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.
Politicians are elected to serve the interests of a group of people. So, this group of people expect their elected official to bring unique community needs before a larger assembly, and then together, with other politicians, craft laws for their benefit. That is expected.
Expectations can bring frustration. Your needs might not always be met. Your congressman might vote impeaching the President (of the United States), but you do not want that. Maybe you did want the President impeached and your congressman did not. Your representative may fight for a gas tax that you did not want. Perhaps you did want a gas tax, but your representative did not push for it. A senator could endorse universal health care, but you do not want higher taxes. Perhaps you do want healthcare for all, but your senator does not. Politicians promise advocating for you. They guarantee taking your concerns and suggestions and putting them into law. Yet, that does not always happen. A politician might chase his own self-interests. She may act for her constituents, but your interests are not the majority’s concerns. The reality that your individually unique needs are not always addressed can ignite frustration. When you feel ignored, you feel insignificant. That fuels the pressure to rely on yourself.
That’s what makes Christmas Day special. God Most High, King of the universe, leaves his majestic throne room in heaven and comes to earth to be with us. God does not ignore your greatest need; he works for your interest in order to be with you forever. So rejoice! Because God Is With Us! How do you know? His name assures us. Can you be sure? Yes! His actions prove it.
Listen to God’s assurance in Matthew 1:22-23. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
There it is! A guarantee that God will keep your interests on his mind. God says he will be ‘with you.’ He will stand in flesh (with a body!) and experiences the same troubles of flesh! He will grieve at a funeral (John 11:35). He will see crippled limbs and heart-wrenching disease. He will observe fear in the eyes of the poor. He will watch the mighty abuse power. Yet, your God does not isolate himself from the world’s problems behind the ivory towers of a King’s mansion. He lives in the world and deals with the world. He will identify fear and handle it. He will understand anxiety and end it. He will recognize struggles and fix them. God promises to be with you!
What a promise that is! God will make all things well and whole! God will restore a bond of love! For hundreds of years people longed to see what you see, to celebrate what you celebrate! God had the prophet Isaiah share this promise seven-hundred years before the first Christmas! (That is three-times longer than the existence of our nation!) Millions of Christians over hundreds of years look ahead to that moment, but never see it. So many left wondering if God would make his intention happen.
You are [probably] not that anxious. We live on the other side of that promise. We can point at the record of God keeping his Word. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Christmas reveals that God did what he said he would do.
When you think about it, a promise really has no value. It simply exists as mere words strung together— words that may or may not bring an action into reality. That can make it difficult to rely on those words. You are not sure what you will receive. (1) God promises to be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Still, life hurts. Grandpa dies; that’s not fun. A friend manipulates you, abuses your kindness. Where was God to stop that? Is he really with you? (2) God promises to deliver you from trouble, so rely on him! (Psalm 50:15) Yet, a loved one only grows sicker and weaker. The marriage is not improving. Recovery is slow. Is God listening? Is really here? (3) God promises to will make your path straight, so trust him—in good and in bad! (Proverbs 3:5-6) Yet, you found the perfect job opening, and with your skill-set, you should get it. You make plans and they seem pretty definite. Right now, life feels fine, you are content. Where does God fit in when life feels under your control?
Promises do not always fill us with comforting peace. A promise should be a guarantee of future action, but so often promises are so often changed, forgotten, or broken— and we cannot rely on them. Even though God promises to be ‘with us,’ we may struggle with feelings of fear and anxiety. How does that happen? Our humans drag God down to a human level. We hear his promises, but receive them as equal to promises from faulty human mouths. We can treat God like some politician who does not always have our interests in mind. A politician who serves the interests of others. Really, our human heart can call God a ‘liar.’
That’s why God does Christmas. Christmas Day took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Do you realize how awesome that is?! The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans worshipped a plethora of deities— and not one [so-called] god cared for his people. If enemies invaded the land, you frantically bargained for their attention. Sacrifice money, animals, people— and hope that was enough. Then there always remained the heart-stopping possibility that the gods simply did not care.
God does not send another prophet. He does not send a king. He sends himself. ‘Immanuel’ is a Hebrew word; it means: IM= with. MANU= us. EL= God. ‘God with us!’ That little baby Mary cradles in her arms, the little baby locking eyes with you, that little baby by his simple presence alone is ‘Immanuel,’ God-with-us!
Do you wonder if God truly cares about your needs? Do you worry that God might have more pressing matters on his mind? Do you think that with over 7-billion people in the world, God cannot possibly deal with your [seemingly] insignificant fear? End that anxiety here. God Is With Us. How do you know? His name assures us. Even more, His actions prove it.
You realize that behind certain names lie certain responsibilities. A politician carries more than just a title. A ‘President’ must lead or a ‘congressman’ crafts bills. ‘Immanuel,’ God-with-us, is not simply the name of God on earth. ‘Immanuel’ does work!
In that little baby lies the might to do what we cannot. He grows up and stands up against every attractive temptation. The devil, who so often leads us into doubt, cannot get Jesus to doubt God’s providing care. Those fears which tug on us to question God’s reasoning cannot get Jesus to challenge God. Self-reliance leads us to think we are God, life’s ultimate handler. Yet, Jesus bows under God’s control. Jesus does what we cannot. He withstands temptation. He stumbles not once. In him is life.
Jesus, Immanuel, is with us as he brings every single promise of God to complete fulfillment. The Son of David is pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The Son of God towers over death by his own resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). What does this have to do with you? Everything Jesus does on earth is done to bring you into God’s favor. At your baptism, God said: I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1). God binds himself to you. God Is With Us.
God Is With Us to this very day. The first Christmas occurred over 2,000 years ago. Jesus ascends into heaven a little under 2,000 years ago. Although off the earth, God remains with us for our comfort. I mean, what accusations can Satan launch at you? He will call you ‘not perfect,’ not good enough for God. He will point out your wickedness and negligence. He will claim that that one secret sin is unforgiveable. How do you remove guilt and shame? Jesus steps up to you and covers you in his innocent life. God does not see filth, he sees purity. God Is With Us to silence those accusations. God is With Us and we can stand before him without fear.
Even more God Is With Us in his Word. If I sent you a letter, you receive my thoughts and my intentions. (You might even hear my voice in your head.) When you read the Bible you see God’s heart and hear what’s on his mind. He makes it pretty clear: [N]either death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). How do you know that? Jesus came to connect you to God; his actions prove that God Is With Us! The troubles you face will only make you stronger because you do not rely on your abilities, you rely God’s powerful might. The funerals you attend will only reinforce the splendid truth that heaven is life’s ultimate home. The good times you enjoy only lead you to thank God for that rest and enjoyment. God’s Word shapes our response to life in this world. We know God Is With Us because his actions prove it.
That’s what makes Christmas Day special. God Most High, King of the universe, leaves his majestic throne room in heaven and comes to earth to be with us. Yet, God is not an elected politician serving the interests of some, or working only for the majority. He does not make promises that are broken or changed. God works for your interest in order to be with you forever. So rejoice! Because God Is With Us! How do you know? His name assures us. Can you be sure? Yes! His actions prove it.
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.
Ten men stand covered with festering boils oozing yellowed pus. Stained bandages wrap and bind peeling skin. Chunks missing from ears and noses because, well, those chunks fell off. Ten men suffering from incurable leprosy. Ten men too contagious to live in a large community. Ten men completely cut off from hope.
No wonder they cry out: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ (Luke 17:13). No doubt they heard of this great Healer ministering throughout Galilee. Since they could not travel, hearts must have burned and yearned just for this man to come near. And when he did, how those hearts must have leapt at his healing instructions: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ Only the priests can declare the leprous: Cleansed! Ten men heard exactly that. ‘Clean!’ Just like that death slinked back into the shadows. Skin mended and healed. Freedom restored to touch friends and hug family. Ten men received so much from God. Yet, only one returns. Where did the others go?
Smoke drifts from the smoldering rubble. Underneath the tons of concrete and twisted metal lies crushed ambulances, fire trucks, police cars— and 3,000 bodies. The metallic skeleton of a burned out Boeing 767 jet-engine lies in a desolate city street. Rescuers scramble towards the scene; a nation stands still, mouths gaping, minds slowly grasping this disaster. Nineteen men brought the most powerful nation in the world to its knees. Everyday havens transformed into potential threats. Many saw unsuspecting people as suspects of terror. September 11th preached how little control man holds.
No wonder church attendance spiked! People turn for comfort in the Almighty God who holds supreme control. Hearts pour out, pleading for protection, strength, and security. All received such comfort. Yet, in the following weeks church attendance shriveled up. Where did all those people go?
I mean, is that all God is? A safe harbor when life spins wildly out of your control, but Someone unneeded when all appears manageable? God does not hold office hours as some grief counselor. He does not exist only for the next crisis. Whether storms rage or peace reigns, Find Rest in God Alone. Every achievement fades away, but Only God delivers rock-solid security.
That is really what those lepers and Americans craved, right? Security. The absence of fear and anxiety. The sense of control over life-matters. You watch ten men who have no way of improving health. So, to whom do they turn? To the great Physician! You watch Americans tremble because they cannot guarantee personal safety. So, where do they turn? To the Almighty! The heart craves security because security brings a sense of ease and stability.
Security will help fuel your thanks tomorrow. You will look at the things in your house and consider how those objects affect you. A house gives shelter and holds heat. Steady income fills physical needs. A savings account prepares for the unexpected. Good health feels good, strength allows you to get up and move. You may even gather with friends and family. And that allows an opportunity to consider how they impact your life. A grandchild gives you the chance to pass down knowledge, to influence behavior, to shape personalities. That grandchild could even be a source of pride. You may cherish a friend because of her advice or because of his support. A brother who respects you makes you feel wanted, a sister who asks for guidance benefits from your help. Yes, you will think about all the objects, all the people that hold some value in life. You will consider the joys you receive from them. You will think about the protection they offer you. You will be thankful for the fears they take away.
As you reflect on these many, many blessings, God adds a word of caution: Yes, the sons of Adam are only a breath. The sons of man are a delusion. On a scale they weigh nothing. They are nothing but air. Do not trust in extortion. Do not put empty confidence in stolen goods. If your wealth grows, do not set your heart on it.
Did you catch the name God sticks to all these worldly items? Breath! The air pushed out of your lungs. How long does that breath stay inside you? How long does it last outside of you? How many breaths do you take? Do you even remember that you breathe? The air we breathe lasts only seconds inside us, and out of the thousands of breaths you take each day, you probably only remember the ones taken right now (because I’m discussing it). God points at wealth and at people and says: ‘A breath has more value!’ Breath has more value than money because money (and the things you can buy with it) can vanish in an instant. The economy’s heartless hand can wipe out your savings in minutes. Bills can devour your wealth. Thieves can hack accounts and steal your earnings. Breath has more value than people because people can (and will) fail you! A friend might attack your reputation and that friendship is over. A child can disappoint you, robbing you of any parenting pride. You may think you receive special privileges because of who you know, but time passes and people forget who you are. Even the best of friends cannot even stop your death. You could be best friends with mega-billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett, but they will still die and so will you (and I). Your heirs will handle your finances and divvy up the possessions you worked so hard to accumulate. [Maybe worse?] Your name will fade away with time. You realize Every achievement fades away.
Since worldly objects fade away, any security they offer will fade away too. Put another way, wealth and people only offer false security. They promise to make life happier, but cannot guarantee it. If you (and I) find comfort in the prestige of our possessions and reputation, then we will be forever disappointed. Every achievement fades away and cannot bring you eternal rest.
That’s why God says what he does. In fact, God writes his warning down so that we can read it, so that it can sink in. God even guides our trust by (1) giving a warning and (2) presenting a reliable security. (1) If your wealth grows, do not set your heart on it. Instead, (2) rest quietly in God alone, for my hope comes from him.
That might sound strange. God offers you hope? Like ‘something not certain,’ ‘something that might not be there’? No. The Bible uses ‘hope’ to describe ‘a reality waiting in the future.’ Keep focused on God, find hope. Not just any ‘hope,’ but the capital-‘H’ Hope. Inside of Jesus shimmers this priceless life. A life that does not chase after crowns and thrones. A life that does not rob the temple treasury or ask his disciples for big purchases. Rather, a life content in living on the daily bread his Father provides and with the simple clothing on his body. Although the Son of God, Jesus does not seek worldly status and praise from the nation. He does not come for fame. He comes to give you rest.
He puts the heart at rest by suffering real death. Death—the end of life and separation from God. How worldly wealth could not spare him that! How friends deserted him, leaving him alone! Trust in worldly comforts earn this: life cut off from God— and Jesus absorbs it all.
Jesus rises in order to bring your heart (and mine) real security. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be disturbed. Picture that. A thick, rocky mountain with a little cave carved out. God sets you in that thick mountainous fortress. What can penetrate those walls and harm you? Be sure, the devil will fire flaming darts meant to hurt. Yet, no matter what accusations he shoots, they all bounce off! Your reliance in wealth? Well, Jesus took the dart. Your proud regrets? They ricochet. Your shame for falling into false security again? God forgives. He keeps you covered in Jesus’ life. Accusation after accusation bounces off that rocky wall. You Find Rest from guilt in God Alone.
You will encounter troubles in this world (read John 16:33); that’s no secret. Trade wars make for an uncertain future. A weakened economy stirs up retirement fears. Government may make you unsure of the future. One phone-call can change life. These troubles can take things away from you. You may lose freedom. You may lose your car, house, and retirement. You may lose loved ones. You may lose life. Still, you Find Rest in God Alone. God strengthens you to stand strong in these troubles. He has always seen fit to provide you with house and home. He has always seen fit to give you both food and savings. He has always led through even the most difficult of situations. Unlike money and people, God can actually keep his guarantee that all works for your good (Romans 8:28).
Then, you experience times of peace. Maybe this was a year of plenty for you— a good year, a year when you had no financial need, you took vacations, and bought new cars, more property, or you just stashed more away in your savings. If so, then good. That is what a stronghold does; it keeps you safe. Do you see? The reason you have security is because God gives you security. My salvation and my honor depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. The Giver puts your heart at rest. He keeps trouble for overwhelming you.
So, trust in him at all times, you people. Pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us. As someone who lives in this stronghold, live like someone who lives in a stronghold. Live fearless. Live without anxiety because your heart relies on God’s providing. Live certain of control in life. You may not have power over all the things that enter, but the Almighty God does—and who better to control life? Even when scared, rely on God in time of need. Plead in times of distress. Turn your mind to him in every situation in life. Run to him first, well before you ever think about what you can do to deliver yourself. As you Find Rest in God Alone, your thanksgiving is enriched. You gain the benefits of less anxiety, less need of control (which you really do not have), and greater peace because you live as children under a parent’s loving care. As attentions focus on this truth, you will always have rest be it in good or bad. Find Rest in God Alone because Only God delivers rock-solid security.
One leper grasped that truth. His incurable disease prevented him from living with his family. Unless something changed, he had no hope.
So, no wonder he cries: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ (Luke 17:13). He heard of this great Healer ministering throughout Galilee. His heart leapt at the healing instructions: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ Only the priests can declare the leprous: Cleansed! He heard exactly that. ‘Clean!’ Just like that death slinked back into the shadows. Skin mended and healed. Freedom restored to touch friends and hug family. As fantastic as these blessings are, he found rest in the One who cured his life forever.
A safe harbor when life spins wildly out of your control, but Someone unneeded when all appears manageable? No. God does not hold office hours as some grief counselor. He does not exist only for the next crisis. Whether storms rage or peace reigns, Find Rest in God Alone. Every achievement fades away, but Only God delivers rock-solid security.
Thick, dense fog drops visibility to only 20-feet, which sounds pretty insignificant—except your airplane barrels towards the runway at 150 miles-per-hour. The automatic pilot counts down the distance from the ground. 50…40… 30…20…10… One pilot chimes in: “I’m sure it’s down there somewhere.” As for you, you see nothing. What do you do? How do you land? Where do you fly? How do you arrive safely? So much is unknown. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2851968/Now-s-flying-blind-Terrifying-footage-shows-pilots-approaching-Dublin-airport-fog-t-runway-moments-landing.html).
Much like our topic today, right? Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Everyone seems to have opinions. Few seem certain. What about you? Can you know what to expect about life with God?
Let’s return to 2 Thessalonians 2:13. It reads: But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits (a better translation is ‘from the beginning’) to be saved… Long before God spoke the universe into existence, God knew you. He knew the precise moment of your birth. He knew every city and every home in which you would live. He knew where you would work. He knew who you would marry and the family you would have. He knew you would be sitting here, in this church located in [Harrison] Clare, Michigan. In fact, God did more than ‘know’ information, he chose you.
His ‘choosing’ had a purpose: To save you. Here in these verses God zeroes in on you— not other people, but you— and he makes it clear: Your life has a goal. That goal is not to spend decades building an empire and stashing away cash, growing popular and sitting on a mountain of respect and then die. Earthly status is not your ultimate goal. Before the sun started marking time, God had the goal of escorting you from this life into life in his kingdom.
How did God reach that goal? God chose you through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Now, that word ‘sanctification’ means ‘to make holy,’ ‘to make morally pure.’ Notice, you did not do the work, your name does not appear in this verse. Which name does? The Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does the ‘making-holy’ work. When you heard God’s impact on life, the Holy Spirit went to work. He buried those words into your heart, not you. He created faith so that you stand convinced of this tremendous truth: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). To this— this magnificent reality of never-ending paradise— [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain (so that you may join in this) the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In those opening words God reveals something great. That word ‘sanctification’ is where we get our word ‘saint.’ According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is not a special charity-worker who helped the poor, fed the hungry, and freed the oppressed and is a far superior Christian than you. According to the Bible a ‘saint’ is a ‘holy person.’ How does a person become ‘holy?’ [T]hrough sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Simply put, God has made you a ‘saint.’
Maybe you half-laugh at that thought. You— a saint? You hate what you see in the mirror. How could God ever forgive your past? …after hurting the kids? …after your arrest? …after the foolish nights? How can you be a saint when you have done so much evil? You lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, flipping through a mental list of sorts: Sunday School teacher, wife and mother, community volunteer, kind neighbor, frequent worshipper. You did so many kind acts, but you feel that it is just not enough. Does God really love you? You stand in front of the tombstone. Carved in granite is a date of death. Is she really in heaven? Does God really love him? Will I be in heaven too? Stare at our hearts and we do not look like saints, do we?
The reason we struggle with that thought of being a ‘saint,’ the reason questions about life and death, heaven and hell torment us is because we are looking for certainty in all the wrong places. We tremble at the thought of heaven and hell because we realize that we are not as good as we should be. We cannot rely on our social status to get us through the gates of heaven. We do not have the power to control our eternity. So why look at yourself?! When you (and I) want self-assurance that all is well, we will never find it. We have are turning away from Jesus, the only One who has saved you!
That is why verse 15 says: So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Do not stand firm on your own emotions, your own thoughts. Stand firm, cling tightly to God’s truth. In fact, standing firm is not an action you do. Your determination, your willpower does not strengthen faith. God does the strengthening. When attention steps off of that Word, grip weakens. When we go back to the Word, faith automatically grips God’s promises.
You open the Bible, it says: [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. You read those words, faith grabs them. What can you expect from God? To bring you where Jesus is. Why do you believe that? Because God has kept his Word. God promises Adam and Eve a Savior (Genesis 3:15). Isaiah says a virgin will give birth to a son (Isaiah 7:14). Micah says the Savior will arrive in Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2). Lo and behold! The virgin Mary gives birth to a Son in Bethlehem! God promises to paint Jesus with our guilt, our shame, our evil. He will crush him to death(Isaiah 53:5-7). The Holy One will lie in a grave, but not see decay (Psalm 16:10-11). He will rise as Lord with the enemy of death under his feet! (Psalm 110:1) Lo and behold! Wicked men crucify Jesus, friends bury him, he rises and steps into eternal glory! God has always done as promised. In that same Word God makes clear: You are the people Jesus scrubbed and washed and cleaned. You are the people that Jesus stands before the Father. You are the people God calls ‘saints.’ Yes, I know, so much in this world tries to convince us that we are unlovable, that God does not (and cannot) love us, that we can never be sure of entering heaven. The truth is, it does not matter what you feel! God gives his Word so that we may point to it and say, ‘My Savior paid the debt I owe and for me was smitten; Within the Book of Life I know, my name has now been written!’
The Lord chose you and reached his goal using the Word. The Holy Spirit has changed your eternity from death into life. God does not keep this a secret. God tells you now so that you live at ease and joy. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints. You can, because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Yes, the same Word God used to create faith is the same Word that protects faith. You live in a world where not everyone has faith. That means you will hear things about death that might frighten you. You will hear things about death that do not line up with what God teaches. Sometimes people’s thoughts sound reasonable, they might sound good, but they are not true. The Sadducees claimed no resurrection, that dead remains dead— in the ground, buried, forever (Luke 20:27-38). I worked with a lady who knew I was a Christian. One day (for some reason) she had to tell me: ‘There is no life after death. You die, get buried, and become dust, ashes, and energy. That’s it.’ A family member of mine called ‘grandma’ an angel. That sounds lovely— floating on clouds in brilliant white light strumming a harp. As beautiful as the image is, it’s not true. You and I, grandma, do not become angels in heaven; the Bible does not teach that. Just last week, someone told me that heaven is whatever makes you happy. [In his words]: ‘If sitting at McDonald’s makes you happy, then that is your heaven.’ What’s the point of saying this? Not to criticize, not to sound superior. The point is this: Not all have faith. Some think death is permanent. Others make up strange stories. We may not know what to believe and that can trouble us. When we do not rely on what God reveals, we lose comfort. We get scared. We do not stand firm.
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. The Bible tells you the truth about life and death. Since God tells you the straight truth, it strengthens you. You can be sure that you have the right information!
In the Bible, God gives you a glimpse of reality. Your Christian spouse who died from cancer is in heaven. How do you know? Because Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). Your elderly, now-deceased Christian friend is in heaven— perfectly well, perfectly healthy. How do you know? Because, Jesus Christ, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Glorious— meaning, not getting older, getting achier, going to the hospital again, and dying. Glorious means without disease, without age, without defect. That’s the body our powerful Jesus gives every believer. Grandma sings in heaven— but not as an angel. How do you know? Well, Jesus says ‘We are like the angels’— but do not transform into angels (Luke 20:35-36). In fact, God says angels are ministering spirits sent to serve you (Hebrews 1:14). Angels are heaven’s butlers and you will have a higher rank in heaven! You are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple… and the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [your] Shepherd, he will lead [you] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17). God steers your heart into confidence with his Word. You can Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints because The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
The airline pilots had to rely on a word. Thick fog blocked out all sight of this runway. The plane raced down. Yet, the plane’s instruments identified the goal and steered the plane towards its goal. Word kept the pilots on track.
God’s Word keeps you (and me) on track. Talk about life and death, heaven and hell, resurrection and paradise seems so unknown. Many have opinions, but God reveals truth. God reveals truth for your comfort. The One who created heaven, descended from heaven, and re-ascended into heaven clearly tells you that he chose you through the Word. Do you grasp what God has done? He changed your future forever. He did the work. He saved you. The purpose for telling you this is to put you at ease. With that same Word, God steers our hearts and minds towards our heavenly goal. He removes fear with forgiveness. He removes doubt with truth. He answer questions by telling you what to expect. The Lord strengthens you through the Word.
Friends, when thoughts of death trouble you, look to the Word. Find peace here. Look forward with joy to the best that is to come. Stand Firm in Your Calling as Saints.
Many of you know I fought a head cold last week. So, after worship, I just wanted rest. Got home and melted into the couch. The kids had brought out all these board games and were playing them. Very soon Clara asked me to play Chutes ‘n Ladders. I did not to play; I wanted rest. So, I said, “We’ll play after supper, ok?” She agreed and went back to playing.
Supper came. Ate. Finished. Sunk into the La-z-Boy. Felt a pretty good nap coming on. Suddenly out of nowhere, Clara’s standing right in front of me, board game in hand. “Do you want to play?” “No, not now. I’m tired.” What she said next was probably the wisest and the most hurtful of words, the kind of words that just nail parents. “But you said you would play after supper.”
She’s right. I said those words. I had every intention playing the game, but I broke my word. She told me that. She reminded me to do what I said I would do. She even came back with my word in hand. She wanted to play, so she persistently asked. She relied on my promise. She trusted that in the future my actions would match my words. I proved myself unreliable.
If I, like so many, cannot keep my word, then what a privilege you (and I) have in approaching an always-reliable God for anything, anytime, anywhere. Do you? God invites you (and me) to Wrestle with God in Prayer! As you do, you uncover three key truths: You (1) Confront your own limitations. You discover what you are and are not capable of doing. You (2) Take hold of God’s powerful might and see what God is capable of doing. This wrestling match always produces good results. You will (3) Prevail with God’s blessings.
Consider how that wrestling match changes Jacob’s confidence. Here stands a man who always schemes to get what he wants. His older brother, Esau, stood first in line for the family birthright. (That ‘birthright’ is the line of Jesus; God would come through this person’s family tree and be the blessing for the world! [Genesis 12:1-3]). Yet, Jacob wants the birthright. So, he schemes. He watches Esau take off hunting— off into the wilderness, without much food or water, shelter or safety. Jacob knows that. So he cooks this thick, hearty stew. When Esau barges in exhausted, hungry, he demands a helping. Jacob gives some— only if Esau trades his birthright first. Esau quickly agrees and Jacob remembers (Genesis 25:29-34). When his blind, elderly father, Isaac, prepares to pass down the birthright, Jacob goes back to work. While Esau works out in the fields, Jacob steals his identity. He puts on Esau’s smelly clothes. Hair covers Esau and so Jacob wears animal pelts. He even brings Esau’s signature stew to Isaac— and Isaac buys the lie! Jacob tricks his handicapped father! (27:1-30) It finally looks like Jacob meets his match in his uncle Laban. Laban lets Jacob work for him in exchange for his daughter. Jacob completes his service; Laban marries off his daughter— the wrong one. So, Laban agrees to marry away the right daughter if Jacob works longer. So Jacob works— and schemes. He works this time, not for women, but for sheep. Laban would keep the solid-colored and Jacob the spotted. Since Jacob worked the flocks, he only bred the spotted— and not Laban’s flock. Jacob’s herd flourishes and Laban’s struggles. Before Laban could catch the trick, Jacob runs away (30:31-43).
For his entire life Jacob could scheme his way out of any situation— except this one here: Esau found Jacob. He marches with 400-men (32:7). Jacob’s trapped. No sly, smooth-talking can get him out of this dilemma. He cannot flee under the cover of dark. Every passing second hammers home the dreadful reality that he cannot escape. So, he took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. Jacob was left alone, confronting his own limitations. He stands absolutely powerless to control Esau, to mold the future, to guarantee personal safety.
That is not a truth we care to admit. You (and I) tend to think we control many aspects of life, but we do not. You cannot make someone love you. You can buy her flowers, you can make him food, you can be nice to the group, but you cannot force hearts to love you. You cannot puppeteer the future. You cannot make that university accept you. You cannot make classmates worship you. You cannot make co-workers be kind to you or receive that dollar-figure salary on the perfect day each month. You cannot even control you. You have a body, but you cannot flush the flu away. You cannot cure cancer by thinking real hard. You cannot even hold back a cough or a sneeze. When you (and I) reflect on relationships, finances and health, goals and dreams, you realize how little you do control.
That leaves an impact. You (and I) get stressed because you cannot solve financial woes like you want; you cannot pour money into your bank account by thinking about it. That is why you get scared— because you cannot stop the gunman from appearing in a school or make your cancer shrink away. That is why you grow nervous for the future— because you cannot guarantee retirement, you cannot make politicians enact every single idea in your mind, you cannot force the teacher to give you ‘As.’ So we worry. We worry because we do not control what we think we control. We worry because we cannot control what we want to control. We worry because we confront our limitations— and we care little to admit that.
For a moment, ponder what that fear says about your God. Worry says that God will not keep his promises. Worry says that I have more power to control life than the almighty God. Instead of wrestling with God, we wrestle against him. We either demand God to give us what we want (because we think this is the tool we need for successful living) or we try to handle life cares and concerns on our own.
For a man who tries controlling so much, one simple touch demonstrates just how little control he has. A man wrestled with [Jacob] him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Even though Jacob could still wrestle, he realized this Mystery Man was mighty powerful.
In fact, this Man is so powerful that two thousand years after this wrestling match, he would wrestle again. This time not against Jacob, but against the penalty we brought on ourselves. God had draped on Jesus your self-reliance (and mine). The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we can hold the power to handle any trouble in life. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we know better than God. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks God does not care what we confront. As Jesus kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane, he confronts the hellish consequence for our self-reliance.
What does he do? He Wrestles with God in Prayer. He cries out three times: “God, if possible, please take this suffering from me. Do not do what I want. Do your will” (Matthew 26:36-43). God’s will is that Jesus be our Substitute. That Jesus stands under God’s wrathful waterfall against self-reliance. Do you see how God punishes the self-reliant heart? He lets it have its wish! God leaves Jesus alone. The self-reliant heart considers itself so reliable to rescue and deliver itself from any trouble— except it cannot. This is the best it can do: fall before God.
Jesus, the One who wrestled against Jacob so long ago (read Hosea 12:2-5), takes on flesh again to wrestle self-reliance, struggle against its punishment, and win. Yes, Jesus conquers our greatest foe: death itself. Even if we could handle all of life’s worries, stresses, and accidents, we could never add another day to life. Jesus can and he does. He extends your life forever.
The man said to Jacob, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This wrestling match teaches us that God can do what we cannot! Jacob does not try to defeat this man, but looks to this man for help. He Takes hold of God’s powerful might and prevails with God’s mighty blessings.
[The man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” God did not forget Jacob’s name; God has Jacob think about his name. He had always schemed, but now no more. [H]e said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” From now on, any time ‘Israel’ rings out, Jacob would remember God his Rescuer. Anytime ‘Israel’ wrote his name, he wrote down God’s protection. Anytime ‘Israel’ saw his name, he would see God’s blessings of property, family, and faith. The name change brought blessing; it re-centered Jacob’s reliance in God alone. That’s how this wrestling match ends— prevailing with God’s blessing!
Maybe prayer feels much like a wrestling match. Asking, pleading, struggling, crying, day and night— but never receiving. Where is the blessing in that? How does this benefit you?
God makes clear: Wrestle with Him in Prayer and prevail with His blessing. That blessing may be (1) increased awareness of God’s will. Yes, the heart aches for your spouse. You miss the companionship. You miss the activities, but they’re gone. Why didn’t God heal them? Remember what you (and I) admit as true: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.’ Heaven is our final stop, not earth. A spouse leaves for heaven because God promises heaven to every believer. That is their final stop and soon, you (and I) will arrive there too. You (and I) might think that we will benefit if God just grants our request. A few more dollars will provide contentment. A little more healing allows you to volunteer … to babysit …to worship— and those are good things! Doesn’t God see the benefits of giving what you ask? God also knows no earthly wish completely satisfies the heart. If you get, you can worship the object. If you get, you only want more. If you get, you can forget the Giver. Going to God again and again and again leads you to revisit his promises and rely on his Word. ‘Cast your anxiety on me for I care for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). ‘Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will honor me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5-6). Wrestle with God in Prayer and prevail with God’s mighty blessings of peace.
Wrestling with God in Prayer gives a chance to reflect on your real need. You may not need the cruise; you may instead appreciate the quiet day off. You may not need the smartphone; you may instead appreciate talking to friends. You may not need the car; you may instead appreciate the friend God put into your life to drive you. Jacob did not need escape, he needed God’s protection. Prevail with God’s blessing of living under God’s powerful might.
The next morning, Jacob did meet his brother. For the first time in twenty years they hugged (Genesis 33:1-17). As each went his own way, God kept protecting Jacob— just as promised.
Because God is not me—a parent who says and then breaks his promises. God does not let you down. God does not forget you. You (and I) will confront limitations. We cannot handle so many troubles. God can. Take hold of God’s powerful might and Prevail with God’s blessings. Anything, anytime, anywhere Wrestle with God in Prayer!
One word keeps appearing throughout United States history. One word that seizes your attention. One word that anchors your emotions to a cause. One word that demands action. ‘Remember!’ Remember the Alamo! Think back to the hundreds of Americans fighting for Texas independence. Envision ruthless Santa Ana slaughtering these innocent men. Put yourself into that setting. Feel their fear. Feel their helplessness. Let rage drive you to grab your weapon and get justice! Remember the Maine! The American warship innocently sitting in Cuba’s port— until Spain blew it up! So many sailors crying. Shrieking. Drowning. Remember the needless violence and let emotions move you to act! Remember Pearl Harbor! Hear the wailing warplanes unleash their explosive loads on unsuspecting sailors. Picture the trapped burning and drowning! Let anger drive you to act! Remember September 11th! Replay the horrific images of hijacked planes and burning towers. Think about the frightened Americans and heroic firefighters sacrificing their lives. Recall the terrible aggression thrust on so many unsuspecting and take action! ‘Remember!’
That powerful word drives purpose. You recall an event. You identify its impact on life. You respond with action. So no wonder that same word appears in our reading from 2 Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ! That resounding theme calls you (and me) to action. The struggles we confront, the depression we endure, the frustrations we carry can blind us from life’s ultimate goal. So, remember! Remember Jesus Christ! and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. You will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
So bring to mind the greatest life-changing event in the history of the world. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. Keep those two key truths firmly planted in mind. See Jesus and see someone raised from the dead— which means, he once was dead. Heart stopped, no blood pressure. Breath gone, no oxygen to the brain. No twitching muscles, no talking, no hearing. Just wrapped in a burial cloth, placed in a tomb, grave sealed. Jesus died— but now lives! Heart beats! Lungs gasp, oxygen flows! Legs stand! Ears hear! Eyes twitch! Burial cloths removed, grave broke open—and never again in it! See Jesus and see someone descended from David. He has parents— just like you (and I). He has flesh and blood. Ten holy commandments rest on his shoulders (Galatians 4:4-5). He constantly confronts temptation. See Jesus live in your same difficult world. Remember these two tremendous truths about your Savior. Remember Jesus Christ, (1) raised from the dead, (2) descended from David.
Why? Out of God’s many uplifting promises, why remember this simple statement? Paul the apostle writes these words. At the time, he suffer[s] even to the point of being chained like a criminal. Understand, Paul does not sit in some musty, damp castle dungeon. He’s not behind bars watching the sheriff polish his six-shooter. No, soldiers drop him into a cistern and then leave. No windows. No doors. The only light trickling in comes through the hole in the ceiling. No sight of guards. No visitors. Paul basically sits chained up inside a big septic tank. Why? Because he taught Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David and people wanted that teaching silenced.
That does not sound fair, does it? I mean, what danger does that message bring? It is not violent. It does not kill. It does not bully. Still, some want God’s teaching silenced. Their rejection will make your life uncomfortable. Your government will not consult the Bible when crafting laws. So, leaders may label your ‘Man/Woman-Only Marriage’ ‘Hate Speech.’ You could be fined, shut down, jailed, or killed. Many refuse to admit that life begins at conception. So, you will have teachers and professors who label the unborn ‘a mass of cells’ that can be aborted. Others let the pursuit of pleasure steer life. Friends may pressure you to abuse your body, to sleep around, to divorce and move on, to believe what you think is ‘right’ and ‘fair,’ to let greed guide your decision-making. Still others treasure time outdoors instead of time with God on Sunday mornings. People will oppose your Christian faith.
How does that make you feel? Ashamed to speak up for what God calls ‘right’? Embarrassed to repeat God’s teachings? Afraid of insults? …jail? …injury? You (and I) may not be tossed into a prison-hole, but expect opposition because that Word is in your heart and spoken with your mouth and seen in your actions and many do not want to confront it.
That’s where even our hearts can grow hostile to God. You (and I) confront God’s ‘right,’ but the world’s ‘wrong’ feels so much better. You could make the effort to repair strained relationships, but you want to be selfish. An unmarried child lives as though married, but it’s easier to say nothing so that no one gets angry. If you change [so-called] offensive Bible teachings, then no one would hate you. You see, sometimes others will make life miserable because they reject the Word. Sometimes we feel miserable because our hearts push against the Word. Do you see the common denominator? Your God. It may feel as though you will be happier, more popular, and less at odds with yourself if you only dump God from your heart. If you stop speaking up. If only you stop believing everything the Bible says. If only you push the Word out of your heart— and then what? Live without God and how will you enter heaven?
That is why Paul says: Remember Jesus Christ! That powerful word drives purpose. Remember the purpose for clinging to Jesus. Your Jesus, descended from David, stood in your world. He exposes the world’s absolute inability to please God— but few wanted to hear that. Massive crowds literally dwindle down to just a handful of disciples (John 6:66). Many call Jesus ‘demon-possessed,’ ‘Satan’s helper,’ a ‘fraud’ (Mark 3:22). Even Judas, one of the twelve, trades Jesus for money. The world so desperately wants God’s convicting Word silenced that they kill Jesus. Understand, as David’s descendant, Jesus is tempted too (read Matthew 4:1-11). He is tempted to change parts of the Bible people do not want to hear. He could stop correcting sin. He could just say nothing— but then, he would be as sinful as you (and I). His crucifixion would be meaningless.
Jesus clings to the Word because only obedience to God’s teachings brings life! So, Remember Jesus Christ, tempted like you, but never stumbling. The world throws him away, but God raised [him] from the dead. God makes Jesus alive again! He does that because he is pleased with Jesus’ life, with his behavior! (Romans 4:25) You who have heard this wonderful news, you who know that Jesus has filled you with his complete adherence to the Word have obtain[ed] the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Remember Jesus Christ! Call that marvelous truth to mind! Remember the purpose for clinging to the Word even when facing discomfort! You cling to the One who has opened heaven! Remember Jesus Christ and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. Remember Jesus Christ and you will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
Here is a trustworthy saying… Completely reliable. Absolutely unable to be broken. God will not lie (Numbers 23:19). If we died with him, we will also live with him… Notice the tense of that first verb? If we died… Past tense, action happening in a previous time. God points you back to your baptism, where water covered your head, covered your love for status and love for worldly pleasures. Just as Jesus died covered in our guilt, but rose again guilt-less, you (and I) also come out of that water without guilt (Romans 6:2-11). Rotting in prison because you repeated God’s expectations may leave you feeling as though God abandoned you. He has not. He cannot. You died with him and therefore you will live with him. [I]f we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us… You (and I) will face pressure to act first and then use the Bible to justify behavior. Cover up divorce by saying, ‘God wants me to be happy.’ Say nothing to the child who has not worshipped for a long time. We will face the temptation to change the Word to conform to what we want to hear. Maybe we disown God by shaking a fist at him. Assume God has forsaken you. After all, you prayed and you have not seen an answer. You shape your life according to the Word, but people still mock you. It might be easier to join the unbelieving group. God makes it clear: if you consider him too much a burden and dump him, he will let you have your way. He will let you have life forever without him.
Even if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. God keeps his Word; he will punish those who turn from him. He threatens punishment when we challenge his care for us. He threatens punishment the instant we deliberately set aside God’s commandments for the opinions of the heart. He threatens punishment when we plug our ears to his saving Word. He will do what he guarantees: punish the stubborn and forgive the sorry (Exodus 34:6-7)— including you (and me). Jesus points us back to our baptism, back to his promise of making us his children (Isaiah 43:1; Galatians 3:26-27). He guarantees: ‘You are mine.’ Even when we stumble, God faithfully forgives. Remember Jesus Christ and Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
It might not be fair when the world labels you a ‘threat.’ It might not be fair when leaders teach ungodly stances on life and marriage and refuse to present God’s teachings. It might not be fair when you share Jesus with your son only to receive resistance. It might not feel fair that you fight to restore a relationship, but the other person does not try. For Paul, it is not fair that he rots in prison because of a harmless teaching. Yet, our reading does not say: ‘Gripe! Complain! Even the score!’ No! It says: Remember Jesus Christ!
That powerful word drives purpose. Recall an event. Remember Jesus who suffered. Identify its impact on life. Jesus suffers because people hate his Word. Jesus suffers because we resist the Word. Jesus suffers so that will suffer forever. Respond with action. Your Jesus lives exalted. Myriads of angels shower him with endless praise. No worldly outranks him. He even hands this status to you—and what a title it is!
The struggles we confront, the depression we endure, the frustrations we carry can blind us from life’s ultimate goal. So, remember! Remember Jesus Christ! and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. You will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
They call it: ‘The Hill.’ A sandy trail winding two-and-a-half miles uphill. Yes, a continually gradual incline of two-and-a-half miles. Yet, ‘The Hill’ looks pretty unspectacular. It does not have deadly drop-offs, cliffs and pits, or some lake of fire to leap over; it’s just a plain hill— but one man had trouble reaching the top. ‘The Hill’ was just was too steep; he was too tired. So, he ran ‘The Hill’ again the next day… and the next day …and the day after that. He ran ‘The Hill’ every single day for over twenty years. The more he ran, the faster he got. (In fact, he sprinted, not jogged, sprinted that two-and-a-half mile incline in just under 16-minutes!) He became stronger. He could endure more. He gained more resolve to push through struggle. By the end of his 20-year football career, legendary San Francisco 49er, Jerry Rice, held the all-time records for most touchdowns, most receiving yards, and most receptions. In fact, he set the bar so high that even the best players reaching the end of their lengthy careers would need to play an additional 5-7 seasons just to threaten those records! Jerry Rice ran ‘The Hill’ because, in his own words, ‘he did not want to get into a mode of quitting.’ His single-minded goal was to finish so that “In that fourth quarter, even if I was tired, I was able to fight through it to make that winning catch for that touchdown.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3zfNlmEHr0)
Can you persevere like that? You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. Where do you find the strength, the motivation, the certainty that trust in God is valuable? How do you persevere? Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.
That’s how athletes train. A clear objective hangs before their eyes— an accomplishment, a championship, or glory. If they lose sight of that objective, they will never claim the prize. So the entire body fights to reach the goal.
Christians who lived millennia before Jesus locked eyes onto the guarantee that Jesus would come. That Jesus would pay sin’s penalty. That Jesus would rescue them into heaven. That is life’s ultimate goal; heaven is life’s finish line. Those ancient Christians yearned to reach that goal— and God’s guarantee was their focus.
Remaining focused is challenging. Just last week, you watched Abraham wait for a son that never seems to come. At a moment like that, you reach a serious crossroads. Either (1) You trust that God will give as promised or (2) You doubt that God will give as promised. Either (1) You take God at his Word or (2) You push his Word out of your heart.
That tension is called ‘the cross.’ The cross is everything that you suffer because you are connected to Christ. On the one hand you love God, you cling to his Word, you rely on his promises— you are connected to him! On the other hand so much in this life creates doubt, fear, and resentment— and that tension pulls on you, tugging and trying to divide your allegiance from your God. I mean, sudden loss rips into your life. Instantly the questions appear: ‘God, why? She was so young.’ ‘God, I loved him. Why a cancer-caused death?’ ‘God, why the memory loss?’ ‘God, the pain makes it hard to love you.’ Those losses tug at us, and you hit that crossroads: (1) Trust God even when you do not see love or (2) Quit because you do not see love. Or, the future is never clear. You know God gives all you need for life, but at this moment, you rely more on your clever financial footwork to navigate through trade wars and recession-leaning markets. You know God loves you, but at this moment, school’s about to start and you have career choices to make and, well, you know God will not boom some answer from heaven: ‘Choose accounting!’ or ‘Take the desk job!’ Decisions tug at us. We again hit that crossroads: (1) Rely on God’s promises or (2) Toss the promises aside and rely on yourself! Or, you ponder the ministry of your church. You know God wants you around his Word; that is the main reason you are here. At the same, you cannot forget those who moved downstate or moved into heaven. You hit that crossroads: (1) Trust that God will keep creating faith and strengthening faith or (2) Despair that more will leave, no one will come, your doors will shut, and you will not have the comfort of worshipping here.
It is hard to take God at his Word. So much of what is seen tries to convince you that God is nowhere present— and it is so easy to quit running. Because you’re tired. You’re exhausted. You’re scared. You encounter that crossroads: (1) Stop trusting God, leave his promises, shut his Word out of your heart and life. Then what happens? You would gain hell. What’s the other road? (2) Fix Your Eyes on Jesus— even in trouble.
Listen again to our reading: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [those ancient Christian examples— Hebrews 11:1-40], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Have you ever watched Olympic runners? They wear light clothing. Layers of sweatshirts will weigh them down and long jeans constrict movement. So, sprinters wear light clothing. Here, God says, ‘Take all those struggles you face, all those impulses to turn from the Word, all those temptations to lash out at me and throw them off.’ Those temptations hinder us! Cursing God, blaming God, doubting God will never let us reach the goal of heaven. Throw off that despair and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. How? You’re so tired! How do you persevere? Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Gain motivation to rely on God because Jesus is both Motivator and motivation!
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus… who for the joy set before him… because of his goal to bring you (and me) into heaven… [he] endured the cross, [he was not afraid of] its shame. Think of who Jesus is. The eternal God who calms wind and wave with a word. The One who forces demons into hell with a command. The One who raises the dead. Jesus is all-powerful God— and not just that, but he is faultless. No one can accuse Jesus of name-calling. No one ever witnessed him brushing off the needy. No one watches him deliberately doing wrong. No one saw it because it never happened. Still, Jesus is treated as a criminal. The lowest-of-the-low criminals sentenced to death. How is that fair? On the cross, Jesus hangs naked. Bleeding. Groaning. Helpless. Meanwhile, people taunt him. They laugh. They mock. He does not deserve this! Even worse, God holds him accountable for our anger at God’s justice! Still, it is Jesus who dies. Why? Jesus dies on a cross in order to remove the penalty for sin. That is the only way you (and I) would enter heaven.
Because of you (and I) will. Jesus rose from the dead— and even higher than that: [he] sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus will never ever suffer again. He reigns over every power, every authority, every person forever and ever.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Have you ever done that— considered the opposition Jesus endures? Jesus could have said, ‘No cross’— but then, how would payment be made? He could have snapped fingers and thundered into heaven, but you (and I) would still be stuck in sin. He could have raged against every smug, worldly leader, but then he would have sinned and become imperfect like us. Jesus willingly suffers death— death in our place!— so that you (and I) will not suffer in hell, so that you (and I) will join him in heaven.
Do you see life’s truest goal? Do you see the value of your faith? You walk behind Jesus, the Victor who already claimed victory! A victory for you. When struggling, Fix Your Eyes on Jesus and see him live for life’s truest goal. Keep Fixing Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
Listen again to verses 5-6: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Parents, why do you discipline your child? You put an end to wrong behavior. That allows room for good behavior to flourish. Really, discipline builds character.
God knows that you (and I) need pruning. If that sounds repulsive, then it only proves that you need pruning. Much of what we consider ‘suffering’ is really an attachment to something that can drag us from God. Right? You suffer insults because of what you believe, and you may really just want to be popular. You dread funerals because you love earth more than heaven— at least, for the moment. I mean, what we call ‘suffering’ can really mask love for worldly things.
So, God, in love, uses his Word to divide love for the world away from our love for God. Right now, we enjoy the ability to walk and eat and move. If illness or age takes that ability away, it allows the opportunity to look up and realize God controls our life. God manages our days. We thank God for the life we have now and thank him for the perfect life he has prepared! When tensions rise in marriage, we may want the other person to conform to our expectations. Yet, when tensions rise, it allows the opportunity to see where God tells us to change. We love family; we cherish friends. Yet, when they leave this life we remember that heaven is our real home, not earth. We may want a fuller-church, more children, even more activities. Yet, God lets us look around and remember that the true reason for gathering here is not for community praise, but to feed our souls. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. That is the reason for discipline: to share in God’s holiness. God removes all that can drag us away from him so that we never will leave him. The suffering, the heartache, the pain we endure now allows the opportunity to refocus on life’s truest goal, to return to God’s Word, and to continue clinging to that Word. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
So much pulls and tugs on our hearts. You may feel like you’re running up ‘The Hill.’ You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. You just want to quit trusting God. Quit loving him so much.
Yet, quit and you lose life. Persevere and you gain life. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus. See the purpose of his death. See the results of his resurrection. Know that because he died, you will live. Know that because he sits in heaven, you too will sit in heaven. Keep your eyes locked on the one thing life is all about: knowing God now in order to know him for all eternity. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.
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.