Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Christian Education Sunday
  • Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Christian Education Sunday
    September 13, 2020
    Hymns                        279,   293 
    First Lesson                Judges 16:22-31 
    Psalm                          121 (page 112) 
    Second Lesson            Romans 12:1-8 
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 16:21-26
    Psalm 145:3-4
    Be Part of God’s Eternal Relay
    I. Hand on what He has given you
    II. Train with what He is telling you

    In the name of Him who is the Word of God made flesh, Jesus, the sinner’s only Savior, fellow lifelong students of His Word,
    Life has changed for everyone since the virus starting spreading in March. Life has changed for everyone since the September 11th attacks nineteen years ago last Friday. When the Lions begin their season today, it will be like no other game in team history – no fans will be in the stadium. 
    Without minimizing the upheaval of the last six months or the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and blowing right past the relative unimportance of football, what’s most important for us today is Christian Education. And the words of these verses suggest not a football game, but a track meet. How so? Christian Education is like a relay race.
    Children of God don’t wave off participation in that relay to say, “I’ll just watch and cheer on those who run!” Nowhere in His Word does God agree with the believer who thinks, I’m going to sit out this part of the believer’s life. I don’t need Christian education any longer; I received mine long ago.
    The term Christian Education implies to some that it’s for children. But the students whom God desires at His feet to learn from His Word are His children from those who are just being placed in a crib to those who just this side of a casket. His Word is His lifeline for us to His salvation. Cutting ourselves off from it is dangerous! God directs all of us to reevaluate our participation in what we’ll call today God’s Eternal Relay. Be part of God’s eternal relay as you hand on what God has given you and as you train with what God is telling you.
    I. Hand on what He has given you
    You children know what a relay race is, right? It can be silly – several teams in which each child takes a turn carrying several Skittles on a ruler before handing the ruler and the Skittles to the next teammate. Or it can be serious – sprinting with a baton on the track before passing it to a teammate in intense competition with elite athletes from around the world for the gold medal. A relay involves handing something to the next in line.
    Though not competition, that’s what Christian education is. From Adam and Eve to Cain, Abel, Seth, and the rest of their children. From Elijah to prophets who studied under him. From missionary Paul to new believers. From the shepherds on the way back from Bethlehem’s manger to strangers and friends. All that Bible history activity is described by our text’s sentence, “Lord, one generation will praise Your deeds to another, and they will  declare Your mighty acts” (v. 4).
    We are part of God’s eternal relay when we, too, take up not a baton, but God’s Word and hand on what God has given us through our parents or spouse or other loved ones, Sunday School and Lutheran Elementary School and Vacation Bible School teachers, pastors, neighbors or friends. We are part of God’s eternal relay when we tell others, “This is what the Lord has done for sinners, is now doing in the world that many claim is out of control, and will do until He comes on the Last Day.”
    As disciples of Christ who trust His work to rescue us from the hell we deserve, we have the God-given responsibility to hand on to others what we’ve learned about God through His Word taught us by others. God’s eternal relay is not an event we can choose to enter – or not. When God brought us into His family through faith in Jesus, He made us part of His eternal relay.
    We have learned at home and in our classrooms here and at school that this is God’s world. He made it all out of nothing in six twenty-four hour days with the power of His Word. You students in public schools and college classrooms have been taught something else. But that doesn’t change the truth about the origins of the universe – and who owns it.
    Our classrooms downstairs won’t be used for a while. But we’re grateful for technology by which Sunday School lessons can be taught on-line, and the Word be proclaimed and taught on-line for adults, too. In this strange new world of instruction, what is not new is that this is still God’s world. He is in charge!
    He gives us His law – love Him above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are not free to twist and tweak His truth to fit our goals. On the Last Day no one will impress God by saying, “I did things my way!” He knows that none of us has met His demand, “Be perfect” (Matthew 5:46)! On the Last Day He will not accept the plea, “ But I tried my best to do what is right!” God isn’t swayed by opinion polls that say we need to be more tolerant of different teachings. He doesn’t consult experts to see if He should change His demands.
    God has given us His name through teachers and preachers here, through parents at home, God’s name is not Success or Security, The American Dream or The Way It Was. He says “I am the Lord; that is My name. I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). He isn’t an uncertain god nervously guarding His honor. He is the gracious God lovingly saying that without Him there is no salvation!
    God has given us His promises in His Word to rescue us who have fallen far short of His demand that we be perfect. It was our parents when we were infants who brought us to a font where plain water was used with God’s Word to give us trust in Jesus as our Savior. It was from our parents and teachers and pastors and others, all who used the good news from the God who wrote it and did it, that He has given us His Son sent to be a baby, a boy, a man who lived the law of love to perfection.
    It was God Himself who credited the holiness of Jesus to us, and it was God Himself who made that gift ours through faith. He treated His Son as sin personified there so that our sins are not charged to us – not even here on earth. He raised Jesus from the dead because all these things are true. He has given all that to us, though we do not deserve any of that.
    Now we hand on what He has given us. And as we do so in God’s eternal relay, we don’t lose what He has given us. Tell your little ones this evening, “Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so!” And then explain what He did in life and death and rising from death to show His love for us. Tell your neighbors to hear with you – here in person or at home on-line – “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). We don’t keep hidden the spiritual treasures God has given us. We take part in God’s eternal relay as we hand on what God has given us.
    II. Train with what He is telling you
    There’s another truth God gives us here that we need to take to heart on our Christian Education Sunday and every day. “Great is the Lord and worthy of great praise, and there are no limits to the extent of His greatness” (v. 3). No human ever knows it all about the Lord! As we take part in God’s eternal relay, we keep training with what He is telling us.
    The Lord’s power is unsearchable. His grace is inexhaustible. What we could never figure out, God has revealed for our continual learning. Oh, we can know from nature that a great being exists who made it all and keeps it running. And we can know from our conscience that a powerful being exists who will hold humans accountable for the wrongs they’ve done. But never, not from a test tube or super-computer or towering telescope, could we know God’s gift of salvation without God’s Word.
    We wouldn’t know where to look or what to seek. How blessed we are that God tells all that to us in His Word! He tells us to keep in touch with it through His Word and, communicants, through this Sacrament. Moses and David, Isaiah and Joel, John and Peter and Paul and the rest of the men wrote what God told them about His own “greatness”. None of it was simply their opinions about the Lord. All of it is fully God’s truth about Himself from Himself through His human scribes.
    In a sermon Martin Luther preached on this psalm he said, Christ’s kingdom and power are hidden under the cross. If it were not mentioned with praise…who could give thought to it, let alone know anything about it? How true! And how important we keep training with, and growing in, God’s truth! Christ’s kingdom and power are revealed in Christ’s Word.
    We dig into God’s Word daily. Or are we too busy for life’s most important nourishment? We search the record of His “greatness” regularly. Or are we content to praise God for pretty sunrises and cute kittens and loving family, without hearing or repeating what He has done about our curse of sin – His “mightiest acts” of all? We patiently learn the meaning of His name and we joyfully praise Him with all we do in life. Or are we too apathetic about His “greatness” and His “mightiest acts” to offer Him our best, our all in life?
    We will never run out of things to say or pass on in God’s eternal relay. We will never run out of ways to declare the glory of His work for sinners and the wonders of His love for sinners. God’s eternal relay continues – and He expects our participation daily. Adults, Bible Class begins today – and we’ll announce an on-line opportunity for that study soon. Young people, Bible study isn’t just for grade schoolers, but for you, too. Parents and grandparents, what example do we set for the generations after us in the way we take part in God’s eternal relay? Be with us, Lord, as we hand on to others, and still train with ourselves, Your Word of Life You’ve given us.    Amen.     Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - The Church Will Last Forever
  • Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    September 6, 2020
    Hymns                        538,   399   
    First Lesson                Exodus 6:2-8  
    Psalm                          34 (page 80)
    Second Lesson            Romans 11:33-36 
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 16:13-20
    Matthew 16:13-20
    The Church Will Last Forever
           I. Because of what the Christ does
    II. Because of what the Rock is
    In the name of the Son of Man, the Christ, Jesus our Savior, dear fellow living stones who are built on Him,
    Picturing this Scripture lesson’s setting will help you understand this Scripture lesson’s teaching. Caesarea Philippi was in far northern Israel, home to some Gentiles, and had a strong influence from the Greek and Roman soldiers once stationed there. Jesus and His disciples likely saw there a large temple built to honor Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, a slightly smaller temple to worship gods of the Greek pantheon, and a large cave from which flowed a river. Behind all that was – still is! – a sheer face of rock one hundred fifty feet high.
    As Jesus spoke to the disciples did they hear chants of praise to idols? Were pagan sacrifices being offered there? Did Christ point to the rock cliff towering over the site? We’re not told. We are told that Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My Church” (v. 18), a rock more sturdy than the one behind them.
    Jesus also meant those words for us and for all people. His “Church” isn’t this building, isn’t any congregation or synod. His “Church” is what we just confessed: the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. His “Church” is people – all those who trust in Him for forgiveness and life and salvation. His “Church” isn’t what we make for Him with tools we bring from home, but what He makes of us with tools He sends from heaven. Even when there’s unsettling uncertainty about so much, Christ says, “On this rock I will build My Church”! That means the Church will last forever! We can be sure of that because of what the Christ has done and what the Rock still is.
       I. Because of what the Christ does

    Jesus wasn’t an insecure Savior worried about His ratings. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (v. 13) to get them to evaluate what people were saying about Him. The answers were nice, flattering even! “John the Baptist…Elijah…Jeremiah or one of the other prophets” (v. 14). But none of those answers was correct because none of them considered Jesus true God.
    What Jesus asked here included the term He used most often on earth to refer to Himself: “the Son of Man”. How do you understand that key phrase? It is His way to say, “I am the most miraculous Offspring ever, conceived in a virgin woman’s womb by the power of God. I am true God become also true man to rescue all sinners!”
    When the God-man asked, “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15), Peter was quick to confess what the disciples believed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). “The Christ is the One long-promised, faithfully sent, and specially anointed by the Father and the Holy Spirit to save the world. The Son of God” is the one and only Son whom the Father gave to the world in love. “The Son of the living God” is not some lifeless lump of wood carved in the shape of a deity, but God Himself living and active in His world and for His people.
    Did that sound too doctrinal? It’s not! Many people say wonderful things about Jesus. “He was loving, kind, compassionate to help the sick and downtrodden, a tremendous teacher, an excellent example to follow!” All of that is nice. None of that is enough. All of that regards Jesus as a man. None of that confesses Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
    His “Church”, all who know and confess and cherish Jesus as the only Savior, will last forever! He is true man – and He lived on earth without sin. He is also true God – possessing all power and knowledge. He is not a dead hero we remember fondly. He is our “living” Savior, risen from death and ruling in heaven.
    We are part of His eternal Church not because we did the right research or lived the right life. “Simon, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Peter was given his faith by God. It’s the same for us. Had someone not taught and told us the Word of God, we’d be like those who see Jesus as just a great man. Had God in His compassion for us and His power over all not used His truth from others to tell us about Jesus as “the Christ”, true God from before time began, we wouldn’t be part of His Church. But God has done that. Not our believing, our decision, our plan, our power, but God’s Word, God’s love, God’s plan, God’s power have done that – for many of us at this font or one like it.
    The Church will last forever because it’s not an organization or building, but the group of those who are built on the Christ and what He has done for sinners. We who were plunging headfirst to hell are now forgiven and are heirs of heaven. The Christ took our filth on His shoulders and endured the hell we deserved. “On this rock I will build My Church” is the assurance that our sins are covered, is the motivation to live for the Christ in everything, is our confidence in living and dying. It’s not what we’ve done, but what the Christ has done for us.
    II. Because of what the Rock is
    Then why did the Christ say – not just here, but also at His transfiguration, to a leper and to a demoniac He healed, to Jairus and Jairus’ wife when He raised their daughter from the dead, “Do not…tell anyone that I am the Christ” (v. 20)? The all-knowing God knew if people heard then that Jesus is “the Christ”, they’d see Him only as a miracle-making man, not the soul-saving Savior. Not until Jesus had suffered, died, was buried, and raised Himself from the dead did He tell His Church to tell others He is “the Christ”. Not was, but is! The Church will last forever because of what the Rock still is!
    Now that Jesus has perfectly completed His work to rescue the world, He uses us to tell the world what He, the Rock, still is! He said to the man whose parents named him Simon, “You are now Peter (v. 18) because that name sounds like the Greek word for rock. Everyone who confesses Me like you have today will be saved!” Not on Peter the person – who was weak and sinful and who in the next verses (we’ll hear them next week) tried to pin the devil’s plan on Jesus – not on Peter the person, but on the bedrock of the confession of faith which God had given Peter, does Christ “build His Church”. Not even the forces of hell can destroy His Church because of who the Rock, Christ Jesus Himself, still is!
    It’s true that Jesus said here to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of  heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). But Jesus didn’t make Peter the head of His Church. It’s also true that Jesus also said that to all the disciples, not just Peter, two chapters later. And on the first Easter evening, after appearing alive and miraculously in the midst of ten of those men, Jesus said that to all ten – not just to Peter. Jesus gives His Church His “keys”. He wants us to give the comfort of His forgiveness to despairing sinners, and the warning of His punishment to unrepenting sinners. Jesus uses us to tell people their confidence rests in the Savior, the Rock who will not break, the Christ who still does it all for sinners.
    The Church will stand forever because of what the Rock still is. When Satan suggests God has forgotten about us, no longer cares for us, has no time for us, Christ assures us He placed our sins on His soul and removed our guilt forever so that we will live with Him forever. He has not forgotten about us, does care for us, always has time for us! Satan will whisper many things, but none of them stand up in the hearts and lives of those who trust that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, of those who are built on Him, “this Rock” of salvation.
    But that doesn’t come by accident or on our own. We go to His truth in His Word to get that salvation from Him for our hearts. Those who were once built on the Rock, but are now cutting themselves off from the way God gives His forgiveness, are in danger of jumping off the Rock of salvation – though they might not even be aware of it. God wants us to warn them they are putting themselves in danger of having their sins “bound in heaven” against them. We urge them to get back to the Word, to receiving His Supper where He gives us the body and blood He shed for us. Not even “the gates of hell” can overpower that because of what the Rock still is: the Savior!
    In His grace Jesus grants us the precious privilege to give His forgiveness and strength, His truth and heaven to others. We don’t come to the treasure of His Gospel in Word and Sacrament just for ourselves, but to grasp it better to tell others hell’s forces don’t stand a chance against those who stand on, who are built on, the Rock, the Savior, and faith that confesses Him.
    That is the work of Christ’s Church. We don’t determine guilt or innocence when we use His “keys”. We announce God’s binding sinners in their sins for rejecting Him or refusing to change their sinful ways. We announce God’s loosing sinners from the guilt of their sins as they repent of them and rely on the Rock. We tell sinners who aren’t troubled by their sins, “Don’t push the Savior and His Word away with a hard heart that remains in sin, or the door of heaven will be locked to you by the power of the Rock you are starting to reject!” We tell sinners who are troubled by their sins, “Forgiveness is yours and heaven is open by the blood of the Lamb.
    “On this rock I will build My Church”, the Savior says. That’s why we know His Church, the body of believers, will last forever. Let’s get to work as fellow stones built on that Rock to tell others what the Christ has done to rescue everyone!    Amen.   Pastor David A. Voss
    Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost - We Are the History of the Mystery of God’s Mercy
  • Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 30, 2020
    Hymns                        395,   494      
    First Lesson                Joshua 2:8-21
    Psalm                          133-134 (page 115)
    Second Lesson            Romans 11:11-13, 28-32 
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 15:21-28
    Romans 11:11-13, 28-32
    We Are the History of the Mystery of God’s Mercy
               I. He uses rejection to work reconciliation
    II. He changes hostility into holiness
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the world’s only Savior, the literal embodiment of God’s mercy, dear fellow redeemed,
    How has it happened that you belong to God, are His child who trusts in His work to rescue you? It’s not a decision you made or any work you did. It’s not a crazy coincidence or curious karma. It’s a result of God’s “mercy” (v. 31) described here.
    The Bible is more than a divine record of crucial events in world history, is more than a divine report of what happened to others so we can learn from it. It is also a record of what has happened for us and to us, so it’s also our history. It’s a report of what we’d never know had God Himself not told us, so it’s also a mystery. The lesson here is that we are the history of the mystery of God’s mercy! He uses rejection to work reconciliation, and He changes hostility into holiness.
      I. He uses rejection to work reconciliation

    Paul’s first call from God for kingdom work was to urge his fellow Jews to stop rejecting Jesus and to hold on to Jesus in faith. But the Holy Spirit’s divine call to Paul was ultimately to be “an apostle to the Gentiles (v. 13). There was a long history of bad blood between Jews and Gentiles, so Paul could have resented being called to serve Gentiles with God’s Word as a spiritual equivalent of being sent down to the minors. But the God of mercy, the God who controls history, the God who sometimes works in mysterious ways, led Paul to see his place in God’s history of God’s mystery of God’s mercy. “I am going to speak highly of my ministry” (v. 13). It was God’s call that Paul bring the work of the Savior to Gentiles, to non-Jews.
    For more than two thousand years before, then during, the time of Jesus on earth, God didn’t give His Gospel to the Gentiles as richly as He did to the Jews. For the most part, God had Israel’s prophets avoid Gentile regions. It’s not that God didn’t want Gentiles in heaven. His salvation is for all people. God had His reasons for not sending His prophets among the Gentiles for centuries. But beginning with Paul’s “ministry”, Gospel work began among Gentiles in earnest.
    Great news for us Gentiles, right? For Jews, too! Paul said, “God sent His apostles to us Jews first. But since many Jews reject Jesus, He’s sending us to the Gentiles now!” If the Jews weren’t going to listen to the news of Christ’s forgiveness, then God would have it proclaimed to Gentiles. But there was another side to this. Paul did faithful Gospel preaching among Gentiles with the additional hope that “I may make my own people, the Jews, jealous, and so save some of them” (v. 14).
    Really? Jealousy would be used in connection with God’s mercy? Yes! The Holy Spirit had Paul write this way to the Roman church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, to wake the Jews from their spiritual snoozing and to think, “The Gentiles are getting a lot of God’s attention now. What’s going on? They’re getting what we used to have! What’s happened?”
    God answered, “May Paul’s preaching Christ to Gentiles make you Jews realize what you’ve given up by letting Christ go! Maybe this will lead you Jews to see what you have in the world’s only Savior! If your rejection of Jesus is the reconciliation of the Gentiles to Me through Christ, what does your acceptance mean other than the dead coming to life” (v. 15)? How unexpected, how eternally great, would that be?! What mercy from God to use Jewish rejection of Jesus to bring Jesus to Gentiles, and – along with that – move Jews to search their hearts to see what they’ve lost in shoving Christ away!
    From “rejection” to “reconciliation” is the history of God’s mercy, and not just for people then. We, too, are part of the mysterious history of God’s mercy! We need God, in “mercy”, to get us to take a serious look at what’s most important to us, to give the message about Christ a closer hearing, to shake us out of spiritual apathy, to show us anew His gifts in Jesus.
    Sometimes the way God works seems dark and mysterious. This lesson about God in “mercy” using rejection of His Word by some to work reconciliation with Him in others is meant to leave a lasting impression on us long-time believers! Don’t let Satan lull you to sleep with his lies. Don’t get sucked in by hell’s ideas suggesting Jesus is one of many ways to heaven, that all followers of all religions will be saved, that a loving God won’t really send anyone to burn and suffer forever.
    Attacks against God’s truth are also part of the history of the mystery of God’s mercy shown to us. God uses “rejection” of His plan by others to give us a greater appreciation of the gracious “reconciliation” He has worked in us sinners through Christ. “Rejection” of His good news by others shows us the importance of His great “reconciliation” of us sinners to Himself in Christ. God uses rejection used to work reconciliation? What a mystery! What mercy! And we are part of that history!
    II. He changes hostility into holiness
    It’s not just a statement in our nation’s Declaration of Independence. It’s the truth of God’s Word. All are created equal. All people have an equally desperate need for God’s “mercy”, His pity in action for sinners who deserve hell, who entered life “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7) at conception and birth. That’s our history, too. We are the history of the mystery of God’s mercy as God changes hostility into holiness.
    God’s mercy is the sinner’s only hope. The Jews had hardened their hearts against God’s salvation won by Jesus. They had become “enemies” (v. 28) of God’s good news. They didn’t think they needed Christ or the forgiveness He won. They trusted instead their ancestry as God’s chosen nation.
    But God didn’t forget the hostile Jews, the people He chose in “mercy” as His own. “God’s gracious gifts and call are not regretted” (v. 29). God doesn’t change His mind about His ways. God doesn’t change His mind about loving all sinners. God uses His “mercy” to change those who hate Him to people who are holy before Him in Christ. God’s plan wasn’t to get rid of the Jews, but to “show mercy to all” (v. 32).  
    “Gentiles, just as you were once disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy due to Jewish disobedience, so also now the Jews have become disobedient, so that by the mercy shown to you they may be shown mercy too” (vv. 30-31). The Gentiles of Paul’s day were not looking for God when, without their doing anything, the good news about God’s love in Jesus came to them. The Holy Spirit led them to repent of their rebellion against God and other sins that offend God, and to turn in trust to the holiness Jesus earned for them, too.
    That is part of our glorious history, too. Our hostility to God’s laws and God’s love couldn’t be changed by our changing our minds. None of us would have said, “Salvation is won by one who was treated like a mass murderer? Okay, I’ll believe it!”  That plan for salvation is a foolish message, a dark mystery, to all sinners – until God’s “mercy” goes to work in the sinner.
    It’s “mercy” from our loving Lord that He led us to believe in His Son, to look to His cross for our rescue, to treasure His awful punishment of hell for us as our ticket to heaven, to become His holy people in Christ. His “mercy” was not just for ancient Jews and Gentiles. It’s for us, too. We are part of the history of the mystery of God’s mercy to all sinners.
    Our hostility toward God is met with God’s holiness in His Son. That’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us! When daily devotions from God’s Word and weekly lessons from God’s truth expose our guilt and sin, we don’t whip ourselves for a while so we feel bad. Everyone who is freed by God’s “mercy” in Jesus was once covered in hostility to God and thrilled to rebel against Gode. Only when we see our guilt and our lost condition, do we cry for help, for God’s mercy. 
    God’s mercy comes to us not in dollars and cars, but in the blood of His Son and the good news of His work. Not just Jews and Gentiles long ago, but you and I now, are the history of the mystery of God’s mercy which changes our hostility against Him into holiness before Him given to sinners in Christ.
    “God has imprisoned all – you and me, too – in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (v. 32) – you and me, too. God locked us up in the prison of our sin so we could do nothing but realize how hopeless our situation was. Do we keep that in heart each day? Lord, I have sinned against You and deserve forever punishment from You. I beg You to have mercy on me! And do we keep this in heart each day? Sinner, only in the blood of My Son are you clean and holy before Me!
    God’s mercy isn’t just for those bad, bad people on the pages of the Bible who rejected God’s prophets, worshiped stone idols, screamed for Christ’s blood. We are no less rebellious and hostile toward God than the Jews and Gentiles of long ago. We need God’s mercy. We have it in Christ!
    Let’s use it. Martin Luther compared God’s mercy proclaimed in the Word and given in the sacraments to a passing shower that rains on a region and then moves on. For as long as all of us have been alive, the precious pouring of the Gospel about Jesus has been abundant among us. How long will that last? Will it be the same for our children? Our grandchildren? Our great-grandchildren? If we don’t use it and pass it on, if we don’t learn it better ourselves and discuss it earnestly at home, the next generations may be without it. How horrible that would be! That gives urgency to our seeing – and teaching – our history in the mystery of God’s mercy.      Amen.     Pastor David A. Voss
    Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Why Are We Here?
  • Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 23, 2020
    Hymns                        384,   319   
    First Lesson                1 Kings 19:9-18
    Psalm                          73 (page 94)
    Second Lesson            Romans 9:1-5
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 14:22-33

    1 Kings 19:9-18

    Why Are We Here?
      I. God is with us here
       II. God has sent us here
       III. God reassures us here

    In the name of Jesus, our Rock and our Redeemer, the only Savior, fellow redeemed,
    Elijah. The name of that prophet of God brings several Scripture scenes to mind. Elijah shaking his finger in a defiant king’s face, admonishing Ahab for his godless ways. Elijah asking God in fervent prayer to restore the life of the widow’s dead son. Elijah standing on Mt. Carmel and challenging the prophets of Baal and ordering his helpers to water down his sacrifice to the Lord, confident in the power of God. Elijah calling down the fire of heaven to consume two captains and their one hundred soldiers sent to capture Elijah for preaching God’s truth. Elijah going to heaven in a whirlwind as the Lord  and His angels appeared as a chariot of fire and horses of fire to take Elijah from this life to eternal life without seeing death.
    This lesson shows us a different Elijah. But it’s an Elijah to whom we believers can relate. We see Elijah at rock bottom, cowering in a cave, frightened and frustrated and depressed. It wasn’t terminal cancer or family fighting or a lost job that had him wallowing in self-pity. It was his experiences as God’s child and prophet. He was supposed to be delivering God’s message in Israel. Instead, he was whining in a cave. God asked Elijah, twice!, “Why are you here (vv. 9,14)?
    We’ve all joined Elijah in that cave. When things seem to cave in on us or pin us between a rock and a hard place, fear and frustration and doubt or depression threaten our trust in the Lord. We ask, Why, God?! God uses this lesson to answer, “Don’t give up, but do realize what’s going on!” When we wonder, Why am I here in this predicament?, God’s Word leads us to trust that God is with us here, God has sent us here, and God reassures us here.  

