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.
‘Do not test my patience!’ That warning hissed out of the snapping turtle’s gaping jaws. Keep stretching out your hand and feel the vice-grip bite.
‘Do not test my patience!’ Mom’s warning cut through children’s laughter. If the bedroom remains a mess, then expect no more television (and gaming) privileges.
‘Do not test my patience!’ The deputy’s cruiser perched in the highway median. Race over the speed limit and the strong arm of the law will stop you.
‘Do not test my patience!’ That warning is a dance of sorts, isn’t it? One side claims a right to step beyond set expectations without consequences. The other side can actually make threats happen. One side stands weak, the other holds power. So out comes the warning: ‘Do not test my patience!’ Do not try determining how long I will wait before I make my words a reality. Still, the powerless dare the powerful.
Throughout our midweek services we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, and still challenges supreme power. Proud hearts completely disregard the consequences that comes from the Powerful One. Instead, the arrogant dare God to take action: ‘He Saved Others, but Cannot Save Himself!’
At this moment, Jesus really does look quite powerless. Roman soldiers had forced their will on Jesus. Powerful hands pin down arms and legs as a hammer drives nails through hands and feet. Once finished, strong men pull on ropes, lifting the cross into place. Satisfied, they take a seat and start parceling out his clothing while also supervising the execution (Matthew 27:35-36). The sight is pretty clear: Jesus is not leaving alive. These mighty men have the power to make sure that happens. They feel confident in the control they have.
Those passing by the cross also feel pretty bold. They spit out insults, saying whatever they want without fear of repercussion. I mean, Jesus’ hand is nailed down; he will not you pop in the mouth. Jesus could rain down insults, but bystanders are not the ones dying; they are free to go home. They can throw stuff at Jesus and he cannot chase them. The One who claimed the ability to reconstruct the temple in three days does not look to have the power to come down from the cross (27:39-40).
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
What more proof do they need? The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders watched Jesus straighten out a man’s shriveled, crippled hand (Mark 3:1). A blind man now cured once stood in front of them. He does not know how his eyes work now, but he does know that Jesus fixed them; he keeps pointing these leaders at Jesus (John 9). Lazarus, dead for three days, wrapped in linens, most likely stinky by now, walks out of his tomb alive! (John 11:38-44) The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders have witnessed this sheer power with their own eyes!
The truth smacks them in the face: Jesus has saved others! He has restored life and limb— and if he can do that, then Jesus can come down from the cross! If can leave the cross, then he is no mere mortal. Jesus is who he claims to be: Jesus is God.
As God, that ranks Jesus over humanity and sets every heart under his expectations. In spite of clear truth, mockers invite God’s judgment. They confront God’s infinite power and eternal presence and still dare him to execute his threats, to keep his Word. The smug little heart within taunts, ‘Prove it. I dare you.’
That attitude arrogantly believes that Jesus is this powerless wimp. That we mere mortals may freely break God’s commandments without any consequence. That God will not will punish us, he will not send us to hell. He’s bluffing. He will not do that.
That conclusion is based on what? Because those miracles do demonstrate Jesus’ power and Jesus does fit the description of God’s long-promised Son. The sinful heart does not submit to God. It will not accept God’s authority until God proves power by taking action. Sin dares God to come down from heaven and stop it.
What if Jesus did what the crowds dared? Nails pop out, ropes slip off, he steps down and stands before them? Be sure, Jesus could have come down from the cross. That action would prove him to be God— quite undeniably at that. Then what kind of Savior would wicked people meet? Not a Savior, but a wrathful Judge.
That is the reason Jesus remains on the cross. Mockers invite God’s judgment, but The Savior holds back God’s judgment. He Saved Others because He Did not Save Himself.
Yes, Jesus looks completely powerless. It appears the Romans can outmuscle him, that bystanders get away with insults, and religious leaders can twist God’s teachings without problem. Yet, look at the cross again. Jesus reveals real power in a different way, a way that even today’s society considers weak and helpless. God had every reason to step foot on Calvary and rain down judgment from on high. To silence every boastful mouth, to crush every proud heart. God does unleash his wrath, but it never touches you. It strikes Jesus instead. The Savior holds back God’s judgment.
God appointed him for this task. Remember those prophecies? The religious leaders did not. The prophet Isaiah said: Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus puts God’s Word into action— even when that Word demands his death. So, the King of Israel hangs. He hangs from the cross as the Savior God sent—and what Savior we have!
God is pleased with his life. He is pleased that Jesus never dared God to take action, but rather set himself under God’s commandments. He is pleased that Jesus never questioned God’s threats, but rather obeyed out of sheer love. He is pleased that Jesus never challenged God’s love for him, but rather considered each promise as good as kept. Jesus absorbs the full brunt of God’s fiery wrath, enduring the punishment we brought upon ourselves and paying it off in full. He Saved You by not Saving Himself. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Now risen and reigning in heaven, The Savior holds back God’s judgment. The last book of Scripture [Revelation] points ahead to Jesus’ final return. It does not describe Jesus as a fragile, forgettable baby or some nomadic carpenter. This is what it has to say: Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him (Revelation 1:7). All those who questioned his might will see it. Those who mocked his divinity will stand before it. Those who killed God out of life will not escape him. They will eternally regret their mockery.
Yet, for you this is a day of joyous relief. Like a seawall holding back crashing waves, the Savior holds back God’s judgment. The Father’s fiery eyes studies you and finds… nothing. No arrogant heart. No proud taunt. No daring God to strike. What the Father finds is the cross of Christ on your heart. He finds that Jesus has removed all boastful taunts— never to be seen again, never to be mentioned (or brought up) ever again. The Savior holds back God’s judgment forever.
For the past six Wednesdays we have met opponents of truth. Caiaphas. Pilate’s wife. The Jewish Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot. Pilate’s soldiers. Crowds at the cross. All confront the undeniable truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Scripture makes it abundantly clear! In stubborn unbelief each adversary dares God to prove his might. He will.
He will punish every mocker who invites his judgment— but not you. This is the reason Jesus remains on the cross. The Savior holds back God’s judgment. He stands between us and God, absorbing our consequences and forming peace between us and God. Yes, Jesus could have saved himself, but in mercy chooses to save you (and me). He Saved You by not Saving Himself.
Finish the sentence: When [the month of] May starts, I expect to find people doing (fill in the blank). How do you think your life and the life of others will look? …where are they going? …what are they doing? …what occupies them? Do you have an answer?
Honestly, I have trouble even guessing. If you are like me, you just do not know what the future holds. I do not know if school be in session or not. I do not know when we will lift up hearts and voices together in this sanctuary. I do not know if Memorial Day weekend will bring hordes of Downstaters or if the city will be quiet. At this moment the future lies unknown.
That reality brings a wide range of emotions. Hope that illness could be gone, but fear that illness might linger. Excitement for school summer break, but worry that classes will drag into summer. The thrill of summer vacation, but the dread that there might be no getaway. No trips to Grand Hotels or beaches or property or campgrounds. No county fair or street fair. Cautious optimism quickly gives way to anxiety. That’s physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Some days you just feel like crashing to your knees, crumpling into a pile, and crying out, ‘How much longer, Lord? When can life get back to normal?’
