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.
A single microscopic germ stripped away everything from her. Work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all gone. For two weeks journalist Brooke Baldwin fought the coronavirus [covid-19]. Her body gorged on 12 hours of sleep each day. Cold sweats soaked bed sheets. Dull aches throbbed. Leaving bed took all her strength. Appetite vanished— and when it did show up, no taste. Stubborn independence quickly gave way to cries for dependence. The virus broke her down piece-by-piece, leaving her without a sense of purpose.
In that stillness, Baldwin could focus on important matters in life; she gained clarity. In her reflection she writes:
In our normal lives, we're faced with a barrage of distractions— events on a calendar, expectations of ourselves. But during this time of Covid-induced isolation— whether you're sick or just socially distancing in your home— we've been forced to sit still [without] distraction.…
When I was sick and my body came to a screeching halt… I found myself thinking about joy… about my work [goals]… about my mother… and about the beautiful interdependence of my marriage. …In the quiet of my quarantine, I was able to more purely isolate my gratitude and my values. (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/19/health/coronavirus-diary-sickness-brooke-baldwin/index.html)
This morning God peels away earthly distraction so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of an event longer-lasting than covid-19. An event carving out a deeper impact. An event that has changed the course of your life for all time. Easter prepares you for eternal glory! A priceless Life made you different. A priceless Life gives you hope. So, Live Your Life as a Stranger Here.
Listen to our reading from 1 Peter chapter one, starting with verse 17: Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. That describes you, doesn’t it? You call on God by name. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, breaking down the barrier once separating you (and me) from God. The Holy Spirit gives you access to approach God confidently just like a child fearlessly approaches her father.
Even though God is our tender Father, he is also Judge. That means, God is not some unconcerned grandfather who sits idly by as his little grand-brats trounce all over his word. God enforces his commands; he judges each heart individually— and he does not cut deals.
That’s why he says: live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. You (and I) live on planet earth, and lots of objects are in it: money, tech toys, outdoor toys, play-toys, houses, cars, clothes— all these material items society considers valuable. You (and I) also hear many voices in this world with their many opinions. That you should put your needs first. That you should live in whatever way makes you happy. That everyone— husband, wife, child, boss, neighbor— should respect you. This worldly way of living starts pushing God’s desires out of your heart so that you no longer live under his care, but live for your self-interests.
God does not want his children to fall under judgment. So, he reminds you (and me): ‘You call [me] Father’— because you are his child; you belong to him. That makes you different.
God’s Word peels away worldly distractions so that we see this truth more clearly. If you’re like me, that paring down is painful. Painful— because the heart can attach to the world. We burn with anger over seemingly-needless government restrictions or seemingly-needless protesting because ‘those people’ take worldly treasures away from me. We get upset about losing vacation because we set our hopes in finding peace and rest in luxury. We gripe and complain that a child cannot be recognized for achievements because we over-emphasize (and over-exalt) status. Trembling at the sight mortality means we lost sight of our triumphant Lord, who— as you heard two weeks ago— conquered death.
The pleasures and challenges in this world can blind us from our identity as children of God— children not investing in the passing pleasures of the world, but children who see God at the center of everything in life. If it feels as though you have suffered a loss of purpose, then today is the day to revisit what God has done for you.
God has not set you in this world to latch onto this world. He has redeemed you. He has paid the price to make you different. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. That puts worldly ambition into proper perspective, doesn’t it? God does not love you because you raised your kids to work hard, respect others, and stay out of jail. God does pardon guilt because you sit in a church building and put money in the offering plate and attend Bible class and volunteer. You will not go to heaven because you tried your hardest to live a good life, be a good person, and help others. Gold and silver are valuable, kindness is treasured, but it all stands empty before God. That way of living cannot buy forgiveness because forgiveness costs astronomically more.
God brushes every single distraction aside so that you (and I) can see the most priceless object in the history of universe: Jesus. What makes him so valuable is his unblemished life. Picture that for a moment. Not one trace of greed. Not one inkling of self-righteous pride. Not one harsh word or lustful thought. No unwillingness or doubt. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for 33-years Jesus lives absolutely flawless! That is the life God wants.
Jesus does not hoard what he has. He transfers that priceless life in your (and my) spiritually bankrupt account. Hearts blemished with a carnal love for stuff are covered over with Jesus’ unblemished blood. Every spot of pride washed away. His blood fills you up to stand spiritual rich before God.
This is who you are. Now. In this world. A priceless Life made you different. Life’s ultimate goal is not to store up worldly achievements. It is not to find peace in those achievements. You (and I) are different because A priceless Life gives you hope.
[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Do you know what ‘hope’ is? If you think ‘hope’ means ‘something that might happen,’ then you are wrong. God does not use the word ‘hope’ to suggest an event that may or may not happen. Instead, ‘hope’ means ‘expecting fulfillment with confidence,’ as in, ‘trusting a future event that will occur.’
You know, checking over my calendar, no one has a birthday today— but one specific day does celebrate your birth. That special day might not be today, it’s off in the future— but it is coming. No doubt about it. Every year you fully expect with confidence to celebrate. Easter makes your future certain. God raised Jesus from the dead. For forty days, Jesus appeared to well over 500-believers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). What do you think he talked about? How to manage your 401K? How to unleash fuller joy in a broken world? Of course not! Making earth into heaven was never the purpose for Jesus to come. Instead, Jesus rises to bring you the most awesome news ever: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). Your future is changed. Your attention is lifted up. A priceless life gives you hope— absolute certainty of life with God forever.
What makes this coronavirus unsettling is that it shoves death in your face. Either (1) a real threat of death hovered over your head (because you stand ‘at-risk’) or (2) you wrestled with the awful thought, ‘Maybe I’m not so invincible. Maybe this virus does gets me (or a family member).’ And you might not have been ready to deal with ‘death.’ Maybe you never thought this day would actually come. The simple fact that death even crept into focus will leave a mark. You will not return to a point in time when these events did not occur. From here you can only go forward. The question is: How will your life be different?
This pandemic has allowed much time for self-reflection. Fear preaches (quite loudly) that all the creature comforts of home cannot fill you with the peace you want. You might have scrounged for facemasks not out of caution, but because you were scared. You learned that death still frightens you. That you still have room to grow. Yes, you know you’re going to heaven, but maybe you do well to take God’s Word more to heart. You can cast all your anxieties at any time on God (1 Peter 5:7). You can read your Bible (or devotion) and know that God does not make empty promises, but rather gives guarantees, a solid rock on which to stand (Numbers 23:19).
Rest from the onslaught of weekend sports and school schedules and endless graduation festivities and work obligations demonstrates that you can still live without these events— and so can your family. There is more to life than worldly achievements. How you and your family are responding to these unsettling times can reveal where you might grow closer to God.
You (and I) can recapture our role as [grand]parents and connect our [grand]children closer to the promises of God. Faith in Jesus as Savior is the most priceless object in the world— and sharing that truth is the greatest investment you can ever make. Do not squander the time given now. Do not hope that your child might stumble into church one day. Do not think it is up to the Pastor alone to preach Jesus. Today is another day where you can take what is seen and heard and remind yourself (and others): You are a stranger here. Life does not depend on what you own. Life rests and finds peace in God’s forgiveness. That forgiveness comes through Jesus. A priceless Life gives you that hope.
God-willing, we will have another chance to return to our work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all these fabulous blessings. You heard that right: blessings.
God peels away earthly distractions so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of Easter. The priceless Life of Jesus made you different. Jesus is the only Way into heaven—and you benefit from that life. He exalted you into the family of God. As a result, His priceless Life gives you hope. When your world shakes and trembles, when so much seems lost, remember: You have lost nothing—because your hope is not anchored to this life. You are a Stranger Here, and a full-fledged citizen of God’s kingdom.
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.
“Are you listening? Answer the question: Did you pay rent?” The defendant, Duane Brooks Jr., admitted to receiving $437 each month from County Aid for rent money.
So, the judge asks: “Did you pay rent?”
“Why not? You received money specifically given to cover rent.”
“Because I spent the money on myself.”
“But the money is meant for your rent. If you spend the money on yourself, you are stealing.”
“But I’m not stealing anything. I just don’t spend the rent money on rent.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4q_Ozl3JaA)
Judge Judy spent five-minutes explaining how money set aside for a specific need must target only that need. Duane studies her words, nods in agreement, and even says: ‘Yes.’ He comprehends the money must be used on rent, but does not wish to spend it on rent. He already has his mind made up as to how he wants to live. He plans putting his desires into action. Since that is what he wants, does that make his actions right?
Do you hold the right to make the Law conform to your standards? Jesus takes up that issue. He God’s standards: ‘You have heard!’ but then exposes the lies about God’s commands. Pay attention to the Savior speaking. He addresses God’s standard, not to lower it, but to raise it in our hearts. Are You Listening?
You know what that means, right? To listen? ‘Listening’ involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus speaks intentions. He touches on familiar teachings, teachings you and I and many have heard. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’… It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’… Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’… God chiseled those commands into stone. He holds every single heart to that standard.
Jesus’ words stand out because many did not meet that standard. Over the centuries many lied about God’s commands. The religious Pharisee honestly claimed to have perfectly obeyed the Fifth Commandment; he never ended life. The priest (with a straight face) could profess to have kept the Sixth Commandment; he never had an affair. Some flaunt their legally acceptable divorce papers. Others cover up lies with swearing, but stand proud for not mentioning God’s name.
Do you see what is happening? No one can reach God’s high standard. So, in order to meet God’s expectations, hearts redefine what God expects.
You might have heard ‘Do not murder,’ but many prod you to hate. Hate the Arabic race because of past violence. Resent dad for his stubborn arguments. Gripe that your daughter never calls enough. You can hate, just as long as you do not physically harm someone. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Society might tolerate grudges, but hatred kills a person in the heart. Hatred wishes evil on individual life and wellbeing.
You might have heard ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but society almost fuels lust. Stare at pornography because it only involves you. Imagine life with another spouse just as long as you do not touch. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is not attraction that leads to a first date. God commands marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Fantasizing wishes to act out with someone not your spouse.
Yes, divorce might be legal. Your government allows you to end marriage because you crave someone more attractive (or friendly). You can end your marriage because you cannot agree about spending money. You can end your marriage by having an affair. A judge might not hold you accountable, But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Swearing calls God as a witness. It asks God to stand beside you and declare that you are telling the truth. Yes, *everyone* in the world might swear, But I [Jesus] say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Are You Listening? Jesus does not condemn action only. He cuts to the heart. The heart creates thoughts, thoughts produce actions. Actions happen because of what your heart wants.
Yes, humanity might assume the right to force God’s commands to conform to the heart. But human opinions mean nothing to God. You cannot tell God: ‘Well, my husband deserves my anger.’ You cannot justify your fling, ‘She flirted first. He made me feel wanted.’ No, swearing is not acceptable because ‘everyone does it’ or because ‘it spices up sentences.’ The great King sets the bar: Be perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). He does not lower the bar because everyone falls short (Romans 3:23). You cannot actually change what God expects. You will only follow a belief not true. You will believe a lie.
That is why Jesus takes the time to preach. His words penetrate the heart, exposing every single lie— including the lie that we are good enough for God. He wants us to hear the lies about God’s commandments so that we can pay attention to the Savior speaking.
Think about that for a moment. Here sits Jesus, the long-promised Son from heaven. Why? Why is he here? If you could meet God’s expectations, then you have no need for Jesus. You can save yourself! The simple fact that Jesus sits here is proof that something is terribly wrong with us.
Jesus points at God’s high bar: Do not hate. Do not lust. Do not wish for divorce. Do not swear. Yes, his words hammer home that you (and I) do not have that crystal-clear pure heart.
That realization means to realize something else, something greater: That Jesus has such a heart. No lust, no fantasy. He encourages the married to forgive and those in relationships to marry (John 8:11). He speaks truth, he never has to convince others that he’s not lying. Even when men reject his truth, even when his truth puts him on death row, he keeps telling God’s truth.
I mean, even on the cross he forgives those who crucify him, he never rains down revenge. God did not so hate the world that he withheld his one and only Son so that every smug soul can be condemned to hell. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Jesus so loved the world that he laid down his life (John 15:13). God so loved Jesus’ life that he raises him from death.
Pay attention to the Savior speaking. Listen to these commands. Listen, because Jesus speaks to you. This is what he has done for you and worked in you. ‘I do not hate you. I am reconciled with you.’ ‘I have purified your impurity.’ ‘I will not divorce you, I will not mock your name and reputation.’ In your spiritual record-book is written in big, red letters: ‘PERFECT.’ Jesus has lived the life you (and I) have not. He has made you (and me) what we were not. He lifts us up to God’s standard! That means, I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing to earn. I already have God’s forgiveness! So now what?
In his sermon Jesus reveals the life he intends for us. He sets us free from condemnation, and says, ‘This is how people set free from condemnation live!’
[I]f you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Hatred can kill me! Pride refuses from admitting fault. Pride wants me to sit dominant over others. That hatred can fester in my heart that I refuse to forgive, and the less I forgive, the less I appreciate God’s forgiveness.
So Jesus says, ‘Reconcile.’ Work things out so that hatred does not gain a foothold in your heart and eat away at your soul. Apologize. Hold no grudge. Even if that sibling does not forgive you (or apologize), leave it be. Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away[…] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. A miniscule temptation can blossom into sin which bears the fruit of eternal death. You may have to shut the computer down so that you do not lust. Stop texting the co-worker so that no boundaries are crossed. If television shows and movies or Facebook photos steer the heart into fantasyland, then turn it off! Do not run back into the filth. Jesus has purified you (and me), leaving a shimmering heart fully content in relationships.
Yes, God allows divorce to protect the innocent spouse (read Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Should one spouse leave the marriage or have an affair, the innocent party may be set free to legally marry someone else. If you divorced, find peace in God’s forgiveness. If you find marriage difficult, find strength in God’s faithful love. God married you. God strengthens you to imitate his patience and love.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. You may have to swear in court or entering military. That’s acceptable. For everything else, speak the truth. Speak the truth so often that no one will ever accuse you of lying. Speak the truth so well that you will never need to ask God to verify your words. Live honest and people will take your words at face value.
Are You Listening? That involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In these words from Matthew, Jesus makes his intentions very clear: God’s standard is perfection. Do not believe lies about God’s commands. The people you know may want to lessen what God expects. Your heart might think little of your behavior. Those are lies! Instead, pay attention to the Savior speaking. Jesus does not command what you must become. He reveals what you are. Set free by Christ to live free for Christ.
Today I brought… a light bulb! Pretty helpful invention, right? A light bulb emits light; I can see objects and obstacles once hidden. During these short days and long nights, a light bulb extends daylight long after sunset. A light bulb outside illuminates the front of your house, chasing away shadows (and any burglars lurking in those shadows). A light bulb can be quite useful.
Yet, this light bulb (in my hand) offers no help. It has no power source! Without power, it cannot push darkness away. It cannot reveal the unknown. It cannot chase away evil. A light bulb must have a power source to emit light. Disconnected from power a light bulb offers nothing.
Jesus makes the same point when he says: ‘You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14, 16). Jesus calls you (and me) light bulbs— and not just light existing for its own benefit, but light showcasing God’s Word in action. Our faith shines only when connected to the right power-source. So, Does Your Light Shine?
In Isaiah chapter 58, the Israelite nation does reveal an attitude. You find them fasting (they stop eating food) and they wear sackcloth— this scratchy, burlap-sack-kind-of-clothing.
Now, fasting had a purpose. It expresses sorrow. For example, King David committed adultery. Guilt crushed him. Shame ripped him up. His crime ate away at him. He sinned against God! (Psalm 32, 51) His soul hungered for God’s soul-quenching, heart-satisfying pardon. He craves spiritual relief. Or, when the nation sinned against God, the king might exchange cushy royal robes for grungy, scratchy sackcloth. That clothing expresses contrition (or remorse). The king visibly demonstrates his standing underneath God and that the nation depends on God. Every itch and scratch only yearned for the relief of God’s forgiveness, his love, his favor.
You realize these outward actions of fasting and sackcloth flow from a broken heart. A reason stands behind each action.
The Israelites go through these motions. That is it. They give no thought to the change of heart God wants. Instead, they expect God satisfied by a mere mindless routine, as though they deserve a reward for fulfilling a requirement (Isaiah 58:3).
God is not fooled! His eyes penetrate the motives of the heart! He sees through the farce! God exposes empty-minded actions. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
What answer do you think God expects? Not action without care. God craves actions flowing from a changed heart— and not just any action, but action shaped by his Word.
Yes, some worship Christmas and Easter only. Others think if you worship on Sunday, then you will have a week free from accident and frustration. Still others think they will go heaven if their name is in a church record-book. Even others treat baptism like a good luck charm and refuse to feed that newly-created faith. Is that what God wants? A habit? A routine? A felt obligation? No!
Before we point fingers at others, dig into your own heart. When confessing your sins do specific wrongs reappear, or do you mindlessly rattle off those words? How long does the sermon stick with you? Five days?… Two days?… Eight hours? … The end of service? … Do you ponder exactly what you ask in the Lord’s Prayer, or do those words just tumble out of the mouth?
It may seem like that behavior carries no consequence, but if you do not take God’s Word in, then your actions will show it!
What do your actions reveal? Does God’s boundless forgiveness steer you away from revenge? That you choose your words carefully?… That you avoid unnecessary tense situations? Get angry last week? Did you lash out because your brother cursed God and your mom mocked Jesus? Or, was it because someone interfered with your pursuit for pleasure? As a congregation, we want people to know Jesus, right? Like God, we want no one in hell, but all to have eternal life (1 Timothy 2:3-4). So, did you reach out to those who have not worshipped for a while? Before we say, ‘Well, they still believe in Jesus,’ remember: actions reveal the attitude of the heart. Those who love God love hearing his Word. In fact, God makes a Commandment about worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus himself worships each week (Luke 4:16). The Bible says: ‘Let us not give up meeting together’ (Hebrews 10:25). Do you take those words to heart? Do you reach out to the spiritual stray, or do you just let them stray out of your mind?
You know, Israel thinks God somehow depends on their existence. That God needs their obedience. That without people, God shrivels away. That God is honored by their action. That is sheer, utter arrogance. Thinking that God has no choice but to love us because of a ritual, a tradition, a church membership book is arrogant. Thinking that God does not care about the words spilling from our mouths is arrogant. It claims that you are so special that God needs you. God saves you because of your behavior, your character.
God exposes that corrupt heart. He says, ‘I do not want that!’ In fact, he looks down and sees the Israelites lying scattered across the desert floor like mere light bulbs. No power. No light. No life. Nothing and no one could change that awful reality— except for God. It takes God to energize fruitful living.
He sets the Light of the world into our world. Jesus chases away the darkened thinking that God somehow exists for us. For three years he hammers that truth home. Worship exists for weary hearts to find rest, not as a checkmark on the spiritual scorecard (Mark 2:27). People may speak and sing, but if done with an empty mind, then God only sees a whitewashed tomb— pleasing to look at, but contains something stinky (Matthew 23:27). Jesus lights up this truth: ‘You(!) follow me(!) and live!’ (John 8:12)
Jesus shines so brightly that we cannot help but notice him. We see Someone whose heart is pure. We see Someone who gives so much. Look at the cross and what do you see? [Y]our light [shall] break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily… Jesus’ selfless life heals our self-centered arrogance. His full and complete pardon cheers us just like sunshine cheers us up!
God promises: [Y]our righteousness shall go before you… Understand, that is not your righteousness (as though you did something morally pleasing). God says, ‘Jesus, the One who lived morally right, clothes you in his righteousness’ (read Jeremiah 23:6). When you approach God, that is the first thing he sees: Hearts completely dedicated to him. You stand so wrapped in Jesus’ life that the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. When the Israelites left Egypt and walked ahead to a new land, God not only led them, but also protected their rear. Jesus keeps any past guilt from overwhelming you. How? [Y]ou shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ Yes, you regret the argument last week. Failing to speak up haunts us. We shudder how the heart became so loveless. The devil will poke the past and screech: ‘But God, he is not perfect! She failed!’ The Lord will answer: ‘But Jesus paid for that crime.’ His payment became yours in baptism.
Do you see? God takes you, this light bulb, and connects you to himself. He gives you a new identity: ‘Light!’ He gives you a new purpose: ‘Shine!’ God energizes fruitful living.
That’s where Christian living starts: Focusing on what God has done for you. The reason you (and I) want to demonstrate compassion is not because someone deserves it or because we stand to benefit. We love, because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love Jesus, which means we also love his teachings. We love putting those teachings into practice (2 John 1:6).
That’s why God says: [L]oose the bonds of wickedness… Conduct fair trials, let the innocent go free, avoid lawsuits! [U]ndo the straps of the yoke. [L]et the oppressed go free, [b]reak every yoke[.] If a friend repays a loan with work, release him when the debt is repaid. Untie him from the obligation! Yes, families, children, parents are tremendous blessings, but they can pierce your heart. How can you move past that blow-up? He took advantage of your generosity. She never calls or cares! How can you let that wrong go free? How do you forgive when everything seems so unforgiveable? Start with Christ.
Start with Christ. What has he done for you? When we took his blessings for granted, when we treated him like some genie, when we argued with his Word, Jesus cancelled the debt we owed. He changed our future! No longer do we wallow as distant from God, but live as God’s children now! Once you were darkness— but now you’re different; you are light! (Ephesians 5:8) A lights connected to the source of love, you shine that love.
Do not dwell on the past. Holding onto the past will not change your future. If you want peace, then aim for peace by leaving the past in the past and by looking forward to the future. [S]hare your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and [do] not to hide yourself from your own [family]. Do not hide from the family of believers. Connect with them! Write cards. Give a call. Stop by the house. No, not because Jesus will love you less. Because Jesus died for your soul. He suffered for that soul. Because Jesus wants that soul in heaven, and wants to keep feeding that heart with the peace of his forgiveness. Like God, we want no one to perish.
The life we live now is drastically different! God’s love impacts behavior. The love he has for you will be seen through you. Like a light bulb powered by a source. You cannot help, but shine his Word through your actions.
That is why Jesus calls us ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14). You (and I) are light bulbs— and light bulbs have a purpose. They reveal the unknown. They chase away evil. They fulfill their purpose when connected to power.
God illuminates our purpose. In fact, God exposes empty-minded actions. He teaches our dependence on him. He connected us to his forgiving love. His Word inside our hearts will shape our actions for others to see. God energizes fruitful living.
So, think about it. What you hear today. What you spoke earlier. What you will pray in a few minutes. What forgiving love God has again assured you of. How he has changed your heart. How he has changed your actions. Does Your Light Shine?