Sermon Text: John 18:38
Lenten Sermon Theme: Jesus Battles Satan's Ally, the World.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. -- 1 Corinthians 15:20
Take a tissue box, one that is open. Take a tissue from out of the box and put it aside. Another one follows out of the top of the box.
You can pull and pull and pull and every time you do, another tissue appears. My box says it has 200 tissues. That means for 200 times I can put out one tissue and another one appears. That’s good because you never know when you will have a cold and need tissues. You can always have a lot of them.
But look at these tissues and think about the Easter message. The Easter message is that Jesus rose from the dead. He had died and been put into a grave. He was like a tissue in a box. But he came out of the grave. He popped right up and was alive.
That’s an exiting story! Someone was dead but now is alive. But it gets better. Our reading says, But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15:20
See, when Jesus came back from the dead, he opened the door to every grave. Because he died and returned to life, we can also come back to life after we die. We are like the tissues in a box. Jesus is the first one. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that we will also be raised from the dead. Because his death paid for the sin that causes our death, we don’t have to stay dead anymore.
We will all probably die someday, hopefully someday when we are very old. We will be buried. Jesus also died and was buried. But we won’t have to stay dead. Because he rose from the dead, so will we.
Each time you take out a tissue, check what happens when you pull it from the box. As you take out one, it pulls the second one up ready to be used. Then remember Easter. Jesus came out of the grave. When he died and rose again, he made you like the second tissue. You too will be able to come out of the grave and live in heaven with Jesus forever. Amen.
Luke 10:25-37/Eph. 2:10
Nov. 19, 2017
“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Created by God to do good works. Called by God to do good works. Called by God to serve him where we are. Called by God to a pastor, a parent, a worker. Called by God to be a shoemaker, a baker of cakes. Wherever we are, we are there because God put us there and intends for us to serve him. And God intends to serve others through us. That is vocation.
Vocation: God’s calling. Luther wrote on vocation more than anything else during his ministry except for justification by grace through faith. Why would he spend so much ink on vocation? He had been a monk. People became monks because they thought monks were these spiritual athletes, serving God by studying endless hours, worshiping and praying for hours at a time, by punishing themselves by going without food or water, or blankets. In reality monks thought they were paying for their sin and guilt before God. Luther later rejected monastery life for God’s teaching vocation: God’s calling to the individual.
I suppose it makes sense to want to be a spiritual athlete, like what was assumed for those in monasteries. But look at the patriarch Jacob. There are times God led Jacob to lofty heights. One day he struggled with the Lord in prayer. At that time there was no time for milking of goats or tending sheep. There was time only for struggling against sin and death and conquering through faith and hope. There were other times when Jacob is nowhere near the lofty heights and he’s caring for his family, taking care of his flocks. God’s people aren’t restricted to one work, like those in monasteries. God’s people devote themselves not only to spiritual exercises, but also domestic and political concerns.
Abraham is called to Mount Carmel to sacrifice Isaac: to do the very thing that God would do! Would you have slept on that three day journey? Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. But for Abraham, there must have been a lot of boring time waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Vocation: our calling in life. Employer/husband/father. Or employed/husband/father. Wife/mother/employed. Child/student/employed. Whatever station, or stations in life into which God has placed you, God calls you to be faithful. God calls you to do the good works he’s assigned to you.
What makes a Christian shoemaker? Is it because he puts little crosses on the shoes he makes? A Christian shoemaker puts his faith into practice by making good shoes. There is no such thing as Christian shoemaking. There isn’t a technique for making shoes only known by Christians. There are shoes made by baptized kings and queens, who make shoes because their neighbors need them. And when he makes quality shoes at a fair price he does the best job of meeting his neighbors’ needs. And he will make shoes cheerfully and with a commitment to quality and he’ll be convinced that God is delighted with his shoes because God is delighted with him in Christ.
If you are a Christian checkout clerk, you might have the ability to ring up 40 items per minute, but you’ll slow things down to chat with an elderly bachelor. A Christian checkout clerk sees his job as more than a bunch of items to be scanned. He sees a soul loved by Jesus.
Luther said, “He will work all things through you he will milk the cows through you and perform the most servile duties through you, and all the greatest and least duties alike will be pleasing to him.”
Luther said, “God milks the cows through the handmaides.” Then it’s true that God flips the burgers at McDonalds. God pours water at Bob Evans or Bonefish Grill. In food snobbishness you might say, “Eeuuww, I don’t like their burgers.” But God feeds hundreds of thousands that way. God carries the food to you through the waitress. God picks up after your meal at the country club through the busboy.
So, a Christian might be a common laborer, a shoemaker, a sweaty blacksmith. He might be dirty and smelly. But he can say, “My God made me a man. He gave me my wife, my house and my family and he has commanded me to love my family and provide for them. And this is how he allows me to do it. And he may stink outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense.”
We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” A pastor friend of mine put it this way: “Every day is Christmas for God.” A thousand opportunities contront the believer, all of which conform to God’s law. There need be no ringing of hands, God’s mercy being what it is, when the choice is between “good and good.” You choose one option when you know it is not a sin to choose another. It’s like going to a department store, looking at all that in the shelves until you settle on a particular item that catches you eye. You select that item, that good work, just for your Father. You crawl into his lap. He peels off the wrapping and exclaims, “Oh, and what a delight!” This is pure grace. And a mystery too because he you choose for him he chose for you.
A man was minding his own business, walking down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, about a 17-mile walk. “…he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” So now, all this man can do is be at the mercy of humanity.
A priest has an opportunity to be a blessing to the man who was beaten and left half dead. But when he saw the man he “passed by on the other side” of the road. He chose to not help.
How does a man of God not know this good work is sitting there for him? He, God’s teacher, would have known that the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) You bind you own wounds, don’t you? So, you bind the wounds of your neighbor. Give him shelter. This priest was determined to not be a blessing from God.
Then along came a Levite, “…when he came to the place and saw him he passed by on the other side.” A Levite was someone who worked in the temple. How could he not know “Love your neighbor as yourself?”
There was a third man who was walking the same road. Maybe his didn’t even belong on the road. He was a foreigner. People who lived there would have viewed this man as a half-breed. He came across this who had been beaten half to death. But he did not cross over to the other side of the road. No, “he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Two silver coins were two days wages. Two days wages would have paid a this man’s inn’s expenses for two months. Pretty generous for a man who was considered a half breed and looked down upon.
Vocation is our calling in life. God’s calling to serve him wherever we are in life. Sometimes that calling takes us to the proverbial mountaintop; sometimes that takes us to dirt, sweat and tears. Sometimes our vocation moves us to just mind our own business, but sometimes our vocation calls us to not mind our own business, like the Good Samaritan, who could have walked away but was a blessing from God.
I’d hate to see a computer printout of the times I’d didn’t love my neighbor as myself. I’d hate to see the number of times I didn’t do for my neighbor what I would have done for myself. I’d to see the number of times I’ve known others needed help and didn’t lift a finger. There are many times I, we didn’t show mercy.
God has shown mercy. Jesus didn’t walk on the other side of road to avoid helping. He used the roads to get those who needed help. He turned water into wine and saved a wedding reception. He healed an officials son. He drove out evil spirits. He healed Peter’s mother in law. He cleansed a man with leprosy. He healed a man who was paralyzed. He restored a man’s withered hand. He raised two people from the dead.
God has shown mercy. Before Jesus healed the lepers, he didn’t ask if they were Lutheran. When he granted sight to the blind, he didn’t ask if they were card carrying members of the same political party.
And mercy of mercies: he took the punishment of body and soul for our sins, as if he had committed them. He becomes all that is bad and evil and pays with it for his life. So I can become all things that are good and pleasing in his sight.
