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
Second Lesson Romans 4:1-5,13-17
Gospel Lesson John 3:1-17
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
Second Lesson Romans 5:12-19
Gospel Lesson Matthew 4:1-11
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
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
Second Lesson 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Gospel Lesson 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
Second Lesson 1 Peter 2:9-12
Gospel Lesson Matthew 5:13-20
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
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
Second Lesson Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel Lesson 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
THIS IS CHRISTMAS!
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
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
Second Lesson Romans 15:4-13
Gospel Lesson Matthew 3:1-12
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
Second Lesson Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel Lesson Matthew 21:1-11
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