Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sermon -- Advent Vepsers, Week 1 (December 5, 2012)

ROMANS 15:18-19
THY KINGDOM COME…
…Through the Word and the Spirit’s Power.

In the name + of Jesus.

            I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:18-19)

     During Advent, we anticipate the coming of Jesus.  And whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we plead for his kingdom to come.  When we think of the kingdom of Jesus, we ponder the benefits that come to us who dwell in his kingdom.  Perhaps we think in particular of heavenly glory.  While that is certainly included in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God is not limited to heaven.  You already dwell in the kingdom of God.  You are already receiving its benefits.
     The kingdom of God is not as easy to recognize as worldly kingdoms.  We can locate worldly kingdoms by flags and rulers and borders.  But Jesus taught us, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)  The kingdom of God cannot be seen.  Instead, we confess, “I believe in the holy, Christian Church.”  So, if it cannot be seen, we are left to wonder how it can come to us.
     St. Paul declared how, through him, the Lord advanced his kingdom around the Mediterranean world.  He wrote, I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:18-19)  God’s kingdom comes through the Word and the Spirit’s power.
     As it often happens with worldly kingdoms, the Lord’s kingdom also had to be established through the shedding of blood and the slaying of human life.  The Lord, however, did not have you fight your own way in.  Jesus fought singlehandedly for you.  The battle scene was Mt. Calvary.  There, the Lamb of God was slain.  There, the Son of God spilled his blood.  There, Jesus took all of your sin and put an end to divine wrath, eternal death, and any demonic onslaught against your soul.  Jesus suffered in your place—dying for your sins, receiving your condemnation, and enduring your torment.  By his sufferings and death, Jesus established his kingdom.
     But victory was emphatically declared when Jesus rose from the dead.  Jesus’ resurrection proves that the blood he shed for you was not a waste, but was sufficient payment to redeem you.  Since Jesus is risen, his word of forgiveness absolves you of sin.  He speaks, and the grave must give up its dead.  The devil may try to taunt you, but Jesus’ word overrules him.  Satan must shut up.  Jesus lives and reigns.  He has authority over all things.  Jesus’ kingdom endures forever.  His word stands for all time.  Therefore, when you pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” your prayer is not that Jesus will reign—for he already does.  Rather, you pray that you will be included in his kingdom and receive his benefits.
     How, then, does God’s kingdom come?  God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and lead a godly life now on earth and forever in heaven. (Luther’s Small Catechism)  
     God’s kingdom comes by the Word and the Spirit’s power.  For St. Paul, the Spirit’s power was seen in miraculous signs and wonders.  The Gospel of our Lord was being preached around the world, but it had not yet been penned.  Therefore, the Lord confirmed the word of the apostles with miraculous signs, as Jesus had promised (cf. Mark 16:20). 
     No longer should we expect to see miraculous signs to confirm God’s word.  Though miraculous signs accompanied the apostles’ teaching, Jesus did not send them out to dazzle.  He send them to preach the gospel.  They have fulfilled their duty.  They have recorded the words and works of Jesus.  It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit works.  It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit reveals a merciful Savior and delivers you into a blessed kingdom.
     The Lord’s kingdom comes through the Word and the Spirit’s power.  The Spirit’s power is demonstrated by the fact that God has worked faith in your heart.  The Spirit’s power is evident in the fact that you no longer delight in your sins, but instead are ashamed of them and no longer want anything to do with them.  The Spirit’s power is made known in that he has come to you who were dead in sin and made you alive in Christ.  He has converted you from being enemies of God into beloved citizens of God’s kingdom who are eager to do God’s will.  By God’s grace, the Spirit is at work in you so that you lead a godly life.
     St. Paul wrote, I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done….” (Romans 15:18)  Our Lord God advances his kingdom wherever his word is preached and his sacraments are administered.  That is where he creates in you a clean heart and renews in you a right spirit, producing joyful obedience in you.  He fills you with the desire and the strength to serve your neighbor – whether he appreciates it or not; to have mercy on your fellow man – because he is way too stressed about a season that is supposed to bring peace; to console those who grieve – because you have been given words that soothe; to encourage those who are ready to quit the faith – because you know what it is like to be weak and know that the Lord alone provides strength and sustains faith; and to pray for everyone – because often it is God alone who knows how they are hurting and God alone who can bring them hope and peace.
     Citizens of other kingdoms will rally to a flag, knowing that it stands for the protection and blessings their ruler will give.  You also rally where the Lord bestows his protection and blessings.  So cling to the place that he bestows that kingdom upon you.  Flock to the altar to receive his body and blood.  For, there is forgiveness.  Yearn to hear his word proclaimed.  For, there is salvation.  Return daily to your baptism—killing your sin in repentance so that God will raise you up a new creation.  For, there is strength for godly living.  There is the Spirit’s power, keeping you safe from sin, death, and the devil.
     As eagerly as you pray the prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” so freely God answers it.  His kingdom comes through the Word and the Spirit’s power.  Jesus has brought you into his kingdom by faith.  And soon, Jesus will deliver you to the gates of heaven where you will see the glories of his kingdom with your own eyes.  And though you may not see the glory now with your own eyes, the blessings are surely yours already.  You are free from sin, death, and Satan; and there is no greater freedom.  You have received God’s love and God’s salvation; and there are no greater blessings.  The blessings of the kingdom are yours; for you are his.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

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