Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - We Are Bound to the Lord by Blood
  • Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 1, 2021
    Hymns                        277,   349,   538,   327  
    First Lesson                Exodus 24:3-11
    Psalm                          84  (page 96)
    Second Lesson            Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16
    Gospel Lesson            John 6:1-15
    Exodus 24:3-11
    We Are Bound to the Lord by Blood
    I. The blood that is shed belongs to Jesus
         II. The blood-sprinkled people belong to God
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose blood purifies us from every sin, fellow blood-bought souls,
    The most deceptive false teaching in all the world and throughout all history has been and continues to be that we are connected to God if we first obey His commands. Since I attend church faithfully or give thankofferings generously or help neighbors unselfishly, God makes me His own. None of that establishes the sinner’s relationship with the holy God. The only way sinners are connected to, bound to, the Lord is by blood – the blood of another.
    That’s the truth God taught Israel at Sinai long ago. That’s the truth God teaches us here today. We are bound to the Lord not by anything we do, but by blood. The blood that is shed belongs to Jesus, and the blood-sprinkled people belong to God.
    I. The blood that is shed belongs to Jesus
    The series of events in this lesson is one of the most important in the four thousand years between the creation of the world and the birth of the Savior. This lesson is crucial to understanding the entire Old Testament; the New Testament, too!
    Let’s set the scene. God had already led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and toward the Promised Land, the fertile region to the north and east where their ancestors had lived four hundred years earlier. The two million children of Israel, descendants of Jacob and his twelve sons, were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. God had directed them to stop at Sinai while he set up a covenant, an agreement, with them. In that covenant God said, “I have made you My special people – not because you are nicer or more worthy than any other people, but simply by My grace have I chosen you to be My special people.”
    The covenant God established with Israel was amazingly one-sided, entirely one-sided. God is holy, perfect. The thought of sin is far more detestable to Him than the thought of eating maggot-covered meat is to us! We must understand how God sees sin! So, the God who sees sin that way told sin-stained people, the Jews were just as sinful as any other nation!, “I am making You My special people!”? How could the holy God make that agreement, set up that covenant, with sinful people?!
    That’s where the blood that was shed comes in. God’s agreement did not say, “You people are all right! You have just the kind of character I’m looking for. Come and be My people. I will overlook your sinfulness!” God’s covenant did say, “When I see your sins, I hate the dirt and filth and scum and slime, the cheating and lusting and gossiping and coveting and backbiting, the lack of love for Me and others, the delight in covering yourselves with disgusting evil. You need to be cleansed!” The only cleansing agent in the world powerful enough to cut through all that garbage? Blood!
    Not the blood of animals. Oh, it’s true animal blood was part of this ceremony. The Israelites “sacrificed fellowship offerings of cattle” (v. 5), slitting the throats of powerful animals and catching the blood in bowls. Then Moses sprinkled half the blood on the crude stone altar he had just made, and the rest of the blood on the people. That sounds gross, doesn’t it? More about that in a bit. But for now we need to know the blood of those animals had no more power to cleanse sinners than the blood of your bird or cat or dog could cleanse sinners.
    The only blood powerful enough to rub out the stubborn stains of our sins before God is the blood of Christ. That’s why God had Israel offer so many blood sacrifices – billions by the millions of Jews over the fourteen hundred years between Mount Sinai’s regulations and Mount Calvary’s salvation, every day sacrifices offered at the tent tabernacle and then the permanent temple. The Lord was teaching His special people to place all their trust for forgiveness on the Savior He would send from the Israelites for the world. The animal blood sacrifices were pictures, “a shadow” (Colossians 2:17), of the real sacrifice: the Savior’s blood shed on that altar.
    All that animal blood shed on altars before Christ came helped the Old Testament people trust what was coming: the one real sacrifice of the Savior. God tells sinners: “The fact is that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins…We have been sanctified once and for all through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 10:4,10).
    You just confessed what makes Christ’s blood so special. He is true God and true man in one person. If one of us were nailed to a cross, had our blood shed, our death would help no one. The death of Jesus has value for all people and for all time because, as the Son of God He has the infinite power to make His willing death as our Substitute the sacrifice to pay the penalty of hell for our sins and to pay in full our debt owed to God.
    We are bound to the Lord by blood because “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)! That is the truth taught in our classrooms daily, preached in this sanctuary weekly, discussed in our homes regularly, and that makes us blessedly different always.
         II. The blood-sprinkled people belong to God
    Too many people draw their own picture of religion because their own picture fits more conveniently with the way they want to live. They see God as a loving Father who graciously accepts all people as they are and doesn’t insist they change their ways a bit. But that picture isn’t true to this lesson – or to any of God’s Word. God doesn’t accept us because of who we are or what we’ve done. God accepts us and binds us to Him by the blood of Jesus shed for us and put on us. That’s the other part of this lesson. We are blood-sprinkled people of God, so we live like blood-sprinkled people who belong to God.
    God gave Israel a glimpse of the blessings they would enjoy with Him in heaven. “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up Mt. Sinai. They saw the God of Israel. Under His feet they saw what looked like a pavement of sapphire as clear as the sky. The Lord did not lay His hand on the dignitaries of the people of Israel. They gazed at God, and they ate and drank” (vv. 9-11).
