Posts Tagged ‘Judgment’

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

Lent 2-C
March 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Luke 13:31-35]

On August 30, 2005, at 4 AM, Coast Guard Lt Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his aircrew, was summoned to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The air base soon became primary base of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Less than 24 hours after the storm initially hit New Orleans, Lt. McConnell and his crew were ordered to fly their H46 helicopter into the storm damaged area for what would be a heroic rescue effort.  They entered the area ahead of every news crew in the nation; they were not prepared for the devastation they were about to see, the entire city of New Orleans was flooding.  They began to pluck people from rooftops. They literally flew around the clock, returning to the base only to refuel and then head back out, despite their exhaustion and fatigue and the risk to their own lives; they continuously went back out onto the storm. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs, and two cats. 

In our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus continued His way to Jerusalem and the cross, we come face to face with the Son of God in the midst of the greatest rescue effort of all time.  All of Scripture, the entire Bible after Genesis chapter 2, points to this rescue mission — Despite all the obstacles in His way, Jesus would continue on to Jerusalem; He was going there to suffer and to die in order to save. The majority of His own people would reject Him. But that too was foretold a long time ago in Psalm 118, where it says: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)

Let’s look again at verses 33-34 of our Gospel lesson: Jesus said,  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day [after that],” and He goes on, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish [anywhere else but] Jerusalem.’  O Jerusalem… the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

Jesus is referring to a coming day of judgment. He talks about the natural instinct of hens that would vigorously protect their young by gathering them under her wings.  If there were a bird of prey nearby, the hen would cackle and cluck and call her chicks to her so they could find protection under her wings.

One day, shortly after a devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger was walking through a burned field. He came across what appeared to be dead prairie chicken.  As he nudged the dead bird with his foot, three little chicks came running out from underneath the dead hen; they had survived the fire because their mother had given her life for them.  Make no doubt about it, there is a fire coming — and that fire is God’s judgment!

USA Today and Gallup conducted a poll in which they asked Americans about the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to the world:

  • 23% responded that this was “very likely,”
  • 16% said it was “somewhat unlikely,”
  • 16% said it was “very unlikely,”
  • 41% had “no opinion.”

For the most part, Americans are not too concerned about the end of the world, they aren’t concerned about the return of Jesus Christ or a day of judgment.

Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment God is going to “…separate the wheat from the chaff.” (Matthew 3:12), He will sort “…the good fish from the bad fish.” (Matthew 13:48), and He will separate “…the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32), God is going to sift and sort all the sinners (that’s everyone of us); He will separate those whose sins have been forgiven from those who have held on to their sins, and those that deny that they have any need for forgiveness.

Now before we leave this particular verse, I want to point out one more thing about Jesus saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together…”

Last week in our Sunday morning Bible study, we were studying St. Paul’s first letter to the young pastor, Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants all people to be saved!

But do you see the paradox here? If God desires all people to be saved, doesn’t God get everything He wants?  God wants all men to be saved yet not all men are saved. Why is that?  Mistakenly, many have tried to solve this paradox by looking for some cause of salvation in human beings; that men can some how earn their own salvation. “Well,” they suppose, “If some one is a good and decent person, if they have enough love and enough good works, then surely they will be saved.” 

My brothers and sisters, Salvation is salvation! That means we can’t do anything to make it happen; to be saved means just that — to be saved. If we somehow helped with that, then we would have to say that we merely survived, rather than say that we have been saved.  Jesus answers the question of the paradox. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus wanted to gather all of Jerusalem, but Jesus said the people of Jerusalem were not willing! If a person is lost, it is because they made that choice. They were not willing to be saved!

Earlier, I mentioned the rescue efforts of Coast Guard Lt. McConnell and his aircrew. I told you about the first three missions they flew where they rescued an extraordinary amount of people. But on their fourth mission, despite twelve different flights into New Orleans, they were not able to save even one person. None! Everyone they encountered on that mission refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the aircrew to bring them food and water so that they could wait out the storm. They were warned that this was extremely dangerous as the waters were still rising and were not going away anytime soon.  Sadly, when the dykes protecting the city broke, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.

So what does it mean to be saved spiritually? That is such an important question. I don’t want anyone to be lost on the Day of Judgment, and again St. Paul reminds us that God desires all people to be saved, so this is a very important matter.  Many people know about God, many believe that God exist, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  The argument can be made that even the devil knows about God and even the devil believes that God exists…  Far too often people only look to God for “food and water” and believe they can wait out the storm on their own; they believe by being a good person with good intentions, they can sit out the coming wave of God’s judgment.

To be saved means that two things will happen to us. First, there must be a spiritual breakdown.  You’ve heard of nervous or emotional breakdowns — I’m talking about a spiritual breakdown. This means that we must come to the realization that, because of our sinful nature, we all are totally lost and condemned sinners. As Dr. Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism to confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to God all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Him, and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment…” or as we confessed earlier in our service, “…we confess before God and before one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our own sinful condition.”

Many people don’t go through this spiritual breakdown because they truly believe that they are pretty decent people and they wrongly believe that’s good enough. They arrive at that conclusion by comparing themselves to the rest of this sinful world.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul tells us about people like that, he says, “[They are] enemies of the cross of Christ… their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with [their] minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) So if you compare yourselves to the rest of this sinful world, you might look pretty good too.  

But we will not be judged by the standard of this world. On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by the standard of God — the standard of God according to His Law.  Now I don’t care who you are, there is not one of us here who are able to keep those commandments perfectly. We all have broken God’s Law and we all deserve the prescribed punishment, which is death. To be spiritually broken is to come to this realization, that we are lost and condemned sinners and that we cannot free ourselves from this sinful condition.

Secondly, salvation means that we come to the realization that we are under the protection of God’s grace and mercy. As the hen gathers her brood under her wings, so does Jesus gather repentant sinners like you and me under the wings of His grace and His mercy.

These wings manifest themselves in two ways: First, in the promise of forgiveness found in God’s Word and, second, in the miracle of the Sacraments.  When you study the Bible you will find only three things promise salvation: salvation is found in God’s words of forgiveness; salvation is found in our Baptism when our sin was washed away and we were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; and, salvation is found in Holy Communion where Jesus Himself tells us, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here we can be sure and certain that God’s judgment on the world’s sin, and on our sin, will never reach us and cannot touch us.  Jesus came to the rescue, and He willfully gave His life to make sure of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We have to trust in this promise!

Now we come to the best and most important part of this passage. Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35)  God is intent on saving; God desires all people to be saved. If a person is not saved, it is not for lack of God’s efforts. Remember at the beginning of this message I quoted Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” A little further on, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And in verse 25: Save us, we pray, O Lord!  This is the only time this plea appears in the Bible in these words. 

The Hebrew word, “hoshi’a na,” is translated in Greek and pronounced in English, as “hosanna.” The original intent of the scripture is “God save us!” It is a plea for mercy.

Right after that, in verse 26, there is a shift from concern to confidence. Verse 26 says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is where grace and mercy is found, it is found in He who comes in the name of the Lord!

And so we have: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Or, as we know it, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus gathers us under His wings of Grace and rescues us from death.  Jesus fills the gap that separates us from the Father, to bring us home into heaven.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t set out to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill the Only Son of God. The people of Jerusalem were deceived. They were blinded of the truth. Deluded by their sin and the author of sin. And, as a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the God. 

Everything in our readings today, from the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel readings set up the polarity of earth and heaven, of disgrace and glorification, humiliation and exaltation. We preach the cross, because it is the only way to glory. Just look at Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of power, with all things under His feet. Pastor Brian told us last week that Jesus choose way of the cross so that we would know that the only way to God the Father and eternity is through the cross.

It’s not about you, it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad); it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about who He is and what He has done. We need to surrender to the fact that we are sinners and we cannot, with anything we do, free ourselves from that sinful condition.  

But we cling to the fact that Jesus is “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) He came to lay down His life for the sins of the world, for my sins and for your sins.

Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, Blind to the presence of God among them, and they put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of His Church. Jesus visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). 

This is what God’s steadfast love is all about.  As we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we realize just how complete and steadfast God’s love really is for this world. We need to take that love back out into the world, we need to show God’s saving grace, His mercy, and His love in how we treat our neighbors in the works we do.  We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved!  We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

A Day of Judgment is indeed coming one day, but God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already come and rescued us, of this you can be confident!

Our help is in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Are You Ready To Celebrate The Rending?

Monday, December 4th, 2017

First Sunday in Advent-B, December 3, 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

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5A]

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem He knew that He and God the Father and Holy Spirit were going to rend, tear apart the existence of sinful men and women in just a few short days; He knew that He was riding to His death. It would be a death that would smash the head of Satan and rend the tyranny he had wielded against us. You see, not only would Jesus defeat the devil, but He would also defeat our sin and our death. And when He was crucified upon the cross, He drew His last breath to declare His victory with the Words, “It is finished.” A great illustration was performed by God to declare this absolute truth to sinners like you and me; the great temple curtain that hid the Holy of holies was torn into. This rending of that curtain declared for the first time that God had indeed kept His promise; the Messiah had come, and by the payment of His life blood had brought sinful men and women back into communion with their perfect Creator!

God had come down and “rended” the heavens other times in the past as well.

He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were. He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go! He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army. He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down thousands and thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer. Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays. The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer. He wants us to call out to Him,

“Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!”

These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace. For those who cry out like this, everything seems to be “out of whack” in this world; evil seems to be over powering good, and the devil seems to be stopping even God’s will. In times like this, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God to step in and correct this apparent imbalance. “O Lord, come quickly. Assert your power; protect and deliver your people. Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem. If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God. We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds and we are afraid. We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5B-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way? He must work once again in a way that this sinful world must never expect. He must do what we can not. He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior. No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heaven and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him. No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel. And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.

Sinful men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve have been held in the cruel bondage of sin. Loving God and our neighbor as God demands is and was out of the question… it is beyond us. But God made a way out of no way. Who could have ever imagined that God would come to us in our own flesh, born of the Virgin Mary? Who would have guessed that God would bring us back to Himself by grace through faith, through the sacrifice of His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary? What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb? Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, that a man or woman could become an adopted child of God? But this is always how our mighty God acts.. He reveals His truths to humanity… His creation in a way that must forces all of creation to simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding. If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled promises through the prophets and the evangelists of the New Testament. In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn into God’s heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and hold fast to the principle, which teaches that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. But He only acts for those who know Him as Father, Savior, and Comforter. He acts for those who know that He is the potter and we are His clay; we are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them? Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will. We are the work of His hands.

Our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, God broke into our existence by rending the separation between time and eternity so that God and man may once again have communion. So that through the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, we may turn to God by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son. For many of you, you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and then to always pray “in Jesus’ name.” Why do you suppose that is? It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of Jesus, the Son of God! We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood upon the cross to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness. When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children ask their dear Father for those things that we need. We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, may the peace of God allow your heart to boldly call out Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Last Sunday of the Church Year-A, November 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” [Matthew 25:31-33]

In the time of Jesus, it wasn’t uncommon for shepherds to allow the goats and sheep to graze or pasture together. But at the end of the day, the shepherd would separate them according to their kind. And that is a picture of the Day of the Lord, judgment day. Some will be considered sheep; they are the apple of our Lord’s eye. On judgment day they will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But others, others who are goats, will hear something completely different; they will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So what is it that determines whether we are sheep or goats? Is it something we can get our hands on and protect; something we can have as our most cherished possession. Is there a ticket to heaven? Well… yes and no! If we were to look at our gospel lesson this morning, we might be tempted to think that our ticket to heaven or our identity as a sheep or goat is based on good works, or something we do to earn God’s love and forgiveness. But you’re all much to informed about what your Bibles say to believe that. So what then; what is this blessed assurance that promises us that we will be citizens of heaven in a place that has been prepared and waiting for us since the foundation of the world? Well, it is nothing less than faith… faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, will He find faith; will He find faith in you? Are you a sheep or a goat?

If this question is making you a bit uncomfortable, then may I be the first to say congratulations; congratulations for not being happy at the prospect of being a goat!

You see there’s one thing I know about goats and it’s this, they’re just fine with being a goat. In fact, for the most part they’re stronger, faster, and more clever than sheep. They don’t have a problem with being a goat. But not so with you; you want to be a sheep; you want to know that there is a place for you in heaven, just waiting for you to move in. And because this is true, then you won’t have a problem with admitting something about yourself and something about God.

You are faithless! That’s right, I said it; on your own you are completely powerless and useless for assuring that your eternal abode will be something other than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now don’t feel too bad about this, because you see it’s something you were born into! St. Paul in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) explains it like this, he says that death came by a man, the first man Adam to be exact. In Adam all of us are guaranteed nothing more than an eternal death; a separation from God and His kingdom. Instead of inheriting a mansion, well we’re cast out into the outer darkness; a place where there will be eternal longing and desire.

What was it that Adam did that was so bad that it condemned all of his ancestors? He doubted God’s goodness and love; He doubted that God would provide everything that was good and withhold nothing helpful, while He protected him from everything that was harmful. So from the doubt of Adam and Eve has proceeded every sin that each of us has committed. From the doubt of Adam each of us has been judged guilty. From the doubt of Adam our relationship with God has been lost. The church has always called this doubt the original sin.

Now most goats don’t like this doctrine. They don’t like the fact that they’re being punished for something someone else did long ago! They get angry with God and they say, “I didn’t ask to be born this way! This isn’t fair; since my birth, you’ve put me on a road that goes only to hell!” Yes, the goats are so upset with this idea of original sin that not only do they protest against God, but they get angry with anyone who will repeat the doctrine. Why is that? Simply put, if this doctrine is true, then that means that their salvation, their ability to inherit the Father’s Kingdom is entirely outside of their control. It means they have to have faith, and remember, that is the one thing goats do not have; goats are faithless.

So what is the solution?

Well, goats must be saved by someone who can give them faith. They must be saved by someone who is faithful. They must be saved by someone who can fill them with this faith; someone who can make them faith-filled!

Jesus is that someone and His Word is the means that God uses to fill goats with His gift of faith; it’s how he turns goats into sheep. But faith in what? Faith to believe that Jesus, God’s own Son came to this earth, lived a perfect life for you, suffered and died for you in order to remove the curse of sin, Adam’s and your sin from you. Now, if you are agreeing with this premise, that’s all well and good, but some goats believe this too. No, I’m afraid that you must hear the rest of the premise before you celebrate. You see, Jesus also rose from the dead in His body, and promises that you will do the very same thing because you’ve received His gift of faith.

Now this is where many of the learned people discover that they aren’t sheep at all and they don’t care. They can receive the idea that sin has to be paid for, even original sin. And the fact that God paid for it Himself, makes perfect sense to them, because well, He was the One who allowed everything to break-down in the first place. But raising a body from the dead, a body that’s been dead and decomposed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, well that’s just foolishness to them. What about people blown into thousands of little bits in explosions during war or a tragic accident, how in the name of science, will they be raised?! Or what about people who die at sea and are eaten by a million little fish who then scatter what’s left of their bodies all over the ocean floor?! No, I’m afraid that to the goats this is just too big of a leap of faith! They believe in Jesus, a spiritual Jesus; a Jesus who inhabits the best of man’s philosophies and religions, but not a physical Jesus. They believe in a spiritual resurrection but they can never accept a physical one! That goes against everything that is sensible to them. It goes against the very laws of physics!

But if this is how you feel, then you are condemning God’s entire Word as fantasy. You have recreated God’s plan into a plan of your own making. You do this because you are a goat; you are a goat because you are faithless. But if the goats are right and we sheep are wrong, then we are to be pitied ahead of all others; because that means we sheep have staked our very lives and eternity on a lie! Poor sheep; poor lost sheep, who will save us! Jesus Christ the true shepherd will! He will smash the head of the king of the goats, the devil himself and speak words of faith that turn goats into sheep! Listen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by (the God) man (Jesus Christ) has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in His own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-23] Those who are called sheep!

This is the gospel! This is your hope!

By His death upon the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning Jesus has declared and demonstrated His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil. When you hear that Jesus suffered and died for you, you are given faith… you are filled with faith to believe that He also rose from the dead for you! And you also know by faith, that as the head of the church, which is His body, which you are a part of, you must follow your Lord and Savior; for where the head goes so must also follow His body!

This is the truth, God’s own truth. It is what sheep believe because they are faith filled by a Savior God who is faithful. It is the truth that goats can never believe in because they are faithless. This is the truth that has sent untold numbers of sheep peacefully into the arms of their Savior at the time of death, and it is the truth that will lead you home as well! But I must warn you, that the devils don’t want you to lie down on your last day with this truth. They look at you as another victim. Another morsel that they can eat. They’ll do everything they can to get you to doubt God’s own truth. If they can get you to live in doubt then I’m afraid that they’ve trapped you again in the same old sin of Adam.

Remember, to them, you are nothing more than a tasty morsel that they plan to devour. You are a sausage sandwich waiting to be gulped down. But if you’ll simply rest in God’s Word and the work He did for you on the cross and in your baptism you will see that Jesus is the one who does the devouring. And He’s not only devoured the devil, but your own sin and death. If you will continue feasting upon the Lord’s Table where He offers you His body and blood, then by faith you will not only be eating and drinking forgiveness for your doubts, but the very gift that makes you a sheep; you will be fed faith!

So at your time of death when the devil goes to bite into you, all he’s going to get is a mouthful of the poison that He gave to you. We might say he only has a mustard and ketchup sandwich to look forward too, because you will not be there; you will be with your Lord, in a new body; a body that will never know sickness and death, sorrow or sin. This is how Jesus, the Son of God, puts all things under God the Father. He does it so that God may be all in all and sin, death, and the devil will be no more, ever again!

But now let me close with the proclamation of a mystery. This process has already begun and it is already completed. All that is left is for you to experience it outside of this world of sin and death. Indeed the day has already come when you can say, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me (because I behaved as a goat), your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation (and His resurrection is the source of my joy); I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. With joy (I can draw from my baptismal water) that is the well of your salvation, and give thanks to the Lord. So let us call upon the Lord (who is faithful); let us call upon His name. And let us make known His saving work of the cross and the empty tomb throughout our community, and let us proclaim the exalted name of Jesus! Let us shout and sing for joy because the Lord who has done wondrous things is with us and promising to take us with Him in paradise.” [Isaiah 12:1-6]

May God’s Word continue to make each of us faith-filled sheep, as He continues to be our God, in this life that began with our baptismal death as sinners and in our baptismal resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. AMEN!

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 30, 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 her for audio of this message

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now. But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God. So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God? 2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? 3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning? Good, let’s go…

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

This week, God’s Word is compared to the most valuable treasure you could find; it was compared to the most valuable pearl that a person could cultivate, so valuable that you would give up every thing to posses it. “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?” And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!” But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word. Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book? The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is. Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home? Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home? Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word? So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).” When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep. Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery. But this story is different, isn’t it? The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good. I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before. But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different. Why? Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.

