Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

The Cross and the Yoke!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost 4A, July 6, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” [Matthew 11:28-30]

This morning, God has chosen to reveal a great and wondrous mystery to you… if you have been worn down by life, if your labors have seemed to zap you of strength and the joy of life, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  If you seem to be trapped by life circumstances and bad choices, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  But more than that He will set you free from the strongholds of your life and transfer you from a stronghold of hopelessness and death into a stronghold of joy and eternal life.

Are you ready to experience this?  Good, then all you need do is allow Jesus to place His yoke upon you; that is you must allow His life giving and life changing Word to transform and renew your mind, and then, you will have rest for your soul.

Now, before we get started remember this one bit of advice:  As you are listening do not allow the allure of the world to take your eyes off of Christ and His cross.  What ever the world may have in abundance will be forever lost, but what ever you may lose in this world because you follow Christ, that will be added to you in abundance on the day of Jesus Christ.  You can be sure of this, because Jesus Christ your Savior, your brother, and your God has assured it through “the blood of God’s covenant (His promise) with you.”  He has, He is, and He will set you free!

The invitation: This morning, Jesus shows you that the yoke that He places on you and the cross that you are given are in fact one and the same.  Now people who have set their hopes and hearts on the promises of this world and our sinful society will at once cringe and turn away from this kind of talk; they will say, “Why would I want to follow a Savior who only promises me hardship and pain?”  But that is a defective question; it is disingenuous.  Jesus does not promise only pain.  Pain is something that everyone experiences in this world; it goes hand in hand with the disappointments of sin.  So pain is always a reality in life, along with the fact that people and life will always disappoint you, but God will never disappoint.  What ever He promises you, He seals it as fact with the great AMEN, which is the very lifeblood of His Son Jesus Christ and His cross.

Supposed Wise and intelligent men and women who focus on only this physical world can not accept this promise of God’s blessing, because they can not accept the cross; not Jesus’s cross or their own.  They are filled with their own ideas, and so God finds them already filled and satisfied, and He can give them nothing.  They are those who say, “The idea of God is dead.” But you who gather this morning, are to be like infants, because you realize that you lack everything; you know that on your own you are empty and the world and society cannot fill you.  You are the poor that mourn and are meek; you hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You who have nothing will one day, on the day of Christ be given everything by God. [Matthew 5:3-6; Philippians 3:8]  You are those who can declare with certainty that, “God is not dead.  For I have tasted His presence and He is good!”

Dear friends, please know that this invitation is universal; that is it is for everyone, everyone who is willing to come like an infant and depend on the care and promises of our Heavenly Father.  Each of you who have responded to the invitation, must now also hear of the intent of God.  God the Father desires to place upon you the yoke of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Yoke: If you find yourself drawn to Jesus with His invitation to come to Him for rest, then you have experienced the desire and power of God to draw all men unto His Son for eternal life. [John 12:31, 32] And it is that same power of God that will allow you to receive and live under the yoke of His Son that is placed upon your shoulders.  That yoke that He places upon you is faith to believe that God alone is your ever-present help; He alone is able to complete the good work of salvation and eternal life within you; and He alone will never leave nor forsake you.  The yoke that is placed upon you is meant to disconnect you from the load of guilt and fear of sin, death, and the devil, which the world gives, and instead place upon you the yoke that His Word alone places upon you; a Word that connects you to Jesus Christ. It is a yoke that always involves a strong declaration of faith in God’s presence and work in your life.  When we live under the yoke of God, we can declare happily, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him,” I also believe that in His Word and the message of the cross, God has called me to His Son, and He alone enables me to follow the way of the cross.

So what is the way of the cross?  It is the only way to find real rest; rest for this present life and the eternal one to come.  It is knowing that through the cross alone, you have a God who is for you and not against you.  It is knowing that you are God’s true child and an heir to the kingdom of heaven. [John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17]  It is the assurance that your rest is even attended to and protected by holy angels. [Hebrews 1:14]

On the other hand, as we live our lives of faith, we acknowledge as God’s children that the high dignity of being a Christian is not fulfilled in this world; that is it is not displayed in a way that sinful flesh can understand.  Rather, the same humility and lowliness that was displayed in the life of Jesus Christ should also be displayed in a Christian’s earthly life.  And this imitation of our Lord, this bearing the burdens that God through our lives places upon us or allows to be placed upon us, is called the cross of a Christian.

