2022:Sundays in Lent

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Good Friday 2018 (John 19:30)

The following was preached at sister congregation Ascension Lutheran Church & School of Tucson, AZ on 30Mar18.  It is repeated here upon request:

John 19:30 – 30ὅτε οὖν ἔλαβεν τὸ ὄξος ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν Τετέλεσται καὶ κλίνας τὴν κεφαλὴν παρέδωκεν τὸ πνεῦμα.  30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Introduction:

There was a song written and performed by Jimmy Dean that became a hit in fall of 1961 entitled “Big John”.  The song was a ballad about a fictional character named John who was 6ft6 and weighed 245(lbs). No one really knew much about Big John, and, because of his physique, everyone around him pretty much gave him his space so as to not cross him. It is this fictional character’s selfless act that we will examine for our consideration today, which is a model for what our Lord Jesus did for us on that first Good Friday some 2,000yrs ago.

Let Us Pray:

Lord Jesus, we thank you for Your obedient walk to the cross, so that You became the one perfect sacrifice in order for the entire human race to be atoned from its sins. You knew that we were permanently consigned to an eternal grave away from You, a worthless pit that we would never avoid without Your perfect work of redemption.  Please, Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to work in our soul to better understand the magnitude of our hopelessness apart from You, so that we then appreciate the free gift we have received from You in memory of this day. To You Lord Jesus we commit this request, You who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Parallel:

The song, “Big John”, was about underground mining of some sort of commodity, probably coal.  The danger with any type of mining underground is a tunnel suddenly collapsing, and basically entombing all who are working in the mine.  This is kind of a model for what our life is like in this Age.

Ever since our first parents, Adam & Eve, decided to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit, all of us are preoccupied with thoughts, desires, even passions, to go in the opposite direction of God’s Word.  James, half-brother of Jesus, wrote: How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  (Jam 3:5b-9 as quoted from the ESV)  Our tongue is controlled by our very essence, and that essence apart from God the Holy Spirit is full of evil.  Our tongue therefore reflects what is in our soul, and it will not change unless there is help from above. Without this help, there is no way we, like the miners of the song, can free ourselves from the eternal fate of Hell.

We read of the lyrics from “Big John”:

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine, When a timber cracked and men started cryin'. Miners were prayin' and hearts beat fast, And everybody thought that they'd breathed their last, 'cept John.

Imagine for a moment you are a miner working underground.  There is only one way into the mine and one way out.  It really doesn’t matter if you are 200ft down or only 20ft down; if that one way out is blocked, you are stuck.  This is a similar analogy to our life in this Age.  Many of us here think we are not all that bad of a person. Surely God will take that into account on judgement day!  The reality is if you are only 20ft down under instead of being worse off father down in a pit, you are still entombed! You are still eternally separated from the freedom of movement at the earth’s surface.  This is where we are without the saving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth: 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,…  21 For our sake he (God the Father) made him (Jesus Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:17-19b, 21 as quoted from the ESV)

The song continues:

Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell, Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well.  Grabbed a saggin' timber, gave out with a groan, And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone, big John.  And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove, Then a miner yelled out "there's a light up above!"  And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave, Now there's only one left down there to save, big John.

There was no way out of the man-made hell without someone rescuing us from the pit, regardless of how far down into the pit we exist. Lest you think that you were somehow put into the pit without your consent, we do plenty each day to offend the Lord with our sin to the point of Him saying, “Depart from me, you cursed!”  But as Moses pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the faithless nation of Israel, when, after the twelve spies came back from the Promised Land to report to all what they saw, all of Israel griped and complained and made up a lie about the Lord bringing His people out of Egypt only to kill them in the desert of Sinai. We read from Num 14:18-19 -  17 And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

God heard the prayer of Moses on behalf of the people.  The sins of the Israelites were pardoned.  Yes, sin has its consequences, and we know this in our own life to this day. The consequences of sin were not unique to those grumbling Israelites.  God indeed heard the pleas of His own heart for His prize of all creation, mankind.  The Lord saw how we were going to be trapped underground for eternity even before the foundations of this world were created. He knew the day would have to come, when He would have to send someone to rescue mankind from their own sin – their circumstances of their own making.  That day is that first Good Friday, when Jesus walked to Golgatha – the place of the skull – to be shamefully hung onto a cross.  Everyone hung on a tree is cursed says the scriptures, and Jesus was cursed with your sins so that yours were then taken away!

The song, “Big John” continues: 

With jacks and timbers they started back down, Then came that rumble way down in the ground. And then smoke and gas belched out of that mine, Everybody knew it was the end of the line for big John.

From the song, we conclude that the man everyone knew as “Big John” had sacrificed himself in order for everyone else to have a way out of a terminal situation.  And, just like the miners who started back down, there was nothing anyone attending Jesus’ execution at Golgatha was going to be able to do to save Jesus from the Roman death sentence.  There absolutely needed to be a shedding of blood from an unblemished lamb in order for sins to be atoned for.  Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday wanted to save the Lord, but what was the result?  Jesus stopped Peter, because there was no way for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from Jesus and yet we all be saved from being eternally entombed in Hell.  The events had to happen the way they did some 2,000yrs ago.

Make no mistake; Jesus paid a HUGE price for our salvation.  Just like Big John in the song, Jesus gave of himself when called upon due to the circumstances of our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross was dirty, messy, and certainly bloody.  It was a humiliating death that no King of Kings and Lord of Lords should have had to endure.  He did endure that torture for you and for me so that as the Psalmist wrote - Psalm 40:2-3 - He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

I call upon you to sing the new song of praise to our God.  Motivate yourself to turn from your sinful ways, by remembering this day, a day Jesus’ followers mourned His innocent death on a cross.  The song by Jimmy Dean hit #1 on the charts almost 57yrs ago. It had its day, just like Satan had his day.  But the day is coming to an end for Satan and all of the evil of this generation. Satan’s time is short, but so are the days we have to endure the filth of ourselves, the sinful world, and the garbage that Satan and his henchmen dish out to all who are of Christ.  The day is coming when everything will be new, for the first heaven and first earth will have passed away.  That is the implication of Jesus’ simple word from the cross, “It is finished”.  We will sing a new song in praise of our God who will wipe every tear from our eyes. This is the wonderful result of a very bad situation that happened 2,000yrs ago.  This is why it is called, “Good Friday”.  Amen.

Great Physician (Deu 32:39)

  • Introduction: 
    • Today’s word for consideration is from a portion of Deuteronomy known as “Song of Moses”.  Deuteronomy Ch#32 is a song given by God to Moses for Moses to teach the Israelites who were about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Verse 39 is a passage of scripture I’ve personally enjoyed since the 1980’s which I repeat here from an original translation - 39 Behold! Behold! Because I Am, and he [Baal] is no God besides me.  I kill, and I will make life.  I will strike, and I will heal; and he [Baal] is not who will deliver from out of my hands.
    • God will have no sin near Him nor in His house. He will not tolerate any other gods in our life.  This sounds like a zero-tolerance policy if you ask me.  But that is only half the story if you missed the “make life” and “heal” portions of the verse.  The question is, what was God referring to in v39, and what applies to us even today? Let us go before our Lord to open our mind and soul to hear His word.
  • Let us pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank you for being our gracious and loving Father, even when You strike us.  You are a God of integrity, and will not allow veering to the left or the right from Your Word.  Send Your Spirit to work faith in our heart to receive the message we are about to hear, so that we understand the penalties of sin, but also the grace of Your healing love.  We pray this through your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forevermore.  Amen.
  • Definition: If I were to ask you what does it mean to have a zero-tolerance policy, what would you say?  Merriam-Webster on-line defines a zero-tolerance policy as: a policy of giving the most severe punishment possible to every person who commits a crime or breaks a rule[1] 
    • Work places have zero-tolerance policies against, for examples:
      • Bullying
      • Bringing firearms on company premises
      • Sexual harassment
      • Theft, etc.
    • Is there a zero-tolerance policy in your life? For instance, what is the criteria for who you let into your house?  What criteria is there for members of your inner circle of friends?  Why would it be any different for the Lord to have a zero-tolerance policy?  It is from Him whom we receive wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Pro 2:6).
      • God kicked our first parents out of His garden because of their rebellion (Gen 3:24).  That was the consequence of their sin.  Keep in mind though that He didn’t send them out naked.
        • They eventually died even though Satan deceived them by telling them they wouldn’t go “poof” into instant oblivion.  Here’s what God actually said in Gen 2:16-17 - 16 The Lord God commanded [Adam], saying, “From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die.[2]”  All of mankind did die on the day they ate from the forbidden tree.  That was a spiritual death that gave us dual citizenship in this Age and in hell.  All flesh would also eventually die.
    • This wasn’t God’s plan despite a zero-tolerance policy.
      • While He was serious about death, He also will make life.  Listen again to the beginning portion of our text for today - 39 Behold! Behold! Because I Am, and [there is] is no God besides me.  I kill, and I will make life…
        • Following the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul could see how our text from Deu 32:39 came to pass - 21 For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive[3].  I’m certain Paul had Deu 32:39 in mind when he observed what the purpose was for Jesus to perform by giving us life.
  • Background: It’s always good when interpreting a passage from the Bible to examine the context in which the passage appears.  In Deu 31:19, God instructed Moses - “Now then, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel[4].  
    • The Lord gave Moses the words of a song that Moses and the Levitical priests would then teach the Israelites, so they would have a clear witness to them of what they were about to do in their relationship with the Lord.  The Lord made a covenant with His people after redeeming them from slavery in Egypt (Ex 19:5). 
    • The lyrics to the song of Ch#32 would be something as the Peoples Bible Commentary on Deuteronomy noted were like a covenant lawsuit between a suzerain, which is a great and mighty king, and a vassal, which would be one of the subjects of the great king[5].  The lyrics wind up being legal briefs in a lawsuit the Lord, the Suzerain of suzerains, has against His chosen people.  In ancient times, as a “trial” would take place, the suzerain would point out the failures on the part of the vassal to keep the covenant.  You see this in the examples of the sinfulness of the Israelites noted in the passages listed in your outline.  The suzerain would then point out the good that he did on behalf of the vassal.  Our Lord did this with miraculous signs and wonders so that the visual evidence was unequivocal.  These examples of God’s love are also noted in your outline.  And finally, a warning would be issued by the suzerain to the vassal to change their ways or there would be consequences.  I think there are 13 passages of Deu 32 which note these consequences.
    • God knew in one generation the Israelites would forget all which God had done for them in redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were going to go whoring after other so-called gods.  Since the pronouns “he” of v39 are singular in my original translation, I suspect God was referring specifically to Baal.  However, like now in the 21st century there are many gods, there were many in the 15th century BC.  Nonetheless, I think since there was so much in the Old Testament about Baal, that it is who the “he” was alluded to in v39.
  • Exulted to Death: Let’s put Deu 32:39 into the context of our Gospel reading for today.  The Gospel from John Ch#12 is the account of the first Palm Sunday which continues in celebration on today.  Jesus entered into Jerusalem like a king, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zec 9:9)!
    • Jesus had just healed Lazarus from being dead for 4 days as the Apostle John noted in John 11:39, 43-44.
      • Lazarus, like everyone human died, because of the wage of sin.  The Apostle Paul wrote by inspiration - For the wages of sin is death, (Rom 6:23a).[6] Jesus knew this was going to happen and purposely waited until Lazarus was dead so that it was unequivocal that sin killed, but that God in man, that being Jesus, would make life.
      • Religious leaders now wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus (John 12:10), because Jesus proved our text for today – 39 Behold! Behold! Because I Am, and he [Baal] is no God besides me. I kill, and I will make life.  I will strike, and I will heal; and he [Baal] is not who will deliver from out of my hands (Deu 32:39).  Those leaders had to know this passage, thereby knowing that the miracle performed by Jesus could only have been done by God.
    • All the celebration of Palm Sunday turned to terror after eating the Passover meal on Maundy Thursday.
      • The Good Shepherd was struck by the mob Judas Iscariot led to arrest Jesus.  When that happened, the apostle sheep scattered just as was foretold in Zec 13:7, and noted to be fulfilled by the Gospel account from the Apostle Matthew (Mat 26:31).
      • By Friday, no one was singing ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ (John 12:13)
      • We saw written in our text the verbs “kill” and “strike” – Jesus took the beating and dying for us just as the prophet Isaiah foretold - But He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed[7]. Once again, we have evidence of God keeping His word of Deu 32:39 through the actions of His Son, Jesus.
  • Conclusion: Verse 39 is clear the Lord strikes, but will also heal.  This sounds a lot like the Christian doctrine of Law & Gospel.  Paul uses a similar approach of Law & Gospel when he asks the church at Corinth whether he needs to come with the rod of authority or with a gentle spirit. He asked in 1 Co 4:21 - 21 What do you desire?  That I come to you with a rod (Law), or with love and a spirit of gentleness (Gospel)[8]?
    • Richard Lenski, a 20th century theologian wrote of 1 Co 4:21, “Do [the Corinthians] want severity or loving mildness? The latter is possible only in the event that they repent.”  Lenski later in his interpretation noted, “The degree of severity with which Paul may strike depends, of course, on the kind and the degree of the opposition to the truth which he may meet.”[9]  No doubt the Spirit had inspired Paul to ask the question on whether to bring the Law or the Gospel, because God works with us similarly.  If we are particularly hardened in some sin, we can expect God to call us from that sin with a greater calamity in order to bring us to repentance. That is when the Gospel makes the most sense to our sinful soul; when we are living struck with the consequences of our sin.
      • The Law strikes a soul, sometimes very hard. However, the Gospel provides true healing that cannot be found anywhere else.  People try to snuff out the Law with illicit drugs, alcohol, or rationalizations and justifications.  For those of you who have tried this, how did drowning out your bad memories of past sins work for you?  Only the God-given gift of the Gospel can truly eliminate the sting of the Law.  When God says He will heal, that healing comes from the sweet Gospel.
      • God does *not* treat us as our sins deserve. When He does strike, He will also heal. Take for example, the bones of astronauts who have been in space for a while.  The bones are less dense due to the lack of gravity to work against. However, bones that are regularly stressed with pressure and work tend to have a higher density and are less likely to break.  God uses pressure and work to make us stronger and more useful in His kingdom.
    • If you are like me, the Lord has to periodically remind us of a pet sin that we seem to keep reverting into.  It is very irritating to me the Lord has to bring calamity upon me in order to bring me closer to Him.  Why can’t I just rejoice in all He has already done for me and walk the line so to speak?  Martin Luther’s commentary on Deuteronomy is around 500yrs old, but his thoughts answer the question.  He wrote regarding v39, “…experience teaches [the Israelites] what they did not learn before in their smug security[10].”
      • God must bring calamities and out & out killing of the soul in order to convict a person in their sin.  Once convicted, a regenerate soul may then have the Gospel brought to them to make alive what was dead.  The striking against smug sinners comes in proportion to their smugness. There is a more severe blow to match up with the haughtiness of a soul deceived in sin to the point of thinking they are righteous on their own.  The severe blow is needed in order to point out we are eternally lost without the one true God.
    • The permanent healing mentioned in Deu 32:39 comes when God will provide the leaves of the trees in heaven.  These leaves will provide eternal healing for the nations of people living who will never die again, because they were made alive.  The second death has no effect on them, unlike those who went to hell because they denied Jesus.
      • We read from Rev 22:1-3 - Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
    • God has a zero-tolerance policy against any sin being present in His home.  That is why He shapes and molds us into something useful to Him and to others for eternity. This is also why He sent His Son for us to believe in Him so that we do not perish.  Jesus is therefore the “Great Physician” who offers healing to all who receive it through faith.  Zero-tolerance: 100% love!  This is our God, and this is most certainly true!

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zero%20tolerance

[2] Gen 2:16-17 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gen+2&version=NASB

[3] 1Co 15:21-22 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1co+15&version=NASB

[4] Deu 31:19 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/deu/31/1/s_184001

[5] Braun, Mark E, People’s Bible Commentary on Deuteronomy, Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, MO, 1995, pp302-303

[6] Rom 6:23a from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rom/6/1/s_1052001

[7] Isa 53:5 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/isa/53/1/s_732001

[8] 1Co 4:21 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/1co/4/1/t_conc_1066021

[9] The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, R.C.H. Lenski, Augsburg Publishing House, 1963, p203

[10] Luther, Martin.  Luther’s Works, Lectures on Deuteronomy.  Vol. 9. Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel Poellot.  St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1960, p.298

Lose Everything, Gain Christ (Phi 3:8)

