A fiery orange light lit up the car’s instrument panel. A glowing ring encircled this tiny engine block with a little fan. Is that the shape of the engine? And why the circle? Wouldn’t the shape of an engine be enough? Why is the light orange? Why not a red light? …or green? …or blue? !!Bang!! Smoke billowed from under the hood as the car clunked and clanged to a sputtering stop.
The vibrant yellow sandwich-board stuck out against the floor. A plain-looking stickman floated horizontally with legs and arms flailing wildly. What a funny picture! Who thought of that? Is that how people fall? And those languages! Obviously one is Spanish, but what’s the other one? French? Italian? !!Slip!! !!Screech!! !!Crash!!
Dark, stormy clouds swirled overhead. Somewhere in the distance a shrill siren shrieked. The weather radio flashed lights and played its own scratchy, screechy tune. How do you produce a tone like that? An orchestra? Or do you use a really out-of-tune keyboard? Could they maybe make something a little more pleasant sounding? !!Thwack!! !!Thud!!
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. Signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
Envision the events of that first Pentecost. (Just a refresher: ‘Pentecost’ means ‘fifty.’ The day of Pentecost marks fifty-days after Easter.) 1 When the day of Pentecost came, the [disciples] were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
The sights and sounds have their intended effect. Crowds from Italy to North Africa, from Turkey to Syria— crowds from all over the Mediterranean world pour into Jerusalem to celebrate an important Jewish festival. Sunday morning, noise jolts thousands awake. The roaring sound of rushing wind calls people into the streets. The strange sight of flame flickering over the heads of a handful of men piques curiosity. The extraordinary spectacle of men who share a common language, now clearly communicating in another known language, with clear words and a clear topic captures attentions! Masses swarm, eager to make sense of sights and sounds!
So, 14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ Scan this sight of flame and preaching and the sound of wind and language. This is no random coincidence of nature or a bunch of babbling buffoons. No, God predicted this event. On Pentecost God gave the disciples the ability to speak in known languages so that they could clearly communicate the good news of Jesus as Savior.
But! — do not rush past those opening words: ‘In the last days,’ God says[.] The Bible does not use that phrase as a reference to the final seconds before you see Jesus. The ‘last days’ simply refer to all the days between Jesus’ ascension and his final return. Because Jesus can return; he completed his mission. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried. He descended into hell, rose again the third day. He ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What’s left to do? He will come to judge the living and the dead. So, What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We live in the last days. Jesus can return at any moment.
Does that help you understand what you have seen and heard? Floodwaters gushed through Gladwin and Midland. Your families were affected. Your friends lost businesses. Even our fellow Christians suffered! An invisible virus lingers. Some get sick, some die. Politicians stand divided on proper guidance. Tensions increase over state restrictions— are they too stringent or are they just right? You hear of wars and rumors of wars. Famines and earthquakes ravage various lands. Masses are turning from the Christian faith in droves. Wickedness increases; the love of most grows cold (Matthew 24:4-12). These sights and sounds can leave you wondering: ‘What in the world is going on?’
Dear friends, signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. We can very easily fixate on troubles and try to answer: ‘Why is this happening?’ (as though God will answer from heaven). When those puzzled Pentecost people wondered what the sound of wind and sight of speaking meant, where did they find the answer? In the Word of God.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon points our attentions to the Word of God— specifically, to the good news of Jesus as Savior. He points to the One who washed away your sins (and mine)— the real reason to be afraid. He points to the One who stepped foot outside the tomb by his own power. He points to the One who tells the terrified disciples on Easter: ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? Beginning with that first Pentecost some 2,000 years ago, God makes clear: We live in the final days.
When what you see and hear troubles you, when you wonder what God is telling you, then turn to his Word. Remember: We live in the final days. That’s alright! At the perfect time he will bring you to be with him forever (John 14:2-3). There is no fear over that. You spend eternity with God paradise not because you are a good person, but because Jesus is perfect for you. Because Jesus has done everything needed to save you.
That’s good news. That’s important news. That’s news the world needs to hear. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We have work to do.
Listen again to those words from Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. Now, before Jesus is born, God selected certain people to be prophets. He gave them a message through a vision (Isaiah 6) or a dream (Daniel 7) or conversation (Exodus 3). The prophet would then share this message with an audience.
Joel looks ahead to a time when God will send out more prophets, but these would not be your Old Testament prophets. He uses the word: ‘prophesy’ in a broader definition, meaning: ‘to proclaim.’ Those who heard Peter’s sermon could take that good news home with them and share it with their family, friends, and neighbors. Those individuals could share the good news with other family, friends, and neighbors— and so on. God unleashes his Word to the entire world! What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
I preach this morning! I am telling you about Jesus, the Savior of the world, just like God intended (and promised) so long ago. At this moment, I am doing this through video. Just two months ago, the message you heard was mainly shared within the walls of the church. Now you can hear the good news on any (internet-connected) device. Think about that for a moment. This coronavirus-shutdown has drastically changed life, but do you see what it has good has come from it? So many churches were forced into digital arenas. God is blasting his Word (again) throughout the world. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook can be accessed by the billions spread out across the world! It has become that much easier to be in the Word. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
About a week ago, I stood in line at shop. Two employees were discussing the flooding in Midland, all the rain we had. You could tell they were trying to make sense of it. Why did this happen? What is going on? Their best answer was: ‘Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.’ That’s it! Their answer is the same as their question! They stare at the signs, but not to what the signs point out.
God says, 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. Many see the same troubles you do. The flooding. The virus-restrictions. The unrest. The increase of wickedness. Love growing cold. Signs abound, but what they point to is even more important. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
Jesus is coming soon. Does your brother think he can negotiate his way into heaven? Does your daughter think she can keep ‘taking a break from church?’ Does your neighbor think eternity is no big matter? Is your friend scared about everything going on? Do you see people at the grocery snap? (Really, because they are afraid of dying?) What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share. 21 [E]veryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ We have work to do.
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
We just want to be sure. Does a fabric facemask truly prevent spreading the coronavirus or is a fabric facemask virtually worthless? Should the economy reopen or should it remain closed? Can a reopening economy keep life safe or does a reopening economy threaten life? Will a second wave be worse or manageable or nonexistent? Will school meet online or in smaller class sizes or as normal? Will a vaccine come out in summer or fall or winter or longer? Are children dying from a covid-caused illness or from a completely unrelated syndrome? Perhaps now, more than ever before, we want clear answers for life. We want assurance that our decisions will not put our lives or the lives of others at risk.
The truth is we lack definite, tested answers for some very legitimate questions. The lack of knowledge fosters fear. And fear shoves two very unwelcome facts in your face, facts we try so hard to stifle: (1) You do not know everything and (2) You cannot control everything. Since you do not have every answer to every question, it means a decision could be wrong. Since you cannot control everything, it means that you might experience unpleasant results. That means, especially in these coronavirus days, we grapple with uncertainty— or do we?
If you and I and the rest of the world do not have unlimited knowledge and unlimited power, then the assurance we want will not be found in people. We need a more certain Source. A Source that knows all things. A Source that controls all things. A Source that provides real answers for life— and we have that Source. In a world chocked full of the unknown, Get a Grip on God! Turn from misguided ignorance and turn to certain proof.
In Acts chapter 17, you find proof— proof that the city of Athens lived completely oblivious to the most important answer for life’s most important question. That much is clear just by walking through the city. You find shrines and monuments and temples everywhere. A thick, imposing structure houses Zeus, father of all Greek gods. A petite, ornate shrine holds Aphrodite, goddess of love. You can pay tribute to the grain god, Demeter, or to the god of metalworkers, Hephaestus, or to Poseidon, god of the seas. Crowning the city itself is the (still-standing) Parthenon, a house built for Athena, goddess of war and wisdom.
