Finish the sentence: When [the month of] May starts, I expect to find people doing (fill in the blank). How do you think your life and the life of others will look? …where are they going? …what are they doing? …what occupies them? Do you have an answer?
Honestly, I have trouble even guessing. If you are like me, you just do not know what the future holds. I do not know if school be in session or not. I do not know when we will lift up hearts and voices together in this sanctuary. I do not know if Memorial Day weekend will bring hordes of Downstaters or if the city will be quiet. At this moment the future lies unknown.
That reality brings a wide range of emotions. Hope that illness could be gone, but fear that illness might linger. Excitement for school summer break, but worry that classes will drag into summer. The thrill of summer vacation, but the dread that there might be no getaway. No trips to Grand Hotels or beaches or property or campgrounds. No county fair or street fair. Cautious optimism quickly gives way to anxiety. That’s physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Some days you just feel like crashing to your knees, crumpling into a pile, and crying out, ‘How much longer, Lord? When can life get back to normal?’
Not everyone joins that chorus. The aftershocks of restrictions affect us all— but children press on. Two of my young children (ages 7 & 5) realize what they see on the news impacts them. They know they should be in school. They know public places should be open. Two weeks ago I took my son to WalMart and he knew not to touch anything. Both children understand something difficult is happening right now. Still, what they discuss is amazing. They still expect vacation. They plan going to the farm and seeing family. They talk about taking a [Minnesota] Vikings stadium tour. Right now, vacation is a blur to me. (Sometimes I wonder if we will actually be able to leave the state, or if we must stay here, what will be open!) They have no worry. They have no fear about school time or illness or opening church doors again. If you have been around children, you might notice similar behavior. Children cannot make out the future, but they stand confident that the future will be fine.
Call it ignorant bliss if you want, but I think that’s overstating the case. They have genuine confidence. Even if their plans come crashing down and they’re stuck in summer school and do not see a stadium, they still do not panic. They fear nothing because they have a parent.
Good for them. Right? Good for you too. At this time we do not know what to expect, but God gives two truths to expect. Two factual statements that impact your life today. (1) The Spirit testifies to your adoption. (2) The Spirit makes you an heir of glory. That means, Live Confident, Child of God!
This morning God speaks to you— you who believe that Jesus has set you free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-4). In Romans chapter 8, starting with verse 11, he says: [I]f the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation— but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
You realize the same word appears four times in four verses. ‘Spirit.’ No, not a ghost or some vapory mist. The ‘Spirit’ is God. Scripture makes clear: God lives in you. Can you be sure? Yes, because God says: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Out of the billions of people living in the world at this very moment, God lives in your single heart.
That reality shapes behavior now. You are taking in the Word of God. You learn what pleases him. The Word guides emotions and helps form decisions. God’s promises provide strength to step out into the unknown. The Spirit of God inside you feasts on those Words. He builds confidence. The Spirit of God in you testifies to your adoption. You can live confident because you belong to God.
Confidence dwindles when you take your eyes off of the Word. If God uses his Word to lead you, then who is leading you when you no longer use the Word?
Here’s a few headlines snagged from last week:
The sinful nature will seize the opportunity to set trust on you! To think that we do control all things. The truth is, you do not. You did not lay the foundations of the earth. You did not shut the seas behind its doors or stretch out the skies. You do not bring out the seasons or manage every creature (read Job 38-39). You lack that ability. That’s why we get hysterical, we confront the reality that we do not control everything. Fear testifies to our limitations. Fear teaches that we have lost sight of our Father who does have control.
That’s what makes children such an astounding example. They fear nothing because they let the parent handle their needs. God stresses the same point so that you can live confident. [T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Remember, you [and I] are led by the Spirit of God; God lives in you.) You also receive a special title: Son! (And yes, that also describes you, ladies.) God does not elevate one biological sex here; he stresses benefits.
You see, in ancient times the son inherited the entire family estate. He received access to property, wealth, business, cattle— and even responsibility over his mother and siblings. He received full use and full rights to everything! God says, ‘You have full rights to all I have!’ For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
‘Abba’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘father’ or ‘daddy.’ The word describes tender affection between father and child. So, little children chirp: ‘Daddy, you’re home!’ ‘Daddy, can you help me?’ ‘Daddy, let me sit in your lap.’ Why would little kids say this? Because their father demonstrates love. That tender affection flowing from the father increases a child’s confidence. She goes to him for anything, anytime, knowing that he cares for and addresses her needs. How much more our Father in heaven!
You can Live Confident, Child of God! The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. You can curl up in his secure, powerful hands. You can stand confident that the future will be fine.
[W]e are children… You are someone’s child— regardless of your age, regardless of your independence, you will always remain someone’s child. As God’s child, you live underneath his care.
