Third Midweek Lent - The Denial
  • Third Midweek Lent
    March 3, 2021
    Mark 14:66-72
    I. We won’t deny the Savior with our words
     II. We won’t deny the Savior with our attitude
    66While Peter was in the courtyard below, one of the servant girls of the high priest came there. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked directly at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus!”
    68But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know or understand what you are saying,” and he went out to the entryway. Then a rooster crowed.
    69When the servant girl saw him, once more she began to tell those standing there, “This is one of them.”
    70But again he denied it. After a little while those who were standing there said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, because you are a Galilean.”
    71But he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72Just then, the rooster crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
    In the name of Christ Jesus, our Savior, fellow redeemed,
    Sermons on the events of Christ’s passion don’t need to invent any drama; the Passion of the Christ has plenty of drama on its own. A disciple pretending to be Christ’s friend handing Jesus over to those who wanted Him dead. Pilate caving in to the Jews. Jesus praying for those who crucified Him. The three-hour darkness. And this – Peter denying he knew the Savior.
    Though we wonder each Lent how Peter could have done that, we’ve denied Jesus, too. Though we love the Savior, trust in Him, serve Him, pray to Him, and follow Him, at times we hide our identity as His people and carry on as did Peter here. So what’s the lesson here? It’s more than Don’t do what Peter did! We trust Christ to forgive our sins of denying Him – our denials with our words and our denials with our attitude.
    I. We won’t deny the Savior with our words
    We know Peter from the pages of Scripture as a man of brash words and action. When Jesus walked on the stormy water of Galilee, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked to Him. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought Him to be, Peter was the one who confessed so correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). When Jesus appeared in glory at his transfiguration, Peter suggested they not leave the mountain – which would have meant Jesus wouldn’t go up this hill of Calvary to pay for the sins of the world.
    We know this scene from Peter’s life, too. In the courtyard of the high priest’s house to see what would happen to Jesus at trial there, Peter put himself in deep trouble with a huge lie. A servant girl there “looked…at Peter and said, ‘You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus!’ But Peter denied it…‘I don’t know or understand what you are saying’” (vv. 67-68).
    His lying didn’t stop there. Seeing Peter among the crowd in the courtyard’s gateway to the street, the servant girl accused him a second time. “She began to tell those standing there, ‘This is one of them’. But again Peter denied it” (vv. 69-70).
    Luke’s Gospel tells us about an hour passed. That was plenty of time for Peter to hear what was going on at Christ’s trial, as well as to think about what he had done before God by what he had said about the Son of God. Then Peter was confronted a third time. “Surely you are one of them, because you are a Galilean” (v. 70), his accent giving him away as we read in Matthew’s account. Peter didn’t back off his previous denials; he went off the deep end. “He began to curse – May God damn me to hell if I know this Jesus of Nazareth and to swearWith the living God in heaven as my witness, I tell you I do not know this man you are talking about” (v. 71).
    For three years, Peter had been with Jesus. Just hours earlier Peter had professed undying loyalty to Jesus. Jesus foretold, “This night you will all fall away on account of Me” (Matthew 26:31). Peter protested, “Even if all fall away because of You, I will never fall away”. Jesus immediately told Peter, “Tonight before the rooster crows twice you will deny Me three times”. Peter disagreed and boasted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:33-35)
    What happened? Didn’t Peter mean what he had confessed in the upper room? He did, sincerely! But when Satan held the blowtorch of his temptations to Peter’s faith, Peter tried to put out the fire with his sly, lying words, not God’s powerful Word.
    Sound familiar? Have we been asked, “Aren’t you a Christian? Aren’t you a religious conservative who takes all the Bible as the truth?” How have we answered? Confidently and honestly? Or somewhat hypocritically to put some distance between what we confess in here and what they think of us out there? That’s  not an outright denial of Jesus or of knowing Him. But lest we shake our heads in disgust at Peter, let’s confess the times we have been less than honest with our words about our relationship to the God of Scripture and the truth of Scripture. Denials.
    We want to blame the world for that. “I have to get along in the world. It’s not my fault! Modern society feels free to put all sorts of trash on TV, online, at dinner discussions. But if we talk about the Savior, defend His honor, confess His Word as the unchanging truth, we are ridiculed. To survive at work, in school, during dinner, we might tone down the Jesus talk.”
    Says who? Not Jesus! “Everyone who confesses Me before others, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before others, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). If people at work, in school, during dinner speak sarcastically about our spouse or parents or children, we speak up to defend our loved ones. Why don’t we do the same with Jesus?!
    What if Elijah and Isaiah, Stephen and Paul, Martin Luther and other church fathers had clammed up or compromised the truth of God when the going got tough for them? We learn from what Jesus said and did, and led those heroes of faith to confess, so that we beg the forgiveness He went to the cross to win for our sins – including our sins of denying the Lord with our words.
     II. We won’t deny the Savior with our attitude
    There was more to Peter’s denial in those early morning hours than his words. There was also a denial by his attitude. We learn from how Peter reacted to the accusations, and from how Jesus reacted to Peter’s denials, to see our denials of the Lord in attitude as sins for which we need, and receive, His pardon.
    Peter’s confident attitude in the upper room – before Jesus was captured – is what got Peter in trouble. Peter’s confidence that night was in himself, how he believed, that he’d been chosen as one of the Twelve. His misplaced confidence continued in the courtyard of the Jewish high priest. He trusted his thinking and speaking when he was accused of belonging to Jesus.
    When in the company of Christ and other believers, Peter was bold to declare his loyalty to the Son of God, his Savior. But when he was in mixed company or among people who didn’t share his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter was lukewarm about the Lord – or denied completely his connection to Christ.
    We who are older might recall the Clairol commercials with the tag lines Does she (color her hair to hide the gray)? Or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure! Peter acted like a Clairol Christian. If no one but Jesus at the high priest’s place knew for sure Peter was a believer, that would have been just fine with Peter. Let’s keep this our little secret, Lord!
    Sadly, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Aren’t there times and places when we may not say anything against our Lord, but in other ways hide our identity as people who confess Him as our Savior and hold to all His Word, so that only our closest friends and dearest loved ones know for sure we belong to Him?
    When concern about being considered a religious nut keeps us from bowing our head to pray in front of others at meal time, our attitude is like Peter’s here. When we decide not to say something about the little stealing that goes on at work – either because no one will notice what’s missing or we don’t want to risk losing our friends at work for being a snitch, our attitude is like Peter’s here. When we give in to the pressures of modern society and fail to speak out about sin that is openly tolerated and committed, our attitude is like Peter’s here. We all like to be liked. But more important than being liked is standing up for Him who died for us and His Word! All of His Word!
    “Just then, the rooster crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times”. When Peter had denied his Savior, and been caught in it by his Savior, he was filled with shame. “He broke down and wept” (v. 72). 
    Peter denied Jesus in exactly the way Christ had warned Peter would deny Him. Peter felt the sad gaze of Jesus as Peter made his final sinful denial of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t stop loving Peter. The Savior’s look at Peter wasn’t a look of rebuke or disgust. It was the look of love, calling Peter to repent, telling Peter he’d denied his Lord, inviting Peter to trust the full and free forgiveness Jesus would complete at the cross in a few hours.
    That’s for us, too. Jesus was being led to Pilate’s place when He looked at Peter. Ultimately, Jesus would walk willingly under His own cross to Calvary to open heaven for us sinners by His atoning sacrifice. Whether our denials of the Lord have been with bold lies we’ve told about not belonging to the Lord, or have been a less-than-honest attitude about our commitment to the Lord, all our sins are covered by the blood of the Lord.
    We’ve all thought the way Peter must have as the sun rose on Good Friday. I wish I could take back those words. Why did I deny my Savior?! As shameful and sinful as our denials of the Lord have been in words and attitudes, He doesn’t hold them against us. Why not? He paid the price in full for us! Trusting His forgiveness, why will we want to keep our connection to Him a secret ever again? By God’s grace, we won’t! Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday in Lent - Our Boast Is in Our Blessings in Christ
  • Second Sunday in Lent
    February 28, 2021
    Hymns                        122,   434,   536
    First Lesson                Genesis 28:10-17
    Psalm                          73 (page 94)
    Second Lesson            Romans 5:1-11
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 8:31-38
    Romans 5:1-11
    Our Boast Is in Our Blessings in Christ
      I. Access to God’s glory
          II. Absolved by God’s grace
              III. Assured by God’s guarantee
    In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed,
    Doing away with Alleluias during Lent is Christian church custom, not Biblical divine doctrine. Using no Alleluias reminds us to reflect on our sins and our need to repent. But reflection and repentance aren’t reserved for this season only. They are to be part of the believer’s life every season, really every day.
    But we don’t focus only on solemn sorrow and genuine repentance in Lent. Even in Lent we rejoice that Jesus nailed our sins to His tree and that heaven is ours because He did. Even in Lent we celebrate what God has done for us through His Son.
    This lesson uses the word “rejoice” (vv. 2,3,11) three times. The Greek word can also mean boast, and we’ll use that verb these minutes. Rejoice, boast in Lent? Yes! We boast not in ourselves, but in God’s work. As we heard last Sunday, His work doesn’t make troubles disappear. But God’s work does keep our troubles from overwhelming us. How? Our boast is in our blessings in Christ: access to God’s glory, absolved by God’s grace, and assured by God’s guarantee.
    I. Access to God’s glory
    There aren’t many phrases in this lesson that are hard to understand, except this one: “We boast confidently on the basis of our hope for the glory of God” (v. 2)? What is “the glory of God”? It is His divine presence which makes sinners tremble. It is His power, might, and dominion over all people and all things. It is what leads us to say, “The Lord is a great God! He has done mighty things!” It is “glory” that belongs to God.
    But sometimes God’s Word uses “the glory of God” differently. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There the phrase means more God’s good opinion of us, God’s giving glory to us! That’s what it means here, too. We boast that God has a good opinion of us, delights in us, gives us a favorable verdict, “justifies (v. 1) us, declares us admittedly guilty sinners “Not guilty!”
    How can the just and holy God declare openly guilty sinners “Not guilty!”? The just and holy God answers, “You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). That’s not the peace of an infant sleeping soundly in her crib or a stream meandering gently through a park. That’s the peace we sinners – wearing prison clothes and handcuffs, no reason to boast – have with God when He sees us through the blood of His Son, calls us His children, makes us heirs of His heaven.
    Thanks to Christ, we “have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (v. 2). Have you ever thought I hope I don’t die while I’m sinning. I need a chance to repent quickly before my last breath? That’s not right! We’re always sinning. There’s never a time when we are everything God wants us to be, is there? We’re always living a life stained by our sinful nature, aren’t we? Though that’s all true, we are also forgiven all the time, live in God’s “grace” all the time. Our boast is our access to God’s glory, His opinion of us through Christ. Our boast is having Christ’s payment being applied to our account, and is approaching God’s throne in prayer – confident He will hear and answer us for the sake of Christ.
    Because of what God has done for us, we boast “in our sufferings” (v. 3). Do you follow the Spirit’s chain here? We know that suffering produces patient endurance – coping with and enduring serious troubles; patient endurance produces tested character – knowing our trust in Christ is well-placed and leading us to live for Him in everything; and tested character produces hope” (vv. 3-4) – the trust we will one day enjoy nothing but bliss in God’s presence forever. “And hope will not put us to shame” (v. 5). Even as we suffer the effects of living in a sinful world, we look forward to the glory of life in heaven. We don’t let annoying and alarming matters swamp us, but endure them the way God tells us to endure.
    That’s easy to say. That’s not easy to put into practice. The key is to keep in mind and heart, “God’s
    love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who was given to us” (v. 5). God promises, “I’ve taken care of your worst worries: sin, guilt, Satan, death, and hell!” God has done it all to make us sinners glorious in His sight now and glorious with Him forever. We don’t worry what He thinks of us. We know! We don’t wonder what our verdict will be. We know! “You have glory before Me and access to heaven in Christ!”
    II. Absolved by God’s grace
    A few moments ago we pictured ourselves as prisoners. What does God see in a murderer, drug dealer, or child abuser; a son who disobeys, daughter who talks back, or spouse who cheats? What is there in us spiritual convicts to move God to love us? Nothing! He did it from His undeserved love for us. We boast about that since we have nothing to offer God, no power on our own to reach out for Christ and hold on to Him. Why does God give us “access” to His glory? He’s absolved us by His grace.
    “While we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly… God shows His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (vv. 6,8). Those who suppose sinners can do something to meet God, please God, even accept God, run into a roadblock from the truth of God here. All people were “helpless…ungodly”, unrighteous, corrupt sinners in God’s sight. All were equally degenerate before God from conception. Nothing in anyone or about anyone – not even Abraham or Paul – could move God to die for a single sinner.
    We don’t like to think of ourselves as “ungodly”. But by nature that is what we were. We like to suppose we could make a move toward God’s love for us and reach out to take it for ourselves after He died for us. But we were “God’s enemies” (v. 10), “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). By ourselves we didn’t want God, couldn’t accept God, refused to have anything to do with God. We “were dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). What can spiritually dead people do? You’re right: Nothing good! Then how can we be accepted by God? Someone else had to do something. God did! God, who “is rich in mercy…made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
    We are absolved, set free, from hell by Christ. What better display of God’s love could He give than His holy life and innocent death for us?! It’s great God keeps us alive by giving us daily breath and all our body needs to live. But that’s nothing compared to the Father sending His Son to carry our curse: hell! Then the Holy Spirit pried open the stubborn fingers of our hearts, planted in us faith that trusts Christ’s work, and closes the fingers of faith around Christ to clutch Him tightly. All that is undeserved love, “grace”! All that is our boast!
    We see powerfully in Lent how our sins made it necessary for God to rescue us by His plan. He who is God became also man. He who never sinned had hell dumped on Him there for every sin, then miraculously rose from death. We entered life hating God and His work, so God worked the equally mighty miracle of faith in us to make us what we could never make ourselves and keep us what we are today: children of the loving God. Our boast is in our blessings in Christ! We are absolved, set free, from what should damn us – set free by God’s grace in Christ.
              III. Assured by God’s guarantee
    If I promise to give you one million dollars, you’d smile weakly and say, “How nice of you!” But you won’t count on getting the cash. Where’s the guarantee I have the money? What God says about forgiveness is wonderful news. That He declares His glory and grace is for us is so kind of Him. But can we count on it? We can! It’s not just what God says. It’s also what God does. Our boast is also in this blessing in Christ: we are assured by God’s guarantee!
    If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, it is even more certain that, since we have been reconciled, we will be saved by His life” (v. 10). This truth is God’s working from a greater act to what might be called a lesser act. If the neighbors rescue you from your burning house, they will also give you a coat or blanket, even a warm place to stay in their home until you can find a place to stay and the Red Cross sets you up with clothes. Since the Judge of all humans has declared all sinners, “Not guilty!” through “the death of His Son”, Christ’s rising from death is also proof we sinners are delivered from what we deserve.
    We boast “through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received this reconciliation” (v. 11). A reconciliation happens when there is a change in attitude between two parties. The spouses who’d been at each other’s throats are brought together in love and happiness when differences are resolved. We did nothing to change God’s attitude toward us. He did! His Son covered our guilt. His Spirit brought us to trust in Him. Everything that happened for our salvation is God’s work. Will He then stop short of saving us on the Last Day? No way! Our salvation is guaranteed by Him who saved us!
    The colors and hymns, banners and lessons of Lent remind us to repent. But even in this somber season, we “rejoice”, we boast. We boast that Jesus died for us. We boast that through His sacrifice we can take anything to God in prayer. We boast that by His work we are set free forever. We boast that by His work and His words we are guaranteed life with Him forever. When all that is our boast, sufferings don’t suffocate us. They move us to look for what is far greater. The greatest truth is this: God has rescued us, and He will have us with Him in heaven forever.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Midweek Lent Service- The Trial
  • Second Midweek Lent service
    February 24, 2021
    Mark 14:53-65
     I. The plan was for God to send His Son to the cross
             II. The plan was for God to send His Son to the earth again
    53They led Jesus away to the high priest. All the chief priests, the elders, and the experts in the law gathered together. 54Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. He was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.
    55The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they did not find any. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their testimonies did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” 59Yet even on this point, their testimony did not agree.
    60The high priest stepped forward and questioned Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is this they are testifying against you?”
    61But Jesus was silent and did not answer anything.
    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
    62“I am,” Jesus said. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
    63The high priest tore his robes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? 64You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?”
    They all condemned him as being worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit on him. They covered his face and struck him with their fists, saying, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him.
      I. The plan was for God to send His Son to the cross
    In the name of Jesus, the Son of God, the sinners’ only Savior, fellow Lenten worshipers of Him who is the great “I AM”,
    Do you know where this cross came from? Before our ladies group purchased an artificial Christmas tree, this was the largest part of the trunk from the last real Christmas tree our congregation displayed here. Although there’s sentimental value to this cross, this cross isn’t particularly impressive, is it?
    We gather these Lent Wednesday nights to see not this cross, but Christ’s cross. It will take until the last midweek Lent service to get to Calvary in the Passion History reading, the last two midweek service sermons to get to the hill on which Jesus was crucified. So, we worship tonight not to see Christ’s physical cross, but to see the spiritual facts connected to His death. Here we learn that Christ’s death is God’s plan – the plan for God the Father to send God the Son to the cross, and for God the Father to send God the Son to earth again. 
    After Christ was captured in Gethsemane as part of the conspiracy between Judas and the Jewish church leaders, Jesus was taken first to the former high priest, respected Annas, then to the official high priest of the Jews, younger Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas. Who would make the decision about what happened to Jesus? Annas or Caiaphas? Neither. It was all God’s plan – Christ’s plan since He is truly God!
    The Jewish church officials lured liars to make a case against Christ by accusing Him of things He had not done or said. But the lying witnesses “did not agree” (v. 56). When asked about that testimony, Jesus “was silent and did not answer anything” (v. 61). That didn’t matter to Caiaphas. He kept a card up his sleeve, then used it with his question he was sure would put Jesus in an inescapable dilemma. “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One” (v. 61)?
    As the high priest, Caiaphas knew the Old Testament centered on the promises about the Messiah, the Hebrew word for the Greek word Christ, the Anointed One. The Messiah would be sent by God for the essential work to save the world. All faithful Jews for centuries longed to see the Messiah’s day. Sadly, like most of the Jews of Christ’s day, Caiaphas rejected the truth from Jesus that He is the Messiah, “the Christ”, the long-promised Savior sent by God to the cross to save the world.
    To expose Jesus of Nazareth before the ruling court of the Jewish church as a blaspheming impostor who claimed to be God come to earth in the flesh, Caiaphas asked the question in a way that left no wiggle room for Jesus. “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Caiaphas was convinced Jesus was trapped no matter how He answered. If He says, “Yes”, He’s doomed to death because He claims for Himself what only God can claim for Himself. There’s no way He’s the Son of God, the Son of the Blessed One! And if He says, “No”, He’s admitting He’s lied for years about being the promised Savior.
    This time, Jesus couldn’t remain silent. And He didn’t. The Lord answered the loaded question with two words, or one word in the Hebrew with which He addressed the Jewish high priest. “I am” (v. 62). Their Hebrew ears heard in that answer the same word Jesus used centuries earlier, long before He had taken on human flesh. At the burning, but not burned up, bush He said to their revered ancestor Moses, “I am who I am…I am has sent Me to you” (Exodus 3:14). Our Savior had made many similar statements during His ministry “I am the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the Light of the world, the resurrection and the life” and more.
    That same statement made at His trial wasn’t the Savior’s way to sneer at those who hated Him and were trying to convict Him falsely, “Hah! I’m right and you’re all wrong!” Jesus answered in truth, from power, with love to say, “I am the One sent from heaven by My Father as promised to be the sinners’ Substitute and remove the curse of hell hanging over all people. When I go to the cross in the morning, it will be to make the sacrifice that you and all sinners desperately need Me to make. Sending Me to the cross isn’t your idea. It’s God’s plan!”
    Our Savior showed who was really in control. It wasn’t Caiaphas and his cleverly worded question to trap the Savior. It was the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Triune God’s perfectly laid out plan to save the entire world!
    See His cross. It’s all God’s plan. This wasn’t a crooked trial that tragically put an innocent man to death. This was God using what He knew blinded Jewish church leaders would do to fulfill His plan to rescue damned sinners – you and me. This wasn’t a bitter Jesus who silently let men whom He had created have their horrible way with Him. This was the loving Lord agreeing to go to the cross because His is the only payment that redeems us. This wasn’t a weak Christ caving in to a plot that He was powerless to stop. This was the eternal Savior carrying out the plan for which He was sent to earth – the greatest deliverance in all the world for all the world because no one else in the world can erase the stain of sin, remove the curse of hell, crush the head of Satan!
          II. The plan was for God to send His Son to the earth again
    The recent presidential campaigns featured talking points. Not wanting a candidate to say something wrong or make an absurd promise, advisors told their candidate, “Stay on topic. Don’t let them get you to say anything beyond our talking points.”
    Jesus needed no ministry managers telling Him what to say, what points to emphasize, what topics to avoid. In one of the last times before He died that Jesus would speak about His plan and purpose, He went beyond what Caiaphas had asked Him. Jesus took the opportunity to say in the presence of the Jewish church leaders that what was happening was out of their control; it was by divine design. As we worship tonight, we see it’s all God’s plan. Yes, the plan was to send the Son to the cross. But God’s plan is also to send the Son to earth again.
    In a modern court, the prosecuting attorney would object and the presiding judge would tell the defendant Jesus, “Just answer the question!” But in that court that night the defendant was the One who is the highest power in the universe. For three years Jesus had preached, “You sinners need Me to suffer and die for you!” He goes willingly to the cross rather than at a church court command! To that, He added, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (v. 62). That’s God’s plan, too.
    “The Son of Man” is the phrase Jesus used most often to refer to Himself during His preaching and teaching. It was His way to say, “I have come as the Substitute for sinners. The reason I don’t look like many people assume the Messiah should look is that I’ve come in humility to take the place of all people as I suffer the punishment of hell deserved by every sinner.”
    “Sitting at the right hand” doesn’t mean Jesus now sits on a throne to the Father’s right in heaven. It’s a phrase used many times in Scripture to teach that the Savior reigns with power in heaven no that His mission on earth is perfectly completed.
    “Coming with the clouds of heaven” is familiar to us who confess each week Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Even as He knew He’d be going to the cross in just hours, Jesus declared He wouldn’t stay dead. He would rise from the dead, return to heaven, and will come to earth again. Then He will judge all people based on their trust – or lack of trust – in Him and what He does for sinners.
    It’s all God plan! The Father will send the Son to earth again to judge. On that Last Day, Caiaphas and Annas, Pilate and Herod, the Jews who screamed for His blood and the crucified criminal who mocked His work will stand before Jesus – and tremble. On that day, we will stand before Jesus – and rejoice!
    Our joy will not flow from our earthly efforts or accomplishments. If we were to stand before God on our own merits, we’d be sent to hell. Our joy will be Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us. He who came as a baby in Bethlehem, lived in poverty, let enemies arrest and convict Him and hit and crucify Him will be sent to earth again when He will welcome us to heaven based on His work to remove all our guilt before God.
    There are only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who look to Christ’s cross and cradle and all He did and all He is as their salvation. There are those who ignore His cross and cradle and all He did and all He is because they think that they or their careers or their possessions are more important that Christ and His work. We trust His suffering to bring us condemned sinners everlasting peace with the holy God. We trust His wounds to heal us spiritually. Because all that is most certainly true and is most certainly God’s plan, we trust that when He comes again, He will free us from every evil, all sorrow, and the fear of death.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday in Lent - God Is for Us Right Now
  • First Sunday in Lent
    February 21 2021
    Hymns                        714,   200,   449     
    First Lesson                Genesis 22:1-1
    Psalm                          6 (page 66)
    Second Lesson            Romans 8:31-38
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 1:12-15
    Romans 8:31-38
    God Is for Us Right Now
      I. Right now we have the Savior
       II. Right now we have forgiveness
    III. Right now we have the victory
    In the name of Christ Jesus, our Savior, fellow sinners beloved by the Lord,
    The little girl looked fearfully, almost tearfully, over the side of the new boat on her first ride, and asked, “Daddy, is the water over my head?” When Dad said, “Yes”, she paused a bit, then asked, “Is it over your head, Mom?” Mom said, “It is.” After another pause the daughter posed a third question. “Is it over God’s head?” When both Dad and Mom answered in unison, “No”, she relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the ride.
    We adults smile and think, What a cute story! If only it worked that way for life’s big worries! It does! What the little girl trusted is what this lesson and all the Word is all about. Some of God’s children count these verses of Romans the greatest section of comfort and power God gives in all His Word. God’s purpose isn’t to get us all to agree this is the best part of His Word, but to give us what we need today, tomorrow, every day.
    You may be carrying crises or bearing burdens as you worship God today. We won’t argue whose crisis is most critical, whose burden is biggest. We will be still, listen to God, and take His truths to heart. Whether your crises or burdens are financial or family matters, just arose or have been festering for months, what God tells us calms our nerves and warms our hearts.
    Really?! What can God say to make my troubles go away?! Wrong question. What God says about what He has done and continues to do helps us cope with what has been keeping us up at night and making us edgy all day. God is not a life insurance policy who pays off for us only when we die. “God is (not will be, but is) for us (v. 31), that means right now! Right now we have the Savior, have forgiveness, and have the victory.
    I. Right now we have the Savior 
    In the first eleven chapters of Romans, God emphasizes in great detail the truths that we are sinners who can’t save ourselves, but God has done it all to deliver us. The last five chapters of the letter then show God’s delivered children how we live in that blessed light. Though this lesson comes from the first section, it really covers both. Because God is for us right now, we enjoy life as His saved people right now.
    Hold it! Can we really be sure? It says, “If God is for us”. What if God is not for us? Good question! God has the perfect answer. To understand God’s answer, consider these two sentences. If it snows a lot, there won’t be school tomorrow. If it’s Sunday, there’s no school today. One is iffy; the other is certain. And in the certain one If could be changed to Since. Since it’s Sunday, there’s no school today. So here. It’s not iffy; it’s rock solid – absolutely, divinely true. The Greek word could be translated Since. Since God is for us”.
    Do we need proof God is for us? “He…did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (v. 32). Our Father in heaven didn’t say, “No way! He’s My Son! I’m not going to let Him suffer for all of you who sin against Me every day!” It makes our day every day for God to say, “He’s My Son, true God and now true man who came to earth. He’s just what you need Him to be to make you sinners Mine forever. I handed Him over in humility, for suffering, and to death for you all.” Not just down the road of life, but right now!, God is for us as the Savior!
    And He who gave us the greatest gift ever goes on to say, “Will I not also graciously give you all things along with Him” (v. 32)? All we need, God “graciously” gives us. It’s not that He owes us anything or we’ve done anything to deserve any good from God. It’s only that He wants us to have what we need, and He wants to give it to us freely. Sure, that’s food to eat and healthy things to drink, air to breathe and hearts that beat, loved ones to care for us and friends to cheer us – earthly gifts. But it’s even more the Word and sacraments that center on His Son, the spiritual blessings He showers on us to build up our faith.
    Not just on the days we’re in deep trouble, not just on the future day we’re on our death bed, but right now “God is for us” with His Son as our Savior. God is on our side with more than nice feelings for us and kind thoughts about us. He has acted in love and on our behalf to give us the Savior we’d never seek on our own. That puts deep cares, troubles, and sorrows in their place!
      II. Right now we have forgiveness

    Most people see themselves as good people whose greatest challenge in life is staying on the right road. They’re wrong! God reminded us in our Ash Wednesday psalm that all born of man and woman inherit from their parents already at conception their parents’ sinful nature. All people are from birth spiritually dead and lost, marked for condemnation in hell.
    Only those who see themselves as God sees them – by nature lost! – truly depend on God. Like the little girl, we see ourselves in danger of drowning – in damnation! So, how wonderful to hear, “God is for us”! Right now we God’s forgiveness.
    Our sinful nature shrugs off its rebellion against God and does not want to do anything about that. Does your sinful nature roll its eyes each Sunday when you confess that you deserve nothing but God’s punishment now and forever? Or don’t you pay attention when confessing that to God? And even if we wanted to do something about our rebellion against God, what could we do? What credit could we claim before God? What payment for our sins against God could we offer God? The payment He demands for one sin is hell!
    That’s why isn’t just nice, it’s essential!, that “God is for us” right now, right in the midst of our sinful lives. Because of His love in action for us in “Christ Jesus” (v. 34), His Son, our Savior, God doesn’t hold our sins against us. Because “Christ Jesus” took on Himself the punishment of hell we deserved, we have the forgiveness we need. We have it right now!
    “Who will bring an accusation against” (v. 33) us? That’s a rhetorical question, as is the next one: “Who is the one who condemns” (v. 34) us before God? The answer to both is No one! Oh, the old evil foe tries. But when he whispers to us How can God love a sinner like you?, we use the little Word of God with the divine power of God behind it: Forgiven! When our conscience dredges up past terrible trespasses and recent secret sins as a reason God should damn us, we silence our conscience with the truth that God is for us right now with His forgiveness.
    There’s more! “Christ Jesus, who died and, more than that, was raised to life, is the One who is at God’s right hand and who is also interceding for us” (v. 34). When we get disgusted with ourselves for falling back into the arguments with loved ones or the thoughts we told God we will cut out of our lives, “Christ Jesus” asks His Father not to hold that against us because He paid the price for us. When the world mocks us for following Biblical morals and not adjusting doctrines to fit the way people think today, “Christ Jesus” uses His Word to let us know that walking in His truth is the way His forgiven people live. Not just later, but right now, God is for us!
    III. Right now we have the victory
    Will Satan succeed in attacking us in God’s courtroom? With Christ as our Defense Attorney and His relationship with the Judge, not a chance! But how about the wear and tear of everyday Christian living? Don’t we grow weary of all the trouble we face? Don’t our hardships take a heavy toll on us? Notice God does not ignore such sorrows! Against the TV evangelists who suggest life with God is a bed of roses, God’s great apostle Paul here addresses the adversities we face – and the truth that even in trouble “God is for us”. Because He is, right now we have the victory, even when it doesn’t feel like we have it.
    God gives no guarantee “trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (v. 35) will not happen to His people, whether in Rome then or in mid-Michigan now. Paul knew from his life as a believer those do happen to God’s people. We know – from prayers we offer here for fellow believers and from the low spots in our lives – those do happen to God’s people. Paul’s situation was – and ours is, too – like the one the psalmist wrote about and the Spirit had Paul quote here. God’s people at times are like “sheep to be slaughtered” (v. 36) as we stand up for Godly truths in a sinful world.
    Is that a surprise? Didn’t the Lord Jesus Himself tell those who follow Him in every age, “If anyone wants to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24)? The sinful world hates God’s truths and God’s ways. At times the situation seems hopeless. But look deeper! “If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us?” Will God let any of these things separate us from Him? Never!
    The question, then, is, Will we let those things separate us from God? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 37). Notice, not just “conquerors”, but more than conquerors”! We are the wealthiest, strongest, most victorious people in the world in Christ!
    If you had all the money in the world in your bank account, what good would it do you if you die Thursday? If you had access to the best medical care in the world, would good would it do you if a driver having a heart attack crosses the center line and hits you head-on tomorrow? But since, not if, but since, because, the gracious God loves us so much He handed over His holy Son to suffer our hell and through His Son He forgives us our every sin, we have the victory, His victory, right now!
    In any other area of life we’d think, That sounds too good to be true! What’s the catch? But when it comes to the most important matter of life, God’s relationship with us, it is true and there is no catch. This victory is no credit to us, doesn’t depend on anything we do, isn’t accomplished by our love for and devotion to God (which often run more cold than hot, right?).
    It’s the other way around. We’re “more than conquerors through Him who loved us. When it is God’s love on which the victory depends, nothing in all the creation God made has the power to cut us off from God! But we don’t get complacent! While nothing in the world, not even Satan, is more powerful against us than the powerful love of God is for us, we still can cave in and let Satan have his damning way with us. But, assured of the victory we have in Christ already now and certainly eternally, why would we given in to the devil?
    God is for us right now! That is our confidence. That is why we know everything in our lives serves for our ultimate good. Suffering? God uses it to lead us to look to Him for spiritual strength in His love for us and His death in our place. Pressures to throw Jesus away and enjoy what the sinful world does? God uses those to lead us to hear again what we have in “Christ Jesus”. We have the Savior and the forgiveness and the victory right now – all because “God is for us” right now!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Ash Wednesday - Ponder the Passion of the Christ: The Betrayal
  • Ash Wednesday
    February 17, 2021
     I. Christ fights for us by turning Himself in (vv. 47-50)
       II. Christ fights for us by showing Himself off (vv. 51-56)

     Matthew 26:47-56
                        47While Jesus was still speaking, suddenly Judas (one of the Twelve) arrived. With him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign: “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him.” 49Immediately he went to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
                        50Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?”
                Then they advanced, took hold of Jesus, and arrested him. 51Suddenly, one of the men with Jesus reached out his hand, drew his sword, and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, because all who take the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you not realize that I could call on my Father, and at once he would provide me with more than twelve legions of angels? 54But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”
                        55At that same time Jesus said to the crowd, “Have you come out to arrest me with swords and clubs as if I were a robber? Day after day I was sitting in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But all this has happened so that the writings of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
    In the name of Jesus Christ, fellow Passion season worshipers,
    There are many interesting people in the Passion History. Pilate’s wife – her dream about Jesus, then warning her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus. Pilate – washing his hands from the guilt of Jesus. Peter – confessing Christ, denying Christ, and when he wasn’t putting his foot in his mouth rashly, taking a sword and trying to take the Messiah’s matters into his own hands. The women – following our Lord so faithfully. Judas – betraying Jesus.
    But none of them died for us or did anything for us – except Peter writing two letters that are part of God’s Word. But even that was God’s work through Peter. In fact, what we remember about the people in the Passion History lessons is that they looked out for themselves, except for the faithful women who focused only on serving their Savior.
    The Passion History spotlight must shine on Jesus! Tonight we see Him fighting for us. Really? The One who was silent while He was spit on, slapped, beaten, taken in chains, tortured with whips, bloodied by thorns, then pierced with nails? Because He didn’t fight to prevent any of that, the devil wants us to judge Jesus a weak victim, powerless to escape. These events in the Garden of Gethsemane make it seem Satan is right.
    But we view these events with the eyes of faith. Only the eyes of faith forged and strengthened by the Holy Spirit see these events as the Savior fighting for us. Only the heart of a faith kept burning brightly by the Spirit ponders these events of the Passion of the Christ as Him fighting for us. In His betrayal by Judas, we see Christ fighting for us as He turns Himself in, and fighting for us as He shows Himself off.
     I. Christ fights for us by turning Himself in (vv. 47-50)
    The Passover celebration in the Upper Room Jesus had with His disciples had ended. The Sacrament of Holy Communion had been established by Christ for His Church until time ends. Christ’s detailed lessons for His disciples were completed.
    From the Upper Room it was off to Gethsemane. Jesus prayed there about His suffering and death. As true God He knew the horror to be heaped on His holy soul in just hours. The disciples knew the place because Jesus often went there – just east of Jerusalem – to pray. Judas knew where to find Jesus that night.
    The Savior’s praying and the disciples’ napping (remember?) were over. Jesus knew what was happening on the paths leading to Gethsemane. “Rise. Let us go. Look, my betrayer is near” (Matthew 26:46). Jesus and eleven disciples – the twelfth was “the betrayer” – waited for the armed soldiers to come into view. When they arrived, Judas was leading them to the place. He greeted Jesus with a kiss, the Middle Eastern equivalent of our handshake. But that was no friendly greeting. That kiss was the prearranged signal for soldiers to arrest Jesus.
    If you knew a former friend was plotting behind your back to have you arrested or get you in some other trouble, you’d steer clear of him, right? Christ could have gone somewhere else that night. He could have used His power as God to paralyze the betrayer. But He didn’t. Instead, He turned Himself in.
    This was no pathetic surrender. Jesus wasn’t like a cornered rabbit who had no way out. Just the opposite! Jesus asked the soldiers, “Who is it you want?” They replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” When Jesus of Nazareth answered, “I am He” (John 18:5), He used His power to cause the soldiers – mighty military men! – to fall to the ground helpless.
    Who was in charge at the betrayal? Christ, even as He turned Himself in. He wanted His enemies in Gethsemane and wants His followers in mid-Micihgan to know He never gave up, but ever did things His way on earth. He wasn’t being taken against His will. His will was to be taken for us. Didn’t He say months before this, “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on My own” (John 10:18)? Our Ash Wednesday text does say the soldiers “took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him” (v. 50). But that was only because Christ turned Himself in.
    Jesus went to meet the enemy, and turn Himself in to the enemy, on His own terms and for our salvation. He willingly set aside His full power as God and chose freely to go to the cross to fight for us – not against soldiers, but against Satan.
    Christ’s wasn’t a loving life ended too soon. Christ lovingly went where we should have gone – to endure the punishment of hell. Christ didn’t give up on us, but fought for us – even as He turned Himself in. He did so knowing full well that would lead to the cross. What amazing love we see when we ponder the Passion of the Christ! Christ turned Himself in for us!
       II. Christ fights for us by showing Himself off (vv. 51-56)
    Judas was determined to hand Jesus over to the Jewish church leaders. The soldiers were determined to take Jesus to court. The disciples were determined to save their own lives. Jesus was determined to do what is best for all of them – Judas, soldiers, Jewish leaders, disciples – and for all of us. As we ponder the passion of Christ, tonight specifically His betrayal, we see Jesus not just turning Himself in, but also showing Himself off.
    His wasn’t a cocky showing off. Jesus showed Himself off as the world’s Savior with another healing miracle. When tensions rose and tempers flared in Gethsemane, Peter “reached out his hand, drew his sword, and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (v. 51). We read in Luke that Jesus immediately said, “‘Stop! No more of this!’ Then He touched the servant’s ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
    As was true with all Christ’s miracles, so this wasn’t mostly to make Malchus feel better. Nor was it only to rebuke Peter. As with Christ’s willingly handing Himself over to His enemies and causing the soldiers to fall to the ground, so this was to prove that He is who He says He is: God come in human flesh. This sent to Christ’s enemies the message, Don’t try to take My disciples, or I’ll use My power against you. You will take Me because the Scriptures must be fulfilled (v. 54) that says you will arrest Me. But you can’t take My disciples, because the Word of God says none of them will be harmed.
    In His betrayal we see the Savior fight for all sinners, using the power of His holy Word and His divine touch. Christ’s words, “All who take the sword will die by the sword” (v. 51) don’t mean every use of weapons is wrong. It means all who use weapons in anger to get vengeance are wrong. He said, “I could call on My Father, and at once He would provide Me with more than twelve legions of (72,000!) angels” (v. 53) to teach us, too, that He fights for us His way, not man’s way.
    All this has happened so that the writings of the prophets would be fulfilled” (v. 56). Christ fights for us by showing Himself off as the promised Savior who comes in fulfillment of His truth. The truth of God is that Jesus would hand Himself over to His enemies, not be beaten into submission by them. The truth of God is that the Messiah wouldn’t fight a bloody battle, but would go to the cross willingly as the Savior. Christ didn’t hide from His enemies; He taught in the temple courts the days before His arrest. He was not a dangerous criminal or ruthless enemy who needed to be met “with swords and clubs” (v. 55). The religious leaders of the Jews wanted Jesus out of the picture because they hated His teachings. Then why didn’t they arrest Him while He was teaching? Because the Old Testament predicted one of His own would betray Him.
    Jesus fights for us by speaking to us in His Word. Scripture isn’t a collection of gripping religious stories. It is the record of God’s work to save us. Baptism isn’t a cute ceremony. It is how the Triune God uses the power of His Word with plain water to bring even the tiniest infant to faith in Him. Sinful reason says That doesn’t work! We must have to do something to get so great a blessing! The Savior’s Word says, “Baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:21). Here I do all the work! Put the sword of your efforts away and trust Me to do My work My way!” There, too, Christ fights for us from the very beginning of our life by showing Himself off as the Savior. The sacred meal the Savior established before going to Gethsemane that night isn’t a religious ritual we are free to adapt to our own liking. It is His sacrament where He does His work with His powerful gospel to assure us of His forgiveness for our sins. Sinful reason says Christ’s body and blood can’t be in there! That’s impossible! The Savior says, “Take eat. This is My body…Take drink. This is My blood” (Matthew 26:26-27).
    Christ fights for us, the truth He shows us so clearly in His Passion. The war has been won. He died for us and we are forgiven. “It is finished” (John 19:30) indeed! But the battles rage on daily as the devil tries to drag us off individually. Without the Savior, we are no match for the prince of darkness. But with the Savior fighting for us, showing Himself as our Redeemer in His Word and by His work, we win!
    In our daily struggles against the devil who wants to divorce us from the Savior, the Savior fights for us. Christ is done turning Himself in for us. But He continues showing Himself off to us as the Savior on the pages of His Word and in the power of His sacraments. Here and there and there we go for His power in the Passion season – and always! Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss