DiscoverSermons from Grace/Bethel
Sermons from Grace/Bethel
Claim Ownership

Sermons from Grace/Bethel

Author: Bethel/Grace Lutheran Churches

Subscribed: 1Played: 2


Weekly audio recordings of sermons presented at Grace Lutheran and Bethel Lutheran churches Seward and York NE. Justin Wilkens, Pastor.
276 Episodes
Give a single bag of M&Ms to two four-year-olds and tell them to share. You will witness counting done with accountant-like precision. Each child will get an equal amount of candy because that is fair. Human beings have an incredibly strong sense of fairness. That is why it can be so perplexing when we see how God dispenses blessing and grace. We see people who mock God, who are more prosperous than believers. We see people who convert on their deathbeds, and Scripture tells us they obtain the same salvation as someone who has been Christian all his life. How is that fair? Through a simple story, Jesus teaches us a profound truth. We need to stop expecting God to be fair. God is not fair. He does not give us what we deserve, and that’s called mercy. In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve, and that’s called grace. No, God is not fair. He is breathtakingly generous.
“Pay it forward.” That phrase means that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass along kindness to another person instead. Doing something kind for someone else is a way of thanking the person who originally did something kind for you. Today, God applies that concept to forgiveness. God forgave our countless sins. He was willing to pay an incomprehensible price—the death of his Son. Obviously, we will never have the occasion to do the same for God. We will never have to forgive God because everything he does for us shows perfect love and care. God never wrongs us. But others may do us wrong. Others may cause us pain. And when we are quick to forgive, it is one way we thank God for being so quick to forgive us. This is what God wants in his Church—people who, like him, are quick to forgive.
Imagine, late one night, you notice the house across the street is on fire. You see no activity inside. You say to yourself, “Pounding on the door in the middle of the night might scare the family. I’m sure they’ll realize what’s going on eventually.” Ridiculous! You would never do that! To let a family sleep while flames surround them would be cruel. Your inaction would make you a killer. The truth is you would pound on their door at 3:00 AM, screaming. You would throw a brick through their front window if that was what it took to warn them. You would not care if it startled the family. This is a matter of life and death! Love compels you to do whatever it takes. God wants the people of his church to be willing to say hard things to people when that is what is necessary to save them from an even worse type of fire. Warning against sin is not easy. It upsets people, even offends them. But saying hard things is the loving thing to do when it is a matter of eternal life and death.
Some churches teach that if one follows God, God responds by granting prosperity and peace. Today Jesus teaches that is nonsense. The Son of God tells us that if we are his disciples, if we are part of his Church, we will have to bear crosses. Believers will suffer in this world, oftentimes for no other reason than they are believers. It is painful to struggle against the temptations and priorities of this world. It can be agonizing to face the same scorn and ridicule Jesus faced. Why bother? We carry our crosses in gratitude for Jesus carrying his cross, one too heavy for us to bear because it was weighted down with our sins. We carry our crosses because we know that in those moments of struggle, we are forced to turn to Christ and rely on his strength. The church takes up its crosses, because this is the Christian path, the one Jesus himself walked: first the cross, then the crown.
Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Make no mistake. That is the most important question in the world. And it is a question every human must answer. A complimentary answer can still be dead wrong. Some in Jesus’ day thought he was John the Baptist or the prophet Elijah come back from the dead. Complimentary, but dead wrong. Today plenty of people believe Jesus existed. They believe he was a wise teacher or a role model for love. Complimentary, but dead wrong if missing the main point. Jesus is both Lord and Savior, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This truth is the core of saving faith. It is the central message God has called our church to proclaim. What does God want in a church? He wants a church that really knows Jesus.
“All are welcome!” Is that true at our church? Historically, it rarely is true. In the gospels, the average Jewish person would have thought it odd, even offensive, if someone who wasn’t an Israelite walked into their place of worship. Taking it a step further, some of the Jewish religious leaders would imply that church was meant for those who zealously followed religious customs and traditions. Those were “good church folk.” So church was meant for people of the right heritage and who behaved the right way. What about us? Is it conceivable that a stranger could walk into our church, and for some reason, you would ask yourself, “What is someone like that doing here?” Or, just perhaps, you are asking that question about yourself? “There are some seemingly godly people here. I’m not like them. Do I really belong?” Today, Jesus shows us that God wants church to be for all people. All of us—regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or social status—have the same problem of sin. And we all have the same Savior. Therefore, anyone who comes to Christ’s Church and cries out, “Lord, have mercy!” is more than welcome.
Wherever faith clings to the promises of God, doubt is always lingering in the back of our mind, constantly asking the serpent’s garden question, “Did God really say?” How striking to think that one must have faith in God before it is even possible to doubt him! It is not uncommon that, in times of adversity, doubt rears its ugly head—doubts about God’s care, God’s promises, God’s providence. In those times, the true answer to doubt is not found in some great miracle that removes adversity but in the still small voice of our Savior God whispering to us in his Word. Through that Word, Christ reaches out to us with nail-scarred hands, proof of his great love. Jesus gently says, “Why did you doubt?” Our faith is restored. The Christian answers doubt with faith because Jesus makes it so.
The hardest times to trust in God are the times we need him most. It’s easy to trust God when your job is great, your health is fine, your relationships are strong, and your family is well. It’s easy to trust God when the sun is shining, but what happens when your life is suddenly overshadowed by dark days? When tragedy or conflict affects us, we may wonder if God continues to care and provide for us. At those times the Christian focuses on certain foundational facts. The Christian was chosen, predestined, and adopted as God’s dear child. God has provided the Christian with innumerable spiritual blessings and promises the Christian an eternity of glory, peace, and joy. If we look at those spiritual blessings God provides to us, how could we doubt that he will, at the right time, give us everything we truly need? The Christian trusts God to provide.
What do you consider your life’s priorities? If you made a list, what would be near the top? Faith, family, and friends would probably head the lists of many. Financial security and health would be right up there. Reputation and recreation would likely make the cut. But perhaps a more interesting question than “What do you consider your life’s priorities?” is “Which of the items on that list would you be willing to sacrifice to save your top priority?” What if you had to give up the whole list—family, friends, finances, health, reputation, recreation—to save just one priority: faith? This week we are given an honest assessment of what really matters in life. The kingdom is worth everything. Worldly wealth can buy the things of this world, the type of things that rust and decay, things that will not last. True wealth is spiritual wealth. It can be found only in God and his eternal blessings for us in Christ. The Christian seeks spiritual wealth first and will sacrifice anything to obtain it.
The wheat that grows in the Middle East is a variety that looks much like wild grass or weeds. It is difficult to tell wheat and weeds apart until shortly before harvest time when the wheat stalks develop a head containing the kernels of grain. Try and pull the weeds out of a wheat field, and you will likely pull up a fair amount of wheat accidentally. So you need to wait for the harvest to separate wheat from weeds. This week Jesus uses that image to illustrate life on this side of heaven. Christians are pictured as wheat planted by the Lord. Evil and unbelieving evildoers are pictured as weeds. We might want God to take care of evil now—to pull up all the weeds. But he tells us to wait for the harvest. God is going to fix the problem of evil in this world, but it might not be today or even tomorrow. What does God want us to do while we wait? He wants us to live like wheat among weeds, serving the purpose for which he planted us. That means being faithful, fruitful, and mindful of the coming harvest.
Planting seeds by hand can seem magical. In your hand, the seed looks insignificant and lifeless. Yet you put the seed into the soil, and the natural process of life begins. All by itself, the seed germinates and sprouts and reaches to the sun. Except when it doesn’t! Plant multiple seeds, and often only some, perhaps just a small amount, will sprout. As these few sprouts grow, birds, pests, weeds, and weather attack. The reality is that once the seed leaves your hand, you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Today, God uses that experience from nature to explain the supernatural process by which God calls humans to faith through the gospel. The Christian is planted by the Word. The Christian can plant the seed of the gospel into the soil of another’s heart. What happens after that is completely beyond our control. Yet God promises us that his Word always accomplishes his good purposes. God’s Word is powerful, all on its own, without our help.
Without rest, we suffer. Studies show that after 36 hours without sleep, most people will experience extreme fatigue and hormonal imbalances, resulting in decreased attention, poor decisions, and even speech impairment. Other studies show that if someone takes no breaks during their workday, their productivity is lower than those who take periodic breaks. We need rest. Christians know they need more than sleep or breaks. We need more than physical rest. We need spiritual rest. The Christian knows that the only place to find that type of rest is Jesus. Jesus provides more than a pause in work, more than enjoyable recreation. Jesus provides the removal of our sins, the cleansing of our guilty conscience, and a gentle new yoke of discipleship. In Jesus, the Christian finds rest from his burdens, rest from his battles, and rest forever in heaven.
Not all love is good. It is self-destructive to love bad things. However, it is just as harmful to love good things in a bad order. For example, it would seem to be a good thing that a man loves his dog. But if he loves his dog more than he loves his wife, his “love” for both is disordered. That is not in the best interests of the man, his wife, or even his dog. For love to be healthy, it needs to be properly ordered. The Christian loves God above all things. For the Christian understands that everything in this present world is transitory. Relationships fail. Empires fall. Accomplishments are quickly forgotten. But nothing about God is transitory. God’s love is eternal. He promises the Christian everlasting life. And so the Christian struggles not simply to avoid loving bad things. The Christian struggles to love God above all other good things too. Because the Christian understands that God is of ultimate value.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36). The Greek word translated “compassion” refers to a type of love that almost overwhelms one’s emotions. Imagine a father looking at his little girl lying in a hospital bed near death. The father’s heart aches. That father would allow the surgeon to cut any organ out of him, without anesthesia, and transplant it into his daughter, if that’s what it took to save his little girl’s life. That’s the idea behind the Greek word for “compassion.” Jesus looks at the people and is willing to do anything for them—to make any sacrifice, even the ultimate one at the cross. In that same compassion, the Lord of the Church raises up ministers. As those ministers share his grace and mercy, Christ saves eternal lives. More, he fills those ministers with his Spirit, so that they also feel compassion for God’s people.
From its birth, the New Testament Church has been persecuted. The religious leaders in Jerusalem tried to stamp it out, but they only succeeded in spreading Christianity throughout Judea and Samaria. The Roman Empire persecuted Christians with stakes and lions, yet God’s Church exploded with growth in those early centuries. In Martin Luther’s day, both the pope and the emperor sought to stop the gospel movement that was spreading from Germany. But God was a mighty fortress for the Church. Still today, the Church is persecuted. Every day thirteen Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith. Another twelve are arrested or imprisoned simply because they profess faith in Christ Jesus. In the U.S., we have freedom of religion enshrined as a constitutional right, but that is no guarantee for a life free of persecution. Until Judgment Day, some will attempt to shout down the truth of Christ. We will be persecuted. That won’t stop us. The holy ministry preaches Christ despite persecution. Christ never promised his Church that ministry would operate unopposed. But he did promise to give courage to his witnesses.
They never forgot their past. Moses never forgot how, in a fit of anger, he killed a man. Paul never forgot how he had savaged the Church of God, overseeing the persecution and execution of Christians around Jerusalem. Matthew never forgot how, as a tax collector for the Roman Empire, he was disdained as a swindler and traitor to his people. These men never forgot their past. But God did. God forgave them all their sins and called them into the gospel ministry. The holy ministry is not filled with perfect people. The holy ministry is filled with sinners whom God has called out of his boundless mercy. The holy ministry is God’s gift to the Church. But it is also God’s gift to ministers, who certainly do not deserve the privilege of being God’s public servants. God calls sinful and weak individuals into the ministry so that as his kingdom advances, we give credit where credit is due—to the Holy Spirit.
In the first half of the Church Year (Advent through Pentecost), we look at the life of Christ—his birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the second half of the year, we look at the teachings of Christ. We begin by looking at one of the most mind-blowing truths: that God is triune. Already in the very first chapter of the Bible, we read, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image…” (Genesis 1:26). Note the singular “God” and the plural “us.” Scripture teaches us that there is only one God but that he exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is triune (three-in-one). This teaching is not some logical exercise or philosophical excursion. The doctrine of the Trinity is central to our salvation. The triune God is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Lose this doctrine, and as the Athanasian Creed says, you lose it all. A Jesus who is less than God is also less than a Savior. So often, when life gets hard, we get frustrated. We don’t understand how God is always working for our good. But the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us we cannot even comprehend God’s existence. How, then, could we ever comprehend all his workings? On this Holy Trinity Sunday, let it be enough to know that all three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—love us with everlasting love.
Fifty days after the Passover, God’s Old Testament people celebrated Pentecost (Greek for “fifty”). Pentecost commemorated the gathering of the harvest and was also used to remember the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, the start of the Church of Israel. Christ chose Pentecost to be the birthday of his New Testament Church too. By pouring out his Holy Spirit, Christ empowered the Church to gather in the great harvest of souls won by the Son. Pentecost is the third great festival of the Church, along with the Nativity and the Resurrection. The early church fathers mention the Festival of Pentecost often enough to lead many to believe it was celebrated annually already at the time of the apostles. Pentecost closes the fifty-day period after Easter and ends the festival half of the church year. The Church dresses in red this day to remind us of the tongues of fire that marked the Spirit’s gift, as well as the blood of the martyrs, which was the seed of the Church.
The Church waits. The Church in Jerusalem waited for ten days between Christ’s ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Church today waits through the millennia between Pentecost and Christ’s second coming. We are waiting for the gifts that Jesus promised. We live in eager expectation of glory! That glory is not dimmed by early suffering. Rather, our current sufferings only remind us of the glory that awaits us. We are simply following in Christ’s footsteps. First comes the cross, and then comes the crown. Knowing what is coming lets us view our current troubles as light and momentary. They cannot mute the joy of living in eager expectation of glory. While we wait in the time between Christ’s ascension and return, we live knowing that we will suffer persecution for our faith in Christ, but God will work it for glory.
“The LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” (Genesis 2:16,17). In giving that command, God showed love to man by making it clear that it is lethal to live contrary to God’s will. In giving that command, God provided man with the ability to demonstrate love for God—through obedience. True love involves obedience. Jesus did not simply say he loved his heavenly Father. He proved it by obeying his Father, even when that obedience meant dying on the cross for our sake. Love for God, who lives in us, leads us to a life of obedience. The God who lives in us calls us to live for him. It is as simple as that. Love for our risen Lord means obedience to his commands.
Download from Google Play
Download from App Store