April 24, 2011

God Exceeds Our Expectations - Apr 24, 2011

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This homily has been arranged on the basis of the resurrection accounts found in the following Scriptures: Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Risen, Living and Powerful Savior, Jesus Christ.

On the first Easter Sunday, two disciples of Jesus decided to make the seven mile trip from Jerusalem to a little town called Emmaus. Along the way a stranger joined them. At first they were prevented from recognizing Him, but the Bible tells us that the stranger was actually Jesus risen from the dead.

As they walked, they talked about the terrible events that had just taken place in Jerusalem. The stranger surprised them when He asked them what they were talking about. They were astonished that this guy didn’t know what had happened. After all, it had shaken up the whole city!

Luke 24, verse 18…
“18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:18-21 NIV).
These disciples were sad because they had had such great expectations. They had seen Jesus perform miracles of healing, even raising a man named Lazarus from the dead! They had expected that soon Israel would be free from Caesar’s rule for good. They thought that Jesus would redeem the Jewish people from the rule of Rome.

But the Savior sent from God had not failed. He had come to set the people free alright, but not from the temporary rule of an earthly government. He had come to set them free from their sins, and to give the gift of eternal communion with God to all who believe.

As human beings, our attention is often drawn to the temporary. What we ask God to do, or expect Him to do is frequently insignificant next to what He actually does. God exceeds our expectations.

This is seen over and over in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. So, lets turn our thoughts to the events that took place in the early morning on the first Easter Sunday. May the Holy Spirit help our minds to see the greatness of God’s wisdom and power as we see Him exceed the expectations of everyone.

It was early in the morning. Still dark in fact. But Mary Magdalene had gotten up anyway. She and a group of women had made plans to visit the tomb of Jesus. Mary had seen Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the Master’s body from the cross. She had followed them to the little garden that was near the hill of crucifixion. She had seen them bearing the linens and the spices that they would use to wrap His body for burial. She had watched as they exited the tomb and rolled that massive stone in place that served as the tomb’s door.

No doubt they had done as good a job as they could in the short time before Sundown and the beginning of the day of rest. But Mary and the other women would make sure that nothing had been done too hastily. They had bought burial spices and made plans. They would ensure that their beloved Master’s body was honored properly with one last act of devotion.

They had spent so much time with Jesus. They had served Him, providing for His needs in any way they could while He was doing the work of His ministry. Mary Magdalene remembered well why she had followed Jesus from place to place. She had been possessed by seven demons, and He had cast them out of her. Such loving concern He had and such great power.

But He hadn’t used that power at the end. And His end had come oh, so quickly. Betrayed. Imprisoned. Tried, condemned and crucified - all in less than twenty-four hours.

Grieving for a loved one was hard enough. It was made harder by how swiftly He had been taken from them. In a way, the women were going to the tomb for themselves. As hard as this last task might prove, it would help them to say goodbye.

They expected to find a dead Jesus. But God smiled and gave them a resurrected Lord.

They had expected one last goodbye. But God showed them that this was only the beginning.

As they approached the tomb in the early morning darkness, they had been talking quietly. But then one of the women stopped and looked startled. How could they have forgotten! The door! Who would roll away the massive stone door from the mouth of the tomb?

At the entrance to the tomb there was a channel carved in the rock. In that channel was set a large, flat, circular stone. With enough force applied, the stone would roll up the slight incline in the channel and allow entrance to the tomb. It wasn’t locked, but the door was heavy. To heavy. Perhaps one of them would have to return to Jerusalem to fetch someone who could help. Mary Magdalene could make the trip if it came to that. She seemed to have enough energy this morning. The rest could wait if necessary.

The women didn’t know that the chief Priests and the Pharisees had spoken to Pilate the previous day. They had requested that guards be posted at the tomb. They thought the disciples might come steal His body away and claim that He had risen from the dead. Pilate had given them a guard of soldiers and had commanded them to seal the tomb with his own seal, so that any who broke that seal would know they would face the wrath of Rome. If the women had known about the guard, perhaps they would not have come.

But they would not see any soldiers at the tomb that day. For earlier that morning the soldiers had been startled. Below them the ground had begun to shake. Above them the sky had lit up as an angel in brilliant white descended from the sky. The angel hadn’t spoken a word to them, but setting his feet down on the earth, he had strode up to the door of the tomb and had calmly flicked the massive stone out of the track and flat onto its side. That done, he turned toward the path leading to Jerusalem and sat down on the stone like he was waiting for someone.

