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What Joy! Surrounded! By A Great Cloud of Witnesses AND JESUS!

August 18, 2013

Proper 15 (Pentecost 13)                                           Trinity Lutheran Church

18 August 2013                                                                                             Murdock, NE

+ Jesu Juva +

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3

“We’ve got you surrounded!”  Indeed, you are surrounded!

But there’s no need to put your hands up in the air.

You are surrounded.

Not by the police, the IRS, or by the SWAT team.

A, “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds you.  The saints of old who lived by faith in God’s promises of salvation and a heavenly city’s inheritance encircle you.  The list of witnesses is a veritable Who’s Who from the Old Testament.  Who suffered all kinds of misfortune, calamity, persecution and death for living before God by FAITH!

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Joshua.  Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel.  Others are inferred like Daniel “who shut the mouth of lions,” and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “who quenched the fury of the flames … whose weakness was turned to strength.”    And then the countless number of Old Testament believers who “were tortured and refused to be released,” who “faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.”  Some were stoned to death.  Others were sawed in two pieces and run through with the sword “There were destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

So what?  What’s the big deal?  What’s the point of being surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses?

The answer is this:  you are running the same race they’ve run.  It’s the race of the Christian life spelled F-A-I-T-H!  To be a human being – to be the creature God made you to be – to be a Christian — is TO LIVE BY FAITH!  The Who’s Who list from the Old Testament concluded with these words:  “These were all commended for THEIR FAITH.”

You too are given to live by faith.  Faith in Jesus who died for you and rose for you.  Faith in Jesus whose blood cleanses you from all sin.  And it’s not easy.  It’s very hard.  To be a disciple of Jesus – one of His hanger’s on – who believes that He alone is the Savior of sinners and that His Word in the Bible (all of it) is to be kept holy — can even divide families.  Hear again what Jesus says matter-of-factly and begin to understand the times in which you live:  “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  When push comes to shove unbelief bears its fangs –even in families – and it hurts.   And we’re tempted to compromise our confession of Christ and water down what He promises and teaches in His Word.

The world too sets itself against you.  Christians are seen the scum of the earth and are treated as such by the elite and privileged world.  Why?  Because you Christians submit to a higher authority than worldly authority.  There is a Lord of lords and King of Kings.  His name is Jesus.  The little imposter and wanna be divinities can’t stand you for this.

Then there is the devil. As your committed enemy he uses false preachers (preachers not sent by the Lord Jesus) as we heard in Jeremiah 23 today.  And they would harm you spiritually.  How?  Well, just like in Jeremiah’s day so too today the false preachers tickle your ears.  They tell you only what you want to hear.  Permission giving preachers they are.  “Do whatever you want.  Whatever floats your boat.    Have your best life now.  God never gets angry.  There’s no such place as a hell.  No hellacious harm could ever come to you.”  That’s their delicious temptation.  And you’re enticed.

In addition, the false preachers sent by the devil pull another fast one.  They would lead you to despair.  How does that work?  Here’s how.  “You call yourself a Christian?  God will not and cannot forgive you for what you’ve done!  It’s just too nasty.  You’ve hurt too many people!  Jesus didn’t die for that!  He’s excluded you and your sin from his dying because you’ve been so disobedient!”   This is one of the most oppressive and false messages you could ever hear.  But it goes to work on you and you begin to despair.

You are not alone.  Many faithful have gone before you.  They’ve been there and done all that.  This week reread all of Hebrews 11.  These heroes of the faith have you surrounded as you run the sometimes agonizing and grueling race of faith.  As examples.  To spur you on.  So that you never give up – believing.

That why the text throws a big fat “THEREFORE” after the Who’s Who list of the great cloud of witnesses.  Listen.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw aside every weight that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Have you ever seen the great marathon runners of the world carry backpacks when they run in the Olympic games?  Do they run in army boots or heavy sweat suits? Are they overweight and out of shape?  Of course not!  All that would hinder them in the race.  In fact, all that would most likely lead to the agony of defeat.  They hardly wear anything at all.  What they wear is the lightest of weight.  They will not be weighed down or burdened in any way as they run.

You are running the marathon race of the Christian faith – the Christian life.  Now, give me a one-word summary for:  “let us throw aside every weight that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”   Just one word that epitomizes that exhortation.  It is the baptismal marathon uniform you’ve been given to wear all your life.  Let me give you a hint.  It begins with the letter “r”.  Yes, that’s right:  REPENTANCE!

Running the race of faith – being a baptized Christian – is the most radical of all living.  Because it means that you’re fighting against your sin.  Renouncing it. Confessing it.  Refusing to let it hinder you.  Throwing it off you.  Battling your sin to the death.  Daily.  For a lifetime. Until you’re graveyard dead and tucked in to your cemetery plot where you will wait for the resurrection on the Last Day.

Yes, your sin clings and sticks to you so closely that it slows down your marathon stride of faith.  Your sin is so heavy, bulky and cumbersome that it threatens to not only ruin your marathon kick but also keep you from finishing the race to heaven.

So it’s time to repent.  To take your sin seriously.  Deadly serious.  Sin not only hinders and weighs you down but it earns a paycheck before God.  And that paycheck is damnation.

I fear that we no longer believe this.  I fear that we falsely believe that we’re really pretty good people.  Not perfect.  But overall not too bad.  Oh, we make mistakes now and then.  But that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that our sin merits God’s temporal and eternal punishment – REALLY?  And then you have no use for whom?  Yes, that’s right – Jesus!

I warn you.  Do not purposely hold your sin outside of Christ’s Good Friday dying.  Do not contradict the sermon He preached there that afternoon, namely, “It is finished!”  To have no use for Jesus – to intentionally withhold your sin from Jesus and to oppose what He preached from the cross is not faith.  It’s unbelief!  And that buys you a one-way ticket to … well you know.

So confess your sin.  No matter what it is.  No matter how wicked, shameful or embarrassing.  Let all your sin remain in Jesus.  Let Him be clothed and damned in it.  Where He dropped it all in the darkness of His tomb never to be remembered, used or counted against you by Him.

And then look IN FAITH TO JESUS!  Like Stephen, the first Christian put to death for confessing Jesus. In Acts 7, in the hour of his martyrdom, Stephen looked to Jesus and prayed just like Jesus.  Do you remember?  While the rocks the size of volleyballs and footballs were slung at his head he prayed:  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”   The apostle Paul declared that he had suffered the loss of everything that the world counts as do precious.  But he considered what the world holds as valuable to be the stuff you just flush down the toilet after you’ve been sitting there for a while.  Why did Paul say this in Philippians 3?  Here’s why!  SO THAT HE MIGHT WIN CHRIST!

That’s precisely how the text today describes the life of Moses.  Moses considered the agonies of the race of faith – the Christian life — as more precious and of greater wealth than all the riches of the Egyptian treasury and Egyptian power put together.  Moses suffered colossal disgrace, poverty and persecution when he refused to be an Egyptian (“known as Pharaoh’s daughter” with all of its perks, titles, exemptions, and cosmic riches) and when he repeatedly rejected the idolatry and sins of the Egyptian court, family, and culture.  Moses let the suffering be.  He suffered it all.  Why?  He fixed his attention on the promised Christ.  “Because,” as the text says, “he was looking ahead to his reward … and saw him [Jesus the Lord] who was invisible” to him at that time.

It’s nice to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses like Moses.  But it’s even better to have Jesus at your side.  Who has you surrounded with His Good Friday death for your salvation.  Who ran the salvation race already FOR YOU!  Endured the agony of it all.

So use Jesus properly.  The Good Friday Jesus.  For the forgiveness of your sin.  Just as He promises.  In your Baptism.  Spoken in the absolution.  And today at the Lord’s Supper.  Give your full-throated “Amen” to the preaching of the Gospel.  To the forgiveness put into your ears after you’ve confessed at the beginning of the service.  And to these words of Jesus:  “The body of Christ given for you.  The blood of Christ shed for you.”  With His forgiveness you have life and salvation.

Oh, and by the way, another bonus with the Lord’s Supper.  Just in case you didn’t know.  When Jesus feeds you in the Sacrament, He brings with Him all the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.  Surrounded again you are – with Jesus and all His benefits – and th glorious cloud of witnesses.  (If only our eyes could see!)

Then use Jesus as well as the example you need in running the race of faith which agonizingly fights against the sin that stubbornly clings to your flesh.  Listen again to the text:  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

In the Name of Jesus.

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