The Lutheran Hour: December 1, 2013

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Sermon Text for December 1, 2013

"Where There's a Way, There's a Will" #81-13
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 1, 2013
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(How Can God Forgive Me?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Revelation 22:1-5

Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and in the certainty of the coming kingdom of God. Amen.

You've heard it said, "Where there is a will, there is a way!" But, I'm here to tell you today that with God and His work in the world, where there is a way, there is a will. You see, today, we're not talking about our ways or our wills, even about our cultures or our kingdoms; today we're talking about God's will in action for you, for all; that God has a kingdom, here, now, for you; that God's blessing of life and salvation are available here and now for all who put their trust in Him.

The Bible proclaims that God is at work in this world. In Him there is a way for life because there is a will for your salvation. Jesus Christ Himself says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and He invites us to trust in Him and to pray, "Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name! Thy kingdom come, thy will be done!"

So the question for today is not "How can I make God's kingdom come into this world;" no, God's kingdom has come, on His terms, His way, through a suffering servant Savior and a message that is the power of God for eternal life.

The big question for today is "How can you and I be a part of the eternal kingdom of God that has come into this world for real, for all?" And, how can we be active participants in His kingdom so that others might receive it for themselves as well? 

The Kingdom of God has come; the victory of God has been won. This is the time of repentance and faith, this is the time to receive the gracious invitation of God's eternal kingdom; this is the time between the end of the fighting and the ultimate declaration of victory day.

Sometimes in the reality of victory, there are those who refuse to believe that the war is over. Why? Because there are still some battles going on because people haven't heard.
For instance, in WWII, even after President Truman bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing the immediate surrender from the Emperor of Japan, there were still battles raging in the South Pacific, battles that the Japanese army was willing to fight to the death. The proclamation of "Nike, Nike, American victory," hadn't fully set in. 

You might say the kingdom of the west had come, the battle was done, the resistance was futile. The only question left was how would Japan receive it. Would they receive it as part of a future victory or stubbornly part of certain, ultimate defeat.

Historically, it is worthy to note that the Japanese culture received this foreign coming kingdom, making the best of it for their own people. 

They not only surrendered, but they regrouped, even receiving America's help with a little faith in what was yet to come. They allowed American technology to be used in rebuilding their country, and then, some say, in the automobile and electronics industries, they may have even beat the States at their own game. 

That's just one example in history of how people received a kingdom that was coming for sure, and received it for their benefit!

But today I'm not speaking about something so temporal as an earthly victory or an earthly kingdom. Such kingdoms, even when they are at their best, are flawed. 

Today Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of God; inviting you to pray for its coming into your life; to pray for its ultimate appearance when Jesus Christ comes again. 

He says, "Pray, Thy Kingdom come, Father, Thy will be done, Father, on earth as it is in heaven."

His Kingdom, His rule, the fact that all things are under His feet, in His hands; this Kingdom you can't stop it, but you can receive it. You can't thwart it, but you can offer it to others in His Name. 

In fact, it's the most important thing that you can belong to in your life. Don't believe that yet? Well, let the Apostle John give you a glimpse of what this Kingdom looks like eternally. He says, "The angel showed me a river that was crystal clear and its waters gave life. The river came from the throne where God and the Lamb were seated. Then it flowed down the middle of the city's main street. Never again will night appear and no one who lives there will ever need a lamp or the sun, the Lord God will be their light and they will rule forever."

What a picture; what a Kingdom. But things sure don't look like that just yet, do they? And, truth be told, St. John is painting a picture of what is coming, that's for sure. But the fact of the matter is this: the Bible proclaims that God's Kingdom is here, right now for you and me by faith in Jesus Christ. There is a way home to God, right now. There is a way for forgiveness with God, right now! There is a Kingdom in this world that can't be shaken with a Word that endures forever, with promises that will all be fulfilled, right now!

Where there is a way, a gracious way by faith in Jesus, there is God's will for your life, God's Kingdom as your home, now and forever.

So, make no mistake. Whether it looks like it at the moment or not, this kingdom is already established! And, it had nothing to do with your will or mine!

In fact, our will often gets in God's way, doesn't it? This is because, apart from the work of God's Spirit, our will is a sinful one, a broken one; one that repeatedly fails even when it is trying to do what is right and good. For we, as sinful people, don't have the capacity to really do things as God intends, the way my neighbor really needs it done. And, truth be told, all too often we actually love what is sinful, harmful, and destructive in our lives. Our will when it comes to the things of God, is often eager to rebel first, to accept no blame, to arrogantly puff out our chest and sing boldly, "I did it my way." Have you ever noticed that about yourself? I've noticed it in my life, that's for sure. But, that's why the grace of God in Jesus is so special, so wonderful.
When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done," we are praying as those who cling to the way and the will of God for our lives, in our lives. 

We're praying Lord, we know that Your will, in fact, will be done; we can see the way that you have already set it into motion; from that first promise to Adam and Eve, to the promise for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for all; to the Kingdom of David finally realized in the Babe of Bethlehem, the Christ of the cross, the resurrected King of all Kings.

Lord, we have heard of it. We have seen it. Please, Lord, let Your will be done, Your Kingdom come into our lives today.

So, when the Bible talks about will, there's our sinful, fallen will and there's God's will. 

There's bad will rebelling and there's God's good will hunting in the cross of Christ for those who don't deserve it at all. When Christ said, "It is finished," the gracious, eternal Kingdom of God was established forever in this world. On the cross of Calvary; Satan, the world, and our flesh, they were defeated by the gracious will of our God in action. And now, right now, Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, who has risen from the dead, He has begun His reign. He is seated at the right hand of God and is coming again to judge the living and the dead; and His Kingdom will have no end! What is true by faith 100% now is also going to come crystal clear one day soon before our very eyes! Get ready, He's coming.

In Max Lucado's book the "Applause of Heaven," speaking about the invitation to this Kingdom, he says, "Even though by the book I'm guilty, by God's love I get another chance. Even though by the law I'm indicted, by mercy I'm given a fresh start,

'For it is by grace you have been saved ... not by works, so that no one can boast.' 

No other world religion or man-made philosophy offers such a message. They all have some form of do this or don't do that and only if you do all things well, will you be blessed. The demands never end, and those who take life seriously, either are crushed by the expectations or arrogant in the false notion that we have somehow risen to the tasks.

God doesn't play those games. His will, His way, His Kingdom, they're radically different that any we can imagine. It is a Kingdom for the broken, the crushed-in spirit, the poor, the powerless. It's a Kingdom where joining is not within one's grasp, but given fully nonetheless as a gift. It's a Kingdom that comes with adoption papers and full rights as sons and daughters because there is a way established by the will of God for you and for all! Arrogance and fear, those things are replaced with thanksgiving and joy!

Martin Luther says, "God's Kingdom comes without our prayers." In this prayer we pray, "Lord, let it come among us!"

That's why the Lord's Prayer is a prayer of faith. We pray not to some generic god who we hope will bless us, and guard us, and maybe even love us. No, we pray to the Father whose love we trust, in the Name of the Son who made a way of salvation possible for us, in the power of the Holy Spirit who empowers us even when our words and will give out.

The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for real life, for when the rubber hits the road for us all. No matter the circumstance, no matter the trouble we face, no matter the hurt we've endured, there is a way through, because there is God's eternal will of grace at work in this world for you.

Nike, Nike, the victory is won, receive the Kingdom of God.

Lord, teach us to pray. And He says, "Pray this way, Thy kingdom come, Father, Thy will be done, Father, on Earth as it is in heaven."

So, will you accept Christ's teaching and learn with me to pray this way? Will this prayer continue to be an important part of each of your days and nights? These are simple, yet powerful words because one can see God's will and God's way in them for us all and for our salvation.
In fact, please take note of how this invitation to pray is offered, how this Kingdom is made available to you and me. 

It is not the edict of a monarch, but the invitation of a Friend. It's not the fiat of a dictator, but the gentle call of One who truly cares for you. 

In fact, this eternal invitation to this unparalleled Kingdom is truly unique in all the world. This invitation comes through a servant-King with a word of forgiveness, a status of true freedom (not bondage) with an answer of justice and a real offer of mercy, for all, forever.

Nike, Nike, the victory is won. So, my friend, receive this kingdom of grace through faith, know that your Father loves you and forgives you in the work of Jesus Christ as your Savior. Won't you talk to the One who invites you to pray to Him in the power of His kingdom in His gracious will for your life?

But, Jesus is still not done with us yet. There is even more good news in this petition.
Praying for His will, for His Kingdom, is praying in the power of His Kingdom alive in your life today!

Praying, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done" moves us from talk of God's Kingdom to action, to how we get to live in His Kingdom that lasts forever.

God's will for you in Christ is not only that you belong to His Kingdom, but to live in that kingdom. There is a way, by the power of His Spirit, through His Word and sacraments, for His will to transform your very life. 

Praying this petition by faith, your life gets to change.

Author Phillip Yancy says, "The people of God are not merely here to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and the new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass."

And even as we wait for that, we get to let God do with us what is best and blessed, for us and for others.

Maybe you've sung the popular hymn, "Just As I Am Without One Plea." But, do you know the story of how and why that was written?

Charlotte Elliott was a sickly English woman who had developed a long history of refusing to do the things she was asked to do because of her illness. Her brother, who was a pastor, had been particularly persistent in trying to get her out of herself, to try to get her involved in doing something positive. But Charlotte had always refused. "I'm not feeling up to it," she would say. "I'm an invalid, you know. I just don't think I can."

In 1834, her brother asked one more time. They were trying to raise funds for a school for young women. Charlotte Elliott was asked to help or at least to just go to the event and do something, anything. But again she refused; again she spoke of being too tired, too sick. And so the family all went off and left her home alone.

That night, Charlotte Elliott began to think about how sickness was literally taking over her life. She realized that her brokenness had become the most important thing, maybe the only thing, in her life. And that night Charlotte Elliott heard the call of God. Out of her restlessness, out of her self-hatred, she wrote, "Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee, 0 Lamb of God, I come. Just as I am, and waiting not... just as I am, with many a conflict, many a doubt. Yes, just as I am, poor, wretched, blind... just as I am, I come." Yes, I'm a mess, Lord, but I am coming. No more excuses. Without one plea.

Charlotte Elliott saw through her sickness the very way and the will of God for her eternal life and her work has blessed millions with her personal, prayerful, melodic adaptation of "Father, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done!"

With faith in Jesus Christ, life in God's kingdom becomes not my kingdom, but yours surround me; not my will, but yours direct me; not my life, but yours be my provision and strength. 

Jesus teaches us to live as we pray; to live for others as He lives for us; to love others as He loves us; to forgive others as He forgives us; to show others the way home for them by the gracious will of God for them; to pray a prayer of grace with them because there is a kingdom for them that never ends.

Jesus Christ challenges our will, our personal kingdoms. He challenges us to give up the false notion that we are in control of our own destiny and then He invites us to receive His Kingdom, follow His will, and, ultimately, let His future become our own. 
That's why Jesus says, "When you pray, say, 'Father, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!'" Lord, we pray may it be done to us as you have said!


LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 1, 2013
Topic: How Can God Forgive Me?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener says he feels guilty for his sins and wants to know how can God really forgive him. 

SELTZ: Wow. Guilt, especially during the holidays, even in our modern world, it's a real issue, a real problem. And forgiveness is not always easy to grasp or believe, Mark. 

ANNOUNCER: Even in the "Lord's Prayer," forgiveness is a main theme, isn't it?

SELTZ: It sure is, and we're going to talk about that in 2 weeks right here on the Lutheran Hour. So, tune in. But our listener's problem is everyone's problem...the need for forgiveness is very real in life. When people have a clear sense of their own sin and guilt, the gravity of their wrongs, it's easy to wonder how anybody could ever forgive them, let alone God.

ANNOUNCER: That's a heavy weight, when you realize you really do deserve God's punishment, not His forgiveness, especially during this season.

SELTZ: Right. But, that's why Christmas and the Christmas and Easter message of forgiveness is so remarkable. God is doing the forgiving. In fact, that's why there is joy in the world! 

ANNOUNCER: You have to admit, though, that kind of talk is so foreign today in our culture. We're often so quick to criticize and to condemn.

SELTZ: Right. And that's why the church needs to keep proclaiming real repentance and mercy as God's solution for our guilt-ridden lives. Our listener asked how God could forgive. The simple answer is because He loves us so much.

ANNOUNCER: We think here of that timeless verse, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 ESV). 

SELTZ: And that verse directs us to exactly how the forgiveness of our sins was accomplished. You see, God is holy. Sin and impurity cannot stand in His presence. Sin is rebellion against God and His holiness and the consequence of all of that sin is death. 

ANNOUNCER: And that's why animals were sacrificed back in Old Testament times. 

SELTZ: Yes, God accepted substitutes in our place--animals that received the death we deserved. The Bible says, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." That's Hebrews 9:22. But those animals could never pay the ultimate price. Their power to forgive was their connection to the Lamb of God who was to come. And so, as you quoted from John 3:16, in His love, God incredibly sent His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the whole world.

ANNOUNCER: Jesus was then, also the perfect substitute because as both God and Man, He could literally pay the price for sins.

SELTZ: Well said. The Bible does proclaim that through the death of the Babe of Bethlehem on the cross, our sins were completely paid for. Jesus fulfilled God's just demands in our place. When God the Father looks at those who trust in Christ, He sees completely forgiven people. 

ANNOUNCER: Forgive means "to let go," "to release."

SELTZ: Right, and that's exactly what God does just that as the Bible says: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us" (Psalms 103:12 ESV). 

ANNOUNCER: Now, for our listener, how does he receive this forgiveness?

SELTZ: The amazing thing about God's forgiveness is that it is a gift. Ephesians 2 tells us that. And then the Bible goes on to tell us that God delivers this gift through His gracious means. Romans chapter six tells us: "all of us who were baptized into Christ were buried into his death....We were buried therefore by baptism into His death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4 ESV).

ANNOUNCER: So, then, baptism is one way in which God delivers to us what Christ earned for us on the cross. 

SELTZ: Right. God saves us by grace, and He even graciously delivers His grace to us, through words we can understand, water we can feel, bread and wine we can taste. Titus chapter three declares: "He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:4-6 NIV).

ANNOUNCER: Our listener, then, can trust in the kindness of God shown to us in Christ.

SELTZ: And that's the point. Through God's gifts of Word and Sacraments, the work of Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, the gift of His earned forgiveness, is offered to us for our very own. So, our listener can take heart that, just as the Bible says, "In [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Ephesians 1:7 NIV). That's very good news especially at times when we struggle with why God would forgive us.

ANNOUNCER: And it comes as a real Advent and Christmas blessing for us and for our listeners. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

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Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Savior of the Nations, Come" performed by Erin Bode. From Be Still My Soul by Erin Bode (© 2013 Erin Bode)

"The Advent of Our King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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