Posts Tagged ‘Ash Wednesday’

The Blood of the New Covenant

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Ash Wednesday is a first night of 40 nights that we seriously reflect on three things.  First we consider our frailty.  We are but flesh.  We come from the earth and to the earth we shall return; Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Second we consider our sinfulness; our complete lack of excuse before God for the sinful things we have done and the good and holy things we fail to do.  And finally, we consider God’s righteousness and His gifts to us and for us, which are ours through Christ Jesus.

Tonight we will look at two covenants or promises that God has provided to save His people.  Both involve the shedding of blood.  One was temporary and the other eternal.

Modern men and women within our society are repulsed by the Old Testament sacrifice of animals, so much so, that many people want to close their eyes to the truths in those portions of Scripture which demand a sacrifice.  They want to close their eyes because it shows how horrid our sins are.  Oh they’ll gladly agree that the Old Testament points to the promised Savior of the New Testament, but the bloody stories of a God who punishes seems to have no place in a civilized society.

But the old covenant demonstrates unashamedly our God who is holy, disciplined, exacting, loving and trustworthy.   In fact, the entire Old Testament reveals the depth of humankind’s depravity, the seriousness of our sin, the extent of God’s anger, the depth of His love, and the need for a redeeming Savior.

Moses understood these issues. Speaking for God, he told the Israelites that to cover human sin, blood must be shed. The power of the blood must accompany any approach to the Father. And as the blood of the old covenant was spilled onto the altar and was sprinkled on the people, God revealed His redeeming grace and the forgiving power of His mercy.

Why blood? Well, as Moses explained, again speaking for God, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). All of the Old Testament rituals involving the spilling of blood made it clear that God takes sin seriously. Lifeblood must be shed to pay for sin. Someone, or something, must give its life. God’s wrath needed satisfaction. So, instead of requiring the death of the sinner, God offered grace by allowing the sacrifice of animals in their place.

But within God’s heart, His delight was not in blood sacrifice but in the yielding and surrendering of His people’s lives in dedication to Him. God desired a new relationship of faith with His children.  As Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). David also said, “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:16–17).

Tonight, we approach God with broken spirits and contrite hearts.  And we know, He will not despise those things.  Why?  Because of the blood!

The blood in the Old Covenant, was used to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ, and it pointed to something far deeper. Remember, God desires a right relationship of faith with His children.  He yearns for reconciliation and fellowship—something blood sacrifices could only point to. He knew the blood spilled on the altar and sprinkled on the people was temporary. What was needed was a blood sacrifice greater than the blood of rams and goats.  He needed to take His children’s eyes and hearts off of the Law and instead place their hope in His incomprehensible mercy. But to accomplish this God must provide One final blood sacrifice upon an altar made of wood.

Moses built an altar as his first sign of the covenant relationship to consecrate the people to God (Ex 24:4–5). To the Israelites and other ancient peoples, an altar meant a place for putting something to death, not only physically but also in their hearts. For the people of God, the altar also represented God’s real presence in their lives.

The blood sprinkled on the altar represented a life offered, or poured out, to the One true God in sacrifice. Sacrifices were not wasteful or extravagant acts of worship, in fact after the sacrifice, most of them required that the meat be eaten. So, the altar of God was the place where the people, the priests, and God held a meal together to show that they were in a relationship of peace and fellowship with each other.

As a place of fellowship, consecration, and sacrifice, the altar had to be made holy through the shedding and application of blood. The sanctified altar, then, became holy ground on which to lay the sin offerings of the people. The throwing of blood on the altar signified access to God; the blood of a chosen substitute replaced their lives, lives now committed and dedicated to Him.

Jesus’ disciples understood the blood of the old covenant, but how could they possibly comprehend the depth of Christ’s words on Maundy Thursday when He lifted a cup and spoke of the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:27–28)? Christ often foretold His suffering and death, yet no words could prepare the disciples for the events that followed.

On Good Friday, another altar rose above the earth towering far above all other altars, and it was wooden and roughly cut. It would hold the Sacrifice, the One whose blood would redeem all people for all eternity. And From heaven, the Father observed His Son Jesus’ obedient death upon the cross and accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. From that time forward, in the heavenly tabernacle, an everlasting covenant—a new covenant—was made (Hebrews 9:11–14). By the cross, Jesus’ disciples, you and me, became partakers in His life and possessors of the heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 9:16–22).

This evening, we have witnessed a baptism.  We have seen two young children snatched from the kingdom of the devil and transferred into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was the blood of the very King of Heaven that was sprinkled upon them in the washing of the water and the Word.  A blood far superior to that of animals, for it’s washing is eternal.

You dear parents are now called to model a life of repentance and faith.  You must agree with God that He is right and you are wrong.  You must turn to the Author and Perfecter of your faith every day for forgiveness and then you must teach your children to do the same.  You must instruct them of the importance of hearing and studying the Word of God, and when they are older, you must ensure that they and you approach the table of the Lord together for His Holy meal of forgiveness.

Just as a meal followed the sacrifices of the old covenant, so God’s people commune with Him today at the Lord’s Table. When you receive the body and blood of Christ, His fullness fills you. His mercy forgives you. His grace redeems you. You rest assured in the blotting out of all your sins (1John 1:7). With immediate deliverance and total justification, you know that God’s wrath has been removed, and that He no longer sees your sins but the covering of Christ’s blood sprinkled upon you and your children on your behalf.

In this new life of faith, I pray that each of you will dedicate yourselves in service to Jesus.  I also pray that as we pass through these 40 days of Lent, you will prepare yourself to be engulfed by all that is Holy Week.  Allow God to create a great hunger within you to dine at the Lord’s table on Maundy Thursday.  Ask Him to prepare your entire soul to enter into the grief of sins, even your own sins on Good Friday, and then prepare your self for the wonderful resurrection joy, which is the experience of Easter morning.  And through it all, I pray for you that God will continue to reveal His redeeming grace, His unlimited love, and the forgiving power of His mercy by the blood of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus Christ spilled on the altar of the cross, which now saves you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Return to Me!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Ash Wednesday (Year C), February 13, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message on Joel 2:12-19

What is Lent?  Well simply put, it is a time of repentance; a season of 40 days when we remember Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness.  This Lenten season, we will follow Jesus.  We will make some interesting stops along the way.  Towards the end of our 40 day journey, we will come together, in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, and share the Eucharist meal with each other.  Together we will be nourished by our Lord’s Supper.  Then on the next day, we will discover why the darkest day of our Lord’s life on earth is called Good Friday.  And finally, our Lenten journey will end with loud alleluias on Easter Sunday morning with a sunrise service that looks into and celebrates the empty tomb.  After our worship, we will gather in fellowship over a hearty breakfast.  And all of this journey starts tonight.

Tonight, through the prophet Joel, the Lord invites us with these Words: “Return to me.” This is the same invitation that He made when Adam and Eve fell into the original sin long ago.  He invited them to return to Him through the promise of a Savior, their Savior who would come to undo the evil that they set in motion.  It was an evil that would forever lay claim to their descendants.  He made the same promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of their descendants. To prove to them that He would keep His promise to bring a Savior, He delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and made his law-covenant with them at Sinai.  Through the Law, He separated them from all the other nations as a people for himself; by faith in the coming Savior, they were to be his holy people. But they broke their covenant with him, disobeyed his commandments, and worshiped other gods. Joel’s message, “Return to me”—that is, come all the way back to me—“with all your heart,” is a great way to sum up all of the preaching and teaching found in the Bible. It also answers this question: “How can we be delivered from judgment on the day of the Lord?”

Did you ever wonder why Joel called for “fasting and weeping and mourning” (verse 12)?  Well, these were considered proof of real heartfelt sorrow for sin. Did you know that throughout the Bible there is only one fast-day set aside by the law of Moses?  It was called the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31).  On that day, the Israelites were to deny themselves, and confess to God their deep sorrow over their sins. So in our Old Testament lesson, Joel is calling his people to mourn because they have abandoned the Lord their God.

Don’t you find it true that sinners like to build defenses against the Lord and his call to repentance. Worldly people laugh at God’s invitation to return to Him, and they like to surround themselves with “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” (Luke 8:14). But I think that we religious people too  have a line of defense all our own. We can take something good like religious ceremonies and use them as a defense against God’s call to repent. People in Joel’s time might lament loudly and tear their garments as a sign of sorrow and then think that God is fooled, without ever letting his Word penetrate their hard hearts.

That is why Joel continues, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God” ’ (verse 13). He does not want his “religious” people just going through the motions of repentance. In speaking to the people of God, their pastor, Joel, expected that they would let the Word sink into their hearts and consciences. He expected that the visible signs, fasting and weeping and mourning, would be outward marks of an inward sorrow about past sin. Such “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Do you have this kind of sorrow over your sins?  If so, then return to the Lord your God.

Worldly people who laugh at God’s call to repentance will probably not gather tonight to receive the sign of an ashen cross, and hear a sermon like we are hearing. These kinds of gatherings are usually for people who are “religious.” Unfortunately, we Christians are often not all that different from the “religious” people in Joel’s time: we recite our confession of sins, sing our hymns, sit through a sermon, put our offering in the basket, and think that God must be satisfied with us. Our worship can become a mere “going-through-the-religious-motions,” a defense against the Lord’s call to repent, without faith in our hearts or the fruits of faith in our lives.

Tonight, God’s Word wants to tear down our “religious” defenses. Tonight, our Lord continues to call his wandering people home: “Return to me with all your heart.… Rend your heart and not your garments.” Let the law of your holy God humble your pride. Let him lead you to contrition, even though your broken heart may hurt. True repentance is appalled at sin, because sin separates us from the Lord, the source of life and love. And true repentance includes faith in the promised forgiveness of sins. The repentant sinner turns back to the Lord, confident of his grace and says along with David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

When Joel invites the Israelites to repent, he fittingly describes Israel’s God: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents from sending calamity” (verse 13). These are the same terms the covenant Lord used to describe Himself when he passed before Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6, 7). Then also the Lord was dealing with a disobedient people. The Israelites had forgotten him and his deliverance from Egypt in favor of the pleasures of worshiping a golden calf. Yet Israel’s Lord remained ready to welcome sinners home again.

He showed Moses what kind of God he is. He loves us when we do not deserve it (He is gracious). His heart is warm with mercy for sinners (He is compassionate). Even though often provoked, he does not let his wrath flame up and destroy us (He is slow to anger). He is totally faithful in keeping his covenant promise of abundant blessing (He is abounding in love). Even though his law threatens punishment, he gladly turns his judgment aside when he sees that his Word has had its intended effect (He relents from sending calamity).

And what is the intended effect?  That you would see Jesus!  See Jesus who willingly and gladly took upon Himself all of God’s anger and wrath over your sins.  See His cross, where God demonstrated that wrath and the punishment for your sins.  But then you must look even more deeply into God’s Word and see the empty tomb, where your promised Savior has defeated your deadly enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  All of this He gives to you in your baptism; a onetime washing away of sins and His eternal call for you to repent—to return to the God who saves you.

Like Joel, I cannot promise you that your life will be problem free once you repent and follow Jesus.  Sometimes we can make a real mess of our lives because of our sins.  Unfortunately, the sin may be taken away, but the repercussions of our sins can haunt us as long as we live.  But, perhaps the Lord “may turn and have pity” (verse 14). Like Joel, we must leave it to the Lord and let Him decide how he will answer our repentant prayers. But I can promise you this, anything that is good, which comes our way, will be undeserved. And in the end, any blessing outside of salvation is just icing on the cake.  You already have the greater gift… the Lord has saved you from your sins, simply because he is a gracious God.

While it’s true that the Lord may use tragedies, accidents, or illness to turn sinners back in his direction, there is always a better reason for turning away from sin and back to the Lord: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (verse 13). The motive for sincere repentance, like every other good effect in our hearts and lives, is the grace and mercy of a loving God, displayed in the sacrifice of his Son for the sins of the world. It is true that our sins deserve damnation, and in fact they did bring the pains of hellfire on Jesus. But once we have recognized that, God’s Word immediately draws our whole attention away from our sins to our Savior’s grace, compassion, patience, and love.

So, let’s travel down this Lenten road together friends as God’s people walking by faith together here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  Let’s return to the Lord our God, for He is patient and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

The Birth of a Vision

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Birth of a Vision![i]

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio of this message

On December 17, 1903 at 10:35 in the morning, Orville Wright secured his place in history by becoming the first person to perform a powered and sustained flight from level ground.  For twelve gravity defying seconds he flew 120 feet along the sand dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

Now in the field of aviation, this historic event represents a beginning.  But for Orville and his brother Wilbur Wright, it was the end of a long and tedious journey—it was a journey initiated by a dream that is common to all little boys—the desire to fly.  But what most children abandon and let remain fantasy, Orville and Wilbur insisted on looking at it as a potential reality.  They believed that they could fly!  But more than that, they believed they should fly, and eventually, fly they did!

 

This childhood experience sparked in the boys an insatiable desire to fly.  The only thing they lacked was a means.  So they immediately went to work removing the obstacles that stood between them and their vision to fly.  This evening we will begin a Lenten journey learning what a vision is, where it comes from, how it is initiated, and how it becomes a reality.  While what we learn during this time will have immediate application for following a vision for our church and its ministry within our community, the same concepts can be used to help you develop and follow multiple visions in your personal life.

 

What is a vision?  Well, a vision is a concern that God puts on your heart.  In our Old Testament reading we join a man named Nehemiah who was one of the many Jews who were captivated by the Persian empire when the nation of Judah was defeated.  The capital city of their nation, Jerusalem was also the home of God’s Holy temple.  It was left ransacked and inhabitated by a remnant of Jews and other people who were moved into Judah by the Persians.  One day, while Nehemiah was at work within the Persian king’s palace, a group of men who still lived in Jerusalem met with him and reported, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (vs. 3) Not only these things were true, but Nehemiah also learned that the Temple and its worship practices were not being maintained and that the remaining Jews had all but abandoned their worship of God and they had adopted the religious practices and cultures of the surrounding nations.

 

Now this probably was not new news to Nehemiah or any of the other Jews captive in Persia.  Undoubtedly he had heard this type of report before, but this time something new happened to Nehemiah…he felt an overwhelming concern; in fact he felt this concern so deeply that he began to weep.  Now Nehemiah was not the type of man who wept at the drop of a hat.  He wasn’t weak and he certainly wasn’t emotionally unstable.  But he was burdened, and his burden led him into a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. 

 

Little did he know that these deep feelings were the initial birth pangs of a vision that you and I would be reading about thousands of years later.  The point is, Nehemiah’s vision didn’t begin as a vision.  It began as a concern…a burden; a burden for his nation and for his people.

 

But a vision doesn’t mean we must take immediate action.  As a pastor, I talk to a lot of people with a ton of good ideas.  Many times, I get the sense that God is indeed beginning the process of creating a vision within their hearts.  The problem with almost all of these ideas is, they want to implement them RIGHT NOW!  Once they feel that their idea is from God, they assume that all systems are a go, and they must drop anything in their lives that will hinder that vision.  They want to step out in faith and start right away.  But the story of Nehemiah, along with numerous other Biblical accounts illustrates the truth that a clear vision does not necessarily mean you have a green light to begin to implement your vision; not yet anyhow.  A vision rarely requires immediate action.  It does however, require patience.

 

Why wait?  Why can’t we just plunge right in?  Because developing or discovering a vision for our church and its ministry or even in a particular area of our lives takes time.  Vision development is a process.  Sometimes it can even be a painful process because of the time it requires.  But it is a process that yields a product worth every bit of agony we may encounter along the way.

 

Revving our vision engines at the starting line feels like a waste of time.  After all, there are people to rescue, relationships to save, and even blessings to receive!  What’s the use of waiting?  It’s this sense of wasting time that is the very thing that compels many people to implement a vision far too soon.  The assumption of our culture is that if we aren’t moving on, nothing’s going to happen.  But this is not the case at all, because you see, why we are waiting…

 

God is developing the vision within us.  As God is working within our hearts and the circumstances of our lives, He is also developing His vision within us.  As His vision is developing within us, He is also maturing us in preparation for implementing that vision.  Now please hear this, because the difference between holding onto a vision and allowing it to fade away as fantasy depends on this truth:  If you are following a God given vision, God will ensure that it matures into a reality because He is at work behind the scenes preparing the way for it.

 

But how do we know if a burden we carry is from God or centered in our own self-serving desires?  Well, a God given vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative, because it is!  St. Paul discusses this imperative in our Epistle lesson in the simplest of terms, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)  Nehemiah knew also that this was the key to God’s favor and intervention for his fellow Jews in Judah and God’s city and temple Jerusalem.  Listen to his confession as he communicates this imperative: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’  10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name.

 

All God ordained visions will be in line with what God is up to in our community.  What is God up to in our community?  Why the very same thing that He is up to in every community and every nation in the world…salvation for all people and freedom from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil.  Listen to the Words of our Savior as he was preparing Himself and His disciples for His eminent and violent death upon the cross:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matt. 11:28-30]

 

All God ordained visions for the church; His people, our families, and even our vocation depend entirely upon God working in us and through us to draw all people into a relationship centered in His saving love and grace.  In short, God wants you to work with Him in all that you do so that He can do a work through you, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ!


[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9