Your Triune God Personally Loves You

Holy Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018   

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

We have seen a lot of seasons as we walk through the Church Year, each one headed by a Church Festival. The Advent season begins the Church Year, simultaneously preparing our hearts for Christ’s first coming at Christmas as well as his second coming on Judgment Day. The high festival of Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth as Immanuel, God with us.

Epiphany follows, focusing on the the word and works of Christ for all people. It ends with the high festival of Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed his glory. Then we descend into the sobering season of Lent, focusing on Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his institution of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, his suffering and death on Good Friday. Then comes Easter, the grandest celebration of the entire year when we cry out in joy, “Christ is risen!” Just last week, our Sundays of Easter gave way to the great festival of Pentecost, the reminder that we are all missionaries for our Lord to the ends of the earth.

And then comes today: Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the final great celebration in the Church Year. It is also different from any other church celebration. Trinity Sunday, today, is the only Church celebration that doesn’t celebrate an event. It celebrates a reality. That reality is the revelation of who our true God is.

This morning we see our Triune God all over again through the eyes of a rookie prophet. As far as we know, it was his first day of ministry. But instead of being ordained at the temple, or anointed by another prophet, the Lord marks the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry by revealing something extraordinary, something astonishing. The Lord shows Isaiah…the Lord!

The young prophet recalled the memorable scene for us this morning: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Quite a way to begin one’s ministry! As far as we know, Isaiah became the first person ever to behold the very throne room of the Lord! Of course, there was more than just the throne of heaven. “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” And here is what those strange-looking, flying seraphs sung in the presence of the one, eternal God: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’”

The sight of God in heaven was so awe-inspiring that “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

Of course, it was all too much for Isaiah to take. God’s prophet cries out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” The throne of the Lord, the seraphs flying and singing, and the presence of the Lord himself would be enough to make anyone shutter in fear.

But that isn’t why Isaiah cried out the way he did. His fear didn’t really have anything to do with the singing or the flying or the angels or the throne. It had to do with himself. Isaiah had good reason to fear for his life. In fact, he realized that he was about to die! And here’s why: “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah had seen the “Kavod Adonai”. It was the glory of the Lord. And for a sinful, “unclean” person to see such a sight meant instant death. In the presence of the Lord Isaiah had nowhere to hide. He reveals his sins completely as he states “I am a man of unclean lips.” And yet he admits “My eyes have seen the King.”

What if that happened here this morning? All of a sudden in the middle of our church the wooden frame begins to shake. Smoke descends from the roof and fills the room. We begin to see six-winged angels flying above us. Their strong, powerful singing floods the church with music so beautiful that we feel unworthy to hear it.

What would happen? It would simultaneously be the greatest scene we have ever beheld…and the last. And you know why. Like God’s newly-minted prophet, we too admit in the presence of our omnipotent, perfect, holy God that we are people ”of unclean lips.” No sinner can stand in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and live. Isaiah had seen the Lord, and he fully expected to die because of it. In fact, he should have died. We deserve that death, too.

That reality illustrates just how important Jesus’ incarnation was. The fact that God himself, whom even the heavens cannot contain, came to be Immanuel – God with us, defines love. And being among us, Jesus became a light for Jews and Gentiles alike. Then he allowed himself to face the punishment reserved only for sinners who dare to stand in the presence of God. God the Son faced the eternal punishment from God the Father – and he did it all so that he could send God the Holy Spirit into your heart to give you faith.

Isaiah should have died the day he saw his Triune God. But all at once his eternal punishment was exchanged for a beautiful blessing. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.” On this altar were burning coals, which symbolized the purification for God’s people. “With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”

Isaiah no longer needed to fear the wrath of the Lord. Neither do you – not even when the storms of this life threaten you – or when you sins seem too awful to be forgiven. Do not be afraid. The tongs holding that live coal, forged in the furnace at the cross, have touched you, too. You stand forgiven.

There was once a father walking with his 1 year old son on his back around a wooded lake. They were both wearing hooded jackets because the weather looked like it might rain. Then, as they were on the far side of the lake, about half way around, the rain came. Now what the father didn’t realize was that his little child had taken off his hood earlier. So when it began to rain the baby started to cry. As the rain started to fall harder and harder the father heard the now screams of his son and took him off of his back and held him in his arms, under his coat to protect him against the rain. But this wasn’t enough as the child continued to scream, becoming more and more frightened of the loud thunder and rain. So for the rest of the walk, the father whispered in his son’s ear, “Everything is okay. Your safe. I’m right here with you. I will not leave you.” By the end of the walk that baby knew the love his father had for him.

Your Triune God who washed your sins away at baptism now asks you the same question he asked Isaiah so many years ago: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And you get to answer with the words of Isaiah: “Here am I. Send me!” And in the midst of it all remains your Triune God’s everlasting promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And you know what? He will be. Amen.

Posted by mike

From Death to Life

Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:1-21)

There are a lot of incredible sites to behold in the city of Paris, from the huge Eiffel Tower to the priceless art hanging in the Louvre to the Arch de Triomphe. It’s no wonder then, that every year millions of people travel to witness these historically famous sites. But there is one location in the city that is hidden so well, most people never see it at all. No airplane or satellite or drone can take a picture of it. No road can get you there.

It is a part of Paris doomed to rest in darkness forever. In fact, it is so cold and so dark, the only people who live there…are the dead.

