Sunday, December 24, 2023

Romans 18:25-27; The Fourth Sunday of Advent; December 24, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25–27, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is a very interesting phrase in Paul’s doxology here. “The obedience of faith.” At first glance it looks like doing things that are in agreement with having faith. i.e. getting rid of sin by confession, serving our neighbors, providing for our families, and bringing the Gospel to people who have never heard it. In other words, doing the things that show you are a Christian. But it is much simpler than that. Before the phrase Paul specifies what has “been disclosed through prophetic writings” and “has been made know to all nations.” That is the Gospel. The account of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection. In fact, if you step back a few verses, Paul makes it very clear (context, context, context).
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:17–20, ESV)
He speaks about the “doctrine you have been taught.” Doctrine is a biblical word (διδαχή). It means the teaching about what scripture means. Jesus talks about doctrine a lot. In Matthew 28:20 he says,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:20a, ESV)
The word teaching the same Greek word as doctrine. Many people say that doctrine is secondary to the Word. And in one sense that is correct. But it is also necessary. When doctrine, or the teaching about scripture, conforms to the Word, they are one and the same. You can’t have the Word without teaching what it means. You can’t have correct teaching without the Word. Correct doctrine is not opinion about what the text says, it repeats what the text says. False doctrine does not say what the text says. True doctrine says what God says, false doctrine says what man says.

It is up to the Christian to discern true doctrine. You can’t reject doctrine just because it is doctrine. But you must reject doctrine that doesn’t say what God’s Word says. You do that by comparing what has been said with the Word itself. The difficulty comes in because false shepherds preach what you want to hear, it sounds true because you want it to be true.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching (διδασκαλία yes, doctrine!), but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV)
True shepherds teach what is true, that is, what scripture says. Sometimes you won’t like what a true teacher says. But that is because it is God’s Word, that he preaches, not his own. It is one reason why we spend so much time on the doctrine of the church. The truth is, the church is about teaching, teaching the doctrine of the Word. That is, what the Word says and what the Word means.

What is even more interesting, in our text, is the word “obedience.” The Greek word is υπακούν. What is so interesting about this word is where it comes from. Its root is the word ἀκούω. Which means to hear and listen. So, to obey is to hear, listen and react. Obedience has as much to do with what is heard (what is taught) as it does with what is done. The obedience of faith literally translated is the listening of faith. It is when someone trustingly hears and follows what is said. This obedience isn’t sanctification (that is the actions that come after coming to faith, obedience that results from faith), but this obedience is justification (that is, obedience that consists of faith). That is, the obedience Paul is taking about is justification not sanctification. It’s about coming to faith, not growing in faith.

What Paul says brings about the obedience of faith is the Word of God, specifically the Word of God about Jesus.
the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations. (Romans 16:25b-26a, ESV)
and earlier in Romans he says,
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16–17, ESV)
You guessed it, obeyed is the same Greek word from our text υπακούν. The obedience of the Gospel and the obedience of faith are one and the same.

There is only one way to obey the Gospel. That is to believe and to confess. It is as simple as what is said in the churches doctrinal summery, the Apostles’ Creed. And [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was
buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
Faith is the result of hearing the Gospel. To obey the Gospel is to have faith, that is, to believe that what Jesus did he did for you. The moment you do that, you have obeyed the Gospel, you have the obedience of faith.
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9–10, ESV)
And just what is the result of that faith and confession? It is exactly what the angels sang,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14, ESV)
Peace. εἰρήνη. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings the only real peace that human beings can find on earth. Peace between God and man. The peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7 ESV). The cancelling of the hostility of God. Namely, the forgiveness of sins. The baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12 ESV) brings it.

Paul says this about that baby in his letter to the Philippians.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)
To use a tired cliché, Jesus is the reason for the season. He is Lord. He brings forgiveness. He delivers it through his story. He became your servant, to give you eternal life. He humbled himself to die on the cross for your punishment. And God raised him from death, highly exalted him for your justification, that is to make it just-as-if-I’d never sinned.
but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:24–25, ESV)
When you trust what Jesus has done for you, you have the obedience of faith. You are justified, you are forgiven, you have peace with God. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and mind is Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Psalm 126; The Third Sunday of Advent; December 17, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
When the LORD restored the fortunes of | Zion,* we were like | those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with | laughter,* and our tongue with | shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great | things for them.”* The LORD has done great things for us; |we are glad. Restore our fortunes, | O LORD,* like streams in the | Negeb! Those who | sow in tears* shall reap with | shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for | sowing,* shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his | sheaves with him.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent. When the people approached the holy city, Jerusalem on festivals they chanted these psalms together. They are Songs of Ascent because when you come to Jerusalem you have to go up the hill to the city, up mount Zion.

This particular psalm has another approach in view. Some six hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. It was God’s discipline for their sin of rejecting him. After a great many years, God finally acted on their prayers for return and allowed a small band of them to come home. You can imagine this psalm being spoken by them as they climbed the holy hill once again. It was like a dream. They had waited so long. God had finally begun to fulfill his promise. Their mouths were filled with joy. God had done a great thing for them, they were glad.

And yet, not all was well. The land and the city were in rubble. There had been no crops sown for many years. The vast majority of the people were still back in Babylon. The psalm is a not only a prayer of joy for what God has done, but a plea for him to continue to do more. Bring the rest home! In this way it’s another one of the complaint Psalms, a lament. Those who were there had much hard work ahead of them. There would be sowing in tears. There was weeping for now, but great joy in the future with God’s promise.

This is the perfect song as we approach the end of Advent. It’s a reminder that we are not just preparing for a quaint family holiday, the reason for the season isn’t that we gather together and exchange love and presents. The baby in the manger is the beginning of our return from exile. We huddle around the crèche because it is the beginning. The angels sang, “God and sinners reconciled” because God was present among sinful people to do away with sin and death and the power of Satan. Christmas is God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus, born in a manger. God, in Jesus, feeding at his mother’s breast. God, in Jesus, growing in wisdom and stature to be a full-grown man. God, in Jesus, living and working with his family. God, in Jesus, preaching and teaching. God, in Jesus, arrested and beaten. God, in Jesus, crucified dead and buried, under Pontius Pilate. God, in Jesus, paying the eternal punishment for all human sin on the cross. God, in Jesus, dead and buried. God, in Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day. All of that, God, in Jesus, reconciling sinners, bringing them home to God himself from their exile to sin.

So, the laughter we experience as we gather with our families is part of the joy we rightly feel because of God and Sinners Reconciled. Joy to the World. Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, Gloria in Excelsis Deo! All that we will sing in a bit more than a few short days. It fits well with the first part of the Psalm. In some ways it is like a dream for us also, too good to be true. When we see the depth of our sin, when we know what sin does to us and to those we love, and we realize the rescue God has made for us. We sing for joy!

And yet, not all is well. Death, the wages of sin, still haunts us, breaking our joy. There is more of Jesus to come, even though he has totally captured the victory and yet there is more to do. In the psalm we call on God to finish it. The crucified baby in the manger has risen from the dead has done great thing for us, and he promises to do even more. We weep now, but we will renew our shouts of joy even louder when the sky is filled with Jesus and his holy angels returning. We lament our sin and suffering. We long for a time when human beings can really live together in peace on earth. St. Paul says it:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV)

Tears turned to joy. Weeping turned to shouts of joy. Jesus “making all things new” (Rev 21:5, ESV). And so we repeat our Advent Prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; December 3, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1–9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah has a dream, and it is a big one. God’s people are mired in sin. They are ignoring him, but more importantly they are ignoring God. His dream? That God would show himself in power and fix everything. He knows already that judgment is coming. He is afraid for the people. You do not trifle with God’s anger over sin. When the one who made the heavens and the earth displays his anger, there are earthquakes and lightning and fire and darkness and the rivers boil. A little of that would go a long way to the people seeing their sin and confessing. Isaiah makes no bones about it; the people are sinful. Even the good stuff they do is polluted like a bloody rag. Their sins make them dead and dry like a leaf that will just blow away in a breeze. But the people don’t see it, at least they won’t confess it. They refuse to call upon God’s name for mercy. Their sin has blinded them to their need for forgiveness. Isaiah confesses for them and then begs God to be the merciful God that Isaiah knows he is. There is no other god who acts in mercy toward those who wait for him. What that means it that those who stand in faith, those who wait for God to act in mercy toward them, those who see their great need for forgiveness, are given mercy and forgiveness. Isaiah reminds God that his people are his children. They were created by him, just as he created everything in the very beginning. Please temper your anger, Lord. He says. Lord, have mercy! He says. Look at us in mercy and forgive.

What could be better at Advent? We get a bit confused because we think Advent is all about the little baby in the manger. But it really is about waiting for God to act. Isaiah was waiting for God to act in mercy, to come and fix everything. Isaiah wanted God to come in person. And he did. He came in the manger in Bethlehem, the little baby that the song says doesn’t cry. But Advent is about his coming for a purpose, it is Isaiah’s dream. Jesus comes to bring mercy for those who are caught in sin. But Jesus also comes to bring God’s wrath against sin, lighting and thunder and earthquakes (all seen at his death). Jesus is God who acts. The baby goes to the cross. There is the full anger of God played out. God, the Father, turns his face away from Jesus, his Son. Jesus quotes Psalm 22. His words on the cross are haunting. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV) The Psalm continues to make the point.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV)
It is so much like what Isaiah wrote.
There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7, ESV)
It is God, coming in Jesus. It is Isaiah’s dream, only better. Isaiah wanted the law to convict the people. Jesus comes and stand convicted for the people. He takes on God’s wrath in full. God executes justice on the cross, all justice for all time, for all people. It is the awesome thing that we didn’t look for. Forgiveness of sins when we were not calling upon his name, but enemies of God instead.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)
God does it, he pours out his great wrath on Jesus so that his people can have Isaiah’s dream, so that he can:
Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9, ESV)
We are God’s people. Made so by God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Made so through faith in the baby made sacrifice for us. And yet we are sinners, too. Isaiah’s dream needs to be re-read again. We live our lives not calling upon God’s name but trying our best to get along without him. We do our good deeds for our own benefit. Sin spoils everything. Even the good things we do are polluted by false motives. We need God, himself to come and be present and fix everything. We need Isaiah’s dream again.

And Jesus comes. Word, water, bread and wine. He is here. He is present here just as he promises to be. And he comes for forgiveness. We confess our sin along with Isaiah. Please temper your anger, Lord. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Look at us in mercy and forgive.
… in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
… take eat this is my body … take drink this is my blood… for the forgiveness of all your sins.
God present in an awesome way we would never expect. Forgiving our sin through his very presence.

And that’s not all. Advent is about God coming to fix everything. He is coming yet again. He will fix everything then, by first destroying all that is corrupted by sin.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13, ESV)

It is God acting in mercy for those who wait on him. Sin and suffering, death and disease, done in. So, we wait for God to act for us. And while we wait, we act in holiness and godliness. That means serving the world as it needs to be served. Doing our daily work for the sake of our neighbor. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who forgives sins through his cross and resurrection and return. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.