A fiery orange light lit up the car’s instrument panel. A glowing ring encircled this tiny engine block with a little fan. Is that the shape of the engine? And why the circle? Wouldn’t the shape of an engine be enough? Why is the light orange? Why not a red light? …or green? …or blue? !!Bang!! Smoke billowed from under the hood as the car clunked and clanged to a sputtering stop.
The vibrant yellow sandwich-board stuck out against the floor. A plain-looking stickman floated horizontally with legs and arms flailing wildly. What a funny picture! Who thought of that? Is that how people fall? And those languages! Obviously one is Spanish, but what’s the other one? French? Italian? !!Slip!! !!Screech!! !!Crash!!
Dark, stormy clouds swirled overhead. Somewhere in the distance a shrill siren shrieked. The weather radio flashed lights and played its own scratchy, screechy tune. How do you produce a tone like that? An orchestra? Or do you use a really out-of-tune keyboard? Could they maybe make something a little more pleasant sounding? !!Thwack!! !!Thud!!
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. Signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
Envision the events of that first Pentecost. (Just a refresher: ‘Pentecost’ means ‘fifty.’ The day of Pentecost marks fifty-days after Easter.) 1 When the day of Pentecost came, the [disciples] were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
The sights and sounds have their intended effect. Crowds from Italy to North Africa, from Turkey to Syria— crowds from all over the Mediterranean world pour into Jerusalem to celebrate an important Jewish festival. Sunday morning, noise jolts thousands awake. The roaring sound of rushing wind calls people into the streets. The strange sight of flame flickering over the heads of a handful of men piques curiosity. The extraordinary spectacle of men who share a common language, now clearly communicating in another known language, with clear words and a clear topic captures attentions! Masses swarm, eager to make sense of sights and sounds!
So, 14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ Scan this sight of flame and preaching and the sound of wind and language. This is no random coincidence of nature or a bunch of babbling buffoons. No, God predicted this event. On Pentecost God gave the disciples the ability to speak in known languages so that they could clearly communicate the good news of Jesus as Savior.
But! — do not rush past those opening words: ‘In the last days,’ God says[.] The Bible does not use that phrase as a reference to the final seconds before you see Jesus. The ‘last days’ simply refer to all the days between Jesus’ ascension and his final return. Because Jesus can return; he completed his mission. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried. He descended into hell, rose again the third day. He ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What’s left to do? He will come to judge the living and the dead. So, What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We live in the last days. Jesus can return at any moment.
Does that help you understand what you have seen and heard? Floodwaters gushed through Gladwin and Midland. Your families were affected. Your friends lost businesses. Even our fellow Christians suffered! An invisible virus lingers. Some get sick, some die. Politicians stand divided on proper guidance. Tensions increase over state restrictions— are they too stringent or are they just right? You hear of wars and rumors of wars. Famines and earthquakes ravage various lands. Masses are turning from the Christian faith in droves. Wickedness increases; the love of most grows cold (Matthew 24:4-12). These sights and sounds can leave you wondering: ‘What in the world is going on?’
Dear friends, signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. We can very easily fixate on troubles and try to answer: ‘Why is this happening?’ (as though God will answer from heaven). When those puzzled Pentecost people wondered what the sound of wind and sight of speaking meant, where did they find the answer? In the Word of God.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon points our attentions to the Word of God— specifically, to the good news of Jesus as Savior. He points to the One who washed away your sins (and mine)— the real reason to be afraid. He points to the One who stepped foot outside the tomb by his own power. He points to the One who tells the terrified disciples on Easter: ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? Beginning with that first Pentecost some 2,000 years ago, God makes clear: We live in the final days.
When what you see and hear troubles you, when you wonder what God is telling you, then turn to his Word. Remember: We live in the final days. That’s alright! At the perfect time he will bring you to be with him forever (John 14:2-3). There is no fear over that. You spend eternity with God paradise not because you are a good person, but because Jesus is perfect for you. Because Jesus has done everything needed to save you.
That’s good news. That’s important news. That’s news the world needs to hear. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We have work to do.
Listen again to those words from Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. Now, before Jesus is born, God selected certain people to be prophets. He gave them a message through a vision (Isaiah 6) or a dream (Daniel 7) or conversation (Exodus 3). The prophet would then share this message with an audience.
Joel looks ahead to a time when God will send out more prophets, but these would not be your Old Testament prophets. He uses the word: ‘prophesy’ in a broader definition, meaning: ‘to proclaim.’ Those who heard Peter’s sermon could take that good news home with them and share it with their family, friends, and neighbors. Those individuals could share the good news with other family, friends, and neighbors— and so on. God unleashes his Word to the entire world! What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
I preach this morning! I am telling you about Jesus, the Savior of the world, just like God intended (and promised) so long ago. At this moment, I am doing this through video. Just two months ago, the message you heard was mainly shared within the walls of the church. Now you can hear the good news on any (internet-connected) device. Think about that for a moment. This coronavirus-shutdown has drastically changed life, but do you see what it has good has come from it? So many churches were forced into digital arenas. God is blasting his Word (again) throughout the world. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook can be accessed by the billions spread out across the world! It has become that much easier to be in the Word. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
About a week ago, I stood in line at shop. Two employees were discussing the flooding in Midland, all the rain we had. You could tell they were trying to make sense of it. Why did this happen? What is going on? Their best answer was: ‘Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.’ That’s it! Their answer is the same as their question! They stare at the signs, but not to what the signs point out.
God says, 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. Many see the same troubles you do. The flooding. The virus-restrictions. The unrest. The increase of wickedness. Love growing cold. Signs abound, but what they point to is even more important. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
Jesus is coming soon. Does your brother think he can negotiate his way into heaven? Does your daughter think she can keep ‘taking a break from church?’ Does your neighbor think eternity is no big matter? Is your friend scared about everything going on? Do you see people at the grocery snap? (Really, because they are afraid of dying?) What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share. 21 [E]veryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ We have work to do.
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
The reality sunk in: they would not win. They could not win. They tried, yes. Those youngsters kicked the ball, threw the ball, caught the ball, but the other team kicked harder, threw further, caught better. The scoreboard clearly reflected that. The fifth-graders completely outmanned, outmuscled, outmatched the first-grade kickball team in every possible way, leaving those first graders slumped in demoralizing defeat.
One sight resurrected hope: A grownup! Little eyes gawk as he jogs towards their bench. Tiny legs jump in joy. Fists pound the air. Beaming faces cheer. Here is someone able to outman, outmuscle, outmatch the entire fifth-grade team! His very presence makes the fifth-graders cower in fear. He scores run after run after run after run— and no one can stop him! The lead quickly tips in his favor. The fifth-graders are completely overwhelmed; they brace for certain defeat. The once-helpless first-graders now bask in certain victory!
Do you know that sensational feeling? Maybe you remember the playground days. Or, the grueling math problem. The overwhelming car breakdown. The sheer helplessness as you were bullied by health, by co-workers, by a lawsuit. Then entered the math whiz. The ace mechanic. The specialist. The boss. The legal shark. The mere sight of your champion makes you swell with confidence. Their presence guarantees success, leaving you to march on in certain victory.
That swelling sense of victory would be appreciated about now, wouldn’t it? Not only are you dealing with a health crisis, but you have also stayed away from your friends and family for 60-days [two months]. As if things could not get much worse, now you have flooding on top of it all! Life’s challenges just seem to be compounding! You are squeezed tighter and tighter, and are not sure how much more you can handle. The truth is, you cannot handle these challenges— not on your own— but your Champion can. Yesterday, today, and always Jesus prays for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and to share in his glory.
I imagine that Jesus’ glory is not always so easily seen. I mean, just think for a moment: What is ‘glory’? How do you define it? The children in catechism class usually make this angelic sound: ahhhh (A sound is not really a definition, but I digress…) Maybe you hear [the word]: ‘glory’ and think: ‘bright light’ or ‘heaven’ or ‘perfection.’ Might I offer a more concrete definition? ‘Glory’ means ‘to own (or possess) splendid greatness.’ To receive the respect your qualities deserve. To receive the fine lifestyle your rank is owed. To stand superior over all things.
So, when Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” that must have caught the disciples’ attention. This is what they are waiting for: Glory! National respect for being a follower of Jesus. A lifestyle of ease and luxury. Positions of power in Jesus’ shiny new kingdom. The disciples’ vision of glory centers around Jesus removing all earthly suffering.
Maybe that’s why this past week felt like a punch to the gut. We want a world free from struggle, but a virus proves our world is not perfect. We want to secure comfort, but a flash flood suddenly rips comfort away. We want some control over who we can see and where we can go, but that privilege is not ours yet. What makes all this frustrating is that it feels like Jesus is absent. Gone. Not around. Certainly not holding back loss and pain and suffering.
