Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 7:10-14 & Luke 2:8-16 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2015
This Shall Be A Sign Unto You
Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)
What is the purpose of a sign?  Why does God give so many signs in the Bible?   It is because God wants you to be sure of what he has promised.  He wants you not to doubt his mercy and grace, and his goodwill and favor toward you in Christ your Savior.  He wants you to be certain of it and to regard him as your loving Father in heaven who does not condemn you, but blesses you and keeps you, since it was to this end that he sent his only begotten Son to be born for you, to live for you, and to die for you.  He wants this confidence for you because he loves you very much.  He wants you to be firm in your faith for at least these two reasons:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Jacob

Genesis 27:41–28:22 - Advent 3 Midweek - December 16, 2015
Jacob – Access to God
Jacob fulfilled his name and supplanted his older brother Esau.  [Jacob fulfilled his name.  We learned about this last week.  His name means supplanter, which is one who gets what belongs to another by taking that person’s place.  Ordinarily, this is a sin.  The ninth commandment teaches us that we should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.  Well, Jacob schemed.  And so he got what his older brother thought was his.  But this was no ordinary circumstance.  God had already promised it to Jacob.  Jacob feared and loved God.  He was not scheming to get his brother’s inheritance.  He was scheming to get his own inheritance.  And he didn’t get it in a way that only appeared right.  Actually, it appeared quite wrong.  And yet Jacob was justified in claiming what God had already said was his.  God said it was his.  It was Esau who did not help and be of service to him in keeping it.]

He got the blessing from their father Isaac that Esau had wanted for himself.  Esau was furious.  He consoled himself by planning to kill his brother once their father was dead.  So Jacob fled.  By his determination to gain the blessing that by God’s promise was already his, Jacob became a stranger to the very land that God promised him.  By his eagerness to receive the promise of God, he became a fugitive from his own brother who had become his bitter enemy.  

Claiming God’s blessing by believing the gospel has a way of doing this.  The world, which has at least some sense of fairness and justice, like Esau, knows you don’t deserve the blessing you claim to have and enjoy.  You’re a sinner.  You know it.  They don’t know the half of it.  God knows all of it.  And yet you claim what before the world makes you look like a crook, like your father Jacob.  You claim what you don’t deserve – a blessing you were not born with.  What makes you better than they?  For presuming to have God’s favor despite your many faults, you’ll be called a hypocrite. 

But you don’t claim your own merit or righteousness, do you?  You claim the merit and righteousness of Christ, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  His righteousness stands against all accusation.  It is your birthright, because when you were baptized, you received a new birth – not a birth holding onto the heal of your elder brother, but a birth that unites you forever to the eternal Son of God made flesh for you.  You have been buried and raised with him.  His inheritance is yours.  His innocence is yours.  You have his permission and command to lay hold of it and claim it and not let anyone take it from you.  Esau hated his brother because he couldn’t understand any of this.  So also you will be hated by those who don’t believe the gospel. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 3

Matthew 11:2-10 - Advent 3 - December 13, 2015
Decreasing & Increasing
St. John was more than a prophet.  He was sent by God to prepare the way for his Son, Jesus Christ.  He prepared for the Lord in two very basic ways. First he taught repentance.  He exposed the sin of those to whom the Lord was coming, that is, the people of Israel.  He exposed their love of money, their arrogance, their drunkenness and debauchery, their disobedience to parents and others in authority, their disdain for the poor, and their shameful ignorance of God’s holy word, which was their heritage.  He exposed their self-righteousness – especially that of their leaders and teachers who no longer directed God’s people to the promised Christ, but directed them instead to their own good works of obedience.  They pointed people to themselves as examples of righteousness to imitate rather than to the mercy long promised in the coming Savior. 
And this brings us to the other way in which John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord.  After he showed people their sin through the law with its curse, he directed them to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He said, there is your blessing; there is the one who bears your curse.  Repent of your sin and look at what I am pointing to.  He is the very Lamb that Abraham told Isaac God would prepare for a sacrifice in his place.  He is the Lamb that was typified by the spotless lamb whose blood marked their doors when the angel of death passed over in Egypt.  He is the Lamb that all sacrifices that the priests ever offered in the temple always pointed to.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Advent Isaac

Genesis 27:1-40 - Advent 2 Midweek - December 9, 2015
Isaac – Instrument of God
Abraham had taken two wives altogether: Sarah and then also Keturah after Sarah died.  That’s fine, of course.  One is free to remarry after a spouse dies.  But then he also took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, who gave birth to Ishmael while Sarah still lived; and then also several concubines besides.  That’s not fine.  His grandson Jacob did the same.  He took two wives as well; except for him it was at the same time.  Plus he pretty much took his wives’ servants as wives too.  So he kind of had four wives altogether.  It was all pretty messed up.  It was the culture in which they lived, and they were products of it.  But that doesn’t make it right. 

They had learned these practices from the heathen nations out of which God had once called Abraham and which surrounded them where they lived in the land of Canaan.  God told Abraham to forsake all idols, and he did.  But apparently God was patient when it came to some of their unsavory customs.  God never openly rebuked them for their multiple marriages.  But he never approved of it either.  We see no blessing come from it  – only strife every time.  The blessing with which God blessed Abraham and his seed was always despite these foolish traditions they inherited.  God graciously overlooked them for the sake of the promise to send his Son. 

People will often mock the Bible because of this blatant polygamy among the patriarchs.  But remember God neither commanded it nor approved of it.  As Jesus himself said,

“From the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9) 

Jesus points us to the beginning of creation. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent Abraham

Genesis 22:1-18 - Advent 1 Midweek - December 2, 2015
Abraham – Father of Faith
In Catechism class we’ve been studying Bible history.  The next three lessons that we’re on schedule to study just so happen to form a very fitting three-part series for our midweek Advent services.  We’ll be considering the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This evening we focus on Abraham

Abraham was a Christian.  His faith was Christian faith, because the promise God gave him to believe was the promise to send Jesus.  Jesus would be a blessing to all nations because he would be the Savior of all nations.  Abraham’s faith was great.  It was strong.  But what made his faith so great was not its strength.  It was its object – that is, it was what he believed in.  He believed the word of God.  He believed in the same Lord Jesus that we believe in.  Of course, Jesus wasn’t born yet.  But this didn’t keep him from believing in him.  Jesus tells us that it didn’t even keep him from seeing him. 

The Jews in Jesus’ day claimed Abraham as their father.  But they did not trust in what Abraham trusted in.  They trusted in themselves – and in their bloodline connection to him.  Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39).  This made them angry, because they were quite proud of their works.  Then Jesus said that Abraham still lived because he believed in him.  So they accused Jesus of blasphemy.  Jesus responded to their charge by saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). 

Let us consider two things this evening: