You get the picture

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not continue to carry around anger or lust, but seek to live holy lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Let’s see if you can understand the picture…

Two people come together – a husband and his wife. They kiss and cuddle and caress and…well, without going into too much detail, the woman becomes pregnant!

At first there are no outward signs. The conceived child grows in secret from a few cells to quickly form a human body with emotion and purpose. Soon afterward the physical changes can be detected by a medical professional or by the woman as her body adjusts. A little later the changes are soon noticed by others. Finally, at the right time, a child is born and the lives of all those around are changed irreversibly.

But let’s try another picture…

Two people come together – in this case it could be a husband and wife, but it could also be a parent and child, a brother and sister, a boss and a worker, or any other possible combination of two people.

In this case they misunderstand each other; have different goals, expectations or interests than each other; or they compete with each other over limited resources, and…well, without going into too much detail, they have a conflict…and one or both of them become pregnant. Of course, there’s no physical child, but they’re ‘pregnant’ with anger.

At first there are no outward signs of this ‘pregnant’ anger. Some of us are very good at hiding our anger by denying our feelings or by running away from the situation. While the physical and emotional changes are small at first, it can be detected by feelings of anxiousness, sleepless nights, outbursts of frustration and tears, withdrawal from relationships, or by depression. By this time others may notice some of these symptoms as we lash out with our tongues and fists, by our refusal to talk to someone, or by our moodiness. Like it or not, anger conceived and left to grow in the heart will sooner or later give birth in words and actions to affect the life of its ‘parent’ and all those around, perhaps even irreversibly.

Or another picture…

Two people come together who aren’t married to each other – either in reality or virtually. This means it can be two people face to face, but it can also be one person looking to be with a pornographic magazine, internet site, movie, or TV show with nudity and sex scenes. As they come together, they…well, without going into too much detail, they become pregnant…when lust and longing is conceived in the heart.

At first there may not be any outward signs, and if there are, there are attempts to hide them. While many are taught ‘its ok to look but not touch’, we too often forget (or want to ignore) what the effect of ‘just looking’ does to our hearts and minds, and how this in turn affects our relationships. Soon we’re no longer content with those God gave us and instead lust after those God intends for someone else. Then, if the pregnant lust is born into action and adultery is committed, well, relationships are shattered, trust is broken, and the lives of all those affected may be changed irreversibly.

Now, why do we talk about anger and lust in this way? Because Jesus knows our sinful words and actions are only the birthing of what was first conceived in our hearts.

We often associate the heart with emotions, but in the bible the heart is the control centre of our will. This means when our heart (or our will) is set on something, we’ll find a way of achieving this. So, when anger or lust is in charge of our will, this will always lead to sinful thoughts, words, and actions.

When Jesus-interprets the 5th and 6th Commandments (which teaches us not to kill and not to commit adultery), he helps us realise the intention to kill or the intention to commit adultery is conceived in the heart, and even more importantly, what’s conceived in the heart and mind is just as real as an unborn child in the womb of a woman.

Dealing firstly with the pregnancy of anger, Jesus isn’t telling us we should never get angry. The sin is, many of us won’t forgive, so we carry anger around inside us. By carrying it, it often becomes our master which controls our actions and reactions, and so restricts our joy, harms our relationships, and limits our service and love toward others.

Knowing God sees our hearts, we don’t just carry a ‘pregnant deed’, but in God’s eyes the thoughts and emotions within us are already public acts and real deeds which we’re answerable for.

Of course, the anger we carry inside is often born bit by bit as we lash out in many ways, including verbally. The old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is rubbish!

Resentment or harsh words ‘kill’ or harm more people than the combined effects of all the drugs, alcohol, and smoking in the world. You could say the worst pollution in the world is our anger, and these days there’s a lot of anger dwelling in people’s hearts!

God sees the anger we carry in our hearts. So instead of carrying our anger against each other to the altar, he asks us to first be reconciled with each other.

In this case a good start is to recognise the anger or bitterness within yourself, or to recognise the subtle signs of anger toward you within someone else. You may know (or at least suspect), someone may hold something against you.

In this case, don’t wait for them to come to you, but Jesus says (as one loved and forgiven by God) you’re to approach them. When you approach them, rather than pointing out their faults, misunderstandings, anger, or failures, firstly admit your own. Confess your sin to them in order that they may forgive you and be reconciled with you. Then, as reconciled people, come to the altar and celebrate the undeserving forgiveness and peace won for you through Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Supper.

Now, in regards to the pregnancy of lust (which is much like the pregnancy of anger in the way it can enslave you), it also seeks to put people down. Where anger puts people down by hatred or fear, lust puts people down by desire. Both times you become a ‘god’ who decides who is—and who is not—worthy your time and effort.

Where the 5th Commandment protects life, the 6th Commandment protects marriage. Even though these days marriage is rubbished, criticised, re-defined, or even dismissed, God reveals he loves marriage so much he institutes and blesses marriage, and so he seeks to protect marriage. In order to protect marriage, God doesn’t just prohibit touching outside the bonds of marriage, but even the looking. What Jesus condemns is the looking in order to lust. Lust, like anger, will happen, but when we want to continue the happening, or sustain the feeling of lust (through our looks or stares), that’s what Jesus challenges.

While there’s nothing new under the sun, the discipline to control one’s own sexual desires is very difficult today because access to sexual content in movies, on TV, or over the internet (including our phones) is so easy!

Yet Jesus knows how our misdirected desire for pleasure and sex becomes a god which controls and binds us. Too often people get the message that our usefulness and acceptance within the community is tied up with our attractiveness, and so in order to feel loved and valued, we seek sexual fulfilment.

Yet the more we seek to make ourselves more attractive on the outside to others, the more we can feel de-valued and unloved because they no longer see the person within. We become objects of sexual desire to lust after, and not persons with value who should be loved and cherished.

Again, confession and forgiveness can heal guilty or ashamed consciences. Confession and forgiveness can restore broken marriages when there’s been addictions to pornography or infidelity, although admittedly, once trust has been broken, even forgiveness may not easily restore what was torn apart. It takes a lot of courage for a married person to open oneself up to the possibility of further hurt by someone who has previously been unfaithful.

While many of us might boldly boast ‘we’ve never killed anyone or committed adultery’, Jesus warns us the pregnant thoughts and desires which we carry about in our hearts and minds are just as real as having enacted them with our bodies. In God’s sight, the thought is already the action, which makes all of us murderers and adulterers.

Despite this there’s good news! For the sake of the innocent suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we’re forgiven for all our sinful words and actions, but also for our sinful thoughts and desires which were conceived in our hearts!

