Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

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Feasting with God #18 – Our True Passover

Feasting with God #18

Our True Passover

Text: Exodus 12:3b-11

3b[E]very man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.  4And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the  lamb.  5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.  You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.  7Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  8They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.  9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and inner parts.  10And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.  11In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.  And you shall eat it in haste.  It is the Lord’s Passover.

Passover is almost universally considered to be the highest of all the Jewish festivals.  Every year when it is celebrated, it recalls the first time it was celebrated, when the Israelites were preparing to be freed from their slavery in Egypt.  It is a festival to commemorate the Lord’s providence and care for his people, and his promise for their deliverance.

But this festival has been fulfilled.  At its institution it was designed to prepare the Israelites to be delivered from bondage, and each celebration thereafter was to prepare them again for the greater deliverance.  Look closely at the recipe for this festival, and we’ll see what it means.

Each household was to take “a lamb…without blemish”: a perfect lamb without any defect or imperfections to be found.  Then this lamb was to be killed, its blood used to mark the doorposts and lintels of the houses, then roasted and eaten entirely by the family—and eaten “in haste,” “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.”  So, being ready to get up and leave at a moment’s notice, the families were to eat the meat of a perfect lamb whose blood marked their houses.

Of course, we know from the rest of this story in the book of Exodus, at midnight while these people were inside celebrating the Passover, all the firstborn in the land of Egypt were being killed by the angel of God.  But this death passed over the houses that had the blood of the lamb marking them.  This all foreshadowed something greater, and that greater thing has been fulfilled.

The true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, was killed just after the celebration of a Passover around 2000 years ago.  His disciples had been given his flesh and blood to eat and drink when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Then, a night that seemed to last from Friday evening until Sunday morning left Jesus’ disciples in fear.  But when the dawn came on Easter Sunday, their Teacher came to them and led them out of their hiding places, taught them about the joy of God’s deliverance, and told them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

You see, Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, whom God selected to be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  Now, those who are marked by Jesus’ blood will be passed over by death, so that our deaths lead only to eternal life.  We come out of our temporary, earthly homes, in bondage to this sinful world, rising to new life in our Lord Jesus.  Because our baptisms have washed us in the blood of the Lamb, we are delivered by God.  Because we are strengthened by the meal of Christ’s body and blood, we are prepared for the journey through this world to our resurrections.

For Christians, the festival of Passover is a reflection of the time that God delivered his covenant people from slavery, and also an illustration of how God ultimately delivered the whole world from slavery to sin.  With our belts around our waists, our shoes on our feet, and our walking sticks in our hands, we can now be ready to go through this world in the confidence of our Savior, who leads us to eternal life.

Dear Jesus, our true Passover Lamb, help us always to look to your sacrifice for our confidence in this sinful world.  Help us to look to our baptisms, to your holy Supper, and to your Word for our strengthening as we march on to our resurrections.  Help us to deliver that same message to others, so that when the Last Day comes, many others may be marked in your blood and brought into eternal life.  In your name we ask all this.  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.

Epiphany – After the Twelve Days of Christmas

January 6th is the festival of the Epiphany.  In our liturgical calendar, the next few Sundays are called “Sundays after Epiphany,” to observe this celebration.  While Christmas is a familiar holiday, however, not many recognize what Epiphany means.

The word “epiphany” comes from Greek, and means “manifestation.”  In this holiday, it is recognized how God manifested himself, or made himself present and visible to the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can define the difference between Christmas and Epiphany by saying that Christmas celebrates Jesus as True Man, while Epiphany celebrates him as Very God.

In some parts of Christendom (specifically the Eastern Churches) Epiphany is regarded as the actual celebration of Christmas.  There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world and the beginning of his ministry and work.  Christmas is his birthday, while Epiphany is his coronation.  Epiphany, in fact, is closer in relevance to the average human population than Christmas is – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are really the only ones directly affected by Christmas.  Epiphany meant that God had come to fulfill his promised work of salvation.

There are several little epiphanies celebrated during this season.  Historically, the first “epiphany” is the coming of the Magi or the wise men to worship Jesus.  They were the first from the broader world to see this God-Man, and actually to bow down before him, recognizing his glory and power.  Other epiphanies include when Jesus was presented at the temple and Simeon sang his famous song of thanks to God for sending salvation, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father declared him publicly his Son and endorsed his mission, when Jesus performed his first miracle and demonstrated his divine power to the wedding guests at Cana, and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before his disciples so that they could see his divine glory.

All of these epiphanies and more are designed to bring proof to the world that Jesus is God made Man, that he is the promised Messiah and the Christ, and that he is the Savior of the world.  After seeing what this season and this holiday is about, can you fail to recognize its blessed significance?

At Redeemer this season, we celebrate on January 11th the Baptism of Jesus, on January 18th and 25th the calling of disciples by God, on February 1st and 8th the miracles of Jesus, and on February 15th the Transfiguration.

St. Michael and All Angels

September 29th is historically known as “Michaelmas,” or, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, a day of the year set aside as the celebration of the angels in the Church.

Angels are discussed throughout Scripture as winged beings, some with two wings (1 Kings 6:24), some with four wings (Ezekiel 1:6), and some with six wings (Isaiah 6:2).  Sometimes, though, they appear in human form (Gen. 19:1-5), so that, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebr. 13:2).

There are a number of ranks among the angels, each seemingly designated a special purpose.  The cherubim are described by Ezekiel (1:5-14, 10:20), and are the same type that adorn the ark of the covenant (1 Sam. 4:4).  It would seem, then, that the cherubim are a kind of honor guard to the throne of God.

The seraphim are often described in a glorious light, and would seem to be the messengers who spoke to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14).

Archangels are the highest order of angel, their name meaning “chief angels.”  Michael is the only one explicitly named as an archangel, so it is unclear whether he is the only one or whether there are several others.

Michael is also one of only two angels given names in the Bible, the other being Gabriel.  Whereas Michael is usually considered a royal and warrior-type of angel, Gabriel is a messenger and a herald.  Michael’s name means “Who is like God?” and Gabriel’s means “Strong man of God.”  There is another angel given a name in the Apocrypha, Raphael, whose name means “God heals,” but his existence may by mythical.

The angels may have different specific purposes, but they are unified in one common overarching purpose: service in the kingdom of God.  The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and our word “evangelism” comes from the same word.  Angels are therefore those tasked with delivering the messages of God—which we see accomplished in many of their appearances throughout Scripture, such as appearing to Mary and to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, likewise coming to Abraham to tell of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But they are also soldiers in God’s armies.  Jesus said he could call down legions of angels to defend him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:53), and in Revelation 12:7-12 they are pictured as a fighting force that defeats Satan and the evil angels.  They are also the protectors of God’s people, as when Daniel was in the lions’ den “God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22).

St. Michael Slaying the Dragon

Ultimately, the angels serve God and, therefore, his followers: “Are [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebr. 1:14); “Let all God’s angels worship him” (1:6); “For he will command his angels concerning you / to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11).  Therefore, the doctrine of guardian angels is sound.

We can take comfort in the protection of God’s mighty angels, but, even greater, at the command of our conquering Lord these angels have cast Satan out of heaven, signifying that the devil has no power to blot our names from the Book of Life.

St. Matthew the Evangelist and Apostle

Today is the celebration of St. Matthew the Evangelist and Apostle.  As we have done previously, what follows is some background on the life and work of this saint.

All that we know of the apostle Matthew’s early life is that he was a tax collector.  This was a position which caused him to be hated by the Jews, because he served the Roman oppressors, and because tax collectors were famous for shaving off extra money for themselves.  But this was a life that he left behind him when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9).

With the other eleven, Matthew served as an apostle of Christ, and received the same commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  According to tradition, Matthew went and preached to the Egyptians, converting the whole country, and it was there also, according to legend, that he was betrayed by the king and murdered while offering prayers in the church.

