Archive for June, 2014

The Cross!


Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 3A, June 29, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?  This morning we will explore that very question by looking at both our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) and our Gospel lesson (Matthew 10:34-42).  But before we get started let me share a more contemporary example of a man that both identified his cross and even bore it with great strength and dignity.

On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. Hitler’s troops had already invaded Poland, and they had just begun their Blitzkrieg advance into France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership. And unlike so many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament and unified his country with these famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” No politician today would campaign on a slogan like that.  But Churchill was a truth teller.  He called a thing what it was.

In our Old Testament lesson, we see that very same honesty and sincerity from the prophet Jeremiah.  If you remember last weeks lesson, Jeremiah had confronted the leaders of Israel with a very sobering message: God was angry with the sin of the nation; they had embraced false worship practices and even foreign gods, and as a result God would soon punish the entire nation, by allowing it to be defeated in war and exiled into Babylon.

This was a hard message for Jeremiah to declare, and yet it was the very message of God.  What else can a true prophet of God do but declare the very Word that God has given?  So a true prophet, like a true Christian always speaks only as God has spoken; he calls out something for what it is; he calls a thing what it is, just as God does.

This truth telling was an unthinkable dilemma for the Israelites; could it be true?  Is God really against His own people?  Was He now taking the side of the godless Babylonians?  “Yes” declared the prophet Jeremiah, “on account of your unrepentant sin, you will pay the consequence of that sin.  But God will not abandon you; you will never be alone.  God desired that the leaders and all of the people repent, and turn to his mercy, and His forgiving love.”

But, hard messages from true men of God always leave room for false messages from false prophets.  In essence, it pays to tell the leaders and people of a nation what they want to hear.  The people name their desire and the prophet claims it.  And not only that, he assures the people that they too, may claim the promise of glory and comfort for themselves, all in the name of God!  And that is exactly what the false prophet Hananiah did.

When Jeremiah smashed the clay jar demonstrating how God would destroy the nation of Israel, Hananiah, the leaders of the nation, and the people were incensed.  But when Jeremiah next came among the people and the leaders wearing a wooden yoke, and declaring that just as the yoke was upon him, God would allow the Babylonians to place the yoke of slavery upon His people, Hananiah sensed his opportunity to ingratiate himself to the populace, and he sprung into action.  He snatched the yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders, smashing it to pieces, and declared, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” [Jeremiah 28:2, 3]

So Jeremiah prophesied times of pain and suffering, but God promised that in the midst of it, the people of faith still could find joy and assurance, because God was still with them; He promised current comfort and future blessing, in the midst of hard times.  But the false prophet Hananiah promised that not only was God with them now, but He would also give them blessing and glory in the near future, by defeating their enemies.

So which prophet do you think the people chose to follow?  Now, I know myself, and you know yourselves and the way all of our sinful neighbors are as well, right?  Had we been there, we would also have chosen the message of Hananiah.  We would have turned away from the path of pain and embraced the promised path of peace and glory.  To borrow the tone and expression of a certain law firm’s television commercial regarding structured settlements, “It’s our glory and we want it now!”

And to all of this confusion, Jesus speaks very clearly to us with these words from our gospel reading: ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  A sword?  Isn’t that a bit violent coming from Jesus?  Isn’t He the Son of God, the Prince of Peace who brings peace to all He greets?

Yes, all of that is true, indeed. But “upon the earth” takes in the world of sinful men, and the effect of Christ’s coming. That is to say that His mission among sinful men and women, is the opposite of “peace,” namely, He comes to make war; spiritual war against sinful flesh, which is exactly what the “sword” symbolizes.  So in this great contrast Jesus is saying that peace in the sense of harmony, which we hunger for is not what His presence brings to this sinful world, rather it brings a sword, or division among sinful men and women and those who repent by turning to Christ and those who refuse.  In other words, if Christ didn’t come to save the world from its sins, the earth would remain undisturbed and ignorant of its sins and guilt, until that is, the day of its doom; the day of judgment. But Christ did come to take away the immense sin and that guilt; He came to die upon a cross and make atonement, payment in full for all sin.

