Worship at Good Shepherd on April 23, 2017

For those unable to attend, today’s worship service may be viewed below.

The text is 1 Peter 1:13-21. The theme is “Conduct Yourselves in Fear.”

The bulletin may be viewed at: 2017.04.23.Bulletin.

Conduct yourselves in fear

“And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:17-19 (Read 1 Peter 1:13-21)

The writer to the Hebrews warns against willfully continuing in sin, saying, “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29). Peter also urges all of us who have placed our faith in the crucified and risen Christ and look forward to the joys of heaven for Jesus’ sake to conduct ourselves in fear during the time of our stay here in this world.

And, when we remember that it was because of our sins that God the Son became true man and lived a sinless life in our stead and then suffered the just punishment for our sins and the sins of the world, shedding His holy and precious blood upon the cross to make atonement, indeed, we have every reason to shun sin and our former way of life and to conduct ourselves in fear, seeking to be holy like the Lord God who called us is holy.

In fear does not mean that we live our lives in terror and dread that God will cast us away and condemn us to the fires of hell; it means that we trust in our God for mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus but also consider the price paid to redeem us and the punishment we would suffer if it were not for Christ Jesus.

In other words, we don’t take sin lightly for we see in the crucifixion and condemnation of Christ what our sins justly deserve; and we hold fast to Christ and do not turn away from walking by faith in Him because we know that, apart from faith in Christ, we too stand condemned and forsaken of God and face the everlasting torments of hell! We recognize that the price paid for our redemption was costly and we should not trample the Son of God underfoot and count the blood with which we were redeemed as a common and unholy thing.

“[We] were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from [our] aimless conduct received by tradition from [our] fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

We remember that God shows no favoritism in His judgment. The soul that sins shall die (Ezek. 18:20). But in Christ and for the sake of His shed blood, we have forgiveness and life.

If we turn away from Christ and back to our old and sinful ways, there is only death and eternal damnation! (Cf. John 3:18, 36; 1 John 5:11-12; Hebrews 10:26-31; Psalm 95:8ff.). If we walk by faith in Christ Jesus, we have God’s pardon, forgiveness and the everlasting joys of heaven! (Cf. John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 1 John 1:7 – 2:2; 5:11-12; Mark 16:15-16).

O gracious and merciful God, grant that we not take sin lightly or count the shed blood of Christ with which we have been redeemed as a common thing. Grant that we remember Your justice and the punishment we deserve. But grant also that we walk by faith in Christ Jesus, taking comfort in the fact that He paid the penalty for our sins and rose again that He might give us forgiveness and life through faith in His name. Amen.

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

Life is meaningless unless….

There is a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes which reads: “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18). And how true this is!

While I don’t claim to be wise like Solomon, I have learned enough to see the end of so much that people in this world seek after. And, yes, it’s sad and painful to watch and know the vanity and grasping after the wind which rightly applies to so many of the things for which people live.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read the end of the book, but so much of what is offered and even pushed upon us in this world is pointless. When life comes to its close or this world comes to an end, will it really matter how many friends you have on Facebook? whether you’ve seen the latest movie releases? whether you’ve made millions or just got by? whether you’ve won awards or just done your job? whether you are world renowned or pretty much unknown? Will it matter how much you’ve traveled? how much fun you’ve had? or if you’ve completed a bucket list of fun activities?

Most folks who’ve lived a while know the fleeting nature of beauty, the results of age upon physical strength and agility, and the utter foolishness of so many of our youthful pursuits and adventures. They begin to see that so much for which we live really doesn’t matter that much in the long run.

I’ve been heard at least a time or two to tell my children and grandchildren when they’ve asked me to participate in some activities which they think will be so exciting and fantastic: “I’ve already been there, done that, got the T-shirt and it doesn’t even fit any more.”

Now, before you think I suffer from the deepest of depression and have no ambition to do anything in life, let me point out that I’m not opposed to enjoying life, working hard, being creative, trying to get ahead, being physically fit or even trying to make one’s self look half-way attractive to others. I am not even opposed to having a host of friends on Facebook or other social networks, though I can’t see much point in it myself.

What I am trying to say is how important it is for us to think about what really matters, set priorities and stay focused.

