Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

Do You Really Want to See Jesus?


Monday, April 10th, 2017

Palm Sunday, April 9 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

Text: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” [John 12:21]

This is the request that the Greeks presented to Phillip, and I think it is the request that many people still ask of God today. It’s as if they are really saying, “I want to believe in Jesus as Savior, as my Savior, if only He would prove that He’s a Savior to me.” Well, at any rate, that was the last we heard from the Greeks. I would like to think that after the request was made to Jesus, and after His almost strange response to that request as delivered in His Sermon to the people who were gathered in the temple that He eventually met with them. And the answer He must have given to them privately, probably was not much different than the content of His Sermon.

The Savior the Greeks sought and the Savior many still seek today is not the kind of Savior Jesus really is, because Jesus is a suffering Savior Who calls His disciples to follow in His foot steps.

Jesus makes it clear that the jubilant joy of the Hosannas that were still ringing in the people’s ears, was not the glory that He was riding into the city to receive. You see, Jesus had long ago set His face towards the cross; a cross of suffering and pain that awaited Him on Good Friday.

It was Good Friday that would be “the hour for the Son of man to be glorified.” It was in His passion where Jesus would accomplish something glorious. It was His passion that would bring on both His resurrection and His return to paradise. It was through His passion that believers throughout time would also finally be assured that there is a place for them in God’s restored paradise.

Jesus was glorified by the obedience he rendered to the Father even unto the death of the cross, and in His death, He also achieved redemption for the fallen world; He was glorified when the Father highly exalted him, giving him a name above every name and seating Him at his right hand; He was and is glorified in the work of the Holy Spirit as He leads thousands to the feet of the Savior. Jesus’ glory begins with His passion—Jesus sees how from his passion and his death a magnificent vista opens, reaching onward through the ages into all eternity, and it is one shining path of glory.

With solemn assurance Jesus depicts the truth of what this great “hour” brings.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

If a grain of wheat is not put into the soil, it will, indeed, not die, but it will then “itself remain alone” and produce nothing. So will the Son of man remain alone if he does not stoop to death on the cross. But if the grain falls into the earth, dies, and is consumed, it brings much fruit. And this is exactly what the Son of man, God’s incarnate Son will accomplish through His death.

Jesus is like the grain of wheat which by dying produces much fruit, that is, it makes many thousands upon thousands of children of God. Now these true Christians are all like Jesus in that they do not selfishly love their own lives and this sinful world more than God and His Heaven.

Jesus is now teaching that the act of a Christian who by faith is willing to give up control of His life to God is a person who understands the passion of the Christ. But a person who is so attached to their life, with all of its happiness and its treasures, will ultimately see it all slip away and disappear.

To stress this truth, Jesus adds that conversely, a person “in this world” who hates his life of sin, and wants it defeated once and for all, is a person who’s ready to go against it and allow that old self to be denied, crucified and put to death. This is what it means to see Jesus and to follow Him.

But there is a great difference between the divine Grain of Wheat’s death which gives us life, and our own dying to self. We are the “much fruit,” that is produced in Jesus passion and our new life, which is always dying and forever germinated in Jesus’ Word and sacraments. It is only through Jesus’ suffering that sinners such as us can be saved, and through His death produce the church of believing children of God. All that we can do—and that only by his grace not of ourselves—is to use our earthly and natural life so as to gain for ourselves the life eternal. He alone is the Savior, we are nothing but the saved. He needed no salvation; we cannot save even our own selves.

So what the Greeks and all other sinners in search for a Savior must understand is that the salvation Jesus offers and the way He offers it is never what the world expects. If they and we will receive this truth, Jesus says, “Let (them) follow me.” Did the Greeks and the pilgrims on Palm Sunday understand what a high privilege Jesus offered and is still offering in the invitation to follow Him?

If you were in Jerusalem the day Jesus rode into town, humbly seated upon a donkey, do you think you would have gone after Him; made your way out to see him knowing what kind of Savior He is and the kind of salvation He was offering?

I think that you probably would have, aside from the truth that Jesus fame was spreading quickly due to the news that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, the very invitation to follow Jesus was powered by the same Holy Spirit that brought you into Christ’s church today. You are searching after the very same thing that some we’re seeking on that first Palm Sunday, salvation.

Hosanna literally means, “Save Us!” Do you need saving? Do you see Jesus as someone who can save you? Now, if you say you see Jesus as someone who could save you, the next question sets the stage for further investigation into who you think Jesus was and is. Are you ready? What would you want Jesus to save you from? I mean the choices are numerous. Should he save you from a bad marriage, addiction, unemployment, poverty, sickness, or a corrupt government? Or do you see Him as who He says that He is, very God in human flesh? Another way to ask this is, do you see Him as a kind of Messiah who will make all things right and good now, in this world, or is He your Messiah who makes all things well with you and your Creator for all of eternity?

Would you still be a sinner shouting Hosanna after discovering that Jesus is a suffering Savior who comes not to bring freedom from life’s woes and tragedies, but a Savior who comes to bring eternal life and peace with God. If you knew this in advance would you be more prone to shout Hosanna or “Crucify Him!”

Those were the words that a similar crowd shouted just a few days after Palm Sunday. Instead of saying “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” they said, “We have no king but Caesar!” They are the ones who complained that the whole world had gone after, and were following Jesus. They were the ones who were incensed that Jesus had turned over the market tables within the Lord’s Temple and called them a brood of vipers and accused them of turning the House of Prayer into a den of thieves!

They are the ones that continually came to Jesus for the miracles, but then walked away from Him when He demanded that they acknowledge Him as the Son of God. They are the ones that flocked to see the sight of the blind restored, the lepers cured, the multitude fed, and the dead raised, but when He offered forgiveness of sins, they rightly said that no one could forgive sins but God, and then, they picked up stones to kill Him for being a blasphemer.

To those people then and many today, Jesus was acceptable as a good man, a wise man, a wonderful teacher, but they were certain that He never should be called God and worshiped in a way that excluded all other ways of being a good in a religious sense. People then and today will gladly hear a message preached about the good Samaritan, and then agree with you that we should all demonstrate brotherly love through tolerance, but when you tell them that only Jesus can ever be the “Good Samaritan” and that outside of Jesus’ work for sinners, we can never know peace with God and our neighbor, they will call you an intolerant zealot.

Now let’s look at the people in the crowd that shouted Hosanna.

Do you think that they really wanted the kind of Savior that Jesus said He was? Did they even understand who Jesus really was? Maybe not, but they did know that before Jesus came into their lives, it seemed that if God was not dead, He was at least silent in their lives. The cruelty of the Roman government was getting more severe everyday; hunger and poverty were rampant to the point that there seemed to be only two groups of people, the very rich and the very poor. Sickness and death seemed to be the only reward for the average person, and then along comes Jesus. He was teaching with authority about a God who wasn’t angry with their sins as much as He was saddened by them. He was presenting a God Who wasn’t so much a punishing God as He was a forgiving God for those who turned to Him in repentance for mercy. He no longer was simply the God of their Fathers, but Emmanuel, a God who was with them right now, in what ever they were going through.

While Jesus taught in ways that caused the religious zealots to be angry, those who really listened to Him teach, felt shame over their sins, but then they experienced comfort and hope when Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness. In essence they were changed. They saw past the miracles and saw the man, who was much more than a man or a teacher. Could it be that what Jesus said is true? Is He really the God-man, the Son of God? While their faith was weak, and they were not quite sure what to make of Jesus, one thing was certain, they knew that He was sent by God; God was no longer silent in their lives, because in Jesus’ Words, God was right there with them.

So where do you stand within these two groups? Isn’t it true that in each of us, God can find a mindset that on some days may yell both “Crucify Him” and “Hosanna” within the same day? Don’t we many times, say one thing and then do another? Don’t we enjoy God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbor and then quickly refuse forgiveness to another, or at least withhold it until they feel our pain? Haven’t each of us been guilty of ignoring our need to worship God at His Church, or perhaps the opposite, when we have put the practice of our religion ahead of the demonstration of our faith? Does it not become an easy thing for us to justify our own sins, but at the same time amplifying the sins of our neighbor?

So what shall we do? And to answer that question, we turn to the Words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:5-11), who says…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”.

What mind? Well, the mind of faith; a mind that is first led by faith and then rational thought. A mind that is part of a life that has been renewed in Holy Baptism and is sanctified every day by the Word of God. A mind that sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey and remembers that the prophet Zechariah spoke about this moment, long before it occurred through these Words: “(Fear not, that is) rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the Word of God that allows you to receive both the truth and the will of God. It is a mind of faith that is able to see God as both righteous and forgiving; a mind that sees Jesus as both fully God and fully man. This is the kind of mind that understands that when the Son of God came to us sinners, He came to provide for our salvation; that is, He knew that He was coming to die for us. Even as He rode in on Palm Sunday and one group chanted Hosanna, He knew that another group was plotting to kill Him, and very soon would shout, “Crucify Him!” But here is the wonderful mystery that is hard but essential for us to understand… Jesus came to die for both groups; He came to die for sinners and saints, and He came to die for you!

In our Psalm this morning, we heard that Jesus is the gate of the LORD, and that He is the answer to our prayers for salvation, that is forgiveness for our sins. But, He is also the capstone of that gate, which the self-righteous and self sufficient people rejected then and reject still today. But how do they reject Him? When they refuse to repent of their independent ways and refuse to see Jesus as who He is. And who is he? He is God and there is none other. Outside of Jesus, there is no salvation; He is the only way to eternal life. He is the one who by taking on our flesh, that is by humbling Himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

These are the people who reject God; they reject Jesus as God who not only died for sinners, but he died for them. Here then, is the gospel message for this morning; a message for all people, saints and sinners, rich and poor alike: Jesus died for you! While He rode in on that donkey, He had both the cross and your salvation on His heart.

This week, we will gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to honor God and highly exalt our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will look deeply into His passion for sinners such as us, and we will allow both His Word and His real presence to transform our sinful minds. We will experience real truth, such as we have experience this morning. Real truth that exposes both our love for Him but also our sin that still clings to us. He alone will teach us His truth, and He alone will comfort our fears. And then on Easter morning, we will greet our Savior Jesus Christ, whom God has highly exalted, and we will proclaim the truth of that name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” AMEN

Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


Monday, March 20th, 2017

Lent 3 (A), March 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0088“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church. Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well? Is He with us or are we simply left on our own to fend for ourselves? So, let’s settle that question right now, this morning.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

That is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand. Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses? Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land! Oh how conveniently they’ve dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night. Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death! But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was more than pleased to show His people once again, that He indeed was with them.

Oh how quickly the Israelites forgot, and oh how quickly we too forget. How easily we too forget or dismiss the proof of our Lord and His presence with us all of these years. Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following the God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we. They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we, as we dismiss the majority of the pastor’s words as simply the wisdom of a gifted communicator. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to live as if there is no God leading them, and He will not allow us to live that way either. God had a plan then, and He still has a plan today. God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin. Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to open wide His store-house of blessings and through His children of faith, bless the entire world as well. But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of our bondage of sin would be painless and easy. God has promised us nothing in this life except the privilege of experiencing His forgiving love and glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock. Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?

If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?! Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it. What scripture is that? How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, choosing to plant your feet of faith on some other foundation than the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to fall completely away from the Rock of your salvation). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (as you stand upon the Rock)” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out friends is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself who sought you out and found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you, by placing you and your wretched condition upon His very existence! Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around. He alone has cleft for you and incorporated your very existence upon His own.

In your baptism, Jesus came to you through simple water. But how?

Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it. Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism. When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him. Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there within the font when each of you were baptized. All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins. Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin. But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil. Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is. God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that all of God is always with you! And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith. It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins. But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives. Holy Water is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath, refreshed by this living water grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us. Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, we are never disconnected from God! How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will see the Rock of ages cleft for them too, and know once and for all that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15] We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through a desert of sin. We to will know pain and suffering along our journey. It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about! The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word. And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst. They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

Dear saints, let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief. Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Rock of Ages, the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ. He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who has cleaved Himself wide open so that we to may fit within His own body, the church. AMEN!

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.

This Is For All The Lonely People

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

All Saints Sunday A, November 1, 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.

That song by America, “Lonely People”, which you just heard also brings us both the title and the theme of our message this morning: This is for all the  lonely people.  What is?  The message, God’s message, which proclaims that very soon, God Himself will comfort you; He will dry every tear and you will  finally be home in that place that He has prepared for you; a place where you will never again know disappointment, pain, illness, suffering, nor disease.   But you will also never again feel grief.

Isn’t it true that we all grieve for someone, or perhaps for several someones; people who made a mark in our lives; modeled the Christian faith and taught us  what it means to fight the good fight of faith?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just sit down with them for 20 minutes and just listen to them once  again, or feel the warmth of their embrace?  Well our message, in a sense allows us a glimpse of them as it gives us a certain hope in God’s certainty that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we will join them for eternity.

In our lesson from the book of Revelation (Revelation 7:2-17), God gives to John and through John us, a dual vision which are separate yet one vision.  It is a  vision of two simultaneous realities; one is in our time and the other is set in eternity.  It is the picture of the church carrying out it’s mission, which we will  call the church militant, and the church at rest with its mission accomplished, which we will call the church triumphant.

In verse 2 through 8, we are given a vision of a multitude of persons numbered at 144,000 who have been sealed by God; marked as His very own.  What  shall we make of this 144,000 and the seal that is placed upon their foreheads?  Much has been made of both this seal and the number over the years, and  most of it has only caused confusion and sometimes fear in the hearts of Jesus little lambs.  And that fear is not in keeping with the Gospel of our Lord, a  message of Good News, which is meant both to take away fear and create faith and a clean heart within Jesus little lambs.  Didn’t our Lord say this very thing with these Words: “Have no fear little flock.  For the Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom”?  In other words, God Himself through the work of Jesus Christ has both sealed you as His very own and marked you as one of the 144,000.

The Seal. St. Paul speaks this very message in this way, “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal: the Lord knows those who are His.” [2 Timothy 2:19]  And, “the foundation of God” is certain because it has this “seal: the Lord knows those who belong to Him.  That is, you dear Christians can be absolutely certain and sure of his salvation and faith because it rests on the truth of God’s Word and God’s seal within that Word: “the Lord knows those who are his.” So, it is through his Word that God seals his people, assures them by his Spirit that they belong to him and that he will protect them in their faith. Paul says that Christians are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, given to them as God’s “pledge” or “guarantee” of the inheritance that He has promised. [Ephesians 1:13–14; 2 Corinthians 1:22]

In the ministry of the holy Apostles as in our ministry of the church today, the proclamation of the gospel is accompanied by “sign(s)”—or perceivable activities of the Spirit—activities which confirmed that their ministry of preaching the Gospel (Acts 2:14–35), baptizing (Acts 2:38, 41), and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42) was of God.  The Church today still administers these Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as visible signs with tangible elements (water, bread and wine) empowered by the Word of God, as God’s means of forgiving sin and strengthening faith. [Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38] Through these means of grace, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit still works sealing God’s people and confirming to them that they are indeed his people.  So, the Spirit of God, in his gracious activity through God’s Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, seals you little flock, so that you may know that you belong to God and that He will protect you through faith, even in the middle of the worst of tribulations.

So then what are we to make of the 144,000? Well, the best and most historic answer is that the number is symbolic, and it represents the full number of saints who are continuously being drawn out of the church militant, that is the church that is on mission to seek and save the lost.  But why is the number made up of 12,000 from each of the Old Testament Tribes of Israel?  Well, it is not uncommon for the writings of the New Testament to refer to the church of Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, in Old Testament language. Didn’t Jesus promise His disciples that they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28–30)? Paul says that the believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, are in fact the true Israel of God and the true sons of Abraham. In James 1:1, the introductory statement makes it clear that the epistle is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the diaspora”, that is, those Christians who are scattered throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Since the very beginning, the New Testament church has quite naturally assumed the continuation of the twelve tribes, because that was part of the assignment given to the Messiah, [Jeremiah 3:18; Ezekiel 37:19–24] and Christians recognized themselves as the true heirs of the Jewish faith (Romans 4; Galatians 4:21–31; Phil. 3:3).”

So since we have established that “every tribe of the sons of Israel” is to be understood as a description of all the followers of Jesus Christ, what does the number 144,000 mean?  Well, the number is simply a multiple of twelve: twelve times twelve thousand. It suggests a total completeness. It gives a numerical picture of God’s people on earth in perfect marching order, in perfect step. It suggests that God’s Israel, the church of Jesus Christ, as it advances to battle in the mission given it, is a perfect and complete army, fully equipped and ready to do God’s work.  But what is most important for you this morning, is the fact that the number includes YOU!  You have been sealed and are being sealed every time you are in the Word, every time you come to church and receive God’s gift of forgiving love through His means of grace!

Now we have another scene or vision to look at before we close our message this morning, and this is the very vision that is meant for those of us who are lonely because of the loss of loved ones who have died sealed in the faith of Jesus Christ.  In contrast to the smaller crowd of saints on earth still fulfilling their mission, the crowd shown to us in Heaven is vast and uncountable.  This host of saints in Heaven stand before the throne of God and they are at rest and in peace, celebrating the results of the mission of the church on earth.  Just as we, as part of the 144,000 stand ready to be launched out into a world of sin and suffering to accomplish our mission, so too, the vast array of saints have been utilized in that way before us.  But they, who make up the church triumphant, are at rest and at peace awaiting the final act of God’s sealing protection, which is the end of days and the time of judgment and reward.  They who make up that vast host will never again experience tribulation and persecution.  For them, Paul’s promise in Romans has been fulfilled by God, “I reckon that the sufferings of this preset time cannot be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to us.” [Romans 8:18]

This vast crowd that is called countless, reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would be beyond counting—as numerous as the sand of the seashore and as the stars in the heavens.  And this crowd we are told is not only from the ethnic people who made up the 12 tribes of Israel, but from every ethnicity found upon the face of the earth.  And this entire vast host of people is arrayed in white robes.  Their white robes symbolize a reality that we within the church militant hold onto by faith here on earth: We have been washed through the water and the word, cleansed with the blood of Jesus, and through Christ we are pure and righteous because of His blood!

So what does all of this mean for us below who are still clinging to Jesus and being built up in the gift of faith? It means we are not alone… we are part of the vast array of saints that have gone before us, Saints that will very soon be joining in the feast of victory for our God.  But perhaps the most amazing truth that God would like you to receive from His perspective and the perspective of those who have gone before us is this: You have already taken your place next to them before His throne and at His table and the feast of victory.

Just as they are before God’s throne of Victory, so too, you are before His throne of grace.  Just as they serve God day and night, so too, you serve Him as you live your life of faith in Him and service to His church and to your neighbor.  Just as God’s divine service shelters them from harm so too, His divine service here in our church shelters you from anything that could separate you from the love of God and His seal, which is yours through Christ Jesus.

As a vast heavenly chorus, the saints who have gone before us, including your loved ones that you miss, agree with Jesus when He calls you blessed!  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

If that vast host could call out to us this morning, they would probably repeat the promise of Jesus to us in this way.  “Amen, yes Amen!  Rejoice and be glad little ones.  You are as we were and always shall be… you are blessed.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so we too were maintained by God’s means of grace, and now we are sheltered by His eternal presence, standing before His very throne, never again to know hunger nor thirst, sickness nor disease, violence nor war.  For the lamb in the midst of us, Jesus the crucified, resurrected, and now ascended Son of God is our Good Shepherd and He will guide you as He guides us, to springs of living water, and one day soon, He will do for you what He has done for us; He WILL wipe away every tear from your eyes.

As we prepare to approach God’s table of mercy, by faith allow Him to assure you that your loved ones are there as well.  See in your mind’s eye that they too, are seated across from you on the other side of the communion rail.  Therefore with angels and archangels and with the vast array of saints in glory we can not help but laud and magnify God’s glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored, Heaven and earth will full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; truly blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  AMEN!

Really?

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him. [John 12:18, 19]

If you were in Jerusalem the day Jesus rode into town, humbly seated upon a donkey, do you think you would have gone after Him; made your way out to see him?  I think that you probably would have, after all, the news was spreading everywhere, like a wild fire that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and remember now, he wasn’t just dead, he was dead for four days; that kind of miracle was unheard of.  So, let’s just assume that all of us would have been there, but there is another question worth asking, and it is this: Would you have been there shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Now before you answer that question, let’s consider just a couple of things.  First, we must understand what the word Hosanna means.  It literally means, “Save Us!”  Do you need saving?  Do you see Jesus as someone who can save you?  Now, if you say you see Jesus as someone who could save you, the next question sets the stage for further investigation into who you think Jesus was and is.  Are you ready?  What would you want Jesus to save you from?  I mean the choices are numerous.  Should he save you from a bad marriage, addiction, unemployment, poverty, sickness, or a corrupt government?  Or do you see Him as who He says that He is, very God in human flesh?  Another way to ask this is, do you see Him as your Messiah who will make all things right and good now, in this world now, or is He your Messiah who makes all things well with you and your Creator for all of eternity?

Now this morning we will examine two groups of people who greeted Jesus then, and still greet Him today, and then we will allow God to show us where we fit in.

“Crucify Him!”  Those were the words that a similar crowd shouted just a few days after Palm Sunday.  Instead of  saying “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” they said, “We have no king but Caesar!”  They are the ones who complained that the whole world had gone after, and were following Jesus.  They were the ones who were incensed that Jesus had turned over the market tables within the Lord’s Temple and called them a brood of vipers and accused them of turning the House of Prayer into a den of thieves!

They are the ones that continually came to Jesus for the miracles, but then walked away from Him when He demanded that they acknowledge Him as the Son of God.  They are the ones that flocked to see the sight of the blind restored, the lepers cured, the multitude fed, and the dead raised, but when He offered forgiveness of sins, they rightly said that no one could forgive sins but God, and then, they picked up stones to kill Him for being a blasphemer.

To those people then and many today, Jesus was acceptable as a good man, a wise man, a wonderful teacher, but they were certain that He never should He be called God and worshiped in a way that excluded all other ways of being a good and religious person.  People then and today will gladly hear a message preached about the good Samaritan, and then agree with you that we should all demonstrate brotherly love through tolerance, but when you tell them that only Jesus can ever be the “Good Samaritan” and that outside of Jesus’ work for sinners, we can never know peace with God and our neighbor, they will call you intolerant and a zealot.

Now let’s look at the people in the crowd that shouted Hosanna.  Do you think that they really wanted the kind of Savior that Jesus said He was?  Did they even understand who Jesus really was?  Maybe not, but they did know that before Jesus came into their lives, it seemed that if God was not dead, He was at least silent in their lives.  The cruelty of the Roman government was getting more severe everyday; hunger and poverty were rampant to the point that there seemed to be only two groups of people, the very rich and the very poor.  Sickness and death seemed to be the only reward for the average man, and then along comes Jesus.  He was teaching with authority about a God who wasn’t angry with their sins as much as He was saddened by them.  He wasn’t so much a punishing God as He was a forgiving God for those who turned to Him in repentance for mercy.  He no longer was simply the God of their Fathers, but Emmanuel, a God who was with them right now, in what ever they were going through.

While Jesus taught in ways that caused the religious zealots to be angry, those who really listened to Him teach, felt shame over their sins, but then they experienced comfort and hope when Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness.  In essence they were changed.  They saw past the miracles and saw the man, who was much more than a man or a teacher.  Could it be that what Jesus said is true?  Is He really the God-man, the Son of God?  While their faith was weak, and they were not quite sure what to make of Jesus, one thing was certain, they knew that He was sent by God; God was no longer silent in their lives, because in Jesus’ Words, God was right there with them.

So where do you stand within these two groups?  Isn’t it true that in each of us, God can find a mindset that on some days may yell both “Crucify Him” and “Hosanna” within the same day?   Now, if you are thinking, “No, I would never be like that.” I have one word for you, “Really?  Really?!”

Don’t we many times, say one thing and then do another?  Don’t we enjoy God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbor and then quickly refuse forgiveness to another, or at least withhold it until they feel our pain?  Haven’t each of us been guilty of ignoring our need to worship God at His Church, or perhaps the opposite, when we have put the practice of our religion ahead of the demonstration of our faith?  Does it not become an easy thing for us to justify our own sins, but at the same time amplifying the sins of our neighbor?

So what shall we do?  And to answer that question, we turn to the Words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:5-11), who says…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”.  What mind?  Well, the mind of faith; a mind that is first led by faith and then rational thought.  A mind that is part of a life that has been renewed in Holy Baptism and is sanctified every day by the Word of God.  A mind that sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey and remembers that the prophet Zechariah spoke about this moment, long before it occurred through these Words: “(Fear not, that is) rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the Word of God that allows you to receive both the truth and the will of God.  It is a mind of faith that is able to see God as both righteous and forgiving; a mind that sees Jesus as both fully God and fully man.  This is the kind of mind that understands that when the Son of God came to us men, He came to provide for our salvation; that is, He knew that He was coming to die for us.  Even as He rode in on Palm Sunday and one group chanted Hosanna, He knew that another group was plotting to kill Him, and very soon would shout, “Crucify Him!”  But here is the wonderful mystery that is hard but essential for us to understand… Jesus came to die for both groups; He came to die for sinners and saints, and He came to die for you!

The mystery of both His birth and His death is 100% a work of God, and it is marvelous and wonderful in our sight.  You see, within this humble savior seated on a donkey rode the God of Creation.  The same mystery of God that confronted sinful men at the birth of Jesus and confounded Herod, rode upon a donkey towards Golgotha.  He was not riding to die only for good men and women, but for the no good sinners as well.

In our processional Psalm we heard that Jesus is the gate of the LORD, and that He is the answer to our prayers for salvation, that is forgiveness for our sins.  But, He is also the capstone of that gate, which the self-righteous and self sufficient people rejected then and reject still today.  But how do they reject Him?  When they refuse to repent of their independent ways and refuse to see Jesus as who He is.  And who is he?  He is God and there is none other.  Outside of Jesus, there is no salvation; He is the only way to eternal life.  He is the one who by taking on our flesh, that is by humbling Himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

These are the people who reject God; they reject Jesus as God who not only died for sinners, but he died for them.  Here then, is the gospel message for this morning; a message for all people, saints and sinners, rich and poor alike:  Jesus died for you!  While He rode in on that donkey, He had both the cross and your salvation on His heart.

This week, we will gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to honor God and highly exalt our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We will look deeply into His passion for sinners such as us, and we will allow both His Word and His real presence to transform our sinful minds.  We will experience real truth, such as we have experience this morning.  Real truth that exposes both our love for Him but also our sin that still clings to us.  He alone will teach us His truth, and He alone will comfort our fears.  And then on Easter morning, we will greet our Savior Jesus Christ, whom God has highly exalted, and we will proclaim the truth of that name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  AMEN

Let Us Go and Die With Jesus

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Lent 5 (A), April 6, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.[John 11:16]

So are the words of Thomas, and so should they be our words as well.  They are the words that the saints are to speak to their sinful flesh that will one day die, once and for all, and will one day in the Lord’s time, rise redeemed and completely sanctified for an eternity with Jesus and their neighbor.  But these aren’t simply words we speak to make it through times of sorrow, suffering, and testing; no these are words that echo the very Word of God.  Listen: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:3-4]

These Words of dying are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death and then to a physical death.  They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death.  Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”?  No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with.  It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hope and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.  In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright.

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.  The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones.  And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Mark and remember those Words.  The Lord knows.  He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry.  He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning?  Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  Even the Word of God seems to do you no good; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely dead.  And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon.  Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people.  But then God asked a question that was meant to test faith and cause it to grow.  And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope.  “Son of man, can these bones live?”  And to this the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas answers perhaps a bit pessimistically, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith?  Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from itself or this fallen world, and trust only is that which is greater and outside of itself and this world.  It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6]  What was God showing Ezekiel?  This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us.  In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What He was showing them and us is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26a] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Do you see where the hope of life came from?  It was from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.  But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it.  “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded.  And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “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.”  So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die.  But, when God speaks His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit.  When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond.  When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives.  When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks.  As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families. We are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. We are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act. We do these things even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal.  It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete.  We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.  So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives.  Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal.  Maybe it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time.  And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’  And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim:  “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”  And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.”  And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.”  And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the (joy of)life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this?  Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!”  Come out with a purpose and a mission.  Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story.  Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you.  Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones.  You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners.  And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday.  Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come back again on Good Friday and experience the agony of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them.  And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the resurrection of our Lord.  The assurance that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life.  AMEN!

Eyes Shut Tight

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Lent 4 (A), March 23, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” [Isaiah 42:14]

The song you just heard, “Slipin’ Into Darkness” by WAR, is meant to act as our mental hook, to hang this very important message from God upon.

Our text this morning leads us to ask ourselves, “Why can God no longer restrain Himself?  Why does He cry out like a woman in labor?”  Well the answer is, because His children, you and me have a tendency to slip into darkness.  We are a lot like the Israelites of old, or if you prefer, like the frog who is slowly being boiled alive.  We see nothing wrong with our warm bath of sin; in fact, it feels very comfortable and soothing.  But as the water slowly becomes hotter, it begins to perform a work of decay called apathy upon our bodies.  Slowly but surely, like the frog in his bath, we are being boiled alive within the acceptance of sin in our lives and Christ’s church.  And God’s message is, if we will not listen to His Word now, today, and every day, before we know it, it will be to late; we will have already slipped into darkness.  So to prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness”…

“The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” [Isaiah 42:21]

What law is that?  Well it is the law that is presented to us in all of God’s Word.  It is the law of holiness, which demands that we acknowledge our sins, and it is the law of promise, which declares that only God can prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness.”

Is God serious about this law?  Well, listen to Him speak and I will let you be the judge: “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.”

These are words of judgment; they represent the finish of all things created in both heaven and earth.  They are words about the end of days.  God was telling the children of Israel that the final day was coming.  They of all people had to know that this was the truth.  They could trace their origins directly back to Father Abraham; the great patriarch of all of God’s children of faith, who heard God speak the impossible and by God’s gift of faith, He was enabled to believe God, and that belief was accredited to him as righteousness.

They knew first hand from their sacred writings, how God used Moses to intervene in their lives, in order to save them from slavery in Egypt.  They knew how their powerful God punished the Egyptians by causing great plagues to strike the land so that Pharaoh would let God’s people go.  And they knew that God had before dried up the water by parting the sea and making a straight path for them to escape and eventually arrive into the Promised Land.  They knew about God’s care for them in the wilderness, and they also knew that after all of this, many grumbled and sinned against the Lord and died, never reaching the promise land.

And now, as God speaks through Isaiah, He is warning them again about their sin, and it’s penalty; they would once again, because of their sinfulness be enslaved in the land of the Babylonians, but God would one moe time bring them back home to their own land.

All of this that God does, demonstrates who God is: He is a jealous God, who loves His children who relate to Him by faith, with an everlasting love.  He is the God who will not give His glory to another, and not allow His children to follow any other god, whether it is man or religion.  In order to be saved from God’s wrath, all they had to do was close their eyes to any other messages, and simply follow God’s promises of deliverance by faith, and they would be spared from His judgment.

But all of their history and their immediate physical reality was meant to act as a way to help them remember and believe in their God who saves; it was meant to prepare them to follow their God who would come among them and “lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known” before. [Isaiah 42:16]  They were to see their “Savior,” God’s “Suffering Servant” Jesus Christ, as God’s only solution to defeating their persistent sins and hard hearts.

Jesus is our only God given resource to ensure that you do not slip into darkness.  He has come to save those of us who know that we are indeed blind to God’s will and deaf to His warnings.  So He has come to guide us out of that sin in paths that we do not know; paths that we could never find on our own.  He has come to turn our darkness into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things that He does and He will never quit trying to call you who are baptized into His name, to follow Him.

We who make up the church, that is those of us who call ourselves Christian can hear these Words of promise and begin to think that there is nothing that could ever cause us to “slip into darkness.”  Why do I say that?  Because the same danger that enslaved the children of Israel also threatens all of Abraham’s children of faith; that is, it is still a very real threat to the church; to you and me.  What danger is that?  The danger of being a privileged child of faith but rejecting the very means that makes us privileged; the means that saves us.  What means is that?  It is all of God’s Word; both the promises and the threats of judgment and punishment.  The real danger that confronts us is that we would become so comfortable in our salvation that we are no longer uncomfortable in our sins!

Do you know what a besetting sin is?  Listen to how the book of Proverbs describes it: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.” [Proverbs 27:12]  So, a besetting sin is a sin that no longer bothers you; something you either no longer fight or are no longer bothered by.  It is something that God’s Word makes clear as sinful, but the society we live in does not have a problem with.

Besetting sins are those things that you know right a way are wrong, because God in His Word has made that truth clear to you, but over time, like the frog slowly boiling towards its demise, you no longer care; you are comfortable in a sin that will eventually if not repented of, cause you to slip into eternal death.

Besetting sins then may have this type of effect on you: You may no longer believe that marriage as God has described it in His Word is the truth for society today, in fact you may believe that marriage really isn’t necessary at all.  You may no longer care that God’s Word declares that life begins at conception.  You no longer care that gossip and slander are evil and contrary to everything that God declares good.  You may no longer hear God’s warning that you must not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is you must do everything you possibly can, to ensure that you do not miss coming to church, where you receive His Word and sacraments.  You may no longer seem to care that God’s Word challenges you to give the complete tithe, that is 10% of your income to His church, all so that He can prove to you how much He loves you as He blesses you.  You may no longer extend the invitation to your neighbors to come to church with you and hear God speak His truth and love.

By embracing your besetting sins, you have become like those who see many things but do not observe them; whose ears are opened, but do not hear. [Isaiah 42:20]  And this morning, God is warning you that you are “slipin’ into darkness.”

So what are we to do?  Nothing.  Instead, you are to trust in what God has done and what He is still doing within you and around you.  You are to simply continue dying to your old sinful nature and the lure of our sinful society, and follow Jesus and live.

Jesus alone has come to save you.  Jesus alone is the embodiment of all of God’s Word and will for you, both the threats and the promises.  Jesus is the “Suffering Servant” who took your sins upon Himself and allowed this World and the devil to strip Him of His dignity.  He allowed this for you; He chose to suffer and die in your place; on your behalf.   He was smitten, stricken, and cut down, so that by His stripes you would be healed.  Upon the cross, as the life of the Son of God slipped into the darkness of death, the Son of God cried out to His Father,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Do you want to know why the Son was forsaken by the Father?  So that you would not be!  Do you want to know why Jesus allowed His life to slip into darkness?  So your’s would not!  As Jesus died upon the cross, He became the very embodiment of all of God’s Word, both the threats and the promises.  As you read God’s Word, this is the message that God so desperately wants you to receive… GOD LOVES YOU… He loves you enough to send His Son to die for you.  Isn’t this enough to take your eyes off of the false gods that promise you nothing lasting and eternal, and then fight to rest in the God who promises you everything, if you will but believe and follow His Son Jesus Christ?

Dear friends, for a long time, God seemed to be silent; that is He allowed men to go their own way.  And what was the result?  We began to think that God was not serious about sin.  But this morning, God has spoken; you’ve heard that He is deadly serious about sin, especially those who are so comfortable in their salvation that they are no longer uncomfortable in their sin.

And now you have heard God shout out: I WILL NOT LET YOU SLIP INTO DARKNESS!  I will not allow the one l love to simply turn his back on Me and be overtaken by Satan and his devils.  You are mine; I have purchased you with a great price and washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  You are mine and I will be relentless in my pursuit for your eternal soul.  I will hound you with my Word of threats until your soul once again longs to hear My promises of forgiveness.  I will do this, until you are no longer comfortable in your sin; until you learn to close your eyes tight to the lure of this sinful world, and place your hand of faith upon my Son’s shoulder as He leads you with eyes of faith through these many dangers and snares, to the place I have prepared for you in paradise.  I will not let you go “slipin’ into darkness”…  AMEN!

A Bath for Sinners, and a Drink for the Thirsty


Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Lent 3 (A), March 23, 2014
On the occasion of Holy Baptism for many children of God from within San Diego’s American Samoan community.

Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Is the Lord among us or not?” is perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church.  Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well?  Is He with us or are we, as we just heard Paul Simon sing, just slip sliding away?  Is God truly with us or are we left on our own to work our jobs, collect our pay, raise our children and just slip slide away?

“Is the Lord among us or not?” is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand.  Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses?  Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?

Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land!  Oh how conveniently they have dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night.  Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death!  But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was not just letting them slip slide away.

Oh how quickly we seem to have forgotten our Lord and His presence with us all of these years.  Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following a God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we.  They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to slip slide away and He won’t allow us to slip away either.  God had a plan then and He still has a plan today.  God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin.  Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to bless the entire world.  But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of bondage would be painless and easy.  Nowhere did God promise His children glory during the voyage out of sin, accept the privilege of experiencing His glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock.  Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?  If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?!  Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it.  What scripture is that?  How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, slip sliding away)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to slip slide away). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who has found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you!  Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around.

In your baptism, He came to you through simple water.  But how?  Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it.  Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism.  When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him.  Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there this morning in the waters that washed clean and recreated all of his children this morning, He was within their baptism.  All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins.  Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin.  But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is.  God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that you will not one day slip slide away!  And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith.  It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins.  But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives.  (Holy Water). It is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us.  Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, He never lets us slip slide away!  How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will know that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15]  We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through the desert of sin.  We to will know pain and suffering along our journey.  It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about!  The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word.  And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst.  They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

This morning we have seen the holy washing of many children, and we have once again had our hearts turned towards God’s refreshing drink.  Let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief.  Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ.  He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who promises that He will never allow us to slip slide away.  AMEN!

Go, Blessed to be a Blessing!


Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Lent 2 (A), March 16, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Genesis 12:3b]

In God’s promise to Abram, you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor, our community, our nation, and indeed the entire world IS blessed!  What promise is that?  Well, it is the very first promise made by God to sinful man way back in Genesis 3.  You remember that promise from last weeks Old Testament lesson, don’t you?   God promised Adam and Eve that through one of their descendants would come a Champion, a Savior who would crush the head of Satan, thus defeating sin, death, and the devil, but that old crafty serpent would also bruise the heal of man; that is there would be a great degree of suffering that would come through the victory of the Savior.

Who is this Savior?  Well Jesus made it obvious to Nicodemus in our Gospel reading that He was the Savior of the world.  [John 3:1-17]  Listen:  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:14-17]

It is Jesus alone that the world is to look upon as He is lifted up before our eyes of faith; lifted up hanging between two thieves.  Why?  Because God loves the world, He loves you that much, so much so that He sent His very Son to be your Savior!  This is the same Champion that God guaranteed to Adam and Eve would come and save them and their descendants, and it is the same champion that God promised Abram would come through his lineage to be a blessing to the world.

Today, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death, that is even your own sin and death have been undone.  Now some of you may be thinking, “Then why is this life I live and this world I live in so messed up?”  Because the heal of the Servant Savior is still being bruised!  That is there must be suffering.  Why?  Because some still lack faith in the promise of God.

Let’s look at faith during the time of Abram and faith during our time and perhaps, just maybe we will understand how God’s plan of salvation for the world is unfolding, that is how everything is moving along just as it should.

During the time of Abram, whom God latter renames to Abraham, the descendants of Noah who were the descendants of Adam and Eve, had only been out of the Ark after the flood about 500 years.  The children of Noah were now very old, but still very much alive.  They had seen first hand God’s anger towards sin, specifically the sin of idolatry, which is the worship of false God’s.  The penalty of course was death, and in regards to all but Noah’s family, that death came in the form of a flood, which wiped out the entire world, with exception to the animals that God placed into Noah’s ark.  Wouldn’t you think that a global catastrophe of that kind would be sufficient to warn mankind that God is serious about sin?  But here we have Abram, living in an age where people once again worshiped all kinds of false gods, or no God at all, and they saw no problem with that, including Abram.

Now don’t get me wrong, Abram was a good man in the eyes of the world.  He was wealthy but he was also kind and generous with his wealth.  He came from a good family; in fact many believe that his grandfather Shem, the son of Noah was still living.  Yes, Abram and his family seemed to have it all, all but one thing… they no longer remembered God’s promise that He would one day send a Savior who would bring sinful mankind back to paradise; maybe they didn’t even believe that the promise was ever made.  So while Abram was a good man in the eyes of other men, in God’s eyes Abram was like all other men, sinful and unclean!  He was an idolater.

So what does that have to do with faith?  Well simply this, when God called Abram to leave his home, the land of his father and take everything with him, never to return, Abram listened and was obedient.  In God’s call through His powerful Word, Abram was once again given the promise that God Himself would send a Savior.  Abram’s heart was reminded of the promise made in the Garden of Eden and his eyes of faith were directed to trust both the promise and the Creator God who made the promise.  This is a wonderful example of how God’s Spirit works faith within the sinful heart of a sinner; working faith where and when the Spirit chooses, through the Word of God. In Abram, we see saving faith that believes in a God who will do what He says He will do.  God promised Abram that He alone would make Abram into a great nation, blessing all the world through the Son of God who would come through both Abram’s lineage and his faith in that One who was to come.

Now you are the children of Father Abraham; you are those who by faith are to be a blessing to a dying and sinful world.  You are the church, the body of the promised Savior who has come, Jesus Christ.  You too are told to go, that is go out where ever God leads you and be a blessing to those you meet.  Let’s see how we are doing; let’s see how faith in the Savior who has come is faring today.

You dear Christians today are blessed beyond expression.  You know that the Savior of the world has come and defeated your sin and undone your certain death, and He has even crushed our mortal enemy the devil!  You know the Easter story of the empty tomb, the ascension of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, and the promise that through the Holy Spirit, God our champion is still right here with us.  You have this wonderful house of worship that you may come to and receive God’s mercy and forgiving love, through His means of grace, which are abundantly showered upon you in the preaching of the Word, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the Holy meal of forgiveness at our Lord’s Table.  Abram saw none of these things and yet he had great faith.  In fact, he had many reasons why he should doubt God’s promise and follow the promises of the devil and sinful society.  His marriage up to that point was childless.  Where was this great nation God was speaking about?  And then there was the fact that no one but him even knew about this God who was still jealous and angry over the sin of idolatry.  So we can see that the faith of this holy man of God was great, because he believed those promises as if they had already taken place before his eyes.  So with Abram’s great faith before us, let’s compare it to our own little faith.

We know that Jesus Christ will come again on the Last Day and He will destroy all of His enemies.  We know that until then, we are to wait here in the land of those enemies, even if those ungodly idolaters persecute us and make our lives unbearable.  We also know that while we wait, Christ is here with us through grace, and He is strengthening us so that we can wait in faith, while He preserves both His church and it’s great and sound doctrine, along with real God-pleasing worship.  And yet, all to often we live our lives as if God is only secondary to our needs and concerns with this life.  We live a life that is many times wrapped in fear and worry.  We allow our schedules and the demands of society to pull us away from God’s promises of grace, and many times we act as those who have no hope at all!

If we really believed what we declare in our Creeds of faith, do you thing that it would be possible for any of life’s circumstances to take our eyes off of our Savior and His cross?  So, if we do have faith, I think that we must all admit that our faith is very small, very weak.  We really are people of little faith and in no way could we begin to compare ourselves to father Abraham, who receives the invisible things with a strong faith, and lives a life as though he were already holding the promises in his hand.

Oh we of little faith.  Why do we doubt so?  Because we need strong faith, and we forget that God alone gives faith only through His chosen means.  Through His means of grace, God fulfills His promise both to Abram and us, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (to the world).”

Our great blessing is the Son of God, who has come to us to make us sons as well.  By Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been set free from the demands of a Law that offers us no help in doing the things that please God, thus leaving us in the penalty and bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  But thanks be to God, through the promises of the gospel, that is through Christ alone, we have been given a new heart, a heart that desires to not only see the things of God, but do them ourselves.  And in our doing, that is in our proclaiming and living out the gospel message, which boldly declares that God loves the world enough to send His Son as it’s champion, we become a blessing to the world.

In our doing we gather together often, at least weekly around God’s chosen means of grace as we allow Jesus to continually fill us with His presence and clothe us in His righteousness.  In our doing, like Abram, we establish new places of worship, places pleasing to God so that others within our own community and other places outside of our community are blessed.  They are blessed because through God’s gifts, our feeble little faith grows and trusts His gospel promises and desires to share them with others.

Like Abram, we simply go as God directs and trust that it is He who began the good work in us who will complete it through our Savior, Jesus Christ!

This morning dear friends, God’s Word has filled you with faith.  As Martin Luther said long ago, “Faith is a vigorous and powerful thing; it is not idle speculation, nor does it float like a (duck) on water.  But just as water that has been heated, even though it remains water, is no longer cold but is hot and altogether different water, so faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, fashions a different mind and different attitude, and makes an altogether new (person out of us).”

Now you have been filled with the same faith that filled Abram.  It is an active and powerful force of God.  It is something that has been done to you, not something that you do or have earned.  It is the kind of faith that changes your heart and mind.  It alone is able to comprehend the will of God and stand in awe of things that are against reason and seem to not yet be present.

So once again, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death; that is even your own sin and death have been undone. May this fulfilled promise of God keep your hearts and minds in the one true, active, and transforming faith, as you go out into our community blessed and in the name of Jesus to be a blessing to those you encounter… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Lent 1 (A), March 9, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]

I chose our text this morning as a guide for examining the message that’s communicated in all three of our readings.  What is that message?  God wants good for His children; He wants you to have a “good” and eternal life in and with Him!

How could God who alone is good, desire any thing but good for us?  In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness.  Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good!  Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over.  But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His goodness and love to the rest of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God.  “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people.  All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace.  When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion.  Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation.  In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was their’s to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”  That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree.  It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.”  No, God was no absentee father and man was not a latch key kid!  After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid.  Man knew God and loved Him.  The tree instead represented the otherness of God.  It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”.  I like that idea.  There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience.  But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit.  You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man!  The devil, disguised as a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

How Eve should have answered the devil was, “No, God never said that.  Why do you question His Word?”  But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it.  “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God.  I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit.  And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation.  But where pray tell was her husband?  He, who was her spiritual head, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise.  A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.”  Now Adam and Eve knew shame.  Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father.  They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached.  They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge!  And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!

But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day.  God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up.  God would not abandon them in their guilt.  He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be?  The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored.  He holds the field victorious.”  [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil.  Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents.  His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith.  Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to.  Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus.  But this was Jesus, the Christ, and the Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion.  Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!”  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

Dear friends, the truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior.  The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not.  And now, the devil tries the same thing against us.  Think of how most temptations still come to us today: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin?  If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing all of this trouble, pain, and loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness, which undermine the message about His forgiving love.  He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal.  He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away.  He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father.  And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil.  He did it to crush him and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3]

What is that little Word?  Jesus!  God Saves!  It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress.  Blessed is the name of the Lord.  The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]

Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  Upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished.  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith.  Words that assure us the battle is over and won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.

What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ!  It is literally paradise restored.  As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear.  We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith.  And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ.  We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide.  No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.  Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]

So follow Jesus. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored!  AMEN!