October 25, 2008

The Valley of Decision - Oct 26 , 2008

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, Amen. Our text this morning comes from the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Joel, beginning with the ninth verse, as follows:

Joel 3:9-17 (NKJV)

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
“Prepare for war!
Wake up the mighty men,
Let all the men of war draw near,
Let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’”
11 Assemble and come, all you nations,
And gather together all around.
Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD.
12 “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
Come, go down;
For the winepress is full,
The vats overflow—
For their wickedness is great.”
14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will grow dark,
And the stars will diminish their brightness.
16 The LORD also will roar from Zion,
And utter His voice from Jerusalem;
The heavens and earth will shake;
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people,
And the strength of the children of Israel.
17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God,
Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain.
Then Jerusalem shall be holy,
And no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”

These are the Words. In Christ Jesus, our Shelter and our Refuge, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Americans have fought battles in many famous valleys - Valley Forge, the valley of the Somme in France, the Ruhr Valley in Germany. But no battle is more famous among Americans than the one that took place in a quiet valley near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The date was July 3, 1863. As the hot noon sun beat down on the soldiers of the Confederacy, they looked across a shallow valley at the Union army on the opposite ridge. Soon their commanders would order them to charge into that narrow valley and attack the Union positions. Not even the generals knew it yet, but the decisive battle of the Civil War was about to be fought. Fifty thousand men would give their lives to decide a single question: would America be split into two separate countries, or would it remain united? This narrow space between two ridges was the place where that question would be answered. It was the valley of decision.

The orders were given, and the battle raged. Heavy losses were incurred on both sides, but when the smoke cleared, the rebels had been driven back. It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. From this fateful valley the South would retreat, moving inevitably toward their ultimate defeat at Appomattox Courthouse some 23 months later.

Our text today describes another critical valley. It's a valley that exists nowhere on earth but in the mind of the prophet Joel. He prophesies the terrible conflict that will rage between the forces of the ungodly and the believers, and he sees the outcome of the battle as clearly as if it had already happened. The "Valley of Decision" he foresees is Judgment Day. Here the decision of the Lord will finally be pronounced, and that decision will be irrevocable for time and for eternity! With the prophet Joel, then, let's look ahead to --


I. We'll have to fight our way into it
II. There we'll see the defeat of the ungodly
III. There we'll see victory for the believers

Every human being on earth is heading for the VALLEY OF DECISION, whether he knows it or not. We Christians know it, although (as we discussed last week) the fact tends to slip our minds once in a while. The truth is that we're marching like a mighty army toward the Day of Judgment. Every night, as
the old hymn reminds us, we "pitch our moving tents a day's march nearer home;" we're 24 hours closer to the moment when Jesus will return to earth to judge the nations. And, like an army, every inch of the way we travel is fraught with fighting and struggle against the forces that oppose our faith in this world. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way.

We're headed for THE VALLEY OF DECISION all right, but we'll have to fight our way into it!. Joel saw that, way back in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before Jesus was even born. He saw the tremendous struggle that the New Testament believers of all ages would come up against in their long march toward Judgment Day. He saw the enemies of the cross -- but he wasn't afraid of them. Just the opposite - he sends out a challenge to the foes of the Church: Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Do your worst, he says! Make every tool you've got into a weapon and gang up on the believers - that won't change the final outcome.

As it turns out, those enemies didn't need much encouragement from Joel. In every century, the forces of the ungodly have battled the believers. The Apostle Paul told the Christians to expect it; he said, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22. The road to heaven isn't an easy one. We have to fight.

"Even in America?" you ask. "Even in 2008?" The answer is yes, especially in America, and especially in 2008! The troops we're battling against in our day aren't the kind you can see. Our government is constitutionally obligated to protect our religious freedom, not persecute it. That’s one of the tremendous blessings for which we will thank God here this Thursday morning. But that still leaves us Christians with a battle to fight. A different kind of battle and a much harder one, because our enemies aren't the kind that you can get your hands on. We're fighting a general drift toward ungodliness in our society. In our own homes we're fighting the shabby ethics and loose attitudes toward morality that come at us in waves over the television set. We're fighting against a scientific community that says Creation is a myth, that teaches our kids that humans have evolved, over billions of years, from lower life forms. We're fighting a culture where dishonest executives and lawyers and brokers are demonstrating that "greed is good," that stealing is all right if you don't get caught, and that the almighty dollar is god. Some of the Christians’ worst enemies are the false teachers we're fighting against - the people of other denominations who disobey God’s holy Word and then hide their errors under the sheep's' clothing of religiosity. They tell us not to worry so much about what the Bible teaches. "You stuffy Lutherans!" they say. "Don't make such a big deal about pure doctrine! Let your guard down! Forget about the world to come - join in with us, and we'll make this world a better place to live in."

But we won't let our guard down, for we take very seriously the words of the writer to the Hebrews, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." 10:23. So, with the Lord's help, we will keep on fighting. We know where we came from, and we know where we're going. We're headed for THE VALLEY OF DECISION.

What will we see when we get there? When the Last Day dawns, what will our eyes behold? We'll see exactly what Joel saw in his mind's eye: the final defeat of the ungodly. In our text, we hear the Lord calling all the nations into the Valley of Jehoshaphat; literally, "the valley of the Lord's judgment." All the enemies of the Church will be there, standing in front of the Lord's throne of judgment. Every government that ever persecuted the Christians. Every heathen army that ever slaughtered the believers. And every individual who ever rejected the Gospel invitation and turned his hand against God's elect. All the people who turned away from Christ, who rejected the narrow path to heaven and instead got on the broad, easy interstate to hell. We'll be there to witness their destruction. And what a terrible sight it will be!

Eighty-five years ago, in World War I, Europe witnessed the advent of one of the deadliest inventions in history: the machine gun. While most generals were still using a tactic of the nineteenth century - the massed infantry attack - others were learning that such an attack could be easily defeated with just a few well-placed machine guns. The result was a blood bath. Row upon row of soldiers were ordered to charge the enemy trenches, and row upon row were cut down in a fusillade of deadly machine gun fire. Witnesses said that the men fell like rows of wheat cut down by a sickle. But as chilling as that image may be, it's nothing compared with the deadly efficiency with which the angels of the Lord will mow down the unbelievers on Judgment Day!

According to our text, the voice of the Lord will thunder to His servants, Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Cut down the unbelievers! They heard the Gospel, but they didn't believe it; they had a Savior, but they scorned Him. It will be a deadly harvest. Joel also uses the picture of grapes being trampled in the winepress of God's wrath. The ungodly will be utterly crushed and defeated, once and for all, and cast into hell to spend eternity weeping and grinding their teeth. Why? Because "...their wickedness is great." Because their lives were filled to overflowing with sin, and they rejected the one Person who, alone, could save them from those sins.

There is a salutary warning for us here, too: there, but for the grace of God, go all of us! Because by our nature, you and I are not one bit better than those who will be lost on the Day of Judgment. We’re sinners, just as they. So we Christians need to bear in mind and truly appreciate the fact that there is only one thing that stands between us and hell, and that’s the cross of Christ. The Apostle Peter reminds us that even the believers are “scarcely saved.” The writer to the Hebrews puts it in chilling terms, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” – Heb 2:3.

Yes, on Judgment Day we'll see the defeat of the ungodly, and what a sight it will be! Joel is breathless as he describes the vision: Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. 16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake. Yes, we'll hear God's thundering judgment on the unbelievers. It'll be just as Jesus described it in Matthew chapter 25: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Matt 25:41.

But in the middle of this terrible scene, we'll also witness something else. In the Valley of Decision, we'll see victory for the believers! The text goes on, …but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel. As God's children, the true "Israel", we've got nothing to fear from the awesome cataclysm of Judgment Day. We have a Shelter, a protective Hiding Place that keeps us immune from the terrible wrath of God. Jesus is that Shelter and Hiding Place!

We have a law in our country that says a man can never be tried twice for the same crime. God has the same kind of law. Jesus was put on trial for our sin; He took our guilt upon Himself. Though He was innocent, God pronounced Him guilty. God allowed Him to bear our entire load of punishment on the cross. There Christ poured out His lifeblood to pay off the debt of our sin in full. For Jesus' sake, we have already heard God's verdict on us, and that verdict is "Not guilty!" And you can be certain of one thing my friends: our Lord won't allow us to be tried twice. For the unbelievers, yes - it will be "Judgment Day," a day of terrible defeat, a day of punishment. But for those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, it will be a day of sweetest victory, and nothing else!

Are you afraid when you think of how close that Day might be? Don't be afraid - be happy! That's what God gave you your faith for, so you can look forward to that Day with joy. Jesus already endured the hell. All that's left for you is the heaven. And if the Last Day should come today, or tomorrow, or Tuesday? Let it come. We're ready! Jesus tells us just how it will be: "There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near!" Lk 21:25-28.

A certain general, on the morning of an important battle, once quoted these lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "O that a man might know the end of this day's business ere it come! But it sufficeth that the day will end, and then the end is known." Countless military commanders and soldiers alike have wished that futile dream - that they could know the outcome of the battle before it began. We, the soldiers of the cross, are the only army that can truly say we do know the outcome of the battle ahead of time. We've looked into the Valley of Decision with the prophet Joel. We've got a hard struggle ahead of us, but we know that the Lord's final decision will spell defeat for the ungodly, and victory for Christ's believers. With our faith in Christ as our bright banner shining in the sun, we'll see the gates of that heavenly Jerusalem swing open to receive us into eternity. On that Day, says the Lord, "...shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more! Even so, come
quickly, Lord Jesus! AMEN.

-Pastor Paul Naumann

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

October 19, 2008

Jesus is Our Great High Priest - Oct 19, 2008

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

The “book” of Hebrews was actually a long letter. It was written to followers of Jesus who were Jewish by birth, “Hebrew” by birth. They most likely lived in or near Jerusalem where sacrifices were being offered in the Temple that still stood there. The letter to the Hebrews was written before 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Temple with it.

If we were to choose a different title for this letter, we might call it, “Jesus is Better”. That’s one of the major themes throughout Hebrews. Jesus is better than the angels. Jesus is better than Moses. Jesus is better than all the High Priests that ever served in God’s Temple.

The writer to the Hebrews shows the superiority of Jesus to all who came before. And along the way he also reminds the Hebrew Christians that through faith, Jesus was THEIR Great High Priest. Today the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the same truth. By faith, Jesus is Our Great High Priest.

Hebrews 7:26-8:2 (NASB)

26For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
8:1Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.

These are the words. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Great High Priest, Dear blood bought followers of Jesus,

What if I told you that behind that door over there God was waiting to meet with us?

What if it was true that on this Sunday morning God Himself had quietly descended from heaven, with all His glory and power, and was sitting in that little office waiting to meet with you and me?

Would you be the first to open that door?

Let’s be serious now. Let’s consider what it would really mean to open that door and step into the presence of the Holy God. He would know our every thought. Stepping through that door the Spirit of God would immediately page through every folder in our minds. Our every intention, our every hope, our every desire, our every sin would be laid out before Him in an instant.

And let us remember what the God of the Universe is like. He is the Holy One who describes Himself as pure light. There is no dark thought in His being. For He hates the darkness of evil with a pure hatred. He does not wink at sin and dismiss it like you and I sometimes do. He is holy and He is just.

Perhaps it would be better to let someone else go first.

Perhaps it would be better to send a representative for us instead. Someone that the Almighty God likes. Someone good.

Perhaps it would be best to knock on the door first and say, “Great God, we are sinners who dare not enter your presence, but we want to meet with Your Greatness. Who can we send in our place?”

In the Old Testament times God gave His people a special place to worship Him. It was a movable worship tent called the Tabernacle. In this rectangular tent there were two rooms. One called the Holy Place, where the priests would enter daily to offer sacrifices for the people. And One called the Most Holy Place where God promised appear in all His glory. This Most Holy Place was roughly the same size as that little office over there (15 feet square).

But only one chosen priest was allowed to enter this Most Holy Place, the High Priest. And he was only allowed to enter once a year to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people.

But before the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place he had to get ready. He had to bath himself in a special way. He had to put on the pure white clothing that God commanded him to wear. And he had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer sacrifices for the people.

In our Old Testament reading (Leviticus 10:1-11) we heard what happened when priests offered sacrifices that God had not commanded. They perished when God’s wrath lashed out at them. Sinners dare not approach the Great God with what their own imagination thinks that He might be pleased with. Sinners dare only approach the Holy God through the representative that God Himself has selected, and in the way that God Himself has designed.

The book of Hebrews tells us that all the sacrifices that all the Old Testament sacrifices that God commanded the priests to offer were not able to actually take away the sins of the people.

“6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Hebrews 9:6-10 NIV).

These external regulations of the Old Covenant were meant to point God’s people to the true sacrifice that would be offered by God’s Purer Priest, Jesus Christ.

God had commanded that the men who would serve as priests in the Old Testament Tabernacle had to be descendants from the priest family of Levi.

Jesus was not a descendant of Levi, because He was not one of the priests of the Old Covenant. Jesus was not to be a priest who pointed forward to the Great High Priest, Jesus was the Great High Priest Himself. Jesus did not have to offer sacrifices for His own sins like every previous priest did, for Jesus was altogether holy. He was both sinless and separated from all other people of the world because He was the Son of God.

In our Psalm for today the ordination of God’s Son into His ministry was described:

“4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4 NIV).

This is the word of oath that our text was talking about when it said:

“28For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28 NASB).

So what does this mean for you and me today? Since God has shown us who the eternal High Priest of His House is, we dare only approach the Almighty God through Jesus – God’s chosen High Priest.

The Old Testament High Priest had to be ceremonial clean before He could enter the Most Holy Place. But even after he was, he also had to bring the proper sacrifice which God had commanded him to bring for the people.

All of this ceremony was a preview in images of what Jesus would be in reality. When Jesus approached the cross of Calvary to be crucified on it, He was approaching the altar of God. He came as the Holy High Priest of God, and He also came as the proper Sacrifice that God had prescribed to forever take away the sins of the people.

Hebrews declares triumphantly that Jesus is our High Priest…

“27who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27 NIV).

Among the Jewish people of today there is a group that wants to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and reinstitute the Old Testament sacrifices. They don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They want to go back to slaughtering bulls and goats and lambs as they did before. They don’t see that the ritual sacrifice of animal life was merely a shadow of the great sacrifice of God’s own Son. They do not see that before God those Old Testament sacrifices were only pleasing because they pointed forward in faith to the all-sufficient sacrifice of the God-Man.

But, by the grace of God we know and believe what Hebrews declares in its first chapter:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3).

In heaven, in full view of God the Father, Jesus is the eternally finished proof that our sins have been atoned for. Jesus need only lift up His glorified, pierced hands to show that the sacrifice for sin has been finished. No repeated sacrifice is needed. In fact not additional sacrifice for sins can be made. That is why true followers of Christ believe what the hymn writer sings:

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,--
Wash me, Savior, or I die!” (TLH 376 verse 3).

So when you’ve sinned, bring it to Christ first. Don’t wait. Don’t think that you have to reach a certain level of sorrow before you can bring that sin to Christ in true repentance. Forgiveness is not earned by your sorrow, it was earned by the sweat, blood and sorrow of Christ Jesus. Don’t try to offer your sorrow along with His. Simply look to Him, your Great High Priest and your complete sacrifice, and be released from your sin.

If you want to think about something, think about how you’re gonna live from now on, since you’ve been forgiven. Don’t dwell on the sins which lie in the past, and which have been atoned for and forgotten about by God.

This impacts you and me today in a remarkable way if we but remember it in our daily lives. We can live our lives in joyful freedom because our sins have been removed from God’s sight forever. We can live God’s will in our lives now, a thing that was impossible when our sins still weighed heavily on our backs. We can live God’s will with boldness now, sure that He is guiding our lives to His glory. We can live our Christian lives with no worries, because we know that every sinful failure is removed by the perfect sacrifice that Jesus was in place.

Sometimes when we can get lost in a sermon or a part of the Bible that we are studying. Sometimes we wonder, “What’s the point in all this?” The Holy Spirit does us a favor Hebrews by causing the writer to spell out the point in a way that we can’t possibly miss.

“1Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Hebrews 8:1-2).

Jesus is the Great High Priest who offered Himself for our sins. By faith He has become OUR High Priest before God. His is our EVERLATING MINISTER in the unseen Tabernacle of Heaven. The writer to the Hebrews also points out what this means for us right now in chapter four.

“14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV).

In the Bible God tells us to pray to Him without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We sinners can do this only because Jesus is our Great High Priest. He is always at the Father’s side to receive our prayers of praise, our prayers of thanks, our prayers of request. He takes them in His hands and offers them up to God the Father. God the Father who is well pleased with His Son, accepts our prayers because they come through Him.

So, what if the Almighty God was in that little office right now. And what if with fear and trembling we knocked on that door to say, “Great God, we are sinners who dare not enter your presence, but we want to meet with Your Greatness. Who can we send in our place?”

No doubt we would hear the voice of Jesus, coming just a little from the left behind that door, for our Great High Priest lives eternally to intercede for us at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. And He would say, “Do not fear to enter, My little child, for I am yours, and you are Mine.” Amen.

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

October 12, 2008

Is There Life After Death? - Oct 12, 2008

To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen. The Word of God that we'll focus on this morning comes from…

Luke 20:37-40 (NKJV)

27Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 28saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. 30And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. 32Last of all the woman died also. 33Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.”
34Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”
39Then some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, who said, "Because I live, you shall live also," Dear Fellow Redeemed,

One of the most famous plays ever produced in America is Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." You may be familiar with it - it's been on television several times. The play is a story about life and death, set in the small community of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. Well, toward the end of this play, the narrator says an interesting thing. He's speaking to the audience, and he says, "Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take 'em out and look at 'em very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars -- everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being."

He's right, of course. The author of the play doesn't reveal exactly what that eternal something is, but you and I know. We know the truth about eternity, because we've got it from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Himself. In our text for today, Jesus answers once and for all the question --

I. The Sadducees of this world say NO.
II. God's almighty Word says YES!

The Sadducees were a sect of the Jewish religion, just as the Pharisees were. But their doctrine differed from that of the Pharisees in one important aspect: the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead. Once you die, they
said, that's it. There is no life after death.

They were always fighting with the Pharisees about this point. One thing they did agree on though: both groups hated Jesus. The Pharisees had tried to trip Jesus up with tricky questions, and hadn't been able to do it. So on this occasion, the Sadducees thought they'd have a try. They constructed the elaborate argument I read to you a moment ago, about the woman and her seven husbands. The logic seemed flawless. Since the problem of who would be the woman's husband in heaven seemed insoluble, they thought they had proven that heaven, itself, cannot exist. "Whose wife does she become?" they sneered. "For all seven had her as wife..." No doubt they were rubbing their hands with glee. Now, they thought, we've finally got this Jesus just where we want Him.

By the way, the "Sadducees" didn't disappear in the first century A.D. There are plenty of them around today. People, many of them atheists, who make a point of denying the idea of life after death. They, too, build their elaborate arguments, arguments that purport to "prove" that, after the grave, there is nothing.

We don't have to listen to them, of course. And besides, I think most people have enough common sense to know that that's not true. I'll tell you what does worry me, though, and it's not the people who deny the resurrection with their words. It's those who deny it with their lives. Look at all the people round about us who go through their daily routine as if this world was all there is. If you asked them, many of them would say they do believe in life after death. But that's not how they live. They know there's an eternity, but, as Wilder said, "they don't take it out and look at it" very often. It makes them uncomfortable, and they'd rather ignore it. So they do. They go about their business as usual. They don't come to church to hear what God has to say about it. If they ever think about religion and God's Word, well -- it's usually something they feel they can safely put off until later. "Right now I've got other things to do." These are the modern Sadducees. And when asked the question, Is there Life After Death?, the Sadducees of this world say NO.

Does that describe us? You and me? Sometimes I wonder. What are our lives saying to the people around us? Jesus said that we Christians are supposed to be lamps set up high on a lamp stand. Our lives are supposed to show other people that there is life after death, and that by the grace of God, that's where we're headed. But how often don't we hide our lights under a bushel basket in our attempts to blend in with the crowd? How often don't we allow ourselves to be
carried along by the hustle and bustle of day-to-day living? Soon we find ourselves skipping our daily Bible reading, missing church, spending thousands on ourselves and giving nickels and dimes to the Lord. Isn't that Sadduceeism? Aren't we, in our own way, pushing back the eternal things in favor of the temporal?

Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness." Let's catch ourselves, before it's too late. Let's ask the Lord's forgiveness, and pray that He would keep us mindful of eternity every hour of every day! There are plenty of Sadducees around already, without us Christians acting like Sadducees, too.

Is there life after death? No matter how many of this world's Sadducees say NO, God's almighty Word says YES!

Jesus listened quietly while the Sadducees spent all that time constructing their clever argument, and then He simply knocked it all over, like a house of cards. The argument about the woman and her seven husbands - that was just the Sadducees trying to apply earthly rules to heaven. And that won't work. Jesus pointed out what they should have already known: that heaven is not like earth, and the age to come is not like the present age. He said, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage."

This is one teaching that has never been easy for Christians to grasp. The relationship between husband and wife is one of the most powerful bonds on earth. That's why it's so hard for a Christian to imagine not being married to his or her spouse in heaven. God's ways are high above our ways, and this is something we just can't see clearly yet. But there are certain things we do know for sure about heaven: whatever our situation, it will be one of perfect happiness. In heaven, John says, "...God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." --Rev 21:4.

But the Sadducees didn't really care about marriage after the resurrection. They were trying to prove that there wasn't any resurrection! For this Jesus sternly rebuked them. We read in Matthew, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.'" The Sadducees considered themselves Bible experts. But if they had really known their Bible, Jesus said, they'd never have tried anything as silly as disproving the resurrection. That teaching is as clear as day!

The sect of the Sadducees had a special reverence for the first five books of the Old Testament, so Christ selected a passage from Exodus. At the burning bush, the Lord had identified Himself to Moses by saying, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Not, "I WAS their God," but "I AM their God" The Lord was telling Moses: Even though the patriarchs passed away centuries ago, they are still alive in heaven with me! For he is not a God of the dead, Jesus said, but of the living: for all live unto him. From God's point of view, the eternal point of view, there are no "dead" people. To Him, everyone is alive.

God's almighty Word proves that there IS life after death. There is a resurrection, and there is an eternity. Some people deny it; others just stick their heads in the sand and try to ignore it. But on Judgment Day the "Sadducees" of this world will find out the terrible truth, the truth that they've really known all along. "Then the King will say to those on His left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" --Mt 25:41.

But what about you? Can you be sure that you're one of those who are "worthy to attain that age," and the resurrection to everlasting life? Yes! There is a way!

In an art gallery in Sweden there hangs a picture called "The Game of Death." It's very interesting - it shows a young man playing chess with the Devil. By the position of the chessmen, it's obvious that the Devil is about to win. One day, an international Grand Master of chess happened to visit the gallery. He stood studying the picture for some time. Then he cried out, "I have it! I can save that fellow!" And he proceeded to show how one brilliant move could turn the game around, and lead to certain victory for the young man.

My Christian friends, that's what Jesus Christ has done for us. He has, in one move, eternally checkmated the Devil. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself at Calvary, and in exchange gave us His perfect righteousness. Such a simple move, but so unexpected, and so brilliant! In that one move, He snatched away Satan's victory, and handed him defeat instead. Jesus rescued us from the brink
of hell and delivered us to the threshold of heaven. That's why the open tomb of Easter is such a joyful symbol for us Christians. For it's the symbol of our Lord's promise to each of us: "Because I live, you shall live also!" --Jn 14:19.

I wonder if you fully realize what this simple passage means. And by the way, this verse is a perfect example of technique I once learned for meditating on the meaning of Scripture. It's the technique of emphasizing each word of a passage in turn, and seeing how the Holy Spirit's message to you is deepened and enriched. It's very simple, but very effective. Each day you choose one Bible verse to meditate on. It could be from your own devotions, from last Sunday's sermon, from the Lutheran Spokesman. Jot it down if you need to, and take it along with you and think about it during your day. Emphasize each word in turn, like this:

Jesus said, "Because I live, YOU shall live also." You too are included in this offer of grace! It's not aimed at some special class of people, or even the world in general. Eternal life is Jesus' gift to YOU in particular!

"Because I live, you SHALL live also." It's definite. No doubt remains. I give unto My sheep eternal life, Jesus says, and no man shall snatch them out of My hand.

"Because I live, you shall LIVE also." We're talking about life! Real life! Not the shadow life we're living now, but everlasting life, the life of perfect happiness that has no end. This is what is guaranteed us by the resurrection of our Savior.

"Because I live, you shall live ALSO." You're connect to Christ, you're eternal life is tied to His. It means that, if it is true that Jesus rose to life again that first Easter morning, then it is ALSO true that you will rise to eternal life when the everlasting Day dawns. Regardless of your background, your past, how great or how many your sins have been -- God's almighty Word says there will ALSO be eternal life for you! -You see what I mean. How beautiful and rich is God's Word! How fathomless are the blessings God would bestow on us through that Word!

Our hope is in Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews says, This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. -- Heb 16:18. Doesn't it make you want to share that hope with other people - people who as of now have no hope? Many years ago, a submarine sank in a storm off Provincetown, Massachusetts. Rescuers couldn't get to them immediately because of the heavy seas. But as soon as the weather cleared, divers were sent down. They combed the length of the disabled ship trying to find out whether there was anybody left alive inside. Suddenly, one diver heard a gentle tapping. Listening carefully, he recognized the tapping as Morse code. The message was a question - three simple words repeated over and over again: "IS THERE HOPE?"

"Is there hope?" People are still asking that question today. Even in the midst of all Sadducees of this world, who say that there is no hope of life after death, there are still a few desperate souls out there who are asking, "Is there hope?" And there are people you know, people who are aware of your Christian faith, who will be asking you. Maybe not using those words, but they're still asking the question: is there hope? Let's answer them! As a congregation and as individuals, let's answer them. "YES! In Christ there is hope! In fact, more than hope - through faith in Jesus Christ, God has made eternal life a certainty!" AMEN.

-Pastor Paul Naumann

October 5, 2008

You Are A Tool - Oct 5, 2008

Greetings in Christ,
Today we have a special Mission Festival speaker, Pastor Neal Radichel. He is the pastor of our sister congregation, St. Stephen, of Mountain View, CA. His sermon meditation for today can be found at...


God bless your communion with Him.
In Christ,
Caleb Schaller
Pastor, Redemption Lutheran
Lynnwood WA

"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." -John 20:31 (NIV)