Hiroo Onoda was a second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. On December 26, 1944 he assumed his post in the Philippine mountains. His orders were simple: hinder American advancement by targeting airstrips and ports. Under no circumstances was he to surrender. Yet, American forces crept further and further inland, forcing Onoda deeper and deeper into the mountains. He carved out a new position and, all on his own, continued repelling police forces and local resistance. Onoda never surrendered. There was just one problem: the War was over. In fact, the War had been over for 29-years.
Can you imagine carrying on your life as though war still rages all around you, when in reality, it does not? Can you imagine living in constant fear of the unknown? …will the enemy overwhelm you? …will you live to see another day? Can you imagine the stress? …your responsibility of making snap decisions? …always standing alert for sudden danger? Can you imagine the sheer frustration? …why no one ever comes to help you? …why no one ever shares updates about the ‘big picture’ of the war effort? …why this war never ends? …is this war really worth fighting anymore? Hiroo Onoda lived in a completely unnecessary way. The War was over! He could enjoy peace and prosperity! The good news never sunk in.
The war is over! (And I’m not talking about World War II.) Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, but we can lose sight of the victory. We can live as though nothing changed. So, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. As you do, Easter Makes Life Make Sense. You Hear God’s purpose for Jesus and you can Apply the facts for life.
In Acts chapter two you find this smattering of people from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual thanksgiving festival. Not terribly spectacular, right? Except they gather fifty-days after Easter and still wait for God to send his Son into the world. They live completely oblivious to what Jesus already accomplished for them!
So, [the disciple] Peter stands up, raises his voice, and speaks loudly and clearly to them: Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you… Well, that name rings a bell. Some watched this ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ teach; others heard the fantastic events attached to this Man. Yet, what the crowds associate most with the [the name] ‘Jesus’ is ‘crucified,’ ‘died,’ ‘buried.’ Just another man who met his end and can be visited in the cemetery. Their attentions have moved on from his ministry!
Peter says, ‘Stop! Think back to Jesus. [He] was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. Do not overlook the obvious: miracles, wonders and signs are visible, you see those sights with the eye. What is seen does not require interpretation. Either you blow out the birthday candles or do not. Either you drive the car or not. Either you get up from the chair or not. You cannot debate if an action happened or not. Many eyes saw mighty acts. Jesus strengthens the crippled, cures the diseased, multiplies food, and raises the dead. No one could debate if those acts happened or not. On top of that, no one could deny these mighty acts surpassed human ability. The point is this: You cannot simply disregard what is seen. Miracles make you wonder (1) who this Man is and (2) for what reason he does these things. Peter says these signs point to something definite: Jesus is recommended by God, which means, God sent Jesus for a specific purpose. You cannot dismiss the One God sent without consequence. You would be opposing God.
But that is precisely what happened! This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. Some of those standing in front Peter were the ones who chanted: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Luke 23:20-21) Others gave silent approval as they watched the Romans nail Jesus to the cross. Whatever the participation this much clear: The crowds rejected the only Savior God sent. They completely ignored God’s purpose for Jesus.
In spite of rejection God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God Almighty, the One who knows all things, also knew that Jesus would die. After all, this is the purpose for Christmas, right? The sinless Son of God is delivered to the world. This is the purpose for Jesus’ circumcision and baptism, right? He shoulders the responsibility of obeying God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4-5). God marks Jesus as his sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb not for some, but for the whole world. A Lamb needed because something is morally and mortally wrong with us. A Lamb God sends for a purpose: to save us!
One thousand years before Easter Sunday King David revealed God’s purpose for Jesus. He said: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Yet, David is not describing himself. That much Peter makes clear. Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For all his accomplishments and success, David still could not grasp victory over death. He died— and his tomb remains. Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne [that is, Jesus], he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay.
These many Jews gathering in Jerusalem acted as though Jesus the Nazarene impacted their lives in no way! That Jesus’ ministry flamed out and could be forgotten. Friends, Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. Go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Apply the facts for life.
