Sermons

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.

Standing Up for Christ by Pastor Roger Rohde April 23, 2017

Standing Up for Christ

Acts 5:29-42

Martin Luther was called to meet at what is known as the Diet of Worms in

  1. There was at this gathering 206 nobles and church officials. It was an

intimidating sight – one man before 206 accusers. The format was not a debate,

but 206 individuals speaking in one voice calling for Martin Luther to recant of all

the things he had written. Sensing the gravity of the situation, Luther asked for

time to reflect that he might wisely act in accordance with God’s Word. The

meeting was adjourned until the next day. Luther prayed that night: “There is no

strength in me. This is Your cause, O God, not mine. On You I rely, not on man.”

The next day Martin Luther again stood before 206 individuals as they asked him

to recant of the things he had written. This time Martin Luther spoke and ended

his presentation with these words: “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the

Scripture or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have

often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am satisfied to

the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is

unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I

cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”

Peter and John in our text are like Luther at the Diet of Worms. They are

standing before the high priest, all his associates, and the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17).

These men were calling for Peter and John to cease their proclamation of the

Gospel. Like Martin Luther these men refused to deny Christ and His Word. Our

text shows us what led people like Peter, John, and Martin Luther to stand up for

Christ.

One who stands up for Christ recognizes that the Lord is the ultimate

authority.

Peter and John are in a position that we do no envy. They have been using

God’s power and declaring God’s Truth, and now are arrested for it. This is the

second time it has happened to them. Prior to our text the high priest, his

associates, and the Sanhedrin had arrested them and told them not to speak of

Jesus anymore. Freed the first time, they continue to teach about Jesus in the

temple courts. The leaders were outraged by this and arrested Peter and John a

second time. The high priest said to them: “We gave you strict orders not to

teach in Jesus’ name.” The apostles responded: “We must obey God rather than

men.” Martin Luther, Peter and John all recognized Jesus to be the ultimate

authority to Whom they were accountable.

One of the reasons people don’t stand up for Jesus today is that they do

not behold Him as their Creator and the One to Whom they are ultimately

accountable. It is no accident that Luther in his meaning to the First Article of the

Apostles’ Creed noted: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures. He has

given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all

my senses, and still takes care of them…. He richly and daily provides me with all

that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and

guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine

goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my

duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

When we know and believe that all we are and have is from God, we know

Him to be our ultimate authority to Whom we are accountable. His command to

us is clear: Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and by teaching them

God’s Word. When authorities forbid us to share God’s Word they are not acting

as representatives of God. We are called upon by God to be faithful to Him by

sharing His Word in season and out of season (II Timothy 4:2). We are always to

speak God’s Truth, but we are to do it with a spirit of love for this is the will of

God.

One who stands up for Christ proclaims the message of salvation. The

apostles did not present to the world their opinions, but the very things they

witnessed concerning Jesus. He was crucified on the cross and rose again from

the grave. He ascended into heaven and offers the forgiveness of sins, life and

salvation to all who believe in Him. It is noteworthy that the disciples proclaim

these things because they were witnesses to them.

Many times we excuse ourselves from standing up for Jesus, because we

claim we don’t know enough and have no idea what to say. Earlier in Acts 4,

when Peter and John were arrested the first time, those who tried them noted

that they were “unschooled, ordinary men.” God does not say we have to have a

degree in theology or Biblical studies to witness for Him. In a court of law people

are called to witness to that of which they are personally aware. The disciples

had witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection and knew the eternal benefit that

these events brought all mankind. We, too, our witnesses to these things as we

just went through Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We know

what the cross of Calvary means and the significance of the empty tomb. Like the

disciples of old we are to witness to the reality of sin and the saving grace of God

in Christ Jesus.

One who stands up for Christ knows that God’s purposes will always be

accomplished. This truth is acknowledged by Gamaliel in our text. Gamaliel was a

Pharisee who did not believe in Jesus as the Savior. Nevertheless, he knew that

no human being could stop God from accomplishing His purposes. He notes that

men like Theudas and Judas the Galilean had large numbers of people who

followed them. Yet, after a period of time these leaders died and the people who

followed them disbanded. Gamaliel’s advice: “Leave these disciples of Jesus

alone! If their purpose or activity is of human origin it will fail, but if it is from

God, you will not be able to stop it!” This truth is worthy of our attention.

The strength to stand up for Christ and achieve the purposes for which He

called us to witness is not in our hands but God’s. Martin Luther noted that in his

prayer before he spoke at the Diet of Worms: “There is no strength in me. This is

Your cause, O God, not mine. On You I rely, not on man.” It is important as we

witness for Christ to remember His promise to us: “My Word will not return void,

but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”

(Isaiah 55:11).

It is just as important to remember that one who stands up for Christ will

encounter persecution in his life. In our text we see that as the disciples faithfully

proclaimed God’s Truth as God commanded, they were not free from

encountering persecution. Before they were let go with orders not to proclaim

the name of Jesus, they were flogged.

Somehow we have the mistaken idea that if we witness for Christ correctly

we will not know any persecutions in our life. The disciples in our text did

everything right. They witnessed to Christ as He had commanded. They spoke

the truth in love. Yet, that didn’t spare them from being persecuted.

Experiencing persecution for the Christian faith is not something a Christian seeks.

Yet, it should not be something he avoids. Jesus clearly tells us in the Bible: “If

anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up the cross and

follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

As we stand up for Christ we will encounter persecution and not everyone

will be receptive to the Gospel we share. Yet, God calls us to share it because

“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by

which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

No one comes to the Father but by Him” (John 14:6).

God grant us strength to stand up for Christ, to be bold in our testimony of

Him, and to clearly share the message of salvation He has called us to share. Let

us not hide our faith under a bushel to avoid conflict and gain worldly approval,

but let us share God’s Word so that the hearts and lives of people can be changed

and blessed for all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Easter Truth Brings Eternal Joy by Pastor Roger Rohde April 16, 2017

Easter Truth Brings Eternal Joy

Psalm 16:9-11

The words of our text speak of an event that would occur approximately

1,000 years after these words were first recorded. The prophecy before us

declares that the Holy One will not see decay. This Holy One is Jesus. Jesus did

not see any decay of His body during the three days it was in the tomb. Peter in

his Pentecost sermon noted: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the

patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was

a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one

of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the

resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his

body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the

fact” (Acts 2:29-32). Paul proclaimed a similar message in Acts 13: 34-39: “The

fact that God raised Christ from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these

words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is

stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ For when David had

served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his

fathers and his body decayed. But the One Whom God raised from the dead did

not see decay. Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the

forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is

justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of God.”

The point is that the resurrection of Jesus we celebrate today brings us

Easter truth that can provide us with eternal joy.

The resurrection of Jesus assures us that the soul of a departed Christian

immediately goes from this life to be in heaven with Jesus. Once a

Christian’s earthly life on earth is over, the body returns to the ground from

whence it came, and the soul goes to be with the Lord in heaven. Solomon put it

this way in Ecclesiastes 12:7, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and

the spirit returns to God Who gave it.” For this reason Jesus said to the repentant

thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is

what Jesus is talking about in John 11:25 when He said a Christian does not die.

When a Christian departs this life he goes to heaven to dwell with the Lord, which

Paul says is far better than continuing to live on earth (Philippians 1:23).

This truth is important for us to keep in mind as we all have to deal with

death. We may have been experienced the passing of a spouse, a parent, a child,

a relative or friend. There is heartache and pain whenever death befalls us.

Death is not natural. It is not the way God created it to be. Death is a part of our

lives today because of sin. Yet, the Lord tells us through Paul that “we are not to

sorrow as others who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose

again, we also know that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep”

(I Thessalonians 4:13-14). Easter truth of Christ’s resurrection brings us eternal

joy knowing that through Christ death has no power over us. “Nothing can

separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).

Easter truth is also about a Christian’s body rising again from the grave on

the Last Day. Job noted in today’s Old Testament Reading: “I now that my

Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my

skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with

my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me”

(Job 19:25-27).

What a day it will be when our Savior returns to open all the graves. Those

who trusted in Christ will see their bodies transformed like unto His glorious body.

Paul wrote in today’s Epistle Reading: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all

sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last

trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and

we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable,

and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the

imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will

come true: “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your sting? O

grave, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is

the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus

Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always

give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in

the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:51-58).

The Easter truth is meant not only to console us when a brother or sister in

Christ passes away, but it is meant to comfort us as we also face our own death.

Easter truth brings consolation, peace, joy, and hope to all who cling to Jesus

Christ by faith. May we be blessed by the Easter truth of Jesus’ resurrection and

may we be bold to share its life-giving truth and blessing with others. Amen.

Don’t Let Jesus Pass You By Pastor Roger Rohde April 9, 2017

Don’t Let Jesus Pass You By

Isaiah 50:4-10

Did you ever try and imagine what that first Palm Sunday was like? As I

reflected upon this thought in preparation for this message, I realized that most

of the time we look at that first Palm Sunday as a great celebratory event. Jesus

was riding into town on a donkey with a crowd of people laying down palm

branches and articles of clothes before Him shouting out, “Hosanna! Blessed is

He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” It sounds so celebratory and exciting.

Yet, while it appeared to be a time of great celebration, in reality it was an

event marked by a week of great confusion. Crowds of people thought Jesus was

now going to establish an earthy utopia for the people of Israel. They did not see

Him as a spiritual Messiah but an earthly one. Even the disciples did not

comprehend the concept of His kingdom until the time of Pentecost. Before His

ascension into heaven the disciples were still asking Jesus, “Lord, are You at this

time going to restore the kingdom of Israel” (Acts 1:6)? Only one person truly

understood the purpose of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday and that

one person was Jesus. Jesus later on in the week told Pilate, “My kingdom is not

of this world” (John 18:36). During Holy Week, it was only Jesus Who understood

the eternal spiritual nature of His kingdom. All others were looking at His kingship

from an earthly perspective.

Confusion also existed within the crowd as not everyone was crying out,

“Hosanna” to the Son of God. Some were plotting to kill Jesus. Jesus almost a

year before this was aware of this as Jesus told His disciples, “I must go to

Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and

teachers of the law. I must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”

(Matthew 16:21). Jesus knew that in between the cries of Hosanna there were

also those who were plotting His death.

Jesus also knew as He rode into Jerusalem that His disciples would not

remain by His side. During the Passover Meal on Thursday night, when Jesus

instituted the Lord’s Supper, He told His disciples: “This very night you will all fall

away on account of me.”

The crowds that once cried out with joy, “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday would

by the end of the week turn their backs on Jesus and call for His crucifixion, while

His disciples would deny Him. Holy Week was not filled with celebration but

confusion as Jesus passed through the streets of Jerusalem to the cross of Calvary.

Is there confusion in our hearts about Jesus today? Do we lack the joy of

Jesus in our hearts, and are we silent about knowing Him in our lives? On this

Palm Sunday the Lord through the Old Testament Reading gives us a prophecy

showing us that while people may have been confused about Jesus and His

purpose for coming to Jerusalem, Jesus never was. Jesus knew what His coming

into Jerusalem meant and in today’s text He speaks of how His coming is meant to

impact our lives.

First we see through this prophecy that Jesus’ coming is meant to

strengthen our lives. Jesus came to offer us not only physical strength, but more

important spiritual strength. In our text we told that the Messiah “would speak a

word in season to him who is weary.” That is precisely what Jesus does. Through

His Word He provides us with truths that pertain to every season in our lives.

Whether we are young or old, married or single, an employer or an employee,

facing prosperity or death, Jesus has something to offer each of us in every

situation of our lives. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path

(Psalm 119:105). His Word reprimands us when we need it. His Word offers us

direction for our living and provides us with words of comfort, strength, and

hope. As Paul put it in II Timothy 3: 16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is

useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the

man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The One Who

passes us by on Palm Sunday is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the living truth,

eternal God, Who knows all things. Will you be unresponsive to His Word and

simply let Him pass you by?

Second, through the prophecy of our text we learn the depth of Jesus’ love

for us. It is seen in how He reacted to how we treated Him. The disciples of old

denied Him. You and I have forsaken Him. All of us have broken the heart of our

Lord by the sins we have committed and the lack of interest and commitment to

the Lord we have shown. Yet, what did Jesus do for us who turned our backs on

Him. The prophecy tells us that “He gave His back to those who struck Him, His

cheeks to those who plucked out His bread. He did not hide His face from shame

and spitting.”

What a vivid prophecy of what happened when Jesus stood before Pontius

Pilate. Pilate said to Jesus: “Don’t you realize I have power either to free You or

to crucify You?” Jesus answered: “You would have no power over Me if it were

not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). Prior to this you might remember

Peter drew a sword and cut off a soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus said to Peter: “Put your sword away! … Do you think that I cannot call on My

Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of

angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in

this way” (Matthew 26:52-54)?

The prophecy in our text states that the Messiah would give His back, His

face, His life for us. Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be tied to a whipping post

and scourged thirty-nine times. This left His back torn open and His inner organs

exposed. The soldiers spit in His face. They blindfolded Him, struck Him, and

called for Him to prophecy who struck Him in the face. Jesus did not turn His back

on us sinful people, but He allowed Himself to be hung on the cross and

encounter the wrath of God for our sins.

Are we so busy with life that we simply let Jesus pass us by, giving little or

no consideration or signs of appreciation for the depth of His love for us? What

kind of response does Jesus expect from us? The prophecy in our text not only

speaks about what Jesus did for us, but it speaks to how the Lord desires these

truths to impact our lives.

First, God wants us to respond to His instruction and love by living in

faithful obedience to His Word. A life of faith is a life lived in obedience to God’s

Truth. He Who knows and believes God’s Truth, lives by that Truth. The

prophecy points this out through the question and statement made in verse 10:

“Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant?… Let him

trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.” If we truly take hold of

Christ by faith we will not let Him pass us by, but we will trust in His Word and live

according to it.

Second, God wants us to proclaim His saving grace. In the prophecy it is

stated: “Who will contend with Me? Let us stand together.” If we truly believe in

Jesus and all He says, we will stand up for Him and His Truth in our daily living.

We will not be afraid to be counted among His people, but we will live our lives to

spread the Gospel to every person.

This is indeed how Jesus affected eleven of His disciples. For a long time

they were confused. They denied Jesus and forsook Him. Yet, when by the power

of the Holy Spirit they understood this prophecy in the light of Jesus Christ, they

were willing to live their lives for Him even to the point of death.

As we go through this period of Holy Week, may we be shaped by Jesus’

love and Truth. May we come to celebrate Easter with renewed hearts of love for

our Savior and a commitment to bring His saving work to all people. Amen.

 

Living by God’s Spirit by Rev. Roger Rohde (4-2-17)

Living by God’s Spirit

Romans 8:1-11

This is examination Sunday. It is not an examination with regard to the

knowledge we have in our heads, but rather an examination of our hearts to see

what makes us tick. I looked up this expression, “what makes us tick,” on the

internet and found the following meanings: “What motivates us to do the things

we do? What makes us behave the way we do?” Today’s text leads us to closely

examine whether or not we are living by the Spirit of God.

Our text begins with the word, “therefore,” indicating to us that what

preceded our text is directly connected to what we find in our text. At the end of

Romans 7, Paul speaks of how Christians go through a daily conflict between the

desires of the sinful flesh and the Spirit of God that dwells within them. Paul

notes that we will not always successfully live pure and holy lives. We will sin

against the Lord and stand in need of His forgiveness. Yet, to win the spiritual

battle each one of us needs to examine ourselves and honestly see what it means

to live by the Spirit of God.

To live by the Spirit of God starts with God’s Spirit living in us.

Paul opens our text by saying: “There is no condemnation for those who

are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me

free from the law of sin and death.” How can we be free from the law of God that

condemns us as lost and condemned creatures? No one can nullify God’s law not

even God Himself. For God to nullify the law He had given would make Him

unfaithful, a liar. The law of God shall always stand and it shall always show us

the reality of our sins. God’s law with its demands cannot be nullified, but it can

be fulfilled.

That is the point of the opening words of our text: “There is not

condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the

law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Paul in our text

goes on to say: “God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin

offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous

requirements of the law might be fully met.”

The point is this: Jesus did not nullify the law of God but fulfilled it.

Remember Jesus words earlier in His ministry: “Do not think that I have come to

abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them”

(Matthew 5:17). Because of our sinful flesh, we were too weak to fulfill God’s

Law and save ourselves. For this reason God sent Jesus “in the likeness of sinful

man.” This does not mean Jesus sinned. It means He took on human flesh and

blood. He lived to fulfill God’s law we failed to keep and then died as if He was

the violator of God’s law rather than us. He experienced the pain and

punishment of our sins so that we would not be under the law’s condemnation.

We are blessed by this saving work of Christ as the Holy Spirit works faith in

our hearts. This gift of faith comes about not by a resolution or an intellectual

decision we make (John 1:12-13). This gift of faith is just that, a gift of God

created in us by the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly tells us in I Corinthians 12:3: “No

one can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Dr. Martin Luther noted this

Scriptural truth in these words of his: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or

strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has

called me by the Gospel.” Living by God’s Spirit begins as the Holy Spirit works

faith in Christ within our hearts.

To live by the Spirit of God continues as we are Spirit-minded. Paul writes

in our text: “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on

what the Spirit desires.” Like a plant positions itself toward the sun, those who

are Spirit-minded direct themselves to the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This, of course, does not come easily. So often we become trapped and

strapped by the things of this life that we really don’t set our minds on the things

of God. We may talk the Christian talk, but our lives show the lie of our words.

Our dwelling place, our spouse, our children and grandchildren, our job and

hobbies can become more important to us than the Lord. Yet, God clearly states:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will

be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Seeking the things of God’s kingdom does not

mean we cannot have goods, job, child, and wife. It does mean, however, that

these are not our greatest worth. He who lives by the Spirit of God has God first

and foremost in his mind.

This means that some of us need to loosen our hold on the things that do

not last eternally. We cannot take our homes, belongings, job, family and friends

with us when we die. The only One Who can go with us through the valley of the

shadow of death is Christ, so we need to hold onto Him tightly. We better do this

for Paul says very bluntly in our text: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to

set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

To live by the Spirit of God concludes as we are Spirit-guided. The last

section of our text speaks about being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Christianity is

not merely a message that our sins are forgiven and we will have an eternal home

in heaven. Christianity is about living in the forgiveness of sins we have received

in Christ, and living for the One Who has blessed us with everlasting life in

heaven.

Being Spirit-guided means we will bear the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives.

If you want to read more about this turn to Galatians 5:16-25. We don’t have

time to reference this in more detail right now. Suffice it to say, living by the

Spirit of God means that we bear the fruit of faith in our lives. We not only speak

the Christian talk, but we walk the Christian way in all things. We show by the

way we live that the Spirit lives within us and has made us to be His temple, Spirit-

minded and Spirit-driven.

What makes you tick? What governs your life in this hour? Draw near unto

the Lord with repentant hearts and He will forgive you of your sins and empower

you with His Spirit to be a Spirit-minded and Spirit-guided person who praises our

Lord and Savior in this life and for all eternity. Amen.

Karma? I’ll Take Grace by Rev. Neil Wonnacott (3-26-17)

Lent 4                                     “Karma? I’ll Take Grace”                                                       March 26, 2017

The Text for our message comes from the Gospel of John 9:1–41

I can’t say that I love the rock band U2, but they’re a force to be reckoned with, as is their lead singer.

Like the band’s anthems, Bono is larger than life. Along with his music, he’s been in the news for his humanitarian work, especially fighting AIDS in Africa. Normally, I’m a little cynical about such things, but I have to say, he’s starting to grow on me.

Asked about what drives him, what makes him tick, Bono answered, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but

The Thing That Keeps Me on My Knees Is the

Difference between Grace and Karma.”

  1. Karma is all about justice.

Now, it’s no small thing to take on karma. John Lennon sang about instant karma. Radiohead warned of the karma police. But what is it? It’s the idea that what goes around comes around, that there’s a kind of justice that drives the inner workings of the universe. You might have caught a video sometime ago, gone viral. In it, a man in a pickup truck tailgates a woman, and then passes her, while triumphantly displaying his middle finger. And just after that, his truck spins out, and he crashes into a ditch. Ah, there’s karma for you, and people love it. He got what was coming to him.

And then, on the other side, there’s the popular pay-it-forward movement. I can’t quite figure out how it’s especially virtuous to purchase a cappuccino for the guy in the car behind you, or to pick up someone’s tab at a restaurant. But somehow, it’s good karma. And it sets the motions of the universe in your favor.

