Sunday, June 7, 2009

All for Love!!

“All of the Love of Jesus!”
Acts 11:19-30, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:9–17
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

In the Guinness Book of World Records there is listed the shortest sermon ever preached. It was given by John Albrecht, an Episcopal priest in Michigan. One Sunday, he stood in his pulpit to preach, paused for a moment, and simply said “Love!” Then, he sat down and they sang a hymn.

Some of Albrecht's members thought it was the best sermon he had ever preached.

That may be true but you won’t be quite so lucky today. No single word—even a word as powerful as “love”—can ever replace a sermon. Entire books—lots of them—have been written on how to love, when to love, why to love, and who to love. No word in the English language—in any language—is used (or should we say misused) more than often than the word love.

Love is also one of the most used words in Scripture.

Love is commanded more times than almost any other action in the Bible, more often even than obey, follow, or believe. In the Bible, the Psalms speak of loving more than any other book. In the New Testament, John writes about love more often than anyone else. His gospel and letters are full of love, like in our gospel and epistle lessons—“Dear friends, let us love one another,” and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Oddly enough, Acts is the only book of the New Testament that doesn’t even mention love, let alone command us to love. Maybe the early church didn’t really need a reminder to love each other. They just did it. And, that brings us to our topic for today. What they did for each other, they did “all for the love of Jesus”--Not only their love for him but more importantly his love for them.

Our theme is “All for the Love of Jesus!—how we love because of Jesus’ love.
Let us pray:

Lord Jesus allow our lives to exemplify your life of love. Send your Holy Spirit to guide and direct our words and actions that we may love as Christ has loved us and as the early Christians loved one another. Motivate us by your gospel to love each other in response to your great love for us. Whatever we do, Jesus, may we do it all for the love of your name. Amen

Dear Christian friends;

In our first lesson from Acts, chapter 11, we learned that God caused the Church to explode in growth after Pentecost. It was an explosion of power and joy but most of all an explosion of love. Something great, something different, and something loving was happening in Antioch so the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check it out.

In Antioch, “he saw the evidence of the grace of God and was glad.” The evidence of God’s grace is love—love for God and love for each other. This is what Barnabas saw.

The new believers at Antioch were was well stocked with love so much so that when a famine broke out in Judea and the believers in the Jerusalem were hurting and hungry, they new church responded with love in tangible ways. They did more than love with words. They put their money where their month was. Barnabas calls this response—“the evidence of the grace of God.” Love is the evidence of the grace of God.

Barnabas understood this all too well. He had grown up on the island of Cyprus as a displaced Jew before coming back to Jerusalem. He became a believer, and showed love—the result of God’s love found in his grace—in a concrete way by selling land and giving the money to the church for the poorer members of the faith community.

His heart burned with a desire to carry God’s love to those described by Paul as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12)

So, through the Church, God sent Barnabas to strengthen the new church in Antioch. Barnabas looked up Paul in Tarsus and brought him along to Antioch. Together they taught the Christians God’s Word for a year.

The Antiochean believers responded with grateful gifts of love for those who were hurting and helpless just as God have loved them and saved them when they were hurting and helpless. To accomplish this God sent a prophet named Agabus to foretell about the famine that would occur in the Roman world. This gave the Christians a chance to prepare the gift of love that later they would send to their brothers and sisters in the faith.

After studying the Word, the believers at Antioch expressed their mature faith and love by sacrificing of themselves. No wonder they were called Christians after Christ who sacrificed himself for the whole world. Those who have been loved by God through Christ notice others in need and love them in Christ.

Still, it hard to summarize what Jesus has done for us in his great love and what we do in loving response by a single word.

In fact, the loving acts of our Savior could never even be summarized in a single book as John says at the end of his gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that world be written.” (John 21:25)

But, in our Gospel lesson, we do learned a little bit about Christ’s love for us. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (V 9) Jesus loves us just as the Father loved him. The Father’s great love motivates Christ to love us greatly so that when we receive the Son’s love, we receive the Father’s love. John mentions this in his first epistle when he says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

This is why John would later say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And, why Jesus would say, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

But, we all know that it isn’t always easy to love as Christ and God have loved us.

There was an old couple sitting in their rocking chairs on their front porch. They had been married more than 50 years, but things had gotten a little rocky in their relationship. Things were not right between them. So the wife says to her husband, “Dear, things haven’t been good between us lately. Maybe we should get off these rocking chairs and get down on our knees and just pray that the good Lord would take one of us home.” He agrees and she mutters under her breath “Then I can go and live with my sister.” It isn’t always easy to love with a Christ-like love.

Still, such love is the litmus test of our faith. John reminds us—“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

“God is love!” How many times have we heard that or said that without really considering what “love” really is and what it truly means to love one another? Love is the epitome of God and as you know, an epitome is a part that represents a whole. Everything we need to know about God is found in his love. Everything the world needs to know about us should be found in our love. It reminds us of the old campfire song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”

In John, chapter 13, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is to say that love for one another is the proof positive of faith and discipleship. Love is not what we do, it is what we are. Just as God is love; we are love!

Love is not something you can define, give a description to, or write a “how to” book about; it is something you are. “God is Love!” Define God, describe God, write a “how to be like God” book and you will find that really one word is all that is necessary—LOVE!

Still, how did God show his love for us? Some are not sure he has but he has in a real tangible way. He gave us his Son!

In an episode of the television series Mash, Hawkeye is on a bus which comes close to a group of North Korean soldiers. The bus drives off the road and hides behind some bushes. They are still within hearing of the North Korean soldiers, so Hawkeye tells everyone that they must be very quiet. He insists that a young Korean mother keep her infant from crying or they will be found and killed. She stops the crying and the danger passes. It is not until they are a few miles down the road that Hawkeye the mother had smothered her son to save them all.

He can’t believe it! It’s a dramatic story of love.

There is another love story even more dramatic. It’s the story of God’s love. Our epistle tells it like this—“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Here, the Father—our loving heavenly Father—allows his Son to die to save us all from the dreaded enemies of sin, death, and the devil. His actions had nothing to do with our love—“not that we loved God”—and everything to do with his love—“but that he loved us….”

The love of the Father is made visible through the sacrifice of his Son. The love of the Son is made visible through self sacrifice at Calvary. The love of both the Father and the Son are made visible through our sacrifice for others but such sacrifice must always be for the sake of the gospel—all for the love of Jesus!

It is always His Love/ Our Response as John says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) Why? “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Now, what shall we do in response to such a great love? John says, “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” (1 John 3:23)
It’s important to believe in Jesus and to love in Jesus’ way.

Paul Harvey tells this story—“A man was finally enjoying his greatest pleasure. He had gotten the sports car he had wanted all his life but now his wife wanted to drive it. Being a Christian and knowing that he shouldn’t be selfish he agreed and she drove away.

A few blocks from home she got into an accident and totaled the car. Can you imagine how she felt? She was physically okay. But you know how it is. She had to fill out an insurance report on the accident. When she reached into the glove compartment to get the forms and auto registration, she noticed an envelope clipped to the insurance forms.

She opened the envelope, and read this note, written in her husband’s handwriting: “Honey, remember it’s you I love, not the car.”

Remember, it’s you Christ loves, not all the possessions he allows us to use.

The Gospel clearly describes this kind of love as real love—fruit that will last into an eternity. Here John links together the Father’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for his disciples, and the disciples’ love for one another. Jesus’ love for his people is the clear motivation and the supreme model for the disciples’ displaying their love for one another.
In the context for this day, our love grows strong enough to be concerned about our neighbors’ eternal welfare. This love is an intentional goodwill, an active good that will work for another person. This love encourages believers to evangelize the world by sharing the power-filled message of Christ and his resurrection. We are not meant to keep this message to ourselves.

The Good News of Jesus and his resurrection spreads farther and farther according to our lesson from Acts. More and more people believe and turn to the Lord. Philip preached to the Samaritans and taught the truth of salvation to an Ethiopian. After relating in elaborate detail the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius, Luke turns to a brief account of the establishment of the first predominantly Gentile church.

He writes, “The Lord’s hand was with them….” The result? “A great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v 21b). It is utterly amazing that “the establishment” of the apostles and the Jerusalem Christians didn’t stifle the young and burgeoning Antioch Church.

“When Barnabas arrived (in Antioch) and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” And the Antiocheans responded to the needs of the hungry and persecuted Judean Christians by sending an important gift to purchase food. God’s love in action!

Our text today helps us identify the divine dimension of love: its origin is God. At the same time, it describes the human dimensions, the effects God’s love has on us as we relate to one another.

From time to time we hear of an individual who has performed a supernatural feat. There is the true story of a woman who was driving with her child. She swerved to avoid a dog and struck a tree. She was thrown clear, but the child was pinned under the car. She panicked, and with adrenaline pumping, she raised a corner of the car up enough for her child to escape. Normally, of course, she never would have been able to raise the car. But in her love for her child, she was able to do something superhuman.

In the same way, by ourselves we are unable to love others as we ought. But empowered by the love of God, we are able to perform spiritual feats of love for others.

God of Mercy, God of Might!

God of Mercy, God of Might!
1 Peter 4:7-14
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
LCMS World Relief and Human Care

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (English Standard Version)

7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith, and fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus;

Teach us the lessons Thou hast taught: To feel for those Thy blood hath bought, that every word and deed and thought may work a work for Thee!

In sickness, sorrow, want, or care, may we each other’s burdens share; may we, where help is needed, there give help as unto Thee.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10

George Barna, in his 1991 visionary book entitled ‘User Friendly Churches,’ wrote this about successful churches. “Successful churches took a different tack, involving people in real ministry. They tended to believe that the most desirable form of ministry was outreach, not inreach. …they taught their people that the best way to solve their own needs and problems was by focusing on serving others.” (User, page 46-47)

Barna’s vision of the church wasn’t all that visionary. Christ’s vision for his Church has always one of serving. Only in serving others do we serve the Gospel. The righteous ones of God feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, love the lonely, clothe the naked, help the sick, and visit the imprisoned. The righteous ones bring mercy, mercy forever to a helpless and hurting world.

Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than the selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and unfortunate to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.
• Christ’s mandate and example of love for the whole person remains our supreme example for life in this world, and for care of the needy, body and soul.
• Christ’s Palestinian ministry combined proclamation of forgiveness and acts of mercy, care and healing (Luke 5:17-26).

“Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and cared for the needy because that’s who He is as mercy incarnate. Mercy responds to human need and suffering, whether spiritual or physical. Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ.”

• Love, care and concern for those in need (diakonic mercy/love) are actions motivated by the gospel, when faith (the faith by which we believe) apprehends the righteousness of Christ and his merits, unto eternal life.
• The gospel thus laid hold of, produces love.
• Love seeks and serves the neighbor.
• Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7).
• This love finds its source and motivation in the deep gospel matrix and totality of the true faith (the faith which is believed).

But, how do we serve and how can we serve in the best possible way?

Jeff McMullen, one of the original people hired to play Ronald McDonald, had the light of life but his job got in the way. Maybe some of you here today can identify with Jeff, maybe your job or school or something else has darkened the light of Christ in your life.

As Ronald, Jeff would visit orphanages and children’s hospitals to brighten up otherwise dreary days for the kids but he always left empty, unfulfilled because he wasn’t allowed to hold any of the children (liability concerns). Often his heart went out to the kids as they reached for him. He learned that the secret was never to look them in the eye. It was easier that way. Never look a needy person in the eye!

One day, after a long day, as he headed down a quiet hallway he heard a little voice, “Ronald, Ronald.” Slowing he entered a room to find a tiny boy curled up in his father’s arms. The boy’s breathing was labored, his body was withered, and his voice was quivering. “Ronald, Ronald, will you hold me?” he asked.

He knew he couldn’t but then it happened, Jeff’s eyes met Billy’s and Jeff knew what he had to do. Job or no job, he sat down and cuddled little Billy until he fell asleep. Moments later, the tiny boy died but not before Ronald McDonald had touched him.

A touch of mercy takes only a moment but lasts an eternity!

All are redeemed, both far and wide, since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died. Grant us the will, and grace provide to love them all in Thee!

But, there are so many needs, so many opportunities out there that a single Christian or a single church like Faith can’t cover every base.

God has placed before The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod unique opportunities for service in our world and community. Together, we have a share, a place, a part, in Christ’s vision for his Church.

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)

Christ’s vision for his church is always one of faith in action. James, the leader of the early church in Jerusalem writes, “What good is it my brothers, if a mean claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is death.” (James 2:14-17)

Jesus was a man of action and by his actions he fulfilled God’s vision for the salvation of the world. At the same time, he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and freed those who were held captive by their own sin. He took up our infirmities, he carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The Son of Man gave his life as a ransom for many and encourages us to do the same: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…This is my command: Love each other.” (John 14:13-14, 17)

Christ’s vision for His Church is one of selfless service for others rather than selfish service for ourselves. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16 18)

The darkness of despair is another shade of darkness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. It’s a darkness sets in when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster darkens your doorway. I’ve seen that darkness too many times as a police officer, as a missionary, as a parish pastor, and as a father. When our 21 year son died suddenly of an asthma attack three years ago I experienced shades of darkness I’d never known before and I never want to know again.

