Did you know your hairdryer can help break in new leather shoes? Your microwave has the capability of fusing glass, measuring the speed of light, and squeezing the remaining juice from fruits. Your smartphone can read things out loud to you, like how many people are in your picture or the number of emails you receive. It can also take your words, put them into print, and send a message. …And if you don’t have a smartphone, any cellphone can unlock a car that uses a key-fob. Those are only a few additional things hairdryers, microwaves, and cell phones can do.
When we get new toys, excitement pounds the body. We use that toy right away—sometimes without reading the instructions or studying all of its capabilities. And it works great! You dry your hair. You cook food. You make calls and fire off text messages. Then, when the initial excitement wears off and you spend more time with that gadget, you discover additional features and more functions. It delights you even more.
So, let’s take a few minutes to revisit Bethlehem. Approach the manger with a curiosity that discovers all this child comes to do. Grasp those priceless joys God pours out on this most holy day. God Sent His Son! A Son to live with us under law and to live with us through his redemption.
Yes! Of course! We know that already! While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son (Luke 2:6-7). Stop and ponder that for a moment. Those well-known words are not a simple retelling of the first Christmas. God puts those words down in writing so that you can see a promise kept. A promise thousands of years in the making. A promise first made to trembling Adam and Eve. A promise repeated to childless Abraham. A promise proclaimed by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi. A promise repeated to millions, many of whom shrugged it off. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son…
God did what he said he would do. He did not turn his back and forsake a world of rebels. He did something the world did not deserve, something the world did not request. God Sent His Son. Not an angel. Not another prophet. Certainly not fiery destruction. He sends the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One present before the world began and the One who stands long after time ends. God sends the only One who can change our lives. God Sent His Son.
So look again at the manger. The One lying there is God. When you see this baby, you see the face of God. When you touch this baby, you touch the perfect God. When you hold this baby, you hold Almighty God. When you listen to this child, you listen to God. When this Teacher comforts you, God comforts you. When this Teacher forgives you, God whispers forgiveness directly to you. God sent his Son, born of a woman…
True God—and at the same time, true man. Jesus is a human being— just like you and me. There’s a reason for this: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity (Hebrews 2:14). Humanity— like skin and bones and blood. A brain and eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Jesus gets hungry. He grows sleepy. He cries and mourns. He has our human needs and our human emotions.
Yet, this goes deeper still. Because Jesus has flesh and blood, he, too, is born under law. God’s law, meaning, God expects Jesus to obey every single command. Consider that. God creates his commandments, his worship laws, and a law to govern life (Exodus 20-31). Then, he chooses to live under that law. He holds himself accountable to the same demands he created.
What king does that? Kings who create laws tend to live outside of those laws. Yet, your Jesus is born in order to live with you under law. That means, Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows how difficult it is to trust God to provide food and income, and to protect health. Jesus also was tempted to make his own bread out of stones (Matthew 4:1-4). He knows the feeling to challenge God’s promises. To act in half-unbelief. The devil tells him to jump off a building because God would [supposedly] keep him safe (4:5-7). He confronts that green envy to guard wealth, to love pleasures so much you would rather give up heaven than give up your life (4:8-10). Jesus also read the Word, heard the Word, and let the Word sink into the heart, and still faced the pull to run away from it. [Jesus] been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
God Sent His Son for this reason: to live with us under the law and to obey every single article, sub-article, point, and detail. In Jesus you see perfection.
That perfect life marches to the cross. He takes your place (and mine) under God’s punishment. No, not that Jesus just no longer lives. Rather, God’s punishment is separation. Jesus is separated from the Father. God the Father turns his back on his Son and does not listen to Jesus’ cries for help. Yes, God is still present, but does not love. It would be like a prisoner locked behind bars. You throw the key down the hall and walk away. You hear the screams, but do not turn back. You ignore the tears, the sobbing, the crying. You walk away, leaving that criminal to fend for his own life. This is hell. To live forever without God’s love. This is what you and I deserve; to live forever without God’s love— and Jesus suffers so that you (and I) never will.
God Sent His Son to live with us under the law so that he may live with us through his redemption. Redemption. To ‘redeem’ means to ‘buy back.’ That’s what grocery stores do. A grocery store sends a coupon for $.50 off some groceries. Bring it to the store, hand it to the clerk, and she will give you $.50 to get the coupon back. We are conceived in sin, and born dead in sin (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1). Sin binds us to hell. The only way out of hell is perfection; the only offer God accepts is holiness. We have nothing to offer that God wants, but Jesus does. He walks into heaven, stands before the throne of his Father, and hands him his perfect life. The Father takes that perfect life and he releases us from hell. You (and I) are free. You (and I) are redeemed, ‘bought back’ to Jesus.
God Sent His Son to redeem those under law. That is your status now: free! Yes, guilt flares up. Shame might plague you. Frustration swells over poor choices. Yet, nothing will bind you to eternal misery. When Jesus died, his blood unlocked our chains. When Jesus rose, hell’s gates were thrown open and we ran out and up!
This is the reality!— and this is what makes Christmas so grand! God Sent His Son to live with us through his redemption. Jesus does not free us so that we can simply live for no reason, no purpose. You are not set free like animals released into the wild, aimlessly searching for family or home, for purpose. Rather, the shackles of slavery are removed so we can live under God’s care.
God sent his Son… that we might receive the full rights of sons. That is what you have, the “full rights of sons.” That includes you, ladies; God hands you what the firstborn son received. In the past, the son inherited the father’s wealth when the father died. All of it. He became the boss of the family business. He cared for the household. He managed the wealth. He receives the full rights to do and manage as he pleases. Nothing was divided. Nothing was split. Nothing was limited. He owns everything. When God says, we might receive the full rights of sons, he makes clear that nothing of his is off limits.
That means, you are God’s son now. You have changed from ‘sinner’ to ‘saint!’ You can approach God for any need, with any concern, for any reason at any time just like you approach your earthly father. God listens because he sees you as belonging to him.
He gives you heaven—and nothing is off-limits there. You can enter his throne room. You will not have to make reservations to see God. You will not need to pull a number and stand in line. You will not have ranks in heaven— where the rich live by the golden sea or the strong-in-faith live in luxury mansions and you live in the barracks. You are all sons of God. Regardless of your past, regardless of your time as a Christian, regardless of how much Bible you remember, you all have full access to God’s heaven— live in the same place, see the same God, and will enjoy all things.
If you are sons, then it means the father has graciously lavished this gift on you. You do not need to fabricate reasons all is well between you and God. Rather, the you can point to the manger and live confident. God Sent His Son to live with us through redemption.
When we get new toys, excitement pounds the body. We use that toy right away—sometimes without reading the instructions or studying all of its capabilities. And it works great—but so much joy is overlooked without studying that object more. Hairdryers, microwaves, and phones have so much potential when you take the time to study their uses a little closer.
Christmas becomes dull and repetitive when we rush over the Christ in the manger. Approach the manger with curiosity and discover a child who lives with us under law. Any pressure to undo the past, any despair flies away when you grasp how Jesus lived in your place. Then, he brought us to himself—without our actions or asking! Look to the manger and grasp those priceless joys God pours out on this most holy day. God Sent His Son! A Son to live with us under law and to live with us through his redemption.
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.
Do you think Christmas is coming this year? Yes? How do you know? After all, today is not Christmas. So, how can you be sure that Christmas is really coming? Ah, the snow on the ground announces the arrival of the winter season, and Christmas falls in the winter season. The wall calendar hangs open to December, and you can now see the number ‘25’ approaching. Stores roll out Christmas trees and wreaths, ornaments and lights, candy and cards. Shoppers scour stores and websites for presents. Snowflakes and wreaths twinkle on light poles down Main Street. You might have a Christmas tree at home— maybe with presents already tucked under it. So, can you be sure Christmas is coming? Yes! Because various signs signal its arrival.
Signs reveal a promise reaching completion. The signs of Christmas lead to Christmas Day. God plants signs in the sky, on earth, and in life to signal an very important arrival: Christ is coming! Each sign invites you to Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. That promise of Jesus’ arrival has been unfolding for centuries. You now stand closer to the completion of that promise.
The Righteous Branch has come. Soon, The Righteous Branch brings justice.
When God makes a promise, he keeps it. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. [H]e speaks and then act[s]. [H]e promises and [then] fulfills (Numbers 23:19).
God had made a promise to Abraham. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3). That ‘blessing’ promised is Jesus. People will benefit from Jesus. Yet, Abraham’s son is not the Savior. Instead, the promise passes from generation to generation. From Abraham to his son, Isaac. From Isaac, to his son, Jacob. From Jacob, to his son, Judah— and so on.
Soon, Abraham’s descendants blossom into a nation and God repeats his promise: If you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways [then] the Lord will establish you as his holy people (Deuteronomy 28:9). That is the purpose for God’s Old Testament worship laws, diet regulations, and Ten Commandments. These commands keep the nation close to him; they prevent the people from wandering into unbelief. Quite simply, God sets apart Israel as different from every other nation on earth. No, not because Israel possesses some superior trait. Rather, God sets them apart because they carry the line of Jesus. All the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you (28:10).
God’s promise continues. If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees […then] the Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth… (28:15, 49, 52).
Fast forward 600 years. Far-away-nation-Babylon camps outside the city walls. Siege towers choke off food, supplies, and water. Leaders scramble for alliances. Judah is dismantling the royal palace to refortify the walls (33:4). The nation’s on the brink of total collapse. Wouldn’t you think someone could just connect the signs? Obey God and he remains with you. Disobey and he withdraws. Signs of destruction trumpet to Israel: “You have broken God’s commands. Your God is coming against you in judgment!” And no one cares.
Do you know why? Because they have heard this all before. God had sent streams of prophets who trumpeted “Destruction!” and “Captivity!”— but it never came. After a while, they went “promise-blind” — kind of like “nose-blind.” You know, like when your nose gets used to the smells of your house that you no longer notice them? You light a new candle and it smells great, but after a while you no longer notice it. You’re used to the smell. You have gone “nose-blind.” Judah mistook God’s patience for complacency.
Is it any different for us? You know the signs that signal Jesus’ return. Wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, false teachers, increase of wickedness, love growing cold (Matthew 24:4-14). You heard them repeated last week. They were read a year ago and the year before that. For some of you, you have heard these signs for decades, maybe your entire life! You turn on the news and watch these events unfold, but Jesus is not here. You begin wondering: “Is he really going to return?”
Little-by-little, the heart can go ‘promise-blind.’ Hear these words enough and soon you no longer think God is serious about his judgment. That is seen in our thoughts— thinking we will always have another day to finally make God a priority in life. That is seen in our behavior— that we can live without marriage, that an addiction never harms us, that we can thump our proud chests. That there will always be another day, a better opportunity, a greater convenience to confront sin. Thinking (and acting) as though God is not serious about his promise to return really calls God a liar. It does not believe today will be the day Jesus returns. It considers God’s patience as complacency.
God keeps his promise. Look at Judah. Destruction sweeps over them. Their walls crumble. Their buildings burn. Some die. Some are captured. Others live in the ruins. A nation promised Jesus appears to have lost everything. Abraham’s once-thriving family tree is cut down to nothing more that stump. Dead. Done. Without any chance to return.
Then God points us back to his unbreakable Word: ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah… Understand, ‘the days’ God mentions are ‘the days’ that come in the future. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.’
On the right day and at the right time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under God’s law, so that he might redeem, that is, ‘buy us back,’ from the consequences of God’s law (Galatians 4:4). The seemingly dead, dry, lifeless stump of Judah re-sprouts. Abraham’s family tree stretches all the way to King David. King David has a son. His son has a son, and his son a son, and his son a son— all the way to Joseph standing over the manger of Jesus.
Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. The Righteous Branch has come— just as God promised. A fulfillment like that demonstrates God is serious about all of his Word. If God kept that promise, then will he not also keep his final promise? The Righteous Branch comes to bring justice.
Jesus does what is just and right in the land. He dies. That does not seem right, does it? Do you know what would be just? What would be right? It would be ‘just’ for Jesus to abandon his followers who do fail to keep God as the priority of their trust. It would be ‘right’ for Jesus to stop spending so much time with sinners who struggle with unfaithfulness, with drunkenness, with pride, with greed. It would be ‘just’ and ‘right’ to sweep all humanity away under God’s judgment. Instead, Jesus allows judgment to sweep over him.
Jesus, the Righteous Branch, lives ‘just.’ He obeys God’s worship laws, diet regulations, and Ten Commandments. His entire life is ‘right.’ The Father even holds Jesus up and says, “This is my Son! I am well-pleased with him!” (Matthew 17:5). And this Righteous Branch is cut down and dies. That is what rebellion against God deserves. Judgment. Punishment. Death— and Jesus, the Righteous Branch, endures all of it in your place.
The Righteous Branch brings justice— just as God promised. Look at the tomb. This place holds death, but on Easter, re-sprouts to life!
Then, God keeps another neat promise. In those days… Again, remember the timing here. Verse 15 says: “In those days I will send Jesus.” After “those days” of Jesus, come “days” after him. In those days [during the time of and after Jesus] Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which she will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.
God tells you that in the days after Jesus, you have a new name: The Lord Our Righteousness. Think about that for a moment. I think we understand God forgives us. [A]s far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). But God does not stop there! You do not stand before God merely faultless, without crime— naked, so to say. God puts righteousness on you. He looks at you and sees Jesus. And he is pleased.
“Righteous” is not the only name you have. The Bible often uses special names to describe the closeness you have with God (see Romans 9-11). God uses two special names here. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. Just like God saved Old Testament Judah from their enemies, God saves you. (1) First, you are saved through faith in Jesus as Savior. Faith trusts Jesus lifted off sin. God will not bring up your teenage regrets. He will not pull out his list of your failures as a parent. He does not demand change before you can enter heaven. Because of Jesus, you are saved— meaning, you can look forward to meeting Jesus without fear. (2) Second, this “saving” refers to Jesus’ final promise. Jesus will “save” (or, “deliver”) you from this world and into heaven.
Until that great Day, you live in safety. Jesus has already freed us from our sins with his blood (Revelation 1:5). So, the devil cannot say you are not good enough for God. Sin cannot shame you. The world cannot point out your flaws Jesus has broken any accusation, every shortcoming; he has covered your life with his! You are safe! When Christ returns, this safety will be seen with real eyes. Never again will the devil tempt or trouble us. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17).
Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. The Righteous Branch has brought justice and removed sin. If he did that, he will return and do what is just: bring you home to heaven.
Signs reveal a promise reaching completion. The signs of Christmas lead to Christmas Day. It would be quite foolish to see these Christmas-signs, and reject their announcement. You would be unprepared for Christmas Day! See the signs and prepare.
God plants signs in the sky, on earth, and in life to signal an very important arrival: Jesus is coming— just as God promised. Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. Look back and see that God kept his promise. The Righteous Branch has come. What’s left? For the Righteous Branch to come again. This time not as a little baby. Rather, as the King who brings justice. You will hear what is just: “Come” (Matthew 25:34).
In the past I have shared how my daughter, Clara, thought I would leave her. Now, she understood I prepared sermons and Bible classes in the church office. She knew I visit fellow members at their homes. Yet, when I tucked her into bed, said good-night, and shut the door, she thought I was leaving her. Tears would stream down her face. Her crying grew hysterical. She even tried to climb out of her crib just to be with me.
Just because I am not physically in the room with her does not mean that I left her. Her wellbeing is always on my mind. I make sure no intruder or fire rustles through the house. I make sure her room-temperature is set just right. The baby monitor in her bedroom allows me to hear every single noise. If she wakes up crying, I hear her. If something falls, I hear the thump. If she wakes up, I hear her talking to herself. At a moment’s notice I can still tears, calm fears, and lift her into my protecting arms.
That is something that can never be repeated enough: “I am still here. I am with you always.” Words like that provide comfort in a world racing towards its final day. Words like that instill courage even as the moral standards of society disintegrate all around you. Words like that provide assurance that your future (and the future of your [grand]children) will be fine. Christ is Our King! You live under grace and You live in peace.
The book of Revelation reveals that this has always been true. In Revelation, Jesus shows you what must soon take place (1:1). What are those things? You, the Christian, will be falsely represented. School teachers may label the Bible’s teaching on sexuality as ‘Wrong.’ Friends may laugh that you control your drinking. Family from out of town might resent you carving out time for worship during their visit. The government may redefine the Bible’s definition of ‘immoral’ and threaten you with punishment if you do not condone what is wrong. You may even die because the world hates the God you represent (2:9-10). False teaching will creep into churches. Pastors will deny the virgin birth, the resurrection, and reject Jesus as the only Way into heaven. Those churches may swell because so many devour these beliefs (2:14-16). Neighbors will call themselves Christian, but deliberately disobey God (3:14-18). These are the things that must soon take place. In fact, the next 19 chapters [of Revelation] reveal opposition to God’s Word. Droves forsake Jesus’ teachings. Remaining Christians are hunted down, tortured, and murdered. You look and the devil seems to do whatever pleases him.
Even though these troubles are coming, God still says: Grace and peace to you… Isn’t that amazing? God knows the coming terrors, he sees the approaching heartache, he knows how small and helpless you (and I) might feel and he still says: Grace to you…
Dear friends, these things that must take place may be terrifying. We do not want to experience that terror. We do not want to hear our children reject what the Bible so clearly taught them in catechism class. We do not want our [grand]children to be oppressed in the future, let alone us. We do not want government forcing its un-Christian beliefs. We don’t want these things to happen. We want comfort. We want control. We want joy. Yet, Jesus prepares us with: these things must soon take place.
That leaves us scared. We may focus more on the trouble instead of the One who remains over every trouble. We can live as though our God has abandoned us. That it is left to you to survive in this life. That you can never really be sure what the future holds.
Your God is with you. That is why he gives us these words. To him who loves us… ongoing action. When your friend turned from the Word, leaving you with tears streaming down your cheeks, God was still there. When you felt like throwing hysterical fits because government does not automatically protect religious freedom, God is still there. When we feel the future offers absolutely no hope, when we dread the future for our children, God is still there. He loves us, and has made our future full of hope.
Jesus demonstrates his love by coming down from heaven. He used his Word to comfort the helpless and diseased. He used his Word to strengthen the faith of those oppressed by self-righteous religious leaders. Jesus even clung to God’s Word when unjust judges sentenced him to death. He relied on the Word even when the cross must soon take place. He did not crumple in fear at the sight of death. Rather, he entrusted all things to his Father.
Jesus loves us by living a fear-free life. He loves us by never doubting God’s control. He loves us by freeing us from our sins by his blood. You have been set free from a fear of death in hell. You no longer live separated from God. Rather, God embraces you. You live under grace.
Grace[…] to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come [that is, God the Father], and from the seven spirits before his throne [that is, God the Holy Spirit], and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Jesus Christ… is (1) the faithful witness. Pay attention to that: is. That means, when he tells you that you have peace now, it means you have peace. Why would he lie? Where do you see him ever change his mind? The devil might poke and prod you to think differently— but remember, the devil’s a liar. Why listen to someone who tells untrue statements? Point to these words here: Jesus has freed you from your sins. Period.
Jesus Christ… is (2) the firstborn from the dead. First child born have privilege and power. When Jesus rose, he was declared to be God’s approved Son and your Savior. If he has the power to rise and free you from your sins, then you can be absolutely sure he has the authority to raise you from the dead.
Because Jesus Christ… is (3) the ruler of the kings of the earth, meaning, his Word will stand, regardless of those fight against it. As a parent, I have commands: “Eat dinner at 5:00pm. Bath at 7:30pm. Bed at 8:00pm.” My kids can think they have authority to overrule this. Good! They have their wishes, but I have the power to put mine into effect. Your Jesus has the power to put his commands into effect. No one can stop him from descending out of heaven. No one can stop him from judging the living and the dead. No one can stop him from bringing you into his heavenly kingdom!
Christ is Your King! His entire life is lived for you and your benefit. You live under grace, that is, undeserved love. You can look ahead and see what must soon take place. Troubles might surround you, but you will enter heaven. You have grace; God is on your side. As a result, you live in peace.
Jesus has made you (and me) a kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not a territory of land with armies, walls, and a government. Neither is Jesus’ kingdom heaven. Jesus’ kingdom is his rule. He rules and directs your heart with his Word. You are his kingdom.
If Christ reigns and you live under him, then it means you reign too! Imagine the Tigers winning the World Series. You’re excited, after all, it’s your team. Yet, you don’t get a championship ring. You don’t get to touch the trophy. You don’t get a champagne shower. You’re a fan who celebrates outside the main celebration. Yet, Jesus does not have you celebrate outside of heaven’s glorious celebration. You get to celebrate in his throne-room in heaven. You get to celebrate now because this is a done reality.
He has made us priests… A priest serves God and brings good news from God to people. Jesus has made you a priest. You can pray to God directly for anything at anytime. So, when life grows daunting, you may approach God directly in prayer and stand confident he hears you. Yes, out of the seven-billion people on earth, God sees you— individually— as a prized possession, just like a parent can pick their one child out of a crowd of many children.
What is real now, you will soon see with your eyes. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. This will happen. Those who have died and are still living, those buried and those cremated, those lost and those in marked graves, Jesus will raise. He will not forget or overlook anyone. That includes those who pierced him. The Jewish leadership, Roman soldiers, and Jewish rebels all thought they were erasing Jesus from the face of the earth. For some, the last time they saw Jesus was on the cross, crying and dying. What a surprise when the One who died will appear again clothed as the majestic King he is! They will mourn forever. For you, this is the day you go home (John 14:2-3).
This is not a wish, but the reality of what has been true all along. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. In English, we say that a store has everything from ‘A to Z,’ meaning that store lacks nothing. Your Jesus existed before time began and he will remain long after time ends. Which means, there is never a time he lacks power. There will never be a time when he holds no authority. Rather, he reigns forever and ever— and no one and nothing stands over him. Because of that, you live in peace.
Today is the Last Sunday of the Church [calendar] Year. Next week starts Advent. We again get to hear the prophecies of Jesus’ coming to earth, his arrival on Christmas Day, and his early ministry.
Yet, today you get to see everything Christ has done. The baby born in Bethlehem lived perfectly and died in our place. His resurrection declares we too will step out of our graves and enter heaven. We can be sure of this because of his past actions and because of his unbreakable Word.
