Posts Tagged ‘Temptation’

Jesus Walks With Us!


Sunday, February 18th, 2018

1st Sunday in Lent B, February 18, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org
Genesis 22:1-18, James 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-16

INTRODUCTION: This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe! As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith. Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life. Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!”

I. What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?

A. Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic and social condition to get an answer to that question. If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little confused, afraid, and maybe worried. Questions race through our minds like, “Is my job secure. How will the tax changes effect me? Will this effect how I care for my family? Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children? What about all this violence and this latest school shooting in Broward County, Florida? How can I feel safe, when children aren’t even safe in school?” When these worries and fears begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things as our source of hope, strength and security.

B. Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in armed guards, President Trump or the Congress, a change in leadership, or the republican tax cuts. If we trust solely in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of. What things? What about being so afraid of violence that we barely leave our homes? How about cutting back on your offering to God because money is tight but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks? How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return? These and many others, are real temptations that tempt real Christians like you and me.

C. I once heard the story about a so-called Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way. If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues. If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues. If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to greet her with a kiss, she sues! Why? Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

TRANSITION: All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God. What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord sees and will provide!” Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.

II. When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.

A. Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do. It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem. For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control. Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God sees what I’m going through, and if He loves me so much, why is He allowing these things to happen to me? Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need? Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”

B. Yes friend God sees and knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point. That’s why you should not be afraid. He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.

TRANSITION: Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?” The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ!

III. Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our assurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!

A. God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us. You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith. The Lord’s promises to you are intended to stimulate your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him. He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life. Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

B. Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?” And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no one when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

C. How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw? In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them two places!” The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected. You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in! God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test. Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust. Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil? Repent! Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.
Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing. Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation. And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

D. Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t he perfect? Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us. How did He do this? By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross. His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins. It was your sins, which were loaded upon Him that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil. There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him. And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you! But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you! Why? So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry.

CONCLUSION: May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!

Christ Is-Not Your Role Model!

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

1st Sunday in Lent-HL, February 14h, 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

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]

Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not your mentor nor your role model, but rather He is your Champion.  This morning we must fight to put aside all of the “Bumper Sticker” theology that we are bombarded with, and then concentrate on the central message of scripture: Jesus Christ, the Son of God has come to save sinners, of which, I am the chief of.

So, instead of making WWJD (What would Jesus do?) your mantra, let’s allow God to replace it with WHJD (What has Jesus done?).

Our text this morning sets the theme of our message: “The temptation of Christ.”  The Epistle lesson declares who Jesus is for you; He is your High Priest who is able to sympathize with you regarding the temptations you are confronted with, because He also was tempted, but He did not sin.  This is what Jesus has done for you; He conquered sin; He conquered Satan, and He conquered death, and He did it all for you!

Our gospel lesson joins Jesus after His baptism, as  He is being led by the Spirit of God out into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. Why?  Because He is our Champion.  He must make right what the first Adam got wrong.  He must do perfectly what God’s people Israel did so sinfully, as they also were led for 40 years in the wilderness of sin.  God tested Israel, but their sins collectively and individually led them astray, time and time again.  So, in their place, it is God’s will that Jesus, His true SON, be tempted, so that both the devil and the sinful world would know that He alone is The One Who does overcome Satan, in the place of and for the sake of God’s baptized Children of faith… For you.

The First Temptation-Have you ever asked yourself why Jesus’ first temptation was centered on hunger?  Well remember, He is making right what we sinful people have gotten wrong so often.  And the ultimate “getting it wrong” is recorded for us in the 16th Chapter of Exodus when the people became hungry in the wilderness and they began to murmur against God.  Why they even declared that it would have been better for them if they would have died in Egypt as slaves, rather than dying of hunger in the wilderness.  Instead of praying to God and asking Him to give them food, they complained.  And as we know, even manna from heaven wasn’t able to quiet their grumbling spirit.

So now, here is Jesus, God’s Son, led out into the wilderness on a personal fast of 40 days and nights.  The entire time He is being harassed and tempted by the devil.  And when the time allotted for the fast is almost over, Jesus is tempted with hunger.  Unlike Israel who failed the test by not trusting in God, Jesus does not fail; He can not fail, because He has come to be your Champion.

So, when the devil tempts Jesus to prove He is a son of God, by commanding the stones to become bread, Jesus proves to the Devil that He is THE SON of God, by speaking the Word of God that sustains Him, even in His hunger: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Why do you think Jesus chose those Words to silence the devil?  Because they ARE the Word of God, specifically that Word found in Deuteronomy 8:3 thatGod spoke through Moses to chaste the sinful Israelites..  You see, Jesus knows full well what Israel failed to get right, and unlike Israel, the true Israel, Jesus the Son of God lives according to the divine Word.  Jesus’ life and relationship to God the Father comes completely from what God provides, and especially from what God speaks.

The Second Temptation-happens after Satan takes Jesus to a high location, either in, or near the temple compound, and challenges Him to throw Himself off of the ledge to prove that God will save Him as a Father saves a Son. And to this challenge, Jesus once again turns to Scripture, and says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Here Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which refers to the Israelites grumbling against Moses and God because they were thirsty.  Specifically, they declared their disdain for God with this question: “Is the Lord among us or not?” [Ex 17:7]

Now back to Jesus’ temptation, what we must understand is just what Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to do; he wants Jesus to test whether God’s power is available to protect and save him, just as the people of Israel put God to the test, by demanding that He prove His power and His status by providing water to quench their thirst. But Jesus will doubt neither His Father’s promise nor His power. He will not deviate from his Father’s ways.  Jesus has no need to learn whether God’s power and purposes are guiding him.

