Archive for the ‘Advent-4HL’ Category

Jesus… The True Christmas Gift

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent-HL, December 18h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

 

“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” (Deut. 18:15)

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Isn’t it true that the best gifts we receive always come from those who are closest to us, who love us unconditionally, who truly care for us and know us? Isn’t it also true to say that the best gifts are those gifts that truly come from the heart? This morning we will be looking at the heart of the Giver of the greatest gift we will ever receive. This morning we will be looking at the gift of Jesus and why He is the very heart of God.

God has kept His Word. He has made good on the promise that He made to the Israelites long ago on Mt. Horeb.

 When the people heard God speak as in the peels of thunder from the top of Mt. Horeb on the day that they gathered for worship, they were terrified. They could not bear to hear God speak, in person… in truth. In the book of Exodus, as God was speaking to the assembly, the people could not help but hear and listen, but they were also terrified. And so they pleaded with Moses in this way, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” [Exodus 20:18, 19] And God heard the fear of His people and He agreed to speak through Moses. And the Lord said to Moses. “They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my Words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” [Deuteronomy 18:17, 18]

The fear Israel felt at Sinai is the kind of terror people still feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands and are forced to come to terms with their own sinfulness. None of us can fully understand how far we have fallen and failed to live up to God’s perfect demands. We can never understand how impossible it is to keep God’s law until we’ve tried our very best and still fall short of the mark.

After we’ve tried over and over again to be good but have failed every time, only then will we finally arrive at the frightening moment when we turn to God and say, “If there’s any hope for me at all, it has to come from you. I confess I can not do it!”

And this is precisely the heart of a person that will truly accept and treasure the gift that God has given and wants to continue giving. It’s a gift that expresses God’s true heart; a heart that does not want men and women to live in fear of Him, but it joy and peace. A peace that surpasses all fear, and a joy that always sees the love of God in the gift He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Next week we will begin to unpack this gift of Jesus, the very Son of God but also son of Mary. But for now let us just simply ponder that new born baby in a manger.

In this sweet baby, though without speech as all other babies are, is the very voice of God that made the people of Israel tremble in fear. But this baby also is that Great Prophet that God said would come and speak to His children so that fear would not be the last Word, but hope; Words of hope that would bring joy and peace. And this was the very Prophet that John the Baptist was commanded to prepare the world to receive.

John comes to prepare His way so that all who will hear and listen to Him will hear the true heart of God; a heart of mercy and love.

The message that John brings is one of repentance; that is it is a message that calls us to turn to God’s loving heart that can only be received through the Word of Jesus Christ. When we repent, we are preparing the royal highway by turning away from our sinful lives and making our hearts ready by ridding them of pride and self serving desires. When we repent, we are simply saying once again, “I give up Lord. I have tried it my way and it just hasn’t worked. I am ready for your gift of new life through Your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ.”

John himself models how this is done and what this kind of prepared heart will look like when he evaluates the ministry of baptism he has been called to with these Words: “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” [John 1:26, 27] What John is saying, what he is demonstrating is that this great ministry that he is performing through the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, would be nothing without God’s gift of His real presence within the application of water. He is saying that it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that makes the water of baptism more than a simple washing.

John is making everything dependent upon this Jesus, the Son of God. John is saying that next to Jesus, he is lower than a servant who’s job it is to untie his master’s sandal so that his feet may be washed.   John is clearly telling all of us this morning that to know Jesus, to truly know Him is to live a life that decreases in personal gain so that Christ can increase.

This should also be the desire and prayer of each of us. “May I decrease as you increase Dear Lord. Make me small so that I may fit into your heart.” The Only way that this can become our reality is by receiving God’s gift of Jesus, which comes through His Word. And Jesus can only be received through God’s gift of faith.

Faith in Christ is the way of Salvation and eternal life.

“Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.” [John 3:16] Jesus says it Himself: “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6] “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:40] “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:26] “Whoever believes in me (will) not remain in darkness.” [John 12:46]

This is also the core of the entire New Testament message. This is what the apostles constantly proclaimed. “To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin through His name.” [Acts 10:43] “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved… Whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith… because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…. Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.”

That you receive this gift of faith is so important to God, He proclaims this warning to those who teach His Word incorrectly, in such a way that they damage the faith of one of God’s little ones: “… but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matthew 18:6]

How then does one acquire such a faith?

The truth is, “Not all have faith.”

Faith is the work of God. But it is also a work that sinful people can frustrate, fight, and even refuse. It is through His Word that God creates faith in a human heart. Faith comes by preaching, if preaching by preaching of Christ.” [Galatians 3:1] The Word of God possesses power to create faith because it portrays Christ to us, and it makes His image a living one that permits God’s Word to reach us. God’s power resides in His Word. His Words are “spirit and life.” This is why Scripture itself testifies that it alone is the “power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” [Romans 1:6]

Scripture alone and faith alone are two of the three great fundamental truths that Luther rediscovered when all of the Bible was placed into his hands and into his heart. This is the center of all evangelical Christianity—that forgiveness of sins is granted to us by faith in Christ and God’s Word, which gives us this faith when we allow it to be our guide. These two fundamental truths are to often forgotten and misunderstood in our time by so called teachers and theologians. This is the reason why so many people imagine that they can be a Christian without going to church if they only live a decent and honorable life everyday. But this is not what God’s Word says to us. “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” And how are they to hear without a preacher?” One becomes a Christian through the living Word of God that abides forever.

This then is the true gift that we received on that first Christmas morning. A prophet like Moses yet far greater than Moses. A Prophet of our own flesh, yet all of God contained in that flesh. A gift that allows sinful men and women to see by faith that the love of God came down to you and granted you new life through the suffering and death of a baby born to die for this sins of the world. This love is lavished upon each of us within the waters of Holy Baptism, which without the gift of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and resurrected of the third day, would simply be a sprinkling of meaningless water, devoid of the power of God.

Jesus is that power; Jesus is your gift from God. Jesus is your gift that brings you faith and the forgiveness of sins. May you cling to this gift always, AMEN!