Posts Tagged ‘faith’

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Easter 7A, May 28, 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

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” [John 17:6-8]

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special that’s not of this world? I suppose another way to ask this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world simply do not understand. Do we really have something special, or are we too, doomed to find truth in these words of William Shakespeare’s 5th Act of the play Macbeth. Listen: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and signifying nothing.”

Is Shakespeare right? Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning? What is the meaning of life? This morning on this Lord’s Day, we speak the meaning of life in these words, “Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed.” And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we, we redeemed sinners who simply trust in Christ alone, along with the Word He gives us through Holy Scripture alone, and the gifts that Word gives us… Grace alone and Faith alone. And that dear friends, is precisely that “something special” that we have, which not only brings us comfort and peace, but it also unites us as one around the promised hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And all of this comes to us only through God’s Word, that is it comes through…

Scripture Alone.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw their Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them. But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.” That is, they were devoted to worship and the study and declaration of God’s Word!

What was it that united them? Scripture alone, the Words of God that Jesus gives us as He declared in our gospel lesson this morning! It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to make a motion to the assembled congregation, that the apostolic office once occupied by Judas should be filled. Judas Iscariot, the one who not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but took his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stands before the assembly and begins to apply scripture to their situation. How so? Well in this way, as the Spirit worked within Peter, he was reminded of two portions of Holy Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, led by the Words spoken in Psalm 69, Peter proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” In other words, God is assuring His church, that the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by the other apostles. The next Psalm that was brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, when Peter declares, “Let another take his office.” That its let another apostle be called.

Now this is where we must pause for a moment and discuss just what the Word apostle means, and who the apostles were. The English word apostle, finds it’s origin in the Greek word apostolos, which means one who acts as an envoy, an ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. If we were simply to take this dictionary meaning of the word, we might be tempted to say that we are all apostles, with pastors being the head apostles of a church and the members being subordinate apostles. But language is living and it’s meaning is defined by the one who is speaking. In other words, context is everything!

If we continue reading our text, we will discover that in verses 21 and 22, Peter defines the type of candidate that can rightly be called an apostle. This person must be a male, for Peter says that he must come from “one of the men who have accompanied us” and he must have been with Jesus “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us (that is he must have been present to see Jesus ascend into heaven).” But perhaps the most important qualification for an apostle sent out to preach, teach and confess the saving message of the gospel to a world that is dying of sin is laid out in these words, “One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” In other words, the one who is chosen to replace Judas must have been a witness to Christ’s resurrection, and he must be able to declare with confidence as a material fact, that “Christ is risen indeed!”

The motion having been made and seconded was accepted in one accord. And what do we hear next? Was there a call for the question, or a lengthy discussion as to who the candidates would be? Was there an election of the voters’ assembly? No, instead, being that there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the office, they brought them before the assembly and prayed, saying: “You Lord (that is Christ alone), know the hearts of all (people), show (us) which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for (Justus and Matthias) and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven” that is, he became the twelfth apostle.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chose His apostles. It is by the unmerited favor of God, that is by grace alone that any were chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God. Neither you or I, nor any other person who is living today can claim to be, under Peter’s definition, an apostle of Jesus Christ. But, what we can claim with certainty is that we are not just his disciples and servants, but his brothers, and a child of Almighty God the Father. We can claim this truth because in our baptism and the continued reception and use of God’s means of Grace, we are daily called by grace through faith into this relationship. And it is a faith that continues to come to us through God’s chief means of Grace, His Holy Word. You will need this Word every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone.

And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God. In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it? Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to obediently make that painful walk to the cross? Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.” Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings. That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love. This is a gift from God through Christ, which completely removes your sins, gives a new and eternal life that can never be earned. Yes, it is true that you do not deserve this gift but it is your’s through Christ none the less.

The story is told about a man from England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He phoned the Rolls-Royce people back in England and said, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the Englishman was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote a letter to the Rolls-Royce Corporation and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”
That is an example of grace.

Did Christ finish His work upon the cross? Did His death pay for the sins of the world, and is it enough for you to find peace? Can you see how dangerous it is to include anything you do with the righteousness of Christ, in order to appear justified, that is saved in the eyes of God? Jesus Christ will not allow you to add your works upon His in regards to your salvation. He must be all, or nothing, in regards to our salvation. If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions? Did Christ finish the work of or salvation, and do you think He would ever share His glory and praise with us? No, no; Christ is no half-Savior. It is a hard thing to bring proud hearts to rest upon Christ for righteousness. God humbles the proud by calling sinners completely out from their own righteousness and into Christ for their salvation.

Listen friends, I know that it can be a hard thing to bring our proud hearts to rest completely upon Christ, but it is the way of God; He insist that proud sinners such as us surrender everything to Him and trust in the work of Christ alone. And to enable us to do this very thing, God calls us to gather together in Christ’s church and receive the gifts He freely gives. And these gifts, which come to us through Scripture alone, by grace alone, save us by creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone is that very thing, which allows you to receive and believe through the eyewitness testimony of the twelve apostles, that not only has Christ died to save the World, but also He died to save you!

By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed,” but you can also say with the certainty of faith, “He has risen for me.” That is, through Holy Scripture, the ancient teaching of the apostles of Christ’s church, I can say for certain that because He lives I too shall live with Him forever. Because he died to save sinners, He died to save me, and in my baptism, He has given all of this to me. In the washing of the water and the Word of God, I shall stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but gives eternal life.

Martin Luther, in one of his conflicts with Satan, was asked by the devil if he felt his sins forgiven. “No,” said the great Luther, “I don’t feel that they are forgiven, but I know they are, because God says so in His Word.” Paul did not say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall feel saved”; but, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

You see, Luther knew what we must know also, faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing of its own, but simply waits to be filled by God Almighty.

Dear friends, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not a cleverly devised myth perpetuated by the types of false teachers we see today, proclaiming to be “apostles” of Christ. But rather, it was testified by the official eyewitnesses of Jesus’s public ministry, by people such as Matthias. That is good news for you; it is a promise and guarantee that you too will inherit the eternal kingdom of God in a new body created by God, and brought home by God. And where you go when this promise of God is fulfilled, just may be the best news of all… you see, you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. Christ is risen… indeed, and so shall we. AMEN!