The Third Temptation-In this final temptation, Jesus will remedy the core cause of all sin that both Israel and sinful mankind have always been guilty of… false worship.  From the very beginning of its identity as a nation, when God led his collective sons Israel up out of Egypt into the desert, they struggled to remain loyal to God and worship Him alone, having no other gods before him (Ex 20:2–3). In Exodus 32, the incident with the golden calf at the foot of Sinai showed the nation’s apostasy, and demonstrated the subsequent consistent history of Israel in their new homeland.

To be a “son” is to have only one “Father.”  Israel, was a failure at this relationship. But the One who stands in their place, the true Son who comes to make right what we get wrong, does not fail. Satan shows the glories of the world’s kingdoms to Jesus and promises to give them all to him if Jesus will “fall down and worship” Him. It is as if He is saying, “Imagine Jesus, a bloodless cross.  No suffering, pain, passion, or agony; I will give it all to you right now if you will just bend your knee ever so slightly to me!”  And once again, Jesus prevails over everything in life; over all things that oppose the Kingdom of God.  How does He do this?  He refers Satan back to Moses’ words to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him alone.”

As the people of Israel were poised to enter the promised land, Moses warned them with those very words, but they did not take his words to heart and make them their own. And so now, Jesus is poised to “enter our sinful land,” in order to begin his ministry of salvation in and for Israel, and as God’s perfect and perfectly obedient Son, he makes Moses’ (and God’s) words his own.

This morning in God’s Word, we have been shown how Satan tried to get Jesus to misunderstand or contradict what it meant for him to live out his mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping His identity.

So it is also the very same challenge for we who are living out this Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. You see, our Gospel lesson does not so much teach disciples that they should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as Jesus’ disciples we are being shown that we can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on our identity as children of God, and also what it means to live out that identity within this sinful world as we live out our vocations.

Temptations are an inescapable part of our lives.  We know that these temptations don’t come from God, for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one. [James 1:13]  But ever since the fall of mankind it just isn’t possible for us to avoid being tempted.  “For it is necessary that temptations come,” says Jesus. [Matthew 18:7]

So where do these temptations come from?  Well…

Temptations come partly from outside of ourselves.  The tempter is a reality.  His strategy is always that of awakening our doubt toward God, making us uncertain that God is seeking our best, and trying to make us imagine that we would be happier if we took our destiny into our own hands.  This is the strategy he used with Adam and Eve, and it’s also the strategy he used with Jesus when he tried to lure Him to use His power for His own purposes.

But temptations also come from within our own hearts, and the tempter always has a secret ally within that secret place, and it’s us.  You see, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” [James 1:14]

The best weapon in the hour of temptation is still the Word of God. Since it is the strategy of the tempter to try to make us think that our own human thoughts and not God’s thoughts will provide the way out, the best defense against this strategy is found in the simple Words: “It is written.”  It was with these Words that Jesus Himself conquered the tempter.  Therefore the Bible calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit. [Ephesians 6:17]  It is an essential part of the armor that is necessary to “be able to withstand the evil day.” Concerning those who build their faith on emotion and feelings, it is written that they “in time of temptation (will) fall away.” [Luke 8:13]

To withstand temptation a Christian must watch and pray.  It is important to be careful not to take these temptations lightly or with a sense of false confidence, because this attitude will cause us to willingly enter into times and places that will become triggers for our temptations.  A Christian must not give the devil an opportunity.

But there are also temptations, which are inescapable; they’re simply part of living in a sinful world.  When these temptations come, we must fight that grumbling spirit that will come too, and we must trust God that He is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above our capacity to endure.  “With temptation He will also provide the way of escape.” [1 Corinthians 10:13] Christ Himself was “tempted as we are, yet without sinning. [Hebrews 4:15]  Therefore, He can assist us: “because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.” [Hebrews 2:17]  Because of this, we can  “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, (so) that we may receive mercy and find grace to help (us) in (our) time of need.”

So to trust in Christ, in His mercy and His power, is to take hold of the shield of faith, and with that shield of faith you can use it to quench all of the flaming darts of temptation that the evil one will throw your way. [Ephesians 6:16]  We who hold fast to Christ will be able to “count it all joy” when we meet all kinds of temptations, since if we stand in Christ against the test, it will produce “steadfastness… that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” [James 1:2-4]

What would Jesus do?  It doesn’t really matter, you aren’t Him; you’re a sinner in need of a Savior.  What has Jesus done?  Well now, that’s a better question.  He saved sinners; He saved you!  He saved you and He wants you to know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to live out your life in this sinful world.  In that sense, even as He wins the victory, Jesus the Son of God prepares you for the battle. Just as the Spirit was with Jesus as He entered the wilderness of temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so the Spirit of God is with you, Jesus’ disciples as you serve and follow your Champion.  AMEN!

Test, Testimony, and Faith

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Lent 1 B, February 22, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson-
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Genesis 22:1-8

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In our Old Testament lesson, we discover exactly why Abraham is the father of all who have ever been given and struggled to hold onto faith in the God of grace and mercy, and His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Or as we sang in the Children’s message, “Father Abraham has many sons.  I am one of them, and so are you” by and through that same faith that propelled and sustained Father Abraham.

Our message this morning will address the things that test our trust in God, the testimony that our test supplies after the test over, and the faith that grows throughout the process.

Can we all agree from the out set that tests of our trust in God are seldom enjoyable? I know that if Abraham could speak to us this morning, he would tell you that at the time, his test seemed like a living hell; that is the love and mercy of God seemed completely absent within the command of God.

