Hiroo Onoda was a second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. On December 26, 1944 he assumed his post in the Philippine mountains. His orders were simple: hinder American advancement by targeting airstrips and ports. Under no circumstances was he to surrender. Yet, American forces crept further and further inland, forcing Onoda deeper and deeper into the mountains. He carved out a new position and, all on his own, continued repelling police forces and local resistance. Onoda never surrendered. There was just one problem: the War was over. In fact, the War had been over for 29-years.
Can you imagine carrying on your life as though war still rages all around you, when in reality, it does not? Can you imagine living in constant fear of the unknown? …will the enemy overwhelm you? …will you live to see another day? Can you imagine the stress? …your responsibility of making snap decisions? …always standing alert for sudden danger? Can you imagine the sheer frustration? …why no one ever comes to help you? …why no one ever shares updates about the ‘big picture’ of the war effort? …why this war never ends? …is this war really worth fighting anymore? Hiroo Onoda lived in a completely unnecessary way. The War was over! He could enjoy peace and prosperity! The good news never sunk in.
The war is over! (And I’m not talking about World War II.) Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, but we can lose sight of the victory. We can live as though nothing changed. So, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. As you do, Easter Makes Life Make Sense. You Hear God’s purpose for Jesus and you can Apply the facts for life.
In Acts chapter two you find this smattering of people from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual thanksgiving festival. Not terribly spectacular, right? Except they gather fifty-days after Easter and still wait for God to send his Son into the world. They live completely oblivious to what Jesus already accomplished for them!
So, [the disciple] Peter stands up, raises his voice, and speaks loudly and clearly to them: Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you… Well, that name rings a bell. Some watched this ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ teach; others heard the fantastic events attached to this Man. Yet, what the crowds associate most with the [the name] ‘Jesus’ is ‘crucified,’ ‘died,’ ‘buried.’ Just another man who met his end and can be visited in the cemetery. Their attentions have moved on from his ministry!
Peter says, ‘Stop! Think back to Jesus. [He] was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. Do not overlook the obvious: miracles, wonders and signs are visible, you see those sights with the eye. What is seen does not require interpretation. Either you blow out the birthday candles or do not. Either you drive the car or not. Either you get up from the chair or not. You cannot debate if an action happened or not. Many eyes saw mighty acts. Jesus strengthens the crippled, cures the diseased, multiplies food, and raises the dead. No one could debate if those acts happened or not. On top of that, no one could deny these mighty acts surpassed human ability. The point is this: You cannot simply disregard what is seen. Miracles make you wonder (1) who this Man is and (2) for what reason he does these things. Peter says these signs point to something definite: Jesus is recommended by God, which means, God sent Jesus for a specific purpose. You cannot dismiss the One God sent without consequence. You would be opposing God.
But that is precisely what happened! This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. Some of those standing in front Peter were the ones who chanted: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Luke 23:20-21) Others gave silent approval as they watched the Romans nail Jesus to the cross. Whatever the participation this much clear: The crowds rejected the only Savior God sent. They completely ignored God’s purpose for Jesus.
In spite of rejection God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God Almighty, the One who knows all things, also knew that Jesus would die. After all, this is the purpose for Christmas, right? The sinless Son of God is delivered to the world. This is the purpose for Jesus’ circumcision and baptism, right? He shoulders the responsibility of obeying God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4-5). God marks Jesus as his sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb not for some, but for the whole world. A Lamb needed because something is morally and mortally wrong with us. A Lamb God sends for a purpose: to save us!
One thousand years before Easter Sunday King David revealed God’s purpose for Jesus. He said: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Yet, David is not describing himself. That much Peter makes clear. Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For all his accomplishments and success, David still could not grasp victory over death. He died— and his tomb remains. Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne [that is, Jesus], he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay.
These many Jews gathering in Jerusalem acted as though Jesus the Nazarene impacted their lives in no way! That Jesus’ ministry flamed out and could be forgotten. Friends, Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. Go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Apply the facts for life.
You know, throughout this entire pandemic one phrase keeps repeating like a broken record. A phrase smeared on commercials, the media, and governor reports. The phrase? ‘We’ll get through this.’ Says who? Have you thought about that? Who can make good on that promise: ‘We’ll get through this’? We have no guarantee that we will [automatically] conquer this virus. Yes, we hear terrific news that the [virus] curve is flattening (and slowing), but we have no guarantee that a second “wave” does not strike. We have no guarantee that a new disease does not erupt next year. We have no guarantee that the economy instantly recovers or that grocery store shelves are always stocked or the virus just fizzles out. Yes, it stands highly likely the virus goes away— but because of what reason? Because human beings are so smart and we will triumph by our own ability? (We were the ones who could not prevent this whole mess in the first place!) You see, the human heart places an incredible amount of trust in its own abilities. It grows over-confident in what it can manage and control that it thrusts God off the side!
