The phenomenon is called ‘The Cocktail Party Effect.’ Have you heard of it? Your brain has the ability to identify and comprehend a single voice from a large, noisy crowd. For example, somewhere in that jumbled tangle of arms and legs is a child that belongs to you. Your eyes strain to pick out some shape, some piece of clothing that clearly identifies your child, but you see nothing. Ears only pick up random shouts and yells and shrieks and screeches. Suddenly(!) you catch one voice that stands out from the rest. Eyes instantly zero in on that delightful sight: Your child! Empty baseball stadiums are pumping in a kind of ‘fan soundtrack.’ Catch a game on television and you hear fans chatter and mumble and cheer and boo. Among the obscure mishmash of noise one tinny voice rings out: ‘Hotdogs! Cooollosal hotdogs, herrah! Work captures your attention. With single-minded concentration, you prune flowers or measure the post, text your friend or scroll through Facebook. Yet, one voice breaks your trance: ‘Hey!’ You can be surrounded by commotion and still pick a single voice out of a crowd.
So, can you hear it? That one voice? Many call for your attention; many promise relief. You grapple with deadlines and battle stress. More statewide restrictions mean that more want your opinions. How your congregation handles a pandemic can stoke fear and nervousness and uncertainty. It may feel like you live in a sea of chaotic chatter, unsure of who to follow. Yet, one voice rises above the rest. A voice crying for your attention. A voice promising real relief. God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Receive real satisfaction. Find eternal life.
So, can you hear it? The cry? The invite? You stand right in a thick sea of commotion, right in the smack-dab middle of a bustling market. Tents and tables lining both sides of the street stretch on as far as the eye can see. Behind each table paces some excited merchant calling for you. Rhythmic jingles promise only good, beckoning you to come closer. Open hands pan over products, solutions for any trouble. A cheerful face desires your trust.
Out of the hundreds clamoring for you, one voice rings loud and clear: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Come! Take the glass of ice-cold water. Let it satisfy your parched, sapped body on a sticky summer day. Come! Take the glass of fine wine. Let its full, rich depth captivate your senses. Come! Take the glass of creamy whole milk. Let its nutrients fill your belly and the fat tickle your emotions. Come! Take a seat at this endless banquet. Let no thought of cost (or fear of making a bad investment) keep you away. Come! Delight in this refreshing relief!
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? That would be absurd, right? Who would buy something labeled ‘bread,’ when it really is not bread? Who would invest time with something that does not satisfy? Better still, how can you gain relief from something incapable of providing relief? You cannot.
Perhaps by now you realize that God is not describing a real marketplace filled with real food. Rather, these vivid pictures of food and how food benefits you pictures how only one Merchant can provide the relief wanted, the relief no one else can guarantee. That one Merchant is God.
That does not stop other voices from calling out for your attention, your trust, your heart. The voice of vacation offers to stomp out stress. Hit the water. Lounge around. Forget your schedule. Leave life’s problems behind! Except a getaway does not actually make stress vanish, does it? Heading up north does not make a virus go away; you will return home to restrictions. Vacation promises relief, but cannot give permanent relief.
The voice of a friend offers a better life if you just lay Scripture aside. ‘Just stop listening to your pastor,’ they say. If you are not happy, then …get the divorce! …yell at your parents! …insult your government! Except that advice does not actually make life happier, does it? Torching relationships does not remove the stress of dealing with difficult people. Friends may offer happiness, but cannot give peace.
Maybe the voice of ‘you’ offers rest. Panic about the coronavirus. Worry about your health. Get depressed about the future of your congregation. Obviously you are fully capable to handle all of life’s problems on your own. Except you can’t, can you? You may hope to control the future, but you lack that ability. That means, you cannot give yourself rest.
So many voices call for your attention, your trust, your heart and each voice will let you down. That’s why God calls their product: ‘Un-bread,’ ‘Un-satisfaction.’ As in, you want bread (that satisfies) and think you have it, but in reality you do not. You bought something not-authentic. If you make a loaf of cardboard part of your regular diet, you will not be nourished. You will stuff yourself with junk. You will starve. You will die! If you feast on words that do not line up with God’s Word, you will die.
Among the chatter of luxury and earthly opinion and personal ego, pay attention to the ‘Cocktail Party Effect.’ Hear one voice rise above the rest. Hear God Invite You to ‘Come!’ and receive real satisfaction. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. What is it that delights the very depths of your soul? This: I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
Do you like reminding others of the promises you have made to them? Sometimes we hope the listener forgot what we promised so that we do not have to go through the effort of keeping our word. Yet, God points to his promise and his seriousness in keeping his Word. Seven hundreds before Christmas, God promises Jesus. When the time comes, he sends the great Son of David.
The Twelve disciples hear his voice. Thousands dot the hillside and Jesus says, They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat (Matthew 14:16). They cannot! (And yes, they checked.) They all turn out their pockets, but find little money. They search for a feast, but come up with one lunch packed for a boy. Someone even takes the time to do the math; eight months’ wages could provide only a bite (Mark 6:37). What voice do the disciples hear? The little whisper that creeps up so often: ‘How can I solve my problem?’
While the Twelve are stuck on themselves, Jesus literally takes the problem into his own hands. With a blessing and a breaking, he feeds over 5,000 mouths. Yes, one miracle demonstrates how Jesus can meet our physical needs— but it also points out something else: Jesus has the same power to meet our spiritual needs.
On that Good Friday, his parched lips taste sour wine. Even more, his whipped body tastes the sourness of separation from God. God wrings out his innocent blood all over us and throws his lifeless clay into a tomb. And as God sees us, he does not see people feasting on un-bread; he sees people covered in Jesus. The Son of David so pleased God that God raised him from death. Now he reigns on a throne over all things.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. That witness is Jesus. He has a firsthand knowledge of the facts. You have peace with God. Put another way, God hands Jesus final authority. He has the final word. He speaks truth.
God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Come, receive real satisfaction for all of life. Listen to the one voice who lifts off guilt and sucks away the fear of death. Listen to the one voice who makes you right with God and calls you ‘favored.’ Come, find eternal life.
Understand that correctly. ‘Eternal’ life. That ‘eternal’ does not start when you die. ‘Eternal’ starts now. As in, you will walk from this life into paradise, just like you walk from an indoor building into the outdoor parking lot. Nothing changed. Life continued. You changed location. That means, eternal life has already started. Your God, with his Word, keeps you on that eternal path that leads from earth and into heaven.
He leads with his voice. Jesus blasts through the chatter of all the voices ringing out today. No, not because the tone is louder, but because his Words actually do what they say they will do. Just consider verse 5. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Those words are written 700-years before the birth of Jesus and 2,700-years before today. Those ‘nations’ are you. People stream from all corners of the world, from all corners of Clare County and gather around one voice. (Hint: That voice is not mine.) You run to feast on promises God has made and kept.
That voice gives life. Life— a meaning to live, a purpose for life. Sometimes that voice cuts the heart. Worried about your health? Do not worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Angry about leadership? Well, pray for them, including the ones that wrong you (1 Timothy 2:1). Depressed about the future of your congregation? Remember that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, not the face in the pulpit (1 Peter 5:4). Your Jesus, with his Word, steadies unsure hearts. He provides relief by directly telling you: ‘You cannot handle all these things. You do not have that ability, but I do. Hear what I am doing. Let me worry about holding people accountable or providing a new Pastor. Live at ease. I will do what I say I will do.’
That one voice still rises above the commotion so that we can always hear it. When crisis strikes: ‘Come!’ Immediately trust that your God is with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). When the future remains unclear: ‘Come!’ Remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always (Hebrews 13:8).When you have a crummy day: ‘Come’ Cast your anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7). God Invites You to ‘Come!’ into his Word. There you find eternal life.
Many call for your attention; so many promise relief. You grapple with deadlines and battle stress. More statewide restrictions mean that more want your opinions. How your congregation handles a pandemic can stoke fear, nervousness, and uncertainty. It may feel like you live in a sea of chaotic chatter, unsure of who to follow. Yet, one voice rises above the rest. A voice crying for your attention. A voice promising real relief. God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Receive real satisfaction. Find eternal life.
What do you do? You stand at field’s edge, looking out across amber waves swaying gently in the wind, knowing that the yellow-greenish kernels are almost plump and ripe enough for harvest. You feel this sense of satisfaction well up inside.
Yet, something grabs your attention. Something impossible to ignore. Something not so satisfying. Sewn into the landscape is a patchwork of absolutely inedible, non-nutritious tares. Worthless weeds! Their slender, grassy stalks blend right into the wheat. All season long both wheat and weed grow side-by-side, straining upwards green-inch by green-inch, promising a rich harvest— that is, until the head [of the crop] formed. Now both ‘pleasing’ and ‘unpleasing’ remain planted together soaking in the final useful days before harvest. So, what do you do?
You planted good seed; you want good results. Blotches of green weeds is not only an unpleasant sight, but weeds steal valuable space and soak up precious resources. They choke the wheat and stunt the growth. That’s why today’s farmers spray and gardeners weed. You want the trouble removed.
So, what the servant ask really sounds quite logical: ‘Do you want us to go and pull them [the weeds] up?’ Without trouble life could flourish! Life could thrive! And wouldn’t you welcome that?
In a world where ungodly influences creep up and press your faith and strangle your joy, our Good Master gives this encouragement: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together and as you await the final harvest.
Jesus’ parable paints a pretty straightforward picture. You envision a field. Good wheat seed planted. An enemy scatters useless weeds. Both wheat and weed grow so intertwined that it is near impossible plucking out weeds without pulling up wheat. So, wait until the sickle strikes and then separate the two (Matthew 13:24-30).
Yet, parables— these earthly tales— always have a spiritual point. This time Jesus is not describing how the Word sprouts faith just like seed sprouts crops (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). No, in this parable the characters are different. The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. ‘Sons (that includes women too) of the kingdom’ are believers. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Baptism puts the ‘good’ life of Jesus on you. And now God Almighty peers down from his holy throne and he sees ‘good’— not because you try hard to live a moral life, but because he finds Jesus covering you. That means, you (and I) and every believer across this planet are the wheat.
The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The devil wants nothing good to grow in God’s world. He scatters sneaky temptations in the hopes of luring people to follow ego instead of Scripture— and he succeeds! Look around and you can clearly recognize some weeds. The neighbor who proudly claims no need for God. Groups that specifically target (or persecute) Christianity. Those who deliberately lay aside God’s ‘right’ for humanity’s ‘wrong.’ At other times, weedy hearts blend into the world and you do not know who is or is not Christian. So, what do you do?
That’s really the question this parable is asking, isn’t it? How do you, the Christian, operate in world that is not entirely Christian? The Crusaders of 1096AD waged war against the un-Christian. The Spanish Inquisition of 1478AD exposed and executed the godless. The Temperance Movement of 1920AD tried forcing the drunk to live more Christian-like by passing laws (like Prohibition). Yet, what does your Master command? (After all, that’s really who we obey, right?) He says, Let both grow together.
The point of the parable is not to exterminate the ungodly or complain that this world is so un-Christian. Actually, the parable is so much about others, it’s about you. The Master gives you a command. ‘Let both grow together.’ As for you, Live as Wheat among Weeds.
So, do you? A gentleman interested in joining a local congregation pulled the Pastor aside after service one Sunday. He motioned towards another family standing near the coat rack. ‘Pastor, I know Ted and Diane over there from the little league games I coach. By the way they act at games, I had no idea that they even went to church.’
Do your words and actions clearly identify you as wheat? Does your mouth praise God here only to spew out lewd jokes and curses at the store? Did a quick temper rain down wrath on your own family? And while maybe a weakness, are you still nursing that grudge? … withholding forgiveness from those who wronged you? … refusing to admit fault, that you caused the pain? Do you point out sin— not in the hope to correct it, but stroke your own ego? What do your Facebook (or restaurant-table) comments reveal about your respect for God’s governing authorities? Can I tell that you pray for your leaders? Or, would I find only criticism? Do you think [inside] that some do not deserve the good news of Jesus because of their welfare status? …their skin color? …their political views? …the cause they protest? Do you Live as Wheat among Weeds?
Maybe it is good that the Master is patient. Maybe it is good that he does not immediately pluck out weeds because what he finds in our own hearts is not always pleasing, is it? Instead of living as God-pleasing wheat, we can allow un-Christian weeds to take root.
Instead, your God is patient and wants no one to perish (1 Timothy 2:4). He makes that crystal clear as he takes the perfectly ‘good’ life of his own Son and throws it into the fiery torments reserved for sin. The Master takes all weedy spots in us— our impatience with ungodliness, our less-than-wheat-like behavior— and removes them all.
Your God has cures every soul-destroying disease and fungus so that you (and I) may thrive as wheat in God’s field of the world! After all, isn’t that who you are in this parable? God has made you wheat at your baptism. He nourishes you with his Word of forgiveness and strength so that you may live as God-pleasing. So, his encouragement is natural: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together. Let your life have an influence on the ungodly in because a day is coming— a day when weed and wheat will be separated. Live as Wheat among Weeds as you await the final harvest.
Jesus stresses that, doesn’t he? ‘The harvest is coming!’ Jesus uses 54 words in the original Greek (61 in our English reading) to describe the end of weeds. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. By comparison, only 13 words (in the original Greek; 14 in the English reading) explain the wheat harvest. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Yes, you see evil— and Jesus does too. It might seem like the wicked thrive right alongside the wheat, but that time will reach an end. The know-it-alls who make up fantasies about God, the arrogant who proudly exchange Scripture for ego, the careless who allow the trappings of the world to choke out faith will be thrown into hell. Weeping and agony will continue for all eternity; it never ends.
There’s no secret about it; Jesus reveals what he will do! For the weedy, this serves as a warning. For the wheat, this provides assurance. You, the believing wheat he has made you to be, are gathered into heaven’s storeroom forever!
Yet, let’s not fixate only on the ending. Look at what you are now. You are wheat [now] living among weeds [now]. That realization drives us to repentance.
That seems like a strange to start. Repent? Admit fault? Yes, compare your life to God’s Ten Commandments. Where you stray, you admit that you strayed, but you also hear God’s pardon. Repentance involves two parts: (1) Confess wrong and (2) Hear God turn you right.
Hear God lay out marriage as one man and one woman bound together in his presence (Genesis 2:24). As God’s ‘right’ sinks into your heart, let your marriage radiate joy in a world that considers marriage painful. If you’re not married yet, but are considering commitment, then work towards marriage as God desires. Or, let us encourage couples towards marriage.
Hear God say, ‘I forgive you’ (John 20:19-23). Let that forgiveness fuel you to forgive, just as in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). Even if that means approaching your child and saying, ‘I am sorry that I lost my temper.’ Even if that means approaching someone younger than you and saying, ‘I am sorry that I treated you harshly.’ Even if that means biting your tongue and saying, ‘Spouse, I am sorry for arguing.’ Let God’s free pardon motivate your free pardon.
Hear God say, ‘The authorities that exist have been established by me’ (Romans 13:1). If you feel that politics is filled with disrespect, then be the one who shows respect. Make clear to your circle of friends that you pray for your leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Carefully choose what you ‘share’ on Facebook, steer away from posting slander. Give thanks to God for the country in which you live. Do you think that will stand out? You are not wheat meant to blend in with weedy lifestyles. You are the wheat meant to live as wheat!
That proves a blessing to those who need encouragement. Like the Christian spouse who struggles to make worship a priority. Like the daughter who claims to believe in God, but feels no reason to obey God when he says, ‘Come, worship me’ (Psalm 122:1; Hebrews 10:25). Like the neighbor who considers Christians no better than non-Christians. Live as Wheat among Weeds so that the world finds Jesus through you. That gives us plenty of work as we await the final harvest.
What do you do? You stand at field’s edge, staring out across a landscape where both ‘pleasing’ and ‘unpleasing’ are planted together soaking in the final useful days before harvest. Those wicked blotches only steal valuable space and soak up precious resources. Ungodliness chokes out godly living and presses faith. Life may feel better if we just remove all un-Christian influences.
Yet our Good Master gives encouragement to reveal your identity and to make clear your purpose now: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together and as you await the final harvest.
This morning I brought a copy of the famous painting, ‘Le Bateau’ [‘The Boat’]. In 1961 this prized piece hung on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of 47-days some 116,000 guests visited the exhibit— which, by most standards, is a success. But!— there was just one problem: The piece was hung upside-down. (https://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/moma-hangs-matisse-le-bateau-upside-1961-article-1.2455442)
Each day for forty. seven. days. professional curators studied the stripes and squiggles, discussed depth and detail, proudly and confidently handled any question. No inkling or hint or whiff of error ever crossed their mind! That is, until art enthusiast Mrs. Genevieve Habert opened up her art catalogue to reveal the right way to hang the painting (see for yourself). Even the painter’s son confirmed that Mrs. Habert was correct.
A painting so many called a masterpiece was not seen the way it was meant to be seen. Even though you might never have seen this painting before in your life, you will never be able to look at it the same way again. (If I flip upside down now, you would realize it’s upside down.) When you compare the wrong to the correct, the wrong more noticeable.
Keeping that concept in mind may help when trying to make sense of all the troubles in this world. Have the wrong perspective, and you get the wrong answers to the real problem. (You can even get the wrong outlook on life.) Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care so that we can make sense of life in this world. Only then can you Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.
The book of Genesis opens like a blank slate. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then, like adding colors to a canvas, God adds majestic twenty-four-hour stroke after majestic twenty-four-hour stroke. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God said, ‘Let there be sky and water,’ and there was sky and water. God said, ‘Let there be land, seas, and vegetation,’ and there was land, sea, and vegetation. God said, ‘Let there be sun, moon, and stars,’ and there was sun, moon, and stars. God said, ‘Let there be birds and sea animals and land animals,’ and there were animals (1:3-25).
Unlike paintings of random stripes and shapes, spots and splotches, God’s painting has order. His masterpiece works harmoniously together— land and water for plants, lights for growth, plants for food. And each day ends with the same judgment: God saw it was good. Now, understand, ‘good’ does not suggest God did the best he could or that his efforts are better than most. ‘Good’ means ‘perfect.’
In this perfect paradise God saves his best creation for last. [He] said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” With one final stroke, God paints you (and me) as crown of his creation. All land, all waters, all animals are for your wise use and daily needs.
As if that is not enough, God takes even greater care in setting you (and me) apart from the rest of creation. God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. That ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ is not that we look like God (for God is spirit [John 4:24]) or that we have unique critical thinking skills. The image of God means that our will stands perfectly in line with God’s will. God says, ‘Here is food for you,’ and Adam and Eve say, ‘Yes, God, without question you care!’ God says, ‘Love me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ and they say, ‘That is no burden at all!’ Everything God commands, they want to do.
At the end of the sixth and final day, God amps up the assessment of his finished masterpiece: It was very good. The most perfect-est of perfect. Step back and take in this splendid portrait and what do you see? God’s perfect care.
What happened? Compare this original painting to what you see today. Pain and sorrow, floods and sickness, unrest and injustice, death and mourning— all these things that afflict and affect— were never in God’s picture! This perfect paradise has been turned upside down! And why? Because we lost the image of God. Instead of hearts bent to God’s wants, hearts often bend to self-wants.
So, we can live as though we were meant for an upside-down world. That this world could morph into paradise if only … I had more money, I would finally feel secure. …if only I have that house, then marriage will be better. …if only I put my adversary in her right place, then I could feel more important and have more respect. …if only those politicians catered to my specific needs in my specific community, then I could feel satisfied.
The conflict we so often feel inside does not come because we need to try harder (to make the world better). The conflict comes when our hearts find greater worth in the creation more than the Creator! That leaves us with the wrong perspective looking for the answers to all the wrong problems!
We would be forever stuck with this distorted perspective if it were not for God, in his perfect care. He straightens his masterpiece.
When Adam and Eve sat stuck in an upside-world, God made a promise to set the world right-side up. For the centuries to follow, God repeated and re-stressed and rekindled his promise of a Savior so that the whole world could see life the way it was meant to be. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Understand, Jesus does not come to make a heaven on earth. Frankly, removing conflict now does not prepare you for eternity.
Jesus comes to restore that corrupted image by living life we did not. Never does he consider money to be the answer to life’s needs. Instead, he thanks God for even the little he has. Jesus’ heart finds real, lasting wealth in having God on his side. Yes, Jesus certainly teaches you (and me) to ask God for daily bread, but keeps underscoring a resilient trust in the Giver. Never does he exalt himself with harsh arguments. Instead, he allows leaders to insult him. Jesus lives to restore the image of God in you (and me). That becomes crystal clear on Calvary. God sees in Jesus our corrupted image, our self-centeredness, our cravings for the passing pleasures of this world— and he hands Jesus the death penalty. He peels off Jesus’ perfect image and sticks it on you.
Your risen and living Lord makes clear that he has set you straight with God. In fact, right before he ascends, Jesus points to that restored image. You heard the words moments ago: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ How do you (and I) enter this family of God? Jesus tells you. By baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Your baptism might not seem like much. A splash of water done long ago, some words spoken. Ah, but not any plain words— but God’s power-packed Word. You were buried with Jesus through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). A new life! Not a life where selfish wants are foisted on top of God’s desires for us. Rather, baptism works in you (and me) the desire to want to obey God. As you hear or read (or recall) God’s Word, your heart is changed to be more Christ-like. And, when you (like me) see a trail of selfish devastation, return to your baptism. See how God has washed off all crooked desires. How he drowns the past forever. How he still calls you his child!
That’s a picture set straight. In God’s restoring plan you can see things the way they truly are. In that way, you gain rest in God’s complete rest.
Let’s look at the end of our reading: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. God did not get tired, much like you (and I) might after a long, busy workweek. God simply stopped working— and when you stop working, you rest. There is nothing more to be done.
Like life now. Nothing more to be done. Nothing more needed to save you. Nothing more needed to make God love you. Yesterday, today, always, you live in this intimate communion with God. Simple truth, something you hear each week (or revisit in your daily devotions). Yet, lose sight of this important reality— and life goes awry. (Which is really the reason so much unrest erupts.)
‘So Pastor, what’s the answer?’ How can schools manage a fall semester and restaurants safely serve customers and hundreds reassemble in one hall? How can violent protests deescalate and respect touch all people of all races and all careers? How can my life return to normal(-ish)? …my graduation parties? …my getaway? …my shopping, exercising, trip to the barber? How can everything become better? What’s the answer? I don’t know— at least, I don’t know how to handle all the logistics of social, political, and economical issues.
Yet, here is one thing I do know. When those troubles rip into my heart, when I feel sore and hurt from sights seen. When I sit at the end of another day and recount the many ways my criticisms pushed away those close to me, when I see that my prejudice did not care for others as I should. When I feel sadness because my well-intentioned hopes and dreams did not flourish as I had hoped, when I pout because my panicked hysteria did not provide comfort. When I feel all this loss, it shoves this upside-down world in front of my eyes. This pain I feel comes through my own fault. It comes through the fault of other sinful people. It teaches that imperfect people will never make a perfect world.
That realization grabs my attention and sets it squarely on God. I again see the blessings drawn from the Word. The blessings of the Holy Spirit, who leads me each to admit my flaws. The blessing of a forgiving Father, who never brings up my past. The blessing of Jesus, who restores the image of God in me. Yes, on earth, that new man inside me will struggle (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) but in heaven I will be seen as I truly am. Your Triune God, through his Word, lifts your attentions off of the challenges and conflict in this world so that you see him strengthen you, rescue you, answer you, and save you.