What we must remember is that Abraham had recently went through and passed a test that almost broke his trust in God. What was that test?  God asked Abraham to send away his first-born son Ishamel, who was born through his wife’s servant Hagar.  He had to send the mother and son away because they were not part of God’s plan, or if you will, they were a product of no faith in God.  God had already promised both Abraham and Sarah that the coming Savior of the world would come through Sarah’s son and no other.  But Sarah, through a fearful spirit that lacked trust in God convinced her husband Abraham to lie down with and conceive a child with Hagar; this was a relationship that lacked trust in God and sought to bring a solution, a savior by the will of man and not in accordance to the will of God.

Sending Ishmael away had been difficult for Abraham, but now God is asking him to do what seems impossible; he must sacrifice the son of the promise. In this testing of Abraham’s faith, God was not out to discover the truth; He knew in advance that Abraham feared and loved God, but rather the test was for Abraham’s spiritual benefit. Abraham’s love for Isaac, as right and good as it was, had the potential in time, to crowd out or surpass his love for God. Jesus once said that, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

In God’s view, Abraham needed an opportunity to consciously put God first, above all things, even above his dear son Isaac. With this test God brought Abraham’s training in faith to a climax. The particular sacrifice God asked Abraham to bring is called a burnt offering, a blood sacrifice that in the Old Testament symbolized a person’s complete dedication to God.

What we must remember is that Abraham did not know that this was just a test of his love and trust in God’s promise until later. God did not say: “Abraham, don’t worry; this is only a test.” But God did tell Abraham that Isaac was to be the bearer of the messianic promise, and now he told him to kill that son. God’s words had been very clear: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac” (17:21). To Abraham it must have seemed that God’s command was now destroying God’s promise.

What test of your faith have you gone through or maybe are going through today? Maybe you too are struggling with establishing boundaries in your relationships, which ensure that God is not replaced by our love for others, not even with a spouse or children.  Have you failed to say no when you should have, in order to protect your relationship with God?  Or maybe you have turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior of a loved one, so that you could continue to have them present in your life?  Or maybe your fear is centered in death?  Are you afraid of your death or the death of a loved one more than your fear and trust in God?

Can you imagine what went through Abraham’s mind all that night as he prepared to make the trip to the mountain of the Lord?  (Talk about your sleepless nights.)  And then the next morning, Abrham had to make a day long trip to the mountain.  Time can be the greatest asset of the devil as he continually attempts to whittle away at our trust in God’s Word.  He is an expert at it.  He used that tactic against Adam and Eve when he asked, “Did God really say if you eat the fruit of the tree you will die?  You will not die, but you will be and know as God knows.” In other words, God is holding out on you!

Let me put this test into a scenario that you might understand a little more clearly.  Suppose that there is a specific sin that you have been struggling with, and each time you have fallen to this sin you have repented and received the absolution and the resolve to master it once and for all, only to fall to it again.  You know that you have been baptized and salvation has been given to you; you have the promise of God through Christ that He will never forsake you or send you away.  But the devil and your own guilty conscience keeps throwing both your sin and your struggle in your face with these words: “You and your faith are a joke.  If you were a real Christian you wouldn’t keep falling into this sin.  Yes you are baptized.  Yes you say that you have faith in Christ, but maybe this time you have fallen into sin one too many times.  Maybe God no longer desires to save you?”  When these attacks and thoughts assail you dear Christian, you must turn to the same source that Abraham turned to, the promises of God.

When Abraham reached the mountain of the Lord, He ordered the servants to stay while he and Isaac went on ahead. What Abraham told his servants are words that are important for both His trust in God and ours.  Listen: “I and the boy will worship. Abraham was obediently following the will of God and he rightly describes that act of obedience as worship. In essence he was saying: “Lord, you have my heart.”  But it is what he says next that demonstrates God’s mighty presence in his life; he says, “And then we (that is I and the boy) will come back to you.” In this statement, we see that Abraham had resolved and answered an awful question that had been torturing him: “How can a merciful God cut off the messianic line?” Abraham’s faith answered, “He won’t!  If God commands me to kill Isaac and I obey him, then God is simply going to have to bring Isaac’s ashes back to life, and the two of us are going to come back down this mountain.  Amen!”

“Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice? That was Isaac’s question, and it should be the question of every sinner who is caught within the terror of their sins.  And the answer of faith that Abraham gave is the very same answer we sinners are given today.  “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

The Testimony. “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said.  “Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place Jehovah Jirah, The Lord Will Provide.”  And so it is true for all of us today who trust in the Lord’s promise to save us from our sins.

Here is Abraham’s testimony to us this morning.  He was called to obey God’s command; he was asked to disregard everything his heart and reason told him was good and right, and he was told to concentrate completely on God’s promise: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac.”  The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says it this way: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

This morning God is asking you to go against your reason and put to death your fears and your worries that can interfere with His promise to you that through His work within your baptism, you have been saved.  He wants you to see that the Lord does provide even now.  Hear him call your name dear Christian, as He says, “Do not think that you have sinned beyond my ability to save.  I see your struggle and fears and I know that you fear me, because you do not hide your sin from me, even that powerful sin that you fight so intensely.”

And now dear saint, look up from within your grief and shame and see the substitute who will atone for your great sin.  See Him trapped within the thicket of your sins, dying upon a cross, and atoning for the sins of the world; even your sins.  See Him dying alone on the mountain of the Lord, on Calvary and know that God does still provide; He provides His one and only Son Jesus Christ.  He does that one thing that only He can do.  He gives and He dies.

Isaac was never to die as atonement for sin, and it is God’s will that none of us will die for ours either.  God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  Repent then.  Turn to the final sacrifice and trust in the promises of God; refresh your spirit again.  How, by…

Faith, (which) is a gift of God that is tested and witnessed to by those God calls and equips to testify of His forgiving love for sinners. Father Abraham indeed has many sons.  We are all sons of the promise of forgiveness of sins, which is fulfilled through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  You can believe in this promise, because the Lord has sworn to Himself, the highest source of verity, that through the example of faith that Abraham displayed, faith that is always the work and gift of God,  not just Abraham, but all who repent, will be blessed with this same gift of faith; faith in the substitute of God that atones for the sins of the world.

Therefore we sinners should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised to you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it.

Dear friends, these stories of the testing of Abraham’s faith have been passed onto us so that we may be encouraged in our own trials and say with Abraham: “Though I struggle so deeply with my sin, because God has given me faith to trust in His promised forgiveness through Jesus Christ, my own grave where I will one day be laid in dust and ashes will simply be a place of rest. The fact that your flesh will die has absolutely no implications on the promises of forgiveness and resurrection that have been given to you in your baptism through the Word of God.

During this Lenten season we are sustained by both God’s Law and His Gospel with these two statements which God made first to Adam and then to us—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and “The Seed (of the woman) shall crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15)  That is, God’s substitute who dies our death shall as promised to Abraham, destroy, conquer, and possess the gate of his enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, let me share these closing words of Luther who desired that the church would know the great blessing it has by this example of Abraham and the promise that was given to him and to each of us this morning: “We, too, who believe that this Seed (of the woman who is the Son of God) is our blessing, have good reason to glory and act proudly over against all the gates of hell and (even) against Satan himself. To be sure, we are compelled to bear the hate and cruelty of our enemies; but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Since we are Christians and believe in the Seed who blesses us, why should we care if the devil or the world is angry? For all we care, let them take away what we have, and let them kill the body. They will not for this reason keep us in death, will they? Not at all, for we are blessed and are sure of life over against death and of the grace and favor of God over against the hatred of the world.”  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!

Are You Wrestling With Man or God?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 22-C, October 20th, 2013

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“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” [Revelation 2:17]

You may be looking at the published title of our message this morning and wondering, “Now what is pastor up to today?” And frankly as I sat down to put God’s message to paper, I was wondering the same thing, “What is God up to in these three readings? What is He trying to tell us?” And in an answer to that question we have our chosen text that explains what He is up to! “To the one who conquers, (God) will give some of the hidden manna, and (He) will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except (God and) the one who receives it.”

You need the hidden manna, because it is the very sustenance that sustains you in life’s struggles. When you think of life struggles, what comes to mind? Aren’t they those dark moments in life when you feel all alone? Aren’t they those times in life when it seems that even God is against you? So what are you to do when it seems that the deck has been stacked against you? What are you to do when you feel trapped with no way out? And why is it that these feelings always seem so intensified after the sun-sets and night has fallen?

If you think you are alone with these feelings and experiences, think again! It is common to all God’s children of faith; even Jacob! In our Old Testament reading (Genesis 32:22–30) Jacob has just sent his entire family, every thing he owns and loves ahead of him into a land that was once his home; a land that he was promised would one day be his. The only problem was, his brother Esau was living there as if it was his. Do you know the story? Do you know how Jacob and his mother tricked his father Isaac on his deathbed; they tricked him into giving the blessing of the first born to Jacob even though that blessing should go to Esau? Do you know that Esau in a moment of hunger and frustration actually gave his birthright over to Jacob for a bowl of soup?

So in our reading we are thrown smack dab in the middle of Jacob’s terror. A moment of his life that he was trying to ignore and run away from was finally catching up to him. In a few hours he must meet his brother Esau for the first time in years and come to terms with both of their sins. Esau’s sin was thinking that words and covenants did not matter in the eyes of God. But to God, covenants or promises were everything. Think about that for a moment. God first made a covenant with Adam and Eve long ago, after their first sin. While God was angry with their sin and pronounced punishments that would follow because of that sin, He also made a promise, a covenant with them that if the waited and trusted in this promised Savior, then through their descendants would come a Savior who would defeat those things, those enemies and make a way for them and their children to return to paradise. Through out the Bible, we find many other covenants or promises of God that were given to His children of faith, but each one was given so that they would remember that they were not alone and that God Himself was with them; He would be their champion. So yeah, promises are important to God, and Esau needed to come to terms with that truth.

And then there was Jacob. Do you know what that name means? It literally means the heal grabber, or another way you could put it is “the deceiver,” one who gets his way by deception! Jacob knew that he received the blessing from his father Isaac through deception, but he also knew that what his father Isaac spoke into his ears was really the Word of God; a Word that must come to pass. But the question that must have haunted Jacob was, “How could God bless a deceiver, a sinner like me?”

So now, in our reading we find Jacob alone in the dark of night in prayer, wrestling with His sin and knowing full well that He was speaking to an almighty and all knowing God. All alone and afraid of being in the hands of an angry God, Jacob waited and He prayed. While Jacob did not know what God’s response would be, He did know that ultimately God would fulfill His promise. And fulfill it he did!

Have you ever wondered what Jacob was thinking as he struggled all night wrestling with God? If you could have some how been there and allowed to ask him, he probably would have answered in between heavy breathing as he switched from one hold and lock to another, “How should I know. I am a little busy here wrestling with this stranger who attacked me for no good reason. Can we talk about this some other time?”

You see, at the time Jacob had no idea that his opponent was God almighty. How could he have known that? He’s almighty right? But this fellow that Jacob was wrestling with wasn’t almighty, in fact Jacob was getting the better of Him! And then after hours of wrestling and a popped hip socket to boot, the stranger says, “Alright, that’s enough; let me go, because the sun is coming up and I have things to do.” And then suddenly, for no other reason other than a miracle, Jacob’s eyes of faith are opened and he begins to understand just whom it was that he had been wrestling with. The same person he was pouring His heart out to in prayer, actually somehow appeared in physical form to Jacob. Jacob must have thought, “So this is how I will finally hear from Him who has terrified me all these years.” And immediately after the wrestler, the God-man, asked to be released from the hold that Jacob used to cling to Him, Jacob responded, “(Uh ah! I’m not letting) you go unless you bless me.”

By now you may be thinking as I was how stupid and bold his attitude was for a blatant sinner, especially when it is the very Son of God you have there in an arm lock. What was Jacob doing? Doesn’t he know that God could crush him like an insect any time he wanted? Doesn’t he know that God was just toying with him? Sure he knows, but he also knows that this is the covenant God who always keeps His promise; a promise to forgive and to restore. So when Jacob asks for a blessing, he is only asking for something that God has already promised that he will give. And God’s answer proves his integrity. “And (God) said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob (the heal grabber), but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

What is it that you are struggling with this morning? What have you been calling out to God for help about? Are you beginning to grow tired of asking for His help? Does it seem like He is ignoring you? Do you find yourself identifying with the persistent widow in Jesus’ story in our gospel reading (Luke 18:1–8)? Well this morning God is telling you not to give up; don’t grow weary! Your Father in Heaven is with you; in fact everything and anything that you go through in life, including what you are experiencing right now has gone through His loving will for you.

Isn’t it true that all of our problems in life; all of the challenges that we face are no different than the ones that Jacob was facing? Either they are rooted in someone else’s sin, or if we are honest with God and ourselves, they are a result of our own sin. Even though in the middle of the night when it seems that He is not listening, we know that He really is hearing us? And perhaps, that is what we are afraid of? We are afraid that not only is God listening to us, He may actually be the one who allowed this trial to come our way. In other words, the Son of God is in the middle of our suffering.

Now I know that this does not necessarily make you feel better, but it should strengthen you. How so? Well because of how God is with you! He is with you as the God man… the very Son of God Jesus Christ. He is the One who was promised to Adam and Eve long ago, who would come to make all things right with God; He is the true manna. He is the one who renewed that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all the prophets of God, and to all of God’s children of faith, who have waited and waited in faith, wrestling with God and trusting in the promise of God. And now He has come!

He has come for you. He has come as your champion. He suffered and died for you; for your sin! He rose from the dead for you, so that you would have no fear of death, knowing that where He is you shall follow! He has defeated your true enemies. Listen… people are not your enemies, they are only tools used by your true enemy, the devil. And those other things you are worried about, things like sin, your sin and other peoples sin, and the result of sin, which is death, those things are also tools of the devil. But Jesus death and resurrection has defeated those things; they have no power over you.

So what is it that you are afraid of? What is it that you are wrestling with? Aren’t they things that have already been defeated in eternity but must be confronted here in time? Aren’t you really wrestling with faith; the ability to trust God and His Son who is your only weapon against your enemies? So what is the solution?

Grab a hold of Christ! Turn to His cross and see the Father’s great love for you; see that His promise to Adam and Eve has been fulfilled. See that His promise to Jacob is your promise. Grab onto the day when the promise of the cross of Jesus became your promise of eternal life. Remember your baptism; find some water if you must and touch it, remember the words of your baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make the sign of the cross and then remember that you are saved; you are blessed! You are not alone in the darkness of despair. Come to His table of forgiveness and feast on the very body and blood of Christ; that is the hidden manna, which feeds you and sustains you until like Jacob, you will see Christ face to face and your life will be delivered for eternity in a land of eternal joy!

On that great day when you return to the Father who created you, the Son who redeemed you, and the Holy Spirit who sanctified you, you will hear your Savior call to you, but He will call you with a new name; a name that was always yours but never revealed until that moment. It will be a perfect name that you will know, and it will describe your true baptized and holy identity. And when he calls, you will run to Him and all your questions will be answered.

May God bless our waiting and our wrestling until that great day… in Jesus name AMEN!

Where’s the Lamb?!

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Lent 1 B, February 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My Father!”  And he said, “Here I am, my son.”  He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” [Genesis 22:7,8]

In 1984, Wendy’s Restaurant entered the hamburger wars with one purpose, to demonstrate their superiority over McDonalds and Burger King.  They did it with one question: “Where’s the Beef?!”  In commercial after commercial they hammered home the idea that while their competitor’s buns looked nice, there was very little substance between them.

Today, like Wendy’s,  the church has many competitors also; places of supposed worship and spiritual renewal that promise a way to give your life meaning and purpose.  They have strategies and techniques all designed to help you make sense of this world.  But each of them, have very little or nothing at all to say about Jesus’ sacrificial death.  So we need to ask, “Where’s the Lamb!?”  You’ve got to have real sacrifice in order to pay for real sin.  Techniques and strategies won’t do it, and neither will good intentions.  There must be life, death, sacrifice, and atonement.  That is God’s only way.

Sacrifice for sins, our sins has been God’s way since the very first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.    When our first parents sinned,  God Himself killed an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve.  An animal had to die so that they could cover their shame.  From that first sacrifice, God regularly commanded His people to choose a spotless lamb and sacrifice it as a sin offering; a way to cover their sins.

In a way to teach Abraham about the quality of His faith, God moved him to offer a sacrifice.  I’m sure that Abraham had done this many times.  He knew the proper way to choose the spotless lamb, he knew how to bind the lamb so that it wouldn’t be able to run, and he knew how to cut its throat so that the blood would be shed for the sins that must be atoned for.  So when God told Abraham that it was time for a sacrifice, this did not come as a surprise, but what did come as a surprise, no a shock, was the fact that his son, his only son Isaac was to be the lamb; the sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.

As a Father, I can’t even imagine being asked to do this, let alone actually performing it.  I am afraid, I would have refused, and because of that truth, I would have failed the test, God’s test.  So does that mean I would have been punished for my disobedience?  No because God Himself has provided the lamb!

Recall from our Old Testament reading, Abraham and Isaac, and two of Abraham’s servants made their way to a mountain in the land of Moriah.  When they arrived at the base of the mountain, Abraham instructed his servants to wait at the base while he and his son went up to worship.  And what did he say to them?  “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”  He said that both of them would come back, and yet he knew that his son was to be the sacrifice!

And then as father and son were walking up the mountain, the son carrying the wood and the father carrying the fire and knife, the son looks into His father’s eyes and asks a very good question: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burn offering?”  (And Father) “Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burn offering my son.””  But as far as Abraham knew, God had already provided the sacrifice; it would be Isaac himself, or would it?

So why didn’t Abraham respond as I truthfully told you I would; why didn’t He refuse?  Because He had God’s Word, God’s promise that through Isaac and no one else, the promised Savior, the once and for all Spotless Lamb of God would come to give up His life, spill His blood for the sins of all mankind!  Abraham reasoned with Himself that because God can not lie, and because God is the giver of all good things, even if He were to actually have the father take the life of his son, God Himself would raise him up from the ashes of the burnt offering because it is through Isaac alone, that the Savior would come.  Without Isaac there is no Savior and without a Savior there can be no Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So, God will provide because He always does!

There on the top of Mt. Moriah, bound in death, are both the father and son.  The son is bound with physical ropes, but both of them are bound just as tight, both emotionally and spiritually.  Have you ever felt so oppressed by an experience that physical death seemed insignificant?  That is certainly how this father and son must have felt; they both felt as good as dead.  That is always the result of God’s command, which demands, YOU MUST DO THIS, BUT I OFFER YOU NO HELP OR HOPE.  JUST DO AS YOU’RE TOLD!  But then, they both remember the promise….  “Through isaac shall come the Savior.”  Their fear has now been replaced by their trust in God’s faithfulness to provide, even in death.  In this moment, all of their pride and self reliance is taken away.  They are standing helpless in front of an almighty God!  The fathers’s hand grasps the knife, finds its mark on the throat of his son and begins to come down when God Himself calls out with the gospel: “Stop!  Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for (now you know what I know) that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”. Now instead of death, God’s Word speaks life!

And Abraham looked up, and there caught in the bushes by it’s horn was a ram.  And Abraham took the ram, bound it and sacrificed it as a burn offering instead of his son.  Where’s the lamb?  God will provide it.  Where’s the way to cover up our sins, to make all things right with God?  God will provide the way!  Abraham knew that God was faithful; He knew that He alone would provide a way out of what seemed to be a hopeless and helpless situation.  He knew that God would make all things new and right because somehow his son Isaac played a part in God’s ultimate way of making things right; through Isaac would come God’s own Son from heaven to be God’s ultimate spotless Lamb who would take away our sin.

Thousands of years latter Jesus Christ, true Son of God and Son of man would walk to the same mountain in the land called Moriah, a land that was now called Jerusalem.  As Isaac carried the wood intended to burn his own body as a sacrifice, Jesus also carried His own wood, the tree of woe that He would also obediently lay down upon.  But their would be no voice from heaven staying the execution; no, this execution must go on.  This son of man and Son of God must suffer and die.  He must spill his blood as a sacrifice for all sin.

Jesus is the spotless lamb that God has provided once and for all.  He is both the ultimate sacrificial lamb and the scape goat.  He is the fulfillment of God’s promise that was first given in Genesis, repeated in Exodus and every other book of the Bible.  At the cross of Jesus, God has provided the Lamb for the entire world.  At the cross of Jesus the fruit of redemption and forgiveness are yours.  But what good is the fruit if you do not receive it?

In your baptism God gives you the fruit of the cross.  From the fruit of one tree we received sin and the punishment, but in the fruit of the cross God gives us forgiveness and peace.  In your baptism, God washed away your identity as a sinner and he gave you the identity of His Son, His only begotten Son.  God did what you and I could never do, He sacrificed His Son.  On the cross Jesus fulfilled what Isaac could not; He laid down His life in obedience to the will and plan of the Father.  This atonement for sin, along with Christ’s obedience is what you have been washed with in your baptism.  It is Christ’s identity; it is your new identity!  Every day God’s Word of law speaks fear and death to your sinful flesh; putting it to death so that your new baptismal identity is strengthened in the proclamation of the gospel!

Each of us should forever rejoice that God called out of heaven to stop the hand of the father from taking the life of his son.  He did it so that His hand could give the life of His Son to save us.  But there was another call from heaven that day that we must also hear.  It is the call of promise; a promise to Christ’s church and a promise to you!  Listen: And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

Friends, you are all brothers and sisters because you have one Creator Father, God Himself, but you also have one father of faith and that is Abraham, just  as the children sing, “Father Abraham has many sons, many sons has father Abraham; I am one of them and so are you!”  You are his children because you relate to God by grace, through faith, just as Abraham did!  Abraham believed the Savior would come through his son and you believe that He already has; you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, even your sin!

Because we believe, because we are Christians, the world is watching how we live our lives.  They’re not so much worried about how good we are as how good our God and Savior is.  They want to see what forgiveness looks like, because if they can see you living out forgiveness, they’ll know that they can have it too!  Do you want to be a good witness for the gospel?  Good, then demonstrate what it’s like living as a sinner who’s been washed clean by the blood of the lamb!

Where’s the beef?  Where’s the meat of our Christian life?  It’s in the forgiveness of sins; our sins and the sins of our neighbor.  Everyone wants forgiveness, but we can’t receive it without the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Temptation!

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2010
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And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a) 

In a Hollywood depiction of the events during Joseph’s stay in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife tried her best to seduce him.  No matter what temptations she threw at him, he resisted.  Suddenly, out of frustration she ripped off her skirt and threw it over the statue of a pagan god.  “Now the gods will not see,” she said, thinking that her control over Joseph was complete.  And to this, Joseph replies, “But MY God sees!” 

Facing life with Jesus as your Lord means walking down the same path He walked; it means facing the same temptations that He conquered all before a God who is all seeing!  For those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, temptation often causes us a lot of distress, or as it is described in the book of Deuteronomy, we experience afflictions and even oppressions. [Deut. 26:7]  This morning, God’s Word assures us that He hears our cries for help and that He is near us… but He also assures us that in the end, because of Christ’s work upon the cross for us, we will not be put to shame! [Rom. 10:11b] 

Have you ever felt like all of the forces of evil seemed to be pressing in against you?  Well, imagine how Jesus must have felt… 40 days of tempting and testing.  No company… not even a stranger to speak to, and oh yes… no food!  He was tired, alone, and hungry, and on top of all of that, Satan himself appeared and was doing everything He could to get Jesus to sin!  But Jesus, being both man and the Son of God was familiar with the ways of Satan.  He was there when Satan attacked Adam and Eve and led both of them and all of humanity into the captivity of sin.  He instructed Cain, before He killed His brother Able to fight the temptation of self pity with these words, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Temptation seeks to test our resolve, our faith in God’s love, and even our motives for loving and worshiping Him. 

Isn’t it strange that temptation seems to always be the strongest just when we feel the strongest?  What I mean is, just when we feel like our walk of faith is finally developing… BAMB we are tested!  Many times temptation will attack us right after we leave church… or maybe even in church!  Where does this temptation come from? 

Well there are three different sources of temptation that we need to be on the alert for if we are to become its master.  They are: the devil, our own desires and the ways of the world.  

The first and second temptation comes directly from the devil and from within ourselves.  The devils are masters in the art of manipulation.  They will attack us where we are most vulnerable and susceptible.  Listen to how Eve, the mother of us all was deceived and you can see what I mean: “(The devil in the form of a serpent) said to (Eve), “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… ” [Gen 3:1-6b]     

Did you notice how the devil attacked?  He used three weaknesses that Eve had in order to tempt her into sin.  They were her ignorance of God’s Word, her desire to possess things of beauty that were not hers, and her hunger to  know the mysteries of God.  First, God never said that Adam and Eve couldn’t touch the fruit, but instead He said that they couldn’t eat it.  Listen to God’s actual Words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  If Eve had been more familiar… more intimate with God’s Word she would not have given the devil an opportunity to twist the meaning of God’s Word!  The second and third weakness of Eve is presented in these words: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  Oh dear Eve, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:7b-8]  It is easy to find ourselves wondering what kind of tempting thoughts were going through Eve’s mind.  She must have thought, “God is love huh?  Well according to this serpent, He doesn’t love me enough to let me enjoy this pleasing fruit!  I wonder what else He’s holding back?  I’ll just take a bite and find out!”  And before we begin to be hyper-critical of Eve, let’s remember what God Word says about temptation, and how it attacks each of us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13] 

Does this mean that Eve could have defeated the temptations of the devil and prevented the entire human race from falling into sin?  Absolutely!  Remember that both her and Adam were created perfect!  What we need to learn from this is that our biggest temptations always come from the devils and from within our own hearts. 

 But there is a third source of temptation, and it comes to us from within this sinful world, specifically it comes by way of our desire for money, fame, and fortune!  Listen to how St. Paul sums up this truth in his letter to Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [Timothy 6:6-10] 

So what are we to do?  How can we find rescue and relief from this oppressive temptation?  We turn to God and His Holy Word!  We turn to our God who sees all of our afflictions, toil, and the oppressions of the devil, and we let His Holy Word save us, teach us, and guide us.  We turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ who faced all of these same temptations and defeated them in our place, for us!  In fact, let’s do that right now… let’s let Jesus, the living Word of God demonstrate these truths for us in our gospel lesson. 

Satan, seeing Jesus tired, alone, and hungry pounces upon Him like a roaring lion seeking to devour Him, and he says, “Prove you are a Son of God.  You’re hungry right?  Well serve yourself up some hot nourishing bread!  Just turn one of the stones into bread; you can do it easily … remember who you are Son of God!”  But Jesus answers back and says, “No Satan.  God’s Word has a better answer for me.  Let me take you to Deut. 8:3, where we are taught that the Father has something a lot more substantial in mind for us than simple bread.  He promises that He will supply all of our needs.  He knows what I really need right now and He is supplying me with something a lot more satisfying than bread.  I need power from Him to enter into my ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  He is giving me what He knows I need, not what you would like to trick me into thinking I need.  I will listen to the Father and serve Him… not my own appetite!” 

Having failed at the first test, Satan now begins the second one: “Ok, Son of God, you and I both know that in order  to take this kingdom from me and transfer all of these pathetic people from my kingdom of sin into your kingdom of  grace you are going to have to suffer greatly for them.  But let me save you all of the pain, anguish, and humiliation… let me just give it to you.  See, come up here and look down below.  What do you see?  You see everything don’t you?  Every kingdom and every power and authority right?  Well it’s all mine, and I can give it to anyone I want, so I choose to give it to you!  Oh, but there’s just one little thing you need to do for me… it’s nothing really… just quickly bow your knee to me and I’ll give it all to you.  Once you do that, you can go back to being the obedient Son of God to your beloved Heavenly Father.”  

What a tempting trade off!  If it was one of us, perhaps we would say that the end justifies the means.  What’s wrong with just a moment of false worship for full time, eternal authority over the world?  But, this kind of thinking reveals something much deeper than convenience… it shows our devotion to our own self-interest and a hunger for personal power.  It shows our willingness to abandon God and to follow Satan’s path, a path that never leads to God. 

But how does Jesus answer?  He responds, “The Bible has a better answer.  Deut. 6:13 says that we are to worship God and no one else.  That means that every moment of our time is to be devoted to the worship and service of God the Father.  Sorry Satan, but that means there is no time left for you!  I’m going to do things God’s way, even if it leads to the cross, my suffering, and my death!  I will listen to God’s Word not you! 

So now comes the third and final test.  Satan says to our Lord: “Hey Son of God!  Why don’t you show the world who you really are?  Prove to them once and for all that you are Your Father’s Son!  Let the Father serve you for once, after all you are Co-equal and Co-eternal to Him and the Spirit!  Come on, let’s go to the temple and I’ll show you how to get what’s coming to you.  Look down there below on the holy city.  See all of those tiny—insignificant people down there?  They’ll come running to you quicker than you can blink an eye if they see you throw yourself off the wall and survive.  The Father’s Word says you can do it!  Listen to Psalm 91: “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” [vs. 11-12]  I am certain the Father will save you.  I’ll bet you won’t even stub a toe!  Why I’ll bet He’ll rescue you in midair.  Everyone will see it and fall at your feet and your mission will be accomplished!” 

And to this Jesus answers:  “Satan, you sure know how to take God’s Word out of context and twist its meaning to suit your purpose!  Go back to the book of Deut. Chapter 6 and read this Word: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”  You are a tempter, the one who puts God and His children to the test!  And what did it get you?  You were thrown out of heaven and stripped of your heavenly glory and your name!  God is not a tempter and He is never to be tempted!  I will trust the Father and do things His way!  Your way is slick and easy.  It might make great marketing sense but there is just one problem… it is not God’s way!  No thanks!  I will serve the Father and never ask Him to serve me.  Worshiping God isn’t a negotiation… give me this and I’ll give you that.  No, worshiping God is total devotion, no matter the cost!  I’ll follow Him even to the cross… to my death so that these “little” people that you harass and torture will have comfort and hope!  I’ll be obedient unto death, so that they will know that they have a champion… one who fights with them and beside them!  And, then I will ensure that these Words of mine are preserved for eternity so that when they hear them they will have faith… faith in my Father’s compassion and faith in my passion for them!  This is how I will save them! 

Dear friends, Jesus is your champion!  He has walked among and conquered the temptations of the devil and this world!  But more importantly, He has walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death for you!  He did this so that you would not lose hope in the middle of your own temptations.  He followed the way of the cross so that you would have the strength to overcome the many temptations of life.  But if you fall to temptation, He wants you to remember that He chose the way of the cross so that you would know that you are forgiven!  In your baptism, Jesus spoke these Words to Satan regarding you: “Be gone Satan!  This one is loved by my Father and saved by my grace!”  But He also speaks to you… He speaks the word of the gospel, God’s forgiveness and love.  He speaks all of these things so that you may be assured of eternal life and so that you can resist the devil and order Him to flee!  Listen again to the words of our hymn and use them to silence not just the temptations of this world, but every devil who attacks you: “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled.  And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord unites with me!” [LSB 594 vs. 3]  I pray that the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ will bless you and keep you in His baptismal grace.  In Jesus name…. AMEN!

Jesus Walks With Us!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Jesus Walks With Us!
Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Click here for audio of this message

This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe!  As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith.  Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life.  Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!” 

What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?  Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic condition to get an answer to that question.  If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little worried and afraid.  Questions race through our minds like, “Will my job survive this crisis and if not how will I take care of my family without that income?  Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children?  When these fears and worries begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things like money as our source of strength and security.  Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in President Obama, the stimulus package, or the republican tax cuts.  If we trust in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of.  What things?  How about cutting back on your offering to God but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks?  How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return?  How about over charging your customers for services rendered?  How about stealing from your employer?  After all, they have more than they need, and you are in need!

I recently heard the story about a Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way.  If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues.  If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues.  If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to great her with a kiss, she sues!  Why?  Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God.  What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord will provide!”  Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.  

When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.  Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do.  It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem.  For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control.  Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God loves me is He allowing these things to happen to me?  Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need?  Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”  Yes friend He knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point.  That’s why you should not be afraid.  He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.  Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?”  The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ! 

Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our insurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!  God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us.  You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith.  The Lord’s promises to you stimulates your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him.  He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life.  Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?”  And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no none when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts on one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw?  In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them places!”  The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected.  You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in!  God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test.  Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust.  Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil?  Repent!  Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.

Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing.  Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation.  And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized?  Wasn’t he perfect?  Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us.  How did He do this?  By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross.  His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins.  It was your sins that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil.  There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him.  And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you!  But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you!  Why?  So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry. 

May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!