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"Children of Promise"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 31, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Children of Promise)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Galatians 4:4-7

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Before we begin, join me for a word of prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, as the year draws to an end and another is about to begin, we come to You today to reflect on Your Word. As we do, we ask that You send Your Holy Spirit to remind us of Your gracious gifts and promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In His Name we pray, Amen.

One of my favorite New Year's resolutions is attributed to the American pastor and renowned Christian educator, John H. Vincent. Vincent was known as a skilled preacher who used his rich voice and a gracious manner to preach the Word of God throughout northern Illinois. While serving in Galena, Vincent became the pastor and friend of Ulysses S. Grant. Famous friends aside, Vincent is best known for revolutionizing Christian education and the practice of Sunday school. Vincent believed that education, which was once the privilege of a select few, should be offered to all as a basic human right. In 1909, as the new year was about to begin, Vincent's beautiful resolution was printed on a calendar to inspire all who read it in the coming year.

"I will this day," he wrote, "try to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking, cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence, exercising economy in expenditure, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust and a child-like trust in God."

While I too am a pastor and educator, I must admit my New Year's resolutions pale in comparison to his. In fact, my resolutions, they reflect the vast majority of New Year's resolutions made today: resolutions focused on less-selfless ideals. I resolve to lose weight. I resolve to exercise more. I resolve to save more money. I resolve to finally clean up the basement. Who am I kidding? Like 92 percent of all New Year's resolutions, my resolutions-my promises made to myself-normally go unfulfilled.

In the book of Galatians, however, we learn of a resolution, a promise that does not fail. It's a covenant, a promise made by God Himself and ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. It was a promise made to our spiritual forefather, Abraham, known at that time as Abram-and it was a big promise to keep. At that time, Abram was without an heir, and fearing that he would die without a child, he believed his estate would pass to his head steward. But God, God, had a different plan.

In Genesis 15:4-6 we read that "the word of the Lord came to (Abram): 'This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.' (Then) He took Abram outside and said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Abram 'believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'"

Abram had faith. He had faith in God's resolute promise: a promise that would be fulfilled generation after generation, until finally, finally at that right time, in that specific place, Jesus would be born. In the book of Galatians chapter 4:4-7, we hear these words: "But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are His sons, God has sent His Spirit into our hearts, the Spirit who cries out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but you are God's child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir."

You are the sons and daughters of God. You have the very Spirit of God within you-a Spirit that speaks not vain resolutions, but that cries out to God, "Father, Father!" You are God's child and His eternal heir. No one in the world can ever take that away. And how did we become children of Abraham? How did we become the heirs of God? In the same way that Abraham did, by the gift of faith.

In Galatians chapter 3 verses 7-9, we read, "Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

But until Jesus came, we, like Abraham's household, were under a steward. This steward, however, was not a man; instead, our steward was the Law. In Galatians 3:23-25 we read, "Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the Law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the Law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian."

This is one of the most beautiful yet difficult truths in Scripture: the truth that just like Abraham, we are people of faith, not people of works. We are people of grace, not people of the Law. But as I look back over this past year, I am amazed and saddened by how often I forgot this truth. I stand convicted by all the times I allowed myself to fall back into the grip of the guardian of the Law, allowing myself to be locked up again and again and again. It is during times like these, during times of doubt, during times of trial, during times of temptation, times when my faith is weak that the Law looms over me, and all I can do is return to the Word of God, returning to the Word of God to remind myself of how futile it is to turn to the Law to be saved.

In Galatians 3:10-14, it reads: "For all who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly, no one who relies on the Law is justified before God, because 'the righteous will live by faith.' The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, 'The person who does these things will live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us in order that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."

You see, my friends, Jesus has truly redeemed you. He has redeemed you from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse Himself. For our sin, for our failures, for our doubt, for our unfaithfulness Jesus allowed Himself to be bound. He allowed Himself to be beaten, to be killed, to be crucified so that we might have an eternal family, a place forever in the house of God. Jesus provides us with the forgiveness and love and reconciliation we need. Jesus provides us with a way back home, and through Him, we are saved.

In Galatians 3:26-29, we read, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, nor slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for all of you are one. You are one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

You see, my friends, you are a promise fulfilled: a promise given to our father Abraham, a promise that through Jesus, his offspring, God Himself would create a nation-a nation that outnumbered the stars-a nation that would bless the world, a nation clothed with Jesus in the waters of Baptism, a nation that belongs to Him. You belong to Him. You are the children of the promise, the children of Abraham. You are God's mighty nation dressed in white robes of righteousness washed clean in the blood of Jesus.

And the nation we comprise is unlike any other nation in the world. For it is not bound by geography, or race, or political affiliation. God's nation finds its unity in the promised Offspring, in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And in this Christian unity we become a kingdom of priests, a holy people, a family of grace, bound together in Jesus, and in Jesus alone. This is a promise for you, and for your children, and for your children's children, and for every generation that follows until Jesus Christ comes again. It is a promise made to all who have faith in the promised Son of God, Jesus.

As we reflect on this past year, and we look forward to the next, we are reminded of our identity as God's adopted children. We are reminded that we are the children of promise, that we are heirs to His kingdom. I encourage you to move forward in this faith, clinging to God's unending grace, embracing the freedom Jesus has won.

If you're tempted to listen to the call of the Law, the call that would take you captive again, I want you to know that Jesus has set you free. If you feel worthless, know that God considered you to be worth the life of His Son. If you feel unloved, I want you to know that God's love for you in Jesus is deeper than any that you've ever experienced in this whole world. God's love for you is eternal. You will always be loved by Him. There is no need to fear. For in Jesus, God is on your side. God is your Father and you are forever His child, and together we can cry out to Him, "Father!" and our Father will hear. I cannot think of a greater message that is needed in our world today, especially as this New Year begins. God made a resolution and in Jesus, just at the right time, it has been fulfilled. And it's been fulfilled for you.

As I conclude my message, I want to share with you another of my favorite New Year's readings. It is a hymn titled, "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come." It's written by Martin Luther, another great preacher and educator. He wrote it for use by his family at their Christmas Eve devotions. This hymn is based off of Luke 2:10-14, and reminds us of this promise fulfilled by God that we heard about in our text for today.

From heav'n above to earth I come,
to bear good news to ev'ry home;
glad tidings of great joy I bring
whereof I now will say and sing:

To you, this night, a Child is born
of Mary, chosen mother mild;
this tender Child of lowly birth
shall be the joy of all the earth.

'Tis Christ our God, who far on high
had heard your sad and bitter cry;
Himself will your Salvation be,
Himself from sin will make you free.

Now let us all, with gladsome cheer,
follow the shepherds, and draw near
to see this wondrous Gift of God,
who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

Glory to God in highest heav'n,
who unto us His Son has giv'n,
while angels sing, with pious mirth,
a glad New Year to all the earth.

Abraham's children, heirs of God, there is only one resolution that I am compelled to make at the beginning of this new and uncertain year. I resolve to know nothing but Jesus and Jesus alone. Happy New Year! Amen.

Reflections for DECEMBER 31, 2017
Title: Children of Promise Guest Kurt Buchholz

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was the Rev. Dr. Tony Cook. We now welcome the president and CEO of Lutheran Hour Ministries, Mr. Kurt Buchholz. Kurt, thanks for joining us.

Kurt Buchholz: Thanks, Mark. The sermon text for today from Galatians really speaks to what Lutheran Hour Ministries has always done and continues to do today: working to expand the family of God by bringing Christ to the Nations and the Nations to the Church. God has made us His own, through faith in Christ. We are now heirs to His kingdom, and God invites all people to receive that gift!

Mark Eischer: And we get to share that message of grace every day with people around the world, in many different ways.

Kurt Buchholz: People who don't know Jesus are like those who don't realize they have an inheritance that's just waiting to be claimed. It's our privilege to bring them that Good News. Lutheran Hour Ministries continues to equip laity just for this reason so that the Gospel can be shared around the world.

Mark Eischer: 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was also the 100th anniversary of our organization's founding as an auxiliary of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Kurt Buchholz: It's been a pivotal year for Lutheran Hour Ministries. We thank God for 100 years of volunteer involvement and ministry through bold Gospel proclamation-on radio, television, and now digitally to new generations. LHM has always been devoted to bringing the Gospel to people where they are, and that tradition continues today as God leads us in bold new directions.

Mark Eischer: Like what, for instance?

Kurt Buchholz: We are continuing to expand our global footprint with new partnerships and initiatives that take us to places where people have no opportunity to hear the message of love and salvation found in Christ. For example, our partnership with the SAT-7 Christian satellite broadcast network. Our work with them expands our reach into 20 Arabic-speaking countries. Television is the main source of information and entertainment in these areas. To broadcast Arabic-language programs that are culturally relevant and that share a Gospel message-now that's powerful.

Mark Eischer: What about our work with the Barna organization? What are they helping us to do, how will it strengthen our efforts, and what are the benefits?

Kurt Buchholz: We are partnering with Barna to obtain research that will help guide the creation of programming that addresses the needs within the world today. Our first round of research was focused on "Evangelism in the Digital Age," and it provided critical insights on what the unchurched are seeking and how we can effectively equip lay Christians to speak to those needs. This research will be the catalyst for new courses which will be added to LHM Learn.

Mark Eischer: Speaking of that, this year saw the launch of that online educational platform called, LHM Learn. What's available there?

Kurt Buchholz: LHM has always been about energizing and equipping lay people to share the love of Christ in their everyday lives. LHM Learn puts outreach resources at your fingertips. You'll find a variety of online courses that cover the basics of Christianity, provide tools for personal evangelism, and help you to better understand demographic and cultural factors.

Mark Eischer: The Lutheran Hour will be especially visible tomorrow for those who watch the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.

Kurt Buchholz: Yes, it will be seen by millions of viewers, either in person along the parade route or on televisions worldwide. The Lutheran Hour Ministries float remains the only Christian-themed float in the parade. It's a long-standing project of our Southern California District and is made possible through the work and support of thousands of volunteers, each and every year.

Mark Eischer: Kurt Buchholz, president and CEO of Lutheran Hour Ministries, thanks for being with us today. We wish you a happy New Year, and God's blessings to you and your family.

Kurt Buchholz: Thanks, Mark. And on behalf of LHM staff, here and around the world, I want to wish our listeners God's blessings in the coming year as together we continue bringing Christ to the Nations and the Nations to the Church.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"Across the Sky the Shades of Night" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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