To get there, you must first pass through a doorway called the “Gate of Hell.” Down the stairs you go, descending into darkness. After walking through long, narrow hallways you start to see them. They line the walls, piled up from the floor to the ceiling. They are the centuries old, white-washed bones of the dead. And you can see them still to this day, in their final resting place in the catacombs of Paris.

Does that sound like your kind of destination vacation? Maybe not. Not many would voluntarily descend into chasms of skeletons. The cold air, the enveloping darkness, the eery silence, and the dead stares of skulls might just be enough to send shivers up your spine.

Thankfully, you don’t have descend into Paris’ depths of the dead if you don’t want to. But long ago, the prophet Ezekiel had no choice. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.”

The catacombs of Paris are hidden away in darkness. Yet the Lord brought Ezekiel to an open valley filled with bones. And he wasn’t allowed to simply look from a distance. “He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.” Ezekiel had to inspect these bones!

Then, in the middle of this above-ground graveyard, the Lord asks a profound question of Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I don’t remember that question ever coming up in Biology. The quick answer is, “No.” What’s dead is dead. In fact, the Hebrew question expects a “No” answer.

God follows his profound question with a profound command: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”

But that wasn’t all. The Lord gets very descriptive with Ezekiel’s message, “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.”

But why? Why inspect a valley of dried up bones? Why preach to them? God answers why: “Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

All of this was a living parable. This eerie earthly scene had spiritual meaning. The bones of the dead stood for something. The Lord says, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” In fact, they might as well have been a picture of all of fallen mankind. Us included.

How frightening would it be to walk through the catacombs of Paris and, all of a sudden, find your own dead body among them all! That is how the Bible describes the spiritual condition we were born into: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.” The dead cannot do anything for themselves. That includes us.

Yet in this valley of bones and death, God shows Ezekiel, his people, and us his power and grace. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.” God gives his people life, as only God can. And in order to give us life, God sent his Son, Jesus, to take our death upon himself.

God isn’t talking about physical life here. He is speaking of eternal life. Listen to what he says in the final verse of our text, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate God’s goodness in our lives as he has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”

In order to do that, Jesus, our Lord of Life, had to give himself to death. Our death. After Jesus died on the cross, he was placed in a tomb. Unlike the Parisian catacombs, this tomb had no other dead inside.

Just Jesus. And then, three days later, no one. Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that your deadly sins are forgiven. The waters of Baptism have made you alive in Christ. Eternal life is yours.

But walking through this world can still feel like walking “through the valley of the shadow of death.” You don’t have to visit Paris’ ominous underground catacombs to see the dead all gathered together. We see them every day around us. Those who have not heard about their Savior Jesus, those who do not believe are, in a way, the living dead. And we live among them! They might be your friends, your family, the people you work out with, the people you work for. They are a valley of bones.

But the same Lord who raised an entire valley of the dead in front of Ezekiel, is the same Lord who promises to do the same through his word. And he sends you out like his Apostles on Pentecost to boldly share that life-giving word – that word that brought you from death to life: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Share that life-giving message boldly…and watch as God raises the dead. Amen.

Posted by mike

I Leave All Things to God’s Direction

7th Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2018

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” 18(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20”For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ 21Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

A few years ago there was a contestant on Jeopardy! that blew away the competition. His name was Watson, and he competed against the two best players in the history of the show. Everyone was amazed. Not only had Watson done the unthinkable and beaten these brilliant contestants, Watson had accomplished that feat as something of an unusual player. You see, Watson was a computer.

He had to listen to the question just like everyone else. He had to buzz in just like the other contestants. And like everybody who competes on Jeopardy! Watson wasn’t allowed to access the internet. After Watson won, everyone asked the same question: “How could a computer do that?”

Watson was years in the making. And as the engineers at IBM constructed Watson they eventually realized they had a choice to make. They could either try to give Watson the answer to every possible question he would ever hear (which would be impossible), or they had to give him principles that would guide him. In the end, they chose to give him rules to follow because they couldn’t foresee every possible question that might be asked.

Now Watson as a computer is a fun little story, but what those IBM engineers learned was a Biblical fact. No person has all the answers to every possible conundrum they will face. It isn’t possible.

Of course, God knows. He knows every problem before we ever encounter it. He sees every issue before it comes to light. And wouldn’t it be nice if he gave us specific answers to every one of our problems? Which college should I attend? Which person should I marry? Which house should I buy? Or, as you look at a call list, which individual should we choose to call to be our next pastor?

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were asking that very question. One of their own, the disciple named Judas Iscariot, had betrayed Jesus and hanged himself. He was no longer a disciple and follower of Christ. Because of this, Peter stood up and quoted from Psalm 109, saying, “May another take his place of leadership.”

But not just anybody could fill this leadership position. So Peter continues, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.” Peter even sets up the parameters for them, “beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” This new apostle was to be very familiar with Jesus: his ministry, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. It made sense, because just as Peter says, “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Luke tells us, “They proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed.” After deciding on the two men, they entrusted this decision to the Lord. But how should they go about finding out God’s will and purpose?

How have you figured out those big decisions in your life? Like those disciples, we probably know how we ought to start – with prayer, asking the Lord for guidance and strength. But do we always function that way? When life’s biggest challenges and decision come our way, our first response is usually to gripe and complain or demand that the Lord just give us the answer.

Or, we are tempted to go to other places to find answers. Sometimes we want to find answers out for ourselves apart from God and his direction. We look for worldly “signs” to direct us rather than God and his word.

