Speaking as a former child, do you know the kind of Christmas gift a kid is not too excited to receive? Jeans. I’m not talking the designer jeans with fancy labels or shiny sequins. I’m talking straight-legged, plain blue jeans. What kid gets excited over that? I mean, no child goes to school and shows off the brand new basic pair of pants he just got. Blue jeans do not stoke the imagination like video games do. Blue jeans are not coddled like Barbie dolls are. Blue jeans are not actively on your mind like household gadgets can be. Those types of gifts make us thrilled and excited and happy. Blue jeans don’t.
Now, a child might want presents that touch emotions, but what would happen if he did not have jeans? In winter he would freeze. At the very least, he would be terribly underdressed! So, which gift is more beneficial: video games or blue jeans?
If you only focus on the object received, you can completely look past the reason for the gift given. The more you appreciate the purpose for the gift received, the more you cherish that gift. As the days leading up to Christmas quickly tick down, let’s focus on this awesome gift: Our Reliable God Keeps His Reliable Word. He brings grace through Jesus. He gives peace through Jesus.
The man from our New Testament reading, Paul, treasures those truths. Paul is a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God… Maybe those job titles ‘servant’ and ‘apostle’ sound pretty basic. After all, if Paul is a Christian, then you almost expect a willingness to share Jesus. Yet, do you remember Paul’s previous career? ‘Persecutor of Christians.’
Paul hunts down people who worship Jesus. Just like a bounty-hunter, he receives warrants, tracks people down, arrests them, and turns them in to the authorities. So, your wife would be ripped away, never seen again; the marriage ended. Soldiers snatch away dad, and the next time you see him is stretched out on a cross naked, groaning, sobbing, dying. Grandma and grandpa grabbed and thrown into a lion pit; lions eat them. Paul literally destroys lives for a living — and he enjoys it! He even watches a Christian stoned to death— people throw rocks at this man until he dies— and Paul just stands there, approving! (Acts 7:54-60) And what job does Paul have? A ‘servant’ and ‘apostle’— of Christ!
He works for the group he once attacked! Even by today’s standards, you do not hire an enemy. If you capture Osama bin Laden, you do not appoint him as general over the United States Army, right? If you catch an enemy, you execute justice; you dole out what he deserves. God does not give Paul what he deserves. He gives the opposite! He makes Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures…
Paul scribbles these words down with such excitement. You realize, he’s not writing a testimonial about himself. He pointing you to a truth that will impact your life far greater than just knowing Paul’s previous job. He pointing you (and me) to the gospel.
Do you remember what ‘gospel’ means? ‘Good news.’ In just a few days you will hear the ‘good’-est news that has rung across the face of the earth. While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7) God turns a promise a reality! That’s what Paul holds before our eyes! The centuries-old promise of Jesus finally reaches its opening into the world!
Still, those words can resonate much like a pair of blue jeans, can’t they? Plain. Dull. Boring. If your [grand]kids are like mine (or like I was as a child), Christmas centers mostly on presents, on figuring out what lies underneath the paper! If you are like me (today), those words warm the heart, but not always because of the content. Instead, they transport me back in time to this romanticized view of church and children and spouse, carols and candles, innocence and simplicity. I find myself worshipping past memories instead of the newborn Christ.
While I might not say it openly, that ‘good news’ just does not sound so exciting. Maybe it’s because the world always keeps pushing ‘new’ before me. Perhaps it’s because my attention wants stimulating entertainment. Yet, one thing I am certain of: My heart does not think I’m really that all wicked. What happens is that it downgrades this ‘good’-est news to just ‘good’ news. It treats Jesus like my buddy who shrugs off my foolishness and ignores my criticizing. It views Jesus arriving to make sure I have enough money to get through the month. Or that Jesus shows up so that I am never sad. Or that he comes to make others finally treat me with respect. If all we see in Jesus is a warm, kind Christmas-time miracle, then we will not appreciate what God really gives.
Christmas shows The Reliable God Keep his Reliable Word. Pay attention to that! Jesus does not come because he bored. He comes because I do need him. Because God keeps another word: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death. Separation from life. Separation from family and friends. Separation from God. The instant you are conceived, you start dying— and you. cannot. stop. it. You (and I) die because we sin. We earn the wage: ‘death.’ That is not ‘good news.’
That is why God sends the ‘good’-est news into the world. He sends his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh… See Jesus and you see skin and bones, blood and muscle, brain and organs, thought and speech, motion and speaking. More than that, you watch someone held to God’s high standard. Do not hate, do not insult. Do not let your mind drift during worship. Do not make excuses to stay out of worship. Do not set your selfish wants ahead of your family needs. Every single commandment God has set on your shoulders, he sets on Jesus.
Still, Jesus is declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…The Holy Scriptures paint a silhouette of God’s Son and Jesus fits it perfectly. His miracles prove him someone divine. God the Holy Spirit descends as a dove onto Jesus. God the Father points at Jesus and says, ‘This One is my Son! Listen to him!’ (Matthew 3:16-17) This innocent, fault-free, God-approved Jesus is qualified to put down his life for your debt (and mine). God peels life from his Son, and tosses Jesus’ lifeless body into the grave. Then— in order to make it clear that this Bethlehem baby is God-approved, in order to make clear that this God-and-Man pleases God— he raises Jesus.
The Reliable God Keeps his Reliable Word. He brings grace through Jesus. ‘Grace’ is love undeserved. God does not treat Paul as a persecutor, but as one forgiven! That is ‘grace.’ That is love undeserved. Now, Paul gets to share what he received. [Through] Jesus Christ our Lord… we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…You (and I) are those who live under this umbrella of God’s forgiving love. That love will produce an effect.
Again, God says: To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. What do you receive? Love and therefore, peace.
Peace is more than silence or no anxiety. Peace is the absence of hostility. No anger. No division. No unrest. Jesus comes so that you do not need to make up fantasies as to what happens when a person dies. Jesus comes so that you do not need to saddled by your guilty past. Jesus comes so that you do not need to think that God gives you bad days because you made him angry. Jesus comes to give you peace.
God targets his righteous anger for our wrongs at Jesus—and he absorbs it all! Where sin has been forgiven, there is no wrath. Hostility no longer exists between God and us! What remains is delight! Ease of mind! Cheer! What remains is peace.
You have three days until Christmas Day. Two days to finish shopping. Two days to contact friends and family, study the schedules, and finalize the plans. Two days to wrap the remaining presents and bake the cookies. If ‘stressed’ is the word most on your mind, then you need to refocus. Your heart is telling you that Christmas festivities is not the peace you need.
Focus on the manger. Gift-giving is wonderful; it shows affectionate love. Still, remember the affectionate love God handed you. A [grand]child might get super-excited for Santa Claus. While fun, remind that child the greater One who arrives on Christmas. The family might plan gatherings. Great! But do not sacrifice the time you have to be with God in his Word. Use these occasions to be a witness to the real purpose of Christmas. Instead of allowing festivities take priority, make Christ the priority and the festivities secondary. Worship Christmas Eve. Spend just that one brief hour (one!) praising God Christmas Day. See The Reliable God Keep his Reliable Word He sends Jesus for those who do deserve it. He makes clear that Jesus is the Savior so that you might have real peace.
Which is a more exciting gift than jeans. Although… if you ever crawled out of bed on a cold morning and you felt that brisk, chilly air, you sense a need for jeans. If you had thin pants (or shorts!) then you appreciate the warmth jeans give. You appreciate the thought behind the gift. Yes, you could have received some cool gadget and that would entertain you for a few days— but in jeans you receive something truly needed, something that protects health and life.
God could have sent a morality teacher who sets a high standard of slavish rules impossible to reach. He could have sent down a person to perfectly pattern life after. He could have looked down from heaven and said, ‘I created Eden for you and you did not want that. Why should I take the effort and give you something like that again?’— but he does not. He does not give you (and I) what we deserve. Instead, He gives grace through Jesus. Not because we earned it, but because God wants to give you peace. That, dear friends, is something the world can never give. The Reliable God Keeps his Reliable Word. He gives grace through Jesus. He gives peace through Jesus.
