If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven? Or, if God asked you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you tell him? (I know, those are pretty heavy questions to start with.) But I imagine most, if not all, of you have wrestled that question at one time or another. At one time you may not have known Jesus, and so you were never quite sure what happens after death. Perhaps you’re the lifelong Christian who trusts in Jesus as Savior, but you still wonder: “Is that really enough? Is that really what it takes? Only Jesus?” Maybe you toss and turn all night, reliving such humiliating shame that never goes away. And God loves you? Really? After you hurt so many? After the mess you made? Are you sure you will go to heaven?
That can be an unsettling question. Yet, think about what is really being asked. (1) You ask that question because you understand eternity is a long time. When life ends, eternity begins. You do not want to enter eternity unprepared; you do not want to go to hell. So, you wonder what it takes to enter heaven. Then (2) you want to be sure. You want a rock-solid, sure-fire, certain answer as to what will happen after you die.
Now, there are two places where you can look for answers. You can look at yourself, or we can read what God says in the Bible. Our reading from Hebrews actually deals with both objects.
Verse 11 takes us to the place where many start looking for certainty: themselves! Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices… These sacrifices go on repeatedly. Each animal slaughtered, bleeding, dying serves as a picture. That is the purpose for Old Testament sacrifice— it pointed ahead to the final, complete sacrifice Jesus makes. Yet, many failed to trace their offerings to the cross. Instead, they fixate on their actions. Go to church. Bring your offering. Give your offering. Be kind. Be a better parent. Be a better spouse. Be more patient. Demonstrate to God that you are trying your hardest to live a good life. Where you fail, show God that you are trying to change. Where you succeed, hold that up as a good work before God.
The natural reaction, isn’t it? We consider God ‘good.’ Since God is ‘good,’ we feel that God wants us to be ‘good.’ Yet, we cannot be as ‘good’ as God is. So, we change God’s standards and hope our ‘good’ is ‘good enough’ for God! Ask a stranger on the street: Are you sure you would go to heaven? Chances are, he’ll say, “Yes, I think so. I try to be good.”
Yet, there’s a problem with that thinking. All those sacrifices the priests offered, all the offerings given, all the ‘good’ instructions both priest and believer obey could never take away sins.
God cannot stress that enough. Look at all those priests [plural]! We’re talking a line of priests that stretch on for about 500 years. For thirteen generations the priest appears at the temple day after day. For thirteen generations the priest offers sacrifices day after day. No son was a better priest than his father. No great-great-grandson ministered better. Sacrifice continued because sinners committed new sin each day. Sacrifice continued because nothing we offer can erase sin or blot out guilt or remove shame. If those sacrifices removed sin, would they not have stopped being offered? (Hebrews 10:2)
Here’s the point. The question about entering heaven can be unnerving. The temptation is to look at your morality. To rely on good behavior. To lean on church habits. To trust that you are morally superior to others (like criminals or abusers). God says, “This is not (and never will be) enough.” Are you sure you will go to heaven? If you’re digging inside of yourself, you only face unending torment.
You need a better answer, and God gives you one. Compare verse 12 to verse 11. But when this priest… that’s Jesus, and he is different from the hundreds of priests that came before him! Because Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins… Every other priest offered endless sacrifices. Not just that, animal blood was not the answer to removing guilt. Jesus actually deals with sin. He offers not just one sacrifice, but the final sacrifice.
Do you get the point God is making? Jesus is better than any offering we could give God. Jesus is without sin. He never hurts his friends. He never attacks his family. He never lives a night he regrets. Instead he says, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). Jesus is perfect.
He is the sacrifice laid on the altar of the cross. God lifts off our shame, our failures, our guilt and places it squarely on the body of Jesus. Nails pierce his hands and stretch out his body. Slowly he bleeds, slowly he suffocates. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, it is not you who die for what you have done wrong, it is Jesus.
If you wonder what God does with your wrongs, then look at the cross and see the Father drape them across his Son. Jesus is the payment made for our debt.
You can be sure his death is enough. [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of God. God does not accept the imperfect into heaven, but only the perfect. When Jesus rose from the dead, he is declared “Perfect!” If declared “Perfect,” then you can be sure his payment made for your benefit is declared “Perfect” as well.
