What would you look at if you could see any one thing God sees? Would you watch life in a warmer climate? Would you spy on a relative to ensure they’re okay? Would you see the wonders of the world or look at the depths of the ocean? Imagine what you could do if you could see what God sees!
Today in God’s Word he tells us what he sees, but it’s not all good. Far from the wonders of the world, he sees us for who we really are. But he didn’t leave us that way. As we begin our journey through the season of Lent, we use a series of 3-word sermons. The three words for our meditation today are: THE LORD SAW.
We may think God sits in heaven and sees everything, but the truth is he is present everywhere. He doesn’t have to be in heaven to see it—he’s watching it happen. But does he really see everything? Can he see the skeletons in the closet I would be embarrassed if anyone found out about? Or the time you lied, and the time you hid your faith so you wouldn’t be labeled? What about when we thought we could skip out on following God this time? Or when I found that strangely evil thought in your heart, but didn’t outright dismiss it? Did the LORD see then?
Meanwhile, God’s truth staggers and stumbles in the street. “Yes, truth is lacking.” Anyone who tries to turn from their sinful ways just gets punished for it. People will label you a “Jesus freak.” You’ll be weird. If God really cared, why wouldn’t he come and do something about it? Surely he can’t see—or doesn’t care. Why would a loving God be so demanding? His expectations are unrealistic: be you! Be the you you want to be! Don’t let yourself be defined by some book.
Mom tells her child that if he runs out into the street, he’s going to get a timeout. When that child inevitably ignores mom’s warning, what’s going to happen to him? She sees him, and he goes to timeout. God has clearly spelled out his expectations for us in his Word. How have we lived up to his expectations? God sees.
There are some things we don’t need the LORD to tell us. We are intimately familiar with them. Three words are used in the text: transgression, sin, iniquity. We know them too well. Not just the mistaken words or actions we have done, these transgressions are acts of rebellion against God. Our sins testify against us. So does God. In the courtroom of his law, our sins are all the testimony necessary. Our transgressions are with us. We know our guilt. We haven’t done what is right; any hope we have of doing it is beyond reach. And THE LORD SAW. He has seen all you’ve done. He’s not pleased. No one does what is right. He sees that, to a man, the human race is filthy. He sees we’re guilty as charged.
More amazing even than the multitude of sins he sees is what he doesn’t see. God is astonished because there isn’t a single man left to intercede for the people. No one does what is right. No one. No one can go between us and God.
The saying goes, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” God lived up to those words. He saw the people he made couldn’t meet his expectations. So he gears up for war to make it happen by himself. The LORD’s arm worked salvation, and his righteousness held him to it. He put on the protective helmet of salvation, and the body armor of his righteousness—his own perfection. He puts on his anger over sin and his zeal for his people as he prepares to deal with our sinfulness.
And he repays. His justice comes. The enemies of God take the full blow. Divine retribution falls like a hammer. He sees his enemies. And he destroys them. He repays each according to their deeds. Our deeds say we belong with his enemies. We—the whole world from east to west—rightly respond with fear. He comes like a rushing river. He leaves destruction in his wake. Nothing will stop him. Like disobedient children, we knew the punishment was coming.
THE LORD SAW our sin. He sees our terror. And he came. But he didn’t come to us with weapons of vengeance and violence. He came to Zion, to Jerusalem. Jesus came. He brought wrath down on God’s enemies—but not on you and me. He took the blow himself to buy you back from your sin. Jesus met God’s expectations. Jesus came as Redeemer. And THE LORD SAW
You redeem your points when you spend a certain amount of money at places where you have a membership. But you don’t pay to get the redemption Jesus provides. His redemption was paid by his blood. The recompense that comes from him is a reward, not wrath! THE LORD SAW his payment, and the LORD accepted it! Although our sins testified against us, Jesus’ testimony is greater. He says our sins are paid for. Although your conscience may bother you, although you know your sin, the LORD doesn’t see it anymore! It’s gone!
Jesus came as Redeemer. He calls us to turn away from our sin. In the season of Lent, we repent. That means first of all, not hiding our sins from God. The LORD SEES them anyway. We simply acknowledge our guilt before him. We admit we haven’t done what he told us to do, and we’ve done what he’s told us not to do. We have violated his holy will. But repentance means much more than just feeling sorry for our sins. It means more than having pangs of guilt. It means putting that guilt where it belongs. The LORD spoke. He declared a Redeemer came. Jesus already paid the price for our sins. So leave your guilt with him. He’s paid for it. Leave your sins on his cross. They do you no good now. THE LORD SAW Jesus make the payment. What he has said must be true, so repent! Believe this good news. That’s the second part of repentance. To trust in God’s forgiveness. And finally, we turn from our wicked ways to serve God.
What if you could see what God sees? Better than going to exotic locations or seeing impressive buildings, you would be able to see yourself as God sees you—his redeemed child. And you could tell others this truth. You could tell them that Jesus paid the price for all their wickedness. He has forgiven you and the world on the cross. By God’s grace, you can tell others what God sees. You can tell them of their wickedness, and tell them Jesus paid for it. Tell them to repent! The time will come soon when the LORD will come again. Hearts that repent—that turn from their sins to trust in him—those the LORD WILL SEE as ready. Amen.
57May the LORD our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers. May he never leave us or abandon us. 58May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways (1 Kings 8:57-58a, EHV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, EHV)
Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, so that I would not become arrogant. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that he would take it away from me 9 And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me. 10 That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For whenever I am weak, then am I strong. (EHV)
Now that Pastor Strutz has announced his decision to stay, you may be asking yourself, “Now what?” now? How do we move forward while using the gifts of this congregation as best we can? The world is asking similar questions. No, not about Pastor Strutz’s call decision or the gifts of our congregation. They’re asking how we as people can maximize our strengths. As people study teamwork, different teams try to play to the strengths of individual members. They also try to minimize their weaknesses to eliminate the negative impact they have on the group.
Our text today also treats strengths and weaknesses, but not in the way you might expect. The question remains, how can we maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses? Or can we do even better, MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES? God’s Word has the answer for us.
The apostle Paul had been given an extraordinary gift. In the verses leading up to our text, Paul spoke of visions that took a man up to heaven. As an apostle, Paul had visions much like that. He saw the risen Christ. He received his pastoral training from Jesus in these visions. Jesus called him to be an apostle in these visions. It very easily could have gone to his head. Don’t we think that way, after all?
Who is the most important person in a business? I would imagine that many of us would think of the CEO or the owner, the person who comes up with the plan. They have the power; they make the decisions. They’re the heroes we all aspire to be like.
Don’t we, in the same way, put Paul up on a pedestal? He models our Christian faith, so we think of him as someone truly great? The greatest missionary ever, an incredible scholar of the Scriptures, a lover of people and God’s Word, a prominent teacher in the early church, the apostle of the Lord who wrote nearly half the books of our New Testament? He has an impressive résumé! But then we idolize a hero and forget the rest of Paul: idolater, persecutor of Christ and his Church, murderer, worst of sinners. Have we whitewashed Paul to make him larger than life?
That’s what we see everywhere these days. You see it in movies. You see it in politics, depending on which side of the aisle you sympathize with. Everyone is either a hero or a villain. Just like the superheroes people see on the screens, they expect their own lives will be…larger than life. We all have a deep-seated desire to be special, to be needed, to be important. Don’t we love our heroes and hate our villains because then there’s some hope we can turn things around make our lives better? Can we truly MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES?
God’s answer came to Paul in an unexpected way. Paul, whose life had been turned from sinner to saint, was given a gift. He calls it a “thorn” or a “messenger of Satan.” It was given “to torment” him. It’s painful. Just think of when you get a splinter in your finger: every time you move that finger, you have a sharp reminder that splinter has embedded itself under your skin. It hurts. So also Paul’s thorn hurt. It tormented him.
Naturally, we all want to know what Paul’s thorn was. Throughout the years, hundreds of people have made dozens of guesses about what impairment might have affected Paul. But Scripture never gives us a direct answer. Any guess we make is only a guess. So instead of going beyond what Scripture says, content yourself with what Scripture says: not what Paul’s thorn was,but why Paul’s thorn was. “So that I would not become arrogant,” Paul says.
That may seem like a harsh lesson. Sure, Paul was still a sinner after he came to faith. His writings demonstrate that. But Paul trusted in Jesus as his Savior. Why would a loving God allow Paul to suffer such constant pain that even Paul calls it “torment?” Why would God willingly afflict one of his own, one of the greatest missionaries of all time? Surely Paul knew this already!
Or did he? And perhaps we don’t like it because of what it says about you and me. We are at least as weak as Paul. If Paul had to be kept from arrogance, what does that mean for me? Like Paul or any other Christian, we are susceptible to the attacks of Satan. All too often he convinces us that we are strong enough. And then he maximizes our weaknesses to take advantage of us. At this point, you may be too familiar with the devil’s tactics. He tells us what God wants for us is not good. This thorn God has put in my life—whether it’s cancer or abuse of alcohol or a struggle with same-sex attraction or a giant ego—it’s not good. There’s a grain of truth to that. Wouldn’t life be so much better without that struggle? If God were really good, would he want me to suffer? And the devil exploits our weaknesses. His attacks and wins. Sometimes he may even trick you into thinking he was right. It often seems to us that what God wants isn’t good. What I want is good. And then our own sinful nature agrees with the devil and joins in this attack against God. We are hopelessly and helplessly weak in this struggle.
Paul recognized his own weakness. He turned to the Lord in prayer. Three times he asked the Lord Jesus to take away his thorn. It’s only natural. What do you do when you get a splinter? You remove it. Then the pain goes away. Paul asked for his pain, his thorn, to be removed. He asked for a good thing, and God promises always to give good gifts to his children.
Isn’t that what you would do? If your son had a thorn under his skin, wouldn’t you remove it? Or if your daughter breaks her leg, don’t you take her to the doctor to fix it? Our suffering is bad. So why doesn’t our God remove our suffering? Sometimes his love seems distant and cold. What do you do when you ask God for a good thing and he says, “No”? How do you MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS?
The Lord came back to Paul with an answer. It’s also an answer for us. He didn’t just say, “No.” He said you have enough. “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace, his undeserved love that takes action to save mankind, is enough. That’s all we need to get through our present struggles. Why? Because Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. That’s where our weaknesses find their completion. In Christ’s power.
God’s grace is sufficient. That’s the beating heart of this section of God’s Word. God’s grace is enough. God’s grace didn’t remain cold and distant with him in heaven. Instead, our Lord was born in weakness. He took on the frailness of human flesh. He set aside full and frequent use of his divine power and instead came to be one of us, a man. Jesus preached, not to the strong and powerful, but to the hopeless and helpless. Instead of maximizing his strength and minimizing his weakness, he showed weakness all the way through. Jesus suffered at the hands of people who rightly belonged under his authority. And like Paul, he too pleaded with his Father three times that his suffering be taken away. Yet he insisted on doing the will of his Father. In his weakness, he never succumbed to the attacks of Satan. Instead, his friend betrayed him, and he answered with love. His friend denied him, and Jesus forgave. Our weaknesses, the sins we commit, led him to the cross. He suffered death to MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS and give you his own strength. And when he was at his weakest, when he poured out his life into death, his strength reached completion. His power was “made perfect.” On the cross he cried, “It is finished.” That’s where his strength and weakness worked together to accomplish his goal.
And that’s what it means when it says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” This word, “made perfect” means to reach a goal or fulfill a duty. It means to pay the full price. It means to bring something to completion. Your salvation was brought to completion in the weakness of human flesh. God’s power was on display in the weakness of the cross. There he defeated the devil. There sin’s accusation lost its power, was nailed and buried with Jesus. All so you would know God’s all-sufficient grace is enough in your time of need.
God also called Paul to suffer with Christ. Paul’s weakness, his thorn, found its goal in the weakness of Christ. Christ, who gave his life for Paul, never stopped giving his grace to him. Just like Jesus suffered for Paul, Jesus suffered for you. He gave his life in weakness so that you would be joined to his strength.
Paul was able to delight in his suffering. No, Paul didn’t take pleasure in pain. We don’t have to like punishment. Suffering is still unpleasant. But the new man in Paul, who trusted in Christ’s grace, now saw new purpose in this thorn. God had taught him through this. Paul was able to boast in his weaknesses because he understood Christ’s strength—his grace—dwelled in him and sheltered him from the future attacks of Satan. Christ was with him throughout his life. That’s how Paul could say, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s not like Paul thought weakness was good. He learned to MAXIMIZE HIS WEAKNESS. When Paul was weak, he learned to rely all he more on Jesus. And Jesus, even at his weakest, is stronger than you and I could ever dream of being.
You may wonder why God would allow you to undergo the evils you go through in your life. Learn from Paul. You don’t have to think your “thorns” are pleasant. But learn to rely on God’s grace which is the strongest force in the universe. When he created faith to trust him, he began to rule in your heart. Learn from your weaknesses, because they teach you to go to God. True strength is found in him.
If you knew that all the evil that happened to you was serving for the good of another, would that fact help you cope with it better? Paul understood that. His thorn has provided comfort to believers for centuries. Who knows you may be able to touch through your own weaknesses as Christ works powerfully in you? You can point others to the comfort Christ provides with his grace. Take delight in your weaknesses. They are opportunities to reach out to others with the Lord’s own strength, his grace.
How do we MAXIMIZE OUR STRENGTHS AND MINIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES in this congregation? That may require more work and careful planning, but God’s grace is enough. How will we continue to utilize our gifts in service to Jesus? By keeping ourselves in the strength of God’s grace, as you go back to it in Word and sacrament. As long as the Lord Jesus remains with us, his strength will work powerfully in us. His strength MAXIMIZES YOUR WEAKNESS. Amen.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you— according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, . . . to God, who alone is wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Romans 16:25a, 27, EHV)
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the wedding of ____”…Fill in the blank. Maybe you heard similar words at your own wedding. Maybe you’re hoping to hear them some day. Or perhaps you’ve heard them at the wedding of a friend or relative. Many people love to go to weddings. They are joyful celebrations of the union of two parties. And they are the culmination of a lot of preparation by both bride and groom.
We are here today to celebrate a wedding. And to prepare for one. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require months of agonizing planning and more money than you can afford. No, the wedding we are preparing for requires our whole lives and all we have to prepare for, and even that’s not be enough. The LORD himself promises to prepare the bride. And Christ, the bridegroom, rejoices. COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CELEBRATION, and rejoice with Christ, your bridegroom.
The LORD promised he would not stay silent for the sake of Zion and Jerusalem, his holy city, where his people lived. He was preparing the land for a wedding. Because he wanted his people to get ready, he announced the coming ceremony.
You receive a card in the mail. On it, a picture, perhaps a photo of a newly engaged couple. The card tells you to save the date written on it, and you know to clear your calendar as best you’re able. A joyous occasion is coming, and your relative or friend wants you to know about it.
Similarly, God made sure his people knew a wedding was coming. It must have seemed a long time in coming. God promised to act. He promised not to keep silent. Even now, we haven’t heard a word from him for almost 2000 years! Why doesn’t he give us a little direction or a word of encouragement while we wait for this wedding? If he promises to act, why doesn’t he do something when my spouse lets me down or the job is overwhelming, when icy steps cause a nasty fall, or when the kids are all out of control at once? Far from the marriage God promised, it seems like he is aloof, and we need to resolve our issues ourselves!
We, the Church, must sound like a nagging wife to God at times! We hound him to do what we want, and when he doesn’t we accuse him of abandoning us! Or worse yet, we don’t go full-heartedly into this marriage because we are afraid God won’t live up to our expectations! Instead of making ourselves a beautiful bride, we have covered ourselves with the hideousness of sin.
A few months after that save-the-date arrives in your mailbox, you receive a formal invitation. Of all the hundreds of guests this couple wants to join them, they consider your presence at the celebration very important. You see the options for a meal. Can you feel the anticipation as the joyful day approaches? To participate in it, you still need to send in your RSVP.
God breaks his silence and inactivity. He does what he says. He sends out his wedding invitation—but not to those special guests who bring him great honor in coming. He sends out his invitation to his people with all their ugly sins. He wants them to partake in the celebration. More than a wedding meal, he offers priceless gifts: vindication and deliverance. So take his invitation. COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CEREMONY.
A young man gets down on one knee. The young woman with him sees him open a box and reveal a sparkling gem. He wants her to marry him. And when she says yes, does she put that ring back in its box and hide it so it will never see the light of day again? No! She wears it for all the world to see this sign of affection her future husband worked hard to buy for her.
More dazzling than the most perfect diamond ring is the vindication our God won for us. His deliverance is more beautiful than the brightest wedding dress. Because God looked for a beautiful bride and found none, he prepared a bride himself. His vindication is the removal of any and every accusation our sins made against us. This deliverance is God’s own salvation that he brought about in Jesus. These gifts—the drop of sin’s ugly accusation and deliverance from the penalty of sin—are God’s wedding gifts to Christ’s bride. The bride is his own people. And the invitation goes out to the nations. COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CEREMONY! Christ has made you, the Church, his bride. He made you beautiful by washing you with his own blood. He died so that your sin would never need to bother you again. He pardons them. This is a greater wedding gift than even kings can give!
It is still tradition in our society for the bride to take her husband’s name. God also gave you a new name when he joined you to this family. When he worked faith in your heart to trust his work for you—perhaps at your baptism—he gave you the name “Christian.” That’s a follower of Christ: someone who receives his forgiveness in faith. It’s also someone who extends this invitation to a world that desperately needs it: COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CEREMONY!
God promised to give a new name to his church. New names in the Bible signal often signal a change. God promised to change the name of his people, his prized possession. Like the ideal groom who cherishes his bride, Jesus calls the Church “a majestic crown” and “a royal turban.” The Church is his bright and shining jewel. It’s beautiful because he made it beautiful. He keeps this Church “in his hand” so that it remains safe. He protects the Church from attacks. No one can snatch it from his powerful hand.
And finally he gets to the new name. Gone are the days of God’s people being “Abandoned” and his land “Desolate.” The name he gives his people is, “My delight is in her.” His land is called married. That means the children born to the Church marry God’s people. Christ is filled with joy to have this bride that he prepared for himself. He is not a reluctant groom with cold feet. He is filled with joy at this wedding.
The young man in the tux stands at the front of the church building. His day has arrived. He hasn’t seen the bride all day to boost his anticipation. Then the music starts to play. The wedding party walks down. Everyone stands, and you hear the groom audibly gasp. When his bride enters the room, he wonders if he could ever see anything more beautiful.
That is the joy the Lord feels over you. His Church, which he bought with his own blood, is his beautiful bride. He loves her with the same love we humans only feel for a moment. But his love never ends. The honeymoon stage of the Christ and his Church will not wear out after a couple months or years. We will have a joy-filled celebration forever with the God who loves us.
But then why this long silence? God promised not to be silent until his vindication shines brightly. He brought that vindication when Jesus came to this earth. Now is he silent?
In Jewish culture, a man and woman were considered legally married before they ever started living together. The man would make sure he was established so he could provide for his bride. He would prepare a place for them to live. Jesus also promised that he left to prepare a place for us. When he comes back, we will live with our God and Savior forever. The joy of that celebration will never end.
Do we, the Church, just sit and wait while until Jesus returns? No! There are many who are still covered with the ugliness of sin. They are not waiting for the return of our salvation. Extend the invitation! Tell them to COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CELEBRATION! You wouldn’t want to miss out on the wedding of someone dear to you. Why would you want anyone to miss out on the greatest wedding celebration ever? Better than a stunning service and a first-rate reception with a marvelous meal and free drinks, Christ’s wedding will be unimaginably wonderful! Invite people to come by telling them why we can come: because Christ died to make his bride free from any blemish. He gave us the glorious dress of his own salvation.
Where is God’s power in this world? Where are his activity and speaking? He is still speaking through his Word, inviting countless thousands to COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CELEBRATION. He is acting through his Spirit, to bring hearts to trust in Christ’s own salvation. And he is using you, his glorious Church, to spread the good news. He will preserve his Church, secure in his hand, until he comes again. Then we will have joy beyond words. Until then, keep extending the invitation. Tell your relatives, friends, neighbors, everyone: COME TO CHRIST’S WEDDING CELEBRATION. Amen.
Rejoice and be glad and give God glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Amen.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
We use it every day without thinking much of it. Some use it to generate power. Others use it for recreational purposes—although perhaps not much this time of year. Some use it for manufacturing. Farmers desperately need it, although they might tell you we got too much this year. You use it in your home for cooking, drinking, and yes, washing. Water is necessary for life, but get too much of it in the wrong place, and it can prove to be a destructive force. Water is a powerful substance.
In church, we are beginning the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means “appearing.” It’s the time we remember how Jesus made evident himself evident as God to the world. Yet his appearing also took place in your life. It happened in conjunction with water. Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Just as God was at his baptism, he was at yours. GOD APPEARED in your life AT YOUR BAPTISM. All three persons of the Trinity were behind it.
Our text begins “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared.” God’s kindness and love for mankind made an “epiphany,” or appeared in the world. His love for mankind, his philanthropy, gives generously. His kindness is not like human kindness. His philanthropy is better than charitable giving. There is a trend among some to perform “random acts of kindness” in our day—to pay for someone’s groceries at the store, to hold the door open for someone, to help an elderly neighbor cross the street. People feel good about such themselves for such kindness, but they provide only a drop of relief in an ocean of trouble.
In contrast, God’s kindness means being good at what he does. He designed people to be kind to one another, yet we don’t. God’s kindness is useful to his people. It shows itself in his philanthropy, his love for mankind. God looked at the wretched state of man and couldn’t help but take pity. He opened up the storehouses of his wealth to give us what we desperately need. God’s love for mankind and kindness had an epiphany in human history.
God also manifested his kindness and love in your life. He appeared in your personal history as “Savior.” He is our Savior who came down to earth because he is kind and loving to the wretched masses he created.
God is Savior, but not because of righteous things we have done. God did not come to you because of how good you are. People do often feel good about the kind things they do. The US gave more than $400 billion in charitable giving the other year. People are kind. People are philanthropists. That’s not bad. But why do people do that? If you’re doing your good works to appease God, you are looking in the wrong place. He didn’t save us because of how good we are. If you do good things because it makes you feel good about yourself, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons, and this is not a work that pleases God. If you do it to make people like you, God appears to you not as Savior, but as judge. He is not pleased by our best works of righteousness or the greatest human kindness. We aren’t good enough to please God.
Water destroys. Many know from the water damage they received over the summer and fall. Floods kill. We need the water. Without it, we can’t survive; add too much, and you drown. Even the constant flow of a river can, over time, wear away at walls or split sheets of stone.
God’s anger at sin is more destructive than the worst flood, but he appeared to us, not as wrathful avenger, but as Savior. In his kindness and love for mankind, he planned your salvation. His salvation is on the basis of mercy. God does not treat sinful people the way we deserve. Although we don’t perform the function God designed us for, God still takes pity on us and comes to help us.
He came to you in water. It’s the washing of new birth and renewing by the Holy Spirit. GOD APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM. Yes, people brought you to the baptismal font. Maybe it was human parents or concerned Christians. But God the Father ensured it would happen. It was part of his plan. He was at your baptism, giving you his Holy Spirit. He “poured him out on us in full measure.” God was not stingy with his mercy. He didn’t hold back. He extended to you new life and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
That means destruction. This new life is a complete change from the old. This washing kills. Baptism kills a sinner, or rather a sinful nature. But God saw to it that this would not only be a threat to your old way of life, but the start of a new one. This is life with God. It is new life, a new heart, a new way of thinking. Life governed by the Holy Spirit. THE HOLY SPIRIT APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, bringing you new life.
This new life means renewal. You are God’s new creation. God created mankind in his image, but we destroyed it—not with a flood of water, but with the flood of sin. God washed our sin away and gives us a new desire to obey his commands, not so that we can feel good about ourselves or appease an angry God or please people. Now we can do what God commands because God himself has given us his own love for mankind, his own kindness. We do what God wants because we love God, and that is what he created is to do. We are only performing the function he created us for.
But then why aren’t we doing a better job? Why don’t I feel God’s love all the time? And where is this love for my neighbor that I really need when they are rude or speak unkindly? God killed our sinful nature at baptism, but that sinful nature still rears its ugly head. This new life that we live is one in which we need constantly to go back to our own baptisms and viciously drown the sinful nature that lurks within us.
And we need to go back to Jesus’ own baptism. God the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism. The Holy Trinity appeared at Jesus’ baptism, yet Jesus’ baptism was unlike ours. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He wasn’t “re-created in the image of God,” nor did he lose that image; he is God in the flesh! He didn’t need new life from the Spirit; he was already walking in line with God. He didn’t need forgiveness for wrong attitudes; God was pleased with him. Jesus’ baptism was perfect because Jesus was perfect. But he was baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. He was anointed as the Christ, God’s chosen one. The one God chose to be the Savior. Jesus appeared in human history to save a fallen world because he was without sin. He gave his perfect baptism and his perfect life on the cross to pay for our own sinfulness. And he rose victorious from the dead, joining you to his life by baptism.
So GOD APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, too. He may not have spoken with a voice from heaven, but with the voice of his Word. He put his name on you—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He declared you not guilty—justified you by his grace—that undeserved love that took action to save mankind. God who was pleased with Jesus is now pleased with you because of Jesus. God, who poured out his Spirit on Jesus, has now poured out his Spirit on you through Jesus. The TRINITY APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, forgiving your sins. Baptism’s power, far from a destructive force, is a gracious water of cleansing and life that vindicates you from your sin and guilt. It brings you into God’s love.
Water can destroy, but it can also provide life. Plants and animals need water to live. Go too long without water, and you too will die. Without water, the world would not last long.
God’s kindness and love appeared to you at your baptism. It brings you life. It adopts you into his family, making you an “heir.” God has adopted you, not just as a family member, but as an heir of every one of his promises. Baptism is God’s own guarantee to you that you will not be excluded from his kindness and love. Baptism connects you to Jesus and gives you everything Jesus earned. We have the “confident expectation of eternal life.” Among the many things we will inherit, baptism guarantees your place in heaven because baptism connects us to Jesus.
Without water, you would die. Without watering your soul, you will also die. Keep yourself in these promises of God. Remember your baptism daily. GOD CAME TO YOU AT YOUR BAPTISM. He brought you his love. He made you an heir. He gave you new life. Guided by the Spirit, aim to do what God commands. Show God’s kindness and love for all mankind in your words, and actions. Water yourselves with the Word of God. Also provide this life-giving water in a world that is flooded with all kinds of false ideas about why we are here and what we are doing.
And take comfort. Water is used for many purposes. God used it to save you when he spoke his Word to you at your baptism. God appeared in human history as the Savior who loves us and lived for us. GOD APPEARED in your life AT YOUR BAPTISM. He promises to remain with you until he brings you to himself in heaven. Amen.
Surely God is with you always, to the very end of the age. Amen.
The children can’t wait for it. The anticipation builds throughout the whole year.. It’s the night (or morning) of the year every year when children can go home and open their presents. Children get excited about the gifts that come in packages or bags. It’s a fun tradition to give gifts to those we love on Christmas. Today we remember the reason for those gifts under the Christmas tree is God’s own Christmas gift. Jesus comes, bearing gifts. As the prophet Isaiah shows us, A CHILD IS BORN TO YOU.
What’s all the hate against Midian for? Why does Isaiah talk about shattering Midian’s yoke as though this is a good thing? The king of Midian had tried to hire out a prophet to ensnare God’s people to sin as they prepared to entire the promised land. Balaam failed in cursing God’s people, but he found a way to ensnare God’s people. He led them into sin. God’s people suffered for their sin. But the LORD punished Midian and their oppression.
Their end was justified. God said it was. But why all the violence? We live in a violent world. People kill. People die. It happens every day. It seems there’s no end to it. All you have to do is turn on the news. People have not escaped this vicious cycle of violence. The world isn’t right.
I hope you aren’t worried for your life this Christmas. But maybe instead of facing violence and oppression, you feel the oppression of being overworked. Or maybe you’re worried about the family you’ll see over the holiday and how you ever will get along with them. Unless the words get overly heated, it’s not violence, but it’s a far cry from peace. Everything we see—our whole lives, like Israel—is tainted by the corruption of sin.
People give Christmas gifts as a sign of their love and care for one another at Christmas. It’s a special time to go the extra mile. For many, the content of the gift doesn’t matter nearly as much as the thought that goes behind it. After all, unless you’re a mind-reader or your 4 year-old hasn’t stopped telling you what they want for Christmas for the last six months, you probably will never find the perfect Christmas gift.
But God did. His Christmas gift wasn’t under a tree with an angel on top. It was announced by angels. Isaiah said it 700 years earlier. “To us, a child is born.” The angel announced, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you.” God’s gift is his own Son! More precious than all the Christmas gifts ever given combined, he didn’t concern himself with how much it left in his wallet. He gave the greatest gift, most expensive gift of all.
And Jesus brings even more gifts, too. His first gift is government. No, it’s not our president or our governor, although he can use them to bless us, too. No, this is Christ’s own government of the nations. You might think, “I don’t recall Jesus ever ruling over any nation.” That would be right. But Jesus rules over all the nations. He rules on David’s throne. He’s not king of Israel only, but Lord of nations and King of kings. He ascended to his throne where he rules on behalf of his church.
But then why is our world still so restless and evil? On Christmas, many people try to dig deep and find the goodness in people, but it’s just not there. Crime exists on Christmas as much as any other day. And we sin as much on Christmas as we do any other day. If Jesus is ruling, why aren’t things better?
Children often know they get a number of gifts on Christmas. They maybe get a gift or two from mom and dad. Grandparents often buy gifts. They can’t wait to get home on Christmas Eve or wake up on Christmas morning and find those toys and goodies so they can play with them and enjoy them.
Like children waiting to play with their new toys, are we just waiting for the rule of Jesus? He gives us more than one gift, too. It’s not just governing all nations. He promises peace in a restless world. He is the Prince of Peace, a peace that can never end. Jesus is the “Wonderful Counselor.” The wise ruler of the nations whose wise advice goes far beyond what we understand. He is able to make it happen. He rules in justice and righteousness.
Santa Claus permeates our culture. He is the man in red who gives good gifts to those who have been good. But get on his naughty list, and he gives you a lump of coal. Many use that to make their children behave, but the truth is…we don’t always. If we got what we deserve, it would be far worse than a lump of coal.
Righteousness and justice meet at the cross. God’s justice, his demand for glory and for obedience from his creation, was met by Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus always did, always does what is right, so that God could give you Jesus’ righteousness. Then God’s justice becomes, not a threat, but a promise that you will enjoy all his good gifts.
We can enjoy his peace. When we think of peace, we probably naturally think of a truce. The end of hostilities between two enemy nations. But one war ends and another begins. The peace of this child is a peace that includes that, yes. But it’s much, much bigger. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, on whom his favor rests.” This peace is the knowledge that God is favorable to you. He wants to give you good gifts. And he already gave you the best one: Jesus. Along with him, you get peace—a restored relationship with God. This is the forgiveness of sins because of what Jesus would do. When that peace rules your heart, then you can start to see it in other places, too. Peace in the car. Peace at home. Peace at the office. Peace in the family. Peace with friends. This is an all-pervasive peace that goes beyond our understanding.
He is the mighty God who gets this done. Marvel a moment. The child who is born to us is none other than Mighty God from eternity. He came down to earth, why? To accomplish your salvation, by his own zeal, Jesus joined the human race. Tonight we remember him, so small and helpless! Yet there he is, the Son of God, a babe in a manger. He comes to die because we couldn’t pay the price. This priceless gift means peace and righteousness forever for you and me. That child is God, the Savior. He did not leave us to our lump of coal, but earned paradise for us! What more perfect Christmas present could you ask for?
This child rules the nations. He makes sure all things go according to his plan. No, not ours. But his. He will make sure that you end up where you need to be—now on earth, marveling at his great love, and forever in heaven, where he will rule in the fulness of his peace. At Christmas, we give each other gifts. Give them. And remember the greatest gift of all: Jesus, the Child born to us, who forgives your sins and gives you good gifts. Amen.
Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Amen.
It’s dark outside. It has been for quite some time. That’s winter in Wisconsin, or Illinois, or anywhere up here in the upper Midwest. The darkness comes early. It adds some difficulty to our routine, too. Driving in the dark can be dangerous, especially in the cold, dead winter where the sheer ice covers the road. Maybe the darkness leaves you feeling tired, or depressed, or both. Everything outside is dark, yet today we celebrate the light. In the darkness of this world, the light has dawned. On Christmas we remember that light has come into the world. The light’s name is Jesus. He is our LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS today and all the year.
Israel was living in darkness, too. No, not the darkness of Wisconsin winter, but the darkness of sin. Their king, Ahaz, had rejected the word of the Lord. Like the king, so the people. The people sought truth from any other means—psychics and mediums. They searched for their answers in anything other than God’s Word. They were walking in darkness of stubborn unbelief.
If you’ve ever tried to walk in darkness, you know it’s hard.Worse than the darkness of leaving your lights off while you stumble to find the bed at night is utter and complete darkness. Have you ever walked in the darkness in a cave, where no light shines through? You can’t see your hand in front of your face, much less how to get where you need to go!
God said that was Israel’s spiritual condition. They had no idea where they were going. They thought they could find the way on their own, but they were getting nowhere.
That’s the world we live in today, too. Yes, people consult psychics and mediums and think they’re harmless. But even worse, people will turn to anything—common sense, the government, any and every religion—rather than hearing the truth, the Word of the Lord. The people of our world live in spiritual darkness.
And it gets deeper. The text we read said “the land of deep darkness,” yet that deep darkness is even clearer in the original language. This darkness is the shadow of death. Those who are in this darkness know death will come, yes. Death looms over them like a shadow, yes. But everyone dies. You and I also have not escaped this deep darkness. The darkness of sin blinds us, so we think we can find our way on our own. Or we think our reading of God’s Word is something that makes us good with God, or our coming to church to hear him once or twice a year is good enough! Humans by their nature are so lost to the darkness that they can’t even see the results of their own actions. The only end to sin is death.
Has anyone ever told you why the church celebrates Christmas on December 25? The Bible never tells us the date of Jesus’ birth. He easily could have been born on any of the other 364 days in our calendar year. But since as early as the 200s, the Church has been celebrating Christmas on December 25. One reason is the winter solstice that took place just a couple days ago. In case you missed it, the sun gives the least light to the north of the equator as late as December 22. This year it was the 21. The light is least in the world on that day. But the solstice comes to an end at midnight (tonight/this morning), and the light returns to the world.
Similarly, the light has come into the world. The light is Jesus. Although the people of the world walk in darkness, he is the light. He exposes the darkness of sin. No sin can be found in his light. He also brings to light God’s wonderful plan of salvation. Jesus himself saves us from death and gives us his own gift: eternal life. He has “enlarged the nation.” He has included not just Israel, God’s chosen people, but all who believe in Jesus as the light who takes away the sin of the world. This light that shines in the darkness and brings us to God is God’s own Christmas gift to us.
That gives us joy. A reason to celebrate in the cold, dead winter. We have more joy than those who bring in the harvest, more joy than those who win the war and bring home the spoils. Our joy is the light, that gives us eternal life. Our joy is that at Christmas we don’t celebrate the goodness of the dark world, but the goodness of a great God, who gave us the greatest gift of all: his own Son. Amen.
We have a little over a week to go. Until Christmas? Sure, but I was talking about the shortest day of the year. The day when the sky is darkest because we have less sun than any other day of the year. It’s dark. It’s depressing. The world we live in shows it, too. For the second year in a row, the life expectancy in our country has dropped due to suicides and drug addiction. Maybe the darkness of the times hasn’t escaped you, either. Christmas is a time of year we are supposed to be joyful, but maybe the holiday has you feeling empty and joyless. Can our expectations of what Christmas is supposed to be match reality? God promises he can in his Word as he gives us THE LIGHT OF JOY.
Isaiah wrote to people who would live a couple hundred years after him. The book of Isaiah took people through their present struggles into the future God had in store for them. He would send his people to Babylon. They would suffer, but the LORD promised their suffering would have an end. “Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations.”
Do you ever feel like you’re struggling just to survive? Do you feel like you can’t wait for the New Year to come so it will all be done, and life can return to normal? If, like Charlie Brown, the commercialism and surroundings of the holiday have sucked all the joy out of you, you may begin to understand the suffering Israel had faced. People hated them. Even the surrounding nations knew Israel was a place no one wanted to go. No one wanted to see the ruins of that forsaken country. But God promised he would make his people the pride and joy of all eternity. These words filled the returned exiles with hope. Their grief would come to an end.
But God promised more than just an end to his people’s suffering. He promised them royal treatment. They would drink the milk of the nations and be nursed by royalty! God is not only saying he will end their grief, but he will make them prominent among the nations. Instead of being an afterthought, all the nations will serve them. Foreign countries will provide for the needs of God’s people. But it’s important to notice why.
The darkness of the early nightfall around us, combined with the cold, dead winter world we live in, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For some, it’s downright depressing. Yet it can serve a good purpose. For those who despise winter, it can help us appreciate the changing seasons. All the busyness of the Christmas season can help us appreciate the special holiday.
God’s people, more than depression or complaints about work and weather, had been humbled on the world scene. Israel had returned from exile, and now they would have good things with a purpose: “Then you will know that I, the LORD am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” God’s people would know, not just in their heads, but by their experience, that the LORD was their God. With each name, God packs something significant about himself. He is Savior, the one who delivers people. This title for God is best known in the name Jesus, the one who saves his people from their sins. But for the exiles when they returned, they would have thought of God as the one who delivered them from captivity in Babylon. God called himself the Redeemer, the one who ransoms or buys his people back so that they continue to exist as his people. He bought them back from slavery in Egypt and now would buy them back from Babylon. He is the Mighty One of Jacob, the one who provides his own strength to help his people. With all these titles, God makes it clear that he wants to have a deep relationship with his people.
Have you started your Christmas shopping? Those who like to stay ahead of things may have already finished, but procrastinators may not have started just yet. Imagine what would happen if the gift you bought changed. Instead of what you purchased, it becomes the present is perfect! That’s what God promises to do for his people. He promises to turn their bronze into gold, their iron to silver, their wood to bronze and their stones to iron. Not only will his people be swimming in wealth, but their life will be unimaginably great! The one who oversees them to make sure things are going smoothly is peace! Instead of the corrupt kings they had before the exile, they would have peace! And their ruler would be righteousness. Everyone was going to do what is right. There was no reason to worry about how the neighbors might react to a gift or respond to a card. Everyone was going to do the right thing.
And if that sounds too much like heaven and too little like 5th-century Israel, it just keeps getting better. There’s no violence, but Israel has had violence since the return to this day. There’s no destruction, no need for gates. Instead, they’ll just have salvation and praise. And the sun, moon and stars no longer give their light because God is there to provide his light. These were the things God promised Israel when they returned. They are the things he promises to his Church. But then how come we don’t see them.
Our expectations often differ from reality. Christmas gifts provide a fine example. Set too high—or low—an expectation, and we won’t get what we expected. If you expect the winning lottery ticket for your Christmas present, you can expect to be disappointed. Your expectations are set too high.
God set his people’s expectations very high, but were they too high? Or is he here only forecasting heavenly hope without any earthly joy? Israel, when they returned to the Promised Land, experienced a reality that varied some from what God had said. They had their land back, but the nations didn’t flock to pamper them. Instead of wealth, they had work. Instead of peace, they had problems. The expectations God had set didn’t meet reality.
And what about us? God has set the same expectations for his New Testament Church. Does he meet the expectations he set? Maybe this year you find yourself wishing the nations were pampering us, that we had peace in place of our president or goodness instead of our governor? Violence and ruin continue on in the world. We’re no closer to solving that than Israel was. The world outside us grows gloomier and darker, and we, like Israel, cry out for “the days of our sorrow” to end.
Did God set our expectations too high? As long as we remain in the darkness, it seems that way. We cannot see the joy that God has already given us because we see things through the veil of sin. Instead of seeing the great spiritual realities we already have, we grumble and complain against the government we have and forget that God is ruling the nations! We desire wealth and spend our time running after it and fail to see the spiritual riches we have already. We cry for joy in a joyless season and overlook the true cause of our joy. Instead, we cry out to God to give us more. Our expectations of God are high, and rightly so. But when he doesn’t give us exactly what we want, like a spoiled child who didn’t get that precious toy for Christmas, we blame him and miss all he gives us.
God desired a deep relationship with his people. He wanted the people to know in their hearts he is the Savior, the Redeemer, the Mighty One. And he promises that he himself will be our light. That is certainly true of heaven. It doesn’t start there. We already have joy as the Church. When Jesus came into the world, he said he is “the light of the world.” He shined his light into our hearts to awaken us to the tremendous spiritual gifts God has given us.
Jesus gave light to this world by being the Savior, Redeemer, the Mighty One. By bringing peace to his people and bringing praise to his God. Jesus fulfilled every one of God’s promises. He is the pride of Israel. Where Israel failed because of the human condition, Jesus succeeded. He was without sin. Jesus is our joy in this season. He is the cause of a joy that no one can take away from you. The joy of knowing that God cares deeply for you and will not let you be abandoned, even into eternity. Jesus brought the nations into the Church. These promises are not for Israel alone, but also for you and me. He gives his Church blessings from his bounty—not always silver or gold, but gifts of his Spirit. He has brought peace to his Church. The Church still exists 2000 years after Jesus, and it will be here until he comes again. The devil’s attacks cannot disturb her peace. Our rest in Jesus cannot be undone by a restless world. Jesus came to be with his people, to be the light. As light of the world, he overcame the darkness. He gives us his own righteousness, sinless perfection. He is the Savior who delivers us from the kingdom of darkness into his own kingdom. He is the Redeemer who bought us back with his own life. He is the everlasting light that the darkness could not overcome. Instead, he rose triumphant. The light of his life shines forever in this dark world. And because he lives, you too will shine.
And if that seems like to much to remember, it doesn’t stop there! Jesus goes far beyond our expectations. He may not give us exactly what we want now, but that is also a reason to praise him. He gives us what is good. In a world so filled with gloom and death, Jesus gives us the light of joy. Nothing and no one can take that joy away from you, either. It will be yours in heaven, where you will see God. There he will be the light. But even here on earth, he is our light that shines on us. The darkness of the devil and the evil of the world around us cannot undo that.
Don’t let the frenzy of the week to come rob you of your joy. Instead, be a light. Take time to tell someone of your joy this week. Tell them God’s light shows you how blessed you are. Tell them about Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, and Mighty One, who took away the sin of the world. The days of your sorrow are at an end, but your joy will never end. Don’t keep that joy to yourself! Amen.