Luke 2:1-20 Christmas Eve 2017

The garden is far from our minds now. Gardens have died and are now covered with a thin layer of snow. It all started in a garden. There our first parents were created, there they fell into temptation and sinned. Adam and Eve fell and with them all creation was cursed. The tree of life was closed off from them. An angel guarded the entrance to the garden. The garden was a source of life and now they would have to toil in the soil and fight weeds. Yet from this garden there is hope. There is a Word of life. When God curses the serpent or Satan as we know him, there is a word of hope in God’s curse. The Lord says there will be enmity between your offspring and hers. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. The offspring of the woman would be wounded by Satan, a wound on the heel, but her offspring would crush the head of the serpent. This is Jesus on the cross who rises from the dead.

This is the only time the Bible talks about the seed of the woman. It usually talks about kids as the seed of the man. This promise in the midst of the curse is that the Savior will be born of a virgin.

The Holy Spirit will overshadow Mary and the Lord will be conceived in her womb. In the garden there is a source of life. It looks dead, it looks bad, but there is a promise of new life, a promise of hope.

Sometimes our lives look dark, dismal and dead. We lose jobs, we lose income. Things aren’t the way they used to be in the good old days. The crop prices are low. We get hail or bad weather. Families are ripped apart by conflict and strife. People we care about are diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. People suffer silently with mental illness. We lose loved ones to death. War takes young lives and the survivors come back with lifelong scars. Car accidents and tragedies take precious people from us. Children are aborted, their lives cut short. People go hungry. Hurricanes, tornados and tsunamis take lives. We live in a fallen, broken world. We live under the curse of sin and death. We are tempted to despair and lose hope. We doubt there is a God who cares. We know right from wrong but we choose wrong. Like our first parents, Adam and Eve we choose to go against God’s Word. We break all of His commandments.

We are sinners who deserve the punishment of death and hell. We are hopeless on our own, without a prayer.

There is a spark of life; there is a glimmer of hope. My garden looks dead now, but underground the asparagus is alive. The plants have soaked up the sun and water from the late summer. In the spring they will rise up again from the ground and be thriving asparagus spears. In the same way Jesus came from the stump of Jesse. It looked like the royal line was cut off. Herod wasn’t a true king of Israel in the line of David. The Romans were really in control. They were imposing a census to tax the people. Joseph was from the tribe of Judah. He was in the line of David. The king would come from the offspring of David.

So Joseph traveled with his very pregnant wife Mary. They made the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. That was the city of David. Joseph was from the house of David. The true king of Israel was born in the royal city. They traveled there to be counted for tax purposes. It may have been that Joseph owned property in Bethlehem. They probably had relatives in Bethlehem.

When we hear there was no room in the inn we think of a hotel, but this word can also mean guesthouse or guest room. Mary and Joseph might have been at a relative’s house. There was no room in the living area upstairs because of all the people. So they were in the lower level of the house where they kept the animals. Houses were built this way with a stable on the ground floor and living area above. Mary and Joseph had to stay in the stable. We imagine there were feeding troughs built in the stable. So our precious Savior lay in a manger. He went from the heights of heaven in His glory to a lowly simple birth. Jesus humbled Himself and came down to save us. He humbled Himself from birth to the point of His death, death on the cross.

Jesus came into this world so He could go the cross, die and rise for you. Jesus came for you. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. The Savior is born and God sent His angels to bring the good news. Angels appeared to shepherds, lowly people, some of the outcasts of society. An angel appeared and the “glory of the Lord shone round about them.”

They were afraid but the angel said, “Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The angel has good news, the best news we could ever hear. A Savior has been born. Finally God has sent someone to rescue us from the curse of sin and death. The angel said “for unto you” this new child is born. Jesus is born for you!

Normally a child is born to their parents. We say you were born to your mom and dad. Jesus is different though. The angels announce to the shepherds that Jesus is born to you. Jesus didn’t just come for Joseph and Mary, He came for you. Jesus came to earth for all people. He lived the perfect life for you. He went to the cross for you. It is personal. Jesus is your Savior. He washes you in Baptism and He comes to you in the Lord’s Supper under the bread and wine.

The tree of life in the Garden was closed off. God didn’t want us to live forever in our state of sin. To grant access to the tree of life God used another tree. Jesus went to the tree of the cross. There He suffered and died. Jesus came and was born in a manger so He could go the cross. Jesus was put down in the wooden feeding trough.

There he rested with the animals around Him. Later on in His life Jesus would be laid down on the wood of the cross. On that cursed tree Jesus saved us. He took away our sin once and for all. When Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two. Access to God has been made. Our sins are forgiven and they no longer bar us from being in God’s holy presence. Jesus opens up the door to heaven for us by His death on the cross. Jesus was born on Christmas morn so He could die and three days later rise from the dead. The angels were there to announce His birth and angels announced His resurrection from the dead. He lives again. He is the firstborn of the new creation. There is new life in Christ. There is hope for us hopeless sinners.

Angels were there at important times in history. Now the angel no longer guards access to the tree of life. Jesus has granted us access to heaven. Those who believe in Jesus are given eternal life. We can access the tree of life in heaven and we will live forever. All you have to do is believe.

All you have to do is believe that this child Jesus is the Son of God who came for you.

He is God in human flesh and He came to bring you to paradise. Jesus was born so He could go to the cross and die to give you eternal life. Jesus gave Himself for you. Believe that God gave His Son for you and you will rise from the dead just as Jesus has risen. He will bring you with Him to heaven. There is the tree of life. There is paradise. It began in a garden. God came to earth as a baby. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. He lived a perfect life for you and He went to the cross for you. He rose from the dead to defeat death for you.

The message to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is the same message to you. The angels bring you good news. They bring you the Gospel. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”       We rejoice tonight because Jesus has been born. God has sent His Son into the world to save us. Jesus came for you. He died for you. He rose from the dead for you. The Savior is born and He gives you everlasting life.

You will enter into paradise, the new garden in the new heaven and the new earth. This is a place of life, abundant life.

Amen.

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Isaiah 61:1-11 Advent 3

The last 3 Sundays of the church year we talked about the end times. During Advent we prepare for Christmas by thinking about how Jesus has come and how He will come again. This is supposed to be a season of repentance. Once again today we hear the voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness.        God calls us to repent, to turn from our sins. We don’t focus on repentance as heavily as we do during Lent, but traditionally the weeks before Christmas were a time of fasting and prayer. This Sunday stands out though. This Sunday we light the rose or pink candle on the Advent wreath. This is a day to rejoice. Our Epistle lesson says to “rejoice always.” It may seem natural to rejoice around Christmas time, but sometimes we need to be reminded. We have struggles, we have sadness, we face despair. The troubles of this world can overshadow the happiness of this season.

