A New Beginning 

Sermon  A New Beginning

Scripture Genesis 9:8-17 

They say that April showers bring May flower. In other words, something dark and dreary can give rise to something colorful and alive. Call it a rainbow. Brilliant colors splashed across a grey canvas. It’s a thing of beauty, but fragile too. But for that brief moment we are able to witness one of the most inspiring miracles that God has set in nature—and a symbol of new beginnings.

A rainbow, by definition, is “a bow or arc of prismatic colors appearing in the heavens opposite the sun and caused by the refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in drops of rain” (Websters). Rainbows are caused by the sunlight filtering through the water in the air, each drop becoming a prism to release the colors hidden in the white light of the sun. Of course, I still enjoy the slightly less scientific queries of one of the great philosophers of our age—Kermit the Frog—who sings: “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”

This morning, I’d like for us to think beyond the scientific and silly, and consider the spiritual meaning of these arcs “of prismatic colors.” And to do that we have to go the source. In Genesis 9, we discover the spiritual significance of the rainbow.

Then God told Noah and his sons, “I solemnly promise you and your children and the animals you brought with you—all these birds and cattle and wild animals—that I will never again send another flood to destroy the earth. And I seal this promise with this sign: I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of my promise until the end of time, to you and to all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my promise to you and to every being, that never again will the floods come and destroy all life. For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-16 TLB)

Now, we’re coming in at the end of a story. But it’s a story that I think we’re all familiar with. God created this perfect world, where everything was very good. But then sin crept into man’s heart and corrupted everything. I mean everything. Adam and Eve defied God’s authority and hid from the God who made them. One of their sons, Cain, murdered his own brother in a fit of rage and jealousy. And the corruption spread, worsening with each generation. It got so bad, the Bible says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:5-6 NIV).

Have you ever meditated on that phrase: “the Lord regretted that he had made human beings”? That’s a powerful statement. God is a being of pure love and grace, but the people he made had become so vile and viciousness that he wished he never created us. But even then, God wouldn’t give up on us. He wanted to give humanity a fresh start, a second change. So he told Noah to build a boat.

When the flood waters receded and Noah and his family stepped out of the arch onto dry land for the first time in a very long time, the first thing God did was create a new covenant and cast his rainbow across the sky. Ever since, the rainbow has become a symbol of how and why God gives us each a new beginning.

First, it’s a symbol of God’s patience.

  • GOD’S PATIENCE

God said, “When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth” (genesis 9:16 NLT).

“Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood” (Genesis 9:11 NIV). God repeats this promise three times, as if for emphasis: Never again. Some people read the story of the flood and wonder, how could God do such a thing? But when I look at all the sin and evil in the world—rape, murder, child abuse, slavery, human sex trafficking—I wonder, why hasn’t he done it again!?

The answer is patience. In Peter’s day, people were growing impatient, awaiting the return of Christ. Listen to what he says: “Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, ‘What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.’ They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood… The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:3-9 NLT).

God is being patient with you. All those times you’ve spurned his affection, rejected his invitation, or accepted him with your lips but walked out that door and denied him by your lifestyle; surely God has ample reason to unleash his anger. But he doesn’t. Why? Because “God is being patient with you” (2 Peter 3:9 NCV). Why is he patient? Because he wants all of us to repent, to change our hearts and lives, and experience a fresh start. God’s patience is the red-carpet upon which new beginnings approach.

 

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When we see those colors arched across the sky, it ought to remind us that God is being patient with us. But the rainbow is also a symbol for God’s promises.

  • GOD’S PROMISES

One Sunday afternoon, Mark Twain and his friend William Howells stepped out of church just as a heavy downpour began. Not wanting to get rained on, they waited under the cover of the church’s porch. Howells remarked, “I wonder if it will stop?” And Mark Twain retorted, “Well, it always has before!” And he was right. Why? Because, long ago God made a promise.

Again, God told Noah, “I solemnly promise you… And I seal this promise with this sign: I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of my promise… I will remember my promise… For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth” (Genesis 9:8-16 TLB).

Our God is a God of promises, and he always keeps them. We live in a world of broken promises. We make commitments and don’t follow through. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Young couples experience broken hearts and broken engagements. We make plans and promises that we never even intended to keep. Yet, the Bible records over seven thousand promises from God to his people; he has kept every single one of them. God will never call us up at the last minute to cancel. He’ll never change his mind or find someone else. God keeps his promises.

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy and Linus were sitting in front of the television set when Lucy said to Linus, “Go get me a glass of water.” Looking surprised, Linus responds, “Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me.” So Lucy promised, “On your 75th birthday I’ll bake you a cake.” Linus thought for a moment, then got up and headed to the kitchen, saying, “Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to.”

Like Linus, we have a promise to look forward to; not just the promise that God won’t send another flood, but the all the promises of the Bible. There’s the promise of eternal life, the promise of heaven, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of redemption, the promise of a new beginning.

The Bible says, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Peter 1:4-5 NLT).

How do we respond to God’s promises? Like, Linus, we act on them. We live and act as if they are certain, sure, indisputable, and unquestionable—because that’s what they are. The rainbow reminds us of God’s precious promises and that God always keeps his promises. Finally, the rainbow is also a symbol of God’s peace.

  • GOD’S PEACE

The Hebrew language, in which this story was originally written, doesn’t actually have a word for rainbow; rather, all through this passage it’s just the word bow.

In most instances, a “bow” is a weapon of war. In the flood, God bent his bow toward the earth and unleashed his wrath—his judgment. But now God is telling Noah that he will hang his bow in the clouds. He’s hanging it up. He’s putting it away. In essence, he’s suspending his judgment. But have you ever noticed how the bow is hanging? If it were a bow, the string would be stretched along the horizon. God has turned the bow toward Himself! The next time we see God pouring out his judgment and wrath for the sin of the whole world is at the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, it was God himself bearing the punishment—taking the arrow—that rightfully belongs to us.

By pouring out his wrath on Jesus, God reconciled us to himself. The Bible says, “This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Act 10:36 NLT). How do we experience that peace?

Here’s a suggestion from Billy Graham, in his book Peace with God, breaks it down into four simple steps.

  • Step 1: Realize that God loves you, that he has a plan for your life and wants to be a part of it.
  • Step 2: Repent of your old way of life, turn from sin and turn toward God.
  • Step 3: Recognize that Jesus is the only way to God; that he died for your sins.
  • Step 4: Receive his offer of grace and forgiveness, and commit your life to following him.

When we do that, the Bible says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT).

Of course, even after receiving Jesus and being made right with God, we don’t always feel God’s peace. I think that why the Bible says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV). As one of the most beautiful phenomena that God has placed in nature, the rainbow can set our minds on things that are lovely, pure, excellent and praiseworthy; and in so doing, draw us into the peace of God’s presence.

For those who have peace with God, Kermit the Frog’s question—what’s on the other side?—has a wonderful answer. On the other side of the rainbow is the God of peace, looking down as we are looking up!

Conclusion:

The next time it stops raining, the dark storm clouds are rolled back, and God’s “arc of prismatic colors” appears in the heavens opposite the sun, I hope that we all remember the new beginning that God gave to humanity through Noah. I also hope that we are reminded of God’s patience, God’s promises, and God’s peace that we can only experience through Jesus Christ.

This message by Rev. Scott Bayles, Blooming Grove Christian Church: 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

 

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

 

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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