Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - Acts 1:1-11

                                                                                                Acts 1:1-11

            Forty days with the risen Lord, and that is the question they ask?  The apostles say to Jesus: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” At first glance, when we hear the apostles’ question in our text it sounds like they are clueless.  Jesus Christ has died on the cross and risen from the dead.  He has defeated sin and death, and yet they are focused on Israel as a nation – Israel as it existed in the Old Testament.    
            It seems that they have their priorities all out of kilter and that they completely misunderstand Jesus. But actually, there is more going on here. For anyone who knows what the prophets of the Old Testament had said, their question actually rings true.   
            Luke tells us that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  A recurring theme in the resurrection accounts is that the encounter with the risen Lord was not a one-time event.  It wasn’t even a one day event.  Instead, it was something that happened again and again.  The Lord presented himself alive to different groups of people, in different places over a long period of time – forty days.  Why were the apostles and the other disciples willing to struggle, suffer and even die in sharing the Gospel?  It was because Jesus Christ had left no doubt about the fact that he had risen from the dead.
            Luke tells us that Jesus gave a very specific command.  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.” The disciples understood that Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah promised by God.  As we hear in our Gospel lesson, he had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
            Jesus had just promised that they were about to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  In the prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel, the Davidic Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were the key features that Yahweh had promised to Israel for her restoration.  The Messiah reigning and Spirit poured out was the expectation of Israel’s promised future.
            So when the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”, they were simply expressing the expectation provided by the prophets.  Like John the Baptist before them, when he sent the question about whether Jesus was the coming One, they weren’t entirely wrong. But they also didn’t truly understand things yet.
            Jesus responded, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Our Lord sidestepped their question about Israel.  Instead, he focused on what the Spirit would do.  He would give them power so that they could be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
            They wanted to talk about Israel.  Jesus spoke about the sending of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  The disciples did not yet understand that “Israel” was being transformed by God’s saving work.  Through Christ, Israel was becoming the light to the nations she was always meant to be.  In the Book of Acts we see how the Holy Spirit prompts … and sometimes forces the Church to understand that Gentiles are now fully included in the people of God through faith in Christ, and baptism.
            The Israel of God was expanding to include all nations.  This would take place through the work of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit who was yet to be sent for this particular manner of working.  Jesus Christ was about to change that. Yet his doing so would be the result of a change for Christ.
            We hear in our text: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  The Lord was taken up into the air until a cloud hid him from view. The ascension of Jesus Christ was the means by which he withdrew his visible presence from the disciples. For forty days the risen Lord had been in their midst, interacting with them. Yet now an event occurred that brought this to an end.
            This fact was emphasized by what happened as the apostles looked up into heaven.  Luke tells us: “Behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”  Jesus had visibly departed in the ascension. But the angels announced that he would also visibly return.
            Our Lord Jesus has ascended, and our text does not explain what this means for Jesus and for us.  But on the day of Pentecost – on the day of the outpouring of the Spirit that Jesus had promised – Peter did exactly that.  He confronted his audience with the fact that they had killed Jesus.  But then he declared, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” 
            We learn that the resurrection and ascension are directly connected, and that the ascension is the exaltation of Christ.  It is in fact the enthronement of Jesus at the right hand of God.  Peter went on to say as he quoted Psalm 110: “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
            The ascended Lord now reigns through his Spirit.  The rest of the Book of Acts is the story of how the Spirit of Christ moved the proclamation of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Samaria and Syria, to Asia Minor and Greece, and on to Rome.  He continues his work of restoring and creating his Israel in these last days. 
            Israel is more than the apostles recognized, and they didn’t understand the timing of how God’s Spirit would work.  That often describes us as well.  We know how we want God’s kingdom to look like.  We know how we want to see God’s reign through the Gospel advancing. But there are times when it just doesn’t seem to be happening as we want. There can be discouragement and doubt as we see the culture of the western world turn increasingly hostile to Christ’s Church.  We grow frustrated with God in ways that pose a challenge to faith.
             The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord serves to snap us out of this because it fixes our attention squarely on the Lordour Lord.  Designated as the Messiah at his baptism, Jesus has been enthroned in his ascension.  Jesus announced at his trial before the Sanhedrin, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 
            In our text Jesus Christ is taken out of sight by a cloud, and we have heard how Peter said he has been seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  The ascension shows us that Jesus is Son of Man of Daniel chapter seven. There, Daniel sees the Ancient of Days – God – seated on throne with a stream of fire issuing forth from before him, and multitudes of angels around him. 
            Then Daniel tells us: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
            This is our Lord, and God has said that he is enthroned until God makes his enemies his footstool – until the Father makes every so called power in the world submit to him. This is the Lord we worship and serve. This is the risen and exalted One in whom we trust.
            And the day is coming when all will have to recognize and submit to him.  The angels told the disciples that he will return in the same way he ascended.  Jesus said, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  For now, our Lord reigns through his Spirit as he works through the Means of Grace. These are means that can be resisted and rejected.  But the ascension of our Lord declares that Jesus Christ who has been exalted will return in irresistible power. For now we greet him in the Sanctus as he comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar.  But on the Last Day we will know the joy of crying out: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as we greet the risen and exalted Christ.   



