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 #46 – Such Sweet Sorrow

Feasting with God #46

“Such Sweet Sorrow”

Text: Ezekiel 2:8-3:3

8“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you.  Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”  9And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it.  10And he spread it before me.  And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.  3 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here.  Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  2So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  3And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.”  Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

When he was tempted by Satan to use his divine omnipotence for selfish purposes, Jesus responded by citing the book of Deuteronomy: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3).  But who would have ever thought to take this literally?  No, we don’t go around tearing pages out of our Bibles and eating them.  To do so would be missing the point.

Ezekiel was called to be God’s prophet at a time when Israel was rebelling (and God here calls that nation “that rebellious house”), and like many prophets before and after him, he was called to bring the rebellious people back to God.  This was a difficult and terrifying task.  Imagine the comparatively small task that would face you if you had to confront a loved one with their sin.  If your parent, sibling, spouse, or other close friend or family member was living in some sin, is it easy to speak to them about it?  What goes through your head?  “They’ll get mad at me.”  “I’ll lose that relationship.”  For Ezekiel and the other prophets called upon to tell Israel about their sins, these same thoughts were going through their heads, added to the fear, “They’ll kill me!”

And there was God, commanding Ezekiel to go and be the bearer of bad news to Israel: “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  Earlier God had told him, “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’” and, “And you shall speak my words to them” (2:4, 7).  Compare how God called others of his prophets: Moses, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:12), and Aaron through Moses, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and pout the words in his mouth” (4:15); Jeremiah, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’” (Jer. 1:9); Isaiah, “And [the seraph] touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’  Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’  And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people,’” (Is. 6:6-9), and Isaiah later prophesied to the redeemed people God’s words, “And I have put my words in your mouth” (51:16).

These prophets are never expected to go and tell God’s people God’s will on their own.  Each time, God places his Word into his prophet’s mouth, whether through speaking to them aloud and sending his Spirit (as in Moses’ case), through a touch (as Jeremiah), through a burning coal upon the lips (as Isaiah), through the eating of those very words (as Ezekiel), or through hearing the words aloud from another prophet (as Aaron, and perhaps more significantly, as the people to whom Isaiah prophesied).

Look at what Ezekiel had to preach: this scroll, written on both sides, is entitled, “Words of Lamentation and Mourning and Woe.”  To say it is an unpleasant message is an understatement.  And yet Ezekiel, having been told three times by God, “Eat what I give you,” three times building up how bitter he expects this experience to be, ate it, “and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”

This is what is surprising about God’s Word.  We speak of its two doctrines: Law and Gospel.  The Law terrifies, and when we hear or read it we want to withdraw.  However if, as in Ezekiel’s case, we “feed [our] belly” and “fill [our] stomach” with God’s Word, Law included, if it is allowed to permeate our entire being through the working of the Holy Spirit, if it penetrates our soul, then we will find that in our mouth it is “as sweet as honey.”

This is because the Law of God’s Word is never allowed by God to be left alone.  The Law is always followed by its fulfillment: the Gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).  For the same reason, we can see the sweetness of putting God’s Word of Law in our mouths and preaching it to sinners, for when they see the Law, they can see also how it was fulfilled in their salvation through Jesus Christ.

“Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!  Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.  My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.  My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.  Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.  I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.  Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” Amen. (Ps. 119:169-176)

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 #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 #28 – God’s Word Provides

Feasting with God #28

God’s Word Provides

Text: Isaiah 55:10-11

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

As a student in elementary school, I remember learning with awe about the water cycle.  The water on the earth—in oceans, rivers, lakes, puddles—evaporates in the heat of the sun, becoming water vapor, which rises up into the sky, and gathers together there in clouds.  Then, when the conditions are right, the clouds overflow and burst, raining or snowing onto the earth.  Then the cycle repeats itself.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God uses this water cycle as an illustration for the way his Word works.  When it rains or snows, the water eventually does evaporate once again, but not without the ground being watered by it.  Think of the way the air feels and smells when you go outside after it has rained.  Even if the water has already begun to evaporate, you can see the effect.  You know the rain has been there.

God’s Word works the same way.  He sends it out, and it has an effect, so that those nearby know it has been there.  Think of how God created the world: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).  God’s Word had an effect.  Think of what happened when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.  When they told him who they were looking for, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am he [literally: “I AM”].’…When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5-6).  Jesus’ Word had an effect.  Think also of when the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant: Jesus offered to come to the house and heal him there, “But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:8-9).  So Jesus said the word, and it was done.  His Word had an effect.

That centurion really understood what God’s Word could do, and what God wanted his Word to do.  The rain waters the earth, and this may cause flooding and destruction, but its true purpose is “making [the earth] bring forth and sprout, / giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”  Rain provides growth, food, and life.  In the same way God’s Word provides nourishment and eternal life.  When God’s Word is preached, it may sometimes be with the destructive, disciplining hammer of the Law, showing us how we have disobeyed God’s commands, how we have offended him and our fellow men with our thoughts, words, and actions; but what God really intends as the purpose of his Word is that it give us the message of his Son, Jesus, who paid the price for all those sins on the cross, who won for us eternal life.  God’s Word gives us faith in that Savior, promises us life in connection with him, and encourages us in that faith and life.  This is what God’s Word accomplishes.

Lord God, we thank you that you have sent your Word to teach us your Law, so that we may realize our spiritual thirst, and also to bless us with your Gospel, so that our thirst may be quenched.  Lead us always to return to that one sure source of spiritual nourishment, and strengthen our faith through it so that we may come to realize fully the blessings of eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation won for us in your Son.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.