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.
The elevator doors whoosh open. Stephanie looks out, but this is not her floor. She steps back in and scoots off to the side as this droopy-faced, wrinkly seventy-something-year-old man enters. The doors slide shut and up they go.
The man looked a little strange. His obviously-dyed-black hair reached his shirt collar. (Not really the haircut for older men.) Speaking of which, a flashy sport coat covered a plain black t-shirt. His slim-cut jeans made his legs look like wrapped sausages. This man visibly carried decades life experience. Soon, those elevator doors opened again. Stephanie reached her floor and stepped out. Elevator doors shut and up went that man.
A co-worker watched Stephanie step out. Eyes bugged. Mouth gaping open. ‘Do you know who was in the elevator with you?’ ‘No.’ ‘That was Mick Jagger! You rode the elevator alone with Mick Jagger!’
Stephanie had no idea she stood right beside Mick Jagger. He wore nothing to suggest that he was the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. No paparazzi crowded the elevator, no one even took pictures with the guy! In fact, he was not even with his manager or inner circle. Just him alone tending to some business. Stephanie missed out on an awesome opportunity to know him better. She did not see the man behind the appearance.
Today is Palm Sunday, which means, we are tracing the final days leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem and spends all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the temple, and if not there, then at the house of his friends, Mary and Martha (Mark 11:11). He uses these final hours teaching his disciples, increasing their knowledge of his saving plan, and bolstering confidence as they take the Word to heart. Because the week ahead will be tough. You may feel emotionally (and physically) drained from all this commotion about a virus. The disciples will feel even worse. Maundy Thursday will come, and after celebrating the Passover, an armed mob will snatch Jesus away. By Friday, they will either see their naked friend dying on a cross or they will hear of his demise. So, today, Palm Sunday, prepares them and us for what lies ahead. Do not lose of sight of your Savior—who he is and what he comes to do. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
The gospel of Matthew records the events of that triumphant day. Starting at chapter 21, verse one, it reads: As [Jesus and his disciples] approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
Jesus gives instructions, yes, but do you see what he just did? He plainly tells the disciples what lies ahead! Understand, Jesus had not traveled on ahead, cased the place, and now returns with a report. He gives a glimpse of his divine power. Remember, Jesus is not merely a man; he is also true God. As God, he holds the power to heal, control nature, read hearts, and reveal thoughts and the future. Simply put, as God, Jesus knows all things happening in all places at all times. Giving instructions like he does, provides a reminder of who he truly is. The One preparing to enter Jerusalem is God himself! (Keep that in mind as you hear Matthew continue his account.)
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet [Zechariah]: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
Is that how you picture the majestic grandeur of kingly procession? Stand on main street— and here comes Queen Elizabeth. Hunched over on a grayish, fuzzy-haired, short donkey, hooves clippity-cloppiting down Hamburger Hill. No jeweled crown or royal gown. Some dash out the front doors and huddle around her; others zip by her running errands, driving home. Would you expect this kind of royal arrival? Of course not! Queen Elizabeth plans a trip to Clare, Michigan, and you have long lines of glistening motorcades and swarming security. Crowds pack the streets; helicopters hover overhead. If you even get to see the queen, gems and gold twinkle off her manicured appearance.
That’s what you expect: dominance, power, grandeur. But this? Gentle? Humble? Riding a donkey? Him approaching you, not you approaching him? What king acts like this? ...Honestly? The King we need.
Remember, Jesus prods the heart with a reminder: He is God. As God, he knows all things. That means, he knows that you (and I) do not always take his Word so seriously.
Oh yes, we might try to cover that fact up, but Jesus sees right through the charade. He knows how the heart places high value on status. When you seek self-praise because of your [grand]child’s achievements. When you feel powerful because of the number attached to your bank account. When you gloat, thinking your own might keeps you safe. He knows the pleasures your heart secretly craves. The passionate thrills of intimately confiding in someone not your spouse. The bloodthirsty revenge that seeks to humiliate others and exalt yourself. The never-ending greed that thinks this one object will finally satisfy to the point of never needing ever again! Jesus knows when and where and how often the heart throws rocks at his commands, plugs its ears to his Word, and spits at his place in your life (and mine).
It’s a wonder Jesus that does not storm into Jerusalem as the King he truly is. That he does not roar down main street riding a thunderstorm as his chariot. That legions of angels do not blast their trumpets and a gilded throne does not thump down. If Jesus arrives as God Almighty, then who can stand?!
Instead, Your King Comes to You. Catch that? You make appointments to meet with the queen or the President, but Jesus comes to you.
What sight to behold! Jesus enters Jerusalem not as mighty warrior-King, but a King going to work. A donkey is a beast of burden, a work-animal. Jesus does not even ride a grown animal, he rides its young, never-before worked child. He rides something lower than a low-class work-animal. He does not arrive to thump down divine authority. Your King comes to go to work. He shoulders the commandments of God we are to keep. Never once griping that he deserves better honor and respect. Never once grabbing at gold and crowns. Never once considering about destroying the arrogant leaders. He sets himself under God’s plan to be our Savior. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace so that he can bring deliverance
Matthew continues telling the day’s events. The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘save us, please!’ That choral song comes from Psalm 118:25-26: O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Lord has delivered us, hasn’t he? Jesus fully knows what to expect in Jerusalem. In fact, three times he reveals the future [again] for his disciples: We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus knows Jerusalem’s powerful religious leaders approved his arrest (John 11:57). He knows many want him dead. He knows these cheering crowds will soon embrace a new chant: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Matthew 27:22-23) Still, Jesus rides towards the cross, knowing full well that instrument of torture will tear his life away— but not without his permission first.
Mark this well: Jesus rides into the hands of death; he puts himself there. He never loses control. The One who comes from King David’s family tree is the One God appointed to establish an eternal kingdom. Jesus has every intention doing just that.
When we lived separated from Jesus, stuck in a kingdom that only led to death, Jesus saved us. With his spiritually rich life, he marches into death. He set down his perfect obedience to every commandment in our spiritual column. He scrubs away our rebellious attitudes. He trims away the passing pleasures of this life. He covers over filth with royal robes. When he rises from death, he sets a crown on your head, marking you as a citizen of his kingdom. Hosanna! Save us, please! And Jesus has. Behold, Your King Comes to You to bring deliverance.
Your King Still Comes to You, still bringing deliverance. Not that you ever lost it, but that he reminds of your membership in his kingdom. He reminds you that you have been delivered from death, from the results of sin, from the power of the devil. This is where you now stand: in a column marked: ‘Delivered.’
To drive that point home we sing those words: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Our hymnal puts those words to song and we sing them right before receiving the Lord’s Supper.
The King sets you at his royal table. There, he gives you his body and blood together with the bread and wine. He make a royal announcement: ‘My life given and shed to benefit your life.’ He repeats the end of hostilities between us and God. He lets us depart with a word of peace: ‘Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God.’ Your King Comes to You, still, in the Lord’s Supper, bringing his deliverance.
How that impacts life! Jesus still knows all things. He knows our secret regrets. He knows the gnawing shame. He knows the feelings of unworthiness. He knows how desperately we want the past to remain hidden from. him. He knows how we scramble to find something good in ourselves. Still, Your King Comes to You with a word of peace: ‘That’s forgiven. I see it all, I know it all, it’s forgiven!’ The next time we join in singing those words, envision Your King Come to You, bringing his deliverance.
Do not lose of sight of your Savior— who he is and what he comes to do. Do not let the world’s troubles cloud out the majesty your Jesus holds. Do not let sin shame you into despair.
Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
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.
