Fifth Sunday in Lent - We Have Perfect Spiritual Security
  • Fifth Sunday in Lent

    March 26, 2023
    Hymns                         913,   846,   668,   502
    First Reading              2 Kings 4:17-37
    Psalm                          130
    Second Reading          Romans 8:11-19
    Gospel                        John 11:17-27,38-45
    Romans 8:11-19
    We Have Perfect Spiritual Security
         I. Because God has adopted us
    II. Because God will glorify us
    In the name of Jesus, who died that we might live forever with Him in heaven, fellow heirs of eternal life through faith in Him,
    For ninety years it’s been a great plan. Workers pay in to a federal fund. Portions of the fund are sent regularly to retired workers who paid in to the plan. Recent estimates show Social Security income is guaranteed in full until 2034, and after that at a slightly reduced rate – unless changes are made to secure full payments beyond eleven years from now. What will Social Security be like in eleven years? We don’t know. Systems set up by governments and businesses will always have question marks. And such nagging questions lead to some anxiety.
    The Word of God delivers security made in heaven by the One who owns the universe and paid for every sin. God’s security plan isn’t one that should work if everything falls into place. God’s security isn’t really a plan. God’s security is the reality He carries on in us each second. God makes His spiritual security ours! We have perfect spiritual security – perfect because God has adopted us and perfect because God will glorify us.
      I. Because God has adopted us

    We can pick what flavor juice to drink tomorrow morning, what television show to watch tonight, which shoes to wear this afternoon. But none of us picked parents. We didn’t go up to a husband and wife to say, “I’ve read your records and watched you for some time. I like you! And I pick you to be my parents!”
    None of us picked the Lord’s family to live in, either. Truth is, we weren’t even born naturally into His family. We entered life sinful by nature and belonged to the devil and had no power or desire to change that damned reality.
    But that doesn’t mean the Lord wanted nothing to do with us. You know and trust what He had in heart and promised on earth and did in Christ to give us perfect spiritual security. His is the security we see so vividly this Lent season and will celebrate so joyfully in two weeks as Resurrection season starts.
    We have perfect spiritual security because God in love sent His Son to take our place. Not just anyone could carry out that rescue mission. Only Jesus could – and did! Not a parent urging us to trust Jesus. Not a spouse begging us to hear about Jesus. Not even we deciding it is time to turn our life over to Jesus. The one who raised Christ from the dead will also make you alive through His Spirit, who is dwelling in you” (v. 11). God put His security in us by bringing us to trust Christ.
    We who have perfect spiritual security “by the Spirit” react to having that perfect spiritual security by “putting to death the actions of the body” (v. 13). That’s not like trimming the fat off the edges of a delicious steak. That’s driving a stake into the heart of our sinful nature. That’s not a one-time execution tried by saying, “Get out of here, sin, and don’t come back!” That’s a daily drowning of the Old Adam, the drowning the Spirit works by terror we have angered the holy God, and by trust that turns us sinners to Christ alone for pardon and life.
    God here lists only two possibilities for one’s relationship with Him: “slavery” (v. 15) or “sons” (v. 14). There’s nothing in between. The Romans who first read this letter knew “slavery”. All wealthy families had obedient slaves. But how obedient? And why obedient? Slaves obeyed only what they were ordered to do. And slaves obeyed so they’d not be punished.
    Children who give thanks to the Lord for the blessings He gives them through their parents lovingly obey and gladly listen to their parents. Children who give thanks to the Lord for the blessings He gives them through their parents don’t obey their parents because they fear punishment, but because they love their parents who love them so dearly.
    Which describes our lives? Slaves or sons? You did not receive a spirit of slavery so that you are afraid again, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons of God” (vv. 15,14). How could we, who began life in Satan’s grip and not in God’s kingdom, now be in God’s family? Not our choice, but God’s! He adopted us as “sons”, which here doesn’t refer to gender, but to a close relationship with rights to an inheritance.
    By the Spirit we call out, ‘Abba, Father’” (v. 15)! That’s the talk of a tiny child. The first sounds by Jewish babies then were the same as the first sounds by American babies now, something like “Ab, ab, abba”. The Jews used that sound to make “Abba” the Hebrew word for “Father”.
    That’s the language of security. When a little one wanders from her parents for a minute at Meijer, what does she do when she sees her mom in the next aisle? She runs to hug Mom tightly and say loudly, “Momma!”, an exclamation of security now that she’s safely with Mom again. That’s how it is living in perfect spiritual security with God, the One who adopted us. When things are caving in on us, we run in prayer to our gracious Father, confident and secure in His care for us. When we stray in sin from Him, we run to Him who adopted us and beg, “Abba, Father, I’m lost without You! Forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and by Your Word keep me close to You!”
    When it comes to Social Security, we aren’t allowed to look into the federal reserves to see how much money is in there. But when it comes to our spiritual security, we look into God’s Word to see how rich we are! We don’t rely on our feelings about God because our feelings are as up and down as spring temperatures in Michigan. Instead, “The Spirit Himself joins our spirit in testifying that we are God’s children” (v. 16).
    When Satan tries to drive a wedge between us and God, he often uses his tool labeled Doubt to move us bit-by-bit away from God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us from His Word, reminds us daily what He did in us at Baptism, works in us communicants through His Supper – all to tell us, “You have perfect spiritual security because I have adopted you as my own!”
    It's not feeling close to God or far from God that makes a sinner a child of God or enemy of God. It is trust in Jesus worked by the Spirit that makes us God’s own. When we adopted children of God doubt our security, we run to God’s good news about the payment Jesus made to win perfect spiritual security, the payment which is the basis for God adopting us.
    II. Because God will glorify us
    A neighbor asked the birth dates of two boys whose family just moved next door. “We’re both seven,” one said. “I was born June 8, and my brother was born June 23.” The man replied, “That’s impossible!”. The boy said, “No, it’s not. One of us was adopted right after birth. But we don’t know which one. We asked Mom and Dad, but they say, ‘We love you both the same so it doesn’t matter!’” Wow! What security!
    We have perfect spiritual security. God “adopted us as His sons” to give all sinners – male and female, young and old, rich and poor – the greatest inheritance, the way a Bible-era father gave the firstborn son the largest inheritance. We have perfect spiritual security because God will glorify us.
    As little ones grow into young people, they often become a little critical, especially of their family. “We live a boring life! Nothing exciting happens here! My parents don’t let me do what I want!” When young people enter their mid-twenties or become parents themselves, they see things differently. Parents do what they do to make their children secure in life now and for their role as  adults and parents in the next generation.
    Even more so, our great and gracious God! He gives us perfect spiritual security for life now and forever. Since we are children, we are also heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, since we suffer with Him, so that we might be glorified with Him” (v. 17). Some adult children await security to come from an inheritance they’ll receive when their parents die. God’s Son became our Brother to die and win for us the eternal inheritance of life with Him in heaven. Living as God’s children will bring us ridicule from those who don’t trust God. But we don’t let any such “suffering” rob us of our joy or security. We keep living as children of the living God.
    We “conclude that our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed `to us” (v. 18). What security the early believers in Rome found in that truth. They were persecuted for their trust in Christ crucified and risen as the payment for every sin, as the ticket to heaven for all sinners, as the promised Messiah. Did they wonder, “If persecution is the result of holding to Christ, is it worth it?” No, they didn’t! “Our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us (v. 18) when we enter glory with Christ! It is worth it!” That’s the perfect spiritual security we have from God who will glorify us forever there after our troubles here.
    Will Social Security survive? Is there financial security for the future of today’s younger generation? What lies ahead? Only God knows. But He hasn’t given any details about any of that.
    That’s okay. We trust what God has given us. He has given us forgiveness in His Son and in His promises to His children. He has given us the gracious adoption as His sons. He has told us He will glorify us forever. What more do we want? What more do we need? We have perfect spiritual security in Him!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday in Lent - We Live as Children of Light
  • Fourth Sunday in Lent

    March 19, 2023
    Hymns                        576,   537,   706,   517
    First Reading            Isaiah 42:14-21
    Psalm                         27
    Second Reading       Ephesians 5:8-14
    Gospel                       John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39
    Ephesians 5:8-14
    We Live as Children of Light
        I. Powered by the Light
    II. Reflecting the Light
    In the name of Jesus, fellow formerly condemned sinners redeemed by His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,
    Benjamin Franklin taught his home town about street lighting without saying a word. He hung a lantern outside his front door and lit the wick at dusk each evening. Soon his neighbors put lanterns outside their front doors. Before long much of Philadelphia was lit for a bit each night – to the great delight of many citizens. But that’s not surprising, is it? We don’t need to encourage people to walk in light, right? It's natural!
    But not spiritually natural. We people of the one true God live in His light through faith in Christ and are light in the Lord” (v. 8). But Satan always lurks in the dark like a drug dealer, whispering to us, hoping to lure us with his damning, “Psst! Over here! I have something for you to try! Check it out! See if you like it!” Who here hasn’t often considered the devil’s deceptions about how delicious his ways will taste to us?
    That battle is being fought inside all of us all the time. All of us need the Lord to tell us all the time who we are and how we live. We “are light” and live “as children of light” (v. 8) who are powered by the Light and who are reflecting the Light.
    I. Powered by the Light

    We’ve seen pictures of streets before the pothole crew came through and after, of homes before the remodeling and after, of people before their weight loss and after. Here the Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual before-and-after slide show. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (v. 8). Oh, it’s not that a picture taken right after our baptism would show any visible difference. But we get God’s point.
    You were once darkness”. What else could that metaphor mean than unbelief, rejecting the Savior, and all the disgusting garbage that goes with unbelief? People in the dark can’t see where they’re going. People in the spiritual dark can’t see the only way to heaven, but are headed to hell – the life God describes as “living in the land of the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9:2). The darkness covering the whole planet Good Friday pictured the hopelessness of life forsaken by God as a result of being filled with sin and guilt. It’s what God said through Peter about our natural condition from conception: we had to be “called out of darkness” (1 Peter 2:9). That condition wasn’t choosing to keep the lights off and struggle more than those in the light. It was the horrible reality in which we once lived: “dead in trespasses and sins”, “darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18).
    That was then. But now you are light in the Lord”. What else could this be but faith, trust in the Savior, and all the blessings that come with Him? We now see the way to heaven, which is only through faith in Jesus. He said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). That is the Son of God sending His light into our hearts by His Word to save us. It’s what God used Peter to call God’s “marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). That isn’t just knowing what unbelievers don’t know. It is the saving reality in which we live now that “God, because He is rich in mercy…made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
    How did this change from darkness to light happen? It was not a bit our decision to leave the darkness of unbelief. We loved it there and hated God. We considered ourselves God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10). It was all God’s work, not at all our plan. It was all God’s Son who kept perfectly God’s commandments for us, suffered fully hell’s punishment for us, and rose triumphantly from death’s grave for us. It was not our strength, but all God’s power in His good news. God “made light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We live as children of light thanks only to the power of God’s Light.
    How do we stay in that light? We don’t walk away from it! We stay where “Christ will shine on” (v. 14) us – in His Word. We “live as children of light” by staying awake” (v. 14), not sleepy, in our lives with God, lives powered by His Light. 
    That’s how others stay in the light, too – or get back to the light. God wants to use us to guide them to His light, or remind them what they give up by not going regularly to the light of our Savior who is “the Light of the World”. Who is there whom we love, whom we know dearly, who needs to get back in the Light of Jesus through the Light of His Word? This season’s special services provide a welcomed opportunity to invite them to get back to, or to see for the first time, the Light!
    II. Reflecting the Light
    Motel 6 ads always ended, “We’ll leave the lights on for you!” This lesson isn’t an ad. But in His Word here the Lord says, “I want My light left on also for others through you!” We “are light in the Lord”, so we reflect the Light.
    That’s not a choice we make about our life. That’s a result of who we are in life: “children of light”. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). He didn’t say, “You should consider being the salt of the earth. Please strive to be the light of the world,” but, “You are the salt of the earth…are the light of the world”. Because God’s children, those who trust Christ alone to save them from the hell they deserve for their sins, “are” light, the children of God – you and I – live “as children of light”.
    Hold it! If Jesus says, I am the Light of the World”, how can He also say to us, You are the light of the world”? How can both statements be true? We reflect His light!
    All week Satan will suggest, “You don’t have to live as a child of light, don’t have to reflect the light of Jesus, all the time!” In these first hours of this week, the Lord, our Light Himself, tells us, The fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (v. 9). Children of light don’t shrug, “I don’t feel like being my Redeemer’s reflecting light right now!” Our life is to be an every moment reflection of our Lord. Ours will be a life of all goodness, righteousness, and truth”. We see those in Jesus. And He wants to see those – and wants others to see those – in us. We are forgiving, honest, joyful, kind, patient, and more as we reflect the Light, our Savior.
    “Try to learn what pleases the Lord” (v. 10) doesn’t tell us to search the world. We “learn” from His Word, then show others, what “pleases the Lord”. That, too, is a beautiful, bright reflection of what the Lord has made us: “children of light”.
    Just as important a part of our reflecting the Light who is our Savior is this: Do not participate in fruitless deeds of darkness. Instead, expose them. For it is shameful even to mention the things that are done by people in secret” (vv. 11-13). We are to be a deterrent against, not a participant in, all that angers the holy God, all that brings no Godly good. We avoid all that. As a police spotlight exposes what some try to hide in shame under cover of darkness, so children of light “expose” sins for what they really are: rebellions against the Light!
    Is that what the Lord sees in us and what the world sees from us? Or does He and does the world see something less brilliant from us? On October 14 much of America will have the sun blocked by the moon in the middle of the day – a solar eclipse, a spectacle in the heavens, we’ll be told. But it’s no thrilling spectacle when, in our lives, there is even a bit of a spiritual eclipse, when we who are “children of light” let something or someone block our reflecting the light of the Savior in our life and our attitudes. Let there be no dimming of our reflecting the Savior who loves us sinners so much He let sinners nail Him to the cross, where the full force of the hell we deserve for every sin was poured over Him who had no sin. We “are light”, so we let nothing cast a shadow over our reflecting Jesus who rose from His grave to assure our salvation.
    This appeal to live God’s way isn’t to help us become acceptable to Him. It is to show God’s light with our lives as sinners who through faith in Christ have already been accepted by God for the Savior’s sake. In love and thanksliving for what Jesus has done for us, we reflect God’s will in all we do and think and say – and in all the evil we refuse to do and think and say.
    Do you know how this season of the Church Year got its name? Lent is an old English form of lengthen. It refers to the fact that daylight lengthens this time of year. What Jesus did with His suffering and death in our place, and what we see in His suffering and death in our place, is more than daylight; it is the “light” of salvation! Thanks to Him we are “children of light”! Powered by Him we “walk”, we live, as children of light! Reflecting Him we show what a difference Jesus, who is the Light, makes in life – our life and the life of others!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday in Lent - Jesus Gives Us Living Water
  • Third Sunday in Lent

    March 12, 2023
    Hymns                      526,   703,   893: stanzas 1,10,3,4
    First Reading            Exodus 17:1-7
    Psalm                       95
    Second Reading       Romans 5:1-8
    Gospel                      John 4:5-26
    John 4:5-26
    Jesus Gives Us Living Water
     I. We need it
     II. We drink it
    In the name of Jesus, the sinner’s only salvation, fellow sinners redeemed by His holy life and innocent suffering and death,
    A person can survive several weeks without food, but only two to five days without water. That’s true because the human body is more than sixty percent water. The human body, God’s creation, needs water to eliminate waste from the body, control the temperature of the body, move nutrients through the body, and to digest food for the body. Water is essential for the body. Without it, people die. That’s serious.
    Even more serious is this. Sinners die forever without “living water” (v. 10), the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus. We are sinners, so we need the living water. And we think we drink the “living water”. But so did this woman who explained she was very religious, then was exposed by the Savior as being worse than spiritually dehydrated. To sinners, even daily to sinful believers in Him, Jesus gives His “living water” – water we need and water we drink.
     I. We need it

    In the verse right before our lesson we read, Jesus had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). It’s not that the only road from where He was (Judea down south) to where He was going (Galilee up north) went right through Samaria. No, Jewish travel intentionally bypassed Samaria, central Israel. It’s not that there was any danger there, but that Jews considered Samaritans unclean. That’s why Jews went well out of their way to steer clear of Samaritans. Our Savior had to go through Samaria”, not to see the sights or to save time, but to save the soul of a Samaritan He knew He’d meet at the well there.
    Most of what the Son of God said to the woman is easy to understand. But don’t overlook the truth behind the Word-of-God pictures Jesus drew for her as she drew water. He showed her the need she had, but didn’t realize, for His “living water”.
    Jesus began the conversation by asking the woman for a drink of water. The Redeemer’s request made her curious. Though she didn’t recognize Jesus, she could tell by His accent He was a Jew. And she knew “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (v. 9). Having gotten her attention, Jesus kept the Samaritan interested by talking about the “living water” He had for her.
    Living water? She’d never heard of that. After more of the Word from the Word-made-flesh, Jesus, she realized Jesus wasn’t offering physical water from the well at Sychar – or any other water anywhere else in the world. Her objection, Where do You get this living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us this well (eighteen hundred years before) and drank from it himself, as did his sons and animals” (vv. 11-12) – her objection was met by the Savior’s diagnosis, “You need more than any well’s water. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. You, and all sinners need the water I give (vv. 13-14), spiritual life.”
    And if she needed spiritual life, it meant she didn’t have spiritual life at the time, meant she was trapped in spiritual death at the time. She came to the well alone. That was odd because the well was where women gathered to visit while drawing water. This woman was an outcast because she lived in sin.
    She tried to hide that from the Jewish Stranger who asked her to bring her husband to the well. “I have no husband” (v. 17), she replied. Then Jesus revealed her sinful lifestyle. “You are right when you say, ‘I have no husband’. In fact, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband” (vv. 17-18). The all-knowing Son of God showed her His x-ray of her heart. It revealed lack of repentance. She was comfortable living in adultery. By telling her what no stranger could know about her continuing to live contrary to God’s will, Jesus showed the woman her need for His “living water”.
    We know how she felt, a life of sin exposed. We are sinners, too. Our sins might not be as public as hers (though some who claim to be God’s children still try to justify living together without being married as something acceptable to God). But all sins carry the same sentence: hell. And our sins are just as obvious as hers to God. God Himself could appear right here right now to list every sin we’ve ever done, said, and thought.
    We all slap the Lord in the face with actions, words, and desires He clearly calls sin. We get greedy, itch for more, and aren’t satisfied until we get more. We burn with hatred for others or with lust that is impure. We gossip and say things that harm a person’s reputation. We ignore God’s saving Word and misuse God’s holy name. What can we come up with to quench our spiritual thirst caused by rubbing our filth all over the holy ground of God’s commandments? Nothing!
     II. We drink it
    We need the “living water” only Jesus gives. The “living water” we already know and trust is the forgiveness of sins won only by the life and death of the perfect Savior. Living water” is the unending blessing of eternal life. We know that. But do we take that? Only Jesus gives “living water”. Do we drink it?
    The sinful Samaritan woman finally got it. “Oh! You’re talking about God, religion, worship! Well, then, I do have living water. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (v. 20), and we still do. We’re still very religious. We still offer sacrifices.”
    Do you know the history of the Samaritans? Jews in northern Israel were attacked by the Assyrian army to the north 722 years before Christ was born. The Jews who survived that assault were allowed to resettle in Samaria, but were joined by Assyrians sent there to keep things under control. Before long, the Jews and Assyrians intermarried. The mixed race of Jews and Assyrians came to be called Samaritans.
    The mixed-race Samaritans developed a mixed religion. The Jews there had worshiped the Lord, the God of their fathers Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. The Assyrians there had worshiped idols. Gradually the Samaritans mixed worship of the true God with worship of false gods. They built a temple on Mount Gerizim, near the well where Jesus gave His “living water” that day. The only part of the Old Testament the Samaritans valued was Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
    All that was behind Christ’s evaluation of the Samaritans’ religion. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know (v. 22). You know a few promises from God and many sacrifices required by God of Israel. But you don’t see what the faithful Jews in Jerusalem see. All the promises from God and many sacrifices ordered by God point to the one great Gift of God: the Savior and His coming sacrifice to win forgiveness of sins.”
    The Savior also said, Salvation is from the Jews (v. 22). But it’s salvation for all people, you Samaritans included! Salvation is the living water I give! Jews who long for the promised Messiah worship what they know. It doesn’t really matter where one worships. What matters is worshiping God in spirit and in truth (v. 24). You can be extremely diligent with religious ceremonies and services. But if you aren’t deeply repentant for every sin, and don’t desire daily forgiveness from the only true God who will suffer hell for your every sin, you don’t drink living water from God – even if you think you do.”
    What a Teacher! Jesus started by asking the woman for water, then gave her the “living water” only He provides! He said,  “The Savior to whom all the promises and sacrifices point, the Messiah (v. 25) you mentioned? I, the One speaking to you, am He!” (v. 26) Then, drinking deeply from His “living water”, she hurried to town to tell others about the Savior he just met!
    We confess Jesus gives “living water”. Do we drink it? Or drink something else? Much modern religion includes man-made messages from preachers who say what people want to hear, but not all the truths of God’s Word. Hear Jesus say it again: “Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth. Those are the kind of worshipers God seeks” (vv.23-24).
    We dare not become smug in knowing, confessing, and trusting the only true God. We dare not go through the motions of worship. Just showing up here does not please God. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. God knows our hearts. He wants our “spirit”, our heart of faith, in our worship. Is our heart in our worship? Or do we daydream through part of it? Do we see if we will be entertained by what is said and sung? Our “spirit” is in our worship when we worship with this attitude: Open my heart to hear You, God, as You speak to me from Your Word and give to me Your crucified and risen body and blood in Your Supper!
    God wants His “truth” in our worship, too. His truth hurts. His law is His scalpel to cut out the sin infecting our soul. May we never downplay the “truth” of what God calls sin! His truth also heals. His gospel is His medicine to cure the infected soul. We don’t offer or take any spiritual medicine other than what Jesus gives at His cross as full payment for all sin! Worship that leaves out law or gospel is not worshiping in God “in truth”.
    The “living water” Jesus gives is not just for Sunday morning. It is “a spring of water, bubbling up to eternal life” (v. 14). His work for us and His Word in us don’t stand stagnant like scummy pond water. They produce lives which glorify God in all things! His work for us and His Word in us move us to do what He desires and to share what fellow sinners need. We keep drinking the “living water”, and invite those without it to drink it with us! They and we always need the living water that is Jesus!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday in Lent - Lord, Give Us Such a Faith
  • Second Sunday in Lent

    March 5, 2023
    Hymns                      394,   570,   581,   927
    First Lesson              Genesis 12:1-8
    Psalm                        121
    Second Lesson         Romans 4:1-5,13-17
    Gospel Lesson         John 3:1-17
    Genesis 12:1-8
    Lord, Give Us Such a Faith
    I. Trusting Your promises
      II. Acting on Your promises
     III. Spreading Your promises

    In the name of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, the One on whom our faith rests, fellow faith-filled children of God,
    Faith. A well-known religious leader proclaims, “All faiths offer something to someone.” Lutherans mention faith all the time. But just what is faith? Faith is not another term for religion. And the idea that it doesn’t matter in what or on whom your faith lies, just that you have faith, is silly. If I have faith that what’s left of our last live Christmas tree will all by itself Easter morning turn back into the beautiful Christmas tree it once was, my faith is useless. The power of faith isn’t in the believing. The power of faith is in the one in whom one trusts.
    What faith Abram had! Would you like faith like his? You have it! How? Not because you are famous heroes of faith like Abram. But because your faith is anchored in the same One Abram’s faith was. When we pray, “Lord, give me such a faith as Abram’s”, God answers, “I am giving you such a faith!”
    You don’t feel you have this kind of faith? Well, are you looking for a great faith so you can do great things and become a great person and get great applause? That’s not this kind of faith, friends. The Lord promises to give us a faith that trusts His promises, acts on His promises, and spreads His promises.
    I. Trusting Your promises
    To see the kind of faith God gave Abram, we need to hear the kind of command He gave Abram. “Get out of your country and away from your relatives and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you (v. 1). Spend the rest of your life in a place you’ve never been and where you know no one else.” God gave Abram a faith to trust His promise that such a drastic move wouldn’t harm Abram.
    God went on, “I will make you a great nation…bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing…All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you (vv. 2-3). A huge nation from you, Abram! The Savior for all people from you, Abram!”
    Human reason told Abram, “You’ll never be a blessing to others. You’re seventy-five, so you don’t have long to live!” But his God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it!” Human reason told Abram, “Why leave where you have it so good? You’re rich! Stay put! Don’t move!” But his God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it will work out best for me and my loved ones!” Human reason told Abram, “You won’t be the father of a great nation. Will you and your elderly wife, still childless, have a son? Come on, Abram! Don’t be so naïve!” But His God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it!”
    The Lord gives us the same faith to trust His promises. Let’s be honest. Often our sinful flesh shouts, “Why believe this stuff? It’s just print on a page!” God, give us faith to trust what You say on every page about heaven being open to us sinners through the death for us of Abram’s descendant, Jesus. Often our human reason argues, “Why believe what you can’t see? Have you ever seen God? So why believe in Him?” God, give us faith to trust what You say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Often our sinful nature whispers, “Why believe God created all things out of nothing? Why believe the Word used with ordinary water brings infants to faith in Jesus? Why believe Christ’s body and blood are really present in the Supper?” God, give us such a faith to trust all that is so because You say so! “Faith is being sure about what we hope for, being convinced about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

    How much joy, peace, security, and comfort – especially when death draws near – we have with such God-given, trusting faith! Lord, give us such a faith to trust what we can’t yet see with our eyes or hold with our hands. Lord, give us such a faith to trust it because You have said it and You promise it.
    II. Acting on Your promises
    We miss the main point of this lesson if we don’t see the Lord approached Abram, the Lord initiated everything. Abram did not make the first move to God. But when God filled Abram, God changed Abram. The faith God gave Abram didn’t simply lie on his heart – as Luther said, like foam on beer. The Lord gives such a faith that acts on His promises.
    To see the kind of faith God gave Abram, see the trip on which He sent Abram – a permanent, one-way trip. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired…They set out to travel to the land of Canaan. Eventually they arrived” (vv. 4-5) there.
    The move was several hundred miles. That’s not a long distance move today. But Abram and Sarai had no phones to keep in touch with relatives, no car for summer visits, no mail or email to send news to and receive news from loved ones. Once they left, ties with the rest of the family were gone.
    Remember, Abram and Sarai had made a fortune in their homeland. They were set for life. To move meant risking robbery by ruthless land pirates who hid along travel routes. And even if the Lord granted them safe travel, they were still taking a chance they might not be as successful in the new land. To their human reason, the move made no sense.
    Abram and Sarai went anyhow. Why? Because “the Lord had told them” to go. The Lord Himself gave Abram the strength to do what the Lord Himself had commanded. With Abram’s faith focused on the certainty of God’s promises, Abram had what He needed: God-given faith to act on God’s promises.
    The Lord gives us such faith to act on His promises. We need such God-given faith when Satan’s helpers suggest, “Why obey God? He’s asking you to make an unreasonable sacrifice when He tells you to get rid of sinful entertainment, plotting against others, not hearing His Word regularly.” God, give us such an acting faith in Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice, who gave His life for us, who suffered our hell on that hill.
    We need such God-given faith when our sinful flesh tempts us, “Why obey God? The family next door doesn’t make any time for God, yet makes twice the money you do.” God, give us such an acting faith in Jesus to live the contentment that comes from being rich toward You in spiritual matters more than being rich before the world in money matters.
    We need such God-given faith to defy the devil who suggests, “You already have faith in God. You don’t need to change your lifestyle. Do what you want. You trust Christ, so sin, then ask Him forgive you!” We need such God-given faith to trust the change He worked in us when He snatched us from Satan and made us His own! God, give us the sincere faith that confesses, and lives for!, Him who died for us and rose from death. God, give us such a faith to act on Your promises!
     III. Spreading Your promises
    Though the Lord has given us the faith to trust and act on His promises, He’s not done with us. As we read on in this twelfth chapter of His Word and in the rest of His Word, He wants to give us the faith that also spreads His promises.
    What do you do when you get to your destination after a long trip from home? Lie on the hotel bed? Swim in the pool? Check out the area? Hear again what Abram did when their journey was done. He “built an altar there to the Lord” (v. 7). Why an altar? It was a spiritual marker, a visible confession of faith in the Lord who brought them safely to the new land the Lord promised to give to Abram and Sarai’s descendants.
    Then Abram “proclaimed the name of the Lord” (v. 8). Abram preached to and taught his wife, nephew, and workers about the Lord. He conducted worship services, Bible classes, and home devotions. “We give thanks to the Lord who gave us a safe journey to our new homeland. We ask the Lord to continue to grant us good health and Your happiness here. Lord, teach us to trust You for all we need. Lord, grant us growing faith to tell our new neighbors about You and Your promises to save sinners through the Savior You will send from us.”
    “The Canaanites were then in the land” (v. 6). Abram knew those pagan Canaanites would make life difficult for him and his family to settle and serve God there. But God promised to give the land to his descendants, so Abram trusted God. Abram didn’t run when he saw his family outnumbered there.
    Lord, give us such a faith to rely ever more on You and Your salvation for us and all sinners. May we sinners see Jesus, the descendant of Abram, as our Savior. May we show Jesus to others we’ll invite to our Lent and Holy Week services to hear more about You. Lord, give us the faith to see always that You use Your good news in Word and Sacrament to increase our faith, and to equip us to spread Your promises to others!
    What is faith? It’s the hand God gives us to receive faithfully all He’s done for us and promises to us graciously. We can’t get this faith on our own. God plants faith in us. Lord, give us such a faith! How great to know what God will do among us and through us as individual believers, as Godly families, as a congregation and church body by working in us with His promises! Not our act of believing, but His promises produce that faith in Jesus – and produce the works and life that flow from it.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday in Lent - We Sinners Have a Savior!
  • First Sunday in Lent

    February 26, 2023
    Hymns                        499,   863,   676,   669
    First Lesson              Genesis 3:1-15
    Psalm                         46
    Second Lesson         Romans 5:12-19
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 4:1-11
    Genesis 3:1-15
    We Sinners Have a Savior!
          I. Shattering news for the devil
         II. Sobering news for the Savior
    III. Saving news for the sinner
    In the name of Jesus, the Seed of the woman, the Savior of the world, fellow redeemed,
    The parent protested, “If I tell him what he did at school was wrong, he’ll think he’s a bad boy and won’t see me as his friend.” The teacher said, “You’re his mother, not his friend!”
    The view of most people about God is like that mother’s view of her role. God is love, they say. God wants me to be happy. True and true! So God is okay with what I do if it makes me happy. False! The all-seeing, all-knowing, all-hearing, ever-present Lord watches from heaven, warns us in His Word about our sins, then warms us from His Word with the Savior.
    What we could never do on our own, what we need above all else, God has done and God has given. We sinners have the Savior we need! This first promise of the Savior was shattering news for the devil, sobering news for the Savior, and saving news for the sinner.
    I. Shattering news for the devil
    This first promise of the Savior wasn’t spoken directly to Adam and Eve. “The Lord God said to the serpent (v. 14), really Satan, who used a snake’s body to deceive Eve. The devil was created a good angel. But he then rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven with other rebelling angels.
    God gives us the scene in Eden. Adam and Eve cowered before Him as He confronted them with their first sins against Him. Like stubborn children, they had run from their Father, supposing they could be happier and more complete human beings living on their own and disregarding God’s will. For a second they saw Satan as their counselor. They listened to the devil suggest what God had forbidden: eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. More on that later.
    God had shattering news for Satan. “There was briefly friendship between you and the woman. She believed your lie that I don’t want what is best for her and Adam. You suggested they turn from Me for a moment and try life your way. They did. And sin entered the world! Unless I do something about sin, Eve and Adam and the whole human race to come from them will live forever with you in darkness, sin, then hell. I will change that. I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed (v. 15). I will rip the disguise of friendship off you and expose you to sinners as what you really are: their darkest nightmare and eternal foe.”
    That “hostility” would be on three levels. There would be bitterness “between you, Satan, and the woman”. There would be enmity between Satan’s “seed” (unbelievers throughout history) and her seed” (believers in the Savior every sinner needs). But most shattering of all for the devil was “hostility” coming to a head in one particular descendant of Eve. “He will crush your head” (v. 15)! Even worse than exposing the devil, God would send the Champion to crush the devil’s power.
    Martin Luther pointed out that with these words the Lord mocked Satan. Since God didn’t identify the exact descendant of Eve – would it be Cain? Abel? Seth? Methuselah? Enoch? Noah? – Satan had to worry each time a baby boy was born. Is this the One who is going to crush my head, my power? Sinners have the Savior! That’s shattering news for the devil.
       II. Sobering news for the Savior
    God came to earth to fight our worst enemy. Not a rival at work or a bully at school. But the prince of darkness. The closing words of the lesson, “and you, Satan, will crush His heel” (v. 15), foretell the war would be grim, bloody work. We sinners have the Savior, and that’s sobering news for the Savior.
    As we see very vividly this Lent season, Jesus didn’t avoid the war with Satan. As He crushed the serpent’s head, the devil crushed His heel”, not a literal wound, but a word picture for Good Friday. Do you know anyone who died from being hit in the heel by a tree limb, a brick, even a bullet? No! Heel” wounds aren’t fatal. Of course Jesus died. But His death was not the end. He rose three days later, just as He said He would. Still, He suffered the most wretched agony and death ever. He was not only rejected by fellow Jews and deserted by friends. He was forsaken by His Father as He hung on the cross and took the punishment of hell for every sin ever.
    The Lord in Eden foretelling the Savior is the first promise of the Savior. God came from heaven to earth knowing the damningly difficult and hell-to-pay assignment that is the Triune God’s plan to rescue sinners even before time began.
    Sin isn’t easily removed by God waving a wand or saying a divine Abracadabra. Defeating the prince of hell and rescuing the world of sinners from hell is the greatest miracle ever. Rescuing the world cost Christ His life and put hell on Him! He made the payment of hell we all deserved. That sobering news for the Savior is on display prominently this Passion season.
    III. Saving news for the sinner
    Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago this weekend, but the conflict continues without Russia really gaining any territory they covet. How long will the conflict last? The “hostility” foretold in Eden would have a clear-cut, decisive winner. We have that winner, the Savior. This is saving news for us sinners.
    To many it seems silly to make a big deal of the sin by our first parents. So what if Eve and Adam took a piece of forbidden fruit? Kids sneak cookies all the time. It. Was. Not. About. The. Fruit! God used that tree and His prohibition about its fruit to give Adam and Eve a way to live thanks to Him for all He had given them – created in His image, the perfect world, unlimited love and joy. By thinking about, then doing, what God had forbidden, Adam and Eve were in effect saying, “Maybe God hasn’t told us everything we need to know. Maybe there’s even greater happiness to discover and experience.” That was the deceiving, damning lie the devil told Adam and Eve.
    They sinned already by desiring what was forbidden. Their sin broke up God’s family and chained sinners to the devil. And look at the results! For the first time ever, they felt shame in their nakedness and no longer directed their sexual impulses only to their good and God’s glory. They felt fear. They tried to hide from God, blamed each other. Adam even blamed God. God, the woman You gave to be with me…gave me the fruit (v. 12), so it’s at least a little Your fault!” What insolence!
    What grace, then, for Adam and Eve to have God seek them out, then hear God tell Satan, “The Promised Descendant of the woman will crush your head, break your hold on sinners.” A snake with its head crushed has lost its power to harm. The first promise of the Savior is saving news for us and all sinners!
    Satan still whispers, “God wants you to be His religious slaves. He doesn’t care if you’re happy or not. I want you to do whatever makes you happy. Go ahead and disobey God. If you want to return to Him later, you can do so. Just try it my way for a while.” When the devil whispers, we hear the Savior shout, “The devil is a liar and the father of lying” (John 8:44). We trust the perfect life and innocent death of Jesus. He defeated the devil. He frees us from Satan’s control.
    Connected to that saving news for us sinners is who we sinners are in the promised Savior. When the devil succeeded in getting Adam and Eve to view themselves as their own bosses, and God as an unfair dictator, Satan planted his evil nature in them. It is not true that people now, like Adam and Eve at creation, are created in God’s image. What is true is that we began life with a sinful nature, and we will keep it until death. But brought to faith in the Savior and His work to redeem the world, God’s image has been partially restored in us, and we desire to serve Him. That is the spiritual identity the Savior gives those who trust Him alone for salvation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because the Savior has broken Satan’s power over us, we are free to live for God now on earth, then live with God forever in heaven.
    Does this promise of the Savior seem strange, especially for a service in Lent? It doesn’t mention Christ by name. It doesn’t directly declare what His work would be and how He would “crush” the devil. This first promise of the Savior used picture language, which makes it seem a bit vague. But the fulfillment is perfectly clear! At Calvary, Christ “crushed” Satan’s power. 
    Satan didn’t find this promise difficult to understand. When he learned the Savior was to come from Abram’s descendants, the devil concentrated his efforts on making trouble for the children of Israel. Despite the devil’s damning efforts, he did not derail Christ from coming. Jesus came to earth, knowing full well what He would suffer here. What love! What a Savior! What certain salvation we sinners have in Him!
    More than an end to senseless gun violence, more than new lodging for hundreds of thousands displaced by the earthquake in Turkey, more than a cure for cancer, sinners need the Savior to rescue them from the hell they deserve. He has been sent! He has won! He calls us to trust in Him and to live for Him because He lived and died and rose to save us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Last Sunday after Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - The Savior Reveals the Glory
  • Last Sunday after Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Our Lord

