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.