Giving seeds a pep talk doesn’t work.

nullPentecost 4, 2018 Proper
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
June 17, 2018
Ezekiel 17:22-24, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, Mark 4:26-34

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org  
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

A few weeks ago we celebrated Trinity Sunday.  God being one God and three persons is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, but not the only one.  How does the Son of God assume a human nature into Himself?  Jesus is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man.  Through this humanity, God is able to experience death – even death on the cross.  Through this divinity, the human Son is able to give us His body and blood in the Sacrament, no matter where we are.  How does this work?  We don’t know.  I suspect that even if God told us how it is done, we still wouldn’t understand.  It’s a mystery.

Consider some of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit.  How does the Holy Spirit take a rebellious, sinful human being and work faith in the heart?  People balk at the idea that babies can have faith, but, in fact, faith in Jesus Christ at any age is a miracle of the Holy Spirit.  Given that an adult has had many years to build up a defense against the Holy Spirit, the miracle of conversion may be greater in an adult than it is in an infant.

Mysteries abound in the Christian faith.  God has given His Word to the apostles and prophets.  In His Word, He has revealed mysteries that are beyond our understanding.  We may not understand them, we may not even like some of them, but we believe them because God has given them to us in His Word.

The parables in today’s Gospel reveal two mysteries to us.  The first parable teaches about the mystery of faith.  The second parable teaches of the mystery of Christ’s Body, the Holy Christian Church.

The first parable is about seed growing in a field.  Modern scientists know a lot about how plants grow and mature from seeds, but back in the first century when Jesus told this parable, these things were mysteries.  You threw the seed on the ground and after a while, it sprouted and grew and matured.  How?  No one knew.  These things happened automatically without the help of the farmer.  The farmer went about his regular business and the plants just grew.

Even though we know how and why plants grow, the farmer’s job has not changed that much.  We have more machinery to help with the work, but the basics are still the same.  The farmer plants the seed, does what he can to provide a healthy environment with fertilizers and pesticides, but in the end, there isn’t a whole lot the farmer can do to force the seeds to germinate, grow, or mature.  The farmer can provide a healthy environment for the seed to grow, but the growth itself comes from inside the seed just as it always has.

Mark 4:26 (ESV) 26 And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.[1]  Here Jesus wants us to compare the seed to the Word of God.  The man who scatters the seed is anyone who shares the Word of God with others.  When you confess your faith to other people, you are that man scattering seed.  Every time I tell someone that I am a poor, miserable sinner who deserves punishment and then tell them how Jesus died on the cross so that I receive the joy of heaven instead of that punishment, I am that man scattering seed.

These well-meaning teachers make us feel as though confessing our faith before others is like making a sales call.  If nothing happens, we have failed to close the deal.

Remember that the farmer is not responsible for making the seeds sprout or mature.  In the same way, you are not responsible for producing faith in the heart of another.  That is the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

Too often, well-meaning teachers have told us that we must not only share our faith with others, but that we are somehow responsible for bringing those others to faith – that we are somehow responsible for the growth of their faith.  These well-meaning teachers make us feel as though confessing our faith before others is like making a sales call.  If nothing happens, we have failed to close the deal.  Although these teachers are well intentioned, they can make us feel really guilty for seeds that we don’t see grow.

Today’s parable tells us that this is a false guilt; the Kingdom of God doesn’t work that way.  It tells us that the growth of faith in the soil of the heart is a mystery; it is not up to us, it is something that God does.  This parable also teaches us that if no faith grows, it is not our fault.  Just as I cannot cause a seed to germinate by giving it a pep talk, I cannot force faith to grow with anything that I do.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.

This parable is a great comfort to us.  From this parable, we learn that the pressure of converting someone to faith in Christ does not belong to us.  God has reserved that for Himself.  Just as the farmer scatters the seed out on the ground, God has given us the privilege of proclaiming the joy of our salvation.  On the other hand, God alone is responsible for producing a crop of faith from that proclamation.

So, what is the joy of our salvation?  What proclamation do we throw out to the world?  Jesus explains that in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Jesus often compares Himself to plants.  John 15:5 (ESV) 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[2]  And again in John 12:23-24 (ESV)  23 … Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.[3]  Here Jesus speaks of His suffering and death – how He would die and – like a seed – grow up to bear much fruit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again tells us that He must be buried – planted like a mustard seed.  This burial reminds us of the suffering and death He endured to take away all our sins.

Jesus said, “a grain of mustard seed …  is the smallest of all the seeds on earth …” Although He is God, Jesus became small by assuming a human nature.  He became small enough to live in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became small enough to live under the authority of the law and keep it perfectly.  He became small enough to die a shameful death and be buried in a borrowed tomb.  Like that grain of mustard seed, He rested in the ground.

Jesus continued His parable with these words, Mark 4:32 (ESV) 32 yet when [the mustard seed] is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”[4]

Jesus did not remain in the grave.  Instead – as a mustard plant emerges from the ground – He emerged from death.  Just as a mustard plant becomes one of the largest plants in the garden so also Jesus becomes ever larger – large enough to be known throughout the world.  As a mustard plant fills a garden and is large enough to harbor birds so also Christ’s body – the church – grows to fill the earth.

We are part of that mustard plant that is the Holy Christian Church.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, Romans 6:3-5 (ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.[5]  Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ’s death and we become part of His body – the church.

The wonderful part about belonging to the Holy Christian Church is that, no matter how often we sin – no matter how often we mess up, God has forgiven us for Jesus’ sake through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.  He forgives us and calls us to follow Him.  We can come together as the Body of Christ and continuously receive the forgiveness of sins.

Even though your pastor is probably a worse sinner than you are, His words of forgiveness are valid.  The words of forgiveness that come from his mouth are not his words, but Christ’s words.  When that sinner whom God has called to be your pastor forgives your sins, it is not he who forgives.  It is Christ Himself who forgives your sins.  And I thank God that the words I speak are for me as well as for you.

As part of Christ’s church, we not only receive God’s forgiveness through the mouth of the pastor, but also through our own mouths as Jesus Christ gives us His body and blood in union with the bread and the wine of the sacrament.  Jesus Himself said, Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV) 27 … “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.[6]  What a gift this is that we receive as members of the Holy Christian Church.

As we gather together in Christ’s church, we come together to meet Jesus and receive the gifts that He earned for us on the cross –forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We also receive the comfort of knowing that, just as He rose from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead and inherit eternal life.  It is good to be part of God’s mustard plant; the Church.   Amen


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

Who is God?

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Trinity Sunday 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
May 27, 2108
Isaiah 6:1-8, Acts 2:14a, 22-36, John 3:1-17

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org  
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

It is a perfect day.  The sky is clear blue, the sun is shining, the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, there is a gentle breeze and you are sitting in the shade on a park bench sipping on your bottle of water and just taking a few minutes to watch the world go by in front of you.  A neatly dressed woman sits down next to you and is quiet for a few minutes as you both admire the beauty of the creation.  Without looking at you the woman asks, “Who is God?  I look around at all this beauty and know this cannot be an accident.  But who is God?  So many people have so many different opinions.  Who is God?”

You look around hoping she is talking to someone else; but you are the only one there.  Here is a great opportunity to share with someone the truth of God; but you are nervous that you may mess it up, or say something wrong.  The question resounds loudly in your head, “Who is God?”

“God is incomprehensible,” you begin, not certain exactly where you are going with this.  “We are never going to be able to understand God; we will never know everything about God.  He is the potter and we are the pot that He creates.  The pot is never going to fully understand the potter.  But that doesn’t mean that we cannot know anything about God.”

“What do we know?” she asks.

“We know that God is three in one; trinity.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but there is one God with three persons.  This is how He reveals Himself to us in the Bible.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  It makes no sense, but that is sort of a proof that it is true.  Who would make up a God like that?  When people make up gods they make up gods that are a lot like us; motivated by the same things as us.”

“The Trinity doesn’t make sense.  Other things about God do not make sense.  God is eternal.  The Father is eternal.  The Son is eternal.  The Holy Spirit is eternal.  I cannot get my head around that; it seems like everything should have a beginning and an end, but God does not.”

The woman replies, “That might keep me awake at night thinking about that.  How is God eternal?”

“God is almighty.  That also does not make sense to us.  We know powerful people, but they still get sick, they still die, there are limits to people’s power.  God has unlimited power; He is outside the laws of nature; He creates the laws of nature.”  We think we are powerful but then a storm blows through and we realize how weak we really are.”

“The Trinity doesn’t make sense.  Other things about God do not make sense.  God is eternal.  The Father is eternal.  The Son is eternal.  The Holy Spirit is eternal.  I cannot get my head around that; it seems like everything should have a beginning and an end, but God does not.”

“God is holy and just.  God hates sin and evil.  God will punish sin and evil.  But God is patient and God is merciful and full of grace.  We have a problem with sin and God provides the solution to sin.  The eternal Son, Jesus, came to earth 2,000 years ago and took on human flesh.  He had no earthly Father and was born to a virgin named Mary from Nazareth.  He was sinless.  This also does not make sense to our rational selves; how can anyone be born of a virgin?  How can Jesus be both God and man?  How can He be without sin?  But He is.  It is God’s plan for salvation.  God provides the sacrifice for sin.  God in flesh takes the punishment for sin for all people.  God provides His only Son as the sacrifice in order to save all people.  John 3:16 (ESV) 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.[1]  We are called to repent and believe.  We are called to turn away from sin and look to Jesus on the cross for forgiveness.”

“So God demands payment for sin, but then pays the price Himself.” the woman says.

“Right.  That’s another way we know that the true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Virtually every other religion in the world is based on you having to DO something to be saved; that makes sense.  That’s how we would do it if we made it up ourselves.  The truth is that God has already DONE it all for you.  Trust in the promises of God.  Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to prove that He is indeed God in flesh and that His death is sufficient.”

The woman asks, “How do we know Jesus rose from the dead?”

“We have eyewitness accounts.  Matthew, Mark and John were there and saw what happened and wrote it down.  Luke talked to eyewitnesses and wrote their accounts.  There are a lot of people who are willing to die for what they believe to be true, the 11 apostles knew the truth about whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.  They knew the truth and 10 of the 11 were put to death for preaching the resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus had not risen from the dead these men would have just gone back to their previous lives.”

“So Jesus really is God,” the woman said, “and God is God the Father.  And then there is the Holy Spirit?  What does the Holy Spirit do?”

“The Holy Spirit is the breath of God; the Spirit of God, that lives in you and gives you faith to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; to believe your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Spirit does not point to itself, but rather always points you to Jesus.”

“Is there really a devil?” the woman asks.

“Yes,” you reply, the devil is always trying to pull you away from faith in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to develop faith in something else; anything else; faith in a made up God or faith in yourself.  The devil wants to convince you that if God doesn’t make sense then God is just something someone made up.  But the very opposite is true.  If God made sense then God would be something someone just made up.  But God does not make sense.  God is incomprehensible.  His love for us is incomprehensible.”

“Knowing all this; knowing Jesus died for our sins; what are we supposed to do?” the woman asks.

“Live in the love and forgiveness of God.  Continue to repent of your sins and struggle against sin.  Love God, and love, forgive and serve others.  Love your enemies.  Pray for them.”

“Who is God?  That is a big question,” the woman said.  “We will never know everything.”

“But we know enough,” you say, “enough to know the way to eternal life.

“Thank you,” she says, “good talk,” and as quickly as she came, she gets up and walks away.

You didn’t get her name.  You didn’t find out where she is from.  You didn’t tell her your name.  You just talked about God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And that is enough.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

Jesus ascended to very near to us.

nullAscension (Observed)
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio|
Pastor Kevin Jud
May 13, 2018
Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

Sermons online:
Text and Audio:          immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                          bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:     bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the last Sunday in the Easter season and today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and 40 days later ascended into heaven and during that time, Acts 1:3 (ESV) 3 …he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And at the end of the forty day, Acts 1:9 (ESV) 9 ,,,when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.[1]

This is a big part of what we confess in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed.  We confess that Jesus:

1. Was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. This is the Incarnation, the Word made flesh to dwell among us. We celebrate the Incarnation in the Christmas season.

2. We confess He suffered under the power of Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; On the third day He rose from the dead. We remember the passion and death of Jesus Christ during Holy Week and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.

3. We confess He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty: and from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.  This we celebrate today; Jesus’ ascension.

Ascension is 40 days after the Sunday of the Resurrection, so it falls on a Thursday.  We get off work for Christmas, and Easter is always on a Sunday but in this country we don’t get a day off on Ascension.  In some countries, like Germany, Ascension Thursday is a day off, but not here; it is just another Thursday.  Therefore, we celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

Most of the world ignores the Ascension, but it is an important event that we should remember and celebrate, because in the Ascension we find the promises of the Lord.  Jesus prophesied His death and resurrection before they occurred, but the disciples did not understand that he needed to suffer in order to have victory in the resurrection. Also the Lord told them that after the resurrection, He would return to the Father, but they did not understand why He could not stay with them in a visible form. Acts 1:6 (ESV) 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”[2] They thought He was ready to defeat the Romans, take control, and reign from the throne in Jerusalem.

But Jesus’ throne is not an earthly throne.  The kingdoms of this world rise and fall, but the kingdom of God will last forever. For the Descendant of David to reign forever, as God promised, He had to ascend to the throne of God.  With His birth in Bethlehem began the humiliation of the Son of God, when He left his throne to live among us and to fulfill the Law of God in our place.  He suffered the punishment of our sins on the cross. Death was the last stage of Jesus’ humiliation, and it was also His victory. In the resurrection Jesus was exalted, but the exaltation was not complete until His return to the Father in His human nature exalted by His divine nature.

Because of the resurrection of Christ, we have the promise that we will one day also be resurrected. And, because of the Ascension, we have the promise that one day

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (ESV) 16 …the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.[3]

In addition, we have the promise of the second coming of the Lord. Acts 1:10-11 (ESV) 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [4]

Today we have another promise. Jesus told them before his ascension: Acts 1:7-8 (ESV) 7 … “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[5]  Jesus was leaving them but he was sending the promised Holy Spirit.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the day of Pentecost. Ten days after the Ascension, according to the Lord’s promise, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church. After visible and audible manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit, St. Peter preached and three thousand people were baptized. That is, three thousand received the gift of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit and holy baptism. And every person we baptize receives this same gift, because Christ was raised up beside God the Father almighty to send the Holy Spirit to His church.

Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near. . .

There are still more. Before His ascension, Christ told his disciples, “I am with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) and also promised them where there are two or three gathered in His name, He would be among them (Matthew 18:20).

There is a wonderful passage from an Ascension sermon preached by Martin Luther in 1523.  :We must, therefore, conceive of [Jesus’] ascension and Lordship as something active, energetic and continuous, and must not imagine that he sits above while we hold the reins of government down here. Nay, he ascended up to heaven for the reason that there he can best do his work and exercise dominion. Had he remained upon earth in visible form, before the people, he could not have functioned so effectively, for all the people could not have been with him and heard him. Therefore, he inaugurated an expedient which made it possible for him to be in touch with all and reign in all, to preach to all and be heard by all, and to be with all. Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near. . .[6]

In what way is Jesus near?  In what way is Jesus with us?  In His body and blood in the sacrament.  Because in His human body He ascended into the heavens, He is free from the limits of space and time, and His body and blood can be present among the faithful in many places at the same time.  We remember Ascension as the culmination of Christ’s mission in this world.  Now His mission is the mission of the Church.  As a man in visible form, Jesus could only appear in one place at the same time. Because Christ is now among His church anywhere at any time, and the church has the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there are no limits to the proclamation of the gospel.  Jesus ascended so He could send the Holy Spirit who testifies to Jesus.  In this, we have faith and hope and peace that surpass all understanding. Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

The devil wants you to be normal.

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Easter 6 2018 Confirmation Sunday
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
May 6, 2018
Acts 10:34-38

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org  
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 4 … everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? [1]

In baptism you were set apart from the multitude of unbelievers to serve God with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that with all believers in God’s promise, you would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In baptism God set you apart from the world.  He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  You have been marked as a child of God and that is wonderful Good News.  But that mark also makes you a target for the devil and the world.  Ever since your baptism the devil and the world have been trying to get you out of the flock of the Good Shepherd and drag you back into the darkness.  The devil and the world want to slowly erode your faith and mold you so that you conform to the ways of the world.  Be on guard.  This won’t be obvious.  The devil will not appear in a red suit with a pitchfork and ask for you to renounce Jesus and follow Satan.  It will be done much more slowly; much more subtly; much more slyly.  This is a great spiritual danger because the devil is so delicate and devious, and tragically, so successful in stealing sheep from Jesus’ flock.

One way the devil goes after you is the simple desire you have to want to be normal; to fit in with those around you; to be admired by others.  It is very uncomfortable for us to be different, and this pressure to fit in is used by the devil to get you to conform your ways to the ways of the world.

Movies and television and YouTube often try to get you conform your way of thinking to the world’s way of thinking.  School should be a place that teaches you how to think, but too often school can be more geared toward telling what to think and getting you to conform your ways to the world’s ways.

The internet is amazing.  You can access all of the world’s information from your phone.  And yet it too often is used to build for yourself a silo of like-minded people who teach you to hate anyone who disagrees with you.  The internet can also be used to anonymously explore lusts and perversions and pull you into thinking that this is normal behavior that you should engage in.

The devil wants you to conform to the ways of the world.  The devil wants you to be normal.  But what is normal?  Being self-centered is normal.  Being so over-committed and over-programmed that you do not have time for God or for other people is normal.  Being focused on personal success at the expense of others is normal.  Arrogant self-righteousness is normal.  Hating others is normal.  Casual, uncommitted intimacy and all the turmoil and trouble it brings is normal.  Broken families are normal.  Abusing the weak, poor, and vulnerable is normal.  Getting drunk and getting high is normal.  Abandoning those you love and care about to pursue your own interests is normal, whether this means leaving your friends in order to sit with the popular kids or leaving your family to seek someone new.  It is normal for children to disrespect their parents.  It is normal to believe that what you are doing is more important than anything else.  It is normal to lie.  It is normal to look down on others.  Being normal in this life means you are a hateful, angry, selfish, abusive, arrogant liar.  The devil wants you to be normal.

It is normal to question the truth of God and that is just what the devil wants.  The devil’s first lie is still one of his favorites, “Did God really say?”  In our world today you are taught that there is no such thing as truth.  There is “your truth” and “my truth” and “their truth”, but no actual truth.  Pontius Pilate spoke for our times when he asked Jesus, “What is truth.”

We are taught that the worst thing you could possibly do is believe in actual truth.  The world thinks this is awful because to believe in actual truth means that you are judgmental.  To believe in actual truth is to believe that some things are true and other things are false.  The worst thing you could do is believe that some things are right and other things are wrong.  Normal is to believe that nothing is true, nothing is false, nothing is right, nothing is wrong.  Nothing is wrong…except to be judgmental.

You are taught that you want to be normal; but that is dangerous when normal means conformity with the ways of the devil and world.

Today we declare once again the truth.  The truth.  The truth that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

Today we are here for something radically counter cultural.  Today we are going to have five of our eighth grade youth publically declare that they are not normal.  Desiree, Ethan, Rebecca, Dale and Dawson are going to declare that they are in rebellion against the devil and all his works and all his ways.  They are going to declare belief in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They will declare belief in the truth of God.  They will declare that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.  They will declare that this is not a truth; this is the truth.  This is radical.  This is not normal.  To believe that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him is rebellion against the world, and it is the way that Desiree, Ethan, Rebecca, Dale and Dawson will overcome the world.  Today is not any kind of ending for these five young people.  Today is a day of renewed confession of the truth; a renewed commitment to the continuation of a lifelong battle against the devil and the world and their own sinful desires.  Today these five will promise lifelong connection to Jesus through His Body; the Church and through God’s Word and sacraments.  Today is the day that these five declare that they are not normal; they are set apart from the world in their baptism.  They are set apart to love God and obey his commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.  Love God and love your neighbor.

Life as a Christian in this world is not easy.  Life as a follower of Jesus believing the Bible to be true will make you quite strange to those around you who are compromising and conforming to the ways of the world.  Living as a disciple of the crucified and resurrected Jesus is a call to a life of repentance for all the times you fall into the devil’s trap of being normal.  It is a life of humble service to others in a generation that condemns humility as a sign of weakness and desperately encourages self-promotion; self-indulgence, self-glorification, and even self-worship.  These five young people today reject the ways of the world and pledge to live their lives delighting in God’s will and walking in God’s ways as they live under the eternal reign of God in this life and in the life to come.

Today we declare once again the truth.  The truth.  The truth that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.  The truth that Jesus is the Christ.  The truth that Jesus was baptized in the water of the Jordan River into your sin and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove.  The truth that Jesus took your sin to the cross and shed His holy, precious blood as the payment for your sins.  This truth that is for all people; everywhere.

Desiree, Ethan, Rebecca, Dale and Dawson have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They have received the gift of the Holy Spirit which empowers them to make such a bold declaration today.  They receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  The Spirit, the water and the blood all testify to the truth.  Jesus is the Son of God.  I encourage each one of you to make that declaration with them as the battle lines are drawn once again against the devil and the world and our own self-centeredness.  Today you declare once again.  I am against the devil and all his works and all his way.  I believe in the truth that Jesus is the Christ.  (8 AM Service turn to page 12 in bulletin and we declare together.)

1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? [2]

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

The vine or the fire.

The vine or the fire.

null

Easter 5 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 29, 2018
Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:1-8

 

Sermons online:  
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Last weekend I figured it is time.  It has got to have finally stopped snowing.  It is time.  I should cut the grass.  Before that first cutting of the season it takes some extra work.  Before I can get the lawn mower out I need to pick up the sticks that have fallen off my trees over the winter.  The sticks are dry and brittle and aren’t really good for anything except to burn.  I used to not have a good place to burn a lot of sticks, but now I am prepared.  Last Fall I bought myself a very simple new “tool” to use in the yard.  Sometimes t-o-o-l is just a different spelling of t-o-y for grown up boys.  I bought an empty 55 gallon steel drum and drilled some holes towards the bottom and now I have my own burn barrel.  Once I get the fire going it burns like a furnace.

So I put some paper and cardboard in the bottom of the barrel and then picked up the sticks stuffed them in the top of the barrel, dropped in a lighted match and watched the fire burn.  The dry, brittle sticks quickly burn with flames shooting up in the air.  Now, don’t tell Jeannette that I kind of enjoy burning things in the barrel; she thinks I am working in the yard.  Of course, once the fire died down I did have to start cutting the grass.

The branches attached to my trees are alive.  The branches that fall to the ground are dead.  The branches attached to the trees have the sap, the lifeblood of the tree, flowing through them bringing water from roots in the ground to the leaves on the branches.  The leaves break down the water; the H2O into separate molecules.  They combine the hydrogen and the oxygen with carbon from carbon dioxide in the air and produce sugar for energy for the tree.  Extra oxygen is released into the air for us to breath.  It’s a good system.  God is good.  The branch needs the water to live and grow; the sap is life.  The branch attached to the tree is alive and part of the tree.  The branch apart from the tree is dead.

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus says, “I am the true vine; you are the branches.”  Grape vines bring life-giving sap to the branches.  The life-giving sap enables the branches to produce leaves and grapes.  Next time you are eating a grape or drinking wine think about how it started out as water and carbon dioxide.  Only the branches attached to the vine can produce fruit.  Branches lying on the ground will produce nothing.

Jesus is the vine.  You are the branch.  Jesus teaches in John 15:1-6 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

In your baptism you were grafted into the vine.  You are a branch attached to Jesus who is the vine.  God’s love and forgiveness flow into you and you are able to bear fruit.  You are a branch, Jesus is the vine.  You are attached to Jesus.  You are devoted to Jesus.  You are committed to Jesus.  You are a part of Jesus.  You are stuck with Jesus.  And that is a good thing.  There is no better place to be than to be a branch attached to Jesus.  God nourishes you and prunes away the unfruitful things in your life to make you even more fruitful.  Jesus is the vine and gives you eternal life; you and all your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For it is not just you and Jesus; it is you and Jesus and all the other branches of the vine.  There is no individual relationship with God.  You are part of Jesus’ vine which goes throughout this community and nation and world, and there are branches of the vine all over the globe being nourished by the same love and forgiveness of God.  Jesus is the vine and you are the branch and there is nothing better.  What more could you want?

And yet…and yet there are times when you can find yourself feeling like being attached to Jesus is too confining.  You can feel like this closeness to Jesus is stifling and suffocating.  Life as a branch in the vine can get boring just doing what you are supposed to be doing, living life in the love and forgiveness of Jesus, loving and forgiving and serving those around you.  Life as a branch of the vine can get sort of mundane.  Kind of boring.  Just the same thing day after day.

There are times when you find yourself looking at the branches lying on the ground and getting jealous.  Those branches are free.  They are not stuck with Jesus.  They are not attached.  They are not being pruned in order to produce more fruit.  They are free to do whatever they like.  No constraints.  No attachments.  They’re free.

You are not a dry, dead branch destined for the fire.  You are a branch of the vine of Jesus.  You are full of life.  You are nourished with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

You can look at those who are unattached to Jesus and His church and think, “How cool would it be to be one of them?  No rules, no constraints, no guilt, no sin, just pure freedom to do whatever I want.”  It is tempting to look at those apart from the church and think they have it better.  And no wonder.  No wonder sin is attractive because, like you say most Sundays, you are, by nature, sinful and unclean.  Being a sinner is normal.  Being a sinner and indulging every whim, every desire, every lust is how you are hardwired; passed down from your first father Adam.  It is natural to want to sin and so you can find yourself very attracted to a life free from the constraints of being part of the vine of Jesus.  But that freedom is an illusion.  That freedom is a lie.  That life is a life of being a slave to sin.  That life is a life of being a dry, dead, stick destined to be burned.  That is your natural state, but you have been called out of that natural state and, by baptism, have been grafted into the vine of Jesus.

You are not a dry, dead branch destined for the fire.  You are a branch of the vine of Jesus.  You are full of life.  You are nourished with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.  You are changed by being a part of Christ’s Church; by being a branch of the vine.  You are changed because God loves you so much he grafted you into Himself.  The love and forgiveness of God earned by the blood of Jesus flows into you and produces growth and fruit.  The sap of love and forgiveness of God flows from the roots of the creation of the world through the cross of Calvary and into you, and you bear fruit in your life as you love and serve and forgive those around you.  You have the water of life flowing into you from Jesus and you break it down to nourish yourself and to provide fruit in service to others.  And you release extra love and forgiveness into the world around you.

Now loving others sounds so nice and easy, but loving those around you is messy because people are messy; they are mean, they are hurtful.  Love them anyway.  Forgive them even though they don’t deserve forgiveness.  Do it not from your own strength and mercy but from the strength and mercy flowing into you from Jesus.  Do it from the strength and mercy that loves and forgives you even though your life is messy; even though you can be mean and hurtful.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  1 John 4:10 Jesus paid for your sins on the cross out of love for you.  Jesus loves you.  Let His love has its way with you.  Cherish your place as a branch of the vine.  Let God’s love wash over you as you live as a branch in the vine and remember that God’s love is for all people.  God’s love is for all and yet so many choose to be separated from the love of God in Christ.

Remember that there are only two options in this life.  Be a branch of the vine which is Jesus, or be a dry, dead, branch destined for the fire.  We want to make things more complicated; more nuanced, but there are two options; the vine or the fire.

Rejoice that you are part of the vine; the Body of Christ; the Church.  You have the opportunity to receive the gifts of the forgiveness of sins each week as we worship together.  You are part of the Body; you are part of the Church; you are a branch of the vine.  Do not fall for the temptation to remove yourself from the vine in order to pursue the illusion of freedom.  You belong in Christ.  You are a branch in the vine.  You are together in the vine with Christians from all over world and you reach out to others with the Good News that Jesus is the vine.  This vine extends all over the earth.  From Israel to China and Kenya and India and Germany and Guatemala and Mexico and Ethiopia.  Ethiopia, where the people first learned about Jesus from a single Ethiopian official who heard it from the disciple Phillip.  The vine continues to grow in Ethiopia to this day and you support our missionary Pastor Mark Rabe at the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa.

Jesus is the vine.  You are the branches.  Abide in Jesus and He in you.  Stay with Jesus.  Stay a part of the vine.  Amen.

The wolf loves lamb chops

nullEaster 4 Good Shepherd Sunday

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 22, 2018
Acts 4:1-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

Sermons online:  
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Every once in a while when I am out at a fancier restaurant I will order lamb chops.  Lamb has a distinctive, slightly gamey, delicate taste and the meat is soft and juicy; different from beef and chicken.  I like nice, medium rare lamb chops.

like lamb.   Wolves love lamb.  Love it.  Lamb chops, lamb shoulder, lamb shank, lamb loin, lamb ribs.  Wolves love lamb.

Now when I eat lamb and enjoy it the shepherd is happy because his lamb has been sold at market and ended up on a plate just as the shepherd intended.  The shepherd raised the lamb and made money selling the lamb.

When the wolf eats lamb and enjoys it the shepherd is angry and sad.  One of his little lambs was stolen from him by the wolf and brutally killed.  The lamb did not get to do what the shepherd intended.  The lamb was taken from its intended destiny and destroyed by the wolf.  Shepherds hate wolves because the wolves want to hurt sheep.

Shepherds will do what they need to do to protect their sheep from wolves.  In the United States wolves were pretty much eliminated from the lower 48 states by the mid 1900s.  Wolves were then put on the endangered species list, bred in captivity and released into the wild and their numbers have been increasing.  This has been good for the ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere as the wolves help control the deer and elk populations.  Good news for the wolves, bad news for the sheep and the shepherds.  Shepherds still want to protect their sheep, but face legal trouble if they hurt a wolf.  There are people who want to protect the wolves and people that want to protect the sheep and there is tension about how to best do both.  Now sheep are just sheep and wolves are just wolves and we can discuss how many sheep we are willing to allow to be killed in order to protect the wolves.

