Saturday, May 28, 2016

The House That David's Son Built

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“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that Your servant prays before You this day, that Your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may listen to the prayer that Your servant offers toward this place” (1 Kings 8:27–29).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
This is the house that David’s son built. It was an impressive structure in size and beauty, befitting its prominence and purpose. The temple functioned as God’s royal palace and Israel’s national center of worship. By its symbolism, the sanctuary taught the rule of the Lord over the whole creation and His special headship over Israel. The inside ceiling was 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and over 200 feet at its highest point. It was built to last, crafted of the finest materials: stone cut so skillfully at the quarry there was no need for additional dressing on site or mortar to hold it together; trimmed inside with cedar boards from floor to ceiling; overlaid and decorated with silver and gold; furnished with cast bronze and iron.
Solomon had spared no expense or effort. In order to complete the massive project, he had conscripted labor, drafting 30,000 men to send to Lebanon. They would be one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Solomon also had 70,000 burden-bearers and 80,000 stonecutters in the hill country, besides 3,300 overseers. Completed in seven years’ time, it was an engineering marvel, perhaps the most significant achievement of Solomon’s reign. A dream come true.
Actually, it was a dream of his father, David. So, before proceeding with Solomon’s prayer of dedication, let’s first go back a few years.
For so much of his life, David had been caught up in the business of war. A courageous warrior, he had carried out some of the most successful military campaigns in Israel’s history. But he found himself in a unique situation, at least as far as his life was concerned—a time of rest and peace. We’re told that “the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies” (2 Kings 7:1).
As David relaxed and enjoyed his beautiful new palace, something struck him as being terribly wrong. It didn’t seem right that he should be living in such splendor, in a palace with walls lined in beautiful cedar, while the ark of the Lord was kept in a tent. David began to dream a great dream. He would build a house for the Lord! It would be a house made of wood and stone—a permanent place for the ark of the covenant to be kept. There was nothing selfish about this thought; he was not out to make a name for himself. He wanted only to glorify God.
David shared his plan for this temple with Nathan, his good friend and counselor, who also happened to be his pastor. Nathan was most enthusiastic in his response to David’s proposal. By all means, Nathan said, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3).
That very night the Lord handed down a message for David through Nathan: “Would you build Me a house to dwell in?” He asked (2 Kings 7:5). These were not easy words for Nathan to pass along or for David to hear. But there was no mistaking what God was saying. His answer to David’s proposal was no. It wasn’t that God was punishing David for something in his past. And it wasn’t that God had no use for David. It was just that it was not God’s plan that David build a temple for Him. God had other things for David to do. “David,” He said in effect, “I’ve appointed you to be a king, a builder of My nation, not a builder of the temple. You’ve been given the gift of ruling My people. I’ve blessed you in such a way that all your enemies have been subdued. But your hands are stained with blood, and I want a man of peace to build My temple, a house for My name.”
God’s no to David in one area was not to be taken as no in every other area of his life. God sometimes closes one door so that He might open another more suited to us. The Lord assured David that he would be used to build His house, but not as he had anticipated. “When your days are fulfilled, and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13).
The immediate fulfillment of those words was that Solomon, David’s son, would be the one to build the temple. But included in that promise was an even greater promise. God said, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
This promise to David was like the one made to Abraham, more clearly defined. “David, the Savior will come from your family, and in Him your throne will be established forever.” Anyone who has ever heard the Christmas story knows of the fulfillment of this promise. Mary and Joseph went down from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because they both were of the house and line of David. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
The temple would be prominent in Jesus’ life and ministry. Forty days after His birth, Jesus was brought to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord (Luke 2:22). Twelve years later, He was found in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Shortly before His death, Jesus cleansed the temple of those who had made it a den of robbers rather than a house of prayer (Luke 19:48). He taught the people each day in the temple, even as His opponents sought how to put Him to death (Luke 22:1).  
Jesus, is the fulfillment of the temple. His once-for-all bloody sacrifice brought the forgiveness to which all the blood of beasts spilled in Solomon’s temple could only foreshadow.
Jesus is the temple. When His opponents ask for a sign to demonstrate His authority to cleanse the temple, Jesus says, speaking of His own body: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Christ’s human body, where God dwelt and was made manifest, was given as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. His resurrection is proof that the sacrifice was accepted. 
Jesus is the temple, God’s gracious presence with His people, the place of His glory and name, a house of worship, prayer, and forgiveness, for all of God’s people. St. Paul writes of this mystery: “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
In addition to seeing the day of His son and Savior, David also was given the privilege of preparing for the building of the temple. He had the delight of seeing his people give generously for the project. It is estimated that the gold and silver, wood and stone, the bronze and iron that were collected for the construction would cost billions of today’s dollars. That’s the wonderful thing about God’s nos. Though at first they may appear to be depriving us of some joy, in reality they are designed to give us more. How wrong to think we know better than God!
This is the house that David’s son built. Solomon gathers the people to dedicate it. Appropriately, he chooses the Feast of Booths, the week in which the Israelites gather to remember their own dwelling in tents as God led them to the Promised Land. Now, 480 years later, God Himself will move His presence from the tabernacle tent to Solomon’s magnificent temple. Until He does, however, the temple is like a lifeless body; God has not yet made it His home. But the priests, accompanied by a choir of Levites and a band of 120 priests blowing on trumpets (2 Chronicles 5:12), carry the ark to the Most Holy Place. When they set it down, God shows His presence in a visible way. A cloud, like the one at Sinai, fills the temple so that the priests are no longer able to minister there.
Then Solomon says, “The Lord has said that He would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built You an exalted house, a place for You to dwell forever.” Then the king turns around and blesses the people by reminding them of how God has kept His promises. God had chosen David to be king. God had chosen Solomon to succeed his father. God has now chosen a particular place to record His name. Intimately bound up with those promises is the promise to send the Messiah, the great Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12, 13), who will build a house for the Lord, and who will literally dwell within His temple of believers forever.
St. Paul tells us that Solomon’s temple was a shadow prefiguring God’s holy temple of believers, the holy Christian church. “For through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18–22).
There are several obvious similarities between Solomon’s temple and Christ’s body, the Church: (1) They both are the home of the triune God. God dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwell among believers. (2) They both are the place where God accepts sacrifice. From the day of the temple’s dedication, sacrifices were to be offered to God only at Jerusalem. In the New Testament, God’s temple of believers is called a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). They alone can rightly offer sacrifices of praise to God. (3) They both are the place where God blesses His people. The ark of the covenant was (among other things) a reminder that God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt. The people who make up God’s temple of believers are a blessing to others when they proclaim the Gospel of deliverance from sin.
Following the blessing, Solomon takes his place before the people. With his arms stretched out toward the heavens, he kneels down and speaks a solemn prayer of dedication: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like You, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart; You have kept with Your servant David my father what You declared to him. You spoke with Your mouth, and with Your hand have fulfilled it this day” (1 Kings 8:22–24).
The wise king goes on to express his wonder: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that Your servant prays before You this day, that Your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may listen to the prayer that Your servant offers toward this place” (1 Kings 8:27–29).
“You can’t put God in a box,” they say. “The finite is not capable of holding the infinite.” It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But what if God wanted to be in a box? What if He wanted to have one special place to record His name, to answer the prayers of His people? Could He do it? Of course! The God able to place Himself in a virgin’s womb can certainly put Himself anywhere else He wishes.
This is the house that David’s Son built. This is where the God who deigns to dwell on earth comes to you, for you. The infinity, omnipresent, eternal God whom heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain condescends to come to you, in His Church, through His means of grace.
Though Solomon’s temple is no more, God hallows you as His holy temple in Baptism. There in the water and Word, God placed His triune name. The Holy Spirit brought you to saving faith in Jesus. He now dwells in your heart, and by His work you daily strive to honor our gracious God in all you think, do, and say.
This is the house that David’s Son built. As His holy temple, His holy priest, you can come to the Lord anytime, anywhere, with your prayers and petitions in Jesus’ name, confident that your heavenly Father hears you and will answer you favorably for Jesus’ sake. Sometimes His answer is “yes,” other times, it’s “no,” but you can be sure that it is always for your good.
This is the house that David’s Son built. Here in this holy house, He comes to you in, with, and under the bread and wine, giving you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

This is the house that David’s Son built. As you come here and confess your sins, you receive absolution from Christ Himself through His called and ordained servant. Indeed, you are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

An Ad Hominem/Ad Deum Attack

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“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
You know an argument is not going well for someone when he or she has to resort to name calling. Experts call this argumentum ad hominem, a Latin phrase literally translated as “an argument to the man.” Argumentum ad hominem is a logical fallacy in which an argument is opposed by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument rather than addressing the substance of the argument itself. The result of an ad hominem attack can be to undermine someone’s case without having to deal with the actual issue at hand.
