Date: June 9, 2017

Who Are We to Worship? -Pastor Roger Rohde June 11, 2017

Who Are We to Worship?

Isaiah 42:5-12

                  Quite frequently we hear remarks that suggest it doesn’t matter who we worship so long as our hearts are sincere. The Lord in today’s text tells us that such a concept is totally untrue. It does matter who we worship, because there is only one True God that deserves our recognition and praise. On this Trinity Sunday, when we look at the greatness of God, we recall the First Commandment of our Lord: “You shall have no other gods.” Listen to the Lord’s rational for this as presented in today’s text.

We are to only worship the Triune God, because he is the Creator of all things. God through Isaiah declares that “He created the heavens and stretched them out, He spread out the earth and all that comes out of it. He gave breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.”

Those who consider evolution to be a theory that is not dangerous to the Christian faith neglect the importance of these words. Recognizing God to be the Creator acknowledges His power and authority, and beholds Him to be the One to Whom we are accountable. The Triune God is the reason for our existence. “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). We did not evolve from a lesser being, but almighty God made us with a body and a soul. He also created all the wonderful blessings of life that surround us. As James puts it: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).

But God’s involvement with us did not cease with creation. We are to only worship the Triune God because He is the Redeemer of all mankind.

Here we are led to recall that we rebelled against the authority of God as our Creator. While we enjoyed the blessings He gave us, we did not always want to use those blessings as He commanded: “’Eat not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ He said, ‘for the day you eat thereof you shall surely die.’” Man defied the authority of God and was removed from Paradise, experienced pain and suffering, and yes even death. Man brought death upon himself as he disobeyed the authority of the only true God.

Yet, while man forsook God, God came forth to establish a new covenant between Himself and man. Man could not establish this new relationship because of his fallen state. But this did not stop God.

In our text God the Father is speaking when He says of Jesus: “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open the eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeons those who sit in darkness.”

Yes, Jesus is the Mediator between God the Father and mankind. True God became true man, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sinless at birth, He remained sinless through all His earthly life. Jesus is described as One Who was tempted in every way as we are, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Peter wrote: “Jesus committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to God the Father Who judges justly. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed” (I Peter 2:22-24).

Jesus brought us back to the heavenly Father through His body and blood given and shed for us at Calvary. He brought us out of darkness into His eternal light. He set us free from the bondage of Satan so that we can be His beloved children now and eternally.

Nothing else can restore mankind into this covenant relationship with the Father, but His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This is why the Spirit-filled disciple Peter declared at Pentecost: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

People who say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere are badly mistaken. It does matter! There is only one God Who created us and then redeemed us. He is the Triune God of Scripture – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are to only worship the Triune God, because there is no one like Him. To make this point, the Lord goes on in our text to say: “I am the Lord; that is My name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to others.”

These words found in Isaiah take us back in time to when God called Moses to go before Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should do this’” (Exodus 3:10)? Moses went on: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-14).

What God reveals to us about Himself through these words is that He is Jehovah, the great “I am.” This name reveals that the Triune God is eternal – not made but the Maker of all. He is immortal, unchangeable – the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is telling us that this makes Him unique, above all that He has created. Hence, He alone is to be glorified. He alone is to receive the worship and praise of all creation. There is no other like Him. There are no other gods to be worshiped. He alone is to receive all honor, glory, praise, and worship.

The Triune God alone is to be worshiped because He is the faithful One. As our text is wrapping up, God through Isaiah notes: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”

God tells us that He is true to His Word. We can live by what He says, because everything He says comes to pass. God does not lie. He does not deceive. He speaks the truth and keeps all His promises. Hence we can in faith live our lives based upon His Word and bring Him honor, worship and praise Him.

Today’s text concludes by admonishing and commanding us to worship only the Triune God for He alone is God. There is no other. “Sing to the Lord…. Give glory to Him and proclaim His praise.”

There is no substitute for the Triune God of Christianity. He alone is the Creator and Redeemer of all things. He alone is faithful to His Word and keeps all His promises. There is none like Him. So we heed the words of the God-inspired

writer Paul: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:17).

Perfect Communication – Pastor Neil Wonnacott June 4, 2017

Pentecost Sunday               “Perfect Communication”      June 4th, 2017

Let us pray….the text for our message comes from Acts 2:1-21, which was read earlier for us.

God is a God of communication. He speaks to us plainly. It is because of this that the Bible and other materials are translated into the most obscure languages of our planet. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at that first Pentecost, which we mark as the birth of the Christian Church. This is now the ongoing work of Christ, to which Luke alludes in his introduction to the Book of Acts: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The work of Christ continues now through the Church. And that work would require the ability to communicate Christ to the world in a manner that is clear and direct.

  1. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit delivered the word of what God has done in Christ by miraculously clear communication.

This sets up today’s text for our consideration. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, about 120 in number, gathered in a house. Some think that it was the same house where they had celebrated the Last Supper. Our text doesn’t tell us why they’d gathered, but it’s not much of a leap to suggest that this was the Divine Service, most likely including the Lord’s Supper. Otherwise, why would the whole Christian community have gathered?

During this gathering, a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. Tongues of fire rested on their heads. The sound of a great rushing wind drew the people of Jerusalem to that place. The followers of Jesus, or perhaps just the apostles, were there praising God in loud voices. They were praising God by speaking of all that God had done in Christ. And miraculously, everyone in the crowd heard them speaking in his or her own language.. But what is key is that they had perfect understanding. They were hearing about what God had done through Christ, and they were understanding it perfectly.

It’s important to make clear that the tongues or languages here in our text were existing human languages. This is not some special Holy Spirit language. The text is crystal clear on this point and even mentions several of the languages. V 6: “Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia’ ” and all the rest. God is not a God of confusion. He does not want to create chaos. His desire is clear communication. This is very different from the supposed speaking in “tongues” that we see in Pentecostal or charismatic churches. This is not a question of interpretation, but the clear reading of the text. Our text is talking about existing human languages and precludes this modern so-called speaking in tongues. The thing we see in charismatic circles was not what was happening here on Pentecost.

  1. This is important because faith comes by hearing the clear communication of God’s Word.

The Church is the people of God—the believers in Jesus Christ. But believers do not exist apart from the hearing of the Word of God. If people are not told about Jesus Christ and what Christ has done for them, they cannot believe it. So while the Church is the people of God, it never exists apart from the marks of the Church—Word and Sacrament. Without the message that Christ died on the cross for our sins, the Church does not exist. And so we see this at Pentecost. The crowd gathered because of the complex miracles that were taking place. The text says, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ ” (v 12). But the people do not come to faith until Peter has preached the Word of God to them.

“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. . . . This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ ” (vv 14, 16–17). Peter starts in the Old Testament and applies the Old Testament Scriptures to what Christ had done. Peter preached Law and Gospel to them in classic, almost textbook, Lutheran fashion. When they understood what God had done and that they, because of their sins, bore responsibility for it, their consciences were cut open, as though they were a blister with sand rubbed into it. They asked Peter what they were to do, and Peter told them: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). We are told three thousand were baptized that very day.

Meanwhile, we are also told by many to chase after this gimmick or that method, and you, too, can grow your own mega-church. Whole schools and departments are dedicated to this. But what’s all too often forgotten is what we see on Pentecost. The Church grows because people hear the clear, unadulterated Word of God. It is not a matter of some secret process. It is about communication. God communicates to us through his Word, that is, through Holy Scripture. It worked that way for Peter. If Peter, an apostle, brought people to faith using the Word of God, how much more so will this be true for us today, who are hardly apostles! God speaks to us in human language using words and sentences. God speaks in all languages. He is not like Allah, who can speak only in Arabic. Oh, yes, “Arabians,” but also the languages of “Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene” (vv 11, 9–10). All clearly.

  1. And this is what that Word clearly communicates: that Christ died on the cross and rose again to give us forgiveness and life everlasting.

That is the Gospel right there. Yes, generally we must prepare people for the Gospel by teaching the Law, as Peter did. They must see that they’re sinners who need a Savior. They need to see that they, by their sins, participated in the crucifixion of Christ, God the Son. But once they see their sin, they are ready to hear the message that their sins are forgiven. It’s a message we also need to hear on a daily basis. For which of us is less of a sinner that anyone we see on the street? We also need to be constantly reminded that we have a Savior, Christ the Lord. And so, as this message is clearly communicated, the Church is established, built up, and sustained. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v 21).

Thus we see, from the beginning, from its very birth in this world on Pentecost, the Church is about the Word. The Word, the Scriptures, are at the center of everything. It is that Word that clearly communicates to us all what God has done for us, that we have a Savior, Christ Jesus, by his death on the cross and his resurrection.

 

This Is Pentecost:

Clear Communication That in Christ

We Do Indeed Have the Forgiveness of Our Sins.

Amen!

Now may the peace of God that surpasses human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life eternal. Amen

 

Understanding God’s Leadership and Embracing It -Pastor Roger Rohde May 28, 2017

Understanding God’s Leadership and Embracing It

Psalm 68:1-10

            Faith in Christ is essential if we are to be the people of joy and praise of which the Scripture speaks. To look around this world apart from faith leads us to see only pain, heartache, hatred, and destruction. We know wars and rumors of wars, senseless killings, murders, and hate crimes. The world is full of drugs, disease, and death. Seeing the world only through the human eye leads us to see life on earth as self-destructive. Yet, beyond and above all this is the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven whereby He now sits at the right hand of God the Father to govern all things for the eternal wellbeing of His people      (Ephesians 1:22). It is only through the eyes of faith that we can behold this truth of Christ’s reign and be blessed with hearts that are filled with joy and praise.

This is what we see in the Psalm that is before us. This Psalm was used in a procession of God’s people as they celebrated the glorious and triumphant rule of God. Let us ponder these God-inspired words of David through the eyes of faith so we may embrace God’s leadership in our world and live our lives in joy and praise to our Savior and King.

We begin by looking at three aspects of God’s leadership in this world. First, He protects us from our real enemy.

We must be mindful of whom are real enemy is. We often confuse this matter because we look at the enemies of the body as more dangerous than the enemies of our soul. Yet, Jesus taught us “not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. Rather, fear the One Who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Our greatest enemy is not cancer, heart disease, or Isis. Our greatest enemy is Satan. Cancer, heart disease, Isis can separate us from Christ Jesus. Yet, Satan seeks to do that very thing. That is his goal and purpose.

In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” Martin Luther noted that the old evil foe is Satan. He wrote: “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal.” Nothing can stop us from heaven, except Satan. Praise God this evil foe has been defeated. Jesus fought Satan off during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Then He conquered Satan upon the cross when He crushed Satan’s head, bringing us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in heaven. When we behold this truth in faith we can embrace the leadership of Jesus and sing with Martin Luther: “This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him…. Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our victory has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” Yes, Jesus’ leadership displayed at the cross and through the empty tomb guarantee us that our real enemy can do us no harm. Now that is something in which we can take joy and praise the Lord.

Second, we see that God in His leadership provides us with an eternal family. The Lord is described as “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows…. God set the lonely in families.”

This reminds us of the beauty of the Christian church God has established. Through Baptism He gives us spiritual birth and we become His children. Through the grace of God received in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that Jesus became our brother and died for our sins to bring us eternal life. By the Holy Spirit Jesus brought us into communion with other believers in Christ so that we would not have to go through life alone, but we could have brothers and sisters with the same godly values and eternal goals. As is stated in Ephesian 2:19: “Consequently, we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” Even when death comes we can live in the assurance that we will be reunited in heaven with those who have before us in Christ. Now that is something for which we can be joyful and sing.

Third, we are assured that because of God’s leadership showers us with blessings during our earthly sojourn. The Psalmist wrote: “When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain…. You gave abundant showers, O God; You refreshed Your weary inheritance. Your people settled in it, and from You bounty, O God, You provided for the poor.”

We all can appreciate this illustration of rain God uses. A week or so ago Loretta and I noticed that some of our perennial plants were wilting. We had a couple of days with warmer temperatures and strong winds that dried out the ground. Rains came and the plants immediately perked up.

In their wilderness journey God showered down His blessings upon the people of Israel. They did not encounter the rain of which we normally think. God rained down upon them His blessings to refresh and strengthen them during the wilderness journey. He provided them with manna in the morning and quail in the evening. He granted them fresh water from a rock. God may have had the people of Israel go through a wilderness journey, but He always provided for them and protected them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God provides and protects us too. We don’t always recognize this because we start thinking all we have is based upon our hard work. Famers are working hard these days to prepare the soil and plant the seed for a harvest in the fall. While they work hard, a good harvest is God’s doing. Farmers can prepare the soil and plant the seed, but they cannot make that seed grow and grant a harvest. That is God’s work and the blessing He gives.

All we are, have, and enjoy is because God showers His blessings upon us. His promise is to always care for us, watch over us, and safely bring us to heaven. We are not to worry about what the future holds, but live in the peace and joy that the Lord has hold of the future and that “He works out all things for good to those who love God, to those who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, there is and always will be unrest in this world so long as we live outside the gates of paradise. Racial tensions, rebellion against law enforcement, and acts of terrorism such as was in the news this week will not cease until the Lord returns. That can be frightening. By the same token, God’s reign is supreme and His leadership guarantees us that His Church will know eternal victory, and that He will care for us until eternal glory is our reality.

This is why our text directs us to embrace God’s leadership in faith that we may have joy in every and all circumstances of life. Notice that this joy does not suggest that we are glad about everything that happens. No, we will know heartache, pain, and sorrow. Yet, we sorrow not as others who have no hope, but through the eyes of faith we see beyond the present situations to the Master Who is governing all things for our eternal good. We have joy inside of us during all circumstances because we know we belong to the Lord. He has loved us with an everlasting love, and He governs all things moved by that love. This is why the Psalmist in our text wrote: “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”

May we also be people of praise. We are to honor the God Who has, does, and always will bless our lives. This is why Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” True faith in Christ’s redeeming work and governing wisdom reflects itself in our heartfelt joy and the praise by which we and honor His name. Amen.

 

Loyalty Not Flattery – Pastor Roger Rohde May 21, 2017

Loyalty Not Flattery

Psalm 78:34-38, 56-59

            Today we are privileged to witness two adults confirming their Christian faith in our 8 o’clock worship service, and two teenage boys confirming their Christian faith in the 10:30 worship service. One might think that this is a good thing and it surely has its place as noted in Scripture. The Lord says in Matthew 10: “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven” (verse 32). In Deuteronomy 30, the Lord stated: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that… you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (verses 19-20).

The Rite of Confirmation has its basis in the Word of God. In Confirmation one confesses his faith and states his love for the Lord. He commits himself to worshipping the Lord with fellow Christians, studying God’s Word, and receiving Christ’s body and blood frequently in the Lord’s Supper. Also in the Rite of Confirmation, the confirmand promises to serve the Lord and stand up for Christ at all costs. The Rite of Confirmation follows the commitment Christ calls us to in Scripture.

There is a problem, however, a very serious problem. The problem is not found in the Rite of Confirmation itself nor in the biblical instruction that precedes it. The problem is found in the hearts of some who go through the Rite of Confirmation. Statistics from our church body indicate that half of the young people who confirm their faith are no longer active in the church by the time they graduate from high school. The problem that exists is that some people try to flatter God, but they are not really loyal to God.

What we speak of here is mirrored in today’s text. God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the blood of the Passover lambs and the parting of the Red Sea waters. He cared for them in their wilderness journey and promised them a place in the land of Canaan. These people are described in our text as being a people of flattery rather than loyalty. Let us look at the difference between flattery and loyalty in relationship to God the Creator and Redeemer of us all.

First, flattery is a matter of the lips while loyalty is a matter of the heart. The Lord says concerning the people of Israel: “They would flatter Me with their mouths, lying to Me with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to Me.”

Don’t we dislike it when people say things to benefit themselves but don’t carry through with the promises they have made? This also angers the Lord. This is why the Lord was condemning the people of Israel in our text. They would express their love and commitment to God when trials came, but as soon as God would deliver them they forgot about Him. Many people treat God this way today. Recall 9/11. As our nation was under attack, people came back to church and prayed. Yet, as time passed and danger was no longer imminent, the church pews were again empty and God was forgotten.

If you don’t think that upsets God, listen to these words of Jesus: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about your hypocrisy; as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me’” (Mark 7:6). Later God through Peter warns those who honor Christ with their lips but not their hearts: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (II Peter 2:21).

The Lord clearly calls for the loyalty of man’s heart and not the mere flattery of his lips. We read in Deuteronomy 10:12-13: “The Lord your God asks of you… to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees.”

God can see through us and knows whenever our spiritual activity is merely a matter of the lips but not the heart. God is not deceived. He will not be mocked. Thus David says to Solomon as he is about to become the king of Israel: “Acknowledge the God of your fathers, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (I Chronicles 28:9).

Lit is well for us to pray daily: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:11).

A second distinction between flattery and loyalty to God is that flattery abuses God’s grace while loyalty lives by God’s grace.

In our text we see the Israelites coming to God when trials come, but as God graciously delivers them from those trials the people forget about God and go on living as they please. Later they are referred to as an unreliable and faulty bow. A good bow keeps its elasticity and is always useful to the archer.

What about us? Do we come to God when our lives are in the midst of struggles, repenting of our sins and asking God for help, but when His grace pardons us and we are delivered we go on with life, we give little consideration to God until some new problems arise?

God is to be our Rock and Redeemer not only when it is convenient for us, but at all times. Jesus is the Rock because He is steadfast and immovable. He will not crumble beneath the situations of life, but He is the stronghold in Whom we can find safety and strength.

People of flattery will come to God only in times of trial or to gain something for ourselves, but people of loyalty will spend time building their lives on Christ through worship and Bible study even when things are going well. Loyal people do this because they know and believe Jesus, the God of love, has loved them when they were unlovable. They believe He paid the debt of sin while they were still His enemies. When loyal people repent, they look to change their lives and faithfully build on Christ, the solid Rock. They endeavor with the help of the Holy Spirit to be a useful bow in the hands of the Master and accomplish God’s purposes for their lives.

Third, flattery serves God out of fear while loyal people serve God out of love. As we noted earlier, people seek to flatter God when they are afraid, while loyal people are moved to serve God because of God’s love for them. Paul writes: “Christ’s love compels us…. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and was raised again”            (II Corinthians 5:14-15).

Martin Luther wrote of this Psalm: “Those who seek to flatter God worship Him in slavish fear. As long as they are being punished, they seek Him; but when the punishment stops, they forget. For they do not call on God out of a love of righteousness, but from fear of bodily punishment. This is what many people do even today. In good times they forget God; in bad times they seek Him in order to be delivered. But all this follows upon the preceding. For those who only savor the flesh certainly seek God only because of the evils of the flesh. Hence they love their own things more than God…. If they would have what they want, they would not care about God…. They do not know how to serve God freely out of their own accord, but for the sake of earthly gain. They have no love for spiritual things…. Hence whoever worships God in this way necessarily lies to Him, and his heart is not right with God, but it is curved in on himself.”

Finally, the difference between flattery and loyalty to God is seen in the fact that flattery to God leads to eternal destruction while loyalty to God leads to everlasting life.

Our text tells us that the Israelites repeatedly forgot about God until troubles came. They would turn to God and “He was merciful to them, forgave them of their iniquities and did not destroy them.”

Yet, what man forgets or does not want to see is that God has His limits. The latter part of our text tells us that God tested them and they rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep His statutes…. When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely.”

Here we see the justice of God implemented. God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. Yet, mingled with His love is His faithfulness and justice. God does not want anyone to perish, and yet when people play games with God by trying to flatter Him, He will not put up with it. In the end the Lord will rightly separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers, those who are loyal to Him from those who seek to flatter Him. God will patiently deal with those who are spiritual weak and seek to be strengthened, but He will act with justice upon those who live a life of hypocrisy. Martin Luther noted that those who flatter Christ with their mouth but are not committed to Him with their hearts will know this truth found in Psalm 49:18-19: “Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praised him when he prospered – he will join the generation of his fathers who will never see the light of life.”

This is why as we see people confirm their faith today; we all need to consider how we are walking with God. Are we a people who seek to flatter God or are we loyal to Him? Do we use God to satisfy our own interests, or do we build on Christ in worship and Bible study, and live for Him? We all face the temptation of flattering the Lord for self-gain rather than loving the Lord with all of our heart and soul and mind.

Today can be a day of celebration, but the real celebration takes place as we live our lives daily for the Lord until life’s end. Remember Jesus’ words: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Now that is loyalty to God not flattery. Amen.

 

 

Dealing With Persecution – Pastor Roger Rohde, May 14, 2017

Dealing with Persecution

Acts 7:54-60

            We live in a world and a nation in which God and His Word are frequently disregarded and man’s sinful desires are the basis of many decisions. People within the Christian Church are pointing the finger at the people of the world and blaming them for society becoming more ungodly. Yet, I must tell you that as I studied this text and reflected upon God’s call to each one of us as Christians, I see the greater problem not out there but in here.

People in the church wonder why the Christian Church doesn’t grow today as it did in the Book of Acts. After all the same God governs all things and the same Biblical teachings are being taught today as they were in the days of Acts. So why is Christianity not expanding today as it did in Acts? Is the world more corrupt and evil today than it was back then? At the time of the growth of the early Christian Church in Acts, Christians were undergoing great persecution for their Christian faith, including being burned as human torches.

Pondering this, these words of Jesus came to my mind: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3)? As we look at today’s text we see that the Christian Church is not growing today as it did in Acts not because of greater wickedness in the world, but because of lack of spiritual commitment by Christians. Today’s text leads us to see the heart of a Christian back then and how he was committed to share God’s Word with others in spite of the persecution he would undergo for sharing the Christian faith.

In our text we see the first martyr of the Christian Church, Stephen. He is known as the first Christian martyr, but by no means the last. Most of original disciples were martyred for their faith in Christ. Paul was killed for the faith he shared. To this day in other lands people are losing their lives for the sake of Christ. What the Christian Church needs from her members in the United States is a greater commitment to Christ as found in the life of Stephen.

Stephen dealt with persecution because he was concerned about sharing God’s Truth. Our text starts out by saying, “When they heard this.” It is referring to the people who heard God’s Truth from Stephen. They were infuriated by what Stephen shared with them. The word he shared was the sinfulness of man’s heart in the light of God’s Law and the message of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Stephen did not water down the Word of God to fit the social climate of the world in his day. He called sin, sin – a violation of God’s will that can lead to everlasting punishment in hell. He, also, clearly spoke of faith in Christ as the only way to heaven.

Do we find this type of commitment to proclaiming the Word of God in the Christian Church today? Instead of believing that God’s Word will change hearts and lives, people in the church think that the church would better grow by softening God’s Law and being more tolerable and loving. The changing of God’s Word and making it more acceptable to the way people want to live their lives does not magnify the greatness of God’s love but causes it to be lost. The fullness of God’s love is seen in the reality of man’s sin. Paul wrote: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

For man to appreciate Christ’s love, he first needs to see the cross as a symbol of God’s Law. “Jesus was asked: ‘What is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39).’” In other words, the cross symbolizes God’s Law. The longer vertical bar represents the first three commandments as they speak of our relationship with God. Commandments 4-10 are represented by the smaller horizontal bar which deals with our relationship to our fellowman. God’s Law stands as Jesus dies upon the cross to pay for our sins. He did not soften the Law, but showed His love by paying the debt of our sin with His own life.

Dealing with persecution starts as the Christian Church does not change God’s Law to fit society, but upholds God’s Law. God’s love in Christ will only be seen clearly if we maintain the truth of God’s Law and our violation of it. His blood bought sacrifice on the cross grants us reconciliation with Him and nothing else.

Stephen dealt with persecution as he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” This means that Stephen’s life was focused on accomplishing the will of God and not fulfilling his own desires.

A problem in the Christian Church today is that people want to sit comfortably in the pew and have their desires fulfilled. They are interested in being served according to their wishes rather than serving by bringing the message of Christ to others.

The strength of the early Christian Church is found in the fact that people within the church followed the Holy Spirit not the desires of their flesh. The Apostle Paul recognized this as he prayed for the church: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

We see the importance of this hope as Stephen dealt with persecution by setting his sights on heaven. Spirit-driven people like Stephen “look up steadfastly to heaven.” This is not suggesting we have our noses in the air and snob people. No, it speaks to what our goal in life is to be. We will deal with persecution in God-pleasing fashion not by trying to avoid it, but by sharing and living our Christian faith even when persecution comes. As Jesus was talking about people witnessing for Him, He said: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One Who can destroy body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Most church going people today would rather preserve themselves from being ridiculed in the world than sharing the Christian faith and undergoing persecution.

Stephen was a faithful servant for Christ’s kingdom because he looked toward heaven and beheld what was ultimately important in life. Beholding the glory of God in heaven meant more to him than being acknowledged and highly regarded by men. While stones flew all around him, struck his body and brought him severe pain, he knew that enduring such pain for sharing the message of Christ could not compare to the glory of Christ he would behold in heaven.

Remember this when persecution is at your doorstep because of your Christian witness. Be who Christ made you to be and not what people want you to be. Yes, people may mistreat you or shun you as you share God’s Truth, but never forsake the glory of the Lord by seeking to avoid persecution in this life. As the writer to Hebrews put it: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of your faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2). Look not to the troubles you may encounter as you live the Christian faith, but focus on what glory belongs to you because of Christ, and what glory will be given God as you faithfully live your life for Christ.

How Stephen dealt with persecution is also epitomized by two Christian prayers. In prayer Stephen entrusted himself to the Lord’s care. Stephen prayed: “Jesus, receive my spirit.” In this prayer Stephen is not asking for the stones to stop flying. He does not pray his witnessing for Christ to become easier. In essence Stephen is praying that he will remain faithful to God and not deny Him in this time of persecution. Stephen entrusted the care of his life to Christ as he witnessed.

Do we entrust ourselves to Christ, praying that we will be faithful vessels of bringing the sweet message of the Gospel to others through our words and actions?

In Stephen’s second prayer we see his faith as he remained concerned for the spiritual welfare of those who were persecuting him. Stephen prayed: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” It sounds similar to the prayer Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”

(Luke 23:34).

To deal with persecution in godly fashion a person always needs to be more concerned about the spiritual state of others rather than his own physical status. Stephen was willing to die for the sake of the Gospel that others might live because of the Gospel. Whenever one looks at those who were martyred or faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, you will see people more concerned about others than themselves. They lived sacrificially in order to bring the Gospel to others, and they did not begrudge persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

When we look at the spiritual and moral decay of the world today, who is responsible for it? Is it the people who live in darkness and know not the Light, or is it the people who have the Light and yet do not share that Light because of their fear of persecution? The question for us today as God’s people is not whether Christians will be persecuted, but whether we are willing to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

Some might think that Stephen was a foolish man to continue to proclaim the Gospel unto death. But did you notice the spiritual blessing that came from the persecution he encountered. Our text speaks of a man named Saul who was witness to and condoned the stoning of Stephen.   Thirty years after Stephen’s stoning, this man became known as Paul, one of the world’s greatest missionaries for Christ. Stephen’s commitment to sharing the Gospel under persecution had an impact on Saul who as Paul has impacted us through his God-inspired letters found in Scripture.

If the Christian Church is to grow, her people need once again be filled with the Holy Spirit to value eternity more than the things of this life. They need to have as their greatest concern the eternal wellbeing of souls and do everything they can, even encounter persecution, that the Gospel of Christ may be heard and live enriched eternal with His saving grace. Amen.

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