The Fourth Sunday in Lent

 

March 6, 2016

Rev. Ross Mahan; Pastor

Luke 15:11-32

And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

 

  1. Did you ever lose something valuable? In the three parables recorded in Luke 15 Jesus described three different people searching for something valuable they had lost; a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. The Bible describes man as lost. He has wandered away from God and cannot find his way back. Man is also rebellious and hates God’s authority. Left to himself, man would continue wandering away from God until he died in his sins. Sin has blinded man to his true condition. Christ came into the world to seek and to save that which is lost, He came into the world to redeem and reconcile mankind back to God. God loves sinners and is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9). Jesus the Good Shepherd continues searching for the lost sheep who have wandered away from Him. He searches for them through the preaching of His Word of God in the Churches and through individual Christians as they confess their faith in the world. As God’s people proclaim the Word of God to family and friends, the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convince men and women of their need of Christ and grants them repentance and faith in Christ. The story of the Prodigal Son is a picture of man’s rebellion to God. It is also an illustration of the power of God’s love and grace to restore a sinner unto Himself through repentance and faith.

I.

  1. The Prodigal Son rebels against His Father. Jesus tells the story about a man who had two sons. The younger son didn’t want to wait for his inheritance but wanted the money now. He wanted to be on his own, so he asked his father for his portion of the inheritance and the father agreed. He released his son without a fight or even a lecture. After receiving his father’s money the young man travelled to a distant country where he wasted it on riotous living, drinking and wild women. I’ve often wondered why this young man wanted to leave home so badly. Think of what he left, a family that loved him very much, a secure future as the son of a wealthy landowner along with his brother, regular meals, and a comfortable home life complete with servants to do all the hard work. This parable reminds us that sin will blind a man’s heart. Sin makes a person spiritually insane. Listen to Paul’s description of the unbelieving sinner. That ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Eph. 4:17-18). No doubt like many young people he thought Dad was too strict, too old fashioned and he was tired of being told what to do, or perhaps he simply wanted an exciting carefree life without any obligations. With the money his Dad gave him he could see the world and live a life of pleasure and ease.

 

  1. He learned the hard way that a life of sin is not freedom at all, but the worst kind of slavery. Life without God, His Law and the forgiveness of sins leads to a life of spiritual bondage. Jesus said: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (Jn. 8:34, 36). Sin leads to death. Sin causes a man to destroy his own life and his eternal soul. You will never truly understand human behavior until you consider the power of sin in the heart of a person. Sin brings guilt, fear, and death. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (Ja. 1:14-15). Sin has the power to cause a man to risk everything to fulfill its lusts, risk his family, his health, his vocation, his reputation, his future, and even his eternal soul. That is the power of sin. Sin is an addiction only Christ can break. I had a pastor friend who helped us start a Baptist church in the Adrian area 30 years ago. He was the pastor of a large congregation on the west side of the state. But while he was on a mission trip in Brazil a few years later, he met a young woman and ended up leaving his wife and family for her. He lost everything, his ministry, reputation, marriage, and family, for what? For a mistress in Brazil. What makes a man that reckless? Sin has the power to deceive and make a man stupid.

 

  1. I’ve often wondered why this father gave money to a son when he knew what he was going to do with it. God is different than an earthly father. He will not force you to believe on Him. He won’t bribe you to be His child or coerce you to obey His Word. He gently and lovingly invites us to come to Christ and be saved. The Christian faith is not like Islam. The Muslim religion teaches its followers to kill anyone that leaves the Islamic faith. Throughout history Islam has forced entire nations to convert to Islam or face death. If you want to leave the Christian faith, if you don’t want to come to church, if you don’t care about your soul or the Word of God, and if you don’t want a relationship with God you can walk away. God will not force you to love and serve Him. The true Child of God serves God out of love for Christ. If you want to waste your inheritance, throw away your gifts, talents, and money, if wish to serve the flesh, the world, and the devil you are free to do so. But the Word of God warns you where such a life will lead. The Lord will chasten His children for their disobedience, but you are free to walk down that path if you wish. But if you do realize that actions have consequences, sometimes for eternity. Millions of people in this country have walked away from God; they have departed from His Word and from the Church. They are wasting the inheritance God gave them and sadly our nation and much of the modern church are doing the same.

II.

  1. The prodigal son returns to His Father. We follow this young man into his new life as he journeys into far country to live in a fool’s paradise where he found lots of drinking buddies and loose women to help him spend his Dad’s money. But after his money was gone, hard times hit. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. His sense of freedom quickly became panic. He was in a distant country without money a job or anyone who could help him. He was getting hungry and destitute. He finally sank so low he took a job feeding pigs for a local farmer, the worst job imaginable for a Jewish boy. He was so hungry he was tempted to eat some of the pig’s food. Solomon wrote: The way of the transgressor is hard (Prov. 13:15). Sometimes the Lord will let a person hit rock bottom to wake him up. He often chastens people by allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions. When this young man was at the lowest point in his life he began to wake up. Jesus described what happened to him with the words: He came to himself. In other words, he woke up to the stupidity of his situation. He was pathetic and had been acting like a total idiot. The Lord leads you to repentance by shining the Light of His Word into your heart and circumstances to show you your true condition. As this young man contemplated his circumstances he began to reflect on His Father’s kindness and love.

 

  1. How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! The Light of the Law convicted him about how shamefully he had acted toward his father. Paul writes: By the Law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). He had sinned against God and against his father but now he was faced with a decision. What would he do? Would he stay in the pig pen and continue his rebellion or would he go home and seek reconciliation with his father? The Prodigal Son is a picture of repentance. True repentance is a change of mind and a change of direction. For this young man to repent his next step required action. True repentance says I’m sorry for my sin, sorry enough to stop sinning. And I will prove how sorry I am by beginning to obey God’s Word and amending my sinful life. Repentance for this young man included not just being sorry or feeling regret, he had to get up, leave the pig pen, go home and be reconciled to his father. So he started the long journey home. It was a long walk, but he kept going and as he walked he rehearsed in his mind what he was going to say to his father. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. This young man is now humble. He is no longer the proud, rebellious man that had demanded his inheritance and left home.

 

  1. He was coming home with the attitude of a servant because he knew it was more than he deserved. But as he approached home his father saw him coming a long way off and ran to meet him. His Dad fell on his son’s neck and kissed him. The young man gave him the speech he had prepared but his Dad wasn’t listening. Instead he said to one of the servants: Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. There was no discussion about him becoming a slave. There was nothing he could do to earn his father’s love. He didn’t need to try. The son had put his father out of his mind for a long time but his father had never forgotten him. He had never stopped looking for his son to return home just as God always longs for the sinner to return to His love and grace. The father graciously forgave his son and restored him once again, not as a servant but as a son. The father gave his son the very best robe to put on, a picture of the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sins, the spotless garment that is ours in Holy Baptism when we are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). He gave him a ring which displayed his status as a son and shoes to wear. Slaves and servants in that day were forbidden to wear shoes and went barefoot. This was truly a day of celebration.

 

  1. Jesus said: I say unto you, that likewise there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. While the party was getting started the older brother was out in the field but when he came near the house and heard music and dancing a servant told him they were celebrating because his younger brother had returned. He was angry and refused to join the party. His Father came out to talk to him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. The older brother saw his relationship to his father in terms of service rather than love. He could have had anything he wanted from his father not because he had served for so many years but because he was a son. If you are a child of God He loves you with an everlasting love. Christ redeemed you from all sin and when you wander away he searches for you, calling you by name and finding you, restores your relationship to Him again. How did the Father deal with the older brother? He showed the same gentle kindness he had shown to his younger brother. Our sins are forgiven through Christ alone. Only Jesus gives us peace with a Holy God.

 

  1. By Christ alone we are admitted into God’s presence without fear. In Christ alone God can be just and still justify the ungodly. Both the prodigal son and the older brother were lost before God, both must repent and return. The older brother was lost in self-righteousness. He had fallen into an even deeper pit of sin. Can we say that we have served God properly? Have we done our duty to our neighbor? Is there anyone who would like to bring forward his prayers, his service, his morality, his faithfulness, his church going and ask to be accepted by God for any of them? Which of these things will stand before God’s perfect holiness? Which of them can justify us? None. If we take any of the Ten Commandments and examine ourselves by it we will discover that we have broken God’s law repeatedly. Before God’s Law there is one verdict, we are guilty and deserve hell. How can we come before God? We come in the name of Jesus with no other plea than this: Christ died on the cross for the ungodly and I trust in Him. Christ died for me and I believe on Him. The robe of Christ’s righteousness is the only garment that can cover our sins, the name of Jesus is the only name by which we will gain entrance into eternal glory. The mark of the blood of Christ is the only mark that can save us from destruction. The older brother had stayed home within his father’s house, but in reality he was living in a distant country as much as his younger brother had been. God’s grace reaches out to both of them and to us. Amen.

