Posts Tagged ‘Prophecy’

Prophecy and Pentecost

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Pentecost-B, May 20, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message


I can’t help but think that before the Holy Spirit showed up on that first Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off, they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5] In other words, Jesus was saying, “Do nothing until you hear from me.”

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”  I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?  

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  

 No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost and it is our reality today.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house, the sick house, and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!  

As terrible as these battlefields were and are, they pale in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  

God told Ezekiel to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!  

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of new life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]  

This was the message of prophecy for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today; it is prophecy fulfilled!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God through the cross and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We first receive this Word in our baptism, and then we hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures us that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Please hear it again today and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.  

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  

But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.  

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?  

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the zombies before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they think they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has brought them forgiveness of sins and new life!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord who through His cross has defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

Beware of False Prophets, Indeed!

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 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

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  [Matthew 7:15]

The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ.  And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church?  But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too.  Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.

None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life.  But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering?  The false prophets would like us to think so!  They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.

So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets.  One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory.  Which will you follow?  How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way?  Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.

A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.

He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly.  It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.

A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray.  “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]

“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31]  The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]

But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets.  In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38]  and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church.  They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.

Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim.  What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there.  The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word.  For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.

Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel.  God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]

False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.

It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.

Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets.  So what is their fruit?  Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.

These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will.  Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you.  Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith.  And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith.  I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”

You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God.  The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven.  Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him.  Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God.  While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!

Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.

The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory.  In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong.  God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God.  And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets.  The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.

You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized.  It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone!  Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message.  They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins.  It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other!  The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.

Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is?  The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come.  This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart.  But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.

So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness.  It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets.  It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration.  It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything!  And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and  power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world.  But where it ends makes all the difference.  Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you!  For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]

May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

Don’t Be A Little Herod

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Christmas 2 (HL), January 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matthew 2:13]

Perhaps the title of our message, “Don’t Be a Little Herod” has got you wondering what God and your pastor may be up to in this message.  Maybe your even thinking, “How could someone imagine that any of us would be even remotely similar to that vile villain, Herod.”  Well, we will address both the title and those questions in a moment, but first let’s look at the most obvious things the church must address within this historic text.

There are three things that demand our acknowledgment this morning; they are three things that the church has always acknowledged within this text.

First, we must understand that our plans no matter how God-pleasing, how extensive, or how well thought out they are, are not necessarily God’s plans.  You see, there is a way that seems good, right, and salutary to sinful men and women, but in the end; in the end they lead to death. [Proverbs 14:12]  Joseph and Mary had a good plan.  They probably put a lot of thought into where they would raise their son, God’s Son.  And after much prayer and love for the boy, they intended to remain in Bethlehem indefinitely.  But then Herod entered the picture.

Jesus must have been several weeks old buy the time the Magi showed up to worship Him as the King of Israel.  But the Magi didn’t stay long; as soon as the closing benediction was announced, off they went into the night, because they were warned by God not to return to Herod.  But the Magi weren’t the only ones who were warned by God of Herod’s evil intentions.  Joseph, warned by God in a dream woke, roused Mary and off they went to Egypt, a strange land they neither knew nor wished to know.

And so goes the ways and plans of men, even God fearing Christian parents.

Second, we learn that bad things really do happen to good people; even people we call innocent… people like the little children of Bethlehem that had done nothing to deserve death.  This gospel reading has always been reserved for acknowledging the first martyrs of the church.  We call this High Holy Day, “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”  What is interesting to note is that while they died so that Jesus the Messiah could live to begin and complete His ministry, because Jesus lived, He would latter die so that they could be forgiven of their sins (even that great original sin inherited from Adam and Eve), and live for eternity in paradise.

Third and finally, we must acknowledge that if God has determined that a thing will happen, it will.  Even Herod’s evil was no problem to God; God already knew what was in Herod’s heart since the beginning of time; God planned for it.  And to prove this, God had his prophets proclaim three promises long ago so that you could read and hear about them today, and thus be assured that all things really do work for “the good” for those who are called by God and know and love Him by faith. [Romans 8:28]

First, God said long ago through the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I will call my Son.” [Hosea 11:1]  An indeed, God did that very thing when Joseph and Mary were latter directed to take Jesus, the Son of God and return to the Holy Land.