So, at once a real war results with the coming of this Prince of Peace, because perverted men and women still want to cling to their sins, that is they want peace and comfort, wealth and blessings now, without the cross, and without the pain and suffering.  So they fight Christ and His gospel.  They desire the resurrection without the cross.  They desire commitment and personal decision instead of the blessed promises and work of God that is given at the font in our individual baptisms.  And hear now a great truth, Christ foresaw this effect, even in us today, and He even willed it to be so.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is your cross that you must bear?  It is the same cross that Jeremiah bore; it is confessing the very Word of God just as He gives it to us in Holy Scripture, without change.  It is calling a thing what it is; knowing and speaking to those things that are sinful and those things that are God pleasing and glorifying.  It is living for God’s glory and not for your own peace and comfort in this world, because you know that while the physical world of pain and sorrow is but for a moment, the joy and wealth of heaven that you will one day receive is eternal.

Jesus once said that “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then He also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  The tribulation that we face in this world when we cling to Christ alone will be conflict.  Conflict with our own sinful flesh, conflict with our neighbor, and even conflict with our own families.  When we stand for Christ we also stand against sin, and when we stand against sin we are by nature standing against those who cling to it rather than Christ.  If we shrink from our stand in Christ, that is if we reject the cross of confessing Him alone as Lord, we have then conversely taken the side of the false prophets and their theology that says we can have the glory that is reserved only for God and the saints in heaven, right now!  And if we do this, Jesus clearly says that we are not worthy of Him.

Dear friends, Christ is to be so precious to us that not even those we love will be able to draw us away from Him and His church.  No suffering or shame should ever be able to repel us from Him.

If this message has made you uncomfortable then allow it also to bring you peace and comfort with the promise of future and eternal glory.  This morning, Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus has paid for your sins upon the cross with His own life-blood.  He has defeated the devil, undone his deceptions, by unveiling his lies of promised glory in this world.  He has shown you the truth, and more than that He has given you His peace.  He has turned your eyes off of the promises of the world and demonstrated to you the certainty of the promises of your baptism; complete forgiveness of sins is yours forever, if you will but trust in Him alone.

Now while it is true that you receive all of this with a degree of tension, it is not so great a tension that God’s peace cannot overcome it.  The kingdom of God, the promises of His gospel, and the promise of his glory are yours right now, but they have not yet been revealed.  For now, for a little while you must hold on by faith, and trust that all things, even divisions between those closest to you will in the end, work together for your good.  And as we wait, we humbly follow our Lord and His wonderful cross, as we carry our own.  Like the people who Jeremiah preached to, we too must wait in exile, in a foreign land of sin, but we can take heart, because our Savior and His cross have overcome the world, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us as we carry our own.  AMEN!

A Love Without End… AMEN!



Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 2A, June 22, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

I want to start off our message with a quick question: “What is there in your life that you can show to others, which proves that God loves you?”  Many of us may be tempted to point others to blessings in our lives, such as the love of family, health, a good job, money in the bank, or something else that is good, which gives us comfort and peace.  But if that is how you measure God’s love for you, doesn’t that mean that Christians who do not have the love of family, good health, a good job, or money in the bank can not be certain of God’s love?  What about when the things you call blessings vanish and life is hard, does God still love you?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah continually wrestled with thoughts like these.  He was a prophet not unlike the other prophets who went before him, in that he was called to declare a message from God that was not popular with the people of God; it was a message that spoke of God’s displeasure with His people’s sin.  It was a message that foretold of God’s discipline that was coming soon; a discipline that was meant to move sinners back to their forgiving God.

Like the other prophets, Jeremiah was directed to use symbolic acts, which accented both the message and the work that God was preparing to perform among and to His people.  Our text this morning (Jeremiah 20:7-13) follows on the heals of one of those symbolic acts.  Jeremiah had just smashed a clay jar in front of the leaders of Israel with the message that proclaimed that as he had smashed the clay jar, so too, would God smash the nation of Israel on account of their sins and their falling from faith.  How did they fall from their faith?  By allowing and following foreign worship practices among them, and even by embracing foreign gods.  Seven chapters later, Jeremiah would confront the civil and religious leaders by wearing a wooden yoke on his shoulders.  This act symbolized Israel’s political submission to the Babylonians; it foretold that just as Jeremiah was yoked like a beast of burden, so too would the Israelites be taken into Babylon in captivity, as slaves.  And when it happened, all of God’s people were to know that God alone, both allowed it and caused it to happen as His way to turn His people’s hearts back to His love and care.

But God’s message to His people is not just a message for the future, but also a message for the present; that is, it is a message for the here and now.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God is telling all of His people to turn away from any hope that they have placed in their sinful leaders and foreign gods, which is both the reason and the source of “terror on every side.” Instead, they were to turn to Him alone as their source of comfort and assurance.

Now some may wonder, what kind of comfort and assurance can be found in a message that foretells of punishment?  And the answer is that even in the middle of hard times, God is promising His children that He is there with them; you are not alone nor abandoned!  But how are we similar to Jeremiah?  How can his lessoned learned help us?  Well let’s examine that question next.

We can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to share, right?  His message to those who continually reject God’s presence in their lives had to be one of bitterness and grief, bordering on despair.  Jeremiah had to be looking at his fellow countrymen and even family, and he had to be grieving.  Why?  Well, God’s forgiving love for him had changed him and filled him with a love for other sinners; a God given love.  In the end, Jeremiah’s grief was too much for him to carry.  Does this sound familiar?  Don’t we too have that same grief for children, parents, friends and neighbors who constantly seem to reject Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and the gift of grace that is given in Holy Baptism?

Like Jeremiah, we whose love is deep grieve deeply.  Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we too grieve like Samuel, who mourned for King Saul who fell in death, separated from God’s love (1 Samuel 15:35).  Like Jeremiah, we too are prone to grieve like St. Paul, who would have wished himself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2,3).  But I think that the best example that demonstrated and surpasses Jeremiah’s grief, is the grief of our Lord.  Jesus, the Son of God grieved when approaching Jerusalem, just before His death upon the cross, as He looked at it and wept, because it did not, and for many would not recognize Him as the only means of eternal happiness; the only way to approach a righteous God. [Luke 19:40-44]

Like Jesus, Jeremiah grieved because all of his preaching seemed to have failed to produce repentance or any kind of faith into the hearts of those he loved.  Try as he might, none of them seemed willing to receive the message of God’s punishment, but also a message of mercy and grace.  As he experienced the people’s growing and bitter opposition of the message God had tasked him to proclaim, he learned with great sorrow, that God’s law does not bring peace, but more wrath and punishment. [Romans 4:15]  He learned that the law of God drives unrepentant sinners deeper into sin and creates a  ferocious hatred for God.  Jeremiah learned to his sorrow, that for some people, even family members, the promise of God’s mercy, that is His forgiving love through the gospel, becomes the smell of death. [2 Corinthians 2:16]

In his struggle with grief, the prophet Jeremiah became angry with God, and accused God of tricking him.  Perhaps you too, have had that same experience with God; and experience that seems to befall you just because you love Jesus and His gift of grace, and feel compelled to share it with those you love, only to have them reject both the message and your love for them.  It hurts, right?  Maybe, you too like Jeremiah have complained to God that despite all of your witnessing and mentoring of Christ’s love, not one of your invitations to help others know Jesus like you do, has seemed to produce any results?  Maybe you have already experienced the reality that Jesus had predicted in our gospel lesson: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise agains parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my names sake.” [Matthew 10:21, 22a]

Now, while we may not be delivered over to death, to have a family member or loved one avoid you simply because you are a Christian, who can’t help but witness to Christ’s forgiving and life giving love, can be a pain that feels like death.  Jesus promises us that if we endure this pain and do not give up our hope in Him, we will be saved.  But how do we endure through what seems to be unendurable?  We pray and claim God’s promises of life and eternal hope!

Like Jeremiah, we too might be tempted to abandon our hope in God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, or we may be tempted to become a “closet Christian” and just keep our faith to ourselves.  But Jeremiah tells us that if we do that, we will just experience what he experienced when he tried to stop preaching.  He could not do it, because the Living Word of God within him overpowered him and compelled him to speak.  But that Living Word within him also compelled him to do something else; he was compelled to speak to God in prayer; to call out to God for help and strength.

You see, deep down Jeremiah knew that he was not alone.  The Living Word of God, who is the very Son of God attends and helps us just as He attended to and helped Jeremiah; He keeps His promise that He will never leave nor forsake us.  Just as the Lord was Jeremiah’s ever-present help in times of trouble, so too He is yours.  Our Lord would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome with evil or grief, and He will not allow you to slip away either.

Just as our Lord came quickly to help Jeremiah, He promises to respond to your cries for help as well.  Like Jeremiah, we not only may call out for help from God Himself, but He also promises to respond just as He did with Jeremiah.  And when God works within our spirits and we discover that we are not alone, we too will be moved to praise God through the work of the Gospel, that is the forgiveness of sins and the presence of God and declare: “Praise The Lord!  For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers.”

Dear friends, how do we know that God loves us?  Because His Word tells us so.  No matter what life circumstances may communicate, God’s message in His Word is always one of love; a message that says you are not alone!

When you feel like giving up or taking a break from your faith, take a moment in prayer and ask God the Father to help you through His Word, to remember the depths of His love, not just for you, but for your family members, closest friends and neighbors.  Ask Him to help you remember His passion for sinners; a passion that is so deep that He sent His only Son to die for each and everyone of them.  And then continue to pray to the Heavenly Father who loves you for the ones you love; continue to point them to the cross of Jesus and the waters of Holy baptism, where they like you, may also experience the divine love without end… AMEN!

Living Pentecost Water

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost A, June 8, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Why does the church set aside and remember the Pentecost experience, which is so beautifully presented in all three of our readings (Numbers 11:24–30, Acts 2:1–21, John 7:37–39)? Is it done to create in Christians a desire to speak in strange tongues?  Is it set aside to show that there are everyday Christians and then there are super Christians who have these miraculous gifts of the Spirit?  Maybe we remember this day to remind us how far the church has fallen from the position that God desires us to be in?  Well, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “No!”

The true reason for remembering the  Pentecost experience is that it was a physical illustration for what Jesus spoke of in our gospel reading. Listen: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” [Jn 7:37b, 38]  Let’s look at these Words a little closer and allow God to teach us what we are to remember during these next 23 weeks of Pentecost; a period where we are invited to meditate on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our church, and in our community!

What we learn first is that if any of us are ever to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must first perceive a need for Him; we must have a thirst for His holy presence and power!  How are we to be given such a thirst?  Through the power of God’s Word, specifically His Law and that portion of His Word that promises to give forgiveness of sins.  It is the Law of God that shows us our sins and how badly we need His forgiving love!  And it is His Gospel that actually gives us that forgiveness of sins.  He gives this forgiveness to us as a wonderful gift of God, a gift that can never be earned or achieved through our own efforts.

Too many preachers today are simply leading their congregations deeper into thirst by telling them what they need to do in order to know happiness, peace, and success.  But telling someone what they need to do doesn’t ever give them the ability to do it!  And to this, along comes Jesus, and He comes with a teaching that is completely different; He actually does offer a way to quench their spiritual thirst; a way to know God’s loving and kind heart!  And where does He send them to find this spiritually thirst-quenching drink?  To Himself, that’s where!

Jesus is telling us that all other sermons that preachers preach are simply the fancies of a sinful mind.  He is telling us that there really is no way to be right with God except by coming to Him!  Except by coming to Jesus through faith, there really is no way to bring peace to a conscience that knows it daily sins against God!  Our sinful consciences long for one thing more than anything else; they long to hear, “Your sin is forgiven!”  When we can hear these Words and believe them, then and only then will our spiritual thirst be quenched!

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  In these words Jesus is telling us that outside of His message of gospel peace we wont find one single drop of comfort, comfort that can satisfy our thirst!  Outside of this invitation to come to Him and drink and rest, there is only more thirsting and tormenting of our terrified conscience; a conscience that is really dying of thirst!

But what happens after we drink?  What happens after we simply receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  Well Jesus says that “Whoever believes in Him, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

You see, because you have turned to Jesus, He assures you that as long as you keep coming to Him and His Words of life, you will have streams of living water coming out of you!  He is assuring you that because you come to Him, He will equip you to not only have your thirst quenched but to also help bring others to the same living water so that they too can be satisfied!  And now we are beginning to see the true miracle of Pentecost!