That does not bring any peace, does it? Thoughts of death overwhelm us because you (and I) cannot stop life from ending. Panicked hysteria ripples through your body (and mine) because we cannot make all things work for our good. Feelings of despair keep us awake at night because cling to our own behavior— our helpful actions or kind generosity, thinking this is what God wants from us. Self-reliance treats Jesus as some impotent man who lived, died, and remains dead. Completely unable to help you! That Easter is this onetime celebration stuck in the past. That it remains up to you to obtain real peace.
That kind of living fails to apply Easter to life. Hiroo Onoda hid in the mountains, lived off the land, and fought locals. He was living a war that had been over for decades! He was living in one way of life that was completely unnecessary. He did receive whispers of a new change of life. General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army dropped leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda did not believe the news. His own family dropped pictures from the sky, pleading for his return, but he thought it was a trick. Finally, his commanding officer, Yoshimi Taniguchi, flew to the mountains and ordered Onoda to surrender. He did. Onoda could finally live under the results of peace that had already been in place for 29-years.
Peter shares God’s declaration peace so that you may live under the completed work for the risen and living Christ! This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that. The miracles, wonders, and signs testify that Jesus is the God-approved Son sent for the world. Sent to live in your place (and mine). Sent to carry our fears. Sent to confront our self-reliance. Sent to give us new life. Never once does Jesus question God’s care for him. Even has he hangs on the cross, he commits his life into hands of heavenly Father because he trusts with this unshakable trust that he will not see decay. His body will not lay in a tomb and get stinky and break down. He knows the Father would restore his perfect life as promised— and the Father does!
Apply the facts of the resurrection to life! Jesus has won the victory!— and you get to live under the results. Not cowering in fear over guilt, but certain of God’s forgiveness. Not facing conflict alone, but relying on a God who watches, guards, protects, and keeps you in his hands. Never afraid to confront death alone, but certain that God will open your grave and you will see his face.
The war is over! Jesus lives!— snapping the stranglehold of death. Jesus lives!— holding in his hands the spoils of new life. Easter blazoned an incredibly enormous change for life, a change that remains in effect today.
Easter will continue getting further and further behind us. Yet, go back to the empty tomb. Peer inside. Listen to the angels. Recall the events. Hear God’s purpose for Jesus. The Man crucified now lives! Lives to brings you peace in this life and the life to come now and always. Apply the facts for life. Open your eyes to results Christ wins for you. Easter Makes Life Make Sense.
Do you feel like rejoicing and being glad today? It’s Easter Sunday, but it really does not feel like it, does it? At this moment, you are confined inside, either reading these words off a couple pieces of paper or watching service on a screen. (Probably not your normal Easter habit.) You do not sit in sanctuary beautifully adorned with fragrant lilies and blazing white linens. You cannot feel the piano pound its sweet songs. You probably are not dressed in your snazziest, prettiest, newest outfits. You will not enjoy the classic Easter brunch at church with all those familiar faces and glowing conversations. You will not rejoice with your friends in the presence of your God. The celebration just seems to lack fullness, doesn’t it?
Then, you have those timeless traditions that always happened after worship. Easter dinner with family. Easter egg hunts. Easter basket presents. Those festivities will not take place. This year is different. Instead of creating light-hearted memories of happiness, you may just feel without cheer.
So much has been taken away so quickly. Over the course of just one month, we have gone from no Irish Parade to cancelled sports to cancelled school days to cancelled schoolyear to limited gatherings to no gatherings to no going out (unless necessary) to wiping down your groceries and wearing a facemask. That’s a lot to process in a very short amount of time. All this massive adjustment— on top of everything else you already had going on. The strained relationship. The financial stress and retirement planning. The upcoming wedding. The graduation festivities. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Yes, there will be brighter days in the future, happier days, days that present a reason to rejoice and be glad, but maybe just not today. To rejoice and be glad feels too difficult when there are so many challenges in the world at this moment.
Much like that first Easter, right? You do not see Mary Magdalene and the other women skipping on over to the tomb. No one relishes the fresh morning dew and fragrant lilies. No singing. No brunch. No cheer. That first Easter is dominated by loss. So much has been taken away so quickly.
One sight changes everything: Jesus lives! Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which those women and disciples find themselves has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and Jewish leaders still want Christianity snuffed out. Jesus lives!— and the Romans will do anything just to stop hearing the name ‘Jesus’ (Matthew 27:62-66). Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened (John 20:19). That first Easter audience does not rejoice and live glad because their every single struggle suddenly vanishes. They rejoice and are glad because Easter changes the very foundation of life. Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
One man experiences those words firsthand. Today, Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ breaks out of the prison-hold of death, we focus on Jonah. You probably best know him as the guy swallowed by a great fish. Remember how he gets into that situation?
God hand-selected Jonah for a special mission: ‘Preach against the great city of Nineveh so that they might turn to me’ (Jonah 1:1-2).That’s a problem. Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and Assyria is the capital enemy of Israel! In no way whatsoever would Jonah ever want to help enemy number one. The mission is so repulsive that Jonah literally runs away from God. Instead of heading east to Assyria, he boards a ship sailing due west, travelling in the complete opposite direction. Jonah has absolutely no desire to set his mind on the things of God. He acts only to satisfy self-interest.
