This is it; this is what my kids are looking for: [this present]. And yes, in case you are wondering, there is something special about this gift. Now, I did wrap it in colorful paper (and did not bundle it up in a used grocery bag), but that’s not what makes it so special. I did put a shiny bow on top, marking this package as something different from the packages I receive in the mail, but the bow is not what makes this gift special. I did put something new inside, something they do not yet own, something that I know will put smiles on their faces and bring delight to their hearts. You could say what lies inside is important, but there is something else that makes this gift special. Do you see what it is? It’s this [the nametag] right here. On the nametag are two simple words: To you.
That’s it; that is what makes this gift so special. After all, there are other presents under the tree. They are not all for my kids. Some have my name written on them. They belong to me; I will enjoy those gifts, not my kids. Others have my wife’s name on them. Those presents belong to her; she will own and control them. Still others are for family members we will see later this week. Yet, on this particular gift, those two little words: “To you,” tell my kids: “You alone get to benefit from whatever joys this present will give you.”
This Christmas morning you gather to praise God for keeping his promise to send his one and only Son. Yet, do not overlook what makes Jesus so special. Hear God’s special words meant to fill you with true lasting joy: To You a Savior is Born! Do not be afraid because This is good news for life!
You heard some very good news just last night. After centuries of promises repeated, after years of waiting for God’s promised Son, after years of standing alert for the Savior, God sends him! He wraps up Jesus, this very important Gift, and places him under a stable roof and into a manger. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:6-7).
Jesus has entered the world. That is God’s Christmas gift. Yet, what would happen if I took this gift and removed nametag? How would you feel? If you saw it lying under the tree without a nametag, how would you react? What emotions would you experience? Would you feel uncertain? …timid? …hesitant? Not too sure if this gift is meant for you?
Our reading introduces you to some shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Remember, Jesus is born; the Prince of Peace has arrived!
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. What happens? What is the immediate reaction of shepherds on the first Christmas night? They were terrified.
The glory of the Lord shines around them. That “glory” is the brilliantly blinding white light radiating off of a perfect God! Heaven’s door cracks open just a smidgen. The shepherds can peer just into the entryway of heaven— and they know God dwells somewhere deeper in there. If those shepherds were to see God face-to-face, they could never live. Imperfect, faulty creatures cannot stand in the presence of the One who demands perfection. If God saw them, he would instantly cast them from him forever. How terrifying!
Now, an angel stands in front of them— I mean, an angel! This is God’s messenger! Meaning, God has sent this angel out with a specific message to this specific shepherd-audience. What is that message? Punishment? Anger? Judgment?
How could they not be terrified? They have no assurance that God comes to them in patient, forgiving love. At that moment, those shepherds feel the great divide between their status and the status of the all-powerful, all-perfect God.
Do you know what that feels like? I think you do. You also know Jesus is present in the world. After all, that is why you are here this morning; you have come to worship him. And you openly admit: “I believe in Jesus Christ, my Savior.” You know this— but is it always easy to remember?
A loved one lies in the hospital. Tubes run into his arms. Heart monitors beep. Oxygen hisses. You sit in a chair opposite the bed paralyzed in fear. You pray— but why isn’t he better? Why isn’t he healed? Is it because of you? Is God refusing health because of the ways you abuse your body? Has God turned away from you— because you are faulty?
Your life was going to so well, so easy, and then— horrible news rears its ugly head. Your child struggles. Your daughter drifts away. Your siblings are fighting. Is this trouble in your life because of you? Is God letting bad things happen because you chose to ignore God’s clear commands? Is God letting you, a sinner, taste his anger?
Your life goals fall off track. You wanted the vacation, but now cannot afford it. You wanted to travel, but your health will not let you. You want people to rejoice in a Savior, but they are not here today. You grow frustrated. You get sad. You feel depressed. This is not the kind of life you imagined. Are these things happening because you know too little of the Bible? …Because you are not a “good-enough” Christian for God?
If you remove the nametag from the present, then you will never know if the present belongs to you. If you are unsure if the present belongs to you, then you will not experience the joys, the bliss, the comfort that gift brings. And if you choose to ignore the nametag so clearly written on the gift, then you will forfeit the joy freely given.
You see, when troubles rise up, when fear grips your life, it is so tempting to fixate on you— how good you are, what you have done, how you think God should respond to your behavior. A little part of us wants to make God’s love conditional. If you do good, then God will act good towards you. If you do bad, then God will act bad to you. If that is the God we have, then you (and I) have every reason to be terrified— because you (and I) can never be the good God expects.
That’s why God sends his angel with a special message: “Do not be afraid.” Just think about that for a minute. God knows how often you (and I) are tempted to believe that you must earn his love in order for him to treat with you in love. And so God explicitly says: “Do not be afraid.” Stop thinking that God will help you only when you are nice first. Do not believe that your current struggles have come because you made God mad.
This is why. The angel said to them… I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. Do not be afraid because God does not deliver bad news on Christmas Day. Do not be afraid because God gives a gift to you: a “Savior.”
A Savior! Someone who rescues you! Someone who does what you cannot! Someone who chooses to come and save you! Jesus is proof that God’s love is not conditional. It is one-sided. In love, God sends a Savior—regardless of how you (or I) behave. In love, that Savior wipes away your guilt, and declares it: “Gone.” That means, God sees you as innocent and without fault.
Can you be sure of this? Yes. Because that Christmas-Day-Gift marches into the world, marches through life, and up Calvary’s mountain all in order to rescue you. God punishes Jesus for your (and my) wrongs. With your sins punished, there is no punishment remaining. If no punishment remains, it means you are without a need to be punished. Put another way, you are forgiven! This is the reason you do not need to be afraid.
Look into the manger and see God’s Son lying there. Do not be afraid! Because To You a Savior is Born! This is good news for life!
Sometimes our hearts can still doubt that God could be this loving. So, God makes sure to wipe away any doubt that his love for you is too good to be true. Did you notice how many times the angels repeat the nametag on Jesus? The angelic-messenger appears to shepherds (to them). The angel said to them, “I bring good news to you… to you a Savior is born!” To you is repeated over and over again as if to say: “Yes, this is all really for you! Believe it!” This repetition pounds away any doubt that God is distant from you.
And this news not just meant for the best shepherd or for powerful kings and queens or your pastor— but for all the people. All people, including a virgin no one knows. Including shepherds forgotten in the fields. Including you and me who sometimes make a mess of life. To You a Savior Is Born. To you, yes, you—even when you struggle to get by each day—a Savior is born. This is good news for your life.
So, when the devil shows up in your life and awakens past shame, point to the cross and say, “Go away! Jesus killed that shame for me. It defines me no more!” When your loved one lies in the hospital and you are afraid that God is choosing not to answer your prayers, point to the manger and say: “Jesus came to open communication between me and God.” When your hopes and dreams are put on hold, point to the manger and say: “Even as life changes, my Savior’s love to meet my every need will never change.” To You a Savior is Born! This is good news for life!
Even when you stand beside the casket of a loved one, remember, To You a Savior is Born! Jesus has reversed death. Those who believe he removed their sins will live with him in heaven. Not in hell. Not in the ground. But in heaven’s pure perfect bliss. The Savior comforts a weary heart with his good news of eternal life.
You can be sure of that. That’s the point of a nametag. This nametag tells my kids that this present belongs to them. They will play with it, keep, hold, and have it. There is no doubt, no uncertain about it.
So, God puts a nametag of Jesus so that there is no mistake as to who he is for: To You a Savior is Born! Not just for the best Christians. Not for the lifelong Christian. But for you. He has wiped away sin. Live confidently knowing that all is well between you and God! Live confidently even in the face of trouble, knowing that God has not come afflict. Rather, you know God stands with you. Do not be afraid because To You a Savior is Born! This is good news for life!
So, how are you doing? A little stressed? Anxious? Maybe just a touch on edge? I mean, what do you have left to do? And I think you know what I mean. Tomorrow’s the big day. December 25th! Christmas Day! The day you feast and snack, travel and rip open presents, watch your children and learn how their toys work (after you slog through the instructions). And since today is not Christmas Day, it means those events, those plans are still in the future. You anticipate what you have yet to do.
Are you ready for Christmas? Stores remain open for a only few more hours. If you still have shopping to do, time is running out. Christmas dinner is a little over 24-hours away. Do you have the ham defrosted? …the crackers, cheese, and sausage cut? …cookies baked? …how about frosted? There is even less time until Christmas morning. Are the presents wrapped? …stockings stuffed? Do you have your plans set? …who you will see at what time for what reason with what kids? How are you feeling? How are you doing?
There is still much preparation left to do, isn’t there? Perhaps that realization is starting to sink in. Maybe it weighs a little heavy on your mind right now. Or, maybe you can feel a smidgen of that lingering, unsettling stress. Are you at the point where you just wish Christmas was all over? Presents opened? Food gone? That you just get to sit with your toys and finally relax?
In the closing hours of the Advent season, unwind. Let the stress of deadlines melt away. Put aside your anxious “to-do” lists. Prepare your hearts one last time for the King who will soon arrive. Get ready by considering this question: What are You Getting for Christmas?
(If you so desire, follow the reading printed on the back of your bulletin— and receive God’s encouragement as you make your final Christmas preparations). You read from Romans 16:25: Now to him who is able to strengthen you… That “him” is none other than God. God— the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1). The One who laid the earth’s foundation. The God who marks the boundaries of the oceans and orders: “This far you may come and no farther” (Job 38:1-40:2). The One who stands in the future, grasping the throat of Satan and damning him into the lake of burning fire (Revelation 20:10). God is not bound by time or space; he has no beginning and no end, and no one is greater or more powerful than he is.
This Almighty God is able to do... what? Strengthen you. Of all things that his might has already accomplished, of all things he could do, he uses his ability to constantly strengthen you. And no, God is not promising to build your muscles or to give you perfect health. That’s not the kind of “strengthening” he speaks of. Rather, this “strengthening” describes increasing your grip on what Jesus accomplished for you. Put another way, God strengthens your faith.
How? Well, look at what he says: [God strengthens you] according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Do you see how your faith grows? According to my gospel… Now, the apostle Paul writes these words. He does not confess writing a new bible with a new message. Rather, God hands Paul the good news of a Savior from sin, and Paul simply retells what God taught him. That good news, that gospel, is the preaching of Jesus Christ.
If you want your faith to grow, then be in God’s Word. As you hear the Word, you learn new things that Jesus said and did—things you might have never known before. As you hear the Word, you better understand his teachings. As you hear his Word, you see how what Jesus teaches applies to what you experience in life. You grow stronger, more confident, more certain as you focus on Jesus Christ.
If exhaustion is making you wish that Christmas is all done and over, maybe a good question to ask yourself is: Is your attention set on What You are Getting for Christmas? God points you to Jesus. He makes it quite clear: Jesus comes to lift the burden of guilt off from you so that you can live without fear. No more fear that you could go to hell. No more worry that God gives you bad days because have done bad things. No more anxiety that you are all alone when troubles appear. As you continue hearing the Word of God in worship, in your Bible reading, in your home devotions, your trust in God grows.
Yet, when you take your attention off from the Word, you will grow exhausted, tired, and weak. That is why so many would Christmas to be over. December is spent trying to win the affection of children with the latest and greatest presents. House parties are not entirely carefree affairs, but rather competitions— who can make the best treats, have the best atmosphere, be the best host? Who will be respected for what they have done? Money, time, energy is poured into making Christmas perfect, only to realize that as hard as you may try, loved ones still get sick and do not come home, a sibling may choose to stay away, and that all the decorations cannot make you feel happy.
If you wish Christmas is all done and over, it is because you are losing sight on the Savior coming to you. Your attention is drifting away from his promises, his guidance, his assurance. And instead, you feel exhausted and tired because you are realizing the things you hoped would give you joy and security, do not. The worldly stuff You Get for Christmas can never strengthen your soul. Rather, it leads you further away from the joy Jesus comes to bring.
My friends, over the next day and a half, you have the opportunity to hear the greatest message the world has ever heard. A message that did not come from the mind of man, but came from the mouth of God. You get hear the soul-strengthen message of Jesus living a perfect life for you.
Yes, think about that for just a moment. The Son of God lays aside heaven’s splendid crown. He steps on earth and refuses to wear a real kingly crown— because the riches of the world can never take the place of God. They cannot buy eternal happiness. The Son of God lives in the backwater town of Nazareth. He is born to carpenter, not a king; he is born young virgin, not a well-established married couple. Yet, he never chases after status and pride, seeking to become popular. Personal pride in achievements only lead to self-worship.
You get to see Jesus Christ live for you! His heart always finds pure, perfect delight in listening to God’s commands, obeying them, and trusting him! See him hang high on a cross and see him suffering in your place. Hear him cry out: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and know that you will never be separated from God forever (Psalm 22:1) Watch him rise from the dead and know that you will follow in those same steps.
What are You Getting for Christmas? A soul-strengthening message. The Almighty God again brings delight and joy to your heart with his Word. Not only that, he is strengthening you so that you never lose out on the kingdom he hands to you! What a privilege you (and I) have to praise God.
The good news of Jesus was a mystery that was kept secret for long ages… A mystery is something once unknown— and the mystery here? Very few ever heard the name “Jesus,” “Messiah,” “Savior,” “Son of God.” Old Testament-believer Abraham did. God promised the Savior of the world to him, and Abraham passed this good news down his family line.
That family line? The Jewish nation. The Jews who left Egypt lifted their eyes up to the great Prophet who was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15). David, King of Israel, looked forward to a great Descendant who would reign with might and power forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Mary, a Jewish virgin, is promised: You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (Luke 1:31). All there was were promises— words which pointed to the future.
Now that mystery has been disclosed (that is, made public knowledge) and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations. The prophets pointed to what God would do; you and I see that God has done what he promised. Each fulfilled prophecy prove that God’s Words are not empty well-wishes. They are evidences that when God says he will do something, he intends to do it.
You (and I) have this tremendous privilege to see each promise kept. What happened in Bethlehem spread to Jerusalem. People shared Jesus throughout northern Israel and southern Israel. The disciples carried Jesus to India, north Africa, into parts of Spain and France. The good news of Jesus took root in Europe and blossomed for centuries. When millions swarmed into the New World, they brought their faith with them. They built churches— like the one here in Clare. They worshipped here, in St. John— and some of them are your great-great-grandparents. The all-wise God has seen to it that the message of Jesus has crossed centuries and oceans for you to hear it.
His purpose in sending this good news is to bring about the obedience of faith. Remember what “faith” is: trust. That trust is believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—the only Person who can make you perfect— not you, not your efforts, not a personal decision you made— but that Jesus and by his death and resurrection has done everything necessary to give you eternal life (John 20:31). So, just What Are You Getting for Christmas? God has filled you with good news, giving you the privilege to praise God.
You gather in worship now. You get to hear the Christmas story tonight. Tomorrow morning, you get to (re-)discover how Jesus benefits you now and always. Yes, there will be a part of you (and a part of me) that says: “That’s too much church.” “I’m hearing the same thing over and over.” “I already know all of this.” You know that’s not true. You know I am not here to repeat the same thing three separate times. Like you, I get to grow and grasp just how soul-satisfying the Savior is. In the busy-ness of the season, make time to hear the Word. Honestly evaluate your opportunities to hear God speak to you. As you hear that Word, you get the privilege to praise God.
That is the reason our reading ends the way it does. As you remain in the Word of God, stress and anxiety melt away. You will enjoy many family traditions tomorrow—but those traditions are just that: traditions. Joys made for this life. Joys that may change over time. Yet, your self-worth is not found in what you accomplish. It is found in the perfect life Jesus has draped over you.
When you recognize how God does not hold your self-centered choices against you, when you recognize that God does not search for only the greatest and the best people, when you recognize that Jesus willingly sets aside his life for you, when you focus on What You Get for Christmas, your heart cannot help but shout: To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
There it is— right under the tree— the enormous gift you bought just for him. Shiny green paper hides its identity; bright red ribbons run up each side and meet neatly into a plush, poufy bow. When the time is just right, you get up, walk over to this gift, and sllliiiiiddde it over to him.
He grabs the present. Fingers rip off the bow, pry away the ribbons, shred the wrapping paper— revealing a brand new Samsung 75" Class 4K Smart QLED TV. Yes, that’s a 75-inch screen size— six feet, three inches (and longer than I am tall)! The Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode (QLED for short) generates over a billion shades of color. 4K technology delivers magnificent contrasts, allowing light and dark scenes to appear with crystal clear quality! Its 240-hertz refresh rate brings NASCAR, baseball, football— any fast moving action— to life all without a blur. This is 75-glorious-inches of sheer bliss.
You watch as he sits there in a pile of wrappings, ribbons, and bows, gazing at this enormous box. Almost instantly he pushes it away, reaches down, grabs the shiny green paper, cocks his head, mystified: “Where did you get this amazing paper?” He grabs the red ribbon: “How beautiful!” He lifts the poufy red bow: “This is best gift anyone can give!”
Expect that?... Probably not. After all, what is the real gift given? The television, right? This man pushes the real gift away and instead fixate on the objects that are not presents.
Yet, that happens. Christmastime for many reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger— without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
God does not want you getting lost in the Christmas chaos and losing focus on what joy Christmas really brings. So, he sends John to Testify about the Light! For you to Hear it and for you to Share it.
That is the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light. That “Light” is a person. That person reveals something important; he reveals the only way you can stand acceptable before God. That person, that “Light,” is the Christ. So, John stands in the desert, in a region just north of the Dead Sea, announcing: “The Christ is here!”
“Christ” is a special name. In the New Testament, you hear [the name]: “Jesus Christ;” in the Old Testament, you hear [the name]: “Messiah.” [The name] “Messiah” is the Old Testament way of saying “Christ.” (“Messiah” is a Hebrew word, and when you bring it into the Greek language, you get “Christ.”
Now, remember, names have meanings. For example, my name, “Andrew,” comes from a Greek word meaning: “strong, manly;” my name describes manliness. Maybe you know the meaning of your name (or at least have visited one of those novelty shops which sell cards with your name printed on top and its meaning underneath). The name “Christ” (and “Messiah”) means “Anointed One.” To “be anointed” means to “be set apart for a specific mission.” Our Old Testament reading (this morning) tells you what Christ is set apart to do: He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from [spiritual] darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn… to bestow on them a crown of beauty… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3).
So, when John cries out: “The Christ is here!” it is a message meant to grab people’s attention. God has kept his promise; he sent a Savior. Jesus clears away uncertainty as to how you stand before God; he lights up the fact that he alone lifts off your burden of sin. John Testifies about the Light for all people to hear.
Many hear it— at least, the message enters their ears. Priests and Levites rush out to John not so interested in what Christ brings. Rather, they search for someone they want. “Are you Elijah?” they ask. Many of the Jews created a belief that Elijah would return heaven and free them from their Roman oppressors. “Are you the Prophet?” they wonder. After all, Moses promised a great prophet was coming (Deuteronomy 18:15). The [capital-P]rophet would be God’s Son, but the Jews just wanted another great teacher.
John repeatedly points at Jesus and says: “Ask about him!” And yet, so many are fixated on the shiny green wrapping paper, the red ribbons, the poufy bows of John, instead of worshipping the Christ.
Has anything changed? Many still push aside the need for a Savior and embrace pleasures and treasures of this world. Department stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Homegoods is currently airing a commercial with families and friends gathered around Christmas presents and feasts. It is heart-warming to watch loved ones come together to celebrate Christmas. Except, it’s not Christmas they are celebrating. The commercial ends with the tagline: Family is the greatest gift (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vXVbwfJlpA&index=1&list=PLtyMkMtSY__Ht5ielBr7DeKPXwXFaE6aQ).
Is that really the greatest gift you have ever received? Family? …They never disappoint you? …Never frustrate you? …Never let you down or irritate you? …Fill you absolutely complete and lasting joy?
This is just one example of how the heart searches for something of lasting value. The heart craves happiness. It seeks security. It wants certainty in an uncertain world. Yet, by ignoring John’s message about the Christ, that heart will only remain in spiritual darkness.
During Christmastime, it is easy to shove aside the good news of a Savior born for you. You may grab the wrapping paper of presents, considering your stuff to be more important than worshipping the newborn King on Christmas Day. You may tug and hug the red ribbons of family, making time for them, but no time to sigh a prayer of thanks that God has kept an ancient promise. You may hold up that red poufy bow of self-worship, claiming that you only need Jesus when life gets tough.
Pushing aside John’s message of “Christ is here!” pushes aside the Savior God gives you! And so, God sends John to Testify about the Light for you to hear it.
Hear again the life-changing news of a Savior born for you! Yes, even if you have the Christmas account memorized, appreciate just how majestic your Jesus is. Even if you were a slave kneeling in the dust, removing Jesus’ grimy shoes, that would be far too high of a position! He does not come to enslave you, but to lift you up from servant-hood and to make you a citizen of his kingdom! Remember, that is what “Christ” comes to do.
And this is what “Christ” has done. He binds up your guilt-broken heart with his healing words: “Forgiven. Removed. Done.” He proclaims freedom from sin and death by rising from the dead and saying: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). He comforts all those mourning by saying: Those who believe in me will never die, but live forever in heaven (Revelation 7:13-17). Christ has accomplished what he has been set aside to do. He has set you free from sin forever—and plainly tells you this.
Hear John to Testify about the Light. This is the purpose of his ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. This good news that Jesus has rescued you (and me) from our self-centered choices is the only message that will bring life. Since you hear it, it means you are equipped to share it.
Yes, you. God equips you to share the good news of Jesus with others. I would imagine that you are quite aware that many still need to hear about the Savior. After all, every Christmas you hear the slogans: “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That is true, Christmas is about Jesus. Yet, I also wonder how often those slogans are lobbed out to shame people for not worshipping Christ, instead of being slogans meant to invite people to worship Christ. Or, many Christians watch the national news and mourn the decline of respect and the increase of materialism. Those issues are disheartening— but do remember, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. My point is this: You can mourn that many are losing focus on Christ, but by worrying about events in a place thousands of miles away, you may overlook what is happening in your community, your neighborhood, or among your friends and family.
If it is really an issue that so many lose sight on the real joy found in Christmas, then identify ways to correct that misguided focus. So, instead of shaking your head at a Marshall’s commercial which claims “Family is the best gift,” reflect on your own heart, and see what it considers to be the best gift. Is your heart misguided? Do the hearts of your children lose sight on Jesus? If so, correct it by pointing at Jesus!
If you mourn that the world loves stuff, ask yourself: “Am I materialistic?” “Does my neighbor love stuff more than God?” And if you see yourself, your family, your friends, your neighborhood lose sight on the gift of Savior, then like John the Baptist, point to Jesus!
Share God’s gift of a Son. Are you a parent?... grandparent? If so, God has handed you the special privilege of teaching a child. You are the one who will teach your child how to eat and get dressed. You will help them with homework, buying a car, and setting up savings for the future. Even as they become adults, they still call you “mom” or “dad.” God has seen fit to make you their caretaker.
Remember the most important thing you will ever teach: the Savior. God uses your parent-child relationship for you may share Jesus. Regardless if your child is age 4 or 40, you can still bring up the fact that only Jesus comforts a heart burdened with sin. Only Jesus gives the crown of eternal life.
Are you a friend or neighbor? You build special relationships with people. That relationship is a bridge (if you will) to carry the love of Jesus into someone else’s life. If you know of someone who will spend this Christmas wrapped up in their house and unsure of a Savior, then invite them to join you in Christmas Eve & Day worship.
And if you’re thinking to yourself: “Boy, this all sounds so scary. I can’t possibly just talk about Jesus to random people,” then remember, God does not tell you to knock on the doors of strangers and suddenly blurt out what you believe. Simply reflect on the relationships you hold, the opportunities you get to speak, and the message you get to share with the world. God uses you to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
And yes, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. Yet, you can still share Jesus around the world. How? Through your offerings. Recognize that God uses your offerings here—to staff a pastor, to provide Christ-centered resources, to maintain a house of worship. Your ministry is to bring Jesus to others! Some of your offerings goes towards staffing Pastors at churches (just starting out). Your Wisconsin Synod has churches in all 50 states and all over the world. Through your prayers and support, those congregations carry the bright light of Jesus to many lost in spiritual darkness. You may not see the results of your offering this side of eternity, but one day you will. Recognize how God has blessed you and recognize the opportunity you have to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
Because many are getting ready for Christmas. For many Christmastime reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger—without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
So, God sends out John with wonderful news: The Christ has come! This Christ binds up your sin-broken heart. He comforts you with his promises. He releases you from hell. He is a gift that will never grow old or outdated. He is the Gift who will last forever.
Hear this message. Remain focused on the real joy Christmas brings. With that joy burning in your heart, share this tremendous message. John Testifies about the Light for you to Hear it and for you to Share it.
Do you know who Paul D. Irving is? Does that name ring a bell?… He has quite an important job. In fact, whenever he functions, people stop to listen.
Paul D. Irving is the Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives. He is responsible for the safety and security of the members of congress, any visiting dignitaries, and tourists. He’s in charge of ceremonial duties involving funeral processions and presidential inaugurations. He restores order if a congressmen gets disruptive. Perhaps he is best known for announcing the arrival of the President to give his State of the Union speech.
If you have ever watched a State of the Union speech, you understand how important of a job he has. All the members of congress and senators stand in their little cliques scattered around the chamber, chattering and laughing, (head-)nodding and waving. No one pays attention to the time on the clock or who is entering or who is leaving the chamber. Everyone is focused on their conversation. Then, suddenly, Paul D. Irving enters the chamber and shouts: “Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!” and everyone snaps to attention.
That’s a pretty important job, isn’t it? Mr. Irving prepares people for this great speaker. He announces who is coming so that people are prepared to listen and take the President’s words to heart.
During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
That is an important message— and a message meant for everyone’s attention. So, God promises: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way… The “you” (in this prophecy) refers to Jesus; people will benefit from someone announcing his coming. Why? Well, remember, Jesus does not start his ministry immediately. He is born Christmas Day. Angels announce his birth. Shepherds rush to worship him. Wise men come a few months later with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Elderly-believer Simeon praises God for allowing him to meet Jesus. A prophetess named Anna thanks God for the gift of a Savior from sin— but that’s it. For 29 years Jesus remains in his hometown of Nazareth, being a respectful son and working as a carpenter. Twenty-nine long years pass between Christmas Day and the time Jesus starts preaching and teaching.
So, can you imagine the reaction if Jesus suddenly appeared in the in the synagogue one day, stood up, and started preaching? People there would ask: “Who is this man?” “What gives this man the right to preach?” “Which priest gave him authority to teach?” Most of all, “Should I listen to him?” No one knows if this man Jesus is God’s long-promised Son. And if no one knows Jesus is God’s Son, then they have no pressing reason to listen and take his words to heart.
So, God sends a messenger to prepare hearts for Jesus. He sends John the Baptist, the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ In ancient times, before a king traveled down a desert road and into a new region, he would send servants ahead to fix the road. Those servants would fill in potholes and places where the road washed out. They would remove boulders and level cliffs and steep hills. They made the road straight so that the king could arrive. Yet, John the Baptist is not sent to fix roads; God sends him to prepare hearts because the Savior is Coming.
Have you ever received a gift for which you saw no need? (For example), when I was a kid, someone always gave me a keychain as a gift— which a kind thought, but I had no use for a keychain. Unless you have a house key or car key, it’s a pretty useless gift. If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it.
If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the message for all people of all time— you and me included— “Repent!”
“Repent” means to turn around or change. It has this picture of making a U-Turn (a 180-degree change of direction). If you are heading north on US-127 and make a U-Turn, then you have completely changed direction; you are now heading south. If you behave one way in life and “repent,” you are behaving in an entirely different way. Repenting, that is, living a life shaped by God’s Word prepares hearts for the Coming Savior.
Yet, how often our hearts fall into thinking that repentance is not necessary. Instead of comparing your heart to God’s Word, it feels so much easier to justify and defend the way you (and I) behave. God makes it clear: Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), but greed feels good. So, make excuses as to why you cannot give an honest offering to God. Defend and justify your expenses so that you can cover up your love for the things money can buy. Trust yourself when you are scared, worried, or anxious. Believe the reasons that you cannot pray to God: “I just don’t have time.” “I’ll try to fix it one last time, then I’ll pray.” Make excuses as to why you cannot trust God to keep his promises: “I’ve been waiting a while and haven’t seen my health change.” “I don’t think God is overly concerned about my feelings of depression.” How the heart defends and justifies its actions! Justify the reasons as to why your relationships do not need to match up to God’s directions for relationships. “I know God wants sex in marriage, but that just doesn’t work in this world anymore.” I know God wants me to forgive and let go of grudges, but that other person would just walk around all smug if I forgive him.” “My friends do not deserve my kindness; they hurt me too much.”
God gives clear commands as to how you (and I) are to live. When we fail to measure up, it’s called “sin” or “transgression.” You (and I) have not done what God demands. The trouble is, so often our hearts want to make sin “small,” meaning, thinking our transgressions are no big deal, thinking our failure to be perfect holds no eternal consequence. Yet, if you make sin “small,” then you make Jesus “small.” If you (and I) think sin is not serious, then you have just said, “Jesus’ death on the cross was unnecessary. He did not need to suffer and die for you because you did nothing wrong.
If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it. If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And that heart will be completely unprepared to meet the Savior when he comes.
That is why God sends out messengers with his message: to prepare hearts to (1) listen to Jesus’ teachings and (2) take them to heart. And so John comes—not with words that he thinks you need to hear, not with a message he wrote down, but with a message God himself put into John’s mouth: “The Savior is Coming!”
John points you to the Savior who has come once already for your benefit! Jesus lives prepared to stand before his God and Father. His life always matches what God expects. So, he loves his God with all heart, mind, and soul. Never once does he try to hold a grudge. Never once does he try to excuse himself out of worship. Never does his heart need to repent and change its behavior. Instead, his heart is perfect!
