Friday, April 22, 2011

Matthew 27:50 "Jesus - A Profile of Love"


Profiles of the Passion -
#7) Jesus - A Profile of Love
Text: Matthew 27:50 Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who loved us, and gave Himself up for us, dear fellow redeemed in His name,

What does love look like? If I asked you right now to describe love or draw a picture of love, how would you describe it or picture it? Valentine’s Day is a day of love and often love between two people is depicted with a heart-shaped symbol to represent that love that a person has in his or her heart for that other person. Or maybe the description of love you would give would be that of a man and woman, standing before God, pledging to be faithful to one another. A faithfulness that only death can separate. Maybe it is the bond between a parent and a child. Or maybe the image of love you have in your mind is an aged wife at her husband’s bedside, holding his hands during his last moments of life. To different people, love will be described in different ways.

During our Mid-Week Lenten services we’ve been considering different profiles of the Passion. A profile is a brief depiction or description of someone. Many of our young people are familiar with this word “profile” thanks in part to Facebook and the profile pages they have. These pages describe things about people - such as their age, their interest, and the like. We considered the a profile of betrayal, a profile of lost opportunity, a profile of denial, a profile of unbelief, a profile of sinful convenience, and last week a profile of repentance.

Tonight, as we gather together during this week that is most sacred and dear to us Christians, we want to consider a profile of love. We all know that Jesus was loving. We see His love in everything He did. How He fed the 5,000 when they were hungry. How He healed those who were physically tormented by diseases and demons. How He took up the little children in His arms and blessed them. We see His love in raising to life again, the widow of Nain’s only son who had died. But as we consider this profile of love, we will not be using any of those Scripture accounts. Instead we turn to the Word of God as recorded in Matthew 27, verse 50, where we read -

Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit.

So far the Word of God.

If you’ve ever read Genesis chapter 5, you’ve read a summery of life in this world. We read that Adam begot Seth, and he died. Seth begot Enosh, and he died. Enosh begot Cainan, and he died. And so, as chapter 5 of Genesis continues on recounting the genealogy of Adam to Noah and Noah’s three sons, we hear the story of lives beginning and lives ending.

Life and death. It really is the story of life in this world, isn’t it. Sure none of us expect to live to be 930 years old like Adam or 969 years like Methuselah, but we all expect our beginning and ending to be the same as what we read in Genesis 5. We are here because our parents begot us and we will be here until we die. It has been this way since Adam and it will be this way until the Last Day. While we would much rather focus on the begetting of life, the birth of a new child, we know that death is a very real thing in our lives - something none of us can avoid or escape.

This is the result of being a descendant of Adam. When God created Adam, He created Adam in His image. An image of perfection, holiness, and righteousness. Death was not a part of the picture at that time. However, death was a threat for disobedience. After God created Adam, He told him that he was free to eat of any tree in the Garden which He had made. Except for one. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it (dying you shall die).” (Gen 2:17) Death would be the result of disobedience.

Yesterday in Confirmation class, we talked about what death is. Death is defined as a separation. When we speak of death, we are usually speaking of the soul separating from the body. However the Bible speaks of death in two other ways. The Bible speaks of eternal death, that is an eternal separation from God in hell. The Bible also speaks of a kind of death that was the immediate result of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden - spiritual death. It is a spiritual separation from God while still living here on earth. While Adam was initially created in God’s image of perfect righteousness and holiness, when Adam disobeyed and ate of the tree, he suffered spiritual death - a spiritual separation from the holy God because of His sin. Adam’s rebellion also, ultimately led to his physical death as well at the age of 930.

Because of Adam’s sin, none of his descendants have the image of God anymore - that is an image of perfect holiness and righteousness - but instead we all have the image of sinful Adam. In Genesis 5:3 we read, “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Seth was born spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins. And so it has continued for all mankind. All of us are born spiritually separated from God, awaiting our physical death, and because of our sin an eternal separation from God in hell. “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul writes to the Romans (6:23).

So we have come to accept that death is just a part of life. A part of life for all of us, except for Jesus. What makes the death of Jesus a profile of love, is WHO it was that breathed His last and yielded up His spirit on Good Friday and WHY He breathed His last.