And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians. Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort. You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles. The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’ stories sold everything just to obtain it. But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully! And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man. If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself. If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.” In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure in both the old and new testaments, which is Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?

Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Friends, do you hear that? You did not choose God, He chose you! You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors? It completely turns it around. Let me show you what I mean. Since it is Jesus who finds you, then the field becomes the sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ. And you know what that makes you, don’t you? You are the treasure! Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin. But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was because of His love and the blood of His Son Jesus, that you have been set free!

Listen friends, God is so serious about this truth, that He even swore it in an oath to our spiritual fathers long ago. He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18] But that oath includes blessings for us as well. It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross. So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith? Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it? But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me? Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine? Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own! And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment. Are you a good fish or a bad one? Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure. He bought you with His own life-blood. Do you believe that? If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28] “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34] Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!” No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you! But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.” In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism. Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church. In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ. And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure. But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come. As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples. We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession. Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action. And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure. AMEN!

The Good Seed and the Solid Rock

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 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 her for audio of this message


“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” [Matt. 13:30]
Let’s start our message this morning with a question! If O. J. Simpson or George Zimmerman were to walk through our doors next Sunday looking for a new church home, how would that make you feel? Now, I doubt I have to remind any of you who O J is especially considering the media coverage of His granted parole, but George Zimmerman’s story may have slipped your memory. George Zimmerman was almost the only name in the news several years ago! He is the young man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Florida several years ago, and his defense was based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. After a lengthy and very public trial, he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. In our judicial system that means that he like O J is an innocent man and he is to be afforded all of the rights that you enjoy! So, I’ll ask you again, if either of them showed up here at our church next week how would you feel? Would you accept and welcome them or would you judge them guilty of murder, and decide that they were a threat to this congregation?

This morning we will be talking about bad seed, judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven! By the end of our message, it is God’s desire that you will let go of your fears about the evil that seems to threaten not just His Kingdom but our very salvation, and by faith trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ your solid rock of salvation!

In vs. 27 of our gospel reading (Matthew 13:24-43), Jesus portrays a common emotion that each of us feels when we encounter evil; surprise! Listen:

“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, (didn’t you) sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” With the explanation that Jesus latter gives, we know that the Master is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seed that grows wheat and weeds are both good and bad people, we might say along with the servants, “Hey, aren’t you all powerful Lord? Doesn’t Your Word always accomplish your will? Wasn’t it your intent that there be nothing but “good people” in your kingdom of sowing and reaping? Then what’s up?! What are these weeds doing flourishing among the wheat? Why are there so many evil people around and why are they so hard sometimes to distinguish from people of faith?”

And Jesus answers this question with a statement of fact: “An enemy has done this.” [vs. 28] In other words, He’s saying, “Your assumption is right; I did plant good seed, I do desire that all would be children of my Heavenly Kingdom, but we have an enemy who has been working from the beginning to turn a plentiful harvest into a disaster!” So here is a biblical truth for us to remember, “Whenever Christ “plants” true believers to bear fruit for His glory, Satan the enemy of the Church is always planting others who will oppose His work and prevent His harvest.

The first mention of these two seeds in the Bible can be found in the book of Genesis when God made a promise to man and the devil that the struggle of good and evil would continue for a long time until God would put a stopgap of to it! Listen: “He (the Savior of mankind) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3:15] And soon after in Genesis we are told that when Cain murdered his brother Abel, he started this struggle between good and evil within the hearts of all mankind! In the book of John, Jesus tells us that Cain was of the wicked one, a child of the devil!

So Cain represents “children of the devil” and Abel was the first saint to die in faith. This struggle still rages on today. We see it come alive for us in the New Testament and in our daily news! Satan’s seed opposed John the Baptist and did nothing when he was killed by Herod. They opposed the entire ministry of Jesus and asked to have Him crucified. At the cross, Satan bruised Christ’s heel, but Jesus the promised Savior of mankind crushed the devils head, which is Satan, and defeated the devils forever. But the battle rages on!

In the news we see, read, and hear about all kinds of evil around us. So we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments for comfort; we gather together as His good seed and comfort each other through prayer and the practice of forgiveness, but then we discover that the evil seed has somehow made it inside the church and we are shocked! But why are we shocked? Isn’t the common theme throughout scripture that those of us who relate to God by faith must live in this world but not be part of it? We are continually reminded that our true home that awaits us is the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! So then, when evil enters even into the church we shouldn’t be surprised; we must remember that there are really two churches, one that we can see and one that only God can see. We must trust that as the Master of His church, He WILL deal with the bad seed in His time and in His way! This is the answer that He gave to His servants in verse 28 when they asked, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” In other words, do you want us to pluck them out? And what was Jesus answer? “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up wheat along with them.”

What Jesus is telling us is that only He knows who ultimately will be judged evil and a seed of Satan, not us! Now this doesn’t mean that when evil and sin pops up in the church we can’t deal with it! Certainly God has given us complete instructions in Matthew 18 how we are to deal with evil and sin in our congregations, but the steps that we are to take aren’t meant to punish the offender, but rather to lead sinful members into repentance; that is to turn them away from the devil and to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and restoration to God and us, and regenerate them back as good seed!

What we learned last week should still be fresh in our minds; the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus.

If the Devil can do this, then He is confident that He will turn us into bad seed. He snatches the Word of God from our hearts, tries to smother our faith in the gospel with worldliness, or choke off our faith with persecution. Sometimes, maybe many times he is successful in turning good seed into bad, and when he does this he is able to plant false Christians wherever our Lord plants true children of faith.

I am sure that no one knew the secrets that Dennis Raider hid in his heart as they sat next to him every Sunday at Divine Service! Who is Dennis Raider? He was the congregational president of a Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas, and he is now a convicted serial killer! He was charged and found guilty of killing 10 people! Ok, Lord, at least we can cross his name off of the heavenly roll call and judge him guilty of eternal punishment like the court has, right? And to this, Jesus says, “No! Let him grow until the harvest.”

But why? Well because only God knows the heart of a person, even sinful people like you and me and only He is capable of pronouncing the final judgment of eternal separation from His love and His kingdom. So in the meantime, we are to do the only thing we can do; continue to be good seed and trust in our Lord of the harvest!

As we gather around God’s Word and Sacrament we are to allow Him to care for us and protect us from others who might see hints of evil seed in us and want to pull us up too!

We do this when we recognize our sin, confess it before God and each other and turn to the Cross of Jesus Christ and be saved. As I said last week, this is the rhythm of a Kingdom lifestyle. It’s the heartbeat of the body of Christ made of good seed; not good seed by nature but good seed through the work of Jesus Christ! And as we are being daily recreated, protected, and nurtured we are called to stay awake! We must stay awake and protect our doctrine and watch how we live. We are called to live a life of faith that demonstrates God’s presence in a sinful world. But when we fall into a sleep of complacency, and fail to pay attention to the evil around us and within us as the church has done many times in the past, that’s when Satan works. He plants false teaching, false Christians, and false preachers, all so he can destroy the church from within! But ultimately thank God, we must remember and trust that it is God’s Church, and He alone is able to protect it! It is His Kingdom, and He alone builds it and preserves it.

So what is the Kingdom of God? Well, in Mark chapter 1, John the Baptist told us that the kingdom of God had come near; he announced that God was, through Jesus the Messiah, laying the foundation for His rule of grace within the hearts of sinful men and women. He does this through repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in the completed work of Jesus and the gift of baptism. When what we would judge as bad seed accepts this work of God, then God declares even them fit for His Kingdom. So the work of the kingdom of God takes place in others in the same place it happens for us; in the heart! And since we cannot see into another person’s heart we trust in the only one who can; we trust in God the Father who created our bodies, God the Son who redeems our bodies and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies.

So will OJ, George, Dennis, and countless others who appeared evil really be in heaven? Ultimately, we don’t know, only God does, but we do know that if they do enter the kingdom of heaven it will be through the same way that we do; it will be through confession, repentance, and forgiveness that can only come through Jesus Christ! Let’s remember that while the kingdom of Heaven is a place where we are promised to spend our eternity it is not the center of God’s message to us, Jesus is! On every page of our Bibles we are encouraged to center every aspect of our lives around CHRIST and His real presence with us and within us!

Now, as each of us thinks about death, it is natural that we will also think about judgment, and this can cause fear in us sometimes, because it is God alone who knows our hearts. But we must always remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters that we are now truly the good seed, that will be put into our Masters barn, that is into the Kingdom of Heaven only because Jesus was and is, and always shall be the Good Seed for us!

And when our struggle against evil and sin is over, “Then (we) the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of (our) Father. He who has ears (and eyes of faith), let him hear.” [Vs. 43] Let them hear that they are now the good seed, built on the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ! “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne! On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!” [LSB Hymn 575] In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Who Do You Say He Is?

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

First Sunday of Advent-HL,
November 27th, 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

“And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.” [Jeremiah 23:6b]

img_0040Who do you say Jesus is? This maybe the most important question you could be asked, and it is critical that you not only know the answer, but that you believe it. Today, many people love to give an answer that they feel comfortable with; an answer that won’t offend and offers hope in a way that they feel will be most appreciated. But God will not allow you to be comfortable with any answer but His own. Jesus is not simply your source of strength in trying times; Jesus is not your illustration to prove a political point; Jesus is not your last resource in desperate times. You see, Jesus alone is your only source of righteousness before God the Father; Jesus is our righteousness.

This morning, if you say that Jesus is your King, well very good, but what do you mean by that?

You see, He is more that just someone great who rules over your life. He is more than “your” king. By His birth He is the Son of David, and the people who called out to Him in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:1-9), were correct in acknowledging Him as their true King. But He is oh so much more that the King of the Jews.

He is a king indeed, and there is none other like Him; He has a kingdom that is not of this world, and it is the type of Kingship that will last forever. The subjects of other kings must humbly come to them, but this King comes to His subjects, humbly seated upon a donkey. Other kings draw all of their income from their subjects, but this King gives all that He has and is to a people who do not seek Him, nor do they care to know Him as He truly is.

This King has a proper title that also defines His person; He is the Christ. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which we translate as Messiah. Both words mean “the Anointed One,” or if you prefer “the Crowned One,” or better yet, “the King.” It was the Jewish name for the Lord who God had promised through the prophets. It was upon His shoulders that the government would rest, and His Kingdom would be established and upheld “with righteousness for this time forth and forevermore.”

When the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), this was a tribute to the Messiah of God. The church today offers the same tribute to our Lord today, on this first Sunday in Advent, and also on Palm Sunday. The lessons for this Sunday say the same as our own Hosanna: Jesus is the Christ, He is God’s Messiah, the Promised One that will come again, our King, the Lord of the whole creation. He alone is our righteousness!

“So you are a king?” Pilate asked. And Jesus answered: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world.” It was no accident that Jesus was born of the lineage of David, of royal blood. And yet He was not Just a descendant of royalty. He himself says to the Pharisees that even David called Him Lord. This King existed in the time of David, and even before Abraham was, and He is Lord over all. All of history before and after His birth had its goal in Him. Since humankind has risen in defiance of God, God has planned this way—the only possible way of salvation for His children. In the fullness of time God sent His Son. All of the long preparation of Israel has its meaning only because it pointed forward and prepared the way for Christ.

Through the entrance of Christ into the world something decisive took place in history. And it is a this place that every human being is forced to make a decision. To answer the one great question: Who do you say that He is? We can either confess with St. Peter that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God or we can scoff at the question and turn down God’s great invitation to turn to this Christ and His cross for eternal life.

The enemies of Jesus felt that this was a place where commitment was called for. Their chief accusation against Him was: He claims to be the Messiah, a king. For a long time they did their level best to avoid the question of who Jesus is. When they were face to face with the power of His mighty acts they declared that He was in league with the devil and that He practiced sorcery. Finally the high priest asked a direct question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And when Jesus answered that He was, they condemned Him to death. [Mark 14:61] They really had only two choices, the same choices we have; either they must acclaim Him as King and Messiah, or they must declare that He was a liar and a blasphemer. The high priest chose the latter rather than the former. Which do you choose? They would not submit to the power of Jesus, will you?

How you make your choice depends on if you see Jesus as your only source of righteousness; that is if you see Him as the only way you can be acceptable before a perfect and mighty God.

