Monthly Archives: February 2008

Lenten Midweek III

“Yahweh Remembers: He Receives All Nations”

Zechariah 8:14-23

 

            The Word of God for us to consider tonight comes from the prophet Zechariah, chapter 8: [Zechariah 8:14-23]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

A reversal of fortune.  Four fasts were called: one at the murder of a man named Gedaliah, which was the beginning of the end for Judah; one at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 588 BC; one when the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 586 BC; and one at the burning of Jerusalem and the temple.  These fasts, says Yahweh, will become “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zechariah 8:19, ESV).  A people in love with false oaths and untruth become a people who speak the truth and who love just judgments.  Nations who had no share in the worship of the one true God begging to come to the temple with the people of the Chosen Nation.  These are the things that happen when the intention of Yahweh is to bring upon His people good rather than evil.  Note clearly: Yahweh’s punishment upon His people was just.  The people of Judah had not listened to the prophets and they refused to repent of their idolatry.  Note just as clearly: Yahweh’s decision to bring good upon the remnant of that people was based in Himself, without any merit or worthiness in the people.  Thus, having been reclaimed, this people was to act in particular ways, reflecting Yahweh’s righteousness: “These are the things you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares [Yahweh]…Therefore love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:16-17, 19b, ESV).

These people, Yahweh’s people, were very small; a remnant of the once great nation under Solomon.  But Yahweh has greater things than that in mind.  This people will not remain small: “Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities.  The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of [Yahweh] and to seek [Yahweh of armies]; I myself am going.’  Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek [Yahweh of armies] in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of [Yahweh]” (Zechariah 8:20-22, ESV).  The people of God, amazingly, will be expanded to include all people and all nations, even the uncircumcised masses.  “For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9, ESV).  Something greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:42).

This prophecy has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled even as you sit here now.  You were not of the chosen people.  You had no share in the inheritance of the people of God.  You are not descended from the people Yahweh brought back from Babylon.  And yet, here you are, seeking Yahweh where He has promised to be found, in the One who is greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6).  Salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22); indeed, in a Jew of Jews.  And there is no hope outside that Jew of Nazareth.  Take hold of the robe of that Jew and cry out to Him: Let us go with You, for we have heard that God is with You (Zechariah 8:23).  It is true: God is with Him, because He and the Father are one.  Even more, in Him God is with us, Immanu-el.  You are here, entreating His favor, and He is here, looking in favor on you for the sake of the Jew, Jesus.  You, you are part of the fulfillment of Zechariah 8!  You, who were not a people, have become the people of the only true God.

But there are more.  There are peoples who have yet to come, even the inhabitants of many cities.  You, the inhabitants of Fisher/Euclid, you come here to seek Yahweh, to hear His Word and seek His favor; but there are more.  Do you know anyone who is outside the people of God, even some who are on the membership list of this congregation?  Go to them and speak the words of the people of Judah: “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of [Yahweh] and to seek [Yahweh of armies]; I myself am going” (Zechariah 8:21, ESV).  You are coming.  Will you bring them to the dwelling place of Yahweh in all His mercy and grace, even Jesus Christ?  Even though they touch the least part of the hem of His garment, they will be healed (Matthew 9:20-22).  Here is Jerusalem, here is the temple, here is Yahweh, general of the heavenly armies, here is the God who was born a Jew to save.  Take His garment and lead others to Him.  “Let us go with You, for we have heard that God is with You.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/26/08

Third Sunday in Lent

“The End of Thirst”

John 4:5-26

     In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thirst is relative.  Sometimes it isn’t until you drink a little water that you realize how thirsty you really are.  You can drink pop, wine, milk, juice-or beer and coffee (my choices)-but there is no substitute for a thirst-quenching drink of cold water.  What drinks have you drunk in search of satisfaction?  The Samaritan woman had clearly been drinking from the wrong wells.  “Go, call your husband, and come here,” Jesus tells her (John 4:16).  “The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’  Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.  What you have said is true'” (4:17-18, ESV).  She was drinking and drinking and drinking, but never satisfied.  Thirsty, but the thirst was never quenched.  What drinks have you drunk in search of satisfaction?  You could tell me, I’m sure, of people or things in which you have searched for satisfaction.  You could tell me that when you began to do the job for which you had been trained, you thought you would be satisfied, finally.  Or when you found your spouse and knew it.  Or when your father finally told you that he loved you.  Or when your children smile at you with the trusting look that only children can have.  All of those things are part of the joy of this life.  But they will not satisfy.  If you had all of that and more, your thirst would remain.  You can fully drink in the genuinely good life and you will still thirst for more.  It is greed, or lust, or that unnamed thing that lives inside you with an open throat and an unending desire for more.  You have a vague, or maybe a not-so-vague, intuition that none of it will satisfy, like the Samaritan woman waiting with her live-in boyfriend for the Messiah to come and explain everything to her.

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Lenten Midweek II

“Yahweh Remembers: He Returns to Zion”

Zechariah 8:1-8

The Word of God for our consideration tonight comes from the prophet Zechariah: [Zechariah 8:1-8]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps Yahweh has abandoned His people for good this time. There was a rescue from Egypt after 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41). There was a return to the land after 70 years in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:21). But now? From the look of things, we are back in the time of Samuel: “[T]he word of [Yahweh] was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Samuel 3:1, ESV). Or perhaps the description of the time of the Judges is more apt: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, ESV). How rare is the person who is willing to say, “Thus says the Lord,” without fear of a backlash! We have no king; everyone for himself. Individualism runs rampant, and every interpretation of God’s Word is up for majority vote. The churches shrink year by year, and the conviction of our fathers in the Faith seems to be a thing of the past. The Body of Christ seems to be splintered by heresy and schism, and the question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” appears to be unanswered. There is much to lament in the Church. You have your complaints and I have mine. Many are serious critiques of the state of Christianity, some are based on personal preference, but nearly all of the problems in the Church show us how short of the Scriptural ideal the Church falls. To some this situation is an excuse to abandon the Church of Christ altogether. To others it is an excuse to dig in and hold out for brighter days or death, whichever comes first.

But where is Christ? Does God dwell in our midst, or have we pushed Him to the margins for the sake of our agendas and causes? How shall we answer the Lord of the Church for our stewardship? The time is right for self-examination. The difficulty is that even if we get it “right,” whatever that might mean, we can do nothing to guarantee the success of our work. The Church, which will be fulfilled by the New Jerusalem, is not called faithful and true and righteous because of the people who dwell there, because of their faithfulness and righteousness. “Thus says [Yahweh]: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of [Yahweh of armies], the holy mountain” (Zechariah 8:3, ESV). O holy people! Yahweh dwells in your midst! Jesus Christ is God dwelling in your flesh, and He makes you holy by His own blood. What a marvelous remnant you are, the people of God in a foreign land. From the oldest to the youngest, from the east to the west, all people who are called by the Name of our God find their place in His House. In broad cathedrals and narrow country chapels, there is the sound of conversation and laughter. These are my people and I am their God in faithfulness and righteousness, says Yahweh.

But there is ambiguity because, as we see it, you and I don’t quite match the picture painted for us by Yahweh through the mouth of Zechariah. The old and the young do not always sit together in peace in the streets of the holy city. Faithfulness and righteousness are in short supply. Who will call the Church, without the tongue at least slightly in cheek, “the faithful city”? We can feel the distance between what is and what should be, and sometimes it is painful. But though we know how much we lack, what Yahweh says about His people, what He says about you and me, is still true. We are indeed the holy people of God, and He does indeed dwell in our midst, as He continues to gather us around one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; as we eat one Meal, the Body and Blood of the one Savior. We do not walk by sight, because our eyes deny what we believe. We walk by faith, hoping beyond our limited vision in the full and promised beauty of the Bride of Christ. Together, we wait for that coming Day, when what we believe and what we see will be united in the presence of our righteous and faithful God. Though it is still in the future for us, Yahweh says, “I have returned to Zion” (Zechariah 8:3, ESV). When Yahweh promises something, it is as good as done. “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is [Yahweh]; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation'” (Isaiah 25:9, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/19/08

Second Sunday in Lent

“Lifted Up”

John 3:1-17

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is necessary. It is necessary that the Son of Man be lifted up on the cross (John 3:14). And this so that “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15, ESV). But it is also necessary that you look to Him for salvation. It is necessary that you be born again from above if you will see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, ESV). It is necessary that you be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit if you will enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, ESV). It is necessary.

But, “O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength” (Collect for Lent II). O Lord, we are no children; we know too much. We have seen too much. Our bodies are cold with the chill of death; our eyes are dim from looking into the mirrors of this old world. O God, You see. The nations of the earth are lost in their lust for bloodshed. The chasing after the wind in wealth, power, and easy comfort is unchecked by reflection or care for the needs of others. O God, You see: even the damage done by human ambition cannot mute our selfish pride. Nothing will be impossible for us, we say. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4, ESV). O God, You see.

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Lenten Midweek I

“Yahweh Remembers: He Removes Iniquity”

Zechariah 3:1-10

    The Word of God for us to consider tonight comes from the prophet Zechariah: [Zechariah 3:1-10].

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

On Ash Wednesday, we heard from our God that He does not remember our sins against us.  He did not leave His people in exile in a foreign land, nor does He leave us in the self-imposed exile of our sin.  Tonight we hear about the high priest Joshua.  Other than the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Joshua was one of the two main characters in Jerusalem after the exiles returned from Babylon.  The other was the governor Zerubbabel, to whom Yahweh says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says [Yahweh of armies]” (Zechariah 4:6, ESV).

Zechariah, as we found out last week, means “Yahweh remembers.”  Tonight, as we hear the words of the prophet Zechariah, we look in on the fourth of Zechariah’s eight visions: Joshua the high priest is standing before the Angel of Yahweh, and the Accuser is there to accuse Joshua before Yahweh.  This is the same Accuser who, we heard last Sunday, tried to tempt the Lord in the wilderness of Judea.  We are not told what this Satan has against Joshua, but it is clear that Jerusalem is not worthy of the God of creation, nor is Joshua worthy of the high priesthood.  How can God dwell in this broken-down city?  Who is Joshua to stand in the most holy place before Yahweh Himself?  The work on the temple would not be completed for another four years, and it was nothing like the temple Solomon had built.  As the book of Ezra records: “[M]any of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” (Ezra 3:12, ESV).  And this Joshua, the new high priest for the returned exiles, is clothed in filthy rags.  How can he compare with the richly robed Aaron (Exodus 28) or the zealous Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-13)?  The Accuser has more than enough ammunition to use against Jerusalem and her high priest.  But Yahweh has chosen.  “[Yahweh] rebuke you, O Satan!  [Yahweh] who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!  Is not this a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2, ESV)?  Satan, you may not bring accusations against the chosen ones of Yahweh, whom He has kept for Himself out of the fire of His judgment.

But what are you, what am I, compared with the holy Joshua?  The Accuser would have a field day with us.  “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6, ESV).  My righteous deeds!  Your good works!  Shredded, covered in the filth of false motives, the best things you have ever done won’t cover you when you stand before Yahweh.  We know the Law of God, and surely we won’t be judged like the murderer and the rapist!  Think again: “Do you suppose, O man-you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself-that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4, ESV)?  O people of God, clothed in rags, repent!  You and I stand in the presence of Yahweh, and we are rightly accused.  Like Joshua, our only response can be the silence of shame.But Yahweh has rebuked the Accuser with saving action.  Hear the Messenger of Yahweh, the Word of God Himself, begin to speak: “Remove the filthy garments from him” (Zechariah 3:4, ESV).  Remove her guilt and shame.  Remove the stain of his sins.  To you He says, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (ibid.).  “I will bring my servant the Branch,” the new Shoot, the Dawn of Redemption (Zechariah 3:8).  Yahweh has indeed brought Him; the Branch of Jesse, Son of David, has come.  Like Joshua, there is a stone for you, and it bears the graven inscription of the holy Son of God.  “I will engrave its inscription, declares [Yahweh of armies], and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:9, ESV, emphasis added).  And so He has.  A single day, a good Friday, and all iniquity is buried in a hole in the ground, never to rise again (cf. Zechariah 3:9 in the Septuagint[i]).  On that Day, you and your contaminated clothing were in the mind of Jesus; He remembered you, and it was your name engraved on His hands with iron nails.

Beloved, we have a High Priest without sin, and He goes into the most holy place with our names engraved on His heart (Exodus 28:29).  He brings us before His Father in regular remembrance (Exodus 28:29; Romans 8:35; Hebrews 7:25).  “[W]hen Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV).  And He will not forget you.  Thus says Yahweh through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/13/08

[i] The Septuagint (LXX) is a Greek translation of the Old Testament.  In that verse, Yahweh says, “I will dig a hole.”


First Sunday in Lent

“The Faithful Son”

Matthew 4:1-11

 

            In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).  What is going on here?  The Spirit of God leads the Son of God out to be tempted?  Does God the Father intend temptation for His Beloved Son?  Yes.  And because Jesus is His only-begotten and Beloved Son the Father knows that here, too, He will be well pleased with the Son’s willing submission and perfect obedience.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are here working together in their tri-unity as the one God assaults the kingdom of the devil, the slanderer of God and His holy ones.

In the waterless places above the Jordan River, the devil wanders and roams, seeking whom he may devour.  Three times the Tempter opens his jaws, and three times he is beaten back with the sword of the Spirit.  “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones might become bread” (Matthew 4:3).  Jesus is hungry from His forty day fast.  He is weak physically, but the devil knows that Jesus has power that does not come from the digestive process of the body.  The question is not whether Jesus has power to do what the devil tempts Him to do, but how will He use the power that He has?  Will He give up on the Father’s care of Him?  Will He do what He, as God, can do and make bread out of stones?  Or will He remain the obedient, perfectly trusting Son of God?  Yes, Jesus stands firm.  He beats back the Tempter because He lives by the Word of God.  But here, it is not just any Word of God.  Immediately prior to these three temptations is a specific Word of God addressed to the Son: “This is My Son the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Jesus knows that the Father has not abandoned Him.  The Father always keeps His promises, and the Word that came through His mouth is just such a promise: “You are My Beloved Son.”  And Jesus trusts this promise without any doubt.  Jesus is the perfect Son that neither Adam nor Israel could be.  Adam and Eve did not trust God to provide for their every need; they wanted more.  Though God had brought His chosen son Israel through the baptism of the Red Sea, Israel complained when he found himself in the desert of Sinai-the consequence of which was to wander for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.  But Jesus is the New Adam, who trusts perfectly in the place of the Old Adam.  Jesus is the True Israel, Israel “reduced to one,” who follows up His baptism in the Jordan with perfect, 40-day obedience and without complaint.
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Ash Wednesday

“Yahweh Remembers: His Wrath”

Zechariah 1:1-6

 

            The Word of God for us to consider this Ash Wednesday comes from the prophet Zechariah: [Zechariah 1:1-6].

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Yahweh remembers.”  That is what the name Zechariah means.  Yahweh, the God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, remembers.  Tonight we will begin to see what that means, as we let Zechariah lead us through this Lenten season.  The prophet Zechariah lived and worked toward the end of the sixth century, about 515 years before Christ.  He was probably a priest (Ezra 6:14; Nehemiah 8:4?) who had been in exile with his people after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  After seventy years, the people were allowed to come back to Jerusalem by the Persian king Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:21-23).  Zechariah prophesied at the same time as Haggai, whose book comes right before Zechariah’s.  While Haggai told the people to rebuild the ruined temple, Zechariah spoke to them of their ruined hearts.  Surely, Yahweh would not be happy with a rebuilt temple if the hearts of His worshipers remained as they were.  Thus says Yahweh through the mouth of the prophet Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not [only] sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than [mere] burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).[i]

But steadfast love and the knowledge of God are exactly the things that the people of Jerusalem did not have.  “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says [Yahweh] of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’  But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares [Yahweh]” (Zechariah 1:4, ESV).  The people of Jerusalem, the parents and grandparents of the returned exiles, did not listen to the prophets such as Jeremiah (e.g., Jeremiah 44).  They did the same evil as their parents and grandparents before them.  They came to the temple, pretending to be pure, but they were tracking the filth of their idolatry into Yahweh’s House.  They could not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.  They could not partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  They provoked Yahweh to jealousy, thinking themselves stronger than He (1 Corinthians 10:21-22).  Because of this, they found themselves weeping by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137:1).

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