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Sermon for Ash Wednesday–Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments

 

The Ten Commandments

You shall have no other gods.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

Readings–Joel 2:12–19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As we begin this penitential season called Lent, this year we reflect on the six chief parts of LutherTwoTablets’s Small Catechism.  These six chief parts, learned by heart by catechumens, those being instructed in the Christian faith, include all a Christian should know and believe to be and to remain Christian.

These six chief parts are: The Ten Commandments, The (Apostles’) Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar.

Tonight, we reflect on the first chief part, The Ten Commandments.

By way of introduction, hear the Word of the Lord according to St. Matthew, Chapter 22.

34 When the Pharisees heard that He (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34-40, NKJ)

Quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus reveals the summary of God’s Holy Law, the Ten Commandments.

The word Jesus uses to summarize the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, is Love: 1 Love God, 2 Love neighbor.

As Jesus expresses it, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

If we go by our own judgment, love to God and love for neighbor is determined, not by what God says and means, but by what we deem as acceptable to ourselves.

In other words, instead of God setting the bar for the meaning of love, we ourselves set the bar—higher or lower—dependent on our agreement with it.

The problem with , our doing, is just this—It puts us in the leading role and gives the backseat to God.

Altering God’s commands to make them acceptable to us is what it means to play God.

This is idolatry, first commandment stuff.

Yet, even we are not immune from the temptation to make God and His Word more comfortable where we find it to be of discomfort.

We may even see ourselves as better, more righteous, and holier than our neighbor, who does all those things that we would never do.

But reflecting on these words of Dr. Luther from his Large Catechism in the section entitled, “Conclusion of the Ten Commandments,” we find that we, too, are in the same boat as others when it comes to making up ways to please God.

311 Now we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching about what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God. Everything that is to be a good work must arise and flow from and in this true fountain and channel. So apart from the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it is in the world’s eyes. 312 Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and mighty works. They have invented and set these things up, while they let these commandments go, as though they were far too insignificant or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.

313 I am of the opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full ‹and will have enough› to do to keep these commandments: meekness, patience, love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, and other such virtues and their implications [Galatians 5:22–23]. But such works are not of value and make no display in the world’s eyes. For these are not peculiar and proud works. They are not restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs. They are common, everyday, household works that one neighbor can do for another. Therefore, they are not highly regarded.

314 But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide. Men aid this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn such works, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice garment embroidered with gold thread, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in Church, that is regarded as a most precious work, which no one can praise enough. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing. For what else should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?

315 Look, is not this a cursed overconfidence of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach? To pretend (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but theirs is for saints and perfect ones? 316 The miserable blind people do not see that no person can go far enough to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear). By them ‹power and strength to keep the commandments› is sought and prayed for and received continually. Therefore, all their boasting amounts to as much as if I boasted and said, “To be sure, I don’t have a penny to make payment with, but I confidently will try to pay ten florins.”

317 All this I say and teach so that people might get rid of the sad misuse that has taken such deep root and still clings to everybody. In all estates upon earth they must get used to looking at these commandments only and to be concerned about these matters. For it will be a long time before they will produce a teaching or estate equal to the Ten Commandments, because they are so high that no one can reach them by human power.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 395–396.)

In summary, we can readily note two key things.

The first is this, that the 10 Commandments, given by the Holy and Just God, summarize how His people are to live.

Secondly, we note that man-made/invented works, as good and holy as they might appear before others, are not so before God.

Jesus speaks of this latter thing in the Gospel reading from Matthew 6 about practicing righteousness (ESV), giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

These things are not to be done before men in order to be seen by them.

God knows the heart.  He sees and knows all.

Before God, not other people, is what matters.

Whether your neighbor sees or knows is not the thing to be concerned about.

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

True and lasting treasure is not found on earth, with praise and recognition by men, or in the things of this side of heaven.

True and lasting treasure is found in the Giver of all that is good, whose very Son is your Treasure, your riches, your “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

It is not what we think about a thing that ultimately matters.

What God says is what does.

God Himself lays out the summary of His holy will (and purpose) in the Ten Commandments: Love God. Love neighbor.

His first three commandments have just to do with Love to God, namely, having Him alone as God (and no other), using His Name rightly, and holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it.

These could be considered the positive side of the first three commandments, that which we are to do, in distinction from what we are not to do, as in having another god or gods before the one true God, using God’s Name carelessly and in vain, and despising His Word and its preaching.

Similarly, by Commandments 4-10, “Love neighbor,” God reveals what we are to do and not do in love to neighbor.

Honor Father and mother. “Serve and obey, love and cherish them.” Do not despise or anger them. (4th Commandment)

Be content with what you’re given.  Don’t be discontent with what you don’t have. (Commandments 7, 9, 10)

Speak well of your neighbor, not only of those you like and get along with, but also with those you don’t. Don’t gossip and defame another, “but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (8th Commandment)

Help your neighbor.  Help and don’t hurt. (5th Commandment)

Have clean, pure, and holy thoughts, words, and actions.  Do not lust or fantasize about another. (6th Commandment) –

The Commandments of the Lord are all encompassing.

They exclude nothing that God would have us do, how we are to live, and how we are to be.

They reveal God’s will.

They also reveal your sin.

So, St. Paul says, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7 NKJ.

Again, he says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20 NKJ).

Also does St. James reveal, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10 NKJ).

The truth of God about His Law and our inability to keep it would certainly mean His righteousness condemnation and His abiding wrath upon us.

But for Christ’s sake alone, this is not so.

God’s wrath and condemnation are not on you because of how good you are or because of how good you try to be, not because of any holiness in you, and not because of any desire of yours to be better.

God’s righteous wrath and just condemnation against sin was met on Another, on Him whose fulfilment of the Law in your stead (Active obedience) and whose receiving God’s judgment for your sin (passive obedience) is Your life and salvation.

The very Law of God expounded and revealed by Jesus, Jesus has fulfilled.

The penalty for your sin Jesus suffered on the cross.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees His doing of the Law as your own.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees the punishment for your sin met.

Because of Christ, through faith in Him, you seek to abide in Christ and to do according to the Lord’s will, according to His Word.

You do this, not because by doing so you have God’s good pleasure, but becase you already have God’s good pleasure, His favor, His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

You continue to repent of your sin, throughout this Lenten season and beyond.

According to the Law of God, you know that you are not as God would have you be.

According to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you know and believe that Jesus alone is your help, Savior, and salvation. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasAlmighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

 

Series on Luther’s Small Catechism for midweek Lenten Services.

 

The Penitential season of Lent

Blessing.AbsolutionWe are at the beginning of the penitential season called, as of Ash Wednesday.  During these 40 days, you’ll notice omissions in the Sunday Divine Services for the Sundays in Lent. These omissions include the Hymn of Praise (“This is the Feast,” “Gloria in Excelsis”), the “Alleluia” response(s) (i.e. before the Gospel reading), and the Post-Communion Canticle, “Thank the Lord.”

We omit such portions to draw attention to the solemnity of the Lenten season.

The word “penitential” means, “of or relating to penitence or penance” (Merriam-Webster, online).

The word “penance” as a noun, according to Merriam-Webster, can mean “an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin.” So, the dictionary.

Christians do seek to mortify (put to death, crucify) their sinful flesh, as St. Paul writes, “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Christians do this, however, not “to show sorrow or repentance for sin” for others to see (i.e. Matthew 6:1-4, 5-6, 7-8, 16-18), or to demonstrate to God that they are sorrowful (as if God can’t already see or doesn’t already know, 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Hebrews 4:13).

Rather, Christians, because they desire to live according to God’s Word, seek to amend their sinful lives.  They trust in the God of salvation; whose Son went to the cross for the salvation of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).

God calls all people to repent (i.e. Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9), to turn from their sinful ways and to believe in Jesus.

The season of Lent is just about this, and points to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJ).

Now, about that word “penance” as a verb, “to impose penance on” (Merriam-Webster, online).

This word is not to be understood in the Roman Catholic way of “doing penance.” We know that if it was that, we could never do enough. Because of our sin, we are not able to “get right with God” by what we do (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).  This is to minimize Christ and His work for our salvation.

Rather, salvation is not by our doing at all.  It is God alone who saves, through His Son alone.