Want more proof? Since that time (the time he entered heaven) he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… Our feet walk through dust and mud and garbage. That grime is unwanted. So, we keep our feet away from people’s noses and clean hands. If someone is your footstool, then it means that individual has a status worse than stinky, grimy feet. When an ancient king conquered his enemy, he would set his foot on the enemy’s neck. That conquered foe is worse than his stinky, grimy foot. More than that, step down and he could end life. Jesus has made the devil his footstool. The devil cannot demand you join him in hell. Sin cannot demand you suffer eternal consequences. Jesus has paid sin in full for all time!
Want even more proof? Then hear what God says he has done for you. [B]y one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Pay attention to the verb: he has made perfect (or, “made complete”) These events happened in the past, but the results carry on! Jesus died (in the past) and his death still impacts you today. Jesus rose (in the past) and his resurrection still means you are forgiven today.
How much more proof is needed to say that Jesus has removed the consequences of sin? What more must be said to remove fear and trembling about eternity? Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
Today’s theme is ‘Saints Triumphant.’ Do you know who those triumphant ‘saints’ are? Believers. Christians. You. (read 1 Corinthians 1:2)
Scoffing? Laughing? Doubting? ‘Saint’? Surely not you! You still feel guilty; you remember the fresh hurt you inflicted. God must see that! Your past is one giant mess— a couple divorces, a few children who resent you, a past with drugs and booze. How can God wash that away? God must want something more from you. Certainly God doesn’t just forget sin without you working it off.
Ah! but he does! God cuts through your emotions with his Word. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” A covenant is a guarantee or contract. God makes a contract with you: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
What joy to hear that! God does not ignore sin. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Ah, no big deal.” If God tried to overlook what we did wrong, then we would always be terrified that he might dredge them up later. Instead, God deals with sin. Jesus covered over our faults with his life. God does not see sin on you. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He sees you, a saint. A holy person. He has made you holy.
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus died once. Jesus will only die once— because his one sacrifice is enough. It will never expire. It has already been accepted by the Judge of the universe! Point to Jesus. Say, “He died for me!” Since he did, stand confident of eternal life.
So, here’s two truths to take home. First, if the devil reminds you of your past, point to Jesus. Point to your baptism. [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). When you were baptized, Jesus dressed you in his perfection. You can be sure that happened because Jesus said so. This is his gift. You can be certain he does not lie or change his mind (Numbers 23:19).
Second, when Christians die, they enter heaven. That means your spouse who believed in Jesus as Savior is in heaven now. That means your child, who was baptized and clothed in Christ is in heaven. That means mom and dad, brother or sister, grandma or grandpa— every single believer are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple (Revelation 7:15). That’s not something we hope is real. That’s something we know is real because God says it is real. Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain.
The promise of eternal life never depends on you. Do you realize that? In Hebrews 10:11-18, where does God point and say, “Now do this…”? He never does, does he? Instead, through every single verse all you see is Jesus and what Jesus has done for you so that you can live certain you will enter heaven.
That’s the answer to our questions. Are you sure you will enter heaven? Yes. Be confident of that. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus ascended. Jesus will come again. If you stood before God and he asked, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” Point to Jesus and say, “You accepted his life for my benefit.”
You will never find certainty in your emotions, you will never find certainty in your behavior. That’s because God never points you there. Instead, Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. You have a unique privilege, an opportunity, to study past events, examine decisions made, and avoid falling into the same consequences by altering your decisions now. Because those who pay attention to history will not repeat the mistakes made.
That’s why God repeats three historical events throughout the entire Bible. Noah spends 120-years building the ark. God’s judgment is coming; he would wash evil from the world. So, each new day presents another opportunity for some passerby to ask Noah, “Why are you building this boat?” Instead, many continue running errands and making dinner, marrying and planning future family gatherings as though tomorrow’s sun would rise again! (Matthew 24:37-39). Lot scrambles around Sodom’s city-streets. God’s judgment was coming; he would burn evil off the face of the earth. Lot pleads with his future son-in-laws, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” (Genesis 19:14). The son-in-laws? They laugh! They mockingly imitate! They think it’s a joke!
Do you realize these events are the only ones mentioned throughout beginning to end in the Bible? They appear in Genesis. God’s Old Testament prophets mention them. Jesus refers to both. Peter uses them to discuss the end of time. God is making a point: Take his judgment seriously! Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it— and suffer the same consequences.
Where God threatens, the heart can react with this careless complacency. “You still have time. God’s not coming— yet. Don’t worry.” God shatters any faulty notions with Malachi’s pen. The Day of the LORD is Coming! The arrogant will burn away and Those who revere God will shine.
In chapter 4, verse 1, Malachi writes: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”
Malachi writes these words about 400-years before Jesus is born. Yet, he points ahead to one, single specific ‘Day:’ the day Jesus judges the living and the dead.
You see, Malachi sounds the warning. The Israelites are whining: “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements[?]” (Malachi 3:14). Nonbelievers find no reason to obey God. They drag bruised, broken, unwanted animals to God for a sacrifice. Priests tolerate a believer marrying a pagan, and then turn a blind eye when that believer starts worshipping false gods. Families are holding back their offerings. The wicked deliberately break God’s commands— and guess what? Nothing happens! The earth does not swallow the ungodly. Waters do not wash away the immoral. Fire does not spill from the heavens. God punishes no one. Even the believers notice this. [T]he evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape!” (3:15) This attitude appears: “God, we’ll keep doing what is wrong because you have not come to put an end to it.”
If we are honest with ourselves, if we dissect the motivation for our actions, we can find that same attitude lurking within. We do what is wrong because nothing bad happens. The Second Commandment forbids cursing and needless swearing, but we curse anyway because God has not cursed us. Laziness steals money from our employer, laziness robs us of time to serve others— but we defend laziness because God has not lit our feet on fire. God commands: “Honor your father and mother”— including the government and spiritual leaders (Exodus 20:12; Romans 13:1-5; Hebrews 13:17). Still, we criticize and pout, insult and ridicule simply because God has not walked through the door and stopped us.
You see, the temptation exists to disregard God’s threats. To think God is not really serious. So, God-forbidden behavior is behavior embraced for no other reason than: “God doesn’t punish me, so I’m going to continue living the way I do until God does something about it.”
Do you know what God calls that? Arrogance. That is, believing you possess incredible self-worth that you can justify your actions before God and he must agree with you. It’s arrogant to deliberately do what is wrong and then think God does not care. It’s arrogant to mistake God’s patience for indifference. It’s arrogant to think God will not send people to hell because they have rejected him.
God makes it abundantly clear: The Day of the LORD is Coming and The arrogant will burn away. Not a root or a branch will be left to them. You chop a tree down and the stump looks dead and lifeless, but roots can keep it alive. New shoots sprout. Or, you can take a branch and graft it into a new tree. Sometimes branches can grow roots; branches still have life. We can foolishly believe that there will always remain one last chance to enter heaven.
God is saying: “No. When the end comes, all those who wicked and arrogant, those who have rebelled against my Word, will be stumps. I will cut him down and he will be dead. I will take that branch and throw it into a blazing furnace. There is no more chance for life.”
The Day of the LORD is Coming. The arrogant will burn away. Just like the scoffers washed away in the flood. Just like the mockers became pillars of salt. Pay attention to these words. Take the time now to understand that God is serious about his threats. Because Those who revere God will shine.
Malachi continues in verse 2: But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
The natural reaction to ‘hell’ or ‘punishment’ is to discredit it. Many think hell does not exist. Others believe everyone will enter heaven. The reason for this is that people do not want to go to hell and so they create ways to avoid it. Yet, God’s solution to hell is not to ignore it or undermine its seriousness. God’s solution is to confront it head-on.
[F]or you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. God’s ‘Name’ is everything that God reveals about himself. So, think of it like a reputation. If I say, “Mom”— what thoughts come to mind? Perhaps you think of a woman about (this many years old), (this high), with (this color hair). Or, maybe you’re thinking about your mom’s mannerisms. I say the name: ‘Mom,’ and you think about characteristics, appearance, and behavior. When we consider of God’s ‘Name,’ we think of his characteristics. God is eternal, you (and I) are mortal (Psalm 90:1-2). He is the LORD of Hosts, meaning, he holds supreme authority. All the armies of the world put together cannot stop the Almighty from executing his plans. The LORD is just, meaning he will punish those not sorry for their sins, but he also gracious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7). Those are God’s characteristics, his behavior.