Lenten Vespers: 2-17-2016

 

February 17, 2016

Rev. Ross Mahan; Pastor

John 11:45-53

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.

 

  1. 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?

I.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

II.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 Good Friday Service

April 3, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor

Luke 23:39-43

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan Pastor

Mark 14:22-25

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.

 

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

II.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 

Lenten Vespers: 3-18-15

March 18, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor

Luke 22:31-34

 

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.

 

  1. 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?

I.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

II.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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.

III.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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).

IV.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan Pastor

John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

 

  1. I received a letter from my doctor’s office this week telling me I have to choose another doctor from the team because my personal physician has decided to pursue a specialty. My previous doctor told me once that my problem was I was just too healthy. I suppose that meant I didn’t make them enough money, which I understand. A doctor’s job is to diagnose, to identify the nature of an illness by examining the symptoms. Once he has discovered the problem he will give a prognosis, a forecast of the likely course of treatment best suited to treat the disease and then he will prescribe the medicines or other therapy necessary. But until the true nature of the disease is known, the proper treatment cannot be prescribed. The same is true of man’s condition in sin, which the Bible describes as a deadly disease. Until we understand the depth of man’s sinful affliction we will never comprehend the medicine necessary to deal with it. In fact, every error about salvation from the beginning of time has come from a misunderstanding of the depth, seriousness and effects of sin on the nature of man. How could anyone believe that man cooperates with God in his own salvation through free will or merit, or can earn his salvation by good works? Where did the doctrine of sinless perfection come from? All of these errors flow from a common source, a refusal to believe what God’s word teaches concerning the condition of man’s heart from birth.

I.

  1. The condition of man in sin: Our Gospel lesson reveals what God has done to save us and set us free from the guilt and power of sin, but Jesus also reveals a picture of man’s sinful condition. What is the diagnosis of Christ our Great Physician concerning the heart of man? Luther wrote: Man has a natural propensity to evil that is so pervasive and profound that reason cannot understand it. It must be learned and believed from the revelation of Holy Scripture. Jesus gives us a description of man’s sinful condition in the word Perish which is mentioned twice in our text. The meaning of perish is simply to destroy. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. The word perish applies to both body and the soul. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Lu. 13:3). The opposite of perishing is having eternal life. The body of man can be destroyed in many ways, but the soul is eternal and will live on forever somewhere.

 

  1. Your soul is the real you, and when your soul is separated from your body at death it will continue to exist. God’s love for man brought Jesus into the world to save us. He taught us that the wicked, all who do not obtain eternal life through Jesus Christ will perish. One of the great controversies in the church today is whether or not hell is eternal punishment. Some believe in Annihilationism, that the wicked will simply be destroyed at the end of time their souls burned up and they will cease to exist but this is contrary to the Christian doctrine of hell as eternal suffering and separation from God. When Jesus described the fate of the wicked on the Day of Judgment He said: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (Mt. 25:46). In describing what God will do with the unbelievers at the last day Jesus said: The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:41-42). Paul described the punishment awaiting those that reject Christ and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ: When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (II Thess 1:7-9).

 

  1. Jesus gives a promise to His sheep those who hear His voice and follow Him: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. Another word Jesus used to describe man’s true condition is the word: Condemned or Condemnation. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. The word condemn means to judge or to pronounce judgment. It describes the divine judgment of God against the sinner who has broken His Law. For the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezek 18:20). Condemnation is a picture of a criminal on death row who has been arrested, accused, indicted, tried, found guilty, and condemned to death. And unlike the inmates on death row today who spend years filing appeal after appeal to escape the death penalty, and sometimes succeed, there is no appeal or escape from the prison of sin and death. Man is the slave of Satan, sin, and death and has no power to free himself from his chains. Christ came to deliver man from condemnation, to free him from divine judgment, by taking our place and paying the penalty we deserved. The Christian can rejoice that: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.

 

  1. In other words, for the Christian, the judgment against sin has already taken place. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (judgment); but is passed from death unto life (Jn. 5:24). All the issues of life and death have been settled and the believer does not fear death or the Day of Judgment. Jesus, my great High Priest, Offered His blood and died; My guilty conscience seeks No sacrifice beside. His powerful blood did once atone, And now it pleads before the throne (Isaac Watts). Finally, Jesus gives us the symptom of man’s sinful condition: And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. The word darkness describes sin, spiritual ignorance, blindness, wickedness and damnation; the kingdom of Satan (Eph. 6:12). God is totally separate from spiritual darkness. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (I Jn. 1:5). Jesus brought the light of the Gospel; and new life into the world: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (Jn. 8:12). Man by nature, left to himself will call light darkness and darkness light, truth becomes error and error, truth and this will continue until the light of the Gospel is shined into his heart.

II.

  1. The medicine of immortality: We have seen the diagnosis of man’s condition now let us examine the cure. What did it take to set man set free from the disease of sin and to reconcile him to God again? What did the Great Physician prescribe? Nothing less than God Himself coming into the world in the person of Jesus the Son of God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Luther called this verse the Bible in miniature. It was God’s great love and compassion for sinners that sent Christ into the world. God loves the world. He doesn’t love their sins, but He has mercy and compassion toward all that He has created. The love of God is not the love of the world. God’s love would never approve or enable a person to continue in sin as many believe today. The Bible tells us that God hates wickedness and the end of all who continue a life of rebellion and disobedience to His Law is destruction; they will perish in their sins. Over the past few years the word love has morphed into a justification for sin. In the name of love all judgments have been done away with all lifestyles, morality, and opinions are equal and the only sin anyone can commit in our day it to make a judgment about another person. The world is universally tolerant. The love of God does not mean that everyone will be saved Jesus is the Savior of all who believe. Saving faith connects the sinner to God and without it, no one can please God.

 

  1. The promises of the Gospel are given to whosoever believeth in Him, those who refuse to place their faith in Christ are still under the condemnation of the Law. God offers the medicine of the Gospel to all people freely, honestly, and without reserve, but salvation is found only in the redemption of Christ and nowhere else. Therefore we must tell everyone that God loves Him and sent His Son into the world to die on the cross for their sins. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). The Lord gave Nicodemus a picture of what Christ came to do when He said: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. If you remember the story from the Old Testament: the people of Israel began to murmur against God and against Moses saying:  And wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink (Num. 20:5). As punishment, God allowed fiery snakes to come among the people which bit them and many died. The people came to Moses asking Him to pray unto the Lord that He would take the serpents away and Moses did. God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and to put it on a pole and tell the people that all who look to the serpent will live.

 

  1. The serpent of brass could not heal them, but God’s promise of healing was attached to that serpent and all who believed the promise and obeyed the command were healed. It was look and live. This is a picture of how we are saved by simple faith, looking only to Jesus to be healed from the bite of the serpent of sin. The words lifted up pointed to Christ’s own death on the cross which would give life to the world. Jesus said: I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (Jn. 6:54). The cure for the guilt and bondage of sin is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He is the propitiation and satisfaction for the sins of the world, our Substitute and Representative before God and the payment of our debt. Our sins were laid upon Him who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (II Cor. 5:21). Just as the brass serpent brought the cure for snakebite to the camp of Israel so Christ crucified brought eternal life to lost mankind. All who look to Him by faith will be saved. We are sinners but Christ died for us; we are debtors to God, but Christ paid our debt with His own blood and opened the presence of God to sinners. Our text also tells us how to receive this promise, by simple faith and trust in Christ. Without faith there is no salvation. Where do we find the Lord Jesus Christ?

 

  1. We find Jesus and the promise of salvation where He has promised to be found; in the means of grace, in His Word and Sacraments, the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Saving faith is simple trust in the Savior. It is the drowning man who reaches out to take hold of the hand that reaches down to save him. God in His wisdom has chosen to come to man through physical means to offer His promise of forgiveness through those means to give us assurance and a clear conscience. Because Jesus redeemed the world from sin the means of grace have the power to save. If Christ redeemed everyone in the world then I know that His death included me. The objective justification of the world makes my baptism effective so that I can say with Jesus: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mk 16:16a); and confess with the Apostle Peter: Baptism doth also now save us the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21). I can also believe the words of Jesus when He gave bread and wine to His disciples in the upper room and said: Take, eat; this is my body. Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Mt. 26:26-28). Holy Communion offers, applies and seals the forgiveness of our sins to our lives because of the perfect life and death of our Savior. In Christ God no longer imputes your sins to you and by faith gives you the forgiveness of sins, the medicine of immortality. May God grant these things to us this day; Amen.

 

 

The Second Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor

Mark 8:27-38

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior

And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

 

  1. Our Gospel lesson signals a change of direction in Mark’s Gospel. For seven chapters he has been telling us about the miracles Jesus performed, how He healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed a storm, raised a dead girl to life, and fed 5,000 people in the desert, while preaching that the Kingdom of God had arrived. But Mark has not told us yet that death is waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem. He gives us some hints that something is going to happen. We read about the opposition Jesus faced and the execution of John the Baptist, but now it was time to tell His disciples what was coming. Jesus and His disciples traveled north to the countryside of Caesarea Philippi to get away from the crowds and have a chance to relax and talk. There were some things He needed to tell them as part of their training for ministry. He began by asking them a simple question: Who do people say that I am? What were people saying about Him? Some people thought He was John the Baptist, others suggested Elijah or one of the prophets. Jesus used this opportunity to announce that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed and then be raised up from the dead on the third day. He also began telling His disciples what He expected from them, what it really meant to follow Him. The way of discipleship meant losing one’s life, self-denial, and taking up the cross and following Him.

I.

  1. The person and work of Jesus: There were many opinions about Christ in that day just as there are today. There is very little true understanding about Jesus and the Gospel in our day. The same was true back then. Most people know the name of Jesus. They may even acknowledge that He came into the world to save sinners but few people realize that He is God come in the flesh, the One Mediator between God and man, the One High Priest and source of life and peace, and the Good Shepherd and Friend of sinners. Vague notions about Christ are very common but an intelligent saving knowledge of the Savior is rare. Then Jesus asked another question: But who do you say that I am? He wanted to hear their personal confession. Peter was the first one to put it into words and he got it exactly right! You are the Christ! I can just imagine the rejoicing that must have been going on in heaven at that moment among the angels. Peter had understood! He had connected the dots! The Spirit of God had shown him the truth and he had believed it. It was an astounding statement. So far Jesus had not done anything particularly Christ like, at least in Peter’s understanding. He said these words when Jesus was poor and without honor, majesty, wealth or power. He made this confession when the leaders of the Jewish Church and of the state refused to recognize Him as Messiah. Peter was saying: I think you are the one who will reestablish Israel’s supremacy among the nations and usher in a new era of peace and holiness.

 

  1. But then Jesus began to describe what He had come to do. The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected, killed, and after three days rise again. This meant Jesus was not the military hero on the White Stallion who would bring glory and power to Israel, but the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Lamb of God who would sacrifice His life to take away the sins of the world. Notice that Jesus said He must do these things. His Passion and Death were necessary to make atonement for man’s sin. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Without His sacrifice, there could be no satisfaction of God’s Law. He must suffer to be the propitiation for sins to give life to sinners. He must suffer because without His vicarious atonement no one could be forgiven. He must be delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification or we could never be saved. This message was deeply offensive to the disciples. Suffering? Rejection? Killed? Jesus must not have been paying attention when Peter said He was the Christ. What Peter did not realize was that Jesus’ true identity was going to be defined by these things, by suffering, dying and resurrection. It is also important for us to remember that the cross of Christ is the central truth in the entire Bible. The cross of Christ was so important to Paul that He wrote to the Corinthians: For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (I Cor. 2:2). Earlier he had said:

 

  1. 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 (I Cor. 1:18; 23-24). Every other truth in the Bible is of secondary importance. The cross of Christ and the justification of the sinner is the foundation of the Christian faith. All of this talk about death was just too much for Peter so he took our Lord aside to rebuke Him saying: Lord, this isn’t going to happen to you. But Jesus loved Peter too much to let him get away with this. He was guilty of placing his own interests ahead of God’s plan. So Jesus turned around and said to him: Get thee behind me, Satan: for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Jesus called Peter, Satan; strong language indeed. But this was the same thing the devil had tried to convince Jesus to do in the wilderness, to turn Him away from the cross, and set up an earthly kingdom just like everyone expected. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. In other words the devil said: You don’t have to suffer or die on the cross. I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world and all you have to do is worship me.

 

  1. The cross was the reason the Son of God took on human flesh. His death for sins was the plan of God from the beginning; His plan from eternity. This is what Jesus was teaching the disciples when Peter interrupted Him. How often are we like Peter? We have an idea, a picture in our heads about how God is going work in our lives or in the church and we want God to do it our way. The devil has tempted many churches today to hide the cross of Christ. Modern culture still considers the cross to be offensive, negative, and depressing and of course along with doing away with the cross we must stop talking about what made the death of Christ necessary, namely sin and the transgression of the Law. So many modern churches no longer preach the Law or talk about sin or our need for confession, repentance, turning from sin and amending our lives. There is no teaching about true faith in Jesus Christ that is evidenced by obedience to God’s Word. The devil is trying to silence the Word of God in the name of being relevant and contemporary. But Jesus loves these people too much to allow them to get away with it. Jesus says to those who wish to hide the cross to pursue their own agenda: Get behind Me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man. Those who are offended by the cross cannot be disciples of Jesus Christ. When we try to avoid the cross in our own life and in the church we will end up serving and worshiping the devil.

II.

  1. The meaning of discipleship: As Jesus spoke about His death He began to describe what it meant to follow Him. Following Jesus would mean self-denial and bearing the cross. Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. They would begin to understand all these things after His death and resurrection. He appeared to two of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Lu. 24:45-47). Salvation is entirely of grace offered freely to sinners on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross without money or price. The Bible could not be clearer. 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). But we must prove the reality of our faith by carrying our cross. You don’t have to go looking for a cross, the Lord has one for you. (Luther). The child of God will have trouble, pain, suffering and conflict on this earth as he confesses a faith that the world despises and a lives a life the world ridicules.

 

  1. The Christian believes and practices God’s Word no matter how much the world changes. Sometimes God will take us through times of sorrow difficulty, pain suffering and sickness; we may even face the possibility of death. The cross we bear may be heavy but Jesus gives us the strength to carry it. Paul wrote from prison: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13). We also realize that countless saints in the past have carried the cross and they discovered that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt. 11:28-30). Paul encouraged the believers going through tribulation in the world. Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. If we had our way we would live a life of ease, comfort, pleasure, riches, health and prosperity but God may not have these things for us. I remember going through a series of trials and afflictions when I was younger, and a pastor friend gave me comfort. He said: Ross, always remember, God is too wise to be wrong, and too kind to be cruel. I never forgot what he said. We may not know God’s plan in how He is dealing with us, and may wonder what good our troubles will bring. But if we want to understand just look at the cross where the Son of God suffered the pains of hell and laid down His life for us.

 

  1. He died the death that we deserved in order to give us the life and glory that He And now He gives us forgiveness of sins as a gift by taking God at His Word that everyone who believes on Christ has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Why is it so important for us to understand these things? We need to understand the Gospel because of the unspeakable value of our soul. The soul is your most valuable possession. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul. Jesus spoke these words to motivate us to self-denial and effort and to remind us that to walk with Christ we must do it His way. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. We save our life by submitting to God and believing His Word but we can lose our life by demanding our own way, opinions, and values. Each of us have a soul that will live forever for which we will one day give an account to God. We cannot save our own soul, only Jesus can do that, but we can lose it. Some people lose their soul because they love sin and the things of this world. Others lose their soul because they choose a false religion based on lies and manmade superstition. Still others lose their eternal soul because they neglect the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, and they end up rejecting the Gospel that God offered them.

 

  1. Jesus said that the soul of man was more valuable than all the treasures, riches, fame, and power of the world. To trade your soul for the riches and approval of this world is the most foolish bargain any man could ever make. Remember this fact when you are going through temptation or during times of persecution, when the fear of man pressures you to forsake Christ and His word. This is also why we must confess the Gospel to other people and tell them of the Savior and their need for salvation. We must care for our neighbor because they also have an eternal soul that will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Jesus laid down His life on the cross to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. Only Christ could redeem the souls of men, only His blood was sufficient payment for the sins of the world. Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (I Pet. 1:18-19). Christ is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2). He was the sacrifice that removed God’s wrath and reconciled us to God once again. Denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus in this life is our reasonable service. Christ is not asking too much. May the Lord give us grace to walk with Him in repentance and faith each day for Christ’s sake; Amen!