Holy Trinity LSB #’s 507, 435, 650
Text – Romans 8:15-17
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION
One of the cute stories that’s been around the Internet has to do with a teacher leading a class lesson on the subject of adoption. One of the students comments that she knows what adoption is. It’s where a child is born in her mother’s heart rather than in her tummy.
The story illustrates the point that, in the process of adoption, the parents choose to love someone that they’re in no previous way connected with. For the girl, there’s comfort in the knowledge that her parents purposely chose her. She’s confident that her parents love her. That confidence sets her free from the anxiety & fear caused by wondering if anyone loves her.
The 8th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the great chapters in the Bible. Its teaching, about the way the Holy Spirit enables believers to defeat the forces of fear, has been recognized as of the utmost importance. In this chapter, Paul is saying that a new & wonderful life opens out before those who have confidence in Christ’s love for them.
This new life depends upon the work of the Spirit of God. Paul is talking about a life in which that Spirit guides so constantly that there’s no need for a string of commandments. The 1st verse of the chapter begins, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That being in Christ is an entirely different existence than any unbeliever experiences. The sermon text for today explains: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons...” No condemnation, no fear. Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy contains a similar statement: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power & love & self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)
Consequently, we may ask why our lives are so full of fear? Why are so many of our decisions made with anything but power & self-control? So often we act as if we’re the black sheep of God’s neighborhood rather than children adopted by Him purely out of His love. As we read the bible, however, we find that people have always acted out of fear.
It began already in Genesis 3: “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, & I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Today’s Gospel reading from John records how one of the Pharisees came to ask Jesus a question, at night. It’s likely he was afraid of being seen talking to Jesus. In addition to that, in the Gospel of John, the word night is used to convey the idea that the person involved has completely missed the picture.
They’re living in the dark. They don’t understand the message of God’s love for them. That lack of comprehension is what allows fear into their lives. Have you been living your life in the dark, rather than the light? Is fear a factor in the decisions you make, or in the decisions you put off?
For five months I’d been helping with Bible study for the inmates at the Pierce County jail. To start, I was a bit apprehensive, a bit afraid. People in jail aren’t always nice guys. However, there’d always been someone else there who’d been doing it for longer than I had. Then, one night, I arrived at the jail to find that I would be the only leader there that evening.
Guess what my first reaction was? Fear! I don’t want to do this! “I’ll just leave,” I thought. Fortunately, that reaction passed & I followed the urging of the Holy Spirit instead. I thought about the young man I would visit, & how he’d been locked up the entire week since I’d last been there. I thought of how I was free to travel about & do as I please. I thought how I would very much appreciate a visit if I were in his shoes. The Gospel of Matthew clearly states that our visiting those in prison is the same thing as visiting Christ Himself. But fear is right there at the doorstep of our heart, waiting for us to cave in & allow it to control our actions.
I’d been to that jail on at least 15 different occasions. I’d benefited from & even enjoyed many of those visits. Nevertheless, temptation was calling, but God was calling as well. God was challenging me to step forward in my faith, to grow stronger in it, by taking the focus off of my fears, & by placing my focus on Jesus Christ.
Fear can play a very subtle role in our decision-making such that we’re not even consciously aware of it. For that reason, many of our decisions are made based upon our fears, rather than upon our faith in Christ. Foolishly, we too prefer the darkness to the light. We prefer to hide our sins away, hoping that somehow they won’t be noticed.
Someone shares their problems with us & we chicken out when it’s time to tell them how Jesus Christ has blessed our lives. Someone comes to us for advice & we shy away from telling them that their actions are sin. Instead, we help them rationalize & make excuses, because we’re afraid of taking the heat; we’re afraid of rocking the boat.
We might personally believe that abortion is wrong, yet fearfully we acknowledge the words, “Every woman has a right to choose.” Our conscience might tell us that going to the lakeside cabin instead of church harms our spiritual life, but our fearful nature says, “If I don’t go to the cabin this weekend, I just won’t be able to unwind from all the stress of my job.”
It’s the devil who convinces us that too much religion will make us unstable or turn us into misfits. It’s common to act as if too much religion will prevent us from enjoying all the benefits that life has to offer. However, what we’re actually afraid of is not too much religion, but the light. The light of God’s law reveals our sin, so we fear that light, & the revelation that it brings. We’ve grown accustomed to the dark & the light hurts our pride.
Looking at things honestly, it’s not too much religion that scares us. It’s the fear that we’ve become so accustomed to our sins that we’re no longer worthy of God’s love. To our eyes & to our faint heart, it looks hopeless, because God’s law reveals more than we can bear.
Yet, even crucifixion on the cross did not look hopeless to our Savior. And since He endured that cross in our place, He calls us to bring our sin out into the light where it can be forgiven & rendered harmless. Only when our sin has been forgiven can it no longer destroy, & we must admit our opposition to God in order for sin to be removed from us.
