Todd lacked nothing his entire life. Growing up, mom and dad met every need. New clothes replaced old, outgrown ones. Spring break took the family to Hawaii, Cancun, Miami, New Orleans. On his 16th birthday, Todd received a new car. His parents covered most college expenses. When he graduated, his parents even offered him part of the family business.
So of course, Todd gladly took that offer. On the first day of work, dad says: “I want you to start in the warehouse and understand our shipping and receiving.”
Todd thought for moment. “No thanks, dad. Warehouse is pretty dirty work.”
“Alright then. Why don’t you join the sales team? See how we gain new business and keep accounts.”
“Nah, it’s too hard forging new partnerships.”
“What about accounting?”
“Too many numbers.”
“Then manage our network.”
“Eh… that’s takes too much time.”
Dad rattles off areas for Todd to contribute and Todd turns down each one. Finally, dad asks: “What would you like to do?” Todd stopped, mulled the question over for moment, stared straight at dad “Why don’t you buy me out?” (taken from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7279494/ns/business-us_business/t/when-kids-feel-entitled-family-business/).
Todd’s parents built this company from their poverty. They worked the long hours. They drove to make new clients. They took reduced salaries. It took decades for the business to become self-supporting. Todd’s wealth came from their effort. Yet, Todd fails to appreciate that hard work. Because he does not value their achievements, he feels entitled, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things.
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That is why God repeats the past. The book of Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in the book of Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
That’s why Moses, the long-serving Israelite leader, says: And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Before you being taking mental notes, thinking: “Alright, here’s what I need to do to love God better…” stop. Look at the first two words of verse 12: ‘And now…’ Those words do not present an order of events. (For example: (1) I woke up, then (2) I got dressed, and now (3) I am eating.) No, those words point back to an earlier event and then give cause for the present action.
So, what happened earlier? Well, Israel worshipped a golden cow. (Visit Deuteronomy 9:7-29 and Exodus 32:1-35) Understand, they are not praising a barnyard animal. Instead, they believed another god-like being existed and this being’s true image is a cow. Israel credits this made-up god with rescuing them out of Egypt, feeding them, and leading them. God looks down absolutely mystified. He unleashed ten powerful plagues. He held back the walls of the Red Sea. He literally led this group— a cloud by day and fire by night. He did not hide from them; everyone witnessed these events. His mighty power clearly revealed his mighty love. God has every right to wipe these ungrateful brats off the face of the earth. He could abandon them in this desolate desert, crying out to a god that does not exist. God does none of that. Instead, he forgives. That [event] is what happened forty years ago. Israel could look back and see life spared; they did not receive the punishment they deserved.
That remains a vitally important truth to remember. We— people called ‘Christian,’ literally identifying with ‘Christ’— receive what we do not deserve. Do you remember that? Your God lays out his high, holy commandments not only for these Israelites, but also for you (and me) to keep without fault. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37). Love God by wanting to be here, not complaining how inconvenient worship is today. Love God by giving him your honest offering without holding back because you love what money can buy. Love God by doing what he says because it is right. God desires absolute obedience from every fiber of your being every waking second.
We have not done that, have we? In fact, we usually admit quite quickly: ‘Well, no one’s perfect.’ That carries consequences! Forget that and we think God owes us good things! Of course, we would never come out and say that, but we embrace the thought. The heart likes to think that God will give you a good week because you’re in church. I mean, those not in church, well, they’ll probably get hurt or receive bad news. It makes sense that God rewards you for being here. You earned it! You deserve God giving you good because you did good. Your arm might get tired patting you on the back. You gave some groceries to the needy next-door neighbor. You waited at the bank entrance a little longer and held the door open. You complimented the cashier even when it took her 15-minutes to complete your order. No one else acts like that! God must see your outstanding behavior! So, you deserve God giving you good because you did good. Or, if you want to know if you are saved, just stare at you. You went to Sunday School. You memorized Bible teachings. You live sincerely devoted to God. Why would you not go to heaven? You behave good. You may even think you chose good. You deserve God giving you good because you did good.
Do you know what God would say to that? “You forgot the past.” To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. God Almighty created every single organism on earth, even brought you (and me) into this world. If God expects you (and me) to serve, to fear, to love him above all things, why would he reward you for doing what is expected? What does God owe you? Honestly, nothing. Just in case our hearts take issue with that, in case we want to point fingers and cry out: “God, I’m so much better than those skipping and driving around right now!” God says: the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you… God makes it explicitly clear: You did not choose him. You do not earn perks because of how you live. You are not entitled to heaven! Even this Israelite nation is not entitled to be God people.
So, why does God choose them? Because God chooses to. Yes, the heart argues: “Well, that does not make sense. Surely, they did something!” God says, “No. I chose them. I chose you. That is grace— love not deserved.”
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God does not want your best, he wants your ‘perfect.’ He wants hearts that obey not out of necessity, but out of desire. He wants hearts that find him to be life’s happiest joy! He wants a heart like that of Jesus. A heart that worships, not to fulfill an obligation, but because the heart delights in hearing God speak. A heart that gives offering, a heart that gives healing, a heart that gives away food because that heart does not consider earth to be real treasure. A heart that loves God by correcting wrong because it is wrong.
Inside of Jesus beats a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things every waking moment. No wonder God looks at Jesus and cries out: “With you I am well-pleased!” (Matthew 3:17) No wonder God takes that innocent life and wraps it around your (and my) rebellious heart.
Dear friends, God’s command to love him above all things is certainly meant for us to obey. When we fail and guilt crushes us, look at Jesus, our Substitute, the One who obeyed for your (and my) benefit. Because Grace Drives Christian Living.
That is the reason Moses says what he does. He is not challenging the Israelites to be ‘real’ Christians. No, he points back to God’s undeserving love. See God hand you the forgiveness not deserved. See how he chose you first (John 15:16), meaning, faith does not depend on your behavior. God cannot love you more than he already does!
So, what do you do? Nothing! There is nothing you need to do to make God love you more. Maybe question instead is: How, then, do I gives thanks?
To that, Moses says: Fear the Lord your God and serve him. (Now, that word ‘fear’ does not mean ‘be afraid, be terrified, be scared of God.’ No. To ‘fear’ means ‘to respect.’ Give God respect, treat him with dignity, honor, and trust.) How do you treat with respect? Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. Live unafraid because you can. Jesus promises, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me… And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18,20). Live unafraid because God invites you to approach him in need. Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Gather in worship, thank God for his love. Gather in worship, take in hearing of God’s love—and delight in that. See the baptismal font where he made you his child (Galatians 3:26-27). Approach the altar and take his forgiveness (Matthew 26:26-28). Leave here at peace with God. He will not condemn you. He will not forsake you. He will clothe you (Matthew 6:24-35). He will give strength in sickness (Psalm 103:1-3). He will turn troubles into blessings, he will increase your trust in him through challenges (Romans 8:28). What do you do? Nothing. You (and I) owe God nothing! What joy to simply look up at a God who loves us. What a privilege to have that love sink in and Motivate Christian Living!
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That’s why Todd felt entitled. He failed to appreciate his parent’s that hard work. Because he does not value their achievement, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things. That led him to be ungrateful of what he received. That is why God repeats the past. Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
Chuck handed his Pastor the keys to a brand new John Deere X739 Signature Series Lawn Tractor. The V-Twin, liquid-cooled iTorque power system with electronic fuel injection puts out twenty-six horses. The 60-inch Edge High-Capacity mower deck with MulchControl effortlessly chews through the thickest grass and soggiest leaf piles. The hydrostatic four-wheel drive with TwinTouch control pedals powers this mower uphill, downhill, and side-hill, through swampy low-spots and over dried out ruts. The 20-bushel Click-N-Go Material Collection System can devour every leaf on the 4-acre church property and spit out the waste at the touch of a button. Make no mistake about it, this beast would keep the outside of God’s house immaculate.
Everyone saw the advantage. Actually, they had no choice. Chuck stood at the front doors of the church just beaming. As worshippers filed through those doors Sunday morning, Chuck made to point out the new tractor. “I spent $20,000 on that for the church.”
Impressed? Probably not. You can see past the object given and pinpoint the motivation for that generosity. Chuck did not care if God received the honor, respect, and praise owed him. That thought never enters the mind. No, Chuck bought expensive equipment in order to buy praise for himself.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. We are unworthy servants. So, We only do our duty.
You could summarize Luke 17:1-10 with those words: ‘Christian service.’ In fact, that single thread connects each verse together. Jesus said to his disciples: Temptations to sin are sure to come… Temptation, that is, a desire to do what God forbids— and you (and I) encounter no shortage of temptation. Think about the powerful craving to get revenge when that careless driver cuts you off. Or revisit the strong, greedy impulses to hold back money from God. Temptations surround you (and me), hoping to drag our attention and hearts away from the Word of God! (Revelation 12:9)
Understand, being tempted is not wrong. Telling the devil, ‘No! I will not do evil. Go away!’ is not sinful. Jesus makes it clear: [W]oe to the one through whom they come! Acting on temptation is wrong. So, Pay attention to yourselves! Temptation can suddenly seize you and steal you away from serving God with your life.
Do you see where temptation can appear? Jesus highlights two areas in life. Two areas where you (and I) are called to serve each other, but can serve for the wrong reasons. If your brother sins, rebuke him… Serve by approaching him out of heartfelt care and concern. Identify how this action drags him away from God and closer to death. Identify the evil so that he turns away from it and turns to life! [I]f he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” If he keeps trespassing on your property and he keeps coming to you, tears in eyes, heart torn, pleading: ‘I am so sorry, forgive me!’ then forgive. Release him from guilt. Assure him of a restored standing between you and him. If she keeps trashing your reputation you and keeps returning saying, ‘I am so sorry! I am trying hard to speak nice. Please forgive me!’ then forgive. Do not hold a grudge; do not seek revenge. Put the offense in the past; consider it: ‘Paid in full.’ You serve by bringing the forgiveness of Christ into life.
Is that something you want to do? To be honest, If [my] brother sins, [I will] rebuke him. I can point out faults. “Hey! You cussed! Don’t do that! …And you— you hit your sister! Stop that! …And you think no one saw your car at home last Sunday morning? I did on the way back from church.” I love rebuking people because pointing out someone else’s failures makes me look superior— like I’m a better Christian than my fellow believers! And forgiving— well, that’s a little more difficult. After all, that no-good, trespassing neighbor keeps spooking away my deer and I have to deal with it. I have no deer for deer season, and he will still have something to hunt. It hurts when my friend does not appreciate my help. It makes me feel unimportant. Her attacks are not showers of heaping praise I want to hear. The sister who always argues? Well, why forgive her? She needs me, I do not need her. So, let her taste what life is like without my kind advice, my help, my encouragement. Let her suffer.
Do you see it? Right beside selfless service stands the temptation for pride. I rebuke the sinner, not to protect a soul, but to exalt my moral superiority! I refuse to forgive because I consider that weakness and my pride will suffer. People will consider me ‘a push over’ and think that I can absorb abuse. I do not want pain, I want praise. Even when I put the encouragement of Christ into action I am tempted to gloat! “I forgave the bully! I am so strong!... I still speak to my brother and he drives me nuts. I am so loving!... I brought back that member who has not been in church for a while!... Look at me! I am such a great Christian!” If you think your Christian living is one great big gift to God, then you have fallen into pride.
Do you know what Jesus gives pride? A nice pillow-sized stone. It would be better… if a millstone were hung around [the] neck and cast into the sea so that no one else imitates your self-centered living!
Which makes it quite strange that God does do that. God does not hang your pride around your neck and watch you sink straight into the depths of hell. Instead, he takes your pride, ties it around Jesus’ neck, and lets it drag his own Son into death.
You see, Jesus stands in Luke 17 not as a Teacher or a Taskmaster. He stands a servant. He deserves all praise because he withstands temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). He deserves all praise because he forgives sin (Mark 2:9-12). He deserves all praise because he literally comes to rebuke the sin that was killing us (Luke 19:10). Yet, instead of praise, he receives insults. He receives an untruthful death-sentence. He receives our punishment. Jesus comes not to be served, not to stoke his pride, but to set aside his crown as King and fill you with his innocent life! (Mark 10:45).
That is called ‘grace.’ Love not deserved, but love God chooses to shower on you (and me)! Just think: do you deserve God punished for your pride? Are you so awesome, so wonderful that God desperately needed to trade Jesus for you? By no means! You (and I) deserve death, but God gives us life! Jesus lives to give you (and me) the greatest title of all: a servant in the household of the almighty God!
God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. What makes us even want to care about someone else? God’s Grace. God has changed you from a death-row rebel into unworthy servants. Servants who seek no self-praise. Rather, servants who ponder this gift of love and see only opportunities to do our duty.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? Obviously, we do not have slaves, but we do expect people to carry out the responsibilities associated with their jobs. Do teachers thank students for doing their homework? No! A student is expected to do his work. That is part of learning, that is literally what a student does; he learns. Do you thank your [grand]children when they finish their chores or brush their teeth? No! If you command a [grand]child to clean her room, that child (who lives under you authority) is expected to obey you. Do you praise parents for staying up all night with an infant and then going to work tired and later cleaning the house and running errands? No! Parents have a responsibility to raise a child at any cost! We do not give credit to someone who merely does their job. Those with a title are expected to complete the responsibilities of that title.
In the same way, God has prepared you (and me) for Christian service (Ephesians 2:10). ‘Christian’— because the Holy Spirit has put Christ in our hearts. ‘Service’— because your (and my) actions address needs. If you (and I) belong to the household of God, then God expects us to live as people who are part of the household of God. God will not shower you with bonus points because you approached your son about living with his girlfriend outside of marriage. You will not earn extra credit because you forgave a stubborn father. God does not fist-pump the air because you made it to worship today. You already belong to God. You are not doing him favors. You are not earning extra slices of heaven. You only do your duty; you live as God expects a Christian to live.
That might be difficult to do. Perhaps you find it difficult to forgive. She accused you of some horrible things, when, in reality, you gave her money, spoke up for her, and helped her. Maybe you wrestle with pride; you really want self-praise for sharing faith in public or giving $5.00 to the homeless on the corner. I mean, you did something no one else did. So, where do you turn to keep pride in check? The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Here’s the point: God gives strength to do difficult tasks.
How does he give strength? You focus on him. You do not see a stubborn sister or homeless man. You see Jesus. You see Jesus forgive you—even though you approached him seven times for the same act. He never brings up that shame again. That’s what you see in front of you. So, you can say: ‘I forgive you. I forgive because I have been forgiven much more free of charge.’ You see Jesus on the street-corner. You look at the money that is always there because God always makes sure that it’s there. So, you give. You lose nothing; you give because God has given you much more than $5.00. You give to the financial needs of your church. You give prayers for those far from God. You only do your duty because God has adopted you into his household.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
This is an Equal-Arm Beam scale. (You have probably seen one of these before; it’s a pretty common scale.) As you can see, the main beam balances and pivots in its exact center. Each end of the beam is an equal distance from that center pivot. So, you can add weight to each end and study how the beam balances. A heavy object will cause one side of the beam to drop and the other to rise. To balance the beam, you must add weight to the light arm until the beam levels. Then can you conclude the two objects have equal weight.
Scales perform wonderfully in comparing weight. In fact, scales do not care about the value of an object— whether you weight gold and rocks or food and dirt. The scale simply reveals which object is heaviest.
This morning God uses a scale to reveal what has top value in your heart. Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. So, Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.
In our Old Testament selection you see scales at work. In fact, you see them as they are most commonly used: in business. Ancient coins did not have a number-value attached to them. For example, today’s money has a value stamped on it. So, the same-sized scrap of green paper can be worth different amounts simply due to the number printed on it. Yet, ancient coins (like the shekel) had value based on weight. Two shekels could weight different amounts. So you needed a scale. If loaf of bread cost two shekels, the merchant would hang a two-shekel weight on one side of the scale and you would weigh out shekel-coins until the scale balances. That balanced scale allows the merchant to receive and you to pay the right shekel-weight.
A scale makes transactions fair. So, some tweaked it. Merchants made the ephah small and the shekel great[.] An ‘ephah’ measures about a half-bushel… but the merchants adjusted those measurements. If you are selling grain, they pull out a slightly larger basket and you give away more grain than needed. If you are buying grain, they break out a slightly smaller basket and you receive less than desired. Or, if a loaf of bread costs two shekels, the merchant would hang a weight heavier than two-shekels on one side. You shelled out more coins and the merchant gained more wealth! Yet, they do not stop there; they hoard more by giving less. No one lowers food prices for the elderly and disabled, those between jobs and those honestly trying to get by. After all, donating is money given away! The merchants would sell— not give— but sell a measly peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for 8-hours of labor. And if your bare feet needed a pair of cheap, two-dollar-sandals, they made you scrounge for two dollars first. They even swept up the grain kernels and husks, leaves and stems, pack it into a bag, and sell it. Those sneaky merchants do all they can to suck a little extra money from you.
Let’s be clear: God does not condemn gaining money. It is not wrong to be rich. It is not wrong to make six-digits. It is not wrong to buy a big house or new car. God does not condemn an individual person. He does not say: “Listen up you merchants and business-owners!” No, he condemns those who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. That can refer to any person: rich or poor, business or customer. Simply put: God condemns an attitude.
Here’s how that attitude appears. On one side [of the scale] hangs God. On the other side hangs money. Greed consumes more attention than God. Greed says, “When will the New Moon be over[…] and the Sabbath be ended?” Weekly worship allows people to leave work, leave business behind, and reflect on the spiritual rest the God provides. People worshipped, but not because they wanted to. Instead, they sit in the pew and stare out the window wondering: ‘When will church be over so that we may market wheat [and] that we may sell grain?’ Those with much want more. Those with little want more. Greed has no limits; it will only consume more and more of the heart. Worldly wealth never satisfies.
You (and I) live in the wealthiest nation in the world (https://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/). And I’m not talking about the ‘Top 1%;’ this is you (and me), middle class. You (and I) are able to select a day and retire. You receive so much extra money that you can literally stop working and still get paid from retirement accounts. I have known people whose retirement lasted longer than their working years. The prices at McDonald’s goes up and we complain, but we still go there. In fact, we can afford the menu and maintain our standard of living. Social Security received a raise last year (after having six flat years!) and you still hear: ‘Well, it’s still not enough.’ You have already been living without that raise! You had food and shelter, clothing and transportation. What necessity did you go without that Social Security must cover? You learn the financial needs of your congregation and can still say, ‘Well, if I had more, then I could give more.’ If you find those words coming out of your mouth, then it appears the problem is not with a lack of money, but with the priority of money. That starts with the attitude of the heart.
That’s what a scale reveals. When money becomes an object worshipped, it demands more and more time devoted to it. That keeps us from wanting to let it go. God keeps filling your pockets for daily bread and still comes the complaint that it is just not enough. We make excuses as to why we cannot even consider giving more to God. We create reasons as to why cannot even give food to the needy or blame a struggling neighbor for his poverty. When money becomes a priority, it has become your god. The object consuming your heart, mind, and soul. You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Luke 16:13). When the scale of your heart (and mine) tips in favor of money, The Lord [swears]: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
You know what? God has not forgotten the greed that exists in your heart (and mine). That name, ‘Lord,’ is capitalized for a reason. That name: ‘Lord’ tells you that God is (1) absolutely serious to punish greedy hearts and he is (2) absolutely serious to forgive greedy hearts. In fact, God is so serious that he swears by the ‘Pride of Jacob.’ That ‘Pride’ is himself. He promised Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, to send Jesus. Nations would rejoice in that forgiveness and Jacob’s family tree could rejoice in their great Descendant. God kept his oath. He sent Jesus.
Look at the scales of Jesus’ heart. The Jews offer him crown and throne; every physical need would be forever met! Yet, Jesus does not come to accumulate wealth (John 6:15). He comes to give. He gives bread and fish to thousands. He gives taxes to Caesar. He gives life to the lifeless without charge. Jesus comes into contact with money, but it never becomes his god. And that is what makes Jesus life’s most priceless treasure. Out of the billions of people who have lived, currently live, and will live, Jesus is the only Person who received God’s seal of approval (Matthew 3:17). And he gives that priceless seal to you.
God is so serious about greed that he condemns Jesus for our greed. He takes away help and rescue. He takes away life. That is what greed deserves— and Jesus made that payment. Now you stand ‘Not Guilty!’ Look at the cross. See Jesus pour his pure life into your spiritual account (and mine). See Jesus fill you with his perfection, his unblemished life, his innocence. See how Jesus has paid your complete price for heaven. Money will never satisfy that eternal debt. Yet, God’s mercy always overflows.
God has straightened out our bent hearts. Now our hearts look like this: Jesus’ payment for sin is far more valuable than money. Do you see what happened? The scales shifted. Money is not life’s most valuable item. If the heart does not consider Money ‘god,’ then it becomes something less than God. It becomes a ‘tool,’ an object used.
Have you ever thought of money like that? Money is received so that you can use to address your needs! The money you receive is used to satisfy hunger. The money you receive is used for home and heat so that you remain warm and safe. The money you receive is used for time off so you can relax. You save up money and use it when your body cannot handle work, when you need nursing home care, when you need to cover funeral expenses. Do you see what role money has in life? You use it, not hoard it!
That gives you the ability use money like a tool. You can use it for an offering. You actually give away something the world considers ‘valuable.’ Yet, giving an offering admits that your love for God trumps love for possessions. Giving an offering also allows God’s house to be maintained. To have lights and heat on. To enhance gathering places and maintain worship space. To support a Pastor who brings God’s Word to your heart each Sunday, in the hospital, at your house. To support a Pastor who teaches your children about God’s love and equips them for heaven. Your wealth (and mine) is a tool used to share God’s life-giving Word.
Prices will always rise. Healthcare expenses will always rise. Same with groceries and utilities and maintenance and college. Thank God that you have had enough. You have always had enough food for each day. You have not neglected your body because of cost. You may need equipment, but God provides a new furnace or used car. You may not attend university, but still get education in college. When you look and see needs met, you can thank God for giving us what we need.
Because money is a tool An object used. That’s why it does not carry a heavy place in the heart. We do not worship the object, but the One who gives! Money always leaves us and we thank God that he never does!
So, what has top value in your heart? Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. Fix your eyes on Jesus and you will Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! You will see Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.
There is probably no greater blessing/curse than the forward facing camera on a smartphone. Yes, this tiny invention paved the way for the “selfie.” (Now, to have a common definition, a ‘selfie’ is a ‘self-photograph,’ a picture you take of yourself.) You can include yourself in a picture of friends. You can show an outfit instead of describing what you wore. You can insert yourself in front of mountains and monuments without having to find someone to take your picture. Selfies unlock opportunities for uniquely different memories.
… But then you have that disturbing news report from a few years ago… A surveillance camera in downtown Pittsburgh captured a woman assaulted and left unconscious. The attack happened in public; witnesses instantly swarm this victim— but things got strange from there. A group whips out their phones, but they do not dial 911. They stand there and record videos. One man even marches right up to this woman, kneels down, and records a close up. Then, another guy lies down right next to her and takes a selfie! No one helps! Not a single person calls 911! This woman lies motionless until she regains consciousness. (https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2017/10/26/get-marty-beechview-woman-knocked-out-video/)
How terrible! Maybe more terrifying is the gnawing, never-satisfied hunger for more attention. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride. God dismantles even our selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need?
Just think about that. What has God done for you? These closing chapters of Hebrews string together this unbroken, flowing truth: Jesus Christ is all you need! Only Jesus completely cancelled out God’s anger over what you (and I) have done wrong. Because of Jesus, you now stand before the Judge of all things without fear. You have the assurance of eternal life in heaven! You have the assurance that God hears you, cares for you, provides for you! From that point of view, you must admit: There is really nothing more you need. It does not matter how many ‘likes’ your Facebook post gets or how many friends you have. It does not matter how much money you make. It does not matter your job title— if you are the mayor or a manager or general labor. None of that matters because the only thing you can take out of this life is trust in Jesus as Savior. What More Do You Need? Only Jesus provides real value.
Lose sight of that and then you begin sinking into the world’s standard of value. A standard continuously snatching for more attention, more praise, more respect. Care for your brother? Only when convenient! Only when people can see you and praise your leadership and praise your talents. Only when you gain a sense of feeling good after giving to charity or sacrificing time. Only when your Christian friend is nice to you first. How selfish! To serve only when your ego stands to benefit! Be hospitable? Warm and friendly? That means caring for each other just as you care for your family. That means giving up time talking with friends and welcoming someone (in church) who looks lost and unsure. That means paying attention to the physical limitations of that elderly lady. That takes effort! That takes time! You are too busy! You have to focus on yourself! Hospitality sounds pretty inconvenient. Our selfish hearts can even label God’s commandments ‘Inconvenient.’ Honor marriage? That command does not satisfy pleasures; it does not make you feel happy. In fact, that command makes you stand out, and then people call you names and that does not feel great. So, you lay aside God’s unbreakable command for the sake ego. For the sake of pride. For the sake of convenience. That’s dangerous.
A selfish heart thinks it has the right to strut up to the King of the Universe and explain how you will live and then expects God to accept it. That is a form of insubordination! That is a form of rebellion against God— and God will not put up with it. Those who think so highly of themselves and live convinced that God must accept your pride, will be forever humbled.
Really, What More Do You Need? Right in the middle of our reading God zeroes in on the one thing needed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Yes, God specifically addresses greed, but he teaches something broader: Contentment. Contentment with your finances. Contentment with your status. Contentment with your time, your achievements, your relationships, your identity as God’s child. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Why? because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
God cannot stress that promise enough. (Remember, the New Testament is written in Greek. The Greek translation uses five negatives in one sentence. Our English language does not do that!) God literally says: ‘I will never ever desert you [it is impossible to do so], nor will I ever forsake you [it is impossible to do that].’ Jesus will never leave you in eternal shame; it is impossible. For proof of that just look at the cross.
You (and I) stand empty-handed before God, holding nothing that he wants. Yet, Jesus purges pride and fills your (and my) empty heart with his undivided love and loyalty to God. This is what Jesus accomplished for you (and me). The cross has forever linked him to you. What More Do You Need? Really, if you have Jesus, What More Do You Need? Because Only Jesus provides real value.
That changes perspective. We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Humanity can do nothing! Yes, your paycheck might be short some dollars, but that’s alright! Your bank account means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, your sister’s drama might never stop, but that’s alright! Getting the last word, looking smug means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, the world might look at you weird for saying, “Wait until marriage,” but that’s alright! Your god is not popularity, opinions mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Humanity cannot forever shame you because Jesus has forever exalted you!
Jesus laid aside attention, praise, and respect in order to make you eternally rich! That means you, as someone connected to God, are not out gaining more attention, praise, and respect. You already have it all! It means you live opposite the world: giving attention, praise, and respect.
Stop for a moment and consider those who gave. Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you… Think how your Sunday School teacher gave up Saturday night preparing Bible lessons and gave up her Sunday morning in order to bring Jesus to you. Consider the Pastor who wanted to teach you God’s love even though you, as a teenager, maybe did not want to listen— and still he patiently taught! Recall that kind grandmotherly-lady who could have huddled with friends her age, but instead went out of the way to talk to you. Remember that Christian friend who addressed your sinful living. He risked friendship; he did not seek pride. He wanted to keep you close to God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Remember those who gave so that you have! Consider that you may be the Sunday School teacher with an already-busy-schedule. You might be that teenager who really does not want to be in catechism class. You might be that grandparently-person. Just as your leaders laid aside ego in order to touch you with God’s love, you may now be those leaders to benefit others!
Continue keeping in center focus the love Christ has for you, the love which moved others to love you. Only Jesus stimulates willing service.
A willing service like loving each other as brothers… That is what you are: brothers and sisters. God looks past your family tree and points at the one thing we all have in common: faith in Jesus as Savior. Since you are connected to Christ …and you are connected to Christ …and you are (and so on…) Keep on loving each other as brothers. Maybe you get called names when you approach a child about returning to worship. Maybe no one praises you for a generous offering or hours of volunteering. Maybe your abilities are not needed at this moment. That’s fine! Your motivation for service is not about what you can gain. Jesus, who gave you his all, motivates you to give all.
Do not forget to entertain strangers… People move often— away from classmates, away from familiar communities, away from family support. That means, a group of believers quickly becomes a family. Even though you belong to this ‘family’ now, be willing to include more. Lean over and ask the person next to you how the week went. Welcome a new face. Ask where he lives; that always creates discussion. Simply acknowledging presence makes a person feel welcome.
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners… because prisoners are out of sight— and can fall out of mind. Pray for those in prison, pray they may know Jesus, the One who freed them from the shackles of hell. Yet, pray also for Christians around the world, those who have done no wrong, but languish in prison simply because they worship Christ. Pray that God sends people to comfort them. Pray that God uses government to free them. Pray that God strengthens their resolve to rely on him more.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure… Yes, today’s society considers marriage something ‘good’ and ‘harmful,’ something ‘beneficial’ and ‘not needed.’ Yet, God created marriage to be a blessing, something that fills you with satisfaction, commitment, and companionship. If those you do not see those blessings, it does not come through any fault of God. (So do not blame him!) Instead, those tensions come from proud hearts refusing to love the other. Have the awkward conversations; point your children, siblings, friends to the joys God gives in marriage. Aim to serve them spiritually, leading them out from under God’s wrath.
Dear friends, What More Do You Need? If you already have faith, then you already have life’s real treasure! You have no greater status to grab after. Instead, you realize you have much to give. Jesus stimulates willing service.
That will stand out in the world. It appears so many live infatuated with themselves. Taking selfies for more attention. Fixating on popularity. Reaching for more social standing. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride— a pride that considers you ‘God.’
God dismantles selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need? Really. Only Jesus provides real value— and fills you with a treasure that lasts forever. You already have everything needed. Because you do, Jesus stimulates us for willing service.
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.
You can detect a rip-current by spotting four characteristics. (1) Look for deep, dark-colored water at the shoreline. (2) Watch the waves roll in, but keep alert for areas with few waves— especially areas where the waves do not break. (3) Search for patches of water with a rippled surface, surrounded by smooth water. (4) Pay attention to sticks and leaves or foam washing out to sea. Four characteristics for detecting a rip-current— and that’s beneficial to know whether you head off to the ocean on spring break or dip your toes in one of the Great Lakes. Rip-currents can pull water out to sea at 8-feet-per-second. Ankle-deep water, moving fast enough, can sweep you off your feet and drag you hundreds of yards out into deep water. Rip-currents are powerful. Rip-currents are deceptive. Rip-currents are deadly.
So, no wonder Paul says: Keep Walking in Christ! Pay attention to what you take in spiritually. Opinions, advice, and behavior from so many around you leave an impact. Yet, Beware of deceptive philosophies. Expose and stay away from of destructive teachings. Rise anew in the results of baptism.
That is God’s passionate plea. Keep Walking in Christ because God joined you to Christ. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds… But now he has reconciled you (Colossians 1:21-22). You (and I) entered life as sworn enemies of God— but that has all changed! God reconciled you (and me). He fumed against Jesus, but turns to us in peace! Today you stand on God’s side, on the side of people loved by God. Colossians 2:6 highlights that key point: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord… as you stand on the side of Jesus …walk in him[.]
To be clear, that word ‘walk’ means: “To behave/conduct yourself in a certain manner.” As someone God reconciled and as someone who loves God, evaluate your behavior— and this is how. Keep Walking in Christ …rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Understand, faith remains something constant. You either believe Jesus impacted your life or you do not; there is no middle ground or some partial-faith. Here, God points to your baptism and says: “Baptism attached you to Jesus’ payment for sin.” God points to the Word and says: “The Bible planted you into the conviction that Jesus is your Savior.” God’s Word, together with baptism, created faith.
Since this is where you stand, build. As a seedling, grow into a mighty tree. Or, like a tiny house set on a firm foundation, add addition after addition. Keep learning and rereading the miracles of Jesus you learned in Sunday School. Then add Bible teachings to those Bible accounts as you study in Catechism class. Then add more teachings, more understanding, more knowledge in Bible Class, in devotion time, in Bible reading. As you do, your trust in God grows, a desire to pray flourishes, trust in God’s power expands, and appreciation for God’s infinite love thrives. You grow closer to God from the firm foundation on which you already stand! So, Keep Walking in Christ.
Keep growing— not only by feeding faith, but also by protecting faith. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Rip-currents are deceptive, powerful, and deadly. In the same way, what appears so acceptable and innocent in society can be spiritually devastating. In fact, this ‘philosophy’ is so common that you watch it on television commercials, in grocery stores, in your conversations— and you may never notice it. Start your favorite television show, and how many characters are sleeping together, living together, having one-night stands? God makes clear: “Honor the marriage bed for God will judge the adulterer and sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). The world’s philosophy claims a right to use your body and shape your relationships however you want. With whom do you walk? The world which lives apart from God? Or, does love for God compel you to aim for marriage? FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC drum up a belief that you need the right President, the right Senate, the right Congress, and the right people who do the right things in order to save humanity. Worldly philosophy fears that America will teeter on the verge of collapse and the entire world will implode. Yet, your God says: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9). With whom do you walk? Do you live in constant fear because you set all your trust in worldly princes? Or, do you rely on God to be your help in both good and bad? Even churches in your area can become like this Colossian church. The pastor promotes himself to be the real guy to follow—the guy who will make the Bible more ‘relevant’ and promise life-changing challenges and unlock new meaning and new potential in life. The world in which we live is saturated with manmade philosophy and empty deceit. All these ways of life promise something of substance— a stronger faith or a tighter relationship or a closer walk with God, but they cannot deliver the promise! They promise much, but deliver nothing. All godless advice fails to provide real satisfaction because that advice does not come from God!
Dear friends, if the Bible speaks against your behavior, then listen! Recognize drifting from Christ. If you have to say, “I know God’s teachings on marriage, but it’s not convenient now,” then human philosophy is seizing you. If you think, “Well, only people can keep the world spinning,” then human philosophy is seizing you. If you muse, “Does baptism really matter?” then you are being deceived. That deceptive philosophy will seize you and rip you further and further away from Scripture to the point where your life no longer conforms to God’s teaching. And you will find yourself drifting without Christ. Just like a sneaky rip-current, that sneaky teaching will destroy you.
Keep Walking in Christ! Beware of deceptive philosophies. Recognize the spiritual danger. See such empty ideas as the garbage they are. Keep Walking in Christ as you Rise anew in the results of baptism.
The God who reconciled you has provided all you need for life and has handed real life to you. Listen to verses 9 and 10: For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. God provides real satisfaction in relationships. He provides real trust for the future. He provides all you need in Scripture because God gives you Jesus.
See Jesus and you see true God and true man (at the same time)! As man, Jesus taught the Jews that no additional knowledge or rules are needed for heaven. Jesus, as true God, is enough to open heaven. As man, he lifted up worried eyes and said, “Trust in me.” As true God, Jesus has authority over wind and wave, over riots, over disease, over death. As man, Jesus sat with women who slept around and forgave them. As true God, he points back to Scripture and teaches a marriage God created at the beginning of the world. Your Jesus keeps you close.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… Just like circumcision removes flesh, God removed flesh from you, but not physical flesh. Jesus removed the sinful desires of the heart. That did not happen in an operating room; we do perform strange procedures in the lower level of the church. This all occurred at one moment, at one place, at one font. [You] hav[e] been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. At your baptism, God peeled off that old sinful self and he pulled you out of those waters spiritually alive. God has created in you a new desire— a desire that wants to shape life around the Word. Just as Jesus was buried, but rose again alive—never again to die, you also were buried under water, but rose again alive—never again to die.
Baptism has brought you into a different side. It has yanked you out of empty deception and hollow philosophies. [Y]ou, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Your baptism worked tremendous results. Satan cannot accuse the you of earning hell. Temptation cannot convince the you to follow it. The sinful nature cannot persuade you wallow in filth. You belong to the side of God.
Since this is what you are today, this moment, realize that you will stand out as different. Innocent-looking philosophies will always remain a part of our world. Each one will snatch at you in the hopes of taking you captive. Peer pressure to conform to an unbelieving world will squeeze you. Yet, stand firm. Resist. Do not budge. Do not conform. Remember who are and rise anew in the results of baptism.
If you find yourself entangled in a worldly philosophy, turn to the Word. Let God’s Word, his commands and his instructions, work in you the desire and ability to correct what is wrong. Let your love for Christ aim for God-pleasing marriage. Let your trust in Christ fuel an increased trust in him and increased prayer for world leaders. Let your love for Christ work in you contentment to set your heart on the same Word of God. Remember who are and rise anew in the results of baptism. Keep Walking in Christ. rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
(1) Deep, dark-colored water at the shoreline. (2) Waves that do not break. (3) Patches of water with a rippled surface, surrounded by smooth water. (4) Sticks and leaves or foam washing out to sea. Four characteristics for detecting a rip-current— and that’s good to keep in mind. Rip-currents are powerful. Rip-currents are deceptive. Rip-currents are deadly.
So, no wonder Paul says: Keep Walking in Christ! Pay attention to what you take in spiritually. Opinions, advice, and behavior from so many around you leave an impact. So, Beware of deceptive philosophies. Expose and stay away from of destructive teachings. Stay away—because you are different. Because Christ has canceled your debt, peeled away ungodliness, and has forgiven all our trespasses. Rise anew in those results of baptism. Do so, as you Keep Walking in Christ!
He did not really know his dad. I mean, dad was home— in fact, he was home every single night. He mowed the lawn and trimmed hedges. He repaired leaks and fixed squeaks. He drove to soccer practices and ball games. His La-Z-Boy conformed perfectly to his body. Yes, dad was home— but dad did not talk much. He never talked about work. He taught batting techniques, but never really critiqued anything. He never screamed or cheered at the game on television; he just watched. He was a quiet man.
Yet, every night, right before bedtime, little eyes watched his dad scribble in a journal. Each day ink filled another page. Each week more pages were used. Each year a new journal was needed— until they were needed no more.
Hours after the funeral dinner, that son sunk into the form-fitted La-Z-Boy. A box packed full of faded, fuzzy-edged journals lay open. He grabbed one written long ago and started flipping through it. “May 19th: Joe remembered his batting technique and scored the game-winning double. I could not be any prouder of him.” “June 28th: Bought Joe another ice-cream cone after he dropped the first one. Made his tears stop.” “August 23rd: The heat makes roofing unbearable. But I press on for my family’s good.” He leafed through journal after journal, until he came to the last one. On the last page, written just a few weeks earlier, was this sentence: “When I reflect on years past, I thank God for the blessings of wife and children— all of whom I love very much.”
Decades of wondering came crumbling down. These journals, this written word, reveal love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find concrete evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God does not leave you wondering about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you. It increases your grip on your future hope.
That makes the Bible important. From cover to cover are words that do not come from the opinions of men, but words God the Holy Spirit instructed men to write down (2 Peter 1:21). That means the Bible is God’s ‘journal.’ This contains his commands, his judgment, and his delight. Since you have this ‘journal’ you have insight into God’s expectation for you.
Yet, if you did not have the Bible, what would you have? A diseased, rotting faith— much like the faith of the Colossians. Remember the false beliefs polluting that congregation? A mixture of (1) Jewish and (2) pagan teachings. So, these Christians think God still requires Old Testament religious ceremonies and also concoct superstitious answers to the mystery of who God is and how God lives. This belief poisons them! It has actually led some to challenge the almighty, eternal power the Son of God has (read Colossians 1:15-20). These Christians downgrade Jesus from ‘Savior of the World’ to ‘Super Human Being.” If you treat Jesus as anything less than the Savior, you push away the payment he made for guilt. You start believing an idea not true.
That makes the Bible important. God is not sharing opinions; he reveals truth. He tells what he sees. In verse 21, he shares a very ugly, but very real, truth. You (that’s you and me) were alienated and hostile in mind, in your evil deeds. God makes clear: “You stood in this camp. You stood distant and far away. Just like a foreigner has a different culture than American culture, you had a different attitude than the attitude I expect.” That attitude? Evil! [T]he sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Since we are] controlled by the sinful nature, [we] cannot please God. (Romans 8:7). It’s impossible!
If you (and I) stand as alienated enemies of God, can we enter heaven without a Savior? No! Of course not! You know that; in fact, you confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” You do not downgrade him… do you?
Well, what is your answer to this statement: ‘I am going to heaven because (fill in the blank).’ …“because I’m trying my hardest to be a good parent, a faithful church-goer, a good child”? …“because I am generous and giving”? …“because I’m better than criminals and sex offenders”? Did your answer contain that little word: ‘I’? Did the mental focus instantly shift to that little word: ‘I’? Are you going to heaven because you try? …or made a decision to believe in Jesus? …or because you are somewhat moral? Don’t you see what God clearly wrote in verse 21? You were alienated! You were saturated in evil! You could not, cannot, and can never approach God by you doing the action!
You see, like the Colossians, our minds can step off from the Bible. Yes, we have the Bible in our homes. We hear it in worship. We study it throughout the week. It sinks into our ears and hearts, but our sinful nature can blatantly ignore what God clearly reveals. The sinful nature wants to be sure it will enter heaven. So, you point to you instead of Jesus— and that happens because of doubt cannot trust that what God has spoken is truthful and reliable. That is a poisonous belief.
That makes the Bible important. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. God reveals that you (and I) stand in an evil camp, but in verse 21 he says: You were formerly alienated… That is what you were. Past tense. Formerly. At one time. But today, right now, right here, this moment: different.
Why? How? He has now reconciled you… To ‘reconcile’ means ‘bringing two opposing parties together’ or ‘to end hostility.’ Here, Jesus is the subject. The subject performs the action. The action affects the object— and you are the object. Jesus (did the action of) reconciling (the object:) you.
See when that took place? That verb ‘reconcile’ is past tense too— meaning, the action was finished long ago. Long ago, God directed his hatred of evil against Jesus. He found our doubting in his Son. He glared at our arrogant-self-worship in his Son. God made Jesus into his enemy, targeted him with wrath, and destroyed him. Jesus has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
God removes the mystery of what he sees in you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. He puts it down in print so that you clearly know what he has done for you. You are presented: (1) Holy, that is, cleansed from moral filth. (2) Blameless: no shame lingers; no fault is seen, no motive for blackmailing. (3) Above reproach: no one can accuse you of evil before God. The relationship is clear: God has reconciled you. That changes your present and future. t increases your grip on your future hope.
Verses 26 and 27 explain how: The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, [h]as now been manifested to His saints (The Bible reveals Jesus your Savior. You believe this. You are a saint, a ‘holy person.’) to [you] God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [non-Jews] which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. So, what do you gain from the Word? Riches. Treasures. A fortune. God pours peace into your heart— peace that comes from sin forgiven. Shortly after our opening hymn, what do you hear? God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to you. He has given Jesus, his Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus ‘atones’—that is, Jesus makes you ‘at-one’ with God. Since you already stand at-one with God, you have no fear! No nagging guilt! No cringeworthy shame! God the Father says: “I see you holy, blameless, without reproach! This is what I see.” The Father’s love is clearly revealed in his journal, the Bible.
What joy! Your life is not chained to a set of rules and demands that will determine how much God loves you today. No! God has (1) already reconciled you. Therefore, (2) live as someone reconciled.
What does that look like? Well, if I go to your house, I do not open your refrigerator, grab a sandwich, sit down, and start eating. I am not welcome to take what is yours; your possessions do not belong to me. We do not have that close, open, confident relationship. (Usually you have that comfort with family and a close friend.) Now, if we have that close relationship, then I can walk into your house and raid your fridge without worry. We have this open, confident relationship.
So, God is ‘at-one’ with you. He harbors no anger, no grudges, no memory of wrong (Jeremiah 31:34). That means, you can read God’s promises and take them. Make them your own. Say: “This is what God is doing.” God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26). [C]all upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am preparing one for you (John 14:2-3). This all means, that when we tremble about our standing before God, when we feel unworthy or wonder if God hates us, we have somewhere certain to turn— and that somewhere is not you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. That increases your grip on your future hope.
For decades a son wondered of his father’s concern. Finally, he held in his hand the very thoughts of his father. These journals, this written word, revealed love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God never leaves you guessing about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you— which means, you have no reason to try to ‘woo’ God. Everything needed to turn God’s heart to you is done. What joy. What freedom for life! The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It increases your grip on your future hope.
It started off so easy. A father and his young son strolled down a flat, sandy nature trail. The further the two hiked, the more rugged the trail grew. Boulders littered the path, forcing both hikers to squeeze around them. Thigh-deep creeks sliced the trail in two, making them wade through churning currents. Trees had fallen on the path, leaving them no choice but to hop up and over the slimy, mossy bark. Finally, after hours of climbing and shuffling, reaching and grabbing, they saw the trail’s end. It meant no more obstacles, no more exhausting effort, no more struggles. All that separated them from reaching the goal was a deep chasm.
Father and son scoured the area for a bridge, but found nothing. They searched for the start of this chasm with the hope of walking around it, but it stretched both ways for miles. The only way over this challenge was over a fallen oak tree that bridged this great divide.
Father went first. His eyes locked onto the end of the trail. He carefully placed one foot on the log, and then heaved his entire weight onto the tree. One foot slid ahead of the other foot. He crept forward inch-by-inch, safely reaching the other side.
Turning around, he called out for his son to cross. Yet, the son sees so many things around him— so many dangers, curiosities, fears. He questions the sturdiness of the tree. He wonders what joys might lie on his side of the divide. He fears the raging waters could drown him. So many distractions pull on him, but the father calls, ‘Keep your eyes on me.’
Keep your eyes on me. Last Thursday marked the ascension of Jesus Christ; Jesus crossed from earth into heaven. You (and I) still stand on the other side— in a world that puts a constant strain on your faith. Still, Jesus says: ‘Keep your eyes on me!’ He prepares you for the Final Day. So, Live prepared for the Day. In his final Revelation, Jesus reveals earthly strength and eternal comfort with these words: “Behold, I am coming soon!”
He makes that promise not just once, but three times in one single chapter. Three times! …and twice in our selected verses! (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20): “Behold, I am coming soon!” That is true. That is a fact. The entire Bible confirms that. On the chosen day, at the precise second, [t]he Son of Man [will come] on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other… And so we will be with the Lord forever (Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). You stand so certain of Jesus’ return that you confess it to be true [in the Apostle’s Creed]: I believe that… Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Yes, Jesus is Coming Soon.
How many times did that phrase cross your mind this morning? “Today could be the day! Today I might step foot into my heavenly home! Today I could see Jesus with my eyes! Today Jesus could come!” Honestly? I did not— apart from prepping for this sermon. Jesus has been gone 2,000 years. That is not our definition of ‘soon.’ In fact, the Twelve disciples said Jesus would return ‘soon’ (Romans 13:11; James 5:8). I imagine Christians 500-years ago waited for Jesus. My grandparents believed Jesus would return. Yet, nothing! Jesus did not return on a predicted date. He did not return when one group waited for him. He has not returned in my lifetime. Jesus promises to come ‘soon,’ but millennia have passed. So, honestly, that is why this thought never enters my mind. If Jesus has not returned by now, it appears the likelihood of his return is still far off.
That, dear friends, leads to a very dangerous temptation. If we feel Jesus will not return in 10-years …10-months …10-days …10-minutes, we can let our faith-life slip. We figure there will always be time to address sin later. To grow in our faith later. To repent of a pleasurable wrong later.
Jesus’ response to that is: Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Jesus will examine every single heart. He will find hearts that stubbornly boast: “Jesus, I refuse to match my relationship to your commands. I do not want to obey you.” Jesus will find hearts that arrogantly sneer: “Jesus, I doubt that you created the world. I doubt that you actually did miracles. I doubt you really saved me. I doubt your life changed mine” Jesus will find hearts boldly bragging: “Jesus, I will not love my neighbor as myself. I don’t need to.” Jesus can even find those hearts sitting here, in a church, for decades. Hearts almost daring him: “You are not here yet. You will not return. I still have time.” Jesus will give that heart hell.
That’s why he says it not just once, but three times in one single chapter: “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20) Yes, Jesus will give to everyone according to what he has done— including you (and me)!
Ah! We are by no means perfect! And sometimes we even deliberately do what is wrong! What will he give us? A ‘life’-sentence. Life! God levied against Jesus a punishment that corresponds to all we have done. Yes, he slaps Jesus for stubborn boasting. He pulverizes Jesus for our arrogant sneering. He gives Jesus hell. The innocent blood of Jesus spills from his veins, and God takes you (and me), dips us in that innocent blood, and washes us. He scrubs away boasting. He purifies foolish arrogance. He lifts off death. Plug yourself into verse 14. ‘Blessed are you who have washed your robes, so that you may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates of the city.’ Jesus describes what he has done for you! Jesus prepares you for life!
Then he ascends into heaven to prepare a room for you. If he has gone to prepare a room for you, he will then come back so that you also may be where he is(John 14:2-3). Right now, we have the right to the tree of life— the tree found in the Garden of Eden, the tree that brings unending life (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24). You have life reserved in heaven. You will feast on that tree in perfection forever!
Jesus guarantees it. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” “I am showing you what will happen. I am showing you the future.” One day the future will be your present.
Yes, we stand on the earthly side of the divide. Jesus has crossed into heaven, but has not left you orphaned (John 14:18). He turns to say: I am Coming Soon! I have prepared you for the Day. Now, Live prepared for the Day.
How? Keep focused on your eternal home. You have help. The [Holy] Spirit says: “Come!” You, come! Approach these words. The Holy Spirit compels us to rejoice in what God prepares for you. He deepens our appreciation that God prepares heaven for you. He tightens your fingers around the splendid truth that God has made you his special child— that you live shaped by his Word because you are his child.
You are the bride of Christ. The bride, that is, every believer married to Jesus by faith, says, “Come!” You carry those words to each other. You say them to yourself. “Come! Come and see Jesus rule. Come and see Jesus watch you. Come and see Jesus strengthen you. Come to these words. As the bride of Christ, each day you take another step down the wedding aisle towards your groom. Live with a heart filled with love for the One who loved you. That is how you live prepared for the Day.
There’s more! [L]et him who hears say, “Come!” The ‘one who hears’ is you. ‘ You’ tell the world: ‘Come!’ Because the world needs to hear that message. Your children may be wandering spiritually. What do you say to them? After all, they are adults. They are exposed to a world that creates the beliefs it wants to believe. They make their own decisions. What do you say when a child who once knew Jesus now no longer worships him? What do you say when your son leaves what you taught him for a church that satisfies his ideas? What do you say to a daughter that always has an excuse to stay out of worship? It’s easy to say nothing .It’s easy to shrug off the false things your child hears about Jesus. It’s easy to surrender parental responsibilities. Yes, your child may be an adult. Yes, your child may make their own decisions. Yet, you have God’s truth. You have a message of God freely, completely washing you in the blood of Jesus— a message very few churches openly embrace, a message a nonbelieving world will never understand without hearing (Romans 10:17). So, how do you respond? [L]et him who hears say, “Come!” “Come, son, and listen to the Bible.” “Come, Daughter, and see your Savior.” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Nothing satisfies more on a hot, humid day than ice-cold, refreshing water. Nothing satisfies both conscience and heart, more than knowing a Jesus who is coming soon! Coming not in terror, but with healing in his wings. You know Jesus is Coming Soon! Live prepared for the Day.
Jesus is Coming Soon! He can, because everything needed to save you is complete. He does not need to battle Satan again. He does not need to die again. He does need to offer new payment for sin. All is done! All has been accepted for your benefit!
Jesus crossed from earth into heaven. You (and I) still stand on the other side— in a world that puts a constant strain on your faith. Still, Jesus says: ‘Keep your eyes on me!’ He prepares you for the Day. So, Live prepared for the Day. Keep turning for what is wrong. Keep clinging to my forgiveness. Keep coming to the Word and drinking that refreshing revelation. Life has an end— and you will walk across the divide into life eternal. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Chris knew it all. He knew how best to protect himself; he did not need a fence restraining him in the backyard. So, he hopped the fence. He knew how to best preserve his health; he could make his own decisions. So, he wandered in a wilderness chocked full of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, and wild dogs. He knew how to walk, what to eat, what to avoid; he did not need supervision. Chris was so smart, so intelligent, he did not need over him. He needed no one to listen to. He could follow his gut instincts— and his instincts nearly killed him.
You see, Chris is a sheep. In 2011, he wandered into the untamed, unpredictable Australian bush. For years his wool grew. By the time a hiker discovered him, Chris’ wool weighed 89-pounds. (For comparison, Chris weighs 97-pounds). It covered his eyes. It put him at risk for infection or skin parasites. Chris’ wool was so heavy that if he fell over, he could not get back up; he would have been exposed to predators. In fact, Chris’ wild wool snared him stuck in thickets; he was going to die stuck. Chris felt no need for a shepherd— and his ignorance nearly killed him. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/03/meet-chris-the-insanely-overgrown-sheep-that-nearly-died-for-the-sake-of-our-fashion/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.90295b112d44)
Following your own opinions can kill you. You can believe something false. Jesus makes that point abundantly clear—and he makes that point so that you may live. Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. It steers you from deadly ignorance and It delivers lifelong comfort.
The image from [our gospel lesson] John, chapter 10, captures that truth. In it, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). A shepherd has a special connection to his flock. He lives among them night and day, days and weeks, weeks and months, months and years. He learns their behavior, studies their habits, and understands their needs. In fact, his primary concern is their welfare. The shepherd guides them along safe, danger-free trails. He leads them to nourishment. His eyes constantly watch for predators. That shepherd wants his flock to live and thrive.
Sheep have a special connection to their shepherd. Again, Jesus says: My sheep listen to my voice (John 10:27). Pay attention to that. What makes this one sheep part of the flock of Jesus out of all the other people in the world is that this one sheep listens. Now, of course, ‘listening’ is more than distinguishing tones with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in words. ‘Listening’ understands the meaning and content of those words. ‘Listening’ considers what areas of life are impacted by those words and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ is important because taking Jesus’ words to heart is what makes you a sheep of Jesus.
So this morning, you find two Christian missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, in a synagogue. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!
This group needs to listen because for months, many did the talking! The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus [and the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath] and they fulfilled these words by condemning him. Every single week the synagogue leader read an Old Testament prophecy. (1) Each prophecy clearly outlined what to expect about God’s coming Son. (2) Each prophecy clearly identified Jesus as God’s Son. God sends a message of salvation; he explains how his Son will save the world from death. Yet, the Jews did not listen. Instead, they allowed what they wanted in a Christ to trump the Christ who actually stood before them. Their stubbornness blinded them to the words of the prophets!
The Jews did not simply move on from Christ. They did not dismiss him. Instead, they treated God’s Son like a thug. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
The Jews did not want to take Jesus’ words to heart, they wanted Jesus to take their words to heart. Simply put, they did not ‘listen.’ That’s a problem. Remember what Jesus says: “My sheep listen to my voice…” (John 10:27). Those who do not listen are not his sheep. Such people wander down a deadly path—whether they admit it or not.
The question is: Do you listen? Do not point fingers. At this moment we are not interested in your jerk of a co-worker or that neighbor who calls herself Christian, but never goes to church. Paul points a finger at you. Are you listening to the message of salvation? Jesus has called you out of spiritual ignorance and into life! He keeps you close by speaking, by literally giving you the Bible. Do you walk beside him as you let his Word sink into your ears? …mind? …heart? Or, do your personal desires come first?
As sheep, we love to wander, don’t we? We love to set our opinions, our incorrect thoughts over the voice of the Good Shepherd. We love to think we are always correct and we know how best to care for life. We may think God does not care about our cursing— but he does! He says so! “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:10). God says honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Still, we break marriage vows, we do not encourage marriage (like we could), we resist commitment. Why? Because we see nothing bad happen! So, we think we can wander and life will still be fine! Then, we already have in our minds what we will do, but then try to find an excuse so that our wrong actions appear better. God wants worship to be a priority, but we shrug: “Oh, Jesus understands why I must skip worship.”No! He does not!
Fellow sheep, are you listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you consider what areas of life his words impact and then change life to match what is spoken? Do you listen to him or to yourself? Regardless of what the heart wants to believe, nothing will overrule what Jesus clearly spells out: My sheep listen to my voice and those who do not listen are not my sheep. That ignorance will kill you.
Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation because It steers you from deadly ignorance. It delivers lifelong comfort.
Everyone in that synagogue needed to hear these words. Some in that synagogue may have even condemned Jesus! The point is: failing to see Jesus as Savior kills!—and it killed him.
The reason a cross is mounted to this wall is to serve as a powerful reminder that you (and I) are the reason this cross hangs here. You (and I) wandered from the loving commands of God— and Jesus, your Good Shepherd, noticed. He saw how sin grew in us, how it festers, how it harms. He knows letting your heart wander exposes you to deadly temptations. He knows being stuck in the thistles of guilt will only kill you. So, he searches for you and he finds you.
Jesus wanders in the same wilderness. He confronts devilish temptations to do wrong, but withstands. When he finds you stuck in what will kill you, he reaches into your thorny consequences. Yes, Jesus frees you (and me) from death by allowing our sin to pierce him, to cut him, to kill him. He pulls you out of the thistles of death with his life. He sets you free so that God can sheer off your (and my) immense guilt.
Jesus dies because we wander. We wander, he dies. But God raised him from the dead. Even though we caused the death of Jesus, even though our actions cared absolutely nothing about him, God raised him from the dead. He did that to make Jesus your eternal Good Shepherd. He did that so that Jesus may carry you into his flock. He did that so that you see Jesus guiding to heavenly pastures. Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. Keep listening to the work Jesus has done for you because only this truth delivers lifelong comfort.
Let those words sink in to your ears, your mind, your heart. “Jesus is Savior.” A ‘savior’ does this work of ‘saving,’ ‘snatching from danger,’ ‘preventing harm.’ If Jesus is Savior, then it means he ‘delivered’ you from hell. What part did you play? What did you do? Nothing. Jesus did it all.
Understand this. I have heard people say: “I know God forgives, but I need to try and live better.” No. Your behavior is not dependent on your forgiveness. ‘Being better’ does not make God forgive you ‘better.’ Either you are forgiven or not; there is no ‘in between.’
More than that, you are not listening. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. God points to this one Man, shines a spotlight on him, singles him out. He says in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ God makes clear: Follow him. Stop relying on your thoughts. Do not cherish your opinions. Listen to the Word. Shape your life around it and you will live.
Do you get it? It is all a tremendous gift. It is all meant for you. This is what your Shepherd does. You do nothing—except one thing, I guess. You live! You live with an unburdened conscience! You feed on the Word of Truth. You live happy because Jesus is the reason you have life! Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. Keep pointing to the magnificent work of the Good Shepherd because It delivers lifelong comfort.
Chris was certain he knew everything he needed for life. So, he wandered. He relied on his own gut instincts—and those instincts nearly killed him. Fortunately, a hiker spotted Chris, called for help, and rescued him. Chris needed a shepherd.
Following your own opinions can kill you. Those opinions morph into warped views of who Jesus is, the life he lives for you, and the forgiveness he wins. Those opinions can lead you to reject his promise of forgiveness and chase after other teachings that are false. Jesus makes that point abundantly clear—and he makes that point so that you may live. Your Good Shepherd hands you his Word to hit your ears, mind, and heart. So, who are you listening to? Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. It steers you from deadly ignorance and It delivers lifelong comfort.
This is what division does. Thirty-four days of a government partially shutdown. Now, let’s be clear about one thing: we are not discussing politics this morning. We are not debating who we think is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ For just a moment, ponder what you see. One political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it rejected. The other political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it ignored. Each body of government seems to only function among itself and not with its counterparts. That division has an effect. About 800,000 employees still wait for a paycheck; some have gone one month without pay. That means, rent and mortgages go unpaid. That means, spending is watched at grocery stores. That means, trips in the car are limited. An increasing amount of Transportation Security agents refuse to work. So that means longer security lines in which to stand. That means longer wait times for flights. That means some agents work longer hours and spend less time with family. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
So, if division helps nothing, why does it still occur? Boil it down. Form one concrete answer. Why does this happen?
God knows the reason. That is why he gives us these words today. God does not want our differences morphing into painful division. He reminds us: One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… Different-sized parts like hands and arms, feet and legs. Different-shaped parts like bones. Different-textured parts like internal organs. Different-functioning parts like eyes and ears, nose, and mouth. [A]nd though all its parts are many, they form one body. You do not hold one single part— like a heart— and say: “This is a body.” No! We identify the heart as a part of a larger object.
So, just like many individual parts come together and form the body, So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Each one of us here have one thing in common. One thing— regardless of your age. Regardless if you are a man or woman. Regardless of your job or how much you make. Regardless of your personality or interests or hobbies. Regardless of where you were born, where you grew up, and where you live now. You (and I) might be completely, absolutely different in every possible way, but we still have one thing in common: We are here today because of Jesus.
[W]e were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… You are just one person, but at your baptism, God adopted you. God took you [individually] by choice into his family. And God adopted the person next to you at her baptism. God used baptism to adopt the guy sitting in front of you. The person across the aisle is adopted through baptism. One-by-one God joins each single believer into one spiritual family that has one common belief: Only Jesus saves. [T]he body is not made up of one part but of many.
Forget this and you start sounding like a foot. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Do you catch the problem? It’s jealousy! After all, hands get more attention than feet. You lotion hands, you wash them often, people see your hands, I shake your hands. Honestly, I forget that you have feet; it’s the farthest thought from my mind! And how often I pout because no one sees my contributions. “I keep clean the church. I water plants and shovel the walks. I reached out to that fellow member who has not worshipped in over a year. No one saw me do that. No one thanks me for this.” Jealousy demands credit for a God-given gift. It is absolutely selfish to fold your arms, pout, and gripe: “Well, since I receive no praise, then I will stop helping this body.” Division hurts others. Division limits you. Division benefits no one.
And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Eyes and ears constantly work. When we are awake, we are always seeing and hearing. Both get credit… but maybe the ear thinks sight is a more important function than hearing. Really, the ear demands to perform in a way it cannot! That, too, is jealousy. Jealousy ranks gifts. Jealousy says: “It is unfair that I have to listen and not preach.” Jealousy says: “I want to lead, not follow.” Jealousy says: “I want to be known as outgoing and personable, not quiet.” Jealousy refuses to use the unique gifts God gave you.
Catch that? Look at verse 18. God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Who gave you the gifts you have? Who opens opportunities for you to use those gifts? Who equips you for service? God. So what does jealousy say about God’s arrangement? “God, you do not let me be praised. God, you do not let me be seen. God, you got it all wrong.” You tell God how to function.
God would have every right and reason to amputate us from his body, but he does not. Instead, he amputates Jesus. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God is made lower than the angels. His twelve fishermen constantly squabble about the most important rank in their group. Still, it is Jesus who has our jealousy written all over him. It is Jesus who is cut off from the body of God. It is Jesus who dies to join you (and me) into the body of Christ.
Jesus strips away jealousy by dying for you and then living again to tell you about it. You are a part— yes, just one part of a larger body— but you are a special part because Jesus spent his life to join you to him.
God makes each member uniquely different for a reason; God makes you different for a reason. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If you all had the same flamboyant gifts, who would benefit? Picture it: an eyeball laying on the ground. This is a body? It can see me talking, but cannot decipher my words. It can see dinner, but cannot smell or eat. It can see friends, but it cannot wave and say ‘Hi!’ An eyeball does a great job of seeing, but it fails miserably to do anything else! The body has other needs, so it needs other parts. Each part uses its unique ability in its role at the appropriate time. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” What would happen if the eye got its way? You have no hands. How would you pick things up? If you tripped, you could never catch yourself. You would get hurt. You need hands. Each of you have an ability that is valuable. Maybe not noticed. Maybe never credited. But still valuable.
Think about that. You have value. You do not have the right to throw a pity-party, neglect your gifts, and say, “Well, they don’t need me… I’m too old… I’ve put in my time serving… I’m too busy… I don’t want to…” If you are a hand, then serve as a hand would. If you enjoy people, then encourage like a people-person would— because others may not be people-persons. Or, if you are a not-so-noticed-foot, then serve as a not-so-noticed-foot. If you enjoy completing tasks, then keep clean your worship space and help clear sidewalks. No one may notice your contribution, but it is noticed when it is missing. If you are a powerful eye, then serve as a powerful eye. You may have knowledge of Bible stories. Use that knowledge to teach. You may have that strong faith. Then use that faith to focus others on Jesus.
God does not distribute gifts so that you compare yourself to others. God makes you unique so that you can serve unique needs. Your uniqueness might feel unnecessary. Friendliness? Really? Well, what an awesome feeling to be greeted by a warm face! Supporting, not leading? You do not need to all be Pastors; Pastors need helpers too. Helpers who have those relationships in the community, relationships that help remove barriers. Helpers who have building knowledge, who can design and decorate, who can use their body for work. Feel too elderly to contribute? Physically, maybe; spiritually, never! Experience is a treasure trove of wisdom! And you, dear Christian, may have the wisdom to approach the youth, identify temptation, and connect Jesus to life-situations. One Body has Many Parts so that each member is uniquely united.
That is the reason you are different from others. Differences actually unite us! Think back to the beginning (of our message). Our government has separate bodies that each have a unique set of responsibilities. When all work together, the economy runs strong, employment rises, and people receive physical needs. People are brought together. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… Ever stub a toe? Such a little part of the body makes the entire body stop and floods the mind with pain. When a fellow believer suffers, the entire body of believers pays attention. Again, each part in its own way. A fellow believer loses a spouse. You hurt too. Some of you pray, others encourage, still others offer affectionate hugs. A fellow Christian stays away from worship. You hurt because you know faith can be lost; unbelief results in hell. So, friends encourage. Parents speak up. Believers pray. Your different roles actually bring us closer together.
[Y]ou are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. Faith in Jesus as Savior makes you part of the body of believers. Even though you stand in one big group, God makes each member uniquely different. You are the only one with the life experience you had. You each have different priorities. You each have different abilities. You each are unique, but still in the one body of Christ. That uniqueness is put to work So that each member is uniquely united.
Focus on the one Savior who joins us all together and see how God uses you (and me) to only strengthen bonds. To encourage others to remain strong in Jesus. To strengthen bonds of friendships here. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.