Things may not seem good now, but something greater is coming. The future is bright. This is the message of John the Baptist. Someone greater than him was coming. John bears witness to the Light who is coming. Our Savior is coming, He is the Christ.

He is the one who is anointed by the Holy Spirit and Baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

We hear in our text from Isaiah the words Jesus used at His first sermon. The sevenfold gifts of the Spirit are upon Him. This is the Ruach Yahweh, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. This is a kingly title. Jesus comes in the line of David. Jesus is the true King of Israel. He is the Messiah, the one promised from of old.   The Davidic person is combined with the servant person in Isaiah. The kingly person is anointed. He is also the great Servant of Israel, the suffering Servant. He is the servant who comes to take our place and bring us forgiveness.

The Servant, the Messiah comes to bring good news to the poor. These are the ones who have absolutely nothing. They are destitute, they are sorry for their sins and they are repentant. We confess that we are poor miserable sinners. Jesus brings us good news.

Good news came long ago to captives being freed from Babylon. That good news points to the even greater news in Christ. It is the year of Jubilee when slaves are set free. In the land of Israel if someone went into debt and had to sell their land there was a way out. Someone might be destitute and have to sell themselves into slavery or servant-hood. This was allowed under the law in certain circumstances. However every seven years was a year of Jubilee. This was the time when the poor were given back their land. They were freed from slavery or they were no longer servants.

JESUS IS OUR JUBILEE

He is giving back the inheritance that was lost. We have an inheritance that can never perish. If the Son sets you free you are free indeed. It is finished.

Jesus restores freedom and He restores sight to the blind. The curse in chapter six of Isaiah is that they have eyes but they won’t see. The Servant opens their eyes. People are blind because they are worshipping idols. The Bible says if you worship idols you will become like them. Idols are made of wood and stone.

What do you worship? What are your idols? What have you become? We turn into the things we worship. There are many good gifts that God gives us, but they can be abused.

Food and drink are blessings from God, but we can fall into worshiping the creation over the creator. This time of year we tend to indulge in food and drink. Some is good, but too much can become a problem. If we eat too much fattening foods the fat sticks to us and it becomes part of us. If we drink too much alcohol it gets in our blood. Our blood-alcohol content goes up. The drug becomes a part of us. Drugs and substances, like caffeine become a part of us and affect how we act. We crave things of this world more than we crave God and His Word.

God sees what we do in the open and hidden. He sees our inner faults. He knows our secret sins. When we confess our sins to Him He forgives us. He takes our sins away. They are forgiven in Christ. We pray God would send us His Holy Spirit to help us amend our lives and conform them to more fully reflect His love. He comforts us. God speaks to the poor. He speaks forgiveness to the miserable sinners.

This passage speaks about God’s judgment and we sometimes think of that as a bad thing.

For the poor God’s vengeance is good. The enemies will be judged. This is good news, a Gospel idea. The Messiah is victorious.

Jesus replaces things. We have a great reversal. Jesus took the punishment for our death on the cross. He takes the place of our sin and gives us His perfect righteousness.

The poor idolaters sit in dust but He is going to change things for them. He is going to give them a priestly turban. He gives the oil of gladness instead of mourning. The Holidays can be tough times for some of us, especially if you have lost a loved one. There is an empty place at the table at Christmas dinner. Grandma is not here to make her famous apple pie and no one can make it like her. We mourn, but Jesus gives us a reason to rejoice. The Lord turns our mourning into dancing. The coming of Jesus means hope and life. He is going to the cross where He will defeat death. Jesus will rise from the grave and overshadow the darkness of death with His light.

He gives rejoicing instead of despair and hopelessness. Christmas time can be a depressing time for some.

The suicide rates sometimes go up during the Holiday season. The coming of Jesus gives us hope. No matter how bad things are going we can rejoice in Christ. When St. Paul told us to rejoice in the Lord always he was in prison. We have good news. John said someone greater is coming. Jesus changes everything!

Jesus clothes us with the robe of righteousness. This gives us reason to rejoice. Jesus is our Jubilee. He sets us free. He exchanges our sinfulness with His righteousness. Isaiah proclaims what our Savior comes to do:

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

               as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. [1]

Now go, as the bride of Christ. Enter into the eternal wedding feat. We get a taste at the altar today. Jesus is our Jubilee. He sets you free and clothes you with the garments of salvation.

He gives you life and we can rejoice without end.

Amen.

 

[1]            The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 61:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Mark 1:1-8 Advent 2

In 1956 our country signed into law the Interstate Highway Act. This began the construction of our current Interstate highway system. It took 35 years to complete this project. It has cost $526 billion dollars to build these highways. They are straight roads, straight paths compared to the old highway system that followed the curve of the land. President Eisenhower was a champion of the interstate highway system and now it bears his name. The interstates were built to benefit industry and to move the army. Eisenhower was influenced when crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway. During World War II he saw the Autobahn in Germany and recognized how important a highway system is for national defense. These straight paths were built to move a massive force.

In our Scripture text for today a highway is made. John the Baptist is the one preparing the way. He is making the path straight, not for an army or industry to come through but for the most powerful force in the universe. God Himself is coming. It is the Lord and no other. Jesus is God in human flesh. He is coming to His people bringing salvation. He comes with more power than an army. He comes to win the victory over sin and death. He comes to end our warfare and pardon our sins. Isaiah fortold the ubilding of this superhighway. “A voice cries, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low.”

So how was it that John prepared the way for the Messiah? How did He preapre for Christ’s first coming and how do we prepare for His second coming? John made the paths straight by calling people to repentance. He preached a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We too are called to repantance. Repent means to make a turn. We are to change directions and move away from our sins. In the first of the 95 Theses Martin Luther stated that the life of a Christian is a life of repentance. We need to repent every day. We turn daily back to the grace of our Baptism. We confess our sins to the Lord. His Word gives us the good news that our sins are forgiven.

God wants all people to repent. He wants everyone to turn from their evil ways and have faith in Him. This is why He is waiting to return. His time is not our time. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” [1] We don’t know when He will return so we must always be ready. Our evil deeds and our secret sins will be exposed. We don’t want to be caught in sin. We must repent while we still have the chance. We must let the world know that this is our last chance to repent. We want to be found in faith.

As we wait for the coming day of the Lord we should be living lives of holiness and godliness. Can we always say that about ourselves? If He comes back right now are we going to be found without spot or blemish? Are we repentant or are we returning to the same sins again and again? Are we sorry for what we have done or do we get too much enjoyment from our sins? Do we feel guilt for our actions or are we refusing the Spirit’s call to repentance?

The Holy Spirit worked through John calling us to repentance. John came to the people of Israel and his message applies to us now. He wore camel’s hair and a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey. He looked like Elijah, John drsssed and acted like a prophet of old. In fact John came in the spirit of Elijah. He was sent by God to do the work of Elijah. The last words of the Old Testament in Malachi say that God will send Elijah before the end to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. John calls us to repent. We hear the call in God’s Word. We are to turn from our sins. We are to be Baptized. In Baptism our sins are washed away. We are cleansed. We receive the work Jesus did for us on the cross. Baptism links us to the crucifixion of Christ. There our sins are taken away.

This message needs to get out. John was a messenger, he was an announcer. Today God calls all Christians to be His messengers. God calls you to tell others about the coming of Christ. We all need to invite people to church and prepare them for the coming of the Lord. We are all His witnesses. Today in Bible Study we will learn about being His witness. Every Christian is His witness. The Lord wants everyone to hear His message and repent.

We must all be ready for the return of Christ. We have to be prepared for His kingdom. On our own we are not found without spot or blemish. We have many imperfections. We need the Baptism that John brought forth. We need the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. More than that we need the greater Baptism that Jesus has brought forth. We need the Baptism with the Holy Spirit which we have received. We need to turn back and remember our Baptism. There your sins have been washed away. There at Baptism you received the Holy Spirit. This happened once but we always need to come back to this event. We sin again and need that forgiveness. We received the Holy Spirit but we need the Spirit more and more as the Day draws near. We grow in faith and are strengthened by The Holy Spirit as we hear God’s Word. We receive Holy Communion and are strengthened by the Spirit. We hear the words of forgiveness in the Absolution and are reminded of that grace given in Baptism.

Sometimes obstructions block the road. A tree might fall across the road and need to be removed. Snow and ice might cover the road. They need to be plowed. Sand or salt needs to be applied to the road to allow safe travel. Preparations need to be made. God sent a messenger to prepare the world for the coming Messiah.

John prepared a road in the wilderness. We are called out into the wilderness. God formed His people during their exodus wandering in the desert. The Lord prepared them to enter the Promised Land. We are called to the desert, we are called to repent. God cleanses us through Baptism. Our sins are washed away. We go through the Jordan River into the Promised Land of heaven. We are Baptized with the Holy Spirit. We are being formed into a new people who will be part of God’s new creation. Jesus will create the new heavens and the new earth. He is coming back soon. He makes us new and He is bringing us into His forever kingdom.

Amen.

[1]            Lutheran Service Book Three Year Lectionary. (2009). Bellingham, WA: Concordia Publishing House.

Isaiah 64:1-9 Advent 1

Are there certain people you would not like to see coming to your door? We don’t like it when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to our door. We don’t like it when the Mormons come to our door. We don’t like it when salespeople interrupt our dinner. When a loved one is away serving in the military, families don’t want to see a chaplain or an officer come to their door. They fear the bad news that their loved one has been killed.   We might not like going to the dentist or the doctor. We don’t like it when we have to see the taxman. On the other hand there are people we like to see. When a soldier has been deployed for a long time or at war, families want to see their loved one return. They look forward to that joyous reunion. There are people we want to see.   We would like publisher’s clearinghouse to come to our door and announce we have won a huge cash prize. We look forward to a package arriving with a gift or something we ordered. We are glad when family and friends arrive to visit us especially if we have not seen them for a while. They come to visit and we have a happy reunion.

We want God to come. We want to see our Lord. Our text says, “O that You would rend the heavens and come down.” This means, rip, shred, tear the heavens to pieces and come. It is like ripping a garment. When Jesus was Baptized the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove. When Jesus died the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Jesus had come down and He breaks down the barrier between God and man.

700 years before Jesus came, Isaiah wanted God to come down. He wants God to observe first hand how His people are suffering.   He was eager for the Lord’s salvation. Isaiah foresaw the destruction of the Temple. He saw how Jerusalem was about to fall into the hands of their enemies. They were sinners in need of salvation. God’s people needed Him, just as we need the Lord today. We want Jesus to come, we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Isaiah prayed that God would come down and the mountains would quake at His presence. We remember how God came down at Mt. Sinai. There were clouds, lightning and fire. The people could not approach the mountain. Only Moses and the 70 elders of Israel went up. Then only Moses was allowed to go farther. Moses could not see the face of God and live. God came down with His power. By just being in God’s presence Moses’ face was glowing. He had to hide it with a veil so not to disturb the people.

Many years later God came down in the form of Jesus. The Lord became man and dwelt among us. The Son, the second person of the Trinity descended from heaven and was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus grew in stature and lived as an ordinary man. Aside from the miracles and authoritative teaching He appeared like any other man.             There was one occasion where He ascended a mountain with His disciples. He took Peter, James and John to the top. On that mountain Jesus was transfigured and they saw who He really is. Again God was revealed on the mountaintop.

We have a God who goes from heaven to earth. He gets involved with us. He is not a God far off. He is a God close at hand. He loves us and cares about us. He comes to rescue us. No one has ever seen a God like our God. He “acts for those who wait for Him.” We are waiting in faith for His return while we remember how He came the first time.

Jesus has come down from heaven just as Isaiah hoped and prayed. God has come down to His people. We are about to celebrate that first coming of Christ. Jesus came down to see the plight of His people. He saw firsthand how sin has effected the world. Jesus saw the suffering of His people. He took on our sickness and suffering. Jesus healed diseases. He took on our infirmities. He himself suffered what it is to be human. He felt pain, He felt sadness and despair. He felt what it is like to be rejected by other men.

In our Gospel lesson we see people who eagerly anticipate the arrival of Christ. They welcome Him into Jerusalem waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks on the road. They shout, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They were glad the Lord had arrived to rescue them. We rejoice that our Savior has come.

WE WANT THE LORD TO COME DOWN, WE NEED RESCUE

We need Jesus to come back and we needed Him to come the first time. We are sinners who need God to come. We are in need of the salvation Jesus brought when He came down from heaven to be our Savior. He is the one who works righteousness. By dying on the cross He takes away our sins and makes us righteous in His sight.

On our own we are far from good and righteous. “Behold, you were angry and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?”

We have broken God’s commands. Moses brought the law down from the mountain and we like the people of Israel sinned before Moses made it to the bottom. You name the law and we have broken it. We get angry at our family, friends and co-workers. These are the people God places in our lives and gives us the opportunity to love them. Instead of loving them we hurt them. We say things we later regret. We tear people down and attack them with our words. Our tempers flare and our words sting like flaming arrows.

Even when we try to do something good we can turn it into sin. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” We might do good works but we do them for the wrong reasons. We only do good so other people will notice. We want the praise of our fellow man. We do good thinking we can somehow earn our salvation. We take pride in our good works and turn them into a sin. We look down upon others who don’t seem to be doing as much as we are.

Everyone has gone astray. The church in America is shrinking. It seems like there is no one who calls upon the name of the Lord. Yet there is hope. The Lord comes.   He came to take our sin away on the cross. He rose to new life and defeated death. We pray that He would not be angry and take our iniquity away. The Lord continues to come to us through the cleansing waters of Baptism. Through the Word He reminds us that our sins are forgiven. He gives us His own Body and Blood at the altar to forgive our sins. He sends His Holy Spirit among us. Through the Word we grow in faith. The Lord leads us and guides us. We are the clay and He is the potter. He molds us into His Holy people.   We are the work of His hands. The Lord has created us. He redeems us and sets us free.

The Lord has come to rescue us. He continues to come through His Word and Sacraments. He is coming again soon to bring us to a joyful reunion in heaven.

Amen.

Matthew 25:31-46 Last Sunday in Church Year

What do we usually call the day when Jesus returns in glory? We usually think of it as Judgment Day. It is the day when all people will be judged and sent to heaven or hell, but is Judgment Day the best term? There will be a lot more going on that day. It is the day of our Redemption. It is not as if we are on the edge of our seat wondering how we will be judged. As believers in Christ we don’t have to worry. We know that Jesus has died to forgive our sins. Through Him we have life eternal. When Jesus comes back He will be bringing us to His heavenly kingdom. We call today the Last Sunday in the Church Year. However today can also be called the Sunday of the Fulfillment or Christ the King Sunday. Today we think about the Last Day. Whether you call it Judgment Day or the Day of our Redemption it will be the day when Jesus returns with His angels. There will be a trumpet blast and a shout of the archangel. Jesus will take His place as King. The head that once was crowned with thorns will be crowned in glory. Jesus will not reign in an earthly kingdom. He will not be in the current Jerusalem for a thousand years. We will change in the twinkling of an eye. The Lord will create the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus will reign in the new heavenly Jerusalem.

Jesus tells us a parable in our Gospel Lesson. He usually gives an explanation after a parable, but here He gives the explanation first. He says that the Son of Man will come in His glory with His angels.

Before our text Jesus has just spoken a harsh condemnation of His enemies. He has accused the Pharisees of being a brood of vipers just like John the Baptist had done. Jesus spoke about how Jerusalem rejected the prophets and they will reject future messengers who come in His name. DO not reject the Lord when He calls. Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus tried to gather all of Israel, but he was rejected. He came into His own. “The world was made through Him but the world did not know Him.” Only a few recognized Him and understood that the Good Shepherd must die for His sheep. Jesus came first in humility. He took the form of a suffering servant. When He comes again, He will not be veiled. He will not be covered, but we will see Him in His full glory. Jesus has arisen and ascended into heaven. He is no longer living in His humble state. Jesus is still true man, but He is not holding back any of His Godly power like He did before His death and resurrection. Jesus is coming in glory. Once again He is coming to gather His faithful sheep. He isn’t just teaching His sheep this time. He isn’t just giving them eternal life for their souls. Those who die believing in Christ have their souls go to heaven when they die. When Jesus returns He will raise the dead bodies and bring believers into His kingdom with both their bodies and souls.

Jesus will judge all people when He returns. So how do you know whether you will be judged favorably or condemned to hell? Hell is real and it is something to fear. Sometimes we worry if we are going to heaven. Jesus assures us that we are saved. By believing in Him we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Faith in Christ makes us His sheep. Sheep are credited for what they do in faith while goats are judged for what they did not do.

We are saved by our faith. Faith makes us sheep, but we can do things that hurt our faith. If we continue in sin it can damage our faith. When we choose to go against God’s commandments again and again we are refusing the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance. If we do this too much our faith can diminish and could eventually wither away.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. By loving our neighbor we are serving Christ. We may not see Jesus but we can see Him in the face of our neighbor who is in need. Are you acting like a sheep demonstrating that you are a sheep or are you refusing the Holy Spirit’s call to holy living and acting like a goat? Are you helping your neighbor? Are you giving when we collect for Upper DesMoines Opportunity Food Bank? Are you helping out at the Clothing Bank? These are good works but without faith in Christ they are worthless.   If you are depending on your own works to get into heaven Jesus will say, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Goats are condemned for what they did not do. Sheep are rewarded for what they did do. When we act on our own without the Holy Spirit working in us we act like goats. Goats inherit eternal suffering and punishment.

The Shepherd calls you. Listen to His voice. You are blessed by God. You are Baptized in His Name, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You can be sure you are a sheep because you are Baptized. When we live in our Baptism we follow the Holy Spirit and do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Because you have faith, Jesus will not look at your sins. Jesus died for our sins. He will not look at what we failed to do. He will only see what we have done in faith. Jesus will say, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Like the righteous in the parable we will not be aware of the good things we have done. We don’t count up our good works believing they save us. We know we are saved by faith alone, faith in our Shepherd who has come to save us.

The sheep were sheep before the King comes in Judgment. Sheep act like sheep and goats act like goats. It is not what they did but who they are. Believers are believers because they have faith in Christ. Believers automatically do good works without realizing it. The sheep weren’t keeping tally of what they had done. They didn’t even realize that they had fed the poor, helped the sick and visited those in prison. Unbelievers are unbelievers and they act that way. Those without faith cannot please God, no matter what they do. They may do what appear to be good works, trying to earn their own way into heaven, but they cannot get there themselves.

To get into heaven we need the Shepherd of the Sheep. Jesus calls us as His sheep. We hear His voice when we hear His Word. We come to faith and follow the Good Shepherd. Hearing His voice the Holy Spirit works through that word and brings us to faith.

We need to be the voice of Jesus in the world and share that message with our friends and family. Our neighbors need to hear the voice of the Shepherd. How can they hear if no one is preaching or sharing that Word? We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers and clothe the naked. People will wonder why we do this, why do we act like sheep? Then we can all give a reason for the hope that is in us.

In our Old Testament Lesson, God says, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” The Lord isn’t sending another prophet. He isn’t sending an angel or a messenger. He isn’t sending a judge, or an earthly king. God Himself is coming down. The Lord can’t make it any clearer. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God Himself came down in the person of Jesus. Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd and gather His flock.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus suffered and died for us. This takes our sins away. Now as His Baptized sheep we will be gathered into heaven. We are sheep going to eternal life because of what Jesus has done.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS COMING TO WELCOME YOU INTO HIS KINGDOM

The great and awesome day of the Lord is coming. It will be a day of clouds and thick darkness. It will be Judgment Day, but that is nothing to fear for Baptized Christians with faith in our Shepherd. It will be the Day of the Fulfillment, the day we receive the reward Christ has won for us. It will be the day that the one who once was crowned with thorns will be crowned in glory. Jesus will be seated on His throne. Jesus is coming to welcome you into His Kingdom. We are blessed not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done for us. The Shepherd loves you and He laid down His life for you. Jesus rose from the dead and He is coming to bring you home to heaven. When He comes He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Amen.

 

Pentecost 24, 2nd Last Sunday in Church Year, Matthew 25:14-30

 

A butcher a baker, a candlestick maker…Jack of all trades, master of none. There are many different jobs in the world. There is more than one way to make a living. Sometimes it is difficult for youth to decide what they want to do for a career. What kind of occupation is pleasing to God? Before the Reformation in Martin Luther’s time people thought that to really please God you have to work for the church. Being a priest, a monk or a nun was seen as a much higher calling than ordinary occupations. Luther’s father was a miner. Luther was studying to be a lawyer, until he was caught in that thunderstorm. Becoming a monk was much more noble than becoming a lawyer. The Reformation changed this line of thinking, although we can still slip back into it today.

Sometimes we see modern day monasticism. We think helping out at church is more God pleasing than taking care of our families. One might think that baking pies for churches is a higher calling than baking pies for restaurants.

Martin Luther turned this notion upside down. He taught that all vocations are equal. A Christian can serve God as a farmer, a businessman, a plumber, a soldier or any honest job. Christians with faith can do good works in God’s sight. Serving God as a mother or grandmother is just as holy as joining a convent and becoming a nun.

God gives us freedom in our vocations. He doesn’t tell us exactly how to farm or fix a car. We do know what the Lord commands. He tells us to be fair and honest. To please God a Christian can be an honest businessman, accountant or factory worker. You don’t always have to be doing religious things to please God.

God uses us in our callings, in our vocations. You are where God has placed you. He works through Christians to serve our neighbors. We share God’s love and mercy with those around us. God has given you certain gifts. This is because he is gracious and merciful. The master in the parable Jesus tells gave each of the servants certain gifts. They did nothing to earn those gifts just as we are given gifts from above. When the servants invested their talents they were given much in return. They didn’t control the interest rates or how their investments would fare. They doubled the number of talents. God gives us physical and spiritual talents. He gives us abilities, money, and time. By the means of Grace He gives us spiritual gifts.

The Word and Sacraments are the means by which God brings people into His kingdom. He works through people who share the message of the Gospel with others. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed to the world. This takes gifts and abilities as well as money and energy. We should support our church but we shouldn’t depend on the pastor to do all the evangelism. The pastor’s job is to share the Word and administer the Sacraments. Pastors equip the congregation for evangelism. By hearing the Word we are given faith and power to go out and make disciples in our neighborhood. God has placed you in different situations. Where you are, that is your calling, your vocation. You have a holy calling. You are a royal priest, called to serve in your vocation. God works through you to share His love with others. Some times this takes the form of action like cleaning up after a hurricane, changing diapers or repairing tractors. Other times we share the Word by speaking it. We can comfort our friend who is mourning the loss of their spouse. We can share the reason for the hope we have.

God’s Word and Sacraments strengthen you to share that same message with others. When you do share that word with a friend or a loved one God will work through that Word. Isaiah 55:11 says: “My word . . . shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

God’s Word works and we have heard His Word. Now we are all called to work in God’s kingdom. Out of His grace and mercy He has given us all different gifts. We are called to use our gifts, time, talents and abilities for the expansion of God’s kingdom. When Jesus returns we don’t want to be caught sleeping on the job. We don’t want to be lazy or stingy with our gifts. The third servant in the parable was lazy. He refused to work. He wanted to be a part of the household but he did not want to do anything. This is like having faith without works. That kind of faith is dead. Works do not save us but they prove that our faith is living. God gives us gifts and the Holy Spirit works through us to use those gifts for the benefit of others.

USE WHAT OUR GRACIOUS GOD HAS GIVEN YOU HE HAS A GREAT REWARD IN STORE FOR YOU

This reward is based on what Jesus has done for you on the cross and through the empty tomb.

This parable should make us examine ourselves. The law of God always accuses us. We should take a hard look at how we are living our lives. We should ask ourselves, “Am I using all the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability for the furthering of God’s kingdom?” God has graciously given us all things. We should ask, “Am I giving a proper percentage of my wealth to the church, or am I being stingy.” Am I giving to the poor, Am I taking care of the less fortunate? Am I being merciful as God was merciful to me? We all have a tendency to take care of ourselves first and take care of God last. We give Him the scraps, what is left over. It should not be this way. We should give to God first, before taxes and then live on what that is left. This is what we call first fruits giving. We saw this difference in Cain and Abel. Abel gave to God first out of his heart. He acted in faith and that faith gave birth to love. Cain gave God what was left over from his harvest. He didn’t give to God first.

In our parable Jesus describes 3 servants. Each is given a different amount, just like we are all given different gifts. Some of us are poor, some of us are rich. Some of us are good at talking to other, some of us are quiet. Some of us are better at sharing the Gospel with others. Some of us are better listeners than others. We all have special gifts that can be used in service to God’s kingdom. Until the master returns we should make the most of what God has given us. We all have different gifts and a different place in the church. Together as members we make up the body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God. He speaks to us and teaches us in worship and Bible class. God forgives our sins in the confession and absolution. The Spirit reminds us of our Baptism every day and renews us with new life. The Lord feeds us with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He strengthens our faith and equips us to go out and invite our family and friends to church. We need to invite people we know to church. Tell them about your pastor, encourage them to talk to your pastor. The Day is surely drawing near. Jesus is going to return home soon. The master is coming back from His journey. When He comes back we will have to give an account. Will you be able to say, “I used your gifts for the expansion of your kingdom on earth, I cared for the sick and needy.” Or will we be like the lazy servant who went out and buried his money.

We have materiel blessings to use in support of the church. We also have something much more precious. We have been entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a life saving message to share with our neighbors. Jesus died for us on the cross. He suffered to carry the weight of our sin. Jesus was beaten and bruised. He was mocked and spit upon because He loves you. He did it all for you, for your salvation, to give you everlasting life. The bloodied body was placed into a tomb for three days. On the third day Jesus burst forth from that sealed tomb. Jesus lives and because He lives we will live. Those who believe in Christ are servants ready for the return of their master. You have been Baptized and Jesus conquered death for you.   God gives us gifts and He strengthens us to use them. When we do good works it is because the Holy Spirit is working in us. Jesus has indeed risen. He gives us life eternal. This is the message we have to share as the day is surely drawing near. For those with faith in Christ the Day of the Lord is nothing to fear. It is our redemption. The Lord is coming to bring us to heaven. He gives you eternal rewards. You are rewarded for what the Lord has done. Because of Jesus He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”

 

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

1 John 3:1-3 All Saints’ Day 2010

Look at the love. John tells us to “see the love.” What does love look like, is it just a feeling that we cannot see with our eyes, or is it an action we can witness? In our text John tells us to, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

God gives us love. His love is given as a free gift like we talked about last week. God gives us His righteousness as a free gift through faith. We are saved by grace through faith as a free gift. We cannot earn it. God gives us love, He gives us salvation through His son. The language that John uses here is stronger than John 3:16. There he says, “God so loved the world.” Here the wording is even stronger, He says “the Father has given love.” He gave us love. John tells us to “see” this love. This powerful giving of love can be seen on the cross. God gave His Son for us. Since God has loved us, since Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead now we can be called children of God.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. Being a saint is about being a child of God. Saints are saints because God made them His children. “We are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared.” Right now we are saints because we are Baptized believers. Jesus has taken our sins away. We are children of God. But we will be more when we are in heaven. Right now we still sin, we are still tempted by our flesh. We daily sin much. God daily and richly forgives all our sins and the sins of all believers. Here on earth we are saints and sinners at the same time. Once we die and go to be with the Lord we will be “all-saint.” God will completely sanctify us. We will be purified and incorruptible like the believers are who have gone before us. They are saints with the Lord in paradise.

When Jesus appears, when He returns in judgement all the dead will rise. Those who are believers in Christ will go to eternal life. John says we will be made like him. Those who hope in Him will purify themselves. We look forward to heaven, we think about things above instead of getting trapped up in the things of this world. Knowing who we are and where we are going should affect how we live. We shouldn’t live like the rest of the world who has no hope. Knowing that we will be purified should make us want to be pure now. We should want to live like Christ right now. Even though we know we won’t be perfect until we’re in heaven. We will sin and we will need to be forgiven again, but that’s no excuse to just do whatever we want.

John was writing to some Christians who received the Gospel and were living like they could do whatever they wanted because they were forgiven. Sometimes we think like this. The law doesn’t matter because we are under the gospel. We know that we are not saved by our works, so works don’t matter, right? It is true that our works don’t save us. But we still should live a life worthy of our calling as children of God. Led by the power of the Holy Spirit we should try to live like saints on earth. It is not ourselves who do the good, it is God who works through us to accomplish good, but we can resist the Holy Spirit. We can resist God’s work in us to do good.

God gives us love and calls us His children. We aren’t yet fully grown but He is calling us to be like Him. He loved us and He wants us to love one another. Being God’s child means being like Christ. We are God’s children; we are not of the world. We are in the world but not of the world. This means we should act like children of God and not like children of the world. We should live in a way that makes people wonder why we have hope. They should ask, “why we you so loving, why do you care about other people?” Our lives should be a living witness for Jesus. Unfortunately many times we are enticed by the world. Instead of acting like God’s children, we follow the desires of our flesh. Instead of acting like saints, we act like sinners.

Our text says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Does the world know you? Are you accepted by the world or are you being persecuted? Certainly we need to be in the world and make friends with people outside the church so we can tell them about Jesus but have we conformed too much to our culture?

The world did not know Jesus. The world rejected Jesus and crucified Him. He was persecuted and betrayed. He was handed over to sinful men and condemned to death. He was beaten and crucified for us. On the third day He rose from the dead. He tells us to take up the cross and follow Him. Jesus told His disciples that they would be persecuted just like Him. The world would reject them. The world does not know us for the same reason because it did not know Him.

Are we being persecuted? Maybe the reason we don’t really feel like we are being persecuted is because we live in a mostly Christian country, but that’s changing. Christianity doesn’t dominate our land like it once did. People are becoming increasingly secular. Christians are persecuted in America. Could it be that the reason we aren’t really being persecuted is because we aren’t living like children of God? Could it be that we aren’t being persecuted because we are living like the rest of the world and no one can even tell that we are Christians?

It is scary to think of this, but could it be that we don’t experience persecution because we don’t speak up for the truth. We don’t talk about Jesus because we’re afraid. We are afraid it will cause trouble. “Don’t talk about religion or politics,” they say. We’re afraid of awkward situations. We’re afraid of being persecuted. Persecution isn’t very high in our country, but it is increasing. It is much worse in other countries.

Europe was once the center of the Christian world, but now the huge beautiful cathedrals are empty. Pastors are put in jail for saying homosexuality is a sin. Islam is coming in with force. Christians are persecuted in parts of South America & Asia. The worst persecution is probably in the Middle East. Our fellow saints are suffering. The world doesn’t know them just like it didn’t know Jesus. They are being beaten and thrown in prison just like St. Paul. It’s easy for us to turn a blind eye but our brothers and sisters are suffering. One of the magazines on the back table is called “Voice of the Martyrs.” Check it out some time and your eyes will be opened to our fellow saints on earth who need our prayers and support. There is a book by Richard Wurmbrand called “Tortured for Christ.” It opened my eyes to the underground church around the world. He was a pastor who spent many years imprisoned in the former Soviet Union. He was tortured for the sake of Jesus but He was looking forward to heaven. He was praying for those who persecuted him. As a result many of the Soviet soldiers were converted. It was a miracle: the torturers became Christians.

We are part of the body of Christ. We are joined with all the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. When part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. We can’t sit back and ignore our brothers and sisters around the world.

We can endure persecution because we are looking forward to heaven. There are great blessings for the persecuted. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus endured the greatest persecution ever. He endured it for you. On the bloody cross He took all your sins away. Jesus has earned the greatest reward for you in heaven. Through Baptism we become God’s children. He cleanses us with water and the Word. Jesus purifies us, as He is pure. Jesus rose from the dead. He is risen, He is victorious over the powers of evil. We who believe and are Baptized into His Name will rise from the dead just like Him. We will live with Him in His kingdom forever.

Blessed are you. God loves you, He gave you love. We are His beloved children. We can see this awesome love in the person of Jesus. We can see His love given to us in our own Baptism. God gave His own Son Jesus. He came to earth to bear our sins. Jesus died to erase our sins. He purifies us as He is pure. Through the Holy Spirit He has given us the gift of faith. He gives us the power to live as His children in this world. He has given us love; through the sacrifice of Jesus we can be called children of the Heavenly Father. We are His children, we will be his saints in heaven. When He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Blessed are you, God’s children;

Blessed are you, His holy saints.

 

Amen.

Revelation 14:6-7 Reformation 2009

In John’s Revelation he saw several beasts. One had 10 horns and 7 heads. It was like a leopard with feet like a bear and a head like a lion. There were blasphemous names on his heads and it spoke blasphemous words. This beast led people to worship the dragon. It had authority over every tribe and people and language and nation. Another beast came and performed signs and deceived people into making an image of the beast and worshipping it. God warns us about being led astray. Jesus said there will be many false teachers and many will be led astray. He warns us against false doctrine. The dragon is always working to draw people away from God. The dragon and his beasts are active getting people to worship them. They utter blasphemies and tell lies.

(Against the dragon stands the Lamb of God. He stands with the believers. The faithful church on earth sings His praise.)

Then John “saw another angel flying directly overhead with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

Amidst this world of false doctrine we have the truth. The truth sets us free. Beasts and dragons are leading people astray with lies. God’s people have fallen under the captivity of Babylon, but here comes an angel. God rescues His people from the lies of Satan. This angel brings the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ for salvation. This is the eternal gospel. It lasts for all time. It doesn’t change.

The beast led people from every tribe and nation down the wrong path and now God’s angel proclaims the Gospel to every nation, tribe and language and people.

There is a period of darkness and then God lets His light shine. The eternal Gospel comes back out. We have seen this happen before. Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments. He found the people worshipping a golden calf. He used God’s Word and restored the truth.

During the period of Judges people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Their enemies triumphed over them. Judges like Othniel, Ehud and Samson were filled with the Holy Spirit. They judged Israel and delivered them. The Angel of the Lord came to Gideon and called him to judge Israel. He destroyed the altar of Baal. He brought people back to the truth.

In the days of kings, Israel and Judah wandered away from God. Most of their kings were unfaithful and led them into further sin. King Ahaz took the vessels out of the Temple and cut them to pieces. He shut the doors of the Temple and set up altars to idols everywhere around the city. He made sacrifices in the high places. However there were some kings like Hezekiah who used God’s Word to reform the church. Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple and resumed worship of the true God. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Under Josiah’s reign the book of the Law was found in the Temple. When King Josiah heard what the book said he tore his clothes and wept because his fathers had not kept the law. It has happened more than once where God’s people have gone astray. It takes God’s Word to set us back on the right path. He works through men to bring people back to the truth.

Over time the Christian Church had become corrupt. Human greed and lust for power were overshadowing the Gospel. A man named John Huss spoke out against the Roman Catholic Church. He said that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, not the pope. John Huss was burned at the stake in 1415. Supposedly he had some prophetic last words from the stake. Huss said, “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Well about 100 years later Martin Luther was hard at work.

Luther fought an inner struggle. He couldn’t make himself right with God. His sins haunted him until he discovered that righteousness doesn’t come from us. It comes from God. He read Romans 3 which says, “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the works of the law although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

We don’t do it on our own. We can’t do it on our own. The church had been teaching people lies. People were being led by a beast to think that they could save themselves. The dragon wants us to think we can get to heaven by our own works, or by the works of saints. This isn’t true. We can’t buy our way into heaven with silver and gold. We can’t earn our way in with deeds. This was the altar to Baal of the day. People were putting their trust in something other than Christ. They were trusting in themselves, what they did and what they paid. They were trusting in the pope and in human beings. Instead of trusting in Christ alone they looked to idols.

All this focus on the wrong things, then this angel comes along and says, “Fear God and give him glory.” We need to put our trust in God alone. That’s where our salvation is. We put our faith in God alone and He makes us righteous. Through faith in Jesus our sins are taken away. We are redeemed by His blood. We receive His Blood directly at Communion. He suffered on the cross to set us free. We are justified by God’s grace as a gift. We aren’t saved by our works. We aren’t saved by our money or the indulgences we buy. We aren’t saved by the work that other people have done. We are saved by what one person has done, the God-Man Jesus Christ. He forgives us. He makes us righteous.

Sometimes we all need a little reformation ourselves. We need to remember that it’s not about us or what we do. It is about Christ and what He has done for us. He came down, He died, He rose. Jesus makes us righteous through faith. Even this faith is a gift of God. Faith isn’t our work. It is the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to bring us to faith, and to bring us to the truth. The Spirit leads us to the truth of God’s Word.

In the past some Lutherans have said that the angel in Revelation 14 refers to Martin Luther. He proclaimed the eternal gospel and it went out to many languages and nations. This passage does speak about Luther, but not just Luther. The angel can be many reformers throughout time, people like Moses, Gideon, Hezekiah and John Huss, leaders who have brought people back to the Word of truth. People learn the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth sets them free.

Throughout history we see how God leads His people back to the truth. He uses angels; He uses people to reform the church. God calls people back to His Word. He brings back those who were led astray. Like lost sheep the Shepherd brings them back to the truth. We go from vain idols to true God. We fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come. We worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

People go astray and God saves them. He sends someone to bring them back. They go into the darkness and then someone finds the Bible. The light of His Word is revealed. Cleansing takes place and hope is renewed. The people were as good as dead and then someone saves them. They get lost in the dark and the Light leads them out. The people die and rise. This happens on a small scale many times. It happened once and for all on the big scale. All the world went astray at once in the fall. Billions of people have sinned since then. Jesus died for the sins of the world. He died once and for all. Jesus is crucified and risen. He lives! He is the eternal Gospel. We are justified by His grace as a gift. He is the source of truth at every time of error. He is the light that rescues people from false teaching. He is the truth who sets us free.

 

Amen.

Revelation 7:9-17- All Saints Day

As we worry about a flu pandemic and getting crops out this wet fall the church calendar is probably the farthest thing from our minds. Nevertheless, yesterday was Reformation Day even though we celebrated the Reformation last Sunday and the world says yesterday was Halloween. Today is All Saints’ Day. We aren’t just observing it today, this really is All Saints’ Day. This is the day the church has set aside to remember the saints. We give thanks for the saints. We hear how God had mercy on them and our faith is strengthened. We can imitate the faith of the saints.

But first, who exactly are the saints? In some circles the saints are worshipped. They are seen as superhuman people. In the Roman Catholic Church people have to pass through rigorous trials to be considered a saint. Only the pope has the final say on who is really a saint. They have to perform miracles either while they are alive or after they are dead. During the middle ages a faithful Christian might not have performed any miracles while they were alive, but say they died and people started bringing offerings to their grave. People would go to the grave of a prospective saint and pray for healing or another miracle. If miracles were being performed then the dead person could be considered a saint. This still goes on today to a certain extent.

The Bible mentions saints in heaven but it also talks about saints as people who are still alive. Saints are believers in Christ. Jesus makes us saints.

There are some saints who stand out. People like Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul are clearly saints who God worked through. Then there are people like Martin Luther or CFW Walther who don’t usually bear the name saint but they still stand out as leaders in the church and examples of faithful Christians. Their faith and their actions attest to their sainthood. We give thanks to God for them and we try to imitate their faith and love.

We know that saints are not limited to Bible figures and famous leaders. Saints are ALL people who believe Jesus is their Savior. We may think saints earn their sainthood. We could take pride in our own good deeds but we can’t do enough. By ourselves we aren’t worthy to stand before God’s throne. We can rest assured because it’s not our work that makes us saints. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us saints.

In his revelation, John got a glimpse of the saints in heaven. He writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”

We might feel like we are in the minority as Christians in this changing world. It seems like the unbelievers and Muslims and everyone else keep gaining ground while faithful groups of Christians dwindle. The so-called “hate crimes” bill was passed this week. We are losing our right to speak the Gospel in our country and many of our brothers and sisters around the world already have, or they never had the right speak the Gospel in the first place. Still the church goes on. People hear the Word of God and the Holy Spirit gives them faith. God continues to save people; nothing can get in His way. This is why John saw a multitude of believers in heaven. There were so many he couldn’t count. They were from all over the world, different cultures, languages and tribes. This is because Jesus died for all people. God sees past the divisions we see. His Word is made known in different languages and dialects. At Pentecost they spoke in the different tongues. Today God works through Bible translators and groups like the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

This passage is meant to comfort us. We find this vision of the multitude sandwiched in between some disturbing visions. Six seals have been opened. John saw the four horsemen. The black horse representing famine and scarsity on earth might make us think about all those crops soaking in the rain. The pale horse representing widespread death on earth might make us think about a worldwide h1n1 flu outbreak. No matter what happens we know the Lord is with us. We know we have salvation through His Son. Life could get really bad on earth, but through Jesus we have life in heaven. We know we will be among the multitude of believers.

This great multitude was standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They had palm branches in their hands. This was a sign of victory, a symbol of festive joy. They held branches during the Old Testament feast of Tabernacles. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem they greeted Him with palm branches. He was their victorious king coming to town. Now He has completed His victory. He died on the cross and rose from the dead. He is the Lamb who was slain and now lives. They stand before Him with palms and songs of praise.

Still we might wonder what makes these people saints. Why do they wear white robes? It seems like John might be wondering the same thing. He saw the throne and the Lamb before, but who are all these people. We would expect John to ask the question but the elder asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” John said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

What makes a person a saint? It is none other than the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus was shed on the cross. He bled for us. The Lamb of God was sacrificed to take away the sin of the world. He was the perfect sacrifice. Jesus was the spotless Lamb whose blood was shed to cleanse us from our transgressions.

We believe in Him and He makes us clean. He purifies us. Our robes get dirty, we get stained by sin. From birth we are covered with this filth. Such was so for the people John saw before the throne. They weren’t perfect. They had their flaws just like us. They sinned but they brought their sins to Christ. They confessed their sins to the Lord and He forgave them. Saints aren’t perfect. Jesus makes them perfect. Their robes weren’t white before, they weren’t perfect. They had to be washed. There wasn’t anything they could do to get the stains out. They were dependent on God’s grace. Only the Blood of the Lamb God gave us could clean thier robes. It took the gift of God’s only Son to wipe away sin. We think blood would stain clothes, but the blood of Jesus made their robes white. He does the same for us. Jesus cleanses us with His blood. He takes our sins away. We have been washed through water and the Word in Baptism. Daily we return to Him in repentance.

One sin-stained believer plus the blood of Christ equals one saint. This means that we are saints. So are our friends and loved ones who have died in the faith. To be a saint means to be holy. Only the holy one can make us holy. He does so through His sacrifice. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us God’s holy people. Faith in God results in works of love for our neighbor. Saints are known for good works of kindness. It is faith in Christ that drives these acts of love. Faith in our Savior produces charity in our lives. It is God’s work. He makes us saints and He works in us.

Jesus died to make us holy saints. The devil wants to make you think you aren’t a saint. He wants you to think you are nothing but sinners. This is a lie. Jesus has taken our sin away. At times we need God’s Word of assurance. The Scriptures remind us that we are saved by the blood of the Lamb.

Saints have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Every week He gives us His Body and Blood just as He did once and for all on the cross. We have communion with Christ. We are part of His body. The Body of Christ, the Christian church consists of all believers in heaven and on earth. And so we feast with the saints and angels. Just imagine our communion rail goes past the wall. It doesn’t stop but keeps going. Others are communing with us who we cannot see. We gather around the Body of our Lord. His blood cleanses our robes so we can stand before Him with the rest of the saints. He will shelter us with His presence. We will hunger and thirst no more. The Lamb will be our shepherd guiding us to springs of living water. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Amen.