In the first verse of the Epistle reading, Paul says that we are led by the Spirit. We are not driven. We are not possessed against our will. We are not slain by the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit gently calls & leads us to Him. Becoming a child of God is not a matter of compulsion, but one of freedom. We are not slaves who need to fear our Master’s will.
Our Father in heaven has adopted us as His children because of His love for us. He has no desire to force us to do His will, even though He could. He wants us to willingly obey Him out of love for what Jesus has done. That love is both a gift which God provides, & a response to the gift that God has given us.
We were dead in our sins when God came to us, called us through Baptism & made us alive. We had no rights of our own, yet God the Father admitted us to the heavenly family. He adopted us & made us His heirs along with His begotten Son, our Savior. In us, His Spirit has given birth to spirit, & by that spirit we are now brothers & sisters with Christ. PAUSE
Fifteen years ago, I attended a Women’s Missionary League convention & we were blessed to hear from three very excellent mission speakers. The first was an American Indian pastor who described how they’ve been making inroads into reaching the Indian culture. The 2nd was a young woman who’d just completed a 2.5 year mission in Taiwan where she taught English & led bible studies.
But the speaker who made the biggest impression for me was the pastor who spent 8 months in Ghana, West Africa. There, he worked among deaf people who had never heard of Jesus Christ.
Now the drinking water in Ghana must be treated before Americans can safely drink it. One of the threats is something called the Guinea worm. If some eggs are in the untreated water you drink, in 9 months you can have a three-foot long worm inside your body. Yet, when you visit a family at their home the first thing they do is offer you a drink of water.
If you don’t take it, you’ll offend them & never get anywhere sharing the gospel with them. So, for eight months this pastor, his wife & two children were subjected to the fear of drinking contaminated water. Yet, they endured that fear for the sake of spreading the message that God the Father wants to adopt each one of us as His very own child.
Pastor Reinke began the close of his presentation by stating that he’ll probably never again meet those brothers & sisters in Christ on this earth. They’d never been told the story of Jesus Christ until he arrived, & you could tell it had to be an extremely difficult thing for him to leave those people behind.
He was afraid that they might slip back into their old lives of ignorance & fear. Yet confidence in Christ’s promise is able to drive out fear. The hope that Pastor Reinke has, & that his new-found family in Christ has along with him, is that Jesus will one day return to take all of God’s children home to be with Him for eternity.
What a wonderful reunion that’ll be. It will make worthwhile all the risks that are taken & all the sacrifices that anyone makes in the name of our Savior. All the fears that anyone has ever faced will be forgotten as we gather together, from all times & all places, with the children that our heavenly Father has adopted to be His own.
While earthly parents adopt their children exactly as they are, our heavenly Father changes us by His very act of adoption. In Baptism, our Father creates in us a new & clean spirit. By His adoption we are remade & recreated into that which God desires us to be, children not only of flesh, but also of spirit.
That new spirit created in us is the same whether we are Indian, Chinese, American or Ghanaian. On the day when Christ returns, we’ll meet, or be reunited with, our brothers & sisters from the American Indians, from Taiwan, from Ghana & from every other country of the world. And, as pastor Reinke signed it, we’ll be taken home to our Savior for eternity.
Jesus will return to take us to heaven. Amen.
Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Amen. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
SML Sermon 05242015
SUNDAY, MAY 24, 2015 | PENTECOST
Ezekiel 37:1–14; Psalm 139:1–12 (13–16); Acts 2:1–21; John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
John 16:8–11 (ESV) 8And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
“God Works!” Now what in the world does this mean?
That’s what I hope to get at in this meditation. The text tells us that Jesus taught His disciples in preparation for His departure. While on His final journey to Jerusalem, for the last Passover, the mock trial, His crucifixion, death, and burial, He prepares His little flock by telling them more about the Holy Spirit whom He and the Father would send after He is taken away. He speaks here in this text of some specific work the Holy Spirit will do when He comes.
He will convict the world concerning three things:
1. Sin and
2. Righteousness and
Some of you might have an inquiring mind like mine that wants to know what the Spirit means by …
· RIGHTEOUSNESS and
Actually, I hope we all have inquiring hearts and minds with respect to the work of God. I’ve always wanted to know how things work. As a young lad growing up on a small dairy farm, I’d take things apart just to find out how they worked; old broken clocks, electric razors, radios that couldn’t be tuned to a channel anymore, and other small household items. Dad stopped me when I wanted to tear into an old tractor engine. “Above my ability,” he said. So, I asked my shop teacher about that at school. We rebuilt an automobile engine and put a car back on the road. “Above my ability,” my rumplestiltskin. A machine was built, in my humble opinion, to work. So when they didn’t work, I wanted to know why, so I could fix it.
When approaching God’s Word, it became very evident, rather quickly, that it wasn’t for me to find out how it worked, but to believe that it works because “God Works!” God changes how we think; what we do; what we hope for; what meaning and attachments we value in life. This is a God thing when our lives find more and more identification with Him as we go through this life. And we really have very little to do with that. I mean, who can see or feel or understand the ways of God’s Spirit so as to direct Him in the way He should go? Not me. And yet, all who have the Holy Spirit have great understanding of where they are going because “God Works!”
We who have tasted of His Holy Spirit, and been convicted of sin and righteousness and judgment live in a WORLD that does not grasp, and neither can it understand these things because people without the Holy Spirit do not see or know Him.
This is nothing new, of course. The WORLD, the κόσμος in the Greek, can refer to the universe of all creation, or it can be used to speak of the spiritual life, that is, the WORLD of unbelief. But there is another aspect of the κόσμος we should understand. In his first epistle, John says this about the world: “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16, ESV). I don’t want to get into all of what that means right now, but those are things that he admonishes believers not to love because they are going to pass away with the κόσμος. Then he adds, only the one doing the Father’s will abides forever. And that is not possible unless “God Works!”
All that in the world and of the world, might well cause a person to wonder, “Where is God?” or even, “Is there even a God?” or “What evidence can you give of God?” least wise, whether God works or not. These questions all deserve truthful and honest answers; not answers that come from the wisdom of man, for that itself is but the world’s wisdom. So what wisdom should be sought and where does it come from to get truthful answers? Ironically, truthfully, and honestly, it comes from the very source of the one who is in doubt—God Himself! “God Works!” He has been at work in this world more than any of us even realize.
Whether from Creation itself, the proven laws of nature, which by the way are only discoveries of Creation; or, the words of the scripture readings for today;
· “God Works!” to bring about life even to dead dry bones;
· “God Works!” to give boldness to fearful, tongue-tied disciples to declare His truth;
· “God Works!” to give salvation to a world so that even many languages hear God’s message of victory in and through Jesus Christ; to God be the glory! Amen!
And where “God Works!” there is bound to be trouble. Jesus warned of the coming persecution His disciples would face. Every follower of Jesus is a disciple in the sense that they are His understudy, sitting at His divine feet to learn of Him. Through the Holy Spirit “God Works!” all the time on the world. This is actually why we, the church on earth exist. “God Works!” through His people to bring about His plan for the WORLD.
The work God does in this regard is quite profound. The Greek word actually has the force of meaning to “convict … of guilt.” Elenxei. This is done by “presenting or exposing facts to convince of the truth.” The Hebrew equivalent ykḥ denotes God’s disciplining by …
· testing, and
In other words, the Spirit of God works on hearts and minds to show them the truth of God. Since Jesus has ascended into glory with His physical body, He and the Father have poured out the “Helper,” as Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, on those who will be His witnesses, His martyrs in the world. We think of martyr in connection with death, and it sometimes is, but not always. We bear witness to Jesus in what we say and do; how we behave in the world. Our very lives proclaim God’s glory and the Spirit’s work in us, unless of course, we live according to the flesh and the world, but not the Spirit.
Keep in mind that the child of God who is inhabited with God’s Spirit has died to sin and lives for righteousness because judgment has already been made at the Cross of Jesus Christ. And the judgment is this: In Christ your sin is forgiven, your sin debt paid in full, your life called out of darkness into His marvelous light, so that you may live a new life in Christ Jesus in Righteousness, His Righteousness. “God Works!” And because He has completed His, we are blessed to do ours.
Convicting the world is no easy task and is beyond what any one of us, or any number of us can do. That is not our job! Our work is simply to be martyrs, witnesses of His glory.
The world doesn’t like being told it is wrong. Neither do we! Or, is that just a remnant of the world remaining in our own heart. Nevertheless, when wrong meats right and lie meets truth, there is bound to be volatility. And remember where truth resides; it is not in us, but God’s Word is Truth. Jesus is the Truth. “God Works!”
If convicted of sin, it is because we have heard the word of God and are convinced by the Holy Spirit that because of Jesus, we are no longer blind, dead, enemies of God because “God Works!” Sin, my sin, is forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
If convicted of righteousness, it is because we have heard the word of God and are convinced that He is at the Father’s right hand interceding for our innocence because of His tortured body and shed blood. We receive His life that is now and is forever, in place of our life that is but for a moment in time. And even though we do not see Him, our hearts yearn for Him because “God Works!”
If convicted of judgment, it is because we have heard the word of God and know that Jesus Christ has already judged the ruler of this world and that is why we who believe are able martyrs of Christ because we have come to know, “God Works!”
So just know when you leave here today that “God Works!” for you and your benefit and for the benefit of the whole world. That is why it is so important that we as His chosen people keep growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
· Through Word and Sacrament, because there “God Works!”
· Through devotions and guided bible studies, because there “God Works!”
· Through our interactions with one another and with the world, because there “God Works!”
Everyone who is here this morning is here because “God Works!” Let’s make the best of it and so prove to be Jesus’ disciples. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus now and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Ascension Day (Observed) – 2015 LSB #’s 493 v.1-3, 492, 493 v.4-6
Text – Ephesians 1:17-18
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom & of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints…
THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU
Father Murphy walks into a pub in Dublin. He says to the 1st man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man said, “Yes I do Father.” The priest told him, “Then stand over there against the wall.”
Another man comes by & the priest asks him, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “I certainly do, Father,” the man replied. “Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest. Next, Father Murphy walked up to O’Toole & said, “Do you want to go to heaven?” O’Toole answered, “No, Father. I don’t.”
The priest replied, “I don’t believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you do not want to go to heaven?” O’Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. But it looked like you were getting a group together to go right now.”
Do you know the hope to which Jesus Christ has called you? Do you keep that front & center as you go about the daily details of living? Or, do you allow the devil to steal it away? That hope is a reality, & it is the almighty power of God to change what happens in this fallen world. If that hope does not exist it is nothing but a dog-eat-dog world.
If that hope does not exist, the only rule that matters is “Get them before they get you.” If that hope does not exist survival of the fittest governs everything that you see happening in life. The top of the food chain is the only place to be, yet even that is nothing but a dead end. Here today, gone tomorrow. Nothing can be right. Nothing can be wrong. Everything is relative. Eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow we die. As King Solomon wrote, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14 ESV) In this broken world, human beings need hope in order to be motivated to develop their potential for the good.
If people don’t have hope for positive things, ISIS is a natural outcome. They are using the moral decadence of our nation as a recruiting tool. In its waning days, as Israel drifted further & further from the truth, & from the true God, He regularly used the pagan nations to discipline His people. Yahweh’s goal was not to punish, but to draw His people back to Him.
Sadly, the people of Israel, as a whole, did not listen. They put their hope in false teachings & false gods. Their national glory, as exemplified in the days of king Solomon, is long gone. History proves that the glory of these United States will one day be long gone as well. Our heavenly Father may be slow to anger, but He will not be mocked.
Put that way, it sounds rather ominous. Yet, we acknowledge & confess essentially those same truths, of Jesus Christ, whenever we recite the Nicene Creed: “…& ascended into heaven & sits at the right hand of the Father, & He will come again with glory to judge both the living & the dead,…”
How often have we said those very words & not given a moment’s thought to what they mean? God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17) There are many & gross aberrations of His truth in our culture. Even in the church, people deny the truth that life is a gift from God from the moment of conception. They deny it has value from that moment forward regardless of anything else.
God’s truth, which is the only truth, causes division in our lives. It causes division even within your own heart just as God’s truth causes division within mine. Division is painful, but it is always caused by unbelief. God is truth & He is everywhere. So if there is division, it has to come from those who will not believe God. Division comes as they separate themselves from any of the things written in the Word of God. What that means is this – each time we commit any type of sin we are separating ourselves, however momentarily, from our Savior.
God’s truth may bring division, as people are reacquainted with the Truth, but the cause of that division, the fault of that division, always lies with man, & never with our heavenly Father. Jesus was sent to suffer & to die in order that mankind would have a 2nd chance to be united in perfect harmony with their heavenly Father. It is mankind who refuses that harmony.
So what cause do we have for hope? We’re getting close to the end of the school year. Children, & teachers, look ahead with hope to summer vacation. Especially at this time of year, it helps them to get through the last days of a long school year. People look forward to a coming wedding, or anniversary celebration, to get them through the day.
Children of God are to look forward to heaven, the hope to which Christ has called us, to get us through the day. If there is no heaven, then there is no purpose for today. However, Ascension Day reminds us that there is a heaven because Jesus ascended there. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul made clear that Jesus ascended in order to rule from His throne.
Yes, God is slow to anger, but He still rules over every authority & power & dominion. Yahweh will not be mocked & those who refuse to believe in Him will get their wish. For all of eternity they will have nothing to do with Him, because Jesus is God & He does rule. Heaven will not be soiled with stubborn & rebellious thoughts of division & unbelief.
The purpose for life today goes back to the very cause of the division in this world. As God finished creating everything was good. It was in perfect order & harmony. Satan rebelled against that & brought division into Yahweh’s creation. Adam & Eve gave credence to the devil’s lies, & all that our heavenly Father had made was turned against Him. The universe was divided against its Creator. Jesus came to win mankind back to Himself, & away from Lucifer. That process is still ongoing, right here & now, with the preaching of the Word of God. That process of winning back the lost is the purpose of our lives today.
You see, it’s not just heaven that defines the hope to which Jesus has called you. It’s not just summer vacation that motivates our teachers, & other school staff, to get through the day. It is also the hope we have as children of God, that He will work through you & through me to brings others out of the darkness of this sick world & into the marvelous light & love of Christ.
That too, besides heaven, is the hope to which He has called you. Whether you are a parent or teacher, a bartender or nurse, a lawyer or a police officer, a child, an aunt, uncle or grandparent, even just a neighbor, the Son of God has called you to be a light on a stand. As it is written in the Gospel of Matthew:
“No one lights a lamp & then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15-16 NLT)
You might guess Whom it is that has put you on the stand. It is your heavenly Father. He has filled your life with blessing & prepared good deeds in advance for you to do. All this He has done, so that those who are lost in the darkness of unbelief may see the light & then come to know Jesus as their Savior from that darkness.
The threats & the demands of the Law can never transform a human heart. Only the hope to which Jesus Christ has called us is able to accomplish that miraculous task. Yes, we need to know of our sin, so we accept God’s rescue of us from it. Having been rescued, it’ll be the love of Christ that motivates us rather than fear of the Law. This letter of St. Paul’s, to the church at Ephesus, begins with a long prayer, which includes today’s sermon text. Paul is praying that each of us would grow in Christian maturity. Our sinful nature constantly encourages us to ‘not get too religious.’ As a result, we also have a constant need to be reminded of what is already ours so that we put it to use rather than shy away from it.
We like to think we’re mature enough – spiritually, but our daily sins paint a different picture. Just our lack of fervent desire to be in the house of God reveals our immaturity. Our inability to make time each & every day to study the Word of God reveals the same. The self-centered focus of our thoughts, our time & our checkbook, reveal even more.
We too, desperately, need to hear again of the hope to which Christ has called us. You & I need to have the eyes of our heart enlightened with the love displayed for us on the cross. All our fears, all our anxieties, all our shortcomings, have been overcome by the perfect life Jesus lived in our place. What joy that message brings. Our hope rests secure in that reality.
The culture St. Paul was writing to, had a very short-term outlook on life. They had little hope for the long term. Fate was capricious & moody & fickle. Christian hope never is. Our culture is rapidly headed in the direction of the culture of Ephesus. Our culture needs a similar answer. The hope to which Christ has called us gives us something to live for.
Now, I didn’t grow up Irish, or Catholic, but I suspect that the Father Murphy jokes weren’t meant to be revelations of deep spirituality, as the parables of Jesus were. However, Mr. O’Toole isn’t ready to go to heaven just yet. Maybe he’s afraid to die. Or maybe he realizes that the hope to which Yahweh has called us is a hope that is already active in this life!
St. Paul wants us to have a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ & of the hope, privileges & power available to us through Him. All this is to be part of our awareness & increasingly taken hold of by us. We’re to keep this hope front & center in our daily lives. Instead, most people today think they don’t need Jesus or what He offers to them. Like doubting Thomas, at best, they have to see in order to believe. At worst, they don’t care at all. In today’s Epistle reading, the apostle Paul is praying that we’d be enabled by the Holy Spirit to comprehend all that God has brought about for us.
He’s praying for assurance that the power of God will carry us safely through the dark present into the bright & future glory. He wants us to see our Savior with new eyes, to hear His Word with new ears, to believe in His name with a new heart.
Jesus is our Lord, but He stoops down & humbles Himself to forgive our sins. He is more than Lord of our life. He is Lord off ALL. God has given Jesus, as Lord of all, to His Church. The more faith grows in strength & unfolds its power in love, the more intense becomes the hope of God’s children.
The nearer the end of our faith, the nearer the soul’s salvation approaches, the more distinct this goal presents itself to the inner eye of God’s children. And so we grow in hope & in the knowledge of our hope & in the object of our hope – Jesus as Lord & Savior. That hope is what motivates & empowers us to live the life our Savior calls us to in spite of the darkness. Amen.
On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension; this hope alone has always stilled all doubt & apprehension; for where the Head is, there as well I know His members are to dwell when Christ will come & call them. O grant, dear Lord, this grace to me, recalling Your ascension, that I may serve You faithfully in thanks for my redemption; & then, when all my days shall cease, let me depart in joy & peace in answer to my pleading. Amen.
 Numerous citations throughout Holy Scripture, Exodus 34:6, and so on.
 Galatians 6:7.
6th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #660
Text – 1 John 5:4
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.
OVERCOMING THE WORLD
The Apostle John is the only one of The Twelve who is left alive, & even he is down to the last few years of life. He sees the Christian Church falling under the sway of false teachers, people whom John referred to three times in this letter as the antichrist. Instead of following the Spirit of truth, these false teachers follow the spirit of deception.
They denied that Jesus is fully human because, in their mind, all physical matter is evil. Consequently, they denied that human flesh could be of God & therefore, what we do with our body is irrelevant. This led to, in most cases, deplorable conduct, the throwing off of all moral restraints, & a complete disregard of ethical or Christ-like living.
We see that more & more today as people excuse their conduct with phrases like, “Jesus loves everybody.” In a technical sense that’s true, yet Christ did not die on the cross so that we could intentionally commit every sort of sin & be forgiven with no change of heart or lifestyle. St. Paul just happened to address that very issue in Romans 6:
“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more & more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NLT) That God’s children have been set free of condemnation, over our failure to keep the law, does not mean that we’ve been set free of our obligation to live according to it.
St. Paul doesn’t leave us hanging, however, with that impossible situation & no power to do it. He continues in chapter six: “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? For we died & were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:3-4) We continue to live according to the obligations of the law by the glorious power of our heavenly Father. Faith in Jesus as Savior, from all the lies & temptations of the world, is how we overcome the sinful world.
The world, at its unbelieving core, is merely a tool for the devil. Much of that world has no clue it’s even working for him. He’s that clever at deception. Many false teachers began their “career” in the church, but weren’t satisfied with simply following Jesus. Judas is a good example of one who decided to take matters into his own hands & strike out on his own.
Fortunately, his false teaching ended shortly thereafter. Yet, the world & the devil still try to interfere with our Christ-like living. They say that abortion is not killing. They say that sexual activity outside the marriage of one man & one woman is not a violation of the 6th commandment. They say that skipping church on Sunday morning is not a problem for the 3rd.
Now, we don’t keep the commandments on our own, but we do keep them by faith in the fact that Jesus did keep them on our behalf. Jesus did overcome the world by dying, & then by rising from the dead. God is victorious over the grave. When Jesus calls us to believe that we have overcome the world, in spite of our sins, He is calling us to victory.
Yet, in the eyes of the world, that victory appears to be defeat, just as Jesus’ death on the cross appeared to be defeat. Easter morning is so awesome because then & there God revealed Jesus’ death to be the ultimate victory. Death was now powerless & itself defeated. Still, the world hates the truth. It shivers & convulses against the truth.
The following story illustrates the power, of faith in Christ as Savior, to overcome the world. “We felt called to go to Afghanistan in 2002 to be God’s hands & feet, show these people the love & support they deserve. Life was difficult, but was also a blessing because in it, we grew much stronger; & God could be gloried in & through our lives. [My husband] Werner changed so many Afghan’s lives through his example of living & through his teachings. He coached many to improve their living circumstances. And he had a great sense of humor.
Surely, we had to count the cost for Christ. Anything could happen to us, anytime. We knew we were living in a dangerous country. Were we prepared if anything would happen to us, especially the children? It was such a difficult question. We decided to just give it to the Lord.
When the moment would come to maybe deal with something like an attack, we believed God would give us the grace to handle it through His glasses. I can surely testify of that. I was not prepared to lose my husband & children in one single attack. Can anyone be?
I knew something could happen, but only after it happened did I realize that God gave me His grace to overcome this. We attended a conference in October, 2014. Werner was asked to speak on the subject of “Counting the Cost for Christ.” Looking back, I realize God wanted me to hear that sermon again, because exactly one month after that, I had to count the cost.
It was huge. Werner ended [his sermon] by saying, “We die only once, it might as well be for Christ.” I am so glad that he, my son & daughter were chosen to die as martyrs for Christ. What a wonderful honor. As a family we lived for Christ. They died for Christ. From a human perspective it doesn’t make sense.
From an eternal perspective, it was gain, & God will be gloried in this. Satan tried to steal their lives & my joy; he murdered my family. His name is Murderer & Thief. But he forgot that God always has the last move.
Werner’s vision for his work was 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (NIV) He didn’t believe he should be involved in one-on-one relationship building; Afghans could do that so much better, & there were huge language barriers. He wanted to equip leaders that would be able to train more leaders. He sent out a newsletter in September 2014 in which he asked for prayer that God would reveal the next step to him. He felt his work in Afghanistan was in many ways self-sustaining & was looking for his next step.
None of us expected the attack on November 29th. There were several bomb attacks that shook our house to the core in the days & weeks preceding it. We knew that security was deteriorating as the Taliban gained more ground & after the inauguration of the new president. On my way to the clinic, twice I was almost in the middle of bomb explosions in the city. God protected me from being injured.
What happened to me is one of the most traumatic events that can take place in someone’s life – to lose your husband & two teenage children in a single terrorist attack, & know that I was supposed to be there too. I wasn’t supposed to go to the clinic that day, but I did. As a wife & mom, my heart aches to have been there, to have been able to hold them & protect them against the merciless bullets that tore their bodies apart.
Obviously, God has another plan with me. It is an extremely great challenge & life test which I don’t want to fail. I want to make sense out of this, to process this, to find my new life & purpose & build on that. My whole life as I’ve known it was changed in five minutes. My role changed instantly from being a wife & mom to being a single person.
I didn’t just lose my family, but everything that was dear to me in Afghanistan. I lost the Afghan community, our dog, our earthly possessions & the familiar environment that I’d grown to love over 12 years. For me, it is an indescribable loss. For them & the kingdom, a great gain. I know I have to focus on the gain & not the loss. We lived for Jesus; they died for Jesus.
In all this grief & pain, God is there, right beside me. He is carrying me through this.
There is no way to go through something like this on your own. God is faithful. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b ESV) And that is totally my experience.
There is a peace that surpasses all understanding. And when the ebb comes, He is there to comfort me. My future from here is to carry on with Werner’s work. How & where, God will have to reveal. Pray for the persecuted church in Afghanistan. Pray for those staying behind in Afghanistan.
That story is from the May issue of the newsletter, The Voice of the Martyrs. It paints a very detailed picture of how our Lord typically overcomes the world. It can be seen only through faith in Jesus. The victory is very real, but it transcends our earthly ability to grasp it.
In God’s plan of redemption for this broken life, overcoming the world is not even close to the same thing as conquering it. Yet, overcoming the world is ALSO not “checking out” of the world. We are to participate in, & live in, the world with zest & power, while completely trusting in our heavenly Father’s will & ability to care for us.
That is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith, but faith is not easy & faith is not blind. It trusts completely, yet it full well knows the reality. The woman who lost her family in Afghanistan was not wearing rose-colored glasses regarding the death of her husband & two children. Yet, even in that tragedy, she realizes that God’s children have overcome the world.
Is that what we pray for, when we ask God to strengthen our faith? Against all odds, despite every possible suggestion of an alternative reality – whether life brings apparent success or failure, prosperity or want, security or peril – St. John affirms that his is the side that is even now triumphant in its seemingly unending & even failing struggle with the world.
Thus, the Apostle John presses us, in whom Jesus dwells, to be ‘in’ the world, showing Christ’s love to the world, yet not being ‘of’ the world. You & I have been called to a holy life, to an impossible life, as we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism. Yet, as surely as it appears that we have failed in this calling, we have overcome the world because God caused us to be born again through the waters of Holy Baptism.
In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus states: “You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you that you should go & bear fruit & that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV) When a person is chosen by God, faith is created in their heart, unless they reject that gift.
Having a good attitude toward Holy Scripture is an indication of faith. Those who reject the gift typically use God’s Word to achieve their goals. Believers allow the Word of God to use them to achieve our Savior’s goals. Christians don’t see that as a burden because their saintly nature loves to walk in the way of God. Unbelievers see the Bible as a burden to be rid of.
Easter means victory, not just over death, but over the brokenness of this life. As children of God we can live that victory, not to boast over others, but to draw them to Christ as well. “…He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 ESV) Jesus has defeated the spirit of deception & granted us victory by faith in what He promises to be true.
No matter how things appear to be in your life, you are living in the victory of Christ & your faith in Him has overcome the world. Let the world see that life. Amen.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus; Stand in His strength alone. The arm of flesh will fail you, Ye dare not trust your own. Put on the Gospel armor; each piece put on with prayer. Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there. Stand up, stand up for Jesus; the strife will not be long; this day the noise of battle, the next, the victor’s song. The soldiers, overcoming, their crown of life shall see & with the King of Glory shall reign eternally. Amen.
5th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #979
Text – 1 John 4:6
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth & the spirit of error.
KNOWING THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH
“…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming & now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:3 ESV) For all the inflammatory use of the word Antichrist, by some preachers, that actual word appears only 4 times in all of Holy Scripture. Three of them are in 1 John, & the 4th one is in 2 John.
The truth is, God’s revelation of Himself in His Son Jesus has drawn the line of division between the children of God & the unbelieving world. Christ & Antichrist, true prophecy & false, the Spirit of truth & the spirit of error, these confront one another in absolute antithesis. Jesus Himself outlines that division in rather stark terms in the 12th chapter of St. Luke:
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two & two against three. They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law & daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53 ESV)
Truth & reality are two things mankind has been searching for ever since Eve bought into the lie of the devil. Up until that moment Adam & Eve’s entire existence had been one of truth, only the truth, & nothing but the truth.
The reason truth & reality bring such horrible division is because, on any given issue, some believe the truth & others the lie. The two cannot coexist apart from the love of Christ. Even as He brings division to the world, in Him all things hold together.
We see that in the conflict which goes on in marriage. It’s only the love of Christ, going
back & forth between husband & wife, that is able to overcome the division & carry their relationship forward. Belief & unbelief, truth & error, are now being held together by Christ until the last day. He’s holding them together in order that some might still be saved.
At Judgment Day, it’s not just believers & unbelievers that will be separated. Everything that is true will be separated from everything that is false. You see, we tend to look at the world we live in as normal, because this is all we’ve ever known. Holy Scripture assures us that this is the aberration. This is not the complete, whole & true reality.
That is heaven – a place of perfection & total harmony with no lies & no deception. Today, God’s children have eternal life, but it’s hidden underneath whatever is false. Our brokenness & sin is certainly a reality, but it covers up the perfection & holiness that already belongs to us as children of the heavenly Father.
Heaven is the true reality – creation as God designed it to be. Until we get there we clearly live in not only an imperfect world, but a world where evil is rampant. False teaching is everywhere, so John writes the letter that our epistle reading is from to warn us & to direct us to the truth. In so doing, he is pointing us to life & away from death.
“Beloved, does not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 1:1 ESV) Those false prophets are leading people in the direction of eternal death. False teaching is not something to be toyed around with like you might play with a harmless garter snake.
Satan’s initial temptation of Eve seemed like child’s play, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Who of us has not questioned God’s Word? In our brokenness we can’t help but question it. That’s a constant part of life. That’s why the movement to bring the teaching of evolution into the church is so dangerous. It normalizes our natural tendency to question the Word of God. Even though Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created…” evolutionary teaching is based upon the premise that there is no God. Evolutionary teaching explains the basis of everything in the universe apart from Christ, & without Jesus there is no salvation. Listen to St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians:
For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven & on earth, visible & invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him & for Him. And He is before all things, & in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:16-18 ESV)
Christ, who Paul says created all things, is the firstborn from the dead. Jesus is the first human being to rise from the dead, never to die again. He is, even now, drawing us to Himself in heaven. There are pastors in Christian denominations who teach that evolution is true, & the creation event of Genesis is not. They are drawing people away from Jesus & from salvation.
“…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:3a ESV) Some pastors who teach evolution might actually still believe in Jesus as Savior. However, they have to be inconsistent in their interpretation of the Bible to make that so. Many people listening to compromising pastors recognize the inconsistency & end up rejecting any need for a Savior.
The reason truth & reality bring such horrible division is because, on the issue of creation versus evolution, some believe the truth & others the lie. The reason truth & reality bring such horrible division is because, on the issue of Christ as our Savior from sin, some believe the truth & others the lie.
Once a person has rejected God’s version of how men & women came into being, then it’s not a big stretch anymore to end up where Bruce Jenner has. Satan is attempting to destroy that man’s soul. Sin is not a child’s game. It’s not something to be toyed with. It begins very slowly, & looks very harmless. When sin has done its work, however, it destroys everything right down to your identity. Sin takes away everything you have & gives you nothing in return. It seems pleasant for a time, but devours you in the end. The antithesis of sin therefore is Christ, because He allows Himself to be devoured by death in order that He might give us everything. He takes our sin away & gives us life instead. Unbelief does not believe in that kind of love.
At heart, whether it realizes it or not, unbelief hates that kind of love – thus the drastic line of division that Jesus talks about in Luke 12: “…from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two & two against three. They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother…”
Children of God appreciate the love of Christ & cling to it even when the unbelievers would drive them away from it. That is going on around the world today as children of God are being killed for their faith in Jesus. The line of division there between truth & error is very stark. To the eyes of the world, it appears foolish to cling to this Jesus.
The author of Psalm 119 would not agree: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law. I remember, Lord, your ancient laws, & I find comfort in them.” (Psalm 119:50-52 NIV)
Human beings certainly are not evolving in any kind of moral way. There’s as much corruption & greed as ever. We see that all over the news. Yet people would ask us to evolve in our understanding of the ancient laws of God & get rid of them. However, the psalm writer finds comfort in them.
He finds comfort because God does not change for the worse. God cannot change for the better because He’s already perfect. Thus the psalm writer trusts in God’s love & promises. They are eternal. God put the tree of the knowledge of good & evil in the garden so Adam & Eve could show God their love for Him. Today, numerous false teachings are running rampant in our culture. It could well be that God has allowed them so we can show God our love for Him, by not giving in to the temptation of those false voices. Instead, we trust simply in Jesus & the Word of God. Whoever knows God listens to the Apostles & the prophets as they are recorded in the words of Holy Scripture.
By listening in humility to God’s Word we will know the Spirit of truth. That Spirit will rescue us from all the brokenness of this world. That Spirit will set us free from the shackles of our sin so that one day we can enjoy nothing but the reality of true life in heaven. Amen.
God, whose almighty word chaos & darkness heard & took their flight: Hear us, we humbly pray, & where the Gospel day sheds not its glorious ray, Let there be light! Spirit of truth & love, life-giving, holy dove, speed forth Your flight; move on the water’s face,
bearing the lamp of grace, & in earth’s darkest place Let there be light! Amen.
 Colossians 1:17
Pastor Dean R. Poellet