He grabs the present. Fingers rip off the bow, pry away the ribbons, shred the wrapping paper— revealing a brand new Samsung 75" Class 4K Smart QLED TV. Yes, that’s a 75-inch screen size— six feet, three inches (and longer than I am tall)! The Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode (QLED for short) generates over a billion shades of color. 4K technology delivers magnificent contrasts, allowing light and dark scenes to appear with crystal clear quality! Its 240-hertz refresh rate brings NASCAR, baseball, football— any fast moving action— to life all without a blur. This is 75-glorious-inches of sheer bliss.
You watch as he sits there in a pile of wrappings, ribbons, and bows, gazing at this enormous box. Almost instantly he pushes it away, reaches down, grabs the shiny green paper, cocks his head, mystified: “Where did you get this amazing paper?” He grabs the red ribbon: “How beautiful!” He lifts the poufy red bow: “This is best gift anyone can give!”
Expect that?... Probably not. After all, what is the real gift given? The television, right? This man pushes the real gift away and instead fixate on the objects that are not presents.
Yet, that happens. Christmastime for many reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger— without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
God does not want you getting lost in the Christmas chaos and losing focus on what joy Christmas really brings. So, he sends John to Testify about the Light! For you to Hear it and for you to Share it.
That is the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light. That “Light” is a person. That person reveals something important; he reveals the only way you can stand acceptable before God. That person, that “Light,” is the Christ. So, John stands in the desert, in a region just north of the Dead Sea, announcing: “The Christ is here!”
“Christ” is a special name. In the New Testament, you hear [the name]: “Jesus Christ;” in the Old Testament, you hear [the name]: “Messiah.” [The name] “Messiah” is the Old Testament way of saying “Christ.” (“Messiah” is a Hebrew word, and when you bring it into the Greek language, you get “Christ.”
Now, remember, names have meanings. For example, my name, “Andrew,” comes from a Greek word meaning: “strong, manly;” my name describes manliness. Maybe you know the meaning of your name (or at least have visited one of those novelty shops which sell cards with your name printed on top and its meaning underneath). The name “Christ” (and “Messiah”) means “Anointed One.” To “be anointed” means to “be set apart for a specific mission.” Our Old Testament reading (this morning) tells you what Christ is set apart to do: He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from [spiritual] darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn… to bestow on them a crown of beauty… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3).
So, when John cries out: “The Christ is here!” it is a message meant to grab people’s attention. God has kept his promise; he sent a Savior. Jesus clears away uncertainty as to how you stand before God; he lights up the fact that he alone lifts off your burden of sin. John Testifies about the Light for all people to hear.
Many hear it— at least, the message enters their ears. Priests and Levites rush out to John not so interested in what Christ brings. Rather, they search for someone they want. “Are you Elijah?” they ask. Many of the Jews created a belief that Elijah would return heaven and free them from their Roman oppressors. “Are you the Prophet?” they wonder. After all, Moses promised a great prophet was coming (Deuteronomy 18:15). The [capital-P]rophet would be God’s Son, but the Jews just wanted another great teacher.
John repeatedly points at Jesus and says: “Ask about him!” And yet, so many are fixated on the shiny green wrapping paper, the red ribbons, the poufy bows of John, instead of worshipping the Christ.
Has anything changed? Many still push aside the need for a Savior and embrace pleasures and treasures of this world. Department stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Homegoods is currently airing a commercial with families and friends gathered around Christmas presents and feasts. It is heart-warming to watch loved ones come together to celebrate Christmas. Except, it’s not Christmas they are celebrating. The commercial ends with the tagline: Family is the greatest gift (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vXVbwfJlpA&index=1&list=PLtyMkMtSY__Ht5ielBr7DeKPXwXFaE6aQ).
Is that really the greatest gift you have ever received? Family? …They never disappoint you? …Never frustrate you? …Never let you down or irritate you? …Fill you absolutely complete and lasting joy?
This is just one example of how the heart searches for something of lasting value. The heart craves happiness. It seeks security. It wants certainty in an uncertain world. Yet, by ignoring John’s message about the Christ, that heart will only remain in spiritual darkness.
During Christmastime, it is easy to shove aside the good news of a Savior born for you. You may grab the wrapping paper of presents, considering your stuff to be more important than worshipping the newborn King on Christmas Day. You may tug and hug the red ribbons of family, making time for them, but no time to sigh a prayer of thanks that God has kept an ancient promise. You may hold up that red poufy bow of self-worship, claiming that you only need Jesus when life gets tough.
Pushing aside John’s message of “Christ is here!” pushes aside the Savior God gives you! And so, God sends John to Testify about the Light for you to hear it.
Hear again the life-changing news of a Savior born for you! Yes, even if you have the Christmas account memorized, appreciate just how majestic your Jesus is. Even if you were a slave kneeling in the dust, removing Jesus’ grimy shoes, that would be far too high of a position! He does not come to enslave you, but to lift you up from servant-hood and to make you a citizen of his kingdom! Remember, that is what “Christ” comes to do.
And this is what “Christ” has done. He binds up your guilt-broken heart with his healing words: “Forgiven. Removed. Done.” He proclaims freedom from sin and death by rising from the dead and saying: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). He comforts all those mourning by saying: Those who believe in me will never die, but live forever in heaven (Revelation 7:13-17). Christ has accomplished what he has been set aside to do. He has set you free from sin forever—and plainly tells you this.
Hear John to Testify about the Light. This is the purpose of his ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. This good news that Jesus has rescued you (and me) from our self-centered choices is the only message that will bring life. Since you hear it, it means you are equipped to share it.
Yes, you. God equips you to share the good news of Jesus with others. I would imagine that you are quite aware that many still need to hear about the Savior. After all, every Christmas you hear the slogans: “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That is true, Christmas is about Jesus. Yet, I also wonder how often those slogans are lobbed out to shame people for not worshipping Christ, instead of being slogans meant to invite people to worship Christ. Or, many Christians watch the national news and mourn the decline of respect and the increase of materialism. Those issues are disheartening— but do remember, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. My point is this: You can mourn that many are losing focus on Christ, but by worrying about events in a place thousands of miles away, you may overlook what is happening in your community, your neighborhood, or among your friends and family.
If it is really an issue that so many lose sight on the real joy found in Christmas, then identify ways to correct that misguided focus. So, instead of shaking your head at a Marshall’s commercial which claims “Family is the best gift,” reflect on your own heart, and see what it considers to be the best gift. Is your heart misguided? Do the hearts of your children lose sight on Jesus? If so, correct it by pointing at Jesus!
If you mourn that the world loves stuff, ask yourself: “Am I materialistic?” “Does my neighbor love stuff more than God?” And if you see yourself, your family, your friends, your neighborhood lose sight on the gift of Savior, then like John the Baptist, point to Jesus!
Share God’s gift of a Son. Are you a parent?... grandparent? If so, God has handed you the special privilege of teaching a child. You are the one who will teach your child how to eat and get dressed. You will help them with homework, buying a car, and setting up savings for the future. Even as they become adults, they still call you “mom” or “dad.” God has seen fit to make you their caretaker.
Remember the most important thing you will ever teach: the Savior. God uses your parent-child relationship for you may share Jesus. Regardless if your child is age 4 or 40, you can still bring up the fact that only Jesus comforts a heart burdened with sin. Only Jesus gives the crown of eternal life.
Are you a friend or neighbor? You build special relationships with people. That relationship is a bridge (if you will) to carry the love of Jesus into someone else’s life. If you know of someone who will spend this Christmas wrapped up in their house and unsure of a Savior, then invite them to join you in Christmas Eve & Day worship.
And if you’re thinking to yourself: “Boy, this all sounds so scary. I can’t possibly just talk about Jesus to random people,” then remember, God does not tell you to knock on the doors of strangers and suddenly blurt out what you believe. Simply reflect on the relationships you hold, the opportunities you get to speak, and the message you get to share with the world. God uses you to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
And yes, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. Yet, you can still share Jesus around the world. How? Through your offerings. Recognize that God uses your offerings here—to staff a pastor, to provide Christ-centered resources, to maintain a house of worship. Your ministry is to bring Jesus to others! Some of your offerings goes towards staffing Pastors at churches (just starting out). Your Wisconsin Synod has churches in all 50 states and all over the world. Through your prayers and support, those congregations carry the bright light of Jesus to many lost in spiritual darkness. You may not see the results of your offering this side of eternity, but one day you will. Recognize how God has blessed you and recognize the opportunity you have to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
Because many are getting ready for Christmas. For many Christmastime reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger—without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
So, God sends out John with wonderful news: The Christ has come! This Christ binds up your sin-broken heart. He comforts you with his promises. He releases you from hell. He is a gift that will never grow old or outdated. He is the Gift who will last forever.
Hear this message. Remain focused on the real joy Christmas brings. With that joy burning in your heart, share this tremendous message. John Testifies about the Light for you to Hear it and for you to Share it.
responsible for the safety and security of the members of congress, any visiting dignitaries, and tourists. He’s in charge of ceremonial duties involving funeral processions and presidential inaugurations. He restores order if a congressmen gets disruptive. Perhaps he is best known for announcing the arrival of the President to give his State of the Union speech.
If you have ever watched a State of the Union speech, you understand how important of a job he has. All the members of congress and senators stand in their little cliques scattered around the chamber, chattering and laughing, (head-)nodding and waving. No one pays attention to the time on the clock or who is entering or who is leaving the chamber. Everyone is focused on their conversation. Then, suddenly, Paul D. Irving enters the chamber and shouts: “Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!” and everyone snaps to attention.
That’s a pretty important job, isn’t it? Mr. Irving prepares people for this great speaker. He announces who is coming so that people are prepared to listen and take the President’s words to heart.
During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
That is an important message— and a message meant for everyone’s attention. So, God promises: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way… The “you” (in this prophecy) refers to Jesus; people will benefit from someone announcing his coming. Why? Well, remember, Jesus does not start his ministry immediately. He is born Christmas Day. Angels announce his birth. Shepherds rush to worship him. Wise men come a few months later with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Elderly-believer Simeon praises God for allowing him to meet Jesus. A prophetess named Anna thanks God for the gift of a Savior from sin— but that’s it. For 29 years Jesus remains in his hometown of Nazareth, being a respectful son and working as a carpenter. Twenty-nine long years pass between Christmas Day and the time Jesus starts preaching and teaching.
So, can you imagine the reaction if Jesus suddenly appeared in the in the synagogue one day, stood up, and started preaching? People there would ask: “Who is this man?” “What gives this man the right to preach?” “Which priest gave him authority to teach?” Most of all, “Should I listen to him?” No one knows if this man Jesus is God’s long-promised Son. And if no one knows Jesus is God’s Son, then they have no pressing reason to listen and take his words to heart.
So, God sends a messenger to prepare hearts for Jesus. He sends John the Baptist, the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ In ancient times, before a king traveled down a desert road and into a new region, he would send servants ahead to fix the road. Those servants would fill in potholes and places where the road washed out. They would remove boulders and level cliffs and steep hills. They made the road straight so that the king could arrive. Yet, John the Baptist is not sent to fix roads; God sends him to prepare hearts because the Savior is Coming.
Have you ever received a gift for which you saw no need? (For example), when I was a kid, someone always gave me a keychain as a gift— which a kind thought, but I had no use for a keychain. Unless you have a house key or car key, it’s a pretty useless gift. If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it.
If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the message for all people of all time— you and me included— “Repent!”
“Repent” means to turn around or change. It has this picture of making a U-Turn (a 180-degree change of direction). If you are heading north on US-127 and make a U-Turn, then you have completely changed direction; you are now heading south. If you behave one way in life and “repent,” you are behaving in an entirely different way. Repenting, that is, living a life shaped by God’s Word prepares hearts for the Coming Savior.
Yet, how often our hearts fall into thinking that repentance is not necessary. Instead of comparing your heart to God’s Word, it feels so much easier to justify and defend the way you (and I) behave. God makes it clear: Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), but greed feels good. So, make excuses as to why you cannot give an honest offering to God. Defend and justify your expenses so that you can cover up your love for the things money can buy. Trust yourself when you are scared, worried, or anxious. Believe the reasons that you cannot pray to God: “I just don’t have time.” “I’ll try to fix it one last time, then I’ll pray.” Make excuses as to why you cannot trust God to keep his promises: “I’ve been waiting a while and haven’t seen my health change.” “I don’t think God is overly concerned about my feelings of depression.” How the heart defends and justifies its actions! Justify the reasons as to why your relationships do not need to match up to God’s directions for relationships. “I know God wants sex in marriage, but that just doesn’t work in this world anymore.” I know God wants me to forgive and let go of grudges, but that other person would just walk around all smug if I forgive him.” “My friends do not deserve my kindness; they hurt me too much.”
God gives clear commands as to how you (and I) are to live. When we fail to measure up, it’s called “sin” or “transgression.” You (and I) have not done what God demands. The trouble is, so often our hearts want to make sin “small,” meaning, thinking our transgressions are no big deal, thinking our failure to be perfect holds no eternal consequence. Yet, if you make sin “small,” then you make Jesus “small.” If you (and I) think sin is not serious, then you have just said, “Jesus’ death on the cross was unnecessary. He did not need to suffer and die for you because you did nothing wrong.
If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it. If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And that heart will be completely unprepared to meet the Savior when he comes.
That is why God sends out messengers with his message: to prepare hearts to (1) listen to Jesus’ teachings and (2) take them to heart. And so John comes—not with words that he thinks you need to hear, not with a message he wrote down, but with a message God himself put into John’s mouth: “The Savior is Coming!”
John points you to the Savior who has come once already for your benefit! Jesus lives prepared to stand before his God and Father. His life always matches what God expects. So, he loves his God with all heart, mind, and soul. Never once does he try to hold a grudge. Never once does he try to excuse himself out of worship. Never does his heart need to repent and change its behavior. Instead, his heart is perfect!
Jesus marches on ahead of you—to prepare you to stand before his God and Father. His innocent blood fills in our spiritual potholes. His perfect life levels our self-trust and arrogance. His perfect heart makes our hearts perfect. Jesus prepares your heart for his second coming.
Yes, the Savior is Coming again. This time not as a little baby born on Christmas Day, but rather to come and bring every believer home to heaven. The Savior is Coming! and your heart is prepared for that great day! Live now prepared to meet him!
Prepare to meet your Savior by taking the words of God’s messengers to heart. Yes, those Pastors God has given you. These messengers do not create message of their own. Rather, they bring the life-saving Word to you. Listen to the Word of God read Sunday mornings. Listen to the Word of God applied to your life. Take those Words to heart, letting it expose error and redirecting you on a God-pleasing path. As you make it your habit to connect yourself to God’s Word in worship and personal reading, you increase your knowledge of what God calls “right” and “wrong.”
When you recognize when you have done wrong, like those of years past, confess your sins. Recognize the loveless words, the careless actions, the self-centered thoughts. Do not defend them. Rather, acknowledge them as the wrong they truly are. Hear God’s gracious forgiveness—that he does not rush against you in anger. Rather, he declares you “Forgiven” because Jesus has lifted off those wrongs. Now forgiven, live a life which continually turns from evil and delights in God’s commands.
You can— and you already do that— because God has filled you with the Holy Spirit. At your baptism, plain water ran down your head. Yet, God attached a promise with that water-- You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That “in” means God has put his name on you. And if God has put his name on you, then it means your identity is: “Child of God.” And if you are a child of God, then it means you are different from a “child of the world.”
You will stand out in this world. How can you not? Your heart delights in living in a way pleasing to God! So, you set aside an honest offering for your God—not because you must, but because God set aside the life of Jesus for you. You seek to forgive others—not because you fear being punished, but because God, in Christ, forgives you! Your friends, neighbors, and family may think marriage is not necessary or feel it is acceptable to abuse their bodies. Yet, you shape your relationships around the Word— because God has made your body his temple.
You live a life of repentance— that is, acknowledging the wrong and delighting in God’s good. Through God’s Word and God’s sacraments, the way into your heart has been prepared. The King of the universe sits in your heart reigning and ruling. You are prepared to meet the Savior.
What an important message that is! During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
according to those percentages, it would mean three out of every four you feel Jesus is not returning anytime soon, which sounds odd as you listen our reading from Mark 13:32-37:
[Jesus says:] “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
"Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, and yet, seventy-three percent of Christians apparently have pinpointed when Jesus will return. They have done what Jesus says no one can do. I know, that 73% of Christians did not determine the precise day and hour of his arrival. Yet, by feeling Jesus will not return until after [the year] 2050, three out of every four Christians have just claimed: “Jesus is not coming soon. There is still time.”
Feeling there is still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ return may sound like you still have an opportunity to deal with spiritual matters at a more convenient time. Yet, feeling there still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ return can actually leave you unprepared to meet him. That’s why Jesus sounds the warning: Keep Watch for the Savior’s Coming! Remain alert and Remain active.
You have every reason to remain alert. Before Jesus enters heaven, he tells you what to expect before he returns to earth. He gives signs that point to the end of this world (Matthew 24:3). “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places… [Y]ou will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…” (24:6-12).
You see those signs happening, don’t you? The media reports wars erupting in the Middle East. Civil wars break out in Libya, Syria, and Zimbabwe. You constantly hear rumors of war with North Korea. Famines rip through Africa. Earthquakes level cities in Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia, India— all over the world. Cold-hearted murderers show no love for life; they barge into churches, gun down concert-goers, and transform schools from a place of safety to a place of concern. False prophets still exist; pastors (that is, people who look and appear honest) stand up in church buildings (places that look like your church— with Bibles and songs and seats) and [they] openly announce that the Bible is full of errors. They share teachings on forgiveness, sexuality, or money that openly contradict what God so clearly says. Wickedness is increasing. What was once considered “wrong” is now praised as “right,” and what was once considered “right” is now condemned as “wrong.” Children disrespect parents, teachers, and authority-figures. Parents neglect children, argue with police officers and teachers, and refuse to care for those in need. Masses are not just leaving worship, but are leaving their faith in Jesus as Savior behind.
Are you paying attention to these signs? These “signs of the end” are not just entertaining fun-facts meant to settle your curiosity; each individual sign powerfully preaches: Jesus is coming soon! (Luke 21:28)
These signs are the reason why you Keep Watch for Your Savior’s Coming. You have the ability to remain alert because as you watch the signs unfold, you know Jesus will follow them!
Or, does this all sound like something you have heard before? After all, these signs are nothing new, right? Wars and earthquakes and famines and persecution and hate and violence and unbelief have been going on ever since Jesus walked on the earth. (Maybe you can remember connecting these signs with other wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, acts of lovelessness, and people staying away from worship.)
When you hear the same warning repeated so often, you begin doubting the seriousness of the warning. At first, you expect something significant to happen soon, but if nothing happens, then you start believing that the warning is not really all that serious. That’s why 73% of Christians do not feel Jesus will return anytime soon. Many watch these signs of the end, but do not see Jesus coming down from heaven. And if Jesus is not coming down from heaven, then his arrival must not be too serious. And if he is all too serious about returning, then you do not need to seriously consider how you stand before God. “There’s still time,” is the thought.
And if there is still time between your life “now” and Jesus’ arrival, then it feels that you still have an opportunity to deal with spiritual matters at a more convenient time. The Master leaves and stays away for a while; the servants realize he’s not returning soon and so they ignore the command to work. (1) You feel there will always be a later time to turn from sin and so (2) the sins God hates no longer bother you.
You fall into spiritual slumber. You start drifting from what you were taught: you cannot remember the Bible stories of creation, the Flood, or Jesus’ Passion; you have forgotten those accounts and are content to have a gap in knowledge. Yet, that gap does not stop there. Soon, you stop listening to the other parts of Scripture. You disrespect your God-appointed authorities; you argue with your parents (because you don’t get your way). You challenge your God-given Pastor/Shepherd because you do not want to hear God’s instructions expose your wrong behavior. The more you stay out of the Word, the more you focus on yourself; you live in ways that serve you, that make you feel happy, that will benefit you most. And so, your love grows cold. You gossip and cut down. You no longer offer to help others; instead you make excuses as to how other are taking advantage of you. You accuse and criticize. No longer do you check what your heart believes. Rather, you grow content behaving in whatever way makes you feel happy at the moment. You become perfectly content to let your heart fall into a deep spiritual sleep.
My friends, If [Jesus] comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping-- because when Jesus arrives, it will be too late to wake up.
That’s why Jesus sounds the warning. He wants you to prepare for his coming. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. Who does not know when that time will come? You. You do not have the privilege to put off spiritual matters for another day because you do not know if you will have another day to deal with them. So, Keep Watching for the Savior’s Coming!
Remain alert because Jesus has given you the ability to remain alert. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, born for you (Galatians 4:4-5). For you— that is, Jesus lives constantly aware and alert that earth is not your forever-home. He lives constantly aware and alert of making heaven your eternal home. His alertness means that he keeps God’s Word central in his life. He worships. His words and actions fall in line with what God calls “right.”
When the time had come, he allows himself to be betrayed, arrested, sentenced, and crucified. And on the cross, he makes heaven a reality. His life is used to open heaven. He leaves the tomb to show you that there is life after death. He enters heaven to prepare a place for you. Then he makes a final promise: I will come back for you (John 14:3).
Keep Watch for Your Coming Savior! Remain alert because Jesus has done everything necessary to set up eternal life for you. Through his Word, he focuses your heart to see him reign as your forgiving King. Since you know what is coming, you can Remain active.
If you live in Florida and hear reports of a hurricane barreling towards your house within the next three days, what would you do? Sleep?... Sit around?... Wait until day three to finally prepare your house for the hurricane? No! You breathe a sigh of relief that you still have three days to get everything done that you needs to get done. In the same way, God tells you want is coming so that you may remain active now and prepare for his arrival now!
In verse 35 Jesus says: Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. You do not know when Jesus will return, but there is something you do know: Jesus will come back. Instead of using that knowledge as an excuse to grow spiritually lazy, use that knowledge to remain active. Put another way, instead of saying: “Great! Another day to not care about how I live my life!” Let your thinking be: “Great! Another day for me to let the love of God dwell in me and through me!”
Remain active in your watching by making God’s Word a priority in your life. It will always feel like you do not have enough time to worship Sunday mornings or read your devotions at home or even pray. During the Christmas season, there’s parties, activities, friends, family, Christmas lights and presents—all good things that you get to enjoy during the season. Yet, remember that on Christmas Day, you get to say “Thank you” to God for giving the gift of eternal life through Jesus. What a reason to make God a priority during a busy season.
When you set aside time and make sure nothing steals that time away, you will find that you do have opportunities to worship, have devotions, and pray. When you set aside ten minutes in the morning or before bed, you will discover that you suddenly have time to read a chapter of the Bible or a devotion from the Meditations booklet. When you keep Sunday worship times open in your schedule, you will discover that you have time to worship (and still have time for other family activities). Remain active in Watching for Your Coming Savior!
Do not merely make hearing the Word a priority, but keep its teachings a priority in your life. As you hear the Word, consider what areas of your life to which it applies. Let the Word set your heart at rest as you trust God. Let the Word shape the words that come out of your mouth. Let the selfless love of Jesus transform your thoughts into selfless giving. Remain active in Watching for Your Coming Savior as you let the Word sink into your head and heart
Because No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son. Since you do not know when Jesus will return, it means that today is the day to get your heart ready to meet him. Today is the day to remain spiritually alert and active! Today is the day to Keep Watch for the Savior’s Coming! Remain alert and Remain active.
liftetime. So, you can live however you want and prepare for eternity later. You could fight with your kids and complain about your grandkids. You could stop helping others and blow your money on the lavish gifts you always wanted. You could live so self-centered because Jesus will not surprise you with a sudden return. Since you know the exact date, you could make things right with God on your deathbed. Or, if you determine that you do have enough years to reach 2042, then you can live any way you want now: stay out of worship, stop reading the Bible, do not help others out of love, stop being polite and kind, stop lending a hand to your parents or the elderly. Live in whatever way makes you feel good. Then, when [the year] 2041 comes around, well, then return to God. Say you’re sorry for your arrogance; worship, read your Bible, be kind and loving; straighten things out with God right before the end. Wouldn’t it just be great if Jesus told you when this world would end? You wouldn’t have to guess anymore; you may better prepared for Jesus’ arrival.
For reasons known only to God and for the reason to continue working all things for your eternal good, God the Father does not reveal the final date of this world’s existence. Even if you knew the exact day and precise hour of Jesus’ return, you are still not guaranteed to reach it. Old and young alike get sick and die. Old and young perish in accidents. Old and young both fall asleep in death. Knowing when this world will end does not prepare you to meet your God. And believing that your life will continue in the same way as it always has can leave you foolishly unprepared to for that Last Day.
Gain real wisdom for your life by taking Jesus’ warning to heart. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom and to enter the wedding feast.
Jesus makes the future abundantly clear: the Son of Man will come on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). All the nations will be gathered before him. He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (25:32). I’m not sure how much clearer Jesus needs to make it: He will return and bring this earthly life to an end.
He provides crucial information so that you may know what to expect. He says in our parable: At that time… that is, on the final day of this world’s existence. If you want to know what will happen, then continue listening.
The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. The Jewish wedding tradition was for the groom to run off to his in-law’s house and get his bride. Then he would lead his wife back to their new house, and the feast would begin. These virgins? Well, their responsibility is to wait outside the groom’s house, with lamps burning bright, so that when the new couple arrives, they could light the way into the house. So, they wait, and they wait, and they wait. Hours tick by. Light becomes dark. Eyelids get heavy; they fall asleep.
Suddenly, right at midnight, someone shouts: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ [A]ll the virgins woke up, grabbed their lamps, and hopped to their feet. After hours of waiting, those lamps are now running on empty. The bright flames had licked up much of the oil. They’re now nothing but faint little flickers of light.
This is it! The groom is arriving! The feast is about to begin! And five of those young ladies whisk out extra oil and strengthen the flame. Yet, the other five had no choice but to race out to the markets, hoping to buy more oil. [W]hile they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they pleaded, ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Jesus makes a pretty clear point: Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. The kingdom of heaven… that is, the day when you find yourself standing before God Almighty, the events of that majestic day will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five are prepared for that feast because they have the one thing necessary: the oil. Five are forever locked outside.
What makes five virgins foolish is their actions. They had information that the groom was coming, but they chose not to react to it. They chose to disregard its significance. And it was not until the door was shut that they realized time had run out.
It’s a very stern warning—that this kind of foolishness still exists in this world today. It happens when you think Jesus cannot possibly show up in your life. When you think there’s still more time to straighten yourself out with God later. That you have time to skip worship. That you can stop reading and better knowing your Bible. That you can embrace the God-less desires and pleasures of this life and give it all up when you’re old and near death. It’s foolish to think that you can run off to buy more oil later, that there will always be more time to prepare for eternity later.
It’s foolish to point at some human achievement and to rely that for entering the feast. To point at your church membership and say, “Well, my name’s in the book. That’s good enough, right?” It’s foolish to point out at your baptism, marriage, and [intentions to] burial— and consider them as some sort of trophy of what you have done for God. It’s foolish to think that the “oil” God is looking for is not faith in him, but rather believing all God wants you to do is fulfill some sort of “religious-action-checklist.”
It’s foolish to change Jesus’ warning into something less than a warning (as though Jesus is not really serious about locking the five virgins out of the feast). It’s foolish to say: “I already believe in God. I don’t need to be in church.” It’s foolish to be a Christian who declares an undying love for Jesus, but does not feel a compulsion to pour out that love in word and song.
Jesus makes it so clear: he will return. If you feel there is more time to change your heart, to worship more frequently, to start reading devotions later, to chase out all selfish love, then be ready to hear the most awful sentence ever spoken: I do not know you.
My friends, Jesus gives this warning, not to scare you, not to leave you terrified about standing before him; he gives this warning so that you may Be Ready with Hearts Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom.
Your Jesus, your Bridegroom, has already prepared this wedding feast. He has already marched off to the cross because he knows this world has an end. In fact, for that reason he marches to the cross for you.
His heart remains perfectly wise each day for your Last Day. Never once does Jesus shrug off the command to worship God. Never does Jesus rest on his knowledge, claiming he knows the Bible “good enough.” Never once does he take his eyes off of his heavenly home. Instead, each step taken is another step taken to make you his bride. By his death on the cross he opens heaven’s doors. He leaves the grave and into heaven in order to prepare heaven’s great feast.
I’m not sure how much clearer Jesus needs to make it: He will come again. He makes this abundantly clears so that you may Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith you will enter the wedding feast.
With a heart trusting in the saving work of Jesus, this is what you get to live for: you get to live expecting to enter that heavenly feast.
Through baptism he wrote your name on the party-list. Every single time you sin, he points you back to your baptism: “Remember how I washed away your sins? It means you’re forgiven.” In Holy Communion, Jesus lays a hand on your shoulder, saying: “My body and blood was shed for your eternal benefit. I have removed and lifted off what you have done. Do not worry that you will be locked out. You will enter through heaven’s door.” Remember God’s forgiveness attached to your baptism. Remember Jesus’ assurance of forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. He sets your sights on entering the feast.
Continue growing in the Word of God. Those wise virgins were not content to have enough oil; they brought more than enough so that no shortage would rip away their faith. Never be content to know “just enough” of the Bible; strengthen your understanding of the Bible’s teachings so that doubts, worries, fears, and unanswered questions do not rip away your faith. Learn God’s answers to challenges, to sickness, to modern-day lifestyles, to marriage. Make worship a priority and share what you hear in this place among your family and friends throughout the week. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to enter the wedding feast.
Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to enter the wedding feast as believers who lived before you have done. Your spouse. Your child. Your dear friend. Your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles— those who believed that Jesus came for them—are gathered in that wedding feast. Their faith continued burning bright as they heard again and again: Jesus removes guilt and has removed it all! They nestled in the arms of God, who through baptismal waters said, “I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Their faith continued burning bright as they looked forward to entering that great wedding feast. Finally, when their life drew to a close, they saw the door opened and followed their Bridegroom in.
Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom. For reasons known only to God and for reasons to continue working all things for your eternal good, God the Father does not reveal the final date of this world’s existence. Even if you knew the exact day and precise hour of Jesus’ return, you are still not guaranteed to reach it. You do not know how many years are given to you. You do not know how many more days this world has. What you do know is: (1) Jesus will come again. (2) All people will stand before him. (3) He will judge the living and the dead. Clinging to the saving work of Jesus makes you ready to enter the wedding feast.
Gain real wisdom for your life by taking Jesus’ warning to heart. Be Ready with a Heart Full of Faith to meet the Bridegroom and to enter the wedding feast.
trail in two, making them wade through churning currents. Trees had fallen on the path, leaving them no choice but to step up and over the slimy, mossy bark. Finally, after hours of climbing, shuffling, reaching, grabbing, and leaping, they saw the end of the trail. It meant no more obstacles, no more exhausting effort, no more struggles. All that separated them from reaching the goal was a deep chasm.
Both father and son scoured the area for a bridge, but found nothing. They searched for the start of this chasm with the hope of walking around it, but the chasm stretched on both ways for miles. The only way over this challenge was over an oak tree that had fallen across this great divide.
Father went first. He stared at the end of the trail, never once taking his eyes off of his goal. He carefully placed one foot on the log, and then heaved his entire weight onto the tree. One foot crept slowly ahead of the other foot. Little by little he toed forward, safely reaching the other side.
Turning around, he called out for his son to cross. The boy was nervous. As he put one foot on the log, his eyes glanced at the river raging some 100 feet below him. His eyes darted from side to side in the hopes of discovering another way across, but there was nothing. The only way to reach his goal was to cross this fallen tree.
How do you do it? It’s frightening to stand with so much danger surrounding you: sudden drop-offs, raging rivers, the fear of heights. Paralyzed by fear, how can he march on?
How can you march on? You may not be facing sudden drop-offs, but you live in a world filled with sudden events of violence. You may not confront a raging river, but you experience those who rage against your God and everything he teaches. Thinking about the future can leave you paralyzed in fear. So many dangers surround you— dangers found in society, health, life. How do you march on?
Losing focus in the face of trouble can lead to devastating results. Knowing where to look means that you get to March On, Super-Conqueror! God is for you. No one can stand against you.
[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God works for your good because he has called you to faith. The Word of God has hit your ears. God, with his words, reveals that little Bethlehem baby as your Savior. He lifts your eyes to the cross where you see his Son pay to save your life. Then he speaks a promise: whoever believes that only Jesus makes you right in the sight of God will enter eternal life (John 3:16).
You have heard those words. You have heard them in your home devotions; you have heard them in Sunday worship. You heard them spoken as water was poured over your head and God made you his disciple (Matthew 28:19). God has called you to faith. He has called you to be his child. God is pleased to be your God who works all things with you and your eternal wellbeing in mind.
So, then What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? What’s the answer? Who can be against you if God is for you? And do remember who this God is. This is the God who brought the universe into existence by the powerful word of his mouth (Genesis 1:1-2:4). When this God speaks, the earth has no choice but to listen to what God will do (Psalm 46:6). This is the One enthroned in heaven who scoffs at those who shake their tiny fists in defiance against his eternal teachings (Psalm 2:4-6). This is the God who threw Satan out of heaven and locked him in the prison of hell (2 Peter 2:4). This is the God who is for you.
If all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to God Almighty, if every nation, every government, every king cannot possibly overrule his actions, if Satan is forever damned, then who can be against you? Who can rip you away from God’s loving embrace? Who can strip away the fact that God still hears your prayers, still blesses you, and that he will bring you safely to your heavenly home? Who can interfere and stop God from keeping his promises to you? Who can change the reality that God is for you? No one.
You know that. That’s why those verses are cherished by so many. And yet, those verses can be so easily forgotten when hardships circle you.
Senseless violence forever changes lives. Walking into a church or to grocery or a school can feel like God no longer sends his protecting angels, that God suddenly forgets where you are. Division seems to describe politics anymore. The hurt and the anger can leave you forgetting to pray and ask God to bless those leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). An increasing number of people are staying out of worship; masses are turning their backs on God. You worry how much longer your congregation will exist in this location to share God’s saving Word. You wonder how many believers will be left while you’re still alive. These complex, massive problems circle you, leaving you feeling abandoned, cut off, and hopeless. And if you feel that God has left you, then you begin distancing your heart from God. If you stop trusting God, you will start trusting your own guidance and decisions—decisions that will only lead you into the pits of eternal despair.
My friends, your God has and will never leave you. That’s a promise. That’s a promise you see kept by focusing on the cross. Yes, whenever you feel crushed, overwhelmed, abandoned, look at the cross. He[…] did not spare his own Son… God did not keep Jesus locked up in heaven and away from the world’s troubles. Instead, your Jesus entered a world filled with Roman violence and divisive religious leaders. He calls twelve fishermen to be his disciples— fishermen who are scared that they could die for following him. Yet, your Jesus trusted his Father’s authority over all things— even when Roman soldiers arrest him. He never worries— even when those religious leaders spew out lies in the hopes of harming his future. Look at the cross, and see God give up his beloved Son for those scared fishermen. Look at the cross, and see God give him up for us all. Jesus dies your (and my) death—the death you (and I) deserve for all the needless fear and despair. For all those times you (and I) used our words and actions to bark out: “God, where are you?” Jesus is abandoned, cut off, left dead. All for you—to pay the price demanded for our sin so that eternal death in hell will never separate you from God.
God even gives you five reasons that he must be for you. God must watch over you. God must hear your prayers. It’s because Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Jesus continually tells his Father: “Watch over them because I have done what you have required. I have lived a perfect life with perfect trust in order to save them from eternal fear.” God must watch over you, not because you or I demand this. Not because you and I are here in church, just like he commands. Not because you live a good life. God must watch over you because Jesus says: “I died for them. Look at them. They are innocent, blameless; they are clothed with my life.”
If you ever fear that God has left you, focus on the cross. See Jesus win for you the title: “Child of God.” Just like a parent never forgets their child, God never forgets about you. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Do you see your identity now? Did you look in the mirror morning and smile? You are a super-conqueror! You do not merely conquer life’s hardships, you overwhelm them. Why? Because you hold Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. Society may hate God. More may be against God than for him, but no number, no hatred will keep you out of heaven. Health may give you every reason to despair God’s care. Fear for the future may tug on you to leave God. Yet, nothing in the present or the future will rip you from the path that leads to eternal life. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What worries are on your mind? What keeps you tossing and turning all night? Are you worried that your congregation may not remain here as long as you thought? Are you torn because your child is leaving the faith you have taught them to know, a faith you yourself modeled? Do you ache watching a broken world still looking for comfort in human achievement? Does it feel like it’s up to you to solve every trouble in life?
Focus on the cross. Let your ears listen to his words of promise. Let your mind be at ease because all-powerful God is with you. Which means, no one can stand against you.
That boy put one foot on the log. His eyes glanced at the river raging some 100 feet below him. His eyes darted from side to side in the hopes of discovering another way across, but there was nothing. The only way to reach his goal was to cross this fallen tree.
So, that young boy fixed his attention on his father. His ears listened to his father’s guidance. His eyes locked onto his father’s outstretched arms. His mind found comfort in his father’s calm voice. Step after step he moved forward, pressing further down the tree, lifting foot after foot until that foot touched solid ground.
Father crossed the challenge first. Your Jesus crossed the challenges of this life first. He died, but reversed death. He lived, but then rose into heaven. He rose, but now sits in power in authority. He has not abandoned you. He remains to guide your feet with his Word and calm your fears with his promises. Set your eyes and your attention on him.
March On, Super-Conqueror! March on, despite the struggles which follow you for God remains to strengthen and help. March on, remaining focused on sharing the life-saving Word of God. March on, knowing that no one will rip away your heavenly inheritance. March On, Super-Conqueror! God is for you. No one can stand against you.
By “persecution,” I am talking about someone beating you up for faith, throwing you in jail, torturing you, burning down your church, passing laws against the public worship of Jesus, passing laws against owning a Bible, or even coming out to kill you (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/)
So, at what time in world history have Christians suffered the greatest persecution? It is not the Roman era, when emperors outlawed Christianity, locked Christians in the Coliseum with lions, crucified them, and beheaded them. It is not the Middle ages, when pastors like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake because they stood on Scripture instead of conforming to manmade teachings in the Catholic church. It is not during the 1400s, when Muslim nations spread throughout the Middle East, pushing Christians out of their homeland, even killing Christians as “infidels.” Nor was persecution at its greatest during the Great Migrations of the 1800s, when hundreds of thousands of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to enter the New World— desiring not only economic wealth, but also religious freedom. The greatest time of Christian persecution is now.
It is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 Christians are murdered each year because they confess Jesus as Savior. Each month about 214 Christian churches are targeted and destroyed by non-Christian enemies. Each month about 772 acts of violence are committed against Christians. In fact, more Christians have been killed in the past 100 years than the previous 2,000 years combined. Surprised? (https://listosaur.com/miscellaneous/10-shocking-facts-about-christian-persecution-today/)
From the moment angry Cain murdered his God-fearing brother Abel, believers have faced opposition because they cling to Jesus as Savior (Genesis 4:3-8). It means, the pressure to abandon your grip on God’s clear teachings will always be there. On some days, in some occasions, you may even feel those against you are more powerful than the One who is for you. Yet, remember this: You are Triumphant in Christ! Even when you suffer, Jesus is still in control.
Does it feel like that? That you are triumphant--now? Probably not. Usually it’s the opposite, right? You see almost on a daily basis this growing hostility to Christian teachings. Scientists declare: “We know beyond any doubt that God does not exist!” but in the same breath say: “But aliens might exist, we just haven’t found them yet.” You see more people staying outside of worship than coming to worship. Television shows, movies, and late night hosts use the name “Jesus” as more of a term of excitement instead of honor. Society appears to respect your God very little and wants you to be aware of that.
For Daniel, the nation in which he lives— Babylon— not only respects God very little, but even passes laws against worship. (read also Daniel, chapters 3-5) The law was simple: For the next thirty days, pray to the king of Babylon alone or be thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:7). Yes, the law is unfair. Yes, the law singles out those who believe in the one true God of Israel. Yes, the law singles out a man like Daniel, someone rising through the ranks of the Babylonian government. And yes, the law is set as a trap. Daniel’s enemies knew he would break this command. If they catch Daniel, then he dies. If he dies, then they rise in power.
And Daniel? Well, 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. Daniel did not have to publicly demonstrate his faith. After all, the decree stands in effect for only thirty days! Daniel (1) could have not prayed. He (2) could have prayed at the king’s feet, but really addressed his prayer to God. He (3) could have shut his windows, turned off his lights, locked his doors, and prayed in secret.
Yet, he does not do any of that. He walks up the stairs to his room, flings open the window shutters, bends down on his knees, extends his arms, lifts his hands up, bows his head, and prays! To change his prayer habits would have been the same as giving in to the demands of the decree. He would allow a law to change the way he worships.
[But] these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.
So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
They’re right; the king did command every single person in the kingdom to pray to him and to him alone. And the king cannot take back his order. So the king had no other choice, but to give the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Do you know how Daniel could have stayed out of the lion’s den? Cover up your faith. Don’t mention what you believe. Change what you believe to fit what the majority considers appropriate.
I’m not too sure what is more surprising. Either the fact that 100,000 Christians are still murdered each year for their faith or that about 45% of Christians in America— a land in which you are free to worship wherever you please— actually worship every Sunday morning. That’s less than half of all Christians (not citizens, but Christians) in America make use of their freedom to worship publicly, without fear of any imprisonment, violence, or death. And yes, I know, some are out of town or must work Sundays or are homebound. Still, only 43% of Christians read their Bibles at least once every week (something that can be done at any time, in any place). Thirty percent attend Bible class. Even less have family devotions at home (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)
What about you? You get to worship without the threat of imprisonment. You get to pray without worrying that someone will throw you into a lion’s den. You get to own a Bible without fearing that someone will kill you. So, do you pray before dinner? Do you say “thank you” to God for the food set before you? Do you pray before taking a test, asking God to bless your memory, or do you fear what your friend might say if he catches you with eyes closed, mouthing words? Do you openly admit to your doctor that you will listen to both (1) the doctor and (2) take your condition to God in prayer? When same-sex marriage was passed, do you mope around like Jesus lost, or did you pray that God use you to share his Word? Abortion still remains legal. Do you only see victory by protesting, or do you also pray for the unborn and your leaders to change such a horrible law? You may be aware of the personal beliefs of your children, or your parents, spouse, friends, and co-workers. Are you praying that God use you to share your light of faith? Or, have you given up all hope that they will see the Light of life in Jesus?
My dear friends, the devil strives to throw opposition in your face as proof that you are on the losing side. That if your children reject Jesus, there is no more hope for them. That if your doctor scoffs at your beliefs, then you are the weird one. That if laws are passed, nothing can possibly change those orders. That if (1) you are a Christian and (2) life has not become perfect, then it never will. It will only get worse.
You are Triumphant in Christ even when you suffer. Even when you are called names, mocked, ridiculed, hurt, or killed, You are Triumphant in Christ! How? Because Christ also suffered. A law did not command Jesus to pray to a king. Rather, powerful men rejected that Jesus is the King of heaven and earth. They did not throw him into the lions’ den. They nailed him to the cross.
You and I should have suffered and died instead because of the occasions we hide trust in God. And yet it is Jesus who dies instead. Dying because you (and I) have hidden our belief in God. Suffering because you (and I) have denied knowing him. Paying our price so that you (and I) can stand forgiven!
Yes, Jesus suffers and dies—but then rises again! Bursts out of the ground. Stands on the earth. Rises off of the planet. And sits over the entire universe in power! You are Triumphant in Christ even when you suffer because your Christ reigns triumphant now!
Daniel knew his God stood in control over kings, governments, and nations. Yet, I’m not sure if Daniel expected to live through the night. Yet, it did not matter because Daniel was already Triumphant in Christ. If lived, he would still worship his saving God. If he died, he would still worship his saving God. Whether he lived or died, his trust for deliverance from eternal death would still rest in God.
[And] at the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. [… H]e called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! 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. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The wicked mob had plans, but God overruled their plan. He was not ready for Daniel to enter heaven. Instead, he sent his angel to keep Daniel safe. Even though humanity makes their plans, Jesus is still in control.
He still sends his angels to protect you. The Bible teaches that angels are created by God to serve you (Hebrews 1:14). Yes, angels serve you! (Psalm 91:11-12)
A missionary once shared his story of pastoring a group of Christians in a hostile, Muslim-backed region of Pakistan. This community of believers had built a church, even though their area was well-known for burning down churches. One day the missionary was tipped off by a local that a small mob was heading their way to destroy their church. The missionary and congregation could have fled, but decided to remain behind in the church. There, they prayed all night. They sang hymns. They read Scripture readings. Then the sun rose. The church still stood. More than that, they were still alive.
A few days later, a local met up with the missionary. He had overheard that the mob marched towards the church, but when they arrived, they saw heavily-armed soldiers guarding the perimeter. They fled, thinking they had fallen into an ambush. Yet, the missionary did not station armed guards on the perimeter. Instead, God had sent his angels.
So, does that mean no one will ever insult you, that no one will ever threaten you because of your faith? No. Nowhere does God promise to defend you with angels until the ripe old age of 100 years old. The Bible shares numerous accounts of men like Stephen, Zechariah, and Isaiah—men who are killed for not changing God’s message at the demands of kings. Only one of Jesus’ twelve disciples died of natural causes; the others died for their faith.
What God does promise is: (1) to hear your cries for help, (2) to send his angels to protect you, and (3) to declare you forever innocent. Daniel rejoices that he is found innocent before God. Not only did he obey God rather than man, but Daniel trusted in the coming Savior who would wipe away his guilt. The same Savior who also declares you “not guilty.” Sin will never devour your soul. Jesus’ death has shut the devilish lion’s mouth forever. And Jesus reigns to bring your through this earthly night, and he will deliver you into heaven’s eternal morning.
On this Reformation Day, dust off this prized jewel of Scripture. Make use of it in your home, your family, and worship life. God has seen fit to defend his Word over thousands of years so that you too may hear, come to faith, remain in faith, and enter eternal life. He raised up a servant like Martin Luther who stared death in the face because he would not take back his Bible-based convictions. Someone like that stood on Scripture to make sure that 500 years later you could still hear the only Way to heaven.
That’s the purpose of Scripture: to point you to Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the reason you hold firm in the face of opposition. You are Triumphant in Christ! Even when you suffer, Jesus is still in control.
of Houston, situated literally in the Gulf of Mexico. It looks like a little sandbar and lies just nine feet above sea level. When Isaac Cline arrived in Galveston, he was so sure that no hurricane would ever touch this booming city that he publicly spoke against the need for constructing a seawall.
Well, a few years after his confident assumption, a ship began sending reports of a tropical depression pushing west across the Caribbean islands. A few days later, the island of Antigua warned of a strong tropical thunderstorm. Soon, meteorologists stationed on Cuba warned of a category-4 hurricane (with winds whipping up to 145 miles-per-hour) heading westward towards San Antonio. Isaac Cline received these reports; Isaac Cline disregarded the reports. He believed the storm would boomerang to the northeast. But it did not. When the hurricane warning flags were finally raised in Galveston, it was too late. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest natural disaster in United States history. About 12,000 people lost their lives because Isaac Cline failed to warn the people of the approaching danger.
When you are the watchman who has news for life, you become responsible for the lives of others. Isaac Cline had information that could have saved lives, but did not share that information until it was too late and too much life was lost.
On this Christian Education Sunday, God asks you: How dedicated have you been at being my watchman? Much of our society remains comfortably uninterested in eternity. It can happen that even you and I grow unconcerned about what beliefs have entered our hearts. God gives you his Word and God Makes You His Watchman so that you may warn against sin and share God’s grace.
In verse 7 God says: Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. There it is; you see whom God addresses: Son of man. In this setting God speaks to his prophet Ezekiel— a man, someone’s son. Yet, these words are not only meant for him; our gospel reading connects these words to you. Matthew 18:15 reads: If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. God no longer talks to Ezekiel; he speaks directly to you.
You are “sons” and “daughters” of man. That is saying more than: “You have a mom and a dad.” Being a “son of man” reminds you that you are different from a “son of God.” You are mortal. Your life has a beginning and an end. People who are mortal have a job: you are watchman.
In ancient times, a watchman marched along the towering city walls, scanning the region for any sign of danger. The very instant he caught a glimpse of the enemy marching towards the city, he blasted the trumpet, warning the military to take up arms and alerting citizens to take cover. (1) The watchman recognizes danger. (2) He sounds the alarm. (3) He does everything in his power to keep people safe— because he holds people’s lives in his hands.
Yet, God does not instruct you to climb a wall, march around, and scan the horizon for invaders. He explains what you, as a watchman, do. Hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. The ‘Word’ God has spoken are the Words that make up the Bible. The Bible teaches this one reality: one day you will stand before God Almighty. It can happen at any moment. You may close your eyes in death today and meet your Maker. Or your Jesus could rip the heavens open, slam his golden throne down on this earth, and send out hundreds of thousands of angels across the entire world to gather all people before him. Only those who cling to the saving work of Jesus are able to stand before him without fear.
You know this message, right? You learned it in Sunday School, in catechism class, in Sunday sermons, and in Bible class. And if you heard this message, then it means God has spoken his Word to you. And if God has spoken his Word to you, then it means God has Made You a Watchman for the special task of warning against sin.
Yet, why you? Out of all the people on earth, why are you made a watchman? I mean, you didn’t sign up for this, did you? After all, that’s Pastor’s job. You pay him to talk about Jesus and heaven and hell with people. No one’s paying you to approach a friend about their lifestyle. In the end, it’s really none of your business, right? If someone wishes to be an alcoholic and dabble with drugs, then that’s their right. If your son wants to live with his girlfriend outside of marriage, then he should be free to do so! If your child doesn’t want to worship, but still believes there is a God, then that’s good enough. If your friend thinks worshipping God out in nature is enough to enter heaven, then who are you to say otherwise? Why meddle? Why warn against sin?
Do you want to know why? Because God has Made You His Watchman. He makes you responsible for the spiritual lives of others because he has put his Word into your life. You have the knowledge of what is going to happen on the Last Day. Not everyone knows. Not everyone is overly concerned about eternity. When [God] says to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and [God] will hold you accountable for his blood. The devil has led much of present-day society to label exposing sin as “judgmental.” Quite frankly, the devil just wants no one to point out sin so that more will join him in hell. And if he can get you and me to say nothing, then he has won.
My friends, the reason to warn against sin is not to look morally better than someone else. The reason to warn against sin is not to shame others. The reason to warn against sin is not to pat yourself on the back for not struggling with the same addiction and habit as someone else. The reason to warn against sin is to warn against the eternal consequences of sin! To warn against eternal death separated from God in hell.
God Makes You his Watchman so that you can warn against sin. God is serious about punishing sin. Yet, as serious as he is about removing sin, God Makes You his Watchman so that you can share his grace.
“Grace” means “undeserved love.” God hands youa message of warning so that people may avoid judgment. Yet, for all those times you did not want to sound judgmental, all those times you turned a blind eye to a lifestyle you know was wrong, God would have every right to judge you.
Yet, your Sovereign Lord [declares], “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” You God wants all people saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and so he sends Jesus. Jesus does not ignore your failures; he suffers for them. He dies for the times you are too ashamed to warn anyone of God’s judgment. He suffers your judgment in order to stand you before God his Father forgiven!
The reason God has Made You His Watchman is for you to share his grace. Yes, you! You may be an elderly watchman—70, 80, 90-years-old or older! If you ever ask yourself: “Why am I still alive? What does God want me to do?” then find a purpose for life in our verses. God makes You His Watchman!
Just think of it—you have worshipped God for 70, 80, or 90 years—and you still come here! Why? Don’t you know everything already? Don’t you already believe in God? Don’t you know the Christmas and Easter stories forwards and backwards? Don’t you know all about heaven and hell? Of course you do! And yet, you realize that trouble does not go away as you get older. You still need to hear that God will not send you to hell because of the foolish choices of your youth. You still need to hear that God is in control of the world— including wars and natural disasters. You still need to cling tighter to grace— to be sure that God forgives you free of charge! You have worshipped here for years because you want to be reminded against and again just how much God loves you.
So, what can you do at your age and at your stage in life? There are those who think they already know everything the Bible has to teach. God uses you (and your life experience) to encourage those younger than you to remain in worship. God is using you as his watchman to share his grace with your fellow believers.
Maybe you are an empty-nester watchman. The kids are no longer kids; they are adults. Your son grew up, got married, lives right around the corner, and has a family of his own—with children who have yet been baptized! Your sister once worshipped with you. She lives five miles away, but doesn’t make Sunday a priority anymore. She travels around Michigan on the weekends. She stays up late Saturday night and sleeps in Sunday mornings. She worships with you only when the family is in town. Perhaps you ask your child: “Where’s God in your life?” As his mother, you want to see him in heaven. You’re afraid by the things he has said and the way that he lives that he considers forgiveness to be “fluff” and “unnecessary.” Tears well up in your eyes because you did not raise your child this way.
What do you do? Sound the warning as the Watchman God has Made You. God instructs: If you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. Do you see the job God gives you? God does not say: “You must turn him from his ways.” He simply says: “You warn.” God assures you: If you warn and they ignore you, you are not guilty for their unbelief. As long as that child or sibling or friend is in your life, God uses you as his watchman to share his grace.
Your kids may be growing up right now. If God has made you a parent, then it means God has made you responsible for the wellbeing of that child. So, you take care of them. You feed them, take them to school, enroll them in events; you shower them with so many blessings. Yet, as parents, you want your child to want to come to worship. You want child to spontaneously wake up early Sunday morning and come here. And sometimes they do— and what a blessing it is to see the Holy Spirit move their hearts in this way! Sometimes they don’t— and what a responsibility you have to crush the devil’s temptation raging in their heart to despise worship.
As parents, sometimes you may have to make children come to worship with you. I would love for Clara to want to get shots because they keep her healthy. But she’s five-years-old. She does not want shots. I know shots are best for her wellbeing— and while she may not like me for bringing her to the doctor, I bring her to a person who will help her life.
You bring your child to worship so that they can know Jesus better. If you desire for your child to want to worship, then talk about worship. What did you hear in the sermon that stuck out? How does it apply to what your family faces now? How does it give you comfort? Share it! Explain why you are here (when their friends are sleeping at home). Why do you worship in this church (and not somewhere else)? Explain to your child how God’s Word lights up the path to eternal life. Be the Watchman God makes You as you share the love of Jesus with your child.
Isaac Cline had information that could have saved lives, but did not share that information until it was too late and too much life was lost. You have information that leads to eternal life. While this world continues, it means you have time to warn against sin. Sin is rebellion against God. It tries to remove you from him; it seeks to throw you in unbelief. It is that serious.
Yet, as serious as God is about punishing sin, he more serious to forgive sin. He uses the Bible to tell you: “You are forgiven.” Forgiven by his grace, his undeserved love alone. Use the time you have now to share his grace with young and old and family and friends.
Be the watchman God makes you. Someone to warn that unbelief results in hell. Someone to warn against sinful lifestyles. Someone to share God’s forgiveness. Someone to share the joy of growing closer to God. God Makes You His Watchman to warn against sin and to share God’s grace.