Archive for February, 2015

Test, Testimony, and Faith

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Lent 1 B, February 22, 2015

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

Genesis 22:1-8

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In our Old Testament lesson, we discover exactly why Abraham is the father of all who have ever been given and struggled to hold onto faith in the God of grace and mercy, and His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Or as we sang in the Children’s message, “Father Abraham has many sons.  I am one of them, and so are you” by and through that same faith that propelled and sustained Father Abraham.

Our message this morning will address the things that test our trust in God, the testimony that our test supplies after the test over, and the faith that grows throughout the process.

Can we all agree from the out set that tests of our trust in God are seldom enjoyable? I know that if Abraham could speak to us this morning, he would tell you that at the time, his test seemed like a living hell; that is the love and mercy of God seemed completely absent within the command of God.

What we must remember is that Abraham had recently went through and passed a test that almost broke his trust in God. What was that test?  God asked Abraham to send away his first-born son Ishamel, who was born through his wife’s servant Hagar.  He had to send the mother and son away because they were not part of God’s plan, or if you will, they were a product of no faith in God.  God had already promised both Abraham and Sarah that the coming Savior of the world would come through Sarah’s son and no other.  But Sarah, through a fearful spirit that lacked trust in God convinced her husband Abraham to lie down with and conceive a child with Hagar; this was a relationship that lacked trust in God and sought to bring a solution, a savior by the will of man and not in accordance to the will of God.

Sending Ishmael away had been difficult for Abraham, but now God is asking him to do what seems impossible; he must sacrifice the son of the promise. In this testing of Abraham’s faith, God was not out to discover the truth; He knew in advance that Abraham feared and loved God, but rather the test was for Abraham’s spiritual benefit. Abraham’s love for Isaac, as right and good as it was, had the potential in time, to crowd out or surpass his love for God. Jesus once said that, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

In God’s view, Abraham needed an opportunity to consciously put God first, above all things, even above his dear son Isaac. With this test God brought Abraham’s training in faith to a climax. The particular sacrifice God asked Abraham to bring is called a burnt offering, a blood sacrifice that in the Old Testament symbolized a person’s complete dedication to God.

What we must remember is that Abraham did not know that this was just a test of his love and trust in God’s promise until later. God did not say: “Abraham, don’t worry; this is only a test.” But God did tell Abraham that Isaac was to be the bearer of the messianic promise, and now he told him to kill that son. God’s words had been very clear: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac” (17:21). To Abraham it must have seemed that God’s command was now destroying God’s promise.

What test of your faith have you gone through or maybe are going through today? Maybe you too are struggling with establishing boundaries in your relationships, which ensure that God is not replaced by our love for others, not even with a spouse or children.  Have you failed to say no when you should have, in order to protect your relationship with God?  Or maybe you have turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior of a loved one, so that you could continue to have them present in your life?  Or maybe your fear is centered in death?  Are you afraid of your death or the death of a loved one more than your fear and trust in God?

Can you imagine what went through Abraham’s mind all that night as he prepared to make the trip to the mountain of the Lord?  (Talk about your sleepless nights.)  And then the next morning, Abrham had to make a day long trip to the mountain.  Time can be the greatest asset of the devil as he continually attempts to whittle away at our trust in God’s Word.  He is an expert at it.  He used that tactic against Adam and Eve when he asked, “Did God really say if you eat the fruit of the tree you will die?  You will not die, but you will be and know as God knows.” In other words, God is holding out on you!

Let me put this test into a scenario that you might understand a little more clearly.  Suppose that there is a specific sin that you have been struggling with, and each time you have fallen to this sin you have repented and received the absolution and the resolve to master it once and for all, only to fall to it again.  You know that you have been baptized and salvation has been given to you; you have the promise of God through Christ that He will never forsake you or send you away.  But the devil and your own guilty conscience keeps throwing both your sin and your struggle in your face with these words: “You and your faith are a joke.  If you were a real Christian you wouldn’t keep falling into this sin.  Yes you are baptized.  Yes you say that you have faith in Christ, but maybe this time you have fallen into sin one too many times.  Maybe God no longer desires to save you?”  When these attacks and thoughts assail you dear Christian, you must turn to the same source that Abraham turned to, the promises of God.