Mark's thoughts: Healing and Life Now

During the past two years Good Shepherd has experienced a number of serious health issues among her members.  Several of these have been due to cancer.  We are currently praying that a two year old girl does not have leukemia.  When illness and physical problems arise, we pray for healing.  We pray that God will remove and end the problem. What we want is the very thing Jesus did during his ministry on earth.  For example, we find in Matthew’s Gospel:

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

It is natural to desire this and pray for it.  While we want this, it can also conceal from us a deeper truth.  This is the fact that no matter the outcome, God has already provided final healing.  It is sin that has brought illness and death (Romans 5:12-14; 6:23).  Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to justify us – to make us righteous before God (Romans 5:15-19).  In his resurrection, Jesus has begun the resurrection of the Last Day. This is the transformation of bodies so that they can never die again.  Paul told the Corinthians about the resurrection, “What is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, this outcome is certain and sure.  It is merely a matter of timing.  Paul wrote:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-       23). 

In Christ, every cancer and illness has been cured. It has already happened. We look for the return of Christ when he will apply that cure to us.  Paul told the Philippians that “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21).

It may be that we do not receive the healing that we want. We may have to pass through death in order to receive the healing Christ has begun in his resurrection.  Yet, here too we learn a deeper truth from our Lord about which we dare not lose sight. This is the fact that because of Christ we cannot die.  Instead, Jesus has already given us eternal life now.  He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25).  Instead, through faith in the Son of God we already have eternal life now.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 6:36). Because Jesus is the living Lord, our life with Him can never end.  For this reason Paul wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ our illnesses and diseases have already been cured.  Through faith in Christ we already have eternal life now.  The death and resurrection of Jesus means that we pray for healing in the confidence that it is already ours in Christ and that we cannot be separated from the life our Lord gives.

Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Today is The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and was exalted as our incarnate Lord He took His place at the right hand of God.

Scripture reading:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And while staying with them 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.”  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:1-11).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate - 1 Tim 2:1-6

                                                                                                Easter 6
                                                                                                1 Tim 2:1-6

            Let me tell you, no one was more surprised that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ than Paul.  This is the calling he never saw coming.  It was the calling he could never have fathomed, because it turned his world inside out.
            Paul was an obvious a rising star in the Judaism of his day.  First of all, he was a Pharisee.  He had chosen to be part of a group in Judaism that was deeply committed to living in ways that were holy – ways that kept the Torah in accordance with the interpretation and traditions of the Pharisees. 
            However, Paul wasn’t just any Pharisee.  Many Pharisees were what we would call “lay people.”  They had committed to living lives in accordance with the Pharisees’ understanding of the Torah. On the other hand, a small group received advanced training in the Pharisee understanding of Scripture and the Torah.  Paul was originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor – what is modern day Turkey.  But he had been brought up in Jerusalem itself and educated at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the noted Jewish teachers of his day.
            Yet Paul wasn’t just a Pharisee who had received advanced scribal training.  He was a man of action.  When he saw something that contradicted and blasphemed the teaching of the Pharisees – the tradition of the elders – he felt compelled to do something about it.   Paul told the Galatians, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
            Paul was so zealous for the Torah as understood by Pharisees, that when he encountered those who were proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, that he felt compelled to take action.  Christians were proclaiming that Jesus - who had been crucified - was the Christ, the Messiah promised by God.
            Now there were a variety of understandings about the Messiah present in the Judaism of Paul’s day.  But the shared feature in all of them was that the Messiah was powerful and victorious.  All agreed that anyone who ended up hanging dead on a Roman cross was no Messiah. What was more, the Torah said in Deuteronomy that anyone who was hung on a tree – which in the first century was understood to mean a cross – was cursed by God.  For Paul, to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah was to reject what the Scriptures taught about the Messiah.  Perhaps even more importantly, it was to reject the Torah of Yahweh which clearly said that anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God.
            Paul persecuted the Christians.  He took point in the attempt to eradicate this blasphemy against God and his Torah.  But as he travelled to Damascus to do so there, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him and confronted him.  Paul told the Galatians that God, who had set him apart before he was born and called him by grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to Paul in order that he might preach Jesus among the Gentiles.
            Just before our text, Paul has been reflecting on this fact as he writes to Timothy. He says, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
            God had shown Paul mercy.  And for Paul this illustrated an important truth.  He added: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”  Paul saw in himself a chief example of the fact that Christ came into the world to save sinners. 
            This thought is still in the background when Paul begins our text by saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Paul says that prayer should be offered on behalf of all people.  This is actually quite surprising.  It was not something that was part of the practice in Judaism.  It’s not something that is usually stated in the New Testament, where prayer is offered on behalf of Christians – those who are brothers and sisters in Christ.
            But here Paul explicitly states that Christians should offer prayer on behalf of everybody.  And then he notes that specifically this should include the leaders in the world whose work provides the setting in which Christians can live a peaceful, godly and dignified life. This instruction, found in a number of the letters of the New Testament, is something we continue to carry out every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church.
            Paul has said that prayer is to be offered on behalf of all people.  And then he provides a theological reason for why Christians are to do this.  He states: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Prayer is to be offered on behalf of all people because God cares about all people – he wants all people to be saved.
            The proof for this is found in what God has done.  Paul writes: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”  There may be many peoples – and Paul dealt with all kinds of regional and ethnic groups as he proclaimed the Gospel in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome.  But there is only one God who is over all of them – who is the Creator of all of them.
            Paul says that they all must relate to the one God.  But in order for this to happen, the apostle declares that there is one mediator.  He tells us that there must be one mediator.  That mediator is the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as the ransom for all.
            Earlier I mentioned how Paul said “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Paul told the Galatians that in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son who was born of a woman.  In the next chapter of this letter he says that the Lord “was manifested in the flesh.”
            Here, Paul emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ.  He says the “man Christ Jesus” is the mediator.  The man Christ Jesus is needed as the mediator because of what the man Adam did.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  The man Adam was the means by which sin entered into the world.  Paul tells us that as a result, all people are under sin – that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
            This is what you see in your own life.  You see it when you choose to be selfish – when you choose not to do that thing that you know would help and assist your spouse or parent.  You see it when you choose to share that interesting piece of information that makes someone else look bad.  You see it when you don’t want to read God’s Word during the week, and so you just don’t – or when it doesn’t even occur to you that you should.
            Because you are a sinner, Christ Jesus came into the world.  He was manifested in the flesh – the Son of God became man, without ceasing to be God.  He came to be the mediator between God and man – the only One who can bring us to God.  He did this by offering himself as the ransom on behalf of all.  He offered himself on the cross as the price needed to free us from sin.  His suffered and died in our place.  He bore our sins and received God’s judgment against them – that was the cost that was paid when he offered himself as the ransom.
            When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was something that had happened in the past – more than twenty years ago.  Yet the apostle says in our text: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  He says two things that were true in the moment he was writing. 
            In the next chapter he expresses why this was so – and why it is still so today.  He writes: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”  Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit on Easter when the Spirit raised Christ from the dead.  Sin brings death.  Jesus Christ died in your place because of your sin.  But then, on the third day, the event occurred that has changed everything.  God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Spirit. Because he has – because Jesus lives – death is no longer the final word caused by sin.  Sin has been forgiven, and resurrection life that overcomes death has begun in Jesus Christ.
            Jesus our mediator has been taken up in glory in his ascension – which, by the way, we are celebrating with the Divine Service on Thursday night this week.  As the risen, ascended and exalted Lord he continues to be the One who gives us fellowship with God.  He gives us forgiveness and life now.
            And so, like Timothy at the end of this letter, Paul tells us who have received this salvation to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. He tells us to fight the good fight of the faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which we were called. We do so as we look for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ which he will display on the Last Day.