Secondly, the prophecy of Jeremiah stands out for us in these Words, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15]  These Words, while they immediately refer to the Israelites going into exile in Assyria and then Babylon, they ultimately find fulfillment in the slaughter of the innocents at the hand of Herod.  But what is interesting are the next two verses proclaimed by Jeremiah; verses which bring the hope of new life, which is intricately connected with both the life and death of this Christ-Child who escaped the evil plan of Herod.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.””  Here in this ancient prophecy, we already find the proclamation of the gospel; a gospel that promises that God will actually overcome the evil will of devils and men.  Here is the Word of God announcing that through this Child, the very Son of God, our true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil have been defeated!

And finally, all of scriptures declares that even the place where the boy Jesus would grow to be a man had been determined and announced for a reason.  Listen: “But when (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”  While God left the choice of the town to Joseph, and Joseph alone selected this place, the hand of God was, nevertheless, guiding him. This becomes clear when we read: “in order that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, for he shall be called a Nazarene.”

A Nazarene is one who hails from Nazareth. All of us familiar with the gospels know that the enemies of Jesus branded him the “Nazarene,” as if it was a curse word.  That name would become infamously attached to Jesus and His disciples, and it would loudly proclaim the reason for His rejection among His own people. They put into that title all the hate and derision possible. And this is “what was spoken through the prophets.”  All of the prophets that spoke of the rejection of the Messiah explained that He would be despised by the very people He would come to save. [Psalm 22:6; Isa. 49:7; Isa 53:3; Dan. 9:26; and Deut. 18:18]

If Jesus had been reared in Jerusalem, He could not have been vilified as the Nazarene (Can any thing good come from Nazareth?).  But if Jesus was not vilified by sinners, how could we hold other villains  such as Herod up to Him and contrast true evil to divine goodness?  Which brings us to the warning within the title of our sermon, “Don’t be a little Herod.”

I think that it is true to say, we are comfortable in seeing Herod as the ultimate Gospel villain; the epitome of evil incarnate if you will.  We very quickly see the depths of his sin and treachery and we comfortably think that it is impossible for one of us to stoop or fall so low.  But Herod is in fact every man, woman, and child.

Herod teaches us that it is within our sinful human nature to be openly rebellious to the kingship of Jesus.  You see, if Jesus is Lord, then we are not.

What was the first sin of Adam and Eve?  Wasn’t it to become like God?  And friends, we have been trying to do that very thing ever since the fall.  So what do you think our immediate reaction is, when God through His law exposes our false lordship over our lives as a sinful delusion.  Herod was delusional, and so are all sinners one way or another.  Each of us in our own way tries to play God.  While its true that Herod was an extreme example, he certainly isn’t an isolated case.  Herod is what every man, woman, and child is deep down in our hearts.  Every sinful thought or action that we are confronted with through the law of God is evidence that testifies against us that we are indeed little Herods by nature.  It’s those very sins that tempt us to doubt, hate, plot revenge, and then resist the real King and unseat Him from the throne of our hearts.

Every Sunday we as the church militant, within our prayers and collects pray for God’s help in defeating the little Herods that threaten the security of our salvation.  We are always reminded how God has poured out His love in our hearts through the presence of Jesus Christ His Son, His Word that has become Flesh.  It is this Word of God that creates faith, and it is this faith that creates a desire within us for Jesus to be our Lord, even upon the throne of our own sinful hearts.

The truth is friends, God can and has dealt with the likes of Herod; He has done it once and for all.  And…

God can deal with our little Herods too.

God defeated the plans of the devil and his little puppet Herod by protecting His Son and giving Him His foster father Joseph, who fled with the baby and His mother to Egypt.  Herod in all his authority and might couldn’t overcome one little baby.  God makes him out the fool and then he dies.  And that pretty much sums up the rest of the gospels too.

