February 29, 2016

February 28, 2016 - Exodus 3:10-15

1) A Promise
2) A Sign
3) His Name

Exodus 3:10-15 "Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" 12 So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain." 13 Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them,`The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me,`What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel,`I AM has sent me to you.'" 15 Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel:`The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.'

It’s quite common for people to associate someone’s ability with their title. Simply knowing who a person is doesn’t guarantee that you know their qualifications. For example, you may know who I am, Mark Tiefel, but that doesn’t tell what I can do, or what my job is. That information comes in my title, Pastor. Think also of doctor, professor, even the difference between Mrs. and Ms. as other examples. There are two parts to making determinations about people. Identification and Description. A name identifies someone. A title describes what they can do. But even then, there a few guarantees in life. Just because someone has the title doesn’t guarantee they can do what they’re supposed to do.  

For example, centuries ago people believed that Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, was correct when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time. He’s still viewed as the father of western culture. For many, there was no way he could be wrong, because of his name and title. It wasn’t until two-thousand years after Aristotle’s death, that his assumption was challenged by the great Galileo. It’s said that Galileo assembled a group of learned professors to the base of a tower in 1589. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten- pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. By a simple experiment, Aristotle’s assumption, which had endured for two millennia, was shown to be false. In this instance, Aristotle’s title didn’t guarantee accuracy.

Of course, the same could be said about Galileo, and all other people. No matter what our names or titles are, we are never 100% accurate. We never fully live up to expectations. But God does. Just like the ways we use names and titles, God also reveals Himself in the same way through His Word. We learn, from early on in our catechism, that God’s name is everything that identifies who He is and describes what He has done. Therefore, we know that each time God speaks of Himself, He is not telling you who He is, but also what He has done and what He stands for. People often overlook how much we can learn just from the names of God in the Bible, before we even learn the stories.

In our text God taught the same lesson to Moses, as He prepared Moses to be the servant to lead His people out of Egypt. But for Moses, learning the name of God was only one part. God also gave Moses even more proof of His ability to lead and guide people, and in a personal way, shaped Moses into the servant that he wanted him to be. And today, God still speaks to us in the same way. Not by calling us to lead an exodus out of Egypt. But showing us the very same principles in our Servant, Jesus, who went to the cross for our sins. We ask God to bless our study today as we consider: 

The Way He Shows His Ability
1) A Promise
2) A Sign
3) His Name

Part 1: A Promise

As God sends Moses along his way toward Egypt, He gives him some very significant promises. V. 10, God says, “I will send you to Pharaoh…”; a reminder that He is in control of Moses’ mission. As soon as Moses questions that promise God replies with another, v. 12: “I will certainly be with you.” Literally, God says, “Because I will be with you.” Why could Moses hope that his calling would be successful? Immediately, God takes control as He answers. It’s because God is with him. This was really all Moses needed to know. God promised to be with him. And yet, he seeks more and asks more, because he’s still not sure yet. Before Moses even gets to the awesome explanation of God’s very name, he already has everything he needs.

The same is true in our lives. We don’t have to have every aspect of God figured out before we can follow Him; we couldn’t even if we wanted to. We have his promise and that’s enough. Yes, there are several promises from God. But they all come back to one, His promise of salvation. To the human ear and mind, there is an element of uncertainty in a promise, even from God. Unless I can put God right before you and let Him speak directly to you, I can only give you promises in His name. But faith changes the uncertainty. To the ears and mind of faith, the promise is an immediate guarantee. That’s the way God wants it to be when we hear His Word. He wants us to believe it as soon as it reaches our ears, even if it comes through one of His representatives.

Part 2: A Sign

To give Moses even more hope, God gives also gives him a sign to go along with His promise. He says in verse 12: “And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” One of the unique things about Moses was that he was qualified to lead God’s people on this journey because of his experience. Remember, Moses was born in Egypt. He was raised in the royal family. He knew the Egyptian life. But, he also knew what is was to be an exile. He knew how God’s people felt as foreigners and outcasts. He made the exodus journey early on in his life, as he fled Egypt after he committed murder. He lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian, cast out of the home he grew up in like an exile. And, as God’s sign testifies to, Moses knew this mountain. Yes, the very mountain that the LORD was presently revealing Himself to Moses was the same mountain where He would soon receive the Ten Commandments. God’s sign to Moses is this: You are ready because you’ve walked this path before. I am not only with you, I have prepared you for this.

Can we say the same about ourselves? So often we are thrust into new and unfamiliar situations. We are tempted by different sins. We regularly feel inadequate to the task of following God. Where is our sign? How come God hasn’t prepared us as He did Moses? He has, you just have to look in the right place. Go back to His promise and trust it. The promise of the gospel shows us how we have been prepared by God; not on our own, but through our Mediator. Jesus walked the path for us. Jesus endured the trials in our place. Jesus experienced the ultimate pain and hardship of sin so we wouldn’t have to in our bodies. He has gone before us. Faith now attaches us to everything that Jesus did. His steps become ours. His sacrifice is in place of our record of iniquities. We share in His triumph. Jesus is the sign that God gives us, the greatest sign for the entire world.

Part 3: His Name

Finally, as a culmination to all of Moses’ questions and doubts, God drops of the hammer; He gives Moses His righteous and holy name. Verse 14: And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'" Remember what it means when God uses His name. It identifies who He is and it describes what He has done and continues to do. When Moses asks God, “Who am I to say sent me?,” he is not just requested the title of God. He’s not just looking for a simple name in the way we so often use it. He’s asking more. He’s searching deeper. Moses is asking a question about God’s ability. “Who is able to bring a message of such authority? What does God stand for?” Moses is sure that without proof of God’s ability, no one will follow him. What Moses didn’t understand was that he should have trusted this as soon as God promised him, actually, as soon as God called him to his mission.

God’s answer gives Moses both a title and a description of God’s authority. If we had to summarize God down to one word, to one name, it would be “existence.” God simply is. He is the one who exists. It is false to say that God is not. God is the being. That’s the simplest way to describe who God is. He is the I AM; the God who exists, who is. Obviously, this makes us think first of the great contrast between God’s name and all of the other false gods. He is, they are not. He is real, they are not. But God’s name tells us even more. Thankfully, we have the rest of His revelation in the Bible to help us understand Him better. We see God is the being, the existence, because He is the Creator. He made life out of nothing. He, who exists, created the existence of everything else. His creative ability is also included in His name, the I AM.

We also see the eternal nature of God in His name. He had no beginning. He has no end. He simply is. He always has existed, always has been. He is the ever present I AM; continuing unchanged year after year; as mortal creatures come and go. God added to this thought by reminding Moses of His eternal nature: The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.' Jesus declared His divinity as God by citing this very eternal quality, as John quoted Him in the final book of the Bible: Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." What Jesus is saying there is, I am Jehovah. I am the I AM God who revealed Himself to Moses.

But most important of all, we see in God’s name a description of our salvation. Just as God is the creator of heaven and earth, because He is the God who exists, so too He is the Author of our salvation because He alone exists as Redeemer. Think of your life before faith as an empty canvas, as nothingness, just as the before creation. God still exists. He had to breathe life into you before you came alive. He created you as the masterpiece you now are by faith. You live because He made you, not only physically, but spiritually. Through the promise and now fulfillment of Jesus’ redemptive work, God calls you forth from the dead as Paul says, “you God made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.” So as you learn His name, don’t just think of Moses at the burning bush, don’t just think of God’s existence or eternity, don’t just think of His creative ability. Think of your salvation, your eternal inheritance with Him in heaven. His name is meant to remind of that.

As we grow in our knowledge of God from His Word we get a clearer picture of who He is, especially when it comes to His name. We’ve seen this in Sunday morning Bible class this year as we’ve studied John’s Gospel. One of the features that John picks up on was how Jesus connected Himself as God by taking this I AM name. It’s the very same thing we saw in Revelation 1:8, which also happened to be written by John. Jesus uses a very particular phrase, often seemingly insignificant to our English words. But what it is is an actual quotation of God’s name from Exodus: I AM. I know you’ve all heard it before. It comes up in some of the most familiar passages in John’s Gospel. Think of when Jesus said,
“I am the bread of life.”
“I am the light of the world.”
“I am the Good Shepherd.”
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And many more… each time revealing His status as the existing God, as Jehovah.

This is the key, you see, that we understand more about than the basics facts that He’s almighty and eternal. The most important thing we can learn about Him is that He is our Savior, but we only see that in Jesus. There are multiple connections between God’s discourse here in Exodus with Moses and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. But if you don’t use what God has given us, His Word, that connection will never be made in your heart.  

What can never be mistaken is that everyone has the same question Moses did, just in different ways.
  • Who is God?
  • How do I know that I have Him?
  • With what authority do I speak?
  • How can I be sure that I’m saved?
Every question about God is ultimately a question about HIs ability. Our answer to all is the same: THE LORD; The True, I AM God is ours. The God that is. He is our Lord and Savior. The God that calls life from nothing. We speak for Him. The God that casts death itself into the abyss. He is our Friend. Instead of asking as Moses did, “Who am I, that I should do such great things for God?” We rather boast, “It’s who I AM is, that makes the difference in my life.” Amen.

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

February 25, 2016

Midweek Lenten Service 3 - February 24, 2016

Luke 22:54-62 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house. But Peter followed at a distance. 55 Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him." 57 But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him." 58 And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59 Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean." 60 But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!" Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." 62 So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

February 21, 2016

February 21, 2016 - Philippians 3:17-4:1

1) The crosses of the world: (pressure, persecution, temptation)
2) The cross of Christ

Dear fellow believers, long ago and in various ways God spoke to people in times past, but in these days He has now speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ; who is the express image of the Triune God, and Word made flesh. Therefore, God speaks to you today through His Son, in the words of Philippians 3:17-4:1:

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame-- who set their mind on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. 4:1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. 

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Think of flattery as a synonym for glory, something that the Bible talks a lot about. Flattery has a crasser connotation in our culture than glory. Often flattery is hollow and subjective while glory is deeper. Is imitation really the highest form of flattery, or possibly even glory? We might think that a compliment or a gift is a better way to show flattery or glory. But the saying really makes a point. Imitation, or conforming your actions to another, is really a much stronger message of respect and honor than a simple word or token. Change does not come easily in people, and when someone can change the way you act or think, it’s pretty powerful.

We think of both imitation and glory today because out text talks about both. The very first word is literally a plea to “imitate.” Going back to the Greek helps us understand the emphasis of this word given by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, the order of words often stresses the importance of the thoughts in each sentence. If a word comes first, it is the dominant thought of the sentence. In our English wording it sounds as if “Brethren” comes first, but it doesn’t. The first word is literally “imitate.”

Paul calls for his fellow Christians to follow his example in how to walk in this world. Paul isn’t prescribing an exercise routine; rather he is talking about how we Christians conduct ourselves, the manner in which we live. We don’t often think of comparing ourselves to others as a good thing. A lot of problems can happen when we do this. Measuring our life with someone else’s may lead us to feel that God hasn’t been as good enough to us. We may covet the skills or possessions that others have when we are making that comparison. If we follow the example of others, we may not make decisions on our own, but rather cave to the pressures that others have for us.

But when Paul says to imitate, it’s not for his own flattery. Paul wants us to imitate him because of the Godly example in in his life. He says that we have a “pattern” to follow in the lives of our fellow Christians. Think of the symbol of a superhero as an example. That symbol represents the actual hero. It is meant to bear testimony to all the qualities that superhero has and what they stand for. When people see the symbol, they are to think of the one it represents.

Paul says the same thing should be happening in the lives of Christians. When others look at us they should see the glory of Jesus. When we desire to follow the example of our Savior, we should be able to follow the way that our fellow believers walk. If this isn’t happening in our lives, we should consider what needs to be changed. If people can’t tell that you’re a Christian, or if the attitudes you see in your fellow Christians are contrary to God’s Word, then we aren’t walking the path that God wants us to walk.

Paul tells us what our symbol or pattern looks like too; it’s the cross of Jesus. Our highest calling and priority in life is to live in the forgiveness of the cross. When others look at the way we conduct ourselves they should see the cross of Jesus clearly, no matter what action we may be invested in at the moment. We aren’t always involved in “religious” activities. In fact, you might say that we rarely are. Normally, the activities of our religion happen one day a week, or at other short moments from day to day. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t witnessing of the gospel of salvation. People should be able to see that in everything we do – from the words we speak to the attitudes we express to the way we manage our time. If we’re only Christians when we doing the religious things in our lives, then the gospel hasn’t really changed us as Paul says it should.

Imitation Under the Cross
1) The crosses of the world: (pressure, persecution, temptation)
2) The cross of Christ

Those who oppose the cross of Jesus really fit into one of two categories: those who serve another idol or false god, and those who serve themselves. These two alternatives end in the same place, rejection of Christ and outright unbelief. But Paul addresses the service of self because that was a major temptation for the people he ministered to. The same is true of us today. We live in an increasingly self-centered and materialistic world. Every day we are presented with tons of opportunities to put the important things of life on the back burner in place of what our own desires want. We are conditioned by media, technology, and even schools of higher education to care only about today and improvement for myself.

Paul has a striking statement for those who would rather serve themselves than Christ. He says they have made their belly their god. There are two aspects to this warning. To serve your belly is to first focus only inwardly. Literally, to be consumed with the very core of your material being. A person who is caught up in this thinking rarely, if ever, considers to needs and concerns of others; for he is focused on his center, his self. This is more the metaphorical aspect of the belly.

The second is more literal, more physical. The belly is that which digests your food and distributes nutrients to your mortal body. The actual word for “belly” means more than just your stomach. It involves the entire digestive process; all the organs that function to create energy for your body. Those who make this belly their god focus entirely on the physical, material things of the world. Literally, the food that you eat to keep yourself alive. Things like that become the sole focus of that person’s being and existence. This is the opposite attitude of faith, where our focus is on the works and words of God.

Serving one’s own belly in either way is the antithesis of Christ’s command to “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).” It’s entirely opposed to Christ’s other admonition to “lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).” Paul stated the difference well in his letter to the Colossians: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 2:2-3).”

The contrast between imitating God and imitating sin is abundantly clear. That’s not what makes it difficult to put into practice. The trouble is that we still are hindered by sin. Therefore, remember the importance of your symbol to imitate: the cross. Paul was as pointed as he could be to the Colossians: “You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” That’s what the cross did. It wasn’t just Jesus’ body that hung on the cross. All of our sins, mistakes, transgressions, and iniquities were there too. The very things that made us who we were before faith, sinners under God’s law, died that same day. Therefore we boast with confidence as Paul says, I have died and been raised by Christ. My life is now hidden, it is protected, with Jesus Christ. We are different now. We are changed.

Those who reject the cross; they remain where they were. They imitate the world, they follow sin, they serve the god of the belly. What glory do they seek? Paul says v. 19: their glory is their shame. There you see the complete foolishness of unbelief. Even non-Christians can recognize it, even if they don’t want to believe it or confess it. Humans are moral creatures. We naturally know right from wrong. Therefore, it makes no sense to boast or glory in that which is shameful. Shameful things are called shameful because no one wants to admit them or be seen practicing them. That kind of imitation does not bring flattery. And yet Paul says, those who serve the belly no longer consider sin shameful but actually boast in it. What is rightfully called sinful by God becomes a source of flattery for the one who serves himself.

It’s a total contradiction, morally, to glory in one’s shame, but isn’t that what we see in the world? When you take God’s law apart, piece by piece, you are left with no moral foundation. When your own wants outweigh God in importance, you have no more reason to listen to His Word. In a world where God is deconstructed by man, what is truly shameful will become what is popular. We, of all people, should understand this best because we are living in it more than any other Christian generation before us. Obviously, the deconstruction of God’s law was happening even at Paul’s time, which is why he needed to address it. But there’s a key difference.

For the most part, Paul was still witnessing to people who were seeking the truth; people who understood that truth existed even if they didn’t realize it came from Christ. Think of the Athenian stoics of Acts 17 as an example. They had an altar to the “unknown god.” They understood that truth existed, they just didn’t know where to look. So some served Zeus, some served Diana, some served themselves, and so on.  We see the same today too, but the major difference is that we live in a culture where people are taught to deny that truth even exists. That was never the case in the Greco-Roman mind. They strove their entire lives to find the truth because they recognized its existence as moral creatures.

Our culture in America was once built upon those same principles, but in more recent times people simply want to deconstruct all things down to the bare elements. Instead of building upon the truths and principles laid out before us, our culture is now systematically doing away with the way things were and allowing all ideas and opinions to exist equally. At least, that’s how it sounds in theory. In reality, not all opinions are valid. There must be a determination of truth. But if all one wants is “free play for everyone,” no lines, rules, or distinctions, then deconstructing the law of God is the best way to achieve it.   

Given the state of the world we live in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imitate God and the Christians before us. In order to take such a stand you have to abide by Christian principles. To imitate God is to defend what His Word says, as absolute truth, not subjective interpretation. To imitate believers before us means to seek confessional unity, not to bypass differences in doctrine. To imitate Christ in our families is to conform our lives to His will. We put others above ourselves. We wait for marriage before we live as husband or wife. We take seriously the marital promise that we made. We obey and respect our parents even if all other teens are rebelling and disobeying. We allow God to determine when life is to be taken or when it is to be spared. These are just a few of the principles of life that God ordains. There is no end to the possibilities of how we could change and twist these principles to serve our own appetites. There’s always opportunities to back down from the difficult, Christ-centered stance so as to save ourselves some backlash and opposition.

In all areas it really comes down to one question: Do you imitate Christ to His glory or do you imitate the world for its glory?

As difficult as it is to be a Christian in our culture, we should be on our knees constantly thanking God. We have been given the blessed privilege of following in the very example He set on earth. And not only that, we deliverance and salvation. Paul calls it “citizenship in heaven.” If you struggle in imitating Christ think about that. That’s a message that can lift you up or bring you back in any situation. Your life belongs in heaven. As soon as you come to faith in Jesus you are a foreigner here in this world. You are a refugee waiting to get home. But you also have work to do. Each of you has a purpose here on earth to present in your being the clearest picture of your Savior. That means what you say, what you think, how you act, and what you choose to do on earth. But despite all that power, you don’t have to do it. You can serve yourself if you want. It’s actually easier to do that very thing. You are allowed to forsake God and glorify your belly.

But then you forfeit that citizenship in heaven and you go back to being a citizen of the world. For many in the world, that feels worth it. Sometimes it might be enticing to us too and it may lead to a more enjoyable and prosperous life. But when time runs out, when the fun fades away, and it does for everyone, where do you want to call home? Who will you trust? There’s a reason that so many of those who spent their entire lives serving themselves, have death bed confessions near the end. Without God, you’ll be mighty lonely when that day comes in your life.

The joy we have today is that we know better now. We don’t have to wait for the desperate feeling of being alone to motivate us toward God. We know Him right now by faith. And the beauty of faith today is that we are privileged to imitate Him now. That’s power from the cross. That’s the change we see in our lives immediately. As Christians we are citizens waiting to leave, but right now we are imitators of our Savior. Truly, that’s the highest form of glory we can offer our Lord. Amen.

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

February 18, 2016

Midweek Lenten Service 2 - February 17, 2016

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. The portion of God’s Word before us this evening comes from John 11:49-53:

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, 50 "nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. 53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

Tonight, we consider our second eye-witness who was present when Jesus was crucified. This individual was not only there, he was the one who planned the crucifixion. Caiaphas was the high priest that year. His father-in-law was Annas, the former high priest, who also questioned Jesus. Caiaphas was perhaps the strongest opponent of Jesus during His ministry. As we hear a first-hand account of what Caiaphas might have been thinking, it’s important that we remember his opposition to Jesus. Caiaphas was unbeliever and we have no reason to believe that he was ever converted. When I speak as Caiaphas remember that he’s coming from the perspective of unbelief and extreme opposition to Jesus and His disciples. But also remember that although Caiaphas was vehemently against Jesus, God was still able to use him to accomplish His will. This man, who was supposed speak God’s truth but viciously attacked it, ended up accomplishing God’s will without even knowing it. Let us hear from the man himself:  

Caiaphas: The High Priest
1) Blindly arrogant in his calling
2) Ignorantly distrustful of the Scriptures

I blame Gamaliel. You want to know why the Christian religion endures to this day? It’s his fault. We had everything we needed. Jesus was dead. Sure, there were rumors of resurrection, but no one credible witnesses stepped forward. Surely, He would have faded to myth like so many “Messiahs” before Him. It was Gamaliel who reignited the flame. Your Bible tells you how. Not long after our Passover victory over the blasphemer, we had his foremost apostle in our custody, Simon, called Peter, and certain others as well. We could have ended the movement there, with one fell swoop. If only we had the courage to do what needed to be done.

When I say “we” I mean the Sanhedrin. For those unfamiliar with our culture, the Sanhedrin was the collective body that represented Israel. It was composed primarily of my colleagues, the Sadducees, and the less qualified Pharisees. The struggle between these two sides was always part of our culture. Pharisees naively clung the ancient Scriptures. Of course, they would; their claim to power rested on the peoples’ understanding of the Scriptures. They were also the scribes; those in charge of producing copies and protecting the sacred texts. Don’t be so foolish yourself to think that they didn’t add their own commandments too.

We Sadducees were the proper representatives of God. Our bloodlines go back to the first high priest, Aaron. Throughout history we have kept God’s people alive and intact, as the chosen nation that we are. We don’t need to foolishly cling to the written words, for we are divinely appointed by God Himself, and we speak with God’s authority. The blasphemer should have known this, and yet He continually disrespected our office by going back to the Scriptures.

You call Him Jesus. I call Him the blasphemer. Do you even know what the name “Jesus” means? It’s a sacred name in our culture, meaning Savior. It’s the most distasteful Aramaic rendering of Joshua, which means “Jehovah saves.” Joshua was the hero who led our people into the Promised Land. What arrogance of this carpenter’s son to compare Himself to that and even call Himself greater! He acts as if the angels of God themselves gave Him the name, Jesus.  

But that’s enough about Him, back to Gamaliel. We had Peter and other apostles in prison; captured and ready to be executed, when Gamaliel gave them hope. I still can’t believe it now. The very insinuation that the blasphemer could be the Messiah was outrageous! That outdated relic of undignified time suggested that we wait and see if the Christian movement would die out. I wanted to end it there, and I could have. But one man only holds so much power. I had a large following as high priest, even more when you consider the allies I made through my father-in-law’s connections, but I couldn’t oppose the chief Pharisee. I had to let the Christians go, and wait. And now look at what this heresy has become.

I know you think I’m evil. You think I murdered your Savior. Go ahead, think what you want. I’ve heard it before. You think it bothers me anymore? I was the real savior. I spared the true Israel from the wrath of the Romans. You think the blasphemer was innocent but can’t you see He was bringing Caesar’s fury upon us? Each day He grew in popularity it piqued the attention of our aggressors. And the Romans were just waiting for a reason to wipe us out. I had to act when I did and take Jesus out of the way. It was the only way my people could be spared. Think what you want about me, I’ll let God judge my actions. You may think I was impatient or that I acted on impulse, but you’d be wrong. This plan was long in the making. Let me tell you how.

Ever since the Romans first suppressed us under captivity they made a mockery of our most sacred religious rites. Foremost of these is the institution of the priesthood. When one becomes a priest, he is a priest for life. When one is elevated to the level of high priest, he occupies that title for life. The Romans began to delegate who would be high priest and they would depose them as soon as they saw fit. So you see, I had to dirty myself in the political affairs of our nation because the Roman mockery of our faith demanded it!

My father-in-law, Annas, served as high priest before me. He was appointed by Governor Quirinius. In all honesty, Annas should not have been high priest, one does not receive that office from man but from God. But what could we do? We were at the mercy of the Roman legislators. When the next governor took power, he immediately deposed my father-in-law. A few others assumed the role of high priest before me, but in the peoples’ eyes, Annas was always the rightful leader. Obviously, this created strife between our people and the Romans. Those Gentile pagans thought they were keeping good order by regularly changing the leadership, but what they really were doing was desecrating our beliefs, and creating a breakdown in authority.

It was into this context that I was given the office of high priest under the Roman governor Gratus. Gratus hated our people and he showed it by switching the high priest whenever he wanted – running roughshod over our beliefs; a systematic display to show who was in control. The only reason I endured his manipulations was because I happened to be high priest when he left office. His replacement: Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn’t like being our governor any more than Gratus, but he wasn’t as strong of a leader. As soon as I met Pilate it didn’t take long to recognize that he could be swayed. He didn’t like confrontation. His morals were weak. Our fathers waited years for an opportunity like this; a time to regain our cultural strength, and now it was upon us, during my reign as high priest. Clearly, God was calling me to act.

Despite my growing power, our people were still divided about who to follow. Many still viewed my father-in-law as the true high priest; and so he also continued in that vocation. I’ll be honest, he was a tremendous help at times, especially when I needed allies in the Sanhedrin. But, his popularity also had its costs. There was a growing sentiment among the people that I was nothing more than his puppet. I had to show my credibility and that I could make the tough decisions on my own. The entrance of the blasphemer provided the perfect solution. I knew I could influence Pilate and show my ability to lead us against the Romans. I simply needed a platform where people would take notice. This supposed Messiah and His band of Galileans gave me just what I needed. I didn’t even have to convince the Pharisees, my most ardent opponents. He took care of it for me. The stage was set, everything we had patiently waited for was upon us. A time to break free from the political captivity of the Romans and a time to showcase my leadership as the sole high priest.     

And so I lead you back to where we began. Those in Sanhedrin who worried about Jesus? Those like Gamaliel? They knew nothing. They lacked the foresight to plan as I had. I knew this day was coming, God Himself allowed me to prophecy about it. That’s right, you hear that Christians? God told me that this Jesus, whom you believe to be His Son, must die for the people. If He is God’s Son, why would His very Father let that happen? Can you not see the fallacy in your belief? No one believes in a God that dies for His people. No other religion is like that, not even of the heathens. You want to boast in that, go ahead, you can live in your foolishness. Yours will be a faith forever tainted by death. Your own symbol, the cross, is emblem of death. That’s supposed to be the power of God? His sacrifice? Ha! If that’s what Jesus came to be then maybe He was right. Because He will forever be known as a humble sacrifice, and you can have that.

That’s what I never understood about Jesus. He preached that we must respect, even love our enemies. He focused on a life to come, instead of worrying about today’s problems. Easy for Him to say, He wasn’t a position of authority like I am. He could afford to play upon the peoples’ grand desires of an afterlife. You think He’s all powerful? His own disciple betrayed Him for a mere 30 pieces of silver, that’s the equivalent of $18 in your currency. Some Savior He was, He couldn’t even control His own misguided followers.

I don’t live in the land of faith and fairy-tale; I’m a realist and I knew what had to be done. That’s why I survived and the blasphemer died. Oh, you say He’s not gone; that’s He’s still with you today in spirit? You claim He came back to life?

Let me guess, you use the Scriptures as your guide? In them you have the history of our people and truth from God, I readily admit that I readily use it. But you also have fanciful stories about sins being forgiven and a bodily resurrection from the dead? And Jesus promises to give you this? That’s certainly a leap of faith, don’t you think? I know one thing for sure. I saw Him die. I made sure to witness it; to see the completion of my hard work. Whatever His zealots decided to do with His body after that is not my concern. Whatever hoax they concocted will surely come to light soon. I will trust what I saw. You can trust what Jesus promises you. We’ll see soon enough who’s right.

You who trust the Scriptures, you really are just like the blasphemer. When I look at your lives it almost as if I see a mirror of His, though you are not as bold as He was. You care about others; thinking that kindness and humility actually mean anything. You quickly discredit your own worthiness, calling yourselves sinners? You bow in repentance? Those who truly have God don’t need such foolishness. Haven’t you learned anything from the Pharisees? It’s all smoke and mirrors. Don’t get me wrong, I love God’s Word, but it’s open to so much interpretation. No one can know what is really true from the Scriptures. That’s why you must listen to me, the high priest! I speak directly for God. I’ve been given the right to make atonement for sins, not some Galilean prophet! And mark my words, this Christian movement will die on the vine and no one will remember that blasphemer. You can put that in your Scriptures.  

As for me, I stood up and defended our people when I was called upon. I will be remembered for that, as it should be. But as a parting message, humor me. Let me ask you this. Why do you believe in this Jesus? Do you really want your life to change because of Him? Look at Peter and the rest of them, it’s only a matter of time before they’re in our grasp again; and be assured, no one will protect them on that day. Do you think salvation comes by faith only? I’ve never heard anything so illogical! God favors the strong. God is with those who act. That is my belief. I will stand before God one day on my merits, not on those of another man.

Was the blasphemer a good man? In many ways He was. He helped the poor. Even I can’t deny His power to perform miracles. He taught with great authority and gained multitudes of followers. I must admit, I was a little taken aback by how patient and calm He was while on trial. I didn’t expect that. I was hoping to at least get Him to crack under the pressure. I also know that many of the people still side with Him, including you. That’s really what bothers me the most, His popularity just won’t go away, no matter what we do. I know I look bad in the eyes of the people, as if I don’t care about them. I’m certainly not as good to them as Jesus was. But not all of us can be fanatical heroes. I must lead the people in strength and power, call my actions “collateral damage” if it makes you feel better. I did what was best for Israel. I will forever be a servant to them, as I should be, as God has called me to be. They may not always understand why I do what I do, just as you surely don’t. But that is my life’s calling.         

If you want a life of lowliness and scorn. If you deny yourself and you repent of sin. If you truly believe that you can’t get to God on your own, then by all means follow Jesus. You can have that for that is all you Christians deserve. As for me, I am the high priest. I don’t need a Savior or a Redeemer. You want to boast in a man’s death, that’s your choice. I don’t need it. Amen.

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

February 15, 2016

February 14, 2016 - Matthew 4:1-11

Theme: Lent is All About Receiving
1) Receiving strength against temptation
2) Receiving grace and forgiveness by faith
3) Receiving the right to serve

Mathew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2 After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached Him and said, "If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 But He answered, "It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." 5 Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." 7 Jesus told him, "It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God." 8 Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to Him, "I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus told him, "Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him." 11 Then the Devil left Him, and immediately angels came and began to serve Him.

So, the season of Lent is upon us. What are you going to give up? For many people, the first thought they have when Lent comes around involves giving something up. There’s a connection here to the text before us today. Just as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, so many choose to fast for the 40 days of Lent. I was curious as to how this tradition came into being. After doing some digging, it seems that fasting was a regular activity in early Church, especially upon the occasions of major festivals. When it came to Easter, people would often fast a few days before in order to focus in on the importance of the holiday. Some people would indeed fast for the entire 40 days of Lent, but most only fasted for holy week. This type of fasting didn’t involve completely giving food up, either. Most people would limit themselves to one main meal per day.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the practice of fasting really gained traction, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church. At this time it was assumed that all Christians would abstain from something during the season of Lent, as a form of penance for their sins. Therefore, the practice of fasting expanding from food only to other areas of life. Today, the idea of fasting has taken on a much broader role; applying to just about anything in life. Some people give up something to try and kick a bad habit in their lives. Others give something up so that they can indulge when the 40 days are over. Still others give something up as a way to connect with Christ, who gave up all for us.

The practice of fasting during Lent has certainly changed throughout the years. But today more than ever it has the potential to draw people away from the real meaning of Lent. If the first thing we think of when it comes to Lent is what we must give up, and many people do, we’ve lost sight of the true purpose. It’s not that fasting is wrong or even bad. But it shouldn’t be a distraction to Christ, our Savior. The very reason that fasting began as a practice in the Church was to help Christians focus on Jesus and the all-important work He accomplished on Holy Week, leading up to Easter morning.

To help us re-center our focus this Lenten season, we look to a story from earlier on in Jesus’ ministry. Before Jesus even called His disciples, Matthew records this moment of fasting and temptation that Jesus endured before Satan. Because of its early occurrence in Jesus’ ministry, we may not think of it as a text that has much to do with Lent. But we see many similarities: 40 days, fasting, and the weight of bearing the hope of salvation for all people.

We see that: Lent is All About Receiving
1) Receiving strength against temptation
2) Receiving grace and forgiveness by faith
3) Receiving the right to serve

The stage seemed a lot bigger on holy week that here in Matthew 4. But the pressure of these temptations in the wilderness was just as big. If Jesus failed here, it would have been just as monumental as if He decided to forego His death on Calvary. The power of Christ’s victory over these temptations was just as strong as His victory cry upon the cross. In both, He showed supreme authority over sin and Satan. And in both, we see the real purpose of Lent. We see what should fill our hearts and minds as we prepare for Easter. What is Lent about? Not what we give up, but what Jesus gave up and what we now receive through it.

In the first two temptations Satan tries to trip Jesus up the same way he tripped Adam and Eve up. He poses an innocent question that is meant to introduce doubt. He doesn’t need to completely flip Jesus in order to succeed; rather Satan knows that he just needs Jesus to do it in His own mind. One moment of doubt about His mission. One time that He doesn’t trust His Father. That’s all it would take, and everything would be ruined. And so Satan says, “If you really are the Son of God… Command these stones to become bread. Throw yourself down and test God’s protection.”

In the first temptation Satan tries to get Jesus to serve Himself. Stop thinking of others. Stop serving as a leader. Give Yourself what You need, take care of number 1. Quit focusing on the kingdom of grace and feed your appetite. This may not seem like a very strong temptation; Jesus certainly spoke it away quickly with Scripture. He had fasted for 40 days and was no doubt famished, but He wouldn’t be tricked by His hunger.

But how often do we fall for this temptation. How often do we serve ourselves first and think only of what we need? It happens a lot. Very often, Satan doesn’t need to be too creative in tempting us, because like dumb sheep we turn this way and that to whatever we want in the moment. We need the reminder of Scripture even more than Satan did. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The second temptation starts the same but involves something more serious. Satan says, “Okay, Jesus, if You won’t serve Yourself, test Your Father to see how much He cares about You!” Throw Yourself sown from this great height, surely He will protect You! He’s even promised it in His Word!” Seems like Satan had a point, he even quoted Psalm 91. But in His response, Jesus shows how Scripture cannot be used to contradict Scripture. Satan deliberately left out the fact that God is not to be tested. His promises come to those who trust in faith, not to the skeptics who seek to play on His good graces. God’s protection and providence are not tools to be used at our own discretion but gifts that we neither deserve, nor have the right to control for our own intentions. The faithful heart is ready to give up all if that is God’s will for his life.

It wasn’t until the third temptation that Satan really let loose. No longer does he pose a question to Jesus. In full wrath and fury he commands the Son of God to bow down, and promises all of the world’s treasures in return. This is really one of the most genuine expressions of Satan in the entire Bible. For once, he’s actually honest about what he wants – worship. He’ll settle for nothing less than supplanting the post that God alone occupies, as supreme leader, authority, and Redeemer in our lives. For the third time Satan presents Jesus with something that could ruin everything and for the third time Jesus responds with Scripture. “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve!”

I wonder, if Satan offered us the same, at our weakest moment, what would we say? Obviously, we would say “no” right? But saying that in church, among your peers, is not the same as being alone in the moment of temptation. People have forsaken God for far, far, less; you and I included. Every moment of sin is an act of devotion to Satan, not God. We don’t have to bow down and worship an image of devil in order to do his will. Like we said before, often he doesn’t even need to get us to this third step before he trips us up. Usually, the simple invitation to serve ourselves is more than enough.

We could go on and on about sins in our lives and how twisted we’ve acted in thought, word, and deed. As much as this section shows the power of Jesus it equally shows our own futility when faced against Satan. Thank God that we’re in Lent. A time to redeem ourselves. A time to show our worthiness despite our failures. A time to give something up to make ourselves better, right? No. A time to receive. Receive pardon and forgiveness. Receive love and grace. Receive strength from Jesus to overcome, strength that He alone has earned by denying Satan and by dying for you on the cross.

If you desire to fast during Lent or any other time, you a free to do that under the liberty of the gospel. Fasting is a welcome way to re-focus; to more deeply consider what God has done for you. But don’t be tricked into thinking that you’re doing something more. Don’t let it be the first or only thing you think of when Lent comes around. Instead, when you think about Lent think about what Jesus gave for you. Three times in front of Satan He denied the temptations that so easily entrap us. But He didn’t stop there. He did even more, so that we could receive even more.

He allowed the sins that Satan brought into the world through us, to be placed on His shoulders. Think about that. He said “no” to sin His entire life. He did what no one else could do. And yet He still carried those sins even though they were not His fault. He felt their pain. He witnessed their effects. He lived and died under their weight. So that not only could you and I have strength against temptations of our own, but also so that we could live with Him forever. That’s what I want you to think about during Lent. Any thoughts of what we give up must come after what Jesus gave up for us.  

Hebrews 4:15: For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.


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

February 11, 2016

Midweek Lenten Service 1

Guest Preacher: Pastor Paul Naumann - Ascension Lutheran, Tacoma, WA www.lutherantacoma.com

Text: Matthew 27:3-5

Hymns: 140, 159, 365, 179

Theme: "I was there!" Eye-witness accounts of Jesus' passion and death
Lesson 1: Judas Iscariot

Podcast: http://redemption-clc.podomatic.com/entry/2016-02-11T09_02_13-08_00

February 8, 2016

February 7, 2015 - Romans 12:1-2

Theme: The Transfigured Sign of our Savior
1) Shown first through Jesus to Peter and John
2) Shown endlessly in the lives of all Christians
Dear fellow believers,

It’s been said that people often change the way they look when a life-altering event happens. If a dating couple breaks up, maybe the girl changes the way she does her make-up or she gets a new hairstyle. Someone recently laid off of work may go on a shopping spree and get new clothes. Those who are recently retired might not worry so much about formal dress but figure they’ve earned the right to let it loose. Every New Year we hear countless stories about things people want to change; it’s because the beginning of a new year is a major turning point.

It’s easy to change appearances, but eventually what was once new becomes ordinary again. It’s much harder to change the heart, but doing so can last a lifetime. God has us consider the change of our hearts today and every day through His Word. That’s what repentance and forgiveness are all about; a change of souls and the innermost part of who we are. Although we confess our sins regularly, as we obviously need to because we sin regularly, the blessings of God’s forgiveness are always with us. We don’t shift in and out of God’s grace simply because we sin, rather, we live with the hope of constantly being in the protection of His grace at all times.

Today we consider a special turning point in Jesus’ life which led directly to hope of forgiveness that we have in His name. We call this the Transfiguration, literally, the changing of His appearance or figure. We read the historical account of this event as Luke recorded it in His Gospel. It was a monumental moment in Jesus’ ministry, and certainly a moment well-worth remembering today.

But, we also seek to learn from it today for our lives. In addition to the Father’s approval, and Moses and Elijah’s presence, Jesus’ appearance was transformed. Luke tells us that His robe became “white and glistening.” Mark adds that it was whiter than any launderer on earth could get it. It were probably blinding to the naked eye, much like Moses’ face after He stood in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. This was an important time for Jesus and for His disciples. There’s a reason that we dedicate a Sunday to the Transfiguration. Peter would later write with a defending tone, telling his readers that they did not follow myths about Jesus but were eyewitnesses of His glory during His Transfiguration.

This event represented the Father’s approval. It represented Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. It even represented the transition to the New Testament as Peter, James, and John stood by and watched. But perhaps most important of all the Transfiguration represented that Jesus was the acceptable sacrifice. He was pure and holy as God and man. He was worthy to pay for peoples’ sins because He lived in complete righteousness. Unlike us sinners, Jesus didn’t need to be transformed because of something He lacked. Rather, He was transformed because He completed all of God’s requirements. And that’s what the white robe and the blinding image meant.

The Transfiguration was a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. His status as the Chosen One of God was now made abundantly clear. After this, His path to the cross began, just our path to the cross begins this Wednesday with the season of Lent.

All those things, in and of themselves, are a lot to handle. We could go on writing and saying much more about those aspects of the Transfiguration. But we also see a special application to our lives. Through Jesus’ transformation and the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s insight through subsequent writers, we are blessed to make a direct link to that magnificent change in our Lord and the change that has taken place in our hearts.

We see this in our text for today, Romans 12:1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

It’s uncanny how many connections exist to Jesus in these verses. The first is how God encourages His people to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Is that possible? How can something be a sacrifice if it still lives? Isn’t the entire purpose of a sacrifice that its life is taken away? That’s true, for every sacrifice except one. There’s where we see Jesus; the one sacrifice that lives. He was killed. His life was stripped away from Him. He willingly went to the altar of the cross. But He lives. He rose again from the dead. Only Jesus is the acceptable living sacrifice and so only through Jesus do we bear that same honor in our lives.

We see another connection in what we offer to Jesus – our bodies. We know both from the Bible and other historical sources that human sacrifice was a fundamental practice in many false religions. In contrast to that kind of offering, God gave His own Son as the one who died. He did exactly what He initially called Abraham to do with Isaac, thereby picturing what Jesus would be. God Himself chose to offer His own body, so that no other human would have to! He doesn’t require human sacrifice, He gives it! With such a thought on our minds we are impressed at the enormous cost of our sins. The repentant heart asks the same question Micah did: With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul (Micah 6:6-7)?

God wants us to feel the weight and the burden of our sins and so He describes it in His Word. He wants us to be left with that empty feeling in our hearts that cannot be covered by anything other than Christ. The despair of our sin, leading us to question what we could possibly offer in return, even the life of our children, creates the very setting in our hearts in which the simple gospel latches onto securely and grows. Now that we know we don’t have to offer our own bodies or those dearest to us, we understand that we can serve God as offerings of a different kind. Our bodies are now living offerings.

How does this make us consider Jesus? Well, obviously He’s the sacrifice. But the Church is also His spiritual body. Throughout the New Testament, believers are called the body of Christ – both because He is the Head of the Church but also because by faith we are uniquely connected to Jesus. By faith we become part of who He is and what He stands for. We share with Him in the blessings of forgiveness and life, and eventually in heaven itself. And we work together, as different individuals, different members, for the common purpose of the Church – to extend the saving gospel to all people.

When God requests that we present our bodies as living sacrifices, the only acceptable way is through Jesus. Only that kind of service, done in faith is well-pleasing to God. Ah, another connection to the Transfiguration. Jesus was declared to be well-pleasing to the Father. We, too, through Jesus present ourselves as well-pleasing servants ready to glorify our Lord.      
But there’s even one more connection between our lives and Christ’s Transfiguration, and it’s the most obvious of all. Paul goes on, “And do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed…” literally, transfigured. Same word, same thought, same Savior. And it’s at this point that we think of our focus today in the sixth commandment. There’s a unique aspect about sins against the sixth commandment. All sins are done in the body in some way, but sins of a sexual nature create a particular unity meant only for the marital relationship.

Paul explains: Don't you know that your bodies are a part of Christ's body? So should I take a part of Christ's body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don't you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). When one sins by committing adultery he or she literally creates a unity with another body that shouldn’t be there. In other words, he conforms himself, both literally and physically, to sin. Those who sin in a sexual manner are not presenting their bodies as living sacrifices. They are not mirroring the transformed image of Christ and representing His glory as the Church, His body.

When we understand the connection between Christ’s Transfiguration and our transformation of faith, we see why breaking the sixth commandment is so serious. It’s almost as if our bodies are serving as temples for the gods of lust and desire rather than the temple of the True God. Adultery takes what is set apart and dedicated for Christ and unites it with a ploy and temptation from Satan. And on top of it all, adultery leads to a host of other sins which ravage our lives.

Peter also wrote about the danger of sexual desires in his first letter. It sounds very similar to our verses from Romans: As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:14-15). He goes on to say that these lusts wage war against the Christian’s soul. It’s a constant battle and constant struggle of which we are all involved.   

The Transfiguration of Jesus is an important reminder for us when it comes to how we use our bodies, and especially when guarding against sexual sins. But the best thing to remember is that it is also a source of strength and comfort. The same Jesus whose appearance was radically changed on that mountain is the same Jesus who lives and abides in you. We, as a Church, are His body. He is the same Jesus who comes to you in the Word of God and calls you to faith and righteous living in the gospel. And His bright appearance stands as a testimony of your own forgiveness just as much as it was a measure of His own holiness. Just as He was changed, so you and I are changed too. By faith in Jesus you are not conformed to the world, joining your mortal bodies with sexual sins and lusts or any other deviance. Rather, you are transformed; each of you are transfigured by the grace of Jesus. All because after the turning point of the Transfiguration in His ministry, He didn’t ascend an earthly throne or pursue monetary riches. He didn’t ride off into the sunset living happily ever after. He went the path of the cross in order to earn that transformative power for each of you.

With that victory in our hearts by faith, it moves to our hands and our lips and every other part of our bodies. Instead of being controlled by the lusts of the flesh, we are changed. We now have power to say “no” to the temptation that enters our minds. You have power to live committed lives to your spouse or to wait until the appropriate context of marriage. You can exist and prosper despite the downward trend of the world we live in. And along the way you can help effect the same change in the lives of others. Listen to what Paul told the Romans earlier, because it applies to you just the same: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

We are living under the power of God’s grace, the Transfiguration power of Jesus. It’s forgiveness that makes the change, not the weight and pressure of the Law. Remember Luther’s words from our confession excerpt: “For harmony is one of the principal points that enkindles love and desire for chastity, so that, where this is found, chastity will follow without any command.” Luther’s describing the harmony of love in a marriage, which is to mirror the love that Christ showed the Church. This is the love of the gospel, the power that transforms your life to serve God and to resist the lusts of the flesh.

Can it really work? Is the gospel really powerful enough to lead you to victory over the lusts of the flesh? Look no further for an answer than the theme for today, the Transfiguration. Can you visualize the splendor and power of Jesus? Can you imagine the brightness of His appearing? It’s a pretty strong sign, and it’s also what He does for all sinners who feel the crushing weight of the Law. He changes them. Transforms them from servants of the burden to victors. Can the gospel work? Absolutely. But, often we block it out because we doubt it even comes to us.

Still question the power of the gospel? Remember the case in Corinth that Paul addressed; a type of sexual immorality so gross that it wasn’t even present among the unbelievers – happening among believers! Paul tells us the reason he was optimistic for change: And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.

The gospel leads the way because the gospel makes the transformation. Don’t conform to the world by automatically doubting that power. God has used the same gospel from the beginning of the world to change people who went through the same things you and I do. Today, we need to use that power more than ever. God lead us to do that. Amen.

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