Sunday, August 21, 2011

Joshua 23 - "The LORD Fights For You"



Theme: THE LORD FIGHTS FOR YOU
- The war is won
- Our battles continue

Joshua 23 - Now it came to pass, a long time after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. 2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: "I am old, advanced in age. 3 "You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you. 4 "See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward. 5 "And the LORD your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you. 6 "Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 "and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, 8 "but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. 9 "For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. 10 "One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. 11 "Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. 12 "Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations -- these that remain among you -- and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, 13 "know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. 14 " Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. 15 "Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. 16 "When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you."



Dear fellow soldiers of the cross, fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
The current War on Terror has changed how we view war, hasn’t it. In most wars of the past, our nation had clear cut enemies. They wore a particular uniform, fought as a unit, and were usually backed by a nation or government. We knew when the war came to an end because a treaty of some sort was usually signed, the fighting ended, and our soldiers came home. But our current War on Terror knows no such boundaries. The War on Terror is more a war against an ideology than a war against a nation. Those who hold the ideology of so-called Muslim extremists want to kill or convert anyone who is an infidel, or a non-Muslim. They don’t wear a uniform or pledge allegiance to a certain country, but the abide by a certain way of thinking and religious view.

Because of the nature of the War on Terror, there may never be a clear-cut end. We may be winning the war, but that doesn’t mean our battles against terrorists are over. Take Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance. We have defeated both former governments in those nations and new governments are now in place. I think we could say we won those wars. Yet there are battles that continue on against insurgents. Just over two weeks ago, 30 U.S. soldiers were killed when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. While the war may be won, the battles wage on.

As we come to the closing chapters of our series on Joshua, we hear this morning General Joshua’s farewell address to the people of Israel. As Joshua speaks to the leaders of Israel, they face a similar situation. The war was won. Israel now occupied Canaan. Joshua reminds them that this was because the LORD fought for them. Though the war was won, there were still battles that remained ahead of them. Battles in which they would be victorious only if the LORD fought for them. We find ourselves in the same position. Jesus fought for us and won the war, yet there are battles that remain. Battles in which we will be victorious only if the LORD fights for us. With that let us hear the Word of God recorded in Joshua chapter 23 -

So far the Word of God. And this is God’s Word. Each word of it was breathed into the holy writer by God the Holy Spirit Himself. Because it is from God Himself, it is truth. And because it is truth we can base your life and eternal salvation on it. Therefore we pray, “Lord, sanctify us by Your truth, Your word is truth.” Amen.

THE WAR IS WON
It is hard to imagine all the things that Joshua had seen the LORD do in his lifetime. He started out as a slave in Egypt, he witnessed the plagues and the Passover, he crossed the Red Sea on dry land, he ate the manna and drank water from a rock, he saw the rebellion in the wilderness, when Moses died he took over leading Israel, he led Israel across the Jordan River on dry ground, he saw the miraculous defeat of Jericho, he saw the sun stand still, and he had seen Israel take possession of the Promised Land of Canaan. Now in Joshua 23, the aged General is 110 years old and about to die. He could now say with Israel, “You know in your hearts and in your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you, and not one word of them has failed.” Joshua and his audience knew that everything the LORD had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had come to pass in their generation, just as the LORD had promised.

As Joshua gives his farewell speech he reminds the Children of Israel that they were able to take possession of the Promised Land only because the LORD fought for them. Verse 3, “You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you.” Israel was not victorious in this war because they were a military super power. In many of their battles they were out numbered and out gunned. Yet they had the Super Power of Almighty God fighting for them. “For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day.” The Israelites were victorious in their war against the Canaanites only because it was the LORD who fought for them.

What the LORD did for the Children of Israel is a picture of what the LORD has done for us. Our war was not against “great and strong nations” like the Children of Israel faced. No, the enemies trying to keep us from entering the Promised Land of heaven were much more sinister and eternally destructive than the Hittites and Amorites.

One of the mighty enemies that was barring us from the Promised Land of heaven was our own sin. The sin we inherited from our parents. We were naturally sinful and enemies of God. Furthermore, when tempted to disobey, we have rebelled against the will of God time and time again.

Since we lost the war against sin ourselves, God sent His Champion, His own beloved Son Jesus to win the war against sin for us. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15b) Jesus fought every sin that we are faced with. In the wilderness He was tempted with the sins of pride, greed, and idolatry. Yet in each case He defeated those temptations. He slew those temptations with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. His death on the cross was sacrifice to remove the debt of our sin. Jesus fought for us and won the war against sin.

Another one of our great enemies is death. We are powerless against death. We can do nothing to stop it or overcome it. Jesus also fought death for us. This enemy He charged head on when laid down His life on the cross. There Jesus died - just as Joshua died. Just like Joshua, He breathed His last and gave up the ghost. Like Joshua, the body of Jesus was laid in a tomb. But unlike Joshua, Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead three days later. And this victory God gives to us as well. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:57)

And yet there still remained one enemy who is so crafty and so cunning, that he even led Adam and Eve in their state of perfection and holiness to sin against God and disobey His commandment. The crafty serpent who leads the whole world astray, wanted to lead us to spend an eternity in hell with him. So he fought against us to keep us out of the Promised Land of heaven with his temptations.

Because we were unable to win against the temptations of the devil, Jesus fought Him for us. Jesus is the One the LORD promised to Adam and Eve who would give a fatal head-blow to the devil while suffering only a bruised heel. Again we read in Hebrews that by His death on the cross Jesus “might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb 2:14b-15) Jesus fought the devil for us and won. We know He won because Jesus was not confined to the tomb, but Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus fights for us and has won the war against sin, death, and the devil.

OUR BATTLES CONTINUE
You can imagine the temptation for the Israelites, can’t you. They got what they wanted, they inherited the promised land, now it was time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the spoils of victory. Yet in his farewell address, General Joshua reminds them that while the war is won, the battles must continue. There were still heathen nations living among them, most notably the Philistines. The battles must continue to be faithful to the LORD their God, His commandments, drive out those heathen nations, and have nothing to do with their false gods.

Joshua reminds them of the same. “Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, and lest you go (or associate) among these nations, these who remain among you.” Joshua then commands them not to have anything to do with their false gods, but remain loyal and faithful to the LORD their God - to love Him above everything else.

Joshua warns them of what will happen if they were to intermarry with the heathen and join in the worship of their false gods, verse 13, “know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you...” Joshua goes on in verse 15, “Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.” Indeed, these battles would prove to be much more difficult for the Children of Israel to win than the battle against Jericho. Their only hope for victory in these on going spiritual battles is if the LORD continued to fight for them and give them the victory.

We face some of the same battles that Israel faced, don’t we. We know all that Jesus has done to win the victory for us. We know our sins are forgiven through His death and resurrection. We know His resurrection from the dead means that we will rise too. And we know that in Christ the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. And sometimes knowing we have all these spiritual blessings in Christ we think the battle is over. We think that it no longer matters what we do or say, we are forgiven and that we are going to heaven no matter what.

Well, to the sin-troubled conscience the cross of Christ is great comfort and assurance. Yet when we feel comfortable in our sins and comfortable with our relationship with the unbelieving world around us, we must remember these words of Joshua. The LORD who is faithful in delivering the good things He has promised us, is also faithful in delivering the harmful threats to those who despise Him and His Word.

Though the war is won, we must battle on against the temptations of our sinful flesh and the temptations of the world around us. The world has a way of making its sinful behavior look appealing. As though it is fun and if we don’t join in, we are missing out. Our sinful flesh wants to go right along with it. If left to ourselves, we will lose that battle every time. But thanks be to God that He continues to fight for us. He has given us His Holy Spirit which wars against our old Adam. And through Jesus Christ our Lord, God delivers us from our this body of death. Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that has spoken to us in His Word. Take diligent heed, as Joshua says, to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God who fights for you.

It is a rather confusing situation we have in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war is largely won, but the battles continue. But in that, we are reminded of our own spiritual condition. Jesus fights for us and has won the war. He has given us the victory over sin, death, and the devil. He gives us the Promised Land of heaven as His free gift of grace. Yet our daily battles against sin still continue. Daily battles which can only be won if Jesus continues to fight for us. Therefore let us continue hold fast to the LORD our God who fights for us, as we have done to this day. Amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Joshua 6 - "Jericho: A Preview of the End"



Theme: JERICHO: A PREVIEW OF THE END
- God’s “foolish” plan of victory
- Utter destruction
- Salvation for God’s precious possessions

Joshua 6
- Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua: "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. 3 "You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. 4 "And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 "It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him."
12 And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 Then seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually and blew with the trumpets. And the armed men went before them. But the rear guard came after the ark of the LORD, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets. 14 And the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. So they did six days. 15 But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times. 16 And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: "Shout, for the LORD has given you the city! 17 "Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 "And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19 "But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD." 20 So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. 22 But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, "Go into the harlot's house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her." 23 And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel. 24 But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. 25 And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father's household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.


Dear fellow sinners made righteous in the blood of the Lamb, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed,
If you’ve rented DVD movie releases recently you’ve probably noticed a clever scheme that the movie makers have come up with recently. It used to be that when you rented a DVD, if you didn’t want to watch all the previews at the beginning of the movie you could just press the “SKIP” button to skip through them. The producers of DVD’s must have realized that people weren’t watching their previews any more, so many have programed DVD’s such that you HAVE to watch the previews.

Why is that? Why do movie makers want you to watch previews of other movies before you watch the movie you paid to see? Well, they are hoping that their previews will get your interest and you will want to give them more of your money in the future so you can see their movie. Unfortunately, many of us have had the sad experience of the movie preview being better than the movie itself!

Throughout Scripture, God gives us previews of things that are to come. The book of Revelation is a preview of things that would happen to the church throughout the centuries. While there are some scary images in the book of Revelation, in the end the Lamb - Jesus - wins. In our on going series from the book of Joshua, we find another preview as we hear about the victory and destruction of Jericho. With Jericho we find a preview of the End of the World. As we examine this preview we will be reminded of God’s “foolish” plan of victory, the utter destruction that will come at the End, and the salvation of God’s precious possessions.

GOD’S “FOOLISH” PLAN OF VICTORY
The first preview of the end we see with Jericho is God’s “foolish” plan of victory. Is it odd to hear of anything God does as being “foolish,” isn’t it? When we speak of the plans of God, we usually speak of His infinite wisdom - and for good reason! He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He created all the laws of physics, the universe and the seasons. He created us! We are fearfully and wonderfully made! How could we, the creature, ever think of describing anything our Creator does as being “foolish”?!

Yet when you hear of the battle plans the LORD has drawn up for an attack on Jericho, it sounds foolish. Imagine being a soldier in the army, about to attack your first city and hearing these battle plans: have the army march around the city walls of Jericho once every day for six days, bring the ark of the covenant with you, say nothing - let the only sound be that of the seven ram’s horns blown by the seven priests. On the seventh day, march around the city walls seven times, again saying nothing - the only sound coming from their marching feet and the seven ram’s horns being blown by the seven priests. But on the seventh time around the city walls on the seventh day, when the people hear the rams horns sound, then shout with a great shout. Then, the LORD said, “the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.” (v.5)

This sounds like a foolish battle plan, doesn’t it? If our commander in chief sent our soldiers into battle with a ram’s horn and bible, giving them the same directions he would probably be impeached. Yet what do we find happening in our text? God says it, General Joshua relays the order to the army of Israel and the army follows these “foolish” plans. The result? Verse 20, “And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.” God miraculously caused the walls of the city to fall flat and He gave the Children of Israel the victory over Jericho.

For those who have a child-like faith in the promise of God, such a battle plan does not sound foolish at all. We don’t hear of anyone questioning Joshua’s orders. In fact, for six days the people march silently around Jericho. They had faith in the so-called “foolish” plan of God and God gave them the victory. In Hebrews 11:30 we read, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.”

In this preview of the end we are reminded of God’s “foolish” plan of victory for us. Paul writes to the Corinthians that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) The Gospel, the good news about Jesus dying on a cursed cross to save sinners, is just as foolish to the unbeliever as trying to defeat a city by shouting at its walls. The unbeliever thinks it is foolish to put your trust in someone who died 2000 years ago to be saved. The unbeliever thinks it is foolish that you cannot do anything to save yourself, that only God can save you and give you the victory.

But to you who have been brought to faith, the message of the cross is not a foolish plan of victory, it is your only hope. The Gospel is the power of God to rescue you from your sins. By faith you know that you can do nothing to save yourself your sins, only God can do that. And you rejoice in this “foolish” plan, because it means God gives you the victory in Jesus Christ and in the End will grant you eternal life as His free gift through Jesus. Just as He gave the Children of Israel the victory over Jericho through His “foolish” plan.

UTTER DESTRUCTION
The next preview we have of the End we find is what happened to that wicked city of Jericho. Once the walls came tumbling down, we read in verse 21 that “the utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” And verse 24, “They burned the city and all that was in it with fire.” To our politically correct ears, this is a little unsettling to hear. Everyone in the city of Jericho is utterly destroyed? Men and women, young and old? Everything but those precious possessions which we will talk about shortly, was destroyed?

Make no mistake about it, this was a judgment from God against the people of Jericho. Jericho, which means something like “moon god,” was a center of pagan worship for many false gods. It is believed that their pagan worship involved child sacrifices and ritual prostitution. In His infinite wisdom He had determined their time of grace had come to an end, just as He determines the end of the time of grace for all people - young and old alike.

The utter destruction of Jericho is a preview of the utter destruction of the world that will take place at the End of the World. We heard Peter remind us in our New Testament Lesson (2 Pt 3:10) that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will separate the believers from the unbelievers. The believers will be welcomed to the inheritance of grace which Jesus has prepared for them in heaven, while the unbelievers will be condemned to an eternal death in the fires of hell.

Then, Peter tells us that this world and everything in it will be utterly destroyed. EVERYTHING will melt with a fervent heat. The tall sky-scrapers, the family farm, the mountains - everything will be burned up. Peter says that if such an utter destruction awaits this world and everything in it, “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (11-12) We work hard not to accumulate stuff for ourselves (stuff that will be utterly destroyed), but to glorify the God who saved us. So in the utter destruction of Jericho we see a preview of the End of the World and remind ourselves that all our possessions will be destroyed on the Last Day.

SALVATION FOR GOD’S PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS
Not everything was utterly destroyed in Jericho, though, was it? In verse 19 we read that the silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to be collected from the city and put in the LORD’s treasury - as a sort of offering to the LORD. Over 400 years later, these items would later be used by Solomon in the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. These precious possessions were to be rescued from the destruction of Jericho.

But that was not the only thing that was rescued from the destruction. Verse 17, “Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.” There was something in Jericho that was even more precious to the LORD than that silver and gold - there were believing souls. Believing souls that had earlier protected the Israelite spies, when they were spying out Jericho. Believing Rahab was saved from the destruction of Jericho, along with her family. After being rescued Rahab lived among the Israelites, even going on to marry an Israelite man. Rahab was the great-great grandmother of King David. And from the descendants of Rahab would eventually come our Savior, Jesus.

This too is a preview of the End of the World. This precious possession was saved from the utter destruction of Jericho. We read in Hebrews 11, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” (v.31) Rahab was a believer. We see her faith in her works, that she received those Israelite spies with peace and protected them from the soldiers of Jericho. God saved this precious possession, one of His believers, from the utter destruction.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we too have been rescued from the utter destruction on the last day and the eternal destruction of hell. We are just as undeserving as Rahab. Remember, she was a prostitute, a woman of sin. Yet God called her to repentance and faith in Him. Her sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake. It is the same with us! We are men and women of sin. God has called us to repentance - to turn away from those sins - and turn to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus suffered the wrath of God for the sins of Rahab and for the sins of each one of us. He did this to rescue us from the utter destruction at the End of the World. God has called us out from the destruction and made us His people, just as He did with Rahab the prostitute. This is salvation by grace - undeserved salvation - for Jesus’ sake!

So when we read Joshua chapter 6 and hear about the destruction of Jericho, we see a preview of the End of the World. We see what the world would call a “foolish” plan of victory through the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. We see the utter destruction of Jericho and we are reminded of the utter destruction that awaits this world. And we see how God saved His precious possessions from destruction, just as through faith in Jesus we are His own precious possessions for whom His Son died and are rescued from the destruction to come. May God ever keep us steadfast in this faith unto the end and by His eternal grace, give us that crown of life in the end. All praise be to our Savior God! Amen!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Joshua 4 - "Memorial Stones"


SERMON AUDIO
BULLETIN

Theme: MEMORIAL STONES
- Remind us of the gracious work of God
- Used to teach our children
- Require strong shoulders

Joshua 4
- And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying: 2 "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, 3 "and command them, saying, 'Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.' " 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them: "Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, 6 "that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' 7 "Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever." 8 And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the LORD had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. 10 So the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua; and the people hurried and crossed over. 11 Then it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over, that the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed over in the presence of the people. 12 And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them. 13 About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life. 15 Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, 16 "Command the priests who bear the ark of the Testimony to come up from the Jordan." 17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan." 18 And it came to pass, when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet touched the dry land, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before. 19 Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. 21 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' 22 "then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land'; 23 "for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, 24 "that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus who have crossed over from death to life in Him,
Sometimes I wonder what I would do without lists and a calendar. I have a hard time remembering dates and schedules - even important things! I can easily imagine forgetting some, if I did not write it down. I imagine each of you can identify with such forgetfulness. Maybe it’s not a calendar for you, maybe its sticky notes, or a string around your finger. Nonetheless, sin has affected our memories and we forget many things - even important things - in our lives.

It is with this in mind that we return to our series from the book of Joshua. Chapter four is kind of a replay of chapter three, with a more in-depth look at the Jordan crossing. In chapter three we were left wondering why one man from each of the twelve tribes were selected before the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan. But here in chapter four our questions are answered. These twelve men were selected to haul stones from the dry riverbed of the Jordan to its western shores where they would erect a memorial. As we examine these memorial stones, let us learn to take advantages of similar memorials to the LORD in our midst as teaching tools for our children. As we do, we will be reminded that the instruction of our youth requires strong shoulders. May the Lord bless us as we study His Word.

REMIND US OF THE GRACIOUS WORK OF GOD
Unless you were personally involved in it yourself, events of the past are very easy to forget. One way to remember events of the past is to memorialize them. If you visit our nation’s capital you will see that there are endless memorials around the Capital Mall. Most prominent are the Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials. All of these stone monuments were erected to remind people about these men and what they did as leaders of our country.

Last week we heard how the LORD safely guided the Children of Israel into the promised land of Canaan. Though the Jordan River was at flood stage, this was no obstacle for the LORD to fulfill His promise and land the people safely on Canaan’s side. The almighty Creator of heaven and earth held back the waters of the Jordan and dried up the riverbed, so His people could cross safely.

This was an amazing work of the LORD. An event which that generation would not soon forget. But the LORD knows how easily we tend to forget from one generation to the next. So He commanded Joshua to tell the twelve men, “Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.” Those twelve stones would then be used to build a lasting memorial of the gracious work of the LORD in bringing them safely across the Jordan on dry ground.

Indeed, how easily we forget things - even important things! Could there be anything more important in our lives than our eternal salvation? Just as He brought the Children of Israel safely over into Canaan, so He has promised to bring us safely over to eternal life in heaven. But this is only possibly because of the cross of Jesus Christ. If Jesus had not suffered and died on the cross, we would still be responsible for our sins. If the eternal, almighty Son of God had not been born of the virgin Mary, if He had not taken on flesh and blood, He could not have died for our sins. If the Son of God did not do it, there would have been no sacrifice great enough to save our souls from the eternal fires of hell. But thanks be to God, as John writes that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

This is the gracious work of God to rescue us from our own sins. We did nothing to deserve it, God did it all for us out of His undeserved love. And we do not want to forget the gracious work of God, so we too set up sorts of memorial stones. Do you have memorial stones in your home which remind you of the gracious work of God? Sure you do! Some of you may even be wearing one today. Maybe they are not a pile of stones, such as was erected at the Jordan, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all sorts of memorial stones at your homes. Think of the number of crosses you have in your home! The cross is a reminder of the cost of your salvation and the love of God for you. It was on a cross that the Son of God was sacrificed to give us eternal life. It was on the cross of Christ that we were redeemed unto God.

We have all sorts of “memorial stones,” don’t we. When our Voter’s set up the quarterly calendars, we speak of certain services that are “set in stone.” We have special services in December to mark the birth of our Savior. We have special services in the Spring to remind ourselves of the cost of our salvation and the life that Jesus won for us. We have the baptismal font at the front of church to remind us of the gracious work of God in your baptism. How in we were baptized into Christ, your sins were washed away, and you were adopted into God’s family. We have candles on the altar ro remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. We have the altar to remind us of Jesus as the Lamb of God who was sacrificed on the altar of the cross for our sins. We have a picture of Jesus saving sinking Peter, even as He rescued when we were sinking in our sins.

We even celebrate a memorial meal, don’t we? When we celebrate Lord’s Supper we receive the very body and blood of our Savior Jesus in, with, and under the earthly elements bread and wine. His body and blood which was given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. When Jesus instituted this sacrament He also said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Lk 22:19) In receiving Lord’s Supper we are not only receiving spiritual blessings, but we are also remembering the gracious work of our God as Jesus gave His body and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. All of these memorial stones are set up to remind us of the gracious work of our God.

USED TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN
So why did God want to have this memorial erected? I can’t imagine that any of those who were present that day would ever forget how God held back the waters of the Jordan and allowed all those people to pass over on dry ground. We learn in our text that it wasn’t so much for their sakes, as it was for the sake of the generations to come. These memorial stones were valuable teaching tools about the gracious works of God. We read in last four verses of our text, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land'; for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever." God had those stones set up because He knew that in coming generations children would see those stones and ask, “What does this mean?” The parents would then have a wonderful opportunity to tell their children about the wonderful works of God.

It is so important to the LORD that parents tell their children about all that He has done to save them. Jesus scolded His disciples when they tried to prevent the little ones from coming to Him. Jesus did not just come to save grown-ups from their grown-up sins, He also came to save the little ones from their own sin and the sin they inherited from their sinful parents. Jesus loves the little children, He died to save the little children too, and He wants them to know how much He loves them.

The various memorial stones we have can also serve as excellent teaching tools for our children. We can tell them the reason they have a cross hanging on the wall in their bedroom. When we go to Lord’s Supper and our children ask why, we have the opportunity to tell them that Mom and Dad are sinners too and need forgiveness from God. We can point them to the baptismal font where they were baptized and made God’s precious child. Our catechism serves as a sort of memorial stone too, doesn’t it? We take our children through the basic teachings of Christian faith. And then we teach them to ask, “What does this mean?” and teach them the basics of the Christian faith.

All of these so-called “memorial stones” are used to teach our children. We do this, as Joshua says in the last verse of our text, that they “may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Let us use these memorial stones to teach our children about the mighty acts of the LORD to save us, that they may stand in awe of the LORD forever.

REQUIRE STRONG SHOULDERS
So in your mind’s eye, how big are those memorial stones that these twelve men are bringing up from the riverbed of the Jordan? Listen again to verse 5, “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel.” These stones were of such a size that they required strong shoulders to carry them to the western shore of the Jordan. Furthermore, keep in mind who each of these twelve men were representing - the twelve tribes of Israel. The men that carried these heavy memorial stones not just the professional “church people” from the tribe of Levi, but instead the lay-men of Israel who were carrying these memorial stones.

These are important truths for each one of us to keep in mind as we consider teaching our children about the gracious works of God. First of all it requires strong shoulders. Christian education is heavy lifting. Families are busier than ever with athletic obligations and school work. It seems that it is becoming harder and harder for families to find quality time to spend together. Which means it is harder to have family devotions and family Bible study. It requires strong shoulders to spend time in God’s Word as a family every day. But God wants such memorial stones erected not just on Sunday mornings at church, but everyday at home. He wants Christian parents, especially fathers, to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) In fact, Martin Luther originally drew up his Small Commandment, not necessarily for pastors to teach members, but for fathers to teach their children at home.

And remember on whose shoulders it fell to bear the burden of carrying those memorial stones out of the Jordan? It was not just the professional clergy from the tribe of Levi, it was also the laymen of the twelve tribes of Israel. Even so, telling the next generation about the gracious works of God does not fall just on the shoulders of the pastor - God calls on laymen and women to take up this eternally important work. Therefore we call on laymen and women to tell our children in Sunday School about the gracious works of God. At home we work listen to our children recite their memory work, we talk about what we heard in church, and we make time for home devotions. Indeed, it requires strong shoulders to set up memorial stones and teach our children about the gracious works of God.

We forget things, so easily, don’t we. It is one thing to forget to buy desert when you are at the grocery store. It is another thing entirely to forget about the gracious works of our God to save us. Let us not only remember His gracious work ourselves, but let us remember to tell our children and grandchildren about all Jesus did so we could go to heaven. May God ever help us to be faithful in proclaiming all His wonderful works to the generation to come! Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joshua 3 - "Land Me Safe on Canaan's Side"




Theme: “Land Me Safe On Canaan’s Side”
- Obstacles
- The LORD’s safe deliverance

Joshua 3
- Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and they set out from Acacia Grove and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they crossed over. 2 So it was, after three days, that the officers went through the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 "Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before." 5 And Joshua said to the people, "Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you." 6 Then Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, "Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people." So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. 7 And the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 "You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, 'When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.' " 9 So Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God." 10 And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites: 11 "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. 12 "Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. 13 "And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap." 14 So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), 16 that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
When I was in grade school, one of the things we enjoyed doing with our free time was playing the computer game “Oregon Trail” on our ancient Apple II GS school computers. The basic premise of the game was to get your character from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon by covered wagon in 1848. The journey was a difficult one. You had to withstand attacks by Indians, hunt for food to feed your family, deal with snake bites, and avoid all sorts of deadly diseases! But there was also the difficulty of river crossings in the covered wagon - most notably the Snake River. Sometimes you could ford the river with your covered wagon and survive in tact. Other times you and your party would perish by the mighty torrent of the Snake River. The game was intended to be educational as it taught students about the various challenges pioneers would have faced as they made their way west to settle the territory of Oregon.

What the Children of Israel went through during their journey from Egypt to Canaan was no video game. They suffered through plagues, diseases, hunger, thirst, fiery serpents, and death. People suffered and died because of their own sinful choices. They disobeyed and rebelled against the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt. The suffering they brought on themselves was greater than anything on the Oregon Trail.

Many of the things that happened to the Children of Israel remind us of things that happen to the Church. As they wandered in the wilderness, so we are pilgrims and sojourners in the wilderness of this world. As they waited and hoped for the Promised Land of Canaan, so we wait and hope for the Promised Land of heaven. As they brought many difficulties on themselves because of their sinful choices, so we bring many difficulties on ourselves because of our sinful choices.

In our text we hear that the Children of Israel are finally ready to enter Canaan. Only on thing stands in their way - the Jordan River. Let us examine the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River and consider our crossing over to the Promised Land of heaven. Our theme is taken from our closing hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” We pray with the hymn writer that the LORD would “Land Me Safe on Canaan’s Side.” We will examine the obstacles that stood between the Children of Israel and their entrance into Canaan and consider the obstacles that stand between us and the Promised Land of Canaan. Then let us be amazed at how the LORD lands us safely in the Promised Land. May the Holy Spirit bless our study of His holy Word.

- OBSTACLES
One big obstacle that stood between the children of Israel and the Promised Land of Canaan was the Jordan River. Now when the two spies crossed the Jordan to spy out Jericho, it did not sound as though they had too much difficulty. They probably paid to have a ferry take them across, or they were able to ford the stream itself. But now an entire nation of approximately 2 million people are preparing to cross the Jordan River. And this is no trickling stream. They were about to cross the Jordan in the spring time when the snow melt from Mount Hermon and the spring rains caused the Jordan to swell and flood.

How would could they get all these people across safely? If they did it too slowly, the enemies on the other side of the river might take advantage of the situation. After a few had crossed they could ambush them and slowly kill off the Children of Israel as they tried to cross the river. If they weren’t careful and rushed things, people could get swept away and perish. They obviously had a huge obstacle in front of them.

What obstacles stand between us and an eternity with the God of heaven and earth? It is something much worse than a flooded river. It is much deeper than the Jordan River ever was. It’s torrents sweep us off our feet. It is the deluge of our sin. Isaiah writes, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” (Is 59:2) Our sins are like a giant barrier between us and God. They separate us from the one true God. They are an obstacle that keep us and God apart - now on earth and forever in hell.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we should be able to go to heaven because we’re not as bad a sinner as others. After all, we’ve never killed anyone. We don’t sleep around. There are worse sinners out there than us. We should be able to overcome our obstacle of sin if we work hard enough. That is an unscriptural mind set. Listen again to what Isaiah writes, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.” (Is 64:6) In God’s sight, even our
best deeds are stained with the ugliness of our sin.

And James writes, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (Jam 2:10) It doesn’t matter how much or how little of the Law of God we’ve kept. If we even STUMBLE at one point - not fall into gross sin necessarily - but STUMBLE at one point in God’s law, it’s as if we had broken all His commandments. That is because when we stumble at obeying one of God’s commandments, we are breaking the First and great Commandment by not fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. Sin is our obstacle that is keeping us apart from God and an eternity in the paradise of heaven.

THE LORD SAFELY DELIVERS
“My Lord is so great, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that my Lord cannot do. The mountains are His, the valleys are His, the stars in the sky are His too. My Lord is so great, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my Lord cannot do.” Our VBS kids should remember this as one of the songs they sang during their music break. We are reminded in our text that there really is nothing that the Almighty cannot do. While the Jordan River was an obstacle too large for the people, it was not too large an obstacle for the LORD. The LORD safely delivered His people on Canaan’s side.

How the LORD overcame this obstacle is a miracle. The moment the priest who were carrying the ark of the covenant set foot in the Jordan River, the LORD held back the water upstream in a heap, we read. But if up in Jamestown they were to stop the flow of water into the James River, what would you expect the bottom of that river to be like? Probably smelly, mucky mud. Even though there would be no water in the Jim, it would take days if not weeks for the muddy bottom to dry up and be cross able.

Was a muddy river bed another obstacle for the Children of Israel to cross over? We again see the miraculous working of almighty God as He not only stops the flow of the flooded Jordan River, but immediately dries up the river bed. In the last verse of our text we read, “Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.” Obstacle removed by the Lord of all the earth. His people landed safely on Canaan’s side.

The obstacle of our sin that separates us from God is broader than the Jordan. Our river of sin does not just have a muddy bottom, it is a bottomless pit that sinks into hell. The current of our river of sin sweeps us off our feet and into the eternally Dead Sea. Our sins have separated us from God and we are unable to cross. Yet this obstacle is not too great for our God. Even as He allowed Israel to cross safely to Canaan’s side, so too He does with us.

But something had to be done with our obstacle of sin. God is a God of justice. That is, He always does what is right and just. As a just God He cannot simply ignore our flood of sin, He cannot simply look the other way. Sin, disobedience, and rebellion against His will must be dealt with. The punishment for these sins must be carried out. Justice must be served. How did God overcome this obstacle? He overcame it Himself for us. The Son of God took on flesh, He became one of us to take our sin and our punishment on Himself. On the cross, Jesus suffered the wrath and punishment of God on account of our sin. Justice for our sins was carried out on Jesus. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:5) “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12) He has cast our iniquity into the depth of the sea (Mic 7:19) - never to be seen again.

Jesus stopped the flood of God’s wrath against our sins Himself. Just as the Jordan was held back, so God’s wrath was held back by Jesus stepping in. And because of Jesus, we can pass over on dry ground. Rather than a muddy river bottom that we might sink into because of our unrighteousness, Jesus has given us firm ground to walk on in His righteousness. Through faith in Jesus, His perfect righteousness is credited to our account. We are healed. Through Christ we have direct access to the throne of Almighty God.

In Jesus we will land safe on Canaan’s side. As the Way, the Truth, and the Life we follow Him into death knowing that our eyes will open in the Promised Land of heaven. In fact, Jesus says that we have already passed over from death to life. Peter writes that our eternal inheritance in heaven is reserved for us. Our Triune God who overcame the obstacle of the Jordan River for His people, has overcome our obstacle of sin and removed it forever through Jesus. Now He leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to the eternal mansions He has prepared for us in heaven. Praise be to the living God who is among us, the Lord of all the earth who safely delivers us from this veil of tears to Himself in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Numbers 6:22-27 "Go, My Children, With My Blessing"


NUMBERS 6:22-27
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”


Theme: “GO, MY CHILDREN, WITH MY BLESSING”
- His name
- His blessing
- Our response

THE INTRODUCTION: (at the beginning of the worship service)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen

Have you ever become so familiar with something, that you loose sight of how great it is? This being Father’s Day, one example that comes to mind immediately is our Christian fathers. Men who not only cared for our physical needs - they worked hard to put a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, and food in our belly - but our Christian fathers cared for something even greater. They cared for our souls. They made sure we were baptized in the name of the Triune God after we were born. From infancy, they brought us to church. They led table prayers and family devotions.

And yet, we became so familiar with the things our Christian fathers did for us, that we easily lost sight of how great these things were that he was doing for us. Seldom did we thank our Dad’s when they came home after a hard day of work. Work which they were doing to care for us. Seldom did we thank Dad for bringing us the word of God in our family devotions. Seldom did we thank Dad for taking us to church and making us do our memory work. These were just things that Dad did, which we became familiar with, and took for granted. It usually took days like the third Sunday in June or even the death of our father to make us pause and consider all the amazing things our father’s did for us. May our father’s forgive us for our thanklessness and thoughtlessness!

We all have experienced that feeling of being so familiar with something that we loose sight of just how awesome it is. I want to point you to another example this morning. It is a part of a worship service that we are all quite familiar with - the Benediction. I have seen elderly women mouth these words along with me as I’ve given them. I’ve seen youngsters in the pew mimic my hand gestures as I give the benediction. From the pastor standing up front, to the members in the pews, we are very familiar with the words of the Benediction.

And yet, how many times have we glossed over the words of the Benediction? To my shame I confess that sometimes I say the words without thinking about what I am doing. And I there were times, probably too numerous to count, when I was in your position and I didn’t really pay attention when the pastor was giving the Benediction. I imagine that most, if not all of you, know exactly what I am talking about. May God have mercy on me for taking for granted the amazing words of this blessing.

On this Trinity Sunday we want to remind ourselves of just how awesome this Benediction is. These are not words well-wishing, that some man decided would be a nice way to end a worship service. The words of the Benediction were divinely inspired - given by the Triune God Himself. He commanded His priests to bless His people in this way. We use these words of the benediction as we leave the Lord’s House and return to our lives in the world of sin and evil. Our theme is taken from that beloved hymn based on our text, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.” Our text is taken from fourth book of Moses, Numbers, chapter six, beginning with twenty-second verse. Please rise for the reading of our text.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 "The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; 26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace." ' 27 "So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them."

This is the Word of God. Amen.

I) HIS NAME
Last Sunday we were privileged to attend my brother’s installation and ordination service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Batavia, IL. When it comes to the installation of a pastor, one of the neat traditions we have in our circles deals with the giving of the Benediction. You may remember from the various pastors you have had installed over the past decades, that the first words the pastor speaks to his new congregation after his installation are the words of the Benediction. And what better words are there a pastor can use to begin his ministry, then the words of the Benediction.

The giving of the Benediction has long been an honor for preachers of the word. It was an honor for the Old Testament priests since the days of Aaron and Moses, and continues to be a high honor some 3500 years later. One reason it is an honor is because of what the priest or pastor is doing when he gives the Benediction. The LORD says in the last verse of our text that in giving this Benediction the priest or pastor, “shall put My name on the children of Israel.” Let’s first remind ourselves of what this means, that in the Benediction the LORD’s name is being put on us.

First of all, what does it mean to “put one’s name” on something or someone. Well, when I was confirmed my parents got me a Bible as a gift with my name engraved on the front in gold letters. Why did they do that? Why put my name on a Bible? So that everyone would know that Bible belongs to me. It is my possession and no one else’s. Couldn’t we say the same when the LORD puts His name on someone? That person becomes His own special possession. We were purchased with that priceless blood of Christ. We were bought back by God. We are His own. He puts His name on us and blesses us.

What name is used in the Benediction? The name LORD, in all capitals. This is the unique name of our God, like Allah or Baal are unique names for two false gods. Any time you see the name “LORD” in all capitals, this is the great “I AM” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He is not “I was” or “I will be,” He is “I AM.” He is the eternal, unchangeable God. He is the Covenant God who makes promises and sticks by them. The God who promised to send a Savior to rescue us from our sins and has done just that in Jesus.

The fact that the name “LORD” is repeated three time in the Benediction is of great significance to us, especially on this Trinity Sunday. He is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, three separate, but equal persons. The God who created and preserves us, the God who died to save us, and the God who converts us and makes us His children. It is this God who commands this blessing because He wants to put His name on His people to bless us.

HIS BLESSING
In verse 23 He commands Moses to tell Aaron to bless the Children of Israel in this prescribed way. Think of that! The great “I AM,” the unchangeable covenant God, desires to bless His children! He wants to bless YOU! And He wants you to know that with these words He is blessing you. “I will bless them,” the LORD says at the close of our text.

This is His blessing. First of all, with these words He is blessing us and keeping us. To bless means to shower favor upon. The Triune God wants to shower His favor upon us. And He has done just that, hasn’t He. Think of all the countless ways God has given you. All you need to do is survey your bedroom at home to see all the ways the LORD has blessed you.

But the LORD blessing you goes far beyond showering favor on you with material blessings. The LORD has showered many spiritual blessings on us. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph 1:3) He has given His one and only Son to die for us and take away all our sins. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our huge debt of sin has been paid for and removed forever. By the work of the Holy Spirit we have been adopted into the family of God. He is our Father and we are His children. By the faith the Holy Spirit has worked in us in Christ Jesus, we have become heirs of eternal life.

The LORD also keeps us. That is, He defends us from all danger, He guards and protects us from all evil. It is true, He may test our faith from time to time by causing hardship to come into our lives. And even when those trials come, the God who keeps His promises tells us that He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13) He keeps us. We leave God’s house knowing He has put His name on us and will continue bless us and keep us in Christ.

But the words of blessing continue from our Triune God. “The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” It is a terrible thing to have the Triune God turn His back on you. He is the worst enemy any one can have. And because of our sin, that is the relationship we have by nature with the LORD. But all that changed on the cross of Jesus Christ. There God forsook His Son, on whom He had laid the sin of us all. There Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46) There God turned His back on His Son. Because Jesus endured the suffering of separation on account of our sins, the LORD face now shines upon us in Christ Jesus. Just as the sunshine after a storm brings us joy, even more so the face of the LORD shining on us brings even more joy as we hear how He has been gracious and merciful to us in Jesus.

“The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” To lift up ones countenance upon someone else, is to look with favor on someone. In the Benediction, the LORD is looking with favor on you. This is only be possible through Jesus Christ. Only cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, can the LORD possibly look with favor on us wretched sinners. But He does! And He wants to! And He wants you to know that because of Christ and in Christ He looks on you with favor. You are His own beloved child!

The result of the LORD blessing and keeping us, making His face shine upon us and being gracious unto us, and lifting up His countenance upon us, is peace. He gives us peace. Peace for our troubled consciences in the knowledge of sins forgiven. Peace with Him because we have been reconciled unto Him in Christ. Peace with our brother and sister in Christ. This is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. Peace is the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work, the culmination everything you have heard in the worship service, and the culmination of everything said in the Benediction.

OUR RESPONSE
How do we respond to this amazing blessing? In our liturgy we sing a “triple amen” to the LORD who wants to put His name on us and bless us. And that is the perfect response to this amazing blessing. Contrary to what our little ones think, “Amen” does not mean “all done” or “the end.” “Amen” means “YES!” Or as our catechisms explain it, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.”

So when we sing our triple Amen after the Benediction, we are saying, “Yes, LORD, bless and keep us! YES, LORD, make Your face shine upon us and be gracious to us! YES, LORD, lift Your countenance upon us and give us peace!” “YES, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit put your name on us and bless us!” What a fitting response to this amazing blessing!

It is true that familiarity breeds contempt. That is, the more familiar we are with something, the more we take it for granted. We must confess that has been true when it came to our Christian fathers. But just because that is the case, doesn’t mean that is right. Even more so with this blessed Benediction which we get to hear every Sunday. Let us rejoice and cherish the Benediction as the Triune God puts His name on us and blesses us as we leave His house and hear Him say, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing!” Praise be to God the Father, praise be to God the Son, praise be to God the Spirit, great Jehovah three in one! Amen, that is “yes, yes, it shall be so!”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day - Ephesians 1:16-23 "The Greatness of the Power of God"



Text: Ephesians 1:16-23
Theme: THE GREATNESS OF THE POWER OF GOD
- Worked in Christ
- At work in us

In the name of Jesus, who has gone up with a shout, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father, almighty, grace and peace to you in His name!
How powerful is God? Some have posed the silly question if God could use His power to make a rock so big that not even He could move it. I call it silly, because God doesn’t use His power for such silly demonstrations.

None of us would deny the power of God. We see it all around us in the world and universe He created. But how does the power of God impact our lives? How does the power of God affect us personally?

Sometimes we loose sight of God’s power. Though we know in our head that God is all-powerful, we often forget with our heart. We have a problem in our lives, whether it be with our health, our family, our finances, or our personal life, and we don’t go to God first in prayer with our problem. We try ever other avenue to take care of our problem, rather than casting our care on Him first. Sometimes we might even go so far as to think that we don’t want to bother God with our problem. When we do this, we are making God smaller than He really is. It amounts to thinking that God is so busy with the affairs of this world that He either doesn’t have the time or, even worse, the ability to help you with your problem.

But when doubting or forgetting about the power of God really affects us, is when we begin to doubt our salvation. We wonder whether God has really forgiven all of our sins. We wonder whether we are really going to heaven. After all, our conscience keeps reminding us of those dirty, filthy, embarrassing, and secret sins. And if we know about them, God, who tests the heart of man, knows about those sins too. And if God knows about them, how could we ever expect Him to allow us into heaven?!

This is one of the tremendous blessings of Ascension Day. Ascension Day is a day in which we see the greatness of God’s power. We see it at work first of all in Jesus and are reminded that the same great power is at work in each one of us! Let us therefore turn our attention to the Word of God as recorded in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1. Verses sixteen through twenty-three are included in the text to give us some context, but tonight we will be especially focusing in on verses nineteen through twenty-three.

(I) do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

So far the Word of God.

WORKED IN CHRIST
The power of God is so great that the Apostle Paul has trouble describing it. Take a look at verse 19 again. How many different words for power or strength does he use in that one verse? He writes of the “exceeding greatness of His power” and of His “mighty power.” Even the word “working,” from which we get our English word “energy,” implies power. In verse 19, Paul heaps synonym upon synonym to describe the power of Almighty God. The point we take away from this is that the power of God is so great that there really aren’t enough words in the human vocabulary to describe it.

To help us see the greatness of God’s power, Paul points us to two specific events in Jesus’ life. First is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. “According to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” Could there be any greater evidence of God’s power than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? After all, death is the one thing that no man has power over. No medicine, be it ever so strong; no doctor, be he ever so wise, can stop or over come death. Only the mighty power of God could give life to the dead.

For 40 days after His resurrection from the dead, we read in Acts that Jesus gave many “infallible proofs” that He was truly alive. He wanted there to be no doubt in the mind of His disciples that He had truly risen from the dead. He showed them His hands and His feet. He let them feel His body, that He was not just a ghost or a spirit, but a living human being with flesh and bones. Though He did not need it, He ate food in their presence to give further proof that He was living. The disciples had a hard time believing He had really risen from the dead because it seemed impossible. But Jesus used those 40 days from Easter to Ascension to show them the greatness of God’s power.

Today we find ourselves 40 days from Easter. It was on this day that we see once again the greatness of the power of God as Jesus ascended from the earth to the right hand of God the Father almighty. Again we read verses 19 and 20, “According to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” Who do you know who has the power to overcome the laws of gravity? Certainly we can strap jet engines or rockets onto something and we are able to ascend from the earth. But no one has the power in and of themselves to do what Jesus did and physically ascend from the ground into the clouds.

But the greatness of the power of God isn’t just seen in Jesus’ physical ascension off of this planet. The greatness of His power is seen where Jesus went when He ascended. He left this universe to heaven itself, the dwelling place of God - “the heavenly places,” Paul calls it. And there Jesus was given a position of power at the right hand of the Father. Now the Father has placed everything under the feet of His Son. As powerful as some of this world’s rulers might be, Jesus is more powerful and He rules over them. None shall rise to the greatness of Jesus. All in the past, in the present, or in the future are under the feet of Jesus and are subject to Him, whether they want to be or not.

Think of the great power it took for Jesus to leave the world of time and enter eternity. Consider how He left the realm of the finite and entered the infinite. How He left the physical and entered the spiritual. Jesus went from being in one place at one time, to being all places all the time as He now fills “all in all.” Truly, on Ascension Day, we see the greatness of the power of God which He worked in Christ.

AT WORK IN US
But what does any of this have to do with us? This has everything to do with and our salvation! As Paul offers up his prayer of thanksgiving for the Christians in Ephesus, he makes mention of the specific thing he prays for them. One of the things he prays for them is that they may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ.” Paul says that the same great power that brought lift to Jesus dead body on the third day, the same great power by which Jesus ascended from earth to God’s right hand in heaven, is the same exact great power that is at work in every single believer!

It does indeed take great power to give life to the dead. And that is what God did in each of us when He brought us to faith. He gave spiritual life to a spiritual corpse. Paul goes on to write in Ephesians 2, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (2:4-5) By faith in Christ we are united with Him. The same great power that raised Jesus on the third day, raised us to spiritual life as well. He made us believers in Christ. He adopted us as His children and made us heirs of eternal life. What amazing power our God has!

But the greatness of His power at work in us does not end there. On Ascension Day we see a clear demonstration of God’s mighty power as we hear how Jesus ascended from the earth to the right hand of God in heaven. Do we doubt His power on Ascension Day? Of course not! Paul writes in our text that Christ is our head, and we the church is His body. And where the head is there the body will be also. Even so by His great power God has “made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (2:6) By the great power of God we are connected with Christ and in Christ. Heaven is our home. Christ has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven, and will return to take us to be with Him forever. This is all the great power of God at work in us to save us and make us His own forever!

So you see, dear Christians, the power for your salvation is not in your hands, but was in the hands of almighty God! Almighty God who showed us how powerful He was when He raised Jesus from the dead. Almighty God who shows us on this day, the greatness of His power as Jesus ascended to His right hand in the heavenly places. It is this same Almighty God who has done everything necessary for you to be saved. He put all of your sins - even those secret sins - to death in the body of Jesus. He raised you up to new life in Christ and made you alive together with Him. He chose you from eternity to be His child and worked faith in your heart by the greatness of His power. You are His own dear child and whatever the problem might be in your life, it cannot be bigger than rising from the dead. God has the power to do that and God has the power to aid you in every situation in life. May the power of Ascension Day ever cause you to rejoice knowing that it was the same mighty power of God that is at work to save you! In the name of our Ascended Lord, Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31 "The 'Unknown God' Who Wants to be Known"


Acts 17:22-31 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Theme: THE “UNKNOWN GOD” WHO WANTS TO BE KNOW

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
In our text we find the Apostle Paul in the midst of his second missionary journey. On this journey, Paul had parted ways with Barnabas, and taken along Silas, Timothy and Luke. In the weeks leading up to his time in Athens, Paul and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi for preaching that Jesus was the only way of salvation and casting a demon out of a girl in Jesus’ name. As depressing as it might have been to be thrown into prison for preaching Christ, Paul and Silas spent the night in that Philippian jail singing hymns and praying to God. And it was this imprisonment that God used Paul and Silas to reach a heathen jail keeper with the Gospel. The result was that very night the jailer of Philippi and his household were brought to faith and baptized in Jesus name.

From Philippi, they journeyed to Thessalonica and were able to start a church. But here again, they met opposition. Unbelieving Jews and some wicked men of the city stirred up the whole city and drove Paul and his missionary helpers from the city.

From Thessalonica they journeyed to the city of Berea. It was in Berea that the encountered some very noble spirits. Luke reports that the Bereans received the word with “all readiness” and would search the Scriptures daily to see if the things Paul was telling them were true. Yet the rabble-rousers from Thessalonica learned that Paul was in Berea, they came and tried to turn the city against them. Because of the persecution in Berea, the brethren in Berea sent Paul away to the great Greek city of Athens, where he was to wait for Silas and Timothy, who were to meet up with him later.

While Paul was waiting in Athens, he began to tour the city and as he did, the Holy Spirit reports that “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.” (Acts 17:16) Greek culture is well known for its many mythological gods. It seemed there was a god for every occasion under the sun. Zeus was the king of all Greek gods. He was the god of the sky, weather, and fate. All Greeks wanted Zeus on their side. If you were a fisherman or going to travel on the sea, then you would want to make sure you were good with the Greek god Posiedon and probably Hermes, the god of travel. If you and your wife were childless, then you would offer sacrifices to Hera, the Queen of marriage, and maybe also Aphrodites, the goddess of beauty and love. Our farmers would have wanted the favor of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and harvest.

But among their many gods, Paul saw that the Athenians realized something wasn’t quite right. The feared that among that they may have missed a god and did not want to offend him. Therefore they had an altar with this inscription: VAGNW,STW| QEW/ - “To the Unknown God.” Paul sees this as an opening to testify to the learned people of Athens about the God they did not know about. The one true God of heaven and earth. It is this God, that Paul wants to make known to the Athenians. Therefore, let us consider this morning, the Unknown God who wants to be known. May the Holy Spirit bless our meditation of His holy Word.

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” So writes King David in the opening verse of Psalm 14. We know we are not supposed to call anyone a fool, because it is such an unloving term, but David uses the term “fool” in a correct way. A fool is someone who denies everything he sees before him. Only a fool would say that the sun is not bright. Only a fool would say that fire is not hot. Only a fool would look at the world around him, the stars in the heavens, and his own body and say “There is no God.”

The Greeks seemed to go overboard in the other direction. They knew there was something bigger than themselves out there, so they began to worship all sorts of different deities. And their deities were only as big as their imagination. They had imperfections, so they imagined the gods had imperfections. They lusted after women, so they imagined that the gods lusted after the women of the world. They fought with one another, so they imagined that the gods fought with one another. They couldn’t imagine one god being able to control all aspects of the world around them, so there were different gods that ruled over different aspects of their life.

As Paul toured the city of Athens he saw that they were quite dedicated to their religious ways of life. “Men of Athens,” he said, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” The Athenians weren’t fools. They were aware there was something out there bigger than themselves, but they didn’t know who that God was. Until Paul came to visit. “I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” The Athenians knew in their heart of hearts that there was a God out there greater than their folly-filled Greek gods. A God they did not know. A God they did not want to offend by ignoring Him, so they set up an altar and called Him the “Unknown God.”

This is what we refer to as the “Natural Knowledge of God.” It is what man can surmise about God from looking at nature around him - the planet, his body, and the universe. By nature all men know there is something out there, something greater than themselves. It is the fool that has to convince himself that there is nothing greater than himself in the universe. Many devise different gods to worship - like the Greeks did.

Paul had a different kind of knowledge. He had a “revealed knowledge of God.” Paul knew who the true God was. And Paul knew that this God did not want to remain unknown. “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.” The God Paul proclaimed is not weak like the factitious gods of the Greeks. The God Paul proclaimed is Almighty. He is the maker of the world and everything in it. He is the Lord or Master of heaven and earth. He is not weak and puny like the Greek gods who were said to be living in the temples made by the hands of men. As Isaiah writes of the one true God, “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.” (Is 66:1)

The one true God is not needy like the Greek gods were, who would get angry if they did not get what they wanted. “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things.” God doesn’t need anything, rather He gives all things. He gives us our lives, He gives us our breath, and He gives us all our possessions. If we give our lives or our possessions to Him, we are merely giving to Him those things that are already His.

The maker of heaven and earth is also the God of history. “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” Greeks, Romans, Jews, Indians, Chinese, European, were all made by God from one blood, that is Adam. And this God is not abstract and uninvolved in His creation. He has “determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” Think of it! In world history we read of nations rising and falling. Some, like the mighty Babylonian empire, seemed to fall over night. This was God’s plan and will for the Babylonians. The Greeks existed because it was God’s plan. The United States of America exists today because it is God’s will and this nation will fall some day, in accordance with God’s plan.

God’s purpose in determining the pre-appointed times and boundaries of habitation of men on the face of the earth is one - “so that they should seek the Lord, in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” Like a man in the pitch black of night groping for a light switch that he knows is there somewhere, so too God wants man to grope for Him. His purpose in guiding and directing history is that man might search for Him and find Him. We have seen this in our Bible Class series on the book of Daniel, haven’t we. As amazed as we are about the accounts of the 3 men in the fiery furnace and the hand writing on the wall, we are even more amazed to read how God, through Daniel, was reaching out to the heathen kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius.

This is true of every nation that has ever existed. God allows them to exist for His divine purpose. And His ultimate purpose is that they might know Him the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Paul was in Athens, speaking to the Greeks for this very purpose! Ascension Day being this Thursday, we are reminded of what Jesus commissioned His disciples to do. “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations.” (Mt 28:19) And to “Go into ALL the world and preach the Gospel to EVERY creature.” (Mk 16:15)

The “Unknown God” wants to be known. He has always made Himself known, if man would only search Him out. He has left His fingerprint on creation. But this knowledge is only a limited knowledge. By it man can know of “His eternal power and Godhead.” (Rom 1:20) They can know He is powerful and wise. God intends this that men will further grope for Him and find Him. In Old Testament days, those searching would have found out about Him from the Children of Israel. In our New Testament era God calls on us to go out and tell the world about Him. Tell how He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ez 33:11) Tell how He was so determined to save the wicked that He gave His own beloved Son into death for sins. How He punished His one and only Son for the sins that we had committed. And how He raised His Son to life. And it is His risen Son who will come again one day to judge the living and the dead in righteousness.

God wants to be known. He directs history in the hope that men might look to Him and find Him. That is why He formed a nation called the United States, states called North and South Dakota, and a city called Hecla - so that men might know Him. So that His Gospel would be preached. So that men would be called to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. That is why God has you going to school where you are going and working in the job you are working. So that you can be the light of the world to those who are in darkness groping for this “Unknown God” that wants to be known.

It is amazing to consider the workings of almighty God and how He guides and directs the history of the world. Did Paul consider the reason he was forced from Berea, was that he might make known the one true God to the idolatrous people of Athens? Maybe it wasn’t Paul’s plan, but it certainly was God’s. Because God wants to be known. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4) He gave His Son into death for the sin of ALL men, because He wants ALL men to be saved. May the Lord of heaven and earth use us even as He used Paul to make His name known wherever we go! Praise be to the one true God! Amen.