All so I can go to the rack and pick out a good work and go jump on my heavenly Father’s lap and say, this is for you. I could have picked another good work just the same, but this one I chose just for him. And he says, “Oh, how delightful and it’s just what I chose for you.”
What do you have going on today? Do you have some good things to do for your Father? Some “good works prepared in advance” because you are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus?” You may be hands that God uses to feed your family. You may be the one God uses to get someone out of a jam. You might be taken to a real spiritual mountaintop experience in His Word, or you may get dirty, smelly, grimy, and either way, it’s what God prepared for you.
I don’t think we can imagine the list of good works that each of us has already offered in service to our Father. Luther said, “Faith is active. Before it can ask what needs to be done faith is already doing it.”
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Mat 25:34-40)
Maybe the reason we don’t think about all we do as good works is because as we do our good works we are thinking about our Father. Have a wonderful day enjoying the many opportunities God prepared for you today to serve him. Amen.
1 Peter 2:9-12
November 12, 2017
My mommy has always thought I was special, even if I didn’t feel that way. My grades weren’t as good as my brothers; I got into more trouble than my brother; I wasn’t as cute as my younger sisters. Even so I have always known that I was special in my mommy’s eyes. Even at age 49, I can tell she is smiling when she is talking to me 1,700 miles. I have thought for a long time that my mommy’s love for me has more to do with her and her qualities than mine. I bet you can relate.
Better than a mommy’s love is the Father’s love. I know that through faith you understand that you are special, and that you are loved. But do you know how special you are to the Father? Do you know how loved you are by the Father? Do you understand how highly the Father thinks of you? It is not a stretch at all to say that I am in the presence of some of the most special people God ever made. Neither is it a stretch to say that I am in the presence of some of the most beloved people of God to ever walk this earth. Put plainly, I am in the presence of royalty.
And even though you are so loved and blessed you are not bratty. You are not entitled or spoiled. You are not holier than thou. What a special group of people you are and what a privilege it is for me to be with you today. It is also necessary for me to say that what you are, or what God has made you to be, is the result of His character and not our own.
Knowing the love of a loving mommy, didn’t you want to love her back? Knowing the love of this heavenly Father, don’t you just want to love her back?
“But you are a chosen people…” It would be enough to know that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son: if a mother can love each child in her family our Father can love each of us. We have four children, my mother would have loved five. God so loved the world… But he didn’t just love the world; he loved you in particular in that he sought you out and brought you to faith. He wanted you.
Before the world was created…before a star appeared in the sky…before God put fish in the sea and birds in the air…before God hand‐crafted Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden…God chose you to be a member of his believing family.
You are a chosen people and a “royal priesthood.” Royalty. I’m guessing you don’t feel much like royalty. I’m guessing people likely don’t treat you like royalty either. This sinful world doesn’t recognize you as such. The world might even get a good laugh at us because of our faith in Jesus, but your home is heaven and God is your true Father. You are not just a commoner or an underling in this family. You are part of the priesthood.
“A royal priesthood.” These words might bring to mind pictures of the Old Testament priests with their hands bloodied from sacrificing animals or lifting their hands toward heaven in prayer. Old Testament priests were the mediators, the “go-between” people between God and mankind. But Jesus’ death on the cross and payment for mankind’s sin erased the barrier between God and mankind. No longer does someone need a mediator to access God, because in Jesus all believers can access God directly. All believers are priests, royal priests, because they belong to the King and Creator of all things.
You don’t sacrifice animals. But here’s what you do offer to God: repentant hearts, prayers for ourselves and others, prayers for the spread of the gospel. In a very real way our God has equipped us with real skills to be used to serve him and others and each one of us serves him and others. And you yourself know what a joy it is to serve, to just serve. You, a royal priesthood, are a special people.
You are a “holy nation.” You’ll hear this pastor say that holy is to be without sin and that is true. But at it’s core, to be holy refers to something that is set apart for God’s purpose. God’s people in this original letter written by Peter were scattered around the world, and some them were fleeing for their safety. And yet, they were still set apart from the world in God’s eyes.
You are “God’s special possession.” You are God’s person possession. Kings in Peter’s day would have a special treasury set aside for themselves in the case of attack, theft, revolt or robbery. Through Jesus, you are God’s special, personal possession protected by him from the attacks of sin, Satan, and death. You belong to the King of kings, who gave everything to make you his own forever. All of that opposes you cannot defeat you or take you away from this King.
“A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” Do you understand how loved and blessed you are? You might object, “I was always the last one chosen when we chose sides for kickball in grade school.” You are the first pick in the first round of God’s draft. You might think, “I was never very good at sports, or scholastics, or gym. . So, it might be true you could have failed study hall in high school.” Holy is your status. Without sin is holy. Set apart by God for God is holy. You may say, “I don’t feel special” for whatever reason.
Whoever gave us permission to doubt God’s work? Whoever gave us permission to question the effectiveness of his work? I still don’t feel special. I’m still a sinner. I’m not worth choosing. That’s why this is born of God’s grace. In Jesus, God chooses you and says, “That’s my guy, or that’s my girl.” He is not embarrassed in the least to call you his own. And so dedicated is he to you that he does everything in his power to look after you and care for you. You are the apple of his eye and he will not let you out of his sight. He will even send his angels to watch over you and keep you from harm. You are his most treasured possession. You and the person next to you.
It was at great expense to himself that God chose us and bought us. His Son’s punishment on the cross saved us from the punishment and damnation we deserve. You are royalty--a royal priest, with your own access to the throne of God in prayer. You are holy--declared holy: without sin, set apart by God for service to God. You are his special possession, the apple of his eye. You are the cream of the crop, the first round draft choice, a special possession, holy.
You special people have a special purpose: that you “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” You who have gone from the darkness of unbelief to the light of faith declare now his praises. God has transformed you from curse-provoking enemies to his praise-proclaiming people.
So, what does that look like in everyday life? Peter explains, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world....” You are not a child of the darkness anymore. You know the difference between darkness and light and you want to live in His light. “Dear friends, I urge you… to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” We are tempted to think a little greed or a little lust is no big deal, but sinful thoughts are darkness. Peter warns us to keep away from such sinful desires, because they “war against your soul.” You’ve been called into Christ’s wonderful light to declare his praises. Sinful desires will only drag you back to the darkness. Peter urges us to let our lives declare God’s praises. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Jesus had instilled in his disciples an awareness that he could return at any moment. The early Christians had that belief too. We are closer to the last day than they are. Christ is coming soon, and a time will come when you and I will have to stand before the holy God. And what will he see? What will he declare about us: sinners living in the dark, or holy, chosen, royal priests? He will see what Jesus did for us. And that will be reflected in our lives. Through faith in Christ, we let our lives “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
What a sweet sound it must be to God’s ears when he hears us join our voices and sing his praises. What a pleasant thing it must be when believers send God prayers filled with adorations and thanksgivings. Praises to God are good and pleasing to him. But so are praises about God to others. It is one of our greatest privileges in life to tell others of the Lord’s wonderful deeds, how he swallowed up death, how he devoured hell, how he overcame the devil, how he opened the gates to paradise.
But our decisions declare his praises. Our priorities declare his praises. The use of our time and talents and money declare his praises. We declare his praises at home, at work and in society in all we do.
People might ask you, “Why do you read your Bible?” The Bible keeps me in the light, or it brighten my life with His light, you may answer. Or, “Why do you tell others about Jesus when you may be persecuted?” Jesus wants other to live in that light. And so you speak about Jesus who changed your life, who lived obediently for you, who died innocently for you, who forgives your sin and has opened heaven for you. Then you can watch as maybe the Lord uses even your weak and stumbling praise to change the hearts of an unbeliever, or the religiously careless.
Your life has purpose. Your life has meaning and can make a difference in the life of another. Your life proclaims praise to God!
Someone has said, “You may be the only Bible people ever read.” Someone else said, “The best sermons are preached when people walk about the door and live their lives.” Our lives may not teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we must take the time to teach and preach and explain the good news of Jesus to others. But your life as a reflection of Christ’s love does open the door to share the gospel with many others who need the light of God’s love in their souls. You are special people: you live in the light of God’s love. You have a special purpose: you live to declare his praises. Amen.
Daniel 6:1-23, November 5, 2017
Most of my good friends are sports fans, fanatics. Football especially. I have friends that are Michigan fans. Michigan fans are not fans of Michigan State. Someone dressed in blue and maze colors of Michigan is not going to say, “Go Spartans.” I know Ohio State Buckeye fans too. Fans of Ohio State are not fans of Michigan and fans of Michigan are not fans of Ohio State. You cannot be a fan of both.
The solution? Be a Badger fan of the Wisconsin Badgers. Go Big Red. Good program, good coaches. Come over to the good side. Forget Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s how fans think, right? You can’t be a fan of two teams which oppose each other.
But imagine pledging your loyalty to two kingdoms. Right here there are two kingdoms. And we pledge loyalty to both. Christians pledge their loyalty to two different areas of authority. We are Faithful Subjects of Two Kingdoms. We are faithful to His earthly kingdom and we are faithful to His Heavenly Kingdom. Daniel provides us with a great example of such a faithful subject.
I’d like to paraphrase a little from Chapter 6. King Darius appointed 120 satraps, or administrators, to rule throughout his kingdom, which was the world power and he placed three administrators over the administrators, one of whom was Daniel. And he planned to make Daniel ruler over the entire kingdom. Daniel is 80 years old at this time?
So, Daniel didn’t live in the Holy Land for most of his life, like most of the Bible’s characters we study. He lived on a land on the other side of the Fertile Crescent called Babylon. Why did he live there? Because in Daniel chapter one we learn that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to the Jerusalem and God delivered the city and its inhabitants to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar needed officials in his growing empire, so he brought in Israelites from the royal family and nobility. He wanted young men who would be qualified to serve in his kingdom, so young men who had no physical defect, handsome, aptitude for every kind of learning and handsome. And then after three years of training, learning their language and literature, Daniel then entered the king’s service. One of these young men was Daniel.
So, Daniel is ripped away from his homeland while a young boy when the King of Babylon served as God’s tool to bring repentance to the Israelites. But he served faithfully. If you remember it was Daniel who interpreted two dreams for King Nebuchadnezzar. Then there was King Belshazzar, who was throwing a party to his gods, and the Lord caused a hand to write mysterious words on a wall. From this account, we get the familiar saying about “seeing the handwriting on the wall.” Daniel interpreted the words for King Belshazzar. And now he serves King Darius, the conqueror of the Babylonian. Darius is pleased with Daniel, 80 years old, who serves as administrator of administrators, and is being considered to run the entire empire.
Daniel is a Jew. He’s not a Babylonian. He’s not Medo-Persian. How would you like if some Middle East country took over the United States and asked you to serve in some authoritative way? But Daniel was faithful. This caused jealousy among the other administrators. Perhaps his Jewish-ness was appreciated by everyone. So these men conducted a secret investigation into Daniel’s governing of the past. Surely there were some skeletons in his closet somewhere! But remarkably, we see there were none. Daniel’s record of faithfulness was flawless. Imagine if this could be true of our politicians today!
Are we faithful and loyal to our earthly kingdom? I ran across a letter someone wrote to the IRS a few years ago about their quarterly tax payment.
Dear gentlemen of the IRS, A few comments about my quarterly payment are probably in order. My quarterly payment is $1875. I recently read that the president paid $575 for a toilet seat used on his personal jet, so I am enclosing two toilet seats in this package. That leaves my balance at $725. I also read that the US army on the base in our town was purchasing common work hammers for $105 apiece. I have also enclosed 7 hammers, worth $735 to you, in this package, bringing my total to -$10. You can send me a check or money order for the $10 that you owe me to the address on my voucher. Happy to do my part, John C. Doe
Obviously, this person had some humor in mind writing that. The Bible says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1) God commands our submission to our government. The Bible says “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) Our country prospers when it has the proper support of its citizens. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Support of our government is a witness of faith
The man who wrote to the IRS obviously wrote with some humor, humor we can all understand. However, your opinion on immigration does not give you the right to disobey traffic laws or withhold your taxes. Your president’s stance on an issue you take issue with does not give you the right to speak poorly of him. Your president’s use of Twitter doesn’t give you the right to disrespect him. He may not be up to your standards, but we are not up to God’s standards.
There may be issues in the future that involve government that turn us off as Christians. There may be support for abortion, promotion of unchristian world religions in the public school system. But that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to be faithful in this kingdom.
Think Daniel. Think King David. Before he as King of Israel, King Saul hunted him and wanted him dead. David had already been anointed as the next king of Israel. David had Saul inches away from him on more than one occasion; he could have taken his life; once as Sasul lie sleeping on the ground, once as Saul was relieving himself in a cave. But he would not raise a finger against the Lord’s anointed. A complete jerk, yes! A man who had rejected God? Yes! A man who was David’s personal enemy? Yes! But Saul was the Lords anointed and David respected him.
Read the life of David and imagine David saying, “Men, we are being hunting by Saul. I have great respect for the office of the king, but I have no respect for this king.” You’d have to imagine this because this would not have happened. David respected the man who held the office because you cannot separate the two. David suffered because of the administration of his king, but he was faithful.
But think of Jesus. On trial before the High Priest, who probably bought his position. It would be tough to respect that. It’s an illegal trial at that. Tough to respect this too. Jesus is asked a question about his disciples and he responded by telling them they should ask his disciples. He was slapped in the face with an open hand. Also illegal. Jesus suffered under the administration of the Jewish court. But he spoke the truth; he answered their questions. He was faithful.
Sometimes people talk about Jesus like he was a man who bucked the system and fought against things institutional. This is not true. Jesus submitted to the Jewish government. He submitted to the Roman government. He paid his taxes. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And what did Jesus offer to God? Faithfulness in the face of unfaithfulness. Righteousness in the midst of unrighteousness. Perfect love, perfect respect, perfect obedience for a world full of sinners. In suffering unfairness, being on the opposite end of those who ruled with self-centeredness, Jesus didn’t just endure agony on the cross. He endured God’s wrath. It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer: unjustly, innocently, sacrificially. For a world of sinners. So, you see unfaithfulness, disrespect, faithlessness=sin. Think Jesus who paid for all of it.
When faithfulness is required and desired by God, think Jesus. When suffering at the hands of a government that is non-Christian, think Jesus, who paid for all injustice, all sin. When tempted to disrespect government, think David, who wouldn’t. Think Jesus who didn’t, who paid for all unrighteousness.
But we are faithful subjects in two kingdoms. Daniel also gives us a wonderful example of how to be faithful in God’s heavenly kingdom, which isn’t a reference to heaven, but God’s rule in our hearts and the authority over us right now also.
“The administrators and the satraps went in a group to the king and said: ‘O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.”
This placed Daniel in quite a dilemma. So what would he do now? Daniel also knew that this was a type of law known as the “law of the Medes and Persians.” That meant that it could not be changed under any circumstances. You probably have heard the phrase, “It’s not written in stone,” meaning there’s some flexibility. But there was no flexibility when it came to this law. It could not be repealed; it was written in stone. So what would he do now?
Daniel’s conscience would not allow him to pray to the king. Daniel’s conscience would not allow him to stop praying to the Lord out loud. Daniel’s conscience was going to allow him to be secretive in his prayers to the Lord. In Daniel’s mind, he’d then be denying his Lord to the world around him.
So we hear, “When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Earthly decrees against his Lord made no difference to Daniel. He was faithful to his heavenly kingdom. He prayed as he always had, regularly and openly.
And we see how the Lord in his mercy defended Daniel who had done the right thing. Even though the king gave in to this hateful plot and had Daniel put in the lions’ den, as Daniel said the next morning, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.”
The principle has not changed for us today. We support our earthly and heavenly kingdoms, but if the two ever clash, it’s clear to us which one wins out. Ever play cards? In certain card games there are trump and fail. Every trump card takes every fail card. The Lord’s commands trump any commands that men or human governments may put in place. have to make a choice in future days in our country on what they preach about. There is a current movement in our land to make any speaking out against homosexuality a “hate crime,” punishable by law. This is already a law in Canada. Preachers could be watched for allegiance to this. What will preachers do? If this is required, or not allowed, by the general public, what will you do?
It’s easy to say, “I’ll do what Daniel did” when there are no lions, or when there are no government officials listening to your every word. The lions were real. And earlier in Daniel there were three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not bow down and worship a golden statue. Three dissenters. What would you do if you are the only dissenter? What will you do if you are the only one?
But there’s really only just one. Think Jesus, your Savior. You pray to him, read about him, worship him, act like him, and love him day and night. Think Jesus who gave his life for you. You are his disciple no matter where you live, no matter where you go--off to college, out of town, on the town, to school, to military service.
May we be faithful to two kingdoms! May we love and support our land and pray that God would bless it. May we be faithful to our heavenly kingdom, for God has blessed us so much. May God give us wisdom and guidance when life circumstances make it difficult between the two kingdoms. And finally, we pray that God would guide this world’s circumstances so that his gospel can be preached freely and that all those around us might be faithful citizens of both kingdoms! Amen.
Is there any sense we can make of all the evil around us? It is so senseless, so meaningless. And is there any amount of legislation that can rid our culture of evil? No, the Apostle Paul “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom.3:20).
But as students of God’s Word, and as Lutherans, we are uniquely qualified to deal with tragedy, heartache, and struggle. One of the most precious gems handed down to us through the Reformation is a right understanding the theology of the cross. Through the eyes of faith and the light that shines through the truths of the God’s Word, we as Lutherans Treasure the Cross.
And that makes us strange to others in our world. It isn’t shocking for you to hear that we “find joy in the cross” because we find joy in Christ’s cross. For it is through that instrument of torture that God exacted full payment for our sin. The cross is little like one of those old credit card machines, the type that would take an imprint of your card by pressing it hard against a piece of carbon paper. So Jesus was pressed hard against the cross to leave an imprint of His sinless identity while absorbing the ink of our sins which were charged to His account. Now, in Jesus we have forgiveness and the promise of an eternal life of happiness. Of course we find joy in the cross of Christ. It means our salvation!
So, the cross means forgiveness for sin! The cross means God and man are reconciled! The cross means heaven is wide open for all! The cross means Satan loses! We find joy in the cross of Christ.
But it’s not just the cross of Christ that brings us joy. Martin Luther brought to light for the Church that we can also find joy in the cross that God calls each believer to carry. Jesus once said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).
Jesus said that we each must carry a cross in His name. This cross doesn’t earn forgiveness. Our own crosses are not the cause of our salvation, but our crosses are a necessary consequence of our salvation in Jesus.
But why? Why is it necessary to carry a cross? If we have faith in Jesus and through that faith we’ve been promised the ultimate prize: eternal life in heaven, why do we need to carry crosses? Because even though we’ve been promised the prize, we don’t actually hold it in our hands yet. It’s like buying a new car at the dealership. The paperwork is filled out and you hold the key to your car, but it’s not yours until you put the key into the ignition. Only then can you enjoy what the new car has to offer. Through faith in Jesus the joys of heaven are ours, but we’re not there yet to enjoy it.
To keep us from throwing away the key to heaven, or to keep us from trading it in for some other earthly, temporal joy, God fits each of us with a cross to carry. The Apostle Paul explains why when he wrote: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:2-5a). The cross that each believer must bear keeps that individual looking to and longing for Christ. It drives us to our knees in prayer. It drives us to despair of ourselves and to continually seek comfort in God and His promises, rather than in any of the many false “treasures” this world has to offer.
Consider the circumstances of Job. Job was a man who lived probably about the same time as Abraham, some 4500 years ago. He was wealthy and a believer in the true God. One day Satan came into God’s presence and God brought Job to his attention. God gave Job a ringing endorsement about what a faithful believer he was. To which Satan remarked, “The only reason he loves you, God, is because you spoil him. Take away his toys. Take away his health. Take it all away and he’ll surely curse you to your face.” “Very well then,” God replied. “Have your way with Job, only don’t kill him.”
You know what happened: Job lost everything, including all 10 children, and then even his health. Job’s friends, who knew nothing about what had led to his difficulties, figured that God must be punishing Job for some sin. So they urged him to repent. But Job’s suffering wasn’t caused by any specific sin. Yet Job couldn’t explain why he was suffering. The only thing he could do was throw himself on God’s mercy, which is exactly what he did in these words before us – words which have brought comfort to many suffering believers. Listen again to these familiar and comforting words. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I and not another. How my heart yearns within me.”
Ever felt that way? Have you ever been as excited as Job about seeing God? It likely happens when we are undergoing our toughest situations. When things are easy, there seems to be no need for God. But without God, without faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin, we have nothing worth holding on to in this life because the Bible tells us that this world and everything in it will be destroyed.
In his explanation to the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther said this about carrying the cross: “…where God’s Word is preached…and bears fruit, there the holy precious cross will also not be far behind. And let no one think that we will have peace; rather, we must sacrifice all we have on earth—possessions, honor, house…spouse and children…body and life. Now, this grieves our flesh…for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us” (Luther’s Large Catechism).
But difficulty itself is not a cross. Even unbelievers have to put up with sickness, with broken relationships, financial ruin or lost loved ones. What makes hardship or tragedy a cross is how God calls us to deal with it: with faith, with patient humility, continuing to put God’s will and the needs of others before our own. If I carry my cross I deny myself: my sinful self--sinful pleasures, put aside sinful pursuits. As you know, the sinful nature doesn’t want that. It wants us to put ourselves first, to seek our own happiness. But if we live that way, we are not carrying our crosses and we are turning our backs on God and his promise of eternal life.
But Christians, don’t despair, God promises help in carrying our crosses. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). We also think of the rest we have in Jesus, which we do, but perhaps a better translation would be “…and I will give you refreshment.” When Jesus invited us to come to Him to find rest, He didn’t mean that we’d find an end to our troubles and pain once we became Christians. That’s a false teaching called the “theology of glory.” It’s what we hear from preachers who claim that strong faith produces a happy and prosperous life. No, God wants you to have so much more than the fading riches of a dying world. He wants you to enjoy heaven! But He also knows how Satan will use the riches and happiness of this world to distract us from what is truly important. That’s why God lets us struggle, lets us see firsthand how health is fleeting, how worldly wealth or the latest gadgets don’t bring lasting joy. And this isn’t a lesson He’ll teach us just once, but again and again. In fact, we can expect to carry a cross our whole lives with its slivers digging in at different places at different times. But we never have to bear the cross alone. We run to Jesus and His Word and find refreshment, because in His Word we learn the reason for the cross: to break our love for this world, for ourselves, and to keep us focused on the true prize of heaven.
When we fail to do so… to keep running to His Word… we only end up trying to ditch our cross. We do that in numerous ways: by ducking out of difficult relationships, by surrounding ourselves with more and more creature comforts… by stealing because we don’t want to deal with the stress of working… or by escaping through drugs or alcohol. When you’re tempted to do that, remember the example of Job. Remember the cross of Christ, and throw yourself again on God’s mercy and promises. Hold steadfast to the promise that through the blood of Christ, even though your skin will be destroyed, you will be raised to life and when you are, you’ll come face to face with your living, loving Savior. Until then keep meeting Him in His Word and in the body and blood He offers in the sacred meal.
So much tragedy on the news, in our nation, around the world, and in our own lives! How can we take it? How can we even begin to wrap our minds around it all? Only through the cross! The cross of your Savior Jesus, who has overcome the sin of the world… your sin, and mine. The cross that has redeemed this world and overcome even death itself. And what a treasure, too, then, is the cross He lays on us… As our peace and happiness is so often fleeting in this life, and even opposed to salvation, our cross drives us back to His… and to the eternal treasures He alone has won! So rejoice, dear Christians… in HIS cross, AND yours! Amen.
Albrecht Dittrich and Jack Barsky are two men from the same town in Germany. They share the same parents but they are not brothers…nor are they adopted. How can that be? How can one have the same parents and still not be brothers or at least be adopted?! That’s because Albrecht Dittrich and Jack Barsky is the same person.
Dittrich-Barsky served as a Soviet spy in the United States from 1978 until 1988. He maintained the two identities so completely that his parents didn’t even know that he was in the U.S. They thought he was doing top-secret work for the Soviet space program in southern Kazakhstan. But probably even more impressive, or perhaps more troubling was the fact that Dittrich-Barsky had two families. He had a wife and son back in East Germany, while married to another woman in the U.S. with whom he had a daughter. The two families didn’t know about each other. The spy later reflected, “I did a good job of separating the two. Barsky had nothing to do with Dittrich, and Dittrich wasn’t responsible for Barsky.”
Can you imagine…? …what it would be like to live such a double life? Actually, as a Christian, you do it all the time. As we continue our series The Lutheran Mind is a Biblical Mind, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, we’ve been led to see we live this double life. There is a battle that rages within us. Christians are at the Same Time Saints and Sinners.
Have you ever been surprised at how Christians act or react? Two people profess to be Christians can actually shout at each other in a mindless rage of accusation. Two people who profess to be Christians unlovingly shout at each other or fighting over some ultimately insignificant point of disagreement. “These people are Christian?” you wonder to yourself in shock and disappointment. Instead of compassion and patient understanding, you heard anger and bitterness.
This should not surprise us. Paul himself admitted: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). This was the confession of a man who had dedicated his life to telling others about Jesus Christ. Paul admitted he struggled with this. And not just once in a while, but all the time!
Paul and every believer struggles with sin. Paul writes, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Believers continue to struggle with sin because we continue to possess a sinful nature. At first this sinful nature was in control of all our desires and actions—like a hacker who can make your computer do anything he wants to. But when we were baptized, the Word-infused-water short circuited the sinful nature’s control over us and created a new impulse within—a new nature that can and does struggle against the sinful nature’s schemes. The two now grapple with each other like opposing basketball players fighting for control of a loose ball. And you know what this grappling feels like. You want to be patient, you really do, but you keep losing it with your loved ones, and go to bed ashamed of how you treated your family yet again. You may even think to yourself, “How can I call myself a Christian? How can I say that heaven is in my future when my present actions are so evil?”
And this battle rages whenever my mind or body is engaged. I want to be generous, but I end up being selfish. I want to consider others needs before my own, but I end up thinking of myself first. I want to cut bad words out of my vocabulary, but I say the same things over and over again. I want to serve the Lord, but I want to be served.
It’s comforting to know that Paul, too, constantly struggled with sin. He wasn’t a total failure. We aren’t either. While our sins should trouble us they should not send us into hopeless despair. What did Paul say at the end of our text? “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, 25a)
Left to his own devices Paul’s future would’ve been bleak. But Paul, along with every other sinner in the world, hasn’t been left to his own devices. God has delivered us from the consequences of our sin through the work of Jesus. When a double agent’s cover has been blown, his home country will do everything to extract him from the danger he faces. The spy’s boss will even send in an elite combat team, willing to sacrifice those lives to save the spy. Likewise our heavenly Father sent in his best commando, his own Son, whose life he knew he would be sacrificing to save ours. And Jesus saved us by taking on our identity to face the firing squad, while we escaped using his identity. When God looks at us now, He really sees His righteous Son even though we are still sinners. To summarize these truths Martin Luther once wrote: “Christians are righteous and sinners at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God” (Luther’s Commentary on Galatians 3:6, AE 26:232).
So while my sins are despicable, they don’t disqualify me from heaven, not as long as I continue to confess faith in Jesus—just as someone who has entered the witness protection plan is safe as long as he keeps using his new identity and not his old one. But confessing faith in Jesus is more than just saying you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and your savior from sin. Those who make that claim and really believe it won’t willingly continue to live in sin. Martin Luther correctly explained that the life of a Christian is a life of repentance (1st of 95 Theses). Paul is a good example of that truth. In our text he doesn’t shrug his shoulders at the sins he keeps committing. He’s bothered by them! He also throws himself on Jesus’ mercy for forgiveness. That’s what true believers still do today as the Holy Spirit works faith in their hearts.
I said at the beginning of this sermon that understanding that we are sinner-saints is important so that we are both warned and comforted. We are warned because we should never think that the sinful nature is going to stop making a play for our soul. Satan will continue to entice us, and the world will throw its weight behind those temptations. So I’ll always want more money. I’ll always want to put other people down to make myself feel better. I’ll always have dirty thoughts. Therefore I’ll always need Jesus and his forgiveness. I’ll also want to be wise and not expose my sinful nature to websites, movies, shows, and magazines that will excite it—just as you wouldn’t dream of carrying steaks into the enclosure where that vicious guard dog lives in your neighborhood. Why attract his attention and invite an attack?
On the other hand it is comforting to know that I’m a sinner-saint because it is not my good behavior that will get me into heaven. It is Jesus and what he has done. So I may struggle with a particular sin my whole life, but that won’t necessarily disqualify me from heaven. The key word there is “struggle.” If I’m not struggling against sin, then it means that I’ve either died and gone to heaven, or I’ve become an unbeliever.
It’s also helpful to remember that Christians are sinner-saints so that we interact better with other believers. It should not surprise us when believers do things that shock. Kind David committed adultery and murder. King Solomon had 300 wives and another 700 concubines! We have a sinful nature with which we do not want to play games. Do you know a jeep owner who thinks he can make it through any muddy bush trail because he has 4-wheel drive? But even 4-wheel drives can get stuck in the mud, just as Christians can become permanently stuck in sin so they end up abandoning the faith. When a fellow Christian does get stuck in sin, we will help them get unstuck by calling that individual to repentance in a gentle but firm way remembering how we often get stuck in sin too.
Dittrich-Barsky, the spy I told you about in the introduction, must be glad that he doesn’t have to live a double life anymore. Maybe it was exciting for a time, but he also must have known that he couldn’t do it forever. Sooner or later his cover would be blown and he would have to choose between one life or the other. For better or for worse he chose to stay in the States.
Likewise we have two identities that vie for our attention and for control. Choosing to live by the sinful nature is exciting to the sinful nature, but it will lead to eternal damnation. Living for Jesus who bought us with His own blood may lead to a more difficult life now in some ways, but in the end it will be worth it. Keep struggling against that sinful nature with His divine and ever-present help. And keep encouraging fellow sinner-saints to do the same. And when you fall into sin, because you will, look to Jesus for rescue. He will never turn his back on you. Amen.
1 Kings 17:17 | September 24, 2017
We all have our own stories to tell Irma of. Some of us left; some stayed. We all made decisions perhaps for different reasons. Some of us had damage; others of us can’t believe how little damage we had. It could have been worse. Easily. God is merciful. From the moment I saw the eye of the storm going more inland, I thought, God is merciful. And from the time I returned to see how little damage we had to the time we received power last night there is one phrase going through my head and lips: God is merciful.
At some point tragedy hits all of us. Tragedy, an event that turns life upside down, leaving tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts. Because we live in a sinful world tragedy will come our way. Perhaps it will be the loss of a home because of a hurricane. Or it might a diagnosis of a loved one. A car crash taking the life of a loved one. It might be a broken dream or a broken body. Tragedies are often a part of life.
As Christians we are confident that God is with us always and that he will always work everything out for our eternal good. And yet when a tragedy strikes our lives that faith will be tested. We will be tempted to blame ourselves, or others, or even God for what happens to us, or those we love. In our pain we may also be tempted to cry out, “Why, Lord? Why did you allow this to happen?”
In the sermon lesson for today, we are given two examples of how people responded to tragedy. One example comes from a widow whose son died. The other comes from the great prophet Elijah. Although we could focus on any number of truths found in this Scripture let’s narrow our thoughts to one question. “What Do We Do When Tragedy Strikes?” I. Do we try to find someone to blame? II. Or do we respond with prayer and faith?
Please allow me to share some background to this story. Under the leadership of King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel God’s people were worshiping false gods. In addition to the sin of idolatry the majority of the people were also living their lives contrary to God’s Commandments. Because of their unfaithfulness, God used Elijah to pronounce a curse on the land saying that there would be no rain or dew for several years. Of course, this made Elijah a hated and hunted enemy of King Ahab. So Elijah went into hiding. For a time God provided food and water for him in the Kerith Ravine east of the Jordan River. Ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day. Then after the brook dried up the LORD sent Elijah to a widow’s house in foreign country. The town was called Zarephath. You may also remember how God used a miracle to continue to feed his prophet, and the widow, and her son. He made it so that the widow’s jar of oil and jug of flour never became empty.
I. But then God allowed a tragedy to strike the home where Elijah was staying. The widow’s son became sick and in time, the child died. Let’s see how each of these two reacted to the tragedy. “Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” Her response was to put the blame on Elijah. She knew he was a prophet of God. And she seems to have assumed that he had the power to take her son’s life. But her words reveal something more. Wasn’t she also blaming God for the tragedy? After all Elijah was a prophet of the true God! And in a sense she was blaming herself. She brought up her past sins—whatever they may have been—and speculated that God was somehow punishing her for the things she had done.
This woman had been experiencing God’s loving care in her life. Remember that when she first met Elijah she was gathering some sticks so she could build a small fire and make a little bread with the last of her oil and flour. After that she assumed she and her son would simply starve to death. But because of God’s promise every time she went to make bread there was always flour and oil to use. But even with that daily reminder of God’s concern for her she assumed that the death of her son was punishment for something she had done.
But isn’t that the way it can seem in our lives too? Even if it isn’t a tragedy, perhaps it’s some small setback or inconvenience, we immediately look to blame someone. Perhaps we blame those around us. Or we blame God and ultimately ourselves because like the widow of Zarephath we think God is punishing us for our sins. Even though we have enjoyed an unending supply of his love each day of our lives we quickly lose sight of it when trouble comes our way. This is the way our sinful nature reacts to things that we perceive to be harmful to us and those we love. We fall into the sins of doubting God’s Word, or accusing God of not loving us. And, oh, how we fail when a real tragedy strikes us! Then we blame God and quickly sink into despair.
So how the prophet Elijah react? “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Elijah didn’t wonder if God was behind the child’s death. He knew that God controls everything and so he knew that God was behind illness and death. What Elijah wanted to know was why God brought such a tragedy into the home where he was staying! He likely understood why God was causing the Israelites to suffer. And he seems to have at least accepted their punishment. The drought that afflicted Israel and the starvation that came with it were part of God’s just judgment on his people. But what had this pagan woman done to also have such a tragedy strike her life? Elijah seems dumbfounded that God had allowed this to happen the way he did.
In Elijah’s reaction to the tragedy we see the reaction we often have. “Why?” “Why” is probably the first word that comes out of our mouth in response to a tragedy. Oh, I am not talking about asking why tragedies happen. We know why people die, why relationships end, why things don’t turn out as planned. This world is a fallen place and those things happen frequently. But we ask why they happen to us and to those we love. After all, if we are children of God through faith in Christ why doesn’t he protect us from these things? He has the power to spare us from these things and he promises to protect us. So we feel like we should be spared from tragedies and suffering. Although it may be that Elijah didn’t “cross the line” and sin against God by questioning what God had done, we can’t always say that of ourselves. Very often fall into the sins of doubting God’s power to help us and his plan in our lives. And we soon find ourselves second guessing his love as well.
A few years ago I came across a poem written by a pastor named Jack Hyles entitled, “Why?” It resonates with me since I too have experienced what he describes in this poem. As a pastor I am frequently asked why God does what he does. And as a sinner I too have struggled with blaming God or myself when things go wrong. The poem reads, “I have heard the white-tipped tapping cane, / Which leads a blinded eye. / And then a darkened, lonely voice / Cries, “Preacher, show me why.” // I have caught a fiancée’s burning tears, / And heard her lonely cry. / She held an unused wedding gown, / And shouted, “Pastor, why?” // I have heard the cancer patient say, / “’Tis gain for me to die;” / Then look into his daughter’s face, / And mutely whisper, “Why?” // I’ve heard an orphan faintly say, / Who gazed into the sky, / “Tho Mom and Dad have gone away, / My preacher will know why.” // I have sat beside a tiny crib, / And watched a baby die, / As parents slowly turned toward me, / To ask, “Oh, Pastor, why?” // I tiptoed to my Father’s throne, / So timid and so shy, / To say, “Dear God, some of Your own / Are wanting to know why.” // I heard Him say so tenderly, / “Their eyes I’ll gladly dry, / Tho they must look through faith today, / Tomorrow they’ll know why.” // And so I’ve found it pleases Him / When I can testify, / “I’ll trust my God to do what’s best, / And wait to find out why.” May God give us such a faith and the patience to wait to find out why.
What do we do when tragedy strikes? Our natural reaction is to respond like the widow or even Elijah. We may speculate about who is to blame. Or we may wonder why God allowed tragedy to strike our lives. For the times we have “crossed the line” and sinned in our responses to tragedies we ask Jesus to forgive us. He died for those sins too! And we ask God the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond differently in the future when and if tragedy strikes.
II. What do we do when tragedy strikes? The two individuals in our sermon text offer an example of a better way, a more God-pleasing way, to react to tragedy. Although the widow was understandably overwhelmed with grief at the death of her son did you catch her subtle reaction toward Elijah? When Elijah told her to give him her son she released her embrace on her lifeless son. In letting Elijah take him she seems to have at least hoped that the prophet might be able to raise her son from the dead. And the Prophet Elijah also didn’t despair of God’s love and power in this desperate situation. Although he at first questioned why God did what he did he quickly responded with prayer. "Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” When tragedy strikes a believer this is the reaction God is looking for from us. He invites us to pray boldly and confidently with faith in God’s power and promises.
And perhaps you know the rest of the story. The LORD answered Elijah’s prayer. “The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” God still has power over life and death. He is still the one who works miracles as dramatic as raising people from the dead. In every situation in life he invites us to come with our prayers and with faith that he will answer us. And he assures us that he will hear us when we cry out to him in prayer.
The fact that God has the power to replace death with life will serve to remind us that he can take care of everything else in our lives. Truly whether we live or die we are under his powerful care. God can handle the things we face at home or at work. Through all the difficulties and challenges in life God’s strength is sufficient to meet all our needs. And especially when tragedies strike we can have confidence in God’s power. A.W. Tozer, a Christian author stated it well, “Anything God has ever done, he can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere, he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, he can do for you.”
So often we will fall short of what God wants and even of the example of faith we have in our sermon text. But let’s do this: let’s make prayer our first stop, not our last resort. God is not angry with us. Let’s not be angry with him. God has promised never to ignore us, let us not ignore speaking to him.
In the end the widow’s faith was strengthened to trust God’s Word spoken through Elijah. And we can be certain that Elijah’s confidence in God’s plan for him was also restored. “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.” In everything we face in life, from minor problems to major tragedies we can be certain that God wants the same things for each of us. Whether he provides a miracle to rescue us or he sends us the strength to live through a tragedy if our faith in him and his Word is strengthened then his purposes have been accomplished.
If you spend any amount of time in the hospital this pastor will read to you from Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” What a wonderful promise, but what a sobering reality. God’s didn’t say that he will be with us “if” we go through the waters, fires, and rivers of danger and disaster. He said that he will be with us “when” we go through those things. Yes, tragedies will be a part of our lives. But how do we respond when tragedies strike? Who’s to blame? Job said, “The Lord gave, the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” As we reflect on the reactions of the Widow of Zarephath and the Prophet Elijah we see that they struggled in their reactions to tragedy. But they also responded with prayer and faith. May God the Holy Spirit work in our hearts the same ability. How will we respond when tragedy strikes? To his glory, may our response be prayer and faith. Amen.
Are you ever surprised at how strong Satan really is? I mean we all know about the power of the devil and we talk about the power of the devil, but does it ever happen to you that some news story breaks and you just sit straight up and say, “Man, Satan really has a lot of power!” When people talked about Osama bin Laden, or Sadam Hussein, they talked about Satan’s power. When the name Adolf Hitler comes up, “Satan has a lot of power.” Or when you here of clergy abusing children, you get the same feeling.
But let’s get a little closer to home. Why does my neighbor risk messing up his life with liquor and drugs? Why does my co-worker risk destroying his marriage by living with reckless abandon? Why did my friend decide life wasn’t worth living and take her own life? Why? Because Satan is alive and well and living on planet earth, that’s why. Don’t ever underestimate how strong the devil is. Peter wrote in his First Letter: “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
So, are you surprised at how easily Jesus took down the devil? Jesus really out-powered the devil, didn’t he? Satan came at Jesus three times, with three very real temptations. God is letting you starve; make some bread and feed yourself. God wants you to suffer and die before he’ll give you glory; I’ll give it to you now if you worship me. You say you trust God; OK, prove it. Jump. He’d been in the middle of the wilderness for 40 days and hadn’t had a meal the whole time. But each time Satan came at him, Jesus put him down. Quickly. Easily. And he did it with just three words in the language of the New International Version: “It is written.”In the original Greek language, it is just one little word: gegraptai. One little word, and the devil’s temptations were a memory.
For hundreds and hundreds of years Christians have come to church on the First Sunday in Lent to hear about this battle in the desert. This Gospel is read every year on this day as a reminder of that the battle between Satan and God, the battle that began way back when the Garden of Eden was still perfect, and that still rages today. There are two truths to remember on the First Sunday in Lent. This is the first truth: the devil has incredible power--don’t be fooled. And this is the second truth: Jesus has more power--don’t be without it. When Satan comes knocking at your door--and he will--remember this, One Little Word Can Fell Him!
Actually, we’re going to be focusing our attention this morning on the Second Lesson for today, from the letter to the Romans. Paul’s purpose in writing this letter to the Romans was to emphasize that human beings get right in the sight of God simply by trusting in Jesus. In chapter three Paul says beautifully, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.” And a little later he writes: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” From front to back, the Bible insists that getting people right in the sight of God is a unilateral activity: God does it all.
Satan attacks this truth with the biggest guns in his arsenal. Quite often his target is human pride. He wants us all to believe that we’re as smart and as good and as big as God. Remember how he tricked Eve? “Did God really say…?” Why not say, “You’re smarter than that, aren’t you?” Eve thought she was, and we all have her blood running in our veins. Every human heart pride-fully says, “Hey, God, there’s some good in us. We’re basically OK. We can help. Let us do something, too.”
If religion exists to show people how to get right in God’s sight, there are only two religions in the world. The one religion is based on God’s truth: God does it all. The other religion buys into Satan’s trick: you can help. Some churches teach you can help a lot and other churches teach you can help a little, but they’re all basically the same: Getting right with God is a joint effort. And if you look around the world, you’ll see that most religions and most churches have bought into Satan’s trick. If you’ve ever been struck by just how powerful Satan is, the church is the place you really see it.
Of course, Satan’s tricks always have a downside, and he never tells people that upfront. The same is true with this trick. If I want to get myself right with God by helping him along, how much do I have to do? How much is enough? What if I mess up? What happens then? The instant we start asking those questions, the devil pounces. You don’t do enough, you can’t do enough, you’ll never do enough. Millions of people across our world feel that power of Satan every day of their lives: the never ending pressure to do good, the excruciating pain of failure, and the relentless force pressing down on them as they try to get themselves right with God on their own. And sometimes even we feel that power.
Thank God this is not the way it is. Getting right with God doesn’t require doing more and living better. Satan is wrong about this. “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Every hear someone say about faith, “If you have enough faith, you can do it.” Paul doesn’t talk like that. Paul’s idea of faith starts in your heart and works up to your mouth. Sometimes the faith in our heart is strong and firm and what comes out of our mouth is bold and assertive. But sometimes the faith in our heart is weak and afraid and what comes out of our mouth is timid and quiet. But Paul doesn’t see a difference. The way Paul writes, weak faith and timid words don’t gain anything less from God than strong faith and bold words. There’s nothing about strong and weak here. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Paul emphasizes that by quoting Isaiah from the Old Testament:“As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will not be put to shame.’” Jesus spoke in exactly the same way: “I tell you the truth,” he said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to that mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” You heard it: nothing will be impossible for you, not even being right with God. Big faith, little faith, my faith, your faith, his faith, her faith--listen to Paul: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all, and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
So what do you do when the devil comes calling? In the hospital when the news is bad, and he whispers in your ear: you did something to deserve this, you know. When a sin you thought you’d defeated comes back and you fall deeper than you’ve ever fallen before, and he’s right there: God isn’t going to help you this time. After a real bad sin that messes up your life and the lives of other people, too, and Satan says: God won’t forget this one. At the last moment of your life when he drags across your mind every sin you’ve ever committed and he laughs in your face: No heaven for you, sweetheart! What are you going to do then? Listen to Paul. Look that dirty dog of a devil in the eye and shout at him “I believe.” This is the “word about faith” Paul has proclaimed to us. Two words for us; one word for him: pisteuw. Say that to the devil, and that One Little Word Can Fell Him!
“Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”That’s what faith is: giving up on ourselves and looking only to Jesus. And faith in Jesus is what gives the right to be right with God. Nothing we do for God, not even a lot, could ever get us to be right in God’s sight. God simply demands too much. Only Jesus could do what God demands. The devil knew that, of course, and he tried his best to stop Jesus. He tried in the desert, but Jesus would have none of his temptations. But Satan wasn’t done with Jesus. Did you hear what St. Luke wrote at the end of the Gospel for today? “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Jesus until an opportune time.” That opportune time came three years later, on a Friday in Jerusalem. Satan tried everything. He led Jesus’ friends to betray him, deny him, and forsake him. He led Jesus own people, the Jews, to reject him, arrest him, and scream for his death. He led the Roman soldiers to beat him and whip him and crucify him. The worst part of the passion of the Christ was not the blood and the gore, but the reality that God the Father had no other choice than to forsake the Son he loved. The hell Satan wanted for us God placed on Jesus. God turned his back on Jesus so that he would not have to turn his back on us. And when it was all done and when the penalty was all paid and when my sins and your sins were all forgiven, Jesus said “It is finished.”Three words in English; one word in Greek: tetelestai. And with that one little word, Jesus destroyed Satan’s greatest power for good.
Oh, the devil still has power, plenty of it. You know it and I know it, and we better never sell it short. But we don’t have to fear it. Jesus triumphed over Satan, and because he did, we have, too. Jesus knew it; St. Paul knew it. Satan knows it. The Bible says, “Resist him and he will flee.” And Martin Luther knew it, too. And that’s why he wrote: Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s Prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done. One little word can fell him!
The devil has incredible power--don’t be fooled. Jesus has more power--don’t be without it. One little word can fell him. Tetelestai—“it is finished.” And because “It is finished,” because the debt for sin is paid in full by Jesus Christ, “It is written”—gegraptai. Amen.
You’ve probably heard pastors preach sermons which lament that the quiet contemplation of Advent can be replaced with the frenzy of deadlines and commercialism. Instead of finding rest for our souls, Advent can be a time to overspend, overindulge and overextend.
Other than reading your Bible and worshipping when you have opportunity, some people do this to help keep their spiritual priorities in line. It isn’t new and it’s not expensive. You may want to pick up an Advent Calendar.
Set aside a few moments each day to open a new door. Talk about the spiritual significance of what you find inside. And as your Advent calendar counts down the days to Christmas, you will also have the opportunity to count your blessings.
Jeremiah never had the benefit of an Advent calendar. Jeremiah never heard of Advent. He lived hundreds of years before Mary wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. All he had was a promise. God had given his people a promise that a Savior would come, but Jeremiah had no idea when that promise would be fulfilled.
Jesus has given us a promise that he will come again, but only he knows when that day will be. And so we wait. We wait with eager expectation. We wait with Jeremiah, whose words tell us that we are not just counting down the days to Christmas, but we are also COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS TO CHRIST’S COMING. I. The day when a righteous Branch will sprout from David’s line. II. The day when God’s people will receive a new name.
1. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah’”(14). “The days are coming” is a phrase that appears a dozen times in Jeremiah. This is not just some vague reference that something will happen someday. The date is set. The event is planned and the outcome has been determined.
The event: “The days are coming when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.” And what is the result of a promise of God? Did God keep his promise to Noah that he would never send another worldwide flood? Did God keep his promise to transform Abraham’s family into a great nation? Did God keep his promise to give his people the land of Canaan? So, what promise is God making and will now keep?
The promised he’d keep: “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land” (15). The Hebrews held up David as their nation’s greatest king. Under his rule, the nation was unified, the capital was established in Jerusalem. King David was fearless warrior and a revered leader. But as great as he was, nothing he could do could prevent his kingdom’s decline.
Judah had a few good leaders after David, but there were more bad ones than good ones. When Jeremiah appeared on the scene four hundred years after David, the nation was politically corrupt and morally bankrupt. And God had had enough. He vowed to punish the leaders for their wickedness. And he did. He warned the people that the coming wrath would be swift and severe. And it was.
But as dark as the situation appeared to be, the Lord provided a ray of hope. God promised to restore his people with a king like David, from David’s line, and a king who would do “what is right and just in the land.” Jeremiah knew him only as “a righteous Branch,” but we know him by the name his parents gave him.
Jesus did what was right. He didn’t usurp someone else’s throne. He was called by His Father into his position as Savior. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to carry out his threefold office of Christ. Unlike most of Israel’s and Judah’s kings, he didn’t seek human wealth or riches, or alliances with godless kings. Unlike his father David, he never did anything wrong. Jesus was just. He didn’t favor the rich and powerful. He had compassion on the poor and needy. He loved the unlovable and gave hope to the hopeless. The only crown placed on his head in this life was a crown of thorns. Today he is crowned with splendor.
Jesus would do what is just and right. Who did he ever take advantage of? He told his followers it would be narrow path? He told his followers there would be persecution, and trouble in this world? But he also won full and free forgiveness.
And talk about just. He came to right all wrong. He came to pay for all the injustice. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." (Rom. 5:18) Through the work of the Son, the Father has declared a world to be just, innocent, without sin. David, in the Lord’s eyes is innocent, just. You and I are declared innocent, just and right, because of the world the promised Messiah won that declaration for us
How about the rule of this king? Telling Pilate, the man who condemned him to die, that he had no authority that hadn’t been given to him from above. Assuring the immoral woman at the Pharisees’ house that her sins were forgiven. Assuring a young man who couldn’t walk, before he could walk, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus was the greatest king this world has ever seen. And this world will see him again.
2. We count down the days to Christ’s coming, when we will see him in all his glory, when we will see him descending from the clouds of heaven. We look forward to that day when the righteous Branch takes his rightful place as the judge of all because that will be the time when God’s people will be given a new name.
“In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness” (16). Jesus and Jesus’ followers share the same name.
“The Lord Our Righteousness.” Jesus was righteousness personified. He not only did everything right. He has made everything right between a holy God and unholy people. He came the first time to save the world. He will come a second time to judge the world. He came once to take away our sins. He will come again to take us to heaven.
Because Jesus was perfectly righteous for us, we are perfectly righteous before God. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’ perfection is our perfection. Jesus’ righteousness is our righteousness. Jesus’ name is our name because we belong to him. His Church is righteous. It’s members are righteous.
What do you have in Jesus? His righteousness. He shares his righteousness with you. His name. He gives his name to you. When? In baptism we are baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. He gives us his name in Christian baptism. You, even you, are everything good and right and just in the eyes of God because the Lord Jesus’ righteousness is yours.
Jeremiah, nor his listeners, ever saw the beautiful promises fulfilled. There were probably days when they doubted that God’s promises would ever come true.
God promised them a just and righteous ruler. God’s people watched as their sad excuse for a king, Zedekiah, was led away in shackles. God promised them peace and security. Some of God’s people experienced nothing but death and destruction even though God promised to give them a new and holy name.
Can we relate? Two thousand years have gone by since the angels told the disciples that Jesus would return, and so far nothing has happened. Unbelievers are amused by people like us who insist that Jesus is coming back. They call us naïve or simple-minded, and based upon the evidence (or lack thereof) we might begin to ask ourselves if they are right.
The musings and insults of people who don’t believe, and even our own doubts, will never change what is true. Jesus Christ will return on the last day to judge the world and Jesus himself says, “Whoever believes will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned (see Mark 16:16).
Jesus may come back tonight. It may not be his time tomorrow. But as you have read his Word, is there one promise he hasn’t kept? He has come once to brings salvation, and he promises to come again.
Most Advent calendars cover a time span of twenty-five days, from December 1st to December 25th. It really isn’t practical to create another calendar for Jesus’ second coming because we don’t know when that day will be. The Lord has chosen not reveal the date of his return, but don’t let that stop you from counting down the days to Christ’s coming. Remember that you trust and serve a righteous ruler. Our ruler is “The Lord our Righteousness.” Remember that your king has given you his own name. We, his people, are “The Lord our Righteousness.” In Jesus he shares all that is good, right and just. And rejoice that this is how God sees you: righteousness. And rejoice because each passing day brings you one day closer to the day when you will be with Jesus forever. Amen.