In our Bible texts for today the sheep are not just sheep and the wolf is not just a wolf.  The sheep are precious souls bought by the blood of Jesus.  The sheep are you and me and our families and loved ones, our acquaintances and enemies, people we know and people we don’t know.  Sheep are the beloved ones Jesus has died for.  The wolf is the devil; the father of evil and lies.  The wolf wants to destroy the sheep.  The wolf wants to tear you up and kill you and consume you so that you are apart from God forever.  So many lambs are taken from their intended destiny and destroyed by the wolf.

Jesus is the good shepherd.  Jesus declares in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd protects the sheep from the wolf.  Jesus is the good shepherd of Psalm 23.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads, restores, comforts, protects, anoints, feeds, provides.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd like David who defended his sheep from lions and bears.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd as opposed to the bad shepherds of Ezekiel 34:80 “… because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep…

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus loves His sheep.  Jesus puts his life on the line to fight the wolf.  Jesus lays down his life in battle with the wolf.

The devil wants to tear you apart.  The devil wants to take you from your intended destiny and destroy you.  The devil wants you to wander away from the Good Shepherd and fully indulge in sin so that your sin separates you from God, eats you alive and destroys you from within.

Now, it takes a brave, committed shepherd to engage a wolf in battle, especially in David’s or Jesus’ time.  This isn’t shooting the wolf from 100 yards with a scoped rifle.  This is going up one on one against the wolf with a long stick with a big knot on one end.  Now, when confronted by a wolf a shepherd has choices.  Run away.  Stand by and watch as the wolf takes a sheep.  Or confront the wolf and drive it away.  The first two choices have no risk for the shepherd but are risky for the sheep.  The third option could get the shepherd hurt or killed.  But it is the option that protects the sheep.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus gives all to protect the sheep.  And the wolf he battles is no ordinary wolf.  You are no ordinary sheep.  Jesus does not run away, Jesus does not just let the wolf take a few sheep.  There are no acceptable losses.  You are too precious.  Jesus lays down His life to pay the price for the sin of the whole world so that the devil loses his authority to accuse you of your sin.

The devil wants to tear you apart.  The devil wants to take you from your intended destiny and destroy you.  The devil wants you to wander away from the Good Shepherd and fully indulge in sin so that your sin separates you from God, eats you alive and destroys you from within.

If that doesn’t work, the devil will use your sin against you.  The devil loves to hold your sin up in front of you and shame you with it.  “Look at what you have done.”  He uses old sins, new sins, big sins, little sins; whatever works best on you.  The devil is the master accuser.  The devil knows how to dig up old iniquities to bring up fresh shame and guilt.  “Look at that sin.  What if the people sitting around you at church could see what you have done?  How could God ever forgive someone who has done that?  Shame on you.  Guilt on you.  Disgrace on you.”

The devil is so good at accusing that you can forget.  Satan is so good at making you feel guilty that you can forget.  You can forget that Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  You can forget that the Lord is your Shepherd, you shall not want. You can forget that Jesus laid down His life to pay the price for your sins.  You can forget that Jesus marked you as His own through water and the Word of God in Holy Baptism.  You can forget that Jesus calls you by name.  You can forget…but God does not forget.  God knows your name.  God remembers His promise to you that your sins are forgiven and you belong to Him.  You have been marked in baptism as a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Stay with the shepherd.  The shepherd will protect you.  The shepherd stays with His sheep to keep the wolves away.  Sheep together in the flock with the shepherd are safe; they are loved and forgiven.  Jesus’ flock is not an exclusive group.  Jesus wants all the sheep to be in His flock.  He calls all sheep to follow Him but sheep like to wander and sheep can be led astray.  The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.  Jesus dies for sheep that seem always to believe that the grass is greener in the next pasture over.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the sacrificial Lamb of God and allows Himself to be torn apart by the wolf and His minions.  Fists and sticks and thorns and whip and nails and spear tear apart the spotless Lamb of God.  The Lamb sheds His blood for you.  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus paid your debt.  Jesus paid the price for your sin.  Jesus paid the price for you even though you are not a good sheep.  Despite that you do not love enough, you do not struggle against sin enough, and you love to wander away from God and hang out in the devil’s playground.  Jesus still loves you.  Jesus loves you despite who you are; despite what you have done.  Jesus lays down His life for you.  Jesus takes up His life for you.

You see what Jesus has done for you and what He calls you to do for each other.  16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

This is what we do as sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Not in order to get into the flock.  You were baptized into the flock.  You are already in the flock.  This is how you act when you are in the flock, because you are in the flock.  You believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and you love one another, just as He has commanded.  As a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd you listen to the voice of the Shepherd and you follow Him.  With the shepherd you are safe.  Alone you are wolf food.

Beware of false teachers; false under shepherds; false pastors.  There are so many around who pretend to be under shepherds of the Good Shepherd but they do not speak for the Good Shepherd.  15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  Matthew 7:15

Beware of the devil and his minions.  The devil prowls like a roaring lion.  The devil stalks you like a wolf hungry for lamb chops.  Stay with the Good Shepherd; do not wander off by yourself.  Stay with the Good Shepherd in the green pastures of the rich forgiveness of the bread of life.  Stay with the Good Shepherd by the refreshing living waters of His Word.  Stay with the Good Shepherd through this valley of the shadow of death.  Stay safe from the wolf and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.

What is the worst thing that you have done?

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 15, 2018
Acts 3:11-21, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36-49

Sermons online:  
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Occasionally, at Immanuel Lutheran School on Fridays when I teach 7th and 8th grade religion, we will have open forum Friday where the students are invited to write down questions and I try to answer them.  Some of the questions are pretty deep, “What happens to children who die without baptism.”, some are lighter, “What is your real name?  What is your favorite food?”  This past Friday one of the kids asked me, “What is the worst thing you did as a kid?”

Now that is a pretty convicting question.  Pondering this question brings waves of guilt and shame in remembering past sins.  I have lots to choose from.  What would I be willing to share? Is there anything I would be willing to share?  What is the worst thing I have done as an adult?  Again, so many things to choose from, would I dare to speak any out loud in public?

What we said at the beginning of the service is certainly true.  It is certainly true for me.  I am by nature sinful and unclean.  I am a poor sinner in need of mercy.  I am needy.  When we confess being a poor, miserable sinners it doesn’t refer to our state of mind; that we are unhappy or something.  It refers to our neediness, our being spiritually destitute.  It means that as a sinner I have a great need…an overwhelming need… for forgiveness.

Each one of you is by nature, sinful and unclean.  Each one of you is a poor, miserable sinner in need of forgiveness.  Each one of you has sins in your past and in your present that you do not want to speak out loud.  Each of you is burdened by guilt and shame because of who you are and what you have done.  This is the hard, ugly truth about sin.  But Jesus does not leave you in the tomb of your sin.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  And this changes everything.  God loves you.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God…”  God the Father loves you.  See what kind of love the Father has given you.  This is an extraordinary love.  This is an incredible love.  Who could love someone like me with all the dark perversion of my sinfulness and my struggle?  Who could love someone like you; a natural born sinner?  The great Good News is that, indeed, the Father loves you and sent His Son to take your place; to pay for your sin; to suffer in your stead.  Jesus died for you on the cross and Jesus rose from the dead for you.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  This changes everything.

Christ risen from the dead means you too will rise from the dead.  Christ risen from the dead proves that Jesus truly is God in flesh.  Christ risen from the dead proves that forgiveness of sins in Jesus is the truth.  Christ risen from the dead proves Christianity is truth.

Jesus risen from the dead means you are not left mired down in the swamp of your sin.  No longer are you a sinner deserving punishment now and forever.  No longer are you blind, dead and an enemy of God.  No longer are you a lost and condemned person.  No longer.  You are now a child of God because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Some folks like to think that all religions are the same, but Christianity is different.  What is different about Christianity?  Christianity is based on evidence.  Christianity is based on the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.  Christianity can be disproven.  If someone finds Jesus’ body Christianity is destroyed.  Christianity needs a resurrected Jesus.  If Christ is not raised from the dead then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  If Christ is not raised from the dead then we are all just wasting our time.

But Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  This changes everything.

Jesus rising from the dead doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Normally when people die they stay dead.  But Jesus is not a normal person.  Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  We have the eye witness accounts recorded in the Bible.  We have the record of the eyewitnesses continuing to preach the Good News of a resurrected Jesus.  The eyewitnesses continue to preach the Good news of the resurrected Jesus even though it costs 10 out of 11 of them their lives.

Jesus risen from the dead means you are not left mired down in the swamp of your sin.  No longer are you a sinner deserving punishment now and forever.  No longer are you blind, dead and an enemy of God.  No longer are you a lost and condemned person.  No longer.  You are now a child of God because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

You are a child of God.  You are God’s child right now.  And the best is yet to come.  When Jesus returns on the last day you will be raised up to be like Him.

At your baptism you are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness.  At your baptism you are clothed in Christ.  You wear Christ.  We saw two more put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness this morning as two of our students, Aybri and Bella, come through the waters of Holy Baptism.  You are a child of God.  You have been declared to be righteous, innocent and blessed.  You are a saint of God.  Saint ________.  Saint ________.  Saint ________.  Christ’s death is your death.  Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection.  You belong to Christ.  You put on Christ.  27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)

You are a baptized child of God.  You are a saint of God.  You wear Christ.  But wearing Christ can be uncomfortable in this world.  The reason the world does not know you is that it did not know Jesus.  Jesus did not fit into this world; they wanted to kill Him.  As a child of God you do not fit in the world.  People will look at you as if you are some kind of freak.  People will think you are some backwards, foul, relic from the past because you wear Christ.

You wear Christ and move through life in this world as the world is continually pushing you and pulling you and desperately trying to get you to conform to the ways of the world.  The world wants you to give in to your sinful desires.  The world wants you to let your sin rule your life; let sin call the shots.  The world wants you to take off the robe of Christ’s righteousness so you can fit in and live under the rule of sin and the devil.

It is easy to give in to sin.  It is natural to give in to sin.  Giving in to sin and living in sin allows you to go with the flow of the world.  The world tells you to be yourself, no matter what that is.  But you are not yourself.  You do not belong to yourself.  You are a child of God.  You have put on Christ.  You should not be yourself; you should not be your natural, rebellious, sinner self.  You should be your redeemed, holy, child of God, saint self; the saint self that lives in Christ.

As a redeemed child of God washed clean in the blood of Jesus you no longer belong to the darkness and so you are called to struggle against sin and temptation.  You are called to fight against the sin that creeps into your life and wants to take up residence.  You are called to push back against sinful desires and sinful situations because you no longer practice sin.  You are called to live a life of repentance.  You are a child of God.  You live in the refreshing joy of Easter.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  This changes everything.

This is why you need Jesus.  You need to gather together every week to be refreshed by the love and forgiveness of Jesus.  Each Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and receive the gifts of God.  You need the refreshment of hearing “I forgive you all your sins.”  You need the renewal of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  You need Jesus and Jesus is here for you as we gather together each week to receive His gifts and to love and support one another.

What is the worst thing that you have done in your past?  It doesn’t matter.  It is no longer there.  It is covered by the blood of Jesus.  It is washed away.  You are a child of God who lives in the refreshing stream of the water life.  You live in the ongoing truth of Easter.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Amen.

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Welcome Home!

mountain_17204pEaster 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 1, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8

 

Sermons online:  
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                          bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:     bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

 

So, what are you looking for? Why have you come here today?  What has gotten you up on this Sunday morning and brought you to this place?  What are you looking for?  Some of you are here every Sunday, some not so often.  But, why are you really here? What are you really looking for?  Every one of you is on a journey through life and the end of the journey can be frightening.  Where is your home?  What lies at the end of the journey?

Some of you are here because you are home for the holiday and your family always goes to church together on Easter. Some of you are here because you are unable to be home, and church on Easter Sunday reminds you of your home and family.  For many of you, church and the people here are your home and family. There is something about this day and this place that reminds you of home.

Today you are here, in the right place, looking for home, but sadly, I’m afraid you spend most of your days looking for home somewhere else.  You spend most of your days looking for home in the things of this world.  You look for home in the things around you; in fleeting pleasures and momentary happiness.  Too often you look for home in things of the world as if they are what truly matter.  Far too often you look to this world as if it truly is your home.

This may seem like it’s not such a big deal, but when you look for home in the things of this world you are like the women in our Easter text for today from the Gospel of St. Mark. The first place you “go” to seek Jesus is a tomb. You look for Jesus among the dead. You focus upon the fleeting stuff of this world.  You are enchanted by things you will soon throw away.  You are excited by the perishable.  You seek comfort and fulfillment in this mortal, dying world. You seek Jesus among the dead!  You look for proof of Jesus in the material things of life and you treat the grave as if it were your home.  You are taught to believe that life is a race against the grave.  We hear this reflected in the way we talk about life.  We say things like, life is short eat dessert first, carpe diem (seize the day), yolo (you only live once), it’s on my bucket list, you only go around once so grab all the gusto you can grab.  All of this talk makes it seem as if this life is all that there is, that, indeed, life is short and then you die.

Why do the women go to the tomb to see Jesus?  Now we can talk about how the women were doing their duty by going out to anoint Jesus’ body.  We can speak of the women’s bravery because they are out and about while the disciples hide in fear behind locked doors. We can talk about their devotion to the Son of God. But none of that changes the fact that they believed Jesus to be dead. Jesus told them over and over that He would rise from the dead and yet they still went to the tomb to see Jesus because, everyone knows, the tomb is home for dead people and Jesus died just like everyone else.

Why did they seek Jesus among the dead? Because, in this world, death is your home.  In this world you are on a one way journey to the grave.  You have been exiled to death because of sin.  Death is the reality of this life.  What are the two things you can’t avoid?  Taxes and death.  Now, we try to ignore death.  We try to fight it, we deny it, we do all we can to put it off; but the reality of our sin is death. Death is our land of exile; the grave is our wilderness home. You can eat healthily, work out, see the best doctors, eliminate stress, and be in touch with your inner self; yet you will still die.

The devastation of death is brought about by sin in the world and sin in your very being. The grave becomes your exile home.  In the Garden of Eden, man willingly brought sin into this world; but who knew that sin would bring its partner—death.  The devil lied to Adam and Eve when he said, “You will not surely die.”  The wages of sin is death.  And not the sanitized American version of death with all our gentle euphemisms, passed away, slipped away, didn’t make it.  The wages of sin is death.  The brutal, agonizing, eternal fire, weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth kind of death that is the result of being separated from God. Death that is everlasting condemnation; death that is suffering beyond comparison; death that is the great enemy that no man can overcome. Our sin has sent us to this land of exile, this land of death. We are in an exile that is a death both physical and spiritual; we are in exile with no ability to escape and no hope of return.  Is it any wonder that you live as if the tomb is your home?

For this reason, God sent His Son into this world. Jesus came to rescue you from your land of wandering, from your deadly exile, from the reality of death itself. Jesus came to save you from the grave.  This is the exile from which Christ has freed you and brought you out. Jesus came to accomplish what you had no hope of accomplishing. By the cross, He has redeemed you, restored you, and renewed you. Jesus overcame both sin and death. Jesus hung on the cross to bear your sin—suffering, bleeding holy blood, and dying as the sacrifice for all sin. Jesus conquered Satan as He provided the sacrifice required and cleansed you from all guilt and shame. For this, God sent His Son; for this, Jesus faced death in your place and finished the work God promised He would do; and for this, Jesus was laid in the tomb as a lifeless body—but a lifeless body with a promise!

The tomb is empty! The tomb is not Christ’s home. The grave only holds Him for three short days.  The grave—the pit—is not and will not be His dwelling place.  Satan’s wilderness exile land of sin and death cannot contain Jesus.  The grave cannot contain Jesus.  He is not there. Christ is risen!

The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning were not focused on the promise. They were focused on the corpse. They went to see Jesus among the dead. They were living as if the grave was their home—the end of their journey. But the angel told them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”

Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you seek Jesus in a tomb? He is not here. He is risen!  Christ is risen!

The tomb is empty! The tomb is not Christ’s home. The grave only holds Him for three short days.  The grave—the pit—is not and will not be His dwelling place.  Satan’s wilderness exile land of sin and death cannot contain Jesus.  The grave cannot contain Jesus.  He is not there. Christ is risen!

Do you realize what this means? If the tomb is not Christ’s home, then the tomb is not your home either! You will not remain in the grave.  You will rise from the dead.  Christ is victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and He shares His victory with you. Christ pays the price and overcomes the Ancient Foe, and you are rescued from the wilderness; you are restored to your God; you are returned from the land of your exile. Welcome home!  Welcome home to eternal life with God in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christ is risen!  The tomb is empty. The grave is no longer your focus because it is no longer your home. You no longer live life fatalistically. You no longer wander through this world with the attitude that you just plug along until you die. You no longer live as one exiled in a land of suffering and death. The tomb is empty! THE TOMB IS EMPTY! Christ is risen!  You do not look for Jesus among the dead.  You do not live your life as one who has no hope. The tomb is empty! Christ is Risen!  He is risen, and you also will rise!

This world is confusing. This world is uncomfortable and difficult. This world is heavy and overwhelming. This world still seeks your attention and your citizenship. But this world is NOT your home. Christ has risen! The tomb is empty, and you live life as a child of God walking through this strange land. You are a living child of God on a journey through this world. You focus not to the right or to the left; you are not distracted by the glamour, you are not sidetracked by the shiny things of life.  You are not overcome by the pain and the darkness. You walk with your eyes focused, not on the tomb, but on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:1–3), the One who has returned you to a right relationship with your Father in heaven. You walk with eyes focused not on the land of death, but on the open gates of everlasting life.

Welcome home!  Welcome home to the Kingdom of Heaven!  What beautiful words I am privileged to speak to you this day. Welcome home! The tomb of Christ is empty—He is not here; He is risen. And you, too, shall rise! Welcome home! Christ is risen!  Amen.

Who needs freedom?

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Cross atop Mt. Nebo in Jordan

Lent 4 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 11, 2018
Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

Sermons online:  
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

 

Ezra’s stands knee deep in mud under the hot, Egyptian sun.  He is scooping up buckets of mud from a shallow pit to pass them up to other slaves who mix it with straw to make bricks.  Ezra works from before sunrise until after sunset.  There is not enough food and it is back-breaking work to continually hoist heavy buckets of mud above his head to those making the bricks.  Ezra is hot, tired, hungry, and miserable.  He is covered in mud including mud that has dripped into his eyes but he doesn’t have a clean hand to wipe them.  If Ezra slows down at all or if the overseer is just in a bad mood Ezra gets whipped with a long, thin leather strap cracking on his back drawing blood to mix with the mud.  It is a no good, awful, terrible day for Ezra just like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  Seven days a week of slaving in the hot sun covered with mud mixed with blood, sweat and tears.  Life as a slave is a hard, brutal life.  You know exactly what to expect every day.

The Lord God hears the cries of His people in slavery in Egypt and sends Moses to rescue them.  Moses brings the people through the water of the Red Sea into the wilderness; saving them from a life of slavery.  The people are free.  No more mud.  No more bricks.  No more whips.  No more slaving under the hot sun.  The people are free.

The children of Israel are free.  They have passed through the waters on dry ground and then the waters destroyed the Egyptian army.  The people are free, but then the people get bored in their freedom.  Freedom isn’t enough.  Manna from heaven isn’t enough.  There are difficulties in the wilderness.  The people complain.  Numbers 21:5 (ESV) And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”[1]

God rescued the children of Israel and they reject His rescue.  They prefer the certainty of slavery to the Egyptians to the uncertainty of freedom trusting in God.  The people are bored in their freedom and God relieves their boredom by sending in fiery serpents.

Imagine you’re sitting at home on the couch just bored; nothing to do, flipping mindlessly through the TV channels.  How quickly would that boredom turn to terror if you saw a six foot snake slither out from under the sofa and across the living room floor?  And then another one, and another.  What would the sight of snakes in your house do to your pulse and breathing and blood pressure?

The Israelites have fiery serpents all among them and when someone gets bit the bite is hot and painful and brings certain death.

The people panic and cry out to Moses, Numbers 21:7 (ESV) … “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” …

So Moses prays and God answers his prayer, but God does not take away the serpents.  Instead God has Moses make a serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole and if a serpent bites anyone, he can look at the bronze serpent and live.  The people were cursed by the serpents and now that curse hangs on a pole as a sign and promise from God.

You were snake bit.  You come from a snake bit line of people infected with the fiery, poisonous venom from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This venom of original sin, coursing through your body brings suffering, and certain, eternal death.  You were snake bit, but God rescued you as He did for little Faith this morning.  God brought you through the waters of Holy Baptism drowning the Old Adam in you.  God brought you through the saving waters of baptism into the wilderness of this life and He feeds you with His Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  He gives you a sign with a promise; the Son of Man lifted up on the cross.  Look to Jesus on the cross and live.  Galatians 3:13 (ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[2]  Jesus becomes a curse for you and is hung on a pole as a sign and promise of God.

You have been set free from slavery to sin; slavery to death, slavery to the devil.  You have been given the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are free from the curse of the law.  You are free to live life in love and service to others without fear of the devil and Hell.  You live in freedom.

You live in freedom, but that freedom is lived out in the wilderness of this life on your journey to the Promised Land, and life in the wilderness can be difficult.  Life in the wilderness can be full of hardship and heartache.  There is a great temptation to grow bored with freedom.  As crazy as it is for the Israelites to long for their time as slaves, you can find yourself longing for your time in bondage to sin.

You can get bored with the freedom of the Gospel.  “It’s just baptism.  It’s just Holy Communion.  It’s just God’s word of forgiveness.  It’s just the same thing over and over again.”  You can get to where you want to demand a sign; a miracle, you want to demand something more.  It can get to where the uncertainty of freedom in Christ just isn’t enough and you want to go back to the certainty of slavery to sin.

You have been set free from slavery to sin; slavery to death, slavery to the devil.  You have been given the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are free from the curse of the law.  You are free to live life in love and service to others without fear of the devil and Hell.  You live in freedom.

Living in the light of Christ in love and service to others can get boring and you just want to go back to the darkness of sin where people love the darkness because it covers their evil deeds.  Coming from a snake bit people you are drawn to the wickedness of the darkness; you are by nature a child of darkness.  But you are no longer of the darkness.  You are a child of light.

You are a child of the light, but there is a danger that the children of light can drift back into the darkness.  They can separate themselves from the Word of God.  No longer do they read God’s Word or hear God’s Word preached.  They separate themselves from the Words of Jesus’ absolution; His forgiveness.  They separate themselves from life giving food and drink of Holy Communion, they separate themselves from the Body of Christ, the Church, and they slowly drift back into darkness and slavery to sin and death.  There is no promise of once saved, always saved.  You can lose faith.  The devil you renounced at your baptism wants to take control of you again.  He wants to bite you with his fiery venom and take you with him to Hell.

