Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Monthly Archives: October 2015

Feasting with God #40 – A Glutton, a Drunkard, a Friend of Sinners

Feasting with God #40

A Glutton, a Drunkard, a Friend of Sinners

Text: Matthew 11:18-19

18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  19The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

The childishness of the Pharisees is revealed: When John the Baptist came, they found fault in his fasting, how he set himself apart from the general populace.  When Jesus came, the found fault in his eating and drinking, how he deliberately did not set himself apart from the general populace.  They would simply not be pleased.

This is not only a fault in the Pharisees of 2,000 years ago.  It is human nature to have certain expectations, and to demand that things measure up to those expectations.  When nothing ever measures up, we are dissatisfied and disappointed over and over, finding satisfaction only in ourselves: “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” is our mentality.  For the Pharisees, this meant that the Messiah who had come, Jesus, who proved himself to be that Messiah by his deeds, was not what they wanted.  So they planned to continue in the working of their laws, laying burden after burden on themselves and other people, trying to climb their own way to heaven.

For us, this means very little different.  We are dissatisfied with the Gospel for any number of reasons: “That’s too easy; it has to be harder.”  “That’s too old; it has to be more relevant to me today.”  “That’s too culturally locked in Israel from 2,000 years ago; it has nothing to do with the broader cultural context.”  “That’s too limited in its perspective; it has to apply to more people.”  “That’s too remote; there’s no real emotion behind it.”

Human beings, you and I, we want what we want.  If it’s not exactly what we want, then there’s something wrong with it.  It’s this that causes us to go church-shopping even when we’ve been consistently fed the Gospel.  It’s this that causes us to grow sick of hymns that are uninteresting to us or liturgies that are old and dusty, even when these things feed us the pure and unadulterated Word of God.  We’d rather worship in our own way, worship a God who “means something to us” than the one who reveals himself in his Word.

This is why Jesus points out this hypocrisy and childishness.  Notice, he doesn’t actually call out the Pharisees here.  He mentions “this generation,” (11:16).  The generation, the people concurrent with Christ, were guilty of this childish dissatisfaction, and their issue has continued through the ages to us today.  All people are guilty of seeking out what they want rather than what’s true.

And this is why Jesus concludes: “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  The wise people will prove themselves to be wise by their actions: by forsaking their selfish wants and following the objective Word of God.  But more than this, Jesus’ wisdom is demonstrated by his deeds: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (11:5).  These actions prove Jesus to be the Wisdom of God incarnate (cf. Prov. 8, 9), the Word of God incarnate (John 1:1), the Messiah who was to come.  If the people are wise, they will judge these deeds as they are objectively meant to be judged, and they will indisputably here see Christ the Messiah.

But the people of the world are not wise in this way.  We are all blind, foolish, childish, and cannot see this.  We can’t see it until the Holy Spirit enlightens us: “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’” (Rom. 8:15).  The enlightening of faith given by the Spirit leads us to see Christ as he is: our Savior from sin who fulfilled the whole law by his deeds, and who paid the price for our disobedience by his obedient death on the cross.  And one further deed of this Jesus is a convincing proof to us of the wisdom of trusting in him: he rose from the dead, and lives now eternally, to intercede for us as our High Priest, declaring all our sins forgiven continually before God in heaven.

Dear Christ, we thank you for your obedient life and death, by which we are declared forgiven and justified.  We thank you also for sending the Holy Spirit to give us faith in your sacrifice, for on our own we would be blind and concerned only with our own accomplishments.  Maintain us in this wise faith until our last day, when we will come into our inheritance in full in our heavenly home.  In your name we ask it.  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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Come to Our Rededication Service!

Did you get one of these in the mail?

Postcard 1Postcard 2

Well, even if you didn’t, that doesn’t mean you aren’t invited.

Please come to our Celebration, Sunday, November 1st, 1:30 p.m.  Our worship space has been completely refurbished inside and out, to make us feel more comfortable, to open the space up for better utilization, but mostly, to assist us in the worship of our almighty God.

We’d love for you to join us!

Feasting with God #39 – Wedding Guests

Feasting with God #39

Wedding Guests

Text: Matthew 22:8-10

8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’  10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Did you catch it?  There’s a paradox in this parable, just two verses apart.  The king says first that “those invited were not worthy.”  But then he asks his servants to “invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” and is content when they “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.”  Although the original guests were not worthy, there are still some “bad” who are allowed to come.  Why is that?

If you’ll remember earlier in the parable, what actually made those first invited “unworthy” was that they made countless excuses not to come, and some even “seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them” (Matt. 22:6).  This caused the king to send his troops to destroy them and burn their city to the ground.  The unworthiness of these would-be wedding guests was not based on their social status or their wealth; it was based on their rejection of the king’s invitation.

So when some who are “bad” are invited (and the word “bad” is the Greek word for “evil”), they are bad because that is their nature, that is their status.  But the messengers of this king, following his orders, gather in even these evil ones to fill the wedding hall.  Even though they themselves didn’t deserve to come, had no status before this king that should cause him to recognize them, they were nevertheless invited and given this mighty wedding feast free of charge.

The cautionary tale in this story is, don’t be the unworthy ones who are invited but make excuses, or even act harshly against those bringing the invitation.  God’s messengers are going out even now, bearing the wedding invitation, the Gospel, inviting us to come into his banquet hall.  Does such an invitation inconvenience you?  Are there other things you’d rather be doing?  Does it offend you?  Are there things it asks you to give up that you feel you can’t live without?

The promise in this story is, even though that is our nature—to hate this message, to prefer our own things, to be disgusting, evil, selfish beings—the invitation comes to us, and God works to gather us into his banquet hall, despite what we deserve.

This is the wedding of the king’s son: we are invited to the feast of the wedding of God’s Son: because he married himself to his people by his death on the cross, paying all their debts and giving to them all his wealth, we are all invited to come and reap the benefits.  It’s all done!  It’s all free!  The messengers of God come with this Gospel to encourage us, although you may be the chief of sinners, although you may be the vilest and lowest person in the world, this great feast is for you!  Or, although you may think you have everything you need, although you may have other things you want to accomplish that prevent you from coming to this feast, although the message may offend you, it is still a feast given for you.  Don’t be foolish.  Take this free gift!  God wants to fill his halls with wedding guests, because our sins are all forgiven, and eternal celebratory feasting is ours.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for preparing this wedding feast for us, although we never deserved it.  Lead us to see the wonderful gift you give us on account of the sacrificial death of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose 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 #38 – Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Feasting with God #38

Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Text: Luke 10:1-3

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Trees are changing this year, as they did last year and every year before, into fiery and warm colors, while the air around them is growing cooler, and already frost has touched the ground in some places.  It’s this time of year that we can expect to see pumpkins, gourds, corn and other crops freshly plucked appearing on the market, and even decorating our houses.  The seeds that were planted last season have sprouted and grown and produced fruit, and now it’s time to harvest.

This is a picture that Jesus used to demonstrate what the work of the Kingdom of God is.  Seeds have been planted, according to this picture, but the harvest is coming, and the work requires workers.  This is the very work for which Jesus sent out these seventy-two.  They were the harvesters being sent out.

How do we interpret this picture?  Elsewhere in Jesus’ parables the harvest seems to be the picture of the Last Day, when the faithful are harvested to be gathered into barns (eternal life in heaven) while the wicked who have rejected the faith are bundled up as weeds and thrown into the fire (eternal death in hell) (Matt. 13:24-30).  But that’s not the picture here.  The laborers of the harvest Jesus speaks of now are not the angels, for there is a fixed number of angels, and yet Jesus encourages the disciples to pray for more laborers.  These laborers, instead, are the seventy-two themselves, and others who perform the same work of harvesting.  This is the harvesting of souls for salvation within this life.  This is the work of evangelism, of sharing the good news.

Think of what a comfort this picture means: the seed is already planted.  Nothing new needs to be spread out.  The work of evangelism is merely to reap what God has already sown.  This takes a great deal of weight off of the one who is a laborer in this harvest: our task is simple, for we only put into action what has been prepared before.  We only share the Word already written, as Jesus said to his people when he ascended: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The message that is proclaimed by the harvesters is not one that we invent.  It is one already spoken by our Lord, by Christ, and we merely teach that same Word.

And this is a necessary work.  Souls cannot be saved if the laborers of the harvest will not do their work.  And these laborers, Jesus says, are few.  So we do pray to the Lord that he will send out laborers into his harvest—but be careful what you wish for!  Those who have received the Word (that is, all Christians), are the ones who will be sent as laborers into the harvest.  If you believe in this Word, you must be prepared to be placed into a position by your God in which you may do the work of the harvest.  You will be placed into a position in which you will share this Word you believe.

And here is where Jesus gives his warning: the laborers of the harvest are also lambs, defenseless, innocent creatures, and the crop they are sent to harvest is also a pack of ravenous wolves who may fall onto these lambs at any moment to tear them apart.  Our harvest is not an easy task of plucking inanimate objects.  We bring the enlivening Word of God to souls which are hardened against it.  There are, in fact, only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers.  The believers are the lambs and the laborers of the harvest.  The unbelievers are the field of crop and the pack of wolves.  The work of the harvesters, the believers, is to go into dangerous territory and to seek to make lambs out of these wolves.  This is not only a dangerous task; it is humanly speaking an impossible one.

Praise the Lord that he doesn’t leave us alone to it: even as he sends us out he promises, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).  Paul understood the situation when he wrote, using a different image, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth….  For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9).  You see, the responsibility is not laid on our shoulders to actually cause a transformation in the heart.  That is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our work is to go into the field God prepares for us bearing the Word; that Word is our harvesting tool, our scythe with which we cut the stalks of the crop, so that souls may be brought into eternal life before God.  This is a blessed task, allowing us to share our joy at our salvation, so that God may bring others the same salvation.

Lord, send laborers into your harvest.  Equip each and every one of us to be such laborers.  Encourage us to know that this work, although dangerous, will never defeat us, for we are guided by you, and the work is actually accomplished by you through us.  Let us be your tools through which you win more souls for eternal life, that the harvest may indeed be plentiful.  In your Son’s name we ask it.  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 #37 – Sustained with a Word

Feasting with God #37

Sustained with a Word

Text: Isaiah 50:4

4The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed when people become Christians, they become intimately concerned with the salvation of others: they want their loved ones, friends and family, to be saved as they are, to taste the sweet Gospel with which they have been nourished.  And the most blessed fact is this: this nourishment is designed to be shared.

The prophet Isaiah rejoices that God has given him “the tongue of those who are taught.”  An interesting poetic turn of phrase, that.  Many of us may remember in elementary school how our teachers would convince us that if our mouths were open, that meant that our ears were closed.  This was a way of teaching us the wisdom of listening before we speak.  This is all-important, if we are to speak with any authority on a subject.  If we are to contribute anything worthwhile to a conversation, we must first listen, we must first be taught.  This is true for our earthly relationships and worldly subjects, and it is doubly true for heavenly things.

How can we presume to speak about godly truths if we haven’t learned them from God?  How can we lead the blind if we ourselves are blind?  How can we feed the starving if we are exhausted by our own hunger?  It’s as they tell you on an airplane when the oxygen masks drop down: first attach your own mask, then help your neighbor.  If you want to lift someone up from a precarious position, you’ll want to be sure that the ground you’re standing on is firm.

So before we tell anyone else the truth, we have to know the truth.  So with the prophet Isaiah we find the best practice to be: “Morning by morning he awakens…my ear / to hear as those who are taught.”  So take Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  The greatest earthly teachers are those who are humble enough to be taught.  This, as well, is doubly true for those who teach heavenly things.  When we allow God to teach us, then we can be certain of what we learn, and therefore also certain of what we teach.

Rejoice to be taught the Word of God, which grants you the faith to believe that your sins have been paid for by his Son on the cross.  These words are sustenance for life here in time and hereafter in eternity.  And the miraculous thing is that this Word not only sustains us, but it causes our cup to run over so abundantly that we are able to share with others and “to sustain with a word him who is weary.”  Thank God for this wonderful gift!

Awaken our ears, O Lord, and cause us to come continually with all humility back to your Word where we can learn of our salvation and be sustained for our eternal life.  Lead us then also to speak what we have learned with others, to sustain them with the same Word.  Grant us true thankfulness for so great a gift, and cause us to never despise this Word.  In your Son’s 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.