Thus It Is Written, Fulfilled, and Proclaimed

SERMON  Thus It Is Written, Fulfilled, and Proclaimed

SCRIPTURE:  Luke 24:36-49

Do you want to know what the Bible is all about? Do you want to know what Jesus came to do? Do you want to know what the church’s preaching should emphasize? If so, then I’ve got good news for you. The answers to all three of these questions are given in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 24, specifically, in these verses: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

The Bible’s meaning, Jesus’ mission, and the church’s message–all summarized right here in one text. Thus our theme for today: “Thus It Is Written, Fulfilled, and Proclaimed.”

First, “Thus it is written,” that is, here is the Bible’s meaning, what it’s all about. Jesus himself tells us what he sees as the subject of the Scriptures. And it is . . . himself. Yes, Jesus makes the audacious claim that he is the central theme running through Holy Scripture. Listen to what he says. He reminds the disciples that he had spoken to them concerning “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, and says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ,” and so on. In other words, Jesus is saying that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the one prophesied throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus is saying, essentially, “The Bible is about me.” This is not bragging; it’s the truth, and it’s for our benefit.

“Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” This is a way of referring to the three main divisions of the Hebrew Bible: the Law of Moses, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible; then the Prophets, which consisted of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets; and finally the Psalms, which stood at the head of the section called the Writings. Jesus here is talking about what we call the Old Testament, and he is saying that the whole thing is about him.

How so? How does that thread run through the Old Testament? Well, track it along with me. Think of the first promise of a deliverer, given by God right after the fall into sin: the seed of the woman who would strike the serpent in the head, even the serpent strikes his heel. Or think of the promise to Abraham, that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. The seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham–that’s Jesus. Then there are the types of Jesus found in Israel’s history, those who prefigured his ministry: Moses, who led the children of Israel out of bondage. Joshua, Moses’ successor, who led them into the Promised Land. Aaron, the High Priest, who offered up sacrifices by which the people’s sins were forgiven. David, the King, to whom it was promised that one of his sons would be the great King, the Messiah, who would have an everlasting kingdom. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are replete with promises, prophecies, types–persons, institutions, and events–that all pointed ahead to what would finally be embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

It was all there in the Scriptures that the disciples had, it was right there under their nose, but still the disciples didn’t get it, they didn’t put it all together. Until after the resurrection, when Jesus here meets with them and opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. And that’s why Jesus gives his “Thus it is written” statement, as a short summary of what it all boils down to if anyone is going to understand the Bible .  He sums it up as follows: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus is saying this is what the Bible is about, what it’s aiming at. If you don’t understand the Bible this way, you don’t understand it.

Three things here in Jesus’ summary of the contents of the Bible: that the Christ should suffer, that he should rise on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness should be preached in his name. That the Christ should suffer? Where is that in the Old Testament? Certainly the Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah 53, the Servant of the Lord who would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “with whose stripes we are healed”–this is the outstanding example of what Jesus says is written concerning the Christ’s suffering.

The resurrection? Psalm 16, a prime example: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” The preaching to the nations? “The word of the Lord shall go out from Jerusalem,” and “nations shall come to your light.” The suffering and death of the Christ, his bodily resurrection to life, and the preaching that will go out in his name–Jesus says this is what is written in the Scriptures, this is what we need to understand.

And so, if this is what is written, this is what Jesus came to fulfil. Thus it is written, thus it is fulfilled. Jesus came as the Christ to suffer and to rise for our salvation, so that there would be forgiveness of sins for the church to proclaim. This he did, the eternal Son of God coming in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again on our behalf. Ever wonder why the Apostles’ Creed skips ahead from “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,” zooming fast-forward over about 33 years to “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried”? Why? Because that’s where the four gospels and where Jesus himself put the emphasis. After establishing his person, who Jesus is, namely, the Christ, God’s Son in the flesh, the focus is on Christ’s sacrificial suffering and death. Because that’s where the salvation is. Jesus came to be the one who delivers all of sinful mankind from the bondage of sin and the curse of death–to deliver you and me by means of his atoning death on the cross. Only that would get the job done, to free us from the impossible death-trap we had gotten ourselves into. So that’s where the emphasis lies, in the gospels, in the Creed, and in accord with the summary that Jesus gives right here,

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer.” “And on the third day rise from the dead.” Jesus came to fulfil that, too. The resurrection from the dead. That is the proof that what Jesus suffered was sufficient to take the sting out of death and give us life, eternal life, in its place. This is what we are celebrating during this Easter season–Christ’s resurrection. For it’s the guarantee of life not only for him but for us as well. Christ shares his resurrection life with us, all who trust in him and are baptized in his name. This too is what is written in Scripture and fulfilled in Christ.

Thus it is written. Thus it is fulfilled. Thus it is proclaimed. The preaching, the church’s preaching, what it should be about–this is what so naturally follows. “And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” Repentance–the realization that you are stuck in your sins apart from God’s grace, that you have no hope in yourself, that you are damned and doomed and rightfully so. Repentance is when the weight of your sins comes crashing down on you and you cry out to God, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Law has to do its work on your heart if you are to see your need. But then the preaching doesn’t stop there. Then comes the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. This is what Jesus has won for you, and he wants you to have it, to know it, to receive it. And it is through the foolishness of preaching that the gifts get delivered to your door. The Word of God is alive and active, and as the forgiveness is proclaimed in Jesus’ name, that same Word is effective to deliver the goods and to give you what it says.

