Archive for the ‘faith’ 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!

Encourage One Another!

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, November 9, 2008

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

“we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thess. 4:17b-18]
Click here for audio of this message.

This morning our Lord brings us Words of comfort and encouragement, but He also brings us Words of warning.  These Words of encouragement are the promise that the death of our physical flesh need not be something to be feared, but instead something anticipated with a feeling of joy.  Now for some of us here this morning, these words might sound a little strange, because death is well…intimidating.  We’ve never died before.  Let’s be honest, when we dream of the future we don’t dream as far as after death.  We can sum up all of our thoughts and worries about death with just one simple word: MYSTERY!  It’s a mystery because, well we never died before.  But friends, there were a lot of firsts in our lives, things we never did before, but after we did them and the mystery was removed the fear was removed right along with it. 

Our Epistle lesson this morning seeks to remove some of the mystery and fear from death and replace it with anticipation.  Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us “to be uninformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] Did you catch the word St. Paul used for death?  He said asleep!  Now at first this might seem a little confusing; we might say, “Now wait just a minute…I have always been taught that the minute I leave this body of flesh, I will immediately be present with the Lord.  You know, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”  Do you mean I will be in some kind of suspended animation?”  No, not at all…NO!  Paul isn’t saying that our soul, or our consciousness will sleep, but simply that our tired old bodies will be at rest until they are raised new at the resurrection of all flesh.  He is comparing the death of our flesh, with a deep and pleasant sleep that in no way should be feared.  Why?  Because your savior has already conquered death for you.  He has already gone ahead and prepared a place for you.  Not just a place for you to wait for the resurrection, but a real place for you to live forever in the joy your Savior has provided for you!

ILLUS: There once was a dying Christian man who was very afraid of death, even though he believed that in his baptism, Christ gift of salvation was given to him. He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor, who was making a house call. The physician was silent, because he didn’t know what to say. Just then a whining and scratching was heard at the front door. When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him as he made house calls. The dog was glad to see his master. Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “Did you see that?!  My dog has never been in your home before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew I was in here, and that was enough, so he bounded right in. In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that He’s waiting for me. And that’s all I need to know!”

 

Friends, what manner of life awaits us on the other side of this life we don’t really know, but we do know that it will be an eternal world with God filled with love, joy, wonder, and peace; it will be like nothing we have ever experienced before.  We know that it will be perfect, because our master, Jesus the living Son of God is there waiting for us.  We believe this because He has said that it is so.  But why do some find this truth so easy to believe and others find it frightening and worrisome?  Well let’s go over to our gospel reading (Matt. 25:1-13) and let Jesus answer this question.

 

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” [vs. 1-2]  Here Jesus is telling us that those who wait for heaven can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise.  What separates the two?  In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps.  In our children’s chat, I told it a bit different.  It was a ticket to a chargers game.  Either you have it or you don’t.  With the oil or the ticket, you are gladly and easily admitted into the area that you intend to visit.  Without it, you are not welcomed, in fact, you are told to go away, away where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Jesus story, both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet.  Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet.   Friends, the oil in the lamp and the ticket for the ball game both represent the very same thing, God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins.  “But God’s grace is free?”  You may counter.  Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it!  How? 

Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time.  If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word!  Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the message of Jesus Christ!”  The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil.  What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it?  They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet.  They would have been just as foolish as the other five.

 

Friends, God’s Word is here with us this morning; it has always been with you, but the truth is, for some, it will not always be with you.  Will you be wise or will you be foolish?  There are some here this morning that have not been taking their faith seriously.  They have been simply going through the motions.  Oh they started out with the real deal, but ever so slowly the practice of their faith in Jesus Christ simply became a habit.  Get up early, get ready, go to church (never mind bible study), shake some hands, share some coffee and conversation and go home and get on with life, but their Christian faith and involvement in Christ’s church started out so much differently.  Why they even at one time actually enjoyed attending Sunday School and Bible Study, and their personal devotions were always an anticipated private time with their Savior.  But something happened over time…life happened and God’s Word and the Worship of His Divine presence in their lives became boring.  The first indication that something wasn’t right was the habitual daydreaming during the worship service.  Then, personal devotions began to fall.  Then there was no more time for Bible study or Sunday School, because, well…just because.  The result, the oil runs out.  God’s Word no longer has its way with us, but instead we have our way with His Word.  This sounds very much like our gospel reading; “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” [vs. 5] 

 

This morning dear friends, Jesus is nudging you; even now He’s whispering in your ear…even now He is screaming “WAKE UP!  Nap time is over.  Let me give you oil.  Fill your lamp and be ready before it is too late!  Listen to this message.  Read and study my Word.  Let me prepare you so that it will not be too late when you hear this, “‘here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Friends, if we have not been prepared by God’s Word, Jesus says something like this will be the result: “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” [Vs. 6-9]  Foolish virgins, why didn’t they come prepared?  Everyone knows you need oil to use an OIL-LAMP!  Buy why ask why of a fool?  The reason they act foolish is self evident…they are fools!  They are fools, but what are we?  Are you expecting to have faith in God’s grace without being anchored in His Word?  If you are then I shall not ask you why, because it is self evident.  But I pray that if there are any foolish Christians here this morning that through this Word this morning God would make all of us wise before it is too late.  For (when you least expect it), the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. [1 Thess. 4:16-17b]  Then dear friends, it will be too late to acquire the truth that sets us free.  It will be too late hear the Word that gives us faith in His promise….too late.  But not too late if….through living in God’s Word and by the power of that Word within us “we (are enabled to) believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring [all of us made safe by that Word] with him, [everyone of us] who have fallen asleep.

ILLUS: Please allow me to close with this last story.  When my son Thomas was very little, he was stung by a bee.  That bee sting seemed to make him always terrified of bugs of any kind.  One day when he was a little older, we were riding in my old Datsun, on our way to our favorite fishing hole, when a bee entered through an open window.  It began to dart around madly and Thomas was again terrified.  What could I do?  I didn’t want to stop because the road conditions didn’t permit it.  Instead, I reached out my hand and grabbed the bee and let it sting me.  This made Thomas scream even louder, until I had him look at my hand.  “Do you see the red spot in my hand son?”  Yes he whimpered.  “Do you see the stinger?”  Yes he moaned.  Then don’t be afraid anymore, because a bee can only sting once, and I took the sting away from the bee so it couldn’t sting you!” 

Dear friends, this is God’s grace…this is the message that He wants you to be filled with through His Word!  Jesus took the sting of death for us.  Another way to say this is that He took the sting out of death.  “We believe that Jesus died (he died the death that we should have died, but we also believe that Jesus) rose again, (and) through Jesus, God will bring with him (all of) those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess. 4:14]. 


Oh friends, this is the wonderful message that God’s Word continually declares to us.  It is a message that He wishes to make a part of our very essence so that when the end of this world comes, whether by our natural death or the second coming of Jesus Christ at the resurrection of all flesh, we will be filled with only joyful anticipation.

We have such a wonderful message of grace to declare to each other don’t we?  We need to be reminded of it as often as possible.  We need to take this wonderful message outside of these walls and into our community.  Let’s pray for this now: Dear Lord, strengthen us with your message of peace and grace, and empower us to encourage anyone who needs comfort with the truth that one day we will meet our Lord in the air, and then we will always be with Him in peace.”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Are You Listening?

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, August 3rd, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message


“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you and everlasting covenant.” [Isaiah 55:3a]

INTRODUCTION: Listening, I mean really hearing what someone is saying is a lot harder than people think,  especially today with so many other things vying for our attention.  Here’s a little hearing test that will determine how well you listen (o.k. men, here’s your chance to prove your wives wrong)… 1. A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired. 2. What’s the definition of a will? (It’s a dead giveaway). 3. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. 4. A lot of money is tainted. It taint yours and it taint mine. 5. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat. 6. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye. 7. Bakers trade bread recipes on a “knead” to know basis.

You won’t get theses jokes unless you listen well and take time to digest the information. It’s not that we don’t listen, but rather we don’t listen well. In one ear and out the other or so the saying goes. It seems that there are just too many things competing for our ears, and in regards to God’s wonderful gospel message this is true as well.  But to know God and to have an abundant life…to have eternal life, we MUST listen to his Word.  Now this is important so please hear and listen: There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listeningDid you hear what I said?   This is important, so I will repeat it.  There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening.  This morning, we will talk about these two types of people, and we’ll talk about what God does to help both of them.

I. Those that fight to listen.  As I said earlier, listening in any format is difficult because of all of the alternative messages vying for our attention, but hearing God’s Word is perhaps the hardest thing to listen to!  Why?  Well because your enemy the devil has invested a vast amount of resources and time to ensure that you will not hear God’s message of mercy.  He has to do this because the deck is stacked against him.  God has made the message so enticing, so sweet and attractive that even the simplest fool and the grossest sinner can see the need for God’s love and forgiveness.  And yet listening, really hearing what God has to say can be so difficult at times.  I remember the time I was sitting in church trying to listen to a sermon, I mean I was really fighting to hear it because it was a timely message, when for no reason at all, I noticed a man two pews in front of me with the most amazing bald spot developing.  I could even see the freckles on his head.  “Stop that” I thought to myself!  “Pay attention and let God’s Word minister to you.  You need to hear this!”  And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes or my thoughts off of that man’s bald spot! 

For some, the distraction may be that God’s Word is being proclaimed to you from a man who is just as much of a sinner as you are.  Maybe you’re wondering if the message he is proclaiming is really from God.  For others, perhaps your distraction is an argument that you had with a family member just before coming to church?  All of these things and many more are tricks that the devil will use to prevent you from hearing God’s Word of forgiveness and love.  But do we really need to hear this message today?  Well yes, according to God as He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirst (for God’s love and forgiveness), come to the waters (and drink)!” [v. 1a]  To know that God is really there, and to know that He is for you and not against you is not only God’s will, but it is also the one desire common to all people whether they admit it or not, and it is the one need common to all people, because all of us have sinned and fallen short of God perfection and glory! [Rom. 3:23]

Friends, God knows that the devil and your own sinfulness are fighting to prevent you from hearing, so he has brought you help.  This morning, He says to you, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat!”  This morning, God is telling us:” “If you have recognized that you do not deserve my love, that there is nothing in you that would cause Me to want to know you, then you are just the person I am looking for.”  “But Lord”, we respond, “You said that I must buy and eat.  To buy means that there is a price, and yet you said it is free!  I’m confused.” 

“Oh yes” He responds, “there is a price, and it is far too expensive for you to purchase, and that is why I have paid the price for this heavenly banquet my self.”  Friends, there is a place set for everyone, young and old.  All we must do is listen to the Lord’s invitation, sit at His table and allow Him to serve us!

Oh what a loving God we have!  He has provided each of us exactly what we need at His banquet.  If we are young in the faith, he serves us the rich milk of the Gospel, which says, “Jesus the Son of God, died for you!  Your sins have been forgiven.  Go in peace and serve the Lord with gladness!”  And for those who are mature in their faith, He provides something stronger, he provides wine.  The wine of God’s Word is His doctrine, the proper understanding and explanation of the same Gospel that the young in faith have received.  But this Word must be served strong because with it we will be able to withstand the attacks of the devil, death, and sin.  With it we will be able to fend of those who ridicule us because of our faith.

Dear friends, for those of us who admit that we thirst for God’s presence in our lives, we are called to drink and to be refreshed and filled by His Word.  God’s Word comes to us this morning providing living water that refreshes our souls.  And as we are fed, the Holy Spirit is with us and encouraging us to “Fight to hear!  Fight to listen!  Hear and listen so that you will live!”

II. Those that fight listening.  But why is it that some fight listening to the Word of God?  Perhaps it is because of what they hear?  In our reading from Isaiah, I trust that by listening to God’s Word, you have already realized that it is Jesus Christ Himself who has called you to His banquet table of mercy.  You have come to the realization that in this Holy meal, He offers You His Word that will satisfy the thirst of your soul.  You know this so you come to Him to be filled.  You come because you know you need to come.  But no one is forced to respond to His call.  To some, His call to come will mean a drastic change in life.  They know that if they turn to Jesus they must turn from their present life style.  They know, just as you do that there is no room in God’s kingdom of grace for the evil person who refuses to turn from his sin.  Or perhaps, such a simple plan of free forgiveness without any work seems far too ridiculous.  Maybe they feel insulted by God’s offer to abundantly forgive their sins, with no payment on their part and no questions asked.  Dear friends may I say that those who are satisfied with the world and with their own self righteousness, will never in that condition be able to turn away from their sin and turn to Jesus Christ.  They can’t turn to Jesus because they see no need too, or they won’t because God’s offer makes no sense to them.  Then what about these poor lost souls who fight listening?  Is there any hope for them?  Yes friends there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ!  Jesus is completely serious in his desire that everyone should come to him and find salvation  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28]  There’s no prequalification; He wants everyone to come to Him.  He offers himself to all of us equally in His Word. He wants everyone to hear the Word and not to plug-up their ears.  But still, few accept the Word and follow it.  In fact, it appears that they have contempt for God and His banquet invitation.  St. Paul saw this tragedy playing out in his own time as well.  In our Epistle lesson (Romans 9:1-13) he is clearly grieving over the fact that much of Israel had rejected Christ and their salvation.  In Paul’s own words we can hear his pain: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” [Vs. 2-3] Even though Paul knew such a bargain with God was impossible, his emotions were intensely real. Why? Because He loved his fellow countrymen and longed for their salvation.

Those of us who have loved ones who are lost know Paul’s pain. We really enjoy spending time with them, laughing with them, even playing with them, but there is always deep pain underneath it all. Martin Luther put it this way: “Love is not only pure joy, and delight, but also great and deep heaviness of heart and sorrow.”  Our hearts carry the grief of love for family and friends who seem to be fighting not to listen.  While this sorrow is painful it is also good, because it proves that God is not only living within us but working within us as well!  He is working and moving us to keep our family and friends in prayer.  He is working within us to speak to them about God’s love for them.  Friends, if the lost have any hope at all it can only come from Christ’s church, which is you and I!  We must continue to pray for those who have left the church or never joined one, and ask God to touch their hearts!  We must pray not just for our family and friends, but for our entire community.  We must pray that God’s Word will change their hearts so that they will hear!  We must also continue to speak God’s Word, because it is only through the Word that faith will come, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]  And this is precisely the help that God has sent to strengthen us so that we may speak for him to those who fight not to listen.

III. The only way to listen is through faith!  Friends, by faith, we are to proclaim to others what we have learned our selves, and as we do faith is given freely to those that will listen.  It is impossible for a heart to believe that God would allow us to buy without money, if we are without faith.  It is impossible to believe that God’s love and mercy are a free gift without cost if a person does not have faith.  It is impossible without faith to understand that all other teachings apart from the Word of God are ultimately useless for bringing true peace to a troubled soul. 
You can’t listen to God’s Law beat upon you and long for His Word of forgiveness if you have not first been given faith!  It is only through faith that a person is brought to salvation in Jesus Christ and it is only by faith that we are strengthened to continue believing this truth!  As a matter of fact, it is faith alone through the work of God’s Word that saved you in your baptism, and it is faith alone that will complete the work that Christ began.  Through faith, God has lovingly protected you and he has separated you from the world sin.  Dear friends, through faith God’s Word constantly warns us and reminds us that we must fight to listen and hear His Word and then through the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only begin to listen but we understand as well.  Through faith, we are given the wisdom to teach and confess that God desires everyone to be saved and He takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner and yet simultaneously believe and confess the Words of our Savior: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”   And finally, through faith we are given the ability to accept the mystery that is contained in the question: Why are some saved and others not?  

Friends this mystery of why you are saved and some are not saved is not for us to understand or solve because it belongs to God’s unsearchable judgments.  Along with St. Paul we all can agree that His ways are far past our ability to find out, but we do know that God does not choose anyone to remain unsaved!  You and I must instead concentrate on God’s work of salvation to the extent that it is revealed and given to us in His Word. It is His Word, which teaches us that Jesus as the true “Book of Life,” has opened His pages and revealed that our names are written there!  We see and believe that our names are in His book of life when we hear these Words preached to us, “God will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him.” We find comfort in these words because we know that it is God Himself who continually gives us faith to believe unto salvation!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, when we leave here today, let’s leave with a wonderful message to share with our family, friends, and neighbors who are living apart from God.  Let’s pray that God will use our message of hope to open the eyes of their hearts by faith so that they may see their sinfulness, turn from it and turn to Jesus alone for salvation!  Let our testimony then as Ambassadors of Christ be this: “Because I have been given faith, I believe that Christ’s glorious Gospel invitation to come unto Him and be saved is not only true, but it is for me!  At the cross of Calvary, God guaranteed my everlasting salvation through the work of Christ alone, not because of any merit or goodness found within me but only because of the undeserved love and mercy that God has given to me and all people!”

“May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of His Holy Spirit that we all may be one in Him and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well-pleasing to Him! In Jesus name…Amen.”

Moving From Wondering to Worship!

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

  Faith; Resurrection; Worry; John 11:1-45; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; Lent 5A

Click here for audio of this message.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 9, 2008

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

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

We are all by nature, afraid of the unknown.  If we can’t perceive something through our senses, we find it hard to wrap our minds around it.  Yes, fear of the unknown is a very real fear for many of us.  Some of us try to compensate for that fear by turning to familiar surroundings, family, and friends.  These are what we call “coping” measures, but can we really trust something that brings only temporary comfort and security? 