As the prophet Bono puts it, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; in physical laws every action is met by an equal and opposite one.”

So it happened that Jesus was walking along, and came across a man born blind. And the disciples asked the karma question, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?”

And this is the kind of question we’re comfortable with, the kind of question that attempts to make sense of the world. A man has cancer? Well, yeah, he smoked for over twenty years. Kidney problems? Drank too much. Heart attack? Not enough diet or exercise. Car accident? Drove too fast. And texting is terrible. And I would never do that, we are pleased to say. A pastor who’s lost his call? Must have been a bull in the china shop. Lost his hair? Well, there must be some reason.

  1. But true justice results in our justice.

So, why was the man born blind? Was it because of his sin? Or perhaps the sin of his parents?

I know what I’d say to the karma question. And I know I wouldn’t give the karma answer. I’d say that one common sin infects us all. Sure, certain sins have specific consequences, built into the way the world functions, but death is going to get each and every one of us, no matter how well we live, and no matter how righteous we think we may be. We’ve all sinned and all creation suffers. The world is broken.

And that’s true. Give an answer like that, along with a quote or two from Pieper or Walther, and you’ll get an A in dogmatics. But Jesus doesn’t offer a simple dogmatic answer. Instead, he says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v 3).

Talk about mind-blowing. Sin, in all its negativity, has actually set in motion a chain of events that ends not with disaster, but with mysterious blessing. Is that possible?

And, do we really want to gloat? to take pleasure in someone getting his punishment? “If karma was finally going to be my judge,” the prophet Bono said, “then I’d be in deep trouble.

IIII. Instead, grace is a gift, paid for by Christ.

Then Bono added, “I’m holding out for grace; I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

We like to think of ourselves as nice people, but we also like to think we’re better than others. When someone does something wrong, we say, “He’ll get his,” or “What goes around comes around.” And in this way, we try to make sense of the world, taking solace in the idea that evil doesn’t go unpunished. But then evil people do get away with things, and we don’t know what to think.

So also when we see bad things happen to people, we seek to insulate ourselves from the tragedy. When a man is born blind, the disciples jump to the popular assumption of the day: either he sinned while still in the womb, or his parents sinned in some grievous way (Jn 9:2). We easily assume that folks are getting paid back for evil or foolish behavior. So if a man dies of a heart attack, we say, “Well, he ate too much and didn’t exercise.” While that may be true, it not only shows no compassion, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that we all die.

The truth is, we all sin, and we all are worthy of nothing but death. There’s no room for gloating. There’s only repentance. For in the end, sin must be paid for, and it is paid for by Christ.

It was never God’s plan that man fall into sin. It was never God’s intention that there would be illness and death, or that men would be born blind.

And yet, and yet in the mystery of His grace, in the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, our Lord took a fallen situation and not only restored it, but made it better than it ever was. By the mystery of the incarnation and the glory of the cross, we have come to see God as we never could before: face-to-face, in full and sacrificial love.

We have experienced a love that has been tested, a love that has been challenged, a love that goes beyond a mutually beneficial relationship. And having been forgiven much, what can we do but fall to our knees?

Yes, God loves the angels. But the angels are good. And it’s easy to love those who love you in return. Even the pagans do this. But we have received a greater love. We have been shown a more beautiful grace. He has taken us creatures and turned us into children. And no, the world still hasn’t found what it’s looking for; for the world in its worldliness is blind; the world looks at the font, and they don’t think it’s worth a bucket of spit. But we, whose eyes have been opened, see a crystal fountain, a river of life flowing from the throne of God, and the Lamb who has been slain.

Bono’s right. It’s a miracle that the God of the universe is seeking out the company of folks like us. But that’s what He’s done. What happened to the man born blind? Well, we know he became an outcast. His own parents distanced themselves from him, and the community ostracized him. But our Lord then went the extra mile and sought him out. Our Lord took friendship and mercy and turned it into full communion.

So, yeah, karma sounds cool. But on this one, I’m with Bono. I’d rather have grace. We’ll never be rock stars, but we can join together with him in another band and sing together the song of the Lamb, the song of love unknown. Amen.

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

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