For a moment, Jonah gets what he wants! Until a storm rips away his control. Billowing waves heave, rain pelts, whipping winds gust. The sailors strain for shore, but make absolutely no headway. They dump heavy cargo, but the swells swamp the ship. Certain death confronts the crew. Jonah finally admits: ‘I am running away from the God of heaven, who made the [now-storming] sea and the land… Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm.’ … Then the sailors took Jonah and threw him overboard (1:9-15).
How does Jonah find himself inside a fish? He disobeyed God. God spoke and Jonah literally ran away. That behavior comes from a rebellious heart. Spiritually speaking, Jonah did not want to hear God. He did not want to obey God. He wants God gone. So God grants his wish. Jonah is banished from God’s sight! He plunges into the heart of the sea, sinking lower and lower, the sheer weight of water presses down on him, squeezing him tight, crushing him. His fate is sealed: He would sink into the open jaws of his grave.
That’s nothing to rejoice about, is it? Death is no friend. Perhaps that truth has taken on fuller meaning. This coronavirus puts people at risk of death. There remains a possibility that you can infect loved ones with a life-threatening illness. There remains a possibility that you yourself could become sick and even die. Today’s medical technology has made incredible, but doctors still cannot guarantee to automatically save life. That’s unsettling. At this moment in time you (and I) are getting a close-up view of the grave.
What makes it even more unsettling is that all the comforts which we considered so important are not delivering us. (1) How often sports took priority over Sunday worship. Cheering on a child from the sideline or letting your mind drift onto the big game while at church. Our hearts considered a simple score so important that it attaches value to that activity. (2) How often jam-packed schedules shove time with God (either in prayer or devotion) off to the side! Your prayer-life shriveled up because the television show came first. Your children do not know what happens when a person dies because you did not think it important to teach them. (3) How often self-worth is invested in money and fading milestones. I mean, just one month ago you could list what you considered important, but the whole list is almost wiped out. All those things our hearts consider so important that it sacrificed God— they’re all gone and you (and I) are still here. What good do those priorities serve you now?
Is it any wonder you witness fear and hysteria and panic? Run from God and face eternal death alone.
If you find it difficult to rejoice and be glad this morning, then reset your focus. Listen to Jonah speak: To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. Jonah’s actions tossed him into death, but God, in his infinite mercy did not let Jonah get what he deserved. Instead, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (1:17).
Do you realize from where Jonah prays? Inside the fish! He does not mourn, he gives thanks. The Lord lifts him up from depths of death. He has done the same for you!
Jesus has stepped into Jonah’s life, into your life (and mine). He is sent to preach to the world— including to those who hate him and would kill. He is tempted to cherish the treasures of this world, to elevate wealth and status and power. He sees disease and deformity and death. Never does he run away from God. Instead, he comes to do his will (Hebrews 10:5-7).
God’s will set Jesus on the Good Friday cross. There, Jesus marches after your heart that had wandered into death, after my heart that had wandered. He sinks into the pit of death. His life stops. God makes Jesus pay for our despair. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man [was] three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Early Sunday morning, the stone rolls away from the tomb and out steps Jesus— fully alive! He holds your life brought back from death. ‘Because I live,’ he says, ‘you also will live’ (John 14:19).
Despair No More! The empty tomb means the Lord lifts you up from depths of death. Christ has risen! Risen to bring us from death to life! With that good news the Lord anchors you to his salvation.
That word ‘salvation’ means ‘deliverance.’ When applied to God it describes the only deliverance that truly matters (or the best deliverance there is): ‘deliverance from death in hell.’ When you (and I) hear: ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation,’ it means, God ‘delivers you from death in hell.’
This where you stand today, you stand delivered from death in hell. That’s why Jonah sings: But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation [eternal deliverance] comes from the Lord.
Does it feel like it? Christ rose, but the world is far from perfect. You hear about disease and sickness, death and despair. Even in the past, you heard war and unrest, financial collapse and frayed relationships. Christ rose, but struggles did not suddenly vanish. Not to mention all the personal challenges you face. The upcoming wedding. Moving out on your own and the empty nesting. The first Easter without a loved one. Christ rose, but these significant milestones still exist.
So does Easter. The fact that Jesus leaves his tomb means your guilt before God has been wiped away (Romans 4:25). A room is prepared for you in heaven (John 14:2-3). At the right time, God’s angels will carry you to your heavenly home (Luke 16:22). Your future changed. Christ rose and that means you will live forever on high.
That reality is fixed. Firm. Steady. Constant. It never changes. The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even in tears you have a firm footing. Your husband who died trusting in Jesus as Savior spends this Easter with his triumphant Lord. One day you will too will gather around the triumphant Savior! Not just that, nothing will stop Jesus from raising you (and me) from the dead. Jesus himself makes clear: A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out… those who have done evil will rise to be condemned… and those who have done good [those who believe] will rise to live (John 5:28-29).
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, even when all these activities are stripped away, you really have lost nothing. Parents, God has handed you the opportunity to teach your children about the God who holds the keys of life! No child fears knowing that Jesus will bring them to heaven. Even with older children you can connect the victory of life more closely to today’s settings. Much is taken away, but that allows you (and me) to focus on what is truly important in this world. Prioritizing life with God!
The Lord anchors you to his salvation (his saving work). That means, you hold open access to approach the Almighty for anything, anytime. The God who gave his very own Son into death for our eternal benefit, why would stop caring about you now? I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Despair No More! ‘The Lord anchors you to his salvation.’
Just like that, joy! Excitement! Worship! Still, the world in which generations of those celebrating Easter has not changed one bit. Jesus lives!— and you still encounter challenges. Jesus lives!— and you still confront death. Jesus.’ Jesus lives!— and life is still threatened. We do not rejoice and live glad because every single struggle suddenly vanishes. We rejoice and are glad because Christ defeated every single fear, every single enemy once and for all time. He hands you that victory! Despair No More! The Lord lifts you up from depths of death. The Lord anchors you to his salvation.
The elevator doors whoosh open. Stephanie looks out, but this is not her floor. She steps back in and scoots off to the side as this droopy-faced, wrinkly seventy-something-year-old man enters. The doors slide shut and up they go.
The man looked a little strange. His obviously-dyed-black hair reached his shirt collar. (Not really the haircut for older men.) Speaking of which, a flashy sport coat covered a plain black t-shirt. His slim-cut jeans made his legs look like wrapped sausages. This man visibly carried decades life experience. Soon, those elevator doors opened again. Stephanie reached her floor and stepped out. Elevator doors shut and up went that man.
A co-worker watched Stephanie step out. Eyes bugged. Mouth gaping open. ‘Do you know who was in the elevator with you?’ ‘No.’ ‘That was Mick Jagger! You rode the elevator alone with Mick Jagger!’
Stephanie had no idea she stood right beside Mick Jagger. He wore nothing to suggest that he was the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. No paparazzi crowded the elevator, no one even took pictures with the guy! In fact, he was not even with his manager or inner circle. Just him alone tending to some business. Stephanie missed out on an awesome opportunity to know him better. She did not see the man behind the appearance.
Today is Palm Sunday, which means, we are tracing the final days leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem and spends all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the temple, and if not there, then at the house of his friends, Mary and Martha (Mark 11:11). He uses these final hours teaching his disciples, increasing their knowledge of his saving plan, and bolstering confidence as they take the Word to heart. Because the week ahead will be tough. You may feel emotionally (and physically) drained from all this commotion about a virus. The disciples will feel even worse. Maundy Thursday will come, and after celebrating the Passover, an armed mob will snatch Jesus away. By Friday, they will either see their naked friend dying on a cross or they will hear of his demise. So, today, Palm Sunday, prepares them and us for what lies ahead. Do not lose of sight of your Savior—who he is and what he comes to do. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
The gospel of Matthew records the events of that triumphant day. Starting at chapter 21, verse one, it reads: As [Jesus and his disciples] approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
Jesus gives instructions, yes, but do you see what he just did? He plainly tells the disciples what lies ahead! Understand, Jesus had not traveled on ahead, cased the place, and now returns with a report. He gives a glimpse of his divine power. Remember, Jesus is not merely a man; he is also true God. As God, he holds the power to heal, control nature, read hearts, and reveal thoughts and the future. Simply put, as God, Jesus knows all things happening in all places at all times. Giving instructions like he does, provides a reminder of who he truly is. The One preparing to enter Jerusalem is God himself! (Keep that in mind as you hear Matthew continue his account.)
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet [Zechariah]: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
Is that how you picture the majestic grandeur of kingly procession? Stand on main street— and here comes Queen Elizabeth. Hunched over on a grayish, fuzzy-haired, short donkey, hooves clippity-cloppiting down Hamburger Hill. No jeweled crown or royal gown. Some dash out the front doors and huddle around her; others zip by her running errands, driving home. Would you expect this kind of royal arrival? Of course not! Queen Elizabeth plans a trip to Clare, Michigan, and you have long lines of glistening motorcades and swarming security. Crowds pack the streets; helicopters hover overhead. If you even get to see the queen, gems and gold twinkle off her manicured appearance.
That’s what you expect: dominance, power, grandeur. But this? Gentle? Humble? Riding a donkey? Him approaching you, not you approaching him? What king acts like this? ...Honestly? The King we need.
Remember, Jesus prods the heart with a reminder: He is God. As God, he knows all things. That means, he knows that you (and I) do not always take his Word so seriously.