What guided Jesus during his ministry? It wasn’t signs. It wasn’t his own personal, selfish choices. Quite the opposite! Every decision Jesus made fulfilled God’s Word. His birth in Bethlehem, his miracles, his parables, his suffering, his death and resurrection all followed God’s perfect plan. Jesus perfectly fulfilled his Word to save you.

But where can I find God’s purpose for my life? The apostles had to find out God’s will for a very specific circumstance. They needed to fill the leadership position of Judas Iscariot. Now because apostles were men picked specifically by the Lord, they needed the Lord to tell them who was to fill this void: Joseph or Matthias. So Luke records for us, “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’”

They asked for the Lord to reveal for them his hidden will. And as always, their prayers were answered as we hear in our final verse, “They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” In this specific instance, God showed for all the Church that Matthias was to be the twelfth apostle in place of Judas Iscariot. The Lord revealed his will and purpose, and the Church was blessed through it.

So, what about us? If God doesn’t intervene like this in our lives, how are we to know what to do? Remember how those IBM engineers solved the problem of choice for their computer, Watson? They couldn’t give him all the answers to every question. That wasn’t the best way to do it. Instead, they gave the computer principles to follow in various situations.

In a much more perfect way, the Lord does the same thing for you. He gives you those principles to live by in his word. Then he also sends you the tough questions so that you can give him glory by putting those Biblical principles to use.

At the end of his ministry, the prophet Jeremiah was forced to watch his proud city of Jerusalem burn to the ground. He saw the conquering Babylonians destroy his temple and kill his people. At the end of it all, the Babylonians gave him a surprising choice. After being freed from his chains, the Babylonian commander told him, “Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come.”

The Lord was silent on the matter. Jeremiah could choose whichever path he wanted. Either choices was acceptable. In a way, neither path really mattered that much. What mattered was Jeremiah’s complete trust in the Lord’s promises.

That’s what matters most in your choices, too. You don’t have to cast lots. You don’t have to look for signs. In the end, following God’s will means leaving all things…all things…to his direction. Amen.

Posted by mike

Test the Spirits

6th Sunday of Easter – May 6, 2018

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:1-11)

In the 300 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Christian Church had seen it all. Persecutions spread believers across the known world. Church sprouted up in every corner of the Roman Empire. Christians could be found in every level of society, from slaves to soldiers to Senators, and eventually, even Emperors.

Constantine the Great was that first Emperor to openly declare himself a Christian. He then went on to declare Christianity an accepted religion of the Roman Empire. How far the Christian faith had come! Once persecuted Christians now saw their faith become central to the Roman Empire. It was a miraculous achievement.

That’s when one of Christianity’s greatest dangers arose. It seemed with the Empire becoming Christian, many let their guard down. All sorts of false teachings rose up like weeds. Some pastors began teaching “secret truths” that they had added to God’s Word. Others preached that to be a “true” Christian you had to die by persecution.

Every one of these false teachers and each of their false teachings threw churches into turmoil. But one man surpassed them all. His name was Arius, and his false teaching was so bad, and so enticing, that it sent a shockwave through the entire Christian Church – the reverberations of which can still be felt today.

History tells us that Arius was talk, dark and handsome. No one could preach a sermon as good as he could. He wrote music that people hummed for centuries. But it was what he preached that was so dangerous. Arius said that because Jesus was “begotten of God the Father,” then he must have been less than God the Father.

It sounded so logical. It made so much sense! But it was completely wrong. The problem was that thousands, and eventually millions of believers were captivated by that teaching. And what was the harm? So Arius taught that Jesus was a little less than the Father – some passages even seemed to suggest that.

But it was a big deal. To diminish who Jesus is and what he has done cut away at the central message of Scripture! Years of church councils wrestled with this Arian message until finally they arrived at a Scriptural stance. I bet it sounds familiar: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” All of that in the Nicene Creed, which we will confess together in just a moment, because of one rogue pastor and his convincing teaching.

Our creeds are filled with those types of stories. In fact, it has been said that every phrase of the creeds that we confess are written in blood. Each word tells a bitter story of pain, division and loss.

So how does that happen? How do churches and pastors and entire synods lose their way? Where do the “Ariuses” come from? John tells us, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The believers in the days of Arius stopped doing that. They didn’t check Arius’ false words with Scripture’s true testimony.

So what’s the test? Well, John tells us that, too. “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” It all comes down to Christ. Does a teaching keep Christ at the center or does it focus on something or someone else?

Arius may have lived a long time ago, but his teaching and others like it still push down Jesus. John tells us what those teachings really are: “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” And John explains why these false messages are so tempting: “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”

And so do we. It can be hard not to. Maybe Arius’ false teaching is an easy one for you to push aside. What about those today who teach that everyone is going to heaven – isn’t it tempting to believe that? There are churches that focus primarily on helping the poor, rather than on worship and Bible study – doesn’t that sound nice? And there are pastors that just want to talk about you – how great you are, and how you are so nice and talented that heaven is yours…because of you.

Those teachings can be more than tempting. They have pulled us in, at times, too. But remember the difference? Remember how to “test the spirits”? “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” This, then, is our true, Christian faith: Christ came to be one of us, he lived, he taught, he served, then he suffered and died. He still is “of one being with the Father.”

Jesus really is God. He had to be. Quite frankly, if he wasn’t, than what is the point? If Jesus isn’t who he says he is than we’ve made him out to be a liar. He couldn’t be our Savior. Heaven wouldn’t be ours. And all is lost.

