Do you grasp the full implication of what Jesus teaches in our gospel lesson? “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading… There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth. (Luke 13:24-28) Jesus makes it clear: hell exists. More than that, you, I, the entire world, have only one lifetime to make it through that narrow door of heaven. “Do-overs” do not exist. “Second chances” do not exist. A warning like this is meant for us to respond today.
Yet, many choose not. A particular church body teaches that hell does not exist. Those who reject Jesus will merely cease to be. (https://www.adventist.org/fileadmin/adventist.org/files/articles/official-statements/28Beliefs-Web.pdf). The president of the largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] (a liberal branch of Lutherans) went on record to say: If hell exists, I think it’s empty. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/elizabeth-eaton-presiding-bishop-evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-chicago-if-hell-exists-i-think-its-empty-face-to-faith-podcast/) Even the pope questioned the existence of hell! (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/03/29/did-pope-francis-say-there-no-hell-not-quite-vatican-insists/470442002/)
What is it that leads people (including churches!) to deny what Jesus so clearly says? Why do many stay out of church, content to be in the fishing boats and campers, to be in home or out with friends? Why may we(!) grow cold about the full implication of what Jesus says?
The reality of life apart from God in hell weaves throughout all of Scripture. You find in Hebrews (a New Testament book written about 30-years after Jesus entered heaven) whisking you into the Old Testament and dropping you at Mount Sinai. This is not some setting among the pines and crystal-clear waters of a Rocky Mountain getaway. No. Gray, overcast skies blot out sunlight. Billowing smoke pours from heaven, engulfing the mountain. A dreadful, moaning trumpet blares its eerie wail across the desert floor. Audible tones, as if God’s thunderous voice thumps: ‘More.’ ‘Better.’ ‘Try harder.’ Animals snort and tug on ropes. Children shriek. You carry this haunting feeling that whatever is about to happen is serious. The Israelites begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
Even though trembling, God commands Moses to hike up Sinai. There, etched into two stony tablets, are God’s expectations. You shall have no other gods… You shall not misuse God’s name… You shall make time for me… You shall… You shall… You shall… (Exodus 20:1-21) Understand, what makes this scene terrifying is not the fact that God appears. What makes this sight blood-draining horrifying is that a holy God comes to people who are not holy— and God knows that and they know that. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere run.
Who can stand? God demands: “Be holy, just as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then threatens: “The soul who sins is the soul who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Do you grasp just how serious God is? Still, there may be a little part inside us that considers this nothing more than a bluff. Fake. Not real. After all, you have not seen hell; it’s not on map or YouTube videos. It also just sounds so harsh. I mean, Sinai feels like God is like an angry parent venting, but will eventually simmer down.
Maybe you have not actually said those words, you may not have thought them, but what does your behavior say? Do you stuff God’s mouth with your words? “God, I’m skipping worship today. That’s acceptable because I said so.” “God, I can break my marriage vows because it feels right… God, I can live committed without marriage because nothing bad happens…” “God, I deliberately disobeyed my teacher… my police officer… my township supervisor because I do not like what they say.” How often we take God’s commands and apply them only when we determine it convenient! Or, what does your behavior say about care for the souls of others? Perhaps your daughter promised to God before the congregation on her Confirmation Day: “I will be faithful in the use of Word and sacrament as long as I live”— but she is not here. In fact, she never worships, but still calls herself a Christian. Does that spiritual laziness alarm you? You worship every Sunday; your neighbor has no church. He watches you pull out of the driveway and you wave back. Have you ever offered him to join you? Or, do your actions somehow suggest that only you need to be connected to Christ— that this is only important for you personally, but is not necessary for everyone? Maybe it’s your friend who is battling cancer. She says, “I have faith”— but faith in what? Faith that the chemo will work? Faith that even if she dies the family will be fine? Or, the faith that Jesus Christ wiped clean her spiritual illness? Do you ask in what that faith is placed?
