Ten men stand covered with festering boils oozing yellowed pus. Stained bandages wrap and bind peeling skin. Chunks missing from ears and noses because, well, those chunks fell off. Ten men suffering from incurable leprosy. Ten men too contagious to live in a large community. Ten men completely cut off from hope.
No wonder they cry out: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ (Luke 17:13). No doubt they heard of this great Healer ministering throughout Galilee. Since they could not travel, hearts must have burned and yearned just for this man to come near. And when he did, how those hearts must have leapt at his healing instructions: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ Only the priests can declare the leprous: Cleansed! Ten men heard exactly that. ‘Clean!’ Just like that death slinked back into the shadows. Skin mended and healed. Freedom restored to touch friends and hug family. Ten men received so much from God. Yet, only one returns. Where did the others go?
Smoke drifts from the smoldering rubble. Underneath the tons of concrete and twisted metal lies crushed ambulances, fire trucks, police cars— and 3,000 bodies. The metallic skeleton of a burned out Boeing 767 jet-engine lies in a desolate city street. Rescuers scramble towards the scene; a nation stands still, mouths gaping, minds slowly grasping this disaster. Nineteen men brought the most powerful nation in the world to its knees. Everyday havens transformed into potential threats. Many saw unsuspecting people as suspects of terror. September 11th preached how little control man holds.
No wonder church attendance spiked! People turn for comfort in the Almighty God who holds supreme control. Hearts pour out, pleading for protection, strength, and security. All received such comfort. Yet, in the following weeks church attendance shriveled up. Where did all those people go?
I mean, is that all God is? A safe harbor when life spins wildly out of your control, but Someone unneeded when all appears manageable? God does not hold office hours as some grief counselor. He does not exist only for the next crisis. Whether storms rage or peace reigns, Find Rest in God Alone. Every achievement fades away, but Only God delivers rock-solid security.
That is really what those lepers and Americans craved, right? Security. The absence of fear and anxiety. The sense of control over life-matters. You watch ten men who have no way of improving health. So, to whom do they turn? To the great Physician! You watch Americans tremble because they cannot guarantee personal safety. So, where do they turn? To the Almighty! The heart craves security because security brings a sense of ease and stability.
Security will help fuel your thanks tomorrow. You will look at the things in your house and consider how those objects affect you. A house gives shelter and holds heat. Steady income fills physical needs. A savings account prepares for the unexpected. Good health feels good, strength allows you to get up and move. You may even gather with friends and family. And that allows an opportunity to consider how they impact your life. A grandchild gives you the chance to pass down knowledge, to influence behavior, to shape personalities. That grandchild could even be a source of pride. You may cherish a friend because of her advice or because of his support. A brother who respects you makes you feel wanted, a sister who asks for guidance benefits from your help. Yes, you will think about all the objects, all the people that hold some value in life. You will consider the joys you receive from them. You will think about the protection they offer you. You will be thankful for the fears they take away.
As you reflect on these many, many blessings, God adds a word of caution: Yes, the sons of Adam are only a breath. The sons of man are a delusion. On a scale they weigh nothing. They are nothing but air. Do not trust in extortion. Do not put empty confidence in stolen goods. If your wealth grows, do not set your heart on it.
Did you catch the name God sticks to all these worldly items? Breath! The air pushed out of your lungs. How long does that breath stay inside you? How long does it last outside of you? How many breaths do you take? Do you even remember that you breathe? The air we breathe lasts only seconds inside us, and out of the thousands of breaths you take each day, you probably only remember the ones taken right now (because I’m discussing it). God points at wealth and at people and says: ‘A breath has more value!’ Breath has more value than money because money (and the things you can buy with it) can vanish in an instant. The economy’s heartless hand can wipe out your savings in minutes. Bills can devour your wealth. Thieves can hack accounts and steal your earnings. Breath has more value than people because people can (and will) fail you! A friend might attack your reputation and that friendship is over. A child can disappoint you, robbing you of any parenting pride. You may think you receive special privileges because of who you know, but time passes and people forget who you are. Even the best of friends cannot even stop your death. You could be best friends with mega-billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett, but they will still die and so will you (and I). Your heirs will handle your finances and divvy up the possessions you worked so hard to accumulate. [Maybe worse?] Your name will fade away with time. You realize Every achievement fades away.
Since worldly objects fade away, any security they offer will fade away too. Put another way, wealth and people only offer false security. They promise to make life happier, but cannot guarantee it. If you (and I) find comfort in the prestige of our possessions and reputation, then we will be forever disappointed. Every achievement fades away and cannot bring you eternal rest.
That’s why God says what he does. In fact, God writes his warning down so that we can read it, so that it can sink in. God even guides our trust by (1) giving a warning and (2) presenting a reliable security. (1) If your wealth grows, do not set your heart on it. Instead, (2) rest quietly in God alone, for my hope comes from him.
That might sound strange. God offers you hope? Like ‘something not certain,’ ‘something that might not be there’? No. The Bible uses ‘hope’ to describe ‘a reality waiting in the future.’ Keep focused on God, find hope. Not just any ‘hope,’ but the capital-‘H’ Hope. Inside of Jesus shimmers this priceless life. A life that does not chase after crowns and thrones. A life that does not rob the temple treasury or ask his disciples for big purchases. Rather, a life content in living on the daily bread his Father provides and with the simple clothing on his body. Although the Son of God, Jesus does not seek worldly status and praise from the nation. He does not come for fame. He comes to give you rest.
He puts the heart at rest by suffering real death. Death—the end of life and separation from God. How worldly wealth could not spare him that! How friends deserted him, leaving him alone! Trust in worldly comforts earn this: life cut off from God— and Jesus absorbs it all.
Jesus rises in order to bring your heart (and mine) real security. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be disturbed. Picture that. A thick, rocky mountain with a little cave carved out. God sets you in that thick mountainous fortress. What can penetrate those walls and harm you? Be sure, the devil will fire flaming darts meant to hurt. Yet, no matter what accusations he shoots, they all bounce off! Your reliance in wealth? Well, Jesus took the dart. Your proud regrets? They ricochet. Your shame for falling into false security again? God forgives. He keeps you covered in Jesus’ life. Accusation after accusation bounces off that rocky wall. You Find Rest from guilt in God Alone.
You will encounter troubles in this world (read John 16:33); that’s no secret. Trade wars make for an uncertain future. A weakened economy stirs up retirement fears. Government may make you unsure of the future. One phone-call can change life. These troubles can take things away from you. You may lose freedom. You may lose your car, house, and retirement. You may lose loved ones. You may lose life. Still, you Find Rest in God Alone. God strengthens you to stand strong in these troubles. He has always seen fit to provide you with house and home. He has always seen fit to give you both food and savings. He has always led through even the most difficult of situations. Unlike money and people, God can actually keep his guarantee that all works for your good (Romans 8:28).
Then, you experience times of peace. Maybe this was a year of plenty for you— a good year, a year when you had no financial need, you took vacations, and bought new cars, more property, or you just stashed more away in your savings. If so, then good. That is what a stronghold does; it keeps you safe. Do you see? The reason you have security is because God gives you security. My salvation and my honor depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. The Giver puts your heart at rest. He keeps trouble for overwhelming you.
So, trust in him at all times, you people. Pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us. As someone who lives in this stronghold, live like someone who lives in a stronghold. Live fearless. Live without anxiety because your heart relies on God’s providing. Live certain of control in life. You may not have power over all the things that enter, but the Almighty God does—and who better to control life? Even when scared, rely on God in time of need. Plead in times of distress. Turn your mind to him in every situation in life. Run to him first, well before you ever think about what you can do to deliver yourself. As you Find Rest in God Alone, your thanksgiving is enriched. You gain the benefits of less anxiety, less need of control (which you really do not have), and greater peace because you live as children under a parent’s loving care. As attentions focus on this truth, you will always have rest be it in good or bad. Find Rest in God Alone because Only God delivers rock-solid security.
One leper grasped that truth. His incurable disease prevented him from living with his family. Unless something changed, he had no hope.
So, no wonder he cries: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ (Luke 17:13). He heard of this great Healer ministering throughout Galilee. His heart leapt at the healing instructions: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ Only the priests can declare the leprous: Cleansed! He heard exactly that. ‘Clean!’ Just like that death slinked back into the shadows. Skin mended and healed. Freedom restored to touch friends and hug family. As fantastic as these blessings are, he found rest in the One who cured his life forever.
A safe harbor when life spins wildly out of your control, but Someone unneeded when all appears manageable? No. God does not hold office hours as some grief counselor. He does not exist only for the next crisis. Whether storms rage or peace reigns, Find Rest in God Alone. Every achievement fades away, but Only God delivers rock-solid security.
Stephen Fry is a British actor [probably better] known (to us) for his roles in the television crimes series ‘Bones’ and acting in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Aside from acting, Stephen Fry is also an atheist. He claims no god exists.
In a 2015 interview, Stephen Fry was asked this question: “Suppose it’s all true and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him?” Well, this is what Stephen Fry would say:
“I would say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault! It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious [unpredictable], mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”
So, the interviewed asked: “And you think you’re going to get in?”
“No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They’re wrong. Now if I die and if it was ‘the Twelve Greek gods’ then I would have less trouble with it because the Greeks did not pretend not to be human in their unreasonableness. They did not present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the God who created this universe, if he was a good God, is quite clearly, a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?! What kind of God would do that?! Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole life-cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that did not exist. It is simply not acceptable. …So, [we ask] if there is a God, what kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent: He’s monstrous, utterly monstrous. He deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living— in my opinion.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo)
Stephen Fry calls his judgments of God an ‘opinion.’ We can call it as God does: ‘Darkness.’
In Colossians 1:13 God identifies the existence of two realms. The first is the domain of darkness. Darkness! The absence of light. The inability of making out shapes. The absolute failure of grasping information and forming correct conclusions. Darkness prevents anyone from seeing the truth of what lies around you! Yet, God is not describing vision problems. He calls this ‘darkness’ a ‘domain.’ A vice grip no one can escape. A darkness that blinds hearts and minds from seeing life as it truly exists. Simply put, you, I, the entire world start life cut off from God!
Spiritual darkness wraps us so tightly that we do not even recognize that we are blind! If you have ever played ‘Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey,’ then you know how deceiving darkness is. The blindfold blocks out all light and sight. One hand holds the donkey tail, the other hand gropes for direction. You inch forward, one foot after the another, you touch something, stick the tail, rip off the blindfold, only to see that the tail hangs nowhere close to the donkey. Of course, you thought you were right, that’s why you took the steps you did. Although blind, you consider your actions ‘correct.’ So when the interviewer asked: “You think you’re going to get in?” Stephen Fry says, “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms.” The entire world starts life spiritually blind. Unable to recognize God as Judge and Savior! That blind heart believes humanity is morally pure and God morally evil.
That’s a darkness even our hearts combat. God says, ‘Love me with all your heart.’ (Matthew 22:37) and still we keep the Bible shut. We block his Words from memory. We care little if our behavior lines up with his expectations. God says, ‘Parents, raise your children with the Word.’ (Ephesians 6:4). Still, we ignore the kids. We do not discipline them as God wants. We do not try to correct the wrong we see. Then, there are those other times when the heart pushes back against what God says. I can look at simple water and say, ‘This creates faith? Nope. That sounds silly.’ ‘This bread and wine is Jesus’ body and blood? Impossible! I cannot understand it so it cannot be.’ I can look at God’s promises and say, ‘No, God, you don’t really care about my sadness!’ ‘No, God, I got this money by my own smarts.’ ‘No, God, success comes because I try.’ I can look at a wandering soul and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter what he believes.’ ‘She will be in heaven.’ If you are like me, you can shatter God’s commands without flinching; I do not even flinch because I expect God to condone my actions. In that way I make it quite clear: ‘God, I will not live on your terms! You accept my terms.’ That is the darkest, most blind lie the human mind has ever concocted: The notion that that you outrank God.
As clever as Stephen Fry sounds, his logic contains one critical flaw: he fails to take ‘sin’ into account. He completely ignores the fact that God did create a perfect world and the reason pains exists is not because of God. God is not to blame when our words destroy relationships and our addictions shorten life and our greed never satisfies. The problem comes because Adam and Eve (as well as the rest of us) turned our backs from God Almighty! God exposes that truth with light— and not just any light, but the Light.
God sent his Son who is the image of the invisible God. See Jesus, see God. Not a prophet. Not a good teacher, but God in flesh. [Jesus is] the firstborn of all creation. ‘Firstborn’ does not mean ‘the first one created,’ but ‘first in line.’ Just like the oldest son received the family inheritance, God hands Jesus the reins of the universe. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Jesus anchored the land and he carved out the oceans. He put earth in its orbit and pulls it around the sun. He formed man and allows him to govern. Jesus exists before all things— including you (and me). Do you think you possess the right, the equal standing to demand that God condone disobedience? He is the One who already sits in the paradise we want!
Yet, the Maker of governments stands silent by as a corrupt government condemns him, an innocent man. The Designer of nature is fastened to wood meant to help life, not to take life. The King of the Universe suffers the death-sentence his rebellious subjects earned. All those times we shook an angry fist at God, barking out: ‘Not on your terms!’ Jesus lives on God’s terms. He comes to obey God’s want and will. Then, he offers—not forces—but offers his life in exchange for yours.
What right do you have to that claim? None. Yet, the King of the Universe has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Jesus obliterates darkened thinking. He makes clear what he has done for you (and me). When he rose, he transferred you (and me) from the column marked ‘death’ into the column marked ‘life!’ He stepped into his heavenly kingdom, sits on his glorious throne, and reigns over all things. Now. At this moment. Today… and always. He ushers in eternal peace.
[H]e is the head of the body, the church. Now, that word ‘church’ does not describe buildings of wood and brick with people gathering inside. The Bible uses the word ‘church’ to describe all believers everywhere. The woman in South Africa who believes in Jesus as Savior. The Detroit factory-worker who knows Jesus died for him. The businessman in China who cherishes the news of a Savior. People all over the globe are united into one common faith, and God sees each individual gathered into one realm before his one throne.
Friends, you are part of that ‘church.’ Baptism created faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 2:38-29; Galatians 3:26-27). That faith grew bigger and stronger as it heard God’s Word. In fact, you gather in this building today not to listen to a random man’s opinions, but rather to hear the words God gave you to apply to life. You live in this body of Christ.
Christ exists as the head of the body. The head controls. It tells you where to go, how to speak and act. Not just that, nothing outranks the head. Christ remains in charge. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might [have the supremacy]. Jesus already reigns in heaven with all things under his feet. No atheist actor can tell God how to act. Governments cannot eradicate the Word off the face of the earth. No world leader can keep Jesus locked up in heaven forever. Even the devil cannot stop eternity. Jesus is the first to rise from the dead and remain living. He guarantees he will not be the last. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Christ points you to the future. Jesus will use the power he possesses as God and bring all things to an end. He will purge sin out of all things. He will create a new heavens and new earth, one free from death and mourning and tears. He will bring you to gather around his throne (Revelation 7:14-17).
Will that really happen? Yes. Because Christ kept his Word. He rescued you (and me) from a domain of darkness. He transferred us into his kingdom of light. He already paid the debt owed to God. The payment has already been accepted. He already rose, breaking the stranglehold of death. He already reigns in heaven. Nothing will undo his guarantee. Jesus, who has brought us into his kingdom, ushers in eternal peace.
Christ Reigns Supreme! It does not matter what Stephen Fry would say to him. It does not matter what darkened hearts think is ‘right’ and ‘fair.’ It does not matter the excuses people will lay before the throne. Only the Word of Christ is final. That word obliterates darkened thinking. With that Word, Christ reveals guilt removed and us transferred into his kingdom. As Christ continues ruling your hearts, we have peace. We know what is to come and we know it will never be taken away. Christ Reigns Supreme!
Thick, dense fog drops visibility to only 20-feet, which sounds pretty insignificant—except your airplane barrels towards the runway at 150 miles-per-hour. The automatic pilot counts down the distance from the ground. 50…40… 30…20…10… One pilot chimes in: “I’m sure it’s down there somewhere.” As for you, you see nothing. What do you do? How do you land? Where do you fly? How do you arrive safely? So much is unknown. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2851968/Now-s-flying-blind-Terrifying-footage-shows-pilots-approaching-Dublin-airport-fog-t-runway-moments-landing.html).
Much like our topic today, right? Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Everyone seems to have opinions. Few seem certain. What about you? Can you know what to expect about life with God?
Let’s return to 2 Thessalonians 2:13. It reads: But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits (a better translation is ‘from the beginning’) to be saved… Long before God spoke the universe into existence, God knew you. He knew the precise moment of your birth. He knew every city and every home in which you would live. He knew where you would work. He knew who you would marry and the family you would have. He knew you would be sitting here, in this church located in [Harrison] Clare, Michigan. In fact, God did more than ‘know’ information, he chose you.
His ‘choosing’ had a purpose: To save you. Here in these verses God zeroes in on you— not other people, but you— and he makes it clear: Your life has a goal. That goal is not to spend decades building an empire and stashing away cash, growing popular and sitting on a mountain of respect and then die. Earthly status is not your ultimate goal. Before the sun started marking time, God had the goal of escorting you from this life into life in his kingdom.
How did God reach that goal? God chose you through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Now, that word ‘sanctification’ means ‘to make holy,’ ‘to make morally pure.’ Notice, you did not do the work, your name does not appear in this verse. Which name does? The Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does the ‘making-holy’ work. When you heard God’s impact on life, the Holy Spirit went to work. He buried those words into your heart, not you. He created faith so that you stand convinced of this tremendous truth: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). To this— this magnificent reality of never-ending paradise— [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain (so that you may join in this) the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In those opening words God reveals something great. That word ‘sanctification’ is where we get our word ‘saint.’ According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is not a special charity-worker who helped the poor, fed the hungry, and freed the oppressed and is a far superior Christian than you. According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is a ‘holy person.’ How does a person become ‘holy?’ [T]hrough sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Simply put, God has made you a ‘saint.’
Maybe you half-laugh at that thought. You— a saint? You hate what you see in the mirror. How could God ever forgive your past? …after hurting the kids? …after your arrest? …after the foolish nights? How can you be a saint when you have done so much evil? You lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, flipping through a mental list of sorts: Sunday School teacher, wife and mother, community volunteer, kind neighbor, frequent worshipper. You did so many kind acts, but you feel that it is just not enough. Does God really love you? You stand in front of the tombstone. Carved in granite is a date of death. Is she really in heaven? Does God really love him? Will I be in heaven too? Stare at our hearts and we do not look like saints, do we?
The reason we struggle with that thought of being a ‘saint,’ the reason questions about life and death, heaven and hell torment us is because we are looking for certainty in all the wrong places. We tremble at the thought of heaven and hell because we realize that we are not as good as we should be. We cannot rely on our social status to get us through the gates of heaven. We do not have the power to control our eternity. So why look at yourself?! When you (and I) want self-assurance that all is well, we will never find it. We have are turning away from Jesus, the only One who has saved you!
That is why verse 15 says: So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Do not stand firm on your own emotions, your own thoughts. Stand firm, cling tightly to God’s truth. In fact, standing firm is not an action you do. Your determination, your willpower does not strengthen faith. God does the strengthening. When attention steps off of that Word, grip weakens. When we go back to the Word, faith automatically grips God’s promises.
You open the Bible, it says: [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. You read those words, faith grabs them. What can you expect from God? To bring you where Jesus is. Why do you believe that? Because God has kept his Word. God promises Adam and Eve a Savior (Genesis 3:15). Isaiah says a virgin will give birth to a son (Isaiah 7:14). Micah says the Savior will arrive in Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2). Lo and behold! The virgin Mary gives birth to a Son in Bethlehem! God promises to paint Jesus with our guilt, our shame, our evil. He will crush him to death(Isaiah 53:5-7). The Holy One will lie in a grave, but not see decay (Psalm 16:10-11). He will rise as Lord with the enemy of death under his feet! (Psalm 110:1) Lo and behold! Wicked men crucify Jesus, friends bury him, he rises and steps into eternal glory! God has always done as promised. In that same Word God makes clear: You are the people Jesus scrubbed and washed and cleaned. You are the people that Jesus stands before the Father. You are the people God calls ‘saints.’ Yes, I know, so much in this world tries to convince us that we are unlovable, that God does not (and cannot) love us, that we can never be sure of entering heaven. The truth is, it does not matter what you feel! God gives his Word so that we may point to it and say, ‘My Savior paid the debt I owe and for me was smitten; Within the Book of Life I know, my name has now been written!’
The Lord chose you and reached his goal using the Word. The Holy Spirit has changed your eternity from death into life. God does not keep this a secret. God tells you now so that you live at ease and joy. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints. You can, because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Yes, the same Word God used to create faith is the same Word that protects faith. You live in a world where not everyone has faith. That means you will hear things about death that might frighten you. You will hear things about death that do not line up with what God teaches. Sometimes people’s thoughts sound reasonable, they might sound good, but they are not true. The Sadducees claimed no resurrection, that dead remains dead— in the ground, buried, forever (Luke 20:27-38). I worked with a lady who knew I was a Christian. One day (for some reason) she had to tell me: ‘There is no life after death. You die, get buried, and become dust, ashes, and energy. That’s it.’ A family member of mine called ‘grandma’ an angel. That sounds lovely— floating on clouds in brilliant white light strumming a harp. As beautiful as the image is, it’s not true. You and I, grandma, do not become angels in heaven; the Bible does not teach that. Just last week, someone told me that heaven is whatever makes you happy. [In his words]: ‘If sitting at McDonald’s makes you happy, then that is your heaven.’ What’s the point of saying this? Not to criticize, not to sound superior. The point is this: Not all have faith. Some think death is permanent. Others make up strange stories. We may not know what to believe and that can trouble us. When we do not rely on what God reveals, we lose comfort. We get scared. We do not stand firm.
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. The Bible tells you the truth about life and death. Since God tells you the straight truth, it strengthens you. You can be sure that you have the right information!
In the Bible, God gives you a glimpse of reality. Your Christian spouse who died from cancer is in heaven. How do you know? Because Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). Your elderly, now-deceased Christian friend is in heaven— perfectly well, perfectly healthy. How do you know? Because, Jesus Christ, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Glorious— meaning, not getting older, getting achier, going to the hospital again, and dying. Glorious means without disease, without age, without defect. That’s the body our powerful Jesus gives every believer. Grandma sings in heaven— but not as an angel. How do you know? Well, Jesus says ‘We are like the angels’— but do not transform into angels (Luke 20:35-36). In fact, God says angels are ministering spirits sent to serve you (Hebrews 1:14). Angels are heaven’s butlers and you will have a higher rank in heaven! You are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple… and the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [your] Shepherd, he will lead [you] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17). God steers your heart into confidence with his Word. You can Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
The airline pilots had to rely on a word. Thick fog blocked out all sight of this runway. The plane raced down. Yet, the plane’s instruments identified the goal and steered the plane towards its goal. Word kept the pilots on track.
God’s Word keeps you (and me) on track. Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Many have opinions, but God reveals truth. God reveals truth for your comfort. The One who created heaven, descended from heaven, and re-ascended into heaven clearly tells you that he chose you through the Word. Do you grasp what God has done? He changed your future forever. He did the work. He saved you. The purpose for telling you this is to put you at ease. With that same Word, God steers our hearts and minds towards our heavenly goal. He removes fear with forgiveness. He removes doubt with truth. He answer questions by telling you what to expect. The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Friends, when thoughts of death trouble you, look to the Word. Find peace here. Look forward with joy to the best that is to come. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints.
Scott Schmidt had to kill his wife. He had no other choice. In fact, Scott even blamed his wife for her own murder. You see, the couple’s marriage had been disintegrating. Months of couples counseling healed nothing. The two had actually separated. So, on April 17, 2009, Scott went to his estranged wife’s house to retrieve some belongings. While there, an argument broke out. Emotions intensified and so did the violence. Now, Scott claims his wife knew about his rash temper. On April 17th she [supposedly] started taunting him, hurling out names like: ‘lazy,’ ‘good-for-nothing,’ ‘deadbeat,’ knowing full well that her words pierced him. [Supposedly] she deliberately ignited his anger; she forced him to grab his gun and unload. Don’t you see? She knew the risks! She provoked him! She was to blame for her own murder! Scott Schmidt committed no crime!...... Do you believe that?
Probably not. Neither did the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Nor the Dodge County Correction Facility prison warden. Nor did the roomful of pastors listening to Scott’s outlandish claims. Nor did the judge who sentenced Scott to life in prison. Create all the excuses you want, but nothing pieces together a broken law.
So, what could possibly possess Scott to insist on his innocence? You realize that Scott does not deny standing at the scene of the crime. He does not deny discharging his weapon. He does not deny harming his wife. In fact, he even accepts the detective’s account of what happened. The evidence piles ever-higher against his favor and Scott still tries to persuade the judge that he committed no wrong. Why? Because Scott did do something wrong— and in his heart of hearts, he knew that.
Scott knew tucked away in the pages of Wisconsin State law is the mandate: You cannot murder. He knew his violent behavior clearly violated that law. He knew breaking the law brings consequences— and he did not want consequences. He did not want to spend the rest of his life locked behind bars. He wanted freedom!
So there it is! Why does Scott maintain his innocence? Because Scott wants to commit crime and live free. In order to reach his wish, Scott reframed his actions. To this day Scott still calls the events of April 17th ‘an act of extreme passion’— because passion is not a crime. The hope is that if he can redefine his action, then maybe the judge would no longer classify his violence as ‘murder.’ Then Scott could be set free.
Maybe you sit there, half-laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of that logic. Look at that behavior again. Scott commits on a far larger scale what every heart fights to do. The human hearts fights to defend its own wickedness at any cost. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 God says: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Many drive past this church building; many admit that it is a religious center and still they do not enter. Some treasure time outside in campers and boats. Others cherish personal opinion about life-matters. Still others worship the god their ‘feelings’ and ‘thoughts’ create. Many call label themselves ‘spiritual,’ but take no time learning, studying, believing the God of the universe. Such people do not know God. Yes, those hearts will try to define their wrong; hearts will create the excuse: “God, I did not know!” Yet, the truth is, they had a chance to know. They just chose not to take it.
Yet, tucked in verse 8 is another group, a group that speaks to us. [God] will punish those (1) who do not know God and (2) [those who] do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The ‘gospel’ is the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ alone cleared your record and brought you into a peaceful state with God. ‘Obeying the gospel’ means that your heart cherishes this truth. That you live as one who has been rescued from hell.
Do you? When you stand in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments, what do you see? Do you love making time for God? Do you watch the words coming out of your mouth? Do you keep your anger in check and apologize when you are clearly in the wrong? Do you support others? What does God see? Does see a life that has been rescued from hell? Do you obey the gospel?
If you’re like me, you discover a heart that fights to defend its own wickedness at any cost. You may feel right sitting in your circle of friends, griping about your husband’s laziness. You may think it’s the government’s fault that you criticize its work. You can point at parents and claim that their failed marriage is the reason not to get married. You may blame work for keeping you out of church. You can say that you don’t worship because ‘the Pastor just doesn’t understand you’ or that you are just too angry at someone there. When God’s Word convicts behavior as ‘wrong,’ the heart creates every excuse as to why what you do is ‘right.’
Do you see what excuses really claim? That you have done nothing wrong. That it is completely acceptable if your view of sex and marriage do not agree with God’s definition. That you have committed no wrong by disobeying God’s representatives. That you are without sin for skipping church because you worship other priorities. Excuses insist that you have committed no crime and therefore have no need for a Savior.
You (and I) will always feel the urge to look innocent. We may even think we will get away with it! Yet, there is one matter you (and I) cannot control: One day you will leave this world and you do not have a say when. It could be decades from now or months, tomorrow or today— but you lack the ability to walk out of this life on your terms. You (and I) do not have that authority to control life. God does. God, who has the authority to take you out of this world, has the same power to stand you before his throne. He will open a record of your entire life and compare it to his law. What will he find? What can you possibly say to redefine your crimes? What excuses will he buy? God is not fooled. God is just. He is ‘fair.’ He will compare every single heart according to his law. Those who trudge through life with armfuls of petty excuses will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified[.]
Friends, God is not looking for excuses. God is not accepting excuses. God expects perfection. Nothing we say, nothing we do to appear morally better will remove the fact that failure is still failure. That is why God says in verse 8: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. That ‘gospel’ reveals the freedom Jesus has won for you. Your Savior-God wrapped himself in human flesh. Mary sets newborn Jesus in a manger and God sets Ten Commandments on Jesus (Galatians 4:4-5). Understand, Jesus is expected to keep the same expectations expected of you. Jesus could roll around in a bank vault and mumble the excuse: ‘But I am God, I deserve wealth.’ He could say: ‘Why go to church? I wrote the Bible.’ He could lay aside the commandments and say: ‘I do not want that commandment controlling my words. I will say whatever I want.’ Instead, Jesus gladly embraces and conforms to God’s every single command. In fact, [Jesus] has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
God could look at Jesus, drop his gavel, and cry out: ‘Innocent! Live free!’ Instead, God sets our flimsy excuses on Jesus one-by-one. He covers Jesus with all of our cover-ups and watches those excuses drag him down into death. God, the Just Judge, Judges Justly by condemning crimes to death. God, the Just Judge, Judges Justly by declaring Jesus innocent! He opens the grave’s door, leads Jesus out by the hand—alive! He dresses him in brilliant robes. He sets a glistening crown on his head. He seats him at his right hand, with all powerful authority to study every heart.
God does not look for excuses, God looks for justice. He looks for hearts that do not need to call ‘wrong’ ‘right.’ Instead, he looks for hearts wrapped in Jesus’ righteousness. He looks for a heart, like the one he put in 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).
That is the joy of God’s ‘gospel.’ You (and I) hold the ‘good news’ that because Jesus suffered our penalty, God has dropped the charges against us! Now, you carry a different sentence. God is just: because Jesus wraps you in his innocence He gives relief to you. You have ‘peace.’ When you leave this world and stand before the throne of God, Jesus will stand beside you, look at his Father, and say, “See my life on him? See her wearing my innocence? Father, they belong to us!” The Just Judge Judges Justly as he gives rest to you, his holy people.
No excuses needed. Instead, a heart that admits ‘wrong’ as ‘wrong’ and finds rest in the Savior. Yet, one final word. Look around. The empty seats means that many still think they will smooth-talk their way into God’s favor. Maybe a child thinks simply having his name in a church book pleases God. Maybe a daughter-in-law relies on worshipping God in nature (except, she does not even do that). Maybe a grandson thinks everyone in the world enters heaven regardless of belief. Friends, God makes it clear: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. God makes this explicitly clear so that no one perishes, but that all may have life (1 Timothy 2:3-4). We have work to do. Seize the opportunity to remind those hoping for the best that real peace is found here. That here The Just Judge Judges Justly as he gives rest to his holy people.
The greatest crime Scott Schmidt committed was not the crime itself. Rather, it is fact that Scott Schmidt thinks Scott Schmidt committed no crime. He will spend the rest of his life locked away both on earth and in hell.
You have been set free. What joy, what peace, what comfort we have knowing that God does not search for excuses. What joy, what peace, what comfort we have knowing that God removes our excuses through Jesus. Look forward to life with God because of the message of the gospel. The Just Judge will Judge Justly. He locks away all who oppose him. He gives rest to his holy people.
Four years ago, a camera team roamed around Michigan State University, asking random students one question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ The video posted 15 responses. Here’s a few:
Do you think those students sound confident? No, not really. Upon what did everyone place their hope? Every single response mentioned: ‘doing good,’ ‘church membership,’ and ‘being a good guy.’ Did those answers provide much comfort? By my count, the words: ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I think,’ ‘I hope,’ appear 23-times. So, upon what do these students place their hope for heaven? (1) Individual effort and (2) personal opinion— and neither provide any comfort!
Do you think you’re going to heaven? That question might weigh heavy on your mind, and maybe you worry that your response is not good enough. Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Let’s gain certainty from Romans chapter 3. Starting with verse 19, we read: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law… Stop there for just a moment. Remember God’s ‘law?’ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). God etched those commands onto two tablets of stone (Exodus 20:1-17). He even took that law and carved it on every single heart— yours and mine included (Romans 2:14-15). That means, you, I, the entire world are obligated to obey and conform to those commands.
Have you? If God replayed your entire life on a big-screen, what would find? What would he see you do at the bar? What would God discover on your browser history? What would God learn from you about his gift of marriage? Do you want to repeat the words you use to describe the leaders he has placed in authority over you? (read Romans 13:1) Would you be proud standing before God, looking him straight in the eye, and declaring: ‘God, I loved you so much that my life is perfect picture of your law!’ No. That searing guilt, the restless shame that keeps you (and me) awake at night, the stomach-churning regrets only showcase our blemished hearts.
No wonder people have difficulty answering that question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ Because that shameful filth clings to us; it never leaves! And you hear that haunting reality in every response. Those students make up and try to enforce rules about a heaven they do not own! If you own heaven, then you can create the standards for entering heaven. (For example, if you own a restaurant, you can make a dress code. You can exclude those who do not meet the dress code.) But you (and I) do not own heaven. That means we must meet the standards of the One who does. When the standard is: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) we fail.
God’s expectations do not make you (and me) look good, they expose our wickedness before God! Every mouth is stopped… you (and I) have no acceptable excuse. [T]he whole world [is] held accountable to God.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified [that is, ‘be acquitted,’ ‘be declared innocent’] in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. That means, scrounging for comfort in your own self-made rules only leads to a dead-end! (If arcades still exist), you play games, make the right moves, win tickets, and turn those tickets in for prizes. You get something for your effort. You cannot step up to God, hold up your life, and say, “Here you go, God! That should get me something!” God clearly says that his righteous verdict does not come from obtaining enough tickets. For by works of the law no human being will be justified. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor.
How does that make you feel? Probably not too comfortable. That’s the point. God crushes the heart so that you might cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ Because God wants you (and me) to stop looking at our hearts. To stop looking at our faulty actions. To stop digging through our flawed thinking. God wants you (and me) to stop looking at you (and me).
When you cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ do not look at your flawed word, look at God’s Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Listen again to verse 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it… There it is! God’s ‘righteousness’— that precious announcement of innocence! Where does God tell you how to obtain it? He does not point at your opinions or feelings or wishes or expectations. God reveals his righteous verdict in the Bible.
There, in the Bible, God clearly says: [T]he righteousness of God [comes] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God sets his righteous verdict on you through faith. Think about that for a moment. That ‘faith’ (God speaks of) is ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ God the Holy Spirit put into your heart the conviction, the certainty that Jesus has completely satisfied God’s anger. That’s why you call Jesus ‘Savior.’ You did not save your life, you did not help even one bit. Jesus alone rescued you from consequences.
God wrote this down in the Bible for you to confront. For there is no distinction, all (you! me! the world!) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and [you and I] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ in his sight free of charge. No strings attached. No repayment expected. God drops the charges against you.
You know that, but can you be sure? Is God really serious? That you owe nothing? Sounds too good to be true! It’s not! God’s not asking what you think about his actions, he is telling his actions. You see that God did not ignore your offenses, he actually punishes them. God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That word, ‘propitiation’ means: ‘atonement.’ God used Jesus to make you ‘at-one’ with God.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins… God did not sentence you (or me) or Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, or anyone immediately to hell. Even though we fell short of reaching God’s high standard, even though we stood under God’s judgment, God patiently waited. Yes, he still held people accountable, but transferred the consequence from you (and me) onto Jesus. Because God is just. He cannot let evil go by unpunished. That would be unjust, corrupt. So, a just, fair God punishes Jesus for your failures (and mine). He holds Jesus accountable for our crimes. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Since Jesus made the payment for our crimes, God is fair to declare us ‘innocent,’ ‘not guilty.’ That means God justifies you— you who are still haunted by your harsh words and overbearing presence. God penalized Jesus for your past. That means God declares you ‘not guilty’ — you who still struggle keeping your life free from drunken nights, indecent thoughts, and drugs. God sentenced Jesus to death in your place. That means God declares you ‘innocent’— you who feel ashamed that you hurt mom, that you yelled at dad, that your greedy, grubby fingers love stuff more than loving to help people. God made Jesus suffer shame. Then, God raised Jesus on Easter because Jesus is more than enough to serve and complete our death-sentence! (Romans 4:25).
Dear friends, God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness. This word does not come from my mind. It does not come from your opinion. It comes straight from the mouth of God. If Jesus wins for you what you could never merit, why look at yourself? If your past haunts you, if you feel so undeserving of heaven, if you are not sure if you will enter heaven, look to Jesus. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Can you be sure? Well, how do you know if your spouse loves you? How do you know if your children love you (or your parents love you)? How do you know if your heart is healthy? How do you know what the weather will be like tomorrow? Do you wait for a disembodied voice to whisper in your ear: “Your spouse and children love you?” Do you sit on the edge of your hospital bed waiting for a warm sensation in your chest— a feeling confirming that your heart is indeed healthy? Will you drive home, hop out of your car, rake your yard, prune your bushes, trim the trees, supposing that your actions will produce a warm, sunny day tomorrow? Of course not! That would be absurd! When you want a sure answer, you look to a qualified source. You listen and understand the plain meaning of their words. You see actions reinforcing those words.
Your spouse and your children are qualified people to say: “I love you” and then show their love in their action. A heart specialist is qualified to read your heart tests and say: “You are healthy.” The meteorologist, who reads weather patterns for a living, can point at the picture of a sun over your city (on your television screen) and say: “It will be sunny tomorrow!” These qualified people can give you sure answers. They can give you assurance.
So, ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ It really does not matter what ‘I think.’ It matters what God says. And God’s sure Word reveals his sure announcement: ‘You are forgiven!’ Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.