When the darkness of despair sets in it’s so easy to feel like nobody cares, like there’s no hope of rescue. Disaster, crisis, and personal tragedy, are cold, dark places with fear lurking at every turn. Today, the helpless and hurting are scattered across our nation and around our world hoping and praying for rescue but who will help them? The Bible tells us—

But, how do we serve to the best of our ability when we have limited resources—time, talent, and treasure?

Once again, Brana writes, “The stark reality is that every church has limited resources, and has been called to accomplish a specific mission. Despite the urge to be all things to all people, the successful churches resisted that impulse to be the answer to everyone’s every problem by focusing on their vision for ministry, by reaffirming their commitment to quality, and by recognizing their limitations.” (User Friendly Churches, page 51)

Later Brana writes, “These churches recognized the numerous opportunities for addressing needs in the community and the world, but they restricted their outreach to those ministries to which they felt called by God, and for which they had sufficient resources to do an excellent job.” (User, page 56)

If the people of this community were asked to identify one or two unique qualities of Faith Lutheran Church and School, what would they be? What are the ministry strengths of your church and school? And, more importantly, what were the ministry strengths of the early Church? Again, Christ summarizes them in Matthew 25—you fed me, you gave me to drink, you invited me in, you clothed me, you looked after me, you came to visit me.

All of these things add up to one thing—Christ’s people active in faith. Together, we as The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod are the Church fulfilling Christ’s vision for the future.

A man was walking on the beach and found a magic lamp. When he rubbed it, a genie appeared and told him that he would be granted one wish. Immediately the man asked for a copy of the newspaper with the stock market report that would be published one year from that day. Suddenly the paper was in his hands and the genie disappeared. With greedy eyes the man scanned the columns and saw stocks in which he could invest and make millions. Pleased with himself and his plans, he turned the page and noticed the obituary column. His name was on top of the list!
All too soon your name and our church will be at the top of the list standing before the Son of Man in his glory, all the angels with him, and he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory to separate the sheep from the goats and you will hear: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:37-40)
Why? Because when they saw those in need they responded with acts of charity. Without their knowledge, when they helped “the least of these, my brothers,” they were helping the king himself. The works emphasized here must be seen as works flowing from faith that do not gain heaven for anyone, but which clearly reveal the genuineness of faith.
Those on the left are cursed to “eternal fire” for their failure to respond to the needs of the poor and wanting. Therefore, they fail to respond to the needs of the king. They, too, were ignorant of the king’s connection to the poor. Their lack of action displays an unauthentic faith. Note that if anyone presents heaven as eternal and hell as temporary, this parable (vss. 41, 46) presents hell’s punishment as eternal.

The acts of mercy in the text are done without consideration of reward. Though rewards appear to be given in heaven to those who have it as a matter of grace, rewards are God’s business, not the business of Christians living by faith active in love.

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10).

I challenged you to serve, to fulfill your destiny as Christians, to put your faith into action in clear, concise, and convincing ways, and to step into the future, Spirit-filled and excited about the challenges to change.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Sin brings darkness into our lives! Our eyes may see the light of day but on the inside it’s dark, ever so dark. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’re there this morning! Sin plunges us into the darkness that chills us to the bone, leaving us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s a mind shaft filled with cold and dark and there’s no way out unless someone rescues us. We’re up to our chins in sin and we’ve all been there!

“For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (St. Paul, Romans 3:23)

Sin is a shade of darkness like no other darkness known to man! I’ve known it and I never want to know it again. Unrepentant sin leads to such a great darkness. Jesus puts it this way—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Sin fill us with a great darkness but there’s yet another shade of darkness in our world!

Is something preventing you from delivering that touch of mercy, from living in the light of Christ, from sharing the gospel? I remember a song we used to sing about that—this little gospel light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

In and through the gospel of hope and forgiveness, Christ gives us the privilege of being mercy in this sin darkness world.

I know that you remember the story of the Good Samaritan; how the religious person and the spiritual person walked on by the man who had been robbed and beaten without even a hint of mercy. But Jesus tells us, “a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity (had compassion) on him.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that the Greek word for pity/compassion is εσπλαγχνισθη from splagchnizomai which means ‘to have a yearning in ones bowels’. I guess we would say it means, ‘to hurt deep inside for someone.’ The Good Samaritan ‘hurt deep inside’ for this man he didn’t even know and he touch him with mercy.
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. The motivator for mercy is mercy! Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy!