But the most famous of Matthew’s evangelism efforts is in the writing of his Gospel.  The Holy Spirit spoke through Matthew as he wrote this work, which had as its aim specifically to preach the message of the Messiah to the Hebrews.  In his Gospel, he points specifically to Christ as true Man (and therefore Matthew’s symbol is often that of a winged man), thereby demonstrating the humility of our Savior.

If one word were used to describe St. Matthew, it would be humility.  In his Gospel he refers to himself continually as “Matthew the tax collector,” showing what humble beginnings he had.  Like all Christians, Matthew’s hope was not in himself or in anything he could do, but in the almighty God who became a man such as us, so that he could show us his mercy and grant us salvation.

St. Bartholomew

Introduction: How a Lutheran Regards the Saints

The Augsburg Confession states that “the remembrance of the saints may be commended to us so that we imitate their faith and good works according to our calling…. However, the Scriptures do not teach us to pray to the saints or seek their help, for the only mediator, propitiation, highpriest, and intercessor whom the Scriptures set before us is Christ” (AC XXI, Tappert).

Lutherans teach three benefits that may be gained by examining the lives of the saints: 1) Thanksgiving to God for sending teachers and other gifts to his Church; 2) The strengthening of our faith by the examples of how God provided for his saints in the past; 3) The examples of godly living provided by the saints which we may imitate.

We do not pray to the saints, nor do we give them any glory that rightfully belongs to God, but we honor their lives as one honors the soldier who gave his life for a righteous cause.

St. Bartholomew

Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and is usually identified as the same as Nathanael, and he was one of those to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Tiberias after his resurrection (John 21). The story goes (although it is not certain) that Bartholomew went on a missionary tour tho India, where he preached the Gospel and left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. He is also supposed to have evangelized in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, and other parts of Greece.

Bartholomew is said to have been martyred in Armenia. According to tradition, he converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity, after which Astyages, Polymius’ brother, ordered his execution. Bartholomew was then flayed alive and crucified upside-down.

image

The symbol of Bartholomew is often a silver knife with a golden handle over a golden book, with a red shield behind. This symbol represents Bartholomew’s faithfulness to the Word of God, even as the knife took his life. Other symbols include three knives (again to recall Bartholomew’s martyrdom), or the branch of a fig tree, to recall what Jesus said to him in John 1:48: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

The question of what Jesus meant by that revelation has bothered theologians for centuries, especially because of Bartholomew’s reaction: he responded by exclaiming a confession of Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. Some have thought that Bartholomew’s reaction was too intense for Jesus’ statement to be merely a demonstration of his omniscience. Somehow, what Jesus saw was enough to show Bartholomew that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, as Philip had told Bartholomew.

It was the custom of devout Jews at this time to study the Scriptures and the Talmud in some quiet, secluded place. Bartholomew may have chosen the quiet shade of a fig tree as his place of meditation, and so here he read the Word of God, and here he prayed to his God – perhaps he even prayed for the Messiah to come. What Jesus saw of Bartholomew was not merely Bartholomew’s physical presence, but his prayers. Jesus, as God incarnate, saw into the heart of this man, heard his prayers, and knew how deeply he desired that salvation would come. When Jesus told Bartholomew that he had seen him, Bartholomew knew that this was the one who was the hope of all Israel.

Of course, this is an interpretation, which cannot be definitively proved. In the account in John’s Gospel we are given only a mystery, and our imaginations seek to fill in the gaps. We can only take the facts given to us in the Word: that Bartholomew was a devout Israelite who hoped for the coming of the promised Messiah, and when Jesus met him, Bartholomew believed. We can only acknowledge the faith of this disciple and the power of Christ, whose revelation brought him to faith as his disciple.

August 24th had been held as the day of St. Bartholomew since the Middle Ages and before in Western Christianity, to celebrate the life and martyrdom of this witness of the Gospel.