April 6, 2016
Rev. Ross Mahan; Pastor
Genesis 1:1-5; 26-31
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
- The Lutheran Church is both Confessional and Credal. A Creed is derived from the Latin: Credo, I believe, and is a confession of what we believe in our hearts and teach in our churches. A Creed is not equal with the Bible or an addition to it, but a brief summary of what we believe on the basis of Scripture. Tonight we will begin with the First Article of the Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Our faith must be based upon the written Word of God for where there is no Word and Promise of God there can be no faith, only superstition and imagination. The Christian has an obligation to make sure every doctrine he believes agrees with the Bible and to refuse to believe anything that cannot be proved from God’s clear Word. In Genesis chapters 1 and 2 we have the only clear reliable record of the creation of the world. God had to reveal the doctrine of Creation to us because no man was present at the time to report such a great event. The Bible ascribes the work of Creation to all three Persons of the Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Most everyone in the Western Nations believed in Creation until 1859 when Charles Darwin published his book entitled: The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of the Favored Races in the Struggle of Life. The Theory of Evolution is the very opposite of what the Bible teaches and raises the question, why has this theory become so popular in the 20th century?
- Why is Evolution being taught in our public schools and even in some liberal churches? Why were so many people in this nation willing to exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25)? Evolution is part of the ongoing attack by the devil against Christ and the Christian Church. A key factor in the Creation / Evolution debate is that a majority of scientists who believe in Evolution are also Atheists or Agnostics. Some hold to Theistic Evolution the idea that God used Evolution in the formation of the world. Others hold a Deistic view of God (that He exists but is not involved in the world). But Evolution has become the alternate explanation to the Biblical doctrine of Creation on how the universe and life came into existence. It is also the cornerstone of Secular Humanism, the idea that man is the end of all things. Humanism teaches people are basically good and that all human problems can be solved by using reason instead of religion. Humanism is the deification of man and the fulfillment of the words of Satan to Eve: Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Humanism teaches that the reason for man’s existence is man’s happiness and it denies any power or moral value superior to man. So when you ask the question: Who makes the rules, man or God? Who defines reality, right and wrong, truth and error, good and evil? The Secular Humanist would say that man himself determines right and wrong for himself.
- In the first article of the Humanist Manifesto we read: Humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. In Humanism, all human restraint is out the window and do as you please is the guiding principle. Secular Humanism was the principle behind Homosexual Marriage which is really the criminalization of Christianity and a direct assault upon God and His Word. In our public schools Humanistic Evolution is being taught to our children. It should not be surprising when we tell our children they came from animals that they begin to act like it. At Columbine High School in 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13 people and injured 24 others, Eric was wearing a T-Shirt with the words Natural Selection printed on it. These two young men were simply carrying out the true implications of Evolution, which denies the Law of God and leads to death. If we are not created in God’s image then why not kill the weaker ones among us if we choose. Joseph Stalin was a staunch Evolutionist. At one time he was a seminary student but turned his back on God and embraced Karl Marx which finally resulted in the deaths of 20-30 million Russians. Evolution is the foundation for Communism and Nazism. The Bible says: The fool has said in his heart there is no God. (Ps. 14:1). God has clearly revealed Himself to man in Creation and He says anyone who denies the existence of the Creator is a fool for he refuses to recognize the reality that is right in front of his face every day.
- For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Foolishness does not imply a lack of intelligence. Most Evolutionary Scientists are brilliant intellectually, but they lack the Wisdom that only comes from the fear of God through the New Birth. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7). Modern Evolutionary Scientists mock Creation or Intelligent Design as unworthy of scientific examination. Creation is by definition supernatural. God and the supernatural cannot be observed or tested but neither can Evolution. It is also a system of faith. Everything the Evolutionist sees is filtered through his preconceived, presupposed religious faith, the theory of Evolution and he refuses to consider any other alternate explanation. Evolution is against good common sense and reason. Something as complex as nature does not come about by chance. A design implies a designer. If Creation is true then there is a Creator to whom we are accountable and this is the reason Evolution is an enabler of atheism. It provides the atheist a basis for explaining the origins of life through a process of failed death by which better lives would be produced. Evolution is the theory of creation for the religion of Secular Humanism and atheism. Why do we believe the account of Creation as taught in the Bible?
- Jesus believed in Genesis. If you ask a Christian why he believes the Bible he will likely tell you it is because the Bible is the Word of God, which it is. The Bible claims to be the authoritative, inerrant, inspired Word of God. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, (II Tim. 3:16). Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:20-21). For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (I Thess 2:13). Christ Jesus is God’s revelation to man about Himself, about sin, and salvation and we find Jesus in the written Word of God. But aside from the Bible’s own testimony concerning itself, the church believes the Scriptures are the Word of God because Jesus believed them. Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were real people and He held a literal view of Genesis. He believed Moses and called the Old Testament the Scriptures which cannot be broken. When the religious leaders asked Him about divorce He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, (two) but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Mt. 19:4-6).
- One of the problems Christians have who deny Genesis and embrace Evolution is that Adam is in the genealogy of Jesus. Our Lord was a descendant of Adam. If you assume that Adam was not a real person, created by God in the beginning as the Bible says, how can you believe Jesus was who the Bible said He was? The Creation account in Genesis is the foundation for the entire Bible, do away with it and you lose the Gospel and the entire Word of God. Either we believe that both Adam and Jesus are real people or we must believe that neither of them were real people. Another problem is when we deny Genesis we are calling Jesus a liar. Jesus Himself said that God created them (Adam and Eve) male and female in the beginning not over millions of years. How could a man who lied about this be the Son of God? The sacrifice of Christ for our sins only makes sense in light of the doctrine of Creation. Even atheists know this. In 1978 an atheist named Richard Bozarth wrote: Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of god. If you take away the meaning of his death if Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing. (From the Meaning of Evolution, American Atheist..
- Jesus spoke with the authority of God Himself and we confess with Thomas when he said to Jesus: My Lord and my God. The entire Bible bears witness to the divinity of Christ. He was God manifest in the flesh, He was Emmanuel, God with us as Isaiah wrote: His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col.2:9). Jesus is the brightness of his (God’s) glory, and the express image of his person (Heb. 1:1-3). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made (Jn. 1:1-3). Jesus was the divine Savior and Son of God who came from heaven to redeem the world from sin. Only a Savior who was both God and man could atone for our sins and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus was more than just a great moral teacher more than an example of how to live. For a mere man to say the things Jesus said would not make him a great moral teacher; he would either be a lunatic or the devil himself. As you read of Christ in the Bible you can Him a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him your Lord and God (CS Lewis; Mere Christianity). There is no other choice. Jesus believed in the Creation account revealed in Genesis and all who follow Him will do the same.
- Jesus speaks through His written Word. Christ speaks with love and authority today through His Word. The Christian bows his heart and life before Jesus Christ because of the new birth of Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit subdues our hearts and by His power we begin to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. No one has to force the child of God to obey the word of Christ. He gladly obeys His Lord and Savior because the Holy Spirit fills his heart with love for Christ. Jesus described His sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (Jn. 10:27-28). The child of God knows that God has created him, Christ has redeemed him, and the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify and care for him. David wrote: Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name (Ps. 100:3-4). The Lord grants us saving faith, the rock solid assurance that God’s Word is absolutely true for He cannot lie. The One who created the world continues to rule over it by His Divine Providence for the sake of His children. No man saw God create heaven and earth yet we believe it because He Himself tells us so in the Bible. Only a fool could say the world came into being by chance.
- As Jesus said to Thomas: Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn. 20:29). God expects us to be people of faith and to believe His Word just as Jesus did. He prayed in the upper room: Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (Jn. 17:17). Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (Heb. 11:3). The Almighty God by the power of His creative Word called into existence the basic material of which all things consist, by the power of His Word He formed this mass, making the various kinds and species of creatures (Koehler). Evolutionary periods were not necessary for God to create the world nor can they be scientifically proven. And if we do not believe the words of Moses Jesus said we would not believe Him. Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (Jn. 5:45-47). The words of Moses are the foundation for the Gospel. Reject Genesis and you will end up rejecting Christ and the Gospel. As the doctrine of evolution continues to be taught in our schools, the media, and books and as modern churches fail to teach the book of Genesis, more and more people are ignorant of the truth.
- We are no longer living in a Christian nation. It may have been Christian at one time, but not anymore. Therefore we cannot assume people know what the Bible reveals about Creation, God, or salvation. When we speak to people about Christ we must do what the Apostle Paul did when he spoke to the pagan Greeks on Mars Hill. He began by preaching about Creation. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 17:22-24). When we begin to understand God’s power and authority in Creation we understand His ability to save and preserve us in the true faith. God is our Creator and He alone has the right to make the rules, He alone has the authority to tell us how we can be saved, how we are to live, what we are to believe, and how to are to define our lives in this world. Our faith in the God revealed in Genesis lays the foundation for our faith in Jesus Christ and His redemption for our sins. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God Therefore let us ask God to give us faith in His Word and strength to stand for the truth in the face of unbelief, compromise, and pagan darkness. Amen.
February 17, 2016
Rev. Ross Mahan; Pastor
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.
Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
- Our theme for Lenten Vespers this year is the Ironies of the Passion. An irony is when the intended meaning of our words is different than the actual meaning of the words. An example of irony is when someone responds to a ridiculous suggestion by saying: That’s a great idea. A situational irony is laughing because someone slips and falls on the ice and you end up falling too. A verbal irony would a 350 pound man with the nickname of Tiny. During the Civil War the Southern Confederates considered Abraham Lincoln the biggest liar to ever occupy the Oval Office so they nicknamed him Honest Abe. We see irony in Caiaphas the High Priest who unintentionally revealed what God had in mind though he intended something totally different. God used Caiaphas, an unbeliever, to proclaim the Gospel without him ever realizing it. Caiaphas was a schemer, a political operative and an insider firmly entrenched in political and religious power. He was the ruler of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, who along with the Roman government, controlled the Jewish nation with an iron fist. He was a power player who ruled the religious and political system like the Mafia. If you got in their way Caiaphas, Herod, or Pontius Pilate would make sure you disappeared. Caiaphas had a Jesus problem. Our Lord was causing them big trouble. So they called the Sanhedrin together to discuss it. What was their problem with Jesus? Was He hurting people? Was He threatening anyone?
- The problem of Jesus: The immediate problem was Jesus had just raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Our Lord had performed many other miracles in the past that were ignored by the religious leaders, but raising someone from the dead who had been in the tomb four days in front of dozens of witnesses could not be overlooked. And because of this miracle many of the Jews were beginning to believe on Jesus. Some who saw the miracle ran to tell the Pharisees what He had done and this prompted the emergency meeting. As the meeting began the religious leaders poured out their anxiety about Jesus. What were they going to do? He was becoming a serious threat to them. The conversation was going in every direction, but there was one theme, if they didn’t do something about Jesus, the Jewish people would believe on Him and when that happened the Romans would come and take away their place and their nation. They would lose their position, power, and wealth. They had to do something to safeguard the nation, their wealth and power. The religious leaders were panicking and Caiaphas saw an opportunity to secure his authority. He saw the bigger picture, an ability that had kept him in office for thirty years. After listening to the other members of the council he finally took charge: Ye know nothing at all. You don’t realize that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
- Caiaphas framed his argument on what was good for the nation. He was cool and calculating. The answer was to commit murder. It was the only honorable thing to do. They had to kill Jesus for the good of the nation. It was better for one man to die to save the nation of Israel, better to sacrifice one man than for the nation to perish at the hands of the Romans. Caiaphas was like the Godfather arranging a murder for hire. This was the sorry state of Judaism in those days. The true religion of Abraham, had all but disappeared. From the beginning of Christ’s ministry Jesus had been a threat to the Scribes and Pharisees. Like the Pope of Rome they had claimed the right to interpret Scriptures but Jesus had the temerity to tell them they were wrong and that their hearts were not right with God and their religion of works righteousness was false. These men knew if they lost control of the Jewish people the Roman government would replace or kill them. Caiaphas won the day. He got what he wanted. He settled the question and from that day forward they plotted to kill Jesus. This was the level of their hatred for Jesus, a hatred that extended to Lazarus too, for in the next chapter they were plotting to kill him along with Jesus because he was causing so many people to believe on Jesus. That’s how much they hated Jesus that was the depth of their unbelief. They were going to kill Jesus and if necessary kill Lazarus too because he was living proof that a miracle had taken place.
- Caiaphas didn’t realize he was more right than he imagined. When he said it was best that one man die for the people he unwittingly spoke the Gospel. He was right, the whole nation shouldn’t be destroyed; just one man should die; one man should die for sinners, the just for the unjust. The Lamb of God should be sacrificed in the place of guilty sinners. One man should take the punishment of the nation. Better that one would die than they should all die. God in His sovereignty overruled what Caiaphas intended and he spoke the truth in spite of himself. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. The man who spoke words of hatred and murder unintentionally spoke the life giving words of the Gospel. In spite of himself the High Priest spoke God’s saving word. Jesus would die in place of the nation. Caiaphas was plotting death but God had planned life. Caiaphas was selfishly seeking political gain but God was going to bring spiritual gain to the world. He planned to commit the worst evil upon Jesus but God brought the greatest good from it. They were hoping to spare one nation, Israel, but God sent Jesus to the cross to die for the scattered children of God in every nation and language, and to bring them together and make them one.
- God was fulfilling His words to Abraham that through His Seed, Christ all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The hatred of the Jewish leaders reflected their unbelief. The carnal mind of man is the enemy of God and this is the condition of all unbelievers. Jesus said the world will hate us just as it hated Him and the Sanhedrin illustrates the level of that hatred. Apart from the grace of God we would all hate Christ just as these men did. Everything we have in the way of faith and understanding is the gift of God. It does not come from us. God deserves all the glory for our salvation. We all have the same seeds of unbelief and pride that filled the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees. Even good church going people are not immune from pride. The Pharisees were the good church going people of that day. They studied their Bibles, memorized God’s Word, taught in the synagogues, and prayed every day yet behind the appearance of faith and grace were hearts that were cold and dead. Sinful human pride kills saving faith. Pride has often been described as the mother of all sins. It was the sin of pride that caused Satan to be cast out of heaven and it was pride that caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin. It is pride that separates the Christian from His Savior. Faith looks to God for everything we need in this life but pride trusts in me and my own works.
- The power of God. Only God could accomplish the plan of salvation, only He can apply the Gospel to our hearts. We must never imagine that pride and sin cannot enter our hearts. This is why we must continue repenting and confessing our sins asking God to preserve us in the true faith. The Spirit of God wages war against the pride of our hearts each day. The Word reminds us that pride goes before a fall, and God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 16:18; James 4:6). But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Is. 66:2b). Caiaphas proclaimed the Gospel that day though he had intended words of hatred and murder. Caiaphas was not in control, God was. He was not aware of what the Holy Spirit was doing. As High Priest He was pointing to Jesus. It was the High Priest that had the duty of bringing the blood of the sacrifice to God in the Temple. He would continue offering the blood of atonement until God Himself would come and sacrifice Himself for our sins.
But one last time at the close of the Old Covenant, God spoke through the High Priest. From that point on Jesus would fulfill all the symbols and sacrifices and the Old Testament priesthood would come to an end. There would be no more need for sacrifices. All the types and symbols were passing away. Caiaphas revealed why Jesus had to die. It was better in God’s sight that one man die to preserve the nation from death.
- Not only did the Lord speak the Gospel through Caiaphas He also used him to arrange the details of His death. As High Priest Caiaphas made sure Jesus was put on trial, appeared before Pilate, and was condemned to die on the cross. He reminds us that sin is the universal condition of all men. Sin condemns us to die and go to hell. But God did not want that to happen so He sent His Son to die and to pay for our pride and sin. Jesus was the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for; His was the only blood that could pay for our sins, the only sacrifice that could turn God’s anger away from us, the only atonement that could ever make us friends with God again. Only the blood of the sinless Son of God could save us. The blood of Jesus is worth more than the whole universe. It not only paid for the sins of the nation of Israel but for the sins of the whole world. John wrote: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2). God had always planned to save the Gentiles. Caiaphas prophesied that Jesus would die for every man, woman, and child who would ever live. If God had the power to put the Gospel into the mouth of a man who hated Him He is able to make the Light of the Gospel shine in the darkness of this world, able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Christ. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes, both Jew and Gentile.
- Our Gospel reading also reminds us that miracles alone do not have the power to convert anyone to Christ. Many of the Jews had witnessed the miracle of Lazarus, a man dead four days, being raised to life. The miracle was unmistakable and undeniable yet the Chief priests and Pharisees would not believe on Christ and ended up committing even worse sins. This is the power of unbelief. Only the Holy Spirit through Word of God can save sinners and bring them to faith. Miracles alone cannot do this. When the Rich Man in hell begged Abraham to send Lazarus the beggar back to his brothers on earth to warn them about hell he argued: But if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. But Abraham replied: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead (Lu. 16:30-31). Here is the proof of Abraham’s words. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha had been raised from the dead and yet the religious leaders would not believe. And soon Jesus would rise again from the dead and they would still refuse to believe. The fact that you believe on Christ is the Spirit’s work in your life. You have found peace with God and God has forgiven all your sins and granted you eternal life, a new birth, and has declared you His people. Through faith in Christ we who are removed thousands of miles and 20 centuries away from Jerusalem and Caiaphas are now children of God, bought and paid for by the death of Christ.
- God has made us all one in Christ. The way God looks at it, there is only one Christian Church. We don’t see it that way. We see Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and Catholics. We see division and discord. We see people who don’t seem very serious about their Christian faith. We can’t see into a person’s heart, only God knows the heart but whenever God sees faith in Jesus Christ He sees a member of His One True Church. In heaven we will all be one. Nothing that separates us now will divide us. We will all enjoy God’s love together forever. All of this will be ours because one man died for the people. God loved His only begotten Son but willingly sacrificed Him on the cross to bring us to heaven. All those who trust in what Christ has done for them will love God and each other forever. We are not told what happened to Caiaphas. As far as we know he never understood who Jesus was or even what he had said that day. God always accomplishes His salvation and guides everything that touches our lives. He causes all things to work together for our good. If Caiaphas did not repent and believe on Jesus as His Savior he died and went to hell. In one last bit of irony, the man through whom God had spoken, the one who held a place of honor and responsibility in the Jewish Church, will hear Jesus say to him on the last day: I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Mt 7:23). One of the great ironies of the Passion is God’s love for us spoken through the mouth of an unbeliever; Amen.
December 16, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
- Whenever I hear the Christmas story I can’t help but notice that Joseph doesn’t get much attention. Even in the manger scenes Joseph is usually off to one side and often mistaken for one of the shepherds. The true Christian church does not pray to the saints but we can honor and learn from their lives. Christian tradition tells us that Joseph was older than Mary, perhaps a widower, but no one really knows. We don’t read anything about Joseph in the Gospel record after the family’s visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-52). This is the only glimpse the Bible gives us of our Lord’s childhood. You remember the story, after the Passover feast, without His parent’s knowledge, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem discussing the Word of God with the scholars in the Temple. When Mary and Joseph discovered him missing from the caravan on the way home they returned to search for Him in the city and after three days they finally found Him in the Temple. When they told Jesus how worried they had been He said to them: How is it that ye sought me? Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke tells us Jesus returned to His home in Nazareth and lived in submission to Joseph and Mary.
- Later at a wedding in Cana Mary was present (John 2:1-11) but Joseph is not mentioned. At His crucifixion Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to John His disciple which suggests there was no one else to care for her (John 19:26-27). What do we know about Joseph? He was a true believer. The Bible does not record a single word Joseph ever spoke. He was a man of action rather than words. Joseph worked as a carpenter to support his family and was also a dreamer of sorts. Three times an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream, the first after discovering Mary was pregnant and an angel said to Him: Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 1:20). The second time was a warning to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod (Matt. 2: 13-15), and the third was when the angel told him to return to Israel (Matt. 2:19-23). In every instance Joseph immediately obeyed the Lord. This is how the church remembers Joseph! He was a man of faith and good works, a man willing to obey God regardless of the cost. Sometimes being obedient to God will cost you. Perhaps you’ve experienced this. Has the will of God ever interrupted what you were planning to do? Have you ever lost a business deal or a job because you were true to God’s Word? Has standing for the truth ever cost you a friendship? Following the will of God can change your plans and this describes the life of Joseph.
- Joseph and Mary were planning to get married when Mary suddenly turns up pregnant. She likely told Joseph about the appearance of the angel and the virgin birth and Joseph ends up believing her, which is a miracle in itself. Luther said there were two miracles of the incarnation; the first was that God became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and the second miracle was that Joseph believed the angel. Who would make up a story like that and expect anyone, much less a fiancé to believe it? But here we see Joseph’s character again. After he learned Mary was pregnant he struggled with what he should do, and being a just man and wanting to do what was right for Mary he decided to quietly break the engagement to avoid scandal. It was the decent thing to do. But while considering his options an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream to tell him that Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the baby she was carrying would be the Messiah and Savior of the world. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His Name JESUS for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. The angel did not explain how this was possible he simply revealed to Joseph what God had done and Joseph believed him.
- The Angel told Joseph to name the child JESUS which means Jehovah is Salvation. The child would fulfill the words of Isaiah: Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son (Is. 14:7).The Son of Mary would be called Emmanuel, which interpreted means: God with us. He would be the Seed of the Woman promised in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15); the promised Messiah who would crush the head of the serpent and bring life, peace, and forgiveness to mankind. Many liberal theologians deny the Virgin Birth but without this doctrine the Christian faith collapses. If Jesus had an earthly father He would have inherited Adam’s sinful nature and could not have been our Savior. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, true God and true Man, Son of God and Son of Mary; fully divine yet fully human, born to save the world from sin. Joseph was given the incredible task of being a stepfather to the Son of God to protect and provide for the child and His mother in his early years. What an incredible story! Needless to say, the will of God changed Joseph’s plans. His life would never be the same. Did Joseph ever have any doubts when all this was happening? I am sure he had a few questions but the Bible simply says when he awoke from his dream he did exactly as the angel commanded. He took Mary as his wife, named the child Jesus, and raised him as his own son! Joseph was a vital part in helping bring Jesus, God’s gift to mankind, into the world.
- The gift of salvation comes to mankind by God’s sovereign will, apart from human works and merit, yet for the plan of salvation to be complete it required a YES from Joseph and Mary. By the grace of God, they cooperated with God just as He expects us to cooperate with His work in our lives and in the world. Christ is the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Heb. 5:9). You can no more separate saving faith from obedience than light from the sun or fire from heat. Saving faith works by love which motivates good works in our lives. We are saved by grace through faith and good works are the evidence of faith. Faith is the root and good works are the fruit of salvation. When you see an apple tree you cannot see the roots of the tree, they are below ground and not visible. So how do you know the tree is alive? By its fruit. Jesus said: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit (Jn. 15:5). How can we know that we are alive in Christ? Because we believe the promise of forgiveness in the Gospel and by the fruits of faith we see in our lives. Joseph said yes to God’s Word. Mary was a descendant of David but Joseph was the legal Son of David. It was our Lord’s relationship to Joseph and his connection to Bethlehem that required the family to travel to that city for the Roman census and it was in Bethlehem that Jesus was born to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.
- The prophecies of the Old Testament had to be fulfilled. The Word of God could not fail to come to pass. In Advent we celebrate the Word made flesh; Christ born of a virgin mother, born in weakness and humility, born to save us by the manger and the cross; born into a life of poverty and service. Today the Lord Jesus Christ still comes to His people in humility and simplicity in the simple waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the bread and wine of the Communion Supper. The world thinks these things are foolish and unnecessary as Paul wrote: But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor 2:14). Man cannot understand or believe the Gospel apart from the new birth. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). Only the Spirit of God can grant new life to the heart of a sinner through the Word of the Gospel and Holy Baptism. The church’s real treasure is Christ! He condescends to us through the means of grace to offer apply and seal the forgiveness of sins to our hearts and to gives us a new relationship to God. Christ came to earth the first time in a manger of wood filled with straw. To the human eye it was nothing but to the eyes of faith He is the most precious treasure in the universe, the very riches of God. What are some applications of the life of Joseph?
- Joseph teaches us NOT to place our trust in human reason when seeking to understand the things of God. Paul wrote: For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Cor. 1:18; 23-25). Christ laid down His life to redeem the world from sin, but you would never understand or believe the Gospel until the Spirit of God opens your eyes to receive it. We are totally dependent upon the revelation of God’s Word for the knowledge of divine things. The Christian soon realizes that the most important realities in the universe are not visible to the human eye. We cannot see or touch them. God must reveal the truth to us. If we live our lives only by what we can see, touch, hear or understand we will never be saved. In fact, Jesus said our Heavenly Father hides His truth from men who think they are wise in this world and reveals it unto infants, to those willing to believe the Gospel in simple faith. The cross of Christ is the wisdom of God for the ages. Paul wrote: For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:2, 5).
- Joseph also reminds the Christian to hear and obey the Word of God. Only the believing obey and only the obedient believe. Whenever a person will not believe and obey God’s Word he is a stranger to God. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (Jn. 10:26-28). People do not realize how serious it is for a professing Christian or Church to deny the clear Word of God and embrace false doctrine. When we leave the light of God’s truth and depart from the path of holiness, we are stepping into darkness, into error and sin. This is the devil’s territory. Churches that embrace the false doctrines so prevalent in our day end up being ruled by Satan. Christ will not dwell with sin, there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Churches that deny God’s Word and enable people to live in sin are no longer worshiping the true God. Christ is outside that church knocking on the door to be let in. You may have to suffer for believing and standing for God’s Word. I have a friend whose son is working on his PhD in Astro Physics and is being pressured to embrace evolution. Obedience to God’s Word may cost you a university degree. This young man has already surrendered the Book of Genesis for theistic evolution. Joseph understood there are mysteries we believe simply because God has revealed them in His Word.
- Joseph obeyed God’s Word with a willing cheerful heart even when he did not understand all that God was doing. By faith he took Mary to be his wife as a faithful husband and stepfather. When there was danger Joseph protected Mary and Jesus taking them to Egypt until their enemies had died to fulfill the word of the Prophet that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1). Later Joseph moved his family back to Israel, to the village of Nazareth to fulfill yet another prophecy, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (Mt. 2:23). God uses His people to accomplish His sovereign decrees in the world. Just as He used Joseph and Mary to bring Jesus into the world He uses us to bring Christ into our world by our lives and words. Your faith and obedience to God are vitally important to the people in your life, more important than you can imagine. We are fellow laborers with Christ in the lives of our family, friends, and coworkers. We should ask God to give us the faith of Joseph, faith to trust and obey God’s Word in every calling of life, as a husband, wife, child, church member, or parent. Joseph and Mary believed on Jesus as their Savior just as we do, though at first their understanding was not as complete. They would eventually understand that Jesus was God in the flesh, born to redeem the world from sin and to give us eternal life by faith in Him. This is our hope this evening as we receive the promise of the Holy Sacrament the remission of sins. Amen.
April 29, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came everyone from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent everyone his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.
- We live in a very friendly age, a time when it seems everyone is on a first name basis. Americans are friendly even to strangers. All of our exchange students over the years have commented on how friendly the people were here compared to their country. Sasha, our Russian exchange student, couldn’t believe I actually greeted strangers on the street or would sometimes ask someone I didn’t know how things were going. He said if you were to do that in Russia get ready to spend the next hour listening to every detail of his life. I assured Sasha that when I asked that question I wasn’t really interested in the details. Bad news travels fast and Job’s three friends heard what had happened to Job, how he lost his entire family and fortune. Job described these men as miserable comforters, which they were (Job 16:2), but they came to Job out of genuine affection. A man once said: A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. Friendship has been studied for years. Most friendships have similar characteristics, affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, generosity, mutual understanding, compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, to express your feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment. Job’s friends made some mistakes trying to figure out what had happened to their friend and wrongly interpreted the providence of God which added to his sorrows, but they were true friends nonetheless. Let us examine the characteristics of true friendship.
- True friendship is proved in times of affliction. Job’s afflictions were of the worst sort, a level of suffering hard to fathom. When his family and friends heard about it they wanted nothing to do with him. Everyone abandoned him. If he was under God’s curse, they were going to avoid him. Job described his situation. He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me. They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight. I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth. My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children’s sake of mine own body. Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me. All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me (Job 19:13-19). Later when his circumstances turned around his family and friends came back to comfort him. And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and everyone an earring of gold (Job 42:10-11).
- They were the definition of fair weather friends. When a friend is suffering you don’t need an invitation to visit him and Job’s friends proved their friendship by coming to see him when everyone else had forsaken him. A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Prov. 17:17). The same thing happened to our Lord Jesus. All of his friends forsook him and Peter denied knowing Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is. 53:3). No one wanted to be known as a friend of Jesus or a friend of Job. The friends of Job, with all their weaknesses and failures, had the grace of God. This story took place in the time of Abraham when there was no written revelation and little knowledge of the true God, but these three men were truly saved and had the mark of true religion: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (Ja. 1:27). One of the signs of God’s grace is our willingness to help someone who can give us nothing in return. A spirit of sympathy and tenderness toward the afflicted is a sign of saving faith. Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment He will say to His people: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
- For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Mt. 25:34-36). The righteous will answer, Lord, when did we do all these things for you? And the King will reply: Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Jesus is our sympathizing friend. He understands your afflictions and cares for you. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old (Is. 63:9). What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. Christ laid down His life to deliver us from sin, grief, and sorrow. Isaiah wrote: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Is. 61:1-3).
- True friendship is practical. True friendship is more than words and will seek to help a friend in need. These three men were likely businessmen like Job, possibly farmers and wealthy like their friend and yet they left their homes and businesses to visit Job in his time of trouble. Do you have time for those who are in trouble? The two great commandments of the Law are to love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is not enough to speak words of comfort if we do not meet the practical needs of our brethren. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (Ja 2:15-17). These men were willing to put Job before their own affairs. When they arrived that day they were greatly distressed when they saw Job. They lifted up their voice and wept for him, and according to the custom of the day, tore their robes and sprinkled dust upon their heads. Job was so disfigured from his grief and from the boils that covered his entire body his friends did not recognize him. Suffering often causes great changes in us. In the Book of Ruth during the time of the Judges, a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons went to live in Moab because of a famine in Israel.
- While they were in Moab, Naomi’s husband and her two sons died and she decided to return to Bethlehem with Ruth her daughter in law. People in her home town could hardly recognize her. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (Ru. 1:19-21). Naomi meant pleasantness but Mara meant bitterness. Affliction changes us in profound ways. When Christ suffered for us Isaiah said His form was so marred that He no longer resembled a man. As many were astonished at thee; his appearance was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men (Is. 52:14). Job’s friends came to mourn with him, to grieve for him and to take their place alongside of him and to enter into his sorrows. The sign of God’s grace is affection for others and a willingness to rejoice with them that rejoice and to mourn with them who mourn, and weep with them who weep (Rom. 12:15). One of the most familiar scriptures in the Bible was at the funeral of Lazarus. When Jesus saw the people weeping, John tells us that He groaned in His spirit and was troubled and then we read the simple words: Jesus wept (Jn. 11:35)
- Why did Jesus weep? He knew what He was about to do. In a few minutes Lazarus would be brought back to life and the sorrow and grief would be turned into joy, so why weep? Some have suggested He wept because in the death of Lazarus He saw the tragic results of sin, how death had enslaved mankind, a reminder of what He had come to do for us. All that might be true, but I think He wept for another reason. He wept out of sympathy for those whom He loved. The Lord Jesus weeps with those who weep, and grieves with those who grieve. He enters into the joys and sorrows of our life. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan about a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side (Lu. 10:31-32). These two men, a Levite and a Priest, both religious men, passed by on the other side of the road because they didn’t want to get involved. They had no time for the suffering of a brother. But Christ is our Good Samaritan who found us on the side of the road, beaten and half dead, and He got involved; bandaged our wounds and carried us to the inn where he cared for us and saved our lives and our eternal souls. Jesus is the friend of sinners and the picture of true friendship, the Savior who is always practical, always ready to help others in need.