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NKJ).

Christians don’t “do penance,” to show repentance, yet Christians are penitent. We sorrow over our sins and want to do better. We trust in Jesus alone for help and salvation.

We “Therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJ).  We seek to hear the Word of God often.  We regularly partake of Christ’s body and blood for “forgiveness, life, and salvation.” We also recognize “that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts,” and also “that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Fourth, What does such baptizing with water signify?). Amen.

 

 

Psalm 51, “Have Mercy, O God”

Psalm 51

1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar. (NKJ)

King David, confrodavid-repentsnted by Nathan the prophet, confessed his sin. He did not try to excuse himself, nor did he play the victim “card.” When confronted with God’s righteous judgement, with God’s Holy Word, David confessed that what God declares is true.

And what sin had King David committed, with the consequence that God called him a sinner and one deserving of God’s condemnation? God had blessed King David greatly. God gave victory over his enemies. He made him King of Israel and gave him to rule the kingdom of Israel. But even with God’s blessing upon him, King David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. However, David’s sin didn’t stop there. David also, to cover up his infidelity and Bathsheba’s pregnancy, had Uriah killed in battle by placing him on the front-line, as it were, knowing full-well that Uriah’s life would be taken from him.

David sinned against his neighbor, first by his adulterous affair, the 6th Commandment, then, by committing murder, the 5th Commandment.   But his sin encompassed much more than the external acts, a truth to which no less than Jesus Himself testifies:

Matthew 5:27-28 27 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

 2ndTable1

Jesus declares that the 6th Commandment and the 5th Commandment are not only broken when they are externally transgressed, but also when they are not fulfilled in the heart. This applies to all the Commandments, including the Table of the Law-Love for neighbor. The breaking of this group of Commandments condemns us all, for neither do we love our neighbor as we should outwardly, nor do we love our neighborly as we ought inwardly.

The transgressing of the 2nd Table of the Law alone brings God’s wrath, yet we deceive ourselves into thinking that these kind of wrongs we can make right by our own doing, by adding our own work, simply changing our ways, and doing better. If this was all that’s necessary, perhaps we could at least convince ourselves that nothing more is needed, and that all would be okay with others.

But all would still not be okay before God! If we fail to recognize that sin against neighbor is sin against God, we fail to recognize the extent of our sin and the greatness of our transgression. What King David had done against Bathsheba and against Uriah her husband was not only done against them. These acts were done against God. And more than that, not only were his actions wrong, so was his heart.

GodAboveAllThis was David’s problem. David did not truly fear God, fully love God, and completely trust God.   This was his sin.   He failed to keep God’s Word and instead, did his own thing. But he not only acted apart from God’s Word, clearly disobeying it, He disbelieved it. This David did because his heart was not right. It was corrupt, as he himself confesses, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).

Because David’s heart was corrupt, having inherited sin, this original sin led him to actually, externally, commit sin. This was David’s problem, not only that he committed actual sin, but, first and foremost, that, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, his heart, too, was corrupt and not holy, righteous, and sinless before God.

This, sadly, is our condition, too. Our Lord says that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man (Matthew 15:19-20).

You are not unlike King David, whether before or after his adulterous and murderous act. Though you may not have done either of these outwardly, as David did, your heart is not right as it should it be. You, too, were brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin. You, too, sin against your neighbor in word and deed, in thought and mind. But even more than these, you sin against the God who created you, who gives you all that you need for this body and life. Whether you sin against God in word or deed, or in thought or mind, these are signs that, just as David, so also you are not as you should be before God.

Try as you might, and wish as you will, you cannot change your condition before the Almighty Holy God. You are not able. This was David’s lot, too.

Confronted by Nathan the prophet, King David could do no other as a repentant sinner that say, I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13). David did not try to excuse himself, nor did he play the victim “card.” When confronted with God’s righteous judgement, with God’s Holy Word, David confessed that what God declares is true.

Repentant sinners, sinners who know themselves to be sinners, who know how lost their condition is and that they are not as God would have them be say, “Amen” to God’s righteous judgement. They don’t try to come up with ways to appease God with their works, by amending their sinful ways, or by changing their lives. These things won’t work, because what we do or our actions won’t change our problem—because our problem is our condition, our heart.

Like Adam and Eve, before God we are naked in our sin. He who sees all also knows all. Left to ourselves, we are lost and under the full wrath of God’s condemnation. This is what David felt and experienced, and this is also what we feel and experience. We are caught, as David was, with no recourse, and no hope…except One…God Himself.

God, who rightly condemns us because of our sin, is also the one who shows mercy and compassion to the sinner. Thus, David pleads with God for mercy saying, Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1).

According to God’s lovingkindness and the multitude of God’s tender mercies does David say, Blot out my transgressions. And God did, and does! God’s word of condemnation upon the sinner is right and true. We are not as God woBlessing.Absolutionuld have us be, just like David. Yet, God’s word of condemnation is not His last word for the sinner who repents and seeks God’s mercy and compassion.

God had sent Nathan the prophet to confront David, and he Nathan did confront David. David confessed Nathan’s words, God’s word, to be true. He repented of his sin, recognizing what he had done and the condition of his heart, thus he called to God, and held to God’s Word of promise, pardon, and peace, and testified of God’s mercy in this blessed Psalm 51.

At the Word of our Lord, repentant sinners repent, as David did. His confession becomes their confession. Thus, Psalm 51 we, too, make our own, for by it, we testify with the Psalmist of our condition before God, and God’s gracious favor and compassion towards us sinners. We trust not at all in ourselves or in things of this world for comfort or consolation of things eternal, but rest solely on our Lord Jesus Christ, who says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Our Lord does give you rest from your labor! Jesus does bestow peace with God, for He has blotted out your transgressions by means of His death. He has washed you thoroughly from your iniquity by the shedding of His own precious blood on the cross. Because of Jesus, therefore, do not fear God’s righteous wrath and condemnation for your sin, for these Jesus suffered for you that they not be yours. And now, they are not. They are His, and because they are, no longer can even Satan accuse you before, nor can your sin:

Romans 8:31-34 31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 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.

God hears your pleas for mercy. He hears your cries for help. He hears your prayers for salvation. And these He answers in His Son, whose Name we confess, in whom we believe, and by whom we live. Thus, with the Psalmist do we continually cry, 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). (Offertory)

With King David had, we also believe the Word of our Lord, God’s Word of Law and His precious Word of Gospel, sins forgiven. And because we do, we also pray with the Psalmist, O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise (Psalm 51:15).

We also acknowledge, particularly in this penitential season of Lent, that The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

With broken and a contrite hearts, we come before the Lord, and He says, and you, He does not despise. Amen.

1Jn1.8-10a

Return to the Lord

        12“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?   15Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people.  Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.   17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples,  ‘Where is their God?’”  18Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.    19The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”  (Joel 2:12-19)

 

The day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)

The day of the Lord, the day of Judgment, is come.  It is great and very terrible.  Yes, indeed!  Who can endure it?  Who can persist and continue when the Lord meets out His judgment upon a wayward people, a wayward people even called by His Holy Name.

Joel prophesied to such a people.  He spoke and proclaimed to the people of God.  They had departed from the Lord, following their own ways, heeding their own opinions, holding fast to their own judgments, and not according to the will of the Lord.  They were a way faring people, led by their own desires and hearkening to their own inclinations.

They took for granted all that the Lord had done for them, all that He had provided for them, and how He had kept and preserved them.  And now, judgment was to come, judgment by way of that which would destroy their bounty, diminish their excess, and humble a prideful people.

Joel speaks of locusts, which would devour the land (Joel 1:4; 2:25).  They would leave nothing behind.  Crops would be leveled.  No grain would be in sight.  Harvest would be absent.

The prophet Joel speaks of the destruction caused by the locusts as “The day of the Lord.”  We in our day, on this side of the hemisphere and in this nation have a hard time understanding such devastation caused by such things.  But the people in Joel’s day lived off the land.  They depended on the crops and their bounty for their livelihood.  They couldn’t go to another grocery store if one was empty.  If the crops failed, that meant dire straits.

Farmers today know this.  Yet, for most of us, we know little about true hunger and true devastation.  We know little of what it means to be truly in want, to have little or nothing.  We do not really know what it is like to be in a famine, to suffer the consequences of a deadly plague, to be in the state of starvation, or to be literally dying of thirst.

