November 23, 2014

Christ Our Hometown Hero - Nov 23, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


When I was a kid, my dad and I took a road trip from Lemmon, SD, all the way down to Corpus Christi, TX. We went to visit my brother Andy who was serving as a pastor there.

It was a hot trip down to Texas in the middle of the summer, especially since the air conditioning in our car didn’t work. And the scenery along the interstate wasn’t always very exciting. But as we moved through the state of Kansas, something caught my eye. It was a billboard with my favorite NFL running back on it. “Welcome to Wichita” it said, “Home of Barry Sanders, the Wichita Whirlwind.”

I remember thinking that was pretty cool. We got to drive through Barry Sanders’ hometown! Awesome!
Hometown heroes always have a draw to them, don’t they? Even the bad ones bring a measure of attention to a place. And the good ones can bring even more than that. Having someone from your hometown go out and succeed in the world says, “Hey world, our people are worth something. There’s talent in this little corner of the world, and we’re a part of it.”

Some hometown heroes bring even more than self respect and pride. Some bring jobs to the area. Think of all the jobs that Bill Gates and Paul Allen have brought to our part of the country.

Sometimes hometown heroes come back to change things in the city where they grew up. They lobby for reform. They built hospitals. They establish foundations.
In our sermon reading for today, the Apostle Paul speaks about a hometown hero we all can claim, no matter what town we were born in. A hometown hero who rose up from common stock, but was destined for glory by the eternal decree of God the Father.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NKJV)

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.
Here Paul mentions a not-so-great hometown “hero”, Adam. We can all claim him, for we are all descended from that first man. But we’d rather not claim him. Through his evil choice, sin and death became part of our experience on this planet.

But Paul also mentions Christ. And he’s the type of hero we like to get behind. He came from heaven originally, but was born into the human race in a little town called Bethlehem.

He didn’t win a Superbowl. Never won an Emmy. Didn’t even establish an international corporation. But what he did do changed everything. He lived like no one else—without sin. And when he came to the critical point in his life, he chose to suffer the wrath of God for the sins of mankind. He suffered and died for every one of YOUR SINS, and every one of MINE.

And then, as was prophesied, he rose from the dead on the first Easter morning. Paul calls Christ the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The thing about “firstfruits” is, they’re the first, and the best, and there’s always more to come after them.
That’s the remarkable thing about this hometown hero. Christ Jesus didn’t just make a name for himself, he brought the goods home to share with us.

Adam brought home sin, suffering, and death. But Christ brought home forgiveness for sinners, and the promise of resurrection from the dead for all who trust in him.
Hometown heroes can bring self respect to a city. They can bring home jobs and reform to a community. But only Christ can restore the a relationship with God that was broken by sin.

Hometown heroes can build hospitals and foundations, but only Christ can heal the soul and lay the foundation for eternal life with our Holy Creator.

That’s why we worship Christ. That’s why we trust in him. Of all the people we could lift high and claim as “our man”, Christ Jesus is the one we cherish most. Because of Christ, we don’t even fear death. For in the end, in Christ, we shall be made alive.   
You can hear Paul’s faith in Christ bleeding through his words in this part of First Corinthians. He says that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have FALLEN ASLEEP. He uses that phrase “fallen asleep” because for the Christian who dies, it’s only a sleep. In the final resurrection Christ’s people will awake from the grave as if only a short night has passed.

Without a shadow of a doubt Paul says, here’s the order that it’s gonna happen in: Christ rose first, later those who belong to Christ will rise when he returns to this planet to claim them.

As certain as Easter, that is how certain our own resurrection is. Christ is OUR MAN, the most unique of hometown heroes.
But Paul has more to say. Christ is also a king decreed by the eternal Father.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (NKJV)

24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
On this planet, hometown heroes rise only so far as God grants them to—and no further. Many a young person leaves their city of origin with great promise of success. But no measure of talent or hard work can lift them up above what God has in store for them.

But for Christ Jesus, there was no ceiling. When God’s eternal Son became human, the Father made the decree, to this Man I give the keys to it all. All rule, all authority, all power—they  are his. He will reign until every one of his enemies is defeated.
Now, some Christians try to make the kingdom of Christ into a little kingdom. They claim that the Bible says he will rule a tangible kingdom on this sinful planet. But that’s not what the Father had in mind. That would be far too small.

As Christ himself testified to Pontius Pilate,

“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NKJV).

No, Christ’s reign is not OF this world. But it is IN this world. Right NOW Christ is reigning in this world. With every sinner brought to trust in him for salvation and forgiveness Christ wins another victory over Satan.

Every day Christ Jesus is working through his Word and through the Holy Spirit to remind Christians of his cross. Every day he moves us to an attitude of repentance. To reject the evil, and to rely on him for forgiveness before the Father’s throne.

On a daily basis Christ is reigning in the hearts of his people. Helping them to wage war against their sinful desires and instincts, and to bring glory to God instead by following his path.

Every day there are little victories happening in the kingdom of God. Spiritual victories that are being won inside God’s people as he strengthens and educates them through his Word. And these bring much more than tax breaks, government programs, and improved healthcare. Christ’s reform heals us from the inside out, bringing wholeness to our souls as we interact with Christ.

Christ is reigning today, in the hearts of his followers. Christ is reigning today, working backstage of creation for the benefit of his blood bought people.

And in the end, even death will be defeated. It was a glorious thing when Christ rose from the dead on that first Easter morning, never to die again. And so humiliating to death and the devil. But how much more humiliating will it be to the forces of evil when at Christ’s command ALL his followers are raised to real, physical restoration, and everlasting life!
To the everyday hometown hero God may decree a championship, or some prestigious award, or even a global corporation. But to Christ, the Father has decreed complete victory—over all rule, authority, and power. ALL will one day stand under him, either as his defeated enemies, or as his faithful subjects.

God has decreed that this level of triumph belongs to a Man. And by the gift of faith, that Man is our King.
When a young person of promise leaves their hometown, no one can know if they’ll succeed, or fail. We may have expectations, but we can’t really know.

But in our sermon reading, Paul gives us a glimpse into the final glory of Christ. As his summary act, Paul says that after subduing all his enemies, the Man Christ Jesus will turn to his heavenly Father… and bow.

As the greatest Man who ever lived, he will bow before the Father, and return the kingdom to the Father who gave it to him.

And dear Christians, YOU and I will stand beside him as he does this. By faith in him we will stand in the Father’s presence and witness this event with our own eyes.
When a hometown hero comes home, everyone wants a piece of the fame. You know how it goes. Everyone has a story of how they knew him or her back in the day. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon—whether they really knew the person or not.

But Christ is a different Man, and a different King. Our hometown hero invites us all to come with him to the Father’s throne, covered in HIS fame, HIS glory, HIS sinless perfection—freely given to us.

Did you hear that? Our hometown hero invites us to come with him right to the Father’s throne.

Redeemed by his cross.

Cleansed of our ugly sins by his infinitely precious blood. 

Raised to glory by his gift of repentance and forgiveness.

Christ is our Man. Christ is our hero. The only way to the Father. Christ our King. May he reign in our hearts by faith, until the God who created all is finally given the recognition he has always deserved.


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

November 16, 2014

Ready for the Marriage Feast - Nov 16, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


Modern American culture doesn’t seem to think weddings are all that important anymore. I’m not sure exactly where this attitude comes from. Maybe some are put off by having to get a marriage license from the state. So they don’t. You know, don’t let big brother tell you what to do. Just do what you want.

Other people are put off by what the Bible says about marriage. That you should actually BE married, before you start living together and ACTING like you’re married.

Some people  are simply  never taught that this is the way God intends an intimate relationship between a man and a woman to work. Marriage first, and then a life lived as one.

