Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

AMEN!




Amen!  That is the word of the day.  Jesus has taught us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray as sons.  Not as slaves.  Not as beggars.  Not as strangers.  But as sons, “Our Father in heaven.”

                In the Lord’s Prayer we ask for some rather lofty things.  These are no mere trifles and trinkets.  This is the stuff of necessity.  And it is costly, worth a king’s ransom and more. 

                We pray that God’s name would be kept holy, that we would live according to His Word.  We pray that His kingdom would come, that the Church would grow in faith and love and that Christ would return to raise the dead.  We pray that God’s will would be done, that His gracious desires would be fulfilled for our good.

                Jesus has taught us to pray that God would give all that we need to support this body and life, that He would give our daily bread.  We pray for the forgiveness of our sins, strength against temptation, and deliverance from evil.  

                And when we are done, to all of this we add our “Amen!”  When the prayer is concluded, when we are finished asking for God to restore the universe and our meager lives too, then we say, “Yes, Yes, it shall be so!

                That is, after all, how Martin Luther explains the meaning of “amen” in the Small Catechism.  The Greek word “amen” means, “Yes, indeed!”  It is a statement of strong affirmation and agreement.  It is the statement of faith, a firm conviction that this prayer will be heard and answered by God Himself.

                Perhaps the fault with our modern prayers is not a lack of humility, but a lack of confidence, a lack of faith.  “Well, God, if you have time, maybe you could…”  “Lord, if you feel like it, might you possibly…”  We pray like pansies, like wimps.  Hear Luther:

                “It is therefore a hurtful delusion when people so pray that they dare not wholeheartedly add their ‘Yes, it shall be so’ nor conclude with certainty that God hears their prayer, but instead remain doubtful and say, ‘How dare I have the audacity to boast that God heard my prayer?  After all, I am only a poor sinner,’ etc.  This shows that they are fastening their gaze not on God’s promise but on their own works and their own worthiness, thus despising God and calling Him a Liar.”  

                There is a certain audacity to this prayer.  We are to come before God with confidence, with faith.  We pray as dear children to their dear father.

                If we are going to pray based upon our own works and merits, then of course we should be timid.  If we are going to approach God based upon our own worthiness then humility is an understatement.  We would not dare to speak to God a single word.

                Or perhaps the problem is just the opposite.  It is not that we are too timid to pray, but we are too afraid that God might actually answer.  And so we either don’t pray at all, or we pray half-heartedly.  

It would drastically change my life if God’s name, kingdom, and will were first and foremost in my life.  God might actually take away my addiction, and then what?  He might really let me grow in faith and love.  Then what would I do?    

But I know what many of you are thinking: “I have prayed.  I have fallen on my knees, on my face, and bleed my heart out to God begging for deliverance, begging for healing.  You know what He said?  He said, ‘No.’”  

We have stopped praying, or prayed with less confidence, because we fear that one little word: no.

                This is a day to repent of false humility in our prayers.  It is a day to acknowledge that we have prayed, not with faith, but with uncertainty.  We have prayed timidly, based on our own worthiness, uncertain because of our own sin.  It is the day to repent that we have prayed in fear of getting what we ask for, of the upheaval it might bring into our lives.  It is a day to repent of failing to believe that all of God’s promises are “yes” in Jesus Christ.

                Repent and believe, because today is the day that Jesus is validated.  This is when Christ proves that all of God’s promises are “YES!”  This is when God reveals that His plan for this world—for you—is not death and destruction, but resurrection and life!  Today God gives His “Amen” to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. 

                Easter is God’s guarantee.  It is His promise of grace and favor.  God is for us.  He will never be against us.

                It is Jesus’ resurrection that gives us confidence to pray.  But it is not just about prayer.  It is about life lived under God’s grace.  

                When you walk out the door each morning you can do that with faith in God’s care for you.  When you set your hand to the plow or begin a new task, you can be certain that your work is favored by God.  As you care for your family, assist your neighbors, volunteer in the community, do so with firm trust that Jesus is with you.  Have the audacity to believe that God is for you.

                Has God really atoned for my sin with the death and resurrection of Jesus?  Yes He has.  Amen!

                Has God truly adopted me through the waters of baptism to be His child?  Certainly, yes.  Amen!

                Does He really feed me with the sacrifice of Christ, giving me His very body and blood?  He does.  Amen!

                Does God still speak words of Law and Gospel, words to drive out sin and strengthen faith, words to call to repentance and to forgive?  Yes.  Amen! 

                We pray boldly, confidently, as sons, “Our Father in heaven…”  Will God answer this prayer?  Yes!  He has done it and He will always do it.  Amen! 

                Let’s take one specific look at how we use this word, “Amen,” in our worship services.  On page 214 in your hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, I say, “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And you say, “Amen.”  Like, “Yeah, ok, whatever.”

No, not “ok.”  No, not “whatever.”

“Yes, yes, it shall be so!”

Your sins are forgiven, removed as far as the east is from the west.  Do you believe that?  Amen! 
 
Christ is risen!  Do you believe that?  Amen!

You are granted eternal, everlasting, never-ending life.  Do you believe that?  Amen! 

Then let it be so for you just as you believe.  

[Read the other sermons here: Our Father;   Hallowed Be Thy Name;   Thy Kingdom Come;   Thy Will Be Done;   Give Us Our Daily Bread;   Forgive Us;   Lead Us not into Temptation;   Deliver Us from Evil;   AMEN!]

Deliver Us from All Evil



 

Jesus teaches us to pray, finally, “Our Father…deliver us from evil.”  

                What is the evil from which we are to pray to be delivered?  We have already prayed for deliverance from evils that plague and attack the body.  This happens when we pray for daily bread.  So that is included here.  We pray that God would take away all sickness, poverty, and hardship that harms our human flesh. 

                Theft, war, bad leaders, angry neighbors, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, heat, and more.  There are so many bodily dangers in this world that it is impossible to name them all.  That is why Jesus summarizes them under the heading of daily bread.  These are evils from which we need to be delivered.

                We have also prayed for deliverance from evils that attack and assault the spirit.  Forgive us our trespasses.  Lead us not into temptation.  Your greatest spiritual need, contrary to popular wisdom, is forgiveness.  We are sinful through and through, and because of it God should completely ignore us. 

                It is this fact—that God will not hold our sins against us—which enables us to pray.  All our evil deeds, our trespasses and transgressions, are forgiven for the sake of Jesus and His cross.  If they were not we would not dare to pray.  But because there is forgiveness, we dare to pray as sons.  We need to be delivered from our own evil.   

                Perhaps, following on the heels of yesterday’s sermon, it is obvious that we need to be delivered from the “evil one” who brings temptations.  Peter describes the devil as a roaring lion ready to devour us.  He is ready and willing to drag us from the hand of God and down into the pits of hell.  We certainly need to be delivered from his evil power.

                Jesus enacts all of this during His earthly ministry.  Jesus never encounters a physical evil that He cannot heal.  Disease, paralysis, hunger, even death.  Jesus heals it, fixes it, raises it.  There is no earthly, physical evil that He cannot overcome.

                Jesus also overcomes all manner of spiritual evils.  Obviously He forgives sins.  He says those words all the time and backs them up with miracles.  He combats false faith with right teaching.  He strengthens faith and love with His Word and presence.

                And He drives back the power of the devil.  Demons cower in fear at the feet of Jesus.  He resists the devil in the wilderness.  Devils and demons are no match for the Son of God.

                Yet all of this would have had very little impact if it were not for what happened on Good Friday.  Think about it.  

                All those who were healed of their physical ailments would eventually get sick again, from something.  Those whom Jesus fed with miracles will grow hungry again in a few hours.  Those raised from the dead will die again.  These are not permanent.

                Those who were forgiven will sin again.  Those whose faith is strengthened will struggle with trust.  Those who have been taught will forget.

                Demons and the devil will continue to operate in the world.  You could be exorcised of your demons only to have them return.  The devil can be turned down today only to poke his head back up tomorrow.

                These solutions that Jesus offers, these miracles that He graciously performs, will all eventually be undone if He does not do something far greater, something much more drastic.  Think of it this way.  With His miracles Jesus is putting a bucket under a leak in the roof.  That may take care of the immediate problem, but a larger issue remains.  The roof must be fixed.

                Humanity, this sinful fallen world, must be fixed.  The miracles were a kind and loving gesture, but the real solution is much more significant, much more drastic.

                Jesus must die.  

                To deliver us from the evils that plague the body, Jesus must submit to those evils and suffer greatly.  To deliver us from the power of sin and temptation, Jesus must submit to the punishment for them.  To deliver us from the devil, Jesus must make it look like the devil won.

                It is only here, at the cross, that ultimate deliverance is possible.  This is the cure for all our physical needs, because everyone who looks to the cross of Christ will have eternal life.  

This is the total solution for the needs of the spirit because here the forgiveness of sins is purchased and won.  The cross opens a flowing fountain of forgiveness that will never run dry.  It strips the devil of all his power, exposing him for the liar he truly is.

The death of Jesus is God’s cure for the ills of the entire universe.  And it exposes the ministry of Jesus, not as a temporary failure, but as a foretaste of the glory to come.  One day there will be total healing and no more disease.  One day there will be no more temptation and no more need for forgiveness.  And all because Jesus died to pay for it.

When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” we can have complete confidence that not only will this petition be answered, it is already answered.  God has delivered us from all wickedness in the death of Jesus.  The cross has purchased for us a destiny free from all evil.  We pray knowing that even if evil things happen now, they will not happen then.

So we pray, confidently as sons, “Father in heaven…deliver us from evil.”  He has.  And He will. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lead Us Not into Temptation



 
 
Jesus teaches us to pray, “Father in heaven…lead us not into temptation.”  Temptation.  What exactly is that?  There is a lot of confusion out there because of this word.

            Some churches will say things only count as sin if we actually do them with our hands.  It is only murder if I physically pommel someone.  It is only adultery if I actually do it.  It is only stealing if I actually take it. 

            On the flip side, you have those who will say you have sinned even if you have simply thought about breaking a commandment.  Because the thought occurred to you to punch your co-worker in the nose, you have already sinned.

            Neither of these is exactly accurate, but the answer is not easy.  It is notoriously difficult to draw a bold dark line between temptation and sin.  The line is not bold and distinct, but, due to our sinful nature, it is foggy and hard to see.

            We know that temptation is not sin.  If you have the thought to break the commandments of God you are not sinning.  But if you indulge that thought you are.  Not just outwardly, but inwardly.  

Jesus warns that anger and hate is as damning as real violence.  Lust is just as sinful as fornication.  Greed and jealousy is as deadly a poison as stealing.  The fantasy of the mind is just as sinful as the actions of the hands.

            In his commentary of the Lord’s Prayer, Dr Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary helps to cut through some of this confusion by explaining that the word “temptation” indicates “combat with Satan and his forces and his ways”.  In other words, temptation is spiritual warfare.  

And so our sin when dealing with temptation comes not so much from our thoughts as it does from our position toward those thoughts.  Are we fighting Satan and his temptations with the Word of God and prayer, or are we letting the devil have his way with us?  Are we active or passive?  Are we engaging in battle, fighting back, or do we lay down our weapons, throw up our arms, and surrender?

As we follow Jesus in this life we will be attacked by the devil.  He will be set us with all manner of temptations to evil.  Where ever we are weakest, there the devil strikes.  I heard one theologian put it this way:

Imagine that you are transported to an island where you could do whatever you wanted.  You could have anything your heart desired, and no one, not even God would ever know about it.  There would be zero consequences for your actions and your wishes.  What would you ask for?  What would you do?  Those are your greatest temptations.  And that is where the devil will strike.  That is where he will attempt to destroy you. (from Dr. Russell Moore)

This is the night of temptation for Jesus.  Not only did He institute the Lord’s Supper, but He also went out into the garden to pray, and there He wrestled with His own human will and submitted it to God’s.
 
While we are not told that the devil was there in the garden, we can be sure that he had a vested interest in Jesus’ disobedience to God.  

Jesus is tempted, but He does not sin.  When His human nature is confronted with certain, torturous, death He has a very human response:  He does not want to die!  The temptation is to value His human will over the divine will of His Father.  

How does Jesus wrestle with this temptation?  Is He actively fighting or passively caving in?  He fights.  He wrestles.  He drops to His knees and prays.  Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.  

Martin Luther follows this in the Large Catechism in his commentary on this petition.  He says that these words, when we are beset with temptation, should be our mantra.  They are to be our constant prayer: “Dear father, lead me not into temptation.

More than that, Luther explains, these words are a club with which to bludgeon the devil.  When he attacks, we fight back with this prayer.  We beat him with this club, and eventually he cannot help but give in.  The temptation will submit to God in this petition.

As fallen human beings we are not as ferocious in battle as we ought to be.  Jesus never faltered.  He never went passive.  But we do.  We do not always pick up the club of prayer.  We do not fight back with all our might.  We fall into temptation when we are attacked by the devil.

All this drives us into repentance.  Our weakness, our passivity in the midst of spiritual warfare, drives us back to the one who did fight, the one who conquered, the one who on this night overcame His own temptations.  We are driven to the one Man who broke the power of every temptation with His death and resurrection.

Jesus has taken the punishment for every time we have given into temptation.  He has overcome that same punishment with His resurrection.  And His victory becomes a guarantee to all who believe that one day temptations will be no more.  We shall be resurrected completely free from their lure and power.  

Until that day there is a battle raging.  We are following our Lord Jesus from the font of baptism until the day of the resurrection.  As we follow we will be attacked.  We will be tested.  We will be tempted. 

Sometimes, probably more often than we care to admit, we will fall to that temptation.  As I said, the line is foggy.  It is difficult to see.  If you think you have fallen, don’t debate the issue.  When in doubt, repent.  Jesus will forgive.  That is the purpose for which He has come. 

This petition is our club to beat back the enemy.  We pray, relying not on our power or purity, but on our Father to bring us through.  The words that Jesus teaches us to pray beat the temptation over the head until at last it submits to the will of God and leaves us alone.

So we pray, continually, without ceasing, “Lead us not into temptation.”