Sermons

God’s New Creation Removes All Frustration

Isaiah 65:17-25 ● November 17, 2019 ● Saints Triumphant  ● Pastor Tom Barthel● AudioPrint VersionVideo

 

It’s funny how quickly a small child can get over something? All it takes is someone to knock over a toy block tower and they burst into tears. Nothing matters except that someone knocked over their tower. Nothing matters, that is, until you tell them it’s time for a story, time for cake, or something else fun. Then the tears instantly stop, they forget about what made them cry, and they are happy once again.
Don’t you ever wish you could just move past life’s biggest problems that way? There are some frustrations and pains that seem like they will never go away. They are caused by real and painful events. Years ago I saw an older man crying like a two-year-old. But he wasn’t crying over a broken toy tower. His heart ached. He couldn’t get out of his mind the helplessness his wife faced as she died. It was years afterwards, but he still wept over it. I saw another older man lamenting for decades “if only” as he thought about his daughter’s death by suicide. He lived in remorse, wishing he had done something to prevent it. I’ve witnessed a man who lost everything and despaired of life. He had worked for years and it all slipped through his hands. His family was left with nothing. He was left with pain and regret. I’ve seen more than one man or woman totally devastated by the affair that destroyed their marriage. I’ve seen far too many with incurable ailments that bring hurt to bodies and minds. Maybe you’ve experienced something that you just can’t get over or forget and it hurts. We may be struck with an incurable disease. That disease seems to always overshadow the things we enjoy in life. We may lose a loved one. From that point on, things seem like they will never be quite as happy again. What does it take to recover from all those types of sorrow and loss? We read today about what our God provides to remove all our frustrations and pains. He promises of life in place of death, and joy and satisfaction in place of our sorrows and frustrations. It will be so wonderful that we will forget all bad things, and nothing will ever interrupt the good. How is it possible? Today we look at Isaiah 65 and see how God’s new creation removes all frustrations.
Frustration hit the ancient Israelites hard in Isaiah’s day. God had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. You can imagine how frustrating this news would have been for those who trusted in the Lord. Sure, they knew they didn’t deserve any relief. In fact, this remnant of believers acknowledged their sin. We read from the prayer found in the previous chapter, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) And yet they held tightly to God’s promises of forgiveness. The most beautiful portion of Isaiah records how the holy one, Jesus, would suffer all in place of his people. He would willingly suffer and die for their sins and set them free from all suffering and pain. He would bring them forgiveness and joy.
But it seemed as if they were still left to suffer pain and loss. You can imagine their frustration. “God says he has forgiven our sins, but why does it feel like we are still being punished?” The faithful remnant of believers cried out in their loss and pain, “Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9) We could easily join this prayer. When we reflect on God’s forgiveness for us, we might look on our lives and wonder why we just don’t see it yet. “God you have removed all my guilt in Christ. My sins are taken away by Christ. But I am still plagued by sorrow and frustration from the effects of sin. I still live with it’s painful curse.”
God answers by basically responding, “I have I removed the guilt of sin. And I will forever remove the pains it brings.” God turns to the faithful remnant of believers and says: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” This new creation will be so wonderful, that our current physical sorrow and suffering will be forgotten! “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” We’ll be so overwhelmed by joy that the things which trouble us no will no longer be of any concern to us. Our current troubles will not be worth contemplating. The apostle Paul speaks of this new creation when he says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Can you imagine something so good it makes all the bad cease? It seems unthinkable to speak of today’s sorrows and tragedy in such light! But in the end even the worst thing you’ve faced in your life will be remembered less than that tower of blocks someone might have knocked over when you were two.
God’s new creation will be so wonderful and cause us to forget our sorrows because it will be filled with joy and delight! 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. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people. He himself will delight and take joy in us! Notice that even though Israel was suffering God still calls them “my people.” It is the same for you and me. God calls us his own. All who trust in him will receive every blessing promised to God’s people. It doesn’t matter what bloodline you come from, as long as you have been washed in the Savior’s blood. In baptism, you are made God’s own. Through faith in him as Savior you belong to him.
God says his people will be free from all the things which cause frustration. “The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” He tells us, “rejoice forever.” It will be an eternal rejoicing in God’s enduring new creation, not just a thousand-year reign as some mistakenly suppose, but for all eternity. No more sorrow. No more weeping. Forever. These verses speak of the final establishment of God’s kingdom. This will ultimately happen after Christ returns on Judgment Day. That is when tears sorrow will fully come to end. We look forward to the church in glory, the church triumphant. That means eternal rejoicing!
But what about our life right now? The following verses do speak to us right now. They speak about the beginnings of God’s new creation. We are already part of that new creation. We now have life instead of death. God tells us that in his new creation, “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days. Never again will there be 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.” There are few things sadder than the death of the young. They are just starting out, with so much potential and growth. No parent wishes to outlive his or her own child. And there always seems to be incurable sadness when a newborn or small child dies. But in God’s new creation death ceases. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days.” Those who are born again by baptism are free from death. The baptized believing child may die, but they are alive in Christ. That child is God’s own and lives with him in glory. And the child’s dead body will be transformed to be a glorious perfect body at the final new creation. Jesus promises “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”(John 11:25) Our life is now unending! When you think of one who is a Christian and advanced in years, that person hasn’t yet begun to live out his or her life! Such a new creation will not live out years just as he or she is on earth, but for all eternity in the glory of God’s new creation. And the believer’s dead body will be transformed to be a glorious perfect body when Christ comes a second time to bring his church into eternal glory. We know that even if we die as one of the oldest on earth, we have yet just begun our living. “God so loved the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This is because God no longer punishes the believer for sin. All punishment is placed on Christ. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. We have life instead of death.
And we will enjoy that life forever because we have been set free from all things that cause frustration. We will be forever satisfied in the new creation. “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 works of their hands.” You don’t have to look far to see the effects of sin destroying our enjoyment of things in life. But the peace that comes with God’s new creation will not be taken away from us. If our treasure is in heaven, that cannot be taken away from us. There is no enemy that can remove or separate us from the love of Christ. “Not angels or demons, not death, not persecution or sword.” (Romans 8) We have the satisfaction of uninterrupted peace. We will live forever, enjoying the glorious home of heaven. The bliss that Adam and Eve once enjoyed as they worked in the garden of Eden will be enjoyed once more by God’s people.
They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune. When we have children in this life, we do not have to bring them into an empty way of life. We have to opportunity to give them new birth through baptism. With God’s promise, they are his new creation, no matter what may happen to them. Instead of the frustration of bearing children only to have them born slaves to sin, we have the joy of knowing Christ has set them free. We have this satisfaction because we have God’s Word and Sacraments to share. Our children are not only then our physical descendants, but spiritual descendants of Abraham with us. This is because of God’s promise. Those who are born again, are co-heirs with us in the inheritance of eternal life. Christ as adopted us as his. For they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.
And we never need feel the frustration of being separated from God by sin. We are able boldly approach God in prayer, because Jesus Christ has granted us access. Before they call, I will answer; God says, while they are still speaking, I will hear. No longer do we have to feel the frustration of wondering if God hears our prayers. We now have the full satisfaction of knowing he promises to hear us. And we can only imagine how great this connection will be in the final fulfillment of glory in heaven.
Finally we will have satisfaction instead of frustration, not only in our connection with God, but with all believers as well. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. This is a seemingly impossible peace. Yet it is what God has already accomplished through the gospel. People around the world from every tribe and nation can now live in peace with their fellow Christian as we call each other “brother” and “sister” in Christ. God has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between the two and made them one in Christ. One Lord. One Faith. Just as Christ rose victorious and glorious after his death, you and I will rise to no more sorrow or pain, but only laugher and joy.
That older man who was crying like a child at the helpless loss he faced will rejoice as Christ undoes the sting of death. He will be a delight and take delight in the new heaven and earth. Nothing will rob him of his joy. That other man who regrets the pains caused by sin will not live forever in regret and “if only” but forever in joy unimaginable. That person who struggled with loss of all he had will forever hold onto what he has in Jesus. Those who suffer from illness or chronic pain will never face it again in the new creation. All those who long for freedom from frustration will find it in the Lord who makes all things new. God promises this for his people, for you, and for all who trust in him.
We may now experience grief. We may now feel the effects of sin. We may feel the effects of the curse of sin on this present world. No doubt you have all felt frustration and sorrow. But this sorrow, this frustration cannot last. God has promised that it will end. “Behold” he tells us. This is something you could not expect. “Behold my new creation. I will make you a joy. Rejoice forever. Life in place of Death. Satisfaction in place of frustration. I will answer your prayers and give peace that surpasses all understanding.” Those who are a new creation through faith in Christ are born anew. No more sorrow. No more weeping. Forever. God’s new creation removes all our frustrations. Delight in it now and forever.

Expect An Eternal Turnaround

2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 ● November 10, 2019 ● Last Judgment Sunday ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version ●  Video

 

When Jason first heard the good news about Jesus it quickly took hold of his heart. The preaching about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had completely turned his whole life around. There was a new preacher in town. He had just been there for three weeks. But Jason attended each of those services eagerly listening to it all. He invited the preacher and his travel companions to stay at his house. You can imagine how excited Jason was for the next service. And it wasn’t just Jason. Many other people in town were enthusiastically embracing the gospel. A large number of people became Christian in just those short three weeks. I’m sure they all had high hopes for how everyone would get to hear, and everyone would come to faith in Jesus. But things didn’t end as Jason and others might have expected. Not everyone was thrilled about the new preacher and his message. Some hated it. So much that they riled up a mob and stormed Jason’s house. When they didn’t find the new preacher or his travel companions, they dragged Jason out and threw him before the local authorities. They falsely charged him with harboring a dangerous outsider. The church had to stop holding Christian services. The preacher was forced to leave town. Jason and all the new Christians in town no doubt felt crushed. Instead of the gospel spreading freely, their preacher was gone, their message was barred, and they were persecuted. This is not what Jason had expected. I don’t think anyone at the church did.

Jason lived in ancient Thessalonica and his church was a synagogue there. The new preacher in town was the apostle Paul. They may have faced some big setbacks in Thessalonica, but when Paul writes a letter to them he reminds them that things will turn around for God’s people.  Today we read the second letter of Paul to them. And we get to hear the rest of the story and the final outcome for Jason, all the believers at Thessalonica, and for all the rest of us. Things will not always end in the way many might expect. That’s especially true when it comes to God’s working and his final judgment of this world. As Christians we might face challenges and setbacks. But those times will soon come to an end. We expect an eternal turnaround.

The Christians in ancient Thessalonica weren’t facing anything new. Paul and Silas had already faced constant opposition to the gospel. At the previous city they had been beaten, publicly humiliated, and tossed in jail. In place after place they faced painful trials and opposition. They were only able to stay in Thessalonica for three weeks. Then even after they left Thessalonica and were driven out, they were laughed at and mocked by the intellectual minds at Athens. Some people believed the gospel, but many others rejected and even fought against it. It seemed everywhere they went they faced a struggle to preach the gospel. The same could be said for every faithful prophet before and every faithful witness after. The same is true for all of us who give testimony about Jesus and share his Word. The apostle Peter wrote to the scattered believers of the early church, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening you.” (1 Peter 4:12) Christians should expect the unexpected. They should expect the good news of Jesus to be persecuted. They should know that as they share forgiveness, peace, and the love of God that they will receive hatred, hostility, and harm. The greatest message of love ever told is often met with the greatest hate of the world.

You will face struggles and trials too for being a Christian. The more you become like Jason and support the spread of the gospel of Jesus the more you can expect to have a hostile crowd at your door. Maybe you’ve already experienced a taste of what Jason faced. You probably haven’t faced a crowd dragging you to court for supporting a preacher of the gospel. But maybe you’ve but have found the devil already has led people to reject your attempts to witness about Jesus. Maybe you’ve supported the gospel year after year only to find that it encounters rejection after rejection.

How does Paul help the Thessalonians address all these setbacks? In this letter to the young Thessalonian church he starts by focusing on what is evident. There was more than just rejection of the gospel taking place. There was growth of faith. The persecution and trials never stopped. But their faith didn’t stop growing either. In fact, at the start of this letter the apostle mentions how he is thankful to God that this newly formed Christian church was growing. And he wasn’t just interested in growth of numbers. Paul was more excited in the growth of faith. Paul and his companions even boasted to other churches how the Thessalonians were growing in love and faith -despite all the opposition they faced. “Among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” Talk about an unexpected outcome! Despite every effort to quickly stamp out the gospel, it only grew in their hearts! Yes, they were “suffering for the kingdom,” but they were still part of it.

How do we handle the rejection and opposition to the gospel message? We might begin to focus on the negative when facing opposition to our faith. We might note the people in the community, in the congregation, or in the family who have turned aside from the gospel. We might note the name of some antagonist and blame them for it all. We might wisely note that it is really Satan who seeks to destroy us and halt the spread of the gospel. We could then even begin to become bitter, toss up our hands and say, “What’s the point? Why bother with the whole worship thing? It’s no use. It’s all crumbling before us. My family, my friend, my neighbors have all turned aside from it. More than half the town is opposed to it. Why go on laboring for the kingdom of Christ?” But like Paul, we need to look at what God is accomplishing. Look at those who despite it all are growing in faith and love. Look at those who face the same trials you do in their lives but hold onto the same Jesus you do.

Paul goes on to address the setbacks and suffering with a reminder of the greatest turnaround in history. It’s an outcome which many fail to foresee: God’s payback. “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” God will payback all who opposed the gospel. He will deal with it for us. But don’t expect that to happen through ordinary events. Paul refers to the time of payback as the last day. It will be on the great day of judgment at Jesus’ return. And he will return in glory with fire and his holy angels. He will come as judge. At that time he will cast away all his enemies to hell. And the suffering of hell will be a horrible and awful fate which will never end.

I’ve had people tell me, “You’re too gentle. I don’t picture you as being one of those fire and brimstone preachers.” And I’m glad they noticed. My goal is to preach the gospel, just like all who give testimony about our Lord Jesus. Yet that doesn’t mean that I hold back any part of God’s Word. Instead I proclaim all of it as clearly as I can. And Paul reminds us that behind the good news of Jesus is the terrifying backdrop of what many don’t like to talk about. I certainly don’t. And without the gospel I couldn’t bear to even mention it. Yet it is a topic that is found throughout Scripture and is part of today’s focus in the church year. It is the topic of God’s judgment and his curse of hell. God’s judgement is a terrifying ordeal. It will bring about an extreme turnaround of events for this world. All of God’s enemies will be judged. All have sinned and rebelled. And all have lived as enemies of God whether they like to admit it or not. The end result is an almost unfathomable fate: eternal destruction, everlasting separation, being shut-out forever from the goodness of God. As unpleasant and terrifying as the thought of hell may be, it is brought up often in Scripture. And Paul brings it up at the start of this short letter.

He mentions God’s final judgment day and hell with a purpose. He wants to highlight the extreme and eternal turnaround for God’s persecuted people. The Thessalonians Christians would not be included among those who will be punished when Jesus returns to judge. They would not be included among those who would be shut out from the presence of the Lord. Instead Paul says that they would marvel at him. At Jesus return to judge they get to glory in his appearing. It would not be terrifying.  They would marvel at Jesus’ coming in glory and with his holy angels.

What made them different? Nothing is said about them doing anything different than their persecutors. Nothing is said about them pleasing God in any way to earn pardon from hell. But they will stand in the judgment of our Lord without fear. Why? The only thing that separated them from the rest of the world was faith in Jesus. They were included among those who believed. And so they are called “his holy people.” Instead of finding the judgment unexpected, they expect it in faith.

Through faith in the gospel of their Lord Jesus they were made holy. The testimony of the Lord Jesus which they believe is a message of deliverance in Jesus. He came visibly to this world, not in glory and to judge, but in humility and to save. The testimony of his first coming is not one of blazing fire and powerful angels coming at his side to judge. It is one of a humble birth with angels saying, “Don’t be afraid I bring you good news.” The Thessalonians believed that this man Jesus was their Lord, the very Son of God who came to this earth. He came to live the holy life we could not, and to give that holiness to us as a free gift. Now all who believe are considered his holy people. He came to take that punishment of hell away from us. He did this on the cross. The result? He came that all who believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.

The world sees only the appearance of defeat and loss. But Jesus our Lord accomplished what should be considered one of the biggest turn arounds in history so far. He rose to life in victory. He went from killed and tortured on a cross to living and enthroned above all the universe. He went from lowering himself and enduring persecution and pain to holding all power. He ascended to heaven in authority. He now reigns in all majesty as our God and Lord. And he will return in holy majesty to judge. He has made you holy, and when he returns, we will give him all the glory for doing so! And we will marvel at his glory and his grace in saving us from the punishment of hell. His justice will reign forever, along with his mercy displayed in how he treated us along with all believers.

So how do you handle rejection of the gospel? You could have a short-sighted view which feels like persecution and sufferings are unexpected for the Christian. You could focus on the negative and lose sight of the greatest turnaround that has taken place and the next greatest turnaround yet to come. But you, like Paul, marvel that faith and love are still growing in the hearts of those persecuted today. You know that God will deal with the opposition to his kingdom. And you live in confidence so that you continue to testify about Jesus no matter who tries to stop you. You don’t shy from being labeled too religious. You boldly speak of Jesus as your humble Savior who will return as your glorious deliverer from every evil.

That’s because “you also are among those who have believed.” You have joined Jason and all the early Thessalonian Christians in holding on to the hope of the gospel and of our victorious Lord Jesus. He has turned around your life with the gospel. And you know he’s coming again. So, don’t let setbacks get you down or discourage you. Don’t let opposition silence you or cause you to give up on your Christian witness. Endure opposition. Share the gospel. Support the spread of the gospel. And expect an eternal turnaround.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thes 3:16)

God Gathers Us to Worship

Isaiah 56:1-8 ● November 3, 2019 ● Reformation Sunday & Mission Festival ●  Pastor Tom Barthel ●  WELS Sermon ●  Print Version ● Audio Version ●  Video

 

God Gathers Us to Worship

A popular movie series from a few years back depicted society divided into five major factions. Everyone was assigned a specific role for life. Stepping outside these assigned roles was not permitted or safe. In fact, it was very dangerous to be a divergent and not fit in where you were supposed to. The movie series had a keen observation of our human tendencies. They showed each faction at odds with the others. Isn’t that the nature of all people? We tend to be quick to identify which group we belong to and to shun or spurn those who do not. And this type of rejection and division can really hurt us. Who likes to be told that they don’t belong to a group? And there’s more than just class discrimination. Racism is also a cause for division. Need we even begin discussing how it has caused pain? Many are made to stand on the fringe and denied privilege or access to step beyond their circle. What about the group which worships the Lord? Sometimes a person might yearn to belong with those who worship the Lord but feel like they are stuck on the outside. How does God respond? We find the answer today in Isaiah chapter 56. God gathers us to worship, by his righteousness and grace, and to spread his word to every place.

God did set up divisions in ancient Israel. He portioned out specific roles to groups. That is clearly seen his stipulation that only men from the tribe of Levi were to serve him as priest. And even then, only those who were properly appointed should be offering up sacrifices. In addition, only a chosen few were allowed inner access to the temple itself and even then, only on the appointed times. God further impressed this on the people when he made stipulations regarding foreign born people and those who were eunuchs. So they had the levels of access encircling the center of their worship life. Levites were in the center, the non-Levites looked in from a further circle, and the foreign born and eunuchs looked in from further distance, and finally, of course, the unbelieving nations were even further separated from Israel.

God had a good reason for all this. He was teaching them about their relationship with him. He is holy. Sinful mankind can’t expect to just approach him and have access to him. We are shut out of his presence because we deserve it. We stand outside his holiness and can only yearn to just be a gatekeeper for his temple. But God never intended this system of worship to mean certain groups didn’t matter to him. He certainly didn’t want the foreigner and the widow to be forgotten. In fact his laws for Israel emphasized a special concern for them which so many other ancient cultures did not. God cared for everyone -including the foreigners outside of Israel. Yet Israel arrogantly looked down on other groups. The tendency in Israel was, in fact, to turn their noses at those outside their circles. They saw themselves as God’s chosen nation. Even if someone yearned to worship the true God, they weren’t treated as true worshippers. It was hard for many in Israel to fathom that God had intended to give his grace to others. They assumed they would always be above others.

Imagine the shock when the prophecies we read here were shared. Isaiah and other prophets spoke of how the Lord wanted to give free salvation to all. He gave an open invitation for “anyone who thirsts” to drink up the water of life –his Word. And the prophesies recorded in Isaiah 55 of “my faithful covenant promised to David” were for more than David’s kingdom and Israel. “Surely you will summon nations you know not,” spoke the Lord. Then we read today in chapter 56, “My salvation is close at hand, my righteousness is soon to be revealed.” God is going to bring his rescue! “Surely he means for us!” Israel might have reasoned. I doubt they would have anticipated Isaiah speaking of what he does next: “To the eunuchs who …hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners …who hold fast to my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.” He doesn’t just accept the outsiders; he richly blesses and welcomes them! He gives them access and privilege to his house of worship!

Permit me to bring us back to 1861 and the start of the civil war. You just have to greatly admire those who eagerly enlisted and bravely fought even though they were viewed by many as second-class citizens. At the start of the war, black men made up only 14 percent total male population of the United States. And only 1 percent of those men lived in the north. At first, they were not even allowed to enlist in the Union army. However, within the first year President Lincoln rectified that. They still were initially regarded by many of the Union army and navy officers as inferior in their standing and were not expected to help much. But the black regiments in the civil war quickly changed that attitude. A mere three months after enlistment began a unit from Kansas proved vital to the victory in a battle. Looking down the record of major battles you see that the segregated units of black soldiers played a crucial role in nearly every battle of the war. The soldiers immediately gained respect from their fellow soldiers and were recognized for their service.

It’s even more foolish when anyone looks down on anyone else who yearns with repentance and faith to be part of God’s house. It is in our human nature to limit God’s kingdom to our comfort zone, isn’t it? Racism may not be as prevalent as it was generations ago, but people are still judged on the basis of their skin or nationality. Could this ever happen in God’s church? It has. Not just in Israel but in America too. Why were so many Americans fleeing the suburbs of larger cities when the population of the inner cities changed to different ethnic groups? Why were churches, including many WELS congregations, dying off in numbers even as their neighborhoods remained full of people needing the gospel? Did those churches reason, “We can’t serve the people here. We’re about historical Lutheranism. They wouldn’t be interested in what we have to offer.” Or did the attitude of a few individuals dominate so that when people of other backgrounds came to the church they were never welcomed as “real” members? I don’t know. I wasn’t there and it’s not my job to judge that. But there are a lot of people who feel like they don’t belong in God’s house because they are left on the outside. And what about when someone becomes a part of our rich Lutheran heritage and join a congregation? It is easy for someone new to feel on the outside when those who have been members for 20, 40, or 80 years insist on being in charge of everything. The “new guys” are left labeled as the “new guys” feeling unimportant. And what about when a person on the fringe of society seeks with repentance and faith to worship in God’s house? Someone with an addiction struggle, who has struggled with the sin of same-sex attraction, who has no religious background, who is socially or intellectually impaired — what happens when they desire to offer sacrifices of praise in God’s house? Are they richly and warmly welcomed or sort of welcomed? Are they made to feel they belong or made to feel like they don’t really belong because they are not part of the original tribe?

God says he not only welcomes them to his house but is very pleased with having them there! He says they will be filled with joy in serving him as their Savior God. I’m reminded of the black soldiers who enlisted in the civil war. Isn’t it funny that the Union accepted them to offer their lives, called them free men, and yet was surprised when they earned medals of honor on the battlefield? Don’t be surprised when those who many might regard as least valuable in God’s church prove to be the most dedicated in service to God! They find joy in serving the God who set them free!

The people of Israel had to learn that they were not in his kingdom because of their own efforts. They were in it because of God’s grace. It was grace alone that brought them to worship and allowed them to worship. Isaiah 53 described the workings of Jesus as the suffering servant. Though he was born of the line of David and the very Son of God, he lowered himself to be the very least. And though he was completely innocent and deserving of the glory of heaven, he bore the sins of all. Not just Israel. The sins of all the people. And his invitation to freely receive his righteousness through faith is given to all. Recall in the New Testament how Philip met a foreigner who was also a eunuch. His Bible scroll was open to just before this very section of Scripture. Don’t you think this reading fascinated him? “Do I really belong? Who is this Scripture talking about?” And beginning there Philip told him the good news about Jesus. Then that foreign man was baptized, and he received a name better than having his own sons and daughters. He was an eternal heir of the kingdom of God. God had gathered him through the gospel of Christ Jesus.

We could never break the barrier of division that stood between us and our God. But our God is a God who tears down such barriers. He removes the dividing wall between himself and his creation. He freely brings his salvation and his righteousness. It is striking to note that in the gospel of Mark, for example, Jesus is constantly rejected by the people of Israel and constantly held onto in faith by the outsiders. It is the foreigner, the outcast, the lame, the blind, the outsiders who see Jesus for who he really is. He is the Son of God come to bring rescue to the outcast. To the one who feels like they don’t deserve to be in good’s presence, longing and yearning for access, he comes. And Jesus by his death, causes not only the curtain of the temple to be torn, but the very division of sin it symbolized. Through the gift of his life we have righteousness. Through the payment of his redeeming death we have salvation. We belong to God and are invited into his house now and forever! There is no second-class. There’s only those gathered by the grace of God into his kingdom.

God said he would accept the sacrifices of the foreigner and the eunuch! They serve him in joy. So it is with you. The apostle reminds all believers, “in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies and living sacrifices…this is your spiritual act of worship…. holy and pleasing to God in Christ Jesus.” Like the priest of Levi’s tribe lifting hands in prayer, we can all approach our God in the freedom of the forgiveness won by Christ. And every prayer, every act of praise, everyone is acceptable who comes through Christ. There are only those who by grace and through faith belong to God’s house.

And it’s not you and I who have built such a house. “These I will bring to my holy mountain…I will gather still others.” He gives us his righteousness and salvation. He gathers us. We are all gathered by our loving and gracious God. He brought you and me into his kingdom. He accepts your praise, mine, and the praise of others who once looked in from the outside of his church. He accepts it all as coming from those who trust in him, who love him, who know his great love in Christ.

What happened in those places of worship where everyone recognized this truth? Instead of shutting down in frustration they opened their hearts and doors. You might look at the intense persecution in Indonesia against Christians and wonder: “Is God’s Word for them?” Yes. So we send. And what about the culture of China, extremely diverse and often confusing to the western mind? God gathers there too. And he has used our synod in the gathering. Would you expect to find an open door in a land like India where Hinduism and false worship is so strong, or what about Vietnam? Our church is involved in a growing Seminaries in those places! What about places like Apache land where there was no knowledge of the Lord just a handful of generations back? Stick around later this morning. You’ll be filled with joy to hear how he has filled with joy those who offer praise there in the name of Jesus. These places all have their own Confessional Lutheran pastors –side by side with our missionaries in the task before them.

It is kind of funny to note that the south at General Lee’s urging enlisted some black soldiers. They were promised their freedom after the war if they enlisted. Only about 40 men actually enrolled. Fighting for their oppressors and earning freedom apparently wasn’t so appealing. Not as appeal as fighting when you were already declared and acknowledged as a freeman. We are free. We are gathered by his grace. We find joy serving and joy reaching out to others in every place. Let no one, however far off or different, stand looking in. God gathers us to worship.

Make a Lasting Impact 4) Impact of a Life of Faith

Luke 17:1-10 ● October 27, 2019 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ● Print Version ●  Audio ●  Video ●  Sermon Series on Luke 15-17

Sometimes people don’t think about the lasting impact their actions will make. That was the case in 1935 when a sugar cane company in Australia thought they had a clever solution for dealing with beetles damaging their crops. At least, it seemed pretty clever at the time. In order to control the beetles they brought in a type of beetle eating toad native to Central and South America. This toad, however, soon became a classic case study for what we mean when we call something an invasive species. The cane toad has a poison which it secrets to defend itself from predators. When it was first introduced into northeastern Australian it quickly took hold. With no natural predators to keep it in check and a poison to stop all who dared, it spread rapidly. It made its way over the decades across the vastness of Australia’s northern coastal regions. Today some of begun to spot it in Western Australia. And the toads outnumber people 60 to 1. They are not welcome guests. Natural wildlife, pet dogs, and even people can die if they ingest their poison. And they are predicted to only keep on spreading over the continent. All because of one single shipment of toads a whole continent has suffered for decades. We’ve been going through a series in Luke 15-17 looking at the lasting impact that we make by what we do with our life right now. Today we consider how the impact we make can be for good or for bad. That means we need to take our life of faith very seriously. What we do today will have a lasting effect on tomorrow -for good or for bad.

Like the devastation from an invasive species, our sin can cause great damage. Jesus notes that the spread of damaging sin is unavoidable. “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come.” The word here for “things that cause people to stumble” refers to something which causes somebody harm. It could cause them harm because it either leads them to sin, harms their faith, or causes them to fall away from faith. We live in a sin-filled world and a sin-cursed world. You can’t avoid encountering things that cause people to stumble any more than the people of Australia can avoid the spread of unwelcome toads. Such things are bound to come.

Sins that cause people to stumble may be impossible to avoid. But that doesn’t mean that we should in any way begin to get comfortable with them.  Jesus warns us to watch ourselves. If someone does something which causes another to stumble Jesus says it is a horrible thing. He warns, “Things that cause to stumble are people impossible to avoid, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Little ones could include both children and those who are new to the faith. There are lots of things in this world which cause little ones to stumble. A little child will see a video online or a movie and decided that what they see is good to follow. They might be led to all sorts of sin and all sorts of things will attack their faith. Someone who is new to the faith will have godless coworkers or family which will cause them to doubt their faith or fall away from faith in Jesus. There are countless things, in cinema, music, social media which will lead children into sin. There are so many things that will try to persuade youth to turn away from Christ.

But you and I have to take note that Jesus isn’t speaking to the unbelieving world here. He isn’t focused on bashing the music industry, the film industry, public television programs that teach evolution, public universities that have professors who mock Christians, or unbelieving peers who pressure the young into sexual immorality and godlessness. He is talking to his disciples. “Watch yourselves!” he tells us. Whether we are aware of it or not we can cause great harm!

Do we always recognize when we might be causing lasting harm? Is there anything we might not be watching carefully which could cause someone to stumble into sin or stumble in faith? It may seem like a small thing when you tolerate the music which dishonors God’s gift of marriage. But who is to blame if that godless song is heard in your home? Who is to blame if your own children or grandchildren are influenced by it? Who is to blame if your new in the faith Christian neighbor stumbles over it? It may seem like a small thing for parents to give their children a phone or tablet.  But that electronic device is a portal to the most deceptive and darkest places on the internet. It opens the door to everything from feeding materialistic selfishness to pornography. Who is responsible if a parent puts this into their child’s hands without equipping them to face those dangers? Who is responsible when a small child stumbles in the dark while staring at a glowing screen given to them by their own parents? It may not seem like a big deal when you skip out on worship and treat it like an optional thing on occasion. But what will the next generation think of the habit of worship when their parents occasionally find sleeping in, hunting, golfing, or sports more important than honoring the Lord? What example do you leave for others? It may not seem like a big deal when you have an argument and make a big scene without resolving it. But who notices this habit and looks up to you? Does anything that you do ever cause someone else whether little or new to the faith to stumble in their faith? A disciple ought to disciple, not harm the faith of others. “Woe to you,” Jesus says, if you are the one through whom stumbling comes. “Watch yourself.” He warns.

Bad things happen when carelessness reigns. I’m sure that the ships which first carried tiny shelled creatures called zebra mussels from the Caspian Sea to different parts of the world didn’t even understand what they were doing or how it would impact others. But those tiny mussels held onto the ships, or hung in their ballast water until they were released into a new lake across the world. The tiny zebra mussel has caused more damage than those who carried it might have ever guessed. It has spread across the largest freshwater lakes and devastated natural wildlife populations. This all because those who transported it weren’t taking care to avoid spreading the damage. So it often is with sins that cause little ones to stumble. Parents, grandparents who interact with little ones in the faith and Christians who interact with new Christians don’t always realize they are wreaking havoc on the faith of others. And the damage is far greater than they might even realize. What you do today that causes stumbling in faith has lasting and eternal ramifications for others!

Jesus says it is so serious that it would be better to have a large stone hung around your neck and to be tossed into the sea than to cause a little one to stumble. He is in effect saying it would be better if you vanished without a trace than remained to do harm that would leave a lasting mark on someone’s faith life. Watch our faith life closely including the observance of God’s law! The impact is severe if you don’t so the sin is one to take most seriously!

But Jesus wants our faith life to be more than just careful observance of the law of God. He knows that damaging sins will come. He understands that we will fail and those we love will experience the pain and guilt of sin. So, right next to his warning to watch yourself so that you don’t lead others to stumble in faith he includes instruction to watch yourself that you handle sin as you ought. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them.” This is the proper use of God’s law. Notice he isn’t asking us to go around pointing out the sin and rebuking the unbelieving world. He is asking us to rebuke fellow Christians. If you see someone who is causing someone to stumble in faith you need to rebuke them. Don’t just watch them cause harm and damage to themselves and others. Say something. Point out their wrong.

Yet, do it with the goal of displaying forgiveness. God wants us to take his law seriously, yes. But we need to give the gospel its full weight and worth too! “…And if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Seriousness about sin must be coupled with seriousness about the gospel. The goal in rebuking others when they sin is not to get them to tie a millstone around their neck so they might vanish in despair. The goal is to forgive. To forgive means that you let the sin go and no longer hold it against them. To forgive means that you will not put that particular sin down on a list and stick it in your pocket so that you can pull it out later. Those who say they forgive but then keep bringing up a sin do not understand what it means to forgive. Jesus is speaking about a full and free release from sin’s guilt and pain. The person who repents is to be freely pardoned without cost or shame. Forgiveness also knows no limit. Even if the person seems to exhaust your patience and comes to you again and again in the same day seeking pardon, forgive.  A life which treats God’s law seriously will avoid causing serious damage with that great care. But a life which treats God’s gospel seriously will heal an enormous degree of damage with their rebuking the sinner and their forgiveness for the repentant.

When the disciples heard these things, they seemed to have an overwhelming sense of the inadequacy of their faith. “Lord, increase our faith!” they said. You and I also might recognize the times we’ve failed to watch our life closely. How can you and I claim to be living a life of faith when we have at times caused someone to stumble in their faith? Has your Christian life been so free from sin that you’ve been the perfect example for others? Or have you at times tolerated sin to the point that it caused others to sin? And how has your life of faith been in the area of rebuking those who do sin? Do you follow Jesus’ advice and rebuke a brother or sister in the faith when they sin, or do you just try to avoid all conflict and let the damage continue? Then when someone seeks forgiveness, do you dish it out perfectly? Or are you sometimes only able to remind people of how they are trying your patience and don’t really deserve your forgiveness?

Faith in Jesus leads to the impossible happening. Even faith as small as a mustard seed, practically unseen to the observer, is powerful to bring about the impossible. That is because our faith is in the only one who could do what we needed. Jesus was never unaware of the damage caused by sin. From the beginning he knew it would spread over all the world to destroy and kill. But he dealt with it for us. He came to rescue us from the plague of poison. It wasn’t a poison from some toad, but from our own hearts. But never once did the man Jesus cause anyone to sin. Never once did he do something you could blame for harming the faith of another. Never once did he fail to rebuke the brother or sister in the faith who needed a rebuke. He took God’s law seriously. Most seriously. And with that perfect and blameless life the Son of God gave his life. On the cross he took our place and the poison and damage of all our sin. But sin’s curse could not hold him in the grave. He rose again to announce our freedom and forgiveness. We are forgiven -even several times over each day and hour. That’s because Jesus took God’s law and gospel most seriously!

How we now live has a lasting impact. It can be for good, or for bad. That’s why we are called to watch ourselves and take both God’s law and gospel seriously. And when we do, we should not take pride in ourselves. We are merely God’s servants. When we watch ourselves and avoid sin or share forgiveness, we aren’t doing anything spectacular. We are merely doing what God wants. We are servants only doing our duty for our Lord. We are nothing more. He is everything!

Jesus has done the most spectacular thing. He didn’t stop the spread of invasive species. He stopped the spread of sin and death. He has done what no one ever could. It wasn’t his duty, but he graciously made it is goal to free us from sin’s harm. The impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has echoed throughout the world and will continue to echo through your life and mine. And it will resound into eternity for those who follow him in faith. With him, we make a lasting impact!

Make a Lasting Impact 3) Impact of Scripture

Luke 16:19-31 ● October 20, 2019 ● Sermon Series on Luke 15-17 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  Print VersionAudio  ●

 

It’s startling that according to the USDA the amount of food wasted in America is on average one pound per person per day. That’s about a third of all the food from every home, restaurant, and cafeteria completely wasted. We are a prosperous nation. Growing up I had never thought much about the significance behind taking out the trash. But what we can toss out says a lot about us. I can remember in my first apartment that I needed to carry the trash all the way to the dumpster across the parking lot. I didn’t think that those dumpsters said much about me and the life I had. But then I heard about a comment made by one of my neighbors who was an immigrant from Russia. They couldn’t believe how quickly those dumpsters were filled. They never would produce as much trash when living in a poor area of Russia. These neighbors were amazed at the fact that they were so rich they had several garbage bags full of trash to take out every week. We have many nice things. And they are blessings from God that give us comfort in life. Most people in our country have relatively comfortable lives. We have and we use a lot of nice things. But our possessions don’t give us the full picture, do they? Jesus points out that all the comforts and riches of this world won’t bring lasting comfort. We might have a lot of food and comfortable things, but whether we use them much or not they all end up as trash in the end. And they can’t help us one bit in our final hour. Where do we find the source of lasting comfort? Today we continue our series on Luke 15-17 on making a lasting impact. And we find our answer as Jesus explains the impact of Scripture. It brings real and lasting comfort.

Jesus presents us with two men who valued two different forms of comfort. One man seemed to have every comfort right at his fingertips. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” This rich man had it well! He had the best clothes. Purple wasn’t cheap, it was the garment of the rich. And his inner garment was as soft as silk. Moreover, he didn’t just have nice, comfortable things, we are told he celebrated. Not just a party like you and I may have on special occasions, this was his life. Every day was another feast and celebration. He was the example of someone living what many consider to be the good life.

Then Jesus presents another man by the name of Lazarus. This likely doesn’t refer to Jesus’ friend Lazarus who was apparently wealthy. No, this particular man was a beggar. That’s all he could be. He didn’t even have his own strength to get around. He was placed to beg at the gate of the rich man’s house. He was helpless. To add to his discomfort, he had sores on his body. You can imagine these festered and bothered him each day. Moreover, he didn’t just have to beg and put up with uncomfortable sores, we are told he hungered. He longed for even just scraps to come his way. You would think the daily celebrations of the rich man would produce a little for him to eat. You can be sure just as the average American person wastes food, this man had plenty left over. But Lazarus had no friend to bring him the scraps. He didn’t seem to have any comfort. If he had any friends, they were just stray dogs that hung around him. He was the example of the pain-filled, penniless, and friendless beggar.

But Jesus presents the full picture of these two men for us. Only one of these men had real comfort. Life is short. Lazarus died. As for this poor man who seemed to have no comfort —suddenly he was more comfortable than any of us can even imagine. God sent his angles to carry Lazarus to what Jesus calls, “Abraham’s side.” It is better translated as “Abraham’s embrace.” This was the Jewish designation for heaven -the comfort of God’s people. Life is short for all of us. The rich man also died. And when he died his comfort died with him. Sure, he had a nice burial. You can imagine all the wealthy dignitaries showing up and the nice tomb he was placed in. His dead body received a “comfortable” funeral and burial. But his time of comfort was over. He didn’t end up in comfort like Lazarus. Lazarus’ name was written in the book of life. The rich man’s name mattered not. It wasn’t found in the book of life. Unlike Lazarus, the rich man was in hell, in torment.

Why did things end up this way? Why was the rich man now in torment? Was it because he was rich? Certainly not! Just look at Abraham the ‘father of faith’ who greeted Lazarus in paradise. Abraham was a very wealthy man! Yet Abraham entered into eternal life. So why didn’t the rich man? The fact that he was wealthy did not condemn him to hell and torment. No, it was the rich man’s use of his possessions that reveals something about him. We will see more of this later in Jesus’ story. The rich man had a complete disregard for God’s Word. Moses and the prophets told of giving to the poor. But as he disregarded Scripture, he also disregarded showing the love of God. To him this was just an empty command. What did it matter if he was already comfortable? It was obvious that his own personal comforts on earth mattered far more than whatever Scripture said. So enamored with his earthly wealth he dismissed the treasure of God’s Word.

Does our desire for personal comfort ever lead us to disregard God’s Word? We may be lulled into disregard for God’s Word by the comforts of this life. What do you treasure more, your golf score chart, your hunting achievements, your sporting events, whatever brings you temporary pleasure, or the holy Scriptures? Now there is nothing wrong with golfing, hunting, sports, travel, and pursuing life’s comforts. There’s nothing wrong with going out to eat. But there is if it leads us to disregard God’s Word. Like the rich man such a focus on earthly comfort and disregard for God’s Word can dangerously grow into total disregard. For some it has.  Such comfort is fleeting. Like the rich man, total disregard of God’s Word will result in lasting and total separation from God’s goodness.

Why was Lazarus brought to the comforts of heaven? Was it because he was poor? Certainly Not! The fact that he was poor and suffering without comfort did not grant him heaven and comfort. No, it was the poor Lazarus’ eternal life that reveals something about his earthly life. Lazarus joined the “father of faith” because of his faith. His death made it clear that he had faith in “Moses and the Prophets”. As the extreme opposite of the rich man he did not place his comfort on earthly things. His comfort was from Scripture. Lazarus was in heaven because of his trust, his faith in a God who promised mercy and forgiveness. He had faith in the Lord who promised comfort for the sinner.

Lazarus found in life that all his earthly comforts failed. For God’s people this failing of earthly comforts will actually result in the end as a blessing. Lazarus knew and was continually reminded of a comfort that outweighed all his troubles. Lazarus received what he truly needed from Scripture, Moses and the Prophets. He could say along with the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40)

We often need to be reminded of this comfort. There will be times when it may seem that God cares very little for our comfort. We may not ever become beggars, but financial stress comes. We may not be covered with sores, but illness, and eventually death all seems to daily remove our earthly comforts. We may not have to face hunger, but our needs often feel unmet. And if and when all else does fail, we know that we have real comfort. We have God’s Word for bringing us God’s comfort. Like Paul we can say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,”(2 Cor 1:3) And we know this brings true comfort regardless of the fact that we are wealthy like Abraham or poor like Lazarus. Lasting comfort is found, real comfort, in God’s Word.

This is Jesus’ point in telling this story: What we do with Scripture now has an eternal impact. Let me repeat that: What we do with Scripture today has a lasting and eternal impact. Look at the sudden turn around for the two men in his story! One seemed to have everything but had nothing of lasting value.  One seemed to have nothing but had everything of lasting value. That’s why Jesus says right before this story, “What is valuable among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

Some might object at this turnaround. The rich man did. Is it fair that in our short time on earth how we respond to Scripture should decide our eternal fate? Why should the rich man suffer eternally? Recall what Abraham said. “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” Notice Abraham doesn’t say because. Remember that the rich man is not suffering because he had good things. He suffers because of his evil relationship toward God. God’s mercy had been offered to the rich man. Abraham is simply reminding the rich man that God’s judgments are just, and in hell they are final.

The rich man had completely disregarded God’s Word during life, and he continued to disregard God’s word even in the torments of hell. Even as he was being tormented he charged God of not being fair. “(The rich man) answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “God wasn’t’ fair he charged! If only God had done a miracle or forced me to believe in him!” The rich man was basically saying, “God, I have a better idea than you. Since your Scripture wasn’t enough to bring me to faith and repentance, why don’t you send Lazarus to convert my sinful brothers?” Abraham replied on God’s defense: “God gave you his Word, and you rejected it. God has already given the rich man’s brothers all they need: his holy Word.” But the rich man said this was not enough. “No! But if you do a little more, then they will believe.” The rich man denied God’s word its power. Hell’s idea of conversion is to scare people into believing in God, to force faith upon the rebellious heart. But not even this would change the heart of the one who continually rejected God’s Word. Abraham made it clear that God’s Word was all that was needed. “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

When we share God’s Word, it becomes easy to succumb to this same thinking. “God won’t change this man’s heart, not if I keep doing what I am doing, I need more than just sharing God’s Word. I need a testimonial. I need a miracle. I need more, God, if you want me to make disciples of all nations!”

But God’s response to such foolish thinking is, “My Word is enough. Let them listen to it. Let them hear that I detest sin, that I removed sin by sending my son. Let them hear I give comfort, real comfort, eternal comfort.” Our God says, “Let them hear through Moses and the Prophets and the evangelist and apostles how I have loved the entire world. Let them hear how my Son gave up all the glory and comfort of heaven so that he might share it with all who believe in him as Savior. Let them hear how even as he suffered greater discomfort than we can imagine, he said to the criminal next to him ‘today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Let them look to me now for mercy and they will find free forgiveness and the sure promise and hope of eternal life. Let them listen to my Word.” The impact of that powerful Word is eternal.

Do you want to make a lasting impact? You don’t need a miracle or a display. You don’t need anything beyond what you already have: the Word of God. In the midst of all the temporary pleasures and comforts we share a lasting comfort. All else will fail and be tossed into the trash. Only one thing brings lasting comfort. It alone brings lasting comfort. Its impact is eternal.

Make a Lasting Impact 1) Forgiveness

Make a Lasting Impact 1) Impact of Forgiveness  ●  Luke 15:1-10 ● October 6, 2019 ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version ●  Lasting Impact Series

Note: audio recording quality will be restored back to normal for our next upload

 

Anyone can make an impact. But it’s hard to make a lasting impact. Take the world of music for example. Even if someone has a published song, it’s just one of over 100 million published songs worldwide. And the number is growing fast. Today it is estimated that there are about 1000 published songs uploaded to the various music streaming services each hour. That equals a million newly published songs every six weeks. Do they all make an impact? A song may be popular for today, but who will still be listening to it one-hundred years from now? Even the most popular artist today may be tomorrow’s forgotten song. Not everyone is a musician, but we all have a chance to make a lasting impact on this world. This month we’ll be looking at the lasting impact which God intends for us to make. Today we consider one of most powerful tools for making a lasting impact: forgiveness.

Luke reminds us at the start of chapter 15 how without forgiveness there is separation. There was a group of people meeting with Jesus who were often left outside in the cold. They are labeled in Luke’s time as “tax collectors and sinners.” This group would have included those who by their life were publicly known as immoral. The tax collectors were suspected and most often guilty of cheating people. They were despised in ancient Israel because they worked for the Roman government. The sinners referenced here would have included men and women known for their dealings with the sex trade business, the local drunkards, and suspected thieves or cheats. They were the outsiders on the fringe of society.

But Jesus was breaking the separation between himself and this crowd. He wasn’t joining with them in anything immoral. It doesn’t say that he approved of anything those people had done. Nor was Jesus saying they were upright and good people. But he was eating with them. By this he was showing that he did not desire there to be any separation. This action drew the ire of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were the religious instructors and spent much of their energy enforcing the law of God. They began to mutter among themselves against Jesus. They couldn’t believe that Jesus wanted to break down the barriers of separation!

So, did the Pharisees and teachers of the law have a valid point? Why should Jesus welcome and eat with such people? Without forgiveness there is indeed separation. When someone falls into any type of sin it will cause harm and create division. Families are divided when one person refuses to talk to a family member because of unforgiven sin. Marriages crumble when one spouse lets a sin that separates them continue to grow into a rift that tears the marriage apart. Even whole churches crumble and divide over sin which separates. Sin does create division!

Scripture reveals just how big an impact our sins have. It causes division in the worst way. That division includes us and our God. Scripture reveals that we have a bigger problem than the guilty consciences, broken families, broken marriages, and broken lives caused by our sins. It has separated us from our God. It brings death and eternal separation in hell. The angels of God ought to look down at every one of us and say, “There’s one who ought to be tossed outside the kingdom and away from our Holy Lord God!” God ought to say, “I never want to see your face again.”

But notice the difference between these two groups of people in Luke 15. Why were the tax collectors and sinners gathering around Jesus? They weren’t just coming near to him because they wanted another drinking buddy, or because Jesus was joining in anything dishonest. They were drawing near because they wanted to hear the gracious and welcoming words which Jesus shared for sinners. The Pharisees and teachers only gathered around Jesus to criticize and critique him. One group yearned for the separation to end, another feared it.

God doesn’t want that separation to exist between us and himself. Jesus teaches us here about forgiveness and its profound impact. He uses a few parables in Luke 15 to teach his point about the impact of forgiveness. The first is about a lost sheep and the second about a lost coin. Both parables present the same basic situation: someone or something precious has been lost. When someone falls into sin and has turned away from God they are not viewed as trash or garbage to him. They remain precious to him and he cares about them. If you have a friend or family member who has abandoned all love for God and lives for themselves, remember that God has not abandoned his love for them. To him that person is still precious even though they have been separated from him. God cares about the lost. And it doesn’t matter how it happened. Whether the person wandered willfully and foolishly away from God like a lost sheep or was foolishly misplaced or overlook the way a church can overlook someone, they are lost but precious still. He cares.

He desires to recover and searches for the lost. The shepherd Jesus mentions leaves behind his flock and risks everything to find his lost sheep. That’s what God desires for those who wander from his flock. He desires decisive action to regain the lost. And just like a woman overturning and cleaning her whole house to find a lost coin, he desires his church make every effort to recover the lost. God cares. And he searches.

And the search continues until the lost is found and recovered. To relate this to the work of Christian it means going after the lost as long as possible in order to bring them back to Christ. It means that you make every effort to reach the lost until that person is brought to repentance and faith in Christ. Repentance occurs. Forgiveness is spoken. The sinner is restored to faith and peace with God. That is the end goal. The business of the church is not to simply proclaim the law. The church is in the business of forgiveness. God cares. God searches. He recovers and forgives.

And the end result of each parable is rejoicing. Can’t you see the picture painted by Jesus when just one person repents and receives forgiveness? The picture is far bigger than what meets the eye. We can see the person who repents being hugged. We see the tears of joy at forgiveness spoken. We see the smile and the friendship restored. But open your eyes to see the bigger impact. God smiles. The angels in heaven rejoice. Can you see the picture of the heavenly armies of the Lord Almighty cheering another victory as one sinner repents and is brought back safely into God’s kingdom? He rejoices!

This is what happens when forgiveness is offered! The impact is profound, and it outlasts all else. There’s a pedestrian bridge in Menasha Wisconsin, about a mile from where I had been serving as pastor in May of 2015. A man there opened fire and shot at a young family, killing a father and his eleven-year-old daughter. His wife said that his dying words to the shooter were reportedly “I forgive you.” A lasting impact stands there today on that bridge with a memorial plaque about forgiveness found in Jesus. You no doubt recall the shooting that took place last May here in Payson. It was just a mile from my home. The shooter escalated an argument, pulled out his pistol, and opened fire. He shot the other man three times. That man was a Christian. His words of forgiveness to the shooter will no doubt have a bigger impact than any of the bullet wounds which he is still recovering from. You probably heard on national news this week about the man, Brandt Jean, who forgave the former police officer, Amber Guyger, the woman who shot and killed his brother. She had walked right into his apartment and shot and killed his brother even though the was totally innocent. Regardless of what your opinions might be on the actions of the judge, jury, or the political commentaries, the brother’s words of forgiveness are regarded by all as the most remarkable thing. The man mentioned the full forgiveness that was found in Christ Jesus. The loss of his brother will impact him for the rest of his life. But his words of forgiveness in Jesus will have a lasting impact for all who heard across our nation for countless years to come. Forgiveness always will outlast all else!

I could also point to the timeless examples of forgiveness in Scripture such as Joseph who forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery, and Hosea who forgave his wife’s adultery along with many others. All such examples of freely given forgiveness flow from the one true God. From him we find the greatest expression of forgiveness. God did this in Christ for us. We were completely rebellious and lost. We willfully turned aside from our God and deserved to remain lost. God had every right to disassociate himself from us. Instead he did the unthinkable and unbelievable. It surprised the teachers of the law and caused them to mummer against him. He tore down the barriers of sin. Jesus cared. Jesus searched us out. Jesus found us and recovered us. He did more than forgive. He won our forgiveness by taking upon himself what we deserved. He was nailed to the tree and cried out, “Father, forgive them.” That was the beginning of every barrier of sin crumbling down. That is what Jesus lived and died for. And because he rose to life, we know that the impact of those words is eternal. His words of forgiveness echo today from heaven and around the world. They echo in my heart and in yours. All barriers of sin have been removed forever between us and our God. Forgiveness has the greatest impact for us!

This forgiveness produces a lasting friendship. There is nothing more powerful you can do to restore and build up a friendship than to forgive. Forgiveness removes all separation and animosity. It destroys all division. It is what allowed the sinners to eat with Jesus and it is what allows us to also eat with him. Forgiveness restores the broken family. It binds up the faltering marriage and restores it. It heals the heart. And it even leads to joy in place of grief and pain.

That’s the impact we now share with this world. We care because Jesus cares. We search because our God longs to look for the lost. We find and recover with words of pardon and peace because our God has given us those words. We rejoice because we know what the angels know: God is pleased, and a sinner is restored to him. We have a lasting friendship. The person who discovers the joy of forgiveness has a joy with us and God which will never end.

Making a lasting impact isn’t something you will always see right away. J.S. Bach wasn’t always regarded as a world-famous composer. At the time of his death his music was already considered old fashioned by many. Some pieces like the Brandenburg concertos, now world-famous pieces, had even failed to land him a job during his lifetime. He died thinking he might have left only a passing impact on the world of music. Yet today he is one of the most highly regarded and influential figures in the history of modern music. There isn’t a single accomplished musician who doesn’t at least recognize his name or have heard music influenced by him. Have you been to a wedding? That’s probably Bach you heard. How about the haunted houses? That might be a piece by Bach you’re hearing. Electric guitar solo? There’s some Bach behind some of those riffs too. He also wrote hundreds of sacred cantatas. He never would have guessed his music would reach the stars! Yet when NASA first sent out items decades ago into far reaches of space, who whose music would you find sent into the far reaches of the galaxy? Bach. His religious music is still causing agnostics to listen to the gospel message and ponder the wonders of Christ Jesus. Bach didn’t see his impact, but he made a lasting impact on the world far beyond his lifetime. So it is with the impact a Christian makes with their life-song. When you share forgiveness you share the most powerful tool for a lasting impact for good. You may not see it, but right away when a sinner repents and receives forgiveness, the angels in heaven are bursting into rejoicing! It will last for years and perhaps even for eternity.

Next week we’ll continue reading on in Luke’s gospel to find more things which leave a lasting impact. Today we’ve seen how forgiveness echoes now far beyond this world and will echo for eternity to those who seek it and receive it in Jesus’ name. It is a song of the gospel and it rings out with the tune of forgiveness. That forgiveness causes the angels in heaven to rejoice. God himself is delighted. And the saints on earth also rejoice. That is the impact of forgiveness for those who know and share Christ.

 

Lost in Pride; Found in Christ

Philippians 3:4-11 ● September 29, 2019 ● Pentecost 16 ●  Audio Version ●  Print Version 

Do you start books by reading the back cover or inside jacket? Often you will find a picture of the author there with a short paragraph or two of praise. I found a book recently with an interesting blurb for its author. I was intrigued and decided to give the book a read. As I read through the first few pages the author introduced himself. He proceeded to list the reasons why he was the most qualified person in the world to write his commentary on the Bible. He had spent several decades teaching the Torah and the Hebrew Bible. He had fielded countless questions from students and was indeed a professor of professors. He listed the number of renowned authors and scholars he knew around the world. And that was all just the introduction. There was more. After his own introduction is a preface by an admirer of the author. That man asserts that he had the privilege of creating a preface for a book written by the smartest and greatest man he had ever known -a Hebrew scholar of Hebrew scholars. And in his book the author wasn’t content to simply list his accolades in academics, profound professional ties, and prolific professorship positions. He had an even greater feat he wanted to boast about. He couldn’t let us overlook his moral qualifications and religious zeal. He even boasts, “After I left home, I called my mother once a week every week until she died.” You see, to him his moral attainments were his greatest achievement. He was not a Christian. But he believed that keeping the Ten Commandments was the highest achievement anyone could ever attain. So, as he wrote his prologue and had many things to boast about, he couldn’t help but boasting about his moral character.

Should I have been impressed? I suppose many of his feats were remarkable. Maybe even his morality was notable. But the apostle Paul wouldn’t have been impressed. The apostle considered every title, moral habit, and academic achievement a man could ever attain in the area of theology as worthless when it came to impressing God. And what good is impressing others if you don’t impress God? One can get lost in pride. It was true for that Hebrew scholar and it is true for us. Today we are warned against falling into the same trap of getting lost in pride and falling away from Christ.

In his letter to the Philippian Christians, Paul warned against boasting about such things as religious observance or moral purity. He refers to all confidence in achievements and adherence to the law as “having confidence in the flesh.” In Paul’s day that often included those who kept the Ten Commandments and all the ceremonial and sacrificial regulations given to the Israelites. Taking pride in religious observance and zeal was a big problem in many of the early Christian churches.

Unless you’re into theological commentaries and books by Hebrew scholars, you probably don’t encounter too many people boasting about their religious fever. But you will still find many who being to “put confidence in the flesh.” Some boast that their baptism was superior to other Christians. Some may boast about how they have kept the Ten Commandments. They may consider themselves better servants of God and with a better standing on the basis of religious days and Sabbath regulations given to ancient Israel. I’ve encountered some who try to knock down other churches based on their style of worship. They boast that their church has the Spirit while others do not. Or they are proud that their church has the historical rites while others do not. They deem their religious activity better because of their music style and its performance. They brag about their religious observation and zeal. Still others will go on and on about how they dedicated their lives to God through some type of decision they made to submit to the Lord. They will point out how they gave themselves to God to serve him. Others will boast about how they or their church body is making a difference in the world by fighting injustice, poverty, sickness or ignorance. All these boasts are what the apostle Paul refers to as “boasting in the flesh.” Anytime anyone (regardless of whether they be Christian or not) begins to think highly of themselves based on something they have done; they are boasting in the flesh. Anytime a Christian or any other person puts down others and builds themselves up based on their own achievements they begin to “have confidence in the flesh.” The actions they take pride in are often good things, but the pride never is.

If anyone could boast about “having confidence in the flesh” it would be the apostle Paul. He writes, “If anyone thinks they have reason to have confidence in the flesh, I have more!” He goes on to list the things that make him stand out above all his peers in the sphere of religious achievements. He was circumcised by believing parents who brought him to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This made him a life-long disciple. And as a life-long servant of God he could claim to belong to Israel in ways that others couldn’t. He was not only an Israelite, but of the tribe of Benjamin. All the other tribes, save remnants of Judah and Levi, had been mixed or scattered in centuries past. But not Paul’s tribe. Paul was a true believer from a long line of faithful Israelites. And he wasn’t just a Hebrew professor or student of Hebrew. He called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” At a time when many were no longer even able to speak Hebrew, the native language of Old Testament Scripture, Paul lived on the language of the Torah. He didn’t have to study Hebrew like me or like the world-renowned author I mentioned. He understood the Torah better than anyone. Scripture’s language was his own. And Paul bore the title “Pharisee.” This group was known for holding so carefully to the law of God that they created additional laws just to make sure they had every base covered.

Paul was so zealous in his faith-life that he even became blind to the evil in himself. He took an active role in trying to stamp out the Christians who in his mind were deviating from the law. And all his religious peers regarded him as outwardly faultless in all his religious practices and observance. None could boast of religious zeal like Paul could.

But when he became a Christian, Paul regarded all his former life as garbage. The word he uses here can refer to the rubbish left over in the kitchen or the stuff left in the chamber pot. In other words, all the good religious practices and achievements were like rotten refuse. It wasn’t just worthless. It was a harmful stench. He wouldn’t for a moment consider holding onto any of his religious zeal any more than you would your trash. He gladly let it all go and tossed it.

That because the apostle Paul, boasting in zeal and lost in pride, met Jesus one day. The risen Lord appeared to him. And he had a surprise! Everything he had done met nothing without faith in Christ Jesus as his Lord. And after that revelation Paul was brought to faith in his Lord. Once he gained faith in Christ, he didn’t want to place any confidence in the flesh and boast in it. He knew the danger of putting his eyes only on himself and being blinded in his pride. Paul knew that in the end he could never stand on his own righteousness. He knew that anyone who tried to stand before the judge of all on the basis of their own religious observance would be greatly surprised on the last day. He knew that on the last day the risen Jesus would come as judge and say to them, “away from me you who are cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” All those who in pride relied on their good deeds will say to him, “Lord, when did we not do good things in your name?” The judge in turn will say that even the least fault or failure would leave them condemned and guilty. Sadly in such blindness many have put so much focus on what they have done that they make it their source of confidence. Blinded in pride they have taken their eyes off of Christ Jesus as Lord and made themselves their own Savior.

Could this ever happen to us? Could we ever misplace our confidence and be lost in pride? The apostle Paul warns and writes here to one of the most faithful churches found in all the New Testament letters. The Philippian Christians were generous, supportive, and receptive to the gospel. Paul loves them dearly and is filled with joy because of their faith. Yet he must warn them against the dangers of “putting confidence in the flesh” and becoming lost in pride. In fact, it is often those who are most outwardly zealous and religious who are the first to fall into the trap of boasting in the flesh.

That’s why this warning is needed also for us. If anyone can take pride in religious zeal many of you could probably boast more than others you know. As a member of the WELS you could claim to belong to a church that not only teaches the Word of God in truth and purity, but which practices it. You may not study Hebrew and Greek, but all the pastors in your church body do and take great care with the study of the Word. Do we dare to boast or take confidence in that fact? Does God love us more for achieving such academic feats with his Word? If any pastor could boast I could dare to boast that I was baptized around the eighth day. And as a life-long Christian I have studied the Word and would be regarded by everyone outwardly as faultless and blameless in keeping the law. Dare I boast in the flesh? You can look back on all the good you have done, the times you’ve attended worship and Bible class, confirmation class, and the times you’ve shared a Christian meme on social media. Dare you to boast in that? At a time when many are saying God’s Word is not clear and attacking the truth of Scripture you dare to hold to it and read it. Dare you boast in that faithfulness to him? At a time when many are dishonoring marriage some of you are celebrating 30, 40, 50, even 60 years of faithful marriage. Dare you to boast in that? Does any sinner impress God with such things? In regard to salvation it all means nothing.  Stinky trash.

Paul says that to put any confidence or pride in such things is not only foolish, it is dangerous. It causes us to take our eyes off Christ and join the rest of the world in looking at ourselves instead of Jesus. Don’t misunderstand, keeping the law and living according to God’s Word and practicing zeal in religion is a good thing. But it ceases to be good as soon as you put your confidence in it and boast about it before God. We become blind in our pride to our own condition as sinners.

Instead we must daily join with the apostle Paul and all saints saying, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Christ Jesus is the only one we can ever put our confidence in. He was truly faultless. He kept the law of God outwardly and kept it perfectly from the heart. He was filled with zeal for the house of the Lord and honored every commandment all the time. He lived, taught, and died as the only one who could ever boast in the flesh. But he didn’t take on human flesh to simply boast. The Son of God took on flesh to give it for the world’s benefit. All his righteousness meant he deserved only life. But he traded that life for our death. He was cursed on the cross for us. And he freely gave us his own righteousness.

With Christ we are found righteous in God’s eyes. Instead of being lost in pride we become found in Christ. We join with Paul is saying I want to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.We will stand on the last day with bodies raised to life and restored. And we will boast in Jesus’ who raised us to life not because of what we have done, but in mercy for those who trusted in him. So, we don’t stand with our own righteousness. “Not my own righteousness” Paul says. But the righteousness of Jesus, who took our place. In him and in his perfect life we place our trust. He is our Lord.

That righteousness comes with the power of his resurrection. Paul was willing to share in whatever sufferings that meant knowing he would share in Jesus’ resurrection in the end. He did not know how or when he might die, but he knew in some way he would attain to that resurrection. Why boast in the flesh when we can boast in the glorified body of Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his own?

That, believers in Christ, is the highest achievement you could ever attain. And it was attained for you by Jesus Christ your Lord. Found in Christ we have something to boast about. Because there is a book written by him. Open that book and find there is no one who can boast, save Jesus the Christ. Toss all other things aside, not lost in pride, but found in Christ.