This is a winnowing fork. Several sharp prongs stick out at one end, and at the other end those prongs wrap together into the base of the handle. Today, we typically use these forks for pitching hay, but the winnowing fork has another purpose: it separates. So, you harvest your wheat and heap it outside on a flat, packed-down floor. You plunge this winnowing fork into the pile and toss a bunch into the air. Of course, that bunch thins out and the wind can blow through it. The stalks, the tough, chewy husks— the unwanted stuff— blows away. The heavier kernel— the good food—drops right down to your feet.
This winnowing meant business. See it and you know it was time to separate the good from the bad. That’s the picture John the Baptist paints for us today. Jesus Comes, Winnowing Fork in Hand. That means business; Jesus comes to separate. He clears away hypocrisy and He gathers in the repentant.
That is the heart of John’s message. He stands in this barren landscape of a desert, preaching to equally dry, barren hearts: “Prepare for the Lord!” (Luke 3:4-6). ‘Get ready!’ for Jesus coming! ‘Get ready!’— because you will meet him. ‘Get ready!’— because he is perfect. ‘Get ready!’— because you are not perfect, and that leaves you unable to stand beside him. Remember, the Bible contains two major teachings. (1) God’s Law shows our sin. His every ‘You shall’ and ‘You shall not’ just cuts us to shreds; it exposes disobedience— and there’s no hiding that. God’s Law reveals a deadly sick soul, a soul that so desperately needs a Savior. You see, if we do not see how sick we are, then we do not see the healing we need. We reject the Savior God sends to heal. (2) God’s gospel, his ‘good news,’ reveals that Savior. That is why John trumpets: “Repent! Turn from what is wrong. Face what is right!”
That message spreads like wildfire. Crowds come out to him… So many are curious about this man and his ministry.
When John sees them, he says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? He calls these people ‘snakes!’ More than that, ‘offspring of snakes’— or, ‘the offspring of the Snake,’ that is, the devil (see Revelation 12:9). These are Jews coming out! Descendants of Abraham. God promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 22:17-18); Abraham’s family would (1) include Jesus and (2) believers from every nation would enter heaven.
So, these Jews travel out to John. No, not because they want Jesus. They thought God’s judgment would automatically skip them because of their ethnicity. They trek out just to fulfill another religious act. They are really hypocrites: they claim to be God’s children, but want nothing to do with God.
John warns them of that. [D]o not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The heart of a hypocrite is hard like a stone. It takes nothing in. If they would not listen, then God’s Word would hit other hearts and bring those once-stony hearts to life.
John asks every single person—including you (and me): ‘What is the reason you are here?’ That’s a searching question. It challenges you to consider the object of your trust. Simply keeping your name written in a church membership book will not save you. Parents may have their child baptized and that baptism creates faith (1 Peter 3:21). However, baptism can be treated as a tradition or ritual; you consider it just another check-mark in the box of Christian actions. Faith is a living thing; it must be fed with God’s Word. Baptism is the start of your Christian life, it’s not the end of it. You are not saved because your family built the church. God does not forgive you because mom sat in that pew for so long. Your non-believing spouse does not go to heaven because you are here today. On the outside, you (and I) might look morally upright; you might be a poster-child for Christianity. Yet, you cannot fool God. God knows what is in your heart (read Psalm 139). He sees the object of your trust. God clears away hypocrisy.
Jesus Comes, Winnowing Fork in Hand! He will clear his threshing floor… and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Yes, even if that means you’ve sat in the pew for years. Yes, even if that means your family built the church. Yes, even if that means you were baptized, but never fed your faith. If God does not find trust in his Son as Savior, then he will cut you down and throw you into hell.
Jesus Comes, Winnowing Fork in Hand! The sight of that tool means business. Jesus comes to clear away hypocrisy. Yes, even the hypocrisy that can nestle into our hearts. We may treat worship like a ritual or tradition. We may disconnect heart from outward actions. We may even rely on empty-minded habits— like giving an offering or sitting in a pew.
God’s Word cracks that tough husk off of our hearts— because that Word highlights the One who intentionally lived his life for you (and me). Jesus is baptized, not out of tradition, but to step into our lives. He worships with a willing heart. He brings an offering to God out of sincere love. He knows obedience is the only way into heaven—and he has it! …and he gives it. To you (and me). Jesus uses the cross to break off our hypocrisy and create in us this living heart of flesh.
Jesus Comes, Winnowing Fork in Hand! This is a sobering message, but sobering for a reason. Jesus comes to do business, and has done the work of clearing away our hypocrisy so that you now stand before God healthy. You are ready to meet your Lord. Soon Jesus will Come, Winnowing Fork in Hand. Again to do work; he gathers in the repentant.
“Repentant.” Remember what that means? To ‘repent’ means ‘to turn”— like making a U-Turn. God exposes the foolishness of living like a hypocrite. It cuts our hearts; we resent that way of life. If you shudder at that way of living, you naturally ask: “What is the right way to live then?” God tells you, “Live sincere.”
John calls this fruits in keeping with repentance. Turn from what is wrong, you naturally produce a new action. Picture that. Apple trees produce apples. This is natural. No one must flip the switch and ‘power on’ the apple tree. A farmer does not pray the tree produces apples and not oranges. A healthy apple tree produces edible apples. When God’s Word penetrates our hearts, it makes us turn to what is right, what is God-pleasing.
The crowds ask John: “What should we do then?”
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Those are the fruits of repentance. All sorts of people in different types of work— God exposes their greed, their stealing, their bullying. It grieves them that they grieved God. That grief leaves a void. What fills that void? An action— a Godly one! This crowd shows their love for God by doing what is God-pleasing. You can see good, pleasing fruits of repentance.
Notice, John’s every encouragement takes the light off of ‘me’ and shines it on ‘others.’ Give. Be honest. Work faithfully. This way of selfless living only flourishes when I see Christ focused on “me” instead of “himself.” Jesus is the motivation to producing fruits of repentance.
What is at least one area where you produce fruits? Well, look at verses 15-16. The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The crowds are looking for Jesus and John does what is God-pleasing. He tells them about Jesus. Jesus will Come, Winnowing Fork in Hand. He gathers in the repentant.
These words are stern, but stern for a reason. You need Jesus if you want any hope of heaven! Do the people in your life know that? Or, are they hoping their good actions will win them life? Do they think God just saves everyone (even when this reading makes it abundantly clear that this is not the case)? Everyone has thoughts and opinions, but God has truth and facts. God reveals what will happen, and reveals it so that all are ready for that Great Day.
You (and I) currently have this marvelous opportunity to point others to Jesus— just like John did. Christmas Eve is still seen by many as a ‘religious holiday.’ That means, many still associate Christmas with God. That means, people are more likely to step into a church and hear this news about God.
So, this year we are running an advertisement for Christmas Eve in the Clare County Review and Clare County Cleaver. Thousands will have a chance to see our service times. They will have an opportunity to consider coming and hear this good news of Jesus.
Still, the best way to share Jesus is for you to share him with your words. Yes, that’s you inviting your neighbor. That’s you inviting your dinner-friend. That’s you inviting your daughter and son— just like John the Baptist did long ago. [W]ith many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
You have some very good news. Jesus comes! His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn… That’s the end-goal of life. Jesus gathers believers into heaven. What better news is there than that? Actually, what better news is there to prepare people for eternity? Jesus Is Coming, Winnowing Fork in Hand! He gathers in the repentant.
Maybe you have this in your barn or shed. This tool means business. You’re going to get work done. No wonder John uses that picture for us! Jesus gets work done. He Comes, Winnowing Fork in Hand. He comes to separate the good from the bad. He clears out our bad; Jesus clears away hypocrisy. What’s left is good— healthy and living hearts! Soon Jesus will Come, Winnowing Fork in Hand. This time to do a different kind of work. A work you are prepared for. He gathers in the repentant.
Let’s start a little differently today. I have two phrases in mind, phrases I believe are common, but I’m not entirely sure. So, I will start the phrase and if you know it, then say the words out loud. Okay? Alright, here they are:
We could also add another phrase to our list: Faith without Works is Dead. Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. Because Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Let’s make sure we understand that point. Verse 17 does say: [F]aith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. At first, it sounds as though God gives you faith, but faith is not enough to save you; you must do your part, you must do something. You must live as a Christian in order to prove that you truly are a Christian. You must pray. You must go to church. You must be patient, be kind, be forgiving, be generous. If you do these things, then God will finish saving you. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches, nor does our reading teach that.
The Bible clearly teaches that God saves you by grace. ‘Grace’ means ‘undeserved love.’ Or, we could put it this way: God does not treat you (and me) as we deserve (Psalm 103:10). God commands: Love me! Love each other! Do this always and you will enter heaven (Luke 10:27-28). Yet, being bored in worship is not showing love for God. Self-righteously pointing out faults does not demonstrate love for your friends. Breaking God’s commands makes us lawbreakers, people who fall under judgment. We deserve hell. Instead, God forgives us, removing our death-sentence.
That forgiveness is a gift, a free present. You did not earn it. You did not choose to receive this gift (1 Corinthians 12:3). God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ for sin— without any conditions attached (Romans 3:24). That verdict— that ‘not-guilty’-sentence— is your possession through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith says, “Jesus has forgiven me.”
So, when James says: Faith without Works is Dead, he does not say that you must earn faith. Rather, his point is this: Those loved by Jesus love Jesus and love his Word. Your Faith naturally produces God-pleasing living.
That’s what makes this situation in a Christian synagogue alarming. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes… This man rolls his metallic blue BMW into the church parking lot. The driver side door opens and out steps a man wearing a double-breasted suit, perfectly tailored to his body. Brilliant white dress shirt, crisp pocket square, slicked-back hair. A Rolex glistens on his wrist; golden rings sparkle on his fingers. This man just shines. And the Christians in this synagogue show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you… Sit in the front, right on the end! Then you can see and hear with ease, you can leave first; people can see how wealthy and powerful you are! Anyone in need can ask you for help; you provide something for us.”
