us for our families, businesses, ministries, and finances.  He has positioned us in our culture, in our communities, and in our congregation to be a singular point of light that penetrates the darkness of sin.  You dear friends are to be a beacon in a world that desperately needs to see something divine, something that is clearly not of this world. Above and beyond the achievements associated with your visions, God the Father wants to draw people to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants to recreate them into yet more people who relate to Him by faith and follow His vision so that His kingdom…His church will grow by reaching the entire world.  And all this, He chooses to do through His obedient servants…He chooses to do this through you!   

CONCLUSION: In Nehemiah’s day, the completion of the wall highlighted God’s presence and power.  The question we are forced to consider as individuals and as a congregation as we are pursuing the various visions He has set before us is this: What is it about these visions that has the potential to point to the presence and power of God?  To borrow Nehemiah’s words, what would have to happen for people to realize that this work has been done with the help of God?  May God give each of us as individuals and as a congregation the wisdom to discover the answer to this question as we evaluate each vision in our lives and in our congregation, in Jesus name…AMEN!

[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9