- The language of true friendship is often silence. These three men sat with Job for seven days sharing in in his misery and desperation without speaking a word to him. I’m sure they didn’t know what to say which I understand. I never know what to say to someone at a funeral who has just lost a loved one. I’ve learned that when I’m in that situation, to say nothing. These men didn’t know why these things had happened to Job or what they should say, so they remained silent. When we are in that situation we should ask God to give us words to speak to those who suffer. Isaiah wrote: The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. (Is 50:4). A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! (Prov. 15:23). When we are in distress, God speaks a word in season to us in various ways, through family members, friends and enemies, teachers, mentors, and ministers, and so many others. He speaks to us through His written word, the Bible, which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3: 16). The Word of God came in the flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah (Jn. 1: 14).
- Jesus is a word in season! He invites all those who are weary or in distress to Come to Me … and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11: 28, 29). Christ is the Word in season to weary sinners, the only Word of comfort for those who sorrow. Start by listening to a friend who is grieving. We don’t have to rush in with words of comfort if we don’t know what to say. The fact that we are there means everything to one who is suffering. Silence can be powerful. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he made no reply; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly (Mt. 27:13-14). When Jesus refused to defend Himself before Pilate it had more meaning to the governor than any defense He might have given. Your presence can mean more to a friend than hundreds of words. Your silence will be golden and the best encouragement they could receive. The same is true of prayer. Rather than searching for things to say to God, learn to wait quietly before Him. Be silent, all mankind, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation (Zec. 2:13). Your Heavenly Father is with you in the midst of your grief when you have no power to read His Word and He is the friend that is closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Listen to His voice. Wait on Him. But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him (Hab. 2:20).
April 15, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Introduction to Job
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
- Introductory considerations: Tonight we begin a series of sermons on the Book of Job and we will start with some introductory considerations. The book of Job stands by itself in the Bible unconnected to any other book as part of the poetic literature along with Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. There are some things we don’t know about this book, for example we do not know exactly when Job lived. Most scholars think he lived during the days of Abraham which would make this the oldest book in the Bible. We also do not know the author of the book. Some have suggested that Moses helped compile the book in its current form, but no one really knows. But there are things we do know. We know that Job was a real person. We find references to him elsewhere in the Bible. In James 5:11 we read: Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. Here the Apostle James uses Job as an illustration of Christian patience in times of suffering and he assumes that his readers were familiar with the story. Another reference to Job is found in Ezekiel 14:14. Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. The prophet Ezekiel said that Israel was so ripe for judgment that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were present in that day they would not deliver His people from wrath.
- If Noah and Daniel were real men who actually lived on the earth then Job was also a real person. We also know the Book of Job was an inspired book. In I Corinthians Paul argues that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God by quoting Job 5:13: for it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. The words it is written identifies these words as Scripture. Jesus said the Scriptures cannot be broken. The Word of God lives and abides forever and is the source of all doctrine. Job lived in the land of Uz later called Edom, an area located southeast of Israel. There are also things not mentioned in the book. Nothing is said about Job’s lineage, his ethnicity, what part of the human race he was from. There’s no record that he was related to Abraham so He was a believer from among the Gentiles, a reminder to the Jews and to us that it is not our family ties that save us but our knowledge of the true God. You may have come from a godly family and grew up with the Christian faith from your earliest days, but the faith of your parents and ancestors cannot save you. The Jews in Jesus’ day trusted in their race to save them the fact that they were children of Abraham, but race cannot save anyone. There is also no mention of religious ceremony or ritual in the book. Job lived before Moses and the ceremonial Law so his worship was a simple altar and a blood sacrifice, the essence of all true saving religion, and a reminder that ceremonies cannot save us.
- The story of Job took place before God reduced His Word to writing under Moses. Before that time the true faith was passed down from one generation to another by word of mouth, by tradition, and the natural knowledge of God. The Lord has written the knowledge of Himself in creation and in the heart of every person. (Rom. 2:14-15). God’s revelation can be clearly seen by all men. This reminds us of how fortunate we are to have the Bible, the written Word of God to read and study. Visions and miraculous gifts are uncertain, but the Scriptures are absolutely sure. They tell us who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us in Christ. The theology of the book of Job is drawn largely from the light of nature. In Job you will find descriptions of God’s attributes and perfections, His wisdom, power, glory, and justice, all described with reverence and eloquence. The fact that God created and governs the world is set forth in Job as a powerful incentive for us to fear, serve, and trust in our Creator and Lord. Job is a picture of Gentile piety, a fulfillment of the words of Peter spoken in the House of Cornelius: Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (Acts 10:34-35). Job is also an exposition of divine providence. The writer is seeking to reconcile man’s suffering and affliction in this life with God’s wisdom, purity, and goodness. Let’s examine the person of Job this evening.
- The mark of a true believer. What was true of Job must be true of your life or you are not a believer. Job feared God. He reverenced God’s majesty, authority and wrath. The fear of God comes from a right view of Him. On Good Friday we considered the thief on the cross, one of the two hardened criminals that were crucified alongside our Lord. At first this man joined the other thief in mocking and jeering at our Lord along with the soldiers and the religious leaders, but then something happened. God revealed Himself to this man and he turned to the other thief and rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. This man suddenly saw Jesus as his Creator, Judge, and King and He was transformed from a mocking wicked sinner into a man who feared God. Man by nature has no fear of God. As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
- We teach our children to fear certain things. We warn them not to play with fire or they will get burned. But there is always that one child who will not learn from the experience of others and has to find out the hard way. After they get burned they learn why Mom and Dad warned them. When God reveals Himself to us by His Spirit we learn to fear Him. The fear of God is the foundation of all true religion. David wrote: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). The word wisdom in Psalms and Proverbs often describes a saving relationship to God by faith through the sacrifice for sins, a description of the faith of Job. Without the fear of God there will be no holiness. Holiness is obedience to God’s Word in our heart and life and is essential to the life of the Christian. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Holiness comes from saving faith and godly fear and though our holiness is never perfect or complete in this life holiness must be part of our life if we claim to be saved. Jesus said: Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). God gives us a fear and love of Him. The fear of God is missing in much of modern church. God is seen as an old grandfather sitting in a rocking chair in heaven who wants His children to clap their hands, rejoice and be happy 365 days a year.
- This is a false view of God and of the Christian life. Today’s worship is all about the worshipper how he feels, what he thinks, and what he wants. Along with this is the popular notion that you can live as you please and still go to heaven. This does not reflect the God of the Bible. And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul (Deut. 10:12). God is holy! He is a consuming fire! He will not tolerate sin and will avenge those who rebel against Him. He is a God of mercy and grace but a God to be feared. Those who come to Him through the blood of His Son will find His mercy but those who reject His offer of salvation will suffer His wrath. In Ecclesiastes King Solomon writes: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl. 12:13). You will never obey God until you fear God and you will never fear God until you know Him. When Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute and arrest believers in that city the Lord revealed Himself to him with a bright light: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes. When Saul met the Lord Jesus that day he believed on Christ and began to fear the Lord.
- The life of a true believer: The fear of God directed Job’s conduct. Our text describes him as perfect before God. The word perfect does not mean sinless or without fault, it means he was complete and whole. Job attended to all matters of religion, nothing was left undone. He didn’t obey certain areas of God’s will while ignoring others. His faith and obedience extended to every area of his life. This was God’s testimony of him. Some Christians obey certain areas of God’s Law and ignore the rest. They are holy on Sunday morning but Monday through Saturday they are quite different. Their religion never reaches the rest of their life, never touches their business practices, so they take shortcuts, misrepresent their product, or cheat customers. Others allow personal relationships to fall apart without trying to mend them. Others steal time and money from God by neglecting the church. Still others separate their Christian faith from politics, the things of this world, what they consider to be secular but the Christian faith speaks to every area of our life, how we are to think, speak, and live, even how we vote. Any religious profession that does not extend to all areas of life is phony and hypocritical. Job’s religion was complete, no hidden areas, no deception, no double life, and no hypocrisy. He did not have a Sunday face and another face for the rest of the week. He was the same on the outside as on the inside. He did not obey God’s Law to be seen of men, his life reflected who he really was.
- We are saved by grace through faith apart from our works but the grace of God that saves always leads us to obey God’s Word or we have not received the grace of God. If you claim to possess the grace of God while continuing to live in deliberate willful sin, you are a stranger to God’s grace. The grace you claim to have is the grace you bestowed upon yourself. In other words, you forgave your own sins. Only the believing obey and only the obedient believe. The only way you can obey God’s Word is by faith in Christ which gives the strength to keep His commandments. But you have not truly believed on Christ until you begin to obey His Word. God can give us a heart that fears and loves Him. Job was perfect and complete in his religious duties and was also upright. He was honest and straightforward with God and men in every area. He was faithful to his promises and commitments. The word upright means to be straight or on the level. David wrote: Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart (Ps. 32:11). God loves justice and righteousness and He demands these qualities in the hearts and lives of His people. Job had a reputation as an honest man. That was his character. You could take him at his word. So we ask the question: Do you have a good reputations with men? Can people trust your word? Are you honest in all your dealings? If so, then like Job, you have the marks of a true believer.
- Solomon wrote: A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold (Prov. 22:1). Finally, we read that Job eschewed or avoided evil at all costs. His fear of God caused him to avoid sin, even the appearance of evil. The fear of God is rooted in His omniscience the fact that God knows everything you do and say even the deepest thoughts of your heart. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3). The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil (Prov. 16:6). The fear of God will protect you in times of temptation. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit adultery, he had the power to say no because he feared God. He said to her: How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Gen. 39:9). Parents, you can’t be with your children every moment of the day, therefore teach them the fear of the Lord, so that when temptation comes they will have the strength to stand. Job is an example for us though he had many weaknesses and frailties. Job teaches us that God’s standards do not change and that we can live for God in an evil world. Job went through a time of suffering for his greater glory and in this he is like Christ who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. Like Job, Jesus was persecuted for a time by men and the devil and seemed forsaken of God too.
- The main lesson of this book is summarized in the words of David: Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all (Ps. 34:19). Job introduces the subject of suffering in the Christian life. Why do some people suffer and others do not? We do not know. What we do know is that God is too wise to be wrong and too kind to be cruel. He is the sovereign God who promises to cause everything we go through in this life to work for our good. Job did not understand why he was suffering but he trusted in God. At one point he said: Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him (Job 13:15). Job’s friends tried their best to figure out why he was going through all these trials and afflictions. What they concluded was generally true but it was not true in the case of Job. It is true that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous, but Job was a righteous man. Sometimes our theological perspective cannot explain divine providence, we are forced to simply trust in the Lord in spite of our circumstances. Like Abraham we must believe God’s promise regardless of what we see around us. In the end, the trial of Job’s faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, was found unto praise and honor and glory of God (I Pet. 1:7). In the end God was gracious and merciful to Job and rewarded him with even more than he had before. May God grant us the patience of Job as we face the trials and afflictions of life; Amen!
April 15, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Studies in Job II
Job 1:20-22; 2:9-10
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior.
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
- Why should we study the book of Job? What could a book written thousands of years ago about a man who lived on the other side of the world possibly have to say to us? This book is part of holy Scripture part of the Old Testament canon, and as such is profitable to us for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16). Job is part of the Word of God that lives and abides forever. Scripture reveals truths about God, about ourselves, and about our lives in this world that we would not know in any other way. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4). Job was an Old Testament child of God saved by grace through faith in Christ, in exactly the same way as we are. He was a man who feared God and walked in the forgiveness of sins the promise of God attached to the sacrifice for sins. God testified that Job’s faith was perfect and complete, extending to every part of his life. Everything in his life was directed by the Word of God. The Lord Himself said Job was an honest and upright man who avoided evil at all costs and God loved and blessed him in every way. Job was a righteous man and also very rich, a rare combination. His great wealth made him a very powerful man in that part of the world. God also blessed him with a large family, seven sons and three daughters, along with many servants.
- His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred donkeys, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. In the first chapter of the book we see Satan appearing before God and the Lord boasting about His servant Job. Satan in turn, accused Job of being mercenary, of serving God for money. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. The devil said to God that anyone would serve Him if he could get rich in the bargain, but take away the money, the possessions and the blessings and Job will curse you to your face. You know the rest of the story. The Lord allowed Satan to take away Job’s riches, his livestock was stolen, his servants were killed, and all of his children died when a storm collapsed a house they were in but through it all Job refused to charge God foolishly. So the devil returned and challenged God a second time to take away Job’s health and he would curse him.
- Satan was given permission to afflict Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head a condition so severe even his wife told him to curse God and die. Here we see the work of the devil in slandering us before God and destroying our lives in this world. But Satan could only do what God permitted. God rules over Satan and he has only a limited power over our lives, and through it all God preserves us and uses our afflictions for our ultimate good. God in His wisdom allows us to go through difficult times, afflictions, and trials, but He limits what the devil can do. Job’s trials were especially difficult because they came upon him so suddenly, so unexpectedly and out of the blue. We are able to read the first two chapters and know what was going on behind the scenes, how God allowed Satan to try him, but Job didn’t know the back story. We also know about God’s high opinion of Job but Job didn’t know this. We know how the story ends. It’s always easier to go through a trial or affliction when we know it’s going to end at some point, but Job did not know when his situation was ever going to end. We have also read the end of the book where God blessed Job with more riches and possessions than he had before and gave him more beautiful children, another 140 years of life and allowed him to see four generations of his descendants, but Job didn’t know the end of the story. Let’s examine some lessons that we learn from Job?
- God is sovereign over wealth: God gives riches and wealth according to His will. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deut. 8:18). We hear a lot of complaining about rich people today, the so called 1% who control all the wealth. Some think that socialism is the answer, the envy of the rich and legalized theft, empowering the government to steal from some to give to others, but this is false. Many of God’s people in the Bible were wealthy, Abraham, Solomon, and David. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all (I Chron. 29:12). But there are many rich people today who have become wealthy by theft and misusing the system. Our nation is ruled by the power of money. Washington DC is full of corruption, crony capitalism, bribery, and theft and there is little we can do about it. But Job was different. He was a godly rich man which was unusual. Jesus warned of the deceitfulness of riches that choke the Word of God planted in our hearts (Mt. 13:22). Riches have the power to rob you of your salvation if you allow it. Money makes people think they are self-sufficient and don’t need of God and they end up trusting and serving mammon. This was not true of Job. He was not deceived by his wealth.
- Jesus warned the love of money can separate us from God. No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Lu. 16:13). Jesus said to His disciples: How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark. 10:23-27). It’s not impossible for a rich man to be saved, but it is difficult. Job was a rich man who walked with God by grace through faith (Eph. 3:16) and did not trust in his riches. Paul wrote to Timothy: Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy (I Tim. 6:17). Earlier Paul warned y: For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (I Tim. 6:10). We are living in a nation that worships material riches and possessions.
- The goal of most Americans is to be prosperous and enjoy the good life, but many people today are enslaved to debt. They are chasing the American dream, surrounded by electronic gadgets, cars, boats, ATVs, and snowmobiles but in terms of what is truly important, namely meaningful work, leisure time, stable marriages, lasting friendships, and actual ownership of land (not mortgages), they are paupers. I read recently that loneliness in America is epidemic. Many Americans are friendless, loveless, and adrift. They are told to celebrate the fact they live in the richest country in the world, but debtors are not rich. Our nation is enslaved to debt, the worst poverty there is. Debt enslaves the debtor and robs him of the peace and contentment God intended (Hoffman). God gave Job everything he had. But when someone seeks after riches more than he seeks after God and trusts in mammon (material possessions) more than he trusts in God the love of money will destroy his soul. Rich people have an obligation to the poor. Job was rich but he was also generous to the poor. He told his friends he had never withheld anything necessary from the poor and had never trusted in his gold (Job 31:17ff). The trials of Job remind us that riches and wealth will not protect you from afflictions calamities and trouble. Everyone goes through afflictions at various times. Trials and chastening are the common experience of all of us but God promises to preserve His people in the midst of them as He did with Job.
- God blessed Job with spiritual riches. Along with money and possessions God gave Job the riches of His grace in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7). Christ came to make us rich in grace. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich (II Cor. 8:9). Job had the riches of the Gospel, the knowledge of God, and the wisdom to live in the world, without which a man is impoverished. Lazarus was so poor he had to beg for food at the gate of the Rich Man but in reality, Lazarus was richer and when he died, his true riches were revealed; the riches of his inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18b). What we see in this life does not tell the whole story. True wealth lies beyond this life. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Mt. 6:19-20). Spiritual riches cannot be taken away but our condition in this world can change in an instant. Solomon wrote: Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth (Prov. 27:1). None of us know what tomorrow may bring. Our circumstances can change overnight. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (I Tim. 4:8).
- Here Paul reveals a basic rule of life, that godliness will bring a blessing from God in this life and in eternity. But sometimes God temporarily suspends this rule as He did in the life of Job. The same thing happened to Joseph. There is no record of sin in Joseph’s life. We know he was a sinner just like all of us, but the Bible does not reveal anything Joseph did that was wrong, yet look at what happened to him. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten, and finally he was released and promoted to leadership in Egypt. But also notice something about the life of Job. What Job was in prosperity he was in adversity. He worshiped God before his affliction, offering up sacrifices for his children and interceding for their souls, walking humbly with the Lord each day and after he had lost everything he was still the same man. Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. Job believed that God had the right to take all of his possessions away, even his children. The Lord has given you children and commands you to raise them according to His will, but could you bless the Lord if He took them away? Or would you charge God foolishly.
- Job reacted passionately when he heard his children had been killed. He tore his garment and shaved his head and fell down upon the ground and worshipped but he did not sin with his lips or charge God foolishly. Not one sinful word passed his lips. He never challenged God’s mercy, His justice, or His love. How can we weather such a storm in our life? The first thing we must have is faith in the God who does not change. Faith comes from God’s Word which reveals God as immutable, the same yesterday, today and forever. His Word is true regardless of changing circumstances. I had a friend recently who lost all of his money because of bad investments who killed himself. When a man worships mammon, when money is his god, when the money is gone his god is dead and he has nothing left to live for. The second thing we need is knowledge. The problem with many Christians is they do not know the God of the Bible. Whenever we have a sketchy or incomplete knowledge about anything we will conclude the wrong thing. Finally, we need We must wait for God’s time. He causes all of our afflictions, chastening and trials to work for our eternal good. The devil was waiting for Job to say one word against God, to offer one complaint but he did not murmur or accuse God. When we speak against God it pleases the devil. The God of Job still lives today. As we consider Job and the times in which he lived, it is important to remember that Job had no written revelation of God.
- He had no Bible no historical record of God’s mercy and grace toward His people in the past, no understanding of God’s Covenant, and no encouragement from His Word whereas we have the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ recorded in His Word. Job worshiped God with an inferior means of grace. There were no churches, no public preaching, no pastors, no sacraments, no Lord’s Day, and no divine service. Job was not surrounded by other believers to encourage him and the three friends he had were more like enemies than friends. And finally, he didn’t have the record of the suffering Savior, Jesus Christ who sympathizes with our troubles and invites us to bring all our troubles to Him in prayer. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16). We have the promise of God when we go through afflictions. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Cor. 4:17-18). God has given us all that we need for life and godliness through the promises of His Word. May God grant us patience in our trials as we trust in Him; Amen.
April 3, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
- The thief on the cross was about to die. His life no doubt flashed before his eyes on that Friday afternoon and he was not happy with what he saw. Who was this man? We don’t know very much about him. He only appears in history for this one unforgettable moment. Why was he being crucified? Luke calls him a malefactor, which means criminal, evildoer, or one who commits crime. Matthew and Mark describe him as a thief. Whatever his crimes we know they were serious. The Romans reserved crucifixion for the very worst criminals in the Empire. He was certainly a thief, but it is likely his crimes were much more serious. Some think he might have been a political terrorist who had been engaged in acts of rebellion against the Roman government. Most terrorists in that day were also assassins who targeted Roman officials, violent men engaged in all manner of criminal behavior. We don’t know exactly what he had done but we do know that his crimes caused the Romans to sentence him to the worst death man has ever invented. He knew that he deserved the punishment he was receiving. We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss (Lu. 23:41). Some have suggested that the two thieves crucified with Jesus had been in league with Barabbas the murderer and insurrectionist that Pilate had released earlier that morning at the request of the mob but we do not know. But something happened to this man as he hung on the cross that day.
- The Penitent thief had a change of heart. This man had likely never heard of Jesus before and had never thought seriously about his soul. How does a man with no religion come to the conclusion that the bloodied and beaten man hanging next to him was the Savior and King of the world? His conversion may have begun when he heard Jesus speak His first words from the cross. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:33-34). Jesus had taught His disciples to forgive their enemies and on that day He showed us how. When Jesus forgave the men who were putting Him to death it proved His divinity. Even the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion confessed: Truly this was the Son of God. No mere human being could speak such words of forgiveness. His words transcend the love and goodness of humanity. None of us could have spoken these words if we found ourselves in similar circumstances. It was after Jesus had spoken the words of forgiveness that the penitent thief turned to Jesus and said: Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. What does these words teach us?
- The first thing we learn is that at death the soul of the believer enters into Paradise at once. There is no Purgatory, no stopping off point between earth and heaven where the soul of man dwells for a time before going on to be with the Lord. Paul writes: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Christian’s hope is the finished work of Christ for sinners. If going to heaven is dependent upon my works my salvation would be uncertain. This story also teaches us that it is never too late to turn to Christ in faith, God is always ready to receive penitent sinners, always willing to forgive their sins for Christ’s sake. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37). This man had lived a godless wicked life and was headed for hell until his very last hours on earth. At the very end of his life by simple faith he escaped hell and entered paradise with Jesus his Savior. God drew this miserable wretched sinner to Himself by opening the eyes of his soul, and granting him the gifts of repentance, faith and forgiveness. How was this man saved? Jesus said: No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44). Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a soul dead in trespasses and sins and cause him to recognize his need of salvation. Only the Holy Spirit can cause a sinner to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.
- We also see beyond all doubt that salvation is by grace through faith apart from human works! Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight (Rom. 3:20). For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:10, 13). What good works did this man do that day to earn his place in Paradise? What works could he do? He did nothing to be saved! He could do nothing to make himself better in God’s sight. He was totally dependent upon Jesus as his hope for eternity. He simply believed on Christ and was gloriously saved. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). The way to salvation is not found in our good works but in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Finally, the Penitent Thief proves to us that even the vilest sinner can find salvation, forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus Christ. The Lord promised through the Prophet Isaiah: Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Is. 1:18). Only the blood of Christ can wash our sins away.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I though vile as he
Washed all my sins away.
- What other lessons are contained in this story? The words of our Lord to the Penitent thief illustrate that the answers to our prayers often exceed our expectations. This man’s request was rather vague. He simply asked Jesus to remember him. He did not ask for a special place of honor in Christ’s kingdom, he did not ask to be rescued from the cross or to escape the penalty he was suffering. He did not ask to escape the justice that was waiting for him in the next world, he simply asked our Lord not to forget him when He came into His Kingdom. It was a modest request. But listen again to our Lord’s reply! Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise! Jesus did not say, Yes, I’ll remember you, which is all anyone would have expected under the circumstances, instead Jesus gave him an answer greater than anyone could have imagined or expected. Jesus assured this wicked miserable condemned sinner that TODAY he would be with Him in paradise. Jesus did not promise to give him this blessing in the distant future for he would be with Christ today! Jesus promised to take this man, not to some vague uncertain place, but to Paradise, that place of eternal joy and peace, which God has prepared for those who love Him. Where else do we read about Paradise?
- The Bible begins with Adam and Eve living in paradise in the Garden of Eden. When man fell into sin he was driven from Paradise under the curse of sin and death. Because of man’s sin God cursed man’s work in the world. The fall of Adam and Eve was paradise lost, but the death of Jesus Christ marked the beginning of paradise regained. Christ earned new life and perfect righteousness for us. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (I Cor. 15:22). For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). We are new creations in Jesus Christ. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (II Cor. 5:17). The Apostle John described the New Heavens and New Earth at the end of time. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. 21:1-5).
- By faith in Christ the believer enters paradise here and now and after death will dwell in heavenly Paradise for eternity. But as we consider what Christ has given us through His death and resurrection how often do we live in spiritual poverty? We live without faith, love, courage, or hope, underestimating what God can and will do for us when the New Testament is filled with magnificent promises. The Bible reveals that we are more than conquerors in Christ, that we sit in the heavenly places with our Savior, and are filled with all the fullness of God, but most of us do not experience or expect these things. The Bible tells us that we have not because we do not ask in faith! God is ready to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we could ask or think and if we would only pray we would see God at work in our behalf. Like the Penitent thief, if we would simply ask to be remembered He would give us paradise. But rather than boldly approaching the Throne of Grace we go through each day battered and bruised by the events of our life. We do not see God in His magnificence and glory but by the measure of our own timidity and skepticism We need to hear God’s Word once more: He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom. 8:32). What would happen if we truly prayed for great things, for things as high as we could hope for, what answers might God give us?
- We often underestimate God’s gifts to us because we do not connect them with what God is willing to give us today. This was the thinking of the penitent thief. Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. I’m sure he did not expect to receive an answer anytime soon. After all, a crucified Savior does not become a king overnight. But our Lord replied: Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. Christ’s promise does not refer to the place they were going after death but to the new relationship they had just entered by faith. To be with Jesus in paradise is a promise for the future but also a possibility for the present! To be with Jesus by faith is to be in paradise. After death our experience of paradise will be more complete, but there is no heaven or paradise after death for those who have not experienced it here. The dying thief did not begin his experience of paradise after death he began it the moment he recognized Jesus as his Savior. When his spirit left his body that day he simply went on to a greater realization of what had already begun in his heart the moment he believed on Christ. Our relationship with Christ today means that it is possible even in this life, in the midst of affliction, trial, and grief to be filled with strength, confidence, and peace. This is the paradise we live in today through faith while still part of this sinful world, a life of grace and forgiveness. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. God’s love is always redeeming us from sin.
- He is able to transform all of our trials and sufferings into real beauty, strength, and meaning. His love is more powerful than sin and able to turn all our defeats into victories, our black Fridays into Good Fridays, our dark valleys into light, our suffering into strength, and our crosses into victory. The Word of God reveals that our lives are often filled with sin, suffering, trouble, and failure. The Gospel does not rebuke us for our sins but declares the love of God for us and God’s ability to turn our sins and failures into good. This evening as we sit at the foot of the cross for another Good Friday we learn how God’s love works through human weakness, failure and sin to bring light, love, peace and joy to our lives. The love of God reached down to save a sinful lowly thief just as He reaches down to save us in our miserable wretched condition. Before God we were no different than this man, we were just as in need of salvation, just as helpless to save ourselves. Christ’s promise to the penitent thief was no idle promise but a simple statement of what Christ can and will do here and now if we put our trust in Him. He invites us to walk with Him in Paradise by faith as we prepare for eternity. The tragedy of the penitent thief was that he was saved so late in his life but thank God he found Jesus in time to win his soul. Therefore let us come to our blessed Savior this evening while He is near for today is the day of salvation, today He desires to dwell with us in Paradise through faith in the Gospel. Amen
April 2, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan Pastor
And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
- Tonight is Maundy Thursday, that special night of Holy Week in which we transport ourselves back to the upper room to the original scene of the Last Supper. Jesus had eagerly looked forward to celebrating this Passover with His disciples. And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. The Apostles were anxious to eat the Passover meal with Christ too, but not for the same reason. Passover was the high point of the year; the greatest festival in the Jewish calendar; it was like Christmas, New Years, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. And the highpoint of the festival was the Passover dinner. But our Lord’s desire to share this meal with His disciples was more than just holiday spirit. The Passover was at the center of the history of Israel and every celebration, every ritual, every ceremony and sacrifice that had ever taken place in the past had led up to this hour. It is no wonder Jesus was so anxious to eat this Passover. To understand what was taking place we must remember what the Passover dinner was all about. It was a meal of remembrance, a time to recall when the Lord delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And now Jesus was about to lay down His life on the cross to deliver us from the slavery of sin and death. On this night He established the Communion Supper which connects the Christian to the past, present and future.
- Holy Communion connects us to the past. The Christian faith is rooted in the past, in historical events revealed to us in an ancient book we call the Bible. The Bible begins with the history of Creation, the fall of Adam into sin, and God’s promise to send a Redeemer into the world. The Seed of Woman would crush the head of the serpent and reverse the effects of the fall. To fulfill His promise to Adam and Eve God made a covenant with Abraham that one of His descendants, would bless all the families of the earth. Later through Moses God established the Passover Supper when He used the blood of a lamb painted on the doorframes of the house to keep His people safe as the angel of death passed over Egypt. After this He delivered Israel from slavery by the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Later He gave the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai and established the Old Covenant. Finally He promised to send the Messiah, a promise given through the Prophets for hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Christians are connected to the past. We are connected to God as His people, and with our Christian brethren. We are also connected to the events of the Incarnation, our Lord’s birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Without these historical events we could not be saved. You cannot ignore the past. Early in our church’s history we had a slogan which read: The church of the future firmly rooted in the past.
- That still describes who we are. I have always loved the words of Jeremiah: Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls (Jer. 6:16). When people tell me I am hopelessly stuck in the past I reply: Why thank you. I try. I’m glad you noticed. I believe we will never understand ourselves or the times in which we live until we understand the past, until we realize again what God has done for us, through us, and in us. That is why we value tradition, what people believed in the past. Tradition is a safeguard that allows the past to speak. G.K. Chesterton wrote: Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. A famous man once said: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The depressing thing is, those of us who have not forgotten the past are doomed to watch as the people around us keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Sadly our nation and many modern churches have abandoned the wisdom of the past. They are under the illusion that our generation is so special, so unique, and so enlightened that we understand things that our ancestors never could. Therefore they feel free to reject the opinions of our ancestors as hopelessly lost in the dark ages.
- The message of the Gospel is the story of God entering into world History in the person of His Son to redeem the world from sin and death. Christ came into the world through the Virgin Mary and He continues coming to us today through His written Word. God shows us our sins where we have broken His Law in the past and then He shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ whose blood cleanses us from all sin. Through Christ, all of the mistakes, sins, failures, and blunders of the past are forgiven and we can start over with a clean slate. The Gospel is a new beginning. Christ reconciles the believing sinner to God and then to the past. When we come to Christ by faith we begin to see our past from a new perspective. Through the Word we find the God of the universe who loved us with an everlasting love from ages past and who promises to make all things work together for our good. Even our worst sins, though often painful, work for our ultimate good. Many people have difficulty reconciling with their past. Guilt and failure cripple them with shame and remorse. They need the forgiveness of the Gospel applied to their hearts. There is no other cure for the guilt and bondage of sin. Feel good preaching and hypnotic energetic praise choruses may remove the pain temporarily, but soon the guilt and fear return. The Gospel connects us to Christ through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament which connects us to God, and to all the saints who came before us.