A poor carpenter turned rabbi begins to preach and teach in a small insignificant part of the world.  The collective powers and authorities there would try to kill Him, and when they finally succeeded in crucifying Him, they thought they had won.  Yet, along comes the third day and it’s proven that God’s power really is glorified in weakness, even the weakness of a cross, and the fruit of Christ’s cross then produces eternal life.  And this is always God’s way; the Kingdom of God starts as the smallest of seeds and then spreads (and is still spreading) to the four corners of the world.

The Herods of this world will all die one way or another, even us.  God deals with them in two ways.  For the unrepentant like Herod, God kills them and destroys their evil plans and still accomplishes His purposes in spite of them.  The other way, the way you dear saints are following much even better.   God still kills you, but then He raises you up again with Jesus.  That’s exactly what He has done and is doing for you.

Every Sunday we witness mass deaths within God’s Divine Service, in fact everyone of us should be dying to ourselves right now; we should come here prepared to die; we come to die to self, die to sin, to have our little Herod crushed by God.  God drowned that little Herod in the waters of your Baptism, like He drowned evil Pharaoh in the Red Sea, but He doesn’t stop there.  You see, He has raised you up again in the forgiveness of your sins to everlasting life.  He pours into your heart the true light of the Incarnate Word so that His light might shine brightly in your life.  He nourishes you with the food that grants eternal life in His body and blood, which you will receive soon in the Sacrament of the Altar.

The world expects a king who wins like other kings; with brute strength. Instead, we have been found by a God who defeats the powers and principalities of this world by falling into their clutches and being crucified.  Your sin must be dealt with from within this sinful world.  If God came from above, with His Divine strength and fury, you and I would be utterly destroyed because we are sinners who only deserve death.  But instead, God in His wisdom came down to the depths of our human need by becoming needy, and He deals with our sin by becoming sin for us and dying the death we deserve.

This morning, we see the holy family suffering just like the rest of this broken world. Herod’s rage was simply a glimpse into what was to come at the cross.  The Christ child in His weakness, was always threatened, but God the Father was always with Him.  The truth is dear friends, while we live within this sinful world there will always be suffering and inequity, and this suffering will always lead towards death.  And because of this reality, we tend to forget that God has already prefigured all of this, and still guarantees that all things will work for the good of His saints.

Here is a truth worth remembering: What the enemy takes, God can give back a hundredfold within His Kingdom.  The eyes of Rachel will be dried and one day her tears will be no more.  This is precisely what will happen when the King comes again, but He does not come in weakness; no He comes in power and strength to open up the very gates of His kingdom to you.  Jesus alone brings each of you back to paradise restored, where you will live in the light of the Incarnate Word Jesus Christ forever and ever.  In Jesus’ name… Amen.

Take the Child!

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Christmas 1A, December 29th, 2013

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This morning, two parts of our readings take precedent over all others; they demand our attention and even our obedience.  The first is  the theme of our message.  It is repeated four times in our gospel reading (Matthew 2:13-23), and it is this: “Rise, take the child and His  mother.”  The second portion of God’s Word that demands recognition comes from our Epistle reading (Galatians 4:4-7): “But when the  fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so  that we might receive adoption as sons.”

If we put these two portions of scripture together we seem to get a clear message, a theme if you will to apply to our worship this  morning: God helps us in times of uncertainty because we take hold of the mystery that is Jesus, the eternal Son of God who is also man;  born of a woman at just the right time.  In other words, we can not and must not separate Jesus humanity from His divinity.  If we will  take this God-child as He is given to us, we will also receive redemption, that is we will be not only saved from our sin, but we will also  become God’s own child!

In the little Child Jesus, we see God’s care for His Son wrapped in swaddling clothes, but we are also given assurance that He will care for  us also, His adopted children of faith.  So…

We are called to take the Child in times of danger.  Unlike Joseph, most of us will not have an angel appear to us in order to warn us about  impending danger or threats to our Christian of faith.  But we know by experience that there are many frightening things that wait for us  in the coming year, even physical dangers.  But rest assured, God knows about each of them; He is already there in that moment of time preparing a way for you.  He has already planed the way of escape for you.  As Joseph was directed to run to Egypt for his escape, God as well has a way out for you.  Now, while it may not be as drastic as running to another country, it is a way out that God has planned.