That is what it looked like when that pastor, Arius, preached 1700 years ago. He appeared to be the pied piper, playing his tune of false teaching and luring the entire Christian Roman Empire away from Christ with him.

Then came another pastor named Athanasius. Like a lone voice in a storm, he boldly preached that Jesus Christ is God. For his faithful preaching he was exiled by the government and the church…five times! He never wavered. At a gathering called the Council of Nicaea, the group of pastors put together and signed a creed that perfectly summarized who Jesus is. The secretary of that Council was Athanasius. His job was to write down the words. And he did. And that is how it came to be that the much maligned defender of the faith wrote down the words of the Nicene Creed. Words we are about to confess.

They are not empty words. They accurately summarize God’s inspired word. They place Christ at the center. And through Christ, as Athanasius once wrote, that “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Amen.

Posted by mike

Stay Connected to the True Vine

5th Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018

”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

5”I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

There’s a new social anxiety that is all the rage. It’s called the “fear of missing out.” And this anxiety is exactly what it is described to be. A person puts down his phone. He picks up a book, and one minute later looks at his phone, wondering what happened in those 60 seconds. Did he miss something? What is everybody talking about? What is everybody doing? Whether he knows it or not, he’s afraid of missing out.

I suppose we all are afraid of missing out, to a certain extent. We watch the news so that we know what’s going on. We read the paper to stay connected to our community “goings-on.” Email helps us stay connected to others digitally. Websites like Facebook let us look at what others are doing. And all of this can be found on your phone at any moment. But hopefully you aren’t at this moment.

We live in an age where we are super-connected. We can feel as though we are always “in the know.” And we don’t have to feel afraid that we are missing out – because how could we when we are so connected?

But is this a good thing? Almost every study says, “No, it isn’t.” One study revealed that parents have become so connected to their phones that they are missing living in the real world with their own children. Other studies have revealed that people become so used to connecting over their phones that they struggle to actually communicate in person!

And then their was this another amazing study: researchers brought two people into a room to talk with each other at a table. When it was just the two people, the conversations went well. But when the researchers placed a phone on the table, the conversations were shorter and less involved. And they figured out why. The presence of a phone reminded the people that they might be missing out on something else.

With all that in mind, many people are making a push to become less connected. They dispense of their phones. They shut off the tv. They stay away from the news for a while. It all leads to more independence. And, believe it or not, they become more connected to people in real life.

This morning Jesus wants to talk with you about how connected you are. He isn’t talking about watching the news from morning until night. He isn’t going to bring up anything that has to do with a screen. Instead, Jesus is going to remind you, and me, of the most important connection we can ever have. And wouldn’t you know it, this connection will all start with him.

In the defining verse of our Gospel reading, Jesus said to his followers, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” You know what a vine looks like. It curls its way up other plants and across the yard. And you know what it looks like when a part of that vine is severed. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Every gardener knows that if you cut a part of the vine, the rest of that vine slowly withers and dies. Now, Jesus isn’t just sharing good gardening tips for us this spring. He is telling you something about yourself. You are that branch and he is that vine. And just as he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

But here’s the problem – we just talked about all the problems with over-connecting ourselves. We live in a world of super-connection. And there are times when we want to become completely disconnected. We want to be our own person!

The devil knows that, too. As he always does, the devil flips everything upside down. He tries to get us completely connected to the things of this world. He makes us worry that we’re missing out on what’s happening in the news, or among our friends, or in our own town. And in the meantime, he tries to convince us to disconnect from Christ.

And how has that battle been going? Do you spend more time connecting on Facebook than you do connection to God in his Word? Do you connect to the world by watching tv more than you connect to Christ through prayer? Where are our strongest connections? If we’re being honest, we’ve been connected to our world far more than we have been connected to our Savior.

But look at the true vine again. He came down to our super-connected, self-absorbed world but he never gave himself into that worldly mindset. Jesus took time to connect with people that no one else wanted to connect with. He always focused on his mission. And in the end, on the cross, Jesus allowed himself to be cut off from everyone, including his Father in heaven. And he did all that to connect you to himself.

Jesus died on the tree of the cross in order to put you in his garden. Now listen to your place in God’s garden. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Do you see all the cutting that God is doing? The fruitless branches are cut off because they are severing their connection with God. But the fruitful branches are cut as well. They are being pruned so that they can be even more fruitful.

I don’t have to tell you how painful that pruning can be. But it has to be done. The difficulties of disconnecting yourself from the worldly temptations can hurt. Trimming away our sinful desires doesn’t always feel nice. But the Lord does it out of love. And through it all he makes his connection with you even stronger. He will enable you to pray, and to pray according to his will.

There are a lot of ways a person stays connected. Most of them come through your phone and your computer and your tv. Take time to disconnect from all that stuff. Take time to reconnect with the true vine. Because really, that is the only connection that matters eternally. And then you will be able to connect others to Christ by sharing his Word…in person…with real people. You can tell them what Jesus reminded you of today. “Remain in me,” Jesus says, “And I will remain in you.” Amen.

Posted by mike

Keep Close to Your Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd Sunday – April 22, 2018

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:28-32)

“Roche limit” is a scientific term. It determines how close a planet can come to another object before it is ripped apart, or pulled apart by that object’s gravity. The Roche limit for Earth is about 10,000 miles. Out of context that might not mean anything to you. But if an object with the same mass as Earth travels closer than that mark, then both bodies would tear apart. In the case of large stars and black holes the situation gets worse. The planet would simply be devoured.

The Roche limit is the scientific answer to an everyday question. You have probably asked it before: “How close is too close?” How immersed can I become in a book that glorifies drugs and murder? How long can I watch a revealing movie before I feel the need to turn off the tv? How much gossip can I listen to before my conscience finally stops me? What is my spiritual Roche limit?

It is a difficult question because the answer always seems to be changing. In fact, it often seems to be changing for the worse. If I had to guess, I would bet that your spiritual Roche limits were not always this close.

Perhaps you used to close the book sooner. A movie with shady content had been a non-starter. Gossip rarely piqued your interest. Those limits have since changed. In fact, those limits seem to be constantly changing.

Your sinful nature constantly tests your limits. It entices you closer and closer to those dangerous objects until soon you find yourself right at the limit. One more inch and you cross over the threshold. Your mantle shifts. Your self-contained gravity gives way. Your core rips apart. At that point the devil cries “Victory!” And you are lost.

The Apostle Paul gets that same warning across this morning. He doesn’t use the scientific term “Roche limit.” Instead, he uses a far more practical and relatable example. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Watch yourself, as a sheep in the flock of your Good Shepherd, Jesus. Paul brings up that warning for good reason. There were enemies from without: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” And there were enemies within: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

And that’s what happened. Paul’s words in Acts 20 were, in essence, his farewell speech to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. He tells them, “Be on your guard!” And Paul said those things because he understood sinful nature. He knew that as sheep, we are constantly pushing the limits. We are often tempted to wander further and further from our Lord. To go back to that scientific term, our spiritual Roche limit gets closer and closer to the dangerous objects of this world. And eventually, if left unchecked, it leads to oblivion.

The enemies threatening the Ephesian believers continue to threaten us today. Paul described “savage wolves” as the type of people who would rip apart a congregation. Ephesus had their fair share of those.

Paul himself had seen unbelievers riot against the Christians in Ephesus, capture some, and persecute others. It happened before, and it would happen again.

But the greater danger was within. Some within the church at Ephesus had become “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They had “turned to meaningless talk.” They wanted “to be teachers of the law, but they [didn’t] know what they were talking about.” Well-meaning Christians had added rules to God’s Word. “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.”

Believers in Ephesus had reached their spiritual Roche limit. Many had wandered from the faith. They were ripped apart. And if it could happen in Ephesus, where Paul had preached, where Timothy was pastor – it could happen anywhere.

Limits define us. As imperfect humans, we measure what we cannot do. We are judged by what we can accomplish and what we cannot accomplish. And that has been true of every human except for one. Jesus, our limitless God, came to live among us as a limited human. Every time the devil tried to push Jesus to a spiritual Roche limit, Jesus answered back with the words of Scripture.

Limitless, perfect and divine, Jesus allowed his limits to be pushed by his enemies. Some of those enemies came from without. The Pharisees, the Jewish leaders and King Herod all acted against Jesus to capture and kill him. But some of those enemies turned out to be from within. Judas was the wolf in sheep’s clothing who betrayed his Lord. Peter also denied knowing Jesus.

It all led to Jesus’ flock of sheep scattering. The Good Shepherd was apprehended. And in order to save his sheep, your limitless God took your limitless punishment upon himself on the cross. To make you his sheep, Christ “bought [you] with his own blood.”

Now today, your Good Shepherd has a serious warning for you. Keep close to your Good Shepherd. And Paul reminds us why that is so very important: “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

So where does that put your spiritual Roche limit? How close to sin is too close? How far can you wander as a sheep from your Good Shepherd’s fold? Today your Lord is clear – Don’t find out! Don’t secretly slip into sin, because that sin takes you closer and closer to destruction. Take a lesson from the world’s wisest man, Solomon, who once advised: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.”

Go where worlds of sin don’t collide. Go where eternal oblivion cannot follow. Follow the path of righteousness your Savior Jesus, your Good Shepherd, leads you on. It is a road with only one, beautiful, perfect ending. And it is Christ, who will help you to flee from sin and strife, to his glorious eternal life. Amen.

Posted by mike

The Great Escape of Faith

3rd Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 

8Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”

12When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15”You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. 18In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. (Acts 12:1-19)

The final verse of Paul Dunbar’s poem, Sympathy, has become so famous that it has taken on a life of its own. In the verses of his poem, Dunbar describes a bird in a cage. You’ve probably seen one before. An exotic, majestic-looking animal talks or sings in its cage without a care in the world. But in his metaphor-filled poem, Dunbar answers a question we never asked: Why does the caged bird sing?

“I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,”

So what is it? Why does a caged bird sing? In the final verses of his poem, Dunbar answers:

“But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—I know why the caged bird sings!”

Maybe you have heard that poem before. It is filled with metaphor. The poem, of course, isn’t just talking about a bird in a cage singing of freedom. Dunbar used the poem to illustrate slavery and racism at a time when few wanted to talk about those issues.

But there have been many people locked away like caged birds over the ages. We see one in the book of Acts this morning. And the songs these Christian prisoners have sung while behind those bars have been nothing short of beautiful.

Dark days had come to the Early Christian Church. It certainly didn’t take very long. Jesus had risen. Forty days later he had ascended into heaven. Ten days after that the disciples preached on Pentecost. Thousands came to faith. The gospel message was spreading far and wide. It seemed nothing could stop the spread of the kingdom of God.

Then the devil struck back. “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.” These arrests didn’t end with persecution, however. “He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.”

James, one of the twelve disciples, one of the three men in Jesus’ inner circle, had been put to death! The news shook the community of believers.

The Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus loved it. “When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.” Would he be killed, too? In these trying times of persecution know one knew for certain.

But King Herod had a plan to make an example of Peter. He was, after all, a sort of leader for the Christians. If he could get rid of Peter, then perhaps this Christian faith would cease to exist. That is why we read that “Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.”

In the meantime, “he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each.” It seems like overkill, doesn’t it? How many people does a king need to keep a fisherman under guard? Peter was already behind bars. Now he has 16 men guarding him, too? Herod didn’t want there to be any possibility of Peter escaping. I suppose, in a way, Peter was Herod’s prized catch – like a bird in a cage.

What do you do in those moments? As the walls you have built come tumbling down and the bars of this world surround you? What emotions flood your senses as persecution ramps up in your life and in our country? What goes through your mind as you sit in the dark, thinking about the wrongs you have faced in your life?

In those moments the devil is all too happy to lend you his advice. “Lash out against those persecuting you – persecute them back!” he quips. Or perhaps he tells us to find our own way out. “Trust in yourself,” he prods, “because God has abandoned you.” And it might feel that way as you sit alone in the jail cell of your hardships. And that is when he hits us with his final temptation, when he says: “Sit down, be quiet and give up.”

Captured for doing nothing wrong, locked away in that physical cell, guarded by 16 guards, Peter did none of those things. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t blame God. And he certainly didn’t give up. Instead, the caged bird started to sing. “A plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—I know why the caged bird sings!”

Peter wasn’t the only one singing his prayers to heaven. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Christian prayer looks to Christ. It remembers his wrongful capture. It looks to his cross, his suffering his death on our behalf. Christian prayer recounts Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. True Christian prayer humbly asks for Jesus help in the everyday struggles and conflicts and persecutions we face.

And those prayers, the songs of the caged-bird, Peter, were answered by his Lord. In the midst of the dark of night a bright light shone, filling the cell and chasing away the shadows. And angel of the Lord appeared. Peter’s chains miraculously fell off his wrists. “Quick, get up!” the angel commanded to a surprised Peter.

What followed was the easiest, most methodical prison break in history. The jail cell opened and they simply walked out past one set of guards, and then another. At last, the reached the massive iron gate that locked the entire prison away from the city. “It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.” Miraculously, Peter had flow the coop. And the bird that once was caged now sang a beautiful song of freedom: “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches.”

It is no different for you. You were a bird caged by your own sins. And because of those sins you deserved the punishment of hell. Then came your Savior, the Light of the world shining in the darkness. He came to take your place. He came to take your cross and your punishment and your death so that your cage would swing wide open. Christ set you free.

It doesn’t always feel like it, though. Like Peter, we still face persecution. The bars and walls of this world still close us in. The darkness still feels like it envelops us. You might still feel like the caged bird in this life. When you do, remember the prayers Peter and his fellow believers made. “A plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—I know why the caged bird sings!”

I know why you can sing, too. “Since I know God never fails me, In his voice I’ll rejoice When grim death assails me. Trusting in my Savior’s merit, Safe at last, Troubles past, I shall heav’n inherit.” Amen.

Posted by mike

The “Insanity” of Faith

2nd Sunday of Easter – April 8, 2018

”So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 

24At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25”I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:19-29)

Is there such a thing as a mad scientist? Are there people who are so intelligent that they become insane? If there was ever a person who fit that bill, it was Nikola Tesla. One hundred years ago, Tesla was considered the next great inventor and scientist. It seemed no could match his knowledge of electricity and magnetism. Edison may have perfected the lightbulb, Einstein may have been making amazing strides in mathematics, but many thought Nikola Tesla would surpass them all. And he just might have…if he only had stayed sane.

The more Tesla invented, the more aloof he became. He refused to shake hands with people. He drank only boiled water. When he ate at a restaurant he personally cleaned his dishes before he ate off of them. He walked between 8 and 10 miles per day. Every night he curled his toes one hundred times because he thought it stimulated his brain cells. He refused to sleep more than 4 hours a night.

The word “eccentric” doesn’t do Tesla justice. By the end of his life, most people simply called him “insane.” His great learning, his incredible brilliance, had also led him to losing his mind. Science calls people like Tesla “tortured geniuses.”

That dangerous connection between great learning and insanity must be a pretty old one, because we hear the same connection made this morning. Except in the pages of the book of Acts it isn’t a mad scientist whose mind is on trial. It is the Church’s greatest missionary, the Apostle Paul.

It all started with a trip to Jerusalem. This was the last time Paul would travel to the great Jewish city. Paul went to the temple to worship. That’s when everything went south. “Some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him.” These men had tried to stone Paul to death earlier in his ministry. Now was their chance to finish what they had started.

“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.” Jerusalem was in an uproar. When that happened people usually died. The Romans knew that as well as anyone. “While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd.”

Things were moving fast now. Jews were carrying Paul away to kill him on the temple grounds. Roman soldiers were rushing in to stop the madness. Blood was probably going to be shed. People were probably going to die. And there in the middle of the chaos was the Apostle Paul.

