Dead Man Walking!

March 11th, 2018

Lent 4 B, March 18, 2012
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 

Click here for audio of this message

In our Old Testament lesson (Numbers 21:4-9), God invites us to imagine being there at Mt. Hor, under attack from thousands of poisonous snakes, and knowing that God is really the one who is punishing you for your despicable, sinful life. The Hebrews that day were essentially dead men and women walking, and that’s who we are without Jesus; sadly, that’s who many people still are today; Dead men walking.

You see, God can’t allow sinners to just walk away from their sin and sinners can’t help but to sin.

It’s in our broken nature to sin by choosing to satisfy our wants and desires over the desires of our God and our neighbor. We’re broken; fallen in sin, and because of that, we have to pay. On the day we die, unless God works for us, that will be our judgment day.
People who die outside of faith in Jesus, not only die in the flesh but they also die in the spirit, eternally and painfully separated from God’s love and the love of others. That’s what spiritual death is. Sin does this.

So what are the sins that we’re guilty of? Well the very same ones we heard mentioned in our Old Testament reading. We grumble against God by complaining about our lives. We let the circumstances of our life overshadow the presence of our creator God who is with us in the midst of our troubles.

Throughout this world there are still plenty of dead men and women walking who look down upon God’s means of grace, His real presence with them. They don’t discern His spirit in His Word, a Word that is right now being preached to you.

People outside of faith in Jesus find it impossible to believe that God can promise to take simple water and wash away a person’s sins. They laugh at the idea that a pastor can speak forgiveness from God, and they completely dismiss Jesus’ real presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.
Because of these many sins, God’s Word does not bring comfort, but instead it bites them like a fiery serpent. God’s Word calls these folks sons and daughters of disobedience. These are the people who are more comfortable following the desires of their flesh than the will of God. In other words, they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in this sinful world instead of the Holy Spirit.

That is the painful truth about everyone out side of faith in Jesus Christ. They are lost in a world of sin controlled by the father of sin, the devil. They are dead men and women walking, and all of them are a breath away from judgment day. Whether it be poisonous snakes, a car accident, disease, sickness, or death from old age, eventually they’re all gonna pay!

“But God (but God), being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and (God has) raised us up with (Christ) and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:4-7]
I once was lost but now I’m found. I once was condemned and about to pay for my sins, but God, BUT GOD… He forgave the iniquity of my sins! If it had not been for God who made a way out of no way, all of us… would have been goners… dead men and women walking!

At Mt. Hor, the way out for the sinful Hebrews was a bronze serpent on a poll, high and lifted up so that everyone could see God’s remedy to their sin and the way He chose to remove their punishment. In that symbol came the promise of God to save and the faith to believe in that promise of salvation. And where there is faith in God’s promise of life, there is salvation… there is forgiveness of sins.

Today this same God calls out to you with the same mercy and grace.

Today, GOD is telling you that He has created a way to take away your sins.

Friends, the call of God’s Word does not direct you to look upon a serpent on a pole, but instead He desires that you look upon His Son high and lifted up upon a cross. Today, God’s Word promises that if you will see Jesus the very Son of God put on the cross for you, as a payment for your sins, you shall not die but live. You will not be a dead man walking, but a reborn, spiritual man or woman, who no longer has to pay for sin!
Oh it’s true, someone has to pay for your sins, and someone did; it was Jesus. He paid it with His very life, in order to show us the immeasurable riches of His Father’s grace; grace which He has given to you through His own suffering and death.

You know, we use the words, justice, mercy, and grace so much in the church, that sometimes I’m afraid those words lose their meaning. Listen to what these words mean and let the realization of the work of the cross hit you like a thunderbolt from heaven. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve.

Through Jesus death upon the cross, God’s justice was satisfied. You deserve to die for your many sins, but Jesus took your place. Through Jesus’ death upon the cross, God showed you mercy by not giving you what you deserve. Instead, He gave you what you don’t deserve, grace. He gave to you all of the riches of heaven, His riches at Christ’s expense through Jesus’ suffering and death.

In His Word, Jesus shows you the Father’s love for the whole world; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) He shows you the death of His one and only Son. In His Word, He also gives you a wonderful gift called faith. Through this gift, God opens the eyes of your heart so you can believe that Jesus death is for you. By faith you can read His Word and know that God is speaking to you; He has made a way out of no way for you to enter into His forgiving love.

In His Word God allows you to see His real presence with you even in the worst circumstances of your life; in His Word you know that you are never alone. In His Word He has convinced you that He’s taken a simple thing like water and attached His promise of eternal life to it and washed away all of yours sins. So in essence, your baptism has taken the objective promise of the cross for the world and made it your personal gift.
In His Word you hear the absolution, the Word of forgiveness and you know that God is really talking to you; forgiving you! Because of His Word you take and eat and drink the bread and wine and you know that you are also receiving the very body and blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your many sins!

By faith you receive all of this and you know it is entirely a work of God. To think anything else would be ridiculous. To see yourself playing any part in your salvation would be absurd; it would be like telling a dead man to get up and walk. By faith, you know that only God can speak life in the midst of death; only God can make something out of nothing.

Friends, what do you put your hope and faith in?

If it’s anything but God you will be disappointed. Don’t you know that people will let you down every day, but God is always with you, and His love and mercy will never let you down.

her purse. No money was there; neither was her checkbook. As she was about to ask the clerk to put her things back, a gentle voice said, “Don’t worry. Today I want to treat you. Take your things with you; I’ll pay your bill.” Then the man wrote a check and paid for her merchandise and his own. A week passed by, and the woman came back to the store. The checker knew about the incident and recognized her. She approached the woman and whispered, “Ma’am, maybe you’d be interested to know. That gentleman from last week, well his check bounced! We still need to be paid for your groceries.”

What are you trusting in? Is it people? I’m telling you, eventually they’ll let you down. Are you trusting in your own goodness? I think we all know where that will get you, right? Listen, why go back to being that dead man walking when you can continue to follow and trust Jesus and His cross. I know that it is tempting to want to play a part in your salvation; but you just can’t. Your good works won’t do a thing for you at judgement time. But if it’s good works you want, then God says relax, He’s got you covered. Those good works will come naturally to you and through you as you continue to look to Jesus alone as your only solution to your sin and the attacks of those little serpents or devils that surround you. And as you continue to look to Jesus, you will begin to see God’s work in your life; good works that He’s already prepared for you to do. The only difference is, it will be Him doing them perfectly and not you doing them sinfully.

So just keep walking that way of faith. Keep following Jesus and His means of grace and know this, God has big plans for you as you keep trusting in His way. And if that old sinful nature of yours tries to lure you back to the old sinful way, well… just remind him or her that they’re a dead man walking; they have no future!

Selah… in Jesus name… Amen.

It’s Not About You…It’s About the Cross!

March 4th, 2018

Lent 3 B, March 4, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 

Click here for audio of this message

“For the word of the cross is a scandal to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18]

We Americans are no strangers to scandal, and we know a scandal when we see it. Just look at current affairs within our nation; whether it involves a politician, a Hollywood star, a sports figure, or even a church leader, scandals are, unfortunately, a common part of our society. Whether the Scandal involves shameful, distasteful, offensive behavior, or something that’s legally wrong and causing general public outrage, scandals in this day and age are common. That being the case, why would St. Paul refer to the cross of Christ as scandal or folly?

Our text this morning confronts the scandal of the Christian faith. God’s Word makes it clear that to this sinful world, the cross is a scandal, a stumbling block. St. Paul makes that clear in our text. Listen to the Word’s of our text again and hear this truth ring out: “For the word of the cross is a scandal to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18]

St. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, which was smack dab in the center of a Roman climate that was engulfed in “godless morality.” The city was known for its depravity. The poor members of the congregation were tempted to either look the other way, or allow themselves to become comfortable in that climate of depravity while they waited patiently for Jesus to come again (1 Cor 1:7). And I’m afraid, from God’s point of view, we Christian Americans are in a very similar place today.

We Christians who are trying to hold onto our faith in the middle of this scandalous society can sometimes find ourselves looking the other way, or maybe we find ourselves questioning God for allowing all of this evil to not just live among us, but to even thrive. When God seems silent in times like these, we discover the truth that His ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours. We aren’t even in the same neighborhood. I mean, we’re worried about preserving our body and He’s working on saving our souls. We dream of a pay raise and He wants us to dream on the raising of the dead. We work hard to avoid pain and seek peace and God uses pain to bring peace. “I’m going to live before I die,” we say, and He says, “Die so you can live.” We love things that rust, He loves what endures. We rejoice in our successes and He rejoices at our confessions.

Our thoughts are not like God’s thoughts and our ways are not like His ways.

God has a different agenda. He dwells in a different dimension. But through the gift of faith, we can see through Christ’s eyes and see the cross of Jesus, which the world calls foolish, scandalous, and through it we can see God’s love for sinners like us.

Instead of being intrigued by the power and wisdom of the world, the cross captivates us with the power and wisdom of God as shown through Christ’s suffering and death…that is until we forget that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts; if that happens, well.. we’ll begin to think like the world.

Dear friends, God knows how easy it is for you to slip into that mindset. He knows what a strong temptation it is for you to follow the pack and eventually have your eyes turned from Your Creator and instead look to that which is created as your source of wisdom and strength. That is why he has repeated so many times that He will destroy the wisdom of the world. Listen to just a few of the ways God states this very thing: Through the prophet Isaiah He says, “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish”. [Isa. 29:14 ] In the book of Job, God says that, “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. (And) He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.” [Job 5:12, 13] And through the prophet Jeremiah God says, “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” [Jer. 8:9]

And how does God do all of this? Well, He does just as the prophet Jeremiah said, He does it through His Word; through the Law and Gospel.

God’s Law comes to us under two tables of stone that can never be broken.

One table demands that we must love God with all of our heart and mind, and the other demands that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This foolish world thinks they can do this through careful living and their best effort.

The business owners in our gospel lesson surely thought that they were honoring the first table of God’s Law by providing goods and services that the Jewish worshipers would need to worship once they entered the temple. They bought their permit to do business and began to sell livestock and birds that would be needed for private and corporate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. There was one problem though…they forgot that they were already in God’s temple. You see, they set up shop in the court of the gentiles. This was a place where non-Jews who were in the process of learning about God went to pray and learn more about their new faith; now they had to worship God in a stock yard.

These same business owners also must have thought that they were fulfilling the second table of the Law by offering a service to their neighbors who needed to change their money into temple currency. There was one problem with that, they were charging outrageous exchange rates that God’s Law called usury!

Every time the unbelieving wise and powerful of this world thinks they are doing pretty well, God’s Law breaks in like a mirror and shows them their true condition…they are ugly sinners! Every time they feel pleased with themselves, God’s Law barges in and overturns their tables of comfort and deceit, and demands, “Take these things away!” “What things Lord,” they may ask? To which His Law responds, “Your self-righteous, and self sufficient attitude!” “But Lord” they reply, “we have done our very best”. And to that he takes the whip of His Holy Law and drives them from His presence.

Dear friends, when God’s Law terrifies the sinful unbelieving world, they run from Him just as the merchants fled from Jesus that fateful day in the temple. Just as the merchants were forced by the Son of God to run out of the sanctuary, so sinful unbelievers today run from their Holy and all-powerful Creator. So what can be done to free our society from this awful terror? The same thing that must be done for us; instead of running from Jesus and His law, we must run to Jesus and His forgiving and loving heart. We must turn to the very thing that dying sinners laugh at and belittle…

We must turn to the cross and our crucified and resurrected Savior Jesus Christ!

Friends, when the unbelieving world ridicules you for your simple faith in Jesus Christ, do not be discouraged or disappointed; they are not ridiculing you but instead they are laughing at the very means that God has provided for you and them as the sole source of rescue from the house of slavery to sin and the terror of His Holy Perfect and Accusing Law…and that is the cross of Jesus Christ alone! People out side of Jesus Christ cannot understand how something so simple and repugnant can take away the terror of sin and ultimately death. They cannot understand why you as a Christian feel no terror in God’s Law. They cannot understand how you can be thankful in situations where they would experience only fear and worry. They can never understand these things unless through God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit they are given the gift of faith to see that Jesus is not only God’s best way of saving them, He is God’s only way!

God would have us remember that while the unbelieving world may look down on us as being simple minded and weak, we must never do the same to each other. We must not let the ways of the world divide us. We must learn to put aside any personal, political, cultural, or economic differences that we may have with each other and be of one mind and one heart. The mind and heart we must have must be that of Jesus Christ! And where is His mind and heart? It is with those very same people that belittle His cross; the place where He suffered and died for them. For this is the will of (the) Father, that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (So) that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.

There once was a reporter who went to an asylum for the criminally insane to gather information for a story. He was a bit surprised to find that there were only three guards to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, “Aren’t you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?” The guard said, “No were not, you see lunatics never unite.”
Perhaps lunatics never unite, but spiritual lunatics do! This sinful, crazy world we live in is united against our Lord and what they perceive to be the scandal of the cross and the folly of our faith. They want to shut us up, because they feel if they can do that, then they have shut out the message of the cross.

Isn’t it time that we too united with the sole purpose of taking God’s message of the cross to a dying world? How can we do this and succeed when we are up against such a powerful force? Well, it’s not about you dear friends, it’s about the cross! You see, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to (the unbelieving world), but to those of us who have responded to God’s call of faith, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God unto salvation!

May God continue to lead us through His Word and continually to His cross as our sole source of strength and wisdom. In Jesus name…AMEN!


Let Me See Your Peace!

February 25th, 2018

Lent 2 B, February 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
On the occasion of the closure of the Interim Pastoral Ministry 
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Click here for audio of this message

Romans 5:1-11

Reformational Scripture for Tim Botts 2017 Reformation Calendar

Do you have peace? If you do, may I see it? Show me your peace!

This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that surrounds us everywhere we go. They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in Him works for you, well then, they’re happy for you. Now, while they may not care to hear about what you believe, let me assure you that they are watching you; watching to see if what you believe makes a difference in how you live! They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends. In other words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are? And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-filled and grace centered lives. It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout our lives!

Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours? That’s the way that it should be. The objective is first and then the subjective. That is always God’s way. In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! The problem with this kind of peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment. This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for yourself. Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys dressed up as Axis leaders. As they started their war council meeting they chanted, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And to this Moe who was dressed up as Hitler stood up and said, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.” And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others. Like money, we can never have enough peace. So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion many times of other people’s peace.

Since I first came to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church I’ve had two rules that have guided me: First, like a physician, I desired to do no harm; Second, I wanted to create an atmosphere through the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, which would flood your lives and this parish with God’s peace.

God’s peace is Christ’s own peace. Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27] So what is this peace that Jesus says He has given to us? Well we know it ISN’T the kind of selfish, self serving peace that the world wants, and we also know that it IS the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble, division, and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God. Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God By faith. The first question is, “Faith in Who?” The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world. The second question is “Faith in what?” The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension. In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God! Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God. Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin. He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.

In Jesus, God put forward His love for you by putting Jesus in your place; by having Him suffer and die for you, because of your sins. In God’s self-sacrifice He points your divided, troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for your sins, and His Word tells you to be reconciled; that is to be made right with Him and each other! In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!

If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace! This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance? Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace. In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you. It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!” It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you personally when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why has God’s love been poured into your heart? So that you would know and experience His peace! But aren’t we now talking about feelings? Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings? Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world. But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective. You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out! Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you! He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation. Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you and for HIS Church.
Many years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”
We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God! And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experiences or feelings. We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace. This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God delights in giving to us. An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and it will be well with our souls!
What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?
Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action. This peace of God, which surpasses all of our understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes only through the cross of Jesus Christ. As they see us weather the same storms of life they go through, and still be both able and ready to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are neither giving up our hope nor our peace. They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith and peace in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.
All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope and peace. The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes your faith and hope, and then assures you that no matter what you may be going through, no matter what you may be feeling, in the end it will be well with your souls; you will never be put to shame! This is your blessed assurance of peace with God and peace with each other!
Dear saints of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, no matter what circumstances overtake you, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within your lives, you can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within this parish and within your hearts, will enable you to not only sing but live out the truth that says, whatever is your lot, it is well with your souls!
Indeed, it IS well with YOUR soul. In Jesus name… Amen!

Jesus Walks With Us!

February 18th, 2018

1st Sunday in Lent B, February 18, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Genesis 22:1-18, James 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-16

INTRODUCTION: This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe! As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith. Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life. Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!”

I. What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?

A. Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic and social condition to get an answer to that question. If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little confused, afraid, and maybe worried. Questions race through our minds like, “Is my job secure. How will the tax changes effect me? Will this effect how I care for my family? Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children? What about all this violence and this latest school shooting in Broward County, Florida? How can I feel safe, when children aren’t even safe in school?” When these worries and fears begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things as our source of hope, strength and security.

B. Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in armed guards, President Trump or the Congress, a change in leadership, or the republican tax cuts. If we trust solely in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of. What things? What about being so afraid of violence that we barely leave our homes? How about cutting back on your offering to God because money is tight but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks? How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return? These and many others, are real temptations that tempt real Christians like you and me.

C. I once heard the story about a so-called Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way. If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues. If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues. If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to greet her with a kiss, she sues! Why? Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

TRANSITION: All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God. What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord sees and will provide!” Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.

II. When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.

A. Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do. It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem. For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control. Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God sees what I’m going through, and if He loves me so much, why is He allowing these things to happen to me? Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need? Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”

B. Yes friend God sees and knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point. That’s why you should not be afraid. He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.

TRANSITION: Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?” The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ!

III. Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our assurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!

A. God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us. You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith. The Lord’s promises to you are intended to stimulate your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him. He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life. Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

B. Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?” And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no one when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

C. How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw? In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them two places!” The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected. You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in! God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test. Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust. Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil? Repent! Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.
Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing. Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation. And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

D. Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t he perfect? Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us. How did He do this? By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross. His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins. It was your sins, which were loaded upon Him that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil. There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him. And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you! But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you! Why? So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry.

CONCLUSION: May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!

It Is Good To Be Here!

February 11th, 2018

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 11, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Mark 9:2-9

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, the apostles experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.

And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus” the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.

And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.

Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power! It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!
The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”
With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next? A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over. Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone. But why? Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing. He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does.

Do you see what I just did? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins. If we really stoped to think about what’s really going on around us and within us each time we attend Divine Service (the devil being defeated, our sin being removed, and our eternal death being trounced, all as our faith to believe all of this is strengthened exponentially) we would not let anything get in the way of our attending Divine Service.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews. For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need. When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one. Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying. And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.

What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and Living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain. But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us. When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world. Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration. And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Great is Our God!

February 4th, 2018

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 4, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God. I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?! Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident? And this is somewhat of a paraphrase of God’s question to unbelieving man through the prophet Isaiah. Listen again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The truth about God has always been available. But the human mind has been so darkened by sin that it can’t imagine God as He truly is. This morning, Isaiah pictures God as the Creator and Ruler of the world. God sits high above the created world as He stretches out the heavens as easily as someone might pitch a tent. God is not created but uncreated and eternal, without beginning and without end. He is separate and different from the world He created. He is holy, infinite, perfect, and changeless. To God, we are like a swarm of grasshoppers. Because of our sin, we are nothing like God. We are finite, temporal, imperfect, subject to change of every kind, and very mortal. What arrogance for finite creatures to fashion God in an image that they are comfortable with. If we want to know about God, we must humbly put our hands over our mouths and simply listen to what He tells us.

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar. After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappy! I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!” The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new. In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.” The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.” The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” But there’s a big difference between that fool and you. You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?

I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him! He’s revealed Himself from the beginning. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it! He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar. He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them. God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds. God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us. The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.

Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality. An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe. As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was. One student asked the professor who made it? The professor said, “No one, it just happened.” The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this. It just happened, so quit asking.” Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society. They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them. For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them. If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word? So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point. He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?” The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!” Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang? At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent. But we of course know the answer. God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves. He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation. They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own. And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault. It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins. And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another. But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs. So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting. When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait. After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio. Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?” “Yes I did,” replied his friend. “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us. It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one. This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith. God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him. But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone. But God had not left him! God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel. God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar. He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite! His living Word has declared that you are saved! In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace. He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you. He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!” When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service. It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength, just as it did Our Lord. It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils. Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus. But remember, you aren’t alone. Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free. He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him. And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words: “He helped others, let Him help Himself. If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come. The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away. And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”. Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace. We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us. It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us! In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him. Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles. He is with you. He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment. Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith. Will you stumble and fall? Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop. My strength is enough for you. When you are weak, I am strong.” This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength! What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

January 28th, 2018

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 28, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers. Some will tell you that He’s their higher power. Some will say that He’s their source of peace. Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters. I think one of the funniest answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.” And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared: “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.” And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is? He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to Him we must listen! And what’s His message? Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.

While He was declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power! Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had authority. It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners. And it had authority because it had the power to drive out demons. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon). And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And what did Jesus do? With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man. And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was? They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago. They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!” But prophecy can be a tricky thing. As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel. We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth. We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing. In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective. And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture. And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?

Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature. He was speaking in Spirit and in truth. He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same. How? By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth. They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help. Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth. In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women. But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him? Because our fear forces us to see and deal with our own sin. That is always the primary purpose of God’s law. But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.

So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them. We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.” But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are! So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law. After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel. This is where false prophets come in. Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it. These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan. They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face. They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete! They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.” The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective. And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago. These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death. Why? Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women. And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid. “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?

Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking? They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority. What power? The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God! What was the authority? Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free! Free from what?
Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out. Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life! It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come! This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life. It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope. It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20) This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps. Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one. The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you. He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own death and the sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?

It is freedom from not just your sins and physical death, but also the devil! Jesus has come to set the captives free! By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed. Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is eternally, you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins. He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father. That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God. The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement. They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community. I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death. I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love. Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves. I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

January 21st, 2018
3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 21, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common? Both were separated from God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be destroyed. Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Why? Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive them! Isn’t that something? At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God directed presence of a big fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh! Through God’s work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting? That’s huge! Christians throughout our nation have been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet! Abortion is still legal, even though God say’s it is an evil abomination. So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh? Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel. The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city. The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness. Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts. In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light! Could that happen in this country? Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion? Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?

Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness. It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness. Everything?! Yes, everything! God’s Word confirms it, listen: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means? It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God! Why? Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin! Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it! Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.

But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen. And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.

You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better. But like I said, that’s a lie. You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart. You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit. So what are you going to do? Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong. You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace. It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase. His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase. It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning. You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will please God… you must trust Him. You need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved! You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!

“The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” What time is he speaking of? The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation. The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin. It is the time to repent and believe. Believe in what? Well, the better question is: Believe in Who? You see the what and the who are the very same thing. Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins! Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it. Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation. What must they do to be saved? The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them. Repent and believe. Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live. Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown. The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears. I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown. The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth. To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive! I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live. The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now. That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition. Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness. You are forgiven! Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live. You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it. We have been forgiven and loved by God. We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us. We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.” Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus. That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change. The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do. And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment. He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you! That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others. All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know. And what is it that you know? In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come. I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors. I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

January 7th, 2018

Baptism of Our Lord B, January 7, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Romans 6:1-11 and Mark 1:4-11

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“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” [Mark 1:9]

Every year the church celebrates the baptism of our Lord, and every year we answer a simple question: “Why was Jesus baptized?”  This year we will rephrase the question a little differently, “Why was Jesus baptized for you?”

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be washed.

That is what the word baptize literally means; it is a washing.  Whether you splash, sprinkle, or immerse, you are washing or baptizing.  So what kind of washing is baptism?  Well for each of us, baptism is a spiritual washing, where the old creature within us is drowned every day.  We learn from personal experience that we need to drown that old sinful nature every day, because, well it sins every day.  But there’s another part of living out our baptism, and that is turning to Jesus every day for forgiveness and renewal.  In this way of God, every day our new identity, a new person rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Or as St. Paul puts it in our Epistle reading, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, are to walk in a new life.” [Romans 6:4]

But what sins did Jesus need washed away?  None, He was, is, and always will be Holy, perfect, and righteous.  But in His baptism, He announced publicly, for the first time, that He who knew no sin, had come to become sin for us… for you!  So, in a sense, when He entered the waters of the Jordan he was clean, but when He left, He was drenched and soaked with not just your sins, but indeed the sins of the world. 

In exchange for your sins, Jesus would spend the next three years of His life obediently walking to the cross, where He would suffer and die.  On Good Friday, every one of your sins that He took upon Himself would be paid for with His very life.  Think about that, all of your sins have been locked within the only place that God refuses to see, the tomb of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ! 

But the tomb isn’t where Jesus work for you ends, no it ends in His resurrection!  In His resurrection, His rising from the dead, Jesus won eternal life for all sinners; He created a way back to paradise!  This is what we might call a happy exchange.

Now I know that for many of you this is the very best news you could hear, but for others this is just foolishness! 

For some they would call this exchange a ridiculous exchange, because to them, it’s just foolish!  And that’s always the way it is for those who are just fine with their sin or struggling to make up for their sinfulness in their own way.  They refuse to acknowledge that God’s ways are right and their ways are not just wrong, they’re evil! 

They can’t understand that when God chooses to use the simple things that are foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, He does it to shame sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-30); He chooses to shame them so that they might see their sin-filled and lost condition, and then receive God’s gift of life as a happy exchange.  He wants everyone to see that the life and death of Jesus reveals both the ultimate love of God for sinners and His eternal punishment for those who will not turn to Jesus as the only cure for their sin.  It’s God’s will that each and every sinner would see that while foolish men did their best to put Christ away in the tomb, He came back to life so that He could free even them from their existence as a sinner.  He came back to give them and us new life!

So what is it that prevents so many people from embracing this happy exchange?  Well, certainly it’s their sin, but it’s also our sinful society.  If there’s one thing that this old world teaches us, it’s that there are always strings attached; nothing is as good as it sounds; there is always a catch!

That’s what a young wife and mother thought back in 1997, when a woman called her home and said that she had won a brand new Ford, Mustang convertible.  Upon hearing the good news, the lucky winner answered, “I didn’t enter any contest and I’m not interested!”   She hung up the phone and told her husband that it was a salesperson with another come-on trying to sell a car.  Well a few seconds later, the phone rang again and this time the husband answered.  The woman on the other end said quickly and nervously, “Sir, please don’t hang up; I know you didn’t enter a contest but you really won a car.”  The husband asked, “And just how did we win?”  She began to explain that several months ago, his wife applied for a Von’s shopping card, and every time she used it to get the “Von’s discount” she was entered into the contest to win a car.  She also explained that there was nothing they needed to do, but simply show up at the nearest Von’s store to get their certificate and instructions on how to redeem it for a new Mustang.  Wow!  The family became loyal Von’s shoppers after that.

In a way, that is what this happy exchange is like.  You didn’t do anything to enter and win eternal life, God just put your name in those waters at the Jordan; God had you soaked into Jesus’ very flesh.  On Good Friday, Jesus had your name on His mind and in his heart as he suffered and died upon the cross, and on Easter Sunday He proclaimed you and the whole world as the winners!  But announcing this gift to the whole world and assuring you of this gift personally are two different things, aren’t they?  If you don’t hear about the victory, how can you claim it?  So God has to notify you personally, and He does this very thing through the preaching and sharing of His Word! 

In His Law, God shows each of us clearly that we are sinful and in need of His work of recreation, and in His gospel He assures you that your sins really have been paid for through Jesus death.  And through this same gospel Word He promises that in your baptism you’ve received a new identity; you are a saint!  This morning God is reminding you that He has chosen you!  In your baptism, He took that very Word of salvation and applied it to you in the washing of the water and the Word!  Jesus died for you, have you received it?  Even now, God is equipping you to open your heart and receive His gift; to receive His promise that through Christ Jesus you are saved!

Now some people will think that this offer from God is just foolish, and they’ll want to hang up on God’s offer, and that will be the end of it.  And others, well they’ll be wondering how it can be that simple.  They will doubt and want to hang onto their old life, but that’s only because they can’t see the beauty and the love in God’s offer. 

Listen friends, God wants you to give to Him all of your sins, the things your ashamed of; He wants your hurts and disappointments too.

He wants all of the pain that people in your life have caused you.  He wants the bitterness from your broken marriage and the misery of your past and present addictions.  He wants to take away the emptiness you feel from the loss of a loved one. He wants the fear and worry that consumes you as you struggle to find a way to feed your family and pay your bills.  How does He do all of this?  By teaching you to rest in your relationship of love with Him that comes through the washing of the water and His Word.

In Jesus baptism, He points us to our own baptism.  In Jesus, all wrongs are made right, and death is left behind for life.  Through the cross and the waters of our own baptism, Jesus is asking each of us to follow Him.  He’s asking us to follow Him in faith and trust that all things will work for our good, simply because we’re resting in His work and trusting in God’s love for us!  In this happy exchange, Jesus takes our old sinful nature and He crucifies it on the cross; He drowns it in the waters of our own baptism and He seals it away in the tomb.  And all that He asks of us is that we rest in and trust this work that was done for us!

Last week, I asked a very simple question several times throughout our message, and it was this: “Who are you?”  Well this morning, I would like to answer that question again, so that you will see the need to receive and rest in this happy exchange.  You are God’s own child through the work of Jesus Christ alone, and that identity was given to you in your baptism.  In baptism you were joined in Christ’s death, where He buried your old sinful nature once and for all.  So quit digging up the bones of that old no good sinner!  Instead of digging him up and letting him take the joy out of your salvation, spit on his grave and remind him that he’s dead.  And then remind yourself that not only were you joined in death with Jesus you were also joined with Him in life.  In your baptism Jesus raised you to a new life, a new identity.  Christ victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory!  Your old sinful nature, your old life and sins were crucified with Jesus once and for all in your Baptism.  So because that old nature is dead, it’s no longer that nature living but Jesus nature; your new nature.  And that new nature by faith simply rests in Jesus and follows His nature, as God’s Word reshapes you into the very image of His Son!

Dear friends, in Christ you are all winners if you will but receive the gifts Jesus gives to you.  What gifts does Jesus give?  Well first and foremost He gives you forgiveness of all your sins, past, present, and future.  But He also gives you faith to receive this gift everyday as you fight to put to death your old sinful nature.  Every day, God’s Word reminds us that not only did our sinful nature die on the day of our baptism, but with God’s Spirit we are taught to put it to death every day for the rest of our lives as we follow Jesus in the crucified life, where we live out our baptism.  This is the result of Jesus living in us and among us. 

Listen friends, when the world, the devil, and our own conscience accuse us of being weak, inconsistent and ineffective; when we begin to doubt God’s gift of forgiveness and peace, let’s allow His Word and the family of God to pick us back up in forgiveness, and together let’s loudly proclaim to the devil and this sinful world, “I am baptized into Christ!”  So you see, it’s not about you, it’s about the finished work of Jesus on the cross for you.  To God be the glory for the great things He has done for us and in us through Jesus Christ… AMEN!

December 24th, 2017

Christmas Eve Sunday, December 24, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Based upon Martin Luther’s Sermon for Christmas Vespers, Luke 2:8–14
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Today, in all of our readings and hymns, we’ve been given every reason to make this a time to celebrate; if we really are Christians then we have a lot to rejoice over, because God has sent His Son into our flesh. No one can ever really understand all that this truth means, not even when we will see Him face to face in heaven. Because you see, even the angels do not completely understand His taking on our flesh, but they know it’s something to rejoice about, even though it has nothing to do with them, but instead it’s only for us sinners. The angels are blessed spirits, because they were not conceived and born in sin like us. They have absolutely no need for a Savior. And yet, as we heard read today, they sing with great joy because a Savior has been born for sinners like us.

Look there in your mind’s eye and see that great band of angels standing and praising God. It’s as if they can barely contain themselves, waiting for the one angel to finish proclaiming:

“Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” [Luke 2:10]

No sooner than the last word is spoken do they break out with such a shout and song of praise that fills the heavens with great joy: “Glory to God in the highest!” [Luke 2:14]. Friends, this is a song that we can never truly understand or appreciate the power of its meaning; we can only try to sing along with them with as much power and joy that our sinful flesh can muster.

You know dear friends, even if this very great act of praise had nothing to do with us, but in reality it has everything to do with us, but even if it didn’t, we still would be obligated to rejoice along with the angels. But it does have to do with us; it has everything to do with us. You see, the eternal Son of God has taken on our flesh; He has become one with us. Even though we are poor and sinful human beings, He still chose to come to us, as one of us. If someone comes from a privileged background or they are simply related to some famous celebrity, they love to brag: “Oh, this is my brother, my brother-in-law, or my uncle the famous…,” and with that, they feel like they are someone special. So if the world knows how to rejoice in their relationships, why shouldn’t we do the same about our God; about our Savior?

Think about this for a moment, no matter how poor you may be, or how sick or unloved you are, that is only temporary, because God Himself has taken on your human nature in both body and soul for the purpose of elevating you beyond what you are now.

If only we, too, could praise Him as the angels!

If the president were to come here today and ask us to take his daughter in as a member of our church, a member who would bless us with great offerings of wealth that would assure us of a long and fruitful fully financed ministry, we would celebrate like there is no tomorrow. But what is that in comparison with the truth that the One who is God with the Father and Spirit has come down and become one of us?

Now I know that this is a different way to present the Christmas truth to you, but we need to understand what a great honor it is that the Son of God has become one of us. It is an honor that is greater than any of God’s angels have experienced. If God did nothing else for us but this great honor, we would have plenty to brag about and celebrate.   The angels can’t brag and say, “God became an angel like us.” No, but instead, He became a human being. Don’t you think that that just might be the reason the devil and his legions fell from God’s grace; could they have been jealous that God became one with us and not them?!

Why give glory to God in the highest? Because He has become your brother; that is a reason to give Him greater glory that any president, politician, celebrity, or family member. I believe that the devil saw what would happen if the Son of the Triune God came to live among us, as one of us. Isn’t it true that He is still trying to stop God’s children, the Son of God’s brothers and sisters from giving Him glory; from recognizing Him for who he is, our King? And if we are honest with ourselves, the devil is doing a pretty good job directing us away from our chief work of giving God glory. Be honest now, even without the work of the devil, how often do we really admire the beauty of the world without glorifying its creator? Oh Lord, forgive us for the lack of glory we give to you, and may you continue to beat back the devil and our own sinful pride.

Today, let’s see if we can’t let God’s light enter our hearts and help us see the need to give Him more honor and glory. Not only has God’s Son come down to be our brother, he has come down “for us men and for our salvation.” That is why the angel said:

“Unto you is born Christ the Lord (that is your Savior).” [Luke 2:11]

Listen, the fact that the Son of God became like us would be more than enough reason to give Him praise and glory, but that is not all He has done, you see, He has also become your Savior. You were born under the power of sin, death, and the devil, but it is His desire to free you from these things.

Now the devil and our sinful society laughs at this and calls it foolishness. We’re told that only simpletons believe in that kind of fairytale. They’ll say, “Now think about it for a moment. You believe that the Heavenly Father, put His Son in a young woman’s womb, then He was born and she nursed Him, only to let Him die a criminal’s death upon the cross—and all this took place for our sakes?” And to that we answer, “Yes that is the truth!” “Well” interjects the devil, “if you really believe that, then why don’t you live like you believe it? Why aren’t you praising your Savior so much that it tires you out?” And this dear saints is the predicament we find ourselves in today. For many of us, it is a source of misery and sadness, the fact that we read this scripture and hear it preached and it doesn’t seem to change us. We know that it’s the same truth that the prophets proclaimed and the angels sang about; it is the very same message that the shepherds reported and that which the apostles proclaimed and died for. It is one in the same message that the Church still sings about every Lord’s day, but it seems to have very little power over our daily lives. Why do we seem more like a lifeless stump than the brother or sister of our Savior God?

And yet, we still hear that the holy angels sang not only, “Glory to God in the highest,” but also “on earth peace among those with whom He is well pleased!” [Luke 2:14] So now, hold on just a minute; let’s not give up either our hope nor our joy just yet. Did you hear what the angel said? He said, “those with who God is well pleased.” Friends, that means that this little baby brings more than just a need to praise God, but the reality that through Him God is now pleased with us sinners. Now, I think that we are on to something. You see, God didn’t send His Son into the world to bring us fear or worry, but instead, we are to receive God’s goodwill; His desire to bring us peace. Understand now, this isn’t goodwill that you’ve earned; it’s simply a gift, or as God calls it, “grace”! This is why He encourages us to sing “Glory!”—even if we don’t seem to understand this; even if we seem to sometimes be unchanged by it, glory in your God and His Son any how; give Him the praise! Praise Him for all the works He does, but especially for this one, He gives you goodwill, peace with God! That is He gives you grace, love, and mercy even though you have given Him no reason to be so generous. Here is the reason even your sinful flesh must agree He deserves praise, not only in heaven among His angels, but even here, even from you.

Now I’m sure you can see, especially in these sinful times, we have a need for God’s goodwill; for His peace and righteousness. But won’t you agree that the fact that God has sent His Son as your brother and Savior is far greater than just saying God gives you goodwill? Isn’t that enough to move your heart to praise His name? But if you do not praise him and give him glory, won’t the devil accuse you of being separated from God? Yes he will, but that is not God’s judgment, nor His heart! God desires that you Christians should rejoice, delight, and be comforted in the truth that God has come to you, because… you… could not… come to Him!

Yes you will glory in God and give Him the praise, but not because you must, but because you can. You see, this is a different kind of glory and praise; it is the kind that does not need effort but only truth. What is that truth? Simply this: the Savior was born for you, so that you can acknowledge not what you have done, but what the merciful Father has done, so that we can boast and say, “I will praise the Lord because He has given His Son to me.” That is the praise, which God desires, “Glory to God in the highest.” So, we do not boast of the work that we do, but the work that placed the Son of God on Mary’s lap and then upon the cross.

Again, in my mind’s eye, by faith I see in this Child, this Son of God, not only a reason to glory, but I also find salvation.

Here, we see the God child nursing at Mary’s breast, and we rejoice with joy and give thanks so much that our hearts are changed and we see all things and all people in a different light. That is truly what singing with the angels, “Goodwill to men” means. Our hearts are now flooded with a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances but the simple truth that declares that through this Child, God is well pleased to dwell with you!

God came to you when there was no reason that He should come. You haven’t earned His coming but still He comes. This is the gospel that the angel was to announce, “I bring you glad tidings;” your sins are removed on account of the coming, and the full ministry of this God-child. So what is our response? Naturally, we give Him thanks and praise; we become peaceable, and have goodwill towards others.

This Child Jesus was born and given to you for this reason: that you would know that you have been honored and redeemed by God Himself. Embrace the Child and kiss Him, and say that He is your Jesus, your Lord and Savior; He is your God. He cannot just be Mary’s child, He must be yours even more than He is Mary’s Son. If He is yours, then you will be able to face anything that comes your way in this sinful world. With Jesus, you can stand firm against the devil and even your own death. Wherever He is, there you also will be, in death and in life. [John 14:3]

Today dear friends, I hope you will take this time to examine your life; let the truth of God lead you to see whether you have received this Child as your own, and whether you are glad in it. Test your life to see whether you believe in this truth, and if you do, then allow it to change your ways. If you find no improvement, no goodwill towards God and others, then you must conclude that it is not well with your soul. Christ is doing you no good. Do not think: “It is enough that I go to Church.” No it isn’t, because you haven’t yet begun to believe. But the fault for your lack of faith lies only with you and not God. He still calls out to you to believe and declare with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth (FOR ME) peace is (mine if I will not reject it).

I close with this final thought for your consideration. God has honored you above all angels and creatures, you have been blessed so highly that presidents and royalty are nothing in comparison to you; and more than that, you have been saved from your sins, and now, even death, sin, and the fires of hell can do nothing to you.

So now depart in God’s peace, and allow His Spirit to teach you to sing: “Peace to all sinful men and women, even for me.” In Him alone, may you find heavenly joy, so that nothing is so reassuring and sweet to you as Christ your Lord. If you find all that to be true, then by the power of God, may this day be a new beginning as you begin again your life in Christ. And in this new life, by God’s work, may you find peace and joy alone in Christ, His Holy Word, and the work He does for you in His blessed Holy Sacraments, as He keeps you blameless at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN!