Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Monthly Archives: December 2015

Feasting with God #45 – Food of Penitence

Feasting with God #45

Food of Penitence

Text: Matthew 3:1-6

1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

With the advent of our Lord approaching, we have to be prepared.  It was John the Baptist’s purpose to prepare hearts for that very coming, hence his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

At the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32).  You remember that story, when the King will recount to the sheep and goats their deeds (or lack thereof), demonstrating the evidence of a righteous or a wicked life, and the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).

Going through the deeds of the wicked and the righteous, if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that we often slip onto the side of the goats.  Or maybe we think we’re fine.  Think of the Christmas story: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  How many of us haven’t thought, “If Mary and Joseph came to my town, I would give them a room!”?  That’s a nice sentiment, but how honest is it, really?  Have you ministered to all of “the least of these” that you’ve met (Matt. 25:45)?  Have we started to claim that we’re pretty good, that we try our best, that God has to admit that we’ve done everything we’re capable of?

Such claims are pointless, trying to make ourselves feel better for our own shortcomings.  Claiming, “I’m doing my best,” assumes that God is content with “the best” of someone who is corrupted by sin.  The truth is, God demands perfection: not one bit less.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  This is why John baptized and demanded repentance.  His whole life was a demonstration of this attitude: he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  He gave up any comforts or soft fabrics and wore the itchy camel’s-hair to remind himself of his sinfulness.  He relinquished any delicacies and ate only the things found in the wilderness, locusts and wild honey.  His image and his message made an impression, and people were awakened to their sinfulness and their need for salvation.

Realize: it’s no use trying to hide your sinfulness.  Saying, “I’ve done my best,” means nothing; only trying to hide your true wickedness from yourself and from God.  But there is a promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  This is how we get on the side of the sheep: we repent, we are baptized, we are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ covers our unrighteousness.

This is John’s message, and it applies now more than ever, with the kingdom of heaven so close at hand.  It’s coming; are we on the side of the righteous or the unrighteous?  Cross the river Jordan in baptismal repentance, by confessing your sins and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, as your advent nears, prepare us by your grace and forgiveness.  Return us always to our baptisms in repentance, and when we confess our sins, cover us in your righteousness, so that at your coming we might stand on your right and join you in eternal glory.  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.

Feasting with God #44 – Jesus Will Eat with Us

Feasting with God #44

Jesus Will Eat with Us

Text: Revelation 3:20

20Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Are you ready for the Advent of our Lord?  He is so near now, and could come at any moment, so that we should be constantly vigilant.

In St. John’s visions, Jesus speaks this statement as part of his letter to the church of Laodicea, which he had described as “neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).  This church needs warning because, while they are not opposed to Christ and his Word, they are not great promoters of him either.  Rather they say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (3:17).  They believe they are sufficient.  They believe that they have all the religion they need.

This is meant as a warning to us as well.  With any number of reasons (I don’t like the people; the seats are uncomfortable; the sermons are boring; etc.) many people think that church is unnecessary, and it’s justified in our minds by thinking, “I know I’m saved; I know God’s Word; I can worship on my own.”  While it’s true, solitary worship and prayer is heard by God, this does not mean “neglecting to meet together” is a healthy habit (Heb. 10:25).  Instead, the warning to the Laodiceans must be taken to heart, as well as the promise.

Jesus promises, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  The best way to be sure of hearing his voice is to sit awake by the door.  This is not a physical wakefulness; it is a spiritual one, a wakefulness of faith.

Driving down dark roads at night, when one has not been rested or nourished properly, is dangerous.  Sleep-deprived drivers, they say, are more dangerous than drunk drivers.  Partially that’s because it’s so difficult to realize when you’re falling asleep at the wheel.  Sleep sneaks up and pounces from behind.  On your own, you may think that by sheer force of will you can keep yourself awake, but without proper preparation and readiness, sleep wins.

To keep faith from falling asleep, it’s not a matter of keeping yourself awake by force of will.  Sleep wins over will all the time; it just waits for the will to get tired.  No, to keep faith awake, it needs the proper nutrients, it needs the occasional splash of cold water or pinch, it needs someone close by who can notice when sleep starts to slip in and keep your faith awake.

All this comes from being, not lukewarm or thinking, “I’ve got this,” but dependent upon the Word of God, which with its Law wakes us up to the fact that we are falling asleep on our own, and with its Gospel keeps our eyes focused on the prize at the end.

That prize is eternal fellowship with Jesus, when he comes in and sits at our table, sharing a feast with us.  He is already with us, because he knocked at the door and was given entrance by the Holy Spirit when his Word brought us to faith.  He will come again at the Last Day—when no one knows it will come—and if we are awake in faith and ready by the door, then we feast with him in heaven for eternity.

Lord Jesus, keep our faiths awake by close attendance to your Word and by fellowship with our fellow Christians when we gather together around that Word.  Let us never become lukewarm or proud, believing ourselves self-sufficient, but show us how we must depend on you entirely.  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.

Feasting with God #43 – Eating and Drinking, Marrying and Giving in Marriage

Feasting with God #43

Eating and Drinking, Marrying and Giving in Marriage

Field of Lilies – Tiffany Studios, c. 1910, from Wikipedia

Text: Matthew 24:37-42

37“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

“Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  That’s what the heathen and proudly ignorant were up to before the Flood.  And, Jesus says, that’s what those same heathen and proudly ignorant will be doing in our own times, before the End.  But that’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?  Eating and drinking is how we are nourished, how we survive.  Marriage was instituted by God himself in the Garden of Eden.

It would be absurd to think that what Jesus is saying here is that eating, drinking, and marriage are evil and sinful.  Instead, the sin of these people (both before the Flood and before the End) is that they live for these things, and blind themselves to everything else.  Here is what that wicked ignorance means:

Even as men in that day lived in unthinking security, buried themselves in worldly cares, and failed to heed the signs of the times, so it shall be among the masses even now; moral laxity and gross materialism will spread like wildfire.  The sin of the people at the time of the Flood was not that they ate and drank and that they entered into wedlock.  This was God’s own order for the preservation and the propagation of the race.  But they lost themselves in these pursuits; they cared for nothing except the affairs of this life, for that which pertained to the flesh.  They closed their eyes to the signs of the times and their ears to the voice that spoke to them from God through Him whom Scripture calls the ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Pet. 2:5).  A condition of profound spiritual apathy had descended upon them.  ‘So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.’[1]

These people were missing the great truth Jesus had spoken previously: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).  Likewise, as Jesus’ sermon continued, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…?  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

It is so tempting to pay close attention to what one has accomplished, the impression one leaves on the world.  But when this becomes the all-in-all, and there is no attention left to give to heavenly things, when the eyes are fixed on the objects of this earth rather than the truths of God’s salvation, then those things become our only treasures, our gods.  This is why “one will be taken and one left.”  The one who is left had his eyes fixed on the ground he worked, her eyes on the millstone she turned, and his life could be counted in the heads of grain he picked, her life could be measured in how far that stone rolled; and meanwhile the one who is taken worked right alongside with his friend in the field, ground right next to her coworker in the mill, but this was not the life of these two.  These two worked the earth below, but had their eyes fixed on heaven above.

No doubt, in the field he spoke with his friend about his heavenly treasure and the joy he had, but his friend had blinded and deafened himself, hardened his heart to anything except the work which was his god.  No doubt, in the mill she talked about the salvation she had been given, the “reason for the hope” that was in her (1 Pet. 3:15), but her friend had hardened her heart, harder than that mighty millstone.

Let not your hearts be burdened by the cares of this world: remember that the kingdom of God, and all things, are yours, because the ruler of all things, Jesus Christ, God himself, died on the cross to transfer them to you.  Therefore keep your eyes on heavenly things, and “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Dear Jesus, dwell in our hearts and keep our eyes firmly fixed on you and the heavenly treasures you won for us.  When we eat and drink and marry and work, let all these things serve the purpose of building up those in faith, and of spreading that faith to all nations, all men who need to hear the Word of their salvation.  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] Joh. Ylvisaker, The Gospels (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), 618.