Archive

Archive for December, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Day

December 28, 2010 2 comments

John 1:1-14

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, John 1.  Specifically, the last line, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  This is our text.

Last week at the Sunday School service, the children repeated the antiphon, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  They said it so many times throughout the program and I don’t know how many times in rehearsal.  I hope it’s one of those things that remains stuck in their heads for a long, long time because this is what we celebrate this morning, the Word who became flesh.  Having seen Jesus in the flesh is to see the glory of the Father.

These words, “Word,” “flesh,” “glory,” “grace,” “truth,” these words are like little musical riffs in an opening piece of a symphony.  They come back over and over again throughout John’s Gospel and at amazing and incredible times.  These are just the words of the crescendo; they are accompanied by other words and phrases, “in the beginning,”  “life,” “light,” “sent from God,” “believe.”  Now I know that preachers make a big deal out of words, but there is something of high art here in the opening lines of John’s Gospel.  We could have a bit of fun going through John’s Gospel and just looking at where those words popped up and how.  But that wouldn’t be an exercise in literary criticism so much as it would be an exercise in spotting the pure Gospel message the Father send Jesus into the world to proclaim.  This is the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of the incarnation, the enfleshing of the eternal Word of God explained in human words.

The Athanasian Creed is that long one that we typically confess on Holy Trinity Sunday.  It has that almost overly precise if not repetitive language about the Trinity.  But it also confesses the mystery of the incarnation as well as anything we have.  We even had some portions of the Athanasian Creed recited at the Sunday School service last weekend.  I don’t know that I have ever seen a Sunday School Christmas program confess portions of the Athanasian Creed and so in that sense I thought it was not only unique but truly confessed the more important doctrine of Christmas.  “The word became flesh and dwelled among us.”  The doctrine of the incarnation of our Lord is not something that can be accepted partially.  One either receives it completely or not at all.  Hear again how the Athanasian Creed puts it:

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood; Who, although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God.

I think we are tempted to hear the opening lines here, “it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and think that everlasting salvation requires us to fully understand these precise formulations of dogma.  I think that might be running the ship in reverse.  If we have saving faith, we understand these precise, and perhaps somewhat tedious formulations rather than the other way around.  Luther puts it this way, “This, I repeat, is a peculiar doctrine; it is foreign and strange to reason, and particularly to the worldly-wise. No man can accept it unless his heart has been touched and opened by the Holy Spirit.”[1] You can’t touch it or test it out, but you can believe it.  “The Word became flesh and dwell among us.”

Moses notes in the opening lines of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  John puts it more precisely that in the beginning, before the world was made, the Word existed, that this Word existed with God and was God and that this Word existed from all eternity.  When God spoke the light into existence, He spoke His Word.  John says it like this: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  Only faith can understand this.  The Scriptures assure us that faith alone can grab hold of it.  He who was present at the laying of the foundations of the world, by whom all things came into existence, the infinite, the limitless, the unbounded, became finite, limited and bound to human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary.  “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

But we need not worry that Jesus is some half-God, no.  Again our fathers in the faith have laid down the language for us to being to understand the nature of what happened here.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; he sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead.  The Word made flesh has two natures, divine and human.  From his divine nature, the Word has such divine attributes as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth.  From his human nature, the Word has such human attributes as spatial location, the ability to suffer, the ability to grow, etc.  The Word has both sets of attributes from each of His natures.  In the explanation to Luther’s Catechism we read that Christ had to be true man in order to act in our place under God’s Law and fulfill it for us as well as be able to suffer and die for our guilt under the Law.  Jesus is not some half-god, but rather as Paul writes, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

And so the words make their way into Christmas music.  “Dispels with glorious splendor, the darkness everywhere.  True man, yet very God.”  “Son of God, love’s pure light.  Radiant beams from Thy holy face.”  “Good Christian, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.”  “Highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal, born of a virgin a mortal he comes; Son of the Father now in flesh appearing.”  “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”  They’re not just words, they are justifying words, because they describe Him who comes to dwell among us in our flesh.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Moses pleaded with God that he might see God’s glory again as he once had but he was not permitted.  (Ex. 33).  And yet Jesus came to show his glory that people might see and believe.  John writes, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  (Jn 2:11)

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Behold today the glory of the Lord, the flesh and blood of the Word, given and shed for you.  Behold the glory of the Lord enfleshed for you.  Amen.