You know, throughout this entire pandemic one phrase keeps repeating like a broken record. A phrase smeared on commercials, the media, and governor reports. The phrase? ‘We’ll get through this.’ Says who? Have you thought about that? Who can make good on that promise: ‘We’ll get through this’? We have no guarantee that we will [automatically] conquer this virus. Yes, we hear terrific news that the [virus] curve is flattening (and slowing), but we have no guarantee that a second “wave” does not strike. We have no guarantee that a new disease does not erupt next year. We have no guarantee that the economy instantly recovers or that grocery store shelves are always stocked or the virus just fizzles out. Yes, it stands highly likely the virus goes away— but because of what reason? Because human beings are so smart and we will triumph by our own ability? (We were the ones who could not prevent this whole mess in the first place!) You see, the human heart places an incredible amount of trust in its own abilities. It grows over-confident in what it can manage and control that it thrusts God off the side!
That does not bring any peace, does it? Thoughts of death overwhelm us because you (and I) cannot stop life from ending. Panicked hysteria ripples through your body (and mine) because we cannot make all things work for our good. Feelings of despair keep us awake at night because cling to our own behavior— our helpful actions or kind generosity, thinking this is what God wants from us. Self-reliance treats Jesus as some impotent man who lived, died, and remains dead. Completely unable to help you! That Easter is this onetime celebration stuck in the past. That it remains up to you to obtain real peace.
That kind of living fails to apply Easter to life. Hiroo Onoda hid in the mountains, lived off the land, and fought locals. He was living a war that had been over for decades! He was living in one way of life that was completely unnecessary. He did receive whispers of a new change of life. General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army dropped leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda did not believe the news. His own family dropped pictures from the sky, pleading for his return, but he thought it was a trick. Finally, his commanding officer, Yoshimi Taniguchi, flew to the mountains and ordered Onoda to surrender. He did. Onoda could finally live under the results of peace that had already been in place for 29-years.
Peter shares God’s declaration peace so that you may live under the completed work for the risen and living Christ! This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that. The miracles, wonders, and signs testify that Jesus is the God-approved Son sent for the world. Sent to live in your place (and mine). Sent to carry our fears. Sent to confront our self-reliance. Sent to give us new life. Never once does Jesus question God’s care for him. Even has he hangs on the cross, he commits his life into hands of heavenly Father because he trusts with this unshakable trust that he will not see decay. His body will not lay in a tomb and get stinky and break down. He knows the Father would restore his perfect life as promised— and the Father does!
Apply the facts of the resurrection to life! Jesus has won the victory!— and you get to live under the results. Not cowering in fear over guilt, but certain of God’s forgiveness. Not facing conflict alone, but relying on a God who watches, guards, protects, and keeps you in his hands. Never afraid to confront death alone, but certain that God will open your grave and you will see his face.
The war is over! Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, a change that remains in effect today.
Easter will continue getting further and further behind us. Yet, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. The Man crucified now lives! Lives to brings you peace in this life and the life to come now and always. Apply the facts for life. Open your eyes to results Christ wins for you. Easter Makes Life Make Sense.
Recent studies suggest an anti-malarial drug called ‘chloroquine’ may possibly fight the coronavirus. Disclaimer: Much testing remains to be done. Still, some claim this medicine promises good.
That simple recommendation was good enough for an Arizona man and his wife. They already had available some chloroquine tablets. So, they mixed it with some soda and drank it. Within 20-minutes both fell terribly ill. By the time the husband reached the hospital he was dead. The wife arrived in critical condition, but appears on track to a full recovery. The recommendation also spread in Nigeria. Soon, hospitals experienced an increase in chloroquine poisonings. The medicine was good, but what went wrong?
There remains a debate about chloroquine’s effectiveness against coronavirus. All debating aside, the harm still could have been prevented. On the pill bottle is a warning label. That warning label clearly reads: ‘Use only as directed.’
Those who created the drug have specific instructions for its use. Some chose to ignore those instructions. As result, the abuse of the medication killed. The Arizona couple actually self-medicated with a fish tank cleaner that contained chloroquine. (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/03/arizona-man-dies-chloroquine-trump-coronavirus-advice.html) Several Nigerians became severely ill after ‘mass consumption’ of the drug. (https://nypost.com/2020/03/22/nigeria-reports-poisonings-from-possible-coronavirus-drug-chloroquine/) Chloroquine promises good. But consume it for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed.
During this season of Lent you (and I) have met opponents of truth. People like Caiaphas. Pilate’s wife. The Jewish Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot. Pilate’s soldiers. Crowds at the cross. All confront undeniable truth. They recognize Jesus fits the mold of Old Testament prophecies. Strange dreams and mighty miracles demonstrate might. His moral purity stands out against the backdrop of shady courtrooms. The truth is clear: Jesus is the Son of God and he carries divine authority.
Still, a very powerful, very personal foe challenges that truth: our own human Reason. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gives clear instructions and a clear purpose for his special Supper. Yet, human Reason loves changing those instructions with some very sly words: ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
That is a true statement. ‘The Lord’s Table’ is another name for the Lord’s Supper. Yet, study the phrase a little closer. The use of that name ‘Lord’ tells you something about the ‘table’ (or the ‘supper’). It belongs to Jesus, it’s his possession. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He set it up. He starts it.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus reclines at a table in an upper room, celebrating the annual Passover festival. His disciples also recline around the table. Before them sits bitter herbs, bread made without yeast, wine, and roasted lamb. This meal repeated how God rescued Old Testament Israel from physical slavery in Egypt and would soon rescue them from spiritual slavery.
Central to the celebration is the Passover lamb. The Israelites slaughtered the lamb and smeared its blood over the doorframe of their houses. That night God would ‘pass over’ Egypt. Death struck every house without the blood. Judgment ‘passed over’ the homes covered in blood. On Maundy Thursday Jesus makes clear: He is the Passover Lamb (read John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26-28). In a matter of hours he would be slaughtered and his blood used to cover the doorframes of our hearts— and God’s divine judgment would ‘pass over’ us.
The ‘old’ Passover reached fulfillment. It always pointed to Jesus. Now a ‘new’ covenant, a new promise takes effect. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The Lord sets his table. He instructs how his body and blood come to you together with the bread and the wine. He attaches forgiveness of sins and life in his supper. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
A congregation in Corinth ignored that truth. You see, when the congregation came together for worship, they quickly broke into groups. There was a group of the rich and influential, a group of the elderly and the forgettable, another group of the poor and scruffy. Really, the congregation played favorites. During worship the congregation celebrated ‘love feasts’ (much like today’s potlucks). Bonds of fellowship could tighten. Instead, the influential ate most of the food, the rich got drunk, and the forgettables were forgotten. That carried into celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Instead of a congregation already bound to Christ binding closer with each other, they catered to favorite groups. So when they knelt at the Lord’s Table, they did not receive the forgiveness Jesus offers. (1 Corinthians 11:20-21) They had changed Jesus’ instructions.
The instructions are clear: [W]henever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Scripture makes clear that the Lord’s Supper exists for a reason. You proclaim that (1) you need a Savior and (2) you have a Savior.
Human Reason brushes that instruction aside and then creates its own views of the Lord’s Supper. [It claims:] That this is an action you perform to please God; by receiving the Lord’s Supper, you earn God’s favor. That the Lord’s Table is simply an outward show that all humanity really believes the same thing; God never intended offering spiritual benefits. That the bread and the wine are merely symbols; Jesus does not attach his body and blood. Human Reason does not listen to God. Instead, it wants God to listen to ‘you.’ Human Reason claims that you can treat the Lord’s Supper however you wish.
Does it matter how you use that drug chloroquine? Can you self-medicate by the handful? What about consuming chloroquine for fish? Does that matter? Of course it does! Pharmacists own the drug. They give clear instructions for your benefit. Ignore those instructions and something happens: You invite harm!
Jesus attaches a warning to his Supper: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
It Is the Lord’s Table, that is, the Lord owns it. If our own Reason feels privileged to approach the Lord’s Table in a careless manner, you will not receive blessing. You receive God’s judgment. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord, who owns it, holds the unworthy guilty
That’s why Jesus attaches instructions. He does not want anyone to fall under judgment. The intention for the Lord’s Supper is blessing. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord makes clear: He pardons those examined.
So Jesus instructs: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. There, at the Lord’s Table, you proclaim the Lord’s death. So, you examine yourself, either privately in your mind or privately with the pastor.
Before receiving the Lord’s Supper, God wants you to know why you need it. (1) Ask yourself: ‘Am I sorry for my sins?’ The Ten Commandments God carved into stone and etched into our hearts lay bare his expectations. Love him with all our heart and love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Have you done that? Have you shown respect to authority? Have you loved God that you stood up for what is right without ever regretting that you did? Have you taken words and actions in the kindest possible way? Have you obeyed God always? His Commandments soften the heart to see its brokenness and need for a Savior.
When you stand at the Lord’s Table, (2) ask yourself: ‘What am I receiving?’ Jesus clearly says that his body and blood are truly present in the Lord’s Supper. ‘Take and eat; this is my body… Take and drink, this is my blood’ (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:29). He never uses the word ‘symbolizes.’ He simply tells you (and me) that in a supernatural way he gives his body with the bread and his blood with the wine.
Human Reason challenges that truth. It claims that Jesus cannot give his body and blood because it just does not make sense. Therefore, Jesus cannot being serious. (Reason will even go so far as to Jesus’ words and meaning.)
Yet, Jesus is serious. He is serious when allows thorns to pierce his head, nails to pierce his hands and feet, a Roman spear to pierce his side. He is serious when his lifeblood spills from his veins and life departs from his body. Jesus is serious about bringing you (and me) into a state of peace with God that he gives his body and blood into our death, our punishment.
(3) Ask yourself: ‘Why do I receive this?’ Kneeling at the Lord’s Table is not some great act you do to please God. Instead, God comes to you. Your Lord comes to you with his body and blood together with the bread and the wine to personally assure you that you are pardoned. You stand at peace with God. Eternal life is yours.
As you depart, (4) finally ask: ‘What impact does this leave on me?’ Jesus has dropped your crimes! No longer do I stand condemned for pride. If pride condemned me, then why would I want to return to it? Instead, I live different, I live opposite! Love that pardons an eternal debt leaves an impact. Forgiven much, we do not seek to sin much. Instead forgiven much we live as those forgiven—with joy, peace, and a desire to keep taking God’s Word to heart. It Is the Lord’s Table. There, The Lord pardons those examined.
Human Reason has always claimed a right to change the things of God. Even when Jesus gives clear instructions for his table, Reason tries changing those intentions for its own personal use. Regardless of what the heart wants, Jesus’ words stand firm. Receive the Lord’s Supper for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed. The Lord holds the unworthy guilty.
That is what you (and I) once were: Unworthy. Jesus gave his life once for all time to pardon our crimes. He still comes to you in a special way with that special pardon for your benefit, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for a God-pleasing life. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’ Not mine to change as I see fit. The Supper belongs to the Lord. Receive the benefits as Jesus intends. The Lord pardons the examined.
“Are you listening? Answer the question: Did you pay rent?” The defendant, Duane Brooks Jr., admitted to receiving $437 each month from County Aid for rent money.
So, the judge asks: “Did you pay rent?”
“Why not? You received money specifically given to cover rent.”
“Because I spent the money on myself.”
“But the money is meant for your rent. If you spend the money on yourself, you are stealing.”
“But I’m not stealing anything. I just don’t spend the rent money on rent.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4q_Ozl3JaA)
Judge Judy spent five-minutes explaining how money set aside for a specific need must target only that need. Duane studies her words, nods in agreement, and even says: ‘Yes.’ He comprehends the money must be used on rent, but does not wish to spend it on rent. He already has his mind made up as to how he wants to live. He plans putting his desires into action. Since that is what he wants, does that make his actions right?
Do you hold the right to make the Law conform to your standards? Jesus takes up that issue. He God’s standards: ‘You have heard!’ but then exposes the lies about God’s commands. Pay attention to the Savior speaking. He addresses God’s standard, not to lower it, but to raise it in our hearts. Are You Listening?
You know what that means, right? To listen? ‘Listening’ involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus speaks intentions. He touches on familiar teachings, teachings you and I and many have heard. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’… It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’… Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’… God chiseled those commands into stone. He holds every single heart to that standard.
Jesus’ words stand out because many did not meet that standard. Over the centuries many lied about God’s commands. The religious Pharisee honestly claimed to have perfectly obeyed the Fifth Commandment; he never ended life. The priest (with a straight face) could profess to have kept the Sixth Commandment; he never had an affair. Some flaunt their legally acceptable divorce papers. Others cover up lies with swearing, but stand proud for not mentioning God’s name.
