Life Sunday #2 – 2017 LSB #781
Text – Luke 10:30
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, & he fell among robbers, who stripped him & beat him & departed, leaving him half dead.”
PEOPLE OF THE DITCH
Instead of parking in the garage, or in the driveway, how many of you commonly park your car in the ditch? It is tempting for good life-affirming folks, like us, especially on Sanctity of Life Sunday, to point to the Good Samaritan walking along the road & say:
“You’ve got to be like him. He was pro-life! You’ve got to reach out to the vulnerable. You’ve got to protect & defend the unborn; help those in crisis pregnancies; reach out to those hurting because of wrong choices; show compassion to those suffering with chronic disease, disabilities & terminal illness. Yes, be pro-life like the Good Samaritan was.”
Inherent in such admonitions – whether they’re made by the pastor to his congregation or members to their pastor or members to one another – may be a slightly arrogant attitude: “I am like the Good Samaritan. I’m pro-life. I am so pro-life that I know truly pro-life people do not use the phrase pro-life anymore, but ‘life affirming.’ I’ve got it right. You need to be like me.”
It certainly is tempting to start there. A lot of folks do: “Be like the Good Samaritan who walked along the road.” However, as Lutherans we cannot begin there. We need to start in the ditch. As Lutherans, we do not approach the life issues with arrogance, but as people of the ditch; people who have been rescued from the ditch.
If we are going to be like anyone in this parable, we start as the man in the ditch: beaten, bleeding, helpless, forsaken, & left for dead. In winter, in northern climes, ditches often fill with snow. The wind blows it into white waves – drifts of varying shapes & sizes. As long as they do not engulf the road in front of you, they can be quite beautiful. But if there is a January thaw, the beauty melts away. The melting reveals dirty snow, rotting animals, garbage, used diapers, & a variety of empty adult-beverage containers. The ditch is a filthy place to be, & that is where we need to start. We need to be people of the ditch. For when you melt away the facade of our self-righteousness, you find that all of us are quite dirty.
Each of us has a corrupt & rotting nature – one that is beaten, bleeding, helpless, forsaken, & left for dead. So how can that be a good thing? When we realize how utterly filthy we are, we might be able to glimpse the infinite reality of compassion shown by this guy who came walking along the road.
Nothing forced Him to show compassion. He didn’t even have to stop, but He did. Then, astonishingly, He climbs down into the ditch with us!
Sometime after a woman had an abortion, she wrote a letter to Lutherans For Life. It read, “I never realized that Jesus Christ was willing to get down into my muck & miry life & lift me up out of the sewage of my problems. He has since shown me who He really is.”
You see, Jesus is not only willing to get down into our muck & miry lives, He actually did. He came into the filthy ditch of our choices as He hung upon a cross, beaten, bleeding, helpless, forsaken, & left for dead. He absorbed the filth of our sin into Himself.
He heals our wounds with His wounds, stops our bleeding by His blood, prevents our death by dying, lifts us up & gives us new life through His resurrection from the dead. He covers our impurity with His purity as fresh snow will undoubtedly cover those filthy ditches in white once again. As the prophet Isaiah wrote:
“…though your sins are like scarlet [ditch-dirty], they shall be as white as snow…” (1:18 ESV) The Holy Spirit brings us into this “whiteness,” this new life through the faith given in the waters of Holy Baptism. He provides for our continued healing & growth as we recall that Baptism, & as we share in Holy Communion. Jesus sets us back on the road with the certain hope of our own resurrection & eternal life always before us. Then, we can walk along the road & be like the Good Samaritan, or more precisely, be like Christ, or more precisely yet, be Christ who, by virtue of our Baptism, daily lives within us.
As we walk with resurrection hope before us, we keep our eyes on the ditch. We look for the lost, the beaten, the bleeding, the helpless & the forsaken. When we see them, we dare not walk by on the other side. We cannot walk by on the other side. Our heavenly Father does not call us to pick & choose. We cannot look at certain of the vulnerable & say:
“That’s too controversial, I’m not touching that.” We cannot look at certain of the vulnerable & say, “That’s a political issue, I’m not touching that one. People might not like me. We could lose our tax-exempt status.” The love of Christ does not tell us we should reach out to all the people of the ditch; the love of Christ compels us to do so.
So when we see the embryo “in the ditch,” in that petri dish – vulnerable, helpless, & destined for destruction – we are compelled to speak & defend & help. Not because it is the right thing to do or the moral thing to do, but because it is the Christ thing to do. Our God became incarnate as an embryo, giving value to all embryos.
When we see the unborn “in the ditch” – vulnerable, helpless, destined for destruction – we’re compelled to speak & defend & help. Not because it is the right thing to do or the moral thing to do, but because it is the Christ thing to do. His hands that were pierced & His body that died & rose again were formed in a womb, giving value to all who have resided there.
When we see the young woman in a crisis pregnancy “in the ditch” – vulnerable, helpless, feeling destined to make only one choice – we are compelled to speak & defend & help because it is the Christ thing to do. As Jesus got down in the ditch with us, we get down in the ditch with her. We lift her up, offering Christ’s compassion in real, practical ways. When seeing women & men suffering, from their involvement with abortion, “in the ditch” – vulnerable, helpless, destined perhaps to their own destruction – we are compelled to speak & defend & help because it is the Christ thing to do. As Christ to them, we get into the ditch with them.
We offer healing that can come only from the objective & complete forgiveness found in Christ. We lift them up & walk beside them. When we see people suffering from disease or disability “in the ditch” – vulnerable, helpless, destined by many to assisted suicide or euthanasia – we are compelled to speak & defend & help because it is the Christ thing to do.
Human beings brought suffering into the world through sin. Jesus reveals to us a God who knows about that, not just because He’s God, but because He also suffered. We have the Good News of a God who is present in suffering, at work in suffering, & accomplishing His purposes in suffering. He does this to make human beings holy & perfect again.
As we “walk along the road,” we do so as citizens of this country. Christ’s love compels us to pray for our president, our representatives, senators & Supreme Court. We pray for change in policies & laws, as well as the attitudes of those who make them.
We also walk along the road as citizens of heaven – united in Christ. We walk remembering our unique perspective as Lutheran Christians. For we know what it’s like to be in the ditch, & we know Who came into the ditch to save us. You & I know the power of His crucifixion & the power of His resurrection to heal, to restore, to bring peace.
We know His message changes hearts & changes lives. That is the message you & I are called to proclaim. That is the message we are called to be. We are people of the ditch who get down in the ditch & help people of the ditch. It is the Christ thing to do. Amen.
Oh, hearts are bruised & dead, & homes are bare & cold, & lambs for whom the Shepherd bled are straying from the fold. To comfort & to bless, to find a balm for woe, to tend the lone & fatherless is angel’s work below. The captive to release, to God the lost to bring, to teach the way of life & peace, it is a Christ-like thing. And we believe Thy Word, though dim our faith may be: whate’er for Thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto Thee. Amen. LSB 781:3-6
I. We do not start by walking the road
II. We start in the ditch
III. Jesus came into our ditch
IV. Now we walk the road with eyes on the ditch
Life Sunday – 2017 LSB #’s 575, 668, 585
Text – Ephesians 6:11
Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
HERE WE STAND
If we did not have the Word of God, wouldn’t we wonder what is going on in our world? Life, as many of us have known it, is under attack. Over 40 years ago, our Supreme Court legalized the killing of babies in the womb. In several states, people have been given the right to end their lives. The devaluing of the elderly continues to escalate.
Marriage has been redefined by the vote of only 5 people on the Supreme Court. The sex that anyone is born with is now totally up for grabs. Thankfully, Jesus unmasks for us what is happening in the words of John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal & kill & destroy. I came that they may have life & have it abundantly.” (ESV)
There are two opposing forces in this world: One is the culture of death & one is the culture of life. What a contrast is revealed between these two ways of living! The world offers destruction. Jesus offers abundant living. That we live on a battlefield is becoming more apparent to us all the time. Denying it is foolishness.
Our previous president made a point of saying that we were not at war with Islam. While that might be partially true, it is absolutely true that some elements of Islam are at war with us. Denying that is foolishness.
Remember, as St. Paul writes under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he’s writing to believers in Ephesus; thus, he can exhort them with the action required to stand. The believer has spiritual armor available. (Ephesians 6:14-18) Do you put it on each day? Denying yourself its power is foolishness. We have zero strength of our own.
The Word of God was given to remind us daily of our tremendous need for the armor
given to us. Verse 12 of chapter 6 reveals that “we do not wrestle against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities… against the spiritual forces of evil…” We are no match for Lucifer. We need the strength of another. That is why Paul’s exhortation in verse 10 is to “…be strong in the Lord …”
When Jesus Christ shed His blood for us on the cross He destroyed the devil’s victory. If we focus honestly on ourselves we see failure & sin, but in Jesus there is righteousness & perfection. He is our complete substitute & we are strong in Him. The rest of verse 10 says to be strong “in the strength of His might.” We need that strength simply to be honest.
As we think of young people being educated today, especially those right here in our schools, we remind them of who they are, of their identity, in Christ. Young people, you will face a very different world than your parents & grandparents faced. It will be critical for you to put on your armor because the battle for your soul will be fierce.
In addition, people need to consider the resources we have available. When a nation goes to war, they may so focus on the enemy they forget all the resources they have available for the battle. If you have enough firepower, you need to fear no enemy. So what are those resources? Lutherans refer to them as the “Means of Grace.”
