A Son Named Isaac

Midweek Advent Sermon – A Son Named Isaac

Dear people who are waiting for God to fulfil His promises: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Abraham was not always a believer in the one true God. He had lived with his father Terah across the Euphrates from the promised land, in Ur of the Chaldeans in Old Babylonia. Then his name was Abram, and he worshipped other gods as did everyone who lived there, and they had a lot of them. The people of Ur had invented some 4000 gods. These are the gods Abram served.

God called Abram to leave his false gods, along with his country and kindred and father’s house, promising to make a great nation of him in the land promised to him. God promised to make his name great, so that he will be a blessing. God promised to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who dishonour him. God promised the land to Abram and to his offspring after him; his offspring which God promised would be like the dust of the earth.

Abram believed God, and at age seventy-five, took Sarai his wife, and Lot his nephew to travel to the promised land.

They settled in the land, and time passed. God once again spoke to Abram and said, “’Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless… Behold, you have given me no offspring.’”

God had promised Abram offspring like the dust of the earth, but at an age past seventy-five, and Sarai past sixty-five, they still had no children. Abram figured a slave from his household would end up being his heir, but God said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” God brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.

Abram believed God. He trusted God’s promise to him. Thus, God said that Abram is righteous. That’s what righteousness is – trusting God’s Word; having faith in God’s promises; believing what God says is true.

Ten years went by in the promised land. Abram still had no children at eighty-five, while Sarai was seventy-five.

What often happens when time passes after God makes a promise and it is yet to be fulfilled? Doubt. Doubt happens. Maybe God meant something else. Maybe I have to do something to make God’s promise come true. Maybe God has forgotten what He said.

Sarai convinced Abram to have a child with one of her servants. Maybe that’s what God meant. Maybe that’s what had to be done to make God’s promise true. Maybe God forgot what He promised. But, no, that is not what God meant, and God did not forget.

Time passed once again. The Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and Sarai’s name to Sarah, which means “princess.” God once again promised Abraham, now ninety-nine years old, saying, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Sarah laughed at God’s promise, as Abraham had done earlier. The way of women had ceased to be with the eighty-nine-year-old Sarah. She said to herself, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” God rebuked Sarah for her laughter and said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

God did fulfil His promise to Abraham and Sarah, even though human wisdom said God’s promise was impossible. The overwhelming realities of life said that God’s promise cannot be true. Nature, science, and experience all contradicted God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience were all wrong. God’s promise proved true, as God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac.

To us, Christ has promised that He will return and make all things new, that He will raise the dead, that He will give everlasting life to those who belong to Him. Human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience say that His promise is impossible. We don’t see anything getting newer or better. Everything is getting older and worse. Creation is becoming more and more corrupt and evil. We are getting older, and sicker, and fewer, and we still struggle with the same sins with which we have always struggled.

Christ promised to return quickly. Two thousand years later, His promise is more likely to make us laugh with Sarah than to say, “Amen.”

What often happens when time passes after God makes a promise and it is yet to be fulfilled? Doubt. Doubt happens. Maybe God meant something else. Maybe I have to do something to make God’s promise come true. Maybe God has forgotten what He said.

We need rebuke for our laughter and doubting, our lack of trust and unbelief. We need to be asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” God rebukes us for our doubting. We fear the Lord, knowing we deserve much worse than a rebuke, and we pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

The Lord does help us in our unbelief. He helps us in our unbelief by being true to His promises. Yes, He fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah. Even more, He fulfilled His promise to all mankind by sending His Son into the world to take on our flesh. The long-awaited Saviour of the nations came to save us from our sins.

Isaac was a son of promise for Abraham and Sarah; Jesus is a Son of promise for all mankind. As Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice on his back up the mountain, so Jesus carried the wood of His cross for His sacrifice on His back as He headed up to Golgotha. Isaac, the only son of his father, was led by his father to be sacrificed, as Jesus, the only Son of God the Father, was led by His Father to be sacrificed.

Isaac was not sacrificed, however. There was a substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac. The ram caught by its horns in the thicket was sacrificed instead of Isaac.

Jesus was sacrificed. He is the substitutionary sacrifice for all mankind. He suffered and died for us and in our place, and He thus fulfilled God’s promises throughout history to save us. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins so that we will not die eternally.

Through Abraham’s years of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled, God worked and strengthened faith in Abraham. Thus, Abraham trusted God’s promise that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens to the point that he was willing to sacrifice his only son, trusting that God could even raise Isaac from the dead if need be. So also, God works faith in us throughout our lives, through times of waiting for God to fulfil His promises to us. He strengthens our faith so that we will trust His promises, including the promise that Christ will return and make all things new.

We believe the Lord, and He counts it to us as righteousness. We believe God, because He always keeps His Word. We trust God’s promises to us. Thus, God says that we are righteous. That’s what righteousness is – trusting God’s Word; having faith in God’s promises; believing what God says is true.

This faith is the gift of God that comes from His Word. God works faith in us through His Word, and God strengthens us in His Word to trust His promises even when human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience tell us what God promises is impossible.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Thus, we pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” and “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sola Scriptura

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Scriptura (Is. 55:6-11; II Tim. 3:10-17; John 6:60-69)

Dear people who know the Truth from Scripture alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know what is right and what is wrong? Everyone has some basis for answering this question. Some will say, “I feel that this is right and that is wrong,” or “I think this is right and that is wrong.” Some say, “I want to do this; therefore, it is right,” or “I follow my heart on these things.”

That is of course why we have so many differing opinions on what is right and what is wrong. If everyone has a right to their own opinion and everyone has a different opinion, well then, I guess everyone can do whatever they think is right in their own eyes.

If we are following our feelings, then of course we want that which makes us feel good. We pursue pleasure because it makes us feel good. I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, sex, and food. I’m talking about following our feelings in life, in decisions we make, and even in what we expect from God. We want to feel good, so we want to hear cheery, uplifting music in church. We want a feel-good emotional message that uplifts us and motivates us. We don’t want any of that “I’m a poor, miserable sinner” stuff, or any depressing downers like talk about hell or sin or punishment.

The problem with following our feelings is that our feelings change. Feelings wear off. What makes us feel good one day isn’t quite as effective the next day. Also, feelings are unreliable. I recently heard of a man saying that he knew that God existed because he didn’t die in a near-drowning mishap when he was young. He based his knowledge of God on this feeling that he had when he was younger. What does that tell grieving fathers and mothers if they had a child who did drown when they were young, or died in any other way? According to his argument, it tells them that God does not exist. We plain and simple cannot follow our feelings or trust them to know the truth.

Following our thinking is no better. We may think this is right and that is wrong; this is fair and that is unfair. However, as we heard in our Old Testament reading, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9) Our sinful minds cannot comprehend God’s thoughts, and we cannot find truth following our reason.

The only place to find the Truth is Scripture. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. We must add the word “alone,” because whatever we add to Scripture takes us away from the Truth.

If we say that we follow Scripture and reason, then we are saying that we believe what God says in His Word only if it makes sense to us. Jesus walked on water? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, He knew where the rocks were in the water. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, the people only thought Lazarus was dead. Then really, we are only following our reason, and discarding God’s Word.

If we say that we follow Scripture and our feelings, then we are only following our feelings and discarding God’s Word. It would mean that anytime we feel like God’s prohibitions are unfair, we say that they don’t apply to us. Anytime we feel like doing something God forbids, we come up with excuses for why we’re going to do it anyway.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (3:16) All Scripture. We don’t pick and choose what we like. We don’t decide what makes sense and discard what our sinful minds think doesn’t make sense. We can’t decide what we feel is right and wrong. God decides what is right and wrong. He created us and the whole universe, so He makes the rules.

The most important reason why we rely on Scripture alone is because only Scripture tells us the Gospel. Only Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness which we receive through faith, which is trust in God’s promises to us. How do we know this? Scripture alone tells us.

From looking at the world, we can conclude that there is a God who is the creator. From our conscience, we can know that we have done things that are wrong, even if we can’t know perfectly what is right and wrong. From history books, we can find out that Jesus died and that many people claimed that He rose from the dead.

However, only Scripture gives us the solution for what ails us. Only Scripture is God’s Word which He has given to us to tell us of His love for us. Only Scripture tells us the reason that Jesus died – to save us from our sins. Only Scripture tells us what Jesus’ resurrection means – the He conquered sin, death, and the grave for us, and now we have the promise of the resurrection of our bodies.

The Bible is not just any other book. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word has power. God’s Word created the heavens and the earth. At His speaking, it was done. God’s strong Word bespeaks you righteous. He pronounces you absolved, and it is done. God’s powerful Word has claimed you as His own in the waters of Baptism, and God’s powerful Word will raise you from the dead when Christ returns. God’s powerful Word gives us the body and blood of Jesus with the bread and wine and will bring us to the eternal feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

There is a place for feelings and thinking. After all, God created both our emotions and our minds. However, God didn’t give us emotions and minds to decide what is right and what is wrong. He gave us His Word for that reason. Scripture is how we know what is right and what is wrong. Scripture is how we know that despite the wrong we have done, Jesus has made things right. That is why we follow Scripture alone. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Great Things in Humble Form

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Luke 19:28-40

Dear crowd singing “Hosanna”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why are you here? Why did you get up on Sunday morning on a winter day to gather here this morning? If you came here for entertainment, you’d be better off spending your time at a show or concert. If you came here to hang out with people you like, you’d be better off spending your time at a coffee shop or a bar. If you came here to praise God, well you can do that anywhere – you might as well praise God in the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, or on a Caribbean beach. So why are you here?

Is it because you recognize that what happens here doesn’t happen in any other place? Jesus is here in ways He is not elsewhere. Jesus promised that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matt. 18:20). Jesus promised that where His ministers speak His Absolution, there He is, absolving. Jesus promised that He is truly present in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink (Matt. 26:26-28). Jesus is here in this church in Melville. Sure we’re aging and looking more grey than in previous times. Sure our numbers aren’t what they used to be; our numbers are a little humble. But Jesus is here.

Does the humility of our numbers bother Jesus? Jesus knows humility better than we can ever wrap our heads around the concept. Jesus left the perfect joys of heaven to become a man. He put Himself under the Law that He has written. He came to serve the people whom He has created. He sacrificed His own life to save sinful rebels. Jesus is the definition of humble.

On His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He did not choose a noble steed on which to ride. He didn’t gather the leaders of the nation and the richest noblemen to sing His praises. He rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey’s colt. Not a majestic beast of war, but a humble beast of burden. The crowds who happened to be on the streets sung His praises. If the crowds would have been silent, Jesus said the stones would have cried out. It was a rather humble entry into Jerusalem, even though it was to shouts of “Hosanna”.

Did the Palm Sunday crowd even recognize who was there among them? Why was the Palm Sunday crowd shouting “Hosanna”? Luke tells us it was because they had seen Jesus perform miracles (v. 37). Thus they said, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowd wanted to make Jesus king, as they had wanted to do earlier when Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:15). They were looking for an earthly king; a king that would save them from under Roman rule. They wanted to be free from paying taxes to Caesar. They sought the benefits of a victorious king who could miraculously feed them with food for which they did not have to pay, and heal those suffering in their midst. They missed the point. They did not understand that this was God in their midst, riding into Jerusalem. They misunderstood the King and His Kingdom.

It wasn’t just the humility of the donkey that they missed. This King also did not come to be crowned with a golden crown but a crown of thorns. This King would not ascend an earthly throne but a cursed wooden cross. This King would have not have the many royal privileges of kings except burial in a tomb in which no one had before been laid.

This King was humiliated by what was said of Him. He was spat on and mocked. He was whipped and beaten. He was stripped of his clothes and crucified, lifted high for all to see. He suffered all this pain and humiliation for you, His creation who has fallen into sin. Jesus came so humbly, that He could be rejected and despised. Jesus came so humbly that He could be even further humiliated.

Nothing has changed. Jesus still comes so humbly that He can be rejected and despised. He comes in His Word which is neglected, mocked, and twisted by many. In Holy Communion He comes in His body and blood which can be scorned and taken for granted. In Baptism He comes with forgiveness which can be forgotten before the child even grows up.

Why does God come so humbly? Why doesn’t God come to us in His might and power, with His mighty angel hosts baring their swords? Why doesn’t He come with vengeance and justice to punish the wicked? Well, rest assured, God will do exactly that. He will come in glory, power, and might. When Jesus returns He will show His strength and punish all those who reject Him and send them away to eternal punishment in hell (Matt. 25; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

But Jesus did not come in glory, power, and might the first time. If He would have, we would have been those wicked people He came to punish. If Jesus would not have come humbly to pay for our sin, then we would have had to pay for them by suffering eternally in hell. Jesus came humbly for us, to save us.

And now, just as when He came to earth through the Virgin Mary, He comes humbly. He comes humbly for you. Not with force or violence.

We see the effects of those who bring their religion through force and violence: millions of refugees seeking shelter, bombs blowing up and murdering scores of people, countries in civil war and turmoil. In the end they’re going to lose the battle anyway when Christ returns in His glory because they reject Him and His free gift of salvation. But Jesus does not come now with force or violence. The only violence in His coming is the violence He suffered at our hands.

Jesus still comes humbly to us for our benefit. He gives us the benefits of His humble suffering and death in humble form. A little wafer of bread and sip of wine combined with God’s Word give the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. A word of Absolution absolves sin as if Jesus pronounces you innocent Himself. A little water sprinkled over the head in the name of the Triune God gives eternal life. Yes, we just witnessed little Navy receive the promise of eternal life in the humble-looking rite of Baptism, as God put His name on her, adopting her as His child.

As humble as these means of grace appear, what they give you is by no means humble. These means of grace give you the forgiveness of all your sins. Not one sin is left unforgiven. No sin is too great. No sin has been too frequent. Yes, because these means of grace give you the forgiveness of sins, they give you eternal life. You will live forever. Not here in this world of sickness, sin, force, and violence, but in the new heavens and the new earth which will be revealed when Jesus returns in His glory.

What happens here, in this church, is truly amazing! Jesus is here with His forgiveness. So don’t be disappointed if our we’re looking a little grey. Don’t be too upset if our numbers are few. Jesus is here for your benefit, to give you great gifts even though they are wrapped in humble form. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.