    Only seventy-four of the more than two million Jews camped at Sinai saw that preview of heavenly bliss: God’s hand-picked leader Moses; Moses’ older brother and assistant Aaron; Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu; and seventy other leaders. When they came down the mountain, they might have told the people, “We saw God! Not in all His glory, of course, because no sinner can see the full glory of God on earth and live. It’s impossible for us to describe the appearance of God we saw, but it was God! He didn’t walk on the rocky surface of Sinai. He is so majestic that He walked on something that looked like the deep, blue sky! Amazing! And get this! There we were – sinners, every one of us! – in the very presence of the holy God, and He didn’t get angry with us or hit us or even holler at us because of our sins. Rather, He invited us to eat and drink in His presence! It was wonderful!”
    Even before that glowing report, the whole nation had expressed her willingness to be God’s people. The Lord had called Moses up Sinai, had given Moses laws and decrees, commandments and regulations, and had sent Moses down Sinai with the order, “Tell the people what I, the Lord their God, demand!” The people replied, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do. We will obey” (vv. 3,7).
    As we read Exodus Chapters 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, it is obvious the Israelites didn’t consider themselves slaves who grudgingly told their Master, “We won’t like it, but we’ll play by Your rules!” Their promise of faithful obedience came from grateful hearts changed by God’s unchanging love. They spoke as appreciative children telling their loving Father, “You have cleansed us sinners in the blood of the promised Savior, pictured by Moses sprinkling us with animal blood. You have made us Your people. We want to obey You!”
    But that didn’t last. Before too long they worshiped a golden calf instead of the one true God. In a few weeks they would grumble so bitterly against God that He had them wander for forty years in a wilderness area. In a few centuries, they would forsake the true God for empty idols, then be chastised by the true God by being taken into exile. They had stopped living as God’s blood-sprinkled people.
    We are blood-sprinkled people of God. The Savior’s blood removes all our guilt. Do we show it? We have made the same promise Israel made here. When we express our trust in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and life in heaven, we say, “Lord, I belong to You. I want to live like one who belongs to You!”
    But too often our religious walk doesn’t match our religious talk. The devil daily tempts us to sin. “Come on! God can’t expect you all the time to act like people sprinkled by His blood and belonging to Him! God’s way isn’t usually a fun way to live, is it? Would it really be so bad if you walk your way once in a while – or more often than that?” Too often we give in. We go along with the world’s way that sex can be enjoyed the way we want, not the way God says; that deceiving is okay if we don’t get caught; that blowing off steam by using God’s holy name casually is better than blowing off someone’s hand with a gun; that grabbing for more money is necessary; that being greedy isn’t wrong as long as no one gets hurt; that hearing God’s Word can’t always be our top priority; and much more. God doesn’t ignore our sins. Our sins grieve and anger Him.
    That’s why we need God’s Word every day telling us, “You are bound to the Lord by His blood. He has graciously and generously sprinkled and covered you with His saving blood.” Bound to the Lord by blood? How barbaric! How gross! The world will scoff. But we are neither offended by nor ashamed of the blood of Christ. We rejoice to be bound to the Lord the only way we sinners can be – by the blood of the Lamb. We rejoice and give all the glory to the Lord by living as those who’ve been sprinkled with His blood and who belong to Him.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - You've Been Elected
  • Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 18, 2021
    Hymns                        237,   392,   542,   331
    First Lesson                Amos 7:10-15
    Psalm                          73  (page 94)
    Second Lesson            Ephesians 1:3-14
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 6:7-13
    Ephesians 1:3-14
    You’ve Been Elected
                 I. From eternity by the Father’s decision
     II. To salvation by the Son’s blood
    III. For comfort by the Spirit’s seal
    In the name of Him who died for us, then also rose from death for us, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
    We’ve said enough about election in this service that you realize this isn’t anything political. So, let’s set aside thoughts about the last election or any upcoming campaigns, and listen to the Lord tell us, “You’ve been elected!” It’s not, of course, to any office for which we ran. In fact, it’s very accurate to say that we’ve been elected to a position from which we ran!
    God’s teaching about His eternal election is a truth that boggles the mind. Parts of it don’t follow human logic, and thus make no sense to human reason. But God’s teaching about His eternal election provides saving assurance to the sinner’s soul.
    This is the first of eight straight weeks in which the Second Lesson is from Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus. That Paul wrote a letter this joyful about God’s truths while sitting in a jail cell as punishment for preaching God’s truths makes us sit up and listen. God has some very important things to say today to us who find little lasting happiness in life and who wonder about the future. God says, “You’ve been elected from eternity by the Father’s decision, to salvation by the Son’s blood, and for comfort by the Spirit’s seal!”
    I. From eternity by the Father’s decision
    God delivers His doctrine of election here at the beginning of Ephesians Chapter 1 and near the end of Romans Chapter 8. In both places it’s obvious election is interwoven with other actions by God. To gain strength from what God teaches about election, we need to understand the time when election happened. It was “before the foundation of the world” (v. 4).
    Many insist the universe evolved over billions of years, that energy and matter have always existed and everything just developed from there. But energy and matter had to come from somewhere, right? God tells us in His Word He created energy and matter, land and water, plants and fish, birds and cattle, stars and planets, male and female human beings. God has always existed. As He begins His lesson, You’ve been elected!, God takes us back to the first six days of history, the six twenty-four hour days in which God made everything. And then He tells us He was at work even before that!
    “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”. Since no human yet existed, nothing any human did led to God’s decision, election, predestination. God elected us only “in accordance with the good purpose of His will” (v. 5). Election was all God’s decision, and not caused by our action.
    We’ve been elected from eternity, before time or creation. We’ve been elected because of God the Father’s decision. Already in eternity, before time or creation, the Triune God decided the Father would send the Son to die for the sins of all. That was not the action of a god soft on sin, but the action by which the one true God determined to deal with sin completely “in Christ”. It was not the action of a bored, disinterested god casually deciding our fate by rolling dice, but the action of the one true God who loves all the lost and rescued all the lost.
    This was not the Father saying, “I’m God! I can do as I please!” And, this is crucial!, this was not the Father saying, “I’ll choose you because I see you’ll turn out well!” This was the Father deciding in love to elect us, even before we existed. This is what no sinner deserves. We’ve been elected from eternity by the Father’s gracious decision, “His glorious grace, which He has graciously given us in the One He loves” (v. 6).
     II. To salvation by the Son’s blood
    Sometimes, “You’ve been elected!” isn’t good news. You agreed to be nominated as PTA treasurer or soccer league representative, figuring someone else would be elected; you didn’t really want the position. We did not want the position to which God has elected us. That’s what makes this great news! We’ve been elected to salvation by the Son’s blood.
    You can pick your favorite animal or restaurant; but those aren’t really elections. Elections, including and especially God’s election, involve people. Listen: “He chose us…He predestined us…In Him we were predestined” (vv. 4,5,11). Election happened to people. Before time began, God saw in eternity the entire future population of the world. Out of that multitude He chose, elected, predestined some.
    Why not all people? God hasn’t answered that question in His Word, so we’re fools if we try to answer that question. God’s not electing all people isn’t fair! Who are we to question the ways of Him who is never wrong? What we do know since God has told us is God has elected some, determining the goal of heaven they would reach after their life on earth, and the course of the life of faith they would follow on the way to heaven.
    Election involves people. It also involves God’s plan for people. “He chose us in Christ…that we would be holy and blameless in His sight” (v. 4). We’re neither holy nor blameless before God. As we confessed earlier, we have disobeyed God and thus deserve only God’s wrath and punishment. But God elected us in ChristIn Him we also have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 4,7).
    God’s truth is not politically correct. There is no salvation without faith in Christ. “There is…no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God’s election also involves God’s purpose to bring those He has elected to trust Christ who shed His blood to cover the guilt of all sinners.
    The result? God “predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ” (v. 5). There is a ton of truth in those few words. The human beings God elected would not be born as His children, but would be “by nature objects of God’s wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). For God to adopt sinners as His sons, the holy Savior would be slain for all to remove all guilt.
    God’s election smashes the world’s idea that all people are in His spiritual family. His spiritual children are those who are made His children “through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). You’ve been elected to salvation, to being God’s children and heirs of His heaven, by the Son’s blood shed for you and by your being brought to trust in the Savior Christ Jesus.
    The electing, the predestining, the choosing isn’t God closing His eyes and reaching into a big, big box filled with the names of all who would ever be born of man and woman, grabbing a huge fistful of names, then choosing to take those to heaven. The electing, the predestining, the choosing is God determining to bring those He elected to faith in Christ. We will have the full benefits of that election when He takes us to heaven.
    III. For comfort by the Spirit’s seal
    We said earlier God elected some, and not others. Does that lead you to ask, What if I’m not one of those God has elected, chosen? That’s a key question! And God has the assuring answer. “You’ve been elected!”, He says, “from eternity by the Father’s decision, to salvation through the Savior’s blood, and for comfort by the Spirit’s seal.”
    God hasn’t used newspapers, the internet, or television to give the list of those He chose, elected for salvation. There isn’t a hidden code in the Bible to crack and see if your name is there.
    So how can you know? Where is there any comfort in God’s election? Right here! God has given His description of His elect. Does God’s description describe you? Let’s see. Are you “holy and blameless in His sight”? Don’t look at your own living. Look at Christ’s dying and rising for you! “The blood of Jesus…cleanses us from all sins” (1 John 1:7). Are you “adopted” as God’s children? Don’t look at your hospital-issued birth certificate. Look at the Spirit-given robe of righteousness you received at Baptism. “You who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
    When you wonder if you are one of God’s elect, look to God. God the Holy Spirit uses the steady, constant stream of good news about Jesus to give us the comfort we need. “When you also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession, so that His glory would be praised” (vv. 13-14). The Holy Spirit uses the Word centered on Jesus to work faith, to strengthen faith in Him, to put His tag of ownership on us. Since we believe in Jesus and trust His life and death to take away our hell and give us His heaven, we know God has elected us for eternity. We know we will enter heaven, “our inheritance”. The Spirit in us is His guarantee, the “down payment” on earth of heaven for us!
    What great comfort, better than any amount of money or years of good health! No matter what comes our way in this life – good times or challenges, fun or disappointment – God is working everything out to keep us His elect. No matter our earthly status – rich or poor, important in the world or hardly noticed, married or single, young or old – God will take us to His heaven through the work of His Son!
    God’s doctrine about His eternal election doesn’t answer all our questions. Where God is silent, we must be, too. But God’s doctrine about His eternal election answers every question we need answered to be sure of our salvation. When Satan whispers, “Are you sure where you stand with God?”, we hear again the Triune God’s verdict about us, “You’ve been elected in Christ who died for you by the loving decision of the Father before eternity, and assured by the Spirit who made you My own possession in Christ!” This is most certainly true!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - God’s Grace to Us in Christ Is Sufficient for Us
  • Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
    July 11, 2021
    Hymns                        234,   372,   334
    First Lesson                Ezekiel 2:1-5
    Psalm                          143  (page 118)
    Second Lesson            2 Corinthians 12:7-10
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 6:1-6
    2 Corinthians 12:7-10
    God’s Grace to Us in Christ Is Sufficient for Us
            I. To give us His strength
             II. To accomplish His goals
    III. To bring us His joy
    In the name of Jesus, the sinner’s Savior, fellow redeemed,
    Some students brag about wearing cooler clothes, being better looking, having more social media followers than others. Their bragging can hurt the feelings of classmates. Some parents boast about how smart or considerate or popular their children are. That causes other adults to roll their eyes and whisper, “I’m tired of hearing how great their kids are!”
    People don’t boast about their weaknesses or lack of abilities. But that’s what Paul did here. “I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses…I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties for the sake of Christ (vv. 9-10). So, should we promote our church and school with the slogan, “Come and get weak with us!”? No. 
    The truth of God in the words He gave Paul becomes clear when we see all of what God had Paul write here. It is the message the world ridicules and our sinful nature hates. But it’s what every sinner needs. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you” (v. 9). God’s grace in Christ is sufficient to give us His strength, to accomplish His goals, and to bring us His joy. 
      I. To give us His strength
    Paul had spent eighteen months in Corinth preaching about man’s sin and Christ’s work to save sinners. But that message was largely rejected by Greeks who believed in many gods and in people’s ability to get themselves out of trouble. When Paul left Corinth to do God’s work elsewhere, false teachers told members of the congregation, “Paul invented a new religion just to make money off you as a preacher here!”
    In the chapter before our lesson, Paul defended his ministry. “Why would I have endured beatings, imprisonment, and more for preaching about Jesus as the Savior if I were only trying to use you Corinthians? God gave me the truths I preached!”
    God had also granted Paul visions of heaven to encourage Paul for his work. And Paul was grateful for them! But Paul’s proud heart tried to turn that gift from God into a reason for Paul to boast before others. I was sent visions from God – and you weren’t! Does that attitude sound familiar?
    That’s why our lesson begins, “Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh” (v. 7). We don’t know what that affliction was. We do know Paul thought he could serve God better as a missionary if God allowed Paul to feel better physically. “Three times Paul pleaded with” (v. 8) God to take away that affliction. God’s answer? “No, Paul. My grace is sufficient for you (v. 9).”
    God is not just willing, He’s eager, to give us sinners His blessings, gifts we don’t deserve. God’s grace moves Him to give – and give generously. God gives us His very best, His only-begotten Son. God gives us condemned-to-hell sinners eternal life. God gives us His Word so we know what otherwise would remain hidden to us: forgiveness and salvation are won by Him with His death at the cross, with His rising from death.
    Keeping in heart all that God already gave to save us, won’t He also give us His strength for everything in our life? He promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, because My power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). We respond, Then I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me”. Not our power to pummel our enemies, but Christ’s “power” to remove our guilt!
    If all we have is our weakness, can we really expect to survive the attacks fired our way each day? No way! We can’t win on our own. Our weaknesses and shortcomings set us up only for disaster and failure. Not our ability, skill, tact, or concern, but God’s “grace” is sufficient to give us His strength, “the power of Christ” for every situation we meet in life.
        II. To accomplish His goals

    A problem we have with God’s grace to us and God’s power for us is what we often think is best for us isn’t what God knows is best for us. We need God to remind us, “My grace is sufficient for you because My power is made perfect in weakness to accomplish My goals in you and through you.”
    Were you confused by “My power is made perfect”? Did it sound like God’s power is imperfect and needs to be improved? Obviously, that’s not true. The phrase can also mean My power reaches its goal, accomplishes its purpose. 
    When does God’s grace do that? In times of human “weakness”! That seems ridiculous. But God says it, so it’s true. And it’s happened to you, to me, to all His followers. When we realize our sinful weaknesses and pathetic shortcomings to keep God’s will and do God’s work, we look to God and trust His grace. The power of Christ” dwells in us so we carry forward God’s goals for us and in us and through us.
    That doesn’t happen in showy and dramatic ways, not by my speaking in tongues or your healing cancer by laying hands on the patient. It happens by the steady voice of God’s good news about Christ as we hear, read, study, and meditate on it. It happens in the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s true body and blood.
    That’s how God brought about the blessed change in us, His greatest goal for us. That’s also how God continues to accomplish His greatest goals in us. We don’t know if God’s goal is that we become millionaires, overcome illness, buy a new house, get a college scholarship, land a full time job. But God’s greatest work in us and greatest goals for us are accomplished day-after-day as His Gospel does His work. What is God’s greatest work? To build us up in our blood-bought salvation.
    That word of promise comes from Him who says, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:6). When we feel forsaken, we remember that truth – along with this one: “My grace is sufficient for you”. God’s grace in Christ replaces our sinful weaknesses with His saving strength!
    That’s not what our sinful nature wants to hear, is it? Our Old Adam wants to hear how we can get rich, become famous, get even with others. But God’s grace in Christ “is sufficient for” us. It keeps us from grabbing for the shiniest toys, the juiciest steak, the most money, the brightest spotlight, the sinfully selfish desires. God’s grace in Christ shows us God’s goals for us: grow in faith, live in hope, help others in love, tell them of the Savior slain and risen for us and for them and for all sinners, support the work of God’s kingdom, seek to serve others instead of being served. God’s grace is sufficient to accomplish all those goals of God for us!
    III. To bring us His joy
    The world doesn’t consider that successful living. But God’s people know life’s greatest gifts come from pursuing God’s goals. That doesn’t mean God accomplishing His goals in our life will always be easy and won’t come with disappointments. But God’s grace in Christ is also sufficient to bring us His joy.
    Paul had “a thorn” that bothered him physically. In God’s perfect wisdom God didn’t take it away from Paul. It was also “a messenger of Satan” (v. 7). How? Satan wanted Paul to use it as a reason no longer to preach about the Redeemer. Paul suffered other afflictions for the sake of Christ and His Word. “Five times I received…forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. One time I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day on the open sea. I have…been…in dangers from rivers…from robbers…from my own people…from Gentiles…in the city …in the wilderness…among false brothers…hungry and thirsty…cold and lacked clothing” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
    Did Paul consider himself forsaken by God because of all that? No! “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties”. He didn’t enjoy those. Paul meant, “For whenever I am weak, then am I strong” (v. 10).
    What?!? When God’s children are forced by trials and troubles to recognize their weaknesses, they are led by the Holy Spirit to trust God’s promises of forgiveness of sins in Christ, to rely on the strength that God’s grace in Christ provides. When Paul was weak and confronted by his sinfulness, he learned to look to God’s strength and Christ’s forgiveness. God’s grace does that to us, in us, for us, too. We, too, confess, Whenever I am weak, then in Christ am I strong in what really matters!”
    We all have fears and troubles, sorrows and problems. Let’s all hear what the Lord says about them. He does not say, “Hey, I didn’t know! Thanks for telling Me! I will take them away first thing tomorrow!” He says, “Oh, I know what you are going through, and My grace is sufficient for you. Trust Me to take care of you today – and forever!” Our fears and troubles, sorrows and problems drive us to look to the only lasting joy and only real strength in the universe: God’s “grace” in Christ!
    The world says, “Only when you have status or power or influence or wealth, only then are you strong!” The believer says, “Only when I know the world’s symbols of strength mean nothing without Christ – even if I were to have all the world’s wealth! – and only when I look to the Lord for every blessing that lasts eternally in Christ, only then am I strong!” We thank God for thorns, whatever forms the thorns take. The thorns in life remind us that by ourselves we are weak. Then, when we confess we are weak and need God’s strength, He makes us strong in Christ who suffered our hell and rose to assure our heaven. For Christ to be the center of our lives and His goals for us, for His joys in us, God’s grace “is sufficient” for us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday After Pentecost - Believe What Christ Does With Death
  • Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 4, 2021
    Hymns                        617,   213,   588,   619
    First Lesson                Lamentations 3:22-33
    Psalm                          30  (page 76)
    Second Lesson            2 Corinthians 8:1-9,13-14
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 5:21-24a,35-43
    Mark 5:21-24a,35-43
    Believe What Christ Does with Death
      I. He never ignores death
            II. He accurately defines death
                 III. He permanently defeated death
    In the name of Jesus who is the Savior of every sinner, the Resurrection and the Life, fellow sinners whom He has set free,
    Seriously?! For the first time in eleven years Independence Day is on a Sunday, but the sermon won’t be about anything patriotic – only the same old message about overcoming death and living life in Jesus?! Without any apologies to our nation’s founders, Yes! There would be nothing wrong with a sermon about the blessings God gives us by placing us in this wonderful country. But death doesn’t take a vacation for the Fourth of July. This weekend’s wonderful celebration will end. The need to deal with death on earth doesn’t.
    This familiar lesson is a blessing for us who are still very much alive. Christ puts death in its place. When Jairus’ friends told him, “Your daughter is dead” (v. 35), the Savior told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe” (v. 36). That’s what Jesus says to us, too. “Believe what I do with death! I never ignore it. I accurately define it. And I permanently defeated it!”
    I. He never ignores death
    At least two young children died in the Surfside condo collapse. In Warren, a five-year old boy was killed on his bike when a driver ran a red light. Nearly two thousand years ago, a twelve-year old girl died. Why does God let those so young, with so much of life ahead of them, die? When death suddenly intrudes on a loved one in good health, have we asked, God, where were You? Do we suggest God ignores death at times?
    Jairus was a good man, “one of the synagogue rulers” (v. 22) in Capernaum, our equivalent of a church councilman. He oversaw things at the Jewish house of worship there. Why would God allow things to get so bad that Jairus’ “only daughter” (Luke 8:42) was “near death” (v. 23) though she was  just “twelve years old” (v. 42)? Wasn’t God aware of what was going on in that fine family, to that young girl? Of course, He was! God never ignores people, nor death creeping closer.
    Many Jews were looking for a messiah to free them as a nation. We don’t know if that’s all Jairus believed about Jesus. But we do know he looked to Jesus for help because he had no other hope. “Please come…so that she may be healed and live” (v. 23). Jesus didn’t ignore death. He “went with” (v. 24) Jairus.
    We didn’t read verses 25-34. They tell us Jesus healed a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years – as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive! The delay while Jesus spoke to and healed that woman must have been agonizing for Jairus. Is He ignoring my daughter? She could die any moment!
    You know how this turned out. Christ didn’t ignore the fatal condition of Jairus’ daughter. He doesn’t ignore anyone’s death. Christ, who met death head-on for Jairus, for his daughter, for all!, never shrugs death off by saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it!” He knows. He cares. He comes to help.
    But why does Jesus even allow death? “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). There are dozens of similar passages. Death isn’t the result of God ignoring it. Death is the result of sinners rebelling against Him. The threat of death reminds us how powerless we are – and how powerful God is! He meets death head on, yet He lives! We take our worries about death to God. He won’t snarl, “Tough luck! You have only yourself to blame. Deal with death!” Rather, Christ assures us, “I have already dealt with death for you. I don’t ignore it. Believe what I do with death!”
        II. He accurately defines death

    Medical experts use two criteria to declare a person dead: the heart stops beating and the brain stem stops functioning. Doctors and EMTs use monitors to view heart and brain function and techniques to try to prevent death. But sooner or later for everyone – except Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament –death comes. So, what do we “believe” Christ does with death? We “believe” Him when He accurately defines death.
    While Jesus was speaking with and healing the woman who’d been hemorrhaging for years, men came from the house of Jairus to tell him, “Your daughter is dead”. Did Jairus think, Had You gone straight to our house, Jesus, my precious flesh and blood, my only daughter, might still be alive!? Maybe.
    But Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe”. And when Jesus “saw the commotion with people weeping and wailing loudly” (v. 38) inside the house, He told them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping. They laughed at Him” (vv. 39-40), ridiculing the Messiah for defining death as “sleeping”
    The lines on the monitor in the ICU go flat. The EMT did CPR for ten minutes, but still no pulse. The doctor or EMT turns to tell you, “Your loved one is not dead but sleeping”. Would you think, “How dare you?! Even I can see she’s dead!”? Not if you knew the doctor or the EMT shared your faith in Christ.
    Christ’s definition of death is absolutely accurate. It shows what He has done with death. When Jesus died at Calvary, how did His Word define the moment? “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30) (His soul). When Christ brought Jairus’ twelve-year old daughter back from death, His Word in Luke’s Gospel defined the miracle this way: her spirit returned” (Luke 8:55). In the Old Testament, His Word defines death the same way. The dust (the body) goes back into the ground…and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7), and then God either welcomes the soul to heaven through faith in Christ or condemns to soul to hell.
    God, the Giver of life, consistently defines death as a separation. Physical death is God separating the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the person on earth separated from God by sin and unbelief, the dreadful death in which we were all conceived and born, the death in which billions still live. Eternal death is the person in hell separated from God forever.
    Bodily death is a temporary condition, not a permanent separation. Christ accurately defines death as “sleeping”. You slept last night, right? This morning you woke up! We will die one day, and on the Last Day the Lord will reunite our soul with our body as He raises us from death, from that “sleeping”.
    Believe” what Christ does with death. You younger people are concerned that if you were to die soon, your loved ones would be left with a gaping hole in their lives. But death can’t harm you; it doesn’t last! With Christ – who died for us so we won’t suffer the hell we deserve, and who rose from death to guarantee we, too, will rise from death – we call death a “sleeping” from which we will gloriously awake! Take that, death!
           III. He permanently defeated death
    I’d never met the adult children of an elderly member of the church I served in Wisconsin. But their mom told me what to do for them when her death drew near. Hospice called to say she wouldn’t make it through the night. When I got to the house, one of the children said sarcastically, “Some God you have!” To silence that, Mom had instructed me to show her children John 11 in her Bible. In the margin, next to the Savior’s words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even if he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (vv. 25-26) she had written, Christ is my joy in life and my confidence in death! She wanted her adult children to hear about the peace in which their mother was about to die. Like she did, we, too, “believe” what Christ does with death: permanently defeated it.
    Christ left heaven for earth to defeat death. The Pharisees in Christ’s day saw Him as a trouble-maker who taught not even good people can save themselves. Some saw Jesus as a false prophet who claimed to be God but was only a lowly human. Many hoped His miracles meant He would make this life better, but saw Him as nothing more than a physical magician.
    “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). Then Jesus returned her soul to her body. “Immediately the little girl stood up and began to walk around” (v. 42). One moment her body lay cold in death, the next she walked around in perfect health. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death to show He is the very Son of God who came to die and rise for all. We “believe” what Christ does in permanently defeating death.
    Of course it’s true that Jairus’ daughter died a second time, is still dead. We have loved ones who’ve gone before us in death. But that doesn’t change the truth that Christ has permanently defeated death. He died for us to take the curse of sin and death off us. As we sang some minutes ago, as we remind each other when a fellow member passes away, we are forever with the Lord whose death and rising defeated death permanently.
    Some say that’s just nice religious talk to make death seem less ugly and final. They’re wrong. Christ says so in His Word. He also did so in this world. He went to cross, took on His perfect soul our every sin and the hell we owe for every sin, then rose from death. His defeat of death becomes our confession in life: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
    Why Christ’s “strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (v. 43)? Jesus said that after a number of His miracles, even His Transfiguration. Until He had suffered for the sins of the world and risen from death to declare Himself the Son of God, He didn’t want people looking at Him more as a healer for the body than as the Savior for every sinner’s soul.
    We do pray to Him and His Father for healing from injury and illness. But daily, and mostly, we look to Him for forgiveness of every sin. And when our dying day draws near, we look for Him to take us to our real home. We “believe” what Christ has done with death – and thus to give us eternal life in Him.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday After Pentecost - Jesus Still Stills Storms
  • Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    June 27, 2021

    Hymns                        270,   376,   379
    First Lesson                Job 38:1-11
    Psalm                         46  (page 84)
    Second Lesson          2 Corinthians 5:14-21
    Gospel Lesson           Mark 4:35-41
    Mark 4:35-41
    Jesus Still Stills Storms
          I. Understand why He allows them
     II. Trust what He does with them
    In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow sinners rescued from an end far worse than drowning, and redeemed by His power far greater than stilling a storm,
    In 480 BC King Xerxes sought to expand his realm from modern day Iraq to the west, so he tried to invade Greece. Xerxes had the army to do it. But getting his vast forces across three miles of water that separate today’s Turkey from Greece was a problem. It would take too long to ferry the forces on ships. So  Xerxes ordered pontoon bridges built to span the three miles of water – less distance than the Straits of Mackinac – so his troops could cross on them. Then a violent storm destroyed the pontoons. Xerxes ordered the water whipped three hundred times and chains chucked into the water to control the waves. It didn’t work. The Persian invasion ended before it began.
    Five hundred fifty years later, without whipping or chaining water, Jesus ordered a storm on a lake to stop – and it did! This miracle didn’t aid an army. It demonstrated Christ’s mission. Jesus still stills storms around us – troubles and hardships and wars and pandemics and more, as well as storms inside us – fears and doubts and worries and guilt and more. This miracle by the Messiah and the details surrounding it show His commitment to be the answer to all our troubles.
    We often get things backward. We love to do things ourselves, then blame God if things go wrong or scold God for not caring enough about us. God tells us life in this world of sorrow will bring sorrows all the time. But God also promises He will never leave us or forsake us – even in disaster, even at death. So, what do these verses have to do with us? They show us Jesus still stills storms in our lives. He wants us to understand why He allows them and to trust what He does with them.
    I. Understand why He allows them
    Does it bother you to read that Jesus and the disciples left “the crowd behind” (v. 36) and went by themselves toward the east shore of the Sea of Galilee? It shouldn’t. And it won’t when, like the disciples, you see Jesus “just as He was” (v. 36). That doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t have a chance to change clothes or rinse off in Lake Gennesaret. It had been a long day for our Lord. He taught parables and other doctrinal lessons to thousands of people. He was tired.
    “Just as He was” (v. 36) also reminds us Jesus is – wasn’t just then, but remains still today – true God and true man. He wasn’t then making full time use of His divine power as God, so He was tired – not cranky – and wanted time alone with the Twelve. But as true God, Jesus knew there was a man on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee who needed His help. And don’t think He was ignoring thousands who had heard Him teach; He’d already given them that day His Word of life.
    See your Savior “just as He was” (v. 36) – and still is! He slept on the boat to let us know He is true man who came to earth to be our Substitute in being our holiness and enduring our hell. He allowed or sent the storm. But He did that to let us know that He is true God who controls all things for our good.
    If Jesus sent the storm, did He do so to have some time alone with His disciples to instruct them further after He separated Himself and the disciples from the other small boats” (v. 36) in which people were following them? We don’t know. What we do know from the Word is that Jesus either sent or allowed the storm that raged on that lake that night to teach His disciples about His mission on earth and His care for all people.
    They cried, “We’ll drown (v. 38)!” Six of them made their living fishing on that lake, so it must have been a severe storm if they feared for their lives. Jesus asked, “Why are you so afraid? (v. 40) I told you I would make you fishers of men. Will I let you drown before I send you to do that work?” 
    Jesus still stills storms for us. He still either allows or sends storms into our lives. Do we understand why? Had we been in that boat with Him, would we have said, “Why, Lord, are You allowing this storm to threaten our lives?” Friends, we have been in that boat with Jesus. When storms storm into our lives, we’re tempted to ask, “Lord, why have You allowed winds of sickness to blow against me, waves of tragedy to wash over our family, showers of temptation and disappointment to fall on us?” His answer from His Word? “Because I love you.”
    That sounds trite. But it’s eternally true. God allows the storms of life to pound us in order to get our attention. If everything went perfectly smoothly, we’d soon assume we don’t need God. When storms assail us, the Lord has sent or allowed them to have us examine where we stand with Him, whether we still put Him first, how we view His greatest gifts to us. He allows all sorts of storms to blow into our lives so He might draw us closer to Him, to His Word, to His promises. How can we be so sure? How can we know He’s not out to get us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also graciously give us all things along with Him” (Romans 8:32)? The Jesus who still stills storms wants us to understand why He allows or sends them.
     II. Trust what He does with them
    Today’s first lesson is words of the Lord to a believer whom the Lord allowed to suffer more storms than maybe any believer ever. How did Job react to the storms the Lord allowed to invade his life? He wavered. He lashed out at God. He grumbled and complained about his losses and suffering. But Job didn’t lose his faith in the Lord in the face of the storms the Lord allowed to cloud Job’s life. Nor will we. Jesus still stills storms. And He wants us to do more than understand why He allows them. He also wants us to trust what He does with them.
    What did Jesus use to still the storm that night? His power! True. But more specifically? His Word. He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ The wind stopped, and there was a great calm” (v. 39). When Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit created the entire universe in six twenty-four hour days, the Triune God brought everything into being with His Word. Jesus calls Himself the Word:  “The Word was God…The Word became flesh” (John 1:1,14). It was the Word of God – connected with plain water in Baptism – that brought us into God’s kingdom. It is the Word that tells us and works in us the trust that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19) because of the work Jesus was graciously sent to do and perfectly completed for us.
    When Jesus had stilled that storm in an instant, He asked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still lack faith?” (v. 40) The disciples should have known that with Jesus on board, whether sound asleep or wide awake, they were safe. Jesus used His stilling of that storm to lead His disciples to repent of their lack of trust in Him and to trust Him more deeply for everything – gifts for their bodies by His divine grace, and salvation for their souls by His coming sacrifice at the cross.
    Jesus still stills storms for us. Some are our own doing. Others are ones over which we have no control. Some He sends to give us His message, “Don’t keep straying from Me!” Others He allows for reasons we may never fully understand. But Jesus still stills storms, leading us to trust what He does with them.
    So often we want God to use His power to make our earthly lives, our bodily existence, happy – or at least less stressful. When that doesn’t happen, how do we react? Do we accuse Him of not loving us as much as He claims to love us? The Savior uses storms to knock that notion out of our heads and hearts. “Haven’t you heard how much I’ve done for you to buy your soul back from the hell you brought on yourself? Don’t you trust Me as your Redeemer? Then why do you suggest I’m not doing right by you when all you deserve from Me is to be damned by Me?! Repent! Turn your hearts from selfish living and fearful fretting. Turn your hearts to My life and death and rising which supply all you need for life here and in heaven!”
    Because the Savior had not yet completed His work to save the world, we understand the disciples saying, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41) But after Jesus went to the cross and left His grave and ascended into heaven, the disciples not only knew the answer to their question, they were sent by the Lord to give His answer to sinners around the world, to be His fishers of men. When they compared all that the prophets had written about the coming Christ with all that Jesus had done, they trusted Him to be their greatest treasure and preached His message to others.
    We don’t ask out loud, “Who is this?” (v. 41) about Jesus. But our attitude about Him and His Word at times shows a lack of trust in Him and His work. We repent for putting our ideas and priorities before His. We trust that the Savior allows storms around us and inside us to remind us what is most important for us and in us. We grow in believing Jesus still stills those storms to lead us to trust Him over all else, to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
    God uses His Word to bring the blessings won by Jesus to our souls, to win us for heaven, to fill us with His power for His work in His world with His Word. Rather than blaming God for storms sent or allowed, we thank Him for what He does in us by stilling those storms. We thank Him for what He works in others as we tell them what Jesus has done with storms in their lives, too, because He is their sacrifice and their heaven.
    How do we react when it seems Jesus sleeps through the storms He’s either sent or allowed to keep us up at night and worried by day? We don’t worry needlessly! He has all power! By His power He has already conquered our worst foes: sin and Satan, death and hell. We trust He is on our side and will one day take us to His side. We believe all that. Why do we still worry?
    Jesus still stills storms. He doesn’t always do so in the way, or with the timing, we think best. But His ways are always best for us. See why He allows the storms He still stills. And trust what He does with the storms He still stills.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss