Sunday, March 27, 2011

John 9 - "The Works of God Revealed"

John 9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing. 8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, "Is not this he who sat and begged?" 9 Some said, "This is he." Others said, "He is like him." He said, "I am he." 10 Therefore they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered and said, "A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.' So I went and washed, and I received sight." 12 Then they said to him, "Where is He?" He said, "I do not know." 13 They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." 16 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath." Others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" And there was a division among them. 17 They said to the blind man again, "What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." 18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered them and said, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 "but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself." 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." 24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, "Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner." 25 He answered and said, "Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see." 26 Then they said to him again, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him and said, "You are His disciple, but we are Moses' disciples. 29 "We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from." 30 The man answered and said to them, "Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 "Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 "Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 33 "If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing." 34 They answered and said to him, "You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?" And they cast him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of God?" 36 He answered and said, "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?" 37 And Jesus said to him, "You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you." 38 Then he said, "Lord, I believe!" And he worshiped Him. 39 And Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind." 40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, "Are we blind also?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains.

“The Works of God Revealed”
- Seeing
- Confessing and worshiping

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who once were lost, but now have been found, were blind but now see,
As we read through John 9, what struck you as the most remarkable event of the chapter? It’s quite a bit longer of a sermon text than we are used to. Yet it is quite easy to follow the narrative which the Holy Spirit has preserved for us today. Was there anything that struck you as we read through it? Certainly the man born blind receiving his sight is pretty remarkable! He is even amazed as he says in verse 32, “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind.” That is pretty amazing! There is no record of anyone being born blind in the Old Testament receiving their sight. Never from the beginning of the world until Jesus healed this man, has anything like this ever happened.

Imagine how amazing it would have been for this man born blind. He had never seen the face of his parents. He had never seen a sunset or the stars in the sky. He had never looked upon the amazing colors and shapes of God’s glorious creation. He didn’t even know what his house looked like or the Temple he worshiped at. Since there was no real work a blind man could do in those days, he had to rely on the love of his fellow Jews to survive. He sat outside the entrance Temple or city gates and ask for handouts from passers-by. But all this changed when Jesus came into his life and gave him sight.

Yet, I would argue that this man receiving sight is not the most remarkable event in our text! Let us look closer at this portion of God’s Word to learn some spiritual truths as we see the work of God revealed in the life of this man born blind. We will see the work of God revealed in this man’s seeing, confessing, and worshiping. May the Holy Spirit strengthen our spiritual eye-sight through His word, that we may see Jesus our Savior more clearly with our eyes of faith.

“Isn’t this the one who sat and begged?” “Nah! Can’t be! That man was blind, this man can see!” “It is him! I recognize him! But how did this happen?” You can imagine the confusion and excitement as the friends and neighbors gathered around this man born blind to find out what happened to him. Even his parents seemed dumbstruck by what had happened to their son. The man born blind has only a limited idea of how this had happened. “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” He knew Jesus had given him his sight, but he didn’t know where Jesus now was. The last contact he had with Jesus was while he was still blind and Jesus told him to wash the clay off in the pool of Siloam.

This amazing event had to be brought to the attention of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were supposed to be the spiritually enlightened ones of the day. They begin their inquisition of this man born blind. They too wanted to know how this man was now able to see. The man born blind again repeated the events that had transpired in very simple, straight forward terms, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

The Pharisees were divided about Jesus doing this amazing thing. Some ignored that which was right before their eyes and said, “This Man (Jesus) is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Some were offended that Jesus had supposedly done work on the Sabbath by spitting on the ground, making clay, and applying it to this man’s eyes. Then He told this man to do unnecessary work by washing his eyes in the pool of Siloam. This was a violation of the rules they had added to God’s Word about the Sabbath. Others replied, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” So they ask the man who was healed what he had to say about Jesus. “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” To which the man said, “He is a prophet.”

But this was not enough. They thought this was all a hoax and that he wasn’t really born blind. So they called his parents to testify. His parents were afraid to tell what they really thought - that Jesus had healed their son who was born blind. They were afraid to say that because the Pharisees had already threatened to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Christ. So they told the Pharisees to ask their son themselves, he was old enough to answer for himself.

So again, they call the man born blind to testify. They continue to badger him with questions. One is not sure what they were hoping to get out of him. Were they hoping he would say Jesus was a horrible person and did not really heal him? Were they maybe hoping that he would say that Jesus called upon Beelzebub to heal him? We’re not sure. One thing is for sure, the ones who claimed to have spiritual sight, were blind to what was right before them and refused to accept what their eyes were seeing - the work of God revealed in this man.

Yet what do we find with the man born blind? Verses 30-33, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” Do you now see the truly remarkable event that unfolds in our text? While it is remarkable that Jesus was able to give this man born blind his physical eyesight back, the truly remarkable work of God that is revealed in him is the spiritual sight God gave this man. Though this man has not yet seen Jesus with his new eyesight, with his eyes of faith he clearly saw Jesus for who He was. “He is a prophet. ...He is a worshiper of God and does His will. ...this Man is from God.” He saw Jesus as a Man sent from God and doing God’s work.

We often wish we could have seen the miracles Jesus did. We wish we could have seen Jesus give sight to the blind! But the work of God revealed in this man born blind has also been revealed in you. God has given you the same spiritual sight He gave this man. You see Jesus as the Son of God, sent to be your Savior. You see Jesus as your Substitute who came to do the will of God in your place. You are no different than this man in our text. You were born spiritually blind, but have been given sight. Paul said in our New Testament lesson, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Eph 5:8) Like this man, though you haven’t seen Jesus with your physical eyes you have heard His voice and with your eyes of faith you see Him just as clearly as this man born blind. This is the work of God!
It is striking to see how everyone seems to have abandoned this man born blind. His neighbors and those who had previously seen that he was blind, were very interested in how he was able to gain sight. But once they hear that Jesus had healed him, they bring him before the Pharisees and there he stands alone to explain himself. Then his parents are called before the inquisition. They are only willing to say that he was born blind, they don’t want to stick out their necks and suggest that he was miraculously healed by Jesus. They too abandon him before the Pharisees, saying, “He is of age; ask Him. He will speak for himself.” John explains that they said this because they were afraid of the Jews and afraid they might be excommunicated from the synagogue.

This too is quite remarkable, isn’t it? We would think that everyone would be overjoyed and ecstatic about this amazing miracle that had taken place in their midst. We would expect that especially his parents would be giving glory to Jesus for healing their son! We would think the Jews and Pharisees would want to meet with Jesus and glorify God for the great thing He had done for this man. Yet this healing seems to be a matter of controversy and offense, more than a matter of joy. This shows us the sad spiritual condition of Israel at the time of Jesus. God was at work among them and, more than anything, they seem troubled by it.

But the fact that this man was abandoned by his neighbors and parents, makes the work of God in this man’s life all the easier to see. We have already seen how the work of God was revealed in his life by his faith in Jesus. But faith in Jesus is never alone, is it. It is always accompanied by good works. We see the fruits of the work of God revealing themselves in this man’s confession and worship of Jesus.

While his parents are afraid they will be kicked out of the synagogue, their son with his new eyes of faith does not hesitate to confess Christ publicly to the Pharisees. When they continue to badger him about how he was healed, the man born blind almost becomes a bit sarcastic with them. Verse 27, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” When the Pharisees reviled him and said that they follow Moses but not Jesus because they do not know where he is from, the man born blind continues to confess and defend his faith in Jesus. Verse 30, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He has opened my eyes!”

The work of God is revealed in this man as we see him confess and defend his faith in Jesus. In the end he is excommunicated from the synagogue for confessing that Jesus was sent from God. While everyone else seems to treat this man like a pariah, Jesus does not. Upon hearing that he had been excommunicated, Jesus deliberately seeks out the man that had been born blind and said in verses 35-38, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. Here the work of God is revealed in the confession and worship by this man. He believed Jesus is his Lord and the Son of God and he bowed down and worshiped Jesus as his God. This is the work of God! This man didn’t care how everyone else felt, he knew Jesus was his Savior.

Every time you confess your faith in Jesus, the same work of God is revealed in you! Paul writes to the Corinthians, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:3) It was the Holy Spirit who was at work in the heart of this man born blind and led him to confess his faith in Jesus before the Pharisees and before Jesus. It is the same Holy Spirit that leads you to confess the same thing. After Peter gave his rock-solid confession about Jesus, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Faith and confession are the work of God! It is the work of God when you tell your friends, your neighbors, your relatives that you believe Jesus is the Son of God, sent from heaven to take away all your sins, and give you the gift of eternal life. It is the work of God revealed in you when you stand here in church and publicly confess your faith in Jesus by one of our creeds. This is the work of God revealed in you when you confess that you see Jesus as your Lord and your God!

And we cannot but join this man born blind in worshiping Jesus as our God. We cannot help but worship Jesus who gave His life for us to save us. The fact that you are here this morning, is revealing the work of God in you. We must sing to Him. We must praise Him. We must pray to Him. Believers have done this from the beginning. Abel offered sacrifices in worship to God. David wrote countless psalms of worship to his Savior God. Daniel would go to his room three times a day to pray to God. The man born blind bowed down and worshiped Jesus as His Lord and Savior. This is the work of God revealed in us that we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and worship Him as our God.

So what is the most remarkable event in our text? It is Jesus giving sight to those who do not see, but not in the way we first expected. We first thought it was remarkable to hear that a man born blind was able to see with his eyes. But as we looked deeper into our text we saw that the work of God revealed in this man was the faith God created in His heart. Faith which saw Jesus his Savior. Faith which freely confessed itself in Jesus. And faith which worshiped Jesus as Lord and God. And this is the very reason why God caused this man to be born blind in order to reveal the work of God in him. We praise God that He has worked in us as well. That we who were born spiritual blind have been given the sight to see Jesus as our Savior from sin, confess Him to one another and throughout the world, and worship Him as our Lord and God. May the Holy Spirit ever give us 20/20 vision for our eyes of faith, that we may always be looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:12) Praise be to God for this amazing work which He has begun in us! Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Profiles of the Passion: Peter - A Profile of Denial


3) Peter - Profile of Denial

Luke 22:61-62
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." 62 So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus, grant that balm and healing In Thy holy wounds I find, Ev-ry hour that I am feeling Pains of body and of mind. Should some evil tho’t within Tempt my treach’rous heart to sin, Show the peril, and from sinning Keep me ere its first beginning. Amen. (TLH 144:1)

(Taken from 1 Peter 1:1-5) To the pilgrims of the Dispersion (at Prince of Peace), elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

My name is Simon, son of Jonah. But you probably know me better by the name which Jesus gave me, Peter. Tonight I have been asked to share with you my profile and help you to see something about yourself. I think you will be surprised how much you and I have in common.

Allow me first to share a little about myself and my background. I grew up in the Galilean town of Bethsaida, on the Northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Over time my brother Andrew and I moved to the town of Capernaum, where we took up the fishing trade with two other would-be apostle brothers, James and John.

My brother Andrew, like John, was a disciple of John the Baptist. And it was actually Andrew that first brought me to Jesus. After John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus to Andrew as the Lamb of God, my brother followed Jesus and spent the day with Him. Andrew came found me and told me that he had found the promised Messiah, the one that the prophets had spoken of. And more than just telling me about Jesus, Andrew actually physically brought me to Jesus. And it was at that moment that my life changed. Upon Jesus seeing me, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). Cephas is Aramaic for the Greek name of Peter, which you are all quite familiar with.

It wouldn’t be until much later that I understood why Jesus gave a name that means “A Stone.” At one point during the three years that I followed Jesus and was taught by Him, Jesus asked us what people were saying about Him - who they though He was. Well, there were various opinions among the people as to who Jesus was. Some people thought He might be John the Baptist or the prophet Jeremiah, back from the dead. Other people thought that maybe the prophet Elijah had returned from heaven.

Jesus then asked us who we thought Jesus was. I couldn’t help myself from speaking up. I had no doubt about who Jesus was. I believe the same thing about Jesus as you believe. I said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” I said that because I was certain that Jesus really was the prophesied Messiah, just as my brother Andrew told me. But as He taught us and we saw all the good things He did, I knew that He was true God, the Son of God. Is this not the same thing that you just said about Jesus earlier in your worship service?

Jesus then revealed to me that the reason I was so confident about who He was, was because God had revealed this truth to me. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:17-18) I didn’t just believe that Jesus was the promised Christ, the Son of the living God because Andrew had told me that. I believed that because God Himself had created faith in my heart. Faith which believed the rock-solid truth that Jesus is the Son of God. The rock-solid truth that Jesus would build His Church upon. The rock-solid truth that all believers would confess - just as you believe and confess. So rock-solid that Hell was powerless against it. And so I began to see why Jesus called me Peter, which means “a Stone,” after He spoke of the rock-solid confession I gave about who Jesus is.

But for me, it was often one step forward, two steps back. No sooner had I spoken this rock-solid truth about Jesus, then I said something stupid. Jesus had just said how blessed I was because of what God had revealed to me. Jesus then went on to talk about His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was an offensive thought to me! The thought of Jesus being mistreated and put to death was unbearable. I pulled Jesus aside and I actually rebuked Jesus for what He had said! How foolish of me to rebuke the Christ, the Son of the living God. "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" (Mt 16:22) Somehow I thought I knew better than Jesus.

What I didn’t realize, but Jesus did, was that Satan using my words to tempt Jesus to not go through with His Passion. Jesus promptly rebuked me, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Mt 16:23) So Jesus went from speaking about how blessed I was because of what God had revealed to me, to calling me Satan for tempting Him not to go through with His mission. This is kind of a summary of my life of following Jesus. I was so often bold and confident, which was not a good quality but a weakness.

My involvement in the events of Jesus’ suffering and death, is my greatest shame and embarrassment. It is an account that you hear of every year, so I’m sure you are quite familiar with it. After we had finished celebrating the Passover with Jesus and He had instituted the Lord’s Supper, we left the Upper Room and headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way, Jesus said these ominous words, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Mt 26:31) Jesus was warning us - all of us, including me! Jesus was making known that another prophecy of the Old Testament would be fulfilled when we would abandon Him that night.

Once again, I thought I knew better than Jesus - and for that matter, better than the Old Testament! I boldly promised Jesus, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." I just couldn’t imagine myself stumbling, and falling into sin on account of Jesus! Jesus warned me, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." This couldn’t be! Jesus couldn’t be right! He was my God, my Savior, my Teacher, and my Friend! How could I ever deny Him once - let alone three times and all in that very night! I told Jesus He was wrong, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" I was ready to stand at Jesus’ side - all the way to death, if I had to!

I thought I was pretty strong. I thought my faith could handle anything that came my way. What I didn’t realize was just how weak I was. That night, the very thing Jesus warned me about, the very thing I told Jesus He was wrong about, took place. After Jesus was arrested, John and I followed from a distance, so we could see what was going to happen to Jesus. John was able to get us access to the courtyard of the high priest, where I warmed myself by a fire, with others, paying close attention to what was happening with Jesus.

That is when it began. An unarmed servant girl approached the fire I was sitting at and began starring at me. Then she said, "This man was also with Him." I began to panic! What if they found out I was one of Jesus followers? I was in the enemies territory now. They might arrest me as well and treat me like they were treating Jesus! "Woman, I do not know Him," I told her.

But it did not end there. A little while later I was approached again by the servant girl, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth. This is one of them." She was starting to attract attention. I again denied it. But others started joining in, so I swore to them with an oath, "Man, I am not. I do not know the Man." I thought I was off the hook, but about an hour later I was approached a third time, "Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it." This couldn’t be happening, I thought! Now I am doomed too! I feared for my life! I began to curse and swear, "I do not know the Man. I do not know this Man of whom you speak."

Then it happened. The rooster crowed for the second time that night. From where I was I could see Jesus and as the rooster crowed, He turned and looked at me. It was a look that pierced me to my very soul. The very thing I promised Jesus I would never do, I had done, just as He warned me. I was so ashamed of myself. I had denied my Lord! It was so overwhelming, that I ran away crying. There was my Lord suffering scorn and shame, being slapped and spit upon. And what was I doing? Cowering in fear in front of a servant girl, trying to save my hide by denying I was with Him or even knew who He was! My profile is a profile of denial.

My friend, the Apostle Paul, wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12) I thought I could stand, but boy did I ever fall. But God used my denial to humble me and teach me to find my strength in Him. I needed to see how great of a sinner I was in order to see just how much I needed a Savior. Jesus’ look that night, revealed just how weak of sinner I was. But on Easter Sunday morning, I learned the greatness of Jesus’ grace and power to save. I ran to the tomb to find that Jesus had risen from the dead. He had paid for all my sins - including my sins of denial. He died to forgive me and He rose to assure me that I was forgiven.

The Lord went on to use me for great things in His church. He used me to deliver a powerful sermon on Pentecost. A powerful sermon which the Holy Spirit used to bring many people to faith in Jesus. Later, as I stood before the same Jewish council that Jesus stood and was commanded to stop preaching about Jesus, HE gave me the strength to defy them and continue preaching the good news about Jesus. And it was Jesus who gave me the strength to remain faithful unto death, when I died a martyrs death even as Jesus told me would happen.

You and I have so much in common! Which one of you doesn’t think you believe so firmly in Jesus and your faith in Him is so strong, that nothing would ever deter you from being faithful to Him. Yet, how many times have you denied Jesus? Maybe you didn’t curse and swear that you don’t even know who Jesus is, but haven’t you denied Jesus by your words and actions? Like that time your unchurched friends started making fun of Christians and you joined right in because you didn’t want them to make fun of you too. Or that time that you joined in, using the same dirty language that they use, because you didn’t want them to think you were different.

What about denying Jesus with love? On the same night I denied Jesus, He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35) Jesus loved us and died for us! Aren’t we denying that we are one of His disciples every time we speak or act unloving toward one another?! What if Jesus looked at you at those times? How would you react? You and I have a great deal in common. We both think we are stronger than we are.

So join me in repenting and humbling yourself before God. Rejoice that Jesus died even for our sins of denial and pride. Run with me to the empty tomb and see that Jesus has risen from the dead! God accepted the payment He made for every last one of your sins and my sins. Look to Him for your strength and rely on Him for your protection. And be amazed, as I was, at how the Lord could use such a foolish sinner like me to do great things in His Kingdom. May Jesus keep you faithful unto the end. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-8 "God Speaks and Faith Responds"

Genesis 12:1-8 Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.

- Cheerfully obeying His commands
- Worshiping Him for His promises

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
How much do you know about Abraham? When we think of Abraham we might think of a man to whom God promised he would have a son, but that son was not born until he and his wife were well into their 90's. Or we might remember how years later God tested Abraham’s faith, by telling him to kill that only son as a burnt offering to him. Or maybe we remember how Abraham pleaded with God many different times to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, if there were enough righteous people living there.

But have you ever stopped to think about how similar we are to Abraham? While we don’t expect God to give us a child when we are in our 90's nor do we expect Him to ask us to sacrifice any of our children, we are very similar to Abraham. When God first called Abraham, or Abram as his name was then, he was living in Ur of the Chaldees and later in the city of Haran - both in modern day Iraq - Abram was an idolator, just like his family was. They did not worship the one, true God of Creation. But all that changed when God called Abram. By His almighty power He took Abram from the power of darkness and unbelief to the light of faith in Him.

Do you begin to see how similar we are to Abraham? While I am not aware of any of you ever openly worshiping false gods, we all were born in the same spiritual condition as Abraham. God had to call us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. Abram’s call was a call of grace. He did not deserve to be called into the Kingdom of God, much less become a forefather of our Savior Jesus. Ours was an election of grace as well. We do not deserve to be members of the Kingdom of God. But out of His undeserved love, God has made us His children. And as God called Abraham His friend, Jesus calls us His friends. All this by the grace of God.

So what binds us together with Abraham is God’s grace and our faith. Abraham had faith in the promises of God and we have faith in the promises of God. In fact, we heard the Apostle Paul write in our New Testament lesson that those who live according to faith are, in that way, children of Abraham (Rom. 4:16). So let us this morning, examine our faith and the faith of our father Abraham. Let us examine how for both of us, God speaks and faith responds. It responds in obedience to His commands and in worship for His promises. May the Holy Spirit bless our meditation on His holy word!

None of us enjoys being told what to do. Whether we are 2, 22, 42, or 82 - we don’t like being told what to do. We may obey, but rarely do we consider it a joy to obey. We don’t like being told we can only drive so many miles per hour. We may do it, but we want to go faster. Or we don’t like being told we have to fasten our seatbelt in the car. We may do that too, but we don’t like being told it is the law and we have to buckle-up. In each one of us is a sinful old man that is selfish and wants to be its own boss. Our old man is kind of like a three year old in the grocery store who lays down on the floor kicking and screaming because mom told him to do something he doesn’t want to do. We may hide it better as we get older, but our old man feels the same way about being told what to do.

That is what makes the events in our text so remarkable. Here we have a command from God that Abram seems to cheerfully obey. Listen again to what the LORD said to him, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” What is the LORD telling Abram to do? He’s commanding him to leave everything he knows and is familiar with, and journey into the great unknown - to a foreign and unknown land. The LORD is asking Abram to blindly follow Him in faith and trust Him.

Imagine the LORD saying this to you! Imagine if the LORD asked you to pack up all your belongings and get on an airplane to an unknown destination. Leave behind your parents, most of your relatives, your friends, your hometown, your state, and even the country that you had grown up in. What a command!

Yet how did Abram respond to this command from the LORD? Did he lay down on the dirt floor, kicking and screaming, saying “I don’t wanna! I won’t! I won’t!” What do we read this 75 year old man did in verse 4? “So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him.” God said it, Abram did it. Abram took up his wife, his nephew lot, boxed up their possessions, gathered all his servants, and left for Canaan. Canaan, a land hundreds of miles away, a place Abram had likely never been, and a place where the people likely spoke a different language.

This is faith at work, isn’t it. This is that child-like faith which takes God at His word. Abram doesn’t question, “Where will I live? Where will my livestock feed? What will I do when I get there?” Faith doesn’t question the word of God, but simply trusts it and obeys. This is what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 112, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who delights greatly in His commandments.” This is faith which is willing to leave everything behind that it knows, and cheerfully obeys the commands of God.

Now the LORD hasn’t asked us to leave the Dakotas and move to a foreign country. But the LORD has given us similar commands to leave behind all that we know and follow Him. Leave behind the world and it’s empty pleasures. The world tells us that we need to take care of ourselves first, our needs, our wants, our desires, and everything else comes second. Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Lk 9:23)

How do we respond to denying ourselves, denying our fleshly desires, and following Jesus? Well our sinful flesh doesn’t like it, but our faith does it cheerfully! The new man of faith which the Holy Spirit has created in us DELIGHTS to do the will of God, just as Abram and the psalmist did. Likewise Jesus has promised be with us as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death. He has called us to follow Him to a land that He will show us. None of us have seen the Promised Land of heaven, yet faith cheerfully follows Jesus, trusting His Word with that child-like faith. In faith we seek to deny ourselves, and follow only Jesus.

We teach our confirmation students that throughout Scripture there are two main doctrines or teachings - Law and Gospel. Law is anything God tells us to do or not do something. The 10 Commandments are law. We would say that the LORD’s command to Abram to leave his father’s house was law. The Gospel, on the other hand, is a promise from God that He will do something. A promise to bless. A promise to save. The Gospel is the good news about Jesus doing everything necessary for us to go to heaven.

So as we return to the LORD speaking to father Abram in our text, what do we find in verse 2 and 3 of our text? “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And then again in verse 7, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So, Law or Gospel? Gospel! The LORD tells Abram I WILL do these things for you. I WILL make you a great nation. I WILL bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing. This is the LORD promising to do great things for Abram out of His undeserved love.

The LORD did indeed make a great nation out of Abram. From Abram’s lineage would come the great nation of Israel. The LORD did indeed make Abram’s name great, didn’t He. People today of many different religions admire Abram as a great man of faith. The LORD did indeed bless Abram and make him to be a blessing - a blessing for all the people of the earth. This was the LORD promising that from Abram’s descendants Jesus would eventually come. Jesus who is the Savior of not just the physical descendants of Abram, but of all the families of the earth. Abram’s descendant, Jesus, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Abram’s son, Jesus, would be his Savior as well - and in this way Abram would be greatly blessed!

But how many of these things would Abram see in his lifetime? When Abraham died, his son Isaac had only two sons, Esau and Jacob. It wouldn’t be for many centuries after Abraham’s death that a great nation would rise from his offspring. And it would be centuries before his descendants would take possession of Canaan and form the nation of Israel. Abraham certainly did not live to see how all the families of the earth would be blessed in him. Though Abram saw very few of these things come to be, that didn’t stop him from believing they were true. And how do we know? Well we see the fruits of his faith once again, don’t we! Wherever Abram settled, there he would build an altar to worship the LORD God. When Moses writes in verse 8 that Abram, “called on the name of the LORD,” that means he worshiped and prayed to him. No longer did Abram worship false idols, but the LORD God was now his God and the only God he worshiped.

In this life, like Abraham, we do not always see the blessings God promises us. So often our eyes seem to be telling us a different story than what our hearts believe. Most often what we do see with our eyes are the crosses that come with following Christ. The Apostle Paul encouraged the suffering believers in Asia-minor, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) Just as Jesus endured much shame and persecution, we should expect the same when we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. Our suffering is not to pay off our sins, because Jesus already completed that payment when He announced, “It is finished,” from the cross. Our crosses are the cost of discipleship.

But the LORD God has made just as many precious Gospel promises to us, hasn’t He! We haven’t seen Jesus face to face, but we believe in Him and love Him as our Savior. We didn’t see Jesus die on the cross, yet we believe that He was sacrificed to purchase our forgiveness. We’ve never seen someone who was raised from the dead, yet we believe Jesus rose on the third day and we believe that we too will rise from the dead on the last day. We haven’t seen heaven, yet we know the dwelling place of God exists and because of all that our Savior Jesus did, we too will inherit and enjoy the bliss of eternal life with Him in heaven. As Paul wrote, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)

And though unseen, we worship the God who loved us and saved us. He has given us faith in Him, faith which exercises itself in worship. We call upon His name as we praise Him, pray to Him, and give Him thanks. And not just on Sundays and Wednesdays. Just as Abram built an altar to the LORD wherever he moved, so too wherever we go, we worship our Savior God in our daily lives. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Faith responds to the promises of God by worshiping Him.

So, you see, we do have a great deal in common with Abraham. We worship the same Triune God. Though Abraham looked ahead to a Savior yet to be born and we look back at Jesus who already lived, suffered, and died for us - we both believe in the same Savior. Through the faith God gave both Abraham and us, we gladly obey the commandments which He speaks. And our faith responds to the promises of God by worshiping Him for His goodness and grace. May God ever continue to work in us, as He worked in our father Abraham, to keep us steadfast in this faith unto eternal life. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Matthew 4:1-11 "Our Lord was Tempted as We Are"


Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' " 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.' " 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

I. Tempted to distrust God
II. Tempted to test God
III. Tempted to be disloyal to God

Dear fellow wanderers through this desert, redeemed in Jesus Christ,
Lent has been described as a scene of battle for men’s souls. In today’s text we find just that, don’t we. A battle for the salvation of our souls. We find two princes engaged in combat. We hear how the prince of the power of the air, the devil, tempted the Prince of life, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. As we come upon this battlefield we can rejoice because we hear that Christ was victorious. The writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15) Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. The old evil foe regularly engages in battle with the Children of God. He tempts us just as he tempted our Savior. As we examine our text today, we not only see the weapon Jesus used to battle Satan, but we also see that Jesus was victorious in every single one of His battles. Let us examine how even as the devil tempts us, so too he tempted Jesus to distrust God, to test God, and to be disloyal to God. May God the Holy Spirit ever strengthen us by His Word as we find that the Lord is our refuge!

The setting couldn’t be more different from our Old Testament lesson (Gen 2-3) to our sermon text. In our Old Testament reading we heard just how blessed Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. God had given them everything. They could eat from any of the trees in the Garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet when the devil came to the blessed man and woman, they chose to disobey God, give heed to the temptation, and eat of the forbidden fruit.

But the scene we come upon in our sermon text couldn’t be more different, than the plush conditions of the Garden of Eden. Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan. The Holy Spirit had descended and remained on Jesus. God the Father had spoken words of endorsement and encouragement to His Son. Then He was led by the Spirit to the desert. In the desert where there was nothing for Jesus to eat. For forty days and forty nights Jesus went without food. And consider how amazing it is to hear that Jesus was hungry! For us this is normal. But for true God to be hungry? Here we see the depths of humiliation the Son of God was willing to go to save us. Conditions could not be more different for the second Adam, than the first Adam. Adam in the Garden had countless trees to eat from, Jesus in the desert had nothing to eat and He was hungry.

The devil tries to capitalize on those hunger pangs to tempt our Lord. As Satan so often does, he tempts with questions. “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” It’s as if the devil were saying: “If it’s really true, Jesus, that You are the Son of God, making these stones into bread should be no problem. We’re here alone in the middle of the desert. No one will know. You’re hungry and here’s an easy way to prove that you really are the Son of God. Surely God does not want His ‘beloved Son’ to go hungry, does He?” Seems harmless enough, doesn’t it? We can hardly see any harm in bread, can we? After all we all need to eat. Jesus was hungry. He’d done bigger miracles than changing stone into bread.

But what this sly devil was doing, was tempting Jesus to not trust in God. To not trust that God would take care of Him. To convince Him that feeding His flesh was the most important thing. But Jesus replies, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " Notice the humility of the Son of God. He does not argue back with His authority as the Alpha and Omega. Rather, Jesus points to Scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3. Earthly bread is secondary to the Bread from heaven. Jesus belly was not His first concern, living on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The devil would have Jesus use His power to serve Himself. Jesus was not about to do so.

The devil comes after us with the same temptation, doesn’t he? He tempts to compromise our trust of God for the needs of our flesh. He tempts us to place our bodily needs ahead of our spiritual needs. Maybe it’s a great job offer or a scholarship at a university that is hard to pass up, but would result in you moving away from your church. Maybe it is choosing work over church. Maybe it’s spending 10 more minutes in the field rather than taking 10 minutes to have a devotion with your family. Whatever the devil’s approach or angle might be, know this, that He does tempt us to distrust God and take matters into our own hands.

How have we handled such temptations? Have we always trusted God above everything else? Hardly! So often we try to make bread out of stone by taking things into our own hands. And in doing so we sin against God. We sin against the very first commandment by not TRUSTING in God above everything else. Yet what do we see with Jesus? Jesus who is our Substitute under the law? We see Jesus standing victorious on the battlefield, conquering this temptation for us and being faithful to God in our place!

“Alright,” the devil would say, “You want to quote Scripture - here’s Scripture for you.” The devil takes Jesus to a high wall in Jerusalem, possibly one with a 400 foot drop into the Kidron Valley. The devil then questions Jesus again and quotes from Psalm 91, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' " “God said it. It’s His Word. Are you afraid God won’t keep His word? Don’t you believe God will do what He says He will do?” The devil would have Jesus test God and make God prove that He means what He says in His Word.

It is true that the devil quoted from Psalm 91, but he purposefully left out a very important part. In Psalm 91:11 we read, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.” Yes, God promises to watch over and protect all His children. He promises to provide His angels to protect us, to keep us in all our ways. To keep us in all our ways means that as we live in accordance with the way God wants to live. But the devil loves half-truths. He loves to misquote, misapply Scripture and lead into temptation and sin by twisting the Word of God.

Again, notice how Jesus replies. He does not reply with a logical argument as Eve did in the Garden. He does not call upon the authority that is His as the Son of God. In humility Jesus relies on the power of the simple and clear Word of God to combat Satan."It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' " Why test God when there is a perfectly fine staircase over there? To put God to the test is contrary to the simple and clear Word of God as Jesus quoted form Deuteronomy 6.

He was tempted as we are, isn’t He? Aren’t we tempted to tempt the LORD our God? How many times haven’t we, knowing what God’s Word says, been tempted to either make God prove He is serious about something or tempted to push God to see what we can get away with? And how often don’t we give into those temptations! Even if it was testing God just once, that makes us guilty of all and worthy of God’s eternal wrath. But what do we see with Jesus? We see our Champion standing firm in the face of the very same temptations we fall into. Our Lord was tempted as we are, yet without sin!

It seems that the devil was getting frustrated with Jesus. He had not proved such an easy target as did Adam and Eve. But the devil continues to lie and manipulate. He finally tries to appeal to greed for power. Here is the Son of God who from eternity had all authority in heaven and on earth, but now had taken on the humble form of a servant. From eternity He had all the riches of the universe at His fingertips, but now He was poor and without a place to lay His head.

The devil takes Him to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Where or how this took place, our minds struggle to comprehend. But this we know by faith - it really happened. And the devil really tempted Jesus saying, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." All the power and wealth and might of the kingdoms of the world would be a great temptation to the Son (as it were) of a carpenter. Everything anyone could ever desire, right at His fingertips - if only He would bow down and worship the devil.

This is the last straw for Jesus. For the first time addressing him by name, Jesus says, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.' " Satan would have Jesus be disloyal to His Father. He would have Him worship Satan instead of God. And this Jesus cannot tolerate, for it goes against the 1st and greatest commandment.

Someone once said that sin can kind of be like a painting. If it’s in the right frame it doesn’t look so bad. Satan loves to put idolatry in a pretty frame, doesn’t he. He shows us how fun the pleasures of the world can be on TV. He makes the women of the world look so appealing to our flesh. He makes fame and power look so wonderful. Satan would have us believe that we have to look out for number one - ourselves! He would have us be disloyal to our Father in heaven.

A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say, " No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24) But Satan would have us believe that the pursuit of happiness should be our first goal in life. It’s one of our “inalienable rights” we are told. Not so, our Savior says. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (6:33)

We are assaulted by these temptations, too, aren’t we? How do we fare? Do we stand firm at the time of temptation? Do we always and only seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, knowing that God will take care of us? We don’t, do we?! We covet, we lust, we seek first our own kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God. Time and again we have been disloyal to God and instead bowed to the gods of this world - pride, possessions, and power.

While we have failed to fear, love, and trust in God above everything else, Jesus did not give into such temptations. Jesus was tempted just as we are, yet without sin. He was our Substitute under the law and obeyed it perfectly in our place. The devil tried to get Jesus to distrust God, just as he does with us, but Jesus did not sin and by faith God credits Jesus victory to our spiritual account! The devil tried to get Jesus to test God, just as he does with us, but Jesus did not sin in this way either, and by faith God credits Jesus’ victory to our spiritual account. And the devil tried to get Jesus to be disloyal to God, even as he tries and so often succeeds with us, but Jesus remained loyal to God unto death, and God credit’s Jesus’ victory to our spiritual account. Jesus was victorious in His all battles over sin and by His amazing grace gives His victory! Praise be to our Champion, Jesus, now and forever!

With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord, And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever. AMEN! (TLH 262:2)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Profiles of the Passion: Judas Iscariot - Profile of Betrayal


1) Judas Iscariot - Profile of Betrayal
Text: Matthew 26:14-16

Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross we spend,
Life and health and peace possessing
From the sinners’ dying Friend.

Lord, in loving contemplation
Fix our hearts and eyes on Thee
Till we taste Thy full salvation
And Thine unveiled glory see.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who gather together this night to ponder our Savior’s passion - His suffering and death to purchase our salvation, grace and peace be multiplied to you in His name!
Profile - those of you who make use of the social networking tool called “Facebook” will be very familiar with that word “profile.” On Facebook you have the opportunity to tell your friends and the world something about yourself and you put that on your “profile” page. You can include such information as a picture of yourself, your birthday, your relationship status, your political views, your religious views, your hobbies, your favorite quotes, and who your Facebook friends are. But even if have never been on Facebook, you probably know what a profile is. When we are talking about a personality profile, we are talking about an informal biography of someone. A sort of sketch or outline of their life and characteristics.

The Passion account of Jesus suffering and death is made up of many different people who were involved in different ways. Certainly our Lord Jesus Christ is the central figure in the Passion. It is His Passion. It is the account of His suffering and death for our salvation. But as we read the Passion account, we hear about different people. Who were these people? What role did they play? Why did they do the things they did?

During our Mid-week Lenten services we want to consider just that - profiles of the Passion. We want to examine the profiles of different players in the Passion account. My plan is that by drawing on what Scripture tells us about these people, to present their profile in the first person - let them tell you their story and what we can learn from them as we examine their profiles. Tonight we begin by examining the Passion profile of Judas Iscariot, a profile of betrayal. To guide our meditation this evening, we turn to the Word of God as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, reading verses 14 through 16:

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
So far the Word of God.

Good evening. My name is Judas. I imagine you know my name pretty well and probably don’t anything good with my name. I am not speaking to you tonight to make light of or excuse the things that I did. You have every right to be disgusted and appalled at me.

Let me begin tonight by telling you a little about myself. I am often referred to as Judas Iscariot. I am referred to this way so that you do not get me confused with another one of the 12 apostles, Judas, the son of James, sometimes also called Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus. I was called Judas Iscariot, because Iscariot means “man from Kerioth-herzon,” the region of Judea that I came from.

Out of the many disciples that Jesus had, he chose me to be one of the 12 men to be His special students. As one of the 12 apostles I was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. Along with men like Peter, James, and John I followed Jesus for three years. I saw many, many miracles performed by Jesus. I was there when Jesus fed the 5,000 and then the 4,000. I helped collect the baskets of leftovers. I saw Him heal the sick and paralyzed, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. I saw Him cast out many demons. I was in the boat when Jesus calmed the seas. I saw with my own two eyes, Jesus walking on the water and then calling Peter out of the boat to walk on the water too!

But more than what I saw is what I had the opportunity to hear from Jesus. From His own lips I heard Him expound on the Gospel. I was there when He delivered His Sermon on the Mount. I heard Him tell those many parables that you even teach your children about in Sunday School. I heard Him say so many things about what the Kingdom of God was and what it was not. I heard the Gospel from the mouth of Jesus.

And after following Jesus and being taught by Him for a couple of years, He sent us out. Along with the other 11 apostles, He gave me power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. Along with 11, He commissioned me to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick among our fellow Jews.

Though I saw all this, heard all this, and did all this, there was one thing I loved more than all of it combined. I loved money. I coveted it. I wanted as much as I could get my hands on. And I loved my job as one the 12 apostles. I was in charge of the group’s money bag. As Jesus would preach, teach, and heal, people would give us money - in the same as you take up an offering during your worship services here. What was so great about being the treasurer of this group? Well, the other 11 were so gullible and trusting, that no one ever audited me. I could take as much as I wanted out of the money bag for myself and no one was ever the wiser! Meanwhile I was accumulating much wealth for myself!

It was my love for money that led me to eventually sell-out to the enemies of Jesus. For some time I had known that they were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. The leaders of the Jewish church couldn’t stand Him or His teaching and wanted to kill Him. I thought this seemed like a great business opportunity for me and my bank account. After all, if Jesus was really who He said He was, He could certainly escape unharmed from the hands of these men, just as He had done before! But if Jesus did not escape, and they killed Him, He would be shown to be the fake Messiah that they thought He was. Either way, I thought, I was going to get paid!

So during Holy Week, I snuck away from Jesus and the other apostles, and met with the chief priests. I proposed the following business transaction with them, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” They couldn’t have been more pleased to see me and hear my proposal! And then, right there in front of me, the counted out 30 pieces of silver. It was amazing to see that silver shine! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. So I waited for the right opportunity to trade Jesus for those 30 pieces of silver. Those 30 pieces of silver would have been something like 70 of your U.S. dollars today.

During the celebration of the Passover, I found my opportunity. Jesus was alone with the other 11 apostles. There were no big crowds that would cause trouble. And I knew where Jesus would be. Jesus had often taken us to the Garden of Gethsemane to get away from the crowds and pray. So toward the end of the Passover meal, I left the table and went to the Temple to arrange the exchange - Jesus for those 30 pieces of silver.

The chief priests and elders of the Temple sent with me a detachment of well armed temple troops and officers. I had the perfect plan. I arranged to give the soldiers a sign, so that they would know who they should arrest. I would give Jesus a friendly kiss. I thought it was the perfect plan because then they could get their man and the other apostles wouldn’t suspect a thing. I would just tell them that the troops and officers must have been following me.

But it didn’t go the way I had expected. That silver that once shimmered and looked so beautiful, now looked like the ugliest thing I had ever seen in my life. Jesus knew! Jesus knew exactly what I was up to! I should have known I couldn’t hide anything from him! When I kissed Him, He spoke these words that have haunted me ever since, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lk 22:47) Then they bound Jesus and took Him away! Jesus didn’t resist, He didn’t fight. He went along with them willingly. When they spit on Him and mistreated Him, He didn’t fight back. When He was being whipped, He did not slip away from their grasp as He had before, but endured it silently. And then the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, condemned Him to die by crucifixion.

I couldn’t take it. The silver that seemed so enticing before, now made me sick when I thought about how I had gotten it. I went back to the chief priests and elders and told them, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But do you know how they responded? They who had been so glad and eager to work with me before, now said coldly, “What is that to us?” (Mt 27:4) They didn’t care what I was going through! They only cared that they got Jesus and He was on His way to die.

That was the last straw. Not all the money in the world could comfort my soul! I couldn’t show my face again to the apostles. I betrayed my own Master and Lord! I betrayed the Son of God! The only escape I could think of, was to kill myself. So I went out and hanged myself only to find that this was no escape but entrance into an eternity of torment in hell!

So what can you learn from looking at my personal profile? There is much my wretched example can teach you. The chief lesson I have for you, is to not harden your hearts to warnings from the Word of God. Time and time again, Jesus warned me about the path I was headed on. He loved me and was trying to call me to repentance. Jesus never extended anything but love to me, even though He knew I would betray Him. In fact, just hours before I would betray Him, Jesus washed my feet. Something only the lowliest of servants usually does for their master and his guests. He washed my feet! The feet of His betrayer!

At the Passover meal, Jesus came right out and told me that He knew I what I was up to. But I ignored Him and played dumb. When Jesus said that someone at the table was going to betray Him, all the other apostles asked if they were the ones that was going to betray Him. So rather than being obviously guilty, I joined in by asking, “Rabbi, is it I?” knowing full well that I was going to betray Him that night. Jesus, once again, reaching out to me in love, trying to call me back to Himself said, “You have said it.” (Mt 26:25)

Jesus also warned me that night saying, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Mt 26:24) Jesus was trying to get me to think about what I was doing. Not only was Jesus warning me about it, but the Old Testament prophets were warning me about what I was about to do! They prophesied that I was going to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver - the value of a dead slave! It would have been good for me if I had never been born, rather than choosing the road I chose, which continues on forever in torments of hell.

My heart was cold to the words and love of Jesus. That is because something else was more important to me - money. What the Apostle Paul would later on write about money, might as well have been written on my gravestone. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim 6:9-10) I loved money more than I loved Jesus. And the devil took advantage of my desire to be rich. When faith in Jesus left my heart, the devil entered in and worked with my sinful desires to betray Jesus into death.

Learn from my profile. Do not follow on my path to destruction. Nothing is more valuable than Jesus. When Jesus calls out to you in His Word warning you about the path you are on, do not ignore Him. When a follower of Jesus warns you about your sin, examine your heart to see if it is true, repent, and look to Jesus for forgiveness. The death that Jesus died was not in vain. He died to pay for all sins of betrayal. I rejected His forgiveness and redemption and am now paying the price forever in the darkness and unquenchable fires of hell. Jesus is your hope, your forgiveness, your salvation, and your life. There is no sin too great for Him to forgive.

May my horrid profile cause you to examine your hearts, repent of your sins - even your sins of betrayal - when something in your life became more valuable to you than Jesus, and in faith look to that Jesus who was sold for the price of a dead slave and see your Savior. When you fall into sin, do not hopelessly despair unto death as I did, but in sorrow over your sins run to Jesus and find cleansing in His innocent blood. Please, learn from my horrid profile of betrayal! Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2 Peter 1:16-21 "'Tis Good, Lord, to be Here!"


2 Peter 1:16-21
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Theme: “‘Tis Good, Lord, to be Here!” - Here, where we have the prophetic word - Here, where we listen to the voice which came from heaven

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
If I could be anywhere right now I would be . . . where? Sipping mai-tais on a beach in Hawaii? Playing baseball in Arizona? Anywhere that is warmer than here? Usually at this time of year, we begin to get that dreaded cabin fever. We feel like we’ve been cooped up inside for far too long and it is time to get out the short sleeve shirts and enjoy the sunshine! Then we turn on the weather to hear that another round of snow is headed our way this week. Oh, for the warmth and sunshine! No wonder so many of our members enjoy traveling to warmer climates at this time of year!

But right now, at this very moment, is there somewhere else you would rather be than here in the Lord’s house, praising Him in His temple? Well I suppose that depends on what you think of coming to church. If I had you fill in the blank to the following statement, what word would you use? “Church is ____________.” Church is something my parents make me go to? Church is boring? Church is for older people? Church is redundant - that is I feel like I hear the same thing every time I go?

In the last year, many of our CLC congregations and at least one of our pastoral conferences have taken up a study of why CLC congregations seem to be losing so many of their young people. Right here at Prince of Peace, this is something we have had great concern about as we consider ministering to our young people and building them up in Christ. Our West Central Pastoral Conference took up a study of this matter and asked several of those who left the CLC, why they left. Some had personal reasons, such as they had a fall out with their pastor. Others did leave because they did not agree with the teachings of our church. Still others said they left their church because they felt their congregation and the CLC at large was old, stuffy, and boring.

For those who felt that the church was old, stuffy, and boring, what could have we done to keep them as members? Add a contemporary service complete with drums and guitar? What about when that got old and boring? Would a pastor in jeans and a t-shirt be more acceptable than a suit and black gown? Become more of a house of entertainment than a house of worship?

But what if . . . what if we could offer something here at Prince of Peace similar to what Peter, James, and John experienced on that mountain top? On this Transfiguration Sunday we heard in our Gospel lesson the amazing account of Jesus being transfigured in front of the eyes of these three disciples. We heard how Jesus shone with His glory as the Son of God. Glory which was His from eternity, but which He laid aside when He humbled Himself and became true Man. We heard how Moses and Elijah, those heroes of the Old Testament, appeared in glory and talked with Jesus. We heard how, as Peter says in our text, “a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” What if church was like that every Sunday?

As we turn to our text for this Transfiguration Sunday we find out from the Apostle Peter that we actually have something just as good, if not better than the events that transpired on the Mount of Transfiguration. Just as Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount to talk about Jesus death, we have the same here every Sunday in the prophetic word. Just as God the Father spoke from heaven about His Son on the mount, we have the same thing here every Sunday. So just as Peter said on the Mount of Transfiguration that it was good to be there, let us echo that sentiment about coming to church, “‘Tis Good Lord, to be Here!”

I) Do you wish you had been there on the Mount of Transfiguration? Of course, who wouldn’t! To see Jesus shining in all His glory and those great patriarchs of the faith, Moses and Elijah, standing there, talking with Jesus. But what is it that they talked to Jesus about? The current political news? The weather? Whether there was going to be an NFL lockout? Luke writes that they “appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:30) Not soon after the Mount of Transfiguration was Holy Week. And at the end of Holy Week? Good Friday - Jesus’ crucifixion. That is what these saints in glory were speaking to Jesus about! They were talking about His suffering and death.

And doesn’t that make perfect sense? These two saints in glory were discussing the most important thing anyone can talk about. They were talking with Jesus about the very reason they were in heaven. Though Jesus would not be born for another 1500 years after Moses and a few hundred years after Elijah, while they walked this earth they had faith in the promises of God. They believed that God would send someone to save them from their sins. They believed in Jesus even before He was born.

And wasn’t Jesus the focus of their work and writings? Moses is credited with having written the first five books of the Old Testament. And what is the focus of Genesis through Deuteronomy? A Savior. True, we often think of Moses as the giver of the Law, but by the Law is the knowledge of sin. And we need to know that we are sinners, so that we might look for a Savior. And Jesus is the promised Savior that Moses and all Old Testament believers looked for.

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. And what was the message of the Old Testament prophets? The coming of the promised one! From Samuel to Elijah to Isaiah to Malachi, all of them foretold of a coming Savior who would save us. After John the Baptist was born, Zacharias his father, filled with the Holy Spirit said, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began.” (Lk 1:68-70) Zacharias knew that the birth of his son John, meant that the promised Savior was on His way - just as God had foretold by His holy prophets.

While we were not there on the Mount of Transfiguration, we have something even better. That’s right, better than the appearance of Moses and Elijah in their glory! Peter says in our text that even though he was there on the mount and saw all this take place, we have the prophetic word made more sure. We have Moses and Elijah with us today, every time the Old Testament Scriptures are read in church. It is made more sure, because Jesus fulfilled every prophecy written of Him. We are able to hear them speak about the coming decease of Jesus in Jerusalem, written several hundred years before Jesus was even born. That is why it is good to be here! Because of the prophetic word which Jesus fulfilled by His life, death, and resurrection. Let’s listen to Moses and Elijah talk about Jesus!

II) I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD." (Ps 122:1) King David said he was GLAD when people talked about going to church! Which one of us can truly say, we feel the same way as King David about going to church? Or consider what the psalmist writes in Psalm 84, For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Ps 84:10) The psalmist says there is no place else he would rather be, than in the courts of the LORD’s house! These men of God would agree, “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!”

Or consider Jesus. Jesus who was the very Son of God. Jesus who as the Word made flesh, knew the Scriptures better than anyone else. Jesus who as true God should have been worshiped. Yet what was Jesus custom on Saturdays? We read in the Gospels that it was His custom to go to the synagogue, to church, on Saturday, their day of worship. What a remarkable thing Jesus did! He who should have been worshiped, Himself went to worship God! Why? I would suggest two reasons. One, is that He went to worship because it was the God-pleasing thing to do. And as our Substitute under the Law, He did what was right in God’s sight for the times we failed to do so. But the second reason I would suggest, is that He was showing us that it is good to worship God and to hear and learn His Word. Even at age 12, Jesus was in the temple discussing God’s Word!

Often times I think we lose sight of why we go to church. We feel that we HAVE to go to church. Maybe we feel that we are doing God a favor by going to church. But we do not go to church to earn brownie points with God. Jesus has accomplished our salvation. There are no works we could do to earn our salvation, Jesus has earned it for us by His perfect life. Going to church on Sunday is not about us, it is about God! We are here to worship the Triune God who created us, the God who preserves us, the God to saved us by dying for us, and the God who rescued us from hell and adopted us as His children. We are here to pray to Him, to praise Him, and to give thanks to Him. It is so easy to lose sight of that!

But when we go to church God also does something for us. He speaks to us in His Word. We come to church to hear the very thing Peter, James, and John heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty. They heard the voice of God the Father from the Excellent Glory, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

We come to church to listen that same voice from heaven! Peter says of Scripture, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Think of what this means! When we read a psalm responsively, or when we hear portions of Scripture used throughout our liturgy, or when the pastor reads the Scripture lessons, or when the sermon text is read, you are not hearing an award winning story from the fiction section of the library, but you are hearing the words of God Himself! The things that the holy writers wrote down are the very thoughts and word which God gave them. The Holy Spirit gave them the words to write. So when you hear the Scriptures you are hearing the voice of God! And when the pastor faithfully delivers to you the teachings of Scripture, you are hearing the teachings of God! And if we are hearing the word of God, we too can say, “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!”

What is it that God had to say about Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” Don’t we hear the same thing when we listen to the Scriptures? We hear that the Father is well pleased in His Son because of who His Son is and what His Son was doing. He was pleased with His Son because He was willing to do the most loving thing He could - lay down His life to save sinful man! He was pleased with His Son, because His Son obeyed Him in every respect. Even dying on the cross, because that was the Father’s will to save mankind! And so the beloved Son of God, in whom the Father was well pleased is the central message of all of His Word! When you come to church to hear the voice from heaven as recorded in the Words of Scripture, you should expect - even demand! - to hear about the beloved Son of God who came to be your Savior and give you eternal life! When this is the case, we may say with Peter, “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!”

Where else would you rather be than right here? When Peter was on the mount of Transfiguration he said it was good to be there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. In his confusion Peter said he wanted to build tents for these three in glory. Peter didn’t want that amazing moment to end! But as amazing as that scene was, it came to an end just as quickly as it began. Jesus had work to do. He had to save us!

‘Tis good, Lord, to be here! Here where we have that prophetic word made more sure by Jesus fulfilling it through His life, His death, and His resurrection. It is good to be here to listen to Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus’ redemptive work. It is good to be here to listen to that voice from heaven, God’s Word, as recorded on the pages of Scripture. Here where God speaks to us of His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Let us give heed to this light of God’s Word that shines in a dark place, until the day of Jesus’ return dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. ‘Tis good, Lord, to be here! Amen!