The troubles you (and I) encounter can block Jesus from our eyes. What blocks Jesus is not that he went away. It’s that our wants take first place. The disciples do not want suffering. The want glory— and they want it now. They find glory in Jesus, but do not want him to die. They want him to establish a new kingdom in which they would co-reign! If they got their wish, how would they be saved? A pandemic, social distancing, floods, health issues, the estranged child, the back-biting politics can leave demanding success now. When these troubles linger, we can begin challenging God. Questioning his care for you. Challenging his management of the universe. Wondering if you will be satisfied by the end of the year. We can wrongly conclude that the presence of trouble means that God does not care. If God does not care, then we do not need him. Yet, if we do not have God, then how would we be saved?
So, Jesus Prays for You. He approaches God the Father Almighty with the request that you see his glory. Maybe it helps to have the right picture in mind. Understand, Jesus does not sneak into some side-room, kneel down, and then prays while keeping the words in his head. He prays out loud, in presence of his eleven disciples. Jesus prays for himself, yes, but also with the intention that we hear the content.
He prays: For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. That might not sound so strange because we stand on the other side of Easter. Here, in John chapter 17, the setting is Maundy Thursday, the night on which Jesus is betrayed. Over the course of roughly twelve hours, mighty men will arrest him and whisk him off to the courts. Lies will pass as truth. Soldiers will spit and mock, punch and club. Other soldiers will muscle his hands and feet down as someone else drives nails through them. With the tug of a rope, the cross will rise into place. Jesus will suffer. He will die. Still, he prays: For you granted him authority over all people[.] Jesus claims control— even on the night of his arrest! He holds authority— including the authority to avoid the cross!
Yet, this is the purpose of his prayer: to see his glory. The cross will take away Jesus’ life. It takes a God-pleasing life and straightens you (and I) to be God-pleasing. It peels away a blameless life and puts it on you. It removes the Lord from life and gives you eternal life. Yes, the cross brings suffering, but the cross is not the end. Easter’s brilliant sunbeams burst forth from an empty tomb. Death fought so hard to hold Jesus down, but lost. Jesus snapped it. He undid it. He outmanned, outmuscled, outmatched death once and for all time. Easter reveals Jesus’ glory, his splendid greatness as King of all. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Yes, Jesus receives his full, rightful glory as he ascends into heaven. Still, Jesus prays—a he prays out loud, so that you hear that his ascension is also meant for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and also to share in his glory.
Just listen: I have revealed you[r name] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. Now, ‘knowing’ is not memorized information filed alongside your knowledge of state capitals. Rather, ‘knowledge’ is accepting the simple truth that Jesus died for your advantage. How does that knowledge became yours? By Jesus revealing with words! What Jesus speaks has been recorded in the Bible. The Bible keeps pointing you (and me) back to the power behind God’s promises, back to the things he is doing. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
You share in Jesus’ glory as you take to heart the results of his powerful reign. Natural disasters are out of our control, but not God’s. We benefit from nestling in God’s hands that protect us and restore our losses. A health crisis poses a serious threat, but we conquer fear by remembering that the Lord of life holds us. Restrictions limit us, but God has provided the mental strength to press on. Even more, the challenges we face powerfully teach us that the things considered so valuable can leave us. (If they leave us, then how valuable are they?) In the midst of loss, God still works all things for your good. You share in his glory, you take hold of his splendid greatness as you apply God’s unchanging promises to life.
Jesus Still Prays for You to share in his glory— literally. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (That’s you!) All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. After Easter, Jesus holds a forty-day-long victory parade. On the fortieth day he stamps an exclamation point on that victory. Last Thursday marked Ascension Day. (Maybe your calendar noted the occasion.) Jesus goes up higher and higher in heaven, not with droopy head and saggy eyes, as some pathetic loser who knows that he failed and must retreat. He ascends in powerful might. No one and nothing outranks him. No one can prevent him from reigning. Never again will he die. Never again will he face humiliation. Jesus does not hope, but guarantees his return. A return where all people of all time have no choice but to blurt out the fact that he won (Philippians 2:9-11). A return where he does not hope, but brings you into your heavenly mansion (John 14:2-3). A return where he makes all things new forever (Revelation 21:5). He says these things out loud so that you may share in his victorious glory.
Are you starting to regain that sensational feeling? …The feeling that comes when your champion barges onto the scene? You are dealing with some large struggles. A health crisis. Staying away from your friends and family for 60-days [two months]. Flooding. General health problems. The sight of evil flourishing. The sight of good shriveling. Troubles from an estranged child. Changes from empty nesting. Life’s challenges can feel like they compound! You are squeezed tighter and tighter, and are not sure how much more you can handle.
The truth is, you cannot handle these challenges— not on your own— but your Champion can. Just like the helpless cheer at the sight of their saviors, the mere sight of your Champion makes you swell with confidence. The sight of Jesus guarantees success, leaving you to march on in certain victory. Yesterday, today, and always Jesus prays for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and to share in his glory.
We just want to be sure. Does a fabric facemask truly prevent spreading the coronavirus or is a fabric facemask virtually worthless? Should the economy reopen or should it remain closed? Can a reopening economy keep life safe or does a reopening economy threaten life? Will a second wave be worse or manageable or nonexistent? Will school meet online or in smaller class sizes or as normal? Will a vaccine come out in summer or fall or winter or longer? Are children dying from a covid-caused illness or from a completely unrelated syndrome? Perhaps now, more than ever before, we want clear answers for life. We want assurance that our decisions will not put our lives or the lives of others at risk.
The truth is we lack definite, tested answers for some very legitimate questions. The lack of knowledge fosters fear. And fear shoves two very unwelcome facts in your face, facts we try so hard to stifle: (1) You do not know everything and (2) You cannot control everything. Since you do not have every answer to every question, it means a decision could be wrong. Since you cannot control everything, it means that you might experience unpleasant results. That means, especially in these coronavirus days, we grapple with uncertainty— or do we?
If you and I and the rest of the world do not have unlimited knowledge and unlimited power, then the assurance we want will not be found in people. We need a more certain Source. A Source that knows all things. A Source that controls all things. A Source that provides real answers for life— and we have that Source. In a world chocked full of the unknown, Get a Grip on God! Turn from misguided ignorance and turn to certain proof.
In Acts chapter 17, you find proof— proof that the city of Athens lived completely oblivious to the most important answer for life’s most important question. That much is clear just by walking through the city. You find shrines and monuments and temples everywhere. A thick, imposing structure houses Zeus, father of all Greek gods. A petite, ornate shrine holds Aphrodite, goddess of love. You can pay tribute to the grain god, Demeter, or to the god of metalworkers, Hephaestus, or to Poseidon, god of the seas. Crowning the city itself is the (still-standing) Parthenon, a house built for Athena, goddess of war and wisdom.
It’s no secret, the people of Athens are in every way very religious. They love debating spiritual ideas and discussing new philosophies. To them religion was like collecting baseball cards— you aim to get the complete set. Just to make sure they did not miss any god or goddess, they even [built] an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.
You can almost see their smug smirks for being so clever. They cover all their bases! In reality, despite all the gods and goddesses honored, the Athenians reveal just how uncertain they are. You see, the very fact that you have an altar made out ‘to an unknown god’ reveals a fear that you (1) missed a deity and (2) can expect trouble from a snubbed deity. So, to counter that fear, where do you look? The natural response? You! To what (1) you know and what (2) you control!
The Athenians know this: (1) people like acts of kindness and (2) you can perform acts of kindness. So, their entire way of worship revolves around doing something good for the gods in the hopes of receiving something good from the gods. I mean, have you ever wondered why the ancients sacrificed the virgin to the volcano gods? A volcano erupts. People think the mighty deity controlling the volcano is angry. So, toss the young virgin into the volcano and maybe the god will turn it off. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Then how do you describe what you see today? A store owner gladly donated unsold groceries to the Lutheran Seminary pantry because (in his words): ‘In case God is angry with my Catholic beliefs then I can point out how I helped the Lutherans.’ The wife discovered his flirty text messages. The husband, who spent age-zero to age-sixteen in church, promised to return. ‘I need to get straight with God,’ he said. ‘I need to bring my daughter too. I’ll be there Sunday.’ He never came. Why? Because his marriage got fixed before Sunday! The self-professed spiritual, but unchurched man lived by his favorite Bible passage: ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ (Disclaimer: That is not found in the Bible. This man did not read the Bible enough to know that.) Each one knew they stood accountable to God— but they had no solid answers. Their best guesses boiled down to: doing good, being kind to others, and live a good life. Even worse— they were content living this way! Like the Athenians, they were content making up beliefs and then living by them!
Do you know what that attitude is called? Ignorance! Acting in a wrong way due to the lack of information. Not having the right information does not suddenly make your beliefs correct. I believe my muck clothes are appropriate evening attire for a five-star Michelin restaurant. When I arrive, I am refused service because I do not meet the dress code. My made-up beliefs do not make me right. It makes me ignorant, a fool who failed to measure up to their standards!
No wonder we wrestle with nervous uncertainty! Our hearts dabble with treating God with made-up human standards! The fear of entering public places paralyzes you. Why? Because we treat God like limited, mortal man! If I cannot keep myself safe from a virus, then maybe God cannot either. If I cannot guarantee a cure, then maybe God cannot either. If I die, I cannot bring me into heaven, and maybe God cannot either. You promised to give up swearing, but covid-19 still here. You promised to pray more, but God does not let you be with people yet. You promised to read the Bible more, but your marriage is still difficult. You did your part, why doesn’t God do his?
If you feel overwhelmed by the unknown, it’s because you (and I) are drifting into ignorance. We are treating God not as he reveals himself, but as we think he operates! Put another way, you making up beliefs about God! You are placing trust in what you make up! You are circling back to yourself! You are placing trust in you! That is called ‘superstition.’ What ignorance!
God does not instantly morph into my wants. It is God who morphs me to see him. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth… The Almighty God breathed into existence the entire universe and all the wood and stone in it. He created all things— and since he did, he does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything… If God brought all things into existence and rules over his creation, then why would he suddenly depend on humanity’s help? [B]ecause he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Not just that, the God who stands in control over all things is the One who controls even kingdoms rising and falling. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. He did all this so that men would seek him.
Do you grasp the implications of this? You are able to know the true God with certainty. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Understand, ignorance is not innocence. God is patient. He did not wipe the arrogant, godless Athenians away, but provided another opportunity to Get a Grip on God by turning from misguided ignorance.
Get a Grip on God by turning to certain proof. In Acts chapter 17, you do find proof. In fact, you confront one undeniable reality that affects all people everywhere regardless of gender, race, age, income, education, family makeup, whatever— every single person in the entire world faces their last day. [H]e has set a day when he will judge the world with justice… How do you execute justice? According to a law. God examines and exposes your life (and mine) according to his perfect standards. As he stretches you (and me) out against that ruler of perfection, he says: ‘Not enough.’
Yet, there is one man who was enough. A man who never made up fantasies about God. A man who held his mind and heart captive to the Word— meaning, whatever God spoke in Scripture, he treated as truth. Call on God in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), and so Jesus prays in Gethsemane for God’s help (Mark 14:32-42). God sits on a just throne of judgment (Psalm 9:4), and so Jesus does not open his mouth when soldiers mock him and enemies insult him (1 Peter 2:23-24). God willed to crush his Son and cause him to suffer (Isaiah 53:10), and so Jesus suffers the punishment reserved for us (1 Peter 2:21).
God measured Jesus against his ruler of perfection and says: ‘Enough!’ He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Yes, Easter preaches three profound promises. (1) Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:4). (2) God accepted Jesus’ perfect life for us (Romans 4:25). (3) Because Jesus lives, we will live (John 14:19). The Word from God’s own mouth provides certain proof in world full of the unknown.
The One raised, the who re-ascended his throne, the One who sits with earth as his footstool is not far from us. You do not have to wander through Michigan’s northwoods or stare at Lake Michigan’s gentle, rolling waves and hope that you figure out God’s plan for your life. You do not have to do more good than bad in the hopes that you have actually tipped the scale in your eternal favor. You do not have to scrounge through the local paper and find someone who committed worse crimes than you. When guilt overwhelms, the answer is not found in your knowledge or your ability. Point to the cross. Hear— not God’s opinions— but Jesus crucified and risen for your eternal advantage. Get a Grip on God by turning to certain proof.
Keep that Grip on God by clinging to certain proof. The truth is our world will always be chocked full of the unknown. You (and I) simply (1) do not know everything and (2) cannot control everything. That’s fine! If we could have that ability, then God would grant us that ability! But he has granted us something better. He gives you his Word.
The Word of God keeps yanking attention off of ourselves and puts attention on Jesus. Only Jesus has unlimited knowledge and unlimited power. Only Jesus has proven that every promise he makes, he keeps. Only Jesus makes us acceptable before God. Keep hearing and reading the Word. Take its promises to heart. Write passages down if you wish. Memorize them. As you step out into the unknown you will not be overwhelmed. You will have a Grip on God, clinging to certain proof that he handles everything.
In these coronavirus days we still lack definite, tested answers for some very legitimate questions. It will remain that way for some time. The world would want you to panic. The devil would want you to despair. Your own self panders to self-trust. Yet, answers will never be found in you. That’s because are not the source of all answers!
We already have Source that knows all things. A Source that controls all things. A Source that provides real answers for life. In a world chocked full of the unknown, Get a Grip on God! Live confidently fearless by turn from misguided ignorance and by turning to certain proof.
Tucked away in the archives of the National Museum of American History is the Jefferson Bible. Have you heard of it? (The Jefferson Bible, that is.) Do you know what it is?
Around [the year] 1820, Thomas Jefferson set out to gather what he felt were the authentic teachings of Jesus. You see, Thomas Jefferson believed that Christians for centuries misunderstood the core content of Jesus’ message and gradually inserted made-up fairy tales about the person of Jesus. So, in order to unearth the ‘real,’ he had to remove whatever he thought ‘unreal.’ With razor blade in hand, he carefully sliced away every supernatural event. Any reference to angels, including the birth announcement of Jesus, gone. Miracles like changing water into wine, curing the diseased, feeding thousands, walking on water, removed. (And if the miracle occurred in the middle of a sermon, it was crudely carved out.) He even cut out Jesus’ Easter-day resurrection. The Jefferson Bible actually ends with these words:
"Now, in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre [the tomb], wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."
Whatever tidbits did remain Jefferson pasted together. Again, he believed the four gospel-writers got their stories mixed up. So, he took verses from the four gospels and zippered them into a single narrative. (https://www.monticelloshop.org/the-jefferson-bible-smithsonian-edition/) The finished product was book Jefferson considered accurate, authentic, and reliable.
If you flip through this “bible,” you realize that it has the right name: The Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson so heavily revised Scripture that he completely changed God’s message. He had reduced Christianity down to three core teachings: (1) love God, (2) love each other, and (3) live sincere. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible) He removed any mention of Jesus, the Savior the world needs. What Jefferson actually created was his own set of beliefs.
You see, Thomas Jefferson felt stupid for treating the extraordinary supernatural as real events. So, he foisted science and reason over God Almighty. There remains this ever-present attitude to make God conform to our desires, to handle God’s teachings in any way without consequence. Yet, if you change God’s Word, then whose word are you actually following? Really, On What Does Your Eternity Rest? Carefully examine your foundation of faith and then joyfully live the calling you received.
In our lesson from 1 Peter [2:4-10] one word keeps appearing: ‘cornerstone.’ See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who believes in him will certainly not be put to shame.
Now, in modern construction practice, a cornerstone functions as more of a decorative marker. You find cornerstones set in special buildings, usually on the outside wall either near the main entrance or at the base of a unique feature on the building. The name of the organization and completion date of construction are stamped into that stone. The cornerstone also may serve as a hollowed out time capsule holding important documents or mementos. In ancient construction, the cornerstone served a vital purpose. Miners cut out this large rock. Stonemasons would then make it square, smoothing out bumps and cavities, setting each angle at 90-degrees, so that what you finished with was a perfectly square block. Builders laid the stone at the corner of the building footprint. They took stones for the wall and measured each one against the cornerstone, smoothing out every bump and leveling off every cavity. You did this for each stone so that by the end of your row you had a straight wall, and as you built higher the wall stood firm. Without that cornerstone the entire structure would fail.
God calls Jesus a cornerstone, a square block used for accurate building. Still, Jesus is no ordinary cornerstone. God uses two words to describe him: ‘chosen’ and ‘precious.’ God set Jesus aside for a special purpose: to fill our lives with God’s pardon (Isaiah 42:1) At his baptism God makes clear Jesus is the Chosen One. People watch as the Holy Spirit rests on Jesus. God the Father stamps a seal of approval: ‘This is my Son (Matthew 3:13:17). This is the One God wants!
That makes Jesus precious. Gold is worth thousands-of-dollars an ounce. As valuable as that is, Jesus is worth more because he is morally pure. Out of the billions who have lived, will live, or now live no one has ever lived the perfect life Jesus has, the perfect life God requires. That makes Jesus one-of-kind.
Now, if Jesus is the stone (1) pleasing to God and (2) valuable for eternity and (3) no one else in the history of the world has ever received such accolades, then what does that mean for you? Jesus is the stone God laid to align our beliefs, our hearts with him.
That sounds acceptable, that is, until God’s Word dose strike home. Jesus says: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Now, just like builders, crowds hold Jesus in their hands. They study his teachings, consider what changes must be made in life, what vices to give up. After careful examination, they throw him away like a flawed, unwanted stone. After all, the Jewish nation just wanted a powerful politician, not a humble teacher. Non-Jews wanted a wise sage who presents methods for a better life, not a preacher who exposes the need for a Savior. Jesus makes clear: those who reject him as Savior will not be in heaven. Does that offend you?
Jesus also teaches, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). The spouse thinks he will go to heaven because he tries hard to be a good person. The friend does not need church because she is content with her own views of religion. The child (confirmed a long time ago) makes it clear that he does not believe the ‘church-stuff’ anymore. The generous neighbor has no idea who Jesus is. Still, Jesus makes clear: Those who reject his saving work will not be in heaven. Does that offend you?
Honestly, a little part of me does not think God will carry out his Word. That’s based on what? Me telling God! Me assuming my word, my opinions, my sense ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ stands and God’s Word crumbles away!
You see, the human heart thinks God desires your input (and mine). That God begs for your opinion and comments, and then automatically conforms to you! In the end, where does that set you? It puts you in the position of cornerstone and demands Jesus align with you!
What foolish thinking! Rejecting Jesus does not actually remove him from his position of power. I mean, what happens when you toss aside a big, lumpy stone at the worksite? You trip over it! It doesn’t go away, it stays in the way! [For] those who do not believe: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and, ‘a stone over which they stumble and a rock over which they fall.’ Because they continue to disobey the word, they stumble over it. And that is the consequence appointed for them.
Dear friends, carefully examine your foundation of faith. Telling God what you expect of him does not bring you closer to him. It does not make you right. Like Thomas Jefferson, you begin creating your own beliefs— beliefs that God rejects.
God laid Jesus as the cornerstone to align our beliefs, our hearts with him. As the Word of God strikes your ears and heart, you may feel cutting and sanding and chiseling. That’s good! That Word is removing the pride that threatens to pull us off from Christ, the Cornerstone! That Word shows how crooked our opinions, but how perfect Jesus conforms to the Father’s will. That Word exposes how our demands fall short of God’s expectations, but how completely Jesus matches God’s desires. That Word reveals that if we stubbornly follow our wants, we will step off from Christ, but that Word shows how Jesus willingly followed the path to the cross in order to chisel off our every flaw and make us God-pleasing stones.
God raised Jesus to be the only foundation of faith. [T]he one who believes in him will certainly not be put to shame. That makes Jesus the choicest, most precious object in the universe. Which means, his Words are the choicest, most valuable words for life. Words that really shape your life.
Recently I heard a Pastor describe this ‘Stay-Home’ order as a once-in-a-lifetime do-over. His point is that so much seems so important that it takes our attentions off from God and his Word.
A little while ago I heard a journalist paint a silver lining for this virus. He explained that he would be home more. His college-aged son would be home more. His young-adult daughter would work from home. His wife would be home. His point is that the family would be home without much activity— something that had not happened for years! This journalist reached an [almost] earth-shattering revelation: he could use this time to get closer to his family! He had completely brushed aside the privilege God handed him of being a parent!
For the state of Michigan, it appears that much will be shut down until after Memorial Day. You know the sights. Campers, motor-homes, boats, side-by-sides, ATVs— all these toys. What truly pulls the heart is watching them drive home Sunday morning. How many put personal relaxation ahead of worship? How many used vacations as a poor excuse as to why there was never time for church? How many (of us) found more satisfaction in activity than worship?
If anything, perhaps three months ago you felt pretty invincible. The strong economy promised wealth and security. Humming health systems gave a sense of control. The year ahead held all the plans you expected to put into action. If you were like me, you felt untouchable. That God had a place in your life, but maybe not first place. You love his Word, but maybe reflected on it only when you had time. You cherish his promises, but perhaps never relied on them. When life goes well, we rely a little more on our word— and expect God to accept us on our terms. Needless to say, this coronavirus shut-down has really challenged what we assumed was true. That we are in charge and God just tags along with us.
The Bible teaches that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). This virus will be used for good. Christ the cornerstone keeps cutting away bumps of arrogance and sanding down pride and chiseling away self-reliance. He keeps teaching you (and me) to focus a little more on God’s Word, to take a little more to heart, to bend and find more satisfaction under the pleasing life God arranged for us.
What then remains is a clearer picture of God’s role in your life. Or, a more accurate way of saying: your activity as a living stone. [Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.
Make no question about it, God clearly reveals our place in his family. Not a place where we challenge God. Rather, God has aligned us to himself. Carefully examine the foundation of faith. See how God keeps using that Word to shape us so that we remain in his house forever.
There’s nothing offensive about that. This is the Word that brings life, the Word that equips you (and I) to joyfully live the calling you received.
That message needs no revision. Instead, that message revised our lives, so that now you live shaped by the God who saved us. The God who makes Your Eternity Rest on Christ.
Why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? I mean, enter any Christian bookstore, any Hobby Lobby, any Wal-Mart and you will find artwork of sheep and a shepherd. Surf through Amazon’s marketplace and you will find these words etched on bookmarks, collectible plates, and Bible covers. Enter any Hallmark store and you are sure to find these words in a greeting card. What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings?
The instant reaction might be to focus on how it makes you feel. You feel at peace because Someone great protects you. You feel satisfied because Someone great fills your soul. You feel confident because Someone great leads you. We can emphasize results (and that’s good)— but might I offer a different cause? The real underlying reason why these words resonate with us? Psalm 23 delights— not because of how it makes us feel, but because of what the Shepherd does. When you study his work and his ability, you realize this is the Shepherd we need.
That realization comes into focus with just the opening words. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Can you imagine the scene? The shimmering sun peeks over the horizon, its brilliant beams chase away shadows, its radiance illuminates the sprawling landscape. High overhead birds soar. Mist hovers over still water. Dewdrops sparkle on crisp, lush grass. Look around and what do you see? Peace! In fact, that ‘peace’ is amplified by what is not present. No enemy barreling towards you. No crushing heartbreak. No disappointment. No burden. No pressing responsibility. They do not exist here! Stop— and you hear silence. No sirens, no alarms. No calls for your attention. No shouting. No drama. No conflict. Stress is completely wiped out, forever removed!
You find a pasture of paradise— something not seen in this life. No, what we often see is frustration as plans fall apart. The dream does not strengthen marriage, it just creates more arguments, more conflict. It seems like everyone on your social media feed has a better life than you, they have reached significant goals. Fear always lingers. No matter how long you stare at the bank account, it does not make money appear. The news media tends to create problems and never solves them. The worst-case scenario constantly plays out in your mind. You just want to know for sure that the future will be okay. Then, there remains those relationships that paralyze us. You want the grudge over, but the brain creates another excuse why the phone call can wait another day. The sister always cries for help, but she never actually takes your advice to heart. She’ll burden you with the same problem again next week. Bundle up the challenges you (and I) carry and we feel so exhausted, so worn, so overwhelmed, so hurt, so broken. Psalm 23 captivates our attention because you find peace, security, safety.
Still, what makes us yearn for rest from every mental, physical, emotional struggle? (Of course, apart from the benefits of a peace-filled life.) What draws us into this serene pasture? Realizing that you (and I) fail to bring peace into life.
Do you remember how the psalm begins? ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ Who does the leading? The Lord. The Lord speaks, we follow. The Lord speaks, we respond accordingly. Yet, how often our foolish hearts ignore his Word! Proud hearts can grow so confident in your (and my) ability, thinking that our decisions, our choices can bring meaningful security and unlock peace among relationships. So, with chest puffed out, we lay the Bible aside and chase whatever fantasies seem pleasant at the moment, thinking this kind of living will bring us real happiness.
In reality, the opposite is true! I mean, God did not say, ‘Go hold a grudge.’ He does say, ‘Forgive, as I have forgiven you’ (Colossians 3:13). No wonder we get tied up inside! Pride does not want to listen to those words. As a result, it invites heart-decaying consequences. God says, ‘Trust in me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ (Proverbs 3:56). Still, pride wrestles for control. No wonder we worry! We try to do God’s job! Worry happens because we confront our own limitations; we lack the power make everything work out just the way we want. God promises: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). A little part of us shoves those words aside, considering them unnecessary. That God is too overbearing. Yet, what does greed do? Greed never has enough. Greed is a chronic wasting disease. No wonder we feel no satisfaction when greed saturates the heart!
The point is this: Self-reliance feels no need for God. No need for God watching over you. No need to follow God’s Word. A proud heart relies on you! How foolish! What guarantee can you make for real rest? Even worse, the further we wander from the Word of our God the further we wander from our God! The further we wander from him, we do not find peace. We find misery. We walk a road that will only bring everlasting heartbreak.
So, no wonder Psalm 23 draws us in! Yes, we gain many blessings from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Yet, do not overlook the obvious. Who is a better shepherd? You— who cannot enter paradise? Or, Jesus, the Shepherd who has the ability to create this rest and then lead you into that rest?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. The Good Shepherd gladly carried every commandment of God on his heart. He found complete joy in doing his Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7-9). Never once did he brush the Word of God off to the side. Instead, that Word filled his heart— and he used the Word to remove want. Disciples who set the burden on themselves to feed five-thousand mouths, Jesus teaches to bring requests to him. A woman who no doctor could heal finds healing in the Son of God. A prostitute who carries her own shame, a prostitute so many consider too far gone to be forgiven, hears forgiveness from the mouth of Jesus. The Good Shepherd spent his earthly life gathering hearts with his Word. He led those hearts to see his payment on the cross as the payment that brings real peace to a starved soul.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want— and you lack nothing. The living Lord still comes to you with his Word. A Word that penetrates your heart. A Word that does not express a wish, but a reality. What God actually does. So, when Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23), there is no doubt, but the ongoing, solid reality that God no longer holds our faults against us. He does not lock us out of heaven. He does not hold a grudge. He restores weary hearts and souls.
Jesus is the Shepherd we need. Only he holds the power to remove stress and anxiety, fear and nerves. With his Word in our ears and hearts, he proves to be the Shepherd we have.
That truth draws us in to this psalm. Jesus remains the Shepherd we have— even now! Sometimes you encounter this wrong notion. The idea that once you become a Christian, life becomes perfect. You have health. You have wealth. Your children become perfectly obedient. You never get stressed out at work. Never experience accidents or tragedy. All your friends leave a positive impact. That life just becomes completely easy. That’s not true. The Bible never makes such a claim. Even this psalm admits that you (and I) will have trouble. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You (and I) can walk through challenges— financial stress, disappointments brought on by children, even the thought of a covid-19-caused death. We can stand in the overwhelming presence of death— and all its overpowering torments. Still you (and I) need not fear. Why? [Y]ou are with me. Jesus, the Good Shepherd stands bigger than our challenges. His ‘rod’ and ‘staff’ are not two different objects, but really one. The Word of God gives strength in difficulty. You (and I) can press on even in the face of death because God’s Word does not make wishes, but guarantees.
God has kept those promises, hasn’t he? He sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). He has provided you another day with food, clothing, and shelter— and even more, the delight of knowing that it all comes from him (Psalm 37:25). Even in the face of death, you do not stare down the dark abyss, but rather see heaven opened! The heart clings to these promises and keep moving ahead by those promises.
With the Shepherd leading, you triumph over all your foes. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Imagine walking into a five-star restaurant. The Lord receives you as his honored guest. He seats you at the finest candlelit table. You turn to look out the window and you see your enemies outside. Death’s icy grip. Satan’s life-wrecking temptations. The world’s empty promises. Their hands press against the window, aching to rush in— but they cannot. The Risen Christ has cast them outside forever. They are conquered; they can never afflict you ever again!
You turn to the feast spread before you. The finest cuts of meat. The fresh-picked vegetables. The still-warm breads. The most expensive of wines— things you may not be able to afford in this life. Imagine the emotional, mental, and physical delights of feasting! Every need is so fully, so perfectly met. The Good Shepherd grants such satisfaction with his Word—a Word that proclaims his Easter victory and a word that guarantees your share in victory! Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So, why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? Yes, we can ponder what the Good Shepherd does.
Yet, stop and study yourself, your ability, your efforts—and no wonder we fear! What limits we have! When we stop to study the work and ability of the Good Shepherd, you realize this is the Shepherd we need. He is the Shepherd we have. The Lord is My Shepherd.
A single microscopic germ stripped away everything from her. Work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all gone. For two weeks journalist Brooke Baldwin fought the coronavirus [covid-19]. Her body gorged on 12 hours of sleep each day. Cold sweats soaked bed sheets. Dull aches throbbed. Leaving bed took all her strength. Appetite vanished— and when it did show up, no taste. Stubborn independence quickly gave way to cries for dependence. The virus broke her down piece-by-piece, leaving her without a sense of purpose.
In that stillness, Baldwin could focus on important matters in life; she gained clarity. In her reflection she writes:
In our normal lives, we're faced with a barrage of distractions— events on a calendar, expectations of ourselves. But during this time of Covid-induced isolation— whether you're sick or just socially distancing in your home— we've been forced to sit still [without] distraction.…
When I was sick and my body came to a screeching halt… I found myself thinking about joy… about my work [goals]… about my mother… and about the beautiful interdependence of my marriage. …In the quiet of my quarantine, I was able to more purely isolate my gratitude and my values. (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/19/health/coronavirus-diary-sickness-brooke-baldwin/index.html)
This morning God peels away earthly distraction so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of an event longer-lasting than covid-19. An event carving out a deeper impact. An event that has changed the course of your life for all time. Easter prepares you for eternal glory! A priceless Life made you different. A priceless Life gives you hope. So, Live Your Life as a Stranger Here.
Listen to our reading from 1 Peter chapter one, starting with verse 17: Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. That describes you, doesn’t it? You call on God by name. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, breaking down the barrier once separating you (and me) from God. The Holy Spirit gives you access to approach God confidently just like a child fearlessly approaches her father.
Even though God is our tender Father, he is also Judge. That means, God is not some unconcerned grandfather who sits idly by as his little grand-brats trounce all over his word. God enforces his commands; he judges each heart individually— and he does not cut deals.
That’s why he says: live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. You (and I) live on planet earth, and lots of objects are in it: money, tech toys, outdoor toys, play-toys, houses, cars, clothes— all these material items society considers valuable. You (and I) also hear many voices in this world with their many opinions. That you should put your needs first. That you should live in whatever way makes you happy. That everyone— husband, wife, child, boss, neighbor— should respect you. This worldly way of living starts pushing God’s desires out of your heart so that you no longer live under his care, but live for your self-interests.
God does not want his children to fall under judgment. So, he reminds you (and me): ‘You call [me] Father’— because you are his child; you belong to him. That makes you different.
God’s Word peels away worldly distractions so that we see this truth more clearly. If you’re like me, that paring down is painful. Painful— because the heart can attach to the world. We burn with anger over seemingly-needless government restrictions or seemingly-needless protesting because ‘those people’ take worldly treasures away from me. We get upset about losing vacation because we set our hopes in finding peace and rest in luxury. We gripe and complain that a child cannot be recognized for achievements because we over-emphasize (and over-exalt) status. Trembling at the sight mortality means we lost sight of our triumphant Lord, who— as you heard two weeks ago— conquered death.
The pleasures and challenges in this world can blind us from our identity as children of God— children not investing in the passing pleasures of the world, but children who see God at the center of everything in life. If it feels as though you have suffered a loss of purpose, then today is the day to revisit what God has done for you.
God has not set you in this world to latch onto this world. He has redeemed you. He has paid the price to make you different. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. That puts worldly ambition into proper perspective, doesn’t it? God does not love you because you raised your kids to work hard, respect others, and stay out of jail. God does pardon guilt because you sit in a church building and put money in the offering plate and attend Bible class and volunteer. You will not go to heaven because you tried your hardest to live a good life, be a good person, and help others. Gold and silver are valuable, kindness is treasured, but it all stands empty before God. That way of living cannot buy forgiveness because forgiveness costs astronomically more.
God brushes every single distraction aside so that you (and I) can see the most priceless object in the history of universe: Jesus. What makes him so valuable is his unblemished life. Picture that for a moment. Not one trace of greed. Not one inkling of self-righteous pride. Not one harsh word or lustful thought. No unwillingness or doubt. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for 33-years Jesus lives absolutely flawless! That is the life God wants.
Jesus does not hoard what he has. He transfers that priceless life in your (and my) spiritually bankrupt account. Hearts blemished with a carnal love for stuff are covered over with Jesus’ unblemished blood. Every spot of pride washed away. His blood fills you up to stand spiritual rich before God.
This is who you are. Now. In this world. A priceless Life made you different. Life’s ultimate goal is not to store up worldly achievements. It is not to find peace in those achievements. You (and I) are different because A priceless Life gives you hope.
[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Do you know what ‘hope’ is? If you think ‘hope’ means ‘something that might happen,’ then you are wrong. God does not use the word ‘hope’ to suggest an event that may or may not happen. Instead, ‘hope’ means ‘expecting fulfillment with confidence,’ as in, ‘trusting a future event that will occur.’
You know, checking over my calendar, no one has a birthday today— but one specific day does celebrate your birth. That special day might not be today, it’s off in the future— but it is coming. No doubt about it. Every year you fully expect with confidence to celebrate. Easter makes your future certain. God raised Jesus from the dead. For forty days, Jesus appeared to well over 500-believers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). What do you think he talked about? How to manage your 401K? How to unleash fuller joy in a broken world? Of course not! Making earth into heaven was never the purpose for Jesus to come. Instead, Jesus rises to bring you the most awesome news ever: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). Your future is changed. Your attention is lifted up. A priceless life gives you hope— absolute certainty of life with God forever.
What makes this coronavirus unsettling is that it shoves death in your face. Either (1) a real threat of death hovered over your head (because you stand ‘at-risk’) or (2) you wrestled with the awful thought, ‘Maybe I’m not so invincible. Maybe this virus does gets me (or a family member).’ And you might not have been ready to deal with ‘death.’ Maybe you never thought this day would actually come. The simple fact that death even crept into focus will leave a mark. You will not return to a point in time when these events did not occur. From here you can only go forward. The question is: How will your life be different?
This pandemic has allowed much time for self-reflection. Fear preaches (quite loudly) that all the creature comforts of home cannot fill you with the peace you want. You might have scrounged for facemasks not out of caution, but because you were scared. You learned that death still frightens you. That you still have room to grow. Yes, you know you’re going to heaven, but maybe you do well to take God’s Word more to heart. You can cast all your anxieties at any time on God (1 Peter 5:7). You can read your Bible (or devotion) and know that God does not make empty promises, but rather gives guarantees, a solid rock on which to stand (Numbers 23:19).
Rest from the onslaught of weekend sports and school schedules and endless graduation festivities and work obligations demonstrates that you can still live without these events— and so can your family. There is more to life than worldly achievements. How you and your family are responding to these unsettling times can reveal where you might grow closer to God.
You (and I) can recapture our role as [grand]parents and connect our [grand]children closer to the promises of God. Faith in Jesus as Savior is the most priceless object in the world— and sharing that truth is the greatest investment you can ever make. Do not squander the time given now. Do not hope that your child might stumble into church one day. Do not think it is up to the Pastor alone to preach Jesus. Today is another day where you can take what is seen and heard and remind yourself (and others): You are a stranger here. Life does not depend on what you own. Life rests and finds peace in God’s forgiveness. That forgiveness comes through Jesus. A priceless Life gives you that hope.
God-willing, we will have another chance to return to our work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all these fabulous blessings. You heard that right: blessings.
God peels away earthly distractions so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of Easter. The priceless Life of Jesus made you different. Jesus is the only Way into heaven—and you benefit from that life. He exalted you into the family of God. As a result, His priceless Life gives you hope. When your world shakes and trembles, when so much seems lost, remember: You have lost nothing—because your hope is not anchored to this life. You are a Stranger Here, and a full-fledged citizen of God’s kingdom.
Hiroo Onoda was a second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. On December 26, 1944 he assumed his post in the Philippine mountains. His orders were simple: hinder American advancement by targeting airstrips and ports. Under no circumstances was he to surrender. Yet, American forces crept further and further inland, forcing Onoda deeper and deeper into the mountains. He carved out a new position and, all on his own, continued repelling police forces and local resistance. Onoda never surrendered. There was just one problem: the War was over. In fact, the War had been over for 29-years.
Can you imagine carrying on your life as though war still rages all around you, when in reality, it does not? Can you imagine living in constant fear of the unknown? …will the enemy overwhelm you? …will you live to see another day? Can you imagine the stress? …your responsibility of making snap decisions? …always standing alert for sudden danger? Can you imagine the sheer frustration? …why no one ever comes to help you? …why no one ever shares updates about the ‘big picture’ of the war effort? …why this war never ends? …is this war really worth fighting anymore? Hiroo Onoda lived in a completely unnecessary way. The War was over! He could enjoy peace and prosperity! The good news never sunk in.
The war is over! (And I’m not talking about World War II.) Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, but we can lose sight of the victory. We can live as though nothing changed. So, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. As you do, Easter Makes Life Make Sense. You Hear God’s purpose for Jesus and you can Apply the facts for life.
In Acts chapter two you find this smattering of people from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual thanksgiving festival. Not terribly spectacular, right? Except they gather fifty-days after Easter and still wait for God to send his Son into the world. They live completely oblivious to what Jesus already accomplished for them!
So, [the disciple] Peter stands up, raises his voice, and speaks loudly and clearly to them: Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you… Well, that name rings a bell. Some watched this ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ teach; others heard the fantastic events attached to this Man. Yet, what the crowds associate most with the [the name] ‘Jesus’ is ‘crucified,’ ‘died,’ ‘buried.’ Just another man who met his end and can be visited in the cemetery. Their attentions have moved on from his ministry!
Peter says, ‘Stop! Think back to Jesus. [He] was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. Do not overlook the obvious: miracles, wonders and signs are visible, you see those sights with the eye. What is seen does not require interpretation. Either you blow out the birthday candles or do not. Either you drive the car or not. Either you get up from the chair or not. You cannot debate if an action happened or not. Many eyes saw mighty acts. Jesus strengthens the crippled, cures the diseased, multiplies food, and raises the dead. No one could debate if those acts happened or not. On top of that, no one could deny these mighty acts surpassed human ability. The point is this: You cannot simply disregard what is seen. Miracles make you wonder (1) who this Man is and (2) for what reason he does these things. Peter says these signs point to something definite: Jesus is recommended by God, which means, God sent Jesus for a specific purpose. You cannot dismiss the One God sent without consequence. You would be opposing God.
But that is precisely what happened! This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. Some of those standing in front Peter were the ones who chanted: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Luke 23:20-21) Others gave silent approval as they watched the Romans nail Jesus to the cross. Whatever the participation this much clear: The crowds rejected the only Savior God sent. They completely ignored God’s purpose for Jesus.
In spite of rejection God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God Almighty, the One who knows all things, also knew that Jesus would die. After all, this is the purpose for Christmas, right? The sinless Son of God is delivered to the world. This is the purpose for Jesus’ circumcision and baptism, right? He shoulders the responsibility of obeying God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4-5). God marks Jesus as his sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb not for some, but for the whole world. A Lamb needed because something is morally and mortally wrong with us. A Lamb God sends for a purpose: to save us!
One thousand years before Easter Sunday King David revealed God’s purpose for Jesus. He said: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Yet, David is not describing himself. That much Peter makes clear. Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For all his accomplishments and success, David still could not grasp victory over death. He died— and his tomb remains. Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne [that is, Jesus], he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay.
These many Jews gathering in Jerusalem acted as though Jesus the Nazarene impacted their lives in no way! That Jesus’ ministry flamed out and could be forgotten. Friends, Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. Go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Apply the facts for life.
You know, throughout this entire pandemic one phrase keeps repeating like a broken record. A phrase smeared on commercials, the media, and governor reports. The phrase? ‘We’ll get through this.’ Says who? Have you thought about that? Who can make good on that promise: ‘We’ll get through this’? We have no guarantee that we will [automatically] conquer this virus. Yes, we hear terrific news that the [virus] curve is flattening (and slowing), but we have no guarantee that a second “wave” does not strike. We have no guarantee that a new disease does not erupt next year. We have no guarantee that the economy instantly recovers or that grocery store shelves are always stocked or the virus just fizzles out. Yes, it stands highly likely the virus goes away— but because of what reason? Because human beings are so smart and we will triumph by our own ability? (We were the ones who could not prevent this whole mess in the first place!) You see, the human heart places an incredible amount of trust in its own abilities. It grows over-confident in what it can manage and control that it thrusts God off the side!
That does not bring any peace, does it? Thoughts of death overwhelm us because you (and I) cannot stop life from ending. Panicked hysteria ripples through your body (and mine) because we cannot make all things work for our good. Feelings of despair keep us awake at night because cling to our own behavior— our helpful actions or kind generosity, thinking this is what God wants from us. Self-reliance treats Jesus as some impotent man who lived, died, and remains dead. Completely unable to help you! That Easter is this onetime celebration stuck in the past. That it remains up to you to obtain real peace.
That kind of living fails to apply Easter to life. Hiroo Onoda hid in the mountains, lived off the land, and fought locals. He was living a war that had been over for decades! He was living in one way of life that was completely unnecessary. He did receive whispers of a new change of life. General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army dropped leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda did not believe the news. His own family dropped pictures from the sky, pleading for his return, but he thought it was a trick. Finally, his commanding officer, Yoshimi Taniguchi, flew to the mountains and ordered Onoda to surrender. He did. Onoda could finally live under the results of peace that had already been in place for 29-years.
Peter shares God’s declaration peace so that you may live under the completed work for the risen and living Christ! This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that. The miracles, wonders, and signs testify that Jesus is the God-approved Son sent for the world. Sent to live in your place (and mine). Sent to carry our fears. Sent to confront our self-reliance. Sent to give us new life. Never once does Jesus question God’s care for him. Even has he hangs on the cross, he commits his life into hands of heavenly Father because he trusts with this unshakable trust that he will not see decay. His body will not lay in a tomb and get stinky and break down. He knows the Father would restore his perfect life as promised— and the Father does!
Apply the facts of the resurrection to life! Jesus has won the victory!— and you get to live under the results. Not cowering in fear over guilt, but certain of God’s forgiveness. Not facing conflict alone, but relying on a God who watches, guards, protects, and keeps you in his hands. Never afraid to confront death alone, but certain that God will open your grave and you will see his face.
The war is over! Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, a change that remains in effect today.
Easter will continue getting further and further behind us. Yet, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. The Man crucified now lives! Lives to brings you peace in this life and the life to come now and always. Apply the facts for life. Open your eyes to results Christ wins for you. Easter Makes Life Make Sense.
Do you feel like rejoicing and being glad today? It’s Easter Sunday, but it really does not feel like it, does it? At this moment, you are confined inside, either reading these words off a couple pieces of paper or watching service on a screen. (Probably not your normal Easter habit.) You do not sit in sanctuary beautifully adorned with fragrant lilies and blazing white linens. You cannot feel the piano pound its sweet songs. You probably are not dressed in your snazziest, prettiest, newest outfits. You will not enjoy the classic Easter brunch at church with all those familiar faces and glowing conversations. You will not rejoice with your friends in the presence of your God. The celebration just seems to lack fullness, doesn’t it?
Then, you have those timeless traditions that always happened after worship. Easter dinner with family. Easter egg hunts. Easter basket presents. Those festivities will not take place. This year is different. Instead of creating light-hearted memories of happiness, you may just feel without cheer.
So much has been taken away so quickly. Over the course of just one month, we have gone from no Irish Parade to cancelled sports to cancelled school days to cancelled schoolyear to limited gatherings to no gatherings to no going out (unless necessary) to wiping down your groceries and wearing a facemask. That’s a lot to process in a very short amount of time. All this massive adjustment— on top of everything else you already had going on. The strained relationship. The financial stress and retirement planning. The upcoming wedding. The graduation festivities. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Yes, there will be brighter days in the future, happier days, days that present a reason to rejoice and be glad, but maybe just not today. To rejoice and be glad feels too difficult when there are so many challenges in the world at this moment.
Much like that first Easter, right? You do not see Mary Magdalene and the other women skipping on over to the tomb. No one relishes the fresh morning dew and fragrant lilies. No singing. No brunch. No cheer. That first Easter is dominated by loss. So much has been taken away so quickly.
One sight changes everything: Jesus lives! Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which those women and disciples find themselves has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and Jewish leaders still want Christianity snuffed out. Jesus lives!— and the Romans will do anything just to stop hearing the name ‘Jesus’ (Matthew 27:62-66). Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened (John 20:19). That first Easter audience does not rejoice and live glad because their every single struggle suddenly vanishes. They rejoice and are glad because Easter changes the very foundation of life. Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
One man experiences those words firsthand. Today, Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ breaks out of the prison-hold of death, we focus on Jonah. You probably best know him as the guy swallowed by a great fish. Remember how he gets into that situation?
God hand-selected Jonah for a special mission: ‘Preach against the great city of Nineveh so that they might turn to me’ (Jonah 1:1-2).That’s a problem. Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and Assyria is the capital enemy of Israel! In no way whatsoever would Jonah ever want to help enemy number one. The mission is so repulsive that Jonah literally runs away from God. Instead of heading east to Assyria, he boards a ship sailing due west, travelling in the complete opposite direction. Jonah has absolutely no desire to set his mind on the things of God. He acts only to satisfy self-interest.
For a moment, Jonah gets what he wants! Until a storm rips away his control. Billowing waves heave, rain pelts, whipping winds gust. The sailors strain for shore, but make absolutely no headway. They dump heavy cargo, but the swells swamp the ship. Certain death confronts the crew. Jonah finally admits: ‘I am running away from the God of heaven, who made the [now-storming] sea and the land… Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm.’ … Then the sailors took Jonah and threw him overboard (1:9-15).
How does Jonah find himself inside a fish? He disobeyed God. God spoke and Jonah literally ran away. That behavior comes from a rebellious heart. Spiritually speaking, Jonah did not want to hear God. He did not want to obey God. He wants God gone. So God grants his wish. Jonah is banished from God’s sight! He plunges into the heart of the sea, sinking lower and lower, the sheer weight of water presses down on him, squeezing him tight, crushing him. His fate is sealed: He would sink into the open jaws of his grave.
That’s nothing to rejoice about, is it? Death is no friend. Perhaps that truth has taken on fuller meaning. This coronavirus puts people at risk of death. There remains a possibility that you can infect loved ones with a life-threatening illness. There remains a possibility that you yourself could become sick and even die. Today’s medical technology has made incredible, but doctors still cannot guarantee to automatically save life. That’s unsettling. At this moment in time you (and I) are getting a close-up view of the grave.
What makes it even more unsettling is that all the comforts which we considered so important are not delivering us. (1) How often sports took priority over Sunday worship. Cheering on a child from the sideline or letting your mind drift onto the big game while at church. Our hearts considered a simple score so important that it attaches value to that activity. (2) How often jam-packed schedules shove time with God (either in prayer or devotion) off to the side! Your prayer-life shriveled up because the television show came first. Your children do not know what happens when a person dies because you did not think it important to teach them. (3) How often self-worth is invested in money and fading milestones. I mean, just one month ago you could list what you considered important, but the whole list is almost wiped out. All those things our hearts consider so important that it sacrificed God— they’re all gone and you (and I) are still here. What good do those priorities serve you now?
Is it any wonder you witness fear and hysteria and panic? Run from God and face eternal death alone.
If you find it difficult to rejoice and be glad this morning, then reset your focus. Listen to Jonah speak: To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. Jonah’s actions tossed him into death, but God, in his infinite mercy did not let Jonah get what he deserved. Instead, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (1:17).
Do you realize from where Jonah prays? Inside the fish! He does not mourn, he gives thanks. The Lord lifts him up from depths of death. He has done the same for you!
Jesus has stepped into Jonah’s life, into your life (and mine). He is sent to preach to the world— including to those who hate him and would kill. He is tempted to cherish the treasures of this world, to elevate wealth and status and power. He sees disease and deformity and death. Never does he run away from God. Instead, he comes to do his will (Hebrews 10:5-7).
God’s will set Jesus on the Good Friday cross. There, Jesus marches after your heart that had wandered into death, after my heart that had wandered. He sinks into the pit of death. His life stops. God makes Jesus pay for our despair. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man [was] three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Early Sunday morning, the stone rolls away from the tomb and out steps Jesus— fully alive! He holds your life brought back from death. ‘Because I live,’ he says, ‘you also will live’ (John 14:19).
Despair No More! The empty tomb means the Lord lifts you up from depths of death. Christ has risen! Risen to bring us from death to life! With that good news the Lord anchors you to his salvation.
That word ‘salvation’ means ‘deliverance.’ When applied to God it describes the only deliverance that truly matters (or the best deliverance there is): ‘deliverance from death in hell.’ When you (and I) hear: ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation,’ it means, God ‘delivers you from death in hell.’
This where you stand today, you stand delivered from death in hell. That’s why Jonah sings: But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation [eternal deliverance] comes from the Lord.
Does it feel like it? Christ rose, but the world is far from perfect. You hear about disease and sickness, death and despair. Even in the past, you heard war and unrest, financial collapse and frayed relationships. Christ rose, but struggles did not suddenly vanish. Not to mention all the personal challenges you face. The upcoming wedding. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Christ rose, but these significant milestones still exist.
So does Easter. The fact that Jesus leaves his tomb means your guilt before God has been wiped away (Romans 4:25). A room is prepared for you in heaven (John 14:2-3). At the right time, God’s angels will carry you to your heavenly home (Luke 16:22). Your future changed. Christ rose and that means you will live forever on high.
That reality is fixed. Firm. Steady. Constant. It never changes. The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even in tears you have a firm footing. Your husband who died trusting in Jesus as Savior spends this Easter with his triumphant Lord. One day you will too will gather around the triumphant Savior! Not just that, nothing will stop Jesus from raising you (and me) from the dead. Jesus himself makes clear: A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out… those who have done evil will rise to be condemned… and those who have done good [those who believe] will rise to live (John 5:28-29).
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even when all these activities are stripped away, you really have lost nothing. Parents, God has handed you the opportunity to teach your children about the God who holds the keys of life! No child fears knowing that Jesus will bring them to heaven. Even with older children you can connect the victory of life more closely to today’s settings. Much is taken away, but that allows you (and me) to focus on what is truly important in this world. Prioritizing life with God!
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, you hold open access to approach the Almighty for anything, anytime. The God who gave his very own Son into death for our eternal benefit, why would stop caring about you now? I am convinced that neither 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). Despair No More! ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation.’
Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which generations of those celebrating Easter has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and you still encounter challenges. Jesus lives!— and you still confront death. Jesus.’ Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened. We do not rejoice and live glad because every single struggle suddenly vanishes. We rejoice and are glad because Christ defeated every single fear, every single enemy once and for all time. He hands you that victory! Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
Recent studies suggest an anti-malarial drug called ‘chloroquine’ may possibly fight the coronavirus. Disclaimer: Much testing remains to be done. Still, some claim this medicine promises good.
That simple recommendation was good enough for an Arizona man and his wife. They already had available some chloroquine tablets. So, they mixed it with some soda and drank it. Within 20-minutes both fell terribly ill. By the time the husband reached the hospital he was dead. The wife arrived in critical condition, but appears on track to a full recovery. The recommendation also spread in Nigeria. Soon, hospitals experienced an increase in chloroquine poisonings. The medicine was good, but what went wrong?
There remains a debate about chloroquine’s effectiveness against coronavirus. All debating aside, the harm still could have been prevented. On the pill bottle is a warning label. That warning label clearly reads: ‘Use only as directed.’
Those who created the drug have specific instructions for its use. Some chose to ignore those instructions. As result, the abuse of the medication killed. The Arizona couple actually self-medicated with a fish tank cleaner that contained chloroquine. (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/03/arizona-man-dies-chloroquine-trump-coronavirus-advice.html) Several Nigerians became severely ill after ‘mass consumption’ of the drug. (https://nypost.com/2020/03/22/nigeria-reports-poisonings-from-possible-coronavirus-drug-chloroquine/) Chloroquine promises good. But consume it for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed.
During this season of Lent you (and I) have met opponents of truth. People like Caiaphas. Pilate’s wife. The Jewish Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot. Pilate’s soldiers. Crowds at the cross. All confront undeniable truth. They recognize Jesus fits the mold of Old Testament prophecies. Strange dreams and mighty miracles demonstrate might. His moral purity stands out against the backdrop of shady courtrooms. The truth is clear: Jesus is the Son of God and he carries divine authority.
Still, a very powerful, very personal foe challenges that truth: our own human Reason. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gives clear instructions and a clear purpose for his special Supper. Yet, human Reason loves changing those instructions with some very sly words: ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
That is a true statement. ‘The Lord’s Table’ is another name for the Lord’s Supper. Yet, study the phrase a little closer. The use of that name ‘Lord’ tells you something about the ‘table’ (or the ‘supper’). It belongs to Jesus, it’s his possession. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He set it up. He starts it.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus reclines at a table in an upper room, celebrating the annual Passover festival. His disciples also recline around the table. Before them sits bitter herbs, bread made without yeast, wine, and roasted lamb. This meal repeated how God rescued Old Testament Israel from physical slavery in Egypt and would soon rescue them from spiritual slavery.
Central to the celebration is the Passover lamb. The Israelites slaughtered the lamb and smeared its blood over the doorframe of their houses. That night God would ‘pass over’ Egypt. Death struck every house without the blood. Judgment ‘passed over’ the homes covered in blood. On Maundy Thursday Jesus makes clear: He is the Passover Lamb (read John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26-28). In a matter of hours he would be slaughtered and his blood used to cover the doorframes of our hearts— and God’s divine judgment would ‘pass over’ us.
The ‘old’ Passover reached fulfillment. It always pointed to Jesus. Now a ‘new’ covenant, a new promise takes effect. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The Lord sets his table. He instructs how his body and blood come to you together with the bread and the wine. He attaches forgiveness of sins and life in his supper. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
A congregation in Corinth ignored that truth. You see, when the congregation came together for worship, they quickly broke into groups. There was a group of the rich and influential, a group of the elderly and the forgettable, another group of the poor and scruffy. Really, the congregation played favorites. During worship the congregation celebrated ‘love feasts’ (much like today’s potlucks). Bonds of fellowship could tighten. Instead, the influential ate most of the food, the rich got drunk, and the forgettables were forgotten. That carried into celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Instead of a congregation already bound to Christ binding closer with each other, they catered to favorite groups. So when they knelt at the Lord’s Table, they did not receive the forgiveness Jesus offers. (1 Corinthians 11:20-21) They had changed Jesus’ instructions.
The instructions are clear: [W]henever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Scripture makes clear that the Lord’s Supper exists for a reason. You proclaim that (1) you need a Savior and (2) you have a Savior.
Human Reason brushes that instruction aside and then creates its own views of the Lord’s Supper. [It claims:] That this is an action you perform to please God; by receiving the Lord’s Supper, you earn God’s favor. That the Lord’s Table is simply an outward show that all humanity really believes the same thing; God never intended offering spiritual benefits. That the bread and the wine are merely symbols; Jesus does not attach his body and blood. Human Reason does not listen to God. Instead, it wants God to listen to ‘you.’ Human Reason claims that you can treat the Lord’s Supper however you wish.
Does it matter how you use that drug chloroquine? Can you self-medicate by the handful? What about consuming chloroquine for fish? Does that matter? Of course it does! Pharmacists own the drug. They give clear instructions for your benefit. Ignore those instructions and something happens: You invite harm!
Jesus attaches a warning to his Supper: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
It Is the Lord’s Table, that is, the Lord owns it. If our own Reason feels privileged to approach the Lord’s Table in a careless manner, you will not receive blessing. You receive God’s judgment. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord, who owns it, holds the unworthy guilty
That’s why Jesus attaches instructions. He does not want anyone to fall under judgment. The intention for the Lord’s Supper is blessing. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord makes clear: He pardons those examined.
So Jesus instructs: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. There, at the Lord’s Table, you proclaim the Lord’s death. So, you examine yourself, either privately in your mind or privately with the pastor.
Before receiving the Lord’s Supper, God wants you to know why you need it. (1) Ask yourself: ‘Am I sorry for my sins?’ The Ten Commandments God carved into stone and etched into our hearts lay bare his expectations. Love him with all our heart and love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Have you done that? Have you shown respect to authority? Have you loved God that you stood up for what is right without ever regretting that you did? Have you taken words and actions in the kindest possible way? Have you obeyed God always? His Commandments soften the heart to see its brokenness and need for a Savior.
When you stand at the Lord’s Table, (2) ask yourself: ‘What am I receiving?’ Jesus clearly says that his body and blood are truly present in the Lord’s Supper. ‘Take and eat; this is my body… Take and drink, this is my blood’ (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:29). He never uses the word ‘symbolizes.’ He simply tells you (and me) that in a supernatural way he gives his body with the bread and his blood with the wine.
Human Reason challenges that truth. It claims that Jesus cannot give his body and blood because it just does not make sense. Therefore, Jesus cannot being serious. (Reason will even go so far as to Jesus’ words and meaning.)
Yet, Jesus is serious. He is serious when allows thorns to pierce his head, nails to pierce his hands and feet, a Roman spear to pierce his side. He is serious when his lifeblood spills from his veins and life departs from his body. Jesus is serious about bringing you (and me) into a state of peace with God that he gives his body and blood into our death, our punishment.
(3) Ask yourself: ‘Why do I receive this?’ Kneeling at the Lord’s Table is not some great act you do to please God. Instead, God comes to you. Your Lord comes to you with his body and blood together with the bread and the wine to personally assure you that you are pardoned. You stand at peace with God. Eternal life is yours.
As you depart, (4) finally ask: ‘What impact does this leave on me?’ Jesus has dropped your crimes! No longer do I stand condemned for pride. If pride condemned me, then why would I want to return to it? Instead, I live different, I live opposite! Love that pardons an eternal debt leaves an impact. Forgiven much, we do not seek to sin much. Instead forgiven much we live as those forgiven—with joy, peace, and a desire to keep taking God’s Word to heart. It Is the Lord’s Table. There, The Lord pardons those examined.
Human Reason has always claimed a right to change the things of God. Even when Jesus gives clear instructions for his table, Reason tries changing those intentions for its own personal use. Regardless of what the heart wants, Jesus’ words stand firm. Receive the Lord’s Supper for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed. The Lord holds the unworthy guilty.
That is what you (and I) once were: Unworthy. Jesus gave his life once for all time to pardon our crimes. He still comes to you in a special way with that special pardon for your benefit, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for a God-pleasing life. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’ Not mine to change as I see fit. The Supper belongs to the Lord. Receive the benefits as Jesus intends. The Lord pardons the examined.