Not everyone joins that chorus. The aftershocks of restrictions affect us all— but children press on. Two of my young children (ages 7 & 5) realize what they see on the news impacts them. They know they should be in school. They know public places should be open. Two weeks ago I took my son to WalMart and he knew not to touch anything. Both children understand something difficult is happening right now. Still, what they discuss is amazing. They still expect vacation. They plan going to the farm and seeing family. They talk about taking a [Minnesota] Vikings stadium tour. Right now, vacation is a blur to me. (Sometimes I wonder if we will actually be able to leave the state, or if we must stay here, what will be open!) They have no worry. They have no fear about school time or illness or opening church doors again. If you have been around children, you might notice similar behavior. Children cannot make out the future, but they stand confident that the future will be fine.
Call it ignorant bliss if you want, but I think that’s overstating the case. They have genuine confidence. Even if their plans come crashing down and they’re stuck in summer school and do not see a stadium, they still do not panic. They fear nothing because they have a parent.
Good for them. Right? Good for you too. At this time we do not know what to expect, but God gives two truths to expect. Two factual statements that impact your life today. (1) The Spirit testifies to your adoption. (2) The Spirit makes you an heir of glory. That means, Live Confident, Child of God!
This morning God speaks to you— you who believe that Jesus has set you free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-4). In Romans chapter 8, starting with verse 11, he says: [I]f the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation— but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
You realize the same word appears four times in four verses. ‘Spirit.’ No, not a ghost or some vapory mist. The ‘Spirit’ is God. Scripture makes clear: God lives in you. Can you be sure? Yes, because God says: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Out of the billions of people living in the world at this very moment, God lives in your single heart.
That reality shapes behavior now. You are taking in the Word of God. You learn what pleases him. The Word guides emotions and helps form decisions. God’s promises provide strength to step out into the unknown. The Spirit of God inside you feasts on those Words. He builds confidence. The Spirit of God in you testifies to your adoption. You can live confident because you belong to God.
Confidence dwindles when you take your eyes off of the Word. If God uses his Word to lead you, then who is leading you when you no longer use the Word?
Here’s a few headlines snagged from last week:
The sinful nature will seize the opportunity to set trust on you! To think that we do control all things. The truth is, you do not. You did not lay the foundations of the earth. You did not shut the seas behind its doors or stretch out the skies. You do not bring out the seasons or manage every creature (read Job 38-39). You lack that ability. That’s why we get hysterical, we confront the reality that we do not control everything. Fear testifies to our limitations. Fear teaches that we have lost sight of our Father who does have control.
That’s what makes children such an astounding example. They fear nothing because they let the parent handle their needs. God stresses the same point so that you can live confident. [T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Remember, you [and I] are led by the Spirit of God; God lives in you.) You also receive a special title: Son! (And yes, that also describes you, ladies.) God does not elevate one biological sex here; he stresses benefits.
You see, in ancient times the son inherited the entire family estate. He received access to property, wealth, business, cattle— and even responsibility over his mother and siblings. He received full use and full rights to everything! God says, ‘You have full rights to all I have!’ For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
‘Abba’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘father’ or ‘daddy.’ The word describes tender affection between father and child. So, little children chirp: ‘Daddy, you’re home!’ ‘Daddy, can you help me?’ ‘Daddy, let me sit in your lap.’ Why would little kids say this? Because their father demonstrates love. That tender affection flowing from the father increases a child’s confidence. She goes to him for anything, anytime, knowing that he cares for and addresses her needs. How much more our Father in heaven!
You can Live Confident, Child of God! The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. You can curl up in his secure, powerful hands. You can stand confident that the future will be fine.
[W]e are children… You are someone’s child— regardless of your age, regardless of your independence, you will always remain someone’s child. As God’s child, you live underneath his care.
Since we are children, then we are heirs… At this moment, I am an heir to my parent’s estate. They have drafted a Will and I stand in line to receive possessions— but my parents are not deceased yet. Most likely have many years left. Still, I remain an heir. One day their Will will take effect and I will receive my share of their estate.
You (and I) are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ… We stand in line to receive possessions. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We will share in that possession; we too will rise from death. The specific day? We do not know. Still, we are heirs, guaranteed to receive the same benefits Christ already has. We remain in line if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
That’s challenging, is it not? ‘Suffering’ and ‘glory’ do not appear to mesh together. If anything, they appear opposites! Yet, stop for a moment and ask: What does a Christian consider ‘suffering’?
Boil it down and ‘suffering’ is when I do not get my way. ‘I cannot finish my goals and get my rest because I must watch the kids all day.’ ‘I pray to God that health restores, but he does not do what I want.’ ‘Other people hoarding keeps me from hoarding myself.’ ‘This virus does not let me make money and spend money and feel secure in money.’ When I don’t get my way, I blame others. I blame them for taking away my happiness— even if that means I blame God and say that following his Word takes away my happiness.
Remember this: Jesus suffered too. He preaches, but religious leaders reject him. He raises the dead, but that only infuriates many. He commits no crime, but is sentenced and crucified. Why does Jesus suffer? Because he put the Word of God first. He suffers because God made him to be our Savior.
Now, look at him. He rose from death and still lives! He ascended into heaven and all things rest set under his feet. No one can drag him out of heaven. No one can stop him from bringing you into heaven. That is your God who put an end to eternal suffering! He belongs to you and you to him!
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. You do not see that glory now, but you will. Just like an heir has not received the estate yet— but he will. God points you to the grave and says, ‘Death cannot hold you. Because Jesus lives, you will live.’
Eternity is set. You will experience eternity just like you experience life today. You will see and smell and hear and touch and talk and walk— except one thing will be different. No sin. No coronavirus. No political bickering. No health-ailments. No financial stress. No uncertainty. Even if life feels pretty comfortable at the moment, it will only get better.
Still, you realize that God is not saying, ‘Well, hang in there. One day it will get better.’ No. He says, ‘The Will is written. You are my child now, walking the path to glory. You will see my glory.’
Children cannot make out the future, but they stand confident that the future will be fine. They fear nothing because they have a parent. At this time we do not know what [the month of] May will bring, but God gives two truths to expect. Two factual statements that impact your life today. (1) The Spirit testifies to your adoption. (2) The Spirit makes you an heir of glory. You hear, have, and hold the Words of your dear Father, the One who control things now and eternally. What fear is there in that? Live Confident, Child of God!
February 20, 2017. President’s Day. A national holiday. A day honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (or, if you so desire, apparently every United States President [see: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Presidents-Day]). You can reflect on all the advantages gained from leadership. A steady hand guiding a nation through the dark days of war. Inspiring speeches encouraging countless Americans pressed down by conflict. Policies bringing economic growth and a secure retirement. President’s Day presents the opportunity to consider how past and present leadership intersected with your expectations.
Yet, February 20, 2017 stood out as a uniquely special President’s Day. Many (millions?) flocked to the streets, bundled in hats, scarves, and gloves, poster-board signs in hand, and started chanting: ‘Not my President! Not my President!’ Counter-protesters shouted back: ‘That is my President! ‘That is my President!’
Now, regardless of your political stance, both messages strike a common chord. The elected president is expected to represent an individual’s values (or beliefs). This protesting is really nothing new. In fact, the chant is thousands of years old.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Now, smug taunts dare him to act. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
Of course, no one really considers that a true statement. Pontius Pilate had seen kings before. In fact, a king had appointed him governor of Judea. Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, the most powerful man in the ancient world. Now Caesar, that man fits the mold of a king. He wears elaborate robes adorned with dazzling gems set in glistening gold, the essence of lavender wafts off his manicured body. The snap of his fingers command fine delicacies, a hand-tap demands service. One word and the army marches. This man holds prestige, dominance, control, influence. People expect that type of grandeur from kings.