Oh yes, we might try to cover that fact up, but Jesus sees right through the charade. He knows how the heart places high value on status. When you seek self-praise because of your [grand]child’s achievements. When you feel powerful because of the number attached to your bank account. When you gloat, thinking your own might keeps you safe. He knows the pleasures your heart secretly craves. The passionate thrills of intimately confiding in someone not your spouse. The bloodthirsty revenge that seeks to humiliate others and exalt yourself. The never-ending greed that thinks this one object will finally satisfy to the point of never needing ever again! Jesus knows when and where and how often the heart throws rocks at his commands, plugs its ears to his Word, and spits at his place in your life (and mine).
It’s a wonder Jesus that does not storm into Jerusalem as the King he truly is. That he does not roar down main street riding a thunderstorm as his chariot. That legions of angels do not blast their trumpets and a gilded throne does not thump down. If Jesus arrives as God Almighty, then who can stand?!
Instead, Your King Comes to You. Catch that? You make appointments to meet with the queen or the President, but Jesus comes to you.
What sight to behold! Jesus enters Jerusalem not as mighty warrior-King, but a King going to work. A donkey is a beast of burden, a work-animal. Jesus does not even ride a grown animal, he rides its young, never-before worked child. He rides something lower than a low-class work-animal. He does not arrive to thump down divine authority. Your King comes to go to work. He shoulders the commandments of God we are to keep. Never once griping that he deserves better honor and respect. Never once grabbing at gold and crowns. Never once considering about destroying the arrogant leaders. He sets himself under God’s plan to be our Savior. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace so that he can bring deliverance
Matthew continues telling the day’s events. The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘save us, please!’ That choral song comes from Psalm 118:25-26: O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Lord has delivered us, hasn’t he? Jesus fully knows what to expect in Jerusalem. In fact, three times he reveals the future [again] for his disciples: We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus knows Jerusalem’s powerful religious leaders approved his arrest (John 11:57). He knows many want him dead. He knows these cheering crowds will soon embrace a new chant: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Matthew 27:22-23) Still, Jesus rides towards the cross, knowing full well that instrument of torture will tear his life away— but not without his permission first.
Mark this well: Jesus rides into the hands of death; he puts himself there. He never loses control. The One who comes from King David’s family tree is the One God appointed to establish an eternal kingdom. Jesus has every intention doing just that.
When we lived separated from Jesus, stuck in a kingdom that only led to death, Jesus saved us. With his spiritually rich life, he marches into death. He set down his perfect obedience to every commandment in our spiritual column. He scrubs away our rebellious attitudes. He trims away the passing pleasures of this life. He covers over filth with royal robes. When he rises from death, he sets a crown on your head, marking you as a citizen of his kingdom. Hosanna! Save us, please! And Jesus has. Behold, Your King Comes to You to bring deliverance.
Your King Still Comes to You, still bringing deliverance. Not that you ever lost it, but that he reminds of your membership in his kingdom. He reminds you that you have been delivered from death, from the results of sin, from the power of the devil. This is where you now stand: in a column marked: ‘Delivered.’
To drive that point home we sing those words: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Our hymnal puts those words to song and we sing them right before receiving the Lord’s Supper.
The King sets you at his royal table. There, he gives you his body and blood together with the bread and wine. He make a royal announcement: ‘My life given and shed to benefit your life.’ He repeats the end of hostilities between us and God. He lets us depart with a word of peace: ‘Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God.’ Your King Comes to You, still, in the Lord’s Supper, bringing his deliverance.
How that impacts life! Jesus still knows all things. He knows our secret regrets. He knows the gnawing shame. He knows the feelings of unworthiness. He knows how desperately we want the past to remain hidden from. him. He knows how we scramble to find something good in ourselves. Still, Your King Comes to You with a word of peace: ‘That’s forgiven. I see it all, I know it all, it’s forgiven!’ The next time we join in singing those words, envision Your King Come to You, bringing his deliverance.
Do not lose of sight of your Savior— who he is and what he comes to do. Do not let the world’s troubles cloud out the majesty your Jesus holds. Do not let sin shame you into despair.
Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
Pastors preach. Right? Roll out the big Family-Feud game board and ask: ‘Name something a Pastor does’ and the number one answer would be: ‘Preach.’ A congregation calls him to that service. To take God’s Word, explain and apply it.
Starting in Matthew chapter 5 all the way through to chapter 7, Jesus preaches. He takes God’s Old Testament teachings, explains them and applies them. He starts with a theme: Blessed are You! Then, two key points explain why: (1) for Christ fills your soul and (2) for Christ gives you the kingdom. So, that means, you are hearing a sermon on a sermon— and not just any sermon, but Jesus’ sermon. Full disclosure: Jesus preaching is the best; it’s leagues better than anything I can possibly come to preaching. So, what do you expect from me? Because I cannot improve his words.
Maybe that’s a good place to start: Confronting what I cannot do. Some title Jesus’ sermon: ‘The Beatitudes.’ First— do you know what a ‘beatitude’ is? (Hint: it’s not an ‘attitude,’ some emotional response. Therefore, this is not a sermon on attitudes you must ‘be.’ Be happy. Be helpful. Be kind.) A ‘beatitude’ is a ‘declaration of blessings.’ (see: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/beatitudes)
That leads to another question: How do we define ‘blessing’? (Another hint: a ‘blessing’ is not ‘getting good stuff,’ like money or toys.) ‘Blessing’ means ‘to receive God’s favor, his approval.’ The man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners is ‘blessed.’ He does not stand condemned. He holds God’s pardon (Psalm 1:1).
So, Jesus lists fortunate situation after fortunate situation. Just listen:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”
Do those situations sound favorable? Blessed are the poor in spirit. No, not low-income. Not when you lack money. Jesus spotlights spiritual poverty. You will need at least $4,100 just to get into today’s Superbowl. (Some will pay $50,000 for their club ticket. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/super-bowl-tickets-2020-cheapest-most-expensive-seats/g0gzhwn2rbyp1u2w1exx1z3oq) Can you afford that?
God sets heaven’s admission price at: absolute moral purity. Think about that for a moment. Never ever trust in wealth. Never toss aside God’s Word. No cursing, no jealousy, no boastful pride, no arguments, no greed. Be this always! (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48) Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365-days a year, from the instant of conception until the moment you die. God finds no fault. Have you reached that level? Have you even come close to that standard in just the past hour? Then, there remains the awful reality that each of us are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1). We start life already short! Entrance into heaven lies light-years out of reach! It costs too much! Here, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate is your spiritual bankruptcy!’
Then he says: Blessed are those who mourn. Have you ever tried saying that to a grieving family? ‘Oh, you’re so fortunate, so blessed!’ No! We ache too! We ache because we confront the devastation sin wreaks on the world. Death came to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12). The miscarriage hurts because my child inherited my sin and sin’s deadly consequences! The casket holds yet another person who failed to be sin-free. That casket thunders sin’s deadly consequences! As if death does not cause enough pain, you (and I) still confront the sinful nature. The sinful nature is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). The toddler hollering at you is not innocent. She reveals a hatred to honor his father and mother (Exodus 20:12). The adult child lets his intelligence sit over God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-29). Society claims a right to shake its puny fist at God’s one-woman, one-man marriage commitment. Look around and you find plenty of evidence that the sinful heart wages war against a holy God. Still, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate is your sin-caused sorrow!’
He goes on: Blessed are the meek. The gentle, the humble people. How privileged you are giving to charity, but the lazy take advantage of your generosity! How fortunate to work hard and honest, but then the worthless co-worker trashes your reputation. How blessed to hunger and thirst to ‘do’ God’s righteousness, but never feel satisfied. You call daughter about church, but she sees the Caller ID and lets the phone ring. You promise self-control for the umpteenth millionth time, but the booze, the drugs, the addiction gains the upper hand. Yes, Jesus says: ‘How fortunate when you fail to be perfect. How blessed when others trample all over you, even as you serve me.’
Beatitudes? Statements of blessing? Of favor? Of approval? It really does not sound like Jesus gives anything favorable! He only pokes at the soul’s sore spots and makes clear: ‘You will encounter trouble.’ Beatitudes sound like statements of misery.
That is precisely how these words appear if we divorce Christ. Yes, Jesus pinpoints limitations; he exposes our weaknesses. He highlight when and where we fall short. Understand, not that you (and I) despair, but that you (and I) refocus. That we find real strength.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You (and I) who stood morally bankrupt, covered in festering sins, held under Satan’s powerful grip. Not one inkling of a chance to stand before God in heaven. How fortunate, how blessed that we do stand before God. That we do have heaven because we have received God’s favor. Want proof? Jesus is here. Preaching. He sits in your imperfect world, and he walks among sin’s devastation. He sees those with crippled limbs and incurable disease. He watches false teachers feed people lies. He even stands outside a tomb holding his dear dead friend Lazarus. Jesus lives in our world— but he is not weak. He is not poor. He is rich. His heart shimmers with absolute moral purity. His hands give selfless love. His mouth preaches faith-building forgiveness. Simply put, Jesus does the Father’s righteousness.
He takes that righteousness and pours it out on the cross. He pours out his absolutely morally pure life into your heart (and mine). He fills us completely that we overflow.
So, yes, Blessed Are You, for Christ fills your soul. Superbowl ticket? Probably not. Entrance into heaven? Yes! He puts the priceless ticket of eternal life into your hand—paid at the cost of his own blood. That makes you a recipient of God’s favor. Blessed Are You, for Christ fills your soul. Blessed Are You, for Christ gives you the kingdom.
You heard that right. These beatitudes are not conditions. (If you show mercy, then you will receive mercy.) No! You already stand blessed. That is what you are. Blessed! Fortunate! Favored by God! So naturally, you, ‘the blessed ones’ showcase God’s blessings.
Listen again to Jesus’ sermon:
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
These words describe you! Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. You (and I) are the merciful people who show mercy. Mercy, that is, demonstrating sincere compassion. Yes, the trash-talking, back-stabbing co-worker hurts you. Yes, some able-bodied people might take advantage of welfare and your generosity. Remember this: you (and I) did not deserve God’s mercy. When our actions hurt God, his compassionate heart wiped clean your heart. When we took advantage of God’s kindness, his tender arms embraced you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That is mercy.
God puts us in a position to demonstrate mercy (1) as you are able and (2) without seeking any repayment. We demonstrate compassion for physical needs, but even more, spiritual needs.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. That’s you— pure in heart. You will God one day! Yes, the sinful nature still wants to wallow in filth, but God keeps washing that heart clean. You keep praying: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God (Psalm 51:10). Let your words be my delight. Let me remember them. Let me live them.’
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Peacemakers do not avoid conflict. They try to end conflict. Yes, the husband might have said something terribly insulting. You can lash out, but will only make your relationship worse. Yes, those parents might be overbearing, but rebelling will not help. Yes, blame others for your problems, but that does not correct your future. Christ literally gave himself— his time, his convenience, his heart. All this to bring peace with God. We are recipients of that peace. We make peace when our hearts align with God’s Word and as we can bring others to line up with that same Word.
Yes, the world might look at you strange. A child calls you overbearing. A friend considers you a pushover. Their hearts do not have God’s blessing. They do not see the benefit of listening to their Maker.
Still, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. What makes you blessed? Well, what is the common denominator? Why does child calls you a bigot? Why do so-called intellectuals call you ‘weak-minded?’ Why do coworkers openly mock your beliefs about sex, drugs, and booze? Why do you encounter conflict? Because of Christ. You did create a set of personal beliefs. You cherish Jesus’ teachings.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. What joy to know that trouble may come because you are connected to Christ! Even the world sees that connection and tries to break it, but cannot! The world lacks the power to do that! What can the world take from you, the Christian? Can he keep Jesus locked in heaven? Can he prevent the world’s judgment? Can he hinder Jesus’ eternal separation? No! God’s prophets were attacked, but God sent more. Those prophets exchanged earthly life for heavenly life. How blessed! For Christ gives you the kingdom!
This is a sermon on a sermon— and not just any sermon, but Jesus’ sermon. I cannot improve on it. That’s alright. Because it leads me back to Jesus’ words. It leads me to trust in his might.
Much like life. My inabilities are completely filled by Christ. All I need I have in him. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Strength to live a Christian life. When I need more strength, I go to these words to take in what he has done for me. His kingdom is mine! I have it all! I lack nothing! How blessed is that?! As one who holds God’s favor, I live under that favor in every circumstance of life. How Blessed are You, for Christ fills your soul and Christ gives you the kingdom.
Well, if the study is accurate, about 130-million Americans (40%) made a New Year’s resolution last Wednesday. That’s about one out of every three Americans. One out of every three people formed a firm commitment to change at least one area of life.
You realize, change reacts to the past. You may reflect on the year past, identify a particular behavior, recognize how harmful it might be, and set out to change it. You look back and see the fast-food adding weight. That is not good. So, you set out to replace junk-food with healthy food. You discover strained relationships and set out to be more patient and forgiving. You identify a lack of strength and so you schedule daily exercise. A resolution strives to end harmful behavior and start a beneficial lifestyle.
We could call this process: ‘Vision.’ ‘Vision’ lays out a plan to reach a goal. With a goal set, vision sees what lies ahead. Vision provides guidance.
Do you have a clear vision on what the future holds? Do you have a clear vision of the impact of your day-to-day life? Do you have a clear vision on your identity? In this particular year, you gain perfect vision. On the one hand, I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ With all joking aside, God Gives You 2020 Vision. With his Word he provides perfect sight for the year ahead. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.
That is such a vital truth that God does not wait to reveal it. Immediately after the opening greeting (‘From Paul, to the Ephesians. Grace and peace to you.’) erupts this praise: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places[.] ‘Blessed be God,’ that is, ‘Praise God!’ Why? Because he showers never-ending blessings on you. Understand, God is not pointing at your Christmas presents or your children and grandchildren or your house or car, job or retirement. Things on earth may benefit you; they may touch your emotions, but they cannot touch your soul. (And if they cannot touch your soul, then how valuable are those earthly things?)
God zeroes in on spiritual blessings streaming down from heaven. Spiritual blessings, like, the benefit of spending eternity in paradise, completely content and satisfied, free from pain and heartache. Spiritual blessings, like, having peace in the face of death, joy in the midst of misery, strength in trouble. These tremendous blessings belong to you because of the supreme blessing found in verses 4 and 5. [H]e chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will[.]
God aligns our focus on this magnificent reality: God chose to adopt you. That means, at one time you (and I) did not belong in God’s family. You (and I) were outsiders, people who shared no ownership with God. For example, it would be weird if I gave you a big hug and called you ‘Mom’ or if I opened up your shed, fired up the snow blower, and said, ‘I got your driveway dad!’ or if I walked into your bedroom and said, ‘I’m going to play with some of your toys, sis.’ I am not part of your family. I do not share rights to your property. No intimate, emotional bond or physical bond exists between me and you. That is how we started life: Having no possession of God’s love. Our future was dark and dead.
So, God illuminates this tremendous truth: Before the creation of the world, before life began, God chose you to belong in his family. Understand that well: You did not chose God (read also John 15:16). Do you find any mention about you ‘choosing’ Christ or you ‘accepting’ Christ here? No! Holy Scripture makes it explicitly clear: [H]e chose us. God selected you out of the world’s orphanage. He gave you the family name: ‘Christian.’ He dressed you in new, clean clothes and shoes. He hands you a key to heaven and a cellphone with his number in it. He readies your heavenly room. God chose to adopt you.
That is the vision God holds before your eyes (and mine). This is what God wants you (and I) to see. He wants you to see your identity as a child of God. He wants you to see this because so much blurs that vision.
For many the new year focuses on self-improvement. (What can you do to better your life on earth?) That thinking can easily consume your attention. So many consider church as a self-help place. Some hope to hear a message that will instantly heal strained relationships. Others think that being here will provide good luck for the week ahead. Still others seeking moral improvement (that is, how to be better person). Do you realize the Bible never obsesses about those matters? The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal how to live happy and wealthy today. It never teaches ‘7-Steps for a Stronger Marriage’ or ‘5-Secrets to Greater Wealth’ or ‘Unlock a Better You Now.’ It never teaches: ‘How to Make America Great’ or ‘What Has Happened to Families?’ God gives the Bible in order to give you vision— and not just any vision, but a vision for heaven.
Still, there always remains a little part of us that exchanges the eternal for the worldly. A little part of us that considers the temporary more valuable than the eternal. A little part that makes life all about ‘me,’ and ‘my’ pleasures, and ‘my’ pursuits. Friends, real purpose is never found without God. Without God stands death, life outside his family forever.
That is why God immediately stresses where Christians have their standing. In fact, God repeats it four times in four verses! He chose us in Christ. He adopted you through Christ. He gives you grace through the Beloved Christ. God cannot stress life’s fullest vision enough. He points you (and me) to Christ!
That Christ-Child born Christmas Day does not come so that the poor have some money. He does not arrive so that the arguing religious leaders are silenced. He does not come so that families get along. He comes to make you (and me) (1) holy and (2) blameless. He holds the cross before your eyes so that you clearly see that point. Eternity is so important that God wraps himself in human flesh, takes off our filthy life and washes it with his innocent life. His innocent blood scrubs away worldly ambition. His single-minded focus on heaven covers over every instance our hearts fall in love with this world. He removes every spiritual stain so that God sees you ‘holy,’ that is, without fault. God sees you ‘blameless.’ As the Judge of the universe, God stares at you, but finds no charges. He slams the holy gavel and cries out: ‘Innocent!’ This is how you stand before God today.
How do you know this applies to you? Well, a few minutes ago you heard: [Y]ou also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). God stamped you with a seal. In baptism, he stamps you with his name— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a pledge, the contract God signed to adopt you. You now belong to him.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. He takes Jesus’ birth and the cross, pieces them together so that you gain a clear vision of identity. Because of Jesus God chooses to adopt you. That is your identity today. Since this is who you are, it shapes where you go from here. The future is no secret. God Gives You 2020 Vision as God enlightens your future.
Our closing verses say: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him[.] God reveals your adoption, but repeats it. He repeats it so that you might (1) remember it and (2) better understand it. For example, in grade-school you might have memorized every state with its capital. You remembered it so well, but now you have forgotten. What you once knew, you forgot.
God does not want you to lose sight that you are his adopted child. So, he sends the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom and revelation. Real wisdom acknowledges the poisonous devastation sin wreaks on the world and how Christ is the antidote. God reveals this truth in the Bible.
You will sharpen your vision for a heavenly future by remaining in the Word of God. That might mean carving out time for a devotion each day or spending a few moments with God in prayer. You get to center your thoughts, your heart, your mind on what God teaches is right and true. That means you get to evaluate your time and consider if you might attend Bible Class. In class, you get to examine life’s questions through the scope of the Word. You will lose nothing by attending; you will only grow more. That means, as God’s child, you keep worship your priority. As someone who loves God, why would you want to make excuses to stay out of worship? Instead, as God’s adopted child, you want to make reasons to be with your heavenly Father. As you remain in the Word, your knowledge of God grows and your trust in him strengthens. You have 2020 vision that sees heaven as your eternal goal and you, a child of God, who walks towards that goal. God, through his Word, enlightens your future. [I pray that] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints[.] Unending life with Jesus lies ahead— and you can see it clearly.
Yes, this year happens to be 2020. So I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ In all seriousness, God Gives You 2020 Vision. He provides perfect sight for the year ahead. (1) See God choose to adopt you. In sheer love, he brought you into his family. Jesus lived a perfect life and the Holy Spirit applies it to you. So, you stand as God’s adopted child. Since this is how you now appear, (2) See God enlighten your future. God uses his Word to sharpen sights on your eternal goal. He points you to heaven and leads you there as you remain in his Word—hearing it and shaping life around it.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.