And so people move in together, have children, raise families, and somewhere along the way they may get married, or they may not.

And that’s just too bad. First of all, it’s not the way God wants us to act. When people bypass marriage a just move on to living together, they also miss out on all the significance and joy of a wedding day.
Weddings are wonderful things. Joyful things. Times of happiness and celebration. A wedding is a public announcement that you’re not just dating anymore. You’re committed for life. A wedding draws important people from both the groom’s side and the bride’s side. They come to watch and to listen as people they love promise to be faithful to one another, to forgive each other, and to care for one another for the rest of their lives.

Weddings are beginnings. And the possibilities of future blessing hang out there, just waiting to be realized. And that fills weddings with anticipation, and joy.

One of my favorite memories from my own wedding day was that my face hurt by the end of the day from smiling so much. So many people that we love had come to celebrate with us on our special day.
Back in Jesus’ time, wedding customs were a little different than they are today. The Jewish people had a different way of going about the whole marriage thing.

For the Jews, marriage started with betrothal. When a man and a woman were betrothed, that meant that they were legally married. But even so, they didn’t start living together right away. The husband would go and prepare a place for them to live. And he would make preparations for a special marriage feast too. Getting their future home ready, and making arrangements for the feast could take up to a year to complete.

But then one day, the groom would gather his friends and take a special wedding walk to the bride’s house. There she would join her husband, and they would walk together, surrounded by friends and family, to the place where they would hold a big celebration. A wedding feast.

After the wedding feast everyone in town would know that they were married. That they were dedicated to one another for life. That they could be found in the home that the husband had prepared.
Today actually isn’t “Wedding Sunday”. It’s “Saints Triumphant Sunday.” The Sunday when Christians look forward to Christ’s return, and our final entrance into heaven.

We’ve been talking about marriages and weddings because Jesus used a wedding story to teach people about heaven. We’ll be meditating on that parable for our sermon today.

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The young women in Jesus’ parable were ready for a celebration. That’s what they were waiting for.

And that’s what followers of Christ across this globe are doing today too. Just like us. They’re waiting for the celebration that will begin when Jesus returns. We’re not afraid of the Holy God, not afraid of being tried and condemned  to hell because of our sins. We know our sins were paid for when JESUS suffered OUR punishment on the cross. We believe what John the Baptist said in John, chapter 3,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life;” (John 3:36 ESV).
There are 10  virgins in this parable. But none of them are the bride. This celebration isn’t about them. But if they are ushered into the wedding feast they’ll get to enjoy the celebration all the same.

In the same way, the celebration that will take place in heaven isn’t about you and me. It’s about God.

He’s the one who Created the universe by simply speaking it into being. He’s the one who redeemed sinners by the sinless sacrifice of his precious Son. He’s the one who raised Jesus from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit out into the world to show sinners that they have a Savior. The heavenly celebration to come will be all about praising Yahweh for his goodness and his mercy.

But all the same, those who trust in the God of their salvation will get to participate in the celebration. That’s what God wanted from the very beginning. When he created Adam and Eve, he made them so that he could love them. So that he could bring them joy, and be loved and praised by them in perfect harmony. Dear Christians, this is what we’ll get to experience in full when the final celebration comes.
Like I said, there are 10 virgins in this parable. And that number carries significance. In the Scriptures, the number 10 sometimes has a symbolic meaning. It’s a nice round number which represents completeness in various contexts.

All 10 of these young women would have entered the wedding feast if they had remained ready. This reminds us that God wants all sinners to come to know Jesus as their Savior from sin. In his Word, God repeatedly tells us that Jesus died for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD, not just a select few.

But just like in Jesus’ parable, not all will be ready when he returns on the Last Day.
In the parable, the 10 virgins all settle down to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They expect him, but they don’t know exactly when he’s going to get there. One reason they don’t know when he’ll arrive is that he’s been delayed beyond the usual time. Another reason they don’t know exactly when he’ll get there is that it’s late. Darkness has surrounded them, and they can’t see him coming. And thirdly, they don’t know exactly when he’ll get there because as they’ve been waiting, they’ve fallen asleep.

All this serves the main point of the parable. We don’t know when the Son of God will return to this earth. We know he will. We know that everyone will know it when he does. We know he’ll descend through the sky accompanied by the angel armies of heaven. But we don’t know when he’s coming.

And since we don’t know when he’s coming, Jesus says we need to watch. We need to stay alert. We need to be ready for his return. Only those who are ready will go with him to heaven’s celebration feast.
In the parable, the virgins who are ready to greet the bridegroom are the ones who still have light. They’ve brought extra oil for their lamps, and so they have light.

It’s pretty obvious what this signifies. Scripture calls the Word of God a lamp for our feet, and the light which illuminates our path (Psalm 119:105). Jesus calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12). The Bible says that the message of sins forgiven through Christ’s cross is the light which brings life and immortality to sinners (2 Timothy 1:10).

The virgins who still held burning lamps were able to go with the bridegroom into the wedding hall. When Jesus returns to this earth, all who hold the light of his Gospel in their hearts will be able to go with him to heaven. It’s that simple.

Dear Christians, we have that light. By faith in our Savior, and all that he has done for our redemption, we are ready to meet him. Now, we just have to STAY READY!
Do you need some more oil to keep the light of faith burning in your heart? Then remember what Jesus said from the cross,

“It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV).

Christ’s work of redeeming sinners from their sins is done. It is complete.

Remember what it says in First John,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Remember what the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote,

19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
[He] will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19 ESV).

It was the message of God’s gift of forgiveness that brought us to faith in Christ. And it is this same Good News that will keep our faith burning bright.

When we bring our children to be baptized in the Lord’s Name, his powerful Word breathes the fire of faith into their hearts.

When we stand before the altar to receive our Savior’s body and blood in Holy Communion, the fire of faith is stoked.

It is the Gospel in Word and Sacrament that will keep our lamps burning bright. It is the Gospel which sustains our faith, not our piddly attempts at doing good, or living right. It is the Gospel which keeps us ready, not our own paltry efforts.

And that’s why we can call this Sunday “Saints Triumphant” Sunday. Without forgiveness coming to us as a gift from God, we could never hope to be ready to meet the Holy God. But by faith in Christ, we ARE ready—RIGHT NOW.

Right now we ARE “Saints Triumphant” because of Christ. And on that Last Day will be “Saints Triumphant” if we remain in him.
Have you ever had a good time at a wedding? Maybe had your eyes fill with tears of joy taking those vows with the love of your life? Maybe you’ve had your eyes fill with tears watching your friends take those vows? Ever had some really good food at the party afterwards? Took a spin or two on the dance floor? Ever enjoyed a glass or two of fine wine or champagne? Ever linger into the night talking to friends you hadn’t seen in a long time?

Yeah, there’s nothing quite like a wedding celebration for joy. But dear Christians, I gotta say this—you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Our God has saved the best for last. Whatever things we’ve enjoyed in this life have been enjoyed through the fog of a sinful world. Heaven’s feast is gonna make any wedding feast we’ve enjoyed seem like a day old happy meal. For in the presence of the Almighty, all things will be made new. And we shall finally see HIM as he is.

So stay ready, dear Saints. Keep returning  to the cross of Christ to see your Savior and all he’s done to remove your guilt forever. Remember your baptism and how God put his Name on you through those waters. And come to the Lord’s Supper where your Savior comes to you in bread and wine.

Stay read, dear Saints, and I’ll see you at the feast.


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

November 9, 2014

The Lord is Our Home - Nov 9, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


When Moses was 80 years old, God called him to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

When Moses was 82, he and the liberated people of Israel stood on the border of the land God had promised to give them. A small detachment of Israelites scouted the land for 40 days. When they returned they reported that the land was indeed a rich place, but it was also filled with strong people, and fortified cities. Even though God had brought them to where they were through obvious miracles, and even though Yahweh had promised to fight for them, 10 out of 12 scouts advised against going into the Promised Land.

The people of Israel had complained against God ever since he came to rescue them. They had complained about their increased workload in Egypt. They had complained about food on the way to Mt. Sinai. At the Mt.  Sinai they had rebelled against Yahweh by making a Golden Calf to worship. They had complained all the way to the border of the Promised Land. And now, they were talking about stoning the faithful followers of God, and choosing a leader who would guide them back to Egypt.

For Yahweh, this was enough.

He told them, fine. You will not go up into the Promised Land. Not anymore. You will wander around in this wilderness one year for each day the scouts were gone. For forty years altogether you will wander, until the ever complaining generation is dead and buried. And then, your children, whom you said would be taken as plunder, they will go up into the land, and enjoy what you have rejected.

And so, wander they did. For 40 years. In the wilderness. From camp to camp they moved, God providing food and water. And slowly, the older generation was laid to rest in the dusty soil of the Sinai Peninsula.

At some point toward the end of this forty years, Moses wrote the Psalm we’re going to mediate on today, Psalm 90.

This wasn’t he young and foolish Moses who murdered an Egyptian slave driver to rescue his countryman from a beating. This was a wiser, more seasoned Moses. A Moses who was creeping closer and closer to his 120th birthday. A Moses who had seen a lifetime of God’s interaction with his people, and had learned from it.

This is his prayer.

Psalm 90 (NASB)

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
   1             Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
   2             Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
   3             You turn man back into dust
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
   4             For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
   5             You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;
In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
   6             In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew;
Toward evening it fades and withers away.
   7             For we have been consumed by Your anger
And by Your wrath we have been dismayed.
   8             You have placed our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
   9             For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
10             As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
11             Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
12             So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
13             Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
And be sorry for Your servants.
14             O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15             Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.
16             Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
17             Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
You can almost see Moses sitting there in the arid wilderness. Maybe somewhere on the edge of the camp, pondering. Thinking over his life.

Here in the city we’re surrounded by everything manmade. Streets and businesses, power lines and cell phone towers, highways and homes. Being surrounded by such things gives us a sense of safety and security. But out there in the wilderness it was more obvious to Moses that the Lord is the one who provides. Yahweh is the real shelter which stands over his people. It has been this way since the beginning.
In the distance Moses could see the mountains looming tall. Some day in the near future, the Lord would lead Moses up into those mountains one last time. He would get to see the Promised Land from a afar, but he would never enter it.

And it occurred to Moses that before any of this existed, Yahweh had been there. He alone was eternal. From everlasting to everlasting, he was God.

Looking downward, Moses saw the dust of the ground at his feet. This was what he would be soon. Dust. When his spirit heard the Lord’s command it would leave his body, and God himself would lay Moses’s physical remains the ground. In this way Moses was like every one of us. Destined to die.

It all made Moses feel so small. So insignificant. His long life was but a drop in the bucket compared to the Eternal One. Like a flash flood in the wastelands of Sinai, time and decay had swept through that complaining generation of Israel, carrying men and women away, never to be seen again.

We’re just like the desert grasses, Moses thought. Sprouting up with the morning dew, but withering away before the evening sunset.

And so it would be for every generation after Moses. So it is with us today. Despite the advances of human technology and modern medicine, we rise up strong in our youth, only to wither away in old age. It was all very humbling to think about.
Moses couldn’t help but think how it could have been different for his nation. They had stood on the border of the Promised Land once. Carried there by the mighty hand of the Lord  as if on a great wave. But then the rebellion. Then the complaining. And God’s sad decree.

The people of Israel had received so much good from Yahweh. But still their sinful hearts wouldn’t be satisfied. And for their sins of grumbling and rebellion, and for their hearts of hard discontent, they were feeling  the Lord’s rebuke.

In the end, all their bold complaints against God had withered into a sigh. The strength of man had degraded into a whimper. Seventy years? Eighty? Did it matter? Even a long life was filled with labor and sorrow in this sinful world. And in the blink of an eye, it was all over.
In verse 11 Moses says to God,

“Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
“ (Psalm 90:11 NASB).

The answer to that question, is no one. Nobody comprehends how intense God’s anger and fury is, and so nobody fears him as they should.

In Egypt, Pharaoh didn’t understand. God visited 10 plagues of epic proportion on Egypt, and still Pharaoh sent his army to chase after the Lord’s people. Pharaoh’s troops met their end at the bottom of the Red Sea.

The people of Israel obviously didn’t learn from the experience. They saw the plagues. They saw the Nile turned to blood. They saw frogs infest the land. They saw locusts devastate the fields. They heard the sad cries when all the first born sons of Egypt died in one night. They saw the Read Sea part before them by the Lord’s power. And yet they still complained against Yahweh, and were cursed to wander.

Even Moses didn’t fear the Lord rightly. He had a front row seat for all the miracles that Yahweh did for his chosen people, and yet Moses still got cocky. When the people complained about having no water, Moses told them,

Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV).

When Moses struck the rock twice, water did pour out for the people. But Moses had sealed himself from the Promised Land by claiming God’s power as if it belong to him and his brother Aaron.

Because of his insolence, Yahweh told Moses he would not be going to the Promised Land. He too would be laid to rest in the wilderness. It was a hard lesson for Moses to swallow. God is Holy, and as the Holy and Eternal God, he will be respected. He will be feared.

And so Moses prays,

“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NASB).

In other words, Lord teach us to see how mortal we are, so that we approach you with awe and respect. For as the proverb says,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV).

If we learn anything from the history of ancient Israel and Moses, it must be to fear the Lord. To bow in reverent awe before him, knowing that he will not be trifled with. He is serious about sin. He simply will not tolerate it. And he will judge the sinner with righteous judgment.
But amid all of these somber thoughts, Moses wasn’t despairing. Through all his life experiences Moses had learned to bow before Yahweh in true humility. Through all the mighty works of God that he had seen, Moses had learned to truly fear the Lord—and to depend on Yahweh for anything and everything he needed.

Listen again to how Moses closes his prayer. He doesn’t close his prayer with despair, but with an expression of complete dependence on Yahweh’s grace, and faith in Yahweh’s love.

 Psalm 90:13-17 (NASB)

13             Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
And be sorry for Your servants.
14             O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15             Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.
16             Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
17             Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
Moses doesn’t ask, “Will you return, O LORD?” He asks, “how long will it be?” He knows that as great as the Lord’s anger is, his love is greater. He has promised his people that they WILL enter the Promised Land in time. And furthermore, that a Savior will be born there one day. A Savior who will deliver all sinners from their damning, wrath incurring choices.

Moses knows the LORD keeps his promises. So he prays that the LORD will soon bless Israel so they can live their lives on this earth in joy and gladness, instead of painful wandering.

Fear of God.

Dependence on God.

Faith in his promises.

These are the things Moses has learned in life. These are the things he prays about. And these are the things that he would have us imprint in our hearts today.
Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday, and we talked a little about Martin Luther rediscovering the message of sins forgiven through Christ’s cross. But one thing that we didn’t talk about was Martin Luther’s death.

As Martin drew closer to death, his thoughts turned to his own mortality, just like Moses’s thoughts did. After Luther died, his friends found a slip of paper in his pocket. And on this slip of paper Martin had scrawled a little note. It said, “We are beggars, this is true.”

Like Moses, Martin had learned to bow before the eternal God with humility. With fear. But most of all, in complete dependence and faith.

Every good thing that comes to us in life comes from above. From our Creator God. And from him comes not only food and drink, house and home, but also forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.

The Eternal God has visited us, as one of us. And through the cross of the God-Man, the God has laid his lovingkindness on us, so that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

In life we experience pain and sadness, but these few days of suffering will be soon forgotten in the eons of goodness to come. God’s work of salvation has appeared to his servants, and to their children. Because of Christ’s work, the Lord’s favor rests on sinners like us. So much so that he no longer even calls us sinners, now he calls us saints.

So yes, we are beggars, this is true. Mortal men and women. Sinful men and women. People with nothing to offer the holy God. But because of Christ, the Lord who birthed the mountains, earth, the world—the Lord has become OUR dwelling place.

We’re but strangers here on earth, the Lord is our home.


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

November 2, 2014

From Gift to Gift - Nov 2, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


In 1524, the Elector of Saxony gave an abandoned monastery to Martin Luther, for him and his family to live in. Luther lived in that “house” for 22 years until his death in 1546.

The monastery had been called the “Black Cloister” because of the black robes the monks had worn when they lived there. But when Luther and his family lived there, the Black Cloister was anything but sinister to those who passed by its doors. For Luther was a generous man. Generous to a fault, his wife would say.

When students from the nearby Wittenberg University were in need of food, or a place to stay, the Black Cloister was always open. Many a traveling pastor found shelter there as well. It seems that the only people that Luther ever turned out of his house were open thieves. And even those he turned out with pity. He would have gladly given them what they sought to steal.

When Martin had no money to give, he gave his possessions to be pawned or sold. A wedding gift here, a warm coat there, and always food. Luther’s hands were so quick to give, that his wife Katherine took to hiding things away that she didn’t want to lose.

It wasn’t that the Luther family was rich, far from it. For Luther was wary of accepting monetary gifts from the rich and important. He was afraid that people would think he was peddling God’s Word for a profit.

Katy Luther pleaded with her husband to just accept some money from the printers who were distributing his writings. But Luther would only reply, “No. God will provide.”

And it wasn’t just his home, his money, and his possessions that Luther gave freely—he also volunteered his time and energy. When the plague struck Wittenberg, Martin and his wife filled the rooms of the Black Cloister with the sick and dying. Night and day they tended to the plague ridden people whom they had welcomed into their home. When a local doctor and his wife collapsed on Luther’s front step, Katy and Martin gave up their own beds for their ailing guests.

What was it that made Martin Luther so generous? That is the question we will ponder today, and answer.
Luther had come from a poor family. And his childhood had been a harsh one. But Luther’s parents had seen promise in their young Martin. He had a good memory, and was a hard worker. And so when they had the means to do it, they sent Martin off to school to become a lawyer.

And that was where it all started. At school Martin studied hard, and became a model student. But his heart was full of fear. At church Martin had learned to see God as a fearful judge. A righteous judge who condemned sinners like Martin to hell. The church of Martin’s day had little to say about God’s love for sinners. And they had nothing to say about the gift of forgiveness that comes to sinners through faith in God’s Son.

When a close friend of Luther’s unexpectedly died, his fears became heightened. One day, on the way back to school from visiting his parents, Luther found himself in a violent thunderstorm. As the lightning stabbed at the ground close around him, Luther was overwhelmed with the sense that God was coming to judge him for his many sins. And so Martin did what he had been taught to do—he prayed. He prayed to Saint Anna to save him. And he promised that if she did, he would leave his life at the university, and become a monk for the rest of his days.

Luther didn’t die in that thunderstorm. And he was true to his promise. He gave away his possessions and took the vows of the Augustinian order of monks.

If Luther was looking for peace in his soul, he didn’t find it in the monastery. Even when he studied the Scriptures he didn’t find peace for his soul. Over and over he saw that the Bible talked about the “righteousness of God.”

He had been taught that phrase, the “righteousness of God” meant that God was perfectly sinless, and that the holy God would condemn sinners like himself.

Our sermon reading for today is a short one. It is one of the many passages of the Bible which speaks about the righteousness of God.

Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

16       For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17       For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Like I said, Luther had been taught to see the righteousness of God as the wrath of God toward sinners. And as Luther pondered over passages like this one, Luther began to wish that God had never revealed the “Gospel” as he understood it, for who could love a God who was angry, and who only judged and condemned people? But Luther didn’t really understand what the Gospel was as of yet.

But that phrase stuck in Luther’s heart and mind, “The righteous shall live by faith.” And in time, the Holy Spirit led Martin to understand its true meaning. Martin came to understand that if the sinner was to have life and forgiveness, that life must come from faith.

It was the realization that spiritual life comes from faith, and not from ones own deeds, that opened the whole Bible to Martin Luther. Concerning this realization, Martin later wrote, “Then the entire Holy Scripture became clear to me, and heaven itself was opened to me. Now we see this brilliant light very clearly, and we are privileged to enjoy it abundantly.”

Isn’t it strange to think that people didn’t understand this in Martin’s day? I mean, listen to the passage again.

Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

16       For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17       For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

We can’t even read this passage without seeing that forgiveness and salvation is a gift from God, through faith in Christ. And it’s not like this is the only place in God’s Word that says so.

Galatians 3:11 (NASB)

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

And yet, Luther had always been taught that in order to be righteous before God one had to do all sorts of good works to earn that righteousness. And indeed that was what troubled him so severely, for he knew what was in his own heart. He knew that he could spend a million years pent up in a monastery and still have a dirty, dark, sinful heart.

What happened to Luther was this: He found that God is just, and God does hate sin. And God does demand that we be perfect. But God also knows this is impossible. And so God gave his Son to suffer and die for our sins.

Through the sinless sacrifice of God’s own Son, God’s righteousness becomes ours. Through simple faith that this is true, Christ’s righteousness is laid over our whole ugly record of sins. And in the judgment, when we stand before God, those who trust in what Jesus has done shall not be condemned to eternal death. Because of Christ, we shall be declared innocent, and given eternal life.

It was this revelation that changed Martin Luther forever. No longer was he afraid of the God of the Bible, for through God’s own Word Martin now knew that God loves the sinner, and desires his salvation more than anything.
This is why Martin was not afraid when the Pope declared him a heretic. This is why Martin was not afraid when the Emperor declared him an outlaw, whom anyone could kill. Martin knew that God was the real power in charge, and God had redeemed him from his sins, forever.

And this is why Martin was generous to a fault. God had given him peace. No matter what happened in life, Martin knew that in Christ his soul was safe and sound. He was righteous in the eyes of the eternal Creator, because of what Jesus had done for him. And the God who had given Martin this gift, would surely provide anything else that he truly had need of.

So sure, you can stay here. You need food? We’ve got food. You need warm clothes? Well, lets see what we can find. You’re sick? Let us care for you. And here, here’s some money to tide you over until things turn around. It’s okay, we’ll get along fine. Our Lord will provide.
Many see the Lutheran Reformation as a time when the little man finally stood up to the powers that be. They see Luther as that peasant who stood up to princes, emperors, and Popes. As if the Reformation was about a rebellion. The Reformation was not about a rebellion. The Reformation was about a gift. God’s gift of forgiveness by faith in Christ’s cross. In the Reformation this glorious truth, the most important truth ever known by man, was unearthed from under centuries of hypocrisy and false doctrine, and restored to it’s rightful place. It was restored to the hearts of sinners like Martin, and today, us.

Is it such a strange thing that this grand gift would beget other smaller gifts in the lives of those it touched? No, it’s not strange at all. For the gospel is the power of God. It brings salvation to everyone who believes. It brings righteousness before God, and spiritual life to the sinner. 

May the Holy Spirit give us the same peace that Luther had, today, and every day that we think on what God has done for us through Christ. May the Holy Spirit help us to see everything in life in the light of this grand gift. And may God’s gift to us fill us with a generosity that matches the power of our God, and the grace we have received.


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