To ‘fear’ means to ‘show respect, revere, honor.’ Simply put, ‘fearing’ God’s Name means respecting God’s abilities. God will do what he says he will do. We stand before God and realize he stands far above, far higher than us! He reigns in heaven, we do not. He controls all things, we do not. He enters heaven, we cannot. The God who stands high above us is the God who heals us with the Son of Righteousness.
Jesus is that Son of Righteousness. He is the Righteous One, who obeyed God’s commands with all his heart, mind, and soul. He is the One who did not open his mouth to insult his accusers— even though he had every right and reason to do so (1 Peter 2:21-24). He is the One who came down from heaven to sacrifice himself one time, for all time (Hebrews 9:24-28).
Like the morning sun, Jesus rises from death with words of healing. He has taken away punishment due for our arrogance. He has brought salvation, that is forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. He points us to heaven and says, “Pay attention! That is where you are going!” He lifts our attentions of the passing pleasures of this life, and he unveils a magnificent home beyond compare.
This is why we learn from the past; we do not want to miss this eternal hope. And we will not. God’s Word shines in our hearts, exposing sin and guilt, and illuminating Jesus as our Savior. Baptism has put God’s Name on you, the life of Jesus is draped on you (Galatians 3:26-27). Jesus’ body and blood assures you of sins forgiven, release from guilt, and freedom forever!
How do we respond? In the only way possible. [Y]ou will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. A calf released from a stanchion (or stall) stretches, feels energy and strength; he’s free! You hop and leap for joy— which is the opposite of fear and dread. God’s great Judgment Day is not a threat meant for you to tremble in fear. You look forward to the Savior’s return because that is the Day you go home to heaven. Jesus is your certainty. You stand healed, cleansed, purified, made whole! At the last trumpet, you will stand before God. He will repeat the same Words you have read and heard on every page of Scripture and repeated every Sunday: “Forgiven!”
That awesome, life-changing news makes it difficult to stand still. Your heart flutters, your feet can never carry you fast enough and when you finally reach your destination, you cannot keep the words contained; they spill out. The Day of the LORD is Coming! Those who revere God will shine.
God speaks about the Last Day so that you are prepared to stand before him and live. Some disregarded his future promise. Noah spends 120-years building the ark. Each new day presents another opportunity for some passerby to ask Noah, “Why are you building this boat?” and then, turn to God in faith. Lot pleads with his future son-in-laws, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” (Genesis 19:14). The warning is meant for them to see how they live and change. God mentions those events from beginning to end so that you might learn, examine, and avoid the foolish decisions made and hellish consequences.
You can because God repeats one final event on every page of Scripture: A Savior. A Savior promised to Adam and Eve. A Savior proclaimed by God’s Old Testament prophets. A Savior who announces peace with God. A Savior who will come again to judge the living and the dead— just as Peter says (3:11-16).
The Day of the LORD is Coming! Is it taking a while? By human standards, yes. By God’s standards, no. Each new day is another ‘time of grace.’ A day for the nonbeliever to come to faith. A day for the believer to grow in faith. A time to get ready now. Because The Day of the LORD is Coming! The arrogant will burn away and Those who revere God will shine.
Imposing stone columns surround you, soaring to incredible heights before interlocking together high above. Thick brick walls press in on your right and left, each one also towering well over a hundred feet above you. The polished granite floor under your feet glistens. Pieces of clear glass pack massive window openings, letting bright white unfiltered light to pour into this temple. A hundred feet ahead lies four steps rising up to an intricately carved altar. On this platform is planted a dominant royal throne. Music fills the air all around you, angelic voices blending together singing praises. Can you picture the scene?
If you can’t, just Google: “British royal wedding ceremony pictures” and drink in those exquisite details. White poufy flowers drape walls and dress the front. Children’s choirs stand to your right and left. Delicate hats rest on the heads of every royal lady. Shiny medals hang from finely pressed military coats and gowns flow from each guest. This is the sight of power and dominance and respect.
You get to stand in that grand temple. No, this is no royal wedding. You stand in far more powerful, far more dominant, far more glorious setting. You stand before the King of the Universe! …in his presence! …in a sight of brilliance and dominance! The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty! But how? He stands apart from sin.
Do you see that?