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Mother Teresa, known for her great compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel prize, “What is the gospel?” She replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-For-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-For-Me!”

What a great philosophy of life, what a great example of faith, but more importantly what a great testimony of Christ’s words in our text!

You did it for me! Through Christ and because of his gospel we can turn chaos into compassion, darkness into light when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster strikes.

LCMS World Relief and Human Care is committed to being the Church by upholding Christ and by doing what needs to be done around the world; the feeding of the hungry, quenching of the thirsty, sheltering of the strangers, clothing of the naked, treating of the sick, and visiting of the prisoners all on your behalf.

The first Christians were totally devoted to Christ and to one another. This too was in keeping with Jesus’ teaching, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Any church not characterized by these things can not have the character of Christ and can not share in his vision for the future of his Church.

Let us pray—

O God, whose infinite love restores to the right way those who err, gathers the scattered, and preserves those whom you have gathered, of your tender mercy pour out on your Christian people here at Faith Lutheran Church and School the unity of the Spirit that, all schisms being healed, your flock, gathered to the true Shepherd of your Church, Jesus Christ, may serve you in all faithfulness and holiness; this we asked through our Lord and Savior. Amen

Worthy Is the Lamb!

Worthy Is the Lamb
Revelation 5:11-14
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

Grace and Peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen

In the words of our text, the eternal song of Easter--the song of angels—resounds through heaven and echoes into history. John writes—“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. The encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:11-14)

My dear brothers (and sisters) in the faith;

‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain’ is the eternal song of Easter and of all who seek to worship in truth and purity. In a day and age when so many seek self-serving, self-centered, self-gratifying worship services, we have much to learn from John’s description of holy and God-pleasing worship.

The central focus of all worship is the endless song of the angels—“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain!” In these timeless words, we learn to focus on Christ and his enduring sacrifice for our salvation rather than on ourselves. This is fitting and proper.

The story is told of Sir William Cecil, Lord Treasurer of England that when he went to bed he would throw off his official robe and say, “Lie there, Lord Treasurer!” By bidding adieu to all the affairs of state, he could rest quietly for the night. So it is that when we engage in worship through meditation and prayer, the use of the sacraments or singing, we too bid adieu to all affairs of this life so that we may concentrate on the worship of Christ, the Lamb who was slain. And, in our worship singing is important, even vital.

Earlier, John writes of a new song sung by the 24 elders and the four living creatures who surround the throne of God—”And they sang new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10).

Again, the reference is to Christ. He alone, they proclaim, is worthy to take the scroll from the hand of God and reveal the future for all mankind. As believers, our future is secure in heaven and in eternity because we have been a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
The Lamb has revealed God’s will for us through his death, resurrection, and ascension. For the unbeliever, the eternal counsels of God are a sealed in the scroll and remain the great unknown and the dreadful secret that only brings fear and trepidation about the future.

We sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain!” The resurrected, living, and ascended ‘Lamb of God’ stands next to his Father’s throne and reveals the future from the scroll taken from the hand of God. ‘He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.’ And, it is a bright clear hopeful future for believers—a future where God wipes every tear from our eyes and peace & joy abound.

Imagine the image John paints! Imagine the power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and praise shown to God and Christ in heaven. This is true worship!

The Lamb evoked a triple chorus of adoration from the living creatures and elders, from myriads of angels, and from every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and on the sea, and all that is in them. In true worship all creation bows down to sing—

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever! The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.’

My brothers (and sisters), for John to write, ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain’ was a dramatic and dangerous and daring thing to do while yet under Roman rule. Citizens of the Roman Empire were expected to worship the gods of the pantheon and the Roman emperor.

At first, the emperors were declared to be gods only after they died but then came Nero, who called himself Dominus et Deus “Lord and God”—the Latin equivalent of what Thomas said when he called the risen Jesus “My Lord and my God” in John 20:28.

When the Roman people greeted the emperor in processions, they would cry out in Latin, “Vere Dignus” “You are worthy!” Because the Christians would not so honor the emperor they were considered to be atheists and the Romans hated them with a vengeance. These Christians were considered blasphemers and idolaters because they called a crucified Jewish criminal “worthy” rather than the emperor or the many gods of Rome. Those who honor Christ paid with their lives, especially during the reign of Nero. History records that many proclaimed as they died, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,”

My friends, such dedication to Christ comes at a price even today. Jesus reminded us that we would be persecuted and hated on account of him. It is never easy to pick up our cross and follow Christ. Earlier, in Revelation, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
(Revelation 2:9-10)
Roman armies conquered the Mediterranean world and established the Pax Romana (the so-called peace of Rome) but the Lamb of God conquered sin, death, and the devil to established peace with God at a bloody cross and empty tomb. Therefore, we worship him with a new song where all attention is focus on the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

The new song of the church always focuses on the One who saved us with his blood, not on our own human efforts and earthly achievements. These we cast aside in worship. The new song always remembers you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

In the Old Testament, a new song celebrated a new act of divine deliverance or blessing, always referring to the salvation God had in store for his people. That is true here where the new song remembers that ‘with your blood you purchased men for God.’

The sacrificial, atoning, and soul saving death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is central to all New Testament preaching and must of necessity be central to our new songs. Every new song must reflect heaven’s song—“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain!”

I love most of the new songs the Commission on Worship has introduced. We’ve been singing many of them at Grace. A special favorite of mine is ‘The Lamb’ which we’ve used mostly during Communion but also during the Lenten Season. In every verse and in the refrain, the lyrics point to Jesus—

’He sighs, he dies, he takes my sin and wretchedness. He lives, forgives, He gives me his own righteousness. Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me his own! The Lamb is reigning on his throne!’ (verse 4)

But, Christ’s death does more than make me his own. His death has made us “to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and [we] will reign on the earth” (5:10). As priests of the Lamb, we are freed to serve, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to represent God to others, and to represent others to God in prayer—to be God’s reconcilers and Christ’s ambassadors of peace (2 Cor 5:20).

As priests, we reign on the earth as we serve others in Christ’s name. For this we have been chosen as Peter reminds us, ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ (1 Peter2:9-10)

For these blessing, many and manifold, true worship always focuses on ‘The Lamb who was slain.’ In our liturgy, the ancient message of the church, which so many despise and distain today, we are forced to look at the Savior rather than ourselves. I love it!

When Leonardo da Vinci (died 1519) was working on his famous painting The Lord’s Supper, he had but one object in view—that the person of the Savior should attract and hold the attention of all who beheld the painting. But in one part of the picture there was a tiny ship that he had painted with great care for three weeks.

When the painting was exhibited and the people came to see it, Leonardo noticed that they all crowded together to look especially at the one comer of the picture with the small ship that had cost him so much pain and labor. “Just see how grand that is! Truly, he is a master artist!” he heard them exclaim.

Chagrined at this, he took his brush when they were all gone and with one sweeping stroke blotted out the little ship, declaring, “No one shall find reason for admiring anything except Christ alone.” (Walther League Messenger)

It’s easy to get off track. The Hymn of Praise from Divine Service II in our hymnal does excellent joy of keeping us on track. You may know it as ‘This is the Feast’ but no matter, it is a repeat of our text—

‘This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Power, riches, wisdom, and strength, and honor, blessing, and glory are his. This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’

Worship celebrates Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil—a victory that unites us with him and with God. This is the new song of the church—“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

A noted theologian observed, “A man may go to heaven without riches, without honor, without learning, without friends, but he can never go there without Jesus Christ.”

Now, call to mind the vision of the four living creatures and the 24 elders and the ranks upon ranks of angels and the whole company of believers of all time singing—“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

During the 19 centuries since the writing of the book of Revelation, many kings have held incredible power—some would awe even the emperors of Rome. Go to Beijing to see the body of Mao Tse-Tung. Walk by the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in Moscow. But, then go to Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with its Chapel of the Resurrection inside. Except for a black-robed monk, candles, and a few icons, the tiny chapel is empty.

Kings and kingdoms may all pass away but not the King of kings and Lord of Lords. No tomb could hold him. At the empty tomb, he burst the bonds of death. The dead body of the Lamb who was slain, lay in a sepulchre, maybe even the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for less than 40 hours two millennia ago. But, that’s not what’s important. His tomb is empty. The Lamb that was slain is alive. The words of the Easter angel echo and resound in his empty tomb—He is not here! He has risen!

Not only is he risen and ascended on high but he will return, and we shall see him—we, the people of every tribe and language and nation! Then the new song will be heard by the whole creation gathered around the throne and the Lamb. “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”



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