Yes, Jesus calls us to repent and live faithfully as God’s holy children in a world where anger and sexual promiscuity is rampant, but Jesus is also the incarnation of our God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He loves us and forgives us for our carried angers and lusts and sends us his Holy Spirit to replace them with love. As forgiven and loved people in God’s sight, we may in turn seek the forgiveness of those around us and then together come to the Lord’s Altar with joy and thankfulness.

In the same way, we may also receive the grace to forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness isn’t by our own power or goodness, but with the help of the Holy Spirit.

With the Spirit’s help, let us live holy lives, even as Christ has made us holy, aborting all anger and lust and living in peace and love with those around us.

And in this way, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Lord desires kindness and justice

The Text: Isaiah 58:1-12 The Lord desires kindness and justice

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;  you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,       Restorer of Streets with Dwellings

In today’s Text, it’s important to note who God’s talking to. He’s about to make a very big announcement and is calling people to listen. In this case he’s not making this announcement to non-believers. He’s talking to his own people, the people of God, the people he loves, forgives, and saves.

So what’s this important announcement God makes? He says you’re all guilty of rebelling and sinning!

Now you might argue you know you’re a sinner, but you also know God to be gracious and merciful, a god who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; this is why you keep coming back to worship, to seek his love and mercy, to be forgiven again and again. You come to hear his gracious words of love and peace, and how you may do his will.

God acknowledges this, saying he knows you seek him daily, intent on knowing his ways and activities. He sees how you perform all the right religious motions and say all the right things at church, but he can also see those times when you expect him to be good to you or bless you because you’ve done all the right things!

Then, when he doesn’t answer you the way you want, you argue with God saying something like, ‘Hey God, I’ve done all the right things, I go to worship regularly, I say my prayers before bed, but I’m not receiving the blessings I reckon are due to me! I’ve been good to you, why aren’t you good to me?’ Why won’t you help me?

But God doesn’t dish out blessings based on what is deserved. If he did, we wouldn’t get any! ‘Deserving’ talks more about judgment, not about mercy. We want mercy from God, not judgment. But now, if God wants to be merciful and bless you, then that’s up to him. It’s his gift and he can give blessings when and where he chooses.

 Many people attempt to ‘show off’ their faith in some way or another. Some do it by  Cutting out (fasting) but not replacing, others do it by trying to hide their sinful self and act righteous. Well, God says he doesn’t want you to fast or act this way. He tells you:

Fasting isn’t just abstaining from foods, but abstaining from wickedness.

Fasting is forgiving enemies even though they hurt you.

Fasting is loosening the yoke of the oppressed, unburdening people instead of burdening them with your demands and expectations.

Fasting is definitely not making people work harder, but taking the burden off them.

Fasting is sharing your food with the hungry.

Fasting is bringing the homeless into your home.

Fasting is covering the naked.

Fasting is removing your accusing fingers and not causing fights and arguments.

Fasting is when you stop speaking foul language, stop lying, and stop verbal abuse.

Fasting is listening to people’s desires and satisfying them.

Interestingly, most of these things God lists have very little to do with worship on Sundays, but how we live during the week. Remember, people can tell what our relationship with God is like by watching how we treat those around us.

If you put people down by insults or jokes, you may not be right with God. If you’re pushy and bossy with people, thinking you deserve certain privileges, you may not be right with God. If you argue or fight with others, you may not be right with God. If you treat people badly out of spite or revenge, you may not be right with God. If you take advantage of, or exploit others, or think you’re better than everyone else, you may not be right with God. If you put on an act in order to gain attention for yourself, you may not be right with God. Even if you do the right things with the expectation God will be good to you and give you what you want because you do the right thing, then you may not be right with God.

Well, this hasn’t been a lot of good news so far, has it? Yet, there is good news. You see, God still loves you. Some say God loves you just the way you are, and he does. But he loves you even more than that. He loves you so much he doesn’t want you to stay the way you are.

To be contuined next week.

True happiness

Text: Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

True happiness

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

No doubt, some of you have watched Survivor. This immensely popular TV real life game show is watched by millions of people around the world.

Imagine putting 16 people together from different backgrounds – trying to survive together and at the same time competing against one another for individual survival. After each round, the participants meet together to cast their votes to see who will be dismissed from the group. It can be for any number of reasons such as –
I think you’re not pulling your weight; you cheated by having some kind of contraband; you are too old, too selfish, too uncooperative; or simply, because I don’t like your face.

The ultimate goal is to not get voted out. And the way to survive is to make sure that there are people on your side – alliances are made – and broken – leaving behind a trail of betrayal and suspicion. This is real life played out in a game show. That’s perhaps the reason why Survivor has been so popular – it brings out the best and worst in people – more often the worst than the best. The winner is not the person who is kind and considerate, but who makes friends, uses them and then turns against them. The winner is not the person who is the better or the nicer person but the one who is ruthless and hurtful, who has no feelings for the others.

One person who was asked about his view of the show hit the nail on the head when he said, “It’s sorry that our society is this way, but the people who are conniving and back-stabbing are the ones who make it. Unlike the movies where the scriptwriter controls the plot and good triumphs over evil, in Survivor, no one controls the plot and how things eventually turn out. It is a sad commentary on the way the world is.”

As we think about what it means to be happy or blessed we might say —
Blessed are those who earn six figure incomes.
Blessed are the famous.
Blessed are those who don’t have anything to worry about.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are those who have the determination and ruthlessness to eliminate everything that hinders the fulfilment of their dreams.

Our view of happiness depends so much on our circumstances and environment. A young woman might think that true happiness is to find the right man, to marry and have a family, only later to find herself thinking that true happiness would come if she could divorce her abusive husband.

Teenagers may think true happiness is getting their first car, but it’s not too long before they think that they would be truly happy if they could have a certain car that was sleeker and faster.

Happiness is a common desire. Yet, so few people seem to have true happiness that we put happiness in the same category as four-leaf clovers and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – that which is elusive, unattainable, and impossible. Happiness is a goal that we all strive for, but when that goal is reached, we realise that there is always something else that we think would make us truly happy.

I’m sure you can think of things that you would like to see changed in your life so that you can be truly happy. So we go about arranging and re-arranging our environment and circumstances so that we will be happy. On this basis, people have assumed that, if they are unhappy, it is because of this wretched washing machine, this wretched heart, this wretched person I am living with… They believe that they will become happy by changing their lot in some way.

Seeking happiness becomes a never-ending quest. Happiness, we assume, must be fun and laughter and expressing our own personalities by “doing our own thing”. In order to be happy, we think, we must be free from suffering, sorrow and hardship. It’s no wonder that we can’t ever say that we have reached our goal – true happiness. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be happy; there is everything wrong with the way we often go seeking it.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about today in the Sermon on the Mount when he talks about true happiness. He says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

We would hardly regard ‘the poor in spirit’ as “happy” because they are aware of how much their sinfulness is out of control; their faith often wavers; they lack the spiritual resources to cope with the upsets in life and easily become depressed and miserable.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

They are the least likely to be called “happy” because they are upset by the injustices in our world; they grieve for the starving, the homeless, refugees and those suffering in wars; they are distressed over their own stupidity and sinfulness; they are sad because of what death has done.

“Blessed are the humble,”

Those whom the world regards as the least likely to be “happy” because they are always busy doing things for others; they are gentle in their dealings with others, refusing to do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others;
they don’t push themselves forward and are satisfied helping others.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

These people can hardly be called “happy” because of their deep sense of what is right; they are passionate about justice for the underdog and won’t rest until something is done. They are unhappy about the treatment of refugees, unnecessary logging, the treatment of prisoners. They are also those who are “unhappy” with their own lives and want to live more as God intended them to live.)

“Blessed are the persecuted.”

Being persecuted can hardly be called a “happy” experience. Persecution is an unhappy event when you are suffering because you are a peacemaker, or because you have shown mercy and compassion on someone whom everyone else thinks doesn’t deserve it, or because you are pure in heart – you know what is the right thing to do but no one else sees it that way.

Can you see that Jesus’ definition of what it means to be blessed doesn’t depend on us and what is happening around us? The Beatitudes present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be happy and blessed. True happiness has to do with knowing God, belonging to God’s Kingdom, being a part of God’s family. You might say that this is hardly a popular view, especially when worldly happiness depends so much on money, a house, the right car, and being free from sickness, death and anything that upsets our “happiness”. But Jesus was one for making true statements. True happiness is to be found in God. The fact is that we don’t find happiness by seeking happiness. We find God, and discover a deep level of happiness.

Or it is better said that God finds us.

In the middle of all the difficulties we have living out our Christian faith in our daily lives; when we are sad and upset; when we are despondent and depressed;
when others reject us and ridicule us for our faith or for sticking up for what we believe is right; when we are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and we are told to butt out; God meets us, he strengthens us, he comforts, he helps us endure, he gives us the courage to move on.

A woman was the victim of abuse as a child. She understood what had happened – she didn’t like it – she had been angry but God had helped her through her anger and now she prayed for her father. She also helped her brother to come to terms with what had happened and to rebuild his relationship with his father. She had suffered a great deal and yet she would say that she was blessed. The inner and outer scars will always be there, but she was happy because God was with her. He had helped her though it all and now God was using her to be a peacemaker.

George Matheson was a great preacher and hymn writer who lost his sight at an early age. He thought of his blindness as his thorn in the flesh, as his personal cross. For several years, he prayed that his sight would be restored. Like most of us, I suppose, he believed that personal happiness would come to him only after the handicap was gone. But then, one day God sent him a new insight: The creative use of his handicap could actually become his personal means of achieving happiness!

So, Matheson went on to write: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn. I have thanked you for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of the cross itself as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross. Teach me the value of my thorn.”

George Matheson had found God’s kind of happiness—the kind of happiness that is not only a future hope, but also a reality in the here and now.

That’s the kind of happiness that enabled the apostle Paul to write to the Philippians from his gaol cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).

That’s the secret of true happiness!
You may be suffering a great deal from sickness; you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing; you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith; you may even be upset by those who have failed to show love toward you; whatever the case, you can still be “happy” in the knowledge that you are one of God’s precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that when all is said and done, there is a place for you in heaven where there will be no more unhappiness.

This is the kind of “blessedness” or “happiness” that no circumstance or person can take away from those who trust in Christ.


Jesus begins his work

MATTHEW 4:12 Jesus, having heard that John had been imprisoned, withdrew into Galilee. 13And having left Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the seaside in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14in order that it may be fulfilled what had been said through Isaiah the prophet:

            15Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

            way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

            16The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

            And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

            A light has risen for them

17From then Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 18Then walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a large fish net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And Jesus said to them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.’ 20And they immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21And moving on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with their father Zebedee, repairing their nets, and Jesus called them. 22And they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. 23And Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people.

Apparently, as seen from space, Las Vegas is the brightest city in the world. In New York City, Times Square is home to the ABC ‘SuperSign’ a whopping 3,685-square foot screen with wavy LED ribbons. The Eiffel Tower in France is illuminated by 20,000 bulbs. Closer to home the light towers of the MCG have a total of 844 2000 Watt lamps. Each have an individual angle that is computer generated to provide maximum coverage of the arena without any shadowed areas or dark spots. A few years ago, Sydney’s cloudy night sky was seemingly turned into bright day when the city ushered in the New Year with 7 tonnes of fireworks including 1000 that were launched from the Opera House sails, as well as glittering waterfalls of fire that cascaded over the harbour. This paled into insignificance when compared to Dubai’s Guinness World Record effort in which over half a million fireworks were used spanning 94 kilometres of the Dubai Coast, costing nearly $7 million.

All this light in the world – it is not true light. The world is still in darkness—the darkness of greed, selfishness, broken homes, violence, theft, destruction, substance abuse, injustice and exploitation…and everything else that comes with worshipping the self as number 1. And so these man-made lights are a symbol of the extravagance and decadence that place the self on a pedestal to be served with whatever society wants to be served with.

A few years ago it was questioned by one mainstream newspaper why millions habitually flock to parties and what they actually celebrate when the same selfishness characterised by injustice and violence and family and social breakdown continues and calamity and strife surround us on a daily basis. Really isn’t this the picture we hear of from the prophet Isaiah cited by Matthew today?

The people of the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali are dwelling in darkness and gloom—God’s chosen people, the Jews, as well as Gentiles, were in darkness, error, unrighteousness—that 3 letter ‘s’ word that dare not be mentioned: sin. The people are ‘living’—that is, barely existing—in the state of sin, and therefore dwelling in the field of the shadow of death. That was the situation of the human race during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy. It was the situation when Matthew wrote…we see that with the opening verse of our text: John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod because John was faithful to God’s Word and reproved Herod for unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter Salome danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired. Prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John beheaded in prison. What had John the Baptist done? Faithfully proclaimed God’s Word.

As our nation celebrates its greatness and the achievements of its people today, how much room will be made for public thanksgiving to God for His blessings? For all our greatness as a nation, the Australia I see is the land and the people Isaiah and Matthew spoke of centuries ago—a country that is desperately in need of the light of Christ. A country that rejects God’s Word—lost, stumbling, consumed with the decadence and self-worship of the Western world that will do away with anything that stands in the way—even God Himself.

It’s a chilling thought, but we too have inherited that condition—the condition that has the potential for us to be the next tyrant who we are sickened by. The condition that makes us all enemies of God because it shows itself in all the ways we know of or deny that are contrary to God’s will expressed in His Word. We were among the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who sat in gloom and darkness, even in the very shadow of death, needing rescue. So behold, the gospel, for you this day:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

            way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

            The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

            And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

            A light has risen for them

That light is Jesus and His Gospel. The first words Jesus proclaims in our text is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus is talking in a geographical sense. In the person of Christ, heaven has come to earth. Wherever Jesus is, God’s kingdom is present and at work. Every other religion requires us to ascend to God through our good works. God shows his grace in that even though the world is darkened by sin and in bondage to it, blind to the true God and unable to free itself, God came down with love in the person of Christ, to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and dare I say it—ourselves. He came to trample over death with His own and make a mockery of the demonic realm of darkness with His redeeming work on the Cross.

Matthew tells us today that this Christ went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people. This is the light that has risen for the people. These healings are a witness that Jesus is indeed the Son of God with all authority over the created order, over sin, death and Satan, and the authority to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins which is the greatest of blessings even in the depths of our brokenness and despair because it is only through forgiveness that we enter into God’s presence as His holy children and have peace and life with Him forever.

All of this is an undeserved gift to a people helpless to help themselves. So repentance is the only appropriate response to such lavish love; a love that none of us deserve but a love that is given without condition, a love that does not count our wrongs against us but counts them against the Christ who was crucified in our place to take our sin from us and exchange it with His holiness and righteousness. A love that welcomes the least into the family of God through His Son to be co-heirs with Him. Entry is through faith alone in the promise that there is a righteousness apart from the Law; the righteousness that comes through faith in this Messiah, Christ the light of the world.

Jesus says to us today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Wherever Jesus is, the Kingdom of Heaven is present—God’s gracious rule. Where is Jesus? In His holy word and sacraments. Just as He taught in the synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus is truly present again today, preaching and enacting the gospel through the readings, the liturgy, this sermon. Preaching the Gospel to you that will not return to Him empty but accomplish everything He desires it to do. He is the host of the holy meal we are about to receive, speaking His word that does what it says, making ordinary wafers and wine His true body and blood that He places in your hands, so that as you eat and drink there is no mistaking that the forgiveness and redemption that He won for the world He gives to you and you receive personally through faith in His promise: given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

You too have seen this great light shining in the darkness. It is not spectacular in the way the world understands spectacular, but it is far more powerful for this light has freed you so that you are no longer captive to your sinful nature but captive to Christ, who made you His very own in the waters of holy baptism. What a gracious God we have to come into our world and give us these holy gifts to bring us into personal relationship with Him! And in these waters, you too were called by our Lord to be His followers in your daily life and work. Just as Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John who immediately follow Jesus, not because they have a better faith or greater willpower or have sinned less than others, or for any quality within themselves. They are able to follow Jesus because He calls them to do so. The words that Jesus, God Himself utters: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people” are not just words, but words that do what they say they will do…because what Jesus says, happens. We are reminded of God’s words in the creation of the universe: “Let there be light…and it was so; let there be…and it was so; let there be…and it was so.” Here in our text the Lord of creation brings about a re-creation in these fishermen through His speech: “Come, follow me”—the same re-creation He works in your life.

Not only has Jesus won forgiveness and salvation for undeserving sinners, but in His task of building His church, chooses to use them in this work, leading and guiding them in the harvest of souls. And so the people you live and work with see a great light when they see how you live God’s word in your life. Just before our text today was Matthew’s account of the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Without food for forty days Jesus is hungry. The devil knows Jesus has the power to turn the stones around Him into loaves of bread and tempts Him to do it. But Jesus answers: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus isn’t talking about simply existing. He doesn’t say ‘Man does not exist on bread alone, but live on bread alone; real living. And so when you live—really live—meeting with Jesus Himself through His word, receiving the Holy Spirit He sends through the Scriptures, you have peace and contentment and strength no matter what your situation is because the Spirit is at work bearing His fruit. People see that in your life and they know there’s something different about these ‘churchy people’ as we’re often referred to. They see the light of Christ at work because you are a little Christ, to borrow Luther’s terms, in the darkness of the world around. When others see how you say grace at Maccas because you want Christ to be present and bless the food for you, when others see you come to church on a Sunday instead of sport or sitting on the header or sleeping in, when others see how you interact in a patient and forgiving way to those who have wronged you, when others see how you care for others, when others see how you respect authority, when others see how you cherish God’s name rather than using it habitually, when others see how you handle a crisis or live in integrity, when others see you feasting on the Word of God to really live, they see Christ the light of the world, living in and building His church among you.

It is not because of any effort on our part, but this only happens because Jesus has first preached the good news to you, and as he continues to preach to you and teach you through the scriptures, he continues to inspire and enable you to serve others and witness to him. Again today, He is in this church right here and He sends forth His gospel to make you everything He wants you to be, so that even as we live in the shadow of the valley of death of this life, His eternal light lights our way and—by his work in us and through us—shows the world a glimpse of the incredible love of its Saviour. Amen.

Behold the Lamb of God

The Text: John 1:29-42

‘God’s lamb who takes away our sin’


There were two different people on a particular week who came to talk to their pastor about some issues with in their families. In both cases the situation was a big fight with one of their grown up children.

The first person was a lady who was struggling with guilt about the whole thing, because she had lost her temper, things had gotten out of hand, and she had said some things she should’ve have.

The second visitor was a man, and his situation was the reverse in that he wasn’t struggling with the guilt of having lost his temper, but with the anger at his daughter over how she could’ve said the things she did to him.

In both cases the things that had happened ate away at these people whether it was sin they had committed, or sin that been committed against them. In both cases their question was, how can I get rid of this sin in our relationship and the effects of it?

And in both cases the pastor be a little John the Baptist and point to the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.

Sin is like rubbish that clings to our souls.

And the problem with rubbish and waste, is that the longer it hangs around, the worse it gets and the more problems it brings. Rubbish and waste not properly dealt with can make people sick, it can spread disease, if you leave too much of it in the backyard it will even attracts nasty creatures like rats.

Do you remember the pictures from England during the strikes of Margaret Thatcher’s time when she had stand-offs with the unions? Piles of rotting rubbish on the streets of London. Rubbish needs to removed for us to be healthy and live in a functioning society.

Now sin is spiritual rubbish. It needs to be taken away or it is unhealthy, and it even attracts nasty visitors. The spiritual rats are the devil and his demons. Have you noticed how they’re sometimes called ‘unclean spirits’ in the Bible?

Sin is the devil’s raw material, it’s all he’s got to work with. The devil’s strategy is to use our sin against us. So when we sin, he tries to bring it to our minds and accuse us with it, He says, ‘And you call yourself a Christian, how could you do that?’

That’s the accusation of the devil in our conscience, where he uses our sin to bring us guilt and shame, which are spiritually unhealthy, as well as in every other way. But he also uses the sin that has been committed against us, by making us angry about it and not being able to let it go.

He does this by bringing the sins of others against us to our minds so that we think, ‘how could that person do that to me?’

And so he gets in there and rummages around in the garbage of our lives, stirring it all up and making an even bigger mess.

So how do you get rid of rats?

You can set rat traps and such things, but then eventually if there’s still rubbish and waster laying around, more rats will come. If you really don’t want them around, you’ve got to get rid of the rubbish.

Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work, but in the first place he does it in a way we wouldn’t necessarily expect. He deals with the devil by removing the garbage of sin.  God gets rid of the rats by removing the rubbish from our souls.

‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’

Now let’s think for a few minutes about this this picture of the lamb.

What is John the baptizer trying to bring to mind when he calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’?

Well the short answer is that it’s to do with sacrifice.

But the longer answer is that this picks up on a very rich series of images from the Old Testament which all roll into Jesus being the Lamb of God.

So first we might think of Abraham and Isaac. Where Abraham is tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Remember Isaac’s question to Abraham? Dear little Isaac says, ‘Dad, look here’s the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ And Abraham’s wonderful faithful response was, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering…”

Which God did! Abraham is stopped by an angel from sacrificing Isaac and all of a sudden there’s a ram nearby caught up in a bush which was their sacrifice.

Then we might think of the Passover in Egypt.

When all the Israelite families were to take a lamb without blemish, to sacrifice this lamb and to put some of the blood on the doorposts.

The blood was a sign that God would pass over their houses so that the plague coming on the Egyptians would not touch them.

We might think of the lambs sacrificed at the Temple later on, making atonement for the people.

Then there was the scapegoat. Where once a year on the great Day of Atonement, Aaron the priest was to confess the sins of the people over the scapegoat, and it this goat would bear the sins of the people and carry them away out into the wilderness.

And then finally we remember the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear every Good Friday about the suffering servant of the Lord who was promised to come,

Surely he has born our griefs, carried our sorrows…

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it’s shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…’

All of this is in the background and flows into the loaded statement John makes when says about Jesus, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.  Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world, he is our substitute, he gave his life for ours.

The story is told of a tourist who visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.

So the figure of the carved lamb stood atop the church in memory of this miraculous escape, but even more to remember that in Jesus just such a life-saving event has taken place.

Now let’s just point out a few of the specific words in this sentence that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  

First notice Jesus is the lamb… of God

In other words it’s just as Abraham had said, God will provide the sacrifice.

‘For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.’ John 3:16

Amazingly, the sacrifice for our sins is not provided by us, but by God himself.

Next, notice again what this lamb does with sin?

He takes it away.

This word is different than the one for forgive. It includes forgiveness but it’s bigger than that. This word is to do with taking something away, getting rid of it, removing it, even carrying it and bearing it. Now if that is what the Lamb does, then it means we don’t do it. Which is what we tend to think.

That to deal with the sin in our life we must just be better, try harder, pray harder, believe harder, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. 

But it doesn’t work and we don’t need to be the ones to deal with sin because that what Jesus the Lamb has come for.

And notice what this Lamb takes away, it’s not sins plural but sin singular. In other words it’s not just the symptoms of bad behaviour here and there – ‘sins’ – but this is the much deeper disease of ‘sin’ singular.

And it’s not just for one group of people or one type of person, but for the whole world.

This is the once for all sacrifice.

If this Jesus can remove the sin and garbage of the whole world, how surely can he take away the sin in our life? And he does, he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.

Sin happens by us and to us, and the rubbish accumulates, and we hide it away, we try to forget about it. But it doesn’t go away, the symptoms of guilt and shame or anger and bitterness keep arising, reminding us there is a deeper problem. We need to bring these things to the Lamb of God for them to be taken away.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God?  If all this still sounds a bit theoretical or spiritual to you and not terribly practical, I want to show you just how relevant and practical it is for our lives today.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God? Well you get a hint by thinking about where we use those words.

We use them here in worship don’t we?

‘Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’

Specifically we sing that or pray those words right before we receive Holy Communion.

Why do we do that? Why do we in worship pick up on these words of John Baptist and pray them right before we receive the body and blood of Jesus? It’s because it is here in worship, culminating in Holy Communion, where Jesus the Lamb of God invites us to come to him to have the rubbish removed from our souls.

And again that goes for the rubbish we are responsible for creating, and for that which has been dumped on us. When we say ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us’, what we’re praying is that just as he has taken away the sin of the whole world by his death on the cross, so now as we receive his body and blood given and shed on the cross, would he take away the sin in our lives, the rubbish clinging to our souls.

Let’s consider: is there any rubbish hanging around the recesses of our heart, scrunched up and stuffed away? Are we reminded it’s there every now and then by some wave of guilt or outburst of anger? What is the rubbish in our life that we need the Lamb to take away?

What’s so amazing is that not only does Jesus take away the rubbish, but he gives you immeasurably more valuable stuff in return. Imagine a council who paid you to take away your rubbish. He takes the ‘yuck’ stuff, and in return he gives you his purity, his holiness, his freedom and his peace.

‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

Let us pray…

Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, so take away our sin and destroy its power in our lives, in our families, in the church. Amen.

The Baptism of Jesus

The Text: Matthew 3:13-17 

Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might rejoice in the way you use water for your holy purpose of cleansing and adoption through baptism into your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a known fact water can make dirty things clean, but it can also make clean things dirty.

Take for example floodwaters. They can cause damage and leave a lot of mess behind. The stinky silt and mud sticks to the ground and makes walking through it hazardous. Running floodwater digs away at foundations, fences, and roads; leaving holes and chasms. Anything touched by floodwaters is usually ruined.

The irony is; what do we often use to clean up after such a mess left behind by water? We use more water! We use water to wash away silt and mud. We use water to wash our muddy clothes and cars and properties. So, water can bring mess and muck, but water can also be used for cleaning.

In our text for today (which happens in the wilderness alongside the river Jordan), John the Baptist was using water to clean God’s people. In fact, ‘to baptise’ means to wash or purify something, but instead of sitting there in his camel-hair dinner jacket doing everyone’s dishes and dirty laundry, he was washing and purifying people in preparation for the coming Messiah.

But before you get a picture of John washing people’s hair or scrubbing behind people’s ears, he was using water to wash their sins away.

You see, the invitation John gave was for people to repent and be baptised, that is, to turn away from, and confess their sinful thoughts, words, and actions, and have those same thoughts, words, and actions washed away by water so the people would be holy for the coming of the Messiah.

This washing with water continued an old biblical teaching where there were two ways to wash or purify something in order to make it pure for God’s holy purposes.

The first method of cleansing was passing it through fire. But if it was going to burn in fire, then the alternate way of washing with water was to be used in order to purify it.