Do you see what is happening? No one can reach God’s high standard. So, in order to meet God’s expectations, hearts redefine what God expects.
You might have heard ‘Do not murder,’ but many prod you to hate. Hate the Arabic race because of past violence. Resent dad for his stubborn arguments. Gripe that your daughter never calls enough. You can hate, just as long as you do not physically harm someone. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Society might tolerate grudges, but hatred kills a person in the heart. Hatred wishes evil on individual life and wellbeing.
You might have heard ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but society almost fuels lust. Stare at pornography because it only involves you. Imagine life with another spouse just as long as you do not touch. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is not attraction that leads to a first date. God commands marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Fantasizing wishes to act out with someone not your spouse.
Yes, divorce might be legal. Your government allows you to end marriage because you crave someone more attractive (or friendly). You can end your marriage because you cannot agree about spending money. You can end your marriage by having an affair. A judge might not hold you accountable, But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Swearing calls God as a witness. It asks God to stand beside you and declare that you are telling the truth. Yes, *everyone* in the world might swear, But I [Jesus] say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Are You Listening? Jesus does not condemn action only. He cuts to the heart. The heart creates thoughts, thoughts produce actions. Actions happen because of what your heart wants.
Yes, humanity might assume the right to force God’s commands to conform to the heart. But human opinions mean nothing to God. You cannot tell God: ‘Well, my husband deserves my anger.’ You cannot justify your fling, ‘She flirted first. He made me feel wanted.’ No, swearing is not acceptable because ‘everyone does it’ or because ‘it spices up sentences.’ The great King sets the bar: Be perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). He does not lower the bar because everyone falls short (Romans 3:23). You cannot actually change what God expects. You will only follow a belief not true. You will believe a lie.
That is why Jesus takes the time to preach. His words penetrate the heart, exposing every single lie— including the lie that we are good enough for God. He wants us to hear the lies about God’s commandments so that we can pay attention to the Savior speaking.
Think about that for a moment. Here sits Jesus, the long-promised Son from heaven. Why? Why is he here? If you could meet God’s expectations, then you have no need for Jesus. You can save yourself! The simple fact that Jesus sits here is proof that something is terribly wrong with us.
Jesus points at God’s high bar: Do not hate. Do not lust. Do not wish for divorce. Do not swear. Yes, his words hammer home that you (and I) do not have that crystal-clear pure heart.
That realization means to realize something else, something greater: That Jesus has such a heart. No lust, no fantasy. He encourages the married to forgive and those in relationships to marry (John 8:11). He speaks truth, he never has to convince others that he’s not lying. Even when men reject his truth, even when his truth puts him on death row, he keeps telling God’s truth.
I mean, even on the cross he forgives those who crucify him, he never rains down revenge. God did not so hate the world that he withheld his one and only Son so that every smug soul can be condemned to hell. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Jesus so loved the world that he laid down his life (John 15:13). God so loved Jesus’ life that he raises him from death.
Pay attention to the Savior speaking. Listen to these commands. Listen, because Jesus speaks to you. This is what he has done for you and worked in you. ‘I do not hate you. I am reconciled with you.’ ‘I have purified your impurity.’ ‘I will not divorce you, I will not mock your name and reputation.’ In your spiritual record-book is written in big, red letters: ‘PERFECT.’ Jesus has lived the life you (and I) have not. He has made you (and me) what we were not. He lifts us up to God’s standard! That means, I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing to earn. I already have God’s forgiveness! So now what?
In his sermon Jesus reveals the life he intends for us. He sets us free from condemnation, and says, ‘This is how people set free from condemnation live!’
[I]f you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Hatred can kill me! Pride refuses from admitting fault. Pride wants me to sit dominant over others. That hatred can fester in my heart that I refuse to forgive, and the less I forgive, the less I appreciate God’s forgiveness.
So Jesus says, ‘Reconcile.’ Work things out so that hatred does not gain a foothold in your heart and eat away at your soul. Apologize. Hold no grudge. Even if that sibling does not forgive you (or apologize), leave it be. Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away[…] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. A miniscule temptation can blossom into sin which bears the fruit of eternal death. You may have to shut the computer down so that you do not lust. Stop texting the co-worker so that no boundaries are crossed. If television shows and movies or Facebook photos steer the heart into fantasyland, then turn it off! Do not run back into the filth. Jesus has purified you (and me), leaving a shimmering heart fully content in relationships.
Yes, God allows divorce to protect the innocent spouse (read Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Should one spouse leave the marriage or have an affair, the innocent party may be set free to legally marry someone else. If you divorced, find peace in God’s forgiveness. If you find marriage difficult, find strength in God’s faithful love. God married you. God strengthens you to imitate his patience and love.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. You may have to swear in court or entering military. That’s acceptable. For everything else, speak the truth. Speak the truth so often that no one will ever accuse you of lying. Speak the truth so well that you will never need to ask God to verify your words. Live honest and people will take your words at face value.
Are You Listening? That involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In these words from Matthew, Jesus makes his intentions very clear: God’s standard is perfection. Do not believe lies about God’s commands. The people you know may want to lessen what God expects. Your heart might think little of your behavior. Those are lies! Instead, pay attention to the Savior speaking. Jesus does not command what you must become. He reveals what you are. Set free by Christ to live free for Christ.
Feeling better now? Today is January 12th. That’s nineteen-days after Christmas. At least nineteen days since last scouring the internet for the perfect gift. At least nineteen days since pacing from store to store for eggnog, ham, cordial cherries, peanuts, meats and cheeses for all those family gatherings. Yes, a few sweet treats might remain, but for the most part, the half-dozen family Christmas parties are over. The Christmas tree is gone. The decorations down, packed, and stored away for another year and with them the stressfully frantic unending to-do list of every. single. responsibility. If you are like me, you find yourself standing in this strange intermission. Two major holidays stand behind us (along with all of the planning and prepping) and the next major holiday lies months ahead (Valentine’s Day? …the Irish Festival?... Easter?). School schedules and snowy weather prevent long road trips; that frees up personal time. No back-to-school sales, no school concerts, no graduation parties, nothing really consumes your attention. For a few weeks we have this rest from pressing deadlines. Rest feels nice, doesn’t it?
This morning a deeper rest, a rest far more soothing than this quiet. God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.
Listen to our reading from Acts, chapter 10:36-38. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
You know those accounts too. You heard the Christmas angels sing Jesus’ birth announcement: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’ (Luke 2:14). You know that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, wise men [Magi] from the east tracked Jesus down. They worshipped him, they presented gold, incense, and (fine-smelling) myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). You saw Jesus leave Galilee for the Jordan River. He found John the Baptist and was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). You know these accounts, we read each one over the past few weeks. Yet, these accounts are not mere facts. God includes each account in Scripture for a reason. God uses each account to highlight this truth: Christ Comes on a Mission.
That is clearly seen by the events at the Jordan River. There, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. To ‘anoint’ means to ‘set someone aside’ for a specific mission (or purpose). You pour oil on their head and that individual felt the oil, the people see the oil. Everyone understands this one single person carries a specific responsibility. In the Old Testament, God could select a man (like Elijah) and anoint him as prophet; Elijah has a specific, God-approved mission as God’s messenger. God selects David and anoints him as king; David is no longer a shepherd, but has the purpose of leading God’s people. You saw that at Jesus’ baptism God anoint[s him] with the Holy Spirit and power[.] God sets Jesus aside for a specific mission.
What is that mission? To do good and heal all who were under the power of the devil[.] That is what Jesus is born to do. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You know that. You Jesus went around healing and teaching. You know wicked men arrested him out of jealousy. You know Jesus is whipped and beaten, slandered and insulted, nailed and crucified. You know he suffers death at the hands of God for your benefit. To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You also know something else. The devil, although mortally wounded, remains hard at work. He appears in the quiet of the night, when you sit in the La-Z-Boy alone, when you stare at the ceiling in bed, and he whispers: ‘Do you really think God loves someone like you?’ ‘Do you think God forgets your addiction? The hurt, the abuse you inflicted on others?’ ‘Do you think God is pleased with the care you provided for your spouse? Did you try your hardest? Did you give up?’‘What about your divorce? After all, doesn’t God say: “I hate divorce”?[Malachi 2:16] Then, doesn’t God hate you?’ The devil pokes the heart, ‘Do you feel saved?’ ‘Remember your past? How you chose friends over family? How you hoped the darkness could hide your secret? Does God forgive that? ‘Look at who you are! Do you feel ‘good?’Does your heart leap and are you brimming with joy? Do you think you will go to heaven?’
What torment Satan brings! You know Jesus beats him, but still he still afflicts you! Do you know why? That ancient serpent wants to lead you astray (Revelation 12:9). He tries to lead your heart away from Christ. So, he brings up your past. He asks what you will do to fix your crimes. He wants you to rely on you. That way, you think you saved yourself, you are the savior. If you are the savior, then you no longer see the real Savior. Yes, that ancient serpent, mortally wounded, wants to steer your heart away from Christ. Do you know that sly trick?
Christ does— and He Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. Jesus stands here, in the Jordan River. John pours water over his head. The instant he does the Spirit of the Lord rest[s] on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). God the Father trumpets: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
Christ is clearly identified as faultless, blameless. The devil cannot point at past regrets— because Jesus has none! He cannot stir up guilt, he cannot steer Jesus into despair— because he commits no crime! Jesus shoulders God’s Holy Commandments and God says: ‘I am pleased with you! You, my Son, are perfect!’ Which is precisely the purpose for Jesus’ birth.
Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. He marches to the cross and puts down that faultless, blameless life. The Father reaches down from heaven and accepts it. The Father uses that holiness like a key and unlocks us from hell. He holds that holy life and destroys the devil’s every sneaky lie. You (and I) have been set free from the devil’s grip.
This is the reason Christ is born. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression and to make you acceptable before God.
Can you be sure that God accepts you? That God does forgive your addiction, your divorce, your hurt? That you are saved?
God uses the disciple Peter to answer that question: Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Did you hear that? Another Bible verse that makes clear that you did not accept God, God accepted you.) God accepts you. How do you know? Well, what did you hear moments ago? We died to sin… don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:2-3). Baptism has connected you to the results of Jesus’ work. The results? Jesus Christ died to wash away the consequences of sin. Baptism washes away the consequences of your sin. Just as Christ rose from the dead sin-less, you also rise out of the water sin-less. God cannot make it any clearer: Baptism connects you to Christ. Baptism makes you acceptable before God.
Still, the devil tries to lead you astray. He whispers questions about baptism so that your ego puffs up and you rely on ego more than the Bible. I know many opinions exist about baptism— but they remain just that: opinions, a made up thought. Some teach that you do not need to be baptized. Why then does Jesus say, ‘Go and baptize all nations?’ (Matthew 28:19). Others teach that baptism is when you decide to become a Christian. Why then does Scripture always associate forgiveness of sins with baptism? The apostle Paul says: ‘Be baptized and wash your sins away (Acts 22:16). The apostle Peter says: ‘Be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38). The devil knows that baptism makes you God’s child. So, he tries to get you to place made up opinions over what God clearly says so that you trust yourself. So that you doubt that God saves you.
Friends, God drowns your doubts. This baptismal font stands front and center so that you always remember: God accepts you. You might have been baptized decades ago. Great! Do not pack away its significance with the Christmas decorations. Its impact resounds every single day. When the devil leads you into a guilt trip, point at your baptism. Point at that Bible verse telling what baptism does: [B]aptism now saves you also… [it gives] the pledge of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Point at the Bible verse testifying that you are God’s child: [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Drown the devil’s lies with God’s truth.
Keep pointing others to the lasting peace God gives in baptism. You cannot bring a little child for baptism, never, ever teach this child about the Savior, and then expect this child in heaven. Baptism is not a ‘good luck’ charm. The faith started must be fed and nurtured because faith can be lost. Keep pointing that little child to Christ. Point to the Christ killed by evil men, but raised by God (Acts 10:39). Point to the forgiveness of sins unleashed that first Easter (Romans 1:4). Point to the paradise God gives to those who believe (Mark 16:16).
Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God. And he accomplished that mission. He completed his purpose. He met the goal. You now stand with the results of his victory. Morally pure. Spiritually stain-less. Pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight.
What sweet peace! God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. The guilt carried, the worry if a loved one is in heaven, the fear that you might not make heaven all melt away because Christ puts his innocence on you. Can you be sure? Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God.
You realize that God never asks your thoughts about Jesus’ mission. Instead, God tells you Christ Comes on a Mission so that you can see what he has done for you. Live in peace. Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God. Because Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.