It’s no secret, the people of Athens are in every way very religious. They love debating spiritual ideas and discussing new philosophies. To them religion was like collecting baseball cards— you aim to get the complete set. Just to make sure they did not miss any god or goddess, they even [built] an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.
You can almost see their smug smirks for being so clever. They cover all their bases! In reality, despite all the gods and goddesses honored, the Athenians reveal just how uncertain they are. You see, the very fact that you have an altar made out ‘to an unknown god’ reveals a fear that you (1) missed a deity and (2) can expect trouble from a snubbed deity. So, to counter that fear, where do you look? The natural response? You! To what (1) you know and what (2) you control!
The Athenians know this: (1) people like acts of kindness and (2) you can perform acts of kindness. So, their entire way of worship revolves around doing something good for the gods in the hopes of receiving something good from the gods. I mean, have you ever wondered why the ancients sacrificed the virgin to the volcano gods? A volcano erupts. People think the mighty deity controlling the volcano is angry. So, toss the young virgin into the volcano and maybe the god will turn it off. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Then how do you describe what you see today? A store owner gladly donated unsold groceries to the Lutheran Seminary pantry because (in his words): ‘In case God is angry with my Catholic beliefs then I can point out how I helped the Lutherans.’ The wife discovered his flirty text messages. The husband, who spent age-zero to age-sixteen in church, promised to return. ‘I need to get straight with God,’ he said. ‘I need to bring my daughter too. I’ll be there Sunday.’ He never came. Why? Because his marriage got fixed before Sunday! The self-professed spiritual, but unchurched man lived by his favorite Bible passage: ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ (Disclaimer: That is not found in the Bible. This man did not read the Bible enough to know that.) Each one knew they stood accountable to God— but they had no solid answers. Their best guesses boiled down to: doing good, being kind to others, and live a good life. Even worse— they were content living this way! Like the Athenians, they were content making up beliefs and then living by them!
Do you know what that attitude is called? Ignorance! Acting in a wrong way due to the lack of information. Not having the right information does not suddenly make your beliefs correct. I believe my muck clothes are appropriate evening attire for a five-star Michelin restaurant. When I arrive, I am refused service because I do not meet the dress code. My made-up beliefs do not make me right. It makes me ignorant, a fool who failed to measure up to their standards!
No wonder we wrestle with nervous uncertainty! Our hearts dabble with treating God with made-up human standards! The fear of entering public places paralyzes you. Why? Because we treat God like limited, mortal man! If I cannot keep myself safe from a virus, then maybe God cannot either. If I cannot guarantee a cure, then maybe God cannot either. If I die, I cannot bring me into heaven, and maybe God cannot either. You promised to give up swearing, but covid-19 still here. You promised to pray more, but God does not let you be with people yet. You promised to read the Bible more, but your marriage is still difficult. You did your part, why doesn’t God do his?
If you feel overwhelmed by the unknown, it’s because you (and I) are drifting into ignorance. We are treating God not as he reveals himself, but as we think he operates! Put another way, you making up beliefs about God! You are placing trust in what you make up! You are circling back to yourself! You are placing trust in you! That is called ‘superstition.’ What ignorance!
God does not instantly morph into my wants. It is God who morphs me to see him. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth… The Almighty God breathed into existence the entire universe and all the wood and stone in it. He created all things— and since he did, he does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything… If God brought all things into existence and rules over his creation, then why would he suddenly depend on humanity’s help? [B]ecause he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Not just that, the God who stands in control over all things is the One who controls even kingdoms rising and falling. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. He did all this so that men would seek him.
Do you grasp the implications of this? You are able to know the true God with certainty. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Understand, ignorance is not innocence. God is patient. He did not wipe the arrogant, godless Athenians away, but provided another opportunity to Get a Grip on God by turning from misguided ignorance.
Get a Grip on God by turning to certain proof. In Acts chapter 17, you do find proof. In fact, you confront one undeniable reality that affects all people everywhere regardless of gender, race, age, income, education, family makeup, whatever— every single person in the entire world faces their last day. [H]e has set a day when he will judge the world with justice… How do you execute justice? According to a law. God examines and exposes your life (and mine) according to his perfect standards. As he stretches you (and me) out against that ruler of perfection, he says: ‘Not enough.’
Yet, there is one man who was enough. A man who never made up fantasies about God. A man who held his mind and heart captive to the Word— meaning, whatever God spoke in Scripture, he treated as truth. Call on God in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), and so Jesus prays in Gethsemane for God’s help (Mark 14:32-42). God sits on a just throne of judgment (Psalm 9:4), and so Jesus does not open his mouth when soldiers mock him and enemies insult him (1 Peter 2:23-24). God willed to crush his Son and cause him to suffer (Isaiah 53:10), and so Jesus suffers the punishment reserved for us (1 Peter 2:21).
God measured Jesus against his ruler of perfection and says: ‘Enough!’ He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Yes, Easter preaches three profound promises. (1) Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:4). (2) God accepted Jesus’ perfect life for us (Romans 4:25). (3) Because Jesus lives, we will live (John 14:19). The Word from God’s own mouth provides certain proof in world full of the unknown.
The One raised, the who re-ascended his throne, the One who sits with earth as his footstool is not far from us. You do not have to wander through Michigan’s northwoods or stare at Lake Michigan’s gentle, rolling waves and hope that you figure out God’s plan for your life. You do not have to do more good than bad in the hopes that you have actually tipped the scale in your eternal favor. You do not have to scrounge through the local paper and find someone who committed worse crimes than you. When guilt overwhelms, the answer is not found in your knowledge or your ability. Point to the cross. Hear— not God’s opinions— but Jesus crucified and risen for your eternal advantage. Get a Grip on God by turning to certain proof.
Keep that Grip on God by clinging to certain proof. The truth is our world will always be chocked full of the unknown. You (and I) simply (1) do not know everything and (2) cannot control everything. That’s fine! If we could have that ability, then God would grant us that ability! But he has granted us something better. He gives you his Word.
The Word of God keeps yanking attention off of ourselves and puts attention on Jesus. Only Jesus has unlimited knowledge and unlimited power. Only Jesus has proven that every promise he makes, he keeps. Only Jesus makes us acceptable before God. Keep hearing and reading the Word. Take its promises to heart. Write passages down if you wish. Memorize them. As you step out into the unknown you will not be overwhelmed. You will have a Grip on God, clinging to certain proof that he handles everything.
In these coronavirus days we still lack definite, tested answers for some very legitimate questions. It will remain that way for some time. The world would want you to panic. The devil would want you to despair. Your own self panders to self-trust. Yet, answers will never be found in you. That’s because are not the source of all answers!
We already have Source that knows all things. A Source that controls all things. A Source that provides real answers for life. In a world chocked full of the unknown, Get a Grip on God! Live confidently fearless by turn from misguided ignorance and by turning to certain proof.
Why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? I mean, enter any Christian bookstore, any Hobby Lobby, any Wal-Mart and you will find artwork of sheep and a shepherd. Surf through Amazon’s marketplace and you will find these words etched on bookmarks, collectible plates, and Bible covers. Enter any Hallmark store and you are sure to find these words in a greeting card. What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings?
The instant reaction might be to focus on how it makes you feel. You feel at peace because Someone great protects you. You feel satisfied because Someone great fills your soul. You feel confident because Someone great leads you. We can emphasize results (and that’s good)— but might I offer a different cause? The real underlying reason why these words resonate with us? Psalm 23 delights— not because of how it makes us feel, but because of what the Shepherd does. When you study his work and his ability, you realize this is the Shepherd we need.
That realization comes into focus with just the opening words. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Can you imagine the scene? The shimmering sun peeks over the horizon, its brilliant beams chase away shadows, its radiance illuminates the sprawling landscape. High overhead birds soar. Mist hovers over still water. Dewdrops sparkle on crisp, lush grass. Look around and what do you see? Peace! In fact, that ‘peace’ is amplified by what is not present. No enemy barreling towards you. No crushing heartbreak. No disappointment. No burden. No pressing responsibility. They do not exist here! Stop— and you hear silence. No sirens, no alarms. No calls for your attention. No shouting. No drama. No conflict. Stress is completely wiped out, forever removed!
You find a pasture of paradise— something not seen in this life. No, what we often see is frustration as plans fall apart. The dream does not strengthen marriage, it just creates more arguments, more conflict. It seems like everyone on your social media feed has a better life than you, they have reached significant goals. Fear always lingers. No matter how long you stare at the bank account, it does not make money appear. The news media tends to create problems and never solves them. The worst-case scenario constantly plays out in your mind. You just want to know for sure that the future will be okay. Then, there remains those relationships that paralyze us. You want the grudge over, but the brain creates another excuse why the phone call can wait another day. The sister always cries for help, but she never actually takes your advice to heart. She’ll burden you with the same problem again next week. Bundle up the challenges you (and I) carry and we feel so exhausted, so worn, so overwhelmed, so hurt, so broken. Psalm 23 captivates our attention because you find peace, security, safety.
Still, what makes us yearn for rest from every mental, physical, emotional struggle? (Of course, apart from the benefits of a peace-filled life.) What draws us into this serene pasture? Realizing that you (and I) fail to bring peace into life.
Do you remember how the psalm begins? ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ Who does the leading? The Lord. The Lord speaks, we follow. The Lord speaks, we respond accordingly. Yet, how often our foolish hearts ignore his Word! Proud hearts can grow so confident in your (and my) ability, thinking that our decisions, our choices can bring meaningful security and unlock peace among relationships. So, with chest puffed out, we lay the Bible aside and chase whatever fantasies seem pleasant at the moment, thinking this kind of living will bring us real happiness.
In reality, the opposite is true! I mean, God did not say, ‘Go hold a grudge.’ He does say, ‘Forgive, as I have forgiven you’ (Colossians 3:13). No wonder we get tied up inside! Pride does not want to listen to those words. As a result, it invites heart-decaying consequences. God says, ‘Trust in me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ (Proverbs 3:56). Still, pride wrestles for control. No wonder we worry! We try to do God’s job! Worry happens because we confront our own limitations; we lack the power make everything work out just the way we want. God promises: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). A little part of us shoves those words aside, considering them unnecessary. That God is too overbearing. Yet, what does greed do? Greed never has enough. Greed is a chronic wasting disease. No wonder we feel no satisfaction when greed saturates the heart!
The point is this: Self-reliance feels no need for God. No need for God watching over you. No need to follow God’s Word. A proud heart relies on you! How foolish! What guarantee can you make for real rest? Even worse, the further we wander from the Word of our God the further we wander from our God! The further we wander from him, we do not find peace. We find misery. We walk a road that will only bring everlasting heartbreak.
So, no wonder Psalm 23 draws us in! Yes, we gain many blessings from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Yet, do not overlook the obvious. Who is a better shepherd? You— who cannot enter paradise? Or, Jesus, the Shepherd who has the ability to create this rest and then lead you into that rest?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. The Good Shepherd gladly carried every commandment of God on his heart. He found complete joy in doing his Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7-9). Never once did he brush the Word of God off to the side. Instead, that Word filled his heart— and he used the Word to remove want. Disciples who set the burden on themselves to feed five-thousand mouths, Jesus teaches to bring requests to him. A woman who no doctor could heal finds healing in the Son of God. A prostitute who carries her own shame, a prostitute so many consider too far gone to be forgiven, hears forgiveness from the mouth of Jesus. The Good Shepherd spent his earthly life gathering hearts with his Word. He led those hearts to see his payment on the cross as the payment that brings real peace to a starved soul.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want— and you lack nothing. The living Lord still comes to you with his Word. A Word that penetrates your heart. A Word that does not express a wish, but a reality. What God actually does. So, when Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23), there is no doubt, but the ongoing, solid reality that God no longer holds our faults against us. He does not lock us out of heaven. He does not hold a grudge. He restores weary hearts and souls.
Jesus is the Shepherd we need. Only he holds the power to remove stress and anxiety, fear and nerves. With his Word in our ears and hearts, he proves to be the Shepherd we have.
That truth draws us in to this psalm. Jesus remains the Shepherd we have— even now! Sometimes you encounter this wrong notion. The idea that once you become a Christian, life becomes perfect. You have health. You have wealth. Your children become perfectly obedient. You never get stressed out at work. Never experience accidents or tragedy. All your friends leave a positive impact. That life just becomes completely easy. That’s not true. The Bible never makes such a claim. Even this psalm admits that you (and I) will have trouble. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You (and I) can walk through challenges— financial stress, disappointments brought on by children, even the thought of a covid-19-caused death. We can stand in the overwhelming presence of death— and all its overpowering torments. Still you (and I) need not fear. Why? [Y]ou are with me. Jesus, the Good Shepherd stands bigger than our challenges. His ‘rod’ and ‘staff’ are not two different objects, but really one. The Word of God gives strength in difficulty. You (and I) can press on even in the face of death because God’s Word does not make wishes, but guarantees.
God has kept those promises, hasn’t he? He sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). He has provided you another day with food, clothing, and shelter— and even more, the delight of knowing that it all comes from him (Psalm 37:25). Even in the face of death, you do not stare down the dark abyss, but rather see heaven opened! The heart clings to these promises and keep moving ahead by those promises.
With the Shepherd leading, you triumph over all your foes. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Imagine walking into a five-star restaurant. The Lord receives you as his honored guest. He seats you at the finest candlelit table. You turn to look out the window and you see your enemies outside. Death’s icy grip. Satan’s life-wrecking temptations. The world’s empty promises. Their hands press against the window, aching to rush in— but they cannot. The Risen Christ has cast them outside forever. They are conquered; they can never afflict you ever again!
You turn to the feast spread before you. The finest cuts of meat. The fresh-picked vegetables. The still-warm breads. The most expensive of wines— things you may not be able to afford in this life. Imagine the emotional, mental, and physical delights of feasting! Every need is so fully, so perfectly met. The Good Shepherd grants such satisfaction with his Word—a Word that proclaims his Easter victory and a word that guarantees your share in victory! Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So, why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? Yes, we can ponder what the Good Shepherd does.
Yet, stop and study yourself, your ability, your efforts—and no wonder we fear! What limits we have! When we stop to study the work and ability of the Good Shepherd, you realize this is the Shepherd we need. He is the Shepherd we have. The Lord is My Shepherd.
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.
Hiroo Onoda was a second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. On December 26, 1944 he assumed his post in the Philippine mountains. His orders were simple: hinder American advancement by targeting airstrips and ports. Under no circumstances was he to surrender. Yet, American forces crept further and further inland, forcing Onoda deeper and deeper into the mountains. He carved out a new position and, all on his own, continued repelling police forces and local resistance. Onoda never surrendered. There was just one problem: the War was over. In fact, the War had been over for 29-years.
Can you imagine carrying on your life as though war still rages all around you, when in reality, it does not? Can you imagine living in constant fear of the unknown? …will the enemy overwhelm you? …will you live to see another day? Can you imagine the stress? …your responsibility of making snap decisions? …always standing alert for sudden danger? Can you imagine the sheer frustration? …why no one ever comes to help you? …why no one ever shares updates about the ‘big picture’ of the war effort? …why this war never ends? …is this war really worth fighting anymore? Hiroo Onoda lived in a completely unnecessary way. The War was over! He could enjoy peace and prosperity! The good news never sunk in.
The war is over! (And I’m not talking about World War II.) Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, but we can lose sight of the victory. We can live as though nothing changed. So, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. As you do, Easter Makes Life Make Sense. You Hear God’s purpose for Jesus and you can Apply the facts for life.
In Acts chapter two you find this smattering of people from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual thanksgiving festival. Not terribly spectacular, right? Except they gather fifty-days after Easter and still wait for God to send his Son into the world. They live completely oblivious to what Jesus already accomplished for them!
So, [the disciple] Peter stands up, raises his voice, and speaks loudly and clearly to them: Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you… Well, that name rings a bell. Some watched this ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ teach; others heard the fantastic events attached to this Man. Yet, what the crowds associate most with the [the name] ‘Jesus’ is ‘crucified,’ ‘died,’ ‘buried.’ Just another man who met his end and can be visited in the cemetery. Their attentions have moved on from his ministry!
Peter says, ‘Stop! Think back to Jesus. [He] was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. Do not overlook the obvious: miracles, wonders and signs are visible, you see those sights with the eye. What is seen does not require interpretation. Either you blow out the birthday candles or do not. Either you drive the car or not. Either you get up from the chair or not. You cannot debate if an action happened or not. Many eyes saw mighty acts. Jesus strengthens the crippled, cures the diseased, multiplies food, and raises the dead. No one could debate if those acts happened or not. On top of that, no one could deny these mighty acts surpassed human ability. The point is this: You cannot simply disregard what is seen. Miracles make you wonder (1) who this Man is and (2) for what reason he does these things. Peter says these signs point to something definite: Jesus is recommended by God, which means, God sent Jesus for a specific purpose. You cannot dismiss the One God sent without consequence. You would be opposing God.
But that is precisely what happened! This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. Some of those standing in front Peter were the ones who chanted: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Luke 23:20-21) Others gave silent approval as they watched the Romans nail Jesus to the cross. Whatever the participation this much clear: The crowds rejected the only Savior God sent. They completely ignored God’s purpose for Jesus.
In spite of rejection God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God Almighty, the One who knows all things, also knew that Jesus would die. After all, this is the purpose for Christmas, right? The sinless Son of God is delivered to the world. This is the purpose for Jesus’ circumcision and baptism, right? He shoulders the responsibility of obeying God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4-5). God marks Jesus as his sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb not for some, but for the whole world. A Lamb needed because something is morally and mortally wrong with us. A Lamb God sends for a purpose: to save us!
One thousand years before Easter Sunday King David revealed God’s purpose for Jesus. He said: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Yet, David is not describing himself. That much Peter makes clear. Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For all his accomplishments and success, David still could not grasp victory over death. He died— and his tomb remains. Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne [that is, Jesus], he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay.
These many Jews gathering in Jerusalem acted as though Jesus the Nazarene impacted their lives in no way! That Jesus’ ministry flamed out and could be forgotten. Friends, Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. Go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Apply the facts for life.
You know, throughout this entire pandemic one phrase keeps repeating like a broken record. A phrase smeared on commercials, the media, and governor reports. The phrase? ‘We’ll get through this.’ Says who? Have you thought about that? Who can make good on that promise: ‘We’ll get through this’? We have no guarantee that we will [automatically] conquer this virus. Yes, we hear terrific news that the [virus] curve is flattening (and slowing), but we have no guarantee that a second “wave” does not strike. We have no guarantee that a new disease does not erupt next year. We have no guarantee that the economy instantly recovers or that grocery store shelves are always stocked or the virus just fizzles out. Yes, it stands highly likely the virus goes away— but because of what reason? Because human beings are so smart and we will triumph by our own ability? (We were the ones who could not prevent this whole mess in the first place!) You see, the human heart places an incredible amount of trust in its own abilities. It grows over-confident in what it can manage and control that it thrusts God off the side!
That does not bring any peace, does it? Thoughts of death overwhelm us because you (and I) cannot stop life from ending. Panicked hysteria ripples through your body (and mine) because we cannot make all things work for our good. Feelings of despair keep us awake at night because cling to our own behavior— our helpful actions or kind generosity, thinking this is what God wants from us. Self-reliance treats Jesus as some impotent man who lived, died, and remains dead. Completely unable to help you! That Easter is this onetime celebration stuck in the past. That it remains up to you to obtain real peace.
That kind of living fails to apply Easter to life. Hiroo Onoda hid in the mountains, lived off the land, and fought locals. He was living a war that had been over for decades! He was living in one way of life that was completely unnecessary. He did receive whispers of a new change of life. General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army dropped leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda did not believe the news. His own family dropped pictures from the sky, pleading for his return, but he thought it was a trick. Finally, his commanding officer, Yoshimi Taniguchi, flew to the mountains and ordered Onoda to surrender. He did. Onoda could finally live under the results of peace that had already been in place for 29-years.
Peter shares God’s declaration peace so that you may live under the completed work for the risen and living Christ! This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that. The miracles, wonders, and signs testify that Jesus is the God-approved Son sent for the world. Sent to live in your place (and mine). Sent to carry our fears. Sent to confront our self-reliance. Sent to give us new life. Never once does Jesus question God’s care for him. Even has he hangs on the cross, he commits his life into hands of heavenly Father because he trusts with this unshakable trust that he will not see decay. His body will not lay in a tomb and get stinky and break down. He knows the Father would restore his perfect life as promised— and the Father does!
Apply the facts of the resurrection to life! Jesus has won the victory!— and you get to live under the results. Not cowering in fear over guilt, but certain of God’s forgiveness. Not facing conflict alone, but relying on a God who watches, guards, protects, and keeps you in his hands. Never afraid to confront death alone, but certain that God will open your grave and you will see his face.
The war is over! Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, a change that remains in effect today.
Easter will continue getting further and further behind us. Yet, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. The Man crucified now lives! Lives to brings you peace in this life and the life to come now and always. Apply the facts for life. Open your eyes to results Christ wins for you. Easter Makes Life Make Sense.
Do you feel like rejoicing and being glad today? It’s Easter Sunday, but it really does not feel like it, does it? At this moment, you are confined inside, either reading these words off a couple pieces of paper or watching service on a screen. (Probably not your normal Easter habit.) You do not sit in sanctuary beautifully adorned with fragrant lilies and blazing white linens. You cannot feel the piano pound its sweet songs. You probably are not dressed in your snazziest, prettiest, newest outfits. You will not enjoy the classic Easter brunch at church with all those familiar faces and glowing conversations. You will not rejoice with your friends in the presence of your God. The celebration just seems to lack fullness, doesn’t it?
Then, you have those timeless traditions that always happened after worship. Easter dinner with family. Easter egg hunts. Easter basket presents. Those festivities will not take place. This year is different. Instead of creating light-hearted memories of happiness, you may just feel without cheer.
So much has been taken away so quickly. Over the course of just one month, we have gone from no Irish Parade to cancelled sports to cancelled school days to cancelled schoolyear to limited gatherings to no gatherings to no going out (unless necessary) to wiping down your groceries and wearing a facemask. That’s a lot to process in a very short amount of time. All this massive adjustment— on top of everything else you already had going on. The strained relationship. The financial stress and retirement planning. The upcoming wedding. The graduation festivities. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Yes, there will be brighter days in the future, happier days, days that present a reason to rejoice and be glad, but maybe just not today. To rejoice and be glad feels too difficult when there are so many challenges in the world at this moment.
Much like that first Easter, right? You do not see Mary Magdalene and the other women skipping on over to the tomb. No one relishes the fresh morning dew and fragrant lilies. No singing. No brunch. No cheer. That first Easter is dominated by loss. So much has been taken away so quickly.
One sight changes everything: Jesus lives! Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which those women and disciples find themselves has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and Jewish leaders still want Christianity snuffed out. Jesus lives!— and the Romans will do anything just to stop hearing the name ‘Jesus’ (Matthew 27:62-66). Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened (John 20:19). That first Easter audience does not rejoice and live glad because their every single struggle suddenly vanishes. They rejoice and are glad because Easter changes the very foundation of life. Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
One man experiences those words firsthand. Today, Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ breaks out of the prison-hold of death, we focus on Jonah. You probably best know him as the guy swallowed by a great fish. Remember how he gets into that situation?
God hand-selected Jonah for a special mission: ‘Preach against the great city of Nineveh so that they might turn to me’ (Jonah 1:1-2).That’s a problem. Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and Assyria is the capital enemy of Israel! In no way whatsoever would Jonah ever want to help enemy number one. The mission is so repulsive that Jonah literally runs away from God. Instead of heading east to Assyria, he boards a ship sailing due west, travelling in the complete opposite direction. Jonah has absolutely no desire to set his mind on the things of God. He acts only to satisfy self-interest.
For a moment, Jonah gets what he wants! Until a storm rips away his control. Billowing waves heave, rain pelts, whipping winds gust. The sailors strain for shore, but make absolutely no headway. They dump heavy cargo, but the swells swamp the ship. Certain death confronts the crew. Jonah finally admits: ‘I am running away from the God of heaven, who made the [now-storming] sea and the land… Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm.’ … Then the sailors took Jonah and threw him overboard (1:9-15).
How does Jonah find himself inside a fish? He disobeyed God. God spoke and Jonah literally ran away. That behavior comes from a rebellious heart. Spiritually speaking, Jonah did not want to hear God. He did not want to obey God. He wants God gone. So God grants his wish. Jonah is banished from God’s sight! He plunges into the heart of the sea, sinking lower and lower, the sheer weight of water presses down on him, squeezing him tight, crushing him. His fate is sealed: He would sink into the open jaws of his grave.
That’s nothing to rejoice about, is it? Death is no friend. Perhaps that truth has taken on fuller meaning. This coronavirus puts people at risk of death. There remains a possibility that you can infect loved ones with a life-threatening illness. There remains a possibility that you yourself could become sick and even die. Today’s medical technology has made incredible, but doctors still cannot guarantee to automatically save life. That’s unsettling. At this moment in time you (and I) are getting a close-up view of the grave.
What makes it even more unsettling is that all the comforts which we considered so important are not delivering us. (1) How often sports took priority over Sunday worship. Cheering on a child from the sideline or letting your mind drift onto the big game while at church. Our hearts considered a simple score so important that it attaches value to that activity. (2) How often jam-packed schedules shove time with God (either in prayer or devotion) off to the side! Your prayer-life shriveled up because the television show came first. Your children do not know what happens when a person dies because you did not think it important to teach them. (3) How often self-worth is invested in money and fading milestones. I mean, just one month ago you could list what you considered important, but the whole list is almost wiped out. All those things our hearts consider so important that it sacrificed God— they’re all gone and you (and I) are still here. What good do those priorities serve you now?
Is it any wonder you witness fear and hysteria and panic? Run from God and face eternal death alone.
If you find it difficult to rejoice and be glad this morning, then reset your focus. Listen to Jonah speak: To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. Jonah’s actions tossed him into death, but God, in his infinite mercy did not let Jonah get what he deserved. Instead, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (1:17).
Do you realize from where Jonah prays? Inside the fish! He does not mourn, he gives thanks. The Lord lifts him up from depths of death. He has done the same for you!
Jesus has stepped into Jonah’s life, into your life (and mine). He is sent to preach to the world— including to those who hate him and would kill. He is tempted to cherish the treasures of this world, to elevate wealth and status and power. He sees disease and deformity and death. Never does he run away from God. Instead, he comes to do his will (Hebrews 10:5-7).
God’s will set Jesus on the Good Friday cross. There, Jesus marches after your heart that had wandered into death, after my heart that had wandered. He sinks into the pit of death. His life stops. God makes Jesus pay for our despair. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man [was] three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Early Sunday morning, the stone rolls away from the tomb and out steps Jesus— fully alive! He holds your life brought back from death. ‘Because I live,’ he says, ‘you also will live’ (John 14:19).
Despair No More! The empty tomb means the Lord lifts you up from depths of death. Christ has risen! Risen to bring us from death to life! With that good news the Lord anchors you to his salvation.
That word ‘salvation’ means ‘deliverance.’ When applied to God it describes the only deliverance that truly matters (or the best deliverance there is): ‘deliverance from death in hell.’ When you (and I) hear: ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation,’ it means, God ‘delivers you from death in hell.’
This where you stand today, you stand delivered from death in hell. That’s why Jonah sings: But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation [eternal deliverance] comes from the Lord.
Does it feel like it? Christ rose, but the world is far from perfect. You hear about disease and sickness, death and despair. Even in the past, you heard war and unrest, financial collapse and frayed relationships. Christ rose, but struggles did not suddenly vanish. Not to mention all the personal challenges you face. The upcoming wedding. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Christ rose, but these significant milestones still exist.
So does Easter. The fact that Jesus leaves his tomb means your guilt before God has been wiped away (Romans 4:25). A room is prepared for you in heaven (John 14:2-3). At the right time, God’s angels will carry you to your heavenly home (Luke 16:22). Your future changed. Christ rose and that means you will live forever on high.
That reality is fixed. Firm. Steady. Constant. It never changes. The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even in tears you have a firm footing. Your husband who died trusting in Jesus as Savior spends this Easter with his triumphant Lord. One day you will too will gather around the triumphant Savior! Not just that, nothing will stop Jesus from raising you (and me) from the dead. Jesus himself makes clear: A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out… those who have done evil will rise to be condemned… and those who have done good [those who believe] will rise to live (John 5:28-29).
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even when all these activities are stripped away, you really have lost nothing. Parents, God has handed you the opportunity to teach your children about the God who holds the keys of life! No child fears knowing that Jesus will bring them to heaven. Even with older children you can connect the victory of life more closely to today’s settings. Much is taken away, but that allows you (and me) to focus on what is truly important in this world. Prioritizing life with God!
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, you hold open access to approach the Almighty for anything, anytime. The God who gave his very own Son into death for our eternal benefit, why would stop caring about you now? I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Despair No More! ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation.’
Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which generations of those celebrating Easter has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and you still encounter challenges. Jesus lives!— and you still confront death. Jesus.’ Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened. We do not rejoice and live glad because every single struggle suddenly vanishes. We rejoice and are glad because Christ defeated every single fear, every single enemy once and for all time. He hands you that victory! Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
No one knew what lay there. Some of those pre-1940s Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons sketched a map of the world. Over the continent of Africa sat a black blob with the words: ‘Dark Africa.’ (No, that is not a derogatory reference to the skin color of Africans.) [https://www.reference.com/geography/africa-referred-dark-continent-39aa8499dafe9e5a] ‘Dark’ simply meant: ‘unknown.’ Few ventured into the central regions of Africa and those who did, did not provide a clear picture of its landscape. No one knew where rivers cut or if a lake covered the entire area or if central Africa was all desert. People knew that something was there, but they did not know what. The area was ‘dark.’ Chocked full of the unknown.
Maybe that best describes life at the moment. Dark. Unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Events seen and sounds heard seem confusing at the moment. Mighty Babylon tromps towards Israel’s borders— stomping feet, rumbling siege towers, clanging swords, shields, and spears— and Israel cannot stop it. Be sure, they are trying. The national army assembles, but stands overwhelmingly outmatched. King rushes from ally to ally hoping to muster enough war support, but despite his efforts he still needs more help. People pray, but Babylon never turns around. Take in all that is seen with the eyes and many conclude: There is no escape. Just complete and utter catastrophe. Israel sees nothing.
That’s why God’s prophet, Isaiah, cries out: Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? Israel is God’s servant, and the nation had seen God in action. Families watch him split the Red Sea and crush Pharaoh’s chariot army. They see God send in manna and quail for each morning and evening meal. They witness God hand victory after victory against all their enemies. So many see these powerful acts with their own eyes! These incredible accounts trickle down through generations.
All Israel in Isaiah’s day had heard what God had accomplished. Ears could absorb these words— and not merely pick out tones, but respond appropriately! The past (1) details God’s promises kept and (2) guarantees God’s repeated results! What impact does that leave? Trust! Trust that God will always hold you!
Yet, Israel is blind and deaf. Yes, the people physically see, but spiritually refuse to see God in action. Yes, the people physically hear, but spiritually, refuse to absorb God’s Word.
Spiritual blindness prevents making sense of life. They could not see that the reason for their demise, their soon-to-be national deportation, their exile in Babylon happens because they turn away from God. [T]hey trust in carved idols, [and] say to metal images, “You are our gods.” That’s why they panic. That’s why they battle feelings of hopelessness. They fail to see God as Savior!
Is it any wonder then, you see what you do today? The coronavirus has crept into our state. The news only seems to report people infected and dying… how the government’s delay is failing you… how more will contract the virus… how the virus most likely will linger until April (or longer)… how everyone stands at risk of catastrophic demise. Oh, the doom and gloom! Who can rescue us? I mean, do you know why people are stockpiling toilet paper? To feel control. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). The virus lies outside of your control— you might contract the illness, get sick, and die (and that’s pretty scary). You cannot control personal health, but you can control personal hygiene. So, people hoard large packages of toilet paper so that they can feel as though they have control over the situation. They crave feelings security and protection.
If that sounds humorous, then ask: ‘Why the fear in the first place?’ Failure to see God as Savior! You Cannot Make Sense of Life because you do not see God at work. You do not see him hold authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). You do not see him protecting (Isaiah 41:10). You do not see him stand constant alert (Psalm 121:3-4). Failure to see is called ‘blindness!’
The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. That’s what happens: Lose sight of God as Savior and you keep stumbling into dead ends! That familiar dead end? Staring your at your beautiful reflection in the mirror and saying, ‘You are my god. You can save me from all trouble.’
You think you can gain security, but you never do! All you gain is a greater feeling of helplessness! You nervously worry about a virus you cannot control because you fail to call on God in the day of trouble! (Psalm 50:15) You fret about primaries and elections because you fail to remember that God still works through the government and in spite of the government (Romans 13:4). You sink when the markets sink because you fail to see God’s care for you surpass his care for birds! (Matthew 6:25-34) The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. Chasing solution after solution in the hope of finding peace. The truth is: Lose sight of God and you will never have peace, because you are treating yourself as God. You prove yourself blind.
Can You Make Sense of Life? To make sense, you need ‘sense’— and I’m not talking about critical thinking. I’m talking about sight and hearing. Spiritual blindness fails to see God as Savior. That’s why the blind stumble into familiar dead ends. To see God in the midst of trial and trouble we need light. The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
That’s what light does, it reveals reality. Listen to what God says in verse 16: I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
God has lit up a path so foreign to our thinking that no one in the history of the world would have ever imagined it: He sends Jesus. Literally, [the name] ‘Jesus’ means ‘he saves’ (Matthew 1:21). Anytime a bystander called out, ‘Hey, Jesus!’ that person uses a name meant for his own benefit. A man born blind can now see. When asked how this happened, he simply relied, ‘The man they call Jesus put mud on my eyes and I washed. Now I see’ (John 9:10-11). At first, ‘Jesus’ probably sounded like any other name. Yet, the more this once-blind man ponders the miracle, the more he studies Jesus. He gained physical sight, something no doctor could do. With physical sight, he could spiritually see Jesus as he truly is— not a mere man, but God.
That powerful miracle is meant for us to see. Yes, to study with our physical eyes, but also to see Jesus as someone more than just another man. To treat him with greater respect, with greater trust. To see Jesus as Savior. Jesus is The Light who opens eyes to find true safety.
You find safety as you see Jesus hang from a cross under Calvary’s dark sky. As you see Jesus suffer. Yes, suffer. To fully grasp that he suffers because there is something wrong with us. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts doubt God’s promises. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts rely on self. To see the sheer ugliness of sin, to see this is what God thinks of sin. That he punishes it to death.
With his Word, God leads you (and me) down the strange path leading to the tomb. Yet, we do not see what we are so used to seeing. The tomb stands empty! God leads us further down the strange path, to his throne where he unleashes a sentence unexpected: ‘Forgiven.’
Do you see this? Look at the cross and see Jesus tend to your greatest need— a need far more pressing than health, a need far more important than presidential elections, a need far more important than wealth. Jesus takes care of that great big need of purifying a filthy heart! See Jesus and The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Maybe it bears stating the obvious. Pay attention to your news. Ask yourself why it stokes fear. Scroll through Facebook. Why are people so panicked about primaries and elections? Why is everyone sharing whatever gossip they heard about virus? Look at stock market reports. Why the nerve-wracking fear of recession? Because many do not see God as Savior. So many hope matters will work out, but no one knows for sure because so many trust self. Stare at people and You will Never Make Sense of Life!
Friends, think of all those still groping in darkness. Many drive by this church building and have no idea what waits on the other side of the grave. The thought of a Savior-God is a foreign thought. Some are your friends. Some are your family. Some are classmates. Others dabble in darkness. That’s your fellow believers who are slow to worship. Those familiar faces might create reasons to defend spiritual wandering. At the end, excuses remain just that: Excuses— excuses God does not accept.
At this moment, God has set before you an opportunity to shine a light so that all Can Make Sense of Life! God provided eternal safety. Yes, we tend to think of ‘eternity’ as ‘in the future,’ ‘after we die.’ Eternity started when the eyes of faith saw God. That means, God provides safety today. Jesus The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Over the course of time, ‘Dark Africa’ became known. Explorers charted rivers and mountains and lakes and deserts. Now you can study maps of Africa and clearly see its landscape. You can also prepare to tackle its landscape.
Life can feel dark and unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. Even after these matters pass, you can sure: Life will hurt again. You can sink into fear again. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Yes, you can! God has given spiritual senses of sight and hearing! He reveals the Savior who rescues body and soul from hell. He takes care of the greatest need to which the entire world stood blind. If God so carefully tended to that need, will he not also care now? Of course he does!
You know that. You see that. You hear that. His Word keeps The blind from stumbling into familiar dead ends. His Word is The Light opening eyes to find true safety. Friends, do not lose sight. Remain focused on Jesus, relying on promises kept and promises to be kept. With eyes and hears full of the Word, You Can Make Sense of Life.
Pastors preach. Right? Roll out the big Family-Feud game board and ask: ‘Name something a Pastor does’ and the number one answer would be: ‘Preach.’ A congregation calls him to that service. To take God’s Word, explain and apply it.
Starting in Matthew chapter 5 all the way through to chapter 7, Jesus preaches. He takes God’s Old Testament teachings, explains them and applies them. He starts with a theme: Blessed are You! Then, two key points explain why: (1) for Christ fills your soul and (2) for Christ gives you the kingdom. So, that means, you are hearing a sermon on a sermon— and not just any sermon, but Jesus’ sermon. Full disclosure: Jesus preaching is the best; it’s leagues better than anything I can possibly come to preaching. So, what do you expect from me? Because I cannot improve his words.
Maybe that’s a good place to start: Confronting what I cannot do. Some title Jesus’ sermon: ‘The Beatitudes.’ First— do you know what a ‘beatitude’ is? (Hint: it’s not an ‘attitude,’ some emotional response. Therefore, this is not a sermon on attitudes you must ‘be.’ Be happy. Be helpful. Be kind.) A ‘beatitude’ is a ‘declaration of blessings.’ (see: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/beatitudes)
That leads to another question: How do we define ‘blessing’? (Another hint: a ‘blessing’ is not ‘getting good stuff,’ like money or toys.) ‘Blessing’ means ‘to receive God’s favor, his approval.’ The man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners is ‘blessed.’ He does not stand condemned. He holds God’s pardon (Psalm 1:1).
So, Jesus lists fortunate situation after fortunate situation. Just listen:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”
Do those situations sound favorable? Blessed are the poor in spirit. No, not low-income. Not when you lack money. Jesus spotlights spiritual poverty. You will need at least $4,100 just to get into today’s Superbowl. (Some will pay $50,000 for their club ticket. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/super-bowl-tickets-2020-cheapest-most-expensive-seats/g0gzhwn2rbyp1u2w1exx1z3oq) Can you afford that?
God sets heaven’s admission price at: absolute moral purity. Think about that for a moment. Never ever trust in wealth. Never toss aside God’s Word. No cursing, no jealousy, no boastful pride, no arguments, no greed. Be this always! (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48) Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365-days a year, from the instant of conception until the moment you die. God finds no fault. Have you reached that level? Have you even come close to that standard in just the past hour? Then, there remains the awful reality that each of us are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1). We start life already short! Entrance into heaven lies light-years out of reach! It costs too much! Here, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate is your spiritual bankruptcy!’
Then he says: Blessed are those who mourn. Have you ever tried saying that to a grieving family? ‘Oh, you’re so fortunate, so blessed!’ No! We ache too! We ache because we confront the devastation sin wreaks on the world. Death came to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12). The miscarriage hurts because my child inherited my sin and sin’s deadly consequences! The casket holds yet another person who failed to be sin-free. That casket thunders sin’s deadly consequences! As if death does not cause enough pain, you (and I) still confront the sinful nature. The sinful nature is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). The toddler hollering at you is not innocent. She reveals a hatred to honor his father and mother (Exodus 20:12). The adult child lets his intelligence sit over God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-29). Society claims a right to shake its puny fist at God’s one-woman, one-man marriage commitment. Look around and you find plenty of evidence that the sinful heart wages war against a holy God. Still, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate is your sin-caused sorrow!’
He goes on: Blessed are the meek. The gentle, the humble people. How privileged you are giving to charity, but the lazy take advantage of your generosity! How fortunate to work hard and honest, but then the worthless co-worker trashes your reputation. How blessed to hunger and thirst to ‘do’ God’s righteousness, but never feel satisfied. You call daughter about church, but she sees the Caller ID and lets the phone ring. You promise self-control for the umpteenth millionth time, but the booze, the drugs, the addiction gains the upper hand. Yes, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate when you fail to be perfect. How blessed when others trample all over you, even as you serve me.’
Beatitudes? Statements of blessing? Of favor? Of approval? It really does not sound like Jesus gives anything favorable! He only pokes at the soul’s sore spots and makes clear: ‘You will encounter trouble.’ Beatitudes sound like statements of misery.
That is precisely how these words appear if we divorce Christ. Yes, Jesus pinpoints limitations; he exposes our weaknesses. He highlight when and where we fall short. Understand, not that you (and I) despair, but that you (and I) refocus. That we find real strength.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You (and I) who stood morally bankrupt, covered in festering sins, held under Satan’s powerful grip. Not one inkling of a chance to stand before God in heaven. How fortunate, how blessed that we do stand before God. That we do have heaven because we have received God’s favor. Want proof? Jesus is here. Preaching. He sits in your imperfect world, and he walks among sin’s devastation. He sees those with crippled limbs and incurable disease. He watches false teachers feed people lies. He even stands outside a tomb holding his dear dead friend Lazarus. Jesus lives in our world— but he is not weak. He is not poor. He is rich. His heart shimmers with absolute moral purity. His hands give selfless love. His mouth preaches faith-building forgiveness. Simply put, Jesus does the Father’s righteousness.
He takes that righteousness and pours it out on the cross. He pours out his absolutely morally pure life into your heart (and mine). He fills us completely that we overflow.
So, yes, Blessed Are You, for Christ fills your soul. Superbowl ticket? Probably not. Entrance into heaven? Yes! He puts the priceless ticket of eternal life into your hand—paid at the cost of his own blood. That makes you a recipient of God’s favor. Blessed Are You, for Christ fills your soul. Blessed Are You, for Christ gives you the kingdom.
You heard that right. These beatitudes are not conditions. (If you show mercy, then you will receive mercy.) No! You already stand blessed. That is what you are. Blessed! Fortunate! Favored by God! So naturally, you, ‘the blessed ones’ showcase God’s blessings.
Listen again to Jesus’ sermon:
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
These words describe you! Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. You (and I) are the merciful people who show mercy. Mercy, that is, demonstrating sincere compassion. Yes, the trash-talking, back-stabbing co-worker hurts you. Yes, some able-bodied people might take advantage of welfare and your generosity. Remember this: you (and I) did not deserve God’s mercy. When our actions hurt God, his compassionate heart wiped clean your heart. When we took advantage of God’s kindness, his tender arms embraced you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That is mercy.
God puts us in a position to demonstrate mercy (1) as you are able and (2) without seeking any repayment. We demonstrate compassion for physical needs, but even more, spiritual needs.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. That’s you— pure in heart. You will God one day! Yes, the sinful nature still wants to wallow in filth, but God keeps washing that heart clean. You keep praying: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God (Psalm 51:10). Let your words be my delight. Let me remember them. Let me live them.’
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Peacemakers do not avoid conflict. They try to end conflict. Yes, the husband might have said something terribly insulting. You can lash out, but will only make your relationship worse. Yes, those parents might be overbearing, but rebelling will not help. Yes, blame others for your problems, but that does not correct your future. Christ literally gave himself— his time, his convenience, his heart. All this to bring peace with God. We are recipients of that peace. We make peace when our hearts align with God’s Word and as we can bring others to line up with that same Word.
Yes, the world might look at you strange. A child calls you overbearing. A friend considers you a pushover. Their hearts do not have God’s blessing. They do not see the benefit of listening to their Maker.
Still, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. What makes you blessed? Well, what is the common denominator? Why does child calls you a bigot? Why do so-called intellectuals call you ‘weak-minded?’ Why do coworkers openly mock your beliefs about sex, drugs, and booze? Why do you encounter conflict? Because of Christ. You did create a set of personal beliefs. You cherish Jesus’ teachings.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. What joy to know that trouble may come because you are connected to Christ! Even the world sees that connection and tries to break it, but cannot! The world lacks the power to do that! What can the world take from you, the Christian? Can he keep Jesus locked in heaven? Can he prevent the world’s judgment? Can he hinder Jesus’ eternal separation? No! God’s prophets were attacked, but God sent more. Those prophets exchanged earthly life for heavenly life. How blessed! For Christ gives you the kingdom!
This is a sermon on a sermon— and not just any sermon, but Jesus’ sermon. I cannot improve on it. That’s alright. Because it leads me back to Jesus’ words. It leads me to trust in his might.
Much like life. My inabilities are completely filled by Christ. All I need I have in him. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Strength to live a Christian life. When I need more strength, I go to these words to take in what he has done for me. His kingdom is mine! I have it all! I lack nothing! How blessed is that?! As one who holds God’s favor, I live under that favor in every circumstance of life. How Blessed are You, for Christ fills your soul and Christ gives you the kingdom.
Well, if the study is accurate, about 130-million Americans (40%) made a New Year’s resolution last Wednesday. That’s about one out of every three Americans. One out of every three people formed a firm commitment to change at least one area of life.
You realize, change reacts to the past. You may reflect on the year past, identify a particular behavior, recognize how harmful it might be, and set out to change it. You look back and see the fast-food adding weight. That is not good. So, you set out to replace junk-food with healthy food. You discover strained relationships and set out to be more patient and forgiving. You identify a lack of strength and so you schedule daily exercise. A resolution strives to end harmful behavior and start a beneficial lifestyle.
We could call this process: ‘Vision.’ ‘Vision’ lays out a plan to reach a goal. With a goal set, vision sees what lies ahead. Vision provides guidance.
Do you have a clear vision on what the future holds? Do you have a clear vision of the impact of your day-to-day life? Do you have a clear vision on your identity? In this particular year, you gain perfect vision. On the one hand, I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ With all joking aside, God Gives You 2020 Vision. With his Word he provides perfect sight for the year ahead. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.
That is such a vital truth that God does not wait to reveal it. Immediately after the opening greeting (‘From Paul, to the Ephesians. Grace and peace to you.’) erupts this praise: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places[.] ‘Blessed be God,’ that is, ‘Praise God!’ Why? Because he showers never-ending blessings on you. Understand, God is not pointing at your Christmas presents or your children and grandchildren or your house or car, job or retirement. Things on earth may benefit you; they may touch your emotions, but they cannot touch your soul. (And if they cannot touch your soul, then how valuable are those earthly things?)
God zeroes in on spiritual blessings streaming down from heaven. Spiritual blessings, like, the benefit of spending eternity in paradise, completely content and satisfied, free from pain and heartache. Spiritual blessings, like, having peace in the face of death, joy in the midst of misery, strength in trouble. These tremendous blessings belong to you because of the supreme blessing found in verses 4 and 5. [H]e chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will[.]
God aligns our focus on this magnificent reality: God chose to adopt you. That means, at one time you (and I) did not belong in God’s family. You (and I) were outsiders, people who shared no ownership with God. For example, it would be weird if I gave you a big hug and called you ‘Mom’ or if I opened up your shed, fired up the snow blower, and said, ‘I got your driveway dad!’ or if I walked into your bedroom and said, ‘I’m going to play with some of your toys, sis.’ I am not part of your family. I do not share rights to your property. No intimate, emotional bond or physical bond exists between me and you. That is how we started life: Having no possession of God’s love. Our future was dark and dead.
So, God illuminates this tremendous truth: Before the creation of the world, before life began, God chose you to belong in his family. Understand that well: You did not chose God (read also John 15:16). Do you find any mention about you ‘choosing’ Christ or you ‘accepting’ Christ here? No! Holy Scripture makes it explicitly clear: [H]e chose us. God selected you out of the world’s orphanage. He gave you the family name: ‘Christian.’ He dressed you in new, clean clothes and shoes. He hands you a key to heaven and a cellphone with his number in it. He readies your heavenly room. God chose to adopt you.
That is the vision God holds before your eyes (and mine). This is what God wants you (and I) to see. He wants you to see your identity as a child of God. He wants you to see this because so much blurs that vision.
For many the new year focuses on self-improvement. (What can you do to better your life on earth?) That thinking can easily consume your attention. So many consider church as a self-help place. Some hope to hear a message that will instantly heal strained relationships. Others think that being here will provide good luck for the week ahead. Still others seeking moral improvement (that is, how to be better person). Do you realize the Bible never obsesses about those matters? The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal how to live happy and wealthy today. It never teaches ‘7-Steps for a Stronger Marriage’ or ‘5-Secrets to Greater Wealth’ or ‘Unlock a Better You Now.’ It never teaches: ‘How to Make America Great’ or ‘What Has Happened to Families?’ God gives the Bible in order to give you vision— and not just any vision, but a vision for heaven.
Still, there always remains a little part of us that exchanges the eternal for the worldly. A little part of us that considers the temporary more valuable than the eternal. A little part that makes life all about ‘me,’ and ‘my’ pleasures, and ‘my’ pursuits. Friends, real purpose is never found without God. Without God stands death, life outside his family forever.
That is why God immediately stresses where Christians have their standing. In fact, God repeats it four times in four verses! He chose us in Christ. He adopted you through Christ. He gives you grace through the Beloved Christ. God cannot stress life’s fullest vision enough. He points you (and me) to Christ!
That Christ-Child born Christmas Day does not come so that the poor have some money. He does not arrive so that the arguing religious leaders are silenced. He does not come so that families get along. He comes to make you (and me) (1) holy and (2) blameless. He holds the cross before your eyes so that you clearly see that point. Eternity is so important that God wraps himself in human flesh, takes off our filthy life and washes it with his innocent life. His innocent blood scrubs away worldly ambition. His single-minded focus on heaven covers over every instance our hearts fall in love with this world. He removes every spiritual stain so that God sees you ‘holy,’ that is, without fault. God sees you ‘blameless.’ As the Judge of the universe, God stares at you, but finds no charges. He slams the holy gavel and cries out: ‘Innocent!’ This is how you stand before God today.
How do you know this applies to you? Well, a few minutes ago you heard: [Y]ou also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). God stamped you with a seal. In baptism, he stamps you with his name— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a pledge, the contract God signed to adopt you. You now belong to him.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. He takes Jesus’ birth and the cross, pieces them together so that you gain a clear vision of identity. Because of Jesus God chooses to adopt you. That is your identity today. Since this is who you are, it shapes where you go from here. The future is no secret. God Gives You 2020 Vision as God enlightens your future.
Our closing verses say: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him[.] God reveals your adoption, but repeats it. He repeats it so that you might (1) remember it and (2) better understand it. For example, in grade-school you might have memorized every state with its capital. You remembered it so well, but now you have forgotten. What you once knew, you forgot.
God does not want you to lose sight that you are his adopted child. So, he sends the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom and revelation. Real wisdom acknowledges the poisonous devastation sin wreaks on the world and how Christ is the antidote. God reveals this truth in the Bible.
You will sharpen your vision for a heavenly future by remaining in the Word of God. That might mean carving out time for a devotion each day or spending a few moments with God in prayer. You get to center your thoughts, your heart, your mind on what God teaches is right and true. That means you get to evaluate your time and consider if you might attend Bible Class. In class, you get to examine life’s questions through the scope of the Word. You will lose nothing by attending; you will only grow more. That means, as God’s child, you keep worship your priority. As someone who loves God, why would you want to make excuses to stay out of worship? Instead, as God’s adopted child, you want to make reasons to be with your heavenly Father. As you remain in the Word, your knowledge of God grows and your trust in him strengthens. You have 2020 vision that sees heaven as your eternal goal and you, a child of God, who walks towards that goal. God, through his Word, enlightens your future. [I pray that] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints[.] Unending life with Jesus lies ahead— and you can see it clearly.
Yes, this year happens to be 2020. So I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ In all seriousness, God Gives You 2020 Vision. He provides perfect sight for the year ahead. (1) See God choose to adopt you. In sheer love, he brought you into his family. Jesus lived a perfect life and the Holy Spirit applies it to you. So, you stand as God’s adopted child. Since this is how you now appear, (2) See God enlighten your future. God uses his Word to sharpen sights on your eternal goal. He points you to heaven and leads you there as you remain in his Word—hearing it and shaping life around it.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.