    I. God is with us here  

    Even the most powerful vehicles have a gear for reverse; they’d be pretty useless if they couldn’t back up. Elijah’s spiritual life had a reverse gear, but he wasn’t using it. He’d steered himself into the wilderness of feeling sorry for himself. He had parked under the scant shade of a broom tree and prayed he would die. When God instead fed Elijah and told him to get to work, Elijah traveled forty days to a cave near Mt. Sinai, also called Mt. Horeb, also called the mountain of God. More than a month later Elijah’s mood was still a mess. “I have been very zealous for You, Lord, the God of Armies. But the people of Israel have abandoned Your covenant…torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking to take my life” (vv. 10,14).
    Elijah, back up! Back up to the drought God sent to bring King Ahab and Queen Jezebel – Ahab’s partner in marriage, crime, unbelief, and idolatry – to their knees! Back up to Mt. Carmel where God showed so stunningly who is in control! Back up to the brook where God sent a raven – a bird that steals meat from others! – to give you meat for three and one-half years! Elijah, don’t wonder where God is. God is with you here!
    Elijah thought God should do things Elijah’s way, and if the Almighty wouldn’t do so, Elijah would rather die. The Lord didn’t want Elijah to give up, nor to feel sorry for himself, nor to ask, Why am I here? He wanted Elijah to ask in spiritual examination, What am I doing here?, and, upon that reflection, to realize, God is still with me here!
    For that reason God had His prophet, “stand on the mountain …for the Lord is passing by” (v. 11). Just then a fierce wind tore off parts of the mountain and smashed boulders as though they were ice cream cones. “But the Lord was not in the wind” (v. 11). Next, an earthquake shook the mountain. “But the Lord was not in the earthquake” (v. 11). Next, a fire enveloped the mountain, “But the Lord was not in the fire” (v. 11). On the heels of those three great acts of power, “there was a soft, whispering voice” (v. 12). That was the Lord!
    “Elijah, I haven’t lost My power! I still use it to overcome evil! But Mine is also, and most importantly!, the power of peace! Peace between Me and sinners through the life and work and death of the coming Messiah! My coming to you in a soft, whispering voice just now teaches you I want to save sinners. I am still with you to preach My message of My sweet salvation! It’s not your call to insist that I wipe out your enemies!”
    Why are we here? God is still with us! We’d like God to take care of pandemic problems and job pressures immediately so we can move on without hurdles and heartaches. But isn’t that demanding God do things our way, like Elijah demanded? Maybe God has a different plan. He knows we benefit if we don’t always have things easy in life, but in difficulties go more and more to Him. God often uses sudden suffering and persisting problems to have us back up and lean on His power and protection. Why are we hiding in a cave? God is still with us here! God is with us most powerfully and surely in His Word and sacraments where He gives us “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

    II. God has sent us here

    God didn’t intend Elijah to keep going in reverse. He wanted His prophet, and He wants us, to keep following Him and working for Him. Why are we here? God has sent us here.
    The Lord wanted Elijah out of self-imposed exile at the cave and into the spiritual harvest fields of Israel to do God’s work. “Why are you here, Elijah? I have work for you to do. Here’s the next mission on which I’m sending you. Anoint Hazael as king over Aram…anoint Jehu…king over Israel, and Elisha…as prophet (vv. 15-16) to succeed you.”
    Aram (Syria) was a pagan nation. Why did God send His prophet to anoint a heathen king? God would use Hazael’s army to carry out God’s judgment on idolatry in Israel, God’s chosen nation! Godly Jewish King Jehu would get rid of idols, would watch Jezebel’s blood be licked up by dogs, would order Ahab’s seventy sons killed to prevent them from spreading their evil influence any further, would execute prophets of Baal. Elisha, from the day Elijah was taken to heaven, would faithfully proclaim God’s truths. God let Elijah know the ministry of the Lord would not die out like an untended fire.
    The work God gave Elijah was important. Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha would carry out God’s will to remove the wretched stench az
    of idolatry from God’s chosen people. Elijah’s work wouldn’t be easy. Many Israelites wouldn’t want Jehu to be their king because Jehu was too Godly! But God wanted Elijah to get to work. “Get going! I’m sending you, Elijah!”
    “Why are you here, believer, grousing about the way things are going? I’ve sent you, too!” God doesn’t appear to us in dreams at night or visions by day to tell us where to drive, to whom to speak, what to do tomorrow. But God does send us each day. He sends us to tell others about Him in our ordinary lives. We look for opportunities to speak of the Savior with those who don’t know Jesus as the crucified and risen Son of God. That gives our lives meaning, purpose, and direction – even in this abnormal time! We don’t just sit around. God is sending us!

     III. God reassures us here

    Here there’s even more comfort and hope and encouragement for us in our lives of worry and trouble. Don’t overlook the last verse. God asks, “Why are you here?”, then reassures us here.

    Elijah griped twice, “I alone am left, and they are seeking to take my life” (vv. 10,14). God replied, “I have preserved in Israel seven thousand whose knees have not bent to Baal and whose lips have not kissed him” (v. 18). That was huge! Under Ahab and Jezebel Jews were commanded to worship Baal. But the all-knowing Lord God told Elijah there were thousands of faithful followers of God who, like Elijah, refused to prostitute themselves to Baal. “Elijah, why are you feeling sorry for yourself and questioning Me? You are not alone!” Thus assured and encouraged by the Lord, Elijah left the cave and went as sent to work for the Lord.
    We sometimes wish already here on earth for a glimpse of the eternal “multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). But isn’t it enough that our gracious God assures us His Word – preached and taught by pastors and teachers and parents and grandparents, studied by believers on their own at home – His Word works His blessings in His good time for His saving purpose?!
    God’s question for Elijah is God’s question for us: “Why are you here”? God’s assurance for Elijah is God’s assurance for us. “I assure you daily in My Word that the most pressing problem of all – paying for the guilt of sin with your own unending suffering in hell – is completely taken care of in Christ! Leave the cave of your worry or self-pity encouraged and assured!”
    Feeling lonely? See the network of fellow Christians who walk with you! Feeling “alone” in your faith? Like Elijah, you aren’t alone, but are part of God’s family of countless confessors of Christ the Savior! Ready to give up? Don’t! Hold on to God’s assurance from His unfailing Word!
    Some people seem to enjoy complaining about their situations in  life and feeling sorry for themselves. That’s not the way the Lord desires we live as His children. Like Elijah, we leave our caves of complaining and walk in the world with God’s Word. God is with us! He sends us into the world each day to follow Him and tell others of Him. He assures us in Word and Sacrament for life here until He takes us to heaven through faith in heaven’s King, Christ Jesus.      Amen.                       Pastor David A. Voss

    Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - Jesus Has What No One Else Has
  • Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

    August 16, 2020

    Hymns                        339,   322      

    First Lesson                Genesis 41:41-49 

    Psalm                          42-43 (page 82) 

    Second Lesson            Romans 8:35-39 

    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 14:13-21

      Matthew 14:13-21 


    Jesus Has What No One Else Has

        I. A compassionate heart that feels for us

    II. Almighty power that meets our needs  


    In the name of Jesus, our Savior, fellow sinners redeemed by His precious blood shed for all of us and for all sinners, 

    This vehicle is perfect for you! It has plenty of room for the six of you and plenty of power to pull the trailer you described. Take it for a drive, and then we’ll talk about the price! We did take it for a drive. When we returned and mentioned how noisy it was, the salesman smiled and replied, That is the sound of raw power. No vehicle this big is without that downside. We didn’t buy his explanation – or the van.

    It’s the same with people. Except for Jesus. He is the only person ever who is all upside and no downside. That’s the truth before us here. Every miracle He performed during His three-year ministry had the same purpose: to prove He is the long-awaited Son of God come to rescue every sinner. But each miracle is also unique. This well-known feeding of thousands shows Jesus has what no one else has – a compassionate heart that feels for us, and almighty power that meets our needs.

       I. A compassionate heart that feels for us

    There is no dispute that Jesus has a compassionate heart. But don’t we all have that? Aren’t most people on the planet compassionate at heart? Sure! But some­times concern for ourselves keeps us from compassion for others.

    Is that what happened here? “When Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place to be alone” (v. 13). He wasn’t sailing away to save Himself. Oh, Herod was out to get Jesus. Herod had John the Baptist be­headed because John dared to call Herod’s new sexual relationship a sin before God. Then Herod heard Jesus was doing mighty miracles, and assumed that Jesus was John risen from the dead. As his father had done when Jesus was born, so now thirty years later this Herod hunted Jesus to kill Him because Herod considered Jesus a threat to him. But Jesus didn’t run from Herod. He left for a little rest; His human nature needed it. He also hoped to spend that time discussing kingdom work with the twelve disciples who had recently returned from a mission trip on which the Savior had sent them.

    When “the crowds” (v. 13) found out where Jesus had gone, they “followed Him on foot” (v. 13) around the north end of the Sea of Galilee from where they had been. Jesus didn’t run from them, either. He didn’t send the disciples to tell all those people, “The Messiah is on vacation! Don’t bother Him!” Jesus didn’t pretend He didn’t see them, didn’t ignore them, didn’t tell them He was unavailable for a while. What Jesus did not do displayed His heart full of compassion for them.

    What He did do also displayed that He felt for them. “He had compassion on them” (v. 14); His holy heart went out to them. He “healed their sick” (v. 14). Our Savior didn’t then, and doesn’t today, heal every sickness in every person. If He did, no one would remain sick or ever die. When He healed those sick folks, it was to prove that He has what no one else has – a compassionate heart that feels for sinners, that feels for their souls above all else. He was directing their attention to the truth that He is God in the flesh, the only One who could rescue sinners. No one else has that kind of a compassionate heart.

    That evening, the Savior who had gone away to be by Himself fed the thousands who had followed Him. Sure, that proved His almighty power; more about that later. But a few details, often overlooked in the lesson, display Christ’s compassionate heart.

    “He instructed the people to sit down on the grass” (v. 19). The accounts of this miracle in Mark and Luke add that Jesus had the thousands sit in orderly groups. That wasn’t a power play, but a compassionate command. Imagine what a dangerous situation could have arisen had Jesus only said, “Look! Food! Come and get it!” 

    Jesus fed them because He didn’t want the people weak­ened physically, away from physical food while He fed them spiritually as He healed the sick and taught the crowds He had come to win forgiveness of sins for them. This is more than Jesus feeling for a family losing a pet, for the hungry starving, for the homeless suffering, for the jobless fretting. This is Jesus showing He has what no one else has: a compas­sionate heart to feel for sinners in the deepest concern of life – one’s life with God!

    Follow the One whose heart is full of compassion for you! Do you think you must suffer alone? No one understands your pain? The Savior who suffered hell for you knows your sorrows and understands exactly what you are feeling!

    Jesus is concerned most of all for our soul. Are we concerned most of all for our soul? The One who “gave Himself up for us all” (Romans 8:32) comes to all here, in His Word. He feels for us and all people – sinners damned to hell without Him. He’s never too busy for us. They why are we too often too busy for Him, to meet Him where He comes in compassion to us?

    II. Almighty power that meets our needs 

    Which would you rather have? A doctor with a wonderful bedside manner? Or an excellent record of surgical success? It depends, right? If you’re getting better, bedside manners are important. If you’re in need of life-saving surgery, let the doctor be gruff with his speech, but great with his scalpel; you don’t need him to be both at the same time.

    Not so with the Savior. Jesus has what no one else has. He doesn’t specialize in one area and leave other areas to others. He has a compassionate heart that feels for us and knows what we need. He also has almighty power that meets all our needs.

    He who is the Author of life sustained many lives miraculously that day. He healed them without x-rays to see broken bones, without MRIs to outline mysterious masses and bulging discs, without different drugs to clear up infections and relieve pain. He healed them instantly, as no one except the One who has almighty power can do!

    Then Jesus fed the crowds without calling a catering service. Didn’t the Son of God know in advance that He was going to work a miracle for the meal? Of course He did! Then why did Jesus wait for the twelve to tell Him, “This is a deserted place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (v. 15)? And why did Jesus say, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (v. 16)? Didn’t He know that they would find only five loaves of bread and two fish? Of course He did! Jesus was training the twelve to turn to Him to meet their needs, as well as the needs that evening of the “five thousand men, not even counting women and children” (v. 21) – likely more than fifteen thousand total!

    Jesus wasn’t done showing that He has what no one else has. “They all ate and were filled” (v. 20). That was no light snack to help the thousands start their hike home. It was a full meal. And there was more uneaten at the end than there was at the start. The disciples “picked up twelve basketfuls of what was left over from the broken pieces” (v. 20).

    That wasn’t the only time Jesus did that. The next chapter of Matthew tells of Him feeding four thousand men, plus women and children. Today’s Old Testament lesson is testimony about the Triune God feeding millions from Egypt’s silos during seven years of famine in the Middle East. A generation later He sustained two million Israelites for forty years in a barren wilderness with manna and quail every day. Jesus has what no one else has – almighty power to meet the needs of all people.

    Really? Then why are millions starving today? Why are we in the middle of a pandemic? The problem isn’t with God’s almighty power or His all-knowing wisdom. Isn’t some starvation due to human misman­agement of God-given resources? Might God be using the pandemic to remind us that there is more to life than earning money and spending it?

    Knowing Jesus has almighty power no one else has is one thing. Trusting His almighty power to meet our deepest need is another. Right after this miracle – and His walking on water and stilling a storm, the people wanted Jesus to be their king, a magic man who could blink His eyes to make their earthly lives a snap. We’ll never have to work for bodily needs again! When Jesus told the thousands He’d come to meet their deepest need – forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him in heaven, most walked away and never returned to the Savior. His work and His Word weren’t what they wanted to receive and hear. They saw His almighty power, but they wanted it to meet only their selfish needs. When it was clear that He wouldn’t go along with their Bread King campaign, they had no more use for Jesus.

    Satan wants that same result today. If we must see Christ’s almighty power, Satan wants us to assume it’s to meet our bodily needs – and nothing more. Jesus wants us to see His almighty power – and to trust Him to meet all our needs, most importantly for our soul, for our relationship with the eternal God!

    What good is it to succeed in the classroom or community, but shut the Savior’s sacrifice out of the heart? Will we, like thousands of those whose stomachs were fed by the almighty hand of God that day, walk away with souls unfed by the Gospel of Jesus – assuming that is only for religious fanatics? Or will we daily come to the feast of His Word to eat the greatest meal from His almighty power: His holy life for us, His innocent death for us, His triumphant resurrection for us?! Do we give our soul’s health the priority over everything else in life – even over grocer­ies, rent or mortgage payments, auto repairs, career choices? What do our choices about using God’s Word at home say about our trusting Jesus to meet our deepest needs? Do we “seek first His kingdom” (Matthew 6:33)? Or our comforts?

    The One who fed thousands with one grocery-bag of food is the One who still says, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to Me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Hear His compassion and His commitment to save you. Trust His powerful, perfect work to redeem us and all sinners. Come often to the banquet of God’s Word as God strengthens our grip on forgiveness and heaven.      Amen.       Pastor David A. Voss

    Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - God Loves Us for His Purpose
  • Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 9, 2020
    Hymns                        421,   469   
    First Lesson                1 Kings 3:5-12 
    Psalm                          119b (page 110)  
    Second Lesson            Romans 8:28-30
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 13:44-52
    Romans 8:28-30
    God Loves Us for His Purpose
        I. He did before time
         II. He does during time
    III. He will after time
    In the name of our Savior, the world’s only Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow sinners rescued by His loving sacrifice,
    Hold it, preacher! Isn’t the verse “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”? In the NIV, it is. But the Evangelical Heritage Version, like the King James Version, is accurate in translating as we’ve read: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God” (v. 28). And isn’t it always God who works all things for good in the lives of His people? There’s no real difference.
    But God’s people too often stop there with this verse. The verse goes on: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose (v. 28). How has God been working for our good since mid-March as so much about normal life has been upended? So much illness. Most businesses hurt – and more than a few closed for good. School instruction interruption issues. How is any of that for our good, God?! 
    It depends on whose idea of good we mean. God never promises an earthly life of ease and prosperity – despite what many false preachers proclaim. God does promise good for His people, “called according to His purpose”. His purpose is that we are called to faith in Him, kept in that faith, die in that faith, and live forever with Him through that faith. God’s “purpose” is carried out by God’s love for us! God loves us – for His purpose. He loved us for that before time. He loves us for that during time. And He will love us for that after time.
      I. He did before time

    This is one of the sections of His Word where the eternal God tells us about election, predestination. God’s people are confused, even troubled!, by this teaching when we let the eyes of our hearts wander to things around us instead of keeping them focused on the Lord who loves us. God didn’t elect us because of what good people we would become or because of something we would do. The emphasis in this glorious paragraph of His Word is on what He does in love, not at all on what we do.
    Our ideas of “love” are stained by seeing marriage vows to love each other until death parts us and confirmation vows to love God even unto death ring empty and hollow for too many. God says, “I loved you first and will love you forever!” Are we so worn out by pandemic problems or so cynical about politicians, so tired of the daily grind or hurting from what others have done to us, so doubting about the present or fearful about the future that we aren’t sure about God? God says throughout His Word, “All things work for the good of you who love Me because from before time began, I loved you!”
    We often point to Calvary as proof God loves us, and we do so again today. But look where else God points us here. “I foreknew (v. 29) you!” We have trouble with the word know because in English we have just the one word. Other languages have more than one word for the different kinds of knowing. The word here means much more than God possessing information as the all-knowing God. This is intimate knowledge from personal experience. God more than knows we exist. He tells us, “I foreknew you! I chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), from before time, long before you had a chance to lift a finger to win My favor!”
    Listen carefully! God did not choose us because He foreknew we would believe in Him. If that were true, that would make us the reason we belong to God today. It’s the opposite of that! Because God “foreknew” us before time, and did everything to make us His own, we trust in Him! And because He did it all, all things work for good according to God’s purpose for us!
    Whatever happens, God’s love for us is free, gracious, dependable, unchanging! Satan tries to nudge us away from that. What if you sin again? What if it’s a huge sin – adultery, theft, drugs? What if you fail your family or boss? Will God really stand by you? God says to us, All things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose. God’s purpose isn’t our physical health or financial wealth, but our daily forgiveness and heaven forever.
    We don’t often enough take comfort in the doctrine that God “foreknew and predestined” (v. 29) us. Why not? We try to diagram this glorious teaching in our puny minds. We hear that God choose, elected, predestined some to salvation, and we want to ask, What about the rest? Did God elect them to hell? Absolutely not! “God so loved the world (John 3:16), not just some people. But we carry on like preschoolers at a dry erase board trying to analyze the programming of a super-computer!
    Instead we should use what God says the way God intends. He wants us to see that our salvation is guaranteed because He loved us even before time existed. He tells us often skeptical and battle-weary sinners, “My relationship with you won’t fail – not from My end! I loved you before you even existed, before anything existed except Me!” But God, if only You knew what I’ve said, thought, done! God answers, “I do! I knew you from eternity! Despite all your sins that I knew before you existed, I still brought You to faith, called you with My good news about My rescuing the world! I justified (v. 30) you, declared you Not guilty! in Christ! I loved you even before time began!”
       II. He does during time
    “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God” (v. 28). Many believers in Jesus as the Savior have heard those words while flat on their backs – literally and figuratively! God’s words here are for the dying and those whose loved ones died suddenly in the faith. They are for those awaiting surgery and those diagnosed with cancer. They are for those hurting over job loss and those harassed for their trust in Christ.
    God loves us during time. He takes sickness, death, catastrophe, depression, recession, unemployment, and all unforeseen troubles, then in His wonderful love works it for “good…according to His purpose”. We might not see that good for days or weeks or months or years after the trouble has ended. But still we rest in the arms of the God who loves us every day the same. He takes the terrible things we’d never pray for, and uses them as He strengthens us by His Word for His purpose!
    God’s purpose is what God has promised: forgiveness in His Son and life for His people. He uses disasters to drive us to the cross, and let others who don’t have time for Him see how “His purpose” for us makes a difference in the way we deal with disaster. God wants them to trust in their lives what we trust in ours. God’s “purpose” in loving us in time is to make us believers in His rescue at Calvary. “Those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29). God provides the perfect pattern for our life: Jesus!
    Every day, with every pain and problem, with every Bible devotion and worship service, with every opportunity to encourage others, God is “conform”ing us to the pattern of the Savior. He uses us to reach others with His love in Jesus so He will have “many” with Him forever. That’s all true because God loves us in time for that – for “His purpose”!
    III. He will after time
    Think of a great day, one you wish would have never ended. But it did. Then it was back to work, to school, to where you were away from loved ones, to where things don’t seem nearly as good as they were. But that’s not the ultimate reality. “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose…Those…He also glorified” (v. 28,30). God loves us for His purpose, and will love us after time here ends!
    The truth is so great we can’t wait until next week to hear it: God “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him for us all” (Romans 8:32)! God gives us His best, Himself! He’s given us the greatest Gift of all! Is there any doubt He will love us after time? In fact, what He promises to give us in heaven is described here in the past tense, as though it has already happened. “He also glorified us! Though the full blessings of heaven are not yet ours, the promise is! God will love us after time, just as He loved us before time and loves us during time.
    Why us? Was it just coincidence God “foreknew” and “predestined” us to be loved by Him forever? Was it because he saw we would be inclined to accept His gift? Was it because He knew we would remain faithful to the end? Was it because of anything special in us? No! No! No! And no!
    It’s all because of God and His work and His love for sinners! In His grace He sent Jesus to pay for all sins. In His grace He sends His Spirit to bring us to faith in the salvation He has won, and to keep us in that faith by His good news. Before time, He chose to do those wonderful things for us! All that has happened to us in time in our individual lives to make and keep us His own is His work! That’s the comfort of His doctrine of election. It’s for us personally, for “His purpose” eternally!
    We have lots of questions about this doctrine. God doesn’t answer many of them. But our worries about them fade when we focus on what He has done and promises to keep doing. Even as troubles keep howling around us, we whom God “foreknew …predestined…called…justified…glorified” have refuge in the comforting truth that He has chosen us, elected us. He guarantees our safe passage in life’s storms to the home He prepares for us. This is the golden chain of God’s comfort for us weak, wavering sinners. Since it’s God’s chain, it’s unbreakable! All things work for the good, but not because of us. It’s because God loved us before time, loves us during time, will love after time – all for His purpose: to be His now and forever.      Amen.          Pastor David A. Voss
    Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - The Day of the Lord is Near
  • Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 2, 2020
    Hymns                         337,   523     
    First Lesson                Joel 3:12-16
    Psalm                          18 (page 69)
    Second Lesson            Romans 8:26-27
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
    Joel 3:12-16
    The Day of the Lord Is Near
      I. For all creation
                    II. For complete destruction
            III. For certain salvation
    In the name of our glorious, gracious Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow sinners washed clean by His precious blood shed for us,
    What is near to one may not be near to another. One week until a camping trip or a visit to Grandma’s house five states away will not seem nearly near enough to you children who are excited to travel, but seems far too near to Mom and Dad who are trying to get things ready to leave.
    Two thousand seven hundred years ago the prophet Joel wrote, “the Day of the Lord is near” (v. 14). Joel did not know how long it would be until Judgment Day; Joel wrote and said what the Lord told him. The Lord tells us He not tied to human time. “The Lord is not slow to do what He promised, as some consider slowness” (2 Peter 3:9). So, though the world is still here, it’s still true that the Day of the Lord is still near.
    That theme is usually sounded in late fall worship services. But the Old Testament Lesson each Sunday is selected to follow the thought of the Gospel Lesson for the day. Since today’s Gospel Lesson is the Savior’s words about separating the weeds from the wheat as a symbol of Judgment Day, today’s Old Testament Lesson is these words from Joel. They are just as appropriate on a beautiful August day as in the gray cold of late November and early December. Today we listen to, and learn from, the Lord that the Day of the Lord is near for all creation, for complete destruction, and for certain salvation.
    I. For all creation
    When Joel proclaimed, “the Day of the Lord is near”, the people of Israel might have replied, “No kidding!” and “Thank the Lord!” because things weren’t going well for Israel at the time. It will take you about ten minutes to read the three short chapters of Joel. Why not do so this weekend? And when you do, you will read a lot about the twin disasters that drove many of the children of Israel to despair.
    The first mentioned in Joel was a horrible locust swarm. Kids, locusts are a kind of grasshopper. The Middle Eastern locust has an appetite bigger than a growing teenager. Entomologists have observed one thousand locusts in one square foot! When billions are moving together, locusts seem to form a brown cloud which advances along the ground and covers hundreds of acres at a time. Joel described the devastation the locusts left this way: “In front of them, the land is like the Garden of Eden. Behind them, it is a desolate wilderness” (Joel 2:3)!
    Locusts crawling in their cups, nesting in their hair, and eating their crops was horrible. Then, when finally the locusts had left, a devastating drought hit Israel. That one-two punch left the Jews with little to eat. Crops, their main source of income, were ruined. Joel spoke for all Israel when he said, “Joy has dried up for all the people” (Joel 1:12).
    God used Joel to let people throughout history know a day is coming when it won’t be distant nations experiencing insect infestations and disastrous droughts. Those foreshadowed “the Day of the Lord”. On that day, all the earth will be destroyed: the grass on your lawn, the river through town, the trees in state forests. On that day, all the heavenly bodies will stop functioning. “The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars will stop shining...The sky and the earth will tremble” (vv. 15-16). Life as we know it here will stop that day. “The Day of the Lord is near”, and it will affect all creation!
    No one and no thing will escape the Day of the Lord. No ocean is so deep, no mountain so high, no desert so vast that even a tiny portion of them will not be torched by the Lord’s fire that day. No cave is so remote, no home so well-built, no space craft so sophisticated that people can hide in them and slip away unnoticed by God. “The Day of the Lord is near”, and will be the Last Day for all creation and for all people here.
    That “the Day of the Lord is near” influences the way we live today and every day. We don’t get wrapped up in the  pleasures of this life. We don’t make our dearest treasures the perishable things of the world. We do make the Lord and His Word our focus – today, tomorrow, and every day until the Day the Lord comes to get us.
    II. For complete destruction
    “The Day of the Lord” will overtake all creation. For many of the world’s people, it will be devastating. For many who have lived, are now living, and will live in God’s world, “the Day of the Lord is near” for complete destruction.
    The Lord had His faithful prophet Joel compare that destruction to a battle. “Let the nations be roused. Let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (v. 12), not a real valley, but a name that means The Lord judges. There will be a confrontation between God and those who oppose Him. Maybe you know God’s message of peace through Isaiah: “they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into blades for trimming vines” (Isaiah 2:4), a beautiful picture of our relationship with God and each other through the redeeming work by the Savior. Right before our lesson God turned that completely around, challenging His enemies: “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning knives into spears” (Joel 3:10). But the Lord’s enemies don’t stand a chance against Him to avoid complete destruction by Him.
    God also had Joel compare the complete destruction to a harvest. “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow, because the nations’ wickedness is so great” (v. 13). The Lord – through Joel here and with His own words in today’s Matthew lesson – lets the world know this is not about crops cut down on the Day of the Lord. It’s about souls.
    Our area’s wheat fields aren’t pretty any more. Now that farmers have cut the wheat, all that’s left is dry stubble. By the end of September, the vineyards in southwest Michigan won’t have much fruit left. The vines will be bare, picked clean of ripe grapes. The cycle of growing season and harvest repeats each year. But “the Day of the Lord is near” for the one-time destruction. Not stalks of grain grown tall in the sun, but throngs of unrepentant sinners whose rebellion against God has grown permanent will be cut down by the God they resist and will be thrown into the fire of hell. Not bunches of grapes, but groups of godless people will be pressed down and squashed into the punishment of hell. Only their punishment isn’t over in an instant. Their complete destruction lasts forever!
    The unchanging Lord doesn’t contradict Himself by promising peace in one place of His Word and threatening destruction in another. He is here giving fair warning to all who intend to live without His grace of forgiveness and the salvation won by His Son, but with their damning stubbornness and sinfulness.
    Doesn’t it sometimes seem that those who have no time for the Lord have the upper hand and the best things in life? Here the Lord lets us peek behind His divine curtain to see the outcome. The destruction begins the day the Lord takes individual unbelievers from this world in death, and sends their soul to hell, the horrible home of the devil and all the damned. That destruction continues on Judgment Day when the Savior reveals to all who are the goats, the unbelievers, the condemned, and when their bodies join their souls in hell. “The Day of the Lord is near” for complete destruction of those who reject the Lord.
    III. For certain salvation
    The Lord wants the phrase “the Day of the Lord” and what that day threatens to strike fear in us. But He also wants us to look forward eagerly to that day, a glorious day for His people. “The Day of the Lord is near” also for certain salvation.
    The Lord extended the picture of a battle scene in this lesson to describe certain salvation for His people. “The Lord will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for” (v. 16) them.
    You and I are pictured here. Every sinner ever is pictured among the multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision” (v. 14). But we don’t have to wait until “the Day of the Lord” to see what the Lord’s “Decision” about us is. We already know! “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. The one who believes in Him is not condemned (John 3:17).
    Why? What did God’s Son do? He exchanged His holiness for our sinfulness, His glory for our shame. He took on Himself all our guilt and paid the price in full. Christ Jesus is the only “refuge” we’ll ever need, the most secure “stronghold” and fort in all the universe. He lived and died for every sinner ever. It’s not that we’re better than the souls sent off for destruction. It’s that the Lord has worked in our hearts the trust in Jesus to hang on to Him and His work for certain salvation today, tomorrow, and every day until “the Day of the Lord”.
    “The Day of the Lord is near”! We hunger and thirst for daily doses of the Savior’s gifts which the Spirit gives us in His Word. We tell others who see no need for the Savior and His work that without Him God’s “Decision” on them will be horrible and unchangeable. We tell them that He who was Bethlehem’s Baby is always the sinner’s only “refuge” and salvation.
    “The Day of the Lord is near”! A person will no more sleep through it than he could sleep through a cement truck crashing into his house. It’s coming. There’s no escaping. We are ready for “the Day of the Lord” thanks to what Jesus has done for the world, and to the Spirit leading us to trust that. Kept vigilant by the Lord through His Word, we keep waiting for “the Day of the Lord”.      Amen.
                                                                                                                                                                 Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - That's the Story of My Life
  • Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
    July 19, 2020
    Hymns                        419,   411  
    First Lesson                Exodus 33:12-23 
    Psalm                          145 (page 119) 
    Second Lesson            Romans 7:15-25a
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 11:25-30
    Romans 7:15-25a
    That’s the Story of My Life
              I. The rebellion
         II. The rescue
    III. The rest
    In the name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
    Civil wars. World wars. Cold wars. Culture wars. A war on a pandemic. Some of you have trained to fight in a war. A few of you have fought in a war; our grateful nation thanks you.
    But we believers have all fought in a battle, the one described here, the one still going on in here. It is not a battle contested with bullets or bombs. It’s the battle between our sinful flesh and our new man of faith. What Paul hated about his life with God, we hate, too. We hate that what we want to do, we don’t do. We hate that what we don’t want to do, we do. What I promised God I wouldn’t do any more, I keep on doing!
    Paul’s story is the story of my life and of your life. “What a miserable wretch I am” (v. 24)! Hold it, preacher! Wasn’t Paul writing about his former way of life as an unbeliever when he hurt and imprisoned believers? No. He wrote, “What a miserable wretch I am, right now, even as a believer in Christ!” That’s the story of my life and of your life, too.
    So what do we do? Throw up our hands and tell God, “It’s impossible!”? No! That would be surrender. Instead, we recognize what is going on, who is battling, which side is winning, how long it will last. What Paul hated, trusted, and lived is the story of our life, too: the rebellion, the rescue, and then the rest.
    I. The rebellion
    We were setting up a life insurance policy. The agent asked, “State of birth?” I answered, “Nebraska.” He said, “Wrong! Isn’t the right answer for a Lutheran pastor Sin? You believe all are born in a state of sin, right?” We do because all are.
    God created Adam and Eve in His own image. That doesn’t mean they looked like God, because God is a spirit. That means they were without sin, had a perfect knowledge of God’s will, and a perfect desire to do God’s will. Then they threw all that away at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and their sin against God there has infected everyone born of man and woman since. What many say, “We are all made in God’s image!”, is not true! By nature, from conception and birth, we – and all – are sinful and still constantly rebel against God.
    We’re tempted to chuckle when we read, “I fail to do the good I want to do. Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing” (v. 19). Maybe we think about the cartoon of an angel on this shoulder and the devil on this one – both telling to us to do things their way. But Paul wasn’t smiling when the Spirit had him write this. If my life story were only that I sinned by what I said and did, maybe I’d have a chance to stop. But the problem is much more serious that that. We are sinful by nature. And sin, by nature, is rebellion against God.
    Unbelievers don’t have a struggle churning in their hearts. They want only what the “sinful flesh” (v. 18) wants. But in us believers, our new person – given when faith in Christ was planted in our hearts by God – loves God and wants only to please and honor Him. Our Old Adam, our sinful nature, hates God and wants only to rebel against Him. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “I certainly delight in God’s law” ( v. 22) versus “I see a different law at work in my members, waging war against the law of my mind…I know that  good does not live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh” (vv. 23,18).
    The story of our life is not that we have a handicap to carry through life – a limp or allergies or thin hair. We have a sinful nature that affects us daily. It works against God and everything else the Holy One desires. The story of our life is the reality of that ongoing rebellion!  
      II. The rescue
    That rebellion is costly! The Lord God doesn’t shrug it off, He demands payment for that rebellion. The Lord tells us about the payment. But He does more than tell us of it. He made the payment. That, too, is my life’s story, and yours: the rescue!
    “I do not understand (and that could be accurately translated approve, I do not approve of) what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want. Instead I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good” (vv. 15-16). Think about a person addicted to drugs. His life is a mess. He can’t hold a job. He’s about to lose his house. His children are suffering. His wife is threatening to leave him. He thinks, I don’t want to go on living like this. The law is right when it forbids abusing substances. When we don’t want to do the things God forbids, we agree with God that His law is good.
    What Paul wrote about his life’s story is my life’s story and yours. Though we wish there weren’t rebellion in us, we believers remain sinners. With Paul we groan and sob, “What a miserable wretch I am!” But changing our lives and trying to set sin behind us isn’t the payment God demands for our rebellion. The payment? The rescue? “Who will rescue me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (vv. 24-25)! He has rescued us – and all the world!”
    How? Christ agreed to live under His own law and do so perfectly for us during His thirty-three years on earth. He shouldered our sin at the cross and suffered our punishment of hell. We talk about that rescue so often we might take it for granted. Don’t! Consider all that rescue cost Him. He didn’t just lift the penalty off us. He became our sin. “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
    All of that is at what Jesus did to give us “rest” (Matthew 11:29). Based on all of that, Jesus urges sinners to come to Him because He will give us “rest”. That’s not sweet slumber on our beds after a tiring day at work or around the house. That’s not rest for the body, but “rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus Christ our Lord did that because He loves us. That’s a truth we wouldn’t believe is part of our life’s story had God not convinced us of it when He changed our hearts. He loves us even with our rebellious hearts. His love led Him to carry out the greatest rescue ever! That’s our life story, too!
    III. The rest
    That rescue isn’t the rest in the sermon’s third point, listed in the bulletin and mentioned earlier. Oh the rescue is “rest”, real rest! But what the pastor means is the rest of our life’s story. The rebellion. The rescue. Now the rest of our life’s story.
    God knows that we struggle. The fact that we struggle, that the struggle continues to rage in the heart of the child of God, does not mean that we have been cut off from God. Paul, the greatest missionary in Christian history, had that struggle as the rest of his life’s story up to the moment he died for proclaiming the rebellion of sin and the rescue by Christ! We’re no different.
    The struggle continues. We see the hurt in the eyes of those we love when they are affected by our selfish rebellion. We cringe at the words that fly from our lips and pierce the feelings of dear friends. We so much want not to sin, yet we so often sin.
    Christian, that ongoing struggle is not a reason to doubt the victory in the war. Every sin is covered by the blood of Christ, not by our good intentions. Our ongoing struggle does not suggest we are losing the war. The ongoing struggle, the raging conflict, the fierce battle inside us just means that we still have an enemy. The devil won’t give up. He knows what is at stake: our soul’s eternity in heaven or in hell. He wants us with him forever, not with Christ forever. So he tempts, and we struggle. That is part of my life’s story and your life’s story for the rest of our lives, as it was part of Paul’s life story for the rest of his life as God’s believing child and faithful preacher.
    The story of our life is the story of every believer who went before us and will come after us. Daily see the sin in your heart as sin and rebellion against God. Find new life, perfect peace, and blessed rest in the rescue by “Jesus Christ our Lord”. For the rest of our life, we use His death and resurrection to say, “No!” to wicked desires and, “Yes!” to Godly living and thinking. The struggle continues. But the war has been won!      Amen.          Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - Remember What God Does for Us in Baptism
  • Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 12, 2020
    Hymns                                 299,   316     
    First Lesson                Jeremiah 28:5-9
    Psalm                          89 (page 98)
    Second Lesson            Romans 6:1b-11
    Gospel Lesson            Matthew 10:34-42
    Romans 6:1b-11
    Remember What God Does for Us in Baptism
      I. Through it we died with Christ
    II. Through it we live with Christ
    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Triune God who placed His name – and with it, His blessings – on us in Baptism, fellow baptized children of God,
    Students rejoice they’re not told each summer day, “Remember your school work!” Teens tire of hearing parents tell them, “I remember when I was your age.” You all realize, “Remember the Alamo!” isn’t an ad for a car rental company, right?
    Sadly, we tend to treat our first blessed encounter with the Savior as a long-ago event that’s no longer relevant, that happened once and now we’re on to more important things. That’s not true! In fact, that view of Baptism is dangerous for our faith.
    Today we remember our Baptism. It’s not a journey to a religious museum only to look. It’s a trip to a spiritual power plant to plug into what God does for us in Baptism. Through Baptism we died with Christ and through Baptism we live with Christ.
    I. Through it we died with Christ
    Just before this lesson the Holy Spirit had Paul write, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed much more” (5:20). Get the point? God’s grace is so great that it covers all sin; the more sin is committed, the more grace is delivered. But we already hear the gears of our sinful nature turning: “Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase?” (v. 1). That’s what Satan wants us to ask. If God’s grace is so great and increases as you sin, then it would really be good if you sinned even more, wouldn’t it? With God, we reply, “Absolutely not! We died to sin. How can we go on living in it any longer?” (v. 2)
    But how did it happen that we “died to sin”? When did it happen? For most of us, it happened in Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him by this baptism into His death” (vv. 3-4).
    Teachings about Baptism have split Christians for centuries. Is Baptism something God does for us when He gave us what we never had before and desperately needed? Or is it something we do for God to show Him what He means to us after we made ourselves His own? What counts is not what human preachers say, but what God’s Word teaches. The verbs about Baptism here are passive. That means Baptism’s blessings were given to us by another, not earned by us. Baptism is all God’s work! Baptism is God delivering His saving work to sinners.
    Since God does all the work, God’s blessings are given even to infants when they are “baptized into Christ Jesus”. God uses Baptism to connect lost and condemned sinners, which we all were from conception and birth, to Christ. God uses Baptism to make us partners in Christ’s death and burial. Did you hear that bell sound five times in this lesson: “with Him (v. 5a)… with Him (v. 5b)…with Him (v. 6)…with Christ (v. 8)… with Him” (v. 8)? That connection to our Savior is the solid foundation on which stand our certainty of sins forgiven.
    Through Baptism God gave you the rich blessing of dying with Christ, and thus dying “to sin”. It’s hard to convince ourselves and others of the seriousness of sin. A look at the word for “sin” here helps. It means to miss the bull’s eye, the small mark in the center of a target. We often think of sin as firing away from the target, of doing the things society considers bad. That is sin. But sin is also the failure to be perfect, the failure to hit God’s law perfectly. Even when we’re doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons or with a less-than-joyful heart, we sin. Whenever we aren’t perfect, we miss God’s mark. We sin.
    But now, in Baptism, God has caused us to die with Jesus, and so to “die to sin”. The Spirit here compares the blessings of Baptism to the finality of a burial. When a body is buried, the corpse can no longer do anything, right? When we died with Christ in Baptism, we died to sin, so we no longer want to sin.
    God tells us to remember – and use – our Baptism each day! When Satan comes waving for us or whispering to us his temptations to sin, we wave him off and shout to him, “I’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus and His death! I no longer give in to sin! Since He died to remove my curse and cover my guilt, I no longer soil my living as I wear by faith His blood-bought and blood-cleansed robe of righteousness! Get behind me!”
    Christ’s death for sinners is more than a fact we know. Christ’s death for sinners is the power to put sin behind us. Too often we give in to our foe in the fight for our soul. Instead of running from the devil’s attempts to control our bodies with intoxication or immorality, our tongues with juicy gossip or bitter words, our thoughts with hatred or revenge, we defend our sins, saying, But everybody else does it! We grow weary of the fight against sin, grow comfortable with the rebellion, grow dulled to the serious threats of God’s holy anger over every sin.
    The solution? Repent! Baptism reminds us to get rid of the sinful nature every day. Baptism reminds us we are connected to Christ through His death. By that power we bury our sins daily.
    II. Through it we live with Christ
    It’s so sad to hear, “A mother of four perished in an accident.” It’s worse to hear, “Her children died with her.” But here, “died with Christ” (v. 8) is great news! Through Baptism we receive the blessings of His death – forgiveness and heaven. But there’s more! Through Baptism we also receive the blessings of His resurrection – we live with Christ!
    “The person who has died has been declared free from sin” (v. 7). That sounds like anyone, even a devil worshiper, who dies is saved. But the point is that no one collects a debt from a corpse or sentences a corpse for committing a crime. So, the believer, who has died to sin through Baptism into Christ’s death, is cleared of sin. Christ’s death, now our death through Baptism, has paid the debts we owed.
    “Since we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (v. 8). Yes, that’s a promise we will inherit life in heaven with Him forever. Christ’s resurrection assures us of that. But through Baptism God also blesses our life on earth: that “we too would also walk in a new life” (v. 4). What He has done for us and continues to do in us powers us to live the  life of cheerful obedience to God. We call that life and that new nature the new man, the life and nature connected to Christ.
    Please listen carefully. When we remember what God does for us, we are free to do anything we want. Many say that teaching sinners are saved through faith in Christ alone without works is a dangerous teaching, leading sinners to think, I can sin all I want, then crawl back to Calvary every so often to be forgiven. But through Baptism, God gives us daily a new look at life and at ourselves. We “consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). If you were to tell me, “You’re dead to me!”, it means you want nothing to do with me ever again, right? With Christ, we tell sin, “You’re dead to me, and I never again want anything to do with you!” We crucify the old man and dress in the new man, which leads us to glorify God with every act, word, decision, thought. Luther’s advice to believers is to wake up each morning saying, “I’m a baptized child of God!” to set the tone for us to live for God all day long.
    Sharp Catechism students recognize these as the verses Luther used in Baptism: Fourth – What does this baptizing with water mean? Christ led a perfect life and died a sinner’s death to be our Savior. His work to save us is finished. His name in on us, Christian. Being “in Christ Jesus” is like being a fish in water: He surrounds us and influences everything around us. We remember every day what God does for us in Baptism. That’s why our Baptism font stands front and center in our sanctuary. In Baptism, God blesses us so very richly!
    When we keep all that in mind – and especially in heart! – when we remember how connected to the Triune God we are through Baptism, we who have “died with Christ” also “live with Christ”. That’s not just that we will go to heaven at death. It’s also that we live on earth all our days in the ways that please the Lord. Remember what God does for you in Baptism. He gave you faith in Christ and the forgiveness Christ won for all as your personal possession, so you daily tell sin, “You’re dead to me!” He made you His own for life and for forever, so you daily tell Him, “Living Lord, I live with You and for You!”     Amen.                                  Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - It Only Took One
  • Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 5, 2020

    Hymns 379, 619
    First Lesson Jeremiah 20:7-13
    Psalm 31 (page 77)
    Second Lesson Romans 5:12-15
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 10:24-33
    Romans 5:12-15
    It Only Took One
    I. The one ruins all
    II. The One rescues all

    In the name of Christ Jesus, true God and true man, our Savior and our Substitute, fellow redeemed,

    Trailblazers light up the pages of history. Pasteur for his work developing vaccines and Curie for hers with radiation. Edison’s inventions pioneered convenient life as we know it today. Bell’s innovation brought swift communication via telephone. More recently, Bill Gates has developed software and Steve Jobs computer technology that most everyone uses.

    In this lesson, the Holy Spirit had Paul write about two ancient trailblazers. Both introduced something new to the world and to the life of people in it. The people affected didn’t live only in advanced civilizations. The people affected were – and are – every person ever! One of the trailblazers was Adam, the first human; the other trailblazer is Jesus Christ, the only God-man. It only took one. The one ruins all. The One rescues all.
    I. The one ruins all
    Many of us are old enough to remember the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and the resulting deaths of all seven on board. But do you remember what caused the explosion? Due to unseasonably cold temperatures in Florida that January morning, an o-ring failed which allowed pressurized gas from the booster to escape, and that gas ignited an external fuel tank on the shuttle. One little o-ring! But it only took one!

    People who know you as a regular church-going, Bible-believing, Christ-confessing child of God might have told you, “It’s ridiculous, even barbaric, that your God would condemn all people because only one sinned. It’s pathetic you believe God got all bent out of shape because Adam and Eve ate a piece of forbidden fruit – fruit from a tree God had made but then forbad them to use for food! That’s unreasonable nonsense!”

    They don’t get it because they suppose sins are only little errors in judgment. They think people control their own destiny. Some of them likely believe there is no all-powerful Creator God, but that people evolved from lower life forms over billions of years. Those people have a hard time explaining “death” (v. 12). If man is in control, if man is evolving into more complex, better beings, then why would people die?

    Adam was the trailblazer who started us down the road to the cemetery. “Sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned” (v. 12). It’s not an unexplained phenomenon that people die. It’s the curse of sin. Sin isn’t a little mistake some people make. Sin is rebellion by all against the holy God. That’s terribly serious. “Death” shows just how terribly serious it is!

    Adam and Eve had only one command from God in the Garden of Eden. They disobeyed that one command, and ended up dying as a result. But what about all the people in the centuries and millenia after them? Our teeth marks weren’t on the fruit Adam and Eve ate. How fair is it that all people since then have died, too? It seems like a teacher keeping the whole class in for recess when only one student broke classroom rules.

    God answers, “Even before the law was given, sin was in the world…Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those whose sin was not like the transgression of Adam” (vv. 13-14). Accountability for sin didn’t begin when God gave the law through Moses at Sinai. Accountability for sin was in effect from the beginning. God’s law is written on everyone’s heart. Proof of that is the fact that from Adam to Moses, some two thousand five hundred years, people died. Parents then didn’t say, “You sinned against the Fourth Commandment when you talked back to us.” But they did say, “You sin. We sin. All who sin will die. All sin is that serious!”

    It’s not that God wanted that for people. God created Adam and Eve to live forever. But Adam’s sin brought death into his life and into our lives. “Death” is evidence that disobedience to God separates people from God. It only took one to ruin all.

    That truth shames us into giving up our fools’ gold game of comparing ourselves to others. At least I’m not as bad as they are! Adam’s sin brought sin to all. We don’t even start life with the possibility of living sinlessly. We do start life with the curse of sin hung around our necks and souls and hearts.

    Is that fair? Is it right we are burdened by sin and must die just because Adam listened to the devil’s lies more than six thousand years ago? Those are the wrong questions. Those questions suppose God owes us an explanation of His justice. The right question is the one asked when we stand in front of the mirror of God’s law. What do I see? You and I see ourselves as sinners against God, destined for death, deserving of hell. We see our sinful nature, our old man, our Old Adam. We see that it only took one, the one who ruins all.

    II. The One rescues all
    People of God who hold to all God’s Word are asked, How can you believe in a God who will damn the world because one sinned? People of God who hold to all God’s Word answer, God forgives the whole world because of another One! How is it true that Adam “is a pattern of the One who was to come” (v. 14)? Isn’t the One who was to come Jesus Christ? He is! Then how is Adam “a pattern” of Jesus? It took only one to ruin all, and it took only One to rescue all.

    Adam acted on the devil’s lie. As a result, life with God and holiness before God was lost, the entire creation of God was stained and ruined, sin and death entered to defile all people. But Jesus had agreed to the rescue plan. He entered our sinful world, lived in our place, then gave His life to restore life for sinners with God. He is the One who rescues all.

    Really? “All”? Your Bible says, “the many” (v. 15). You’re right. It does. “For if the many died by the trespass of this one man, it is even more certain that God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, overflowed to the many(v. 15). But that doesn’t mean we have to wonder and worry if we will make the cut to be among “the many”. Remember the Spirit’s lesson here! All sinned”. Read on for more of the Spirit’s truth. A few verses after this lesson, He had Paul add, “Just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people(Romans 5:18).

    That fits perfectly with passages you cherish. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16). Realize it took only one to ruin all. Trust it took only the One to rescue all! And since we are part of “all people” (Romans 5:18), we, too, are rescued by “the One man”.

    What did the coming One, the God-man, Jesus Christ, do? Willingly He went to the cross to carry our sins, even though the very thought of it in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before overwhelmed His holy soul with sorrow to the point of death. Completely He suffered the punishment – not just a cruel crucifixion, but the horror of hell – for every sin.

    When we question God’s fairness or justice, He shows us “the One” who is God and man, the only Savior, Jesus. Doesn’t God want to have mercy on us who deserve hell? Doesn’t God want to spare us the forever consequences of Adam’s sin? Doesn’t God want to dispel the fear of death for those who trust in Him and see death as the last, great step to life with God in the holy joy of heaven through faith in “the One”, our Savior?

    Of this lesson’s two trailblazers, one is known for his “trespass” (v. 15), the other One is known for His “gift” (v. 15). The “trespass” was terrible and inexcusable. Adam’s fall into sin was no accident; it was deliberate disobedience and open rebellion against the Lord. It brought ruin to all. Blessedly, the remedy was more than adequate! The source of “the gift” is “God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ”. That makes us believers the most confident people in the world. If we doubt our sins are forgiven, we insult the Savior who paid for them, and act as if our sins and guilt are greater and more powerful than His promise and grace. But we no longer fear what will happen to us at death. Our sins are covered and “death” has been defeated by Christ to rescue all.

    There was so much power and effect in the sin of the one man to bring sin and death on all. But there is much more power and effect in the work of “the other One”, the God-man, the Savior, Jesus Christ! We are not just freed from the chains of sin and death and hell. We are freed by Him to serve Him and one another now. We are freed by Him to reign with Him forever. He calls to us, “Why live as a follower of Adam, trailblazer of sin and death? Live as a child of Mine, the One who rescues all, and in grace brings life to all who trust in Me!”   Amen.
                                                                                                                                                  Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - See the Heavenly Harvest
  • Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
    June 28, 2020

    Hymns 576, 559
    First Lesson Exodus 19:2-8a
    Psalm 100 (page 104)
    Second Lesson Romans 5:6-11
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
    Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
    See the Heavenly Harvest
    I. The fields are ready
    II. The workers are needed
    III. The machinery is here

    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior who has purchased salvation for all souls, fellow redeemed,

    Last winter a sociologist estimated our planet’s maximum capacity is 9-10 billion people. Within the next three years, there will be 8 billion people on earth, then 9 billion by 2042. Where, the expert wondered, will we find food and water, medicine and health care for everyone? Nearly two thousand years ago, heaven’s Savior, the expert in both the world’s population and the sinner’s salvation, said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His harvest” (vv. 37-38).

    Which situation is more serious? Yes! The one to which the world pays little attention. Harvesting souls for heaven is more critical than harvesting food, producing medicine, and improving the standard of living. Oh, those are important. But they are not as important as the heavenly harvest. Our eyes are directed by “the Lord of the harvest” to the heavenly harvest, to the continents full of souls bought by His blood. His harvest merits our attention, prayers, support, and efforts. We see – and get busy working in – the heavenly harvest where the fields are ready, the workers are needed, and the machinery is here.
    I. The fields are ready

    Even those of us who know little about farming can tell when the grain fields we pass are ready for harvest. The tiny green grass we see in fields when late winter snow melts rise into blue-green stalks, then become acres of golden grain. Farmers harvest the grain at just the right time – before the heads get too heavy and while the stalks still stand tall for the combine.

    The souls to be harvested by the Gospel are countless. Each of the nearly 8 billion people alive right now has a soul; only one-third of them trust in Jesus as the only Savior. “The heavenly harvest is plentiful”, indeed!

    All people are planted on earth enemies of God by nature from their conception and birth – sinners in God’s eyes and without any hope to enter heaven on their own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “troubled” (v. 36) by Satan and his helpers from hell; the idea behind this word is going through a huge thorn patch and coming out a bloody mess. Without being harvested for the Lord, everyone is “downcast” (v. 36), a word used by a shepherd of a four-legged sheep that is lying upside down and can’t get to its feet on its own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “like a sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36) to lead the sinner to the Savior.

    That’s what makes the heavenly harvest so urgent – and it needs more than our passing look! Jesus lived a perfect life for all and died the sacrificial death to cover every sin. He makes the heavenly harvest an eternal blessing for sinners! But billions are blind to that. They still plow through life in unbelief, trusting their own good living and rejecting the only Savior.

    Fellow sinners rescued by Christ, let’s keep the eyes of our hearts open to see the yet-unharvested souls around us! Let’s see the fields of souls that are ready now! The heavenly harvester says, “The harvest is plentiful!” This heavenly harvest doesn’t happen first on the Last Day. The souls of those who die trusting Jesus for forgiveness are already harvested for the Lord and thus enter heaven when they die. The souls of those who die rejecting Jesus in unbelief are sent to hell forever. See the fields of souls ready now for the heavenly harvest work!

    II. The workers are needed

    The grain standing in fields today won’t make it to the elevator next month unless someone works to harvest it. Some in our country are concerned that more stringent immigration regulations will result in some crops rotting in fields because there won’t be enough workers to harvest the crops.

    Will part of the heavenly harvest be lost because “the workers are too few”? It’s not up to us to answer that question. It is up to us to hear Jesus calling, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Workers are needed!”

    We pray the Holy Spirit moves all of us to identify people we know, relatives we love, folks with whom we have a close relationship, and souls living without the peace of God and His forgiveness for Christ’s sake in their hearts. We pray the Spirit gives all of us the courage to tell them what only Jesus has done to rescue them and us and all the world’s billions of souls, or at least to invite them to view online or attend in person our services or classes so they hear the life-giving good news about the Savior and His work. We pray the Triune God will continue to fill our members, and members of eleven hundred or so sister churches, to support His kingdom’s work – not just in our own congregations, but for schools to train pastors and teachers, for mission fields around the world we’ll never enter.

    And when we pray for workers in the heavenly harvest, the Lord of the heavenly harvest’s answer may well be, “Go! Get to work in My heavenly harvest! Use the opportunities I give you to harvest souls. How about your boyfriend or girlfriend or fiancé? Your neighbor or co-worker or classmate? If you won’t speak to them about what sinners have in Christ alone, who will? If you aren’t yet confident
    telling them about Me, study what I tell you in My Word about Me and My work! Invite them to study that with you at your house and in My house!”

    The Lord of the heavenly harvest’s words about needing workers are even spoken about the youngest of you. “Children, parents, grandparents, what about you, your children, or grandchildren, becoming full time workers as a pastor or teacher in My heavenly harvest? The first full-time workers in the New Testament I called to teach others about Me and My work were Simon (who is called Peter)…Andrew,
    James…John, Philip…Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), Thomas, Matthew, another James…Thaddeus (also known as Judas), another Simon and Judas Iscariot” (vv. 2-4). They were not intellectuals, not particularly holy in their living, not much different from others. They were ordinary people like you are.

    “You might think you’re not fit to be a full time worker in My harvest. But I will equip you for that work. Ponder it seriously, children! Encourage it earnestly, parents and grandparents! Pray about it fervently, all of you! Workers are needed!”

    III. The machinery is here

    Would you harvest grain entirely by hand, no tools at all? Of course not. Even in Bible times farmers had oxen turn huge stones to grind the cut grain and separate edible kernels from useless straw. Today’s harvest tools are called machinery.

    The same is true in the heavenly harvest. No one can work in the heavenly harvest without the right tools, machinery. Some say they harvest souls for the Lord with their manmade machines as they claim, “God is love and loves everyone into heaven!” But they don’t insist Christ is the only way to heaven. That’s like using a tweezers to grill chicken; it does not work.

    God’s miraculous machinery is the message about who Jesus is, about what He did and still does for sinners. “As you go to work in the heavenly harvest, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (v. 7). Fellow workers in His heavenly harvest, to use that message, we need to know it! “The kingdom of heaven” is not as much a place as it is the activity of the Savior ruling in human hearts with
    His Word about the sinners’ salvation won by His work.

    Some of the machinery mentioned isn’t used for the heavenly harvest now. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Drive out demons” (v. 8). That was needed for heavenly harvest work in the early Church. Those miracles convinced souls the workers were sent by, and had the power of, the one true God. Today that machinery isn’t necessary because the Bible is complete to show others what God
    has done and what He says. The machinery is here – the message of sin and salvation!

    The machinery then also included a map. “Do not go among the Gentiles…Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). During our Savior’s ministry, the Word went to Jewish people first. But eighteen months after Jesus said this, on the first Pentecost, Gentiles, too, heard the Gospel from the apostles. And so it continues among us Gentiles today!

    A modern combine will cost a farmer one quarter of a million dollars. The heavenly harvest’s machinery is free. “Freely you have received salvation; freely give (v. 8) salvation.” You don’t have to pay the pastor and teachers; we are willing to work in the heavenly harvest for “free”. But our called workers and families need to eat. If we didn’t receive a salary for work in the heavenly harvest, we’d work elsewhere to earn a living, leaving less time for our work in the heavenly harvest. Our called workers give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for your loving, generous support so we are able to work full time in His heavenly harvest with His machinery, His law and Gospel, His Means of Grace, the good news in Word and sacraments!

    Fellow workers in the heavenly harvest, we work together to use the good news about the Savior after His threats show what every sinner deserves. We work together as the Lord of the heavenly harvest uses us to gather souls around the world for His kingdom and into His heaven.      Amen.        Pastor David A. Voss

    Third Sunday after Pentecost - God's Promises Never Fail
  • Third Sunday after Pentecost
    June 21, 2020

    Hymns 596, 321
    First Lesson Exodus 3:1-15
    Psalm 119c (page 111)
    Second Lesson Romans 4:18-25
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 9:9-13

    Romans 4:18-25
    God’s Promises Never Fail
    I. Despite our helplessness
    II. Because of God’s power
    III. Thanks to His faithfulness

    In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God and only Savior, who removed our guilt with His precious blood, fellow redeemed, High school seniors had counted on their huge day this spring, but that didn’t happen; and now those graduates don’t know when they’ll be the guest of honor and gather with classmates and others at their open house. The driver of a vehicle that has issues puts the key in the ignition wondering if he can count on it to start – and if it does, get him to work and back home. Not to minimize either one, but whether the open house is held or the vehicle needs repair doesn’t change anything that is life-changing. But what about life with God? What if what we count on to be right in His sight gets canceled like graduation this spring or grinds to a halt like a troubled transmission? Romans Chapter 4 reviews the life of the great Old Testament believer Abraham. His life’s story so clearly shows how man’s salvation comes only from God, and there is absolutely nothing man does or offers for salvation. The way God dealt with Abraham is how God deals with sinners of all ages. Thus, our salvation is the greatest guarantee ever given. It never fails! The way God dealt with Abraham centered on His promises to Abraham. God’s relationship with us is sealed by His promises, too. That’s crucial, because God’s promises never fail, despite our helplessness to do anything for our salvation. God’s promises never fail because of His power, far beyond all other powers in the universe. God’s promises never fail, thanks to His faithfulness, which isn’t canceled even by our sinfulness.
    I. Despite our helplessness

    Abraham first appears on the pages of God’s Word as an old man. Although Adam, Seth, Methuselah, and others in the early chapters of Genesis lived to be nine hundred or more, after the Flood life expectancy dropped precipitously. Abraham “considered his own body as good as dead (because he was about one hundred years old” (v. 19). It’s not that he was bedridden and unable to do anything. It’s that, humanly speaking, he was helpless to father children at that age. Same with his wife: “he considered Sarah’s womb to be dead” (v. 19). Twenty-five years earlier God had promised, “You’ll be a father of many nations, Abraham!”, though Abraham wasn’t yet the father of a single child. Abraham tried to do something about that. Servant Hagar was a young, single woman. Abraham had no designs on her as a second wife, but thought she was the solution to his helplessness in becoming a father. Not only with Sarah’s permission, but at Sarah’s suggestion!, Abraham had sinful sexual relations with Hagar. She conceived. The baby was a boy, but not the son God had promised. We don’t invent schemes to get God’s promised blessings when God’s promises seem preposterous. God’s promises never fail. Our old Adam doesn’t want to rely on God’s promises. Why do I need a savior? I obey God’s laws. Well, at least I do more good than bad. Doesn’t that make me okay with God? Absolutely not! Our sins and guilt make self-salvation impossible, make us helpless before God and hopeless on our own, made us spiritually dead to God and helpless to live the perfect life He demands. Our sinful nature hates God’s promise of salvation because it is God telling us we aren’t good enough! How blessed we are that God didn’t turn His back on us, but kept His promises to the world. God’s promises never fail! That is the truth from heaven our helpless souls need!

    II. Because of God’s power

    Abraham had his moments when God’s promises seemed impossible. But for the most part, Abraham spent the twenty-five years – from God first telling him the plan to make him and Sarah parents to God giving them Isaac when they were nearly one hundred years old – waiting patiently and faithfully. “He did not weaken in faith” (v. 19). How could Abraham remain strong in the face of the many human reasons God’s promises might not come true? Because they were God’s promises! God’s promises never fail because of God’s power. When reality causes doubt about a hoped-for outcome, we think, I don’t know what to believe! As Abraham pondered the promised pregnancy for those twenty-five years, he kept coming back to this: It seems impossible, but it is God’s promise! “He did not waver in unbelief with respect to God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith” (v. 20). So many Bible verses teach that God’s Word strengthens faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). What is God’s Word other than a list of His promises, and how He miraculously kept them?! Our faith is strengthened the same way Abraham’s was! Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised” (v. 21). The child who listens to dad describe what he did to get the child’s toy car running again, who watched dad reassemble the complicated gears, thinks, My dad can do anything! God our Father delights to see our faith that trusts He can do anything and uses His power to save helpless sinners. His words and works prove God’s promises never fail! Of course, Abraham and Sarah wanted a child of their own. But more than having a baby she could cuddle, he could take hunting, was having the Savior to die for them. The Savior would come from Abraham and Sarah’s family; that was the great importance for them in having the promised son. And even that – the Savior would be true God and true man – seemed unbelievable. But that was God’s promise flowing from God’s power. God invites all His children to bring Him their troubles and problems. We come to Him, trusting His promised power to deliver us. When we aren’t delivered in an instant and Satan whispers, “Is God really as good and powerful as you think He is?”, we hear God shout to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, because My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s deliverance doesn’t always remove trouble; the last three months have been evidence of that. God’s deliverance does always supply us with the strength to endure trouble; the last three months have been evidence of that, too! This, dear friends, is faith. Faith isn’t feeling good. Faith isn’t a feeling at all. Faith is trusting that God has done what He said He would do, that God will do what He says He’s going to do. That is our crowning comfort under the wretched burden of sin. What the devil wants us to doubt more than anything is God’s forgiving grace. But God has promised His grace to us. The Father sent the Son with His saving combination of power and humility to rescue us. Each day the Triune God uses the power of His good news to tell us, “I have forgiven you in Christ!” Each day our God-given faith responds, “I trust in that!” Since all the power in keeping those great promises is God’s, all the glory is God’s. With Abraham, we are daily, “giving glory to God” (v. 20). We play no part at all in making the promise possible or in fulfilling the work of Jesus to suffer hell for us. So we are “giving glory to God” with all our lives, living thanks to Him for His never-failing promises flowing from His divine love and power.
    III. Thanks to His faithfulness
    Some suppose it’s no great act of power for God to forgive the world’s sins. They say He simply shrugs off all sins, like a referee who pretends he didn’t see the infraction that happened right in front of him. Oh, God knows all about every sin. He most certainly does not shrug off any sin. Instead, He has sent every sin off in His suffering and death. God’s promises never fail thanks to His faithfulness. God credits “righteousness” (v. 22) “to all who believe in the One who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead” (v. 24). The Savior died for every sinner. Christ’s death covers the guilt of the world because there He suffered hell. “Righteousness” demanded by God is “righteousness” delivered by God. But sinners who trust their own righteousness want nothing to do with God’s “righteousness”. Though Jesus forgave their sins, they reject it. Christians, by the Bible’s description, are sinners who have been brought to their knees by the crushing knowledge of their guilt before God, and are also filled with the precious peace of faith in Christ crucified and risen. Jesus “was handed over to death because of our trespasses” (v. 24) to pay the penalty of sin for us. “It is finished! (John 19:30). Perfectly completed!” The same Jesus “was raised to life because of our justification” (v. 25), that is, He was raised to life by God the Father to assure us that sacrifice for us paid the price in full and He declares sinners, “Not guilty! It is accepted!” God’s promises never fail thanks to His faithfulness! There is no other way for guilty sinners to stand before the holy God. Too many sinners suppose God is pleased with their imperfect obedience as long as they try their best. In fact, that is what every religion without the crucified and risen Savior at its center counts on. But every one of those religions is wrong. God’s promises never fail! We are helpless to please the holy, mighty Lord. But the holy, mighty Lord is also the loving, gracious God who promised the Savior through Abraham’s descendants, sent the Savior as promised, and is faithful to everything He has promised and said. His promises never fail!      Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday after Pentecost - Let Us Live What We Love about the LORD
  • Second Sunday after Pentecost
    June 14, 2020 

    Hymns  382,   293  
    First Lesson   Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28  
    Psalm   78 (page 95)  
    Second Lesson   Romans 3:21-25a,27-28  
    Gospel Lesson  Matthew 7:15-29  
    Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28
    Let Us Live What We Love about the LORD    
    I. The importance of His Word
    II. The seriousness of His will 
    In the name of Jesus, fellow followers of the Savior,  
    Teens are told, “Act your age!” when they’ve been carrying on like little kids. Fans need to hear, “But that’s your team!” when the team is having a tough season and those fans show no loyalty. Teachers tell some students, “You can do better work!” All God’s people need God to tell them all the time, “Put these words of Mine in your hearts and in your soul” (v. 18).  
    Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he spoke these words to his beloved people of Israel. He wasn’t a fragile old man wagging his cane in a senile speech. In his forty years of leading them, Moses had seen how often the nation God chose to be so specially blessed had so severely stressed their relationship with God: griping about the food He miraculously provided in a desert, worshiping an idol as they had seen the Egyptians do, ignoring God’s promises to protect them when they would enter the land of the Canaanites, and more. The people often didn’t show love for the LORD who loved them so dearly.  
    That attitude infects us people of God, too. Too often we selfishly shuffle through life, not living what we know the loving LORD wants from us. We’ve celebrated for weeks the triumphant truths that our Savior died for us, rose from death, and ascended to heaven. We’ve reviewed the Holy Spirit’s work to bring us to and keep us in the one true saving faith in Christ. We spent last week focusing on what the Triune God does for us. Now God wants us to put all we believe about Him into practice all the time. Let us live what we love about the LORD: the importance of His Word and the seriousness of His will.  
    I. The importance of His Word

    Wouldn’t people look silly walking around with the printed Word of God in boxes tied “on their wrists as signs and as symbols on their forehead” (v. 18)? Would any home improvement show suggest hanging little scrolls of God’s Word from “doorframes… and…gates” (v. 20)? But there were, and still are, Jews who took, and take, this literally. Jesus described the Pharisees of His day this way: “They do all their works to be seen by people. They make their phylacteries (little boxes containing Bible verses) wide” (Matthew 23:5).  
    These words about keeping “these words of” God before us are to impress upon us the importance of God’s Word in our lives. “Tie them on your wrists as signs and as symbols on your foreheads” is the 
    LORD’s forceful way to say, “My Word directs all you believe and love, think and say, do and make.” “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” is God’s Word picture way to say His Word guides what we do and discuss when we leave home and come back, and everywhere we go in between. “Teach them to your children by talking about them when you sit in your house and when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 19). That covers everything! God wants His Word to dominate and permeate all we think and say and do in every place during every moment of every day.  
    And that’s not just an individual thing. Parents, do we show our “children” the works of the LORD and the importance of His Word each day this way? Or let them decide about that on their own? Our spiritual responsibility doesn’t end when we bring our infants to the font to receive the miracle of faith in Christ given in Baptism. God tells us to teach our children these “words of Mine” daily, constantly, faithfully at home.  
    Let us live what we love about the LORD and the importance of His Word each day of the week, not just the hour of worship. The little boxes some Jews strapped to their heads and wrists, tacked next to their doors and gate, were to be wonderful reminders about the importance of God’s Word for their private lives, work lives, and civic lives. We have similar things today – crosses, pictures, plaques with Bible verses to remind us that God loves us, commands us, and comforts us every day.  
    The importance of God’s Word is that God is not an abstract idea, but the very real, personal, and powerful God. He goes with us wherever we go and knows all we do. The first half of this lesson includes an attachment. It’s not an e-mail thing, but the LORD’s promise: “so that your days and the days of your children may be many on the land that the LORD promised to your fathers with an oath, as many as the days that the heavens remain over the earth” (v. 21), which is, of course, until the Last Day. That doesn’t mean God’s blessings to us depend on our work. God’s truth is that His grace multiplies to us as we keep His Word! For those who heard Moses speak it, it was the sure and certain promise that the bountiful land they could see just across the Jordan River would be theirs, and that the coming Savior would make them God’s people forever.  
    We have the same sure and certain promise. God showers His grace on us. For however “many days” the LORD will grant us, the LORD’s way for our blessed life is parents teaching His Word to their children, and parents and children keeping His Word, until He takes us to Himself through faith in His work.    
    We live what we love about the LORD and the importance of His Word. We fight the temptation to think that since we are active members of a church, we have done our part. At home, work, school, play, and in stores; morning, noon, and night, and every moment in between; with what we do and the attitude with which we do it; with what we say, and what we really mean by it; let us live what we love about the importance of God’s Word of salvation for sinners through His Son Jesus!  
    ?II. The seriousness of His will 
    Do any of us disagree with that? We say God-pleasing things now. But how about away from God’s house? Do we live like God’s Word has little meaning for everyday life? Our hands, which should be used to serve the Savior who shed His blood to forgive us, too easily hit, hurt, and steal. Our minds, which should think of God and His saving cross and His eternal love, too quickly turn to thoughts of envy, hate, lust, and pride.    
    What’s the remedy? “These words of Mine” about the Savior! Here He fills us with His loving forgiveness of every trespass, then shows us what He wants from us in loving living. Here He reminds us that the Christian life is not a one-day deal, but a live-what-you-love-about-the-LORD life. We live what we love about the LORD, which includes the seriousness of His will.  
    What were the children of Israel chosen by God to be? The people from whom the world’s only Savior would come! They weren’t precious to God because of their race, but because of the work of the One to come from them! It’s the same with us. God has set us apart as His own children not because of what we’ve done, but through the completed work of His Son. That is God’s will! He has made us His own. We sinners who daily offend Him in countless ways are forgiven in Christ.  
    That doesn’t mean we’re now free to do what we want. That doesn’t mean we can remain God’s people by ourselves. That’s why God’s will is also that His grace and the power of the Spirit continue to be given us. God is serious about that because His heart is full of love for us. His loving heart leads the LORD to tell us, “I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commandments of the LORD…the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD…and follow other gods” (vv. 26-28).  
    Yes, “other gods”. Satan has a will, too. He wants to take us away from the LORD and the salvation God has won for all. Satan daily tempts God’s people to follow gods that are not true. With this last address to people he led for more than a generation, Moses made sure Israel knew Satan’s damning designs on them. The rest of the Old Testament shows how God used troubles to wake Israel up, call them back to Him and His Word, to repent of following “other gods” and defying God.  We also know from the rest of the Old Testament how the LORD showed His love to assure His people His promises never fail. Such promises allowed those who trusted in Him to see every trouble, every setback, and every difficulty as a loving lesson from the LORD. Those sorrows were meant to direct the people back to the compassionate promises of God.  
    How about our history? It’s no different, is it? We, too, have received God’s gracious promises. Despite our constant wandering from Him and our doubtful wondering about Him, the LORD has placed our punishment on His Son. Despite our inherited sinfulness, the LORD has placed in our hearts trust in Christ’s sinless life and innocent death to be our Savior. He is just as serious about that for us as he was about that for Israel.  
    We live what we love about the LORD and the seriousness of His will. We don’t shrug off His will. We don’t decide the parts of it we will follow and ones we won’t. We trust He knows and commands what is best for us because He gave His life for us.  
    When we feel it’s not worth it to live for the LORD day-in and day-out, let’s remember what’s at stake: “a blessing and a curse”. God is serious! He died to save us! But all who reject His work to save sinners follow other gods, seek another plan of salvation. They leave the faithful, reliable, proven God for “other gods” that don’t even exist! God will damn all such people. He is just as serious about that part of His will.  
    Our life with God isn’t lived on our terms. We don’t set the parameters or determine what is best. He gave Himself for us. We live for Him every moment, every place, in every situation. His saving work and gracious promises lead us to live what we love about Him, realizing we cannot live without Him.      Amen.       Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday after Pentecost – The Holy Trinity
  • First Sunday after Pentecost – The Holy Trinity
    June 7, 2020 
    Order of Service   The Common Service, page 15
    Hymns  195,   334        
    First Lesson  Genesis 1:1 – 2:3  
    Psalm   150 (page 122)  
    Second Lesson  2 Corinthians 13:11-14  
    Gospel Lesson  Matthew 28:16-20 
    2 Corinthians 13:11-14
    What Do We Get from Our Relationship with the Triune God?  
    I. Grace
        II. Love        
        III. Fellowship 
    In the name of the only saving God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, fellow redeemed,  
    Read the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and you will never read the words triune or Trinity. We admit the words are man-made, not divinely inspired. But we will forever confess that the truth expressed by those words is from God Himself. He tells us what we could never know about Him on our own. He is three – tri – persons  in one – une – God. Though we believe that doctrine, we can’t understand on earth how one God can be three persons, how three persons can be one God.  
    How blessed we are that the Triune God tells us more, much more!, about Himself. Though we can’t comprehend Him, we can clearly see what our Triune God has done in the past, is doing right now, and will do for sinners until the end of time. Our relationship to God isn’t that of clueless slaves who have no idea what their master does behind closed doors. We know what He does for us and what He means to us.  
    We don’t ask, How can it be that God is Triune? We ask, What does it mean for us that God is Triune? What blessings are ours in our relationship with God? It’s not just a nice way to begin or end a worship service. The Word’s words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (v. 14) is God revealing His relationship with us. From Him we receive everything we need: grace, love, and fellowship.  
    I. Grace
    When talking about the Triune God, we usually list God the Father first. That’s because, as we heard today, Jesus said, “Go and gather disciples from all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). But there is no ranking of the persons of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit had Paul put God the Son first here. So today we begin examining what we get from the Triune God’s relationship with us sinners where His relationship with us begins: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.  
    We talk so often of God’s “grace” that we might miss the full force and majestic meaning of “grace”. It is His love for us who deserved the very opposite of love. That is our only hope with God, isn’t it? We 
    anger the holy Lord with our sins, so we certainly won’t ask Him to give us what we deserve. What we deserve from God is trouble here, then death, then hell forever!  
    Christianity is the only religion which doesn’t require obedience to some law code as the only way to be blessed or rescued by a deity. Christianity is based on what God has done and still does for us. He tells us who slap Him in the face with our rebellion, “In spite of your sins, I still love you!” That’s “grace”!  
    Some call that cheap grace. In one verse of His Word He rants about mankind’s sinfulness. In the next verse He tells the world He forgives them! What gives?! What gives? God gives! God gives His life for us sinners. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is most certainly not cheap. It cost the sinless One His life, and to endure the horror of hell for every sin ever.  
    Grace isn’t only something God creates. Grace is grounded in Christ, in His perfect life on earth for us and His sacrificial death on the cross for us. Paul wrote about grace earlier in this letter, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Grace is God the Son agreeing to be abandoned by God the Father, so much so that He shouted, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Grace is not a gripping story; it’s God’s forgiveness of every trespass.  
    Even before we did anything, God’s grace saved us. What a relationship! We do more than sit back and bask in His grace. We who trust “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” seek His forgiveness. We don’t yawn and mumble, “Thanks, God!” We daily thank Him in wonder that He has done all that for us!  
    Our thanks is more than saying and praying it. We strive to mend our sinful ways because we hate to anger and disappoint the One who has done and still does so much to bless and save us. We strive to live as God desires. His fully forgiven and grace-granted children delight to live for Him in everything.    
      II. Love        
    But grace doesn’t come from God the Son alone; there is an unlimited supply of it from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, too. The same is true with love, “the love of God”.  
    We usually associate the Father with making and preserving the universe and all He has put in it. The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed focuses on God the Father as the Almighty One, the Maker of heaven and earth. That certainly was an act of His power – and His “love” for us! That continued long after those first six evenings and mornings. When this day is over, the LORD will have brought forth millions more human lives.  
    His mighty “love” is over all He has made. God the Father takes care of everything in the human world, the animal kingdom, the solar system. “The eyes of all look eagerly to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16). That’s “love” we receive from Him! The virus has led to health problems, and restrictions have resulted in financial setbacks. But none of that cancels God’s “love”. 
    Why not? Our understanding of God the Father’s work for us is stunted if we think of nothing but His creating and keeping the world. When He finished creation, everything He had made was perfect. There was no sin. But a number of angels God made rebelled against Him in heaven, led by the angel Satan, who then tempted our first parents to sin. When Adam and Eve fell, sin was passed on to the rest of the human race.  
    God could have wiped out all He had made and started all over. That would have been just! He could have let mankind continue to damn himself until God called an end to time and condemned to hell all who ever lived on earth. That would have been fair! But in “love” God promised and sent His Son to take our place. “God shows His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  
    That’s what we get from our relationship with the Triune God! Unconditional love! Eternal life! What do we return to Him? Nothing we do or give can pay Him back for His love, so we don’t try. Rather, we run to His loving arms and trust Him to keep us safe until He takes us to heaven. What more could we ask from a relationship than “love” with no strings attached, happiness without end, and the most powerful Person in the universe watching over us?! How blessed we are!  
        III. Fellowship  
    Our Pentecost service reviewed the saving work of the Holy Spirit. But we only scratched the surface. We get more from our relationship with the Triune God than trusting the wonders He has done. We also get “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.  
    The work of the Holy Spirit runs both vertically and horizontally. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us into “fellowship”, union with, the world’s only Savior. We were so spiritually blind and dead – the condition we inherited from our parents, who inherited it from theirs, and so on all the way back to Adam and Eve – that we had no clue where to turn for salvation. A Savior who died on a cross? He’s nothing but a dead and defeated loser. He’s certainly not a living and conquering Savior!  
    A huge blessing from our relationship with the Triune God is that we trust in Jesus, and in all the Triune God continues to do for us. We no longer try to run from the Savior; we cling to Him in faith. And that faith has been worked in us by the Holy Spirit. That is “fellowship” with the Triune God!  
    This is the very last verse of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. What a fitting time for him to remind them and us of our vertical relationship with God, and our horizontal relationship with fellow believers. “Set things in order” (v. 11) could be translated aim for perfection. Our “fellowship” with the Spirit moves us to seek “fellowship” with each other that is based on the purity of God’s Word – not allowing any false teachings, but teaching and confessing all God’s truths.  
    “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you” (vv. 12-13). Today’s “holy kiss” in church is set-aside-for-now handshakes or hugs. It’s also the liturgical exchange, The Lord be with you / And also with you. Not a kiss, but still a greeting! God-given “fellowship” leads us to love, support, and encourage one another. We don’t exist as little islands. The “fellowship” we enjoy with the Spirit spreads to the “fellowship” we enjoy with those who’ve been led to the same faith.  
    It’s not just Jesus who give us “grace”. It’s not just the Father who supplies our daily needs. It’s not just the Spirit who brings us to faith in the Savior. The Triune God is so united in His work that all three persons participate in all those works to give us all we need for body and soul. Verses like these make it seem like there are three different Gods who work out our salvation. Sure, such a view would be easier to understand. But such a view of God is not who the true God is.  
    We don’t need a god who is easy to figure out. We need the God who gives us all we need. We have Him – the Triune God. We have a saving relationship with Him. We receive grace, love, and fellowship from Him.     Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss
    The Day of Pentecost - The Holy Spirit Makes Us Convicts

    The Coming of the Holy Spirit – The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

    First Lesson Joel 2:28-29
    Psalm 51b (page 87)
    Second Lesson Acts 2:1-21
    Gospel Lesson John 16:5-11
    Hymns176, 183


    John 16:5-11
    I. Convinced about sin and its payment
    II. Convinced about righteousness and its acceptance
    III. Convinced about judgment and its consequences


    Fellow redeemed – sinners against the Triune God, but made children of the Father by faith in the Son worked by the Spirit,

    The words convince and convict are clearly similar to each other and come from the same root word. But their definitions and uses are almost the opposite of each other. Is it bad to be convinced of something? Almost always no. Is it bad to be convicted of something? Almost always yes. Yet “convict” (v. 8) is in the middle verse of this lesson about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works to “convict the world” (v. 8).

    Yikes!? Or Yes!? Both! The Holy Spirit makes people convicts. In some ways, the work of the Spirit terrifies us. His Word exposes our sins and what we deserve eternally for them. In other ways, the work of the Spirit thrills us. His Word delivers the remedy for sin and what we receive graciously from God.

    Is it a compliment to be called “a person of conviction”? It is! In that sense the Holy Spirit blessedly makes us convicts. Because of His work we are convinced of sin and its payment, convinced of righteousness and its acceptance, convinced of judgment and its consequences.

    I. Convinced about sin and its payment

    This lesson was spoken by the Savior to His disciples the night before He died. They had gathered for the joyous Passover, the Jewish festival that looked back at God delivering their ancestors from Egypt and forward to God sending the Messiah to make the sacrifice to cover the sins of the world. Passover for the people of Israel was like our Fourth of July and Christmas combined. But this Passover was different than any other. The tone Jesus set by what Jesus said was gloomy, not celebratory. “Sorrow has filled your heart” (v. 6). It was more than, “We’ll miss You, Jesus!” It was the despair of, “What will we do without You, Jesus? Without Your powerful miracles, divine teachings, heavenly direction, how will we function?”

    The Savior’s answer, “If I do not go away, the Counselor (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you” (v. 7), leads to more questions. Why did Jesus have to wait to send the Spirit until after He ascended? Why not remain here and still send the Spirit? The only answer the Lord gives is, “This is the plan of the Triune God. When the Son returns to heaven, the Spirit comes to make sinners convicts, people convinced about sin (v. 9).”

    Jesus had told the Twelve and thousands of others about sin and its seriousness in the sight of the holy God. But now Jesus is in heaven. Who will teach about sin? The same God, the third person, the Holy Spirit says the same things about sin. He had His Apostle Paul write, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The same Holy Spirit filled the disciples with His courage to speak about sin the way Peter did in his Pentecost preaching this Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago. Believers and unbelievers both need to hear about sin’s sickness and the sorrow it brings, about death here and hell hereafter that sinners deserve. No longer Jesus teaching from a boat, on a hill, or at the temple grounds, but the Holy Spirit teaching in His Word, makes us convicts, people convinced of our sins.

    That work of the Holy Spirit leads us to weep in woe with Isaiah, “I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5) and mind and body! I am damned before the King of heaven!” Convinced by the Holy Spirit that we are condemned by God as guilty before God, we need good news. The same Spirit delivers that, too. “Your sins are sent away from the King’s presence by the Lamb’s blood shed for you!”

    Within twelve hours of saying this, Christ was crucified. He had done nothing wrong, ever! He suffered hell for my sins, your sins, the entire world’s sins. How could we possibly know that the death of a humble victim on a cruel cross two thousand years ago paid for every sin? The Spirit worked with His Word and sacraments to make us convicts, people convinced to believe and thrilled to know our sins are forgiven by another!

    The night before His sacrifice Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit is coming to convict the world...about sin, because they do not believe in Me” (v. 9). The main problem with sinners is not that they sin, but that they refuse to “believe” the payment for sin that Christ Jesus has made. The pastor isn’t suggesting sin is no big deal. Sin separates us from God; we need the Spirit to convince us of that in our anything goes society. But without trust in sin’s payment at the cross, sinners are still locked in their sins and guilt. All sinners need the Spirit to make them convicts, convinced of their sin and of the Savior’s payment.

    II. Convinced about righteousness and its acceptance

    What is our reaction to the virus, the deaths from it, the restrictions meant to slow it? Anger at those who spread the virus or imposed the restrictions? The Word of God teaches a reaction the pastor hasn’t mentioned enough. God sends or allows sorrows, even when they don’t afflict us personally, as calls to repent. “We can’t satisfy You, God! The illness around us and the closures under which we chafe are child’s play compared to what You ought to unleash on us for sin, Lord! We repent!” But there’s another part to repentance. “We trust our Brother’s righteousness!” The Holy Spirit also makes us convicts who are convinced of “righteousness” (v. 10) and its acceptance.

    We need the Holy Spirit to convince us “about righteousness” because we were born with wrong ideas about “righteousness”. So many think, and we sometimes slip back to it, too, that heaven is the home of pretty good people. But many of those seen as pretty good by folks here have no home with God there. The world’s idea of being good is blasted by the Lord’s truth, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfection is God’s standard for “righteousness”.

    How do we meet that demand? We can’t. But Christ did. He did the day after saying this about “righteousness”. Righteousness demanded is righteousness delivered at the cross.

    “But, Jesus, You rose and ascended. We don’t have Your risen body here for evidence. How can we know? How can we tell others?” Jesus ascended to show His righteous work for us is accepted. Jesus

    ascended also to shower us with the Holy Spirit to trust that and to testify to others about that.

    Would the Father and the Spirit have welcomed the Son back to heaven had Christ’s righteousness not been enough to rescue the world? Never! His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven assure us we are saved. Now the Spirit makes us convicts, people convinced about the righteousness that rescued us. He convicts us “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me” (v. 10).

    How the Spirit made Peter and the others men of conviction to speak about that the first Pentecost! How the same Spirit uses His Word to make us children of conviction to trust that today! We don’t need the physical body of Jesus taking us by the hand. We have the eternal Word about Jesus filling our hearts. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We are ready to go to death, if need be, defending His truth! How the same Spirit puts His Word on our lips to confess with conviction to friends and loved ones what the Savior has done for the fallen world! Sinners are declared righteous in God’s sight because of the Savior’s work for us!

    III. Convinced about judgment and its consequences

    Frequent criticism aimed at Christians includes questions about evil. If your God is so great, so loving, so all-knowing, so ever-present, why isn’t the world perfect? Why doesn’t He kill the virus so life can get back to normal? God answers, but not the way the world wants. “A normal life here isn’t the great goal.” The Holy Spirit uses His truth to make us convicts, people convinced “about judgment” (v. 11) and its consequences.

    Is it really true that “the ruler of this world has been condemned”? It seems Satan has a death grip on the world. He still tempts and is too often successful, still deceives and destroys on his damning prowls to devour souls. Are we convinced that the devil has been conquered and “condemned”?

    Thanks to the Holy Spirit we are! We are convicts, people of conviction that the devil is under God’s judgment. If we had our way, the old evil foe wouldn’t be able to do anything to harm anyone. But if we would always do things and see things God’s way, Satan would not influence us. It’s not easy following God’s way. But it is the only way that doesn’t end in condemnation with Satan. We don’t walk God’s way in this life to win the victory; the victory is already won in Jesus. But only by faith in the Savior do we avoid condemnation with the devil.

    The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith that trusts Jesus, the faith the Spirit gave us. His tool is the good news about the Savior. As people of Spirit-worked and Spirit-kept conviction, we stay in contact with that good news about the defeat of the devil and the never-ending victory for those connected to Christ!

    My Lutheran layman uncle called the Holy Spirit “the forgotten person of the Trinity among Lutherans”. That is a danger for us. When we put our spiritual lives on cruise-control and slide into apathy about the daily influence the all-powerful Spirit has in our lives, we may forget Him – and that’s not good. But neither is it good to do what other Christians do with the Spirit. They suggest the Spirit really comes only if sinners work themselves into a spiritual frenzy and emotional fervor.

    The Holy Spirit’s work is to make sinners convicts. He uses the steady tool of the saving truth about the promised Messiah, the perfect Jesus, the crucified Christ, the risen Redeemer, the ascended Savior to keep us in the one true faith, to keep us children of the saving God. He makes us people of conviction – strong in the one true faith and eager to do His work.     Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss

    Seventh Sunday of Easter & Ascension Festival
  • Seventh Sunday of Easter & Ascension Festival
    May 24, 2020 
    First Lesson   Acts 1:1-14
    Psalm    47 (page 85)  
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11
    Gospel Lesson  John 17:1-11a  
    Hymns   169,   175 
    Ephesians 1:16-23 
    I. It helps us know Him better
    II. It helps us look to heaven  
    III. It helps us see God’s power 

     In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior who has ascended to and now reigns from His native heaven, fellow redeemed,  
    We wonder, Why would Jesus leave? He only preached for three years. Why, after His struggle to establish a nucleus of believers, would Jesus depart when His resurrection from the dead had just provided a miraculous boost to His followers?  
    God answers in these verses about our Savior’s ascension. The Lord makes sense of the ascension for us who think it would make more sense for Christ still to be on earth. Christ’s ascension makes sense! It helps us know Him better, helps us look to heaven, and helps us see God’s power.  
    I. It helps us know Him better
    The night before He died, Jesus said to His disciples, “It is good for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Trusting that promise, Paul wrote here, “I keep praying that God…give you the Spirit (that Counselor) of wisdom and revelation in knowing Christ fully” (v. 17).  
    Do we get to know others better when they go away? No! Isn’t it the other way around? But Christ’s ascension helps us know Him better. Just before the ascension His disciples showed they didn’t fully know Him and His mission. They asked, “Lord, is this the time when You are going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)? Ten days later that foolish notion was gone, replaced by the message about the Savior’s life and death and rising for sinners. He ascended to send them the Holy Spirit.  
    Paul called the Third Person of the Triune God “the Spirit of …revelation” because the Spirit gave men words to write – everything God wanted His world to know about our sins and Christ’s rescue for sinners at Calvary. We don’t wonder what Jesus meant to do. The Holy Spirit makes the most important things ever known to us: God’s promises of the Savior, given in the Old Testament, and Christ’s fulfillment of those promises, the center of the New Testament.  
    He is also “the Spirit of wisdom” because the Spirit works to create and strengthen faith that trusts the crucified, risen, and ascended Savior. He works to build understanding and shape values, to fit His truth to our life. Now that’s “wisdom”!  
    We might prefer to sit, like Mary, at Christ’s feet to learn from Him personally. But Christ teaches His way these days. His way is the Spirit working through the news about Jesus given in His Word. His Word is for His glory and for our “knowing Christ fully”. We rejoice that Jesus ascended to heaven to help us know Him better! That makes sense of His ascension!  
    II. It helps us look to heaven   
    Get a baby’s attention with a colorful object and the infant will follow it with her head and eyes up and down, back and forth. Our Savior’s ascension does something similar – not playfully, but spiritually! When He ascended to heaven, Jesus did so to get His disciples, on the Mount of Olives then and us now, to look up. His ascension makes sense! It helps us look to heaven.  
    What the disciples asked Jesus right before He ascended, “Lord, is this the time when You are going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), is a weakness that plagues us disciples, too. Too often we focus on the earthly and worldly things of life, but not on the spiritual and eternal matters of life.  
    During His ministry on earth, Jesus scolded the Twelve for arguing about positions of glory in heaven, admonished them for worrying about material things, warned them not to save their bodily life while losing their soul to the prince of darkness. For this generation of His followers, those same problems persist. We live too often as though what we have right here, right now, purchased with our hard-earned dollars and enjoyed during our free time, is what makes life worth living. But current conditions and restrictions have us questioning what really matters.  
    Friends, it shouldn’t take a pandemic to do that. Jesus ascended to heaven so His disciples look up. As His followers watched from a hill east of Jerusalem, mouths open and necks stretched, their hearts took on the same posture. Their hearts were looking up. Did the Eleven then recall Christ’s words from the night before He died, “I am going to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to be with Me” (John 14:2-3)?  
    In that same spirit, Paul continued here, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope to which He has called you, just how rich His glorious inheritance among the saints is” (v. 18). The “eyes of” our hearts should be looking up, not mostly down and around us here on earth. The Spirit had Paul write about that also in Colossians. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).  
    God’s Word calls us nomads. We’re just camping here. Our real address lists no street number or 488-- zip code, but six glorious letters: H – E – A – V – E – N. Jesus ascended so we aren’t preoccupied with making our tents more comfortable. He ascended so we travel light – not with U-Hauls full of furniture and appliances, not most of all concerned with the quality of life our retirement plan might provide. Our hope is up there, not down here.  
    Jesus came to earth to win our salvation, then ascended to heaven to keep our hopes up. His ascension makes sense! See how it helps us look to heaven? There the blessed and glorious “inheritance” awaits all who look to heaven’s King, trusting what He has done for us!  

    III. It helps us see God’s power 
    Unbelievers mock the Ascension assurance from the Lord here. Your Jesus goes out of sight, and you claim you can see His power better than ever? Listen to yourself! That doesn’t make sense! Not logical sense. But, as often in our lives of faith, we set human reason in the background and – as Martin Luther liked to say – believe the bare Word of God, trust as a little child what God says. Christ’s ascension into heaven makes sense! It does help us see God’s power.  
    When Jesus was with the disciples physically they didn’t always feel secure. They panicked in a storm on Galilee, though half of them were fishermen with a lifetime of experience on Galilee. They fled into the dark night when Jesus was arrested.  
    But after Jesus died, rose, and ascended, not even the executioner’s sword scared them. Only after Christ’s ascension did they realize how all-encompassing was His power. Not Jewish mobs or Roman soldiers, not stoning at the hands of callous countrymen or shipwreck at sea, not even Satan himself, intimidated the disciples after Christ’s ascension! That’s “power”!  
    The Son ascended. Now we, too, know “how surpassingly great His power is for us who believe” (v. 19). The Father showed that power “when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand” (v. 20), God’s way to say Christ has full power in heaven after perfectly completing His mission on earth. Jesus knows how easily we can be intimidated by those who mock our beliefs, tempted by get-rich schemes and sexually immoral relationships. So, not little miracles, but big power is what Jesus wants us to know. Power to raise us, too, from our grave to His glory. Power to take care of everything. Jesus ascended to let us know that “power”.  
    But it’s more than bursts of power from on high that inspire confidence, courage, and commitment in Christ’s people. It’s that after He paid for our sins here, He ascended there to rule all things for our blessing. He has ascended to help us see the “power” of His forgiveness of our sins won at His cross and sealed at His rising, the “power” He uses to help us spiritually.  
    On Good Friday the Church numbered only a few hundred, the treasury was empty, the Head of the Church was dead, and the workers had fled. But within two months the power of the ascended Christ had added three thousand souls, showed the apostles their world mission fields, proved He wouldn’t let persecution stamp out His Word, and taught that Gentiles like us were to be accepted as His precious people, too.  
    This Ascension lesson helps us see how God blesses us, even in this virus world, even as false teachings claim souls and churches struggle with funds and the pursuit of wealth is more important to more people than following God’s will is. Jesus hasn’t left us. Ascension is the Father placing “all things under the Son’s feet and making Him head over everything for the church…His body” (vv. 22-23). That makes sense of the Ascension! Christ ascended to bless us here and prepare a home for us there – all based on His birth, life, death, rising, and ascending for us who are damned without Him, but full of joy and life in Him!     Amen.        Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday of Easter
  • Sixth Sunday of Easter May 17, 2020

    First Lesson Acts 17:22-32
    Psalm 66 (page 90)
    Second Lesson 1 Peter 3:15-22
    Gospel Lesson John 14:15-21
    Hymns 163, 159

    Acts 17:22-31

        I. He is independent of mankind
    II. He is in control for mankind
       III. He is coming back for mankind


    In the name of Jesus, fellow sinners redeemed by the one true God, the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

    “You don’t have to worry about me! I’ve never been Lutheran, and wonder if I’m Christian anymore. But I’m more spiritual than ever and very religious!” Have you read about folks like those who are staying away from – or leaving altogether – what they call organized religion? Have you spoken with people who told you something like that? Most people who say such things claim they’ve found a new religious view, a fresh way of living spiritually. But there’s nothing new or fresh about it.

    Paul preached nearly two thousand years ago to people like that, people proud of being “very religious” (v. 22) and deeply interested in spiritual things. God’s apostle didn’t encourage them to keep living that way, keep following their religious ideas. He told them nicely, but firmly, their fear of overlooking a deity was correct. In fact, they were ignorant of the one true God, despite all their religious practices and spiritual ideas.

    Like those Athenians then, many today suppose they have all the answers about religion or have discovered a new way to God. There are no new ways to God. There are no correct answers that work for heaven except the ones God gives in His Word. To review for our faith and to renew for our telling others about the one true God, He here gives us His truth about Himself. We trust the one true God who is independent of mankind, is in control for mankind, is coming back for mankind.

        I. He is independent of mankind

    Paul’s travels for the Savior on his second mission journey had taken him down the east side of Greece. He and Silas taught about Christ in Philippi, were put in prison there, then miraculously freed. They preached the Savior in Thessalonica and Berea, and as we read last Sunday met opposition in both places. Paul left Silas with Timothy at Berea, and he went to Athens.

    While Paul walked through that large city, he saw numerous statues and altars to honor various deities – gods of Greek mythology like Zeus and Ares, Aphrodite and Athena. Paul taught in the Jewish

    synagogue and the marketplace in Athens about the one true God. Athenian philosophers wanted more information about what Paul had proclaimed, so they had Paul appear at a meeting “of the Areopagus” (v. 22). When Paul began to speak to the men there, he might have gestured toward the famous, fabulous Parthenon, the ornate temple built nearby to honor the goddess Athena.

    One particular altar in Athens had grabbed Paul’s attention. “I ...found an altar on which had been inscribed, ‘To an unknown god’” (v. 23). That altar spoke volumes about the religion of most Greeks. They had many gods: one for the rain, another for the sun, one for war, another for peace, one for crops, another for health, and many more. That altar was their unintended admission, “All our gods might not be enough! What if we’ve overlooked one? Or some? Or many?!”

    Instead of pointedly preaching, “You’re wrong!”, Paul said, “What you worship as unknown – this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (v. 23). Ancient Greek mythology was centered on the belief that if the gods were to live among you and bless you, you needed to make temples for them. But “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made with hands” (v. 24). The one true God doesn’t need people to make anything for Him. He made everything in six twenty-four hour days of creation – and still preserves all He has made.

    “Neither is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, since He Himself gives all people life and breath and everything they have” (v. 25). The Athenians thought the gods they trusted depended on people for what the gods needed. If those gods were going to provide things for them, protect and preserve them, the people needed to give the gods things first. The one true God is independent. He needs nothing from people, so it’s foolish for people to try to bargain with Him, If I give you this will You give me that? He gives people everything they need, and does so before we offer Him a single Alleluia! as praise or ten-dollar bill in an offering envelope.

    As we trust Him for all we need and speak of Him to those who don’t trust Him or have questions about Him, we don’t think or say that God needs our money, time, or praise. We trust and tell others the one true God wants our money, time, and praise as our way to say, “Thank You for taking care of us each day – even in these unsettling days! Thank You especially for giving up Your life to rescue us from punishment forever!”

    II. He is in control for mankind

    Some ask “What’s the big deal whether we view God as independent of mankind or needing mankind? Who gets hurt if we suggest God needs us?” Who? Human souls! People need to know that God is in control for them and all mankind.

    Paul’s lesson continued, “From one man, He made every nation of mankind to live over the entire face of the earth” (v. 26). Mankind didn’t evolve from monkeys or apes or frogs or fish over millions of years. God made man – and does more. “He determined the appointed times and the boundaries where they would live” (v. 26). We don’t think about that very often, do we? God planned the exact times when nations would rise as world powers, and when they would fall. We wonder what will come of our nation, our continent, our world if the pandemic lasts for months yet. Well, God already knows. Will He allow America to remain the blessed nation He’s made her for nearly two hundred fifty years? Let’s use each day He gives us to tell others about the one true God and trust in Him alone!

    God even set where people would settle so they’d be in the right geographical place at the right chronological time for His plans for mankind. This life isn’t a series of haphazard happenings, nor is our planet flying around out of control. The one true God is in control for mankind. Really, preacher? Then why this world-wide crisis? God controls history “so people would seek God and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move

    and have our being’” (vv. 27-28). The word picture is of a blind person groping for an open door in front of him when danger roars behind him. Paul taught that the one true God, the Triune God, uses His control of every cubic inch of His universe and of every second of history to lead people to reach out for His help. Might one of the one true God’s reasons for allowing the world to suffer in numerous ways these days be to drive mankind to ask, “What is truly important?”

    Too many people figure they can live just fine without God. They ignore the reality that all mankind is condemned before God by their sins. People are griping about being held prisoner by stay-at-home orders. What an opportunity to tell them we deserve to be prisoners in hell forever, then go on to tell them what the one true God has done for all mankind by taking the world’s punishment on Himself! What a time to tell people that this virus is nothing compared to the pandemic that infects all: guilt before God from sin, and hell deserved forever! What a great time to live, a time when people are looking for answers and wondering about control, a time for us to tell them of the one true God who controls all for the eternal good of mankind!

     III. He is coming back for mankind

    The eternal good of all mankind! Man doesn’t take up space, make money, build things, then die and is no more. The one true God is to be trusted for this life – and the life to come. The one true God who came to earth is coming back for mankind.

    The deep-thinkers in Athens might have objected, “If your God is in such control, why hasn’t He struck us dead with an earthquake for not following Him?” But they didn’t get to ask because Paul said first, “Although God overlooked the times of ignorance, He is now commanding all people everywhere to repent” (v. 30). The fact that God hadn’t punished all false-god worshipers with instant death shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean it wasn’t serious, or that if people didn’t know better it was all right. False-god worship, even in ignorance, damns.

    The one true God chose not to destroy the false-god worshipers in Athens on the spot so He could reveal Himself to them as their Savior from sin. The one true God calls on people everywhere to turn from their false gods, even of self, and turn to the cross. And all people everywhere should do so today since God “has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He appointed. He provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead” (v. 31).

    See how the resurrection of our Jesus powers us every day?! He who came once to bear all sin, then rose from death three days later, will come suddenly to judge all mankind. Man is not the master of his fate. The one true God is coming back to have all mankind stand before His judgment seat. Those who trust Him and His work in life and death and resurrection will be taken with Him to heaven forever. Those who trust any other god – or no god – will be sent from Him to hell forever.

    The world in which we now live is no different spiritually than the one in which the Athenians then lived. People still go their own way, develop their own religious ideas, follow their own spiritual compass. None of that works. Only the one true God has worked salvation for every sinner. We trust Him who has done it all. We tell others of Him who is the only true God, most importantly because He is the only God who saves sinners.      Amen.              Pastor David A. Voss

    Christian Family Sunday - The Christian Home: Living Stones Built On the Living Stone
  • Fifth Sunday of Easter / Christian Family Sunday May 10, 2020

    First lesson: Acts 17:1-12
    Psalm 33 (page 79)
    Second lesson: I Peter 2:4-10
    Gospel lesson: John 14: 1-12
    Hymns: 156, 506

    1 Peter 2:4-10
    I. The strength is in Him alone
    II. The purpose is for Him alone

     In the name of Jesus Christ, the only Savior, fellow redeemed,

    I don’t know if the national news anchor was serious or trying to be funny when he said, “It’s one thing to have to stay home for Easter. But for Mother’s Day? That’s harsh!” We’re sad that restrictions will keep many of us from seeing Mom today. But if he meant Mom is more important than Jesus, even, and especially!, you Christian mothers would vehemently disagree.

    Christian mothers don’t want a worship service devoted to them. Christian mothers want their home, their family, devoted to the Lord. In that sense, this is a most appropriate lesson for this Mother’s Day. The Christian family isn’t built on parents and children agreeing about meal menus, household chores, and bedtimes. The Christian family is built on Christ.

    Whether yours is a Christian household bustling with many, slower paced with just two empty nesters, or an apartment occupied by only one, it’s still true that your Christian home is living stones (or a living stone) built on the Living Stone. The strength is in Him alone and the purpose is for Him alone.

    I. The strength is in Him alone

    This spring’s Resurrection season lessons include many verses from Peter’s first letter. We know Peter. He was a fisherman from Capernaum, chosen by Christ to be one of His twelve disciples. He was a man who spoke his mind, sometimes rashly so. Peter denied three times in the wee hours of Good Friday that he even knew who Jesus was, though he’d spent most of the past three years with Jesus! Peter was named Simon by his mother and father, then called Peter by the Savior because the faith Peter confessed in Christ is the rock-solid faith on which Christ’s Church is built; Peter sounds like the word for rock.

    So isn’t it interesting that the Holy Spirit had Peter, Rock, write here about the Solid Rock, Jesus, and Christ’s people being “living stones” (v. 5) built on Christ, “the Living Stone” (v. 4)?! We don’t think of a stone as living. A stone just sits there, unless moved by waves in Lake Michigan or pushed out of the ground by frost in the spring. So, how is Jesus “the Living Stone” ? He is alive! He who was crucified, died, and buried, rose from death and now rules from heaven. He’s not a lifeless object or mysterious force, but alive and well – a real person.

    But it’s not just that He’s alive. Jesus also gives life! Sure, as the second person of the Triune God, Jesus gave you physical life. He and the Father and the Holy Spirit knit you together in your mother’s womb –

    the miracle very much on our minds this Mother’s Day. He made you. Even more, as the Savior, Jesus gives you spiritual life connecting you to Him and to His work through faith, life trusting Him and His work as your only salvation. He who gave His life for us gives us life in Him.

    Moms, right before our lesson, the Holy Spirit had Peter describe us with a word picture dear to your mother’s heart. “Like newborn babies, crave the pure milk of the Word so that by it you may grow up with the result being salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). As you fed your infant children what they needed to grow, so you Christian mothers made sure your family fed on the Word about Jesus to keep growing strong in Him, “chosen by God and precious” (v. 4) as our Savior. Not on our own determination and effort, but on His life and sacrifice for us, are we built. We are living stones built on the Living Stone!

    Without Jesus, there is no strength, no salvation. Those who suppose they’re part of God’s family without trust in Jesus as true God and the only Savior are doomed. The One “chosen by God” is the same One “rejected by men” (v. 4). Isn’t that jarring?! Many think they know better than God! God’s choice to be the sinner’s Savior is rejected by the sinners themselves!

    But it’s worse than jarring. Jesus is “a stone over which people stumble and a rock over which they fall...they stumble over it. And that is the consequence appointed for them” (v. 8). It’s not that the Triune God wants people damned; Jesus died to save everyone! It’s that they try to smash Jesus and His forgiveness to pieces, but in the process end up smashing themselves on the Rock who was their only salvation.

    The Living Stone is the “chosen and precious cornerstone” (v. 6). You get the architectural angle, don’t you? Today’s cornerstones are only decorative and commemorative. But in ancient construction the cornerstone determined the stability of the building and the lines of its walls. If the cornerstone was off even a tad, the building would be an unsafe, crooked mess.

    “The Living Stone” on whom we are built is Jesus. Without His suffering and death for us sinners, without His Word, there would be no true Church, no forgiveness of sins, no salvation. In our world full of Satan’s lies, the Word of God runs straight and true. His law slashes our excuses for sin, the rationalization that a little relaxing of doctrine is okay, the idea that there is no forever punishment. God’s gospel gives us the forever love of “the Living Stone’s” crucifixion in our place and His resurrection for our life. All who are built on Him “believe in Him”, and “will certainly not be put to shame” (v. 6) before Him.

    The Living Stone is so central to all spiritual life and truth there is no neutrality about Him. His Word either creates and then strengthens faith in those who hear it, or people ignore Him and harden their hearts against Him. What a rich blessing for many of us that God had a believing mom raise us! Today we thank her for what she told us about Jesus, thank Mom for that above all else she’s done for us! And even more than Mom, we thank the Living Stone for all He has done, does, and will do that we remain His living stones, built strong in Him forever!

    II. The purpose is for Him alone

    Children, even more than a handmade card and homemade meal this day, Mom wants your love and concern every day. A one-day celebration, then back to a grumbling and griping routine, isn’t a tribute to Mom; it’s a selfish life for yourself.

    That’s even more true with the Living Stone. He didn’t die and rise from death so we could only cheer

    for Him Resurrection Sunday. He died and rose to give us salvation. Through trust in Him, we live. The Living Stone gives life to us so that we live for Him, not for ourselves. The Christian home, the Christian life, is living stones built on the Living Stone – and the purpose is for Him alone, which isn’t as divinely selfish as it sounds.

    Peter likely pondered his past when the Spirit had him write, “At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy” (v. 10). He and we had at conception an ugly birthmark that read, Not a child of God! But he and we were brought into God’s family by God’s “mercy”.

    We are part of God’s “spiritual house” (v. 4). That’s not because somehow from the stone pile of this world we made a life-changing decision. God picked us out and built us on the Living Stone. The first Palm Sunday, Jesus told His enemies He could turn the stones along the road into talking stones, and those stones would praise Him! So we “living stones” (v. 5) who are built on the solid foundation of the Living Stone talk and walk, sing and serve, worship and work for Him!

    That’s not just a Sunday thing because it’s the Lord’s Day. That’s not just a Mother’s Day tribute to your Christian mother because it’s what she wants today. That’s our every moment agenda because that’s who the Living Stone has made us to be.

    “You are a chosen people” (v. 9). God certainly so loved the whole world that He sent His Son to save all. But it’s also true He so loved you personally that He bought, sought, and brought you to faith in Him. He wanted you! He made you His!

    “You are...a royal priesthood” (v. 9). You are not a lowly slave who has no inheritance with your master, but you are royalty in God’s family. And you are priests who “bring spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 5). His sacrifice for sin offered there is the only sacrifice needed; it was perfectly complete for every sin of every sinner in every age. The “sacrifices” you bring are daily acts and words and thoughts that thank Him for all He’s done for you.

    “You are...a holy nation” (v. 9). Through faith in Christ you have become a part of the great company of believers, that invisible network of saints. Through faith in Christ you are set apart to serve Him – not just with weekly worship of Him, but also in daily love and service for your mother and others.

    “You are...a people belonging to God” (v. 9). That’s not an angry God shouting, “I own you!” That’s the loving God reminding you, “You are Mine forever. Walk with Me. Talk to others about Me as you proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (v. 9).

    Does that describe your home life? Your family life? Your individual life? Children, thank your Christian mother who keeps that as the top priority and the chief characteristic of your home life! Christian mothers and fathers, given the stay-at-home order that will continue for at least a little while, now more than ever make the Word a daily part of your family life at home. Christian children, you, too – not just the adults in your house – are “living stones” built on “the Living Stone”. May your lives at home and everywhere show that you live for Him.

    Your Christian mother played a large role in raising you to trust Jesus. Give special thanks today to that Christian living stone whom Christ, the Living Stone used as He chose you and shaped you into one of His living stones, too. Above all, give constant praise every day to the Living Stone who did it all for you and for your salvation.        Amen.                     Pastor David A. Voss

    Good Shepherd Sunday - We Trust the Good Shepherd
  • Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday
    May 3, 2020

    First Lesson Acts 6:1-9; 7:2aa,51-60
    Psalm 23 (page 72)
    Second Lesson 1 Peter: 2:19-25
    Gospel Lesson John 10:1-10
    Hymns 360, 148


    Acts 6:1-9; 7:2,51-60

    I. For daily life

    II. For spiritual life
    III. For eternal life

    In the name of the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus, fellow Easter believers still rejoicing in His death and resurrection,

    Unlike the other two lessons and the psalm, this doesn’t sound like a Good Shepherd lesson, does it? These verses don’t conjure cozy, cuddly thoughts of life with Jesus, do they? They give us a bloody, deadly image – and don’t we get more than enough of that on the news these days and weeks and months?

    It’s tempting to make Stephen the star here. But the focus must be, as always, Jesus. He’s the One in action here, even though we don’t see Him. The One whom Stephen trusted for everything he needed, we, too, trust for the same. We trust the Good Shepherd for daily life, for spiritual life, and for eternal life.

    I. For daily life

    The Bible book of Acts is God’s record about the growth of His Church. In this Acts account we find out not only did church numbers grow, so did trouble. Some of the risen Shepherd’s flock had “a complaint” (v. 1). We don’t know how long this was after Jesus died, rose, and ascended or after the Spirit filled the twelve disciples with His divine gifts. The believers in Jesus, as we heard last Sunday, “shared their food” (Acts 2:46) and donated “the proceeds from some of their personal sales “according to what anyone needed” (Acts 2:45). And the apostles “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).

    That sounds wonderful! How could anyone complain? In the church-run program to help widows, some newcomers to the Jerusalem congregation who spoke more Greek than Hebrew “were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (v. 1). Though accidental, not intentional, it was still a problem.

    The problem wasn’t lack of food. The Good Shepherd had provided plenty. “So the Twelve called together the whole group of disciples (all the believers)” (v. 2) to change the plan for distributing food to needy members. The Twelve whom the Holy Spirit had trained and called would devote themselves

    to “the ministry of the word” (v. 4), while seven qualified men “with good reputations, who are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3) were appointed to manage the food program. It’s not that the Twelve thought it was beneath their dignity to do such work. But if others could do it, they could focus full time on what God had trained them and called them to do.

    Jesus is still the Good Shepherd. “The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1). Until six weeks ago, few of us worried about enough food to eat or clothes to wear or a place to live. Some have some concerns about some of that now. But we still trust the Good Shepherd to continue to give us all we need for our daily life. Food and clothes and shelter and oxygen don’t just appear. The Good Shepherd and the Father and the Holy Spirit send them as the Triune God wants us to have them.

    II. For spiritual life

    But the same Good Shepherd teaches His sheep there’s more to human existence than daily life. The early believers knew that and so were committed to their church’s most important mission: not feeding bodies, but feeding souls. “The Word of God kept on spreading” (v. 7), thanks to the Good Shepherd. We, too, trust the Good Shepherd for spiritual life.

    News about the Son of God who laid down His life as the Lamb of God to pay for the world’s sins, then left His tomb, needed to be distributed even more than food. As it was, even “a large group of priests” (v. 7) came to faith in Jesus as their Savior. Those Jewish men who had been sacrificing animals for decades were led by the Spirit to trust the Good Shepherd’s sacrifice of Himself as the fulfillment of centuries of sacrifices.

    Seven men were appointed to lead the food program for needy believers in Jerusalem. Five of them we don’t read about in God’s Word again. “Philip” (v. 5) later explained God’s Word to, and baptized, a government official from Ethiopia. “Stephen” (v. 5) is prominent in these two chapters. Do you hear your sinful nature? Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), was executed! Do you really trust the Shepherd who lets that happen to one of His faithful sheep? We do!

    The Good Shepherd blessed Stephen with a rich spiritual life. He gave Stephen the power to perform “great wonders and miraculous signs” (v. 8) to convince people what the apostles proclaimed about the work of Jesus to save sinners is true! His miracles were exclamation points to the Gospel message. Stephen took advantage of his meetings with people as he distributed food to speak with them about the death and rising of Jesus. God used that message to give more people spiritual life.

    But not all liked that message. “Some men...from...the Synagogue of the Freedmen”, Jews freed from slavery in parts of the Roman Empire beyond Israel, “disputed with Stephen” (v. 9) about spiritual life given by Christ. The Good Shepherd gave Stephen the faith to speak boldly to those protesters. There are 55 verses of Acts 6 and 7 we didn’t read today. In them, Stephen spoke faithfully and courageously to fellow Jews who hated the Good Shepherd. Stephen repeated the history of God’s gracious promise of the Savior to their mutual ancestor Abraham. “You don’t deny God’s promise, do you?” He reviewed God’s powerful deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt through Moses. “You aren’t rejecting the great Redeemer of whom Moses spoke, are you?” He related how the temple pointed to the sacrifice by the coming Messiah. “You aren’t rebelling at the message about the Messiah, are you?”

    “You stiff-necked people...You always resist the Holy Spirit! You are doing just as your fathers did. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who prophesied the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become His betrayers and murderers” (vv. 51- 52). It took great faith to tell them they were wrong for putting trust in their own lives, for resisting and rejecting the One who obeyed the law for them and took their hell on Himself.

    We trust the Good Shepherd for spiritual life, the life that is faith in Him as our Savior. How He blesses us to keep feeding our spiritual life in this way even when we are staying home! More than daily bread, we need His daily Word of forgiveness and life and salvation! The Good Shepherd’s church focuses on His heaven-given mission: the spread of the Word of life.

    When we resume services here protesters won’t block the parking lot and neighbors won’t fire eggs at your car as you leave to worship the risen Good Shepherd. When classes resume in August no one will scream at you students who bow your head to thank God for your lunch. Or don’t we risk sticking out from the crowd? Do we try to blend in inconspicuously rather than live for our Good Shepherd faithfully?

    In our time, in our land, the threat to our spiritual life doesn’t come so much from the outside as it does from the inside, from our reluctance to show in everything that we belong to the Good Shepherd. Stephen knew and trusted the Good Shepherd to give him life. Do we live our spiritual life in Jesus in everything? Or do we edge away from Him when it’s more culturally convenient to let our life in Him fade into the background?

    III. For eternal life

    Those seven were appointed to the kind of work our Councilmen are elected to do. If a Councilman here spoke about the risen Savior and was executed for doing so, at his funeral we’d mention his faith in the face of death. Would we praise his valor or wonder how God could have let that happen? No! We would praise the Lord for the victory He granted our brother! We trust the Good Shepherd, as Stephen did, for eternal life.

    As Stephen was being pelted with stones, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (vv. 59-60). Sound familiar? That’s just what the Lamb of God, who is also the Good Shepherd, prayed on the cross Good Friday! Jesus had just appeared to Stephen, and Stephen said so out loud. He dared to tell the Lord’s enemies that the One they hated above all had risen from death and was ruling in heaven. “Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man (the name Jesus most often called Himself when He taught in Israel) standing at the right hand of God” (v. 56).

    Thanks to the Good Shepherd, Stephen faced his cruel execution knowing he would soon enter eternal life. What peace! He forgave those who were chucking skull-cracking, trauma-causing, death-dealing stones at him! What faith! Trusting his Good Shepherd, Stephen “fell asleep” (v. 60). At death, his soul was taken by the risen Christ to eternal life, to heaven.

    Could we have done that? Yes, trusting the Good Shepherd for eternal life! We will face our dying day – whether it’s from natural causes in old age or a violent death at the hands of unbelievers or something in between – with the peace and confidence that eternal life is ours in Jesus! Could we pray that He forgive our enemies as Stephen prayed? Yes, trusting the Good Shepherd who has forgiven us, we could! We do! We will!

    Our world is looking for a wizard who will make the virus and all the trouble that go with it go away. God doesn’t tell us to look for a wizard. He tells us to look to the Good Shepherd who takes away all sin and reigns in us with His forgiveness. We trust the Good Shepherd for all we need now and forever.      Amen.                     Pastor David A. Voss

    Third Sunday of Easter - He Lives, So We Live ...
  • Third Sunday of Easter April 26, 2020 
    First Lesson   Acts 2:14a, 36-47
    Psalm    67 (page 91)  
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 1:17-21  
    Gospel Lesson  Luke 24:13-35  
    Hymns   144   -   149 
    1 Peter 1:17-21 
                HE LIVES, SO WE LIVE …          
    I. In appreciation for Christ’s redemption
    II. In anticipation of Christ’s heaven 
    In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Redeemer, fellow Easter believers still celebrating His resurrection from the dead,  
    It’s the Easter parade problem. It’s slightly different this spring since we didn’t travel to gather for worship on Resurrection Sunday. But it’s still there. What is it? It’s the devil’s damning deception that we had our parade for our risen Jesus two weeks ago, so now it’s time to move on.  
    That temptation from Satan is nothing new. Believers in Peter’s time felt it in their hearts, heard it from others. But it wasn’t then, and isn’t now, true that Jesus rose from the dead, we’re glad for Him, but it’s back to real life. What was true for Peter and those to whom he wrote, is true for us, too. It’s the real life that Jesus lives in victory and lives in us, too – as we will pray a little later in this service. Christ’s people are changed forever. That’s the life we live!  
    Easter isn’t an event to be observed and cheered, but then we move on. Easter is the truth, the “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) we heard last Sunday from this letter, that drives the way we live, even in this completely different, stay-at-home, reality. Because the Redeemer lives, His redeemed live – live the new life that is theirs in Him. He lives, so we live – live in appreciation for Christ’s redemption and in anticipation of Christ’s heaven.  
    I. In appreciation for Christ’s redemption
    We need to live connected to Christ because the holy God who right before our lesson demands, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) is not fooled. “You call on the Father who judges impartially, according to the work of each person” (v. 17). We can’t flatter Him into ignoring our sins. We can’t practice before the holy God a religion of lips without life, of saying what He likes to hear without doing what He desires. Nor dare we fool ourselves into thinking, I’ve been a church member most of my life, I’m respected by those who know me, and I’ll keep contributing to the church, so all is OK with God. That’s what the Pharisees of our Savior’s day said and thought and did. Jesus blasted their mere outward piety, but their faithless inner filth. We won’t ever fool God!  
    We sinners are also slaves to sin. Our good lives can’t cut the chains to set us free us from sin. Our nice words won’t cause God to remove the curse of sin – death and hell – hung around our necks. Our generous thankofferings (We even send them when we can’t gather for worship, Lord!) don’t pay for a single sin against the holy God. On our own, we’re lost, trapped in the “empty way of life handed down to us from our forefathers” (v. 18) who passed their sinful nature on to us!  
    But we are also “redeemed” (v. 18) sinners. What we couldn’t do, the crucified and risen Christ did for us. “Redeem” is a word from the slave world in Bible days. To redeem yourself or another slave meant a steep price had to be paid for your freedom or another slave’s freedom. The price to free us slaves to sin? Not flattering words directed to the God who judges every person, nor good works done by the offending sinner. Not “silver or gold or any other things that pass away” (v. 18). Not all the money in the world is payment enough to God for one angry thought or wicked word or selfish act.  
    We “were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18-19). God established the Old Testament sacrificial system, the daily repetition of a bloody spectacle, to show how sin ignites the white-hot wrath of the mighty and holy God, results in guilt on the sinner, and then guilt demands a blood (not a money!) payment. The blood of Christ is triply “precious”. It flows from the loving heart of the Savior. It is the blood of Him who lived in perfect obedience to His own laws for us over His thirty-three years in our world. It is the only blood that could pay the price to redeem us sinners.  
    He shed that blood at the cross for us. He rose from death to show His payment worked to redeem us. He lives, so we live in appreciation for Christ’s redemption that sets us free. It’s not loving appreciation, but pathetic hypocrisy, to keep God’s commands because we have to. It’s loving appreciation for Christ’s redemption when we put behind us the sins for which He shed His “precious blood”, when we strive to live thanks to Him for His payment in life and death for us. What do our daily lives say about our appreciation for Christ’s redemption? That’s nice, Christ, but I need to live my own life! Or, That’s amazing grace, Jesus, and I live every moment for you!  
    II. In anticipation of Christ’s heaven 
    Easter parades began in Manhattan in the 1800s. On their way to and from Easter worship services, people hoped to impress others with new hats, dresses, suits. We see the pictures and wonder, Was their focus on the risen Christ or their clothes?  
    Now let’s look at the pictures of our lives. What does God the Father “who judges impartially, according to the work of each person,” see about where we’re walking? What do our lives say about our where we’re headed? Christ lives, so we live here in anticipation of entering Christ’s heaven hereafter!  
    Because heaven is our goal the Holy Spirit had His Apostle Peter write to us, “conduct yourselves during the time of your pilgrimage in reverence” (v. 17). Do you understand “pilgrimage”? It’s just the journey, not the destination. God’s point is that we don’t live most for this life, because this life won’t last. We’re just passing through this life for our seventy or eighty or ninety years on the way to our home above.  
    By calling our lives here “the time of your pilgrimage”, God keeps things in perspective for us during this stressful time: the inconvenience of orders to stay home, the hardship of being out of work, the concern we might be infected with a serious virus. According to His perfect will, the Lord will either get 
    us through this healthy and with enough for our daily lives, or He will allow this to result in death here but life hereafter. This life is just our “pilgrimage”, not our permanent home.  
    Most translations read at the end of verse 17, “in fear” or “in reverent fear”; EHV translates “in reverence”. When we come across the word fear in God’s Word, we must ask ourselves, Is this “fear” our terror of judgment from God for our sins against Him? Or is this “fear” our respect for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us and wants us to show our love to Him with the way we live? A large part of our respect, our “reverence” for the risen Christ, is knowing that our lives here are lived in temporary tents and that our permanent mansions are in heaven! He lives, so we live in anticipation of Christ’s heaven, of our life with Him there forever.  
    The only way for sinners to gain entrance to Christ’s heaven is through trust in Christ’s payment. That’s why it’s not how we look to others on the outside; it’s what the Lord knows is in our hearts: “your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21).  
    Our certainty and hope for life in heaven with God forever rest on what God has done for us. Jesus “was chosen before the foundation of the world” (v. 20) to be the Savior. God knew the humans He would create would sin. So before time began, God determined He would be born as man (yet remain God) so He could die as God and man to redeem us. For four thousand years God promised that He would come as our Substitute, His promises given in His Word. Then, Jesus came as promised and did as prophesied to live our life and die our death and rise from death to assure our resurrection to life with Him. “Our faith and hope” for heaven rest in Him who did it all for us!  
    Other hopes and goals for heaven? “Empty”. Our own plans, thoughts, and money? Worthless for heaven eternally! Our world’s desires and lusts, our culture’s cravings for more things and fame and fun? “Empty” before the holy God! Our Brother’s life and death and rising? “Through Him you are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21)!  
    He lives, so we live in anticipation of Christ’s heaven. But how can be sure Christ is the way? What God planned before time began, what God carried out in real places with real people in real time has been “revealed…for your sake” (v. 20). God gives us His Word. God feeds our “faith and hope in” Him with the good news of salvation. With His gospel God focuses our faith on Christ’s cross and empty tomb. With His truths He keeps us looking forward to life in heaven because He knows so much in this life distracts us.  
    With all that’s going on in our state and nation, some shout in frustration for freedom. Some of that is healthy; but some isn’t. Any cry for freedom that insists, “No one tells me what to do! I get to decide what’s best for me!” sounds dangerously like the way Satan wants us to view life and to live so we would be, ironically, trapped in slavery to him and sin and death and hell. For real freedom, hear Satan’s Conqueror Christ shout: “Because I live, My people live for Me now and will live with Me in heaven forever!”      Amen.      Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday of Easter - The Risen Christ Conquers What is Closed
  • Second Sunday of Easter
    April 19, 2020 

    First Lesson   Acts 2:14a, 22-32
    Psalm    16 (page 68)
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 1:3-9  
    Gospel Lesson  John 20:19-31  
    Hymn:   165 
    John 20:19-31 
    I. Closed doors opened by His miraculous presence
    II. Closed hearts strengthened by His gracious peace 
    In the name of Jesus, the risen Christ, our living Redeemer, fellow redeemed still celebrating His rising from death,  
    Some you watched the long caravan roll past your place on Grand River late Wednesday morning as folks headed to Lansing. A few of you were hemmed in by traffic that noon near the capitol. The people protested so much being closed. How long will the closures last? Why can’t God cause the virus to vanish? All this has our attention because it affects us and others, affects almost every area of our lives and theirs. It’s frustrating and frightening physically, emotionally, economically.  
    But it’s still true that Jesus lives – as we sang at a distance last week – to silence all our fears. Christ crucified is Christ risen, which means He’s also Christ the conqueror. Last Sunday we celebrated that. Does it seem so joyous and real this Sunday?  
    Every year this second Sunday of Easter’s Gospel Lesson is these thirteen verses of John 20 – the risen Christ appearing to His disciples on the first two Resurrection Sundays ever. On both those Sundays, the risen Christ conquered what is closed. That closed list doesn’t include businesses and events. It includes what is far more important, what even more seriously affects us and all people. The risen Christ conquers what is closed. Closed doors are opened by His miraculous presence. Closed hearts are strengthened by His gracious peace.  
    I. Closed doors opened by His miraculous presence
    Really, preacher? “Closed doors”? Why is the risen Christ conquering closed doors so important for us? We have equipment Christ’s disciples didn’t dream of to take care of locked doors. What’s the point? Good point! It’s not that the risen Christ opened “locked doors” (v. 19). He didn’t. It’s that He went through locked doors, to prove He is the risen Christ.  
    The doors were locked because the disciples feared “the Jews” (v. 19). It was well-founded fear. The intensity with which the religious leaders pushed for the execution of Jesus wasn’t lost on them. “They’ll come for us next!” We read in much of the book of Acts serious steps and awful action those Jewish religious officials took to silence Peter, John, James, and others.  
    The emotions among the ten disciples were mixed that first Resurrection Sunday evening. Mary Magdalene reported she had seen, talked with, even touched the risen Christ that day. John had seen the tomb empty that morning, linen cloths with which the Savior’s body was covered for burial still there and the face cloth folded up separately. We read in 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus had also appeared to Peter earlier that day. Could it be true? Is Christ risen? And even if He is, are we safe?  
    The doors were locked. Their emotions were mixed. Then their hearts soared with joy. “Jesus came, stood among them, and …showed them His hands and side” (v. 20). He instantly appeared in the middle of a locked room, proving He is both God and man even after His resurrection. He lovingly displayed His formerly nailed hands and pierced side to prove it wasn’t a mere vision or a human actor, but the risen Christ. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). The risen Christ was with them to conqueror more than locked doors.  
    The next Sunday the risen Christ conquered “locked doors” (v. 2) again. This time Thomas was there. For a week Thomas had refused to rely on resurrection reports from his fellow disciples, “Thomas, you should have been with us last Sunday! Christ is risen! We have seen the Lord!” (v. 24). Thomas  insisted he both see and touch the Savior’s marks and wounds from Good Friday before he’d believe. Then Jesus entered the locked place as before, again proving He is the risen Christ. He also invited Thomas to look and touch, using almost word-for-word what Thomas had demanded, proving Jesus is present everywhere, hears every word, knows every thought. The sight of the risen Christ and the words of the risen Christ conquered Thomas’ doubts about the resurrection. Thomas boldly confessed the conquering reality of the risen Christ.  
    The miraculous presence of the risen Christ proves two thousand years later Jesus lives to conquer the worst for us, too. Jesus left a sealed tomb; Jesus entered a sealed room, not once, but twice. That proves He wasn’t a mythical Messiah who preached nothing more than, “Love each other, okay?” Jesus bodily left a sealed tomb, then twice bodily entered a sealed room to show, “I am the risen Christ who conquers the worst!”  
    Sin? Defeated at the cross and displayed defeated by the risen Christ! We use His power to fight off temptations. Death? Destroyed by the reality that Christ crucified is Christ risen! Oh, we will die one day, but it will be the glorious day our soul – through faith in Him – will join Him in heaven. Hell? Conquered by the risen Christ who descended into hell to tell hell’s head spirit, “All who hold to Me in faith will never be here!”  
    A seal on the tomb didn’t keep Jesus in! Locks on doors didn’t keep Him out! His miraculous presence is real! His miraculous presence proves the risen Christ conquers the worst we’ll ever face, worse than what worries our world these days when so much is closed. His miraculous presence is ours in His Word!  
    II. Closed hearts strengthened by His gracious peace 
    Christians, if your Christ is as powerful as you claim He is, why doesn’t He conquer COVID-19 and open up places of employment and entertainment, schools, and even His churches? How do we answer? 
    Just as important, what do we think? We say, we trust, “God’s ways aren’t our ways. The risen Christ conquers what is closed! He makes no promise to open what’s been closed around the world these long weeks. But the risen Christ conquers what is far worse: closed hearts of condemned sinners and despondent people, hearts afflicted by faltering faith. Closed hearts are strengthened by His gracious peace.”  
    The disciples lacked spiritual peace that weekend. Maybe not closed, but certainly clouded, were their hearts. Clouded by shame they deserted Jesus Thursday night after boldly asserting they would never do that. Clouded by grief their beloved Lord suffered so Friday at the hands of Jewish churchmen, Pilate, soldiers. Clouded by guilt they hadn’t trusted the Savior more deeply. Clouded by doubt about the resurrection reports.  
    All the clouds from their failings, all the parts of their hearts closed to the truth that Christ conquers the very worst, were cleared by not only the physical appearance of the risen Christ, but also the spiritual words of the risen Christ, “Peace be with you” (vv. 19,26). Jews still greet other with those words; in Hebrew, Shalom lachem! But it’s more than a greeting when it is spoken by the risen Christ to sinners. He who was prophesied to come as “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and who was proclaimed the night of His birth as the One who brings “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), upon completion of His work and full payment of hell for us says, “There is peace for you with Me, the Father, and the Spirit! You need not hide from God in fear of forever. Your hearts are open before God by the payment I made to dismiss your shame, cover your guilt, atone for your sins! You have peace in Me – crucified and risen for you!”  
    See what the risen Christ’s gracious peace, His verdict of peace to sinners who don’t deserve in the least peace with Him, did those two Sundays. The evening of His rising from the dead it led the ten disciples to “rejoice” (v. 20). The next Sunday it led to more of the same for them and Thomas, and to Thomas confessing, “Jesus, You are My Lord and My God” (v. 28)!  
    And it didn’t stop there. The risen Christ still conquers closed hearts by His gracious peace. After proclaiming, “Peace”, Jesus, “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (vv. 22-23). The same Holy Spirit had John write about His words in His Word, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (v. 31).  
    Those whose cloudy and closed hearts the risen Christ had cleared and opened those Sundays were even further filled with the Holy Spirit seven weeks later, Pentecost, to proclaim to other cloudy and closed hearts the peace of forgiveness won by the crucified and risen Christ – and do so as their life’s work. Those whose cloudy and closed hearts the risen Christ had cleared and opened those Sundays were sent by the Triune God to warn sinners about closing their hearts to the Savior and to assure hurting hearts of the forgiving peace won by the Savior. They were sent to the world by the risen Christ to proclaim the “miraculous signs” (v. 30) they had seen Jesus do, the words of salvation they heard Jesus preach, the work of redemption they watched Jesus fulfill and perfectly complete.  
    We whose cloudy and closed hearts have been opened by the news of the crucified and risen Christ will continue to hear His Word of peace in His forgiveness won for us as He strengthens us in His grace. We whose cloudy and closed hearts have been opened by the risen Christ are also given by the Triune God the same message and mission. We tell repentant sinners – those who grieve they’ve offended God with their sins and desire His forgiveness won by Christ, “Your sins are indeed forgiven. You are at peace with God!” We tell sinners who refuse to admit or to change their sinfulness, “Your sins are still held 
    against you by the Lord because of your attitude about your sins or the Savior’s work. For your soul’s sake, repent!” Both messages are for the same saving purpose, “that by believing sinners may have life in His name”. The risen Christ who conquered our closed hearts with His gracious peace uses His peace proclaimed by us to conquer closed hearts in others.  
    Understandably, the world wants closed doors to open. But even when things get back to normal, it’s only for this life. The risen Christ conquers what is closed for forever life with Him. Skeptics want Jesus to prove on their terms He really lives and has power. To unbelieving skeptics and His humble children, the risen Christ says, “Don’t tell Me how to run the world I made and keep. Instead, hear Me tell you what I’ve done for the world’s sinners to whom heaven’s doors would be closed forever if not for Me. Having heard that, hear this, too: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”      Amen.                        Pastor David A. Voss
    Resurrection Sunday - We Know that Our Redeemer Lives!
  • Resurrection Sunday April 12, 2020 
    First Lesson   Matthew 27:62-66; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:10-18
    Second Lesson  1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 19-24, 57-58
    Third Lesson   Isaiah 25:6-9; Job 19:23-27
    Hymns   150, stanzas 1-2   -   152 
    Matthew 28:1-15 
    I. We know that from His holy angels (vv. 1-7)  152:1-2    
    II. We know that from His risen self  (vv. 8-10)    152:3-4  
    III. We know that from His frightened foes (vv. 11-15) 152:5-6 
    In the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, who rose from death before dawn this glorious Resurrection morning, who lives exalted there on high, fellow Resurrection believers,  
    Empty malls. Empty restaurants. Empty streets and freeways. Empty businesses and schools. We have gotten a little used to that, but that still doesn’t seem right! And empty churches for Easter?! Who would have thought it? Who could have seen that coming? Depending on your news source, we either couldn’t have seen that was coming or we should have seen that coming.  
    One more empty. The tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea and used by Jesus of Nazareth is empty. Who would have thought it or could have seen that coming? The disciples should have! Jesus told them He’d be betrayed by one of His own disciples. Happened. He had said several times He’d be condemned to die by the Jewish chief priests and Scripture experts. Happened. He said He’d be handed over to the Gentiles who would mock Him, whip Him, spit on Him, crucify Him. Happened. He had said He would rise from the dead on the third day. His disciples should have seen that coming!  
    Our church is empty. But our faith and life are full because our Redeemer’s tomb is empty! We know that our Redeemer lives! How do we know that? We know that like the Old Testament believer Job knew that. Jesus said He would rise, then did rise, and has the evidence etched on the stone of His Word for us.  
    I. We know that from His holy angels (vv. 1-7)  152:1-2    
    We’ll examine that evidence in three Resurrection Festival devotions from Matthew 28. The first seven verses there tell us our Redeemer lives! We know that from His holy angels.  
    Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome the mother of the disciples John and James had followed Jesus during His three-year ministry. They were at Calvary, then at the tomb, even as Christ’s disciples disappeared. They hoped Jesus would rise, proving He’s the Savior. Then why did they trek to the tomb at daylight after the Sabbath with spices for His lifeless body? Because a proper 
    burial was important in Jewish culture. They wanted to honor their Jesus. Did they discuss that on their way out of the city? Will His body even be there? And if it is, won’t He be rising from the dead soon? Should we even bother doing this?  
    We don’t know if they talked about that. We do know they wondered how they’d get the heavy discshaped stone out of the deep groove it rested in as that stone kept intruders out of the tomb. All their questions were answered when they arrived. The stone was moved and they were told their Redeemer rose!  
    Who told them? “An angel of the Lord” (v. 2) who was sitting on the large stone the angel rolled away. The stone rolling and the earth quaking had already happened by the time the women got to the tomb. So had the soldiers’ fleeing, “terrified of” (v. 4) the angels. Why did the risen Savior send His angels to His tomb? It wasn’t to guard the tomb; the tomb was empty. It was to deliver the message, “He is not here. He has risen… Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (v. 6).  
    Remember that the word angel means messenger. Holy  angels didn’t decide on their own to talk to Mary the mother of Jesus, to Joseph, to shepherds about Christ’s birth; nor to these women about His resurrection. Holy angels were sent by the Lord to deliver His messages to the people He wanted to hear His messages. That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives!  
    We? We weren’t there! Not physically then, but we are spiritually now. Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord sent His angels to appear to us, to our neighbors and nieces and nephews and others? He has! He does! He is! He will! Not messengers whose “appearance is like lightning…and clothing is as white as snow” (v. 3). But messengers who are parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers, spouses and coworkers, friends and others. Messengers who have His message: “Christ has risen”! The method by which the message comes – angelic announcement, human speaker, printed word – changes at God’s direction. But God’s message doesn’t change! He is risen indeed! God’s message! That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives!  
    “He has risen, just as He said”. Jesus used His Old Testament prophets, then His own preaching ministry, to foretell all the great events of His work to take on Himself hell for all our sins and for all the sins of all the world. Then Jesus did everything He said He would do. Because He has, His tomb is empty, our hearts are filled with His glorious victory, and we are saved! His message! That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives, and we sing about that in the first two stanzas of Hymn 152.  
    II. We know that from His risen self  (vv. 8-10)    152:3-4  
    The next three verses also tell us our Redeemer lives! We know that from His risen self. Not a selfie, kids! His risen self!  
    “With fear and great joy” (v. 8). Those are emotions of most this Easter. The virus situation that has Christian churches empty on the Christian Church Year’s greatest day leads some to react “with fear”. But there’s the far greater emotion, the “great joy” from Jesus rising from the dead, just as He said!  
    The Resurrection records in Mark and John say Mary Magdalene went with the women to the tomb just outside Jerusalem, then to town to tell the disciples what the holy angel said, then to the tomb with Peter and John, then this outside the tomb: “Suddenly Jesus met her and said, ‘Greetings’” (v.9). Did Mary just imagine she saw Jesus, hoping He had risen? Was it a vision or dream? Imaginations, visions, dreams don’t have flesh and bones. Mary “took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him” (v. 9). From the 
    Savior’s risen self Mary knew that her Redeemer lives!  
    Jesus did more than greet Mary. He said to her, “Go, tell the disciples they should go to Galilee…there they will see Me” (v. 10). It wasn’t coincidence that Mary had heard those same words from the angel at the tomb. The angel’s words were the risen Savior’s words, words from Him who is the Word!  
    Lutherans learn to ask What does this mean? What does it mean that our Redeemer lives? It means He is truly God! Only He has given up His life, taken His life back, and done so exactly according to His own predicted plan and schedule. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives as true God!  
    It means we are really free from the curse of sin, death, and hell! Had God the Son not taken our damning load on Himself by His literal God-forsaken suffering at the cross, God the Father would not have let the Son’ body leave the tomb. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives as Him whose sacrifice for our forgiveness has been accepted by His Father!  
    It means that we, too, will rise from death. The Holy Spirit had Paul write in the great Resurrection Chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20) trusting in Him as the Savior, as the price-payer, as the Redeemer. What happened to Him the first Resurrection Sunday will happen to us on the Last Day. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives, and that we, too, will rise to live with Him! We sing of that in stanzas 3 and 4 of Hymn 152.  
    III. We know that from His frightened foes (vv. 11-15) 152:5-6 
    And also from the last five verses of our text we know that our Redeemer lives! We know that from His frightened foes.  
    Really? Why use our Resurrection celebration to talk about His enemies? It’s not to give them a platform for their perjury. It’s to show that they knew that if word about the resurrection got out, it would undermine everything the Jewish leaders had said to deny that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the world’s Savior.  
    The Jewish leaders had bribed Judas with a substantial sum to hand Jesus over to them. They had broken their own Sabbath laws by going to Gentile Pilate on Saturday, asking for a guard posted at the tomb to prevent the disciples from taking the dead body of Jesus and saying, “See? He rose! His tomb is empty!” Now on Sunday, when the Roman soldiers reported to them the early morning earthquake and angels and empty tomb, the Jewish religious leaders “gave a large sum of money to the soldiers” (v. 12) to lie, “We fell asleep, the disciples came, and stole the body.” The Roman soldiers knew miracles had happened at the tomb. The Savior’s frightened foes, the Jewish church leaders, needed to keep that Resurrection report quiet.  
    But enough about the bribed lies on this holiest week in the history of the world. What we can’t get enough of is the divine truth that our Redeemer lives! Because He lives, the truth from heaven is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus is the One who said He’d suffer our hell, suffered our hell, then raised Himself from death. He is who He says He is!  
    Other passages in God’s Word say our Redeemer was raised from the dead by God the Father. Those verses verify the unity between the Father and the Son in the holy Trinity. The verses which tell us the Father raised the Son emphasize the Father’s satisfaction with the Son’s sacrifice, His acceptance of the payment made, His declaration that the world is forgiven!  

     Then there’s the Resurrection truth from Colossians and 1 Peter that Jesus – after His soul left heaven to rejoin His body as He came back to life in the tomb and before He appeared to anyone on earth this glorious Sunday morning, slipped through the tomb’s walls and went body and soul to hell to tell His frightened foe there, “You thought you had me Friday when I died on the cross. Well, here I am in your horrible home, in My risen body, very much alive and triumphant. Satan, you and your helpers can’t touch Me. And you can’t have those who trust in Me and in My work!” Christ’s trip to hell well before dawn this morning was not to suffer, but to declare His victory to His vilest foe. Then Jesus appeared on earth to report His victory to a few of His faithful followers, the Resurrection event summed up in our creeds, He rose again the third day.  
    It’s sad to see so many places empty. But it’s never sad to see that place empty. The empty tomb of Jesus is the greatest sight, a saving sight! Our church is empty, but our hearts are full. We are full of all we need. Christ died for us! Christ is risen from death for us, “just as He said” He would. Christ will take us to Himself forever!  
    Wouldn’t it be great to see each other face-to-face? It’s been four weeks for most of us, so that would be great. But that’s nothing compared to what we already see this greatest day of all. Isn’t it great to see the risen Christ, see Him with the eyes of faith?! It is! With Him, we have all we need. We know that our Redeemer lives! Amen.  
    Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever.   Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                                                        Pastor David A. Voss
    Good Friday - It's More Than a Cross; It's the Curse's Cost
  • Good Friday April 10, 2020 
     Galatians 3:13 
    I. Displayed in full
    II. Paid in full 
    Hymns:   105:1   -   434:3 
    Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”  
    In the name of Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried this Good Friday for you, for me, for all, fellow sinners redeemed by His precious blood,  
    This is the day Christians call Good. But what we see at the cross and hear from the Word seem to say, This must be Gloomy Friday, not Good Friday! It’s all so sad! The loving, holy Jesus was executed! It’s not a sarcastic joke to call today Good Friday. It’s Good Friday because on this Friday the most important mission in history was perfectly completed.  
    Our verse calls Jesus “cursed” (v. 13), perhaps the most brutal description of our Savior’s work in all His Word. The crosses in our church and school, in your home and around your neck are symbols for the only cross that matters. One who died on a cross was considered “cursed”. So it’s more than the cross; it’s the curse’s cost. At the cross the curse is displayed in full, and at the cross the curse is paid in full.  
    I. Displayed in full
    What is this “curse”? It’s not the supposed curse in houses said to be haunted by spirits moaning and groaning to frighten families. It’s not the so-called curse on a team that traded a star player, then never won a championship. It’s not the superstitious curse for one whose path is crossed by a black cat.  
    This very real “curse” was given by God way back in Deuteronomy through aged Moses as one of God’s laws for Israel. “If there is a man whose sin justly deserves a death sentence, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his dead body is not to remain on the tree overnight. You must bury him on the same day, because a person left hanging on a tree is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  
    For very serious crimes, the penalty was death. Sometimes that death was by stoning, sometimes by 
    hanging, sometimes by impaling the criminal on a sharp pole. Then the corpse would be displayed – hung on a tree like grotesque ornaments, tied to crude crosses, or suspended from hooks and looking like a human buck pole. Clearly no one said about those bodies, “What a beautiful head of hair!” or, “Look at those muscular arms!”  
    A horrible sight, right? That was God’s point! A cruel death, then an almost inhumane display of the body, did double duty. It brought justice to the heartless criminal, and it told the assembled public, “Don’t do what he did, or that will be you!” Clearly, one who died that way was “cursed” in God’s sense: evil deserved and dished out on the one who had been so vile.  
    See Christ’s full Good Friday punishment as you look at the cross! See the curse’s cost! Jesus became “a curse for us” (v. 13). Some like to call it the old rugged cross. God calls it the “cursed” cross, the place where the curse’s cost was displayed in full. A cross was the final end for a person guilty of wretched wrongdoing. It was the fitting end for one who deserved the worst punishment. It was the electric chair of the ancient world.  
    Just as the displayed corpse of a condemned criminal carried God’s curse for the one who had so little regard for human life, so God the Father had God the Son be put on public display as the One who carried God’s “curse” for sin. Even before Jesus died that day, the curse was on display. Three hours of daytime darkness displayed that. So did the cruel jeering of those on the ground, cowardly shouting at a man nailed to a tree. And then there were the anguished words of Jesus Himself, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46)?!  
    This day’s public display of wretchedness, the “curse” of hanging on the cross, points not at Jesus, but at us! He became “a curse for us”! Our sins are not a few pebbles tossed into Lake Michigan. Each sin carries with it the curse worse than hanging on a tree, the curse that we should live burning in hell forever. Our sins are not minor offenses, petty mistakes before God. See in Christ’s suffering of hell today the full penalty, the damning display, of what every one of us should have suffered forever for our every sin! Jesus became “a curse for us”. God’s law demands perfect performance, no room for error. Look at what happens to one who fails just once!   
    That’s the curse’s cost. And that is every one of us! Christ “becoming a curse for us” is our report card! The realization of what our sins caused drives us to our knees to repent this Good Friday and every day. The “curse” of the cross cries out about our guilt before the holy God. The “curse” of the cross eliminates any excuses we offer to downplay our sins. Will we ever take any sin lightly again? Jesus was “cursed for us”!  
    II. Paid in full 
    Does the Old Testament law mentioned earlier help you understand why the Jews insisted Jesus had to be executed? They screamed, “For all His blasphemy that He is true God, the promised Messiah, that He and our heavenly Father are one, Jesus must be cursed, crucified!” We understand it, but we don’t agree with them. We know our Jesus is true God and did nothing wrong ever! There is more to Good Friday than Jesus of Nazareth is cursed, because cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree! It’s also, Jesus of Nazareth was cursed for sinners. It’s more than a cross; it’s a curse, and the curse’s cost! At the cross the curse’s cost is fully displayed and fully paid!  
    “Christ redeemed us” (v. 13) means He bought us back. The term was often used for slaves. The redemption price was the amount paid to set a slave free. That’s exactly what took place on Christ’s 
    cursed cross for six hours Good Friday. We were slaves to sin, powerless to break its eternal death grip on us. But no longer are we cursed because the price was fully paid.  
    Jesus became “a curse” to do what we could not do. He settled our account in heaven’s ledger book. Jesus did that with perfect living every second of the thirty-three years He lived here, and with His innocent curse-carrying those six hours on the cross.  
    Hold it! Just six hours for all sins? Isn’t that a little light? Not when we multiply the penalty for one sin, hell, by the number of sins committed in the past, being committed right now, and to be committed in the future by every person ever – except for the One who became “a curse” for all! Some say Christianity offers cheap grace. But there is nothing cheap about removing the curse of hell! Hell for every sin ever was dumped on Jesus, a crushing avalanche of billions of one-ton boulders. With that, our curse’s cost, fully displayed, was also fully paid.  
    The price paid was the sinless, innocent life of Jesus and the holy, precious blood of Jesus. Sinless, innocent, and holy we understand. How about precious? What makes gold and type AB blood precious? There’s not much gold or AB blood in the world. Christ’s is the only blood that could fully pay the curse’s cost for our sins, fully cover the debt of our transgressions.  
    “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (v. 13). He was cursed, and what we owed God for every sin is fully paid! What a tremendous exchange for us! Our sins made our Savior’s suffering, His cruel crucifixion, necessary. We can’t escape that truth! But in love for us Jesus agreed to it all to pay what we can’t. He didn’t shout, “I don’t want to do that!” He didn’t whine, “It’s not fair!” He went as sent – and paid it all. The curse has been removed from us. Christ’s shout, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) used the word that means It has been paid in full!  
    Jesus came as our Substitute. Remaining true God, He also became true man. That’s why Good Friday really starts at Christmas, even back in Eden when the Lord promised the Savior would be one of us, the Seed of the woman, but without sin. In our place Jesus came to obey God’s law perfectly and to suffer our “curse” completely. The curse’s cost is fully paid!  
    All God’s wrath was fired at Jesus who became our “curse” at the cross. That doesn’t make us proud. But it does make us forgiven now and heirs of heaven forever. We don’t shake in our shoes or wake up in a cold sweat about burning in hell forever. Jesus was “cursed for us”; our curse’s cost is fully paid!  
    That equation, one death for all, doesn’t add up in any area of life except in the most important one. “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). All our guilt is gone, erased by the Savior’s suffering. All traces of the curse are removed, paid by the Redeemer’s sacrifice.  
    The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus was made the worst sinner of all, “cursed” to die the death that in His day was reserved for the world’s worst criminals, then He was buried. There’s more to the truth of how He could be cursed then and we have our curse’s cost fully paid now. We’ll hear the rest of that truth Sunday morning. Even on this dark day, especially on this dark day, the truth of our peace and joy is this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” That’s the Good in Good Friday!      Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                Pastor David A. Voss
    Maundy Thursday - The Savior Gives Us His Love
  • Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020 

    First Lesson   Exodus 12:1-14
    Gospel Lesson  Luke 22:39-53
    Hymn 124  
    1 Corinthians 11:23-28 
    I. In His testament to die for us  
    II. In His covenant to live with us 

    In the name of Jesus, who gives us Himself for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, fellow sinners loved by the Lord,  
    It’s not a spiritual version of You say ‘potato’, I say ‘potahto’. It’s not what we’ve noticed a lot lately: canceled is correctly spelled with one l or two. The King James Version read here “This cup is the new testament in My blood” (v. 25). Then the New International Version had “the new covenant in My blood”. Now this Evangelical Heritage Version is back to “the new testament in My blood.”  
    It’s not that Bible translators can’t make up their minds. It’s that they must use a human word to describe God’s work. A testament is a person’s final will, and takes effect when the person dies. In that sense, the Lord’s Supper is a “testament”, God’s will that He die to give sinners the forgiveness He won for them. A covenant is a person’s will in a person’s relationship with another while both are still alive. In that sense, the  Lord’s Supper is a “covenant”, God’s desire to live with us.  
    The Christian Church year’s focus for Maundy Thursday is Communion. Given present circumstances, we won’t receive it tonight. So, should we just forget it and focus on another aspect of Maundy Thursday? That wouldn’t be wrong. But we’d be the poorer for it. Our absence from the sacrament makes our hearts fonder for it. Why? Not because it’s something we do for the Lord, but because in the sacrament the Savior gives us His love. We won’t receive His true body with the bread, His true blood with the wine, tonight. But we will keep in heart these truths from God’s Word. The Savior gives us His love in His testament to die for us and in His covenant to live with us.  
    I. In His testament to die for us  
    That Thursday night in the upper room it would have been easy for Jesus to forget about the Twelve, you and me, the sinful world. He had so much on His heart as He ate the Passover with the disciples. Ahead of Him lay a night followed by a day packed with the worst horror, terror, grief, and suffering any human could imagine. As true God, Jesus knew it all, and exactly how it would feel. Ahead of Him stood the darkness of the hell into which He would be plunged for the sins of the world because He was the appointed sacrifice for them all. No one could have blamed Jesus had He told the Twelve, “I need some time to Myself. Eat the Passover without Me!”  
    But Jesus wasn’t thinking of Himself. This wasn’t just “the night when He was betrayed” (v. 23). This was the one night of the year when Jewish families for fifteen hundred years had said, “This night is different than all the others.” Remember why? The Passover meal reminded the Jews of their LORD’s love and power in the past. He demonstrated that love by freeing Israel from oppressive slavery in Egypt. God’s power forced Pharaoh to free Israel, as God sent His angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of Egyptians, but to pass over the homes of Israelites where doorframes were marked with the blood of young male lambs without defect, lambs slaughtered that night.  
    At God’s direction, the Jews recalled His great love for them by reliving it that same night every year as they talked about what God’s love did. He wanted them to eat roasted lamb, remembering all the lambs that died the first Passover. They were to eat unleavened bread, recalling their ancestors being ready to leave Egypt so quickly that the bread for the meal didn’t have time to rise. They were to eat bitter herbs, remembering the suffering their ancestors endured in Egypt. They were to drink wine at various parts of the meal – not in giddy joy for alcohol, but in thanks to God for His power and love as they used the finest beverage they had. The night was a solemn, yet happy, meal to honor God for His love and power in the past.  
    All that happened in the upper room that night. But that night there was more. The Savior showed He is the fulfillment of everything the Passover also promised for the future. Jesus was the Lamb who in hours would shed His blood so eternal death would pass over all who had His blood painted on their hearts. So, at that Passover meal Jesus took the unleavened bread, thanked God, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 24). Jesus also took some wine and gave it to them, saying, “This cup is the new testament in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (v. 25).  
    What a “testament”! What rich assurance that He died for the Twelve, for you and me, for all! Jesus didn’t go to the cross kicking and screaming. He went willingly for die for sinners. What wondrous love! Now He gives communicants this miraculous meal to strengthen our faith when sins irritate our consciences, when difficulties drag doubts to our hearts, when the messes we make make us wonder where we stand with God. The Savior uses the power of His Word with ordinary bread and wine to give us His body and blood. What a “testament” of His desire to pay the ultimate price in dying to save us! “Depart in peace,” He tells us as we leave His Supper. “Your sins are completely forgiven! You have received at My table the body and blood I gave up when I died for your forgiveness!”  
    Due to current restrictions, we don’t receive His Supper in His house tonight. That makes us sad. But Christ still makes us glad and rich tonight. We receive the same forgiveness tonight from His Word. The means by which we receive God’s undeserved love tonight is only the Word – not the Word and the Sacrament. But tonight we still will rest in sweet forgiveness because Jesus died for us. The Word of the sacrificed Lamb says so!  
    II. In His covenant to live with us
    Christ gives us His love for more than a quiet conscience. He gives us His love for our full life! Thus, it’s also correct to see His love in His Supper as a covenant. Jesus didn’t stay dead, so He gives His love to us as His covenant to live with us.  
    The Old Adam inside us clears his throat to argue. Your Jesus died for you to forgive you, to take you to His heaven. Everything’s done! Now live like you want! Be sure you don’t do or say anything to hurt others. But other than that, live like you want! You’re forgiven! That’s the way the sinful flesh, the sinful 
    world, and Satan team up to tempt us, even on this holy night. As long as you steer clear of what will get you in trouble with the authorities, you can do it or say it or think it!  
    Hear the Savior’s Word expose the devil’s lies! By God’s perfect standard, each sin – selfish act, suggestive thought, snarky word – deserves hell. Whether or not society deems it depraved  doesn’t matter. What the holy God, our loving Savior, calls sin is what we are to avoid in our doing, our thinking, our speaking. Sin separates us from the Lord! Why would forgiven sinners want to spread sin all over their freshly washed hearts?  
    The body and blood of the Lord given communicants by their Lord in His Supper don’t cleanse us so we can go out and get dirty again. In His Word and in His sacraments the Savior gives us His love to purify us as His people and to live as His people.  
    Here the Savior doesn’t give only bread from the field to say, “Now think about how I died for you!”, then a sip of wine to say, “Think of how My blood saved you!” “In, with, under the bread, My body…for you. In, with, under the wine, My blood for you! Not for you to abuse by sinning, but for you to use in living for Me and with Me! That’s My covenant with you!”  
    Because His Supper is such powerful medicine, the Savior requires we be ready to receive it. “Let a person examine himself and after doing so, let him eat of the bread and drink from the cup lest the person be guilty of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood” (vv. 28,27). The divinely directed examination will ask whether we are guilty of sin, admit we deserve hell, trust the Savior’s sacrifice to forgive us, recognize His body and blood are in the Supper, seek His help to set sin behind us. Because God insists his Supper be an outward confession of our unity in faith with each other, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16), we see to it only those who hold to all the Bible’s truths as we do partake of it with us. Because God demands His sacrament not be given to someone who “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29), we don’t give the Savior’s Supper to those who refuse to set sin aside in their lives.  
    Those are not man-made rules to come to our sacrament. Those are the Savior’s standards to receive His Supper! How could we lower His standards for His Supper in which He gives us His love?! The Savior gives us His love, and in this covenant declares His desire to live with us – yes, in heaven forever, but also on earth in the joy of forgiveness!  
    “I still love you!”, God tells us daily in His Word as He shows us the love that led Him to die for us. “I still love you!”, God tells us regularly in His Supper as He gives communicants His body and blood. This is probably the first Maundy Thursday in our congregation’s history when the Lord’s Supper hasn’t been offered to our communicants. We long for the time when we can receive it. We also long to hear the Word of life in His life, death, and rising for us. We gather again in worship and in spirit to receive the Savior’s love tomorrow and Sunday.      Amen.
                                                                                                                                                                       Pastor David A. Voss 
    Palm Sunday - Christ Jesus is Our Lamb 
  • April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday 
    First Lesson   Zechariah 9:9-10  
    Psalm    24 (p. 73)  
    Second Lesson  Philippians 2:5-11  
    Gospel   Matthew 21:1-11    Hymn    133  
    Philippians 2:5-11 
           I. Our Substitute who humbled Himself for all (vv. 6-8)
    II. Our Savior who receives glory from all (vv. 9-11) 
    In the name of Christ Jesus, fellow sinners rescued from sin and death and hell by His life and death and rising,  
    For us, Palm Sunday paints pictures of Jews waving palm branches and shouting at Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” For Jews up to that first Palm Sunday, that Sunday every year was lamb picking day. The Passover meal was Thursday, but God had His people pick the lamb to eat four days earlier, this Sunday. Do you see it? As Jesus rode on the donkey colt, many were thinking, We have our lamb picked for the Passover or We still have to pick our lamb for the Passover. The Jesus whom many acclaimed that Sunday was the Lamb picked by God, was the Lamb to whom all the other sacrificed lambs had pointed for fifteen hundred years.   
    Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God. Like the four-legged lambs being picked, Jesus was a young male. He was perfect. Why should He die? This classic section of God’s Word teaches Christ’s states of humiliation and exaltation. Remember that teaching from your Catechism classes? But that’s not just doctrine for students to learn. It’s salvation for sinners to trust.  
    Because too many people don’t want to dwell on sin and its punishment, they say the greatest thing about Jesus is that He was an excellent example to follow, a master model for our lives. Since Jesus never sinned and always loved, that’s certainly true. But Christ Jesus is more than our model to follow. Christ Jesus is our Lamb! He is our Substitute who humbled Himself for all. He our Savior who receives glory from all.  
     I. Our Substitute who humbled Himself for all (vv. 6-8)
    Jesus didn’t act like a big shot while He lived on earth. He could have. He remained true God when He came down to earth, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin mother. “Christ Jesus was, always has been, always will be, by nature God” (v. 6).  
    But on earth He didn’t make full and constant use of His power and glory as God. “He did not consider equality with God” (v. 6) to be used for His advantage. He could have “displayed” (v. 6) His glory as a trophy. He could have used His power to make His life on earth easy, plush, comfortable. But He didn’t!  
    Rather, “He emptied Himself” (v. 7). The phrase means Jesus didn’t often use the power and glory as God He has always had and will always have. Oh, He did use His power and glory as God sometimes during His life here: to still storms on Galilee, heal lepers, rise Lazarus from the death to life, at His transfiguration, and more. But for most of His life here Jesus lived like one of the poorest people in Israel.  
    He took on “the nature of a servant…was born in human likeness” (v. 7). Though Christ Jesus is the all-powerful God, He lived here as “a servant”. That’s not the spiritual equivalent of Prince Harry saying, “I don’t want to be considered royalty any longer!” That would be like an American president saying, “I’ll live in abject poverty, and serve all the people of the land by doing the most horrible work in the land!”  
    Why did the powerful, perfect Son of God live and work like that? For us! For all! “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (v. 8). What a striking difference from the way earthly rulers seek success! Jesus “humbled Himself” to win the greatest victory of all for all! He didn’t build bombs, recruit soldiers, or form alliances to win. Just the opposite! Christ Jesus, truly and fully God, set aside His divine glory, became more lowly in life than we will ever experience, and suffered what we and all sinners should suffer forever in hell. More about that on Good Friday.  
    That was the plan of the Triune God to save us. The Jesus we’ll follow this week was not a pawn in the hands of hardened religious leaders and misled political rulers. The Jesus we’ll follow this week remained very much in control, as He said a few months before the first Holy Week: “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on My own” (John 10:18).  
    On this day when Jews picked their lamb for the Passover, we see and follow Christ Jesus as our Lamb. We don’t see Him clearly or follow Him faithfully when we consider ourselves the boss, but when we serve everyone humbly. We don’t see Him clearly or follow Him faithfully when we live for ourselves, but when we live for Him who humbled Himself for us. That’s not easy for us. By nature we are selfish, arrogant, stuck on this world. “Let this attitude be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). We see His attitude so clearly this holiest week of the year! Our sins and our guilt were put on Christ’s account because He “humbled Himself” to be the Substitute for all. His righteousness is ours! Christ Jesus is our Lamb!  
    II. Our Savior who receives glory from all (vv. 9-11) 
    Every four-legged lamb picked this Sunday would be killed, eaten, never to exist again. Spoiler alert! Christ Jesus is our Lamb to be sacrificed for all Friday, but raised from the dead next Sunday! Holy Week isn’t a divine drama to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering how it will end. We already know! Jesus did what He was picked to do – humble Himself for all to die “on a cross. Therefore” (v. 9), since Christ Jesus did all that for all, our Savior was exalted to receive glory from all!  
    “God also highly exalted Him” (v. 9). The exaltation of Christ Jesus is more than a victory parade to honor Him. He is every moment exalted after perfectly completing His mission. He is exalted to prove 
    that His work won our salvation. If His humiliation was Christ Jesus not making full use of His power and glory as true God, what is His exaltation? Yes! Christ Jesus once again makes full use of His power and glory as God, divine power and glory He’ll never set aside again. Much more about that next Sunday, the greatest day of the Christian’s year!  
    Christ Jesus is our Lamb. The Lamb who was slain was raised to life to be honored by all. “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10-11). In a few minutes we will confess Jesus has ascended to heaven. Heaven opened its doors to receive the risen Savior. And heaven’s doors will open to us who trust Christ Jesus as the Lamb slain for our sins and raised for our assurance that His forgiveness is ours forever!  
    But “every knee” and “every tongue”? “In heaven” sure! “On earth”?” We believers are! But “under the earth” in hell? This doesn’t mean everyone will be saved. But a day is coming when all, even souls in hell, will know Jesus is the Savior. Right now “heaven” rings with the perfect praise of angels and of the souls of our loved ones and of all others who’ve died trusting their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Even now “on earth”, even in the middle of widespread disease and a crumbling economy and uncertain jobs, we sinful believers honor Him for His blood shed and His body raised. And on the Last Day all will stand before Him to see His glory and power.  
    On the Last Day unbelievers will see the Lamb’s glory and power with knees knocking and teeth chattering in terror. They will acknowledge in anguish the One they deeply despised or apathetically rejected or slowly let slip away is the Savior. But for them it will be too late.  
    Christ Jesus is our Lamb! We wouldn’t have picked Him because He looked too lowly, was too humble. But God used the good news about the Lamb to give us the faith to confess His humiliation to save us, then His exaltation to assure us. That’s the best news ever, better even than a miraculously instant end to the virus! We have the good news! We share the good news!  
    Holy Week is here. It will be the first Holy Week ever that worship services aren’t held here in His house. But His Word will be heard in our homes. His good news will reign in our hearts where God plants faith and waters it, leads us to trust the Lamb and His sacrifice, uses His “attitude” to direct our lives to glorify Him. His humble, steady commitment to His mission is the humble, steady trust in Him we live – even as the world wobbles in fear of disease and death, of despair and depression.  
    Holy Week is here. Christ Jesus is our Lamb. Direct others to Him as their Lamb, too, as the only Lamb for salvation.      Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                                 Pastor David A. Voss