Juan Ponce de León dedicated his entire life for one goal. A goal greater than when he discovered new islands throughout the Caribbean sea. A goal far more impressive than when he accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. A goal far more lasting than planting some of America’s oldest settlements. For all that Juan Ponce de León accomplished, one goal sat at the very top: Finding the Fountain of Youth.
Immortality was life’s greatest treasure. Juan Ponce de León so desperately wanted to turn back the hands of time. To remove every ache and stiff joint. To strengthen weak eyes and saggy muscles. To feel better, to be younger. So, he sailed and searched and hiked and hunted—but he never found his treasure. All the while Juan Ponce de León grew older and older. He grew so old that he died. He never found immortality.
Call it a misplaced priority or willful ignorance, but you find Juan Ponce de León never found immortality because he did not want the immortality God offers. The flawed heart can elevate worldly matters over the true peace God sends. So, John the Baptist has a question for you: What Do You Seek in Jesus? Opinions abound regarding the work of Jesus. Many cling to those flawed opinions. Yet, only one answer stands acceptable to God.
So, John tells you exactly what he finds in Jesus. God promised the Savior. He spoke through Isaiah: I will also make you [=Jesus] a light for the Gentiles, that you [=Jesus]may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). God even promised John: ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ God makes no secret about it; the long-promised Savior will shine on earth.
John sees it! Jesus leaves Galilee for the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The instant John pours water over Jesus, [t]he Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17). John takes God’s promise, connects it to this awesome sight, and says: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.’ Everything happened just like God said it would! If the events God promised unfold before your very eyes, then you can determine: I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.
Do you grasp the sheer weight of those words? I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. John points at this one man. The thirty-year-old, bearded, olive-skinned, carpenter’s son from the backwoods town of Nazareth, this man named ‘Jesus.’ That man— not his brother James, not his father Joseph— but this man Jesus is God. He exists before the creation of the world. He knits the universe together. He speaks to Abraham, wrestles with Jacob. He wipes out enemy nations. He watches generation after generation prepare for his arrival— and now he is here. Jesus, the Son of God. All-powerful. All-perfect. Speaks truth no one can deny. Exposes hidden motives. This One outranks every single person who has been (or ever will be) born.
When John saw Jesus coming toward him [he] said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That man, Jesus— who is also the Son of God— is the Lamb God sent. A Lamb sent for a purpose.
Now, the image of a lamb carries a strong connection to the Old Testament. For centuries the Israelites offer sacrifices. An Israelite would lead his unblemished, healthy lamb to the temple. He would lay his hands on that lamb, transferring his guilt, shame, and rebellion onto that substitute. Then, he would slit that lamb’s throat. The lamb died. Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it is gruesome. That is what sin deserved: an ugly, gruesome consequence. Left untreated this is what each soul faces. So, this animal suffered the consequences in the place of that Israelite. Still, that animal did not have the power to actually scrub clean the heart. Every single animal pointed to Jesus, the One capable of purifying every heart. So John cries: ‘Look! The final sacrifice! The Substitute who can actually make your heart clean! Behold the Lamb of God!’
What Do You Seek in Jesus? I imagine the heart leaps at hearing forgiveness, but perhaps it dreads confronting its need for forgiveness. Jesus’ teachings sound appealing as long as those teachings do not condemn you (or me). My argument with the spouse— well, I do not want to hear that I am wrong. I want God to defend my money-spending habits and tell her to respect me! I want God to defend my flirting and tell him to give me space! But never, ever do I want the Word to suggest that I might be wrong. I do not want Jesus to expose my love for this world. I want God to accept the fact that my ballgame will come first Sunday morning. I want God to understand that I will find greater delight in freetime than finding real rest from his control. I want God to expect that I will determine what is morally ‘right.’ That I might embrace the world’s view of living without marriage. That I might tolerate same-sex marriage because it seems harmless. That I might call other religions ‘right’ because, well, at least Muslims worship something. But never, ever do I want the Word to suggest that I need to put God above my opinions. Instead, Jesus’ teachings can condemn others. Like my in-laws who fight all the time— they need these words. Those politicians need to hear this— but not me. Do you ever stop to listen to What Your Heart Seeks In Jesus?
Understand, if Jesus is the Lamb God sends, then that means God sends something the world needs. If Jesus is needed, then it means you (and I) need him. If I need him, then it means something is wrong with me. If something is wrong with me, then it means, God will never accept me without Jesus.
So John cries: ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ He does not point out one way among many for eternal life. He does not identify just another great teacher. Here is the Lamb anointed—‘set aside’— by the Holy Spirit to be our sacrifice. The Lamb declared unblemished by God Almighty. The Word applies to him, but it does not condemn him. When Jesus compares his life to God’s Commandments, the match is perfect! That Lamb shines with such brilliance; the tacky stain of guilt never sticks to him! God transfers our guilt onto him. Jesus carries up our love-for-self and is slaughtered. Nailed to a cross, thorns slicing his head, spear piercing his side. Life seeping from his veins. Life leaving and ending— all to purify and cleanse you (and me). Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold the Lamb of God— approved and accepted. God raises Jesus from death in order make it clear that his sacrifice is enough. He brings Jesus out of the grave without guilt. If that life is offered in your (and my) place, then what does God find on you? No shame. No guilt. Nothing. Because Jesus lifted it off and obliterated it once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10).
What do You Find in Jesus? Behold the Lamb of God! The sacrifice needed. The sacrifice given. The sacrifice received. Do not stop there. Find the Christ.
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” Many wanted something from him. Some wanted a warrior to purge Rome out of Jewish territory. Others wanted a teacher who condones already-created teachings. Still others want a bread-King, a social leader who fills bellies and brings happiness for the rest of life. Most did not want the Lamb. Yet, these two said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher).
These disciples see in Jesus not a mere man, but a rabbi— and not just a rabbi, but the Rabbi. They ask, “Where are you staying? Because we will go with you to that place, sit down, and learn.’ They will see Jesus heal. They will hear him speak with authority. They will watch miracles pour out. Every incredible sight pieces together a bigger picture: Jesus is the Christ, the One set aside so that they live at peace with God.
These two see Jesus for who he truly is: the Christ. Andrew scrambles to brother Peter: We have found him! That is such a little phrase, but tremendous words. Andrew does not tell Peter that he found what he wanted to find. Rather, he found the Jesus God promised.
You find the same thing. God kept his promise. He sent the Christ. That might sound plain at first, but think about that again. God kept his promise. A vibrant promise passed from generation to generation, century to century. Even though some thought God forgot what he promised, even though others believed God had broken his Word, God had every intention bringing Jesus into your world. He did!
God kept this ancient promise; so what promise will he break? Christ came for you, he makes you God’s child. So, will God suddenly forget you in the operating room? Will your tight finances go unnoticed? What about your fear about the future— will God not address those? You are concerned about the poor choices your children make, you wonder if you will enter heaven, you do not know the future of Christianity. Does God just not care about those fears? Will God let your prayers for rescue and strength go unanswered? Of course not!
You know God cares. You know God addresses your fears and restlessness. You know this because God sent Jesus. He sent the One who establishes a bond of peace between God and you. Since he accomplished this mission, you know God will never leave you. When you fret and worry, when you wrestle with guilt and shame washes over you, go to the Word. Say: ‘God said I am his. Since God said this is so and since he does not break his Word, this will be so.’ Find the Christ God promised. Not the Leader people demand, but the Savior the world needs.
That’s what Andrew, Peter, and so many others found in Jesus. The flawed heart can elevate worldly matters. Juan Ponce de León wanted immortality, but searched for it outside of the Bible. Even today, many set family and success as life’s all-consuming goal. Others hear Jesus speak, but refuse to admit these words apply to them. What do they find? Happiness now, but not forever.
So John the Baptist asks: What Do You Seek in Jesus? Behold the Lamb of God. The Lamb who speaks to your heart, condemning its faulty priorities. The Lamb who takes away sin. Find the Christ, the One sent from God with words of life. Find the One who reigns at the top of every priority. See Jesus as the all-important One to follow and find peace.
Feeling better now? Today is January 12th. That’s nineteen-days after Christmas. At least nineteen days since last scouring the internet for the perfect gift. At least nineteen days since pacing from store to store for eggnog, ham, cordial cherries, peanuts, meats and cheeses for all those family gatherings. Yes, a few sweet treats might remain, but for the most part, the half-dozen family Christmas parties are over. The Christmas tree is gone. The decorations down, packed, and stored away for another year and with them the stressfully frantic unending to-do list of every. single. responsibility. If you are like me, you find yourself standing in this strange intermission. Two major holidays stand behind us (along with all of the planning and prepping) and the next major holiday lies months ahead (Valentine’s Day? …the Irish Festival?... Easter?). School schedules and snowy weather prevent long road trips; that frees up personal time. No back-to-school sales, no school concerts, no graduation parties, nothing really consumes your attention. For a few weeks we have this rest from pressing deadlines. Rest feels nice, doesn’t it?
This morning a deeper rest, a rest far more soothing than this quiet. God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.
Listen to our reading from Acts, chapter 10:36-38. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
You know those accounts too. You heard the Christmas angels sing Jesus’ birth announcement: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’ (Luke 2:14). You know that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, wise men [Magi] from the east tracked Jesus down. They worshipped him, they presented gold, incense, and (fine-smelling) myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). You saw Jesus leave Galilee for the Jordan River. He found John the Baptist and was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). You know these accounts, we read each one over the past few weeks. Yet, these accounts are not mere facts. God includes each account in Scripture for a reason. God uses each account to highlight this truth: Christ Comes on a Mission.
That is clearly seen by the events at the Jordan River. There, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. To ‘anoint’ means to ‘set someone aside’ for a specific mission (or purpose). You pour oil on their head and that individual felt the oil, the people see the oil. Everyone understands this one single person carries a specific responsibility. In the Old Testament, God could select a man (like Elijah) and anoint him as prophet; Elijah has a specific, God-approved mission as God’s messenger. God selects David and anoints him as king; David is no longer a shepherd, but has the purpose of leading God’s people. You saw that at Jesus’ baptism God anoint[s him] with the Holy Spirit and power[.] God sets Jesus aside for a specific mission.
What is that mission? To do good and heal all who were under the power of the devil[.] That is what Jesus is born to do. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You know that. You Jesus went around healing and teaching. You know wicked men arrested him out of jealousy. You know Jesus is whipped and beaten, slandered and insulted, nailed and crucified. You know he suffers death at the hands of God for your benefit. To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You also know something else. The devil, although mortally wounded, remains hard at work. He appears in the quiet of the night, when you sit in the La-Z-Boy alone, when you stare at the ceiling in bed, and he whispers: ‘Do you really think God loves someone like you?’ ‘Do you think God forgets your addiction? The hurt, the abuse you inflicted on others?’ ‘Do you think God is pleased with the care you provided for your spouse? Did you try your hardest? Did you give up?’‘What about your divorce? After all, doesn’t God say: “I hate divorce”?[Malachi 2:16] Then, doesn’t God hate you?’ The devil pokes the heart, ‘Do you feel saved?’ ‘Remember your past? How you chose friends over family? How you hoped the darkness could hide your secret? Does God forgive that? ‘Look at who you are! Do you feel ‘good?’Does your heart leap and are you brimming with joy? Do you think you will go to heaven?’
What torment Satan brings! You know Jesus beats him, but still he still afflicts you! Do you know why? That ancient serpent wants to lead you astray (Revelation 12:9). He tries to lead your heart away from Christ. So, he brings up your past. He asks what you will do to fix your crimes. He wants you to rely on you. That way, you think you saved yourself, you are the savior. If you are the savior, then you no longer see the real Savior. Yes, that ancient serpent, mortally wounded, wants to steer your heart away from Christ. Do you know that sly trick?
Christ does— and He Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. Jesus stands here, in the Jordan River. John pours water over his head. The instant he does the Spirit of the Lord rest[s] on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). God the Father trumpets: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
Christ is clearly identified as faultless, blameless. The devil cannot point at past regrets— because Jesus has none! He cannot stir up guilt, he cannot steer Jesus into despair— because he commits no crime! Jesus shoulders God’s Holy Commandments and God says: ‘I am pleased with you! You, my Son, are perfect!’ Which is precisely the purpose for Jesus’ birth.
Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. He marches to the cross and puts down that faultless, blameless life. The Father reaches down from heaven and accepts it. The Father uses that holiness like a key and unlocks us from hell. He holds that holy life and destroys the devil’s every sneaky lie. You (and I) have been set free from the devil’s grip.
This is the reason Christ is born. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression and to make you acceptable before God.
Can you be sure that God accepts you? That God does forgive your addiction, your divorce, your hurt? That you are saved?
God uses the disciple Peter to answer that question: Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Did you hear that? Another Bible verse that makes clear that you did not accept God, God accepted you.) God accepts you. How do you know? Well, what did you hear moments ago? We died to sin… don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:2-3). Baptism has connected you to the results of Jesus’ work. The results? Jesus Christ died to wash away the consequences of sin. Baptism washes away the consequences of your sin. Just as Christ rose from the dead sin-less, you also rise out of the water sin-less. God cannot make it any clearer: Baptism connects you to Christ. Baptism makes you acceptable before God.
Still, the devil tries to lead you astray. He whispers questions about baptism so that your ego puffs up and you rely on ego more than the Bible. I know many opinions exist about baptism— but they remain just that: opinions, a made up thought. Some teach that you do not need to be baptized. Why then does Jesus say, ‘Go and baptize all nations?’ (Matthew 28:19). Others teach that baptism is when you decide to become a Christian. Why then does Scripture always associate forgiveness of sins with baptism? The apostle Paul says: ‘Be baptized and wash your sins away (Acts 22:16). The apostle Peter says: ‘Be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38). The devil knows that baptism makes you God’s child. So, he tries to get you to place made up opinions over what God clearly says so that you trust yourself. So that you doubt that God saves you.
Friends, God drowns your doubts. This baptismal font stands front and center so that you always remember: God accepts you. You might have been baptized decades ago. Great! Do not pack away its significance with the Christmas decorations. Its impact resounds every single day. When the devil leads you into a guilt trip, point at your baptism. Point at that Bible verse telling what baptism does: [B]aptism now saves you also… [it gives] the pledge of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Point at the Bible verse testifying that you are God’s child: [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Drown the devil’s lies with God’s truth.
Keep pointing others to the lasting peace God gives in baptism. You cannot bring a little child for baptism, never, ever teach this child about the Savior, and then expect this child in heaven. Baptism is not a ‘good luck’ charm. The faith started must be fed and nurtured because faith can be lost. Keep pointing that little child to Christ. Point to the Christ killed by evil men, but raised by God (Acts 10:39). Point to the forgiveness of sins unleashed that first Easter (Romans 1:4). Point to the paradise God gives to those who believe (Mark 16:16).
Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God. And he accomplished that mission. He completed his purpose. He met the goal. You now stand with the results of his victory. Morally pure. Spiritually stain-less. Pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight.
What sweet peace! God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. The guilt carried, the worry if a loved one is in heaven, the fear that you might not make heaven all melt away because Christ puts his innocence on you. Can you be sure? Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God.
You realize that God never asks your thoughts about Jesus’ mission. Instead, God tells you Christ Comes on a Mission so that you can see what he has done for you. Live in peace. Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God. Because Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.