Jesus, well, he just does not have that aura. Here stands the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Nazareth, that’s as exciting as saying that you’re from Temple. That township is not known for leaders or industry or military figures. It has no claim to fame. Carpentry, a good skill, but not a multi-million dollar profession. Jesus has no Shangri-La [house]. In fact, he has no set place to lay his head; he constantly finds a new room (Matthew 8:20). His fanciest clothing is an undergarment, a piece of linen seamlessly woven together from top to bottom (John 19:23). Look him over and it’s pretty clear: Jesus is no king.
Pilate knows that. Pilate intends driving the point home. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
The Romans have complete control over the situation. Jesus will not escape. No rabblerousing supporters will bother the soldiers. At this moment, Jesus’ health lies in the hands of a more dominant force. Not just that, but this image of a thorny crown and grimy soldier’s cloak reveals Jesus to be no more a king than a kid dressed up as a king on Halloween. The Romans make clear: If Jesus calls himself a king, then he’s pretending. Any claim to authority can be snuffed out. Perhaps the Jews will understand the point, drop the charges, let him go, and then return home.
Really, this why the Jews hate Jesus in the first place: He is not a king. A few occasions did offer a glimmer of hope.
One time, Jesus took five loaves of bread and two small fish. He thanked God for the meal, tore it into pieces, and gave everyone a free lunch. Not only did everyone eat, but they were stuffed; they had to tell Jesus ‘Enough! We’re full!’ Over five thousand mouths feasted on one grade-schooler’s lunch. That catches people’s attention. They witness divine control over natural forces. They watch God bless the food in Jesus’ hands. That leads many to conclude: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Crowds grab at him, trying to make Jesus king by force, but he escapes (John 6:14-15).
Then, just a few days earlier, the hope rekindled. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah predicted this! He said, ‘Keep watch for that event! When you see it, then you know your king has come!’ (9:9-10). They saw it! The long-promised king to give new birth for a new nation. Instead of storming the palace, Jesus storms the temple… and he calls himself God… and starts acting like God.
The Jews did not want that. They do not want a spiritual king. Abraham is their ancestor; the family tree will make God happy. Worst case, they have the temple. Just bring some animals, say the right words, and God will be pleased. They feel the spiritual department is met. What the Jews want is an earthly king. Someone who drives out the dreaded Romans, fills the belly with food, and leads the nation towards independence, economic strength, and replaces all fear with peace. That’s what they want. Actually, that’s what they determined needful. As for Jesus, well, he does not look like the King we want.
Study that statement long enough and you find a contradiction. He does not look like the King we want. Kings lead people. Here, people try leading king. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king?
You see, the trouble is not with Jesus’ teachings, the trouble is with self-perception. Our flawed hearts think we stand equal with God, that we hold the right to negotiate with God in our pursuit for pleasure! Jesus urges: ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’ (Matthew 6:25). Yet, this pandemic is spreading and it does not appear to be slowing. So, we feel a right to worry because we feel the situation extreme. He teaches: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). Yet, we exchange Jesus’ words for Facebook gripes, and criticize first instead of taking words and actions in the kindest possible way. Jesus sets hearts on God’s unbreakable Word: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Yet, that’s difficult because we doubt God will keep his promise. (Or worse, maybe he will keep his promises, but it will cost me money, popularity, or that sinful passion.) Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Remember, kings lead people. Yet, people try leading the King. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king of your life?
The Jews want a king who caters to their demands. The Romans claim control over the world. That leaves no room for Jesus. He simply does not look like the King wanted.
Because that’s not the King Jesus comes to be. He does not arrive after winning an election or getting the popular vote. He comes to reign as the king we need.
Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the Jews have seen kings before. They marvel at immense wealth, prestige, dominance, and influence. They stand outside grandiose palaces set in lofty locations. They follow orders given at the snap of a finger. That kingship does not always address your every fear or physical need. Really, that kingship lasts only a lifetime— unless it ends sooner.
Jesus reigns as the king we need. He steps off from his throne, lays aside his royal robes, leaves the halls of choirs upon choirs singing his praises. He leaves the confines of safety and security and steps into a royal mess. He wraps himself in human flesh, but is not born to royalty. He becomes a child to a low-income carpenter and a virgin mother from an insignificant village. His royal band does not consist of dignitaries and ambassadors, but rather simple fishermen and tax collectors. He speaks not to national forums, but to gatherings of the curious, the bruised, and the hurting.
He marches off to war the devil in the wilderness for forty days and nights. A foe that snatched at Jesus’ throne. A foe that promises us pleasure if we just follow him. A foe that had lied to us, captured us, and held us captive. A foe that had bound to the pits of hell and eternal death. A foe we constantly faced, but a foe that constantly overwhelmed and defeated us. Yet, that foe could not overwhelm our King.
The King of the Jews comes for you. Jesus literally comes through a Jewish family tree. Miracles testify that he is God’s chosen one, that he is God-appointed, that we can follow him. He marches to the cross as the King to fight for the hellish consequences his subjects brought upon themselves. Some chant his name: ‘Hail, King David’s royal son!’ Others shout: ‘Crucify! King of the Jews!’
This is the reason for which our King is sent: to make us citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Our cries for independence—all those little pleasures that feel so good to indulge do not make us free. Instead, they bind us. They clasp us to a very real hellish consequence. Jesus steps into our trouble. Our consequences bind his hands, head, and feet to the cross. God makes him the target of his wrath. There at Calvary, the greatest battle is fought—and won! Our perfect King meets God’s expectations. Easter Sunday trumpets the tickertape parade for the Triumphant King! He ascends into his heavenly coronation, where all things are set under his feet.
Even today, that perfect King comes to you. He has clothed you with his royal life. He has washed away grimy selfishness. He has slipped a ring on your finger—a ring that identifies you as belonging to him. Baptism made you a citizen of heaven (Galatians 3:26-27). Kneeling at the Lord’s Supper is really feasting with God at his table.
That King still speaks today. Jesus records his Words in the Bible. Those teachings on obedience to government are not meant to restrict you. Rather, they showcase the joy gained by working with and praying for your leaders. Repeated reminders not to worry mean to drain away fear and to cast all anxieties on the One able to handle them. Your King reigns so that you may experience your blessed position under his reign and delight in him controlling all things for your eternal good. Jesus reigns as the King we need.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Kings appear in so many different forms, but this King is different. He comes not for self-interest, but for your interest. His cross brings real peace. His resurrection showcases real control. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Jesus reigns as the King we need.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.’ Do you think that’s true? Given the many Facebook posts in just the past week it sure appears accurate. Maybe you have seen them too.
Still, I can’t help thinking, ‘You don’t need a virus to act kind.’ We do well to always care for the weak and speak kindly to the cashier and treat the trucker well and appreciate officers, doctors, and teachers. That appreciation ought never change! If anything, crisis presents an opportunity to honestly re-evaluate behavior.
That’s what God accomplishes through crisis. Challenges push us to re-evaluate the priorities of life. To expose what the heart truly cherishes. To shed the harmful so that true good might flourish. Scripture makes clear: God Heals Hearts Torn Apart.
‘Torn apart’ might best describe today’s uneasiness. Just look around! Life lies in complete disarray! Wealth slips through fingers. The nation’s borders are under attack by a foreign threat. Leaders assemble for solutions and stability— but this is no coronavirus crisis management team. This is Israel’s king and Israel’s people scrambling for security and safety against the Assyrians.
Remember those guys? Assyria sits north of Israel in present-day Turkey and Iraq. They boasts the greatest, fiercest army of the day! An army that not only decimates, but also intimidates.
The Assyrians have a reputation for impaling captives— like, stick a pole up through you and out your mouth and plant that pole into the ground. If done right, you would die— days later. They also could skin captives— and so perfected the technique that they could keep you alive to the end. Assyria has not unleashed that army yet. For the time being King Tiglath-Pileaser III is content with threats. He dangles death before Israel’s eyes in exchange for tribute. (As long as Israel keeps giving him money, he will not destroy them.)
Now, he has squeezed too hard and siphoned too much! Israel will no longer shoulder this heavy burden. No! They plan partnering with piddly nation Damascus and pushing Assyria out!
Big mistake. The Assyrian fist tightens with might and force. Battle after battle tears out wealth, land, and life.
Where do you find safety and security in national crisis? Israel suggests a remedy. “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Those words sound good, but did you catch what was missing? An admission of guilt. No one confesses to shoving God aside. ‘God, we worshipped stones and sticks and people and prostitutes!’ ‘God, we relied on military might first instead of approaching you, the Mighty Warrior!’ ‘God, we got scared and trusted our brains.’ No one says that! Instead, each one approaches God with this mindless lip-service: ‘God, it’s me here. I know, it’s been a while, but please fix this mess. Thank you.’
What arrogant audacity! Everyone assumes God exists to fill life with pleasure. Like God is some powerful genie— there to act only when told. Say the right words and God will have no choice but to restore wealth, land, and life.
Except this time he doesn’t. One statement wipes the smug little grin from the proud, arrogant heart. I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.’ Has that sunk in yet? What is truly important in life? Everything is being taken away! No school and school activities. No weekend sports and clubs. No shows and fairs and dining out. All those things consuming mass amounts of time are gone! Vanished!
That’s unsettling! Those incredible investments return no gains! Standing on the sideline Sunday morning, cheering as your [grand]son play ball cannot answer what happens when you die. The laziness that has kept you out of Sunday worship reaps unpreparedness and nervousness. The arrogance of thinking you know all there is to know about the Bible that you have kept it closed for years— has that decision provided much peace now? Since you know everything in the Bible, have you lived without a trace of fear? When all those supposed objects of security and status and pleasure are ripped away, when they’re all gone, it leads you to re-evaluate priorities.
Even if you have made time for worship, attended Bible class, read your devotions, have you always appreciated God’s Word? Right now you read these words at your dinner table or you watch the service from your chair. How does it feel to be away from your Christian friends who can encourage and cheer you through difficult times? How does it feel to be away from God’s church, away from the sights of his dear cross or from the sound of forgiveness? How does it feel to be hearing these words from a distance and not out loud, in person? Have you taken God’s presence for granted that you assumed you could go without the Word? Even if you remain in the Word, today allows for honest reflection of how well we took the Word to heart and how much we depend on God.
Forsaking the LORD causes misery. Separate from him and you have no answers for crisis, for life. To gain answers, you need the Word of the One who reigns over heaven and earth. In fact, our reading holds one little word easily overlooked. One little word restoring hope. That word? ‘LORD’ (all-capitals). That is not a typo; the capitalization is intentional. The ‘LORD’ (all-capitals) tells you: God is serious to punish and even more serious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7).
That’s why our reading says what it does. Come, let us return to the Lord. The ‘LORD’ (all-capitals), the God who punishes, but also forgives. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. That ‘tearing’ and that ‘injuring’ does sting. Doctors discover cancer in you. They do not slap a band-aid on the spot or prescribe Tylenol. With scalpel in hand they cut out the tumor. It hurts. It’s not pleasant. Still, lingering pain powerfully reminds you that something deadly was removed.
Today, life hurts. Troubles rip away comforts and can reveal the many different objects our hearts foolishly worship. With those objects gone, we realize that they help us none. The lingering pain we feel today reminds you that something deadly was removed.
God tore away our misplaced priorities one-by-one and strapped them to Jesus. Then, he tore away health and strength and life away from his own Son. He injures Jesus to death and then turns away from him.
For two days the Lord of life lay in the tomb. The third day (Easter day!) he steps out— with a different message, a life-sustaining message: ‘Redeemed! Restored! Forgiven!’
Those sweet words are meant for you. Yes, even in a time such as this, when so many get sick and a virus spreads and no one knows when or where it might appear, these words belong to you. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. God has bandaged up our broken priorities. He has healed injuries inflicted by pride. He stands us healthy in his presence, under his protecting care, under his promise of life forever!
Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. Returning to the Lord restores life.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” That’s how life feels spent in God’s Word, isn’t it?
Just like rains hitting the parched, cracked fields of corn or like warm spring rains hitting the dusty soil so that spring flowers might sprout and blossom!
Life fed by the Word springs life. A life delighting in sharing God’s Word with your children, watching them retell Jesus dying on the cross or explaining how God kept Daniel safe in a den of lions. A life confidently telling others that God holds you in his hands. He has healed you forever! What flourishing delight to share God’s comfort!
You gain a life of trust and security. So many hoarded toilet paper because they are scared. They are scared of getting sick, hurting, and dying. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). God has blossomed in your heart greater comfort that toilet paper. He promises that you who believe in him never die. You live now and will one day walk directly into heaven itself!
God sprouts in you a life of peace and joy. Even though everything is torn away— public places, schools, community centers, and your church— you have lost nothing. You have not lost your God who always keeps his Word. The God who promised a Savior and then sent a Savior. A God who has kept you safe thus far through pandemic, a God who will keep your soul safe from hell. At the very heart and core of your being stands God, the One who rules your heart and fills it with peace. Returning to the Lord restores life.
A shortage exposes extra labors that often go unnoticed. People have always worked for our benefit, but especially now, we appreciate them.
Yet, do you need a virus to act kind? May that be a lesson learned.
May it be learned to evaluate the priorities of our lives so that we stand prepared for life ahead! So many panic and fear and despair because they have no idea what to do with their time now. Because they have no idea when and where this virus might appear next or when it might leave! If you number among them, then now is a good time to re-evaluate the priorities of your heart. Today is the day to recommit yourself to being in the Word, to live underneath the Almighty, to fill yourself up with God’s overwhelming forgiveness and promises.
That’s what God accomplishes through crisis. To re-evaluate the priorities of life. To expose what the heart truly cherishes. To shed the harmful so that true good might flourish. Scripture makes clear: God Heals Hearts Torn Apart. Forsaking the LORD causes misery. Returning to the LORD restores life.
It all started out fun, but it went so wrong so quickly. Giggling turned into laughing and laughing turned into sheer carelessness. You see, mom went to run some errands and left the kids home. Since she was gone, it meant they could not go outside. So, they decided to bring the outside inside. A kickball somehow appeared, and even though kicking it around inside was forbidden, they did it anyway. It was fun; they were careful— until the sound of shattering glass broke through the air. He wound up his leg, focused on kicking to his brother, but the minute the ball left his foot, his heart sank. Like a slow motion movie, the ball left the ground, started veering right, almost attracted to his parent’s wedding picture. The frame tumbled off the wall. Glass broke, its shards tore into the picture.
He broke the rules; he became enslaved to the consequences. Still, he tried to escape them. He scrambled to piece the glass pieces together, but nothing held them in place. He taped the picture up, but it was obviously destroyed. He even went so far as to punish himself by sitting on his bed in his room. Try as he might, nothing could silence his screaming conscience. Why? Because, he did not have the power to free himself from punishment.
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. A man confronts his crime against the blameless and tumbles into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’
Who could have ever imagined the situation would reach this point? Think about how it all started. Judas Iscariot serves as keeper of the moneybag (John 12:6). (Really, he manages the bank account for Jesus and the disciples.) Wherever this group travels, crowds gather. They flock to hear this marvelous Teacher from Nazareth. He preaches with divine authority. His words penetrate and heal the heart. Jesus brings real peace with God. So, many want to support the expenses associated with his travels. Women give fistfuls of coins. Men slip financial support. Judas handles that money. He pays the dinner bills and the hotel bills. He gives the beggar money for food and helps the financial needs of widows and orphans (John 13:29).
Yet, one day, something catches his eye. New sandals. A fine leather belt. Extra dessert. Those little luxuries promise pleasure— and a few coins from the moneybag covers the expenses. At first, the conscience burned. He should not have used church funds for personal expenses, but he promised to repay everything. I mean, no one would ever know the money was gone. You know what? No one ever did. Since no one knew the funds were missing, it did not seem pressing to repay. After all, money not missed must not be all too needed. So, no one gave much thought when Judas said, ‘You go ahead without me, I’ll settle our lunch bill’ or ‘I saw a beggar back by the clothing department, I’ll give him something’ or ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ (John 12:5) The inkling of greed blossomed into stealing (and stealing more!), and lying (and lying more!) and conniving (and conniving more!)
Then an easy opportunity for quick cash appeared. Judas approached some powerful Jewish officials. “What are you willing to give me if I hand [Jesus of Nazareth] over to you?” (Matthew 26:14). Remember the price? Thirty silver pieces. Three months wages. Judas could take a luxurious vacation to Sicily or buy the fancy camel or get the AD30-Judean-Summer wardrobe collection.
He seized the opportunity. After all, Jesus will probably be arrested, roughed up, and then released. Never did Judas ever imagine the situation would reach this point: [He] saw that Jesus was condemned.
How did that happen? Judas had travelled with this man for three years! He spent time in his circles, listening to his preaching! Yes, Jesus could condemn the greedy heart and that could be annoying, but he never committed a crime deserving death! When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” That’s how every temptation ends, isn’t it?
You see, the devil loves setting up his classic one-two punch. First, he promises that life will become more satisfying, more fulfilling by following your heart. (After all, it cannot be wrong if it feels good, right?) Take the extra drink, finish the bottle. After all, you had a stressful day. Vent your unfiltered frustrations, make unreasonable demands. Your daughter should clear her work- and family-schedule to drive you all over town. Your son should call daily and spend at least one hour on the phone. You are the parent, right? You raised those kids and you have need; your grown children cannot just ignore you. Dig in your heels. I mean, you dedicated years to this congregation. If no one welcomes your help, then let them taste your anger. Criticize. Gripe how you would handle matters differently (and better). Make those who overlook you beg for your unsurpassed value! The devil promises life gets better by dabbling with wrong!
Once we stumble into that snare, he pulls it tight! We get caught in terrible consequences. The drunk nights damages relationships and the yelling hurts your daughter and getting revenge does not make you wanted. What makes it worse is not just the consequences, but the devil’s painful reminders. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ You know what, he’s right! The devil’s absolutely right! We Have Sinned, and Jesus is Innocent.
Even Judas realizes that! Compared to Jesus, his greedy heart was one enormous cesspool of filth. Oh, the bone-crushing, strength-sapping guilt! [He] was (1) seized with remorse and (2) returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. (3)“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas attempts what so many do: He tries undoing the crime! Feel bad! Return the money! Receive instructions! Those solutions never erase guilt, do they? The devil’s whispers still lingers: ‘Not enough. Do more. Be better.’
Guilty hearts confront a very undeniable truth: We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent. The devil love emphasizing that first point: ‘We have sinned.’ If that is all we hear, then we become The wayward heart that has no answer for guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment.
Jesus, as he always has, emphasizes the second point. We Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent.
We stand drenched with guilt, but Jesus has none! He stands faultless, without blame! Judas never quite understands that. You see, Jesus knew about the embezzlement. He knew about the betrayal. He knew Satan filled Judas’ heart. Three times Jesus makes no secret about Judas’ plot (Matthew 26:21-25). He speaks so that Judas can admit: ‘I’m wrong, but Jesus is perfectly right!’ He speaks so that Judas finds complete, restoring forgiveness. He speaks so that we find The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Greed puts Jesus on death row. Yes, Judas’ action puts Jesus in peril. It brings a death-sentence. Still, greed brings an eternal death-sentence. So does arguing and drunkenness and revenge and lovelessness and arrogance— and every sin. It all demands accountability, that the guilty person carry the consequences. Instead, Jesus carries that heavy baggage up Mount Calvary and makes himself accountable for it all. He hangs before God Almighty and says, ‘Punish me instead. Hold me accountable.’ God does exactly that. He charges all sin to Jesus and makes him pay it off with his life. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
You know what God finds in Jesus? No guilt. No arguments and regrets and anger and revenge. He finds innocence. He finds a life he loves, a life he raises to be with him, a life that lasts forever. The truth is undeniable: I Have Sinned, but Jesus Is Innocent. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us.
Remember that truth the next time the devil comes slinking your way. His reminders burn. ‘How could you say such horrible things?’ ‘Why did you turn your back on your friends?’ ‘You drank too much again— and you call yourself a Christian! God can’t love someone like you.’ How do you end the torment? How can you actually remove the guilt? Point at Jesus; the devil has no answer to that.
Go to the cross. Point at it and ask: ‘What happened there?’ [Answer:] Jesus died. For what reason did Jesus die? [Answer:] He died for your crime, for my crime. If God punishes Jesus for our crime, then what does that mean for us? [Answer:] The consequences of sin forever removed. In other words, we stand forgiven! You see, the answer for guilt is not to study guilty people. The answer is found in the One not-guilty. God the Father accepts that innocent life for your (and my) advantage. Jesus literally rises from the dead to say to you: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23) Return to him again and again and say, ‘The Innocent One became accountable for me.’
Throughout Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but fights against its judgments. Judas confronts his crime against a blameless Jesus and plunges into despair. ‘I Have Sinned by Betraying Innocent Blood.’ He fixates so much on self that he failed to grasp the glorious truth of his sentence.
Jesus is innocent! The wayward heart has no answer for guilt. Nothing we do can unlock nagging guilt. We do not have the power to free ourselves from punishment. Yet, Jesus does and he has. The Innocent One becomes accountable for us. His life is more than enough. That’s a truth no one can deny: ‘I Have Sinned, but Jesus is Innocent!’ What soul-satisfying peace!
No one knew what lay there. Some of those pre-1940s Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons sketched a map of the world. Over the continent of Africa sat a black blob with the words: ‘Dark Africa.’ (No, that is not a derogatory reference to the skin color of Africans.) [https://www.reference.com/geography/africa-referred-dark-continent-39aa8499dafe9e5a] ‘Dark’ simply meant: ‘unknown.’ Few ventured into the central regions of Africa and those who did, did not provide a clear picture of its landscape. No one knew where rivers cut or if a lake covered the entire area or if central Africa was all desert. People knew that something was there, but they did not know what. The area was ‘dark.’ Chocked full of the unknown.
Maybe that best describes life at the moment. Dark. Unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Events seen and sounds heard seem confusing at the moment. Mighty Babylon tromps towards Israel’s borders— stomping feet, rumbling siege towers, clanging swords, shields, and spears— and Israel cannot stop it. Be sure, they are trying. The national army assembles, but stands overwhelmingly outmatched. King rushes from ally to ally hoping to muster enough war support, but despite his efforts he still needs more help. People pray, but Babylon never turns around. Take in all that is seen with the eyes and many conclude: There is no escape. Just complete and utter catastrophe. Israel sees nothing.
That’s why God’s prophet, Isaiah, cries out: Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? Israel is God’s servant, and the nation had seen God in action. Families watch him split the Red Sea and crush Pharaoh’s chariot army. They see God send in manna and quail for each morning and evening meal. They witness God hand victory after victory against all their enemies. So many see these powerful acts with their own eyes! These incredible accounts trickle down through generations.
All Israel in Isaiah’s day had heard what God had accomplished. Ears could absorb these words— and not merely pick out tones, but respond appropriately! The past (1) details God’s promises kept and (2) guarantees God’s repeated results! What impact does that leave? Trust! Trust that God will always hold you!
Yet, Israel is blind and deaf. Yes, the people physically see, but spiritually refuse to see God in action. Yes, the people physically hear, but spiritually, refuse to absorb God’s Word.
Spiritual blindness prevents making sense of life. They could not see that the reason for their demise, their soon-to-be national deportation, their exile in Babylon happens because they turn away from God. [T]hey trust in carved idols, [and] say to metal images, “You are our gods.” That’s why they panic. That’s why they battle feelings of hopelessness. They fail to see God as Savior!
Is it any wonder then, you see what you do today? The coronavirus has crept into our state. The news only seems to report people infected and dying… how the government’s delay is failing you… how more will contract the virus… how the virus most likely will linger until April (or longer)… how everyone stands at risk of catastrophic demise. Oh, the doom and gloom! Who can rescue us? I mean, do you know why people are stockpiling toilet paper? To feel control. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html). The virus lies outside of your control— you might contract the illness, get sick, and die (and that’s pretty scary). You cannot control personal health, but you can control personal hygiene. So, people hoard large packages of toilet paper so that they can feel as though they have control over the situation. They crave feelings security and protection.
If that sounds humorous, then ask: ‘Why the fear in the first place?’ Failure to see God as Savior! You Cannot Make Sense of Life because you do not see God at work. You do not see him hold authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). You do not see him protecting (Isaiah 41:10). You do not see him stand constant alert (Psalm 121:3-4). Failure to see is called ‘blindness!’
The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. That’s what happens: Lose sight of God as Savior and you keep stumbling into dead ends! That familiar dead end? Staring your at your beautiful reflection in the mirror and saying, ‘You are my god. You can save me from all trouble.’
You think you can gain security, but you never do! All you gain is a greater feeling of helplessness! You nervously worry about a virus you cannot control because you fail to call on God in the day of trouble! (Psalm 50:15) You fret about primaries and elections because you fail to remember that God still works through the government and in spite of the government (Romans 13:4). You sink when the markets sink because you fail to see God’s care for you surpass his care for birds! (Matthew 6:25-34) The blind stumble into familiar dead ends. Chasing solution after solution in the hope of finding peace. The truth is: Lose sight of God and you will never have peace, because you are treating yourself as God. You prove yourself blind.
Can You Make Sense of Life? To make sense, you need ‘sense’— and I’m not talking about critical thinking. I’m talking about sight and hearing. Spiritual blindness fails to see God as Savior. That’s why the blind stumble into familiar dead ends. To see God in the midst of trial and trouble we need light. The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
That’s what light does, it reveals reality. Listen to what God says in verse 16: I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
God has lit up a path so foreign to our thinking that no one in the history of the world would have ever imagined it: He sends Jesus. Literally, [the name] ‘Jesus’ means ‘he saves’ (Matthew 1:21). Anytime a bystander called out, ‘Hey, Jesus!’ that person uses a name meant for his own benefit. A man born blind can now see. When asked how this happened, he simply relied, ‘The man they call Jesus put mud on my eyes and I washed. Now I see’ (John 9:10-11). At first, ‘Jesus’ probably sounded like any other name. Yet, the more this once-blind man ponders the miracle, the more he studies Jesus. He gained physical sight, something no doctor could do. With physical sight, he could spiritually see Jesus as he truly is— not a mere man, but God.
That powerful miracle is meant for us to see. Yes, to study with our physical eyes, but also to see Jesus as someone more than just another man. To treat him with greater respect, with greater trust. To see Jesus as Savior. Jesus is The Light who opens eyes to find true safety.
You find safety as you see Jesus hang from a cross under Calvary’s dark sky. As you see Jesus suffer. Yes, suffer. To fully grasp that he suffers because there is something wrong with us. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts doubt God’s promises. To understand that Jesus suffers because hearts rely on self. To see the sheer ugliness of sin, to see this is what God thinks of sin. That he punishes it to death.
With his Word, God leads you (and me) down the strange path leading to the tomb. Yet, we do not see what we are so used to seeing. The tomb stands empty! God leads us further down the strange path, to his throne where he unleashes a sentence unexpected: ‘Forgiven.’
Do you see this? Look at the cross and see Jesus tend to your greatest need— a need far more pressing than health, a need far more important than presidential elections, a need far more important than wealth. Jesus takes care of that great big need of purifying a filthy heart! See Jesus and The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Maybe it bears stating the obvious. Pay attention to your news. Ask yourself why it stokes fear. Scroll through Facebook. Why are people so panicked about primaries and elections? Why is everyone sharing whatever gossip they heard about virus? Look at stock market reports. Why the nerve-wracking fear of recession? Because many do not see God as Savior. So many hope matters will work out, but no one knows for sure because so many trust self. Stare at people and You will Never Make Sense of Life!
Friends, think of all those still groping in darkness. Many drive by this church building and have no idea what waits on the other side of the grave. The thought of a Savior-God is a foreign thought. Some are your friends. Some are your family. Some are classmates. Others dabble in darkness. That’s your fellow believers who are slow to worship. Those familiar faces might create reasons to defend spiritual wandering. At the end, excuses remain just that: Excuses— excuses God does not accept.
At this moment, God has set before you an opportunity to shine a light so that all Can Make Sense of Life! God provided eternal safety. Yes, we tend to think of ‘eternity’ as ‘in the future,’ ‘after we die.’ Eternity started when the eyes of faith saw God. That means, God provides safety today. Jesus The Light opens eyes to find true safety.
Over the course of time, ‘Dark Africa’ became known. Explorers charted rivers and mountains and lakes and deserts. Now you can study maps of Africa and clearly see its landscape. You can also prepare to tackle its landscape.
Life can feel dark and unknown. Coronavirus, Presidential primaries, a November election, sagging markets block out a clear path. Even after these matters pass, you can sure: Life will hurt again. You can sink into fear again. You feel uncertain where you will stand months from now. You want certain security, but it feels out of reach. Can You Make Sense of Life?
Yes, you can! God has given spiritual senses of sight and hearing! He reveals the Savior who rescues body and soul from hell. He takes care of the greatest need to which the entire world stood blind. If God so carefully tended to that need, will he not also care now? Of course he does!
You know that. You see that. You hear that. His Word keeps The blind from stumbling into familiar dead ends. His Word is The Light opening eyes to find true safety. Friends, do not lose sight. Remain focused on Jesus, relying on promises kept and promises to be kept. With eyes and hears full of the Word, You Can Make Sense of Life.
“Are you listening? Answer the question: Did you pay rent?” The defendant, Duane Brooks Jr., admitted to receiving $437 each month from County Aid for rent money.
So, the judge asks: “Did you pay rent?”
“Why not? You received money specifically given to cover rent.”
“Because I spent the money on myself.”