The Resurrection is the Gospel

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Easter 2A, April 23, 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

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” [1 Peter 1:8]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! When those words of joy were first spoken, they declared a truth; it was a truth that took all of Christ’s disciples, including the apostles by complete surprise. Jesus had warned them; He prepared them over and over again that He would come back. He had made it clear that it was His life to lay down into death and it was His to raise back up again, but all of them missed the meaning of His promise. But who would have understood? The truth is, in this life people just don’t come back from the dead. Isn’t it true, that there seems to be nothing as permanent as death?

I believe that our common experience tells us that…

Death is simply inescapable.

But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. His power over death was declared over and over again throughout the Old Testament, and His resurrection is the very reason we have the New Testament; it’s the reason we have the Christian Church, and presumably, it’s the reason you are here this morning.

The day Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that He had power over sin, death, and the devil.

Easter Day took all of Jesus’ disciples by surprise, and it became the focus of their lives and the center of their thinking; it defined how they lived, and how they died. It became the very center of their beings. Christ had escaped death and brought new hope for the world and new life for those who would trust His cross and the message of the empty tomb.

To St. Peter, Jesus’ resurrection was life changing. You can hear his joyful exclamation of it’s effect on him in the opening words of our Epistle lesson [1 Peter 1:3-9]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

Imagine with me, that Jesus has allowed St. Peter to return from the dead for just an hour simply to tell his story one more time, in the flesh. Now imagine that we’ve been allowed to ask him any thing. Maybe we might ask him why the resurrection was so central in all of his writings. Now let’s allow him to answer that question and tell his story.

“Well, to understand why the resurrection is so important to me, you’d have to remember just who I was before Jesus rose from the dead; you’d have to remember the terrible things that I did.”

“I guess you could say that I was the spokesman for the other disciples. I was with Jesus from the beginning when He called me away from the family fishing business. I dropped everything and followed Him. Oh, how I loved the fact that the Holy Spirit first spoke through me, in order to declare that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God. Later, I even bragged that if all of the others left Him, I never would. Then when Jesus really needed me, I the great Peter let Him down! On the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, I the strong and dependable Peter denied Jesus three times, and I ran away and hid for fear of loosing my own life, just as Jesus warned I would.”

“Three times—I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it—three times I the great Peter denied my Lord. I denied Him while He was getting ready to die for my sins. And while he hung there dying, John and the women were there with Him, but I did not have the stomach or the faith to watch it. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes on Jesus, and now He was dead. But even worse, instead of being thankful to God for being a part of Jesus’ life, I felt nothing but bitter shame and a sense that my entire life had been a complete waste of time and an utter failure.”

“But you can imagine how my life changed when the women came back from the tomb with the unbelievable news. Jesus was alive. He’s risen! At first I did not dare believe it, but then they spoke a message from the angels, and it changed everything. They said that Jesus told them to tell the disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee. Think about what those Words meant to me—and Peter! At that very moment, every doubt was erased from my worried mind and I not only believed that Jesus had defeated death, but that He truly was my God and my Savior! From that point on I was a changed man, I was forgiven, and the entire world had changed, and for the first time I knew that my eternal future was set and certain.”

At this point we might be tempted to ask Peter what he means, when he says that the entire world had changed, and that he knew that his eternal future was set and certain. Well, let’s let Peter answer us in his own words from verse 4 of our epistle reading: “(Friends, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again to a living hope) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” This is a strong declaration of faith; it’s a God given faith that learns to acknowledge our sins of the past, but then by grace, that same gift of faith teaches us to let go of the past and then simply trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ; a completed work that has given us a new identity as one who is “born again” for an eternal life in heaven.

Our sinful flesh fights this truth, as it attempts to set our eyes on anything else other than Christ’s cross and empty tomb.

Isn’t it true that we would rather think about how Peter let Jesus down instead of how we ourselves have abandoned Him time and time again? Isn’t it easier to see the darkness of Peter’s regrets rather than looking at our own darkness? Just as Peter was tempted to go back into his old life of fishing rather than waiting on Jesus, haven’t we also been tempted to go back to our old sinful ways, in fact haven’t we actually done that many times?

And when we go back to our sinful ways, isn’t it true that like Peter, we too have felt that we were letting the best of who we were, that is our relationship with Jesus just slip away through our fingers? Doesn’t it become easier to feed on our failures, that is our sinful weakness rather than repent; turn to Jesus in confession of those failures? Don’t we too, at times feel like Jesus has abandoned us?

When our marriage fails, when our family ties are falling apart, when our financial base has seemingly been destroyed, when addiction rears it’s ugly ahead once again, or when death takes the very one we love the most, aren’t we too tempted to run from God and His Church, or lash out at Him in anger? But then like Peter, we too receive the call to come to the empty tomb, and then everything is changed. Jesus is alive, not dead. Jesus is with us in His Word and Sacraments, He has not left us as orphans. Mankind’s greatest enemies, your greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and destroyed.

On the cross we see how our enemies were defeated. Jesus died to save sinners, all sinners. He died to take away Peter’s sins, and He died to take away your sins. Upon the cross, the Son of God Himself made full payment for our sins. But in the empty tomb, we see how the power of our enemies has forever been removed from our lives. The empty tomb proves to us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that when we were washed clean in the waters of our baptism, the empty tomb is also our reality. In our baptism Jesus resurrection becomes our resurrection. Death has been defeated and the dark wall that divides this life from our eternal life has been penetrated. Or, as St. Peter puts it in verses 4 and 5…

Our eternal destiny has been assured (as) “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for (us who have been baptized), (and) by God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” What these Words declare to us is simply this, no lie of the devil and no attacks from this sinful world can jeopardize our salvation and our eternal home with Jesus, because nothing can put Jesus back into the grave and nothing can undo what God has done for you upon the cross and within the waters of your baptism. No enemy can cheat you out of your inheritance; it can’t be stolen or destroyed. It is being kept for you by the fact that Christ has risen!

Now we could end our message right here and most of us would go home happy and at peace, but some of us would not. Some of us still have questions. And I believe that the primary question that holds us back in sorrow and prevents us to leave in joy is this: “If Christ’s resurrection makes such a difference in our lives, and since the future holds such glory, and since Christ has overcome all of His enemies, then why is there so much suffering in this world? Why is there so much suffering in “MY” world?” Now to this question, let’s let St. Peter answer once again in verse 6 from our Epistle lesson…

“Yes it is true, we still experience pain and sorrow just as every other person does in this world, but for we Christians, these experiences are only temporary.”

“And while we go through these things, we keep rejoicing in the hope of our inheritance because the Holy Spirit reminds us that “though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, (this is necessary so) that the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold (may become evident to all), a faith, which though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

You see friends, Jesus is not only with you, through the Holy Spirit He is working in you. He is working to transform you everyday into what you will be for eternity, holy, perfect, and righteous. He is transforming your character. And like old Job, we may at times be asked to go through some times of testing so that others can see our faith in Jesus and the transforming power of the cross and the empty tomb. As Jesus allows us to enter into these times of testing He is also calling the attention of others to notice how we handle these times, but also how God brings us through them. And as we pass through these times, we prove to others that our love for God is not fleeting and we are not fair weathered friends of Jesus Christ, but we have been transformed forever unto eternal life.

The resurrection tells us that suffering, our suffering is only temporary. We can make it through those periods, because we are not alone. We can pass through it and not let it destroy us or take away our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if the suffering drives us to the very door of death, we know for certain that beyond that door our risen Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to receive us. We who have been baptized into the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection. We who trust Him may loose a skirmish sometimes, that is we may fall into temptation and sin, but we are not defeated, because Jesus has won the war. Jesus’ resurrection tells us that suffering can never have the last word for those of us who belong to Him.

As we close our message this morning, I think that we should address one more challenge to living out our lives as baptized Christians, and it is this. We can read our Bibles, especially the stories about St. Peter and the others that were in Jesus’ inner circle and think, “I wish that I could have known Jesus and learned to love Him like they did.” And to that, I believe that St. Peter would say… “What do you mean youmwish?! You can. That’s the point of the resurrection. He lives now as certainly and as personally as He did then. You see Him by faith, which is the most precious gift of God that you could ever receive. Through the Word of God, all of it “has been written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” by faith. Listen friend, your vision of Jesus is more precious than mine. I believed in Him because He allowed me to be with Him for three years; He allowed me to touch, handle and eat with Him after His resurrection. But you believe because of the awesome power of God that has filled you through His supernatural gift of faith. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dear friends, the resurrection of Jesus is the gospel.

It’s the gospel because He assures you that soon enough you to will follow Him and rise from the dead. Your own resurrection will be like Jesus resurrection in that it will be the final act of God upon your old flesh which proves, that God loves you so much that He has done everything that needs to be done to save you. It’s no wonder that Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The resurrection meant to him that we had a sure inheritance, encouragement in suffering, and the joy of constant friendship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For Peter the resurrection was an historical fact. He was there when it happened and it changed the history of sinful men and women. Christ is risen… that is history. Christ is risen for you… that is your part in history in the making that only you can witness to. Now go out and tell anyone who will listen this gospel message that includes them too… 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!

What Are You Seeking?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
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

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

God’s Compassion Comes in the Water and the Word

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Baptism of Our Lord-A, January 8, 2017
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

baptism-holy-spiritWe just finished singing that we are “God’s own Child.” As sinful as we are and through no work of our own, God has declared and we have declared and sung right along with Him that through God’s Compassion and the waters of our baptism, we have been taken out of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and translated or transferred into the Kingdom of God… Paradise. How did this happen? Well that is what we will discover in our message this morning.
God’s Compassion first comes in the form of a warning.

Picture if you will, thousands of people being moved and gathered at the banks of the Jordan river by the Word of God, through the preaching of John the Baptizer. Most of them have been cut to the very soul, because God has shown them their many sins, but He’s also promised that because of their repentance, that is because they have turned to God for salvation, He alone will wash them clean! Now I said most of them had been moved by the Word, but a notable few hadn’t! They were the Pharisees, the hypocritical teachers of the Law! They loved to point out other people’s sins while conveniently ignoring their own. To these few who are gathered at the banks of the Jordan, John shouts out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath and judgment of God that’s coming? (Do you really want this baptism? Then) Bear fruit (true fruit that comes only through) repentance. [Matthew 3:7-8]

Wow! Right away we know that this baptism business is serious business, and why wouldn’t it be? You see, it is the business of God and any business of God’s is ALWAYS serious business! So why was Jesus there? What did He want with this baptism? This is a baptism of confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins, and now Jesus has come to the same place, why? And a shocked John asks this exact thing when he says, “I (myself) need to be baptized by you, and (you are coming) to me?”

Do you hear the confession of the very one who is performing the blessed Sacrament? John had just proclaimed that while He was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one who was coming soon after Him Who is mightier than Him, Whose sandals He was not worthy to untie. He said that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! He warned that when this One would come, He would bring judgment and the punishment of Hell’s fire with Him. And now here He stands waiting His turn at the font of forgiveness? So John was saying in essence, “For some unknown reason, God has chosen a wretched sinner like me to give this gift of forgiveness to other sinners, which I don’t understand but am obediently doing; if you were here to perform this miraculous sacrament on me, I would understand, because You are the only one who could wash others of their sins and yet have no need to be washed Yourself. But now You ask me to wash what is already pure and holy, why? I don’t understand Lord!”

This was John’s conundrum and it is also a stumbling block for many today. Here the Creator and judge of all sinful flesh comes as promised, but not as One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire of judgment, but as a passive recipient of John’s own baptism. Why?
Jesus quickly reassures John and us that all is going as God desires through His answer.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [15a] Friends, do you want to know along with John why Jesus is at the banks of the chilly and cold Jordan? Do you want to know why He who has no sin or need of baptism steps into those life cleansing waters? He does it to fulfill all righteousness. But what does that mean?

Well, it means, that God through Jesus Christ has broken into our sinful reality to do what He said all along He would do, save us from our own sinfulness. John’s message of repentance was direct and true, God would come through Jesus Christ to judge and punish sinful man, but first He would come through Jesus Christ to save sinful man. Before Jesus comes with power and might, He must come in lowliness to be baptized by John. Here we begin to understand the true ministry and mission of Jesus first for the Jews and then for you and me. Jesus comes as was declared long ago; He comes as Emmanuel… God with us! Remember, John declared and asked, “I need to be baptized by You, and You YOURSELF are coming to me?” And to this Jesus answers, “Of course I am! I’m Emmanuel and that is my mission. I have come to you and I will stay with you, and if you’ll let me I will save you!

What John didn’t understand, many still don’t; Jesus who is the One who was promised to come and be judge and punisher for sins is also the One who comes as the descendant of David to bring comfort to God’s people. He comes with the Balm of Gilead to heal the sin sick hearts. He comes as the compassionate, humble sin-bearer. He comes to fulfill all righteousness.

What does it mean to fulfill or enact the scriptural plan of all righteousness? It means that God’s compassion and real presence have broken into our sinful reality. It means that God’s mighty act of creation has come to us for re-creation. Jesus who is the God-man will not only repeat John’s message of repentance, but He will also make it come true in the hearts of many by giving Himself in both power and might! Friends, when Jesus stepped into those waters God was beginning to act, and God’s promised righteousness among us had begun to be fulfilled once John baptized Jesus.

And what is God’s righteousness? It is His saving act that He performs on behalf of all the people on this earth. It is God accomplishing what we could not; in God’s righteousness He gives you an eternally clean heart! Jesus Himself will perform all righteousness, that is, He will begin God’s act of salvation for His people by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, and receiving from John what only sinners need to receive. Ultimately, by stepping into those waters, Jesus was committing Himself to all that Holy Scripture foretold about our Messiah. When He stepped into the waters, He was really laying down at the cross! When Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan He was the sinless One. When He left those waters, in a sense He left bearing all of our sins… all of your sins! And from those waters He methodically proceeded over the course of three years to the cross. And at the cross, the sinless One would offer up His own life as a ransom payment in your place.

John was obedient even though God’s plan was a great mystery to Him. And because of His obedience, God confirmed to Him and to us who read this gospel today, that everything is going according to God’s plan. And after “Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” [vs. 16]

This opening up of the heavens is hard for us to understand.

I like to think of it as something like our picture in a picture technology we have in our televisions. Somehow a window was opened and for a brief moment we were allowed to see what one day we will see eternally; heaven and earth become one! This opening of the heavens to Jesus signals to John and to us that John’s proclamation of the end times and judgment are coming, but only at God’s prescribed moment. And what of the dove descending upon Jesus? Well we know that through this open window into heaven that answer was clear; it was God the Holy Spirit who would forever be with the flesh of God the Son and within and among even our own flesh. And in our own baptism the very same Holy Spirit descends upon us and begins to live in us, and with His presence, He also brings to us God’s compassion; the heart of Jesus Christ!

It is Jesus Christ who comforts all those who are contrite and mourning because of their own sinfulness! Jesus who is God’s Son from eternity friends has come to you; He takes on your own flesh and even your sins, and now confirms that God has come to us. And He does this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [vs. 17b]

But what does this mean for us? Well it means dear friends, that God has come to you personally in the waters of your own baptism! Through simple water, God’s promises of Salvation through His Word are applied to you in a miraculous way; in a way that gives you peace with God first and then peace with each other. And behind this peace is your new nature. A new nature recreated with the Compassion and heart of Jesus Himself.

When you consider that God, in Jesus, has been about the work of helping the helpless — and by God’s definition, that includes you and me, because we matter to Him — it makes perfect sense that God would have a heart for the literal poor in this world.
And as followers of Jesus, so should we.

Now, certainly there are all kinds of reasons I could come up with for not getting involved with caring for the poor, reasons like, you know, others have the appropriate experience and resources to do a better job. Or, there is so much poverty in this world, how in the world can I, as one person, ever hope to make any kind of significant difference? And, you know, there may be some truth, in fact, to the hesitancies that we have to reach out to the poor. But again, the bottom line, more than anything is that the heart of Christ lives in you, and that heart is a compassionate one! In other words, Jesus is always adjusting your heart so that it is more like God’s heart.

Jesus Word always seems to work towards filling us with Compassion, of giving grace to others as we have received that grace. Jesus said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” So should you. “Love one another,” He said, “just as I have loved you.” “Whatever you do to the least of these, you in turn do it to Me.” In so doing, Jesus knew we would begin to develop a heart that reflects the image of God’s heart for all people.
We’re calling today’s service “Compassion Sunday” because we’ve created a connection with Compassion International. Compassion is an organization that works throughout the world. There are 17,000 children waiting to be sponsored. And that sponsorship means that they eat in a healthy way; they have education opportunities provided for them, they have faith opportunities provided for them, and health opportunities, and good health care. And that takes place in the context of an organization that is second to none in terms of getting the money that you give directly to the children. And so, this is a good organization, and it is a way to make a difference in the life of one person, a child. And that will impact their family and others as well, the whole community.

This morning we are giving you an opportunity to discover if that heart of Jesus is leading you towards compassionately supporting this ministry. The demonstration area is open right now in the lower parking lot. I would encourage you to simply take the tour and then let the heart of Christ lead you in your decision to get involved.

Dear friends, your baptism isn’t something that you can play with and attach your own meaning to, because it’s really Jesus baptism; a baptism that fulfills all righteousness. You can never say that it’s simply an ordinance of the church. Why is that? Because it comes with God’s own command and the promise of salvation. And with that promise comes the heart and compassion of Jesus. This is why we must always insist that what God declares as His own means of salvation can never be considered simply a formality. Instead, we must see our baptism, Jesus baptism that fulfills all righteousness as the most precious gift that God can give. Because within those waters of your baptism are the very life and blood of Jesus, poured out for the forgiveness of the entire world’s sins… even yours! The Waters of your baptism are really the waters of Jesus baptism poured into the cup of God’s own Word, so that by clinging to Jesus’ work for you and His promises of forgiveness you might know forever that you truly are a “child of paradise!” I pray that you will always cling to these truths and to the source of them, Jesus Christ your Savior, the Son of God. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Are You… Really?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Christmas 1A, January 1, 2017
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

“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was call Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21]

f4d3548fd632361774d6702500809ea9For you who have embraced the name of Jesus, there truly is something about the name of Jesus; it truly is the sweetest name you’ve ever known. Jesus was given this name on the day He was circumcised. Just like every other Jewish man-child, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth. That is the reason we speak of the name of Jesus on New Year’s Day, which always comes exactly one week after Christmas Day. But there is likewise a deeper reason why we should begin the new year in the name of Jesus…

Jesus name tells us who we really are

Who are you?

I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law. You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you. And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer. You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin. So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh. He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name. The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly. The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot. You see the name Jesus means God saves! In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love. In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died for your sins, and then He was buried. He did all of this for you. He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From this place of power, He invites all sinners to take on His righteous work and follow Him.

All of this, He does for you. He does it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner. You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness. No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”

So, who are you really?

God knows who you are, do you?

Well, let me tell you who God says you are! Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God! Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God. It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone. Listen to me now, you are a son of God. Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex. It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status. You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirm every day that you still want. You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You have put on His identity, His persona. And what is that identity? You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father. There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism. All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity. And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in. In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all. Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God. But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him. But this trust isn’t something that comes natural to us; we must be given the ability to trust Jesus by God as a gift. And this gift is called faith! By this gift of faith then, we can learn to depend on Jesus and the strength that God gives to us through the name of Jesus Who is the living Word of God!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?

Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can look backwards and embrace the chains that once bound you or you can live the life of freedom that Jesus provides. So will you be a victim or the victor? You can watch with anger, hurt, or disappointment as Jesus frees others from the sin that has bound them in the past, or you can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you too into His image. Who do you want to be, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith. It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Faith is a gift from God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it. So is food, but you have to eat it. So is water, but you have to drink it.

To believe in Jesus can therefore be said to have faith in His name. The forgiveness of sins is preached in His name. He that believes on Him shall receive the forgiveness of sins through His name. To be a Christian then is to have life in His name. The Scriptures are to be taken literally when they say: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be save.” “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus under the protection of Jesus, with all forgiven that would seem otherwise to keep us from being heard, and with Jesus as our helper and intercessor.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift. How do you receive it? I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17] Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God! You have been made right with God! You can either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad. He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size. He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock. He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work. His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble. The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.” The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?” The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!” With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything. You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God. We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name! Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Dear Christians, God is asking each of us to live our lives in the name of Jesus. Whether we go to our daily meals or we go to lie down and rest in order to begin a new day or a new year, we must fight to remember that we take the name of Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all our days, and in everything we do.

Who are you? You are a Christian now go and live out that identity. AMEN!

It’s True!


Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Christmas Morning, December 25h, 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

6a00d8341c3e3953ef0148c6ea2e05970c-400wiWe all know the Christmas Gospel, but some people think of it more as a story. The truth is, all people do not hear it in the same way. Some listen to it as though it were only a children’s story, with maybe a little bit of historical truth to it.

Let’s first make something clear to ourselves; the writers of the gospels relate all of the information to us because they are convinced that these things actually happened.

Listen to how Peter attest to the truthfulness of the Gospel message: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

Luke especially calls upon eyewitnesses and states that he has carefully done research about everything from the beginning. So we can confidently say that the Scriptures are speaking of history, but they are also relating to us important facts about the birth of Jesus much like an artist paints a picture. In a few vivid flash-pictures the Scriptures give us the important facts. The background is stylized. All unimportant bits of information fade into the shadows or into forgetfulness. So the Scriptures aren’t necessarily precise records. This is why it’s always important to ask questions as we seek to know the things that Scripture chooses to reveal to us. But what the Scriptures do tell, in all the precise simplicity of the story, is better than what any stenographic record could have given to us.

Here is what we know…

Jesus was born in the beginning of the great census taking of Caesar Augustus. That is well known to historians. About the year 7 B.C. Quirinius was given the authority to govern the area. Jesus was most likely born in that year. Egyptian records show that each person had to travel to his home town at the time of this great census-taking. The Christmas Gospel states the same thing.

And since Joseph was of the lineage of David, he traveled to Bethlehem from the town of Nazareth, where he probably lived only on a temporary basis. Matthew and Luke give only slight suggestions of this, from which we can’t develop a complete picture. We are told that Joseph also went up to the city of David, since Bethlehem lies on the ridge of the Judean hills, nearly 2,400 feet above sea level. God’s guidance was in this journey to Bethlehem, because it was here where the prophet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2-5] insist that the Christ was to be born.

In the height of biblical criticism today, the stories of the birth and childhood of Jesus are considered by many critics to be something that was added to the Gospels at a latter date. But this opinion is unsupported by the facts. These stories as they call them, were first told in the local Semitic language. They belong to the materials that were used in the earliest congregation of Christians in Jerusalem when they spoke of Jesus. And anyone who reads them today without a prejudiced mindset can’t fail to notice that Matthew told the story simply and faithfully the way that it was told to him, while Luke must have had his original record from people who had heard the story from the lips of Mary. We too need to read and hear the story fresh and new and let its timeless message find its way into our hearts and minds. 

So let me help us do just that…

What we learn from our Gospel lesson is that God comes to places and people that we least expect.

Since Joseph and Mary were not the only travelers who came to Bethlehem for the registration, there was no room for them in the village inn, and evidently no other home had a vacancy. And so they eventually found a place that they could rest and prepare for the birth of Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, this place was not the village stable; it was most likely the home of a distant relative of Joseph, a small home that typically had only one or two rooms. But even these smaller homes had what we would call a storage or utility room attached to the home. This was the room where the animals were kept along with items not suited for storage in the home. It probably was un-kept and smelly. This was the place where Jesus was born!

Are there any small unseemly things in your life or heart that you’ve kept hidden away? These are the places Jesus wishes to be born into, brought into today!

And meanwhile, out in the fields—in the desert, at the very edge of Bethlehem—there were some shepherds, a few of the working class of Israel, men doing the roughest kind of work, and receiving very little pay. It was to these kind of people that God chose to appear to first, through His own angelic messengers, and then use them as messengers too.

These are always the kind of people that God is wanting to use to spread the truth and power of the Gospel; every day hard working folks. It’s a message that declares: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. A baby who was born to die for the sins of the world… even your sins!”

Is there someone God has been leading you to share the gospel with, yet perhaps you have hesitated because you fear that bringing up such a subject might offend them or threaten your relationship with them? It may be as easy as inviting them to a church function or maybe even a worship service!

Though God comes through His Word and in all of His glory and power to sinners, the message that both the church and you are to declare as God’s messengers is very simple: Fear not! Don’t be afraid to hear God speak to you. He comes to replace your fear with joy and give you peace. He is not interested in how you have lived your life in the past but rather how you will live your life from here on out with Him. He comes in mercy, that is out of His love for you, He does not give you what you deserve, but instead, He gives you love; He desires to rescue you from the sin that so easily entangles all of us. Fear not!

Who is this Christ, this baby born to die upon a cross for the sins of the world? He is…

The One who is to be Ruler in Israel (and the world). This King was born from Judah, and yet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2–5] prophesied that He was going to rule also over Israel, even though it was clear that the kingdom of Israel would never be brought back. It had been scattered throughout the entire world, and as we know, it never returned. From this we see, that the kingdom of Christ will be a spiritual kingdom. This is something that many people still do not understand today. Yet Micah is prophesying that this Ruler would reign over both Judah and Israel. Who then are Judah and Israel? They are you the baptized, who rest within Christ’s church today, even our little church here.

But Christ is also the one “Whose origin is from of old.” That Ruler came forth at the time when the days of the world began. He was at the same time with the beginning of all creatures. He does not come forth first from Bethlehem after the Babylonian captivity but He came forth a long time before that. This is the One Who John describes as eternal: “In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] In his song, Moses sings: “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.” [Psalm 90:2] There Moses used the same expression that Micah uses here, that is: “You did not begin with the world, but, when the world began to be, You already were.” Christ also says about Himself: “Before Abraham was, I am.” [John 8:58] Christ, the Son of God, was brought forth with the beginning of the world. And from the beginning it had been determined that He would come to us so that every accomplishment that sinners call good would amount to nothing. He was given to sinful mankind purely out of mercy, and not because we had deserved this or had wished for it, but because this is the way God had decided to work from eternity.

This is the message that is so consistently spoken of throughout Scripture. It is reliable and true. It is a message that declares that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” [Titus 3:4-7]

This then, is both the gift and the message from God the Father, regarding His Son, Jesus the Christ. This message is reliable because God the Holy Spirit has placed His stamp of verity upon it. It is a gift that is for the entire world, yet it is specifically tailor made for you, and has been applied to you within the waters of your own baptism where He saved you by the washing of regeneration and still does so every day, through the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom is poured out upon you richly through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. May you continually both desire and use this gift, now and forever more. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Signs From Heaven

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Twenty First Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 16th, 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

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” [John 4:48]

Well, people haven’t changed much since the day Jesus said these Words.  They were spoken in response to a desperate father’s cry for healing on behalf of his dying son.  People still beg for miracles from a God they hardly know and seldom acknowledge.  People still today, imagine that if they could only see some kind of miracle from God, it would make it so much easier for them to believe.  Maybe it’s true, that most people normally don’t think very much about God.  But when they are in trouble, well you know the saying; “There’s no atheists in a fox hole.”  Most people, when they become desperate, will pray for a miracle from God.  It’s as if they are putting God on trial and demanding that He prove He exists.

Even Jesus enemies accepted the fact that He could probably do wondrous and miraculous things, so the signs He performed became His reputation and not the proof that the Messiah had come to save His people.   But search the gospels, and you will see that Jesus never worked miracles to impress people or to make Himself more popular or to gain true believers.  Even the devil with all of his temptations thrown at Christ, could not move Him to do that.  Jesus used His power to help others, but He never used it to help Himself or to make His life more prosperous or comfortable.  He always used His divine powers to reveal the mystery and mercy of God and God’s loving presence in the midst of a sinful generation.  For those who had eyes to see, His miracles revealed that the Kingdom of God was now with sinful men and women and that the Messiah had indeed come!

But why didn’t Jesus perform such signs as would convince others of who He really was?  Why doesn’t God allow such signs to be given to us today?  For the answers to these questions let’s look at our gospel lesson. [John 4:46-54]

The healing of the royal official’s son shows us both the expectations of sinful people when dealing with their perfect Creator, and the perfect Creator’s response when dealing with sinful men and women.

“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.””  Now here’s a question that begs to be asked, “If the man knew of Jesus and His miracles, why did he wait so long for an opportunity to know Jesus; why did he wait for this desperate hour, literally the last hour of his son’s life before he sought out Jesus?”  The answer that was true then is the same answer that’s true today:  Knowing God and serving him is never a priority until it’s an emergency.  This is why Jesus said that unless we sinful people see signs and wonders we wont believe.  We wont believe because we don’t see a need to believe.  And when the need like an emergency arises, we have faith alright, but it is a general faith, a desperate faith.  But Jesus refuses to be known in this way, like some kind of magic genie who only lives to fulfill our wishes.

Somehow this desperate father perceived this rebuke in Jesus statement.  So his guilt and his desperation produced repentance and he was some how filled with the audacity and persistency to ask Jesus again, but this time with a heart that was beginning to understand something about how God works.  So the desperate father said to Jesus again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  This father, broken of pride and humbled by the impossibility of the request refuses to leave because it has nowhere else to go but to Jesus.  But most importantly it now knows that only Jesus can do the impossible.  The audacity of this hope is that it believes that Jesus really wants to help!

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  Now this man’s faith has moved from a general faith to a specific faith in Jesus alone and it is well on its way to a saving faith.  Listen: “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.”

He believed!  But what does He believe?  He believes that the Word of Jesus is true.  He believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior who has come to save sinful mankind.  He does not understand this nearly as intricately as you do today, because he did not have all of the facts that you have, but nonetheless, he believed!  And what’s more, he shared his newfound faith in Jesus with his family and now they believe; they too are saved from their sins through faith in the Word of Christ alone!

So which is the greater miracle, the healing of the boy or the salvation that came to the family by faith?  Is this gospel lesson today about healing or about salvation?  How you answer that question will reveal what kind of God you think you serve and trust in.

Some people search for promises of healing and prosperity when they read their Bibles and others search for promises of forgiveness and restoration.

People who search for prosperity and healing will always find disappointment, because Jesus did not come into this world to make us rich and healthy but to save us from our sins.  When people asked Jesus for a sign or miracle, He told them that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up (upon the cross).  He said that they would receive no other sign than the sign of Jonah.  Jesus means two things by this.  In the first place He declares the need for seeing and confessing our sins.  This was the message at Nineveh when Jonah declared that the sinful proud Ninevites were damned to eternal punishment; this is the message that brought them to their knees in repentance.

But this is also a message of Gospel hope, which Jesus proclaims in His own death and resurrection.  Just as the sinful Israelites were to look upon the serpent on the pole as their only means of salvation and forgiveness, so too sinful men and women must look only to Jesus, lifted upon the cross, as their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  Just as Jonah stayed three days in the belly of the whale but was brought back among the living after the third day, so too, Jesus would rest within the tomb and on the third day rise to life and declare victory over sin, death and the devil.  This is why Christ has provided preachers for His church, so that we too can be confronted with the fact that Jesus died and rose again for grievous sinners like us.

And this kind of faith, according to Jesus, is the kind that saves.  In Jesus Words, the same Word that was spoken to the desperate father, is the power of God unto salvation; a power that touches our consciences and appeals to our sinful souls, and then confirms that because of the work of God alone, we “are of the truth.” [John 18:37]

In Jesus’ Word, we sense the accusations, we hear the promises, and we know what God has done not just for the world, but for us!  But if we do not have a conscience that is open to the voice of God, that is if we refuse to allow our faith to move from a simple general kind of faith to a saving kind, well then, no sign or miracle will help us.

Even King Herod wished to see a sign from Jesus, but he never received it.  He already received his sign when John the Baptist stood before him and preached directly about his sin; a sin that was separating Herod from the forgiving love of God.  When Herod silenced that voice of conscience, he had no other hope.  Jesus answered him not a word.  And if we silence the voice of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to bring us saving faith, neither do we have any other hope. [Matthew 14:9-12; Luke 23:9]

For each of us today, it is critical that we do not become a “faithless and unbelieving generation” who demand signs because we will not repent until we first have been thoroughly convinced.  [Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:16]  If today you hear His voice in Scripture and know that Jesus is your God and you are His, give glory to God alone.  And know that the only person who will come to God is the person who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it is profitable or not.

When it comes to answered prayer, know that in Jesus in regards to the promises of God the answer is always yes.  Yes, you are forgiven through Christ because God has said so.  Yes, you will return one day to live eternally within the new Paradise of God restored to perfection.  Yes, you can have peace with God and joy right now, simply because God promises that it is so.  But in regards to asking for something that God has not promised is yours, something like a healing or a blessing of prosperity here in this sinful world, you must not be ashamed to ask, but you should also remember that their is no promise of God attached to your request.  So, keep on asking.  Keep on praying in faith, and then simply trust that God will give to you always and only what is best for you.

So where God speaks a promise we must believe by faith that it is so, and where God is silent we must trust and rest in His perfect love.  May God continue to make this so for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Fight The Good Fight!


Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 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

“Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” [Matthew 9:2]

These are the Words of Jesus, spoken for you this morning.  They’re Words that give great faith.  Our faith is what scripture says is the victory that over comes the world. [1 John 5:4]  But our faith is also a struggle.  Paul urges us to fight the good fight of faith. [1 Timothy 6:12]  And in this fight, we fight like an athlete who knows that only one can win the prize.  When St. Paul looked back upon his own life, he could declare that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the course, and had succeeded in keeping the faith; specifically, faith that saves.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is the type of faith that trust only in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for sinners like us who want to be saved from our sins.  Saving faith says, “I’ve got to get to Jesus!  No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment; Jesus is the solution to my problem.”

Think of the paralytic and his four friends in our gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8); they were certain that if they could get to Jesus, well then, healing and restoration would be the result.  We don’t know much about this band of brothers, but we do know that there were five of them, and one of them was paralyzed and confined to a bed or stretcher of sorts.  The four who carried their friend must have loved him dearly to go through all of this trouble to help him get to Jesus.  But when they arrived the place was packed.  Now what?  Well, if they couldn’t go through the door or a window they would have to improvise, and improvise they did; they lowered him through a hole in the roof and down to the very feet of Jesus!

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.””  Wait… didn’t they come for a healing.  Didn’t these band of brothers want their number to be restored to five rather than four?  Yes they did, but Jesus knew something they did not; Jesus Christ the Son of God, very God of very God looked into the paralytic’s heart and saw guilt; great guilt.  He was sorrowing over his sinful life and the restoration that he needed ran so much deeper than just a physical healing.

Can you relate to that feeling?  Do you too know the burden of past sins and the fear of potential future ones?  If so, then you too desire something deeper than just a physical healing; you desire complete and total forgiveness and new life.

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” [Matthew 9:3]

These men came from Jerusalem and Judea as well as from Galilee, and they came for one purpose, to keep track of Jesus and to gather evidence against him.  Now, Jesus had just claimed to be able to do what God alone can do; forgive sins.  In the futileness of their sinful minds, they could never think of Jesus as anything but a mere man, so when He claims to have the right and ability to forgive sins, in their minds, He was pretending to be God—to them, this was the very worst type of blasphemy.  Even this, Jesus knows.

Jesus, the very Son of God knows all things; he knows the sinful hearts of these men and He knows your heart, and He desires only to free them and us from our sinful nature so that by faith we all may be born again.  “(So) Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus has performed the one great act, forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The effect of this act is invisible: no one saw the sins piled up on the man’s soul, except Jesus.  And no man saw that mass of sin vanish from his soul with just a Word from Jesus. And now Jesus follows up this first act with a second one, he heals the paralytic. The effect of the second act is visible to all: they see the man rise, pick up his bed, and walk away not only freed of paralysis but forgiven and invited into eternal life, all this having been done in an instant. The act which the eyes are able to see verifies the other act which no eyes can see.

Jesus saving ministry of the gospel is still going on today.  He promises the church that He continues this ministry through contemporary disciples of every age.  So the church is always carrying out the work of baptizing and teaching, as Jesus abides with His church, which carries out those missional tasks. While it is true that the saving work of the church is completely a work of God, because the Son, who became a man calls others to follow him, He gives authority to His disciples to continue the in-breaking of the reign of God all the days until Christ returns. So God alone brings and gives this authority to save and recreate sinful people within the realm of men with the call to…

Put off your old self!

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 4:22-28), St. Paul calls upon all Christians to put off or put to death, once and for all the old sinful nature.  It is a final act but is repeated every day, in fact every moment of everyday because every day our old sinful nature still clings to the sinful life and its own desires.  This truth creates tension within us, because our baptized nature clings to and trust in Christ alone.  When we put on our new baptized, Christ-like nature, that is when we fight to do what is God pleasing, we can say that there truly is a war going on within us; a war of two natures and two desires.  We witness this as we discover that the sinful things we do not wish to do are the very things we seem to keep doing, and the Godly things we desire to do are the things that we struggle the most to accomplish.  Another way to say this is that we fight to be holy and righteous.

To be holy and righteous is to be like God; because He alone has these qualities.  Before the fall to sin, our first parents, Adam and Eve walked with God in peace and without fear.  They walked in holiness and righteousness; they did this because God gave them these qualities.

Holy baptism restores these qualities to you the baptized.  In the waters of your baptism, God imputed or recreated you to have these qualities as well.  In essence, He gave back to you what Adam and Eve had lost.  And now, everyday, He encourages you to become what He has already declared that you are… holy, perfect, and righteous.  We do this as we put away the old sinful nature of Adam so that the nature of the new Adam, the righteousness of Christ, comes alive within us.

We put the old Adam off by the active and effective power of grace. This power of grace doesn’t help us to do something, instead it recreates and renews us as we repent and believe that God with His divine power is in fact putting to death our old sinful nature.  For this reason we never say that our sinful nature is being converted or changed; it is not because it cannot be; it is not renewed—because it cannot be; it is replaced by the new nature solely through the a creative act of God as we fight to walk with Him and please Him in thought, Word, and deed.

So what is it that our faith must fight?

Obviously it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to interfere with others who are coming to enter a life of faith.  The Bible speaks of these as “the world.”  From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition head-on.  It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46]  Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner.”  It could take place under the threat of imprisonment and even death.

But we encounter this resistance to faith within ourselves as well.  Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe.  It must be crucified with Jesus. [Galatians 5:4]  But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its arguments against faith, and its nature remains as an enemy to God.

How, then, can it be possible that our faith can become so strong that it can overcome the world?  Well, it depends first and always upon whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Jesus Christ is the One who died upon the cross and rose from the dead, forever defeating our true enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  So “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [1 John 5:5]  Jesus our Savior is the One who alone gives us real faith; faith that gives us the final victory over all enemies of God.

This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ Himself, that is, with Him who has overcome the world.  If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]  You see, the victory does not depend on our faith but on Christ, to Whom our faith holds onto.  And so a struggling faith, a faith that feels itself weak can be so much stronger than a faith which feels itself strong because it relies on its experiences, its warmth, and its victories.  If God permits us to fail, then it may be that He wishes us to learn to rely entirely on Christ.

So that which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word.  So if we want to exercise and strengthen our faith we must be careful not to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments, and never think that we can get along without them.  We who gather each Lord’s day are those who it may be said of: “The Word of God dwells in you,” [Colossians 3:1]. We are called, “(Those) who have overcome the evil one.” [1 John 2:14]

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, help us we pray to remember these truths and then by faith, cling to Christ alone.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Words Are Important

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 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

“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” [Matthew 12:37]

This is the word of Jesus.  It sounds dreadful, and we can understand why there were times when after the disciples heard Jesus teach and preach they responded with the question, “Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]

Why are our words so important?  And if they’re so important, why do we so often say so many things that we don’t really mean?  Well Jesus teaches that “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]  Since every tree is known by its fruits, our thoughtless, angry, empty, and noisy words should then reveal the real condition of our hearts.  And to make sure that we understand this truth, Jesus also said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” [Matthew 12:36]

But thank God we are not limited to only our words; thank God there is a Word much bigger and powerful than any and all Words we will ever speak.  Thank God Jesus also says, “With man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible; (Matthew 19:26) all things that begin not with the word of men but with the Word of God like this…

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’  and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9] As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him.  God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in.  So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]  And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Here is the very point that God wants us to understand: on our own we are broken; our words and our good intentions accomplish nothing.  That is the primary function of the law, of the Ten Commandments; to show us that we are broken.  We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this is true, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law.  It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will remember that with God all things are possible; so that you will be led to call out to God for His healing balm!  The healing balm of God, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel.  The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel?  Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word.  It is the same Word that we are to take into our mouths and then into our hearts!  Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God.  If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; we can’t have one without the other.  If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God.   We need to receive that Word like the man in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37) who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  He knew of no grand possibility of being made whole; he only knew that his friends brought him to Jesus as a broken man and that Jesus desired to make him whole.

What is the Gospel?  It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you.  You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil!  You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  If you go off looking for help from other means, then you are trying to make yourself right with God by your own code of conduct, and because of that, you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord.  I’ve got this!”  If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion.  It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s perfect and complete work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]  In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us.  All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross.  There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins.  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?  Well, what does God’s Word say?

It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]  So the simple thing we must do is be in the Word of God and call out to Him.

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted.  They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God.  They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word.  They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word.  But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what they see in that mirror!  In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ!  The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image!  Without the preaching of Christ’s Word, darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.  Even though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and then recreating new and eternal life within us.

(But)“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel!  But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain.  But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business.  He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]

This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created.  This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!  Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is just a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5]  And this is also why God expects you as His priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel then, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness.  Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith.  This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here.

Through faith in Christ we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, to be Christ’s many ambassadors.  Through the Word of God spoken by men, we have been given a new heart from which we can bring out things that are good and pleasing to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17]  Something new has been created within us, a good tree that can bring and bear good fruit.  This new fruit that comes from within our new hearts will bear witness on judgment day that the tree God planted within us was good.  But it is not for the sake of the good fruit that you are granted forgiveness and eternal life.  There is still enough left of the old sinful flesh that we need to pray day-by-day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  But for the sake of Christ we are now “not under law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God.  Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us through His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ; His cross and empty tomb; His church and His means of grace; and the cherished time we spend alone in that Word and the time we spend together as the communion of saints!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!