Jesus marches on ahead of you—to prepare you to stand before his God and Father. His innocent blood fills in our spiritual potholes. His perfect life levels our self-trust and arrogance. His perfect heart makes our hearts perfect. Jesus prepares your heart for his second coming.
Yes, the Savior is Coming again. This time not as a little baby born on Christmas Day, but rather to come and bring every believer home to heaven. The Savior is Coming! and your heart is prepared for that great day! Live now prepared to meet him!
Prepare to meet your Savior by taking the words of God’s messengers to heart. Yes, those Pastors God has given you. These messengers do not create message of their own. Rather, they bring the life-saving Word to you. Listen to the Word of God read Sunday mornings. Listen to the Word of God applied to your life. Take those Words to heart, letting it expose error and redirecting you on a God-pleasing path. As you make it your habit to connect yourself to God’s Word in worship and personal reading, you increase your knowledge of what God calls “right” and “wrong.”
When you recognize when you have done wrong, like those of years past, confess your sins. Recognize the loveless words, the careless actions, the self-centered thoughts. Do not defend them. Rather, acknowledge them as the wrong they truly are. Hear God’s gracious forgiveness—that he does not rush against you in anger. Rather, he declares you “Forgiven” because Jesus has lifted off those wrongs. Now forgiven, live a life which continually turns from evil and delights in God’s commands.
You can— and you already do that— because God has filled you with the Holy Spirit. At your baptism, plain water ran down your head. Yet, God attached a promise with that water-- You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That “in” means God has put his name on you. And if God has put his name on you, then it means your identity is: “Child of God.” And if you are a child of God, then it means you are different from a “child of the world.”
You will stand out in this world. How can you not? Your heart delights in living in a way pleasing to God! So, you set aside an honest offering for your God—not because you must, but because God set aside the life of Jesus for you. You seek to forgive others—not because you fear being punished, but because God, in Christ, forgives you! Your friends, neighbors, and family may think marriage is not necessary or feel it is acceptable to abuse their bodies. Yet, you shape your relationships around the Word— because God has made your body his temple.
You live a life of repentance— that is, acknowledging the wrong and delighting in God’s good. Through God’s Word and God’s sacraments, the way into your heart has been prepared. The King of the universe sits in your heart reigning and ruling. You are prepared to meet the Savior.
What an important message that is! During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
Twenty-seven percent. Only twenty-seven percent of Christians believe that Jesus can return any moment between now and [the year] 2050 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/07/14/jesus-christs-return-to-earth/). That means 73% of Christians feel that Jesus will not return for another 40 years (or longer)! So, let’s put that another way: according to those percentages, it would mean three out of every four you feel Jesus is not returning anytime soon, which sounds odd as you listen our reading from Mark 13:32-37:
[Jesus says:] “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
"Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, and yet, seventy-three percent of Christians apparently have pinpointed when Jesus will return. They have done what Jesus says no one can do. I know, that 73% of Christians did not determine the precise day and hour of his arrival. Yet, by feeling Jesus will not return until after [the year] 2050, three out of every four Christians have just claimed: “Jesus is not coming soon. There is still time.”
Feeling there is still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ return may sound like you still have an opportunity to deal with spiritual matters at a more convenient time. Yet, feeling there still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ return can actually leave you unprepared to meet him. That’s why Jesus sounds the warning: Keep Watch for the Savior’s Coming! Remain alert and Remain active.
You have every reason to remain alert. Before Jesus enters heaven, he tells you what to expect before he returns to earth. He gives signs that point to the end of this world (Matthew 24:3). “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places… [Y]ou will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…” (24:6-12).
You see those signs happening, don’t you? The media reports wars erupting in the Middle East. Civil wars break out in Libya, Syria, and Zimbabwe. You constantly hear rumors of war with North Korea. Famines rip through Africa. Earthquakes level cities in Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia, India— all over the world. Cold-hearted murderers show no love for life; they barge into churches, gun down concert-goers, and transform schools from a place of safety to a place of concern. False prophets still exist; pastors (that is, people who look and appear honest) stand up in church buildings (places that look like your church— with Bibles and songs and seats) and [they] openly announce that the Bible is full of errors. They share teachings on forgiveness, sexuality, or money that openly contradict what God so clearly says. Wickedness is increasing. What was once considered “wrong” is now praised as “right,” and what was once considered “right” is now condemned as “wrong.” Children disrespect parents, teachers, and authority-figures. Parents neglect children, argue with police officers and teachers, and refuse to care for those in need. Masses are not just leaving worship, but are leaving their faith in Jesus as Savior behind.
Are you paying attention to these signs? These “signs of the end” are not just entertaining fun-facts meant to settle your curiosity; each individual sign powerfully preaches: Jesus is coming soon! (Luke 21:28)
These signs are the reason why you Keep Watch for Your Savior’s Coming. You have the ability to remain alert because as you watch the signs unfold, you know Jesus will follow them!
Or, does this all sound like something you have heard before? After all, these signs are nothing new, right? Wars and earthquakes and famines and persecution and hate and violence and unbelief have been going on ever since Jesus walked on the earth. (Maybe you can remember connecting these signs with other wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, acts of lovelessness, and people staying away from worship.)
When you hear the same warning repeated so often, you begin doubting the seriousness of the warning. At first, you expect something significant to happen soon, but if nothing happens, then you start believing that the warning is not really all that serious. That’s why 73% of Christians do not feel Jesus will return anytime soon. Many watch these signs of the end, but do not see Jesus coming down from heaven. And if Jesus is not coming down from heaven, then his arrival must not be too serious. And if he is all too serious about returning, then you do not need to seriously consider how you stand before God. “There’s still time,” is the thought.
And if there is still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ arrival, then it feels that you still have an opportunity to deal with spiritual matters at a more convenient time. The Master leaves and stays away for a while; the servants realize he’s not returning soon and so they ignore the command to work. (1) You feel there will always be a later time to turn from sin and so (2) the sins God hates no longer bother you.
You fall into spiritual slumber. You start drifting from what you were taught: you cannot remember the Bible stories of creation, the Flood, or Jesus’ Passion; you have forgotten those accounts and are content to have a gap in knowledge. Yet, that gap does not stop there. Soon, you stop listening to the other parts of Scripture. You disrespect your God-appointed authorities; you argue with your parents (because you don’t get your way). You challenge your God-given Pastor/Shepherd because you do not want to hear God’s instructions expose your wrong behavior. The more you stay out of the Word, the more you focus on yourself; you live in ways that serve you, that make you feel happy, that will benefit you most. And so, your love grows cold. You gossip and cut down. You no longer offer to help others; instead you make excuses as to how other are taking advantage of you. You accuse and criticize. No longer do you check what your heart believes. Rather, you grow content behaving in whatever way makes you feel happy at the moment. You become perfectly content to let your heart fall into a deep spiritual sleep.
My friends, If [Jesus] comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping-- because when Jesus arrives, it will be too late to wake up.
That’s why Jesus sounds the warning. He wants you to prepare for his coming. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. Who does not know when that time will come? You. You do not have the privilege to put off spiritual matters for another day because you do not know if you will have another day to deal with them. So, Keep Watching for the Savior’s Coming!
Remain alert because Jesus has given you the ability to remain alert. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, born for you (Galatians 4:4-5). For you— that is, Jesus lives constantly aware and alert that earth is not your forever-home. He lives constantly aware and alert of making heaven your eternal home. His alertness means that he keeps God’s Word central in his life. He worships. His words and actions fall in line with what God calls “right.”
When the time had come, he allows himself to be betrayed, arrested, sentenced, and crucified. And on the cross, he makes heaven a reality. His life is used to open heaven. He leaves the tomb to show you that there is life after death. He enters heaven to prepare a place for you. Then he makes a final promise: I will come back for you (John 14:3).
Keep Watch for Your Coming Savior! Remain alert because Jesus has done everything necessary to set up eternal life for you. Through his Word, he focuses your heart to see him reign as your forgiving King. Since you know what is coming, you can Remain active.
If you live in Florida and hear reports of a hurricane barreling towards your house within the next three days, what would you do? Sleep?... Sit around?... Wait until day three to finally prepare your house for the hurricane? No! You breathe a sigh of relief that you still have three days to get everything done that you needs to get done. In the same way, God tells you want is coming so that you may remain active now and prepare for his arrival now!
In verse 35 Jesus says: Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. You do not know when Jesus will return, but there is something you do know: Jesus will come back. Instead of using that knowledge as an excuse to grow spiritually lazy, use that knowledge to remain active. Put another way, instead of saying: “Great! Another day to not care about how I live my life!” Let your thinking be: “Great! Another day for me to let the love of God dwell in me and through me!”
Remain active in your watching by making God’s Word a priority in your life. It will always feel like you do not have enough time to worship Sunday mornings or read your devotions at home or even pray. During the Christmas season, there’s parties, activities, friends, family, Christmas lights and presents—all good things that you get to enjoy during the season. Yet, remember that on Christmas Day, you get to say “Thank you” to God for giving the gift of eternal life through Jesus. What a reason to make God a priority during a busy season.
When you set aside time and make sure nothing steals that time away, you will find that you do have opportunities to worship, have devotions, and pray. When you set aside ten minutes in the morning or before bed, you will discover that you suddenly have time to read a chapter of the Bible or a devotion from the Meditations booklet. When you keep Sunday worship times open in your schedule, you will discover that you have time to worship (and still have time for other family activities). Remain active in Watching for Your Coming Savior!
Do not merely make hearing the Word a priority, but keep its teachings a priority in your life. As you hear the Word, consider what areas of your life to which it applies. Let the Word set your heart at rest as you trust God. Let the Word shape the words that come out of your mouth. Let the selfless love of Jesus transform your thoughts into selfless giving. Remain active in Watching for Your Coming Savior as you let the Word sink into your head and heart
Because No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son. Since you do not know when Jesus will return, it means that today is the day to get your heart ready to meet him. Today is the day to remain spiritually alert and active! Today is the day to Keep Watch for the Savior’s Coming! Remain alert and Remain active.
Can you see the garden? The rolling bluffs? …the tufts of grass? … the cloudless skies? …the trees reaching into the heavens? (And yes, trust me, they’re all here). Can you see the picture of this perfect garden?
At first glance, the picture appears to be nothing but a bunch of red and blue flames streaking across the page. Random splotches swirl in this chaotic mess. There’s a pattern, a rhythm of sorts, but it all looks so confusing. And just when you think you can pick out a tree branch or a puffy cloud, you lose focus, may grow a little frustrated, and drift back into confusion. But, the perfectly peaceful garden is there.
This kind of art is called a “holusion.” To see the garden, you have to look behind the chaos, behind the swirling mess, behind all the confusion. Stop concentrating on each individual blob and color and pattern. Let your eyes un-focus. Concentrate (or stare) off into the distance (http://www.vision3d.com/sgphoto.html) and then you can see the real picture. Can you see the garden now?
It’s not easy, is it? It takes concentration. It takes patience. It takes discipline to focus on the “big-picture” instead of fixating on all these individual images.
Maybe you find it just as difficult to always remain focused on the “big-picture” of your Christian life. It’s as though this holusion constantly hangs in front of your eyes. You watch a society sinking into a swirling mess of rejecting what is right and embracing what is wrong. You’re left without answers when streaks of tragedy rip into your life. Role models disappoint you; your best-laid plans fail, and you’re left frustrated to see God still remaining in control.
That’s why God gives you these words from Ezekiel. He gives you a long-term focus on life by looking at life through his eyes. See The Lord Is Your Shepherd, who rescued you from gloom, who leads you to good pastures, and who will tend you forever.
It can be difficult to see at first. Just consider Ezekiel’s audience: the nation of Judah. The Lord does not look much like a shepherd. There is no protection, no safety, no life filled with good-feeling blessings. Look around Judah and watch nothing but utter chaos unfold. Massive siege towers lean against city walls, their bridges unrolled and soldiers streaming out. Babylonian soldiers march through their beloved city streets, sword in hand, seizing Jewish politicians, shoving them into wagons and carts, and whisking them away and out of sight. Over there, troops unwrap the gold from inside God’s church; some pick away at the fine cedar paneling and others pull down the glistening white-stone walls with ropes. Dust blows down the empty streets in the once-bustling marketplace. Jerusalem has fallen— and there is nothing anyone can do to change it (Ezekiel 33:21).
Life suddenly feels so dark; the future feels so uncertain, as if a thick cloud drops down and crushes out any remaining light of hope that God is still with believers.
This is not the way life is meant to be; this is not the kind of life anyone wants. God creates a perfect Eden (Genesis 1:1-2:4). No tears, no sadness, not even a reason to be sad. No death, no mourning, no heart-wrenching sorrow that comes from losing loved ones. No pain, no hurt, no single ache from getting older. Life is filled with non-stop, constant happiness! Most of all, God himself is their God (Revelation 21:3-4). This is the “big-picture” behind the swirling mess of Babylonian captivity; God desires life lived with him and his commands!
Yet, that “big-picture” shatters into pieces the minute God’s creation finds no happiness with him. Yes, God did not remove himself from the nation; it is the nation which chose to scatter from him! It is those in Jerusalem who ran to foreign kings for help instead of God their King! It is those in Jerusalem who favored prostitutes instead of God’s gift of marriage. It is those in Jerusalem who turned worship into nothing more than a empty-minded habit (Ezekiel 22). God is not the problem; the fault lies with the nation. They are the ones who made the “big-picture” into a blurry mess. They are the ones who scattered into the darkness.
Darkness is not God’s intentions for his creation—and not just for those of long ago, but also you who live today.Even though about 2,500 years separate you from Ezekiel’s audience, God still created the Garden of Eden for you. God still desires that you find perfect joy in obeying his Word, praising him, and trusting him. Yet, relationships crumble when you find little contentment in God’s instructions for you as a wife … as a husband (Ephesians 5:21-27). Fear over health, worry about money, apprehension over the future flares up when you begin questioning God’s control over his world. That feeling of abandonment swells up when you run away from the Bible for comfort and instead search for answers in godless friends, family, and leaders. The reason the “big-picture” becomes blurry, unfocused, confusing, and frustrating comes, not because of God, but because we scatter from him—and we have scattered from him the very moment we are conceived.
By nature, I am sinful (Psalm 51:5). By nature, I do not choose to do what is good. By nature, God would have every right to leave me in eternal darkness.
Yet, God himself steps into this confusing picture, rolls up his sleeves, and makes something clear: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. Those lost in the uncertain darkness of sin, God finds. Yes, God himself. He does not demand that you find him (John 15:16). He does not hand you a new set of Ten Commandments to follow (John 14:6). God himself makes a promise to you: I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
The Lord, your Shepherd, kept his promise. Under Good Friday’s clouds and thick darkness, the Lord rescues you from gloom. On the cross, Jesus pries open the jaws of death to free you and he lets those jaws close around his own life. Thick darkness blacks out his life as he dies for your willful wandering. He dies to remove eternal darkness from you forever.
On Easter Sunday, he rises from the dead. In fact, he is the first to rise and remain alive! He intends to lead you out of your grave as well (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He enters heaven, sitting on his throne, getting ready to gather you around him forever!
The Lord Is Your Shepherd and he rescued you from gloom. Now, you get to live in the light of the knowing peace with God! That means, the best is still yet to come because The Lord Is Your Shepherd who leads you to good pastures.
Yes, right now, in this life, as you live; the Lord presently, currently remains active! Six times he stresses what he will do. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. And God did! After seventy years of living in the nation of Babylon, God led the nation of Judah back to their old homeland.
I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. And they did! They farmed the land and led their cattle to rivers. Kings ruled the nation again. Homes dotted the countryside; businesses opened shop; an economy and government started again. Yet, this promise does not stop with Judah’s return from exile. God points ahead to the day when Jesus would be the Shepherd among many people.
Jesus is born in that nation of Judah. He ministers to those living in the land of Judah. He enters heaven after his earthly ministry is over. And he still tends to you, his sheep. How? With the Word of God [the Bible].
Look to the Bible; see what he promises to do: I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. When you are crushed by guilt, when you feel that God cannot possibly love you, listen to Jesus say: “I have found you, healed you from sin, and brought you into my believing flock.” When life appears to be this blurry picture, listen to Jesus say: “I strengthen you with my promises.” When violence rips through society, trust that I send my angels to protect you (Psalm 91:10-11). When friends take advantage of you, do not take revenge because I will take revenge (Romans 12:19). When you feel sad or depressed, see that I am with you always as I bless you with friends and family, and I provide for you, as I lift you spirits by remaining in your life (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). The Lord Is Your Shepherd who leads you to good pastures of his Word, so that you may be fed, strengthened, and nourished.
Not just that, The Lord Is Your Shepherd who leads you to good pastures as he defends you from your spiritual enemies. [B]ut the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice... God has not lost control of his world. With that same powerful Word he strikes down the devil. The devil has lost; you will not go to hell. With that same powerful Word God strikes down a godless society. No one can change the fact that you are heading towards the eternal pastures of heaven. No one can fluster the spread of God’s Word. In fact, the Word of God is spreading like wildfire in countries that still stand so opposed to its teachings. With that same powerful Word God will forever damn the devil, the evil angels, and those who rejected him.
This is the “big-picture.” It may appear blurry at times, but soon it will become perfectly clear. The Lord Is Your Shepherd, who leads you to good pastures of his Word and who will tend you forever.
Perhaps a better way of saying that is: The Lord Is Your Shepherd, who tends you forever, That means right now and he continue to do so.
Through Ezekiel God promised: I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. When Ezekiel first says these words, King David has been dead for over 400 years. God is not promising to raise David from the dead. Rather, he draws your attention to that great descendant of David’s line: Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel points ahead to what will happen (Jesus will come); you (and I) get to look back and see what has happened. God has already raised up his servant David. He has already sent his Son to the cross. He has already raised his Son from the grave. He has already taken his Son into heaven. He has already placed a crown on his Son’s head. He has already entrusted all authority to Jesus.
What’s left? I the Lord will be their God…He is now, but soon you will see him face-to-face. [A]nd my servant David will be prince among them. He is now, but soon you will stand around the golden throne of the triumphant Lamb. Where God gets to be with his people and live among them. Just as the way God has made it to be. No one will get in his way. I the Lord have spoken.
Can you see the “big-picture” now? Look behind the chaos, behind the mess, behind the confusion— and see what God is doing now. Look into the Bible and see what God has done behind the scenes of this life. The One born Christmas day has lived for you, died for you, rose again for you, and entered heaven to prepare your eternal home. God still rules all things so that you may lift your eyes up to him and trust his ever-present, guiding care. With his Word he makes one final guarantee: “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
Gain a long-term focus on life by looking at life through God’s eyes. See The Lord Is Your Shepherd, who rescued you from gloom, who leads you to good pastures, and who will tend you forever.
Only minutes remained before she would lose everything on the ship. As her lifeboat dangled over the frigid Atlantic waters, she begged to sprint back to her cabin-room and grab one last item. The crewman allowed it, but gave her only three minutes to return.
So, she hopped out of the lifeboat. She dashed across the deck which was already slanting at a dangerous angle. She scurried through the gambling rooms— where all the money had spilled out and rolled alongside the wall in an ankle-deep pile. She rushed into her room, swatted away her pearl necklaces, brushed aside her diamond rings, and tossed her golden bracelets to the floor. Her eyes found what she was looking for: a little wooden crate resting on a little wooden shelf over her dresser. Her fingers reached up and grabbed three small oranges from that crate. She shoved them into her coat pocket, stepped over her fine jewels, dashed through the piles of casino-cash, and hopped back into the lifeboat.
Three small oranges. That’s all she wanted; that’s what she risked her life for. As the Titanic was sinking into icy waters, three small oranges became far more valuable than any amount of money, gold, or jewel. I am sure if you would have asked her the night before what she considered most valuable in life, she would have pointed at her fine wealth. Now faced with life-threatening disaster, her perspective on wealth had changed. What her eyes once considered priceless was now discovered not to be as valuable as first thought. What her eyes once considered worthless had now become a real treasure.
Can your eyes distinguish between what is worthless and what is truly valuable? Jesus says in our gospel reading: The eye is the lamp of the body. Your eyes take in light; they process what is happening all around you. Depending on what your eye perceives as valuable, You will find your treasure and You will serve it whole-heartedly. What your eyes consider priceless may not be as valuable as first thought. What your eyes consider worthless may carry more treasure than ever imagined. So, How Good are Your Eyes?
If your eyes are good, [then] your whole body will be full of light-- and Jesus is asking something more than just: “Do your eyes work?” “If your eyes are good,” he says, that is, if your eyes recognize what holds real value in this earthly life, then your whole body will be full of light. If you identify the one Treasure that will never wear out, then you will unlock real contentment. Most of all, you will have a clear vision on what you really need and what you aim/live for in life.
Yet, [i]f your eyes are bad, [then] your whole body will be full of darkness. Again, Jesus is not asking if your eyes are faulty or diseased or if you are blind. He literally says: “If your eye is evil,” that is, if your eye does not understand what is truly necessary in life, then your whole body will be full of darkness. If your eye considers storing up earthly treasures as life’s ultimate goal, then your life can become aimless; you will have never discover lasting satisfaction.
Eyes become bad when they see earthly treasures as life’s truest riches. It happens when you search for a secure future in your bank accounts. It happens when you buy big Black Friday gifts all to reap praise from your [grand]children. It happens when you look to your new car or big house to determine your status among friends.
Storing up earthly treasures never fills the heart with lasting contentment because earthly treasures change. Rust destroys the once-new car— and the car you once prided in, does not really seem all that important now. Your [grand]child’s changing age changes how they praise your gifts; you can never hold their affection with the same present for all their life. Bank accounts are emptied by hackers and scammers, by unexpected bills and poor choices. Placing your heart, your joy, on the things you own can toss you into spiritual darkness because they always change, because they go away, because they cannot bring the real security your heart craves.
Jesus makes that point clear: No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Money wants your entire heart. God wants your entire heart. So, if your eyes love Money, then you will not want to give any money in worship. If your eyes love the boats and the cars your money can buy, then you will make sure nothing interrupts your time with those things—be it your kids, your friends, or your God. Your priorities will shift; you will devote more time to getting more money—whether that means you work more hours or you stop paying for the needs of your household. In fact, anything that gets in the way of accomplishing this goal, you will hate— and that means despise. You will want nothing to do with God because he demands too much from you. Yes, you may still worship him, but your heart will not delight in him. You will no longer see him as a loving Provider, but rather as another Person with hand out, asking for what you own.
That is why it is important to ask yourself: How Good are Your Eyes? Because with your eyes, you will find your treasure. You will discover what your heart loves. The thing your heart loves most, there your treasure will be. What you consider a treasure, that will be the object you worship. The object you worship can toss you into eternal emptiness. What your eyes consider priceless may not be as valuable as first thought. What your eyes consider worthless may carry more treasure than ever imagined. So, How Good are Your Eyes?
It’s difficult, is it not? It’s difficult to love God with a single-minded heart. It gets frustrating when you want to love God, but instead find more coziness in your wealth. It gets irritating when you desire to serve God whole-heartedly, but again find yourself proud over your purchases. You may despair when once again, you realize your eyes still are not the “good” eyes God desires. Yet, having “good” eyes does not start with you; it’s Jesus who gives you good eyes.
During his 33 years on this earth, he [S]tored up […] treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal, that is, Jesus’ eyes never consider earth to be life’s truest treasure, rather he sets his sights on opening heaven for you.
The Jews offer him a crown and throne, but Jesus willingly wears a crown of thorns and sits on a cross. People shout: “Rule us! Be our earthly King! Drive away our Roman overlords!” Yet, Jesus chooses instead to hear the people later shout: Crucify him! The poor, the sick, the helpless hold out their hands for money and for healing—and he not only gives these things, but strives to fill those hearts and bodies with his saving love. Your Jesus comes not to make earth into heaven, but rather to make heaven your new home. His heart is completely devoted to serving his God and Father—and he has placed that heart into your life.
Do your eyes see this? Look to the cross and see what money cannot buy: your freedom from hell. Set your sights on things above— literally looking up at the sky, if you must. Look up to the heavens and see the eternal inheritance that Jesus has won for you. Setting your eyes on Jesus means that your eyes will find your treasure. With your “good” eyes locked on Jesus, your treasure, you will serve your treasure whole-heartedly.
No longer will you feel this pull to find self-worth in what you own. No longer will you try to muster up ways to be grateful for what you have. With “good” eyes, your body will be full of light; you will delight every day not in what you have, but rather in the One who gave it to you.
Look at the many, many blessings you have in your life, but do not just stop and stare at what you have; consider how you got it. You have money because you have a job. You have a job because you have a talent. You have a talent because God blessed you with that talent. Remember, I cannot do everything you can; you cannot do everything I can. God has given us each special gifts and skills. With those talents, you are able to help others, serve others, and earn a living for yourself. Your earthly treasures come because of a God-given talent which lands you a job which gives you a paycheck.
And please remember, that you receive a paycheck because God blesses you with a government that manages the economy. The United States of America works to ensure you have a job. If the economy does well, you will have a job in (or near) your hometown. Having a job nearby gives you an opportunity to work. Having an opportunity to work means you get to earn money which means you can buy clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land, cattle, and all you own, and all that you need to keep you body and life (Luther’s Explanation to the First Article). Tracing the path of your earthly blessings will lead you to the One who gave them to you in the first place.
More than that, tracing your earthly blessings back to God will fill you with joy every single day because you will delight in a loving God who never changes. The more your eyes focus on God the Giver, the more you live content knowing that God will always fill your life with everything you need— just has he has done and just as he still promises to do. No longer will you needlessly fret, asking: “Will I have enough?” Rather, you will bow your head in prayer and say, “Lord, give me my daily bread.” Like that young lady scrambling through the sinking Titanic, your perspective on wealth will change. The earthly wealth the world considers valuable pales in comparison to the immense wealth of calling God “your God.” Good eyes means You will serve your treasure whole-heartedly.
So, How Good are Your Eyes? Your eyes are good because Jesus has made them good. This Thanksgiving, focus your attention on Jesus, your Savior. See the priceless gift of forgiveness he freely hands to you. Look up at the heaven stored up for you— a heaven that never fades or perishes. God for you is the real reason you can give thanks. Setting your sights on Jesus fills you with lasting contentment. Why? Because your eyes have found your treasure! Your eyes lead you to serve it whole-heartedly!
Wouldn’t it just be great if Jesus told you when this world would end? All he has to say is: “Hey, my twelve disciples, I will return on July 18, 2042.” That’d be pretty nice, right? You could then figure out if you have enough years left to reach 2042. If you most likely will not live that long, then at least you would know for sure that Jesus will not return during your lifetime. So, you can live however you want and prepare for eternity later. You could fight with your kids and complain about your grandkids. You could stop helping others and blow your money on the lavish gifts you always wanted. You could live so self-centered because Jesus will not surprise you with a sudden return. Since you know the exact date, you could make things right with God on your deathbed. Or, if you determine that you do have enough years to reach 2042, then you can live any way you want now: stay out of worship, stop reading the Bible, do not help others out of love, stop being polite and kind, stop lending a hand to your parents or the elderly. Live in whatever way makes you feel good. Then, when [the year] 2041 comes around, well, then return to God. Say you’re sorry for your arrogance; worship, read your Bible, be kind and loving; straighten things out with God right before the end. Wouldn’t it just be great if Jesus told you when this world would end? You wouldn’t have to guess anymore; you may better prepared for Jesus’ arrival.
For reasons known only to God and for the reason to continue working all things for your eternal good, God the Father does not reveal the final date of this world’s existence. Even if you knew the exact day and precise hour of Jesus’ return, you are still not guaranteed to reach it. Old and young alike get sick and die. Old and young perish in accidents. Old and young both fall asleep in death. Knowing when this world will end does not prepare you to meet your God. And believing that your life will continue in the same way as it always has can leave you foolishly unprepared to for that Last Day.
Gain real wisdom for your life by taking Jesus’ warning to heart. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom and to enter the wedding feast.
Jesus makes the future abundantly clear: the Son of Man will come on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). All the nations will be gathered before him. He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (25:32). I’m not sure how much clearer Jesus needs to make it: He will return and bring this earthly life to an end.
He provides crucial information so that you may know what to expect. He says in our parable: At that time… that is, on the final day of this world’s existence. If you want to know what will happen, then continue listening.
The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. The Jewish wedding tradition was for the groom to run off to his in-law’s house and get his bride. Then he would lead his wife back to their new house, and the feast would begin. These virgins? Well, their responsibility is to wait outside the groom’s house, with lamps burning bright, so that when the new couple arrives, they could light the way into the house. So, they wait, and they wait, and they wait. Hours tick by. Light becomes dark. Eyelids get heavy; they fall asleep.
Suddenly, right at midnight, someone shouts: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ [A]ll the virgins woke up, grabbed their lamps, and hopped to their feet. After hours of waiting, those lamps are now running on empty. The bright flames had licked up much of the oil. They’re now nothing but faint little flickers of light.
This is it! The groom is arriving! The feast is about to begin! And five of those young ladies whisk out extra oil and strengthen the flame. Yet, the other five had no choice but to race out to the markets, hoping to buy more oil. [W]hile they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they pleaded, ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Jesus makes a pretty clear point: Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. The kingdom of heaven… that is, the day when you find yourself standing before God Almighty, the events of that majestic day will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five are prepared for that feast because they have the one thing necessary: the oil. Five are forever locked outside.
What makes five virgins foolish is their actions. They had information that the groom was coming, but they chose not to react to it. They chose to disregard its significance. And it was not until the door was shut that they realized time had run out.
It’s a very stern warning—that this kind of foolishness still exists in this world today. It happens when you think Jesus cannot possibly show up in your life. When you think there’s still more time to straighten yourself out with God later. That you have time to skip worship. That you can stop reading and better knowing your Bible. That you can embrace the God-less desires and pleasures of this life and give it all up when you’re old and near death. It’s foolish to think that you can run off to buy more oil later, that there will always be more time to prepare for eternity later.
It’s foolish to point at some human achievement and to rely that for entering the feast. To point at your church membership and say, “Well, my name’s in the book. That’s good enough, right?” It’s foolish to point out at your baptism, marriage, and [intentions to] burial— and consider them as some sort of trophy of what you have done for God. It’s foolish to think that the “oil” God is looking for is not faith in him, but rather believing all God wants you to do is fulfill some sort of “religious-action-checklist.”
It’s foolish to change Jesus’ warning into something less than a warning (as though Jesus is not really serious about locking the five virgins out of the feast). It’s foolish to say: “I already believe in God. I don’t need to be in church.” It’s foolish to be a Christian who declares an undying love for Jesus, but does not feel a compulsion to pour out that love in word and song.
Jesus makes it so clear: he will return. If you feel there is more time to change your heart, to worship more frequently, to start reading devotions later, to chase out all selfish love, then be ready to hear the most awful sentence ever spoken: I do not know you.
My friends, Jesus gives this warning, not to scare you, not to leave you terrified about standing before him; he gives this warning so that you may Be Ready with Hearts Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom.
Your Jesus, your Bridegroom, has already prepared this wedding feast. He has already marched off to the cross because he knows this world has an end. In fact, for that reason he marches to the cross for you.
His heart remains perfectly wise each day for your Last Day. Never once does Jesus shrug off the command to worship God. Never does Jesus rest on his knowledge, claiming he knows the Bible “good enough.” Never once does he take his eyes off of his heavenly home. Instead, each step taken is another step taken to make you his bride. By his death on the cross he opens heaven’s doors. He leaves the grave and into heaven in order to prepare heaven’s great feast.
I’m not sure how much clearer Jesus needs to make it: He will come again. He makes this abundantly clears so that you may Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith you will enter the wedding feast.
With a heart trusting in the saving work of Jesus, this is what you get to live for: you get to live expecting to enter that heavenly feast.
Through baptism he wrote your name on the party-list. Every single time you sin, he points you back to your baptism: “Remember how I washed away your sins? It means you’re forgiven.” In Holy Communion, Jesus lays a hand on your shoulder, saying: “My body and blood was shed for your eternal benefit. I have removed and lifted off what you have done. Do not worry that you will be locked out. You will enter through heaven’s door.” Remember God’s forgiveness attached to your baptism. Remember Jesus’ assurance of forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. He sets your sights on entering the feast.
Continue growing in the Word of God. Those wise virgins were not content to have enough oil; they brought more than enough so that no shortage would rip away their faith. Never be content to know “just enough” of the Bible; strengthen your understanding of the Bible’s teachings so that doubts, worries, fears, and unanswered questions do not rip away your faith. Learn God’s answers to challenges, to sickness, to modern-day lifestyles, to marriage. Make worship a priority and share what you hear in this place among your family and friends throughout the week. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to enter the wedding feast.
Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to enter the wedding feast as believers who lived before you have done. Your spouse. Your child. Your dear friend. Your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles— those who believed that Jesus came for them—are gathered in that wedding feast. Their faith continued burning bright as they heard again and again: Jesus removes guilt and has removed it all! They nestled in the arms of God, who through baptismal waters said, “I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Their faith continued burning bright as they looked forward to entering that great wedding feast. Finally, when their life drew to a close, they saw the door opened and followed their Bridegroom in.
Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom. For reasons known only to God and for reasons to continue working all things for your eternal good, God the Father does not reveal the final date of this world’s existence. Even if you knew the exact day and precise hour of Jesus’ return, you are still not guaranteed to reach it. You do not know how many years are given to you. You do not know how many more days this world has. What you do know is: (1) Jesus will come again. (2) All people will stand before him. (3) He will judge the living and the dead. Clinging to the saving work of Jesus makes you ready to enter the wedding feast.
Gain real wisdom for your life by taking Jesus’ warning to heart. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom and to enter the wedding feast.
It started off so easy. Father and young son were hiking down a flat, sandy nature trail. The further the two marched, the more rugged the trail became. Boulders littered the path, forcing both hikers to squeeze around them. Thigh-deep creeks sliced the trail in two, making them wade through churning currents. Trees had fallen on the path, leaving them no choice but to step up and over the slimy, mossy bark. Finally, after hours of climbing, shuffling, reaching, grabbing, and leaping, they saw the end of the trail. It meant no more obstacles, no more exhausting effort, no more struggles. All that separated them from reaching the goal was a deep chasm.
Both father and son scoured the area for a bridge, but found nothing. They searched for the start of this chasm with the hope of walking around it, but the chasm stretched on both ways for miles. The only way over this challenge was over an oak tree that had fallen across this great divide.
Father went first. He stared at the end of the trail, never once taking his eyes off of his goal. He carefully placed one foot on the log, and then heaved his entire weight onto the tree. One foot crept slowly ahead of the other foot. Little by little he toed forward, safely reaching the other side.
Turning around, he called out for his son to cross. The boy was nervous. As he put one foot on the log, his eyes glanced at the river raging some 100 feet below him. His eyes darted from side to side in the hopes of discovering another way across, but there was nothing. The only way to reach his goal was to cross this fallen tree.
How do you do it? It’s frightening to stand with so much danger surrounding you: sudden drop-offs, raging rivers, the fear of heights. Paralyzed by fear, how can he march on?
How can you march on? You may not be facing sudden drop-offs, but you live in a world filled with sudden events of violence. You may not confront a raging river, but you experience those who rage against your God and everything he teaches. Thinking about the future can leave you paralyzed in fear. So many dangers surround you— dangers found in society, health, life. How do you march on?
Losing focus in the face of trouble can lead to devastating results. Knowing where to look means that you get to March On, Super-Conqueror! God is for you. No one can stand against you.
[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God works for your good because he has called you to faith. The Word of God has hit your ears. God, with his words, reveals that little Bethlehem baby as your Savior. He lifts your eyes to the cross where you see his Son pay to save your life. Then he speaks a promise: whoever believes that only Jesus makes you right in the sight of God will enter eternal life (John 3:16).
You have heard those words. You have heard them in your home devotions; you have heard them in Sunday worship. You heard them spoken as water was poured over your head and God made you his disciple (Matthew 28:19). God has called you to faith. He has called you to be his child. God is pleased to be your God who works all things with you and your eternal wellbeing in mind.
So, then What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? What’s the answer? Who can be against you if God is for you? And do remember who this God is. This is the God who brought the universe into existence by the powerful word of his mouth (Genesis 1:1-2:4). When this God speaks, the earth has no choice but to listen to what God will do (Psalm 46:6). This is the One enthroned in heaven who scoffs at those who shake their tiny fists in defiance against his eternal teachings (Psalm 2:4-6). This is the God who threw Satan out of heaven and locked him in the prison of hell (2 Peter 2:4). This is the God who is for you.
If all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to God Almighty, if every nation, every government, every king cannot possibly overrule his actions, if Satan is forever damned, then who can be against you? Who can rip you away from God’s loving embrace? Who can strip away the fact that God still hears your prayers, still blesses you, and that he will bring you safely to your heavenly home? Who can interfere and stop God from keeping his promises to you? Who can change the reality that God is for you? No one.
You know that. That’s why those verses are cherished by so many. And yet, those verses can be so easily forgotten when hardships circle you.
Senseless violence forever changes lives. Walking into a church or to grocery or a school can feel like God no longer sends his protecting angels, that God suddenly forgets where you are. Division seems to describe politics anymore. The hurt and the anger can leave you forgetting to pray and ask God to bless those leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). An increasing number of people are staying out of worship; masses are turning their backs on God. You worry how much longer your congregation will exist in this location to share God’s saving Word. You wonder how many believers will be left while you’re still alive. These complex, massive problems circle you, leaving you feeling abandoned, cut off, and hopeless. And if you feel that God has left you, then you begin distancing your heart from God. If you stop trusting God, you will start trusting your own guidance and decisions—decisions that will only lead you into the pits of eternal despair.
My friends, your God has and will never leave you. That’s a promise. That’s a promise you see kept by focusing on the cross. Yes, whenever you feel crushed, overwhelmed, abandoned, look at the cross. He[…] did not spare his own Son… God did not keep Jesus locked up in heaven and away from the world’s troubles. Instead, your Jesus entered a world filled with Roman violence and divisive religious leaders. He calls twelve fishermen to be his disciples— fishermen who are scared that they could die for following him. Yet, your Jesus trusted his Father’s authority over all things— even when Roman soldiers arrest him. He never worries— even when those religious leaders spew out lies in the hopes of harming his future. Look at the cross, and see God give up his beloved Son for those scared fishermen. Look at the cross, and see God give him up for us all. Jesus dies your (and my) death—the death you (and I) deserve for all the needless fear and despair. For all those times you (and I) used our words and actions to bark out: “God, where are you?” Jesus is abandoned, cut off, left dead. All for you—to pay the price demanded for our sin so that eternal death in hell will never separate you from God.
God even gives you five reasons that he must be for you. God must watch over you. God must hear your prayers. It’s because Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Jesus continually tells his Father: “Watch over them because I have done what you have required. I have lived a perfect life with perfect trust in order to save them from eternal fear.” God must watch over you, not because you or I demand this. Not because you and I are here in church, just like he commands. Not because you live a good life. God must watch over you because Jesus says: “I died for them. Look at them. They are innocent, blameless; they are clothed with my life.”
If you ever fear that God has left you, focus on the cross. See Jesus win for you the title: “Child of God.” Just like a parent never forgets their child, God never forgets about you. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Do you see your identity now? Did you look in the mirror morning and smile? You are a super-conqueror! You do not merely conquer life’s hardships, you overwhelm them. Why? Because you hold Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. Society may hate God. More may be against God than for him, but no number, no hatred will keep you out of heaven. Health may give you every reason to despair God’s care. Fear for the future may tug on you to leave God. Yet, nothing in the present or the future will rip you from the path that leads to eternal life. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What worries are on your mind? What keeps you tossing and turning all night? Are you worried that your congregation may not remain here as long as you thought? Are you torn because your child is leaving the faith you have taught them to know, a faith you yourself modeled? Do you ache watching a broken world still looking for comfort in human achievement? Does it feel like it’s up to you to solve every trouble in life?
Focus on the cross. Let your ears listen to his words of promise. Let your mind be at ease because all-powerful God is with you. Which means, no one can stand against you.
That boy put one foot on the log. His eyes glanced at the river raging some 100 feet below him. His eyes darted from side to side in the hopes of discovering another way across, but there was nothing. The only way to reach his goal was to cross this fallen tree.
So, that young boy fixed his attention on his father. His ears listened to his father’s guidance. His eyes locked onto his father’s outstretched arms. His mind found comfort in his father’s calm voice. Step after step he moved forward, pressing further down the tree, lifting foot after foot until that foot touched solid ground.
Father crossed the challenge first. Your Jesus crossed the challenges of this life first. He died, but reversed death. He lived, but then rose into heaven. He rose, but now sits in power in authority. He has not abandoned you. He remains to guide your feet with his Word and calm your fears with his promises. Set your eyes and your attention on him.
March On, Super-Conqueror! March on, despite the struggles which follow you for God remains to strengthen and help. March on, remaining focused on sharing the life-saving Word of God. March on, knowing that no one will rip away your heavenly inheritance. March On, Super-Conqueror! God is for you. No one can stand against you.
She sprints through the dark, dense woods— panting, heaving, gasping. She stumbles towards a tree and stops. Fingers dig into its rough, coarse bark; spine pushes flat against its straight trunk. Ever so slowly she reaches into her jean pocket, fidgeting for any sign of her slim, smooth cellphone. She finds it. Grabs it. Looks down. No service. Head slowly twists over her right shoulder and catches a glimpse of her grey SUV. Her other hand clenches the key. One last breath. Go! Sprint! Hurry! Crashes into the car door. Opens it. Slams it shut. Key thrust into the ignition. Turns. Nothing. Turns again. *Click.* Nothing. Her eyes immediately lock onto the cabin. That’s her escape. Open the car door. Left foot out. Go! Hurry! Out of the car. Dashing towards the front door— when, suddenly, behind her, leaves rustle. He’s here! He’s moving faster. Faster. Faster— after you! She scrambles onto the porch. Kicks open the door. Turns. Slams it shut. Clicks the deadbolt. Leans against it. Silence. Nothing. Quiet. No, wait! The window! He’s at the window staring right at her!
A bell rings. The director shouts: “Cut!” The terrifying creep at the window relaxes. He pops out from behind the Hollywood set and high-fives the girl, who is now smiling at the door. It’s just a movie. That means, this terrifying scene of killer chasing girl is not real. That means, the girl is not really scared; she’s just pretending. That means, the creep is not really a murderer; he’s just acting.
Have you ever considered that? You watch those previews of horror movies on television. Maybe they even frighten you (and you do not want to watch that movie). Yet, the terrifying figures are just actors. The villain wears makeup. He has a family, wife, and kids. At the end of his filming session, he will hop into a car, drive to the suburbs, enter his one-story ranch house, and sleep in a warm, cozy bed. He celebrates Christmas and hands out presents to his loved ones. He has friends, dinner parties, and plays games. Look behind the Hollywood sets and you see an entirely different life. You see what is real.
But do you see what is real about this life? So often, it appears God has lost all control over his creation. Violence strips away safety. Natural disasters destroy life. Oppression and injustice stokes anger. Is this really what life is all about— forever sitting under the veil of misery? God pulls back the curtain so that you can Look Behind Life’s Scenes and see what’s really going on. See the Ancient of Days come. Watch the Ancient of Days judge.
You get to Look Behind Life’s Scenes through the eyes of Daniel. Daniel, before he’s ever thrown in the lion’s den, lies on his bed one night, relaxing in his upstairs room— a room that is not his own. Not his own because he’s a captured man. The stronger, more powerful nation of Babylon had come and choked off his home nation’s food supply. Its army marched through the city walls and raided God’s temple, stealing the offerings of gold, the candle-stands, the furniture— everything. Then they turned on the people. Wise men, politicians, teachers, educators are arrested. Ropes bind their wrists, chains shackle their feet, and soldiers shove them towards a new land, with a new culture, with a new religion, with a new government, and into an entirely new way of life. Daniel has no other choice but to live under orders of another king.
This Babylonian captivity feels real, as in: God cannot help Daniel now. This is the way life will be: a new king, new oppression, new persecution against his beliefs. What a future to look forward to!
Yet, Daniel falls asleep and falls into a dream. Through that dream God pulls back the veil, showing Daniel what is going on behind the scenes. It is as though God pushes ‘PLAY’ on the movie of world history. Daniel watches oceans, enormous bodies of water churned up by powerful winds, massive waves slap into each other. Suddenly, four beasts rise up from the raging torrents, reaching into the heavens like skyscrapers. One beast, like a ferocious lion with four wings. Another, an enormous bear gnawing on three meaty ribs. Still another, a leopard dashing around the world with four wings and four heads.
Terrifying unsettling images playing before him, but images that reveal what will soon happen. Ferocious nation after nation will rise in power. Mighty armies swiftly devour empire after empire. Multiple heads of state rise to power, governing, ruling. Harsh laws oppress innocent people. And just when it doesn’t seem like it could get any worse, a final beast rises up, a beast with iron teeth, ten horns, and a little horn with human eyes and a boastful mouth. That boastful horn tries to shout over God’s voice. That horn pretends to be a leader in God’s church, but shouts lies and leads many people into false teaching and false beliefs.
What a sight Daniel sees! It looks like his world is spinning chaotically out of control—and God has no power to intervene. Like life now?
You and I live in this world— a world you can see and touch. You and I live in this nation, with a government you can see and touch. You and I live with people— people you can see and touch. And maybe your world appears frightening, like a beast with iron teeth seeking to devour you. You see a world that praises sexual immorality, calling once-shameful-behaviors “normal,” “acceptable,” and “tolerable.” Some within your government consider your personal beliefs on sexuality and pro-life matters to be an infringement on the First Amendment. The nightly news replays a rented Home Depot truck plowing over streams of innocent people strolling through a park; it speaks of a maniac raining down bullets on tens of thousands of Las Vegas concert-goers. You hear reports of powerful people who violate people’s personal boundaries. False teachers stream out into your neighborhoods, sharing teachings that do not come from Scripture. You see real tragedy. You see violence spreading. You see anger and hatred march through city streets. How is God possibly in control?
Or, do you not worry about that anymore? Has your conscience been lulled to sleep by the shouts: “Peace and safety!” (1 Thessalonians 5:3) After all, trouble has existed in this world ever since Adam and Eve brought sin into this world. After a while, tragedy, heartache, evil can just seem normal. People live together outside of marriage and so you shrug off God’s desire for marriage. Your friends get drunk, and it doesn’t really look too bad. Society grows increasingly God-less. They like God, but do not want to hear God’s guidance on life issues, and so you try to keep God in church and out of your home life. It may feel like that terrifying beast with iron teeth and God-less horn is not really that dangerous. It will not hurt you spiritually.
But thrones were set in place. Yes, just when it that it appears life will continue on with heartache and sorrow, thrones were set in place. Just when it feels like God is not going to show up during your lifetime, thrones were set in place. God suddenly rips back the curtain before your eyes and shows you what is going on behind life’s scenes. God is still in control. God is still watching. He always has been because God is the Ancient of Days. “Ancient” because God the Father has been around before time began. “Days” because he will remain well after your final breath. The Ancient of Days will come. Understand this is not a wish, but rather God telling you what will happen. Thrones were set in place. The Ancient of Days took his seat. Past tense verbs. God speaks as though the world’s last day has already happened.
Look Behind Life’s Scenes. See the Ancient of Days come and bring life to a sudden halt. And continue Looking Behind Life’s Scenes because the Ancient of Days will judge.
Yes, judge. You confess every Sunday: Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Everyone who has ever lived, those who live now, those who will live will be brought before his flaming throne of fire. You, who live now, will one day stand before the Ancient of Days. The Ancient One who kept record of the times you shrugged off your faith for the sake of convenience. He sees the times you, as a child, couldn’t wait to get out of this church and away from this [so-called] boring worship. He sees the times you, as a parent, turned a blind eye to your child in your house who willfully skip time with God. He sees the times you, as a spouse, threw a tantrum to get your way. He sees the times you, as a single person, acted as if God has no bearing in your life. The Ancient of Days has seen it all.
He is perfectly pure— his white clothes and hair reveal that he is without fault. He holds the standard of his holy Ten Commands and measures your life against them. Fire rips out from his throne—a fire not to destroy you, but to devour every excuse you (and I) want to make for our actions. With every excuse burned away, there’s nothing left but to stand loaded with our guilt. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him— those angels serving the God you (and I) are expected to serve with undivided heart. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
Are you still Looking Behind Life’s Scenes? Do you understand what God is showing you here in Daniel? Life as you know it will reach an end. You may live out your years— living until you fall asleep in death. Life may end suddenly unexpected— in a car crash, a heart attack, cancer, accident. As you stand before the Ancient of Days, as you watch him judge, as you watch him open up the book on your life, what will he find? He will see your every single failure wiped away with the blood of Jesus.
Jesus carries your (and my) book of sin to the cross. The Holy One of God cancels out each crime with his own blameless life. With his own blood as ink Jesus writes your name into God’s book of life. When the court was seated, and the books were opened, what will the Ancient of Days see? Your name in the book of life. How will he judge? He will declare the sentence Jesus has won for you: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)
My dear friends, pay attention to the words you speak in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed. Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. God is telling you what will happen. God is pulling back the curtain of this life so that you may Look Behind Life’s Scenes and prepare yourselves for that Final Day.
Notice where you stand in world history. Beasts have come and gone; kingdoms have risen and fallen. Kings have reigned, only to lose their kingdom. Jesus has been born, suffered, died, buried, and risen again. What’s left? This. Here. The Ancient of Days coming. The Ancient of Days judging.
Look Behind Life’s Scenes and see what’s really going on. See the Ancient of Days come. Watch the Ancient of Days judge.