- Holy Communion connects us to the present and the future. As the disciples were remembering the past and all of the great works God had done for Israel Jesus made the occasion even more special. While they were eating He took the unleavened bread, which was part of the Passover Meal, brake it, and gave it to them saying: This is my body. Then He took the cup, offered it to them and said: This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many. The words of our Lord made it clear that this Supper was something very special. Jesus was not just eating an ordinary Passover meal with His disciples He was establishing a lasting supper for His people until the end of time. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. Jesus was going to leave the disciples and would not enjoy this meal with them again until the coming of the Kingdom of glory. The word until is a word of promise and hope. So much of this night had been wrapped up in the past as they celebrated God’s grace and deliverance of His people from Egypt and in the present as Jesus declared: This is My body and this is My blood which is being poured out for you. The suffering of our Lord was going to begin in a couple of hours in the Garden of Gethsemane but the work of God in the past and the work of Christ in the present would not mean very much if there was no future for us.
- In the Lord’s Supper Jesus invites you to look back, to eat and drink in remembrance of Him, recalling all that He accomplished for you and proclaiming His death until He returns. We also come to this table to look within, to deal with the past by examining our hearts and lives through the Law of God. There we find God’s verdict: There is none righteous no not one. We are all sinners that deserve His punishment. But Jesus also wants us to come to this table and look around us and appreciate the blessings of unity He has given us with those who kneel at our side receiving His Body and Blood along with us. We can say with Paul: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread (I Cor10:16-17). The Body of Christ is a great mystery: For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (I Cor. 12:12-14). But after we have looked back and looked within, and looked around as we receive this Sacrament, Jesus invites us to look forward to the future, to that day when He drinks it anew with us in the Kingdom of God.
- One day we will eat this banquet anew in glory in the Kingdom of God, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Listen to John’s description: And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God (Rev. 19:6-9). What exactly that heavenly banquet will look, feel, or taste like we don’t really know but it will be new, like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. On that day we will no longer have to examine ourselves for sin for we will be confirmed in holiness and wearing the White Robes of righteousness earned for us by Christ on the cross. Also at that feast there will be perfect unity among God’s children. Jesus will no longer be with us just in Word and the Sacraments. He will be with us visibly as we will see our Savior face to face. We will no longer need to look ahead because what is now in the future will be present reality, and we will be filled with overwhelming joy that will never end. We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (I Jn. 3:2b).
- Jesus taught us to live in the present, not in the past or the future. Many people live their lives each day regretting the past and dreading the future until they have difficulty living in the present. This leads to all kinds of emotional and psychological problems. God never intended people to live in fear and guilt. Christ was born into the world, to set us free from guilt by redeeming us from sin and free from fear through the promises of His Word. Only the Gospel can deliver us from regret and worry through the knowledge of God. He alone grants peace to our hearts, a sense of confidence toward the future and the assurance that our God will supply all our needs, protect us from harm, and take us through death unto life. David could look back upon his life and see the hand of God with him from birth. Listen to his words: The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a delightful heritage. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:5-11).
- Holy Communion is a meal of forgiveness intended especially for those who struggle with the sins of the past and desire the cleansing and righteousness that only Christ can give. Through Holy Communion God seals and renews His covenant with us saying: I have forgiven your iniquity and I will remember your sins no more. Eternal life belongs to God’s people here and now in the present as well as in the future. Christ’s sacrifice was complete, perfect, and once for all. It never needs to be repeated. Christ finished the work of redemption on the cross and there is nothing we can add to it. Tonight, as you come to the Lord’s Supper all that is required of you is to believe on Jesus Christ, to humbly accept the promise of the Gospel which is attached to this Sacrament. You must also come worthily, in true unity with your Christian brethren, with a heart of repentance and faith. And as you do, God promises to meet you here, forgive your sins and renew His covenant with you once again, the promise of His presence here on earth and everlasting life in Heaven. Let us examine our hearts this evening, honestly confessing our sins and believing His promise that our sins truly are forgiven because of what Christ has done, and this forgiveness is offered to us in and through this Sacrament. This table is a prelude to an even more glorious heavenly banquet in heaven. May the Lord grant us hearts of repentance and faith for Christ’s sake that we might receive what He offers us here; Amen.
March 18, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our blessed Savior.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
- But Peter said unto him, although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice (Mark 14:29-30). Why do people fall into sin? Why do they fail? Why do some people recover from their failures while others do not? I’ve had friends, professing Christians, who have turned their back on God, denied His Word, and fell into unbelief and immorality and some repented and returned to God, others did not; a few died in unbelief. Why does God allow these things to happen? God is not the author of sin. James tells us that men are led away by their own lusts and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (Ja. 1:15). Jesus warned Peter he was going to go through the most difficult trial of his life. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. These words must have seemed strange to Peter, even insulting. Peter said: Jesus, you don’t know me as well as you think. Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. One day he would keep that promise and die a martyr’s death, but not this night. The greatest failure of Peter’s life was less than five hours away. What does our sermon text teach us about a Christian’s fall into sin?
- The work of Satan in the world! The Christian has a deadly enemy that seeks to destroy his soul, a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He will seek to steal your health, your family, your reputation, your possessions, your faith and if possible your eternal soul. He is the wolf that devours and scatters the sheep of Christ and the one who causes false doctrine, phony religion, and feel good worship. Satan tried to tempt our Lord and draw Him into sin to prevent Him from being our Savior, but he failed and Christ was victorious. God allowed the devil to test Job, and rob him of his family, fortune, and health. He was present in the Garden of Eden where he seduced Eve, by casting doubt upon the clear Word of God tempting her to focus on her own feelings and thoughts rather than the clear Word of God. Jesus describes him as the Prince of this world, a murderer and the father of lies who hates the truth and does everything in his power to turn men and women away from God and His Word. Later Peter would write: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith (I Pet. 5:8-9a). The devil is our ancient foe, the enemy of all mankind and the accuser of the brethren, who condemns and slanders God’s people around the world because of his great hatred for the Word of God, the Church, the Gospel, the Sacraments and the mission of Christ in the world.
- The devil ho steals the Word from the hearts of men as Jesus described in the parable of the sower The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved (Lu. 8:11-12). He stirs up persecution against Christians today in different parts of the world, through radical Muslims, Liberals, and Marxists. He is the author of disunity and division in the churches as Jesus described. The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn (Mt. 13:24-30). Satan can do nothing without God’s permission. Jesus said that Satan has desired to sift Peter as wheat just as he did to Job in the Old Testament but only within strict limits. In the end both Job and Peter persevered in their faith.
- The Christian can fall into sin. None of us are beyond moral failure, temptation, or unbelief, in fact the Bible warns against self-confidence and pride. He that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (I Cor. 10:12). In my experience, when the Lord intends to use a person for His service He will usually take him through many temptations, afflictions and trials. I’ve also noticed that the devil tempts people in different ways depending on how they are made. For example he will often attack us where we think we are strongest. Peter was bold and courageous a tough fisherman not scared of anyone. He was unafraid to speak when others were too timid and this was where the devil attacked him. The devil struck Peter so suddenly and unexpectedly all of his boldness, bravado, and courage melted away. The devil attacks our strengths so we don’t expect it. These are the areas we take for granted. God allows us to fall flat on our face to strip us of self-confidence and to teach us to depend upon His strength. I’m have a feeling that Peter never bragged about his strength and courage again. God humbled him in a way he never forgot and now his old self-confidence and pride were gone. It is painful to fail but the Lord promises to use it for our good. Failure forces you to see your limitations and your need of Christ. Also, the Lord uses temptations, afflictions, and trials to teach a valuable lesson that without Him we can do nothing. The Lord teaches us this lesson our entire life.
- Believers often fall into sin because of carelessness, failing to guard their hearts and minds usually through neglect of the means of grace. At one point in his life, David had grown careless as King. At the time of year when kings normally went to battle, instead of leading his troops, David sent Joab in his place and stayed behind in Jerusalem. You know the story. It was evening and David couldn’t sleep so he got out of bed and was walking on the balcony of the palace and when he looked down to the flat roof of the house next door he saw a woman named Bathsheba washing herself and she was very beautiful. He inquired about her and was told she was the wife of one of his best soldiers, Uriah the Hittite. Instead of dropping the matter he had her brought to the palace where he committed adultery with her. This sin began a downward spiral in David’s life that caused endless trouble. He eventually repented and was forgiven, but he suffered the consequences for life. David was a man after God’s own heart, the author of most of the Psalms, yet he had weaknesses and sins. The greatest saints in history struggled with temptation and sin just as we do and the Lord encourages us with a promise: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (I Cor. 10:13).
- Failure doesn’t seems like a good thing when we are going through it, but if it can be a gift from God. The Apostle Paul went through a very difficult time in his life, an affliction he called a Thorn in the Flesh. We don’t know exactly what this thorn was though most believe it was some sort of physical affliction. He asked the Lord to remove it from his life three times but God said no. God gave this thorn to Paul for a purpose, to preserve his soul from pride. Later he wrote about it: And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (II Cor. 12:7). Satan was tempting Paul in this situation trying to weaken his faith and murmuring and complaining in Paul’s heart against God. But the sovereign Lord was also at work. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (II Cor. 12:8-10). Paul’s thorn in the flesh, his painful affliction was designed by God to preserve him in the true faith as it taught him to trust God despite his circumstances.
- The Lord promises to preserve His people: After warning Peter about his denial, Jesus said: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. What would preserve Peter from falling away from his faith entirely as Judas had done after he sinned against the Lord? The difference was the intercession of Christ. The grace of God in the heart of a believer is a miracle. The Christian has many enemies and his strength is small and he has no power to reach heaven on his own, but our text explains how we are preserved. We have a mighty intercessor in heaven at the right hand of God who prays for us, our Advocate with the Father pleads for us each day, asking God for fresh supplies of mercy and grace. The grace of God in the heart of a child of God never completely dies because Christ intercedes for him. In the book Pilgrim’s Progress at the beginning of his journey, Christian was sent to the House of the Interpreter to learn a number of spiritual truths he would need to carry him through his journey. Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter. Then said Christian, What means this? The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the devil: but in that thou seest the fire, notwithstanding, burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that.
- So he had him about to the back side of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast (but secretly) into the fire. Then said Christian, What means this? The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul. Christ preserves the work of grace begun in our heart through the means of grace, word and sacrament and prays for us that our faith would not fail. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us (Rom. 8:34). Jesus never gave up on Peter. He knew about his denial before it happened and what kind of man Peter would be afterwards and He knew that God was able to use our failures for our good. Even though we fall again and again by God’s grace He raises us up to repentance and faith. The Lord Jesus upholds us by His sovereign hand. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand (Ps. 37:23-24).
- When we recover from a failure we have a duty to our brethren. Jesus said to Peter: When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. Our Christian faith is not just about us. Our struggles are intended to benefit us and our brethren who are experiencing the same. The Lord often uses weaknesses afflictions and temptations to the help the whole church. I was reminded of the words of Paul. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God (II Cor. 1:3-4). When a child of God falls into sin and recovers by God’s grace, he can strengthen and uphold his brethren who are experiencing the same temptation and sin. After the Lord has brought us back to Himself we are uniquely qualified to deal with a fallen brother, to warn him against trifling with temptation and sin and the dangers of pride and presumption. We can tell our fallen penitent brother about the love and compassion of Christ and deal humbly and gently with him assuring him of God’s grace and hope for the fallen. The Lord knows who you are. He knew when Peter denied Him that night it was not the real Peter who cursed and swore that he didn’t know him. The real Peter was the man who said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The Lord sees beyond your weakness and sin to your desire to do what pleases Him.
- If you are being tempted this evening and pulled by circumstances that draw you away from the Lord, take heart. If you feel weak and confused Peter felt that way too. Are you discouraged? Do you sometimes feel backed into a corner? So did Peter. If you are feel weak and failing, this story is for you. And if you have fallen into sin and have given way under pressure, and you come here tonight with guilt; you’ve come to the right place. The Lord Jesus Christ invites you to come to Him for forgiveness and rest. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Mt. 11:28-29). The presence of God often feels far away but He is as close as your thoughts. The Holy Spirit continues to assure you that your sins are forgiven. Christ died on the cross to reconcile you to God and because of His redemption God is able to justify the ungodly and declare them righteous by grace through faith. If you have fallen short, if you’ve denied Him, do not despair, Christ still loves you. If God can forgive Peter, He can forgive anyone. He loves you and always has and He has known you from all eternity. There is hope in Christ. If you have fallen He can pick you up again. If you are broken He can make you whole again. If you have failed He can give you courage again. Take heart and believe the good news of the Gospel; Amen.
February 25, 2015
Rev. Ross Mahan Pastor
Grace mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he was hungry. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
- How often have you heard people say: I suppose, all we can do now is pray. Whenever I hear that I think, shouldn’t prayer have been your first response rather than a last resort? Most people are guilty of minimizing prayer. We wander through life each day blind to the hand of God all around us. When God does answers our prayers we see it as coincidence or good fortune. We fail to see prayer for what it is, one of the greatest privileges God has given. When we pray in the Name of Jesus, we enter the very presence of God and speak directly to our Savior and Creator. We also do not trust in the power and effectiveness of prayer. How often are our prayers shallow, perfunctory, and halfhearted with little effort or reflection. As we consider the work of Christ during this Lenten Season and remember what Jesus accomplished on the cross, we will remember His perfect redemption atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled us to God. We who were strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: are made nigh by the blood of Christ.(Eph. 2:12-13). Our Father in heaven invites us to bring our petitions to Him and He promises to answer them. Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. Let’s examine what Jesus tells us about prayer this evening.
- The power of Jesus: Our Gospel lesson takes place in the early part of Holy Week, shortly after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and just after Jesus cast the buyers and sellers out of the Temple. When Jesus came to the Temple that day and saw men profaning His Father’s House He was filled with holy anger. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves (Mt. 21:12-13). The money changers and thieves offered no resistance that day, they knew Jesus was right. After this Jesus remained at the Temple healing the sick and teaching God’s Word. In the evening He would return to Bethany, to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha for rest. After a night in Bethany Jesus and His disciples were heading back to Jerusalem for another day of ministry, when along the way they came across a fig tree in full bloom. Jesus was hungry and went to find some fruit on the tree but there was nothing but leaves. He said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away. The disciples had witnessed again Christ’s power over nature and the physical world. It may have reminded them of the time Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee that was about to capsize their ship.
- They panicked and woke Jesus up and He calmly rebuked the storm and it ceased. The disciples marveled at His power over nature, saying: What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! (Mt. 8:27). Or the wedding of Cana when Jesus turned ordinary water into wine, or the time He fed the multitude with a little boy’s lunch. Each of these miracles revealed His power over the physical world. Jesus used the fig tree to teach a lesson on prayer. The fig tree that had lots of leaves but no fruit was a picture of the Jewish church at that time. The Jewish religion looked beautiful on the outside; the Temple, the Priesthood, the daily sacrifices, the yearly feasts, the Old Testament Scriptures, and the worship ceremonies. It had every appearance of spiritual life but like that fig tree, their religion bore no fruit. There was no grace, faith, love, humility, spirituality, holiness, or willingness to accept their Messiah. The Apostle John summarized the spiritual condition of the Jews when he writes: He came unto his own, and his own received him not (Jn. 1:11). Like the fig tree, the Jewish religion was going to wither away. In a few years the Temple would be destroyed along with all of the outward pomp and beauty and the Jewish people would be scattered over the face of the earth. We cannot boast against the Jews. When the visible church in our day does not bear the fruit of the Gospel it is also in danger of withering away and being burned in the fire.
- When the church places its confidence in Synods, liturgies, marketing theories, human methods, and manmade tradition without the pure Word of God, repentance and faith, it faces a similar fate. Jesus used the fig tree to teach us about prayer and the power of God. There is nothing too difficult for God. But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased (Ps. 115:3). Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall reverse it? (Is. 43:13). Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?(Jer. 32:27). With God all things are possible. (Mt. 19:26). While the disciples were staring with wonder at the fig tree Jesus redirected their attention to the mountains in the distance. If ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. The mountains were immovable but if you have faith and you ask God He will remove them and cast them into the sea. Did the disciples believe Him? Absolutely. They had just seen what Jesus could do with a simple Word. This is the key to our Lord’s promise. Whenever we speak of prayer and faith the emphasis is often on our faith but Christ’s words are true because of the power of the one who promises. The same Jesus who could speak and wither a fig tree tells us that faith can move mountains. It is His power and promise that make our prayers effective and our faith powerful.
- What mountains are you facing this evening? The mountains in our lives are those obstacles and barriers that confront us, the mountain of problems, difficulties, setbacks, troubles, burdens, hardships, fear, discouragement, disappointments, failures, depression and sorrow that we all go through. Was Jesus referring to a literal physical mountain? Yes, He was, but the mountains we face are more often the obstacles that prevent us from growing in grace or succeeding in our lives. It is what keeps us from worshiping and serving the Lord or from moving forward in our walk with God. It is what robs our families of peace, and causes turmoil in our churches and nation. Jesus said when you are faced with a mountain that seems insurmountable it is time to pray and ask God to deal with it as He will and He will remove it from our lives. God is stronger and bigger than the mountains you face. Jesus said if you will trust in God and say to that mountain: Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall come to pass. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass (Ps. 37:3-5). Notice the Lord does not tell us how the mountain will be removed or how quickly. He may remove your mountain all at once or piece by piece or He may lead you around the mountain but however He chooses He promises to do it.
- The promise of Jesus: It is the power and promise of Jesus that makes your faith powerful and effective. Moving mountains through prayer does not depend on the one who has faith but on the One in whom we trust. As we understand and realize our Lord’s power we trust in His promises. Faith must be connected to something outside of ourselves or else we end up believing in faith, which is idolatry. What are we trusting? What kind of faith do we have? Is our faith based upon our actions and words? Or is our faith a reflection of how God has answered prayers in the past. I’ve heard people say: I prayed that God would heal me, but He didn’t, my faith must be deficient. I prayed that my marriage would survive, but my wife just signed the divorce papers, I must have doubted God. I prayed for that job, but I didn’t get it, I suppose my prayers are weak. When we do not see answers to prayer sometimes we begin to wonder: Do I really believe at all? Do I believe enough? Is Jesus worth believing in? Can we trust Jesus when He tells us that faith can remove mountains? Our Lord is pointing us to the Almighty power of God. Whether or not we’ve ever seen Him pick up a mountain and cast it into the sea the point is, He can do it. He’s just that powerful, and He invited the disciples and you and me to tap into that power. The reason we do not see His power at work in our lives more often is that we fail to pray to the God of all power. We do not realize who He is and what He can do.
- This was important for the disciples to hear at that moment. In a few days they would see Jesus arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified at the hands of the Jews and the Romans and their faith would be shaken. Yet in the midst of all this they could go back and look at that withered fig tree and be reminded of Jesus’ power and promise. And later after the Resurrection and Ascension when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost the Spirit would remind them of what Jesus had said. They would realize that Jesus had not died out of weakness or because the devil had defeated Him; He died willingly because of His great love for us and His death removed the mountain of sin that stood between God and man and God has cast our sins into the sea of forgetfulness. Who is a God like unto thee that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Is. 1:18). For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:11-12).
- The suffering of Jesus was not out of weakness. He lived a life of faith and power. He was tempted of the devil in the wilderness yet was without sin. He lived the perfect life that God required of us that we might receive His righteousness by faith. We see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane picking up the severed ear of a servant and putting it back in its place. We see Him on the night before His death when He took bread and wine and gave His disciples His Body and Blood to eat and drink to establish His Covenant with them. We see Jesus on the cross crushing Satan’s head as He cried out: It is finished. He overcame sin, death, hell, and Satan to deliver us from the devil’s kingdom and join us to the Kingdom of His Grace. Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the Resurrection from the dead. We see Him showing Thomas the nail prints in His hands and saying: Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. He is the Savior / God who ascended into heaven to take His place at the Right Hand of the Father in power and glory. This Mighty Savior invites us to believe His promise and to see His power through prayer. We don’t just pray when everything else has failed. Prayer is the privilege of a child of God every day as part of the Covenant God made with His Son. Because of what Christ has done God promises to hear and answer our prayers in His own way and time.
- We can pray with confidence and boldness for we are children of the God who cannot lie whose promises must come to pass. He invites us to come to Him with our petitions. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16). Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22). What keeps us from praying? Sometimes we are weak and forgetful. We are fearful and preoccupied with the world or we simply do not believe His promises. Ye have not because ye ask not. As the hymn writer wrote: Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer. The truth remains, that your faith can move mountains because your faith depends on the One who is able to do anything. He is the One who defeated Satan, took away our sins, and promises to answer every proper prayer. May these truths lead us to pray; Amen.