Though there are hundreds of deaths recorded in Scripture, there are none like the death of Jesus. The Roman centurions who were charged with supervising and carrying out the crucifixion of Jesus, had probably seen hundreds of crucifixions and they knew what to expect. But they had never seen anything like the death of Jesus. Jesus who prayed to His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. Jesus who cared for His mother from the cross. Jesus who assured another man being crucified for the crimes he committed of eternal life. No other death or crucifixion included three hours of darkness. Never had the earth quaked and the rocks split at the death of any other man. These things only at the death of Jesus. This lead one of the Roman centurions even to proclaim at Jesus’ death, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Mt 27:54)

The death of Jesus was so different because Jesus was so different. Unlike every other person that had been born into this world, Jesus was not born of the sinful image of Adam. He had a human mother, but He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was a true man, but He was also true God. John writes of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) As the Son of God, Jesus was FULL OF LIFE. As the Son of God, He was the author of life. Again, John records, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (Jn 1:3) Without the Son of God, there would be no life on this planet at all.

Yet what do we hear happened to the Author of Life? Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. Jesus died. Not an unusual thing for any of us. But think for a moment on what a remarkable statement that is about Jesus! The Son of God, in whom was life, the One through whom all things were made, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, DIED. Death is not a part of who God is.

But why? Why did the Son of God “yield up His spirit?” Why did the author of life breath His last and die? This is where we begin to see the profile of love that is Jesus. Jesus never disobeyed one of God’s commandments, though He never had a sinful thought or an unloving thought toward His neighbor. Paul writes that Jesus, “knew no sin.” Jesus had no personal experience with sin. And thus, having never sinned, He never earned the wages of sin - that is death.

Yet He dies. He dies a most horrible and wretched death. He dies because He loved us. While Jesus had no personal experience with sin Himself, we know a lot about sin. We were born in the sinful image of our first father, Adam. The Son of God knew we were born spiritually separated from God and unless He did something, we would be eternally separated from God in hell. And so He yielded up His spirit and breathed His last. He died so that we could live.

This was plan of the Triune God from the beginning. He didn’t want us to perish eternally, apart from Him. He wanted us to be in fellowship with Him forever. But God could not simply ignore our sin problem. He is a just God and justice requires that punishment for rebellion be carried out. And that is where the Son of God came in. It was either us or Him. Either we would be punished eternally for our rebellion, or the sinless Son of God would have to suffer and die in our place.

What happened? Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. Jesus, the Son of God, died. God placed all our sins on His sinless Son and punished Him in our place. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, Paul writes. (2 Cor 5:21) We heard the Prophet Isaiah write of Jesus, “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But 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 53:4-5)

THIS is what love looks like. Love looks like a lifeless Jesus on the cross. Jesus our Good Shepherd lays down His life to save the flock. On this night of Maundy Thursday, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) What greater act of love could Jesus do than to lay down His life to save us? To endure the wrath of God against sin on the cross? To suffer hell on the cross so that we could go to heaven?

THIS is what a profile of love looks like: Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. Praise be to our Savior Jesus! Amen!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"The King that rode on a donkey's colt"

Zechariah 9:9-10
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

- A humble King
- A powerful King

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, fellow subjects of the King of kings!
Only 12 more days! Have you cleared your schedule for that day so you can watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? Can you hardly handle the wait? Watching many of our news stations, you would think this royal wedding is a monumental event in American history. Yet their marriage does not affect our nation in any way. The monarchy in Great Britain is largely for show. Queen Elizabeth and her family really have little say in policy making or national defense. Yet this royal wedding seems to have captured the imagination of many Americans. I suppose hearing that a prince is going to get married makes many girls think of the fairytales they used to hear as children. Stories of Prince Charming coming to rescue the damsel in distress and make her his bride, a princess.

But of all those Prince Charming stories you’ve ever heard of, what have you imagined Prince Charming to be riding on? Isn’t his trusty steed always a white stallion? And why is that? Isn’t it because Prince Charming’s strength and power is reflected his mode of transportation? Speaking in today’s terms, we wouldn’t expect Prince William and his new bride to ride around in a rusted out 1985 Ford Escort. That would be beneath royalty to ride in such a contraption! Rather we expect them to ride around in some of the finest transportation available - like a Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, or Mercedes Bends.

We have come to expect powerful people to demonstrate their power in their choice of transportation. Isn’t that one of the things that is so striking about the Palm Sunday account? The prophet Zechariah writes of a King who’s dominion or rule would be “from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.” There has never been a king that ruled an empire which covered the ends of the earth, except for the King of whom Zechariah writes. Yet how does this powerful King get around? We would expect to find Him on only the finest chariot, pulled by the finest breed of horse in His day. But Zechariah writes of this King that He comes “riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” That is like Prince William and Kate pulling up to their wedding in a 1971 Ford Pinto! Sure it will get you where you need go, but it is not very regal at all.

Today we mark the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, some 500 years later, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the Sunday before His death. I think most of us are very familiar with the Palm Sunday account. We colored pictures of it when we were in Sunday School, we have the opportunity to be reminded of it each year, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself WHY Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey? When Jesus sent His disciples into the village of Bethphage to bring get a donkey and a colt for Him to ride on, was He just looking to show that He was the one Zechariah was writing about, or was there something more at work here? We want to answer that question this morning as we examine “The King who rode on a donkey’s colt.” May the LORD God bless us and be with us as we examine the words of His holy prophet. Amen.

A donkey certainly has it’s value and purpose in our world. A donkey is often called a beast of burden, because it was frequently used to haul heavy loads. Donkeys can run, but they are not very fast. You would not want to ride a donkey into battle or run one in a race. Furthermore, donkeys are known to be rather stubborn and difficult to work with. They were something that was reserved for the poor and lowly, who couldn’t afford a horse. While they do have their purpose, given the choice between a horse and a donkey, I sure most of us would prefer a horse to ride on. And yet on the Sunday before His death, we hear that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on colt, the foal of a donkey.

Along with the donkey, what we are most familiar with on Palm Sunday is the hosannas that the people shouted to Jesus and how they hailed Him as their king. Much as our children did this morning. But Palm Sunday was not the only time the people of Israel spoke of Jesus as a king. Right after Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000 (Jn 6), there were some who wanted to make Him a king. And why not?! He gave them food that they didn’t have to work for! Who could ask for a greater king than that! Yet Jesus was not a bread King come to meet people’s physical needs. He would not allow them to make Him King and left that area.

But on Palm Sunday He didn’t shy away from people hailing Him as a King (Lk 20), waiving their palm branches, and proclaiming their hosanna’s to Him. Many kings were praised as they rode into the capital city of Jerusalem. But I doubt any of them were riding on a donkey’s colt. This happened to demonstrate the kind of King Jesus was and the truth about His kingdom. He is a humble King riding on a humble donkey’s colt.

This is exactly the King that Zechariah prophesied of in our text. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zion and Jerusalem are the Church. And the Church is to rejoice and shout for joy over their King. Their King that comes to them. Their King that is righteous and brings salvation. But their King that is lowly and humble. That is the reason this King rode on a donkey’s colt, because He is humble.

We would expect nothing different from Jesus, would we. When He was born, He was not born into a noble and powerful family, but to a peasant girl from Nazareth. During His life, though He is the powerful Son of God from eternity, He took on a servant’s form. On the night before He died He washed His servant’s feet. Though He did many miracles, He never used His almighty power for Himself, but to help others. When He did help people, He told them not to tell anyone what He had done. Jesus did not want fame as a miracle worker, but as the Prophet and Teacher. Though He created the heavens and earth, He had no place to lay His head and call His own at night. The King of kings had no palace and no army, but was followed by the poor, lame, and uneducated. This King then died a servant’s death when He was crucified to save His people.

Though King Jesus rode on a humble donkey’s colt, we the Church are to rejoice and shout for joy over our humble King. We rejoice that He is humble. We rejoice that He does not come by force and displays of power. This humble King continues to come with humble means. He rides into the hearts of a little baby with the humble water and word of Holy Baptism. He rides into the hearts of His repentant followers, through the humble means of bread and wine. He rides into our hearts through the humble preaching of the Word. He does not just associate with the mighty and powerful, but with the lowly, the downcast, the repentant sinner. This is our humble King who rides on a donkey’s colt.

“Only the strong survive.” “Might makes right.” “The meek inherit...nothing.” The people of this world have always despised humility. Humility to the world is a sign of weakness. That is why so many who passed by the cross on Good Friday mocked and scorned Jesus. They saw no strength and power on the cross, only defeat and humiliation. "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (Mt 27:42-43) The world thinks that a powerful King would do some powerful act like coming down from the cross. The world sees a crucified Jesus and thinks He is weak and defeated.

We should not let the world fool us into thinking that humility is a sign of weakness. Though this King rode on a donkey’s colt, He was powerful. Listen to the power Zechariah writes of about King Jesus. “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the battle horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This King that looked so humble riding a donkey and so defeated nailed to a cross, was actually defeating great spiritual enemies and establishing peace. By His death on the cross He was removing the enmity that existed between God and us. He was reconciling us unto God. He removed our sin by taking it on the cross and suffering our punishment. His blood bought peace between God and us.

And the rule of King Jesus? From sea to sea. Though the servant Jesus had no place to lay His head, His rule is over all of creation. We heard from Paul in our New Testament lesson (Phil 2:5-11) that after Jesus humbled Himself, God highly exalted Him, giving Him the name above every name and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow - even those who mocked and blasphemed Him on the cross. Think of how many call on Jesus as their Savior today! Wherever the Gospel is being preached, Jesus is extending His kingdom.

So we see once again, that the Kingdom of Jesus and the kingdoms of this world could not be more different. Jesus told His disciples, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mt 20:25-28) Greatness in the Kingdom of Jesus is seen in humility and serving. Not putting oneself first, but putting one another first, even as Jesus put us ahead of Himself as He laid down His life to save us.

The greatness of Jesus was not the power He displayed, but the love He showed by coming to earth to serve us. The Son of God didn’t HAVE to become man, but He did so that He could die for us. Jesus didn’t HAVE to take on a servant’s form, but He did to serve as our Substitute before God. He served us by obeying God’s Law perfectly for us. Jesus didn’t HAVE to die the humiliating death on the cross, but He did to pay for all of our sins and ransom us. The greatness of King Jesus would not have been coming down from the cross, but the greatness of Jesus is that He STAYED on the cross to save us!

In the verses leading up to our New Testament lesson (Phil 2:5-11), Paul writes, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:3-5) As subjects of King Jesus let us not make ourselves greater than our King who rode on a donkey’s colt. Let us see how Jesus humbled Himself to save us and likewise humble ourselves in loving service to one another.

What other animal would you have Jesus ride on? He is our humble King riding on a humble donkey’s colt. He who bore the burden of our sins did Himself ride on a beast of burden as He came to save us. Therefore let us join the glad throng on Palm Sunday by proclaiming - HOSANNA! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD! PRAISE BE TO KING JESUS! AMEN.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Romans 8:11-19 "We Are Children of God"

Romans 8:11-19 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors -- not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.

- Adopted by the Spirit
- Led by the Spirit
- To be raised through the Spirit

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified with the whole Christian Church on earth, by the working of the Holy Spirit,
Did you find our Old Testament lesson as captivating as I did? (Ezekiel 37:1-14) It is like a scene right out of a hit Hollywood movie! The LORD takes Ezekiel and sets him down in a valley where it looks like World War III has been fought. The floor of the valley is full of dead men’s bones. Bones that had been picked clean by predators and left to bake in the hot Mid-Eastern sun. But then, at the word of the LORD, those dry bones are covered with muscle and skin. And when the LORD commands it, life enters those once dry bone. They then rise to their feet and stand as a great army.

What a sight that must have been! How amazing it must have been to see those once dead and lifeless collection of bones, rise to life at the LORD’s command, and stand as a mighty army ready to do the LORD’s bidding. Don’t you wish you could have seen what Ezekiel saw in that valley?

Yet, if you have ever witnessed a baptism, you have seen something just as amazing! It may not have looked as spectacular with your eyes as what you imagine Ezekiel to have seen, but the LORD did the very thing He showed Ezekiel. Here in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, God sent His Holy Spirit and created life in someone who was spiritually lifeless. He raised that person to spiritual life, made him or her part of His mighty army, ready to do His bidding.

This life which the Holy Spirit gives is emphasized throughout our text from Romans 8. Let us consider what an amazing thing it is, that the Holy Spirit has taken our once dry and spiritually lifeless bones, and made us children of God. Let us hear how we were adopted by the Spirit, how we are led by the Spirit, and how we will be raised through the Spirit. May the same Holy Spirit who has called us to faith through His Word ever strengthen us through the same.

Adoption is a pretty amazing act of love, isn’t it? A man and a woman decide that they want to bring a child who is not theirs into their family. Those parents will feed that child, clothe that child, and provide shelter and protection for that child. They will provide a home for that orphan. But the greatest thing they share with that child is love. They will love that child, as if he or she was their own flesh and blood, even though it wasn’t their child by nature. What an amazing gift to give a child that otherwise wouldn’t have it - a home, parents, and love!

Isn’t this exactly what God has done for us? We were not naturally His children. In fact, we were His enemies by nature. He told us what His will was and we wanted to do the exact opposite. He said, “Thou shalt love Me above everything else,” we said, “We’ll love ourselves first and if there is love left over, maybe we’ll share some with you.” By nature, man views God as an angry and demanding Judge, rather than a gracious and merciful Father.

Yet God changed all that. Paul writes in verse 15, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” God sent His Holy Spirit to breath spiritual life into these dry bones and adopt us as His children. Think of that! God brought you into His family and made you one of your children!
The result of being adopted by the Holy Spirit, is that we no longer fear God as an angry Judge. Instead we see Him as Jesus would have us see Him, as our loving, heavenly Father. We speak to Him the same way in which His Son Jesus spoke to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is an Aramaic word like our word, “Daddy.” It is a very tender, loving word. It implies a close, loving paternal relationship. And that is the relationship we have with the Father by the Holy Spirit. When He brought us to faith in Jesus, He brought us into a close, loving relationship with God the Father.

But how can we know if we have been adopted into God’s family? Paul continues on in verse 16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Like a witness in a courtroom who has to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so too the Holy Spirit is testifying of the truth with our spirit. When the Holy Spirit brought us to faith in Jesus, He created a new man of faith in us. This new man of faith, along with the Holy Spirit bears witness to us that we are God’s children. Do you call God your Abba, Father? When you read Scripture, is God speaking to you about your sin and about Jesus as your Savior? That is the testimony of the Holy Spirit with your spirit that you have been adopted by the Spirit and made a child of God!

Who here remembers the McDonald’s jingle from the 1970's, “You deserve a break today?” They wanted you to think of McDonald’s as a break from the hard work of preparing a meal or a break from the normal daily routine. You deserve it! This was not just a marketing scheme for McDonald’s, it is also a marketing scheme used by the sinful flesh. The sinful flesh tries to convince us that we’ve been pretty good and so we deserve a break from denying the desires of our flesh. Go ahead, have a couple extra drinks. Go ahead, look at that dirty website or movie. You deserve a break today.

Though we have been adopted as children of the heavenly Father, we still have a sinful flesh to contend with. Our flesh wants to please itself rather than please God. Our flesh wants to follow the world rather than the Word. Our Old Adam, will want to serve itself and join in sins of adultery, theft, fornication, false witness, covetousness, and the like. Maybe not always in an open way, but to lust after the things of the flesh in the heart. The Apostle Paul spoke of the same thing a chapter earlier when he wrote of himself, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Rom 7:19) As an adopted child he knew what God’s will was and wanted to do that, but his sinful flesh prevented him from doing so.

Because we have the same sinful flesh we need to hear this stern warning from Paul in verses 12 and 13, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die.” As children of God (fellow brethren with Paul), we are debtors - but not to the flesh. We don’t owe the flesh anything. We are not obligated to serve it and obey it. The only fruit the flesh can produce is death! Spiritual death and, eventually, eternal death.

Paul continues, “but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” The difference could not be more striking between those dry bones on the valley floor that we used to be, and the vibrant, full of life, children of God that we are now. Then we were led by the flesh to serve the flesh. Now we are led by the Spirit of God to serve God. Led by the Holy Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body. Rather than letting the flesh rule us, by the Spirit we are empowered to mortify the sinful flesh.

How are we led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body? Well, do you remember how it was that muscle and skin were formed on those dry bones? The LORD said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!” (Ez 37:4) And do you remember how those lifeless bodies were filled with breath and rose to their feet to make an exceedingly great army, ready to do the LORD’s bidding? “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the LORD God....’” (Ez 37:9) It was only by the word of the LORD that those dry bones were able to do anything.

The Spirit works through the same means in us. He leads us always and only through His Word. Through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament He leads us to put to death the deeds of the body and gives us life. Through the Word the Spirit leads us to crucify and drown our old Adam through daily contrition and repentance. Through the Word the Spirit leads our new man of faith to daily come forth and arise. We are children of God who are led by the Spirit.

This struggle between our old man of sin and our new man of faith is one that will continue on until we die. But there is a great day that is coming. A day that is so great, that all of creation is eagerly awaiting it. The great day when all the sons of God will finally be revealed. That great day, will be the last day, when the Spirit will raise us to life.

Verse 11, “But if the Spirit of Him (the Father) who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He (the Father) will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” The same Holy Spirit who came to you through the Water and Word of baptism; the same Holy Spirit who adopted you, and made you a child of God; the same Holy Spirit who testifies that you are a child of God; the same Holy Spirit who dwells in you will also raise to life your physically dead body on the Last Day.

Paul speaks of the glory that awaits the children of God at the resurrection on the Last Day. Verse 17, “and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” As the adopted children of God, we are allowed to share in everything that was Jesus’. We are joint heirs with Him and will be glorified together with Him. That is what Jesus gave us. And what did we give Jesus? Our sin. Our sorrow. Our hell. All of which He willingly took on Himself when He suffered and died in our place. What love! What grace!

But until that day, there is a cross we must bear. It is the cross of discipleship. Jesus told us to expect suffering in this life for following Him. He said, “'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (Jn 15:20) If you have a chance later, you can read of just such an example in our bulletin. Missionary Koenig tells of how Pastor Parandaman in India, was once a Hindu. But the Holy Spirit breathed life into his dry bones and adopted him as a child of God by bringing him to faith in Jesus. The result was suffering. His family ostracized him and still does today. We should expect the same from the world, from friends, and even from family as we follow Jesus and His Word.

But don’t focus on the cross-bearing or suffering. Instead, Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” None of that suffering we endure in this life can even BEGIN to compare with the glory that is to come. You see where Paul’s focus is? Where ours needs to be - the glory of the life of the world to come. The glory that Jesus earned for us, which makes our present sufferings seem so insignificant. The glory that will be revealed when we see Jesus face to face. The glory when these corruptible bodies put on incorruption and these mortal bodies put on incorruption (1 Cor 15:53). We will be raised to this life through the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead and who dwells in us.

We were once those dry bones scattered about the valley of the shadow of death. We were spiritually lifeless and without hope. But thanks be to God that He sent His life giving Spirit to us. Through the water and Word of holy Baptism and through the preaching of the Gospel, God sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts. His Spirit adopted us as God’s children. Through the same Means of Grace the Spirit leads us to repent of our sins and put on our new man of faith. And creation joins us in eagerly waiting for the great day when the sons of God will be revealed in the glory that Jesus has won for us. May the Spirit who called us, gathered us, and enlightened us ever keep us steadfast unto the end. Amen.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hosea 5:15-6:3 "Adversity's Question: Where did God go? OR Where did WE go?"


Hosea 5:15-6:3 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me. “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (ESV)

Theme: ADVERSITY QUESTIONS: Where did God go? OR Where did we go?

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
In today’s terms, the story of the prophet Hosea might be described as scandalous. The prophet Hosea lived at the same time as the prophet Isaiah - a little over 700 years before Christ was born. While Isaiah mainly prophesied to the southern Kingdom of Judah, Hosea mostly prophesied to the northern Kingdom of Israel, but in his book he also has some words for the southern Kingdom of Judah.

The book of Hosea opens by the LORD commanding Hosea to take a wife. Seems harmless enough, right? After all, God invented marriage and said that it was not good for man to be alone. Yet what makes this so peculiar is the type of wife God commanded Hosea to take. The kind of wife that parents would tell their sons avoid. In chapter 1 verse 2 we read, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom.” God wanted Hosea to marry an unfaithful wife! An adultertress! Someone who slept around!

Yet God had a purpose in this. He wanted Hosea’s relationship with his wife and children - if they even were his children - to be a reflection of the relationship the LORD had with Israel and her people. While Hosea loved and cared for his wife, she cheated on him and was unfaithful to him. So too with the Israelites. Though the LORD loved them, cared for them, promised to protect them, and supplied for all of their needs, they were unfaithful to Him. They practiced spiritual adultery by worshiping other gods. When they were in trouble, when enemy nations were on their doorsteps, threatening to destroy them, rather than going to the LORD their God for help - the same LORD God who had saved them from the Egyptians and delivered them from all the heathen nations living in Canaan - rather than going to that God for deliverance, they instead turned to other heathen nations for protection. Israel was sleeping around with the heathens and now her smaller sister nation, Judah, was beginning to imitate her.

By the time we reach chapter 5 of Hosea, the year is about 735 B.C. Though Israel still exists as a nation with it’s own king, it is all but owned by the nation of Assyria, the superpower of the day. But Israel is getting tired of paying Assyria’s king Tiglath-Pileasar III’s heavy tribute. So Israel teams up with the nation of Aram to try and defeat mighty Assyria. They also asked Judah for help. But when Judah won’t help, Israel and the Arameans attack Jerusalem.

Where does Judah’s king Ahaz go for help? Not the LORD, but Tiglath-Pileasar and the Assyrian army. In order to get Assyria’s help, Judah basically indentures itself to Tiglath-Pileasar. King Ahaz says, "I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me." (2 Kings 16:7) Assyria then invades Israel from the north and Judah from the south, carrying out God’s judgment against the spiritually adulterous nation of Israel.

Yet, in all this, Judah is not held guiltless either. Not only did Judah seek aid and protection from a heathen nation rather than the LORD God, but she also trampled on her sister nation of Israel. Therefore the LORD was going to pour out His wrath on Judah like a flood. In the verse right before our text the LORD says, “For I will be like a lion to Ephriam, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.” (Hos 5:14) The LORD was prepared to tear through Judah like a lion would tear through its prey.

And then we come to verse 15. The LORD says “I will return again to my place.” Like a lion returning to its den after the hunt, the LORD was going to return to His place in heaven and abandon Judah and Israel. By the year 700 B.C. the Assyrian army had defeated the northern Kingdom of Israel and carried her people away never to be seen again. Assyria would turn its attention to Judah. They would tear through Judah in an attempt to destroy them as well.

As all this was going on, all this adversity, many probably wondered, “Where did God go? Why is He not helping us as He helped us in the past? Why is God allowing these bad things to happen to His good people?” Like many people, they may well have blamed God for all the distress and adversity to come upon them. And had God abandoned them? It certainly sounds like that when God says, “I will return again to my place.” God had left them. But is that really the question they should have been asking? Should have they really be asking where did God go or should they instead have been asking, “Where did we go? Where did we go wrong that God is no longer with us to protect us and help us?”

This departure of the LORD from Israel and Judah should have come as no surprise. Countless times the LORD sent His prophets warning Israel and Judah not to continue any longer on their path of spiritual adultery. Again and again He called on them to repent and return to Him. But they would not listen and so the LORD left them to their own devices. God did not depart from Israel and Judah first, Israel and Judah had long ago departed from the LORD and His ways.

But like Hosea who loved his wife, even though she cheated on him, the LORD was ready to take back His adulterous bride, Israel and Judah. “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” Now we begin to see WHY the LORD came after them like a lion, tearing at them like prey and then returning to His den. He hoped that in their distress they would repent of their spiritual adultery and earnestly seek Him. Rather than asking, “Where did God go?” God would have them examine themselves and ask, “Where did we go? What sins have we committed that God would cause such distress to come into our lives?”

The prophet Hosea calls out to the people to repent, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” Rather than wondering where God has gone, Hosea urges them to return to the LORD in repentance. Return to Him and His ways. The LORD is merciful, gracious, and longsuffering. He will heal and will bind up the wounds with His forgiving love.

Hosea continues, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” Notice the confidence Hosea has in the steadfast love of the LORD! Hosea is certain that the LORD will give them new life. It may involve a couple of days of suffering, but if we repent, if we turn away from our sin and to Him, He will raise us up to life again in Him.

Therefore, Hosea urges again, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD.” Can you hear the urgency in Hosea’s words to those spiritually adulterous people? He urges them to seek to know the LORD. This is done by first finding out what His will is and what is pleasing and displeasing in His sight. The LORD is known by His Word. In His Word He reveals Himself and His will.

Hosea then speaks of the confidence and trust they can having in turning to the LORD in repentance, “His going out is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea knows the LORD as his God. He knows the LORD is forever merciful and gracious. If the people humble themselves in repentance, the day of the LORD’s salvation will certainly rise upon them just as certain as the dawn means the sun is rising. He will shower them with His grace just like the fall and spring rains.

We certainly have much to learn from this text, don’t we. When adversity strikes us it may feel that God has left us and isn’t helping us as He promises to in His Word. It may seem that God has torn us, wounded us, and returned to His den. Like the psalmist said in our Psalm for this morning (Psalm 43:2), “Why do You cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” We may be left to question with others, “Why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen to us?”

But is that the question we should really be asking? Should our little minds be trying to comprehend the greatness of God’s wisdom and mind? Or should we instead be asking, “Where did we go?” Rather than trying to examine God’s heart, let us instead learn to first examine our own hearts. Are we guilty of committing spiritual idolatry? Well, as far as I know, none of you have a statue of Baal or an Asherah pole or a golden calf in your house or garage that you bow down to and offer sacrifices to. That is, I don’t think anyone here practices open idolatry like Israel and Judah did. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been unfaithful to our God in ways similar to Judah and Israel.

Consider this, when Judah and Israel were under assault from the enemy, where did they go first? Didn’t they first to go to the heathen, the unbeliever for help. When we have health problems, where is the FIRST place we go for help? The doctor, right? When we have financial problems, where is the FIRST place we go for help? The bank. When we are having family problems, where is the FIRST place we go for help? When we are having homework problems or school problems, where is the FIRST place we go? Maybe our parents or our teacher. When the weather is looking wretched and we fear what may happen to this year’s planting or this year’s harvest, where is the FIRST place we go? The almanac or an old timer, who has much experience in farming? Or maybe we look to ourselves first for solutions to these problems.

Now, please understand me clearly - there is nothing wrong with going to a doctor or a bank or your teacher for help. The point of our examination is to see where we are going FIRST for help when adversity strikes. Isn’t it true that so often we turn to the world first for help, and then if that doesn’t then we wonder where did God go? Why does He seem to be hiding Himself from me?

When adversity strikes, when it seems that the LORD is tearing our world apart, that is the perfect time for us to examine our hearts. Let us acknowledge our guilty before the LORD and earnestly seek His face. Let us confess that we did not seek Him FIRST for all of our needs and the needs of our family. Let us press on to know the LORD. Let us open our Bibles and hear the voice of our God as He makes Himself known to us by the pens of His holy writers. Let us make use of the man God has called to be our spiritual overseer.

As the psalmist wondered in our Psalm why his soul was downcast and in turmoil within him, what did he resolve to do? Ignore it? Fix it himself? No. He tells his soul, “Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” (Ps 43:5) While the assaults of his enemies left him with many questions, he rests his hope in God, certain that God will help him.

That is the same thing Hosea says in our text, isn’t it. The LORD may allow us to suffer for two or three days, but He will raise us up again as we return to Him in repentance. As sure as the light in the Eastern sky means that the sun is on it’s way up, so too God’s aid and help is certainly coming. He has torn us, that He may heal us. He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. He will come with His comfort and grace, just like those Palestinian rains each spring and fall.

As for the question, “Where did God go?” there is One who had the right to ask that question. One who never practiced spiritual adultery and never deserved to be abandoned by God. Jesus was never unfaithful to the Father. When the enemy was assaulting His soul in Gethsemane, He went to the Father in prayer and trusted Him to do the right thing.

Yet like a lion and a young lion, God tore into Jesus on the cross and then returned to His den, leaving Him alone on the cross. This God did because on the cross Jesus became each of our sins us as the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all. God made Jesus to be Judah and Israel’s spiritual adultery. God made Jesus to be our sin. And Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our place. God left His Son on the cross and returned to His place, because at that moment Jesus was no longer His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased, but instead the His cursed Son who was bearing the sin of the world.

Though suffering all this adversity, Jesus continued to call God “My God” and “Father.” And on the third day God raised Him up to life again. Because Jesus already suffered the punishment of God for our sins, God has healed us and bound our wounds from our great distress of sin. In Jesus, God comes to us with healing in His wings. He waters us with His grace and love.

So, no matter what distress and adversity God has allowed to come into your life, rather than wondering where God may have gone, let us question where we have gone wrong. Rather than examining God’s heart, let us examine our own hearts. Let us really repent of real sins. “In our distress let us earnestly seek Him. Come, let us return to the LORD; let us know; let us press on to know the LORD. ” Amen.