St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Look At The Kingdom Through God’s Eyes

Sermon on Mark 4:26-34

Text: [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything

Jesus was a master teacher. One of his devices was the use of parables. A parable, basically, is a story using common, everyday things and events to teach a spiritual truth. Jesus used these parables to make vivid the point he was teaching so that his hearers would readily take his teachings home with them. There are many familiar parables. For example, we might think of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us to help others, even our enemies. There is the story of the Prodigal Son, which beautifully portrays God’s grace and joy when the sinner returns to him. This morning we want to study two closely related parables and see the truths that God would have us take home. Let us LOOK AT THE KINGDOM THROUGH GOD’S EYES. 1. We See The Planting; He Sees The Harvest. 2. We See The Small Seed; He Sees The Mature Plant.

The fourth chapter of the book of Mark has many parables dealing with the kingdom of God. Jesus needed to correct a popular misconception of the day. People looked for a political Messiah, one who would lead them in rebellion against hated Rome. They hoped that Jesus was the one. They were looking for someone who would restore the nation of Israel to the prominence she enjoyed during the reigns of David and Solomon. They misinterpreted the prophecies of the Old Testament.

For that reason Jesus wanted to teach them about the kingdom of God. He begins by saying, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.” (Verse 26) As was stated earlier, Jesus took things from everyday life to teach the people. A man went out and planted his crop. Jesus continued by saying, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Verse 27) It is natural for the seed that is planted to grow. God causes that seemingly lifeless seed to sprout and grow. He continues, “All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Verses 28&29) The seed that was planted matures and ripens and, eventually, is harvested because the time has come. The scenario that Jesus presents is a familiar to us.

What spiritual truth does Jesus wish to convey? What does he want us to learn? From searching the Scriptures and especially the context of this parable, we learn what Jesus wants us to know. The seed is the Word of God. It is planted into our hearts. It is not that our hearts were the ideal planting ground. It was rocky, dry, and full of weeds and thorns. It was full of the rocks of anger and hatred. It was dry of the love that God wants us to show to each other. The weeds and thorns of worries and self-righteousness made the ground a most unattractive proposition.

However, God, in his love, plowed up this ground with his Law. He showed us where our sins were and that we are accountable to God for them. He added the rain of his love, shown in his Son, Jesus Christ, that love that sent Jesus to be our sacrifice. His Word was planted in our hearts for a very special reason; namely, to produce a harvest. That’s the same reason that we plant seeds in our gardens and fields. We expect that the seeds will grow and eventually we will enjoy the harvest.

The same is true when God planted his Word in our hearts. He expects growth and eventually a harvest. In verse 28, Jesus speaks of the progression from the time the seed is planted to the time it is harvested. This is also true for the Christian. As he goes through life, he will want to grow in his sanctification, in his life set apart for God. He will not be satisfied with where he is at in his Christian life, thinking it’s good enough. Being born again through the washing of Baptism, we have a New Man that hates sin and wants only to do what is good. Unfortunately, we also still have our old sinful nature that sometimes wins, and we fall into sin. That doesn’t mean, however, that we throw our hands into the air and say, ‘What’s the use?’. We continue to strive to live God-pleasing lives, producing the fruits of faith, in response to the great love shown to us by our Father in heaven.

There will also be a harvest. At the end of life, whether it be when our eyelids close in death or the Last Day, Jesus will come and gather us into his heaven. We will be the harvest that God gathers in. This first parable is about growth. God planted his Word in us, so that we might produce a harvest of good works for him. It is natural for us to do this, just as you would expect an apple tree to produce apples. The first parable is about growth, my personal growth as a Christian.

The second parable is also about growth, an outward growth. It deals with the kingdom of God as it grows toward maturity. Jesus continues with his parable teaching in verses 30-32, “Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Again, to help his listeners to better understand what he is talking about, he paints a picture for them. One of the smallest seeds that was around was that of the mustard plant. Yet, when it was planted and became mature it was the largest plant in the garden. The mustard plant in Jesus’ day would growth to the height of 10 to 15 feet. It was so large, Jesus said, that the birds were able to come and build their nests in it. All of this came from a little, seemingly insignificant seed.

God often uses the small and seemingly insignificant to accomplish great things. For example, God sent his Son into the world as a little baby. This little one was not born in a large palace in Jerusalem, but in a stable in the village of Bethlehem. Yet, through this seemingly insignificant birth, God accomplished great things. Jesus came and redeemed the world. He set the world free from sin. God often uses the little and unknown to accomplish great things.

In this parable of the mustard seed, Jesus is talking about the growth of his Church. Look at the beginning of the Christian Church. It was not large in number. There was just a handful of men and women who loved Jesus. It was not made up of the rich, powerful, and influential. Look at the leaders of the church. You had a couple of fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot. However, from these humble beginnings Christ has seen to it that his Church continues to grow. Throughout the book of Acts you read how God blessed the message of the apostles and, as a result, the church grew in number. Throughout the years that have followed God has continued to bless the efforts of those who take his message of salvation through Christ throughout the world. Everyday people are being brought to believe in Jesus as their Savior in places near and far. God is continually giving new growth to the Mustard Plant of his Church. We watch as the plant grows and matures.

This parable of the mustard seed is a good one for us to remember. This church is not large. Some would actually call us small, especially in comparison to others. Do we despair, then, because of our small size? God forbid. God has caused small churches to grow in number. Again, look at the early church. It, too, was small. It grew to amazing numbers. Even if we don’t grow, it doesn’t mean that God has forsaken us, or the message is no good. God has his plans for us and, whatever they may be, they will be to his glory. Does that mean that we sit around and wait and see if God causes the church to grow? Again, no. God wants us to spread the seed of his Word. You and I both know that you can’t grow anything if you don’t put the seed in the ground. After we plant the seed, it is in God’s hands whether it grows or not. God help us to be planters of the seed.

These two parables can be very helpful, especially when doubts and worries about spiritual things fill our minds. We need to try and look at things from God’s perspective. We see the planting and growing of the seed in our hearts, but we also know that we fail to live as God would have us live. Look and see the harvest at the end of time, which God sees. We may become discouraged about the speed things are moving along at the church. Remember, we only see the seed. It takes time for the seed to grow. Look to the mature plant when we will all be gathered together in heaven. Dear Christian, look at the kingdom through God’s eyes. Amen.

Who Is Jesus’ Real Family?

Sermon on Mark 3:20-35

Text: Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

The idea of family evokes a feeling of closeness. You share common experiences. You have certain traditions that your family observes. Usually, you feel safe in your family setting. You can tell them things that you could never tell anyone else. You can feel free to be yourself and your family accepts you for who you are. This morning, we have the opportunity to see Jesus’ family in action. As we do so, we may be surprised at the way that his family treated him. In response to this, Jesus speaks about family and gives us opportunity to ask WHO IS JESUS’ REAL FAMILY? Is it 1. His Birth Family? Is he a part of 2. Satan’s Family? Jesus tells us about 3. His Adopted Family.

Jesus had returned to his adopted hometown of Capernaum. No sooner was Jesus’ presence known than crowds began to gather. He attracted the attention of many people. Among them were sincere inquirers, curiosity seekers and some bitter opponents. The crowds kept Jesus and his disciples so busy that they were not even able to take time to eat.

Jesus’ family became concerned, when they heard about Jesus’ activities. They heard about his miracles, the people’s desire to make him a king, and the increased opposition from the Jewish leaders. We read that “They went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Verse 21) They thought, ‘It’s insane and unhealthy how he’s spending himself. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about the welfare of his disciples, to say nothing of himself.’ As a result, Jesus’ family decided to go to Capernaum and take him home – by force, if necessary.

Jesus’ family meant well, but their actions and attitudes show that they did not believe in him as their promised Savior. Nor did they understand the necessity of using every available opportunity to share the message. What they saw was their brother, who was acting as if he was out of his mind. They did not understand Jesus and why he had come to the earth.

Before we come down too hard on his family, we would do well to ask ourselves, ‘Do we always understand Jesus?’ ‘Do we sometimes make unreasonable demands on him?’ His family wanted him to stop what he was doing. They wanted him to act in a certain way. Do we make the same sort of demands on Jesus? We come to him in prayer, which is our right and privilege. Yet, if Jesus does not answer in exactly the way that we think that he should, we think that he does not listen to us. We have the privilege of seeing Jesus from the viewpoint of history. His family saw him grow up. They knew him when. We know the whole story and still we misunderstand him.

Meanwhile, the teachers of the law, who had come from Jerusalem addressed Jesus’ activities. They were the heavy hitters of the Jewish religion, who had come to assist the local religious leaders as they challenged Jesus. Jesus had just healed a demon-possessed man, who could neither see nor speak. The teachers of the law were telling everyone, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Verse 22) Beelzebul is a name of a foreign god. Later, the name became synonymous with the devil. These men accused Jesus of doing things in league with the devil.

In response, Jesus called them and showed them the foolishness of their thinking. He said, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Verses 24-26) Civil war does not make a country strong. It weakens the country, as it uses its resources to fight itself. Jesus was showing them that it was preposterous to suggest that Satan would advance his kingdom by plundering his allies, the demons. When a ruler attacks his own army, his days are numbered. So, for them to say that Jesus was casting out demons using the power of the devil is just ridiculous.

Then Jesus said, “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” (Verse 27) Would anyone let his goods be taken by a robber, if he was able to overpower the robber? Of course not! Robbers, using surprise or deadly force, first try to incapacitate or kill their victim. Then, they can proceed unhindered. If Jesus can cast out demons, it must be that he has defeated the devil and is stronger than the devil. Jesus was already defeating him. We remember the battle in the wilderness for those forty days. Jesus was defeating the devil at that moment with his preaching and his miracles. The final victory would come when Jesus suffered and died on the cross and rose again. Satan would be powerless to stop Jesus from plundering his kingdom. Mankind would be freed from the devil’s stronghold.

Jesus warned the teachers of the law in love when he said, “Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Verses28-29) Here we have the one sin that cannot be forgiven. The Jewish leaders were in great danger of committing this sin. It is the sin of unbelief. The Holy Spirit had testified to them, through the preaching and teaching of Jesus, as well as through his miracles. They were resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. If they continued to do so, they would be lost forever. For where there is no faith, there is no forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation. Some have been worried they have committed the “unforgivable sin.” However, if you are worried that you have committed it, you have not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t care if you had or not.

When we read the actions of these teachers of the law, we are shocked at them. How could they ascribe wickedness to Jesus’ actions of healing? Yet don’t we do the same thing sometimes? We ask God for something, but don’t get what we ask. We assume that God is out to get us. We forget that everything in our lives happens to us is all according to God’s loving plan. No, we may not see it now. No, we may not understand this side of glory why things occur in our lives. Yet, we have God’s promise that he will always be with us and cause everything to work out for our benefit.

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his family arrived. Because of the crowd, they sent someone in to tell Jesus that they were there. Remember, again, why they had come. They had come to take him home, by force, if necessary, because they thought he was out of his mind. Jesus used this opportunity to express a truth that Jesus’ family, and all of us, need to take to heart. He asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Verse 33) Then, we are told that he looked at the crowd sitting around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Verses 34-35) Jesus is not rejecting his flesh and blood family. However, he is pointing out that in the kingdom of God, the Church, there is something more important than human relationships.

Jesus said his real family is “whoever does God’s will.” At first, when we read that statement, we might be filled with fear. The reason for this is the fact that none of us has done God’s will. Since we are talking about family, we ask ourselves if we have always treated our family as we should? Have we, as spouses, always treated our spouse as the special gift from God that they are, or have we, at times, taken them for granted? Have we, as parents, always been loving to our children, or have we, at times, been selfish and petty? Have we, as children, always given our parents the love and respect that we should, or have we been disobedient and disrespectful? This is just in our relationships in our family. It doesn’t even go into our other human relationships, much less our relationship with God. It becomes quickly clear that we do not do God’s will and, because of that, do not belong in God’s family.

However, thanks be to God, that he sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. Jesus came to rescue us. He was the perfect son in his relationship with his parents. He had submitted to their authority. He would later provide for his mother, while on the cross. Then, to pay for our sins, he suffered and died. Our debt before our God has been paid in full. This fact is attested to by his resurrection from the dead. We are brought into the family of God, through the working of the Holy Spirit. We have been adopted into his family. We can rightly call God “our Father,” and Jesus “our brother.” Because we are part of this family, we have the assurance that our Father will provide for us. We have the assurance that our Father will protect us. We have an eternal inheritance to look forward to in the glories of heaven. How blessed we are to be a part of God’s family!

This fact, then, causes me to look at other believers in a different light, as well. We are more than just fellow members in a congregation or a church body. It doesn’t matter our age, race, or social standing. We are brothers and sisters. We care for and about each other. We are there to help and support each other. We love each other with a Christ-like love. It also means that, when we have differences of opinion over things that are not doctrinal, we can still, at the end of the day, work together for the furthering of Christ’s kingdom. The fact that we are brothers and sisters in the faith gives us extra incentive to reach out to those who have been straying from the faith. We want them to spend their eternity with us in heaven. We love them enough to do what we can to bring them home. This is Jesus’ real family. It is us, the brothers and sisters, who have been adopted by our heavenly Father.

In 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series, with the song “We are Family” as their theme. They were saying using this song that, no matter what, each of the members of that team was there for the other. They would be there for each other during the good times, and they would be there during the bad times, as well. They were family and they were going to stick together. You and I are family. We are part of the adopted family of God. That relationship is stronger than any pledge that might have been taken by a baseball team. That relationship is even stronger than any earthly family. We are a part of Jesus’ family, with people around the world, with people who are already in heaven and with people who will yet become a part of this family. Who is Jesus’ real family? How thankful we are that we can say, “We are.” Amen.

Beware Of Legalism

Sermon on Mark 2:23-28

Text: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Our text for this morning deals with legalism. Legalism is defined in this way: “A strict adherence to the law, especially the stressing of the letter of the law rather than its spirit.” You stick to what the law says to the very finite detail, as opposed to the intention of the law. Legalism also finds its way into religion, as well. In this case, it is defined as “The doctrine that salvation is gained through good works” or “The judging of conduct in terms of strict adherence to precise laws.” In reality, we are all legalists, to an extent. We like to have rules and we want people to follow them. We feel better about ourselves when we are following the rules, and we look down on those who do not. This is not always a bad thing. Without rules, there would be no order. However, there is a real danger when legalism is imposed on our faith. As we study God’s Word this morning, we want to BEWARE OF LEGALISM. We do so by 1. Understanding The Meaning Of God’s Law and by 2. Recognizing The Purpose Of God’s Law.

Our text begins as Jesus and his disciples were walking through some grainfields. The disciples were hungry, so they began to pick some heads of grain. Luke adds that they rubbed their hands together to remove the chaff from the grain and then they ate the grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they were incensed. What was the problem? This happened on the Sabbath, and there was to be no work done on the Sabbath. Clearly, the disciples were breaking the law.

A bit of background is helpful to understand the situation. In Exodus 20, as God was giving his commandments, he said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” (Exodus 20:8-10) Over the years, the Pharisees had gone to great lengths to define exactly which activities were permitted on the Sabbath and which were not. The rabbis had drawn up a catalogue of 39 principal works, which were subsequently subdivided into 6 minor categories under each of the 39, all of which were forbidden on the Sabbath. The law did not permit the harvesting of grain. To the Pharisees’ way of thinking, the disciples, by picking the heads of grain and rubbing them between their hands, were harvesting. The disciples were doing work forbidden by the traditions of the elders. It should be noted that the disciples were not breaking God’s law. They were going against the traditions of the elders.

The Pharisees used this as an occasion to attack Jesus. They said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Verse 24) In essence, what they were saying to him was, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be a great religious leader, and you’re allowing your disciples to do something that is contrary to the law.’ They were looking for ways to discredit Jesus and his teaching. Obviously, anyone who would allow his disciples to break the law is not anyone you should listen to.

In response, Jesus reminded them of an account in 1 Samuel 21. David and his men were on the run from King Saul. They were hungry and they came to the tabernacle. Abiathar, the high priest, gave him the bread that was in the temple. This bread was called the bread of presentation. Each Sabbath, 12 loaves of consecrated bread, each with a name of the 12 tribes of Israel, were offered to God. According to the command of God in Leviticus 24:9, this offering “belongs to Aaron and his sons, who are to eat it in the sanctuary area, because it is a most holy part of their perpetual share of the food offerings presented to the LORD.” Only the priests were supposed to eat this bread. This was a clear command of God, as opposed to the manmade rule that the Pharisees cited.

The relationship between the incident with David and the apparent infringement of the Sabbath by the disciples lies in the fact that on both occasions godly men did something forbidden. Since, however, it is always “lawful” to do good and save life (even on the Sabbath), both David and the disciples were within the spirit of the law. Jesus was saying to them that, if David had the right to ignore a divinely ordained ceremonial provision when necessity demanded, then would not God’s Anointed have the right, under similar conditions of need, to set aside a totally unwarranted, man-made Sabbath regulation?

The Pharisees were so busy following their own rules and regulations that they misunderstood the purpose of God’s law. They had come to the legalistic mindset that by following all their rules and regulations, they would earn their way into heaven. They went to great lengths to show their piety before others. They felt that they were better than others because they followed all these rules. This was never the purpose of God’s law.

This is also an important point for us to remember. There is a little Pharisee in each of us. We like to look at others and pat ourselves on the back as to how good we are. Sometimes we, inadvertently, think that God owes us something for all the good that we do. However, this was never the purpose of God’s law. The law can never save us. This is not because there was something wrong with God’s law. It is perfect. It is from God. The problem lies with us. The problem is the fact that we are sinners. This is one purpose of the law. It is to show us that we are sinners, who have not done those things that God has told us to do. For example, God gave his people the Sabbath Day as a day when they were to read and study his Word. They were to gladly hear and learn it. Have we always done this? Have we always been glad to come and hear God’s Word or are there times when we’d rather be doing something else? Do we always pay attention to it as we should or is it all too easy to become distracted and think about something else? Do we find ourselves getting bored with the same old message time and again? This is just one example of where you and I fail to do what God wants us to do. He gave us his law so that we would know exactly what he wants. The law is also just as clear about the consequences of sin. God tells us that those who do not follow his will perfectly should spend their eternity in torment in hell. That is what the law tells you and me. This is the first purpose of the law.

Because of this, we find ourselves in turmoil. We can identify with the words of Job 3:26, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” We search for rest but find none. The law shows us there is no rest in ourselves. It must come from outside us. The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” The people were to rest on that day. However, God wasn’t just making sure that his people took a day off once a week. Rather, he was pointing ahead to the rest that would come when the Messiah completed his work. Jesus came to the earth to bring this rest. He did so by gladly hearing and learning his Father’s Word. From little on, we see him listening to the word. Then, to pay for all the times that we have broken God’s law and disregarded God’s law, he died on the cross. His blood was shed for our sins. His resurrection is what we celebrate with every Sunday morning service. Because of Jesus’ work, we have rest. We read in Hebrews 4:9, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” We are at rest. We have the rest in the conscience that is stilled, because we know our sins are forgiven. There is the rest of mind we have in knowing that God will take care of all our needs. Of course, we look forward to the greatest rest we will ever experience when we reach heaven. This is the rest that Jesus offers when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28&29)

This brings to another purpose of God’s law. It serves to show us what things we can do to thank God for all that he has done for us. For example, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Verse 27) God intended the Sabbath to be a regular opportunity to learn God’s way of salvation. It was not meant to enslave mankind, but to serve him. When we come to hear God’s Word and learn of him, we are pleasing God. We do not do this to get something from God. We are not earning anything from God. We are thanking him for all that he has done for us. This purpose of God’s law is to guide us in Christian living.

Yet even here we must be on our guard. We need to be careful that we do not make rules where God has not. There are no ceremonial laws for us, as there were for the people of the Old Testament. For example, God told his Old Testament people “Worship on the Sabbath.” He tells us his New Testament people, “Worship.” We want to be careful of making statements like, “All God requires of us is one hour a week,” as if our Sunday worship is some sort of legal requirement. God wants our whole lives to be ones of worship. We also want to be careful not to put our preferences on the same level as the laws of God. We see it elsewhere where a certain manner of dress is required, or certain activities are forbidden. If they are not against the clear will of God and can be done to the glory of God, then, we may not call them wrong. It may not be what we prefer, but it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Of course, the flip side of this is true, as well. Just because it is permissible does not make it the best. For example, in a worship setting, we want to be able to serve the people in a way that is meaningful to them. We don’t change for the sake of change. Yet, it is still a good thing for us to continually evaluate and make sure that we have not made something into a rule that must be followed. May God help us to have a caring heart that looks for ways to glorify him in all that we do.

It is very easy for legalism to take the upper hand. There is still that part in each of us that likes to look at God’s laws and say, ‘I can do that.’ May the law help us to see that we cannot save ourselves. Then, we are ready to hear about the Sabbath rest that Jesus has won for us. Having heard the gospel message, may we then look to the law as our guide to thank our God. Then we will properly understand both the meaning and the purpose of the law of God. Amen.

The Triune God Has Provided Your Salvation

Sermon on John 3:1-17

Text: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

There are many things in our homes that we take for granted. We do not often stop and think about them. For example, there are our television sets. I must admit that I do not know exactly how they work. There was an engineer who drew up the plans for it. I do not know how it all fits together. There were factory workers who put it together. I do not know exactly how it got to the store. A delivery person had to get the television set there. I just know that I enjoy watching it. This morning, as we study Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, we are reminded of our salvation and how each of the three persons of the Trinity was involved. THE TRIUNE GOD HAS PROVIDED YOUR SALVATION. 1. The Father Gave His Son For You. 2. The Son Died On The Cross For You. 3. The Spirit Gives You Life.

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night, because he wanted to find out more about him. He saw and heard of all the miracles that Jesus had done. He knew that God was with him. However, there were many different ideas floating around about Jesus. So, he came to see for himself. Jesus replied, saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (Verse 3) As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was accustomed to the notion that he must follow the law of Moses fanatically. The Pharisees, in general, thought of themselves, as being better than the rest. They had come to the mistaken notion that they could, by their own merits, enter the kingdom of God. Jesus, by way of his statement, begins to show Nicodemus that salvation does not come from your own doing, but through the work of God.

First, we begin with the work of the Father regarding our salvation. We turn to one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Verse 16) The first thing that the Father did was he loved. This love is amazing for two reasons. The first reason is the fact that the Father loved the unlovable. There was nothing lovable in any of the people who have ever lived on this earth or will ever live on this earth. That includes you and me. We are not lovable because we are sinners. God has told us very clearly what we must do and what we must not do. How often haven’t we done the exact opposite. We see a chance to help someone, but we find all sorts of excuses why we can’t. We are to show compassion to others, but we end up being selfish and only looking out for ourselves. We complain about our lives, pointing out all the things that we don’t have. God doesn’t look the other way where sin is involved. You see, God hates sin. To be honest, God even hates the sinner, and he threatens to punish anyone, including you and me, who sins. This is what makes God’s love so amazing. Though he would have every right to damn us for eternity, he has chosen to love us.

The second reason that God’s love is so amazing is the fact that he chose to love us before the beginning of the world. He chose to love us and wanted us to spend our eternity with him. He knew that we would not be able to save ourselves, so God’s love went into action. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” God didn’t just say he loved us. His love moved him to action. He loved you and me so much that he gave his Son. We read in verse 17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Father sent his Son. The Father was very active in your salvation.

To illustrate his role in our salvation, Jesus recounted the Old Testament account of the nation of Israel as they traveled in the wilderness toward the Promised Land. The people began to complain about what God had been doing. They rebelled against God. As a result, God sent venomous snakes into their camp. These snakes bit many people, who died. The people, realizing their sin, came to Moses and asked him to intercede with God for them. God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. If a person was bitten by a snake, he needed only to look at that bronze snake and he would live. Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (Verses 14&15)

The parallels between the account in Numbers of the bronze snake and Jesus are very clear. We are like the nation of Israel in our rebellion against God. The poisonous snake that has bitten us is sin and its bite is every bit as lethal as those snakes in the wilderness. We had eternal death staring us in the face. However, just as Moses lifted up that bronze snake on the pole, Jesus was lifted up on the cross. He suffered and died on that cross to pay for our sins. Just as there was nothing else that the people had to do than to look at that bronze snake to be saved, there is nothing that we do to add to what Jesus did while on the cross. That was, as Jesus said, the reason he was sent to the world. He was not sent into the world to condemn the world. He could have come the first time in judgement upon all mankind. He would have been just in doing so. However, his mission was a rescue mission. He came to live a perfect life in our place. He came to suffer and die to pay for our sins. He rose again, showing us that his mission had been accomplished. It is true that the Son was also very active in your salvation.

If you stop and think about it, it seems odd that looking at a bronze snake set up on a pole would rescue you. However, it was not so much the physical looking at the snake that healed you, as it was the faith that trusted God’s promise. In the same way, we are saved from the effects of sin. When we look to Jesus in faith on the cross as our Savior, we receive the benefits of what he has done for us. It is here that the Holy Spirit plays a role in our salvation. We would not have received the benefits of what Jesus did, if it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus had come to Jesus with the mindset that you must do something to be saved. Jesus shows him that it is only through faith that we can be saved. He said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (Verse 5) We know, from other places in the Scriptures that when we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is at work, creating faith in our hearts. It is only through his work that we can believe. We cannot do it on our own. Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (Verse 6) We are born in sin. We have received this from our parents and they from theirs, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. Flesh can only give birth to flesh, Jesus said. We must be born again, if we are ever going to experience the kingdom of heaven. If we are going to be born again, it must be through the working of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. A person can contribute no more to his spiritual birth than he can to his physical birth. That is why Jesus tells us, “Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The Holy Spirit creates this faith in our hearts, and we are born again. The first time we were born as part of humanity, with all the sin that goes with it. When the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts, we are born into the family of God. We can rightly call God our Father and Jesus our Brother. Since we are part of his family, we stand to receive his inheritance, namely, an eternity of bliss in heaven.

How do we know that the Spirit has been active in us? Jesus uses the analogy of the wind, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Verse 8) You hear the sound of the wind. You feel it blowing in your face. However, you cannot actually see it at work. You can only see and feel the effects of the wind. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. You cannot see him at work. However, you can see the effects of his work. The fact that you are a believer is evidence of the Spirit’s work. When you do things out of thankfulness for all that God has done for you, you see evidence of his work. The Holy Spirit has also been very active in your salvation.

As I said earlier, we often take things for granted in our homes. The first time you saw them or experienced them, there was a thrill. Those of you who did not have a television when you were growing up, do you remember the first time you saw one? Those of you who grew up with a black and white television, do you remember the thrill of seeing your favorite shows in color? How about the first time you saw a show in high definition? It is easy to become complacent with what we have become accustomed to. I pray that this is never the case with our salvation. Think about where you would be, if you could not be sure where you would spend your eternity. Think about how horrible it would be if you never heard what God has done for you. Thank God that he loved you so much that he actively sought you out and saved you. Our Triune God wanted to save you. He has accomplished this for you. May we never take this for granted. Rather, may our lives give glory to him, who has truly saved us. Amen.

How The Holy Spirit Helps Us

Sermon on John 16:5-11

Text: Now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

During much of the church year, we focus our attention especially on the work of Jesus Christ, as he won salvation for us. Indeed, Jesus’ work is most important, because, if he had not done what he did, we would be lost forever. We, also, focus our attention on God the Father. We remember that he is the one who promises to hear our prayers and to help us in all our needs. He is the one who sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. Probably the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the least spoken of during our church year. Today is Pentecost Sunday, which is often called the birthday of the Christian Church. We remember on the day how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples mightily. On this Pentecost, we will take some time and see HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US. 1. He Convinces Us Of Sin. 2. He Convinces Us Of Righteousness. 3. He Convinces Us Of Judgement.

The words spoken by our Savior were spoken on Maundy Thursday evening. He spent a great deal of that evening comforting and building up his disciples, because the next three days would be very hard on them. He, especially, wants them to realize that they were not left alone. He promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent to them. What this Holy Spirit would do is spoken of in the last four verses of our text.

We read in verse 8, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Note that the NIV uses the words “prove the world to be in the wrong” in this verse. That probably isn’t the best translation of that word from the Greek. Yes, it is possible to prove someone to be in the wrong when it comes to sin, but do you prove someone to be in the wrong about righteousness or of judgement? When you hear the word “prove to be in the wrong,” you might think of a courtroom. Perhaps, another idea or picture from a courtroom would give us a better translation. That is the telling of the facts to someone until they are convinced of the truth. When they are convinced, they make their decision of guilt or innocence, beyond a shadow of doubt. In the same way this morning, the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace convinces us of three things. These three things are found in verses 9-11. We will look at each of the verses individually.

We read in verse 9, “About sin, because people do not believe in me.” The first thing the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners. He shows us in God’s Word that we have failed to live up to God’s perfect standards. The most concise and concentrated summary of God’s will is found in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet.” One after another, we read them and find ourselves to have fallen short of God’s commands. There are no commands that we have failed to keep.

This is the first thing the Holy Spirit does for us. He convinces us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are sinners. Why does he do this? He does so to show us that, on our own, we have no choice of gaining heaven. He wants us to realize that we cannot do anything on our own. He wants us to look elsewhere for our salvation. However, for us to want to look elsewhere, we have to be shown, in no uncertain terms, that we have fallen into many different sins. So, the Holy Spirit brings God’s law before our eyes and shows us where we have failed. This is very important because many people even fail to believe that they have sinned. They feel that all they have done are some small mistakes and, after all, no one is perfect. However, as Scriptures say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The first thing the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us of the fact that we are sinners, who deserve God’s wrath.

However, this is not the main focus of the work of the Holy Spirit. He convinces us of sin, so that he might convince us of righteousness. We read in verse 10, “About righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.” The Holy Spirit convinces us of righteousness. The word “righteousness” means to be in a right or correct relationship with God. Of course, the only way to be in a right relationship with God is to be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Of course, we realize that we cannot be perfect, because we have sinned. So, the Holy Spirit points us to our source of righteousness, Jesus Christ.

On our own, we would not believe in Jesus and, thus, receive the righteousness essential for entrance into heaven. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” You cannot believe in Jesus as your Savior without the working of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, we would not want to. Again, St. Paul writes “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Without the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to understand about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ death would seem meaningless. ‘Why would a person willingly give up his life?’ Jesus’ resurrection would seem like foolishness to our ears. ‘After all,’ says the material mind, ‘once a person has breathed their last, we know that this is the end.’

However, the Holy Spirit entered our lives through the washing of baptism and God’s Word. He created the faith that accepts all these things as being true. ‘If God said so, that’s good enough for me.’ The Holy Spirit has created a faith in our hearts. Through that faith, we are able to accept the gift of righteousness that Christ won for us on the cross. Because of that faith, we know that salvation is ours. We are saved through that faith in Jesus. As Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed says, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.” The Holy Spirit introduces us to and gives us the righteousness of God.

These two things that the Holy Spirit does for us are most important. They are the basic building blocks of our salvation. First, we realize that we are lost sinners, but that Jesus died for our sins and now salvation is ours. This is also something that we need to be reminded of every day, because we sin every day and need to come to God for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit convinces us of sin and righteousness.

There is a third thing that the Holy Spirit convinces us of. We read of this in verse 11, “About judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The Holy Spirit dwells within us for another reason: to convince us of judgement. Just because we are Christians doesn’t give us the freedom to live in whatever way we wish, figuring we can always go to God and ask for forgiveness. I’m not speaking about those sins that are committed out of weakness. What is being spoken of here are the willful sins, those things that we know are wrong, but we do them anyway. We try to find excuses for them, saying that they are not a big deal. We try to console ourselves by thinking that we have an easy way out and we can sin as much as we want, because we can always go and ask for forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit convinces us of judgement. He teaches us that they are sins and, if we think we can do what we want now and repent later, he tells us that this is not the way that Christians act. Jesus adds, “The prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Verse 11) Jesus is speaking of the devil. He has already been sentenced to an eternity in hell. By adding these words, Jesus is giving us a warning. If we want to follow the devil’s lies, look at where it led him. If you rebel against God and don’t care what you do, you may end up with the devil.

The Holy Spirit has been placed in us, not only to warn us of judgement, but also to encourage us to live God-pleasing lives. He points us to the blood-stained cross and the empty tomb and tells us, ‘He did this for you.’ What can our response be but to serve him with our entire lives? Let us do what God places before us to do. May our lives be a constant thanking of God for all that he has done for us. The Holy Spirit lives in us, encouraging us to do what is pleasing to God. May we listen to his urging.

Today is the first Sunday in the Pentecost season. The focus of the Sundays from now until the end of November will be different from the other Sundays. The other Sundays in the festival part of the church year deal with the special events in Christ’s life, from his advent, his birth in Bethlehem, his suffering and death and his glorious resurrection. These Sundays focus on what Jesus did for us. The Sundays of the Pentecost season focus on what we do to say “Thank you” to God for all he has done for us. May the Holy Spirit continue to dwell in each of us as we look for ways to live God-pleasing lives. May he increase our faith and our zeal to do them. This morning, we especially thank the Holy Spirit, for all that he has done for us. Amen.

God’s Word Is Truth

Confirmation Sermon on John 17:17
(Max Bowman, Trevor Kapke, Koen Krueger, and Connor VanLaningham)

Text: Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

When Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, he said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37) In reply, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) The question that he asked has been asked in many different ways over the years. People are searching for the truth. Surveys have shown that people are becoming less inclined to believe what other people tell them, whether it be advertisers, politicians, doctors, or others in authority. Some people have said that truth is relative. What may be true for you isn’t necessarily true for me. Because of the uncertainties of life, people are looking for something that they can count on. They are looking for truth. This morning, as we consider the words of our text, we find where truth actually exists. GOD’S WORD IS TRUTH. 1. By It We Are Taught. 2. By It We Are Led.

The first thing that we want to look at is the fact that the Bible is truth. Some are willing to say that the Bible contains the truth. At first, that may sound like a good statement. However, we you look at the statement more closely, you see a hidden thought. When I say that it contains the truth, I am also intimating that it contains other things that are not true. In this way, I can dismiss those things that are hard to understand. I can overlook those things that I don’t like. Also, the Bible is more than just a true book, like a history book or a math book. No, the Bible is the truth. It is God speaking to us through those pages. The apostle Peter reminds us, “Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) As Jesus said so clearly, “Your word is truth.” Since this is true, we know that we can put our trust in what we find in his Word.

What are the truths that we learn from God’s Word? The first truth that we studied together during our classes was the truth of God’s Law. In all those weeks that we studied God’s Ten Commandments, we were reminded again and again of all the places and times that we went against God’s Will. We studied the Third Commandment and talked about our attitude toward God’s Word. We studied the Fourth Commandment and looked at our respect for those whom God has placed in authority over us. We saw that hating someone was just as bad as killing them. We talked about greed and lying. Through the Holy Scriptures, we learned of our Old Adam that delights in doing the exact opposite of what God would have us do. Here you learned Bible passages like, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) The Bible, God’s Word, is very clear about whom and what we are by nature. We were lost and condemned creatures, who deserved nothing but God’s wrath and punishment both now and for eternity. God’s Law shone, exposing our sins for what they were. This is the first truth that we learned from the Bible.

The second truth that we focused on was the beautiful message of the Gospel. While we saw it in various places, we took our deepest look at the answer to this as we studied the Second Article. While we were still sinners, God in his love for us, sent his Son to be our Savior. We studied what Christ did for us, using terms like Christ’s Active Obedience, as Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not live. We talked about Christ’s Passive Obedience, as he suffered and died to pay for the sins of all people, including you and me. The main theme of that Second Article was Redemption, that is, Christ paid the ransom price for us. The price that he paid was his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Jesus paid for all our sins. We also talked about the working of the Holy Spirit, who created and strengthened the faith in our hearts through the Means of Grace, the Gospel in God’s Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through this faith in Jesus Christ, we can accept all the gifts that Jesus has won for us. This is the truth that we have learned from God’s Word.

Jesus began this verse by saying, “Sanctify them by the truth.” As you recall from our classes, the word “sanctify” means to “make holy.” Through the faith that was created in your hearts, you have been made holy. We also talked about our life of sanctification. This refers to our life of thanksgiving in response for all that God has done for us.

In a few moments, you are going to make a confession of your faith. Through the words of the Apostles Creed, you will confess your faith in the Triune God. You will say that you wish to become a communicant member of this church. More than that, you are going to make a vow before God and in front of all these witnesses. That vow is this: that you will remain faithful to this faith, as long as you live. You are going to vow that you are willing to suffer anything, including death, rather than fall away from this faith. Just think about that for a moment. This is for the rest of your life. That almost seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? This is especially true because we don’t know what lies ahead of us in the future. You probably have some plans and hopes, but you don’t know for sure what the future holds for you. How can you make that vow?

You make that vow, asking God for strength and courage. God promises to always be with you. For example, go back to Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God repeats that promise in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Through all the changes ahead of you, God promises to be right by you, guiding you and keeping you close to himself.

You are going to be traveling down life’s path. Throughout the years, you are going to be faced with choices, some large, some small. Some of those choices will be win-win situations. Some of them will be more sinister as Satan tries to lead you down the wrong path. How can you be sure that you are making the right choices? God’s Word is there as the truth that you can look to. With God’s Word, we clearly see those things that are pleasing to him and those that are not. Out of love and thankfulness for all that God has done for us, we want to make the right choices with our lives. We want to do things God’s way. God’s Word is the truth that shows us the way. In these things, we can see clearly what God does and does not want us to do.

There will be other times when the choice is not as clear. For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say what your career is going to be or who will be a part of your family. What about those choices? Is God’s Word still that light for our path? The answer is still “Yes.” God has invited us to come to him in prayer. He promises to hear and answer all those prayers for our benefit. He has also promised that he is in control of all things and, as it says in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God says to us in Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” God promises to be with you every single day of your life. God’s Word is the truth that you can rely on.

This reminds us of the importance of God’s Word. There is a great need for us to learn it more and more, as we ask God to direct our lives through it. We will no longer have the privilege of getting together to study God’s Word in Confirmation Class. I will no longer be assigning you passages to memorize every week. For that reason, there is, sometimes, a tendency to think of confirmation as graduation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are still learning. God still has a great deal to say to you, especially as you come to the various crossroads of your life. Continue to learn his Word. Read that Word for yourself. Come and hear God’s Word regularly. Take the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as you can. Through that wondrous meal, you will be assured again and again that your sins have been forgiven and your faith will be strengthened. God’s Word is the truth that you can count on. If, however, you replace the truth of God’s Word for something else, you will spend your life looking for something that is solid, something that you can count on. For that reason, see God’s Word as the truth, through which God will guide and direct your path.

So, what is truth? By God’s grace you have been learning the truth for years already. When you were little, you sang “Jesus loves me this I know.” How does the second line of that song go? “For the Bible tells me so.” How thankful we are to God that you have been taught the truth of his Word. You could answer Pontious Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” with ease. The Bible is the truth. It is also our prayer that you would continue to follow the truth of God’s Word for the rest of your lives. Our prayer for you this morning is this: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Amen.

The Word Is For His Workers

Sermon on John 17:11b-19

Text: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

Each profession has its tools that it needs to carry out its task. The farmer has his implements, tractor, plow, etc. The carpenter has his tools – hammer, saw, nails. The businessman has his computers. If you’re going to be successful in any profession, you must have the right tools. You would have a great deal of trouble farming without the implements. You and I are workers for the Lord. Everything we do is for him because we are his. Jesus wants us to be successful, so he gives us the tools that we need. The tool that he gives is his Word, the Bible. THE WORD IS FOR HIS WORKERS 1. By It They Are Protected From Evil. 2. By It They Are Consecrated In Service.

Our text comes to us from a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday evening. Here in the seventeenth chapter, Jesus prays for his disciples, who would remain on the earth, after he ascended into heaven. His prayer is also for all believers who would follow them across the centuries.

He begins by saying, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (Verse 11b) The first portion of Jesus’ prayer deals with protection. Out of love for his flock, Jesus prayed that they be kept safe and secure against all that would come their way. As Jesus said in verse 12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” While Jesus was on the earth, he kept his followers safe. Not one of the disciples was lost. Those Jesus chose to be his disciples were still with him. However, Jesus does acknowledge that one would be lost. “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (Verse 12) Jesus, of course, is speaking of Judas, who would betray him later that evening. Jesus said that he would betray Jesus, so that Scripture would be fulfilled. This is not to say that Judas had to betray Jesus, as if he had no choice in the matter. Rather, as God looked across the centuries, he saw that Judas would betray Jesus.

However, Jesus is more concerned with his followers. Yes, he had protected them while he was there, but what would happen when he was gone? We read in verse 13, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” Soon, Jesus would ascend into heaven. This past Thursday was the celebration of that fact. Jesus returned to heaven, where he is seated at God’s right hand.

Yet, he was concerned about what would happen to those who were left behind. He said in verse 14, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” The world will hate the Christian, simply for living the way that God wants them to. Martin Luther once wrote, “The world is bound to crucify whatever is God.” There is a natural animosity between the unbeliever and the believer. That is because they are following two completely different leaders. There are those who follow Christ and those who follow Satan.

Jesus alludes to this in verse 15, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Jesus realizes that his workers must remain in the world, for the message of salvation must be spread from one generation to the next. However, while his workers are still here, they will need protection from the evil one, that is, Satan. Satan will do his level best to see that as many as possible spend their eternity with him in hell. He doesn’t want us to live God-pleasing lives. He doesn’t want the message of salvation spread throughout the world. So, he will put his efforts into seeing us fail.

Is there any help available to us? Jesus alluded to this help several times in our text already. He spoke of “the name” as being that which protects. The name refers to everything that God has made known to us about himself in his Word. It is only in his Word that he reveals himself. By his Word, we are protected from the evil one. With God’s help, we can defeat all of Satan’s advances. Look at the example of Jesus as he was tempted by Satan for those forty days in the wilderness. Every time that Satan came to Jesus with a temptation, Jesus countered with a passage from Scripture. Finally, Satan had to leave because he knew that Jesus was not going to fall. It is no wonder that in the Sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul points to us arming ourselves with the Word of God, as a Roman soldier would put on his armor. With the Word of God, which Jesus has given us, we can defeat Satan. We are protected from the evil one. God’s Word is our weapon of defense.

However, the Bible is more than a defensive weapon. It is also used to build, to build us up to be faithful servants of God. Jesus continues his prayer in verse 17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Note the parallel there in that verse. Sanctify by truth – word is truth. In other words, ‘Sanctify them by your Word.” We often use the words “sanctify” or “sanctification,” without really thinking of their meaning. “Sanctify” means to “make holy.” We are made holy by the Word of God. Of course, we know that it is the Holy Spirit working through the Word that makes us holy. The Holy Spirit creates the faith in our hearts, which leads us to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins. Through the word, we are made holy, because through it we are brought to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Notice that Jesus said, “Your word is truth.” The word “is” is like an equals sign in mathematics. In other words, ‘Your word equals truth.’ This is especially important for the world in which we live. Many people, including those who profess to believing in the words of the Bible, will say that it is full of errors. Men added their own ideas. Others will say that the Bible ‘contains’ the Word of God. At first, that sounds pretty good, until you realize what they are actually saying. What they are saying that, in addition to God’s Word, it also contains other things, as well. They don’t believe that miracles can happen, so they try to explain them away. They don’t believe in a resurrection, so they will say that Jesus never really died. However, we know and believe that the Bible is God’s Word, even though it was written by men like Moses, David, Peter and Paul. As it says in 2 Peter 1:21, “Prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit..” God’s Word is truth, and it sanctifies us.

In addition to the meaning of “make holy” for the word “sanctify,” it also carries the idea of “to consecrate, set aside for a particular task.” Through the Word of God, we have been called apart from the rest of the world to do something. Jesus tells us about our task in verse 18, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus’ disciples were to be sent into the world. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples (Acts 1:8), “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They were sent out to be Jesus’ witnesses. In a court of law, a witness is to tell all that they know for a fact. They tell what they have seen and heard. This is also true for Jesus’ disciples. They were to go out into the world and witness to all about Jesus.

This task has been passed down from generation to generation in the church, until it has reached us. We are the ones who are sent out into the world. We have been sanctified by the Word of God. We have been made holy and receive the power to go out and be Jesus’ witnesses. There are many ways that we can do this. For example, we do this as we support the work of the church, both at home and abroad, through our offerings. We do so by praying for the men and women who have been sent out to witness to Jesus both in the pulpit and the classroom. We do so by encouraging young people to consider full-time work in the church. There is also the face-to-face talking about God to others. I’m not even talking about going door to door. I’m talking about our friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors, who don’t yet know Jesus as their Savior. We witness to others by what we say to them and even how we conduct our lives. Through the word, we are set apart for a lifetime of service to the Lord.

So, since we are protected by God’s Word and are set apart and empowered by that Word, it only naturally follows that we will want to be in constant contact with God’s Word. We need more than just a once a week contact with God’s Word. We need to be in God’s Word daily. Now I could just say, ‘Read your Bible.’ However, then you are faced with the how. Allow me to make a few suggestions. First, pick a time of the day to do your reading. As far as the method is concerned, there are several. You can pick up the Bible and read it from Genesis to Revelation. This allows you to see God’s plan of salvation unfold. You can find shorter Bible selections on the front page of our bulletin. On the bottom of the pages in Meditations, there are suggested readings. There are suggestions in our hymnals. There are other options, as well. Yet, the method is not nearly as important as the actual reading. It is God’s Word that protects us from Satan, and it is God’s Word that sets us apart to do God’s will. May we become Bible students so that we become experts using the tool which God has given us, namely, his Word. Amen.

Two Keys To A Joy-Filled Life

Sermon on John 15:9-17

Text: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

An ever-growing portion of any bookstore is the self-help section. More and more so-called experts tell you that, by buying and reading their book, you can achieve a specific goal. There are self-help books on dieting, marriage, and business relations. There are books to help with your self-esteem. They all claim to have the same goal: a happier, a more complete life. Some of these books have worthwhile things to say. Others are worthless. This morning, we are going to talk about a sure-fire way to have a happier, more complete life. We look at THE TWO KEYS TO A JOY-FILLED LIFE. Key #1 is Remaining In Christ’s Love and Key #2 is Experiencing Jesus’ Friendship.

Just prior to our text, Jesus used the picture of a vine and branches to show the close relationship between himself and his followers. It was vital that they remained attached to him, for if they did not, like a branch cut from the vine, their faith would wither and die. Just like the dead branches, they would be thrown into the fire, the fire of hell. Jesus stressed the importance of their faith and trust in him.

Now, Jesus continues with the idea of remaining in verse 9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” They were to remain, keep closely connected to Jesus’ love. As Jesus said, it is the same type of love that the Father had for his Son, Jesus. Since God is perfect, his love for his Son would be perfect. The same, then, would be true of Jesus’ love for us. It is a perfect, selfless type of love.

Jesus continues in verse 10, explaining how we remain in Jesus’ love, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Here Jesus tells us how to remain in his love. It is by keeping his commands. By living lives of faith, ones filled with the fruits of faith, we remain in Jesus’ love.

The prevailing idea or thought that comes to mind when one hears the word, “command,” is that this is something I have to do. It’s not going to be something that we enjoy doing. It will be drudgery. It will be hard work. These and other thoughts like them fill our minds when we hear the word, “command.” The world looks at God’s commands and says that they take all the fun out of life. However, listen to Jesus, as he speaks of his commands in verse 11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” In other words, what Jesus is saying is that #1, ‘When you obey my commands, you make me happy. I am pleased with you.’ In addition, #2, your lives will be happier. Remember the first Key to a joy-filled life is remaining in Jesus’ love and, as Jesus said, remaining in his love means obeying his commands.

What is this command? Jesus said in verse 12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” This command sounds easy enough. We’re supposed to love each other. However, don’t forget the qualifying phrase, “as I have loved you.” We are to love each other as Christ has loved us. Jesus speaks of this love in verse 13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The greatest act of love that one friend could do for another is to sacrifice his life for them. Can any of us imagine doing that for someone else, even if it was a very close friend? Yet, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:7&8, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul points to the greatest love that has ever been shown, the suffering and death of Jesus. When we were still sinners, enemies of God, who wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus sacrificed his life, so that we would be saved. Jesus sacrificed his life so that we would be set free from the sins that entangled us and surely would have pulled us into hell. These sins are gone. We have been forgiven of every one of these sins. Each of us has seen, first-hand, the love of Jesus. Now, Jesus tells us that we are to love each other as he has loved us.

This doesn’t mean that we will die for someone else and, of course, we could never die to give someone else salvation. However, we can have the same type of self-sacrificing love that Jesus had, as we deal with those around us. We look out for the interests of others and, by doing so, we remain in Jesus’ love. We show our faith and thankfulness by what we do and, in doing so, we will have a joy-filled life. How is this so? First, as was stated earlier, obeying Jesus’ commands pleases him, and how can we, who have been given so much, want to do anything less than that which pleases Jesus? Secondly, when we look out for others, our lives will be more joyful. We will find our lives to be more joyful, as we take others at their word, rather than always looking for a hidden motive. We will find the world more enjoyable if we help others out when they have a need, rather than saying we’re too busy. Enjoy the people God puts in your path, rather than look for their faults. By doing so, you will remain in Jesus’ love, which is the First Key to a joy-filled life.

The Second Key is as enjoyable as the First. It is experiencing Jesus’ friendship. Being a friend of Jesus is a unique position. It says in verse 15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Being a friend means being in the know. An employer will not necessarily tell his employees everything that is going on. He may just tell them what they need to know. However, close friends share everything: their thoughts, plans, likes and dislikes. This is also true of our relationship with Jesus. He has been very clear about the plans that God has for the world. We find them in his Word. For example, we find how the universe got its start. More importantly, we see God’s plan of salvation as he carried it out. We see perfect Adam and Eve falling into sin, dooming themselves and all their descendants. We see God promise a Savior to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and to Mary and Joseph. When that Savior came in the person of Jesus Christ, we see how he perfectly carried out his Father’s will, which ultimately led him to the cross. We read of his glorious resurrection. Jesus has also told us that the condition of the world will deteriorate before the world comes to an end. He has shown us the glories of heaven. Since we are friends of Jesus, he has told us many great things. He has shared all of this with us, because he is our friend.

Our friendship began in a most unusual way. Normally, friendships develop mutually. You are introduced. You discover that you have things in common. You grow in your affection for each other. This is not the case when we speak of our friendship with Jesus. He refers to this in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” Not one of us decided on our own that we were going to be Jesus’ friends. That would be impossible for us to do because all people are, by nature, enemies of God. However, Jesus, in his great love for us, chose us before the creation of the world to be his friends. It was not because he saw what wonderful people we were. Nor was it because he saw that we would believe. Rather, he chose us to be his friends and created faith in our hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit, by the washing of Baptism and the working of the Word. This makes our friendship even more special. Jesus chose to like, indeed, to love us, despite our position of being lost and condemned creatures. How great is the love that the Son showed us that we became his friends.

There are a great many benefits to being Jesus’ friend. One of them is found in verse 16, “Whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” Only believers can come to God in prayer because the wall of sin has been torn down by the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a great privilege to be able to come and talk to God in prayer. We can bring any problems or concerns to him and know that he can and will answer all our prayers. He is the friend that helps you out when you have problems. He is also the friend that is always there when you need him. At times, our friends forsake us and leave us to our own devices. However, Jesus is always there for us.

Jesus is also a true friend in that he completely knows and understands us. Because of our close relationship, he knows everything about us. He knows when we are hurting and when we are concerned about things. Our friends might misunderstand and leave us. Jesus completely knows and understands us. There are times when we face certain situations, and we go to our friends for their help or advice. Sometimes, unfortunately, their advice is not sound. However, Jesus offers us perfect advice in his Word. When we face these things, we can turn to his Word, and he will help us. There are times when we are invited to a friend’s house for a meal. Jesus invites us to attend a great banquet in his home, heaven. We will have a wonderful time there, far and above even the best time we have had at the home of our closest friend. We have great joy when we experience the friendship of Jesus.

Experts say that there are certain needs that everyone must have fulfilled if they want to feel loved and accepted. There are many people who don’t feel this. Sometimes, we even get down in the dumps and feel alone. However, the good news is that we don’t have to feel this way. There are just two keys to having a joy-filled life. #1 – Remain in Jesus’ love. #2 – Experience Jesus’ friendship. Jesus does not leave us. He is always there for us. Revel in the joy that is yours because you belong to Christ. Amen.

Remain in Jesus

Sermon on John 15:1-8

Text: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Our text for this morning builds off a basic fact of nature. If a branch or shoot is removed from the trunk or stalk, it will soon wither and die. If it remains in the trunk or stalk, it will continue to grow and produce fruit. This text shows us the importance of remaining in Jesus. It also encourages us to REMAIN IN JESUS 1. Planted 2. Pruned and 3. Productive.

Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, just before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. There the disciples would see their Lord taken captive. During the next days they would see Jesus put on trial. They would see him nailed to the cross, suffering. They would see their Friend give up his life. It would be easy to give up all hope and desert their faith. Jesus knew what would happen and the troubles the disciples would have. He wanted to encourage them in their faith.

Jesus begins by saying, “I am the true vine.” (Verse 1) He points to himself as the source of strength in the face of all troubles and hardships. He was the one who sustained them and gave them life. Just as the vine gives everything that the branches need to survive, so also Jesus gives us everything that we need for our physical and spiritual lives. Just as the vine is the source of all moisture and nutrients for the branches, so also Jesus is the source of everything our faith needs to thrive and survive.

Jesus encourages his disciples and us, as well, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (Verse 4) He speaks of a close relationship between us, the branches, and himself, the vine. If he is encouraging us to remain in him, we must be in Christ right now. How did we get in Christ? How did we become a part of him? The answer is “by faith.” By faith in Jesus as our Savior, we are planted in Jesus. What does this faith entail? First, it is an acknowledgment of the fact that we are sinners. It is realizing that our sinful acts, words, and thoughts had separated us from God and earned for us eternal punishment. That is not the extent of our faith, though. The Holy Spirit comes to us and creates a trust in Jesus as our Savior from sin. The Holy Spirit created this faith for most of us, at our baptisms. When we come to faith, we are like a little shoot that comes off the vine. As we were in that vine, we grew because of the life-sustaining Word of God that was given to us. We have been planted into Jesus Christ, the true vine.

Now that we have become a branch off Jesus Christ, something is expected of us. Just as the branch of the grapevine is expected to produce grapes, so also, we are expected to produce “fruits” of faith. These fruits of faith are called good works. Good works are those things Christians do as their way of saying “Thank you” to God for all that he has done for us.

Jesus calls his Father “the gardener.” (Verse 1) He is the one that takes care of the plants. He looks at the branches to see what can be done to ensure a good harvest. So, sometimes, he prunes the branches. He does so for a better harvest. When we lived in Arizona, we had two grapevines in the backyard of the house. Since I knew next to nothing about grapes, I left them alone. When they ripened, I wished I had paid more attention to them. The grapes were small and inedible. If I had pruned them, I’m sure that they would have produced more fruit. Pruning helps the branches produce.

God, the Father, sometimes prunes us, as well. When a gardener prunes the vines, he gets rid of the unnecessary buds that sap the strength of the branch. These buds interfere with the harvest. Sometimes we have buds that sap our strength from producing a God-pleasing harvest. We pay more attention to other things, devote more time to our own pursuits. When we do this, when other things get in the way of God, he may allow certain things to enter our lives that are unpleasant. Pruning involves cutting. He does so to correct us, to bring us back on the right path. He does so to get rid of those things that have been interfering with producing a good harvest.

The Christian may experience some bad things in life. However, he does not need to ask God, ‘Why?’. He can be assured of the fact that God is doing everything for his good. As a matter of fact, we can even thank God for his pruning, his discipline. We are told in Hebrews 12:6: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.” He cares so much for us, that he wants to rid us of all those things which could harm us. The writer to the Hebrews also says in the same chapter, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) God, the Father, prunes us so that we might become more productive branches.

Jesus speaks of two types of branches. The one type of branch does not produce any fruit. The other type produces a good harvest. Let us, first, look at the unproductive branch. The gardener “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Verse 2) As we said earlier, God looks for fruits of faith. When he comes to this branch, he sees no fruit, so he cuts it off. Why? Because the lack of fruit shows a lack of life in that branch. We are told in the book of James, “Faith without deeds is useless.” (James 2:20) If there are no fruits of faith, it shows a faith that has grown cold. For, if that person believed, he could not help but show his thanks to God. But, when faith is gone, so is the desire for good works. They were in Jesus as a branch, but they chose to reject Jesus. Perhaps they felt they were strong enough to do it on their own. However, listen to how Jesus describes what awaits the branches that do not remain in Jesus, the true vine: “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (Verse 6) Those who choose to reject Jesus are destined for the eternal fires of hell. The lack of productivity shows a lack of faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God. Such is the end for the unproductive branches. This serves as a warning for all branches.

Now let us turn to the productive branch. This branch, having been pruned of all those strength-sapping buds, produces a harvest of good works. Again, this is our way of saying “Thank you” to God. We produce these good works because we remain in Jesus. Since we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, we will want to do such things are pleasing to God. Jesus reminds us, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) The strength to produce these good works comes from Jesus. It does not come from within ourselves, but from the faith he has created in our hearts. Because we remain in Jesus, we will produce “much fruit.”

To the world, a good harvest is a positive reflection on the green-thumbed gardener. Everyone in town knows who grows the best cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever. The harvest brings a degree of honor to the gardener. This is also true for with the Christian. A faithful Christian is an honor to the divine gardener, God. When Christians produce the fruits of faith, they are a positive reflection on God. Verse 8 reminds us of this when Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” When we do God-pleasing things, we bring glory to the Father. When we live our Christianity, people cannot help but notice that there is something different about us. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) May each of us strive to be productive branches.

One word that comes up again and again in our text is “remain.” We are shown what happens when we choose not to remain in Jesus. We are also shown the blessings that are ours if we remain in Jesus. We have all been planted in Jesus by faith. We have been given the power to produce God-pleasing fruits of faith because of our association with Jesus. May each of us accept God’s pruning as a way of cleaning out all that hinders us from producing a plentiful harvest. Most of all, let us remain as good branches firmly attached to the true Vine, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus Is The Good Shepherd

Sermon on John 10:11-18

Text: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Many of us have religious pictures in our homes. I would imagine one of the more popular ones would be Sallman’s “Head of Christ.” One of the more popular subjects of these paintings is inspired by the words of our text. Jesus, pictured as the Good Shepherd, is a loved picture by many people. We enjoy thinking of Jesus guarding and protecting us as a shepherd guards his sheep. This morning we would like to add a little life and deeper meaning to our favorite picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD. 1. He Lays Down His Life For The Sheep. 2. He Gathers His Flock Together.

Jesus spoke the words of our text some six months before his suffering and death. Yet, he speaks of his death and resurrection as an already accomplished fact. He is speaking to the Pharisees who had criticized Jesus for his healing of a blind man. These were the religious leaders of the Jewish people. Often, in the Old Testament, the religious leaders of the people are called “shepherds.” They were to watch out for and take care of God’s flock, his people, Israel. But their attitude toward Jesus showed that they were not being the type of shepherds that God wanted them to be.

Instead, Jesus characterizes them as “the hired hand.” (Verse 12) What is the difference? The sheep belong to the shepherd. They are his. The hired hand does not own the sheep. He is, instead, only there for the wages. He is only there because of what he can get out of it. This was true of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. If you were a member of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling body, you were greatly respected. You received a great deal of honor. Of course, with the honor also comes a certain amount of financial gain. But, in their pursuit of wealth and honor, they had often forgotten the flock they were to look after. They did not show the loving concern that they were to show.

There are many religious leaders today who act like the hired hands in our text. Think of all the preachers who come to you on the television, radio, or the internet, asking you for great contributions for their cause. Several years ago, one even claimed that God told him he would die, unless he got such and such amount of money. These people get so interested in the financial gain that they can get, that they forget what the most important thing is, which is the care of and the feeding of the flock with the Word of God. Indeed, they are hired hands only out for what they can get out of the flock.

But Jesus tells us that, “When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.” (Verse 12) Whenever any trouble, whether it be danger or persecution, suffering or even martyrdom, comes, the hired hand leaves the flock as quickly as he can. He shows that his main concern is for himself. Whenever any pressure comes up, whether from within or without, the hired hand leaves the flock to fend for itself. Since he was only concerned about himself, he had no trouble going off, leaving the flock which was entrusted to him. As Jesus says about the hired man type of person, he “cares nothing for the sheep.” (Verse 13)

When we see the way that these hired hands act, we may be shocked. Yet, it more clearly shows how much better our shepherd is. Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd.” (Verses 11&14) Our English translation of the word “good” falls short of what is meant by the word in Greek. It means that Jesus is the ideal shepherd. He is the ultimate. He is in a class all by himself. He is the shepherd that all the others model themselves after.

Jesus shows that this ultimate, ideal by the way he cares for the sheep. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Verse 11) Sheep are often pictured as being harmless, docile and rather stupid animals. Sheep have been known to crowd together in a corner of a pasture during a storm, smothering one another to death. If a sheep ends up on its back, it is incapable of righting itself. They are without any type of defense.

So, they are in need of a shepherd to defend them. Jesus has done this. Jesus laid down his life to defend the sheep from the power of the devil. We all would be easy prey for the devil because of our sins. We were in his jaws, condemned to hell because of our sins. Then Jesus came to our defense. He did so by laying down his life for us. As Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he was ransoming us back from the debt of sin that we owed God. When the good shepherd laid down his life for us, we were saved from the situation that we had gotten ourselves into. Jesus’ death sets us free.

Jesus also points to his resurrection. Remember again that this was six months or so before he was crucified and rose from the dead. Yet, he told his disciples and those around him exactly what would happen. Not only would he suffer and die, but he would also rise from the dead, showing that he had broken the power of death, as well. Notice that Jesus says, “I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (Verse 18) Jesus shows us that he is true God, for no one has the authority to take up one’s own life. Jesus’ resurrection seals our forgiveness of sins.

What Jesus would do would be directly in agreement with his Father’s will. He says in verse 17, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again.” What Jesus would do would be exactly what the Father wanted. He lived his life, died and rose again all in accordance with his Father’s will.

Normally, if a shepherd would die, it would mean that his flock would be scattered, falling easy prey to enemies. But this is not the case with the good shepherd. His death and resurrection do not scatter the flock. Rather the good shepherd gathers his flock together. Jesus actively goes out and seeks the sheep so that he might bring them all together.

Jesus says in verse 16, “16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” Jesus was revealing something to the Jewish listeners. For many years Israel had enjoyed the distinction of being God’s special people. God had spoken to them directly through Moses and the prophets. Now a new period in history was dawning. Jesus was going to extend the people of God to include all nations. Before this, there were Gentiles who were saved. Now the emphasis would be on the Gentiles, for the Jews were rejecting the promised Messiah. He would gather his flock from all the nations of the world. His flock is what we call the Holy Christian Church. They are all those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. Note the urgency when he says, “I must bring them also.” Jesus wants all people to be gathered into his flock. There they will listen to his voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is not saying that there is only one correct church body and belonging to it automatically assures you of being in Jesus’ flock. Whether or not you are a member of Jesus’ flock all depends on whether you believe in Jesus as your Savior or not. When the Holy Spirit calls you to faith, you become one of Jesus’ sheep in his flock.

What a privilege it is to belong to the flock of Jesus. He tells us, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (Verse 14) Jesus knows those who are his. This knowledge isn’t just an acquaintance with facts, but there is love behind this knowledge. Jesus knows his believers through and through. He knows each of us by name. He knows all our needs, pains, and sorrows. He knows everything about us. He knows if we are hurting and how to heal us. He knows if we are straying and how to bring us back. He knows if we are hungry or thirsty and how to satisfy us. He leads us to the Bible where our souls are fed. Just as a good shepherd is aware of every single sheep in his flock, so even more Jesus is deeply concerned about every single member of his flock. He loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. Surely, he will take care of all of our physical needs. Our good shepherd knows us.

We are also told “My sheep know me.” (Verse 14) We know our good shepherd. We don’t have to wonder what Jesus is like. We read about him in the pages of Scriptures. We have heard his voice through the pages of Scriptures. Because of the way Jesus has taken care of us, we are sure that we can trust in him and follow him wherever he leads. Even though the way may seem to be dark and gloomy, yet because we know Jesus is our loving shepherd we gladly follow. We know our shepherd as our loving God who makes all things work out for our good. Jesus is our good shepherd.

We have a good shepherd, who loved us so much that he laid down his life for us. May each of us gladly follow our shepherd wherever he may lead us, for he always does what is best for us. This morning, we close with the words of Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Amen.