When the soldiers had recovered enough of their senses to move again, they moved on out of that place! Rome didn’t pay them enough to fight with angels. And it was clear that this angel wasn’t waiting to speak with them.

The soldiers expected a rag-tag band of disciples to attempt an opening of this tomb. But God smiled, and sent a single, mighty angel to show the world that Jesus needed no disciples to open His tomb. The risen Christ had already left.

Up the path the women had come in the hazy morning darkness. The sun was warming the horizon, but in the leafy garden it was still dim. But even in the early morning gloom the women noticed that something was not right up ahead. Where the tomb should have stood all white and solid, there loomed the dark, black hole of a doorway. And the stone was not neatly rolled up the channel and locked in place with a wedge – No! That massive stone was cast haphazardly on the ground in front of the tomb! Had Jesus’ enemies come here to desecrate His grave? Hadn’t His murder been enough?!

Running footsteps startled the women, and they turned to see Mary Magdalene striding back down the trail toward Jerusalem. Going for help no doubt. But the other women did not follow her. But they could not merely stand and wait either. Even fear of what they might find could not keep them back from the door of the tomb. It beckoned to them. Their love for the Master pushed them forward. They must see what had been done.

But what they found inside the tomb did not horrify them, it puzzled them! The grave clothes were here, but Jesus’ body was gone. And as they stood there wondering what had happened, two men appeared in the tomb. Or at least they looked like men. They wore dazzling white robes. Their appearance was so dazzling that the women were filled with fear! They melted to the ground in front of these two visitors, and as they did the visitors spoke:
“…Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 NIV).

“…Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6 NIV).

“6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:6-7 NIV)

“7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:7 NIV).
When angels give you a message to deliver, you move quickly. And the women did. Exiting the crowded tomb, they hurried toward Jerusalem with both fear and great joy. Jesus was alive. Raised from the dead. The message had come from angels. The tomb was open and empty. And the angels had said that they would see Jesus in Galilee like He had told them before! Oh, what else had He said that they had forgotten so quickly? The minds of the women raced with their feet.

But around a corner they came to a halt. No doubt every mouth opened in awe and every set of eyes widened, and their lips all curled into huge smiles. There in their path stood Jesus Himself. He greeted them as they fell at His feet in worship.

The women had expected the worst when they approached the broken open tomb. But God smiled and sent them two gentle angels to explain the mystery before them.

And then the women had expected to see Jesus in Galilee, some 75 miles to the north. But Jesus smiled and met them before they even reached Jerusalem.

By this time, Mary Magdalene had reached Peter and John and told them what she had seen. The tomb was broken into, and no doubt some enemy had stolen Jesus’ body away. Winded and in fright she said,
“…They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” (John 20:2 NIV).
Peter and John wasted no time. Leaving Mary to catch her breath, they left together, bound for the garden tomb. As they ran John’s stride outdistanced Peter’s putting John at the door to the tomb first. But stepping up to the shadowy door, John stopped. He saw the grave clothes lying there. Empty. And even though Jesus had told them of His coming death AND His resurrection to follow, John stood puzzled at door of the tomb. Perhaps Jesus’ words were finally coming back to Him,
“…We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33On the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33 NIV).
As Peter reached the entrance to the tomb he barged right past John. And there apart from the grave clothes Peter found the cloth that had been used to wrap Jesus’ head. But it was not cast aside in haste. It had been neatly folded like a person might fold a hand towel. It had been set aside like something that had served its short lived purpose and was now of little use.

Finally John entered the tomb and stood there with Peter.

No grave desecrators would have left things like this. They either would have fled with everything, or they would have left a mess. They certainly wouldn’t have folded the head cloth into a neat little square! Why they blew the door away and then carefully folded this little cloth was beyond explanation. Unless…

And there standing in the tomb, perhaps John finally realized that it was true. The Master had risen, just as He had said He would.

Whatever John had expected to find, it was not this. A tomb was not the usual place to find life. Not the usual place to find a beginning. But God smiled when His Son finished suffering the punishment for the sins of the world. In the empty tomb of our Risen Savior, we find that God greatly exceeds our expectations.

For our daily sins of thought, word, and deed with might well expect God’s judgment. But by God’s grace, and the work of the Holy Spirit we are led to repent of these sins. And in Christ we find complete forgiveness.

United to Christ Jesus through the powerful waters of baptism, and held together to Christ by faith, we are not only guaranteed newness of life after our earthly death, we are also given newness of life now. Romans 6, verse 4
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:4-7 NIV).
By Christ’s suffering and death your sins have been atoned for. Through faith in Jesus you are raised from spiritual death, to life. Expect that God will raise you on the Last Day, and will place your gently by His side. But also expect that even in this, God will exceed your every expectation.

In Christ Jesus our Risen Savior, AMEN.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

April 22, 2011

He Hung Forsaken, So We Stand Forgiven - Apr 22, 2011

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The apostle John penned these words in the first century AD:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
Whenever someone claims to be speaking on God’s behalf, it’s a good idea to test that person. Throughout history, men and women have manipulated million by claiming THEIR message was God’s.

When Jesus appeared on earth some 2,000 years ago, He claimed that His message was from God. To validate His claim, His message came was accompanied by three things. First, He performed miracles. He healed the sick and the blind and even raised the dead to life. He walked on water, cast out demons and fed thousands with an armload of food. Second, He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. When examined, the details of His life matched up with what the ancient prophets had said the Savior would be like. Third, when Jesus spoke, His sermons fit perfectly with what the Bible said. In fact, His words illuminated the Scriptures, bringing His listeners to a clear understanding of what the Bible really meant.

When Jesus died on the cross, we find these same three things illuminating that dark event. At the cross we find miracles happening, prophesies being fulfilled and the words of Jesus illuminating not only what the Bible meant when it foretold the coming Savior, but also what that Savior’s life and death means for us today.

The theme of our meditation on this Good Friday is: He hung forsaken, So we stand forgiven.

In this reading from Mark, Jesus has been hanging on the cross since nine in the morning.

Mark 15:33-39 (NIV)

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Let’s quickly look back through this text and explain the simple details.

Darkness came over the land from noon till three. Obviously, darkness at noon is not typical. It was certainly a local darkness, since we’re told that it covered the whole land. Some believe that the sun stopped shining altogether as a supernatural sign to the whole world that something historic was happening.

At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To this point, Jesus had said little from the cross. Like a body builder attempting his heaviest lift, this was not a time for idle chit-chat. Yet, here Jesus was moved Him vocalize His agony.

The Roman soldiers below misunderstood Jesus. They thought He was calling for mercy and asking the Old Testament prophet Elijah to save Him.

These soldiers were hard men of war and professional executioners. Jesus’ words aroused no pity from them. Instead, they thought that perhaps that encouraging this man to speak might provide some amusement to pass the time on this grim assignment.

So, they lifted up a sponge full of sour wine (probably from their own lunch) up on a hyssop reed. This would wet the lips of the crucified and help Him to speak. It worked. Jesus cried out one last time, and died.

Mark doesn’t include what Jesus cried out, but thankfully, the apostle John does in his Gospel. Jesus’ last two statements were, “It is finished” and “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

At this point, we’re told that the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a huge thing, as thick as a person’s hand and hung between the two innermost rooms in the Temple. It closed off the room called the “Most Holy Place” from the rest of the Temple. This room represented God’s presence.

Last, we’re told that at the foot of Jesus’ cross stood a Centurion. A typical crucifixion detail assigned four soldiers to each man to be crucified, and one Centurion to oversee them.

Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. They were hard men who earned their positions not merely through strength and toughness, but through cunning on the battlefield.

No doubt this Centurion had seen a lot of suffering and death through the course of his service to Rome. But at the death of Jesus he saw something else: truth. Upon hearing the roar which Jesus sent up when He chose to die, the Centurion testified, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Earlier I said that at the cross we find three things illuminating this dark event. Things which show us it’s meaning. We find miracles, prophesies fulfilled and Jesus’ Words. Let’s take at look at these things.

The miracles aren’t hard to find. There was the supernatural darkness that cloaked the land. There was the huge Temple veil torn in two by the hand of God. And Matthew’s Gospel tells us of others. At Jesus’ death an earthquake shook the land, and many tombs were opened. Many followers of God were resurrected from the dead and later appeared to people in Jerusalem. (Matthew 27)

The prophesies fulfilled aren’t hard to find either, thanks to the Gospel writers who point them out to us. The Old Testament prophets foretold first of all, that He would be crucified. That He would be mocked by those below. Prophecies foretold how the soldiers would divide up Jesus’ remaining possessions, His clothes. The prophets even speak of how they would give him sour wine to drink.

The miracles surrounding the cross were meant to grab the people’s attention. To show them that God was at work here.

The prophesies were meant to show that Jesus was the Savior that God promised would save sinners from hell.

Both the miracles and the prophesies fulfilled were simply not things that could have been faked, or fulfilled by human ingenuity or planning.

When the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the mob he said, “This is the man”. Through miracles and prophesies fulfilled on mount of Crucifixion God said the same thing, “This is the man. This is the Christ whom I promised”.

With His own words from the cross, God’s Son said the same thing. When Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was doing two things. He was expressing the depths of his suffering. He was cut off from all God’s goodness. He was suffering the punishment that all mankind’s sins had earned. AND, He was also quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, the Psalm which most clearly depicts the suffering Savior.

With Jesus’ final words from the cross, He testified once and for all that His work of redeeming sinners was finished. He said, “It is finished… Father into your hands I commit my Spirit”.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. There is nothing left for us to do. Forgiveness has been earned by Jesus, and is given as a gift wherever this Good News is proclaimed.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. This is the meaning of the cross. EACH Gospel brings this theme out clearly by the details they record about Christ’s crucifixion.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all include the detail that the curtain before the Most Holy Place was torn in two, showing that the way to God was no longer blocked by our sins. Now it had been opened through Christ’s sinless sacrifice.

Matthew and Mark both record Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Expressing the fact that Jesus experienced the full punishment for human sin – separation from God – Hell.

In Luke we’re told of a conversation between Jesus and one of the robbers crucified next to Him. After the robber expressed his faith in Jesus, Jesus told Him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise”. Jesus didn’t give him any penance to do, no assignment through which the robber could earn forgiveness. Jesus simply told this man who believed, The way is open and I’ll see you there TODAY.

In John Jesus’ precious and final words are recorded. He says, “It is finished”. Our suffering, He suffered. Our forgiveness He won. He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven.

Was Jesus really the Son of God? Did He really suffer for me and you? Are your sins really forgiven without any effort on your part? That’s the testimony of Scripture. That’s the testimony of all the details surrounding Christ’s cross.

And that’s the testimony of God the Father too. For three days after Jesus died on the cross, the Father raised Him from the dead and restored Him to glory.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. And He rose on Easter, so we can be certain that this is true.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s what we get to celebrate on Sunday.

May the God of grace and forgiveness watch over your hearts on this day, and forever. May you always take shelter in Christ Jesus, our crucified, risen and living Savior. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

April 17, 2011

Our Savior King Rides to Victory - Apr 17, 2011

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When it’s Oscar time they roll out the “red carpet”. When it’s wedding time they roll out the white runway. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time before His crucifixion, the people welcomed Him in a similar way.

Instead of bright white flashes from camera bulbs, there were bright flashes of green from palm branches. The people quickly cut branches from the surrounding trees and laid them down before the little donkey that Jesus rode upon.

Palm branches were more than just something to cover the dusty ground, though. They were symbols of victory. They were used to greet kings, deliverers, and distinguished visitors.

It was fitting that Jesus be greeted with symbols of victory, for He had come to wage war, and to triumph. On this last Sunday before His death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a powerful warrior king.

But the animal that He rode in on showed what kind of King He was. Not a brutal dictator, not a self-centered politician but a gentle, ever approachable Savior King.

In our sermon meditation for today, we consider the words of…

John 12:12-19 (NIV)

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they- realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

Grace and peace be to you from God our Spiritual Father, and from His Son Jesus, our Eternal King and Savior.

On Friday of this same week Jesus would ascend a throne as king. The unlikely throne of the cross, showing the world that He was the Savior King whom the ancient prophets had foretold.

On that throne our King would not drink the sweetest wine of the country, but instead he would drink down the bitter cup of God’s wrath over the sins of the world.

Jesus would do this to win what these palm fronds symbolized: victory. Victory over sin, victory over death and victory over the Devil. The forgiveness of sins secured by His triumph on the cross has been given to us, and to sinners like us.

The people who surrounded Jesus with their songs and praise on that first Palm Sunday recognized that Jesus was A Powerful King.

This parade had begun in a little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, where Jesus was staying. The little donkey on which Jesus would ride had been secured and the crowds started out on the short journey to the holy city. It was less than two miles away.

Bethany was the town where Mary and Martha lived. And more notably, where their brother Lazarus had lived, and died, and where Jesus had raised him back to life.

Jesus had performed this miracle recently. So when He started out on His way to Jerusalem, the crowd that followed Him was a crowd that had seen that Jesus was more powerful than death itself.

The Apostles who followed at Jesus’ side had seen Him do many other such miracles throughout His ministry. Since these miracles had been foretold by Old Testament prophets, these miracles also showed that Jesus was the Christ – the Savior sent from God.

Some people must have ran ahead to Jerusalem and told the crowds there that Jesus was coming. Upon hearing this they too went out to greet Him.

They welcomed Jesus by shouting out a portion of Psalm 118.

Parts of Psalm 118 were used in worship at the Temple during the Passover celebration. Parts were also sung at the dinner table before and after the Passover Lamb was eaten. Verses 25-26 were used to greet people coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. They would shout:

“Hosanna!” (Which in Hebrew means, “Save now!”)
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But when they shouted these words to Jesus they added some words which are not found in Psalm 118. They added the words,

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

The praise that they offered shows us that they believed He was the promised Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Jesus was the King of Israel coming to ascend His throne.

It’s pointless to speculate on what exactly they thought Jesus was going to do. We know that not even Jesus’ disciples really understood what the Christ would have to endure in the coming days.

What kind of King they thought He was going to be matters little. For we know what kind of King Jesus is. We know that Jesus was no earthly King. We know that He came to rule hearts, not lands. Jesus is A Spiritual King.

About a year previous to the first Palm Sunday, Jesus had fed more than five-thousand people with five loaves of bread and two small fish. John 6, verse 14 informs us,
14After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14 NIV)
Before the Son of God was born as a little Jewish baby, He had existed in eternal glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He had no need whatsoever of an earthly kingdom. So when the people wished to make Him king by force, Jesus simply withdrew from them. This was not why He came to earth.

But as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He accepted their praise. He allowed them to call Him King.

He let all eyes be turned to Him with eager expectation, for they would soon see just what kind of a King He was. Jesus had come to suffer and die in the place of all sinners, to set us free from sin’s horrible consequences once and for all.

Jesus’ outward appearance shows us that He came to be a Spiritual King. No other King would have humbled himself and entered Jerusalem like this. While the people’s praise was worthy of a King, look at all the other details of this parade.

As God the Son, Jesus could have called for detachment of Angel warriors to march around Him in gleaming glory. But instead, Jesus’ attendants were a handful of fishermen, a tax-collector and some other nobodies from the backwater district of Galilee.

We see no army of soldiers around this King, only crowds of wide-eyed commoners singing and shouting their praise.

Certainly a blazing white stallion would have been a more Kingly animal for Jesus to enter Jerusalem on. But in humility He rode on a donkey instead. And not even a full grow one! He rode on the back of a baby donkey.

Of course, all these humble details are understandable when we remember that Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. He came to suffer and die to in order to do His Father’s will and to save sinners. As it says in 1 John 3, verse 8.
“…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8 NIV)

Details about this Savior King had been foretold long ago. He would be born in Bethlehem, born to a virgin, a descendant of David.

Details about His ministry had been foretold. He would heal the sick, the blind, the lame and the deaf. He would bring comfort and hope to those weighed down by their sins.

The fact that this Savior King would ride on the little donkey had even been foretold. Zechariah 9, verse 9 says:
9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NKJV)
And the events of Jesus’ crucifixion were also foretold long before they occurred. How He would be betrayed. How they would mock Him. How He would be pierced for our transgressions. How none of His bones would be broken. How he would be laid to rest in a rich man’s tomb. And how He would rise on the third day proving His victory over death. Proving the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice. Proving that His mission to pay for our sins was finished and successful. Proving that He was indeed the Savior King foretold.

God Himself had spoken the first prophecy. In the Garden of Eden He said to the Serpent…
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15 NKJV)

Jesus was that head-bruiser. As He rode out to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, He was riding out to battle, for us.

Not on a might steed, but on a little donkey.

Not wielding a sword of forged steel, but wielding the sword of God’s Word which could not be broken.

Not with a war cry, but in silent obedience to the Father’s plan.

The people greeted Him as King, though they didn’t fully comprehend how great a King He was. Even the disciples didn’t understand how even these things which they were doing were fulfilling the words of the prophets.

And this can give us strength and comfort today. Jesus went to a Jerusalem which was filled with people, some who hated Him, some who loved Him, but NONE who completely understood Him and His mission.

Jesus went to Jerusalem with disciples, some who loved Him dearly, one who would betray Him, but NONE who really understood Him and how His battle must end. NONE who would stay by His side and love Him perfectly.

And which one of us would have done differently? Which one of us would have stayed by Jesus’ side never to flee in fear?

But here we find strength and comfort from our Powerful Savior King. For the victory does not depend on our faithfulness to Him, for we have continually failed our King.

Our victory depends on Him and on Him alone.
Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Those palm branches that the people laid before Jesus are always pointed to as a symbol of victory. But the people of desert lands have long seen them are symbolic of something else as well.

The palm tree of Palestine is a tall tree with deep roots. It can survive as long as 200 years in dry lands where other plants wither and die.

While most see the palm as a symbol of victory, it is also a symbol of life and immortality.

That is what that Great Savior King came to win for all sinners: forgiveness of sins, life and immortality.

On that first Palm Sunday, the people shouted with their mouths, and greeted a King they could see. Today, may our hearts shout out our spiritual praise, to the King we cannot see, but whom we love and trust in all the same.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

April 14, 2011

A Man Forsaken - Apr 13, 2011

Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been trying to burn images on your mind. Images of Christ’s love for you illustrated by the things He went through to take your sins away.

We’ve seen Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood as He thought of all that He would have to endure. A real struggle.

We’ve seen Jesus step boldly forward and meet the mob who would arrest Him and set Him on the road to the cross. A willing Savior.

We’ve seen Jesus stand before the Sanhedrin, accepting all their false accusations and coached witnesses without a word. An innocent man.

We’ve seen Jesus exchange places with a known murderer named Barabbas. An unbelievable exchange.

Tonight we see Jesus nailed to a wooden cross. A man forsaken.

Mark 15:25-32 (NIV)

25It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30come down from the cross and save yourself!”
31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Over 650 years before Jesus was born, a prophet by the name of Isaiah penned these words about Him.
“ 1Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:1-3 ).
Jesus was a man forsaken. A man abandoned by those around Him.

Judas gave up on Jesus. Decided He wasn’t going to do the great things Judas had hoped. Decided to sell Jesus out for the relatively small price of thirty silver coins. A mere four month’s wages.

In the garden of Gethsemane, all of Jesus’ friends abandoned Him. They ran away, fearing for their own lives.

Peter turned back to follow Jesus to the palace of the High Priest. He even gained entrance into the courtyard of the High Priest. But there Peter ended up abandoning Jesus too. In what some would call a worse way than running. With heated, oath stained lies Peter denied even knowing Jesus.

The Jewish people abandoned the Savior when they gave Him over to the Romans. They HATED the Romans, and here they were – giving one of their OWN over to the Roman governor and requesting He be EXECUTED. The Roman Governor himself was puzzled over this. Pilate asked Jesus,
“…It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (John 18:35 NIV).
For a while, Pilate sort of sheltered Jesus. He recognized Him as being an innocent man. Even pronounced Him innocent. But in the end, Pilate gave Jesus up too as too much of a danger to protect. The crowd was getting restless, and He couldn’t afford another bad report set to Caesar.

Even the death that Jesus was condemned to die was a proclamation of abandonment. Everybody knew that crucifixion was reserved for only the worst criminals. For the murderers and enemies of the state. Crucifixion said, “You’re a lost cause. You can’t be rehabilitated. You’re no longer worthy of anything except to be a grotesque warning to others”.

Yes, Jesus was a “man forsaken”. But not only by his enemies in life, and his friends in death. He was forsaken by us also, for it was our sins that made His suffering and death necessary.

But look again at those ancient words of Isaiah. For Isaiah tells us of another who forsook this man of sorrows. Another who abandoned Jesus.
“ 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
“…it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10 NIV).
The Father abandoned the Son too. Left Him to suffer the pain and punishment of Hell, in the place of sinners like you and me. He let Him endure our sentence. If the full penalty for our sins was to be lifted from us, someone had to feel it. God’s justice demanded it be so.

What Isaiah foretold, Jesus experienced and announced when He cried out from the cross,
“…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 NIV).

Isaiah answered Jesus’ question nearly 700 years before it was asked. Isaiah answered WHY Jesus was forsaken by the LORD. The answer is found in Isaiah 53
“ (v5) But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…

(v11)...my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities…

(v12 …he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:5, 11, 12 NIV).
Jesus was a man forsaken. Forsaken by enemies. Forsaken by friends. Forsaken by His own God the Father.

In a sense, Jesus had been abandoning HIMSELF His whole life long. He covered His eternal glory as the Son of God. He didn’t use His unlimited knowledge for His own advancement. He got up early in the morning to pray to the Father, and stayed up late to heal the sick and the sinful. He restricted Himself to the human frame so that HIS SINLESS LIFE would be valid as a substitute payment for the rest of us SINFUL HUMAN BEINGS.

Like Paul wrote in Philippians 2, verse 5
“5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).
Jesus never married, because His one Love was the sinners He came to die for.

He was forsaken, so WE are accepted.

He was abandoned, so WE are adopted into the family of God. Sinners made saint. The filthy, cleansed. The sinful, forgiven.

He was given up to hell and death, so that WE could experience forgiveness and renewal, every day of our lives and into eternity.

In 2 Corinthians 5, verse 21 Paul says it like this…
“21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
I’ll say it again, He was forsaken, so WE are accepted. THAT’S why the cross of Christ is GOOD NEWS.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you the unspeakable horror you faced in our place. How can we ever speak enough thanks or express in words what this means to us? I don’t think we can. Accept our pitiful thanks, and all our other acts of service which fall SO short of Your love. Jesus, help us NEVER to live like we are forsaken by God. Every time we feel the pressures of life, or the guilt of sin weighing on our minds, come back to our hearts by Word and Spirit and show us again why you were forsaken – so we are accepted. Reign in our hearts Jesus. Amen.

April 6, 2011

An Unbelievable Exchange - Apr 6, 2011

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Our guest preacher tonight was Pastor Paul Naumann, pastor of our sister congregation (Ascension Lutheran) located in Tacoma, WA. This sermon is only available in audio download (see above).

April 3, 2011

Free in Christ Jesus - Apr 3, 2011

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Yesterday, I was sitting in the office thinking about how to approach preaching today’s message, when I got a call from my wife. An old school friend of ours had died in a motorcycle accident. He wasn’t even thirty years old yet.

When someone you know dies, it has a sobering effect. It reminds us that sooner or later, we too will “exit stage left” to stand before the Creator.

Will I be ready? That’s the question that arises when we think of our own death. Will I be ready to stand before God?

In today’s sermon reading, the apostle Paul has an immensely comforting message for us mortals, doomed to die.

Romans 8:1-4 (ESV)

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

In the beginning, the first two human beings didn’t say or do anything God didn’t want them to. Adam and Eve lived according to God’s will, according to His law.

God’s law is simply defined as everything that is right and good to do or not do.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer had the ability to live according to God’s law. Even if they had lived the rest of their lives without sinning, the one disobedience of taking from the forbidden tree would have would have remained on their record - making it impossible for them to live with God.

The human race today is still incapable of living according to God’s law.

Because we sin against God, God’s law condemns us. It’s not that the law is evil, it’s that we are. The law merely points out the evil we have done, and the eternal punishment we deserve because of it.

It’s hopeless to think we might be able to earn our way back into Eden by doing good things. As soon as sin infected the human race, we were doomed. For even a single failure, a single sin, disqualifies us.

In a sense becoming sinful is like being dropped in the middle of the ocean. You can paddle around a bit, but there’s no way you’re going to make it out unless someone comes to rescue you.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Son of God was born into the human race. He took the name “Jesus”. Because God was His Father, Jesus was born without sin. He was able to do what no other human being had done since Adam and Eve – He lived perfectly according to God’s law.

Jesus lived His life without ever sinning. At the end of His life He offered His perfect self as a sin offering for the human race. Jesus voluntarily suffered the punishment for everyone’s sins while He hung on the cross.

Because He did this, all who trust in Him are no longer under the condemnation of the law. Our punishment has been used up on Christ. It no longer hangs over our heads. Instead of being under the law, the Bible says we are now under GRACE (God’s undeserved love).

In Romans 6 Paul reminded his fellow Christians…
“…sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
And here in Romans 8, Paul repeats this thought.
“1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
Are you ready to meet your Creator? In Christ you are. For in Christ, you stand above the law, with nothing to condemn you.

I want to point out very clearly what God does not say here. He does not say Christ died for some of our sins, and we have to pay for the rest. That would not lead to a life of freedom and peace. That would lead to continual uncertainty. Have I done enough? How much is enough? What if I die tomorrow?

When the Spirit of God leads a sinner to trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness, they are no longer under the condemnation of the law. That’s why Jesus could say to the thief on the cross,
“…today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
That man had come to trust in Jesus. He could no longer be condemned to hell because of his sins. He was free to enter heaven at the end of his life, and Jesus said He would.

We also have been moved to trust in Jesus. We believe that He died for our sins too. We stand above the law. So long as we remain in Christ, we cannot be condemned to hell because of our sins.

Now, this doesn’t just have an impact on our FUTURE. Paul says that Christ changes our final destination, AND the whole way we look at life now.

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)

5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Paul points out two ways of living, the flesh way, and the Spirit way. When Paul talks about the “flesh” here he means “the SINFUL flesh” or the “sinful nature” within us.

This is the sinful nature we received from our parents, and which was passed down to them all the way from Adam and Eve.

If God’s Spirit isn’t guiding our hearts and minds, then the sinful flesh is. And all that the sinful flesh does is laced with sin and leads to all sorts of pain and suffering.

The people Paul was writing to knew all about living with the sinful flesh as their leader. That’s what they had done all their lives before coming to faith in Christ. In Romans 6 Paul asked them…
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:20-21 NIV).
The “flesh” tries to drag us back into self-destructive habits and damaging behaviors toward others. All you have to do is read the newspaper to see the wonderful things that the sinful flesh leads people to do.

Yesterday I read about three guys who broken into a man’s home and beat him with a hammer, stabbed him with a knife and shocked him with a tazer. They did this so they could steal his stuff, and they did it to him because they knew he was confined to a wheel-chair and would be an easy target.

The way of the sinful flesh leaves a trail of destruction through our country every year. A trail of broken homes, dead children, emotionally and mentally damaged people, emptiness, disappointment, guilt and sorrow.

Of course the flesh always promises wealth or happiness or something good, but it fails to deliver.

Even after the Holy Spirit brings a sinner to trust in Jesus for forgiveness, the flesh still holds on and tries to destroy. That’s what Paul is mainly writing to combat here in the book of Romans.

The sinful flesh tries to get Christians to see themselves as still under the law. The flesh knows that if we see ourselves as still under God’s law, then we’ll try to seek a way out – a way out from under our guilt and sorrow than the one way already given through Christ!

Our flesh tries to get us to see ourselves as under the law to suggest to us that Christ DIDN’T REALLY save us. We’re still condemned. We still need to find some way out of this mess. The flesh tries to unravel our faith in the one Savior.

That’s why Paul repeatedly reminded the Christ followers of Rome that their salvation was already complete. At the beginning of our text today Paul said…
“1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
And he closes our text by repeating that thought.

Romans 8:9-10 (ESV)

9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Paul says to the Romans, “IF indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you”. When he says this, he isn’t questioning whether the Romans were really Christians. He’s trying to invoke a response from them.

We can imagine the Christians in Rome responding like this, “IF the Spirit of God dwells in us? Of course He does! IF Christ is in us? Of course He is. He is the great God and Savior we trust in! So, Paul you mean to say that if God is in us through faith in Christ, THAN our spirits are alive because of His righteousness? Even though our lives are spattered with sin, dead with sin, we are made alive to God by Christ’s righteousness? Remarkable!”

Let that be your response to Paul also. IF God’s Spirit dwells in us? Of course He does, He’s why I believe in Christ! IF Christ is in us? Of course He is. He is my great God and Savior. That means that even though my live is filled with sin and failure, because Christ is in me I’m alive to God and covered with Christ’s righteousness? Remarkable!

This text from Romans is packed with meaning. And we may not understand everything that Paul is saying here. But we can understand his most important point. No matter what sins you’ve done, in Christ they are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Our friend who died in the motorcycle accident trusted in Jesus. He knew that because of Christ, he was above the law, no longer under the threat of condemnation. Now he knows that fact by experience.

Let this same truth give you hope for the future. In Christ you are above the law. Let this freedom empower you as to live a confident and joyful life as God’s child. As Paul wrote in Romans 6
“…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV).

And the Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.