That’s what Peter does, isn’t it, as we read it in the lesson from the Book of Acts?  Peter follows Jesus’ preaching outline very closely. He preaches the death and resurrection of the Christ, and he preaches repentance and forgiveness in his name: “You delivered Jesus into death–you killed the Author of life, that’s how badly you missed it–but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of his resurrection. What God foretold by his prophets, that the Christ would suffer, this he fulfilled. Now listen. You need to repent, turn from your sins, and your sins will be blotted out, forgiven, wiped from the record. There is life in this Jesus that I am telling you about. Believe in him and be saved.”

That’s a summary of the preaching Jesus would have his church do. And so I proclaim to you, to you here today: Jesus Christ died for you. It was your sins he was bearing on that cross. You have no hope in yourself; your sins would condemn you. Death and God’s judgment is all you would face. But Christ died for you. He took your sins and carried them away, paid for them in full. God is merciful, and he forgives you your sins for Jesus’ sake. Your Savior now is risen–Hallelujah!–and you will rise with him. New life now, and an even better, eternal life after that–glorified bodies, restored creation, no more sin, perfect fellowship with God and with all his people–this is what is in store for you, you who trust in him. And I preach this now to you in Jesus’ name. You can take it to the bank. This is the sure hope you have in Christ.

Thus it is written. Thus it is fulfilled. Thus it is proclaimed. Thus it is believed. God is quickening this faith in your heart right now. Give him thanks that you know your Redeemer lives. And because he lives, you shall live also. Thus it is, and thus it will be. Amen.

This message by Rev Charles Henrickson is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project  You can read more at Steadfast Lutherans

 

 

The Voice From Heaven

SERMON   The Voice from Heaven

SCRIPTURE   –Mark 1:4-11

I. Introduction –
A few words about Epiphany…
It’s one of those words we don’t use over coffee.  Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation” or “revealing”. It is the post-Christmas season in which the church dwells on just who it is that has appeared among us. Throughout the Epiphany season, we will be progressively unveiling more and more about this Jesus. Today as we read of Jesus’ Baptism, we hear the voice from heaven, which says, “This is my son” . At the end of the Epiphany season, we find ourselves on the Mount of Transfiguration, and again the voice declares, “This is my son.” What a wonderful way to summarize the meaning of Epiphany. Book-ended by the voice of God.

The actual day of the Epiphany of our Lord, celebrated on January 6th, is also known as the Gentile Christmas, and we recall the star that brought the wise men to worship the Christ-child. We modern worshippers of the Christ would be wise men too, by recalling and appreciating his appearing. Today, we turn to Christ’s Baptism…

II. A Burning Question
I think many, maybe most Christians who first read this account of Jesus’ Baptism, and have a basic understanding of who Jesus is, are left with a burning question. Why is Jesus, sinless, spotless Lamb of God that he is, getting baptized? Isn’t baptism for forgiveness? What’s going on here? Does Jesus need to be forgiven? For what?

Now, you and I, that’s a different story. We need our baptism. We are sinners. We are born in sin, we live in sin, we love to sin. We wallow in it like pigs in mud. We need a good washing off. So Christian baptism, a gift of God, a holy sacrament, cleanses us from the soil of our soul. We who are baptized stand clean before the Lord – pure – sinless.

Baptism for us is also more than a temporary fix. It’s not like an earthly cleaning that has to be done over and over. Like brushing your teeth every morning because they don’t stay minty-fresh for long. Like the endless tasks of washing dishes and washing laundry. Like my wife and I doing our daily picking up after the kids. NO! Baptism is entirely different.

Baptism is a “washing of rebirth and renewal”. When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, he says baptism is being “born again”. So we who are baptized – ARE BAPTIZED. It is an action of God which recreates us to be something entirely different than the sinners we once were. And day after day, we return to those baptismal waters – reminding ourselves of God’s promise and his love and our status as his beloved children. We are free from sin, by God’s grace, given in this precious way.

But that still doesn’t answer why Jesus got baptized. One clue is in Matthew’s Gospel, where John protests – “I need to be baptized by YOU, Jesus!” But Jesus answers that it is fitting to do so now, “in order to fulfill all righteousness”. And here is the key.

Righteousness comes to us only through the work of Christ as our savior. He wins it for us, as well we know, at the Cross – where he died for our sins. This was important! But also important was Jesus living the perfect life for us. In fact, if at the cross he dies in our place, everything that leads up to the cross is Jesus “living in our place”. He “fulfills all righteousness” by standing in the place of sinners. Here now, he publicly identifies with us sinners, by standing in our place – in the baptismal waters of the Jordan.

And as much as our baptism takes our sins away, Jesus’ baptism does for him quite the opposite. He, the sinless Lamb of God, in a sense, here takes on our sin – and will carry it, eventually, to the cross. Jesus’ Baptism – such an important event – is the first step, in a way, toward Calvary.

III. A Trinitarian Event
Another indicator of this event’s great significance is the glaring presence of God in all his Triune fullness. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all come together in a profound way here. Jesus, of course, the voice of the Father, as well as the descent of the Spirit.

Few other times in scripture do we have such a clear picture of the Trinue God. Surely at Creation, where the Father speaks, the Pre-incarnate Word (that is the son) also has a hand (John says, “through him all things were made”). And the Spirit too is present, moving over the waters, and bringing life to Adam’s cold clay.

Also in the final chapters of our Bible, where John’s Revelation reveals a picture of the heavenly throne – with God the Father seated, Christ the Lamb at the center of the throne, and the Holy Spirit also symbolically present in the 7 lamp-stands.

What an event that brings the Trinue God into such focus – But Christ’s baptism also means creation and it also means heaven for his people. For as we are baptized, we receive the three-fold name of our three-in-one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we become a new creation. And we become heirs of heaven. It’s all connected.

IV. A Voice from Heaven
One final note here, that should not escape us. The voice that speaks from heaven is a kindly voice of the Father. If it were not for Christ, we couldn’t expect such a thing.

Either we would hear the voice of God’s wrath – the voice of a God who was angry with our sin. The voice of judgment. The voice of punishment. Or we would hear a deafening silence from a God who wants nothing to do with sin . God would forsake us, exile us from his presence, the just desserts for our wickedness.

But the Father’s voice does speak. In Christ, we can hear it. And it is a voice of love. “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased”. That’s great for Jesus – but what about us?In Christ, that voice is for us too. God was speaking to his son, but he was also speaking to you and me. Remember Christ stands as our representative, and what he receives he passes on to us. So that in our Baptism, the voice from heaven says to us, “You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you. With you I am pleased!” Not because of us, but because of Christ!

And heaven is opened. Torn open, Mark says. Dramatically open. Like the temple curtain that was shredded on Good Friday, Christ tears open the barrier between heaven and earth, between God and man. He does demolition on the devil’s dreaded kingdom. And in his tomb that was burst open at his resurrection, he even rips apart death itself. He restores and forgives, recreates and cleanses. He makes us God’s beloved children.

As this Epiphany season begins, think again on what it all means that the God of Heaven was born as a man. That Jesus Christ has appeared to us, and as one of us. Sinless, yet taking on our sin. And as we unpack the meaning of it all, we see more and more the grace and love of God for us sinners. That in Christ, heaven is opened, our sins are washed away, and the kindly voice of God speaks loving words to us. In Jesus Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
At Jesus’ Baptism, God speaks! His words apply to His Son, and through Jesus, to us as well. Because of Christ, God is well pleased with us!

This message from Pastor Tom Chryst brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project.  You can read more at  Preachrblog.com

 

The Other Wise Man

THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MAN

A Short Story by Henry Van Dyke

Abridged for pulpit use by Carlos E. Wilton

December 25, 2011

 

The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke, was first published in Harper’s magazine in 1893, and in book form in 1896.  It is the fictional story of a fourth wise man, named Artaban.  The full text of the story, which is in the public domain, may be found online at Project Gutenberg:

 

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10679

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    The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke, is the fictional story of a fourth wise man, named Artaban. We pick up his story as Artaban is journeying by horse across the eastern plains, trying to catch up with his three fellow magi who have departed ahead of him, bearing their rich gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Artaban is carrying gifts of his own – three precious stones: a ruby, a sapphire and a pearl, which he hopes to present to the Christ child.

 

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All night long Vasda, the swiftest of Artaban’s horses, had been waiting, saddled and bridled, in her stall, pawing the ground impatiently, and shaking her bit as if she shared the eagerness of her master’s purpose, though she knew not its meaning.

Before the birds had fully roused to their strong, high, joyful chant of morning song, before the white mist had begun to lift lazily from the plain, the other wise man was in the saddle, riding swiftly along the high-road, which skirted the base of Mount Orontes, westward….

 

Artaban must, indeed, ride wisely and well if he would keep the appointed hour with the other Magi; for the route was a hundred and fifty parasangs, and fifteen was the utmost that he could travel in a day. But he knew Vasda’s strength, and pushed forward without anxiety, making the fixed distance every day, though he must travel late into the night, and in the morning long before sunrise.

He passed along the brown slopes of Mount Orontes, furrowed by the rocky courses of a hundred torrents.

He crossed the level plains of the Nisasans, where the famous herds of horses, feeding in the wide pastures, tossed their heads at Vasda’s approach, and galloped away with a thunder of many hoofs, and flocks of wild birds rose suddenly from the swampy meadows, wheeling in great circles with a shining flutter of innumerable wings and shrill cries of surprise.

He traversed the fertile fields of Concabar, where the dust from the threshing-floors filled the air with a golden mist, half hiding the huge temple of Astarte with its four hundred pillars….

 

Artaban pressed onward until he arrived, at nightfall of the tenth day, beneath the shattered walls of populous Babylon.

Vasda was almost spent, and he would gladly have turned into the city to find rest and refreshment for himself and for her. But he knew that it was three hours’ journey yet to the Temple of the Seven Spheres, and he must reach the place by midnight if he would find his comrades waiting. So he did not halt, but rode steadily across the stubble-fields.

A grove of date-palms made an island of gloom in the pale yellow sea. As she passed into the shadow Vasda slackened her pace, and began to pick her way more carefully.