The sight of Roman soldiers didn’t stop the Jewish mob. The violence was so great Paul had to be carried into the Roman barracks by the soldiers. He was allowed to speak to the Roman officer, and then to the crowd. In the end he wasn’t killed that day. He was simply thrown in prison.

There sat the greatest missionary rotting in a jail cell for over two years. His trial would eventually take him before the Sanhedrin and two Roman governors. But this morning we see Paul take the stand in his own defense before King Agrippa and the Roman Governor, Festus. What Paul said at this point could either free him or get him killed.

What would you say? It’s hard to imagine. After all, we rarely find ourselves taking the stand for our faith in a life or death situation. We can thank the Lord for that. But even in every day opportunities to share the faith we have been confirmed in we slink away, fearing the worst reprisal. We often end up saying what others want to hear.

It would have been easy for Paul to say what the rulers wanted to hear. Freedom would be his if he simply hid away his faith. But as we have come to expect with Paul, he does just the opposite.

In his defense, Paul says, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

This had always been Paul’s missionary message. But in the eyes of the Romans, Paul was approaching a dangerous threshold. He was crossing over from intelligence to insanity. “Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’”

Of course, there were no “insanity pleas” in Paul’s day. And for his great learning, for his faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, Paul was thrown into prison. Sometimes that knowledge of the truth of Christ physically imprisons believers in this world.

It was no different when Jesus, the Truth himself, stood before the Roman Governor. Unlike Paul, Jesus didn’t deserve to be on trial. He had done nothing wrong. Ever. And yet even in his death Jesus showed his perfect love by willingly dying for the sins of the entire world. Then, on Easter Sunday, Jesus, the Truth, showed himself to also be the Resurrection and the Life.

To say that God became one of us and died sounds ludicrous. To say that he rose again sounds just as “insane” to the world around us. So how can a believer respond when the world calls us by those names?

Here’s what Paul said, “‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus…What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.’” Now comes the opportunity. Now Paul goes for it all. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Indeed he did. But the King would not be swayed. “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Chained and on trial, Paul must have looked like a lunatic. He certainly sounded like one.

Is this what we want? chains and prison? To be called “insane” by the rest of the world? Actually, yes. This is what Paul wants for you. “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am.” And what has God made you? He has made you a follower of your Savior, Jesus. He has made you talented and intelligent. You aren’t crazy. You aren’t insane. You are a child of God. You have the wisdom of salvation. Now share that wisdom boldly. Amen.

Posted by mike

The Anointed One Does Not Abandon to Death

Easter Sunday – April 1, 2018

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: 8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 

15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:4,8-16

“I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” David, who wrote those words, was all too familiar with the shadow of death. It hung over him so heavy, so constantly, that he felt it could engulf him at any moment. Death seemed to be a giant, casting an all encompassing shadow over most of David’s experiences. In fact, David’s life had been filled with death.

One of the first times we hear about David is on the battlefield. He first killed another man when he was a young boy, when he defeated the giant Goliath. David then went on to be the object of Saul’s deadly jealousy and wrath. Saul threw spears at David. He hunted David down as a man marked for death. He killed the priests and townsfolk of Nob.

David had Uriah the Hittite killed to cover his sin of adultery. And at the end of it all, David counted his fighting men and once again had the blood of thousands on his hands as the Lord punished Israel.

There were also times when David had opportunity to send others to death. He could have murdered King Saul in the dark recesses of a cave. He could have snuffed out Saul’s life as he slept in a tent. Even after his own son, Absalom rebelled against him and his kingdom, David told his men not to kill him. When they did he was greatly distraught. Because of David’s adultery, the first child born to David and Bathsheba died in infancy.

David knew death better than most; and he was very aware of his own mortality. In Psalm 9 he described himself “in the gates of death.” He admitted in Psalm 13 that if God didn’t save him he would “sleep in death.” In Psalm 18 he declared “The cords of death entangled me” and “the snares of death confronted me.” He ultimately knew his body would be lain “in the dust of death.” The “Terrors of death [had] fallen on [David]” in Psalm 55.

And eventually death did find David. The physical death that seemed to stalk him all of his life, that giant shadow that hung over him, eventually washed David away. In his very matter-of-fact sermon in our second lesson, Peter stated, “I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.” David himself had become a testament to the fact that death comes to all alike: peasant and king, man and woman, believer and unbeliever.

David’s death was deserved. As great as King David was, as beautiful as his psalms sounded, as magnificent as his works had been, he still had to confess: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you [Lord], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” And because David was a sinner, part of God’s promise this morning included the fact that he would die physically. “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors.”

How familiar are you with death? Have you been around death like David was? Have you watched someone die with your own eyes? Does that same death seem to daily stalk you like it stalked David? Do you feel the heavy weight of the shadow of death towering over you in this valley of life?

We might be aware of death, and perhaps you have even witnessed it, but we usually like to remove the thought of death from our daily lives. After all, who wants to think about the gravity of death on a daily basis? Who wants to think about their ultimate end? No wonder we relegate death to back rooms in hospitals and distant funeral homes. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we want to keep death away from our thoughts and our sight.

Even worse than the inevitability of physical death is the frightening thought of eternal death. Like David, your sins and mine deserve death – physical death at the end of our lives, and eternal death in hell. Yet David believed that deliverance, even from death, comes from the Lord. “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” And in our psalm this morning David went even further: “You will not abandon me to the grave.”

How is that possible? David died! Peter told us David’s tomb could still be seen! David could write those words because of the promise the Lord gave him in our first lesson.

In response to God’s blessings of forgiveness, kingship and protection David wanted to build a house for the Lord. How fitting that would be – Israel’s greatest king would build the temple of the Lord!

This morning, we see God had something even greater in store for David. “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.” But this descendant wouldn’t be David’s son, Solomon. This promised descendant is Jesus Christ, our anointed Savior.

God the Father says, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” We saw this past week how our wrongs and sins were thrust upon Jesus, causing him to be punished “with a rod wielded by men” and “with floggings inflicted by human hands.” We saw Jesus face our physical death and suffer the eternal death that should have been ours.

But this Easter Sunday we see David’s words come to life. While David had written the words of Psalm 16, they are Jesus’ words. “My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One one see decay.” Dear Christian friends, on this Easter Sunday I can confidently tell you that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But I can also confidently tell you that “He is not [there]; he has risen, just as he said.”

Death, that ancient, awful enemy has been swallowed up in victory. And while physical death still comes at the end of our lives, it no longer leads to eternal death in hell. Jesus declared for you: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Great David knew what that meant. And in one of his most beautiful and memorable psalms, he wrote what Jesus’ resurrection means for all who believe in him: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Rejoice! Great David’s greater Son, Jesus, is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Posted by mike

The Anointed One Feeds You Eternally

Maundy Thursday – March 29, 2018

David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” 2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd. 8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”

David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” (1 Samuel 21:1-9)

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” David asks that question of the Lord this evening. “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” For David, the Lord seemed nowhere to be found. David’s king, King Saul, had just tried to kill him…again. David’s own king, his own commander, his own father-in-law, Saul, had thrown spears at him. He had sent his guards to kill David.

Now, enough was enough. David had to run away. “In his arrogance,” David writes, “the wicked man hunts down the weak.” Saul was now on the hunt for David. The Kingdom of Israel would soon be divided between her current king and her future king. Lives would hang in the balance.

But where could David go? He couldn’t run home to Bethlehem. That would be the first place Saul would look! And David would just be putting his family in harm’s way. David could flee the kingdom altogether – but he didn’t even have a weapon. He also didn’t have any food.

So David looked for sanctuary at a place where countless others have gone over the ages. He went to the house of the Lord. Now in those days, the house of the Lord was in a small town called Nob. David ran as fast as he could to the town. A Levite by the name of Ahimelek was the priest on duty when David showed up. And while David must have been relieved to see the priest, Ahimelek trembled with fear when he saw David running toward him.

“Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” a frightened Ahimelek asked. It was a good question. As Saul’s servant, David never traveled alone. Something was wrong. David’s answer didn’t help clarify the situation. “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place.”

A mission from the king – and no sword or food? Everything about this sounded fishy. And David probably knew it, because he quickly asked, “Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” And that might have been it. David could have been on his way and no one would have been the wiser.

But a new problem arose. “The priest answered David, ‘I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here.’” Taking the consecrated bread from the house of the Lord was no small thing.

That bread was laid out in the sanctuary. It was reserved for the Lord himself. The bread was to be left on the table for a week, only to be replaced on the Sabbath. And even then, only the priests were allowed to eat it once it had gone stale after a week.

Everything in the house of the Lord was like that. The candles were lit for the Lord – and used only for him. The wash basin was meant to cleanse the priests so they could stand in God’s presence. And the Ark of the Covenant was not even to be seen, except by the High Priest once a year. And now David was taking the bread that was in the presence of the Lord?! We never hear anything like this in Scripture. Even the most wicked kings left God’s bread alone.

Our reading for this evening seems to point out just how serious this was. “So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord.” David had just taken God’s bread. Now he needed a weapon.

“Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.” More fishy excuses. What servant of the king leaves on a mission without a weapon? David was woefully unprepared. But the priest wasn’t. “The priest replied, ‘The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.’” How fitting, the very sword David used to kill Goliath was given to him to use against his next enemy. “David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me.’”

This is a David we are not used to seeing. He is running for his life. He is lying to a priest. And he is taking things that had been offered for the Lord only. Is this really Israel’s greatest king? He seems more like Israel’s greatest mooch! He is taking everything from the Lord and offering nothing in return. And miraculously, David was allowed to escape with his life!

This evening, we stay in the presence of the Lord but travel one thousands years after David. Great David’s Greater Son, Jesus, has gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover for the last time.

Like David in the house of the Lord, these disciples of Jesus were woefully unworthy of taking anything from the Lord. Peter still defiantly thought he would die for the Lord. The rest of the disciples refused to believe they would ever abandon Jesus. And Judas was about to leave early to round up a mob to capture his Lord!

And in the midst of those unworthy followers, those “takers,” those sinners, Jesus gives one of his greatest gifts. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”

This evening we will hear these “words of institution” too. And are we any more worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper than these men? Of course not. We dare to come into the Lord’s presence, sinners as we are, asking for his bread and wine, which is his body and blood. We might as well be on the run like David from the consequences of sin.

In the midst of this dangerous situation, the Lord doesn’t smite us. He doesn’t banish us to eternal destruction. Instead, he gives us his dearest treasure. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He comes to each of us personally. And he unites us as believers. That is why Paul writes in our second lesson: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

This is grace. The love of God we do not deserve sends his Son in his Supper to wash away our sins. And like David, like Jesus’ disciples, we also get to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen.

Posted by mike