When I think about the storms of life, when I think about the times I’ve been afraid, and I mean really afraid, I flash back to a number of things. When I was 10 I was picking blackberries when I realized that a black bear was picking blackberries about 10 feet away. He didn’t know I was there. I ran like the wind to find my dad and never left his side.
When I was fifteen our family had a cancer scare. My mother had a lump. My mother was, to me, the glue that held our family together. In all my life I don’t ever remember praying so boldly and telling the Lord what my will was.
Eight years ago, I lost my way in the mountains. Ever been on a mountain ridge in a blizzard, lost, trying to figure out which way to go? Before you get a fire going, that’s not a good feeling.
What are your storm stories? When has life-threatening fear set in, or life-altering fear, set in for you? Maybe you are living through one of those storms right now.
Fear is one of the basic emotions of human life. Sometimes fear is good.
A healthy fear will keep you out of a lot of trouble. A fear of breaking the commandments will keep you out of a lot of trouble.
But there is a fear that is not healthy. Jesus calls this fear a weakness in faith. And not just a weakness of faith, but Jesus calls this fear a sin against the first commandment that denies God’s power.
When we don’t have control over what’s happening, the result can be fear. We fear failure, poverty, the breakup of a marriage. We fear losing our health or our lives.
We can’t sleep at night. We might lose our appetite. We feel helpless. We don’t laugh like we used to. You can see worry, and depression, in peoples’ faces.
“It is a mother’s prerogative to worry,” I’m told. It is a mothers prerogative to stop fearing, loving and trusting in the Lord above all things. Worry, like outright fear, is contrary to faith. Worry is opposite of faith. It is unbelief. Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?; or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31).
It’s one thing when the unbeliever trembles in fear. And understandable because they have no one to but helpless human beings to turn to when the storms of life hit.
But, and I say this not with a shaking finger, but with heaviness of heart. How sad, how pitiful, when God’s people fear.
“Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
We say the same thing, don’t we? “Lord, don’t you care that this is happening to me?” “Don’t you care that I am in the struggle for my life?” Don’t you care that I am afraid of what might happen?”
At least the disciples didn’t say, “Don’t bother waking Jesus, he can’t do anything about it.” No, they believed he could. But they also believed that Jesus stopped caring for them, stopped loving them. What led to their fear was that they believed Jesus stopped loving them. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Is there anything that can separate us from the love of God? “Shall trouble, or hardship…” Paul says “No.” “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” If God stopped loving he would cease to exist because he is love.
For the child of God, there is never a cause for fear. Paul wrote to the Romans, “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” (Romans 8:5). In the midst of temptation to fear we can call upon the Holy Spirit to remind us that we have a Father in heaven who loves us with an infinite love. Knowing our Father and knowing his love drives out all fear because as John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). The ultimate cause of all fear is God’s punishment. But God’s perfect love for us, his grace, removes any idea of punishment. And if the punishment is removed then the fear is removed. John had written earlier, 1 John 4:7-10. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
The reason there is no punishment, and the reason we have no fear, is that God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. Yes, to live without fear of punishment, without worry, without anxiety. Yes, to live in peace and joy and hope. We don’t love God the way he demands, but God loves us in Christ and that perfect love is all we need to know to drive out any fear.
Think about this for a moment. In this crisis situation the disciples come to their Lord not with prayer, not with a respectful request, but with an accusation. What were they thinking? “Here we are almost dead, working our tails off to keep this boat afloat and you’re just sleeping away as if we don’t mean anything to you! Perhaps, if it does not interfere with your nap, we could use a little help, thank you please.”
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Of course Jesus cared. And Jesus knew the Father cared. With perfect trust in His Father, Jesus could sleep. With that perfect trust in His Father, with his perfect life, with His dual nature of God and Man, he became the perfect sacrifice for sin. Jesus proves the Father’s love. Jesus knew he wasn’t going to drown, he knew he was going to die on a cross for all sinners. Jesus knew the Sea of Galilee and wind weren’t in charge, he knew His Father was in charge.
Another truth that removes fear is that Jesus is control of all things. “He (Jesus) got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still.’” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” What we forget sometimes in the storms of life is that there is one who controls the wind and waves and earthquakes and tsunamis. There is one who is the master over all of disease and draught and economies and wars. He is the one who created this world using only His Word and someday will bring it to an end when the last believer comes to faith. The wind and waves obey the Lord Jesus, ruler over heaven and earth.
I think the key to this text lies in these words, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Why were they afraid? Simple. Because they didn’t understand the nature of Jesus, and they didn’t understand his mission. Jesus wasn’t supposed to die drowning in the Sea of Galilee, he was supposed to be the cursed one on the tree. The sleeping Jesus didn’t have a human father.
When he asks “Do you still have no faith?” he specifically means faith in him as the Old Testament Messiah, the Savior of Israel and the world. Trust in Jesus’ work of redemption takes away fear, no matter what the circumstance may be.
So here’s what out text boils down to: If Christ took away sin and is the Savior of the world—we have no reason to fear dying. If Christ is in control of all things, then there is no reason to fear what happens before we die. If God loves us in Christ, and if “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus,” then again, there is no need to ever fear.
The clouds are always gathering. Personal tragedy. Nagging problems which defy human solution. A burden placed on the family. Finances. Each one of us sees the storm clouds gather.
And sometimes the clouds just blow over. But sometimes it rains. Then the waves get bigger and the boat starts to take on water. The remedy: Know his love. Trust he’s in control. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still. Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
People of faith wrote these words for you, people of faith to find calm during storms: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4). “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1). “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man to do me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. (Psalm 118:6,7).
The storms of life serve a very useful purpose. They show we are not in control. Storms move us to ask God to intervene on our behalf. Storms show us how much we need God. Storms remind us of how much he loves us in Christ.
Which means we can sing with conviction the hymn verse we just sang:
Be still my soul; your God will undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence, let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he lived below. Amen.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” They really had no good reason for standing there looking into the sky. Jesus had returned to the right hand of the Father. He told them he would go away so he could prepare a place for them. Waiting at the place where they last saw him wasn’t going to bring him back. And Jesus had told them what they should be doing. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. Then they would become witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
I probably would have continued stare too. Jesus had been everything to these people. Now their teacher is gone. Their friend is gone. Now what? How will they know what to say when they get the chance to witness? It would be ten more days before the Holy Spirit would be poured out on these people at Pentecost. So, “Now what?” and “Who’s going to lead us?” were probably questions going through their minds.
The angels proclaimed what the sky-gazers needed to hear. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Jesus left them visibly, but he didn’t leave them forever. Luke’s Gospel tells us after this happened, “Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continuously at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:51-52)
Tonight we join our voices with those disciples who praised Jesus after his Ascension. Tonight we join with the Sons of Korah who wrote the words of our text to praise Jesus with, and we join with all of God’s people who over the years praise God who through Jesus has given us deliverance from our enemies. Tonight, we Sing Praises to Our Ascended King. We sing because our God rules. We praise him for what he has done for us and we praise him for what he continues to do for us.
Most of the psalms were written by Jews for Jews, but the scope of this psalm stretches far beyond the nation of Israel: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” Psalm 47 was written for all people. That means this psalm was written for you and me.
Clapping and shouting aren’t exactly the norm when it comes to Lutheran worship, but we need to remember that the setting of these verses isn’t a church sanctuary or even a synagogue service. Instead picture the glorious procession of a triumphant ruler: “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (2)!
The Lord most high is awesome. What is awesome? Pizza is not awesome. Fourth of July fireworks are not awesome. Natural wonders like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, they aren’t all that awesome when they are compared with the God who created them. The Lord Most High is truly awesome, and over the course of human history he has done things that have filled his people with awe.
“He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet”. The psalm itself doesn’t explain how and when God subdued nations and peoples, so I will. How about the time when the armies of Egypt had the poor, defenseless Israelites trapped with their backs against the Red Sea? What did God do? He directed Moses to part the waters so that the people could cross over on dry ground. And then he commanded those same water walls to crash down and destroy the forces of the Pharaoh (Exodus 13 & 14). How awesome is that?
Or how about the time when the Israelites came up against the city of Jericho? What did God use to bring down the walls? A battering ram? A massive siege ramp? A series of underground tunnels? The Lord directed his people to march around the city seven times and blow their trumpets, and the huge stone walls just collapsed (Joshua 5 & 6). How awesome is that?
Or how about the time when Joshua led an army against a group of Amorite kings? Not only did God give his people a great victory, not only did he send a hailstorm that killed more soldiers than Israelite swords, but he also made the sun stand still so that Israel’s enemies could not escape (Joshua 10). How awesome is that?
God gave his people many military victories like these, but these conquests were only a means to an end. Every army that was defeated, every king that was conquered, brought Israel one step closer to possessing the land God had promised them. “He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved” (4).
When Abraham pitched his tents in Canaan, he was a stranger living in a strange land. And still God promised him that his descendants would call that land their own (Genesis 15). When Jacob stole the birthright from his brother Esau, he was forced to leave the Promised Land and flee for his life. And still God promised Jacob that he would return (Genesis 28).
It didn’t happen for a few hundred years, but the Lord made good on his promises to Abraham and Jacob. He transformed the land of Canaan into the nation of Israel. And even more important than that, God fulfilled this far-reaching promise: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3, see also Genesis 28:14).
We are included in “all peoples,” and we are blessed. We are blessed through Abraham’s offspring. We are blessed because God kept his promise to send a Savior. We are blessed because Jesus gave up his throne in heaven to become one of us. We are blessed because Jesus gave up his life to take away our sins. We are blessed because our King “has ascended amid shouts of joy” (5). We are blessed because we will rule with him in heaven.
How awesome is this?! Psalm 47 pictures Jesus as a king returning to his palace after winning a war. This scene has been played out countless times throughout history. Trumpets blast. Citizens shout and clap. Confetti and flowers rain down from balconies. But the King doesn’t always fight the battles. His men fight for him. And a king doesn’t usually go into battle unless there is a personal benefit for him.
But Jesus is different. Jesus is a king who went to war, not for his benefit, but ours. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven, and the praise of his angles, to live in a world that rebelled against him. A king puts down a rebellion. A king normally kills rebels. This King sought the rebels. This King came to save the rebels. His weapons? H told Peter, “Put your sword away.” The weapons he used: the Word of God, humility, obedience and trust in his Father. While fighting for the rebels in our world, Jesus blessed his followers: he provided for them. He protected them from physical and spiritual enemies: the yeast of the Pharisees, the attacks of Satan, and from themselves.
Jesus knew his final battle would be in Jerusalem. He once said “No prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.” He told his disciples “We are going 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 hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34) Sure enough, while in Jerusalem, his enemies caught up with Jesus after Judas’ betrayal. As he was arrested by the temple guard Jesus followers fled into the darkness and his enemies had their way with Jesus. Jesus was mocked, spit on, and lost his life on that and die on the battlefield of earth.
But this is why Jesus went to Jerusalem. To defeat Satan, Jesus must trust in his Father, meet temptation head on. To defeat sin Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice. To defeat death, Jesus rose again. Having finished this world of bringing back the rebels into his kingdom, God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
T. Tonight we join our voices with those disciples who praised Jesus after his Ascension. Tonight we join with the Sons of Korah who wrote the words of our text to praise Jesus with, and we join with all of God’s people who over the years praise God who through Jesus has given us deliverance from our enemies. All of God’s people praise our Ascended King for all eternally for what he’s done. We also praise him for what he continues to do for us.
2. If anyone pictures Jesus’ ascension as retirement from work, that is far from the truth. “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne” (8).
Simply put, God rules over nations and God rules over rulers over nations. God rules over rulers. The powers of every nation every government on earth belong to him. He is calling the shots each day. God is the only true superpower because every nation and every citizen of every nation is subject to him. Everything belongs to Jesus. And even the president of our country answers to Jesus. But the Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth isn’t a tyrant or a dictator. Our King is our Father. Our King is our Savior.
Jesus reigns over the nations. The Apostle Paul stated that God the Father, “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Mighty powers fight against Jesus and his salvation and against the Church, but this King of ours works out all of history for the good of His Church. Our Great King uses all his power for our benefit. No retirement for Jesus. He’s as busy as ever.
And he has made us citizens of his kingdom. “The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham” (9). Do you understand what that verse means? Let me read it again: “The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham” (9).
The Israelites were physical descendants of Abraham. The Jews boasted because they were the children of Abraham. But they weren’t special because they had Abraham’s blood coursing through their veins. They were blessed because they held onto the promises God had given to Abraham. And those promises were not exclusive to them.
The Bible tells us that Abraham was saved by faith, and so are we. By faith we are the children of Abraham. By faith we belong to the God of Abraham. By faith we belong to God and live in the kingdom of his grace. By grace this King’s rule extends to us Gentiles. And even now he is ruling in our hearts. And not only does he rule in our hearts, but as the “nobles of the nations, he includes us in his plan of extending his kingdom to other hearts. This former rebel is every privileged to address you fellow nobles with the message from of our gracious King.
But it doesn’t always seem like God rules all things, does it? If we are honest with ourselves, there are probably times when we wonder if God is really in control. Sometimes we’d rather not have the Lord be in charge because the Lord’s wisdom and our wisdom doesn’t always match up. Sometimes we wonder if the Lord uses all of his power for the benefit of his people. And let’s face it, being a noble in God’s kingdom isn’t real impressive in a world full of rebels. Sometimes we want more than knowing we have an eternal inheritance to look forward to. We’d like to reign now. We’d like the glory now.
We don’t know why everything happens, but God does. We can’t always explain why things happen, but God can. And sometimes he does. But even when he chooses to keep his plans hidden from us, his love for us always remains in view. And even if his visible presence has been taken away from us, his Ascension only serves to convince us that his work of salvation has been completed.
When Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate had this notice affixed to his cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). That was an accurate statement, but it wasn’t complete. Jesus was the King of the Jews, but he’s our King too. His perfect life and sacrificial death give us the answer to life’s most important question: How can I be saved? Jesus’ resurrection proved that he had paid for sin and conquered death. But his ascension strengthened the awesome truth that his victories were complete. If Jesus still had work to do for our salvation he wouldn’t have returned to heaven. And now our risen and ascended Savior guides and directs our lives.
Our King will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Our King will never permit us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13). Our King will never allow the gates of hell to overcome his church (Matthew 16:18). Our King is intimately involved in every aspect of our earthly lives, and everything he does for us now brings us one step closer to eternal life.
“All’s well that ends well.” The person who coined that phrase wasn’t talking about Jesus’ Ascension, but Jesus finished his work and now all is well. And all will be well for all eternity. Therefore it is our honor and privilege to sing to our King. We praise him because of what he has done for us. We praise him because of what he still does for us. Amen.
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2How awesome is the Lord Most High,
the great King over all the earth!
3He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Selah
5God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalma of praise.
8God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kingsb of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.
By the time I had reached the age of 37, I had moved a dozen times in my life. A part of that was because my dad was a traveling salesman and he would often be transferred from one place to another. That is one reason I had not lived in any one home up more than seven years. I pretty much took moving in stride as it happened so often. Then my family moved into a large two-story, four bedroom home where we lived for the next 28 years. As you can imagine, we were pretty much settled in by the time I accepted the call to Crown of Life and moved again. It was not only a bit of a culture shock to move from the Midwest to Florida in July, but just the chore of moving after all those years in one place was overwhelming. Needless to say, we had to do some major downsizing.
Now again we are on the move to a new rental home here in Fort Myers and more downsizing (that’s good!). But I am not just telling you a little about my life history. My life is somewhat unusual in the sense that I have never lived in a home that I have personally owned. It’s either been homes my parents owned, the schools I attended, or homes provided by the congregations I have served. Even now, we will only be renting.
But that reminds me of some people in the Bible. In Hebrews, chapter 11, we hear of a number of people who lived “by faith”. Many of them lived in tents most of their lives and had no permanent place of residence. They traveled from place to place wherever the Lord would lead them. This is what the inspired writer says about them: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
Whether we own our own homes or not, every believer in Jesus is an “alien and stranger” on this earth. We have no permanent home. And that’s because we too are “longing for a better country – a heavenly one”. That is the home that Jesus went to prepare for us when He offered Himself as the sacrificial payment for our sins and then rose again in victory to reserve a room for us in His Father’s house in heaven. Our future is secure because Jesus has made it secure for us. When we move on for the last time, it will be to take up permanent (eternal) residence in our real home. But until that time we continue to move on from day to day, home to home, with our eyes fixed on Jesus as our Savior and with lives that seek to live each day for Him in grateful love.
As my wife and I move on, we do so with the words of our wedding verse in mind: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
I’m but a stranger here; Heav’n is my home.
Earth is a desert dreat; Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand.
Heav’n is my fatherland; Heav’n is my home. (Hymn 417, v. 1)
Pastor William Balza