In the days following 9/11, over half of America went to church. According to census statistics, that means about 24,000,000 more people than usual – a 100% increase! One year later, attendance was back at pre-9/11 levels. After the initial shock of the crisis passed, we discover that nothing much had changed, spiritually speaking, for 24,000,000 people.
Something similar happened in Malachi’s day. After hundreds of years of idolatry, spiritual adultery, and lip-service to the Lord without any real faith, God punished His people with exile in Assyria and Babylon. His chosen people effectively disappeared. After 70 years in Babylon, God opened the way for many of them to come home. And for a time, faith and devotion to the LORD bloomed anew. Under the leadership of men like Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel, they restored the walls of Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple. More than that, the people publicly recommitted themselves to the Word of God and said, “We will serve the LORD!”
But, by the time Malachi wrote, just a generation or two later, it was same-old same-old: Israel worshiping false gods; Israel offering the LORD only lip-service; Israel sticking God with the worst of their crops and animals, not the firstfruits and best. They wearied the LORD. So, He announced the coming of His messengers – not just one, but two: John the Baptist, who would prepare the way, and then, His Son, Jesus, who would come suddenly…to his temple. The the LORD turned the heat up: “My Messenger will come and He will bring refining fire!” Who can stand in the face of that?
No one. Malachi says later, All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble and that day that is coming will set them on fire (Malachi 4:1, NIV84). We must lump ourselves into that category. The Lord calls for holiness and perfection from those who dare to stand before Him. But our hearts bubble over with evil. We have days and weeks of spiritual renewal – picking up our Bibles on a daily basis, putting aside sinful habits, giving sufficient time to God, then family, then work, offering the best of our gifts to the LORD, and being faithful in Bible class and worship – but then we go right back to the way we were. Sometimes that very same day. We go through cycles of faithfulness and faithlessness, fearing being caught by God, who says, I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me (Malachi 3:5, NIV84).
For sinners, the day of His coming is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. The only hope is to be refined, like a metal. Heat is applied to, say, gold, so that all the different parts separate – the metal from the impurities. What’s left is pure gold. The prophet Malachi tells us that we will undergo a refining process. We’ll be purified. By whom? Not by us. It’s no self-purification job. It’s the Lord you are seeking. The messenger of the covenant.
“Do not remember my sins,” David says to God. How silly and futile! How can David, or anyone, ask an omniscient God to forget? By definition, being omniscient means that God doesn’t forget. When you know everything, you really know everything.
We’re not omniscient. We don’t know everything (though we often speak and act like we do), and yet we can barely forget. We don’t forget the offenses committed against us. We don’t forget the slights, neither the major nor the minor. We do the opposite of forgetting, we remember. We remember that off-putting word or that bad first impression. We remember that defiance or sarcasm or disobedience. We remember that hurt and harm. We remember as if were yesterday, and sometimes it was!
We remember. And not just about others. Though not omniscient in any way, we remember the sins of your youth, no matter how recent or far past that youth was. We remember our rebellious ways. We remember the indiscretions and the rebellions. We remember behind the bleachers, in the parked car, or the parent-empty home. We remember the insults, the slaps, the gossips. We remember not running from Potiphar’s wife when she presented herself to us in all her splendid beauty. We remember instead caressing her, enjoying her, living in that moment.
We remember our own defiance, “You can’t tell me what to do!” “You can’t judge me!” “Stop trying to control me!” We remember our revolts, “I’ll stay out until I’m good and ready to come home!” We remember destroying relationships, “I hate you!” We remember casting off allegiances, “I can do what I want! I can go where I want!” We remember rejecting even God’s own authority, “I don’t need this guy telling me what to do too!”
Oh, how we remember. And yet David says, “Don’t remember that.” Can it really be that easy? It can’t possibly be so. These things, these deeds, these memories, these realities don’t just disappear. Especially not when you’re omniscient. They don’t disappear. Unless…. Read More…
The days are coming, the LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah. What days? This sounds like Jackie Gleason in “The Honeymooners”: “One of these days, Alice, one of these days…!” Are these words simply a divine “or else” or something more?
Given the times when the LORD gave these words to Jeremiah, they easily could be an “or else.” For a few centuries now Israel had wavered between the LORD and false gods, mostly falling on the side of worshiping the false gods. Read Jeremiah and you’ll find a book filled with prophecies of stern law and forbidding judgment against these sins, the frustration of a holy God against His incredibly unholy people. Jeremiah preached in the last days of the kingdom of Judah, right before, during, and after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem and took the best and brightest off into captivity, essentially wiping Israel off the map as a country. So, a divine “or else” wouldn’t be out of the picture. Or maybe even an “I told you so.”
But instead, the Lord God says the exact opposite. At this moment in Israel’s history, the Lord refreshes His people with good news: “The days are coming!” What days? “The days of God’s Savior; the days of God’s deliverance!” This is the promise of God: “I’m sending you a Deliverer, a Savior, a King.” And we know already that He means Jesus. We know it, because Paul tells us, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. If God promises, it’s Jesus fulfilling the promise, whether we’re talking about Israelites or Texans. And that’s what we’re waiting for, that’s the message we listen to, right here and right now. WE WAIT FOR JESUS! And WHILE WE WAIT WE LOOK BACK and WE LOOK FORWARD.
For Jeremiah’s audience, it was all about looking forward. They lived 600 years before Jesus. Put that into perspective. You’re living in the year 1412, and someone says, “The days are coming when the Tigers will be in the World Series.” How meaningful would that be to one of your European ancestors? Yet, this promise of help and deliverance, one among hundreds in the Old Testament, was what kept the faith of people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah alive. They looked and saw the Seed of the woman coming. They looked and saw God’s servant pierced for the sins of all men. They looked and saw a descendant of David ruling forever and ever and ever. But they never actually saw it. By God’s grace, we have!
While waiting for Christ to return, as promised, we look back to how God fulfilled His promise. The days are coming! On December 25, Year 0, they came. When those lowly offspring of David’s line – Mary and Joseph – wrapped that bundle of flesh into swaddling clothes, they knew, because Gabriel told them: “The day has come.” The Branch was sprouting. What a powerful phrase! Jesus is the righteous Branch. Here’s how God fulfills His good word. There’s the main plant of David – the family line – and from it (though it appears dead and crushed) this Branch sprouts. And He’s righteous. Righteousness has to do with rightness, justice, and innocence. The Branch is these things, which no man is, for there is no one righteous, not even one. But He’s more than just a man; He’s the perfect Son of God.
This righteous Branch grew before our eyes. He was that child discussing theological questions in the Temple. He was that young man baptized by John. He was that frail looking fellow fasting in the desert for 40 days, battling the Devil (and winning!). He was that wandering Rabbi, poor in appearance, powerful in speech, who proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom, healed the sick, and raised the dead! He was that Teacher saying, The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost!
And His words weren’t empty. He wasn’t a lunatic. He wasn’t a liar. He wasn’t a pie in the sky let’s all get together and feel good kind of guy. He wasn’t making politician’s promises. In those days Jesus made us safe. Because He’s not simply a good guy who worked hard. No. Not only is He personally righteous, but He did what is just and righteous. He established justice and righteousness between us and God at the cross. He did it by His sacrifice which recorded eternal justice in God’s ledger book. The day of His resurrection was the day of our resurrection. He does it with His coming heavenly kingdom – all sinners punished, all saints saved, and the perfect heavenly kingdom. There is our home of peace and safety.
Do you see it? Are you looking and waiting for it? Or are we bogged down in bygone days? Do we long for the good old days? Do we cling to what we have now, praying that God might not come yet: “I just haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to; I’m having too much fun here playing with my friends, conquering my video games, enjoying my job, raising my family”? Do we pray that while the days may be coming, they just hopefully won’t come quite yet? If we are, we’re totally unprepared for those days. They will fall on us like a trap, crushing us. If our eyes are looking back, but not at Jesus, or looking forward, but not to the clouds and His return, then we’re still blind in sins. We must repent! Repent! Look back to the manger! God fulfilled His promises there! Look forward, because the days are coming!
God fulfills His final promise. Jesus will return, to take us to be with Him. He will come in the clouds, as we heard from Luke’s Gospel. He will come with power, might, glory, splendor, brightness, honor, majesty, brilliance, and greatness. We will see Him as He is, in all His glorious power and strength. The Righteous Branch, the Son of David and the Son of God, will come, as we heard from Revelation last week, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. The days are coming! He will come and He will save us from this sinful world and bring us to the safety of heaven. He will march triumphantly before the hosts of heaven, riding His powerful war-horse, and He will face off against the armies of the devil. And, as the brilliant vision of John’s Apocalypse describes:the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet….The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Bad end for the devil and all those who follow Him. Good news for us. For we will live in the city that bears His Name. It will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness. The righteousness Jesus lived and won is credited to His people through faith. It’s given to us as we hear it preached to us in the Word, feel it poured upon us in our Baptisms, and taste and see how good it is in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.
When Christ returns He restores Israel, God’s kingdom. As Ezekiel put it:I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in safety.Jesus is our King coming to rule us, spiritual Israel. It’s here already, and yet it’s also a not yet, a coming soon. The days are coming. Keep your eyes focused. Look back, not on your lives, but on Christ’s life for you. Look forward, to Christ’s return. Because WE WAIT FOR JESUS. Amen.
The Voters of St. Mark will meet Sunday, December 2, at 12:30pm. The meeting will have one agenda item: to decide whether St. Mark will Call a new pastor from the field, request a graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, or a combination of the two (calling until a certain date and then requesting a graduate).
On Saturday, December 15 we’ll have our annual one-day Bible school — Christmas for Kids! We’ll spend a morning (beginning around 9:30am, ending around noon) learning about Jesus, singing about Jesus, making crafts about Jesus…you get the point. It’s all about Jesus!
Christmas for Kids is totally free and for kids ages 4-11 (preK-5th grade). We won’t turn away any 3 or 12 year olds, though.
Make plans now for who you’ll bring and what you’ll do with the couple kid-free hours!
To paraphrase an ancient Christian proverb: “What we sing, we believe; what we believe, we sing.” As children many of us sang (or taught our children to sing), “For the Bible tells me so.” In other words, what Scripture says, God says, end of story. Another children’s favorite refrains, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” When we sing those lines, we often think of the love of Christ: how He carefully watches over all things, including, especially, Christians.
But that innocent little line from a children’s song also teaches us about the vision Daniel received from the Lord while Belshazzar ruled in Babylon. “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” sounds like a summary of our brief portion of Daniel 7: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14, NIV84).
The LORD invites Daniel, forces him, really, to look at a king. A king unlike any other. In the first 12 verses of Daniel 7, the LORD showed Daniel the next few centuries of world history. Daniel saw the kings of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel saw kings and empires rising and falling. He even saw the rise and fall of the church’s greatest enemy, the Antichrist, here described as a little horn coming out of the Roman Empire. Kings come and kings go. Kings rule and kings reign. Kings fall to their death. Hence, today we talk about dead languages. No one speaks Babylonian or Latin anymore. We also talk about dead empires. There is no more Babylonian or Persian or Greek or Roman empire. They’re gone, “dust in the wind,” as the 70s rock band Kansas sings.
But then Daniel sees the LORD elect another king. He sees someone looking like a son of man come before the Ancient of Days, the LORD. The Greek translation of Daniel 7 economizes on words, saying, “And He gave Him authority.” The Father appoints and elects this “son of man” to be a king. A king over everything. A king forever.
There’s another proverb we know, not Christian, but political. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see this as more than a proverb, but almost an axiomatic statement, a truism. It’s taken for granted that the political system of Washington will corrupt a newly elected representative. And the more power someone gets, the more corrupt they get too. There are no Mr. Smith’s. That’s just Frank Capra trying to wish it so.
As Americans, maybe we cringe when we hear about the Ancient of Days giving total, supreme, power to this one like a son of man. Read More…
What would you think if I greeted you tonight or tomorrow with the words, “Happy Eucharist!”? Likely, you’d be confused, because you wouldn’t know what I just said to you. Some of you might think, “Why is he saying, ‘Happy Lord’s Supper on Thanksgiving?’” because you know that many churches call Holy Communion “the eucharist.” So you might wonder, “Is he making some kind of joke that I don’t get? Or has all that learning finally gone to his head and loosened a screw?”
But it’s no joke. No screw’s come loose (that I know of). The word “eucharist” comes from Greek. We use it all the time, especially today. Eucharist means to give thanks or be thankful. In other words, it might be translated as a noun, “thanksgiving,” as in, “Happy Thanksgiving!” And it appears in our reading from Romans this evening: He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives THANKS (eucharistai) to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives THANKS (eucharistai)to God (14:6, NIV84).
Well, how did the word for “giving thanks” and “thanksgiving” end up as a title for the Sacrament of Holy Communion? In every account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit reports that Jesus took the bread and the wine and He gave thanks – eucharist. Over time, people took that word and applied it to the entire action of the Sacrament: taking, receiving, eating, and drinking. A major portion of many communion liturgies, including our own Divine Service II in the Supplement, is a prayer of thanksgiving, a eucharistic prayer, which rehearses the saving acts of God throughout history and culminates in the Words of Institution reminding us of that for which we give thanks: the body of Christ, given for us, the blood of Christ, shed for us. Of course when we celebrate the Sacrament we give thanks. Here is our salvation, our forgiveness, our eternal life in the palm of our hands, the only food that matters: Christ Himself! And the only day that matters are those days on which that Christ is proclaimed to you, given to you, held out to you, and through faith received by you to your eternal blessing! Hence, Paul says, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14, NIV84). Likewise, no one day is better than another.
To live as if some were is to live for ourselves. Read More…
Recently, the continuing education website of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Grow in Grace, published a book review by St. Mark’s pastor, Benjamin Tomczak. It is a review of the recently published, Friends of the Law by Edward Engelbrecht, a study of Luther’s view of the third use of the Law.
You may or may not have noticed, but a significant portion of America did not like the results of last week’s presidential election. I don’t know on which side you stand: among those rejoicing or those despairing. And, to a certain degree, I don’t really care.
Because we live in a sinful world, and because God Himself says so in the psalms, we don’t put all our trust in princes, or presidents, whether Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Independent. Even if they support policies we agree with or know to be God-pleasing, we know not just from Scripture, but from real-life experience, that putting all our eggs into the basket of any politician is not wise. They break promises. They fail to accomplish things. Political realities force them to compromise or not deal with something. The seeming triumph of Election Day quickly fades into the reality of the work-a-day world where things move slowly, or not at all, or backwards and where calamities like 9/11 or financial meltdowns hijack presidencies.
And yet, despite knowing that, many pinned all their hopes and dreams upon unseating President Obama and electing Mitt Romney. And if Facebook is any judge, many consider the re-election of President Obama to be one of the signs of the apocalypse. In fact, the pastor of one of the largest Baptist churches in Dallas this week wrote that President Obama will usher in the reign of the Antichrist. (Ironically some thought electing a Mormon would slow down the decay of this so-called “Christian” nation.)
Let’s be clear. There are policies that our current president supports that we find intolerable. Abortions should not be legal and accessible to anyone and everyone. Marriage should not be redefined to include any and every combination imaginable, including the gay marriage so vigorously being promoted today. The government should not violate the religious consciences of churches and employers and tell them that they must provide contraceptives, abortificients, and sterilizations to employees despite religious objections.
But, let’s be fair. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have eliminated abortion. He favors it in some cases. He also formerly supported gay marriage as a governor. Plus, he thinks that when he dies he’ll become a god and populate a planet with all kinds of spirit children. Because he’s a Mormon. So, he wasn’t some magic bullet, whom, had we elected him, would have ushered in a triumphant millennial kingdom of peace on earth with a chicken in every pot.
Daniel, were he here, certainly could speak intelligently about all these things. Read More…
On Sunday, November 4, Pastor Benjamin Tomczak announced that he has accepted the Divine Call to be pastor at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His last Sunday will be January 6, 2013.
On Wednesday, November 14, St. Mark will begin the process to Call a new pastor to replace Pastor Tomczak. Please keep St. Mark, Pastor Tomczak, and his family in your prayers.