The 2 Most Important Words in the Bible

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!easter angel

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my goal today is to convince you that the 2 most important words in the Bible are found in the Gospel reading for today.

In fact, in confirmation class, when I teach on the New Testament, I ask my students to guess what those two most important words might be, and if they can guess it, they will win a prize. Now the rule is that they have to be successive words in the Bible. They can’t just be two words pulled out of different books or chapters, like “grace” and “Jesus.” They usually come up with some pretty good guesses. Inevitably, “Jesus wept” is guessed because of its familiarity. But that’s not it. I had one student guess “By grace,” and that was probably one of the best guesses. It’s hard to top that.

But I believe that there are two words that do top it, and I always do a big reveal in class, but for you, I have already given the answer away. Not only did I say that the words are found in the Gospel reading for today, but they are in fact the title of my sermon- “And Peter.” And Peter? Yes, and Peter from Mark 16:7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”

Transition: The big question obviously is: “Why are these the two most important words in the Bible?” Now I’ve got to make my case.

Consider what happened just a few days before Jesus’ resurrection.

Let’s start on Thursday evening after the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. This is from Mark 14. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Fast forward now to verse 43 in Mark 14. And immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. The first part of Jesus’ prediction comes true. Peter and the other disciples fall away.

Fast forward once again to verses 66-72. And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

peter roosterPeter denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. He doesn’t just deny following Jesus. He denies even knowing Jesus. And the rooster crows. Despair and dread fills Peter as he realizes that he has done exactly what Jesus predicted, exactly what he had emphatically promised would not happen.

Despite his best efforts, despite his promises and convictions, despite his well-meaning words, when His Lord needed him the most, he denied that he even knew him. He had let Jesus down and now Jesus was going to die. He had let fear overcome his convictions.

Fast forward to Easter morning. “Jesus is risen. He is not here.” The angel announces to the women. “Now go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee just as he said that night in the Garden.”

I want you to imagine the scene in the Upper Room before the resurrection announcement. The disciples are hiding in fear and in sorrow. I picture Peter sitting by himself in a corner- still despairing and mourning, not just about Jesus’ death but about his denial.

Suddenly the women burst through the door with amazing, unbelievable news! Jesus is risen! And he want his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee.

Now imagine if both the angels and the women had merely said “the disciples” without the additional “and Peter.” How do you think Peter would have reacted to their announcement? It would have been easy for him to conclude that he was not included in the invitation, that he no longer deserved to be called a disciple. Sure, the other disciples had run away from Jesus too, but only Peter had denied Jesus three times. The announcement that Jesus is alive might not be heard as good news to Peter. “Jesus is alive? Oh no! He was right all along. He truly is the Son of God, and I denied him. I rejected him. He won’t want me anymore.”

Instead though, imagine Peter sitting in that corner by themselves listening in as the women tell the story of the empty tomb and the angel. And the angel said, “He is risen. He is not here. Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going to Galilee.”

And Peter? Did Peter hear that right? Did you just say “and Peter?” Jesus wants me? Even though I denied him three times? Even thought I let fear and doubt overcome my faith and conviction? Jesus, the Lord of all, still wants me to be his disciple?

In that moment, the power of God’s forgiveness became very real to Peter. In John’s Gospel, he records that Peter, upon hearing the women, races to the tomb to see it for himself. Could it be true? Jesus is alive? And he still loves his disciples and Peter? Me?

Do you see now why these two words are the most important words in the Bible? Do you see how this is Good News, the greatest news, no matter what your name is?

After all, how many of you can identify with Peter’s fear and denial? I’m going to venture a guess that all of you have acted like Peter many times over, and I’m including myself in that.

We have all denied our Lord Jesus over and over again in our thoughts, words, and actions.

In our Rite of Confirmation, we ask our confirmands some tough questions.

“Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?”

“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, even to death?”

“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

How many of you have stood in this church and promised to continue steadfast in your church attendance, in your godly living, in your confession of faith, rather than fall away from it? Maybe you didn’t quite have the passion of Peter, but you promised, “I do so intend by the grace of God!”

How many times have you also made promises to God privately? You resolve to do better in your Christian life. I am going to read God’s Word regularly. I am going to go to church more often. I am going to quit that habitual sin. I am going to stand up for what I believe and even witness to my friends and neighbors. I can’t even remember all the promises I have made to God, and like Peter, had every intention of following through on.

broken promisesAnd then I failed. Over and over again. I failed to keep my promises and convictions. I failed to follow Jesus and walk in his ways and live according to God’s Word. I failed to read God’s Word and pray according to the schedule I made. I chickened out and didn’t share God’s Word to someone who desperately needed to hear it. I am Peter.

And if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you, too, are Peter. Probably more often than you want to admit. You are, like Peter, a denier of Jesus. You see, every temptation to sin is, at its root, a temptation to disbelieve the Gospel. John Calvin once said, “Christian are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.” We sin when we are dissatisfied with the all-satisfying Christ, when we do not fear, love and trust in him above all things. Every time we sin, we deny Jesus the rightful place in our life.

Peter denied Jesus out of fear of the consequences of following Jesus, that he might be treated just like Jesus was and put to death. He doubted Jesus’ words of promise that he would rise again and that he is Resurrection and the Life for all who believe in him. When he was confronted with his sin and disobedience and unfaithfulness, he broke down and wept bitterly. He had failed. What hope was there for him? What hope is there for us?

Then came the Good News declared by the angels that changed Peter’s life and changes your life too. The Good News that is not just for those had not denied Jesus. It is Good News for them, and Peter, and you.

Despite his denial, his unbelief, his sin and failure, Jesus loved Peter and wanted him as a disciple. He forgave and restored him. Jesus died and rose again for Peter. That Good News was delivered to him personally. And Peter. There was no doubt. The Good News of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection was for him! His very name was spoken.

You have that same confidence. The same Good News delivered to Peter is also delivered to you personally.

Fittingly, it is delivered by Peter in Acts 2. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon. He concludes with this, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

You crucified Jesus. Your sins put him on the cross. Peter knew that his sins had put Jesus on the cross. And like Peter, the crowd, upon realizing their sin, were cut to the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter got to deliver the same Good News that was delivered to him on Easter morning. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” For you! For me? A denier? A promise breaker? A sinner? Yes, for you!

baptism called by nameAnd in Holy Baptism, God spoke your name and washed your sins away. I have called you by name. You are mine. You were buried into death with Jesus and raised to a new life in him and became his disciple. In the Lord’s Supper, you hear the words of Jesus repeated, “This is my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For me? Yes, you, as often as you need it, forgiveness is yours. Take and eat. Take and drink. Be forgiven. Be strengthened by my death and resurrection for you.

Have I convinced you? The two most important words in the Bible are “and Peter” because you can insert your own name in Peter’s place and have the confidence that Jesus died for you and rose from the dead for you. He comes to meet you in His Word, in baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper to declare that he loves you and forgives you and that he can still use you as his disciple no matter what. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! For you. For me. And Peter. Alleluia! Amen.

Apparently there is a Skit Guys sketch on this very topic that I was unaware of until my sister was actually able to guess the two words because she had seen their video. They do a great job of highlighting God’s grace as well. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhoFEuw2GPA

 

 

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Why is Christmas Good News?

The Christmas Eve sermon based on Luke 2:10-11 that I preached to St. John Lutheran Church in Defiance, Ohio

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

good newsLet me start with a question: What is the best thing that has happened to you over the past year?

It doesn’t have to be about faith or spirituality, though it might have felt close to a religious experience for you! It could be a promotion you received at work that finally validated your efforts. Or maybe it was the chance to relax on a tropical beach, reading the latest page-turner form your favorite author. Or maybe your granddaughter introduced herself to the world with health and vigor. I know what it was for me. The best thing that happened to me this past year was my son, Owen, being born.

Now after you have an answer in mind, move on to the more important question. Did you tell anyone about it?

Odds are you did. An old marketing adage says you tell three other people when you have a great experience with a brand. A more recent study put it higher- 7.44 people to be exact. The study summarizes, “people enjoy speaking of positive news and remember good news clearly.” We love sharing good news. In the retelling, we not only re-experience these wonderful moments, but we also spread those good vibrations around, allowing others to step into the same kind of wonder.

In fact, we are all wired to share good news. God designed us in his image, so we have taken on, at least on our better days, some of his characteristics. And God Himself loves to share good news. From the beginning of time, when he proclaimed that all of creation was “very good,” to the days he came to earth in the person of Jesus to launch the kingdom of God, our God has always been a bearer of good news. (Much of this introduction I owe to an article in Outreach magazine, the author and title of which I do not have access to. I do want to give credit where it is due however. I don’t want to go all Mark Driscoll over here.)

Tonight we are celebrating the good news that the angels announced to the shepherds. Tonight millions of people around the world are gathering to celebrate the good news of Christmas. But do you really believe that Christmas is good news? Many people recognize that tonight is a special night when perhaps the greatest news of all time took place. So how many of you are telling someone, anyone about it? If we are actually wired to share good news, why do many of us, no, why do all of us find ourselves hesitant, insecure, or just plain resistant when it comes to talking about the thing we say is the best hope for all of mankind, the greatest expression of love in the universe, and the very climax upon which all of history hinges? What keeps us from sharing the good news that the angels announced to the shepherds- Christ, the Savior is born?

Perhaps tonight, you and I need a reminder on what makes Christmas such good news of great joy. Why is Christmas Good News?

I came up with two answers for this question. The first answer to why Christmas is good news is because of the bad news. Without the bad news, Christmas is not good news.

DefinanceCrescentNewsThere is plenty of bad news in this world. I decided to take a look at the Defiance Crescent, our wonderful local newspaper. I looked at just the front page headlines, scanning them for bad news. I needed to bag all the newspapers up and take them to recycling anyway. While Defiance certainly is a friendly place to live, we are not immune to our share of bad news. (Here I read several headlines from the newspaper)

The bad news is not limited to the front page either. Each and every day, when many of you get the paper, the first thing you do is check the obituary section, hoping that you don’t find your own name, I guess. But seriously, the obituary section brings us the bad news of death- the death of long time friends, the death of influential people in our community, the death of people taken much too soon for our liking.

And if the local newspaper does not remind you that we are living in a bad news world, the national and international news certainly will do the job. Just this past year, we have been hammered by bad news of school shootings, marathon bombings, destructive tsunamis, brutal civil wars, and countless other worldwide catastrophes. The bad news flies in our faces constantly and mercilessly. Many people avoid watching and reading the news as much as they can because it is just so darn depressing. There is too much bad news.

But even if you try to insulate yourself from the bad news happening to other people around the world, my guess is that you have had your share of personal bad news this year. I’m willing to bet that your year was not a constant barrage of sunshine and rainbows and puppies. Many of you have lost a dear loved one, or maybe more than one, to death recently. Perhaps you or a loved one has gotten news that a lump or a spot has been detected, and that it is, in fact, cancer. Maybe you’ve been battling a different disease or injury for a long time. You have been in and out of the hospital. Many of you have faced your share of struggles dealing with other people. Your marriage is on the rocks, or it’s simply over. Your relationship with your children or grandchildren has been a struggle all year long. You just can’t seem to get through to them. Maybe you have lost a job or can’t find one. I could go and on, but you probably just want me to stop. You know the reality of bad news in your own life. For many, it just seems to keep going from bad to worse.

bad-newsBad news is all around us, and the sad part is, we have no one but ourselves to blame. The bad news that takes place in this world is because of our sin, our rebellion, our disobedience against God, the Creator of all things. We infected his world with bad news, starting with our parents, Adam and Eve. They disobeyed God, and the bad news just started rolling in- pain, suffering, struggle, death. And you and I have followed in our parent’s footsteps. You break God’s commandments left and right, preferring to do things your way. You create your own gods to worship. You do not love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. You do not love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. The bad news is that you are a poor, miserable sinner. The bad news is that because of your sin, you are destined for death and for an eternity of pain and suffering.

Boy, we sure could use some good news, couldn’t we? Well, fear not, for like the angels, I do bring you good news of great joy. Christ, the Savior, is born! And we cannot appreciate what good news this truly is until we grasp the totality of the bad news. And it is bad. Christmas is good news because of the bad news. Christmas is good news because God sent His Son into this world of bad news to save us from our sin, from death and from an eternity of bad news.

Jesus is no stranger to bad news. He encountered bad news wherever he went. He experienced bad news in his own life. He suffered like no one else on this earth has suffered. He was betrayed, forsaken, mocked, beaten and crucified. On the cross, all the bad news from the beginning of time to its end was on the shoulders of Jesus. He bore it all on the cross, and he died. Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, died. When the Saturday morning edition of the Jerusalem Times was delivered after Good Friday, you could have flipped to the obituary section and seen this entry: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

That brings us to the second reason why Christmas is such good news. Christmas is only good news because of the cross.

It might seem strange to talk about the cross, an object of death and shame, as good news. It might also seem strange to talk about Good Friday on Christmas Eve. “Come on, Pastor, just stick to Christmas and remind us of the nativity story.” But without Good Friday, Christmas is incomplete. Without Jesus dead on a cross, the baby born in a manger is pointless. If Jesus had not died and rose again, we would not be celebrating today. If someone told you that God became a human being one time, that he was born as a baby but that he really didn’t do anything else, you would think, “Who cares? A lot of good that did us! What exactly did he accomplish?”

Christmas is only good news of great joy because of the cross. In his death, Jesus did accomplish something. He won for you forgiveness and salvation. He brought about peace on earth and goodwill toward men- God and sinner are reconciled.

manger and crossI want to share with you one of my favorite paintings of all time. (See Above) It is a painting entitled “Manger and Cross,” and it captures perfectly how Christmas and Good Friday are tied together. In the foreground you can see a rock cave with the newborn Child Jesus – but if you look closely, the bed in which the Christ Child lays is not a wooden manger, rather it looks more like a coffin. From the manger a path starts through a blooming garden. Along the way the trees become more and more bare, the colors more gloomy. At the rear edge of the image a hill with three crosses can be perceived. The way is winding upwards; it is steep. Nothing is growing there anymore. There is no green, only grey. It is not a place of life, but of death. We know the name of the hill: … Golgotha. The way is leading from the Manger to the Cross.

Jesus had to go this way. It was the way of his life. It is why he came. The painter showed it with her picture quite clearly: the Manger and the Cross belong together. It is not possible to accept only a part of the life of Jesus – for everything is connected, everything is woven together. The ultimate consequence of the Incarnation of Christ is his passion and death on the Cross.  The ultimate consequence of Bethlehem is Golgotha.  The ultimate consequence of the love of God is our redemption! This is truly Good News of Great Joy for all people! Christ the Savior is born!

This is Good News for you. This is Good News which conquers all the bad news. I should probably also mention that Good Friday is only Good News because of Easter. I can’t leave Easter out on Christmas Eve either! Without Easter, Good Friday is a defeat. Easter is the victory. Easter is the triumph. Easter is the end of the journey for Jesus and it is the end of the journey for us as well. For we too will one day be resurrected from the dead and will be given new life. So really, Easter is merely the beginning once again. It is the beginning of new life that will never end. You will have a new life in which there will be no more pain, no more suffering or sickness or death anymore.  From manger to cross to open grave. From birth to death to resurrection to everlasting life. That is Jesus’ journey. It is your journey as well.

Why is Christmas Good News? The news of our Savior being born is the greatest news of all is because of the bad news caused by our own sin and disobedience. The good news of Christmas is the greatest news of all because Jesus destroyed the power of bad news through his own death on the cross. May you be inspired once again by the good news of Christmas, and like those shepherds, may you glorify and praise God for all that you have heard and seen. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, we praise you this day for the good news of Christmas in this bad news world. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to be born into this world, to die for our salvation, and to rise again for our own resurrection and eternal life. Send us your Holy Spirit that we would spread this good news of great joy to the entire world. In Jesus’ name, Amen. nativity 3

Minor Characters in Luke’s Christmas Story: The Marvelers

Once again, the following is a devotion I recorded for “Morning Meditations” on 1280 AM WONW Defiance. I wrote six devotions based on some of the minor characters found in Luke 2. I am making up a word to describe our minor characters today. They shall henceforth be known as “The Marvelers.”

Shepherds Share the Good NewsWho are the marvelers? We find them in Luke 2:17-18 after the shepherds had visited Jesus and Mary and Joseph in the stable. “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it marveled at what the shepherds told them.”

The shepherds were so excited about what they had seen and heard that they couldn’t wait to share it with others. They had seen a host of angels singing and declaring to them that Christ, the Savior, had been born that night in their little town of Bethlehem. Then they saw him with their own eyes. Can you blame them for wanting to spread the word? And can you blame those who heard the shepherd’s story for marveling at what they said?

These men are not drunk as you suppose

These men are not drunk as you suppose

After all, you can take the word “marvel” a couple of different ways. They could have been marveling at the amount of alcohol the shepherds must have consumed that night. They could have been marveling in disbelief over their tall tale. But maybe, just maybe, a few marvelers were actually trying to sort this story out. Could the shepherds be right? Was the long awaited Messiah really here? In Bethlehem? What does this mean? Maybe, just maybe, when the shepherds shared the Good News of the birth of the Savior, the Holy Spirit used those words to create faith in their hearts.

God’s Word has a way of making all of us marvel. Some marvel by wondering how much the writers of the Bible had to drink. Some marvel at those who actually take those words seriously. Isn’t it all just a tall tale? Yet for many, we marvel when God’s Word tells us that Jesus birth and death and resurrection was for us. Really? Jesus came for me? Jesus died for me? Jesus rose for me? What does this all mean?

Hopefully, for those of you reading right now, the Holy Spirit has used the Good News of Jesus Christ to create faith in your hearts, even as you marvel at what God has done for you. And hopefully, you are as excited to share the salvation story as the shepherds were that night. Others need to hear the story so that they can marvel at God’s Word as well.

beautiful feetFor as Romans 10 says:  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Let us never cease to be marvelers at the wonders and promises of God found in Christ Jesus. And let us never cease to share those promises so that we can create more marvelers for the Holy Spirit to work on.

Let us pray: Lord God, the Good News about Jesus is contagious. Help us to marvel at Your Word and believe it through faith. Use us to share the story of Jesus with others. Amen.