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.
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.
Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. Just two days earlier the Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) detonated eight bombs. Five blew up hotels as families gathered for Easter brunch. Three exploded in churches while Christians worshipped their Risen Lord. Over 350 people died and another 500 lay wounded. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombing.html)
The bombings deliberately targeted the Christian celebration of Easter. ISIS made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes to stifle the Easter message and scare Christians into silence.
Attacking Easter does not diminish the Christian’s hope, nor does it scare Christians into fleeing the faith. In fact, the opposite happens: Christians cling ever more tightly to Jesus because of Easter. Yes, You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. You will be targeted. Yet, God remains determined to exalt his Prince--and no one can stop him. Because of Easter, you can Let Loose the Words of Life.
The book of Acts details the life of Jesus’ disciples after his victorious resurrection and triumphant ascension into heaven. Our selection this morning says. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade… First, the Twelve disciples are the Twelve apostles. ‘Disciple’ means ‘follower’— and these twelve men shape their lives around Jesus’ teachings; they ‘follow’ what he says. ‘Apostle’ means ‘one sent out.’ Those twelve men who ‘followed’ Jesus’ teachings are now ‘sent out’ to share those teachings.
They stand in the entryway of the temple, tapping shoulders, grabbing attentions, probing hearts, preaching. These are the same men who, just a few months earlier, huddled behind locked doors terrified they might die for their connection to Jesus (John 20:19-31). Now, they stand in a public place, in plain sight, not worried what bystanders might think— and people do notice them.
[T]he high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They had killed Jesus once, hoping to kill his memory forever. Now, these men bring up Jesus again— and people are listening! As the Jews come to worship, they see supernatural miracles like those Jesus once performed. It draws them to the apostles, who then proclaim a living and triumphant Jesus. The Jews pay attention to Jesus once again! The high priest wants attention!
So, [t]hey arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail… If you watch your leaders punish the apostles, then maybe you would consider the apostles untrustworthy scoundrels. You could forget the Christian teaching. You could keep waiting for a better Messiah. You realize this is what you witnessed last Sunday. This arrest clearly says: ‘Stop talking about Jesus.’
The Bible makes clear: You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Sometimes that opposition comes from outside. Those entangled in what is wrong do not want to hear God’s instruction. You encourage a friend to worship, but he avoids you, she does not answer the phone, they do not respond to letters and cards. Your child responds to a gentle invite with a list of everything wrong with what you believe. That stings. You approach people with a heartfelt desire to share words for life and your kindness is repaid with sharp, vicious words. It leaves you feeling ashamed. Sometimes opposition to God’s Word comes from within. Your faith— what you believe— may not feel like a source of joy. It may feel more like a burden or a target. You almost feel embarrassed to say that Jesus came back to life; it sounds childish. You may feel crazy for saying the death of one person fixes you. You may wonder if you are stupid for talking about a six-day creation or a worldwide flood or unexplainable miracles. Your faith can cause tension within.
The devil uses opposition to shame you. He wants you (and me) to rank popularity as more important than the Word. He wants you to twist Bible teachings to sound more acceptable. He wants you to omit commands that the world considers offensive. He wants you to condone lifestyles God clearly calls ‘wrong.’ He wants you ashamed of what you believe so that (1) God’s truth does not get out and so that (2) you believe something false. This way, he destroys others and you.
You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Think about that. You will face opposition-- why? Because you Let Loose the Words of Life. You stand with the living Lord! That automatically pits you against his enemies!
God has raised you from spiritual death and has given you spiritual life. You are not entitled to this. It cost a very high price; it cost the life of God’s blameless Son. Jesus is stripped naked, stretched out, and hung publicly for all to gawk at. As he groans, people mock him. When taunted: ‘Come down from there!’ he chooses to remain on the cross. He endures lies, name-calling, and shame because his life is the only life that can save you. God strips away his life in order to raise you (and me) from the hell we deserve. He uses that life to pry out of our hearts any love we may have for this world. He uses that life to lift you out of eternal shame and into a spot next to him.
You have life because of Jesus. He has conquered opposition from unbelieving rulers. He has conquered opposition from our hearts. That is tremendous news. Let Loose the Words of Life! You will face opposition, but God remains determined to exalt his Prince
The disciples stand in prison, but not for long. [D]uring the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this
Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” You wonder if those leaders ever stop to think how this escape happened. No earthquake happened. No cell-doors clang open. No frenzied escape plan. The last sight of the apostles is in jail. Now, they stand outside (free!) in the temple, preaching and teaching. God did not (and would not) allow his message silenced.