Look through the eyes of Isaiah the prophet. [T]he Lord [sits] seated on a throne… The Lord. Do know what that [name] means? Lord is not God’s first name like: Bob or George or Dick. [The name] Lord has a meaning; Lord credits God as One with authority, all-power, superiority; the One holding control over every single thing in the world with unsurpassed might. This is the God who rules the entire universe! This is the God before whom each individual must give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12)! This is the God who holds final judgment over your eternal future! And your feet remain planted just a few feet away.
Staring straight ahead, you only see the legs of his throne. Your eyes trace those legs up higher and higher; your head tilts back more and more, reminding you of just insignificant you are compared to him. [T]he train of his robe fill[s] the temple. Exquisite white linen sprawls across the polished floor, touching each wall, covering every square inch that you dare not step on these unsoiled garments.
Above him were seraphs… such unique angels that we know nothing more about them other than what Scripture says here. These angelic beings flash like flames of fire, showcasing the power and the purity found in this temple. Look up; see seraph after seraph after seraph fill the space above your head. [Each one has] six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” You sing the same song in the Common Service. Ho-ly, ho-ly, ho-ly Lord God of heav-en-ly hosts: heav’n and earth are full of your glory Yet, they do not prepare for Holy Communion. These seraphs trumpet a very truthful reality: God is holy. That means two things: (1) Holy: the Lord has no moral fault; he is perfect. (2) Holy: the Lord stands opposed to everything and everyone that is imperfect. Holy: because he is set apart from our sins.
Does that sound quite right? The puffed up, proud society in which you live boom: “Hey! Wait just a minute! Who is God that he should call my hate wrong? Who is God that he commands me how to treat my body? Who is God that he condemns my unbelief?” That proud human heart tears down Isaiah’s sight and replaces it with one where the human sits in the throne next to God— or, worse yet, in the throne over the Almighty.
Have you wandered into that arrogance? It comes out when you intentionally skip worship for the boat or for yard-work, but you cover over it with your self-understood excuse: “Well, God understands. I’m busy.” Never mind God commands your whole heart (Matthew 22:37); you can determine to give God part of your love. That proud heart smirks oh-so-smugly at harsh words meant to destroy. “Well, she made me angry.” “Dad needs to get with reality.” “I must exert power over my neighbor.” Never mind God expects words to build up (Matthew 5:22); you must have the authority to overthrow God’s command. That arrogant heart wraps an arm around God, calling him your buddy who understands why you can lose self-control, why it’s acceptable for you to neglect your parenting discipline, why it’s alright for you to create your own beliefs. Inside each of us is this heart which believes it sits on the throne of God. That it sits in authority over God. That you are free to live according to your rules. That God is honored by your presence.
Do you see who sits on the throne? Not you. Not me. Not the seraphim either. In fact, even the seraphim tremble at the sight. The ones already in heaven cannot even look at the face of God! So how can you (and I), mere mortals living in an unclean world approach God and live? The best we can is join with Isaiah, trembling, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
The LORD God Almighty is Holy, Holy, Holy. He stands apart from our sins. Yet, your
Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty cleanses you with his life.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar… The altar. The place of sacrifice. The place where blameless animal after blameless animal sacrificed its life to remove sin.
Flying from the altar of forgiveness, the seraph touches [Isaiah’s] mouth [with that coal] and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” A holy God does not sweep Isaiah away into the very depths of hell. The God of patience and mercy cleanses him with his life.
Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty deals with you in the same patience and mercy. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16), the disciple John writes. God the Father sends his only Son into a life soiled with sin’s awful grime. The devil pushed pride before him. Jesus faces the pull to run away from the cross and live a cushy earthly life. Yet, he never does. He treasures the Word of the Holy God above all things— remaining the Holy One of God.
This Holy One, the One seated on this magnificent, towering throne steps down and humbles himself. Leaving heaven, he takes the form of a servant, allowing corrupt men to spit on him, punch his face, crush a mockery into his head, and nail him to a cross. God so loved you that he laid his one and only Son on the altar of the cross in order to cleanse you.
Jesus leaves his tomb and says: See… your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Jesus bridges the gap between you and God; that’s what is meant by the word “atone:” Jesus makes you “at-one” with God. At your baptism the Triune God announces, “Look, this water and my Word has touched you: your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” At the altar, Jesus touches you with his body and blood, together with the bread and wine, and says: See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Jesus has removed the stained garments of arrogance and dressed you in splendid white robes. He has washed grimy pride away. He has cleansed an arrogant ego. He makes you (and me) acceptable to approach the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty because his holy life has been used to cleanse you.
Now cleansed, your Triune God calls you to a holy life. Just look at Isaiah. Just moments earlier trembles at the sight of approaching a holy God, fearing his life would roar to a violent close. Yet, a merciful God sets him free from bondage to hell. Set free from threats of death, he is free to serve God with a willing heart and life. He heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” [Isaiah] said, “Here am I. Send me!” Touched by that forgiving love, he is transformed to share it with many others.
God may not have called you to be a minister or missionary. Yet, he has called you into a new way of living. Forgiven, restored, brought into his family, you can approach God with confidence.
Your singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” comes not from fear, but from hearts thriving on the forgiveness through a Triune God. You shout: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the LORD Almighty!” giving God credit for his perfection and him giving you that perfection for eternal life in heaven. You praise God as you read your Meditations devotions. You praise God as you study God’s Word in Bible class. You praise God as you take his Word into your hearts. You demonstrate proper love for God as you place him in the first-place spot of your hearts. His Word drowns out your words… and thoughts… and opinions. You are following the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy!
You bring your offerings to God. Gifts of money, of your time, and of your talents. You support a minister bringing God’s Word to your ears and heart— and to your friends and community. You offer God a beautiful space where he might reign and dwell. You serve him from a heart motivated by love. The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has called you to a holy life.
On this Trinity Sunday, you stand between two halves of our church readings. From Advent (end-November) through Pentecost (mid-May), we study the life of Christ: his faultless birth, innocent living, and perfect life sacrificed, and triumphant resurrection. Now, after today, the focus shifts from the steps taken to save us to the teachings Jesus gives over his three-year ministry.
You are ready for this growth. Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has ushered you into his grand temple. You look up to see the One high and exalted, seated on his magnificent throne. Yet, you do not fear. Through the blood of Jesus, the Father declares you forgiven. The Holy Spirit points at your baptism as evidence that you belong to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty! He stands apart from sin. His life cleanses us. He calls us to a holy life.
(from Easter Sunrise service...)
The warm, bright sun was melting the snow into a slushy, sloppy mess. His feet burrowed into a firm spot in the fresh, soft earth. A few feet away from him opened a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket.
Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth. Never again to step foot into their homes. Never again to step into their lives.
As the creaky crank carefully lowered the casket into its vault, a sharp rebuke cut through the air: “Be happy! Come on, this is a celebration!” Those words may have cut deeper than the sight of death itself.
Demanding that people be happy at a funeral does not automatically bring happiness. Call it a celebration if you will. Tell jokes. Drink beer. Blast rock ballads. Relive memories. Yet, those human efforts do not stop the source of tears. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life, but it still leaves an empty hollowness inside.
You see, human solutions offer very little comfort when confronting death. Your Jesus does not skirt around the cause of death; he confronts death head-on. Because Jesus lives, you also may boast in the face of death: I Know My Redeemer Lives! This is our reality. This is our confidence.
Listen to our reading from Job 19:25-27. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
What a marvelous truth to hear— because we can so easily overlook it! Tucked right in the middle of those words is a reality we are all too familiar with: “My skin is destroyed.” That is not a pleasant thought. Yet, it is a reality every single person faces— whether you want to admit it or not. Babies are born. They enter this world without blemishes, healthy, have all these years ahead of them. Yet, the minute that baby arrives, the clock of life keeps ticking down. Babies get older. Teeth come in and fall out. Bones grow longer and then grow brittle. The mind learns and later forgets. Eventually that young, healthy baby grows into his own aches and pains, sore joints, cancer and disease, and watches death approach ever closer.
That’s why our Bible reading says: After my skin has been destroyed. It’s not a matter of “if” you get older; it’s a matter of “as” you get older.
That is a reality the entire world faces. That is not much to celebrate. Yes, shake a fist at death. Say: “Ha-ha, Death! I still have a smile plastered to my face!” Drink beer and blast rock ballads. Yet, none of those human solutions address the real issue of death. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life. But it will not stop the tears from flowing at the graveside.
In order to solve the problem of death you must deal with the cause of death. The cause, God explains, is sin. “Sin” is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4). This stubborn arrogance refuses to bow down to God’s instructions. Instead, this puffed-up-pride wanders off after the rash foolishness of a faulty heart. That is “sin,” disobedience. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible says (Romans 6:23). That’s the punishment; the soul who sins is the soul who will die (Ezekiel 18:4). Death came to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
But that sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? Who wants to hear that? It just drags you down. It is not popular to say or admit. In fact, you may believe (or genuinely feel inside) that God loves you just as you are. That he chuckles when you lose self-control at the bar. That he leans in with balled up fists propping up his chin, nodding in agreement as you explain that you will use your body outside of marriage, how you will reject the parts of his spoken word you don’t agree with, how you have the right to lambast your elected leaders. With great big smug smile you can act this way and God has no right to hand down consequences. And still, remember, the wages of sin is death.
Not just the end of time on earth, but the end of time with God. Those who rebelled against God are thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48). That’s not really much to celebrate. Yet, that is the reality sin brings.
Here is another reality: My Redeemer Lives! Mary Magdalene races to the tomb, arrives, puzzled. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is vacant. It takes two angels to piece the puzzle together: Jesus is not here! because He has risen! (Luke 24:6)
My Redeemer Lives! To “redeem” means to “buy back.” In the Old Testament, if a widow was on the verge of losing property or found herself in dire financial straits, a close-relative would buy back the property for her. He would buy her back from financial calamity. The debt owed to buy back your life from death in hell is perfection— a price you (and I) could never offer God.
Yet, Jesus, your Redeemer buys you back from spiritual calamity. The Son of God submits to God’s Word. Did you catch that? “Submits.” He obeys his leaders— like Pilate, who sentences him to death. Like Herod, who is a Jew drunk on power and greed. Like Caiaphas the high priest who calls the Son of God a liar! Never does Jesus cut himself off from the Word. Yes, Jesus knows everything in the Bible, but still worships every single week. His heart thrives listening to God’s commandments. Delights in obeying them. He hands over his perfect life as the price needed to buy you back from hell’s dungeon. And God accepts the payment.
He raises Jesus back to life, declaring him to be without sin, without the punishment of death. My Redeemer Lives! This is true! This is seen in a tomb that is empty! This is our reality! My Redeemer Lives! This is our confidence!
You can be absolutely sure that you will live forever in heaven. Jesus is your Redeemer, the One who rose Easter day in order to say: Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40).
Even after my skin has been destroyed… Yes, bodies laid into the ground decay. Flesh and skin rot away. Bones dry out into dusty remains. Scoop a handful of sandy dust and you do not see life. The pile is so dry, lifeless, unable to be reassembled. Yet, because your Redeemer lives, in my flesh I will see God. In your flesh. In your body, with your legs standing you up, your neck turning your head, your hands reaching out, your mind comprehending who you see. The God who created Adam from a pile of dust in the Garden of Eden will use his same power to recreate you— and everyone else who died.
Yes, everyone. That includes Adam and Eve. That includes their son, Abel, the one murdered by his brother Cain. That includes those killed in wars fighting for the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, English, French, and Americans. That includes those lying in marked graves and those lying in unknown locations. That includes those cremated. That includes your mother or father who died. That includes your spouse, your son, your daughter, your Christian friend. Because Jesus lives and declares you guilt-free, it means death cannot hold you. He will raise you from the dead—body re-created, body made immortal. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Job (the author of our reading) understood that reality. If you have no sin, then you should not die; you should live forever. Since death races towards each of us, it means you are sinful. Since you are sinful, it means you (and I) have turned away from God. The reason to celebrate this morning is not because we ignore what causes death. The reason we celebrate is because Jesus Christ removed the cause of death. Jesus Christ has removed sin from you (and me). And so, I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me. This is our confidence.
I remember standing a few feet away from a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket. Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth.
In the end, on the Last Day, the trumpet will sound. Jesus Christ will send his angels to gather the living and the dead. That grave on that hillside will open up. Grandma will sit up, body perfectly restored; flesh and bones immortal. She will open her eyes and see Jesus. Yes, the next person grandma will see is Jesus.
This is the reality for a believer. This is the confidence we carry because Jesus rises from the dead. So yes, blast the music. Relive fantastic memories. Smile—if you wish. But understand the real reason for your celebration. Jesus Christ has removed sin and therefore swallowed up death forever. Jesus, My Redeemer Lives to give me life!