When Abraham reached the mountain of the Lord, He ordered the servants to stay while he and Isaac went on ahead. What Abraham told his servants are words that are important for both His trust in God and ours.  Listen: “I and the boy will worship. Abraham was obediently following the will of God and he rightly describes that act of obedience as worship. In essence he was saying: “Lord, you have my heart.”  But it is what he says next that demonstrates God’s mighty presence in his life; he says, “And then we (that is I and the boy) will come back to you.” In this statement, we see that Abraham had resolved and answered an awful question that had been torturing him: “How can a merciful God cut off the messianic line?” Abraham’s faith answered, “He won’t!  If God commands me to kill Isaac and I obey him, then God is simply going to have to bring Isaac’s ashes back to life, and the two of us are going to come back down this mountain.  Amen!”

“Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice? That was Isaac’s question, and it should be the question of every sinner who is caught within the terror of their sins.  And the answer of faith that Abraham gave is the very same answer we sinners are given today.  “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

The Testimony. “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said.  “Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place Jehovah Jirah, The Lord Will Provide.”  And so it is true for all of us today who trust in the Lord’s promise to save us from our sins.

Here is Abraham’s testimony to us this morning.  He was called to obey God’s command; he was asked to disregard everything his heart and reason told him was good and right, and he was told to concentrate completely on God’s promise: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac.”  The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says it this way: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

This morning God is asking you to go against your reason and put to death your fears and your worries that can interfere with His promise to you that through His work within your baptism, you have been saved.  He wants you to see that the Lord does provide even now.  Hear him call your name dear Christian, as He says, “Do not think that you have sinned beyond my ability to save.  I see your struggle and fears and I know that you fear me, because you do not hide your sin from me, even that powerful sin that you fight so intensely.”

And now dear saint, look up from within your grief and shame and see the substitute who will atone for your great sin.  See Him trapped within the thicket of your sins, dying upon a cross, and atoning for the sins of the world; even your sins.  See Him dying alone on the mountain of the Lord, on Calvary and know that God does still provide; He provides His one and only Son Jesus Christ.  He does that one thing that only He can do.  He gives and He dies.

Isaac was never to die as atonement for sin, and it is God’s will that none of us will die for ours either.  God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  Repent then.  Turn to the final sacrifice and trust in the promises of God; refresh your spirit again.  How, by…

Faith, (which) is a gift of God that is tested and witnessed to by those God calls and equips to testify of His forgiving love for sinners. Father Abraham indeed has many sons.  We are all sons of the promise of forgiveness of sins, which is fulfilled through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  You can believe in this promise, because the Lord has sworn to Himself, the highest source of verity, that through the example of faith that Abraham displayed, faith that is always the work and gift of God,  not just Abraham, but all who repent, will be blessed with this same gift of faith; faith in the substitute of God that atones for the sins of the world.

Therefore we sinners should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised to you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it.

Dear friends, these stories of the testing of Abraham’s faith have been passed onto us so that we may be encouraged in our own trials and say with Abraham: “Though I struggle so deeply with my sin, because God has given me faith to trust in His promised forgiveness through Jesus Christ, my own grave where I will one day be laid in dust and ashes will simply be a place of rest. The fact that your flesh will die has absolutely no implications on the promises of forgiveness and resurrection that have been given to you in your baptism through the Word of God.

During this Lenten season we are sustained by both God’s Law and His Gospel with these two statements which God made first to Adam and then to us—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and “The Seed (of the woman) shall crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15)  That is, God’s substitute who dies our death shall as promised to Abraham, destroy, conquer, and possess the gate of his enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, let me share these closing words of Luther who desired that the church would know the great blessing it has by this example of Abraham and the promise that was given to him and to each of us this morning: “We, too, who believe that this Seed (of the woman who is the Son of God) is our blessing, have good reason to glory and act proudly over against all the gates of hell and (even) against Satan himself. To be sure, we are compelled to bear the hate and cruelty of our enemies; but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Since we are Christians and believe in the Seed who blesses us, why should we care if the devil or the world is angry? For all we care, let them take away what we have, and let them kill the body. They will not for this reason keep us in death, will they? Not at all, for we are blessed and are sure of life over against death and of the grace and favor of God over against the hatred of the world.”  AMEN!

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 15, 2015

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

Mark 9:2-9

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life?  Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.  In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.  And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death!  Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them.  Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.”  He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here?  This isn’t what I signed up for!  What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed of Jesus” the Messiah?”  You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.  And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.  Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power!  It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom!  It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared.  And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience.  The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words.  All he seemed to care about was the glory!  He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!”  So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).”  Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question?  And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next?  A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over.  Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone.  But why?  Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing.  He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too? We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual.  We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated!  We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual!  You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments.  For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening.  Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better.  We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad?  No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship.  So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did?  I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus.  That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it?  Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us!  This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews.  For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need.  When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one.  Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying.  And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious.  They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs.  They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done.  There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus.  Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus.  Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.  What did it all mean?  Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again.  Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong? It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience.  How does God make things right?  By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word:  “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience.  What is the experience?  Dying and living and Living and dying.  In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love.  In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins.  In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death.  In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence.  In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you.  And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes.  What He molds, He fills.  And what He fills, He uses.  So now, you live!  Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

This is the true nature of our hidden life in Jesus. When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus.  He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, suffering and dying for sinners.  He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints.  How does He do that?  Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead?  Well that time has come and gone.  In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means!  They are telling them that they are free of shame, worry, and fear.  So now, guess what?  It’s your turn to share the good news.  But you can only do that if you come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus.  The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

Are you a little afraid to share this good news?  That’s alright; Peter and the others were afraid too.  They didn’t want to leave the safety and awesomeness of their worship experience, but they had to, because Jesus led them out, and He’ll lead you too!  Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain.  But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us.  When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world.  Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration.  And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Same Word—Different Teaching

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Epiphany 4-B, February 1, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” [Mark 1:22]

Have you ever tried to explain to someone why you are a Christian?  It can be a little frustrating can’t it?  The reason for that is because you are trying to explain a mystery, which is the power and work of the Word of God to someone who has not yet experienced that power and work.  The bottom line is that faith is experiential; you’ve got to taste and see that the Lord is good, before you can know that the Lord is good.

Now don’t get me wrong here; folks who haven’t yet received faith can hear or read the Word of God preached and taught and be astonished and agree that the message has great authority, but then they will simply turn away unchanged.  This morning we will look at a few reasons for why that happens.

The first reason that faith will not come through God’s Word is because folks just wont listen.  In our Old Testament lesson [Deuteronomy 18:15–20], we join Moses towards the end of his farewell sermon.  He is explaining to the people that God put under his care that he will not be with them much longer, but he is leaving them with hope.  He promises them that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’”

Now we may ask our selves, “Who is this coming prophet like Moses?  Was it Moses understudy, Joshua?”  And the answer is, “No.”  Moses described the coming prophet as a man who would be like him, or a man who enjoyed a unique relationship with the Lord, similar to the one that Moses had.  This new prophet would know God and talk to Him face to face just as Moses did, and as He spoke to Moses, so He would speak to the new prophet, clearly and not in riddles; he too, would see the form of the Lord and live! [Numbers 12:6-8]

Moses also promised that this prophet would come from among the people’s own brothers.  In other words, he would be a fellow Israelite, who could trace His family tree back to one of the sons of Jacob.  But why did they need another prophet?  Because the fear Israel felt at Sinai when God spoke His Law in thunder and fire was real; the people were terrorized.  This is the kind of terror that people will always feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands within His Law; demands that force the people to recognize and deal with their own sins.  But because He would come from among them, they would also find the very reason not to listen to Him. “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  [Isaiah 53:1-3]

Here is a truth that will never change.  It was a truth for the folks that Moses was preaching to and it is true for us this morning: We can’t understand the impossibility of being right with God until we have have tried our hardest to be good and then finally admit that on our own, it is impossible to be good.  In essence, the Law of God teaches us that we are doomed unless God makes a new way; a way out of no way.  When we arrive at this point of desperation, we finally come to the terrifying moment when we simply turn to God’s mercy and say, “If there’s to be any hope for me at all, it has to come from you God.  I can’t do it!

Well hold on brother, change is coming; God is about to speak hope…

I (the Lord your God) will raise up for (you) a prophet (who is) like you from among (your) brothers. And I will put My Words in his mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command him.”  In our Old Testament lesson we are given a clear prophecy about the coming prophet, the Messiah, the Savior of God.  He not only speaks for God to the people, but He brings a new message; a new Word of hope that Moses did not teach.

Please understand the conundrum of the Jews and all others who live trying to fulfill the Law of God.  By there perspective, there simply cannot be another Word from God outside of the Ten Commandments and Law of God, because the Law of God is complete perfection.  You can’t add to it or take away from it, because the Word is God.  So this is another impediment to receiving the gospel.  But God can speak a new Word, can’t He?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1:1-5]  And now comes He who is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, a brother to humanity through His mother the blessed Virgin Mary, and the very Son of God the Father.  And indeed, He brings a new Word; He brings the Gospel, the message of sins forgiven.

It is to this One, the Son of God and the Son of Mary that we are to listen to.  Through Him the ministry of the Law has ended and the work of grace has begun.  He did not come to do away with the Law but to fulfill it; to fulfill it for you.  He did that work upon the cross, for you!

Where the teaching of Moses brings terror and death as a minister of the Law, the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks new life into Moses listeners, and then He gives that life abundantly.  So we can say that the sin and anger of God that Moses teaching arouses through his ministry, the gospel of Jesus Christ cancels through righteousness and grace, which comes through His ministry of forgiveness of sins!  This is why Moses directs both Jews and Gentiles to listen to Him!

How do you know that God loves you and forgives your many sins?  Because He has told you so in His Word and His holy sacraments.  He has promised you that your sins are removed from you and shall not be held against you, and all you must do is receive and believe this gift.  But like the Law of God, if you try to add or take away any of this gospel message, all you will have achieved is the loss of the gift.  Do you truly know who Jesus is?  The demons know, and they are not afraid to tell you either.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 1:21–28) we discover this startling account of what the demons know about Jesus: “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”  Now I don’t know about you, but I find this amazing, and here is why.  We first must ask ourselves why would the demons antagonize Jesus, when they know full well that He is God in human flesh?  And the answer is in the question—Because He is God in human flesh.  Nothing happens unless God allows it to happen.  I believe that the demon was compelled to speak so that the folks in the pews would be forewarned and equipped to stand up against the devils schemes.

Another question we might find ourselves asking is, “Can this happen still today?”  An the answer is simple: “Sure it can.”  But let me pose another question for you: Why would the demons need to interrupt our worship hour and our study of God’s Word when there are so many sinful men and women willing to be his tools?  And that is the third impediment to receiving the gospel, other people.

You have heard me say so many times that people are not our enemies; sin, death and the devil are our enemies.  And while this is true, people can be the tools of our enemies, especially the devils.  And speaking of tools, perhaps the most dangerous tools threatening the church today are the false teachers.  You know them, don’t you?  They’re on T.V. and they’re preaching this very hour in churches throughout the world.  They are the Jesus plus crowd.  In their messages, they will not allow you a moments peace or relief from your sins unless you add to Jesus’ gospel certain steps that they will gladly define.  They will tell yo that they preach and teach this message in order to kill your sin and make you more holy.  They are also the ones that promise you that if you follow their ministry, you will have an even more abundant and successful life.  They speak of things like a second baptism of the spirit and a greater dispensation of gifts.  But this morning, Moses warns us that “the prophet who presumes to speak a word in (God’s) name that (He) (has) not commanded him to speak, shall die.”

Beware of the false prophets who preach this new message, because it is simply the message of Moses that has been wrapped to seem like the gospel.  Beware of them, because their fate is decided if they will not repent. And like the devils they have no fear of God, but simply spout forth filth in order to disturb you children of faith who gather around God’s message of grace and forgiveness.  But unlike the devils, it is not to late for them if they will simply receive Jesus alone.

So what about God’s Law?  Are we truly free of it?  Yes, but you still need it; not to bring you eternal life, but to help you become all that God’s Word has spoken and accomplished through the work of the cross and the waters of your baptism; you are forgiven!  And now your heart is at peace with God through faith in the promise of God.  And this peace is already working within you and changing you.  First you are compelled by God’s Spirit to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord.  By the continued preaching of the Word, you are daily led to confess your sins that remain within you to God who is faithful to forgive them.  By the preaching of this Word you have been saved, and through your sharing of this same Word, others are saved just as you are, and so, the Kingdom of God grows.

And as the Kingdom of God grows through the proclamation of the gospel message, so does the same hostility that the New Prophet, the Son of God faced, but now it is you who must by faith stand up under these attacks.  The advancement of the Kingdom of Christ is at the same time your calling and the instrument that will bring persecution and your cross to bear.  The world will not hear or  receive the gospel, because they will not allow the Law to do its proper work, which is to destroy their sinful nature.  Not only will they fight the preaching of the true gospel, but they will attempt to humiliate all who cling to it.  Why?  Because the world is in darkness and it hates the light.  So they as tools of the devil will attack your faith and test it.  But God uses this testing as a means to grow our faith until our hope is made perfect, which ultimately makes us sure of our salvation.

Finally, while it is true that our old sinful nature has been declared dead by the Word of the gospel, we must continue to fight it and put it to death, and we do this with the Law of God.  But the we also still need God’s Law within our hearts so that we can be a help to our neighbors.  It is the law that reminds us that we must demonstrate both the love of God and a relationship of kindness, peace, and goodness that we have found with Him through Jesus Christ.  AMEN!