That, dear friends, gives rest. No, not just a break where you do not hear negative news for a while. Rather, real rest. The rest of knowing that you can hear bad and know that God handles it all. You just get to live under that care.
Does that help make sense of all the troubles in this world? Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care. What we so often see is turned upside-down. So, God sets the picture straight. Keep focused on your God, who leads your hearts into rest and will make that rest permanent soon. Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.
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.
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.
Hiroo Onoda was a second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. On December 26, 1944 he assumed his post in the Philippine mountains. His orders were simple: hinder American advancement by targeting airstrips and ports. Under no circumstances was he to surrender. Yet, American forces crept further and further inland, forcing Onoda deeper and deeper into the mountains. He carved out a new position and, all on his own, continued repelling police forces and local resistance. Onoda never surrendered. There was just one problem: the War was over. In fact, the War had been over for 29-years.
Can you imagine carrying on your life as though war still rages all around you, when in reality, it does not? Can you imagine living in constant fear of the unknown? …will the enemy overwhelm you? …will you live to see another day? Can you imagine the stress? …your responsibility of making snap decisions? …always standing alert for sudden danger? Can you imagine the sheer frustration? …why no one ever comes to help you? …why no one ever shares updates about the ‘big picture’ of the war effort? …why this war never ends? …is this war really worth fighting anymore? Hiroo Onoda lived in a completely unnecessary way. The War was over! He could enjoy peace and prosperity! The good news never sunk in.
The war is over! (And I’m not talking about World War II.) Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, but we can lose sight of the victory. We can live as though nothing changed. So, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. As you do, Easter Makes Life Make Sense. You Hear God’s purpose for Jesus and you can Apply the facts for life.
In Acts chapter two you find this smattering of people from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual thanksgiving festival. Not terribly spectacular, right? Except they gather fifty-days after Easter and still wait for God to send his Son into the world. They live completely oblivious to what Jesus already accomplished for them!
So, [the disciple] Peter stands up, raises his voice, and speaks loudly and clearly to them: Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you… Well, that name rings a bell. Some watched this ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ teach; others heard the fantastic events attached to this Man. Yet, what the crowds associate most with the [the name] ‘Jesus’ is ‘crucified,’ ‘died,’ ‘buried.’ Just another man who met his end and can be visited in the cemetery. Their attentions have moved on from his ministry!
Peter says, ‘Stop! Think back to Jesus. [He] was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. Do not overlook the obvious: miracles, wonders and signs are visible, you see those sights with the eye. What is seen does not require interpretation. Either you blow out the birthday candles or do not. Either you drive the car or not. Either you get up from the chair or not. You cannot debate if an action happened or not. Many eyes saw mighty acts. Jesus strengthens the crippled, cures the diseased, multiplies food, and raises the dead. No one could debate if those acts happened or not. On top of that, no one could deny these mighty acts surpassed human ability. The point is this: You cannot simply disregard what is seen. Miracles make you wonder (1) who this Man is and (2) for what reason he does these things. Peter says these signs point to something definite: Jesus is recommended by God, which means, God sent Jesus for a specific purpose. You cannot dismiss the One God sent without consequence. You would be opposing God.
But that is precisely what happened! This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. Some of those standing in front Peter were the ones who chanted: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Luke 23:20-21) Others gave silent approval as they watched the Romans nail Jesus to the cross. Whatever the participation this much clear: The crowds rejected the only Savior God sent. They completely ignored God’s purpose for Jesus.
In spite of rejection God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God Almighty, the One who knows all things, also knew that Jesus would die. After all, this is the purpose for Christmas, right? The sinless Son of God is delivered to the world. This is the purpose for Jesus’ circumcision and baptism, right? He shoulders the responsibility of obeying God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4-5). God marks Jesus as his sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb not for some, but for the whole world. A Lamb needed because something is morally and mortally wrong with us. A Lamb God sends for a purpose: to save us!
One thousand years before Easter Sunday King David revealed God’s purpose for Jesus. He said: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Yet, David is not describing himself. That much Peter makes clear. Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For all his accomplishments and success, David still could not grasp victory over death. He died— and his tomb remains. Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne [that is, Jesus], he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay.
These many Jews gathering in Jerusalem acted as though Jesus the Nazarene impacted their lives in no way! That Jesus’ ministry flamed out and could be forgotten. Friends, Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. Go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Apply the facts for life.
You know, throughout this entire pandemic one phrase keeps repeating like a broken record. A phrase smeared on commercials, the media, and governor reports. The phrase? ‘We’ll get through this.’ Says who? Have you thought about that? Who can make good on that promise: ‘We’ll get through this’? We have no guarantee that we will [automatically] conquer this virus. Yes, we hear terrific news that the [virus] curve is flattening (and slowing), but we have no guarantee that a second “wave” does not strike. We have no guarantee that a new disease does not erupt next year. We have no guarantee that the economy instantly recovers or that grocery store shelves are always stocked or the virus just fizzles out. Yes, it stands highly likely the virus goes away— but because of what reason? Because human beings are so smart and we will triumph by our own ability? (We were the ones who could not prevent this whole mess in the first place!) You see, the human heart places an incredible amount of trust in its own abilities. It grows over-confident in what it can manage and control that it thrusts God off the side!
That does not bring any peace, does it? Thoughts of death overwhelm us because you (and I) cannot stop life from ending. Panicked hysteria ripples through your body (and mine) because we cannot make all things work for our good. Feelings of despair keep us awake at night because cling to our own behavior— our helpful actions or kind generosity, thinking this is what God wants from us. Self-reliance treats Jesus as some impotent man who lived, died, and remains dead. Completely unable to help you! That Easter is this onetime celebration stuck in the past. That it remains up to you to obtain real peace.
That kind of living fails to apply Easter to life. Hiroo Onoda hid in the mountains, lived off the land, and fought locals. He was living a war that had been over for decades! He was living in one way of life that was completely unnecessary. He did receive whispers of a new change of life. General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army dropped leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda did not believe the news. His own family dropped pictures from the sky, pleading for his return, but he thought it was a trick. Finally, his commanding officer, Yoshimi Taniguchi, flew to the mountains and ordered Onoda to surrender. He did. Onoda could finally live under the results of peace that had already been in place for 29-years.
Peter shares God’s declaration peace so that you may live under the completed work for the risen and living Christ! This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that. The miracles, wonders, and signs testify that Jesus is the God-approved Son sent for the world. Sent to live in your place (and mine). Sent to carry our fears. Sent to confront our self-reliance. Sent to give us new life. Never once does Jesus question God’s care for him. Even has he hangs on the cross, he commits his life into hands of heavenly Father because he trusts with this unshakable trust that he will not see decay. His body will not lay in a tomb and get stinky and break down. He knows the Father would restore his perfect life as promised— and the Father does!
Apply the facts of the resurrection to life! Jesus has won the victory!— and you get to live under the results. Not cowering in fear over guilt, but certain of God’s forgiveness. Not facing conflict alone, but relying on a God who watches, guards, protects, and keeps you in his hands. Never afraid to confront death alone, but certain that God will open your grave and you will see his face.
The war is over! Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, a change that remains in effect today.
Easter will continue getting further and further behind us. Yet, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. The Man crucified now lives! Lives to brings you peace in this life and the life to come now and always. Apply the facts for life. Open your eyes to results Christ wins for you. Easter Makes Life Make Sense.
Do you feel like rejoicing and being glad today? It’s Easter Sunday, but it really does not feel like it, does it? At this moment, you are confined inside, either reading these words off a couple pieces of paper or watching service on a screen. (Probably not your normal Easter habit.) You do not sit in sanctuary beautifully adorned with fragrant lilies and blazing white linens. You cannot feel the piano pound its sweet songs. You probably are not dressed in your snazziest, prettiest, newest outfits. You will not enjoy the classic Easter brunch at church with all those familiar faces and glowing conversations. You will not rejoice with your friends in the presence of your God. The celebration just seems to lack fullness, doesn’t it?
Then, you have those timeless traditions that always happened after worship. Easter dinner with family. Easter egg hunts. Easter basket presents. Those festivities will not take place. This year is different. Instead of creating light-hearted memories of happiness, you may just feel without cheer.
So much has been taken away so quickly. Over the course of just one month, we have gone from no Irish Parade to cancelled sports to cancelled school days to cancelled schoolyear to limited gatherings to no gatherings to no going out (unless necessary) to wiping down your groceries and wearing a facemask. That’s a lot to process in a very short amount of time. All this massive adjustment— on top of everything else you already had going on. The strained relationship. The financial stress and retirement planning. The upcoming wedding. The graduation festivities. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Yes, there will be brighter days in the future, happier days, days that present a reason to rejoice and be glad, but maybe just not today. To rejoice and be glad feels too difficult when there are so many challenges in the world at this moment.
Much like that first Easter, right? You do not see Mary Magdalene and the other women skipping on over to the tomb. No one relishes the fresh morning dew and fragrant lilies. No singing. No brunch. No cheer. That first Easter is dominated by loss. So much has been taken away so quickly.
One sight changes everything: Jesus lives! Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which those women and disciples find themselves has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and Jewish leaders still want Christianity snuffed out. Jesus lives!— and the Romans will do anything just to stop hearing the name ‘Jesus’ (Matthew 27:62-66). Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened (John 20:19). That first Easter audience does not rejoice and live glad because their every single struggle suddenly vanishes. They rejoice and are glad because Easter changes the very foundation of life. Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
One man experiences those words firsthand. Today, Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ breaks out of the prison-hold of death, we focus on Jonah. You probably best know him as the guy swallowed by a great fish. Remember how he gets into that situation?
God hand-selected Jonah for a special mission: ‘Preach against the great city of Nineveh so that they might turn to me’ (Jonah 1:1-2).That’s a problem. Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and Assyria is the capital enemy of Israel! In no way whatsoever would Jonah ever want to help enemy number one. The mission is so repulsive that Jonah literally runs away from God. Instead of heading east to Assyria, he boards a ship sailing due west, travelling in the complete opposite direction. Jonah has absolutely no desire to set his mind on the things of God. He acts only to satisfy self-interest.
For a moment, Jonah gets what he wants! Until a storm rips away his control. Billowing waves heave, rain pelts, whipping winds gust. The sailors strain for shore, but make absolutely no headway. They dump heavy cargo, but the swells swamp the ship. Certain death confronts the crew. Jonah finally admits: ‘I am running away from the God of heaven, who made the [now-storming] sea and the land… Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm.’ … Then the sailors took Jonah and threw him overboard (1:9-15).
How does Jonah find himself inside a fish? He disobeyed God. God spoke and Jonah literally ran away. That behavior comes from a rebellious heart. Spiritually speaking, Jonah did not want to hear God. He did not want to obey God. He wants God gone. So God grants his wish. Jonah is banished from God’s sight! He plunges into the heart of the sea, sinking lower and lower, the sheer weight of water presses down on him, squeezing him tight, crushing him. His fate is sealed: He would sink into the open jaws of his grave.
That’s nothing to rejoice about, is it? Death is no friend. Perhaps that truth has taken on fuller meaning. This coronavirus puts people at risk of death. There remains a possibility that you can infect loved ones with a life-threatening illness. There remains a possibility that you yourself could become sick and even die. Today’s medical technology has made incredible, but doctors still cannot guarantee to automatically save life. That’s unsettling. At this moment in time you (and I) are getting a close-up view of the grave.
What makes it even more unsettling is that all the comforts which we considered so important are not delivering us. (1) How often sports took priority over Sunday worship. Cheering on a child from the sideline or letting your mind drift onto the big game while at church. Our hearts considered a simple score so important that it attaches value to that activity. (2) How often jam-packed schedules shove time with God (either in prayer or devotion) off to the side! Your prayer-life shriveled up because the television show came first. Your children do not know what happens when a person dies because you did not think it important to teach them. (3) How often self-worth is invested in money and fading milestones. I mean, just one month ago you could list what you considered important, but the whole list is almost wiped out. All those things our hearts consider so important that it sacrificed God— they’re all gone and you (and I) are still here. What good do those priorities serve you now?
Is it any wonder you witness fear and hysteria and panic? Run from God and face eternal death alone.
If you find it difficult to rejoice and be glad this morning, then reset your focus. Listen to Jonah speak: To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. Jonah’s actions tossed him into death, but God, in his infinite mercy did not let Jonah get what he deserved. Instead, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (1:17).
Do you realize from where Jonah prays? Inside the fish! He does not mourn, he gives thanks. The Lord lifts him up from depths of death. He has done the same for you!
Jesus has stepped into Jonah’s life, into your life (and mine). He is sent to preach to the world— including to those who hate him and would kill. He is tempted to cherish the treasures of this world, to elevate wealth and status and power. He sees disease and deformity and death. Never does he run away from God. Instead, he comes to do his will (Hebrews 10:5-7).
God’s will set Jesus on the Good Friday cross. There, Jesus marches after your heart that had wandered into death, after my heart that had wandered. He sinks into the pit of death. His life stops. God makes Jesus pay for our despair. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man [was] three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Early Sunday morning, the stone rolls away from the tomb and out steps Jesus— fully alive! He holds your life brought back from death. ‘Because I live,’ he says, ‘you also will live’ (John 14:19).
Despair No More! The empty tomb means the Lord lifts you up from depths of death. Christ has risen! Risen to bring us from death to life! With that good news the Lord anchors you to his salvation.
That word ‘salvation’ means ‘deliverance.’ When applied to God it describes the only deliverance that truly matters (or the best deliverance there is): ‘deliverance from death in hell.’ When you (and I) hear: ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation,’ it means, God ‘delivers you from death in hell.’
This where you stand today, you stand delivered from death in hell. That’s why Jonah sings: But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation [eternal deliverance] comes from the Lord.
Does it feel like it? Christ rose, but the world is far from perfect. You hear about disease and sickness, death and despair. Even in the past, you heard war and unrest, financial collapse and frayed relationships. Christ rose, but struggles did not suddenly vanish. Not to mention all the personal challenges you face. The upcoming wedding. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Christ rose, but these significant milestones still exist.
So does Easter. The fact that Jesus leaves his tomb means your guilt before God has been wiped away (Romans 4:25). A room is prepared for you in heaven (John 14:2-3). At the right time, God’s angels will carry you to your heavenly home (Luke 16:22). Your future changed. Christ rose and that means you will live forever on high.
That reality is fixed. Firm. Steady. Constant. It never changes. The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even in tears you have a firm footing. Your husband who died trusting in Jesus as Savior spends this Easter with his triumphant Lord. One day you will too will gather around the triumphant Savior! Not just that, nothing will stop Jesus from raising you (and me) from the dead. Jesus himself makes clear: A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out… those who have done evil will rise to be condemned… and those who have done good [those who believe] will rise to live (John 5:28-29).
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even when all these activities are stripped away, you really have lost nothing. Parents, God has handed you the opportunity to teach your children about the God who holds the keys of life! No child fears knowing that Jesus will bring them to heaven. Even with older children you can connect the victory of life more closely to today’s settings. Much is taken away, but that allows you (and me) to focus on what is truly important in this world. Prioritizing life with God!
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, you hold open access to approach the Almighty for anything, anytime. The God who gave his very own Son into death for our eternal benefit, why would stop caring about you now? I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Despair No More! ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation.’
Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which generations of those celebrating Easter has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and you still encounter challenges. Jesus lives!— and you still confront death. Jesus.’ Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened. We do not rejoice and live glad because every single struggle suddenly vanishes. We rejoice and are glad because Christ defeated every single fear, every single enemy once and for all time. He hands you that victory! Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
No one knew what lay there. Some of those pre-1940s Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons sketched a map of the world. Over the continent of Africa sat a black blob with the words: ‘Dark Africa.’ (No, that is not a derogatory reference to the skin color of Africans.) [https://www.reference.com/geography/africa-referred-dark-continent-39aa8499dafe9e5a] ‘Dark’ simply meant: ‘unknown.’ Few ventured into the central regions of Africa and those who did, did not provide a clear picture of its landscape. No one knew where rivers cut or if a lake covered the entire area or if central Africa was all desert. People knew that something was there, but they did not know what. The area was ‘dark.’ Chocked full of the unknown.
Maybe that best describes life at the moment. Dark. Unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Events seen and sounds heard seem confusing at the moment. Mighty Babylon tromps towards Israel’s borders— stomping feet, rumbling siege towers, clanging swords, shields, and spears— and Israel cannot stop it. Be sure, they are trying. The national army assembles, but stands overwhelmingly outmatched. King rushes from ally to ally hoping to muster enough war support, but despite his efforts he still needs more help. People pray, but Babylon never turns around. Take in all that is seen with the eyes and many conclude: There is no escape. Just complete and utter catastrophe. Israel sees nothing.
That’s why God’s prophet, Isaiah, cries out: Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? Israel is God’s servant, and the nation had seen God in action. Families watch him split the Red Sea and crush Pharaoh’s chariot army. They see God send in manna and quail for each morning and evening meal. They witness God hand victory after victory against all their enemies. So many see these powerful acts with their own eyes! These incredible accounts trickle down through generations.
All Israel in Isaiah’s day had heard what God had accomplished. Ears could absorb these words— and not merely pick out tones, but respond appropriately! The past (1) details God’s promises kept and (2) guarantees God’s repeated results! What impact does that leave? Trust! Trust that God will always hold you!
Yet, Israel is blind and deaf. Yes, the people physically see, but spiritually refuse to see God in action. Yes, the people physically hear, but spiritually, refuse to absorb God’s Word.
Spiritual blindness prevents making sense of life. They could not see that the reason for their demise, their soon-to-be national deportation, their exile in Babylon happens because they turn away from God. [T]hey trust in carved idols, [and] say to metal images, “You are our gods.” That’s why they panic. That’s why they battle feelings of hopelessness. They fail to see God as Savior!
Is it any wonder then, you see what you do today? The coronavirus has crept into our state. The news only seems to report people infected and dying… how the government’s delay is failing you… how more will contract the virus… how the virus most likely will linger until April (or longer)… how everyone stands at risk of catastrophic demise. Oh, the doom and gloom! Who can rescue us? I mean, do you know why people are stockpiling toilet paper? To feel control. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). The virus lies outside of your control— you might contract the illness, get sick, and die (and that’s pretty scary). You cannot control personal health, but you can control personal hygiene. So, people hoard large packages of toilet paper so that they can feel as though they have control over the situation. They crave feelings security and protection.
If that sounds humorous, then ask: ‘Why the fear in the first place?’ Failure to see God as Savior! You Cannot Make Sense of Life because you do not see God at work. You do not see him hold authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). You do not see him protecting (Isaiah 41:10). You do not see him stand constant alert (Psalm 121:3-4). Failure to see is called ‘blindness!’
The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. That’s what happens: Lose sight of God as Savior and you keep stumbling into dead ends! That familiar dead end? Staring your at your beautiful reflection in the mirror and saying, ‘You are my god. You can save me from all trouble.’
You think you can gain security, but you never do! All you gain is a greater feeling of helplessness! You nervously worry about a virus you cannot control because you fail to call on God in the day of trouble! (Psalm 50:15) You fret about primaries and elections because you fail to remember that God still works through the government and in spite of the government (Romans 13:4). You sink when the markets sink because you fail to see God’s care for you surpass his care for birds! (Matthew 6:25-34) The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. Chasing solution after solution in the hope of finding peace. The truth is: Lose sight of God and you will never have peace, because you are treating yourself as God. You prove yourself blind.
Can You Make Sense of Life? To make sense, you need ‘sense’— and I’m not talking about critical thinking. I’m talking about sight and hearing. Spiritual blindness fails to see God as Savior. That’s why the blind stumble into familiar dead ends. To see God in the midst of trial and trouble we need light. The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
That’s what light does, it reveals reality. Listen to what God says in verse 16: I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
God has lit up a path so foreign to our thinking that no one in the history of the world would have ever imagined it: He sends Jesus. Literally, [the name] ‘Jesus’ means ‘he saves’ (Matthew 1:21). Anytime a bystander called out, ‘Hey, Jesus!’ that person uses a name meant for his own benefit. A man born blind can now see. When asked how this happened, he simply relied, ‘The man they call Jesus put mud on my eyes and I washed. Now I see’ (John 9:10-11). At first, ‘Jesus’ probably sounded like any other name. Yet, the more this once-blind man ponders the miracle, the more he studies Jesus. He gained physical sight, something no doctor could do. With physical sight, he could spiritually see Jesus as he truly is— not a mere man, but God.
That powerful miracle is meant for us to see. Yes, to study with our physical eyes, but also to see Jesus as someone more than just another man. To treat him with greater respect, with greater trust. To see Jesus as Savior. Jesus is The Light who opens eyes to find true safety.
You find safety as you see Jesus hang from a cross under Calvary’s dark sky. As you see Jesus suffer. Yes, suffer. To fully grasp that he suffers because there is something wrong with us. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts doubt God’s promises. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts rely on self. To see the sheer ugliness of sin, to see this is what God thinks of sin. That he punishes it to death.
With his Word, God leads you (and me) down the strange path leading to the tomb. Yet, we do not see what we are so used to seeing. The tomb stands empty! God leads us further down the strange path, to his throne where he unleashes a sentence unexpected: ‘Forgiven.’
Do you see this? Look at the cross and see Jesus tend to your greatest need— a need far more pressing than health, a need far more important than presidential elections, a need far more important than wealth. Jesus takes care of that great big need of purifying a filthy heart! See Jesus and The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Maybe it bears stating the obvious. Pay attention to your news. Ask yourself why it stokes fear. Scroll through Facebook. Why are people so panicked about primaries and elections? Why is everyone sharing whatever gossip they heard about virus? Look at stock market reports. Why the nerve-wracking fear of recession? Because many do not see God as Savior. So many hope matters will work out, but no one knows for sure because so many trust self. Stare at people and You will Never Make Sense of Life!
Friends, think of all those still groping in darkness. Many drive by this church building and have no idea what waits on the other side of the grave. The thought of a Savior-God is a foreign thought. Some are your friends. Some are your family. Some are classmates. Others dabble in darkness. That’s your fellow believers who are slow to worship. Those familiar faces might create reasons to defend spiritual wandering. At the end, excuses remain just that: Excuses— excuses God does not accept.
At this moment, God has set before you an opportunity to shine a light so that all Can Make Sense of Life! God provided eternal safety. Yes, we tend to think of ‘eternity’ as ‘in the future,’ ‘after we die.’ Eternity started when the eyes of faith saw God. That means, God provides safety today. Jesus The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Over the course of time, ‘Dark Africa’ became known. Explorers charted rivers and mountains and lakes and deserts. Now you can study maps of Africa and clearly see its landscape. You can also prepare to tackle its landscape.
Life can feel dark and unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. Even after these matters pass, you can sure: Life will hurt again. You can sink into fear again. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Yes, you can! God has given spiritual senses of sight and hearing! He reveals the Savior who rescues body and soul from hell. He takes care of the greatest need to which the entire world stood blind. If God so carefully tended to that need, will he not also care now? Of course he does!
You know that. You see that. You hear that. His Word keeps The blind from stumbling into familiar dead ends. His Word is The Light opening eyes to find true safety. Friends, do not lose sight. Remain focused on Jesus, relying on promises kept and promises to be kept. With eyes and hears full of the Word, You Can Make Sense of Life.