What will the danger for you look like?  Only God knows, but think about this: Not all dangers are physical.  In fact most of them are spiritual.  For the young people, God wants you to know that He has watched over you this last year, and He is still protecting you.  To you, through the Apostle Paul, God says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” [1 Corinthians 6:18]  And for all of us who are prone to trust in things created over the Creator, God tells us, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” [1 Corinthians 10:14]

How we flee from these temptations in the year to come is the way Joseph was to flee to Egypt; we take the Child and His mother and we run away from temptation.  Please hear me; if anyone comes to you preaching and teaching a different Jesus, or a different kind of gospel, you must flee.  Take this Jesus, this Child and His mother and run!  You dear Christians are adopted children of God and you have been given the ability to flee from these things.  So pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the gift of faith and live out the eternal life you were called to live.  Let your Christian walk be a confession about God’s faithfulness to those who do not yet know Him as their Heavenly Father. [1 Timothy 6:11, 12]

We are also called to take the young child in times of catastrophe.  When I say catastrophe, what comes to mind… terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake?  Ok, but what about cancer or some other life threatening disease?  It’s during times like these that the inevitable question arises: “Why me?”  Well why not you?  You have the assurance that you are eternally saved, so what is one fleeting physical attack in comparison to the faithful promise of God, which assures you that because you have taken the Child to be your Savior and God, you will live with Him forever in paradise?  Maybe the best witness we will ever give to our God is the way we grab onto His Son in times of tragedy and trust in His promise of eternal life no matter what our life circumstances may say.

Friends if we try to find answers to life’s catastrophes where God does not speak, all we will do is watch the joy of knowing we are His children slip away from us.  In our gospel reading we are shown an example of this.  The Magi escaped and Jesus and the Holy Family successfully fled to Egypt, but left behind were the young children who were slaughtered.  The church now calls them the Holy Innocents.  If you were to tell those mothers as their children lay dead that they were blessed, do you think they would hear you?  There is no point in telling those young mothers to “Take the young children and flee… for they are no more.”

In the middle of catastrophe, when we want to call out to God, “Why me?” He points to the Child, His Son and answers, “Because, even He!”  In His flight to Egypt God the Son was already redeeming the world from their sins.  God was in Christ reconciling the world, that is bringing us back to Himself.  Did the world understand at the time?  No, they did not, and neither do we most of the time.  Would the world have been better served if Jesus remained in Bethlehem and died with the other children?  Is it favoritism on the part of God the Father to provide for His Son’s escape while the others died?  No, because we know that ultimately God did not allow His Son to escape.  We know why this God-child had to become the God-man.  He was born so that He could die upon the cross, and not at the edge of a government sword.  God did not spare His only Son but delivered Him up as a ransom for us all.  For “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]

So take the Child, and trust that God the Father through the Son, has given you all things!

Take the child in times of prosperity as well.  Joseph did that very thing when the angel reported that “those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” [Vs. 20]  He returned and made a life for His family in Nazareth.  Yes, we too need to take the Child even when things are going well, because you will need Him.

One sad truth that I have discovered in my time as your pastor, is that there is a certain group that comes to God’s house to receive His Divine Service only during the hard times.  They will gladly hear our message this morning and shout a hearty “AMEN, brother!” to the first two points I’ve made.  They know that when times are tough and catastrophe strikes, Christ and His church are right there waiting.  But when things are going well, not only are they not in church, but neither is their time, talent, and treasure.  The church as a whole suffers because of this, but they suffer more.  Their faith is not being strengthened by God’s means of grace and they begin to falter and fall.  “But” they may counter, “I have fallen before, but God rescued me.  So I am sure when I need my faith it will be given again.”

O foolish Christians, who has tricked you with that lie from hell.  It can only be the devil himself and this sinful generation that has enslaved you.  Have you not read the story about the five foolish virgins?  They too saw no need to keep their supply of faith full.  And when their Lord came their lamps were not lit.  They begged the others to share or sell their faith, but they could not.  And when their Lord arrived for judgment He proclaimed to them, “I DO NOT KNOW YOU!  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” [Matthew 25:1-13]

Take the Child dear friends and take Him as often as you can.  As His mother and Joseph took Him and protected Him, so each of us must take Him not only as our Savior and God, but also as a dear family member.  Do you remember the Bible story about the time Jesus was teaching a large crowd and someone told Him that His mother and brothers were waiting to speak to Him?  If so, then you also remember what He said in answer to that news.  With His arm outstretched, He waved at the great crowd of people and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

And what is the will of our Father in Heaven?  That we would take His Son.  Together we take the child as we run from temptation and stand up with courage, so that equipped by God we may face the catastrophes of life and celebrate with joy, the truth that gladly proclaims, “God has and always will deliver us.”

And together, we now move as one body to take the Child in the bread and the wine.  The mystery that somehow God was born a child is enough to comfort our fearful hearts, but just as incredible is the truth that the body and blood of Jesus now comes to us in simple bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins past, and the assurance of faith in the future, all so that we may keep taking the child in the years to come for the assurance of eternal life and salvation.  Dear friends, take the child … AMEN!

He Is Still Immanuel!

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Advent 4A, December 22nd, 2013

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Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 14a & Matthew 1:23]

What is in a name?  Well in today’s culture, evidently very little.  People name their children just about every crazy name that is under the sun, with very little reason other than novelty.  But back in the time of our Old Testament reading, names meant quite a bit.  They were both a glimpse into the family’s religion and their faith.  Names had a purpose!

The name Jesus had a purpose as well.  His Father put a lot of time into presenting and empowering that name.  But here is where things get a little interesting; the Son helped pick, define, and empower that name along with the Father, long before He was born.  You see this is no ordinary name.  It is a name that defines the purpose for the coming of the Son of God.  Together with the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son chose the name Jesus for He who would come to save God’s children of faith from their mortal enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  What does the name Jesus mean?  “Yahweh Saves.”  This name chosen from the beginning of time and promised after the first sin of Adam and Eve is the descriptive and prophetic act of God, which promises that He Himself through the sending of the Son would bring sinful and fallen man back into a right relationship with their Creator God.

In the name of Jesus, God reminds His children of faith of the promise He made long ago to Adam and Eve, and then to all people who would relate rightly to Him by faith in His promise to defeat the devil and save fallen mankind.  Listen: “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Genesis 3:14, 15] These Word’s were a promise from God that He would send a champion to us, the Christ, which means Messiah, and He alone would defeat the devil, end the captivity of sin, and restore man’s privilege of living with their Creator God eternally in paradise.
So you see, there is a lot to receive in the name of Jesus.  This little boy child who was growing within the womb of His mother, the Virgin Mary, was not just a boy, He was very God of very God.  Mary knew this truth before Joseph.  How she must have longed to tell her husband Joseph the truth about her child.  But she could not, because God Himself who conceived this child through the work of the Holy Spirit would be the One to inform Joseph about both the nature of this child and His mission.

His nature was that He was both God and man.  What an impossible concept this is for our sinful minds to understand; minds that are by nature so separated from God because of our sins.  And what a ridiculous mission for sinful minds to receive as well; how do you save someone who does not know or care that they are trapped?  So God delivered the truth of the child through a prophetic dream; God’s own angel delivered the news.  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:20a, 21]

Joseph, was then and there surround by the power of the Holy Spirit who  through the Word of God, gave Him the gift of faith to hear the prophecy fulfilled in the Words that were spoken next: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” [Vs. 22, 23]

If I may be so bold as to speak for God, allow me to say simply this.  Here, God is saying to Joseph and to us, “Jesus is my Son.  His name has been chosen for a great purpose, to save you and all of humanity from your great fall from grace.  You will call Him Jesus, because He really does save you from your sins, but they who do not yet know Him as their Savior, will one day call Him Immanuel, because they too will one day see that their God is with them.”

Immanuel.  What a wonderful name!  It really does mean, “God is with us!”  But God’s presence and work in our lives is difficult for people of faith to hold onto, and an even harder thing for people of no faith.  A good example of this can be seen in King Ahaz, as presented in our Old Testament reading. [Isaiah 7:10-17]  King Ahaz of Judah, was afraid of many things.  He was afraid that the Kings of Israel and Syria would unite and attack his kingdom.  And he was afraid of losing his reign and his legacy.  Yes, he was afraid of many things accept the one thing that he should have been fearful of… the anger and punishment of God.  He did not have the fear of God because he lacked faith in God.

