Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: February 2015

“Finding Christ in the Psalms” Lesson 1

Missed the first class for our “Finding Christ in the Psalms” Bible Study? Never fear! The PowerPoint presentation, along with an audio file of the class, is available to you now.

Instructions:
  1. Download the file: Finding Christ in the Psalms – Lesson 1 – Watch
  2. Start the slideshow: 
  3. Let the presentation do its work (the slides and animations will transition automatically on a timer).
  4. Let us know your questions and thoughts in the “Comments” section on this page.

This class will continue every Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 125 North St., Iola, WI 54945.  Hope to see you there!

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Feasting with God #15 – The Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Feasting with God #15

The Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Text: Matthew 7:16-20

16[Jesus said,] “You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

I can remember, when I was little, my parents and I would walk around town, and occasionally there’d be a bush with some bright red berries growing on it.  I only ever had to ask once whether I could pick some to eat, though, because the danger that the poisonous fruit posed was impressed upon me by my parents.

It’s important to know what kind of food is good for you, and what might be not so good, or even dangerous.  In the text above, Jesus was speaking of the danger that is posed by false prophets.  In today’s world, when a buffet of teachings are easily accessible from the library, T.V., the radio, and the internet, this warning is all-too applicable.  There are some good and nutritious teachings, but mixed in with them are some poisonous and deadly ones.

But we can know what to watch out for if we pay attention to the fruit.  As a child, I didn’t know the difference between a delicious cherry and a poisonous little red berry.  Thankfully, my parents were there to teach me the signs.  In the text, Jesus demonstrates to us that we also need to be able to recognize the signs: “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  What fruits are these?  They are what the various preachers and teachers do, how they live their lives—but more than this, it is what they preach.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).  That’s how we are to judge whether what is being preached to us is healthy or poisonous: does it match up with the true Gospel that we already know?  Does the preacher tell me of my sins?  Does he point out how inherently flawed is human nature since sin entered the world?  Does he emphasize above all this the work Christ did to live a perfect life, and then to die on the cross in my place?  Does he tell me that that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, to lead me and all believers to new life in him?  Does he tell me that I am promised by God, out of no worthiness on my part and due to nothing I have done or ever can do, that I will live eternally in heaven?  Does he tell me of grace alone?  If to any of these questions the answer is “No,” then recognize that fruit, and avoid that teaching.

God wants to feed our souls.  He is personally concerned for our spiritual well-being.  Because of that, he has created a garden for us to live in, where we can find plenty of nutritious fruit to strengthen our faith.  It’s like a new Garden of Eden, and we can take the fruit of his true and saving Word, of his Baptism, and of his soul-nourishing Lord’s Supper.  These are the healthy fruits, and they are given to us by healthy trees.  Avoid the poisonous, diseased trees and their deadly fruits, holding instead to these gracious things of God.

All the true and healthy trees—the pastors, teachers, and loved ones who tell you the Gospel Truth—are planted as branches of the vine of Christ, as he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5a).  When we cling to that truth, therefore, we become branches as well, and of us Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).  Nourishing ourselves on these true things, we grow strong in our foundation in Christ, and are also then enabled to bear fruit to nourish others.  In this way, God feeds his people on earth.

Hear the prayers of your people, O Lord, who desire to be grounded in your saving truth, to be nourished by your gracious Word and Sacraments, and to serve you by bearing fruit to others.  Do not abandon us to the wolves and diseased trees, but keep your Word and Sacraments with us forever, for in them we come to and remain strong in our faith in your Son, who lived and died for us.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #14 – When You Fast

Feasting with God #14

When You Fast

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

16[Jesus said,] “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Fasting, or giving up some or all food for a period of time, was a practice common among the Jews of the first century, intended as an exercise to focus one’s mind in prayer or spiritual discipline, or to punish oneself for sin.  However, the practice was often misused hypocritically.  Some would fast, but not to focus their minds or discipline their spirits; they fasted so that other people would notice and admire their spirituality.  In the text above, Jesus was pointing out this hypocrisy, showing how it really defeated the purpose.

Any spiritual practice—not just fasting, but praying, attending church, doing charity work, or anything you can think of—is not something that a person should do to gain admirers.  These spiritual practices are to be done because one feels the need to come closer to God.  That’s why Jesus emphasizes, “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”  In the same vein, Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3-4).  When we do good things as Christians, we don’t do them to impress others.  We do them because we truly, sincerely, want to do these things out of thankfulness for God.

In this season of Lent, fasting is a common practice.  Some people give up meat for these forty days, only eating the occasional fish.  Some people give up certain meals out of their day.  Among others, “giving up something for Lent” is a common practice, and they forego video games, T.V., internet, sugar, or any number of other things for the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Notice that Jesus does not say that fasting is a bad practice—in fact it seems that he assumes that his disciples will fast.  But if fasting is not done properly, one might as well not do it at all.

Think of the idea of “giving something up” for God.  Realize then what God gave up for you: he sent his only Son to live as a weak human being, to suffer the worst tortures, to die the death of the worst criminals.  Jesus suffered hell in our place, “giving up” the right to stand in God’s presence (as he said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]).  What can we give up that would be worth all that?

Fasting is a fine practice, if it is done correctly and sincerely.  Jesus explains what that looks like above: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”  This is as much to say, “Take your regular shower in the morning, brush your teeth, wear your regular perfume or cologne, and dress as you normally would.”  Essentially: Don’t give any indication to anyone that you’re fasting.  The only ones who should know are you and God.  To bring the focus of your fasting on yourself, steals the concentration of others away from where it should really lie: on Jesus.  If we focus on what we do, we miss the point.  Rather we should focus on what Christ has done.

Christ fulfilled the law in our place, because we could do nothing to pay the great debt of sin we owed—not even fast.  And Christ died in our place, because we deserved the punishment of hell for all our sins which defiled God’s law.  And Christ rose from the dead for us, proving that all those payments have been made, and eternal life now awaits us, because death is destroyed.  Let what Jesus Christ has done for us be our focus this Lenten season, and always.

Dear Father, to you belongs all praise, honor, and glory forever.  May our deeds reflect your mercy and your glory.  Lord Jesus, from you have come all blessings, for you and you alone have kept the law.  May our lives now be lives that reflect what you have done, because of the great blessings we have received from you, although we deserved none.  Holy Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments you continually bring us the grace won by Jesus and the faith to believe it.  Let those gifts strengthen us in our new lives, so that we may praise our God and live in thankfulness to you.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #13 – Feasting in the Heavenly Kingdom

Feasting with God #13

Feasting in the Heavenly Kingdom

Text: Matthew 8:11-12

11[Jesus said,] “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

See in these words a blessed picture, and also a stern warning.  Jesus had just encountered the faith of a Roman centurion, and marveled at its strength, saying to those gathered around, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10).  This was a significant statement, and pointed out the biggest problem in the Jews’ way of thinking.

The Jews, those genetically of Israelite descent, believed that because of their physical heritage they would inherit all the blessings promised to Abraham, their ancestor.  But Jesus here was telling them, Your genetic heritage does not matter, if you don’t have faith.  This point is punctuated and emphasized when Jesus said that “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”  The great sin of these Jews was that they believed that their ticket to heaven was guaranteed, that they were entitled to it by virtue of their ancestry.  Here came Jesus’ warning: they would receive a rude awakening.

The “many” who would “come from east and west” are the Gentiles, the non-Jewish nations, those who could not trace their physical ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.  Many of these Gentiles would be the ones given the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  While the Jews believed in maintaining the purity of their bloodlines, and valued their racial birthright as the most important thing, Jesus was telling them that that really didn’t matter: what got someone into this kingdom and this heavenly feast was faith alone.

The Jews could not understand what faith they were to have.  They believed in the power of their bloodlines.  Paul writes about the imperfect way the Jews understand the Scriptures, how, “to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor. 3:14).  Only if we read the Scriptures and understand that they point to Christ—only through our faith in Christ—do we receive the grace and forgiveness that the Word of God gives.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had this faith, that God would indeed bless all nations through their Descendant, and that salvation would come for all people through them.  And that faith is realized in Christ—he was the one promised who would save the world through his death in our place; and now we who believe in his salvation are those “many” who have received the ticket of faith granting us the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Already at our baptisms, at the very moment faith is nurtured in our hearts by the Word, we are placed into the kingdom of heaven.  On earth we walk in Christ’s body, the Church, partaking of that heavenly feast of the Lord’s Supper, which strengthens that faith and grants us continued forgiveness of our sins; and that lets us look forward to the greater fulfillment of the heavenly feast, when after this life will come our eternal life in a glorious heaven, sitting at the same table as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Moses, Elijah, all the apostles and martyrs, our Christian loved ones, and even God himself!

Lord, give us the grace to rely on nothing in ourselves, not our genetic heritage, not our stations in life, not our works of piety.  Instead, O Lord, direct us to the places you give us your grace and forgiveness freely: in baptism, where our sins are washed away, in your Word, where the message of your Son is declared and our faith is established, and in your Supper, where we have a taste of the heavenly feast to come.  Keep us in that heavenly kingdom while we live here on earth, and when our last hour comes, bring us to the full and glorious kingdom of heaven in your presence.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #12 – To Prepare Me for Burial

Feasting with God #12

To Prepare Me for Burial

Text: Matthew 26:6-13

6Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.  13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

What gifts do you have that you can give to Jesus?  He has taken all your sins on his head, and accepted the punishment that should have been yours.  What can you do to repay him?

The text above finds Jesus in the home of Simon the leper, one of the many Jesus had healed while on earth.  Simon, out of thanks for what Jesus had done for him, was providing his Lord a meal.  And as the disciples were all there eating, this woman came in with very expensive ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head.  The disciples thought this was a waste.

It would indeed be a fine and loving thing to have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor, but what this woman did was a far greater thing.  She knew of Jesus, and knew what he would do for her.  She had faith in him, and her faith is what drove her to pour this oil on Jesus’ head.  This woman, like all the rest of us, was saved by Jesus, was granted forgiveness for all her sins, and therefore was rescued from hell.  What gift could she give that was worth all that?  This simple act was the greatest thing she could have done, as Jesus said, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”

When a person died, he was prepared for burial by having some sort of perfume poured over his body.  This was done mostly to mask the stink of death.  And as we see later in the Gospel, after Jesus had died several women “went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).  They were going to pour these spices and perfumes over Jesus’ body, as the tradition demanded.  So this woman in our text today was planning for the same thing.  Pouring the oil on Jesus’ body, she was pointing ahead to his burial.

So really, the act of this woman was an illustration proclaiming the Gospel message.  By pouring the perfume over Jesus, she demonstrated his death.  He would die, and he would be buried.  Jesus defends her against the disciples’ disapproval, because her action points to the action he would take in saving the world.  In a sense, she served as a sermon illustration for Jesus.

Do we have anything we could give Jesus that is worth the great gift he gave us?  No.  But Jesus doesn’t ask us to give him anything.  We have that gift from him, our forgiveness, free of charge.  But because this gift is so massive, we can show our thanks for it in any way we are able.  Out of faith, we can give thanks by how we live our Christian lives.  That may mean giving aid to the poor, but more than this, it may mean pointing to the death of Christ: telling others about the Gospel message.  We can say the words of the Gospel: “Jesus Christ died for you”; and we can live as a sermon illustration, showing through our lives what that Gospel means for us.

Dear Lord Jesus, we can’t thank you enough for the great gift you have given us, winning forgiveness from sins, eternal life, and salvation.  We receive this gift in faith, and we live our lives now devoted to you.  Use our lives to spread the message of the Gospel, to extend your kingdom, and to bring more to forgiveness and faith.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.