Since we are children, then we are heirs… At this moment, I am an heir to my parent’s estate. They have drafted a Will and I stand in line to receive possessions— but my parents are not deceased yet. Most likely have many years left. Still, I remain an heir. One day their Will will take effect and I will receive my share of their estate.
You (and I) are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ… We stand in line to receive possessions. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We will share in that possession; we too will rise from death. The specific day? We do not know. Still, we are heirs, guaranteed to receive the same benefits Christ already has. We remain in line if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
That’s challenging, is it not? ‘Suffering’ and ‘glory’ do not appear to mesh together. If anything, they appear opposites! Yet, stop for a moment and ask: What does a Christian consider ‘suffering’?
Boil it down and ‘suffering’ is when I do not get my way. ‘I cannot finish my goals and get my rest because I must watch the kids all day.’ ‘I pray to God that health restores, but he does not do what I want.’ ‘Other people hoarding keeps me from hoarding myself.’ ‘This virus does not let me make money and spend money and feel secure in money.’ When I don’t get my way, I blame others. I blame them for taking away my happiness— even if that means I blame God and say that following his Word takes away my happiness.
Remember this: Jesus suffered too. He preaches, but religious leaders reject him. He raises the dead, but that only infuriates many. He commits no crime, but is sentenced and crucified. Why does Jesus suffer? Because he put the Word of God first. He suffers because God made him to be our Savior.
Now, look at him. He rose from death and still lives! He ascended into heaven and all things rest set under his feet. No one can drag him out of heaven. No one can stop him from bringing you into heaven. That is your God who put an end to eternal suffering! He belongs to you and you to him!
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. You do not see that glory now, but you will. Just like an heir has not received the estate yet— but he will. God points you to the grave and says, ‘Death cannot hold you. Because Jesus lives, you will live.’
Eternity is set. You will experience eternity just like you experience life today. You will see and smell and hear and touch and talk and walk— except one thing will be different. No sin. No coronavirus. No political bickering. No health-ailments. No financial stress. No uncertainty. Even if life feels pretty comfortable at the moment, it will only get better.
Still, you realize that God is not saying, ‘Well, hang in there. One day it will get better.’ No. He says, ‘The Will is written. You are my child now, walking the path to glory. You will see my glory.’
Children cannot make out the future, but they stand confident that the future will be fine. They fear nothing because they have a parent. At this time we do not know what [the month of] May will bring, but God gives two truths to expect. Two factual statements that impact your life today. (1) The Spirit testifies to your adoption. (2) The Spirit makes you an heir of glory. You hear, have, and hold the Words of your dear Father, the One who control things now and eternally. What fear is there in that? Live Confident, Child of God!
February 20, 2017. President’s Day. A national holiday. A day honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (or, if you so desire, apparently every United States President [see: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Presidents-Day]). You can reflect on all the advantages gained from leadership. A steady hand guiding a nation through the dark days of war. Inspiring speeches encouraging countless Americans pressed down by conflict. Policies bringing economic growth and a secure retirement. President’s Day presents the opportunity to consider how past and present leadership intersected with your expectations.
Yet, February 20, 2017 stood out as a uniquely special President’s Day. Many (millions?) flocked to the streets, bundled in hats, scarves, and gloves, poster-board signs in hand, and started chanting: ‘Not my President! Not my President!’ Counter-protesters shouted back: ‘That is my President! ‘That is my President!’
Now, regardless of your political stance, both messages strike a common chord. The elected president is expected to represent an individual’s values (or beliefs). This protesting is really nothing new. In fact, the chant is thousands of years old.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Now, smug taunts dare him to act. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
Of course, no one really considers that a true statement. Pontius Pilate had seen kings before. In fact, a king had appointed him governor of Judea. Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, the most powerful man in the ancient world. Now Caesar, that man fits the mold of a king. He wears elaborate robes adorned with dazzling gems set in glistening gold, the essence of lavender wafts off his manicured body. The snap of his fingers command fine delicacies, a hand-tap demands service. One word and the army marches. This man holds prestige, dominance, control, influence. People expect that type of grandeur from kings.
Jesus, well, he just does not have that aura. Here stands the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Nazareth, that’s as exciting as saying that you’re from Temple. That township is not known for leaders or industry or military figures. It has no claim to fame. Carpentry, a good skill, but not a multi-million dollar profession. Jesus has no Shangri-La [house]. In fact, he has no set place to lay his head; he constantly finds a new room (Matthew 8:20). His fanciest clothing is an undergarment, a piece of linen seamlessly woven together from top to bottom (John 19:23). Look him over and it’s pretty clear: Jesus is no king.
Pilate knows that. Pilate intends driving the point home. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
The Romans have complete control over the situation. Jesus will not escape. No rabblerousing supporters will bother the soldiers. At this moment, Jesus’ health lies in the hands of a more dominant force. Not just that, but this image of a thorny crown and grimy soldier’s cloak reveals Jesus to be no more a king than a kid dressed up as a king on Halloween. The Romans make clear: If Jesus calls himself a king, then he’s pretending. Any claim to authority can be snuffed out. Perhaps the Jews will understand the point, drop the charges, let him go, and then return home.
Really, this why the Jews hate Jesus in the first place: He is not a king. A few occasions did offer a glimmer of hope.
One time, Jesus took five loaves of bread and two small fish. He thanked God for the meal, tore it into pieces, and gave everyone a free lunch. Not only did everyone eat, but they were stuffed; they had to tell Jesus ‘Enough! We’re full!’ Over five thousand mouths feasted on one grade-schooler’s lunch. That catches people’s attention. They witness divine control over natural forces. They watch God bless the food in Jesus’ hands. That leads many to conclude: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Crowds grab at him, trying to make Jesus king by force, but he escapes (John 6:14-15).
Then, just a few days earlier, the hope rekindled. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah predicted this! He said, ‘Keep watch for that event! When you see it, then you know your king has come!’ (9:9-10). They saw it! The long-promised king to give new birth for a new nation. Instead of storming the palace, Jesus storms the temple… and he calls himself God… and starts acting like God.
The Jews did not want that. They do not want a spiritual king. Abraham is their ancestor; the family tree will make God happy. Worst case, they have the temple. Just bring some animals, say the right words, and God will be pleased. They feel the spiritual department is met. What the Jews want is an earthly king. Someone who drives out the dreaded Romans, fills the belly with food, and leads the nation towards independence, economic strength, and replaces all fear with peace. That’s what they want. Actually, that’s what they determined needful. As for Jesus, well, he does not look like the King we want.
Study that statement long enough and you find a contradiction. He does not look like the King we want. Kings lead people. Here, people try leading king. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king?
You see, the trouble is not with Jesus’ teachings, the trouble is with self-perception. Our flawed hearts think we stand equal with God, that we hold the right to negotiate with God in our pursuit for pleasure! Jesus urges: ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’ (Matthew 6:25). Yet, this pandemic is spreading and it does not appear to be slowing. So, we feel a right to worry because we feel the situation extreme. He teaches: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). Yet, we exchange Jesus’ words for Facebook gripes, and criticize first instead of taking words and actions in the kindest possible way. Jesus sets hearts on God’s unbreakable Word: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Yet, that’s difficult because we doubt God will keep his promise. (Or worse, maybe he will keep his promises, but it will cost me money, popularity, or that sinful passion.) Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Remember, kings lead people. Yet, people try leading the King. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king of your life?
The Jews want a king who caters to their demands. The Romans claim control over the world. That leaves no room for Jesus. He simply does not look like the King wanted.
Because that’s not the King Jesus comes to be. He does not arrive after winning an election or getting the popular vote. He comes to reign as the king we need.
Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the Jews have seen kings before. They marvel at immense wealth, prestige, dominance, and influence. They stand outside grandiose palaces set in lofty locations. They follow orders given at the snap of a finger. That kingship does not always address your every fear or physical need. Really, that kingship lasts only a lifetime— unless it ends sooner.
Jesus reigns as the king we need. He steps off from his throne, lays aside his royal robes, leaves the halls of choirs upon choirs singing his praises. He leaves the confines of safety and security and steps into a royal mess. He wraps himself in human flesh, but is not born to royalty. He becomes a child to a low-income carpenter and a virgin mother from an insignificant village. His royal band does not consist of dignitaries and ambassadors, but rather simple fishermen and tax collectors. He speaks not to national forums, but to gatherings of the curious, the bruised, and the hurting.
He marches off to war the devil in the wilderness for forty days and nights. A foe that snatched at Jesus’ throne. A foe that promises us pleasure if we just follow him. A foe that had lied to us, captured us, and held us captive. A foe that had bound to the pits of hell and eternal death. A foe we constantly faced, but a foe that constantly overwhelmed and defeated us. Yet, that foe could not overwhelm our King.
The King of the Jews comes for you. Jesus literally comes through a Jewish family tree. Miracles testify that he is God’s chosen one, that he is God-appointed, that we can follow him. He marches to the cross as the King to fight for the hellish consequences his subjects brought upon themselves. Some chant his name: ‘Hail, King David’s royal son!’ Others shout: ‘Crucify! King of the Jews!’
This is the reason for which our King is sent: to make us citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Our cries for independence—all those little pleasures that feel so good to indulge do not make us free. Instead, they bind us. They clasp us to a very real hellish consequence. Jesus steps into our trouble. Our consequences bind his hands, head, and feet to the cross. God makes him the target of his wrath. There at Calvary, the greatest battle is fought—and won! Our perfect King meets God’s expectations. Easter Sunday trumpets the tickertape parade for the Triumphant King! He ascends into his heavenly coronation, where all things are set under his feet.
Even today, that perfect King comes to you. He has clothed you with his royal life. He has washed away grimy selfishness. He has slipped a ring on your finger—a ring that identifies you as belonging to him. Baptism made you a citizen of heaven (Galatians 3:26-27). Kneeling at the Lord’s Supper is really feasting with God at his table.
That King still speaks today. Jesus records his Words in the Bible. Those teachings on obedience to government are not meant to restrict you. Rather, they showcase the joy gained by working with and praying for your leaders. Repeated reminders not to worry mean to drain away fear and to cast all anxieties on the One able to handle them. Your King reigns so that you may experience your blessed position under his reign and delight in him controlling all things for your eternal good. Jesus reigns as the King we need.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Kings appear in so many different forms, but this King is different. He comes not for self-interest, but for your interest. His cross brings real peace. His resurrection showcases real control. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Jesus reigns as the King we need.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.’ Do you think that’s true? Given the many Facebook posts in just the past week it sure appears accurate. Maybe you have seen them too.
Still, I can’t help thinking, ‘You don’t need a virus to act kind.’ We do well to always care for the weak and speak kindly to the cashier and treat the trucker well and appreciate officers, doctors, and teachers. That appreciation ought never change! If anything, crisis presents an opportunity to honestly re-evaluate behavior.
That’s what God accomplishes through crisis. Challenges push us to re-evaluate the priorities of life. To expose what the heart truly cherishes. To shed the harmful so that true good might flourish. Scripture makes clear: God Heals Hearts Torn Apart.
‘Torn apart’ might best describe today’s uneasiness. Just look around! Life lies in complete disarray! Wealth slips through fingers. The nation’s borders are under attack by a foreign threat. Leaders assemble for solutions and stability— but this is no coronavirus crisis management team. This is Israel’s king and Israel’s people scrambling for security and safety against the Assyrians.
Remember those guys? Assyria sits north of Israel in present-day Turkey and Iraq. They boasts the greatest, fiercest army of the day! An army that not only decimates, but also intimidates.
The Assyrians have a reputation for impaling captives— like, stick a pole up through you and out your mouth and plant that pole into the ground. If done right, you would die— days later. They also could skin captives— and so perfected the technique that they could keep you alive to the end. Assyria has not unleashed that army yet. For the time being King Tiglath-Pileaser III is content with threats. He dangles death before Israel’s eyes in exchange for tribute. (As long as Israel keeps giving him money, he will not destroy them.)
Now, he has squeezed too hard and siphoned too much! Israel will no longer shoulder this heavy burden. No! They plan partnering with piddly nation Damascus and pushing Assyria out!
Big mistake. The Assyrian fist tightens with might and force. Battle after battle tears out wealth, land, and life.
Where do you find safety and security in national crisis? Israel suggests a remedy. “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Those words sound good, but did you catch what was missing? An admission of guilt. No one confesses to shoving God aside. ‘God, we worshipped stones and sticks and people and prostitutes!’ ‘God, we relied on military might first instead of approaching you, the Mighty Warrior!’ ‘God, we got scared and trusted our brains.’ No one says that! Instead, each one approaches God with this mindless lip-service: ‘God, it’s me here. I know, it’s been a while, but please fix this mess. Thank you.’
What arrogant audacity! Everyone assumes God exists to fill life with pleasure. Like God is some powerful genie— there to act only when told. Say the right words and God will have no choice but to restore wealth, land, and life.
Except this time he doesn’t. One statement wipes the smug little grin from the proud, arrogant heart. I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.’ Has that sunk in yet? What is truly important in life? Everything is being taken away! No school and school activities. No weekend sports and clubs. No shows and fairs and dining out. All those things consuming mass amounts of time are gone! Vanished!
That’s unsettling! Those incredible investments return no gains! Standing on the sideline Sunday morning, cheering as your [grand]son play ball cannot answer what happens when you die. The laziness that has kept you out of Sunday worship reaps unpreparedness and nervousness. The arrogance of thinking you know all there is to know about the Bible that you have kept it closed for years— has that decision provided much peace now? Since you know everything in the Bible, have you lived without a trace of fear? When all those supposed objects of security and status and pleasure are ripped away, when they’re all gone, it leads you to re-evaluate priorities.
Even if you have made time for worship, attended Bible class, read your devotions, have you always appreciated God’s Word? Right now you read these words at your dinner table or you watch the service from your chair. How does it feel to be away from your Christian friends who can encourage and cheer you through difficult times? How does it feel to be away from God’s church, away from the sights of his dear cross or from the sound of forgiveness? How does it feel to be hearing these words from a distance and not out loud, in person? Have you taken God’s presence for granted that you assumed you could go without the Word? Even if you remain in the Word, today allows for honest reflection of how well we took the Word to heart and how much we depend on God.
Forsaking the LORD causes misery. Separate from him and you have no answers for crisis, for life. To gain answers, you need the Word of the One who reigns over heaven and earth. In fact, our reading holds one little word easily overlooked. One little word restoring hope. That word? ‘LORD’ (all-capitals). That is not a typo; the capitalization is intentional. The ‘LORD’ (all-capitals) tells you: God is serious to punish and even more serious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7).
That’s why our reading says what it does. Come, let us return to the Lord. The ‘LORD’ (all-capitals), the God who punishes, but also forgives. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. That ‘tearing’ and that ‘injuring’ does sting. Doctors discover cancer in you. They do not slap a band-aid on the spot or prescribe Tylenol. With scalpel in hand they cut out the tumor. It hurts. It’s not pleasant. Still, lingering pain powerfully reminds you that something deadly was removed.
Today, life hurts. Troubles rip away comforts and can reveal the many different objects our hearts foolishly worship. With those objects gone, we realize that they help us none. The lingering pain we feel today reminds you that something deadly was removed.
God tore away our misplaced priorities one-by-one and strapped them to Jesus. Then, he tore away health and strength and life away from his own Son. He injures Jesus to death and then turns away from him.
For two days the Lord of life lay in the tomb. The third day (Easter day!) he steps out— with a different message, a life-sustaining message: ‘Redeemed! Restored! Forgiven!’
Those sweet words are meant for you. Yes, even in a time such as this, when so many get sick and a virus spreads and no one knows when or where it might appear, these words belong to you. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. God has bandaged up our broken priorities. He has healed injuries inflicted by pride. He stands us healthy in his presence, under his protecting care, under his promise of life forever!
Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. Returning to the Lord restores life.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” That’s how life feels spent in God’s Word, isn’t it?
Just like rains hitting the parched, cracked fields of corn or like warm spring rains hitting the dusty soil so that spring flowers might sprout and blossom!
Life fed by the Word springs life. A life delighting in sharing God’s Word with your children, watching them retell Jesus dying on the cross or explaining how God kept Daniel safe in a den of lions. A life confidently telling others that God holds you in his hands. He has healed you forever! What flourishing delight to share God’s comfort!
You gain a life of trust and security. So many hoarded toilet paper because they are scared. They are scared of getting sick, hurting, and dying. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). God has blossomed in your heart greater comfort that toilet paper. He promises that you who believe in him never die. You live now and will one day walk directly into heaven itself!
God sprouts in you a life of peace and joy. Even though everything is torn away— public places, schools, community centers, and your church— you have lost nothing. You have not lost your God who always keeps his Word. The God who promised a Savior and then sent a Savior. A God who has kept you safe thus far through pandemic, a God who will keep your soul safe from hell. At the very heart and core of your being stands God, the One who rules your heart and fills it with peace. Returning to the Lord restores life.
A shortage exposes extra labors that often go unnoticed. People have always worked for our benefit, but especially now, we appreciate them.
Yet, do you need a virus to act kind? May that be a lesson learned.
May it be learned to evaluate the priorities of our lives so that we stand prepared for life ahead! So many panic and fear and despair because they have no idea what to do with their time now. Because they have no idea when and where this virus might appear next or when it might leave! If you number among them, then now is a good time to re-evaluate the priorities of your heart. Today is the day to recommit yourself to being in the Word, to live underneath the Almighty, to fill yourself up with God’s overwhelming forgiveness and promises.
That’s what God accomplishes through crisis. To re-evaluate the priorities of life. To expose what the heart truly cherishes. To shed the harmful so that true good might flourish. Scripture makes clear: God Heals Hearts Torn Apart. Forsaking the LORD causes misery. Returning to the LORD restores life.
It all started out fun, but it went so wrong so quickly. Giggling turned into laughing and laughing turned into sheer carelessness. You see, mom went to run some errands and left the kids home. Since she was gone, it meant they could not go outside. So, they decided to bring the outside inside. A kickball somehow appeared, and even though kicking it around inside was forbidden, they did it anyway. It was fun; they were careful— until the sound of shattering glass broke through the air. He wound up his leg, focused on kicking to his brother, but the minute the ball left his foot, his heart sank. Like a slow motion movie, the ball left the ground, started veering right, almost attracted to his parent’s wedding picture. The frame tumbled off the wall. Glass broke, its shards tore into the picture.
He broke the rules; he became enslaved to the consequences. Still, he tried to escape them. He scrambled to piece the glass pieces together, but nothing held them in place. He taped the picture up, but it was obviously destroyed. He even went so far as to punish himself by sitting on his bed in his room. Try as he might, nothing could silence his screaming conscience. Why? Because, he did not have the power to free himself from punishment.
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. A man confronts his crime against the blameless and tumbles into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’
Who could have ever imagined the situation would reach this point? Think about how it all started. Judas Iscariot serves as keeper of the moneybag (John 12:6). (Really, he manages the bank account for Jesus and the disciples.) Wherever this group travels, crowds gather. They flock to hear this marvelous Teacher from Nazareth. He preaches with divine authority. His words penetrate and heal the heart. Jesus brings real peace with God. So, many want to support the expenses associated with his travels. Women give fistfuls of coins. Men slip financial support. Judas handles that money. He pays the dinner bills and the hotel bills. He gives the beggar money for food and helps the financial needs of widows and orphans (John 13:29).
Yet, one day, something catches his eye. New sandals. A fine leather belt. Extra dessert. Those little luxuries promise pleasure— and a few coins from the moneybag covers the expenses. At first, the conscience burned. He should not have used church funds for personal expenses, but he promised to repay everything. I mean, no one would ever know the money was gone. You know what? No one ever did. Since no one knew the funds were missing, it did not seem pressing to repay. After all, money not missed must not be all too needed. So, no one gave much thought when Judas said, ‘You go ahead without me, I’ll settle our lunch bill’ or ‘I saw a beggar back by the clothing department, I’ll give him something’ or ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ (John 12:5) The inkling of greed blossomed into stealing (and stealing more!), and lying (and lying more!) and conniving (and conniving more!)
Then an easy opportunity for quick cash appeared. Judas approached some powerful Jewish officials. “What are you willing to give me if I hand [Jesus of Nazareth] over to you?” (Matthew 26:14). Remember the price? Thirty silver pieces. Three months wages. Judas could take a luxurious vacation to Sicily or buy the fancy camel or get the AD30-Judean-Summer wardrobe collection.
He seized the opportunity. After all, Jesus will probably be arrested, roughed up, and then released. Never did Judas ever imagine the situation would reach this point: [He] saw that Jesus was condemned.
How did that happen? Judas had travelled with this man for three years! He spent time in his circles, listening to his preaching! Yes, Jesus could condemn the greedy heart and that could be annoying, but he never committed a crime deserving death! When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” That’s how every temptation ends, isn’t it?
You see, the devil loves setting up his classic one-two punch. First, he promises that life will become more satisfying, more fulfilling by following your heart. (After all, it cannot be wrong if it feels good, right?) Take the extra drink, finish the bottle. After all, you had a stressful day. Vent your unfiltered frustrations, make unreasonable demands. Your daughter should clear her work- and family-schedule to drive you all over town. Your son should call daily and spend at least one hour on the phone. You are the parent, right? You raised those kids and you have need; your grown children cannot just ignore you. Dig in your heels. I mean, you dedicated years to this congregation. If no one welcomes your help, then let them taste your anger. Criticize. Gripe how you would handle matters differently (and better). Make those who overlook you beg for your unsurpassed value! The devil promises life gets better by dabbling with wrong!
Once we stumble into that snare, he pulls it tight! We get caught in terrible consequences. The drunk nights damages relationships and the yelling hurts your daughter and getting revenge does not make you wanted. What makes it worse is not just the consequences, but the devil’s painful reminders. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ You know what, he’s right! The devil’s absolutely right! We Have Sinned, and Jesus is Innocent.
Even Judas realizes that! Compared to Jesus, his greedy heart was one enormous cesspool of filth. Oh, the bone-crushing, strength-sapping guilt! [He] was (1) seized with remorse and (2) returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. (3)“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas attempts what so many do: He tries undoing the crime! Feel bad! Return the money! Receive instructions! Those solutions never erase guilt, do they? The devil’s whispers still lingers: ‘Not enough. Do more. Be better.’
Guilty hearts confront a very undeniable truth: We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent. The devil love emphasizing that first point: ‘We have sinned.’ If that is all we hear, then we become The wayward heart that has no answer for guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment.
Jesus, as he always has, emphasizes the second point. We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent.
We stand drenched with guilt, but Jesus has none! He stands faultless, without blame! Judas never quite understands that. You see, Jesus knew about the embezzlement. He knew about the betrayal. He knew Satan filled Judas’ heart. Three times Jesus makes no secret about Judas’ plot (Matthew 26:21-25). He speaks so that Judas can admit: ‘I’m wrong, but Jesus is perfectly right!’ He speaks so that Judas finds complete, restoring forgiveness. He speaks so that we find The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Greed puts Jesus on death row. Yes, Judas’ action puts Jesus in peril. It brings a death-sentence. Still, greed brings an eternal death-sentence. So does arguing and drunkenness and revenge and lovelessness and arrogance— and every sin. It all demands accountability, that the guilty person carry the consequences. Instead, Jesus carries that heavy baggage up Mount Calvary and makes himself accountable for it all. He hangs before God Almighty and says, ‘Punish me instead. Hold me accountable.’ God does exactly that. He charges all sin to Jesus and makes him pay it off with his life. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
You know what God finds in Jesus? No guilt. No arguments and regrets and anger and revenge. He finds innocence. He finds a life he loves, a life he raises to be with him, a life that lasts forever. The truth is undeniable: I Have Sinned, but Jesus Is Innocent. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Remember that truth the next time the devil comes slinking your way. His reminders burn. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ How do you end the torment? How can you actually remove the guilt? Point at Jesus; the devil has no answer to that.
Go to the cross. Point at it and ask: ‘What happened there?’ [Answer:] Jesus died. For what reason did Jesus die? [Answer:] He died for your crime, for my crime. If God punishes Jesus for our crime, then what does that mean for us? [Answer:] The consequences of sin forever removed. In other words, we stand forgiven! You see, the answer for guilt is not to study guilty people. The answer is found in the One not-guilty. God the Father accepts that innocent life for your (and my) advantage. Jesus literally rises from the dead to say to you: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23) Return to him again and again and say, ‘The Innocent One became accountable for me.’
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. Judas confronts his crime against a blameless Jesus and plunges into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’ He fixates so much on self that he failed to grasp the glorious truth of his sentence.
Jesus is innocent! The wayward heart has no answer for guilt. Nothing we do can unlock nagging guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment. Yet, Jesus does and he has. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us. His life is more than enough. That’s a truth no one can deny: ‘I Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent!’ What soul-satisfying peace!
No one knew what lay there. Some of those pre-1940s Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons sketched a map of the world. Over the continent of Africa sat a black blob with the words: ‘Dark Africa.’ (No, that is not a derogatory reference to the skin color of Africans.) [https://www.reference.com/geography/africa-referred-dark-continent-39aa8499dafe9e5a] ‘Dark’ simply meant: ‘unknown.’ Few ventured into the central regions of Africa and those who did, did not provide a clear picture of its landscape. No one knew where rivers cut or if a lake covered the entire area or if central Africa was all desert. People knew that something was there, but they did not know what. The area was ‘dark.’ Chocked full of the unknown.
Maybe that best describes life at the moment. Dark. Unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Events seen and sounds heard seem confusing at the moment. Mighty Babylon tromps towards Israel’s borders— stomping feet, rumbling siege towers, clanging swords, shields, and spears— and Israel cannot stop it. Be sure, they are trying. The national army assembles, but stands overwhelmingly outmatched. King rushes from ally to ally hoping to muster enough war support, but despite his efforts he still needs more help. People pray, but Babylon never turns around. Take in all that is seen with the eyes and many conclude: There is no escape. Just complete and utter catastrophe. Israel sees nothing.
That’s why God’s prophet, Isaiah, cries out: Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? Israel is God’s servant, and the nation had seen God in action. Families watch him split the Red Sea and crush Pharaoh’s chariot army. They see God send in manna and quail for each morning and evening meal. They witness God hand victory after victory against all their enemies. So many see these powerful acts with their own eyes! These incredible accounts trickle down through generations.
All Israel in Isaiah’s day had heard what God had accomplished. Ears could absorb these words— and not merely pick out tones, but respond appropriately! The past (1) details God’s promises kept and (2) guarantees God’s repeated results! What impact does that leave? Trust! Trust that God will always hold you!
Yet, Israel is blind and deaf. Yes, the people physically see, but spiritually refuse to see God in action. Yes, the people physically hear, but spiritually, refuse to absorb God’s Word.
Spiritual blindness prevents making sense of life. They could not see that the reason for their demise, their soon-to-be national deportation, their exile in Babylon happens because they turn away from God. [T]hey trust in carved idols, [and] say to metal images, “You are our gods.” That’s why they panic. That’s why they battle feelings of hopelessness. They fail to see God as Savior!
Is it any wonder then, you see what you do today? The coronavirus has crept into our state. The news only seems to report people infected and dying… how the government’s delay is failing you… how more will contract the virus… how the virus most likely will linger until April (or longer)… how everyone stands at risk of catastrophic demise. Oh, the doom and gloom! Who can rescue us? I mean, do you know why people are stockpiling toilet paper? To feel control. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). The virus lies outside of your control— you might contract the illness, get sick, and die (and that’s pretty scary). You cannot control personal health, but you can control personal hygiene. So, people hoard large packages of toilet paper so that they can feel as though they have control over the situation. They crave feelings security and protection.
If that sounds humorous, then ask: ‘Why the fear in the first place?’ Failure to see God as Savior! You Cannot Make Sense of Life because you do not see God at work. You do not see him hold authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). You do not see him protecting (Isaiah 41:10). You do not see him stand constant alert (Psalm 121:3-4). Failure to see is called ‘blindness!’
The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. That’s what happens: Lose sight of God as Savior and you keep stumbling into dead ends! That familiar dead end? Staring your at your beautiful reflection in the mirror and saying, ‘You are my god. You can save me from all trouble.’
You think you can gain security, but you never do! All you gain is a greater feeling of helplessness! You nervously worry about a virus you cannot control because you fail to call on God in the day of trouble! (Psalm 50:15) You fret about primaries and elections because you fail to remember that God still works through the government and in spite of the government (Romans 13:4). You sink when the markets sink because you fail to see God’s care for you surpass his care for birds! (Matthew 6:25-34) The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. Chasing solution after solution in the hope of finding peace. The truth is: Lose sight of God and you will never have peace, because you are treating yourself as God. You prove yourself blind.
Can You Make Sense of Life? To make sense, you need ‘sense’— and I’m not talking about critical thinking. I’m talking about sight and hearing. Spiritual blindness fails to see God as Savior. That’s why the blind stumble into familiar dead ends. To see God in the midst of trial and trouble we need light. The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
That’s what light does, it reveals reality. Listen to what God says in verse 16: I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
God has lit up a path so foreign to our thinking that no one in the history of the world would have ever imagined it: He sends Jesus. Literally, [the name] ‘Jesus’ means ‘he saves’ (Matthew 1:21). Anytime a bystander called out, ‘Hey, Jesus!’ that person uses a name meant for his own benefit. A man born blind can now see. When asked how this happened, he simply relied, ‘The man they call Jesus put mud on my eyes and I washed. Now I see’ (John 9:10-11). At first, ‘Jesus’ probably sounded like any other name. Yet, the more this once-blind man ponders the miracle, the more he studies Jesus. He gained physical sight, something no doctor could do. With physical sight, he could spiritually see Jesus as he truly is— not a mere man, but God.
That powerful miracle is meant for us to see. Yes, to study with our physical eyes, but also to see Jesus as someone more than just another man. To treat him with greater respect, with greater trust. To see Jesus as Savior. Jesus is The Light who opens eyes to find true safety.
You find safety as you see Jesus hang from a cross under Calvary’s dark sky. As you see Jesus suffer. Yes, suffer. To fully grasp that he suffers because there is something wrong with us. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts doubt God’s promises. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts rely on self. To see the sheer ugliness of sin, to see this is what God thinks of sin. That he punishes it to death.
With his Word, God leads you (and me) down the strange path leading to the tomb. Yet, we do not see what we are so used to seeing. The tomb stands empty! God leads us further down the strange path, to his throne where he unleashes a sentence unexpected: ‘Forgiven.’
Do you see this? Look at the cross and see Jesus tend to your greatest need— a need far more pressing than health, a need far more important than presidential elections, a need far more important than wealth. Jesus takes care of that great big need of purifying a filthy heart! See Jesus and The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Maybe it bears stating the obvious. Pay attention to your news. Ask yourself why it stokes fear. Scroll through Facebook. Why are people so panicked about primaries and elections? Why is everyone sharing whatever gossip they heard about virus? Look at stock market reports. Why the nerve-wracking fear of recession? Because many do not see God as Savior. So many hope matters will work out, but no one knows for sure because so many trust self. Stare at people and You will Never Make Sense of Life!
Friends, think of all those still groping in darkness. Many drive by this church building and have no idea what waits on the other side of the grave. The thought of a Savior-God is a foreign thought. Some are your friends. Some are your family. Some are classmates. Others dabble in darkness. That’s your fellow believers who are slow to worship. Those familiar faces might create reasons to defend spiritual wandering. At the end, excuses remain just that: Excuses— excuses God does not accept.
At this moment, God has set before you an opportunity to shine a light so that all Can Make Sense of Life! God provided eternal safety. Yes, we tend to think of ‘eternity’ as ‘in the future,’ ‘after we die.’ Eternity started when the eyes of faith saw God. That means, God provides safety today. Jesus The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Over the course of time, ‘Dark Africa’ became known. Explorers charted rivers and mountains and lakes and deserts. Now you can study maps of Africa and clearly see its landscape. You can also prepare to tackle its landscape.
Life can feel dark and unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. Even after these matters pass, you can sure: Life will hurt again. You can sink into fear again. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Yes, you can! God has given spiritual senses of sight and hearing! He reveals the Savior who rescues body and soul from hell. He takes care of the greatest need to which the entire world stood blind. If God so carefully tended to that need, will he not also care now? Of course he does!
You know that. You see that. You hear that. His Word keeps The blind from stumbling into familiar dead ends. His Word is The Light opening eyes to find true safety. Friends, do not lose sight. Remain focused on Jesus, relying on promises kept and promises to be kept. With eyes and hears full of the Word, You Can Make Sense of Life.