Through all of life’s turmoil, Christ was still there, ruling, reigning, ordering, protecting, guiding, and staying you all along— just like the father always has the wellbeing of his child in mind. Christ still reigns. No matter what may come your way, nothing can silence Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing can stop his return. Nothing can stop him from hearing prayer or answering prayer. Christ is Our King!—and he always will be, both and forever! You live under grace. You live in peace.
If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven? Or, if God asked you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you tell him? (I know, those are pretty heavy questions to start with.) But I imagine most, if not all, of you have wrestled that question at one time or another. At one time you may not have known Jesus, and so you were never quite sure what happens after death. Perhaps you’re the lifelong Christian who trusts in Jesus as Savior, but you still wonder: “Is that really enough? Is that really what it takes? Only Jesus?” Maybe you toss and turn all night, reliving such humiliating shame that never goes away. And God loves you? Really? After you hurt so many? After the mess you made? Are you sure you will go to heaven?
That can be an unsettling question. Yet, think about what is really being asked. (1) You ask that question because you understand eternity is a long time. When life ends, eternity begins. You do not want to enter eternity unprepared; you do not want to go to hell. So, you wonder what it takes to enter heaven. Then (2) you want to be sure. You want a rock-solid, sure-fire, certain answer as to what will happen after you die.
Now, there are two places where you can look for answers. You can look at yourself, or we can read what God says in the Bible. Our reading from Hebrews actually deals with both objects.
Verse 11 takes us to the place where many start looking for certainty: themselves! Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices… These sacrifices go on repeatedly. Each animal slaughtered, bleeding, dying serves as a picture. That is the purpose for Old Testament sacrifice— it pointed ahead to the final, complete sacrifice Jesus makes. Yet, many failed to trace their offerings to the cross. Instead, they fixate on their actions. Go to church. Bring your offering. Give your offering. Be kind. Be a better parent. Be a better spouse. Be more patient. Demonstrate to God that you are trying your hardest to live a good life. Where you fail, show God that you are trying to change. Where you succeed, hold that up as a good work before God.
The natural reaction, isn’t it? We consider God ‘good.’ Since God is ‘good,’ we feel that God wants us to be ‘good.’ Yet, we cannot be as ‘good’ as God is. So, we change God’s standards and hope our ‘good’ is ‘good enough’ for God! Ask a stranger on the street: Are you sure you would go to heaven? Chances are, he’ll say, “Yes, I think so. I try to be good.”
Yet, there’s a problem with that thinking. All those sacrifices the priests offered, all the offerings given, all the ‘good’ instructions both priest and believer obey could never take away sins.
God cannot stress that enough. Look at all those priests [plural]! We’re talking a line of priests that stretch on for about 500 years. For thirteen generations the priest appears at the temple day after day. For thirteen generations the priest offers sacrifices day after day. No son was a better priest than his father. No great-great-grandson ministered better. Sacrifice continued because sinners committed new sin each day. Sacrifice continued because nothing we offer can erase sin or blot out guilt or remove shame. If those sacrifices removed sin, would they not have stopped being offered? (Hebrews 10:2)
Here’s the point. The question about entering heaven can be unnerving. The temptation is to look at your morality. To rely on good behavior. To lean on church habits. To trust that you are morally superior to others (like criminals or abusers). God says, “This is not (and never will be) enough.” Are you sure you will go to heaven? If you’re digging inside of yourself, you only face unending torment.
You need a better answer, and God gives you one. Compare verse 12 to verse 11. But when this priest… that’s Jesus, and he is different from the hundreds of priests that came before him! Because Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins… Every other priest offered endless sacrifices. Not just that, animal blood was not the answer to removing guilt. Jesus actually deals with sin. He offers not just one sacrifice, but the final sacrifice.
Do you get the point God is making? Jesus is better than any offering we could give God. Jesus is without sin. He never hurts his friends. He never attacks his family. He never lives a night he regrets. Instead he says, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). Jesus is perfect.
He is the sacrifice laid on the altar of the cross. God lifts off our shame, our failures, our guilt and places it squarely on the body of Jesus. Nails pierce his hands and stretch out his body. Slowly he bleeds, slowly he suffocates. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, it is not you who die for what you have done wrong, it is Jesus.
If you wonder what God does with your wrongs, then look at the cross and see the Father drape them across his Son. Jesus is the payment made for our debt.
You can be sure his death is enough. [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of God. God does not accept the imperfect into heaven, but only the perfect. When Jesus rose from the dead, he is declared “Perfect!” If declared “Perfect,” then you can be sure his payment made for your benefit is declared “Perfect” as well.
Want more proof? Since that time (the time he entered heaven) he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… Our feet walk through dust and mud and garbage. That grime is unwanted. So, we keep our feet away from people’s noses and clean hands. If someone is your footstool, then it means that individual has a status worse than stinky, grimy feet. When an ancient king conquered his enemy, he would set his foot on the enemy’s neck. That conquered foe is worse than his stinky, grimy foot. More than that, step down and he could end life. Jesus has made the devil his footstool. The devil cannot demand you join him in hell. Sin cannot demand you suffer eternal consequences. Jesus has paid sin in full for all time!
Want even more proof? Then hear what God says he has done for you. [B]y one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Pay attention to the verb: he has made perfect (or, “made complete”) These events happened in the past, but the results carry on! Jesus died (in the past) and his death still impacts you today. Jesus rose (in the past) and his resurrection still means you are forgiven today.
How much more proof is needed to say that Jesus has removed the consequences of sin? What more must be said to remove fear and trembling about eternity? Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
Today’s theme is ‘Saints Triumphant.’ Do you know who those triumphant ‘saints’ are? Believers. Christians. You. (read 1 Corinthians 1:2)
Scoffing? Laughing? Doubting? ‘Saint’? Surely not you! You still feel guilty; you remember the fresh hurt you inflicted. God must see that! Your past is one giant mess— a couple divorces, a few children who resent you, a past with drugs and booze. How can God wash that away? God must want something more from you. Certainly God doesn’t just forget sin without you working it off.
Ah! but he does! God cuts through your emotions with his Word. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” A covenant is a guarantee or contract. God makes a contract with you: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
What joy to hear that! God does not ignore sin. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Ah, no big deal.” If God tried to overlook what we did wrong, then we would always be terrified that he might dredge them up later. Instead, God deals with sin. Jesus covered over our faults with his life. God does not see sin on you. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He sees you, a saint. A holy person. He has made you holy.
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus died once. Jesus will only die once— because his one sacrifice is enough. It will never expire. It has already been accepted by the Judge of the universe! Point to Jesus. Say, “He died for me!” Since he did, stand confident of eternal life.
So, here’s two truths to take home. First, if the devil reminds you of your past, point to Jesus. Point to your baptism. [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). When you were baptized, Jesus dressed you in his perfection. You can be sure that happened because Jesus said so. This is his gift. You can be certain he does not lie or change his mind (Numbers 23:19).
Second, when Christians die, they enter heaven. That means your spouse who believed in Jesus as Savior is in heaven now. That means your child, who was baptized and clothed in Christ is in heaven. That means mom and dad, brother or sister, grandma or grandpa— every single believer are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple (Revelation 7:15). That’s not something we hope is real. That’s something we know is real because God says it is real. Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain.
The promise of eternal life never depends on you. Do you realize that? In Hebrews 10:11-18, where does God point and say, “Now do this…”? He never does, does he? Instead, through every single verse all you see is Jesus and what Jesus has done for you so that you can live certain you will enter heaven.
That’s the answer to our questions. Are you sure you will enter heaven? Yes. Be confident of that. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus ascended. Jesus will come again. If you stood before God and he asked, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” Point to Jesus and say, “You accepted his life for my benefit.”
You will never find certainty in your emotions, you will never find certainty in your behavior. That’s because God never points you there. Instead, Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. You have a unique privilege, an opportunity, to study past events, examine decisions made, and avoid falling into the same consequences by altering your decisions now. Because those who pay attention to history will not repeat the mistakes made.
That’s why God repeats three historical events throughout the entire Bible. Noah spends 120-years building the ark. God’s judgment is coming; he would wash evil from the world. So, each new day presents another opportunity for some passerby to ask Noah, “Why are you building this boat?” Instead, many continue running errands and making dinner, marrying and planning future family gatherings as though tomorrow’s sun would rise again! (Matthew 24:37-39). Lot scrambles around Sodom’s city-streets. God’s judgment was coming; he would burn evil off the face of the earth. Lot pleads with his future son-in-laws, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” (Genesis 19:14). The son-in-laws? They laugh! They mockingly imitate! They think it’s a joke!
Do you realize these events are the only ones mentioned throughout beginning to end in the Bible? They appear in Genesis. God’s Old Testament prophets mention them. Jesus refers to both. Peter uses them to discuss the end of time. God is making a point: Take his judgment seriously! Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it— and suffer the same consequences.
Where God threatens, the heart can react with this careless complacency. “You still have time. God’s not coming— yet. Don’t worry.” God shatters any faulty notions with Malachi’s pen. The Day of the LORD is Coming! The arrogant will burn away and Those who revere God will shine.
In chapter 4, verse 1, Malachi writes: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”
Malachi writes these words about 400-years before Jesus is born. Yet, he points ahead to one, single specific ‘Day:’ the day Jesus judges the living and the dead.
You see, Malachi sounds the warning. The Israelites are whining: “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements[?]” (Malachi 3:14). Nonbelievers find no reason to obey God. They drag bruised, broken, unwanted animals to God for a sacrifice. Priests tolerate a believer marrying a pagan, and then turn a blind eye when that believer starts worshipping false gods. Families are holding back their offerings. The wicked deliberately break God’s commands— and guess what? Nothing happens! The earth does not swallow the ungodly. Waters do not wash away the immoral. Fire does not spill from the heavens. God punishes no one. Even the believers notice this. [T]he evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape!” (3:15) This attitude appears: “God, we’ll keep doing what is wrong because you have not come to put an end to it.”
If we are honest with ourselves, if we dissect the motivation for our actions, we can find that same attitude lurking within. We do what is wrong because nothing bad happens. The Second Commandment forbids cursing and needless swearing, but we curse anyway because God has not cursed us. Laziness steals money from our employer, laziness robs us of time to serve others— but we defend laziness because God has not lit our feet on fire. God commands: “Honor your father and mother”— including the government and spiritual leaders (Exodus 20:12; Romans 13:1-5; Hebrews 13:17). Still, we criticize and pout, insult and ridicule simply because God has not walked through the door and stopped us.
You see, the temptation exists to disregard God’s threats. To think God is not really serious. So, God-forbidden behavior is behavior embraced for no other reason than: “God doesn’t punish me, so I’m going to continue living the way I do until God does something about it.”
Do you know what God calls that? Arrogance. That is, believing you possess incredible self-worth that you can justify your actions before God and he must agree with you. It’s arrogant to deliberately do what is wrong and then think God does not care. It’s arrogant to mistake God’s patience for indifference. It’s arrogant to think God will not send people to hell because they have rejected him.
God makes it abundantly clear: The Day of the LORD is Coming and The arrogant will burn away. Not a root or a branch will be left to them. You chop a tree down and the stump looks dead and lifeless, but roots can keep it alive. New shoots sprout. Or, you can take a branch and graft it into a new tree. Sometimes branches can grow roots; branches still have life. We can foolishly believe that there will always remain one last chance to enter heaven.
God is saying: “No. When the end comes, all those who wicked and arrogant, those who have rebelled against my Word, will be stumps. I will cut him down and he will be dead. I will take that branch and throw it into a blazing furnace. There is no more chance for life.”
The Day of the LORD is Coming. The arrogant will burn away. Just like the scoffers washed away in the flood. Just like the mockers became pillars of salt. Pay attention to these words. Take the time now to understand that God is serious about his threats. Because Those who revere God will shine.
Malachi continues in verse 2: But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
The natural reaction to ‘hell’ or ‘punishment’ is to discredit it. Many think hell does not exist. Others believe everyone will enter heaven. The reason for this is that people do not want to go to hell and so they create ways to avoid it. Yet, God’s solution to hell is not to ignore it or undermine its seriousness. God’s solution is to confront it head-on.
[F]or you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. God’s ‘Name’ is everything that God reveals about himself. So, think of it like a reputation. If I say, “Mom”— what thoughts come to mind? Perhaps you think of a woman about (this many years old), (this high), with (this color hair). Or, maybe you’re thinking about your mom’s mannerisms. I say the name: ‘Mom,’ and you think about characteristics, appearance, and behavior. When we consider of God’s ‘Name,’ we think of his characteristics. God is eternal, you (and I) are mortal (Psalm 90:1-2). He is the LORD of Hosts, meaning, he holds supreme authority. All the armies of the world put together cannot stop the Almighty from executing his plans. The LORD is just, meaning he will punish those not sorry for their sins, but he also gracious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7). Those are God’s characteristics, his behavior.
To ‘fear’ means to ‘show respect, revere, honor.’ Simply put, ‘fearing’ God’s Name means respecting God’s abilities. God will do what he says he will do. We stand before God and realize he stands far above, far higher than us! He reigns in heaven, we do not. He controls all things, we do not. He enters heaven, we cannot. The God who stands high above us is the God who heals us with the Son of Righteousness.
Jesus is that Son of Righteousness. He is the Righteous One, who obeyed God’s commands with all his heart, mind, and soul. He is the One who did not open his mouth to insult his accusers— even though he had every right and reason to do so (1 Peter 2:21-24). He is the One who came down from heaven to sacrifice himself one time, for all time (Hebrews 9:24-28).
Like the morning sun, Jesus rises from death with words of healing. He has taken away punishment due for our arrogance. He has brought salvation, that is forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. He points us to heaven and says, “Pay attention! That is where you are going!” He lifts our attentions of the passing pleasures of this life, and he unveils a magnificent home beyond compare.
This is why we learn from the past; we do not want to miss this eternal hope. And we will not. God’s Word shines in our hearts, exposing sin and guilt, and illuminating Jesus as our Savior. Baptism has put God’s Name on you, the life of Jesus is draped on you (Galatians 3:26-27). Jesus’ body and blood assures you of sins forgiven, release from guilt, and freedom forever!
How do we respond? In the only way possible. [Y]ou will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. A calf released from a stanchion (or stall) stretches, feels energy and strength; he’s free! You hop and leap for joy— which is the opposite of fear and dread. God’s great Judgment Day is not a threat meant for you to tremble in fear. You look forward to the Savior’s return because that is the Day you go home to heaven. Jesus is your certainty. You stand healed, cleansed, purified, made whole! At the last trumpet, you will stand before God. He will repeat the same Words you have read and heard on every page of Scripture and repeated every Sunday: “Forgiven!”
That awesome, life-changing news makes it difficult to stand still. Your heart flutters, your feet can never carry you fast enough and when you finally reach your destination, you cannot keep the words contained; they spill out. The Day of the LORD is Coming! Those who revere God will shine.
God speaks about the Last Day so that you are prepared to stand before him and live. Some disregarded his future promise. Noah spends 120-years building the ark. Each new day presents another opportunity for some passerby to ask Noah, “Why are you building this boat?” and then, turn to God in faith. Lot pleads with his future son-in-laws, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” (Genesis 19:14). The warning is meant for them to see how they live and change. God mentions those events from beginning to end so that you might learn, examine, and avoid the foolish decisions made and hellish consequences.
You can because God repeats one final event on every page of Scripture: A Savior. A Savior promised to Adam and Eve. A Savior proclaimed by God’s Old Testament prophets. A Savior who announces peace with God. A Savior who will come again to judge the living and the dead— just as Peter says (3:11-16).
The Day of the LORD is Coming! Is it taking a while? By human standards, yes. By God’s standards, no. Each new day is another ‘time of grace.’ A day for the nonbeliever to come to faith. A day for the believer to grow in faith. A time to get ready now. Because The Day of the LORD is Coming! The arrogant will burn away and Those who revere God will shine.
What do people remember about you? Maybe they point out your commitment as a spouse. You are faithful and loyal— keeping your vows from day one. You persevered through sickness and disease. You work through disagreements and conflict. Perhaps people remember your contributions to society. You impacted so many lives at work. You are kind and charitable; you help those in need. Your volunteer-work addresses local issues. Or, maybe people remember your characteristics. Co-workers consider you a very patient listener. Those younger than you appreciate your wise advice and imitate you. Friends consider you trustworthy. What do people remember about you?
Undoubtedly you will ponder that question at least once in your life (and chances are, you’ll wrestle with it more the older you get). Contemplating a question like that demonstrates that life is significant; you will impact others. People will remember a trait about you.
When confronted with that reality, you may feel pressure to be known for something great. Let’s make it simple. Out of all your accomplishments and attributes, Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
We read in Jeremiah 9:23-24: 23 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
Out of all the important qualities in life, which one reigns supreme? That you know God. Do you realize that’s all God really needs to say? Let him who boasts boast about [me]… Enough said. Yet, he includes more.
In verse 23, God identifies three commonly prized attributes. (1) Wisdom, that is, knowledge gained from past experience (and the resulting consequences). After squandering money as a teenager and having very little, you might be disciplined to save a set sum. Grandparents know many different ways to calm crying babies because they spent many nights trying to quiet their own child. They know what works and what does not. Wisdom grows through life experiences. God also mentions (2) strength, which is having physical abilities, mental toughness, or powerful authority. Finally, he cites (3) riches; either having wealth and possessions (such as houses, cars, and property) or feeling confident in your bank account.
God holds up these three common blessings, but then gives a warning. Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom. Many crave wise advice because wisdom presents a right answer immediately (preventing you from fumbling through all the wrong solutions). People may turn to you for advice, or maybe you think you have all the right answers. Go on Facebook and maybe there’s a friend who shares political posts— and implies that if he were in charge, the world would be a better place; all we need to do is follow his opinions as truth. Those holding college diplomas and advanced degrees may deny God because “they’re too smart for that.” The wiser people think they are the more they begin relying on their own knowledge. Then, there is no need to listen to others. In fact, many stop listening to what needs to be heard.
Let not the strong man boast of his strength. Those who feel strong find security in their own abilities. Nations find security in the size of their armies and the power of their weapons. The physically fit feel safe because of bulging muscles and youthful bodies. Many pride themselves in their last names because influential city and community leaders offer them favors.
Let not the rich man boast of his riches. People act as though money solves troubles! Yes, money might not make you happy, but you can buy medicine. If only you had more money, then you could have the cool clothes, a big house, and a luxurious retirement; you do not feel needy. With wealth comes respect because people will ask you for financial help.
What does this have to do with you (and me)? Well, remember that question I asked at the start? What do people remember about you? What was your answer? Did you boast about your worldly knowledge, power, or success?
God knows these blessings can pose a serious threat. The Bible makes you wise for eternal life (2 Timothy 3:15). So, you learn the many Bible stories in Sunday School. You learn Bible teachings in catechism class. The more you learn, the wiser you may think you are. After a while, you can think you have learned everything there is to know about God! So, when you (and I) approach the Word, the heart quickly glosses over it. John 3:16? You know that Bible verse. Skip it. Tune it out. You already heard it. Next. Christmas? Easter? You know the story. Jesus is born. Jesus rises. Move on to bigger life issues.
Or, we stumble into the delusions of strength. You may believe you have many more years to live, and therefore many more years to get right with God. Perhaps life does not seem all that challenging or complex. And if it does not seem to challenging, then you do not need help. So, why worship? You don’t need God right now; If troubles flare up, well, you know where to turn. Or, you boast that you are saved because this is your family church. God must save you because great-great grandpa built this place!
Or, money can sink its poisonous roots into the heart. Money is withheld from offering so that it might be used on toys. Money robs trust in God. After all, God promises to care for bodily needs, but how many hours of sleep are lost because you worry about retaining money? Money becomes a status symbol; you find self-worth in what you own. These blessings can become our boast, our source of self-pride; something we hold up so that others may praise us!
Wisdom, strength, and money solves very little. Because death strips away knowledge, strength, and wealth. When you stand before God and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” there is only one answer. The arrogant wise might say, “Because I demand you love me!” The strong one might say, “My name was in the church membership book!” The rich one might claim, “I gave my offering!” But all those answers remain terribly wrong. All those answers reveal a heart that has rejected a Savior and praises itself as god. None of those worldly treasures can save you.
That’s why verse 23 serves as a warning. If you are elevating yourself as God, then time to turn is now! “Do not boast in wisdom or strength or riches… Instead, Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me.” That, my friends, is the only knowledge that will save your life. What do you understand and know about God? That I am the LORD.
God uses the Bible to teach you that only one eternal, all-powerful God exists. That God is not you or your achievements or your self-glory. That God is the One who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth…
God so loved the world— he so loved you— that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). Christ Jesus was in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:5-6). He does not seek riches or a kingdom. Instead, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (2:7). The God-man does not demonstrate powerful might and damn to hell every soldier who slaps his face or every smug creature who dares challenge his teachings. Instead, God exercises mercy. He could very well leave you (and me) wallowing in our destructive self-pride. Instead, he sends Jesus and exercises justice.
Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to death on the cross (2:8). God does what is fair; he upholds his threat. Our pride deserves death (Romans 6:23). With our self-pride draped across Jesus and Jesus suffers our death-sentence— and Jesus wipes pride away. God does what is fair; he upholds his promise. He raises Jesus to life because Jesus is perfect. He raises Jesus to life in order to demonstrate that the payment for sin has been made for all time. In complete fairness God now says, “Jesus died for what you did wrong. He is punished so you never will be. You are forgiven.” He declares you: righteous!-- right in his sight, without fault or blame or blemish.
In these things I take pleasure, declares the LORD… Out of the many attributes the world considers so important nothing is greater than standing right in the sight of God. Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! God knows you.
You boast that you understand and know him. Be proud in what God has done for you. You can boast with certainty that you will enter heaven. That is not arrogance, that is truth. You can point to the Bible and say, “God promises me that I will live because Jesus lives (John 14:19). Of this I can be sure. It all hinges on what Jesus has done.” That brings real joy and peace.
Find joy in understanding and knowing God better. Make the effort to add to your knowledge. The Sunday School lessons you learned, build on them. In every story see how God worked in spite of weakness and still sent you a Savior. Take out your catechism; read (and relearn) the work God did for your benefit! God keeps his promise; this removes worry and fills you with peace. Reflect on Sunday’s message or your devotions during the week. Take home one key truth to discuss with your child or apply one point to a specific area in life. This is how you “boast in God.” Your pride, your joy is centered in what God has done for you. You know it. You understand it. You Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
Life holds many qualities. Some are a reason to be proud. Your commitment as a spouse is commendable. Your contributions to society serve as a blessing for many. Your personality can benefit other. People may remember you for all those achievements.
Yet, all human achievements pale in comparison to Jesus’ great achievement. He does the one thing you (and I) never could; he makes you right before God.
That, my friends, is something worth boasting about. That is something to delight in. That is something to rejoice over. Out of all your accomplishments and attributes, Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About. No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
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.
The devil is a liar. He is the founding father of lies (John 8:44), who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9). That slimy serpent slithered right up to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and hissed out the most destructive of lies: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). That is a lie. That untruth snapped Adam and Eve’s openhearted bond with their Creator. That devil dangled money in front of Judas and whispered: “Worldly wealth remains far more valuable than anything Jesus offers.” That greedy lie destroyed him. The devil is a liar. He still lies and he always will lie. He will not stop until he has led every single person away from God.
And so, the devil lies. He lies because he knows the truth: he has lost; Jesus wins. Jesus promises a life better than the one the devil must suffer. Jesus reveals this truth in his Word, the Bible. He has put his Word in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14) and so that you may have life (John 4:14).
That Word is not just yours to hold and have. It’s yours to also share. Jesus Sends You Out! With the Word you have received and with the resources God has given you.
The devil knows this. So, he lies. He spreads this putrid untruth to the world: “You are God. You hold the authority to determine what is morally ‘right’ and what is morally ‘wrong.’” Jesus arrives in his hometown, Nazareth. He reveals God’s plan to save the world. Masses marvel. He exposes puffed-up pride and points to himself as the only Savior. Masses devour the devil’s lie. “Nazareth is God. Each citizen holds the authority to determine what is morally ‘right’ and what is morally ‘wrong.’ We do not need you, Jesus.” The devil’s lie pushes them to furiously push Jesus out of the city (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:14-30). The devil is a liar, who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father.
For this reason Jesus enters the world. He comes to reconnect people with their Father in heaven. Jesus went around teaching from village to village (Mark 6:6), telling all people that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. [They] come to the Father through [his work alone] (John 14:6).
Jesus even multiplies his efforts in getting this message out. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two… He hands them the words to share: “Repent! Turn!” Turn from the lifestyles God calls ‘wrong.’ Turn from the god-less behavior separating you from God! Turn and see that only Jesus can free you from the hell you deserve. Turn and live a God-pleasing life. No, not because you will earn God’s love. Rather, living life shaped by the Word keeps you from death.
Jesus teaches a truth that breaks the devil’s lie. That truth reveals Jesus living a perfect life in order to give you life. That truth is yours— and it is yours to share. Jesus does not have you bottle up these words for yourself. Jesus Sends You Out with the Word you have received.
That makes you a target. The devil knows his Bible. He knows God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He knows faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). He knows you are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) pointing to Jesus as the only Way, Truth, and Life to God (John 14:6). The devil knows just how dangerous the Word you carry is to his cause. He knows the best way to keep many separated from God is to lie—and he lies to you.
He whispers in your ear: “It does not matter what you believe; everyone will enter heaven.”
Those are lies. And the devil knows that if he can get you to believe his lie, then you will stop sharing the Word of God. And if you stop sharing the Word, then many more will never hear of a Savior. And if many never hear of a Savior, then every non-Christian will walk the wide road straight into hell. Do you believe the devil’s lie?
It does matter what lies in each individual heart. It matters to Jesus. It matters so much that he takes on flesh and blood. It matters so much that no insult, no rejection, not even death itself can stop him from sharing the life-saving Word. It matters so much that Jesus dies in order to put an end to the devil’s lies.
If the devil is still whispering his destructive lies in your ears, repent! Turn to the cross. Turn away from the excuses you create to protect your pride. Turn from the laziness that prevents you from speaking up. Turn from the excuses your heart creates. Turn and see Jesus give his life. See him wipe away your failure to speak up. See him cure a lazy heart. See him rise to tell you, You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).
Jesus Sends You Out because you are his disciple. He sends you out with the same powerful message that has created faith in your heart. He sends you out with the same powerful Word that works in the hearts of others. Jesus Sends You Out with the Word you have received. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
Did you catch that? Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have. Your resources might be you Christian witness. Do you notice that Jesus does not send you out to foreign nations? He does not demand you knock on doors or call strangers. He sends you to share the Word with those who need to hear it. That location might be as simple as your community setting.
Inside your bulletin is a half sheet. The center of this diagram reads: “FRIENDS WHO NEED JESUS.” Someone who needs to hear of Jesus the Good Shepherd before they are lost forever. Take a moment today (or another day this week) to identify those in your life. A friend, a family member, a [grand]child. A neighbor who used to worship, but no longer does. A fellow member who used to worship with you, but has grown slow in coming. Write their name down—and then place this sheet in a visible location. As you see that name, pray that God brings his Word to them through you. Pray that God fill you with the words to say and the courage to speak. Pray that God presents an opportunity to invite them to worship, to Sunday School, to Bible Class, to Vacation Bible School. Pray that God use your Words to bring the good news into their hearts. Jesus Sends You Out to them.
Your resources might be financial resources. You belong to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “Synod” are two greek words put together meaning: “walk with.” You (and I) cooperate (or walk with) 1,300 other like-minded congregations throughout the world to share Jesus. St. John [Faith] most likely could never pay the $150,000 (each year!) need to start a new church in New York City (with the costs involved) or the $500,000 Pastoral Institute Building in Vietnam. Our financial resources are limited. Yet, when you divide that costs among 1,300 other congregations, the cost becomes much more manageable. Consider how God has blessed you financially. Use your financial resources to “send out” others to regions you may never see. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
Remember the reason for sharing the Word. The devil still spreads his awful lie around your town: “World, you do not need help. You do not need a Savior.” Maybe you have a daughter who still lives in a way God would not condone. You may have that son who smirks and shrugs off your invite to worship again. You might have that friend who walks on the other side of the road when they see you or that neighbor who goes outside after seeing you go inside. Some may reject you for the message you bring. The devil will point and hiss: “See, the heartache is not worth it.”
Do not believe the lie! Jesus instructs his disciples to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in [their] belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. The disciples do not need suitcases packed with weeks of clothing or wallets stuffed with cash. They simply preach and God’s Word would work results. Some would hear the Word and the Word would produce results in the hearts of the listeners. One fruit of faith would be the hospitality for their needs. The disciples would have a room, extra clothing and blankets, as well as a meal provided them.
Others will not welcome or listen to [them]. If that happened, they would shake the dust off [their] feet when [they left], as a testimony against them.” Shaking the dust off of their feet preached that this household of Jews were no better than the non-believing non-Jews. It powerfully preached: “You are separated from God! Repent! Turn while there is still time!”
You will face rejection for preaching and teaching— and that’s alright. Jesus tells you to expect rejection. You may even have to “shake the dust from your feet.” No, not literally. Rather, you may have to make it clear to someone close to you: “You are living in such a way that separates you from God.” The devil will try to silence you: “Ouch! Your words are too harsh!” Do not believe the lie! Shaking the dust off your feet demonstrates that their rejection is serious… which, if you think about that for a moment, really stands out in your world today. You, with your words and actions, are calling him to “Repent, turn to God!” That message points to Jesus and to the life he gives. Jesus Sends You Out with the resources you have.
The devil is a liar. He is the founding father of lies (John 8:44), who lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9). He still lies and he always will lie. He will not stop until he has led every single person away from God.
Yet, you know the truth. He has lost; Jesus wins. Jesus promises a life better than the one the devil must suffer. Jesus reveals this truth in his Word, the Bible. He has put his Word in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14) and so that you may have life (John 4:14).
That Word is not just yours to hold and have. It’s yours to also share. Jesus Sends You Out! With the Word you have received and with the resources God has given you.
Imposing stone columns surround you, soaring to incredible heights before interlocking together high above. Thick brick walls press in on your right and left, each one also towering well over a hundred feet above you. The polished granite floor under your feet glistens. Pieces of clear glass pack massive window openings, letting bright white unfiltered light to pour into this temple. A hundred feet ahead lies four steps rising up to an intricately carved altar. On this platform is planted a dominant royal throne. Music fills the air all around you, angelic voices blending together singing praises. Can you picture the scene?
If you can’t, just Google: “British royal wedding ceremony pictures” and drink in those exquisite details. White poufy flowers drape walls and dress the front. Children’s choirs stand to your right and left. Delicate hats rest on the heads of every royal lady. Shiny medals hang from finely pressed military coats and gowns flow from each guest. This is the sight of power and dominance and respect.
You get to stand in that grand temple. No, this is no royal wedding. You stand in far more powerful, far more dominant, far more glorious setting. You stand before the King of the Universe! …in his presence! …in a sight of brilliance and dominance! The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty! But how? He stands apart from sin.
Do you see that?
Look through the eyes of Isaiah the prophet. [T]he Lord [sits] seated on a throne… The Lord. Do know what that [name] means? Lord is not God’s first name like: Bob or George or Dick. [The name] Lord has a meaning; Lord credits God as One with authority, all-power, superiority; the One holding control over every single thing in the world with unsurpassed might. This is the God who rules the entire universe! This is the God before whom each individual must give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12)! This is the God who holds final judgment over your eternal future! And your feet remain planted just a few feet away.
Staring straight ahead, you only see the legs of his throne. Your eyes trace those legs up higher and higher; your head tilts back more and more, reminding you of just insignificant you are compared to him. [T]he train of his robe fill[s] the temple. Exquisite white linen sprawls across the polished floor, touching each wall, covering every square inch that you dare not step on these unsoiled garments.
Above him were seraphs… such unique angels that we know nothing more about them other than what Scripture says here. These angelic beings flash like flames of fire, showcasing the power and the purity found in this temple. Look up; see seraph after seraph after seraph fill the space above your head. [Each one has] six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” You sing the same song in the Common Service. Ho-ly, ho-ly, ho-ly Lord God of heav-en-ly hosts: heav’n and earth are full of your glory Yet, they do not prepare for Holy Communion. These seraphs trumpet a very truthful reality: God is holy. That means two things: (1) Holy: the Lord has no moral fault; he is perfect. (2) Holy: the Lord stands opposed to everything and everyone that is imperfect. Holy: because he is set apart from our sins.
Does that sound quite right? The puffed up, proud society in which you live boom: “Hey! Wait just a minute! Who is God that he should call my hate wrong? Who is God that he commands me how to treat my body? Who is God that he condemns my unbelief?” That proud human heart tears down Isaiah’s sight and replaces it with one where the human sits in the throne next to God— or, worse yet, in the throne over the Almighty.
Have you wandered into that arrogance? It comes out when you intentionally skip worship for the boat or for yard-work, but you cover over it with your self-understood excuse: “Well, God understands. I’m busy.” Never mind God commands your whole heart (Matthew 22:37); you can determine to give God part of your love. That proud heart smirks oh-so-smugly at harsh words meant to destroy. “Well, she made me angry.” “Dad needs to get with reality.” “I must exert power over my neighbor.” Never mind God expects words to build up (Matthew 5:22); you must have the authority to overthrow God’s command. That arrogant heart wraps an arm around God, calling him your buddy who understands why you can lose self-control, why it’s acceptable for you to neglect your parenting discipline, why it’s alright for you to create your own beliefs. Inside each of us is this heart which believes it sits on the throne of God. That it sits in authority over God. That you are free to live according to your rules. That God is honored by your presence.
Do you see who sits on the throne? Not you. Not me. Not the seraphim either. In fact, even the seraphim tremble at the sight. The ones already in heaven cannot even look at the face of God! So how can you (and I), mere mortals living in an unclean world approach God and live? The best we can is join with Isaiah, trembling, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
The LORD God Almighty is Holy, Holy, Holy. He stands apart from our sins. Yet, your
Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty cleanses you with his life.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar… The altar. The place of sacrifice. The place where blameless animal after blameless animal sacrificed its life to remove sin.
Flying from the altar of forgiveness, the seraph touches [Isaiah’s] mouth [with that coal] and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” A holy God does not sweep Isaiah away into the very depths of hell. The God of patience and mercy cleanses him with his life.
Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty deals with you in the same patience and mercy. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16), the disciple John writes. God the Father sends his only Son into a life soiled with sin’s awful grime. The devil pushed pride before him. Jesus faces the pull to run away from the cross and live a cushy earthly life. Yet, he never does. He treasures the Word of the Holy God above all things— remaining the Holy One of God.
This Holy One, the One seated on this magnificent, towering throne steps down and humbles himself. Leaving heaven, he takes the form of a servant, allowing corrupt men to spit on him, punch his face, crush a mockery into his head, and nail him to a cross. God so loved you that he laid his one and only Son on the altar of the cross in order to cleanse you.
Jesus leaves his tomb and says: See… your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Jesus bridges the gap between you and God; that’s what is meant by the word “atone:” Jesus makes you “at-one” with God. At your baptism the Triune God announces, “Look, this water and my Word has touched you: your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” At the altar, Jesus touches you with his body and blood, together with the bread and wine, and says: See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Jesus has removed the stained garments of arrogance and dressed you in splendid white robes. He has washed grimy pride away. He has cleansed an arrogant ego. He makes you (and me) acceptable to approach the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty because his holy life has been used to cleanse you.
Now cleansed, your Triune God calls you to a holy life. Just look at Isaiah. Just moments earlier trembles at the sight of approaching a holy God, fearing his life would roar to a violent close. Yet, a merciful God sets him free from bondage to hell. Set free from threats of death, he is free to serve God with a willing heart and life. He heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” [Isaiah] said, “Here am I. Send me!” Touched by that forgiving love, he is transformed to share it with many others.
God may not have called you to be a minister or missionary. Yet, he has called you into a new way of living. Forgiven, restored, brought into his family, you can approach God with confidence.
Your singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” comes not from fear, but from hearts thriving on the forgiveness through a Triune God. You shout: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the LORD Almighty!” giving God credit for his perfection and him giving you that perfection for eternal life in heaven. You praise God as you read your Meditations devotions. You praise God as you study God’s Word in Bible class. You praise God as you take his Word into your hearts. You demonstrate proper love for God as you place him in the first-place spot of your hearts. His Word drowns out your words… and thoughts… and opinions. You are following the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy!
You bring your offerings to God. Gifts of money, of your time, and of your talents. You support a minister bringing God’s Word to your ears and heart— and to your friends and community. You offer God a beautiful space where he might reign and dwell. You serve him from a heart motivated by love. The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has called you to a holy life.
On this Trinity Sunday, you stand between two halves of our church readings. From Advent (end-November) through Pentecost (mid-May), we study the life of Christ: his faultless birth, innocent living, and perfect life sacrificed, and triumphant resurrection. Now, after today, the focus shifts from the steps taken to save us to the teachings Jesus gives over his three-year ministry.
You are ready for this growth. Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has ushered you into his grand temple. You look up to see the One high and exalted, seated on his magnificent throne. Yet, you do not fear. Through the blood of Jesus, the Father declares you forgiven. The Holy Spirit points at your baptism as evidence that you belong to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty! He stands apart from sin. His life cleanses us. He calls us to a holy life.