On Mount Sinai God booms: “Be holy, just as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). That applies not just to you (and me), but also to the other 7-billion people on earth! Do you (and I) treat this threatening expectation something less than God makes it? I wonder if sometimes we try to soften God’s commands because no one measures up. So, we create reasons for God to love us, and think by painting this scene as different, it becomes different in reality.
Yet, right now, you can wish to be in perfect health— pain-free, ache-free, cancer-free—but that does not actually cure ailments. Thinking differently of Sinai does not change God’s expectations. It just makes you the fool for believing something not true.
If Sinai makes your heart tremble, then look down and see where you stand. Only One Mountain Brings Life. Do not stand on Sinai because no one can ever measure up. Instead, Keep standing on Zion.
Mount Zion rests [in the city of] Jerusalem. God’s temple stood there. People could bring offerings and praise to God; God came to his people with his Old Testament words, with the forgiveness spoken through the priest, and with messages sent through his prophets. Yet, when God says: [Y]ou have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God… he does not suggest hiking up this mountain. No. God calls heaven ‘Mount Zion,’ the place where God is with believers. Notice how verse 22 begins: [Y]ou have come to Mount Zion; you already stand in God’s presence. That did not happen because you changed God’s expectations; it happened because Jesus removed the terror of Sinai.
Jesus is born to walk up Mount Sinai— to receive those same Ten Commandments God has set on us (Galatians 4:4-5). Throughout his entire life he locks his sight on the one thing God demands: Love for God (Matthew 22:37-39). That means, Jesus never lowers God’s standards. He keeps them. He worships every single week— not as a rule, but because he wants to. He preaches to the masses, not suggesting that a Christian God is one of many different ways to the same place, but clearly teaching eternal life comes only through God’s forgiveness (Acts 4:12). He even deals with those crushed by regret and shame— and does not tell them to fix their wrong, but rather says: “Trust that my life will make God happy with you” (John 14:6). Yes, Jesus not only obeys God’s commandments for himself, but also obeys in our place.
He walks down Mount Sinai without fear, without trembling because he is guiltless— and he walks up another mount, Mount Calvary. That Good Friday scene echoes an awful sound: ‘Death for sin.’ God’s wrath consumes his only Son. It swarms him. It engulfs him— and Jesus absorbs it all. Three days later, Jesus steps foot onto Easter morning’s peaceful dew. He freely walks out of his grave— alive and without fear. He immediately finds his disciples, the women, and says, “Peace to you!” (John 20:19).
Peace to you! Jesus has taken his innocence and set it next to your name. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit took you by the hand and brought you to God, saying, “Here’s another one! Take this one too!” And God the Father says, “Yes. I have written down your name.” You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect… You stand before God, the Judge of the universe, not to hear condemnation, but rather a favorable judgment: ‘You are righteous. Jesus made you perfect, completely forgave you.’
Dear friends, you stand now on Zion— at peace with God. [You have come] to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and [are] sprinkled [with the] blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. You are walking through that narrow door into heaven because Jesus is mediator. You get “in” because Jesus covered your with his perfection and that perfection is far better than anything you, like Abel, could offer.
You know that and so we live that. [Grand]Parents, God has handed you the responsibility of raising your child to know Jesus. To see Jesus in the Bible stories at Sunday School. To learn God’s complete love in catechism class and in Bible class. To gather in worship, admit wickedness, and bask in God’s forgiveness. Maybe you watch over children now; maybe your children no longer live under your watch. Whatever the case might be, still live concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of your child. Your child will not enter heaven because his name is in a church book. Your child will not enter heaven because she got ‘checkmarks’ beside her name: (1) Baptized? Check. (2) Confirmed? Check. God wants the heart. Specifically, what is their view towards Jesus? Your neighbor may stand on Sinai— completely unsure of what God wants. Point him to Jesus. Invite her to worship. Share what you know about the Bible. Faith needs an object. The only faith that saves is a ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ We who stand on Zion stand in a position to care. We stand in a position to lead others to the Only Mountain that Brings Life.
You do not need to fear what Jesus so clearly says in our gospel lesson: Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to (Luke 13:24). You do not need to somehow remove the teaching of hell in order to avoid it. You do not need to change God’s expectations in order to soften it. You need do nothing— because Jesus removes all fear of death forever.
Do not stand on Sinai. Do not try to carry the crushing burden of guilt alone. Instead, Keep standing on Zion. Keep clinging to Jesus, the One who removes the weight of death and puts you on that narrow path! Keep pointing others to this splendid mountain! Only One Mountain Brings Life. Do not stand on Sinai. Keep standing on Zion.
They call it: ‘The Hill.’ A sandy trail winding two-and-a-half miles uphill. Yes, a continually gradual incline of two-and-a-half miles. Yet, ‘The Hill’ looks pretty unspectacular. It does not have deadly drop-offs, cliffs and pits, or some lake of fire to leap over; it’s just a plain hill— but one man had trouble reaching the top. ‘The Hill’ was just was too steep; he was too tired. So, he ran ‘The Hill’ again the next day… and the next day …and the day after that. He ran ‘The Hill’ every single day for over twenty years. The more he ran, the faster he got. (In fact, he sprinted, not jogged, sprinted that two-and-a-half mile incline in just under 16-minutes!) He became stronger. He could endure more. He gained more resolve to push through struggle. By the end of his 20-year football career, legendary San Francisco 49er, Jerry Rice, held the all-time records for most touchdowns, most receiving yards, and most receptions. In fact, he set the bar so high that even the best players reaching the end of their lengthy careers would need to play an additional 5-7 seasons just to threaten those records! Jerry Rice ran ‘The Hill’ because, in his own words, ‘he did not want to get into a mode of quitting.’ His single-minded goal was to finish so that “In that fourth quarter, even if I was tired, I was able to fight through it to make that winning catch for that touchdown.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3zfNlmEHr0)
Can you persevere like that? You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. Where do you find the strength, the motivation, the certainty that trust in God is valuable? How do you persevere? Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.
That’s how athletes train. A clear objective hangs before their eyes— an accomplishment, a championship, or glory. If they lose sight of that objective, they will never claim the prize. So the entire body fights to reach the goal.
Christians who lived millennia before Jesus locked eyes onto the guarantee that Jesus would come. That Jesus would pay sin’s penalty. That Jesus would rescue them into heaven. That is life’s ultimate goal; heaven is life’s finish line. Those ancient Christians yearned to reach that goal— and God’s guarantee was their focus.
Remaining focused is challenging. Just last week, you watched Abraham wait for a son that never seems to come. At a moment like that, you reach a serious crossroads. Either (1) You trust that God will give as promised or (2) You doubt that God will give as promised. Either (1) You take God at his Word or (2) You push his Word out of your heart.
That tension is called ‘the cross.’ The cross is everything that you suffer because you are connected to Christ. On the one hand you love God, you cling to his Word, you rely on his promises— you are connected to him! On the other hand so much in this life creates doubt, fear, and resentment— and that tension pulls on you, tugging and trying to divide your allegiance from your God. I mean, sudden loss rips into your life. Instantly the questions appear: ‘God, why? She was so young.’ ‘God, I loved him. Why a cancer-caused death?’ ‘God, why the memory loss?’ ‘God, the pain makes it hard to love you.’ Those losses tug at us, and you hit that crossroads: (1) Trust God even when you do not see love or (2) Quit because you do not see love. Or, the future is never clear. You know God gives all you need for life, but at this moment, you rely more on your clever financial footwork to navigate through trade wars and recession-leaning markets. You know God loves you, but at this moment, school’s about to start and you have career choices to make and, well, you know God will not boom some answer from heaven: ‘Choose accounting!’ or ‘Take the desk job!’ Decisions tug at us. We again hit that crossroads: (1) Rely on God’s promises or (2) Toss the promises aside and rely on yourself! Or, you ponder the ministry of your church. You know God wants you around his Word; that is the main reason you are here. At the same, you cannot forget those who moved downstate or moved into heaven. You hit that crossroads: (1) Trust that God will keep creating faith and strengthening faith or (2) Despair that more will leave, no one will come, your doors will shut, and you will not have the comfort of worshipping here.
It is hard to take God at his Word. So much of what is seen tries to convince you that God is nowhere present— and it is so easy to quit running. Because you’re tired. You’re exhausted. You’re scared. You encounter that crossroads: (1) Stop trusting God, leave his promises, shut his Word out of your heart and life. Then what happens? You would gain hell. What’s the other road? (2) Fix Your Eyes on Jesus— even in trouble.
Listen again to our reading: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [those ancient Christian examples— Hebrews 11:1-40], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Have you ever watched Olympic runners? They wear light clothing. Layers of sweatshirts will weigh them down and long jeans constrict movement. So, sprinters wear light clothing. Here, God says, ‘Take all those struggles you face, all those impulses to turn from the Word, all those temptations to lash out at me and throw them off.’ Those temptations hinder us! Cursing God, blaming God, doubting God will never let us reach the goal of heaven. Throw off that despair and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. How? You’re so tired! How do you persevere? Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Gain motivation to rely on God because Jesus is both Motivator and motivation!
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus… who for the joy set before him… because of his goal to bring you (and me) into heaven… [he] endured the cross, [he was not afraid of] its shame. Think of who Jesus is. The eternal God who calms wind and wave with a word. The One who forces demons into hell with a command. The One who raises the dead. Jesus is all-powerful God— and not just that, but he is faultless. No one can accuse Jesus of name-calling. No one ever witnessed him brushing off the needy. No one watches him deliberately doing wrong. No one saw it because it never happened. Still, Jesus is treated as a criminal. The lowest-of-the-low criminals sentenced to death. How is that fair? On the cross, Jesus hangs naked. Bleeding. Groaning. Helpless. Meanwhile, people taunt him. They laugh. They mock. He does not deserve this! Even worse, God holds him accountable for our anger at God’s justice! Still, it is Jesus who dies. Why? Jesus dies on a cross in order to remove the penalty for sin. That is the only way you (and I) would enter heaven.
Because of you (and I) will. Jesus rose from the dead— and even higher than that: [he] sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus will never ever suffer again. He reigns over every power, every authority, every person forever and ever.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Have you ever done that— considered the opposition Jesus endures? Jesus could have said, ‘No cross’— but then, how would payment be made? He could have snapped fingers and thundered into heaven, but you (and I) would still be stuck in sin. He could have raged against every smug, worldly leader, but then he would have sinned and become imperfect like us. Jesus willingly suffers death— death in our place!— so that you (and I) will not suffer in hell, so that you (and I) will join him in heaven.
Do you see life’s truest goal? Do you see the value of your faith? You walk behind Jesus, the Victor who already claimed victory! A victory for you. When struggling, Fix Your Eyes on Jesus and see him live for life’s truest goal. Keep Fixing Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
Listen again to verses 5-6: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Parents, why do you discipline your child? You put an end to wrong behavior. That allows room for good behavior to flourish. Really, discipline builds character.
God knows that you (and I) need pruning. If that sounds repulsive, then it only proves that you need pruning. Much of what we consider ‘suffering’ is really an attachment to something that can drag us from God. Right? You suffer insults because of what you believe, and you may really just want to be popular. You dread funerals because you love earth more than heaven— at least, for the moment. I mean, what we call ‘suffering’ can really mask love for worldly things.
So, God, in love, uses his Word to divide love for the world away from our love for God. Right now, we enjoy the ability to walk and eat and move. If illness or age takes that ability away, it allows the opportunity to look up and realize God controls our life. God manages our days. We thank God for the life we have now and thank him for the perfect life he has prepared! When tensions rise in marriage, we may want the other person to conform to our expectations. Yet, when tensions rise, it allows the opportunity to see where God tells us to change. We love family; we cherish friends. Yet, when they leave this life we remember that heaven is our real home, not earth. We may want a fuller-church, more children, even more activities. Yet, God lets us look around and remember that the true reason for gathering here is not for community praise, but to feed our souls. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. That is the reason for discipline: to share in God’s holiness. God removes all that can drag us away from him so that we never will leave him. The suffering, the heartache, the pain we endure now allows the opportunity to refocus on life’s truest goal, to return to God’s Word, and to continue clinging to that Word. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
So much pulls and tugs on our hearts. You may feel like you’re running up ‘The Hill.’ You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. You just want to quit trusting God. Quit loving him so much.
Yet, quit and you lose life. Persevere and you gain life. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus. See the purpose of his death. See the results of his resurrection. Know that because he died, you will live. Know that because he sits in heaven, you too will sit in heaven. Keep your eyes locked on the one thing life is all about: knowing God now in order to know him for all eternity. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.
To prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object. For starters, you need rope. Tie one end of the rope to the boat and the other end to a sturdy object. You could tie the rope to tree, to the end of your dock, to a volleyball post on the beach— to anything that does not move. You even could tie the end of that rope to an anchor or a cinderblock and drop it into the water and the boat will stay in place. Toss that weight onto shore and your boat will remain still. So, to prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object.
(I’m sorry if I insulted your intelligence), but that simple truth makes a significant point: reliable objects prevent aimless drifting. If you do not have that sturdy object, if you do not have rope, you will drift. It remains vitally important to have both sturdy object and rope.
This morning, rediscover the splendid truth that God has provided both anchor and connection. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
That’s usually what we look for when it comes to trusting someone: we listen to words and we look for actions. When another person does as promised, we understand that person is serious about his intentions and cares for our personal welfare. For example, I may promise to arrive at your house on Tuesday at 11:00am. If I arrive at your house Tuesday at 11:00am, you know: (1) my words carry serious intentions and (2) I care about you personally— your schedule, your emotions, and your needs. Now, if I arrive at your house Friday at 7:00am, you know: (1) my actions never intended to match my words and (2) I do not care about what errands you have on Friday or that my tardiness angered you or that you have concerns that need addressing. You may find it difficult trusting me. You cannot rely that what I said is truthful and you will not shape your expectations around my intentions. We tend to build trust when actions match words. We tend to place trust in someone when actions match words.
God had already made some fantastic promises to Abram. For example, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you… I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (12:1-2). That means, Abram would have to leave the safety-net of family assistance and the bonds of neighborly-friendship. He must trek hundreds of miles across a desolate wasteland to a land he has never seen before, a land he has no connection to, a land that may (or may not) produce good food. That’s a big promise.
Still, Abram goes. Why? Because he considers God’s Words as good as done. Even though he does not see the future, he leaves. At the end of his travels, he settles in good, livable land— just as God said he would. Not just that, the surrounding nations respect Abram. An Egyptian Pharaoh treats Abram as a household guest. Foreigners gladly sell Abram land. Now, remember: (1) We tend to build trust when actions match words and (2) we tend to place trust in someone when actions match words. (1) God gifts Abram a land unseen and (2) God ensures a healthy respect for Abram. God’s Word matched his actions. You realize: God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith because it recalls what God has done.
So, you can almost see Abram’s excitement when God makes another promise: “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7). Abram has no child, but now he receives a guarantee. He can pass down his land, his riches, his reputation to this one child. So, he waits… and waits… and waits some more. He waits Ten. Years. Abram is now 85-years-old. His wife, Sarai, is 75-years-old. Yes, ten years earlier it would have been difficult to have a child, but still somewhat possible— but now, at this age, it borders on the impossible. Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Can you hear the desperation? The panicky fear? The complete loss of control? What changed? The boat is not fastened to a sturdy object.
Abram completely ignores God’s past powerful actions. He forgets the land, the respect, the safety. Now he relies on his (very) limited abilities. So, fear creeps in— fear creeps in because you confront your own limitations. You tremble at the cancer diagnosis because deep down inside you know that you cannot wish the disease away. You cannot add more days to your life. You have little control over the state of your health. God commands us to remain faithful to his Word, to neither add teachings nor change teachings, to continue clinging to what has been taught for centuries. You do that, but then you get nervous because you do what God says, but see no results. You wonder how long your church will exist. If you will always worship here, if your children and their children will be here. Really, you get nervous because you cannot change a heart. You worry about the future for your children because you want to fix everything wrong in the world with your two hands—but you cannot; you simply do not have that control.
Do you see? The reason Abram trembles, the reason we tremble is because we put this incredible pressure to manage life on ourselves. We are treating ourselves as God! Quite frankly, we consider ourselves more trustworthy, more reliable than God! What does a statement like that say about the (1) serious intentions behind God’s Words and (2) God’s care for us? It says that (1) God is a liar— he cannot keep his Word, he lacks the power to do what he says— and (2) God does not care for our welfare. He builds our hopes just to crush them.
For just a moment, lay aside that self-reliance and look once more at verse 1. Identify what God uses to strengthen Abram’s faith. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. First, ‘after what things?’ Well, read chapter 14 and you find four aggressive kings sweep over Abram’s neighbors. They kidnap Abram’s nephew, Lot, and steal all his possessions. Abram gathers 318-fighting-men and liberates these captives. That’s a big risk; Abram could have died. After that battle-‘thing,’ God says: Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. ‘Abram, just like a big battle shield I protected you. I gave you victory. I kept you safe and brought you home. If I did that, I will not hurt you now.’ Fear not, Abram… your reward shall be very great. ‘Abram, I am with you. That is far more valuable than your millions of dollars of assets, your small mercenary-group, and your status. The almighty God of the universe is on your side!’ God points back to all the things he had done, all his promises— and he kept them all!
God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. You realize God is (1) serious about his intentions and (2) he cares for your welfare. Past actions prove that. God’s Sure Word continues Bolstering Faith. That Word points to what God will do.
Do you see how God handles Abram’s great fear? Abram finishes speaking and behold, the word of the Lord came to him. What does God give Abram? He does not put a baby in his arms. He does not unroll a timeline of future events. God gives Abram his Word. Specifically, ‘[Abram,] This man [Eliezer] shall not be your heir… God makes it clear: ‘Abram, your inheritance-plan is not my plan.’ He addresses Abram’s concern, identifies it, brings it to light, and ends it. [Y]our very own son shall be your heir. Yes, Abram is old; Sarai is old, but this child will hold the biology of both. God does not explain how this will happen, and he does not need to. Explaining how is not the purpose for his speaking. God simply tells Abram what he will do. Just like he protected Abram, just like he poured out riches, just like he brought Abram to his new land, God (at the right time) would give an heir.
Dear friends, God kept that promise. Fifteen years after this conversation, at 100-years old, Abram has a son named Isaac. (1) Abram had an heir! Then, Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob had a son named Judah. Judah had a son. That son had a son, and that son a son. (2) Abram became a father of many nations! In fact, the family tree branched out to include a man named Joseph, who had a son named Jesus. (3) Jesus came!
God keeps his promises! That includes his hatred for our self-reliance. For us questioning if God keeps his Word, God crushes Jesus— because he is serious about punishing the arrogant. For us challenging if God cares for our wellbeing, God abandons Jesus— demonstrating that he cares for you so much that Jesus will be cut off from the love of God instead of you. Jesus wipes clean our self-reliant hearts, leaving only hearts that please God.
And now, God sees you as a star in the sky. [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” God’s not talking about family tree only. The Bible calls believers the descendants of Abram (Romans 4:18). Yes, you (and I) may not be Jews, we may not be able to trace our family tree back to Abram, but that’s alright. We share the same faith. Abram believed the Lord… He believed that God would send Jesus into the world and that Jesus would wipe away his faithless doubting. Abram considered God’s Word as good as done. [A]nd [God] credited it to him as righteousness. God called him ‘saved.’ You (and I) did not see Jesus die on the cross, but we take God at his Word. Jesus removed our guilt, and because of that, you (and I) have been declared ‘right’ in God’s sight.
Recall what God has done. Ponder these magnificent promises and consider how God has kept each one. Is there any question behind God’s intentions? When we look back over all that God has done, we realize his seriousness in doing as promised—and that removes fear for the future. God’s Word points ahead not to a wish—but points to what he will do.
That keeps us from aimlessly drifting through life’s many challenges. God, your sturdy object remains connected to you with his Word. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
I am always struck by that one little sentence that comes out of Jesus’ mouth: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop (Luke 12:16). We can easily pass over those words. After all, the spotlight really shines on a farmer, right? A rich farmer. He harvests lush fields, stuffs hay into mammoth barns, and packs silos with corn, oats, and beans. He can withdraw from storage anytime he needs money. He lacks nothing— and never will again. Nothing! …except you know how the account ends. God stoops down, looks this misguided farmer in the eye. ‘You fool!’ The farmer, a fool! Why? Because of that easily overlooked sentence: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
Do you grasp the significance of those words? The farmer did not crack open the seed. He did not pull out roots and pour water into each tiny root hair. He did not stretch out stalks and leaves. He did not push out cobs and pods. The farmer did absolutely nothing! The ground did everything! The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop— and arrogance thinks he controls the future of his life. That he holds in his brain and barns all he needs for life happily ever after! What. a. fool. All the wealth in his barns cannot keep secure earthly life and it certainly cannot open eternal life! How foolish to latch onto earthly things!
Still it happens. Money, power, status, pleasure exist. Their existence in this world grab at you (and me), threatening to make us fools. You (and I) live in this world, but remember this: you are not of this world. Your goals, your attitude is different. You Have Been Raised in Christ. Put to death the sinful nature and Set your mind on things above.
That might be difficult. On the one hand, you have a unique identity; you stand on God’s side. Remember what God said to you last week? [You have] been buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God… (Colossians 2:12). That means your baptism did something; it connected you to Christ Jesus. [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Picture it: God has put Jesus on you— the innocence, the blamelessness, the perfection. So, right here, right now, this moment you are spiritually clean, spotless, unstained—even while alive in this world.
That’s where the difficulty creeps in. Not everyone loves God. We have friends that do not go to church, friends that deny God’s existence, friends that mock Christianity. Co-workers cuss, spew out filthy jokes, and brag about last night’s conquests. Your family may never apologize for hurting you and they may deliberately act like the past never happened. You (and I) live among people who dislike putting God’s expectations into practice. Then there’s the life you (and I) live in this world. You (and I) need a certain amount of money for food, housing, health, vehicle, maintenance. You (and I) really enjoy trips away, activities in the woods and on the lakes. You, like me, probably crave security and comfort. You (and I) must use worldly items in order to stay alive.
That’s fine! God does not command you to avoid all non-Christian people and things and form Christian-only communities in some desolate wasteland. No, God has placed you into this world with the intention that you live in this world. What God does command is this: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… There’s that word again: ‘earthly.’ Everything the world praises and God condemns. [S]exual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Is that what you do? Do you [p]ut to death what is earthly? Does your body belong to your spouse alone? [Grand]Parents, do you teach your [grand]children that sex is meant for marriage? Do you flee fantasies by changing channels or leaving that website? Even more, do you remind one another how to properly discuss the opposite sex? Do you work towards contentment in your marriage— not wishing that you were with ‘Joe Perfect’ or ‘Nancy Wonderful’? Experienced spouses— do you help strengthen bonds of troubled marriages? Do you remind others that the world’s view of ‘living together’ is not God’s view? Yes, God zeroes in on sexual temptations, but he does not suggest this group contains the worst sins imaginable. Instead, he takes these common temptations and lumps them into a broader category: idolatry. ‘Idolatry’: ‘Worshipping something not God.’ When our views of relationships conform to our standards instead of God’s, then we have fallen into idolatry. We are following our decisions. then who are we following? We are treating ourselves with greater respect. We lay aside God’s Word and worship our word.
That is a serious matter. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Understand, God’s wrath is not coming against those we consider ‘bad’ or we think deserve it. God’s wrath, his damnation to hell, targets all those who trash these words in sheer rejection. That leaves one final searching question: Has this world rubbed off on you?
In these you (and I) too once walked. Yes. ‘Once.’ Maybe you still shiver at high school regrets. Maybe you cannot stop replaying foolish nights. Or, maybe you find yourself still struggling with those temptations and sins— but that’s the key: you struggle. Your attitude once delighted wallowing in moral filth, but now you have changed.
At your baptism, God drowned the sinful nature; he took those immoral desires, filled its lungs with water, stripped away its life, killed it, murdered it. He pulled you up out of the water and left the sinful nature floating behind. God raised you up morally pure, spiritually clean, past erased. You Have Been Raised in Christ.
Since you stand on the side of Christ, you live in ways that characterize someone living on the side of Christ. (1) You put to death the sinful nature. You dread living in ways God hates. You strive to do what is right because that is who you are: A person of the light. You Have Been Raised in Christ (2) So, set your mind on things above.
If then you have been raised with Christ (¥ that describes you!) seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Literally: set your mind on heaven. Look at the place above. Consider the place you enter after earth. Remember that perfect, tear-free, pain-free place as your final goal. Set your mind on things above because this is the place that is real. Think about that: The world which we see is not truly ‘real.’ Yes, we have tangible items, real emotions, and we are bound by time. Still, this world ends when time ends. We either leave behind all our valuables, possessions, status, and goals in death, or they leave us in decay, or they leave us when Christ returns. All those things end— but you (and I) enter eternity—something that has been and always will be there.
The things of heaven are ‘real.’ Christ ascended and remains at God’s right hand. He stands on the other side of eternity where we will one day enter. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. That picture feels unreal. When you see Jesus you will clearly see yourself as God has dressed you. Innocent. Faultless. Pure. No more struggling with temptation. No more hurting loved ones and being hurt by loved ones. No more shameful regrets haunting you; no more actions that you will regret. You will stand in glory with Christ. You can set your mind on heaven above.
Yet, you can do that now. You already live as God’s pure child. Remember, baptism whisked you into God’s believing group— maybe as an infant, in your childhood, or as an adult. You behavior on God’s side is this: Put aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Does that describe you? It does not describe me. Still, I remain a child of God. We go back to the baptismal waters and there see a reflection of who we truly are. Forgiven. Still standing on the side of Christ. Renewed in our desire to live on the side of Christ.
Christ has stripped off of you (and me) acts of jealousy, bitterness, resentment, and rage. He never brings it up again. Because of that incredible love, we are motivated to strip off jealousy, bitterness, resentment, and rage. No, not for Christ to love us more. Rather, because he already loved us and put on us a new self, created to be like him. You Have Been Raised in Christ. So, set your mind on things above.
Unlike that farmer. He harvests lush fields, stuffs hay into mammoth barns, and packs silos with corn, oats, and beans. He can withdraw from storage anytime he needs money. He lacks nothing— and never will again. Nothing! And that’s great! …except that his heart latches onto earthly things. All the wealth in his barns cannot keep secure earthly life and it certainly cannot open eternal life!
Neither can the things of this world. The money, power, and status amounts to nothing eternally. They are blessings enjoyed now. Worldly objectives of pleasure and rebellious freedom and self-reliance do not bring you (and me) closer to God. They drive us away.
You (and I) live in this world, but remember this: you are not of this world. We enjoy the items and people in this world, but we do not cherish them over the Word of our God. Set apart as people who are different, we put to death the sinful nature, continue keeping items as they are. Since You Have Been Raised in Christ, set your mind on things above. For that is life’s real goal.