Life Sunday – 2020 LSB #412
Text – John 6:68
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
DID GOD REALLY SAY?
“It is good.” That is the Lord’s refrain through the six days of creation. Light and dark, “It is good.” Land and sea, “It is good.” Stars, moon and sun, “It is good.” Birds and fish, plants and animals, “It is good.” Then there is Adam. The Lord looks at him and says, “It is not good.” “It is not good for man to be alone.”
The very goodness of creation is connected to life. If creation brings forth or supports life, it is good. Adam, alone, remains alone. He can have no children, no family. It is not good, not until Eve, and then it is very good. Then, with the gift of marriage, the promise of children, the joy of life, God rests from His work.
And the devil gets busy. He finds Adam and Eve in the Garden. He begins nudging them towards death, and the nudge sounds like this, “Did God really say?” Let’s not miss the point, “Did God really say?” is the sound of the devil’s death nudge. “Did God really say you are not supposed to eat any of this fruit?” “Did God really say if you ate the fruit then you would die?”
The devil deceived with a question of doubt. And his chief lie was in calling God a liar. Yahweh’s Word is truth and His Word is life. If the devil wants us to die (which he does), he will tempt us away from the Word of God. And death comes with doubt. Adam and Eve were tempted away from the word, away from life.
They ate, they died, and we, and everything else in the cosmos, are dying with them. We often lament that ours is a “culture of death.” No doubt this is true. Life is vulnerable at the beginning and the end and devalued all the way through. We mourn the slaughter of babies and lament the medical murdering of the elderly. Still, it is important to remember that humanity’s funeral march began long before Roe vs. Wade or the push for legalized “euthanasia.” It began in the Garden. It began with “Did God really say?” And it continues to march to that same beat today. But it is this funeral march that Jesus came to stop. Christ is not content with our dying. He is not happy to stand by and watch us fall into the grave and come to condemnation.
“I came that [you] might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus interrupts our death with His life. Jesus interrupts our sin with His holiness. The Son of God interrupts our rebellion with His crucifixion. He takes our sin, our punishment, the wrath we deserve, and He suffers in our place. His death is Adam’s death, and Eve’s, and ours.
His agony is what we deserved. He bears our sin so that we could know God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s life that never ends. And how does He give this all to you? He gives all of this to you in His Word.
In John 6, Jesus is giving a difficult teaching. He is the bread from heaven. He is God and Man united in one person. He is the hope and life of the world:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).
This was too much for the crowds. There were thousands who came to Jesus for bread in the wilderness, but they don’t stay for the teaching, for the words said by God. Jesus sees that they’re all leaving, and turns to His disciples, “Do you want to leave as well?” Peter answers beautifully, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
God be praised! Peter sees with a divine clarity what you and I must also see – Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus has the words that overcome death. Jesus has the words that will pull us out of the grave on the last day. Jesus has the words that fell the old evil foe. Jesus has the words that forgive sin and repair broken relationships. His words are words of eternal life. And, dear saints, you have them as well. You have the words of Jesus. You hear His voice. You know His name. You believe what He says.
It’s true, the devil comes to tempt us, the same as in the Garden, “Did God really say?” “Did God really say He loves you?” Yes! “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?” Yes! “Did God really say that you are saved by grace through faith, without any works?” Yes!
“Did God really say that we will be raised on the last day, and will live forever with Him?” Yes, a thousand times yes! Jesus has the words of eternal life. Those words and promises are ours. That eternal life is ours. God be praised, forever and ever! Amen.
The people that in darkness sat a glorious light have seen; the light has shined on them who long in shades of death have been, in shades of death have been. To us a child of hope is born, to us a Son is given, and on His shoulder ever rests all power in earth and heaven, all power in earth and heaven. Lord Jesus, reign in us, we pray, and make us Thine alone, Who with the Father ever art and Holy Spirit, one, and Holy Spirit one. Amen. LSB 412:1, 3, 6.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #’s 761, 575, 746
Text – Isaiah 49:4
But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing & vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, & my recompense with my God.”
FOR NOTHING & VANITY
You know the saying, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Then there’s Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong – it will!” Both sayings give us a picture of our world – a world that is broken, full of sorrow & frustration. There are only two solutions to the despair. Either human beings must fix it, or there is some greater power out there who will.
