Archive for February, 2016

Know Your Enemy

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

3rdSunday in Lent-HL, February 28th , 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

The song you just heard, “Sympathy For the Devil” by the Rolling Stones will be our mental and audio hook to hang our message on.  Contrary to what Mick Jagger just sang, not only does the Devil not want you to identify him, he doesn’t even want you to believe that he’s real.  But Scripture makes it clear that Satan and the devils do exist.  However shocking that may be to some people, we have to get this settled as a fact; you see without this truth being known and believed, we will easily fall for any and all of Satan’s dark traps and illusions. The Devil is mentioned in the Bible’s most important sections, in the Gospels, and in the very words of Jesus; his existence is an entirely unavoidable reality of life.  So, let’s look at first what Jesus says about the Devil, and then will discuss why he isn’t a threat to we who are baptized and trusting in Christ for our complete redemption and salvation.

Jesus often calls the devil Satan.  This is a Hebrew word which means enemy or adversary. Satan really is the enemy of God, and at every turn he fights God and tries to prevent His good purposes, and those purposes of God are to save sinful humankind.

Satan is the source of all evil in the world.  From Him come all of our evil purposes and sinful decisions.  From him came all things that create pain and tragedy; all things that break down bodies and souls, families and whole communities.  It was Satan who put it into the mind of Peter to attempt to persuade Jesus to avoid His trip to Jerusalem where He was to be crucified upon a cross that would ultimately defeat Satan and destroy his claim over you.  It was Satan who put it into the mind of Judas to betray Jesus.  It is he who sows the tares among the good seed of God’s Word.

Satan is also called the devil.  This is a Greek word, which means “the Condemner.”  This name reminds us of another side of his nature.  He accuses us before God.  But the devil doesn’t just accuse us for sport; he accuses us because he is trying to trick us into falling away from God.  He wants us to think that we have disqualified ourselves from God’s mercy because we have sinned beyond God’s grace.  When Satan accuses us in this way, he is showing his evil lust for our souls, in that he is trying to make us turn from God’s Kingdom of grace and power, and then embrace his own kingdom of evil and death, which only is an illusion of power.  He is trying to trick us into thinking that we belong in his kingdom, not God’s.  And if we believe Satan’s lies, that is if we reject God’s truth, we can sadly become what Jesus called “children of the devil” or children of evil who do what their father, the devil, desires.  Therefore Jesus calls him a “murderer from the beginning,” that is, a destroyer of souls that rejoices to bring humankind to destruction.

Here is a truth worth remembering: All of humankind are separated from God at birth, and we are naturally under the dominion of the murderer of souls, Satan.

Jesus called him “the ruler of this world.”  He speaks of the devil’s kingdom and compares Satan to a strong man who guards his household, armed to the teeth, watching over his treasures.  But note the stronger One, Jesus Christ has come and has conquered him and taken from him all his weapons.  That means that Christ has redeemed us from our sins.  The devil has to shut his stinking and accusing mouth around our King Jesus, and he has no claim over we whom Christ has redeemed and claimed as His own.

As the tempter, the Devil can continue trying to entrap and snare us.  But he knows that his days are numbered.  We who believe in Jesus are safe and secure.  But we are not safe and secure because of anything we have done or think we can do, but instead all of our salvation rests solely on what God has done both upon the cross of Christ, and within the waters of our own baptism.

Upon the cross of Christ, God has freed the entire world from the penalty of sin by placing that chastisement upon His Son.  This is a gift that is completely free and universal for all sinful mankind.  But this general gift must become personal for each and every sinner.  And in Holy Baptism God does this very thing; He saves YOU from YOUR sins.

In our Old Testament lesson we see a glimpse of this strategy, when God spares the Israelites who were living in the land of Goshen from the swarms of flies.  He would use this same strategy another time after He sent the angel of death into the land of Egypt to strike down the first born of both humankind and animal kind; all first born accept the homes of the Israelites that applied the blood of a lamb to the door posts of their homes.

In Holy Baptism, in your baptism the blood of The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ was applied to the door post of your very heart and being.  It is a hedge of protection that God has emplaced both around and within you, which tells the devils very clearly, “Hands off; this one is mine!  I have bought this sinner by paying a dear price.”

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1]

Do you understand that through Christ and your baptism, you are actually a child of the Living God?  And what child who is loved and cared for by their parents, would not want to imitate and learn how to live from them?  So too, we as legitimate sons and daughters of God have both reason and motivation to imitate Him.  We are His beloved children.

How do we imitate God?

We imitate God in love.  As God loves us, so too, we learn to love Him; not with our own natural love but with the superior heavenly born love that He gives to us.  There is a very special model of love we are to mimic and follow and it was spoken of in verse two of our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 5:1-9), listen: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

How did Christ show His love for us?  He gave Himself for us.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to cause us to remember this, even in the midst of the terrible attacks of the enemy, He reminds us that God loves us and hasn’t abandoned us.  The Father proves His love for us by sending His only begotten Son to die for us, in our place, so that we too, may each become sons and give ourselves to Him.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ proves His love for us by not only coming to us as one of us, but also dying for us, in our place.  But then He does something marvelous, He takes His life back up again from the dead and ascends back to His Father.  And then He does something wonderful; He promises us that where He goes so too, we shall follow Him and be with Him.

So, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things (these empty and meaningless words) the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them (don’t mimic them or want to be like them, because that would be going backwards into enslavement); for at one time you were darkness (like them), but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”  [vs. 6, 7]

You dear saints have been covered in your baptism with Christ’s very own robe of righteousness. To our Heavenly Father, you are that same fragrant offering and sacrifice of Christ that pleases Him so.  That being said…

Why would you want to go back to the stench of sulfur, the smell of the lord of this dark world?  Why would any of us want to turn our backs on the Kingdom of Light only to re-embrace the kingdom of darkness?  In this world, the lord of flies, Beelzebul reigns but only for a time.  His kingdom only exists of death; rotting flesh and flies.

The Kingdom of God is for us the Kingdom of Grace.  It is the rule of God’s grace here on earth, and of power and glory to come for us when we are called to our place of glory in heaven.  It passes far beyond our temporary existence of flesh where sickness and disease exist and it passes into eternity where our inheritance and glory in God’s Kingdom of Glory is waiting.

Unlike kingdoms here in this sinful world, where the kingdom makes the king, in heaven, the King, our King Jesus makes the Kingdom.  We haven’t been invited and accepted into His Kingdom as subjects, but rather we will be welcomed as heirs, joint heirs with Jesus; that means that we have an inheritance waiting for us in Christ’s Kingdom. [Romans 8:17]

Dear friends, don’t let the devils deceive you. Don’t think for one moment that the devils may not be watching you.  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]  But don’t look for a scary red skinned demon with horns.  That is simply a fairytale depiction for weak minds.  Instead, be on the lookout for regular folks that are either flirting with the kingdom of darkness or may even have both feet firmly planted there.  They are the tools that Satan will use to entice you to first doubt His existence, and ultimately the very person of Jesus Christ, your Champion who freed you from that world.

May this knowledge of the enemy and the greater knowledge of your Lord Jesus keep your hearts and minds in the peace and power of God until the day He calls you home to receive the inheritance He has prepared for you.  I ask this, in the name of Jesus… AMEN!

On Little Sins and Big Sins

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2nd Sunday in Lent-HL, February 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

People often find it easy to make a distinction between little sins and great sins.  I suppose that is to be expected because we all know that there are some sins that are pure scandal.  There’s always particularly bad people that all respectable people avoid and condemn.  It has always been this way; even in the time of Jesus.  Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, “There are little sins and big sins.  Your sins are big and mine are little.”  As humorous as that is, there is a degree of truth to that saying; truth that is, in how we like to judge our own sins.

Speaking of truth, here’s one, Jesus never classified sins.  Instead, He stressed that all sins were evil and enough to disqualify sinners from entering the Kingdom of God, and yet He showed His love for sinners by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; by answering the prayer of a Canaanite woman, who in the eyes of the Jews, was the equivalent of a wild feral dog.

In our message this morning, we must remember three things: 1. People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. 2. There are no sins so great that they can’t be forgiven by grace and through faith in Christ. 3. There are no sins so little that they don’t need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. That is to say, just because someone seems to be living a blameless life according to a moral code, doesn’t mean that they have that same standing before God.  You see, God looks within the heart of sinners.  Those things that seem perfectly fine in the sight of men can many times be offensive to God.

When we say that God looks within the hearts of sinners, what we mean is that He looks to see if a sinner is in agony, sorrowing over their sins, any and all sins.  To bring sorrow to sinners, God determined long ago to use that portion of His Word we call the Law of God, which demands that men and women live holy and perfect lives as God is holy and perfect.  When the Law shows us how we fail to do that, then the Law of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit to become as a mirror to sinners.  This mirror of God shows sinners how utterly hideous they are on account of their sins, and then it shows them how lost within the grasp of the devil they are.  At this point, the point of despair, the Word of God then becomes like a brutal hammer that deliberately crushes all of the self reliance out of sinners.  When this happens, it is God’s will that the sinner would cry out to Him for mercy.

This cry for mercy then, is the only prayer that God will hear from a sinner who is not one of Jesus little lambs; it is a prayer that catches the ear of God so to speak, and through this cry of mercy, the heart of the sinner is being prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel, that is the sinful heart has become fertile soil to receive a gospel seed that will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit.  This is then a picture of a sinner who has been prepared to hear the good news of a Champion, the Savior of the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is willing to be their Savior as well.

So the truth is that there can be no acknowledgment of sin by a sinner out side of the convicting power of God’s Law, and there can be no forgiveness out side of the Gospel Word, which is the message about forgiveness of sins completely through Jesus Christ alone.  But here is another truth worth remembering…

There are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in Jesus. The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is a classic example of this, and also the Canaanite woman in our gospel lesson. [Matthew 15:21–28]

Sins are a mysterious thing, even for Christian folks.  Sins have a tendency of clinging to us.  Even after we’ve heard the gospel, and received the sweet absolution of our Lord, many times those sins still seem to hound us.  Why do you suppose that is?  Could it be that we lack faith in God’s promise to forgive?  Or could it be that the devil or someone controlled by the devil has convinced us that some particular sin that we’ve committed just might be to big for grace to pardon; to terrible to be forgiven?  The truth is, even those great sins that seem to linger in our minds like the smell of death, they have to be released when this Gospel message is declared, “Believe in Jesus Christ, and all will be forgiven.”

All sinners, even baptized and redeemed sinners like you and me, we have this sinful tendency to want to do something, anything that will pay for our sins; like I said, that too is a sin.  It’s a sin because it sets aside the blood of Christ that was poured out to cover our sins, and treats it as if it’s nothing.  It sets aside the gift of God’s love that was poured out into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and calls that insufficient.

But God’s Word gives each of us the ability to put to death these sinful thoughts and desires, listen: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Christ Jesus we have access to the Father.” [Romans 5:1-2]  You see, God wants you to believe in the work of Jesus, that is He desires that you receive that work as a certainty that your sins, all of them are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice, “who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for YOU. [Romans 3:25]  And even more amazing, this promise of forgiveness from God becomes effective for you, when you place all of your faith in the mercy of God as poured out for you through Christ.  In other words, this atoning sacrifice for sin, was and is done for you by Christ who is your Great High Priest, simply so that you can approach God in prayer with great confidence.  Not confidence in your own works, but confidence in the work of Christ alone! [Hebrews 4:14-16]

In other words, God works to empty our hearts of all self righteousness, so that He can enlarge them and fill them with faith and love that can come only through the ministry and work of Christ alone.  So, I hope by now you can see that…

There are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

The truth is, each idle word that we speak in anger, jealousy, or pride, is liable for God’s judgment, and it has to be accounted for.  [Matthew 5:22-28]  Our “little” stinging remarks, our lustful looks, our eagerness to be noticed when we do something good, our stubborn unwillingness to forgive—all these things are under the judgment of God until they are included in the forgiveness which we find in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone.  That forgiveness includes small and great sins, conscious and unconscious sins, those sins that have tortured us for years, and those that we have forgotten long ago.

Like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson, God wants us to be grieved by these sins, because they separate us from His love.  And then God wants those sins, all of them, to move our hearts to call out to Him in prayer, in Jesus name seeking the forgiveness and change that only He can bring.  Jacob was struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involved a spiritual striving with God for his blessing, which is God’s gift of grace, but it also involved a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, referred to as “the man,” later identified himself as actually being God.

Jacob’s wrestling with God continued all night long, until with merely a touch, God threw Jacob’s hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob couldn’t continue the painful struggle any longer; so God was telling Jacob to cease striving and simply trust Him and surrendered to His will.  And what did Jacob do?  He threw his arms around God and held on to him. And when God said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak” He was delighted to hear Jacob’s answer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You see, God didn’t want Jacob (and he doesn’t want us either) to be timid with him. He wants to give us great victories, especially over things like sin.  Like Jacob, we are simply to be humble and call out to God in prayer.

Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired.  Listen: “What is your name?” the Lord asked him, not because he had forgotten but because he wanted to remind Jacob that his name meant “heal grabber” or cheater.  Jacob was known as a sinner who took unfair advantage of his rival. But that old name no longer fit this man, and so God gave him a new one. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

No longer would Jacob rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposed him. Instead, he would put his trust in God’s promises of blessing and forgiveness. He had learned to lean on God; to trust Him.

Each of us needs to learn and remember this as well.  We so often need to be reminded that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in our holding firmly to what God has promised.  When we desire to live out that truth, God reminds us that in our baptism, like Jacob, we too were blessed with a new name; we were called Christian.

You know the truth is, sometimes it can feel like God’s angry with us; as if He were our opponent. Each of us has known times in our lives when we were unable to feel God’s mercy, as if He was only showing us His angry face. Jacob felt that way, but he held on to God even when God seemed like his enemy, and because of his tenacity, Jacob won a blessing. We will have that same experience too, when by faith we learn to say, “My Savior Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me and teach me to live out your sweet gift of forgiveness, which you won for me upon your cross and then gave to me in my baptism.”  And wonders upon wonders, He does that very thing as He daily reinforces our faith when we hear and study His Word, and receive His Holy meal at His altar.”

May God continue to forgive all of our sins, big and small, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Christ Is-Not Your Role Model!

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

1st Sunday in Lent-HL, February 14h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]

Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not your mentor nor your role model, but rather He is your Champion.  This morning we must fight to put aside all of the “Bumper Sticker” theology that we are bombarded with, and then concentrate on the central message of scripture: Jesus Christ, the Son of God has come to save sinners, of which, I am the chief of.

So, instead of making WWJD (What would Jesus do?) your mantra, let’s allow God to replace it with WHJD (What has Jesus done?).

Our text this morning sets the theme of our message: “The temptation of Christ.”  The Epistle lesson declares who Jesus is for you; He is your High Priest who is able to sympathize with you regarding the temptations you are confronted with, because He also was tempted, but He did not sin.  This is what Jesus has done for you; He conquered sin; He conquered Satan, and He conquered death, and He did it all for you!

Our gospel lesson joins Jesus after His baptism, as  He is being led by the Spirit of God out into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. Why?  Because He is our Champion.  He must make right what the first Adam got wrong.  He must do perfectly what God’s people Israel did so sinfully, as they also were led for 40 years in the wilderness of sin.  God tested Israel, but their sins collectively and individually led them astray, time and time again.  So, in their place, it is God’s will that Jesus, His true SON, be tempted, so that both the devil and the sinful world would know that He alone is The One Who does overcome Satan, in the place of and for the sake of God’s baptized Children of faith… For you.

The First Temptation-Have you ever asked yourself why Jesus’ first temptation was centered on hunger?  Well remember, He is making right what we sinful people have gotten wrong so often.  And the ultimate “getting it wrong” is recorded for us in the 16th Chapter of Exodus when the people became hungry in the wilderness and they began to murmur against God.  Why they even declared that it would have been better for them if they would have died in Egypt as slaves, rather than dying of hunger in the wilderness.  Instead of praying to God and asking Him to give them food, they complained.  And as we know, even manna from heaven wasn’t able to quiet their grumbling spirit.

So now, here is Jesus, God’s Son, led out into the wilderness on a personal fast of 40 days and nights.  The entire time He is being harassed and tempted by the devil.  And when the time allotted for the fast is almost over, Jesus is tempted with hunger.  Unlike Israel who failed the test by not trusting in God, Jesus does not fail; He can not fail, because He has come to be your Champion.

So, when the devil tempts Jesus to prove He is a son of God, by commanding the stones to become bread, Jesus proves to the Devil that He is THE SON of God, by speaking the Word of God that sustains Him, even in His hunger: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Why do you think Jesus chose those Words to silence the devil?  Because they ARE the Word of God, specifically that Word found in Deuteronomy 8:3 thatGod spoke through Moses to chaste the sinful Israelites..  You see, Jesus knows full well what Israel failed to get right, and unlike Israel, the true Israel, Jesus the Son of God lives according to the divine Word.  Jesus’ life and relationship to God the Father comes completely from what God provides, and especially from what God speaks.

The Second Temptation-happens after Satan takes Jesus to a high location, either in, or near the temple compound, and challenges Him to throw Himself off of the ledge to prove that God will save Him as a Father saves a Son. And to this challenge, Jesus once again turns to Scripture, and says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Here Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which refers to the Israelites grumbling against Moses and God because they were thirsty.  Specifically, they declared their disdain for God with this question: “Is the Lord among us or not?” [Ex 17:7]

Now back to Jesus’ temptation, what we must understand is just what Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to do; he wants Jesus to test whether God’s power is available to protect and save him, just as the people of Israel put God to the test, by demanding that He prove His power and His status by providing water to quench their thirst. But Jesus will doubt neither His Father’s promise nor His power. He will not deviate from his Father’s ways.  Jesus has no need to learn whether God’s power and purposes are guiding him.

The Third Temptation-In this final temptation, Jesus will remedy the core cause of all sin that both Israel and sinful mankind have always been guilty of… false worship.  From the very beginning of its identity as a nation, when God led his collective sons Israel up out of Egypt into the desert, they struggled to remain loyal to God and worship Him alone, having no other gods before him (Ex 20:2–3). In Exodus 32, the incident with the golden calf at the foot of Sinai showed the nation’s apostasy, and demonstrated the subsequent consistent history of Israel in their new homeland.

To be a “son” is to have only one “Father.”  Israel, was a failure at this relationship. But the One who stands in their place, the true Son who comes to make right what we get wrong, does not fail. Satan shows the glories of the world’s kingdoms to Jesus and promises to give them all to him if Jesus will “fall down and worship” Him. It is as if He is saying, “Imagine Jesus, a bloodless cross.  No suffering, pain, passion, or agony; I will give it all to you right now if you will just bend your knee ever so slightly to me!”  And once again, Jesus prevails over everything in life; over all things that oppose the Kingdom of God.  How does He do this?  He refers Satan back to Moses’ words to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him alone.”

As the people of Israel were poised to enter the promised land, Moses warned them with those very words, but they did not take his words to heart and make them their own. And so now, Jesus is poised to “enter our sinful land,” in order to begin his ministry of salvation in and for Israel, and as God’s perfect and perfectly obedient Son, he makes Moses’ (and God’s) words his own.

This morning in God’s Word, we have been shown how Satan tried to get Jesus to misunderstand or contradict what it meant for him to live out his mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping His identity.

So it is also the very same challenge for we who are living out this Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. You see, our Gospel lesson does not so much teach disciples that they should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as Jesus’ disciples we are being shown that we can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on our identity as children of God, and also what it means to live out that identity within this sinful world as we live out our vocations.

Temptations are an inescapable part of our lives.  We know that these temptations don’t come from God, for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one. [James 1:13]  But ever since the fall of mankind it just isn’t possible for us to avoid being tempted.  “For it is necessary that temptations come,” says Jesus. [Matthew 18:7]

So where do these temptations come from?  Well…

Temptations come partly from outside of ourselves.  The tempter is a reality.  His strategy is always that of awakening our doubt toward God, making us uncertain that God is seeking our best, and trying to make us imagine that we would be happier if we took our destiny into our own hands.  This is the strategy he used with Adam and Eve, and it’s also the strategy he used with Jesus when he tried to lure Him to use His power for His own purposes.

But temptations also come from within our own hearts, and the tempter always has a secret ally within that secret place, and it’s us.  You see, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” [James 1:14]

The best weapon in the hour of temptation is still the Word of God. Since it is the strategy of the tempter to try to make us think that our own human thoughts and not God’s thoughts will provide the way out, the best defense against this strategy is found in the simple Words: “It is written.”  It was with these Words that Jesus Himself conquered the tempter.  Therefore the Bible calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit. [Ephesians 6:17]  It is an essential part of the armor that is necessary to “be able to withstand the evil day.” Concerning those who build their faith on emotion and feelings, it is written that they “in time of temptation (will) fall away.” [Luke 8:13]

To withstand temptation a Christian must watch and pray.  It is important to be careful not to take these temptations lightly or with a sense of false confidence, because this attitude will cause us to willingly enter into times and places that will become triggers for our temptations.  A Christian must not give the devil an opportunity.

But there are also temptations, which are inescapable; they’re simply part of living in a sinful world.  When these temptations come, we must fight that grumbling spirit that will come too, and we must trust God that He is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above our capacity to endure.  “With temptation He will also provide the way of escape.” [1 Corinthians 10:13] Christ Himself was “tempted as we are, yet without sinning. [Hebrews 4:15]  Therefore, He can assist us: “because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.” [Hebrews 2:17]  Because of this, we can  “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, (so) that we may receive mercy and find grace to help (us) in (our) time of need.”

So to trust in Christ, in His mercy and His power, is to take hold of the shield of faith, and with that shield of faith you can use it to quench all of the flaming darts of temptation that the evil one will throw your way. [Ephesians 6:16]  We who hold fast to Christ will be able to “count it all joy” when we meet all kinds of temptations, since if we stand in Christ against the test, it will produce “steadfastness… that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” [James 1:2-4]

What would Jesus do?  It doesn’t really matter, you aren’t Him; you’re a sinner in need of a Savior.  What has Jesus done?  Well now, that’s a better question.  He saved sinners; He saved you!  He saved you and He wants you to know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to live out your life in this sinful world.  In that sense, even as He wins the victory, Jesus the Son of God prepares you for the battle. Just as the Spirit was with Jesus as He entered the wilderness of temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so the Spirit of God is with you, Jesus’ disciples as you serve and follow your Champion.  AMEN!

Beware of the Bloodless Cross!

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:3, 4]

This morning, I declare a message of hope for you who see a need for that hope, which comes by way of a suffering and bloody Savior; for those who see the cross as not only an emblem of suffering and shame but also as a means of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  But I also come proclaiming a warning for those who do not see the bloody and violent cross and death as enough to assure sinners of eternal life; for those who down play the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and feel that through their own actions they must add something to the passion of Christ in order to be assured that they will be forgiven and receive eternal life.  Those who will not receive all that this Cross of Christ brings are refusing the very means of salvation that God is offering them.

The truth is that people, all people, really do not understand the power of the cross. They will not receive it on their own because to them, it just does not make sense; it seems too easy.

Instinctively, each of us knows that we have a real issue with sin; sins that we wrestle with that if others knew just how ugly those sins within us were, the sins we keep hidden so well with a veneer of self-righteousness; if they knew, they would be repulsed and turn away from us, or at least never look at us the same.  Now, you may not want to admit that to me or anyone else, you may want to deny that truth publicly, but remember this sin issue isn’t about anyone else; it’s about where you stand before God.  It is God who speaks to your heart right now; and it is His Holy Spirit that is confirming to you this very moment that on your own, you are nothing but a rag-a-muffin; a broken misfit that has become an expert at pretending.

Because of this truth about each of us, we are tempted to hear only the harsh words of our text this morning and then be filled with worry and fear that the cross of Christ may not be enough for us.  Listen: Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with His recompense, the punishment of sin.

And there is the problem with a sinner who under-values the cross of Christ; there is the problem with a bloodless cross.  We have concentrated so much on the sins that separate us from a loving God that we loose sight of the power of God unto salvation.  We forget that throughout His Word, God has assured us that He doesn’t want to terrify or threaten any one.  We forget that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  This morning, God reminds us that He is much more interested in bringing you forgiveness, hope, and life.  So hear the gospel and the gift of faith that will allow you to see God rightly, in love and mercy.

This morning, Jesus Christ, your Savior prepares you for your Lenten journey that is about to begin this Ash Wednesday. He says to you, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” [Luke 18:31-33]

All of this and so much more is Christ’s passion for sinners, rag-a-muffins like us.  Our great sins have to be dealt with; God has no choice.  The punishment we deserve is great, so great in fact if it is enacted upon us we will perish with no hope of ever being right with God.  Flogging, humiliation, and death are just the beginning of the things our sins deserve and demand.

But listen to our Saviors Words again; He said that “everything written about the Son of Man (that is the Messiah) by the prophets will be accomplished.”  What things?  Well, the chastisement or punishment of God for the sins of the whole world.  But pay attention to that little word “accomplished”, because it is the same verb Jesus shouted from the cross just before He died.  “It is accomplished, it’s finished, (their debt, your debt, our debts) are paid in full!”

But the best news comes in the last sentence he spoke, listen: “And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”  You see friends, the passion of Christ, His suffering and shame, the bloody cross, was God’s way of taking away the sins of the world, even your many sins so that you could once again have the hope of being right with God the Father, your Creator.  But you must continue to follow Christ from the bloody cross to the tomb, which for us is an empty tomb because, “He has risen, indeed.”  Alleluia, Christ is risen.

And it is this gift of the empty tomb that He gives to each of us by way of the bloody cross, within the waters of our own baptism.

But was it really necessary for Christ to die on the Cross? Well, His own disciples wondered about that too.  His death seemed like a ridiculous proposition to them; in fact, it was a real stumbling block for them as they saw Him dying on the cross and then dead in the tomb.  So, the first thing that Jesus had to do was open their blind spiritual eyes and give them eyes of faith so that God’s truth would become their truth.  After His resurrection and as He traveled with some of His disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus began to do this very thing by asking them this question.  “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” [Luke 24:26]

Well, wasn’t it necessary, so that you too, could follow Him into glory as well?

Yes, but why did you have to suffer and die Lord?

And to that question, Holy Scripture gives us God’s own answer: “Jesus should die… to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” [John 11:51]  The family of man, which God had created, had become lost to the Father.  All of them, all of us had sinned and had lost the image and likeness of God.  Man could not win it back by himself.  You see friends, the nature of God contains both holiness and love.  This holy love is like a burning and all consuming fire on all that is sinful and unclean.  This holy love reaches out its arms to sinful mankind and seeks to embrace and gather them.  And our natural response as sinners to this love is to say: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…!” [Isaiah 6:5]  “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire of God?”  [Isaiah 33:14]

So here, for sinners such as us, is the conundrum of sin: God can’t change His nature.  If He did, He would then no longer be God, because God never changes.  And God can’t overlook our sin.  He can’t even tolerate the slightest hint of it in His kingdom.

But God can redeem it.  And this means that its guilt and penalty must be paid for and taken away.  Through God’s act of redemption, His righteousness remains intact.  His holiness and love can once again surround men and women that He created in His image.  The sinner can become one with God once again.

But that kind of atonement could never be completed by sinners like us, because even our best of sin stained works are like filthy rags before God.  On our own, we have nothing but filth to offer up to God.  So…

It was for this reason that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice and payment for our sins.  Friends, that is the ultimate evidence of the love of God.  Jesus says: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross, so that He could draw all men to Himself.  He suffered death for our sins.

Think about this: The righteous man suffered for the unrighteous ungodly sinners in order that He might lead them back to His Father.  Upon Him, our chastisement was laid, which would make us whole again.  By His stripes we are healed.

The talk of a crucified Savior and a bloody cross, was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  And it’s still considered ridiculous by all kinds of religious sinners today.  Their faith is centered in their attempts to be good and not in the bloody cross of Christ.  But to God, this bloody cross, the agonizing death of His Son, is the only way He offers to us to be saved; it’s a way that we can play no part in.  And so, this bloody cross, this tree of death, this precious Gospel remains for us still, the power of God unto salvation, for all who will believe.

Kyrie.  Lord, Son of David, have mercy.

Go now with eyes to see, your faith in this Jesus, this bloody cross of His has saved you.  AMEN!