What is real assurance?  Where do you go to find peace and comfort?  In our gospel reading this morning, Martha and Mary were confronted with their brother’s illness, which as we know eventually led to his death.  They needed help and assurance so they sent for Jesus.  As they waited for Jesus to arrive, they went through 3 things that are common to all Christians who’ve been confronted with illness, tragedy, and death: Wondering (Will Jesus be willing to help me?  Does He really care?); Worrying (What if God doesn’t help me?); and Wrestling (Why did God let this happen?).  But where they ended up is where we to will find peace.

I. WonderingWhere’s Jesus? Wondering is just another way to say doubting.  In verse 3 of our gospel reading, a messenger sent by Martha and Mary finds Jesus and the apostles some four days travel away from their village of Bethany.  The message that he gives is: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Why did they insist that the messenger refer to Lazarus as “He whom you love?”  Maybe they had doubts as to whether Jesus would come, so they sweetened the plea with the reminder that Jesus loved Lazarus?  If they truly believed that Jesus was sent by
God, then why did they doubt God’s love for their brother?  We aren’t that much different-we all have doubts at times.  We wonder if God is really paying attention to us, especially in times of trouble.

A defendant was on trial for murder in Oklahoma. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no body found. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I, therefore, put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.” The jury foreman answered: “Oh, we did look. But your client didn’t.”  Are you as sure of God’s goodness and presence as that convicted man was of the finality of his evil act?


Author Phillip Yancey in his best-selling book Reaching for the Invisible God wrote, “Doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith and I know no better way to treat a skeleton than to bring it into the open and expose it for what it is: not something to hide or fear, but a hard structure on which living tissue may grow.”  In our Old Testament Lesson,  after showing the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones, God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  To which the prophet Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  This is always the best place, in fact the only place we should ultimately take our doubts and fears, to the loving care and knowledge of our Creator.  But when our sickness, disease, addiction or tragedies set in, we can become afraid and begin to doubt God’s active presence in our lives.  It’s then that we begin to do what God calls sinful…we worry.

II. WorryWhat if God doesn’t stop this?  Maybe He is mad at me?  Our worry tells God, “Even though I have now finally come to you with this problem, I still don’t completely trust that you will help.” Worry says that “because I can’t sense you in my life right now, I don’t completely trust that you’ll help me.” 

There’s a story about a woman who for many years couldn’t sleep at night because she worried that her home would be burglarized. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he found a real burglar.

The husband with a grin on his face, said to the burglar, “Please come upstairs and meet my wife. She’s been waiting 10 years to meet you.”  A real burglar can steal from you once; worry can steal from you night after night, for many years. Worry not only steals our sleep, but worry also steals our health and our abilities to cope with life productively.   

Yes, worry is a sin and it is a sin that can eat us alive from the inside out, but sooner or later like Martha and Mary, we’ll call out to God with a heart felt and sincere prayer, “HELP LORD!  The one you love is sick.  The one you love is addicted.  The one you love’s in big trouble.”  This is the prayer that God is waiting for.  It is a prayer from a heart that realizes that there is a God who can help.  It’s a good start, but as it is, it lacks faith.  It lacks faith because it comes with expectations.  It comes with timetables and directions.  When help doesn’t come as expected, then sinful worry takes over once again.  “What’s going on?  Where is Jesus in the middle of my crisis?”  And to this, Jesus comes to us as He came to Martha and Mary, and he answers: “This illness (this problem, this addiction, this tragedy) will not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that (I) the Son of god maybe glorified through it.”  To this the worrier asks, “But what does this mean Lord?  Do you want the one you love to suffer?”  And before we receive His answer we are on to our next challenge to His presence in our lives.  We say like Martha and Mary…

III. WRESTLING-“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs. 21,32) This is what we might call wrestling with God.  When Martha and Mary said this to Jesus they were expressing their deep sorrow, the deepest of regret and confusion.  “Oh, if only you had arrived sooner, then our dear Lazarus would still be here to warm our hearts.  Why didn’t you come when we sent for you?”  How many saints before and after them have echoed the very same sentiments?  How many of us here today have wrestled with God over the same thoughts.  “Why Lord? Why?!!”  So much pain and so many unanswered questions to wrestle with, but God has not left us alone to struggle for the answers.  In our gospel lesson, Jesus came to Marry and Martha to give them assurance; in the same way He also comes to us to ensure that we know that our faith has not been misplaced.  Through His Holy Spirit He comes to us.  Through His Spirit he comes to us in His Word and Sacraments so that the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of faith may be opened.  Mary and Martha were given this same faith as we see by Martha’s statement, “But even now I KNOW, (even now I believe) that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

In this simple statement is the smallest variety of faith-the size of a mustard seed, but as small as it is, it is saving faith because it trusts completely in what Jesus thinks is best.  It comes with no preconditions and no demands.  It is saving faith because it seeks assurance from outside of itself.  When this faith calls out to God, Jesus answers us and says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live.  Jesus is saying to us dear saints, “Whatever you see with your physical eyes is not your reality, for your flesh can only see death, because that is the penalty for your many sins.  But I have come so that you might have an abundant an eternal life.  You must not live by the flesh but instead your world is the world of faith; it is a spiritual and eternal realm.”  It was our dearest Jesus who moved St. Paul to write in our Epistle lesson this morning: “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.  He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give (back) life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you.”  (Eph.8:10-11)  It is this same Spirit that is now moving your heart to listen and believe this Word you hear preached to you today.

IV. WORSHIP– This morning dear friends, Jesus asks us the same question He posed to Martha.  The answer that we give will either follow Martha’s statement of faith or it will follow the Jewish leaders and people who shouted, “Crucify Him!  We have no king but Cesar!”  And here is the question: “Do you believe that I am the God of creation, the creator of your body, soul, and spirit?  Do you believe in me as your Savior and loving God?” (Pause)

Do you remember that smallest of faiths we mentioned?  Well it is working within you now, because along with Martha and Mary, I trust that you too feel your heart crying out like a lost child, “Yes Lord, I believe!!  I believe you are my Savior and my God-Help me with my doubts and worries!”

Allow me to share a final story with you that will complete God’s Word to us today: A family was out vacationing at the lake one summer. Dad had been puttering out by the boat house. Two of his sons, a 12-year old and a 3-year old were down playing along the dock. The 12 year old was supposed to be watching his little brother, but he got distracted. The 3 year old, little Billy, thought that would be a good time to check out the shiny aluminum fishing boat tied up at the end of the dock. So he went to the dock and put one foot on the boat, and one foot on the dock. He lost his balance and fell into the water, which was about 6 ft deep.The splash alerted his brother who let out a terrified scream. Dad came running from the boat house, jumped into the water, swam down, but unable to see anything, came up for air. Sick with panic, he went right back down into this murky water, and began to feel everywhere around the bottom. He couldn’t feel anything. Finally, on his way up, he felt little Billy’s arms locked in a death grip on one of the posts of the dock, about 4 ft under water. Prying the boy’s fingers loose, they burst up together thru the surface to fill their lungs with life giving air.Finally when the adrenaline had stopped surging, and their nerves had calmed down a little bit, the Father asked his son, “Billy, what on earth were you doing down there hanging onto the post so far under the water? And little Billy’s answer was a classic, laced with the wisdom only a toddler could give. He said, “I was just waiting for you dad. I knew you would come.”  The simple unwavering trust of a child is precisely what God is asking from us this morning-He’s asking us to believe that whatever we are experiencing, He is with us in all things working together for good, because He loves us.  He is with us and He will never leave our side.

Friends, when we realize and believe who Jesus is we can rest in what He is.  The who he is, is simply God our creator who took on our flesh.  The reason that He took on our flesh answers the question of “what He is”.  He took on our flesh so that He could plunge into this dark, murky world of sin on a rescue mission, a rescue mission for all of us who are drowning, a rescue mission for all of us who are barely hanging on, a rescue mission for all of us who are lost in the darkness of sin.  But He didn’t enter our drowning waters as a spirit; no He entered as one of us so that we would not be afraid.  He entered in our flesh, and when He entered those waters, something wonderful happened, He gave us His Spirit and He took on our sin!  He took our place in those dark cold waters and died the death we were to die.  Why?  So that even though we die we shall not taste death, but instead we will live forever with Him in paradise.  It’s a special place prepared just for you.  A place where there will be no more wondering, no more worrying, and no more wrestling with the unknown.  Why should you believe this?  Because He has told you so, and even now His Spirit is speaking to your spirit, moving your heart beyond wondering, worrying, and wrestling with God to a place that is simply called “Worship”.  It is here that your heart will be enabled to believe and cry out to Jesus along with Martha, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into this world to save me!”