Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (3/15/15)

Traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent has been called “Rejoice Sunday.” In the middle of the season of Lent we take this Sunday to remember that even as we sorrow over our sin, we can rejoice because Jesus came!

Text: John 3:14-21

Theme: Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up

When is the last time you thanked God for being a Christian in America?

The headlines we’ve see over the last few months about what’s happening in Iraq and Syria give us a good opportunity to thank God that none of us have to worry about literally losing our heads for showing up here today. We American Christians have a lot to be thankful for in our lack of physical persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Christianity began. Jesus promised that if they persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. According to church tradition, all of Jesus’ original disciples but one were killed for their faith. But in the history of the persecution of the Christian Church, there is one ten year period that earned the inauspicious title, “The Great Persecution”.

It began on February 23, 303 AD. Faced with mounting pressure from without and within to return Rome to its traditional values and religion the Roman emperor Diocletian set the bull’s-eye on the Christians.

Churches were burned to the ground. All Christian services were banned. All across the Roman Empire those who professed to be Christians were told to show up and hand over their Bible’s to the Romans so that every Bible in Rome could be burned. Christians in high places lost their jobs. Christians with homes found themselves homeless. The clergy were thrown into jail.

One year later, in 304, the persecution escalated. Rome decided that every Christian had to make a public sacrifice to the Roman gods – and if you didn’t you would be killed.

And so Christians died. Countless Christians refused to turn their backs on Jesus and died because of it. Whole communities of Christians were wiped from the face of the earth in what has become known as “the era of the martyrs.”

And then in February of 313 a Roman named Constantine took control of Rome. Supposedly, he had a dream in which his destiny was tied to Christianity, so he signed into law the Edict of Milan which formally ended “The Great Persecution.” And just ten years later, Constantine would make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

And then an interesting thing happened. Closet Christians began to come out of the woodworks. Christians who had hidden their faith for a decade, suddenly started professing Christ again. Christians who had caved to the pressure and pretended to worship Roman gods, started worshiping the true God again. And from this sprang one of the first post-persecution problems in the church.

You see, those who had stuck with Christ (displaying strong faith) – those who had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters because they refused to turn their backs on Christ – they didn’t look too kindly on those weak Christians who had turned their backs on Christ to save their own skin. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

So some teaching, some healing had to happen.

Those Christians who had faced persecution and demonstrated incredibly strong faith needed to be reminded of an incredibly important truth. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. It is the object of our faith that saves us – a lesson Jesus teaches very powerfully and clearly in John chapter 3. Continue reading

Article 3 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 3: The Son of God

“Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God (John 1:14), assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So there are two natures – the divine and the human – inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of mankind (John 1:29).

“He also descended into hell, and truly rose again on the third day. Afterward, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There he forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. He sanctifies those who believe in him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin.

“The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed.”

 

Ok, this is a biggie. Article 3 and Article 4 (next week’s) are what distinguish a church from a cult (meaning, if a church does not teach this Article as truth, they are not a Christian church, because they don’t believe what Christ said about himself). If understood correctly, and believed, the doors of heaven are opened. If not understood, nor believed, hell is the only possible outcome. Either Jesus was God and Man, and he died for your sins, or you are still in your sins, and you are going to hell.

Maybe though, “understand” isn’t the best word to use with this Article. We can’t understand the God-Man Jesus in the same way I understand osmosis or how a combustion engine works. Continue reading

Advent Home Devotion Week 1:3

Advent Week 1

PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD
First Week in Advent (December 1-7)
Prepare, for the Lord Will Come Again Unexpectedly
Devotion #3: Matthew 24:36-44

READ THE TEXT
36″No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42″Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

READ THE DEVOTION
In this lesson, Jesus compares Judgment Day to the great flood at the time of Noah. How are those two days similar?
Before the flood, no one really gave much thought to the possibility that the world could come to an end. And so people just went about their days. When the rain started to fall, people probably didn’t think much of it. When it was chest high, then they realized they might be in trouble. But it was too late to escape the flood.
Likewise, there are many people today who are unaware that the world could come to an end at any moment. When Judgment Day comes and Jesus and the angels descend, then people will realize they might be in trouble. But it will be too late for them to escape the judgment.
The second way the great flood and Judgment Day are alike is that to be safe on those days you needed to be prepared.
Noah and his family prepared the way God told them to prepare. They built an ark, a massive boat bigger than a football field. When Noah began building the ark, he didn’t know exactly when the flood would begin. But he knew it would come eventually, because God promised the flood would come, and God never lies. So Noah prepared for the flood by doing exactly what God told him to do. He built an ark.
Likewise, we don’t know exactly when Judgment Day will come. However, we know God doesn’t lie, and so we believe Judgment Day will come. Therefore, we need to be prepared. Since Judgment Day could come at anytime time, we want to always be prepared.
We prepare ourselves for Judgment Day by going into something much sturdier than a wooden ark. We are prepared for Judgment Day when we are placed in a super strong boat called the Church. When we go to church we hear God’s Word, which strengthens our faith. We remember our baptism, when God washed our sins away. If we have been confirmed, we receive the Lord’s Supper, which gives us God’s forgiveness. We do this again and again, not only because we enjoy to hear about Jesus, but because these things make us prepared for Judgment Day.
Even doing this devotion, we have the Church—our little family of believers — listening to the Word of God. And so if Judgment Day comes tonight, we are all prepared.

TALK ABOUT THE LESSON
The following are questions you can ask your children to try and drive home the point of this lesson. They are geared towards different ages. You can use as many or as few as needed.

  • For the very young: Ask, “We know when Christmas comes. December twenty-fifth. It is on the calendar. Can you find Judgment Day on the calendar?

Answer: Obviously not. With this question you are trying to drive home the point that only God knows when Judgment Day is. Even the angels don’t know! And so Christmas and Judgment Day are very different. With Christmas, we know when to put up the tree and turn on the Christmas music. But with Judgment Day, we just need to be ready all the time. You could add, “That’s why we read God’s Word at night like this. It’s how God makes sure we are ready for that day.”

  • For slightly older children: Ask, “If Judgment Day comes tonight, would you be scared or excited? And why would you feel that way?”

Answer: Children (and adults!) may feel both nervous and excited. That is not surprising. There is much “unknown” about Judgment Day, and the unknown tends to make us nervous. But assure the children that there is nothing to fear, because God has placed us into the ark of the Church, which is God’s family. Tell your child if they ever are afraid of Judgment Day, they should go to a sink, turn on the water, and then touch it. Tell them that water should remind them of their baptism, which is where God adopted us into his family. Tell them that just if your house was in danger (by flood or fire), you as a loving parent would rescue them, so also when Judgment Day comes, our God is going to rescue us. Our baptism reminds us of that.

  • For older children/teens: Ask, “Imagine today is your last day on earth. Imagine you knew that for certain. What types of things would be important to you? What types of things would not be important to you?”

Answer: This question is intended to force your child to evaluate priorities. Is whether or not he starts for the varsity team that important if today is the last day the world turns? If this was his last day, is that really what would matter to him… that he got to start at left guard? Probably not. But what about telling his good friend, the one who hasn’t gone to church in his entire life, about Jesus? That would become a very important thing to do. The point of this lesson is that the unbelieving world lives as though the world will never end. Believers understand it will, and that makes our priorities so much different than the world’s.

END WITH PRAYER
Dearest Jesus, we have studied your Word, in which you tell us that all our sins are forgiven. Your Holy Spirit has enabled us to believe in this. Therefore, we are ready. If you come tonight… if Judgment Day is tonight… we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus! Take us home. But if you do not come tonight, then help us to use tomorrow to share your Word and your love. In your name we pray. Amen.