Then, [A] poor man in shabby clothes also comes in… His rusty car is caked in mud. The driver side door creaks open and out steps a man with shaggy hair. His khakis are wrinkled; there’s a faded mustard stain on his untucked polo. No one notices him walking into the synagogue. When looking for a seat, someone say[s] to the poor man, “You stand there… against the wall, you can stand for an hour.” Or, “Sit on the floor by my feet… in the dust and rocks; I’ll try not to kick you.”
These two reactions contradict Christian living! God commands: Love your neighbor as yourself. By giving special treatment to a rich Christian, the church neglects the physical needs of their poor friend. Even worse, they care little about the spiritual health of rich and poor. They act as though the rich man carries God’s favor because of his wealth. They act as the poor man, who has nothing to offer society, has little to receive from God. These Christians have just judged that God’s love is reserved for some people and not for all!
That is not faith. Faith believes Jesus is Savior—and not just for some, but for the world (John 1:29, 3:16). Their favoritism-works reveal that their faith is sick. If God-pleasing living does not flow out of them, then James worries their faith could die! Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Those words serve as a wake-up call. First, pay attention to the audience. James speaks to Christians. In verse 1 he does not say, “Dear nonbelieving heathens…” Rather, he says, “My dear brothers… who share one common faith, one God, one eternal hope.” Then, he urges you (and me) to continue evaluating our actions and see if they line up with God’s commands.
As members of a congregation favoritism can creep into your heart (and mine). You may eagerly greet visitors who look, smell, and act like you. Yet, when a rough-looking stranger sits beside you, you may try to avoid him and let him fumble through service alone. Or, you may be more prone to help the stable family unit instead of lending patience to a family struggling to control their children. Or, you may suppress the desire to invite a friend to worship because “he’s just not the Jesus-type” or you do not speak about Christmas and Easter services to the stranger because tattoos cover his arms. Favoritism overlooks those in need because you have judged that person is not worthy of your attention. More than that, that this person is not worthy of receiving God’s love.
Favoritism deals with people differently than the way God dealt with us. If you say that God forgave you and you did not deserve it, then how can you say to someone else: ‘They don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s a contradiction! God could say the very same thing to you or me: “You don’t deserve to be here either.”
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? God chose you (and me), people who were spiritually poor. The moment you were conceived, no faith was in your heart. It was as though your heart was an empty bank vault; you had nothing to offer God. You entered this world not wearing clean clothes; rather, filthy garments covered you head-to-toe. God would have every right to look past you (and me). Instead, he sent Jesus for you (and me).
Jesus took off the soiled garments of sin, removed them, gone forever. He fits you in a pressed white suit, fitted to you—free of fault. He dresses you in a fitted, clean white dress. He places a ring on your finger, a ring that marks you as an heir of heaven. Now, you are spiritually rich! You own the priceless riches of perfect health, perfect happiness, perfect, unending life in heaven!
When you (and I) soil our garments with favoritism, God cleanses us again and again. Your faith remains; it never went away. God still says, “You are still mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God’s love, his mercy produces God-pleasing works. You want to love others because God so richly, so daily loves you! Your Faith is not Dead. It is living! And God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Remember: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck. So, if you see a small creature with feathers, waddling around, quacking, then those actions demonstrate that creature must be a duck. That duck does not wake up and say, “Well, I have to remember to quack, otherwise people will think I’m a dog… I have to push out feathers and waddle or else I will be confused with a rock.” No! A duck does not consciously act like a duck in order to prove it is a duck. A duck does not consciously look like a duck to remain a duck. Rather, since the duck is already a duck, he will automatically act as a duck.
You already are a Christian and will naturally live a God-pleasing life— and you already do. God’s love for you transforms verse 8 from a “must” to a “want.” If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
So, suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. What do you do? Well, as a congregation, you have turned an eye towards those in need. You have identified individuals in the area who are in need of food. So, you hold food drives. As individuals, you may give extra clothing away to someone with a new baby or donate clothes to GoodWill. Notice, you do not intentionally wake up and consider the ways to prove you are a Christian. Rather, you already are a Christian. With eyes of faith, you look at the many ways God has blessed you— extra money, extra clothes, extra food— and you give a designated amount to benefit others.
Or, we could bring this closer to home. When your sister loses her spouse, how do you act? You write cards. You call. You wrap your arms around her. Why? To prove that you are worthy of heaven? No! Because you are sharing the comfort with which God has comforted you! When your friend returns home after surgery and is slow to move, how do you respond? You bring dinner. You help with chores. You drive him around. Why? So that God will save you? No! He already has! Your heart, satisfied by God’s mercy, seeks to satisfy others. The reason you give is more than just the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing something nice. You give because you consider how much God has given you.
Your faith reveals itself through actions. God’s love for you flows through you. That which is inside of your heart bursts out automatically. As you remember how graciously God deals with you, you cannot help but to give evidence of your faith.
Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. It sounds daunting, as though you must do something to earn heaven. Relax. God has already made you heirs of the kingdom. He has made a heart without faith into a heart of faith. Now, that Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Marcia Kester Doyle is a mother of four children. To help ease an already tight household budget, she stayed home with them, while also working three different in-home jobs.
What she did not earn financially, she made up for with what she offered her family. Her kids had a roof over their heads, clothes in the closet, and full bellies. She cooked dinner and packed lunch boxes. She washed and folded laundry, vacuumed and dusted each bedroom. She solved difficult math homework and read bedtime stories. She chased away nightmares at all hours of the night. She clocked hours driving children to choir practice and church services, to their friend’s homes and practice fields. She stayed up all night to cool down a fever and mopped up each sloppy mess during flu season.
As the kids grew, they grew aware of the family’s financial limitations. It left her youngest, now a teenager, frustrated. He realized that he did not have as much stuff as others his age. So, he accused Marcia of being the cause for his lack of money. He challenged when she would get a “real job.” He even grumbled, What have you done for me? (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-kester-doyle-/rude-children-_b_5589057.html)
That stings, doesn’t it? That ungrateful attitude failed to realize that everything he had came from his mother. Yet, that’s what ungratefulness does, right? Ungratefulness treasures something that is not really treasure at all. That’s what makes an ungrateful attitude so dangerous. It fails to appreciate real treasure.
So, God records this Old Testament account so that ungratefulness does not poison your heart (1 Corinthians 10:6). Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. See The LORD remove worthless grumbling and see The LORD satisfy your every need.
For 430 years Old Testament Israel slaves away in Egypt! (Exodus 12:40) (That’s almost twice as long as our nation’s existence!) Pounding out clay bricks under a scorching desert sun. Leather whips snapping bare backs. Sweat streaming from head to toe while cracking grain in the stuffy, sweltering mills. Twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours each day. No vacation. No freedom to begin whenever. Seven days a week, 52-weeks each year, for 430 years!
And God hears their groaning (Exodus 2:24-25). His ten powerful plagues rip through the laws of nature. Water becomes stinky, sewer-gas-smelling blood. Gnat and fly swarms blot out sunlight. Frogs and locust squirm over every surface. Darkness, hailstorms, boils break out; the angel of the LORD takes away the life of those who stand against him. Then God grabs Old Testament Israel by the hand and walks them out of the fields, out of their homes, out of slavery. He splits the Red Sea in half and dries the ground so millions could reach other side.
Imagine standing high on a rocky ledge, watching walls of water stand in place. Watch the Egyptian armored chariots race after these hobbling slaves. Powerful warhorses grunting, soldiers clutching spears, hooves pounding earth. Just then— chariot wheels spin off! Confused soldiers toddle around the sea-floor. The moment the last Israelite steps onto level ground, the walls of the sea collapse on every single soldier (13:17-14:30). Is there any question that God cares?
Then you get this reading. One month after witnessing God subdue the superpower of the ancient world, the Israelites grumble. They’re hungry. “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” God, what have you done for us? A better question would be: What hasn’t God done?
God has allowed you to live in one of the most prosperous nations in world history. People own two homes, meaning two sets of property taxes, two sets of appliances, and two maintenance schedules. Just a short time ago owning two cars was considered a luxury. Drive down any street in town and you see at least two cars in every driveway. People do not own just enough property for a house; they own acres just to have. Go home, open the fridge and cabinets, and find food on every shelf. Crack open the closet door and find sets of clothes lasting for weeks. Look in your bedroom and see a roomful of toys! Drive down the street and find banks and doctors. Is there any question God cares?
Still, somehow in spite of these many blessings, it never seems to be enough, does it? Never mind God put gas in your car to arrive here today and to return home; gripe that gas went up ten-cents (which is only about $1.20 more for a fill-up). Never mind God provides money so you can pay bills with extra left over for retirement(!); complain that you do not have as much as your friends. Never mind God hands you freedoms in America; just criticize your leaders (which, by the way, is actually criticizing God for the leaders he set in office [Romans 13:1-2]).
You see, grumbling, complaining, griping is not done in vacuum— as though you’re complaining to no one at all. You are not grumbling against [people], but against the Lord. God opens his hand and out pours everything needed to satisfy the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). That’s why you have anything at all; God is handing you what you need for life. Ungratefulness reveals that you love your earthly possessions more than the One who gave them in the first place!
You know what? If it really feels as though God is wronging you by withholding something from you, then he would be completely fair to let you have your wish and get out of your life. “You want to return to Egypt? … live as slaves? … eat pots of meat until you die in hell forever? Fine! Have it your way! I’m gone!”… “Are you discontent over the money I give you? Do you want more cars, a bigger house, more gadgets? Is that the most important thing in life? Then fine, love your stuff more than me! By doing that, you will lose me forever.” Be sure, The LORD will remove worthless grumbling from his ears forever.