Now those who reject Christ and His cross also have burdens and sorrows, but only the sufferings of Christians are called a cross.  What you dear Christian suffer as a Christian, as you live out your faith in Christ alone in this sinful world, that only can be called a cross of God.  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel of Christ crucified, who is a stumbling block to the religious and an offense to the educated elite, you WILL receive the same treatment from the world that Christ and His dear saints before you received.

You have by faith through holy baptism, been forever connected to the cross of Jesus Christ; that is the burden He has placed upon you and it is also your own cross.  Your cross then is to be forever bound together with the Christian faith and the Church.  This is most certainly true, so true that who ever refuses to bear this cross of faith should no longer claim to be a Christian.

So, how should we view this cross that is ours to carry? Well, the truth is that if left on our own, our sinful flesh would consider this cross-bearing a burden to heavy to carry.  By your sinful nature, you are led to think that when the world mistreats you and you suffer because of your faith and desire to worship God as He leads you, you are not receiving what you should as God’s own child; as an heir to eternal life.  You may even be tempted to think that God has forgotten you or that He is against you.  But this way of thinking is a trick of the devil, and unless those kinds of thoughts are defeated and destroyed, you run the danger of loosing your faith and abandoning your eternal home in heaven. [Luke 8:13]

The only way to combat this faulty view is through God’s own means of grace.  The Word alone is able to create in us a new and clean heart; a heart that by faith understands that all things work together for our own good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose and not ours.  Scripture alone instructs us that we should not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is God’s Divine service in this place because it is there that He fills us with His gifts of faith, peace, and hope.  Scripture further instruct us that when we suffer because of our confession of faith in Christ by Word and works, the cross is for us a great testimony of the Holy Spirit’s power and work in our lives.  That is, how we live under our cross is a divine testimony to the world and the devil that we are not of this world; we belong to Christ.  Or, as St. Peter has said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” [1 Peter 4:14]

So then, what is the purpose of the cross?  How does the cross benefit us? The cross in its simplest form is God’s way of leading Christians through this sinful world into eternal life; it is how God brings you to the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for you. [John 14:3]  It is the very thing that gives strength and proves true the words of scripture, which declare that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  But those same scriptures also bring us strength and a proper perspective to our cross, by saying that, He who “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present (us) to himself. [2 Corinthians 4:14]  And, that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” [2 Corinthians 4:17]

But how can we have the strength to bear our cross? God’s Word teaches us that the strength to bear the cross comes entirely from His assurance that all of our sins are truly forgiven and we have already been given eternal life.  It is only you dear Christian who can experience the promise of God’s glory in a time of trouble; it is only you who will not perish in times of danger, suffering, sickness, fear, and pain.  It is only you who will bear it because the very promise of Christ empowers your faith.  What promise is that?  The assurance that His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden that unburdens sinful and fearful hearts?  What is lighter than a yoke that bears the bearer of a cross?  Hear this dear Christians, Christ’s burden does not oppress, threaten, or demand a thing from you.  In fact it makes the load light and itself bears the burden along with those of us who are under the load.

Perhaps there is no greater load to carry than the load of sins past, present, and future.  “Come unto me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.”  That is He removes that burden of sin, so that you may continue to live your life by faith in what He did for the entire world upon the cross, and for the gift that He gave to you in Holy Baptism.  You are free, forgiven, and equipped for a purpose.  That purpose is to glorify God in thought, word, and work.  On one hand you struggle under the cross of acknowledging your sin and you say along with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [v. 19]  “(Oh) wretched (person) that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But then also with St. Paul, the truth you declare and the life you live in service to God and your neighbor declares, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [vs. 24, 25]

Dear friends, God does not want to attack or torment us, but the devil does, and he cannot stand your dependence on God’s Word and your faith in Christ.  There is nothing he hates more than our faith in God’s Word. It is only the Word of God that exposes him, and leaves him nowhere to hide. The more you are in God’s Word, the more the devil will attack you.  He will use your friends, family, employer, and even the government as tools to trick you into abandoning the promises of God and the gifts of hope and strength that God gives to you in His Divine Service here at Christ’s church.  But be of good courage and do not give an inch, because Christ fights for you, and His very Word assures you that Christ and His cross have overcome your enemies, your own grievous sins, even your own death, and especially the devil.  AMEN!

The Cross!

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost 3A, June 29, 2014

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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?  This morning we will explore that very question by looking at both our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) and our Gospel lesson (Matthew 10:34-42).  But before we get started let me share a more contemporary example of a man that both identified his cross and even bore it with great strength and dignity.