[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 22: Luther’s works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:3). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Christmas Eve

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Luke 2:10—11

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon this evening will be an interpretation and explanation of this part of the reading from Luke chapter 2 we just heard read.  “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  This is our text.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

I saw it in the paper last week, a Christian talking about how Christmas was the most important holiday for Christians and I couldn’t help but chuckle at little bit and wonder where this guy was going to church because, Christmas is not the most important holiday in the Christian church.  That may come as a surprise to many people, may even a few of you here tonight, but it’s not.  Christmas runs a fairly distant second place.  Oh, I see how some might think it’s the most important, what with all the gift-giving, the music, the greeting cards, and special meals, the decorations and lights and mistletoe and holly.  But it’s not.  Historically, the first Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the very beginning.  Christians did not begin to celebrate Jesus’ birth until well into fourth century, some 350 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Notice even that the Bible doesn’t record the date Jesus was born but we know exactly when Jesus died and was raised.  Historically and Biblically, the resurrection of Jesus is more important.  But Christmas is important, theologically and the importance of Christmas is in this one line from Luke chapter 2, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Unfortunately these days outside of church, the name Jesus Christ, is more often invoked as a curse than a blessing.  But God’s angel that Christmas night certainly proclaimed this name as “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Because Christ’s name is so often misused, much of the wonder and glory has been stripped away from it.  But in this one word, Christ, are all the promises God made to His people, to Adam and Eve, down through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through to Isaiah and the prophets and up to even John the Baptist.  In this title, “the Christ,” is the entirety of God’s plan to restore his people from their rebellion and sinfulness and rescue from the depths of hell to which they were doomed.  “Christ” is the Greek word for “the anointed one,” “the promised one,” “the Messiah.”  In the OT, those who were called to high office, prophets, priests, and kings, were anointed with oil.  To this day, kings and queens of historically Christian countries are anointed with oil.  This is a physical sign to confirm that they are officially installed in, and declared competent for, their office.  The history of the OT is populated with people who, although anointed, carried out their office imperfectly, even unfaithfully.  And so, God’s people longed for the arrival of the Anointed One, who would not be anointed by men and with oil prepared by human hands, but by God, with the Holy Spirit.  Anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, Jesus could say of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me …” Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary is the Christ of God, his sacred office is Mediator between God and man for all people and but also in this title is the authority and power through which he is able to complete his mission.  The message of the angel is that “the Christ” is born.

We are a cynical and rebellious people.  Like Israel, we have had our fill of leaders and their titles, whether they are known as judge, senator, or president.  So often, titles are just words to us because we have seen the corruption and abuse of those in office.  Although the Bible never uses the phrase, the offices of Christ, we know that in Deut. 18:15, God would raise up a prophet; at Ps. 110:4 the Lord is called “a priest forever”; and at Zech. 6:12–13 the future “Branch” would have “royal honor, and [would] sit and rule upon his throne.”  Through his birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus proved himself to be the true prophet, the true priest, and the true king, who fulfills and restores God’s original order in the world, and also restores meaning and honor to these titles.

As prophet, Christ, was appointed to bring God’s message to his people and to reveal God’s will.  But Christ was not merely a prophet, but the greatest of the prophets. That is, his message cannot be augmented by future prophets. For in him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) especially making known the will and love of the Father. Christ’s prophetic message is to announce the plan of God to rescue his people solely because of His love.  The Christ speaks with a unique authority and so His message is to be believed above all messages.  The role of God’s prophets today is to repeat the Good News of the love of God in his Christ.

As priest, the Christ sacrificed his own life, which provided the payment for sin and accomplished the restoration of the relationship of God with his people.  Christ’s sacrifice at the cross had been announced and foreshadowed for many centuries in the entire sacrificial system under the old covenant, especially in the slaying of the Passover lamb. What Aaron and the other Old Testament priests did symbolically and repeatedly, Christ accomplished fully, once and for all time.  In presenting himself as a sacrifice for human sin, he paid to God the blood-guilt for his own people.  Thus, through His cross, he delivers from guilt and condemnation all who believe in him.  It is a strange priest who offers himself as the sacrifice but Christ as priest is the message of the Scriptures.

Christ is also King.  Like the kings of the Old Testament, Jesus was anointed for his office.  But unlike his predecessors he was not a king among other kings, forced to share power and glory with them.  Rather, he was anointed as the eternal King with unlimited power and an eternal rule of righteousness and justice.  Jesus is the king described by Isaiah the prophet as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah continues, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”  This kingdom of God (or of heaven) is radically different from any earthly kingdom. You can’t recognize it by its outward pomp but is instead established in the hearts of Christ’s followers.  Christ the King rules not by mighty armies but by his word.  And the Christ is not just the king of Israel but the king of all nations.  Christ’s kingship may be disregarded on earth and his glory concealed by scorners who “mock the footsteps of [God’s] anointed” (Ps. 89:51). But his majesty continues to shine in heaven where he reigns as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). And one day he will return on “the clouds of heaven,” exalting believers and humiliating unbelievers (e.g., Matt. 25:31–46). Then the reign of Christ will be ushered in with righteousness, both in heaven and on earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21).  Christ is king.

Prophet, priest and king.  Jesus is the Christ, Christ the Lord.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  This message delivered by the angels to the shepherds can get lost too easily in the wrapping paper and ribbons, in the cynicism and rebellion of our hardened hearts.  The second part of that title, “Christ the Lord,” also stands to be unpacked and better understood by folks today.  “The Lord” is the title for God.  In Greek the word is “kyrious.”  As you might expect, this is not just any old word but rather the word that the translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used for the sacred name of God, Yahweh.  When the angel announces to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” they mean to say that the savior that is born is Yahweh himself.  Yahweh, who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush and led the people of Israel out of Egypt, Yahweh, who conquered the Canaanites and delivered his people into the promised land, Yahweh, has now taken on human flesh, Yahweh has been born of a virgin in Bethlehem.  And this is the sign that Yahweh has been born, “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  The Christ, God’s Messiah, Yahweh himself, your Savior is born for you.

Christ the Lord, prophet, priest and king, is born for you.  And this is the nature of the birth of Christ the Lord that he came to be Savior to those who rebel against his truth and his rule and rescue them from the eternal consequences rebellion, death and hell.  Christ the Lord, the Messiah of God Himself, came to save even those who use his name as a curse and who would prefer the false twinklings of tinsel and the glitter to the true light born into this world.  Christ the Lord is born for you, and yet this news is second class news compared with the Good News that Christ the Lord, the Savior who was born died in your place for your sins, and more than that was in his body raised again so that you now need not fear the eternal consequences of your rebellion against God.  You too will be raised from death and live with Christ the Lord forever.  Christmas may not be the most sacred holy day for Christians but it is the beginning of the completion of God’s plan to rescue us from sin, death and hell.  And for this reason we celebrate tonight and for the next 12 days.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Amen.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent 4

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Matthew 1:18-25

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today concerning the birth of Jesus Christ.

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas is in plain sight just around the corner.  But it doesn’t sound quite like the Christmas story we’re used to.  What we’re used to is the angel announcing to Mary that she will conceive and bear a child.  “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  (Lk 1:26-28,  ESV) St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, does things a little differently.  Here an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.  For years these two accounts have been combined in one big Christmas story stew and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this morning I want to look at this account, from Matthew’s Gospel and highlight a couple of things that I think help us to understand the birth of Jesus into this world a little deeper.

There are essentially three points I want to try to make this morning.  These three points explain the birth of Jesus in this world.  My first point has to do with Joseph and his plan to divorce Mary quietly.  Joseph is described by Matthew as “just”.  Whenever we see this word in the Bible, we need to think beyond mere impartiality or fair-mindedness, although Joseph was certainly both those things.  But this word is used to describe not just fairness but righteousness, even the righteousness of God.  And so we might want to read this as Joseph was a righteous man.  Now let me try to explain where I’m going with this.  Joseph was not just “just” but he was merciful.  Joseph was betrothed to Mary.  And Mary was found to be with child.  He was within his rights to publically humiliate Mary and her family with an open scandal.  According to Deuteronomy 22:13-29, Mary, if pregnant by another man, should have been stoned to death.  But he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  Joseph was merciful.  He was not just “just” but merciful.  But his mercy did not extend to keeping Mary as his wife and raising the child as his own.  But he was not going to have her stoned just divorce her quietly.  And even in this act of apparent kindness, Joseph was about to do the wrong thing, ironically, precisely because he was “just.”  This is where the angel steps in to announce another plan, God’s plan, because that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  How could Joseph know apart from direct revelation that what was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit?  He couldn’t possibly have known.  Joseph did not live in the most technologically sophisticated age, but he knew basic biology and husbandry.  And I think that in many ways this is a model of faith for us too.

From the world’s perspective, what Joseph does is a waste.  He takes an obviously “sinful” woman into his house to be his wife and not only raises her child as his own, but doesn’t even get to enjoy what the world says is the highest form of personal expression, intimate relations with his wife.  It is a waste of his time and resources and a waste of his personhood, his self.  From the world’s perspective, almost everything we do in church is a waste, a waste of time and a waste of resources.  And this attitude creeps into the church too.  You may often hear it from preachers and church officials, “Churches need to be doing things, living out the Gospel,” etc.  Well, yes and no.  I would say that Christians need to be living out the Gospel in all the vocations, the roles where you serve people in your lives, but churches should be about equipping you to do that and the God does that equipping by receiving His gifts of salvation and life and forgiveness.  These are the motivations for Christian life; otherwise we turn into Joseph, a limitedly “just” man, ready to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons.  We are like Joseph; we rarely see the depth of the message of the kingdom of God Jesus came to bring.  Instead we turn it into something else and try to make church less than the extravagant “waste” of time it really is.

No doubt, by now you’ve heard that the atheists have put up a billboard near the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City.  The image is that of the three wise men riding camels and following the star to the manger in Bethlehem.  The caption reads, “You know it’s a myth.  Celebrate reason this season.”[1] It makes perfect sense that the atheists would celebrate reason this season; for them it can only be a myth.  They cannot possibly understand the revelation of God.  We know this.  We confess it as we learned it in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”  If people are to know the ways of God and His Christ, those ways must be revealed to them.  The fact is, humans do not, cannot, possibly understand the mind of God unless He reveals His purposes.  If Joseph had not heard from the angel this message about Mary, he would be no different than the atheists in New York City.  They’re doing what’s reasonable to their minds.  But the truth of God is contrary to ordinary human reason.  This is how we should understand birth of Jesus in world.  The angel revealed God’s truth to Joseph and this revelation of the Holy Spirit through the angel of the Lord creates and sustains faith in Joseph so that he does exactly what the angel tells him to do.  He takes Mary as his wife and he names the baby, “Jesus.”

My second point about how we should understand the birth of Jesus into this world comes in what is revealed to St. Matthew.  As one of the Holy Spirit inspired Good News recorders, Matthew helps us to understand this revelation more fully by citing the prophet Isaiah.  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”  It’s a passage we are familiar with.  It’s a passage we know confirms that Jesus was to be born of a virgin.  It’s a passage that also confirms for us who Jesus is, Immanuel “God is with us.”  God is in our midst.  But this is not necessarily Good News.  Think about it.  Do you want God with you if you by your sins are his enemy?  Do not fear, Immanuel is not just Immanuel, he is Yeshua, he is “the Lord Saves,” for He will save his people from their sins.  Many people think that Isaiah cannot possibly have known that some 750 years in the future, Matthew would make this connection.  On the face of it, it’s not reasonable.  And quite possibly if this little excerpt from Isaiah 7:14 had occurred in a vacuum, we might be tempted to think this is just St. Matthew being pious.  But 7:14 is tied in with the rest of its context.  In fact, it’s tied in with not only the rest of chapter 7, but also chapters 8 and 9 so that the more one reads about this one to be born of a virgin, including the repeated and expanded promises to the Immanuel-Child in Isaiah chapters 8 and 9, the more one realizes that in so far as this prophecy might have had a first and lesser fulfillment in the 8th century BC, it does not reach its most complete fulfillment until the coming of the Child who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  That’s Isaiah chapter 9, folks.  Matthew helps us to understand that this isn’t just about God jumping in, a bit of isolated myth, but that the birth of Jesus into the world has been part of God’s plan for at least 750 years of human history.

Now my third point then is this.  And this is kind of a difficult historical / theological point to make.  But here goes.  By quoting Isaiah here, Matthew is inviting us to connect two people, Joseph and wicked King Ahaz.  You see this prophecy about the virgin giving birth to a son, was a sign that the Lord himself gave to Ahaz, because Ahaz refused to ask of a sign from God in faith.  Where Ahaz failed Israel by his unfaithfulness, Joseph heard and obeyed God and was part of unfolding of God’s plan to save people from their sins through Immanuel-Jesus.  Joseph, then is not like wicked King Ahaz who refuses a sign from God but rather accepts God’s sign by faith.  He does exactly what the angel tells him to do: “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, …he took his wife,” “and you shall call his name Jesus… and he called his name Jesus.”  The next connection I think is fair to make is this.  Ahaz to Joseph, Joseph to you.  Just qas the Lord spoke to Ahaz and to Joseph, He has now spoken to you.  You have heard the truth of God revealed to you.  You have seen the Lord’s own sign, His son, born of a virgin, come to save his people from their sins.

The only thing that remains is this.  Jesus Christ was born into this world.  What do you do with this word?  Do you continue to see this message as the world sees it? Or do you finally reject what the world considers reasonable and listen completely to the truth of God’s revelation through the angel to Joseph, and through the Gospel revealed to Matthew?  Do you continue to live with one foot in the world and still not know what quite to make of the kingdom created by God’s Word?  Or do you finally consent to “waste” your time here being washed and fed and healed and preached to?  Jesus Christ is born.  Immanuel, Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent Midweek

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Note: In Advent for the past couple of years I have been asked to participate in a preaching rotation with other pastors in the area.  It’s one of the great benefits to being in an area of Lutheranism like Catawba County, NC.  As a result I only have to write one sermon which gets preached three times.  So here it is. The audio was recorded when I preached at Augustana on Advent 3.

Hebrews 3:1-6

Num 12:1-16

Click here for MP3 audio

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this evening is the reading from Hebrews we just hear.

To those of us in the Christian Church today, this little section in the Letter to the Hebrews doesn’t sound like much.  In the first chapter we read that Christ is higher than the angels, it would go without saying that Jesus is greater than Moses.  But the early Christians would not have thought this so ho hum.  We’re talking about Moses here.  Moses.  Moses spoke with God face to face and lived.  In classic OT faith, there was no one who was ever closer to God, as the story from Numbers 12 shows us.  Over the thousand years after he died, Moses became greater and great in the minds of Jews so that by the time in between the two Testaments, there were legends written about how he was bodily assumed into heaven.  Literature from this time period we know as the Apocrypha, confirms this.  The beginning of Sirach chapter 45 reads,

1 From Jacob’s descendants the Lord raised up a godly man who won the favor of everyone, loved by God and people alike. This man was Moses, whose very memory is a blessing.2 The Lord made him as glorious as the angels and made his enemies fear him.3 There in Egypt at his command the disaster struck. The Lord made kings hold him in respect. The Lord gave him his commands for his people and showed him the dazzling light of his presence.4 The Lord chose Moses out of the whole human race and consecrated him because of his loyalty and humility.5 He let him hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud, where, face-to-face, he gave him the commandments, the Law that gives life and knowledge, so that Moses might teach the covenant regulations to the Israelites.[1]

We talk quite a bit about the hope for a Messiah at the time of Jesus and the time just before he arrived and one form of Messianic hope was the expectation that a second Moses would come.  This idea was informed by Moses’ own words in Deuteronomy 18.  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— ” and Moses continues in vs. 18, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Dt 18:15, 18)  “In later Judaism, the most important figure in salvation history,” [2] is Moses.  And Moses earned this distinction.  Moses was as faithful as any man before him or since.

There are a few ways that Moses and Jesus are compared here.  Jesus is called apostle and high priest, not typically ways that we refer to him.  We usually refer to the apostles as, well as apostles, and not Jesus.  But here Jesus is referred to as the one who was sent which reminds us of how John the Evangelist refers to Jesus, as the one sent from God.  John does that 17 times in his Gospel.  Even in that most familiar of Bible passages, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  There, of course, “sent” is replaced by “gave” but the sense is the same.  And if we were unsure, we could continue reading into verse 17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And that word “sent” is the word we’re after here, because it’s the Greek apostello, the Greek root for apostle.  So Jesus is apostle but how is he high priest?

We know that priests in the OT offered sacrifices so that the people might have access to the holiness and grace of God but no other NT writer refers to Jesus as high priest.  It was the high priest who sent Jesus off to be killed, right?  “It is better that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (Jn 11:50)  But the titles apostle and high priest go together here and form the core of our confession of faith.  Jesus is sent by the Father in order that the people might have access to God’s holiness and grace.  God appointed Moses to reveal His Law from Sinai.  God instituted the entire Levitical priesthood through Moses.  God appointed Aaron high priest through Moses.  Moses was a faithful leader on God’s behalf to lead Israel in the wilderness but he was not perfect as we all know.  God appointed Jesus to reveal the fullness of His grace.  God redefines worship to be in spirit and truth, not just in a building in Jerusalem.  Jesus surpasses Moses as the faithful leader in the Divine Service of God and in life.  Jesus is the High Priest and Apostle who fully reveals God’s will and fulfills both testaments.

The next way that Jesus surpasses Moses is described by a metaphor of a house and a builder of a house.  The builder is worthy of more honor than the building he built and so it is with Jesus and Moses.  Dr. Luther said, “Whatever Moses ordered at God’s command he did only in view of the Christ who was to come. Thus the people were prepared for the personal rule of Christ, who was to dwell among them as in His own house…  Moses and the priesthood count for nothing, compared with Christ.  They are under obligation; and since He is the true Lord, they must hand over the keys to Him and serve Him.  (AE 13:305).  Jesus is greater than Moses because Jesus is the creator and Moses is the creature.

The keyword in this reading is household; it provides the whole framework by which the author will compare Jesus and Moses.  What is a household?  We would say it’s all the people who live in that house.  At the time of the writing of this letter, it would be the family, and not just the nuclear family but the extended family along with household servants, even for people of relatively simple means.  In Israel, even non-Israelite servants and slaves and their children, would be considered part of the household.  And this was important because all the members of a Israelite household, even those non-Israelite slaves, participated in the religious feasts like Passover, and ate of the peace offerings from the altar at the tabernacle.  The idea of the household of God then expands the normal household and shows God as Father of the family and head of the household.  He was a faithful servant in the household of God, more faithful than anyone you could name.  Before Jesus, there was no one greater than Moses.  That’s why this passage of the Letter to the Hebrews is so important for us.  Because even though Moses was a faithful, even the most faithful servant of God’s household, Jesus is the faithful Son—and the son always outranks the servant in the household.  In this household Moses was faithful as a servant in the household, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.

And where are we?  We are God’s house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.  Jesus is the faithful Son.  Holding fast to our confidence in everything He has accomplished for us on the cross, we can be sure that we will share in the glory God has prepared for us.  Don’t rely on your faithfulness but only on the faithfulness of God.  Only God is holy and righteous.  But you freely share in God’s holiness and grace on account of Christ the apostle and high priest.  God is calling you to glory.  He will fill you with His faithfulness.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Preaching is an act of faith as well as an act of faithfulness

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been preaching for roughly 15 years now.  I don’t think I’m a particularly bad preacher nor do I think I’m remarkably great.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I guess I would honestly rate myself on average somewhere in the 7.5 region.  I don’t think Christianity values preaching as much as we used to probably because there is so much of the mediocre variety, and the just good enough.  I’ve had a few sermons that just didn’t work.  More often, I’ve had a few that were just the wrong sermon for the wrong congregation.  But, by and large, I think most of the time my listeners have some idea of what I’m saying and why and where I might be going with that idea.  That’s a big deal in sermonizing.  People don’t like getting lost in the sermon.  It makes them feel isolated and that’s typically not the goal of the preacher.

Preaching is a lot like farming, if you take it to mean that it can often take years to see anything begin to happen from the act of sowing.  When farmers sow their seed, it takes a week, maybe two to see those seedlings pop up and start to grow.  The plants bear fruit by the end of the season.  It seems like a long time, but its still time measured in days.  Preaching rarely gives a preacher a similar experience.

Preaching often returns fruit in the course of seasons, but more often it happens over the course of lifetimes.  That’s a long time to wait to see if the seed bears fruit.  Oh, sure, people are often nice when they shake hands, “Nice sermon pastor.”  I’m almost always tempted to ask, “What was nice about it?”  But I usually just smile and say, “Thank you.”  Or, “I’m glad.”  People will often mention to me the sermons of previous pastors.  The human side of me can’t help but wonder if I measure up and whether they will remember in thirty years something I said in a sermon one night.  Of course, not so much that I said something they remember but the substance of what was said and that that word directed them to a clearer understanding of what Jesus has done for them at the cross.

I’ve preached two sermons in the recent week.  One was preached three times in an Advent preaching rotation and the other was the one for this past Sunday.  At the other two congregations, people were obligatorily nice about having me there, even genuinely so.  Several, the vast majority even, said they appreciated the message.  My congregation was a little different.  I had one kind and positive comment.  That’s pretty typical.  At my congregation, even my wife doesn’t say much except when prompted.  This blog post has little to do with them and me, in particular, as much as it has to do with us, both preachers and listeners, in general.

All of that to set up the question I offer here.  How many preachers actually enter the pulpit expecting their words to have an effect on their hearers?  It’s easy to simply fulfill expectations and preach a good sermon.  It’s much harder to preach a sermon that we actually hope will change our listeners lives.  And therefore, because I think most preachers shy away from the task, most listeners have ceased to expect to be changed by the preached Word.  Rather, they expect to be perhaps informed, maybe motivated, but for sure entertained, (and for heaven’s sake, for not any longer than 15 minutes! actually not at my congregation but I think the rule holds in general) but definitely not changed.

But the word of God is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.  How can it not change us?  How can we be so hard as to dull the sharp sword of God’s Word?

John the Baptist came preaching the kingdom of heaven.  He preached with the mouth of a prophet what could only be seen with the eyes of faith.  Jesus promises to be active in the preaching of the Word.  As listeners we need to expect to hear Him speak to us and expect to be changed by His Word.

As preachers, we need to expect the same thing.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent 3

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Matthew 11:2-15

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today.

John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, was in King Herod’s prison.  Like a good prophet, he had called Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias, adulterous.  King Herod, always eager to look the part of a good Jewish King could not afford to have the bad PR from John and so, like every tyrant before and after him, Herod had John arrested.  It didn’t look good for John.  After preaching that the coming one was coming, that his winnowing fork was in his hand, that the axe was already laid at the root of the unfruitful tree, that the kingdom of heaven had arrived, here he was in the dungeon of an illegitimate and unfaithful king facing what he supposed would be death.  This is the situation that causes John to send his disciples to see Jesus and ask him, “Are you the coming one, or shall we look for another?”  Now John had already pointed to Jesus and said, “behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” so it’s hard to imagine that John asks this question of Jesus for his own sake.  But everything in the reading tells us this is the case.  John needed to know for absolute certainty, and for the sake of his disciples, that it was Jesus who was doing all the deeds of the Christ, the Messianic deeds, and that therefore Jesus was the coming one, the Messiah, even as he sat as a prisoner in Herod’s dungeon.

John’s question is not all that hard for us to understand because it’s the same question that creeps into our minds whenever we face overwhelming obstacles in life.  We’re not just talking about illness, but blindness and deafness and lameness for no other reason than you lost some genetic lottery.  Not just imprisonment, but unjust imprisonment and facing the death penalty because you happened to fit the description of the killer.  Not just death, but the death of good people or the death of your child, the unfair deaths, deaths because of the bad decisions of senior military leaders, deaths .  Not just poverty in physical possessions but true spiritual poverty, the lack of being able to see the day when all these obstacles will be overcome and the new day will dawn with no more crying or sadness or weakness or pain or sorrow.         So very often it does not look like the kingdom of heaven John heralded and the kingdom Jesus brought has come.  Is Jesus the coming one, or should we look for another, or even, is there even a coming one, is there a Messiah.  I think this is the toughest temptation for us all in these times.  I think we understand John’s question all too well.

And yet John asked his question of Jesus because he had heard about the deeds of the Christ.  We’re in chapter 11.  So just look back in the previous chapters and see what Jesus has done.  In chapter 9 alone, Jesus healed the paralyzed man lying on a mat, he healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years, he raised a daughter of a ruler back to life, he had healed two blind men by touching their eyes and he healed a man unable to speak by casting out the demon that was in him.  Going back into chapter 8 Jesus cleansed a leper by simply saying, “Be clean.”  He healed the servant of a Roman solider with a word.  He healed many others from various diseases including Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever as well as casting the demons out of two other men with the word, “Go.”  These are the things the Messiah was prophesied that he would do.  From Isaiah chapter 35, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Isa 35:5–6)  Jesus was doing the deeds of the Messiah.  It was irrefutable; Jesus was the Messiah of God.

And so Jesus’ answer to John’s question is the strongest possible, “Yes!”  What Jesus does are the long-expected signs of renewal and restoral in Israel.  God is at work, establishing the new age of salvation.  All the OT promises are fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry; He is the coming one.  And yet, Jesus asks John to accept in faith a strange paradox.  The reign of God has come but the power of evil men remains strong and Christ will not overthrow that evil—yet.  God has come to rule and restore through Jesus and through Jesus alone, but only God can reveal to people the truth of Jesus’ identity and many will fall into unbelief because of Jesus and His hidden ways of revealing God’s reign.  And so it is that many do believe.  What kind of God allows children to suffer at the hands of evil parents?  What kind of God allows people to be born blind and deaf and lame?  What kind of God allows His followers to do all manner of evil in His name?  What kind of God allows the rich and the powerful and the wicked to rule without rebuke?  I can’t believe in such a wimp of a God, they say.  I much prefer Allah who wants to kill the unbelievers, they say.  Or they say, “I can get by very well without your God, or any god for that matter, thank you very much.”  They cannot accept by faith what Jesus asks of John and his disciples and what Jesus asks of us today, that the reign of God has come but the power of evil men remains strong and Christ will not overthrow that evil—not yet.

Jesus knows how hard this is for John and for us and says, “Blessed is the one who is not caused to stumble because of me!”  And so it is that to those who are poor in spirit, to John and to us, Jesus preaches the truly Good News.  “Yes, I am the coming one.  I have come and I bring with me the kingdom of heaven.  I reign.  I give the blind their sight, I make the lame walk, I make lepers clean again, I make the deaf able to hear, I raise the dead, I preach good news to the poor.  Yes, I have already done these things.  I am bringing the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, I am the coming one, I am Messiah.  I know about the unfairness you are experiencing.  I have experienced it.  I know of the death you face.  I faced it.  I know of the sorrow over loved ones lost to death.  I too have wept.  But even as I have already done these signs of the Messiah, these deeds of the Christ, I have conquered death so that it no longer has any power.  I am raised to eternal life just as you shall be.  I have already done it and I will bring it to completion.  Blessed are you.”  Just hearing it we are filled with hope and life and salvation.  And we rejoice in this paradox of salvation already won and not yet fully experienced.  We know that in Jesus Christ, God is with us.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent Evening Prayer

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Jesus and Moses – Hebrews 3:1-6

Num 12:1-16

Hebrews 3:1-19

 

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (ESV)

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this evening is the reading from Hebrews we just hear.

To those of us in the Christian Church today, this little section in the Letter to the Hebrews doesn’t sound like much.  In the first chapter we read that Christ is higher than the angels, it would go without saying that Jesus is greater than Moses.  But the early Christians would not have thought this so ho hum.  We’re talking about Moses here.  Moses.  Moses spoke with God face to face and lived.  In classic OT faith, there was no one who was ever closer to God, as the story from Numbers 12 shows us.  Over the thousand years after he died, Moses became greater and great in the minds of Jews so that by the time in between the two Testaments, there were legends written about how he was bodily assumed into heaven.  Literature from this time period we know as the Apocrypha, confirms this.  The beginning of Sirach chapter 45 reads,

1 From Jacob’s descendants the Lord raised up a godly man who won the favor of everyone, loved by God and people alike. This man was Moses, whose very memory is a blessing.2 The Lord made him as glorious as the angels and made his enemies fear him.3 There in Egypt at his command the disaster struck. The Lord made kings hold him in respect. The Lord gave him his commands for his people and showed him the dazzling light of his presence.4 The Lord chose Moses out of the whole human race and consecrated him because of his loyalty and humility.5 He let him hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud, where, face-to-face, he gave him the commandments, the Law that gives life and knowledge, so that Moses might teach the covenant regulations to the Israelites.[1]

We talk quite a bit about the hope for a Messiah at the time of Jesus and the time just before he arrived and one form of Messianic hope was the expectation that a second Moses would come.  This idea was informed by Moses’ own words in Deuteronomy 18.  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— ” and Moses continues in vs. 18, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Dt 18:15, 18)  “In later Judaism, the most important figure in salvation history,” [2] is Moses.  And Moses earned this distinction.  Moses was as faithful as any man before him or since.

There are a few ways that Moses and Jesus are compared here.  Jesus is called apostle and high priest, not typically ways that we refer to him.  We usually refer to the apostles as, well as apostles, and not Jesus.  But here Jesus is referred to as the one who was sent which reminds us of how John the Evangelist refers to Jesus, as the one sent from God.  John does that 17 times in his Gospel.  Even in that most familiar of Bible passages, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  There, of course, “sent” is replaced by “gave” but the sense is the same.  And if we were unsure, we could continue reading into verse 17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And that word “sent” is the word we’re after here, because it’s the Greek apostello, the Greek root for apostle.  So Jesus is apostle but how is he high priest?

We know that priests in the OT offered sacrifices so that the people might have access to the holiness and grace of God but no other NT writer refers to Jesus as high priest.  It was the high priest who sent Jesus off to be killed, right?  “It is better that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (Jn 11:50)  But the titles apostle and high priest go together here and form the core of our confession of faith.  Jesus is sent by the Father in order that the people might have access to God’s holiness and grace.  God appointed Moses to reveal His Law from Sinai.  God instituted the entire Levitical priesthood through Moses.  God appointed Aaron high priest through Moses.  Moses was a faithful leader on God’s behalf to lead Israel in the wilderness but he was not perfect as we all know.  God appointed Jesus to reveal the fullness of His grace.  God redefines worship to be in spirit and truth, not just in a building in Jerusalem.  Jesus surpasses Moses as the faithful leader in the Divine Service of God and in life.  Jesus is the High Priest and Apostle who fully reveals God’s will and fulfills both testaments.

The next way that Jesus surpasses Moses is described by a metaphor of a house and a builder of a house.  The builder is worthy of more honor than the building he built and so it is with Jesus and Moses.  Dr. Luther said, “Whatever Moses ordered at God’s command he did only in view of the Christ who was to come. Thus the people were prepared for the personal rule of Christ, who was to dwell among them as in His own house…  Moses and the priesthood count for nothing, compared with Christ.  They are under obligation; and since He is the true Lord, they must hand over the keys to Him and serve Him.  (AE 13:305).  Jesus is greater than Moses because Jesus is the creator and Moses is the creature.

The keyword in this reading is household; it provides the whole framework by which the author will compare Jesus and Moses.  What is a household?  We would say it’s all the people who live in that house.  At the time of the writing of this letter, it would be the family, and not just the nuclear family but the extended family along with household servants, even for people of relatively simple means.  In Israel, even non-Israelite servants and slaves and their children, would be considered part of the household.  And this was important because all the members of a Israelite household, even those non-Israelite slaves, participated in the religious feasts like Passover, and ate of the peace offerings from the altar at the tabernacle.  The idea of the household of God then expands the normal household and shows God as Father of the family and head of the household.  He was a faithful servant in the household of God, more faithful than anyone you could name.  Before Jesus, there was no one greater than Moses.  That’s why this passage of the Letter to the Hebrews is so important for us.  Because even though Moses was a faithful, even the most faithful servant of God’s household, Jesus is the faithful Son—and the son always outranks the servant in the household.  In this household Moses was faithful as a servant in the household, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.

And where are we?  We are God’s house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.  Jesus is the faithful Son.  Holding fast to our confidence in everything He has accomplished for us on the cross, we can be sure that we will share in the glory God has prepared for us.  Don’t rely on your faithfulness but only on the faithfulness of God.  Only God is holy and righteous.  But you freely share in God’s holiness and grace on account of Christ the apostle and high priest.  God is calling you to glory.  He will fill you with His faithfulness.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized