We Won

 
           

Alright, I need a little bit of audience participation to get us started. I want you to remember back to February 2011 when the Packers last won the Super Bowl. After the Packers’ victory raise your hand if you heard someone exclaim, “We won!” Maybe some of you exclaimed “we won” after the packers won. But isn’t that interesting? I don’t see any Packer players in the pews this morning. So, I doubt any of us contributed any more than our moral support to the Packers victory. But still, because the Packers are our team, the victory gets applied to us. Because this team represents the state of Wisconsin, their victory is our victory. And this happens at other levels as well. I bet some of you parents have been sitting at a high school sporting event and after a Brillion victory you exclaimed, “We won!” Even though you were just sitting in the stands. We even do this when talking about our country. Back on September 13, 2003 American special forces captured Saddam Hussain. After the operation, America’s chief administrator in Iraq walked up to the podium at a press conference and said the now famous words, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.” I imagine back when America made it to the moon back in 1969, people would say we beat the Russians to the moon. Those astronauts’ victory is our victory. We won.

 
Sadly, the reverse also applies. When one of our representatives loses whether it’s a sport’s team, our military, or a politician we can say we lost. We feel the shame and the effect of the loss as well. The loss applies to us. Their loss is our loss. And so, brothers and sisters I have to tell you about a big loss that applies to you. We lost, brothers and sisters. We lost to a powerful and evil enemy named Satan. And this loss happened thousands of years ago. We heard about it in our reading for today. Our ancient foe, the devil, came to Adam and Eve, spoke his lies to them, and they rebelled against God. They lost. And brothers and sisters, because they lost, we lost. St. Paul explained that in our second lesson for today. Let me just reference one verse from that lesson, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—.” What that means brothers and sisters, is Adam’s loss is our loss. We lost because Adam lost. Team humanity was defeated all the way back at the beginning by Satan. We failed to be the wonderful creation of God. We lost.

 

            But even if Adam’s loss didn’t apply to us, we wouldn’t be doing any better because Satan has beat each and every one of us individually as well. He has beaten us with the same tricks he used at the beginning with Adam and Eve. Why would he use anything else? They seem to work pretty well. This is how he does it: usually when Satan attacks us it starts off with creating doubt. Back in the garden, he said to Eve, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat from the tree? You won’t die. God is holding out on you.” Satan starts by getting us to doubt the goodness and love of our God. Now for us, often this happens when something isn’t going quite right in our lives. It can even be something little. Let’s say an appliance breaks down in our house. We begin to think, “Come on God, what is your deal? Why me? Why today.” And with something as little as an appliance breaking, Satan sows the seeds of doubt in our minds and gets us to question our good God who provides.

 

            Then this doubt can turn into some arrogant testing. We say, “Alright God, prove it. You say you love me and care for me. I’d like to see some good things happening here in my life, God.

 

            And when we are in that state, Satan goes in for the kill. He says, “Hmm, seems like God isn’t good. Seems like God doesn’t care for you. You should choose something else to serve. Why not try money? God can’t seem to fix all your problems. But if you just had more money, they would go away. God isn’t good, but money is. Go and dedicate your life to money. Or how about pleasure? God doesn’t care about you. He is not easing the discomfort for you. But if you choose pleasure at least you can be soothed and comforted for a little while. Or how about entertainment? There’s is an endless stream of content on Netflix. hey are coming out with new videogames every year. God will leave you and forsake you. But Netflix and video games never will.” And by this process Satan gets us to bend the knee to something other than our God. And when we submit to these things, really we are submitting to Satan.

 

            We lost, brothers and sisters. We lost at the very beginning when Adam was defeated for team humanity, and we have lost in our own lives when we fall for Satan’s lies and schemes. We lost.  Humanity’s score is zero wins and billions of losses. Satan stands at the undefeated world champion.

 

            Or rather I should say he stood as the undefeated world champion. And now I have another story to tell you. A story about the contender God picked and trained to defeat the undefeated Champ. You know his name. His name is Jesus.