  • Introduction: The Apostle Paul was raised in the Word and had zeal for the Lord. But by faith, he came to realize all that education and whatever other accomplishments amounted to literally a pile of crap.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul understood that having the King of Kings is ultimately all that matters in life.
    • Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians around 62AD when he was in Rome[1].  The Epistle is believed to be the last of the four prison epistles, because of Paul’s captivity by appealing to Caesar after the riot in Jerusalem.  Philippi was the first Christian congregation founded in Europe. It was a retirement colony for Greek then later Roman soldiers.  Acts chapter 16 provides some early information on the formation of this first Christian congregation in Europe.
    • We will spend time on today learning what Paul learned over the course of his ministry that he conveyed in Phi 3:4b-14.  We can summarize that in the acrostic WICK - Works (not!), Important, Crap (yes, crap), King (of Kings), and what that means for us in 2022.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, You revealed Yourself on the road to Damascus to the Apostle Paul.  You revealed to him how much he would suffer in advancing Your kingdom on earth.  We thank You for the instruction he left for us in Your inspired word.  Help us by Your Spirit to understand and believe that while there are important things in life, there is nothing so important to hold higher than knowing and loving You.  Grant us a greater measure of faith to put You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit above all other things in our life.  We lay these petitions before You, Lord Jesus, knowing by the power of the Holy Spirit we have faith that You will bless according to the authority granted to You by the Father, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Works Don’t get the Job Done: In order to understand the acrostic of the word, WICK, it will be helpful to follow the outline printed on the back cover of your bulletin.
    • Paul started out in our text for today pointing out all of the work he did in being a good follower of God.  He was circumcised on the 8th day of life as God instructed Abraham in Gen 17:12.  He noted he was from one of the twelve (12) tribes of Israel, Benjamin. His parents move to Jerusalem from Tarsus so he could be taught at the feet of Gamaliel, a noted theologian at the time.  He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews”, belonging to the sect of the Pharisees and not the Sadducees.  He was proud to find and capture anyone professing to follow Christ.  If there was a law in the church at the time, he followed it to a “T”.  He was a model Jew, and proud of it!
    • However, once Jesus called Paul into service as an apostle, Paul began to understand that all the work he did, thinking that would make him righteous before God, turned out to be a loss and not a gain(v7).  He considered it a loss to have all those credentials in the synagogues and temple, because it was right there before him that righteousness before God comes *exclusively* by faith.  Listen to Paul’s words of Phi 3:9 - … not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith[2].
    • Faith alone is one of the foundations of Lutheran theology. Faith alone is based primarily upon Eph 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them[3].  Paul wrote Ephesians also from Rome, and probably just before writing Philippians. He made it clear that good works are a result of faith.  They don’t get you right with God, because all our works apart from Christ are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6).  This is why Jesus came into our flesh.  There needed to be one, just one, person who would keep the entire Law of God.  It took the power of God to keep all the commandments for a lifetime.
      • It is from the inspired writings of Paul, and others through whom we came to know this.  The Apostle Peter wrote - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time[4].   There are many other passages in the Bible where it is clear God did all of the work for our salvation.  That’s the only way we could be saved.  We had to be spotless from the moment of conception.  But with inherited sin and the rebellion of spirit that came with that, there was zero chance of our works getting us into heaven.  So, the first letter of our acrostic, “W”, is for works which do *not* get us into heaven.
  • Most Important Thing - Know Jesus: The next letter of our acrostic, “I”, is for important.  The most important things according to the Apostle Paul is knowing Jesus.
    • There are all kinds of things we need and want to do in life.  We have to care for ourselves, as I know too well lately.  There were a lot of podiatrist appointments following my foot surgery in February.  We had to take it a week or two at a time to see how the healing was going and whether further corrections were necessary. The foot healing was something needed, but here’s something wanted.  Karla & I are planning to take a cruise on Memorial weekend this year, after I conduct a wedding of my dad and his lovely bride.
      • But here’s a “pleasant” thought: all the things we own and plan to do, come to naught when we die.   King Solomon wrote in Pro 11:7 - When a wicked person dies, his expectation will perish, and the hope of strong people perishes[5].  We might object to being considered a wicked person, which unfortunately is true apart from Christ.  I’ll give you that, but the Psalmist covers the opposite end of the spectrum of wicked to righteous - Do not trust in noblemen, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; On that very day his plans perish[6].  Whether wicked or righteous, the consequence of sin is the same – death.  All the stuff we have doesn’t come with us to the grave, and certainly not into heaven.  Only who we are goes into heaven or hell.  The importance of Jesus in our life is the determining factor on which place we wind up.
    • Let me repeat a portion of what Paul wrote in Phi 3:8a - More than that, I consider all (those things) to be loss on account of the holding above everything else the knowing Christ Jesus my Lord[7]. The NASB20 has “surpassing value” of knowing Christ, but I wanted to point out the significant emphasis Paul put onto knowledge of Jesus. The Greek word I’ve interpreted as holding above everything is ὑπερέχω (hee-per-e’-kho).  It is a compound word with the prefix ὑπερ (hee-per) from where we get the English word, hyper.  If you suffer with hyperglycemia, you have high blood sugar. Εχω is the Greek verb to have or to hold.  So Paul is saying here the knowledge of Jesus is something hyper to hold onto, above everything else we hold onto in our life.  That’s how important it is to know Jesus!
    • But just knowing about Jesus is not the full story.   James, half-brother of Jesus, wrote - You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder[8].  We saw this more than once throughout Jesus’ 3yr ministry when He drove out demons.  They would shriek in terror that Jesus was going to toss them into the abyss to rot there for eternity.  They knew Jesus better than we probably know Him.
      • The full story about knowing Jesus is knowing about Him through His word, and trusting in His word.  We spoke of works a few moments ago and how our works do not get us into heaven.  However, faith shown in good works is an indication of belief and trust in His word. Continuing reading from the New Testament (NT) book of James - 20 But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God. … 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead[9]
  • Everything Else is a Pile of Crap: This next portion of the sermon is when some of you may not like the language used.
    • I apologize in advance, but I’m providing an accurate translation of the Greek when I quote Paul as writing that all those good things he did as a student of the law and putting the Law into practice amounted to being nothing more than a pile of crap.  Yes, the Greek of v8 [σκύβαλα (skee'-ba-la)] means “crap” and not rubbish!  This is the only place of the entire NT where that word is used.  Theologians had to use outside biblical sources to translate this word, which meant animal excrement.  Paul was being very dramatic to use such a strong word to indicate how bad all our works are if done under the Law – done because we have to, and not out of love for our Lord.
    • The war in Ukraine brings it close to home on the value of stuff and achievements the Apostle Paul considered to be crap.  There are entire neighborhoods of Mariupol who’ve experienced everything destroyed. Homes and apartments were completely leveled from senseless bombing.  Literally nothing was left of the possessions of the people who once lived there. Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings you would have if that happened to you?  Would you consider your life’s possessions a pile of crap?  I guess if they were bombed to pieces, they probably would be something akin to a pile of crap.
      • And yet, how some reacted to forfeiting everything to war is a testament to what they value.  The refugees who escaped to other western countries were glad to have a safe place to which to go.
    • Does Paul mean God demands us to be impoverished?
      • Think about some of God’s people written of throughout the Bible. Abraham was mentioned earlier in this message.  Abraham was so rich, he had to separate from his nephew, Lot (Gen 13:6).  Lot chose to go east and Abraham then went west, because he had so many animals and servants.
      • Job was one of the richest man of his time.  It says in Job 1:3 - His possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east[10].  I don’t think God is saying to us through Paul that we all need to take an oath of poverty in order to follow Jesus.
  • King of Kings is All that Matters:  The reality is Paul is providing a practical understanding of the 1st Commandment – You shall have no other gods.  Ultimately, it is the King of Kings which is all that should matter in life.
    • Jesus asked the question - “For what good does it do a person if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits himself[11]?  Paul used the same Greek [ζημία (dzay-mee'-ah)] used by the Gospel account writers (Mat 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25) to indicate in his case forfeiture of all the crap in his life.
      • The Psalmist wrote - As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is only trouble and tragedy; For it quickly passes, and we disappear[12]. Compare that lifespan with eternity, which begins when Jesus returns (Luke 9:26).
  • Conclusion: The take-away from Phi 3:8 is this: remember WICK – Works (not!), Important, Crap (yes, crap), King (of Kings)
    • Jesus quoted from Isa 42:1-4 in one of His confrontations with the Pharisees as documented by the Apostle Matthew in Matt 12:9-21.  It’s a beautiful account of God the Father speaking about His beloved Son, Jesus. Let me quote just the verse about a wick - “A BENT REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF, AND A DIMLY BURNING WICK HE WILL NOT EXTINGUISH, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY[13].
      • If you struggle with weakness of faith, come to Jesus who will never extinguish a smoldering “wick”.  Some religions teach God helps those who help themselves.  This verse says the opposite: God helps those who *cannot* help themselves.  You can be confident God will help you in times of need.
      • A smoldering wick is something that will extinguish unless fanned or blown on to kindle the fire once again.  Paul wrote to his son in the faith Timothy - For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline[14]. Jesus will fan into fire the gift of God which is in you.  
    • Paul offered in Rom 12:9-13 some ways to keep our WICK lit - Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Jesus has identified through Paul some of the important actions to take.  It’ll take a lifetime of concentration on these examples of keeping our wick lit, but the Lord will be with us to fan into flame our wick.
    • And lastly, press on toward the target, the prize, which is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (vv11-14).  Satan and his henchmen will do what they can to extinguish the WICK. Let’s keep our eyes on the target, which is heaven.  And keep Jesus as #1. Amen.

[1] Facts about the Philippians epistle gleaned from Kuschel, Harlyn J, Peoples Bible Commentary, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, MO, 1992, pp6-8

[2] Phi 3:9 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/phl/3/1/s_1106008

[3] Eph 2:8-10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eph+2&version=NASB

[4] 1Pe 1:3-5 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1pe+1&version=NASB

[5] Pro 11:7 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/pro/11/1/s_639001

[6] Ps 146:3-4 from NASB20 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ps+146&version=NASB

[7] Phi 3:8a translated from mGNT found at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/phl/3/1/s_1106001

[8] Jas 2:19 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jas/2/1/s_1148001

[9] Jas 2:20-23, 26 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jas+2&version=NASB

[10] Job 1:3 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/job/1/1/s_437001

[11] Luke 9:25 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/luk/9/1/s_982001

[12] Ps 90:10 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/psa/90/1/s_568001

[13] Mat 12:20 quoting Isa 42:3 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/mat/12/1/t_conc_941020

[14] 2Ti 1:6-7 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2ti+1&version=NASB

Surely It Is God (Isa 12:2)

  • Introduction: Isaiah nailed it in Isa 12:2 which Jack Noble White in 1976 set it to music!  The saying is worthy for repeating from this pulpit: Surely it is God who saves me.  I will trust in Him and not be afraid.  For the Lord is my stronghold, and my sure defense. And He will be my savior.
    • The book of Isaiah was written over the course of several years around the 8th century BC.  The beautiful canticle we sang just before the Gospel was written then, yet God has not changed.  He was this same God in redeeming the Israelites from Egypt around 1450BC.  He was our savior, defense, and stronghold from the cross.  And He will be these same things on the day a believer meets Him face-to-face.
    • We will spend time on today looking into the text to better understand what Isaiah was trying to tell his readers by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  And we will explore what this means to us in 2022.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, You revealed Yourself to the prophet Isaiah.  You instructed Him on what You would do for the remnant of Israelites left after the fall of the Northern Kingdom if they repented of their sins. We too need this same repentance of our sins that can only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit.  Lord, help us by Your Spirit to understand and believe that while our sins are great, through You we have a savior from those sins.  Through You, we have a stronghold with the hedge You build around each believer. Grant us Your constant defense from our own sins, death, and the devil.  We lay these petitions before You, Lord Jesus, knowing by the power of the Holy Spirit we have faith that You will bless according to the authority granted to You by the Father, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: Isaiah wasn’t the first to write about God being our savior, a stronghold, and our defense.
    • From a portion of the Song of Miriam in Ex 15:2, we read - The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him[1].
      • This was sung by the Israelites after being saved from the Egyptian army (Ex 14:31).  Recall the Egyptinas had the Istraelites trapped on the Sinai side of the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea.  God parted the Sea and the Israelites crossed the Gulf through 700ft of water, walking on dry ground.  But, the Egyptians were drown when the Lord closed up the path through the water that was made only for the Israelites.
      • The glory didn’t last long, because soon afterward, the Israelites grumbled and complained about the living conditions in the desert.
        • They complained about the water (Ex 15:24).
        • In the next chapter of Exodus, they complained about not having bread or meat - The sons of Israel said to [Moses and Aaron], “If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread until we were full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this entire assembly with hunger![2]
        • How often do we forget the glory of what the Lord has done for us? We are no better than our fathers, are we?
    • Additionally, King David wrote a confession similar to Isa 12:2 in Ps 18:2.
      • King David ruled God’s people from roughly 1010-970BC.  Ps 18 was written after all David’s enemies were subdued, and King Saul was no longer around to terrorize David.  Ps 18 cross-references with 2Sa 22 and was written about 300yrs before Isaiah.
      • We read from Ps 18:2 - The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my savior, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
        • Doesn’t the Bible neatly cross-reference itself despite these examples I read being written over a span of 700yrs by three different authors?! What’s in common is all were inspired by the Holy Spirit from whom the amazing consistency comes.  And in each example, the theme is common to all.  God is our salvation, our defense, and provides a stronghold for refuge.
  • Analysis: Let’s now look into Isa 12.  But, to better understand Isa 12, we need to look into Isa 11 in order to gain context.
    • Isa 11 describes the New Testament era known as the “Church Militant”.  This term is defined in Luther’s Small Catechism as, “The Church as it is on earth, still struggling against sin and Satan.[3]” Because of this, we should not expect the Church’s life to be one of continual peace and harmony[4].
      • The Christian Church did not come into being until the first Pentecost. However, Jesus is the bridegroom to the Church, and so Isa 11 starts with Jesus’ birth in v1 - Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.[5]  Verse 2 foretells the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, resting upon Jesus at His baptism.
      • Later in Isa 11: 3b-5, we see how Jesus will rule as King in the era of Church Militant - And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make decisions by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the humble of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt around His hips, And [LXX:truth[6]] the belt around His waist.
      • Isaiah then wrote a poetic description of the conditions of His reign.  I’ll skim through examples of the peace that comes with Jesus’ reign - And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, ...... …And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord... 
      • Paul Kretzmann, an early 20th century Lutheran theologian commented on this portion of Isa 11 – “…the members of His holy church, give expression of their faith in their entire conduct; therefore they, in the midst of the general hatred and hostility of the world, live together in peace and love[7].
      • Isa 11 finishes with a description of Jesus being like a signal flag to which believers gather.  We see this in verses 10 & 12  - 10 Then on that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal flag for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious. 12 And He will lift up a flag for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Jesus is metaphorically written of to be like a signal flag for believers to gather.  This is an indication of where the Christian Church may be found in this Age.  It can be found in no one else but Him.
        • In Isa 11:13 a very interesting thing was written by Isaiah about all of the tribes of Israel being reunited - 13 Then the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, And those who harass Judah will be eliminated; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, And Judah will not harass Ephraim.  The reason this is interesting is because the Northern Kingdom, sometimes referred to as “Ephraim”, had been wiped out in 722BC.  This is why in the NT era of believers in God, we think v13 is an indication of unity in the Holy Christian Church – the Communion of Saints as we just confessed in the Apostles Creed.
        • And lastly in verses 15-16 - 15 …the Lord will utterly destroy The tongue of the Sea of Egypt; And He will wave His hand over the Euphrates River With His scorching wind; And He will strike it into seven streams And make people walk over in dry sandals. 16 And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant of His people who will be left; Just as there was for Israel On the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt.
    • This highway at the end of Isa 11 is also the end of this Age.  That is because Isa 12 describes the Church Triumphant that came through a special “Way”.  The Church Triumphant is defined in the Catechism as, The Church as it is in heaven, glorified and living forever in Christ’s presence[8].  The highway described in Isa 11 is Jesus Himself because He is the Way into heaven. He said to His disciples on that first Maundy Thursday as recorded in John 14:3&6 - …if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be. Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me[9].
      • Isa 12 starts with another “on that day”, but this time it means the day we enter into the fortress of heaven.  Repeating v1 - Then you will say on that day, “I will give thanks to You, Lord; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, And You comfort me.  God said to us through Isaiah that He was angry with us because of our sin. However, through the work of Christ as listed in Ch#11, God was no longer angry with us, because there was no sin about which He could be angry.  Jesus took all of our sin away!
      • The remaining five verses of Isa 12 are what those in Christ will confess, starting with our verse of today - Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.  On that day, we won’t have to just believe God is our salvation, defense, and a stronghold.  We *will* be in the fortress of heaven!  We will see it with our own eyes and not the eyes of another.
      • We will see firsthand God is our salvation, not just because of the prophecy in Isa 12:3 - Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation.   We also have what the Apostle John wrote in Rev 21:3 - And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “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,[10]  Did you catch that?  God will live in our neighborhood!
      • We will drink from the living water (Jer 2:13,17:13) of the springs of salvation (v3).  What is this living water?  The prophet Jeremiah twice received a definition of living water from the Lord - “For My people have committed two evils: They have abandoned Me, The fountain of living waters, To carve out for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That do not hold water[11].  Later on in Jer 17:13 - LORD, the hope of Israel; All who abandon You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, that is the LORD[12].  This is the same living water Jesus spoke to the woman at the well in John 4:13-14 - 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.[13]
  • Conclusion: Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8)
    • He is our Savior because He lives forever as the one priest to have made the one perfect sacrifice.  We know this from Heb 7:24-27 - 24Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is also able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; 27 who has no daily need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did this once for all time when He offered up Himself.  From this we conclude Jesus saves us forever from eternity in hell, where there is no end to the torture of punishment of sin.  We do not have to worry about hell, because Jesus is our salvation.
    • Jesus is our sure Defense.  We are protected by the power of God through faith as the Apostle Peter wrote in 1Pe 1:3-5 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for youwho are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time[14].
    • And finally, Jesus is able to place us in His Stronghold (καταφυγὴ) now.  The Psalmist wrote - God is our refuge and strength, A very ready help in trouble[15].  But, Jesus is also our ticket into the eternal stronghold of heaven where the walls of stronghold of a city are 200ft thick (Rev 21:17).  No one gets into heaven who does not belong there.
    • Let me repeat Jack Noble White’s slight revision of Isa 12:2 that we sang a few moments ago – Surely it is God who saves me.  I will trust in Him and not be afraid.  For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and He will be my savior.  This is most certainly true!