We have it fairly easy today.  Food is abundant.  We have clean water, clothes on our back, a roof over our heads.  We have all that we need, and more.

Like the Israelites of Joel’s day, we take for granted all that the Lord has provided for us.  We take for granted all that He abundantly gives us of His mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  We, like the people in Joel’s day, fail to even see the means by which God would call us back to Himself.

By means of the prophet Joel, God called His people to repentance, to Return to Him with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and to rend their hearts and not their garments.  God called His people to repent of their idolatrous hearts and their false assumptions that God would always be with them, even should they forsake Him and His ways and not trust in His promises.

They simply went through the motions of God’s people, but their hearts were far from their Lord and their God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).  They went to church.  They gave offering.  They did what they thought God required of them.  But they did not believe.  They forsook the Word and trusted in themselves.

Do you see the events in the world enfolding before your eyes as a call to repentance?  The downward spiral of our economy and the increasing debt?  The revolutions and rebellions across the globe?  Troubles in the Mideast and elsewhere?  The hypocrisy and the apostasy of church after church which claims to bear Christ’s Name?  Accidents (as we call them), and death after death because of this or that?

Do you see these things as reminder of sin and a call to turn to the Lord with repentant hearts, turning away from your own sinful hearts and to the welcoming arms of the Lord?

May it be that even the smallest and most insignificant thing would move you to turn away from yourself and worldly things to the Lord Himself!

The Lord does not want your false repentance, or your hypocritical and meaningless confession.  He does not want your empty words of regret or hollow mourns of sorrow.

The Psalmist says that, The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:15-19).

The righteous are they who see themselves as God sees them—as unrighteous, who say, We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away (Isaiah 64:5).

The righteous claim no righteousness, or goodness, of their own.  They take God at His Word, and believe Him, come what may.  They do not argue and deny that God is true, but submit to His Word, and believe in the only Savior–Jesus.  In this they are righteous, not because of their own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of another.

Therefore, at the hearing of the Lord’s Word, even through the prophet Joel, God’s people turn to the Lord with all their heart.  They rend their hearts, not their garments.  They acknowledge that they have not been as God would have them be, and seek God’s favor, His pardon, and His peace.  They seek God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and there, in Him, they have it.

There, in Him, in Christ Jesus, you have God’s full pardon and peace.  There, you know that you have God’s favor upon you.  In Christ, with nail prints in His hands and feet, and with the mark of the spear in His side, you know that God’s judgment has been removed from you.  God laid the punishment of your sin on Him.

God is indeed Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  This you know and believe because of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Turn to God with all your heart!  Return to the Lord your God!  Repent!  Forsake your sinful ways, your trust in yourselves, and your dependency on the things of this world.  These things cannot help you or save you.  But God can!  And God does!  He gives you life in the midst of death, joy in the midst of sorrow, and peace in the midst of strife.  He feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty.  He gives aid to the poor and bounty to the needy.

Therefore, hold fast to the Lord.  He does not forget you.  He remembers His promises.  He holds you in His hands and bears you up (Psalm 91:12).  Sorrow over your sin, but rejoice in the Lord, for He is good and gracious, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me my sin against you.  I am a poor miserable sinner.  Give me faith to firmly believe in Your salvation, and help me to amend my sinful ways before You.  Amen.

Return to the Lord

The day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)

The day of the Lord, the day of Judgment, is come. It is great and very terrible. Yes, indeed! Who can endure it? Who can persist and continue when the Lord meets out His judgment upon a wayward people, a wayward people even called by His Holy Name.

Joel prophesied to such a people. He spoke and proclaimed to the people of God. They had departed from the Lord, following their own ways, heeding their own opinions, holding fast to their own judgments, and not according to the will of the Lord. They were a way faring people, led by their own desires and hearkening to their own inclinations.

They took for granted all that the Lord had done for them, all that He had provided for them, and how He had kept and preserved them. And now, judgment was to come, judgment by way of that which would destroy their bounty, diminish their excess, and humble a prideful people…

Joel2.12-19, Ash Wednesday, 2011A.pdf

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