           

            Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

 

            This account from Jesus’ life happens right after his baptism. At his baptism God marked Jesus out as the contender for all humanity when he said, “This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” So right after that, Jesus is led by God out into the wilderness to fight the devil. And can we appreciate the condition that Jesus is in? It says he had been fasting for 40 days and forty nights. Not only that, but he is in the wilderness. This is a picture of the Judean wilderness. It’s nothing but dry rocks and dirt. No one lives there because it is uninhabitable. I don’t know about you, but I find it much easier to resist temptation when I am well fed, comfortable, and surrounded by people supporting me. Well, when Jesus has to face the devil’s temptations, he is starving, in a hostile climate, and he is all alone. Things seem stacked against our champion from the start. Let’s see how he does.

 

            The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” So, in the first round of the fight, Satan comes at Jesus with his age-old tactic. He tries to get Jesus to doubt God’s love and providence. Jesus is starving, so Satan tells him, “Well, aren’t you the son of God? Your heavenly Father certainly isn’t providing for you, so why don’t you serve yourself? Tell these stones to become bread.” But the champion is not tricked. He tells Satan that he will trust in his Father to provide when he says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Round one goes to Jesus.

 

            So Satan tries a different tactic. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” In his second attack, Satan tried to get Jesus to test God. Satan says, “Oh, you trust God so much. Well let’s see. Why don’t you jump off of this cliff let’s see if your loving and gracious God will rescue you. Didn’t he say he would?” But the champion of humanity overcomes this temptation too. He says, “Satan, it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ I don’t need to put God to the test, Satan. I simply take him at his word and trust that he will protect and provide.” Round two goes to Jesus.

 

            After being beaten back twice, Satan goes for the kill in his third attempt. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” This is Satan’s strongest punch; his most deadly weapon. Let’s remind ourselves what kind of life is in store for Jesus. Well Jesus is going to be a traveling teacher. Jesus once said the son of man has no place to lay his head. He lived without many of the blessings of home. For a while he will enjoy some popularity. But then the people will turn on him, and he will die the most shameful death the Romans could come up with: crucifixion. What is in store for Jesus is a life of pain, rejection, and shame. So now Satan says, “You don’t have to have any of that. You can have a life of honor, glory, and fame. You do not have to die on a cross. You can live as a king. All you have to do is bow down and worship me.” Up until this point in history every human being has fallen. The fate of humanity rests on this moment. Will God’s champion fail?  Away from me, Satan! for it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,’” and with those words the devil is defeated. He has to leave the Son of Man and angels, come and applaud the new champion and humanity’s savior.

 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus won. Jesus won where all of us have failed. And his victory is your victory. The apostle Paul explained it this way in our second lesson for today, Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. Brothers and sisters, we won. We won because our champion won. He defeated the devil for us. We are not the defeated. We are now the victorious. We won. Brothers and sisters, today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. And the reason we ponder this story at the beginning of Lent is because during Lent, Jesus fights the devil again. And it is going to seem dire. Jesus is going to look like he is defeated. It is going to look like Satan has won when the son of God is put to death. But spoiler alert. Just like in this account, during Lent Jesus is going to win. So, let’s revel in that victory for just a second. Repeat after me, “Get away from me Satan.” (repeat) “Jesus won” (repeat). “You lost” (repeat). Amen.


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What do we do with our sinful thoughts?

During seminary, just about every seminary student gets a part time job. And there are a few places around the seminary that will regularly hire Seminary students. One of these places was called Scott Pump. They assemble water pumps. So, I called them up and asked if there were any positions available and if I could up an application. They said sure. So later that week I drove over and one of the foremen gave me a tour. And after the tour he said, “Well, that’s the place. When do you want to start? And I was a little taken aback by that I hadn’t even filled out an application. I was expecting to go through all the rigmarole. Where you fill out an application, and then you have an interview, and then the human resource person calls all your references. But there was none of that. It was just, “Here’s the place when do you want to start.” Now the reason that happened is because Seminary students who had worked there over the years had built up a good reputation for the Seminary. When considering seminary students the company assumed that these were hardworking, dependable, young men who told the truth. And so when I asked for a job I was given one with pretty much no questions asked.

