Thick, dense fog drops visibility to only 20-feet, which sounds pretty insignificant—except your airplane barrels towards the runway at 150 miles-per-hour. The automatic pilot counts down the distance from the ground. 50…40… 30…20…10… One pilot chimes in: “I’m sure it’s down there somewhere.” As for you, you see nothing. What do you do? How do you land? Where do you fly? How do you arrive safely? So much is unknown. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2851968/Now-s-flying-blind-Terrifying-footage-shows-pilots-approaching-Dublin-airport-fog-t-runway-moments-landing.html).
Much like our topic today, right? Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Everyone seems to have opinions. Few seem certain. What about you? Can you know what to expect about life with God?
Let’s return to 2 Thessalonians 2:13. It reads: But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits (a better translation is ‘from the beginning’) to be saved… Long before God spoke the universe into existence, God knew you. He knew the precise moment of your birth. He knew every city and every home in which you would live. He knew where you would work. He knew who you would marry and the family you would have. He knew you would be sitting here, in this church located in [Harrison] Clare, Michigan. In fact, God did more than ‘know’ information, he chose you.
His ‘choosing’ had a purpose: To save you. Here in these verses God zeroes in on you— not other people, but you— and he makes it clear: Your life has a goal. That goal is not to spend decades building an empire and stashing away cash, growing popular and sitting on a mountain of respect and then die. Earthly status is not your ultimate goal. Before the sun started marking time, God had the goal of escorting you from this life into life in his kingdom.
How did God reach that goal? God chose you through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Now, that word ‘sanctification’ means ‘to make holy,’ ‘to make morally pure.’ Notice, you did not do the work, your name does not appear in this verse. Which name does? The Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does the ‘making-holy’ work. When you heard God’s impact on life, the Holy Spirit went to work. He buried those words into your heart, not you. He created faith so that you stand convinced of this tremendous truth: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). To this— this magnificent reality of never-ending paradise— [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain (so that you may join in this) the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In those opening words God reveals something great. That word ‘sanctification’ is where we get our word ‘saint.’ According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is not a special charity-worker who helped the poor, fed the hungry, and freed the oppressed and is a far superior Christian than you. According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is a ‘holy person.’ How does a person become ‘holy?’ [T]hrough sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Simply put, God has made you a ‘saint.’
Maybe you half-laugh at that thought. You— a saint? You hate what you see in the mirror. How could God ever forgive your past? …after hurting the kids? …after your arrest? …after the foolish nights? How can you be a saint when you have done so much evil? You lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, flipping through a mental list of sorts: Sunday School teacher, wife and mother, community volunteer, kind neighbor, frequent worshipper. You did so many kind acts, but you feel that it is just not enough. Does God really love you? You stand in front of the tombstone. Carved in granite is a date of death. Is she really in heaven? Does God really love him? Will I be in heaven too? Stare at our hearts and we do not look like saints, do we?
The reason we struggle with that thought of being a ‘saint,’ the reason questions about life and death, heaven and hell torment us is because we are looking for certainty in all the wrong places. We tremble at the thought of heaven and hell because we realize that we are not as good as we should be. We cannot rely on our social status to get us through the gates of heaven. We do not have the power to control our eternity. So why look at yourself?! When you (and I) want self-assurance that all is well, we will never find it. We have are turning away from Jesus, the only One who has saved you!
That is why verse 15 says: So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Do not stand firm on your own emotions, your own thoughts. Stand firm, cling tightly to God’s truth. In fact, standing firm is not an action you do. Your determination, your willpower does not strengthen faith. God does the strengthening. When attention steps off of that Word, grip weakens. When we go back to the Word, faith automatically grips God’s promises.
You open the Bible, it says: [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. You read those words, faith grabs them. What can you expect from God? To bring you where Jesus is. Why do you believe that? Because God has kept his Word. God promises Adam and Eve a Savior (Genesis 3:15). Isaiah says a virgin will give birth to a son (Isaiah 7:14). Micah says the Savior will arrive in Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2). Lo and behold! The virgin Mary gives birth to a Son in Bethlehem! God promises to paint Jesus with our guilt, our shame, our evil. He will crush him to death(Isaiah 53:5-7). The Holy One will lie in a grave, but not see decay (Psalm 16:10-11). He will rise as Lord with the enemy of death under his feet! (Psalm 110:1) Lo and behold! Wicked men crucify Jesus, friends bury him, he rises and steps into eternal glory! God has always done as promised. In that same Word God makes clear: You are the people Jesus scrubbed and washed and cleaned. You are the people that Jesus stands before the Father. You are the people God calls ‘saints.’ Yes, I know, so much in this world tries to convince us that we are unlovable, that God does not (and cannot) love us, that we can never be sure of entering heaven. The truth is, it does not matter what you feel! God gives his Word so that we may point to it and say, ‘My Savior paid the debt I owe and for me was smitten; Within the Book of Life I know, my name has now been written!’
The Lord chose you and reached his goal using the Word. The Holy Spirit has changed your eternity from death into life. God does not keep this a secret. God tells you now so that you live at ease and joy. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints. You can, because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Yes, the same Word God used to create faith is the same Word that protects faith. You live in a world where not everyone has faith. That means you will hear things about death that might frighten you. You will hear things about death that do not line up with what God teaches. Sometimes people’s thoughts sound reasonable, they might sound good, but they are not true. The Sadducees claimed no resurrection, that dead remains dead— in the ground, buried, forever (Luke 20:27-38). I worked with a lady who knew I was a Christian. One day (for some reason) she had to tell me: ‘There is no life after death. You die, get buried, and become dust, ashes, and energy. That’s it.’ A family member of mine called ‘grandma’ an angel. That sounds lovely— floating on clouds in brilliant white light strumming a harp. As beautiful as the image is, it’s not true. You and I, grandma, do not become angels in heaven; the Bible does not teach that. Just last week, someone told me that heaven is whatever makes you happy. [In his words]: ‘If sitting at McDonald’s makes you happy, then that is your heaven.’ What’s the point of saying this? Not to criticize, not to sound superior. The point is this: Not all have faith. Some think death is permanent. Others make up strange stories. We may not know what to believe and that can trouble us. When we do not rely on what God reveals, we lose comfort. We get scared. We do not stand firm.
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. The Bible tells you the truth about life and death. Since God tells you the straight truth, it strengthens you. You can be sure that you have the right information!
In the Bible, God gives you a glimpse of reality. Your Christian spouse who died from cancer is in heaven. How do you know? Because Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). Your elderly, now-deceased Christian friend is in heaven— perfectly well, perfectly healthy. How do you know? Because, Jesus Christ, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Glorious— meaning, not getting older, getting achier, going to the hospital again, and dying. Glorious means without disease, without age, without defect. That’s the body our powerful Jesus gives every believer. Grandma sings in heaven— but not as an angel. How do you know? Well, Jesus says ‘We are like the angels’— but do not transform into angels (Luke 20:35-36). In fact, God says angels are ministering spirits sent to serve you (Hebrews 1:14). Angels are heaven’s butlers and you will have a higher rank in heaven! You are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple… and the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [your] Shepherd, he will lead [you] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17). God steers your heart into confidence with his Word. You can Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
The airline pilots had to rely on a word. Thick fog blocked out all sight of this runway. The plane raced down. Yet, the plane’s instruments identified the goal and steered the plane towards its goal. Word kept the pilots on track.
God’s Word keeps you (and me) on track. Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Many have opinions, but God reveals truth. God reveals truth for your comfort. The One who created heaven, descended from heaven, and re-ascended into heaven clearly tells you that he chose you through the Word. Do you grasp what God has done? He changed your future forever. He did the work. He saved you. The purpose for telling you this is to put you at ease. With that same Word, God steers our hearts and minds towards our heavenly goal. He removes fear with forgiveness. He removes doubt with truth. He answer questions by telling you what to expect. The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Friends, when thoughts of death trouble you, look to the Word. Find peace here. Look forward with joy to the best that is to come. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints.
Four years ago, a camera team roamed around Michigan State University, asking random students one question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ The video posted 15 responses. Here’s a few:
Do you think those students sound confident? No, not really. Upon what did everyone place their hope? Every single response mentioned: ‘doing good,’ ‘church membership,’ and ‘being a good guy.’ Did those answers provide much comfort? By my count, the words: ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I think,’ ‘I hope,’ appear 23-times. So, upon what do these students place their hope for heaven? (1) Individual effort and (2) personal opinion— and neither provide any comfort!
Do you think you’re going to heaven? That question might weigh heavy on your mind, and maybe you worry that your response is not good enough. Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Let’s gain certainty from Romans chapter 3. Starting with verse 19, we read: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law… Stop there for just a moment. Remember God’s ‘law?’ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). God etched those commands onto two tablets of stone (Exodus 20:1-17). He even took that law and carved it on every single heart— yours and mine included (Romans 2:14-15). That means, you, I, the entire world are obligated to obey and conform to those commands.
Have you? If God replayed your entire life on a big-screen, what would find? What would he see you do at the bar? What would God discover on your browser history? What would God learn from you about his gift of marriage? Do you want to repeat the words you use to describe the leaders he has placed in authority over you? (read Romans 13:1) Would you be proud standing before God, looking him straight in the eye, and declaring: ‘God, I loved you so much that my life is perfect picture of your law!’ No. That searing guilt, the restless shame that keeps you (and me) awake at night, the stomach-churning regrets only showcase our blemished hearts.
No wonder people have difficulty answering that question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ Because that shameful filth clings to us; it never leaves! And you hear that haunting reality in every response. Those students make up and try to enforce rules about a heaven they do not own! If you own heaven, then you can create the standards for entering heaven. (For example, if you own a restaurant, you can make a dress code. You can exclude those who do not meet the dress code.) But you (and I) do not own heaven. That means we must meet the standards of the One who does. When the standard is: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) we fail.
God’s expectations do not make you (and me) look good, they expose our wickedness before God! Every mouth is stopped… you (and I) have no acceptable excuse. [T]he whole world [is] held accountable to God.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified [that is, ‘be acquitted,’ ‘be declared innocent’] in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. That means, scrounging for comfort in your own self-made rules only leads to a dead-end! (If arcades still exist), you play games, make the right moves, win tickets, and turn those tickets in for prizes. You get something for your effort. You cannot step up to God, hold up your life, and say, “Here you go, God! That should get me something!” God clearly says that his righteous verdict does not come from obtaining enough tickets. For by works of the law no human being will be justified. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor.
How does that make you feel? Probably not too comfortable. That’s the point. God crushes the heart so that you might cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ Because God wants you (and me) to stop looking at our hearts. To stop looking at our faulty actions. To stop digging through our flawed thinking. God wants you (and me) to stop looking at you (and me).
When you cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ do not look at your flawed word, look at God’s Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Listen again to verse 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it… There it is! God’s ‘righteousness’— that precious announcement of innocence! Where does God tell you how to obtain it? He does not point at your opinions or feelings or wishes or expectations. God reveals his righteous verdict in the Bible.
There, in the Bible, God clearly says: [T]he righteousness of God [comes] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God sets his righteous verdict on you through faith. Think about that for a moment. That ‘faith’ (God speaks of) is ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ God the Holy Spirit put into your heart the conviction, the certainty that Jesus has completely satisfied God’s anger. That’s why you call Jesus ‘Savior.’ You did not save your life, you did not help even one bit. Jesus alone rescued you from consequences.
God wrote this down in the Bible for you to confront. For there is no distinction, all (you! me! the world!) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and [you and I] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ in his sight free of charge. No strings attached. No repayment expected. God drops the charges against you.
You know that, but can you be sure? Is God really serious? That you owe nothing? Sounds too good to be true! It’s not! God’s not asking what you think about his actions, he is telling his actions. You see that God did not ignore your offenses, he actually punishes them. God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That word, ‘propitiation’ means: ‘atonement.’ God used Jesus to make you ‘at-one’ with God.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins… God did not sentence you (or me) or Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, or anyone immediately to hell. Even though we fell short of reaching God’s high standard, even though we stood under God’s judgment, God patiently waited. Yes, he still held people accountable, but transferred the consequence from you (and me) onto Jesus. Because God is just. He cannot let evil go by unpunished. That would be unjust, corrupt. So, a just, fair God punishes Jesus for your failures (and mine). He holds Jesus accountable for our crimes. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Since Jesus made the payment for our crimes, God is fair to declare us ‘innocent,’ ‘not guilty.’ That means God justifies you— you who are still haunted by your harsh words and overbearing presence. God penalized Jesus for your past. That means God declares you ‘not guilty’ — you who still struggle keeping your life free from drunken nights, indecent thoughts, and drugs. God sentenced Jesus to death in your place. That means God declares you ‘innocent’— you who feel ashamed that you hurt mom, that you yelled at dad, that your greedy, grubby fingers love stuff more than loving to help people. God made Jesus suffer shame. Then, God raised Jesus on Easter because Jesus is more than enough to serve and complete our death-sentence! (Romans 4:25).
Dear friends, God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness. This word does not come from my mind. It does not come from your opinion. It comes straight from the mouth of God. If Jesus wins for you what you could never merit, why look at yourself? If your past haunts you, if you feel so undeserving of heaven, if you are not sure if you will enter heaven, look to Jesus. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Can you be sure? Well, how do you know if your spouse loves you? How do you know if your children love you (or your parents love you)? How do you know if your heart is healthy? How do you know what the weather will be like tomorrow? Do you wait for a disembodied voice to whisper in your ear: “Your spouse and children love you?” Do you sit on the edge of your hospital bed waiting for a warm sensation in your chest— a feeling confirming that your heart is indeed healthy? Will you drive home, hop out of your car, rake your yard, prune your bushes, trim the trees, supposing that your actions will produce a warm, sunny day tomorrow? Of course not! That would be absurd! When you want a sure answer, you look to a qualified source. You listen and understand the plain meaning of their words. You see actions reinforcing those words.
Your spouse and your children are qualified people to say: “I love you” and then show their love in their action. A heart specialist is qualified to read your heart tests and say: “You are healthy.” The meteorologist, who reads weather patterns for a living, can point at the picture of a sun over your city (on your television screen) and say: “It will be sunny tomorrow!” These qualified people can give you sure answers. They can give you assurance.
So, ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ It really does not matter what ‘I think.’ It matters what God says. And God’s sure Word reveals his sure announcement: ‘You are forgiven!’ Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
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.
Do you grasp the full implication of what Jesus teaches in our gospel lesson? “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading… There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth. (Luke 13:24-28) Jesus makes it clear: hell exists. More than that, you, I, the entire world, have only one lifetime to make it through that narrow door of heaven. “Do-overs” do not exist. “Second chances” do not exist. A warning like this is meant for us to respond today.
Yet, many choose not. A particular church body teaches that hell does not exist. Those who reject Jesus will merely cease to be. (https://www.adventist.org/fileadmin/adventist.org/files/articles/official-statements/28Beliefs-Web.pdf). The president of the largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] (a liberal branch of Lutherans) went on record to say: If hell exists, I think it’s empty. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/elizabeth-eaton-presiding-bishop-evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-chicago-if-hell-exists-i-think-its-empty-face-to-faith-podcast/) Even the pope questioned the existence of hell! (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/03/29/did-pope-francis-say-there-no-hell-not-quite-vatican-insists/470442002/)
What is it that leads people (including churches!) to deny what Jesus so clearly says? Why do many stay out of church, content to be in the fishing boats and campers, to be in home or out with friends? Why may we(!) grow cold about the full implication of what Jesus says?
The reality of life apart from God in hell weaves throughout all of Scripture. You find in Hebrews (a New Testament book written about 30-years after Jesus entered heaven) whisking you into the Old Testament and dropping you at Mount Sinai. This is not some setting among the pines and crystal-clear waters of a Rocky Mountain getaway. No. Gray, overcast skies blot out sunlight. Billowing smoke pours from heaven, engulfing the mountain. A dreadful, moaning trumpet blares its eerie wail across the desert floor. Audible tones, as if God’s thunderous voice thumps: ‘More.’ ‘Better.’ ‘Try harder.’ Animals snort and tug on ropes. Children shriek. You carry this haunting feeling that whatever is about to happen is serious. The Israelites begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
Even though trembling, God commands Moses to hike up Sinai. There, etched into two stony tablets, are God’s expectations. You shall have no other gods… You shall not misuse God’s name… You shall make time for me… You shall… You shall… You shall… (Exodus 20:1-21) Understand, what makes this scene terrifying is not the fact that God appears. What makes this sight blood-draining horrifying is that a holy God comes to people who are not holy— and God knows that and they know that. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere run.
Who can stand? God demands: “Be holy, just as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then threatens: “The soul who sins is the soul who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Do you grasp just how serious God is? Still, there may be a little part inside us that considers this nothing more than a bluff. Fake. Not real. After all, you have not seen hell; it’s not on map or YouTube videos. It also just sounds so harsh. I mean, Sinai feels like God is like an angry parent venting, but will eventually simmer down.
Maybe you have not actually said those words, you may not have thought them, but what does your behavior say? Do you stuff God’s mouth with your words? “God, I’m skipping worship today. That’s acceptable because I said so.” “God, I can break my marriage vows because it feels right… God, I can live committed without marriage because nothing bad happens…” “God, I deliberately disobeyed my teacher… my police officer… my township supervisor because I do not like what they say.” How often we take God’s commands and apply them only when we determine it convenient! Or, what does your behavior say about care for the souls of others? Perhaps your daughter promised to God before the congregation on her Confirmation Day: “I will be faithful in the use of Word and sacrament as long as I live”— but she is not here. In fact, she never worships, but still calls herself a Christian. Does that spiritual laziness alarm you? You worship every Sunday; your neighbor has no church. He watches you pull out of the driveway and you wave back. Have you ever offered him to join you? Or, do your actions somehow suggest that only you need to be connected to Christ— that this is only important for you personally, but is not necessary for everyone? Maybe it’s your friend who is battling cancer. She says, “I have faith”— but faith in what? Faith that the chemo will work? Faith that even if she dies the family will be fine? Or, the faith that Jesus Christ wiped clean her spiritual illness? Do you ask in what that faith is placed?
On Mount Sinai God booms: “Be holy, just as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). That applies not just to you (and me), but also to the other 7-billion people on earth! Do you (and I) treat this threatening expectation something less than God makes it? I wonder if sometimes we try to soften God’s commands because no one measures up. So, we create reasons for God to love us, and think by painting this scene as different, it becomes different in reality.
Yet, right now, you can wish to be in perfect health— pain-free, ache-free, cancer-free—but that does not actually cure ailments. Thinking differently of Sinai does not change God’s expectations. It just makes you the fool for believing something not true.
If Sinai makes your heart tremble, then look down and see where you stand. Only One Mountain Brings Life. Do not stand on Sinai because no one can ever measure up. Instead, Keep standing on Zion.
Mount Zion rests [in the city of] Jerusalem. God’s temple stood there. People could bring offerings and praise to God; God came to his people with his Old Testament words, with the forgiveness spoken through the priest, and with messages sent through his prophets. Yet, when God says: [Y]ou have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God… he does not suggest hiking up this mountain. No. God calls heaven ‘Mount Zion,’ the place where God is with believers. Notice how verse 22 begins: [Y]ou have come to Mount Zion; you already stand in God’s presence. That did not happen because you changed God’s expectations; it happened because Jesus removed the terror of Sinai.
Jesus is born to walk up Mount Sinai— to receive those same Ten Commandments God has set on us (Galatians 4:4-5). Throughout his entire life he locks his sight on the one thing God demands: Love for God (Matthew 22:37-39). That means, Jesus never lowers God’s standards. He keeps them. He worships every single week— not as a rule, but because he wants to. He preaches to the masses, not suggesting that a Christian God is one of many different ways to the same place, but clearly teaching eternal life comes only through God’s forgiveness (Acts 4:12). He even deals with those crushed by regret and shame— and does not tell them to fix their wrong, but rather says: “Trust that my life will make God happy with you” (John 14:6). Yes, Jesus not only obeys God’s commandments for himself, but also obeys in our place.
He walks down Mount Sinai without fear, without trembling because he is guiltless— and he walks up another mount, Mount Calvary. That Good Friday scene echoes an awful sound: ‘Death for sin.’ God’s wrath consumes his only Son. It swarms him. It engulfs him— and Jesus absorbs it all. Three days later, Jesus steps foot onto Easter morning’s peaceful dew. He freely walks out of his grave— alive and without fear. He immediately finds his disciples, the women, and says, “Peace to you!” (John 20:19).
Peace to you! Jesus has taken his innocence and set it next to your name. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit took you by the hand and brought you to God, saying, “Here’s another one! Take this one too!” And God the Father says, “Yes. I have written down your name.” You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect… You stand before God, the Judge of the universe, not to hear condemnation, but rather a favorable judgment: ‘You are righteous. Jesus made you perfect, completely forgave you.’
Dear friends, you stand now on Zion— at peace with God. [You have come] to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and [are] sprinkled [with the] blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. You are walking through that narrow door into heaven because Jesus is mediator. You get “in” because Jesus covered your with his perfection and that perfection is far better than anything you, like Abel, could offer.
You know that and so we live that. [Grand]Parents, God has handed you the responsibility of raising your child to know Jesus. To see Jesus in the Bible stories at Sunday School. To learn God’s complete love in catechism class and in Bible class. To gather in worship, admit wickedness, and bask in God’s forgiveness. Maybe you watch over children now; maybe your children no longer live under your watch. Whatever the case might be, still live concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of your child. Your child will not enter heaven because his name is in a church book. Your child will not enter heaven because she got ‘checkmarks’ beside her name: (1) Baptized? Check. (2) Confirmed? Check. God wants the heart. Specifically, what is their view towards Jesus? Your neighbor may stand on Sinai— completely unsure of what God wants. Point him to Jesus. Invite her to worship. Share what you know about the Bible. Faith needs an object. The only faith that saves is a ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ We who stand on Zion stand in a position to care. We stand in a position to lead others to the Only Mountain that Brings Life.
You do not need to fear what Jesus so clearly says in our gospel lesson: Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to (Luke 13:24). You do not need to somehow remove the teaching of hell in order to avoid it. You do not need to change God’s expectations in order to soften it. You need do nothing— because Jesus removes all fear of death forever.
Do not stand on Sinai. Do not try to carry the crushing burden of guilt alone. Instead, Keep standing on Zion. Keep clinging to Jesus, the One who removes the weight of death and puts you on that narrow path! Keep pointing others to this splendid mountain! Only One Mountain Brings Life. Do not stand on Sinai. Keep standing on Zion.
To prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object. For starters, you need rope. Tie one end of the rope to the boat and the other end to a sturdy object. You could tie the rope to tree, to the end of your dock, to a volleyball post on the beach— to anything that does not move. You even could tie the end of that rope to an anchor or a cinderblock and drop it into the water and the boat will stay in place. Toss that weight onto shore and your boat will remain still. So, to prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object.
(I’m sorry if I insulted your intelligence), but that simple truth makes a significant point: reliable objects prevent aimless drifting. If you do not have that sturdy object, if you do not have rope, you will drift. It remains vitally important to have both sturdy object and rope.
This morning, rediscover the splendid truth that God has provided both anchor and connection. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
That’s usually what we look for when it comes to trusting someone: we listen to words and we look for actions. When another person does as promised, we understand that person is serious about his intentions and cares for our personal welfare. For example, I may promise to arrive at your house on Tuesday at 11:00am. If I arrive at your house Tuesday at 11:00am, you know: (1) my words carry serious intentions and (2) I care about you personally— your schedule, your emotions, and your needs. Now, if I arrive at your house Friday at 7:00am, you know: (1) my actions never intended to match my words and (2) I do not care about what errands you have on Friday or that my tardiness angered you or that you have concerns that need addressing. You may find it difficult trusting me. You cannot rely that what I said is truthful and you will not shape your expectations around my intentions. We tend to build trust when actions match words. We tend to place trust in someone when actions match words.
God had already made some fantastic promises to Abram. For example, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you… I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (12:1-2). That means, Abram would have to leave the safety-net of family assistance and the bonds of neighborly-friendship. He must trek hundreds of miles across a desolate wasteland to a land he has never seen before, a land he has no connection to, a land that may (or may not) produce good food. That’s a big promise.
Still, Abram goes. Why? Because he considers God’s Words as good as done. Even though he does not see the future, he leaves. At the end of his travels, he settles in good, livable land— just as God said he would. Not just that, the surrounding nations respect Abram. An Egyptian Pharaoh treats Abram as a household guest. Foreigners gladly sell Abram land. Now, remember: (1) We tend to build trust when actions match words and (2) we tend to place trust in someone when actions match words. (1) God gifts Abram a land unseen and (2) God ensures a healthy respect for Abram. God’s Word matched his actions. You realize: God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith because it recalls what God has done.
So, you can almost see Abram’s excitement when God makes another promise: “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7). Abram has no child, but now he receives a guarantee. He can pass down his land, his riches, his reputation to this one child. So, he waits… and waits… and waits some more. He waits Ten. Years. Abram is now 85-years-old. His wife, Sarai, is 75-years-old. Yes, ten years earlier it would have been difficult to have a child, but still somewhat possible— but now, at this age, it borders on the impossible. Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Can you hear the desperation? The panicky fear? The complete loss of control? What changed? The boat is not fastened to a sturdy object.
Abram completely ignores God’s past powerful actions. He forgets the land, the respect, the safety. Now he relies on his (very) limited abilities. So, fear creeps in— fear creeps in because you confront your own limitations. You tremble at the cancer diagnosis because deep down inside you know that you cannot wish the disease away. You cannot add more days to your life. You have little control over the state of your health. God commands us to remain faithful to his Word, to neither add teachings nor change teachings, to continue clinging to what has been taught for centuries. You do that, but then you get nervous because you do what God says, but see no results. You wonder how long your church will exist. If you will always worship here, if your children and their children will be here. Really, you get nervous because you cannot change a heart. You worry about the future for your children because you want to fix everything wrong in the world with your two hands—but you cannot; you simply do not have that control.
Do you see? The reason Abram trembles, the reason we tremble is because we put this incredible pressure to manage life on ourselves. We are treating ourselves as God! Quite frankly, we consider ourselves more trustworthy, more reliable than God! What does a statement like that say about the (1) serious intentions behind God’s Words and (2) God’s care for us? It says that (1) God is a liar— he cannot keep his Word, he lacks the power to do what he says— and (2) God does not care for our welfare. He builds our hopes just to crush them.
For just a moment, lay aside that self-reliance and look once more at verse 1. Identify what God uses to strengthen Abram’s faith. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. First, ‘after what things?’ Well, read chapter 14 and you find four aggressive kings sweep over Abram’s neighbors. They kidnap Abram’s nephew, Lot, and steal all his possessions. Abram gathers 318-fighting-men and liberates these captives. That’s a big risk; Abram could have died. After that battle-‘thing,’ God says: Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. ‘Abram, just like a big battle shield I protected you. I gave you victory. I kept you safe and brought you home. If I did that, I will not hurt you now.’ Fear not, Abram… your reward shall be very great. ‘Abram, I am with you. That is far more valuable than your millions of dollars of assets, your small mercenary-group, and your status. The almighty God of the universe is on your side!’ God points back to all the things he had done, all his promises— and he kept them all!
God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. You realize God is (1) serious about his intentions and (2) he cares for your welfare. Past actions prove that. God’s Sure Word continues Bolstering Faith. That Word points to what God will do.
Do you see how God handles Abram’s great fear? Abram finishes speaking and behold, the word of the Lord came to him. What does God give Abram? He does not put a baby in his arms. He does not unroll a timeline of future events. God gives Abram his Word. Specifically, ‘[Abram,] This man [Eliezer] shall not be your heir… God makes it clear: ‘Abram, your inheritance-plan is not my plan.’ He addresses Abram’s concern, identifies it, brings it to light, and ends it. [Y]our very own son shall be your heir. Yes, Abram is old; Sarai is old, but this child will hold the biology of both. God does not explain how this will happen, and he does not need to. Explaining how is not the purpose for his speaking. God simply tells Abram what he will do. Just like he protected Abram, just like he poured out riches, just like he brought Abram to his new land, God (at the right time) would give an heir.
Dear friends, God kept that promise. Fifteen years after this conversation, at 100-years old, Abram has a son named Isaac. (1) Abram had an heir! Then, Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob had a son named Judah. Judah had a son. That son had a son, and that son a son. (2) Abram became a father of many nations! In fact, the family tree branched out to include a man named Joseph, who had a son named Jesus. (3) Jesus came!
God keeps his promises! That includes his hatred for our self-reliance. For us questioning if God keeps his Word, God crushes Jesus— because he is serious about punishing the arrogant. For us challenging if God cares for our wellbeing, God abandons Jesus— demonstrating that he cares for you so much that Jesus will be cut off from the love of God instead of you. Jesus wipes clean our self-reliant hearts, leaving only hearts that please God.
And now, God sees you as a star in the sky. [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” God’s not talking about family tree only. The Bible calls believers the descendants of Abram (Romans 4:18). Yes, you (and I) may not be Jews, we may not be able to trace our family tree back to Abram, but that’s alright. We share the same faith. Abram believed the Lord… He believed that God would send Jesus into the world and that Jesus would wipe away his faithless doubting. Abram considered God’s Word as good as done. [A]nd [God] credited it to him as righteousness. God called him ‘saved.’ You (and I) did not see Jesus die on the cross, but we take God at his Word. Jesus removed our guilt, and because of that, you (and I) have been declared ‘right’ in God’s sight.
Recall what God has done. Ponder these magnificent promises and consider how God has kept each one. Is there any question behind God’s intentions? When we look back over all that God has done, we realize his seriousness in doing as promised—and that removes fear for the future. God’s Word points ahead not to a wish—but points to what he will do.
That keeps us from aimlessly drifting through life’s many challenges. God, your sturdy object remains connected to you with his Word. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
Every Memorial Day weekend, I drive out to Elm Creek, buy seedlings, and plant my garden. And every year the garden thrives. Vines stretch out. Plants grow thick and lush. I collect half-a-dozen cucumbers each day and pick cherry tomatoes and beans by the bucket full. This year was not like every other year.
A few days after putting the seedlings into the ground, the leaves turned yellow— like Post-It-Note yellow. But, the plants did not wilt; they did not shrivel up or die, they just stayed yellow— which was also strange. These yellow seedlings never grew; they never pushed out new branches and vines and leaves. For three weeks, I saw small rows of miniature yellow tomato, cucumber, and bean plants.
Now, usually yellow leaves signal something wrong with growing conditions. The soil could be too acidic. The plants may not be receiving enough sunlight. Overwatering and severed roots can stunt plant growth. If you boil all the symptoms down, the causes for poor growth come from poor soil. Plants need good soil to live, grow, and produce fruit.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction?
Better yet, does your source produce good results? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
The congregation in Colossae needed this reminder. (Now, Colossae sits in the southwest corner of present-day Turkey. So, picture Phoenix lying a little bit off the southwest American border.) An evangelist named ‘Epaphras’ preached and the Holy Spirit planted faith in each listener.
Yet, this young congregation gets sick very quickly. They feed on a strange mixture of Jewish and Pagan teachings. Jewish— like: forbidding the eating of certain meats, making Old Testament religious ceremonies mandatory, and creating rules in order to win God’s favor. Then pagan— like: worshipping angels (who are God’s servants [Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 19:10]) and creating strange ideas of who God is, what he does, and how he lives. Those false beliefs poison souls. It seizes attention away from the clear answers God wrote down in the Bible and sets personal beliefs on human opinion.
Epaphras and Paul see stunted, shriveling faith, and grow terribly concerned. So, they start right at the roots. After all, when my plants turned yellow, I did not treat the leaves; I started with what caused the leaves to turn yellow. I started with the soil. In the same way, when we drink in guidance for life, we need to make sure that this guidance comes from a healthy source. We want to remain spiritually healthy. Verses 13-14 say: [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We all entered this world rooted in this stinking soil, this domain of darkness. We were not just yellowed sick, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is how we started life. Enemies of God (Romans 8:7). Not going to heaven (Isaiah 53:5). Unable to do anything to change that dreadful status.
Yet, God did something: he ‘transferred us.’ With the pure life of Jesus in hand, he scooped you out of hell. He washed away the moral filth that soaks our minds. He clipped away our shameful regrets. He healed us from the disease called ‘sin’— a disease that would kill us. He transferred us into his kingdom. We have been moved from the column: ‘Enemy to be destroyed by God’ to ‘Child Loved by God.’
God’s Word, the Bible, tells you this comforting truth. That is the ‘gospel,’ the ‘good-news’ that Jesus rescued you. That ‘good news’ enters your heart individually. Because the Word of God has the power to change hearts (Romans 1:16). That Word, which was spoken at your baptism, has transplanted you into light.
Paul takes us right to the soil. He reminds you that (1) God has bought you and (2) transplanted you so that you may draw strength from God and his Word. When it comes to guidance and strength for life, look down and see where you stand planted. God has transplanted you into light. Rooted in good soil comes good growth.
My plants— well, the leaves remained yellow for several weeks. So, I treated the soil. I carefully dug up each seedling, filled the hole with black dirt, mixed in a little lime, and replanted each plant. A few days later those little plants began improving. Leaves changed from yellow to green and new growth appeared. When you have good soil, you have good growth.
You (and I), planted into faith, grow. Paul continues in verse 9: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… So, you, as a Christian, are planted in Christ, but you do not remain stagnant. You grow spiritually. You grow by learning God’s ‘will’— and that ‘will’ (God’s desires) are only found in the Bible. This is why your congregation presents and emphasizes opportunities to be in God’s Word. To be in Bible Class. To be in Sunday School. To be in Catechism class. To have personal, daily devotions. These are all opportunities to see God’s demands, hear God’s forgiveness, memorize promises of rescue, and find God-pleasing answers.
Maybe right now, your mind is already fabricating excuses as to why you just cannot possibly be in the Word like that. I mean, we still battle a sinful nature. A sinful nature that thinks it can handle every problem in life. A sinful nature that does not want to rely on the Bible verses memorized in Sunday School and in Catechism class. A sinful nature that defends its ungodly decisions. A sinful nature that only seeks its own interests. We may create every excuse as to why it’s impossible to grow in our knowledge of God, but we only hurt ourselves. The devil loves the excuses you (and I) make because they separate us God’s Word— the only weapon we have against temptation. The further we stay from the Word, the further we can drift from God!
That is why Paul prays: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… The more you read your Bible, the more you learn— and not just that, but the more you remember about who God is and what God does. The information gained from the Bible allows you to apply it to the many different situations of life.
This is where you find guidance. You know: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). Apply that truth when frightened about death. Can you really know that you will be in heaven? Yes. Because God used baptism to save you (1 Peter 3:21). You know that God is with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Apply that truth when at a loss for answers. You do not know the future. You might worry the future will be bad, not pleasant. Yet, God has heaven in store for you. God uses even unpleasant things to increase your reliance on him.
You also use your knowledge to determine what is false and what is true. Someone might tell you: God will not give you more than you can bear. You would know that this is not entirely accurate. The Bible says: God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and that when pressed down, his Word gives you strength not to fall into sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). A friend might say: I don’t need to be in a church to be a Christian. While that sounds a little true, you also know the Bible says: Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The more you spend in your Bible, the more you know. The more you know, the more you apply. That is how you grow.
A Gospel-Fed Heart Grows. God has transplanted you into light; he provides good soil. As a follower of Christ, you will grow in Christian living; His Word grows knowledge.
Right now my garden is growing. The soil is balanced. Plants draw nutrients from that soil. Yet, something else happens: those plants produce fruit— good, beneficial, pleasing fruit.
Paul points to the fruits that come from putting God’s Word into practice. Verses 3-5 say: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. God loves the Colossians. He loves them so much that he still keeps the Word in their life. He uses the Word to correct their false beliefs. He does not hold their wrongs against them, but he cleanses them. He keeps them planted in this soil of faith. He keeps feeding them with his Word. That love has an effect: loved much, they love much.
Paul notes that in verses 5-6: Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing— as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth… The Word produces ‘fruits of faith.’ ‘Fruits of faith’ are the results that come from putting God’s Word into practice.
See what fruits it produces in you. God encourages us: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). We see that God has given house and home, possessions and vehicles, money saved and money spent— and does this all without our constant asking. The Word sinks in; the fruit of contentment grows.
God teaches: If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8). If we come through surgery, we thank God for another day. If we do not make it through surgery, we thank God for heaven. We will not leave this life a day sooner or a day later than God already knows. So, the Word sinks in; the fruit of trust grows.
God instructs: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Husbands put the needs of your wife ahead of your own, just like Christ put your life ahead of his and died for you. Wives, listen to your husbands, just like you know God loves you and wants only the best. The Word sinks in; the fruit of stronger relationships grow.
Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God’s Word does something; God’s Word produces fruitful living.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. Turn here. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
“We’re thankful you are here. After all, we are not that big. We used to be, but many are now gone. There’s not always many on Sunday morning. Someone young like you probably wants more activities. I’m sure one day you’ll be promoted into a larger church.” Those words have hit my ears probably half-a-dozen times each year for the past several years. (And I’m sure I will hear them again.) In those words you find genuine appreciation. Words aware of the past. Words dotted with fear. Why the fear?
You see, when we evaluate ‘church,’ we can find ourselves focusing on nonessential features. That happens when we carry a faulty definition of ‘church.’ So, let’s ask: Is Your Definition of ‘Church’ Right? In Isaiah’s prophecy God highlights two key features to find in this place. (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides and (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.
In order to find these features, we must first define [the word]: ‘church.’ The Bible defines that one little word in two very different ways. You discover both definitions here.
The first definition is what we typically call ‘church-spelled-with-a little-‘c’ (or, the [little-‘c’]hurch). The ‘[little-‘c’]hurch are the churchy items your eyes see. You see a building, an altar, and pews— furnishings associated with a church. You see individual people inside. You see a group of people, also known as a congregation. You see a pastor, Bibles, a message. Your eyes see a religious organization serving people. That’s the [little-‘c’]hurch, the visible church.
Isaiah sees that too. He sees Solomon’s magnificent temple. Glistening white columns tower overhead. Imposing bronze altars consume sacrifices. Smoky incense wafts into the heavens. Isaiah sees people stream into the temple courtyard with animal-sacrifice in hand. He sees priests reading from the books of Moses [the first five of the Bible]. Isaiah sees what you (and I) see: a [little-‘c’]hurch, a visible church.
God is not happy with this sight. Yes, masses stream to the temple—but they arrive for all the wrong reasons. Some come out of empty-minded habit. They stand in the courtyard, the priest reads Scripture, and they stare out the window, daydreaming about the house projects to do after the sacrifice. Others? Well, on the way out the door, they grab the first animal they see, drag it along so that they do not stand empty-handed when it is their turn to give their gift. Still others treat the temple like a good-luck charm. That God must protect Israel because he depends on the existence of this temple. Here stands a [little-‘c’], visible church, but what goes on inside is not good. God is not interested with simple, outward actions. God desires sincere inner motives. So he says: I will choose harsh treatment for them… For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened (Isaiah 66:4). God makes it abundantly clear: the temple exists for God to come to Israel, not Israel coming to God.
Do you catch that? The existence of this [little-‘c’], visible church is not what you do for God. It is not about what you want found here. The [little-‘c’], visible church exists for God to come to you.
Still, inside each of us lies this little ego that seizes the opportunity to make church suit me. I just want everyone to see me step foot into a church. Then I look pretty moral, pretty respectable, pretty trustworthy before my community. I gain pride by being here. I want this place jammed-packed so that I look like I am part of some large movement. Then I feel popular, well-liked, well-respected. I come here Sunday mornings because this is my routine. This is my habit. I might forget every hymn by the end of the day. I cannot remember a lick of what the Pastor taught. But I can point to my church attendance; I can feel good that I do my part. Yes, that ego is even the reason we feel sad inside when what is seen does not match expectations. I want a certain-looking church so that my selfish wish-list is satisfied. At its very core I am ordering God to meet my wants, when the purpose for church is me receiving from God.
So, listen again to verses 10-11: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” You realize that God does not describe the [little-‘c’], visible church here. No. God is using another definition for ‘church.’ This ‘Jerusalem’ is not describing a city on a map. Rather, it pictures every believer gathering in one family of faith (Galatians 4:21-31). We call this the capital, [big-‘C’]hurch. The [big-‘C’]hurch is seen with eyes. The [big-‘C’]hurch is faith.
God uses this [little-‘c’], visible church in order to bring you into his [big-‘C’]hurch. After all, here you receive from God. Just like an infant receives rich nutrients from his mother so that he may grow and remain healthy, you receive God’s Word meant to make you spiritually alive, strong, and healthy.
Sometimes you receive words meant to cut you (and me) down. Words that strip away self-righteous pride: I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine (Psalm 50:9-10). Words that inscribe what God demands from us: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21) because God wants the heart (Psalm 51:17). Yes, you receive words meant to strip away pride. Because when pride is gone, you can see Jesus here.
You can see Jesus come to you and assure you that he has wiped away the demands you made of him. That he has washed you in the waters of baptism. That he has clothed you with his innocent life. That he has set you on the lap of his Father and that the Father cradles you as his adopted child.
That is the right definition of ‘church.’ Here, in this visible building, God comes to you individually so that you can (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides. That you receive spiritual nourishment from the Word. Then when you leave here, you can (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.
For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.” Do you see what you receive? Peace. Do you know what that means? Peace is God standing at-one with you. He does not turn his back, he faces you. He does not plug his ears because you broke your promises to quit doing wrong, he declares your shame removed. You can point at heaven and say, “That’s my home! I know that because God says it!” You can pray and say, “Amen! God hears me because he says he hears me!” You can confront struggles head on, saying, “God does not stand against me, but with me, because he extends peace to me!” Here, in this [little-‘c’], visible church you hear ‘peace.’ Those words hit your heart and keep you in God’s [big-‘C’]hurch. Since you stand at peace with God, your life flourishes.
God does not stop there. He takes his peace and combines it with comfort. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. That is good. The devil will always try to convince you that what matters most about church is what is seen. That’s why you feel down at times, the devil tries to convince you that God lacks power. The devil knows that if he throws you into despair, then the Word does not sound so appealing. Then your time here is not spent growing, but rather spent holding onto past memories of what you once had. Yes, the devil knows that if he can get your mind off of the one thing church is all about, then he has gained the upper hand.
So, seize the upper hand back from him— and you can because Jesus has won. That, my friends, is something Satan has no answer for. He never will have an answer. Because the moment Christ cried out on the cross: ‘It is finished!’ it sealed the devil’s defeat forever. When Christ rose from the dead, he could sigh: ‘Peace be with you’ and the devil could not change the impact of those words. Everything written in Scripture is just another stinging reminder that the devil lost. It does not matter what is seen here, but rather what is heard here. When that Word is proclaimed here, the devil repeatedly hears his defeat.
Set your sights on God’s Word of comfort that tells you the way things truly are. Then you will flourish from the comfort God extends. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants…
Yet, there remains one final line, and it’s almost easy to gloss over it. [H]e shall show his indignation against his enemies. In the midst of this magnificent fanfare stands a sobering reminder: God will punish those who stand opposed to him; he will damn every nonbeliever to hell. That is not a pleasant message. It does not feel right to say that. It sounds harsh. It feels wrong to think that your neighbor, your child, your spouse could go to hell.
Realize that God makes this truth clear so that we can lead others to the comfort God extends to them. Last Thursday, you celebrated your freedom to do just that. The United States of America protects the freedom of religion. That means, you can bring others to your [little-‘c’]hurch so that God can bring them into his [big-‘C’]hurch, his family of believers. The words spoken here are what matters most.
That’s what makes this place so special. The world tends to examine churches by what is seen. Even we look for people, for activity, for success. Yet, that is not what God emphasizes in a church. He uses this place to bring his Word into many hearts, and he works through the Word to bring people into his family of believers.
So, back to those phrases.“We used to be big, but not so much anymore. Someone young like you probably wants more activities. I’m sure one day you’ll be promoted into a larger church.” No. That is not what I look for here. That is not important in life. What matters is that God’s Word is here. That’s what we look for. That’s what we cherish. That is the reason we are here. Let’s keep the Definition of ‘Church’ Right. Here you: (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides and (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.
He worked for the Chrysler Corporation in the development and research department. Fifteen years into his career, he developed a car engine that reached 60-miles-per-gallon. This was the late 1960s. Perhaps those with keen insights saw the oil crisis creeping into America. So, this highly efficient engine would save money, save gas, and save the freedom to travel anywhere anytime.
That engine never reached production. This man shared the discovery with corporate leadership, but within weeks, executives from the Shell Corporation strutted into his department. They bought the patent to the engine. As the new owners, they removed the engine, the diagrams, and schematics and forbade him to infringe on their copyright.
Why would an oil company want the patent to a high-efficient engine? So that people keep buying gas. That reason is selfish. The engine could be used for good: it could save money, save resources, lead to better development. Yet, the corporation took something good and used it for their own good. What does this say about the human heart?
God gives good blessings, like one common language. One language to encourage each other. To work together. To tell of God’s love. Yet, one common language is used for selfish pursuits— the same problem with language today. Instead of using language to gain personal comfort, Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
In our Old Testament selection, you read: Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. You could expect that. This account happened shortly after the worldwide flood. These people are all relatives of the one man, Noah. Coming from one big family means they share one common language.
That language would provide convenience. One language means clear communication of desires, intentions, and instructions. No Spanish, no English, no Hindi or Mandarin; you can understand your doctor or the tech support on the phone. Everyone comprehends a common lingo. All know that ‘pop,’ ‘soda,’ and ‘Coke’ are the same beverage and that the Party Store does not carry party supplies. One common language allows for efficient, easy communication.
You watch this group use one common language quite efficiently. [P]eople migrated from the east, [and] they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” [T]hey had brick for stone, and [tar] for mortar. The plan is to settle permanently. Kiln-dried bricks last longer than clay bricks. Tar does not crumble away like mortar. That does not sound too remarkable except for one fact: God commanded this people, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). These seemingly-innocent intentions intentionally disobey God.
That’s not my interpretation; that’s their motive. [T]hey said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens… For what purpose? [L]et us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.
God blesses all people with one common language. A language to share the promise of Jesus with children. A language to encourage those in despair and depressed. A language to celebrate the ways God led you through problems. You can use language to share God’s ‘Name;’ you can use language to communicate God’s reputation, behavior, and characteristics. Yet, this group uses one common language for attention. They want everyone to admire their planning, marvel at the construction, and praise their intellect and foresight. One common language is not used to bring glory to God. One common language is used to bring glory to humanity.
The sinful human heart can warp the greatest of God’s blessings for the most self-serving of purposes. And Christian congregations wrestle with that same sinful heart. You see, congregations get excited when they first form. Members eagerly invite friends, co-workers, strangers to worship. Volunteers arrive early Sunday morning to a rental space and set up chairs, furnishings, and refreshments. This group of believers strive to strengthen faith by promoting Sunday School and attending Bible Class. Momentum rolls. The congregation grows spiritually, they grow in numbers. Soon they plan a permanent worship space. A loan is secured. People give towards the building project, the congregation keeps reaching out, construction begins, the building finishes… and then the focus shifts. As soon as a building exists the focus can suddenly turn inward.
The attention shifts from ‘How can I share Jesus?’ to ‘How can I use this space for me?’ Church Council meetings mainly dwell on budgets and maintenance. Unfiltered opinions fly about carpet color, but very few concerns are raised about the straying. Personal expectations— like what the Pastor wears and what color hymnal to use— are emphasized more than God’s expectations. You see, we may not construct a tower that reaches the heavens, but, you (and I) can use our Christian knowledge to build a church the reaches self-serving interests. Yes, this building no longer becomes a place to know Jesus, to grow in Jesus, to share Jesus. Rather, this building becomes a haven of comfort where I demand all worship my interests.
God, in complete undeserved mercy, intervenes. [T]he Lord came down [and saw] the city and the tower, which the children of man had built… and in serious love said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The Lord is not threatened by this independence; rather, independence threatens the group! This tower grows from stubborn disobedience. If nothing changes, their egos will soar as high as that tower, but they will never reach heaven. They will sink like a brick into hell. So, the Lord confuses their language so they will not understand each other. This verbal boundary stopped a proud pursuit and forced many to reconsider life’s real purpose: Giving praise to the Lord.
That is the reason you (and I) are here. Someone with a common language shared God’s Name with you. Maybe a stranger told you about a God who loved the world. Perhaps a mother read how the sinless Son of God was born. A Pastor might have explained that Jesus carried your (and my) pride to the cross and buried it. You (and I) believe this truth. That is what we call ‘faith.’ Because of faith, God leads you to the cross and in a language you clearly understand says, ‘I love you. I died for you. I saved you.’
What awesome words God puts into our hearts and on our lips! The language of faith is a blessing. You can take your faith and use your English words to communicate what God has done. Yes, use your English words to point to Jesus. Point each other to the grace of God. Point those outside this worship space to the love of God. Keep pointing— not to your preferences, but to God’s Savior. Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
Remember, God’s ‘kingdom’ is not heaven. God’s ‘kingdom’ is not some location with walls, armies, and a government. God’s ‘kingdom’ is God ruling your heart. For example, you might say that a loved one has your heart. Of course, they do not literally hold your heart in their hands. Rather, the thought of that loved one consumes your thinking.
In the same way, God’s powerful actions and guiding Word consumes your thinking, shapes your words, and guides your actions. So, when you pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy [Your] kingdom come,’ you are asking God to bring many more people to faith. One way God answers that prayer is through language.
[T]he Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Some leave angry and frustrated. Their ego did not tower as planned— at least, not in the way they wanted. So, some of these nations channeled their pride into idols. Those who craved pleasure made sex-gods. Those who wanted power made lightning-gods. Nervous farmers made gods to make crops grow. They failed to learn from Babel’s catastrophe that they are to obey God.
Others did learn. They turned from pride and turned to God. Immediately after this account, you see Abram listen to God (Genesis 12:1). Abram used his language to tell his son, Isaac, about the Savior. Isaac used his language to tell his son, Jacob, about the Savior. Jacob used his language to tell his sons about the Savior. They Used Language as the Blessing It Is and used it to unite God’s kingdom. God worked through language to create faith.
That is why you are here today. God worked through language to bring you into his kingdom. Consider how that happened. Congregations in Germany provided significant funding for the newly planted churches in America. When immigrants stepped into America, they had a familiar church home waiting for them. In fact, you have been directly impacted by those monies. The money from Germany funded American congregations. Those American congregations funded the founding of Michigan Lutheran Seminary (in Saginaw). Pastors from MLS served your congregation for almost 20-years. Those in Germany, with a different language, different culture, different jobs— you may never have met them and they have never met you, but you benefit from their efforts. They used their blessings to be a blessing for you.
God brought you into his kingdom through language too. For a while, your congregation [St. John] used German in worship. After World War I, emigration from Germany slowed, and most first-generation Americans spoke English. Americans still prefer English today. So, in the 1940s your church stopped using German! They switched to English! It probably felt strange at first! But your Christian friends thought about you! For those of you who speak English [all of you], you benefit from that change. They used the English language to bring you into God’s kingdom.
Now you stand in this line. You get to use your English language to unite God’s kingdom, to clearly communicate God’s love to each other and the world. You give offerings so your children may worship here, and their children, and children to come. One day those children will point to you as the ones who shared Jesus. The Vietnamese will point to the newly constructed center as the tool used to share God’s Word in their language. Faith Lutheran (of Harrison) can point to you as the reason a congregation opened in their city. Strangers will walk into your church building because they understood your invitation. Dear friends, Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
It might be difficult because we still have sinful hearts. Those sinful hearts are selfish. We often act only when we benefit. We speak when we get something for ourselves. We refuse accommodating others because it forces us to change. We can use good blessings for self-centered purposes.
Yet, God rules our hearts. He has sent the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we can be his children. The Holy Spirit equips us to behave like people belonging to God. See how he Uses Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
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.
Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. Just two days earlier the Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) detonated eight bombs. Five blew up hotels as families gathered for Easter brunch. Three exploded in churches while Christians worshipped their Risen Lord. Over 350 people died and another 500 lay wounded. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombing.html)
The bombings deliberately targeted the Christian celebration of Easter. ISIS made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes to stifle the Easter message and scare Christians into silence.
Attacking Easter does not diminish the Christian’s hope, nor does it scare Christians into fleeing the faith. In fact, the opposite happens: Christians cling ever more tightly to Jesus because of Easter. Yes, You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. You will be targeted. Yet, God remains determined to exalt his Prince--and no one can stop him. Because of Easter, you can Let Loose the Words of Life.
The book of Acts details the life of Jesus’ disciples after his victorious resurrection and triumphant ascension into heaven. Our selection this morning says. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade… First, the Twelve disciples are the Twelve apostles. ‘Disciple’ means ‘follower’— and these twelve men shape their lives around Jesus’ teachings; they ‘follow’ what he says. ‘Apostle’ means ‘one sent out.’ Those twelve men who ‘followed’ Jesus’ teachings are now ‘sent out’ to share those teachings.
They stand in the entryway of the temple, tapping shoulders, grabbing attentions, probing hearts, preaching. These are the same men who, just a few months earlier, huddled behind locked doors terrified they might die for their connection to Jesus (John 20:19-31). Now, they stand in a public place, in plain sight, not worried what bystanders might think— and people do notice them.
[T]he high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They had killed Jesus once, hoping to kill his memory forever. Now, these men bring up Jesus again— and people are listening! As the Jews come to worship, they see supernatural miracles like those Jesus once performed. It draws them to the apostles, who then proclaim a living and triumphant Jesus. The Jews pay attention to Jesus once again! The high priest wants attention!
So, [t]hey arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail… If you watch your leaders punish the apostles, then maybe you would consider the apostles untrustworthy scoundrels. You could forget the Christian teaching. You could keep waiting for a better Messiah. You realize this is what you witnessed last Sunday. This arrest clearly says: ‘Stop talking about Jesus.’
The Bible makes clear: You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Sometimes that opposition comes from outside. Those entangled in what is wrong do not want to hear God’s instruction. You encourage a friend to worship, but he avoids you, she does not answer the phone, they do not respond to letters and cards. Your child responds to a gentle invite with a list of everything wrong with what you believe. That stings. You approach people with a heartfelt desire to share words for life and your kindness is repaid with sharp, vicious words. It leaves you feeling ashamed. Sometimes opposition to God’s Word comes from within. Your faith— what you believe— may not feel like a source of joy. It may feel more like a burden or a target. You almost feel embarrassed to say that Jesus came back to life; it sounds childish. You may feel crazy for saying the death of one person fixes you. You may wonder if you are stupid for talking about a six-day creation or a worldwide flood or unexplainable miracles. Your faith can cause tension within.
The devil uses opposition to shame you. He wants you (and me) to rank popularity as more important than the Word. He wants you to twist Bible teachings to sound more acceptable. He wants you to omit commands that the world considers offensive. He wants you to condone lifestyles God clearly calls ‘wrong.’ He wants you ashamed of what you believe so that (1) God’s truth does not get out and so that (2) you believe something false. This way, he destroys others and you.
You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Think about that. You will face opposition-- why? Because you Let Loose the Words of Life. You stand with the living Lord! That automatically pits you against his enemies!
God has raised you from spiritual death and has given you spiritual life. You are not entitled to this. It cost a very high price; it cost the life of God’s blameless Son. Jesus is stripped naked, stretched out, and hung publicly for all to gawk at. As he groans, people mock him. When taunted: ‘Come down from there!’ he chooses to remain on the cross. He endures lies, name-calling, and shame because his life is the only life that can save you. God strips away his life in order to raise you (and me) from the hell we deserve. He uses that life to pry out of our hearts any love we may have for this world. He uses that life to lift you out of eternal shame and into a spot next to him.
You have life because of Jesus. He has conquered opposition from unbelieving rulers. He has conquered opposition from our hearts. That is tremendous news. Let Loose the Words of Life! You will face opposition, but God remains determined to exalt his Prince
The disciples stand in prison, but not for long. [D]uring the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this
Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” You wonder if those leaders ever stop to think how this escape happened. No earthquake happened. No cell-doors clang open. No frenzied escape plan. The last sight of the apostles is in jail. Now, they stand outside (free!) in the temple, preaching and teaching. God did not (and would not) allow his message silenced.
The high priest tried. [T]he captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
That is the point! Peter says: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree… Yes! You killed God and you did that because you rejected his teaching. You rejected God!” They need to hear this!. They need to be confronted with the fact that they are waging war against the Almighty and they will lose!. The need to see God exalt his Prince as the triumphant Savior he is. So that they repent; so that they turn from rejecting Jesus to listening to Jesus. So that they have life. Opposition to God is a losing battle. God exalted [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Dear friends, you are witnesses of these things. You know answers a nonbelieving world will never unlock. Ever notice that? When you gather in this church with other Christians, you do not stand out so much. Because you all cling to the same faith! You hold to the same promise! You stand united in Jesus. That’s great! You encourage each other to keep standing on the promise of forgiveness and eternal life, to never let go! You may not see spectacular results. You may not feel different, but be sure, even your presence encourages me to cling to God’s exalted Prince.
When you step out of here, you will stand out. You have the Words of Life; you know what life is all about. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is the mantra for your Christian living. A nonbelieving does not have this hope. The world’s solution to death is to cope. Cope by (1) telling jokes, (2) seeing grief counselors, (3) speaking of a generic ‘good place.’ Understand, people may need counsel to rise out of grief. Yet, you know life does not end with death. Because Jesus lives, believers who die on earth live in heaven (John 11:25-26). The world’s solution to regret is to cope. Guilty parents attempt to buy the love of their neglected children. Others think alcohol will help them forget. Still others give money to churches in the hope of scrubbing away the past. Yet, you know Easter preaches sins forgiven. The world’s solution to evil is to cope. Ignore troubles. Call evil bad names on television or Twitter. Yet, you know the Risen Lord has delivered us from life in an evil hell. He still leads us through this evil world to that perfect life above.
Let Loose the Words of Life! Let Easter’s empty tomb only strengthen you in your fight against doubt and temptation. Let Easter’s empty tomb be seen in the way you live and in the words you speak. God remains determined to exalt his Prince—in you and through you.
Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. The Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) deliberately targeted Easter. They made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes scare Christians into silence. It failed. Those Christians gathered around the Easter truth that the dead in Christ will rise.
Easter has transformed your life. You may not notice. You may not feel it. Yet, because of Easter you live confident of a triumphant Jesus who reigns for your good. You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. The world may hate that, but the Almighty God remains determined to exalt his Prince— and no one can stop him. Christ lives—and lives for you! Let Loose the Words of Life.