‘You can’t see the forest for the trees.’ That familiar phrase describes getting so absorbed in the present that you lose sight of the big picture. The third-grader concentrates sketching the perfect percentage sign that she fails to learn how to convert decimals into percentages. He wants a Hawaiian vacation, but does not select trip dates because he’s too fixated on which airport to depart. The house lies in shambles during a renovation. Instead of envisioning the new cabinetry and hardware, the new hardwood and carpet, her attention is entirely consumed by a bathroom paint color. ‘You can’t see the forest for the trees.’ You are too absorbed in the present that you lose sight of a bigger picture.
In Romans chapter eight, God reveals the big picture. Actually, God steps outside the realm of time and into eternity. He unveils his eternal plan and how you fit into that plan. Do you see it? Can you see the forest for the trees?
Take a step back from the obstacles you confront today or the suffering you face tomorrow. Lay aside (for a moment) the pain you feel from loss or the sting from a relationship. Turn down the political drama ringing in your ears or the stress whispering in your mind. See the forest for the trees. See how All Things Work for Our Good! God chose us to be his. God executes his unbreakable plan.
Listen again to Romans chapter eight, verse 28. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ‘All things,’ God says, ‘work for good’— and when God says ‘all,’ he means ‘all.’ No exceptions. No limitations. He does not say, ‘Well, dementia is too hard for me to handle’ or ‘Eh, your friend-break-up is not covered.’ No, God makes clear that the events throughout the daytime and what happens at nighttime, from the food you eat to the clothes you wear, from brushing your teeth to the next breath you take, all of it falls under his care. All things work together for good.
Do you believe that? In this life you (and I) deal with situations that are not always pleasant. Your loved one died and it still hurts. No matter how much time passes the memories just keep popping up. The gun on the wall brings you back to a hunting trip. A leaky faucet reminds you how he could fix anything. The chair sit in the living room, but he is not coming in and sitting down. The urn on the mantle proves it. The tombstone at the cemetery tells you that. It hurts! You wish they were back! You wonder, ‘Why, God? Why did you take him at such a young age? Why did she have that terrible cancer? Why couldn’t you have stopped the accident? God, do you care how this affects me?’
Surgery is scheduled. In a few days the heart specialist will replace your failing aortic valve. Afterwards you will be able to walk better and longer and farther; you will feel less tired. Still, one issue just keeps nagging you: Aortic valve replacement is a significant surgery for someone your age. What if recovery takes months, not weeks? What if you never fully recover? What if you do not survive surgery?
The coronavirus still devours the globe like a wildfire. It seems like every day spits out more negative news. Scientists reveal a new way for the virus to spread. Research suggests that once sick, you can sick again. Specialists predict more infection, a longer virus-season, and more death. Leaders debate nonstop about the benefit in reopening or restricting. In some ways it feels like you’re stuck in a nightmare or an episode of the Twilight Zone that will never end. You wonder, ‘God, can’t you stop this virus? God, can’t you calm the negativity? Can’t you just let everything to go back to normal now?’
After seven steady years, the next month will bring change. A familiar face who brought God’s Word to you at church and a classroom, your hospital bed and dining room table, the one who celebrated your wedding or comforted you at a funeral, the one who helped you through a difficult moment is leaving. Now what? Who will serve you next? Will you like the pastor who comes next? What if a new pastor never comes?
All Things Work for Our Good? If that’s the case, then why you don’t feel it (emotionally)? If that’s the case, then why doesn’t the situation prove it?
It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. That’s why God makes it a point to tell you the things you need to know. He chose us to be his.
With one verse God yanks you (and me) out from a know-it-all self-pity. With one verse he gently redirects us in sorrow. With one verse God brings comfort to weary hearts. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ‘All things work for good,’ but God does not address every single person in the world. He narrows down the audience to ‘those who love God.’
That’s you. Keep staring at the big picture. You did not choose to love God first. You did not try your hardest to live a good life and God now says, ‘I love you.’ Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Instead, we love because God first loved us! (1 John 4:19). Another way of saying that is: God made us lovers of God! He unloaded our short-sightedness and needless worry. He took off our sadness and mourning and saddled Jesus with it all. He watched as Jesus buried all our afflictions under his blameless life.
How do you know that what Jesus did on the cross is yours personally? Because God says this: All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Baptism has made you a lover of God. All Things Work for Our Good because God chose us to be his.
God sees to it with his unbreakable plan. Listen to verse 29: For those God foreknew he also predestined… God knows all things and he knew you would be here, listening with a heart full of faith. In fact, God made sure of it. That word ‘predestined’ pictures putting a boundary around someone (like putting a fence in the backyard to keep your children yours). God has put a boundary around you for you to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God has already cleansed you spiritually. Right now, he sees you in the likeness of Jesus. Innocent. Blameless. Without fault.
Some days we soil that likeness, but a gracious God washes away filth. One day, that unblemished likeness will be on full display because you will be in paradise. You will stand with Jesus, the firstborn— the One who makes heaven possible! He will stand with you, along with many other believers.
You can be absolutely certain of this— because God’s work is all interconnected. Imagine setting up a row of dominoes. Tap the first domino and it falls into another, which falls into another, and another and another, and so on. One domino causes an unstoppable reaction.
In verse 30, God knocks over the very first domino in a line of dominoes. And those he predestined, he also called… God put a boundary around you, but how did God call you to faith? A phone? A disembodied voice whispering in your ear? A warm, fuzzy feeling inside? No! The Bible spells out everything Jesus has done to save you. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17). That good news hit your ears and penetrated your heart. At God’s right time, the Holy Spirit gave you faith to believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior.
[And] those he called, he also justified… That word ‘justify’ means to ‘declare someone not guilty.’ A ‘justifiable homicide’ means that you face no charges in a self-defense shooting death. If God ‘justifies’ you, it means that he declares you innocent.
And so you are! The instant God called you to faith is the moment he dropped all charges against you personally. You can stare at death without fear; you will not go to hell. You stand innocent!
[And] those he justified, he also glorified. Did you notice that verb ‘glorified’? It is past tense meaning, this is something God has already done. Do you feel glorious? …wrapped in sheer perfection? …holding high honor as God’s child? We are not in heaven yet— but God considers it as good as done.
So, he tells you what’s coming. You will stand wrapped in the splendor of Christ, in a place without tears or sorrow or sadness or mourning or heartache or pain (Revelation 7:15-17). Make no question about it! The moment God marked you off, the dominoes fell right in line. God executes his unbreakable plan.
Take a step back from the obstacles you confront today or the suffering you face tomorrow. Lay aside (for a moment) the pain you feel from loss or the sting from a relationship. Turn down the political drama ringing in your ears or the stress whispering in your mind. Do not miss the forest for the trees.
God reveals his start and your end. What we do not know is everything in the middle—what surprises pop up and how it affects us. Yet, here is one thing we do know: All Things Work for Our Good.
God will see fit that even the challenges faced in life only increase our reliance on him. A virus? Well, has it taught you to reprioritize? Did you carry such a busy schedule that you did not always have time to be a [grand]parent? Did you think you could control every single event? When stuff leaves, it redirects you to rely on God and thank him for what you have. Surgery? What if you die? Well, where would you be? With your loving God, just as he planned. What if he dies? Well, what does God promise? That he is with God, just as planned— and you will be too at the right time. Knowing the future brings comfort to a sad heart. Change? What will church be like? It will still have God’s Word and you will still hear it. It will still remind you that the messenger is not more important than the message. You will still see Jesus the Savior.
Do not miss the forest for the trees. Instead see God’s plan unveiled for you. All Things Work for Our Good! God chose us to be his. God executes his unbreakable plan.
I’m not sure if life could have gotten any worse for Paul Gerhardt. The enemy encircling his hometown promised retreat in exchange for a small fortune. When the townspeople handed the money over, the army still set fire to hundreds of buildings anyways— including Gerhardt’s house. Later that same year, plague swept through his village, leaving over three hundred dead. Somehow Gerhardt still managed to graduate from the seminary, but received no parish. For fifteen years he scraped by as a tutor and hymn-writer. When he did receive his first Call, he was quickly fired because he refused to preach state-ordered false teaching. During unemployment, his wife died. Four of his five children died, leaving him a poor single father with a six-year-old son. Life promised more when he was assigned to a new church— but this calloused, overbearing congregation treated him harshly for the next seven years until he died. I’m really not sure if life could have gotten any worse for Paul Gerhardt.
That’s how life is often viewed, isn’t it? It’s as though a scale hangs inside the heart and we place items on both ends in order to determine their value (or, importance). You sit stuck in traffic, but the other lane is moving. So, you weigh the question: Do I have time to wait or should I switch lanes in the hope of moving ahead? You ache inside. So, you weigh the question: Is this pain worth a doctor-bill or can I treat myself? Your phone pings and you weigh the question: Is the time spent with friends more valuable than resting at home? This one life encounters a myriad of quandaries, leaving you (and I) to weigh what might be the best choice forward.
In most cases, decisions come easy (or, without serious consequence). Yet, when suffering appears, you feel a real tension inside: Is it worth suffering with Christ?
Before you reach an answer, our reading has a question for you: Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced?
On one end of the scale we find our connection to Christ. Romans chapter eight makes it abundantly clear. God made Jesus our sin offering and condemned him in our place. No longer do you (and I) stand condemned to death in hell. Instead, we are set free! The Holy Spirit has swung open the cell door and led you (and I) out by the hand and into the camp of God. Resting on that scale sits your new identity: Child of God. Heir of eternal life. Co-heir of heaven (Read Romans 8:1-17).
With those titles still ringing in the ears, you hear this: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Would you agree?
You see what hangs on the other side of the scale. ‘Suffering’— a heaping pile of real, legitimate suffering. Struggling stock markets, stale social security checks, and a fragile economy stokes stress over if you will have enough. Your relationship strains as communication keeps breaking down. The mere flashback of the casket (or urn) front and center in church still brings tears. Christianity shrinking in America means an increase of un-Christian laws and conversations and topics.
But it’s not necessarily these kinds of suffering that hurt, is it? After all, everyone in the world confronts discouragement and decay and disease and death; you are not alone. No, what makes suffering more painful is the fact that so often suffering comes because of your connection to God!
You stand up for what God’s calls ‘right’ and you suffer consequences. Cancer continues its unstoppable spread despite your many prayers. You do not participate with a corrupt boss, but it is you who loses the job while he still makes money. You stand firm on God’s design for marriage, but your beloved child cuts off communication. You make clear trust in God, but the friend treats you like an idiot. You invite the neighbor to worship, but he just laughs. You obey God, but he does not rescue you. You obey God, but the world still hates you. You obey God, but life does not suddenly become carefree without any inkling trace of trouble.
You feel that balance-scale teetering in the heart. ‘Christ’ sits on one end and ‘suffering’ on the other. You are left weighing: Is it worth suffering with Jesus, or is it better to throw him in the dust and move on without his Word ruling your life? The reason why such a thought could even come up in the first place is because our sinful heart thinks that Christ should reward us for following him.
Might our expectations actually contribute to suffering? I mean, you do realize that God never shies away from the reality that you (and I) can suffer as Christians, right? After all, our reading made it pretty clear: I consider that our present sufferings… those unpleasantries exist! And why? [T]he creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Death and decay were never part of God’s intentions; life and immortality were! Yet, Adam and Eve shattered the one simple command God gave: ‘Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.’ As a result, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). Why do hurricanes rip into cities and floods wash away towns? Why do water levels rise and why does water dry up? Why do people oppose Christianity? Why do bodies get sick and break down? Not because God left us! But because sin festers in this world! And a consequence, a wage of that sin is death! (Romans 6:23)
Have you weighed that? Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? If we overlook the existence of sin in this world, if we forget to take into account that sin affects all creation, if we fail to grasp that sin without Christ brings death, then we will fail to see what Christ has accomplished for us.
Jesus does not sit at one end of the scale, unwilling to touch the sufferings in this world. Instead, he came into the world and neutralized them one by one. If we think that God has no idea what suffering is, then look at the cross. See the One who shouldered the load of hell itself so that you will never know what it’s like to suffer eternally. See the One who snapped the neck of death itself so that you will never die eternally. See the One who stomped on Satan’s filthy head so that he could silence those slimy lies eternally.
Christ now sits at one end of the scale, but how overwhelming he is! Able to raise every believer— including your cremated husband and your wife who died from cancer. Able to swallow up guilt so that God finds no spot on you. Able to bring all things to a close by his own powerful might and authority.
When you weigh suffering, Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? Weigh the cause for discouragement. See Christ conquer that cause, that sin. Persevere in this life with patient eagerness.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. ‘Nature’ is pictured as a spectator standing in the crowd outside the Doherty Hotel during the [Clare’s] St. Patty’s parade. She strains her neck and stands on her tip-toes to see— not floats— but you wrapped in God’s glory.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. A woman in labor is usually not smiling. There’s usually shouting and yelling and sweating and pain. But then!— you hear a baby cry and pain suddenly transforms into joy! In childbirth things go from ‘bad’ to ‘better,’ not ‘bad’ to ‘worse.’
Even in creation, you see ‘bad’ knowing there is ‘better.’ Drought and famine is not perfect. Viruses and tumors are not perfect. Down trees and contaminated lakes is not perfect. Diseased deer and invasive species is not perfect. You see these things— but do not dwell on them. Let them be powerful reminders that God will bring all things from ‘bad’ to ‘perfect!’
Not only does creation yearn for Jesus to return, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Because you know what’s coming. You have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The Israelite gladly gave the very first cuttings of his harvest as an offering to God. He did not worry that he gave too much or go without later. Instead, he gave in the confidence that God would provide more. A pastor put it this way: ‘The firstfruit offering was a pledge, a token, God’s down payment, assuring that God would give them the rest of the harvest also’ (from The People’s Bible: Romans, 136).
God has deposited the Holy Spirit in you when you were baptized. Holy Scripture clearly says: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Your baptism is God’s pledge of more to come. You will be wrapped in glory, in pure splendid greatness, forever.
There’s no question about it. God has already adopted you. Jesus signed the legal papers with his blood. The Father has put his seal of approval on that document. And now, God leaves the office and walks down the hallway. We patiently sit in the cafeteria, waiting for his appearing. Because soon the unseen promised will be reality seen.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Patience is difficult— especially today. High-speed internet and on-demand streaming teach us to expect things now. Medicines and hospital offers to remove discomfort now. Cell phones and text messages demand instant response. Our own two feet can take us away from a toxic situation. We live in a world of ‘quick-fix’ solutions to the troubles we face, but God’s many promises in the Bible set our sights on the best yet to come. Not only do unseen promises encourage us, but the actions God has already done prove his seriousness in keeping his Word.
God’s Word anchored Paul Gerhardt through life. I’m really not sure if life could have gotten any worse. What I do know is that Paul Gerhardt wrote some of the most prolific hymns perfectly tying together the Christian’s hope in the face of suffering. Hymns like “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me,” “Jesus, Your Boundless Love to Me,” and “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” sound so strange given what you know about his life. For a man who lost so much he makes clear that he really lost nothing.
Christ dying and rising again has so overwhelmed all suffering that your future is only one of glory. You may be experiencing suffering now. Yet, God’s Word lifts your eyes to what lies ahead and assures you of victory even this present suffering.
Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? Weigh the cause for discouragement. Persevere with patient eagerness.
It might just be the most heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say: ‘But you promised!’
Ah! You did! But you forgot! And now you are too swamped to make good on your word. With the grocery shopping done you bee line home so that you can get the ice cream into the freezer before it melts and dinner on the table before bed. ‘But mom, you promised we would go swimming!’ You have only a few hours left to get the freshly sharpened blade on the chainsaw and clear those dead trees before the sun sets and the monsoon rains roll in. ‘But dad, you promised that we would play catch!’ You sink right into the La-Z-Boy at the end of another exhausting day. Just as silence sets in, you discover a very annoyed-looking spouse standing in the doorway. ‘But you promised a night out!’
So many promises made! So many promises not kept! So, those words ‘I promise,’ can kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door because you cannot rely on people. A promise may seem to offer no guarantee and, as a result, no rest.
Perhaps that’s what you crave at this moment: Rest. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.
In listening to Moses this morning, you find that’s what he really wants— rest! Moses has just spent forty days on Mount Sinai. There, God hands him commands that carve out Old Testament Israel as unique, special, set apart from all other nations. When others see Israel, they would know beyond doubt that this people belong to God. So, how heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping to watch the Israelites now. In the short span of forty days, the high priest crafted a knobby-kneed, feeble cow-calf out of gold. He urges and encourages a worship service for this new god. The celebration quickly spirals so out of control that this people— remember, set apart for God(!)— sink into a raging orgy (Exodus 32:1-8). This mess gives no rest. Instead, it brings some very well-deserved consequences. About three thousand are put to death for their calloused unbelief (32:27-29). The remainder suffer a plague (32:35). The worst consequence is what God says next: Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you (33:3).
Can you just feel the blood drain? No longer will God be visibly, physically present. No more leading as a pillar of cloud by day, no more presence of fire at night. No more purifying bitter water with a finger or wiping away enemies with a hand. No more sitting at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, where Moses could listen and ask. From this point forward Moses would lead millions alone. Developing his own war strategies. Relying on his own wisdom. Hoping for the best. No rest. Just stress and anxiety and burden and fear.
Know the feeling? How come [do you know it]? Why is it that we long for peaceful rest in the first place? You battle anxiety because that one person is going to show up at the Fourth of July get-together. You feel overwhelmed by the phone-call that shared some very life-changing news, almost too much think through at one time. The blood-pressure rises when that Facebook post pops up or when the television camera pans the scene of protests or when listening to the other side talk. Fear ripples through the body when holding that college letter or the monthly bill. Blood boils the instant you discover how someone exploited and abused your trust. What is it that robs us of the restful peace we so desperately crave? Well, what prevented the Lord from leading Moses and the Israelites into the Promised Land? It is the proud, stubborn refusal to admit that the Lord is most worthy of praise. Simply put, it’s sin!
Yes, we can point finger at the crooked criminal, the stubborn sibling, the proud parent, the arrogant arguer who trounce all over God’s commandments and unleash torrents of pain on us. Yet, it’s not just others who bring unrest into life, is it? We carry that same sin-infested heart that also trounces over a holy God.
Do you see that? You (and I) can easily identify how worldly troubles impact us, and yet those worldly troubles are just symptoms of a much deeper problem. The sinful heart within us is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).It does not listen to him. It does not want to pray in trouble. It does not want to love our enemies. It does not want to forgive those who wrong us. It does not want to trust in God’s protection and wisdom. The sinful heart within wants to treat God like another flawed human being who makes a bunch of promises with no intention of actually keeping them. As a result, that sinful heart declares independence from its Maker. It claims that you can handle all of life’s problems on your own because you are just as powerful and perfect as God. The reason we stress out and get anxious and frustrated and cheat and manipulate— the reason we do these things is because we are not God. If that proud, self-reliant attitude rules our heart, then we will never have eternal rest.
Moses could have tried leading millions by his own wit and wisdom, but he would have failed. That’s why Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” When so much makes so little sense, where does Moses turn? To the Lord
He even uses that heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing loved ones say. ‘But God, you said!’ Understand God did not forget his promise to remain with Moses and lead Israel into a new land. Instead, Moses takes hold of God’s own Word and holds him to it! He knows God cannot break a promise. By just speaking a Word of promise, The Lord Gives Moses Rest.
There is no question as to what God will do. In fact, the Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest… I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Why does God do the very things Moses asks? Maybe we point at those words: I am pleased with you and I know you by name. It sounds like Moses behaved so well that God has no choice but to bless him— but that’s not true. God does not respond only when you work hard enough. God does not rescue you because of good behavior. God does not answer because you sweet-talk him. God answers because he is pleased with Moses. Put another way, God in rich, undeserved love delights to give Moses his promise.
If I printed out this selection from Exodus for you, you would see the ‘Lord’ spelled in all capitals. I’ve said it before, that spelling is not a typo; it’s intentional. The ‘Lord’ in all capitals tells you two things about your God. He is (1) serious to punish and (2) even more serious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7). That becomes crystal-clear in Jesus.
Your Lord not only speaks a word of promise, but he actually keeps his word of promise. He is so serious to put an end to the unrest caused by sin that he puts his one and only Son into your world. Your Jesus lets God’s undeserved love lift him above sibling rivalry and family squabbling. Your Jesus lets God’s mighty power steady his heart in the midst of tragedy and death. Your Jesus lets God’s providing remove any worry for clothing and food. In all the things that cause us stress, Jesus relies on God’s perfect commands so that his heart remains untainted for you. You yourself cannot bring real rest to your weary heart, but Jesus can— and he does.
Do you want rest? Do you want relief from the shame that haunts you so often and keeps you awake at night? Do you want peace from the violent, abusive anger that has [seemingly] become all too common? Do you want certainty in world where so many proudly turn their back on their Maker? Then find rest in Jesus. Find rest in the One who died and rose again, so that he could go before you into heaven, not to leave, but to prepare your eternal room (John 14:2-3). The Lord Gives You Rest by keeping a Word of promise.
So, what does that mean for you? Well, child of God, take hold of the Word. Hold it up before God’s face and say, ‘But God, you promised!’‘Call on me in the day of trouble, you will deliver me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Cast your anxiety on me, I care of you’ (1 Peter 5:7).‘All authority in heaven and earth belongs to me’ ‘Surely I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:18, 20). ‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).
Know that these are not just empty words that kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door. Go back to the cross and see that God has kept his promises. He has rescued your soul from trouble, an anxiety-filled demise, has healed your broken heart and restored you. What he has done then, he will continue doing— in his perfect timing, in his pleasure. (After all, he has shown you that he is serious about his Word.)
Heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say. No. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when wrestling with guilt and wondering if God truly loves you, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.
The resolute voice of the Supreme Commander crackled over the radio. In a matter of hours, over 7,000 vessels would storm heavily fortified beachheads. Some 3,500 aircraft would soar over enemy lines. One-hundred-fifty-six thousand [156,000] soldiers armed and ready for battle leaned in to hear their commander’s encouraging voice.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
…In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But… [t]he United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats… Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength… Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons… and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! (http://www.kansasheritage.org/abilene/ikespeech.html)
How do those words strike you? What tone do you pick up? You hear confidence. Positivity. Determination. Yet, did you also catch the unwelcome truth not hidden? Tucked within the message itself is a dose of reality. ‘Your task will not be easy.’
Why say something like that— especially moments before the largest invasion in world history?! Because it is the truth! Combat will be fierce. Opponents powerful. Tactics aggressive. The fight will not be easy. But making expectations known is not meant to frighten. It is meant to remove fear!
Jesus has some very sobering words for those who bring Christ to a world without Christ. ‘Officers might arrest you. Soldiers flog you. Courts condemn you. All will hate you because of me’ (Matthew 10:14-23). How terrifying! That’s enough to keep faith to yourself! Yet, Christ prepares you to bring that message. Christ defends you as you live it. Hear Jesus treat hardship after hardship so that you can Confess Christ with Courage.
Just last week you watched Jesus hand the disciples a delightful task. ‘Go to the lost sheep of Israel and proclaim that the long-promised Savior has come!’ (10:5-7) What wonderful words! Words that lift crushing guilt off of heavy hearts. Words that cheer those who mourn and ache over the brokenness sin caused. Words that proclaim peace with God now and forever! The message of a Savior reunites the world with their God!
Not everyone welcomes it, do they? You stand firm on Scripture’s clear definition of marriage: one biological man and one biological woman committed to one another until death (Genesis 2:24). Still, that puts you at odds with a loved one, and how that hurts! A child avoids you and will not listen to Scripture. Instead, you absorb insults: ‘old-fashioned,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘intolerant. You champion honest work and honest leaders, but a bribe covers over crime. The guilty go unpunished. You, the innocent one, suffer loss, the lack of a fair trial, a lack of justice. You bring the Word of Life so that the world might have life! Yet, so many seem comfortable in their mortality. The daughter will follow her own made-up fantasies of God (as though her opinions make personal beliefs true). Your brother really just does not seem to care what happens when he dies. Your neighbor chirps at you for suggesting that he might go to hell. You thank God for your food, but at the restaurant, you wonder what people might think of you if they watch you pray. After all, your breakfast friends always have something snarky to say about God. The Word of God pressed into your heart, the Word you carry out into the world is not always embraced.
Do you feel that impulse inside? Yes, there’s the desire to simply hide the Words the Holy Spirit has placed on your heart and on your lips. Do not correct the erring child or the spiritually lost neighbor or the flat-out wrong friend. But, that’s not necessarily the impulse I’m describing. Rather, have you ever griped that life would be so much easier if you just change Scripture to say whatever the world wants to hear? Stop holding up Jesus as the exclusive Way into heaven. Stop insisting that we cling to all of the Word. Then opposition would go away.
In verse 24, Jesus has this to say: A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. The teacher teaches and the student benefits from him. The master pays and the servant benefits from him. The message does not belong to you; you did not create it. It is not yours to change. Nor did you start the task of proclaiming Jesus to the nations! It is Jesus who sends you out with his Word. The reason why we feel that tension inside is because the heart veers towards loving the things of this life more than the One who gives us life.
Throughout these difficult verses Jesus underscores this intimate connection you have with him. He prepares you for the challenges of living a Christian life in world without Christ. Yet, he does not do this to frighten, but rather to remove fear. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
Do not be surprised if the world rejects you for the message you carry. They rejected Jesus too! Israel’s Teacher (Matthew 23:8) carries out his task: He exposes a heart divorced from God, in serious need of reconciliation. Yet, the religious pupils gladly tailor God’s commands to meet their worldly agenda for power and prestige. The Master of creation allow his creation to serve him! Yet, the servants consider the Master’s commands burdensome and rebel (Matthew 21:33-46). The Holy One of God wrapped in flesh wins hearts by driving away Satan. Yet, the majority call him: ‘Beelzebub!’ ‘Lord of the flies!’— another name for ‘Satan’! (Mark 3:20-28)
Your Jesus is attacked too— for the same Word that you hold so dearly! Through it all, he remains unafraid. He stands unafraid before Roman Governor Pilate. He stands unafraid when crowds chant: ‘Crucify! Away with him!’ He remains unafraid as soldiers set his cross in place (Matthew 27:11-26). Wicked men were able to kill the body— but no one could kill his blameless soul.
Instead, God raises him from death! The risen Teacher returns to his pupils that Easter morning with words peace. ‘Peace’— the end of all hostility between you (and God). ‘Peace’ for the times we failed to speak up. ‘Peace’ for our love of this world. ‘Peace’ of a restored connection to God.
What is there to fear, dear friends? Jesus died and rose again in order to remove the greatest fear of all time: The fear of dying in hell. Nothing else even comes close to that frightening, dreadful place!
Friends, Jesus knows the tension of holding to the Word in world that resists it. He knows the weight your heart will carry. He makes those realities known— not to frighten you, but to prepare you. He makes known his victory so that you are not scared. Confess Christ with Courage because Christ defends you.
Listen again to his encouraging voice: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Let’s get one thing straight. ‘The One who can destroy both body and soul in hell’ is not the devil. The Bible makes clear: (1) The days of your life rests in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15) and (2) it is God who damns the nonbeliever, but welcomes the believer into heaven (Matthew 25:31-46). The devil does not have that job— or even that ability.
Yes, the world could kill you because they hate message you bring. A message that stresses a need for the Savior! Do you know how many of Jesus’ Twelve disciples died a natural death? Just one. Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Simon, crucified. James, Judas (not Iscariot), and Matthias, stoned. Bartholomew beaten. James and Paul, beheaded. Matthew and Thomas, speared. Only John, the writer of the Gospel, the three letters, and Revelation, lived to an old age— but even then, he died exiled from his homeland!
There may come a time when people barge through these doors, arrest you, and imprison you. There may come a time when someone beats you up or stabs you or throws a rock at your head because of the words coming out of your mouth. Still, Jesus says: Do not be afraid of them. Do not fear the wicked because they cannot stop God. They cannot stop God from calling you ‘Child.’ They cannot stop him from raising you out of the dust of death. They cannot stop him from welcoming you into heaven and putting a ring on your finger and crown on your head. Humanity lacks that power. Christ defends your life for all time!
Yet, what about now? …your life in world rapidly redefining gender and marriage? where many debate the beginning of life and the end of life? …where laws are passed about what words can and cannot come out of your mouth? Well, listen to Jesus’ response: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Did you catch that? God cares about sparrows and hair! Do you? Honestly, so many sparrows exist that you can replace one with another. And hair? You might worry only if it’s leaving! If Jesus cares about forgettable things, then be sure, your life— worth more than a measly bird or strand of hair— will not be forgotten!
In fact, Jesus promises: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Those who find Christ inconvenient, those who plug his Word from ears and chase it out of their hearts, those do not want Christ will get their wish. They will not be with him in heaven.
As for you, Christ has put his Word in your heart. Each Sunday you literally confess: ‘I believe in the Father, Maker of all things… I believe in Jesus, the Savior… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the One who creates and strengthens faith…’ You, together with like-minded believers, confess a belief and trust in our Triune God. Even though this world seems to be harnessing Christianity, you are free to gather here, to confess your faith out loud, to sing and encourage, to listen and be strengthened. Your God feeds you with Words that he does not feed sparrows because he cares about you.
How’s that for a speech? You realize that moving forward with confidence does not happen by removing all reference to danger. Remove a solid dose of reality and run the risk of falling into despair. Make expectations known and remove fear!
Jesus has some very sobering words for you who bring Christ to a world without Christ. ‘All will hate you because of me’ (Matthew 10:14-23). Yet, he equips you to Confess Christ with Courage. Christ prepares you. He makes known his supreme victory over death, the devil (and his empty lies), and a nonbelieving world. He wins. Period. Now, Christ defends you. He applies forgiveness to you. You will never overwhelmed. You will never lose. You will march into victory. What a reason to live, to Confess Christ with Courage.
The popular saying goes: ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ You have experienced history. A global pandemic. A mysterious virus that threatens life. A complete shutdown of hospitals and school systems and factories and businesses. Children at home. Care facilities locked down. Supply shortages. Perhaps some history book will treat this subject in greater detail. Regardless of your age or health, regardless of your job status or school status, this virus has left its mark on you. You will always remember how it affected life. You have experienced history— and, as the popular saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ So, the question is: What have you learned?
That is an important question seeking an equally important answer. Because whether you recognize or not, you did learn something.
For just a moment, think back to the sights and sounds and emotions of the past three months. Empty shelves meant panic shopping and frantic hoarding. Many believed that if they just stockpiled meat and cleaning supplies and toilet paper, they could safeguard personal health. Somehow the lowly facemask became a lightning rod. If you wore one, you wholesaled yourself into paranoia. If you did not wear a facemask, you did not care about the lives of others. (It’s like wearing a facemask only served as some political statement.) Then national and state and global leadership send mixed messages among reopening efforts. Some predict a catastrophic second wave, but others advise venturing out among local business. One organization said that coronavirus transmission was rare, but later claimed transmission is common.
The only reason these headlines appear is because the coronavirus shoved mortality right in your face. Everyone stared at death a little closer than they ever had done before. It brought home the reality that life (or the lives of those near you) had a risk of ending. So, over the past few months you have watched how people respond to crisis; you have witnessed hearts laid bare. What have you learned? In crisis, the heart will reveal its object of trust.
So tell me, in what did many place their trust? Perhaps a television commercial best sums it up. The Pfizer drug company ran this ad: ‘In a time when things are most uncertain, we turn to the most certain thing there is…’ God’s faithful promises, right? Nope. ‘[We turn to] science.’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl0tEfLve1U) The two saviors foisted high were (1) science and (2) government. Scientists must create vaccines. Health organizations must draft guidelines. Government must enforce guidelines. If everyone does their job, then I will survive, my life will not end. Understand, medicine and leadership are tremendous blessings, but science and government cannot stop you from dying.
Is it any wonder you witnessed hysterical fear and explosive anger? Is it any wonder people assumed the worst of others? Is it any wonder some are still edgy, paralyzed for a second wave? Mortality still lingers in your face— and we still have no surefire answer to avoid it. What have you learned? Panic erupts when the heart tries taking the place of God.
Dear friends, what you have seen is a world without Christ offering answers without Christ. Pointing fingers is easy to do, but what about you? What have you (personally) learned through this pandemic?
It really depends your reaction. You may have taken appropriate precautions to protect health (good!), but did fear try convincing you that it was not enough? Did panic flare up because you were afraid of going without food? Did personal views jade your opinions of others? That you automatically assumed the worst? That you wanted nothing to do with that individual? No sports, no school, no graduation, no work. Did you hold these objects up so high that you felt empty when they suddenly vanished? Did rising case numbers and dismal news cause you to sink into hopelessness? Are you pinning all your hope for safety to a vaccine? What have you learned from your handling of this crisis?
Maybe you, like me, learned how much a Christ-less world can influence us. How the world convinced you (and me) that our times rest in our hands. …that those who think differently only want to destroy our health. …that only government and science can provide real rest and real security. A Christ-less world daily bombards us with the notion that Christ is unnecessary.
That is a lie replayed throughout all of history. This faulty idea that weak mortal man can stand toe-to-toe with the almighty immortal God! For forty-plus years, the Israelites journey to a land freely gifted them, under the hand of a God who daily showers the nation with food and wipes away every enemy! For forty-plus years, the eyes of all could look up to God and delight in his constant care, his perfect leading, his unquestionable wisdom. For forty-plus years, hearts could rest in God. He had everything under control.
How quickly that trust shriveled! For forty-plus years, the Israelites experience real trouble. A water shortage (Exodus 17:3). Overwhelming enemy forces (Numbers 14:1-4). Harmful propaganda (Numbers 25:1-9). Poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). Rebellious cliques (Numbers 16). When those troubles flared up, so many sunk into self-trust. Alliances with the enemy. Angry rioting. The notion of giving up.
Time and time again, God did what no one else in the world ever could; he saved his people from a hellish death. God makes it clear: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). The instant the heart sets what God promises off to the side, we have sinned. We have broken a crystal clear command. At that point, God could wash his hands of us and let the curse of death bury us. Instead, God let the curse of death bury Jesus. He shoveled doubt and panic and fear and hysteria and self-reliance and despair onto Jesus until it killed him. And Jesus left our every weakness behind in the grave.
Dear friends, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Are you learning? We have constant need of God’s Word. Constant. Not only one hour each Sunday morning. Not only for a few minutes after breakfast or before bed. Not only when we think about it. We have constant need of God’s Word— because we confront constant trouble, constant temptation, and a constant need for God’s deliverance.
Listen to our reading from Deuteronomy, chapter 11. God says: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Take God’s teachings about his constant care, his promises to work all things for your benefit and stamp them into your heart that it leaves a visible impression.
Actually, God has already left his mark on you. At one time, the Pastor made the sign of the cross on your head and on your heart, marking you as God’s child. The water touching your head presses that cross on you. You carry the completed work of Jesus. He washed away spotty trust. He wraps you in his forgiveness.
What confidence you have for today! If you outlive this virus, then God has graciously extended your time on earth. If you do not survive this virus, then what have you lost? You step into eternity’s paradise, free from all disease and decay (Philippians 1:21-24). Have you learned that truth? You can live every single day staring death in the face without flinching!
That’s good news— good news to share. Teach them [these words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Every newborn infant is born with a sinful nature. The devil will work on that sweet, little baby. He will try convincing that child how God is unnecessary, unloving, uncaring. He will try leading that child to think that God has no impact on life.
Parents and parent-figures, godparents and grandparents, God is using you. He uses your experience with the sinful nature, your knowledge of Scripture, your language to speak answers that the world will never have. So, write [these words] on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many…
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. How many stayed locked up at home absolutely terrified that they could die? How many know-it-alls unleashed words that cannot be taken back? How much gray hair is caused from the stress of trying to control life? No matter how hard the world tries, it will never have an answer for death. To the world, death is the end of all good. So, life is lived clinging to the minutest control you think you hold. What a curse! What a curse to come when a Christ-less world will live forever without Christ!
What blessing to live under God’s answers! When that child asks: ‘What’s this virus?’ you do not have to lie a good picture. The world thinks kids cannot handle death. (I’m not convinced that is true.) What is the point of Sunday School? …home devotions? …you bringing them here [to worship]? …you praying with them? They can handle death because Jesus handled death. Keep pointing that child to Jesus and watch them live under the blessing of his care.
So, dear friends, what have you learned? Did the thought of death drive you into prayer and fill you with the peace of eternal life in heaven (if God desired to call you home)? Did you counter thoughts of shortage by looking at the birds outside and remembering that God cares for you better than they? Sports, graduations, activities, and vacations went away, but did you feel no loss because your true identity is found as a child of God? …a child who rejoices in saving faith? …a child who uses abilities, not for self-praise, but for others to praise God? …a child who can use abilities to serve others? Did the many political approaches to the virus cause you to pray that much more for your leaders— regardless of your political affiliation? Friends, what have you learned?
I learned that I still have lots of room to grow. The devil, a Christ-less world, and my own sinful self will keep tugging me to consider God unnecessary. No matter the amount of years I have had in the Word (I have a four-year Masters of Divinity and have additional credits from continuing education), I will never be at a point where I can go without God’s comforting Word. Until I see God’s face, the ‘Evil-3’ will do all they can to separate me from my loving God. The history of Old Testament Israel teaches me this. How others handled the virus teaches me this. The history of my own poor choices teach me this.
So, dear friends, what have you learned? I pray that through this challenging time you have learned how much life depends on God. I pray that your commitment to hearing, reading, and studying God’s Word has grown. I pray that your desire to regularly gather in worship has increased. I pray that you have identified areas in life where you can grow closer to God and that you will be faithful in acting on those changes. I pray that you Impress These Words on Your Heart.
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.