All the belief systems of mankind can be boiled down to those two categories. People may believe in themselves, or other human beings. People may believe in some kind of supernatural god. When the events of our lives 1st collapse into the pit of everything going wrong, with nothing but bad luck, the normal reaction is to search for a solution.
God’s chosen nation would be stuck in the land of Babylon. They would end up there because they needed discipline from the hand of their Creator. Their pride & arrogance already stunk to high heaven. At their initial defeat & captivity they may have blamed it on bad luck & Murphy’s Law, but after a time, more faithful people were born of the struggle in captivity.
All of this was being prophesied by Isaiah in, what turned out to be a futile attempt to turn the people back from their destruction. They refused to listen & so their “Promised Land” was taken from them. They would regain humility, & turn back to their Creator, only through suffering. Babylon is pictured by Isaiah as a type of death & burial for God’s people.
Yet, Isaiah does not predict only suffering, humiliation & death. Due to God’s great mercy, Isaiah also prophesies of rescue, forgiveness, life & salvation – even the hope of resurrection. Because the Promised Land was viewed literally as life itself, to be taken from the land was to die. Likewise, the return from exile, to the Land, is looked at as resurrection from the dead. It was that dramatic. For the Israelites, that’s how tightly tied together were the promises of land & life. And under the right conditions, even apart from the Promised Land, simply the promises of God would bring life out of death also in Babylon.
The events of Daniel in the lion’s den, along with Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego in the fiery furnace, both occurred there. The people of God had been humbled by their defeat & captivity. Some were now turning back to Yahweh in repentance & humility. They were willing to die in Babylon rather than turn away from the One who brings life out of death.
The ultimate Promised Land does not reside on this earth but in heaven. So the words of the sermon text ring true with our experiences on this earth: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing & vanity…’” The Holy Spirit tells us that is true in each of our daily lives: “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 ESV)
Try as we might, no matter how many things we achieve that appear as success, not a one of us can fix this broken world. King Solomon was the wisest man to ever live, & in that wisdom he tried to fix things & make everything successful. Here’s what he concluded. It sounds a lot like ‘nothing & vanity’:
“Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless!” What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come & generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises & the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, & then turns north. Around & around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers & flows out again to the sea… No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, & in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now... I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, & I lived in Jerusalem. I observed everything going on under the sun, & really, it is all meaningless – like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered. (Ecclesiastes 1:2-12, 14-15 NLT)
That’s a large selection of Holy Scripture but it makes Isaiah’s point so well, & it fits with our own personal experiences. Life in this world is hard, & by it, many people end up crushed. We want to fix them, & we think that trying to do so is what God wants from us. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors unconditionally, not to fix them. There’s a difference.
Our faith in Jesus as Savior – from all that is wrong in this world – can grow. Our relationship with God & with our neighbors, can grow. However, our neighbors, & we ourselves cannot be fixed. We don’t get better & better each day, even if we try. Our sinful nature must be put to death, & you may have noticed, that is neither a simple nor a painless process.
The people of God had to be put in exile in a foreign land; enslaved & surrounded by people who followed false gods. That is what it took to humble them so they’d turn back to the true God, who, by the way, offers life instead of death. The problem is, in our current state of sin, you & I really struggle to tell the difference between life & death.
If we even believe what we’re saying at the beginning of the service, our confession is half-hearted at best. Many people don’t believe, & actually object to, these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” The words bite & cut at the very core of our pride & our arrogance. The words speak of humiliation & surrender. They are words of death to our sinful nature.
In & of ourselves, none of us would speak them. In & of ourselves, none of us are able to speak them. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit, who raises us from death to life, that you or I can say those words in truth & honesty. And yet, it is because we are poor, miserable sinners that we look at our lives with discontent & believe that we see nothing & vanity.
Our heavenly Father is working miracles every day, but we do not have the eyes to see nor the ears to hear. So God sent His only & perfect Son to take on human flesh, to suffer the anguish & the woe of our sins. You see, although Isaiah wrote them, the words of the sermon text are not his. They are the words of the Suffering Servant who is Jesus Christ: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing & vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, & my recompense with my God.” In other words, from the perspective of Jesus’ human nature, even He struggled to ‘see’ the good He was accomplishing.
So many people turned away from Him. So many people shouted, “Crucify him!” So many people, like us, struggled & even refused to confess their sin. As a pastor, it is sad for me to see so many young adults abandon worship & Christian living so quickly after confirmation. They seem to openly ignore what they’ve been taught in the 3rd & 6th commandments.
We spend hours & hours teaching the basics of the Bible, & what good does it do in the end? I’m sure you’ve had the same frustrations with your children & grandchildren – it’s even more personal for you.
Or maybe it’s an inner struggle against sin, where you keep on repenting & keep on seeking strength to deal with a weakness, but it keeps coming back again & again. Some just give up & quit. Why even try? But it’s interesting to see how Jesus deals with this seeming lack of success & return for His work.
He says, “yet surely my right is with the Lord, & my recompense with my God.” Though He could not see it, He entrusted the reward to His Father. He let Him take care of the results. It reminds me of the classic movie “The Karate Kid.”
Daniel is told by Mr. Miyagi, “Wax on, wax off.” Hour after hour he goes, & he finally blows up, demanding to know what good it is to do the wax on & wax off. Then, Mr. Miyagi starts throwing punches at Daniel, only to have him feign off the punches by using the same motion he was using to put the wax on & the wax off. Then it all made sense.
Jesus, however, didn’t throw a fit & demand to see results. He trusted that the results
would be what they would be. He would only do what God called Him to. He’d keep swinging the sword & using the arrows in hopes that sooner or later the weapons would hit their mark & people would see that He really was Messiah.
God calls us to be faithful at repentance. He doesn’t call us to be successful. How often do we quit & give up because we aren’t getting the results we want. Maybe we stop praying for someone. We stop reaching out. We stop taking care of someone that needs our help, because we don’t get the appreciation we want.
When we quit, or when we complain the whole time we are doing something, we aren’t being faithful at repentance. Leave the rewards up to God. Be faithful in the way you raise your children. Be faithful in prayer. Be faithful at your job. Be faithful as a spouse.
It’s in the nothingness of the cross that Christians are victorious. It’s in defeat that Christians are triumphant. That makes life complicated. We’d rather be #1. Yet, all human beings have value & worth even if their lives appear to be nothing & vanity. It’s just not easy to live a life that appears to be filled with nothing.
The Epiphany message is that our labors are not in vain. The sweat & the toil may grind us into the dust in this life, but we know that the true life is yet to come. Through it all God in Christ Jesus has & will give light & life, for His sake, & in His name.
You have heard these words so many times that it’s likely you barely even hear them anymore. Consequently, these words of God may seem like nothing to you anymore. Yet these simple words create life where there is death:
“Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called & ordained servant of Christ, announce the grace of God unto all of you, & in the stead & by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
Baptism Of Our Lord – A LSB #’s 596:1-3, 596:4-6, 468
Text – Romans 6:8
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.
LIVING WITH CHRIST
“What are you most afraid of living without?” In the realm of answering questions, that has to be one of the most uncomfortable to consider. There’s almost a superstition out there that if you name it then it’s more likely to come true. A friend of mine just lost sight in one eye due to a glaucoma procedure that didn’t go too well. He might regain it through more procedures.
I’ve read that losing your hearing isolates you far more than losing your sight. Losing our health in general affects everything we do. Losing a spouse or child causes the shape of our world to collapse. Losing a job can mean financial disaster. “What are you most afraid of living without?” It’s the sort of question we’d rather not consider at all. The tension is too troubling.
In some ways, the tension of living or dying is easier, at least for those who follow Jesus. We know that death, and the resurrection to follow, bring the ultimate in life – heaven, paradise, everlasting glory. But to willingly and submissively endure suffering in our daily lives that’s where we run into serious resistance in our desire to follow Jesus.
Yet, our Savior willingly and submissively endured suffering and death, because that was His heavenly Father’s will for Him. Beyond that, even when Jesus was not physically being tortured, there are countless occasions when He put Himself last in order that others could be 1st. This occurred as Jesus took time to heal someone, or to get into the mess of their sins and forgive.
It also occurred when Jesus took time to rebuke someone, or to chastise them, such as the Pharisees. Even in those circumstances, Jesus acted out of love – often to His own detriment. His rebukes were one of the reasons they plotted to have Jesus killed, and you know how He died. In spite of that, God’s Son willingly and submissively obeyed His Father in heaven. Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16 ESV) Since you and I are not ‘greater than Jesus’ we should expect times, in our daily lives, of real struggle and heartache. This world is not just somewhat less than perfect. It is entirely dead in sin. We live and we function in that world.
Knowing that, Jesus said, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT) By faith we know that everything turns out right in the end, but there are many tears along the way. We know that everything turns out for good in the end, but we experience the terror of evil along the way.
We know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him in the end, yet there are many broken souls who don’t know anything of God’s love. We know that God makes everything beautiful in its time, still, we wonder if we can hang on till then.
Being a child of God is not easy in this broken world. Our moments and our days are filled with the tension between darkness and light, between good and evil, between health & illness. Your heart & your very soul are stretched between sin and forgiveness, between death and life. That’s what happens to you when you’re baptized. You become a saint as well as a sinner.
St. Paul writes about the tension of living between those two worlds: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4 ESV)
Through Baptism we become God’s children and that means we become citizens of a different dimension. Here on this broken earth there is length and width and height and time. There are the laws of nature, such as gravity and the speed of light. We can measure each of them and we experience them in tangible ways. Preschool children love to show me their age by holding up the appropriate number of fingers. We track our height and our weight, and we count calories. The dimensions and laws of nature are such a part of the fabric of our lives that we find it almost impossible to think outside of the box they describe. I believe that is a result of the fall into sin.
Albert Einstein is known as a genius for his ability to dream up the amazing ideas of quantum physics that were unknown at the time. Yet, even those are nothing more than part of the box that we live in. Quantum physics, as unfathomable as it may be, still does not transcend the time and the space created by our heavenly Father. God does transcend His creation.
In spite of the corrupted relationship we have with our Creator, because of our sin, as children of God we have already been made eternal. That means you and I transcend space and time right now through being raised from the death of sin by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the Word of God declares, in Romans 6, it is through our Baptism that God connects us to Jesus:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (6:3-4 ESV) That newness of life far and away transcends what we can measure today.
That newness of life far and away transcends what you and I experience today. It is the connection with Christ, the eternal Lord of the universe, which gives Baptism its power to save us, to transform us, and to open up the heavens to us. Listen to what Matthew wrote in the Gospel:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” (3:16 ESV) That moment was not within the normal dimensions of time and space. It was a miracle revealing a glimpse of what’s out there beyond what you or I can measure.
In fact, all of Jesus’ miracles were that – events which transcended the normal laws of
nature. That anyone believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior transcends the boundaries of this world which has been corrupted and broken by sin. As Jesus, in His human flesh, saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, Yahweh was revealing something from beyond our space and time; “And beholds, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”
That Son came to earth to take our place; not only in death, but also in the life He lived before He died. That life was perfect in willingly and submissively enduring suffering and even death. That life Jesus lived was perfect in willingly and submissively obeying the heavenly Father. And through Baptism Jesus’ perfection is credited to us.
Through the water and the command of God, the benefits of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are conveyed to us through Baptism. Our very existence is transformed in that now we are already eternal, transcending the boundaries of space and time.
It’s just that our bodies have not yet been transformed, so we have no way to measure this new dimension in which we live. We have no way to experience this new dimension in which we live, except as the Holy Spirit grants us that privilege.
That creates a tremendous amount of tension in our lives as we want to see the things of that new dimension. But for now it is God’s will that we live by faith and not by sight. We see our old Adam very well. The saintly nature is almost invisible at times, so much so that Paul could honestly say:
“The good I want to do, I do not do. The evil I do not want to do, I keep on doing.” That’s a tough way to live. It’s why we’re afraid of having to live without certain things. We lean upon what we can see, rather than what we know by faith to be true. The antidote that Paul gives is this:
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Our
present life gets its character, direction and purpose from the fact that we shall live with Christ who already is risen from the dead and lives a life beyond death, in a new and glorified body. The joy of Easter morning is that one day we shall join Him.
Another way to look at this is, “Living with Christ means giving up everything, then trusting Him to give back to you what is best for you. That might mean giving up what you are most afraid of living without. However, whenever we live in fear of losing something, then we aren’t really living with Christ.
Knowing that, Jesus said, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT) In Baptism you have received that promise and the faith to trust and believe it. Amen.
You were before your day of birth, indeed, from your conception, condemned and lost with all the earth, none good, without exception. For like your parents’ flesh and blood, turned inward from the highest good, you constantly denied Him. In Baptism we now put on Christ – our shame is fully covered with all that He once sacrificed and freely for us suffered. For here the flood of His own blood now makes us holy, right and good before our heavenly Father. So use it well! You are made new – in Christ a new creation! As faithful Christians, live and do within your own vocation, until that day when you possess His glorious robe of righteousness bestowed on you forever. Amen. LSB 596:2, 4, 6.
 Matthew 3:17 ESV
Epiphany – 2020
Text – Isaiah 60:1-2
Arise, shine, for your light has come, & the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, & thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, & His glory will be seen upon you.
HIS GLORY WILL BE SEEN UPON YOU
How have you been feeling lately? Are you exhausted from all the Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s activities? Do you have more aches & pains than you did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago? Will 2020 be the debut of the “new you”? Oh, you’ve already learned that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time. Murphy’s Law is out to get you!
Has the New Year rung in with a spring in your step & good feelings about your short-term future? Is hope springing eternal in the doldrums of a typical gray Michigan winter? But the gloom doesn’t only arrive in the weather. Experiences darken human living & assault us from all forms of media – lies, injustice, violence & the slaughter of the innocent.
Darkness, depravity & death abound. Anxiety is driven by terrorism, or by dysfunctional schools & families, deadly diseases, betrayal & broken promises. The chapter of Isaiah right before the sermon text – makes it clear that nothing is new under the sun:
“No one is calling in righteousness, & no one goes to court with honesty. They rely upon an empty argument & speak falsehood! They conceive trouble & give birth to wickedness! They hatch eggs of an adder, & they weave webs of a spider. The one who eats from their eggs will die, & a rotten egg is hatched into a viper… Their feet run to evil, & they make haste to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are of wickedness. Destruction & ruin are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, & there is no justice in their tracks… Therefore justice is far from us, & righteousness does not reach us. We hope for the light, but, behold, darkness. [We hope] for intense brightness, [but] in deep gloom we walk around.” (59:4-5, 7-8a, 9)
That description of life sounds a lot like today. It’s similar to many of the words written in the book of Ecclesiastes. Sin has corrupted, & made a huge mess of, everything in life – including you & me. Now that another of the world’s chief terrorists is dead, we wait for the other shoe to drop as his supporters seek to gain revenge. If we allow evil to run, unchecked, many lives are scarred, maimed & left for dead. Yet, if we end evil in one place, it simply rears its ugly head in another, even in your own heart, & in mine.
King David was a great warrior for the Lord, conquering the pagan people of Canaan, that God’s people might live there to worship Yahweh. Then David committed adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers, even denying, that he’d done it, before God. So, in this new year, filled with all the sins of the last, imagine this as we approach the 60th chapter of Isaiah:
V. 1-2: Envision the entire earth wrapped in total darkness. Imagine Zion, the OT church, also as being overcome by this darkness of hopelessness. Then, of a sudden to her, & to her only, the glory of the Lord flares out into the sky. The vision goes on to show that the rest of the world is still shrouded in the depths of darkness & despair.
Historically, this is the moment when Israel’s liberation from Babylonian Captivity takes place, as though it had been one great burst of glory. A salvation which took years & centuries is pictured as a sudden & instantaneous event. “His glory will be seen upon you.”
In V. 3 – the picture expands. Zion is, as it were, rubbing her eyes & beginning to take notice. The Lord’s prophet is standing by her side, calling attention to marvelous things that are happening. People are streaming in from afar, bearing gifts. The light at Zion has attracted them – the only bright spot on the whole earth’s horizon.
And it’s becoming apparent not only that nations are on the march, but also kings.
V. 5 – now the prophet points out to Zion what joyous emotions are being engendered by this. Looking around, Zion becomes radiant. The center of the higher emotions – her heart – is filled with the awesomeness of this event & expands in joy. Are you there yet? It’s what the season of Advent is designed to prepare you for. It’s what the events of Christmas & Epiphany are bringing to fulfillment. Did you just live through all that, & the whole month of December, for nothing? “His glory will be seen upon you.” That is what the word of God tells us. Do you believe it? It’d be wise to appropriate the words of a certain Biblical father:
“I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 NASB) So how is it that “His glory will be seen upon you.”? Does it mean that someday you’ll be casting out demons? Are you going to have the ability to lay hands one of God’s creatures & heal them? Will speaking in tongues will become your forte?
In the character of Hebrew poetry, “His glory will be seen upon you” is a restatement of the affirmation in verse one, “for your light has come, & the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The light is Yahweh Himself, or as Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” Do you remember one of His names which Isaiah gave as a prophecy?
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive & bear a son, & shall call His name Immanuel.” As the Gospel of Matthew cites that prophecy he adds, “Which means, God with us.” The true & eternal joy of Christmas is not any of the material gifts you received, nor is it found in the number of friends & family who were with you.
The true & everlasting joy of Christmas & Epiphany is “His glory will be seen upon you” because the Light of the World is God with us. That we believe in Jesus as Lord & Savior from sin is the glory of the Lord upon us. As we tell others, who then come to faith, that we believe in Jesus, then the glory of Yahweh will be seen upon you.
As you tell of the things that God has done in your life, in your heart, & in your soul – “His glory will be seen upon you.” As you serve & love your neighbor as yourself, “His glory will be seen upon you” without necessarily even using words. Jesus’ death on the cross involved very few words, yet for those who are children of God, the message is very clear. There, the heavenly Father’s glory is seen upon the Son as He dies in our place, for our sins. This good news whisks us away from the aches & pains, from the daily drudgery of life, & enables us to see & believe in a future age marked with peace, health & wholeness.
The 2nd Advent of Jesus will bring a glory that will extend beyond us to include the entire new creation. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Sin has been a plague on all of God’s creation. When His human creatures reject Him, He turns away & leaves them to themselves. That’s Isaiah chapter 59, & thus lost in gloom & experiencing divine judgment, those who are God’s people confess their sins. Yahweh responds by rescuing His faithful remnant & the bright rays of this explode in radiant color in chapter 60.
The OT reading from Isaiah 60 was fulfilled in a preliminary & partial way in the lives of the OT believers so the prophet can use the past tense, “…for your light has come.” This fulfillment was evident in Yahweh’s appearance as a pillar of fire by which He guided them through the wilderness.
The prophecy then switches to verbs that anticipate a future fulfillment, “…the Lord will arise upon you, & His glory will be seen upon you.” From the perspective of Isaiah the prophecy would reach fulfillment in the future advent of Messiah at Bethlehem, as well as at Golgotha.
Last, the prophecy reaches its most complete fulfillment in the new heaven & earth, after Christ’s 2nd advent, as described in Revelation: “And the nations will walk about by her light, & the kings of the earth bring their glory into her.” (21:24) Thus, a preview & type of this ultimate fulfillment occurred in the journey of the Wise Men from the east to worship the Christ Child.
In many ways, the kingdom of God is coming. That news can put a spring in our step no
matter our circumstances here on earth, if we take the time to ponder the permanent Light of Christ instead of the tragedy going on in the fleeting & temporary circumstances of this life.
Through Isaiah 60:1-6, the prophet calls us to faithfulness not so that kingdom glory will come, but because its arrival is imminent. We can only arise & shine because our Light, Jesus, has already come, & is coming again. His glory rose upon us already on Easter morning. All children of God were there blessed, even though like us, many had not yet been born.
The year 2020 may not be the debut of the “new you,” but there is a Day coming when God’s children will be made brand new. Knowledge of that Day is what empowers us to keep going despite the suffering & tragedy that all creatures endure in this life. When that Day arrives, Murphy’s Law will never set foot in heaven.
Knowledge of that Day when Christ’s glory will be seen perfectly upon you is even better than the feeling you get when the sun shines in January, in Michigan. In our country today the darkness is spreading, evil & depravity is growing, but the Lord’s glory stands out ever more clearly in the darkness. Thank God for the light of His glory. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your heart & your mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Isaiah, Volumes I-II. Baker Book House Company, 1991. Pages 307-309.
 Romans 8:22-23 ESV
New Year’s Eve – 2019 LSB #733
Text – Psalm 90:10 & 12
As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years, or if due to strength, 80 years, yet their pride is but labor & sorrow; for soon it is gone & we fly away. So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (NASB)
Presenting a Heart of Wisdom
“Four score & seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, & dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived & so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting & proper that we should do this.”
Those well-known words were given by president Lincoln at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. In his day, the KJV was the English Bible, & its wording is similar to Lincoln’s opening. On the internet, there’s a claim that Lincoln was self-consciously alluding to Psalm 90 as he chose the words of his speech.
If true, the president could not have chosen a more fitting verse of Scripture to honor the lives of all the strong, young men whose flames had been snuffed out even before their allotted fourscore years had been counted. Nevertheless, Lincoln did not confine his speech to a wallowing in the past, but rather pointed to the great task remaining before the nation.
That task was to keep freedom alive that the dead shall not have died in vain. Similarly, Moses, who authored Psalm 90, was writing not to wallow in the past regarding the multitudes whose bodies God scattered in the Sinai wilderness. Moses also was pointing ahead to the great task that lay before the people of God. They were about to cross into the Promised Land, but they’d have to conquer it first. Many trials & challenges, many failures & successes were to come. Even though they were moving into a land that would become their new home, through this prayer Moses reminded them of a foundational truth, “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Psalm 90:1 KJV)
If you remember, Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20 ESV) You see, technically speaking, Jesus did not need a home because the heavenly Father is His dwelling place. The same is true for us.
People who really struggle with letting go of the family homestead are missing that truth. The generation that left Egypt struggled with that truth. They barely crossed the Red Sea & were complaining. They wanted to go back, to slavery no less, because they struggled to find their dwelling place in God. Do you know where this is going? You & I struggle with that too!
Moses calls us to the past not for hope there, but so we remember how the heavenly Father provided for us then. He cared for us, even blessed us, through all the trials of our past, so we can be certain, that even in our unknown future, Yahweh will do the same for us there. Learning that lesson we can present to our Lord a heart of wisdom instead of a heart of evil.
Numbering our days is one key to learning that lesson – the equivalent of learning to be humble. As this year draws to a close, what lessons in humility have you learned? Is your heart any wiser today, than a year ago? What have you presented to your Lord & Savior over the past year? What will you be presenting to your Lord & Savior during the coming year?
Those are the sort of questions that God’s children should be asking themselves. As for what we present to God, we’re simply giving back to Him what He’s already given us in the 1st place. As the prayer says, “We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whatever the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” Only if God grants me a heart of wisdom does His sin-blinded creature know enough to acknowledge the power of His anger & then to flee to His steadfast love for redemption. I don’t come to any of that knowledge or faith on my own. So it is wise to spend time in God’s house on this evening, above all evenings. Each of God’s children is blessed to take stock of the year past & contemplate the days to come.
Martin Luther wrote of Psalm 90: From the beginning of his prayer to this point, Moses stressed the truth that another life follows after this one – a life of wrath or of grace. Moses wishes to kindle in us fear of the impending wrath & the hope of eternal life. His goal is not merely to drive us away from something in fear, but also to draw us toward something in hope & love. Unbelievers are unable to say with assurance that God exists & that’s He’s still concerned about people after they die.
We’ve just been through the season of Advent & its purpose is not just about preparing our hearts for Christmas in this time & in this place. It is also about preparing our hearts for the day when Jesus returns. An honest look at the day of our death will prepare us for the remedy that God has in store. We should not allow the things of this life to overshadow that.
How do we walk in the center of God’s will? How much control do we have over our actions? This evening, at midnight, the year 2019 will come to its death. At the same time, a new year, 2020, will come to life. But years are only an abstract concept. They have no concreteness, no reality of substance.
The calendar is only a cataloguing of time – a time that will cease to exist on the Last Day. It’s in the moment that things happen, & it’s in the moment that the Spirit moves. It is in the moment that we are able to relate to God – not in the past, nor in the future – only in the now!
Now is the time to turn your heart to your Creator. If you do not you miss the blessings of that moment & they can never be returned to you. “The days of our years are threescore years & ten; & if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor & sorrow; for it is soon cut off, & we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10 KJV)
The Civil War created a time of grave reflection for the people of our nation. Wars tend
to do that. The calamities of our personal lives have the same effect. If we turn to our Creator He uses them to bless us, as painful as it may be. Faith believes & trusts Him in all things. The heart of wisdom that we gain can then be presented to our Lord in grateful devotion:
“We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whatever the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord, from Thee.”
If, in times of discipline, we turn our heart away from our Creator then all the time in this world will be too short, because eternity will never end.
I try to put the words of Psalm 90 into play in my life by using this prayer when I’ve finished receiving communion: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, & renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NASB) May that be your prayer also, not only when you receive Christ’s body & blood, but also every time you hear His Word.
Then, each day, you may present to your Lord & Savior a heart of wisdom. Amen.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, & our eternal home: under the shadow of Thy throne Thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is Thine arm alone, & our defense is sure. Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away; we fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guard while troubles last & our eternal home. Amen. LSB 733:1-2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet