Blessed?

February 17, 2019 – Luke 6:17-26

How are you doing this morning? There used to be a man who when he walked into church on Sunday mornings and I asked him how he was doing, he would respond with a single word. He would say, “Blessed!” Every week he said the same thing. How many of us would give that response today? Maybe all of us because “blessed” seems like a pretty “churchy” thing to say, right? But if you actually gave it some thought, what would you look to see if you were blessed? Maybe you would quickly take inventory of what’s going on in your life. You might think, “Well, my health has been relatively good, at least it certainly could be a lot worse. I’ve got a roof over my head and food in the fridge. I’ve got friends to talk to. You know what, I am pretty blessed.” But what if all those things were taken away, would you still consider yourself blessed?

This morning, Jesus teaches us where to find his blessing. And like many of Jesus teachings, he turns things upside down. While the world tells us to look in one direction to find the Lord’s blessing, the Lord completely turns us around and point us in the opposite direction. Where does he tell us to look? Well, let’s look at the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in the gospel of Luke which are traditionally called “The Beatitudes” and see the unusual places that the Lord promises his blessing.

As we begin our study of these words, it’s important that we take note of the audience. The gospel of Luke tells us, “A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6:17,18). Jesus was preaching to a large and diverse crowd of believers and unbelievers. Some were followers of his and some were probably just interested in seeing the man they had heard about but did not yet believe in. But when it came to these specific words of The Beatitudes notice how the audience is specified as “Looking at his disciples, he said…” (Luke 6:20). These words are NOT directions in how to BECOME a Christian. These are Jesus’ words to those who were ALREADY Christians. As these Christians lived their Christian lives of thanks to their Savior, Jesus promised to bring his blessing in some pretty interesting places and situations in their lives.

Luke records these words of Jesus in a very memorable way. Did you notice how there are two sets of 4 things listed here? First you have four statements of blessing followed by four statements of woe or warning. Each of the four statements of blessing have a direct contrast in the four statements of woe and warning: poor to rich, hunger to well fed, weep to laugh, hate to speaks well of you. The first four statements of blessing seem to be speaking of spiritual things, while the second four statements of woe and warning seem to be speaking of physical or material things. This style not only made it memorable, but brings out the stark contrast between the two lists. Let’s begin by taking a look at the list of blessings.

It’s a little strange, isn’t it, where Jesus says that you find blessing? If you asked someone how their week was and they responded, “Well, I’m poor, hungry, sad, hated, excluded, insulted and rejected,” you probably wouldn’t respond with, “That’s great to hear!” Yet, that is where Jesus tells us that we find blessing. How can that be? Remember that Jesus is talking about spiritual things here.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The psalmist wrote, “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them– the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Psalm 49:7-8). I am by nature poor. I possess nothing that can pay the price of my freedom from sin’s condemnation. We are spiritually bankrupt beggars. My good works and niceness, my patience and putting myself out for others, will never be enough to reach the standard of perfection that God requires for me to be part of his kingdom. It is only when I recognize my utter spiritual poverty, that I can truly appreciate the riches of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is when I realize that I cannot contribute even an ounce towards my salvation that I am blessed with the confidence and peace of knowing that Jesus has paid fully for my salvation. How blessed are poor sinners who depend fully on the riches of Christ’s love and forgiveness.

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” This is closely connected to the previous thought with a bit of a different emphasis. We might not think of hunger as a good thing, until you meet someone who is not hungry and does not want to eat. The feeling of hunger is what drives us to receive the nourishment that our bodies need to go on living. Spiritual hunger is a good thing for the Christian. This is the spiritual hunger that comes from longing to hear of Christ’s forgiveness which my sins regularly make me aware I am in desperate need for. That spiritual hunger comes from seeing my weaknesses, where I have fallen once again for the devil’s lies and given into the sinful world around me. I hunger to hear that Christ forgives and loves me. Only in Christ can that hunger truly be met. How blessed!

Jesus then says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” This is kind of an interesting one because the world around us repeatedly tells us that we should never feel bad about anything. In fact, the only thing that we’re told to feel bad about is feeling bad. That’s especially true when it comes to those things that the Bible says are contrary to God’s will for us. We’re told, “God should just get over it, and so should those who claim to follow him. Don’t feel bad about it! Instead, exalt it, take pride in it, make others feel bad for not supporting or taking part in it!” But Jesus says that there is blessing for those who weep. Sadness is the result of recognizing that something is broken – a relationship, trust, my body, my life, a friendship. When I see that I have sinned, the Christian weeps and is sad. Why? Because we realize that we have broken something that God gave to us. But what is the purpose of that sorrow over sin? It is not that God wants us to stay miserable. Not at all! The apostle Paul wrote to his fellow Christians, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The sadness over our sin leads us to repentance. And repentance always leads the Christian to Christ, to hear those words that he longs for us to hear, “You are forgiven. You are loved. You are mine.” How can that not bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart! How blessed are those who weep with a repentant heart!

Jesus concludes his blessings by saying, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” There is a little phrase that is important to keep in mind when you read this verse. It’s the phrase, “Because of the Son of Man.” A Christian doesn’t go around searching for suffering and looking for insult so that he can claim the Lord’s blessing. The difficulties Jesus is talking about are those that come as a direct result of actively living your Christian life. This would be the student who is made fun of because they won’t participate in underage drinking. This is the woman who is bashed on Facebook because she said that she believes that life begins at conception. This is the man who loses a promotion at work because he wouldn’t go out to the strip club with his boss. These are the parents who are told by their child they are no longer welcomed at their house because they won’t support their child’s choice of lifestyle. Where is the blessing in these things? It always goes back to remembering the reason that you are experiencing that rejection and ridicule. It’s only because you are a follower of Christ Jesus. These difficulties are evidence of your relationship with him. And your relationship with Christ brings you blessings that far outweigh the temporary difficulties in this life, blessings that go on into eternity.

Jesus then goes on to make a list of woes or warnings. This list is parallel to Jesus’ list of blessings. These are probably the things that many people would use to determine how “blessed” they are: wealth, extravagance, happiness, popularity. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. God wants us to enjoy the material and physical things that he has given to us. But Jesus make its repeatedly clear that we need to watch out and not be deceived by those things. While those things can certainly bring temporary pleasure and popularity, those that depend on them will be left lacking the riches won for us by Christ and rejected by God himself. How can that happen? When a person begins to think that those things are evidence that God approves of what they are doing, a person is deceived. When a person starts to use those things as a gauge of success or popularity, that person is being deceived. Yes, they may bring some temporary pleasure and popularity, but they eventually can rob a person of the eternal riches Christ came to win because that person fails to see their need for those riches of Christ.

Remember that Jesus was talking to his disciples, people just like us. He knows the temptations that are out there for his followers, how easily we can be led into looking in the wrong places for evidence of his blessing. The purpose for Jesus’ promises and warning, is always to lead us back to the one place where real and lasting blessing comes – the cross of Christ Jesus – to the richness of his love, the satisfaction of his forgiveness, the confidence of life eternal. It is there, in Christ alone, that you can always say, “I am blessed.” Amen.

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Ready to be a disciple of the Lord?

February 10, 2019 – Isaiah 6:1-8

I have this reoccurring nightmare that goes something like this. It’s Sunday morning. I’m at church. The service is just about ready to start. I realize that I forgot to write a sermon. Why? I’m not sure. The church service is starting and I’m frantically trying to figure out what I’m going to do, what I’m going to say, realizing that I am completely unprepared. I’ve talked to a couple of other pastors, and strangely enough they’ve had similar dreams and I don’t think that we’re alone. You’ve probably had that dream where you are completely unprepared for something: a presentation at work, not having tickets for something, walking into a high school or college classroom for a final’s exam that you didn’t know you were supposed to take. You wake up and you hope it’s just a dream because it’s not a real good feeling to be unprepared. This morning I have a question for you, “Are you ready to be a disciple of Jesus?” This morning we going to look to God’s Word and to two men who were called to be disciples of the Lord, and see what it takes to be prepared to be disciple of Jesus.

The first person that we look at is Peter, the Galilean fisherman who we heard about in our gospel lesson this morning. Jesus came to Peter and three of his fellow fishermen and called them to be his full-time disciples. Did you notice that Jesus didn’t ask them. He didn’t say, “So are you guys ready to my disciples?” Jesus simply says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10). Peter had already realized something about himself when he had personally witnessed the divine power of Jesus with the miraculous catch of fish on that day. Peter realized that the man who stood before him was none other than the Lord God Almighty and so he fell to his knees and pleaded, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Peter realized that on his own, he was woefully unprepared to stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus, no less, be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Peter realized the same thing that Isaiah had come to realize 750 years earlier.

Isaiah was living in the southern part of Israel called Judah during the reign of King Uzziah, a powerful king who reigned for nearly 50 years. It was during this time that the Lord gave Isaiah a vision – a vision that began with awesome terror. You have the Lord sitting on the throne of a king which is “high and exalted” a position of power and authority. The train of his robe “filled the temple” demonstrating the vastness and majesty of the Lord. There are these 6-winged angelic creatures called “seraphim” hovering above the Lord, covering their faces in the presence of the Lord. The seraphs are calling back and forth to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Their glorious proclamation shakes the very foundations of this heavenly temple and fills it with smoke. Like Peter, Isaiah quickly realized who he was standing before, that this was none other than the Lord God Almighty and his reaction is nearly identical, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5).

At first this reaction might seem a little strange to us. We often talk about how good it will be to see the Lord. But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of goodness in Isaiah’s vision, only terror. The truth is that it is only good to be in the presence of God if you are holy as God is holy. And Isaiah realized that he was anything but holy. He says, “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Our mouth reveals what is in our heart. The anger and resentment that lives in our heart demonstrates itself in hurtful and hateful words. Greed and selfishness leads to belittling others and lying in order to get ahead. These are the lips and hearts that have been stained by sin, that cannot live in the presence of a holy God. Isaiah would later right, “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). The writer to the Hebrews describes what it is like to be a sinner in the presence of a holy God when he writes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Like Peter and Isaiah, we must admit that to stand before a holy God covered in the filth and stench of sin is a terrifying thought. By nature we are completely and utterly unprepared to stand before God. Instead of discipleship, we deserve to be banished from God’s presence for eternity.

But did you hear what Jesus said to Peter? “Don’t be afraid” (Luke 5:10). You might wonder, how could you not be afraid to stand before a holy God? We know what we are like. We know what God is like. How do we ever stand a chance? There is only one thing that can take that terror away, and that is what the Lord showed Isaiah in his vision. Just listen, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:6,7). The altar was the place where sacrifices were made. With this vision, God was showing Isaiah that because of the sacrifice that the Lord had made for Isaiah, his sin was taken away. The sin that once made him an object of God’s wrath had been removed. Isaiah was clean of his sin. He was holy in God’s sight.

Peter would get to see that perfect sacrifice that God would offer at the altar of the cross, not in some vision, but with his own eyes. His fellow disciple John would write about Jesus, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The sin that once made us objects of God’s wrath, God has placed upon his Son Jesus. Jesus has suffered that wrath of God for the sins that have lurked in our hearts, and that have been revealed through our words and actions. The lack of patience with a child, the jealousy over what others have and we don’t, the arrogance that leads us to look down on others. For those and every sin that makes us unclean, Jesus has taken the wrath of God and sacrificed his life. Jesus has removed the guilt of our sin so that we can stand confidently before a Holy God and without fear. Yes, like Isaiah and like Peter you no longer need to be afraid to stand before God. You are fully prepared to be a disciple of the Lord, not because of who you are, but because of what Jesus has done for you and made you, holy. That’s what made Isaiah, that’s what made Peter, that’s what makes you and every Christian fully equipped to be a disciple of Jesus.

Isaiah’s reaction to this good news of God’s forgiveness is rather memorable. He hears the deliberations of the Trinity, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). And you can almost picture Isaiah being like that anxious 3rd grader who cannot contain his excitement at the thought of being chosen. His hand shoots up in the air and he says, “Here am I. Send me!” Peter and his fellow fishermen also had that same eagerness as we’re told that after Jesus called them to be his disciples, “So they…left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Maybe you look at that reaction and think, “I wish I felt that way, that I had that eagerness and that excitement to serve the Lord and to follow him as one of his disciples.”

I don’t think that it’s so much a feeling, as it is an appreciation of what God has done for us. This is an appreciation that comes from repeatedly remembering WHAT I have been rescued from. The Lord has not “rescued” me from a puddle in the parking lot. The Lord has rescued me from a tsunami that was about to sweep me away. From that terrifyingly hopeless situation that sin has caused, the Lord reached down and pulled me to safety, to stand securely upon the sacrifice of Jesus, offered for me and for all at the cross, so that I might live with him for eternity, and that I might live for him today and every day of my life. You see, that equipping that Jesus provides to be one of his disciples is actually something that is ongoing our whole life through. As we listen to Jesus and learn from him, the Lord is equipping us to live as his disciples. It is the equipping that is taking place right now, as you recall what Christ has done for you in his mercy. It is the equipping that takes place as you come to the Lord’s Supper and receive Jesus’ body and blood with bread and wine and hear, “Your sins are forgiven.”

You see, when you regularly stop to stand before the Lord and listen to him, to see your sin and the God who has fully rescued you from it, you are better equipped to say, “Here am I! Send me!” Send me into me into my marriage to be the Christian spouse you have called me to be. Send me into my home to be a parent who reflects the patience and commitment of Christ. Send me into work tomorrow to faithfully use the abilities and relationships that you have given me to glorify you. Send me into school to be the student that develops my intellect and has friendships that honor you. Send me into my neighborhood to be a witness of your kindness and compassion. Send me to serve you in whatever way you allow me, Lord Almighty.

Dear friends, you are ready. The Lord has and continues to make you ready to be his disciple through the sacrifice that he has offered for your sins. May that sacrifice of Jesus bring you peace and empower you as disciple of the Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.

Does Jesus Meet Your Expectations?

February 3, 2019 – Luke 4:20-32

Expectations. “Do you really think that we’re going to get all that snow that they say we’re supposed to get?” “Have you heard about the frigid temperatures that are predicted?” “Do you think that they’ll cancel school?” The expectations, the anticipation and the excitement was hard to escape. And this time, the anticipation certainly did not disappoint – significant snow, followed by extreme temperatures. I think to some degree that it’s probably just human nature that loves the anticipation of what might happen, the expectations of the things that could come.

Can you imagine the excitement in Nazareth when they heard that Jesus was coming back home? This was Jesus’ home town, the place where he and his family had grown up and his mother Mary likely still called home. It had been months, maybe even close to a year, since Jesus had performed that first miracle just up the road in Cana. Jesus and his disciples had been travelling throughout the area. The news about what Jesus had been doing was spreading like wildfire. Listen to this description in Matthew 4, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria… Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him” (Matthew 4:23-25). Jesus was famous. Luke tells us, “Everyone praised him” (Luke 4:15). People couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of Jesus, to see the miracles they had heard of, to hear him preach. And now this Jesus was coming back home.

You can only imagine the conversations and stories that were exchanged. “I was Jesus’ Sabbath school teacher. He always such a good student.” “My family used to go with Jesus’ family down to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Passover. Remember that time when they forgot him in Jerusalem?” “I bought a table and chairs from Jesus and his father Joseph. Most comfortable chairs we ever had.” “Do you think that he’ll do some of the miracles like the ones he did in other places?” “I’m sure he’ll do even greater miracles than those! After all, he did those things for people he did NOT know. He knows us!”

When Jesus did finally arrive in Nazareth, Jesus did what he normally did on Saturday. He went to the synagogue, the place where God’s people gathered for weekly worship, to learn and be trained in God’s Word. But this Sabbath was different because Jesus was going to the synagogue that he had grow up in. When he looked around at the people he likely saw many familiar faces. The people in that synagogue were no doubt eager to hear what Jesus had to say so they asked their famous guest to read a portion of Scripture and to deliver a sermon. So Jesus stood up and began to read from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19/Isaiah 61:1,2). He closed the scroll, sat down and began his sermon, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

With those words, Jesus undeniably claimed to be the none other than the promised Messiah. And what Isaiah foretold, Jesus was in fact doing. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, indicating that this Jesus of Nazareth was appointed by God. Last weekend we heard how Jesus performed his first miracle only to be followed by countless others. Every miracle was evidence that Jesus was God, capable of doing what none other could do. That was in essence the good news that Jesus came to be and proclaim. To sinners who are spiritually poor, incapable of providing the perfect life that God requires of them for heaven, Jesus has provided by his perfect life lived in the place of every sinner. To sinners who are oppressed, held captive by the crushing debt of sin, Jesus has brought freedom, paying for every sin with his perfect life and innocent death. That word for “freedom” and “free” which is used in these verses to describe what the Messiah does, is the word for “forgiveness.” Yes, Jesus has come to proclaim the message of forgiveness, literally, the sending away of our sin, so that when God looks upon you, he no longer sees a person deserving of his punishment. Instead, the Lord looks on you with favor. Instead of being separated from him, he welcomes you into his kingdom, and promises you his protection, peace and blessing forever. Yes, Jesus has come to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and favor with the Lord.

How did the people react to what Jesus said? Listen, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). At first, it seemed that people were receptive to what Jesus said, but then we hear the question, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). With that question, there seems to be a change or maybe just a revealing of what they were really thinking. How could good old Jesus be who he was claiming to be? He’s just the son of the carpenter Joseph. Jesus just wasn’t living up to their expectations! They were hoping that at the very least Jesus would do some of those fancy miracles, take away their problems and make their lives easier, bring them fame and fortune. After all, didn’t they deserve that? They knew Jesus! Jesus should be who THEY wanted him to be, do what THEY wanted him to do.

Are we ever guilty of doing the same thing? Do we ever try to fashion Jesus into someone or something that WE WANT him to be? We turn Jesus into a magic genie. Jesus should only speak when spoken to. So when I need to hear I am loved or forgiven, he better be there to assure me of those things. But when it comes to guiding my life, I don’t need him to tell me what to do. Stay in your lane, Jesus! Remember, you’re just Joseph’s son. Or maybe it’s the vending machine Jesus. Jesus, I want you to give me this, and this and this, but I don’t like what you have to say about sacrifice, suffering and sin. I’m going to pass on those things. Remember, Jesus, you’re just Joseph’s son.

Dear friends, we need Jesus to be exactly who he is, who the Bible tells us he is. Jesus is honest. He doesn’t silently stand by with a smile on his face while watching us walk down the road that leads to eternal damnation. He calls us to repent! To recognize our sin. To stop and to turn to him so that we may repeatedly receive the forgiveness of sins his Word proclaims is ours through faith. He promises his blessing, but not merely in ways that make our lives easy or enjoyable for a time, but in ways that go on into eternity as he calls us out of this world to be with him in heaven. That’s the type of Jesus we need, the type of Jesus that he is – a Jesus that can save us.

When I think about Jesus living in our world, one of the most difficult things must have been for him to look into people’s hearts and minds. He didn’t need to guess. He knew exactly what was or was not there. When he looked around at the familiar faces of the people gathered in that synagogue in Nazareth, he saw into their hearts. He saw what they expected and how they had rejected him and his Word. They expected special treatment from Jesus, for him to do miracles that were greater than those he performed in other places because they were from Jesus’ home town. And when they did not get what they wanted, they would reject Jesus and his message.

Jesus saw people who were sadly following in their forefather’s footsteps. Their Old Testament Jewish forefathers who thought that they deserved special treatment simply because they were God’s chosen people Israel, had rejected the Lord and his prophets. And so those prophets like Elijah and Elisha took God’s powerful Word to those outside of Israel, to non-Jews like the widow in Zarepheth and the military commander in Syria Naaman. Jesus saw the same thing happening here. The people of Nazareth were rejecting Jesus and his Word, and so Jesus would take it to those who were not Jews. The people of Nazareth were not any more loved by Jesus than others. Jesus was a Savior for all people.

The reaction to Jesus’ sermon was disturbing to say the least. Instead of repentance, they responded in rejection and hatred. They quickly carried Jesus to a cliff outside of town with the intention of throwing him off and killing him. But Jesus knew that his time to die had not yet come. He would willingly give his life on his own terms and time. And so he walked through the crowd and we’re told, “Then he went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority” (Luke 4:31,32). When God’s Word is rejected, it is eventually taken to others who by the Spirit’s working through that powerful Word welcome, treasure and are amazed by the grace of God.

We have examples of that throughout history. European cathedrals that were built as places for Christians to glorify God as his Word was proclaimed in speech and song, now stand empty, turned into museums where God’s Word is rarely heard or wanted. Sadly, we so many cases of the same in our own country, Bible believing Christian churches losing membership, Christianity not only seen as unnecessary, but more and more as dangerous. We see God’s Word being taken to places far away, places where God’s Word in previous generations was scarce, places like India and Indonesia, Africa, Korea, Vietnam and China. God’s Word continues to work powerfully, as the Spirit is bringing poeple to faith in Jesus, and God’s Word is welcomed and treasured.

Dear friends, it is through that powerful message of Jesus, that God the Holy Spirit has welcomed you into God’s kingdom, freed you from the oppression of sin, and promised you life eternal in heaven. What amazing things our God does through his powerful Word. May he help us to treasure it, continually amazed at its power and promises. Amen.

Jesus’ First Miracle

Sunday, January 27, 2019 – John 2:1-11

Just this past week, one of my daughters was looking through the scrapbooks that my wife has assembled throughout the years of various events in their lives. One of the things you’ll find for each of them is the famous “First day of school” picture. Those pictures are kind of fun to look at and compare from year-to-year, “Look at how little you were. You could almost fit in that back pack. Can you believe you wanted to wear that to school?” But those pictures not only bring to mind that specific point in time, but they also remind you of what happened during the school year. That was the year you lost your two front teeth, had all that homework, you had her as your teacher, got your braces on, got your braces off. Those “First day pictures” not only recall that day, but what would follow in the days to come.

This morning we get a bit of a “First day picture” in the life of Jesus. No it’s not Jesus’ first day of school. Jesus was 30 years-old at this point. It’s a wedding picture. Now let’s be clear so as not to start any heretical rumors. This is NOT Jesus’ wedding picture. Rather it is the picture of a wedding Jesus attended where he performed his first miracle. This picture of Jesus’ first miracle not only reminds us of what Jesus did on that day, but also what would follow in the days to come.

This wedding that Jesus’ disciple John describe for us and himself attended took place just a few days after Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River. After his baptism, Jesus traveled to the area of Galilee, in the northern part of Israel where he began to assemble a small group of disciples called “The Twelve.” Jesus, along with his disciples, were invited to a wedding in Cana, a place not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. We’re told that Jesus’ mother Mary was also there and so it seems that this might have been a wedding for a family friend or maybe even a family member of Jesus and Mary. Whatever the case, the traditional week’s long celebration of a man and woman beginning their married lives together was well underway when Jesus and his disciples arrived. And that’s when it happened.

There was a potentially embarrassing situation that would have been disastrous for this wedding. Mary reports to Jesus, “They have no more wine” (John 2:3). Now we need to understand that this wasn’t like the bar at a 21st century wedding running out of beer or alcohol. Wine was a very common drink. To not have wine was in essence saying to the guests, “Go home. There is nothing for you to drink.” Mary saw the situation and she took it to Jesus. Now think about that for a moment. This doesn’t really seem like a crisis that Jesus needed to be involved in, does it? Couldn’t the servants or the master of the banquet have found somewhere to get more wine? But for whatever reason, that was not an option. This was not a problem that could be solved by any of them. Mary knew that it was going to take something extraordinary to solve this problem and so she went to Jesus. Mary was convinced that her son Jesus was capable of doing the extraordinary. She went to Jesus because she believed that Jesus was more than just her son. She believed that she was going to the Lord her God, someone who had the power to do the extraordinary and to solve the impossible.

How good are you at doing that? Do you ever look at the situation in your life and try to convince yourself, “I can solve this! I can handle this. I don’t need help.” That stubborn sinful nature so often convinces us that we don’t need help, that we can handle it all on our own. Instead of handing our problems over to Jesus, we hang onto them, try to carry them, and inevitably get crushed and overwhelmed by them. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6,7). Humility is not humanity’s strong suit. Stubbornness is. Instead of being crushed by your troubles, and overwhelmed by the situations in your life, be like Mary. Humbly take them to Jesus and trust that he has the power, as your Savior-God to address every single one of them because he cares for you.

Just as amazing as what Mary DID say is what Mary did NOT say. She simply says to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” How often when we do take our problems to Jesus do we also include how we believe he should solve the problem? Did you notice who she did not tell him HOW he should solve it. She simply trusted that he would. And when you see his solution, it is certainly nothing that she or any one of us would have come up with. Can you imagine her saying, “Jesus, they’re out of wine. Why don’t you take those jars over there, fill them with water, and turn the water into wine?” Probably not the solution that she would have come up with. But have you ever noticed how God’s solutions to our problems are rarely what you would expect and always so much more amazing?

The nation of Israel, having observed the plagues like the one we heard of in our first lesson this morning meant to convince the Egyptians to allow the Israelites to return to their homeland, now stand on the edge of the Red Sea. The advancing Egyptian army is ready to slaughter these rebellious slaves. God’s answer to their problem? I’m going to provide a pathway through the Red Sea and then use it to swallow the Egyptian army. Which one of us would have come up with that solution? A shepherd boy with no military experience stands before a 9 foot tall giant named Goliath who had been leading the oppression of God’s people. God’s solution? A single stone and the swift thrust of sword that decapitates the giant. Which one of us would have come with that solution to this 9 foot problem? A body is taken down from a cross and placed into a grave, seemingly powerless and conquered by death. Three days later this man Jesus is alive again, raised from the dead. He rises to say that for all those who trust in him and what he has done for them, death will be entrance to life eternal. Which one of us would have come up with a solution to our sin as amazing as that? Our God does. Mary’s simple prayer, “They have no more wine” reminds us that it is always so much better lay your problems in the Lord’s hands and let him decide on how to solve it, rather than demanding that God give our solution, because God’s answers are always so much better than we could have ever even imagined.

Like Mary’s words, Jesus words are few and to the point. “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4). Jesus’ calling his mother “woman,” may at first seem disrespectful. I’m pretty sure if I addressed my mom as “woman” it wouldn’t go over real well. But remember the unique relationship that Jesus and Mary had. While Jesus was her son, Jesus was also her God. By calling her “woman” Jesus was reminding her of that relationship, the reason why she approached him with this problem. Whether Jesus was correcting her, reminding her of what she has momentarily lost sight of, or whether it was confirming what she knew to be true, Jesus’ words indicate that Mary had come to the right person. She could be sure that not only was Jesus aware of the situation but that he was going to solve it at the perfect time.

What Mary did next shows her trust in Jesus. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Why would Mary say that? She knew from personal experience (that little thing called the virgin birth) that sometimes God does things and asks us to do things that initially might seem quite strange. However strange or unusual Jesus’ directives may be, Mary encourages the servants to trust him as she did.

So when Jesus told them to fill up jars with water, they did what he asked even thought it didn’t seem to have anything to do with solving the problem at hand. And then Jesus tells them to do something that made even less sense, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet” (John 2:8). Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask THEM to taste the water. He just tells them to take the water to the master of the banquet for tasting. That didn’t make any sense! You don’t take water to get approved by master of the banquet! That’s only for wine. Do you think they started to put it all together? They certainly got it when the master of the banquet took a taste and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10). How the servants must have thought, “This guy doesn’t know that half of it! If he thinks that the sequence of the wine is unusual, he should hear about the source of that wine!” Jesus’ disciples didn’t need to hear because they had seen it with their own eyes, what Jesus had done. With this miracle they saw they were even more convinced that Jesus was exactly who they believed him to be. He was God, the promised Messiah, sent to be their Savior.

John abruptly ends this account by saying, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Jesus’ miracles were the signs that pointed to what you could not see, his divine nature. With every miracle that Jesus performed, Jesus declared himself to be the all-powerful God whose glory was not merely seen in the miracles he performed, but whose glory is most brightly displayed in the humility that he demonstrated. That here in human flesh is God almighty, serving us, living for us dying for us, eventually rising for us. Here stands God’s solution to our sin, the source of our salvation – certainly more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Amen.

Jesus’ Baptism Empowers Your Baptism

Sermon from January 20, 2019 – Luke 3:15-17,20,21

Is this THE one? If you’ve ever been shopping with someone who is very particular, or someone who really enjoys the whole shopping experience, you might find yourself asking that question quite often, “Is this THE one?” To the untrained eye, any pair of shoes, any pair of pants, any shirt which is the right color or size would do. But don’t be fooled! There is THE one out there. The perfect color, size, design, pattern and style. It just takes time to find THE ONE.

There were a lot of people around John the Baptist who were asking the question, “Is this THE One?” but it had nothing to do with shopping. No. As the crowds of people grew larger and larger, and as they listened carefully to John and looked at him, they couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this THE One” that is, “Is this the Savior that God had promised to send? Is John The One?” And when you think of what these people saw and heard, you could easily see how people might come to that conclusion. He spoke with power and clarity. He certainly did not pull any punches in his preaching. Listen to the beginning of this sermon, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7,8). He called people to repent of their sin, revealing its spiritually deadly results. To the repentant, he withheld none of the gospel’s comfort. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them” (Luke 3:18). He announced that through baptism, their sins were fully washed away, and they were ready and welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Even the way that John dressed and lived was unusual. It reminded people of famous Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Elisha. The combination of all of these things naturally led people to wonder, “Is this The One? Is this the promised Messiah? Is John The Christ?”

Whether he heard their whisperings or saw the inquisitive looks on their faces, he could tell what people were starting to think about him. His response was clear, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Now think about that for a moment. Would you have been so quick to give that answer? Just think of how easy it would have been for John to get caught up in the crowds that were coming to see him from all over the area, to get swept up in the “popularity” so to speak. Maybe he could have thought that he would just wait to tell them that he wasn’t the Messiah until a little later on. Afterall, this ministry stuff wasn’t always so easy. Sometimes it was pretty thankless. Finally, he would get a little recognition for all his hard work. Oh, he would tell them, eventually. After he traded in his scratchy camel’s hair suit for some more comfortable clothing, after he got a descent meal, after he found a nice little house or maybe even two, one on the Sea of Galilee and one on the Dead Sea, to settle down in – then he would tell them. But there is absolutely none of that. No hesitation whatsoever on John’s part. Through his words he pointed to Jesus and said, “He is The One you’ve, that we’ve, all been waiting for.” John humbly pointed to the one he served, who was his Savior, readily recognizing that Jesus would do something and give gifts that only Jesus could, because Jesus was The One, the Messiah, the Christ.

It was on one of those days when John was out preaching and baptizing that Jesus showed up. Along with the crowds of people, Jesus came to be baptized. If it at all seems strange to you that Jesus would be getting baptized, you’re not alone. John was wondering the same thing. The gospel of Matthew says, “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3:14). It just didn’t make sense to John. Why did Jesus want to be baptized? Jesus certainly did not need to repent of his sins because he had no sins to repent of! Jesus did not need baptism to wash away his sin. He had no sin! He was the holy, sinless perfect Son of God! Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Here are two reasons.

First, did you hear what happened at Jesus’ baptism? Some pretty unusual, but significant things. “And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). This was God the Father’s way of indicating, “This is The One!” In Acts 10:38, the apostle Peter describes the significance of what happened at Jesus’ baptism with these words, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” (Acts 10:38). Think back to our first lesson for this morning where God sent the prophet Samuel to reveal who the next king of Israel was going to be. Samuel went to the family of a man named Jesse. After Jesse had finally brought out his youngest son, a shepherd boy by the name of David, what did Samuel do to indicate that David was the Lord’s choice to be the next king of Israel? We’re told, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers” (1 Samuel 16:13). Anointing with oil was the way that God indicated that David was the one, God’s choice to be king.

Now think back to Jesus’ baptism. Oil just would not do. Instead, God the Father poured out the Holy Spirit on Jesus in the form of a dove, indicating that Jesus was The One. Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, literally, “The Anointed One”, chosen from of all of eternity to carry out the work of saving people from sin’s eternal power and punishment. Along with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, God the Father made an announcement, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). What a powerful proclamation! How good it must have been for Jesus to hear after 30 years of life in this world – that God the Father was fully pleased with everything Jesus had done. In a sense, Jesus’ whole life received God the Father’s stamp of approval – perfect!

Maybe you’re thinking, “Must be nice. I wish God could say that of me – that he is well-pleased with me, but I know myself too well.” How often are we not even pleased with ourselves? We know what we should do, but fail to do it. The struggles to be the parent, the spouse, the friend that we know we SHOULD be, that we even WANT to be, but daily have failed to be. The “pet sins” that we have become so used to that we barely even notice them anymore. Sins that we at one time struggled against, but over time have come to justify and excuse, “I know it’s not right, but it’s just the way things are.” We might finally think, “I can’t even live up to my OWN expectations, how could I ever expect that a holy and just God would ever be pleased with me?”

That’s exactly why it’s good to see Jesus being baptized. Jesus explained to John, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). This leads us to the second reason that Jesus was baptized. Jesus had come to live as our perfect substitute. That means that everything that God requires of us, would also be required of Jesus. This is just another example of how Jesus is living right and being righteous for us. Jesus’ life had been and would continue to be perfectly pleasing to God the Father, a pleasing life that was being lived for every person of all time. Yes, that perfectly pleasing life would come to an end three years later when Jesus offered it at the cross as the payment for the world’s sins, suffering the fires of hell in the place of every sinner. You see, that is why it is so good for us to see Jesus being baptized. It is because of Jesus’ baptism and everything that happened before and after it, that God the Father can now say to you, “YOU are my child whom I love; with YOU I am well-pleased.”

And when did God say that to you? It was at your baptism. No, a dove did not descend on you, nor did God speak from the sky, but I can assure you that the Holy Spirit was there and God the Father proclaimed that you are pleasing to him. You heard the powerful things that God does at baptism in those beautiful words of Titus 3:5, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). At your baptism, God the Holy Spirit gave you saving faith in Jesus, and washed away one of your sinful failures to be what God demands of you. He wrapped you in the righteousness and perfectly pleasing life of Jesus lived for you. God the Father called you one of his own dear children, promising that from now on he would look at you as if you were his own Son who he loves. Because of your baptism, you get to call God, your Father, Jesus your brother, and God the Holy Spirit your Counselor. The Triune God has one goal, and that is for you to be with him in heaven’s glory. To accomplish that goal, God the Father gave his Son Jesus.

At Jesus’ baptism, we see God the Father pour out the Holy Spirit on Jesus declaring him to be The One – the one who had and would continue to do everything necessary for us to be pleasing in the sight of God, washed in the waters of baptism, continually strengthened by Spirit’s working through his Word and Sacraments. Yes, your baptism has made you fully ready for heaven. Amen.