This morning, the psalmist (Psalm 24), asks us a very important question: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” And before we can have time to formulate an answer, He gives it to us: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Is there any hope for you; can you accomplish these things? Did you know that it is God’s deepest desire for you that you will? God is so serious about having you ascend to His place reserved for you, this paradise restored, that He encourages you with these promised blessings once you arrive: “He (who ascends) will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Is God speaking to you? Yes, He is. Listen: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” The time is now, and the generation is yours, and all you must do is seek Him in the way He can be found.

This morning, God declares to you that if you can not boldly declare that you are the person who can stand before Him with out guilt or fear, if you are not the person with clean hands and someone who has no deceit in them, then you are almost ready to ascend the holy hill of the Lord. All that you lack is God’s provision to be righteous before Him. And now, hear the good news: Jesus is that provision’ Jesus is your King and source of righteousness.

Jesus is called the King of glory because he is true God and because he has defeated all the enemies of God’s people. He came in glory when he entered the world as a baby, born to die for our sins, but his glory was concealed, except to the eyes of faith. Many of the people of Israel did not recognize Christ’s glory when he came, and they still refuse to welcome him today. When Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he received a royal welcome, but it was superficial and short-lived—yet he will not be deprived of the honor due him.

When the psalmist urges the gates of Jerusalem to open wide so that the King may enter, he is really inviting all of God’s people to welcome their King with joy when he comes. Jesus comes in glory now through the gospel, and we welcome him with joy when we receive that Word in faith. Jesus’ glory will be more openly displayed when he comes to judge the world. When Jesus returns, the angels will gather all believers so that all of us can welcome him. [1 Thessalonians 4:14] When Jesus returns in glory, He will receive from his people a royal welcome that will last forever.

But how do you know that you are counted as one of His people? Because you have been baptized in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of this work of God, you have both a desire and an ability given through the Word of God to not only know this King, but to be numbered as one of His beloved. In Holy Baptism, you put on Christ, or rather, He was put on you. On that day the Holy Spirit of God began to dwell in you richly. And now God, invites you to daily “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, (or) to gratify its desires.” [Romans 13:14] That is everyday, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life that glorifies and pleases God.

In holy baptism Jesus brings you into His rule of righteousness.

The effect of His rule of righteousness is promised to be dramatic. Judah would be saved; Israel would dwell in safety. These are pictures of confidence, certainty, and peace. Such security and well-being are conveyed along with the righteousness of Christ, the forgiveness of sins given to every repentant baptized sinner. This picture describes the peace that the work of Christ brings to the believing child of God. The believer has peace because of the final word of Christ’s promise.

The cause of their peace and its guarantee, its true character, are revealed by the name that the Lord gives to the Messiah: The Lord Our Righteousness. This is the whole gospel, the whole message of Scripture, summed up in a few precious words. The Lord himself is our righteousness. For that to be true, the Lord himself must have become one of us, having taken all that we are upon himself.

These words point us to the Christmas miracle of the incarnation, the Word of God made human flesh. But they also point to that most comforting truth: not only is the Messiah righteous in himself, but through his perfect life of obedience, His suffering and death and rising to life, He won for us justification and reconciliation with God, through the forgiveness of sins. What He is and what He has done, he has done for us, and it is given to us a gift, the gift of righteousness, a righteousness that we could never have gained for ourselves. Here is the way that allows you to ascend God’s Holy hill; here is the door that opens paradise and keeps it open: The Lord is our righteousness; yes, the Lord is my righteousness; the Lord is your righteousness. What He did, He did for you. And this is what He gives to you in holy baptism: He has made you His own. This is your certainty, your hope, your confidence: the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Now that you know God’s only answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”, it is time for you to answer for yourself. What God has spoken and done here today is for your own eternal salvation; that is, your eternal salvations depends on the answer that you give. And so Christ asks you here and now: “But who do you say that I am?” [Mark 16:15]

On Obeying the Word of God

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.

Words of Comfort and Warning

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 7, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” [Isaiah 40:1]

Comfort… the consolation and reassurance of those who are in distress, anxiety or need. This kind of comfort is an essential part of being human, of living within a community. Scripture declares and reassures us that God is continually comforting His people in times of distress.  And so He does through our message this morning.

Have you heard the story about an old farmer who had been in the habit of plowing his field with an ox and a mule together?  One morning, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and rest a little while.” But the old mule said, “No, we need to get the work done, for the season is short.”  But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. “We didn’t get as much done, but we made it all right,” answered the mule. Then the ox asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing,” said the mule.  The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, “How did it go?” The mule said, “All right, I guess, but we didn’t get much done.” Then the ox also asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing to me,” was the reply, “but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.” The moral of the story?  Be careful, or your idea of comfort may in fact be the beginning of your demise!

This morning God speaks to us real words of comfort, and they come directly from His heart. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” [Isaiah 40:1, 2]

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command. The command flows from the heart of God, and God himself directs this message to be proclaimed  by His messengers, who will announce the good news of his undying love. God wants everyone to hear these words of comfort. He calls us, “my people.” After all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people! God is still our God, and more than that, He is faithful and gracious, as he promised to be long ago: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” [Exodus 34:6, 7]

Here is a truth that many forget as they mistakenly proclaim their version of comfort: The church through the equipping and power of the Holy Spirit has been entrusted with a new and different kind of teaching, which is the proclamation of the Gospel.

But go to many churches today, and you will hear nothing but the Law; nothing but a confusing message of self-improvement. But that is not God’s heart; He desires that a new message be proclaimed.  He desires that we the church proclaim a sweet, comforting, and joyful message, the Gospel.

This morning God calls you His people. You dear saints are a people, which He will never forsake.  But we are not God’s people by natural birth, but like those born unnaturally.  We are a people who have been crushed and humbled, plagued by turmoil, and who call upon God in the day of trouble. There are other people who trust in their own way, works, and riches, but they are not the people of God. They don’t need comfort, because they have not gone through real sadness for their sins, tribulation over the fate of their sins, and turmoil over the solution to their sins.  They will not receive comfort because their cup is full and there isn’t any room for comfort and consolation.

But you dear Christians hear these words of comfort from your God and you long for it.  Your are not afraid, because you know God as a friend.  You call out to Him, “Dear Father make me holy and pleasing.”  And God speaks back to you, “I have and will continue to make you holy through Christ.  I have brought an end to your terror and fear; I have brought you a double portion of forgiveness for all of your sins.”

And This is how God makes you holy. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [Isaiah 40:3-9]

Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, John the Baptist appeared. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that he came preaching, and all three cite this passage, identifying John the Baptist as the voice who calls. But John the Baptist was not the only voice that fulfilled this prophecy. All preachers have a similar calling to announce the good news of God’s love for all the world. Finally, all believers respond to the Lord’s call when they give voice to the gospel and live out the freedom of the gospel as a witness to others.

The message of John the Baptist and every messenger of God remains, a message of repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. The prophecy pictures the Lord coming to his people from the wilderness. In preparation for his coming, the people are to prepare his way by removing all obstacles to his coming. The mountains, rough ground, and rugged places represent the natural condition of the hearts of the people; by nature all human hearts are hard as rock. The call of the gospel empowers human hearts to believe. Repentance is a turning away from sin and a trusting in the forgiveness God offers. That was John’s message in the wilderness and the message of every believer who gives voice to the hope within. Through the words of the gospel, God knocks on the door of an impenitent, unbelieving heart and creates faith. The obstacles disappear when the Holy Spirit creates faith.

And now for a Word of warning. “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. [Isaiah 40:6-10]

The voice of the church, of every faithful pastor and proclaimer of the gospel always cries out two messages.  The first is repent, that is turn to God’s mercy because your many sins that define you, are proof that you will die in those sins with no promise of real comfort without God’s solution.  And the second part of the message shows you God’s solution… they show you your Savior Jesus Christ and declare, “Behold your God!”

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… even your sins.”  But the sinful world will not receive a Savior born in a manger and put to death upon a cross.  This idea of God is ridiculous to them.  They can not admit that their existence without this Lamb is exactly like the grass and flowers; they can not admit that without faith in Jesus, they too will one day simply wither away and pass into the eternal judgment of this very same unattractive God!

And God’s solution to this is simply for the preacher to go up onto the high places, lift up their voices with strength and… and… proclaim the message again and again.  “The Lord has come and you are free.  The Lord will come again and you will either behold and receive His reward or you will receive your eternal punishment.”

And now for a Word of encouragement for you the church as we wait for Christ’s second advent. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:11]

Dear saints, you have been prepared for the coming of your Lord Jesus.  You are prepared because by faith you see that He first came as a baby, the Son of God born in a manger, and that He left this world as a Conqueror and Savior when He defeated sin, death, and the devil upon the cross and through the truth of the empty tomb.  You have been prepared for that great day when Christ will come again and provide for each of you a resurrected body like His, to live forever within His eternal reign of the new heaven and earth.  But as you wait for His return, you do not wait alone.  Hasn’t He promised that He is with you always, even until the end of this present sinful age?  And because He is with you, you rest within His very heart as He leads you.  But leads you where?  Out, out, forever out into the darkness of this sinful world demonstrating His love to those who are lost, through the very lives that you live.  When you the baptized devote yourselves to the very lives He has equipped you to live, those in darkness who will not acknowledge the Lamb of God, take notice of you and how you live!  As you perform sacrificial acts of kindness such as offering forgiveness freely, caring for the poor, obeying the laws and authorities, helping strangers and neighbors alike in time of need, people notice; people who need a Savior.  And when they notice and they comment, you may simply point them to both the source of your comfort and the divine power that gives it.  You point them to Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, as you live your lives within God’s comfort may He bless your efforts to lead others to the source of that comfort, even to this little church we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You Ready For The Rending?

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

First Sunday in Advent-B, November 30, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“Time Enough at Last” became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and has been frequently parodied since. It is “the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world” and tells of Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The narration of the episode begins with these words: “Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

Bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis is at work at his tellers window, while reading David Copperfield, and because of the distraction of the book, he shortchanges a customer who becomes annoyed. Bemis’s angry boss, and later his wife, both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading books.

The next day, as usual, Bemis takes his lunch break in the bank’s vault, where his reading will not be disturbed. Moments later he sees a newspaper headline, which reads “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”, and just then, an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and finding his thick glasses that he needs to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has also been destroyed, and realizes that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth, but because he was in the vault, he was spared.

Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with food to last him a lifetime, but no one to share it with, Bemis begins to be overcome with despair, but in the distance, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and readable; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) he realizes that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.

His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorted through the books he looked forward to reading for years to come. Just as he bent down to pick up the first book, he stumbled, and his glasses fell off and shattered. In shock, he picked up the broken remains of the glasses that are now useless, leaving him virtually blind, and he says, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!”, as he burst into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.

Mr. Bemis was not ready for the rending of the heavens and the final judgment day; he was not ready to discover that it is God alone who defines what is fair and what is not.  He was not ready for God to come in power, are you?  Can you truly agree with the prophet Isaiah and say…

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.  You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5]

God has come down and “rended” the heavens in the past; He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were.  He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go!  He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army.  He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down tens of thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.”

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer.  Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays.  The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer.  He wants us to call out to Him, “Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace.  For those who cry out like this, everything may seem to be “out of whack” in this world; evil may seem to be over powering good, and the devil may seem to be stopping even God’s will, but faith still prays.

In times like those, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God and ask that He step in and correct this apparent imbalance.  “O Lord, come quickly.  Assert your power; protect and deliver your people.  Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem.  If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God.  We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds, and we are afraid.  We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way?  How can we possibly rid ourselves of so many and so vile of a list of sins, sins which soak into our very being making us in God’s eyes simply a bunch of filthy rags?  (Filthy rags which are like those discarded by a woman during her menstrual period.). The answer is that we can do nothing to rid ourselves of this curse of sin, but God can!  He alone must work once again in a way that this sinful world would never expect.  He must do what we can not.  He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior.

No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heavens and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him.  No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel.  And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.  Sinful men and women who since the fall of Adam and Eve, have been held in the cruel bondage of sin.  We could never love God and our neighbor as God’s perfect law demands… it is beyond us.  But God made a way out of no way.

Who could ever have imagined that God would bring us back to Him by grace through faith, by sacrificing His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary?  What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb?  Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, a man or woman could become an adopted child of God?  But this is always how our mighty God acts; He reveals His truths to humanity… in a way that all of creation must simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding.  If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must first be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled Word of promises.  In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn to God’s loving heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and then hold fast to a principle which teaches, that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  But He only acts for those who know Him as Father and Savior.  He acts for those who know that He is the potter and they are His clay; they are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever.  Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them?  Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will.  We are the work of His hands; His mighty hands, the hands of Jesus, which were pierced for our transgressions.

In one part of God’s Word, we discover that our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but in another part of God’s Word, the gospel, faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, we may turn to Him by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son.

Many of you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and to always pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Why do you suppose that is?  It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of His Son Jesus!  We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness.  When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children and to ask their dear Father for those things that we need.  We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, it is my prayer that the peace of God will allow your heart to boldly call out to God, asking Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory and power.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Lambs Don’t Shove?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year-November 23, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Yes, you are Jesus little lamb and further He gives you every reason to be glad at heart as He leads you through life as a gentle shepherd.  And as you follow, you are assured by faith that He knows your every need and that He provides for those needs in your life.  Since all of this is true, then why do you sometimes act as though it isn’t true?  Why do we as people seem to have this insatiable desire to be first and best, even at the expense of other little lambs around us?  Why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of good ideas in our minds on how to do things better, but we seldom are willing to offer our own efforts in order to accomplish those ideas?

I submit to you that the reason is very simple, and it looks back at us every day in the mirror.  While we may indeed be Jesus little lambs, we live our lives as if we are Jesus mighty and powerful rams, pushing and shoving trying to be the shot caller, trying to get the best seat, the best place in line, and the most important position available.  And while we congratulate ourselves for living as a strong sheep and not some helpless little lamb, Jesus warns us in our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) that we are acting more like a goat.

Now, we should be clear from the outset that this kind of sinful behavior is nothing new; God had to deal with this same issue years ago through the prophets, and this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24) we hear him speak about this very issue through the prophet Ezekiel.  Listen: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture, and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet.  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Vs. 17-19)

This morning God is speaking to us just as He did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  He is speaking in a way that calls attention to the sinful practices that He observed in the lives of His people then, and in the lives of His children of faith today.  He sees Christians acting like the godless goats and beasts around them and not like sheep.  And he isn’t just talking about how we act in church, but how we act in our families and within our communities.  He is warning us that if we insist on being someone of importance, that is a leader and not a follower then He will hold us to a much higher degree of accountability.

This morning, you may find yourself thinking that you are more equipped to lead the church, your family, or community than others, and because your superior abilities have been underused or gone unappreciated, you find yourself pushing and shoving others so that you can be heard and recognized.  God sees, and He is not impressed.  And what He sees is that through your pushing and shoving, you are teaching through your actions an incorrect faith or false teaching; you are teaching that your way is better than God’s way; you are muddying the waters of true doctrine, and you will answer for what you are doing.  Every time you exert your personality over another sheep, in church, at home, or within our community, and you take away their ability to enjoy God’s provisions for joy and peace in their lives, you are going to pay; Jesus says you will be judged as a goat and not a sheep; you will be cast out into darkness, never more knowing the care of your good shepherd.  In other words, “If you want to act like a goat and not a sheep, then go for it.  You are a goat; so go to the place of goats!”

This morning, God promises to do two things: First He will personally remove the false shepherds who push, shove, and take advantage of the flock, and second, He will personally provide for the needs of His sheep.  He will seek out His sheep who are lost in the church, in the family, and in the community, and bring them back into the fold.  How will he do this?  By reminding us that…

We are His little lambs. We are not mighty rams or wild goats.  We are his little ones that so badly need His care; we need His Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, because without Him, we will become lost; lost in our communities, lost in our families, and even lost within our church.

Dear friends, this is a truth that each of us must hear, whether we are in leadership or simply part of the flock.  We are all being led by only one Good Shepherd, and the voice of another we must not listen to.

In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord has promised to become personally involved in caring for the needs of his people, even when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway, isn’t it?

Jesus is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s.  Jesus is the only Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for His sheep, but He took it back up again when He rose from the dead.  Jesus is your good shepherd who suffered as you suffer, but even more His sufferings were for you; not only for your eternal salvation, but also so that you might have joy and peace right now, even though you see people in positions of authority over you abusing their high callings of leadership.

Now to those of us who are in positions of authority or desire those positions, God has this Word for us: If we fail to be Christian shepherds in our families, in our community, in our congregation, we can expect those under our leadership, to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful human beings do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord Jesus, our true Good Shepherd and his way.

So how do we correct our sinful tendency to push and shove others at the expense of cutting them off from the peace and joy that Jesus provides?  By remembering that we too are only Jesus little lambs.

When we remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs and not some big shot ram or wild goat, we will also remember that we follow our Good Shepherd.  “For He grew up… like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.”  He was born in the humblest of births, born in a manger.  Even though He was the eternal Son of God, He was known simply as the son of Mary, and the son of a blue-collar carpenter.  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced (upon the cross) for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”

“(And) All we like sheep have gone astray (like lost little lambs who think they are powerful rams or wild goats, we are lost in our families, our communities, and even within our church); we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on (Jesus) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”

(And as they took your precious Jesus, the Good Shepherd away to the cross to die for your sins, He modeled the life of a little lamb; a trusting sheep who follows its shepherd.  “He was oppressed and He was afflicted (for you), yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” [Isaiah 53:2-7]  And neither did He push nor shove, but instead He simply trusted His God and Father.  And just before His final moment of life upon the cross, He experienced something so horrible that it troubled His soul and caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But that was His human flesh crying out only; you see Jesus, the begotten and eternal Son of God knew why He must be forsaken at the ninth hour; He was forsaken so that His little lambs could trust that He would never forsake or leave them.  He suffered in their place so that each of us would know for certain that nothing and no one can ever pluck us from His hand nor the hand of His father.  For we rest as sheep in His pasture.

So how do we remain sheep within God’s flock?  How can we be protected from the ambitions of being a ram or the irresponsible living of a goat?  By remembering that not only are we sheep in God’s flock, but even smaller than sheep, we are simply little lambs who know nothing of the dangers ahead nor how to avoid them.  And as little lambs, we simply follow the voice of our Good Shepherd trusting in His guiding way.  He guides us with His rod and His staff, which are His Word and His sacraments.  His law warns us when we are wandering astray, and His gospel seeks us out, cleans us up, and nuzzles us back into the fold as one who was once lost but now is found, nestled safely in the love of Christ, back in the fold.  He has cleansed us in Holy Baptism, and He nourishes us through the sacrament of the Altar.  And together with the other sheep, we sing in peace and joy these true words: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?  And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”  AMEN!