The high priest tried. [T]he captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
That is the point! Peter says: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree… Yes! You killed God and you did that because you rejected his teaching. You rejected God!” They need to hear this!. They need to be confronted with the fact that they are waging war against the Almighty and they will lose!. The need to see God exalt his Prince as the triumphant Savior he is. So that they repent; so that they turn from rejecting Jesus to listening to Jesus. So that they have life. Opposition to God is a losing battle. God exalted [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Dear friends, you are witnesses of these things. You know answers a nonbelieving world will never unlock. Ever notice that? When you gather in this church with other Christians, you do not stand out so much. Because you all cling to the same faith! You hold to the same promise! You stand united in Jesus. That’s great! You encourage each other to keep standing on the promise of forgiveness and eternal life, to never let go! You may not see spectacular results. You may not feel different, but be sure, even your presence encourages me to cling to God’s exalted Prince.
When you step out of here, you will stand out. You have the Words of Life; you know what life is all about. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is the mantra for your Christian living. A nonbelieving does not have this hope. The world’s solution to death is to cope. Cope by (1) telling jokes, (2) seeing grief counselors, (3) speaking of a generic ‘good place.’ Understand, people may need counsel to rise out of grief. Yet, you know life does not end with death. Because Jesus lives, believers who die on earth live in heaven (John 11:25-26). The world’s solution to regret is to cope. Guilty parents attempt to buy the love of their neglected children. Others think alcohol will help them forget. Still others give money to churches in the hope of scrubbing away the past. Yet, you know Easter preaches sins forgiven. The world’s solution to evil is to cope. Ignore troubles. Call evil bad names on television or Twitter. Yet, you know the Risen Lord has delivered us from life in an evil hell. He still leads us through this evil world to that perfect life above.
Let Loose the Words of Life! Let Easter’s empty tomb only strengthen you in your fight against doubt and temptation. Let Easter’s empty tomb be seen in the way you live and in the words you speak. God remains determined to exalt his Prince—in you and through you.
Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. The Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) deliberately targeted Easter. They made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes scare Christians into silence. It failed. Those Christians gathered around the Easter truth that the dead in Christ will rise.
Easter has transformed your life. You may not notice. You may not feel it. Yet, because of Easter you live confident of a triumphant Jesus who reigns for your good. You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. The world may hate that, but the Almighty God remains determined to exalt his Prince— and no one can stop him. Christ lives—and lives for you! Let Loose the Words of Life.
The fate of the free world depended on one man. Yes, one man. Supreme Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned ferrying over 350,000 Allied troops across the English Channel and onto the heavily armed beaches of Normandy. He needed a day. So, chief meteorologist, Captain James Stagg had one job: get the weather forecast right.
The margin for error was zero. Stormy seas would sink ships, swallow tanks, and drown thousands. Postpone the invasion and you give communist Russia a chance to control all Europe. Pass on calm weather and Nazi Germany would discover the invasion. Yet, selecting a day was difficult. In Michigan, we gage weather as it moves across the country; we see what approaches. To the west of the English Channel is nothing but open, unpredictable Atlantic Ocean; you had no records. On top of that, Eisenhower had already selected a date: June 5, 1944. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, Eisenhower faced a decision: trust your meteorologist or trust your own instincts? Who do you trust? (https://www.usatoday.com/amp/9914207)
In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it feels impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It just seems best to rely on yourself.
So, who do you trust? Easter gives us the only answer. The events of this day have changed the course of life forever. Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
That is where you find cheer. Look again at our gospel reading. Verse 1 says: [O]n the first day of the week, at early dawn, the [women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. It is Easter, but you discover a cheerless scene. Yes, the first Easter morning is a funeral procession. How could it not be? This group of women watched Jesus die! They saw him buried here! Inside this tomb lies a dear Friend, a beloved Teacher, a trusted Preacher. That is an unwanted reality. They cannot restart the heart. They cannot force the brain to function. They cannot make lungs breathe. Jesus is gone and they cannot fix it. They stand absolutely powerless to create cheer in life.
When they reach the tomb, they found the stone rolled away[,] but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus… How much worse can it get? The body is missing! Again, this unwanted reality just crushes them! They were not there to stop the robbers. They did not install security systems. They cannot investigate and hunt down the criminals. These women not only lack the power to raise the dead, but they also cannot control the one thing they could control: make final preparations! They cannot fix it! They cannot do what they want! They are powerless to find cheer in life.
While they were perplexed about this, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. [T]hey were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground… Now this! Two men— two angels— who live in heaven, who stand beside the Holy God, now have a message from the Almighty. How can you not tremble? Because whatever comes out of the mouth comes from God. That message may not be good— and the women would be completely powerless to stop what God will do.
That first Easter is loaded with strange emotions. Those women stand mortified, they are stressed, they are anxious for the exact same reason I so often am: Because I rely on myself!
Why the self-reliance? Because I know ‘me’ better than anyone else knows ‘me.’ ‘I’ know my weaknesses. ‘I’ know my goals. ‘I’ know my needs. No one else knows my desires better than ‘I’ do. No one else thinks about them more than ‘I’ do. Yes, the police officer protects me, but he’s watching over thousands of others. He cannot be everywhere at once. Yes, the teacher cares for me, but she has other students in the classroom. Yes, I know my family is there for me, but each one cares for his own needs first. So, I take it upon myself to find cheer in this life. If I trust myself, then maybe I will be satisfied. Except, like the women, I confront many insurmountable obstacles. I want to prevent sickness, but I cannot stop cancer from entering my body— and I cannot wish it away. I want peace in my family, but I cannot stop my sibling from ruining my plans; I cannot control personalities. I want to reach my goals and dreams, but I fall into addiction again, I stumble into old habits, I foil my own plans. Trusting myself does not bring the peace I so desperately crave.
Studying these women only reminds me of the purpose for Easter. This day happens because of us. Those women think self-reliance will help them. In reality, self-reliance caused their sadness. That is why Jesus came in the first place: because each one of us consider ourselves more reliable than a reliable God. In short, self-reliance calls God a liar. Now where does that self-reliance leave the women? The women stare at death and cannot fix it. I stare at death and realize I cannot stop my own grief, I cannot stop my own death, I cannot stand before the throne of God and live! Nothing I can do will erase that awful truth. What good self-reliance does!
Thank God he sends angels. Yes, angels. Messengers. If God never did this, then I would still be scratching my head at the empty tomb.
Do you realize where the angels point the women? To a promise God made. The angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” “Well, what did you see? You witnessed sinful men beat him. You saw him suffer and die. You watched him buried. Since everything happened as he said, what do you think will happen next?”
Can you see the light turn on? And they remembered his words… People make promises and break them, change them, forget them. God is not another person. God intentionally made a promise and God deliberately kept his promise. Just like that, fear gives way to joy, assumptions crumble, self-reliance vanishes; trust in the promises of God swells!
God did what he said he would do. He hung your (and my) self-reliance on Jesus and crushed it. He leaves him to die by wicked men. Leaves him to be crucified. Leaves him dead. Then, he raised him— body and soul, alive from the grave.
Dear friends, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! Easter proves that God’s own Word does as promised. He not only makes promises, but keeps his Word—which means, God is completely reliable. Because of that, God’s Word gives you life.
Yes, life. The resurrection of Jesus is not just one single promise kept long ago. No, the resurrection carries some very long-term results. Imagine setting up a row of dominoes. Tap the first domino and it falls into another, which falls into another, and another and another, and so on. One domino causes many other dominoes to move.
Here, God raises Jesus to life. Sounds simple, except that centuries earlier God had promised to raise his Son (Psalm 16:10-11). On Easter, God reached down and raise this one Person to life. Therefore, this one Person is not just another man, but God’s promised Son! (Romans 1:4). One promise kept.
Remember, Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus hung on the cross— and God loaded him with my self-reliance and crushed him. He makes him pay my crime. Now, Jesus lives—again! The Bible says: Jesus died because of my sin and was raised to declare us ‘Not Guilty!” (Romans 4:25). That means God has accepted his payment on your behalf! That means Jesus removed condemnation. That means guilt no longer damns you. Another promise made and kept.
If Jesus wipes your spiritual record clean, it means God sees you as innocent— which means God kept another promise: Jesus destroyed the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). If the devil cannot convince God to lock you in hell, then it means you will not go to hell. Jesus keeps another promise! Because Jesus lives, you also will live (John 14:19). If you will live, then it means Jesus is keeping another promise: You will live in heaven! (John 14:2-3). Another promise falls complete: Because Jesus lives—no one holds authority over him, no one tells him what to do or how to behave (Exodus 15:1-11).
Do you see how Easter changes life? You live by the promises of God— because those promises are not empty wishes, but guarantees of what God will do next!
Those promises carry you through every situation. God promises life is not the end for the Christian; life continues in heaven! That means your loved one is not forever forgotten. No, she stands in the throne-room of God. He weeps and mourns no more! (Isaiah 65:19-20). Your body may not do the things it once did. You cannot build muscle, you cannot spark energy, you cannot stop cancer from spreading. Yet, your God promises: I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Regret may relentlessly shame you. You feel so unworthy to be around friends, parents, children, God. Yet, God points to Jesus and promises: Because he suffered your penalty, your lawless acts I remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). Where do you find peace like that? Never in yourself, but in the only One who does as promised.
A new day dawns Easter. A new day that reveals God is absolutely serious about saving you …about loving you …about being your strength. That removes self-reliance. That lifts you from stressful anxiety. That puts your trust in a God who never fails you. Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! A Word that gives you life.
A word like Captain Staggs’. Eisenhower selected June 5, 1944 for D-Day. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, who do you trust: your meteorologist or trust your own instincts?
Eisenhower could not see the future, but he trusted the word of his meteorologist. Sure enough, June 5th proved stormy. Waves chopped. Rain pelted. Winds whipped. The mission would have failed. Yet, June 6, 1944, brought the calm weather predicted. The Allies invaded, stormed Europe, and destroyed Nazi resistance. That victory brought new life throughout the world.
Easter brings new life for you. In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it may feel impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It may feel best to rely on yourself.
Yet, Easter reveals life! Life in heaven! Life lived with God on earth! Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. Yes, the events of Easter have changed the course of life forever. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!