When God discovered that Ahaz was secretly making a pact with a foreign nation for protection instead of trusting in His protection, He sent His prophet Isaiah to speak words of faith and hope.  The prophet told him to not be afraid of foreign threats, for the Lord was with him.  And to prove it, God led Isaiah to speak these words: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  And how did Ahaz answer the prophet?  He said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”  Wait, what?  What are you talking about?  God Himself said that you could ask so that He can strengthen your faith!  So why won’t you ask?  What is going on here Ahaz?!

What was going on then is the same thing that is going on today.  People still choose their way, society’s way over God’s way.  By nature, that is on our own we are still blinded by a world view that is the complete opposite of the way of faith; a way that is both described and enabled throughout God’s Word.  People today, like Ahaz then, still want to explain the existence of the world and their own life circumstances in a way that minimizes or removes their Creator God.  They look for help and love in all of the wrong places.  They refuse to see the God who not only made their hearts but sees in them.  And what does God see?  He sees a heart that is alone; a heart that is afraid and full of hopelessness; hopelessness that comes from the darkness of sin.

So how does God deal with our sinful hearts?  He gives us a sign.  He tells us about the prophecy concerning the son of a virgin.  That son is His Son, and the virgin was the Virgin Mary, who becomes mysteriously the mother of the Son of God!

The Son of God is both Jesus (Yahweh Saves) and Immanuel (God is with us)!  We receive both of these names gladly when we see everything about this child.  But our vision is not just from the womb to the tomb; no, it starts with God the eternal Son leaving Heaven itself and then, proceeding to earth, He begins His life of humility as a helpless fetus.  So His humility is for us our first glimpse into God’s way of salvation.

God being born?  Who would ever think of that?  No one but God Himself.  God chose to mature in the womb of a simple young virgin.  He chose to be born, suffer, and die upon a cross.  Why?  So that He could be your Champion; your Savior!  He was conceived and born to die on a cross for your sins.  But if your sins simply ended with His death, then where would our hope be; in death too?  No, not in death, but in eternal life!  You see, the name Jesus, God Saves is only half of the message.  Now you must hear the other half.  God saves because God is with you.  He is with you to help you see that He has gone from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the empty tomb and the resurrection, from the resurrection to His ascension in order to redeem you; that is through all of those things he has provided salvation for all of mankind.  Because He lives, we are assured that we too will live as well!  But there is another great work, which He has done in you and for you so that you can know for certain that forgiveness of sins and eternal life truly are yours.  He has washed you clean.

In your baptism, God Himself was with you as He put His mark upon you and infused you with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  Through this real presence of God, Jesus is truly with you.  By faith He allows you to experience and live out this Immanuel presence.

So, the sign of Immanuel is your invitation and ability to live out your baptismal life, which is a life of repentance.  It is a call to turn to Jesus your Savior and away from the things that separate you from His Immanuel presence.  It is a call of repentance for those of us who are prone to trust in our own way or the way of society, instead of following God’s way, which is the way of the cross and the waters of baptism.

The sign of Immanuel is our call to repentance for those of us who now want to trust in Jesus and follow Him as His disciples.  It’s a wonderful reminder that we need to truthfully examine ourselves every day and examine all of the relationships and institutions that are present in our lives and see if we have allowed them to replace our trust in Jesus alone.

Finally, the sign of Immanuel is a sign of hope that comes wrapped in promises of grace and mercy.  It is a gift that declares Jesus has not only come, but He has come for you!  He has come to be with us, and give forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is with us when everything else is against us.  He is with us even when our world seems to be falling apart and everything that we use to count on is crumbling around us.  He is with us in the tragedies of life when the dark valley of death is upon us and our sin and the devil seem to overpower us.  It is then when we can say by faith, “He is still a God who saves.  He is still Immanuel… God with me!”

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And may each of us continue to call out to God along with the entire church… Come Lord Jesus… Come!  AMEN!