It makes sense that, since we humans don’t go so well in fire, the obvious way for us to be washed and purified is washing through water. Therefore, John was following God’s instructions to wash the people of their sins with water. It was a spiritual washing using the physical means of water used together with the teachings of the Word of God.

So the picture we have is: here’s John, reminding people of their sins and urging them to repent and be baptised so they could be clean and holy for the time when the coming One arrives who will take away the sins of the whole world: but then the next person to step forward to be baptised is…the man Jesus!

Now, remember, John and Jesus were related. John knew all about Jesus. When the pregnant Mary (with Jesus in her womb) met the pregnant Elizabeth (who had John in her womb), the baby John leaped inside her. John knew Jesus to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, and here he stands in front of John to be baptized. This puzzles John!

You see, this baptism was for those who have sinned, for those who repent of their sins, and for those who need to be washed of their sin. But Jesus isn’t a sinner. He had nothing to confess. He has no sinful thoughts, words and actions. Although he is fully human and so is like us in every way, the only (and very significant) difference is; Jesus wasn’t born with the taint of sin that infects everything we do. 

So, what’s John to do? This baptism was a baptism of repentance, but Jesus doesn’t need to repent because he has nothing to repent of. Even though John had refused to baptise the self-righteous Pharisees (who didn’t think they needed repenting), here stands the only One who truly has nothing to repent of!

John realises Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised because he’s already clean, pure, and holy. He’s already been set aside for God’s holy purposes. He’s already bearing the fruit in keeping with repentance because he was already bearing the right fruit! So, in fact, if anything, John needs to be baptised by Jesus, and he tells him so!

But Jesus tells him to leave it this way for now. It’s fitting and right that he be baptised in order to fulfil all righteousness—to make everything right and fulfil the will of God, right there in the water of baptism. There in the Jordan, Jesus fully identified with us sinners, and in those very waters began his ministry of taking the sin of the world upon himself, so that his sacrificial death on the cross would pay the full penalty of it.

How does this happen? Remember—water makes dirty things clean and clean things dirty.

Therefore, if these baptismal waters were washing away the sins of sinners to make them clean and holy, what would you expect to happen when the pure and holy One is placed in the same water?

Well it’s here when Jesus was baptised that the great exchange took place. In baptism you’re washed of your sins, and those sins are taken by Jesus. The sinful people like you and me become pure, clean and holy, while the pure, clean and holy One of God becomes the bearer of our sin.

But you might argue that you weren’t baptised in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised, so how can baptism using ordinary water from out of the tap work the same way?

Well, remember, it’s not just the water which does this great and mysterious exchange, but it’s water used together with the Word of God, and our faith which trusts the Word of God when it’s used this way.

In this way, every baptism which uses water together with the Word of God, which is received through faith, is now part of this great exchange of sin. Faith trusts what God promises in this action of baptismal washing. Here in baptism our sins are washed away because Jesus takes on all our sins of thought, word, and deed and receives the punishment we deserve for them on the cross.

Therefore, although Jesus stands sinless before John the Baptiser and so didn’t need to be baptised, it was through his baptism for the sake of all righteousness where Jesus becomes the greatest sinner of all; not because he was a sinner himself, but because he bore the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.

So here he takes his place, being baptised among sinners, and will later take his place and die between sinners on the cross. Here God comes down to us to make things right and good through the work of Jesus Christ, which begins here at his baptism.

He continues to enact this cleansing work among us as we’re reminded of our baptism when we speak his holy name at the beginning of worship, when we repent of our sins and hear his gracious and undeserving words of forgiveness, and when he welcomes us at his holy banqueting table as forgiven and holy people of God through faith.

Here we celebrate the fact God’s goodness, love, mercy and righteousness is greater than our capacity to sin!

But wait, there’s more!

You see, something else happens which changes John’s baptism of repentance into something new.

We hear the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down from the newly opened heavens to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove.

Here the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Jesus, reaffirming he is the loved, chosen, and well-approved Servant and Son of God. He is now the font of the Holy Spirit, which means we come to the incarnate Jesus Christ to receive his Spirit so that we may live a life of righteousness. We do this so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we’re able to do the good, perfect, and salutary will of God.

At the same time, the voice of God the Father (who completes the Holy Trinity miraculously present at this world-changing baptismal event), declares this Jesus to be his priceless Son, with whom he’s deeply pleased.

Amazingly, much of the same sentiment is conveyed to each of us in our own baptism, as he adopts us as his holy and dearly loved children, speaking his words of love and pleasure over us as we fulfil his will; his holy will and command that we would be baptised and continually learn from his Words and ways on how to live as his holy children.

So here, when Jesus was baptised, baptism itself was changed. It’s no longer a simple washing, but it’s a means of the Holy Spirit which brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the Word and promises of God declare.

For this reason we can rejoice and thank God for all the gifts we receive from our baptism into Christ Jesus, so that we can say or even sing:

“Jesus loves me, this I know,
for his washing tells me so.
Baptised ones to him belong;
we are weak, but he is strong.”

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who has made us right before God through baptism. Amen.

How well do you measure up.

Luke 6:35
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

            Who you are matters. And what you do matters. If a parent doesn’t parent the child they gave life to things aren’t right, if the police don’t police there can be death, and if a child rejects their parents, rejects those who gave them life, something is terribly wrong. We all know that stereotypical teenage rebellion, where the teenager refuses to listen to their parents, rejects their teaching and way of life, and goes after something else; or when they finish school, they leave cutting ties with the rest of their family and living a new and different way. Unfortunately today sometimes it’s even the parents who reject who they are to their children and run off. But who you are matters and what you do matters.

            Your Christian Faith matters. Itis not, ‘God’s done it all so you can relax’ rather it’s ‘God’s done it all now you can live!’ It’s as if you are a dead man, or woman, God comes and raises you to new life because of course you can’t do it yourself; yet now you are alive, you can choose to act like a living person, or choose to act like a dead one again. The Christian Faith is ‘God’s done it all now you can live!
Yes Christ has defeated sin, death and the devil; and yes the Holy Spirit unites you to Him saving you; and yes Our Heavenly Father dearly loves you and wants the best for you and all His Creation. The Most High God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, we know this and confess this, and this is why He is kind to you and adopts you. For we know that Jesus forgives those who crucified Him, and St Stephan, truly living as a son of God, forgave those stoning him as he saw Jesus standing in the Highest. The Most High God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, that is why He sent His only begotten Son to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). You who are ungrateful, wicked, sinners; God saves you from your ungratefulness, from your wickedness, from your sin. He saves you so that you may be grateful, righteous and complete, that you may live as His children.

This is why Jesus Himself says, then you will be children of the Most High. When you listen to Jesus, the Word of God, and trust His teachings; when you love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and lend without expecting any returns. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Highest. But are you not already children of God? In Holy Baptism He adopted you into His family, the Church; He united you to His Son, and so as part of Christ’s body you too are called God’s son (Romans 6; 8:15). So then what does it mean to be children of the Most High?

            You have been adopted, no one can take that from you; yet here is a question, “are you really your father’s son?” or are you ‘a son of a gun’? Is my son Nathaniel really a father’s son, or is he more a son of his mother? As it happens at the moment, Nathaniel is more a son of his father and Karissa more a daughter of her mother; but they still have a lot of growing up to do. Now you have been adopted by the Most High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth; you are His child. Do you live like Him or do you still live like the family you came from? He has adopted you, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked; this might even be your lived experience for you who came to Faith later in life. Now Jesus calls you to live like your adopted Father, to be kind to the ungrateful and wicked. To be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful. And He is merciful, we know this because we know Christ. WE know because of His example.

            So here is His challenge for you who are adopted in Christ. How well do you measure up to Him? Do you trust your Heavenly Father like Jesus trusts Him? Do you love your enemies so much that you are willing to die for them, to forgive them with your life as Jesus does? Do you lend not just your possessions and your time, yet also your entire life to those around you not expecting any returns; just as Jesus does? Today I leave you with a question, as the baptised children of God, newly forgiven, spoken to and strengthened by Him today, will you live as a child of the Most High God?

            As you answer that question, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Resurrection of all God’s family. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

“Resurrection: the Lord Jesus stands forever”.

1 Corinthians 15:17, 20
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty; you are still in your sins. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

            If your mother hadn’t born you, you would not have family, you could not stand, you would not have life. But your mother did bear you, you are born and here you live; this truth stands forever. Now, there are many today who do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that He didn’t awake and rise from His final sleep.

But that’s not what we’re talking about today. There are also those who don’t believe that at the end of time, all who have died will rise again in their bodies. Instead, many believe that the soul resting in Heaven and the body left in the grave is the end, functionally that there is no New Creation, no final victory over sin, death and the devil. But then what is Easter? Those who reject the final fulfillment of Christ’s Resurrection, the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, question whether Jesus’ death has truly dealt with your sins, whether He stands in victory over sin, death and the devil or not. And when you sin, or worry over our own death, or fall to temptation; you live as though there was no Resurrection, as though you are still dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), as though you are not baptised into Christ.

            But He has baptised you (Ephesians 5:25-27), your mother has born you, and Jesus did rise and stand victorious from the grave. This is truth stands forever. You are baptised, united with Christ in this, His death and rising from death, you now live and stand in His Resurrection (Romans 6). This is something that can never be taken away from you, you are baptised, it’s a historic fact. Just as Christ’s rising from the dead is a historic fact. And we can’t change the past, we all know that.

Yet you can, now, choose how to live, how faithful you will be, but you can not change what has happened; your birth, your baptism, and Christ’s Resurrection still stand. They last forever. And this is one of the things we mean by that first Lutheran slogan, “The Word of the Lord stands forever!” (1 Peter 1:25; Isaiah 40:8). His Word to you in your baptism stands forever, His Word to you in the Absolution stands forever, His Word to you in the Gospels, in Holy Communion, in the Aaronic Blessing stands forever. That Word of forgiveness, life everlasting and holiness for you stands forever. This is our sure and certain hope, I am baptised.

            But what does baptism mean? What does it mean to be united to Christ in baptism, to be raised with Him and be united with Him in His Resurrection? And what do those words mean, raised and resurrection? Well, raised or rise in Greek and Hebrew mean just that, ‘to rise’ also rouse from sleep or to awake. But resurrection is the funny one, to most it’s always refers to rising from the dead; and yet it sounds a lot like insurrection. Resurrection, insurrection; resurgence, insurgence; now Insurrection refers to a standing against, Resurrection is a standing up. And the word, resurrection/standing up, is used both for Jesus at Easter, and more so for the dead at the end of this age.

So then what does it mean that Jesus stands up; and that at the end of this age, when death is destroyed, that all the dead will stand up? What does it mean but that He and all will stand while those things that seek our fall, sin death and the devil will not; that Jesus stands forever, He lasts forever, but sin, death and the devil stand no more. His standing, His Resurrection, is His victory over sin, death and the devil. And our union with Christ’s life in Baptism; our union, our participation with His Resurrection; is how we are no longer slaves to sin; how death has no power over us; and how, though they protest and assault, the demons will not defeat us who are in Christ.

This is why we ‘work out our faith in fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12), why we like all Christians from Pentecost to today, devote ourselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, Holy Communion and prayer (Acts 2:42). That when the evil comes we stand in the full armour of God, looking to Him and relying on the gifts He gives (Ephesians 6). And this is why when you fail, when you fall, you come back to receive again from God His service, His Divine Service, to stand you up again, to participate again in His Resurrection longing for the end when those united with Christ receive His blessings in full. So what is baptism? What does it mean? It means union with Christ and the promise of His Resurrection, His victory over your sin, your death, and your devils here today and everyday in Christ.

            You cannot change the past, and yet we know what will last. For Jesus stands forever, sin, death and the devil do not. And Jesus stands forever for your sake, that you might stand with Him in victory today, and at the end stand together with all His kingdom as the kingdoms of sin death and the devil fall to lay in the dust forever. God has baptised you, it cannot be undone, The Holy Spirit draws and unites you to Christ in His Resurrection, His victory is yours today. This is the Good News, the Gospel for us to speak, by God’s Word of promise, you are forgiven, purified, and provided life everlasting in Christ.

            And so, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and until we all stand forever with Him. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Is a person a fisherman if he or she never goes fishing?


Luke 5:10
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not; from now on you will catch men.”

Fishing, it’s a hobby some of you love; to go fishing with friends and family, cast a line, have a chat and see what you catch. Now there are many different ways to fish, the good old fishing rod, the line, the net, the trawling and trolling; but at its core fishing is about lowering something into the water to pull something precious out, letting down nets into the deep to catch the fish. And yet Jesus says today to this fisherman Simon, called Peter, from now on he will catch men. What’s going on here? What’s this connection between fish and men? Why does Jesus, God Almighty, choose a fisherman to be His disciple, even four fishermen? And what does this account of fishing have to do with you?

            To answer our first question, we’ll look at the other words God has spoken to us today, from the call of Isaiah. From Isaiah chapter 6 we heard God come down, like a fisherman down to the water, to show Himself to Isaiah. Like a fisherman He lifts Isaiah up into His presence, Although His throne is a bit fancier than a deck chair. Isaiah lifts his eyes to the Lord and cries out, ‘I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips.’ Isaiah lives deep among a people who live in darkness away from God’s light; they do not speak or hear God’s Word, but dirty their lips with lies, hate, and gossip. Like an ocean fish Isaiah lives deep in this darkness. Yet God sends down a burning coal like a hook to catch him, to touch his lips and bring him up and our of a life of sin; of course the same happens in Holy Communion, He Himself coming down to forgive your sin in touching your lips and bringing you up into His life. So even for Isaiah, God is a fisherman, He goes down to the water and pulls sinners up out of the depths to live with Him.

            Then why might Jesus choose fishermen to be the first and core of His disciples? He had seen Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, before after His baptism by John in the Jordan river (John 1:35-42). … Hmm, that’s another time with water He went down and came back up. And in Luke’s account today He asks Simon, Andrew’s brother, to use his boat to teach. Now here’s another interesting thing the Holy Spirit has preserved for us to help us know Jesus. Jesus stands in a boat, that ancient image of the church, and proclaims the truth to many people, you could say He casts the Gospel out to the crowd like a net. How many people does He catch? Don’t know.

Yet then He turns to Simon Peter, who’d been fishing in the dark before Jesus had arrived, fishing without God, and had caught nothing. Jesus guides Simon where to fish, and shows His power to Peter. Simon Peter can’t handle it himself, not even with His brother Andrew’s help, he calls out to James and John to come help with the catch; but still the catch is so great they struggle to bring it to shore. Here, the Holy Spirit in His wisdom has shown us what it means to be fishers of men, and why the first disciples were fishermen. They knew what it meant, the hard work of casting out, the need for God’s help, the need for community to live with each other and help each other, and now Jesus reveals how big the catch will be! Peter and Andrew, James and John, will preach to nations, casting the net wide and with each other’s help and the Lord’s catching many people into life. Many more came to help down the centuries and down to today.

            So, what does this mean for you? It means, we all confessed with Isaiah, with Simon, and with each other the truth of who we are. We fail to love as Christ loved, we don’t always speak good truth to others, we sin against who we are in God. I am a sinner with unclean lips. Basically, we can’t do it by ourselves, just like Simon’s failure in fishing the night before without Jesus. We need help. And God sends it. He comes down to us today in the reading and hearing of His Word, in the Absolution, and most specially in Holy Communion; He comes down to catch you, and to clean you, to heal you and to bring you to Himself. It’s the Divine Service, It’s God’s fishing trip.

And that’s one thing you can catch and take away today, but He didn’t just forgive Isaiah, He didn’t just say, ‘fear not’ to Simon. He sent them out. Isaiah was sent out to help people see their need, their sin and failure, and to promise the coming Messiah the coming Good News. Simon Peter was sent to cast the net of that Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, His victory against our real enemies. And you too are called into God’s service, forgiven and made New by God’s merciful grace. You are called to join Isaiah, Peter, Paul, all Christians and Jesus Himself, in going down to bring others up. Maybe you are not called to preach to nations as the Apostles did, maybe not to cities and great crowds as the Martyrs, maybe not to whole congregations, to priests and popes as Luther and countless faithful pastors have; yet you are called to cast out the net of the gospel even if it is just to encourage the faith of your family and friends and each other here today.

So, relying on God’s strength, encourage each other today and go out forgiven to help with the fishing.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now until we all reach the Promised Land. Amen.

Love is action and God never fails

1 Corinthians 13:7
Love bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, and endures all.

            What a wonderful thing love is! I love it! But then I also love lasagne; and pet owners love their pets. I wonder, what is love? And have you ever wondered, what is love to you?

            Is love a feeling? Those butterflies in your stomach when you met your spouse, the draw you felt toward your newborn child? Is love saying, ‘I love you’ for the first time, or for the thousandth? Is love a preference for pizza over something like celery? Is love a complete and utter acceptance of a person including their harmful and destructive habits? Is love something that can be lost? Is love God? What is love to you?

            Many people today think of love as a feeling, yet Scripture speaks differently. For both the Greek and Hebrew speaking people, love is action. It’s not a feeling that comes and goes, you don’t fall out of love; rather love is something you do, it’s charity, it’s feeding, cleaning, helping, all those good things a mother does for their child. For us as Christians especially, love is an action.

            And Paul reflects this throughout 1 Corinthians, all the words used to describe love are action words. Technically it’s not patient, it’s suffers long, or bears continually; it’s not kind, it’s does good for the benefit of the one loved. Love doesn’t covet, or boast, doesn’t toot its own horn. Love doesn’t act rudely, seek its own benefit, isn’t provoked to anger easily, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn’t delight in unrighteousness, rather love rejoices with the truth. Love bears, trusts, hopes, and endures all things. Love is action.

            It’s an action directed toward the object of love. It doesn’t mean you have to like the person or thing, or even feel like loving them; because we all know feelings come and go. Rather love is about living for the benefit of what we love. If you love eating lasagne, for example, you will suffer through burnt onions, through a quick trip to the shops for cheese, through the work of putting it all together for the sake of eating lasagne. Your love is that humble, patient, faithful work for the benefit of eating lasagne. You don’t delight in a lasagne that isn’t right, is unrighteous; rather you rejoice with the truth of the lasagne, a good lasagne is delicious! And your love is also that joyful sharing with others, both eating lasagne with them and telling others of the wonders of lasagne. Love is not a feeling, for we love even when we feel tired, sad, irritated, and often those acts of love bring us joy, like the joy of a good lasagne.

            Although, now of course, Paul is not writing about the object of our love. I am a Minister of the Holy Mysteries of God, not a chef. Jesus has already taught the object of our love, first and foremost it is to be God Almighty the Creator of all, and His Creation (Matthew 22:36-40). The Holy Spirit has inspired Paul to write that without this love you are nothing. If you do not bear up under things, if you do what is harmful; if you envy, boast and puff yourself up; if you dishonour others, seek only for yourself, are easily provoked, keep records of wrongs; if you delight when you see another’s misfortune and rejoice with lies; you are nothing. You are dust, for all the other things you might hold, power, wealth, knowledge, even God’s special spiritual gifts, all these things pass away to nothing. You might desire excellence, but as Paul wrote, love is the most excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31).

            And Love never fails. And God is love (1 John 4:8). He always bears you, your failure, your sin, even your rejection of Him; remember from the cross Jesus loves, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). He always hopes, that you will live with Him in joy, peace, and love, that when you fail you repent, turn back to be with Him again. He always endures, the hurt of those who reject Him and turn from Him, the harm done to all His Creation, and all the hardships we face together. He never fails. And when all is said and done, when Christ comes revealed in all His glory, at the end, the perfection of the world; love remains. Not my library of books, not your wealth given to those in need, not prophecies revealing a truth; all this will pass away. Yet Christ’s love for you will never pass away.

            What is love? It is Jesus ever seeking what is best for you, for all His Creation; victory over sin, death and the devil; and by God’s grace it is us living together with Him.

            And so the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the coming perfection. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.