So beware!  Wake up!  Stay awake!  Look to the sign of God’s promise!  Look to Jesus Christ lifted up on the cross for you.  Look to Jesus and live.  You are baptized.  You are free in Christ.

You have been rescued from the darkness.  Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,[3]  John 3:16 (ESV) 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.[4]

You have been brought out of slavery to sin and into the freedom of Christ.  Do not return to the hard brutality of slavery to sin.  You have been brought from the darkness into the light.  You have been brought from death to life.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are on your way to the Promised Land of eternal life with Jesus.  Life in this wilderness world is not easy, but the Lord is with you; He feeds you and guides you and sustains you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Christians are fools

2018-02-26 15.48.35Lent 3 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, John 2:13-22

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

On Monday afternoon I had the privilege to go to the hospital to visit Shari and Lukas Bickel and their new baby, Faith.  It is always nice to be able to make a visit to the third floor at Fort Hamilton to see a newborn.  As I held little Faith in my arms I got to marvel once again at the miracle of life.  One cell from mom and one cell from Dad joined together and from that one cell grew this 7 pound 5 ounce baby girl; and that is just the beginning.  This is miraculous.  From one cell grows this incredibly complex little baby with her eyes and ears and mouth and skin and all her different body systems.  The utter volume and complexity of the information contained in that first cell is beyond our comprehension.  The wisdom of God is incredible.  1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV) 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.[1]

Now, the wisdom of the world says that the utter volume and complexity of the information contained in that first single cell of human life is just a cosmic accident.  It is just the accidental byproduct of an endless series of random mutations from life formed spontaneously 3.8 billion years ago.  They say God had nothing to do with it because there is no God.  Among the cultural elites it is considered the height of idiocy to believe that God created the world.

The wise people in the world look with scornful contempt on anyone who thinks they were created by a loving God.  Instead they believe we are the product of a cosmic, accident of star dust.  The “smart folks” firmly believe that the wisdom of the world trumps the wisdom of God.

We live near an excellent university full of people with great wisdom, but that wisdom changes.  In many areas of study what is being taught today is very different than what was being taught 20, 40, 60 years ago.  The wisdom of the university changes.  The wisdom of the world evolves over time.  The wisdom of the world adjusts to change with society.  Sometimes it is a kind of amusing to watch universities trying to keep up with their own pace of change and tripping all over themselves in the effort to be the most current and most relevant and most so-called “woke” university.

The wisdom of God is unchangeable.  God is not adjusting to the latest thing and that is not very exciting.  Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end.  God’s wisdom is unchangeable.

It doesn’t make sense… Jesus on the cross.  That isn’t the way that I would do it, and yet in God’s wisdom we are left with nothing except Jesus on the cross for our sins.

Unchangeable wisdom?  That is pretty archaic.  That’s boring.  That kind of stagnation isn’t going to be very attractive to the hip and cool folks.  Unchangeable wisdom could put you on the wrong side of history.  And if it does, so be it.  Because God’s wisdom is truth.  God’s wisdom does not change.  God’s wisdom does not evolve with society.  The wisdom of God is not the wisdom of man.  The wisdom of God is beyond our understanding.  And not understanding God can trouble us.

Why did God allow evil to exist?

Why did God allow Adam and Eve to be tempted?

Why would God use animal sacrifice to atone for sin?

Why would God demand the sacrifice of His Son Jesus to pay for the sins of the world?

It doesn’t make sense… Jesus on the cross.  That isn’t the way that I would do it, and yet in God’s wisdom we are left with nothing except Jesus on the cross for our sins.

We desperately want something different; something more beautiful; something more intellectual; more philosophical; more understandable.  We want something we can figure out as we ponder it.  We want some kind of spiritual puzzle that we can be a part of and we can solve.  But God’s wisdom is beyond our comprehension.  Isaiah 55:8 (ESV) 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.[2]

We don’t understand God and we are tempted to say, I can’t believe in a God who would ….fill in the blank…do something or allow something that I don’t like.  We can get so full of the world’s knowledge that we reject the simple truths of God.

We want to be in control, but we are left not being in charge.  We are left without complete understanding.  We are left only with Christ crucified… and that is enough.  God’s truth is enough.

God gives us the Ten Commandments.  These are simple, but powerful truths.  The Ten Commandments teach us how we should live.  The Commandments give us God’s law for our lives and they are our guide for living.  But in honesty, we know that we have failed to keep the commandments.  God’s wisdom shows us to be sinners, but our wisdom tries to overcome God’s wisdom.  In our wisdom we rationalize our sin, we make excuses, we look for loopholes.  But there are no loopholes.  The Ten Commandments do not bend.  We need Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.

In the Gospel reading today we see Jesus deal with those that added something new and different to God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus gets angry, makes a whip, and drives the money changers and those selling animals out of the temple.  The temple is not there to conduct business.  The Temple is not there for the religious leaders to make money. The Temple is God’s house; where God is present with His people.

The Jews demand a sign of Jesus’ authority to clear the temple and Jesus responds, John 2:19 (ESV)  19 … “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[3]  Jesus is speaking about His body which will be the new temple.  God’s presence with His people will be in Jesus, the Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  This sounds like foolishness to those who hear Jesus that day at the temple.  Still today, Christ crucified and raised from the dead sounds like foolishness to so many supposedly wise people.  Even those in the church can start to think they need something more.

Far too often pastors and churches start looking to the world of business to find ideas to try to be “successful”.  We seek after the next, best, latest, greatest thing that will bring people to church.  There is always someone selling a new plan or program that promises to be the silver bullet to save the Church.

But we do not need the latest and greatest.  We don’t need something new. There is only one message that will save the church and it has not changed.  We have the cross.  We are only given to preach Christ crucified.  This is not glamorous.  This will not teach you to dream big dreams and achieve your big dreams.  We preach Christ crucified and Christ crucified for you is not received any better now than it was in Jesus’ time.

The cross is a stumbling block to people.  The cross is a scandal.  What kind of God puts his own Son to death on a cross?  What kind of God is whipped and stripped and nailed to a wooden beam to slowly suffocate and die?  What kind of God is that?

The cross is folly to so many.  So many people are convinced that they are far too smart for Jesus on the cross.  So many are convinced that they don’t need Jesus.  They don’t need His forgiveness.  Their sin is not a big deal.  What is sin anyway?  In this world that so cherishes worldly wisdom there is a great temptation to leave the Ten Commandments and  Jesus behind and look for the next, best, latest, greatest, newest thing.  Chasing after the newest religious fad is pretty exciting; always something new to learn; always some new or some revived ancient practice by which to be impressed.  During NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics one of their reporters visited a Buddhist shrine and knelt down to pray to seek enlightenment.  It is such an exciting world out there in cutting edge new and old religions.

The true Church is left preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins because that is what you need.  You have the cross, the power of God for salvation.  The world thinks you are a fool, but you have the cross, the power of God and the wisdom of God.  You have the cross.

Just as Faith took her first breath of life on Monday she will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit next Sunday at her baptism.  At your baptism you received the Breath of Eternal life in the Holy Spirit.  You are born again in water and Spirit.  You are baptized into Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  This is more profound than you can comprehend.  Just as you cannot comprehend the incredible complexity of a single fertilized human ovum, you cannot understand the depth of love shown in the grace given you through Christ crucified.  Even though you do not fully understand, you have Christ crucified for you.You have the cross.  You have Jesus.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001