 

            But now I want you to imagine something with me. This is kind of ridiculous but stick with me. I want you to imagine that every seminary student had a big flat screen TV floating above their head broadcasting every thought that they had. Do you think seminary students would have such a good reputation if everyone could see what they were thinking? How about you? Would you like to have a flat screen TV floating over your head broadcasting every thought that goes thought your head? No, I don’t think any of us would want that. Because every single one of us has horrible thoughts. Many times, we can keep these thoughts inside, but sometimes they come out with horrible words and horrible actions. But those words and actions always start with a thought, with a desire, with an intention. Well I have some bad news for you brothers and sisters. We can hide our thoughts from others. We can lock them up and vow to never let them out thought words and actions. But in our relationship with God we might was well have a big flat screen TV floating over our heads broadcasting our thoughts. Here are some bible passages that prove that. Psalm 139:2, Jeremiah 17:10, Matthew 9:4

 

            So according to those passages our thoughts are as clear to God as if we had a flat screen TV floating above our heads broadcasting our thoughts to him. So what does God see on our TV. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…

 

            The shows we are broad casting to God are not rated PG. Our reading says that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement. In 1 John it says the same thing in even more simple words. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. – John 3:15. Both of these passages equate the emotion and thought of hate with murder. So, on your TV God watches you planning your actions taking the murder weapon engaging in violence and standing over the body of your victim with blood on your hands. God sees murder. And what is God’s punishment for murder? Prison His prison is called hell.

 

            Murder isn’t the only programing we broadcast to God Jesus goes on to say this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

            So maybe outwardly we are perceived as modest and chaste. But our TV broadcasts a different story to God. All our lewd and lustful thoughts are displayed to him in their graphic detail. Even the ones we are too ashamed to even mention. And even if we gouged out both our eyes and cut of both our hands it wouldn’t stop us from having lustful thoughts. And because of that, the labels of modest and chaste don’t apply to us. The label adulterer does.

 

            You know just this past week I was talking with two different people about Jesus. And both of these people asked the same question just in a little different way. In reaction to my message about Jesus they said, “But Phil, what about the really bad people who do horrible things? will god let them into heaven?” Well I hope God can let people who do really bad things into heaven. Because the way God sees it the murders and adulterers aren’t just those bad people out there who we hear about in the news. No, this room right here right now is filled with murderers and adulterers including the guy up front.

 

            So how is Jesus going to save us from this one? If even our thoughts and feelings are a violation of the 5th and 6th commandment, how can Jesus save us from our own thoughts? Well in Matthew chapter 5, just a little bit before our reading for today, Jesus said this, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

 

            Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to fulfill the law he came to accomplish it. That includes the fifth and sixth commandment. You shall not murder and you shall not commit adultery. The things we have been talking about. He came to fulfill that law, to accomplish it, for you. Because he had no sinful nature, when Jesus was living on this earth his motives and thoughts were kind loving and pure. And those thoughts and motives showed themselves through his kind loving and pure actions. Like when he healed people of their diseases and like when he was willing to associate himself with prostitutes and treat them with love and respect. And brothers and sisters that perfect life has been given to you.

 

Maybe I can explain the awesomeness of that this way. We have been talking about God seeing your thoughts as if they were displayed to him on a TV screen. Well Jesus hijacked your channel and started showing his episodes and series instead of yours. So instead of seeing your hateful thoughts God sees Jesus kindness and love displayed on your TV. Instead of seeing your lust God sees Jesus respect and honor and his faithfulness to his bride the church. And the best things is this: Even though Jesus is the one who did all that, your name is in the credits. The credits say that this good God pleasing content was directed and produced by you and you are the staring actor or actress.

 

            So that is good news. Jesus is our savior even from our sinful thoughts and motives. But now I’m sure some of you are asking now what? Thank you, Jesus, for saving me but I still have to live with my own thoughts what should we do about? Should we say, “Well Jesus has pulled a fast one on God the Father so now we can relish all the sinful thoughts we want.” No absolutely not. Jesus did not save you for the purpose of wallowing in your sin. No, he saved you so that you could be his own. So, then what do we do with our sinful thoughts? If we are being perfectly honest brothers and sisters we have to say sometimes it is impossible for us to prevent sinful thoughts from entering into our head. We have a sinful nature that loves to dwell on sinful things. And we live in a world that loves to parade sinful things around and glorify them. So sinful thoughts and temptations are going to occur. However, we can make a decision about what to do with those thoughts. Lets go back to our tv floating above your head analogy. Let’s say a sinful thought pops on the screen whether it is a hateful thought or a lustful thought, doesn’t matter. When that happens first simply acknowledge to yourself what that thought is. that’s lust that hate. And then knowing that you are a forgiven child of God change the channel. Change the channel to something like this. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. That’s the kind of programing Jesus displayed to the Father in your place, so switch your channel to those things. Amen.


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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
 
Actions speak louder than words. That is familiar to most of. What it means is this: how you act
can show more about what you believe in than what you say. Also, if we act in a way that is
consistent with what we say, our integrity increases in the eyes of others. I would like to apply
this saying to the character Joseph in the Christmas story.
 
In fact, we practically have to apply this saying to Joseph because the Bible doesn’t record any
of Joseph’s words. It only records what he does. Our verses for study come from Matthew 2:13-
15, 19-23. The Magi had recently left the land of Israel after visiting Jesus. The wicked king
Herod wanted to have the baby Jesus killed because the Magi had proclaimed him a King.
Herod saw this as a threat to his position of power. In order to protect the messiah from Herod
God warns Joseph in a dream to take the child down to Egypt. And we read, “So he got up, took
the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” That’s it. No words, no questions.
There are simply three verbs in that sentence: got up, took, and left. But these three simple
actions speak volumes about Joseph. He must have had an amazing faith. In order to protect
the family God had given him Joseph leaves his house, his business, perhaps his family too. He
left with Mary and Jesus for a land where the culture and the language were probably
unfamiliar. And he had no idea what he was going to do when he got down there. Nevertheless,
Joseph got up, took, and left.
 
How was Joseph able to do this? How was he able to simply get up in the middle of the night
and leave for a foreign country? First, he must have had to put his trust in the words God. God
had told him in a dream that Mary’s child was “from the holy spirit” and would “save his people
from their sins” (Matthew 1:20,21). If this child was going to be the savior. God would have to
preserve him to do his saving work. So Joseph left, trusting that God would provide. Second,
God had already provisioned them for their trip. The Magi had given gifts of gold frankincense
and Myrrh, gifts that were extremely valuable. These gifts may have even still been in the
traveling containers that the Magi brought them in. Joseph had funding for the trip, and seed
money for a starting a new life down in Egypt, ready to go. So, Joseph trusts God and leaves.
Showing his faith with his actions.
 
My prayers is that our actions also speak louder than our words. Let our actions serve as a
testimony for what we believe in. In order to do this we will have to recognize two things. First,
We will have to recognize the promises in God’s word. We can forgive knowing that God has
promised to forgive us. We can be generous knowing that God has promised to provide for us.
Secondly, recognize the blessings already given. Recognize that God has already provisioned
you with everything you need to live a life in thankfulness to him. A life of thankfulness and a
life using the blessings you have been given to help others are actions that speak volumes.

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Jesus is not the King we would expect, But He is the King we need

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Now, princes, kings, queens, and princesses those are all kind of distant to us. We have never experienced what it is like to have a king or live in that type of society. So, I started to think about types of people that we might consider royalty. Maybe for us it is some of our music artists. Rappers especially like to acknowledge their greatness. Here are five rappers, all of whom have proclaimed that they are the greatest, or that they are the king, or even a god in one of their songs. Likewise, Michael Jackson used to be called the King of Pop. Beyoncé is called Queen B. And Elvis was called the King of Rock and Roll. And perhaps it is a fair comparison. All these artists are able to pack venues with fans willing to proclaim their greatness. All of them have enough wealth to lead glamorous lifestyles. Or maybe we think of some of our sports starts as modern day royals. Lebron James has the nickname, King James. And that openly proclaims that he is the best. Or perhaps for us it is the ultra-rich that we would consider modern day kings. For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is worth 132 billion dollars. In a recent interview he said that the only way he can dispense with all his wealth is through space travel. From now to the end of his life he is going to liquidate one billion dollars of his assets a year to fund his space exploration project, Blue Origin. Just think about this, Jeff Bezos is so rich he feels the only thing left for him to do is to literally shoot for the stars. Likewise, I think we could call Bill Gates a king. I mean, just look at his castle. This is Bill Gates’ residence in Washington. It is called Xanadu 2.0. This mansion is 66,000 square feet, and its value is estimated to be 147 million dollars. And that amount is only a drop in the bucket compared to Bill Gates total assets. So, take your pick. I think all of these different people could be considered modern day royalty, modern day kings and queens. They lead glamourous, extravagant lifestyles, and they all have fans who are willing to bow down and proclaim their greatness. Now, behold your king.

 

            If our concept of royalty is a rich, glamorous, and powerful individual, then that looks like anything but a king. That is not a king we would expect. This is how Luke describes this scene: The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” So Jesus has been captured, beaten a number of times, given an unfair trial, and condemned death. So, they dragged him outside of the city and, up on a hill near the road, they nailed him to a piece of wood to be left exposed to the elements and experience agony until he died. And as if that wasn’t enough, they humiliated him while he was suffering. The Jewish leaders proclaimed him a phony messiah because it seemed like he couldn’t save himself. The Roman soldiers mocked his claim to be a king. They put up a sign above him saying, “Hey, look at this guy. He is the king of the Jews.” Our reading says they came up mocking him. I imagine they brought him the wine vinegar saying, “Hail, king! I your humble cup-bearer bring you your royal drink.” Even one of the criminals who is enduring the same treatment mocks Jesus and says, “Oh, so you are the messiah? Well, save yourself and us.” At this point Jesus looks like anything but a king. Here he is being executed as a criminal in the most humiliating way, and his claim to royalty is being ridiculed. Here Jesus looks like anything but a king.

            But even in this most humiliating moment, Jesus is still king. Just not the king we would expect. And at this moment, only one person recognizes the truth. Only one man acknowledges Jesus as king. Hear the words of the thief of the cross, But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus only had one fan in the stands when he was fighting for the salvation of all people, and it was a lowly thief. First the thief rebukes his fellow criminal, then he confesses that he has led a sinful life, and then he acknowledges the king. The thief says, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” If someone has a kingdom, that means they are a king. When it seemed like Jesus was anything but a king, this man turned to Jesus and saw him for what he was and proclaimed him a king. And the King did not let his subject down. Jesus assured this criminal that he was welcome in his kingdom. Today you will be with me in paradise.

           

            At his crucifixion, Jesus was not the king that people expected, but he was the king they needed. Only the thief saw that through the eyes of faith. So, let’s go back and reexamine this account from that perspective. Let’s see the king we don’t expect but the king we need. When Jesus is beaten, falsely accused, and condemned, the king is enduring pain and injustice for his subjects. When the leaders and soldiers mock him and tell him to save himself, the king is saying, “I can’t save myself right now I am saving you.” When the king gives up his life, that is not defeat. Rather he is winning the victory over death for us, and he is crushing our enemy Satan under his foot. Jesus may not be the king we expect but he is the king we need. He won the victory for his subjects. He saved us from our enemies of sin death and the devil. He is not the king we expect, but he is the king we need.

 

            And brothers and Sister this Jesus is still king. Right now he is reigning in heaven ruling all things for our benefit. And he is still not the king we expect, but he is the king we need. So, brothers and sisters if Jesus is not the king we expect, then I think we can expect that the king’s rule in our lives will be unexpected. And I think we often struggle with that truth. We struggle with the fact that our king’s reign doesn’t meet our expectations of how our king should reign. I think a prime example of this is when we suffer. When we suffer whether it from an illness, a tragedy in our family, or the loss of a job, we struggle because it is not what we would expect. If we are subjects of the king, and he is the most powerful and loving being in the universe, why would he allow us to suffer? Well, we have to remember, brothers and sisters, Jesus is not the king we expect, but he is the king we need. And just like Jesus flipped his own suffering on its head to bring about the most glorious thing, the salvation of the world, so too, in some way he will flip your suffering on its head and bring about something good and glorious.

 

            And as you go about your lives and wrestle with this truth that Jesus is not the king we would expect, but he is the king we need, let this hope sustain you. One day Jesus is going to come back and blow all of our expectations out of the water. Today is Christ the King Sunday. On this Sunday, we remember that the unexpected king is coming back. And when King Jesus comes back, it’s not going to be like this. It’s going to be like this. When Jesus comes back, it will be in all his glory, and everyone will acknowledge him as king. When the king comes again, he will bring an angel choir that will make all the music of this earth seem like stammering nonsense. When the king comes, he will lift all his people up to heaven, and he won’t need Jeff Bezos’ rockets to do it. When the king comes, he will give us new and glorified bodies that are better than Lebron James’ in his prime. And when the king comes, he will take us to a home that will make Xanadu 2.0 look like a shack. That’s the king we have. And that’s the king we need. Amen.


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