“But the money is meant for your rent. If you spend the money on yourself, you are stealing.”
“But I’m not stealing anything. I just don’t spend the rent money on rent.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4q_Ozl3JaA)
Judge Judy spent five-minutes explaining how money set aside for a specific need must target only that need. Duane studies her words, nods in agreement, and even says: ‘Yes.’ He comprehends the money must be used on rent, but does not wish to spend it on rent. He already has his mind made up as to how he wants to live. He plans putting his desires into action. Since that is what he wants, does that make his actions right?
Do you hold the right to make the Law conform to your standards? Jesus takes up that issue. He God’s standards: ‘You have heard!’ but then exposes the lies about God’s commands. Pay attention to the Savior speaking. He addresses God’s standard, not to lower it, but to raise it in our hearts. Are You Listening?
You know what that means, right? To listen? ‘Listening’ involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus speaks intentions. He touches on familiar teachings, teachings you and I and many have heard. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’… It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’… Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’… God chiseled those commands into stone. He holds every single heart to that standard.
Jesus’ words stand out because many did not meet that standard. Over the centuries many lied about God’s commands. The religious Pharisee honestly claimed to have perfectly obeyed the Fifth Commandment; he never ended life. The priest (with a straight face) could profess to have kept the Sixth Commandment; he never had an affair. Some flaunt their legally acceptable divorce papers. Others cover up lies with swearing, but stand proud for not mentioning God’s name.
Do you see what is happening? No one can reach God’s high standard. So, in order to meet God’s expectations, hearts redefine what God expects.
You might have heard ‘Do not murder,’ but many prod you to hate. Hate the Arabic race because of past violence. Resent dad for his stubborn arguments. Gripe that your daughter never calls enough. You can hate, just as long as you do not physically harm someone. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Society might tolerate grudges, but hatred kills a person in the heart. Hatred wishes evil on individual life and wellbeing.
You might have heard ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but society almost fuels lust. Stare at pornography because it only involves you. Imagine life with another spouse just as long as you do not touch. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is not attraction that leads to a first date. God commands marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Fantasizing wishes to act out with someone not your spouse.
Yes, divorce might be legal. Your government allows you to end marriage because you crave someone more attractive (or friendly). You can end your marriage because you cannot agree about spending money. You can end your marriage by having an affair. A judge might not hold you accountable, But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Swearing calls God as a witness. It asks God to stand beside you and declare that you are telling the truth. Yes, *everyone* in the world might swear, But I [Jesus] say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Are You Listening? Jesus does not condemn action only. He cuts to the heart. The heart creates thoughts, thoughts produce actions. Actions happen because of what your heart wants.
Yes, humanity might assume the right to force God’s commands to conform to the heart. But human opinions mean nothing to God. You cannot tell God: ‘Well, my husband deserves my anger.’ You cannot justify your fling, ‘She flirted first. He made me feel wanted.’ No, swearing is not acceptable because ‘everyone does it’ or because ‘it spices up sentences.’ The great King sets the bar: Be perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). He does not lower the bar because everyone falls short (Romans 3:23). You cannot actually change what God expects. You will only follow a belief not true. You will believe a lie.
That is why Jesus takes the time to preach. His words penetrate the heart, exposing every single lie— including the lie that we are good enough for God. He wants us to hear the lies about God’s commandments so that we can pay attention to the Savior speaking.
Think about that for a moment. Here sits Jesus, the long-promised Son from heaven. Why? Why is he here? If you could meet God’s expectations, then you have no need for Jesus. You can save yourself! The simple fact that Jesus sits here is proof that something is terribly wrong with us.
Jesus points at God’s high bar: Do not hate. Do not lust. Do not wish for divorce. Do not swear. Yes, his words hammer home that you (and I) do not have that crystal-clear pure heart.
That realization means to realize something else, something greater: That Jesus has such a heart. No lust, no fantasy. He encourages the married to forgive and those in relationships to marry (John 8:11). He speaks truth, he never has to convince others that he’s not lying. Even when men reject his truth, even when his truth puts him on death row, he keeps telling God’s truth.
I mean, even on the cross he forgives those who crucify him, he never rains down revenge. God did not so hate the world that he withheld his one and only Son so that every smug soul can be condemned to hell. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Jesus so loved the world that he laid down his life (John 15:13). God so loved Jesus’ life that he raises him from death.
Pay attention to the Savior speaking. Listen to these commands. Listen, because Jesus speaks to you. This is what he has done for you and worked in you. ‘I do not hate you. I am reconciled with you.’ ‘I have purified your impurity.’ ‘I will not divorce you, I will not mock your name and reputation.’ In your spiritual record-book is written in big, red letters: ‘PERFECT.’ Jesus has lived the life you (and I) have not. He has made you (and me) what we were not. He lifts us up to God’s standard! That means, I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing to earn. I already have God’s forgiveness! So now what?
In his sermon Jesus reveals the life he intends for us. He sets us free from condemnation, and says, ‘This is how people set free from condemnation live!’
[I]f you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Hatred can kill me! Pride refuses from admitting fault. Pride wants me to sit dominant over others. That hatred can fester in my heart that I refuse to forgive, and the less I forgive, the less I appreciate God’s forgiveness.
So Jesus says, ‘Reconcile.’ Work things out so that hatred does not gain a foothold in your heart and eat away at your soul. Apologize. Hold no grudge. Even if that sibling does not forgive you (or apologize), leave it be. Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away[…] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. A miniscule temptation can blossom into sin which bears the fruit of eternal death. You may have to shut the computer down so that you do not lust. Stop texting the co-worker so that no boundaries are crossed. If television shows and movies or Facebook photos steer the heart into fantasyland, then turn it off! Do not run back into the filth. Jesus has purified you (and me), leaving a shimmering heart fully content in relationships.
Yes, God allows divorce to protect the innocent spouse (read Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Should one spouse leave the marriage or have an affair, the innocent party may be set free to legally marry someone else. If you divorced, find peace in God’s forgiveness. If you find marriage difficult, find strength in God’s faithful love. God married you. God strengthens you to imitate his patience and love.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. You may have to swear in court or entering military. That’s acceptable. For everything else, speak the truth. Speak the truth so often that no one will ever accuse you of lying. Speak the truth so well that you will never need to ask God to verify your words. Live honest and people will take your words at face value.
Are You Listening? That involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In these words from Matthew, Jesus makes his intentions very clear: God’s standard is perfection. Do not believe lies about God’s commands. The people you know may want to lessen what God expects. Your heart might think little of your behavior. Those are lies! Instead, pay attention to the Savior speaking. Jesus does not command what you must become. He reveals what you are. Set free by Christ to live free for Christ.
Today I brought… a light bulb! Pretty helpful invention, right? A light bulb emits light; I can see objects and obstacles once hidden. During these short days and long nights, a light bulb extends daylight long after sunset. A light bulb outside illuminates the front of your house, chasing away shadows (and any burglars lurking in those shadows). A light bulb can be quite useful.
Yet, this light bulb (in my hand) offers no help. It has no power source! Without power, it cannot push darkness away. It cannot reveal the unknown. It cannot chase away evil. A light bulb must have a power source to emit light. Disconnected from power a light bulb offers nothing.
Jesus makes the same point when he says: ‘You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14, 16). Jesus calls you (and me) light bulbs— and not just light existing for its own benefit, but light showcasing God’s Word in action. Our faith shines only when connected to the right power-source. So, Does Your Light Shine?
In Isaiah chapter 58, the Israelite nation does reveal an attitude. You find them fasting (they stop eating food) and they wear sackcloth— this scratchy, burlap-sack-kind-of-clothing.
Now, fasting had a purpose. It expresses sorrow. For example, King David committed adultery. Guilt crushed him. Shame ripped him up. His crime ate away at him. He sinned against God! (Psalm 32, 51) His soul hungered for God’s soul-quenching, heart-satisfying pardon. He craves spiritual relief. Or, when the nation sinned against God, the king might exchange cushy royal robes for grungy, scratchy sackcloth. That clothing expresses contrition (or remorse). The king visibly demonstrates his standing underneath God and that the nation depends on God. Every itch and scratch only yearned for the relief of God’s forgiveness, his love, his favor.
You realize these outward actions of fasting and sackcloth flow from a broken heart. A reason stands behind each action.
The Israelites go through these motions. That is it. They give no thought to the change of heart God wants. Instead, they expect God satisfied by a mere mindless routine, as though they deserve a reward for fulfilling a requirement (Isaiah 58:3).
God is not fooled! His eyes penetrate the motives of the heart! He sees through the farce! God exposes empty-minded actions. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
What answer do you think God expects? Not action without care. God craves actions flowing from a changed heart— and not just any action, but action shaped by his Word.
Yes, some worship Christmas and Easter only. Others think if you worship on Sunday, then you will have a week free from accident and frustration. Still others think they will go heaven if their name is in a church record-book. Even others treat baptism like a good luck charm and refuse to feed that newly-created faith. Is that what God wants? A habit? A routine? A felt obligation? No!
Before we point fingers at others, dig into your own heart. When confessing your sins do specific wrongs reappear, or do you mindlessly rattle off those words? How long does the sermon stick with you? Five days?… Two days?… Eight hours? … The end of service? … Do you ponder exactly what you ask in the Lord’s Prayer, or do those words just tumble out of the mouth?
It may seem like that behavior carries no consequence, but if you do not take God’s Word in, then your actions will show it!
What do your actions reveal? Does God’s boundless forgiveness steer you away from revenge? That you choose your words carefully?… That you avoid unnecessary tense situations? Get angry last week? Did you lash out because your brother cursed God and your mom mocked Jesus? Or, was it because someone interfered with your pursuit for pleasure? As a congregation, we want people to know Jesus, right? Like God, we want no one in hell, but all to have eternal life (1 Timothy 2:3-4). So, did you reach out to those who have not worshipped for a while? Before we say, ‘Well, they still believe in Jesus,’ remember: actions reveal the attitude of the heart. Those who love God love hearing his Word. In fact, God makes a Commandment about worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus himself worships each week (Luke 4:16). The Bible says: ‘Let us not give up meeting together’ (Hebrews 10:25). Do you take those words to heart? Do you reach out to the spiritual stray, or do you just let them stray out of your mind?
You know, Israel thinks God somehow depends on their existence. That God needs their obedience. That without people, God shrivels away. That God is honored by their action. That is sheer, utter arrogance. Thinking that God has no choice but to love us because of a ritual, a tradition, a church membership book is arrogant. Thinking that God does not care about the words spilling from our mouths is arrogant. It claims that you are so special that God needs you. God saves you because of your behavior, your character.
God exposes that corrupt heart. He says, ‘I do not want that!’ In fact, he looks down and sees the Israelites lying scattered across the desert floor like mere light bulbs. No power. No light. No life. Nothing and no one could change that awful reality— except for God. It takes God to energize fruitful living.
He sets the Light of the world into our world. Jesus chases away the darkened thinking that God somehow exists for us. For three years he hammers that truth home. Worship exists for weary hearts to find rest, not as a checkmark on the spiritual scorecard (Mark 2:27). People may speak and sing, but if done with an empty mind, then God only sees a whitewashed tomb— pleasing to look at, but contains something stinky (Matthew 23:27). Jesus lights up this truth: ‘You(!) follow me(!) and live!’ (John 8:12)
Jesus shines so brightly that we cannot help but notice him. We see Someone whose heart is pure. We see Someone who gives so much. Look at the cross and what do you see? [Y]our light [shall] break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily… Jesus’ selfless life heals our self-centered arrogance. His full and complete pardon cheers us just like sunshine cheers us up!
God promises: [Y]our righteousness shall go before you… Understand, that is not your righteousness (as though you did something morally pleasing). God says, ‘Jesus, the One who lived morally right, clothes you in his righteousness’ (read Jeremiah 23:6). When you approach God, that is the first thing he sees: Hearts completely dedicated to him. You stand so wrapped in Jesus’ life that the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. When the Israelites left Egypt and walked ahead to a new land, God not only led them, but also protected their rear. Jesus keeps any past guilt from overwhelming you. How? [Y]ou shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ Yes, you regret the argument last week. Failing to speak up haunts us. We shudder how the heart became so loveless. The devil will poke the past and screech: ‘But God, he is not perfect! She failed!’ The Lord will answer: ‘But Jesus paid for that crime.’ His payment became yours in baptism.
Do you see? God takes you, this light bulb, and connects you to himself. He gives you a new identity: ‘Light!’ He gives you a new purpose: ‘Shine!’ God energizes fruitful living.
That’s where Christian living starts: Focusing on what God has done for you. The reason you (and I) want to demonstrate compassion is not because someone deserves it or because we stand to benefit. We love, because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love Jesus, which means we also love his teachings. We love putting those teachings into practice (2 John 1:6).
That’s why God says: [L]oose the bonds of wickedness… Conduct fair trials, let the innocent go free, avoid lawsuits! [U]ndo the straps of the yoke. [L]et the oppressed go free, [b]reak every yoke[.] If a friend repays a loan with work, release him when the debt is repaid. Untie him from the obligation! Yes, families, children, parents are tremendous blessings, but they can pierce your heart. How can you move past that blow-up? He took advantage of your generosity. She never calls or cares! How can you let that wrong go free? How do you forgive when everything seems so unforgiveable? Start with Christ.
Start with Christ. What has he done for you? When we took his blessings for granted, when we treated him like some genie, when we argued with his Word, Jesus cancelled the debt we owed. He changed our future! No longer do we wallow as distant from God, but live as God’s children now! Once you were darkness— but now you’re different; you are light! (Ephesians 5:8) A lights connected to the source of love, you shine that love.
Do not dwell on the past. Holding onto the past will not change your future. If you want peace, then aim for peace by leaving the past in the past and by looking forward to the future. [S]hare your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and [do] not to hide yourself from your own [family]. Do not hide from the family of believers. Connect with them! Write cards. Give a call. Stop by the house. No, not because Jesus will love you less. Because Jesus died for your soul. He suffered for that soul. Because Jesus wants that soul in heaven, and wants to keep feeding that heart with the peace of his forgiveness. Like God, we want no one to perish.
The life we live now is drastically different! God’s love impacts behavior. The love he has for you will be seen through you. Like a light bulb powered by a source. You cannot help, but shine his Word through your actions.
That is why Jesus calls us ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14). You (and I) are light bulbs— and light bulbs have a purpose. They reveal the unknown. They chase away evil. They fulfill their purpose when connected to power.
God illuminates our purpose. In fact, God exposes empty-minded actions. He teaches our dependence on him. He connected us to his forgiving love. His Word inside our hearts will shape our actions for others to see. God energizes fruitful living.
So, think about it. What you hear today. What you spoke earlier. What you will pray in a few minutes. What forgiving love God has again assured you of. How he has changed your heart. How he has changed your actions. Does Your Light Shine?
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.