Search me, O God, and know my heart….

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

The Holy Spirit uses the Law of God to reveal and convict us of our sinfulness, and He uses the Gospel of God to comfort and assure us of God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the holy life and bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus in our stead (cf. John 16:7ff.; 14:26ff.; 15:26ff.; 1 John 2:24ff.). Thus, it is fitting that we, as Christians, pray the prayer of David in Psalm 139 and ask that God’s Spirit search our hearts and test us that He might reveal to us any wicked ways and lead us in the way everlasting.

Why? Because our own hearts would deceive us and devise excuses for our sin, but God’s Spirit knows everything about us; nothing is hidden from His sight (cf. Jer. 17:9-10; Psalm 139:1-16).

And using the mirror of God’s Law, the Spirit reveals to us our utter sinfulness (cf. Rom. 3:19-20). He shows us our shortcomings in love for our God and Maker and reveals to us our selfish and sinful hearts in regard to our dealings with our neighbor. Though we, of ourselves, might think we have done a pretty good job of keeping God’s commandments, the Spirit reveals to us, more and more, how sinful we are. The Spirit searches our hearts – even our anxious and care-filled thoughts – and tests us; and He convicts us of the sinfulness and wickedness in us that He might bring us to repentance.

And, of course, God’s Spirit, our Helper and Comforter, uses the good news of Christ’s death for the sins of the world, and of His glorious and triumphal resurrection, to comfort and assure us that in Christ we have pardon, forgiveness and life everlasting (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Ps. 130:3-4; 32:1-5). And He leads us in the way everlasting (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18).

“He will be our guide even to death” (Ps. 48:14).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Who Shall Bring A Charge Against Us?

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Romans 8:33-34

There are many blessings associated with Jesus’ ascension. He rules over all things at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:20ff.). He is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:1ff.). He sends us His Holy Spirit to sanctify and keep us in the faith (John 16:7ff.). He will come again in clouds of glory just as His disciples saw Him go up into heaven (cf. Acts. 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13ff.; Rev. 1:7).

But there is another comforting truth that many seldom consider. As the risen and exalted Christ, He is the prosecutor and judge, but He is also our Advocate with the Father. The same Jesus – God’s Son made man, who took the guilt and burden of our sins upon Himself and suffered and died upon the cross – is also risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God the Father. And what is He doing for us as our exalted Savior? He’s interceding for us before the Father with His own precious blood, shed for us upon the cross as full payment for the sins of all!

Since Christ Jesus, the judge of all the earth, died for all our sins and rose again, since He now represents us and intercedes for us before God the Father in heaven with His own precious blood, need we fear that He will condemn us on the Last Day? Need we be afraid of the final judgment? No, as the Bible says, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Who can accuse you before the Father? Only Jesus! But He died for you, rose again and now intercedes for you in heaven with his holy, precious blood shed for the sins of the world. Through faith in Christ Jesus as your Savior and Advocate, you have nothing to fear!

O dearest Jesus, You died for my sins, rose again and are now over all at God’s right hand. Thank You for being my Advocate and winning my pardon with Your precious blood. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Wise and the Foolish

“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” Proverbs 14:1

Today, it’s Mother’s Day, and it was suggested to me that I ought to preach on the topic. Though Mother’s Day is not a Biblical observance, there are, most certainly, plenty of Scripture passages which speak of honoring and obeying one’s mother. God commands all of us to honor our mothers, and more than on just one day each year.

But I thought it might be more fitting to pick a text which is addressed toward women and mothers and came up with the theme: “The Wise and the Foolish.” While it may sound more like the title of a daytime soap opera, it is Biblical and comes from a proverb of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.”

What wisdom and insight can we gain from this passage which relates to women and motherhood? What would God teach us by including this proverb in the pages of His inspired Word?

Well, it teaches us much about the roles of wife and mother and how some are wise and some are foolish.

“The wise woman builds her house….” No, it does not refer to a woman being a construction worker and doing the brick and mortar work of building a house. It’s talking about building her marriage and family. A wise woman loves her husband, submits and devotes her life to building up her house. She raises up children and assists in teaching her children to know the LORD and His Word (cf. Gen. 2:18-25; Psalm 128; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 2 Tim. 1:3-5; 3:14-17; Eph. 5:22-33; 6:1-4). Instead of living for herself, she lives to build her house.

The book of Proverbs gives us an example of such a woman in chapter 31:10-31. The passage begins: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life….” Later, it says: “She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”

On the other hand, there is the foolish. Instead of building up her house by devoting herself to her husband and children, she “pulls it down with her own hands,” thinking more of herself and her desires than of the good of her family. Instead of working together with her husband to bring up her children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), she works against him in word and example by neglecting God’s Word and questioning and even criticizing its teaching. Instead of building up her household, she picks at it and tears it apart with her own attitude and actions.

I expect, if we are all honest with ourselves, we will see that we have not always been wise, selfless, loving. Nor have we always devoted ourselves to teaching our children the fear of the LORD in word and example. Both fathers and mothers have failed us and we have often failed our spouses and our children.

My point in this message is to point all of us to our perfect Heavenly Father who, even though we have so often been foolish and disobedient, never failed us. He still cared for us and provided for us, and He so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son to die in our stead and win us back to Him (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). He builds His house in mercy and forgiveness and instruction (cf. Eph. 1:6-7; 5:22-33).

In Him we find pardon for our foolishness and wisdom to guide us in building our own homes and families! (cf. 2 Tim. 3:14-17). In Him, we learn to teach and admonish our children with God’s Word, and to forgive as we have been forgiven (cf. Eph. 4:32). We acknowledge and admit our own faults that our children might learn to acknowledge and confess theirs and receive God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus (cf. James 5:16).

O merciful Father, for Jesus’ sake, forgive us where we have been foolish and grant us wisdom to walk in Your ways. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Persecution brought spread of the Word

“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4 (Read Acts 8:1-4)

How hard it must have been for the believers in Jerusalem during the days when Saul (whom we know as Paul) persecuted the church! The Bible tells us that this was a time of great persecution against the church at Jerusalem, that the believers (except for the apostles) were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria and that Saul made havoc of the church, entering into the homes of believers and dragging off both men and women to prison (Acts 8:1-3).

Think what it would be like if this were to happen to you today – if you could be arrested, imprisoned, tried and even put to death just because you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and follow His teaching! The day could easily come.
Yet, even through all this sin and evil on the part of Paul and others (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12-17), God brought about good. “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”

Jesus had commanded His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16; Cf. Acts 11:19; Romans 8:28).
Persecution scattered the believers and spread God’s saving word.

What about us today? Are we not scattered over a wide area? While this may make it more difficult for us to gather together for worship and study of God’s Word, could it be that God has permitted us to be scattered over many communities so that we bear witness and preach the Word to more people? When we consider all that Christ has done for us – how He became true man, fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s Law for us and then suffered and died on the cross for our sins to redeem us and give us everlasting life with Him in heaven – how can we help but spread the Word everywhere and “speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20)?

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, we know that You have commanded us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel of salvation to every creature. Grant that we who are scattered abroad for various reasons may go everywhere, preaching the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, knowing that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

shepherdJesus described the people of the world – even those who were outwardly associated with the church of His day – “like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36); and this description is still true today. But what comfort we believers have with the LORD as our Shepherd!

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). We “were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).

With Jesus as our Good Shepherd, what could we possibly lack? He died for us and won for us forgiveness for all our sins and place in heaven. He provides for all our needs of both body and soul and will bring us safely into His everlasting kingdom (1 John 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:18).

He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters. He nourishes us with His Word and protects us from false teaching and deception. Though we by nature would go our own way, He leads us in the paths of righteousness, teaching us to live humbly before our God, acknowledging our sin and wickedness and trusting in His mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s blood shed for us upon the cross. He leads and moves us, as His sheep, to live our lives for Him (2 Cor. 5:15).

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, what have we to fear? Christ, our Shepherd is with us to protect us and keep us. And, even when we die, no evil will befall us; for we have been redeemed by the holy and precious blood of Christ, and our risen Savior will also raise us up on the Last Day unto life everlasting!

Even though the devil and the world wait to devour us, our Good Shepherd prepares a table before us and nourishes and blesses us through His Word and Sacraments. He pours out His Spirit upon us and keeps us in His mercy and grace throughout our earthly lives; and, finally, we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!

O Jesus, tender Shepherd, grant that we hear Your life-giving Word and trust in You to provide for all our needs of both body and soul. Grant us forgiveness for all our sins, nourish and keep us in the true faith, and lead us safely through this world to Yourself in heaven. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Do You Know the Risen Jesus?

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” 1 John 2:3-6

Many claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but not all who make such claims know Jesus. Some are hypocrites and some deceive themselves into thinking they are Christian when, in fact, they are impenitent and do not trust in Jesus and His blood shed upon the cross for cleansing and everlasting life.

God’s Word teaches us that we can know whether we truly know and trust in Christ Jesus as our Savior by our attitude toward Jesus’ word and commandments: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.”

The one who knows and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting will gladly and willingly obey His commandments. This desire to obey God’s Word is evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of the new nature created in believers which loves God and desires to serve Him. Of course, as John wrote in the first chapter (1:5-10), believers are not without sin in this world and cannot claim to be sinless and holy of themselves, for they still have their old sinful nature inherited from Adam which balks at and resists living in accord with the Word of God. True believers continue to confess their sins and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus (cf. 1:9; 2:1-2).

Nevertheless, believers can see evidence of their regeneration in their new-found love for God and in their desire to keep the words and commandments of Jesus. Those who come to know the great love of God in sending His Son to suffer and die for our sins and the sins of the whole world are moved to love Him in return for providing salvation for lost sinners.

If we continue to trust in Jesus as our Savior – if we acknowledge our sinfulness and look to Jesus’ shed blood for pardon and life everlasting – we will, as a fruit of that faith, seek to conform our lives to His. We will seek to live and conduct ourselves as Jesus did in this world – in obedience to God the Father, with utmost respect for God’s Word and with love toward lost sinners.

“He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

Jesus, our Savior, You have redeemed us and all mankind from sin by Your atoning sacrifice upon the cross, and You have graciously brought us to know Your great love and mercy toward us in shedding Your blood to cleanse us from all sin. Grant that we grow ever deeper in the knowledge of You and Your love for us and so move us in return to love You and gladly obey Your commandments Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Office of the Keys

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

On the evening of that first Easter Day, Jesus appeared to His disciples where they were gathered together behind closed doors for fear of the Jews and showed them His hands and His side to prove to them that He truly was Jesus and that He really had risen from the dead (John 20:19-20).

Two times Jesus said to them: “Peace to you!” Since Christ had died upon the cross for their sins and was risen again in victory, they had peace with God – the peace of having all sins pardoned and forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus (cf. Eph. 2:13ff.; 1 John 2:1-2).

The Bible says: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).

Not only did Jesus bless them with the peace of sins forgiven, He breathed on them, gave them His Holy Spirit and commissioned them to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain (not forgive) the sins of impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent (John 20:21-23). We speak of this as The Office of the Keys because it opens the gates of heaven to those who are sorry for their sins and look to Christ and His redemptive work and closes the gates of heaven to those who are not sorry for their sins or do not trust in Christ for forgiveness. And, indeed it takes the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to rightly use and apply these keys to others, but this is what Christ our Savior would have us do! Cf. Luke 24:46-47; Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 18:15-18; James 5:16.

Some would object and say, “How can we, as believers in Christ, forgive and retain sins? Only God can do that!” This power is given us precisely because of Christ’s death upon the cross for the sins of all mankind and His glorious resurrection on the third day. Since Christ has paid for all sin and is risen in victory, we can announce and proclaim God’s pardon and peace to penitent sinners (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-21). And since Christ is the only way of salvation, we must also warn those who continue in sin and unbelief of the coming judgment of God.

As Jesus says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we thank and praise You for Your death on the cross for our sins and for Your glorious resurrection and ascension. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may always trust in You and find peace in the pardon You have won for us, and help us to rightly apply Your Word to others that they too might receive the comfort and peace of knowing their sins are forgiven and that they too might have life everlasting through faith in Your name. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Confidence in the Face of Death

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27

Each week I edit the obituaries before they are published in the newspaper. And, as I grow older, I see more and more listed there who are my age or younger and am reminded of the fact that one day, too, I will die. Unless Christ returns soon, we all will die and our bodies will be buried and decay.

But death is not the end! You and I have hope! Because of the events of that first resurrection Sunday, we can be assured that we too will be raised up. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Cor. 15:23).

Because Jesus did not stay in the tomb, because He rose from the dead on the third day after suffering and dying on the cross to pay the just punishment for the sins of the world, because the tomb was empty when the women arrived to anoint the body of Jesus, because He appeared to the women, to Peter, to two on the road to Emmaus, to the eleven in the upper room and even to more than 500 people at one time – most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (cf. 1 Cor. 15; Mark 16) – we have hope and the certainty of our resurrection on the Last Day.

Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Those words would mean little if Jesus did not rise from the dead. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave on the third day, we would still be dead in our sins and without hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17ff.). “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus was “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He paid in full for our sins and was raised up, showing that we are indeed justified and forgiven in Him and that we too will be raised up on the Last Day when Christ Jesus returns!

Therefore, we can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Though we die and decay in the grave, our risen Savior will raise up our bodies and we will see Him who died for our sins and rose again to give us life everlasting! Cf. 1 Thess. 4:13ff.

“I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives….”

O my risen Savior, grant that I live and die in the confidence which Your resurrection gives, and raise me up on the Last Day to the eternal joys of Your kingdom. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Jesus’ Death: What Does It All Mean?

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

These words, spoken some 700 years before the birth of the Messiah, summarize it all. All of us — every one of us — like sheep have gone astray. As the Scriptures say elsewhere, “There is none righteous, no, not one … They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, 12; Psalm 14:1-3).

We might like to think that these words are talking about somebody else, but they are talking about us — about you and me. We have turned aside from God’s ways, every one of us, to our own ways. Instead of walking after the LORD God who made us, we turn aside and go in our own direction. We live for ourselves and for our own goals and ambitions, and we seek to do what we desire rather than submitting to the LORD God and His holy Word. Instead of modeling our lives after the God who made us, we fashion and model a god in our own image, who thinks as we do and accepts us the way we are! However, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:6-9).

What did God do to redeem us from our sin and rebellion? What did God do that we might not have to suffer the eternal consequences for our sin? “The LORD has laid on Him [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all.”

God took all your sins and all my sins, together with the sins of all mankind, and laid them upon Christ Jesus and punished Him in our place! Jesus Christ the righteous made full atonement for all our sins as well as for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 John 2:1-2). That is why Jesus was in such agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is why He did sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. That is why He was beaten and scourged and condemned to die upon a Roman cross. That is why He cried out before His death: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

And, as we shall again see, Jesus not only bore the full punishment for our sins and died upon the cross; He also rose again in victory. And He calls upon all of us – upon you and upon me – to repent of our sinful ways and turn unto Him for forgiveness and life everlasting!

O dearest Jesus, we thank You for bearing upon the cross the full punishment for our sins. For the sake of Your shed blood, forgive us for turning aside to our own ways and rebelling against You, and graciously raise us up to life in communion with You – to life everlasting! Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

 

We come to partake of the New Covenant meal

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” Mark 14:22-24

Why are we here tonight? Of what have we come to partake? In many churches, a Passover Seder is observed, with the Lord’s Supper added in as a sidelight. But we come to take part in a New Covenant meal – one established by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the shedding of His holy and precious blood upon the cross for the sins of the world.

The Seder, many parts of which are only tradition and neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, commemorates the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt and the sparing of God’s people through the blood of the lamb upon the door posts and lintel of their houses (cf. Ex. 12). The sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the eating of the sacrifice points ahead to the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and our partaking of His sacrifice (Mark 14:22-24).

Observance of the Passover was commanded under the Old Covenant that God’s people might remember how God spared them from death and delivered them from bondage in Egypt through the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. Jesus commands us, under the New Covenant, to partake of His Supper often that we might remember how He died upon the cross as our sacrificial lamb and paid for the sins of all the world (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-21).

And, as God’s people under the Old Covenant, partook of their sacrifice, so the risen Christ Jesus gives us to partake of His sacrifice – to eat of His body and drink of His blood which was given and shed for us upon the cross to establish the New Covenant in which our sins are paid for and forgiven, we are spared God’s eternal condemnation and we are given the everlasting joys of Christ’s heavenly kingdom (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 9:14ff.; 9:23ff.; 10:1ff.; John 5:24; John 14:1ff.).

Dear Lord Jesus, we have come to partake of Your sacrifice that we might be assured of the eternal blessings won for us by Your death upon the cross and pledged to us in the New Covenant sealed with Your shed blood. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.