2021:Sundays after Pentecost

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Ruler of Kings (Rev 1:5-6)

  • Introduction: It was a month ago when our message covered one of the three offices our Lord Jesus holds, that being a priest.  As background, Lutheran confessions, which are based upon the scriptures, notes the three offices or roles of Jesus: Prophet, Priest, King.  A prophet brings the word of God to us.  A priest intercedes between God the Father and mankind.  A kingship is probably the most recognizable office, because we have had earthly kings all throughout the history of mankind.  Unfortunately, most earthly kings figured their realm was there to serve them instead of following Christ’s example of serving those to whom He came.
    • Today on Christ the King Sunday, we look into how Christ is our King. In a way, this message is a celebration of the name of our church.  Christus Rex is Latin for Christ the King, so this last Sunday of the church year provides definition for what we are about at this church – bringing glory to our Lord Jesus, who rules over heaven and earth!  In addition to looking into how Christ is our King, we will analyze what that means for us in 2021 and beyond.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we are finite people and therefore cannot understand how You are a distinct person of the one true Triune God. You sent Your Son Jesus to redeem us from eternal death, and You sent the Holy Spirit to work faith in our soul, so that we can grasp onto this salvation.  Please send the Holy Spirit so that we grow in knowledge and understanding of the work that Your Son Jesus continues to do in our eternal life while we are still in this Age.  And, let us grow in appreciation and trust that nothing happens without it first being allowed or initiated by Your Son, to whom You have given the keys to Your kingdom.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: Just a reminder, scriptural references are detailed in the outline printed upon the back of your bulletin to which I will refer.  You may want to have the outline handy to hopefully avoid confusion, because I will bounce between two major source texts used for this message on today.
    • The scriptures interpret the scriptures and so it should be no surprise when we find different writers of books of the bible describing a similar event, each from different perspectives.  For example, the synoptic Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a lot in common.  And yet, they each record the events they hold in common with slightly different wording and focus on different details.  That doesn’t make them inconsistent with one another.  That actually enriches the composite account of an event in Jesus’ ministry.
    • We have a similar situation with the events of Dan ch#7 and Rev ch#5.  However, unlike the Gospel writers who recorded their inspired observations in dates ranging from 40-70AD, the same occurrence of Jesus’ ascension back into heaven was witnessed by Daniel sometime in the 6th century BC whereas the Apostle John saw the same event sometime around 95AD. 
      • Both Daniel and John witnessed God the Father sitting upon a throne in heaven. Both saw thousands upon thousands serving Him and myriads upon myriads standing before Him.  Jesus was present before the Father, with John providing greater detail than Daniel.  The Holy Spirit was also present, although it is rather oblique in Daniel’s account.  I suspect because John had firsthand experience with Jesus for 3yrs, and also the promised Holy Spirit on Pentecost, he understood more of the vision than Daniel, who only had experience with a pre-incarnate Jesus.  Daniel was clearer in his account of the event to express conference of the rule of the kingdom from the Father to the Son. 
    • All three persons of the Trinity who greeted us in Rev 1:4-5 are present in the same account of an event in heaven that both Daniel and John recorded. Let’s spend a moment comparing how each person of the Trinity was presented.
      • The Father is referred to as the “Ancient of Days” by Daniel in Dan 7:9,13.  Whenever I read that term and the description of our Heavenly Father, my mind goes to images of “Father Time” which used to come out around New Years Day each year: garments as white as snow with hair like pure wool.
        • God the Father is the same whom John referred to as the One “who is, who was, and who comes” in Rev 1:4.  John used this wording to indicate the eternal existence of God the Father who never had a beginning, He always existed, and will come again to interact directly with His people at the start of the eternal Age of believers when we get into heaven.
        • As I mentioned a moment ago, both writers saw the Father seated upon His throne (Dan 7:9, Rev 5:1).  We deduce this, because in both accounts, Jesus is standing before the throne, and not sitting upon the throne.
      • Jesus is referred to by Daniel as “One like a Son of Man” in Dan 7:13. In Rev 1:5, John overtly mentions Jesus’ name, and then adds Jesus’ heritage as “the firstborn of the dead”. To be a firstborn of the dead is a direct indication of having human attributes in addition to having divine attributes as being the one and only Son of God.  Despite some religions claiming that Jesus was one of many sons of God, we have the scriptures claiming Jesus as *the* Son of God.  The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist indicate all three persons of the Trinity were present.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. And God the Father said, “…“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.[1]”  
        • The descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at His baptism was a fulfillment of Isa 11:1-2a - 1Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2aThe Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him…[2]  Continuing in Isa 11:2 from a different translation for clarity – 2bThe Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and godliness. 3aThe Spirit of the fear of God shall fill Him…[3] The Holy Spirit has seven (7) attributes of His own which I just read from Isa 11:2b-3a. 
      • These seven (7) attributes are critical to understanding the references to the “seven spirits” mentioned in Revelation, because in our Second Reading from Rev 1:4, John references “…the seven spirits who are before  [the Father’s] throne…  That isn’t the only time in Revelation John used the term “seven spirits”.  John wrote about the seven spirits of God also in Rev 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6.  The context of the usage of Rev 3:1 aligns with the usage in Rev 1:4.  Usage in Rev 4:5 aligns with Daniel’s observation about the throne of the Ancient of Days being “…ablaze with flames…” in Dan 7:9.  And the usage of seven spirits in Rev 5:6 aligns well with the Isa 11 text I read a moment ago.  On this latter alignment of the scriptures interpreting other scriptures is that the Spirit rests upon Jesus as foretold in Isa 11:2a and later in Isa 61:1-3. We know this because after Jesus persevered through the temptations of Satan after fasting 40 days just to make it fair, He visited His hometown of Nazareth.  He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.  17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.[4]”  Jesus had read from Isa 61:1-3.  He then sat down and said to everyone, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.[5]”  The amazing things about Jesus proclaiming He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 are that He confirmed the Holy Spirit was upon Him since His baptism, and that the people rejected this gospel message so strongly that they literally ran Jesus out of His hometown. 
  • Analysis: To reiterate, we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in these two different accounts of the same vision, one by the OT prophet Daniel, and the other by the Apostle John.  We have this difficult to understand writing from John about “seven spirits”, but we have scriptural confirmation from Isaiah that John indeed saw what he saw and accurately recorded what he saw of heaven.  With all these readings from different writers of books of the Bible, we can confidently conclude that God the Father gave all power and authority to the Son.  We first encountered the conference of authority in Dan 7:13-14 which I repeat here - 13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, Honor, and a kingdom, So that all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.[6]  This is the authority Jesus meant when He said to His disciples as quoted in Mat 28:18 - 18 … “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
    • God the Father is pleased with the work His one and only Son completed on behalf of sinful mankind, because no one besides Jesus was found worthy to remit sins.  Without the remission of sins, it would be impossible for anyone ever conceived to enter into heaven.  The entire Triune Godhead wants all to be saved, so it was unacceptable for God’s most prized creation, mankind, to never get the chance to spend eternity with Him. This is why the chorus of millions of souls in heaven sang - …“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.[7]” 
      • Jesus was proven faithful to lead the armies of heaven and have all of the Father’s authority, because of His faithfulness in sacrificing Himself for us.  The writer to the Hebrews was the source for our confession in the ecumenical creeds that we believe Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.  To be at the right hand of someone is to be a trustworthy individual; a “right hand man” if you will.  We read from Heb 10:12 - but [Jesus], having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD[8],
      • We can conclude that Jesus is ruling already at this moment in our time. I say “our time”, because there is no time in heaven.  When Jesus ascended back into heaven after making purification from sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Father and has been ruling ever since then (Heb 1:3). You might wonder then how is it Daniel saw God the Father award all authority to Jesus some 5-600yrs prior to Jesus being born?  I again refer to the fact that God lives outside of the time dimension and therefore can have dominion or control over time.  Daniel saw what he saw, and accurately recorded for all believers what God wanted us to see in order to encourage us in the faith. 
  • Implications: The encouragement Daniel and the Apostle John provided in their separate accounts of the same event in heaven is that no matter what is happening in “our time”, Jesus is ruling.  Jesus is protecting those who are faithful to Him.  He promised in the message to one of the seven churches - 10 Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth[9].  Some people want to believe Jesus meant that He would rapture them out of this Age before things really get bad.  However, there is no scriptural history of God ever doing that for His people. There is scriptural history for sparing His people from, for instance, the majority of the plagues leveled against Egypt.  I’m sure the Israelites of the time of the Exodus were tempted to cross over to the Egyptian side and not want to leave Egypt, but that didn’t change God’s commitment to His people to save them from slavery.
    • With Jesus ruling at this very moment, the Holy Spirit is integral to that work.  The Holy Spirit works in us faith in order to believe and trust in the promises of the Lord. Additionally, the Holy Spirit is sent out into all of the earth (Rev 5:6).  You might be tempted to look at the Holy Spirit as an enforcer of Jesus’ rule, but the word of God has power and authority.  Without faith, that word goes into one ear and out the other on a person determined to deny the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Remember, a sin against the Holy Spirit, that is denial of His testimony in your soul, is the *only* unpardonable sin.
    • The Father has made it clear He will not tolerate the sin of this Age forever.  There will come a time when the Father says, “enough!” (Heb 10:13-14)
      • He will send Jesus out on the clouds to reappear for the second and final time in this Age.  We know this by faith and trust in the words of Dan 7:13 and Rev 1:7, both of which are in your bulletin to read and re-read any time you have doubts about whether Jesus is in control of things.
    • We will one day be gathered up and be a part of the thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads gathered around the throne that both Daniel and John saw (Dan 7:10, Rev 5:11). Those not confessing Jesus as Lord will be missing from that crowd.  Belief in Jesus is righteousness, and we have belief because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if we confess we believe Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead, we will be saved from eternal punishment (Rom 10:9-10).
      • The alternative to that confession of faith is denying Jesus and the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord.  There are books of death and one book of life.  You might have missed the subtlety of Dan 7:10 I repeat here - The court convened, And the books were opened[10].  There’s only one book in which you want your name written – the Book of Life as mentioned by the Apostle John in Rev 20:12 - 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds[11].  Both Daniel and John were also allowed to see Judgement Day. They saw books, but John reported the implication of those books - 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire[12].
    • The Apostle Paul prayed on behalf of the Ephesians, and it is a prayer also for us. He prayed - 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the boundless greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and made Him head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all[13].
      • Just remember, when you see all the evil that is taking place in “our time”, Jesus is ruler over all, even kings (Rev 1:5)!  Amen!

[1] Mark 1:11b from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/mar/1/1/s_958001

[2] Isa 11:1-2a from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/isa/11/1/p1/s_690001

[3] Isa 11:2b-3a from The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2008, p.1067

[4] Luke 4:17-19 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+4&version=NASB

[5] Luke 4:21, ibid

[6] Dan 7:13-14 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=dan+7&version=NASB

[7] Rev 5:12 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+5&version=NASB

[8] Heb 10:12 from https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/heb/10/1/s_1143001

[9] Rev 3:10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+3&version=NASB

[10] Last sentence of Dan 7:10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=dan+7&version=NASB

[11] Rev 20:12 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+20&version=NASB

[12] Rev 20:15, ibid

[13] Eph 1:17-23 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eph+1&version=NASB

Recognize the Kingdom is Near (Luke 22:31)

  • Introduction: Advent is the start of a new year in the church.  We are now in Series C of the 3yr lectionary series, if you are keeping track of such things.  The start of Series C this weekend included two different Gospel readings from Luke. When faced with two good options for an either/or scenario, I sometimes respond with “yes” instead of making a choice of one over the other. 😊  This is why we had an unusual set of readings to start off with Advent on today.
    • The reason for this is thetwo Gospel readings instruct us of Jesus first and final coming to our Age.  As has been observed in the past, we worship a God who comes to us.  All other religions of the world are set up to worship a god who must be approached and appeased of his anger.  These gods (emphasis on small “g”) are prayed to, but they have eyes which do not see and ears which do not hear.  Therefore, those prayers wind up in a virtual wastebin.
      • Not so with the God to whom Christians of every tribe, language, and time in history worship.  Jesus came to us in the same flesh & blood you & I have.  He lived with the same temptations you & I do, but He never sinned.  The first reading for today covered Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – on the way to His cross where our sins were nailed.
      • Despite this triumphant entry occurring at the end of His ministry tour, it was a scenario of foretelling how He will return to us a second and final time. As mentioned on last week, Jesus will come again triumphantly in the clouds to end the Age of existence as we currently know it.
    • In this season of Advent, our focus is to make ready for both occasions.  In your home you probably will put up a tree and decorate the house for Christmas. However, are we prepared for Jesus to come at the end of this year?  This month? Maybe even this afternoon?  It is His second and final return for which we will explore how to prepare.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, each season of Advent reminds our short-sighted minds of the great love You showed for us.  You sent Your one and only Son to us to be like us except for sin, so that He could take our sins from us.  Please send the Holy Spirit so that in gratitude for saving us from our sins, we recognize different things we can do to prepare our heart for Jesus’ triumphant return.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: As was just mentioned, there were two (2) readings from the Gospel according to Luke.  Let’s spend a moment taking a deeper dive into each.
    • Our First Reading recalled Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40).  We celebrate this event each Palm Sunday in the church year.  It always seems kind of odd to do so, since that is the end of the Lenten season. Lent is a season of reflection upon our sins and repentance from those sins.  We go through Lent in sorrow that our sins drove Jesus to the cross, only to cheer wildly on Palm Sunday when the King of kings entered into Jerusalem.  If we didn’t cheer wildly, the stones along the path would do so!  We then again go through the sorrow of witnessing our Lord Jesus die a horrible death on the cross just five (5) days later.  Ah, but on the third day of that death on the cross, He is raised from the dead! 
    • Aside from the emotional roller-coaster I just mentioned, what would the events of Palm Sunday have to do with Advent?  The answer is, a lot!  Our second Reading was a series of admonitions from Jesus to be aware of when He returns again triumphantly.  It will be just like He did on that Sunday in March about 2000yrs ago, only on a much, much larger scale.  He will return under some very sorrowful circumstances, similarly to the comparison between the emotions of Lent and Palm Sunday.  Jesus described in Luke 21:10-24 how bad things will be at the time He returns.  How does one prepare for His second and final return?
      • There are four (4) admonitions Luke recorded from Jesus that provide instruction for what we need to be doing in preparing our heart to meet Jesus.  You may want to pull out your bulletin and turn to the fourth page where the 2nd Gospel reading is printed for you, so you can highlight them for future reference.  The first of the four (4) admonitions to prepare is get up & lift your head up toward Jesus, because redemption is near (Luke 27:27-28). Jesus said this after explaining some signs of His return in Luke 21:25-26.  Despite it becoming more oppressive to follow the Lord Jesus in 2021, we should not slump down and bury our head in the sand.  We need to straighten up from head to toe, because we are on the winning side.  There is no reason to slump down any more than when your favorite team wins it all. You want to celebrate with the winners and not cry with the losers.
      • The second admonition is found in a parable Jesus told about a fig tree that sprouts leaves in the spring time.  Jesus admonished us to behold the fig tree and know what the sign means (Luke 21:29-31).  When leaves sprout, it’s clear that summer is near.  This is akin to when we see all of the signs of the tribulation, we know the end of the Age is near.
      • Our third admonition is to not be weighed down with the stresses of this Age, and particularly the ways to cope with those stresses (Luke 21:34-35).  More & more people are dying of overdoses of all types of opioids sourced by prescription or off the street.  From 1999 to 2019, which was the last year for which statistics were available, the total number of deaths in this country rose five (5) times[1].  Almost 50,000 people lost their life in 2019 to something preventable because they had no hope. They were in a slump they thought they couldn’t get out of.  Jesus said, 34 “But be on your guard, so that your hearts will not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that this day will not come on you suddenly, like a trap…[2]”  There were fewer ways at the time of Jesus to drown away despair which we still have in 2021, but science has provided opioids since then.  Jesus admonished us to not seek relief from stress like governments across the country suggested during the lock-downs due to Covid19. Remember April 2020 when the liquor stores were allowed to stay open, but the churches were shut down?
      •  The last admonition is to stay awake, paying attention to the times without getting stressed out about them. Additionally, we should be praying to be able to flee the coming wrath, and to stand before Jesus (Luke 21:36).  Jesus wants us to be aware of the signs of His second and final return.  He wants us to pray about being able to flee from the distress of the end times, because that means we are correctly interpreting the signs and trusting in Him to make it easier on us to persevere through them.  He wants us to be able to stand before Him on Judgement Day without sweaty palms and heart racing because we don’t know how it will turn out.  He wants us to have total confidence in Him that He covered us with His righteousness.
    • We can gage this love of His to want to cover us in His righteousness, because squished in the middle of these four admonitions is a promise.
      • Jesus said in v33 - 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away[3].  Everything we see and experience in this Age will come to an end.  The very earth and sky will disintegrate into nothing, just as they were created from out of nothing.  Jesus was part of their creation and He will bring about their destruction.  The good news is Jesus’ words will not pass away.  Jesus’ words are true, and will always be true throughout eternity.
  • Analysis: The season of Advent is a time to get ready for Christmas.  Each of the 3-4 Sundays in Advent, depending upon the year, provide insight on why we celebrate Christmas each year.  However, Advent also reminds us to be ready for the End of the Age.  Let me provide some practical analogies of these theological concepts.
    • For example, expectant mothers will do something called “nesting” when the time is near for the child to be delivered.  They’ll run around the house cleaning things up so the house is ready for the new arrival.
      • Advent is a time to decorate our “nest” for Christmas.  I’m sure most of us bring the Christmas decorations out for the Christmas season, and leave them out probably by tradition until Epiphany.
        • And why not?  Christmas is the celebration of the Son of God coming to us in our flesh.  Martin Luther wrote the words to the hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.  Contemplate as I read to you stanzas 2 & 3 from Lutheran Service Book[4], the hymnal of our church:
          • 2To you this night is born a child Of Mary chosen virgin mild This little child of lowly birth Shall be the joy of all the earth
          • 3This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be From all your sins to set you free.
        • We do not have a god who is distant from us. He is not someone who when he has the time or desire, he’ll get back to us.  We have a God who loves us to the point of sacrificing Himself so we can get a free ticket to live in His mansions forever.
    • Another analogy of preparing during the season of Advent is a host who prepares their home for the arrival of guests. 
      • Karla & I just did this for Thanksgiving.  We had friends and family over for the meal and visit afterward.  We looked at the calendar and work backwards on what needed to be done by when for a successful gathering.
        • Eschatology is the study of what the End Times look like.  The Greek root for the word eschatology is εσχατος which means last.  Only God the Father has a date in mind for when the last day will be.  Since we don’t know that date, we need to be prepared in anticipation of the day possibly being today.  In order to prepare for a date, it’s always good to work backwards to plan out what we need to be doing to prepare for it.
        • God’s word in Luke 21 references four (4) distinct things to do in order to be prepared for whenever the Father says to Jesus, “okay, it’s time to harvest the earth to bring in the fruit of Your labors, My Son.”
  • Implications: I encourage you this Advent season to prepare your soul for both events of Luke 19 and Luke 21 in order to recognize them.
    • The first coming of Jesus was His birth in some filthy stable in ancient Bethlehem.  This was no ordinary baby boy.  Yes, it was a baby boy, but it was also Almighty God, so He could become like us.  The Apostle John wrote -  1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God[5].  John wrote that to clearly establish Jesus as the Word who is one with God the Father.  That set up for this next quote from John 1:14 - 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth[6]
      • Thank God (literally!) for this newborn coming to us.  This baby boy grew up while never sinning.  This boy became a man and at age 30 started His ministry – while never sinning.  He marched in Jerusalem to the cross starting on Palm Sunday, while not sinning.  He was nailed to the cross, bleeding out the sinless blood He swapped in exchange for the sins of the world.  There was no other way for us to free ourselves from the sin we caused.
        • The Apostle Paul wrote about the implications of this baby boy regarding where we would spend eternity.  Paul wrote - Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life[7].  Paul went on to say if we were united with Jesus in His death, we are also united with Him in His resurrection from the dead.  Since He rose never to die again, we too will rise, never to die again. (Rom 6:1-11) 
      • This virgin birth of God in man therefore is a big deal!  In the Gospel account by the Apostle Matthew, he noted that Joseph who was engaged to the virgin Mary was going to call it off when he found out she was pregnant.  However, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said – 20b“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.[8]”  Matthew made it a point to be clear Joseph was Jesus’ stepfather, because the Holy Spirit was the means by which Mary became pregnant.  Matthew then pointed to Isa 7:14 and referenced Mary as the virgin foretold who would call her child Immanuel, meaning God with us (Mat 1:18-25).
    • Jesus, our Almighty God, has warned us in Luke 21:33 that everything we see is coming to an end.  He said - 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away[9]
      • Before you start lamenting the fact that your favorite whatever will disintegrate, it is actually a good thing that everything will pass away.  There is nothing in this Age that can compare with what Jesus has in store for us when we get into heaven. Take this for example from Rev 21:4 - and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.[10]”  Many of you know I love my Mustang GT convertible.  I love driving it with the top down.  There’s nothing like it.  But I will happily trade it for never having to mourn, cry, or experience any emotional or physical pain once heaven and earth pass away.  I can’t imagine what it will be like for the Lord Jesus Himself to wipe away all of my tears, but I’d like to find out.  It’s worth preparing for this event to happen one day in my eternal life.  I hope you feel the same way. 
      • Additionally, once in heaven, our relationship with the Triune God will be restored to what it was intended to be.   The Apostle John heard a loud voice from the throne in heaven he then recorded in Rev 21:3 - “…Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…[11]”  Isn’t that aspect of your eternal life something to get prepared for? Amen!

[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates#:~:text=Any%20opioid%20includes%20prescription%20opioids%20%28and%20methadone%29%2C%20heroin,and%20remained%20steady%20in%202018%20with%2046%2C802%20deaths, Figure 3

[2] Luke 21:34 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2021&version=NASB

[3] Luke 21:33 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2021&version=NASB

[4] Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, MO, 2006, Hymn 358

[5] John 1:1 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1&version=NASB

[6] John 1:14, ibid.

[7] Rom 6:3-4 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+6&version=NASB

[8] Mat 1:20b-21 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+1&version=NASB

[9] Luke 21:33 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+21&version=NASB

[10] Rev 21:4 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Rev+21&version=NASB

[11] Rev 21:3, ibid

Persevere and be Saved (Mark 13:13)

  • Introduction: Are we surprised when we see God’s people shunned and “canceled”? Jesus was quoted by all four Gospel writers about His people being hated while in this Age.  He even gave the reason why: Jesus’ followers will be hated because of His name as noted in our text for today - 13“And you will be hated by everyone because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved[1].  Everything in the scriptures has either already come to pass, is happening now, or will come to pass, so we can have confidence in Jesus’ words.
    • It’s easy to understand how people outside of the church can hate Christ followers.  There are a majority of people who have not heard the word of God and therefore live in darkness.  However, one would not expect hatred of Christians to occur within a church.  And yet, the Fall 2021 edition of Lutherans Engage the World magazine, published by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS) has an article about how the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) was formed from exiles of the Finnish national church. It also wrote about why.  For instance,
      • Pastors were defrocked, and thereby their income was taken away, and
      • And, their church buildings were seized.  This persecution all happened within the church.
      • And not only this, but the recently elected bishop of the ELMDF has been brought up on charges of hate speech by the government!
    • Jesus promised those who persevere through this kind of oppression will be saved (Mark 13:13).  We will spend time digging deeper how this sort of oppression from a modern, civilized nation could be taking place, and what we need to be aware of and do in these latter days of the Age.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we confess to You we are concerned and even scared of the future for us, Your people.  You sent Your Son Jesus to redeem us from eternal death, but it sure seems like we must endure evil in order to be saved. As we prayed last week, please send the Holy Spirit to work in our heart the true faith to understand the tribulation we endure, to have us persevere through it, and trust that on a day you appoint, we will be safe at home with You.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: It’s worth spending a moment how would people figure out who the followers of Jesus are in order to hate them.  After all, one must know their enemies, right?
    • The following is a short list of attributes of a Christ follower:
      • A Christ follower is actually a child of God.  All who are baptized are adopted sons of God.  We’ve mentioned this a few times in the past, but it’s worth mentioning again and again that when we were baptized, we were baptized into Christ – we now belong to Him.  He redeemed us from having to fulfill the Law.  This redemption made us adopted children of God.  The Holy Spirit remains in us to build and keep us in faith so that we are saved (Gal 3:26-29, 4:4-7).
      • Christ followers know the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and follow what He tells them to do (John 10:27) – even when it is totally different from what the followers may like or want to do.
      • We all like to wander instead of following Him, and so another attribute of a Christ follower is looking at how that person behaves.  In other words, the person who is governed by the Holy Spirit turns from their sinful ways.  The Apostle Paul gave an example at the end of Ephesians ch#4 (Eph 4:25-32) of a person who steals must no longer steal and instead work for a living.  A person who routinely uses foul language needs to instead have wholesome speech.  All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed, and be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of others as God has forgiven you.  A spirit of repentance is what the Holy Spirit provides in us, unless we repeatedly ignore His callings and warnings.  The sin of denial in our life is the sin which will cause us to fall away.
      • And lastly, a Christ follower attribute is being marked with a seal by the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).  That seal is a deposit of the guarantee of our day of redemption, a redemption already won for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent rising from the dead (Eph 1:13-14).
    • So how did ELMDF members get defrocked, which essentially meant tossed out of the State church? Didn’t everyone in the Finnish Lutheran Church have the attributes we just reviewed?
      • The persecution all started when Päivi Räsänen (Pie’-ee-vee Rah’-sah-nen) wrote a 24 page pamphlet in 2004, entitled ”Male and female He created them[2]”.  Räsänen is a medical doctor, mother of five (5), and a long-time member of the Finish Parliament.  In this pamphlet, she shared her Biblical beliefs about family structure, marriage, and same-sex relationships[3].
      • Another key player in the publication and therefore a focus of hatred is Rev. Juhana Pohjola.  He is an editor of a publication series from Luther Foundation Finland called Morning Star.  It focuses on the basic issues of faith[4]. Pohjola was since consecrated bishop of ELMDF on Aug 1st of this year. He had endorsed the content of the pamphlet by publishing and distributing it.  Those actions got him into trouble with the national church leadership.  If you are puzzled by this, you have a right to be puzzled, because Räsänen’s pamphlet was based upon the scriptures as she wrote about the history of marriage and family structure.  I have the links to source articles for this sermon along with a link to the original pamphlet on our church website for you to review on your own. The scriptures should be the ultimate authority in every professed Lutheran Church, so it is amazing how Rev. Pohjola would have gotten into trouble with his church at the time.
  • Analysis: When the state-supported Lutheran church of Finland kicked Rev Pohjola out of the church, the ELMDF was later formed.  Why would this small but growing band of believers be hated instead of exalted for upholding the true faith?
    • On the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus said - 18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you[5].  Close to 2000yrs ago, Jesus already warned His disciples then and up to now that those who loved and followed Him would be hated.  That sounds like a recipe for denial of Jesus.  Unfortunately, many who initially had the faith, fell away because they denied following Jesus and following His word.  They wanted to be liked by people instead.
      • Well, Jesus is the word, so following Him *is* following the Word. Räsänen obviously is a follower of Jesus, given her quote of scripture, in particular Rom 1:24-27, on social media in a Tweet in June 2019.
      • She is now charged with “hate speech” for that posting which questioned the Finland Lutheran church’s affiliation with a Helsinki LGBT Pride event[6].  Her intent for the Tweet was as indicated from her own words - I was shocked when I heard that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which I am a member of, announced its official affiliation to Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019. In June, I decided to write a tweet where I asked that how can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?[7]
      • November is the portion of the church year reserved to discuss and contemplate the End Times of this Age. The Book of Revelation has a lot of End Times prophecy.  Interpreters of the Bible from a Lutheran perspective recognize governmental authority being symbolized by the first of two beasts mentioned in Rev ch#13. The first beast comes from out of the sea.  That beast is given authority by Satan to wage war against the saints and speak blasphemies against God and anything related to Him.  In other words, the authority of the government is the first beast of the End Times as noted in Rev 13:1-10.  We have seen this authority since the times of the early Christian martyrs, and we are witnessing state authority being waged against Päivi Räsänen. She will stand trial on January 24th, 2022 for a simple Tweet on social media, and for a pamphlet written in 2004. That situation sure sounds like our text for today from Mark 13:13 - “And you will be hated by everyone because of [Jesus’] name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
    • The writer to the Hebrews wrote - 32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through insults and distress, and partly by becoming companions with those who were so treated[8].  The implication of this passage is Satan and his henchmen don’t waste time on messing with people who are either already on his side or are neutral.  Jesus said it Himself a person is either for Him or against Him (Mark 9:40), so anyone not for Jesus, even if claiming neutrality, is against Jesus.  Since Satan’s time is short, again, why waste time on someone who is already headed straight to hell with the delusion they can be neutral and therefore not be with Satan?  However, once someone comes to faith from the calling by the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit, they now are in the sights of Satan and his henchmen.  They will incite their own followers to hatred of the adopted sons & daughters of the King.  Hatred can run very deep and passionate, and couple that with the power of governmental authority, the life of a Christ follower can become difficult.
    • That hatred-fueled oppression doesn’t need to come from just governmental authority.  According to Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) News, a bishop in the Finish state church doesn’t like the charges (3) against Räsänen, but considers her wrong, harmful, and contrary to Christian charity[9].  One has to ask on what basis he can consider Räsänen wrong?  The scriptures?  If so, what was wrong with Räsänen’s quote of Rom 1:24-27 when the church was so happy to celebrate homosexuality – something the Lord has clearly started back to the Pentateuch is an abomination?  Homosexuality attacks the core of familial design and relationships which God established in Genesis ch#2.  But the Finish church’s bishop considers Räsänen wrong; interesting.
      • This brings us to our next known oppressor with hate.  Of all places, we find the second of two beasts mentioned in Rev 13:11-18 to be the church!  This is the beast which comes out of the earth and makes people worship the first beast.  Prophets of the Old Testament would perform signs and wonders to show they had the authority of God when they spoke.  The beast of the New Testament era false church will mimic what the OT prophets did in order to deceive and also to misuse the authority of the church.  God gave the church the authority to forgive sins amongst distribution of the other gifts of God for the people of God.  However, the false church such as the state-funded Finish Lutheran Church will misuse authority to actually point to the government as a savior.  Furthermore, the church will support the government in requiring people to have the mark of the first beast in order to buy and sell things.
  • Conclusion: I admit, this is scary stuff in seeing the Finish government and the government-supported church working together against God’s people. Unfortunately, that is happening more & more in the United States.  We need to do more than just shake our head at how bad things are becoming in what used to be free countries.  The Apostle Paul wrote to his son in the faith Timothy - 11 The statement is trustworthy: For if we died with [Jesus in baptism], we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself [10].
    • Despite what we have heard today from Jesus that we will be hated, we need to remember the second half of Mark 13:13 - …but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved[11].  With that promise from Jesus Himself, a portion of our Epistle reading for today makes a lot of sense - 23 Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful[12].  What else are we to do but be faithful without wavering? If we were to deny Jesus, He will deny us on Judgement Day.  Maybe it’s better to be hated in this Age and be saved from eternity in hell, than to be liked in this Age, and hate ourselves in hell throughout eternity for giving up a free pass into heaven.
      • Job persevered through great loss, yet was able to experience the Lord’s compassion (Jas 5:11).  I suspect no one here today will ever have to endure the loss of literally everything including health, only to then face so-called friends who blame Job for his misfortune, because he was such a sinner.  That was totally untrue, and we know the real reason for Job’s sufferings. They were brought on by Satan.  When God had enough of the torture of Job, God’s compassion and mercy was outpoured in spades upon Job.  Believers in Christ will one day get to ask Job firsthand about that experience when in heaven.
      • Recall from our OT reading in Dan 12:1; everyone whose name is found written into the Book of Life will be rescued from this evil generation.  The Jesus haters will not be found anywhere in heaven.
    • James, half-brother of Jesus wrote - 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him[13].  In case you wonder about whether being approved, remember, through baptism you became an adopted son of God through Christ.  His victory over sin, death, and Satan is our victory as well.  We can bank on being “approved” by God through Christ.
      • Yeah, life sucks for God’s people.  Anyone who loves the Lord Jesus has a big target painted on them by Satan and his henchmen.  They will incite hatred.  However, we need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God throughout life in this Age, you may receive what was promised (Heb 10:36).  Amen!

[1] Mark 13:13 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/mar/13/1/s_970001

[2] Source information is from the English version of Päivi’s own website at https://www.paivirasanen.fi/en/ 

[3] https://decisionmagazine.com/finnish-politician-charged-with-hate-speech-for-expressing-biblical-views-on-homosexuality/

[4] The link to the actual publication is at https://www.lhpk.fi/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Male-and-female-He-created-them.pdf which includes information on Rev. Pohjola.

[5] John 15:18-19 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+15&version=NASB

[6] https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2021/april/finnish-lawmaker-faces-trial-for-hate-speech-after-quoting-the-bible-about-homosexuality

[7] A quote from an interview with Rod Dreher at https://www.paivirasanen.fi/en/ 

[8] Heb 10:32-33 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+10&version=NASB

[9] https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2019/october/christian-speech-a-hate-crime-politician-faces-police-interrogation-for-posting-bible-verse

[10] 2Ti 2:11-13 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2ti+2&version=NASB

[11] Mark 13:13b from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+13&version=NASB

[12] Heb 10:23 from NASB20 (emphasis by the preacher) at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+10&version=NASB

[13] Jas 1:12 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jas+1&version=NASB

Home Safe (Rev 7:15-16)

  • Introduction: When a lot of people hear the word “tribulation” they immediately think of the contemporary belief that the final seven (7) years of earth’s existence will be one absolutely terrible place to live.  The reality is for Christians, it has been hell on earth ever since Adam & Eve rebelled against God and ate the forbidden fruit. Satan and his henchmen have been making life miserable for God’s favored people ever since then.  Even the earth groans under the burden of corruption and sin.
    • Tribulation existed in the Old Testament. Jesus mentioned this when confronting the religious leaders who were misusing God’s word and getting rich because of their position in society.   He said - 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …30 …you say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets… 35 so that upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar[1].
    • The saints from all time will one day gather before the Lord.  We see this in a portion of the First Reading for today in Rev 7:9 - After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands[2];
      • People in heaven are often referred to as “saints”.  However, the saints are anyone, dead or alive, who held or hold to a confession of Jesus despite the pressures of the “tribulation”. In our Gospel reading from Mat ch#5, it is evident Jesus knew we would be living in tribulation until he returns for the second and final time - 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you[3].
      • We will spend time on today reflecting on the glimpse of heaven the Apostle John provided us.  We will look into who was in the great multitude of people in heaven and how they got there.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, salvation indeed belongs to You who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.  We thank You for this glimpse into heaven Your Son Jesus provided to us through the Apostle John. We long to be in the assembly of saints who all will eventually be gathered in Your place where no harm will ever come near us. Send the Holy Spirit to work in our heart the true faith to understand the tribulation we endure, have us persevere through it, and trust that on a day you appoint, we will be safe at home with You.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
  • Background: Picture for a moment the scene John saw in Rev 7.  The picture on your bulletin front cover could not capture the millions of people who John saw.  These people were from everywhere on earth, including nations and languages which do not exist in 2021!  Everyone was standing before the throne of God and the Lamb of God.  They were wearing white robes and carrying palm branches reminiscent of the first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.
    • Just before our text of the First Reading from Rev ch#7 was a reference to 144,000 people, each from one of twelve tribes of Israel.  I know of at least one religion which claims to be Christian that taught there would be literally only 144,000 people in heaven. After all, they got this idea from Rev 7:4-8. They have since modified their position on this, because as that church grew into millions of members worldwide, they had to come up with something new.  It nonetheless begs the question, are there just 144,000 in heaven?
      • Let me emphatically say, “NO!”  One does not have to be a biblical scholar to figure that out on their own, because literally the next verse (v9) states the number of people in heaven gathered around God was “…a great multitude which no one could count…”  We all might struggle counting to 144,000, but we could get it done.  Somehow, the US Census Bureau was able to publish the US population count of 332,907,211 as of yesterday afternoon[4].  That’s a lot more than 144,000 and more like a “great multitude” the Apostle John would consider uncountable on his own.
    • The great multitude of people were confessing the faith they held onto by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They said, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.[5]”  They were in the habit of doing so because they confessed their faith during their life in the tribulation.  The Apostle Paul wrote - 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation[6].  In other words, faith in Jesus makes us righteous before God the Father.  We have no sin in the sight of the Father, because when the Father looks upon us, He sees the cleansed soul that we are through Christ.  And, the Holy Spirit empowers us to accept and believe this through faith. That is how we are saved!
    • I think we’ve established there were a lot of people in heaven at the time of John’s glimpse.  But, could the tribulation mentioned in v14 of our text actually be the entire time of earth’s history since the fall into sin?
      • Lutherans believe the New Testament period of tribulation began when Jesus ascended into heaven.  During His 3yr ministry, Jesus spoke of being in a blessed state despite the tribulation.  Our Gospel reading, specifically Mat 5:3-12, is known as the “beatitudes”.  A few of these stand out as acknowledgment by Jesus that we are blessed as we experience tribulation in different ways.  For instance, Jesus encouraged us in Mat 5:6 - “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied[7].  The Apostle Matthew wrote that down in the Gospel in the 40’s AD, and the Apostle John saw that come to pass in his vision of heaven in Rev 7:16 around 95AD.  I’m sure all of us here on today hunger and thirst for everything in life to be as God intended it.  We are all tired of dealing with the tribulation we see on the news.  We have had it up to our hairline with the latest bad news happening to someone we love. We may not physically be hungry and thirsty all the time of the tribulation, but we do hunger & thirst for God to make everything anew and without having to deal with our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others.
      • But, what about the believers in God of the Old Testament?  Were they also in the multitude?
        • We can say unequivocally yes!  Jesus was being antagonized by a group of religious leaders known as the Sadducees.  This group did not believe in a resurrection from the dead, because they didn’t believe there was life after death.  Jesus mentioned Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as examples of those who were living despite their bodies having died 2000yrs before Jesus was born into the flesh. Jesus said to the Sadducees - 26 But regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.[8]
        • Another place in the scriptures where we know of OT prophets still living were Moses and Elijah[9].  They appeared with Jesus on Mt. Hermon in modern Syria, the night when Jesus was transfigured and conversing with them about His work once in Jerusalem.  Remember what Peter said when he had no idea what was going on?  He wanted to make places for Moses and Elijah to stay with them. The Apostle John also witnessed the same event, so there were two witnesses who later wrote about these prophets of the OT appearing with Jesus.
  • Analysis: It’s important to note how the great multitude got from the tribulation of this Age into God’s direct presence.
    • They did it *not* on their own.  Everyone in that multitude had the same problems with sin you & I have.  The entire Bible is full of examples of what the saints had to endure during their lifetime in this Age.  They got their free pass into heaven through the blood of the Lamb (v14).  They were cleansed of their sin by the innocent shedding of Jesus blood on the cross.  Jesus took the penalty for our sin onto the cross with Him so we wouldn’t have to suffer an eternal death in hell.  BTW, no one is worshipping anything in hell.  There’s nothing but despair there.
      • The great multitude is in heaven worshipping at the throne of the Lord, because of their confession made in Rev 7:10 by faith.  We make confession of our faith by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.  The Apostle John wrote by inspiration - By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God[10].  We are able to see faith in action when people confess that Jesus is God and man.  Faith is in action when we lay a particular tribulation in our life at Jesus’ feet, and give it over to Him instead of attempting to solve the problem on our own.
      • It is through faith that the saints got into heaven.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God as the writer to the Hebrews wrote -  And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him[11].  Forget for a moment about what we’ve explored about being made righteous before the Father through Christ.  Don’t forget for very long; just a moment!  And now think; would you want someone in your house who doesn’t even acknowledge you exist?  You might be able to tolerate that over a Thanksgiving meal, but throughout eternity? Can you blame God for not wanting people in His home who can’t bother to at least acknowledge Him?
    • We have this great multitude in total safety of heaven, but John later mentions at the end of Revelation the people who weren’t included in the multitude. Listen to this short list of the kind of people who wound up in hell instead of heaven - But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.[12]” 
      • These people couldn’t be bothered with following the Lamb, because they followed their sinful desires.  The did not turn from their sinful ways and toward the Lamb. The Apostle Paul provided a more extensive list of the types of people who he warned if they continued to live in their sinful ways, they would *not* inherit the kingdom of God. Check out the list in Gal 5:16-21 which I listed the scriptural reference in the bulletin outline.  We need to accept the warning from Paul, just like the 1st century Galatians.
      • Make no mistake, they will on bended knee confess Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:8-10) – before heading to hell (Rev 20:15).  Once a soul dies out of this earthly Age, they can only wind up in one of two places; either with the Lamb as one in the safety of God’s love, or eternally apart from God.
  • Conclusion: The crowd which John saw in heaven included everyone holding to a confession the Apostle Paul summarized in Rom ch#10 - 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.[13]”  
    • It’s getting late into this message, so it’s time for the shocker of the day.  It’s hard to pick out individuals in that crowd John saw in heaven, but you are there!  The same Lamb who got the others into heaven is the same Lamb who got you & I into the great multitude of heaven.
      • Everyone in that crowd was home safe, because as was read from v15, God spread His tent over the entire great multitude.  It was asked in a recent message and it’s worth repeating: if God be for us, who or what can stand against us?  If His protection spreads over us like a tent, nothing will tribulate us anymore.  No more hunger or thirst or scorching heat will affect us (v16).  We understand the scorching heat in southern Arizona better than most, but with us under the protective tent of the Lord, that heat will only affect the people who decided to go their own way in life and not trust in God above all things.
    • Let’s continue to hold fast to the confession of the saints. The writer to the Hebrews left us this gem - 35 …do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one will live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith for the safekeeping of the soul[14].
    • We have the summary of the confession of faith in the Nicene Creed we just spoke prior to this message.  Saints since the 4th century have confessed that to others – sometime to their death, but always to their eternal life with the Lamb!  They are the ones already home safe.  They are now in the cloud of witnesses for us to be encouraged to head in the same direction and not in the direction of sin and death.  Amen


 


[1] Mat 23:29-35 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+23&version=NASB

[2] Rev 7:9 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rev/7/1/s_1174001

[3] Mat 5:11-12 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+5&version=NASB

[4] Count as of 1619 on 06Nov21 from https://www.census.gov/popclock/

[5] Quote from Rev 7:10 of NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rev/7/1/s_1174001

[6] Rom 10:9 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+10&version=NASB

[7] Mat 5:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+5&version=NASB

[8] Mark 12:26-27 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+12&version=NASB

[9] Reference to the transfiguration from Mark 9:4

[10] 1Jhn 4:2 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+john+4&version=NASB

[11] Heb 11:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+11&version=NASB

[12] Rev 21:8 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+21&version=NASB

[13] Rom 10:10-11 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+10&version=NASB

[14] Heb 10:35-39

Reasons for Silence (Rom 3:19, Ps 46:10)

  • Introduction: To tame a wild horse, it must first be penned in.  If left to roam when attempting to train, the wild horse will quickly run away from any human.  The reason is any wild animal could be killed by threats it doesn’t understand, and humans are one of many possible perceived threats. ☹
    • Once a horse is penned in, trainers demonstrate to the horse they can be trusted.  A source[1] I used for how to train wild mustangs noted that a wild horse needs to get acclimated to humans and learn that humans do not bring harm or danger.
    • The horse eventually becomes at leisure around people and will let humans touch them and even restrain them.
      • They won’t mind being saddled up to go outside their pen and into freedom.  That freedom could be a long ride on a trail, or out in wide open range.
    • By now, you are probably wondering what these fun facts about horse training have to do with God’s word? The title of today’s message is “Reasons for Silence”.  There is double inspiration behind reasons for silence from our Bible readings for today.
      • The first reason is found in Rom 3:19 - 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God[2].  Basically, the Law portion of God’s word pens us in like the wild mustang must first be penned in before training can begin.
      • The last reason is found in the Psalmody - 10 Be at leisure and know that I am God. I will be lifted up in the nations. I will be lifted up on the earth[3]. The Gospel puts us at leisure, because God is in charge, and He reassures us constantly of His grace, mercy, and peace.
    • These two concepts of Law and Gospel found throughout God’s word were missing from 16th century theology up until the Reformation started by Martin Luther in 1517.  We will spend time today looking into these doctrines in a practical sense, and what they can mean to us.
  • Let Us Pray: O God, our Lord, Your holy word was long a hidden treasure.  Until to its place, it was by grace restored in full measure.  For this today, we give thanks and praise, and gladly glorify You. Send the Holy Spirit to work in our heart the true faith to be at leisure whenever Satan attempts to pen us in with his accusations under the law.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: Today is the 504th celebration of Reformation Day.  The picture on the front cover of your bulletin has a seriously humorous depiction of Martin Luther nailing to a church door his 95 complaints against the Roman church.  The bulk of the complaints were about the church’s practice of selling indulgences that were presented by the clergy to help souls of loved ones out of purgatory. Additionally, complaints challenged the notion of the existence of an intermediate place between this Age and heaven. 
    • Martin Luther questioned the Church when he came to realize the Gospel from the Word of God, particularly after his lectures from the Book of Romans.  Selling salvation was so against the true Gospel of grace alone by faith alone.  Moreover, the scriptures alone were the sole authority in the church, not what some council of church leaders or the Pope would rule on. 
      • The corrupt church at the time kept the Word from the people.  Church hierarchy believed the Word of God was too complex for mere peasants to read on their own.  They missed the little detail in Rom 10:17 - 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ[4].  This verse is why when you read the outline on the back cover of your bulletin, there is a scriptural reference for just about everything said from this pulpit.
      • Luther would later write about the lacking of scriptural familiarity of the clergy.  The priests at the time did not have the Word in their heart & soul!
        • That left them open to preaching empty philosophies. They missed out on the advice the Apostle Paul exhorted his son in the faith Timothy to be aware of - 23 …refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels[5].  These empty philosophies and ignorant speculations about a holding place called purgatory wouldn’t be so bad if the congregants could hear and understand them. They would be able to then argue against them. The problem was the people spoke German, but the entire church service, including the sermon, was in Latin.
      • The Law could not do its job of making us speechless (φραγῇ) without reason or excuse, if it was neither preached because the priests had no idea of the scriptures, or they were speaking in a different language than the parishioners.
        • Ironically, I’d like to digress for a moment to explore a Greek word in Rom 3:19 that the ESV in your bulletin rendered as “every mouth may be stopped”. On the back of your bulletin, you will find the first of two Greek words.  It is pronounced φράσσω  (fras'-soe), and means to fence or enclose; figuratively, to silence. 
        • I’ll give an example of what this word would mean in 2021, but let’s look at another Greek word.  The word is σχολάζω (skhol-ad'-zoe) and means to take a holiday, i.e. be at leisure.
        • A form of σχολάζω is the Greek word rendered into English as “Be still” at the beginning of Ps 46:10 in the ESV.  I think all of us when we were  kids were told to “be still!”  However, that’s not really what the Lord had in mind in Ps 46:10.  The Lord meant to be at leisure with the knowledge that He is God, and He is above everything in all the nations and the earth itself. Because He is God, nothing should disturb us.
      • This is a pure Gospel message despite the Greek being a verb in the imperative.  It is comforting to know that no matter what is happening in the world around us, God’s got this.  He is in control and above anything and everything that is troubling you.  This one example of the sweet Gospel could not do its job of comforting troubled souls, if people either never heard the Gospel or couldn’t understand it because it was in another language.
    • Let me provide a real-life example of a scenario where both being fenced in and being at leisure occurred.  The scenario took place in 2013 leaving Grand Forks, ND and its twin city East Grand Forks, MN.  A driver thought they were leaving a 35MPH zone into a 55MPH zone and therefore sped up. About the time it was realized, no, it was still 35, the cherries lit up on a patrol car.  Oops!  The car was doing between 50-55MPH and was blatantly speeding past the patrol car.
      • I will pretend for a moment I was driving the car whizzing past a cop 1700 miles from home.  The law said I was doing 50 in a 35 zone.  What am I going to say to the patrolman?  The sun was in my eyes?  I didn’t see all the speed limit signs up to that point?   I was speechless; I had nothing to say relative to the law.  The law was obviously broken.
      • Continuing with our hypothetical scenario, after some discussion between some obvious Norskie’s (judging by the accents of both the driver and the patrolman), the driver was allowed to continue the trip free of the law. And continuing to put myself into this scenario, there was freedom to resume the trip without a ticket, thereby putting me at leisure.  I had no worries because I was redeemed from a certain penalty.
  • Analysis: In a larger way, Apostle Paul wrote about us being penned in by the demands of the Law, similarly to what was spoken of by the prophet Hosea (Hos 2:6).  Hosea was a prophet in the 8th century BC.  Out of great love, God sent him to the Northern Kingdom which had gone far astray from God’s word.  He came after the prophet Amos, and the language used to call the Israelites to repentance was very strong.  God sent prophets to warn these wild people of permanent doom if they didn’t turn from their sinful ways. 
    • Hosea ch#2 was read earlier this morning and I’ll bet it made some people uncomfortable with references to Israel acting like a whore. In Hos 2:6, the same word appears as in Rom 3:19 we’ve correctly interpreted as fence off or pen in.  God said through Hosea that He would fence off the whoring Israel with thorns to stop her from finding ways to continue in whoredom. Talk about wild living!  God was a husband to Israel, but she was a wayward wife and needed to be penned in from continuing in her evil ways.
    • The problem is Israel didn’t get it that they needed to stop and turn from their sinful ways.  When we become aware of sin, what is there to say except stop? (Rom 3:19)
      • Alternatively, I suppose we could try to talk our way out of the Law. That usually looks like rationalizing our bad conduct.  Rationalization can come in forms like this – “I’m not as bad as other people”, or “This was just a little sin; I’m not a murderer.”  These sorts of statements are self-justification, and they don’t work in the sight of the Lord.  That kind of thinking doesn’t fool Him one bit as we see in Rom 3:20 - 20 …by the works of the Law none of mankind will be justified in His sight; for through the Law [only comes] knowledge of sin[6].
      • If rationalization of your sins is something you are used to doing, it’s time to stop.  It’s time instead to yield to the justification from sins provided through Christ.  Here’s why: listen as Paul continued addressing justification in Rom ch#3 - 22 but it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus[7].  Justification through Christ as a gift from God is what Martin Luther correctly concluded five (5) centuries ago and is still part of orthodox Lutheranism.  Justification comes at no cost to you, period!  The 95 complaints against the Roman church pretty much boiled down to justification through Christ and not buying something.  This was in direct opposition to the Church’s position of selling indulgences in order to fund constructing St Peter’s Basilica. An incredibly corrupt Church then decided to go after Martin Luther because they believed they had higher authority than God’s own word.
  • Conclusion: Our Romans text makes it clear there is nothing we can do about our sins and we cannot justify our sins.  God has no use for our excuses.  He already knows you & I will come up with just about any imaginative explanation under the sun for our evil behavior.  He’s heard them all for the past 72 centuries. ☹
    • The good news is that we don’t have to come up with any excuses. God knows there’s nothing we can do to redeem ourselves from our own sins.  That’s exactly why the Father sent His one and only Son to redeem everyone from the heavy burden of sin.  God in His own righteousness, provided the payment for the sins He demanded from us. We can be at leisure and hold our mouth from telling some whopper of a tale to the Lord for why we sinned against Him. Listen to Rom 3:25-26 - 25 [Jesus was] displayed [by God] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in God’s merciful restraint He let the sins previously committed go unpunished; 26 for the demonstration, that is, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus[8].
      • In other words, God is both the judge and the justifier of sinners, not because of anything we’ve done for Him, but His own righteousness.  We are therefore justified by faith and not of what we do (Rom 3:28).
      • Just like a penned in wild horse, as it learns trust, it is at leisure (σχολάσατε, Ps 46:10) despite people around.  We too should be at leisure, trusting in our Lord, who went through a lot of trouble to save our hides from eternity in hell.  If that sounds a bit ugly, remember sin looks even uglier to our Lord.  He is personally offended by our sin – apart from Christ.  However, in Christ, we are not only cleansed from our sins; we are also adopted sons & daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords!  Like the formerly wild mustangs which were penned in and trained and then being trusting and trustworthy, get to graze and follow paths in freedom.  We too at one time were penned in by the Law, but now have been trained in righteousness.  We are now living in the full freedom Christ has won for us.  God even provides the Holy Spirit to empower us to believe and trust in Him above all things, as we were reminded in last week’s message.
      • In review, these are reasons for silence:
        • Confronted by our sins, we are speechless before God;
        • Trusting in Him to have power over sin and death, we have full redemption from our sins.  We can therefore chill, and be at leisure.
        • And now let me propose a third reason for silence: sitting in awe of a God so full of love, that despite our screw ups and sometimes even sinning boldly, we worship a God who loves us.  He found a way to redeem us from our own rebellious acts, just so we would be able to spend eternity with Him.  What other god have you heard of does things like this?  All other religions are appeasing the anger of their god.  Not us in Christ.  We’re not only at leisure because He is God and has everything covered, we are also silent in awe of His great love!  This is most certainly true!

[1] Inspiration for the Introduction content from https://www.mustangcamp.org/how-to-train-a-wild-horse-or-burro

[2] Rom 3:19 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+3&version=NASB

[3] Ps 46:10 from the Septuagint as published at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/psa/46/1/t_conc_524010

[4] Rom 10:17 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+10&version=NASB

[5] 2Ti 2:23 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Timothy%202&version=NASB

[6] Rom 3:20 slightly modified with emphasis from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+3&version=NASB

[7] Rom 3:22-24 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+3&version=NASB

[8] Rom 3:25-26 slightly modified for context from NASB20, IBID

Jesus Intercedes (Heb 7:25)

  • Introduction: It is an accurate doctrine of Christ that He holds three offices: Prophet; Priest; King.  The scriptures testify that He holds these roles in life to this day, and will forever. Briefly, the 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism explains these roles as follows:
    • As our Prophet, Jesus proclaims the Word of God to us[1].
    • As our Priest, Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, and He intercedes with the Father on our behalf[2].
      • The catechism cites a portion of our Epistle text selected for today as evidence of Jesus’ priestly work.
    • And lastly, as our King, Jesus rules over all creation, especially for the good of His Church[3].  Despite there being two kingdoms, heaven and earth, Jesus rules over both.  Right now, the earthly kingdom groans under the burden of sin, but even so, He rules until the Father decides enough is enough and brings an end to this Age.
    • Today, we look into Jesus’ Priestly role as an intercessor on behalf of us.  We just confessed before the sermon hymn that Jesus is seated at the right-hand of God the Father, which is a good place to make intercessions for each and every one of us.  And as He intercedes and advocates on our behalf, He exhorts us to do the same for one another as well as on behalf of the Holy Christian Church on earth.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank You for sending not only Your Son, but also the Holy Spirit to work on our behalf to save us from our own sins and make us holy.  We would be eternally lost if we did not have them interceding before You to get us through this life and into eternal life with You.  Send the Holy Spirit to continue to build faith in us to trust in You, so that when we pray, we are confident You have heard our prayers through Your Son Christ. We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: One of the duties of a priest is to intercede for the congregation. Called servants of the Lord who minister in the church to this day pray on behalf of the church and its saints.
    • This is a long-standing role of a priest, and there probably is no better an example of an early priest in the Old Testament than Moses.  Just last week, we discussed the truly evil sin the Israelites committed while Moses was on Mt Sinai meeting with a preincarnate Jesus to receive the Ten Commandments.  The Israelites had witnessed the Ten Plagues, the defeat of the Egyptian army without so much as shooting a spear after crossing the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba on dry ground, and then receiving manna on a daily basis.  But in the “what have you done for me lately” attitude we all are capable of displaying against God, because Moses took too long to come back from meeting with Jesus, they decided to manufacture their own gods in the form of calf images made from gold.
      • I hope you agree God had every right to say to Moses: …“Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have behaved corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a cast metal calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 So now leave Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.[4]
      • We’ve heard of Moses’ frustration with these same people when they were later complaining about only having manna to eat instead of all-you-can-eat fish and vegetables.  And yet, just after Jesus said those words I just read to you from Exodus 32, Moses interceded with God after Israel’s great sin with the golden calves.  Listen to Moses’ reply to the Almighty, Sovereign Lord: 11 …“Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, ‘With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord relented of the harm which He said He would do to His people[5].
    • I suspect Jesus threatened to wipe out the Israelites in order to test the priestly heart of Moses.  The Father sent Jesus into this world to redeem it from its own harm it brought onto itself.  Jesus met with Moses on the same mountain where the burning bush was first seen by Moses, and communicated to Moses the love of the Father for His people.  That love of the Father would have been something that rubbed off from Jesus and onto Moses, just like it does when we are in the presence of Jesus here at Christus Rex each Sunday.
      • Thankfully, Jesus relented of the threatened harm, modeling His own behavior to this day some 3400yrs later.  Jesus does the same thing in 2021 when we sin, just like our forefathers in the faith did at Mt Sinai.  John the Apostle wrote: 1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous[6];
    • It is through Jesus’ righteousness that when the Father looks upon us and witnesses the wicked things we do, Jesus immediately advocates on our behalf. No please don’t think Jesus excuses us before our Father. No! Jesus’ advocating for us is more along the lines of Jesus reminding the Father that we sinners who are cleansed by Christ, claim by faith the righteousness that Jesus won for us on the cross.  All our sins were nailed to the same cross Jesus once died on.  In other words, Jesus advocates for us before the Father by telling the Father we are clean of sin, because He is clean of the sin He took upon Himself from mankind and left it on the cross.
      • And thankfully, Jesus is well-positioned to intercede for us. When we confess from the Ecumenical Creeds that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, that doctrine is taken right out of Rom 8:33-34 - 33 Who will bring charges against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, but rather, was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us[7].
  • Analysis: Incidentally, that same word rendered from Rom 8:34 as “intercedes” has the same verb root as our text for today.  The Greek verb in common is ἐντυγχάνω (en-teeng-kha'-no); which means to confer with; by extension to entreat (in favor or against):— make intercession[8].  Heb 7:25 has a similar message to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians - 25 Therefore [Jesus] is also able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them[9].
    • Forms of ἐντυγχάνω appear also in Rom 8:26-27,34, 11:2 and Act 25:24 in addition to Heb 7:25.
      • Some of these examples advocate in a different way either before God or people:
        • For instance, Paul in Rom 11:2, pointed out the prayers of Elijah the prophet interceding before God in prayer to bring drought in order to call the Northern Kingdom back to God. Elijah had prophesied to evil King Ahab in 1Ki 17:1 that there would be “…neither dew nor rain…except by my word.”  That drought lasted for over 3yrs, and ended with the powerful witness of God burning up a sacrifice that had been soaked 3x with pitchers of water. This happened after the prophets of Baal spent all day acting silly with their calls to their false god.  Can you imagine interceding for over 3yrs to *not* make it rain?
          • Contrasted with that, we prayed right here last summer, when there was no sign of a monsoon, that God would bring a bountiful monsoon season. We remembered the “non-soon” of summer of 2020 with that prayer, and what happened?  We experienced the wettest July on record.  God can grant both scenarios.
        • The Jews interceded to the Romans to get rid of the Apostle Paul in Act 25:24.  The Romans couldn’t figure out why the Jews were all upset.  Those intercessions were nothing but noise. However, God does not ever consider the prayers of His faithful people to be a bunch of babble.
      • The Holy Spirit also intercedes for us in prayer.   The Apostle Paul apparently liked the Greek word, ἐντυγχάνω, because he used that word to describe the work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf in each verse of Rom 8:26-27 - 26 Now in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes (ὑπερεντυγχάνει) for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes (ἐντυγχάνει) for the saints according to the will of God.
        • I hope this is registering: two members of the Trinity are both this very moment interceding on our behalf!!! As Paul wrote a couple verses later, 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us[10]?
  • Conclusion: There are two take-aways from ἐντυγχάνω: trust in God’s work and follow Jesus’ example.
    • Trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both interceding on your behalf before the Father.  All three persons of the Trinity participated in the creation of the world about 7200yrs ago. They knew we would corrupt everything they made, but they went ahead with creation anyway.  And since they knew this, they weren’t caught flat-footed. They had a plan figured out for how they would redeem mankind from its own rebellion, even before the foundation of the earth was laid.  Jesus would come in the flesh so He could share in our humanity.  He would take upon Himself our sins and provide the perfect sacrifice for sins no one in the history of mankind was ever able to make. He would then raise from the dead to show that neither death nor hell has any power over Him. The Holy Spirit would then continue to work in the souls of believers, ushering them toward heaven by testifying the Word of Truth in souls, and thereby building faith.  It is faith which gets a person into heaven – nothing else.  And so the Holy Spirit would keep that testimony going so long as the person does not blaspheme Him and deny what is being testified.
      • Keep today’s message in mind when times are tough.  Believers in Christ have both Jesus and the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf.  They each ask the Father to provide special and unique gifts that work toward the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:26).
        • This is especially true when we are so messed up, we don’t know where to start in prayer.  I’ve been there, and I’ll bet each of us here on today have been, or maybe are there right now.  If so, please let me know.  I am a priest called by God to bring to you His gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.  Moreover, thanks be to the Holy Spirit who knows us sufficiently to ask on our behalf for the things which will bring peace and satisfaction!
        • We also see how Jesus advocates on our behalf  in 1Tim 2:5-6 -  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.  In a secular vain, it’s nice to know if we screw up on our taxes for instance, there is good counsel available to work with the IRS to get penalties reduced or eliminated.  This must be a big problem in our society, given the number of radio and TV ad’s I’ve heard about lawyers providing tax advocacy. ☹
        • However, that doesn’t do us any good to have a tax attorney when we’re arrested for something.  We would need a criminal law attorney.  Jesus is an advocate who handles any and all kinds of sins.  He is a High Priest who can sympathize with our needs (Heb 4:15-16), because He lived 33yrs as a man with flesh like you & I have.  He was tempted by Satan after fasting for 40 days just to make it fair, and yet did not sin.
        • Jesus sympathized with the blind man named Bartimaeus in our Gospel reading (Mark 10:46-52).  The guy would not stop pleading with Jesus to have mercy on him.  Jesus as the blind man’s advocate had mercy and restored his sight.  Jesus as our advocate also opens our eyes to God’s grace, saving us from a fate worse than mere physical blindness.
    • The second take-away is God’s desire that we should follow Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit’s example of intercession.  The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy - First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Ti 2:1-4).
      • Each Sunday in church, we devote about 5min’s of a service praying in the Spirit on behalf of fellow saints, and being alert to the needs of people (Eph 6:18-20).
      • Let’s do this in our daily prayer life as well.  Paul wrote to the Philippians - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God[11].  We can do this confidently, because the Psalmist wrote - 15 Call upon Me on the day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.[12]
    • Our last thought to contemplate is something from Martin Luther’s sermons on the Gospel according to John, chapters 14-16. Martin said, “A Christian without prayer is just as impossible as a living person without a pulse. The pulse is never motionless; it moved and beats constantly, whether one is asleep or something else keeps one from being aware of it.[13]”  What he meant is that prayers of intercession by the Holy Spirit on behalf of a Christian is constant.  They are without ceasing.  You could not have anyone be a better advocate than the Holy Spirit praying on your behalf.  And, you couldn’t have a better advocate on your behalf when you sin, than Jesus Christ our Lord!  If God be for us, who or what can be against us?!  Amen.


 


[1] Luther, Martin. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation - 2017 Edition. Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition, location 4097.

[2] IBID, location 4121

[3] IBID, location 4135

[4] Ex 32:7-10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ex+32&version=NASB

[5] Ex 32:11-14 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ex+32&version=NASB

[6] 1Jn 2:1 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1jn+2&version=NASB

[7] Rom 8:33-34 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+8&version=NASB

[8] Strong’s Definition from https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1793/nasb20/tr/0-1/

[9] Heb 7:25 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/heb/7/1/s_1140001

[10] Rom 8:31 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%208&version=NASB

[11] Phil 4:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=phil+4&version=NASB

[12] Ps 50:15 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ps+50&version=NASB

[13] Luther, Martin, (translation by) Bertram, Martin, (edited by) Pelikan, Jarolsav, Luther’s Works, Vol 24, Sermons on John 14-16, Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, MO, 1961, p.89

Eye of a Needle (Mark 10:25)

  • Introduction: I encourage you to keep your bulletin handy, because I will be referring to verses from the readings which are printed there in addition to the outline of this message on the back cover.  The message for today is based upon Mark 10:25 - 25 It is easier [for a] camel to come through a hole [of] a needle [than for] a rich person to come into the kingdom of God.[1]
    • James Voelz, retired professor of Greek at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, authored a commentary on the Gospel according to Mark.  In his commentary[2] on the verse for today, he offered three possible understandings of Mark 10:25:
      • The 1st: Jesus was literal with the possibility of a camel passing through the hole of a needle.
      • Alternatively, Jesus referred to a place called “The Needle” which people at the time of this text would have known the location.  It would have been a location such as a narrow gate to a walled city where it was difficult for a camel through which to pass without completely unloading.
      • And thirdly, Jesus instead presented an impossible proposition to set up for a theological discussion about His reason for coming to us in the flesh.
    • Fundamentalists will tend toward the literal understanding which can lead people to believe a rich person will not enter the kingdom of God just like a camel cannot pass through a hole the size of a millimeter or so[3].  But that misses the point Jesus made in v27 that while it is impossible for people to do any saving from hell, all things are possible alongside God.  Besides, Abraham was a very rich person at his death and we know he is in heaven.
    • With regard to some location known as “The Needle”, I have not found any support for this theory, a theory which did not exist until the fifteenth century[4].  Additionally, accepting this understanding would indicate there is a way for camel to pass through a “needle” potentially on its own.  This understanding runs counter to v27, because Jesus clearly stated salvation is impossible through men.
    • Therefore, we shall see from Jesus’ repeated statements recorded in the Gospel reading for today, along with the Disciples’ wonderment, that the third option presented is most likely the best understanding of Jesus comparison of the difficulty for a rich person to get into heaven, with a camel passing through a hole of a needle.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we wonder what Your Son Jesus meant with His comment about it being easier for a camel to pass through the hole of a needle.  Send the Holy Spirit to work in us faith and understanding, so that it is clear Jesus wanted everyone to know what is impossible for man is possible for God – including ushering a redeemed sinner into heaven.  We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and by the aid of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: We need to take a step back and see what led up to Jesus’ discussion with the disciples concerning the kingdom of God.
    • Earlier in Mark 10:17, a rich man asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  From what we can tell, the guy wasn’t asking of Jesus a question to antagonize like the Pharisees so often did.
      • Jesus initially instructed the man to keep the commandments. Jesus cited a few of the Ten Commandments including do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, and honor your father and your mother.  The rich man believed he was keeping those commandments. There probably was evidence in his life that he for the most part was keeping them (Mark 10:19-20). However, in the list of commandments I repeated, there were a few missing, weren’t there?  Jesus referred to the commandments of the Second Table of the Ten total.  These are the commandments governing how we should treat one another.  Jesus left out listing the commandments of the First Table, which are the three commandments governing our relationship with God.  I found that interesting, and it seems like Jesus was setting the rich man up for a teachable moment.  Like the rich man, we too can be lulled into thinking we keep many of the commandments.  The reality is, if you break one commandment, you’ve broken them all (Jam 2:10).
      • Jesus then instructed the rich man to sell everything and give to the poor (Mark 10:21).  Again, strange by its absence, is the neglecting of any mention of the commandments of the First Table.
        • You have to appreciate how infinitely wise our Lord Jesus is when reading Mark 10:22.  The rich man owned a lot of property, and so hearing from Jesus, whom he respected, the command to sell everything, turned out to be too much for the man to do.  He was sorrowful at the thought of selling everything.  The sacrifice was so great in the mind of the rich man, that instead of following Jesus, he decided to walk away.
  • Condition: We have pet sins that could keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God.  The rich man had the sin of putting vast property ownership ahead of having no other gods besides the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That’s commandment #1.  Quick note: 100% of the property that rich man had is now owned by someone else. 
    • We, like the Israelites before us who were led to the Promised Land, will constantly wander from the truth.  The OT reading appointed for Sept 25th included the Israelites missing the food they were used to eating in Egypt (Num 11:4-6).  The whining and complaining frustrated Moses to the point when Moses asked God to either fix the problem or take him out of this world!  It appeared the Israelites would have happily gone back into slavery for all you can eat fish (Ex 16:3)!
      • Lest you judge those short-sighted Israelites of 3400yrs ago or the rich man of Mark 10, we are just as capable of being deceived by riches as Solomon wrote about in Ecc 5 from our OT reading of today.  Solomon wrote - 13 There is a sickening evil which I have seen under the sun: wealth being hoarded by its owner to his detriment[5].
  • Analysis: What is it we will have a hard time parting with in order to go to heaven?  Remember, we came into this world with nothing, and that is how we will leave.
    • Jesus exhorted us in Matt ch#6 to store treasures in heaven, where nothing can destroy or steal away those treasures.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of cars throughout my life, but even the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever owned eventually wore out.  I’m one of those people who gets attached to a car; a car is not just transportation to me.  And yet, I need to pay heed to the Lord’s word when He warned about where our heart is focused is where our treasures will be (Mat 6:19-21).  We really need to focus on the heavenly things more than the earthly, and we will become less distracted with the items of this Age.
      • This is why I believe Jesus presented a scenario of a camel and a needle as an impossible proposition.  I don’t believe Jesus was to be understood merely literally, because of the word “easier” appearing in Mark 10:25.  Is there any chance of the possibility of even a strand of hair from a camel fitting through a standard sewing or knitting needle of the 1st century? I see the proposition of a camel passing through the hole in a needle a completely impossible proposition. 
        • To digress for a moment, we are thoroughly corrupted with sin. Recall back to the time of Noah.  We read from Gen 6:5 - Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually[6]. God could see that in *everyone*, and so was sorry He created man.  Everything was corrupt and the earth was filled with violence.  God noted specifically that humanity had corrupted everything of the earth (Gen 6:11-12).  We are descendants of these people God had Moses record for us in the book of Genesis.
        • That means we are prone to seek gratification now and not persevere in the faith just like all but eight (8) people on earth about 2,000yrs after the creation of Adam.  Just Noah, his wife, and their sons with their wives made it out of the great flood.
          • Despite God showing grace upon Noah and his family, the corruption continued on in their bloodline to this day.  The Israelites God redeemed from the slavery of Egypt were descendants of Noah’s son, Shem.  That means Abraham, the father of the Israelites, was a descendant of Shem.  The corruption continued 430yrs years after God promised Abraham his numerous descendants would be redeemed from Egyptian slavery. The two million or so Israelites at the time of Moses had seen all of the huge miracles God had performed in destroying Egypt.  Fast-forward to the time God called Moses up onto Mt Sinai.  Moses took “too long” in the eyes of the Israelites to come down off the mountain, and so in less than 40 days, the Israelites decided to make their own gods (Ex 32:1-4).  That is a clear sign of corruption, to have forgotten the love the Lord God had shown in the redemption of the Israelites from slavery.  At the time of the reception of the Ten Commandments, they were 120 miles away from Egypt.  Moses took too long in returning and so the Israelites decided to make their own gods in the form of two gold calves.
        • Please don’t think we are any better than the Israelites who rebelled against God by creating calves for gods.   These were gods they could see and hold, but were otherwise worthless.  We inherited the same corruption they displayed in the western desert of Saudi Arabia.  We will not seek God unless He does something to bring us to faith.  This is why it is so hard for me to understand where some religions are coming from when they say they chose to follow God.  No, it is the word of God in the gospel which has the power of salvation to everyone who believes.  It was God who revealed Himself through His word which in turn produces faith (Rom 1:16-17).
          • Even people who have heard the gospel nonetheless reject the gospel through disobedience (Heb 4:6).  We heard that a moment ago from the Epistle reading in Hebrews ch#4.  In our daily devotional studies, my wife Karla & I just read the Parable of the Sower.  That’s the parable of Matthew ch#13 Jesus told about seeds being broadcast into different types of soil.  In three of the four places where seed fell, the seeds didn’t make it to full growth for different reasons.  Only the seeds which fell into good soil wound up yielding crops 100, 60, or 30-fold. Those seeds which produced a crop were representative of souls who heard the word of God and understood it by faith. They didn’t reject the word in exchange for some gold calf or other kind of god.
  • Conclusion: Whenever Jesus repeated a statement a couple or more times, that was a sign that what was being said was important.  Jesus mentioned twice how hard it was to come into the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-24).  It’s hard because of the distractions Satan and his henchmen direct against God’s people. We’re already corrupt inside and out and so it doesn’t take much to tempt us into the sin of doubt or impatience so that we rebel against God’s word.
    • Jesus 2x said it was hard to enter into the kingdom of God.  He then gave an analogy in v25 that left no doubt for the Disciples (and us) to understand.  Let me repeat v25 from an original translation of the Greek - 25 It is easier [for a] camel to come through a hole [of] a needle [than for] a rich person to come into the kingdom of God.”
      • Some religions now teach there are several ways to get into heaven.  That thinking bucks against what Jesus cautioned in our text for today.  Not only is it difficult to get into heaven – it is impossible for people living in sin apart from Christ.  It is as impossible as for a camel to go through a needle hole.  There is only one way into heaven, and that is through Christ. Jesus is the gate into heaven, and admittedly that gate is narrow.  Few will find it as opposed to the broad gate that leads to the destruction of many (Mat 7:13-14).
    • For those not in rebellion against God and His word, we can thank God for His love. We can thank Him that He is desires all to be saved.  And, He capable of saving all who believe!
      • We spoke of Noah a few moments ago.  God was patient with the sinners of the time of Noah as the Apostle Peter wrote - 20 who once were disobedient when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water[7]
      • Peter likened the water rescue of Noah with the saving of our soul through baptism. Baptism is water with the word, and through it we don’t just get the benefit of removal of dirt by the water. We receive the washing away of our sins, and the continued presence of the Holy Spirit working within us to keep us in the true faith (1Pe 3:18-21).  Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).  If God is not pleased with you, what do you think your chances will be to enter into heaven, even through the narrow gate?
      • Let me end this message with these thoughts from 2Pe 2:4-10 - For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, held for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example of what is coming for the ungodly; and if He rescued righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the perverted conduct of unscrupulous people … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from a trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt passion, and despise authority[8].  Let’s end our rebellion against God which we are prone to do.  Let faith and trust in His promises reign in our heart and soul. O Holy Spirit make this so!  Amen.

 

Other References (which did not get used):


[1] Original translation from a composite of three sources, two of which found at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/mar/10/1/t_conc_967025 and the third from Codex Alexandrinus

[2] Voelz, James, “Concordia Commentary on Mark 8:27-16:20”, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2019, p.747

[3] https://www.jjneedles.com/needles-guide

[4] Lenski, Richard, “The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel”, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, 1964, p.442

[5] Ecc 5:13 per NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ecc+5&version=NASB

[6] Gen 6:5 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gen+6&version=NASB

[7] 1Pe 3:20 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1Pe+3&version=NASB

[8] 2Pe 2:4-7,9-10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2pe+2&version=NASB

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