Scott Schmidt had to kill his wife. He had no other choice. In fact, Scott even blamed his wife for her own murder. You see, the couple’s marriage had been disintegrating. Months of couples counseling healed nothing. The two had actually separated. So, on April 17, 2009, Scott went to his estranged wife’s house to retrieve some belongings. While there, an argument broke out. Emotions intensified and so did the violence. Now, Scott claims his wife knew about his rash temper. On April 17th she [supposedly] started taunting him, hurling out names like: ‘lazy,’ ‘good-for-nothing,’ ‘deadbeat,’ knowing full well that her words pierced him. [Supposedly] she deliberately ignited his anger; she forced him to grab his gun and unload. Don’t you see? She knew the risks! She provoked him! She was to blame for her own murder! Scott Schmidt committed no crime!...... Do you believe that?
Probably not. Neither did the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Nor the Dodge County Correction Facility prison warden. Nor did the roomful of pastors listening to Scott’s outlandish claims. Nor did the judge who sentenced Scott to life in prison. Create all the excuses you want, but nothing pieces together a broken law.
So, what could possibly possess Scott to insist on his innocence? You realize that Scott does not deny standing at the scene of the crime. He does not deny discharging his weapon. He does not deny harming his wife. In fact, he even accepts the detective’s account of what happened. The evidence piles ever-higher against his favor and Scott still tries to persuade the judge that he committed no wrong. Why? Because Scott did do something wrong— and in his heart of hearts, he knew that.
Scott knew tucked away in the pages of Wisconsin State law is the mandate: You cannot murder. He knew his violent behavior clearly violated that law. He knew breaking the law brings consequences— and he did not want consequences. He did not want to spend the rest of his life locked behind bars. He wanted freedom!
So there it is! Why does Scott maintain his innocence? Because Scott wants to commit crime and live free. In order to reach his wish, Scott reframed his actions. To this day Scott still calls the events of April 17th ‘an act of extreme passion’— because passion is not a crime. The hope is that if he can redefine his action, then maybe the judge would no longer classify his violence as ‘murder.’ Then Scott could be set free.
Maybe you sit there, half-laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of that logic. Look at that behavior again. Scott commits on a far larger scale what every heart fights to do. The human hearts fights to defend its own wickedness at any cost. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 God says: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Many drive past this church building; many admit that it is a religious center and still they do not enter. Some treasure time outside in campers and boats. Others cherish personal opinion about life-matters. Still others worship the god their ‘feelings’ and ‘thoughts’ create. Many call label themselves ‘spiritual,’ but take no time learning, studying, believing the God of the universe. Such people do not know God. Yes, those hearts will try to define their wrong; hearts will create the excuse: “God, I did not know!” Yet, the truth is, they had a chance to know. They just chose not to take it.
Yet, tucked in verse 8 is another group, a group that speaks to us. [God] will punish those (1) who do not know God and (2) [those who] do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The ‘gospel’ is the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ alone cleared your record and brought you into a peaceful state with God. ‘Obeying the gospel’ means that your heart cherishes this truth. That you live as one who has been rescued from hell.
Do you? When you stand in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments, what do you see? Do you love making time for God? Do you watch the words coming out of your mouth? Do you keep your anger in check and apologize when you are clearly in the wrong? Do you support others? What does God see? Does see a life that has been rescued from hell? Do you obey the gospel?
If you’re like me, you discover a heart that fights to defend its own wickedness at any cost. You may feel right sitting in your circle of friends, griping about your husband’s laziness. You may think it’s the government’s fault that you criticize its work. You can point at parents and claim that their failed marriage is the reason not to get married. You may blame work for keeping you out of church. You can say that you don’t worship because ‘the Pastor just doesn’t understand you’ or that you are just too angry at someone there. When God’s Word convicts behavior as ‘wrong,’ the heart creates every excuse as to why what you do is ‘right.’
Do you see what excuses really claim? That you have done nothing wrong. That it is completely acceptable if your view of sex and marriage do not agree with God’s definition. That you have committed no wrong by disobeying God’s representatives. That you are without sin for skipping church because you worship other priorities. Excuses insist that you have committed no crime and therefore have no need for a Savior.
You (and I) will always feel the urge to look innocent. We may even think we will get away with it! Yet, there is one matter you (and I) cannot control: One day you will leave this world and you do not have a say when. It could be decades from now or months, tomorrow or today— but you lack the ability to walk out of this life on your terms. You (and I) do not have that authority to control life. God does. God, who has the authority to take you out of this world, has the same power to stand you before his throne. He will open a record of your entire life and compare it to his law. What will he find? What can you possibly say to redefine your crimes? What excuses will he buy? God is not fooled. God is just. He is ‘fair.’ He will compare every single heart according to his law. Those who trudge through life with armfuls of petty excuses will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified[.]
Friends, God is not looking for excuses. God is not accepting excuses. God expects perfection. Nothing we say, nothing we do to appear morally better will remove the fact that failure is still failure. That is why God says in verse 8: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. That ‘gospel’ reveals the freedom Jesus has won for you. Your Savior-God wrapped himself in human flesh. Mary sets newborn Jesus in a manger and God sets Ten Commandments on Jesus (Galatians 4:4-5). Understand, Jesus is expected to keep the same expectations expected of you. Jesus could roll around in a bank vault and mumble the excuse: ‘But I am God, I deserve wealth.’ He could say: ‘Why go to church? I wrote the Bible.’ He could lay aside the commandments and say: ‘I do not want that commandment controlling my words. I will say whatever I want.’ Instead, Jesus gladly embraces and conforms to God’s every single command. In fact, [Jesus] has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
God could look at Jesus, drop his gavel, and cry out: ‘Innocent! Live free!’ Instead, God sets our flimsy excuses on Jesus one-by-one. He covers Jesus with all of our cover-ups and watches those excuses drag him down into death. God, the Just Judge, Judges Justly by condemning crimes to death. God, the Just Judge, Judges Justly by declaring Jesus innocent! He opens the grave’s door, leads Jesus out by the hand—alive! He dresses him in brilliant robes. He sets a glistening crown on his head. He seats him at his right hand, with all powerful authority to study every heart.
God does not look for excuses, God looks for justice. He looks for hearts that do not need to call ‘wrong’ ‘right.’ Instead, he looks for hearts wrapped in Jesus’ righteousness. He looks for a heart, like the one he put in you at baptism. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27).
That is the joy of God’s ‘gospel.’ You (and I) hold the ‘good news’ that because Jesus suffered our penalty, God has dropped the charges against us! Now, you carry a different sentence. God is just: because Jesus wraps you in his innocence He gives relief to you. You have ‘peace.’ When you leave this world and stand before the throne of God, Jesus will stand beside you, look at his Father, and say, “See my life on him? See her wearing my innocence? Father, they belong to us!” The Just Judge Judges Justly as he gives rest to you, his holy people.
No excuses needed. Instead, a heart that admits ‘wrong’ as ‘wrong’ and finds rest in the Savior. Yet, one final word. Look around. The empty seats means that many still think they will smooth-talk their way into God’s favor. Maybe a child thinks simply having his name in a church book pleases God. Maybe a daughter-in-law relies on worshipping God in nature (except, she does not even do that). Maybe a grandson thinks everyone in the world enters heaven regardless of belief. Friends, God makes it clear: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. God makes this explicitly clear so that no one perishes, but that all may have life (1 Timothy 2:3-4). We have work to do. Seize the opportunity to remind those hoping for the best that real peace is found here. That here The Just Judge Judges Justly as he gives rest to his holy people.
The greatest crime Scott Schmidt committed was not the crime itself. Rather, it is fact that Scott Schmidt thinks Scott Schmidt committed no crime. He will spend the rest of his life locked away both on earth and in hell.
You have been set free. What joy, what peace, what comfort we have knowing that God does not search for excuses. What joy, what peace, what comfort we have knowing that God removes our excuses through Jesus. Look forward to life with God because of the message of the gospel. The Just Judge will Judge Justly. He locks away all who oppose him. He gives rest to his holy people.
Todd lacked nothing his entire life. Growing up, mom and dad met every need. New clothes replaced old, outgrown ones. Spring break took the family to Hawaii, Cancun, Miami, New Orleans. On his 16th birthday, Todd received a new car. His parents covered most college expenses. When he graduated, his parents even offered him part of the family business.
So of course, Todd gladly took that offer. On the first day of work, dad says: “I want you to start in the warehouse and understand our shipping and receiving.”
Todd thought for moment. “No thanks, dad. Warehouse is pretty dirty work.”
“Alright then. Why don’t you join the sales team? See how we gain new business and keep accounts.”
“Nah, it’s too hard forging new partnerships.”
“What about accounting?”
“Too many numbers.”
“Then manage our network.”
“Eh… that’s takes too much time.”
Dad rattles off areas for Todd to contribute and Todd turns down each one. Finally, dad asks: “What would you like to do?” Todd stopped, mulled the question over for moment, stared straight at dad “Why don’t you buy me out?” (taken from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7279494/ns/business-us_business/t/when-kids-feel-entitled-family-business/).
Todd’s parents built this company from their poverty. They worked the long hours. They drove to make new clients. They took reduced salaries. It took decades for the business to become self-supporting. Todd’s wealth came from their effort. Yet, Todd fails to appreciate that hard work. Because he does not value their achievements, he feels entitled, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things.
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That is why God repeats the past. The book of Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in the book of Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
That’s why Moses, the long-serving Israelite leader, says: And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Before you being taking mental notes, thinking: “Alright, here’s what I need to do to love God better…” stop. Look at the first two words of verse 12: ‘And now…’ Those words do not present an order of events. (For example: (1) I woke up, then (2) I got dressed, and now (3) I am eating.) No, those words point back to an earlier event and then give cause for the present action.
So, what happened earlier? Well, Israel worshipped a golden cow. (Visit Deuteronomy 9:7-29 and Exodus 32:1-35) Understand, they are not praising a barnyard animal. Instead, they believed another god-like being existed and this being’s true image is a cow. Israel credits this made-up god with rescuing them out of Egypt, feeding them, and leading them. God looks down absolutely mystified. He unleashed ten powerful plagues. He held back the walls of the Red Sea. He literally led this group— a cloud by day and fire by night. He did not hide from them; everyone witnessed these events. His mighty power clearly revealed his mighty love. God has every right to wipe these ungrateful brats off the face of the earth. He could abandon them in this desolate desert, crying out to a god that does not exist. God does none of that. Instead, he forgives. That [event] is what happened forty years ago. Israel could look back and see life spared; they did not receive the punishment they deserved.
That remains a vitally important truth to remember. We— people called ‘Christian,’ literally identifying with ‘Christ’— receive what we do not deserve. Do you remember that? Your God lays out his high, holy commandments not only for these Israelites, but also for you (and me) to keep without fault. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37). Love God by wanting to be here, not complaining how inconvenient worship is today. Love God by giving him your honest offering without holding back because you love what money can buy. Love God by doing what he says because it is right. God desires absolute obedience from every fiber of your being every waking second.
We have not done that, have we? In fact, we usually admit quite quickly: ‘Well, no one’s perfect.’ That carries consequences! Forget that and we think God owes us good things! Of course, we would never come out and say that, but we embrace the thought. The heart likes to think that God will give you a good week because you’re in church. I mean, those not in church, well, they’ll probably get hurt or receive bad news. It makes sense that God rewards you for being here. You earned it! You deserve God giving you good because you did good. Your arm might get tired patting you on the back. You gave some groceries to the needy next-door neighbor. You waited at the bank entrance a little longer and held the door open. You complimented the cashier even when it took her 15-minutes to complete your order. No one else acts like that! God must see your outstanding behavior! So, you deserve God giving you good because you did good. Or, if you want to know if you are saved, just stare at you. You went to Sunday School. You memorized Bible teachings. You live sincerely devoted to God. Why would you not go to heaven? You behave good. You may even think you chose good. You deserve God giving you good because you did good.
Do you know what God would say to that? “You forgot the past.” To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. God Almighty created every single organism on earth, even brought you (and me) into this world. If God expects you (and me) to serve, to fear, to love him above all things, why would he reward you for doing what is expected? What does God owe you? Honestly, nothing. Just in case our hearts take issue with that, in case we want to point fingers and cry out: “God, I’m so much better than those skipping and driving around right now!” God says: the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you… God makes it explicitly clear: You did not choose him. You do not earn perks because of how you live. You are not entitled to heaven! Even this Israelite nation is not entitled to be God people.
So, why does God choose them? Because God chooses to. Yes, the heart argues: “Well, that does not make sense. Surely, they did something!” God says, “No. I chose them. I chose you. That is grace— love not deserved.”
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God does not want your best, he wants your ‘perfect.’ He wants hearts that obey not out of necessity, but out of desire. He wants hearts that find him to be life’s happiest joy! He wants a heart like that of Jesus. A heart that worships, not to fulfill an obligation, but because the heart delights in hearing God speak. A heart that gives offering, a heart that gives healing, a heart that gives away food because that heart does not consider earth to be real treasure. A heart that loves God by correcting wrong because it is wrong.
Inside of Jesus beats a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things every waking moment. No wonder God looks at Jesus and cries out: “With you I am well-pleased!” (Matthew 3:17) No wonder God takes that innocent life and wraps it around your (and my) rebellious heart.
Dear friends, God’s command to love him above all things is certainly meant for us to obey. When we fail and guilt crushes us, look at Jesus, our Substitute, the One who obeyed for your (and my) benefit. Because Grace Drives Christian Living.
That is the reason Moses says what he does. He is not challenging the Israelites to be ‘real’ Christians. No, he points back to God’s undeserving love. See God hand you the forgiveness not deserved. See how he chose you first (John 15:16), meaning, faith does not depend on your behavior. God cannot love you more than he already does!
So, what do you do? Nothing! There is nothing you need to do to make God love you more. Maybe question instead is: How, then, do I gives thanks?
To that, Moses says: Fear the Lord your God and serve him. (Now, that word ‘fear’ does not mean ‘be afraid, be terrified, be scared of God.’ No. To ‘fear’ means ‘to respect.’ Give God respect, treat him with dignity, honor, and trust.) How do you treat with respect? Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. Live unafraid because you can. Jesus promises, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me… And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18,20). Live unafraid because God invites you to approach him in need. Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Gather in worship, thank God for his love. Gather in worship, take in hearing of God’s love—and delight in that. See the baptismal font where he made you his child (Galatians 3:26-27). Approach the altar and take his forgiveness (Matthew 26:26-28). Leave here at peace with God. He will not condemn you. He will not forsake you. He will clothe you (Matthew 6:24-35). He will give strength in sickness (Psalm 103:1-3). He will turn troubles into blessings, he will increase your trust in him through challenges (Romans 8:28). What do you do? Nothing. You (and I) owe God nothing! What joy to simply look up at a God who loves us. What a privilege to have that love sink in and Motivate Christian Living!
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That’s why Todd felt entitled. He failed to appreciate his parent’s that hard work. Because he does not value their achievement, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things. That led him to be ungrateful of what he received. That is why God repeats the past. Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’? I mean, did you feel pulled into the story? Try to place yourself into the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found? The parable really wants you to choose a side, doesn’t it?
It’s important that you do. Jesus does not speak these words to first-century Jews only. The point of his parable carries eternal implications for all people of all time. That is why it is important for you to answer: Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’?
Go back to our gospel lesson and you find two distinct groups, right? In Group #1, you have ninety-nine ‘found’ sheep. In Group #2, you have one ‘lost’ sheep. Those groups even have characteristics. In verse 7 Jesus says: I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Who are those people? More importantly, where are you?
Well, look at verses 1 and 2. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No one likes the tax-man. He takes your hard-earned money and ships it off. None of your money goes towards improving your city. Instead, your taxes pay for extravagant projects done some 2,000-miles away in Rome! Yet, a bigger problem exists: The tax collector is a Jew! One of you! Your high-school classmate! Your next-door neighbor! Your brother-in-law! Someone who lives in your community and sees your struggles and hears your frustrations and knows for a fact that Rome cheats you— and still participate in this injustice! As if that was not bad enough, that Jewish traitor can deliberately overcharge you! If you owe $100, he could bill you for $200. He sends $100 to Rome (it keeps Rome happy) and then he pockets the other $100. You can do nothing about that because Rome’s own soldiers protect their man.
So, the Pharisees have marked this tax-collecting group as ‘beyond hope,’ ‘not-going-to-heaven.’ You know what? They would be right! Those tax collectors will never enter heaven without Jesus! So, Jesus sits with them. He exposes a heart that worships money more than God, a heart that deserves hell. Yet, Jesus does not stop teaching there. He points to himself; he reveals that his obedient life cures them.
In our parable, the tax collectors are the spiritually lost found by Jesus. That makes the Pharisees the ninety-nine who see no need to repent. Why would they? The Pharisees have already set themselves in the column: ‘loved-by-God.’ They go to ‘church’ and give big offerings. They dress in fancy clothes. They have respectable wives and well-behaved children. They commit no crimes and carry no moral baggage. The Pharisee feels God must welcome him into heaven because his life is superior.
That feeling of superiority has an effect. The Pharisee sees no need for Jesus because of their action. Then, the Pharisees resent the Word of Christ reaching a group deemed ‘undesirable.’ Just look at those messy lives! It might appear that certain groups are undeserving of a good thing like God’s love.
That attitude did not only exist years ago. It still erupts today. Our congregation recently collected money for a Pastor-Training Institute in Vietnam. Now Vietnamese pastors will receive better training to share God’s Word with the Vietnamese. Still, after the history of violence, crimes, and torture the Vietnamese inflicted on Americans, you might not wish to help them. Maybe those foreigners deserve hell— or, at the very least, maybe they do not deserve my support. Last Wednesday, you relived horrific terrorist attacks. Innocent thousands died and even more still suffer! It might have been difficult to think anything good of the Middle East— without even considering that those people without Christ will go to hell. Still, maybe you think: “Good riddance!”
We could bring our thoughts closer to home. Many in your community behave far different than you (and I). You may even realize those lives inflict negative consequences. The meth-house does not really seem deserving of Jesus; it seems more deserving of punishment! The scruffy guy always walking around town, well, he looks lazy. That laziness does not deserve free forgiveness! That stranger who walks into church at the last minute— frazzled and disruptive and acts weird— well, what is she doing here?
We could bring thoughts even closer home. You know people who have different values and priorities. Your child has not been in worship for a long time. Your brother, your sister may worship the lake. Your neighbor treats travel teams like God. So many other things take priority! Maybe you think: ‘That’s fine. God will have mercy on them. They are good people. They cannot possibly go to hell.’
How do we reach these conclusions? By my own standard. I pull out my behavior, my home life, my worship attendance and expect the world to be what I am. If that person fails to match up, then just leave them lost. Just like those Pharisees, my own heart can rank people as ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ of Jesus. It boils down to me saying: “Well, I deserve forgiveness.” And Jesus says: “You have no idea how lost you are.”
So, Jesus searches. Isn’t that an astounding fact in this parable? Out of ninety-nine fluffy white bodies, Jesus actually notices one is missing— and he looks for it. He leaves heaven’s safety and puts on human flesh. He literally walks to hearts wandering in greed. He literally walks to hearts absolutely oblivious as to what happens after death. He literally walks to those who resist hearing a desperate need for the Savior. Jesus walked all over earth to rescue you. He walked into the death you earned and rescued you. He returns from death— alive! Alive, holding you alive in his hands.
Hearts can think only a select few deserve Jesus. Yet, this parable makes clear: The Lost Means the World to Jesus. That is why he searches for all. He wants all saved. We could put it this way: The Lost Means IS the ‘World’ to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
[W]hen he has found [the lost], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Do you see where you are? On the shoulders of Jesus!
When did that happen? Because maybe you don’t feel saved. Can you be sure that lie on Christ? Yes! [Y]ou who were baptized into Christ and have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism God attached his Word to water. So, when you were baptized, he said, you carry the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Yes, baptism has washed pride out of your (and my) heart. God does not recall your past. He does not lay out criteria you must meet before he will ever re-love you. Nope. He lays you on his shoulders and rejoices. He carries you into the family of believers with hop-in-step. It’s like he’s holding back from breaking out in a sprint! The Lost Means the World to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
Yet, God is not the only one rejoicing. Neighbors and friends rejoice. They so desperately want the lost found, and so they rejoice as another lost is found! Those neighbors and friends are you.
Did you know that on an average Sunday, about half of our fellow believers do not worship? You know those faces. You watched them baptized. You heard them, on their Confirmation Day, promise to regularly hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. They confessed their faults, heard God’s forgiveness, listened to the same messages you do. They are not here! Some worship only Christmas and Easter. Others barely come at all. Does that bother you?
Dear friend, those who love Christ love hearing his Word. Love for Christ does not make up excuses to be out of church. Love for Christ does not pack weekends with camping and fishing. Love for Christ does not brag that they already know everything about the Bible (and so they do not need to hear anymore). No, love for Christ finds reasons to be with God (read Hebrews 10:25 and John 8:31). Step back for a moment and see to whom Jesus speaks. You have Pharisees and tax collectors, the curious and the disciples. Understand, it is not only the Pastor’s job to go and reach the drifting. It is our job— together.
We gain motivation when we go back to these words and see where we stand in this parable. You are that once lost, now found sheep. You did not deserve rescue, you needed rescue. So, Jesus made you his priority and he rejoices over that!
Those drifting are worth our time. Each soul is worth our effort of hearing the gospel. Maybe your daughter who has not been in worship for a while. She’s just ‘taking a break from church,’ as she puts it. Maybe your friend is completely oblivious to anything ‘God.’ He just feels that everything will be alright in the end. Maybe you recognize a few faces you have not seen for a while. You really just do not know where they are. It is incredibly easy to say nothing, but then again, someone shared Jesus with you.
As able, take the opportunity to seek the stray. Use your own words and tell your child why you find worship important. Share your experience. Share your comfort. Share what you gain. Invite your neighbor to church— but do more than that. Tell them why you want them in church. Tell them about heaven after death. Tell them that you stand absolutely certain of heaven because of Jesus. Pray for the wandering. Pray that someone brings news of Jesus to the meth-house. Pray that violent nations find peace in Jesus. Pray for courage to welcome those walking by your church into church.
The Lost Means the World to Jesus. The world. Everyone. Seeing how Jesus gave up the world for you, you rejoice that Jesus gave all for the world.
The ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’ pulls you into its story. It puts you in the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found. It does that because Jesus in not speaking to first-century Jews only. He speaks to you.
The point of his parable carries eternal implications. You, once lost, now stand found. How humbling to see how undeserving we were! How amazing to see how rich we are! Now found, you, like Jesus, seek the lost because The Lost Means the World to Jesus.
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.
The fate of the free world depended on one man. Yes, one man. Supreme Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned ferrying over 350,000 Allied troops across the English Channel and onto the heavily armed beaches of Normandy. He needed a day. So, chief meteorologist, Captain James Stagg had one job: get the weather forecast right.
The margin for error was zero. Stormy seas would sink ships, swallow tanks, and drown thousands. Postpone the invasion and you give communist Russia a chance to control all Europe. Pass on calm weather and Nazi Germany would discover the invasion. Yet, selecting a day was difficult. In Michigan, we gage weather as it moves across the country; we see what approaches. To the west of the English Channel is nothing but open, unpredictable Atlantic Ocean; you had no records. On top of that, Eisenhower had already selected a date: June 5, 1944. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, Eisenhower faced a decision: trust your meteorologist or trust your own instincts? Who do you trust? (https://www.usatoday.com/amp/9914207)
In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it feels impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It just seems best to rely on yourself.
So, who do you trust? Easter gives us the only answer. The events of this day have changed the course of life forever. Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
That is where you find cheer. Look again at our gospel reading. Verse 1 says: [O]n the first day of the week, at early dawn, the [women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. It is Easter, but you discover a cheerless scene. Yes, the first Easter morning is a funeral procession. How could it not be? This group of women watched Jesus die! They saw him buried here! Inside this tomb lies a dear Friend, a beloved Teacher, a trusted Preacher. That is an unwanted reality. They cannot restart the heart. They cannot force the brain to function. They cannot make lungs breathe. Jesus is gone and they cannot fix it. They stand absolutely powerless to create cheer in life.
When they reach the tomb, they found the stone rolled away[,] but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus… How much worse can it get? The body is missing! Again, this unwanted reality just crushes them! They were not there to stop the robbers. They did not install security systems. They cannot investigate and hunt down the criminals. These women not only lack the power to raise the dead, but they also cannot control the one thing they could control: make final preparations! They cannot fix it! They cannot do what they want! They are powerless to find cheer in life.
While they were perplexed about this, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. [T]hey were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground… Now this! Two men— two angels— who live in heaven, who stand beside the Holy God, now have a message from the Almighty. How can you not tremble? Because whatever comes out of the mouth comes from God. That message may not be good— and the women would be completely powerless to stop what God will do.
That first Easter is loaded with strange emotions. Those women stand mortified, they are stressed, they are anxious for the exact same reason I so often am: Because I rely on myself!
Why the self-reliance? Because I know ‘me’ better than anyone else knows ‘me.’ ‘I’ know my weaknesses. ‘I’ know my goals. ‘I’ know my needs. No one else knows my desires better than ‘I’ do. No one else thinks about them more than ‘I’ do. Yes, the police officer protects me, but he’s watching over thousands of others. He cannot be everywhere at once. Yes, the teacher cares for me, but she has other students in the classroom. Yes, I know my family is there for me, but each one cares for his own needs first. So, I take it upon myself to find cheer in this life. If I trust myself, then maybe I will be satisfied. Except, like the women, I confront many insurmountable obstacles. I want to prevent sickness, but I cannot stop cancer from entering my body— and I cannot wish it away. I want peace in my family, but I cannot stop my sibling from ruining my plans; I cannot control personalities. I want to reach my goals and dreams, but I fall into addiction again, I stumble into old habits, I foil my own plans. Trusting myself does not bring the peace I so desperately crave.
Studying these women only reminds me of the purpose for Easter. This day happens because of us. Those women think self-reliance will help them. In reality, self-reliance caused their sadness. That is why Jesus came in the first place: because each one of us consider ourselves more reliable than a reliable God. In short, self-reliance calls God a liar. Now where does that self-reliance leave the women? The women stare at death and cannot fix it. I stare at death and realize I cannot stop my own grief, I cannot stop my own death, I cannot stand before the throne of God and live! Nothing I can do will erase that awful truth. What good self-reliance does!
Thank God he sends angels. Yes, angels. Messengers. If God never did this, then I would still be scratching my head at the empty tomb.
Do you realize where the angels point the women? To a promise God made. The angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” “Well, what did you see? You witnessed sinful men beat him. You saw him suffer and die. You watched him buried. Since everything happened as he said, what do you think will happen next?”
Can you see the light turn on? And they remembered his words… People make promises and break them, change them, forget them. God is not another person. God intentionally made a promise and God deliberately kept his promise. Just like that, fear gives way to joy, assumptions crumble, self-reliance vanishes; trust in the promises of God swells!
God did what he said he would do. He hung your (and my) self-reliance on Jesus and crushed it. He leaves him to die by wicked men. Leaves him to be crucified. Leaves him dead. Then, he raised him— body and soul, alive from the grave.
Dear friends, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! Easter proves that God’s own Word does as promised. He not only makes promises, but keeps his Word—which means, God is completely reliable. Because of that, God’s Word gives you life.
Yes, life. The resurrection of Jesus is not just one single promise kept long ago. No, the resurrection carries some very long-term results. Imagine setting up a row of dominoes. Tap the first domino and it falls into another, which falls into another, and another and another, and so on. One domino causes many other dominoes to move.
Here, God raises Jesus to life. Sounds simple, except that centuries earlier God had promised to raise his Son (Psalm 16:10-11). On Easter, God reached down and raise this one Person to life. Therefore, this one Person is not just another man, but God’s promised Son! (Romans 1:4). One promise kept.
Remember, Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus hung on the cross— and God loaded him with my self-reliance and crushed him. He makes him pay my crime. Now, Jesus lives—again! The Bible says: Jesus died because of my sin and was raised to declare us ‘Not Guilty!” (Romans 4:25). That means God has accepted his payment on your behalf! That means Jesus removed condemnation. That means guilt no longer damns you. Another promise made and kept.
If Jesus wipes your spiritual record clean, it means God sees you as innocent— which means God kept another promise: Jesus destroyed the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). If the devil cannot convince God to lock you in hell, then it means you will not go to hell. Jesus keeps another promise! Because Jesus lives, you also will live (John 14:19). If you will live, then it means Jesus is keeping another promise: You will live in heaven! (John 14:2-3). Another promise falls complete: Because Jesus lives—no one holds authority over him, no one tells him what to do or how to behave (Exodus 15:1-11).
Do you see how Easter changes life? You live by the promises of God— because those promises are not empty wishes, but guarantees of what God will do next!
Those promises carry you through every situation. God promises life is not the end for the Christian; life continues in heaven! That means your loved one is not forever forgotten. No, she stands in the throne-room of God. He weeps and mourns no more! (Isaiah 65:19-20). Your body may not do the things it once did. You cannot build muscle, you cannot spark energy, you cannot stop cancer from spreading. Yet, your God promises: I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Regret may relentlessly shame you. You feel so unworthy to be around friends, parents, children, God. Yet, God points to Jesus and promises: Because he suffered your penalty, your lawless acts I remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). Where do you find peace like that? Never in yourself, but in the only One who does as promised.
A new day dawns Easter. A new day that reveals God is absolutely serious about saving you …about loving you …about being your strength. That removes self-reliance. That lifts you from stressful anxiety. That puts your trust in a God who never fails you. Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! A Word that gives you life.
A word like Captain Staggs’. Eisenhower selected June 5, 1944 for D-Day. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, who do you trust: your meteorologist or trust your own instincts?
Eisenhower could not see the future, but he trusted the word of his meteorologist. Sure enough, June 5th proved stormy. Waves chopped. Rain pelted. Winds whipped. The mission would have failed. Yet, June 6, 1944, brought the calm weather predicted. The Allies invaded, stormed Europe, and destroyed Nazi resistance. That victory brought new life throughout the world.
Easter brings new life for you. In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it may feel impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It may feel best to rely on yourself.
Yet, Easter reveals life! Life in heaven! Life lived with God on earth! Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. Yes, the events of Easter have changed the course of life forever. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
Something happened during service that bothered him. So, after worship he pulled me aside and, with a puzzled look, asked, “Why do you baptize babies?” Simple question. Simple answer. “We baptize because baptism forgives sins and saves (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21). We baptize babies because Christ commands Christians to baptize all nations— and infants are included in ‘all nations.’” (Matthew 28:19; read also Psalm 51:5 [on infant’s sinfulness]; Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:17 [on infants and children having faith]; Acts 2:38-39 [on baptism for adults and children]).
I am not sure he expected that answer. “That’s not the way I see it,” he replied.
“Oh, okay. What do you think baptism is?”
“I see baptism as me pledging my life to God. It is me choosing to be a Christian.”
“So then, are you sure you are saved?”
His response? “I ask myself that question every day.”
That is a common response among Christians. Many are not sure, they are not certain they will enter heaven unless the heart burns with joy or the mind carries no burdensome regrets. In short, many Christians rely on emotions. They hope feelings can convince them that they are saved. This kind of response comes from human ‘reason.’
‘Reason’ takes in information, processes it, and determines how it impacts your life. We use ‘reason’ when determining what illness we have, what medicine to take, and how long to take it. We use ‘reason’ when balancing bank accounts, spending money, and saving money. ‘Reason’ helps us answer life’s questions. Yet, ‘reason’ also tries to answer things God chooses not to reveal to us. ‘Reason’ tries to process God’s behavior in ways we can comprehend. Which sounds acceptable— except, where do you turn when ‘reason’ cannot answer the simple question: “Are you saved?”
You turn somewhere else. Somewhere that does not rely on emotions. Somewhere that gives a plain, simple answer. You turn to Jesus. He speaks three words of truth to abolish opinions. To set aside ‘reason.’ To give you certainty. Three words of truth for faith to grasp. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.
In a way, God spoke those words long before Maundy Thursday. Old Testament Israel languished in slavery. Groaning from bone-crushing oppression. Strength sapped from relentless labor. Hope devastated because of a bleak future. God would do something about that; he would unlock their chains and set them free!
So, he commands Israel: Take a lamb [and] eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Take the blood and smear it over the doorframes of your house (Exodus 12:3-8). Understand, God did not set down the Lord’s Supper in Egypt. No. He set down the Passover. That night the Lord ‘passed over’ Egypt. Every household that rejected his command tasted death. Every household that smeared blood across the door he ‘passed over.’ That night God forced Egypt into submission and the next day Israel walked out free.
Did the blood save? No. The lamb was not a rare species. The blood was not magical. It was plain blood. What saved is trust that God would do what he said he would do. God said, ‘Put blood on the door and I will save you.’
Faith in the promise of God stood central in that Passover meal. Each year, Jewish families remembered how God kept his promise to rescue their ancestors. Yet, those same Jews looked ahead to God’s great Promise: The Lamb of God would rescue the world from eternal slavery (John 1:29).
Maundy Thursday is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus and his disciples gather in the upper room to celebrate the final Passover meal. Yes, Jesus knows he is God’s Passover Lamb. He knows that in just a few hours his life would be used for your freedom. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) With those words, Jesus institutes (he establishes) the Lord’s Supper. No longer do you look to the Lamb who is to come, but to the Lamb who has come. Still, this is not a symbolic meal. Jesus never uses the word: ‘symbolize.’ He puts it quite plainly: “This bread is my body. This wine is my blood. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.” For what reason? For the forgiveness of sins.
Still, human ‘reason’ runs rampant. ‘Reason’ takes in information, processes it, and determines how it impacts your life. It looks at the Lord’s Supper, takes in the sight of bread and wine, ponders the Words, but cannot comprehend how this bread is Jesus’ body and how this wine is his blood. It does not make sense. That would be fine if ‘reason’ just stopped there, but it does not. Instead ‘reason’ keeps trying to make sense of Jesus’ word. In order to make sense of these words, ‘reason’ clings to opinion.
You know what ‘opinions’ are. Personal belief shaped by experience. Because you (and I) struggle to forgive, it seems impossible that God could forgive you. I mean, does God really forgive your drunkenness? Will God never bring up your arguments? Does God really wipe away self-trust? If you have difficulty forgiving that, then God must have trouble doing the same!
So, opinion takes the Lord’s Supper and makes it into what we think it should be! Something you do for God. You approach God. You eat and drink. You come often. If you do your part, then God sees your efforts, and God must let your past go because you try to right the wrong! Opinion changes the Lord’s Supper from something Jesus does for you into a memorial meal that you do for God!
Do you realize what just happened? ‘Opinion’ becomes ‘truth.’ More than that, ‘opinion’ overrides God’s truth. Human ‘reason’ tells God how he will act, what he has done, and what his Word means. Human ‘reason’ thinks it is God. The trouble is, ‘reason’ is not God, is it? Opinion cannot give the assurance that you stand forgiven. Relying on opinion will never give the peace Jesus brings.
So, Jesus uses Three words to abolish opinion. Three words he speaks— not me, not my heart— but he. Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Three words for faith to grasp.
Yes, faith. Faith that trusts what God says is true. Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Yes, plain unleavened bread. Not rare bread. Not magical bread. Yet, what does Jesus call it? ‘My body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) Again, plain wine. Not rare wine. Not magical wine. What does Jesus call it? ‘My blood.’ Understand that he does not say, ‘This symbolizes…’ or ‘This represents…’ If he wanted to say that, then he would have used those words. Instead, Jesus links the bread to his body and the wine to his blood. The rest of the Bible confirms this real presence. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).
It does not make sense; it does not fit reason. Then again, Almighty God is not asking if you approve of his actions. Almighty God speaks and faith clings to those words as true.
Faith not only clings to those words, but it also clings to what Jesus gives. This is my blood of the covenant… A covenant is a contract, an agreement. In the Old Testament, God’s contract was clear: Obey the Ten Commandments and live (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Yet, no one obeys. Therefore, no one lives— except for one person.
Jesus takes the old contract and meets every condition. In him is life. Jesus uses his perfect life to write a new contract. He breaks his body so that your body will never be broken. He sheds his blood so that your life will never end. He gives his body and sheds his blood in order to rescue you. That is the new covenant Jesus sets up: Free forgiveness through him. Faith grasps this truth and considers it done.
Martin Luther put it well when he asked: ‘What makes us ready to receive the sacrament? Nothing but hearts that believe the words ‘for you.’ Yes, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus says: ‘You are forgiven.’ Yes, you hear that to begin service, in the lessons, in the sermon, and in the blessing. Yet, Jesus chooses to chase away doubts by putting proof on your lips that you are forgiven. Faith points to God’s promise and says: “God, you tell me that in this Supper I receive forgiveness. God, I trust I stand forgiven because you say so.” Point to God’s simple Word. Point to what you receive. Rejoice!
Faith grasps the simple promise: I am forgiven. Can you be sure? Yes— because God says you are. What if you do not feel forgiven? It does not change the reality that God declares you forgiven. Ultimately what matters most is not how you feel emotionally, but what God calls you. God calls you cleansed because the life of Jesus, your Passover Lamb, covers over you.
God has set you free from eternal slavery. Nothing will hold you (and me) down in the grave. Rather, we have life in heaven! Three splendid words proclaim this truth: Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Three words for faith to grasp.
This is something human ‘reason’ will never understand. That’s alright— if ‘reason’ simply lets God’s Word stand on its own. When ‘reason’ tries to comprehend God’s behavior, then you become fixated on what you do for God. Like that man who pulled me aside after service. To him, God’s promise in baptism sounded too good to be true. His conscience bothered him; his emotions did not feel joyful like a forgiven person would feel. So, his ‘reason’ told him: “You are not saved. Do something now.”
That ‘reason’ dumped Jesus’ promise. Our puny minds do not stand a chance against an all-powerful God. God knows that. So, he speaks three words of truth to abolish opinions. To set aside ‘reason.’ To give you certainty. Three words of truth for faith to grasp. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.
If you drive north from Alma and Shepherd on US-127, you reach an exit (on your left) for the south-side of Mount Pleasant. If you take this exit, you will drive past a semi-truck-trailer parked in a farm field. On the trailer’s side, in big letters is the sentence: ‘God thinks you are worth the death of his Son.’ Is that true?
To have ‘worth’ means you have ‘value.’ If you have ‘value,’ then you must have some desirable trait or wanted characteristic. I mean, this is how we judge restaurant food, right? For example, you eat out and determine if the burger is worth the price. You fix a dollar amount to quality, taste, and size; you attach value to this burger. If the burger and price-point meet your expectations, then you determine it worth your money. If the burger and price-point fall short of your expectations, then you determine it not worth your money. So, for God to think you are worth the death of his Son, it means he finds some desirable trait or wanted characteristic in you. It means he considers content of your life equal to the life of Jesus.
Let’s see what God finds. Philippians 2:5-6 says: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… What is that attitude, that way of thinking and conducting yourself? [Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… Jesus is God. He exists before time began. Together with the Father and Holy Spirit, he creates the entire universe. All things in heaven and earth belong to him; angels upon angels praise him. Yet, Jesus does not use his status as God for personal gain. He does not use his power to look more powerful than anyone else on earth. King Nebuchadnezzar did. He wanted his subjects to worship a golden statue towering 90-feet high; he constructed a statue to reap praise (Daniel 3:1-30). Crowds worship King Herod as god and Herod basks in this praise (Acts 12:21-23). Even in our small community, people name drop for personal advantage. “I’m related to the Dohertys.” “My family helped settle the city.” “I went to school with the shop-owner.” You say those things to receive attention, praise, or discounts. Yet, Jesus never flaunts his divine status. He does not dodge lepers because their ooey, gooey, pus-drippy skin disgusts him. He does not avoid prostitutes because their past is beyond fixing. He does not steer clear of tax collectors because he thinks those cheats would only despise his Word. Nor does Jesus want recognition by gathering philosophers and academics for disciples.
Although God, Jesus made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Born to low-income carpenter and his wife. Wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a cattle-feed trough. Raised in the backwoods town of Nazareth (like being raised in Temple). Just like a servant obeys a superior, Jesus puts himself under God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4). He respects the father and mother he knit together in the womb. He worships in the synagogue every week even though he is God. Hatred never burns in his heart— even though he would be completely justified to lash out against those who call him ‘liar!’ Here is the value of Jesus, the worth of his life: (1) Completely blameless. (2) Absolutely faultless. (3) Entirely self-giving. Are you worth the death of his Son?
Does God find some desirable trait or wanted characteristic in you that he must exchange Jesus in order to have you? Verse 5 details what God wants: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Is it? (1) Completely blameless? (2) Absolutely faultless? (3) Entirely self-giving?
What does God find? Do you wish to admit it? I don’t— because I know exactly what he would see. God finds a heart that wants to avoid worship for no other reason because ‘I’ want …to sleep …to play ball …to vacation somewhere. In short, ‘I’ miss worship because ‘I’ value personal pleasure more than God. God finds a heart that demands others conform to my expectations. ‘I’ want families in church to be quiet like me; ‘I’ want families in church to deal with my noisiness. ‘I’ want first-time worshippers to instantly embrace my style of worship. ‘I’ will not consider removing barriers to worship; the unchurched just need to be quiet and understand this is ‘my’ worship time. ‘I’ want people in church to sing the songs ‘I’ want, to behave the way ‘I’ want, to fit ‘my’ expectations. If they do not, they are wrong. God would find a heart that protects its pride and ego. If ‘I’ reach out to my child, my sibling, my friend and ask them: ‘Why do you not come to worship?’ they might hurt my feelings. In order to avoid that pain, ‘I’ will say nothing. God finds a selfish heart, one that is so self-absorbed!
I mean, even when we wake up in the morning, what is the first thought that comes to mind? It’s ‘me!’ ‘My’ busy day. ‘My’ aches, ‘my’ pains. ‘My’ pleasure, ‘my’ rest. What about your family? …your spouse? …your friend …your boss …neighbor? How long does it take before you consider their needs?
God has just finished explaining how Jesus only considers your needs …when he wakes up …when he speaks …when he acts. Is your attitude like that?
You (and I) are worth the death of Jesus? God would rather kill his obedient Son so that he can finally have self-centered, self-absorbed us? I mean, would you exchange your always-caring child for the brash, undisciplined brat? People who think it a chore to fit you into their schedule? People who care little for your needs? People who think so often about themselves? No, you would not! I would not! So, why would God be any different?
The awful truth is: You (and I) are not worth the death of his Son. There is no desirable trait in us that God must save us. There is no wanted characteristic that compels God to get up off his throne and rescue us. That’s what the saying implies; it implies that you did something for God to save you. Instead, it is God who gives you (and I) worth because of the death of his Son.
[B]eing found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Jesus humbles himself! This is something he does— on his own accord. Not because God looked down from heaven and said, “Uh oh, I really need those people in heaven. Go die, Jesus.” No, Jesus chooses to lay aside the power and status he has as God.
The innocent Son of God rides into Jerusalem one last time. His creation shouts: “Blessed is the Son of David! Hosanna! Save us, Lord!’ In five days his same creation will shout: “Take him away! Crucify him!” Because their proud hearts do not want to hear their wrong. Even courtroom judges accept lies and corruption in order to execute Jesus. Those to whom Jesus is sent will spit him out of their city and inflict on him the most shameful of deaths: crucifixion.
The most shocking fact of all: God does not rescue him. Instead, he dumps on him. He sees your (and my) stubbornness on Jesus. He sees your (and my) cold-hearted service. He sees your (and my) always self-centered thinking. He turns his back, walks away, and leaves his Son to die like a criminal.
We are worth this? God dying for us? No. But this is what God freely does for you.
God makes you worthy. Your forgiveness is a gift, not something deserved or earned. That’s why these words are such a delight. Because God has freely set you on the side of victory! When all is quiet and locked up in the tomb, when it feels as though death finally swallowed Jesus, God exalted him to the highest place… No one outranks him. Anyone who approaches God stands under him. [God] gave him the name that is above every name… Remember what Jesus’ ‘Name’ mean? (Hint: It’s not his proper name: ‘Jesus. ‘God.’ ‘Christ.’) Jesus’ ‘Name’ is his reputation, his abilities, his characteristics. People may have the name ‘Jesus,’ but only One Person with that name has cleansed and purified our hearts of pride. Only One Person with that name is preparing your room in heaven. Only One Person with that name hears your prayers, answers your prayers, and rescues you. God freely promotes you into the rich inheritance that comes by faith in Jesus.
Does that feel a little unsettling? I mean, why would God do any of this? Many think Christianity is what you do for Jesus. That’s why you find that semi-truck-trailer south of Mount Pleasant. It implies there was some good spark inside of you that moved God to get off his hind-side and help you out. It wants you to point and say, “Yes, I am worth it!” Others feel a need to prove commitment to him. Still others search for certainty in their Christian behavior. We could put it this way: We feel this pull for instruction so that we feel confident that we are truly Christians.
That’s the proud heart acting up again! It wants to take credit! It wants some part doing something to be saved. Christianity centers on this one key point: ‘Done!’ Jesus rides into Jerusalem without your help for you. Next week, Jesus lives again without your help for you.
Dear friends, what do you get to do? You get to bask in the spoils! You get rejoice in what is coming! [A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. On the Last Day, the world will admit Jesus is King over all. The angels in heaven above, with our loved ones who already reign in heaven, will praise him. Even the devil and the demons below will admit Jesus is God. Every nonbeliever on earth will kneel before his majesty. Even we believers— whether on earth or in heaven— will acknowledge Jesus as our reigning King. That’s what we get to do.
Thank God! Because if you (and I) are worth the death of Jesus, then he would never come. He would never find in us the humble, selfless attitude he expects. We would only live terrified, stressed, anxious, frustrated because we can never be what God wants. Thank God he has given us worth! Literally. Thank him now. Thank him with your prayers, your praise, your confession of what you believe. See what he has done and thank him as you live as Imitators of Jesus Christ.
Did you enjoy the sunshine this weekend? It was pretty nice, wasn’t it? It’s amazing how something so often taken for granted can be missed. Then, when it appears, it leads to the greatest of delights. Sunlight triggers the body’s process for producing vitamin-D. Vitamin-D strengthens bones and keeps the immune system strong. Sunlight also creates serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood. That’s why you feel giddy and active when the sun shines. If you do not get enough sunlight, another chemical (called ‘melatonin’) can become imbalanced. So, extended darkness can make you lazy. You may have little interest in your hobbies. You can oversleep or sleep longer than usual. You might even struggle with feeling melancholy. Some studies even suggest that sunlight can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. Supposedly the sunlight stimulates a molecule that opens up blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dangers-winter-darkness-weak-bones-depression-and-heart-trouble-180953611/).
What a difference light makes! That’s why some visit tanning salons in the winter; they soak in much-needed light. Europe offers phototherapy sessions where people can get a dosage of light. Sunlight is one reason so many people flock south during the winter. When we get sunshine like we did this past weekend, you pull a chair up in front of the window and sit in those beaming rays as long as you can. Sunlight has powerful effects on the human body.
So, is it any wonder then, that God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us? Living in darkness only harms us. God does not want you lost in darkness. So, he reveals Jesus, the Light. He lifts you out of darkness. His work shines through you. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come!
We need light. We need light because of what Isaiah says in [Isaiah 60] verse 2: For behold, darkness [covers] the earth and deep darkness the peoples… Isaiah uses a word picture here. ‘Darkness’ describes a way of living— and that way is ‘ignorance.’ You are ignorant if you lack knowledge. ‘Darkness’ covers you when you are unaware of a truth or event. You behavior fails to know (1) how to respond or (2) act in a given situation.
“Ignorance” will not cover the earth one day in the future; it actually covers the earth now. Isaiah literally says: [D]arkness will covers the earth and deep darkness the peoples… For many, Christmas was a celebration of presents— presents probably forgotten by now. (Do you still remember everything you received? Those presents are not as valuable as you had hoped, are they?) You watch children curse and swear, scream and throw tantrums because many parents refuse to take seriously God’s instruction to raise this child (read Ephesians 6:1-4). Men and women cross boundaries because they do not take God’s gift of marriage seriously. The helpless are ignored when leaders only seek to serve themselves and not their neighbor (read Matthew 22:39). Survivors insist that funerals be celebrations— no, not celebrating Christ’s saving work for this loved one, but rather a celebration of this person’s human achievements, achievements soon forgotten. You see, life is ‘dark’ when we live unaware of a truth or event. That ‘truth’ would be God’s Word for our lives. Without that Word, we fail to conduct ourselves in line with God’s expectations.
But these things promise so much joy, don’t they? The joy we manufacture numbs hurt and heartache for a moment! Letting your kids do whatever they want prevents you from the unpleasant task of work; you can spend more time relaxing! Flirting with adultery offers a flimsy promise of uncommitted satisfaction! Defending your goals at any cost strokes the ego even more! What’s so bad about this darkness? Life without God interfering appears better! You can do what you want, when you want, for whatever reason you want— and it makes you happy!
“That’s darkness!” Isaiah says. And not just any darkness, but thick darkness. Ever keep the lights off when you went down into the basement? Not a good idea, right? You stumble down the steps. You walk into a shelf or kick a box. Your arms reach; your fingers grope for something familiar. Darkness makes you frustrated; you get frustrated that you keep getting hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt.
Thick darkness is life without Jesus. Life gets frustrating. Life becomes miserable because you keep encountering hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt. It might have felt good defending your selfishness, but it led to some undisciplined children holding a grudge against you. It might have felt good to flirt with temptation, but you still do not have commitment— and you hurt because you neglect real commitment in marriage. It might have felt good to worship presents and family, but the family has left, your presents are forgotten, and you realize your manufactured joy does not really satisfy you. It might have felt good to celebrate life with funny stories, but those stories will never wipe away the fear of not being good enough for God.
Living in darkness harms us. It blocks out God. You do not see Jesus as the One who heals. You do not see Jesus as the One who brings life. You fail to see him at all. The worst part of darkness is when you are so blind that you do not see how lost you truly are.
We need light— and God provides it. Arise, Shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. And it has. On a dark Bethlehem night, the Light of the world is born. When you see this baby, you see God’s glory, God’s holiness. That light shines on you (and me). Compare yourself to the Holy Son of God and you see every flaw, every fault, every crooked decision. Nothing is hidden. Every dark deed stands out… and Jesus sees it all. He sees it so that he might grab it and carry it away.
That’s why Isaiah sings: Arise! Shine! Two commands for a new action to begin. You shake the sleeping teenager: “Wake up!” Why? Because he is not awake. He needs to start a new action. God says, “Arise! Do not lie crushed and broken. Do not carry the weight of guilt by yourself. Stand up because Jesus has removed it!” Then “Shine! Do not mope around! Let your dread tumble away.” Why? Because of God’s clear Word: You are forgiven!”
Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Rejoice and be glad! The Savior has been born! [T]he glory of the Lord has risen upon you… and you have seen it. Jesus lifts you out of darkness. See Jesus and you gain a clear understanding on where you are heading in life. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Jesus’ work shines through you.
How can it not? The sun always has an effect. For starters, sunlight is the opposite of darkness; light illuminates the world. Isaiah says, [N]ations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The good news of Jesus is not locked away. God chooses to reveal Jesus to the world— and that includes you (and me). You (and I) can see Jesus when we spend time in God’s Word, the Bible. You (and I) see how Jesus comforts us when reading devotions. You (and I) see who Jesus is when we study in Bible Class. You (and I) see Jesus guide our path when we think about what we hear today later on this week. Sunlight clears away the unknown. Spend time with Jesus the Light, and you know more about your Savior.
Spend time in sunlight and your mood brightens. Spend time in the Light, and your heart swells. If you are feeling gloomy, hopeless and in despair, do not search for dark, ignorant advice of the world. Turn to Jesus. See the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Grasp Jesus’ promise that believers who die in faith are in heaven (John 11:25-26). If you feel so small and insignificant, see how Jesus cares for you more than he does measly little birds (Matthew 6:25-34). If you feel forgotten and alone, listen to Jesus promise: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). When the good news of Jesus enters your heart, you will shine. The Word clears away the unknown and cheers you. Your cheer will produce actions. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Isaiah knew this would happen. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. Isaiah pictures droves streaming into Jerusalem. Do you know what happens next? Jerusalem falls. It lies in ruins for 70-years. A little group returns. Then the Romans rule it. No kings stream there. No magnificent gifts arrive. In fact, much of the region is forgotten.
You see, Isaiah’s prophecy is not one of immediate fulfillment— when promised events happen instantly and completely. He is looking ahead into the distant future— ahead to the birth of Jesus, ahead to the time when the Wise Men see Jesus, ahead to the disciples carrying the good news of Jesus around the world, to today; Isaiah see you (and me) gathering around the Word.
You are those people bringing good gifts to your King. You see a Savior—and it puts the rest of life into perspective. Your goal is not gathering the most stuff and most adventures for this life. Your goal is heaven— and you see that clearly when you see Jesus. Your life will be a reflection of that goal. Nonbelievers may see your Christian life and come to praise God (Matthew 5:16). Your gifts of gold are not hoarded for yourself, but freely given to support your ministry. You use your special abilities as best as you can—and this praises the Lord. Arise! Shine! because your gloom is removed! Your Light has Come! That light hits you; Jesus’ work shines through you.
What effect light has on the human body! No wonder God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us! In Jesus you find a Savior who lifts you out of darkness. If you stand in the light, you will naturally produce good results. Your body automatically produces Vitamin-D and serotonin and keeps your melatonin in check. Time with Jesus shapes your hope, your generosity, and your words. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Take in the Light this Epiphany season. Let the good news of Jesus swell in your heart. Arise! Shine! Your Light has Come!