Through the Living Word of God, Jesus is promising you that not only will He satisfy your own thirst, but He will use you to help satisfy the thirst for forgiveness that others have!  And all of this is done through the Word of God, through the gospel!  The longer the gospel is preached and shared, the more effectively it goes out satisfying your thirst and the thirst of others. But how can simply sharing God’s Word and forgiveness of sins do all of this?  Because behind the Word is the power of the Holy Spirit!

When Jesus was speaking these Word’s the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet been poured out on all those who believed in Him.  Certainly the Holy Spirit was present, but His power to build the church and propel it out into a sinful world hadn’t yet been demonstrated.  But make no mistake, where God’s Word is there is also His power; but it is His power, and we must remember that He uses it when, where, and how He determines.  As Jesus spoke that day, the people whose hearts were prepared by the Holy Spirit began to experience a great quenching of their spiritual thirst!  And as we are listening this morning, our thirst for God’s forgiveness is also being quenched!  But how can this great work of quenching spiritual thirst, of forgiving sins be continued in a mighty way throughout history and across the entire face of the earth?  Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  And that is the reason the great day of Pentecost is worth remembering and observing!

In our reading from Acts [2:1-21], we can make a couple of noteworthy observations.  First we see that everyone was equally filled with the Holy Spirit.  That means men, women, and children; each was equally filled and equipped for the task that was given to them.  There is no need for one to desire the gifts of the other; they were equal.  So the prayer of Moses in our Old Testament reading, that asked “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” was answered! [Numbers 11:29]

Second, we see that the Spirit gave them utterance, or maybe a better way to say this is that the Spirit gave them the Words they were to speak!  And now the real question is not how did they speak, but what did they speak!

You see, if you let your focus be only on the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, well  then you are missing the whole desire and will of God!  And what is the will and desire of God?  That all sinful men and women would hear the gospel and repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved!  That all of us would come to Jesus and drink of His life giving waters!  That was the message that each one of the disciples were speaking that day and that is the message that God would have you share with your neighbors within this very community as He gives you the opportunity.  And how are you to speak and what are you to say?  Should you have some scripture memorized?  What if your nervous; what if, what if, what if!

You see, if you let your worries and fears get in the way, then you are once again taking the focus off of the giver of the gift and looking at what kind of gift you want.  Remember, God fills each of us equally.  The Spirit fills every single believer in the church and He uses every one of us according to His desire not ours.  We must simply rest in the fact that the day of Pentecost raised each of us to the same level.  Just as the Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the disciples to praise God in the way He desired on that day, so He does for us today!  Like them, our hearts shall overflow with grace and power, and our tongues will speak of that grace and power!  Each of us have been equipped by the same Spirit to confess our faith, to pray and praise!  This is our testimony to Christ’s thirst quenching and life giving waters!

So why don’t you and I have the ability like the early disciples to speak in foreign languages?  Well I suppose it’s simply because the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to!  Back then, He determined that great signs and wonders were needed to propel the church throughout the world, all so that everyone who was dying of spiritual thirst could be quenched!  I would say that He’s done a pretty good job of growing the church.  Can you think of a single country where Jesus has not been preached?  I can’t!  But just because the Holy Spirit has changed the external way He works, doesn’t mean that He isn’t working!

In Holy Baptism, where you received the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been given the gift of faith so that you can understand the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit.  By the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given faith, faith that clings to the promises of Jesus; promises, which assure you that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  By the same Spirit you are given boldness to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins and the sins of your neighbor!  You have been given boldness to declare that He is the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him.  By this faith which is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ-a gift that also gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

This is your testimony!  This is the life giving water that Jesus gave first to you and it is the very thing He desires to give to your neighbor through you!  When each of us gathers to hear the Word and receive the sacraments we are being given the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and share these things.  And when we do this, we see the body of Christ growing; this is the true miracle of Pentecost!  It is a symphony of confession, testimony, prayer and praise that rises up to the Holy throne of Jesus Christ in every language across this sinful world.  This is the desire and will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is the very mission that He has equipped you for!  May God continue to do His Pentecost work within each of our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7A, June 1, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” [John 17:6-8]

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special and not of this world?  Another way to say this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world do not understand.  Do we really have something special, or are we too, doomed to find truth in these words of William Shakespeare’s 5th Act of the play Macbeth.  Listen: “Tomorrows, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.  And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle; life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and signifying nothing.”

Is Shakespeare right?  Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning?  What is the meaning of life?  This morning on this Lord’s Day, we speak the meaning of life in these words, “He has risen.  He has risen indeed.”  And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we who trust in Christ alone, along with Holy Scripture alone, Grace alone and Faith alone.  And that dear friends, is precisely that “something special” that we have, which not only brings us comfort and peace, but is also unites us as one, around the promised hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  And all of this comes to us only through God’s Word, that is it comes through…

I. Scripture Alone: In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw their Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the study and declaration of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to make a motion to the assembled congregation, that the apostolic office once occupied by Judas should be filled.  Judas Iscariot, the one who not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but took his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stands before the assembly and begins to apply scripture to their situation.  How so?  Well in this way, as the Spirit worked within Peter, he was reminded of two portions of Holy Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, led by the Words spoken in Psalm 69, Peter proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, God is assuring His church, that the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by the other apostles.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, when Peter declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

Now this is where we must pause for a moment and discuss just what the Word apostle means, and who the apostles were.  The English word apostle, finds it’s origin in the Greek word apostolos, which means one who acts as an envoy, an ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent.  If we were simply to take this dictionary meaning of the word, we might be tempted to say that we are all apostles, with pastors being the head apostles of a church and the members being subordinate apostles.  But language is living and it’s meaning is defined by the one who is speaking.  In other words, context is everything!  If we continue reading our text, we will discover that in verses 21 and 22, Peter defines the type of candidate that can rightly be called an apostle.  This person must be a male, for Peter says that he must come from “one of the men who have accompanied us” and he must have been with Jesus “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us (that is he must have been present to see Jesus ascend into heaven).”  But perhaps the most important qualification for an apostle sent out to preach, teach and confess the saving message of the gospel to a world that is dying of sin is laid out in these words, “One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”  In other words, the one who is chosen to replace Judas must have been a witness to Christ’s resurrection, and he must  be able to declare with confidence as a material fact, that “He is risen indeed!”

The motion having been made and seconded was accepted in one accord.  And what do we hear next?  Was there a call for the question, or a lengthy discussion as to who the candidates would be?  Was there an election of the voters’ assembly?  No, instead, being that there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the office, they brought them before the assembly and prayed, saying: “You Lord (that is Christ alone), know the hearts of all (people), show (us) which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.  And they cast lots for (Justus and Matthias) and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven” that is, he became the twelfth apostle.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chose His apostles.  It is by the unmerited favor of God, that is by grace alone that any were chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  Neither you or I, nor any other person who is living today can claim to be, under Peter’s definition, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  But, what we can claim with certainty is that we are not just his disciples and servants, but his brothers, and a child of Almighty God the Father.  We can claim this truth because in our baptism and the continued reception and use of God’s means of Grace, we are daily called by grace through faith into this relationship.  And it is a faith that continues to come to us through God’s chief means of Grace, His Holy Word.  You will need this Word every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

II. Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to obediently make that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Last Sunday, in both our message and my little talk at our pot-luck and congregational meeting, I implored each of you to understand how important it is for you to not just be present here at church, but also active so that God’s grace through His gifts, that is His means of grace will be active, life changing and life sustaining among us, so that we can be of “one accord.”  That is, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

III. Faith Alone– It is that very thing, which alone allows you to receive and believe through the eyewitness testimony of the twelve apostles, that not only has Christ died to save the World, but also He died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed,” but you can also say with the certainty of faith,  “He has risen for me.”  That is, through Holy Scripture, the ancient teaching of the apostles of Christ’s church, I can say for certain that because He lives I too shall live with Him forever.  Because he died to save sinners, He died to save me, and in my baptism, He has given all of this to me.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, I stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled by God Almighty.

Dear friends, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not a cleverly devised myth perpetuated by the teachers we see today, proclaiming to be “apostles” of Christ.  But rather, it was testified by the official eyewitnesses of Jesus’s public ministry, by people such as Matthias.  That is good news for you; it is a promise and guarantee that you too will inherit the eternal kingdom of God in a new body created by God, and brought home by God.  And where you go when this promise of God is fulfilled, will be the best news of all… you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself.  He is risen… indeed, and so shall we.  AMEN!