On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. Hitler’s troops had already invaded Poland, and they had just begun their Blitzkrieg advance into France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership. And unlike so many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament and unified his country with these famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” No politician today would campaign on a slogan like that.  But Churchill was a truth teller.  He called a thing what it was.

In our Old Testament lesson, we see that very same honesty and sincerity from the prophet Jeremiah.  If you remember last weeks lesson, Jeremiah had confronted the leaders of Israel with a very sobering message: God was angry with the sin of the nation; they had embraced false worship practices and even foreign gods, and as a result God would soon punish the entire nation, by allowing it to be defeated in war and exiled into Babylon.

This was a hard message for Jeremiah to declare, and yet it was the very message of God.  What else can a true prophet of God do but declare the very Word that God has given?  So a true prophet, like a true Christian always speaks only as God has spoken; he calls out something for what it is; he calls a thing what it is, just as God does.

This truth telling was an unthinkable dilemma for the Israelites; could it be true?  Is God really against His own people?  Was He now taking the side of the godless Babylonians?  “Yes” declared the prophet Jeremiah, “on account of your unrepentant sin, you will pay the consequence of that sin.  But God will not abandon you; you will never be alone.  God desired that the leaders and all of the people repent, and turn to his mercy, and His forgiving love.”

But, hard messages from true men of God always leave room for false messages from false prophets.  In essence, it pays to tell the leaders and people of a nation what they want to hear.  The people name their desire and the prophet claims it.  And not only that, he assures the people that they too, may claim the promise of glory and comfort for themselves, all in the name of God!  And that is exactly what the false prophet Hananiah did.

When Jeremiah smashed the clay jar demonstrating how God would destroy the nation of Israel, Hananiah, the leaders of the nation, and the people were incensed.  But when Jeremiah next came among the people and the leaders wearing a wooden yoke, and declaring that just as the yoke was upon him, God would allow the Babylonians to place the yoke of slavery upon His people, Hananiah sensed his opportunity to ingratiate himself to the populace, and he sprung into action.  He snatched the yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders, smashing it to pieces, and declared, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” [Jeremiah 28:2, 3]

So Jeremiah prophesied times of pain and suffering, but God promised that in the midst of it, the people of faith still could find joy and assurance, because God was still with them; He promised current comfort and future blessing, in the midst of hard times.  But the false prophet Hananiah promised that not only was God with them now, but He would also give them blessing and glory in the near future, by defeating their enemies.

So which prophet do you think the people chose to follow?  Now, I know myself, and you know yourselves and the way all of our sinful neighbors are as well, right?  Had we been there, we would also have chosen the message of Hananiah.  We would have turned away from the path of pain and embraced the promised path of peace and glory.  To borrow the tone and expression of a certain law firm’s television commercial regarding structured settlements, “It’s our glory and we want it now!”

And to all of this confusion, Jesus speaks very clearly to us with these words from our gospel reading: ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  A sword?  Isn’t that a bit violent coming from Jesus?  Isn’t He the Son of God, the Prince of Peace who brings peace to all He greets?

Yes, all of that is true, indeed. But “upon the earth” takes in the world of sinful men, and the effect of Christ’s coming. That is to say that His mission among sinful men and women, is the opposite of “peace,” namely, He comes to make war; spiritual war against sinful flesh, which is exactly what the “sword” symbolizes.  So in this great contrast Jesus is saying that peace in the sense of harmony, which we hunger for is not what His presence brings to this sinful world, rather it brings a sword, or division among sinful men and women and those who repent by turning to Christ and those who refuse.  In other words, if Christ didn’t come to save the world from its sins, the earth would remain undisturbed and ignorant of its sins and guilt, until that is, the day of its doom; the day of judgment. But Christ did come to take away the immense sin and that guilt; He came to die upon a cross and make atonement, payment in full for all sin.

So, at once a real war results with the coming of this Prince of Peace, because perverted men and women still want to cling to their sins, that is they want peace and comfort, wealth and blessings now, without the cross, and without the pain and suffering.  So they fight Christ and His gospel.  They desire the resurrection without the cross.  They desire commitment and personal decision instead of the blessed promises and work of God that is given at the font in our individual baptisms.  And hear now a great truth, Christ foresaw this effect, even in us today, and He even willed it to be so.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is your cross that you must bear?  It is the same cross that Jeremiah bore; it is confessing the very Word of God just as He gives it to us in Holy Scripture, without change.  It is calling a thing what it is; knowing and speaking to those things that are sinful and those things that are God pleasing and glorifying.  It is living for God’s glory and not for your own peace and comfort in this world, because you know that while the physical world of pain and sorrow is but for a moment, the joy and wealth of heaven that you will one day receive is eternal.

Jesus once said that “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then He also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  The tribulation that we face in this world when we cling to Christ alone will be conflict.  Conflict with our own sinful flesh, conflict with our neighbor, and even conflict with our own families.  When we stand for Christ we also stand against sin, and when we stand against sin we are by nature standing against those who cling to it rather than Christ.  If we shrink from our stand in Christ, that is if we reject the cross of confessing Him alone as Lord, we have then conversely taken the side of the false prophets and their theology that says we can have the glory that is reserved only for God and the saints in heaven, right now!  And if we do this, Jesus clearly says that we are not worthy of Him.

Dear friends, Christ is to be so precious to us that not even those we love will be able to draw us away from Him and His church.  No suffering or shame should ever be able to repel us from Him.

If this message has made you uncomfortable then allow it also to bring you peace and comfort with the promise of future and eternal glory.  This morning, Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus has paid for your sins upon the cross with His own life-blood.  He has defeated the devil, undone his deceptions, by unveiling his lies of promised glory in this world.  He has shown you the truth, and more than that He has given you His peace.  He has turned your eyes off of the promises of the world and demonstrated to you the certainty of the promises of your baptism; complete forgiveness of sins is yours forever, if you will but trust in Him alone.

Now while it is true that you receive all of this with a degree of tension, it is not so great a tension that God’s peace cannot overcome it.  The kingdom of God, the promises of His gospel, and the promise of his glory are yours right now, but they have not yet been revealed.  For now, for a little while you must hold on by faith, and trust that all things, even divisions between those closest to you will in the end, work together for your good.  And as we wait, we humbly follow our Lord and His wonderful cross, as we carry our own.  Like the people who Jeremiah preached to, we too must wait in exile, in a foreign land of sin, but we can take heart, because our Savior and His cross have overcome the world, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us as we carry our own.  AMEN!

A Love Without End… AMEN!

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost 2A, June 22, 2014

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I want to start off our message with a quick question: “What is there in your life that you can show to others, which proves that God loves you?”  Many of us may be tempted to point others to blessings in our lives, such as the love of family, health, a good job, money in the bank, or something else that is good, which gives us comfort and peace.  But if that is how you measure God’s love for you, doesn’t that mean that Christians who do not have the love of family, good health, a good job, or money in the bank can not be certain of God’s love?  What about when the things you call blessings vanish and life is hard, does God still love you?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah continually wrestled with thoughts like these.  He was a prophet not unlike the other prophets who went before him, in that he was called to declare a message from God that was not popular with the people of God; it was a message that spoke of God’s displeasure with His people’s sin.  It was a message that foretold of God’s discipline that was coming soon; a discipline that was meant to move sinners back to their forgiving God.

Like the other prophets, Jeremiah was directed to use symbolic acts, which accented both the message and the work that God was preparing to perform among and to His people.  Our text this morning (Jeremiah 20:7-13) follows on the heals of one of those symbolic acts.  Jeremiah had just smashed a clay jar in front of the leaders of Israel with the message that proclaimed that as he had smashed the clay jar, so too, would God smash the nation of Israel on account of their sins and their falling from faith.  How did they fall from their faith?  By allowing and following foreign worship practices among them, and even by embracing foreign gods.  Seven chapters later, Jeremiah would confront the civil and religious leaders by wearing a wooden yoke on his shoulders.  This act symbolized Israel’s political submission to the Babylonians; it foretold that just as Jeremiah was yoked like a beast of burden, so too would the Israelites be taken into Babylon in captivity, as slaves.  And when it happened, all of God’s people were to know that God alone, both allowed it and caused it to happen as His way to turn His people’s hearts back to His love and care.

But God’s message to His people is not just a message for the future, but also a message for the present; that is, it is a message for the here and now.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God is telling all of His people to turn away from any hope that they have placed in their sinful leaders and foreign gods, which is both the reason and the source of “terror on every side.” Instead, they were to turn to Him alone as their source of comfort and assurance.

Now some may wonder, what kind of comfort and assurance can be found in a message that foretells of punishment?  And the answer is that even in the middle of hard times, God is promising His children that He is there with them; you are not alone nor abandoned!  But how are we similar to Jeremiah?  How can his lessoned learned help us?  Well let’s examine that question next.

We can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to share, right?  His message to those who continually reject God’s presence in their lives had to be one of bitterness and grief, bordering on despair.  Jeremiah had to be looking at his fellow countrymen and even family, and he had to be grieving.  Why?  Well, God’s forgiving love for him had changed him and filled him with a love for other sinners; a God given love.  In the end, Jeremiah’s grief was too much for him to carry.  Does this sound familiar?  Don’t we too have that same grief for children, parents, friends and neighbors who constantly seem to reject Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and the gift of grace that is given in Holy Baptism?

Like Jeremiah, we whose love is deep grieve deeply.  Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we too grieve like Samuel, who mourned for King Saul who fell in death, separated from God’s love (1 Samuel 15:35).  Like Jeremiah, we too are prone to grieve like St. Paul, who would have wished himself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2,3).  But I think that the best example that demonstrated and surpasses Jeremiah’s grief, is the grief of our Lord.  Jesus, the Son of God grieved when approaching Jerusalem, just before His death upon the cross, as He looked at it and wept, because it did not, and for many would not recognize Him as the only means of eternal happiness; the only way to approach a righteous God. [Luke 19:40-44]

Like Jesus, Jeremiah grieved because all of his preaching seemed to have failed to produce repentance or any kind of faith into the hearts of those he loved.  Try as he might, none of them seemed willing to receive the message of God’s punishment, but also a message of mercy and grace.  As he experienced the people’s growing and bitter opposition of the message God had tasked him to proclaim, he learned with great sorrow, that God’s law does not bring peace, but more wrath and punishment. [Romans 4:15]  He learned that the law of God drives unrepentant sinners deeper into sin and creates a  ferocious hatred for God.  Jeremiah learned to his sorrow, that for some people, even family members, the promise of God’s mercy, that is His forgiving love through the gospel, becomes the smell of death. [2 Corinthians 2:16]

In his struggle with grief, the prophet Jeremiah became angry with God, and accused God of tricking him.  Perhaps you too, have had that same experience with God; and experience that seems to befall you just because you love Jesus and His gift of grace, and feel compelled to share it with those you love, only to have them reject both the message and your love for them.  It hurts, right?  Maybe, you too like Jeremiah have complained to God that despite all of your witnessing and mentoring of Christ’s love, not one of your invitations to help others know Jesus like you do, has seemed to produce any results?  Maybe you have already experienced the reality that Jesus had predicted in our gospel lesson: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise agains parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my names sake.” [Matthew 10:21, 22a]

Now, while we may not be delivered over to death, to have a family member or loved one avoid you simply because you are a Christian, who can’t help but witness to Christ’s forgiving and life giving love, can be a pain that feels like death.  Jesus promises us that if we endure this pain and do not give up our hope in Him, we will be saved.  But how do we endure through what seems to be unendurable?  We pray and claim God’s promises of life and eternal hope!

Like Jeremiah, we too might be tempted to abandon our hope in God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, or we may be tempted to become a “closet Christian” and just keep our faith to ourselves.  But Jeremiah tells us that if we do that, we will just experience what he experienced when he tried to stop preaching.  He could not do it, because the Living Word of God within him overpowered him and compelled him to speak.  But that Living Word within him also compelled him to do something else; he was compelled to speak to God in prayer; to call out to God for help and strength.

You see, deep down Jeremiah knew that he was not alone.  The Living Word of God, who is the very Son of God attends and helps us just as He attended to and helped Jeremiah; He keeps His promise that He will never leave nor forsake us.  Just as the Lord was Jeremiah’s ever-present help in times of trouble, so too He is yours.  Our Lord would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome with evil or grief, and He will not allow you to slip away either.

Just as our Lord came quickly to help Jeremiah, He promises to respond to your cries for help as well.  Like Jeremiah, we not only may call out for help from God Himself, but He also promises to respond just as He did with Jeremiah.  And when God works within our spirits and we discover that we are not alone, we too will be moved to praise God through the work of the Gospel, that is the forgiveness of sins and the presence of God and declare: “Praise The Lord!  For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers.”

Dear friends, how do we know that God loves us?  Because His Word tells us so.  No matter what life circumstances may communicate, God’s message in His Word is always one of love; a message that says you are not alone!

When you feel like giving up or taking a break from your faith, take a moment in prayer and ask God the Father to help you through His Word, to remember the depths of His love, not just for you, but for your family members, closest friends and neighbors.  Ask Him to help you remember His passion for sinners; a passion that is so deep that He sent His only Son to die for each and everyone of them.  And then continue to pray to the Heavenly Father who loves you for the ones you love; continue to point them to the cross of Jesus and the waters of Holy baptism, where they like you, may also experience the divine love without end… 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

Click here for audio of this message

“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!