Stung by the unveiled truth from Jesus’ lips, the Jews resort to name-calling: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” To be fair, our text drops in on the middle of the conversation, and Jesus has just told His opponents that they are doing the work of the devil, which itself sounds like a personal attack—unless it happens to be true. Undoubtedly, to their way of thinking, the Jews are simply answering Jesus in kind. “You say the devil is our father? We say you’re a half-breed and you have a demon inside you. How can anyone believe anything that you say?”
Jesus speaks the truth, however, not they. He’s not trying to impugn them, but to warn them of the dangers of not believing His Word. Moreover, this matter is not about names. Jesus simply denies their charge and points to the real problem: They don’t believe He is the Messiah. If He isn’t the Messiah, then they would be perfectly correct in calling Him demon-possessed. Only a mad-man or a charlatan would call themselves the Messiah—unless He really is! Then the Jews have a real problem, because if Jesus is telling them the truth, if He’s the Messiah and they oppose Him, then they are opposing God and siding with the devil.
So the pertinent question of this theological debate is simply this: Is Jesus truly the Messiah or not? If He is, then they’ve got to believe everything He says about Himself. If He’s not, then He really is a dangerous man to be avoided, even attacked, if necessary. So what does Jesus say about Himself? He says, “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” For one thing, Jesus denies that He has a demon. But more than that, He declares that His Father is in heaven—not Samaria, and that He understands exactly what He’s saying and the claims He’s making, and that what He says honors His Father in heaven. His words aren’t frivolous: He declares unequivocally that He’s speaking the truth.
Jesus glorifies His heavenly Father, but the Jews dishonor Him. By being at odds with Jesus, they are at odds with God the Father. Jesus is not seeking His own glory, but the Father is seeking glory through Jesus. And the Father is the ultimate judge. By attacking Jesus, they are attacking God and bringing condemnation on themselves.
Now, all that’s going to rile His audience, but next comes the statement that really sets them off: “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” This is Good News, yes? The Messiah, sent by the Father, gives eternal life by His Word. Jesus He underscores His Word again. The way to know the Word, who is God, who is Jesus, is to keep His Word. Believe the message of Jesus and you will never experience everlasting death.
But Jesus’ opponents don’t hear it as deliverance, rather as proof of diabolical madness. Even Abraham and the prophets died. How can Jesus say that anyone who keeps His Word will never taste death? Where faith is denied and human reason takes over, people must conclude that Jesus is making preposterous claims. Only through faith do we see that He is in truth the Son of God. Otherwise, we ask: “Who do you make yourself out to be, Jesus? Some self-appointed Savior? Do you actually claim to even have the power over death?”
But Jesus doesn’t let them get away with that. He’s not self-appointed, so He tells them again: “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:52-53).
Jesus claims no glory for Himself; that would be worthless. Many before Him and many since have claimed to be messiahs for their own glory and did no good. The Father gives Jesus glory, however. So, why don’t the Jews? They don’t glorify Jesus because they don’t really know God. They lie because they don’t know the truth. They argue foolishly because they can’t see Wisdom Himself there. The Jews have lost sight of the Word of God that promises Christ. They have kept God’s Word only selectively and added to it with their own traditions.
Jesus is keeping God’s Word to the letter and in spirit. Jesus speaks the truth, but the Jews follow their father, the devil, not Abraham whose name they invoke for support. Jesus can legitimately claim Abraham on His side, because Abraham trusted the promises of God and believed in the coming of the Christ. By faith, Abraham saw Jesus’ day, believed in Him, and was saved.
Jesus offers the same to the Jews. He tells them to turn from their unbelief because He has life for them, too. But His opponents aren’t ready to give in. They don’t want Him to be the Messiah. If He is, they have to admit that they’re wrong. They have to repent of their false teachings that say you’re saved by works, not by faith. But they’ll have none of it. Each claim Jesus makes confirms them in their unbelief. Hardened hearts often grow harder when confronted by God’s truth.
Jesus doesn’t bother to explain how by faith Abraham saw God’s plan of salvation fulfilled in Jesus’ day (Hebrews 11:8-10). Instead, He uses their question to witness one last time to His own eternal divinity: “Before Abraham was, I AM!”
“I AM,” says Jesus, and the way He says it makes His meaning very clear. In Exodus 3:14, God reveals to Moses that His name is Yahweh, which means “I AM.” Jesus is saying that He’s more than just a man sent by God. He’s not just a prophet. He’s saying that He is God. Very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father. The One by whom all things were made. He’s Yahweh, Himself, in the flesh and standing before them. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He is the Son of God sent by the Father to win salvation. And He gives eternal life by means of His Word. What Good News!
But one cannot believe God’s Word without faith. One cannot believe in Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit. To the Jews this is not good news, but the final blasphemy. They pick up stones to throw at Jesus. But while they get their stones, Jesus hides Himself from their sight and leaves the temple. His time to sacrifice Himself to pay for the world’s sin has not yet come.
“Before Abraham was, I AM.” With that sentence, Jesus presents two important doctrines. The first is the doctrine of the Incarnation: Jesus, clearly a man, says that He is Yahweh. He is fully human, and He is fully divine. Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem (long after Abraham died), and He was before Abraham, begotten of His Father before all worlds, being of one substance with the Father. The second is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: if Jesus is “I AM,” then He is God. He is God along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.
Those two doctrines, the Incarnation and the Trinity, are enough to make Jesus’ opponents pick up stones to kill Him. Theirs is a literal ad hominem attack, “to the man,” but is also an ad deum attack, one directed “to God.” An attack with not just words, but stones they pick up and intend to cast at “the Stone the builders rejected” (Matthew 21:42), the “spiritual Rock that followed” the Israelites and supplied them water to drink in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4).  
Those two doctrines are also what the Athanasian Creed is all about, and the focus of this Festival of the Holy Trinity. That makes this festival unique in the church year. The other festivals are about what our Lord does: Christmas is about His birth; Easter, His resurrection; Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not first about what our Lord does, but who He is.
If, by chance, you think that this makes it a second-rate festival, you need to reconsider. To not care who the Lord is, is actually more foolish than saying to your spouse, “I don’t care who you are, as long as you do what I say.” By faith, we rejoice that God makes Himself known to us; neglect of His identity is sin.
If the Lord isn’t who He says He is, then He can’t do what He says He does. We’ll start with the Incarnation: If Jesus is not fully man, He can’t take your place and die for your sins. If He isn’t fully God, then He can’t die for the sins of all.
Or consider the Trinity: If God is not one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the Son cannot be one with the Father. If that’s true, then Jesus can’t be the beloved Son, fully God, who goes to the cross for you. If He’s not the Son, then you’re not redeemed from your sin. You don’t have a Father in heaven, because you’re still unholy. If God is not one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the Father and the Son don’t send the Holy Spirit to you to grant you faith, and so you don’t have faith. And if the Holy Spirit does not give you faith, then the Father and the Son will not come to you and dwell with you.
If God is not one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—then what does your baptism mean since you were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? If Jesus isn’t both God and man, how does it help you to be joined to His death and resurrection by water and the Word? If Jesus isn’t both God and man, how can He give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins? Do you see? Who He is matters. The Lord has to be who He is in order to do what He does. Thus we gladly confess the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.
That may still not strike you as controversial, but it sets Christianity apart. The controversy you find in the Gospel lesion is still around. If you witness to a Muslim, the Incarnation is not just a strange teaching—it’s outright blasphemy. If you’re speaking to a Jehovah’s Witness, you’ll find that their version of the Bible is heavily edited to get rid of the Holy Trinity. If you’re talking religion with your average secularist, you’ll probably hear him say, “I have no problem with the idea that a man named Jesus lived once upon a time. But the idea that He was also God? That’s where I’ve got to draw the line.” This, really, is the crux of the matter: Jesus is either who He says He is or He isn’t. Jesus either does what He says or He doesn’t. There’s no middle ground.
The world doesn’t want an incarnate Christ or the Trinity, and there’s really a simply reason why: both the Incarnation and the Trinity are mysteries that we accept by faith; they can’t be apprehended by reason or logic. “Who God is” is greater that we can understand, and I, for one, think that is not a bad thing. Do you really want a God so limited that you can fully understand Him?
The Incarnation and the Trinity are mysteries that we accept by faith, not formulae that we can explain. Therefore, we don’t argue and try to persuade people into believing these doctrines are true. Rather, we confess them. We confess what the Lord says about Himself in His Word; and we trust that the Holy Spirit will work through that Word to bring to faith all who will believe.
And as we confess these truths, we rejoice in their comfort for us. For this is true: because Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, He is the Messiah who has gone to the cross and died in your place for your sin.
Because the Son died for you, you have a loving Father in heaven who sends His Spirit upon you to give you faith and the forgiveness that the Son won on the cross.
Because God is triune, all of this is delivered to you in your baptism and absolution, because you are baptized and absolved in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Because the incarnate Son is a person of the triune God, He delivers to you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
That is who Jesus is: the incarnate, second person of the Trinity. The world will try to persuade you differently, but you have His Word. By His Word, and by God-given faith on His Word, you know who He is and what He has done. And because He is the Son of God who became flesh to go to the cross for you, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Holy Spirit Comes to the Harvest Festival for You

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text, Acts 2:1-21, is the start of something big, and it happens on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost is the Greek name for the Old Testament Feast of Weeks that God required the Israelites to celebrate each year seven weeks after the Passover—thus it was called the Feast of Weeks because it took place a “week of weeks” after the Paschal Feast. That means the feast was celebrated on the fiftieth day—that’s the “Pente” in Pentecost.                       
The feast of Pentecost was a day of rest when all the men of Israel were to appear before the Lord and offer appropriate sacrifices. Each farmer was to come into the temple courts, bringing a basket with his first sheaf of the year’s wheat harvest. At his turn, the farmer would step forward and say the liturgy of recitation: “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.” The priest would take hold of the basket, and the two of them would sway it back and forth as a “wave offering.”
Then the farmer would recite in Hebrew, “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:5–10). He would leave the basket, bow before the Lord, and make way for the next farmer.
Over time, in addition to being a spring harvest festival, Pentecost also came to be celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Law, the establishment of the covenant at Mt. Sinai. This is attested in Jewish writings such as Jubilees and the Babylonian Talmud, but there are also hints of this in the Old Testament. In Exodus 19:1, Moses writes that the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai “in the third month” after they had left Egypt. Since they left on the day after Passover, the fiftieth day after Passover would have fallen within this third month. Also, in 2 Chronicles 15:10-15, the author describes a gathering in Jerusalem during the third month where the covenant was celebrated and renewed. A later Aramaic paraphrase of Chronicles, called a Targum, says expressly that the Israelites gathered in Jerusalem during the festival of Weeks. And so Pentecost came to be a day that celebrated the covenant the Lord made with His people, the promise of a productive land and a prosperous nation. For the Jewish people, Pentecost was kind of like Independence Day and Thanksgiving rolled into one.
For nearly 15 centuries, every generation of Israelites had gathered for the second major feast of the year. As we see in Acts 2, even those scattered in the Diaspora came to Jerusalem if at all possible. Present that Pentecost were “devout men from every nation under heaven… Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:5, 9-10).
These pilgrims didn’t realize this year would be different. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, [Jesus’ disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Act 2:1-4).
The crowds were understandably “amazed and astonished” to hear the apostles “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:10). Some asked, “What does this mean?” Others accused the preachers of a little “day drinking.” Peter preached a powerful sermon. Drawing upon the prophecy of Joel (2:18-32) and a psalm of David (16:8-11), he declared that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, who, having been crucified and resurrected, had now poured out the Holy Spirit, as He had promised (Acts 2:14-40). The result was extraordinary, for on that day “three thousand souls” received his word and were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [their] sins” (Acts 2:38, 41). It was quite a day!
The question is this: Of the 364 other days of the year upon which Christ could have poured out His Holy Spirit, why did He do so on exactly the fiftieth day after Easter? It was, indeed, already a holy day, the Old Testament Feast of Weeks. But why choose this feast day? What makes Pentecost so fitting a time for Jesus to give His Holy Spirit to the Church? But perhaps an even more important question is the one the crowds asked that day: What does this mean? What does all of this mean to you and me and our salvation?
There is, first of all, a common theme between the two, namely, that this fifty-day period is one of waiting or anticipation. For the believers under the old covenant, the days between Passover and Pentecost were symbolic of the years of waiting between their departure from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land. Only then could they finally offer to God the firstfruits that sprang from the sacred soil of Canaan. For although Passover could be, and was, celebrated in the wilderness (Numbers 9:5), Pentecost could not be, for to be able to sow, reap, and offer the firstfruits of wheat to the Lord, the Israelites had to be settled in their own land. Thus, until their wandering was wrapped up, Canaan conquered, and seed sown into that sacred soil, they waited. Pentecost was anticipated but not yet realized.
Similarly, the days between the Passover of Jesus (that is, His crucifixion and resurrection) and His sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were days of waiting. As Luke tells us in Acts, Jesus appeared to His disciples prior to His ascension offering many proofs of His resurrection and speaking about the kingdom of God. He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (1:1–5). Similarly, at the end of his Gospel, Luke records Jesus instructing His disciples, “And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Everything was to take place in its proper time. Following the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, Jesus would send forth the promise of His Father, the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost. That day would bring to fulfillment the saving plan of the Lord, in a way similar to how the entry into the Promised Land brought to fulfillment God’s saving plan for the Israelites. Until the promised Spirit came on that promised day, however, the disciples had to wait in the city. Then, and only then, would they receive “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23).
Speaking of firstfruits, this brings us to a second link between the Old and New Testament Pentecosts. As the Israelites celebrated Pentecost, they offered to God the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, but at the new Pentecost, God offered to His Church the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:13–14). By offering to the Lord the firstfruits of grain, the believer bore witness that the whole field and crop belonged to God, whose continued blessing was demanded through the sacrifice itself. Similarly, Christ places the Spirit within the believer as a pledge that the whole person—body and soul—belongs to Him. He will continue to care for that person in whom the firstfruits of the Spirit are present until the “full harvest,” that is, the day of the resurrection of the flesh.
As I already mentioned, by the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at least some (if not most) of the Jews had begun to commemorate Pentecost as the institution of the Sinai covenant and the giving of the Law. If so, what happened in Acts 2 should be viewed in relation to the appearance of God at Sinai.
When the Lord descended upon Sinai, His presence was visibly and audibly revealed in fire. In Deuteronomy, Moses says that “the mountain was burning with fire unto the heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud, and thick darkness” (4:11). Then the Lord spoke to the Israelites “from the midst of the fire” (4:12, 15, 33). At Jerusalem, there was the “divided tongues, as of fire, which rested upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3); and the proclamation of the Gospel in unlearned languages. In both cases, there was divine speech connected with divine fire, but the message could not have been more different.
At Sinai, the Lord identified Himself as the one who had led them out of the land of Egypt, then laid upon them the Decalogue, the “ten words” of the covenant. The rest of Old Testament history, however, is Israel’s “rap sheet,” divine documentation of how the people repeatedly and often flagrantly broke this covenant. Indeed, even before they departed from Sinai, they rebelled against the First Commandment by attempting to worship the Lord under a golden calf.
The Father, in His grace, did not reject Israel but promised to establish a new covenant with them, “not like the covenant that [He] made with their fathers on the day when [He] took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, [the] covenant that they broke” (Jeremiah 31:32). This new covenant Jesus established with His Church as He gave His body and blood to eat and drink (Luke 22:20). It is the covenant built upon His life, death, and resurrection.
The apostles announced this new covenant in their preaching at Pentecost. Once more, Christ spoke to Israel from the midst of the fire, namely, the fiery tongues resting upon the heads of His apostles. But He laid upon the listeners not the “ten words” for them to fulfill; rather, He proclaimed the fulfillment of the law in Himself (cf. Luke 24:44). The Lord had commanded Passover and Pentecost so that His people might remember His deliverance and provision. But more than that, He commanded these feasts to point to Jesus.
It is no coincidence that Jesus was crucified at the Passover, because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And it’s no coincidence that the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: it is time for the apostles to sow the seed of His Word. It is time to ready for the harvest.
Pastor Bill Cwirla writes: “Fifty days after the Passover, on the day the people celebrated the firstfruits of their wheat harvest, the crucified, risen and reigning Lord Jesus swings His sickle over the fields ripe for harvest and gathers into His barn the firstfruits of His resurrection. Three thousand people who heard the Gospel that day were baptized into the death of Jesus. They were the firstfruits of a harvest that’s been going on for two thousand years, that reached us in our baptism, and will continue to the end.”
Pentecost is a miracle of both speaking and hearing that continues even today. The Holy Spirit works both through the mouth of the preacher and through the ear of the hearer to convey the Word of God. That’s why two people can get two different things from the same sermon, or react in two different ways. That’s something that I’ve learned over the years. No two people hear the same sermon the same way. And sometimes what I plan to say and what is said are two different things as well. Nevertheless, God’s Word does not return to Him empty, but yields His intended harvest. I believe, on the basis of Pentecost, that this is precisely how the Holy Spirit works. He always works subtly, hidden in the background, through humble, rather ordinary, means—in this case, words. Even the fumbling, mumbling words of this mediocre preacher.  
The Holy Spirit is at work here among us. Not in wind and fire, but in the Word. Sowing the seed and reaping a harvest of righteousness. Calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying you and the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeping it and you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Much of the information on the relation of the Old and New Testament Pentecost comes from an article by Chad L. Bird on his blog: https://chadbird.squarespace.com/blog/2016/5/11/ot-and-nt-pentecost-why-did-jesus-pour-out-his-spirit-on-this-particular-day

Saturday, May 7, 2016

I Am [Is] Coming Soon

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what He has done.” (Revelation 22:12).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
“Just wait until your father comes home!” Those words can bring two extremely different reactions, depending upon the father and his disposition to his son or daughter. It could be a word of woe and warning—or it could be a word of joy and promise. The father could be an iron-fisted tyrant with a terrible mean streak bent on meting out punishment for each and every offense and infraction. Or he could be the Ward Cleaver type who opens the front door to be greeted warmly with hugs and kisses from his wife and kids. It all depends.
Jesus’ words have a similar effect: “Behold, I am coming soon!” These words always have a double edge, frightening those who picture a wrathful Judge, but comforting those who know Jesus as gracious Savior, warning the unrepentant and encouraging the faithful. Still, they are spoken here primarily to comfort those who find it hard to hold on to their faith in a wicked world.
Because John’s message is about the ultimate triumph of good over evil, it is always relevant and all the more as the world slides further into chaos and corruption. On one level, Revelation powerfully confirms what we already fear, that is, our world and everyone in it is doomed. More profoundly, however, this book is about transcendent hope. It shows how infinitely greater God is than evil. By offering a vision of the new creation soon to be revealed, Revelation draws us on toward our blessed hope in Christ. Jesus was crucified, is risen from the dead, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. On the Last Day, He will return in victory and fulfill all the wonderful promises of glory for His suffering Church. In the meanwhile, He comes to us through His Word!
Jesus identifies Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega” (verse 13). Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus uses this name to say that He is the eternal, changeless God. This name assures us that He is faithful and will keep His promises. “I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what He has done,” Jesus says. Jesus will bring with Him all the rewards that He promises to give to those who overcome: “the tree of life” (2:7), “the crown of life” (2:10), “a new name” (2:17), “authority over the nations” (2:26), their names in the “book of life” (3:5), “the name of the city of My God” (3:12), and “the right to sit with Me on My throne” (3:21).
Jesus will “repay everyone for what he has done.” This does not mean that salvation is by works. Though numerous other New Testament passages similarly speak about the faithful being rewarded, they never do so apart from grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. The unrighteous, on the other hand, will have no one to blame but themselves when they are condemned for their iniquity.
Jesus used language like this in His parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46). On the Last Day, Jesus will point to our good works to demonstrate the faith we held in our hearts. We will be judged worthy of our reward on the basis of the white clothes Jesus gives us (19:8). Since “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26), the good works of believers will prove that they “have not soiled their clothes” (3:4). Jesus leaves no doubt that this is how we are to understand the basis for His final judgment. He says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life” (verse 14). The “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) of our own righteousness are gone. Believers “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Not what you have done but what Jesus did for you gives you the right to the tree of life (22:2, 3) and access to the holy city (21:25-27). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Not everyone, though, receives this ultimate blessing. Some will be excluded: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (verse 15). Outside the city is a cursed, unclean place where there are not only those who poison their bodies with their dangerous substances, but even worse, those religious sorcerers who have polluted souls with the venom of false doctrine and the toxins of tolerance, their calls for choice, and blanket acceptance of alternative lifestyles and religions. Outside, particularly, are those who, “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
This brings to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 7: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’” (v. 22-23). Outside the gates will be those who have cried out, “the Gospel, the Gospel, we must allow everything for the sake of the Gospel,” and yet they’ve never actually proclaimed the Gospel. They were offended by the Good News that Jesus—true God and true man—took upon Himself and atoned for the sins and for all the sinfulness of all people when He offered Himself as the sacrifice on the cross. They were offended that this forgiveness is given by the grace of God through Word and Sacrament.
If you do not hear this Gospel in every sermon, every service, then please, I beg you, let me know. For my sake and for the sake of all in this congregation, tell me if you do not hear the Gospel—if you do not hear the forgiveness of sins announced, lest I be included in those who are assigned a place outside the gate on Judgment Day. I mean it! If you care about me and my eternal abode, if you care about your brothers and sisters in Christ who are sitting here with you, then do the caring and loving thing: confront and admonish me if you do not hear the Gospel.
Outside is where the vicious beasts feed on the unclean, just as the dogs licked up the cursed blood of Ahab and Jezebel outside the city. In order that no one might have to spend one second outside the gates, the Son of God came to go in our place. Jesus is the scapegoat upon whose head all sin is declared. He was sent outside the gate, and there, at Golgotha, the son of David experienced on the cross what He had said through him 1,000 years earlier: “Dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). This is where Jesus shed His holy, precious blood... not that the wicked beasts might lick it up, but that men, women, and children might be among the blessed who “wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Revelation 22:14). 
Christ is the fruit on the tree of life and whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will live forever. Jesus is the Gate into the city. As He Himself said, “I am the Gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved” (John 10:9, NIV). Truly, the gates of this city are the proclaimed Word of the Gospel and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. These are the only way into the kingdom of God.
This is good news! Certainty is found in God’s Word, not in the whims and schemes of man. God gives us His Word so that we not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). God’s Word guards us so we will not be deceived by “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (verse 15).
Verse 16 is the only time in the entire New Testament that the Lord uses His personal name to identify Himself: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” While the other names and titles by which He speaks of Himself display or point to the majestic grandeur of who He is, and what He has done for our salvation, His personal name, “Jesus,” points to His humanity and to His intimate relationship with you and me and all of God’s people.
Jesus identifies Himself to encourage you to receive Revelation as His Word. He uses names that you would associate with your Savior: “the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (verse 16). Jesus was David’s Creator, his root, or source from all eternity. But when He took on humanity, Jesus was born as a descendant, or offspring, of the same David. This one speaking is the Messiah, God’s Son and David’s son; David’s son, yet David’s Lord, the Morning Star, who heralds the coming of a new day.
In response, John adds another invitation: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” (verse 17). The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The Bride is the bride of Christ, the members of His Church (19:7). Along with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you and I have the privilege of praying for Christ’s return and inviting others who do not yet believe in Jesus to leave their sins and come to Jesus in faith. Everyone who hears this loving invitation with the ears of faith will join in to invite still others: “Come!”
This is one of the great evangelical calls of Scripture. It shines with God’s universal love for sinful people. The dogs, sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, everyone who loves and practices falsehood, are invited to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb so they, too, may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. No one is excluded from the forgiveness earned by Jesus. Those who are barred from heaven exclude themselves by refusing to hear and believe. Those who come do so solely because of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
The warnings and promises of Revelation are critical to the eternal destiny of souls. Just as Moses warned the Israelites not to add to or take away from the words of the Law, so also John warns His readers (see Deuteronomy 4:2). In the Old Testament, a prophet who spoke without the authority of God was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). A similar pronouncement is made here. Those who alter the words of John’s prophecy will forfeit their share of eternal blessings.
John’s warning, of course, applies to how we handle all Scripture. Rather than alter them to suit our own desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4), we are to take God’s Word to heart (Deuteronomy 6:6). Consequently, we seek to share God’s warnings and promises in a way that “correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Teachers who soft-pedal the threats of God’s law or trade away God’s promises of eternal salvation for temporal social benefits fall under the curse of this warning. Those who proclaim the truth share the tree of life and a place in the holy city.
Jesus promises those who contend for the faith that He will return quickly. This is our Lord’s answer to the martyrs who cry out, “O Sovereign Lord…how long?” (6:10). Our Lord’s answer is simple: “I am coming soon” (verse 20).
By its promises of sure victory for God’s saints, Revelation offers us a perspective from which we might view our own daily struggles. Jesus’ promises create faith, faith produces patience. Such patience views spiritual trials as Paul did: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
And so we join John and pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Do you think that the Lord will not answer this prayer? Surely He will. Do you think that the Lord does not answer this prayer? Surely He does. For this is the Table Prayer of the Church as she calls upon her Lord to be present when He has promised to be. Indeed, the Lord Jesus has been answering it wherever and whenever the Bride has set the Table with bread and wine, and the called and ordained servant of the Word speaks the words of institution: “This is My body given for you. This is My blood shed for you." The same Lord who comes and speaks His word of absolution: "I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...