In love he has done just that; the LORD removes worthless grumbling. He removes your (and my) griping and criticizing by satisfying your only real need with Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:25-35). Look at our gospel reading; see the real satisfaction Jesus provides. Crowds search for enough food until they get hungry again; Jesus presents a feast of God’s Word which will fill the soul forever. Crowds want just another miracle; Jesus gives you his life. Israelites had their fill in the desert, but still died, but because Jesus dies, you never will.
See Jesus give thanks for the food he eats. See Jesus treasure his Father as a perfect Provider. See Jesus trust the Father to give him all things at the proper time. He does all this— not to shame you— but rather to live as your Substitute.
The LORD removes worthless grumbling with his death on the cross. With his resurrection the LORD satisfies your every need. He gives you forgiveness. He gives you peace. Something you can never buy. Something you can never earn. Something you possess now. Out of all the earthly blessings of life, you hold the most priceless of them all: unending life in heaven.
If you want contentment, then look no further than the cross of Jesus. That sight puts every earthly blessing into its proper perspective. God showered Israel with peace and forgiveness. Then he gives them even more. At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God. God would satisfy their hunger. Yet, do you see what else the manna and quail would do? Every evening when they went out and saw the quail fly in, every morning when they looked out and saw manna littering the ground, they would see God provided for their physical needs. They would realize this God is kind, loving, and forgiving. Those earthly blessings led to their Eternal Blessing.
That God has not changed. He still showers everything you need for life so that you may know that I am the Lord your God. Look at all the stuff packed into your house. See the cars in the garage, the boats in the water. Consider your freedoms and mobility. Do not to fixate on what you have, but rather reflect on how you received it. It’s as though every single possession has a string tied to it. Whatever you receive, take it into your hands and follow that string back to the One who gave it to you. Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. Know that Jesus made God your Father. Now, live confident this Father provides your every physical need.
That’s why you can pray with confidence: Give us this day our daily bread. Ask your God to provide what you need— not always what you want, not always what you think you need, but ask that he continue providing for all you need in life.
When you Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing, you will always live content. That contentment will move you to action. [T]he Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” So, six days the camp would gather and on the seventh they would not work. The seventh day was a day of rest. Attentions would not be fixated on the chores to be done. Hearts would not delight in greed for more. Rather, a day of rest provided an opportunity to thank God for what they had received.
See the many, many things you have received. Maybe they are “big,” like a house, car, job, retirement. Remember the “small,” such as flowers, seasons, weather. Fuel to buy food. The leaders for safety. Money for comfort. These are all blessings from your gracious God and Father. The LORD satisfies your every need.
Ungratefulness treasures something that is not really treasure at all. That’s what makes an ungrateful attitude so dangerous. It fails to realize that everything you have comes from God.
So, God records this Old Testament account so that ungratefulness does not poison your heart (1 Corinthians 10:6). Set your sights on Jesus. He hands you heaven— and that’s not a hopeful wish; it’s a reality. Words like that fill your heart and soul through and through. There is nothing more you really need— and still, God graciously provides so much for everyday life.
Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. See The LORD remove worthless grumbling and see The LORD satisfy your every need.
“Where is your brother?” Cain and his brother, Abel, had hiked out into the farm-fields. But that was hours ago. And by now Cain had returned home; Abel was still gone.
So, God asks, “Where is your brother, Cain?”
The response? “What do you want from me? Am I expected to report back on everything Abel does, God? Do you want me to chart out a timeline of his day? …when he wakes up, what he eats, how long he works, and with whom he speaks? Am I responsible for the well-being of my adult brother, who, by the way, is perfectly capable of my making his own decisions? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-9)
Well, are you? And, I’m not just talking about your biological siblings. I’m talking about those inside your church. All those men and women and boys and girls who stand in the family of God. Do you care about their spiritual needs, their spiritual struggles, their spiritual questions? Or, is there a complete lack of interest? Is there an excuse meant to remove personal responsibility in protecting the life of others?
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. So, God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.
The first three chapters of this letter [Ephesians] have been leading up to this key point. But first, remember how it begins. God unveils everything he has done for you. He chose [you] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4). That’s not something you did; it is God who chose you. It is God who puts Jesus on trial for the commands and regulations you (and I) trashed. It is God who makes you spiritually alive by taking away the holy and blameless life of Jesus (2:4-5).
Do you comprehend just what it is God has done? He has placed Christ into your heart (3:17). God has called you into one faith. One— meaning, the object you trust is Jesus. You confess that the only way into heaven comes through the One who pays your penalty for sin. Because of the work Jesus completed for you, you will never be locked away into the gloomy dungeons of hell. Instead, you live with open access to God both now and forever.
This life-saving action is not yours alone, as though you will stand in heaven by yourself. Rather, each person brought to faith stands beside you. Each of you individually have been brought into the same family of God. That means, you share something in common, just like brothers and sisters do. So, are you [your brother’s keeper]?
In the February issue of the Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine], Wisconsin Synod President, Mark Schroeder, noted “Every year, roughly 8,000 members of our WELS congregations leave for various reasons.” (https://wels.net/when-brothers-and-sisters-really-care/) Eight-thousand souls! Take the entire population of Clare, Harrison, and Houghton Lake (that’s 8,000 people!) and imagine it gone. Absolutely no cars in the streets, no kids in school, no couples in the park, nothing. Gone. Eight-thousand souls. each. year.
Unfortunately, those same sad numbers affect your congregation also. Let’s be clear: I am not referring to those made homebound due to physical limitations. I am not speaking about those who have moved from earth to heaven. I mean those who worshipped here, walked out the doors, and never returned. Do you know someone like that? It may be your spiritually lazy daughter. Yes, she knows God exists. She knows Jesus died on a cross for her benefit. Yet, sleep is more important than the life Jesus gave up for her. Sunday morning shopping is more important. Nonstop weekend getaways are more important. Or, perhaps you think about your confirmed grandson who just graduated. First time away from home; first time without living under the rules of mom and dad. “Freedom!” he calls it. ‘Free’ to challenge what the Bible teaches! ‘Free’ to decide if God is really necessary or not. ‘Free’ to wallow in shameful behavior! ‘Free’ to place “self” onto the pedestal of God! Or, maybe the spot open next to you was once filled by the friend who still lives in town, but doesn’t return because no one cares enough to ask her about her spiritual questions. Are you your brother’s keeper, concerned about the spiritual life of your fellow Christians?
Or, are you like me, mumbling out the same bumbling excuses Cain did? “I care, but… I do not have the time to call my sister and ask why she doesn’t worship anymore.” “I care, but… that’s Pastor’s job. Let him chase down my teenager.” “I care, but… my friend will insult me and that will make me sad.”
Dear family of God, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). That’s his goal: destroy faith. He loves it when you (and I) think so little of this oneness we have (1) with God and (2) with each other. Because he knows that if you (and I) create excuses to do nothing, then he has a free shot to lunge and destroy another soul.
Remember, God has called you into one faith. He sends Jesus, your perfect Brotherly-Keeper. For thirty-three years on earth, Jesus lives to rescue you. He cares for your soul that he lives his entire life obedient to the commands of God. He cares for your soul that he sacrifices himself to free you from the jowls of that devilish lion. He cares for your soul that he rises from death and announces victory to you!
With one baptism, faith in Jesus as Savior started in your heart. The Holy Spirit still grows your faith as you look forward to entering your one great hope: eternal life in heaven. The one God and Father, the One in control over all creation, still assures you, “I have called you into one faith.”
Yes, you are just one person. Yet, look around and see the many others who share the same faith, same belief in Jesus as Savior as you do. God has called into one faith, and therefore, one family. That means you do not live concerned about yourself alone. Living a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received also means caring for your fellow believers. You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service.
Really? You? Me? Isn’t that the instant response? “Who am I?” Listen to what God has handed you: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Do you see that? Each of you are different with different life experiences and different talents and gifts and abilities— and that’s ok. In fact, that’s wonderful! It’s great that I cannot do the all the things you can. It’s great that you cannot do all the things I can. Because that means I can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts I have and you can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts you have.
God has distributed his gifts as he sees fit to benefit believers everywhere. He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people (that’s you!) for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Did you catch that? The Pastor of your congregation studies God’s Word. He teaches God’s Word. He applies the Word to the many situations of life. Yet, he is not the only one who serves. God equips you to serve also!
God has placed his Word into your heart and on your lips so that you might tell others about Jesus. God uses you to build up the body of Christ. God uses you to encourage your fellow believers to press on towards your heavenly hope.
Evaluate the gifts God has handed you. You may give out the biggest affectionate hugs that tell someone you care. You may have the life-experience to encourage those who struggle with cancer or who have lost a spouse or have struggled with addictions. You may have the comforting words to cheer up the sad. See the gifts God has given you and remember that God has equipped you for works of service. God sends you out with those gifts to encourage your fellow believers to remain with God.
That’s why I included this diagram in your bulletin again. “FRIENDS WHO NEED JESUS.” That refers to those without faith, but it is also there to remind you: Believers need Jesus too. Is there someone you know slow to worship? Some are your children. Some are your friends. Some are the ones who sat beside you in the pew. God equips to go and reach them.
He even gives you the words to say. Look at verse 15: Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Believers grow more mature—that is, their trust in God’s promises swells, their knowledge of God’s actions grow, their reliance on God’s Word increases. It all happens by speaking the truth in love.
When you encounter Christians growing sluggish in their faith, speak the truth in love. Gently encourage them to worship the One who gave his all for them. Be patient if the results seem slow. Be persistent in reminding them of this truth. Understand that love might be ‘tough.’ You may have to speak stern words to a wandering soul, plainly warning: “Christians love to be with Christ. You call yourself Christian, but make excuses to remain from Christ. Which one is it?” (Matthew 7:17-20) It is loving to speak what God says about eternal life and eternal death. It is loving to warn what unbelief reaps and what God has done to rescue the world.
God equips you for works of service. Speak the Word; let God work on the heart. God is not telling you to change hearts. After all, you cannot. That’s God’s job. He changed your heart. He will change the hearts of others with his same Word. God simply reminds you (and me) that we walk together. The body of believers is joined and held together by every supporting ligament (that’s you!), grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. What a calling it is! God has called you into one faith. He has made you part of this body, one of his, one who clings to life with God.
Yet, look around. See the others who stand with you. What joy it is to encourage each other to press on to the eternal glories of heaven! You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service. With your words, actions, your care, you strive to strengthen the body of Christ so that no one is lost.
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. That’s why God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.
He sat in his car in the church parking lot. In just a few minutes worship would be over and then he would know. You see, he used to attend a Lutheran church, but had stopped worshipping decades ago. Now into his mid-fifties, he felt the need to reconnect with a congregation. So, he sat in his car, waiting. The moment worship ended, he watched one person walk out the front door. Another followed, and then another, and another until everyone had left. He got his answer. “That’s not the church for me,” he later said to a friend. “The members are too old.”
They invited me to the kitchen table. These first-time visitors had just moved up from a Detroit suburb. Now they wanted a congregation to call “home.” They made their expectations pretty clear. “We want contemporary songs, modern instruments, and a casual feel. You should really think about giving us what we want.”
I asked him, “How do you like your church?” A sixth-grader, standing on the street-corner next to me. His parents wanted a church with more kids his age. So, they left one congregation for another church in the area— a larger one at that. What did he like about his new church? “Oh, it’s good,” he said. “We have bowling, Wii and XBox [video-game consoles], movies, and snacks.”
How do you respond to statements like that? (By the way, those are all real conversations I had with real people.) Your sister lays out her preferred worship style. Your friend describes how he wants the sermon/message presented in church. Your child implies that your congregation is out-of-touch with people— and you stand there in unfamiliar territory, struggling to summarize the purpose of your congregation. What do you say?
Our reading from Ephesians provides you with the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
Look once again at the end of verse 14 (in our reading). You’re immediately met with this towering, dividing wall of hostility… a wall created with its commandments and regulations. God built up this wall around Old Testament Israel. He assembled a civil law for the protection of personal property and individual rights. He constructed a ceremonial law that laid out when Israel should worship, how often, what sacrifices to bring, and the reason for each sacrifice. That wall was meant to protect the faith of the believing Jew from the influence of the nonbelieving Gentile.
The Gentiles (those not of Jewish ethnicity) sacrificed food to the sun, blessed their crops by visiting prostitutes, and bowed down to a myriad of non-existent deities. God’s wall divided Jews from Gentiles.
But that wall created another division; it stops the imperfect from approaching the Perfect. God’s command stops you still and towers high above you: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Jews had God’s commands, but rebelled against them. Judges refuse justice, spiritual shepherds lead masses to false gods, kings trust mortal men. The Gentiles lived “far off.” They (1) had no knowledge that Jesus would save the world with his perfect life. They (2) did not even have a Bible to introduce them to Jesus! God still looks down from heaven to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. But all have turned aside, they have together become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3). Every single person enters life divided, separated, far off from God. No one does good. Not even one!
And he sensed it. I stood beside him at his mother-in-law’s funeral. “I hope she’s with all of her loved ones,” he said. “She is,” I replied. “Jesus did everything necessary to bring her to heaven.” His response?“Eh… maybe. I hope she’s there.” This son-in-law attended a church far larger than the one I was in. His congregation had far more programs for every age-group imaginable. Yet, for the many decades he spent worshipping there, he never found peace with God. He stood in front of that dividing wall and was convinced that the only way to approach God was to do more good to outweigh his bad. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm; see Paragraphs 1459-1460)
Here’s the point: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Because when you lose Jesus, you lose peace.
You lose peace when you place a higher priority on temporary things. You reach out to your community through Easter-postcard invites, doorhangers, an online presence. It seems like your words fall on deaf ears. Then out comes the pity-cry: “No one wants to hear God’s Word. We try to get it out, but nothing works. Woe is us!”
You share the most significant news ever: “Jesus alone gives eternal life!” You announce it in Sunday School. You hear in Bible Class. You sing it in worship! The results are not what you want. Out comes the pessimism: “Yeah, I thought more would come. Boy, things aren’t like they used to be. We might as well just stop the effort.”
First-time visitors, friends, children, even the sixth-grader on the corner all have in mind what they want from a church. It might have nothing to do with the Bible, but they don’t care. They want to feel entertained. Not too long after, the heart ponders: “Well, I would enjoy worship more if it was just more exciting …or I had someone here to talk to …or I fill in the blank.” Inside each of us lurks this slimy temptation to exchange God’s pure Word for sand that passes through the fingers! To fall for that trap will rob you of peace forever!
Do you know what the main thing in church is? What is the only way through the dividing wall of hostility? I’m not sure our reading can make it any clearer. After all, how many times do you hear: In Christ or in him or through him? Twelve times! Is it any secret? [Jesus] himself is our peace, [he] has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
Jesus did what you (and I) could never hope to do. He did the only thing that really matters; he tore down the wall between you and God. Your Good Shepherd stands up in the Bible. He searches for those lost and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. And he speaks, “I am your perfection. I did what you could not. I obey every single command and regulation with all my heart, mind, and soul. Stop digging for peace in yourself. I am your peace.” With his own perfect flesh he stamps God’s commands and regulations ‘Kept!’ ‘Obeyed!’ ‘Fulfilled!’ In his one body he reconciled [you] to God through the cross.
He ends the hostility between you and God so that you have peace forever. He rises and breaks down the walls of death. He comes and preaches peace to you… To you! For all the times you (and I) exchange the pure Word of God for something trite and trivial, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) selfishly prioritize pleasure over hearing God’s truth, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) hang our heads, moping as though we are losing, Jesus rises with victorious peace.
My friends, Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! God clearly explains the reason you gather here: to focus on Jesus. Because only Jesus is your peace. And the more you hear that good news, the more it changes your entire outlook on life. Because Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
That wall of hostility is busted down. So what? So then, you are no longer foreigners and aliens… You are not separated from God. Rather, right here, right now, you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. God has written your name into the citizenship rosters of heaven. He takes you by the hand and is leading you through this valley of the shadow of death to bring you safely to a heavenly country.
You can be sure of this. [You have been] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. God picked you up from the rock pile of humanity. In baptism, he laid you among many other bricks in a wall. With his Word, he mortared you in. With the Lord’s Supper, he tuck-points, making sure the mortar remains tough and strong so that you will never fall away. Your peace is this life is not dependent on your emotions. Those change from day to day. Your peace for heaven is not dependent on how moral you appear. You can never be good enough. You peace for life is anchored to the work of Jesus, the work which the Bible records. Point to it. It is a foundation. It will never break or crumble or fail. The Main Thing in Church remains Jesus. Listen to him because Jesus is your only cornerstone.
Jesus is your only cornerstone. People come to faith only through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Some days, you may feel as though you are failing as a congregation. It is no secret that an increasing number of people are staying away from the Word than coming to it. You may feel as though the Word must change in order to gain larger numbers. You might think you need different activities or a different style of worship to invite people here. Now, those things are not wrong in themselves. Yet, when the purpose for attending church is to be entertained by things that cannot save, you have stepped off the only cornerstone for life. Faith comes only by hearing the Word Jesus sent out through his prophets and apostles. Not with youth entertainment and praise bands and the age of a congregation. Faith comes from the Word.
God makes that explicitly clear. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. God used his Word to bring you to faith. He still sends out the same Word, the only tool that brings others to faith as well. Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Point people to Jesus, the only cornerstone for life.
God has handed you the priority-message: Jesus himself is our peace. Jesus’ death and resurrection promises you life in God’s family. So, you do not need to worry. Instead, you get to live in and work to share that Word of peace. You can always live built on this cornerstone.
So, what is the purpose of your congregation? If you struggle to put it into words, then repeat what our selection says here. It gives you the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
Call it a case study if you will... He grew up attending Sunday School and Sunday worship. In later grade school, he studied the teachings of the Bible in catechism class. He continued increasing his understanding in Bible Class. This Christian man even served as an elder in the congregation, giving special attention to the spiritual life of his fellow believers. He made it his regular habit to take in God’s teachings and to live God’s teachings.
Now, this Christian leader had three children: one daughter and two sons— and he cared for their spiritual life. He carried each child up to the baptismal font. He made Sunday School their regular spiritual diet, while he learned in adult Bible class. He faithfully drove each child to catechism class, where they studied the teachings of the Bible. Eventually, each child was confirmed.
Now, after confirmation day, this Christian father let his first two children— a daughter and son— decide if they wanted to worship on Sundays. If they wanted to wake up Sunday at 8:00am and join him for worship, they could. Can you guess the decision those teenagers made? They stayed home in bed, sleeping every single Sunday. Can you guess how that affected them spiritually? The daughter grew up, moved out, and stopped attending worship. God was no longer important to her. He did not occupy a place in her life; she could not even give him one measly hour of her week. She created her own teachings for living. The son also stopped worshipping. He married a lady who [honestly!] created her own strange religion. Unfortunately, he floundered in his marriage because he had no firm footing on God’s truth.
One final son. The father woke him up every Sunday at 8:00am. Bible Class remained their spiritual diet. He encouraged his son to sing in the church choir and help maintain the church property. Can you guess how that affected this son spiritually? He started studying for the pastoral ministry. Even though he did not become a Pastor, he still assists his congregation every Sunday as a musician.
