Christopher Schultz loved being a father. (http://www.startribune.com/father-drowns-saturday-night-in-detroit-lakes-after-trying-to-rescue-his-child/511374841/) His heart beat solely to please his four young sons. Crawling on hands and knees, stalking the boys, leaping, tackling, tickling. Building Lego towers higher and higher until the heights toppled over. Chasing each one out in the yard, being chased himself. Working under the car, little hands handle wrenches and pound away on stuck bolts. Listening carefully to adventurous tales of dragons and dinosaurs. Bringing home stickers and markers. Christopher loved his sons dearly.
On a cool June evening (the evening before Father’s Day), Christopher and his three-year-old son, Ashton, went walking. Christopher pointed at towering oak trees and maple leaves, brown squirrels and Blue Jays. Little Ashton’s eyes lit up and a smile ‘ooed’ and ‘awwed’ at every fascination. The two reached ‘Long Bridge’ where they stopped and stared into the swift-flowing river. Christopher spotted fish, Ashton chucked stones. Just as they turned to leave, little Ashton stumbled. His tiny legs sped forward as he tried to catch his balance, but those little feet would not stop. Ashton fell right off the bridge and into the current below. How the Father’s heart broke!
He watches the son he loves choking, flailing, thrashing against the waters sweeping over his head! The Lord looks down from heaven as the Babylonian army steamrolls ever closer to Israel. None of this happens by chance, no. This terrifying war-machine marches out to capture a nation that had drifted from its God. The glistening, golden temple, once filled with vibrant songs of praise stands empty. Many now direct their prayers to trees and stones. Once-flourishing markets now exist as a gauntlet of greedy merchants cheating the innocent. The palace, once a symbol of power, integrity, and justice, stands as a symbol of corruption and spiritual filth. The Lord looks down from heaven and sees his sons drowning in the results of sin.
Do you see? ‘Sin’ is ‘lawlessness’ (1 John 3:4). Actions that war against God’s law! God commands his kings: ‘Trust me with all your heart, mind, and soul’ (Matthew 22:37) and Israel’s kings say, ‘No! We will rely on earthly kings with their money and firepower.’ God commands his priests: ‘Call on me in trouble and I will deliver you’ (Psalm 50:15) and Israel’s priests say, ‘No! We tried that and you did not answer the way we want!’ God commands his people: ‘Impress my words in your mind and heart’ (Deuteronomy 6:7) and Israel says, ‘No! Those words do not let us do whatever we crave.’ ‘Sin’ is not some silly joke. ‘Sin’ is not an accidental flaw that can be repaired. ‘Sin’ is not another name for ‘harmless fun.’ ‘Sin’ rebels against God Most High. ‘Sin’ severs the bond of love between humanity and the Father. ‘Sin’ stands opposed to God, on the other side of vast canyon, content with the span in between. ‘Sin’ gets what it wants: Life without God forever.
That spiritual corruption wreaks havoc in every aspect of life. It wars against everything God calls ‘good.’ Relationships strain because human hearts still tug against the Word! A spouse lets worldly advice influence her; he refuses to hear God’s marriage instruction. Your son embraces his God-less lifestyle more than trying to reconnect with God. Your best-friend had a moment where she pursued her interests, leaving you hurt, unwanted, rejected. The sin inside of us damages the relationships we have with others, and the sin inside of others damages the relationships they have with us!
God never created death; he did not intend for us to die. Still, death comes because hearts wander. We live with that tragically unwanted reality! A cellphone contact no longer works because grandma sinned. The house gets quieter because a spouse sinned. A miscarriage preaches that parents pass sin down to their children. Strength dwindles as we get older. Sometimes hobbies and abilities change. Disease reminds us all that no one is immortal— and you are powerless to add years to life. You cannot wish cancer away. You cannot remove it by thinking real hard. Even with the medicines and doctors and surgeries we have today, health does not always come back. Mortality is a painful reminder of that terrible truth— that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
For us it can feel as though we flail and choke under wave after wave of misery. Challenges pile so high that it is difficult to see God. Difficulties toss us into despair, feeling as though God does not care. All these troubles press down, leaving us feeling as though you must be god; you must rely on yourself to conquer all these troubles.
Destruction barrels towards Israel and still Isaiah says: I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. Here’s a truth: Even though trouble appears so often in life, God remains. He remains with his faithful love.
Israel’s entire history lists evidence after evidence of the Father’s constant love! He reached down from heaven and tore off the shackles of slavery; he pounded Pharaoh into submission. He ripped open the Red Sea, took Israel by the hand, and led them out of Egypt. Then he closed those watery walls on the most-feared army of its day. For forty years he led his sons through a barren wasteland. He provided morning bread and dinnertime meat. Water flowed freely. Clothes never became threadbare, shoes never wore out. He removed any need for battle strategies. He handed the keys to a brand new land, fertile and lush, comfortable and satisfying! His Fatherly heart sought only Israel’s best.
Understand, the Lord did not save Israel because they are a superior race. He did not rescue them because they could trust God better than any other nation. In fact, Israel did not choose to belong to God, but it is God who chooses them! God decided to promise Abraham: ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you’ (Genesis 12:2). That is compassion. That is love gushing from your heart, seeking the only best for others. For [the Lord] said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior.
A ‘Savior,’ someone who does the act of saving. Someone who must step in because you cannot rescue yourself. Christopher Schultz watched his three-year-old son Ashton gagging, choking, drowning. Compassionate love for his son pushed Christopher to jump into the current. Instantly the waters washed over his head. Heavy clothing weighed him down. Currents pulled and tugged him. Still, he reached his helpless child and grabbed him. With son in arm, Christopher fought towards shore. He literally held his son over his head so that his son could breathe, even though it meant waters covered his own head.
In all their affliction he was afflicted… Jesus never stood in heaven, looking down at you (and me) gagging on the sin that leads to death. He jumped into your world. He took on flesh— and with it, he shouldered the perfect commandments of God. He stood immersed in images of disease and deformity, death and decay. His heart went out to the spiritually lost who wandered like sheep without a Shepherd— and he became their Savior. With you in arm, Jesus holds you up as our guilt washed over his head, as our sin chokes out his life. The punishment meant for us is transferred to Jesus and drags him down further and further into death.
Look at the manger. What do you find? Not a baby who guarantees that Christians will never ever have trouble in this world. That you will never get sick. That you will never encounter financial limits. That you will never have a sad, stressful day of your life. You do not need a Savior who makes sure you have a good life on earth. That is not the Savior the Israelites need. The Savior needed is the One who removes deceit from the heart. That’s the Savior you need.
That is the Savior you have. He redeems you as his own. [T]he angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them. A ‘redeemer’ pays off debt for someone else so that the individual may keep his property. Jesus paid our overwhelming debt. He hands over a faultless life. He signs off on our debt with his innocent blood— and the Father has accepted that payment. Nothing more is required. Jesus has satisfied the entire debt! His resurrection proves that God is pleased with Jesus! Understand, Jesus redeems you (and me); he buys us back from a hellish death. Yet, he does not set you free from guilt so that you live however you want. He actually buys you (and me) for himself; he owns us.
Here’s how that ownership looks: [H]e lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. No abuse. No neglect. None of that. A toddler might run up to you, arms stretched up. You reach down and pick that little one up. Jesus carries you with complete constant, protecting care— just like a perfect father cherishes his child.
Friends, you gather here today as proof of that. You may look over the past year and see troubles littering your past. God carried you through them all. He did not allow death to overwhelm you. Rather, he picked you up and carried your heart with his promise: Whoever believes in me will never die (John 11:25). He did not allow relationships to paralyze you. Rather, he picked you up and carried your heart with his promise: Be kind and compassionate forgiving one another just as I forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). He did not allow broken promises to crush you. Rather, he picked you up and carried your heart with his promise: In all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). You are here today. You are not dead; you are not without God. You are here because your God carried you.
This week starts a new year. That can be frightening. So much lies unknown. Will it be good or bad? Will you get through it with strength or not? Will you succeed or struggle? I do not know. Honestly, you do not either. So often we struggle with carrying burdens that we cannot carry. We cannot control span of life and death. We cannot control the emotions of others. We cannot control the economy and government. We cannot control the future. We control so little. What we can control is relying on God to carry us.
Look back, Recall Your Father’s Faithful Love. Even though your heart (and mine) so often races away from God, God is faithful. He points to the cross as a pledge of his forgiveness. He redeemed us and keeps us under his care. He carries us. Do not worry about the matters you cannot control. Handle the thing you can control. (1) Read these promises. (2) Let them sink into your mind and heart. (3) Go to God in prayer. (4) Remain focused on the eternity God prepared for you. Let God handle the rest— just as he always has. Recall Your Father’s Faithful Love. He sends the Savior you need. He redeems you as his own.
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.
Her frizzy hair made it look as though she had just rolled out of bed. Her plain tan dress blended into the background. The lack of makeup, her yellowed teeth, her unrefined speech suggested a lack of education. This middle-aged, past-her-prime-woman from a cluster of tiny villages stood on the stage of Britain’s largest talent show and shared her dream of becoming a professional singer (compared to the likes of Celine Dion).
Laughter exploded from the audience. Judges rolled their eyes, preparing to expose the silliness of her pipe dream. The hosts stood backstage, mockingly mimicking her hand-waving, her confidence, her mannerisms. Many expected her to last no more than ten seconds before getting laughed off stage.
Very soon, a stringed orchestra started playing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from the famous musical Les Miserales. She took a breath and opened her mouth— and instantly everyone’s eyes opened. Judges raised eyebrows. Clapping erupted from the audience. The hosts stood frozen, attentions locked on her. This frizzy-haired, unspectacular middle-aged woman from the middle of nowhere unleashed a voice that sat at the top of the 2009 Music Billboards and later created the top-selling album of 2009. Susan Boyle looked so unassumingly plain, but revealed a spectacular ability. Appearances can be deceiving. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jca_p_3FcWA)
The prophet Isaiah holds up another image that can be deceiving. He touches on life in this world, but presents two very contrasting features: a desert and oasis. In a world that appears only to hand us unending frustrations, The Coming Christ Revitalizes Life. He overwhelms every withering fear. He crowns every heart with joy.
Just like God intended. For just a moment, picture the Eden God created (Genesis 1). What do you see? What do you hear? Songbirds tweeting sweet melodies from lush, leafy bushes. Water trickles from a babbling brook, thriving trees offer ripe fruit. Cows graze while wolves harmlessly trot by. No sweltering heat, no stifling humidity; the climate holds just right. What paradise! You do not see animals growling and snarling, fighting and killing. You do not see trees falling and rotting, plants withering and dying. You do not see conflict, resentment, criticism. You see wholeness, completeness— absolute contentment in your relationships and in your desires.
Where does Isaiah take you? A desert. A dry, arid landscape stuffed with heaping piles of dust so starved of water that no plant can grow. Bone-white trees stick out of the ground like toothpicks; scraggly, prickly bushes offer no drink, no shade. Parched riverbeds crack open. The scorching sun bakes you dry. You see no strength. You see no relief. You see no life.
Isaiah holds up two contrasting worlds. A paradise promising no pain and a desert sucking away all fulfilling satisfaction. Which picture best describes your world?
Honestly, we want complete soul-satisfying pleasure, but so often encounter shattered promises. We plan pleasant futures. You crave the perfect, conflict-free family gathering, but somehow that one touchy topic forces people into corners. Sides are taken, tension mounts, arguments erupt, family divides. You map out goals, but money sifts through your fingers, an accident pushes back the timeframe, a spouse dies— and those goals fizzle out, leaving you sullen. Half-empty churches have you wondering if you are doing something wrong or if the community simply finds no need for God. No matter how hard we try to line up life just right, someone (or something) interferes and brings those lofty expectations crashing down. Then what about those expectations you carry? You promise self-control, you want to change, but then you stumble— again. And you feel so disgusted that you are too weak to choose the right. Terrible, self-centered choices hurt those you love most and nothing you do today can change the past. You must always drag around that shameful regret. Then that guilt presses you: ‘Have you sinned one too many times?’ ‘Will God really forgive you? …. even after you come to him again for the umpteenth-millionth time?’ ‘Can God really forgive someone like you for the hidden wickedness he sees?’ No wonder Isaiah sets you (and me) in this wilderness! This is life cut off from God! You see the paradise God creates; he never intended us to find purpose without him. He creates Eden for us to live with him— in his presence, in open communication, in the complete satisfaction of finding delight in obeying his Word.
This wasteland breaks out because we brought it into the world. This wilderness exists because of sin, because of turning away from what God expects. So we battle conflicts because our hearts find no satisfaction in taking God’s guiding Word to heart. Goals crumble because we try to find joy in this world rather than joy in God the Giver. We carry regret by no fault of God, but because we deliberately disobey in the hope of finding real pleasure. Isaiah shows you (and I) what we have earned for ourselves. Life that turns from God is dry, fruitless, dead.
So, God steps into our wilderness— and Isaiah sees it. Isaiah stares 700-years into the future and sees God come with a vengeance, with divine retribution; He comes and saves you. He saves you by hanging Jesus on a cross and steamrolling him with his vengeance. The One who opened the eyes of the blind is the One struck for our spiritual blindness that refused to see God as God. The One who cleanses filthy skin is the One covered in our filthy crimes. The One who raises the dead is the One struck dead because that is the punishment we deserved.
Jesus steps into this wilderness, a wilderness separated from God— and endures the full brunt of that way of life. On the cross his life dries up. He is tossed into the dust of death, left lifeless— and saves you. In Jesus is life. Not just any life, but that perfect Eden-life. A life that does not remain dead. A life that rises! A life that goes on and on. A life he puts on you.
The Coming Christ Revitalizes Life by overwhelming every withering fear. Because Jesus came, your guilt has been removed. Because Jesus came, God no longer remembers your regrets. Because Jesus came, you hold the certain announcement of sin forgiven. Your God has come with a vengeance (as promised!) and saved you.
That will impact life. Isaiah holds up that desert image, but you do not see a dry desert, do you? You see a former picture revitalized into a gushing oasis. [A] highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness… Living in central Michigan, you have experienced both shoddy roads and reconstructed roads. After all the roadwork completed this summer, you have safe, trouble-free access to destinations. God keeps his sleeves rolled up and paves a highway— a straight, smooth path.
[T]he unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; wicked fools will not wander onto it. Did you grasp the sheer wonder of those words? God reveals who can walk this road. You probably realize that it’s you. Yet, do you see the words used to describe you? ‘Not unclean.’ ‘Not a fool.’ God sees you as you truly are: forgiven, fault-free, innocent. I know, you may laugh at that thought, but God does not. God does not ask if you emotionally *feel* forgiven; he tells you that you are. Baptism washed you and gave you second birth into a new life— a life connected to God (Titus 3:4-7). The Lord’s Supper assures you that the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies you from all uncleanness (1 John 1:7-9). God reveals you as you truly are: People made to belong on that road to heaven.
Appearances can be deceiving. That is why God has to tell you (and me) the way things truly are. Life might feel as though you walk in a grueling desert. Yet, Jesus has linked you to that perfect paradise. That ‘Way of Holiness’ leads somewhere. The ransomed of the Lord (again, that’s you!) shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Just like God intended; the Garden of Eden recreated. No growling and snarling, fighting and killing. No rotting and decaying, withering and dying. No conflict, resentment, criticism. You see wholeness, completeness— absolute contentment in your relationships and your desires. You walk towards Zion, God’s name for heaven.
You live another day closer to that destination and you remain safe through this wilderness. Be sure, you (and I) will confront ravenous troubles. Still God promises to protect you. He does that with his Word. You might still be recovering from that flu-bug and patience is running thin. The recovery from surgery might be a little slower than expected. Still, God protects your faith, your trust in him as God. His Word teaches you to rely on him. His Word teaches that he provides the ability to get up each day. He allows family and friends to cheer you. He allows you to cheer family and friends. Life’s ailments are seen in a different light! Or, there might be an empty seat at home for Christmas; the first Christmas without that loved one. Yet, that spouse already walked into Zion. God’s Word tells you that. You see that perfect paradise and are comforted. Since you walk there too, soon there will be a joyful reunion. Or, arguments will always beg you to choose a side, and you may feel as though you stand against someone you like. Yet, God’s Word teaches patient love— a patient love you can show to others.
So much in this life can drag us down. So much can feel fruitless or pointless. That’s why Christmas teaches: The Coming Christ Revitalizes Life. He crowns every heart with joy.
Appearances can be deceiving, can’t they? Susan Boyle appeared to be nothing more than a frizzy-haired, unspectacular middle-aged woman from nowhere with nothing to offer. Now she is seen differently. Although still plain-looking, people see her voice.
The world in which we live is broken. Poor choices can haunt us. Pain lingers. You (and I) can feel completely hopeless. Yet, appearances are deceiving. Look at life through Christ. See what he accomplishes. The coming Christ overwhelms our greatest fears. He ends death. He nullifies guilt. He makes you clean. All the fears we face are overwhelmed by him. He revitalizes life. That means, we live with true hope, true peace, true joy. God does not keep it a secret as to how he sees you. He sets you on the path leading to life. He sets you on a path that sees life.
Look past the seen and see life as it truly is. See every withering fear overwhelm by Christ. See every heart crowned with joy by Christ. See The Coming Christ Revitalize Life.
Stephen Fry is a British actor [probably better] known (to us) for his roles in the television crimes series ‘Bones’ and acting in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Aside from acting, Stephen Fry is also an atheist. He claims no god exists.
In a 2015 interview, Stephen Fry was asked this question: “Suppose it’s all true and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him?” Well, this is what Stephen Fry would say:
“I would say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault! It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious [unpredictable], mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”
So, the interviewed asked: “And you think you’re going to get in?”
“No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They’re wrong. Now if I die and if it was ‘the Twelve Greek gods’ then I would have less trouble with it because the Greeks did not pretend not to be human in their unreasonableness. They did not present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the God who created this universe, if he was a good God, is quite clearly, a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?! What kind of God would do that?! Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole life-cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that did not exist. It is simply not acceptable. …So, [we ask] if there is a God, what kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent: He’s monstrous, utterly monstrous. He deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living— in my opinion.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo)
Stephen Fry calls his judgments of God an ‘opinion.’ We can call it as God does: ‘Darkness.’
In Colossians 1:13 God identifies the existence of two realms. The first is the domain of darkness. Darkness! The absence of light. The inability of making out shapes. The absolute failure of grasping information and forming correct conclusions. Darkness prevents anyone from seeing the truth of what lies around you! Yet, God is not describing vision problems. He calls this ‘darkness’ a ‘domain.’ A vice grip no one can escape. A darkness that blinds hearts and minds from seeing life as it truly exists. Simply put, you, I, the entire world start life cut off from God!
Spiritual darkness wraps us so tightly that we do not even recognize that we are blind! If you have ever played ‘Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey,’ then you know how deceiving darkness is. The blindfold blocks out all light and sight. One hand holds the donkey tail, the other hand gropes for direction. You inch forward, one foot after the another, you touch something, stick the tail, rip off the blindfold, only to see that the tail hangs nowhere close to the donkey. Of course, you thought you were right, that’s why you took the steps you did. Although blind, you consider your actions ‘correct.’ So when the interviewer asked: “You think you’re going to get in?” Stephen Fry says, “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms.” The entire world starts life spiritually blind. Unable to recognize God as Judge and Savior! That blind heart believes humanity is morally pure and God morally evil.
That’s a darkness even our hearts combat. God says, ‘Love me with all your heart.’ (Matthew 22:37) and still we keep the Bible shut. We block his Words from memory. We care little if our behavior lines up with his expectations. God says, ‘Parents, raise your children with the Word.’ (Ephesians 6:4). Still, we ignore the kids. We do not discipline them as God wants. We do not try to correct the wrong we see. Then, there are those other times when the heart pushes back against what God says. I can look at simple water and say, ‘This creates faith? Nope. That sounds silly.’ ‘This bread and wine is Jesus’ body and blood? Impossible! I cannot understand it so it cannot be.’ I can look at God’s promises and say, ‘No, God, you don’t really care about my sadness!’ ‘No, God, I got this money by my own smarts.’ ‘No, God, success comes because I try.’ I can look at a wandering soul and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter what he believes.’ ‘She will be in heaven.’ If you are like me, you can shatter God’s commands without flinching; I do not even flinch because I expect God to condone my actions. In that way I make it quite clear: ‘God, I will not live on your terms! You accept my terms.’ That is the darkest, most blind lie the human mind has ever concocted: The notion that that you outrank God.
As clever as Stephen Fry sounds, his logic contains one critical flaw: he fails to take ‘sin’ into account. He completely ignores the fact that God did create a perfect world and the reason pains exists is not because of God. God is not to blame when our words destroy relationships and our addictions shorten life and our greed never satisfies. The problem comes because Adam and Eve (as well as the rest of us) turned our backs from God Almighty! God exposes that truth with light— and not just any light, but the Light.
God sent his Son who is the image of the invisible God. See Jesus, see God. Not a prophet. Not a good teacher, but God in flesh. [Jesus is] the firstborn of all creation. ‘Firstborn’ does not mean ‘the first one created,’ but ‘first in line.’ Just like the oldest son received the family inheritance, God hands Jesus the reins of the universe. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Jesus anchored the land and he carved out the oceans. He put earth in its orbit and pulls it around the sun. He formed man and allows him to govern. Jesus exists before all things— including you (and me). Do you think you possess the right, the equal standing to demand that God condone disobedience? He is the One who already sits in the paradise we want!
Yet, the Maker of governments stands silent by as a corrupt government condemns him, an innocent man. The Designer of nature is fastened to wood meant to help life, not to take life. The King of the Universe suffers the death-sentence his rebellious subjects earned. All those times we shook an angry fist at God, barking out: ‘Not on your terms!’ Jesus lives on God’s terms. He comes to obey God’s want and will. Then, he offers—not forces—but offers his life in exchange for yours.
What right do you have to that claim? None. Yet, the King of the Universe has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Jesus obliterates darkened thinking. He makes clear what he has done for you (and me). When he rose, he transferred you (and me) from the column marked ‘death’ into the column marked ‘life!’ He stepped into his heavenly kingdom, sits on his glorious throne, and reigns over all things. Now. At this moment. Today… and always. He ushers in eternal peace.
[H]e is the head of the body, the church. Now, that word ‘church’ does not describe buildings of wood and brick with people gathering inside. The Bible uses the word ‘church’ to describe all believers everywhere. The woman in South Africa who believes in Jesus as Savior. The Detroit factory-worker who knows Jesus died for him. The businessman in China who cherishes the news of a Savior. People all over the globe are united into one common faith, and God sees each individual gathered into one realm before his one throne.
Friends, you are part of that ‘church.’ Baptism created faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 2:38-29; Galatians 3:26-27). That faith grew bigger and stronger as it heard God’s Word. In fact, you gather in this building today not to listen to a random man’s opinions, but rather to hear the words God gave you to apply to life. You live in this body of Christ.
Christ exists as the head of the body. The head controls. It tells you where to go, how to speak and act. Not just that, nothing outranks the head. Christ remains in charge. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might [have the supremacy]. Jesus already reigns in heaven with all things under his feet. No atheist actor can tell God how to act. Governments cannot eradicate the Word off the face of the earth. No world leader can keep Jesus locked up in heaven forever. Even the devil cannot stop eternity. Jesus is the first to rise from the dead and remain living. He guarantees he will not be the last. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Christ points you to the future. Jesus will use the power he possesses as God and bring all things to an end. He will purge sin out of all things. He will create a new heavens and new earth, one free from death and mourning and tears. He will bring you to gather around his throne (Revelation 7:14-17).
Will that really happen? Yes. Because Christ kept his Word. He rescued you (and me) from a domain of darkness. He transferred us into his kingdom of light. He already paid the debt owed to God. The payment has already been accepted. He already rose, breaking the stranglehold of death. He already reigns in heaven. Nothing will undo his guarantee. Jesus, who has brought us into his kingdom, ushers in eternal peace.
Christ Reigns Supreme! It does not matter what Stephen Fry would say to him. It does not matter what darkened hearts think is ‘right’ and ‘fair.’ It does not matter the excuses people will lay before the throne. Only the Word of Christ is final. That word obliterates darkened thinking. With that Word, Christ reveals guilt removed and us transferred into his kingdom. As Christ continues ruling your hearts, we have peace. We know what is to come and we know it will never be taken away. Christ Reigns Supreme!
Four years ago, a camera team roamed around Michigan State University, asking random students one question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ The video posted 15 responses. Here’s a few:
Do you think those students sound confident? No, not really. Upon what did everyone place their hope? Every single response mentioned: ‘doing good,’ ‘church membership,’ and ‘being a good guy.’ Did those answers provide much comfort? By my count, the words: ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I think,’ ‘I hope,’ appear 23-times. So, upon what do these students place their hope for heaven? (1) Individual effort and (2) personal opinion— and neither provide any comfort!
Do you think you’re going to heaven? That question might weigh heavy on your mind, and maybe you worry that your response is not good enough. Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Let’s gain certainty from Romans chapter 3. Starting with verse 19, we read: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law… Stop there for just a moment. Remember God’s ‘law?’ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). God etched those commands onto two tablets of stone (Exodus 20:1-17). He even took that law and carved it on every single heart— yours and mine included (Romans 2:14-15). That means, you, I, the entire world are obligated to obey and conform to those commands.
Have you? If God replayed your entire life on a big-screen, what would find? What would he see you do at the bar? What would God discover on your browser history? What would God learn from you about his gift of marriage? Do you want to repeat the words you use to describe the leaders he has placed in authority over you? (read Romans 13:1) Would you be proud standing before God, looking him straight in the eye, and declaring: ‘God, I loved you so much that my life is perfect picture of your law!’ No. That searing guilt, the restless shame that keeps you (and me) awake at night, the stomach-churning regrets only showcase our blemished hearts.
No wonder people have difficulty answering that question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ Because that shameful filth clings to us; it never leaves! And you hear that haunting reality in every response. Those students make up and try to enforce rules about a heaven they do not own! If you own heaven, then you can create the standards for entering heaven. (For example, if you own a restaurant, you can make a dress code. You can exclude those who do not meet the dress code.) But you (and I) do not own heaven. That means we must meet the standards of the One who does. When the standard is: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) we fail.
God’s expectations do not make you (and me) look good, they expose our wickedness before God! Every mouth is stopped… you (and I) have no acceptable excuse. [T]he whole world [is] held accountable to God.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified [that is, ‘be acquitted,’ ‘be declared innocent’] in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. That means, scrounging for comfort in your own self-made rules only leads to a dead-end! (If arcades still exist), you play games, make the right moves, win tickets, and turn those tickets in for prizes. You get something for your effort. You cannot step up to God, hold up your life, and say, “Here you go, God! That should get me something!” God clearly says that his righteous verdict does not come from obtaining enough tickets. For by works of the law no human being will be justified. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor.
How does that make you feel? Probably not too comfortable. That’s the point. God crushes the heart so that you might cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ Because God wants you (and me) to stop looking at our hearts. To stop looking at our faulty actions. To stop digging through our flawed thinking. God wants you (and me) to stop looking at you (and me).
When you cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ do not look at your flawed word, look at God’s Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Listen again to verse 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it… There it is! God’s ‘righteousness’— that precious announcement of innocence! Where does God tell you how to obtain it? He does not point at your opinions or feelings or wishes or expectations. God reveals his righteous verdict in the Bible.
There, in the Bible, God clearly says: [T]he righteousness of God [comes] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God sets his righteous verdict on you through faith. Think about that for a moment. That ‘faith’ (God speaks of) is ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ God the Holy Spirit put into your heart the conviction, the certainty that Jesus has completely satisfied God’s anger. That’s why you call Jesus ‘Savior.’ You did not save your life, you did not help even one bit. Jesus alone rescued you from consequences.
God wrote this down in the Bible for you to confront. For there is no distinction, all (you! me! the world!) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and [you and I] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ in his sight free of charge. No strings attached. No repayment expected. God drops the charges against you.
You know that, but can you be sure? Is God really serious? That you owe nothing? Sounds too good to be true! It’s not! God’s not asking what you think about his actions, he is telling his actions. You see that God did not ignore your offenses, he actually punishes them. God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That word, ‘propitiation’ means: ‘atonement.’ God used Jesus to make you ‘at-one’ with God.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins… God did not sentence you (or me) or Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, or anyone immediately to hell. Even though we fell short of reaching God’s high standard, even though we stood under God’s judgment, God patiently waited. Yes, he still held people accountable, but transferred the consequence from you (and me) onto Jesus. Because God is just. He cannot let evil go by unpunished. That would be unjust, corrupt. So, a just, fair God punishes Jesus for your failures (and mine). He holds Jesus accountable for our crimes. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Since Jesus made the payment for our crimes, God is fair to declare us ‘innocent,’ ‘not guilty.’ That means God justifies you— you who are still haunted by your harsh words and overbearing presence. God penalized Jesus for your past. That means God declares you ‘not guilty’ — you who still struggle keeping your life free from drunken nights, indecent thoughts, and drugs. God sentenced Jesus to death in your place. That means God declares you ‘innocent’— you who feel ashamed that you hurt mom, that you yelled at dad, that your greedy, grubby fingers love stuff more than loving to help people. God made Jesus suffer shame. Then, God raised Jesus on Easter because Jesus is more than enough to serve and complete our death-sentence! (Romans 4:25).
Dear friends, God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness. This word does not come from my mind. It does not come from your opinion. It comes straight from the mouth of God. If Jesus wins for you what you could never merit, why look at yourself? If your past haunts you, if you feel so undeserving of heaven, if you are not sure if you will enter heaven, look to Jesus. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Can you be sure? Well, how do you know if your spouse loves you? How do you know if your children love you (or your parents love you)? How do you know if your heart is healthy? How do you know what the weather will be like tomorrow? Do you wait for a disembodied voice to whisper in your ear: “Your spouse and children love you?” Do you sit on the edge of your hospital bed waiting for a warm sensation in your chest— a feeling confirming that your heart is indeed healthy? Will you drive home, hop out of your car, rake your yard, prune your bushes, trim the trees, supposing that your actions will produce a warm, sunny day tomorrow? Of course not! That would be absurd! When you want a sure answer, you look to a qualified source. You listen and understand the plain meaning of their words. You see actions reinforcing those words.
Your spouse and your children are qualified people to say: “I love you” and then show their love in their action. A heart specialist is qualified to read your heart tests and say: “You are healthy.” The meteorologist, who reads weather patterns for a living, can point at the picture of a sun over your city (on your television screen) and say: “It will be sunny tomorrow!” These qualified people can give you sure answers. They can give you assurance.
So, ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ It really does not matter what ‘I think.’ It matters what God says. And God’s sure Word reveals his sure announcement: ‘You are forgiven!’ Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
The same four words appear on every single American coin and every single American dollar. Four words that reveal a conviction. Four words that confess a truth. Four words that identify a belief. Do you know those four words? ‘In God We Trust.’
That motto first appeared in 1863, right in the thick of the American Civil War. Half of America faced extinction! Ideas and people could be lost! So, a concerned American requested the phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ be stamped onto American coins. Should civilization crumble and return to sand and timber, archaeologists and historians could find these coins. They could read the inscription and conclude that America was not full of godless heathens (https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx). That motto made headlines again in 1957, just as the Cold War got colder. The Soviet Union outlawed religion and promoted atheism [a belief that no God exists]. So, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ appeared on dollar bills. It implied that God favored American morals and would lend his divine support. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust). That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security.
So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It is. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. So which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
Calamity has a way of exposing the heart’s security. You have an object of trust. When troubles rage, you flee rely on it. In that moment you then determine if that object could keep you safe or not.
Just look at our reading. Calamity barrels towards the leaders in Zion (that’s southern Israel) and against those on Mount Samaria (which is northern Israel). God guarantees punishment. Northern Israel chiseled out figures in stone; they have carved wooden statues. Israelites leave their homes and trot out to a shrine filled with prostitutes. They hope sharing bodies will make for a good financial year. Farmers trust the cow-god Baal, relying on him to make a good growing season. Masses flock to deities that do not exist, shamefully shatter God’s commands— and the leaders do not care. Governors do not shut down these pagan temples. They do not elevate worship of the true God who rescued them from Egypt and gifted this land to them! So, God guarantees: You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god— which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27).
Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Each city once stood equal to northern and southern Israel. They had the same amount of land, the same level of safety, the same economies. Now, it’s all gone! Tiny Calneh destroyed by superpower Assyria! Hamath conquered by northern Israel and Gath held captive by Zion! God warns: Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? No! ‘What happened to them will happen to you! You will be destroyed.’
That warning meant to alert sleepy hearts. ‘Wake up!’ Instead, Israel’s leaders lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on couches. [They] dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. [They] strum away on harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. [They] drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, [no one] grieves over the ruin of Joseph. No one cares about the threat of exile because… well… nothing bad has happened. No armies threaten their borders, and therefore no fear of captivity. Economies flourish; money passes through hands, and therefore no worry of food shortages or home foreclosures. Peace reigns in the region, and therefore no concern that you could lose a familiar landscape or friends or freedom. So, hearts wallow in every pleasure money offers. Getting drunk makes this negatives news of destruction go away. Money spent on choice meat could still be used to hire more armies and better defenses. Little musical fantasies drown out God’s warning. In Whom Do They Trust? They love what pleasure money can purchase. They love how money can make them feel safe. They trust money’s ability to provide everything needed for life.
God has this to say: You put off the evil day and [you] bring near a reign of terror. ‘You worship temporal pleasures and let your spiritual life rot.’ Money can bring satisfaction to every area of life except one. Money cannot save your soul.
Calamity erupted just like God promised. The Assyrian powerhouse that steamrolled Calneh obliterated northern Israel. Governors turned to wealth. They thought it could buy weapons. They thought it could buy armies. They thought it could buy peace. It did not. Even worse, those who placed trust in wealth over God died spiritually bankrupt. Money could not buy their way into heaven.
What a reminder, then, those four words on money serve for us! ‘In God We Trust.’ Do you still pay attention to those words? Do you remember they are even there? Maybe we only care when some group wants to erase it! Yet, the heart does a fine job of erasing it on its own! Do you think that a new house will solve a sore relationship? Or that new a car will finally satisfy you and you will never anything else again? Perhaps you think more income will finally take away every fear— no more restless nights, no more stress about bills, or no more counting every cent you spend. Maybe you find security in a large savings account— relying on this cushion to make you feel happy and secure. Maybe that’s why we can easily forget those four words found on money: ‘In God We Trust.’ We can look at the green paper and shiny coin and think this object will give us the happiness we crave. This object will solve any tension, any struggle, any aching worry. This object will save me.
If that is where your trust lies, then God has this to say: ‘Woe to you!’ You will leave this earthly life and your wealth will not come with you. You will stand before God naked and penniless. If money remains an object of trust, then Calamity (we could say ‘death’) exposes the heart’s security. It exposes money’s inability to provide real peace.
God makes that point pretty clear on a mount called ‘Calvary.’ There, Jesus hangs naked and penniless. Attached to him is your (and my) trust in everything money could buy. He hates the sight of it so much that he rains down punishment on Jesus. The punishment meant for you (and me).
Calamity exposes the heart’s security— and when you look at the heart of Jesus, you do not find reliance in wealth. You find a pure trust in God to provide! He does! God provides Jesus with life! God provides you (and me) with Jesus’ life! That you now carry Jesus’ innocence. Something money can never buy! Something that allows you to stand before God, completely confident that he cares for you. That he provides for you. That he opens heaven for you.
In Whom Do You Trust? Calamity exposes the heart’s security. When troubles rip into life, you will turn to an object. Money might address physical shortfalls, but it will never satisfy you completely. Only Jesus fills you with real peace. The real peace of forgiveness. The real peace that comes from knowing that God still provides all things in this life. ‘In God We Trust.’ That becomes apparent by the way we use money.
Believers in the Old Testament had an opportunity to give a ‘firstfruits’ offering. They set aside about 10-percent of the crops coming off field first and gave that to God. Now, if you farm, you realize that giving your first crops can be a little nerve-wracking. After all, the previous year’s reserves run low. You could use that corn and hay. Still, God says, “Give me your firstfruits” (Deuteronomy 26:1-15).
People did. They willingly give that offering; you give the first of your resources confident that God will give you more cuttings of hay and more corn. Giving demonstrate a trust in God to provide. A trust that drowned out personal fear. Actions reveal a trust in God’s promise.
What do your actions say? You (and I) are able to evaluate our income and consider what we may set aside. Maybe that means we set aside an amount for offering before we pay bills. You set a portion and then spend what is left over. Maybe that means we determine key bills first and then set aside an offering. If we do not have enough to be at McDonald’s every day, we thank God for still feeding us. Or, if we cannot buy five new outfits this month, we thank God for still clothing us. Setting aside a portion of income for an offering allows us to rely on God to keep providing for us.
We can look at the money in our hand and see those words ‘In God We Trust,’ we can use it confidently. If you’re not sure, then for one month (that’s four Sundays), see what you are able to give. Be bold. Trust big. You offering may increase price of a hamburger spread out over four weeks. That amount might not look like much, but it is much. It comes from heart that trusts God to provide. Maybe your giving increases by the cost of a tank of gas each week. Even that generosity demonstrates a reliance on God. You are not worried that you will need that amount back later. Our act of giving reveals our certainty in God to do what he promises; that he will give what we need.
That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security. So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. Which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
To prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object. For starters, you need rope. Tie one end of the rope to the boat and the other end to a sturdy object. You could tie the rope to tree, to the end of your dock, to a volleyball post on the beach— to anything that does not move. You even could tie the end of that rope to an anchor or a cinderblock and drop it into the water and the boat will stay in place. Toss that weight onto shore and your boat will remain still. So, to prevent a boat from drifting, you must fasten it to a sturdy object.
(I’m sorry if I insulted your intelligence), but that simple truth makes a significant point: reliable objects prevent aimless drifting. If you do not have that sturdy object, if you do not have rope, you will drift. It remains vitally important to have both sturdy object and rope.
This morning, rediscover the splendid truth that God has provided both anchor and connection. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
That’s usually what we look for when it comes to trusting someone: we listen to words and we look for actions. When another person does as promised, we understand that person is serious about his intentions and cares for our personal welfare. For example, I may promise to arrive at your house on Tuesday at 11:00am. If I arrive at your house Tuesday at 11:00am, you know: (1) my words carry serious intentions and (2) I care about you personally— your schedule, your emotions, and your needs. Now, if I arrive at your house Friday at 7:00am, you know: (1) my actions never intended to match my words and (2) I do not care about what errands you have on Friday or that my tardiness angered you or that you have concerns that need addressing. You may find it difficult trusting me. You cannot rely that what I said is truthful and you will not shape your expectations around my intentions. We tend to build trust when actions match words. We tend to place trust in someone when actions match words.
God had already made some fantastic promises to Abram. For example, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you… I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (12:1-2). That means, Abram would have to leave the safety-net of family assistance and the bonds of neighborly-friendship. He must trek hundreds of miles across a desolate wasteland to a land he has never seen before, a land he has no connection to, a land that may (or may not) produce good food. That’s a big promise.
Still, Abram goes. Why? Because he considers God’s Words as good as done. Even though he does not see the future, he leaves. At the end of his travels, he settles in good, livable land— just as God said he would. Not just that, the surrounding nations respect Abram. An Egyptian Pharaoh treats Abram as a household guest. Foreigners gladly sell Abram land. Now, remember: (1) We tend to build trust when actions match words and (2) we tend to place trust in someone when actions match words. (1) God gifts Abram a land unseen and (2) God ensures a healthy respect for Abram. God’s Word matched his actions. You realize: God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith because it recalls what God has done.
So, you can almost see Abram’s excitement when God makes another promise: “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7). Abram has no child, but now he receives a guarantee. He can pass down his land, his riches, his reputation to this one child. So, he waits… and waits… and waits some more. He waits Ten. Years. Abram is now 85-years-old. His wife, Sarai, is 75-years-old. Yes, ten years earlier it would have been difficult to have a child, but still somewhat possible— but now, at this age, it borders on the impossible. Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Can you hear the desperation? The panicky fear? The complete loss of control? What changed? The boat is not fastened to a sturdy object.
Abram completely ignores God’s past powerful actions. He forgets the land, the respect, the safety. Now he relies on his (very) limited abilities. So, fear creeps in— fear creeps in because you confront your own limitations. You tremble at the cancer diagnosis because deep down inside you know that you cannot wish the disease away. You cannot add more days to your life. You have little control over the state of your health. God commands us to remain faithful to his Word, to neither add teachings nor change teachings, to continue clinging to what has been taught for centuries. You do that, but then you get nervous because you do what God says, but see no results. You wonder how long your church will exist. If you will always worship here, if your children and their children will be here. Really, you get nervous because you cannot change a heart. You worry about the future for your children because you want to fix everything wrong in the world with your two hands—but you cannot; you simply do not have that control.
Do you see? The reason Abram trembles, the reason we tremble is because we put this incredible pressure to manage life on ourselves. We are treating ourselves as God! Quite frankly, we consider ourselves more trustworthy, more reliable than God! What does a statement like that say about the (1) serious intentions behind God’s Words and (2) God’s care for us? It says that (1) God is a liar— he cannot keep his Word, he lacks the power to do what he says— and (2) God does not care for our welfare. He builds our hopes just to crush them.
For just a moment, lay aside that self-reliance and look once more at verse 1. Identify what God uses to strengthen Abram’s faith. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. First, ‘after what things?’ Well, read chapter 14 and you find four aggressive kings sweep over Abram’s neighbors. They kidnap Abram’s nephew, Lot, and steal all his possessions. Abram gathers 318-fighting-men and liberates these captives. That’s a big risk; Abram could have died. After that battle-‘thing,’ God says: Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. ‘Abram, just like a big battle shield I protected you. I gave you victory. I kept you safe and brought you home. If I did that, I will not hurt you now.’ Fear not, Abram… your reward shall be very great. ‘Abram, I am with you. That is far more valuable than your millions of dollars of assets, your small mercenary-group, and your status. The almighty God of the universe is on your side!’ God points back to all the things he had done, all his promises— and he kept them all!
God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. You realize God is (1) serious about his intentions and (2) he cares for your welfare. Past actions prove that. God’s Sure Word continues Bolstering Faith. That Word points to what God will do.
Do you see how God handles Abram’s great fear? Abram finishes speaking and behold, the word of the Lord came to him. What does God give Abram? He does not put a baby in his arms. He does not unroll a timeline of future events. God gives Abram his Word. Specifically, ‘[Abram,] This man [Eliezer] shall not be your heir… God makes it clear: ‘Abram, your inheritance-plan is not my plan.’ He addresses Abram’s concern, identifies it, brings it to light, and ends it. [Y]our very own son shall be your heir. Yes, Abram is old; Sarai is old, but this child will hold the biology of both. God does not explain how this will happen, and he does not need to. Explaining how is not the purpose for his speaking. God simply tells Abram what he will do. Just like he protected Abram, just like he poured out riches, just like he brought Abram to his new land, God (at the right time) would give an heir.
Dear friends, God kept that promise. Fifteen years after this conversation, at 100-years old, Abram has a son named Isaac. (1) Abram had an heir! Then, Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob had a son named Judah. Judah had a son. That son had a son, and that son a son. (2) Abram became a father of many nations! In fact, the family tree branched out to include a man named Joseph, who had a son named Jesus. (3) Jesus came!
God keeps his promises! That includes his hatred for our self-reliance. For us questioning if God keeps his Word, God crushes Jesus— because he is serious about punishing the arrogant. For us challenging if God cares for our wellbeing, God abandons Jesus— demonstrating that he cares for you so much that Jesus will be cut off from the love of God instead of you. Jesus wipes clean our self-reliant hearts, leaving only hearts that please God.
And now, God sees you as a star in the sky. [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” God’s not talking about family tree only. The Bible calls believers the descendants of Abram (Romans 4:18). Yes, you (and I) may not be Jews, we may not be able to trace our family tree back to Abram, but that’s alright. We share the same faith. Abram believed the Lord… He believed that God would send Jesus into the world and that Jesus would wipe away his faithless doubting. Abram considered God’s Word as good as done. [A]nd [God] credited it to him as righteousness. God called him ‘saved.’ You (and I) did not see Jesus die on the cross, but we take God at his Word. Jesus removed our guilt, and because of that, you (and I) have been declared ‘right’ in God’s sight.
Recall what God has done. Ponder these magnificent promises and consider how God has kept each one. Is there any question behind God’s intentions? When we look back over all that God has done, we realize his seriousness in doing as promised—and that removes fear for the future. God’s Word points ahead not to a wish—but points to what he will do.
That keeps us from aimlessly drifting through life’s many challenges. God, your sturdy object remains connected to you with his Word. When fear grips you and confusion blurs the future, when frightened and nervous, God’s Sure Word Bolsters Faith. It recalls what God has done. It points to what God will do.
He did not really know his dad. I mean, dad was home— in fact, he was home every single night. He mowed the lawn and trimmed hedges. He repaired leaks and fixed squeaks. He drove to soccer practices and ball games. His La-Z-Boy conformed perfectly to his body. Yes, dad was home— but dad did not talk much. He never talked about work. He taught batting techniques, but never really critiqued anything. He never screamed or cheered at the game on television; he just watched. He was a quiet man.
Yet, every night, right before bedtime, little eyes watched his dad scribble in a journal. Each day ink filled another page. Each week more pages were used. Each year a new journal was needed— until they were needed no more.
Hours after the funeral dinner, that son sunk into the form-fitted La-Z-Boy. A box packed full of faded, fuzzy-edged journals lay open. He grabbed one written long ago and started flipping through it. “May 19th: Joe remembered his batting technique and scored the game-winning double. I could not be any prouder of him.” “June 28th: Bought Joe another ice-cream cone after he dropped the first one. Made his tears stop.” “August 23rd: The heat makes roofing unbearable. But I press on for my family’s good.” He leafed through journal after journal, until he came to the last one. On the last page, written just a few weeks earlier, was this sentence: “When I reflect on years past, I thank God for the blessings of wife and children— all of whom I love very much.”
Decades of wondering came crumbling down. These journals, this written word, reveal love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find concrete evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God does not leave you wondering about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you. It increases your grip on your future hope.
That makes the Bible important. From cover to cover are words that do not come from the opinions of men, but words God the Holy Spirit instructed men to write down (2 Peter 1:21). That means the Bible is God’s ‘journal.’ This contains his commands, his judgment, and his delight. Since you have this ‘journal’ you have insight into God’s expectation for you.
Yet, if you did not have the Bible, what would you have? A diseased, rotting faith— much like the faith of the Colossians. Remember the false beliefs polluting that congregation? A mixture of (1) Jewish and (2) pagan teachings. So, these Christians think God still requires Old Testament religious ceremonies and also concoct superstitious answers to the mystery of who God is and how God lives. This belief poisons them! It has actually led some to challenge the almighty, eternal power the Son of God has (read Colossians 1:15-20). These Christians downgrade Jesus from ‘Savior of the World’ to ‘Super Human Being.” If you treat Jesus as anything less than the Savior, you push away the payment he made for guilt. You start believing an idea not true.
That makes the Bible important. God is not sharing opinions; he reveals truth. He tells what he sees. In verse 21, he shares a very ugly, but very real, truth. You (that’s you and me) were alienated and hostile in mind, in your evil deeds. God makes clear: “You stood in this camp. You stood distant and far away. Just like a foreigner has a different culture than American culture, you had a different attitude than the attitude I expect.” That attitude? Evil! [T]he sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Since we are] controlled by the sinful nature, [we] cannot please God. (Romans 8:7). It’s impossible!
If you (and I) stand as alienated enemies of God, can we enter heaven without a Savior? No! Of course not! You know that; in fact, you confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” You do not downgrade him… do you?
Well, what is your answer to this statement: ‘I am going to heaven because (fill in the blank).’ …“because I’m trying my hardest to be a good parent, a faithful church-goer, a good child”? …“because I am generous and giving”? …“because I’m better than criminals and sex offenders”? Did your answer contain that little word: ‘I’? Did the mental focus instantly shift to that little word: ‘I’? Are you going to heaven because you try? …or made a decision to believe in Jesus? …or because you are somewhat moral? Don’t you see what God clearly wrote in verse 21? You were alienated! You were saturated in evil! You could not, cannot, and can never approach God by you doing the action!
You see, like the Colossians, our minds can step off from the Bible. Yes, we have the Bible in our homes. We hear it in worship. We study it throughout the week. It sinks into our ears and hearts, but our sinful nature can blatantly ignore what God clearly reveals. The sinful nature wants to be sure it will enter heaven. So, you point to you instead of Jesus— and that happens because of doubt cannot trust that what God has spoken is truthful and reliable. That is a poisonous belief.
That makes the Bible important. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. God reveals that you (and I) stand in an evil camp, but in verse 21 he says: You were formerly alienated… That is what you were. Past tense. Formerly. At one time. But today, right now, right here, this moment: different.
Why? How? He has now reconciled you… To ‘reconcile’ means ‘bringing two opposing parties together’ or ‘to end hostility.’ Here, Jesus is the subject. The subject performs the action. The action affects the object— and you are the object. Jesus (did the action of) reconciling (the object:) you.
See when that took place? That verb ‘reconcile’ is past tense too— meaning, the action was finished long ago. Long ago, God directed his hatred of evil against Jesus. He found our doubting in his Son. He glared at our arrogant-self-worship in his Son. God made Jesus into his enemy, targeted him with wrath, and destroyed him. Jesus has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
God removes the mystery of what he sees in you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. He puts it down in print so that you clearly know what he has done for you. You are presented: (1) Holy, that is, cleansed from moral filth. (2) Blameless: no shame lingers; no fault is seen, no motive for blackmailing. (3) Above reproach: no one can accuse you of evil before God. The relationship is clear: God has reconciled you. That changes your present and future. t increases your grip on your future hope.
Verses 26 and 27 explain how: The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, [h]as now been manifested to His saints (The Bible reveals Jesus your Savior. You believe this. You are a saint, a ‘holy person.’) to [you] God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [non-Jews] which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. So, what do you gain from the Word? Riches. Treasures. A fortune. God pours peace into your heart— peace that comes from sin forgiven. Shortly after our opening hymn, what do you hear? God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to you. He has given Jesus, his Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus ‘atones’—that is, Jesus makes you ‘at-one’ with God. Since you already stand at-one with God, you have no fear! No nagging guilt! No cringeworthy shame! God the Father says: “I see you holy, blameless, without reproach! This is what I see.” The Father’s love is clearly revealed in his journal, the Bible.
What joy! Your life is not chained to a set of rules and demands that will determine how much God loves you today. No! God has (1) already reconciled you. Therefore, (2) live as someone reconciled.
What does that look like? Well, if I go to your house, I do not open your refrigerator, grab a sandwich, sit down, and start eating. I am not welcome to take what is yours; your possessions do not belong to me. We do not have that close, open, confident relationship. (Usually you have that comfort with family and a close friend.) Now, if we have that close relationship, then I can walk into your house and raid your fridge without worry. We have this open, confident relationship.
So, God is ‘at-one’ with you. He harbors no anger, no grudges, no memory of wrong (Jeremiah 31:34). That means, you can read God’s promises and take them. Make them your own. Say: “This is what God is doing.” God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26). [C]all upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am preparing one for you (John 14:2-3). This all means, that when we tremble about our standing before God, when we feel unworthy or wonder if God hates us, we have somewhere certain to turn— and that somewhere is not you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. That increases your grip on your future hope.
For decades a son wondered of his father’s concern. Finally, he held in his hand the very thoughts of his father. These journals, this written word, revealed love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God never leaves you guessing about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you— which means, you have no reason to try to ‘woo’ God. Everything needed to turn God’s heart to you is done. What joy. What freedom for life! The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It increases your grip on your future hope.
Every Memorial Day weekend, I drive out to Elm Creek, buy seedlings, and plant my garden. And every year the garden thrives. Vines stretch out. Plants grow thick and lush. I collect half-a-dozen cucumbers each day and pick cherry tomatoes and beans by the bucket full. This year was not like every other year.
A few days after putting the seedlings into the ground, the leaves turned yellow— like Post-It-Note yellow. But, the plants did not wilt; they did not shrivel up or die, they just stayed yellow— which was also strange. These yellow seedlings never grew; they never pushed out new branches and vines and leaves. For three weeks, I saw small rows of miniature yellow tomato, cucumber, and bean plants.
Now, usually yellow leaves signal something wrong with growing conditions. The soil could be too acidic. The plants may not be receiving enough sunlight. Overwatering and severed roots can stunt plant growth. If you boil all the symptoms down, the causes for poor growth come from poor soil. Plants need good soil to live, grow, and produce fruit.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction?
Better yet, does your source produce good results? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
The congregation in Colossae needed this reminder. (Now, Colossae sits in the southwest corner of present-day Turkey. So, picture Phoenix lying a little bit off the southwest American border.) An evangelist named ‘Epaphras’ preached and the Holy Spirit planted faith in each listener.
Yet, this young congregation gets sick very quickly. They feed on a strange mixture of Jewish and Pagan teachings. Jewish— like: forbidding the eating of certain meats, making Old Testament religious ceremonies mandatory, and creating rules in order to win God’s favor. Then pagan— like: worshipping angels (who are God’s servants [Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 19:10]) and creating strange ideas of who God is, what he does, and how he lives. Those false beliefs poison souls. It seizes attention away from the clear answers God wrote down in the Bible and sets personal beliefs on human opinion.
Epaphras and Paul see stunted, shriveling faith, and grow terribly concerned. So, they start right at the roots. After all, when my plants turned yellow, I did not treat the leaves; I started with what caused the leaves to turn yellow. I started with the soil. In the same way, when we drink in guidance for life, we need to make sure that this guidance comes from a healthy source. We want to remain spiritually healthy. Verses 13-14 say: [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We all entered this world rooted in this stinking soil, this domain of darkness. We were not just yellowed sick, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is how we started life. Enemies of God (Romans 8:7). Not going to heaven (Isaiah 53:5). Unable to do anything to change that dreadful status.
Yet, God did something: he ‘transferred us.’ With the pure life of Jesus in hand, he scooped you out of hell. He washed away the moral filth that soaks our minds. He clipped away our shameful regrets. He healed us from the disease called ‘sin’— a disease that would kill us. He transferred us into his kingdom. We have been moved from the column: ‘Enemy to be destroyed by God’ to ‘Child Loved by God.’
God’s Word, the Bible, tells you this comforting truth. That is the ‘gospel,’ the ‘good-news’ that Jesus rescued you. That ‘good news’ enters your heart individually. Because the Word of God has the power to change hearts (Romans 1:16). That Word, which was spoken at your baptism, has transplanted you into light.
Paul takes us right to the soil. He reminds you that (1) God has bought you and (2) transplanted you so that you may draw strength from God and his Word. When it comes to guidance and strength for life, look down and see where you stand planted. God has transplanted you into light. Rooted in good soil comes good growth.
My plants— well, the leaves remained yellow for several weeks. So, I treated the soil. I carefully dug up each seedling, filled the hole with black dirt, mixed in a little lime, and replanted each plant. A few days later those little plants began improving. Leaves changed from yellow to green and new growth appeared. When you have good soil, you have good growth.
You (and I), planted into faith, grow. Paul continues in verse 9: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… So, you, as a Christian, are planted in Christ, but you do not remain stagnant. You grow spiritually. You grow by learning God’s ‘will’— and that ‘will’ (God’s desires) are only found in the Bible. This is why your congregation presents and emphasizes opportunities to be in God’s Word. To be in Bible Class. To be in Sunday School. To be in Catechism class. To have personal, daily devotions. These are all opportunities to see God’s demands, hear God’s forgiveness, memorize promises of rescue, and find God-pleasing answers.
Maybe right now, your mind is already fabricating excuses as to why you just cannot possibly be in the Word like that. I mean, we still battle a sinful nature. A sinful nature that thinks it can handle every problem in life. A sinful nature that does not want to rely on the Bible verses memorized in Sunday School and in Catechism class. A sinful nature that defends its ungodly decisions. A sinful nature that only seeks its own interests. We may create every excuse as to why it’s impossible to grow in our knowledge of God, but we only hurt ourselves. The devil loves the excuses you (and I) make because they separate us God’s Word— the only weapon we have against temptation. The further we stay from the Word, the further we can drift from God!
That is why Paul prays: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… The more you read your Bible, the more you learn— and not just that, but the more you remember about who God is and what God does. The information gained from the Bible allows you to apply it to the many different situations of life.
This is where you find guidance. You know: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). Apply that truth when frightened about death. Can you really know that you will be in heaven? Yes. Because God used baptism to save you (1 Peter 3:21). You know that God is with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Apply that truth when at a loss for answers. You do not know the future. You might worry the future will be bad, not pleasant. Yet, God has heaven in store for you. God uses even unpleasant things to increase your reliance on him.
You also use your knowledge to determine what is false and what is true. Someone might tell you: God will not give you more than you can bear. You would know that this is not entirely accurate. The Bible says: God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and that when pressed down, his Word gives you strength not to fall into sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). A friend might say: I don’t need to be in a church to be a Christian. While that sounds a little true, you also know the Bible says: Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The more you spend in your Bible, the more you know. The more you know, the more you apply. That is how you grow.
A Gospel-Fed Heart Grows. God has transplanted you into light; he provides good soil. As a follower of Christ, you will grow in Christian living; His Word grows knowledge.
Right now my garden is growing. The soil is balanced. Plants draw nutrients from that soil. Yet, something else happens: those plants produce fruit— good, beneficial, pleasing fruit.
Paul points to the fruits that come from putting God’s Word into practice. Verses 3-5 say: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. God loves the Colossians. He loves them so much that he still keeps the Word in their life. He uses the Word to correct their false beliefs. He does not hold their wrongs against them, but he cleanses them. He keeps them planted in this soil of faith. He keeps feeding them with his Word. That love has an effect: loved much, they love much.
Paul notes that in verses 5-6: Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing— as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth… The Word produces ‘fruits of faith.’ ‘Fruits of faith’ are the results that come from putting God’s Word into practice.
See what fruits it produces in you. God encourages us: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). We see that God has given house and home, possessions and vehicles, money saved and money spent— and does this all without our constant asking. The Word sinks in; the fruit of contentment grows.
God teaches: If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8). If we come through surgery, we thank God for another day. If we do not make it through surgery, we thank God for heaven. We will not leave this life a day sooner or a day later than God already knows. So, the Word sinks in; the fruit of trust grows.
God instructs: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Husbands put the needs of your wife ahead of your own, just like Christ put your life ahead of his and died for you. Wives, listen to your husbands, just like you know God loves you and wants only the best. The Word sinks in; the fruit of stronger relationships grow.
Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God’s Word does something; God’s Word produces fruitful living.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. Turn here. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
It started off so easy. A father and his young son strolled down a flat, sandy nature trail. The further the two hiked, the more rugged the trail grew. Boulders littered the path, forcing both hikers to squeeze around them. Thigh-deep creeks sliced the trail in two, making them wade through churning currents. Trees had fallen on the path, leaving them no choice but to hop up and over the slimy, mossy bark. Finally, after hours of climbing and shuffling, reaching and grabbing, they saw the trail’s end. It meant no more obstacles, no more exhausting effort, no more struggles. All that separated them from reaching the goal was a deep chasm.
Father and son scoured the area for a bridge, but found nothing. They searched for the start of this chasm with the hope of walking around it, but it stretched both ways for miles. The only way over this challenge was over a fallen oak tree that bridged this great divide.
Father went first. His eyes locked onto the end of the trail. He carefully placed one foot on the log, and then heaved his entire weight onto the tree. One foot slid ahead of the other foot. He crept forward inch-by-inch, safely reaching the other side.
Turning around, he called out for his son to cross. Yet, the son sees so many things around him— so many dangers, curiosities, fears. He questions the sturdiness of the tree. He wonders what joys might lie on his side of the divide. He fears the raging waters could drown him. So many distractions pull on him, but the father calls, ‘Keep your eyes on me.’
Keep your eyes on me. Last Thursday marked the ascension of Jesus Christ; Jesus crossed from earth into heaven. You (and I) still stand on the other side— in a world that puts a constant strain on your faith. Still, Jesus says: ‘Keep your eyes on me!’ He prepares you for the Final Day. So, Live prepared for the Day. In his final Revelation, Jesus reveals earthly strength and eternal comfort with these words: “Behold, I am coming soon!”
He makes that promise not just once, but three times in one single chapter. Three times! …and twice in our selected verses! (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20): “Behold, I am coming soon!” That is true. That is a fact. The entire Bible confirms that. On the chosen day, at the precise second, [t]he Son of Man [will come] on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other… And so we will be with the Lord forever (Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). You stand so certain of Jesus’ return that you confess it to be true [in the Apostle’s Creed]: I believe that… Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Yes, Jesus is Coming Soon.
How many times did that phrase cross your mind this morning? “Today could be the day! Today I might step foot into my heavenly home! Today I could see Jesus with my eyes! Today Jesus could come!” Honestly? I did not— apart from prepping for this sermon. Jesus has been gone 2,000 years. That is not our definition of ‘soon.’ In fact, the Twelve disciples said Jesus would return ‘soon’ (Romans 13:11; James 5:8). I imagine Christians 500-years ago waited for Jesus. My grandparents believed Jesus would return. Yet, nothing! Jesus did not return on a predicted date. He did not return when one group waited for him. He has not returned in my lifetime. Jesus promises to come ‘soon,’ but millennia have passed. So, honestly, that is why this thought never enters my mind. If Jesus has not returned by now, it appears the likelihood of his return is still far off.
That, dear friends, leads to a very dangerous temptation. If we feel Jesus will not return in 10-years …10-months …10-days …10-minutes, we can let our faith-life slip. We figure there will always be time to address sin later. To grow in our faith later. To repent of a pleasurable wrong later.
Jesus’ response to that is: Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Jesus will examine every single heart. He will find hearts that stubbornly boast: “Jesus, I refuse to match my relationship to your commands. I do not want to obey you.” Jesus will find hearts that arrogantly sneer: “Jesus, I doubt that you created the world. I doubt that you actually did miracles. I doubt you really saved me. I doubt your life changed mine” Jesus will find hearts boldly bragging: “Jesus, I will not love my neighbor as myself. I don’t need to.” Jesus can even find those hearts sitting here, in a church, for decades. Hearts almost daring him: “You are not here yet. You will not return. I still have time.” Jesus will give that heart hell.
That’s why he says it not just once, but three times in one single chapter: “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20) Yes, Jesus will give to everyone according to what he has done— including you (and me)!
Ah! We are by no means perfect! And sometimes we even deliberately do what is wrong! What will he give us? A ‘life’-sentence. Life! God levied against Jesus a punishment that corresponds to all we have done. Yes, he slaps Jesus for stubborn boasting. He pulverizes Jesus for our arrogant sneering. He gives Jesus hell. The innocent blood of Jesus spills from his veins, and God takes you (and me), dips us in that innocent blood, and washes us. He scrubs away boasting. He purifies foolish arrogance. He lifts off death. Plug yourself into verse 14. ‘Blessed are you who have washed your robes, so that you may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates of the city.’ Jesus describes what he has done for you! Jesus prepares you for life!
Then he ascends into heaven to prepare a room for you. If he has gone to prepare a room for you, he will then come back so that you also may be where he is(John 14:2-3). Right now, we have the right to the tree of life— the tree found in the Garden of Eden, the tree that brings unending life (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24). You have life reserved in heaven. You will feast on that tree in perfection forever!
Jesus guarantees it. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” “I am showing you what will happen. I am showing you the future.” One day the future will be your present.
Yes, we stand on the earthly side of the divide. Jesus has crossed into heaven, but has not left you orphaned (John 14:18). He turns to say: I am Coming Soon! I have prepared you for the Day. Now, Live prepared for the Day.
How? Keep focused on your eternal home. You have help. The [Holy] Spirit says: “Come!” You, come! Approach these words. The Holy Spirit compels us to rejoice in what God prepares for you. He deepens our appreciation that God prepares heaven for you. He tightens your fingers around the splendid truth that God has made you his special child— that you live shaped by his Word because you are his child.
You are the bride of Christ. The bride, that is, every believer married to Jesus by faith, says, “Come!” You carry those words to each other. You say them to yourself. “Come! Come and see Jesus rule. Come and see Jesus watch you. Come and see Jesus strengthen you. Come to these words. As the bride of Christ, each day you take another step down the wedding aisle towards your groom. Live with a heart filled with love for the One who loved you. That is how you live prepared for the Day.
There’s more! [L]et him who hears say, “Come!” The ‘one who hears’ is you. ‘ You’ tell the world: ‘Come!’ Because the world needs to hear that message. Your children may be wandering spiritually. What do you say to them? After all, they are adults. They are exposed to a world that creates the beliefs it wants to believe. They make their own decisions. What do you say when a child who once knew Jesus now no longer worships him? What do you say when your son leaves what you taught him for a church that satisfies his ideas? What do you say to a daughter that always has an excuse to stay out of worship? It’s easy to say nothing .It’s easy to shrug off the false things your child hears about Jesus. It’s easy to surrender parental responsibilities. Yes, your child may be an adult. Yes, your child may make their own decisions. Yet, you have God’s truth. You have a message of God freely, completely washing you in the blood of Jesus— a message very few churches openly embrace, a message a nonbelieving world will never understand without hearing (Romans 10:17). So, how do you respond? [L]et him who hears say, “Come!” “Come, son, and listen to the Bible.” “Come, Daughter, and see your Savior.” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Nothing satisfies more on a hot, humid day than ice-cold, refreshing water. Nothing satisfies both conscience and heart, more than knowing a Jesus who is coming soon! Coming not in terror, but with healing in his wings. You know Jesus is Coming Soon! Live prepared for the Day.
Jesus is Coming Soon! He can, because everything needed to save you is complete. He does not need to battle Satan again. He does not need to die again. He does need to offer new payment for sin. All is done! All has been accepted for your benefit!
Jesus crossed from earth into heaven. You (and I) still stand on the other side— in a world that puts a constant strain on your faith. Still, Jesus says: ‘Keep your eyes on me!’ He prepares you for the Day. So, Live prepared for the Day. Keep turning for what is wrong. Keep clinging to my forgiveness. Keep coming to the Word and drinking that refreshing revelation. Life has an end— and you will walk across the divide into life eternal. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.