Near the farther end of the darkness an access of caution seemed to fall upon her. She scented some danger or difficulty; it was not in her heart to fly from it-only to be prepared for it, and to meet it wisely, as a good horse should do. The grove was close and silent as the tomb; not a leaf rustled, not a bird sang.

She felt her steps before her delicately, carrying her head low, and sighing now and then with apprehension. At last she gave a quick breath of anxiety and dismay, and stood stock-still, quivering in every muscle, before a dark object in the shadow of the last palm-tree.

Artaban dismounted. The dim starlight revealed the form of a man lying across the road. His humble dress and the outline of his haggard face showed that he was probably one of the poor Hebrew exiles who still dwelt in great numbers in the vicinity. His pallid skin, dry and yellow as parchment, bore the mark of the deadly fever which ravaged the marsh-lands in autumn. The chill of death was in his lean hand, and, as Artaban released it, the arm fell back inertly upon the motionless breast.

He turned away with a thought of pity, consigning the body to that strange burial which the Magians deemed most fitting-the funeral of the desert, from which the kites and vultures rise on dark wings, and the beasts of prey slink furtively away, leaving only a heap of white bones in the sand.

But, as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the man’s lips. The brown, bony fingers closed convulsively on the hem of the Magian’s robe and held him fast.

Artaban’s heart leaped to his throat, not with fear, but with a dumb resentment at the importunity of this blind delay.

How could he stay here in the darkness to minister to a dying stranger? What claim had this unknown fragment of human life upon his compassion or his service? If he lingered but for an hour he could hardly reach Borsippa at the appointed time. His companions would think he had given up the journey. They would go without him. He would lose his quest.

But if he went on now, the man would surely die. If he stayed, life might be restored. His spirit throbbed and fluttered with the urgency of the crisis. Should he risk the great reward of his divine faith for the sake of a single deed of human love? Should he turn aside, if only for a moment, from the following of the star, to give a cup of cold water to a poor, perishing Hebrew?

“God of truth and purity,” he prayed, “direct me in the holy path, the way of wisdom which Thou only knowest.”

Then he turned back to the sick man. Loosening the grasp of his hand, he carried him to a little mound at the foot of the palm-tree….

 

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    The story goes on to tell how Artaban ministers to the disease-ravaged man, saving his life.  In return, the Hebrew tells Artaban that the Messiah is to be born not in Jerusalem, but in the City of David, called Bethlehem.

    Artaban makes haste to resume his journey, eager to meet his friends and tell them they ought to make for Bethelehem, not Jerusalem.  Yet, when he arrives at the rendezvous point, the Temple of the Seven Spheres, this is what he finds…

 

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It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste, and Vasda, restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly through the silent plain and swam the channels of the river. She put forth the remnant of her strength, and fled over the ground like a gazelle.

But the first beam of the sun sent her shadow before her as she entered upon the final stadium of the journey, and the eyes of Artaban, anxiously scanning the great mound of Nimrod and the Temple of the Seven Spheres, could discern no trace of his friends.

The many-colored terraces of black and orange and red and yellow and green and blue and white, shattered by the convulsions of nature, and crumbling under the repeated blows of human violence, still glittered like a ruined rainbow in the morning light.

Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the highest terrace, looking out towards the west.

The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the horizon and the border of the desert. Bitterns stood by the stagnant pools and jackals skulked through the low bushes; but there was no sign of the caravan of the wise men, far or near.

At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken bricks, and under them a piece of parchment. He caught it up and read: “We have waited past the midnight, and can delay no longer. We go to find the King. Follow us across the desert.”

Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in despair.

“How can I cross the desert,” said he, “with no food and with a spent horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire, and buy a train of camels, and provision for the journey. I may never overtake my friends. Only God the merciful knows whether I shall not lose the sight of the King because I tarried to show mercy.”

 

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    Having sold his sapphire – one of the three precious stones he was intending to give to the Christ child – to buy provisions for the journey, Artaban sets off for Bethlehem.  He is hopeful that, since his three friends are headed by mistake for Jerusalem, he will arrive in Bethlehem about the time they also are arriving.

    But it is not to be.  The detour to Babylon to buy provisions has taken too much time.  By the time Artaban arrives in Bethlehem, he finds no sign of either the newborn King, nor of his friends.  It is three days after the wise men have laid their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at Jesus’ feet.  Mary and Joseph have already fled, taking the baby Jesus to Egypt.  Artaban learns all this from a young mother of the town, who offers him hospitality in her home — and this is where our story picks up again…

 

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Artaban listened to her gentle, timid speech, and the child in her arms looked up in his face and smiled, stretching out its rosy hands to grasp at the winged circle of gold on his breast. His heart warmed to the touch. It seemed like a greeting of love and trust to one who had journeyed long in loneliness and perplexity, fighting with his own doubts and fears, and following a light that was veiled in clouds.

“Might not this child have been the promised Prince?” he asked within himself, as he touched its soft cheek. “Kings have been born ere now in lowlier houses than this, and the favorite of the stars may rise even from a cottage. But it has not seemed good to the God of wisdom to reward my search so soon and so easily. The one whom I seek has gone before me; and now I must follow the King to Egypt.”…

But suddenly there came the noise of a wild confusion and uproar in the streets of the village, a shrieking and wailing of women’s voices, a clangor of brazen trumpets and a clashing of swords, and a desperate cry: “The soldiers! the soldiers of Herod! They are killing our children.”

The young mother’s face grew white with terror. She clasped her child to her bosom, and crouched motionless in the darkest corner of the room, covering him with the folds of her robe, lest he should wake and cry.

But Artaban went quickly and stood in the doorway of the house. His broad shoulders filled the portal from side to side, and the peak of his white cap all but touched the lintel.

The soldiers came hurrying down the street with bloody hands and dripping swords. At the sight of the stranger in his imposing dress they hesitated with surprise. The captain of the band approached the threshold to thrust him aside. But Artaban did not stir. His face was as calm as though he were watching the stars, and in his eyes there burned that steady radiance before which even the half-tamed hunting leopard shrinks, and the fierce blood-hound pauses in his leap. He held the soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a low voice:

“I am all alone in this place, and I am waiting to give this jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in peace.”

He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great drop of blood.

The captain was amazed at the splendor of the gem. The pupils of his eyes expanded with desire, and the hard lines of greed wrinkled around his lips. He stretched out his hand and took the ruby.

“March on!” he cried to his men, “there is no child here. The house is still.”

The clamor and the clang of arms passed down the street as the headlong fury of the chase sweeps by the secret covert where the trembling deer is hidden. Artaban re-entered the cottage. He turned his face to the east and prayed:

“God of truth, forgive my sin! I have said the thing that is not, to save the life of a child. And two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?”

But the voice of the woman, weeping for joy in the shadow behind him, said very gently:

“Because thou hast saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.”

 

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    Years pass, and Artaban continues his quest for the babe of Bethlehem.  He journeys to Egypt, and hears from a learned rabbi in the city of Alexandria that the Messiah is most likely to be found among the lowly and despised of the world.  And so Artaban journeys through all the lands of the Jewish dispersion, hoping to find some trace of this child who is born to be King.

    We pick up his story thirty-three years later, in the city of Jerusalem…

 

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Three-and-thirty years of the life of Artaban had passed away, and he was still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. His hair, once darker than the cliffs of Zagros, was now white as the wintry snow that covered them. His eyes, that once flashed like flames of fire, were dull as embers smouldering among the ashes.

Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. He had often visited the holy city before, and had searched through all its lanes and crowded hovels and black prisons without finding any trace of the family of Nazarenes who had fled from Bethlehem long ago. But now it seemed as if he must make one more effort, and something whispered in his heart that, at last, he might succeed.

It was the season of the Passover. The city was thronged with strangers. The children of Israel, scattered in far lands all over the world, had returned to the Temple for the great feast, and there had been a confusion of tongues in the narrow streets for many days.

But on this day there was a singular agitation visible in the multitude. The sky was veiled with a portentous gloom, and currents of excitement seemed to flash through the crowd like the thrill which shakes the forest on the eve of a storm. A secret tide was sweeping them all one way. The clatter of sandals, and the soft, thick sound of thousands of bare feet shuffling over the stones, flowed unceasingly along the street that leads to the Damascus gate.

Artaban joined company with a group of people from his own country, Parthian Jews who had come up to keep the Passover, and inquired of them the cause of the tumult, and where they were going.

“We are going,” they answered, “to the place called Golgotha, outside the city walls, where there is to be an execution. Have you not heard what has happened? Two famous robbers are to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the people, so that they love him greatly. But the priests and elders have said that he must die, because he gave himself out to be the Son of God. And Pilate has sent him to the cross because he said that he was the ‘King of the Jews.'”

How strangely these familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban! They had led him for a lifetime over land and sea. And now they came to him darkly and mysteriously like a message of despair. The King had arisen, but He had been denied and cast out. He was about to perish. Perhaps He was already dying. Could it be the same who had been born in Bethlehem thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star had appeared in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had spoken?

Artaban’s heart beat unsteadily with that troubled, doubtful apprehension which is the excitement of old age. But he said within himself: “The ways of God are stranger than the thoughts of men, and it may be that I shall find the King, at last, in the hands of His enemies, and shall come in time to offer my pearl for His ransom before He dies.”

So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful steps towards the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the entrance of the guard-house a troop of Macedonian soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl with torn dress and dishevelled hair. As the Magian paused to look at her with compassion, she broke suddenly from the hands of her tormentors, and threw herself at his feet, clasping him around the knees. She had seen his white cap and the winged circle on his breast.

“Have pity on me,” she cried, “and save me, for the sake of the God of Purity! I also am a daughter of the true religion which is taught by the Magi. My father was a merchant of Parthia, but he is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death.”

Artaban trembled.

It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in the palm-grove of Babylon and in the cottage at Bethlehem-the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love. Twice the gift which he had consecrated to the worship of religion had been drawn from his hand to the service of humanity. This was the third trial, the ultimate probation, the final and irrevocable choice.

Was it his great opportunity, or his last temptation? He could not tell. One thing only was clear in the darkness of his mind-it was inevitable. And does not the inevitable come from God?

One thing only was sure to his divided heart-to rescue this helpless girl would be a true deed of love. And is not love the light of the soul?

He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He laid it in the hand of the slave.

“This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I kept for the King.”

While he spoke, the darkness of the sky thickened, and shuddering tremors ran through the earth, heaving convulsively like the breast of one who struggles with mighty grief.

The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were loosened and crashed into the street. Dust clouds filled the air. The soldiers fled in terror, reeling like drunken men. But Artaban and the girl whom he had ransomed crouched helpless beneath the wall of the Praetorium.

What had he to fear? What had he to live for? He had given away the last remnant of his tribute for the King. He had parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching. He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him. He had looked for more. And if he had not found it, if a failure was all that came out of his life, doubtless that was the best that was possible. He had not seen the revelation of “life everlasting, incorruptible and immortal.” But he knew that even if he could live his earthly life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been.

One more lingering pulsation of the earthquake quivered through the ground. A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man on the temple. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl’s shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through the twilight, very small and still, like music sounding from a distance, in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned to see if some one had spoken from the window above them, but she saw no one.

Then the old man’s lips began to move, as if in answer, and she heard him say in the Parthian tongue:

“Not so, my Lord: For when saw I thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee? Three-and- thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King.”

He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it, very faintly and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood the words:

“Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”

A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain-peak. One long, last breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips.

His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.

SERMON:  His Last Words: Our First Work

 

Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20  

There is something about a person’s last words; we take them seriously. Even criminals on death row get to make last requests that are often honored. The things Jesus said in our text are some of his last recorded words. We’re going to see that his last words are our first work – to make disciples of the Triune God. Let’s find out how Jesus says we are to do this important work.

Jesus spoke the words of our text on a mountain in Galilee some time after his resurrection. As his disciples worshipped him Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18b-20).

The main point of Jesus’ last words is this: make disciples of all nations. We do this first by going to the nations and not expecting them to come to us. We shouldn’t expect people to come to us because by nature sinners don’t want to be evangelized. They’re content to hold to their pagan beliefs or faith in science and don’t think they need the forgiveness Jesus has won for them. That’s why it’s important as a congregation that we do more than keep our doors open. We want to get into the community and forge relationships so we can tell people about Jesus. What Jesus actually said was “as you go make disciples…” As we go about our daily business we are to make his last words our first work. Therefore as you go about your work as parents, make disciples of your children. As you go about your business of getting medical check-ups, make disciples of the nurses, the doctors, and the other patients.

But how exactly are we to make disciples for the Triune God? Jesus says by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus says that we make disciples by baptizing, we realize that the making of disciples is not something we do; it’s God’s work. Sure we apply the water and speak the words of baptism but it’s the triune God who works through the sacrament to save. We only play the part of the lawyer who gets the adoption papers ready, while God does the actual adopting. And that is what happens in baptism. We are adopted into God’s family. We who were once known as rebellious, ungrateful, and loveless are given new names. We take on the Father’s name and are known as “loved”. We take on the Son’s name and are known as “forgiven”. We take on the Holy Spirit’s name and are known as “believer”.

But baptizing is only the beginning of what Jesus wants us to do in making disciples. He also wants us to teach people to obey everything he has commanded. Jesus doesn’t want us to believe in every teaching found in the Bible because we have to but because it’s for our good. That’s portrayed in the word translated as “obey”. When Jesus said, “…teach them to obey everything”, he really said: “Teach them to guard as precious everything I have commanded.” The same word is used of how Mary treated the bottle of perfume she poured on Jesus’ feet shortly before his crucifixion. She didn’t just guard that bottle so that none of its contents spilled or so that no one took it. She treasured it as she looked forward to anointing Jesus’ feet. In the same way Jesus not only wants us guard his words so that we don’t carelessly spill any, he wants us to see all his teachings as precious and worth firmly holding on to because they connect us to eternal life.

When the disciples first heard Jesus’ last words, they must have thought that the task before them was impossible. After all, at this point there were only a couple hundred believers. How could they make disciples of all nations? We still often have those same doubts, don’t we? When we hear Jesus’ words to make disciples of all nations, we look around us and wonder how can we go to all the nations when our congregation and church body are so small?

Well Jesus doesn’t just tell us what he wants us to do; he equips us for the task. Do you remember how Jesus began his last words? He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18b). So when we think that Jesus has told us to do the impossible in making disciples of all nations, remember that this Great Commission starts with the Great Claim. Jesus has all authority and power. And so he doesn’t send us out with nothing but our bare hands to bring in the harvest. In the Word and Sacrament we have powerful combines able to harvest souls from the rockiest soil.

Not only does the Great Commission start with the Great Claim, it ends with the Great Comfort. Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We shouldn’t picture Jesus sitting back comfortably at headquarters as we go about his business here on our own. He’s in the field with us.. When we gather our children in our arms and sing “Jesus Loves Me”, Jesus wraps us all in his embrace. When we grieve the loss of our loved ones, Jesus grieves with us as he did at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Wherever we go. Whatever we do. Jesus’ last words assure us that we can count on his abiding presence.

Someone’s last words, would you honor them? As silly as it may seem, I think we would. How much more then won’t we want to make Jesus’ last words our first work. Making disciples of all nations is not just a task given to us by Jesus; it’s the reason we’re still here on earth. Stay faithful to this work knowing that the all-powerful Jesus is with us every step of the way. Amen.

This message from Pastor Daniel Habben is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project

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Discipline Is God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church

Bible Study

The Peacemaking Church

Discipline Is God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Finish This Lesson

Discipline Is God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church Part 2

Bible Study

Discipline Is God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church Part 2

The Peacemaking Church

Criticism and the Cross

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Prov. 9:9). 2

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice (Prov. 12:15).

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Prov. 13:10).

He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains under-standing (Prov. 15:32).

A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool (Prov. 17:10).

Purpose: To teach believers to overcome their natural tendency to resist correction and instead to learn to welcome criticism as a blessing from God and a means of personal growth.  Continue reading “Discipline Is God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church Part 2”

Finding Peace through a Prompt You Turn

Bible Study

The Peacemaking  Church

Finding Peace through  a Prompt “You Turn”

 Someone in the crowd  said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with  me.”

 Jesus replied, “Man,  who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them,  “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not  consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:13-15 [1]

 Purpose: To encourage believers to break free  from the habit of focusing on other people’s wrongs and to promote peace by  focusing on their own contribution to a conflict.

Key Principle from Small Group Study  #3: God uses conflict  to reveal our idols.

Introduction: “No U Turn” vs. “No!  You Turn.”

Abbreviations  can be confusing. Just think of the people who come to our country and are not  familiar with our cryptic traffic signs. Imagine that one of these people is  driving down the street and sees a sign forbidding U-turns. You and I would read  such a sign as saying, “No U Turn!” and understand that it is telling us not to  turn our vehicle around and drive in the opposite direction. But if someone had  never seen that sign before, he might conclude that the letter “U” stands for  the word “You.” This could lead him to read the sign as saying, “No! You turn!” and conclude that he is being ordered to make an immediate turn. A change  in meaning and emphasis can move people in very different directions.

1.     Our natural reaction to  conflict is to blame others and focus on their wrongs

We see a  similar difference in meaning, emphasis and direction in our Scripture reading  for today, which is found in Luke 12:13-15. Listen carefully to the words of our  Lord Jesus Christ:

13Someone in the crowd said to him,  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”14Jesus  replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all  kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his  possessions” (Luke 12:13-15).

Imagine how  this man spoke when he approached our Lord. Where were his thoughts focused?  Where did he place the emphasis in his demand for justice? It is altogether  likely that he said, “Teacher, tell MY BROTHER to divide the inheritance with  me” (add emphasis).

Our sinful  nature gives us an inclination to judge others critically rather than  charitably. As a result, whenever we experience conflict, our natural reaction  is to blame others and focus on their wrongs.

This tendency  is as old as the world. When God confronts Adam in Genesis 3, Adam is quick to  shift the focus to Eve’s conduct. Eve is equally swift to blame Satan for the  sin that has brought cascading conflict into the world.

In Genesis  37, we see how Joseph’s brothers fanned sibling jealousy into a murderous plot  by focusing endlessly on the ways their younger brother offended them. The  account in 1 Samuel 18 and 19 shows how King Saul was obsessed with David’s  conduct and repeatedly blamed him for their estrangement.

This  pervasive tendency to blame others for conflict is so natural that we do not  need to teach it to our children. As soon as they can mouth the simplest words,  they begin to use their tongues to shift the focus from their own wrongs to the  actions of others: “He took my toy!” “She hit me first!” “He does it,  too!”

As we get  older, we try not to be quite so obvious when we blame others for our problems,  but the natural tendency is still there. If we are in a conflict, we ignore or  pass quickly over our own deficiencies while developing detailed lists of what  others have done wrong.

The  inclination to blame others for a problem and focus on their behavior is deeply  engrained in our culture. Soap operas and political campaigns gain their most  avid audiences when the players are lobbing passionate accusations at one  another. And when we engage in courtroom battles, we are willing to pay large  fees to have our attorneys minimize our wrongs and focus the jury’s attention on  our opponent’s deficiencies.

2.     The blame game always makes  conflict worse

Blaming  others for a conflict can do something far worse than generating a big legal  bill. Look back at our text and notice how Jesus responds to the man’s focus on  his brother’s behavior. Jesus says, “Watch out!” Our Lord gives an emphatic  warning that there is great danger ahead when we focus on other’s wrongs and  ignore our own contribution to a conflict.

Jesus knew  that the blame game always makes  conflict worse. It takes our eyes off our own contribution to a conflict and  blinds us to the steps we can take to promote reconciliation. Worse yet,  dwelling on an opponent’s behavior can escalate and expand a conflict by  attracting the attention of other people and tempting them to take up sides.  This dynamic divides countless families, churches, ministries, companies, and  communities every year.

Blaming  others also causes us to look for and exaggerate others’ wrongs, while ignoring  their virtues. This critical perspective inevitably aggravates resentment,  judgmental attitudes, and anger. As these feelings grow in our hearts, we can  become consumed and controlled by bitterness toward others. As Psalm 73:21-22  warns, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and  ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” No wonder Jesus says, “Watch  out!”

3.     You can change the course  of a conflict with a prompt “You-turn”

But thank God  that Jesus’ warning does not end with the words, “Watch out.” He graciously goes  on to say, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not  consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

With this  brief warning, Jesus is teaching us that we can usually change the course of a  conflict with a prompt “you-turn.” That’s spelled,  y-o-u … t-u-r-n.

Our Lord  knows that driving straight ahead and emphasizing others’ wrongs always makes  conflict worse. Therefore, he commands us to turn around and look at ourselves.  He essentially says, “No! Stop blaming others for this conflict. YOU should be  the first one to TURN           around and look for the ways that YOU have contributed to this problem.  TURN aside from blaming and take the road of repentance and confession. That is  the way to peace and reconciliation!”

Jesus gives a  similar exhortation in a passage we looked at last week. In Matthew 7:3-5, he  says:

“Why do you  look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the  plank in your own eye?  How can you  say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time  there is a plank in your own eye?   You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you  will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In his great  love for us, Jesus is showing us the way that we can turn conflicts around.  Instead of indulging our habit of putting the emphasis on others’ wrongs (and  sticking them in the eye with our sharp accusations!), he teaches us that the  shortest route to peace and reconciliation is to take a careful look in the  mirror so we can identify and confess the “planks” in our own eyes. Then and  only then will we be in a position to graciously and effectively help others to  see how they too have contributed to a conflict and can help to resolve  it.

4.     Genuine  reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed  heart

Confessing  wrong words and behavior will usually change the course of a conflict. A simple  confession will often break the cycle of blaming and subdue intense emotions.  Sometimes it will also encourage others to reflect on their own conduct, which  may eventually lead them to admit their wrongs.

If we want  real peace, however, we must go beyond confessing sinful behavior. Genuine  reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed heart.

Look again at  Luke 12:15: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in  the abundance of his possessions” (emphasis added). Jesus is teaching us to go  beyond surface behaviors and get to the root cause of our problems, which is  usually a worldly desire that has taken control of our hearts and is compelling  us to say and do sinful things.

Jesus offers  a similar warning in Matthew 15:18-19, where he said, “But the things that come  out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of  the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false  testimony, slander.”

This truth is  echoed and applied specifically to conflict in James 4:1-3, which says:

What causes  fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle  within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and  covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not  have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive,  because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your  pleasures.

Through these  passages, God is teaching us that the key to experiencing genuine peace and  reconciliation is to recognize, confess, and get rid of the sinful desires that  rule our hearts. We cannot do this on our own. No matter how much we hate our  pride, self-righteousness, envy, jealousy, and unforgiveness, we cannot sweep  these things from our hearts through our own efforts.

But God can. He sent  his own precious Son to the cross to pay the full penalty for the many sins that  we have committed against him and one another. Through faith in Christ, we can  experience complete forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As we read in  Colossians 1:19-20, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and  through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or  things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the  cross.”

When God forgives and  redeems us, he also gives us a new heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, he makes this  wonderful promise:

I will sprinkle clean  water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities  and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in  you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful  to keep my laws.

The transformation of  our hearts is both an event and a process. When God saves us, he gives us a new  heart that enables us to repent from our sins and trust in Jesus as our Savior.  That event triggers a life-long process in which the Holy Spirit slowly and  steadily transforms our hearts and minds so that we progressively put off our  old desires and behaviors, and replace them with desires and behaviors that are  pleasing to God (see Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24).

As the passages above  indicate, God often uses conflict to move us along in this transforma­tion  process. Every time we are in a conflict, we have the opportunity to identify  worldly desires that have taken control of our hearts, turned our eyes away from  God, and caused us to do and say things that offend other people. As these  sinful desires are exposed, we can confess them to God, seek his forgiveness,  and ask him to help us find contentment and security in him  alone.

As God purifies and  liberates our hearts, we can also confess our sinful desires to one another.  Instead of staying on the surface and talking only about our behavior, we can  demonstrate the reality of God’s transforming work in our hearts by admitting to  the desires that have been ruling our hearts, such as greed, control, envy, and  selfishness.

These humble and  transparent confessions are far more likely to touch the heart of someone we’ve  offended and move them to forgive us and also take a deeper look at themselves.  When both sides in a conflict dig deep into their own hearts and confess both  the attitudes and the actions that have offended others, peace and  reconciliation are just around the corner.

Conclusion

The natural human  response to conflict is either to run away from the situation or drive straight  ahead and blame others for the problem. Jesus has opened the way for us to take  a different and far better path. By his grace, we can make a humble “you-turn”  by facing up to the sinful desires in our hearts and confessing the logs in our  eyes. This radically different approach to conflict will bring honor to our  Lord, set us free from the blame game, and place our feet on the path to peace,  reconciliation, and lasting change.

Challenge:  Making a “you-turn” means that you are going to go in another direction.  Lay out a practical plan for the route  that you will take, with God’s help, as you go in this new  direction.

This message  from Peacemaker Ministries brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park  Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.   For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email:  [email protected].  A Pass it On  Project

 

Continue reading “Finding Peace through a Prompt You Turn”

The Peacemaking Church

The Peacemaking  Church   The  Powerful Witness of Unity

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life  worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and  gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every  effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  4There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one  hope when you were called–5one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in  all.  Continue reading “The Peacemaking Church”