Sunday, May 29, 2011

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Confirmation Sunday: 1 Timothy 6:12 "Something Worth Fighting For"


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ, especially on this day, our dear confirmands, Lydia and Shelby,
What is there in your life that you think is worth Linkfighting for? Your dignity? Your pride? Your iPod? That’s right. If one of your brothers or sisters tried to take your iPod you would probably argue and fight to get it back. After all, it’s yours. It belongs to you and is important to you. But what if someone tried to hurt, or worse yet, take that same brother or sister of yours? Would you fight to defend him or her? Certainly a family member is worth fighting for. We are willing to fight to protect, defend, and rescue things that are important to us.

When our soldiers go off to fight for their country, they need to know what they are fighting for. After all, it is their bodies, their lives that they are putting on the line. It is essential for moral that understand their mission objective and that they support that mission. If it is a cause they can get behind, like defeating Nazi Germany or winning the war on terror, you can bet that they would be glad to shed their blood and even give up their lives fighting for this cause.

So we see why it is so important that if someone going to fight or compete in something, it is vitally important that they feel it is something worth fighting for. On this Confirmation Sunday we realize that there is one fight that is truly worth fighting for. It is not a fight over money or a fight for a piece of real estate. It is a fight for your soul and your eternal future. As we consider something worth fighting for we turn to the word of God as recorded in the first epistle of the Apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy, where we read,

1 Timothy 6:12 - Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

So far the Word of God. That the Holy Spirit would sanctify us, that is to set us apart for His holy purposes, we pray, “O Lord, Sanctify us by your truth, Your Word is truth.” Amen.

The Apostle Paul is fond of describing different aspects of the Christian faith by using athletic terms. In 1 Corinthians he writes of his journey of faith in Christ as a race. A race in which he is determined and focused. A race in which the finish line is heaven. As Paul talks about another aspect of our Christian faith, the athletic term he uses is a “fight.” But this isn’t like those petty, shallow, fights that you had with your siblings at home or peers at school. It’s not even like the many wars that have been waged in the history of the world, regardless of whether men thought they were worthy of fighting or not. Paul in our text talks about a “fighting the good fight of faith.”

What makes your fight of faith such a good and noble fight? First of all it is good because of the OBJECT of your faith. You believe that God rescued you from an eternity in hell by sending His Son. You believe that the Son of God became man to be what you were not and to save you from what you had done. Because you did not obey the commandments, Jesus came to obey them for you. Because your disobedience deserved God’s wrath and punishment, Jesus came to take the wrath of God on Himself and suffer in your place when He died on the cross. And you believe that because of what Jesus did you are forgiven. You believe that in Jesus you are a child of God and you will inherit eternal life.

We rejoice in Jesus because, as Joshua told the Children of Israel, the LORD your God is He who fights for you. (Jos 23:10) Jesus has fought our battles for us and won. He fought the temptations to sin and won. He was tempted as we are, and yet without sin. He fought death for us and won. He rose from the dead on the third day and He gives us His victory!

This is your faith. It is a faith worth fighting for because of the OUTCOME of your faith. God couldn’t have been more definite about the outcome of our faith, could He? You told us this morning already that God says in His Word that whoever believes in His Son will not perish, but have everlasting life. And that he who believes and is baptized WILL be saved. The outcome of your faith is eternal life with God in heaven. This is the faith that you just confessed in the presence of many witnesses at your examination and will confess again in a few moments as you are confirmed.

But you didn’t get to this point on your own. No, God’s grace, His undeserved love is at work in you. God gave you this faith. He gave you Christian parents who made sure you were baptized into His Triune name, only a few days after you were born. Your parents brought you to church regularly. They made sure you heard His Word at home and in church. And through that Word, the Holy Spirit was at work in your hearts strengthening your faith. They talked to you about Jesus, who loved you and died to save you. Your parents brought you to Sunday School and Vacation Bible Schools so you could hear the precious Word of God more and more. They made certain you were instructed in the Word by bringing you to Catechism classes. They made sure you were committing the Word of God to memory and had you recite your memory work to them. All so you would be able to hear and learn God’s Word.

But the grace of God was at work LONG before your parents had you baptized. Yes, even before God created light, His grace was at work to save you. Paul writes in Ephesians that God the Father, chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. From eternity, God chose you to be His child. He was determined to save you even before He created the heavens and the earth. He decided that His own beloved Son would live and die for you. Through His Word and through your baptisms, He poured His Holy Spirit on you abundantly through our Lord Jesus Christ, and brought you to this point today. And so you are child of God because of His amazing grace.

This is the faith to which you have been called. This is the faith which you are about to make a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. This is a faith worth fighting for.

But any time you are fighting, you are fighting against someone. So who is your opponent as you fight the good fight of faith? Let us begin with the most obvious opponent, the one who has been fighting against the children of God from the beginning. That old evil foe, the devil. Peter says of him, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Pt 5:8) We need to be alert and on guard, because the devil is a very real opponent that is after your soul. His goal is to draw you away from your faith. He has many tricks to deceive with. He loves to lie about the words and promises of God. He loves to cause doubt and confusion. He will try to affect your life, as he did with Job, and try to get you to give up on God. That is one opponent every Christian faces.

Another opponent is the unbelieving and ungodly world around us. The world will try to put obstacles between you and your relationship with your Savior God. This may include colleges or awesome job opportunities that are far away from churches within our fellowship. Or maybe you will be near an orthodox church, but friends may try to lure you away to worship at their false teaching church. Or maybe your friends will want to engage in activities on Saturday night or Sunday mornings that will take you away from the Lord’s house. This may include peer pressure to go on the broad road that leads to destruction, rather than the Narrow Gate that is Jesus (Mt 7:13). They will try to get you to compromise this faith into which you have been called.

A third opponent to your faith that you must content against is your own flesh. Your flesh will not want to continue reading and studying the Bible. Your flesh will want to listen to the lies of the devil and the temptations of the world. Your flesh will try to convince you that your faith is stronger than it really is and that you don’t need to get up early on Sunday mornings any more to hear the SAME Gospel message from your pastor AGAIN.

You have noticed that as you have grown older and grown in the Word and faith, that the attacks have become a little more intense. And you can expect the same as long as you are a Christian in this world. But Jesus has not left you defenseless. He has given you everything you need to strengthen you for your good fight of faith. First of all He has given you His Gospel in Word. His Word is the Sword of the Spirit. With the Word we are able to both defend our faith and fight off would be attackers. But in order to do so, the sword of the Spirit needs to be out of its sheath. You need to be in the Word. At the Lord’s house on Sundays, in Bible Class, when you go to bed at night and when you rise up in the morning - listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd Jesus as He speaks to you in His Word.

Another tool Jesus has given you as you fight the good fight of faith is His Gospel in the Sacraments. Having been baptized into Christ you have put on Christ. He is your defense and shield. You have been adopted into the family of the Triune God. God is your Father, who hears and answers your prayers, for Jesus’ sake. And beginning this morning you have a new tool to aid you in your fight - Lord’s Supper. In this sacred meal, Jesus gives you His very body and blood. He assures you that your sins are forgiven and that He has given you a right relationship with God. But it also strengthens faith, for those daily battles from within and without.

So dear Lydia and Shelby, here is something worth fighting for - your faith in the Triune God and Jesus as your Savior. A faith in which the outcome is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Make regular use of the Means of Grace. Continue in the faith into which you have been called and made the good confession this morning. That is my prayer for you, that is your parents prayer for you, and that is the prayer of this your congregation for you. We pray with Paul that you would continue to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” May God the Father who created and chose, may God the Son who loved you and laid down His life to save you, and may God the Holy Spirit who called and sanctified you, keep you faithful unto the end and give you that crown of life. In His name, Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

John 20:19-23 "EASTER PEACE"

John 20:19-23
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

- Peace with God
- Peace for the troubled conscience
- Peace to be proclaimed

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who rejoice to hear that the Lord is risen indeed, peace to you in His name,
Peace is an interesting thing, isn’t it. It’s something that just about everyone wants, but it is so hard to attain. We want peace within our homes, peace with our relatives, peace with our neighbors, peace within our borders, and peace with other countries. And why is that? Why do so many people want peace? Peace at home means not arguing with your teenage kids and your kids not fighting with one another. Peace at school means everyone gets along with everyone else. Peace between nations means no more sending our sons and daughters off to war. Isn’t it because we feel that when there is peace life is better? Simply put, when there is peace life is better.

So if everybody wants peace so much, why does it seem that there is so little peace in the world and in our lives? Simply put, sin prevents there from being peace in the world. Sinful pride, sinful greed, sinful hunger for power and possessions destroys any hope for true and lasting peace in this world. It is sinful pride that causes arguments between spouses and nations. Greed for power and possessions causes strife between neighbors and nations.

However, Easter tells us a much different story, doesn’t it. While we see so much unrest in the world around us, on Easter we see peace. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings with it real peace, lasting peace. Peace between us and God. Peace for our troubled consciences. And peace that Jesus wants us to proclaim throughout the world. So let us consider this morning, “Easter Peace.”

As our text begins, we find the disciples, along with the two Emmaus disciples, and more than likely some of the women, together in a locked house. Already it doesn’t sound like a very peaceful setting. There was confusion and unrest among the disciples. That morning some of the women and Mary Magdalene had come and told the disciples that the tomb was empty. John and Peter had raced to the tomb and found it empty. Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord. And now two other disciples reported that they walked, talked, and ate with the risen Jesus as they were on the road to Emmaus.

Among the disciples there seemed to be a great deal of confusion, distrust, and fear. We would describe the scene as anything but peaceful. The men did not trust the report of the women. Luke reports that they seemed to them like idle tales. They were also afraid of the unbelieving Jews coming after them, as they came after Jesus. So they locked themselves in as they tried to sort out the days events.

But then Jesus suddenly appeared. With His resurrected and glorified body, He makes full use of His divine powers. He is able to appear and disappear as He pleases. Locked doors cannot keep the Son of God out of a room - He needs no doors to enter. And the risen Lord says, “Peace be with you.” While this would have been a pretty common greeting between Jews in those days, on this day it took on special meeting. The risen Lord came bringing them peace. First of all, peace with God.

There was once perfect, tranquil peace between God and man. In the Garden of Eden, God created man and woman in perfect harmony and peace with Him. There was peace all around. God had a peace-filled, harmonious relationship with man. Adam and Eve had a peace-filled marriage. There was no hostility between man and woman, or mankind and any creature. All was well. It truly was paradise.

What happened to this peaceful paradise? When Adam and Eve chose to disobey the commandment of their Creator and ate from the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world and destroyed the peaceful relationship that had once existed between God and man. Now Adam and Eve tried to hide from God. They were afraid of Him. No longer did they have a peaceful Father/child relationship, but they hid from Him as though He were an angry judge. The same continued for all the descendants of Adam. Because of sin there is enmity or hostility between God and man.

This is why Jesus came. Jesus came to reclaim for man the peace that we had forfeited because of our sin. He came to reconcile us unto God. But in order to give us a right relationship with God, Jesus had to remove that which had ruined our relationship with God. Jesus did just that by taking the sin of the world on Himself. Jesus “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col 2:14) Everything that had separated us from God, or sin, our iniquity, our rebellion, Jesus took on Himself and had it nailed to the cross with Him. And there on the cross every mark that was against us died with Jesus on the cross.

When Jesus rose on Easter day it was God’s declaration of peace between us and Him. Paul writes to the Romans that Christ “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom 4:25) Jesus was raised from the dead because God was declaring us “not guilty” in His sight. And if His resurrection means we have been declared not guilty, that means we are at peace with God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Cor 5:19) The sin that had once separated us from God has been removed forever. This is Easter peace, we are at peace with God.

We certainly rejoice over this peace with God that Jesus secured for us by His death and resurrection. A peace that cannot be undone, because Jesus lives never to die again. A peace which surpasses all understanding. And yet, there still is a peace we struggle with, isn’t there. An inner peace. Peace for our trouble consciences. Though we know that Jesus died for our sins, though we know that Jesus resurrection from the dead means we are at peace with God, still we have trouble convincing our hearts of this, don’t we? Our conscience regularly accuses us and reminds us of past sins which we have committed. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband, a repentant David wrote in Psalm 51 (v.3), “My sin is always before me.” Any time he looked at Bathsheba or looked at the grave of his dead child, he was reminded of the sins of adultery and murder which he had committed. His conscience troubled him about his sin.

Maybe you know well the feeling David had. Maybe some sin you committed in the past is always before you. Maybe you’ve even confessed it to God, repented of it, and been assured of your forgiveness - yet there is no peace for your trouble conscience. Maybe it is some sin that your conscience tells you is too great to be forgiven.

When your conscience troubles you and you doubt your relationship with God, return in your heart to Easter and hear these words of Jesus, “Peace be with you.” When Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst Easter evening and they had trouble understanding what was going on, what did Jesus do? He showed them His hands and side and John reports that then they were filled with joy.

What a fitting thing to do when we are troubled - look the hands and side of the risen Jesus! There we find Easter peace. His hands show the nail prints which prove that our sins were paid for. His side shows the mark of the spear proving that He really did die for our sins. The fact that He is able to show them to His disciples prove that He rose bodily from the grave. This is the Jesus that says to our troubled conscience, “Peace be with you!” Repent of your sins and rejoice that all I have suffered and died for them all. My resurrection proves that you do not need to be troubled by them any more.

Easter peace for our troubled conscience is this, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12) Jesus removed our sins so far from us that they can no longer be found. Also the prophet Micah speaks of Easter peace when he writes, “You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) When Jesus was dead and buried our sins were buried with Him, never to be seen again. The LORD Himself gives peace to our trouble conscience when He says in Isaiah, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Is 43:25) The God who knows all things and remembers all things, has forgotten only one thing - our sins. All this is assured to us when the risen Savior Jesus shows us His hands and His side. That is Easter peace for our trouble conscience.

Maybe you’re old enough to remember or maybe you’ve seen the black and white pictures from the 1940's of Navy sailors kissing random women in New York City’s Times Square as confetti fills the air. Do you remember why they were kissing and why there was confetti filling the streets of New York City? It was V-E Day, the day victory was proclaimed in Europe. It was a reason to celebrate and throw parties, because World War II was nearing an end. I imagine the day that Germany and then Japan surrendered everyone was talking about the peace that had broken out. People couldn’t wait to tell their relatives, neighbors, and friends. “The strife is o’er! The battle done!”

If that is what they did when victory was declared in Europe and Japan, what should be our reaction to even greater news that PEACE was declared when Jesus rose from the dead? This is peace that is to be proclaimed throughout the world. Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The Father had sent His Son to secure peace by His suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus now sends us to proclaim that Easter peace throughout the world.

We proclaim Easter peace through the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. In verse 21 Jesus gives His Church some very powerful keys. The keys to the kingdom of heaven. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” These keys unlock heaven to the repentant sinner by announcing to them that their sins are forgiven for Jesus sake. But these keys also lock the way to heaven when we tell an impenitent or unrepentant sinner that forgiveness his withheld or retained for him.

These are the keys Jesus sends us out with. He gives us the peculiar authority to forgive and retain sins. This is what Jesus earned by His death and resurrection - forgiveness. And this Easter peace is what Jesus commissions us to proclaim throughout the world!

Peace. The world is looking for it, but it is looking for it in all the wrong places. True peace, lasting peace cannot be found apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection - because only Jesus death and resurrection removes that which hinders peace - sin. This Easter peace is the peace which Paul speaks of, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7) The extent of this peace of God is greater than we can even begin to understand. Yet this Easter peace guards our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. This is the peace of Easter. Peace between God and us. Peace for our troubled conscience. And peace that we want to proclaim throughout all the world. Praise be to Jesus for securing peace for us through His death and resurrection! Amen!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"EASTER JOY" Psalm 30:4-5

Psalm 30:4-5
Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised again because of our justification,
Joy is certainly something we all want in our lives. But what is it that brings you joy in your life? New babies and expectant mothers bring us joy in our lives. Weddings of friends and family bring us great joy - especially when we like both the bride AND the groom. At this time of year, green buds in a field bring joy to a farmer. Coming home to a clean house or not having to worry about Sunday dinner, would bring joy to any mother’s heart. We all want to have lives filled with joy.

As Christians, joy is to be a defining characteristic, a fruit of the Spirit who is at work in us. The Scriptures speak at length about the joy that is ours. Just in the book of Psalms alone, the word joy or rejoice is used 75 times. The Kingdom of God is described by Paul as “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) In our Epistle Lesson from 1 Peter last Sunday we heard, “Though now you do not see (Jesus), yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Pt 1:8) Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)

The unique thing about Christian joy is that it is even present amidst adversity, suffering, and persecution. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this, “Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23) Jesus speaks of “leaping for joy” when you are persecuted and reviled because you believe and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Joy is a main part of the lives of Christians. Yet, would you say you have much joy in your life? Do other people describe you as being full of joy? Are we always rejoicing in the Lord, as Paul says? When we reflect on our lives it seems that there is more sorrow than joy, more hardship than happiness. When we get bogged down by the sorrows and hardships of this life, that we need to go back to the empty tomb on Easter. It is there that we find our joy, our joy that knows no limits, our joy that has no end, because Jesus is risen! He is risen, indeed! Let us this morning examine the words of Psalm 30 and consider our “Easter Joy.” May the Holy Spirit fill us with His joy!

Many Christian holy days give us joy. The birth of our Savior brings us joy. We even sing, “Joy to the World” as we celebrate His birth. We even call the day on which Jesus died “GOOD” Friday, because He died to pay for our sins and purchase our redemption. So even that day brings us some joy, albeit mixed with sorrow as well. But can there be any more joyous day for the Christian than Easter? Easter, the day when our Savior rose triumphantly from the dead, assuring us that our sins are forgiven and that we too shall rise. Certainly there is great joy on Easter.

But there wasn’t a lot of joy on that first Easter, was there. There were no beautiful music pieces being played or choral pieces being sung. There were no “Hallelujahs” on that first Easter. That first Easter was somber, terrifying and confusing. Can you imagine what that weekend would have been like for the apostles, followers, and friends of Jesus? While Scripture never explicitly tells us what the apostles and followers of Jesus were doing from Good Friday to Easter Sunday or how they felt, we can piece together a pretty good picture.

There would certainly have been feelings of tremendous sorrow at the loss of such a great man. And the horrible way in which He suffered and died, was even worse. Along with the sorrow and grief, there was probably also a great deal of guilt. Guilt for abandoning Jesus when He was arrested. Guilt for not speaking up when innocent Jesus was condemned. Guilt, especially for Peter, who swore up and down that he didn’t even know who Jesus was.

Along with the sorrow and guilt, there was also a feeling of confusion and disappointment from the followers of Jesus. In our Gospel lesson this morning, we heard just that from those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As they spoke to a man they did not realize was Jesus, they said to Him, “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:21) They were hoping He was going to free Israel, but when He died, their hope died with Him. To them, Jesus had failed in what THEY wanted Him to accomplish.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” we read in our text. There was no doubt a great deal of weeping from that first Easter weekend. But on Easter, when the tomb was empty, when angels announced that Jesus had risen from the dead, there should have been great joy. But there wasn’t. There was worry and confusion. Mary Magdalene thought that somebody had stolen the body of Jesus. When the women came and told the disciples about the empty tomb, the angels, and seeing Jesus, Luke records that “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” Where was their Easter joy?

Had they kept their minds focused in the words and promises of Jesus, their weeping would have seemed like it endured for only a short night. They probably would still have wept over Jesus. After all there was still the guilt and shame for abandoning and denying Jesus. There also would have been sorrow over seeing all that Jesus endured. But if they had they kept their minds focused on the words and promises of Jesus joy would have come on Easter morning. Then the women would have never wasted their money buying spices to embalm a body that was no longer dead. Then they would have all gone to see that the tomb was empty as Jesus rose just as He said He would.

Even though they forgot, ignored, or did not believe the promises of Jesus to rise from the dead, that did not stop God. Paul writes, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim 2:13) Even if we falter and fail, that does not mean God will. In fact, God can’t falter or fail. He must succeed every time, because He is God. The angels said as much on Easter morning, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” (Mt 28:6) Even though the followers of Jesus did not appreciate it at the time, there was joy in the morning, just as Jesus had said there would be.

So often we feel like we are stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Guilt, confusion, and sorrow are a big part of our lives. Like the followers of Jesus on that Saturday, these things affect the joy that is ours in our risen Lord. Maybe we made a sinful choice and our conscience is continually reminding us and accusing us of our sins. Maybe we were out with friends, and rather than letting the light of our faith shine, like Peter we denied knowing the Lord by our actions. A guilty conscience removes any joy we might have in our lives.

When the weeping over sin happens, remember Easter. Listen again to the words of our text, “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” The anger of God against our sin has already been handed out. God poured out His wrath on Jesus as He laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Weeping over our sin should now only endure for a short time.

That phrase “endure for a night” carries a pretty neat word picture in the Hebrew. It is a word that might be used of a traveler who needs lodging at the inn. He needs a place to stay only for the night and then he is going to move on. So it should be with weeping over our sins. After a short stay it should move on. Joy comes in the morning - at the break of day. The joy comes when the light of the Gospel shines in our hearts. When we hear that Jesus has already suffered and died for our sins and God raised Him for our justification. Easter is God’s declaration to us that we are “not guilty” in His sight. Now the favor of God in Christ Jesus is for a lifetime. There is Easter joy for the guilty conscience!

Sometimes confusion affects our joy. Certainly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the followers of Jesus were confused as to what was going on. And that confusion drowned out any joy that might have been theirs. We are confused as to why God is allowing certain things to happen in our lives, much like the disciples might have wondered how God could allow such horrible things to happen to Jesus. We are confused as to why we, the Children of God, are suffering while we see the ungodly and heathen prospering. We are confused why God is sending the weather He is sending, preventing us from being able to farm as much land as we might normally be able to.

When confusion tries to drown out your joy, return to the promises of Jesus. There was no reason why the followers of Jesus should have been confused as to what was going on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Jesus told them exactly what was going to take place. He told them He was going to be betrayed. He told them He was going to suffer. He told them the Gentiles were going to crucify Him. He told them He was going to die. But He also told them that He was going to rise on the third day. Joy came in the morning, just as Jesus said it would.

When we keep our eyes on Jesus and listen to His Word, it drives away the fog of confusion. Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. And if Jesus rose from the dead it means that every other promise He has made He will do. Though you may not be able to plant all of your crops, though it cause you great financial hardship, Jesus rose from the dead and has promised in His Word, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!

Or maybe we have no joy because of sorrow that is present in our lives. Maybe we are suffering or someone close to us is suffering. Certainly we have no joy in our own suffering or seeing someone else suffer, much as the friends of Jesus suffered heartache after they saw what happened to Him. Maybe a loved one has died or is close to death. Again we find as little joy in death as the friends of Jesus had in His cruel death.

Whatever may be bringing you sorrow in your life, keep going back to the empty tomb of Easter and there you will find joy. There you will not find the dead body of Jesus to anoint with your spices of sorrow. He is risen! But in the midst of your suffering, remember Easter and there find your joy. He has conquered the mightiest of enemies - death. These bodies are our temporary dwelling - much like tents were for the Children of Israel in the wilderness. They were looking forward to a permanent home in the Promised Land. We too look forward to our permanent dwelling in the Promised Land of heaven. Jesus’ resurrection means that these mortal bodies will one day put on immortality. These corruptible bodies will put on incorruption. (1 Cor 15:53-54)

Yet, while we are here, in these bodies of sin and death, there will be death, there will be suffering, there will be sorrow. And sorrow tries to chase Easter joy out of your heart, remember, JESUS IS RISEN! He dies no more! Death no longer has power over Him. And in Christ we too shall live! We have this promise from our risen Lord, that in heaven, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4) There is our Easter joy!

Weeping may endure for a night. I may take up lodging for the evening. But when the first beams of the Gospel rise in your hearts, it chases away the weeping and joy breaks through the clouds. The joy of Easter. The joy of knowing, “My Redeemer Lives!” The joy of knowing, “He has risen, as He said He would!” The joy of knowing that Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised again because of our justification. The joy of knowing, “Because Jesus lives, we too shall live!” Therefore, lift up your voices and lives in rejoicing, for Jesus lives! “Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His. And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.” Thanks be to our risen Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Acts 2:22-32 "Easter Confidence"

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “...Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”

- Jesus’ confidence about Easter
- Our confidence from Easter

In the name of Jesus Christ who lives, and was dead, and behold is alive forevermore; dear fellow redeemed in His name,
Confidence is a tricky thing, isn’t it. Confidence can be a great attribute or it can be a great weakness. On the night of Jesus betrayal, Peter sounded pretty confident in himself. Though Jesus warned Peter that he would deny Him three times that night, Peter confidently asserted that he would face death with Jesus rather than denying Him. We know well how that evening went for confident Peter, as he folded under the pressure of a servant girl and denied knowing who Jesus was. Peter’s problem was that he had confidence in himself and his own strength to stand side by side with Jesus. However, life without confidence can be paralyzing. Lack of confidence makes one afraid to ask for a raise at work or ask a girl out on a date.

But what about confidence as a Christian? Are we confident about our faith and about our future, or are we paralyzed by uncertainty? When we talk about confidence as Christians, it is very important that we recognize where our confidence lies. God wants us to be confident about our relationship with Him and about our future with Him. But where do we find our confidence as Christians? Does our confidence lie in ourselves, in our abilities, and in our perceived strength of faith? If so, we are no different than Peter on the night he denied Jesus. Rather our confidence is to be found outside of ourselves. It lies in Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. Let us therefore consider this morning “Easter Confidence” by looking first at the confidence which Jesus had about Easter and the confidence Easter gives us. May the Holy Spirit strengthen our confidence in the words and promises of God!

Would you describe Jesus as being a confident person? Absolutely! While He was humble, loving, and gentle, He was by no stretch of the imagination wishy-washy or milquetoast. He was confident in His teaching. He was confident in His work. He was confident in His mission in life. In the weeks leading up to His suffering and death on Good Friday, Jesus tried to prepare His followers for what was coming. In Matthew 20 we read, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.” (Mt 20:18-19a) Jesus knew exactly what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem - death. And not just any death, possibly the most cruel form of death man has ever conceived of - death by crucifixion.

But Jesus never ended the discussion of His crucifixion by just saying that He would die. No. He always ended it by confidently saying, “And the third day He will rise again.” (Mt 20:19b) Every time He told His disciples about what was going to happen to Him, He always ended by saying He would rise from the dead. Jesus was confident that He would rise from the dead on Easter.

Where did this confidence of Jesus come from? As the omnipotent (all-powerful) Son of God, Jesus certainly had every right to be. He had all power in heaven and on earth. If that doesn’t give one confidence, nothing will. Yet, when Jesus humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant, He relied on His Father. Unlike Peter, Jesus found His confidence in the words and promises of His heavenly Father. We hear of that in our text for today. Our text is taken from the Pentecost sermon of Peter, but is quite fitting to consider on the Sunday following the resurrection. In his sermon Peter speaks at length about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Peter says in verse 23 that Jesus was, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Jesus’ death and crucifixion was part of God’s plan from eternity. While God didn’t make the unbelieving Jews or the Romans do what they did to Jesus, it was all part of God’s plan.

Jesus betrayal, beating, and crucifixion was God’s plan to redeem us and Jesus knew this because He knew the Word of God. He knew Isaiah was writing about Him in chapter 53, when Isaiah wrote that He would be “stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.” Jesus knew that Isaiah had written that He would have to be “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) Therefore Jesus was confident of the suffering and death that awaited Him in Jerusalem, because He was confident of God’s plan of salvation as laid out in Scripture.

But as we said early, Jesus always ended the discussion of His Passion by saying that on the third day He would rise again. This too Jesus was confident of and His confidence came from the words and promises of God. Peter tells us of this when he quotes from the words of King David in Psalm 16 in our text, “ For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. ”

Peter makes known in our text that David was not writing of himself in this text because David is dead and buried and had been decaying or corrupt for many centuries. David was not writing of himself in Psalm 16. Rather the Holy Spirit was using David to write of Jesus. God would not abandon the soul of Jesus to Hades, or the realm of death. God would not let the body of Jesus decay or become corrupt. David was prophesying of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

This is where Jesus got His confidence. He knew the Word of God. He knew God would not abandon Him in the grave but would raise Him to life again before decomposition set in. Jesus was confident because of the words and promises of God. He knew the word of God could not lie. Therefore, David prophesied of Him in verse 25 and 26, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.” Jesus always kept the LORD before Him. His Word and will was always foremost in His life. He confident He would rise from the dead because the Scriptures said He would. And when Jesus appeared to His disciples on Easter eve He told them the same. “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.” (Lk 24:46) Jesus’ confidence about Easter was grounded in the words and promises of God.

At the end of verse 25, we hear David speak of Jesus saying, “the Lord is at my right hand that I may not be shaken.” That word “shaken” is a word rich in meaning. It refers to something that was thought to be very stable unexpectedly and disastrously shaken. It would be a fitting word to use after an earthquake. You never expect the earth beneath you to move. But the people of Japan could tell you a much different story. Jesus did not expect to be shaken because the Lord was at His right hand. He always kept the Lord before Him. He knew the words and promises of God, and because of that His confidence in the resurrection would not be shaken even as nails were pounded into His hands and feet.

There are many things that shake our confidence. Things that we think are stable and certain in this life. We think our parents, spouses, or friends will always be there for us. We think that we will always have our health or our finances. We think those things are stable and not going anywhere. But then those things that we thought were very stable in our lives are suddenly shaken up. Cancer hits us or a loved one. A parent, spouse, or child dies and it shakes up our whole world. Suddenly nothing seems certain anymore.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (Is 40:8) Every aspect of our lives in this world is affected by sin. Sin affects our health and our finances. Sin affects our families and our marriages. “The grass withers, the flower fades,” God says. But let us learn from the events of Easter to find our confidence in the words and promises of God that stand forever.

Now if Jesus had not risen from the dead on Easter, we have many things to worry about. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor 15:17) If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, none of God’s promises are valid. Our faith is worthless and we are still accountable to God for our sins.

But, Peter writes in the last verse of our text, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” God DID raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus used the 40 days between His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven to PROVE that He was alive and had really risen from the dead. He wanted witnesses that were CONFIDENT that He was alive. And Peter says, we are all witnesses. We saw it. It is true. He has risen, just as He said He would.

What does this mean for us? Easter means that we can now be confident that ALL of God’s promises ill be kept. God has promised that His Son’s sacrifice on the cross paid for all your sins. Easter proves it. Paul writes to the Romans, “(Jesus) was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom 4:25) The reason He died was to take away all of our sins. When He was raised to life, it was God’s declaration that we are not guilty in His sight. We have been reconciled to God. Through Jesus we are at peace with God. He is our loving, heavenly Father and we are His children. As His children God has many precious promises for us in His Word. As He says in Jeremiah, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) This is the confidence we gain from Easter.

What is it that has shaken your confidence right now? Finances, crops, health, family, marriage? God has much to say about these things in His Word. Let us search diligently His Word and learn those precious promises He has made to us. If Jesus rose from the dead, that means God means every one of them and will keep every one of them. Let us learn not to place our confidence in ourselves, but in the words and promises of God who loved us, gave His Son into death for our sins, and raised Him from the dead on the third day for our justification. This is our Easter confidence. Praise be to our risen Lord! Amen.