Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Feasting with God #27 – A Banquet in Paradise

Feasting with God #27

A Banquet in Paradise

Text: Genesis 2:15-17

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Can you picture what life was like in the garden of Eden?  It’s difficult to do so, because we have to put it into terms we understand.  Adam and Eve “worked” the garden.  When we think of work, we think of hours clocking in and out, toiling and laboring to make a buck.  Perhaps we enjoy our jobs, but there are still bad days when we come home exhausted and sore and dread having to go back the next morning.  Many people enjoy gardening, working the ground, getting dirt under their fingernails, being in nature.  But even so, mosquitoes bite, the hard ground makes our knees sore, the sun burns our skin.  The garden work in Eden was without any of this exhaustion or soreness.  That’s hard to picture.

A life without hunger and thirst is hard to picture as well.  Adam and Eve surely never felt hunger pains before the Fall, never were so parched that their lips cracked.  Why would they have the need to eat, then?

God gave our first parents the run of the garden, telling them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.”  The world was new!  Adam was experiencing this paradise with the eyes of a newborn.  Imagine how those colors must have struck him, how beautiful!  Think of his other senses: all the sounds of the birds and beasts, of the rivers that came through the garden, the wind blowing through the trees!  All the sensations against his hands, of cool water, warm sunlight, soft animal fur and flower petals, smooth stone!  All the smells, of mud, of flowers and fruits!  He of course would be curious to experience God’s world with all his senses, including the sense of taste.

Imagine tasting an apple for the first time, an orange, a pomegranate, a strawberry.  Adam could explore this home, tasting every part of the banquet God provided for him.  His life would be filled with discovery and rediscovery, never growing tired of the task, never struggling to satisfy a hunger he never felt, never growing uncomfortable because of the food he ate.

God never meant for us to feel hunger-pains.  But the boundary he set—“of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”—was broken by Adam and Eve.  Therefore the result of their trespass broke in—“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Death has entered God’s perfect world, because of sin.  Therefore all God’s creation is corrupt.  The creatures who once lived in peace now hunt and kill one another.  The water that bubbled softly through the rivers to irrigate the garden now floods and drowns.  The food that was once a source only of enjoyment and discovery and fellowship now becomes a necessity for staving off death, sometimes causes stomachache, and is never quite enough, for all men die.

By corrupting the gift God gave man of food and eating, mankind has corrupted all of God’s gifts.  But thanks be to God that he did not abandon us to our fate; instead he immediately began working restoration.  In his Son, Jesus, he took all the corruption of the world onto himself and paid the price for our trespass, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).  To provide for us the blessings of that payment, among other things (the Word, Baptism), Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, a fellowship meal of his true body and blood that feeds our souls for eternity.  With it also comes the promise of a new paradise in heaven, which is frequently referred to as a great banquet (Luke 14:7-24).

Dear Lord, we have corrupted all the gifts you have given us, and we have brought death and sin into your perfect world.  But despite our wrongdoing, you have provided a way for us to receive new blessings once again, in the work of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lead us to an ever firmer faith in that Son, and feed us always on the great blessings of your Word and Sacraments, until we may come into the new banquet in paradise with you for all eternity.  In the name of that Jesus 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.

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Feasting with God #26 – Filled with New Wine

Feasting with God #26

Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-6, 12, 13

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak his own language….  12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Pentecost, the event which comes 50 days after Easter, is significant for Christians as the occasion when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them the ability to communicate to people of all different languages, in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.  This was to fulfill the promise of Jesus, when he said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).  What a joyful time, when those who had learned the truth from Jesus were made able to share that truth with others!

But many, as we see, thought that the disciples were drunk; that’s why they mocked and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  This accusation was absurd, of course, as Peter pointed out when he began to preach: “For these people are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15).  It was too early for them to have been imbibing any wine.  Besides this, drunkenness does not usually yield the result of being able to speak other languages.

Instead, as Peter went on to prove, this was the fulfillment of a prophecy: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).  The disciples were not drunk, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, as foretold, in order to bring the Gospel to the people, so that many might be saved.

And yet, we might say that these disciples were indeed “filled with new wine,” in a manner of speaking.  Cyril of Jerusalem, a church father of the early 4th century, illustrated: “In truth the wine was new, even the grace of the New Testament; but this new wine was from a spiritual Vine, which had oftentimes [before] this borne fruit in Prophets, and had budded in the New Testament.”[1]  These disciples were not drunk on some literal alcoholic beverage, but on the pure grace of God as found in the Gospel.  Because of their salvation, and because of the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in them on account of their faith, they were raving, but not randomly as with usual drunkenness.  They were raving under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the same Gospel that gave them hope and strength.

But this wine of the Gospel was also not entirely new: as Cyril says, it began with the Prophets, with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—this Gospel wine was even heralded in the ears of our first parents Adam and Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  This is the Gospel of the one man, the offspring of our ancient grandmother, who won the victory over all evil, over sin, death, and Satan himself, and was bitten by that same serpent as he died on the cross.  Jesus is the center of this Gospel, who lived the life we couldn’t, died the death we deserved, and rose to the new life he promises us.  And this Jesus was also the center of the message that the disciples proclaimed, drunk on its wine.

Dear Jesus, since you have won all things for us by defeating all our enemies, send upon us your Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in the faith of your Gospel, and to enable us to proclaim the same message to others.  This is your will, and we ask it in your name.  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.

[1] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, ed. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series 2.  Vol. 7.  New York: The Christian Literature Series, 1890-99.  Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1952, 1961, 128

Feasting with God #25 – Rivers of Living Water

Feasting with God #25

Rivers of Living Water

Text: John 7:37-39

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today marks the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, 40 days after Easter.  We read in the Gospel account that, after these 40 days, teaching and appearing to people and performing miracles, Jesus took his disciples and “led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).  But he left with a command and a promise: Luke records that he said, “You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:48-49).  Matthew records these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The command was this: Tell others what you have seen.  The promise was this: You will have God present with you in this task.

Jesus promises the same thing in the text from John, although he said these words a good while before his ascension, even before his crucifixion.  He states the task—“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”—and connects with it the promise—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Spiritually, we in our nature are dying of thirst; our soul is a cracked desert where nothing can live.  The only way to bring life to these dry souls is by the living water of Jesus Christ: he it is who suffered the hell we deserved, dying on the cross and being forsaken by God.  By that act he opened up the stores of God’s grace, and as the water and blood flowed from his side when the centurion pierced it (John 19:34), mercy and forgiveness flow to us when we are baptized in water, when we drink the refreshment of Jesus’ blood in the Lord’s Supper, when we hear the cool words of grace in the Bible.

That is how we are saved.  When we come to faith, all God’s gifts—grace, forgiveness, eternal life—come into our possession: they are ours!  And with them as well comes the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts so long as we have faith.  This Spirit Jesus promised to his disciples, to his followers, once his work on earth had been completed: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  Jesus accomplished our salvation, and, his work done, he left our presence visibly.  Because he left, he could send the “other Helper,” who is the Holy Spirit.  This event we see on Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the disciples like tongues of fire and they were able to speak so that those of many languages could understand.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit: he speaks through us, turning us into fountains of living water.  We received the water from Jesus’ side through the means of grace—the Word and Sacraments—and having received that, the Spirit dwells in us, so that we can share that living water with the rest of the thirsty world.  That is the task we are given, but we are given the promise of the one who makes us able to accomplish it.  We are saved, and that makes us able to perform the work of salvation, nourishing the souls of others.

O Holy Spirit, bring the refreshing waters of grace upon us every day, so that we never go thirsty.  Lead us constantly back to the sure forgiveness we have on account of Jesus Christ, and lead us then to take those cool waters to others in need.  All this we ask in Jesus’ name.  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 #24 – Spiritual Milk

Feasting with God #24

Spiritual Milk

Text: Hebrews 5:11-14

11About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, 13for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  14But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Instruction in God’s Word is a never-ending process.  Learning the doctrines of God, hearing his truths, growing in faith is lifelong, it is being fed with spiritual food.  Just as your body will wither away and die if you stop eating, so your soul will wither and fall into spiritual death if you stop hearing God’s Word.

But you don’t offer a rich juicy steak to babies, or lobster, or caviar, or casserole.  Babies need a different food than adults do.  Babies need milk.  The same thing is true spiritually, and that is what our text is about.  The spiritually immature—the new converts or young believers—or even the spiritually sick—those in danger of falling away—should be fed on spiritual milk, the simpler and more basic foods.  One whose stomach is not prepared to digest the more complex foods may become sick, may fall into doubt, fear, or even pride or self-righteousness.  If they have not been raised into maturity on the milk, they may not be prepared for the more mature doctrines.

Understand this spiritually: the complex doctrines we do not teach to children, to new converts, to those in spiritual danger—we by no means keep such doctrines hidden, but we keep such individuals fed on a rigorous diet of spiritual milk.  How can anyone advance spiritually if he does not have the basics?  So in our churches we have created a structure of levels: the young we teach in Sunday School, where they receive the most basic milk.  We introduce the more complex and solid food to students who go through Confirmation Class, or to adults who wish to become members in our churches.  Beyond this class we offer many more particular teachings, in Adult Bible Studies.  Beyond this still there are more opportunities for solid-food doctrine in advanced classes in our colleges, and in Seminary where men are trained to preach the Word to others.

The differences in these levels should not be confused with a difference in faith: all these spiritual foods, whether milk or solid food, serve to nourish the spiritual life of a person’s faith, and any amount of this nourishment is sufficient to give a person salvation.  But this does not mean that any person should become complacent.  It’s too easy for Christians to think, “I know all I need to know, so why should I go to church?  Why should I go to Bible Study?”  The Word should never be neglected, and Christians should always seek to be fed more and more of this spiritual food, and to grow towards more and more complex spiritual foods.  No, not all Christians are called to be pastors or teachers, but in some sense all Christians are called upon to speak of their faith.  Jesus commissioned every single Christian with the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  And this is what the writer in our text means: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”  The people to whom he was writing neglected their learning, and were in danger of losing all.  They should have been receiving the mature foods so that they could feed others with spiritual milk, but they had set themselves back, and they needed to start over, to grow again into being teachers.

Spiritual life is like any other form of life: we need constant nourishment in order to survive.  This spiritual nourishment we find in God’s Word, where we hear the basics of Jesus’ perfect life, his death in our place, and his resurrection so that we have new life.  This is all we really need to be spiritually alive.  But the joy at that message will make us want to learn more and more about it, and to tell others the same things we have learned.

Thank you, O Lord, for constantly keeping our spiritual plates filled with the food you provide.  Lead us to always return to the table where we can find such food, in church, in Bible Classes, in private devotions.  Guide us to grow to maturity, so that as we mature we may also provide this food to others, leading them to the same life that we enjoy on account of your Son’s atonement.  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.