God didn’t write His love & mercy in the sky, but chose to bring it to us in three ways. We have the chief means of grace in the Bible, God’s holy inerrant Word. There, God detailed for us His plan to save mankind from sin by sending Jesus into this world. In verse 17 we are reminded that we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
When assaulted by doubts or mistakes in our past, we stand on the Word of God. In your past you may have “played around” in the devil’s minefield sexually, but if you repent of your sin, God’s Word says that sin is gone. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful & just to forgive us our sins & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) You can stand for life today, even if you have had an abortion. When you bring any sin out of the darkness & into the light, Jesus disarms the enemy. The devil can no longer hold that sin over you.
Christ is your righteousness, & you stand in Him. God’s Word declares it to be true, but not only has God given His Word; He’s given us two powerful & visible means to remind us that in Christ we are new creatures. We are washed clean. When we were baptized into Christ’s death & resurrection, the death of Jesus became our death to sin.
At Baptism, Jesus’ resurrection became our resurrection to a new life. On earth, we stand in that relationship with our Savior by faith. When you are with others & a life issue comes up, don’t fear to speak up for the blessing of life because God’s Son is alive in you.
In addition, God assures us when we come to the Lord’s Supper that Jesus gave His righteous, spotless, blameless life for us. His body & blood are offered & given to you as the guarantee that in Christ your sin is forgiven. We come before the altar as repentant sinners, confessing no confidence in ourselves, nor in human nature.
Rather, we have the utmost confidence in God’s Son who, in our place, took all that the devil could muster. It is Jesus who stood against every single temptation of the devil as He quoted the Word of God, “It is written.” (Matthew 4:4a ESV) Yes, you are in a battle, but because of your great resources, you can stand as you put on the armor of God.
Secondly, although we need the armor required in order to stand, there’s no need to take out a loan to get it. The armor has been supplied by our Savior, & it’s not missing a single part. We need the “full armor” (Ephesians 6:11 NASB) & that’s repeated in verse 13 for emphasis:
“…take up the full armor.”
“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, & having put on the breastplate of righteousness, &, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; & take the helmet of salvation, & the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer & supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:14-18 ESV)
Think of how vulnerable a soldier is who is missing protective equipment. You, who are in Christ, take up the armor! Parents have an important role to play with their children. You brought them to the Lord in baptism, but have you taught them how to use the armor God has given? God’s Word is absolute truth, yet most of our culture doesn’t believe in any such thing.
Your children are growing up in a world of relativism. Teach them what truth really is when they hear the news media, & how to deal with a suggestive advertisement during a TV program. Fathers, instruct your sons to turn their eyes away from scantily dressed women & to reserve their sensitive minds for the one woman to whom they will vow their life before God.
It’s helpful if we realize this armor comes from God. It’s been tested by Jesus, who dealt with the devil for 40 days & nights in the wilderness before beginning His ministry. He dealt with the devil by using the Word of God. “It is written” was His main defense. It is good armor.
In the OT, you remember when David was going to battle Goliath he was offered Saul’s armor. David tried it on, but it was untested. He could not go to battle with it. Instead, he used his sling & stones. Believers, we must use the Word of God as our standard of truth – what God calls good. He created life & called it “good.” After He created man, He called it “very good.”
Who would have thought that such fundamental issues of life would ever be challenged in our world, but we have God’s Word to stand on. And stand we must, for there’s a war going on. The two opposing forces of death & life are very active. St. Paul describes the activity of the devil as “schemes.” (4:11 ESV)
These are not arbitrary situations we believers face, but well-calculated schemes. There’s thought & planning behind the activity, along with an evil strategy. In a game between children of the neighborhood, there is no well-thought-out strategy. In professional football, the thought & planning goes on into the wee hours of the morning. So it is with the devil. Lucifer was a high-ranking angel before his fall. He knows strategy very well, & always plans out his schemes. We don’t live in a neutral world, so we pray against his strategy every day.
That is the last, but not least, piece of armor we put on. In our churches, we pray against the forces of evil in Jesus’ name. Daniel 10:10-21, give a picture of the schemes of the devil. It appears like a spiritual chess board with princes of kingdoms in this world doing battle with the heavenly angelic realm. Consider verses 11-13 (ESV):
“And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, & stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.’ And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand & humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, & I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me 21 days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia.’”
Daniel was in prayer, humbling himself before God, & it had influence on the spiritual realm. What power the believer in Christ has available by using the armor of God! And let me remind you that God has not changed, nor has the point of access to His throne been altered. His children have direct access through Jesus their Savior.
Lastly, with what attitude should we stand? Ephesians 6:13b tells us: “…stand firm!” What picture comes to mind when you think of someone standing firm? Perhaps a U.S. Marine? How about a person trained in karate? If you watch carefully, they don’t stand with feet together but apart, so they can withstand an attack from any direction.
That is what the armor of God does for the believer. It makes us invincible in Christ! The devil cannot overcome one who trusts in Jesus. Remember: It is the strength of our Lord & Savior that empowers us. What a blessed place the believer has to stand – in the perfect righteousness of Christ! So, believer, daily put on the armor that is supplied to you in Jesus. You have no strength of your own, but the Word of God tells you of all the armor that is required to stand – the full armor of God. We stand here against the schemes of the devil, & against those schemes any one of us can stand firm in Christ.
Augustine, when tempted to plunge into the old life, said: “Thou fool, dost not thou know that thou art carrying God around with thee.” Oh how the believer in Christ needs to remember that God’s Spirit lives within. This is no longer my life, it belongs to Jesus.
Yes, you live in the midst of a battle between the culture of death & the culture of life. Stand firm in Christ, where the abundant life has always been & always will be! Amen.
Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you, O Christians, lest the foe destroy you; for Satan has designed your fall. Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious; against all foes be thus victorious, for God protects you from them all. Fear not the hordes of hell, here is Emmanuel. Hail the Savior! The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield, & we, the victors, hold the field. Amen. LSB 668:1
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #396
Text – Isaiah 49:6
“He says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob & to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”
A LIGHT FOR THE NATIONS
Just speaking the words ‘darkness & light’ brings a powerful image to mind for human beings. Even now, as lighting technology is plentiful & cheap, at this time of year there are still about 14 hours of darkness each day. If you live in the city, or the suburbs, there is street lighting almost everywhere, to push back the night.
If you live in the country you have a different appreciation for what it means to have light. Some years ago we listened to a park ranger do a talk on the stars & constellations. To show us which one he was talking about he used a laser pointer that seemed able to reach up & touch the very sky itself. It was an impressive display of light in the darkness.
As long as I can remember I’ve always loved the darkness – not in a spiritual sense, but a physical one. I thrill at walking out & looking at the vastness of the night sky, with the stars brightly contrasting against the blackness of night. We touched on that idea in the words of the Introit: “The heavens declare the glory of God, & the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”
Yet, to be honest, I should confess there is a part of me which also loves the spiritual darkness, or the night of the soul. That is the sinful nature in me. I’ve heard of the same concept from Hollywood actors who readily admit that playing an evil character is a lot more enjoyable than playing the role of one of the good characters.
Even God’s children, & all of God’s children, daily struggle with thoughts, words & deeds that are not in line with what is best for us, or for any of the people around us. The darkness within is alive, & it hates the light. God created the people of Israel, & He chose them, for the purpose of being a light to all the other nations of the world. They failed, & by Jesus’ day, the light was almost extinguished. Looking at the culture around us, it seems clear that the light of Christ here in the United States is growing dim as well. We should be a light for the nations, yet more & more they consider us to be darkness, because of our immorality.
In this morning’s reading from the book of Isaiah, Yahweh is explaining that His servant will not only bring light to the chosen people of Israel, but to the nations. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob were to serve God’s creation & they failed. The followers of Jesus in our nation were to serve our heavenly Father’s creation, & we are failing.
Thankfully, our Lord’s love for us far & away exceeds all of mankind’s failures. His love for you exceeds all of your failures. Today, you & I have rest available for our soul because Jesus’ love exceeds all of my failures. The message coming to us in this season of Epiphany, the season of light, is this – the cross & the empty tomb re-created life, & hope.
We could say that combined, the cross & the empty tomb of Jesus brought light into the bitterness of an unforgiving world. An example of that refusal to be forgiving was cited in the recent issue of Engage. It’s a magazine about mission work going on around the world, with a particular article on the country of Spain.
When the Reformation of the church happened, by the 1530’s about 1000 Lutherans were secretly worshipping across the nation of Spain. In 1559, sixteen of them were burned at the stake as heretics. By the 1560’s, the Reformation had been erased from that country.
The Catholic church in Spain was rejecting the truth of God’s forgiveness. They rejected the light that Jesus had brought to their nation. You see, it’s not just people outside the structure of the church who are trying to erase the light. Lucifer works from the inside as well. That’s why daily confession of our sin is so crucial. It prevents him from getting a foothold. We don’t always recognize the darkness even when it’s working through us. This verse from Isaiah 59 speaks to that: “Therefore justice is far from us, & righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, & behold, darkness, & for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” (59:9 ESV) The sinful nature in each of us truly does love the darkness, as John 3:19 (ESV) makes clear:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” That’s why the Words of Holy Scripture, throughout the Old & New Testaments record this phrase 34 different times, “Fear not…” Our heavenly Father knows that you & I have plenty of reasons to be afraid.
Thus St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Galatia: “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (4:3-5 ESV)
The Christmas season is joyful, not for the gifts we give, nor for the decorations we display, but for the gift all God’s children have received – the great news that our guilt has been washed away. We rejoice, not in the lie that our sins are okay, but in the truth that Jesus has paid the price for all the suffering they have caused, & paid to have them erased from history.
Following on the heels of Christmas is the season of Epiphany. We have the Christ candle here in the chancel to remind us that the light has come for the nations, because you & I are not Jewish, we are Gentile, yet Messiah has given His life even for you & for me. Simeon prophesied as much, when he held the child Jesus in his arms & said:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, & for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 ESV) After Saul
was knocked off his horse, while on the road to Damascus, Jesus tells him:
“Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant & witness. Tell people that you have seen me, & tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people & the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins & be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:16-18 NLT)
The chapters of Isaiah, leading up to the reading for this morning, primarily deal with Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Then, they’ll be set free to return to the land of Canaan, but simply going home to the Promised Land, even being led by Nehemiah, is not to return back to God. Israel needs a far greater redemption, a more complete freedom, which comes through Jesus.
Idolatry had made God’s people blind & deaf, so Yahweh annuls His nation’s servant status & a new Servant appears. This Servant will faithfully accomplish His heavenly Father’s will, as these words reveal: “And going a little farther He fell on His face & prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”
This task of rescuing us from death would not be easy. In verse 4 of the OT reading, the new Servant speaks: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing & vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord…” (Isaiah 49:4 ESV) The Servant speaks as if he has not done well in carrying out his assignment.
He uses a powerful triad of negatives to express frustration, discouragement & exhaustion: “I have labored in vain…” But He does not despair & He remains committed to the Lord. His relationship to Yahweh counters His futility & discouragement. He does not lose faith in the ultimate success of His mission.
God chose Israel not to be an exclusive community. He drew them into a covenant relationship in order to serve as the instrument for extending His rule to the ends of the earth. When they failed, Jesus was sent as Servant to fulfill Israel’s responsibility. He would be for Israel what Israel could not be in itself, & then He will bring salvation to the ends of the earth & lead the new exodus into the new creation, of heaven. Truth be told, Jesus is the brilliant star shining brightly against the backdrop, & the darkness, of our sin.
Immanuel perfectly & completely fulfills the role of being a light for the nations. Those of us who believe in Him are living proof that Jesus has been a light for revelation to the Gentiles. He gathers all the scattered people, from the four corners of the earth, & brings them back to their heavenly Creator, in this life for a time, & in the next life for eternity.
Christ is God’s light for all people in fulfillment of the promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Jesus is the Light for the nations as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, in this broken world.
Israel, punished for its sins & unable to save itself or its fellow sinners, represents the plight of the world under the curse of God. Israel forgiven & restored prefigures what God will do to welcome home all prodigal sons & daughters who have strayed into the far country of rebellious self-will.
Israel, after the exile, once again populating its rebuilt cities is a token of the vast throngs of people streaming into the established heavenly kingdom of God from every corner of the globe. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” Amen.
Arise & shine in splendor; let night to day surrender. Your light is drawing near. Above, the day is beaming, in matchless beauty gleaming; the glory of the Lord is here. Your heart will leap for gladness when from the realms of sadness they come from near & far. Your eyes will wake from slumber as people without number rejoice to see the Morning Star. Amen. LSB 396:1, 5.
 Matthew 26:39 ESV
 John 8:12 ESV
Baptism of our Lord – A LSB #’s 394, 435, 919
Text – Matthew 3:17
And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
THIS IS MY SON
During my 4th year at seminary a group of us frequently played volleyball on Saturday afternoons. One of the doctoral students would bring his son along, & whenever he made an excellent play the father would say, “That’s my boy!” When the son made a mistake the father didn’t know him.
Now, that was all said in fun because this father loved his son regardless of how well or how poorly he played. But it does illustrate for us that in this life we are often judged by how well we perform. We are constantly being measured by how we meet the expectations of the people whom we interact with. You know – “What have you done for me lately?”
In today’s gospel reading, the heavenly Father of Jesus Christ makes it perfectly clear how He measures the performance of His Son: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, & behold, the heavens were opened to Him, & He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove & coming to rest on Him; & behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV)
It’s sort of like, “That’s my Boy!” You’d be pleased with your son too if he was saving the world from sin. That’s quite an accomplishment. We can’t even save ourselves from the pain & suffering caused by it, let alone save ourselves from sin itself. In fact, we cause just as much suffering as we endure.
The longer I’m in this business of being a pastor, the more I’m convinced that the sins we commit are only the tip of the iceberg. Have you heard the phrase ‘sins of omission?’ They’re the ones we’re guilty of by omitting, by not doing, the good works God prepared in advance for us to do. I believe those sins far & away outnumber the evil that we do commit. And the tricky thing with sins of omission is the lack of evidence. If you don’t do something, there’re often no obvious results like if you shoot the neighbor’s dog in revenge. Probably half the time our self-centered nature causes us to not even be aware of the good we were supposed to do.
When a friend, a spouse, or a child needs a word of encouragement, but we’re too busy to notice, we have sinned & not even been aware of it. Those sins of omission do just as much damage over time, if not more, than the sins we commit by doing something evil or wrong.
The evil things are often spur of the moment emotional reactions, which can more easily be understood than the continuous neglect of the people in our lives who need our help. And it’s especially sinful in light of the fact that God tells us He prepares those good works in advance for us to do. God prepares not only the works we are to do, but He prepares us as well.
Our refusal to do them is pure rebellion against our Heavenly Father’s will, & it’s our sinful desire to care about only me, myself & I. We’ve been blessed, more than we can ever know, that our Savior did not rebel against His Father’s will. Jesus Christ knew the pain & agony that He would endure, yet He went forward & did not shy away from His suffering.
Today’s account of Jesus’ baptism is fairly short & there doesn’t seem to be anything terrible about it, yet He begins His ministry of suffering there as John baptizes Him in the Jordan River. We commonly think of Christ bearing the load of all the world’s sin at the cross, but it’s already at His Baptism that Jesus begins to carry the load of our sins.
He had no sin of His own to be washed away, so He takes upon His shoulders your sin, & mine. He picks it up in the waters of the Jordan River & carries it all the way to the cross of Mt. Calvary where He dies the death that you & I deserve. How much simpler & less painful are the good works that you & I shy away from out of fear or out of selfishness? Our world would be a better place if more people loved their children enough to say, “That’s my girl!” or, “That’s my boy!” regardless of how we measure their performance, good or bad.
No matter how often we attempt to encourage & praise someone we always need to remember that they are worthy of that praise only on account of what Jesus has done in their place. If we value them for what Christ has done, rather than for what they do, then their value never changes whether people see their lives as successful, or as a failure.
When people understand that they’re loved in that way, without conditions, they are set free from much of what human beings fear in this life. If Adam & Eve had understood that God loved them unconditionally, when He came calling in the garden after the fall, Adam & Eve would not have hidden from their Lord.
Do you remember Adam’s words, “…I was afraid, because I was naked, & I hid myself.”? Fear is what motivated Adam to hide, & fear is still causing us to hide today. We hide from our Savior. We hide from our family. We hide from our responsibilities, & most of all we hide from ourselves. We don’t want to know the ugly truth about who we really are.
It frightens us to see how selfish, cruel & vindictive we can be. The story of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is so compelling because it plays upon those very fears. Inside each one of us is an evil & sinister personality that’s striving to get out & devour the world around us. We’d like total control of everything in our lives, & we want it now.
The Lutheran understanding of things is that even after God makes us His children, & therefore 100% saint, in this life we are still, at the same time, also 100% sinner. We are Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, saint & sinner, at all times.
The contradiction between those two natures is too great for us to comprehend. Nevertheless, we must live with those two natures in their constant opposition. The Apostle Paul wrote about the struggle that goes on daily within us because of that dual nature: “I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. I want to do what is right, but I just don’t do it.” (Romans 7:19)
Do you think they had New Year’s resolutions already back in Paul’s day? It sounds like it. I want to do what is right, but I just don’t do it! A few verses later, Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV)
I want to visit my friend who’s in the nursing home, but I just don’t do it. I want to quit smoking, but I just don’t do it. I want to study for the exam but I just don’t do it. I want to spend more time exercising my spiritual life, but I just don’t do it.
Especially working as a pastor, helping people deal with their problems, I see that law in effect all the time when it comes to people’s spiritual lives. We want to do the right thing, but we just don’t. Did you notice how all of those are sins of omission? And our lives are miserable because of it.
Our soul is gasping for air, starving to death, but we just don’t do anything about it. Or if we try, we expect a flourishing spiritual life in four easy lessons. When that doesn’t happen, we drift right back into our old routine. We want to do what is right, but we just don’t do it.
Our sinful nature seems to win out over our saintly nature all the time. It’s easy to get discouraged & to lose hope. We don’t want to do that, but we do. As we honestly examine our lives, like St. Paul we have to say, “Wretched man that I am!”
That daily battle between our sinful & saintly nature takes a tremendous toll. It breaks us down, wears us out, & drags us in to the pit of despair. We tire of the battle & give in to the devil’s lies. As a result, we get our own comfortable routine set up & then adamantly stay there. We try to remain inside the box we create for ourselves, because we’re deceived into thinking that there’s safety there. And thus, the sins of omission go on & on. We leave behind the good that our Lord prepared in advance for us to do, not simply because we forget, but because we tire of, & we fear, the battle.
Satan’s battle plan is simple – divide & conquer. Through his deceptions he hopes to convince us that there is no use in turning to our Savior, because our sinful nature never seems to go away. Though we want to do what is right, we just don’t do it, & the devil would remind us of that every moment of every day.
He would remind us that our performance comes nowhere near measuring up to God’s standard. Lucifer wants us to doubt & to fear. He wants us to run & hide when our true Father comes calling. Thankfully, our Heavenly Father is not deceived. Through the waters of baptism He said of each one of us, “This is my Son, whom I love; & with him I am well pleased.”
Our Creator loves us not for the good plays we make, because truthfully, we don’t make any. Even our good deeds are filthy in God’s sight, apart from His perfect Son. But that perfect Son of God’s has taken our place in life & in death. Because we are baptized, God no longer sees the sinful nature in us, but sees only the saintly nature earned for us by Jesus.
At Baptism, the Holy Spirit exchanged our sins for the holiness of our Savior. That’s why, in spite of all the good works we’ve ever failed to do, God is able to say to us, “This is my son, & with him I am well pleased.” Because of Christ, we have no reason to hide from God or to fear Him. Through the life & death of Israel’s Messiah we do measure up in God’s sight.
Our Father in heaven measures the performance of His Son & He then applies those results to you. So with the Apostle Paul, we can state with all confidence, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Yet we can answer, with just as much confidence, “Thanks be to God – He has done it through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
At His baptism Jesus was marked as God’s beloved Son. At your baptism you were also marked as one of God’s own, because it’s there that the Almighty Creator of the universe
proudly stated before His assembled congregation, “That’s my child, whom I love!” Amen.
Come to Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners ruined by the fall; here a pure & healing fountain, flows to you, to me, to all. In a full perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died. Come in poverty & meanness, come defiled, without, within; from infection & uncleanness, from the leprosy of sin, wash your robes & make them white, ye shall walk with God in light. Amen. LSB 435:1-2
 Genesis 3:10 ESV
1st Sunday after Christmas – A LSB #’s 386, 380, 379
Text – Isaiah 63:9
…in His love & in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up & carried them all the days of old.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
The recording of Bing Crosby singing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” will probably live on for as long as the American culture exists. The Christmas season is a very special time of year for the people of our nation & many enjoy hearing their favorite carols & hymns because they bring back such fond memories of Christmases past.
Most of us have memories of past gifts, parties, & all kinds of special moments that come to mind around December 25th. I performed a wedding years ago for a couple who became engaged at Christmas, & I’m sure they’ll always remember those precious moments in time as Paul asked the question & as Jodi answered him.
Posing around the Christmas tree leaves pictures that live on to retell the story. Video cameras give you live action shots of the toddlers opening their 1st gifts. Creative individuals make up scrapbooks that tell a very broad & yet detailed picture so they can relive the memories of Christmases past.
Human beings tend to be very sentimental creatures, & so the phrase, “The Good Old Days” has come into our language in order to describe those times of our lives that we look back upon so fondly. I pray that this Christmas has been a blessing to you & that more of those fond memories were created; memories that will soon be of the days of old.
Isaiah was recalling those kinds of days & those kinds of memories in our OT reading. He was writing of the kindnesses of the Lord; the many good things He had done for the nation of Israel. In God’s love & mercy He lifted them up & carried them all the days of old. We could say that Isaiah was remembering stories of the Good Old Days, & the crossing of the Red Sea would be the kind of picture he wanted his readers to bring to mind. Christmas carols can bring to mind fond memories of the Good Old Days, & often we enjoy telling others about them. It can be a delightful way to recall the past & to teach the children stories of their ancestors & of their heritage.
I believe Isaiah would agree with that opinion, but I think he also has a more important reason for encouraging us to remember the loving kindnesses of our Lord. That reason has more to do with the present & the future than it does with our past. For as fondly as we may recall the Good Old Days they are no more, & they never will be again.
Some people are so distressed over, or confused with, the current events of their lives that they actually try to live in the past. They dwell upon it, focus their lives around it, & fail to live in the present because of it. That brings all sorts of problems because the rest of the world does not stop living & it does move on without them.
I’m not saying that the Good Old Days are something evil, but we need to keep them in the proper perspective & use those memories for God’s purposes, not simply for ours. You see, our sinful mind corrupts every blessing that God has given. Even the blessing of fond memories can be twisted & turned to serve ourselves apart from God’s plan for them.
We may dwell on the past so that we can avoid dealing with the problems of the present. Maybe you’re not as young & spry as you used to be, but that doesn’t mean you no longer have a purpose in life. Maybe your family Christmas parties aren’t the same anymore, because of the death of someone you loved, but does that mean that God no longer loves you or blesses you?
Isaiah’s reason for remembering God’s love & mercy in our past is to encourage us for today & for the future. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness & not for evil, plans to give you a future & a hope.” We may find that future impossible to see in many of the circumstances of our lives, but our lack of vision does not mean God’s promises will fail. What it often does mean is that we are weak in faith, & rather than trust God & His Word, we long to relive the past rather than retell it.
I can talk all I want about how I believe in God & how Jesus loves me, but the way I actually live my life reveals more clearly the truth. Constantly longing for the good old days shows where our treasure truly lies, because it shows where our heart is living. If my heart is stuck in the past, then I apparently have little hope for the future.
People having little hope for the future need to hear the message of today’s OT reading. In God’s love & pity He redeemed us; He lifted us up & carried us all the days of old. That is exactly the message Jesus Christ called us to carry out into our world today, when He said, “Go ye therefore & teach all nations...” (Matthew 28:19 KJV)
He wants us to teach them what He has personally done in each one of our lives. Have you known someone healed of a short illness? That’s due to God’s blessing even if it was the medicine through which God worked. Haven’t you ever had a bad day, when a friend stopped by unexpectedly & cheered you up? That was Christ at work in your life.
Those may seem like minor incidents, but without Jesus’ birth, without Jesus’ love, you would never even receive minor little blessings like those. Have you been married to the same person for 30, 40 or 50 years? That does not happen without God’s blessing, & you should be telling people how God has worked to bless you in your past.
The Good Old Days were given to us personally, by God Himself, in order that we might look to our past & say, “If God has blessed me so graciously in the Good Old Days, why should I doubt Him now?” And when our friends, our family, our neighbors & co-workers are tempted to doubt God’s love for them, we should be pointing out how God has loved us in the Good Old Days, & then use those fond memories to God’s glory by sharing them. Through that sharing the Holy Spirit has been promised to bring healing into the lives of those who hear God’s promises. The Word of God never returns to Him without working His will.
Matthew’s gospel is filled with OT prophecies as he looks back to show God’s promises & their fulfillment. Hear the Gospel lesson for today: “[Joseph] rose & took the Child & His mother by night & departed to Egypt & remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:14-15)
One of the main reasons that prophecy was given was so people could look back & recognize that God does know the future & He is able to predict it & to fulfill it. Scripture clearly shows that Yahweh is powerful to keep every prophecy He’s ever given. He’s even powerful to keep the promises He’s made to prosper you, to give you hope & a future.
If you’re wallowing in self-pity, longing for the good old days, that’s a sin, & it’s of your own making. God’s blessings have much more power than something here today & gone tomorrow. His children need not despair, because we have a God who is almighty, who will lift us up & carry us all the days of our future just as He has in all the days of old.
Jesus does want you to tell of the Good Old Days, but not as if they no longer exist! Our God is not dead!! He is alive. He is risen!! He is still blessing you just as He did in the good old days of your past. In the future today will be the good old days because God is blessing you this very moment.
Hindsight is 20/20, & in our future we will recognize & long for the blessings of today, because normally we don’t miss the water until the well runs dry. But why wait until those blessings are in the past? Why not recognize them right now? It’s time to be reminded of God’s grace in the year now past, so that 2017 will be an opportunity for telling of how God has blessed you in the Good Old Days, but more importantly as evidence of how He will bless you in the Good New Days ahead. The Christmas season doesn’t merely look back to the 1st time Christ came to earth. It also means to remind us that Christ will return.
The Christian’s celebration of Christmas is different! While we are able to enjoy the “season,” the gifts & things like that, our heart is elsewhere; we have a different focus, a different understanding of this holiday than the non-Christians do. Certainly Christmas is about what God has given to us in the past, but He is not done giving.
When Jesus comes again, He’ll reward His brothers & sisters with the Crown of Life. And heaven won’t be like the Good Old Days, because in heaven we will rejoice in God’s blessings as soon as He gives them. We won’t be longing in self-pity for the days gone by. We will be too busy thanking Him, & we will be too satisfied to miss anything in our past.
As this Christmas season draws to a close, remember that the birth of Jesus is a “telling story.” God told Adam & Eve. The prophets told the people. Gabriel told Mary. The angel of the Lord told Joseph. Mary told Elizabeth. Elizabeth told Zechariah. Joseph told the innkeeper. Angels & their songs told the shepherds. The shepherds told everyone they met.
The Holy Spirit told Simeon. The star told the Magi. The Magi told Herod. King Herod told the teachers of the Law. Each of you has heard the story of Jesus’ birth many, many times. We are able to tell others, because someone 1st told us. They told us that Immanuel means God with us, & He is with us here today, tomorrow & the next.
Our God is not just a God of the Good Old Days, but Lord of the present & of the future. He continues to carry us, not only all the days of old, but all the days of our lives! Amen.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth & mercy mild, God & sinners reconciled! Joyful all you nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Amen. LSB 380:1
Pastor Dean R. Poellet