May 25, 2008

God Gave His Name - May 25, 2008

Service Introduction: The Church Year

Traditionally the church year has been divided into two parts: the Festival Half and the Non-Festival Half. The Festival Half starts in Advent and celebrates the Savior:

The prophecies that foretold His arrival.

His birth in Bethlehem.

How He revealed His identity through pure preaching and amazing miracles.

How He died a shameful death to set us free from sin and punishment.

How He rose from the dead on Easter morning and into the Heavens on Ascension Day.

How the Spirit filled the followers of Jesus on Pentecost so that they might bring the message of life through Jesus to the world.

All this we celebrate in the Festival Half of the Church Year.

The Non-Festival half of the church year begins today with the Second Sunday after Pentecost. Until Advent begins again our focus shifts from the Savior to the Saved. Or in other words, our focus shifts to the life of a people who have been touched by God through the Good News of His Son.

What does it mean to live as a follower of Christ?

What joys can we expect when we walk with Him?

What troubles?

What wisdom?

What responsibility?

What peace?

What future?

Many call themselves Christian, but what does it mean to be one? These are the things we consider in the second half of the church year.

You know, you might call the traditional Church year, “The Life of Christ”. The Festival half is all about the “Life He lived” and the Non-Festival half is all about the “Life He Gives”.

I pray that the Persons of the True God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, would touch our lives in a powerful way during this part of the Church year, through Christ who is our source of eternal life, and our source of power for living the Christian life.

Old Testament Reading Introduction

It had taken seven years, but the Temple that Solomon had set out to build was now finished. Out in front of the Temple stood a huge altar on which sacrifices would be burned. Out in front of that altar Solomon had set up a square bronze platform that was about seven feet wide, and four feet tall.

On the day of the Temple’s dedication Solomon stood on that platform before the whole assembly of Israel. Then kneeling down he spread out his hands toward heaven to pray. His prayer is our Old Testament reading.

This is a larger reading than we’re accustomed to, but I couldn’t bear to cut it short for the sake of custom. Instead let me point out and explain some of the words that Solomon uses here. This will help us to get more out of a single reading of this prayer.

“Name” – As we read through this prayer, look for all the times that God’s “Name” is mentioned. Solomon talks about How God has promised to put His Name on this Temple, and that means the world to Solomon. If God puts His Name on a something, then He is associating all that He is and all that He does with that something. Solomon knows that if God will truly put His Name on the Temple in Jerusalem, then it will be far more than a place of beautiful architecture, it will be a place of real power because it is the Temple of the LORD.

“Prayer and Supplication” – In his prayer, Solomon speaks of two different kinds of prayer. One he just calls “prayer”, the other he calls “supplication”. In the Hebrew, the term “prayer” is talking about coming before God to speak. The term “supplication” is talking about humbly bowing low before God to speak. We might summarize these two as “prayer” and “begging prayer” made in full recognition that God owes us nothing.

“Forgive” – Throughout His prayer Solomon repeatedly describes a cycle of events. First, the people of Israel sin against God. Then, God then makes them miserable in one way or another so that they will recognize their sin. When they realize what they have done, and that their suffering is a consequence of their sin, they turn toward God’s Temple and pray. Solomon asks that when this happens, before anything else, God would forgive them their sin. Then after that most crucial forgiveness is rendered, Solomon asks that they would also receive relief from the LORD’s rebuking hand.

Old Testament ...... 2 Chronicles 6:12–7:3 (NIV)

12Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. 13Now he had made a bronze platform, five cubits long, five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had placed it in the center of the outer court. He stood on the platform and then knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. 14He said:

“O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 15You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

16“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.’ 17And now, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true.

18“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 20May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 21Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.

22“When a man wrongs his neighbor and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple, 23then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty and so establish his innocence.

24“When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you and when they turn back and confess your name, praying and making supplication before you in this temple, 25then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to them and their fathers.

26“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 27then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.

28“When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 29and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel—each one aware of his afflictions and pains, and spreading out his hands toward this temple—30then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men), 31so that they will fear you and walk in your ways all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.

32“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 33then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

34“When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to you toward this city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, 35then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.

36“When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; 37and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; 38and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; 39then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.

40“Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

41 “Now arise, O LORD God, and come to your resting place,

you and the ark of your might.

May your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation,

may your saints rejoice in your goodness.

42 O LORD God, do not reject your anointed one.

Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”

7:1When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 3When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,

“He is good;

his love endures forever.”

Sermon Theme:

“God Gave His Name”

On Solomon’s Temple

To the Israelite People

Not to be Dishonored

To Be Called Upon for Grace

To the Christians Beside Us

To Me

Because His Love Endures Forever

Jehovah God is serious about His Name and were He puts it. His Name is everything that He is. Everything that He says. Everything that He does. His Name is Himself.

Over four hundred years before Solomon was born, Jehovah promised Moses and the people of Israel that He would to put His Name on His place of worship.

On the day that the first Temple of the LORD was dedicated, Jehovah showed the people, in a spectacular way, that His Name was here. He was here. This was His place.

When Solomon’s prayer was finished and His voice fell silent, then from the sky above fell fire, burning up the sacrifice which had been laid on the great altar that stood before the all the people.

A bright light emanated from inside the Temple. A light that was so bright that the priests couldn’t come near it. A radiance so brilliant that all the people put their faces to the ground and worshipped.

In the fire God displayed His power. In the brightness, His glory.

Yes, Jehovah God is serious about His Name and were He puts it, for His Name is Himself. All that He is. All that He says. All that He does.

Human beings are serious about their names too. Some cultures are extremely serious about family names. In the Japanese culture, maintaining the honor of your family name is often placed far above the individual. If a person has done something that dishonors their family name they are expected to make up for it. They call it “saving face”.

In ancient Japan, a very painful and self-inflicted suicide called “seppuku” was expected of warriors and high officials in the government if that person had done something to dishonor their family name. One historian writes,

“In the world of the warrior, seppuku was a deed of bravery that was admirable in a samurai who knew he was defeated, disgraced, or mortally wounded. It meant that he could end his days with his transgressions wiped away and with his reputation not merely intact but actually enhanced”(Dr. Stephen Turnbull).

The Japanese culture is unique in many ways. But, when it comes to salvation the mind of man always comes up with the same tired idea. Without the true God’s help mankind always thinks, “I’VE got to do something to balance the scales with God. I’VE got to do some great or difficult task to wipe away my sins and restore my name.”

Some cultures may look on such actions as honorable and admirable, but Jehovah God is not pleased by any actions that sinners attempt to offer as a payment for past sins.

God does not approve of “seppuku”, but God is serious about “saving face”. He is serious about His Name being honored. He desires that His Name be associated with goodness and not with evil.

In Ephesians God instructs His followers,

11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11-12 NIV).

In his prayer, Solomon spoke about God’s people in Old Testament times. Since they were chosen by God, His Name was associated with them. His Name had been put on them. They were made His family. From that point on everything that they did either polished the Name of Jehovah and made it shine, or smudged that Name with sin. Every sin that the people of Israel did was an insult and a dishonoring of God’s Name.

Think about it like this: If God is love, than to hate is to spit on God’s Name. If God is all about forgiveness, than refusing to forgive is to spit on God’s Name.

When the Israelite people sinned against God’s Name, God would not put up with it. He would afflict them in some way or another. The guilty schemer would find his own evil plan toppling down on his head. The rain would not fall on the spring crops and they would wither and die. Hunger would pain the bellies of the people. Disease would weaken them. Insects would infest their fields. Enemies would take them captive. All as a result of their unrepentant sins against God’s Name.

God had put His Name on these people when He had chosen them as His own. He would not permit them to tarnish that Name by their continuing in unrepentant sinning. God’s Name is not “Sin”. His Name is “Holiness”. He would afflict His sinning people in some way so that they would realize they were dishonoring Him, and repent.

But God is not a cold and selfish God, only concerned with His reputation. He is also a loving God. He would touch His people with the hand of rebuke because of His Name, yes, but also because of His love for them.

When a person turns away from God by continuing in unrepentant sin, refusing to turn away from that sin, that person is in serious danger. Each one of us has a time of grace, a set time of life and opportunity to know God by faith. For all people, believers and unbelievers, there comes a moment when that time of grace is ended. If the unrepentant sinner doesn’t turn back to God, at some point their time of grace will end and God will let them go away from Him forever.

Personally, I pray that God would afflict me terribly if I ever get stuck in the bog of unrepentant sin. I pray that He would hurt me bad and lead me to see my sin as the source of my pain. Then there might be hope for me. Then I might remember His mercy. Then I might call out for His help, and He would answer in love, forgiving me and restoring me because Jesus suffered all in my place.

It’s no coincidence that Solomon prays this prayer from His knees and uses the word, “supplication” or “begging prayer”.

Solomon thought the idea that God was going to live in this Temple like a person might live in a hut to be an extremely silly idea. He says,

“…the highest heavens, can’t contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18 NIV).

Solomon’s whole posture and tone in this prayer reveals that He would have also considered it ridiculous to pray to God like God owes you something.

Turn away from your sin. Come low. Ask mercy. Receive forgiveness. That’s Solomon’s wisdom.

The Temple and the Israelite people are not the only ones to have God’s Name placed on them. God placed His Name on you and me when we came to trust that Jesus really did take our punishment away by His death, and really did seal our eternal life by His resurrection. We individual Christians are the Temples of God.

16Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV).

With invisible fire, the Holy Spirit created faith in Jesus within our hearts and minds. Through our testimony God shines the glorious message of His forgiving love out into the world.

Yes, Jehovah God is serious about His Name and where He puts it, for His Name is Himself. So we aught to come before God with Solomon’s humble awe. We must approach God on our knees, knowing He owes us nothing, but has given us everything in the forgiveness, salvation and eternal life that comes to us through Jesus Christ.

The more clearly we see the greatness of God’s Name, the more respect we will have for all things that He puts His name on. Whether it’s this sanctuary, or His Bible, or His called servants or His holy people.

Think about that one for a moment. Your fellow Christians are God’s Temple. God has placed His Name on them. God has connected all that He is, with all that they are. They are people cleansed from sin and damnation by the blood of God’s Son. When we Christians disrespect each other, we disrespect God. But when we honor one another, then we honor Christ who has saved us. As Jesus said,

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

The whole Bible is Christocentric. What that means is that it’s all about the Christ, the Savior that God promised to send to rescue sinners from eternal punishment. Whenever you open your Bible to read, a very good practice is to look for Christ. Is He actually in this reading? Is He foreshadowed here? Is He prophesied? What is the connection to Christ Jesus here?

Looking at the prayer of Solomon, we see Christ in the forgiveness that Solomon is so sure that Jehovah will dispense to the repentant who call out to Him. That forgiveness was only available to the people of the Old Testament because God knew in advance what His Son would do on the cross of Calvary. That He would suffer for each sin of each person.

But there is another connection to Christ that is found in Solomon’s prayer. Solomon closes his prayer to Jehovah with the words:

“O LORD God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant” (2 Chronicles 6:42 NIV)

To understand how this connects to Christ you have to know a little history about Solomon’s father David. David had once wanted to build this Temple for God. He realized that while he was living in a grand palace, God’s house was still just a tent, the Tabernacle that the people had carried through the desert.

When David expressed his desire to build a house of worship for God, God told David, “No”. The building of the Temple were God would put His Name would be done by David’s son. Jehovah told David,

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7: 12-13).

God promised David that his offspring would build a Temple where God would put His Name. God also promised that the throne of this Descendant’s kingdom would be established forever.

In Solomon this prophesy found partial fulfillment when He built the Temple. But in Christ Jesus God’s promise to David found complete fulfillment.

Through David’s descendant Jesus we are cleansed from our sin. Through faith in Him God’s loving rule pours into our hearts. The Kingdom of God pours into our heart. That Kingship never ends because He gives us eternal life.

David’s family line never ends either because Jesus, the Son of David, rose from the dead after His Crucifixion and lives now on forever. David’s family grows with each new soul that comes to trust in Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of all.

“…Remember the great love promised to David your servant” (2 Chronicles 6:42 NIV).

Solomon asks God to forgive the repentant sinner because of the great love promised to David. The great love promised to David is the Son of David, Jesus.

When Solomon’s prayer was finished, God responded in a powerful way. Fire reigned down from heaven. Light burst out of the Temple.

The people responded to this by kneeling on the pavement with their faces to the ground. From there they worshipped God with the words:

“He is good; his love endures forever.”

What a fitting response. That fire could have fallen on them. They were sinners. God would have be fully justified if His fire had devoured the whole lot of them. But in love God spared them. He is good. His love endures forever.

In whatever pain or sorrow you find yourself in, pray and reflect on it to see if it is the rebuking hand of God trying to get your attention. Looking to God’s promise, to His Son’s cross, pray that He would forgive all your sins. And know the He is good; his love does endure forever.

11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13 NIV).


“Call upon Me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15 NKJV).

He has put His name on you dear Christians. Call on that Name often. In humble repentance look for His mercy. In joyful restoration offer Him your praise.


May 18, 2008

You Have Been Brought to a Good Place - May 18, 2008

God grant you the grace to comprehend and appreciate ever more fully the gifts and blessings of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

Have you ever experienced total contentment? Have you, in other words, ever experienced a situation where you felt that all was right with the world and that there was really no other place you would rather be than right where you are at that moment? Though probably unrealistic, it is nonetheless my prayer that each one of us would experience that tranquility and contentment each Sunday as we gather here to hear the Word of God and to offer Him our praise and worship. So also here and now let this be the only place you want to be at this moment, and may God so bless each one of us with the joy expressed long ago by the psalmist David, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:1).

Today, however, I want you to try to picture another such place in the secular realm—outside of church and the worship of our God. Formulate in your mind the sort of place where you would feel as happy and content as is humanly possible for a Christian living in a sinful world. The setting that you picture would naturally fill you with joy and delight—a bright and shining place, full of beauty, peace, and harmony.

Do you have such a place in your mind? It doesn’t even have to be a real place. You get to make it up if you wish. Got it? Now imagine that such a place actually exists but, search as you will, you simply cannot find it. Even worse, if you could somehow manage to find it you would be denied entrance.

Not such a great fantasy is it? What you quickly discover is that no matter how grand, how idyllic such a storybook fantasyland might be, it is actually worthless to you if you cannot gain entrance. Discovering such a place would, in fact, be worse than useless because you would forever be tormented by knowing that such a place exists, yet it all remains inaccessible to you. It is unattainable. Access is denied!

Such a story is certainly not the stuff fairy tales are made of. In fact it is a rather disappointing little adventure all around. Yet it is all still just a story until you transfer these simple truths into the spiritual realm, to our very lives, and to the events we celebrate on this day.

Today is Trinity Sunday. This is the Sunday of the Church Year which we set aside to study and reaffirm our understanding of and belief in the triune nature of our God—one God yet three persons. This is also the Sunday of the Church Year that some congregations set aside as Confirmation Sunday – the time when we celebrate the confirming of the Christian faith by our youth together with our own recommitment to the vows we took in our youth.

With that introduction we turn to our text which will not only verify the triune nature of our God, but it will also demonstrate how we have indeed, even now, been brought to that very good place. Our text is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the fifth chapter:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So far the very words given to us by our Triune God. Reminding ourselves of the source of these words will surely make them all the more precious and worthy in our hearts and minds. That our God would bless us through the study of these His words, so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.

Dear servants and friends of Jesus Christ, having first imagined the perfect place of peace and tranquility, I want you now to go to the opposite extreme. Have you, in other words, ever experienced a problem or frustration in your life so profound that it spoiled not only your whole day but several days, even weeks? These are often the times when everything seems “bad” to you somehow. You find yourself upset, grouchy, out of sorts, and you don’t even know for sure why that is. And then suddenly it dawns on you that your personal problems have spilled over into every other aspect of your life. One source of frustration or one bad relationship has made your whole life miserable. On the other hand, how wonderful life can suddenly become when that deep and troubling conflict is finally resolved. It's like the sun suddenly breaking through after countless cloudy days and your outlook on everything takes on a sudden optimism.

The fact is we were all naturally full of turmoil, bitterness, and pessimism because we all have, or had, a terrible conflict in our lives that tainted every other relationship, every other thought, every other emotion. Try as we might we could not, on our own, get to the bottom of this turmoil. We needed very specialized help. With that specialized help we have now come to realize that the one thing that was causing such great turmoil in our lives was our relationship with our Creator God. The Bible tells us that “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Because of this alienation from our Creator God there was and could be no true peace in our lives. Always something deep within us recognized our need to be reconciled to God, and yet we were powerless to bring it about. We had become God’s enemies and because of this, nothing in our lives seemed complete or thoroughly good. There was always something missing until we came to know our Savior.

Here is where we return to the magical place described above. This is where we all wanted to be. We wanted to stand once again in God’s good graces, in God’s glorious, blissful presence. As we heard in Isaiah, our sins had caused God to hide His face from us. Yet we longed to stand accepted in God’s presence once again. We tried all sorts of things to accomplish this reconciliation on our own. We tried work righteousness—the futile attempt to make ourselves lovable to God by doing whatever we had convinced ourselves would please Him. We tried denial—refusing to admit that anything was really wrong. We tried to make up a god who would accept us “just as we are.” We tried it all and in the end nothing worked. When we looked at ourselves and our lives honestly we had to admit that we were not where we wanted to be, and by ourselves there was no way for us to get where we wanted to be. There was simply no way for us to return to the presence of our Holy God.

It is then that God the Father provided us with an entrance. That door is Jesus Christ. He Himself once said, “I am the gate (door); whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). We wanted to stand in God’s grace. Our text tells us that it is only through Jesus Christ that this can be done: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace…” [vv.1b-2]

Oh, to what a blissful place we have been led! Millions upon millions have died trying to find the door to this good place that we now occupy only to know utter and eternal failure in the end. You and I have been told that there is only one door. What is more, we have been told exactly where that one door is to be found. Jesus is our access to God the Father.

How has He done this? That which separated us from our God was our own sin. That was the obstacle that barred our entrance. But now our text tells us that “we have been justified through faith.” [v.1a] To be justified means to be declared “not guilty” by God. It means that our sins have been removed by God because he placed the punishment for those sins upon His own Son. Our text says that it is “through Jesus” that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” [vv.1-2] Access could not be gained by trying to do good. We couldn’t talk our way in, bribe our way in, charm our way in. The door was Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ Heaven would be of no value whatsoever to us sinners. The most beautiful paradise is useless if it has no entrance through which a human being can enter. So too heaven is of no value to us if we are denied entrance.

Without question then we see the need for both God—the Father and for God—the Son. Both, of course, have infinite value for God the Father created and provides for us, and God the Son saved us by erasing our sin debt. Yet isn’t it interesting that neither has value to us personally without the other? Without God the Father we have no existence. Without Jesus Christ we remain God’s enemies and thus could never enter eternal paradise with the Father. This we know and believe, but what of the Third Person of the Trinity? What of God the Holy Spirit?

To introduce the work and value of the Holy Spirit think of the last time you locked yourself out of your car or house—frustrating, isn’t it? What’s really frustrating is when you lock yourself out of your car and it’s really nasty outside. Through the glass you can see the keys dangling from the ignition only inches away inside the car where you want to be—inside where it is warm and safe. The truth of the matter is that those keys might just as well be Botswana for all the good they do you. You are outside where it is cold, raining, and miserable. You know exactly where the door is, but you can’t open it. The cozy dry interior of your car is useless to you without the key or someone to open the door for you.

This is where the third person of the Trinity comes in. The Holy Spirit is the one who alone can open the door to us from the inside. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we have been brought to saving faith. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we have been born again of water and of the Spirit. Our text puts it this way: Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” [v. 5] Heaven itself would be worthless to us if not for the Holy Spirit. No matter how hard we struggled, no matter how fervently we wished for Heaven and to be living in the presence of God the Father, entrance would be denied us if not for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps us in that faith. It is the Holy Spirit who thereby opened the door to heaven.

Can you now see just how destructive it is to downplay or to deny the triune nature of our God or any Person of that triune God? Our God is of no comfort or value to us without all three persons. The Father created us and we long to live forever in His presence. The Son, Jesus Christ, is the one who has removed the great sin barrier and reconciled us to the Father. The Holy Spirit opens the door to Paradise by bringing us to faith.

Praise God that our full and complete Triune God has worked completely in you! That is why Paul in our text says “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” [v.2] Hope should be thought of as “confident expectation.” With confidence we now look forward to Judgment Day because we even now have eternal life within us. We even now are in that good place. Jesus told us that “...he that lives and believes in Me shall never die!” (John 11:26). Though we do not now enjoy Heaven, we are at this very moment standing in God’s presence with our sins forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This represents the heart and soul not only of Trinity Sunday, but also of Confirmation Sunday for it is the beating heart of the Christian faith. These things you parents have taught to your children. Well done! But see in the confirmands not your marks upon them but God’s, see them not as the proud product of your labors, but as the handiwork of our Triune God. Today we honor our God for the grace shown to our children, for it is our God who has brought both them and us to the good place where both we and they now stand holy and righteous in the sight of their God. Having brought us to this good place, may that same God continue to preserve both them and us. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

(Sermon written by Pastor Michael Roehl and provided through ”Ministry by Mail”. For more “Ministry by Mail” sermons, go to

May 11, 2008

What Pentecost Is and What It Is Not - May 11, 2008

Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father and Creator, from our Lord Jesus Christ, and from the Comforter, God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Fellow Bondservants of the Triune God:

Each week an offering is collected during the worship service to be used in the work of the Church. Each week that offering is counted by volunteers from the congregation. Each week the offering is deposited by the Church Council member entrusted with that task, and each week a deposit slip from that transaction is passed along to the Church Treasurer. Understanding therefore the system that is in place, answer this question: What is the function or value of the deposit slip that is presented each week to the Treasurer, especially in relation to the money it represents?

The answer is that the deposit slip really only has value in the area of information or verification. You can’t buy anything with a deposit slip, yet that same slip might verify that a small fortune has been deposited into your account.

Why in the world, you are probably wondering, would we be talking about deposit slips on Pentecost Sunday? Deposit slips, believe it or not, can teach us something about Pentecost. How so? When Christians today hear mention of Pentecost, many conjure up images of ecstatic utterances known today as “speaking in tongues.” In fact Pentecost itself has been diminished in the minds of countless Christians to images of strange and somewhat frightening outbursts of emotional religious fervor.

What we are then left with is a situation where the outward manifestation or proof of Pentecost has been promoted to the point that it has almost become the event itself. The Bible teaches us, however, that Pentecost is not all about tongues, or faith healings, or handling snakes, or any such thing. Pentecost is about the personal, indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the New Testament Christian Church on this day.

Here is where deposit slips come into play. Tongues are to Pentecost what deposit slips are to money in the bank. In other words, just as deposit slips are nowhere near as important as the funds they verify, so too the gift of tongues was intended as the outward verification that the incalculable gift of the Holy Spirit had truly been “deposited” into Christian hearts on the Day of Pentecost. How foolish then to focus upon (and assign top billing to) the deposit slip (tongues) rather than to the infinitely more valuable commodity it verifies (strength of faith, wisdom, and insight).

With this understanding we begin our study of Pentecost–both what it is and what it is not. Our text for this Pentecost Sunday is found in the New Testament book of Acts, the second chapter:

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

38Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

40And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”(Acts 2:37-42 NKJV)

So far the very words of God the Holy Spirit. This is, of course, the same Holy Spirit who gave those special gifts to the Church on the first Pentecost, and who is celebrated among us today. With true reverence for these words of God we pray, “Sanctify us through Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians, this is the Sunday we dedicate to God the Holy Spirit, the third—and all too often neglected—person of the Trinity. This is Pentecost Sunday. It may sound strange, but Pentecost has always been one of those “hard to get a good handle on” church holidays. Many holidays are easy for us to understand. Christmas, for example, is easy: Jesus was born – God was made man. Good Friday and Easter are simple: Jesus died for my sins so that I don't have to die, and He rose again as proof that His payment was and is sufficient in the eyes of God the Father. Ascension is a bit more difficult, but we can see that event as the moment when Jesus returned to the bliss and glory of heaven and look forward to the day when He will come again in much the same way to gather His children and carry us to the heavenly mansions.

But what about Pentecost? How should we feel? What is it all about? How should we thank God for Pentecost? The interesting thing is that the original New Testament Pentecost is not at all difficult to understand. It is not difficult to see what God did for the Church on that particular occasion. Our confusion comes as a result of what man has said and written about Pentecost since that time. Man has turned Pentecost into something that it is not, or at least something that is less than what it really is and therein lies the confusion. The first thing we will note is that the most common perversions of this day were probably created, at least in part, by spiritual laziness.

In a society that lives and breathes for instant gratification in everything from food to the purchase of a car or home, it should not surprise us that the craving for “instant” has crept into the spiritual. Understand this well. There is only one source through which all of the mysteries of God are learned—the Bible. There is no shortcut. God works not directly from Heaven to man, but has chosen to work through “means.” Think of the water that comes out of your faucets. That water doesn’t go directly from the well or reservoir into your cook pot. The “means” it takes to get the water from the ground to your kettle is a pipe. The Holy Spirit has chosen to work through means instead of working directly. The “pipe” or means through which He works is the Gospel in Word and in Sacrament. That is why the Bible says, “Faith comes through hearing the message” of Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 10:17). That is also why Peter in our text said, “Repent and be baptized...for the forgiveness of sins…” [v.38] God has chosen not to work directly from Heaven in man. He has chosen to work through the Gospel.

The problem with the modern misconception of Pentecost is that mankind wants to believe that it is some sort of shortcut to spiritual knowledge and growth—a notion that is nonsense born of pure spiritual laziness. The reasoning seems to be that since the first Apostles learned a foreign language without first studying it, therefore we can even today obtain an instant grasp of the Word of God directly from the Holy Spirit. We should therefore never have to go through the time-consuming process of studying the Bible. The simple fact is that’s not the way it works. Satan, however, loves this sort of reasoning. What more fertile grounds for the corruption of God’s Word can you imagine than several generations of spiritual leaders who have never really studied the Word? How the Devil must fairly quiver in anticipation whenever he hears that men are relying not on the Word of God, but on their “personal inner light” to guide their understanding. How many churches are even now paying the price for allowing themselves to be guided by an “inner light” which they mistakenly believe to be God the Holy Spirit working in them?

Our text for this morning reminds us that Pentecost was indeed given to the Church for a reason. That reason was not to encourage spiritual laziness, but to give incredible gifts to God’s Church. Today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) provided the background for the need of the special gift of languages given to the Apostles on the first New Testament Pentecost. God had to confuse the speech of the people at the Tower of Babel so that they would obey his command to disperse and fill the earth. At the first New Testament Pentecost, God gave to His Church the means to instantly overcome this obstacle by blessing the apostles with the ability to speak those different languages instantly. Unfortunately, as we noted earlier, mankind has since elevated this one small aspect of that first New Testament Pentecost into superstar status.

This gift of languages, or tongues, was in fact a relatively small part of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was both a visible proof and a means to communicate. In fact only when the apostles started to communicate were the real gifts of Pentecost revealed to mankind. Remember the nagging idea that the Jews (including the apostles themselves) could not get out of their heads? They clung tenaciously to the idea that the Messiah was to be an earthly ruler. Even after Jesus had re-educated His men for three years, even after he had told them countless times that His kingdom is not of this world, even though He had allowed Himself to be killed and then to rise again, still what was the very last question they asked him before His resurrection? “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Note too that the disciples were timid and fearful prior to Pentecost. They spent their days locked away in seclusion.

And then came Pentecost—the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. The proof that something was different was the speaking in different languages. The far greater gifts, though not so obvious, were also very evident. First of all the disciples, from this point on, never again appeared uncertain or unclear about the Gospel. Secondly, they no longer hid in fear. Finally, these first missionaries no longer hoarded the Word of Truth but freely and boldly shared it with a dying world.

How foolish and superficial it is to dwell on the speaking in different languages to the exclusion of the far greater wonders that were worked by God the Holy Spirit on that day. How magnificently, for example, the Apostle Peter divided Law and Gospel in his sermon. This was a direct manifestation of the greatest gifts given at Pentecost. First he spoke pure Law to his audience, pointing out and then condemning their sins. The text says simply and yet profoundly, “They were cut to the heart.” [v.37] What joy to read that those men, through the Word spoken by Peter, gave up on themselves and stood crushed by the weight of their sinfulness. Only then did those sinners speak the words that every witnessing child of God longs to hear: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” [v.37] The Law had done its job. It was time for the Gospel.

What happened next? Peter masterfully laid aside the Law and pointed those crushed sinners to the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The people had asked what they could do. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit’s gift of spiritual wisdom, informed them that they could not do anything. “Repent and be baptized,” [v.38] he told them. The doing would not come from man but from God the Holy Spirit who would work faith through the Gospel, whether in the spoken Word or in the Sacrament of Baptism. This is not Law (man working or doing) but pure Gospel (God working, God doing.) What pure sweet joy this Gospel message must have produced in these men and women—those who could well have been part of the very crowd that had called for the crucifixion of the Son of God. The Man they had crucified had Himself died to pay for their sins.

Here we see the true gifts of Pentecost. Here we stand as witness to the Holy Ghost living and working in man. Here we find the Spirit of God where He has promised to be found, fulfilling the promises made by the Savior before His resurrection. The speaking in different languages converted no one. In fact, it confused those who heard causing some to suspect that alcohol was at work at nine in the morning—hardly the stuff that mass conversions are made of. But the Word, the powerful message of Law and Gospel that Peter spoke with the wisdom and confidence of Pentecost, that did have a powerful effect—then and now.

Peter’s own inspired words bear out the truth that this was the greatest gift of Pentecost. He said, “Repent and be baptized.” The purpose for being baptized? “…for the forgiveness of your sins." God the Holy Spirit here promises to work faith through the Means of Grace in Baptism. He goes on, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [v.38] Would everyone who heard Peter speak in tongues? No. Yet everyone, according to Peter, would most certainly receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That great gift then must be something other than the speaking in tongues. By these words we can know that the greatest gift was and is the wisdom and insight that is ours through the Holy Spirit working in us through the Means of Grace.

Dear Christians, on this day we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Thank God in particular for the greatest of His gifts that day —the faith, wisdom and understanding to receive the truth of God's Word, especially the Gospel message of salvation in Christ Jesus. Pentecost does not offer us any kind of direct, unstudied revelation from God the Holy Spirit. Do not allow Satan or the world to mislead you into chasing that which is not, to the abandonment of that which truly is. Abandon the quick fixes and shortcuts and turn daily to the Word. Let that life-giving Word be the true joy and delight of your heart from this day forward. Live and breathe that Word of God day by day for in that Word the Holy Spirit has promised to meet with you and to shower you with gifts whose true worth man is not able to calculate.

Grant to us, Lord, the true gifts of Pentecost. Amen.

—Pastor Michael Roehl

(Sermon written by Pastor Michael Roehl and provided through ”Ministry by Mail”. For more “Ministry by Mail” sermons, go to

May 4, 2008

Jesus Has Ascended, It' Time For Growing Up - May 4, 2008

The portion of God’s Word which we consider today is take from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Christ Jesus, our risen Savior, reigns over all things for the benefit of God’s children. In His name, dear fellow-redeemed:

King Solomon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven...A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to [harvest]…a time to weep, and a time to laugh…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff).

Sometimes there are clear indicators that it’s time to do something or move from one season to the next. For example: When a lawn gets to a certain height it’s time to mow. Of greater significance—when graduation requirements are fulfilled it’s time to move on. Of even greater significance, but less known to us—when the days which God has appointed for us on the earth are completed it’s time to die and enter eternal life.

This last Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension. Whenever we consider Christ’s ascension there are a couple of things that are good to keep in mind. First, Jesus’ ascension was part of God’s overall “salvation plan” for the souls of sinners. Secondly, Jesus’ ascension does not signal the end of His work for souls, it only signifies the end of his visible presence on earth.

The next season for Jesus’ disciples began after Jesus was no longer visibly with them. Ten days after Jesus ascended the disciples would be equipped for their new season through the gift of the Holy Spirit. That season continues with the disciples of today—you and me—and we continue to be equipped by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. JESUS HAS ASCENDED—IT'S TIME FOR GROWING UP I. Jesus gives gifts to promote growth, II. Continuing growth characterizes spiritual maturity, and III. The whole body matures as each part matures


The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Himself “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” [v.11] Jesus gave by the authority He has as our exalted and ascended Lord. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes: “[God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23 NKJV).

Before He ascended Jesus told the disciples, “All power—all authority—is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NKJV). Our victorious, exalted, and ascended Lord is ruling in heaven with all authority. He wields that power for the benefit of His Church—all believers. He wields that power to preserve the faith of believers already in the Church, and He uses that authority to guide all things with the goal of bringing even more sinners into the family of God. This is the work which Jesus is doing right now. To accomplish that work on earth, He—the ascended Savior—gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.

Jesus gives gifts to individuals on earth to enable them to serve in these offices and capacities within His church. He gave gifts to the apostles many years ago, then He gave the apostles as gifts to the Church. He led them to opportunities, gave them the knowledge to use their gifts, and with that they evangelized the world of their day spreading the Gospel wherever they could. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were inspired to write the very words of God in order to provide a written Scripture for generations and centuries upon centuries of God’s people. The ascended Lord gave the gifts that were needed for these men to be the apostles we know them to be and as such they were gifts to the church.

Jesus continues to give gifts to individuals and in turn gives them to the Church right down to the pastors, teachers, and other leaders in the Church of today. Jesus’ gifts to the Church are “for the equipping of the saints (believers).” [v.12] Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that a man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-16 NKJV). Jesus gives individuals as gifts to the Church so that they will use the Scriptures for their intended purposes and thereby equip others to also use the Scriptures.

The equipping of the believers is “for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ.” [v.12] The reason Jesus gives gifts to His Church on earth is not so that select individuals can go about the Gospel ministry and be the only ones doing so. Rather, they are the spark plugs, they are the instructors. As more and more are equipped and begin to share the Gospel, then by sheer numbers the Gospel spreads because the saints are equipping the saints to equip more saints so that they all share in the ministry of the Gospel!

So the work of the Gospel ministry within a congregation or a church body is never just for the called servants. It is never just for those in a leadership role. It is for every saint—every believer. Those who are called and given particular gifts are to equip the rest, and the whole body of Christ is to edify one another and strengthen one another’s faith by sharing the Gospel with each other.

The CLC Convention is coming up in less than two months. At Convention there will be called servants and lay delegates—it is a group endeavor. As we consider the work of our church body, it is not for the sake of those called servants, it’s not for the sake of a synodical hierarchy and organization. It is for the sake of the Gospel ministry. There are individuals who are called to serve in specific capacities in our fellowship, these are given by the ascended Lord as gifts to the church to promote growth; but the work that lies before us is work for all of us.


As this work continues there will be spiritual growth—growth in knowledge of God, in faith, and in the confidence of faith. This growth continues “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—“ [vv.13-15]

Making use of God’s Word will create growth leading to spiritual maturity. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

Consider today’s Gospel reading. Jesus did not grant the woman’s request immediately. He tested her faith. He challenged her faith. That process of circumstances strengthened her faith, but it wasn’t apart from the Gospel. As Jesus tested her faith, she relied upon the truth of what she already knew about Jesus, namely, that He was willing and able to help.

In a similar way, God will test our faith with what He gives or takes away or allows to come into our lives. At those times our faith will be strengthened when we make use of God’s Word and rely upon the truth we find there.

Consider this example from a Christian author: If you came to doubt that Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone Park, would really erupt on time and with regularity, how could you become convinced that it really was faithful? Would your faith in Old Faithful improve by staying home and telling yourself over and over, “I need more faith in Old Faithful. I just need to believe it.”? This wouldn’t help at all! The best way to become convinced of the geyser’s reliability is to go and see for yourself, or at least research it’s past faithfulness.

Similarly, the way for us to be strengthened, to be built up, “to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” is not to expect a stronger faith simply by going through life and thinking, “I need a stronger faith.” Rather, our faith is strengthened when we go to see God in action through His Word and when we research His past faithfulness there.

In God’s Word we find a witness to how faithful He was in providing salvation for us, and how faithful He was in guarding and keeping the believers of Biblical times. When we learn God’s faithfulness, hear His promises, and apply that to ourselves then we will continue to grow and develop a deepening spiritual maturity.

We understand the need for maturity and growth. We desire that our children mature physically, emotionally, and intellectually into adulthood. The desire that God has for our hearts and our faith is no less. Growth in spiritual maturity is certainly something we wish to pursue.

Spiritual immaturity is characterized by being pulled this way and that way by every new spiritual fad and doctrine; or by being easily blown into doubt concerning God with every new human challenge to His truth. A young child quickly changes his preferences and viewpoints depending on who has said what most recently. As a child matures, he develops a consistency that comes with maturity. Spiritually, we want to grow into maturity that isn’t easily pulled from one thing to the next so that instead of being tossed about by every new fad and doctrine we will stand fast and not be pulled from the cornerstone of our Savior.

Spiritual maturity is very important in this world because there are, as Paul told the Colossians, many who will seek to “cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8-9).

Another part of Christian maturity is to speak the truth in love (cf. v.15). It does not take any particular spiritual maturity to simply take God’s Law and “hammer” anybody and everybody with it and condemning everyone. That is just taking one aspect of God’s Word and “letting them have it.” It doesn’t take much spiritual maturity to speak as if sin doesn’t matter—ignoring sin and talking about God’s love.

It doesn’t take much spiritual maturity to talk about God’s love without explaining how He demonstrates that love and what that love means in the context of our sins.

It doesn’t take much spiritual maturity to use God’s Word however and whenever it is convenient and for selfish purposes.

It does take a growing spiritual maturity to know when to apply Law to a heart and when to apply Gospel. It takes a spiritual maturity to speak the truth without compromise, but to do so in connection with Christ-like love with the well-being of a sinner’s soul in mind. This is why Martin Luther said that a true theologian is one who can rightly divide between Law and Gospel and apply them correctly—something he never claimed to have mastered despite his God-given insight and years of study.

Continuing growth will characterize spiritual maturity that stands fast in the truth of God’s Word, relies on His promises, continues to delve into His Word for even greater knowledge and faith, and then also shares it with others by speaking the truth in love.


In Paul’s writings, the Holy Spirit uses the illustration of a human body to visualize the body of Christ—all believers. Jesus is the head—the operating center of the body. All believers are the individual parts that make up the rest of the body.

In Romans 12, Paul speaks of the many gifts God gives and says if you have a particular gift, use it! “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8 NKJV).

Paul wrote similarly in 1 Corinthians but then he goes on to say that the body is incomplete without the other individual parts. If the body were all one big eye, how would we hear? If it were all one big ear, how would we smell? In other words, it takes every single believer to make the whole (cf. 1 Corinthians 12)

Paul writes in our text, the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” [v.16] There are no spare or useless parts in the body of Christ.

Years ago doctors would extract tonsils without much hesitancy. Tonsils were considered largely useless so it was no big loss if they were gone—just leftovers from some evolutionary process some supposed. Doctors still remove tonsils if it becomes necessary, but if at all possible they leave them because it turns out that when God created us He did have a purpose for the tonsils after all. Yes, we can survive without tonsils or an appendix or with only one kidney or only part of other organs, but in those cases our body is incomplete. We can survive, but our body will not function as fully or perfectly as when every organ and every part is working properly and doing its share.

The same is true about the body of Christ. The work of the Gospel ministry will continue without you. God’s Word will prevail. But because you are a child of God who has been called to faith you have a role to play. You are part of God’s chosen generation to proclaim the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). You can ignore it, you can avoid it, and the spread of the Gospel will continue but not as completely as it would if you were to serve using your gifts in the way that God has called you.

The whole body benefits when the individual part uses his gifts for the work of the Gospel and to edify one another in love. This means that the parts of the body who are stronger can edify and build up those who are weaker. Those who are strong shouldn’t leave the others behind. No one should strike out on his own way. Being joined together and knit together with Christ means that when each individual grows in spiritual maturity, the whole body grows. When the whole body grows it thrives and when the body of Christ thrives the Gospel goes forth for the salvation of more souls.

Jesus has ascended. He is living and reigning in heaven for us—His Church on earth. Now it’s time for growing up. Amen.

-- Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

May 1, 2008

Why Did Jesus Ascend Visibly from This Earth? - May 1, 2008

The book called “Acts of the Apostles” was written by a doctor named Luke. First he wrote “The Gospel of Luke” which tells of our Savior’s life and work through which we were redeemed. Secondly Luke wrote the “Acts of the Apostles” which tells of how the Holy Spirit used men and women to spread the message of sins forgiven in Christ, throughout the world of the first century.

The portion of God’s message which we meditate on today is taken from Acts 1:1-11.

Acts 1:1-11 (NIV)

1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

These are the words inspired by God the Spirit.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Before Thanksgiving is over, the world of retail has already begun to advertise for Christmas. There are stockings to hang, gifts to buy and parties to plan. Christmas is a time for family and friends, happiness and celebration. And there’s that whole thing about God’s Son being born too.

In the spring it’s time for Easter, again it’s time for family and friends, happiness and celebration. But this time pastel colors abound. Bunnies and eggs are seen everywhere. Pretty dresses are found for little girls and cute spring suits for little boys. And there’s that whole thing about Jesus being raised from the dead too.

I hope I don’t sound to cynical. I do enjoy the trimmings of Christmas and Easter, just not when those accessories overshadow the Person who is meant to be celebrated on those special days.

It seems that the retail giants and the merchants of the world have made our Christian holidays into seasons for money-making, instead of seasons for prayer and worship. Jesus violently clear the money changers and animal sellers out of the Temple in Jerusalem in His day. I wonder what He would do if He were to appear in the height of our modern “holiday” season.

There’s at least one Christian day of celebration that gets overlooked by the retail world. It seems that it even gets overlooked by Christians. That’s today, ascension day.

Forty days after our Savior was raised from the dead, He was raised from this Earth into the sky. In this grand way Jesus went back to the place He had come from, back to the Father’s side in Heaven.

Today, forty days after our Celebration of Easter we join to celebrate Jesus’ ascension.

Today we ask the question, “Why did Jesus visibly ascend from this earth?” As we meditate on the various answers to this question we will also see why we celebrate this day.

Why did Jesus visibly ascend into the sky?

His miracles of healing, storm stilling and wave walking had shown that He was who He said He was, the Son of God. And this last miracle of rising up into the wide open sky above served as one last sign that He is the Son of God.

From heaven God’s Son had come, to the Father’s side He was now returning. He had humbly submitted to His Father’s plan. He had descended from glory and had taken the fragile frame of humanity as His own. He had absorbed all sorts of pain and sorrow and abuse. He had even subjected Himself to hell and death in the place of sinners. Now, mission accomplished, raised from the dead, He would now also be raised from the earth as many looked on from below. Being hidden from their sight by a cloud Jesus was bodily transported into the mysterious invisible presence of God the Father. As it is written…

19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:19-20 NIV).

And this brings us to another reason that Jesus had to leave in this visible and final way.

Jesus had told His disciples that they were to be His witnesses to the world. To help them say the right words, the Holy Spirit would be sent to fill them and guide them. Jesus had said,

5“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5-7 NIV).

Jesus said that unless He left the Holy Spirit would not come. Why not? It was God’s plan that it work this way. The Teacher must go away and the students must become the teachers. The Holy Spirit would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them. The Counselor would work through the message they would proclaim. Their ministry would no long be one of bringing others physically to learn from Jesus. Now their ministry would be to actually speak Jesus’ words to the people as the Holy Spirit directed.

Jesus would be visibly gone so that their ministries could begin. But He would remain with them in every other way. As He had promised them in Galilee, He would be with them even to the end of the age.

Though Jesus is still fully human, He is now also fully glorified as God the Son. He no longer submits to the usual rules which govern the human body. He is at the same time present with us here today, and also at the Father’s side in Heaven. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells us one of the reasons Jesus ascended.

34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34 NIV).

What a reassuring image this is. Picture it for a moment if you will. God the Father is seated on the grandest throne that you could ever imagine. Holy angels sing His praise throughout the air around His presence. The light which radiates from His face is terrifyingly bright and the power which thrums from Him is too much to take.

Then a dark shape approaches the throne. The thrum of power from this one is also terrifying. But his power is dark. It is Satan. He brings a message of accusation. It seems that you have sinned against the Holy, Eternal Creator. Satan is requesting that you receive your just punishment - at his side.

But then we notice there is one seated at the right hand of God the Father. This one, glorious and powerful, leans toward the Father’s throne and says, “The punishment for that sin is already spent. I suffered it long ago.” It is the Son of God interceding for you. As long as He is there, no charge that Satan might bring can ever stick.

Jesus ascended visibly that He might intercede on our behalf, and that He might give us this comforting image to cheer us. As it is written in 1 Peter,

“…Jesus Christ …has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22 NIV).

And intercession is not the only thing Jesus ascended to do for us. As He works powerfully on our behalf at the side of the Father, He also is preparing a seat for us in that same place. As Jesus told His followers,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIV).

Jesus ascended visibly so that He might prepare a place of glory for you and me in the Father’s presence. What His preparation for us all includes I have no idea. But I can’t wait to find out.

I am confident that I will find out. You should be too. We aren’t confident because of our own worthiness, for we are unworthy of walking the sky behind our ascended Savior. We are confident that we sinners will enter heaven because we are connected to Christ who has gone ahead of us. In Colossians chapter two it says,

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV).

And then in chapter three,

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV).

Jesus ascended visibly into the sky to dash all our remaining doubts and fears and sweep them away. Jesus has joined us to Himself with the bonds of faith. He who sits in the place of ultimate power and authority has connected Himself to us! He is the head, we the body. He the head, we the church.

He wants us to think about this when dark times come. The sun is shining brightly above the dark thunderclouds, and He who has ascended is pulling us continually closer to that light by the cords of faith. Through the decades and the years and the hours and the minutes of life He is drawing us ever closer to Himself. His strong hands never stops hauling, one over the other, and one day we will meet Him in glory.

“…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3 NIV).

I once had a conversation with a very cynical man. His heart was very hardened against Jesus. He took pride in saying that Sunday for him was just another day off work. I imagine he would have said the same about Christmas and Easter.

It is my joy to lead you in worship on Christmas, through Lent, on Easter and on this Ascension day. I pray that our children and our children’s children never consider these holy days of celebrating our Savior just another day off work. They are so much more in Christ. These holy days of Christians celebration are beacons of light and life shining out to our hearts, casting away the shadows of sin and pointing the way to heaven that is found in Jesus alone.

Let me leave you with one final thought before we close our sermon meditation.

The manger that little baby Jesus was laid in - is gone. The cross that the sinless young man Jesus died upon - is gone. The tomb that our resurrected Jesus left empty on Easter morning might be visited, but there are a number of locations which claim they are it. So you could say the tomb is gone also.

Sadly, we cannot go and physically view these places so dear to our hearts because of their connection to our Savior. But that isn’t the case with the place where Jesus ascended. Last time I checked, the sky is still there.

The sky will remain a reminder of Jesus’ glorification and His triumphant return to the Father until the last day. And for all who know His promises, the sky stands before us as the last path that we will walk when we go to meet our Heavenly King.

Yes, Jesus ascended visibly into the sky, to prepare the path for us.

All praise and glory be to the Ascended One, now and forever. Amen.

Hymn 223