You have heard me say it before: You and I live in a postmodern society. That means, many believe truth is relative. There is no absolute standard of “right” and no absolute standard of “wrong.” So, many make choices based on what feels right to them. If it feels right, then it must be right (so the thinking goes).
So then, what’s the difference between an abortion and the murder of the unborn? [To a postmodern thinker] Whatever the mother thinks is going on inside the womb! If the mother does not wish to keep the child, then she does not think it is “life.” And if it is not a “life,” then she will not call it murder and there is nothing morally wrong. Yet, if a mother wishes to have a child and the child is taken away through an act of violence, then, since the mother felt this was human life, the offender can be charged with murder! Even ‘life’ becomes defined by whatever a person wants it to be—based on what they think or feel it is (and that definition changes from person to person).
Or, if you feel that the speed limit down Old-27 (in Harrison) and McEwan St. (in Clare) should be 50 miles per hour, then the officer who pulls you over for speeding has no reason to write you a ticket because you feel the speed limit should be higher (and the city has posted the wrong speed limit). Postmodern thinking teaches that you determine what is right and what is wrong based on your feelings.
The reason I keep bringing up this postmodern mindset is because you and I live in this postmodern society; this is the current thinking which dominates what you see and hear in life.
That same thinking filters into the world’s beliefs about God. A September 2016 poll surveyed American religious beliefs (and most surveyed identified themselves as Christian). This poll discovered that 58% of Americans believe God is the author of the Bible and 42% percent believe the Bible does not have the authority to tell them what to do. Seventy-four percent feel that small sins do not deserve hell and 52% believe they will go to heaven because of the good deeds they do. Not to mention, 70% of Americans (who, again, identify as Christian) do not believe hell exists and 64% believe all people— regardless of belief— will go to heaven. (http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/)
So, what does a poll like this reveal? In words of the pollster: “Most Americans identify as Christians, but seem confused about some details of their faith… Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are OK for most people.”A survey like this reveals a heart which picks and chooses what it wants to believe. The real trouble is not just that you live in this kind of religious atmosphere, but that you too can adopt this same thinking, that you also begin picking and choosing what you want to believe.
Setting your beliefs on your own authority can put your soul in eternal danger. That’s why God warns and urges: Listen to the Prophet! God gives him the Word and He speaks God’s Word.
So, how does anyone know anything about God? How you do know if you stand right in his sight? If your words are pleasing to him? If your actions meet his expectations? If he would approve of your behavior? Because, according to our reading, even the Israelites (at one time) are not too sure.
They were camped around this place called Mount Horeb (or, as you know it, Mount Sinai). Smoke billows from its top. The ground rumbles. The shrill trumpet blast echoes across the desert floor. God came down from heaven and now rests on Mount Sinai— and they are terrified.
God is there! The perfect God with the highest of highest standards for moral perfection. The mighty God who demands absolute obedience! The God who ultimately has the final say on their life. One day their earthly life will end and they will meet him, but they have no idea how they can and live. So, they ask for a prophet— someone who receives God’s Word and brings it to the people.
Enter Moses. He walks up Mount Sinai. God hands him the Word and Moses brings down God’s Ten Commandments. If the nation ever wondered how God saw them, all they had to do was Listen to the Prophet, listen to Moses.
Yet, for you, God has raised up a Prophet even greater than Moses. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers… The New Testament so clearly identifies that Prophet as Jesus (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). [I] will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
If you want to know what God expects of you in this life, then listen to Jesus. Understand, Jesus’ words carry authority. Jesus does not base his teaching on his own opinion. He does not share what feels is right in this life. Instead, he tells you what (1) God says and (2) what God will do.
There’s a part of our hearts that doesn’t want to hear this, a part of our lives fighting for a reason as to why God’s truth does not apply to us. Do you hear it?
Jesus says: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10). Yet, our hearts try undercut Jesus’ authority. “Jesus, I don’t need to worship every Sunday. I determined, by the power of my own feelings that it does not matter if I am here or not. You must accept my belief.”
Or, Jesus explains eternal life: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet, that doesn’t sound too fair. “God, I think everyone will go to heaven, I know Jesus says that we need faith in him. But I have determined, through my own investigation that this is not the case. My belief feels right to me, so I am right and you are wrong.”
Or, Jesus cares about the way you live. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Yet, maybe that does not sound too realistic. “God, I know what pleases you—what kind of words please you, how I can use my body and mind to glorify you, but I have determined that this brings nothing bad into my life. Therefore there is nothing morally wrong with the way I act.”
Your heart (and mine) will try to create its own beliefs, its own rules, and follow them— even going so far as to demand that God cater to you. That sounds good; that sounds acceptable. Except… except of one truth no one can deny: You (and I) will die one day. When that happens, God clearly reveals what will happen next. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
Yes, God’s Word can offend us. The sinful nature inside each of us does not want its deeds evil, wicked deeds exposed. It does not want God to tell us how to live. Yet, God tells us how to live so that you (and I) do not fall under his eternal judgment!
So, God raises up his Prophet for you! Look at Jesus and recognize that his Word is not mean to enslave you, but to free you! To free you from the consequences of sin! To free you for eternal life!
That is what the Prophet preaches! Freedom for the captive! Good news for the spiritually poor and empty (Luke 4:18). The message of his mouth has authority; it accomplishes what he says it will do.
On the cross Jesus speaks: It is finished (John 19:30)--and that word does something. He pushed Satan back into hell. He grabbed you (and me) by hand, led us to himself, and leads us out of the bondage of our sins. He rises from the dead and proclaims real truth: Peace be with you. As I forgive you, you are forgiven. I can tell you that you are at peace with God (John 20:21).
Listen to the Prophet. God gives him the Word to proclaim, a word which reveals your truthful reality. There remains no more guesswork as to how you stand before God. Listen to the Prophet because He speaks the Word.
Still. Today. Right now. Jesus the Prophet still speaks. The writer of [the book of] Hebrews says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways… that is, God sent out people with his Word. Yet, God does not send out new messages to prophets anymore. In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (1:1-2). The Bible is similar to a diary. If you write down your day’s events, and I read that book out loud, I am not reading my words, I am not reading my thoughts. I am reading your words and your thoughts. God gave certain men his Word to write down (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When I read it out loud, you hear what God desires. When you read it, you read God’s teachings. Listen to Jesus, the Prophet, because he speaks God’s Word.
Yes, Listen to Jesus, the Prophet as you step out into a postmodern society. Most recently, the president of the largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] (a liberal branch of Lutherans) went on record to say: If hell exists, I think it’s empty. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/elizabeth-eaton-presiding-bishop-evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-chicago-if-hell-exists-i-think-its-empty-face-to-faith-podcast/) This religious leader speaks in the name of God, that is, she passes along a teaching that appears to be approved by God. But, does God approve it?
First, If hell exists? Jesus, in the Bible makes it clear hell exists. He tells how a man named Lazarus went heaven and a nonbelieving rich man when to hell (Luke 16:22-23; see also Matthew 10:28). Then, If hell exists, I think it’s empty. Yet, Jesus makes it clear: All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another… He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…[the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:32-33,46). Again, this Lutheran preacher speaks a teaching different from the One Jesus himself gives.
You must be on your guard against prophets who speak in God’s name, but are not sharing what he commands. No one advertises himself as a false prophet. No one says: “Come to my church. I’m going to tell you a bunch of lies.” No one says, “Listen to me; I’ll share my firm opinions with you.” No one will stand up and say, “We take little snippets of the Bible out of context and pass along teachings that make sense to our minds.” No one will say that.
That is why you need to Listen to God’s Prophet. When someone tells you something about angels or heaven & hell or how people enter heaven and you’re not so sure they’re right, go back to the Bible and see if this matches what Jesus says. And yes, our world passes along sentimental thoughts and some of them appear quite harmless. Maybe you even wonder: Why not let people believe what they want? What’s the harm in that? Because God warns: [A] prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
God is that serious when it comes to the matter of your soul! He knows that allowing just a little false teaching into your heart can lead you down the wide road into hell. So, he goes to the extreme: Remove those words from your presence! Get rid of them!
This can sound strict, like God is a narrow-minded elitist. Yet, is he? Many of you already act in the same way as parents and grandparents. If you have a little one in your house, you recognize there are some dangers in that house. If a child grabs a bottle of bleach and you take it away. He will cry. He will think you’re the worst parent on earth. He might yell and stomp his feet. He will try to make you feel bad. Does that mean you are a bad person? No! The child is still wrong and you are still right. You took the bleach away because it harms. God, in the same way, protects his Word so that you get to hear his truth and remain close to him.
It’s a tough teaching. It’s tough because our world really does not enjoy hearing truth. They will agree on opinions, but when you call an opinion a fact, it will be resisted. It’s tough because even you (and I) will want to follow our feelings.
Yet, Listen to the Prophet because God gives him the Word—the authoritative truth on life. God removes all guesswork as to how you stand with him. Listen to the Prophet who still speaks the Word so that you may live guided to your heavenly home.
If you are like me, it is difficult to hear these words and not form some instant reaction. And I’m not sure about you, but for me, when my heart reads over these words, it wonders: Is this realistic? To live pure? To honor God with your body? To be a temple of the Holy Spirit? In our world today? Because it’s not easy to do, is it?
This encouragement is not easy for the Corinthians to hear either. These words are so counter-cultural.
The best way to picture ancient Corinth is to picture present-day life in Las Vegas. That’s not an over-exaggeration (or my personal opinion). America has a saying: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That slogan describes the shameless behavior that runs rampant there. Well, the ancients created a slogan too. “Live Corinthianized” which means, “to behave as they do in Corinth.” And how do they behave? Well, a local Corinthian leader bragged: We have wives to manage our daily affairs and prostitutes for pleasure! (Athenaeus, qtd. in Deipnosophistae). Just like we have a seminary to train pastors, [the city of] Corinth had a school to train prostitutes for the false goddess, Aphrodite. Then, every year Corinth held a festival celebrating their prostitutes! The city held a special day, where drunk prostitutes carouse down the streets and people cheer—and the city is proud!
That’s the city culture: openly flaunt indecency. That’s the citizen mindset; no one sees anything wrong with this. That is the lifestyle in which this Corinthian congregation exists. And it rubs off on the Christians in Corinth.
Someone in the congregation is in an intimate relationship with his stepmom (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). That’s right, his dad dies, and he enters a romantic, intimate relationship with his father’s wife! Most shocking of all is that the congregation is proud! Even our society does not boast about this! If someone marries their stepmom, national tabloids cringe. We even have laws against marrying relatives.
Yet, in Corinth, this sexual behavior runs rampant. It is so normal, so widely accepted, that even Christians defend their indecency with a popular slogan: Everything is permissible for me. Just like the stomach has an appetite for food, so the body has an appetite for fleshly desires. After all, the stomach is created for food. It craves food. It is not wrong to eat food. So, it must make sense that if you have certain desires, it is only natural to satisfy them.
There’s a problem with that thinking. Everything may be permissible— but not everything is beneficial. The way you and I live as Christians— God has not commanded certain actions and has not forbidden certain actions. God has not said in the Bible that he forbids dancing or playing cards. God does not call drinking alcohol a sin (drinking too much is). Neither God has not commanded that you must wear suits and dresses to worship. You have freedom in these things; God has not given explicit commands regarding these matters.
Yet, God has commanded: The body is not meant for sexual immorality. God has warned: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4; see also Exodus 20:6). God urges: Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5; see also Matthew 5:28). God desires: There should be no obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place (Ephesians 5:4). As Christians Everything may be permissible regarding matters in which God has given no explicit command. Yet, God makes clear: You cannot use your body in whatever way feels right to you.
That’s tough to hear and it may not sound like realistic way to live. Your present-day society, much like ancient Corinth, just doesn’t live like that. Instead, your society has normalized sexual temptations. Marriage rates have decreased— all because more couples live like husband and wife. Psychologists and counselors actually advise sleeping around in order to find the right spouse. How many television shows can go without a romantic scene between co-workers? … neighbors? … friends? What this does to us is that it desensitizes us so that when we hear a Scripture reading like this, we feel offended.
Speaking for myself, my heart tries to find some way around these words, tries to escape this condemnation, tries to find some reason that my behavior is not really all that bad. So, I hear these words and make excuses.
“But our society just doesn’t live like that.” Yet, it does not matter if your world acts differently, does it? God still laid an unchanging reality: The body is not meant for sexual immorality. God did not create you to live impure. He has not created your brain to think indecent thoughts. He does not create your mouth to share coarse joking. God created you to serve him.
“Yes, but my neighbors don’t act like this, they don’t believe the same thing.” That may be true, but what about you, Christian? Do you not know that your body is a member of Christ himself? By faith you are joined, you are glued to Christ. He is part of your life. His Word is the thing you have come to know, learn, and love. Christ lives in you. What do you with your body involves Christ.
“Yes, but times have changed.” How easy to look around at the world and try to change your to fit the world’s views. Yet, God has not changed. Even if society changes its views on decency, even if you wonder if it really matters how people live today, even if you shrug off these instructions, God still commands: Flee from sexual immorality.
Times may have changed, but God has not changed. He has not changed his command to live a pure life. He has not changed what is considered sexual immorality. He has not changed enforcing his expectations. God has every right to separate from those who choose to unite with someone else.
Times may have changed, but God has not changed. That includes God accepting Jesus’ pure life as payment for yours.
You were bought at a price. Jesus bought you. When you (and I) stood shackled to the emptiness of your own flesh, Jesus bought you. And the price? The greatest, most priceless gift this world has ever seen: the pure blood of Jesus.
Yes, look back to the Christmas-day manger and see who lies there: Jesus— born as true man and true God. True man— meaning, he is tempted in every way like you (and I) are (Hebrews 2:14-18). His life on earth is spent feeling those same passionate desires; he knows how difficult it is to remain pure in your thoughts and words and actions. He understands what it is like to live in a society which normalizes sexual temptations. He even stands out in society. He shares forgiveness with prostitutes and tax collectors. He encourages a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well to change her live-in-boyfriend status (John 4:1-26). He lives pure—not to shame you (and me), but to show that he lives the pure life God desires. As true God his pure life purifies your (and my) heart from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
And that is what he has done. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, proclaiming that Jesus’ life is perfect enough to live forever. Since the pure life of Jesus is draped over you, God now sees you as pure. You live can live confident that he will raise us also.
You were bought at a price. God has not changed this price. Jesus paid for you once-for-all. Even when you (and I) stumble into impure living, God still forgives you for the sake of Jesus.
That’s what makes these tough words realistic. You can Glorify God with Your Body because Jesus has made you a child of God. You can Glorify God with Your Body because the love you have for Jesus motivates you to follow him.
So, you honor him with your body. Or, another way of saying it: You and I praise to God by the way you live. You and I lead others to praise God as they see the way you live.
Maybe you struggle to keep your thoughts and body pure. If so, take these words to heart. Society might normalize sexual temptation— and they will because they are not united to Christ. You do not live in order to blend into the world; you live to bring honor to God! That may mean you discuss marriage before relationship goes much further. That may mean your friends laugh and look at you weird when you share your belief about the blessings God gives in marriage. That may mean you need to literally flee from sexual immorality. You may have to stop watching a television show. You may have to turn the computer off. You may have to leave a room.
Why do this? Because God is an old, boring prude? No! Because God has made your body a temple of the Holy Spirit! God the Holy Spirit lives in you—and he constantly grows the desire and ability to match your life up to God’s expectations. He gives you strength to Glorify God with Your Body.
You are beacons of light leading others to praise God because of the way they see you live. That means as husband and wife be conscious that the world watches you. Praise God for the gift of your marriage! Hold up God’s gift of your spouse! Do not gripe about an old “ball-and-chain” or somehow give the impression that marriage is something less-than-satisfying. Show the world the emotional, physical, and mental joys of this blessed union. Glorify God with Your Body. Let the world praise God for such fulfilling commitment in what he established.
Even if you are not really seeking a relationship, these words are meant for you too. You may have celebrated decades of marriage. You experienced real joy. You may have experienced real struggle. Use that experience to encourage your grandchildren, your children, your fellow believers.
Those in your life also live in a world where relationships do not match up with God’s intentions. You know God’s intentions; you experience the peace of living united to him, to his Word, and under his blessings. Glorify God with Your Body, with your life as you lead others to praise him for satisfying unions.
Yes, this is tough— and it will be. It is not tough because God gives unreal expectations. It is tough because the world has fled from God’s intention for their bodies.
The Corinthians would stand out as they took these words to heart and put them into practice. You (and I) will stand out because we take these words to heart and put them into practice. That’s alright because you do not stand out alone, standing on your personal beliefs. You stand out because you are united to Christ, the One who has been raised from the dead and will raise you to purely unending life. With God’s realistic expectations in your heart, live to Glorify God with Your Body!
obviously holding something back. Your children are a little distant. Even your friends giggle and whisper every time you walk past them. Why? You do not know the specific reasons. So, your mind starts creating a story. Your husband must love someone else. Your children must no longer be able to relate to you. Your friends must hate you. Your mind creates this elaborate story based on this one little suspicion.
Then, one day, when you arrive home after running errands, you swing open the front door and hear: “Surprise!” Balloons hug the ceiling. Confetti flitters through the air. A cake loaded with candles appears in front of you. Somewhere a chorus sings: Happy birthday to you… Your husband, kids, and friends were not conspiring against you, like you thought; they were planning your surprise birthday party!
Your mind took little pieces of known information and filled in gaps to create an elaborate tale. But that’s just it: a tale. A story. Something that may or may not be true.
When it comes to what it is you know about your Savior, your mind can still create the most fantastic of stories. It can take little pieces of what you have heard in Sunday School or catechism class or in your Bible reading, add some extra details, and create the believable of stories. But that’s just it: a story. A tale. Something that may or may not be true.
That’s why We Need an Epiphany! We need to find the real Christ so that we are motivated for thankful living.
How does God choose to reveal Jesus? Well, look at our reading from Matthew, chapter 2. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… “Magi,” or, maybe as you better know them: “wise men.” “Magi” is a job title like pastor, bank teller, contractor, or electrician. These “wise men” are not old sages filled with timeless advice. No, they are scholars and university professors and astrologers (people who study the stars, planets, and heavenly bodies).
They are studying the skies like always had, but then something special happens: they see a star— a star unlike any other star they had ever seen. No one really knows what makes this one unique star stand out. Scripture simply just does not tell you. [Many Bible teachers and Christian scientists have tried to re-chart planetary movements to identify this star— if it is a planet or a unique star— but, most theories fall short.] But, do you need to know? The point in our reading is not to identify this special star, but rather to identify who was associated with this special star. The wise men do not approach Herod and say: “Hey! We noticed this star acting out of the ordinary and want to know more about it.” Instead, they ask: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
God gives the wise men an epiphany. He uses a star to “reveal” an important someone. Yet, that star did not reveal the real Christ; it simply led the way to him. God gives something greater for you and me to learn about Christ: His Word [the Bible].
No one knows for sure how these wise men ever heard about Jesus in the first place. Remember, these are men from the east, from Babylon. God sent prophets to the Jews, not to the Babylonians. God gave temple blueprints to the Jewish nation, not to other nations. God appointed priests and leaders for the Jews— not for the non-Jews [Gentiles]. Still, these wise men look forward to meeting the Savior.
Most likely the good news of Jesus was passed down from their fathers, who heard it from their father, who heard it from Daniel. Yes, the man thrown into the lions’ den. The man who was dragged away to Babylon about 500 years before Jesus’ birth. Daniel is placed in charge of Babylon’s wise men (Daniel 2:48)— and not only that, but you watch him openly share his faith. Undoubtedly Daniel treasured a prophecy God had made: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
Without that star, without Scripture, those wise men would never find the real Christ. At best, they could only create story of who God might be and how they might enter eternal bliss—but that’s all they would be left with, a story. A tale. Something that may or may not be true.
We Need an Epiphany to find the real Christ. We need God to hand us his Word so that our minds do not create a new Savior. When you stop gaining your beliefs of Christ from the Bible, you will create new beliefs.
Years ago, I ran into someone who was confirmed in my congregation. He had not been in worship for quite some time, but was interested in becoming more active in his worship life. So, I asked: “How do you know you are right with God?” He answered: “Follow the Ten Commandments and do good; show God that you’re trying— trying to be the best you can be.”
Scripture does not teach that. The Bible explicitly says: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The purpose of Jesus’ is to do everything needed to hand you eternal life. Because this gentlemen did not read the Bible to get his beliefs, he took bits of information he learned over the years, filled in the gaps, and created a story. A tale. Something that is not true. He did not let the Word of God tell him: “You are saved by grace—this is a gift.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He did not let the Word of God tell him: “God credits the Life of Jesus to you.” (Romans 4:22-25) He did not let the Word of God warn: “All who rely on obeying the Law for eternal life are under a curse because they cannot obey good enough to earn eternal life” (Galatians 3:10).
The same thing that happened to this gentlemen is the same thing that can happen to you (and me) when your attention drifts from what God reveals. You will create new beliefs. When guilt wracks your mind, your heart urges one of two things: (1) do something good to be sure of going to heaven and/or (2) feel in your heart that you have faith (and are saved). Your heart automatically stresses: you must do something.
If you do not live a moral life, if your behavior is corrupt, if you have horrible thoughts, then you must do something to remove those thoughts. If you ask yourself: “Will I go to heaven?” and you do not feel so sure, then you must gain that certainty. Scrub away indecent thoughts. Come to church every week. Give generous amounts of money. Be nice to your kids. Buy things for your spouse. Do something to convince yourself that God must love you.
Those personal beliefs just feel right— just like it feels your friends and family hate you—and could not possibly be planning your birthday party.
If you stop grounding your faith in the revealed Word of God, you will eventually start (1) believing and (2) following something your mind made up. And, as God’s Proverb warns: There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (16:25).
We Need an Epiphany. We need God to reveal the real Christ to us—not a Christ our minds make up. Rather the Christ who accomplishes what God has set him apart to do.
Look at verse 6. See what God reveals about Christ. But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
In the small, insignificant town of Bethlehem someone significant is born—and wise people go out to worship him. That baby born in Bethlehem does not sit on a throne, but rather on a cross. He does not hold a scepter in his hand, but rather nails. He does not bark out new orders, but rather shouts: It is finished! (John 19:30).
In the Bible, God reveals the real Christ. When you look to the Bible, you will find the real Christ. When you feel crushed by sin, do not consider how you might make up your wrong, look at the One who is born for the sole purpose of removing your wrong. When you worry that you will not go to heaven because you do not feel it in your heart, look in the Bible and hear your Risen Lord say: Peace be with you! Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19; 20:19).
We Need an Epiphany! We need God to reveal the real Christ so that our hearts may find peace and comfort. We need God to reveal our Good Shepherd who leads us through the uncertainties of life with his Word. We Need an Epiphany so that we may spend the rest of our days motivated for thankful living.
The wise men knew Jesus had come for their benefit. Because of Jesus, there is no more fear of death or worry in an uncertain world. So, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. Not just overjoyed, but literally: rejoiced an extremely very great joy (personal Greek translation). Do you know that kind of feeling you get in your stomach on the way to friend’s house or your grandparent’s house? As you get closer, your feet start dancing, your heart pounds a little more. You mind races through everything you are about to do: hug grandma, game all night with your best friend, go wild at Cedar Point. That excitement builds up inside of you… and then you arrive!
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They worship Jesus. Yes eighteen-month(?) twelve-month(?) eight-month(?)-old Jesus. Grown adults, educated scholars, well-to-do men who spent weeks traveling over 700miles bow down to a baby! With the eyes of faith, those wise men kneel in front of God.
No wonder they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. How could they not? God did not keep Jesus a secret. He included them in this birth announcement, just like God included you.
My dear friends, the season of Epiphany is meant for you. God has chosen to reveal the good news of a Savior to you. He hands you the Bible so that you may live certain that Jesus (and only Jesus) has removed you from the slavish, hellish bondage of sin. He hands you the Bible so that you may read it, grow in your knowledge, and grow in your appreciation of the fact that Jesus has done everything necessary to set you free for life.
As you focus more on the work Jesus has done, you will be motivated in thankful living. Maybe not giving gifts of gold, but giving honest and heart-felt offerings to your God. Presenting him your finest because he has given you his finest. Maybe you do not offer up incense, but you offer up your prayers—prayers that thank him for his many blessings. Maybe you do not open up a box of fine-smelling myrrh, but you offer your hands, head, and heart to serving others just has God served you.
We Need an Epiphany! We need God to reveal Jesus to us—and not just for one time, but constantly. Because your mind can create fantastic stories, tales— things that are not true.
God does not leave you fumbling around in spiritual uncertainty. He does not leave you guessing about the work Jesus comes to do. He reveals the real Christ so that you may live in peace and joy under the care of a Good Shepherd. What motivation for thankful living! What joy you share with those wise men in returning to Bethlehem to worship your King.
That’s what I get to do today— hang my new calendar. You know what’s so awesome about that? Nothing is written on my new one. No appointments, no conferences, no family obligations. In fact, I get to start with the month of ‘January.’ It means I can’t flip back and be reminded about all the things that happened. Instead, I only can flip forward and see what I can do— and with all that blank space, boy, what time I have! During winter: woodworking. During spring: gardening. During summer: vacation. During fall: soccer, football, and school. So much potential awaits.
This old calendar, well, it conjures memories of where I’ve been— and it has been quite a year. Birthdays and anniversaries are marked. I see doctor appointments and conferences. The kids had sports and library dates. A vacation is scheduled in there. I remember some enjoyable days, but there are other days I did not like. I had funerals to attend— yes, funerals to conduct as a pastor, but funerals where I had to say goodbye to someone too. My vacation triggers memories of stress, deadlines, and conflict. The months were busy— and it made summer (my most favorite time of the year) zip by. Yes, today I can throw out the old calendar, with all of its stress, obligations, and pain, and hang up a fresh clean slate.
Still, I can’t shake one feeling: Is 2018 going to be better? Did that thought descend into your mind as you watched the ball drop? Did you wake up wondering if life would be drastically different today? You know many enjoyable days lie ahead; past experience teaches you that. You know there will be challenging days— because past experience teaches you that. By the end of 2018, will you have more good days than bad?
I can’t answer the question— I wish I could, but I don’t know the future. Yet, I can tell you one thing— and it’s the same truth God teaches you today: Cast Your Anxiety on God! Grasp his care for you and Humbly live under his power.
Listen to our reading from 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
What words for sore ears! God invites you, encourages you, no— he commands you— Cast All Your Anxiety on Him! That’s why we memorize this Bible verse— so we never forget it! In fact, this verse is put to a beloved song:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Ev’rything to God in prayer!...
(Christian Worship Hymnal #411, verses 1).
Music ties words to memory. Memorizing Bibles passages keeps God’s Word on your lips and heart. So, the very instant anxiety flutters into your heart you can fly off to God! Right?
Well, maybe. I can’t speak for you; I can only speak for myself. As I flip through last year’s calendar, I see anxiety streaking across every month, every week, every day. I can still visualize the heart-wrenching sobs at funerals. My heart ached when I heard about marriage tensions. I kept wondering: “What can I say to set things back to normal?” Doctor appointments are scribbled down; a nebulizer was needed; steroids ordered for a kid. It brings back memories of the “worst-case-scenario.” What if the littlest cold leads to the worst of conditions? (Believe me, I’ve seen illness become something worse). I see “Election Day” circled. In its aftermath I wonder: “Boy, how are foreign negotiations going to look now? … or my little nest egg? … or my children’s future?” Pastor conferences shared statistics and articles about the growing epidemic of people staying out of church (and worship). Stress creeps up, whispering: “So, what are you going to do to turn things around? How can you do God’s job and bring people to faith?”
Maybe your calendar replays similar tears and stress, nervousness and fear. You recall your anxiety; it weighed heavy on you. You stayed awake at night wondering how to solve conflict. You barely got through one day without asking the “What if”-question. You did not know what to do when you listened to FoxNews or CNN or scrolled through Facebook. That anxiety flares up so often and stays so long, doesn’t it? Let me ask: When you grew anxious, where did you cast that anxiety? Did you live 2017 stress-free because you brought every trouble to God?
You know, the verse: “Cast all your anxiety on him…” doesn’t stand on its own, like some catch-all truth. It goes together with verse 6. Peter actually says in the Greek: “Be humble, therefore, under the powerful hand of God, so that he may raise you up in time, [live humble] by casting all your anxiety upon him.” (personal translation) In order to Cast Your Anxiety on God, you have to first understand that stress is something you cannot handle on your own. That’s something that rubs against our very nature.
By nature we are self-reliant; we have this feeling we can do what God does. A part of your hearts would actually have you believe that you can control life-events that feel small and insignificant. So, you look up to heaven and say: “God, I can handle this on my own. It’s just a standard hospital stay… It’s just a little argument… It’s just a birth of a child… It’s just a little bad habit… I can fix this all by myself.” Yet, if you ever felt anxiety or stress, then it means you cannot fix those issues. To puff up your self-reliance only pushes God further out of the number-spot in your heart— the spot where he must be. Your heart will try to finish what we want by nature: to be God… to call the shots… to live life on our terms.
That’s why God speaks these words today. We are not God—but God is God. We cannot solve every problem or cure all our anxiety—but God can. So, Cast Your Anxiety on God! Why? …because he cares for you.
God himself says that. God himself reveals it. Just last week you traveled to the manger and saw God-in-flesh. Jesus trades his throne in heaven for a feedbox on earth. He leaves glorious angels for faulty human beings. He exchanges a domain of singing and enters a sphere of sorrow and tears, anger and frustration. The simple fact that Jesus even entered your world (in the first place) shows just how much he cares for you.
Still, Jesus reveals his care even more. He knows what it is like to sense anxiety. He weeps when John the Baptist is murdered (Matthew 14:1-13). His heart goes out to those led astray by false teaching (Matthew 9:35-36). He has compassion on the sick. He begs forgiveness for angry men who nail him to the cross (Luke 23:34). All through life, Jesus takes one concern after another to God in prayer.
Then on the cross, Jesus unveils the greatest depth of care for you. Jesus had done nothing wrong! Yes— he is innocent of any crime, but it goes more than that. Jesus never doubted God the Father’s care for him! He never once said: “I’ve got this God, I can make this bread and fish feed 5,000 people all by myself (Matthew 14:13-21)… I can use my own efforts to open this man’s ears (Mark 7:31-36)… I can suffer the sins of the world by my own power” (Matthew 26:36-46). No! Jesus Casts His Anxiety on God.
When you see Jesus on the cross, he’s not there for himself; he’s there for you. He removes your self-reliance and suffers. He loses life so that you can have eternal life! God cares for you so much that he uses Jesus to wrap you in perfection!
Cast Your Anxiety on God! because he cares for you. You know God cares for you because Jesus rose from the dead. Easter Sunday declares the guarantee of eternal life!
Maybe we have difficulty tying the resurrection to our current circumstances. We know Jesus rose again for us, but we have lived in world of anxiety for so long. So, how does Easter comfort us?
Have you found yourself stranded for help? A car battery won’t start… A ladder is needed… Food is needed… something? You needed help and someone came to help. A battery is jumped. A ladder is loaned. Food is given. This individual helped you in your need. So, the next time you have a need… the car battery dies again… the garage door is stuck … the light bill is due, who are you going to turn? To yourself? To a stranger? No! You would ask the person who freely helped once before!
In the same way, look at Easter and continually tell yourself: “For me! Jesus did this for me!” If Jesus took such great lengths to free you from death in hell, why would he not help you now? Why would he let you be crushed under trouble’s weight? Why would he not answer you? The devil tempts us to think he does not care for us. Nothing could be further from the truth! God so clearly says: I care for you. Not “for people.” Not “for the world.” He personalizes it: for you!
That is why you Cast Your Anxiety on God! You grasp his care. Here’s how you continue Casting Your Anxiety on God: live humbly under God’s power.
To live humbly under God’s power simply means to trust God will do the things he says he can do. On own, it sounds frightening to trust. It sounds like we have to muster the courage. But that’s not how it works. You trust grows because God strengthens your trust.
Read your Bible. See how powerful God’s hand truly is. It creates—makes something more than a house or dinner— it makes living trees and millions of unique kinds of fish and forms fiery stars. It enforces— unleashing plagues frogs, gnats, locusts on the Egyptians. It draws the shade of darkness. It stops the sun, adding more time to the day. It provides— raining manna-bread down in the desert, transforming two fish and five loaves of bread into a meal for thousands. That is what your God is capable of doing. Can you match that? Can you begin to match it? What joy to know this powerful hand rests over you— not in fear— but in love!
So, you live humbly under God’s power—putting every concern on him and trusting he is fully capable of handling it. That’s why Peter zeroes in on the things that keep you awake at night. He points at every little financial concern— the times your bills go up, the times when your social security stays flat. Peter drags up your every tension about school, high school, and college. He exposes all fear about how your children will grow up, who they will be, what they will do. He highlights any concern you have about your diagnosis and cure. He tells you: “Take them all, package them into a little ball, and throw it on God.”
There is nothing too big or too insignificant for God to handle. If God had limits, would he not tell you? Instead, God holds nothing back: All your cares, cast on him. When you cast those concerns, they no longer are your concern. The word “cast” is that of “throwing” like a stick or stone. As you walk along a river, you bend down, grab a small rock, and throw it into the water. It will not return to you. You will not go after it. That rock is gone. It’s out of mind. You are not worried about it. Cast Your Anxiety on God! Humbly live under his power
Take a moment and look through your old calendar today. Thank God for the joys God has given you. Thank God for standing beside you during challenging times. Even though anxiety may have overwhelmed you, God still saw fit to bring you into this new year.
Look through your new calendar today. Do it with confidence. I don’t know what the new year will bring. I can’t answer the question— I wish I could, but I don’t know the future. Yet, I can tell you one thing— and God teaches you this truth today: Cast Your Anxiety on God! Humbly live under his power and Grasp his care for you.