February 27, 2013

O Sacred Head Now Wounded - Feb 27, 2013

The theme for our Lenten Midweek services this year is, "Hymns of the Passion". It examines some favorite hymns of Lent in connection with a Scripture reading. Tonight pastor Paul G. Naumann from our sister congregation in Tacoma, WA, delivered the message entitled, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded". 

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February 24, 2013

Jesus Gave Up Rest - Feb 24, 2013

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As part of my own personal meditations for Lent this year, I’ve been trying to think of things that I appreciate in life, that Jesus gave up.

One of the things that I really appreciate in life, is a good night’s rest. Maybe you’ve had a baby to care for in your home, or a stretch of late nights at work. Maybe you have to get up early every morning to get to work on time, or maybe you suffer from insomnia. Even if you don’t have any of these things to rob you of your rest, we’re all still human. We know from experience that when you push that bad time off to far, you’re going to pay for it in the morning. Without proper rest our bodies become weak and fatigued, more susceptible to sickness and disease.

One of the things that Jesus often went without during the years of His ministry, was rest.

One of the reasons why Jesus went without rest was because people were constantly seeking Him out. One time Jesus noticed His disciples were tired, and needed some down time. So, He had them all pack into some boats to get away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But when Jesus and the disciples arrived at the other side of the lake, they found that the crowds had anticipated where Jesus was going, and had gotten there first. In the book of Mark its says,  

34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34 ESV).

Jesus’ love for people took priority over His need for rest.

Sometimes we think of Jesus as only being the Son of God, not remembering that He was also the Son of Mary. A human being, with human limitations during His earthly life. He got hungry. He got tired. Just how tired is shown in that story about Jesus stilling the storm.

You remember the story, after Jesus had finished teaching and healing one day, He decided to go across the lake by boat. As the disciples rowed, Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat, on a cushion. That’s pretty tired. Then a storm front swept down into the valley and stirred up the lake. It was so rugged out there on the water that the waves were breaking over the sides of the boat and threatening to sink it. But Jesus was still asleep. Even amid the panic of the disciples, Jesus was conked out. Only when they shook Jesus awake did He open His eyes. That’s a tired guy.

And when Jesus wasn’t preaching and teaching, He was often forsaking sleep in order to spend hours in prayer, talking to His heavenly Father. Early in His ministry we hear about Jesus getting up way before dawn, and before the disciples awoke, in order to sneak of to pray (Mark 1:35). Throughout His ministry Jesus made it a habit to go off into desolate places to pray (Luke 5:16), or to pray with His disciples nearby (Luke 11:1). The night before Jesus selected the twelve Apostles, we are told that He went up on a mountain and prayed all night to God (Luke 6:12). You remember the transfiguration account right? When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, and Jesus’ appearance became as bright as light? Well, Jesus had gone up on that mountain to pray. And He prayed beyond the disciples ability to stay awake (Luke 9:28, 32). And of course, who could forget how the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus wrestled in prayer so earnestly that His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood (Matthew 26:36, 40).

Jesus gave up many an hour of rest, in order to pray.

And what was Jesus praying about during all these hours? Can we really have any question? I can guarantee He wasn’t praying about His health and finances. No doubt He was praying about His ministry. Praying for the people He was trying to save. Praying that they would come to trust in Him as their Savior. No doubt He was also praying about all the suffering He was going to have to endure. Suffering He would have to endure to erase the punishment for sin we have earned by our lives.

Jesus abandoned rest, to pray about the cross, to pray about saving you and me.
Up to this point we’ve only been talking about the physical rest that Jesus often went without. I say often, because Jesus did actually get some sleep from time to time. But there is one kind of rest the Jesus NEVER had. Jesus never had rest from temptations.

Every once in a while we read the account of how Jesus was tempted by the Devil for forty days out in the wilderness. But this wasn’t the only time Jesus faced temptation to sin. Jesus was tempted to sin His entire life long. Every year, every day, every hour and every minute the world around Him enticed Him to sin.

Now, you and I might say that we face that too. That just like Jesus we are tempted to sin constantly. And it’s true. Whether it’s by saying something hurtful or mean, or by doing something that breaks one of the commandments, or by thinking something that is ugly. But here’s the difference – when we find that we have given in to temptation, we can rest in the knowledge that Jesus suffered hell, and died in our place to take away our punishment for sin. We can rest in the knowledge that through faith in Christ we stand forgiven before our Father in Heaven. Jesus never had this luxury. If Jesus sinned, there would be no forgiveness for Him. He was the Savior. He had to be perfect, or the sacrifice wouldn’t be acceptable and sinners would be lost forever.

Can you imagine the pressure that weighed on the human Jesus? One wrong step and it’s all over. Every temptation to look at a woman with lust, every temptation to hate someone for their sins against Him, every temptation to greed, every temptation to pride, every temptation to cut some corner, each of these Jesus had to deflect to the ground by thinking, saying, or doing what was absolutely right.

They say that if you look at pictures of Abraham Lincoln before his presidency and at the end the difference is remarkable. The pressures of diligently governing of our nation through the Civil War hung years on his face. I can only imagine how the years of temptation effected Jesus’ appearance.
Where you and I have failed, over and over, Jesus endured. He didn’t sin. His soul remained pure. And it was that sinless soul that He gave on Calvary’s cross to earn us salvation. In the book of Hebrews it says,

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV).

Because Jesus forsook rest, and had no forgiveness to catch Him, we do. Because He had no peace, we do. It is His gift to us. So be glad when God gives you a night of peaceful sleep for your body. And receive with gladness the rest of soul that comes through faith in Christ’s perfect sacrifice in your place. And don’t for a second allow anyone to put the burden of bearing your own sins back on you. Don’t for a second believe that you have to somehow atone for your own sins. Jesus already did that for you on the cross. Instead, enjoy the rest that God has given us in Christ Jesus. Like it says in Philippians 4,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV).


And may the rest of soul that is God’s gift, fill your days with peace and healing, through our great Savior Jesus Christ.

February 20, 2013

A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth - Feb 20, 2013

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“A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of all men bearing; And laden with the sins of earth, None else the burden sharing! Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, To slaughter led with out complaint, That spotless life to offer; Bears shame, and stripes, and wounds and death, Anguish and mockery, and saith, ‘Willing all this I suffer’.”
 –The Lutheran Hymnal, 142, verse 1

The hymn “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”, written by Paul Gerhardt, was first published in 1648. It has been called “the masterpiece of all Passion hymns”. And whether you care for the tune or not, you have to admit that Paul Gerhardt succeeded in encapsulating some of the most precious images of our suffering Savior in this hymn.

As all great hymns, this one springs from the words of the Bible. Gerhardt found his inspiration in Isaiah 53, verse 6-7 where it says,

6         All we like sheep have gone astray;
            We have turned, every one, to his own way;
            And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7           He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
            Yet He opened not His mouth;
            He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
            And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
            So He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:6-7 NKJV).

These words were penned by the prophet Isaiah around 700 years before Jesus was crucified. They don’t identify by name the “He” on whom the iniquity of all was laid. But John the Baptist had no doubt in his mind when he pointed to Jesus and said,

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NKJV).
To us, sheep and lambs are distant creatures. Here in the metropolitan regions of the Pacific Northwest, your neighbor might have a coop of chickens in his backyard, or maybe even pigeons, but probably not a herd of sheep.

But to the Israelite people, to whom these words were originally given, sheep were a familiar sight. All the way back to Abraham, the Jews had been herdsmen. Their greatest king, king David grew up tending flocks near the hills of Bethlehem.

In Jesus’ day flocks of sheep were a common sight near Jerusalem. The endless sacrifices offered at the Temple needed a pool of animals to draw from. And so, even if you weren’t a shepherd by trade, the sight of a flock of sheep, or the sight of one shaggy, wandering beast was all too familiar.
The first image of sheep that Isaiah offers us is of a huge flock that has fallen apart. Each animal has chosen its own path, wandering far from safety. Isaiah says,

6         All we like sheep have gone astray;
            We have turned, every one, to his own way;
            And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all“ (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV).

We don’t have to try very hard to figure out what Isaiah is saying here, do we? Each of us has made our own sinful choices in life. Instead of choosing God’s path, which leads to safety and blessing, we’ve chosen to follow our own sinful desires. Desires which we think will get us what we want. But, desires which instead lead to pain, heartache, guilt and shame. And, if the Bible is to be believed, these sinful choices make us unacceptable to God. Destined only for eternal separation from Him in hell.

Which sinful paths have you been following lately? I could easily relate which ones I’ve been on. The introspection and inner searching that the season of Lent encourages highlights our own sins very clearly. If we actually take the time to honestly look back on our lives, we’ll see a meandering path of bad choices, mistakes, and sin.

What if I asked you to make a list of the ten most horrible things you’ve ever said, thought or done? What would you write? What would the worst be? I’m not sure what you’re all doing for your own personal meditations this Lent, but that wouldn’t be a bad start. A list of the worst you have to offer God.

This would be good exercise because Isaiah says that “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. If we made that list, we could look on it and be sure that those sins were laid on Jesus. Because all our sins were laid on Jesus, they are no longer on us. Through Christ we stand forgiven. That’s what Isaiah says.
Like I said earlier, the Jews were familiar with the sight of sheep. But this familiarity wasn’t just from seeing sheep in the field. Every year they would bring one into their own home. Every year the Passover feast was held, which required that each household have its own lamb. Little children growing up in Palestine would have remembered dad coming home with a lamb before the Passover meal was held.

These lambs would be slaughtered, and the blood painted on the doorways of their homes. This was to remember how God had rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. The final plague that God sent on Egypt was a plague of death. Every firstborn child and animal in the land died in one night. But wherever the blood of a lamb had colored the doorway to a home, the firstborn of that home was spared – passed over. And in the morning, the people of Israel were free, and on their way to the Promised Land.

These lambs that were killed were not troublemakers. Not animals deemed dangerous to society and slated for destruction. They were gentle, innocent creatures, sacrificed to save the children of God’s chosen people.

This is the image of our Savior that Isaiah paints for us to see. A gentle, innocent, lamb. Meek and quiet. Sacrificed to save others.

When a sheep a silent before its shearer, or before its butcher, it is silent because it doesn’t know what’s coming. But Jesus was silent for an altogether different reason. He knew what was coming, and refused to seek escape. He went willingly to the cross to erase the record of our sins.
On the night when they arrested Jesus, they dragged Him in front of a court of priests and religious leaders of the people. There they called false witnesses to accuse Jesus of all sorts of blasphemous words and actions. And though He had done nothing wrong, He refused to defend Himself.

When they dragged Jesus in front of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, and accused Him of stirring up a rebellion, again, the innocent Jesus refused to speak up in His own defense.

When Pilate sent Jesus to king Herod, Jesus had the opportunity to lobby for Herod’s help. But far from taking this opportunity, Jesus wouldn’t answer a single question from Herod.

When Pilate received Jesus back again and took Him aside, Jesus had yet another opportunity, in private, to lobby for Pilate’s help. Perhaps if Jesus had laid His case out before Pilate He could have been saved from the horrific death that was in store for Him. But again, like Isaiah’s prophecy foretold – Jesus opened not His mouth.

If this tells us anything, it tells us that Jesus was not only willing to go to the cross, He was determined to go to the cross. He was determined to endure oppression and affliction and death in order to release us from the hell that sin earns the sinner.
Now, the gift of God’s forgiveness in Christ, is so radical, so different from what we usually experience in life, that our hearts try not to believe it. Even though it’s for our good! Your heart may try to convince you that, sure Jesus was willing to die for some people, but not for me. Maybe Jesus would die for good Christians, but not a doubting sinner like me. If your heart tries to pull this one on you, then just remember what Isaiah wrote,

“…the LORD has laid on Him THE INIQUITY OF US ALL” (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV).

And remember what John the Baptist said when he pointed to Jesus,

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” (John 1:29 NKJV).

This includes your sins, and mine. In Christ we stand forgiven.
And if your heart still tries to cast doubt on the love that Jesus has for you, then remember His silence. To find some comparable image, God had to go to the world of animals! What human being would do what Jesus did? What human being, confident of their own innocence, would remain silent in the face of all that suffering, to save someone who was utterly guilty?

Jesus was silent so that we would know that He was all in. He was dedicated to our salvation. He loved us with everything He had.

So, when the world around you screams that you’re worthless, when your conscience inside you repeats your shameful sins, remember the silence of Jesus. Remember how He opened not His mouth. And when He does open His mouth to speak to you through the pages of Scripture, what He says is this, “You are forgiven”.

“And when Thy glory I shall see And taste They kindom’s pleasure, Thy blood my royal robe shall be, My joy beyond all measure; When I appear before Thy throne, Thy righteousness shall be my crown, - With these I need not hide me. And there, in garments richly wrought As Thine own bride, I shall be brought To stand in joy beside Thee.”
 –The Lutheran Hymnal, 142, verse 6

February 17, 2013

Bride and Family - Feb 17, 2013

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As part of my Lenten devotions this year I’m doing something different. Each day I’m trying to think of one thing in my life that I appreciate, that Jesus gave up. I don’t plan to then give these things up for Lent, that’s not the point. The point is to focus my thoughts on what Jesus was willing give for me.

The first thing that came to mind this week was a family. Jesus never had one of his own. He never met that one special girl. He never courted her. Never proposed. Never married her. He never went on vacations with her. Never had children. Never saw his grandchildren. Never grew old together with the love of his life.

Thinking about this fact helped me to appreciate how blessed I am to have my family. But as I pondered, I realized that I was a wrong.

Sure, it’s true that Jesus didn’t have a wife and children of his own. But he DID raise a family. The whole reason the Son of God became human was to court a bride, to win her, and build a family.

Jesus gave up a single, earthly bride and a short lifetime with a few children to gain a huge family, and to be able to spend eternity with that family in heaven.
In Bible language, Jesus is called the “Bridegroom”. We would just call him the “Groom”. His bride is the Church of all believers. One time during Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees complained that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like other religious groups. Jesus replied to them,

Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15 ESV).

Another time, Jesus told a parable about ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom to arrive and bring them to the wedding feast. Some of these women were prepared for a wait, while others were not. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the unprepared ones missed their chance to enter the banquet hall.

To understand the whole “Bridegroom” image, you have to understand marriage customs in Jesus’ day. The Jews did things a little different than we do when it comes to marriage.

When a man and a woman were betrothed in ancient Israel, they were legally married. But they didn’t live together right away. The husband went off to prepare a new home for him and his bride. The bride remained in her home, often the home of her parents. Then, when all was ready, the bridegroom would come with his friends on a special marriage walk. They’d knock on the bride’s door and bring her back to the new home. Then they’d have a special wedding celebration that might last as long as a week to celebrate the new family that had been made.
The Son of God became human so that he could be our Bridegroom. Through his suffering and death on the cross he freed us from our sins, and by faith in him, believers are joined – married to Jesus – as his bride.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he ascended back to his heavenly Father’s house. And there he is preparing a place where we can live with him forever. On the Last Day Jesus will return, not just dressed in the fine clothes of a groom, but in the glory of the Father, and surrounded by the angels of heaven. Then he will take his bride, the Church of His believers, home to a great wedding feast. There a great celebration will begin.
While this metaphor looks forward to the time when Jesus will return, the idea of Jesus’ followers being his family also applies to life right now.

Once, when Jesus was teaching a large crowd, his biological mother and brothers came to see him. When they couldn’t get through the crowd of people to speak with Jesus, they sent someone to get him. To this messenger Jesus replied,

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus elaborated on this idea of a larger family built around faith. He said,

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life”(Mark 10:29-30 ESV).

In the New Testament letters, Paul and others are constantly calling their fellow Christians “brothers” or “sisters”. And this isn’t just a cute way to refer to each other. When Jesus gives people the gift of forgiveness through his cross, he calls them to a different life. A life that doesn’t only revolve around marriage vows or biological ties. Connected to Christ through faith, we are adopted into a new family. Instead of sharing a genetic connection, we share a spiritual one.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus had a very special talk with his closest followers. And in this talk he spoke about this new family. He even called his disciples his “children”. He said to them,

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:33-35 ESV).

Just as love ties earthly families together, Jesus’ love for his followers would tie them together. And he instructed his disciples to imitate this love. To love each other as he loved them – not merely in words, or because of emotional bonds, but through actions as well.

One of the disciples who was there on that night later wrote about this love. The apostle John put these words to paper,

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

A group of roommates who simply share the same living arrangement isn’t a family. A family is a group of people who come together in one home, but who also share concern for one another. People who care for each other and take action to help one another. It is this type of family that Jesus has called us to be part of through the Gospel of forgiveness.

Much of the New Testament letters is devoted to teaching new congregations how to live in this new family. How we are to treat each other. Whether it’s how to honor our elders, how to admonish our peers, or how to teach our children. When we were little kids we needed our parents to teach us how to be part of a family. We didn’t automatically know. In the same way God has to teach us how to live in His family, because we don’t automatically know when we come to faith in Christ.

Through the Scriptures, God teaches us how to forgive one another. Because through Christ we have been forgiven. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to look out for one another, not only looking out for each other’s health, but watching out for bad habits that will lure people away from being productive in God’s Kingdom. Watching out for spiritual traps that will draw our brothers and sisters into unbelief. God teaches us to actually speak up when we see these dangers. To do something about it.

Some families have the bad habit of only talking about things behind the scenes. Never stepping forward to address issues directly. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to be transparent instead. To speak directly to the danger, and not just behind backs. To speak the truth, but to speak it gently, and in love.

Some families have members who drift away and lose connection to the core. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to be shepherds of the flock, going out to find the straying sheep and bringing them back to the fold by using God’s law and gospel.

In a world that recommends easy divorce, self-gratification and individualism, God calls us to live differently. To live as the Bride of Christ. To take our lead from the Son of God who gave everything for sinners who did not deserve it, and who did not love him back. God teaches us to imitate Christ, who denied his own rights and laid down his very life to win our eternal forgiveness.
Part of Lent is thinking about our own sins. The sins that made Christ’s sacrifice necessary. And when we think about our roles in our own families, and in our church family, we certainly have a lot of sins to meditate on. But here the idea of being part of God’s family through faith in Christ is supremely comforting. God doesn’t disown us because we’ve failed in our area of responsibility. We’re family. He forgives us instead, because of Christ’s cross, and just goes on teaching us how to do things the right way.

As we continue to travel through Lent, think about yourself in this way, Christ has proposed to you through Gospel and made you his own. You’re part of God’s family now through faith in Jesus. Everything he gave up, he gave up because he loved you, and wanted you to spend eternity with him.

Let’s pray.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for being our salvation. Thank you for giving up the throne of heaven to spend your earthly life, and to pour out your blood to wash our sins away. Thank you also for binding us together with our fellow Christians as your family. Help us to cherish you, and to cherish each other. Help us to learn how to fulfill our roles in your family, and to forgive one another like you forgave us. Teach us to love like you loved, and to reach out to those who have strayed from our fellowship. Bring us together in your grace, for now and into eternity. Amen. 

February 13, 2013

Jesus, I Will Ponder Now - Feb 13, 2013

The theme for our Lenten Midweek services this year is, "Hymns of the Passion". It examines some favorite hymns of Lent in connection with a Scripture reading. Tonight pastor Paul G. Naumann from our sister congregation in Tacoma, WA, delivered the message entitled, "Jesus I will Ponder Now". 

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February 10, 2013

Transfiguration Defines Jesus - Feb 10, 2013

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Throughout the season of Epiphany we’ve been studying Jesus’ ministry in order to find out who He really was, and what He was all about.

At Jesus’ baptism we heard the Father speak from above, saying that Jesus was His sinless Son. When the Devil took the time and effort to tempt Jesus directly, we learned that Satan considered Him a real threat to his power. Along the way we’ve seen Jesus fulfilling Old Testament prophecies that were spoken about the Messiah hundreds and thousands of years before. We’ve seen Jesus preach to ordinary sinners, and call ordinary sinners to be His representatives to the world. Last Sunday we heard what Jesus preached as the heart of His ministry – the Gospel of the Kingdom. The message that through the Messiah, God would save sinners from the hell they deserved. And while Jesus proclaimed the message that would create faith and save their souls, He showed people that He genuinely cared about them by healing their diseases as well.

Today we read about one more event that served to spotlight Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world – His transfiguration.
The Transfiguration: a harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (NIV)
“About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a high mountain, where they were all alone, to pray.
As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, “Master, it is good for us to be here, if you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
While he was speaking, a bright cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.”
Every year around this time a lot of awards are given out. Last Saturday the NFL Honors were awarded to football players for various accomplishments achieved this season. Tonight the Grammys will be awarded for outstanding achievement in the music industry. Later this month the Oscars will be awarded for excellence in cinema.

Getting one of these awards is considered a great honor. And to emphasize the glamour and importance associated with these awards, they have famous people give them out. Having a movie star, or a pop icon hand you an award kinda amps things up a bit. It says, “The person getting this award is so special, we couldn’t just have anyone hand them the trophy. We had to have someone really important just to give it to them.”

That’s what happened on the mountain when Moses and Elijah appeared to talk with Jesus. If you were going to hand pick two stars of the Old Testament, you really couldn’t do much better than Moses and Elijah.

God was active in Moses’ life from beginning to end. He watched over Moses as his mother floated him in the Nile river to save him from an angry Pharaoh. Later in life, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, calling on him to free His people from Egyptian slavery. God performed many miracles through Moses, including the ten plagues imposed on Egypt, parting of the Red Sea, and many miracles that sustained the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness outside of Palestine.

In addition to these things, God also used Moses to write down the first five books of the Bible. This included all the laws and regulations that governed worship life, civic life, in ancient Israel. It also included the moral law intended for the whole world to observe.

When artists try to depict the transfiguration, they usually show Moses holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. By doing this they try to sum up Moses in a symbol. Who is this guy? Just the man that God gave the Ten Commandments through. Yeah, he’s kinda important.
And then there’s Elijah. Elijah lived hundreds of years after Moses in a time when false teachers were relentlessly leading the Israelites away from God. Just like He did with Moses, God spoke through Elijah, telling the people of Israel His Word. And just like He did with Moses, God also performed many miracles through Elijah. In a showdown with the prophets of Baal, Elijah showed that the LORD was the true God by calling fire down from heaven to burn up an offering set on an altar. This was quite impressive since the prophets of Baal couldn’t get anything to happen with their altar, even though they prayed all day and cut themselves to please their god. But even more impressive was the fact that in answer to Elijah’s prayer God burned up not only the sacrifice, but also the stone altar itself. Earlier in Elijah’s ministry he had also shown the power of God by raising a woman’s child from the dead. To cap things off, when Elijah’s ministry came to a close, and it was time for him to leave this earth, God sent a fiery whirlwind and a chariot to carry him home to heaven.

Who’s that other guy beside Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration? Oh, just one of the most powerful prophets of God from the Old Testament. Yeah, he’s kinda important too.

But remember, Moses and Elijah are just details here. Just set-dressing. Just spotlights trained on the bigger star – Jesus.
And to visibly show the importance Jesus, God did more than put spotlights on Him. He allowed Jesus’ true glory, the glory of being God the Son, shine out on the mountain. Jesus radiated with an inner light so brilliant that He looked like the noonday sun. And this visible glory was but a taste of things to come.

Just a few days before the transfiguration event happened, Jesus had told His disciples this. He said…

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:24-28 ESV).

One day, you and I will see the Son of Man coming with His angels in the glory of His Father. As crazy as that sounds, we will see Him. Then we will see what Peter, James and John saw on that mountain, and more.

When Peter and company woke up and saw Jesus in glory, they were frightened. And this is part of the take away from this story. What will we feel when we stand in the presence of the almighty, fully glorified Christ? Will it be fear because our Judge has finally arrived? Or will it be overwhelming joy because our Savior has finally arrived? The glory of Christ on the mountain top tells each of us, “Put your trust in Jesus, and all will be well on that last day, for HIS sacrifice in your place will outshine all your sins.”

You know, if you examine the lives of Moses and Elijah, along with the faithful acts and miracles, you’ll also find sins of weakness and doubt. They were sinners just as bad as you and me, but there they stand beside Jesus, in glory. Through simple trust in the Messiah to come, they found peace at the end of their earthly life. They found that the God they trusted was true to His promise to save them from hell. This is the same faith that we have, and the same destiny - in Christ.
Throughout this Epiphany season we’ve seen a lot of witnesses testifying about who Jesus was and what He’s all about. Moses and Elijah are two more to add to the list. But one thing we don’t want to do is get lost in the witnesses. Jesus is the main event here, the place where the spotlights all point.

When the disciples saw all this light, and Moses and Elijah getting ready to leave, they were full of fear, and at the same time they were super excited at what they were seeing. Peter, being true to his character, stumbles forward and asks Jesus if maybe Moses and Elijah would stick around a bit longer if they had some shelter. Peter could arrange a few tents and everyone could have a bit more time to talk.

Admittedly, we would have wanted to do the same thing. I mean seriously, would you pass on the chance to converse with Moses and Elijah? Think of the questions you could ask about their lives, or the questions you might ask about heaven?

But God would have none of this distraction. This whole thing was about Jesus! And so once again the Father made His presence known. A huge, brilliantly white cloud encircled them. The glory of God Himself filled the air around them, and the Father said,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV).

When famous people serve as hosts on award shows, it isn’t to draw attention to themselves, but to lend their fame to the one getting the award. The presence of Moses and Elijah was meant to elevate Jesus to His proper position in the minds of the disciples, to elevate Him above all the Old Testament prophets, indeed above any prophet who ever lived. This was God’s Son, the Messiah, the God-Man who would die to set sinners free from sin and it’s consequences! The disciples should be listening to JESUS above anyone else.

When those three disciples heard the voice of the LORD, they fell down in fear with their faces in the dirt. And in the same way, when we hear God tell us that it’s JESUS that we should be listening to, we may also be filled with fear. We know deep down that we haven’t listened to God. We haven’t kept His commandments, we haven’t honored His Son in our lives to the degree that His glory demands.

But as the disciples cowered in the dust, they felt the hand of Jesus touch them. And as they opened their eyes to find the terrifying glory gone, they heard Him say, “Get up. Don’t be afraid”. And that’s what we sinners hear Jesus say to us also. “Get  up. Don’t be afraid”.

In the depths of remorse and guilt, remember that it was Jesus who defined His life and ministry by saying,

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).

This is who Jesus was, and is. This is what Jesus was all about, and what He is still about. This was His MESSAGE in Epiphany, and through the season of Lent, we will now see how He made our salvation HAPPEN.


February 3, 2013

Good News Proclaimed and Illustrated - Feb 3, 2013

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Many people in the world today teach about Jesus. Differing religions claim Him as their own. Islam claims Jesus as one of their most important prophets. Mormons say the same. Jehovah’s Witnesses also. Even religions that don’t identify Jesus as their own prophet still give credit to Him as being a teacher of many good things.

This is confusing. How can religions that teach such vastly different things claim Jesus belongs in their group? The simple answer is: Words are cheap. You can SAY whatever you want.

During Epiphany we study Jesus’ life to learn what He was really about. We study Him from the earliest sources available. Sources produced by His closest followers and, we believe, sources inspired by the very Spirit of God as the true testimony concerning Jesus.

If we are to know Jesus accurately, we cannot rely on what religious teachers say. We have to hear from the Bible what Jesus said and did. Today our sermon reading focuses on just that.

Matthew 4:23-25 (ESV)

            23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Recently I’ve been captivated by a certain quality of God revealed in the Bible. You could call it wholeness or perfect-relationship-ness.

The Bible describes God as a single being, but three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three persons have always existed. Before the world was created, they were. When the world was being created, they did it together. When God communicates to mankind, the three persons of God speak the same thing.

The picture of God that the Bible paints is a three person relationship that is so perfectly tuned, that there is only one being. We might think of words like seamless, unity, wholeness, perfection, balance, harmony. This is the triune God.
When God created human beings on the sixth day of creation, He created them to participate in this relationship. Mankind wasn’t created as a part of God, but mankind was created to be in perfect harmony with God. To be a reflection of the seamless relationships that exist in God. God Himself said,

“Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

Because mankind was created as an echo of God, and to be in a on-going, close relationship with God, mankind would be incomplete without God.  

That’s exactly what happened when Adam and Eve chose to break faith with their creator. They made themselves incomplete. They tore themselves away from God by sinning against Him. And no matter how hard mankind tries to sew this tear, or patch it up, or cover over it, nothing we do can restore what sin broke.
When Jesus began teaching in the synagogues of Galilee, He taught about a lot of different things. But one core message prevailed when Jesus taught. Verse 23 says…

“And he went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” (Matthew 4:23 ESV).

The message was simple, and familiar to many. God was going to fix the relationship between Him and sinners. He was going to mend the tear that sin had caused.

He would do this through a single man. The promised Messiah would restore sinners to God by absorbing the punishment for their sins.

Jesus’ message was called ‘gospel’ because it was ‘good news’. His message was called the gospel of “the kingdom” because through the Messiah, sinners are welcomed back into God’s spiritual kingdom – into that reflective, intimate relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus’ core message was about restoring wholeness to the human race by restoring people to God.
While Jesus went about preaching the good new of the kingdom, He also healed people. Jesus did this for a number of reasons.

First of all, Jesus healed people to fulfill ancient prophesies. About 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah wrote…

   Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
       Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
       with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
      Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
      then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6 ESV).
Jesus also healed people of their physical problems to foreshadow what He would do for their souls. When sin first came into the world, it brought death and suffering. By healing some of the damage sin had caused, Jesus gave the people a taste of what was to come  – the complete erasing of sin’s power through His sacrifice on the cross.

Jesus offered wholeness of body to foreshadow the wholeness of soul that comes to all who trust in Him as their rescuer from sin.

Our sermon reading brings out the raw power of Jesus’ healings by describing the wide range of things He was able to heal. He doesn’t just treat disease like a doctor, He takes it away altogether. Instantly. He doesn’t just practice medicine in one area, He heals viruses, infections, neurological disorders, and even long standing birth defects! Jesus was healing things that even the most skilled teams of physicians in the most modern medical facilities today STILL can’t do anything about. Jesus even had the ability to cast out demons, spirit beings who had taken over people’s minds and were ravaging their bodies.

Jesus was doing what no other human could do. And that’s a foreshadowing of the way He’d win forgiveness for sinners also. None of us has the ability to erase even a single sin that we have done. We can do nice things for the people we hurt by our sins, but those nice things can’t rewrite the past. Only the sinless Jesus could erase our sins by being punished for them.

Remember that. You can’t do anything to undo your sinful past, but Jesus already has. Each one of your sins, He suffered dearly to absorb and take away. Your sins are gone, in Christ. Believe it!
Jesus’ incredible healing powers got a lot of attention during His early ministry. Our sermon reading says that people were coming from all over, from hundreds of miles away to be healed of their physical problems. Jesus was famous. And this served the core of Jesus’ ministry well. When people brought their sick to be healed, He told them the good news of the kingdom. 
Okay, so here’s what we’ve learned about Jesus today. The main purpose of His ministry was to restore wholeness to people by telling them the gospel of the kingdom. By telling them that forgiveness of sins comes as a gift from God, through the Savior.

Jesus also brought physical wholeness to the people. But this healing arm of His ministry existed to serve the gospel. It fulfilled prophecy, showing He was the Messiah. It brought people in to hear Him speak. It mirrored the wholeness of soul offered in the gospel. It emphasized that what man is incapable of obtaining, God can give in an instant – through His Son.

Jesus was a traveler. A teacher. A supernatural healer. But most of all He was a gospel preacher.
And this is what all those other religions that claim Jesus as their own miss. Above all things Jesus taught that forgiveness and eternal life come as a gift from God, through simple faith in the Savior He sent to die in our place.

The religions of Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are very different in their individual teachings. But they all have this in common – they teach that heaven is obtained through obedience to commands, not through simple faith in the Gospel of Jesus.

Sadly, some branches of the Christian faith have fallen into this same error. They focus on good Christian living as the way to heaven instead of focusing on the truth that Jesus GIVES forgiveness TO us because we CAN’T earn it. 

We can SAY whatever we want about Jesus. But if we are to actually BE His followers, we must draw our teaching from His teachings. The Christian faith is not about clawing our way to God through obedience and good behavior. The Christian faith is about God coming to us to give us the gift of restoration and wholeness.

Jesus traveled to those towns. He went to them.

Jesus healed those people. People who had no other way to be healed. He did it for them.

Jesus preached the Good News, not a message burdening people with the task of saving themselves. A message of rest and restoration.
This is the true Jesus. The preacher of the Gospel. The healer of the broken. The one who declares us forgiven through His cross, and restores us to wholeness and peace with God. This is the Jesus the Bible reveals, and whom we worship and proclaim. All glory be to Him.


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