Recent Message

Mark 13:32-37  "WATCH FOR THE MASTER!"
First Sunday in Advent - Nov. 29, 2020

   “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
   “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

   If you knew that you only had three months left to live, how would it change your life? What would you do differently in your remaining days? Would you reserve some of those precious few weeks binge watching the eight seasons of that Netflix series you’d heard so much about but had put off viewing, or would you be on the phone constantly, ringing up friends from school days and family members whom you’d meant to stay in touch with, but hadn’t? Would you bust out some classic works of literature that you never got around to reading such as Leo Tolstoy’s  “War and Peace” – only 1400 pages, or Wm Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” – only 1250 pages, or would you perhaps spend more time delving into the Good Book to be strengthened during your last days? Would you cash out that lifetime of assets you’ve acquired and spend it all on those extravagances you’ve secretly wished for, or would you sit down soberly to settle your affairs and do some estate planning to benefit your family and the Lord’s church? If you knew that your time on earth was ending, you’d probably develop a whole new set of priorities, knowing that soon you would be standing before God’s throne of judgment. Or at least —   that’s what we think we would do.    

   I think of the times my parents left me at home with my brothers and my sister and gave us a list of things to get done while they were away. Without fail, we never got to those assigned tasks right away. Instead we putzed around here, wasted time there, then tried to cram everything in the last fifteen minutes. Most of us have done this a time or two in our lives with relatively unimportant stuff. Because we’re human, plagued with the frailties and foibles of a sinful Old Adam, we all do this with the most important stuff. 

   As Jesus just told us, we don’t know when he is going to return. We don’t know when the end is going to come. This should have us constantly on watch —   more than if we knew the exact day and time. But we tend to live by the adage offered tongue-in-cheek by the chronic procrastinator:  “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Whether it is the coming of our death or the coming of Christ, we always think we’ll have more time.

   When we are children we’re only thinking about what is going to happen the next day. When we are teens, we assume that nothing can harm us and have our whole life ahead of us. In our 20’s we’re focused on establishing ourselves in the world and don’t have time to think about the end. We reach the 30’s and now kids have taken over our lives. In our 40’s we still think that we’re young and have much life left to enjoy yet. In our 50’s the kids are growing up and we see them become adults, so that takes priority. In our 60’s we start thinking about retirement, relaxation, and spending time with the grandkids. Even in our 70’s and beyond we can still get wrapped up in the day-to-day and figure “the end ain’t here yet!’” So we let our guard down and any watching we do is only with our peripheral vision. Getting serious about Christ and our relationship with him can always wait.

   But Jesus is quite clear on how our time should be spent, what our watching for his returning consists of. We are to be diligent in staying vigilant. We are to be time-conscious and conscientious in making optimal use of the life-time God has allotted each of us. We are always be living as though Jesus were coming back tomorrow, always be living as though Jesus were on his way right now, always be living with Jesus on our minds.

   Consider how Jesus makes that point here in the passage before; he says. “Be on guard! Be alert!” In other words, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by this world, for it is passing away … it’s not going to last. To borrow one of those Kwik Trip video gas pump expand-your-vocabulary-words:  all of the things of this earth are ephemeral – ‘here today and gone tomorrow.’ Is that concept firmly fixed in our minds? Do we operate under that principle and with that perspective? Or do we find ourselves obsessed with the next generation technology, the next gadget, the next theatrical release, the next vacation or long weekend get-away, the next little bit of fun we can have? Do those activities take precedence over the next encounter with the Lord, which we are told in Scripture is coming?

  “It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task...” Our primary task in this world is to be Christians, and to live as Christians, and to do as Christ would have us do. In our mixed-up minds we think our primary function is to be human, to live like the rest of the world. So we look to work and to build, to consume and to collect, to indulge and to enjoy, when we should be looking to serve and to help, to love and to protect, to learn and to grow in the Lord.

   “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ...”. We should always be looking and longing for Jesus’ return, always anticipating his arrival – like a child waiting for Grandma and Grandpa to arrive for Christmas (except maybe if turns out to be a ‘COVID Christmas’ like our ‘COVID Thanksgiving’ when we don’t actually want ’em around in person).
   Is Jesus’ second coming sharply in focus or kinda fuzzy? How have we fared in our expectant waiting on, say, a scale of 1 to 10?  … 10 being eagle-eye scanners of the sky look Jesus’ return and 1 being yawning, droopy-eyed, really-need-another-jolt-of-java inattentive watchers? We’d like to rate ourselves maybe in the mid-range, 6-8. But, clearly, more often than not – we’ve failed in this all-important assignment. We don’t even accomplish a few of the tasks assigned, much less all of them. 
We are to be glorifying God by the way we live and by each decision we make. We are to be heavenly-minded, even though we live in a worldly world, yet we lack the resolve, the strength, and the courage to carry out our assigned duties —   and often don’t even want to. 

To our shame, we must admit to sleep-walking through life, perhaps not blatantly ignoring the commands of God, but definitely going about without the awareness of his return and the responsibilities asked of us. By doing so we not only put ourselves in danger, but thumb our nose at his warnings and dishonor his Word. So we condemn ourselves to an eternity not of rest, but of endless anguish and torment – as our sins would fast-track us for hell. 

   With this realization could easily come despair. With this revelation we could easily lose all hope. With these failures brought to our hearts it would seem pointless to bother watching anymore. Why would we care at all about Christ’s coming, if it will only be for our doom? But Jesus, our Master is not a heartless lord. Instead he is a kind and compassionate lord, of a gentle and winsome spirit, who does not desire anyone to perish, but rather to come to a knowledge of his grace. 

  We poor sinners look forward eager to his coming, because our forgiveness does not depend on our goodness, but on the blood that Jesus shed on the cross.  We miserable slaves can’t wait for him to arrive, because our names have been written in his Book of Life – through no holiness of our own as if we belonged to be listed there, but because Christ was perfect in our stead and we are counted righteous in him.  We weak children are longing for his return because we’re not required to scratch and claw our way out of hell, rather Jesus – through his resurrection –  rescued us from that bottomless pit of misery. We foolish servants are on pins and needles for the Prince of Peace to show, not because we – in our brilliance (!) – have discovered the Gospel of Christ, but because the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and enabled us to believe in God’s Son. We poor sinners are overjoyed at the thought of his glorious coming because when we stand before the judgment throne of God we will not rest on our own laurels, but on the saving work of Christ. 

   Over the years some have wondered why God would not tell us when he would come. Some have even tried to figure it out for themselves, claiming that they discovered the day and the hour, because they were convinced that God wouldn’t keep this kind of info from us. But not telling us was the most loving thing that he could do. He has not told us the day and the hour so that we don’t grow lazy and indifferent, so that we don’t take things for granted.  Rather, our Master keeps his coming secret that we may be on guard and as watchful as we possibly can.  

  It may seem at times that this watching and waiting is too much. With so much to distract us, so much to deter us, we are doomed to fail. But whatever the tasks we have been given, we can be sure our Master will supply the wherewithal to be faithful and fruitful. Consider the help he supplies – not boxes of NoDoz® or 5-hour Energy® shots to improve our alertness. For ready access, we have the assurances of God’s forgiveness, love and acceptance in his powerful, life-imparting Word. In addition our Savior has given us the tangible assets of his sacraments – Baptism and Lord’s Supper, the storehouses of his zeal and his Spirit to which we can come again and again. The very same Word that speaks with the voice of God, that promises blessing without end, that empowers and enlightens our faith – through these Means of Grace our righteousness is restored and our souls are reinvigorated. Our joy and our longing for Christ to come again and for us to meet him face-to-face is increased a thousand fold!  

On what day will your house be burglarized? On what day will you get struck by an inattentive driver who is texting? On what day will the doctor tell you that the tumor is cancerous? On what day will you say farewell to this earth? We don’t know the answer to any of those questions. The future is unknown to us —   and out of our control. The important thing is not when or if these things will happen, but whether we will be ready for them.

   Today, as we enter upon another Season of Advent, Jesus tells us, “Watch!” We may not know the day or the hour when Jesus is coming, but we know – without a doubt (!) – that the Master is coming.

  Dear friend and fellow watcher, carry on as a Christian, living out the love that Christ has showered upon you. Watch for the Master with the grace and strength he provides, and you will indeed find great joy when he comes. 


Thanksgiving Eve - Nov. 25, 2020

   Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

   When our daughter called a week ago today and asked if we had settled on our plans for Thanksgiving, I said: “Your mom and I thought we’d just stay home and have Thanksgiving ourselves.” She responded in a cheerful tone, “Oh, good! Martin is going to be glad to hear that.”

   That reaction – under normal circumstances – might leave a parent wondering, “What did we say or do, or not say or do, to make our kids not want to spend the holiday together?” But you all know where she was coming from. Nothing’s been normal for nine months now. I’m sure we are all hoping that the scaled-back Thanksgiving holiday is a one-off, never to be repeated in our lifetimes.

   If you are looking for the familiar —   old knock around the house blue jeans or sweatpants comfortable, I can offer you tonight’s gospel. It is the traditional reading for the lectionary series used in most of our congregations, Luke’s account of that one extraordinarily appreciative leper who was a Samaritan and the nine lepers who were – to put it charitably – challenged in the thanksgiving department.

   A short shrift consideration of this text could lead to a less than satisfying interpretation, something like —    “We are so blessed, yet not thankful enough. Jesus was always thankful. He died on a cross so we too often ungrateful people can be more thankful going forward.” A message with such a misguided moral wouldn’t really be edifying. I actually think it would leave us deflated.     

   This is a fantastic passage to consider on Thanksgiving Eve! On close examination, we see a lot that speaks to our situation. This Scripture teaches us WHY CHRISTIANS GIVE THANKS in the first place. All ten lepers had great reason – in Christ – to give thanks and we have far more reasons – in Christ – to give thanks.
   Context provides helpful insight into Jesus’ miracle and the gratitude it prompted in the heart of the Samaritan leper who returned to give thanks.
  Jesus had just visited Mary and Martha at the death of their brother. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. One of the most astonishing and public wonders Jesus had performed, it created quite a stir. The Pharisees convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin to address the Jesus issue. Here is where they hatched the plot to kill him. Because of this, John chapter 11 tells us Jesus withdrew from Bethany in Judea to the village, Ephraim, along the border between Samaria and Judea.

   Some Bible commentators speculate that it was outside Ephraim that the ten lepers met Jesus. Others place this encounter several weeks later in Jesus’ travel itinerary, after an interlude spent in neighboring Perea, the adjacent territory just across the Jordan River.

  In any event this healing fits into the closing months (even weeks) of Jesus’ ministry. Shortly, Jesus would join the throngs of pilgrims headed up to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ last Passover. It was fortunate these men had opportunity to meet Jesus and approach him with their plea for healing. It’s this that Dr. Luke reports, telling us, “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him."

   Previously, in Luke chapter 5, we hear about the healing of a single leper, one man. Aferwards we're told, “… the news about him (Jesus) spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses.” Had these ten men heard of that earlier miracle? If so, it only emboldened them in their approach! Here was the one person in Israel who could cure them: Jesus of Nazareth! These men believed Jesus had the power to cure them! He could end the awful isolation forced upon them. For too long they’d been quarantined – separated from society. Life had been anything but normal! Sound familiar?

   Hold on —   there's more! Leviticus chapter 13 is where you find the protocols to be followed in the case of a person diagnosed with leprosy. It was an incurable disease and regarded as highly contagious. The leper would have to wear torn clothes and wear their hair unkempt – ruffled Albert Einstein-like so they would be easy to spot. They would have to wear a face-covering over their mouth and cry out “Unclean!” in the presence of others. Lepers could associate with one another – in their own little pod, but with nobody else, not even family. The ten “… stood at a distance …”. Rabbis decreed that a leper had to remain four paces (12 feet) away. Que the Twilight Zone music.

   “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’” They must have appeared an odd chorus of bandaged beggers! Either because the disease had affected their vocal cords or because their words were muffled by the face-coverings they wore, the ten shouted in unison to get Jesus’ attention. Of course, the omniscient Son of God was very much familiar with their dilemma and knew what they were seeking.

   Mercy is the kind of love that is provoked by the need and misery of someone. They called Jesus by name, indicating that they are aware of who he is – Jesus’ reputation has preceded him. They identified him as “Master,” the only occasion this word is used in Scripture by someone not a full-time disciple of Jesus. Clearly they were convinced Jesus had the ability to restore them to health, to decree their living death null and void.

   And Jesus took pity on them ... his Savior’s heart filled with compassion. “When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’” Jesus knew what their life was like – the sadness and loneliness and helplessness and hopelessness of their situation. He also saw their spiritual condition as is Jesus can see directly into the human heart. In answer their pleas Jesus issued a simple command: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Yes, they were to go get tested. The command suggested that the testing would reveal that none of the symptoms of their disease would be discovered and they’d be pronounced clean. Except they weren’t yet —  as they stood there in Jesus’ presence.

   Often Jesus’ miracles provided immediate healing and instant amazement. Here, his approach was to lead these men to trust his word without any real evidence. Did the transformation from unclean to clean happen in the first ¼ mile or ½ mile or a full mile or further down the road? We don’t know, only that Jesus miraculously cleansed them, and the miracle changed everything!

  They were delivered from what would’ve been a slow, painful death. They could return to society; the quarantine was lifted! They could unmask! If they had families, they could hug their children and wives without fear of spreading the disease. They were returned to full health, no doubt feeling the renewed energy and strength in their once frail bodies. They could go to work again, unshutters their business, and begin to repair their financial lives. This was more than just about physical wellbeing. They had received a second chance at life! They had so much for which to be thankful – all ten equally blessed!

   But not all ten responded in the same. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.” Although there were requirements of the law to be met which Jesus told them to do, one man went back. The joy and gratitude he felt because Jesus had mercy on him compelled him to return and express his gratitude to Jesus. He said, “Thank you!” over and over and over again. But didn’t just say it; he shouted it “in a loud voice,” with what otherwise might’ve been construed as an embarrassing boisterousness. His thankfulness could not be contained within his heart; it had to come out. And it did!

   The past nine months have been difficult for us here this evening —   and that’s understatement! Living through a pandemic is no cakewalk … but one of most frustrating, emotionally draining experiences we’ve ever had. Yet, others have suffered worse. Some have lost their jobs a second time around now. Some have lost a family member or a friend. Being thankful under such conditions is challenging. But are we Mother Hubbards staring a bare cupboard of blessings??? We are in a four week, mandated “pause,” but has God paused his grace and his goodness, telling us, “Oh, you can’t enjoy them until we get the case count down”? No, of course not. The Samaritan leper now cleansed had a reason to go back and fall facedown at Jesus’ feet and say thank you – and so do we, reasons in truth in abundance.

  WHY DO CHRISTIANS GIVE THANKS? The foremost reason is because of what God has accomplished for us ... our salvation! He has enabling each of us, now and forevermore, to confess personally, “Jesus is Lord of my life.” In the words of Luther, “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.” As believers in Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of anything! Satan may rage and accuse (he’s good at that); but it’s all blather. A pandemic may flare and frustrate hoped for holiday plans; but infinitely greater festivities are in the offing and will last into eternity. Nothing can alter or undo our soul’s salvation, because our Savior-God holds us in the palm of his hand. We are secure – now and always. Jesus, the source of every blessing is why we give thanks.

   Our Lord did not allow himself to be disappointed by the meager response he received. He did note it. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner.” The original literally, has Jesus asking more abruptly, “Were not the ten healed? But the nine, where?” The nine who took Jesus at his word and headed off down the road to the priests were MIA in the thanksgiving department. Jesus wasn’t disappointed in the Samaritan, it pleased Jesus to see him there at his feet.

   Did you ever think about to whom Jesus put that question? “Where are the nine?” Who was supposed to answer it?  It wouldn’t have been fair to ask the Samaritan to account for his associates’ whereabouts. Their failure to return and give thanks wasn’t on him. Was it for the sake of his disciples who’d witnessed Jesus’ interaction with the ten and had a grasp of that miracle-in-the-making? Possibly. Or just might Jesus, looking across the centuries, have had us in mind, and all who would have occasion to reflect on this account? Did Jesus ask this question so that we could mull our response and see as our role model and mentor in thanksgiving in that unnamed Samaritan?

   “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”  That was Jesus' commendation to that man. You can’t help but picture Jesus’ outstretched hand reaching out to lift that Samaritan to his feet and with that word of benediction send him on his way. Some blessings are readily apparent, fairly ease to distinguish. Others require a different sort of discernment, a vision or perspective that the Holy Spirit alone gives. When that one grateful leper looked up and his eyes met Jesus’, he saw more than his healer. That thankful Samaritan saw his Savior and understood exactly how great was the blessing he had received that day.
   The blessings we are able to check off on our personal list of good things I’ve received this Thanksgiving deserve a heartfelt “Thank You” to God. But the Giver of those good things, the “bounteous source of every joy” as we name him in one of our Thanksgiving hymns —   God himself in his grace and goodness is why we Christians give thanks. Having Jesus living in our hearts by faith means we have everything we need for this holiday and every day of our lives.


Matthew 27:27-31  "THIS IS YOUR KING!"
Christ the King - Nov. 22, 2020

   Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

   Setting aside the last Sunday of our church year under the name "Christ the King" is a recent innovation. It doesn’t originate with the Lutheran church. A Roman Catholic pope, Pius XI, actually established it about a century ago. He felt the people of his day had shut the rule of Jesus out of their lives. He wrote his encyclical at a time when the world was just coming out of WWI, one of the worst conflicts humanity has experienced up to that point. Twenty million soldiers and civilians were slaughtered across the battlefields of Europe.

  Pius XI felt that the cause of all the disorder and upheaval was that people had neglected to let the rule of Jesus guide them in their thinking and their actions. As a remedy he said there should be an annual celebration to focus on the fact that Jesus is our King. His encyclical went on to list all sorts of prescriptions on how all the social ills of the day might be addressed. Included were things like fair labor practices, even how to bring about world peace. While we might disagree with those applications, we don’t deny the basic premise:  Christ is our triumphant king … 
ruling all of history in the interest of the salvation of souls; ... ruling in our hearts, feeding us with the means of grace so that we grow in faith and become better subjects of his kingdom and learn to serve others selflessly; ... ruling in his heavenly kingdom with all his saints, as we heard last Sunday on Saints Triumphant. 

   Sadly, these facts aren’t foremost in people’s minds. Even we can’t claim to live day to day in an awareness of Jesus’ reign. What I mean is that we are not immune from thoughts of skepticism and fear as we see the conflict and turmoil sinful humanity churns out. We are tempted to question Jesus’ reign and wonder how he could possibly be a king over this. 

   Our gospel takes us to the moments following Jesus’ condemnation on Good Friday. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, has yielded to the demands of a mob, spurred on by the chief priests and leaders of the Jews.  Jesus has been sentenced to die on a cross. But first the Roman soldiers decide to give this ‘king’ the royal treatment. They strip him of his clothes. They take an old, tattered cloak worn as part of their uniform and drape it over his shoulders as a robe. They weave a crown of thorns and press it down on his head. They prop a stick in his hand as his scepter. They kneel mockingly before him. They spit on him and hit him with that staff. 

   Seeing Jesus treated this way – abused, manhandled by these ruthless soldiers – leaves one with the impression that he is hardly king-like. No one comes to his defense. He appears weak and powerless – the delusional lunatic, the phony, that those soldiers judged him to be. Here is the dilemma that derails many in their thinking about Jesus’ kingship. Even we find it hard to claim this Jesus as our King. 

  But, remember who this is —   the sinless Son of God! The all-powerful and eternal God is being beaten and mocked at the hands of puny, sinful men. Jesus could have retaliated and had legions of angels come to his aid. He could have destroyed these men with a mere thought. What we see here is a sad reality —   until we consider why it is happening, why it had to happen, and for whom Jesus is enduring this in silence and full submission. “This IS your King!”

   A 19th century poem set to music as a carol tells how “Love came down at Christmas.”  What we see in this stark scene is love, the love the King of heaven and earth has for us. What Jesus said to Pilate about his kingship just before this reveals why he came.  “I am, as you say, a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (EHV). Jesus came to be a King for us unlike any other.

   One of the roles of a king throughout history has been to protect his people. A king raised up and supplied an army to defend his people. In Old Testament times the king even led his army into battle. He would not sit idly in his throne room. He would be out on the battlefield, alongside his soldiers. Just so the Son of God could not remain in heaven’s throne room. In love for us sinners Jesus appeared on the battlefield of this world to wage war for us.

  The Mark Twain novel The Prince and the Pauper tells the story of a prince of England who trades places with an impoverished youngster from the streets of London. The two boys live each other’s lives and experience life from a different perspective than each is familiar. There’s more to the plot-line, but the point is Jesus is like that prince —  willingly setting aside his power and glory and humbling himself to live the impoverished life of a sinner, though he had no sin. Jesus still retained his title of King, but with his divine power and majesty hidden. Thus he entered the fray, did battle with sin by living perfectly life under the law his Father had given and then he died an innocent death.   

   All of this Jesus did alone. Unlike an earthly king, Jesus didn’t come to rally his troops and lead us into battle. He came to fight alone. That’s how we see him here. He walked the way of the cross by himself, bearing our sin and guilt. Above the timbers that formed the strangest of thrones was posted a sarcastically written sign:  “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” On that cross Jesus suffered an excruciating death and hell itself – abandonment from God his Father. He did this to win us back from the devil who since the Fall had exercised his diabolic control over sinners. Jesus shed his holy, precious blood to rescue us, redeem us. A single verse of Scripture says it so simply:  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” That’s a King who loves us, who would go to any extreme to fight for his people.

   The Jesus who allowed himself to be treated this way —  abused and tortured by the hands of sinful men —  is the One of whom St. Paul wrote:  He is seated “at his [God the Father’s] right hand in the heavenly realms, far above every rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” We sang about that a moment ago:  The head that once was crowned with thorns / is crowned with glory now; / a royal diadem adorns / the mighty Victor’s brow.
  But it doesn’t always seem as if Jesus is ruling over everything, does it? Rather, the world appears to be spinning out of control – a locomotive with no engineer in the cab heading at breakneck speed toward that broken trestle and sure destruction. Sin runs rampant. Satan has his way in the lives of so many people. Even we often feel as if we are engaged in a losing battle with our Old Adam.

  Yet, think of it this way: picture a city under siege. The enemy army surrounding the city won’t let anyone or anything come in or go out. Supplies are running low. The citizens are fearful. But in the dark of the night, a spy sneaks through enemy lines and makes his way into the city. He tells the inhabitants that in another place the main enemy force has been defeated and its leaders have already surrendered. The people inside the city don’t need to be afraid because it’s only a matter of time until those enemy troops on the outside learn the same news and lay down their arms. Momentarily it appears that we are surrounded by all these spiritual forces of evil bent on destroying us. But, things are not as they seem. Christ was victorious at Calvary, defeating Satan and his minions there and soon that fact will be apparent to all.

  When Pilate inquired about Jesus’ kingship, he heard the reply, “My kingdom is not of this world” and Jesus kingdom is not. It does not operate according to accepted principles. There’s no gleaming throne, no impressive palace, no well-armed marshalled forces (at least to be seen) drawn up and awaiting the king’s orders. We don’t to see any physical evidences of our king’s reign, but he does reign – among us and within us.

  In ascending into heaven, Jesus did not disappear into the clouds to be forgotten or go into hiding. Rather he assumed the position that was always his, at the right hand God, where he serves in majesty and might every day as our Shepherd-King (Ezekiel’s description of him in our opening dialogue). Our Shepherd-King guides and guards us. He binds up the wounded; he strengthens the weak. As the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep. He leads us and speaks us through his Word. He protects us from the devil, who like a roaring lion would try to devour us. He supports us and stands at our side, empowering us to overcome the Tempter’s temptations. When we do succumb because of our inborn weakness and our failure to let him lead, he recalls and restores us. This is what our King is doing for us right now. I may sometimes seem as if we’re losing the battle but, as promised, he is the Mighty Victor!

   Look to his Word and there you will find the uplifting good news of your forgiveness. There you will be strengthened in your faith. Through the cacophony, the din of this present world, focus and train your ears to hear the promises he makes to you:  “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” “Surely I will be with you even to end of the age.” These are promises he will keep.

   Yes, this same Jesus – who was mocked, beaten and died at the hands of sinful men – is the One who of whom it is written, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord …”. One way or another everybody – unbeliever and believer alike –will acknowledge him to be King of kings and Lord of lords, either grudgingly or in grateful thanksgiving.

  On the Last Day Jesus will finally and forever put an end to his enemies’ reign of terror. Revelation reminds us that we are living in the twilight of this present world’s existence. Signs of that fact are all around us and pointing, seemingly with greater clarity, to The End. During this time, the enemies of Christ and his people will rage more and more fiercely and we, the King’s subjects, will have to face them. But, remember —   Jesus has overcome every force of evil; their doom sealed at Calvary. Jesus prepared his disciples for this by telling them: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So we are victorious with Jesus. His called, chosen and faithful followers, you and I will be victorious too in The End.  

   We are blessed to be the subjects of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are blessed to experience his reign now and in the life to come. Shortly (?), all struggle and strife will be over. Sin and the effects of sin will disappear ... not even to be a distant memory. The tiny bit of limited power Satan still has will be stripped from him. And Jesus will reign forever and ever, with you and me alongside him. 
   Could the Jesus we see here in our gospel, beaten and bloody, mocked and despised —   could he be our King? Could he possibly hold sway over this sinful world? Could he be the Victor ... our salvation, our life, our light? HE IS!

   To him be all honor and glory now and forever! 


Saints Triumphant – Nov. 15, 2020

   “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight     and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
   "Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

   Almost ten years ago a book by publisher Thomas Nelson topped the New York Times best seller list for seven weeks in a row. It was an usual accomplishment for the company because the firm is the world’s leading producer of Bibles —   and inspirational books. The easy-read, 163 page non-fiction work, though, captured the public’s attention and word of mouth, more than anything else, was responsible for its popularity. The title of the book? Heaven is for Real.

   The author, Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, tells what happened after 4-year old Colton, their son, was rushed into emergency surgery with a burst appendix. The youngster had what we’d call an out-of-the-body experience. Colton vividly recalled the amazing he saw and heard in heaven and related them to his father. He described heaven as a fantastic place, better than Disney World. He spoke about incidents where he met people he couldn’t have known personally:  a great-grandfather who’d died long before he was born, an unborn sister he never knew about because he had died in a miscarriage, and he had an up-close encounter with Jesus. Colton’s story was made into a full-length movie a number of years later with the same optimistic message … that the best is yet to be.

  On this second-to-last Sunday of the church year, our thoughts go in the same direction – to what heaven will be like and to the joys our loved ones who’ve died in faith are enjoying. They are God’s saints, his ‘holy ones’ in Jesus – as are we. “Saints of God” is the designation you and I have received.

   But these are challenging truths to try to wrap our minds around, aren’t they?  … challenging because although we are rational beings we lack the intellectual capacity to grasp fully the blessedness of heaven. Life without end in the presence of the God who created and redeemed us??? … That’s beyond anything we know! Perfect bliss??? That’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine. In a line from the first stanza of Jerusalem the Golden, we sing … “I know not, oh, I know not / What joys await us there, / What radiance of glory, / What bliss beyond compare." For information about what awaits us as believers —   we need to be taught by God. And the Spirit of God does that today, providing us with at least partial answers to the question, “What’s heaven going to be like?” While the answers we receive today might not totally satisfy our curiosity, we’ll have to be satisfied and should be because Colton on this count is right …heaven is for real!

   In these verses the prophet Isaiah serves as a mouthpiece for the Lord. In a unique way he explains what’s not going to be found in heaven. Certain things are going to be absent – and purposely so because they don’t fit, they don’t belong to that place of endless peace and joy which God has prepared for his people. From the negative, then, we can deduce the positive. Elsewhere Scripture has descriptions of the hereafter from Jesus and his apostles approaching this topic from different angles in an effort to get us to understand. Heaven is described as a feast or a banquet – like a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trappings and the family we love. We can understand that, even though heaven isn’t exactly an elaborate multi-course meal. Heaven is described as a wedding, an intimate, loving, emotion-filled day. We can understand that, even though heaven isn’t exactly like a grand wedding reception. Here, near the end of Isaiah’s prophecy, we learn that heaven has a lot of nots (n-o-t-s’s).

   The Lord begins, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” Right off the bat we see why it’s hard for us to understand what heaven is like, a near exercise in futility. God says it will all be new. Dying and going to heaven … or being caught up into heaven as 1 Thessalonians 4 describes should Jesus return in glory first … is not going to be like moving into a remodeled apartment where the leaky sink has been fixed, the mold around the tub scrubbed off, the stained carpeting removed and the odd smell taken away.  Heaven is not “earth remodeled” – but a complete teardown job. Heaven is not a sanitized version of what we experience here on earth. It’s something totally different, totally new, something God defines here by what it doesn’t have.

   Here’s the first ‘not’ (n-o-t) of heaven:  “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” What kind of emotional baggage did you carry into church with you this morning? Any of you have any “big sins” that are buried deep in your closet and no matter how hard you try and move on from them, forget them, they just keep coming back to haunt you? Did any of you walk in here with a painful memory, a time when sin or death or heartbreak became a very real thing for you, and no matter how much time passes you can’t help but cringe and feel a little terrified because you know firsthand how much hurt you can feel in this world and that reminds you that it could happen again at any moment? All of us carry mental and emotional baggage through this life, but not into heaven.

   Do you want to know what heaven is going to be like for you? —   or what it is like right now for that loved one of yours who is already there? It is not baggage-filled!!! All those painful memories, all those guilt ridden recollections will be gone for you, and they’re already gone for those who have gone before us – never to be remembered. Welcome to the nots of heaven! Pretty good first ‘not’ (n-o-t) isn’t it? “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Instead painful or shameful memories haunting us, God says to us:  “… be glad and rejoice forever, in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” Scripture Bible often uses Jerusalem or the New Jerusalem or Zion (which was one of the hills on which that ancient city was built) as a synonym for heaven. In just a bit we’ll sing hymn #728 which makes use of that picture of the Holy City for heaven. “… I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” Here’s the second ‘not:’ “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” If your stock portfolio includes shares of Kimberly Clark, the manufacturer of Kleenex, unload those shares ahead of the day of heaven’s dawn because they’re going to be worthless.   

   What’s heaven is like? It will be devoid of tears, tears of sorrow and grief for sure. The tears of frustration that streamed down your face when you fought with your spouse because even though you love him/her, and he/she loves you —  you’re still two sinful people capable of hurting each other deeply …; that sobbing and sense of helpless grief at the bedside of your sick child … ; that sorrowful weeping as you stood next to that hole in the ground and watched the body of your loved one being lowered into it … all of these heart-wrenching experiences which define so much of our time on this earth —   our God says to us: “Not in my heaven! Not in my new Jerusalem! Not among my chosen people! You will never cry again!” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  

   And why will we never cry again? Well, the third ‘not’ answers that: “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” God says to us today, “You want to know what heaven will be like? It will be like that old guy, that 100-year old man, who considers that his life is just beginning. That’s what forever feels like.” Forever is a concept, again, that’s is so very hard for us to try to wrap our minds around. We’re accustomed to thinking linear. There’s a starting point and an ending point. Every cemetery gravestone is engraved with two dates: a person’s birthdate and the date of a person’s death and a person’s life is the dash between the dates. But as believers in the living Lord Jesus Christ, we really need to alter that way of thinking, in fact, jettison it completely. Do you know what the mathematical symbol for infinity is? A figure 8 turned on its side ... because it has no endpoint. 

   God uses these illustrations of a newborn and a centenarian not to teach us that people will grow old and die in the hereafter, because they won’t. This is just God trying to put forever in terms we can – perhaps – begin to understand. Death is one of heaven’s ‘nots.’ And we remember what brought death into this world in the first place, don’t we? Death is the “wages of sin” according to Romans 6. So why will all crying be gone and why will the former things not be remembered? Because the wages of sin have been paid in full! The death you and I rightly deserve to experience, the death that makes this world so disappointing and so disheartening, the death which the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 terms “the last enemy” —   death will be completely and utterly vanquished. The Grim Reaper will be persona non grata in the hereafter. Welcome to another of the ‘nots’ of heaven:  death cannot hurt you anymore!

   Heaven means no more baggage, ... no more crying, ... no more death, and God has one more ‘not’ for us: “No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.” In heaven there will be no more foreclosures. No recessions. No layoffs. No job cut backs. No workplace anxieties. No wrestling with purposelessness or lack of passion for your job. All of these, too, will be gone.

  God throws out a bunch of the ‘nots’ of heaven – not an exhaustive list, but it is his hope is that one of them would resonate with you, that one of these would give you some peace of mind as you wrestle with the consequences of sin this side of eternity. We may not be able to understand it all, but it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 

   Which leaves us with one final question to consider: Why us?? Why do we get to enjoy this blessed existence?? Why do we get to rest secure knowing that this heaven of ‘nots’ is where our loved ones are now, and where we will be too one day?? Scripture makes clear that not everyone will get to enjoy the heaven of ‘nots.’ Our description of heaven ends with the ominous note “dust will be the serpent’s food” – the devil and those aligned with him do not get to enjoy the heaven of ‘nots.’ Why is that not us??

Well, it certainly isn’t because we have earned or deserved it. It isn’t because we are smarter or better than the rest of the world. It has nothing to do with us at all, actually. It has everything to do with Jesus – Jesus who came to pay the wages of sin for us; Jesus who sent his Spirit into our hearts to create faith that clings to the forgiveness he bought for us when he died on his cross; Jesus who promises us that one day we will be in the heaven of nots because we are children of the resurrection – children who were adopted into God’s family when he put his name on us at our baptism. One day you will find yourself among the people blessed by the Lord, part of God’s forever family, clad in a white robe and standing around the throne of your God —   all because of Jesus.
   Today is Saints Triumphant —  the Sunday of the church year when we especially remember our loved ones who have gone before us, the day when we spend time thinking about the triumph that’s waiting for us. And while we may not be able to fully understand every aspect of heaven until we get there, God has not left us in the dark.

   Rejoice, friends, over the heaven of ‘nots’ – no more baggage, no more crying, no more death, no more hardships. That heaven is for real and it’s yours! Jesus promises that it is so!


Last Judgment – Nov. 8, 2020

     As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

  Most of us know Daniel best as the man in the lion’s den. If you were with us last week, we considered that familiar account in connection with our celebration of the Lutheran Reformation. If you weren’t with us, I’m sure you recall that episode from Daniel’s life: his being thrown to the lions for daring to pray to the true God and the Lord sending an angel to shut the lions’ mouths.

  However, there’s a whole lot more to Daniel and his life than one night staring down a pride of lions. In fact, Daniel’s whole life is kind of an adventure. Like the rest of his countrymen, Daniel saw the anger of God up close and personal. After almost a millennium of rebellion against God, God finally reached his breaking point and brought down the hammer on his ancient people, the Jews, including Daniel. God sent an invading kingdom – Babylon – to conquer Judah and tear Daniel’s people away from their homeland. God permitted the king of Babylon to drag Daniel and his people a thousand miles across the desert into exile.

  A gifted young man, Daniel was groomed for public service. He rose through the ranks of administrators in the government of Babylon until he became the head of an entire province. Slotted by God into this unique niche where he could exert influence for the benefit God’s people, Daniel had it good in Babylon.

  But the rest of the Jews – exiled, oppressed, a thousand miles away from home with no clear prospect of going back —   they didn’t have it so good. As their 70 year captivity dragged on, they grew despondent. They weren’t being able to muster the joy to sing praises to their God. Under the thumb of their captors, they sat sulking. Psalm 137 records their lament: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. … How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” God’s people wanted to go home and they wanted to see judgment carried out against their captors, but couldn’t imagine relief would ever come. Instead of asking for deliverance, of trusting that a plan devised by God was at work, they sat and cried, hopelessly. 

  Daniel was no stranger to dreams and visions. The Lord actually gave him many dreams and visions during his time in Babylon. At the heart of these prophetic glimpses into the future was a promise for God’s people. As hopeless as the situation might’ve seemed, a day of reckoning for those enemies was coming, along with salvation. Deliverance and restoration were just on the horizon. Daniel’s dreams and visions carried that message then and they still carry it today:  “God gets the last say on the Last Day” … to ‘erase’ his enemies and to save his saints.

  God’s people in exile in Babylon needed to hear that message, because they were in despair. They thought God’s judgment would never come – that God would never judge their enemies. It’s a thought many of God’s people easily fall into ... including the followers of Jesus today.

  Today the enemies of Christianity – opponents to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ – seem to thrive all over the world. Religions that deny the true God seem to spread like wildfire. Fanatics and extremists target Christians and commit horrible acts of violence, stabbings and beheadings. Governments influenced by radical religious beliefs persecute believers in Jesus. Here in America, loudmouthed atheists blather about how ignorant and gullible Christians are. And in the middle of it all, we, God’s people, seem to be in exile in a world that opposes us and our God, a world that wishes that he, and we, would just disappear, a world that seemingly will try anything it can to make that happen.

  Like God’s people of old, the Jews in Babylon, we see no end in sight. We may start to think the end will never come. Like Daniel’s countrymen crouched by the rivers in Babylon, we too may start to sulk and cry: “God has forgotten about us. He will never destroy his enemies. He will never take us home. Deliverance is nowhere in sight.” And so, our songs become muted, too. We push those gracious promises our Lord has made to us to the back of our minds. Instead of proclaiming the coming wrath, which is part of the whole counsel of God, we may even start to wonder if maybe these enemies don’t have it right after all: “They’ll just get away with it forever and judgment will never come.”

  The people of God in the present ... you and I ... need to take Daniel’s vision from long ago to heart. The end of all things is coming! And God will have the last say on the Last Day, to ‘erase’ his enemies and to save his saints.

  The first part of Daniel’s vision, which we did not hear because it's earlier in chapter 7, pictures what be the experience of those enemies. Out of a churning sea Daniel sees four beasts emerging:  a lion with eagle wings, a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a terrifying beast with iron teeth and ten horns. Each beast conquered and ruled - in turn - until all of them were gone and —   what we have in these verses before us took place:  the Ancient of Days appeared!

  Later in chapter 7 we have the interpretation of Daniel's vision. “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth.”  In succession these empires would come and go:  the Babylonian, the Medio-Persian, the Greek, and the Roman. Daniel saw this vision during the first of those empires – Babylon. As powerful as Babylon appeared, it would fall and another empire would rise, but that too would fall, and so on. Still today nations rise and fall. In our country the political winds shift each election cycle. Yet Someone reigns supreme, our Lord Jesus. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22: “God placed all things all things under his [Jesus’] feet and appointed him [Jesus] to be head over everything for the church." The church is the people of God, with Jesus ruling and reigning only good will result for God’s people always.

  In full view of all who opposes him, the all-holy, almighty God sets up his courtroom and takes his seat. “As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.’” Nowhere else in Scripture do we find this name for God ... the "Ancient of Day" – only here, to make a very important point:  our God goes back long before everyone and everything else. He knows everything that has happened in the history of his creation, and nothing any of his enemies has ever done will go unpunished in his courtroom.

  The Ancient of Days is pure holiness, indicated by his white hair and white clothing. While it’s challenging to press every detail in a vision such as this, we can draw some conclusions … make some inferences that correspond to Scripture truth. This is a holy Judge who demands holiness from those he judges. He’s not going to pass any verdicts such as, “Well, you weren’t perfect; but as a pretty good person, I’m going to give you a pass.” Or, “Well, you know, you didn’t oppose me as vigorously as some others – so I’m going let you off the hook.” You won’t going hear waffling verdicts. Rather, holiness is what this Judge demands. Holiness is the only thing he will accept.

  Daniel sees this holy Judge sitting on a seat with wheels – wheels suggesting a Judge who is not stationary, but mobile. He gets around. He’s omnipresent, if you remember that big 50 cent Bible word. Isn’t that exactly what we know about our God? Through his prophet Jeremiah the Lord declares, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? … Do I not fill heaven and earth?” The psalm writer echoes that same concept, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” God’s been all over the face of the earth, surveying his creation and keeping an eye on his creatures. He looks even into the deepest, darkest recesses of the human heart and that’s scary thought at face value, because this Judge is ready to unleash his wrath. The fire is already flowing from beneath his throne, even before he begins rendering his judgment and nobody can escape his court:  “… thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

  God’s been keeping track of all his enemies say and do and it’s on the books. In Jesus’ illustration of the sheep and goats, the actions and attitudes of each group have been appropriately noted:   The result for those enemies of God and of God’s people —   they will be consigned to an eternity of doom. Daniel talks about those enemies being subject to the white, hot fire of God’s wrath. He will ‘erase’ those enemies from the view of his holy people who had to struggle – contend for the faith, and even suffer persecution. For … “God gets the last say on the Last Day.”

  It’s a good thing we don’t deserve that kind of destruction on the Last Day, right? It’s a good thing we are good, church-going folks who’d never dream of countermanding one of God’s commandments and so anger him. Good thing I’m a pastor – I’ll be safe for sure, right? Good thing we read our Bibles —   we do read our Bibles, right? (Let’s just assume we do.) We might like to think we’ve no problem with our record in that courtroom on the Last Day, as long as we point out all these nice little facts about ourselves. But the truth is … pointing to our own record in this courtroom on the Last Day wouldn’t help us in the least. The opposite is true. It would destroy us. When God opens his books in that courtroom, the last thing you’ll want him to do is to read off your own record, … the record of a person who at least occasionally treated God’s name like a rag, using it any old time for any old thing; ... the record of a person who at least once in a while let the pleasures and distractions of the world crowd him out of heart and mind; ... the record of a person who has lied and lusted, who has harbored grudges and refused to let go of hard feelings that we’ve clung to tenaciously; ...  the record of someone who, at times, thought and lived as though the Last Day would never come.

  Remember, this Judge is the Ancient of Days, who knows everything about everybody. Again, he wears the pure white of righteousness. He’s not lenient. He’s not a look the other way guy; he demands perfection. And with that in mind, our prospects on that Last Day might seem hopeless ... as if we will end up in the same place as God’s enemies, because we’ve sometimes lived and thought like his enemies.

  But when this Judge opens the book and turns to the page with your name on it and the page with my name on it, he’s not going to find our own record, the record of our sinful lives. Instead, he’ll find a perfect record because he has blotted out all of our sins from his book – blotted them out with the blood of his Son, Jesus. By God’s grace we won’t hear our own damning record on the Last Day. We will hear the record of the perfect life which Jesus lived in our place, the perfect life credited to us when the Holy Spirit brought us to faith. You see, when God brought us to faith in his Son, he dropped the gavel in his heavenly courtroom and declared us, “Not guilty!” innocent through Jesus’ saving work! In other words, God has made us saints through faith. So on the Last Day, he will save us together with all his saints. “God gets the last say on the Last Day” … to save us, his saints.

   I wonder what Daniel’s people must have thought when they heard this vision. They were really just looking for judgment against the Babylonians so they could return to their earthly homeland. Instead, God gave them a more glorious message! He gave them a glimpse of the final judgment by which he would rescue them forever. This is not just a vision for them back then; it’s a vision that means everything to us today, and everything to all of God’s saints for all time.

  Already justified in God’s courtroom, we can look ahead to Last Day with confidence, not fear; we can look ahead to that day when God will deliver us from those enemies that surround us here in this world. While we wait, we don’t lose heart, because we know God’s judgment is coming. On that day he will ‘erase’ his enemies from our view and save us, his saints.