God Our Righteousness.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)
Jeremiah’s prophecy offers an appropriate message to begin the Advent Season for his words are fulfilled in the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God who came to earth born of a woman, as a human being, from the royal lineage of King David. In Him the Lord promised that He would restore and vindicate His chosen people. Many of the Jews of Jeremiah’s day may have thought of this Messiah as a warrior King who would destroy their enemies the Babylonians and all the nations who had assailed them in the past. The Jews of Jesus’ day thought the same in reference to Herod as well as his Roman overlords. The justice demanded these days is for crippling punishment by means of crushing retribution. It is vengeance rather than mercy.

Jesus came to execute justice not people by being executed on a cross for the sins of all mankind. His way of executing justice was to exact it from Himself. As our eternal King and High Priest Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. He made peace with God by taking judgment on Himself. Now He offers that peace to all men through grace and mercy, not retribution and judgment. Jesus makes people righteous by the faith which He imparts to those who come to Him in humble repentance. No one deserves His mercy. We all deserve punishment, but through Christ Jesus we are now righteous. Truly this good news gives us a reason to rejoice for we are forgiven. Yet it is good news we must proclaim in Jesus’ Name to all mankind for we are His instruments of mercy and forgiveness in this violent and sin-cursed world. Otherwise people will fall under God’s just punishment and suffer eternally.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

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You Brood of Vipers.

“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? . . . Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:1-14) 

Luke introduced Jesus’ ministry with a description of His forerunner or prophet, John the Baptist. John’s Advent greeting to us is “You brood of vipers!” a reminder to us that all men, including us, are sinners, children of the devil. We all are in need of a Savior. John’s ministry was to prepare the Jews to receive that Savior in faith and repentance. His minsitry indicated that God was doing a new thing, creating a new covenant and doing away with the old system of religion and Law. John was a minister of that new covenant. The chief elements were faith in God, repentance, and baptism. No longer would God accept animal sacrifices and grain offerings. He desired a changed life, a new heart, and repentance, an admission that one is sinful and wicked. The public proclamation of such an admission was announced by baptism, which indicated that one has died to self and the old ways, and begun a new life. Such repentance and faith was to be marked by the fruit of righteousness which included compassion and a benevolent concern for the poor and oppressed.

As we approach the feast of Christmas, the thoughts of many people if not most will be on things that distract us from the gospel message, things such as materialism, gifts, parties, food and sweets, Santa Claus, toys, and children. The words of Luke’s gospel bring our focus back to what is of eternal importance. These words point us directly to salvation in Christ Jesus. He blessed us at His first Advent by dying for our sins. He blesses now with grace and mercy all who repent and accept the faith He gives. But to those who reject this faith, judgment is promised. That judgment will condemn all those who reject the messenger and the message. But freedom from the consequences of sin, eternal life in the presence of God Almighty is granted to all those who accept God’s judgment of Christ on the cross as their own.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Refiner’s Fire.

“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:3-5)

The Jews of Malachi’s day resemble, to some degree, our modern society. The Jews back then were quite cynical as they showed disrespect to the Lord by questioning His words, answering Him back, and disobedience. And so He gave them a prophecy of the future, of the coming of His messenger and of the Messiah. Jesus identified the messenger as John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; cf. Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). He would prepare the hearts of God’s children for the Messiah. This was good news for the Lord was going to work through the Messiah to refine the hearts of both priests and people and cleanse them of all their wickedness. Yet this would be a painful process that would crush the self and the ego. He would rid His people of all their idols so that He could rule over their hearts and they would walk in obedience.

As we continue our journey through Advent we hear the words of the prophecy as a reminder to us to examine our lives and attitudes. It is a good time to refine our hearts, to see whether we are following Jesus or the world, the self or the devil. We are reminded that the allures of earthy prosperity and cultural icons can make us complacent and forgetful of our Christian walk. We may, like the ancient Jews, turn from God because we think we have it all. We have money and clothes, material possessions and electronic gadgets and we mistake these for God’s blessing. The Lord will use His refiner’s fire to burn this rotten attitude out of our hearts. The Lord will use hardship and persecution to wean us from our false ideas about Him and the Christian life. They are designed to bring us, His people, as well as the lost, to faith in Him.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

True Mercy.

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 20-23) 

Jude wrote to a church audience that was experiencing an influx of false teachers. These teachers were corrupting the faith of believers by promoting sensuality and sexual license as true forms of worshipping Christ. Jude urged his readers to use strong and uncompromising methods to warn those among the brethren who were promoting such dangerous lies. They are not only in danger of eternal punishment themselves but were putting other believers at risk of the same. As for those who are confused or in doubt about those teachings, Jude recommended mercy not condemnation. After all these troubled believers had been legitimately deceived by powerful and respected preachers who claimed to speak for Jesus.
In our own day we are surrounded by a host of false preachers who possess great eloquence and charisma. It is easy for some believers to be swayed by such as these for they claim to speak in the Name of Jesus. Yet most of them do not properly balance law and gospel. Some equate law to following principles that will ensure health and prosperity. But many more false preachers and apostate churches over emphasize grace to the exclusion of sin. This is not mercy: it the tolerance and acceptance of sin. The true mercy that Jude commends is applied to people who are truly humbled by and sorrowful over their sins. It does not ignore the severity or evil nature of any sin. True mercy leads to repentance.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

God is in Control.

“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
Daniel shows us a vision of the exalted Lord one which may at first seem frightening but one which actually comforts us as it occurs in the midst of visions of ghastly and violent beasts. These beasts are frightening and troubling images. They depict spiritual realities, spiritual truth: they show us the forces of Satan active on the earth driving earthly Kingdoms to do evil and earthly religions to promote immorality and idolatry. In addition, these images show the real ugliness of sin.  

In contrast the vision of the Lord is clear and comforting. It is a vision of triumphant glory that reminds us of the power, beauty and splendor of the Lord and His heavenly Kingdom. The forces of evil cannot touch or change Him. Of course, they can and do trouble us while we live on earth. We fall prey to the temptations of the flesh and the devil. We are all victims of unmerciful and violent people, nations and kingdoms. Yet as members of the heavenly Kingdom we rejoice to know that God is in control. He has set limits on all those who oppose His people. And we can rejoice knowing that He has won the victory over sin and death and has given us eternal life. The end is not in doubt. 
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Give Thanks.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should remember to give thanks to God for the Church. The Church is God’s kingdom on earth, the instrument through which He works. This is great news to we who are troubled by the chaos of contemporary life.

Our contemporary culture is marked by violence, division, acrimony, and selfishness. In order to cope with all this, many people are abandoning church thinking they can find acceptance, companionship, love, peace, and meaning in various cultural, political, civic and community organizations. And yet the author of Hebrews urges us to meet together as the church especially in the midst of troubling and violent times. Why?
Church is where we meet with God in Christ Jesus. Church is where we focus our attention on the gospel. We are reminded that Jesus alone has made it possible for believers to enter the very presence of God Almighty. He offered Himself as the one perfect sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s Law and His justice. There is no need for further offerings. Those who accept the offering of Christ find that God no longer remembers their sins. They have been dealt with at cross and He will never bring them up again. Consequently we do not have to fear that God will reject or cast us aside when we come to Him in worship and in prayer. He welcomes us. We can make our prayers and petitions directly to Him knowing that He will grant forgiveness as well as all the strength and encouragement we need to persevere through suffering and tribulations.
One of the ways in which the Lord provides strength and encouragement is through the Church, that is, the body of believers. As the wicked prosper and evil seems to run rampant we need help to persevere amidst doubt, temptation, lies and persecution. Church is where we find this help in the support and encouragement of Christ and His people, our brethren. Church is where we inspire and support one another. Church is where we encourage our fellow believers by just showing up for Church worship and fellowship. Church is where we help one another by manifesting the presence and righteousness of Christ through good works, humility, love, sacrificial living and faithful perseverance. And we need this all the more in the chaos of contemporary life for only Almighty God can help us to persevere and only He can provide true meaning and purpose to life.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Obedience Unto Death.

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)
The High Priestly offering Jesus made is infinitely superior to any of the offerings made under the old covenant. The reason: He offered His own blood not the blood of a substitute. And although the altar on which Jesus made His sacrifice was the cross on Golgotha, His actual offering was made in heaven, at the throne of His Father, not in the temple at Jerusalem. The atonement is the result of the obedience of Christ in taking on our suns and offering up Himself for them, a sacrifice so complete and infinite that it need be offered only once.

This great sacrifice shows us the infinite love of God. Jesus came to bear our sins for us because He knew we were so enslaved by them that we could never hope to break free of them or atone for them, no matter how hard we try. And he did this for us while we were unworthy of His love or grace. He cares about every human being even the most hardened sinner, even the most convicted atheist. He desires all to come to repentance.
Yet even though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to cover all sin, many people in our culture and even in the church have great difficulty with the language of sacrifice and blood offerings. These are often dismissed as obsolete vestiges of primitive religious rituals which have no significance for the modern enlightened man. Sin and the need for atonement are also foreign concepts. Yet the author of Hebrews tells us that God forgives sin solely because of the sacrifice and obedience of Christ. We cannot receive mercy, grace and peace apart from Him and what He has done.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville