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 #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.

Feasting with God #54 – Feeding God

Feasting with God #54

 Feeding God

Text: Numbers 28:1-8

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’  3And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.  4The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil.  6It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.  7Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb.  In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord.  8The other lamb you shall offer at twilight.  Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

If your family was like mine growing up, you had daily devotions.  Ours were always right after supper.  While we kids were squirming, anxious to get out and play with our friends, Dad took up the devotion book and read, sometimes including questions about the devotion, sometimes with a recitation of the Creed or Luther’s Small Catechism, always ending with prayer.  Maybe you do something similar each day.  Maybe this devotional series is part of your routine.

The daily devotional life of Israel centered around this core: each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, they sacrificed a perfect male lamb.  This sacrifice is presented in an interesting way: it’s called by God, “my food for my food offerings.”  Does God need food and drink?

In Egypt, the Israelites would have been surrounded by a polytheistic religion in which worshipers provided food to placate their gods, although more commonly the Egyptians left food offerings at the tombs of loved ones, so that they could be sustained in the afterlife.  In Canaan, the Israelites were to be confronted with religions that sought even more fervently to feed their gods, so that the gods would be happy with them.  Does the true God want the same thing?

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we state:

In Num. 28:4f. three parts of that daily sacrifice are repre­sented, the burning of the lamb, the libation, and the oblation of wheat flour.  The Law had pictures or shadows of future things.  Accordingly, in this spectacle Christ and the entire worship of the New Testament are portrayed.  The burning of the lamb signifies the death of Christ.  The libation signifies that everywhere in the entire world, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are sprinkled with the blood of that Lamb, i.e., sanctified, as Peter says, 1 Pet. 1:2: Through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.  The oblation of wheat flour signifies faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in hearts.  As, therefore, in the Old Testament, the shadow is perceived, so in the New the thing signified should be sought, and not another type, as sufficient for a sacrifice. (Ap XXIV 36-37)

In the Old Testament, the people of God were in training.  They were learning as children the building blocks of their education, the alphabet and simple addition and subtraction.  So they were taught to understand that, for their sins, a daily—a double-daily—sacrifice of blood was required.  And the creature to be sacrificed had to be perfect.  Its blood had to be given to God, and its meat burned.  Fine flour had to be offered as well, bread with the meat.  God thereby used a picture that they would have been familiar with to teach them: they would have been well acquainted with the idolatrous practices of placating gods with food offerings.  The true God informs them that, yes, indeed, there does need to be placation for sin.

But this was all training.  It’s fulfillment came in Christ, the ultimate perfect “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  His death, and no longer he burning of a lamb each day, took away all sins once and for all.  And as though to say, “I no longer need this food, for all wrath is turned away; therefore instead I give you this wonderful food,” God gives us, not the blood of animals, but “the blood of Christ,” and not the flour of fine wheat, but “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).  To turn away God’s wrath, Jesus gave him the final offering.  And now we are given the blessed feast.

Lord, we thank you that, through the offering and sacrifice of your Son, you have turned away all wrath for our sins, and even more have given us the undeserved gift of a heavenly feast.  Let us receive this gift worthily, with believing hearts, and therefore be strengthened by it in faith and love, until we may finally come to your kingdom, where we will partake of the blessed heavenly banquet in eternity.  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.

Feasting with God #48 – To Eat or Not to Eat

Feasting with God #48

“To Eat or Not to Eat”

Text: Luke 7:33-35

33“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Hard to please.  That doesn’t just describe the Pharisees.  When it gets down to it, when we’re talking about spiritual things, that describes humanity.  We’re all hard to please.

There are certainly some people who will claim to be laid back in their spirituality—in Christianity or in other religions.  The New Age movement is famous for its all-inclusive, pluralistic attitudes (“Coexist!”), and so those within it would certainly claim that they’re not hard to please.  But they are, just in a different way than they think.

Are you hard to please?  Think spiritually, now.  Think of your church.  Would you complain if your pastor completely changed the current layout of the sanctuary, getting rid of the altar and pulpit, and instead preached from a folding chair?  Or would you feel out of sorts if the service was twice as long with twice as much singing?  Or would you be displeased if the pastor started to chant in Latin instead of English?

Maybe none of these would bother you; maybe they all would.  But if something about your religion or spirituality would bother you, ask yourself this question: Do I dislike it because of personal preference, or because it’s actually false teaching or harmful to the faith?

When Jesus walked the earth, at times he was greeted with excitement.  But once he started to preach, pointing out that he wasn’t going to do just exactly what the people wanted him to do, he was hated.  In his sermon from Luke’s Gospel, he pointed out the hypocrisy that these people were demonstrating: they complained about John the Baptist’s preaching (even though he preached the truth) by pointing out his eating habits and concluding that he was a demoniac.  Then when Jesus came (also preaching the truth), they didn’t like that either and pointed out his eating habits, concluding that he was a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

When you complain about things you don’t like, is it because those things are actually wrong?  Or are they just not what you expected, not what you’d prefer?  Here’s a radical thought: God doesn’t care if our sanctuaries have pulpits and altars or folding chairs and stage lights.  God doesn’t care if we sing something with a traditional German or Norwegian tune or something that sounds like a rock song.  God doesn’t care if our prayers are focused in traditional Latin or in English that everyone speaks at once.  Here’s what God cares about: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).  God wants our worship services to be places where we foster true belief and true confession; and how does that come about?

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  Let the Word be taught, in truth and purity (and this means, if there’s Latin, let there be a translation into the language of the people; Latin itself is not evil, but “If any speak in a tongue…let someone interpret,” 1 Cor. 14:27).  “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Let the washing of water with the Word be practiced rightly in the church.  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ…?  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:26).  Let the Sacrament of the Altar be celebrated in a worthy manner.

The Word and Sacraments—we call these the means of grace, for it is through them, and through nothing else, that God communicates his grace, forgiveness, faith, and salvation to people—these are the marks of the Church.  If they are uncorrupted, then the true Church is there.  If they are there and unimpeded, what can you complain about?

Jesus concludes here with a proverb: “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”  Similarly, we say, “Time will tell.”  The validity of Jesus and his message was proved as time went on: he was led to the cross, where he suffered willingly, never speaking a word to stop it.  And then, three days later, God raised him from the dead to stamp his divine seal on the salvation Christ won.  We have seen it proven.  Therefore we can be certain in what the truth is, as God has revealed it.

Dear Lord, let us never become distracted by what we expect things to be.  Don’t let our personal preferences stand in the way of the pure, uncorrupted preaching of your Word for the salvation of souls.  Instead, teach us your Word, by your Holy Spirit enlightening our hearts, to create in us ever firmer faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who died to take away the sins of the world, in whose resurrection we are confident of our own resurrections, and 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 #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.

Feasting with God #42 – The Lamb Will Be the Shepherd

Feasting with God #42

The Lamb Will Be the Shepherd

Text: Revelation 7:14-17

14I said to him, “Sir, you know.”  And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“What will heaven be like?”  This question has occurred to the minds of probably every Christian at some point in his life.  Children are fascinated by the question.  The illustrations from children’s Bible Story Books usually picture a fluffy-white cloudy Middle-Eastern city with tones of gold and sunlight.  I’ve also heard heaven described as eternal happiness, where there’s no pain or sadness or sorrow, ultimately making it sound something like the Nirvana of Buddhism.  I’ve also heard that there’s no possible way we on this earth can conceive what that heaven will be like.

No doubt there’s truth to all of these things.  But rather than speculate, what does Scripture say?  The Apostle, St. John, in the vision he received in his old age on the isle of Patmos, describes in this enigmatic way what the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” experienced in their heavenly joy (Rev. 7:9-10).

First the elder to whom John spoke explained how this multitude was able to come into this joy: they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  These are the saints, so called because they are sanctified—made holy—on account of the blood shed by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  This teaches us what forgiveness ultimately means: although these people had grubby, mud-spattered robes, the Lamb’s blood is given to them freely, the only substance which can wash the grime of sin away.  Therefore even though they are sinful themselves, they are given the free white robes that allow them to take their place before the throne of God.  Here is the first comfort of this picture: we have a free pass into heaven, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

And the second comfort comes afterward: this is the comfort of what heaven will be like.  We who have these white robes are in God’s presence continually, able to stand in the glorious warm light of the Lord almighty, and there he shelters us—he is himself our home.  We will not hunger; we will not thirst; we will not be pained by the elements.  God is our shelter, our home, and he is our nourishment, our feast.

And this fascinating irony: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.”  When Jesus appeared for the beginning of his public ministry on earth, John the Baptist pointed to him and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  Jesus the Messiah was the sacrifice for sin, so that his blood could be shed in order to wash us clean.  But that same Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  We are the sheep, and he is our Lord, our leader, our guide, our master.  In this vision from Revelation, St. John hears explained how this one Messiah can be both Lamb and shepherd.  Having been sacrificed for sin, he rises victorious to be our master forever: so the Lamb who was slain has become King over all us saints.

The elder who speaks with St. John then seems to paraphrase a portion of Psalm 23, saying: “he will guide them to springs of living water,” as that psalm says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. / He makes me lie down in green pastures. / He leads me beside still waters” (Ps. 23:1-2).  This Shepherd who was our sacrificial Lamb is now intimately and only concerned with our never-ending joy and comfort, and for this reason the elder concludes: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  This Shepherd who was a Lamb, who is God, is at our side, our companion, our friend, our comfort who holds us and walks with us.  This is what heaven is like.

Lord Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).  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 #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.

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 #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.

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.

Feasting with God #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  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.