    February 19, 2023
    Hymns                        522,   388,   383,   389
    First Lesson              Exodus 24:9-18
    Psalm                         2
    Second Lesson         2 Peter 1:16-21
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 17:1-9
    Matthew 17:1-9
    The Savior Reveals the Glory
      I. Of His person
    II. Of His power
      III. Of His purpose
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior, fellow redeemed,
    After Monday night’s senseless shootings at MSU, a politician said, “What good does it do to pray? The God to whom many pray must be awfully weak if He didn’t see this coming and use His supposed power and glory to stop it.” How do we, who do pray to the only true God, respond? We say, “God reveals His power and glory in ways we don’t expect, but always need. His way is not to prevent every tragedy; people will die either suddenly or slowly until He returns on the Last Day. God rather reveals His power and glory as He saves all sinners!”
    Here, Jesus used sights Peter, James, and John had not yet seen to show them more about Him. “Six days” (v. 1) earlier Peter confessed about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). But moments later, when Jesus spoke solemnly and clearly of going to Jerusalem soon to suffer, die, and rise, Peter blurted, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22)! At times Peter forgot who Jesus is, the power He has, the reason He came.
    Sadly, we sometimes set that aside, too. We view Jesus as a friend, teacher, counselor, but nothing greater. That view of God is only for this life, like the politician in Lansing blasting God for not stopping the shooter. We watch and listen to this lesson of His transfiguration where Jesus, on the mountain with His disciples, and in His Word with us disciples, reveals the glory of His person, of His power, and of His purpose.
    I. Of His person
    The Savior “was transfigured” (v. 2). The Greek word here is one we carry into English as a scientific term, metamorphosis. But His wasn’t a slow, months-long process like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a tadpole a frog. This Savior’s transfiguration was instantaneous and glorious! “His face was shining like the sun. His clothing became as white as the light” (v. 2). Why? To take on the appearance of the true God that Jesus ever was, is now, and always will be!
    Jesus didn’t use that moment to become God or to say He is true God. He had proved that with His many miracles and had said that often to the Twelve. But on that mountain Jesus allowed the splendor of His divine nature to shine. He did so to  show He is true God, even as He is true man. God and man in one person is the Savior revealing the glory of who He is.
    This display of His glory was not just for three disciples. It’s for us disciples, too. Jesus wants us to see Him as our glorious Savior. The One who came to be the Savior needed to be true man to keep His law and die our death in our place. We see Him as true man in His birth of a woman, His thirst and hunger, His suffering and pain, His crucifixion and death. But the One who came to rescue us from forever in the hell we bring on ourselves with our sins needed also to be true God to keep the law perfectly for us and to die that death to cover our guilt.
    This is the Jesus we’ll see in heaven. Isn’t this the same Savior  revealed in Revelation? “Clothed with a robe that reached to His feet, and around His chest He wore a gold sash. His head and hair were white, like white wool or like snow. His eyes were like blazing flames. His feet were like polished bronze being refined in a furnace” (Revelation 1:13-15). The Savior here reveals the glory of His person as man and God.
    II. Of His power

    On the mountain that day a “bright cloud” (v. 5) appeared and enveloped Jesus, the disciples, Moses and Elijah. It wasn’t to confuse them then or us now. Clouds are dark or puffy or thick or wispy; never “bright”. This cloud was miraculously unusual. It was God appearing to man, revealing the glory of His power.
    This wasn’t the first time God had appeared to man in a cloud, was it? He led the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day. He came down in a cloud to receive from the high priest once a year the sacrifice made on the Day of Atonement. That God chose to appear as a “bright cloud” that day points to the power the Son of God possesses.
    That God the Father spoke so lovingly about His Son from the “cloud” also reveals the power the Savior has. “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (v. 5). That’s exactly what the Father said about the Son three years earlier at the Son of Man’s baptism when Jesus began His earthly ministry, the baptism that showed the Savior’s willingness to do what was necessary to redeem and save sinners.
    This is beyond human reason. Here is God talking about God, the truth grasped only by faith: God reveals Himself to be one God in three distinct persons. The power to save the world lies in God the Son, here approved by His Father as the one “with whom the Father is well pleased”. Jesus had the power of God resting in Him as true God, had the approval of God the Father working with Him for God’s mission to deliver the world.
    “Listen to Him”, says the One who has all authority and power in heaven and on earth. “Take His Word to heart!”, says the only true God. Sadly, few have time for Him, don’t care to hear and heed what He says. The Father tells us, too, today, “Listen to Him when He says, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6). He is the only true Way to life with Me in heaven.” There is no other power for eternal life.
    “Listen to Him”, says the One who loves us so much He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us. Sadly, some who claim to love God want little to do with some of His truth. That’s too confining! That’s not fair! That’s not the way the world thinks!
    The Father tells us, too, today, “Listen to Him when He says, ‘This is love for God: that you keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3). Do you really want to rebel against our power and authority? Do you really know better than the Son does, than I do? Do you really mean to say that My way isn’t good, isn’t fair, isn’t current?” There is no other guide for life as God’s child than God’s pure Word.
    We see the Savior reveal the glory of His power on that mountain. We hear our Father in heaven from the “bright cloud” shout His approval of His Son. There is no greater power in all the world. We are blessed Jesus uses His power to save us!
      III. Of His purpose
    Contrary to popular opinion then and now, the Savior didn’t then and doesn’t now come for the purpose of making life on earth comfortable and wonderful. We see that, too, on that mountain. The Savior reveals the glory also of His commitment to the work needed by all, the glory of His purpose
    “Just then, Moses and Elijah appeared…, talking with Jesus” (v. 3). Luke’s Gospel tells us what Moses and Elijah talked about with the Savior. It wasn’t the weather or violence, the economy or politics. It was Jesus fulfilling what He promised through Moses, Elijah, and others: His suffering, death, and rising in the weeks to come. The Savior revealed His purpose.   
    How could Peter, John, and James identify Moses and Elijah? They’d never seen photos or footage of any Old Testament prophets. Jesus was giving His three New Testament disciples a little glimpse of heaven where everyone knows everyone.
    Why were Moses and Elijah chosen? Why not King David and Isaiah or other Old Testament heroes of faith? God doesn’t answer those questions. But their appearance on the mountain proves there really is life beyond the grave. Moses had died. Elijah had left this world, too. Yet there they were talking with Jesus about His mission to be save all people. There was not one way to be saved in the Old Testament and another system set up for the New Testament. Jesus reveals the glory of His purpose: to redeem the world of sinners!
    Some suppose Christ contradicted that purpose when He ordered the disciples on their way down the mountain, “Do not tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (v. 9). That’s no contradiction. It’s a confirmation of His purpose! Jesus knew any premature reports about His transfiguration would further feed false ideas about His purpose. Look at His glory! He’ll use His glory to make our lives easier! That would cloud people from seeing His real purpose. He had come to redeem the world.
    Peter’s idea to put up “shelters” (v. 4) was meant to keep the transfiguration miracle going. But staying here would have kept Jesus from going there: His ultimate purpose on earth. Like Peter, we want life to be full of wonderful experiences on earth, instead of facing the reality that we live in a sinful world as sinful people who deserve death and damnation. All sinners – Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, you and I included, needed Jesus to go down that mountain and up that mountain. Here the Savior revealed the glory of His purpose!
    Are we listening to Him? Do we agree with and trust in Him? Jesus won’t make our earthly life nothing but a delightful existence. Better, He has made the sacrifice to pay the price for our life with Him forever. That’s the glory He revealed at His transfiguration: who He is – God and man in one person, what He has – divine power, and why He came – using His person and His power for His purpose, to rescue us.    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - The Redeemer Reveals Real Righteousness
  • Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
    February 12, 2023
    Hymns                      370,   695,   835
    First Lesson              2 Samuel 11:1-17,26-27
    Psalm                       119A
    Second Lesson        1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:21-37
    Matthew 5:21-37
    The Redeemer Reveals Real Righteousness
       I. The perfect righteousness demanded of us
     II. The precious righteousness delivered to us

    In the name of our perfect, precious Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed who desire to live for Him who died for us,
    As we noted when introducing the service two weeks ago, many misunderstand our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount. They suppose in these three chapters of Matthew Jesus lists what sinners need to do to get to heaven. The Holy Spirit had Matthew write at the beginning of Chapter Five that Jesus speaks here to “His disciples” (Matthew 5:1), people who look to Him as the Savior, trusting the only way to heaven is through faith in His work to live perfectly and die innocently for sinners.
    Jesus is not urging people to do things and live right to earn salvation. He is instructing His followers – sinners who humbly admit they are powerless to save themselves and lovingly look to Him to win their forgiveness and open Paradise to them – is instructing us how God desires the saved to live on earth.
    The Redeemer here reveals real righteousness. The complete teaching of His Word about righteousness is far different than what the sinful world thinks about righteousness, even what some believers think about righteousness. We listen carefully and look diligently at what the Redeemer reveals about real righteousness – the perfect righteousness God demands of us and the precious righteousness God delivers to us.
      I. The perfect righteousness demanded of us
    Most in Jesus’ day assumed the most religious and righteous people anywhere were the teachers of the Jewish law and the Jewish Pharisees. But right before this lesson Jesus had said, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and experts in the law, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
    Hear the gasps from the crowd on the hillside that day? Listen to the whispers. “If that’s true, how can anyone be saved?! No one keeps God’s laws like the Pharisees and our law experts!”  Those Jewish groups did make a big show of doing what God’s law demanded. But theirs was only an outward obedience. Their obedience certainly didn’t please God. Their interpretation of what God demanded was way too shallow. While they might have kept the letter of God’s law, they failed to say that even sinful thoughts are forbidden, that wicked motives are already transgressions, that evil scheming is just as much sin before God as are the acts which spill out from evil scheming.
    We could spend the rest of the day dissecting these seventeen verses about murder, adultery, divorce, and improper oath-taking. We devote weeks of Catechism classes to the commandments against those sins. I hope you recall what you were taught and will review that regularly. But rather than go through those commands individually today, we take them together as the Redeemer reveals real righteousness, which begins with the perfect righteousness He demands of us.
    Did you notice how the Son of God began each of these four sections? “You have heard that it was said…‘You shall not murder.’…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’…It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife’…You have heard that it was said…‘Do not break your oaths’” (vv. 21,27,31,33). Then Jesus continued each section, “But I tell you…But I tell you…But I tell you…But I tell you” (vv. 22,28,32,34)?
    What is the Redeemer revealing? Clearly, there’s a difference between what was heard and understood about the commandments and what God teaches and demands in the commandments. Everyone knows it’s a grievous sin against God to murder a person. But doesn’t it hit us between the eyes to hear that, before God, feelings of hatred and words that hurt are just as sinful and serious as murdering a person?
    We know it’s a sin to be unfaithful to one’s spouse. But doesn’t the finger of God’s law point at us, too, when Jesus explains that “adultery” includes dirty desires, lustful looks, sexual jokes, and immoral entertainment? Do we see those  as sins the way we see marital infidelity as sin? God does!
    How many of us carelessly use God’s powerful name as we speak? God, it’s nice outside today! Oh my God, what a bad break! Doesn’t it frighten us to hear God Himself say such unthinking use of His name is sinful because it is unthinkingly asking God to witness to others about the weather or a coincidence? If a matter is serious enough to warrant using God’s great name to convince others we are telling the truth, we may do so. But adding a few God’s to spice up our speech is as serious before Him as is telling a lie after taking an oath in His name! God holds us responsible for all the words we speak.
    Such sins – so often ignored, so seemingly trivial, so frequently brushed off with the chuckle, “Everybody does it!” – are really death-dealing, deserving of eternal punishment in “hell fire” (v. 22). They are as spiritually destructive as are the heinous crimes and destructive scandals reported on the news.
    Hateful thoughts that fester in us spoil the perfect righteousness God demands of us, even if we never say what we’re thinking or act on what our sinful nature wants to do. The leering look at what we see on the screen God condemns as “lust” (v. 28) which pollutes the perfect righteousness God demands of us – even if we never intend to do the naughty things we watch. The cold silence, icy stares, and sarcastic comments we send our spouse’s way defile the perfect righteousness God demands of us – even if we never seriously consider divorce.
    Okay, so we can’t deliver the perfect righteousness God demands of us. So what? “The wages of sin” – even what society and our sinful nature call a little, tiny sin – “is death” (Romans 6:23). To God hatred equals murder. Looking with lust at anyone other than your spouse of the opposite sex is already adultery. Misusing God’s name by saying it without even realizing it is evil. We do all those, don’t we? The Redeemer reveals real righteousness to show how far we’ve fallen short of the perfect righteousness God demands of us.
     II. The precious righteousness delivered to us
    A faithful preacher will use every sermon to preach himself and other worshipers down to hell until we sinners cry, “Lord, have mercy on me!” There’s no problem with that in this lesson, is there? A faithful preacher will also use every sermon to comfort the sinful speaker and listeners with the Lord’s promises of mercy and salvation. But where is the comfort here?
    It certainly isn’t our righteousness. God demands perfection, and our righteousness isn’t perfect. The comfort is only God’s good news. God’s good news needs to be applied to this lesson from other parts of His Word. God’s good news is the truth of what the Redeemer has done for the world. That truth is also righteousness. The Redeemer reveals real righteousness, which is also the precious righteousness delivered to us.
    Righteousness is rightness. Specifically, it’s being right in God’s sight, which we aren’t by ourselves. This part of the Sermon on the Mount makes that painfully clear, doesn’t it? But Jesus is perfectly right, as God for us. He did what we don’t do. “Just as through the disobedience of one man (Adam) the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man (Jesus) the many will become righteous (Romans 5:19).
    True, Jesus was nailed to the wretched tree of the cross for us. But it’s just as true – and just as saving! – He kept His holy law for us, in our place, as our Substitute. Equally crucial in Christ’s work to be the Savior was His living under His own law. Not one hateful thought, not one dirty desire, not one wicked work or word. Not one sin in action, word, or motive stained His record for even a second of His thirty-three years on earth. And His perfect record, His precious rightness, becomes ours! On the Last Day we will say, “He lived a perfect life for me!”
    “And He died my death!” “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). It was our sins for which He suffered. It was our petty little disagreements, even before they mushroomed into fits of rage, for which He made the payment. Will we be too busy to gather in God’s house for the Lent services beginning next week? Not when we rejoice that Jesus made the sacrifice for all our rebellions against Him, enduring damnation for every sin!
    Another Gospel truth ties into this lesson about real righteousness. The love of Christ compels us…One died for all; therefore all died. And He died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for Him, who died in their place and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The power to do what God wants us to do, and to say “No!” to what God forbids, flows from what He has won for us.
    Our lives won’t be perfect until we are home in heaven. But until we are, we strive to do and speak and think and desire only what pleases the One who did all that for us. We do that not to pull ourselves into heaven, but to thank the Redeemer for being our perfect, precious righteousness.
    The Redeemer reveals real righteousness. We are shamed by how frequently we blatantly break and blindly ignore the perfect righteousness He demands of us. But we also trust His precious, saving righteousness He delivers to us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Be Confident in the Lord's Covenant
  • Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
    February 5, 2023

    Hymns                        373,   630,   821,   375
    First Lesson              Exodus 19:1-8a
    Psalm                         112
    Second Lesson         1 Peter 2:9-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:13-20
    Exodus 19:1-8a
    Be Confident in the Lord’s Covenant
     I. A wonderful blessing to us
     II. A great responsibility for us
    In the name of the God who, in love, sent His Son, as promised, to rescue us forever, fellow beloved by the Lord,
    Some contracts aren’t worth much. How about some of the service contracts you’ve read? They contain hidden clauses and confusing phrases in tiny print, making the service agreement difficult to understand and practically impossible to use.
    This lesson is about a contract – God’s contract with His people. Here it’s called a “covenant” (v. 5). But it’s the same as a contract, an agreement between two parties. Will God ever break His end of it? Does He put hidden clauses and phrases in it to trip us up later? Never! God’s covenant is for our confidence, not confusion. Be confident in God’s covenant – a wonderful blessing to us and a great responsibility for us.
     I. A wonderful blessing to us
    The Lord made His special “covenant” with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. He summoned Moses, His chosen leader for His chosen people, to meet with Him on the mountain. The region was familiar to Moses. Not even one year earlier Moses had been tending sheep of his father-in-law Jethro right there when Moses saw and heard something amazing.
    Remember? Moses saw a bush on fire, but it wasn’t consumed by the fire. He heard a voice speaking to him from the burning bush. It was the Lord telling Moses, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground…When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain (Exodus 3:5,12).
    God kept that promise. He had led Israel to that “mountain”. God wanted His people to know He was faithful to His promise and to be confident in His promise. It was a wonderful blessing for them to be free from Egypt and headed to the land God had promised to give them!
    The Lord said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians” (v. 4). He had sent plagues: water turned to blood; frogs, gnats, and flies all over the place; dead livestock, festering boils; horrendous hail that stripped the fields, then grasshoppers that ate any crops left standing; thick darkness for three days; finally, the firstborn Egyptian males dead. In all of that God said, “Be confident in Me! I will continue to protect you!”
    “You have seen…how I carried you on eagles’ wings” (v. 4). A mother eagle builds her nest in a protected place and defends her eaglets fiercely. She uses her huge wings to shade her babies from sun. When her little ones to learn to fly, she cruises just beneath them lest they fall during their first flights.
    Hadn’t the Lord done the same for Israel? He protected her during the hot, hard times under Egyptian taskmasters. He led her as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. He had them safely cross the dry bed of the Red Sea – two million men, women, children, babies, elderly – then drowned every pursuing Egyptian soldier by making the walls of water wash over them. He gave them manna each morning and quail each evening, no small feat for so large a nation, then water in that barren region from an unlikely source – a rock! He gave them victory in a battle, though she had no trained military yet, having Israel prevail as long as Moses’ arms were raised. “Be confident in Me! I’ll continue to do all this and more for you!” What a wonderful blessing God’s “covenant” was to Israel!
    But there was an “if” (v. 5) in His covenant with Israel. “Now if you will carefully listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My special treasure out of all the nations” (v. 5). In order for God’s promise of protection and blessing to hold, Israel had to obey. More about that in a bit.
    This covenant made at Sinai, with its hundreds of laws, was meant for just one people, Israel, and for a limited time, until the Savior came from them. Of all those laws only the unchanging will of God, summed up in His Ten Commandments, applies to all people of all time, including you and me.
    But we do have a covenant with God, one in which we are to be very confident. It was made at another time, in another place, for another purpose. When the faithful Jew was distressed at his failure to keep God’s laws given through Moses on Sinai, the Lord wanted him to turn to the covenant, the promise, the agreement made with Abram much earlier, already made in Eden the evening of the first human sin. That covenant, of course, is the promised Savior from sin.
    The Lord kept that covenant, too! He repeated it over and over through the four thousand years from Eden to Bethlehem. Then He fulfilled it when the Messiah was born in humility, lived in perfection, died our death, and rose from the dead. Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant that saves us.
    The “covenant” with Israel at Sinai was two-sided – both God and man had obligations to fulfill to keep it in force. That covenant made with Adam and Eve and Abram and meant for every sinner ever is completely one-sided. There is no “if” in the Lord’s covenant of salvation. There are no conditions for us to meet. The Lord does it all. What a wonderful blessing!
    Be confident in the Lord’s covenant! As great as were all the mighty miracles He worked to keep Israel safe on the way to, and in her conquering of, the Promised Land, the covenant the Lord has made to save every sinner ever is far greater! It’s not enough for us to be kept out of harm’s way for this life. What really matters is being God’s forgiven children for eternal life! The covenant we have with the Lord gives us that!
    We need not wonder where we stand with God or question whether we are forgiven. We are confident in the Lord’s covenant with us because all is done and heaven is won for us! That is written with the blood of Jesus in the Lord’s covenant with us, His promise to us, His wonderful blessing for us!
     II. A great responsibility for us
    “You are” (Matthew 5:13,14), Jesus said. Then He added, “So be!” God doesn’t want us sitting like sponges simply soaking up His blessings, but doing nothing else. We don’t need to earn God’s blessings. But He does desire grateful living from His redeemed people. The Lord made that clear to Israel in the covenant He established with them at Sinai. He makes that clear to us, too. We are confident in the Lord’s covenant, one that carries a great responsibility for us.
    The Lord told Israel, “If you will carefully listen to My voice and keep My covenant…you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation” (vv. 5-6). That was a great honor and a great responsibility. Christ is the great High Priest who went before the Father to make full payment and to beg full forgiveness for sinners. Old Testament priests would go before God for the people. But how could all Israel serve as “priests”? By going between the Lord and others, not to pay for the sins of foreigners, but to take God’s promise of salvation to them.
    “You will be…My holy nation” (v. 6). In Scripture, “holy” can mean set apart. God’s people were to be different, set apart from how others lived. The unique laws God gave Israel at Sinai dealt with diet and dress, hygiene and holidays, worship and the work week to set Israel apart from others. They were to be completely dedicated to the Lord in everything.
    But dedicated to Him for the right reasons! God didn’t want a forced obedience, “If You say I must, I will!” The Lord began His covenant with Israel by reminding the chosen nation how much He had done for her. “Keeping in heart My many miraculous blessings to you, here is how you may say, ‘Thank You’ to Me.” That’s the attitude of gratitude with which the Jews were to approach their side of this “covenant” with God.
    They did, at first. “All the people answered together, ‘Everything…the Lord has said, we will do’” (v. 8a). But forty days later those same Jews made a calf-god of gold and worshiped it! That was the first of many Jewish violations of this covenant. They had quickly changed from shouting joyously, “We want to serve You, Lord!” to grumbling sinfully, “We’ll serve You, God, some of the time. But we aren’t happy about it!”
    The Lord hasn’t given us the long list of laws He gave the Jews who lived to the time of the Sacrifice. Now that the Savior has come, God expects us to be more spiritually mature than the Jews before Jesus arrived and finished His work to buy sinners back from Satan. The Lord wants us to look at what happened at the cross and realize, “How richly God has blessed me!”
    The Lord desires the same loving, willing obedience to Him that He desired from Israel. We are confident in that covenant completed at Calvary. It’s a wonderful blessing to us. But it’s also a great responsibility for us. Like Israel, we too are His “kingdom of priests and His holy nation”.
    Will we say, “Lord, please forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake, but don’t ask me to share Your Word with others, to go between them and You with Your promises to save”? We will tell others what the Lord has done to give them and us life forever.
    Will we say, “Lord, keep me Your child forever, but don’t expect my life to be different than the life of my friends. I want to have the same fun they do”? Then we’d be making our own golden calf and worshiping the way we want.
    Will we say, “Lord, I’ll obey You, but I won’t enjoy it”? That isn’t being confident in that covenant God has made with us. To rejoice in all He’s done to save us and in all His promises to us, we gladly do and say and think all He wants from us.
    We are confident in God’s covenant, fellow sinners saved by His death! It’s a contract unlike any other. God’s covenant with us is signed and sealed with His Son’s blood. That covenant is our salvation. It’s also our motivation until we enter heaven!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Only God's Will Works
  • Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
    January 29, 2023
    Hymns                      372,   563,   386,   923
    First Lesson              Zephaniah 2:3; 3:11-13
    Psalm                       1
    Second Lesson        1 Corinthians 1:26-31
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:1-12
    1 Corinthians 1:26-31
    Only God’s Will Works
            I. In what He chooses
    II. In what He uses
    In the name of the only Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
    Sinful humans express their will with votes for candidates and proposals, with shouts from the back of the vehicle about KFC or Culver’s, with eye rolling at the TV show the parents chose. Three times in six verses here the Spirit had Paul write, “God chose” (vv. 27-28). That is God expressing His will, His way.
    Many people suppose religious truth, like political and fast food and family TV choices, is set by what most people think or want – or both. Shouldn’t churches and church bodies shift teachings and doctrines to meet what most worshipers think or want – or both? If a teaching of Holy Scripture is so different from the way things work in the world, shouldn’t the world’s ways win the day in how the Bible is presented? Isn’t the majority of the church customers, er, members, always right?
    No! There is only one ultimate authority in the world, whether sinners acknowledge the Lord God’s authority or not. Even if every sinner were to vote God’s way of doing things is not the best, that wouldn’t change God’s will and way of doing things. God’s will is always right, always best, always perfect.
    There were serious differences and strong opinions in the church at Corinth which first received this letter. Who was right? Who was wrong? Only God’s will would work to settle those differences, not the church members who contributed the most money or had the most influence. That will never change. When it comes to the sinner’s relationship with God, only God’s will works in what He chooses and in what He uses.
    I. In what He chooses

    Smooth magicians and slick pickpockets divert attention. With a big gesture or wave of a cape, a magician slips something out of his sleeve while we’re looking at something else. An apparently innocent bump by a stranger is really timed perfectly so an accomplice can snatch your phone while you regain your balance. Paul wrote as he did here to let us know Satan works the same way, though the stakes are much higher.
    Consider your call to faith in Christ. Not many of you were wise from a human point of view, not many were powerful, and not many were born with high status” (v. 26). Satan tricks sinners into supposing that even in the church and in one’s relationship with God worldly influence counts and works.
    The Corinthian congregation members were foolishly divided over superficial differences in worldly views. Some felt Paul was a wiser scholar than Apollos, and you were only wise if you supported Paul. Others saw Peter as more influential than other church leaders since he had walked with Jesus, and it was thus a “status” symbol to be on Peter’s side. Because few important people from the city of Corinth had joined the congregation, the opinion outside the church was, “That’s a shallow, simple, weak, and unimportant group of people.”
    Erastus, the director of public works in Corinth, was one of the few notable citizens to be part of the Christian congregation there. Almost all the leading citizens of Corinth shunned the Christians there. The people of wealth, city fathers, business owners, deep thinkers, and first families of the city wanted nothing to do with what seemed to them a silly religion peddled by a Jew who had traveled to their city. It seems that some of the church members suggested, “We need to attract more influential, scholarly, notable people to our church!”
    In the business world, that strategy works. Companies pay big money to acclaimed actresses and athletes to pitch their products. But that’s not God’s way or God’s will. He doesn’t choose based on a person’s education, political power, or family ties. If churches make marketing their great priority, what is done with God’s truth? Many in Corinth considered God’s truth one of many religious ideas a person might pursue, but called God’s truth “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and thought God’s truth to be what only the uneducated would follow.
    But only God’s will works in whom He chooses. God doesn’t say, “Now that’s the kind of person I want in My family, as a member of My Church, singing My glory!” That would be salvation by our works, not by God’s grace. “God chose” us to be His own through faith in the work of Jesus before we could do anything good for Him. Choosing a little infant? What has an infant done to prove worthy to God? Precisely! God’s “call” to us to trust Jesus as the Savior by the power of His good news about Jesus given with plain water in Baptism, delivered in the Word we read and hear and study, received in the Supper, proves it is His power, His will, His way, His grace, His love.
    In the world, people have to prove themselves worthy before being given a treasure. But only God’s will works in the ones He chooses. “God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame those who are wise…the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are strong…the lowly things of the world and the despised things…to do away with the things that are” (vv. 27-28) wise, strong, and great to others.
    When we sinners ask ourselves the really deep questions – Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? How do I get there? – we realize the devil leads many to answers resulting in envy and division, comparison and rivalry. Only God’s will works, and He leads us to marvel and rejoice at His choosing us who’ve admitted again today we’re sinful from conception. It’s not we who earned it. It is God who gave it. Only God’s will works about whom He chooses to be His own.
    II. In what He uses
    How many media influencers, leading entertainers, billionaires, and noted scholars are sin-confessing, Christ-trusting, Bible-reading, church-going Christians? A few, but not many. Does that prove Christianity is a second-rate religion? A spiritual WalMart rather than Saks Fifth Avenue? Not at all!
    God not only “chose” to make a supreme blessing of what the world despises as foolish and weak – the death of the Messiah to pay for the sins of the whole world. God also exposed all worldly wisdom, power, and influence as spiritual foolishness. Only God’s will works in what He chooses and in what He uses.
    What Satan, our sinful nature, and the sinful world suggest is important, God values as nothing in spiritual matters. Why?  So…no one may boast before God” (v. 29). Worldly wisdom, power, and prestige are worthless currency if sinners hope to purchase their tickets to God’s good side. So that no one may boast before God”. Sinners stand before God as weak fools if they try to impress Him by what they’ve done in their lives or with investments. In spiritual matters, we had nothing to offer God as a reason to welcome us, knew nothing to get into His family, did nothing to be right with Him. We couldn’t even take credit for knowing what God has done for us, or for trusting Him to be saved. No one may boast before God”, indeed!
    Then how is it we sing hymns of salvation and praise God in certainty of our salvation? It is “because of Him you are in Christ Jesus” (v. 30). At one time the believers in Corinth had been lost. They had nothing to “boast” of before God, had no eternal joy to anticipate. Then the Lord used His Word from Paul and others, used His Word with water in Baptism by Silas and Timothy, used His Word sent to them in this letter. God used His good news about “Christ Jesus” and His work to give them what they had no power to get in any others, and without which they would perish forever. Only God’s will works in what He uses to bring sinners to Him now and forever.
    The Corinthian believers lost nothing of value when they left behind trusting what others boasted: wisdom, power, honor. They had unending blessings! “Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom from God, namely, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30). We glory in that, too! Those who are joined to Jesus through faith in what He alone has won for sinners receive the blessings He has won.
    As the Corinthian believers then, so we now are dressed in the Savior’s perfection, made God’s people, no longer have our sins held against us by God: “righteousness and sanctification in Christ Jesus”. We look forward most of all not to the next payday or vacation, but to the day God delivers us from all evil and takes us to His heaven: redemption in Christ Jesus”.
    What a blessed exchange! We who had nothing to offer God have everything “in Christ Jesus”. He lived in humility here, then gave up His life to suffer our deserved hell. That’s not the way the world would work the guarantee of life forever. But only God’s will works – even in what He uses to save sinners!
    “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (v. 31). Those who trust what Jesus did for sinners, but insist they made a decision for Christ, run into trouble here. They boast about a decision they think they made to reach out and grab Jesus. But even faith in Jesus is God’s work done in us and to us, not our thinking or choosing. Only God’s will works in what He uses!
    God is not teaching us here to refuse to grow in worldly wisdom, claim it’s sin to try to influence others, say it’s wrong to be rich. God’s truth here is that when it comes to who we are on our own, how we sinners are cleansed before Him, what the only ticket to heaven is, then worldly wisdom, power, and influence mean nothing. Only God’s will works in whom He chooses to be His own – sinners like us. Only God’s will works in what He uses to make us sinners His own – the precious blood of His Son and faith worked in us stubborn rebels by His Holy Spirit through His Word and sacrament. It’s only “because of God that we are in Christ Jesus”. That’s foolishness to the world. But only God’s will works! He “chose” us to be His. He ”chose” to use the power of His Son to do so!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday after Epiphany - Jesus is the Light
  • Third Sunday after Epiphany
    January 22, 2023
    Hymns                        381,   330,   528
    First Lesson              Isaiah 8:18 – 9:4
    Psalm                         27
    Second Lesson         1 John 2:3-11
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 4:12-23
    Matthew 4:12-23
    Jesus Is the Light
       I. To show Him as the Savior
    II. To lead sinners to repent
         III. To move His people to serve

    In the name of Him who is the Light of the world, Jesus, fellow souls on whom He shines with His everlasting light,
    Light. There is no life without it. That’s true biologically and horticulturally. That’s also true spiritually and eternally. And what’s just as true is that there aren’t many different spiritual lights to follow, but only one Light who saves sinners.
    What too many had already shrugged off in our Savior’s early earthly ministry, what too many still today yawn about as boring and the same old stuff, is the most important power of all. I know, we way something like that every Sunday here. But we do so because the message about the Savior and from the Savior is the way He shines His “light” (v. 16) on sinners. Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Light to show Himself as the Savior, to lead sinners to repent, and to move His people to serve.
       I. To show Him as the Savior

    Before politicians, comedians, and talk show hosts step from backstage and in front of the crowd, someone warms up the audience and then introduces the speaker. Jesus had someone like that. John the Baptist was called by God to show sinners, “We desperately need the Savior! Here He is: this Jesus  of Nazareth is the lamb of God” (John 1:29)!
    But John the Baptist wasn’t able to proclaim that for long. He had been “put in prison” (v. 12) for daring to tell Herod that Herod’s sexual relationship with a woman not his wife was sin. The Baptist’s imprisonment didn’t turn off the Light. It was time for Jesus to begin preaching publicly, “I am the promised Savior!” Did that get Jesus in trouble, too? Was He in danger of prison? Is that why He left southern Israel, “withdrew into Galilee” up north, “and went to live in Capernaum” (v. 13)?
    No! Christ never ran from trouble. He chose Capernaum because it fit perfectly His mission and His message. Jesus hadn’t come to earth to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, to be treated like a celebrity. He came as true God and true man to be, and to show Himself as, the sinner’s only Savior.
    When He went to the “synagogues” (v. 23), Jesus taught His Word to show sinners He fulfills the prophecies He had given His Old Testament prophets about Himself. His message was the same everywhere: The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great Light” (v. 16), “the gospel of the kingdom” (v. 23). When Jesus used His divine power to heal “every disease and every sickness among the people” (v. 23), His purpose was the same as with His preaching and teaching: to show He is the Light of the world, the Savior from the darkness of sin.
    That Christ made Capernaum His headquarters is vital! It was on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was in the area given by Moses to the Israelite tribes “of Zebulun and…Naphtali” (v. 13). It was considered a backcountry region where lower-class Jews lived, near where pagan temples were used, close to Gentiles. And it was, as we heard in today’s First Reading, a place where God foretold the Messiah would come with His saving “Light” (v. 16). In what Jesus said and did, and where He said and did that, He was shining His saving “Light” to show sinners He is the Savior, their Savior.
    That Light is shining on us right here, right now. This isn’t the same old stuff. This is only saving truth and light and life! But at times we treat it like cheap goods at a dollar store. The Light shines on us in every worship service, Meditations devotion, Bible lesson at His school, classes here, private study of Scripture at home. In all that, the “Light” shows He is the world’s Savior. Boring? Never! The “Light” is shining on us!
    II. To lead sinners to repent

    Some people are sensitive to too much light. All people are sensitive to some of what Jesus the “Light” teaches. His truths are essential for all born of man and woman because we sin against Him. We squirm, like insects under a rock when the rock is turned over, under some of His truth. But we need all His truth because Jesus is the Light to lead sinners to repent.
    Jesus made His headquarters in an area inhabited by poor, uninfluential folks. He did so because He didn’t want to seem interested in only the wealthy, the noble, the famous. He came for all people. But spiritually proud people close the eyes of their hearts to the “Light”. Without Jesus, all are “dwelling in darkness; in the region and the shadow of death” (v. 16).
    We know it’s like to be in the dark. But total darkness? Can’t-see-a-thing darkness? Need-to-be-led-by-the-hand darkness? Many in northern Israel had lost worship of the true God by mixing in worship of idols. Many in southern Israel, too, were “dwelling in darkness” by trusting their keeping God’s laws as the reason they should live with God forever.
    That’s what we were like once, too. We were spiritually blind from our conception and birth, “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We were no more able to find our way to heaven than a blind baby could drive to Detroit. We were no more able to make it to heaven than a dead squirrel could pick its squished self off the road and get safely back up a tree.
    Those who refuse to admit they live in spiritual “darkness” and deserve eternal punishment see no need for the “Light”. But children and adults, students and teachers, those living in poverty or prosperity – all who see they were separated from God at birth – take to heart the Word from the “Light” that leads us to repent. The “Light” preached there and then, and preaches here and now, “Repent!” (v. 17)
    True repentance is worked by the Word of God that is His law, His truth that we offend Him by what we say and do and think, and what we leave unsaid and undone and unthought – all that is contrary to His will He gives in His Word. And there’s more to the law. It also hammers us with the truth we deserve to have the Holy God send us off to suffer forsaken and burn bodily forever in hell. Repentance is the terror of realizing we have spit in the face of the Almighty God, the loving Lord.
    That truth would overwhelm us if the “Light” did not shine on us with “the gospel of the kingdom” (v. 23), His truth that He has made the sacrifice to remove our guilt, forgive us, declare us sinners, “Not guilty!” by His work. His “gospel” also delivers the heaven He died and rose to open to us sinners. Repentance includes trusting that glorious truth about the “Light”!
    “Repent,” the Light tells us. “Turn from your sin and turn to your Savior, because the kingdom of heaven is near”. That’s not just where we’ll be forever. The kingdom of heaven is near” us right now, right here. It is the activity of God working in hearts by His truth. His “light…dawned” on us in Baptism and is seen daily in His Word and given regularly in His Supper.
    The “Light” leads us sinners to repent. Not a quick, “I’m sorry, God!” every so often. But daily sorrow that we anger God, and daily trust that we are forgiven by God in Christ and His work.
       III. To move His people to serve
    In other words, the “Light” isn’t something we keep handy so we can turn it on at the moment of death and say, “Take me to heaven, Jesus, because You have led me to trust Your work as my Light of life!” The “Light” is shining on us every second. Jesus is the “Light” to move His people, us!, to serve in joy.
    Consider the four men here, two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. Theologians? Geniuses? Holy men? No, no, and no. Fishermen” (v. 18). Everyday people. Plain folk. The “Light” was shining on them and they basked in the Light who then told them, “Come, follow Me…I will make you fishers of men” (v. 19). This wasn’t the first time Jesus met them. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in southern Israel and declared Him to be the long-promised Savior, Jesus spoke to them there as their “Light” of life.
    When Jesus came to them on the shore of Galilee, their place of business as casting-net “fishermen”, He called them to use the net of His gospel to gather souls. He told them His Word would bring the results, not their background or effort or personality or training. His “Light” about His sacrifice would lead others to trust Him as those first disciples now did. “Then,” Jesus went on, “when I finish My work and return to My heaven, you will tell others My Word about Me and My work for all sinners.” Both sets of brothers left their nets and boats “immediately” (vv. 20,22) and followed Jesus. They trusted Him to provide for them and their families. The “Light” had called them to serve Him, and in doing so to serve others.
    The “Light” is shining on us just as powerfully. Teachers, pastors, parents, and grandparents are ordinary people through whom the “Light” of Christ shines. Christ wants all His people to serve Him by proclaiming His Word of “Light” to others. Are you afraid you won’t know what to say about Him to others? That’s why study of His Word of “Light” never ends until we die. His “gospel” is His net put in our hands and heart and mouth to do the greatest work of all, His “kingdom” work!
    The same old stuff? I suppose, in the sense that God’s Word never changes. But not in the sense that the “Light” loses its luster or power. We can’t turn on the Light; the Light must appear to sinners. As He does, we hear, learn, grow in Him, then go with Him, the sinner’s only “Light” for life and salvation.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday after Epiphany - Baptism of Our Lord - Why Inaugurate a Servant?
  • First Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of Our Lord
    January 15, 2023
    Hymns                        384,   377,   374,   351
    First Lesson              Isaiah 42:1-7
    Psalm                         2
    Second Lesson         Acts 10:34-38
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 3:13-17
    Isaiah 42:1-7
    Why Inaugurate a Servant?
           I. To hear His mission
           II. To heed His manner
    III. To hail His might

    In the name of that Chosen One, Jesus, the Savior, the Light to enlighten us Gentiles, dear fellow redeemed,
    Because it happens every four years, a presidential inauguration isn’t a huge deal to us. We Americans pay far more attention to the months of campaigning and results of the election.
    It was different in Israel. The king’s coronation was a great celebration since it usually happened just once per generation. When Israel welcomed a new king or high priest, there was a public ceremony in the presence of thousands of Jews, highlighted by oil poured on the head of the man being installed to office. That visual ritual was God’s special way to show God’s chosen people, “This man is My choice to be your next king, your new high priest, your respected prophet.”
    We’re still singing Christmas, and now Epiphany, hymns to our newborn King. But here Jesus is called a “servant” (v. 1). Not king, priest, prophet, judge, governor, but “servant”. All three lessons today teach, “God anointed Jesus” (Acts 10:38). What did God anoint Jesus as? Our King who rules us with His Word? Yes! Our High Priest who made the ultimate sacrifice, Himself? Yes! Our Prophet who preaches that He is the Savior? Yes!
    We see the celebration in those prestigious offices. But celebrating a “servant”? The sinful nature inside us mocks the new person of faith inside us, “You inaugurate, you crown, a servant? How foolish!” Well, why do we inaugurate a “servant”? The Triune God answers, “So that you hear His mission, so that you heed His manner, and so that you hail His might!”
    I. To hear His mission

    The actual rite of presidential inauguration is very brief. The president-elect promises to carry out his office to the best of his ability, and to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America. Upon his promise, he is installed to office and is reminded what the president is elected to do.
    Jesus was inaugurated, anointed, not so He could learn His duties, but to remind us what He came to do and still does for us. Why inaugurate a “servant”? To hear His mission, which includes to “be a covenant for the people” (v. 6).
    A covenant is an agreement. God’s “covenant” is His commitment to make sinners His own forever. How wonderful! How did we react? We broke His law! We rebelled against the great and loving Lord who established it! We followed the temptations of the sinful world around us! We told Him, “I don’t want to be Yours all the time! I want to have some fun in life, too!”
    The Lord God didn’t respond to our insolence and defiance by tearing up His “covenant”. Instead, God sent His Son to “be a covenant for the people”. And what a covenant-keeper Christ was for us sinners! He lived every moment in holiness so His holiness might be credited to our account with the holy God. There’s more! Because our sentence of hell had to be paid, He took our hell on His soul as He suffered on His cross at Calvary.
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? To hear that His mission is to “announce a just verdict” (v. 1), to “establish justice” (v. 4). People scream for “justice” to allow people to live sexually in defiance of what God has condemned! People push for “justice” to be done so inconvenient pregnancies can be ended, killing unborn in the womb! None of that is God’s “justice”.
    Justice” is judgment based on a legal decision. God’s legal and judicial decision is, “I declare the world, ‘Not guilty, innocent, holy, and right’ in My sight!” Hold it! Isn’t that twisted justice? We are guilty! Hear the mission of the Servant! Jesus is God’s “chosen one” (v. 1) who gave His life to redeem the world full of sinners. That is divine “justice”!
    Why inaugurate this “servant”? Because His mission gives us life! Not because we made the right new year resolutions, but because He made Himself our “covenant”, He has “opened our blind eyes” (v. 7) to see the way to heaven in Him. Not because we worked hard, but because He is our Savior, we sinners are brought out of our deserved “dungeon” (v. 7), hell.
    II. To heed His manner

    Presidential inauguration ceremonies are dignified affairs. Two years from now our president won’t be haughty at his installation or cocky in his speech. “Here is My servant” (v. 1), God the Father says about God the Son. “Look at Him! Why inaugurate this ‘servant’? So you can heed His manner, the way He carries Himself – not arrogantly, but humbly!”
    How long has Jesus been the Anointed One? From before time began. Seven hundred years before the first Christmas the Father here called the Son, “My servant”. The Messiah who had been doing His work from eternity was publicly anointed as the Messiah when the Baptist poured on His head not expensive olive oil, but muddy Jordan River water. What humility!
    “He will not cry out. He will not raise His voice. He will not make His voice heard in the streets” (v. 2). Jesus doesn’t  boast like an arrogant athlete or scream like an intimidating military man. He quietly preaches His message of salvation, of the forgiveness of sins He wins, of peace with God for sinners.
    Why inaugurate a servant? So we pay attention to His manner! He doesn’t promote Himself, but helps those who need His help. “A bent reed He will not break” (v. 3). Jesus doesn’t pounce on people when they are down, does not take advantage of them when they are distressed and confess their guilt and express their need for His help. A dimly burning wick He will not snuff out” (v. 3). When a sinner’s faith and hope are barely flickering, about to go out, God’s great Servant does not finish them off by gruffly brushing off the repentant. The Servant serves us repentant sinners with what we need: assurance His blood has perfectly covered all our guilt.
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? So we who are served by Him aren’t offended by His manner! In kings of the Old Testament and rulers of other worldly realms we see greed, outward power and pride, ego. But here’s the most important King ever for everyone. How does He come? In humility to serve!
    The Father inaugurates His Son as our “servant” lest, because of His bearing, we miss His blessings. The world looks for flashy status and visible power in those who rule, or try to rule. The eternal plan of God delivers for us the humble Savior who became one of us to win peace and heaven for sinners!
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? To heed, pay attention to, His meek manner. His lowliness on earth isn’t evidence of weakness; it is His way to save us! At His inauguration – and forever – we rejoice that Jesus assumed such humility, even to “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7). And in that humility, in that seeming weakness, Jesus defeated our deadly foe, the devil.
    III. To hail His might
    At inauguration, our presidents are reminded they command the US military. We don’t ask our president to be our nation’s army, but to oversee our country’s military might. When God the Son was inaugurated, anointed by God the Father Himself, He wasn’t asked to oversee anything. Jesus is our strength. Why inaugurate a “servant”? So we hail His might!
    Behold the Trinity! The Father says,  “Here is My servant, My chosen one (the Son) in whom I delight. I am placing My Spirit on Him” (v. 1). At His inauguration we see the Son equipped with the Spirit’s power for His salvation mission.
    Exactly what that power is is described throughout the Word. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the afflicted (Isaiah 61:1). Preaching doesn’t seem like power. But the good news about Jesus “is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). Mightier than an arsenal of atomic bombs is the Spirit working with His Word and through His sacraments! That’s the might the Servant of the Lord uses to give us His victory!
    We inaugurate the governments’ presidents and governors, even the Church’s pastors and teachers and councilmen. We do so to show who has the official authority, the divine call, the ecclesiastical responsibilities. No one has the right to say, “I make myself the mighty one around here!”
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? Throughout the centuries of history, throughout the verses and chapters and books of His Word, throughout the course of His saving work, the Father shows us, “Jesus is My chosen one”. A lot in the world causes skeptics to wonder, “Is everything spinning out of control?” How assuring to hear the One “who creates the heavens…the earth and everything that it produces” (v. 5) say, “Jesus is My Servant on the most vital mission ever! I am well pleased with Him” (Matthew 3:17).
    The world looks for more might than words about forgiveness and “righteousness” (v. 6). Our world wants earthly success, social justice, global peace, and worldly wealth. Jesus doesn’t promise any of that, so the world judges Him to be, at best, an excellent example to follow; at worst, a miserable failure. The problem is the world’s expectations, not the Savior’s power.
    As the Father’s hand-picked choice, Christ’s success was guaranteed even before He began His work. To despairing sinners, Christ accomplishing everything He was sent to do, Christ fulfilling everything promised about Him, Christ forgiving both Jews and “the coastlands” (v. 4), all the world beyond Israel – including Americans, this is God’s might that frees us forever!
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? It is the Father’s way to show His Anointed One to people blinded by earthbound success. In our Baptism God opened the eyes of our heart to see and trust Christ – God’s successful “servant” because He is the heaven-sent Savior.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Epiphany of Our Lord - Epiphany Means the Mystery Has Been Revealed
  • Epiphany of Our Lord
    January 8, 2023
    Hymns                        354,   333,   332
    First Lesson              Isaiah 60:1-6
    Psalm                         72
    Second Lesson         Ephesians 3:2-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 2:1-12
    Epiphany Means the Mystery Has Been Revealed
           I. About the Savior
    II. In the Gospel
             III. Through the Church

    In the name of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow Christmas Christians, still rejoicing in His birth for us,
    The word “mystery” (v. 3) is used twenty times in Paul’s thirteen letters. Six of those twenty are in Ephesians, and four of those six are in this lesson. Clearly, the key thought here is “mystery”. There’s no crime to be solved, money found, or crook caught. But there is the treasure revealed and given, crooks set free. This “mystery” is the mystery of salvation.
    The fun of the last few weeks is over, but the blessings and happiness remain. Oh, you were back to the grind at work or school last week, and the weather was wall-to-wall gloomy. But the blessings and happiness remain because God reveals this “mystery” to us. That’s the theme of Epiphany. Jesus is revealed to Gentiles – not just Jews – as the Savior.
    For most of us, there’ll be nothing new here. But for all of us, there’s salvation renewed here as we gather for the first time in 2023. The Spirit uses His truth to build up our faith by telling us again the “mystery” has been revealed about the Savior, revealed in the gospel, and revealed through the Church. 
    I. About the Savior
    Every time we come here, we get the same message, called here “the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). Really? What’s the mystery? Christ died for us and we sinners are saved! It’s as simple as that! True, the message is so simple you little ones confess it. But it’s also so foolish to logic many learned ones reject it.
    Most of us have had “the mystery of Christ” revealed to us for so long we might lose sight of the miracle about Christ. But recall what we heard fifteen nights ago, fourteen mornings ago. A baby born among animals is also true God? An infant lying in a feed box is the eternal Savior? There’s no way we could figure out on our own “the mystery of Christ”!
    There’s more to the mystery of Christ than the message of God become flesh and born in a stall. Paul described it as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v. 8). This word for “unsearchable” pictures a person trying to track an animal. The person comes upon one set of tracks, then another and another; soon it’s hard to tell which tracks to follow since there are so many. We experience some of that spiritually, and in a good way.
    When we try to list the mysteries we can’t track all the “riches of Christ”. Think of all you’ve learned about Him. Eternally existed. All-knowing. Incarnation. True God and true man. Humbled Himself. Exalted for us. Perfect life. Suffered hell. Vicarious atonement. Rose from death. Descended into hell to proclaim victory. Ascended into heaven. Sits at the right hand of the Father. Rules in us. Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King. Don’t each of those phrases bring to mind still others, many divine tracks to follow? What a rich “mystery” about Christ!
    The mystery of Christ” is revealed to us so we’ll be with God in heaven forever. That is His “eternal purpose” (v. 11) in revealing the mystery of Christ to us. But God making that mystery known to us also has a present, right now!, purpose. We can freely approach God with confidence through faith in Him” (v. 12). Connected to Christ, we don’t have to enter passwords or clear checkpoints to come before God. Jesus opens the way for us to pray to God and receive His gifts. Connected to Christ through faith in Him, we don’t fear God lashing out at us in anger. Jesus has turned God’s anger with us over our sins away from us and onto Himself. In Jesus, the Father makes us His children. That’s the joyous “mystery of Christ”.
    II. In the Gospel
    But before we live in that joy and bask in its warmth, we need to know it. The mystery of God about His Son, our Savior, is revealed in His gospel.
    God reveals it. It’s “the mystery…made known…by revelation (v. 3). Ours is not a man-made religion. All other religious ideas are invented by people. But not the good news about Jesus! The “mystery” about salvation is that God’s Son came from heaven. Man didn’t develop the story of a Savior slain to save. It didn’t evolve as ages passed, with God constantly refining and tweaking it. God wasn’t like kids changing rules of their games as they go along. God revealed His “mystery”.
    God reveals His mystery to us in His good news, reported in His Word and received in His sacraments. We do not find the way to heaven floating in the air, appearing in our dreams, filling us by our feelings, touching us by what we think. The weather and our dreams and feelings and thoughts change all the time. God’s truth doesn’t! The way He reveals His mystery of salvation to us is through His gospel Word and sacraments.
    Before Jesus came, God revealed the “mystery” about His Son mostly among the Jews, the people to whom He sent a steady line of “prophets” (v. 5) to proclaim His promise of the Savior of the world to be born of the Jews. After Jesus completed His work, God revealed His “mystery” about His Son “by the Spirit to His holy apostles” (v. 5) – Paul and Peter, James and John, Andrew and Matthew and more – to both Jews and Gentiles!
    To both Jews and Gentiles! Jews and “Gentile are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the gospel” (v. 6). We take for granted we Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of Christ’s body, sharers of the greatest promise of all. But in the years right after Christ’s work was completed, the idea that Gentiles could eat pork and still enter God’s house, that Gentile males could remain uncircumcised and still be part of God’s family, was thought to be a radical change. But that is what God revealed!
    God reveals His “mystery” in His gospel. Those who claim to see a path to heaven that doesn’t include Jesus, His crude crib, and cursed cross are wrong. Those who say God reveals His truth in His Word, but insist they can live a way other than what God teaches because they really prayed about it and God’s okay with it, are wrong; God will never answer prayers in a way that contradicts His Word. When we claim to know something spiritual, God directs us, “Go to My Word to see what I say! Don’t rely on what you think!” Again in 2023 we’ll never look anywhere other than God’s gospel for God’s assurance that He dwells with us, lives in us, gives heaven to us.
             III. Through the Church
    An entertaining mystery is spoiled if the ending is revealed, well, before the end. This mystery isn’t to entertain, but to save. So, unless this mystery is revealed, is told, it remains a mystery. God reveals His “mystery” through His Church.
    By “the church” (v. 10) God doesn’t mean a building, but people. Not just Spartan fans or Dodge drivers or cat lovers or girls with dark hair. But people who have been brought by the Spirit to trust Jesus as their Savior. One of those people was Paul. We call Paul the greatest missionary in Christian history. He called himself “the very least of all” (v. 8) God’s people.
    For half his adult life, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee. He was violently opposed to Jesus. He was absolutely sure Jesus was a blatant blasphemer to be silenced, not the true Savior to be trusted; and after Jesus died, His followers had to be silenced, too. On a trip to persecute more of Christ’s followers, Paul’s live was changed forever. God stopped Paul literally in Paul’s tracks, and brought Paul into His family of believers in Christ.
    How could a man with that background reveal to others the “mystery” about the Jesus he had hated? That, too, is a mystery! Paul clearly didn’t deserve to do it. But God chose him to do it – after God had called Paul out of the darkness of unbelief and into the wonderful, brilliant light of salvation in Jesus.
    Our stories are no different. Who would have thought God would save us from what we had coming – hell! – after we had slapped God in the face with our unbelief and disobedience? Who would have thought God would sacrifice His Son as the Substitute for every sinner ever? Then who would have thought God would plan to use sinners like you and me to tell others about salvation won by Jesus? Who would have thought this “mystery” would bring spiritual corpses to life? God did! God “did this so that, through the church, the multifacted wisdom of God might now be made known” (v. 10).
    If Paul called himself “the very least of all” God’s people, dare we consider ourselves any better? We receive God’s undeserved forgiveness in Jesus, then repeat the very sins for which we begged God’s eternal pardon! We begin each week confessing we believe in the Triune God, then spend some of the rest of the week living as though there were no God!
    Still we are His “Church”. Still we are His messengers! Still He reveals His mystery in His Word through us. Do you know one who is depressed now that the world’s holidays are over? Tell him of the “mystery” of Christ who saved all! Do you know someone who once rejoiced at the good news of the Savior, but now shrugs it off? Tell her the “mystery” of Christ again!
    Parents and grandparents and young people, right now we are the confessing Christian adults to whom God has entrusted His work of spreading His gospel. What we do with it, how we support it, the extent to which we become involved in it, will have a huge impact on how much of God’s “mystery” our children and grandchildren will have and hold. That’s a wonderful opportunity – and a weighty responsibility!
    Epiphany is more than Magi worshiping infant Jesus. Epiphany means revealing. God reveals His Son as our Savior. God uses us to reveal His Son to others as their Savior, the plan that remains a “mystery” to them until God uses us to tell them. 2023 will be another year of God’s blessings on our work for Him as through His Church – us, we use His tool – the gospel, to reveal His “mystery” – salvation for sinners in Jesus!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Circumcision and Name of Jesus - On the Eighth Day of Christmas My Savior Gave to Me . . .
  • Circumcision and Name of Jesus
    January 1, 2023
    First Lesson              Numbers 6:22-27
    Psalm                         8
    Second Lesson         Galatians 3:23-29
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 2:21
    Luke 2:21
    On the Eighth Day of Christmas My Savior Gave to Me …
       I. … His blood for my redemption
    II. … His name for my confession
    In the name of our Savior, Christmas Christians who begin this year in worship to celebrate His greatest gifts to us,
    Do you know why we celebrated our Savior’s birth last weekend? There was no annual celebration of Jesus’ birth for several centuries after the first Christmas, and the exact month and day of His birth wasn’t – and still isn’t – known. When followers of Jesus chose a date centuries after His birth to celebrate His birth, they picked December 25. It’s a date near the winter solstice when the sun shines slightly longer than it has been shining in the Northern Hemisphere. But that’s about it. Nor is there any solid explanation why Christians chose January 6 to mark the Magi, the first Gentiles, worshiping the newborn Savior.
    But what do you get when you count from December 26 to January 6? 12 days of Christmas! In medieval Europe there were worship services every one of those twelve days. Gifts were given on each of them, too. Sadly, all that most are familiar with is a silly song about twelve days and twelve gifts.
    No reason for choosing the date we celebrate – nor any customs in the way we celebrate – our Savior’s birth changes what happened the first Christmas. And Christmas joy continues in us one week later the same way giving from God continued one week after Christ’s birth. What giving? Joseph and Mary didn’t wake up slowly that morning one week after Mary gave birth and wonder, “What should we do today?” They knew what they’d do on what we call this eighth day of Christmas. What happened is God’s gifts to us this first day of 2023.
    We won’t sing a mind-numbing melody. But we will say, On the eighth day of Christmas my Savior gave to me His blood for my redemption and His name for my confession.
       I. … His blood for my redemption
    “After eight days passed…the child was circumcised” (v. 21). Today, when a son is born, staff in the maternity ward ask the parents if they plan to have him circumcised, have a small piece of skin removed from the baby boy. For us, it’s a curious, optional procedure. For Joseph and Mary, it was entirely a serious, spiritual ceremony for their son, also their Savior, Jesus.
    For them and all Jews, it was a God-commanded rite given to their ancestor Abraham, who didn’t become a father until he was ninety-nine. God told Abraham then, “Every boy among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised…It will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Genesis 17:10-11). Cutting off a tiny piece of skin wasn’t for health or hygiene. It was a visible reminder God would send from Israel the Savior from sin, the Savior no sinner ever deserved. It was a reminder of the best promise ever made. Circumcision also symbolized a sinner’s pledge to cut evil out of his life – a sinner’s Thank You lived to God for promising the Savior.
    For centuries Jewish baby boys had been circumcised on the eighth day, as God commanded. Now Jesus was. But why? He is the promised Savior, true God come to earth. He was already true God and the Savior before He was circumcised. As true God He certainly didn’t need a reminder He is the Savior. He was circumcised because He also became true man for us.
    He is true God, the sinless Savior! He certainly didn’t need that visible reminder to cut sin out of His life. Jesus was circumcised to show He was putting Himself under God’s law as our Substitute to keep God’s law for us and shed His blood for us. Already on the eighth day of His life Jesus gave His blood for us to show His determination to His mission to save us!
    It’s not cute to say On the eighth day of Christmas my Savior gave to me something. It’s God’s truth in God’s Word! Sin defiles us. Its guilt must be removed. Only the shedding of the God-man’s blood removes guilt. Jesus gave His blood for our redemption, to buy us back. He didn’t lounge in luxury at a posh Mediterranean resort with servants waiting on Him until it was time for Him to bleed at the cross and die. Just as important as His Holy Week suffering and death were His previous, precious thirty-three years here living under His own law, including His law that a Jewish baby boy be circumcised on the eighth day of life outside the womb. Our Savior’s circumcision preaches the sermon, “I am going to do it all for you! I am born under the law, in order to redeem you under the law, so that you would be adopted as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
    For those reasons, we believers see January 1st as more than New Year’s Day. We see it as the day Jesus first willingly shed His blood to show He was going to go all the way to redeem us from the guilt of our sins. Ours isn’t a savior who suggests He’s so powerful He doesn’t need to keep the law. Ours is the Savior who leaves no doubt about what He’s done to save us! Already as an eight-day-old infant, already in these first hours of 2023, Jesus is showing us He came for us to redeem us, to buy us back by His blood!
    II. … His name for my confession
    Circumcision wasn’t all there was on the eighth day of the first Christmas. During the circumcision ceremony a Jewish baby boy would be named. Remember Zechariah and Elizabeth? Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, Zechariah wrote during the circumcision ceremony, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). So here. As with Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, so for Joseph and Mary this wasn’t a time when they announced what they had decided to name the child. God made that decision for them. He placed His name on the Child sent for the world, for us! On the eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us also His name for our confession: “Jesus” (v. 21).
    That is a divinely declared name for the Savior. God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Mary the miraculous news that she, a virgin, would conceive the Savior, and the Savior in her womb was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31). When God used an angel to tell Joseph the life-changing news his fiancé was pregnant miraculously from God, the angel told Joseph, too, he was to give the Savior in Mary’s womb “the name Jesus (Matthew 1:21). Though Joseph had nothing to do biologically with the conception of the Savior, as the man of the family he would be the one to declare officially what God had determined eternally. The Savior “was named Jesus.
    That’s a divinely designed name for the Savior. “Jesus” wasn’t chosen because it was popular, but because it confessed salvation. Whenever she was asked, “What’s his name?”, Mary’s answer preached salvation: “Jesus”. Whenever Mary called her son in from playing outside, whenever Joseph called his stepson to supper, the name preached salvation: “Jesus”.
    That name is a Hebrew sentence. In Hebrew, “Jesus” sounds like our name Joshua, and it means exactly what the angel told Joseph, “The Lord saves. He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What a perfect name for that perfect Child, our perfect Savior! Every time the Hebrew name was spoken, it said exactly what the Child had come to earth to do: The Lord saves! “He will save His people from their sins”.
    That’s a divinely directed name for the Savior. Every time we hear and use the name “Jesus” in 2023, we’ll think about what it means and tell others what He’s done. We were drowning in a sea of sin and guilt, headed to hell forever – what we confessed to start this service, to begin this year. But Jesus came to rescue us. Exactly what His name means, we confess to Him and before the world. “Jesus. The Lord saves us sinners!”
    There’s more. In our modern age, when a child is born the baby takes on the family name as a last name. When a sinner is brought to saving trust in Christ – as God did for us in Baptism, the sinner is given the name child of God the Father, of God the Son, and of God the Holy Spirit. We sinners were given God’s uniform as He dressed us in the Savior’s holiness. What a great gift God gave to us – on the eighth day of Christmas!
    And with that gift comes great responsibility. As we hear our Savior given the name “Jesus” today, the Holy Spirit uses His Word to remind us to live like people who belong to Jesus, who believe “Jesus” has saved us from the guilt of our sins. That means cutting off our sins of selfish grabbing and disrespectful talking and filthy thinking and all other sins. That also means putting on the new person of faith in “Jesus”, His name given us for our confessing to the world, “I belong to Him!” Will our confession to the world by our living throughout 2023 glorify Him whose name we carry? Or shame Him? “Jesus!”
    On this day when people start following their resolutions, “Jesus” shows His resolution, His resolve, to be the Savior. On this eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us His blood, and we don’t have to do anything to get on His good side; His mission is to do all that for us. On this eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us His name, “Jesus”, and with it our status with God couldn’t be better. What a God we have, working for us already as an infant! What a God we serve as we rededicate our lives to Him each day, our most important resolution for every moment of 2023! On this eighth day of Christmas – and every day of His mission on earth – Jesus gave us everything we need to be His forever. Because of our Savior-God, 2023 will be a very blessed year!     Amen. 
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Nativity of Our Lord - THIS is CHRISTMAS!
  • The Nativity of Our Lord
    December 25, 2022
    Hymns:   343   -   362   -   363   -   344   -   350   -   331:12-15   -   345
    Luke 2:1-20
      I. Humble deity (vv. 1-7)
         II. Eternal victory (vv. 8-14)
          III. Joyful ministry (vv. 15-20)
    In the name of Jesus Christ, fellow recipients of the greatest Gift ever: He who is born to save us and all sinners,
    The reality is that the world observes several different Christmases. One is the Christmas in which money is spent on gifts for your hairdresser, spouse, parents, and children. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But that’s not Christmas. That should be called Giftsmas, maybe. There’s the Christmas for which businesses close for several days and schools shut down for two weeks to allow loved ones to be together for the holiday. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. But that’s not really Christmas. That’s perhaps Familymas, right? 
    Then, there’s this. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son… ‘Today in the town of David a Savior was born for you; He is Christ the Lord’…When the shepherds had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child” (vv. 7,11,17). This is Christmas, the celebration of Christ come to earth for us.
    Swaddling cloths. Manger. Sheep. Angels. Shepherds. God used those objects and animals as props for the real Christmas, used His heavenly hosts and common shepherd folk as proclaimers of the real Christmas. But the real Christmas is this: the long-awaited Savior is born for us! These next minutes, if we haven’t done so already, we clear our heads of gifts and food, lights and loved ones, parties and plans. We focus on – and delight in – the real Christmas. This is Christmas: humble deity, eternal victory, and joyful ministry.
    I. Humble deity (vv. 1-7)
    Many in Israel had been looking for a physical and political Messiah to make their earthly lives more comfortable by breaking the hold of the hated Romans on them. For centuries most Jews had not been seeking the spiritual Messiah the God of grace had promised. They said, “The Messiah will be born a king! He will help us become a great nation again!”
    People today, too, want to bend the Lord Jesus into their own kind of Messiah. “If He really loved me, He wouldn’t let me suffer so!” is a bitter, cynical view some have at Christmas. “If He really were the Son of God, would He have been born there? Would He have lived in all that poverty?” is an understandable, but still unbelieving view many have at Christmas.
    This is the promised Messiah. “She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7). This is the real Christmas because this is what we need – His humble deity! Jesus didn’t leave heaven and come to earth to sit on a throne and have people wait on Him. He left heaven and was born of a virgin mother to live in humility and serve us sinners with what we need, not necessarily what we want.
    This isn’t a novelty, a baby born among animals. This is humble deity. The One who is truly and powerfully God from forever is also become truly and humbly man. As true man Jesus kept His own laws in our place, perfectly so. As true God His obedience is the power of holiness for every sinner. As true man He suffered hell on the cross as our Substitute, completely condemned for all our sins. As true God His death is the complete payment applied to every sinner’s account. Still, some rip up this Christmas insisting, I don’t need, I don’t want, this Jesus!
    This is Christmas: true God takes on our flesh and blood in one person. This is Christmas: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is Christmas: true God comes in humility for us. Hymn 344 captures that real Christmas truth, asking – and answering! – the question about the Child who is God and man in one person. We sing What Child Is This.
         II. Eternal victory (vv. 8-14)
    Some of us remember the song Snoopy and the Red Baron from December 1966. But what Christmas bells, those Christmas bells have to do with fierce World War II air battles is beyond me. With no apologies to the Royal Guardsmen who recorded that song, and with every desire to get Christmas right, we turn again to God’s Word. “Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind” (vv. 11,14). This is Christmas: eternal victory!
    Christmas is the Savior born to us, the Savior we desperately need. We love to call Jesus our Savior. But we must also realize what we are calling ourselves when we call Jesus our Savior. We are confessing, I need to be saved! The real Christmas is right only if also admit the real crisis. I am a sinner who angers the holy God every day. I deserve His punishment forever for my every sin. I can’t pretend God hasn’t seen all my sins.
    What are we going to do about that ugly truth that threatens to ruin this glorious Christmas morning? We can’t do anything to cover our sins, remove our guilt, pay for a portion of our trespasses. That’s why Jesus is born for us: the Savior, Christ the Lord”. His perfect life for thirty-three years is credited by Him as our holiness. His sacrificial death Good Friday is counted by Him as our payment. His mighty resurrection from death is His guarantee we will rise from our graves.
    This is Christmas: the Savior is born for us, the Savior we trust for our eternal victory. He knows as an infant what will happen to Him for us on that altar, and still He comes to win our victory forever! He commits His life on earth to walk right into the worst anyone ever endured – hell, forsaken by His Father there, so we will have the victory with Him in heaven forever! He lives His love for those who rebel against Him every day so there is “peace on earth”. That’s not between nations; war will be waged somewhere right up to the Last Day. But there is “peace on earth” for us sinners with the holy God in Him.
    This is Christmas: the victory is won for us sinners by our Savior, the victory that has unendingly blessed results. We sing the triumph song about the real Christmas with the words of Hymn 350, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
    III. Joyful ministry (vv. 15-20)
    For many this season’s good feeling fades once work resumes and school reopens, when loved ones leave town and decorations come down. Can’t this day’s, this week’s, this season’s joy last? Not if it’s just a feeling. But it’s not just a feeling. This is Christmas: “When they had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child…Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (vv. 17,19). This is Christmas: joyful ministry!
    The shepherds didn’t shrug off the angels’ message. They didn’t see it as an intrusion on their work or lives to go to the little town of Bethlehem, to see what God had used His angels to tell them about “Christ the Lord” come as a baby and lying in a manger. Astounded by the news from heaven about the Gift from heaven, they left their flocks, their business, their earthly livelihood. “We have to see Him! Let’s go (v. 15)!”
    Did they go because they were curious? Or faithful? We’re not told what they thought as they “hurried” (v. 16) to town. But we are told what filled them after they had gone to Bethlehem, had seen the Savior, had worshiped Him. They told others the message they had been told about this child” (v. 17).
    What Mary did was similar. She meditated on what God had used His prophets to foretell about the Messiah whom God had now sent to the world from her womb! The real Christmas filled the Savior’s mother, like those ordinary shepherds, with “the good news of great joy…for all people” (v. 10).
    How do we keep Christmas going all year long? This Christmas keeps going as we keep going to the message about the Savior and keep going with His message to the world. That’s our joyful ministry, just as it was for Mary and the shepherds.
    Ministry means service. The Savior’s people serve Him and others by bringing His harsh news about our sin and His great news about His work to souls bought by His blood. Not just called workers, but all Christmas Christians carry out His joyful ministry, doing so in the spirit of Mary and the shepherds.
    When the holidays are done what will our children and grandchildren be talking about and rejoicing in most? Things they got for Christmas? Or the Savior come to earth for them and all sinners to save them and all sinners? The real Christmas is what God wants discussed most at home. That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens by doing what the shepherds and Mary did: going to the Word, even at home – taking it to heart and rejoicing in what God has sent us in Jesus. Parents, that is your most joyful ministry, most joyful service, and most joyful work for the Savior and to your children!
    We’re not going to get the world to stop calling Christmas all sorts of customs and celebrations this time of year that have nothing to do with “Christ the Lord”, Jesus, our “Savior”. We Christmas Christians can, and do!, enjoy our customs and gifts and meals and celebrations with loved ones this time of year. But we put none of that above the real Christmas!
    This is Christmas! The deity of God come in such humility. The eternal victory over sin and death and Satan and hell won by the Son of God come to earth for us. The joyful ministry God gives us all to ponder on our own and tell the world of the only Savior for sinners. No one can take the joy of the real Christmas from us. Nothing dims the real Christmas in our hearts.
    Oh, and the real Christmas season isn’t almost over, it’s only last night begun! We’ll be here twice next weekend as real Christmas Christians to hear more about the life we live because of the Gift, and His gifts!, we’ve been given. Christmas Christians put the Christmas Savior and worship of Him first all year long and in everything. And Christmas Christians tell others, “This is the real Christmas: the Savior is born for us!” This is Christmas – and it never ends!      Amen.
    Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
    As we remain standing we sing part of Luther’s great Christmas Hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”, Hymn 331, stanzas 12-15
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday in Advent - The Lord Himself Gives Us His Sign
  • Fourth Sunday in Advent
    December 18, 2022
    Hymns                        305,   327,   328,   313
    First Lesson              Isaiah 7:10-14
    Psalm                         89
    Second Lesson         Romans 1:1-7
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 1:18-25
    Isaiah 7:10-14
    The Lord Himself Gives Us His Sign
        I. About His faithfulness
    II. About His greatness
    In the name of our coming Savior, Jesus, fellow redeemed,
    Ralph fell through the ice on a large lake and was holding on to a small section of floating ice. But that ice was breaking and Ralph would drown if not rescued soon. He hollered in prayer, “Help me, Lord!” A guy crept out on the ice to slide him an innertube, but Ralph wouldn’t let go of the ice floe to take the tube. Next came a snowmobiler who tossed him a rope, but Ralph wouldn’t let go of the ice to grab the rope. Finally a helicopter hovered over him and dropped a ladder, but Ralph wouldn’t reach for that, either. A little later Ralph drowned. You know the joke’s punch line. As Ralph’s soul was taken by God he asked, “Lord, why didn’t You help me?” The Lord replied, “I sent you an innertube, a rope, and a helicopter!”
    The last verse of this lesson is a familiar, cherished prophecy about the Savior. It was spoken as the word of the Lord to King Ahaz – not Ahab, but Ahaz. These words, though, are more than a wonderful promise of the Savior. The Lord Himself will give a sign for all of you” (v. 14). That was both good news and bad news. The good news was about the Savior. The promise would be perfectly fulfilled. The bad news is that, like drowning Ralph, King Ahaz had rejected God’s help. Thus, this “sign” would mean judgment for Ahaz. More about that later.
    For now, a question as we worship for the final time before the real Christmas begins. Do we look for the sign God gives us, or for other signs? To people who prepare to celebrate the Lord coming to earth in Bethlehem and who anticipate the Lord returning on the Last Day, the Lord says, “I Myself give you My sign about My faithfulness and about My greatness.”
       I. About His faithfulness
    Ahaz was a disaster as ruler of Israel. He was so immersed in idol worship that he sacrificed “his sons in the fire” (2 Chronicles 28:3)!, removed furnishings from – and locked the doors of – God’s temple at Jerusalem!, and “made altars for himself in every corner” (2 Chronicles 28:24) of the holy city! When God sought to humble Ahaz and lead him to repent, Ahaz turned not to God but to the nation of Assyria for help. At the time of our lesson Ahaz and the Jews were about to be invaded. God would not let the nation He had chosen from which the Savior would come to be wiped out. God sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz, “The invasion won’t destroy the nation. But if you, Ahaz, don’t trust God, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).
    To assure Ahaz of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises, God invited Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from Me, the Lord your God (v. 11), and I’ll give that sign to you as a pledge that Israel won’t be destroyed in the next battle!” What an offer to a king who had rejected God! What sign did Ahaz request from God? None! His reply sounds so pious. “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord” (v. 12). It’s not testing God to take Him at His Word.  Ahaz was so full of himself that he insisted, “I’ll fight this trouble on my own. I don’t want You, God! I don’t need You, God!”
    This lesson doesn’t seem very Adventish or Christmasy, does it? But when we look closely we see God’s faithfulness extended to wicked sinners in their unfaithfulness! That is Advent and Christmas and the history of the world!
    God didn’t withdraw His promise to deliver Israel. He told Ahaz, “You are going to get a sign, whether you want one or not!” Ahaz rejected God’s offer, so God’s “sign” was no longer a promise to help Ahaz. It was now a sign of God’s judgment on Ahaz. God had Isaiah tell Ahaz, “Is it not enough for you to test the patience of men? Will you test the patience of my God as well” (v. 14)? The sign was, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel” (v. 14).
    That sign is good news of great joy for all people. But to Ahaz it was not. “Ahaz, God Himself gives you this sign as judgment on your unbelief. The eternal God will take on human flesh and be born of a Jewish virgin. But He will be born in a downtrodden nation. The royal line of your family will have long since ended. Israel will have no earthly king when this child is born. At that time Israel will be subject to other nations.” And that happened, right?! Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus and the Romans controlled Israel.
    God is faithful. His Christmas fulfillment of His Advent prophecies proves His unfailing faithfulness. “The Lord Himself has given us, too, His sign”. The Savior promised is the Savior delivered!
    We are led by Satan to seek other signs of God’s love, signs which God has not sent. Satan tells us to listen for a voice in the air or count on a dream at night. Then, when such signs don’t come, the devil wants us to slander God, give up on Him, assume He has forgotten us.
    We too often seek the wrong kinds of signs. God gives us His signs in His Gospel Word and Sacraments. There is the washing of rebirth! Here is the message we are forgiven by the work of the Son! There God connects us communicants to Himself as we receive the very body and blood born there and hung there and risen from death! Here God connects us to the manger in Bethlehem and the cross at Calvary and the open tomb – and all the blessings He won in those places for us. 
    Many despise those signs, doubt their power, neglect their use. When the Lord Himself directs us to use His “sign” of His faithfulness, do we tell Him, “I will not”? Do we insist on doing things our way and shoving aside God’s faithful salvation? We’ve done that, haven’t we? We repent of that, seeking forgiveness from Him in the Savior who won forgiveness for all!
    What are we hoping to get yet this week before Christmas? Snow or music to get us in a so-called Christmas spirit? We can’t do any better than this: “The Lord Himself has given His sign for all of you” in His Gospel. We use what He Himself has given us about His faithfulness, and from His faithfulness!
    II. About His greatness
    These wonderful words about a virgin conceiving and giving birth to Him who is the Son of God, God with us, seem to demand a Christmas message even though Christmas doesn’t start until Saturday night. Are these words a few days early? Not really. Every day is Christmas and Good Friday and Easter for the believer, even this Advent Sunday. But we’ll back in God’s house Saturday night and next Sunday morning, right? Why would we want to miss out on any of what we get from the Lord Himself in His “sign” about His greatness?
    God’s greatness is evident in the “virgin” (v. 14) birth. Was Mary really a virgin? The Hebrew word means either “virgin”, or a young woman who’s old enough to marry and who might have had sexual relations before marriage. But would it be a miraculous “sign” from God that a young, unmarried woman who had been sexually active was pregnant? No. And if Mary were pregnant in the normal way, would her son be any different than any other person – sinful from conception and birth? No. God’s “sign” included telling Joseph he should not be alarmed about his fiancée’s pregnancy and that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. This was a miraculous conception “from the Holy Spirit”, a miracle “to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son’” (Matthew 1:20-23).
    This is a sign of God’s greatness. God Himself would come to earth. “Immanuel” (v. 14), three short Hebrew words rolled into one divine title, says it all: God with us. What a gift from God’s greatness to fallen, condemned mankind!
    In what way is God with us? We don’t have the rest of the day to spend here examining all the ways. But a few for us for now and until Saturday night. God is with us to see us through struggles and to hold us up during difficulties. God is with us as the Son of God come in the flesh to take on our human nature for His mission to live a holy life for people who ruin themselves with sin and to suffer hell for us who deserve to burn there forever. God is with us as the all-knowing God who hears our angry words and knows our dirty thoughts and sees our selfish acts – and forgives our every sin. What a gift we were given when the Lord Himself decided to give us His “sign”, this “sign”, and more than just a sign – the very Savior!
    “The Lord Himself will give a sign for all of you” about His unequaled greatness. We haven’t seen God with our physical eyes. But in Jesus we see God’s greatness displayed in His every miracle. We aren’t able to know the mind of God. But in Jesus and His Word we know what God thinks and plans and desires and says and does. We haven’t yet been to heaven. But in Jesus we have the kingdom of heaven reigning in our hearts. What a “sign” of His greatness among us!
    This is the “sign”, the promise. We live after the promise was perfectly fulfilled. What God promised to Ahaz through Isaiah is the way God deals with every sinner. God is patient, persistent, faithful to His plan. Not just Ahaz – or just Joseph or Mary or people of Bible times – but also you and I have been given by God His “sign”. Unlike Ahaz, we don’t turn away in unbelief. Rather, we praise God for it and will return in faith-filled joy to His house as we go in spirit to Bethlehem Saturday night and next Sunday morning to adore Him for what He has done for us in His faithfulness and His greatness to save us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday in Advent - Be Patient - or Perish!
  • Third Sunday in Advent
    December 11, 2022
    Hymns                        307,   324,   519
    First Lesson              Isaiah 35:1-10
    Psalm                         146
    Second Lesson         James 5:7-11
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 11:2
    James 5:7-11
    Be Patient – or Perish!
    I. As we wait for our coming Lord
      II. As we live in the corrupted world
    In the name of Jesus, who came to earth to redeem us, who comes in His Word and Sacraments to give Himself to us, and who will come again to take us to heaven, fellow redeemed,
    “Be patient,” a rider in the front seat tells the driver fuming as construction constricts traffic. “Be patient,” the heart doctor tells the bed-ridden patient wanting to go home. “Be patient,” parents will tell children eager to open presents in two weeks. 
    Be patient, (v. 7) the Lord tells His people who despair when so much seems to be going so wrong. But that’s not just something said from heaven to calm, comfort, or correct us. The divine truth by which God’s children live centers on the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem and His return on the Last Day. Until that last great day dawns, He tells us to “be patient” for Him to come, or we will perish from pursuing false hopes.
    It is not a spouse or doctor or parent. It is the Lord God Himself who teaches us to be patient” as we wait for our coming Lord and as we live in the corrupted world.
    I. As we wait for our coming Lord

    We hate to wait. We hate to wait for websites to load, for ads to end and the movie on TV to resume, for the Christmas party in the classroom to start on Friday. We expect instant satisfaction, want the item ordered today to have arrived yesterday.
    Doesn’t impatience infect our spiritual lives, too? The children of Israel hated the wait for Moses at Sinai, so they made gods of gold and worshiped them instead of the God who had delivered them from Egypt and was feeding them every day. They weren’t patient with God – and thus deserved to perish forever at the hand of God. It’s just as bad with us! Who here has not wondered, “God, are You still in control? And if You are, what’s going on?! Why does all this evil happen? Are You really running the universe? Then what are you waiting for?” We hate to wait, even – maybe especially – for the Lord!
    We hate to wait. But how good God is – and how blessed we are – that God has been “patient” with us. He is not the God who simply tells us, Be patient”! He is the God whose plan to save us centers on His patient dealings with the fallen world.
    Six thousand years ago God created everything in six twenty-four hour days and made everything absolutely perfect. But some of His created angels rebelled. Then the chief rebel led our first parents to rebel against the only command God had given. Eve and Adam ate fruit from the only tree that was off limits to them. Thus, God’s perfect world was ruined. How did God react? In impatient anger to destroy in a second all He had made? No! With a patient promise to save sinful mankind.
    Israel, God’s chosen nation, repeatedly rebelled against the Lord. They broke His laws despite Him appearing often among them. How did God react? In impatient wrath to wipe out His special people? No! With patient resolve to preserve the family line from which Jesus would be born to rescue the world.
    We say great things about God and how important He is to us. Then we turn around and make money more important than Him, misuse His holy name with our O my Gods, ignore His Word, mock His representatives placed over us, seethe in bitterness about others, pollute our hearts with dirty thoughts, steal from God by wasting what He’s given us, harm the reputation of others with our gossip and lies, greedily covet what God hasn’t given us. Are we any less guilty than Adam and Eve and Israel? How does God react with us? In impatient fury to send us to hell on the spot when we sin? Clearly, no! We’re still here. In patient faithfulness to forgive us in His Son.
    God’s faithfulness flows to us in what Lutherans call God’s Means of Grace, the ways He brings the good news of Jesus to us. Many of us received His patience first at the tender age of just weeks old in the washing of Baptism. All of us are covered by His patience given in the Word we hear weekly here and read daily at home. We communicants get a wonderful dose of His patience in the Sacrament He prepares for us today.
    When the Lord’s patience with us sinners is our strength, it’s easier to “be patient” for the Last Day. An example. “See how the farmer waits for the valuable harvest from the ground, patiently waiting for it, until it receives the early and late rain” (v. 7). Farmers know you can’t rush the crops, and that there are no shortcuts to the harvest. More important, we are “patient…because the coming of the Lord is near” (v. 8).
    A person’s lifetime is the only opportunity to repent and be restored to the Father’s family. So the Lord waits to allow more people to repent, be brought to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness and salvation. He waited for His work to be done in us! Should we now be impatient with Him? No! Rather, we will continue to be diligent in His kingdom work until He returns!
      II. As we live in the corrupted world
    Some say patience is weakness. He’s not doing anything because he’s afraid! Real patience is not weak. The idea behind patience is putting up with a lot without rashly striking out. Patience isn’t weakness. Patience is a fruit of faith in Christ who went willing to the cross for us! God says, Be patient – or perish!” We are patient as we live in the corrupted world.
    Some suppose the best way to “be patient until the coming of the Lord” is to forsake society and live in isolation with no distractions. But that isn’t what God says. The Spirit had James write to believers about being “patient” as they lived among people, even when people made their life messy or miserable.
    The first readers of this letter had been afflicted by wrongdoers and oppressed by the wicked. Such mistreatment caused God’s people to wonder, “Where are you, Lord? When are you coming to bring an end to this evil?!”
    How about in our world, our congregation? Christ’s congregations weren’t immune to trouble then, and they aren’t now. We, too, are tempted to “complain about one another” (v. 9).
    That shouldn’t happen, but it does. Tough times sometimes bring constant complaints. We try to bite our tongue when we’ve been wronged – or think we’ve been wronged! But frustration and irritation build up inside, then a slight comment or look or action ignites our bitter, bottled-up emotions. And our spouse or children or parents or friends or fellow members, people who deserve our courtesy and cooperation and respect and trust at least as much as do the people who’ve hurt us, bear the brunt of it! That should not be! Be patient with each other and don’t complain about one another”.
    It's hard to bear up under the blows of life when we feel bruises. That’s why God tells us to strengthen our hearts” (v. 8) by His Word until He returns. When Jesus comes back He will take us from earth’s little while of sorrow to heaven’s eternal life of joy. Growing in knowing God’s will makes the Christian’s patience more than silent suffering in trouble, but also living in saving certainty of His return. Until then He gives us His strength in His Word to endure and not grumble so much. When He says, “You are forgiven in Me!”, we have the Savior’s power to stop snapping at others.
    We are not the first God has told, Be patient as you live in the corrupted world.” And now to us God says, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of suffering with patient endurance (v. 10). Follow the way they lived in this corrupted world! Prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others.” And what about “Job” (v. 11)? He was not perfectly “patient”; read Job Chapters 3 to 41. But his was a life of “patient endurance” (v. 11). He held up under the heaviest blows life in this corrupted world could deal a person without losing his trust in the Lord. Though Job suffered, questioned, and wondered, he still trusted the Lord even when he couldn’t understand the Lord’s ways.
    We won’t endure anything like those Old Testament believers did. We should “be patient” as they were, lest we perish in this corrupted world. We should see, like they did, “what the Lord did in the end, because the Lord is especially compassionate and merciful” (v. 11). But sadly, when the going gets especially rough and especially with our loved ones or fellow members – those who are near us most often – we find reasons to “complain”. That doesn’t excuse it, but it happens.
    In those situations and into this corrupted world Christ came. When they threw insults at Him, He didn’t fire back. While He suffered, He didn’t spit and sputter threats at those who slapped and nailed Him. He was “patient” when His first disciples were slow to understand His teachings. And He is patient with us when we find fault so easily in others, but somehow can’t see anything in ourselves to criticize or change.
    Be patient” – or perish in this corrupted world. That patience isn’t anything we dig deep to find. It’s found in the Savior, the sinless one who endured hell for sinners. He turns our hearts to His coming again. When He allows the blows of affliction to fall on us, His goal is not to see how we will react; He already knows. His goal is always to have us look more eagerly for His return – and until then lean more certainly on His redemption.
    In those great acts we see history’s crowning events. In those great acts we understand “what the Lord did”, brought about the salvation of every sinner. Our goal isn’t an early New Year’s resolution to “be patient’. Our goal from God is to put on His patience with us as we live in this corrupt world and as we wait for Him to come back on the Last Day.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday in Advent - Who Are You Rooted In?
  • Second Sunday in Advent
    December 4, 2022
    Hymns                        321,   316,   312,   304
    First Lesson              Isaiah 11:1-10
    Psalm                         130
    Second Lesson         Romans 15:4-13
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 3:1-12
    Romans 15:4-13
    Who Are You Rooted In?
      I. The God who deserves all glory from us
     II. The God who gives great blessings to us
    In the name of Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, fellow sinners redeemed by the saving flood of His blood,
    “Who are you rooting for?” Watching sports – or even reality shows, I suppose – on TV we sometimes ask or are asked, “Who are you rooting for?”
    Have we ever asked or been asked, “Who are you rooted in?” Probably not. But we should! We should ask ourselves in personal devotions, ask our neighbor if we don’t know what her answer will be, ask our loved ones, “Who are you rooted in?”
    This lesson refers to “a Root” (v. 12), as the Holy Spirit had the Apostle Paul quote Chapter 11, verse 10 of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s book and today’s First Reading. This root doesn’t clog sewer lines to cause messy, smelly backups. This root doesn’t protrude from the lawn to nick a mower blade or trip a toddler. Should we chop this Root up? Cut it out? Curse its existence? Is this Root a frustrating nuisance? Never!
    This is the “Root of Jesse” (v. 12). This Root is Jesus, the Savior who came from Jesse, as promised in Isaiah. This Root bears much wonderful fruit. We are that fruit because we are connected to that Root who said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). Who are we rooted in? Christ Jesus. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is God who deserves all glory from us and who gives great blessings to us.
      I. The God who deserves all glory from us
    There are thousands of religious ideas in the world. Some shout, We alone are right! More insist, No one can say for sure what’s right and what’s wrong. A person decides what is truth for him, which might not be truth for her, them, or anyone else.
    What about that, fellow shoots from the “Root of Jesse”, believers in the Savior? Is there any absolute religious truth? Is anyone’s teaching perfectly correct? When we get to the Root of the matter, when we listen to the words and study the earthly life of the Root of Jesse, Christ Jesus, we are convinced He is the Truth and His every Word is the truth.
    Jesus came not just to be seen – as though He were a walking, talking brilliant jewel or shiny new car or pretty tree. He came to work for the world! Then, after His living and dying, preaching and teaching, performing miracles and enduring hell, rising from death to prove He is indeed the Son of God and that His sacrifice has paid for all sins, Jesus instructed His followers of all time, 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). That’s how the holy God connected us sinners to Jesus, the Root, the only Savior!
    Then, in the next breath, the ascending-into-heaven Jesus said, “and by teaching them to keep all the teachings I have given you (Matthew 28:20). Not, “Pay attention to most of what I’ve taught you.” Not, “Teach the things I taught you if you agree with those teachings.” But “teach all the teachings I have given you”. We delight to be rooted in Christ, right? So we are delighted to be united in all His truth!
    Do those who claim to be rooted in God “glorify” Him by thinking, We decide what is truth!? Do those who claim to be rooted in God “glorify” Him by ripping verses or chapters from His Word when those verses or chapters don’t fit their views? No! May God…grant that you agree with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that with one mind, in one voice, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 5-6).
    The ”Root of Jesse” comes in His Word to unite us to Him, to root us in Him. But He does so on His terms, not ours. He unites us to Him to His glory and for our good, not our convenience. The Christians in Rome who first read this letter were troubled by a split in their church. Jews who trusted Jesus thought they were better believers than Gentile converts to faith in Jesus. God wanted those Jews and Gentiles to “glorify” Him together. After all, they were all shoots from the same Root. “Rejoice, Gentiles, with the Jews…On Him Jews and Gentiles will place their hope” (vv. 10,12).
    We don’t have Jew-vs-Gentile tension here. But God-glorifying unity is always attacked by Satan. We fight the devil. We won’t pollute God’s glory by agreeing all religions have legitimate ways to heaven. The only way is to be rooted in the only Savior through faith in Him. God deserves all the glory from us since He’s done everything to bless us and save us. He desires we “glorify” Him as we stand united on His Word. As shoots from the Root of Jesse, we who are rooted in Him, who are connected by God-given trust to Jesus, put His Word – all of it – into practice in every area of life. We “glorify” God His way.
    II. The God who gives great blessings to us
    Roots spread. Grass roots grow into gardens where you don’t want grass. Shrubs send suckers under the fence where your neighbors don’t want them. Spreading roots can be bad news.
    But it’s never bad news when the “Root of Jesse”, Christ Jesus, spreads and grows and takes root and produces fruit in more and more hearts and lives. Who are we rooted in? The God who deserves all glory from us because He is the God who spreads His wealth to give great blessings to us.
    We mentioned tension between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church. Many Jews thought keeping Old Testament laws about sacrifices and ceremonies made them closer to God than Gentiles who didn’t. But those Jews were wrong. “Christ became a servant of the Jews to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (v. 8). What does that mean?
    In the centuries before the first Christmas, God promised “the patriarchs” – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Savior would come from their descendants. God gave their descendants, the Jews, lots of laws and certain ceremonies to picture the Messiah promised to “the patriarchs”. Then, when Jesus came, sinners would recognize Him from all that had been foretold about Him. When Jesus finished His work, those laws and ceremonies were no longer needed. So those who said those laws and ceremonies had to be kept after Christ were wrong. Jesus, the fulfillment of those sacrifices and ceremonies, had come! That’s why God used five passages from Old Testament Jewish prophets in this New Testament letter to show Gentiles and Jews both have been blessed by God with the same Savior, that even in Old Testament Israel God had promised the Savior for the Gentiles’ blessings, too.
    The truth is that God doesn’t accept any imperfect keeping of any of His laws as any payment for any of our sins. The truth is that sinners can’t offer God anything to pay for even one sin. The truth is that God saved sinners, all of whom deserve hell, by the work of the “Root of Jesse”. Trusting Him is the way to life. Since all that is true, God teaches, Accept one another as Christ also accepted you” – notice, not, “As you accepted Christ”, but “as Christ accepted you” (v. 7). We don’t let grudges fester in His family. We “accept one another” as fellow shoots from the “Root of Jesse” who has given us the greatest blessings: forgiveness, faith, salvation!
    Newspaper ads and TV spots the next three weeks will wish us all the joy of the season. But what is the joy of the season? Strolling in a soft snowfall? Getting a new toy or expensive shoes or video games? None of that gives real joy.
    This is real joy. May the God of hope fill you with complete joy…as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v. 13). The joy of this – and every – season is that the “Root of Jesse”, the One born in an animals’ rest area and crucified on a cursed cross, is our Savior. Sinners who are bound for hell because of their guilt are handed in Bethlehem and Jerusalem the greatest Gift, the best Blessing, of all. That is “joy” to – and for – the world!
    There’s more. May the God of hope fill you with complete… peace as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope” (v. 13). What is this peace? A cease fire between Russia and Ukraine? Helping the homeless this month? Resolving conflict in our family? That would be great. But would any of that do any of us or any people in the world any eternal good?
    The peace of which the Christmas angels sang is only in the work done by, and the blessings spreading from, the “Root of Jesse”. True peace comes “by the power of the Holy Spirit” who leads us “to believe” the “Root of Jesse” is the Savior. True peace comes when God fills us with the faith that in the Son the Father no longer holds our sins against us. True peace is going to bed each evening and rising from sleep each morning confident we are members of the greatest family in the world: God’s family through being rooted in Christ. Joy and peace” in Jesus are the greatest blessings from God!
    Advent preparation for Christ’s birth and His return includes honest evaluation of our hearts. A great battle still rages there. Satan was defeated at the cross, so he’s lost the war to control the world. But he still wants to win your soul and mine. Who’s winning the battle for our souls right now?
    The answer depends on the one in whom we’re rooted right now. Too many are rooted in the feel-good god of this age who wants sinners to suppose doing more good than bad will lead to heaven. Or trusting any god will do to get a person to a good life after this. Or no god is needed at all because there isn’t any life after this. Those are the most dangerous lies in the universe because they lead those who cling to them to hell with Satan forever. But we are rooted in the “Root of Jesse”, Christ Jesus. He was born in humility for us, lived in perfect obedience for us, died on the tree for us, then rose to tell us, “You are Mine forever!” Who are we rooted in? By God’s grace and His greatest blessings, we are rooted in the “Root of Jesse”! We glorify God for that with all our lives.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday in Advent - Our New Church Year Resolution: Walk in the Light of the Lord
  • First Sunday in Advent
    November 27, 2022
    Hymns                        301,   548,   309
    First Lesson              Isaiah 2:1-5
    Psalm                         24
    Second Lesson         Philippians 4:4-7
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 21:1-11
    Isaiah 2:1-5
    Our New Church Year Resolution: Walk in the Light of the Lord
        I. A message intended for all
    II. A message needed by all
    In the name of Jesus, who came once to save the world, who will come again to judge the world, and who comes in His Word of Light each day to the world, Advent worshipers,
    We take light for granted, until intense lightning or strong winds knock out the power. Then, when power is restored, we rejoice. Those who’ve been in the dark won’t choose to go for hours, days, weeks, months, or years without light, right?
    That’s God’s lesson here. Of course, it’s not about keeping electricity flowing. The people to whom the Old Testament prophet Isaiah preached had no idea about power lines or light bulbs. God says here, “Keep walking in My spiritual light!”
    As we’ve already noted we enter a new church year today. How fitting that God gives us here the perfect new church year resolution: “Walk in the light of the Lord” (v. 5).
    And how blessed we’ll be to keep that resolution! “Walk in the light of the Lord” helps us prepare for the coming of Christ on the Last Day. “Walk in the light of the Lord” guides everything we people of God will do throughout the church year beginning today. And it’s not as though we can choose either to “walk in the light of the Lord”, or not, and still be okay with God. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” is a message intended for all people and is a message needed by all people.
      I. A message intended for all
    Well, of course it’s for all people, preacher. That’s obvious! It wasn’t so obvious, and certainly not accepted, when Isaiah served as God’s prophet in the 700s BC. The people of Israel to whom Isaiah preached presumed their identity as God’s chosen nation meant they alone were guaranteed always to have God’s “light”. But in Isaiah’s day, the Israelites were straying and decaying spiritually. In verses just before this God had Isaiah compare them to “Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9). Whoa! Was there any hope for Israel then?
    “This will take place in the latter days: The mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it like a river” (v. 2). What was, what still is, “the mountain of the Lord’s house”? Not any terrain or building, but all God’s faithful people. And when are “the latter days”? In the Old Testament that phrase always refers to the days between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ. So today is included in “the latter days”.
    Whenever God’s faithful people gather around His saving Word is when “the Lord’s house is raised above the hills”. The people of Isaiah’s day would have associated that with the holy hill in Jerusalem where God had His temple built. The faithful after our Savior’s ascension would have associated that with the hill just beyond the temple where God gave Himself for all sinners. It’s also God’s way to say His Light lasts forever, long after all the lies of all false religions are burned up on the Last Day. God’s Word is the truth, far above all well-meaning, but still false, teachings that we are free to adopt our own values to fit our situations and lives. God’s good news is centered on the sacrifice made by Christ when He came the first time. What a perfect new church year resolution for God to set for His people: “Walk in the light of the Lord”!
    The Old Testament children of Israel were chosen by God to receive His Word in a special way for a special reason: from them the Savior for all the world would come. But “in the latter days”, the time from Jesus on earth until Jesus returns from heaven, the Word of God goes out to all the world. “All nations…many peoples” (vv. 2-3) walk in the light of the Lord. We American believers are blessedly among them.
    But even before the Savior was born, His Word was spread beyond the Jews, right? Didn’t Moses proclaim it to Pharaoh’s court in Egypt? Didn’t Jonah teach it to heathens in Nineveh? Didn’t Daniel confess it in Babylon, as we began studying in Bible Class today? God’s Word is revealed widely to all “nations”. We give thanks to God we are among that “many”!
    What a blessed note on which to enter the new church year! “Let us walk in the light of the Lord”! God’s message is intended for all, not a privileged few. We thank God for that! Had He given His truth only to Israel, we’d still be stumbling in darkness far worse than a power outage. We’d be headed to hell in unbelief. Thanks to the gracious God, we have His truth, His “light”, His life in Christ who took our guilt on Himself, and thus from us!, by His sacrifice at Calvary. Now, in daily living thanks to Him, we walk in the light of the Lord. We walk in the path of His work and of His Word in everything! And in daily living thanks to Him, we give His saving Word to friends and loved ones, to neighbors and classmates who are not yet walking in the light of the Lord. His light is intended for all people!
    II. A message needed by all
    A decent salesperson won’t try to sell you on his company’s product with, “We intend all people have this gadget!” You’d reply, “No thank you! I’m doing just fine without it!” God isn’t a salesman. He is the Savior. God isn’t content to say, “Walk in My light because I intend it for all.” He adds, “You need My light! Resolve to walk in My light because without My light there is no life with Me! My light is needed by all people!”
    That is true because all people – Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old – begin life belonging to Satan. Already at conception we carried the sin of our parents, who got it from their parents and so on all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin. Sin sticks to us for all our earthly life. We’re idolators like Baal worshipers were. How? We’ve never bowed before idols! No, but we put money and fun and our own ideas ahead of the Messiah and His forgiveness and His Word. We don’t have time to do a crushing soul search with all God’s other laws. But we must see our hearts under the spotlight of God’s law to see how dark our hearts are by nature. We smash His laws and spit in His face every day by defiantly deciding to do things our way, rather than walk in His “light”. We deserve to burn in hell for the sin in which we were born and for every one of the sins we pile up every day.
    But we won’t burn in hell because the Lord rescued sinners – all sinners. The little Lord Jesus came to earth “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom” (Mark 10:45) for all. What we couldn’t accomplish, Christ alone could – and did! He lived the perfect life for every imperfect sinner. He paid the price for every sin because no sinner can pay for even one sin. What we couldn’t know on our own, God made known to us in His Word. Receiving that good news needed by all people God pictures here with “Come…to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…For from Zion the law (here, all of God’s truths – exposing our sins and revealing His forgiveness in Jesus) will go out, and the Lord’s Word will go out from Jerusalem” (v. 3).
    Hold it! How can words on a page save us? It’s not the ink. It’s the truth of the reality of history and victory on Calvary those words convey. The Lord “will judge between the nations, and He will mediate for many peoples” (v. 4). That doesn’t help, preacher! If God “will judge” me, I’ll fail! Here, the idea of judging is to govern, to rule. The Lord rules with His Word. His rule isn’t a burden. He rules in His love for us. He wants nothing but the eternal best for us. We have been snatched from hell by Christ who lived and died and rose in the place of all sinners. When we “walk in the light of the Lord”, we live like the forgiven children of the Savior we truly are! “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” isn’t a forced march, but a joyful walk arm-in-arm with Him who gave His life for us.
    Part of this lesson is etched on a wall of the United Nations building. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into blades for trimming vines. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore” (v. 4). Isn’t this why the United Nations exists? Not really. That organization seeks the noble goal of peace between nations. Here, God is describing peace between His holy self and us guilty sinners. Two parties that had been separated are brought together by the work of the Advent Savior, Jesus.
    “Let us walk in the light of the Lord”, the light of salvation all people need. Many insist that there are different roads to salvation. But only the work of Christ removes the guilt of sin. Only the message about Jesus is the saving “light of the Lord”.
    On New Year’s Day people make a fresh start and get rid of rotten habits. This first day of the church year is all of that in far more important ways. We rededicate our lives to “walk in the light of the Lord”.
    We don’t enter this new Church year blind to the challenges we face as a congregation, in our homes, on our jobs, with our classes. The challenges are real. But so is the Lord who urges us to walk in His “light” as we deal with every challenge before us. We apply the unchanging truths of God’s Word to every situation by “walking in the light of the Lord”. We do so to stay ready for the day when the Lord returns to bring an end to life here and take His own to heaven.
    Walking in the light of the Lord means we use His light in our house and in His house. In these first hours of a new church year, we commit ourselves to life for Him who gave His life for us, to use His Word, to “walk in His light” each second, to see the heaven that awaits us through faith in Him.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Last Sunday of the Church Year - We Wait for the Lord's Return
  • Last Sunday of the Church Year
    November 20, 2022
    Hymns                        629,   511,   559,   512
    First Lesson              Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:1-4
    Psalm                         130
    Second Lesson         Revelation 22:6-13
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 12:35-40
    Luke 12:35-40
    We Wait for the Lord’s Return
          I. Watching for His promised banquet
    II. Watching for Him every moment
    In the name of the Savior who came to rescue us, who comes to us in His Word, and who will return, fellow redeemed,
    “Our long wait is over! The holidays are finally here!” So said an ad for Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City event. But whether the holidays are really here depends on what we consider the holidays to be – the tree on the front lawn of the Capitol building being lit, the weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the holy days of celebrating the Savior’s birth. And, as long as that third one is most important, what do during whatever people call the holidays won’t ignore the holy days.
    For centuries the Christian Church has used this last Sunday of the Church year to ponder Christ’s truth from Christ’s Word about Christ’s return. For fifty-one weeks we have heard about the life of Christ and His work to win forgiveness, life, and salvation for mankind. We have gathered here around the Word the Triune God uses to deliver forgiveness, life as His children, and salvation to us sinners – to produce and then strengthen in us the faith that lays hold of those blessings.
    But when will our wait for salvation end? We don’t know. In His very last words to us in His Word, words we heard in today’s Second Lesson, Jesus said, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). But it’s been nearly two thousand years since Jesus gave those words to His apostle John. “Soon”? His time isn’t our time because He is eternal, the Alpha and Omega. His coming at the end of time will take the world by surprise.
    So what do we do? We wait for the Lord’s return. We don’t do so by twiddling our thumbs as we look skyward, but by being in His Word as we look forward. We wait for the Lord’s return, watching for His promised banquet and watching for Him every moment.
      I. Watching for His promised banquet

    The Savior’s Word picture here might not thrill you. “Be dressed, ready for service (v. 35). Satan suggests, Seriously? You work all your life, then when your Jesus returns He wants you to work some more, be ready for service? Forget that! That’s not the Savior’s point. He compares His return with a master returning to his house, now with his bride from their wedding banquet to live in his house as husband and wife. The groom would expect his servants at his house to be ready for his return, even if that was in the middle of the night, “dressed for service” and “lamps burning” (v. 35) as they waited.
    You know how people in Bible times dressed. Even the men wore long flowing robes. Scurrying around and hurrying to get things done with the robe dangling at the ankles would slow servants down, maybe trip them up. So workers tucked the hem of the robe into a belt around the waist, ready to work quickly, efficiently. The King James Version is gird their loins
    Then the returning Lord went on to teach how His faithful servants are “blessed”. The master “will dress himself, tuck his robe into his belt, and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them (v. 37). What an amazing reversal of roles! What an unexpected development! What trillionaire would get married, then tell his workers to loosen their cummerbunds and make themselves comfortable while he brought food and drink to them in his own house?!
    That’s not the way we’d expect things to go. But that is the way of our gracious, saving, returning Lord. When He returns on the Last Day, He will usher us, body and soul, into the great  banquet of heaven and invite us to enjoy ourselves. What an encouragement to keep waiting for the Lord to return!
    We don’t wait by dropping out of school, resigning from work, selling all we own, and moving to a desolate location to watch the sky for signs of the Lord’s return. We wait by being in His Word all the time, the spiritual equivalent of having the hem of a robe tucked into a belt. This is the Lord’s way to keep us “ready” through trust in His sacrifice. We don’t want to miss His banquet, so we keep going back to His blood-bought invitation where He sends it to us – in His Word. We don’t arrogantly suppose we make ourselves worthy to attend the banquet. We marvel at His love for us sinners who deserve forever banishment from Him, not the forever banquet promised and prepared by Him. He who already lived and died and rose to open heaven for sinners, has now prepared a lavish life for us.
    We will be seated at that banquet when the Lord returns. Until then, we who trust Jesus as the sinner’s greatest treasure don’t seem to be too blessed on earth. We struggle and suffer, groan and grieve. But still we use His Word of truth to watch for His promised return and His promised banquet which we anticipate far, far more than the upcoming four-day holiday.
    II. Watching for Him every moment
    That all sounds wonderful. But when will it be, Lord? It’s not like looking at the radar to see when the snow will start or a hurricane will make landfall. It’s not like keeping the invitation to a holiday party on the fridge so we’re constantly aware of the day and time. The instruction the Savior gives us about His return in glory is simple, but crucial. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him (v. 40). We wait for the Lord’s return by watching for Him every moment.
    They are not trying to deceive, but they do. Some people scour Ezekiel and Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament claim to find a key to the date of Christ’s return. They say a battle must first be fought between these world powers. Or a throne must first be set up in that city. Or a pestilence must first infect many. “Then,” they tell us, “look for the Lord to return.”
    They are wrong. The returning Lord, the God of all history, alone is right! Right? Throughout His Word He tells His waiting people in every age to be watching for Him every moment, not waiting for important world events to unfold first. All signs have been fulfilled. He says, “Be ready (v. 40) every moment!”
    He doesn’t give subtle clues in His Word. Yet some people misuse Revelation to check off world events and think, Just one more to go and then Jesus can return! He does give clear instruction in His Word that even the newest student of Scripture can grasp. “If the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (v. 39). The point isn’t that Jesus is a thief, but that His return could be any moment now. “You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him”.
    Thieves don’t announce to residents their intent to break in and make off with the family’s possessions, don’t inform the residents what night and what time they’re coming. Neither does Jesus give even a general idea what month or year He will return. He will not reveal that to us. “No one knows when that day and hour will be, not the angels of heaven, not even the Son (spoken that Tuesday before Good Friday in His state of humiliation, Jesus was not making full use of His divine power), but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). We wait for the Lord’s return by watching for Him every moment.
    “Be dressed, ready for service, and keep your lamps burning”. The Lord could return at any moment to end time on earth. Or the Lord could come invisibly at any moment to take your soul in sudden, tragic-to-your-loved-ones, death. Until one of those takes place, the Lord wants you who trust His payment of our hell to serve Him joyfully and faithfully each day, each moment!, as you wait for Him. As was the case when Jesus came to earth in the flesh, as is the case when Jesus comes to us in His Word and in His sacraments now, so it will be when He comes on the Last Day – “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Thus, His faithful, blood-bought people serve Him daily. That isn’t just worship one hour per week – well, two hours this week. That’s also doing His will in everything. That’s speaking to others of His sacrifice to cover the guilt of every sin. That’s watching for Him every moment.
    “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him”. If we don’t know when it will be, how can we be ready? We keep waiting and watching! The Savior points us to His Word. The promises He made before He suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven fill us with hope as we wait and watch. Jesus didn’t just speak those words of promise. He and His Father and the Spirit had them miraculously given to human writers and preserved in His holy Word for us.
    As we wait for Him to keep the one promise He hasn’t yet fulfilled, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20), He directs us to His Word. He uses His Word to keep us from becoming impatient. Lord, look how horrible things have gotten in this world! All the immorality! All the senseless shootings! So many people have no use for You! Where are You?! He uses His Word to keep us from becoming indifferent. Boring! Tell me something new, preacher! I know Jesus lived and died for me. I know He’s coming back some day! Give me something I can use!
    Just one promised event has yet to be fulfilled: the Lord’s return. Until He does, we wait, we watch for His promised banquet. We wait, we watch for Him every moment.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss