Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

  Jesus calls out to us with the words,
 “You are the salt of the earth.”  And again, “You are the light of the world”.

The prophet Moses approached his call to be light and salt timidly,  He said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  To which God answered, “I will be with you.”

david3
David:0414521661

The Apostle Paul, called to witness Christ Jesus to both Jew and Gentile, also approached his call to be light and salt with some reservations.  Paul writes, ‘when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, ‍and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom.’  To which God gave Paul divine truth to share with simple words centered on Jesus Christ and his cross. 

Let’s join in a word of  prayer: Loving God our Father, today we gather to worship You and to celebrate the light that our Saviour brings into our lives and the salt that preserves the message of salvation in the power of your Holy Spirit. God our Father, guide our steps and our lives with the light of Christ, as you open our minds and hearts by your Holy Spirit.  Preserve within us the wisdom You have for us, and strengthen our  faith, to be salt and light for people around us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

A camera in my hands will only capture a few personally precious moments.  A camera in the hands of Ken Duncan will record a pantheon of life in Australia.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A tennis racquet in my hands will only lob the ball into the net, but a tennis racquet in the hands of Novak Djokovic will mean a Grand Slam title.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A staff in my hands might help knock an apple from a tree branch, but a staff in the hands of Moses parted the mighty sea.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy, but a sling shot in the hands of the shepherd king David was a mighty weapon.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches, but two fish and 5 loaves of bread in the hands of  Christ Jesus fed thousands.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Nails in my hands might produce a simple bird feeder, but nails in the hands of Jesus Christ produced salvation for all people of faith.  It depends on whose hands it’s in.

As I have repeated several times. It all depends on whose hands it’s in.  When we put our concerns, our worries, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our gifts and our relationships in God’s hands, that will make all the difference.  Because it depends on whose hands it’s in.  (Author Unknown)

In the example of the great prophet Moses, and the great Apostle Paul, we are reminded that it isn’t by our eloquence or brilliance that we witness Christ as Lord.  But simply by the epiphany of Christ as our personal Saviour, in our simple words, our soothing attitudes, and our loving actions.  As we put ourselves in the hands of our Saviour.
It’s clear that it was no coincidence Jesus chose salt and light as examples for our life in him that is shared with others as a living witness. 

Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfil their purpose when they are poured out and when they shine.  As I consider the combination of today’s readings, I come to the conclusion that, like savoury salt, we are to be drawn to others to make a difference in their lives, all in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that, like light, we are to be a warm beacon for others, drawing them to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In both cases, we walk together with Jesus Christ in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Salt remains in the background, only useful in conjunction with the food it seasons.   Once at a Bible Study, some young people were discussing this text.  They were suggesting uses of salt, and the meaning.  One said, “Salt gives flavour to food”.  Another said, “It also preserves food to keep it from decaying.” Then one girl said, “salt makes you thirsty.”   Since I encountered this, the question that has haunted me is, “have I ever made anyone thirsty for Jesus?”  Perhaps a question for each of us. We are that kind of salt when we allow our hearts to show the world the peace and joy of our salvation by what they see in our eyes.

When we allow the compassion of our attitudes reveal Christ in our interactions.  When we allow the encouraging words of hope to be what they hear from our lips.  All the result of the Holy Spirit filling and guiding us – making others thirsty for the confidence we have in living with Jesus in our hearts.

By contrast, light never remains in the background. Light fills the space it occupies with warm rays of confidence.  Light draws attention to itself by it’s very nature. When the light of Christ beams out from our lives, we cannot help to draw attention to the goodness of our Saviour.

When it comes to showing the world that we are children of God, and that we are loved by Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit makes all the difference, giving us the courage to be the light to the world that cannot be hidden away.  And that will make a difference in the life of someone who desperately needs to see that light of Jesus Christ.  Someone we may not even recognise.

It would never occur to those who don’t know Jesus Christ, to turn on that light in their life.  Not unless they see the light of peace, joy, hope and love that our Saviour’s light shows them through our lives of faith.

 I am convinced they would never notice the light of Christ shining through our lives, unless we first enter their lives as quietly as salt.  Showing them our friendship and compassion.  I have seen that light streaming through the lives of so many here at St Peter’s as we engage with each other with such gentle caring.

The big question is, ‘how do we sustain this?’ 

Christ Jesus gives us the answer in what seems to be harsh words at the end of the reading for today.  Jesus says,  “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.”   

The heart of the law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets is summed up in other words of Jesus,   “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37~40 NIV84)  Jesus fulfilled the heart and the letter of the law perfectly.