 


[1] Ex 15:2 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/exo/15/1/s_65001

[2] Ex 16:3 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/exo/16/1/s_66001

[3] Luther, Martin. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation - 2017 Edition . Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition. Loc 8307

[4] Question 218, ibid

[5] All of the following quotes from Isa ch#11 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa+11&version=NASB

[6] The Greek: ἀληθείᾳ appears in the Septuagint which matches with Eph 6:14 and is therefore the preferred translation. Source of Greek from https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/isa/11/1/t_conc_690005

[7] Kretzmann, Paul E, Popular Commentary of the Bible, Old Testament, Vol.II, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1924, p.308

[8]            Luther, Martin. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation - 2017 Edition . Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition. Loc 8307

[9] John 14:3&6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+14&version=NASB

[10] Rev 21:3 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/rev/21/1/s_1188001

[11] Jer 2:13 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jer/2/1/s_747001

[12] Jer 17:13 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jer/17/1/s_762001

[13] John 4:13-14 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+4&version=NASB

[14] 1Pe 1:3-5 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1pe+1&version=NASB

[15] Ps 46:1 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/psa/46/1/s_524001

The Way Out (1Co 10:13)

  • Introduction: The Apostle Paul in our Epistle reading for today from 1 Corinthians Ch#10 gave examples on how the Israelites at the time of the exodus fell into various temptations.
    • Their failing at the testing by the Lord served as examples for us, lest we think we’re special and can’t fall into sin.  We may not think we are at risk to succumbing to idolatry, sexual immorality, grumbling, or turning the tables and testing God, but everyone here including me is capable of committing any kind of sin at any time.  It comes from the corruption of our nature due the rebellion from God by our first parents.
    • When testing comes our way, we need to be reminded of what Paul wrote in 1Co 10:13 – 13 No testing has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able, but with testing, will make a way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.[1].
    • Paul is saying by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the way out of all testing.  We will be tested in our faith from now until we breathe our last.  Jesus is there to provide the way out of all testing.  This is true not only while we endure every test of faith, but Jesus is also the Way out of this sinful, evil Age.
  • Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father, just like our forefathers in the faith, You test Your people to see if they have faith in You above all things.  We wish it weren’t true, but how else would our faith grow if it didn’t have to lift the weights and burdens of this Age?  Lord, help us by Your Spirit to understand and believe that while You test us, You also provide a way out of testing before we succumb to sin.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
  • Definition: Before we get too far into 1Co Ch#10, there is a word from the Greek that in my original translation is rendered as “testing” and not “temptation”. This word is πειρασμός (pay-ras-mos'). A definition of πειρασμός from Strong’s Concordance is a putting to proof.  To perform πειρασμός would mean to say, “prove it.” How is something proven? It is done by testing.  However, throughout the Bible where this word appears in the Greek manuscripts, it is usually rendered as “temptation”.  Temptation is the implication of testing.
    • The reason I’m being picky here with the translation is I can be tested with something, and it may not occur to me to be tempted into sinning.  For instance, I’ve been in situations where I had access to thousands of dollars of money that wasn’t mine.  It never tempted me to think, “hey, I could get away with that money.”  I really don’t want to slap God in the face by stealing money, because that slap in the face would come through my actions that God has not sufficiently blessed me.  Why else would I steal?  It’s just not true that I’m insufficiently blessed.  I suspect there are some testings which occur in your life that don’t make you think for even a second on whether to bite on the temptation.  So, throughout this message, I will use the root meaning of πειρασμός which is test or testing, because the word is used in the context of God testing our faith.
  • Background: With that out of the way, let’s spend a moment reviewing the Epistle reading for today.  The Apostle Paul wrote by inspiration 1Corinthians around 57AD.  In 1Co 10:1-13, he:
    • Described the Israelites who were made God’s people through baptism (v2) and the eating of spiritual food (vv3-4)
      • That was a comparison with the gifts the Lord Jesus provides us to this day.  The Israelites at the time of the exodus passed through the waters of the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba on dry ground.  Had they stayed on the shore of the Sinai, they would have died at the hands of the Egyptian soldiers.  They crossed over from death on the Sinai side to life on the Saudia Arabian side of the Gulf of Aqaba.  When we were baptized, we crossed over from eternal death to life through Christ.
      • Additionally, the Israelites ate the spiritual manna & quail provided from on high – seven days each week.  This food literally dropped from the sky six days/week with enough on the 6th day for both 6th & 7th days. We receive the physical and spiritual food of Christ’s body & blood each time we commune at this altar.
    • So, Paul wrote about the gifts from God for the people of God at the beginning of 1Co 10.  Paul then wrote about the failures of the Israelites to withstand the testing sent by God which serve as examples for us.
      • For example, because Moses took too long in the eyes of many of the Israelites, they decided to make their own gods.  This is the idolatry mentioned in v7, which started by doubting God’s promises. 
      • The Canaanites and other nearby lands were known for their sexual deviancy (recall Sodom and Gomorra).  They were so deprived of decency, that God sent the Israelites to wipe them out. Instead of keeping God’s purposes in the forefront of their mind, many Israelites decided to participate in the sexual immorality of the Moabites (Num 25:1).  These people lived on the other side of the Jordan river from the Canaanites. As Paul recalled in v8 of our text, 23,000 people died in one day due to a plague sent by God to purify the camp of Israelites.  Just because more & more people in this country are committing sexual practices contrary to God’s word, doesn’t mean He changed His mind on sexuality.  God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and so is His word.  Do not partake in the sexual deviancy of this Age!  It does not end well.
      • The Israelites also had the audacity to switch tables on the Lord so to speak, and put Him to the test.  There wasn’t water to drink for a few days and they got sick of eating manna & quail every day.  The people complained about God not providing their needs.  They openly questioned why God brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert (Num 21:5).  It was a test to see if the Israelites would seek the Lord instead of accusing Him of evil. Paul in v9 pointed out that God then sent venomous snakes to bite the complainers and many died.  Similarly in v10, Paul wrote about the fate of the grumblers who basically didn’t want to deal with the hardship of being saved from the slavery in Egypt.
    • After documenting these failures and their consequences, Paul then exhorted the reader to watch out so that these testings which led to the destruction of many don’t cause us to fall.  It was easy to start out all gung-ho in believing God’s intentions to save His people Israel.  They saw first-hand all the miracles, but then some challenge came up and all of the sudden many forgot the grace of our Lord.  Paul wanted us to realize God’s grace abounds in our life.  So, if God would not toss a challenge or two at us regularly, our faith would never grow.  We would try to find our own way out of dull and boring food.  We would get caught up in sexual fantasyland that pulls us away from the One who created sexuality for one man and one woman to enjoy in matrimony.
  • Analysis: I have to say, when I started reading the appointed Epistle from 1Co 10 in preparation for this message, it reminded me of the song, “House of the Rising Sun”.
    • The British rock group, Animals, produced a #1 hit song in 1964 by that name[2].  However, the song has been around for literally a couple hundred years.  Despite that, no one can say for sure what the song is about[3].  For instance, is it about a brothel located in New Orleans?  Or, is the song about a women’s prison of that city called the Orleans Parish women’s prison?  I think the brothel theory is closer to the song’s intent.
      • The Animals adapted words of “House of the Rising Son” from a Woody Guthrie version recorded in 1941.  I reprinted the words to the Guthrie version on the back side of your bulletin insert[4].  Please refer to that as I address some of the similarities of our text with the Guthrie version of “House of the Rising Sun”.  If you remember the Animals version, you will notice the differences.
      • The 1st stanza: There is a house in New Orleans, You call the Rising Sun.  It's been the ruin of many a poor soul, And me, oh God, I'm one.  If we go with the theory that the House of the Rising Sun was a brothel, then what Paul wrote in 1Co 10:8 is something to avoid - Nor are we to commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day[5].
      • The next stanza: If I'd listened to what mama said (Deu 5:16), I'd be at home today (1Co 10:1-3). Being so young and foolish, poor girl, I let a gambler lead me astray (1Co 10:6, Pro 4:14). 
        • This stanza has the most scriptural references of any in the song.  Listening to parents is expected by God in the 4th Commandment.  Staying at home to me is akin to staying on the straight & narrow.  That’s like Paul reminding the Israelites, and believers here at Christus Rex on today, that we are baptized children of God, and should therefore act like children of God.  And in order to be sustained in the faith, we must eat the spiritual food that our Lord Jesus provides us in His Supper.  We should not be craving evil.  The foolish poor girl of the song allowed a gambler to lead her astray.  This is directly against what is written in Pro 4:14 - Do not enter the path of the wicked. And do not proceed in the way of evil people[6].  The Biblical book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon some-500yrs after the exodus, but can be cross-reference with verses of the Pentateuch.  Would you agree this citing from Proverbs applies even today?
      • I won’t read from all of the remaining stanzas except the last: My life is almost over. My race is almost run. Going back down to New Orleans, To that house of the Rising Sun.
        • You scratch your head in wonder why the subject in this song would want to go back to the same place where all her troubles began.  Quoting again from Proverbs - Like a dog that returns to its vomit, So is a fool who repeats his foolishness[7].  Maybe this song provided another reason for Lent: review all the foolish things we are doing and do not return to doing them.
  • Conclusion: Lent has us reflect on our sinfulness so that the resurrection of Jesus makes sense.  It won’t make sense if we do not see our sinfulness.
    • While the text referred to the baptism of the Israelites, we too are baptized into Christ.  Paul noted this in Rom 6:3-7 where he made the point that when we were baptized, we were baptized into Jesus’ death.  And since Jesus rose from the dead, we too, being a part of Him, will rise with Him.
    • We, also like the Israelites, partake in eating of the spiritual food provided by our Lord.  But a bit later in 1Co 10, Paul makes the point that we don’t just eat the spiritual body and blood of Jesus when we commune at this altar. Paul wrote - 16 Is the cup of blessing which we bless not a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is the bread which we break not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf[8].  Paul reaffirmed what Jesus said of the Lord’s Supper, in that His body is real food and His blood is real drink (John 6:55).
      • Because we commune with our Lord Jesus each time we attend the Lord’s Supper, we need to be careful we do not bind ourselves with evil in any way. We derived this from what Paul wrote in v21 - You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons[9]
    • Because Jesus is infinitely stronger than us, we need to look to Him when the testing gets to be too much for us to handle.  Let’s recall 1Co 10:13 one more time - 13No testing has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able, but with testing, will make a way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
    • Let’s resolve this Lenten season to not have any more experiences and regrets like the fictional person of the House of the Rising Sun
      • I’d like to think, like the Prodigal Son, the person at least repented and came home (Luke 15:18-21).  And in the shortened Animals version of the song, that conclusion might be possible. But as mentioned a moment ago, in the Guthrie version, it appears the fictional person intended to go right back to the place where all the evil in their life began.  There’s no reason for a penitent sinner to go back to the same pet sins. 
      • Contrast that with the fact that Jesus will receive *all* penitent sinners no matter what the past offense.  No one knew this better than the Apostle Paul.  He was once a zealot, determined to kill off all Christians if possible.  He later regretted that part of his life.   Listen to these words of Paul - 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost sinner, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life[10].  Paul knew firsthand what it was like to repent and to have Jesus receive him into His arms.
    • Instead of visiting the house of the rising sun (s-u-n), let’s do all to the glory of our Lord (1Co 10:31).  Let’s instead visit the House of the Rising Son (S-o-n).  Each Sunday, Christus Rex and other churches in the world where God’s word is taught and preached in its truth and purity, are houses of the rising Son of God.  This is why we celebrate worship services on Sundays – that was the day He rose from the dead.  It’s like having Easter all 52 Sundays of the year!
      • Let’s really figure it out this Lenten season that we are sinners in need of a savior, so that on this Easter, we once again are assured all those sins looked at during Lent are forgiven! Amen.

[1] 1Co 10:13 original translation from mGNT at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/1co/10/1/s_1072001

[2] Facts referred from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_House_of_the_Rising_Sun 

[3] Speculation from https://www.songfacts.com/facts/the-animals/the-house-of-the-rising-sun

[4] Woody Guthrie lyrics from https://www.lyrics.com/track/2919998/Woody+Guthrie/House+of+the+Rising+Sun

[5] 1Co 10:8 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/1co/10/1/s_1072013

[6] Pro 4:14 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/pro/4/1/s_632001

[7] Pro 26:11 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/pro/26/1/s_654001

[8] 1Co 10:16-17 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1co+10&version=NASB

[9] 1Co 10:21 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/1co/10/1/s_1072001

[10] 1Ti 1:15-16 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1ti+1&version=NASB

Reform Your Ways (Jer 26:13)

  • Introduction: God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Heb 13:8). His message of “reform your ways” is ageless and timeless, ever since our first parents rebelled against God’s simple command to leave one tree alone out of all trees in the garden (Gen 2:16-17). We have been in rebellion ever since.
    • This “reform your ways” message is the theme of each Lenten season, and is one we need to take seriously.  Listen to the text for today from Jer 26:13 as translated from the Greek - 13Now then, make better your ways and your works, and hear the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will rest from the bad which He has said against you[1].
    • Notice the Lord is asking us to make better our ways and what we do.  However, we cannot achieve perfection under the Law.  Some religions teach that you can help God along with your own salvation. The Bible is clear: we only achieve perfection through faith in Christ.  Reforming our ways is the beginning of perfection through Christ, because we have to first understand and acknowledge we are a sinner in need of salvation before faith speaks to our soul that Jesus is Lord.
    • We will spend time looking into the context of the Old Testament (OT) reading for today and why, despite the message being 2500yrs old, the message God gave to Jeremiah to speak to the people applies to us in 2022.
  • Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father, You demand perfect adherence to Your Law.  In today’s Old Testament reading, You asked the remnant of the Israelites in Judah to make better their ways and works.  This is another way of asking them to repent of their sinful ways.  Lord, help us by Your Spirit to understand Your word is ageless, timeless, and perfect.  Send the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, and then reassure us that sin has been forgiven.  And in true love for You, have us turn from our sinful ways and live.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: Jeremiah was an OT prophet who was sent by God to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the people of Judah from the early 600’s to late 500’s BC.  The northern tribes of Israel were already wiped out in 722BC by the Assyrians. There was only a remnant of the once mighty Israel in Judah and nearby Benjamin. Even the ranks of Judah were thinned out by the time Jeramiah preached to what was left of the tribe of Judah in Jer ch#26.  God commissioned Jeremiah to do the following - …‘Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the Lord’s house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word! Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, and I will relent of the disaster which I am planning to inflict on them because of the evil of their deeds.[2]’ By the time of Jeremiah ch#26, Jerusalem already lost its best citizens in the first wave of exiles sent to Babylon in 605BC.  You would think the people remaining in Judah and Jerusalem would have straightened up before the Lord.  But no, as I just read, Jeremiah was sent again to call people to repentance from their evil works.
    • Jerusalem was eventually surrounded by the Babylonians in 588BC for the 3rd and final time.  After a 2yr siege, the Babylonians burned the city to the ground (Jer 39:1).  Oddly enough, God instructed King Nebuchadnezzar to wipe out Jerusalem, because they would not repent.  God used a secular king to accomplish a sacred purpose.  Jeremiah was speaking God’s word in its truth & purity during the 2yrs of this final siege, but the people STILL would not repent!
    • From the beginning and to the time of our text for today, church leaders were trusting in the belief that God would never allow the temple to be destroyed.  Their reaction to Jeremiah’s faithful call to repentance is first seen in Jer 26:8 - Yet when Jeremiah finished speaking everything that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You must die![3]
      • These leaders taught the people that God’s name was so holy that it should never be said.  How does one call upon the Lord if they can’t address Him by His name?!  Additionally, they made it a sin to suggest Jerusalem would be overrun.  Three verses later we read - Then the priests and the prophets spoke to the officials and to all the people, saying, “A death sentence for this man! For he has prophesied against this city, just as you have heard with your own ears![4]” 
      • From where would they get such a crazy idea?  They probably recalled the time of King Hezekiah about 120yrs earlier, when the leader of Assyria named Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem. Sennacherib in his psychological warfare yelled to the people inside of the city to basically surrender or die. Furthermore, he called on people to not believe in God nor believe the words of Hezekiah.  God responded through Isaiah the prophet - 21 …, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Because you [Hezekiah] have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken against [Sennacherib]: 29 Because of your raging against Me And because your complacency has come up to My ears, I will put My hook in your nose And My bridle in your lips, And I will turn you back by the way that you came[5].  This prophecy came to pass without anyone in Jerusalem dying in the siege. Sennacherib ran back to Assyria and was killed a short time later.
    • What the people at the time of Jeremiah missed is Hezekiah and the people repented (Isa 36:22-37:1).  God called them to repentance and the people at the time of Hezekiah saw the effects of their sin and turned back to the Lord.  That’s what save Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah – not that God was going to save the temple erected to His glory by King Solomon.
      • We know the people humbled themselves before the Lord, because of what was written in Isa 37:2-4 - And they said to him, “This is what Hezekiah says: ‘This day is a day of distress, rebuke, and humiliation; for children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to deliver themPerhaps the Lord your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to taunt the living God, and will avenge the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore, offer a prayer for the remnant that is left.[6]’”
  • Analysis: Jeremiah gave the same message as Isaiah, just a different time to a different bunch of sinners (Jer 26:4-6; Isa 30:15).  In one instance at the time of Hezekiah around 701BC, the king and the people repented of the evil they were doing.  However, a mere 120 or so years later, the same call of repentance was met with hostility.  It’s one thing to ignore the call, but to actively be hostile to God’s messenger is downright satanic.  Satan is the one who influenced our first parents to rebel against God’s one simple command – leave the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil alone.  To this day, it’s like seeing a sign that says “wet paint; do not touch” and the next thing done is touch the painted surface just to see if it’s true.
    • This is the beauty of God’s word: the same message from the same God to a different generation of sinners.  Whether the messenger be Isaiah or Jeremiah, and even centuries later with John the Baptist and Jesus, the message was and will always be – repent for the forgiveness of sins.  In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus was quoted by Luke - “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her young under her wings, and you were unwilling[7]!  Jesus lamented in this statement how despite sending prophets who clearly were sent by Him to His people in Jerusalem, the people didn’t just ignore a message they didn’t like, they in hostility to God’s word killed the very messengers of peace sent to save them.
    • We need to learn from these failures of the past by God’s people. It wasn’t God’s message that failed. It was the people’s hardness of heart that caused them to deny the grace God showed them in warning them that their sins had consequences.
    • The season of Lent brings the same Jeremian message to us: we need to turn from our sinful ways and live.  In order to turn from our sins, we need to first know God’s word and learn what sin is.  This is the role of the Law in the Bible.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t know what offends God if He didn’t tell us through the Law.
  • Conclusion: The NASB20 is succinct with the Greek of Jer 26:13 - 13Now then, make better (βελτίους ποιήσατε) your ways and your works, and hear the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will rest from the bad which He has said against you.  Admittedly, that is a wooden translation which is why the NASB20 rendered “make better your ways and your works” as “reform your ways and your deeds”.
    • It is Law from the Lord which demands perfection.  When God said be holy as I am holy (Lev 11:44-45), that meant 100% adherence to the Law just as He does. We can’t be sitting back thinking, well, I keep 60% of the Law so I’m better than others.  That may be true that you hold to God’s word better than others. But that means nothing in the presence of the Lord who demands perfection. The Apostle Paul wrote by inspiration - Look! I, Paul, tell you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who has himself circumcised, that he is obligated to keep the whole Law[8]
    • We achieve perfection, starting with turning from our sinful ways. 
      • Through faith in Christ, we *do* achieve perfection in keeping the commandments. That’s not my idea; that’s right out of what Paul wrote to the Romans - 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 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, 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith[9].  
      • We spent some time on Transfiguration Sunday a couple weeks ago talking about the word “propitiation”.  For review, propitiation is a gift provided in exchange for sins. God knew if He didn’t provide some sort of ransom for our sins, we would be eternally separated from Him.  He felt a pit in his stomach it bothered Him so much that His most prized possession – His own people - would never have the chance to be reconciled to Him and therefore live with Him throughout eternity.
      • Jesus had to shed His innocent blood as the one sacrifice to take away all sins.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, God did this publicly through Jesus on the cross to clearly show that there was a ransom paid for our sins.  Jesus’ sacrifice is therefore something for us to remember when we cannot forgive ourselves for something we did, or forgive someone else of something they did to us.  Jesus paid the price, so no one has to pay dearly in the punishment of hell for their sins.  Only those people who will *not* believe in Jesus can expect they will be kept in their sins, whether they think they sin or not.
      • The perfection of the Law starting with repentance is the whole point of Lent! This is why the liturgical worship is the way it is in Lent.  We focus on God’s mercy to us, a sinner.  The messages from this pulpit during Lent focus on the sins we all committed that caused Jesus, in a labor of love, to go to the cross.  Those sins are therefore paid for with His perfect sacrifice – the propitiation for sins.  If the church didn’t focus on sin, Jesus’ rising from the dead on that first Easter Sunday really wouldn’t mean a whole lot.  People blind to the fact that they are a sinner in need of a savior, look at Easter as a nice time.  Everyone dresses up.  The flowers are blooming.  Easter baskets are full.  Great; but none of those things will last nor do they capture the reason for celebration. We celebrate because our sins are gone! Let’s really get to an understanding this Lenten season of how much we are a sinner.  Let’s do that so we can appreciate the true grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love from God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] An original translation from the Greek of LXX:Jer 33:13 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jer/26/1/t_conc_771013

[2] Jer 26:2-3 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jer+26&version=NASB

[3] Jer 26:8, ibid

[4] Jer 26:11, ibid

[5] Isa 37:21-22a,29 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa+37&version=NASB

[6] Isa 37:2-4, ibid

[7]Luke 13:34 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/luk/13/1/s_986001

[8] Gal 5:2-3 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gal+5&version=NASB

[9] Rom 3:21-25a from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+3&version=NASB

First Fruits of and to God (Deu 26:10)

  • Introduction: To discuss “first fruits” to kick off Lent makes a lot of sense. As was said on Ash Wednesday last week, each season of Lent, we spend 40 days, excluding Sundays, reflecting on the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, why He made such a bloody and gory sacrifice, and what resulted from His sacrifice. 
    • The season of Lent ends with the Lord Jesus being crucified on the day of Passover.  Because the Feast of Unleavened Bread began at sundown on that first Good Friday, Jesus and the thieves on nearby crosses needed to be taken down off their cross. The Sabbath day was also beginning at sundown, adding to the sense of urgency for the three to be dead and buried before the Sabbath began.  Jesus then rose on the third day which was the first day of a new week.  That day also happened to be the festival of First Fruits!
    • The symbolism alongside the death and resurrection of Jesus indicates He is indeed the First Fruits from God the Father offered to us.  God the Father put His money where His mouth was so to speak and offered His most precious gift to us so that we could be reconciled to Him.  If that wasn’t enough, we also receive the first fruits of the Holy Spirit to make sure we can capitalize on this precious gift from each member of the Trinity.  Since God the Father gave to us His First Fruits in Jesus, and gave us the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, it behooves us to give to God our first fruits.
    • We will spend time on today exploring the concept of first fruits and confirm Jesus is the First Fruit from God the Father, and then see what that means to us and how we should respond to this gift.
  • Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father, You ask many things of Your people.  In today’s Old Testament reading, You asked the Israelites to return to You the first fruits from the Promised Land You gave to them, just as You asked first fruits from Cain and Abel centuries earlier.  Lord, help us by Your Spirit to understand everything we have is a gift from You – including the promise of eternal life in the new, perfect promised land of heaven.  Build in us faith and trust in You to follow all Your precepts with a glad heart.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: There are seven (7) Feasts mentioned in the Old Testament which God specified through Moses the Israelites were to observe.  Keep in mind a feast wasn’t just sitting down to a meal. The feast was integral to a specific time of worship that had a particular theme in mind.  The modern Christian Church on Earth continues in this tradition of observing feasts on particular days, though not celebrated in the same way as our OT believing counterparts.  Those feasts are Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths – sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles.
    • There is wide disagreement throughout history of the church regarding Feast of Unleavened Bread.  I have theorized this is because Passover was to happen on April 14th each year and Unleavened Bread on the 15th.  This puts these two major feasts virtually the same day. Could that mean Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread are one in the same?
      • There is evidence for both sides of the argument! It is clear from Lev 23:5-6 that these two days are separate events despite being consecutive days -  In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread[1].  However, Luke wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit this in Luke 22:1 - Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching[2].  These scriptures actually are *not* in conflict and Lev 23:7 kind of sheds light on why these two festivals could be considered one - On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work[3]. Stick with me on this and we will see why.
      • For now, we will accept these festivals are two separate days, because of another place in the Bible where God clearly stated these are two separate events.  We read from Num 28:16-18 - 16 ‘The Lord’s Passover shall be on the fourteenth day of the first month. 17 On the fifteenth day of this month there shall be a feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. 18 On the first day there shall be a holy assembly; you shall do no laborious work[4].
        • Days started at sundown for 1st century Jews which is what Luke would have known.  Jesus and the Apostles ate the Passover on the night He was delivered over to the Pharisees who wanted to kill Him.  Thursday night started the Passover at sundown, which was the time of day when the first Passover was celebrated in Egypt.
    • Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.  He hung on the cross starting at noon.  This was still part of the date set aside for Passover. Remember, Passover started at sundown and would continue until sundown the next day. 
      • That “next day” after Passover happened to be a Sabbath day. Preparation for the Sabbath would have taken place while Jesus hung bleeding from the cross.
        • Based upon two different places in the OT I’ve read to you, this particular Sabbath day would also have been the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
        • When a high Feast occurs on a Sabbath, that Sabbath would be referred to as a “Great” (Greek: μεγάλη) or “High” Sabbath.   The Apostle John noted this in his Gospel account written probably 30yrs after the other three Gospel accounts were written. I’m sure he wrote in the 90’s AD to provide clarity on what was already in circulation.  Anyway, this is what John wrote by inspiration - Now then, since it was the day of preparation, to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews requested of Pilate that their legs be broken, and the bodies be taken away[5]
    • Now, to add a bit more to the mix, the Feast of First Fruits occurred the day after the Sabbath, when Jesus rose from a corpse.  Continuing in the Gospel according to John - Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and *saw the stone already removed from the tomb[6].  The Sabbath was the last or seventh (7th) day of the week when God rested from six (6), 24hr days of creation.  So, in order to get these three feasts in, Jesus had to have been crucified on Passover, which after all, He is referred to as the Pascal Lamb.  Jesus was buried sometime just before the start of the Sabbath, which happened to also be the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Jesus then rose from the dead in the wee hours of the first day of the new week, which happened to be the Feast of First Fruits.
      • There is a word in the Greek: ἀπαρχή (ap-ar-khay'), which means literally “beginning sacrifice” or more interpretively, “first fruit”.  This word appears in several places in both the OT and NT and consistently implies “first fruit”.
  • Analysis: This background about the feasts of the OT and history of Jesus’ death & resurrection was important to review in order to understand  the beauty of Jesus rising from the dead on First Fruits. The Apostle Paul wrote concerning Jesus - 20 But the fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive[7]. Do you see the connection Paul made between First Fruits and Jesus rising from a corpse on the festival of First Fruits,  and Jesus being the first fruits of a new creation? 
    • Jesus is a fulfillment of being both the First Fruits of God the Father and First Fruits of mankind risen from the dead.  Let’s look initially at Jesus being the First Fruit of God.
      • Jesus told a parable of Vine Growers in Luke 20:9-18.  The parable was about a man planting a vineyard and then renting it out to vie-growers.  At harvest time, the owner sent someone to gather a share of the harvest.  The vine-growers beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed.  The owner sent a couple more servants to collect, and the same happened.  The owner then decided to send his beloved son, thinking the vine-growers would respect the owner’s son.  Nope; the growers recognized the son as the heir of the vineyard.  They decided to kill the owner’s beloved son, so they could inherit the vineyard instead.
        • The parable illustrated the relationship between the Father and Son (v13) in that the owner referred to his son as his “beloved son”.
        • We can draw this conclusion from the parable because of its similarity to the Transfiguration theme of last week.  Recall at the end of the time Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah that God the Father appeared in a thick cloud and said, …“This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him![8]” 
      • Parables are stories alongside reality.  In the parable of the Vine Growers, Jesus was telling of the love He enjoyed with the Father, and the work Jesus was to do in the vineyard of the Age.  When the owner of the vineyard sent his beloved son to reap in the harvest of his own vineyard, it was a story alongside the reality that God gave us His most precious gift; His First Fruit! 
    • However, unlike the parable, Jesus will one day harvest the earth. Because Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, His being the First Fruits of God is clear.  However, Jesus’ rising from the dead, because the first human being to rise from the dead.  That made Him also the First Fruit of man!
      • Back on Sun, 06 Feb, we looked at implications if Jesus had not risen from the dead.  It was a somewhat depressing speculation on the part of the Apostle Paul, going through a logical exercise that if there is no possible resurrection from the dead, than not even Jesus rose from the dead.  Our faith in Jesus to bring us into heaven would be useless if this was the case. And moreover, we believers in Christ should be pitied for believing such a crazy story.
        • Then in 1Co 15:20, Paul asserted - But the fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep[9]
      • Paul used that Greek word, ἀπαρχή, in 1Co15, and also used that word in his second letter to the Thessalonians - But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth[10].  Through Christ, we like the Thessalonians are first fruits of the Father! 
      • James, half-brother of Jesus, doubles down on this concept of us being first fruits in Jas 1:18 - Of [the Father’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures[11].
  • Conclusion: We worship a God who does as He asks us to do!  He asks us in Deu 26:10 to bring our first fruits before Him in His place of worship.  But He isn’t telling us to do something He Himself isn’t willing to do.  Quite the opposite, He gave us His own beloved Son as a ransom payment so we would be redeemed from owing a debt so great, there would be no way we could ever pay.
    • God the Father gave to us His First Fruit so we could be His first fruit as adopted sons.  In what other religion have you heard of such a fantastic story?  The Greek and Roman gods at the time of Jesus’ ministry had their own sinful, hedonistic ways.  They didn’t lift a finger for mortal beings unless there was something in it for them. Not so with the God whom we worship here today at Christus Rex.  Our God is a God who tells us to do as He says, because He has provided the example.
      • If that wasn’t sufficient, we are given the first fruits of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Rom 8:23 - And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies[12].  Look at that! Each person of the Trinity is doing everything possible to make us first fruits; a treasured possession!
    • If we are that precious to the Triune God, what does that mean for us?
      • Since through Christ we have been redeemed by His innocent blood from eternity in hell, what’s the big deal with giving of our first fruits?  This is an original interpretation of Deu 26:10 from the Septuagint - 10And now behold, I have brought the beginning of the germination of the ground which You, Lord have given me.’ Then you shall remit it in the presence of the Lord your God, and bow down and worship in the presence of the Lord your God.  God told the Israelites at the time of the exodus to bring first fruits to the appointed place of worship.  God then specified what people should say to the priest in office at the time as an acknowledgement of the work God has done in the lives of His chosen people.  He then asked His chosen people, those whom He blessed with salvation from eternal slavery, to worship Him.  Is that so terrible that God would like to reap a portion of the harvest we gained from working in His vineyard?
      • A take-away I see from the OT reading for today is let’s make His investments grow dividends in His kingdom.  We are workers in His vineyard.  He wants us to prosper in the work of the vineyard so that the kingdom will grow – to His glory, not to ours.
        • We can reap dividends on God’s investment by storing treasures in heaven (Mat 6:19-20).  Those treasures are people who came to know Christ through the Holy Spirit inspired efforts we did in their life.  Maybe we showed them acts of love.  Maybe we lifted them up with the Gospel of peace when they were down. For us NT believers, we are *not* under the obligation of the tithe.  However, we are under the obligation of love for God and for one another as first fruits of God. Amen.

[1] Lev 23:5-6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=lev+23&version=NASB

[2] Luke 22:1 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/luk/22/1/s_995001

[3] Lev 23:7 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/lev/23/1/s_113001

[4] Num 28:16-18 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=num+28&version=NASB

[5] John 19:31 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jhn/19/1/s_1016001

[6] John 20:1 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jhn/20/1/s_1017001

[7] 1Co 15:20-22 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1co+15&version=NASB

[8] Luke 9:35b from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/luk/9/1/s_982001

[9] 1Co 15:20 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/1co/15/1/s_1077001

[10] 2Th 2:13 from ESV at https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/2th/2/1/t_conc_1118013

[11] Jas 1:18 from ESV at https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jas/1/1/s_1147001

[12] Rom 8:23 from ESV at https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/rom/8/1/s_1054001

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