Archive for March, 2017

On Light and Darkness


Monday, March 27th, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (A), March 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” So says the final words of our epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:8-14). But what do these words really mean? Are we to think of our faith, our very salvation as nothing more than an alarm clock that rudely awakens us from a pleasant dream, leaving us the choice to either get up and walk the rest of our lives by faith with Christ, or simply hit the snooze button and drift off back to pleasant dreams? Well, yes; that is if you feel separated from God because of the shameful things you’re doing and never repented of, or if you’ve always felt that being baptized or living out your baptism is either a childhood fantasy or a complete waste of your time, then yes quite frankly, this alarm is for you. “Awake, O sleeper and (get up) from the dead, and (then) Christ will shine on you!”

In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus leaves us with some ominous words. Listen: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [John 9:39]

Now some of you may be confused; you may see Jesus only as the great Savior of the world. You may want to quote our gospel from two weeks ago and remind me that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son Jesus so that who so ever believes in Him won’t perish, but have everlasting life. You’ll also no doubt, remind me that God didn’t come into this world to condemn it but to save it. [Jn. 3:16] Now if you told me all of this, I would agree with you, but I would also add that Jesus came to save a sinful world! So, what difference does that make? Well, you have to first admit that you are part of that “sinful” world that Jesus came to save! In other words, you have to first admit that you need saving; that you have sin that you can’t deal with on your own and you need a Savior; you need God’s help… you need His means of salvation! And this was exactly what we learned in our gospel reading this morning.

Consider this, a man blind from birth. He is a Jew and he has probably followed the true religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all of his life. He comes from a good Jewish family with a mother and father who love him, pity him, because of his blindness, and they care for him as best that they can. If you were this blind man you would have long ago accepted that this was your eternal lot in life. Are you angry with people who treat you as less than a man? Maybe! Do you get angry with your parents because they still at times treat you like a child? Perhaps. Are you angry with God for allowing you to be born like this… probably so. And what do you do with all of this disappointment and anger? Well you do what everyone else does, you go to temple and you pay the prescribed sin offerings and then just hope that God will somehow find room for you in His heaven.

But one day you meet a man who speaks truthfully to you; he doesn’t talk down to you, but with you. He tells you that God is real and He knows precisely why you are blind. And then He lays hands on you, he comforts you, sends you to a pool in the temple to wash something off of your eyes that He just applied and… praise God from whom all blessings flow, you can see for the first time in your life! What would you do then? Well again, the rules of worship say you should go show yourself to the religious officials so that God can be praised. Well, you do that and they just belittle you just as they did when you were blind. Even your parents refuse to offer comfort and support; they tell you that you’re and adult and you should work it out on your own with the temple officials. So much for life being better if you could see! Now what? Are you angry with the people in the temple? Probably. Are you angry with your parents? Most likely. Are you still angry with God? Yes, maybe more so than when you were blind! Now what do you do? Well…. Nothing!

You see, this has never been about what you do, instead it is about what God does; it always has been. In our gospel lesson what did Jesus do after restoring the man’s vision? He went to the man who was blind. Because, you see there was still more to the work that God was doing for the man. Restoring his physical vision was just a way to wake him up from his sleep. Now Jesus must do the true work of God; He must speak the gospel to him.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man (that is the Messiah)?” (And the man who was blind at birth but now sees) answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe?”

Even though this man was confused about a lot of things and disappointed by a lot of people, He knew for certain that this man Jesus, who spoke truthfully and lovingly to him, who gave him something he thought he would never have this side of heaven was one man that he trusted. So he was willing to go and believe in anyone that Jesus pointed out as being His Savior. And Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” Now it all made sense; now he understood why this man’s voice was so comforting and yet so authoritative. So he said, “LORD! I believe,” and he worshiped him.” [Jn. 9:35-38]

He worshiped Him! That means that He saw first who Jesus was and second, he saw the gospel truth in Jesus Words; he was saved! “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” Did you know that those words written by St. Paul were actually taken from an early church hymn. I suppose it’s possible that they could even have even been written by this man or someone from his time. They explain a lot about the gospel call that Jesus gave not just to that man born blind but to everyone who witnessed it and who reads about it today. If that hymn describes the call of God before the man received Jesus as his savior, then this hymn describes the song of his life afterwards and even our lives now. Listen: “I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus! In Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus!” [LSB 411 vs. 1]

The story’s told about a man who became blind at the age of ten. He came from a wealthy family, and they spared no expense in finding a medical way to restore their son’s eyesight, but nothing worked. The boy grew to be a man, and he was resolved to the fact that he would always be blind, so life went on for the blind man. He did as all men do, seeing or blind, he worked and provided for a future. One day part of his future began to take shape. He met the love of his life. The two were engaged to be wed and they set the date. Several months before the wedding, the man was called into his doctor’s office and told that there was now a surgical procedure that could restore his eyesight. The man was excited but also nervous; you see it had been 20 years since he saw nothing but darkness. Well after a moment of prayer, he of course agreed to have the surgery. The man informed his doctor that he would be married in 6 weeks, so he asked if he would be able to see his wife on his wedding day. The doctor assured him that the healing process would be complete by then and the bandages could be removed. On the day before the wedding, the doctor called the man into his office to remove the bandages, but the man refused instead, he asked the doctor to come to his wedding and take off the bandages at the altar. He said that the first image he wanted to see was that of his lovely bride standing before the altar of the Lord, so that he could marvel at her beauty and praise God at the same time.

Dear friends, if you see and know Jesus as your Lord and Savior; if you see Him as both God and man; if you see him as your only means of pleasing God; and if you see all of this because God’s Word has both healed you and saved you then you are like the blind man in our gospel reading and like the blind man in my story.

By God’s grace and through the eyes of faith that He has opened with His Word, you see the brightness of God in Jesus Christ; you are drawn to this light and you follow it. Jesus is your light that allows you to see not just your sin, but God’s forgiving love that shines from the cross.

You follow this light from the cross to the baptismal font, where you were bathed and washed clean in God’s own light; you were recreated! And from the font it is your desire to follow that light where ever it leads you. And where does it lead you? It leads you out into our community where sin, death, and darkness blind our neighbors. And what are you to do as you follow the light of Jesus? You let it shine! But make no mistake; this light is not your light, not even a little bit! No, it is all God’s light reflecting off of you. As Jesus is your Sun, you are His moon. Your little gospel light is simply a reflection of Jesus wonderful light that is eternal in the city of God. And your prayer as you follow Him is simply this, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. Bring your light into the darkness as I follow you.”

So dear friends, God is calling those of us who once were in darkness, but now have been given eternal life through His gift of spiritual sight to walk as children of light.

What are we to do? We are to gather around His Word and Sacraments and try to discern through the leading of His light what is pleasing to the Lord. We are to be in the world, but not of it; we are to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose the darkness by our lives that trust and follow Christ’s light. Through the Word of God, our lives are shaped and through that same Word we are shaping our community by exposing the darkness of sin with Christ’s own light. We are to be a reminder, an alarm that shouts into the darkness and this sinful world, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (too)!” In Jesus name… AMEN!

Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


Monday, March 20th, 2017

Lent 3 (A), March 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0088“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church. Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well? Is He with us or are we simply left on our own to fend for ourselves? So, let’s settle that question right now, this morning.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

That is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand. Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses? Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land! Oh how conveniently they’ve dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night. Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death! But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was more than pleased to show His people once again, that He indeed was with them.

Oh how quickly the Israelites forgot, and oh how quickly we too forget. How easily we too forget or dismiss the proof of our Lord and His presence with us all of these years. Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following the God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we. They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we, as we dismiss the majority of the pastor’s words as simply the wisdom of a gifted communicator. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to live as if there is no God leading them, and He will not allow us to live that way either. God had a plan then, and He still has a plan today. God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin. Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to open wide His store-house of blessings and through His children of faith, bless the entire world as well. But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of our bondage of sin would be painless and easy. God has promised us nothing in this life except the privilege of experiencing His forgiving love and glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock. Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?

If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?! Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it. What scripture is that? How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, choosing to plant your feet of faith on some other foundation than the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to fall completely away from the Rock of your salvation). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (as you stand upon the Rock)” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out friends is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself who sought you out and found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you, by placing you and your wretched condition upon His very existence! Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around. He alone has cleft for you and incorporated your very existence upon His own.

In your baptism, Jesus came to you through simple water. But how?

Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it. Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism. When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him. Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there within the font when each of you were baptized. All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins. Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin. But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil. Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is. God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that all of God is always with you! And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith. It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins. But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives. Holy Water is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath, refreshed by this living water grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us. Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, we are never disconnected from God! How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will see the Rock of ages cleft for them too, and know once and for all that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15] We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through a desert of sin. We to will know pain and suffering along our journey. It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about! The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word. And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst. They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

Dear saints, let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief. Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Rock of Ages, the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ. He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who has cleaved Himself wide open so that we to may fit within His own body, the church. AMEN!

God So Loved You!

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lent 2 (A), March 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

john-3-16-christianity-12464028-461-405In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning! Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that. No, you need to understand the depth of God’s love for you, and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]

Uh, oh! Another Pharisee out to get Jesus? No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man. He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life. He’s highly educated and very moral and religious. He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God! In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well. So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why? Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy. But why is he seeking out Jesus? Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart. In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b] Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I! Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus. “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3]

Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old (like me)?” Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control. All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is! Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today. Why? Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

Now Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well! Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6] Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life. He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit!

“But how?” That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!

They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh! “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [vs. 8] What is this wind? It is the Holy Spirit! And what is its sound? It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning! Listen to the wind. You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right? Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11] “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation. Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth. He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14] “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20] And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ. And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]

So now we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us. It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well.

Where does this washing and rebirth happen? Where are we brought to be cleansed from all of our impurities and saved from our sin? First to the cross and then to the font; the fountain of Holy Baptism. Let me show you this in scripture. Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1] Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men? Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things? What are those things? It will cleanse from sin and impurity! What is this fountain? First it is the cross and second it is the font!

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life? He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-15] Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses? Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God. But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope. The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes. They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. If they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

What does this have to do with anything? Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7] Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right? Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck! On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open! Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd! He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross. He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented! Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear? What was the result? A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!

Dear Saints, we must stay there at the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness! This is how much God loves you! The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17] But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith from the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!

In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins. In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life! In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU! In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life. That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

How can a person be born again when he is old?

Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth! Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ. First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven.

Yes friends, that is how God so loves you! I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!


Monday, March 6th, 2017

Lent 1 (A), March 5, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

eden_temptation“A Mighty Fortress is Our God, A sword and shield victorious.” Or as Dennis Agajanian, a contemporary Christian composer, musician, and performer put it, “Come to the Rock; you don’t have to be stoned anymore.” Come to the Fortress of God and be protected from both the temptation to sin and the penalty of sin. Come into the Fortress of God, which is His Word and discover that God’s most loving desire for you is that you would come to Him and trust that He alone can both save and protect you from sin, death, and the devil.

God is good! All the time. And all the time, God is good!

So how could any of us ever doubt that God who alone is good, would desire any thing but good for us?

In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness. Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good! Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over. But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His own goodness and love to all of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God. “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people. All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace. When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion. Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation. In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was theirs to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree. It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.” No, God was no absentee father and Adam was not a latch-key kid! After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid. Man knew God and loved Him. The tree instead represented the otherness of God. It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”. I like that idea. There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience. But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit. You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man! The devil, possessing a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Hmm. How would you have answered that question? How should Eve have answered it?

This is how Eve should have answered Satan, “No, God never said that. Why do you question His Word? Be gone serpent or my husband will crush your head!”

But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest (or rather, perhaps) you (shall) die.’” Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God. I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit, and that attraction caused her to minimize the perceived force and power of death, which God’s Word declared. And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation. But where pray tell was her husband? He, who was her spiritual head and protector, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil; he who could have certainly stomped on the head of the serpent, but he did not.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise. A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.” Now Adam and Eve knew shame. Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father. They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached. They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge! And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!
But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day. God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up. God would not abandon them in their guilt. He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin, death, and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored. He holds the field victorious.” [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil on our behalf.

Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents. His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running. His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith. Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to. Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus. But this was Jesus, the Christ, the very Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion. Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!” For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

The truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior upon a cross. The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not. And now, the devil tries the same thing against us. Think of how most temptations still come to us today in doubts: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin? If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing sickness, trouble, pain, or loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness and the effectiveness of His wonderful gift of faith. Jesus knows that the questions of doubt are really meant to undermine the message about God’s forgiving love. He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal. He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away. He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father. And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil. He did it to crush the devil and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you; He did it so that you may follow Him and also pick up the Sword, and then enter the secure and safe Fortress of God’s Word that awaits!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3] What is that little Word?

Jesus is that little Word!

Jesus name means God Saves! It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress. Blessed is the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]
Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. As Jesus hung dying upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith. Words that assure us the battle is over and it is won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.
What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ! It is literally paradise restored. As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear. We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith. And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ. We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide. No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]
So follow Jesus and pick up the Sword. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored! AMEN!