What I’ve noticed is that if we approach every interaction with others, anxious about being salt and light to that person; anxious about fulfilling the heart of the law of Moses — we will spend our time concentrating on ourselves with anxiety and fear. 

From Scriptures, I am sure that is not what Jesus wants us to do, and it’s not what Jesus Christ entered our lives to do.  Jesus came to make his teachings come true.  To make the way for the Holy Spirit to change our nature to be like him.  To approach every interaction with others, just to love them. To care about them.  To show them Jesus. 

As we let each encounter with another to be a natural outflow of ourselves, we let Jesus be present.  And we let our Christian friends show us their love as well.   Just as Paul says, ‘Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.’

So what happens, if, at one time or another,  we just can’t be salt and light?  The good news is that we have a Saviour who understands everything about being human.  Who shows us his love in all the times of our lives, whether times of failure or times of success.  We can let his forgiveness and love surround us and encourage us, rather than fill our spirit with guilt and anxiety.  Just  continue to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.  After all, we are not a finished product and we will only be perfect when we reach eternity and stand by the side of our Saviour.

As Paul wrote in Romans,  “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”    As for me, I won’t ever know the full impact of what my living example might have on someone else.  Whether  good or bad.  Whatever I might influence them to be and do. Whether good or bad.  So I ponder the question ‘where does that leave me’?  And others as I suspect.

I suppose in the worst case, to be counted  least in the Kingdom of Heaven.    But really, that is good news. What a relief that is!  Even when I continue living in this broken world, subject to the sinfulness that is part of life, Jesus has made the way for me to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; by His own sacrifice, and our faith in him.   I can envision that being even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven as having an eternal future that is far above anything I could hope for or expect in this world. 

And that is just the starting point for every Christian.  Given the right to become children of God by our faith in his Son.  Jesus also says, “But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I suspect there is only one who ever truly obeyed God’s laws; only one who ever rightly taught God’s laws. Jesus Christ, our Saviour.  He came to earth to “fulfil the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets.”  And rightly so, Jesus is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  He is our High Priest, our King, and our Saviour.  We hold Him up as the example for our joyous living, and we hold the  Commandments as the law of God which is the mirror of our own sad reality. 

But our Triune God sees us through the prism of the one who fulfilled the whole law.   So our destiny is somewhere between being least in the Kingdom of Heaven and  being just short of great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

What a wonderful and exciting destiny. And we are all in this together.  We are all destined for the eternal Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus our Lord. 

What hope this gives to all of us.   What energy it gives to know that God loves us that much.  How this Good News can fill us with renewed enthusiasm to try again to be the person that Jesus wants each of us to be.  And what encouragement it provides to try again to be salt and light to the world around us.

As we let God’s Holy Spirit make us into the salt and light for the world, the grace and peace of God, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.
David Thompson.

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (ESV)

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

ac8
David: 0428 667 754

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

As our church attendances dwindle, our attempts at evangelism struggle, and the number of empty pews multiply, have you ever thought God should have a better marketing plan?

 

For example, why doesn’t he just give people what they want? If people pray for healing – give it to them. If people pray for success – give it to them. If people pray for rain so their crops would grow – give it to them. If people pray for a sunny day so they can enjoy a leisurely day outside – give it to them. Surely God’s powerful and clever enough to direct sun in one place and rain on another!

 

Just think, if God would give everyone what they want, don’t you think it follows that every worship service would be about receiving power, success, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, health, long life, and so on. Don’t you think this would be very attractive?

 

You’d think this would also mean every church would have impressive and charismatic preachers the people would admire and want to emulate. Everyone would get to sing the hymns and songs they want to sing. We wouldn’t even need to be choosy about which church to go to because every church would offer exactly what we want.

 

If God gave people what they wanted, then wouldn’t our own church, and the whole world, be filled with dedicated disciples who sing God’s praises at all times and in every place?

 

But what does he do instead?

 

He asks us to ‘foolishly’ believe the God who creates the universe and all its wonders, came to earth as a humble human being in order to serve us by suffering and dying on a cruel cross without even putting up a struggle, and that somehow through the shedding of his innocent blood, we obtain forgiveness of sins, peace in heart, body and soul, and life eternal through faith.

 

In other words, God markets his peace, life, and salvation through his Son’s agonising death on a cross!

 

What’s more, he then gets human beings who are weak, selfish, sinful, uninspiring, and incompetent to preach the message of Jesus Christ crucified to a doubtful and disbelieving world who would rather God would just give them what they want, and who often blame God for everything which goes wrong in their lives even though they’re more to blame than he is.

 

He also gets you, his proud, selfish, and fiercely independent people to gather together to admit to each other (and the world) that you’ve stuffed up and sinned against God and others around you. He asks you to believe his words of forgiveness are effectual even though they’re spoken by imperfect people.

 

He asks you to believe a simple washing with water in the name of our Triune God joins you to Jesus and grants eternal life in God’s kingdom. He also expects you to believe a small wafer of bread and a little sip of wine is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ!

 

Do you realise how foolish, absurd, and ridiculous this sounds to most people? And we wonder why more people don’t coming flocking to our church in order to be disciples of Christ!

 

While we might think God needs a better marketing plan of power, wealth, health, and success in order for more people to believe and trust in him, God instead, in his infinite wisdom, expects us to market the shameful and humiliating death of Jesus Christ on a cross, with all its accompanying weakness, humility, and foolishness!

 

God seems to delight in doing things all mixed up, turned about topsy-turvy, and the wrong way around! I mean, just listen to what we call ‘the Beatitudes’ in the Gospel reading for today – Jesus calls spiritually poor people, mourners, and those who seek the peace of God the ‘blessed ones’, when everyone else today thinks the rich, intelligent, beautiful and successful are the blessed ones!

 

He also doesn’t do what we expect him to do (at least, not according to human wisdom and logic), but does things in his own way and timing, including giving his divine gifts (such as forgiveness and eternal life), to undeserving people like you and me.

 

Not only this, but as people who believe in what he achieved for us on the cross of Christ, he asks you to live the way of the cross by loving and forgiving your enemies and all those who hurt you.

 

But, like it or not, this is the way and wisdom of God – and thank God for that!

 

I mean, if any of us were God (which is the original sin which got the human race into trouble in the first place, and still continues to get you and me into trouble), wouldn’t we only choose the good, strong, intelligent, beautiful, or wise to be part of this congregation or part of God’s people? Wouldn’t we only choose those who do the right thing by us or who agree with us? Imagine then, if it were really up to us, how few people there’d be here today, or even more tellingly – how few people we’d receive into heaven!

 

Part of the point is, if God were to work the same way as you and me, would he choose you? Would he choose me? Would you and I ever be good enough, strong enough, healthy enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, or even faithful enough for God? If you could only be chosen by God if you always did the right thing by God or to those around you, would God ever choose you?

 

Sure, our God demands perfection, and God makes it clear through his word (and through our own consciences) that we all fail to live according to his ways and so therefore deserve punishment. None of us deserve eternal life in heaven.

 

Yet God, in his wisdom, sent his only Son to us as a human being in order to live perfectly and obediently for us. He also took on all our sin and punishment for us and then died for us. He paid the full price for our sin so that we would be forgiven and no longer need to fear punishment from God any more.

 

In other words, we don’t need to be perfect because he was perfect for us! We’re made acceptable and worthy of heaven only because of what Jesus did for us and through our faith in this fact.

 

God, in his wisdom, gathers strangers together, like you and me, in order to receive his gifts of grace upon grace through his Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. He makes these strangers into family – that is, he makes us all brothers and sisters related through the blood of Christ, who not only want to receive the grace of God, but also want to share the grace of God with each other.

 

God, in his infinite wisdom, calls us to love and forgive others as he first loves us. This is foolish in a world which demands payback, put-downs, isolation, rejection, and revenge, yet he proclaims forgiveness of sins through the death of his Son so that you and I would be at peace with him. Then, as those who have been forgiven, he calls each of us to also forgive, including those who hurt us. Strangely, this forgiveness is the only way which offers true reconciliation and peace for troubled consciences, hearts and minds.

 

God, in his wisdom, doesn’t always give us what we want, because we’ll never be truly satisfied anyway. Not only this, but he doesn’t always give us what we want because getting our own way often hurts those around us.

 

God, in his wisdom, chose to love the fools of this world (like you and me). This doesn’t mean we’re all idiots or stupid, but that we have the faith to trust the wisdom of God when our own understanding falters. While this may make us all ‘fools’ in the world’s eyes; in God’s eyes our faith in him makes us the wise and blessed ones.

 

God, in his wisdom, chose the weak, because if we were strong, we might think he chose us for our strength or physical abilities. But because we’re not strong or powerful or mighty, we rely on, and trust in, his strength instead of our own.

 

Unfortunately for so many in the world today, the stumbling blocks to faith are pride, self-glory, intellect, strength and nobility, yet these are what Jesus gave up on the cross…for you and me, so that we may live with him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

 

I mean, put it this way: when we get to heaven, and as our knees shake before God as we give an account for all our life: for all our thoughts, words and actions (or lack of them), what will we point to? Our intellect? Our strength? Our good intentions? Our good works? If we were to point to any of these, we’d be labelled a fool and laughed out of heaven!

 

You see, our only boast, our only claim for salvation in front of God, is Jesus Christ crucified on the cross.

 

In this way we boast in his suffering.

We boast in his death.

We boast in his resurrection.

We boast he’s forgiven us even though we don’t deserve it.

We boast in his gift of washing, adoption, and new-life given in baptism.

We boast in the gift of his body and blood to nourish and reassure us of his love and forgiveness through his Holy Supper.

We boast in the proclamation of Christ crucified through human beings, no matter what they look like or how long their sermons go for.

We boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, crucified for us to save us and reconcile us with his Father in heaven.

 

While it’s not the best marketing plan in the world, it’s the wisdom of God to proclaim Christ crucified. His suffering and death (which takes away all our sin), proclaims God’s love for you and me better than giving us everything we want would.

 

Therefore, if we think we’re not good enough, smart enough, or able to be a good person by our own strength, then that’s a good thing! You see, only then, as ‘fools’ who totally rely on the grace of God through Christ Jesus are we wise enough to no longer boast in ourselves or our own achievements, but we’re ready to boast only in Christ and his death on the cross so that…

 

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus crucified. Amen.

Third Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: Matthew 4:12-23

Echoing the Gospel

 

John the Baptist’s ministry was ended. The work that God called him to do was done. John preached the Word he was given, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2), and, “behold, the Lamb of20180311_103505 (1) God who takes away the sin of the word” (Jn 1:29).

For faithfully witnessing about Christ John was put in prison. He condemned King Herod’s marriage as adultery, and rightly so. But Herod was not interested in the Word of God and he locked John away. The baptiser decreased: Jesus was increasing (Jn 3:30).

After Jesus was baptised He overcame the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Then we read that Jesus goes to live in Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Living there Jesus fulfils the prophecy we heard earlier from Isaiah, that the Lord has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Capernaum is in the north of Israel, where Jews and Gentiles lived side by side. The Jews in Jerusalem regarded Galilee as a backwater, and the Jews who lived there were considered lesser Jews than themselves. But it is among those thought of as being less – second rate Jews and pagan Gentiles – that Jesus went to live and first began to preach about the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ preaching was straight to the point, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this preaching we hear the messages of the Law and the Gospel. The two go hand in hand, never to be separated, but always clearly distinguished. To only preach “repent” will motivate people to run around and do all sorts of good works. That kind of Church looks very busy, but it is all done in the hope of showing their repentance to God, but never knowing for certain if God loves them. There is no rest in a church like that. Preaching Law without Gospel drives people to despair.

To only preach “the kingdom of God is at hand”, referring to the riches of God’s grace, makes believers think they do no wrong. If the Law—the Ten Commandments—are not preached, how do we know what sin is? Preaching Gospel without Law makes saints into sinners.

John the Baptist, and all the prophets before him, preached repentance and the nearness of God’s kingdom. Jesus was echoing John, who in turn echoed the prophets. In time, the apostles and pastors who followed Jesus would echo His words and call sinners to repentance and point them to God’s forgiveness. 

The first disciple of Jesus came from among those Jews in Galilee. The first disciples were fishermen—devout, hard working men who were looking for the Messiah. John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and now their Lord comes to them and commands them, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew follow without hesitation. James and John join them. Soon others would join them.

These men left everything to follow Jesus. They left behind their families and homes, their work and communities, all to follow Jesus, and learn to be fishers of people.

It is the preaching of Law and Gospel—repentance and the nearness of God’s kingdom—that enabled those fishermen to leave their nets. It is the powerful Word of God that planted the seed of faith and hope in their hearts and made them disciples. It is the same Word of God that convicts us of sin—the Word that brings us the forgiveness Jesus earned on the cross and raises us to new life in Baptism. It is the Word of absolution proclaimed in the Divine Service that removes my guilt before coming to the Altar to eat the visible Word that grants life everlasting. In all these ways the kingdom of heaven is at hand when the King comes and does His work of bringing heaven to us.

This understanding that the divine Word gives us cannot be found anywhere else. The knowledge of what is truly sin and displeasing to God comes only from the Word, not a dream or government policy or society. If we use human wisdom to determine what sin is, that list would change continuously.

The Gospel comes from the same Word. The Good News of the Son of God becoming man, then dying for sinners and rising from dead is not a message that could come from any human author. The Gospel is the wonderful revelation of God’s grace for sinners. It shows us the Lamb who was slain for us, so we can have life with God now and forever. The Word of the Gospel comes as light into our hearts driving to drive out darkness and death.

We are all encouraged to echo what we have heardTo speak again what the prophets and apostles said: To witness Christ crucified for sinners. Now, those who witness the cross are regarded by many as old fashioned. But to witness anything else is to deny that we are born sinners and that we have a Saviour. Christians who hold to the promises of the Word are thought of as fools. The world rejects the authority of Word of God. But to Jesus’ disciples, to you and me, the message of our crucified Saviour is peace and life; for, The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1Cor 1:18).

It is by the power of God that we are disciples of Jesus. We cannot make ourselves His followers. It happens when the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and we realise that God’s love for this sinner, and that everything needed for my salvation has been already been done by Jesus. Trusting the message of the Gospel is called faith, and it can only happen by hearing the Word of God.

A disciple of Jesus listens, learns and lives by the Word of God. It is our lifeline to God. Disciples hear the Word as the voice of God. We listen to God speak in the reading of Scripture in the Divine Service, the preaching of the Church, the richness of the hymns. We listen to the Word at home, where the Lord speaks as we come to the Word daily to be fed by Him.

Disciples listen and we learn and grow in the Word together as Church. Being a disciple of Jesus is not only about you and your Bible. We are baptised into the Church, made part of the body of Christ which stretches back to Adam and Eve, to Moses and Abraham, to Luther and Sasse. We seek the wisdom of the ages to understand the Word of God, because they had the Holy Spirit also.

Jesus’s disciples listen and learn, and we live by the Word. Through the Word, God communicates His life to us, in forgiving our sins and in granting us the Holy Spirit; the Lord and giver of Life. In the Word joined to water, bread and wine, God grants us heavenly gifts.

The disciples of Jesus listen, learn and live by the Word, and we echo that Word. We speak to others what we hear from Jesus. We shine the light that has driven the darkness from our hearts. The same Word that speaks Jesus to us, we share to make Him known among our family and friends and work colleagues. We are fishers of people as we follow Jesus and echo His words. Even the power to speak the Word does not come from us. It comes from the Word in us, from the Holy Spirit who lives in us and brings the words of Jesus to mind.

It is important for us to know that we never graduate from being a disciple. We are always a learner. As long as we remain in this sinful flesh we need to hear the call to repent and feed again on the forgiveness God. We never complete our learning.

Being a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily mean you have to leave your job or family or community. It may of course mean exactly that. Some men are called to move and study at Australian Lutheran College to train for pastoral ministry. Others are called to be camp directors or lay workers or Bible translators, far away from where they once lived.

Most of us are called to be a disciple right where you are now, to your family or housemates, to your neighbourhood and community. Wherever you live, Jesus calls you to follow Him, listen to His words, receive His grace and mercy and echo His words in your home, your marriage, to your friends, even to your enemies. That is what Jesus did and He was saved from death. He commands us to do the same and He promises to rescue us from all our sins and raise us from dead.

Let us always give thanks to God who speaks so clearly about our salvation in Christ, and who gives us His Holy Spirit to keep us believing. Praise God that He daily catches us up in the net of the Gospel and leads us to catch others with the gifts of forgiveness and promise of life everlasting. Let us keep hearing the Divine Word that we remain disciples of Jesus, who leads His people onto the joys of heaven. Amen.

Let’s pray. Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, that walking in the footsteps of Jesus we would be built up in faith and echo the Gospel to the world, so that your kingdom would grow. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.                                    

Second Sunday of Epiphany

John 1:29
John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Jesus said “Come and see!”

Come and see!

 “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is what John the Baptist said when he caught sight of Jesus.  He went on to say, “I can tell you Jesus is the Son of God.” (John 1:34).

The next day John sees Jesus again and states for all to hear, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!”

What are we to make of John the Baptist calling Jesus a lamb?  I know we use that sentence in our service order almost every Sunday, and many of us are very familiar with this language but have you ever really thought about what John was really saying about Jesus. dhuff

We can’t dismiss what John the Baptist says here as just the ramblings of a weirdo from the wilderness.  To call Jesus “The Lamb of God” must have been important otherwise the Gospel writer wouldn’t have bothered to include this description of Jesus.  And believe me, when the John the gospel writer includes a statement like this, we ought to sit up and listen.

Let’s talk about lambs for a minute. 
They are cute and cuddly. 
They are vulnerable and helpless. 
They are an easy meal for foxes and dingoes.
They have a mob mentality that makes it difficult to get them to go where you want them to go.  Try and get a mob of sheep to go through a gate is a very challenging job and they will refuse to go through no matter how much you whoop and holler.  But when one goes through and the rest follow.  

Their stubbornness and lack of understanding of danger is well known.  None of this is a good reason to call Jesus a lamb.

Why doesn’t John the Baptist say,
“Look! There is the Lion of God!” or
“There is the Eagle of God” or
“There is the Serpent of God” (thinking of the serpent that Moses put on a pole that saved the people of Israel).
These are all powerful images and immediately would have fitted with the kind of messiah everyone was expecting – a mighty and powerful ruler.  But a lamb?

The Gospel writer includes this statement of John the Baptist because he is very keen on making sure everyone gets it right about who Jesus is. 
Jesus is God; the same God who loved and cared for the people of Israel centuries before.  Just as God loved, cared and rescued his people in the past, he will do so again, this time through Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. 

Let’s look at some reasons why John the Baptist uses the image of a lamb.  Recall the time God rescued his people from slavery and death in Egypt.  A lamb was killed and its blood painted on the doorposts and the people were saved and given a new hope for the future.  Through the blood of the lamb, God rescued his people.  This became known as the Passover Lamb.

Then there were ritual sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem.  Even though the temple had been destroyed by the time John wrote his Gospel, and lambs were no longer a part of the ritual sacrifices, John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would have raised a few eyebrows.  Was John suggesting here that Jesus is the new sacrificial lamb for the sin of all people?

This thought is backed up by the familiar Old Testament passage,
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed … like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (53:7).
This person who will bear the punishment we deserve and die in our place will suffer like a lamb to be slaughtered.

So, with all this background information about the Passover Lamb, the lambs sacrificed in the temple, and the prophesy that there is one coming who will suffer for the sins of all people and be slaughtered like a lamb, we are beginning to understand why John said, “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This image of the lamb tells us a lot about Jesus. 

The Lamb of God is the one who rescues us, releases us from the power of everything that holds us back, frees us from the sentence of death.  He gives us life, eternal life, because all our sin has been wiped away and we are able to inherit a place in heaven. 
Because of the blood of the Lamb we are made clean and white. 
We are forgiven and free. 
Without a doubt, we are God’s precious dearly loved treasures and the Lamb will even give his life for us.

Having said all this about John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Look! There is the Lamb of God”, I’m not sure we have yet discovered the complete reason why the gospel writer has included this in his book.  Yes, it’s a valuable piece of information but there’s more.

An important question that I like to ask myself as I read the Bible is, “So what?”  It’s great to know all these nice things about Jesus – how he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world but these are just facts. Interesting facts,
important facts,
thought provoking facts,
fascinating facts,
and for some, yes, they might seem irrelevant facts because they have gone right over their heads.

What is important in the reading today is what happened after John the Baptist’s pronouncement, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” Two men who had been following John, looked Jesus up and we are told they remained with him the rest of the day. 

The word used here is the same used later by John in chapter 15 and has been translated as ‘abide’ or ‘remain’ or ‘stay’ meaning a very close relationship is created between Jesus and those who ‘abide’ in him. Jesus talked about his relationship with us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
The point I want to make is that when these two disciples, Andrew and probably John, met with Jesus, they remained with him, they formed a close relationship with Jesus, and something happened that changed them.

The details are sketchy but it’s the way John uses this word ‘abide’ here that indicates something more than a casual meeting.  They get up close and personal with Jesus like they had never done with anyone else before.  Jesus was not just ‘The Lamb of God’ as John the Baptist had said, but he was very real, very personal, and very relevant for them.  Jesus was the one who knew about their own personal troubles, and weaknesses, and fears, and inevitable death.  Jesus not only understood their inner soul you might say, but Jesus is God and there is no-one better to deal with what bothered them. 

Jesus was the real deal for Andrew and he went and found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah – one who really can deal with the things that matter in our lives.  Come and check him out”. The next day Philip did the same and invited Nathanael to “Come and see”.  They were excited; this was extremely good news.  What the Baptist said was not some boring old fact about the messiah that they had learnt at synagogue school but he was talking about a connection, a relationship, the amazing and extraordinary love that God has for each one of us.

It’s easy for us to put Jesus in a box, over there separate from everything else,
keep him with our Sunday best,
bring him out on special occasions,
keep him with our other quaint treasures
and believe that we know who Jesus is. 

On the other hand, some of us have a sense that we are called by God and because we live in a society that looks at results, we get busy.  We get so busy that there is no time for anything or anyone else.

My friends, that’s not abiding in Jesus;
that’s not remaining in him,
that’s not walking with him every day,
that’s not really knowing him as the Lamb of God who loves you – every nasty little bit of you and died on a cross for you because of that love.
When Jesus says, “Follow me”, he is calling us first to himself – to a personal intimacy, to sharing life with him, to spending quality time with him.

We are simply asked to get to know God and Jesus better.
It’s a call to listen,
to seek him first,
to know him better
and to move toward making that relationship the central focus of our lives.
It’s time to listen to what the Lord God is saying.
We need that first.
We need that most.
It was only after this remaining/abiding with Jesus that he gave them things to do.

Today this reading invites us to “Come and see” what John the Baptist and Andrew and Simon and Nathanael and John saw. 
Come and see and remain – abide, get close, get to know, through his Word in the Bible and through others, that Jesus is the one and only who can give you a real future – now and forever.

Jesus invites you to abide, remain, dwell with him.
He invites you into a relationship with him.
He calls each of us to “come and see” and “follow”.

Come and see who truly loves you.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Read by Derryl Huff.

First Sunday of Epiphany.

Mathew’s proclamation about Jesus

Mathew 3: 13-17

This year, many of our Gospel readings will be from Matthew’s Gospel account. Therefore, I thought it is worth highlight a few points to look out for when reading through Matthew.darren2

  Matthew was originally writing for a Jewish audience. For example, Matthew quotes more Jewish or Old Testament scriptures than any other New Testament writer. He assumes his audience will be familiar with these scriptures.

Also, the Jews had such great respect for God’s name that they never said it. Therefore Matthew avoids using the word ‘God’. So where other New Testament writers use the term, ‘Kingdom of God’, Matthew uses the term, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ – which he does 31 times.

Also, where other writers explain the significance of certain practices and customs of Jewish life, Matthew assumes his audience will know this, and doesn’t always point them out. That’s why, when someone unfamiliar with the bible wants to read about Jesus, Luke’s Gospel account is often a better place to start, unless they happen to be familiar with Jewish practices.

      When studying Matthew’s gospel, at least three main themes stand out.

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven is real and amongst us now.
  2. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
  3. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.

So today, I want to give you a brief overview of these three themes.

Firstly,  the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. Jesus does lots of teaching about the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew records these in 5 long discourses, starting with the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These are interspersed with numerous miracles to show that the kingdom of heaven is not some distant reality. It is here and now. Jesus and his kingdom is amongst us today.

The same is true today. Amongst all the havoc of the fires over the last few months are many miracle stories. This week I read one published by the Eternity magazine on Tuesday. 

David Jeffrey owns a B&B at Mallacoota in far East Gippsland. He was one of hundreds, if not thousands of people spending the early hours of New Years’ Day on the Mallacoota wharf. He was initially planning to stay and defend his home. That was until he heard reports of fireballs coming.

David says, “That day the town experienced a miraculous answer to prayer. There is no way that it was all just luck.” Previously an atheist, David has now been a Christian for 25 years.

  The approaching firewall was reported to be 60 feet high and moving at 90 kilometres an hour. David says, “We could hear the roar. It sounded like a thousand freight trains coming at us. Then a huge gust, like someone had opened the door of a furnace, pushed us … It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

At this point David and many others thought “we were going to die.”

“I prayed, ‘Lord if you don’t push this [fire] back now, we need [wind] from the east.’ As soon as I said that, it started blowing from the east a little bit. Then I got louder and [the wind] got stronger. Then I got louder again and it got stronger again

“I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’

“I did not care who heard me. I knew then that God was then doing what I was asking. Because if he didn’t answer then, we were dead.”

No easterly wind was forecast. Yet David says, “What God did was push [the fire] back from the east, which was impossible but he did it. He did that for five minutes, which broke [the fire front] enough to stop it from getting to where we were.”

Afterwards, as the smoke started to clear, the crowd at the wharf listened in horror as properties were consumed by fire and gas cylinders exploded.

David says, “The fire wall was getting closer and closer to my house. We were about to lose everything.” Yet he says he was more concerned about his neighbours, who had remained to defend their home, rather than his own property.

“Then I heard God say to me, ‘pray’. I started off with a pathetic little prayer … Then within me, this faith rose up and said ‘who are you praying to?’ And I thought, ‘Yes! You’re the God of the Bible. Nothing’s impossible with you!

“This was so impossible, but somehow God turned off the flames, like flicking off a switch. All the fuel was still there – the houses were still there, the grass was there.

“My neighbours – who are not Christians – were eyewitnesses and they tell me ‘God saved us’. They thought they were going to be annihilated because that fireball was coming straight at them.  But the whole of Vista Drive [their street] got spared and the bush around us got spared. Hot embers went into the dry, long grass, big bits of bark and trees, but where we were praying for, right there, it was all spared …

“There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed.”

Previously, David has been talking with his neighbour, Chris, about his faith. “Chris and I have been talking about little things to do with Jesus for the past couple of years, but now we’re talking big things.” Since the fire, David has been “explaining [to Chris] what it means to be a disciple of Christ”.

Referring to other neighbours, David says, “They all feel like the prayers saved them … They’ve seen miracles. They’ve seen the supernatural – flames getting pushed back, they’ve seen the embers hit the grass and not burn, without even a singe mark.

“That’s literally Bible stuff – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [who were spared from the ‘fiery furnace’ in the biblical book of Daniel … We are in awe of what God’s doing.”

He is hopeful this situation will “help people realise that there is a God and he does love them, that the only safe place is behind that cross.”

But the miracle doesn’t stop there. David has been able to use his B&B property to feed and house police and other emergency services personnel. “Not only did this building not burn to the ground, but now it’s getting used in unbelievable circumstances,” he says. “This building [provides] an opportunity now for love to flow – that’s what I see it as.”

David is determined to ensure that all the glory goes to God. “It’s time for people to rise up and pray. It’s time to get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

   The kingdom of heaven is real. It is here and now. What’s more it’s not a kingdom of judgement but of love and relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a community of true love. They invite us into that community of love. More importantly, you don’t have to do anything to earn their love for you.

Imagine an infant lying on the lounge room floor. It can’t do anything except smile, laugh and cry. Yet their parent or grandparent has incredible love for this child. This child can’t do anything to earn that love. The same is true with our heavenly Father. Your Father in Heaven loves you as you are, no matter what. You don’t have to do anything to earn that love.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard that, at Jesus’ baptism,

a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, nlt)

At this point Jesus hadn’t actually healed anyone yet. He hadn’t performed any miracles, such as calming a storm, or turning water to wine. We don’t have any of his great teachings. Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross. Jesus didn’t have to earn the Father’s love. The Father loved him for who he was.

Likewise, You and I also don’t have to try and be good enough to earn the Father’s love. He loves you just as you are. Yet he loves us too much to just leave us that way. He wants to transform our lives through the power of the cross and the freedom that this brings. This is the miracle God wants to perform in your life, here and now. Eternal Life in Jesus is not just for after we die. We have new life in him today.

So that’s the first main theme in Matthew’s Gospel: that the Kingdom of heaven is here and now.

   Last week I actually covered the second theme – that Jesus is Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. So I will only cover this very briefly today.

Using a quote from Isaiah 7, the very first chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus is God with us. When we turn to the last chapter, in fact the very last verse of Matthew, we read

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20, niv)

During my quiet time on Ascension last year, I compared the different accounts in the Gospels and Acts. The thing I learned, is that Matthew doesn’t mention the ascension at all. He wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just up in heaven. He is also still here on earth with us. He is particularly present for us through his word and in the sacraments.

And finally, Matthew goes to great lengths to point out that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. This is also true of all the New Testament writers.

As I said at the start, Matthew includes more quotes from Old Testament or Jewish Scriptures than any other New Testament writer. Many of these are in reference to the way Jesus fulfilled the scriptures about the Messiah.

For example, the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham, and King David. So Matthew starts his gospel with a long genealogy showing Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and David and the other Jewish kings. Now this section often seems long and tedious for us westerners, but for Jews it is critical. There are also some really interesting comments I could make on this, but I don’t have time for today.

What’s also interesting is, if you skip over most of the family line, you are left with the following verses, 

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

… and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about … (Matthew 1:1, 16b-18a, niv)

As you can see, in his opening paragraphs, Matthew tells us four times that Jesus is the Messiah. I wonder if there’s something Matthew wants his audience to know from the outset?

The rest of the book gives examples of three groups of people. There are those who declare Jesus is the Messiah, some who aren’t so sure, and others who say he is not the Messiah – he is just a very naughty boy and he deserves to die. Some even change their mind. For example, in today’s reading, just after Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist was one who witnessed the Father declaring Jesus was his beloved son.    But then in chapter 11 we read that John was sitting in prison and he starts to have doubts. If Jesus is the Messiah, come to set the world right, then why is he in prison for speaking God’s word’s to the king?

[John] sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2b-3, niv)

  What’s more, a pivotal moment about half way through Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel accounts is when Peter declares

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, niv)

After this, these accounts all focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Matthew makes it clear that we are also challenged with the same question. Is Jesus the Messiah or not?

More importantly, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah. 

   Like Peter, as disciples of Jesus, Matthew wants us to declare with our words and our lives, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus and his kingdom are not some distant reality. They are here amongst us, alive and well, and can bring transformation to our life today.

Jesus died and rose again to save you and me from the consequence of our sin. He came to overcome death and evil in our lives and give us new life, here, today. May we live the new life Jesus has won for you and me.

Darren Kupke