And what does really matter in life? If we look to the final exam, so to speak, what is all important? Isn’t it people knowing and being right with their Maker? Certainly, the Bible says that it is so! The Bible, throughout, calls upon people to give up their futile and rebellious ways and look to their Creator for mercy, forgiveness and a new life in fellowship with Him. It calls upon all of us to repent of our foolish and erring ways and receive the forgiveness and new life God offers for the sake of the innocent sufferings and death of God the Son, Messiah Jesus, in our stead. In fact, the Bible teaches that God allows this sin-filled world to go on a little longer only because He is patient with people and is giving to all of us more time to repent and look to Him for mercy in Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9).

So much of what we may do in life can be a means to an end rather than endless means that ultimately mean nothing. What I am saying is that we can enjoy life and use the things and time God gives us in this world, but it should be for a purpose — to build relationships with people and to show them what truly matters and is important in life.

Life is futile if lived apart from God and His purpose and design for life. Life brings pain and grief when people for whom Christ died ignore Him, turn away from Him and live in rebellion against their Maker. It causes those who have gained some wisdom grief to see it.

But life is full of meaning when we trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake and live life in fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer. And life is full of joy when, by the grace of God, people in our lives acknowledge their erring ways and turn to their Maker and Redeemer for forgiveness and eternal life in His everlasting kingdom.

— Pastor Randy Moll

What would you like as your epitaph?

“Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! That they were engraved on a rock with an iron pen and lead, forever! For 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. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:23-27

Have you ever thought about what words you would like to have inscribed on your tombstone? It may sound kind of morbid to speak about epitaphs on Easter Sunday but, in light of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, it’s not morbid but a message of hope.

Whether or not it will happen, I don’t know, but I’ve always thought it would be nice to have the words of Job 19:25-27 etched into my headstone: “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.”

Why, because 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.

It is as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23). Or consider Peter’s words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).

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 through faith 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.; Psalm 16:11.

“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.]

Forsaken of the Father for us

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46

What is it like to be forsaken by one you love? Think about – imagine, if you will – what it would be like to be rejected and forsaken by the one most dear to you. (For some, this has happened.) How would you feel? Would you not feel devastated and crushed? If this rejection were the result of some sin or failure on your part, it would be more understandable but, nonetheless, painful.

Now think how the LORD God must feel! He created us in His image – to live for Him and do His will (Gen. 1:26-27). He loved us and gave His own Son to die for us and redeem us from our sin (1 John 4:9-10). He has blessed us with all that we need in life, our food, clothes, houses, etc. (James 1:17; Psalm 145:15-16). Yet, we have forsaken God!

The Bible tells us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a); and “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.’ Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward” (Isa. 1:2-4).

Now, we deserve also to be forsaken of God and condemned for our sins against Him. He would be perfectly “justified” if He were to condemn us in His judgment (Ps. 130:3; 51:4); for all of us have sinned against Him and deserve to be forsaken and cast into the everlasting fires of hell which He has prepared for the devil and his evil angels (cf. Rom. 3:23; 6:23a; Matt. 25:41). We may have, at times, felt the wrath of God upon us (Ps. 32:3-4), but God has not forsaken us!

Instead, He laid our sins upon His own Son, Jesus Christ, and forsook and condemned Him as He hung upon the cross. The Bible tells us that “the LORD has laid on Him [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b).

We read that “from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (cf. Ps. 22).

Even if we can imagine how it would feel to be forsaken by one dearest us, we cannot begin to grasp what it was like for our Lord Jesus to be forsaken and condemned of His own heavenly Father! And this happened, not because of any sin or fault in Him, but because of our sin and our faults. As our catechism explains, Christ truly suffered for us the tortures of the damned in hell (Qu. 138).

Will God condemn and forsake us on the Day of His Judgment? Not if we have faith in Christ; for He has already been forsaken and condemned of God for us and our sins, and He rose again in victory (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3,4; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18)!

Jesus tells us, “He who believes in Him is not condemned” (John 3:18); and, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24; cf. Rom. 8:31ff.).

Because Jesus was condemned and forsaken for us, those who trust in Christ will never be forsaken of the LORD!

O Dear Jesus, we thank You for bearing upon the cross the curse and condemnation for our sins that we might never be condemned and forsaken of God the Father, but through faith in You, have everlasting life with You in heaven. Amen.

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

 

Look to the LORD for mercy and forgiveness

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

By nature, all of our hearts are full of “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Instead of loving the LORD and desiring to do His holy will, our thoughts, by nature, are “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). As Christians, who trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for salvation, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and gives us love for God and holy thoughts and desires. As the Bible says, we are “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). And our “body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19).

Yet in this world, we are still sinners. Like David, we need to acknowledge our sins, turn to the LORD for His mercy and forgiveness, and pray that God would create “a clean heart” and “renew a steadfast spirit” within us. When we consider how we continue to come short and fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit through the Word, we deserve to be cast away from the presence of the LORD and have the Holy Spirit taken from us. How we grieve God’s Spirit when we go our own way and sin rather than give heed to the admonition and warning of God’s Word (cf. Eph. 4:30)! With David, we can all pray, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”

When we turn aside from following the Holy Spirit – when we turn into sin and evil – the joy which comes from being an heir of salvation and walking with the Lord is overshadowed by guilt and despair. We feel God’s wrath heavy upon us. We know that we have failed again and are deserving of His everlasting punishment (Ps. 51:3-5; 32:3-4).

But acknowledging our sins and failures to the LORD, and turning to Him in faith for mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the Son, Jesus Christ, and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead, as David did in this psalm, we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:10).

And God’s Spirit restores in us that joy of knowing that in Jesus we have forgiveness and eternal salvation! And the Holy Spirit upholds us and keep us in the true and saving faith!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Amen.

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

 

No Christianity without resurrection of Jesus

On Sunday, churches throughout the world will celebrate Easter. (For those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it will be celebrated this coming Sunday, as well, and not later as in most years because the Eastern churches use the Julian Calendar which is 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar used in the West.) While, for many, the focus of Easter celebrations is more on egg hunts and time with family and friends, the focus for Christians is on the bodily resurrection of Jesus and what that means for each of us.

The name Easter comes from the old German word “Oster” or “Ostern,” which means “the rising of the sun.” Oster comes from the old Teutonic of auferstehen (or auferstehung) which means resurrection. This comes from two words: Ester, which mean first, and stehen, with means to stand. And these two words combine to form erstehen, an old German form of auferstehen, which is the modern German word for resurrection. — from Nick Sayers, “Why We Should Not Passover Easter,” http://www.easterau.com.

Since Easter is all about the resurrection, what remains a mystery to me is how so many can claim to be Christians and observe the Easter celebration and yet not believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is so central to the Christian Faith that there really could not even be a Christian Faith if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Without the resurrection of Jesus — who was crucified and suffered and died for the sins of all the world — there could be no reason to celebrate, no acquittal of sinners, no pardon, no forgiveness from God!

The Apostle Paul wrote of this to the believers in the Greek city of Corinth: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18).

Everything hinges on the factualness of the resurrection of Jesus. That is also why the Apostle not only told the believers in Corinth that Christ truly did rise from the dead; he provided them with a long list of eyewitnesses who had seen the risen Christ to prove Jesus’ resurrection was a historical fact.

He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”

Note that he listed those who had seen Jesus alive again after His crucifixion, death and burial. There was Peter, the 12 apostles, more than 500 brothers at one time (and most were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing if any had questions or doubts about the resurrection). There were James, all the apostles again, and, lastly, Paul himself.

Because Jesus did rise from the dead, Christians are assured of forgiveness and life through faith in His name.

Paul wrote to the believers at Rome, saying that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). The sins of the world were laid upon Jesus, and He was punished in the stead of mankind. His resurrection means that indeed full atonement was made. God accepted the sacrifice of His Son. For Jesus’ sake, the sins of all are paid for in full and God offers and gives through the Gospel His pardon and forgiveness to all who believe!

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16).

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Thessalonica: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). He goes on to describe how, when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ will be raised up first, and then we believers who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord Jesus in the air to be forever with the Lord.

What hope could we have for ourselves or deceased loved ones who died trusting in Jesus if Jesus did not rise? If Jesus did not rise, how could we ever hope to rise? Our faith depends entirely upon Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His bodily resurrection in victory! But, Jesus did rise. As St. Paul wrote, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Now, I wonder what those celebrate who do not believe the eye-witnessed accounts of Jesus’ resurrection? What hope could they possibly have? They have no guarantee of forgiveness from God. They remain dead in their sins. They have no reason to believe that they will ever be raised up from the dead to enjoy the everlasting joys of heaven because, if Christ did not rise, how could they ever hope to be raised up?

If they claim to be Christian but do not hold to the historical resurrection of Jesus, they, as Paul said, “are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19).

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