This is what division does. Thirty-four days of a government partially shutdown. Now, let’s be clear about one thing: we are not discussing politics this morning. We are not debating who we think is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ For just a moment, ponder what you see. One political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it rejected. The other political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it ignored. Each body of government seems to only function among itself and not with its counterparts. That division has an effect. About 800,000 employees still wait for a paycheck; some have gone one month without pay. That means, rent and mortgages go unpaid. That means, spending is watched at grocery stores. That means, trips in the car are limited. An increasing amount of Transportation Security agents refuse to work. So that means longer security lines in which to stand. That means longer wait times for flights. That means some agents work longer hours and spend less time with family. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
So, if division helps nothing, why does it still occur? Boil it down. Form one concrete answer. Why does this happen?
God knows the reason. That is why he gives us these words today. God does not want our differences morphing into painful division. He reminds us: One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… Different-sized parts like hands and arms, feet and legs. Different-shaped parts like bones. Different-textured parts like internal organs. Different-functioning parts like eyes and ears, nose, and mouth. [A]nd though all its parts are many, they form one body. You do not hold one single part— like a heart— and say: “This is a body.” No! We identify the heart as a part of a larger object.
So, just like many individual parts come together and form the body, So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Each one of us here have one thing in common. One thing— regardless of your age. Regardless if you are a man or woman. Regardless of your job or how much you make. Regardless of your personality or interests or hobbies. Regardless of where you were born, where you grew up, and where you live now. You (and I) might be completely, absolutely different in every possible way, but we still have one thing in common: We are here today because of Jesus.
[W]e were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… You are just one person, but at your baptism, God adopted you. God took you [individually] by choice into his family. And God adopted the person next to you at her baptism. God used baptism to adopt the guy sitting in front of you. The person across the aisle is adopted through baptism. One-by-one God joins each single believer into one spiritual family that has one common belief: Only Jesus saves. [T]he body is not made up of one part but of many.
Forget this and you start sounding like a foot. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Do you catch the problem? It’s jealousy! After all, hands get more attention than feet. You lotion hands, you wash them often, people see your hands, I shake your hands. Honestly, I forget that you have feet; it’s the farthest thought from my mind! And how often I pout because no one sees my contributions. “I keep clean the church. I water plants and shovel the walks. I reached out to that fellow member who has not worshipped in over a year. No one saw me do that. No one thanks me for this.” Jealousy demands credit for a God-given gift. It is absolutely selfish to fold your arms, pout, and gripe: “Well, since I receive no praise, then I will stop helping this body.” Division hurts others. Division limits you. Division benefits no one.
And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Eyes and ears constantly work. When we are awake, we are always seeing and hearing. Both get credit… but maybe the ear thinks sight is a more important function than hearing. Really, the ear demands to perform in a way it cannot! That, too, is jealousy. Jealousy ranks gifts. Jealousy says: “It is unfair that I have to listen and not preach.” Jealousy says: “I want to lead, not follow.” Jealousy says: “I want to be known as outgoing and personable, not quiet.” Jealousy refuses to use the unique gifts God gave you.
Catch that? Look at verse 18. God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Who gave you the gifts you have? Who opens opportunities for you to use those gifts? Who equips you for service? God. So what does jealousy say about God’s arrangement? “God, you do not let me be praised. God, you do not let me be seen. God, you got it all wrong.” You tell God how to function.
God would have every right and reason to amputate us from his body, but he does not. Instead, he amputates Jesus. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God is made lower than the angels. His twelve fishermen constantly squabble about the most important rank in their group. Still, it is Jesus who has our jealousy written all over him. It is Jesus who is cut off from the body of God. It is Jesus who dies to join you (and me) into the body of Christ.
Jesus strips away jealousy by dying for you and then living again to tell you about it. You are a part— yes, just one part of a larger body— but you are a special part because Jesus spent his life to join you to him.
God makes each member uniquely different for a reason; God makes you different for a reason. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If you all had the same flamboyant gifts, who would benefit? Picture it: an eyeball laying on the ground. This is a body? It can see me talking, but cannot decipher my words. It can see dinner, but cannot smell or eat. It can see friends, but it cannot wave and say ‘Hi!’ An eyeball does a great job of seeing, but it fails miserably to do anything else! The body has other needs, so it needs other parts. Each part uses its unique ability in its role at the appropriate time. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” What would happen if the eye got its way? You have no hands. How would you pick things up? If you tripped, you could never catch yourself. You would get hurt. You need hands. Each of you have an ability that is valuable. Maybe not noticed. Maybe never credited. But still valuable.
Think about that. You have value. You do not have the right to throw a pity-party, neglect your gifts, and say, “Well, they don’t need me… I’m too old… I’ve put in my time serving… I’m too busy… I don’t want to…” If you are a hand, then serve as a hand would. If you enjoy people, then encourage like a people-person would— because others may not be people-persons. Or, if you are a not-so-noticed-foot, then serve as a not-so-noticed-foot. If you enjoy completing tasks, then keep clean your worship space and help clear sidewalks. No one may notice your contribution, but it is noticed when it is missing. If you are a powerful eye, then serve as a powerful eye. You may have knowledge of Bible stories. Use that knowledge to teach. You may have that strong faith. Then use that faith to focus others on Jesus.
God does not distribute gifts so that you compare yourself to others. God makes you unique so that you can serve unique needs. Your uniqueness might feel unnecessary. Friendliness? Really? Well, what an awesome feeling to be greeted by a warm face! Supporting, not leading? You do not need to all be Pastors; Pastors need helpers too. Helpers who have those relationships in the community, relationships that help remove barriers. Helpers who have building knowledge, who can design and decorate, who can use their body for work. Feel too elderly to contribute? Physically, maybe; spiritually, never! Experience is a treasure trove of wisdom! And you, dear Christian, may have the wisdom to approach the youth, identify temptation, and connect Jesus to life-situations. One Body has Many Parts so that each member is uniquely united.
That is the reason you are different from others. Differences actually unite us! Think back to the beginning (of our message). Our government has separate bodies that each have a unique set of responsibilities. When all work together, the economy runs strong, employment rises, and people receive physical needs. People are brought together. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… Ever stub a toe? Such a little part of the body makes the entire body stop and floods the mind with pain. When a fellow believer suffers, the entire body of believers pays attention. Again, each part in its own way. A fellow believer loses a spouse. You hurt too. Some of you pray, others encourage, still others offer affectionate hugs. A fellow Christian stays away from worship. You hurt because you know faith can be lost; unbelief results in hell. So, friends encourage. Parents speak up. Believers pray. Your different roles actually bring us closer together.
[Y]ou are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. Faith in Jesus as Savior makes you part of the body of believers. Even though you stand in one big group, God makes each member uniquely different. You are the only one with the life experience you had. You each have different priorities. You each have different abilities. You each are unique, but still in the one body of Christ. That uniqueness is put to work So that each member is uniquely united.
Focus on the one Savior who joins us all together and see how God uses you (and me) to only strengthen bonds. To encourage others to remain strong in Jesus. To strengthen bonds of friendships here. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
Have you ever done this before [balancing a pole on the palm of your hand]? If you have, then you know there’s a tactic to keeping the pole upright; you must keep your eyes on the pole. Your eyes will see the pole’s movements, your mind will comprehend what adjustments must be made, and your brain will tell your hand where to move. Take your eyes off of the object— maybe fixate on your bulging muscles or beautiful hands or check out how good you look— and the pole falls. Your attention is misplaced. And you know what? It does not matter how good you look, it does not matter how strong you are, it does not matter if you have the most beautiful hands in the world. Take your eyes off of the object and the balancing act fails. We could say it this way: the act of balancing this pole only succeeds when your attention is centered on the object.
For the next three weeks, we will explore the spiritual gifts God gives and how you put those gifts into action in your congregation. Before we explore using those spiritual gifts, we must start by seeing from where those gifts come. We get to set our attention on an Object. Only then do we gain the ability to keep our gifts in proper balance.
So, let’s set our sights on this: One God Gives Various Gifts. Your Christian life starts from him and Your Christian service is for him.
Did you catch the word repeated? For ‘him,’ for ‘God.’ Spiritual things deal with God. So, if we want to explore spiritual gifts, we must set our attentions first on God. That is why our reading starts the way it does; it resets our attention. Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. ‘Ignorant,’— that is, ‘misinformed’ or ‘lacking correct knowledge.’ Maybe you do not quite know what a spiritual gift is. You might be unaware that you do have unique abilities. Perhaps we are misinformed about the purpose of having spiritual gifts. Ignorance can lead to chaos, hurt, division, disunity within a congregation. Yet, the most significant misunderstanding we can have about spiritual gifts is thinking “It is all about me.”
Do you find yourself saying that? “I have a gift!” I am friendly. I am creative. I am caring. I am wise. I am knowledgeable. I am dedicated. Do you see what’s happening? You take credit for your abilities, as though somehow you chose to be gifted in those areas. You want people to praise you for the various abilities that you have. If you want people to praise you for your superiority, then soon you will determine (1) who you will help, (2) when you might help, and (3) in what ways you will help.
Do you realize that spiritual gifts are just that? Gifts! God makes that point pretty clear in verse 2. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. God shows us what we once were. Pagans. Nonbelievers. Not followers of Christ. You (and I) were conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). You (and I) entered this world spiritually dead, spiritually lifeless (Ephesians 2:1). Without faith in God as Savior. Without the ability to choose God as Savior. Unable to invite God into our hearts. God clearly says: “At one time you wanted nothing to do with spiritual matters.”
But that has all changed. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed…” To ‘curse Jesus’ is to say, “God, destroy Jesus.” No Christian would ever want to say that. After all, we love Jesus! How could we wish such evil? We would not— because the Holy Spirit puts love for God in our hearts. [N]o one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
The only way you (and I) come to faith is when the Holy Spirit works on our hearts. Remember, Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). What is in that “word of Christ?” Jesus reveals his divine power. He changes water in wine (John 2:1-11). He cheers hearts crushed by guilt (John 4:5-26). He wisely knows God demands complete obedience for eternal life in heaven (Matthew 4:1-11). The Word tells us that (1) Jesus is divine and (2) he uses his abilities to serve us.
Look at Jesus and you see him serve you. The Father abandon Jesus for our ignorance about spiritual gifts. He raises Jesus from death and declares you ‘Forgiven.’ Then, he sets that assurance on you at baptism. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). The Holy Spirit has worked in your heart the ability to say: Jesus is Lord. You admit that only Jesus paid the penalty for sin. You confess that only Jesus wiped away your guilt. You believe that only Jesus has saved you. He is the Master, the Chief Leader in whom to trust. He is your Lord.
This is where we start when exploring spiritual gifts. Only God makes it possible for you to receive spiritual gifts. Jesus removes the penalty for sin. The Holy Spirit applies that payment to your spiritual account. The Father declares that payment, “Accepted for you!” Your Christian life starts from God. So, what now? Well, Your Christian service is for him.
Pay attention to how that service appears. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. You will see different kinds of abilities, you will see different areas to apply those abilities, you will see different results from those abilities. And regardless of what gifts you have, what areas you might serve, what results might appear, there is still one God. One God Gives Various Gifts.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. God will reveal himself through you. That means, sometimes God makes you the answer to someone’s prayer. A grieving widow receives God’s encouragement from you. A frightened child receives God’s protection through you. A stressed-out son receives God’s financial providing through you. God blesses the world by the abilities he has handed you. Sometimes it means serving even when you receive no direct benefits. Your healthy body shovels out the driveway of the elderly lady, even though your driveway is still covered in snow. Yet, you have health to serve! You lend advice to an undisciplined daughter, even though she ignores half of it. Yet, you have the ability to advise. Our attention is not set on ourselves; our attention is set on our heavenly Father who has so freely, so lovingly made us his children that we want to serve him with what he has given us!
Look at all the gifts listed, and maybe you realize that you have one (or two). Yes, even if you are 4, 24, 44, 64, or 84-years old. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom… Real wisdom understands the reality of sin and sees its solution in God. So, wisdom takes in the teachings of God and applies them to every aspect of life.
[T]o another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit… Knowledge is what you have learned in the Bible. It includes even teaching Bible stories about Jesus or sharing your faith.
[T]o another faith by the same Spirit… That ‘faith’ does not mean coming to faith. No, it describes a strong faith that clings to the promises of God. The wife remains courageous in the face of cancer. The college student prays when finances grow tight. You pick up the phone, get bad news, but you still remember God works all things for our good. Maybe you know someone with rock-solid faith. Or, maybe you are that person with rock-solid faith. That benefits your fellow Christians. Strong faith encourages us to grow stronger in our faith. When we see strong faith, we are reminded to trust in God too.
[T]o another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers… We might remember how the apostles drove out demons and healed cripples. This demonstrated that their Christian teaching dealt with the one true God (and not the devil).
[T]o another prophecy… We think about Pastors who preach and explain God’s Word so that it makes a little more sense to us.
[T]o another distinguishing between spirits… that is, applying Bible teachings to certain Christian questions. You can identify if a preacher on television is telling the truth or if he is over-exaggerating portions of the Bible. [T]o another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. Again, we think about Pentecost. The twelve disciples could speak in different languages. More important than that was that others could understand what Jesus had done in their own language.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The reason we have a particular gift is because God graciously handed us such a gift. Notice, these spiritual gifts are never uses to bring praise to you. You never find God saying, “Yes! You are the greatest!” Nor does he pressure you: “You better figure out what you’re good at.” No! God lists gifts. You can look them over. You might say, “Hey, I have the gift of remembering Bible stories. I will tell my children these stories.” Maybe, “Oh! My faith does not shake under pressure. I will keep feeding it and encourage others to do the same.” Perhaps: “I understand Bible teachings. I will warn my family to stay away from false teachers who …deny infants baptism ...think all people enter heaven …that God wants us to earn his love.” One God Gives Various Gifts. Various, because we all have different needs. You use your unique abilities to serve the unique abilities of each other. This pleases God, you serve one God.
Next week we will focus on individual gifts and how each of us work together in a Christian congregation—but first, let’s end with this topic: Where do we get our gifts from? God, as he always does, puts our attention on him.
Kind of like balancing this pole. If I take my eyes off of the pole and focus on me—how beautiful I am, how great I am—then the pole falls. The power to keep pole upright comes from setting my attention on what the pole’s doing.
When I set my attention on God, I am able to carry out my spiritual gifts for the good of others. I am able to use those spiritual gifts so that others might benefit. Set your attentions on God. Your Christian life comes from him. Your Christian life is for him. One God Gives Various Gifts.
Guinefort befriended a very wealthy, very powerful knight. One day, the knight and his wife went away and left their infant son under Guinefort’s care. They returned later to a massacre. Blood splatter speckled the walls. The crib lay a smashed heap. Their son, missing. Huddled in the corner sat Guinefort, covered in blood. In one swift motion of justice, the knight drew his sword, swung, swiped, and struck down Guinefort. The instant Guinefort’s lifeless clay smacked the floor the knight heard the squeaky cooing of an infant. Underneath the splintery mess of a crib sat his son— alive! Healthy! Not a single scratch on him! Right next to the child lay the bloody remains of a viper.
Reports of Guinefort’s courageous bravery and hasty death spread throughout the town. Almost instantly people revered Guinefort as a saint. Villagers built his gravesite into a shrine. Women brought salt to the shrine as an offering. Mothers left their sick children on the grave overnight, hoping this deceased hero would heal the child by morning. The elderly hobbled out to the memorial and prayed to this hero, asking for healing.
These people treated Guinefort as a god— which is quite foolish. After all, what can the dead do for the living? Nothing, right? Still, what makes this behavior even more absurd is the fact that Guinefort was not a man. He was a dog. Women brought offerings to a dead dog. Mothers relied on a dead dog to heal. The elderly prayed to a dead dog for strength. An entire village worshipped a dog. (http://mentalfloss.com/article/91855/st-guinefort-dog-venerated-saint, see also http://assets.cambridge.org/97805211/08805/excerpt/9780521108805_excerpt.pdf)
This story presents a very grim, but real truth: the heart is capable of worshipping anything. That is the reason these words stand open before us today. The Father shines a spotlight on Jesus so that you can clearly see who to follow and who to trust. Wonder No More, Jesus is Your Christ! The Holy Spirit anoints him. The Father approves him.
This is who the people are looking for: the “Christ.” Now, remember, “Christ” means “Anointed One.” To be “anointed” means that you are “set apart” for a specific mission, or purpose. Isaiah prophesied that God would “set aside” his chosen Servant. This Servant would execute the single specific purpose of bringing God’s justice— his declaration of forgiveness— to the nations (42:1).
People know the “Christ” is coming. That’s why you read in [Luke chapter 3] verse 15: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. Now, John the Baptist certainly stood out. After all, he lives in a desert. His plain, camel-hair clothing and his honey and locust diet catch attentions. His powerful preaching penetrates hearts in ways no one had done since the time of the Old Testament prophets. Not to mention, John baptizes people; he brings God’s forgiveness into many lives. So, when the crowds see John, they wonder if he was “set apart” as God’s great Rescuer. If so, then they would want to pay close attention to his words. They would want to put his instructions into action. They would want to put their trust in his ability.
Isn’t that what every heart searches for? “Who is the Christ?” Every single heart “sets apart” some object as G/god. An object that shapes your decisions. An object relied on for help and safety. An object to adore. Every heart cradles something above all else.
That heart could cradle ego. That little god proudly boasts how no one holds authority over you! No one tells you how to behave, how to act, how to think. Only you can tell you! So, you insult teachers because you feel superior. You can ignore the pastor— the messenger of the Word— and his encouragements because you are older, you have more experience. Keep God’s Word from sinking into your heart because you have determined that… God’s commandments are unreasonable in today’s society. …that God does not know the trauma you are going through. …that God does not understand the difficult emotions in life. That little god, ‘Ego,’ can become your ‘christ.’ Your pride tells you to do whatever you want. Pride arrogantly assumes no one holds authority over you. No one has the right to tell you “No.”
If Ego does not rule the heart, ‘Reason’ can sneak in. You know, relying on what feels fair and makes sense to you. You follow ‘Reason’ when you start sentence with: I think… or I feel that… You intentionally step outside God’s marriage instructions because… what? You think you have a unique situation? Your feel that your dalliances don’t hurt anyone? Your patience finally ran out with your spouse? You deliberately attack someone… why? She made you mad and that was unfair, and so you think it fair for her to taste unfairness too? He stole attention from you and you do not want to leave the spotlight yet, and so you feel justified flaunting your might? That little god ‘Reason’ is nothing more than elevating your own opinions over God’s Word. You follow those opinions instead of God.
Every heart craves some ‘christ,’ some object to follow, be it ‘Ego,’ ‘Reason,’ ‘Pride,’ or a dog. As mighty as Ego, Reason, and Pride appear, they all lack one thing: the ability to save you. Only one Person holds the power to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn. [B]ut he will burn up the chaff— the arrogant, the stubborn, the proud, the jealous—everyone who follows anything that is not God-- with unquenchable fire.
This is why John gives the answer he does. He directs attentions away from these worthless objects and centers them on the Christ God sends. “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John calls himself a slave! Slaves deal with the dirty, sweaty, smelly feet of masters. The master’s dirty, grimy foot has a status greater than a servant! If so many already consider John the Baptist great (Luke 7:28), then just consider how great Jesus must be! [O]ne more powerful than I will come… And he has.
In plain view, in the sight of many Jesus was baptized too. [H]eaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. Can you imagine the sight? Who of you watched the Holy Spirit descend on you as a dove at your baptism? …No one? Yet, he appears here in order to “anoint” Jesus. The Holy Spirit sets this one Man apart from every other person in the world; he identifies Jesus as the Son of God.
Wonder No More, Jesus is the Christ! The Holy Spirit anoints him. Every other object we might possibly trust does not even compare to him. Only Jesus is “set aside” to bring you comfort, peace, and take away sin. Wonder No More, Jesus is Your Christ! You can be certain he is reliable because the Father approves of him.
Luke writes: [A] voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God shines a spotlight on Jesus. This Man standing in the water, this is the Son of God. This is God’s Servant who wipes out our misplaced trust. This is God’s Chosen One in whom God delights! Only Jesus is mighty enough to carry away our sin. Only Jesus’ innocent is capable enough to bring God’s justice into our hearts. Only Jesus makes you sure that you are forgiven.
You can be completely certain that Jesus is enough. God himself says, “…with you I am well pleased.” If Jesus had sinned, then the Father would not be pleased. Jesus would become an object of wrath. Instead, the Father identifies Jesus as blameless and without sin. Since he is without sin, he is loved by the Father. Since he is loved by the Father, we can be sure the Father also loves us because Jesus has brought us to the Father. Because the Father points at Jesus, you can point at Jesus. You can point at the cross and say, “You forgave me, Jesus. God, you accept that life in place of mine.” There is your confidence.
Then God does something even more. He puts his approval on you. When Jesus is baptized, he stands where we do. He stands in the waters of the Jordan River; you (and I) stand at the baptismal font, a place where water is present. The Triune God— the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— appears. At your baptism the Triune God appears and puts his name on you— just like a work shirt puts your name next to the company logo. You work for the company; the company identifies you as an associate. God identifies you as “disciple.” Jesus hears the Father call him “Perfect.” In baptism you hear the same thing: “Perfect!” The sinless Son of God dresses you with his life in baptism. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus… You hold the inheritance of heaven. How do you know? …for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).
Your heart has been handed the only true God there is. Be sure, the sinful nature will fight for the reins of your heart. You will still feel the pull to hold grudges—for no other reason that you have determined it is fair. You will feel the push to deliberately do what is wrong— to step outside the relationships God expects of you. You will feel the desire to gripe about your teachers, to stroke your ego, puff up your pride, to arrogantly believe that you can do no wrong. These are not your gods. You are not your god. Only Jesus is God. Only Jesus proves himself mighty and capable enough to follow. Jesus is your God, your Christ.
Which means, you have someone actually powerful working in your life. When the day of trouble rises, do not ask how you might save yourself. Turn to Jesus. Turn to the Word and see the self-sacrifice you give in order to strengthen relationships. Turn to the Word and see the Almighty bend his ear to your anxiety. Turn to the Word and see how God powerfully rules all things now, for your good. Anxiety melts away. Fear dwindles. Comfort swells. Wonder No More! Jesus is Your Christ! The Father approves him.
That is why God has preserved these words for centuries. The heart is capable of treating anything as God—even if it is a dog.
A dog! Do you know the saddest part of Guinefort? The worship of Guinefort had been occurring for about 100-years. A friar named Stephen of Bourbon identified this local hero as a dog. He exposes the worship as pagan. He tells the villagers of their error. And the people continue worshipping the dog anyways. In fact, this worship continued until the 1960s (about 600-years). So many people knowingly and intentionally rejected Christ for a dog.
God has handed you knowledge and wisdom to know better. The Holy Spirit marks Jesus as the Anointed One. Only Jesus stands as you Mighty Savior, your Object of Trust. Jesus is worthy to follow. After all, the Father approves of him. Wonder No More! Jesus is Your Christ!
Did you enjoy the sunshine this weekend? It was pretty nice, wasn’t it? It’s amazing how something so often taken for granted can be missed. Then, when it appears, it leads to the greatest of delights. Sunlight triggers the body’s process for producing vitamin-D. Vitamin-D strengthens bones and keeps the immune system strong. Sunlight also creates serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood. That’s why you feel giddy and active when the sun shines. If you do not get enough sunlight, another chemical (called ‘melatonin’) can become imbalanced. So, extended darkness can make you lazy. You may have little interest in your hobbies. You can oversleep or sleep longer than usual. You might even struggle with feeling melancholy. Some studies even suggest that sunlight can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. Supposedly the sunlight stimulates a molecule that opens up blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dangers-winter-darkness-weak-bones-depression-and-heart-trouble-180953611/).
What a difference light makes! That’s why some visit tanning salons in the winter; they soak in much-needed light. Europe offers phototherapy sessions where people can get a dosage of light. Sunlight is one reason so many people flock south during the winter. When we get sunshine like we did this past weekend, you pull a chair up in front of the window and sit in those beaming rays as long as you can. Sunlight has powerful effects on the human body.
So, is it any wonder then, that God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us? Living in darkness only harms us. God does not want you lost in darkness. So, he reveals Jesus, the Light. He lifts you out of darkness. His work shines through you. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come!
We need light. We need light because of what Isaiah says in [Isaiah 60] verse 2: For behold, darkness [covers] the earth and deep darkness the peoples… Isaiah uses a word picture here. ‘Darkness’ describes a way of living— and that way is ‘ignorance.’ You are ignorant if you lack knowledge. ‘Darkness’ covers you when you are unaware of a truth or event. You behavior fails to know (1) how to respond or (2) act in a given situation.
“Ignorance” will not cover the earth one day in the future; it actually covers the earth now. Isaiah literally says: [D]arkness will covers the earth and deep darkness the peoples… For many, Christmas was a celebration of presents— presents probably forgotten by now. (Do you still remember everything you received? Those presents are not as valuable as you had hoped, are they?) You watch children curse and swear, scream and throw tantrums because many parents refuse to take seriously God’s instruction to raise this child (read Ephesians 6:1-4). Men and women cross boundaries because they do not take God’s gift of marriage seriously. The helpless are ignored when leaders only seek to serve themselves and not their neighbor (read Matthew 22:39). Survivors insist that funerals be celebrations— no, not celebrating Christ’s saving work for this loved one, but rather a celebration of this person’s human achievements, achievements soon forgotten. You see, life is ‘dark’ when we live unaware of a truth or event. That ‘truth’ would be God’s Word for our lives. Without that Word, we fail to conduct ourselves in line with God’s expectations.
But these things promise so much joy, don’t they? The joy we manufacture numbs hurt and heartache for a moment! Letting your kids do whatever they want prevents you from the unpleasant task of work; you can spend more time relaxing! Flirting with adultery offers a flimsy promise of uncommitted satisfaction! Defending your goals at any cost strokes the ego even more! What’s so bad about this darkness? Life without God interfering appears better! You can do what you want, when you want, for whatever reason you want— and it makes you happy!
“That’s darkness!” Isaiah says. And not just any darkness, but thick darkness. Ever keep the lights off when you went down into the basement? Not a good idea, right? You stumble down the steps. You walk into a shelf or kick a box. Your arms reach; your fingers grope for something familiar. Darkness makes you frustrated; you get frustrated that you keep getting hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt.
Thick darkness is life without Jesus. Life gets frustrating. Life becomes miserable because you keep encountering hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt. It might have felt good defending your selfishness, but it led to some undisciplined children holding a grudge against you. It might have felt good to flirt with temptation, but you still do not have commitment— and you hurt because you neglect real commitment in marriage. It might have felt good to worship presents and family, but the family has left, your presents are forgotten, and you realize your manufactured joy does not really satisfy you. It might have felt good to celebrate life with funny stories, but those stories will never wipe away the fear of not being good enough for God.
Living in darkness harms us. It blocks out God. You do not see Jesus as the One who heals. You do not see Jesus as the One who brings life. You fail to see him at all. The worst part of darkness is when you are so blind that you do not see how lost you truly are.
We need light— and God provides it. Arise, Shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. And it has. On a dark Bethlehem night, the Light of the world is born. When you see this baby, you see God’s glory, God’s holiness. That light shines on you (and me). Compare yourself to the Holy Son of God and you see every flaw, every fault, every crooked decision. Nothing is hidden. Every dark deed stands out… and Jesus sees it all. He sees it so that he might grab it and carry it away.
That’s why Isaiah sings: Arise! Shine! Two commands for a new action to begin. You shake the sleeping teenager: “Wake up!” Why? Because he is not awake. He needs to start a new action. God says, “Arise! Do not lie crushed and broken. Do not carry the weight of guilt by yourself. Stand up because Jesus has removed it!” Then “Shine! Do not mope around! Let your dread tumble away.” Why? Because of God’s clear Word: You are forgiven!”
Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Rejoice and be glad! The Savior has been born! [T]he glory of the Lord has risen upon you… and you have seen it. Jesus lifts you out of darkness. See Jesus and you gain a clear understanding on where you are heading in life. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Jesus’ work shines through you.
How can it not? The sun always has an effect. For starters, sunlight is the opposite of darkness; light illuminates the world. Isaiah says, [N]ations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The good news of Jesus is not locked away. God chooses to reveal Jesus to the world— and that includes you (and me). You (and I) can see Jesus when we spend time in God’s Word, the Bible. You (and I) see how Jesus comforts us when reading devotions. You (and I) see who Jesus is when we study in Bible Class. You (and I) see Jesus guide our path when we think about what we hear today later on this week. Sunlight clears away the unknown. Spend time with Jesus the Light, and you know more about your Savior.
Spend time in sunlight and your mood brightens. Spend time in the Light, and your heart swells. If you are feeling gloomy, hopeless and in despair, do not search for dark, ignorant advice of the world. Turn to Jesus. See the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Grasp Jesus’ promise that believers who die in faith are in heaven (John 11:25-26). If you feel so small and insignificant, see how Jesus cares for you more than he does measly little birds (Matthew 6:25-34). If you feel forgotten and alone, listen to Jesus promise: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). When the good news of Jesus enters your heart, you will shine. The Word clears away the unknown and cheers you. Your cheer will produce actions. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Isaiah knew this would happen. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. Isaiah pictures droves streaming into Jerusalem. Do you know what happens next? Jerusalem falls. It lies in ruins for 70-years. A little group returns. Then the Romans rule it. No kings stream there. No magnificent gifts arrive. In fact, much of the region is forgotten.
You see, Isaiah’s prophecy is not one of immediate fulfillment— when promised events happen instantly and completely. He is looking ahead into the distant future— ahead to the birth of Jesus, ahead to the time when the Wise Men see Jesus, ahead to the disciples carrying the good news of Jesus around the world, to today; Isaiah see you (and me) gathering around the Word.
You are those people bringing good gifts to your King. You see a Savior—and it puts the rest of life into perspective. Your goal is not gathering the most stuff and most adventures for this life. Your goal is heaven— and you see that clearly when you see Jesus. Your life will be a reflection of that goal. Nonbelievers may see your Christian life and come to praise God (Matthew 5:16). Your gifts of gold are not hoarded for yourself, but freely given to support your ministry. You use your special abilities as best as you can—and this praises the Lord. Arise! Shine! because your gloom is removed! Your Light has Come! That light hits you; Jesus’ work shines through you.
What effect light has on the human body! No wonder God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us! In Jesus you find a Savior who lifts you out of darkness. If you stand in the light, you will naturally produce good results. Your body automatically produces Vitamin-D and serotonin and keeps your melatonin in check. Time with Jesus shapes your hope, your generosity, and your words. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Take in the Light this Epiphany season. Let the good news of Jesus swell in your heart. Arise! Shine! Your Light has Come!