Do you comprehend the results of this case study? Confirmation is not graduation! Confirmands, you are not finished learning what Scripture teaches you! Parents, your child is not graduating (or completing) church! Your life in the Word of God never ends! Each of you will face new challenges that come with the many changes of life. You must Continue Your Training! Your sinful nature constantly fights God, but God keeps you on the way of life.
The words for our hearing this morning come from Proverbs 22:6: Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Do you know why you must train a child? Confirmands, you know the answer to this question; in just a few minutes you will describe the natural condition of the human heart. Everyone else, you have witnessed baptisms; in fact, every Sunday you admit: God, I am by nature sinful. The human heart is not naturally good; the human heart is naturally hostile to God. That means, the very moment you (and I) are conceived, we are God’s enemies. You do not submit to God’s law, nor can you do so (Romans 8:7). You do not want to obey God; you fight God. You see, every single child born has a “way.” His “way” leads to death in hell.
So God commands: Train a child in the way he should go. A child needs someone to start him on a different “way,” a “way” that leads to life in heaven; a child needs someone to teach him Jesus. Who is that person? You.
[Grand]Parents (and Christian examples), you have done that as you carried your child to be baptized into the family of God. You have done that as you brought your child to catechism class. But you are not done yet. You must Continue Your act of Training because the sinful nature continues fighting God.
Parents, the devil is still out to destroy the faith of your children. Do you know who he will use to help him? You. He will stoke your own sinful nature to adopt the oft-repeated beliefs of this world. The excuses are many: “I’ll let my child decide what to believe…” “I brought my child to church; I’ve done my part. Now my child will decide what to believe….” “My child is too old to be encouraged to worship…” “Oh, she will come back later…” Do you know what those are? Lies. God explicitly says: Train a child! The devil says: “Why bother?” The devil knows if he can make you— spiritual leaders(!)— indifferent to the spiritual life of your child, he will have removed one more obstacle keeping your child in faith and on the way to life with God. You must Continue Your act of Training because the sinful nature continues fighting God.
Confirmands and students, you are walking on this path that leads to life. What you learned in catechism class provides a firm foundation on which to build your life. You will find peace and comfort and strength from God. But you are not done yet. You must Continue Your Training because the sinful nature continues fighting God.
The devil’s working hard to destroy your faith. Do you know who he will use to help him? You. He will dangle alluring temptations to snag you away from the teachings you have learned. The temptations are many. Your world will entice you into following its manmade gods of money, pride, and arrogance. Your sinful nature will create fantastic excuses as to why you may ignore what God so clearly teaches. The devil will push you to self-worship: you are the reason for success, you hold all-wisdom, you control life! You must Continue Your act of Training because the sinful nature continues fighting God.
Dear friends, Continue Your Training. The sinful nature continues fighting God, but the sinful nature has been conquered. Jesus has opened the way to life. Continue Your Training because God keeps you on the way of life.
Parents, do you see where you have ushered your child? Confirmands and children, do you see where you stand? You are walking on the way that has led to the cross of Jesus. This visible reminder preaches God’s love for you. Jesus marched to fight your sinful nature— and did that by resisting every temptation. He makes worship his regular routine. He urges his disciples to follow the words of Moses and the prophets. He puts God in the number-one spot of his heart— and did all this for you.
That perfect life trickled out on the cross for you. Jesus paid off the debt of your sin for you. Jesus rises to announce forgiveness to you. Jesus rises up into heaven to make it a home for you. Your faith in Jesus as Savior has placed you on the way of life.
So, Continue Your Training. Do not forfeit what you have begun.
Parents and Christian friends, Continue Your act of Training. God has set you in charge over the spiritual health of your child (and other Christian friends). You are the people God uses to bring others to him. It is not always the guy next to you. It is not always the Pastor. It is not always a stranger. It is you. That’s why, parents, you Continue Your Training, your act of training up a child. Statistically speaking, these children have about another 70-years to their life. They have much life left and much ahead of them. They have college, marriage, children, parenting, work, retirement, older age, and the thought of approaching death. Those are some serious life hurdles, but hurdles they overcome with God. So, bring them to worship; do not even offer skipping as an option. Encourage them to read their own devotions. Speak your faith to them. Continue Your Training.
Children and confirmands, Continue Your Training. God has begun a good work in you; he has brought you to faith. You have a foundation on which to build. So, build on it. Grab God’s promises and find peace in trouble. Run to God in prayer on the day of trouble. Lay anxiety and worry to rest because God is in control. Stand confident of eternal life in heaven because Jesus has won it for you.
When you do step off the way, God will use his Word to draw you back. He will expose the error of your walking and the foolishness of you heart. He will walk you up to the foot of the cross and reveal Jesus who died for you. Continue Your Training because God keeps you on the way of life.
Our case study demonstrates that truth. One Christian leader. One daughter and two sons. Two spiritually neglected neglect their faith. One spiritually strengthened strengthens his faith.
Do you understand the results of this case study? Confirmation is not graduation! It never was; it was the devil who leads us to believe it is. That means, confirmands, you are not finished learning what Scripture teaches you. Parents, your child is not graduating church! Your life in the Word of God never ends! Each of you will face new challenges that come with the many changes of life. So, Continue Your Training! Continue Your Training in the Word of God because Your sinful nature constantly fights God, but God keeps you on the way of life.
Morgan Spurlock had a simple question: What would happen if I eat at McDonald’s three times each day for one month?
So, he put his question to the test. He went to McDonald’s every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He ordered every single item on the menu board at least once over the course of 30-days. He made sure to eat nothing except McDonald’s. So, that means no cookies at home, no chips, no tacos, no apples, nothing except what McDonald’s offered. He would even SuperSize his meal if the order-taker asked him. Now, he made sure to stay somewhat active during this test; he walked about 5,000 steps per day (which is about how much the average American walks). He did this for 30-days.
Can you guess what happened? In one month Morgan Spurlock gained 25-pounds. In fact, he gained ten pounds in just the first five days and gained an additional eight pounds about a week later. Doctors figure his diet averaged 5,000 calories per day. (For comparison, nutritionists recommend a 2,000-3,000 [calorie] daily diet.) Put another way, he ate the equivalent of nine-and-a-half Big Mac [sandwiches] each day. (Can you imagine eating that?) Not only did he gain weight, but he experienced mood swings, depression, and laziness [lethargy]. His heartbeat grew irregular. He had fatty accumulations piling up on his liver. Friends pleaded with him to stop this unhealthy test. His doctor even said, “If you continue this diet, you will die.” Morgan Spurlock went from healthy to near-death all within 30-days (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me).
You must watch what you consume because what you consume can kill you. This morning God is not discussing your diet habits at McDonald’s. Instead, God wants you to examine your spiritual diet. What are you taking in? Feasting on false teaching can bring spiritual death. So, God cannot make it any clearer: Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, make sure to stand on the side of God.
It might be the most popular question asked when stepping into a church: “How do I know what the Pastor says is right?”
That is an excellent question to ask. It demonstrates your concern about on what your faith rests. You want to hear God’s thoughts, not the thoughts of another human being. You want a message that will not harm you spiritually, but will strengthen your faith. You do not want to stand before God only to hear him say, “No. What you believe is wrong. Away from me.” You want a message that puts you on God’s right side for eternity!
So then, how do you know that what the Pastor says is God-pleasing? Well, our reading from 1 John says this: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… John tells you: Test What You Believe. In the old wild west, bankers would bite down on gold coins in order to test if they were real. If their teeth left a mark, then the coin was made of real, soft gold. If there was no mark, then the coin was made of false gold. How do you that what you believe God approves? Take what you hear and compare it to what the Bible teaches. Does what you hear agree with what is written down? Or does it contradict the Bible?
This is something you must always continue. Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Did you catch that? You will encounter many different people who claim to speak with God’s authority. You must Test What You Believe.
Understand, no one will sneak out of the shadows and tell you, “Follow me. I preach my own feelings about heaven and hell.” No one will jump out of a dark alley and say, “Hey! Come to my church. What we teach is wrong!” No false prophet calls himself “false.” What makes a prophet “false” is that his preaching and teaching will contradict what God says in the Bible. You will hear Pastors tell you, “Do not baptize infants,” even though Jesus commands, “Go, baptize all nations”— that is, all the people in the world (Matthew 28:19). You will hear Sunday School teachers say, “Mary is not a virgin.” Yet, God makes it so clear, in the Bible: “Jesus is born of a virgin; he is without sin” (Matthew 1:23; 3:17). A couple weeks ago, a very prominent religious leader (whom millions follow) said, “Even an atheist [one who believes God does not exist] will go to heaven if he is a good man” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-pope-francis-comforted-a-boy-who-wondered-if-his-dad-a-non-believer-was-in-heaven_us_5ad5f549e4b016a07ea0afac). This religious leader contradicted Jesus’ clear teaching: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
False prophets look religious. They preach in churches with crosses in them. False prophets open the Bible and speak random passages to cover up their error. False prophets may be sincere, but still spread lies about what God says. When it comes to your heart consumes, Test What You Believe because Many false messages exist.
The trouble is, we are not always so careful about what our hearts consume, are we? The devil does such a tremendous job at convincing us to believe that it doesn’t really matter if you believe the whole Bible. “Just believe the ‘big’ things,” he says.
If you wish to think that your baptism is meaningless, then you are free to disregard God’s teachings on baptism. If you do not think Mary is a virgin, then don’t. If you want to believe that all people go to heaven, then believe it. “Believe whatever you want,” the devil whispers. “It does not matter.”
Yet, it does matter what you believe. No, not because I (as Pastor) say it does. False teaching is dangerous because it puts you against God. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. Did you catch that? If you want to follow teachings not found in Scripture, then you will follow the spirit of the antichrist… which is just as it sounds: a person who “stands against” Christ. You will either stand with God or you will stand against him. If you choose to stand against God, then you will hear the most horrific words ever imagined: “I don’t know you. Away from me” (Matthew 7:21-23). If you fill up on spiritual junk food, you will die.
That is why God stresses: Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, make sure you stand on the side of God.
You can because God has given you his Word, the Bible. Do you realize, that God has written down his very thoughts and his very words and his very actions so that you may hear and read and believe? Do you realize that God has made sure that what was first written in the Bible some 3,500 years ago are still same words you have today? God has handed you the Bible so that these words may fill your heart and give you life!
These Words contain the events Jesus endures to bring you to his side. The Son of God is born of a virgin, born sinless— just like God promised. While he lived on earth, Jesus did not chase after teachings that felt good or sounded pleasant. Rather, Jesus keeps repeating the same teachings of God even when Jewish leaders reject it. Jesus will not change his teachings even when he dies on the cross because of it. Jesus never changes God’s Word because it gives life.
You see, Jesus suffers all this to bring you to stand on the side of God. (1) He lets God punish him instead of you (and me) for the times we tolerate false teaching. (2) He rises from the dead to show he never warped the Word of God. (3) Then, he tells you, You, dear children, are from God.
The Word of God gives life. Jesus has grafted you into himself at your baptism. He strengthens that bond in the Lord’s Supper. You, dear children, are from God and you stand on the side of God.
Just think about that! You stand on the side of God. If you stand on the side of God, then it means you have overcome all enemies of God! Yes, false prophets will remain in the world. Christian leaders will pressure you to change your beliefs on sex and marriage. Sunday School teachers may try to tell you that all people will go to heaven regardless of what they believe. Some Pastors will remove parts of the Bible that sound offensive so that churches get bigger, so that they attract more children, so that they can tug on people’s emotions. You may feel as though your congregation is failing! That you must change your beliefs in order to succeed in today’s world. Yet, God still says, [T]he one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
That means you must continue Testing What You Believe. You stand on the side of God. The devil knows this and he will spend night and day to destroy your faith. He will try to convince you that children’s programs and the number of kids in church is more important than what the Pastor teaches. He will try to convince that the more people in church, the better that church is. He will tell you that you can make an oath to join any organization that honors any Supreme Being. That Supreme Being might not be your Triune God, but all members may pool their beliefs together.
Since the devil wages constant war on you, Test What You Believe and stand on the side of God. If a Pastor teaches that every religion teaches the same thing, then leave that Pastor; he is preaching falsely. If a teacher tells you the Bible has some mistakes in it, then stop listening to that teacher; he is preaching falsely. If your heart makes up beliefs that contradict God’s plan for marriage and divorce, then change your heart. If you realize a group you belong to makes you compromise your beliefs by swearing to an unknown God, then leave that group. Pumping your heart full of spiritual junk food is not worth spiritual death. Test What You Believe; feast on God’s unchanging Word and stand on the side of God.
You must watch what you consume because what you consume can kill you. That was Morgan Spurlock’s wake up call. If he continued his McDonald’s diet, he would die. Change his diet and live.
So, what makes up your spiritual diet? Are you making sure that God’s pure Word enters your life? Or are you willing to change the Word so that you feel happy for today? Are you willing to pick and choose what to believe? Or do you, out of love for God, fight to keep his Word pure?
Feasting on false teaching can bring spiritual death, but Jesus brings you spiritual life. The Holy Spirit used God’s Word to bring you to faith. That faith has grafted you to Christ the Vine. Connected to Christ, you are motivated to live for him. How? Test What You Believe. Many false messages exist. So, stand on the side of God.
In November 2016 the Chinese government started testing an entirely brand new technology for their society called: A Social Credit System.
Did you hear about this? The Social Credit System uses cameras and computers to monitor and track social and financial behavior in order to assign credit ratings to citizens. Computers scour through your transit receipts (for the bus or subway), making sure you pay the appropriate fares. Cameras can pick you out of the crowd and determine if you obey civil laws. Programs filter through your internet searches to confirm that you agree with the communist state. All this information is collected and stored in an enormous database; a file is put together on you. Then, based on your behavior you are assigned a credit score. That credit score either allows you access to certain services or it may blacklist you from certain services.
This system has been in place in Beijing for two years already. You’re starting to see the results. A Chinese businessman is actually prohibited from purchasing train tickets because he lost a lawsuit against a landlord. A mother got caught using her son’s student discount-card for a subway ticket and the government publicly shamed her by plastering her face (and crime) on television screens hanging throughout the city. If you jaywalk, you may not be able to take out a personal loan. If you have more than one child, you may be banned from sending your child to private school. If you do not pay parking meters, you may not be allowed to check-in at a luxury hotel. Those who behave well are put on a “red list” and have quicker access to government services. (For example, if you were a good person, you could cut to the front of the line at the Secretary of State.) China hopes to monitor the entire nation by 2020. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-new-tool-for-social-control-a-credit-rating-for-everything-1480351590) This system forces obedience driven by fear. Obey the law and good things happen. Break the law and consequences follow.
Could you imagine living under a system that forces obedience? (Be good, or else!) I think you could and you do— because your heart (and mine) often struggle to properly love God. It can feel that you must live a certain way in order to be a Christian. Be good, and you can be sure you’re saved. Act bad and, well, you might not really be a Christian.
God busts through the faulty imaginations of your heart and teaches you the proper motivation for life. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation. He gives you the Spirit to serve.
Today we’re talking about: “sanctification.” Now, I understand that can be a challenging word, but it’s a word the Bible uses (for example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3). [The word:] “Sanctify” means “to make holy” or “to be holy.” To be without sin. To be pure, innocent, blameless in the sight of God.
When you look at yourself and examine your life, you realize that “holy” is probably the last word you would use to describe yourself. But you are “holy.” You are without sin in the sight of God. How? Because of Jesus.
You see, the sacrifice made on the cross paid your spiritual debt against God. It is gone, removed, paid in full— and you did not have to work for it. This precious gift of forgiveness becomes yours by faith. Faith— that is, trusting in Jesus as Savior. He rescued you, you did not rescue yourself. He removes guilt; it’s not up to you to feel better. The Holy Spirit uses the waters of baptism to wash you clean before God (1 Corinthians 6:11). God the Son removes sin. God the Holy Spirit puts Jesus’ perfect life on you. God the Father declares you “holy.” And that is what you are. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27; see also 1 Peter 2:9-10).
It remains important to remember that order. Jesus dies to wash you clean; he rises to call you clean. Now you live a holy life. Christian Living Starts with God.
What happens when you flip that order? What happens if you think Christian living starts with you? You begin acting as though God set up his own Social Credit System.
The thinking goes like this: In order to be a Christian you must act like a Christian. So, go to church. Be kind. Help the poor. Be patient. Do not drink. Support mission work. Be a better spouse. Do not curse. Encourage your children. Read your Bible. Give a percentage of your income as an offering. Do not dance. Wear certain clothing. Eat the right foods. Pray the right prayers. Choose to accept Christ into your heart. Obey this. Stay away from that. Be better. Be a Christian.
Do you see where the motivation for Christian living comes? From guilt! From fear! From pride! You obey in order to avoid punishment and receive a reward. You obey in order to be saved. You find comfort for heaven by the way you live. If you please God with your life, then God will reward you. If you do not please God with your life, then you must work off your crimes against him. If you study that closely, you soon discover that believe you saved yourself. (1) You have heaven because you pleased God. (2) You have heaven because you made the right decision. And both of that thinking rejects the need for a Savior— because you did all the work.
The disciple John stresses: Christian Living Starts with God. You cannot examine the way you live and find the assurance that you are saved. You will constantly wonder if it is enough.
Christian living comes as a result of what God has done for you. You live as a Christian because God frees your heart from condemnation.
[This is] how we will set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. When your heart condemns you, when you feel that Christian living is a way to convince yourself that you are saved, look to Jesus. Christ died for you Christ chose to die, not asking that you repay him. He carried your sins. He suffered your punishment. [He] was made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is the saving work of Christ that makes you a Christian. He frees your heart from condemnation.
So, when Christian living feels more of a “must” than a “want to,” reset your focus. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation and He gives you the Spirit to serve.
You live a Christian life because the Holy Spirit lives in you. John writes: Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. Notice, you did not choose to please God and God rewarded you with faith. You did not behave like a good person and so now God loves you. God gave you the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit living in you gives you peace and freedom. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us… that is, your heart does not condemn you. It finds rest in the Son of God who takes guilt and buries it into the depths of the sea. [W]e have confidence before God. You can point to the cross and say, “But Jesus died! And he died for me!” You can point to the baptismal font and say, “But God forgives! Baptism brings the Holy Spirit into my life. That’s God’s promise; that is what happened!” (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5) You can kneel at the altar and hear those precious words: “Take eat, take drink this is Jesus given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins” (Matthew 26:26-29). You may be certain that you are holy before God because God himself plainly calls you “holy” and points you to his sacraments which made you holy.
God gives you the Holy Spirit so that you are equipped to serve. If you are set free from fear and guilt, you will live as one without fear or guilt. That happens naturally. You do not have to make a conscious effort to be a better person. As you set your attention on the Word and the sacraments, you will grow in appreciation for what God has done for you. Naturally, you will show your appreciation to God by serving others.
That’s why John can say: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ… which, you already do and to love one another as he commanded us. You love one another with more than just words or tongue, you love with actions and in truth.
God at work in you produces fruits through you. Some of your fruits are seen. The care God has for you moves you to care for others. So, you write cards. You visit the homebound. You grow concerned when someone is sick. You encourage your son or daughter when they have not been to worship for a while. You donate to food-drives and shelters. You volunteer at hospitals and soup kitchens. You babysit your [great]grandchildren so that parents may work. You are not trying to prove that you really a Christian. You already are! You are connected to Jesus the Vine! The natural result is to do what branches connected to the Vine do: Produce fruit (John 15:1-8). Touched by God’s love, you reflect that love.
Continue loving with more than just words or tongue; love with actions and in truth. That means, when your congregation highlights a tight budget, do more than just say, “Oh, someone should give more.” Consider in your heart if you might be that person; if you—along with others—can adjust your offerings to meet the need of carrying out God’s work. That means, when you see someone struggling with a child or with physical need, do more than just say, “Oh, that kid needs to quiet up!” or “Ah, she’s complaining again.” Consider if you are able to help handle an upset child or if you can be the answer to someone’s challenge. Again, the reason you would even consider this in the first place is because Christian Living Starts with God. He gives you the Holy Spirit, who motivates you to serve others.
See the order? Sanctification— the way you live as a Christian— only comes after Jesus frees your heart from condemnation. Since you are free from condemnation, you do not have to live as though God has set up a Social Credit System— where God expects good behavior or else suffer the consequences. Rather, God first sets you free from condemnation and then gives you the Spirit to serve.
Remember why you live a Christian life. It’s nothing you owe to God. Rather, it is who God made you to be. Connected to the Vine, you produce the results of being connected to the Vine. You touched by God’s love touch others with God’s love.
That is the motivation for life. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation. He gives you the Spirit to serve.
You keep coming back! …Every week! Even after hearing the things you hear and saying the things you do! You’re here!
I mean, how does our worship service begin? After our opening hymn, you stand up and the first thing out of your mouth is… “God, I confess that I am by nature sinful... God, I disobeyed you. I chose to do wrong and ignored the right. I deserve your wrath, your anger; God, I deserve to go to hell.” What a way to build self-esteem, right? An admission of guilt?
Then there’s the sermon. Each sermon takes a Bible-reading, explains cultural traditions and simplifies Jesus’ teachings; it takes the core truth taught and compares your life to it. You hear applications to your life, reminding you that you are not as perfect as you might think you are. Wow! Who wants to hear that? Isn’t “church” a place to learn how to live a happier Christian life? That we stop talking about the gospel and actually live it?
Now, we could stopping talking about “sin” and “evil” and “bad.” We could just start service with: “Yes, you aren’t perfect, but that’s ok! No one’s perfect here. Just forget about the bad things you do. Know that Jesus loves you!” We could sing something upbeat to get our hearts pumping, our minds excited, and our emotions raging. We could do all those things, but we still zero in on this issue of “sin.” Why?
Well, for the same reason Jesus does.
In our reading, you watch Jesus arrive in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. This once-a-year festival reminds believers that God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This rescue also pointed forward to a spiritual rescue. God would send a Savior to lead people out of spiritual slavery and into the freedom from sin’s deadly consequences (Exodus 12).
When Jesus steps into the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
Now, a few things first. The temple breaks down into two major parts: (1) the temple itself and (2) the courtyard of the Gentiles. Only Jews could enter the temple building, offer their sacrifice and worship. Some Gentiles [non-Jews] also trusted in Jesus as Savior. They worshipped in the courtyard surrounding the temple.
Passover worshippers are pouring into Jerusalem. Some travel long distances. Instead of dragging your sacrificial sheep across the desert road, you could purchase your appropriate sacrifice in Jerusalem (see Deuteronomy 14:24-26). In addition to the sacrifice, God required paying a temple tax (Exodus 30:12). Since many worshippers lived in the Roman Empire, they had Roman coins. Pressed into those coins is the image of the emperor—an emperor who claimed to be god. Such an arrogant boast stole glory from God. So, those entering the temple would exchange their Roman coins for Jewish coins. Then they could pay the required temple tax.
You see, selling animals and exchanging money was not wrong. Yet, there’s two things wrong about the actions taking place here. (1) Where this business is conducted. Normally, you bought animals and exchanged money outside the Gentile courtyard. Now, someone brought this business into the place where Gentiles worship! Imagine someone bringing the barn into your church. As you pray, a cow bumps into you. You lift your eyes up to heaven in prayer and cannot help but notice a sheep pooping just a few feet away from you. The lemony-pine smell of your incense blends in with the swampy stench of sweaty cattle. You try to meditate, but someone shouts: “Exchange your money here! Low transaction fees!” What could possibly move someone to bring business inside a church?
Well, that leads to the second issue: (2) The motivation behind this business. Money took precedence over the worship of God. Instead of assisting people in their worship, the Passover became a convenient tool to make money.
No wonder Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Here’s the point: God is serious about all of his Word. The Jews felt that because they had the temple, the sacrifices, the Word, they had the freedom to behave however they desired. They put their trust in what they had, not why they had it; they rejected the need to change their hearts.
Do you see why we still address sin? Jesus demands your heart. And yes, I know, you are a Christian; the Holy Spirit already lives in your heart by faith (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Yet, worldly filth can clutter it up. Greed. Pride. Arrogance. The stubbornness to refuse admitting that you are wrong. That your lifestyle actually does not match up to God’s commandments. That your cursing and swearing should not be. That your thoughts need to change. Your heart can get filled up with all this filth.
If this spiritual filth remains there, then, like these Passover-marketers, you find no reason for Jesus. If you do not think you have sinned, then you do not need someone to remove that sin. When, by chance, you need spiritual certainty, you begin placing your trust in something other than the Savior. You point at your church membership: “All is well because I completed [Adult] catechism class. I never worshipped, but I completed the steps.” You point at your family history: “My great-grandfather built this church. I may not include God in my life, but I want him included at my funeral.” You point at your service: “I planted the flowers. Grandma cooked the dinners. We gave a big offering. I always lent a hand. Yes, I may have created every excuse to stay out of worship, but how dare you question what I believe!” Do you see what happens? If you forbid God’s Word to cut into your heart, you will simply whip at Jesus to leave. You, like those Passover-businessmen, will believe God’s Word does not apply to you.
For many, the most shocking thing about this account is Jesus’ demonstration of anger. Does he lose control? Is he being too mean? Does he sin? Focus on something far more shocking than that: Jesus stays in the temple.
I mean, do you recognize Jesus could have done nothing? He could have left greed destroy the moneychangers. He could have watched people buy an animal in order to simply fulfill a ritual; go through the empty motions of meeting God’s demand. Jesus could have just left the temple. He could have left those hearts so polluted with worthless filth that would only lead to destroy— but he does not.
Jesus does not sin here. Zeal for [God’s] house consume[s him]. Jesus’ anger reveals just how much he hates sin. He does not overlook wickedness, he deals with it. So, he cleanses the temple from becoming a house of greed. More than that, he cleanses the temple of the heart.
In case you think I am overstating things here, just look at how seriously Jesus treats the Passover. He, the Son of God— the Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and End— celebrates the Passover. He has to; he is born to keep God’s law (Galatians 4:4). As a boy, he and his parents went to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival (Luke 2:41). You watch him celebrate the Passover in this reading. Then on the night he is betrayed, Jesus again celebrates the Passover.
This is not some mindless ritual; he wants to worship. He does worship with a heart full of love. More than that, Jesus holds this intense desire to meditate, learn, and speak God’s Word. The temple of Jesus’ heart is perfectly clean.
If you (and I) still think God does not care that much about our actions, then you better look at the cross. God is serious about all of his Word. He is serious about his commands. He is serious about punishing the law-breakers and those who scoff at sin. God remains so serious about all of his Word that he punishes Jesus.
Jewish leaders succeed in destroying the temple of his body. After all, they rejected Jesus as Savior; they had no use to worship him. So, they got rid of him. And for three days his body lay under a heap of rock. Then, three days later, just as Jesus promised, God rebuilds his temple. Jesus rises from the dead! He preaches forgiveness to sin-burdened hearts. He ascends into heaven to rule a spiritual kingdom. He rules now, using his Word to rule your heart.
Yes, that same Word God has placed into your life. As you remain in the Word of God, zeal for God’s house starts to consume you. It does in three ways.
(1) You hold this sincere, intense desire to grow closer to God. You make it a priority to worship. Sunday mornings are not an empty-minded ritual; this is not something you do for the sake of doing. Sunday mornings, much like the Old Testament Passover, focuses your attention on a God who delivered you from sin’s damning effects. Sunday mornings are a chance for you to be reminded that Jesus (and only Jesus) has cleaned your heart from all moral filth.
So, you can leave here happy; you can leave in peace. God, in Jesus, forgives you! You are set free from obeying the Ten Commandments in order to earn eternal life. You have been released from hell, free of charge! With happy hearts you serve God. How? By shaping your thoughts, words, and actions to the Ten Commandments. You live to serve God not because you must, but out of thankful love for him.
Zeal consumes you, meaning, (2) you want to pay attention to what God teaches. Yes, we start service with an admission of guilt. You hear about “sin”—not because I hope to make you feel bad and little about yourself. Not because we love dwelling on the past. Rather, because the moral filth that still plagues us will start whipping at Jesus to leave.
So, you listen to Jesus. You compare your behavior to his Word. God uses the Bible to strengthen you to whip out sinful habits. He points at your baptism, reminding you how the Holy Spirit now lives in you and equips you for a life of service. In the Lord’s Supper, your trust in Jesus as Savior grows so that you may remain in the one true faith until you see Jesus in heaven.
Finally, your intense love for God moves you to (3) promote the need for worship. Chances are, you will not walk past cattle-sellers and moneychangers on your way out today. You probably will not ask a moneychanger to respect God’s house a little more. But, you will come across those who downplay the importance of worship. You may have a child who has not worshipped for years, but sighs with contentment: I’ve been baptized and confirmed. My name’s still in the book. That’s what God wants.” You may have a friend who thinks that simply by joining a church, God is now happy with him. You may hear someone say: “I believe in God, but I don’t need to worship.”
Your zeal for God moves you to address these mistaken ideas. You do not need to flip over tables and chase out animals. Yet, flip false ideas on their head. Chase out excuses. Remind everyone how Jesus has set you free so that you can worship him.
That’s what keeps you coming back. No, not stopping all talk about “sin” and “evil” and “bad.” Not by starting service with: “Yes, you aren’t perfect, but that’s ok! No one’s perfect here. Just forget about the bad things you do. Know that Jesus loves you!” Not by manipulating our emotions. What keeps you coming back is zeroing in on this issue of “sin.” Jesus cleanses the temple of your heart. By his Word, by baptism and Holy Communion, he lives in your heart. With him living in your heart, you have the peace of spiritual freedom. You have the joy to serve him now all the days of your life.
Fear gripped him. He stood still, absolutely paralyzed. The long, dark alley stretched on in front of him for what seemed like miles. But this was his only way home; he had to walk through it, and it was terrifying. Dumpsters hid danger in its shadows. Suspicious people lingered in the distance, eyes locked onto his next move. The alley blocked out public visibility; he would walk by himself; no one would know if he fell into danger. Fear gripped him. He stood still, absolutely paralyzed because he did not know if he would make safely home.
Just as he lifted his foot to take his first step forward, a security guard popped out from a side-door. Can you imagine how he felt? That security guard walked in front of him. Shiny, golden badge glistening on his chest, a badge trumpeting his authority to everyone. Walkie-talkie clipped to his shoulder, ready to call in additional help. Taser on one hip; mace and baton strapped to the other. That sight, oh, that sight melted away his every fear. He felt safe. Even though this security guard marched before him, danger did not automatically disappear. People did not instantly grow warm and friendly. The sight of that security guard and the knowledge of what he is capable of doing fills this man with comfort. With security guard marching before him, he also marched through this dark, dangerous alley confident that he would reach his goal.
Can you relate to that kind of feeling? Troubles can absolutely seize you with fear. You don’t know where to find the answers for cancer. Your heart cries out when yet another responsibility is heaped on you. You feel so hopelessly crushed and burdened when another hope fizzles out. It can feel like you stand at the opening of this long, dark valley of the shadow of death and no one is there to lead you through its awful dangers.
That is why God includes this Transfiguration account in the pages of Scripture. Look with the eyes of faith and watch someone completely capable of handling any danger that comes your way. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and for you to stand in comfort.
Imagine if that security guard’s identity is covered up by street clothes. You don’t see a badge, you don’t see a walkie-talkie, you don’t see a baton or taser. He pops out in front of you, but all you see is just another man who looks like you. You wouldn’t know that he really possesses the power to fight danger. You wouldn’t feel any safer. You need to see his real identity.
The disciples knew Jesus’ real identity is God. After all, they were in the boat when Jesus calmed the stormy sea and howling winds. They watched him take five loaves of bread and two small fish and transform it into a feast for thousands. They witnessed demons fly away screaming, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the mute speaking, the paralyzed walking. It led them to confess: You are the Christ! (Mark 8:29). Remember what is meant by calling Jesus: “Christ?” “Christ” means “Anointed One.” When you call Jesus: “Christ,” you are confessing that this person is more than just another man; you confess that he deserves your worship, your songs of praise; you treat him as God because he is God.
The disciples knew Jesus’ real identity is God. Yet, in just a short time, that would not be so clear. Jesus had shared some shocking news with them: the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days rise again (8:31). They will watch the Son of God, the One through whom the universe is created, trudge up Calvary’s hill, beaten, bloodied, bruised, and be killed. Can you imagine what emotions would grip the disciples when they see this? …the desperate fear? …the absolute confusion? …the paralyzing questions of what to do next? Their Jesus would not look so powerful. He would look quite power-less. He would look defeated.
So, After six days… (six days after telling the disciples what must happen) Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. Which is what they need, right? To be alone with Jesus when life’s gut-wrenching troubles weigh heavily on the mind. So, they leave behind the sights of religious leaders scheming against Jesus. They stop thinking about the intimidation of Roman soldiers. They block out the Jewish crowds who misunderstand the purpose of Jesus’ life— they leave it all behind. They stop ministering to those in need, to those who are sick, to those who cry out for help for just a moment and they go to be with Jesus alone.
That’s something we need— not just some times, but all the time. To leave behind the constant anxiety that comes from cancer. To shut off our frustration of watching a society run astray. To stop fretting about personal struggles for just a moment and to spend time alone with Jesus. Why? So that you can see Jesus’ glory.
Up on that mountain, [Jesus] was transfigured before them. Transfigured means Jesus’ appearance changed (or transformed). His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. Jesus is not reflecting light; he radiates light just like the sun shines light. In fact, looking at this transfigured Jesus is like looking directly into the sun. On this mountain Jesus reveals a glimpse of the glory he possesses as God. It’s as though he removes a veil just a little bit so that you can see that he is God.
What a sight! Look at this Mount of Transfiguration and remain focused on who your Jesus truly is. Because the devil will twist your (and my) troubles to darken this scene. He wants you to see Jesus as beaten down by life, bloodied by men stronger than him, and killed without a fight. The devil holds up the picture of Calvary in front of our eyes hoping to convince us that this is the real Jesus: powerless, defeated, crushed.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, the devil often succeeds, doesn’t he? He succeeds in getting us to fall into despair and to feel that Jesus has no power to help.
The doctor walks in with a cancer diagnosis. You may be the one who has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. You may be the one who has to sit beside your beloved spouse (or friend). You know the body will get tired and grow weak. Not to mention, there’s always the lingering fear that treatments will not help. It gets scary because this is something so out of your control— and it may feel that you have nowhere to turn for solid strength.
Life changes— and it gets stressful. The hobbies you once did, you can no longer do. Time heaps new responsibilities on you: a new job with a new schedule and the need for money, the ever-changing needs of children, your ailing spouse, your parents who rely on you. The stress from these responsibilities can just press you down.
Or you realize a habit is growing into something worse. Self-control is slipping through your fingers. You’re losing control over the thoughts in your head. Your incessant fretting over politics is consuming you. It feels as though no one is able to reach down and bring you out of this darkness and into safety. It can feel like you are all alone, walking through this valley of the shadow of death, hopelessly drifting from day to day.
That is why Jesus Reveals His Glory. He’s like that security guard who pops out a side-door and instantly fills you with peace. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see.
Did you notice that? Listen again. After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. Before them! Before Peter, James, and John! Jesus does not hike up the mountain alone, stand in a little nook, shine his glory as God, speak with Moses and Elijah in secret, come back down the mountain and act as though nothing happened. He brings Peter, James, and John to this very special mountain so that they can see with their eyes that Jesus is God— their God.
Yes, for a brief time Jesus’ glory will be hidden. He marches up Calvary carrying sin on his back. Nails hold him to the cross. He hangs under God’s angry frown. He will look so powerless. Yet, he is actually powerfully crushing the head of the devil. The devil wants us to believe that God does not love us. He wants us to believe that the presence of trouble and the feeling of fear means God does not care. Yet, Jesus destroys those lies by living and dying for us.
Then, Easter Sunday, that glory radiates from the empty tomb! Jesus has won! He has conquered Satan! He has opened heaven for you and me! Jesus Reveals His Glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to show us that God deals with our sins. Jesus Reveals His Glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to show us the full glory he has now and the resurrected and living Savior!
Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and know beyond any doubt he is God. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see so that you may stand in comfort.
As the disciples stand around Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” If we forget Jesus’ identity, then listen to God the Father. If there’s any worry that Jesus has limitations, then listen to God the Father. If you do not know where to turn in trouble, if you feel alone and abandoned, if you feel hopeless, then listen to God the Father say This is my Son.
More than that, Jesus is my beloved one. Not just God’s friend. Not someone God just has sincere feelings for. God himself says that he gives you his very best. Jesus is not leftovers or unwanted. He is loved— and the Father sends you his most loved treasure to make sure that you can be forever connected to him.
Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to stand in comfort. As you watch this Transfiguration scene, you realize you have a place to turn in times of trouble.
The devil will still try to block out Jesus’ power. He will whisper: “Sickness proves God does not love you.” Don’t listen to the lies. Listen to Jesus who comes to earth because he loves you. He dies for you. He promises eternal life to you. This is evidence of his love. The devil will push: “You’re all alone to make life-choices.” Don’t listen to the lie. Listen to Jesus who speaks unchanging promises in the Bible. The devil will question: “Why follow him? Look how tough life is!” Don’t listen to the lie. Remember this: Jesus suffered too. He suffers for sins he did not commit. In fact, he could have ran away from paying for our sins. Instead, he listens to the Word of God. He listens to the Word even though the Word of God leads him to the cross. Yet, because he holds to the Word of God he wins heaven. You (and I) continue holding to the promises of God even though life appears dark. We hold to this Word because we too will rise in glory.
Troubles can absolutely seize you with fear. You don’t know where to find the answers for cancer. Your heart cries out when yet another responsibility is heaped on you. You feel so hopelessly crushed and burdened when another hope fizzles out. It can feel like you stand at the opening of this long, dark valley of the shadow of death and no one is there to lead you through its awful dangers.
So, Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see. For you to see his power as God. The sight of Jesus with you and the knowledge of what he is capable of doing fills you with comfort. Just like a security guard marching before you, so you (and I) can march through life confident that we will reach our heavenly goal.
That is why God includes this Transfiguration account in the pages of Scripture. Look with the eyes of faith and watch someone completely capable of handling any danger that comes your way. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and for you to stand in comfort.